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Mike Flynn’s Son Invoked His Fifth Amendment Privilege Early in the Investigation into His Father

In the wake of the Flynn pardon (the details of which remain uncertain), the frothers are repeating the fictions about the investigation into Flynn that were obviously false in May, when they first started, and have been affirmatively debunked since. Flynn’s son is central to those stories. As a reminder, the claim is that Flynn Sr took a plea deal not because his very credible defense attorneys had counseled him he faced up to 15 years for hiding that he was on Turkey’s payroll during the campaign, but because Mueller threatened his son. Implicit in that claim is that Mike Jr didn’t have any real criminal exposure of his own, but Mueller was nevertheless threatening to trump up an investigation into the failson in November, when his dad took the deal.

Even in General Flynn’s sworn declaration, though, the claim is only that Flynn’s son would be indicted.

  • “I agreed to plead guilty that next day, December 1, 2017, because of the intense pressure from the Special Counsel’s Office, which included a threat to indict my son, Michael, and the lack of crucial information from my counsel.”
  • “My former lawyers from Covington also assured me on November 30, 2017, that if I accepted the plea, my son Michael would be left in peace.”

But a warrant recently unsealed in the case suggests that from the start of the investigation, Mike Jr was a focus of the investigation. Along with Flynn himself and Flynn’s partner Bijan Kian, Flynn Jr was subpoenaed for the devices he used in his Flynn Intelligence Group work in July 2017. We know this warrant is his because it was sent to Barry Coburn, who represented the son, because it refers to the father as Michael T. Flynn throughout (which is necessary to distinguish Michael G from his father), and describes the target of the warrant as Flynn’s chief of staff, a role the son played.

Like his father and Kian, Flynn Jr had refused to comply with a subpoena for his devices, and had given his phone to his attorney for safe-keeping. Mueller’s team got warrants for all three as a way to force the attorneys to turn over the phones of their clients.

Unlike the others though, Flynn Jr also got subpoenaed for testimony. His attorney responded by proffering that Flynn Jr would invoke the Fifth Amendment. Among the questions Flynn Jr’s lawyer at least said he’d refuse to answer were:

  1. Are you aware of whether Michael T. Flynn has ever traveled outside of the United States?
  2. Please describe each instance when Michael T. Flynn traveled outside of the United States since August 1, 2014.
  3. Are you aware of whether Michael T. Flynn has ever communicated with a foreign government official?
  4. Please describe each instance when Michael T. Flynn communicated with a foreign government official since August 1, 2014.

Prosecutors seemed to be pushing Flynn Jr to appear before the grand jury and invoke the Fifth question by question — but it’s unclear what did happen.

One way or another, however, General Flynn’s son’s lawyer was telling Mueller’s prosecutors as early as July that answering questions that would cover his trip to Russia for the RT gala would incriminate him.

That suggests it wasn’t just Flynn’s lawyers at Covington who believed, four months later, that Flynn Jr might be at risk of prosecution.

Update: Mike Flynn Jr has become a Twitter fan of mine. Last night he assured me there was zero chance he’ll ever be indicted.

I may be misunderstanding, but this seems to suggest that Daddy’s claims he only pled was to keep Jr out of trouble — as asserted by Flynn in a sworn statement, above — are false. I mean, he may be accusing Pops of perjury, which seems to be an odd way to celebrate a pardon.

Trump Pardons an Undisclosed Agent of Turkey Along with a Thanksgiving Bird

Update: Trump has indeed pardoned the Agent of Turkey along with a farmyard turkey.

The significance of this, however, will depend on the wording of the pardon. 

At least three outlets (CNN, Axios, NYT) have reported the entirely unsurprising news that Trump is considering pardoning admitted liar and undisclosed Agent of Turkey, Mike Flynn. Only the NYT provides a reasonable account of what has happened since DOJ moved to dismiss the case, and only after repeating Trump’s false claims about the investigation.

None of the outlets reviewed how complex successfully pardoning Flynn will be, without making Trump’s — or Flynn’s son’s — fate worse. That’s true because the posture of the Flynn case before Judge Emmet Sullivan is such that Sullivan has multiple possible options for holding Flynn accountable, depending on when Sullivan moves and when Trump does.

If Trump pardoned Flynn for the crimes to which Flynn pled guilty, false statements, today, a Foreign Agent of Turkey pardoned right alongside a Thanksgiving turkey — then DOJ’s motion to dismiss the prosecution for Flynn’s false statements charges would likely be mooted. But there’s still a pending motion to withdraw Flynn’s plea before Judge Sullivan, which by itself mooted DOJ’s promises not to prosecute Flynn for hiding that he was working for the government of Turkey rather than just a foreign business in a FARA filing in March 2017. Plus, when Flynn pled, it was understood that would end the investigation, but given that he reneged on his plea, there’s nothing stopping DOJ from investigating Mike Jr for his involvement with Turkey, if Flynn were pardoned.

So to get Flynn out of immediate legal jeopardy, Trump would need to pardon Flynn for crimes to which he pled guilty — the false statements to hide Trump’s involvement in “colluding” with Russian to undermine US policy — but also the crime to which Flynn didn’t plead guilty, hiding that he was an Agent of Turkey while getting classified briefings during the 2016 campaign. That’s all the more true given that DOJ’s appeal of the Bijan Kian case is still unresolved (it is scheduled for oral argument on December 11), and trying Kian along with Mike Flynn, charged as a co-conspirator, would eliminate many of the legal difficulties from the first trial.

Trump might even have to pardon Flynn Jr.

But that’s still not adequate. Flynn made multiple materially conflicting statements before Judge Sullivan and the grand jury. When directing amicus John Gleeson on what he should consider, Sullivan asked whether he should hold Flynn in contempt. Gleeson said that, instead, he should consider those additional lies when sentencing him on the charged crimes. DOJ argued that Sullivan should, instead, refer the charges to DOJ. Even if Sullivan referred those charges today and Bill Barr declined prosecution (as DOJ made clear in hearings they would), Biden’s DOJ could reopen the case. So to get Flynn out of trouble for his efforts to blow up his own prosecution, Trump would have to pardon those crimes as well. But if Trump pardoned Flynn today, Sullivan could wait and ultimately hold Flynn in contempt; while Trump succeeded in freeing Joe Arpaio of criminal contempt with a pardon, it’s not clear whether that could work preemptively.

Assuming Trump does pardon Flynn for some or all of these crimes, it would add several overt actions to obstruction charges against himself. So unless he’s sure that Mike Pence would give him a last minute pardon (or certain that his own self-pardon would withstand legal review), then pardoning all Flynn’s crimes would pile up his own exposure.

Then, if Trump does pardon Flynn, it will surely become a matter for a hearing before one or the other of the Judiciary Committees into Trump’s abuse of the pardon power. Flynn will have no Fifth Amendment privilege and Biden’s DOJ will have the ability to enforce contempt motions from Congress. As I have noted, in the process of attempting to blow up Flynn’s prosecution, Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell and DOJ have released documents that will make it far harder for Mike Flynn to sustain his claim not to remember what Trump’s involvement in the “collusion” with Russia was. Public testimony (or even depositions run by staffers) might elicit evidence that would subject Trump himself to conspiracy charges or might result in new false statements charges.

Finally, there’s the matter of the documents that got altered as part of DOJ’s effort to blow up Flynn’s prosecution. There, Flynn is probably totally safe from legal jeopardy. But the lawyers might not be, at least at DOJ and possibly including Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis. Importantly, at the time of that effort, there was no conceivable privilege protecting discussions between Flynn’s defense attorney and Trump’s campaign lawyer, nor between Powell and Trump. Since then, Powell’s involvement in Trump’s attempts to lie about the election have been contested (and Trump and Powell could both face consequences for their lies on that front). So Trump’s decision to pardon Flynn now after being told by Powell before September that Flynn didn’t want a pardon would raise questions about its tie to the election.

Don’t get me wrong: The pardon power is awesome, and assuming a competent lawyer like Pat Cipollone is involved in the process, Trump might manage to negotiate all these risks and successfully ensure that Flynn does no prison time for his crimes. But this is the kind of complexity that Trump will face as he tries to pay off those who protected him.

How the Concord Management Prosecution Fell Apart

The frothy right and anti-Trump left both politicized DOJ’s decision to dismiss the single count of conspiracy charged against Concord Management and Concord Catering in the Russian troll indictment that Mueller’s team obtained on February 16, 2018. The right — including the President — and the alt-Left are falsely claiming the prosecution against all the trolls fell apart and suggesting this undermines the claims Russia tampered in the 2016 election.

The mainstream left speculated, without any apparent basis, that Bill Barr deliberately undermined the prosecution by classifying some of the evidence needed to prove the case.

The politicization of the outcome is unfortunate, because the outcome raises important policy questions about DOJ’s recent efforts to name-and-shame nation-state activities in cyberspace.

The IRA indictment intersects with a number of important policy discussions

The decision to indict the Internet Research Agency, its owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin, two of the shell companies he used to fund Internet Research Agency (Concord Management and Concord Catering, the defendants against which charges were dropped), and twelve of the employees involved in his troll operations intersects with three policy approaches adopted in bipartisan fashion in recent years:

  • The use of indictments and criminal complaints to publicly attribute and expose the methods of nation-state hackers and the vehicles (including shell companies) they use.
  • A recent focus on Foreign Agents Registration Act compliance and prosecutions in an attempt to crack down on undisclosed foreign influence peddling.
  • An expansive view of US jurisdiction, facilitated but not limited to the role of the US banking system in global commerce.

There is — or should be — more debate about all of these policies. Some of the prosecutions the US has pursued (one that particularly rankles Russia is of their Erik Prince equivalent, Viktor Bout, who was caught in a DEA sting selling weapons to FARC) would instill outrage if other countries tried them with US citizens. Given the way Trump has squandered soft power, that is increasingly likely. While DOJ has obtained some guilty pleas in FARA cases (most notably from Paul Manafort, but Mike Flynn also included his FARA violations with Turkey in his Statement of the Offense), the FARA prosecutions of Greg Craig (which ended in acquittal) and Flynn’s partner Bijan Kian (which ended in a guilty verdict that Judge Anthony Trenga overturned) have thus far faced difficulties. Perhaps most problematic of all, the US has indicted official members of foreign state intelligence services for activities (hacking), though arguably not targets (private sector technology), that official members of our own military and intelligence services also hack. That’s what indictments (in 2014 for hacks targeting a bunch of victims, most of them in Pittsburgh and this year for hacking Equifax) against members of China’s People’s Liberation Army and Russia’s military intelligence GRU (both the July 2018 indictment for the hack-and-leak targeting the 2016 election and an October 2018 one for targeting anti-doping organizations) amount to. Those indictments have raised real concerns about our intelligence officers being similarly targeted or arrested without notice when they travel overseas.

The IRA indictment is different because, while Prigozhin runs numerous mercenary activities (including his Wagner paramilitary operation) that coordinate closely with the Russian state, his employees work for him, not the Russian state. But the Yahoo indictment from 2017 included both FSB officers and criminal hackers and a number of the hackers DOJ has otherwise indicted at times work for the Russian government. So even that is not unprecedented.

The indictment did serve an important messaging function. It laid out the stakes of the larger Russian investigation in ways that should have been nonpartisan (and largely were, until Concord made an appearance in the courts and started trolling the legal system). It asserted that IRA’s efforts to thwart our electoral and campaign finance functions amounted to a fraud against the United States. And it explained how the IRA effort succeeded in getting Americans to unwittingly assist the Russian effort. The latter two issues, however, may be central to the issues that undid the prosecution.

Make no mistake: the IRA indictment pushed new boundaries on FARA in ways that may raise concerns and are probably significant to the decision to drop charges against Concord. It did so at a time when DOJ’s newfound focus on FARA was not yet well-established, meaning DOJ might have done it differently with the benefit of the lessons learned since early 2018. Here’s a shorter and a longer version of an argument from Joshua Fattal on this interpretation of FARA. Though I think he misses something about DOJ’s argument that became clear (or, arguably, changed) last fall, that DOJ is not just arguing that the trolls themselves are unregistered foreign agents, but that they tricked innocent Americans into being agents. And DOJ surely assumed it would likely never prosecute any of those charged, unless one of the human targets foolishly decided to vacation in Prague or Spain or any other country with extradition treaties with the US. So the indictment was a calculated risk, a risk that may not have paid off.

But that’s why it’s worth understanding the decision to drop the prosecution based off the record, rather than presumptions about DOJ and the Russia investigation.

Just the funding side of the conspiracy to defraud indictment got dropped

The first step to understanding why DOJ dropped the charges is to understand what the two Concord entities were charged with. The indictment as a whole charged eight counts:

  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States for preventing DOJ and FEC from policing our campaign finance and election system (and State for issuing visas)
  • Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud by using stolen identities to open financial accounts with which to evade PayPal’s security
  • Six counts of aggravated identity theft for stealing the identities of Americans used in the wire and bank fraud

The wire and bank fraud charges remain untouched by DOJ’s decision. If any of those defendants shows up in court, DOJ remains fully prepared to hold them accountable for stealing Americans’ identities to thwart PayPal’s security protocols so as to fool Americans into doing Russia’s work. Such an identity theft prosecution would not rely on the aggressive FARA theory the Concord charge does.

Even still, most of the conspiracy to defraud (ConFraudUS) charge remains.

The two Concord entities were only named in the ConFraudUS charge. The overt acts involving Concord entail funding the entire operation and hiding those payments by laundering them through fourteen different affiliates and calling the payments “software support.”

3. Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendant ORGANIZATION received funding for its operations from Defendant YEVGENIY VIKTOROVICH PRIGOZHIN and companies he controlled, including Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC and CONCORD CATERING (collectively “CONCORD”). Defendants CONCORD and PRIGOZHIN spent significant funds to further the ORGANIZATION’s operations and to pay the remaining Defendants, along with other uncharged ORGANIZATION employees, salaries and bonuses for their work at the ORGANIZATION.

[snip]

11. Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC (Конкорд Менеджмент и Консалтинг) and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations. CONCORD controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw ORGANIZATION activities through reporting and interaction with ORGANIZATION management.

a. CONCORD funded the ORGANIZATION as part of a larger CONCORD-funded interference operation that it referred to as “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States.

b. By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.

c. To conceal its involvement, CONCORD labeled the monies paid to the ORGANIZATION for Project Lakhta as payments related to software support and development. To further conceal the source of funds, CONCORD distributed monies to the ORGANIZATION through approximately fourteen bank accounts held in the names of CONCORD affiliates, including Glavnaya Liniya LLC, Merkuriy LLC, Obshchepit LLC, Potentsial LLC, RSP LLC, ASP LLC, MTTs LLC, Kompleksservis LLC, SPb Kulinariya LLC, Almira LLC, Pishchevik LLC, Galant LLC, Rayteks LLC, and Standart LLC.

Concord was likely included because it tied Prigozhin into the conspiracy, and through him, Vladimir Putin. That tie has been cause for confusion and outright disinformation during the course of the prosecution, as during pretrial motions there were two legal fights over whether DOJ could or needed to say that the Russian state had a role in the operation. Since doing so was never necessary to legally prove the charges, DOJ didn’t fight that issue, which led certain useful idiots to declare, falsely, that DOJ had disclaimed any tie, which is either absurd misunderstanding of how trials work and/or an outright bad faith representation of the abundant public evidence about the ties between Prigozhin and Putin.

By including Concord, the government asserted that it had proof not just that IRA’s use of fake identities had prevented DOJ and the FEC from policing electoral transparency, but also that Putin’s go-to guy in the private sector had used a series of shell companies to fund that effort.

By dropping the charges against the shell companies, that link is partly broken, but the overall ConFraudUS charge (and the charge against Prigozhin) remains, and all but one of the defendants are now biological persons who, if they mounted a defense, would also face criminal penalties that might make prosecution worth it. (I believe the Internet Research Agency has folded as a legal institution, so it would not be able to replay this farce.)

Going to legal war with a shell company

As noted, the indictment included two shell companies — Concord Management and Concord Catering — among the defendants in a period when Russia has increasingly pursued lawfare to try to discredit our judicial system. That’s precisely what happened: Prigozhin hired lawyers who relished trolling the courts to try to make DOJ regret it had charged the case.

As ceded above, DOJ surely didn’t expect that anyone would affirmatively show up to defend against this prosecution. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have the evidence to prove the crimes — both the first level one that bots hid their identities to evade electoral protections, and the second level conspiracy that Prigozhin funded all that through some shell companies. But it likely means DOJ didn’t account for the difficulties of going to legal war against a shell company.

One of the two explanations the government offered for dropping the prosecution admits that the costs of  trying a shell company have come to outweigh any judicial benefits.

When defense counsel first appeared on behalf of Concord, counsel stated that they were “authorized” to appear and “to make representations on behalf” of Concord, and that Concord was fully subjecting itself to the Court’s jurisdiction. 5/9/18 Tr. 5 (ECF No. 9). Though skeptical of Concord’s (but not counsel’s) asserted commitments at the initial appearance, the government has proceeded in good faith—expending the resources of the Department of Justice and other government agencies; incurring the costs of disclosing sensitive non-public information in discovery that has gone to Russia; and, importantly, causing the Court to expend significant resources in resolving dozens of often-complex motions and otherwise ensuring that the litigation has proceeded fairly and efficiently. Throughout, the government’s intent has been to prosecute this matter consistent with the interests of justice. As this case has proceeded, however, it has become increasingly apparent to the government that Concord seeks to selectively enjoy the benefits of the American criminal process without subjecting itself to the concomitant obligations.

From the start, there were ongoing disputes about whether the shell company Concord Management was really showing up to defend against this conspiracy charge. On May 5, 2018, DOJ filed a motion aiming to make sure that — given the uncertainty that Concord had been properly served with a summons, since, “Acceptance of service is ordinarily an indispensable precondition providing assurance that a defendant will submit to the jurisdiction of the court, obey its orders, and comply with any judgment.” Concord’s lawyers responded by complaining that DOJ was stalling on extensive discovery requests Concord made immediately.

Next, an extended and recurrent fight over a protective order for discovery broke out. Prigozhin was personally charged in the indictment along with his shell company. The government tried to prevent defense attorneys from sharing discovery deemed “sensitive” with officers of Concord (Prighozhin formally made himself an officer just before this effort started) who were also defendants without prior approval or at least a requirement such access to take place in the United States, accompanied by a defense attorney lawyer. That fight evolved to include a dispute about whether “sensitive” discovery was limited to just Personally Identifiable Information or included law enforcement sensitive information, too (unsurprisingly, Concord said it only wanted the latter and even demanded that DOJ sift out the former). The two sides established a protective order at start. But in December, after the government had delivered 4 million documents, of which it deemed 3.2 million “sensitive,” Concord renewed their demand that Prighozhin have access to discovery. They trollishly argued that only Prigozhin could determine whether the proper translation of the phrase “Putin’s chef” meant he was the guy who cooked for Putin or actually Putin’s boss. At this point, the US started filing sealed motions opposing the discovery effort, but did not yet resort to the Classified Information Procedures Act, meaning they still seemed to believe they could prove this case with unclassified, albeit sensitive, evidence.

Shortly thereafter, DOJ revealed that nothing had changed to alter the terms of the original protective order, and in the interim, some of the non-sensitive discovery (that is, the stuff that could be shared with Prigozhn) had been altered and used in a disinformation campaign.

The subsequent investigation has revealed that certain non-sensitive discovery materials in the defense’s possession appear to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. political system. These facts establish a use of the non-sensitive discovery in this case in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the protective order and demonstrate the risks of permitting sensitive discovery to reside outside the confines of the United States.

With a biological defendant, such a stunt might have gotten the defendant thrown in jail (and arguably, this is one of two moments when Judge Dabney Friedrich should have considered a more forceful response to defiance of her authority). Here, though, the prosecution just chugged along.

Perhaps the best proof that Prigozhin was using Concord’s defense as an intelligence-collecting effort came when, late last year, Concord demanded all the underlying materials behind Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control decision to sanction Prigozhin and his companies. As Friedrich noted in her short notation denying the request, OFAC’s decision to sanction Prigozhin had nothing to do with the criminal charges against Concord. Nevertheless, Prigozhin used the indictment of his shell companies in an attempt to obtain classified information on the decision leading to sanctions being imposed on him.

Prigozhin’s goal of using his defense as a means of learning the US government’s sources and methods was clear from the first discovery request. That — and his unwavering efforts to continue the trolling operations — likely significantly influenced the later classification determination that contributed to DOJ dropping the case.

The government intended to try this case with unclassified information

That’s the other cited reason the government dismissed this case: because a classification determination made some of the evidence collected during the investigation unavailable as unclassified information.

[A]s described in greater detail in the classified addendum to this motion, a classification determination bearing on the evidence the government properly gathered during the investigation, limits the unclassified proof now available to the government at trial. That forces the prosecutors to choose between a materially weaker case and the compromise of classified material.

At the beginning of this case, the government said that all its evidence was unclassified, but that much of it was sensitive, either for law enforcement reasons or the privacy of victims in the case.

As described further in the government’s ex parte affidavit, the discovery in this case contains unclassified but sensitive information that remains relevant to ongoing national security investigations and efforts to protect the integrity of future U.S. elections. At a high level, the sensitive-but-unclassified discovery in this case includes information describing the government’s investigative steps taken to identify foreign parties responsible for interfering in U.S. elections; the techniques used by foreign parties to mask their true identities while conducting operations online; the relationships of charged and uncharged parties to other uncharged foreign entities and governments; the government’s evidence-collection capabilities related to online conduct; and the identities of cooperating individuals and, or companies. Discovery in this case contains sensitive information about investigative techniques and cooperating witnesses that goes well beyond the information that will be disclosed at trial.

Nevertheless, after the very long and serial dispute about how information could be shared with the defendant noted above (especially Prigozhin, as an officer of Concord), later in the process, something either became classified or the government decided they needed to present evidence they hadn’t originally planned on needing.

This is one way, Barr critics suggest, that the Attorney General may have sabotaged the prosecution: by deeming information prosecutors had planned to rely on classified, and therefore making key evidence inaccessible for use at trial.

That’s certainly possible! I don’t rule out any kind of maliciousness on Barr’s part. But I think the available record suggests that the government made a good faith classification decision, possibly in December 2019 or January 2020, that ended up posing new difficulties for proving the case at trial. One possibility is that, in the process of applying a very novel interpretation of FARA to this prosecution, the types of evidence the government needed to rely on may have changed. It’s also possible that Prigozhin’s continued trolling efforts — and maybe even evidence that his trolling operations had integrated lessons learned from discovery to evade detection — made sharing heretofore sensitive unclassified information far more damaging to US national security (raising its classification level).

As discussed below, the record also suggests that the government tried to access some evidence via other means, by subpoenaing it from Concord. But Concord’s ability to defy subpoenas without punishment (which gets back to trying to prosecute a shell company) prevented that approach.

The fight over what criminalizes a troll conspiring to fool DOJ (and FEC)

Over the course of the prosecution, the theory of the ConFraudUS conspiracy either got more detailed (and thereby required more specific kinds of evidence to prove) or changed. That may have contributed to changing evidentiary requirements.

Even as the dispute about whether Concord was really present in the court fighting these charges, Concord’s lawyers challenged the very novel application of FARA by attacking the conspiracy charge against it. This is precisely what you’d expect any good defense attorney to do, and our judicial system guarantees any defendant, even obnoxious Russian trolls who refuse to actually show up in court, a vigorous defense, which is one of the risks of indicting foreign corporate persons.

To be clear: the way Concord challenged the conspiracy charge was often frivolous (particularly in the way that Concord’s Reed Smith lawyers, led by Eric Dubelier, argued it). The government can charge a conspiracy under 18 USC § 371 without proving that the defendant violated the underlying crimes the implementation of which the conspiracy thwarted (as Friedrich agreed in one of the rulings on Concord’s efforts). And on one of the charged overt acts — the conspiracy to hide the real purpose of two reconnaissance trips to the US on visa applications — Concord offered only a half-hearted defense; at trial DOJ would likely have easily proven that when IRA employees came to the US in advance of the operation, they lied about the purpose of their travel to get a visa.

That said, while Concord never succeeded in getting the charges against it dismissed, it forced DOJ to clarify (and possibly even alter) its theory of the crime.

That started as part of a motion to dismiss the indictment based on a variety of claims about the application of FARA to conspiracy, arguing in part that DOJ had to allege that Concord willfully failed to comply with FECA and FARA. The government argued that that’s not how a ConFraudUS charge works — that the defendants don’t have to be shown to be guilty of the underlying crimes. Concord replied by claiming that its poor trolls had no knowledge of the government functions that their secrecy thwarted. Friedrich posed two questions about how this worked.

Should the Court assume for purposes of this motion that neither Concord nor its coconspirators had any legal duty to report expenditures or to register as a foreign agent?

Specifically, should the Court assume for purposes of this motion that neither Concord nor its co-conspirators knowingly or unknowingly violated any provision, civil or criminal, of FECA or FARA by failing to report expenditures or by failing to register as a foreign agent?

The government responded by arguing that whether or not the Russian trolls had a legal duty to register, their deception meant that regulatory agencies were still thwarted.

As the government argued in its opposition and at the motions hearing, the Court need not decide whether the defendants had a legal duty to file reports with the FEC or to register under FARA because “the impairment or obstruction of a governmental function contemplated by section 371’s ban on conspiracies to defraud need not involve the violation of a separate statute.” United States v. Rosengarten, 857 F.2d 76, 78 (2d Cir. 1988); Dkt. No. 56, at 9-13. Moreover, the indictment alleges numerous coordinated, structured, and organized acts of deception in addition to the failure to report under FECA or to register under FARA, including the use of false social media accounts, Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 32-34, 36, the creation and use of U.S.- based virtual computer infrastructure to “mask[] the Russian origin and control” of those false online identities, id. ¶¶ 5, 39, and the use of email accounts under false names, id. ¶ 40. The indictment alleges that a purpose of these manifold acts of deception was to frustrate the lawful government functions of the United States. Id. ¶ 9; see also id. ¶ 5 (alleging that U.S.-based computer infrastructure was used “to avoid detection by U.S. regulators and law enforcement”); id. ¶ 58 (alleging later obstructive acts that reflect knowledge of U.S. regulation of conspirators’ conduct). Those allegations are sufficient to support the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States regardless of whether the defendants agreed to engage in conduct that violated FECA or FARA because the “defraud clause does not depend on allegations of other offenses.”

Friedrich ruled against the trolls, except in doing so stated strongly that the government had conceded that they had to have been acting to impair lawful government functions, though not which specific relevant laws were at issue.

Although the § 371 conspiracy alleged does not require willfulness, the parties’ disagreement may be narrower than it first appears. The government concedes that § 371 requires the specific intent to carry out the unlawful object of the agreement—in this case, the obstruction of lawful government functions. Gov’t’s Opp’n at 16 (“Because Concord is charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, . . . the requisite mental state is the intent of impairing, obstructing, or defeating the lawful function of any department of government through deception.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Further, the government agrees that to form the intent to impair or obstruct a government function, one must first be aware of that function. See Hr’g Tr. at 40 (“[Y]ou can’t act with an intent to impair a lawful government function if you don’t know about the lawful government function.”). Thus, Concord is correct—and the government does not dispute—that the government “must, at a minimum, show that Concord knew what ‘lawful governmental functions’ it was allegedly impeding or obstructing.” Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 22; Def.’s Reply at 5. Here, as alleged in the indictment, the government must show that Concord knew that it was impairing the “lawful functions” of the FEC, DOJ, or DOS “in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.” Indictment ¶ 9. But Concord goes too far in asserting that the Special Counsel must also show that Concord knew with specificity “how the relevant laws described those functions.” Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 22; Def.’s Reply at 5. A general knowledge that U.S. agencies are tasked with collecting the kinds of information the defendants agreed to withhold and conceal would suffice.

Then Concord shifted its efforts with a demand for a Bill of Particulars. The demand itself — and the government’s opposition — included a demand for information about co-conspirators and VPNs, yet another attempt to get intelligence rather than discovery. But Friedrich granted the motion with respect to the application of FECA and FARA.

In other words, it will be difficult for the government to establish that the defendants intended to use deceptive tactics to conceal their Russian identities and affiliations from the United States if the defendants had no duty to disclose that information to the United States in the first place. For that reason, the specific laws—and underlying conduct—that triggered such a duty are critical for Concord to know well in advance of trial so it can prepare its defense.

The indictment alleges that the defendants agreed to a course of conduct that would violate FECA’s and FARA’s disclosure requirements, see Indictment ¶¶ 7, 25–26, 48, 51, and provides specific examples of the kinds of expenditures and activities that required disclosure, see id. ¶¶ 48– 57. Concord, 347 F. Supp. 3d at 50. But the indictment does not cite the specific statutory and regulatory disclosure requirements that the defendants violated. Nor does it clearly identify which expenditures and activities violated which disclosure requirements. Accordingly, the Court will order the government to:

  • Identify any statutory or regulatory disclosure requirements whose administration the defendants allegedly conspired to impair, along with supporting citations to the U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, or comparable authority.
  • With respect to FECA, identify each category of expenditures that the government intends to establish required disclosure to the FEC. See, e.g., Indictment ¶ 48 (alleging that the defendants or their co-conspirators “produce[d], purchase[d], and post[ed] advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton”) (emphasis added)). The government must also identify for each category of expenditures which disclosure provisions the defendants or their co-conspirators allegedly violated.
  • With respect to FARA, identify each category of activities that the government intends to establish triggered a duty to register as a foreign agent under FARA. See, e.g., id. ¶ 48 (same); id. ¶ 51 (alleging that the defendants or their coconspirators “organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States” (emphasis added)). The government must also identify for each category of activities which disclosure provisions the defendants or their co-conspirators allegedly violated.

In a supplemental motion for a bill of particulars, Concord asked which defendants were obliged to file with DOJ and FEC.

That came to a head last fall. In a September 16, 2019 hearing, both sides and Friedrich discussed at length precisely what the legal theory behind the conspiracy was. On Friedrich’s order, the government provided Concord a list of people (whose names were redacted) that,

the defendants conspired to cause some or all of the following individuals or organizations to act as agents of a foreign principal while concealing from those individuals that they were acting as agents of a foreign principal [who should register under FARA].

That is, whether or not this was the original theory of the case, by last fall the government made it clear that it wasn’t (just) Prigozhin or his trolls who needed to register; rather, it was (also) the Americans who were duped into acting and spending money on their behalf. But because they didn’t know they were working on behalf of a foreign principal, they did not register.

Meanwhile, in a motion for clarification, the government argued that it had always intended to include foreigners spending money in the indictment. Friedrich held that that had not actually been included in the original indictment.

These two issues — the claim that duped Americans would have had to register if they knew they were working with a foreign agent, and the need to strengthen the assertion about foreign campaign expenditures — forced the government to go back and supersede the original indictment.

DOJ obtains a superseding indictment with more specific (and potentially new) theories of the case

On November 8, 2019, the government obtained a superseding indictment to include language about foreign donations that Friedrich had ruled was not in the original indictment and language covering the duped Americans who had unknowingly acted as agents of Russian trolls.

New language in the superseding indictment provided more detail of reporting requirements.

¶1 U.S. law also requires reporting of certain election-related expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.

[snip]

U.S. also imposes an ongoing requirement for such foreign agents to register with the Attorney General.

The paragraph explaining the means of the ConFraudUS added detail about what FEC, DOJ, and State functions the trolls’ deceit had thwarted.

¶7 In order to carry out their activities to interfere in the U.S. political and electoral processes without detection of their Russian affiliation, Defendants conspired to obstruct through fraud and deceit lawful functions of the United States government in monitoring, regulating, and enforcing laws concerning foreign influence on and involvement in U.S. elections and the U.S. political system. These functions include (a) the enforcement of the statutory prohibition on certain election-related expenditures by foreign nationals; (b) the enforcement of the statutory requirements for filing reports in connection with certain election-related expenditures; (c) the enforcement of the statutory ban on acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal in the United States; (d) the enforcement of the statutory requirements for registration as an agent of a foreign principal (e) the enforcement of the requirement that foreign national seeking entry into the United States provide truthful and accurate information to the government. The defendants conspired to do so by obtaining visas through false and fraudulent statements, camouflaging their activities by foreign nationals as being conducted by U.S. persons, making unlawful expenditures and failing to report expenditures in connection with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and failing to register as foreign agents carrying out political activities within the United States, and by causing others to take these actions.

These allegations were repeated in ¶9 in the section laying out the ConFraudUs count.

The superseding indictment added a section describing what FEC and DOJ do.

¶25 One of the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission is to monitor and enforce this prohibition. FECA also requires that individuals or entities who make certain independent expenditures in federal elections report those expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. Another lawful government function of the Federal Election Commission is to monitor and enforce this reporting requirement.

[snip]

¶26 The U.S. Department of Justice enforces the Foreign Agent Registration Act (“FARA”), which makes it illegal to act in the United States as an “agent of a foreign principal,” as defined at Title 22, United States Code, Section 661(c), without following certain registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements established by the Act. Under FARA, the term “foreign principal” includes foreign non-government individuals and entities. FARA requires, among other things, that persons subject to its requirements submit periodic registration statements containing truthful information about their activities and income earned from them. One of the lawful government functions of the Department of Justice is to monitor and enforce this registration, reporting, and disclosure regime.

In perhaps the most interesting addition, the superseding indictment also added language to include the actions of unwitting Americans.

¶48 …and caused unwitting persons to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton. Defendants and their co-conspirators did not report these expenditures to the Federal Election Commission, or register as foreign agents with the U.S. Department of Justice, nor did any of the unwitting persons they caused to engage in such activities.

The superseding indictment repeated this “unwitting” language in ¶51.

This superseding indictment is significant for two reasons, given the dismissal of the count against the two Concord defendants. First, the possibly changed theory of the conspiracy may have changed what evidence the government needed to prove the crime. For example, it may be that DOJ has evidence of IRA employees acknowledging, for the period of this indictment, that spending money on these activities was illegal, whether or not they knew they had to report such expenditures. It may be that DOJ has evidence of communications between the trolls and actual Americans they otherwise wouldn’t have had to rely on. It may be that DOJ has evidence about the regulatory knowledge of those same Americans about their own reporting obligations. Some of this evidence might well be classified.

Just as importantly, if Bill Barr wanted to jettison this prosecution, he could have done so last November by refusing to permit the superseding indictment. That likely would have undermined the case just as surely (and might have led Friedrich to dismiss it herself), and would have been far better for Trump’s messaging. Moreover, from that point in time, it would have been clear that trial might introduce evidence of how three Trump campaign officials coordinated (unknowingly) with the Russian trolls, something bound to embarrass Trump even if it posed no legal hazard. If Barr had wanted to undermine the prosecution to benefit Trump, November would have been the optimal time to do that, not February and March.

While it’s not clear whether this superseding indictment changed certain evidentiary challenges or not, three key strands of activity that seem to have resulted in the dismissal started only after the superseding: an effort to authenticate digital evidence on social media activity, an effort to subpoena some of that same evidence, and the CIPA process to try to substitute for classified information.

The government goes to some lengths to try to pre-approve normally routine evidence

The last of those efforts, chronologically, may hint at some of the evidentiary issues that led DOJ to drop the case.

In a motion submitted on February 17, the government sought to admit a great deal of the social media and related forensic data in the case. In many trials, this kind of evidence is stipulated into evidence, but here, Concord had been making it clear it would challenge the evidence at trial. So the government submitted a motion in limine to try to make sure it could get that evidence admitted in advance.

Among the issues raised in the motion was how the government planned to authenticate the IP addresses that tied the IRA trolls to specific Facebook and Twitter accounts and other members of the conspiracy (Prigozhin, Concord, and the interim shell companies) to each other. The government redacted significant sections of the filing describing how it intended to authenticate these ties (see, for example, the redaction on page 8, which by reference must discuss subscriber information and IP addresses, and footnote 7 on page 9, the redaction pertaining to how they were going to authenticate emails on page 16, the very long redaction on how they would authenticate emails between IRA and Concord starting on page 17, and the very long redaction on how they were going to authenticate Prigozhin to the IRA starting on page 21).

Concord got special permission to write an overly long 56-page response. Some of it makes it clear they’re undermining the government’s efforts to assert just that, for example on IP addresses.

IP addresses, subscriber information, and cookie data are not self-authenticating. The first link in the government’s authentication argument is that IP addresses,6 subscriber information, and cookie data are self-authenticating business records under Rules 803(6) and 902(11). But the cases the government cites are easily distinguishable and undercut its argument.

6 The IP addresses do not link an account to a specific location or fixed address. For example, for the Russian IP addresses the government indicates that they were somewhere within the city of St. Petersburg, Russia.

[snip]

It should come as no surprise then, given the lack of reliability and untrustworthiness in social media evidence such as that the government seeks to introduce, that the case law forecloses the government’s facile effort at authentication of content here. Unlike Browne, Lewisbey, and the other cases cited above, the government has offered no social media accounts bearing the name of any alleged conspirator and no pictures appearing to be a conspirator adorning such page.7 Nor has the government pointed to a single witness who can testify that she saw a conspirator sign up for the various social media accounts or send an email, or who can describe patterns of consistency across the various digital communications to indicate they come from the same source.

7 The government has indicated to Concord that it intends to introduce at trial Fed. R. Evid. 1006 summaries of IP address records, apparently to create the link between the social media accounts and IRA that is not addressed in the motion. See Ex. B, Jan. 6, 2020 letter. Despite repeated requests from undersigned counsel, the government has identified the 40 social media accounts for it intends to summarize but has not provided the summaries or indicated when it will do so.

Some of this is obviously bullshit, particularly given the government’s contention, elsewhere, that Concord (or IRA, if it was a typo) had dedicated IP addresses. Mostly, though, it appears to have been an attempt to put sand in the wheels of normal criminal prosecution by challenging stuff that is normally routine. That doesn’t mean it’s improper, from a defense standpoint. But given how often DOJ’s nation-state indictments rely on such forensic evidence, it’s a warning about potential pitfalls to them.

The government resorts to CIPA

Even while the government had originally set out to prove this case using only unclassified information, late in the process, it decided it needed to use the Classified Information Procedures Act. That process is where one would look for any evidence that Barr sabotaged the prosecution by classifying necessary evidence (though normally the approval for CIPA could come from Assistant Attorney General for National Security Division John Demers, who is not the hack that Barr is).

In October 2019, Friedrich had imposed a deadline for CIPA if the government were going to use it, of January 20, 2020.

On December 17, the government asked for a two week delay, “to ensure appropriate coordination within the Executive Branch that must occur prior to the filing of the motion,” a request Friedrich denied (even though Concord did not oppose it). This was likely when the classification determination referenced in the motion to withdraw was debated, given that such determinations would dictate what prosecutors had to do via CIPA.

On January 10, 2020, the government filed its first motion under CIPA Section 4, asking to substitute classified information for discovery and use at trial. According to the docket, Friedrich discussed CIPA issues at a hearing on January 24. Then on January 29 and February 10, she posted classified orders to the court security officer, presumably as part of the CIPA discussion.

On February 13, the government asked for and obtained a one-day extension to file a follow-up CIPA filing, from February 17 to February 18, “to complete necessary consultation within the Executive Branch regarding the filing and to ensure proper supervisory review.” If Barr intervened on classification issues, that’s almost certainly when he did, because this happened days after Barr intervened on February 11 in Roger Stone’s sentencing and after Jonathan Kravis, who had been one of the lead prosecutors in this case as well, quit in protest over Barr’s Stone intervention. At the very least, in the wake of that fiasco, Timothy Shea made damn sure he ran his decision by Barr. But the phrase, “consultation within the Executive Branch,” certainly entertains consultation with whatever agency owned the classified information prosecutors were deciding whether they could declassify (and parallels the language used in the earlier request for a filing extension). And Adam Jed, who had been part of the Mueller team, was added to the team not long before this and remained on it through the dismissal, suggesting nothing akin to what happened with Stone happened here.

The government submitted its CIPA filing on the new deadline of February 18, Friedrich issued an order the next day, the government filed another CIPA filing on February 20, Friedrich issued another order on February 28.

Under CIPA, if a judge rules that evidence cannot be substituted, the government can either choose not to use that evidence in trial or drop the prosecution. It’s likely that Friedrich ruled that, if the government wanted to use the evidence in question, they had to disclose it to Concord, including Prigozhin, and at trial. In other words, that decision — and the two earlier consultations (from December to early January, and then again in mid-February) within the Executive Branch — are likely where classification issues helped sink the prosecution.

It’s certainly possible Bill Barr had a key role in that. But there’s no explicit evidence of it. And there’s abundant reason to believe that Prigozhin’s extensive efforts to use the prosecution as an intelligence-gathering exercise both for ongoing disinformation efforts and to optimize ongoing trolling efforts was a more important consideration. Barr may be an asshole, but there’s no evidence in the public record to think that in this case, Prigozhin wasn’t the key asshole behind a decision.

DOJ attempts to treat Concord as a legit party to the court’s authority

Even before that CIPA process started playing out, beginning on December 3, the government pursued an ultimately unsuccessful effort to subpoena Concord. This may have been an attempt to obtain via other means evidence that either had been obtained using means that DOJ had since decided to classify or the routine authentication of which Concord planned to challenge.

DOJ asked to subpoena a number of things that would provide details of how Concord and Prigozhin personally interacted with the trolls. Among other requests, the government asked to subpoena Concord for the IP addresses it used during the period of the indictment (precisely the kind of evidence that Concord would later challenge).

3. Documents sufficient to identify any Internet Protocol address used by Concord Management and Consulting LLC from January 1, 2014 to February 1, 2018.

Concord responded with a load of absolute bullshit about why, under Russian law, Concord could not comply with a subpoena. Judge Friedrich granted the some of the government’s request (including for IP addresses), but directed the government to more narrowly tailor its other subpoena requests.

On December 20, the government renewed its request for other materials, providing some evidence of why it was sure Concord had responsive materials. Concord quickly objected again, again wailing mightily. In its reply, the government reminded Friedrich that she had the ability to order Concord to comply with the subpoena — and indeed, had gotten Concord’s assurances it would comply with orders of the court when it first decided to defend against the charges. It even included a declaration from an expert on Russian law, Paul Stephan, debunking many of the claims Concord had made about Russian law. Concord wailed, again. On January 24, Friedrich approved the 3 categories of the subpoena she had already approved. On January 29, the government tried again, narrowing the request even to — in one example — specific days.

Calendar entries reflecting meetings between Prigozhin and “Misha Lakhta” on or about January 27, 2016, February 1, 2016, February 2, 2016, February 14, 2016, February 23, 2016, February 29, 2016, May 22, 2016, May 23, 2016, May 28, 2016, May 29, 2016, June 7, 2016, June 27, 2016, July 1, 2016, September 22, 2016, October 5, 2016, October 23, 2016, October 30, 2016, November 6, 2016, November 13, 2016, November 26, 2016, December 3, 2016, December 5, 2016, December 29, 2016, January 19, 2017, and February 1, 2017.

Vast swaths of the motion (and five exhibits) explaining why the government was sure that Concord had the requested records are sealed. Concord responded, wailing less, but providing a helpful geography lesson to offer some alternative explanation for the moniker “Lakhta,” which the government has long claimed was the global term for Prigozhin’s information war against the US and other countries.

But the government fails to inform the Court that “Lakhta” actually means a multitude of other things, including: Lake Lakhta, a lake in the St. Petersburg area, and Lakhta Center, the tallest building in Europe, which is located in an area within St. Petersburg called the Lakhta-Olgino Municipal Okrug.

On February 7, Friedrich largely granted the government’s subpoena request, approving subpoenas to get communications involving Prigozhin and alleged co-conspirators, as well as records of payments and emails discussing them.  That same day and again on February 21, Concord claimed that it had communicated with the government with regards to the subpoenas, but what would soon be clear was non-responsive.

On February 27, the government moved to show cause for why Concord should not be held in contempt for blowing off the subpoenas, including the request for IP addresses and the entirety of the second subpoena (for meetings involving Prigozhin and records of payments to IRA). Concord wailed in response. The government responded by summarizing Concord’s response:

Concord’s 18-page pleading can be distilled to three material points: Concord’s attorneys will not make any representations about compliance; Concord will not otherwise make any representations about compliance; and Concord will not comply with a court order to send a representative to answer for its production. The Court should therefore enter a contempt order and impose an appropriate sanction to compel compliance.

Friedrich issued an order that subpoena really does mean subpoena, demanding some kind of representation from Concord explaining its compliance.  In response, Prigozhin sent a declaration partly stating that his businesses had deleted all available records, partly disclaiming an ability to comply because he had played games with corporate structure.

With respect to category one in the February 10, 2020 trial subpoena, Concord never had any calendar entries for me during the period before I became General Director, and I became General Director after February 1, 2018, so no searches were able to be performed in Concord’s documents. Concord did not and does not have access to the previous General Director’s telephone from which the prosecution claims to have obtained photographs of calendars and other documents, so Concord is unable to confirm the origin of such photographs.

He claimed to be unable to comply with the request for IP addresses because his contractors “cannot” provide them.

In order to comply with category three in the trial subpoena dated January 24, 2020, in Concord’s records I found contracts between Concord and Severen-Telecom JSC and Unitel LLC, the two internet service providers with which Concord contracted between January 1, 2014 and February 1, 2018. Because these contracts do not identify the internet protocol (“IP”) addresses used by Concord during that period, on January 7, 2020 I sent letters on behalf of Concord to Severen-Telecom JSC and Unitel LLC transmitting copies of these contracts and requesting that the companies advise as to which IP addresses were provided to or used by Concord during that period. Copies of these letters and English translations, as well as the attached contracts, are attached as Exhibits 2 and 3. Severen-Telecom JSC responded in writing that the requested information cannot be provided. A copy of Severen-Telecom JSC’s letter and an English translation are attached as Exhibit 2. Unitel LLC responded that information regarding IP addresses cannot be provided. A copy of Unitel LLC’s letter and an English translation of is attached as Exhibit 3. Accordingly, Concord does not have any documents that could be provided in response to category three (3) of the January 24, 2020 subpoena.

The government responded by pointing out how bogus Prigozhin’s declaration was, not least his insistence that any oligarch like him would really be the person in charge of his companies’ record-keeping. It also described evidence — which is redacted — that Concord had an in-house IT provider at the time (though notes that “as the Court knows, it appears that Concord [sic; this is probably IRA] registered and maintained multiple dedicated IP addresses during the relevant time period”). It further noted that the date that Prigozhin claimed his company started destroying records after 3 months perfectly coincided to cover the start date of this subpoena. In short, it provided fairly compelling evidence that Prigozhin, after agreeing that his company would be subject to the authority of the court when it first filed an appearance in the case, was trolling the court from the safety of Russia.

On March 5, Judge Friedrich nevertheless allowed that bullshit response in her court and declined to hold Concord in contempt. Eleven days later, the government moved to dismiss the case.

The government files the motion to dismiss before the evidentiary dispute finishes but after the subpoena and CIPA fail

On March 16 — 17 days after what appears to be the final CIPA order and 11 days after Friedrich declined to hold Concord or Prigozhin in contempt, and one day before the government was due to file a follow-up to its motion in limine to authenticate normally routine evidence in the case — the government moved to dismiss the case.

While it’s unclear what evidence was deemed to be classified late in the prosecution (likely in December), it seems fairly clear that it affected (and possibly was a source or method used to collect) key forensic proof in the case. It’s also unclear whether an honest response to the government’s trial subpoenas would have replaced that evidence.

What is clear, however, is that there is sufficient explanation in the public record to support the government’s explanation — that Prigozhin was using the prosecution to reap benefits of obtaining information about US government efforts to thwart his activities without risking anything himself. And whether or not the government would be able to prove its case with the classification and CIPA decisions reflected in the docket, the trial itself would shift more evidence into the category of information that would get shared with Prigozhin.

None of that disproves that Barr sabotaged the case. But it does provide sufficient evidence to explain why DOJ dismissed the case, without assuming that Barr sabotaged it.

Other cases of interest

As noted above, not only do the identity theft related charges remain, but so does the ConFraudUS case for all the biological defendants, including Prigozhin. It may be that, given the opportunity to imprison Prigozhin in the highly unlikely event that he ever showed up in the US for trial, the classification trade-offs would be very different.

But there are three other legal issues of interest, given this outcome.

First, there’s one more unsurprising detail about the superseding indictment: It also included an end-date, January 2018. That’s not surprising because adding later activities probably would presented all sorts of problems given how advanced the trial was last November. But it’s also significant because it means double jeopardy would not attach for later activities. So the government could, if the calculus on classification ever changed, simply charge all the things Prigozhin and his trolls have been doing since January 2018 in an indictment charged under its revised theory.

That’s particularly significant given that, in September 2018, prosecutors in EDVA charged Prigozhin’s accountant, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova. Even at the time, I imagined it might be a vehicle to move the IRA prosecution if anything happened to it in DC. Unsurprisingly, given that she’s the accountant at the center of all this, the Khusyaynova complaint focused more closely on the money laundering part of the prosecution. Plus, that complaint incorporated evidence of Prigozhin’s trolls reveling in their own indictment, providing easy proof of knowledge of the legal claims DOJ made that didn’t exist for the earlier indictment. None of that would change the calculus around classified evidence (indeed, some of the overt acts described in the Khusyaynova complaint seem like the kind of evidence that Prigozhin would have turned over had he complied with the Concord subpoena. So there is another vehicle for such a prosecution, if DOJ wanted to pursue it.

Finally, Prigozhin has not succeeded with all his attempts to wage lawfare in support of his disinformation efforts. In January, he lost his bid to force Facebook to reinstate his fake news site, Federal Agency of News, based off an argument that because Facebook worked so closely with the government, it cannot exercise its own discretion on its private site. As I laid out here, the suit intersected with both the IRA indictment and Khusyaynova complaint, and engaged in similar kinds of corporate laundry and trollish bullshit. The decision was a no-brainer decision based on Section 230 grounds, giving providers immunity when they boot entities from their services. But the decision also confirms what is already evident: when it comes to shell companies in the business of trolling, thus far whack-a-mole removals have worked more consistently than seemingly symbolic prosecution.

DOJ may well revisit how it charged this to try to attach a FARA liability onto online disinformation. But ultimately the biological humans, not the corporation shells or the bots, need to be targeted.

Bill Barr’s Chosen US Attorney Signs Off on Aggressive Response to Mike Flynn

When Bill Barr suddenly replaced DC US Attorney Jessie Liu the day after the Senate acquitted Trump, I grew wary of why he replaced a solid Trump appointee with his own close aide, Timothy Shea.

I fully expect the move was designed to minimize the damage of ongoing investigations into Trump’s flunkies and may well be an effort to prosecute more of Trump’s perceived enemies, like Andrew McCabe.

But in one of the first signals of whether Shea will interfere in sensitive prosecutions, the ongoing sentencing of Mike Flynn, Shea signed off on an aggressive next step.

That’s one of the key takeaways from two filings submitted today, the first asking for an order finding that Flynn has waived all attorney-client privilege with respect to Covington & Burling’s representation of him (including with those who worked on Flynn’s behalf, which might include researchers and tech contractors) in regards to his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and the second asking for a continuance — possibly a significant one — to work with Covington to obtain information and materials to respond to Mike Flynn’s claims that Covington provided incompetent advice to him.

Bill Barr’s close associate Shea signed off on this, but Brandon Van Grack did not, which likely means that the government is preparing for the possibility (invited by Judge Emmet Sullivan’s suggestion he wants to hold an evidentiary hearing with sworn witnesses) that Van Grack will testify about discussions with Flynn and his lawyers, too.

That is, we may be headed towards a hearing in which we see top Covington lawyers, their contractors (I suspect their tech contractors have an interesting story to tell about how Flynn Intelligence Group materials were made unavailable after the 2016 election, thereby making key documents unavailable for Covington to review before completing the FARA filing), the other lawyer they advised he consult after first making sure he did not have a conflict, and Van Grack testify about how much lying and obstruction Flynn engaged in, with just Flynn and his wife (having probably already waived spousal privilege by submitting a declaration in this matter) arguing to the contrary.

Another takeaway is that Covington wants this opportunity to tell what a shitty client Flynn was.

While Covington has indicated a willingness to comply with this request, it has understandably declined to do so in the absence of a Court order confirming the waiver of attorney-client privilege.

They just want the legal and ethical cover of an order from Judge Sullivan. The government is asking for over a week extension from the existing deadline — currently noon on this Wednesday, February 12 — before they propose to submit a status report at noon on Thursday, February 20. That suggests they imagine, having consulted with Covington, that there may be a good deal to talk about, with regards to what a shitty client Mike Flynn was.

A subtle point about this request: I believe that the government is asking for this, and justifying it, based off Flynn’s complaint not just that his Covington lawyers should have gotten the details about FARA correct, and having not done so had an unwaivable conflict in representing Flynn going forward, but also that they allegedly did not tell Flynn that the FBI agents who originally interviewed him believed that he had a “sure demeanor,” which would have led him not to plead guilty had he been told.

the defendant contends that (1) his attorneys did not disclose to him that the interviewing agents believed he had a “sure demeanor” and that he did not show signs of deception, and he would not have pleaded guilty if his attorneys had disclosed this to him

This is significant because in the Bijan Kian case, Judge Anthony Trenga ruled that Covington’s work on the FARA application was not covered by privilege.

Notwithstanding the near absolute immunity enjoyed by attorney opinion work product, where that work product relates centrally to the actions or conduct of a lawyer at issue in a case, such that consideration of the attorney’s opinion work product, including their recollections and impressions, are essential to a just and fair resolution, opinion work product protections otherwise applicable do not apply. See, e.g., In re John Doe, 662 F.2d 1073, 1080 (4th Cir. 1981) (finding no opinion work product protection where attorney’s prior representation was a target of the grand jury investigation); Sec. Exch. Comm’n v. Nat’l Student Mktg. Corp., 1974 WL 415, *3–4 (D.D.C. June 25, 1974) (finding no opinion work product protection where at issue was what a law firm did and did not know). Here, while there is no contention that Covington or Verderame committed any crime, what they did and why is central to this case as their actions are claimed to have resulted in a crime attributable to Rafiekian. For these reasons, any opinion work product by Covington or Verderame that pertains to the FARA filing is not protected.

I believe that means that the already substantial evidence submitted in the context of that case, including notes and testimony clearly showing that Flynn lied to Covington lawyers as they were preparing the FARA filing, can be entered into this proceeding.

What the government is asking for, then, is that Covington’s attorney-client obligations to Flynn be waived on the case in chief here, his lies about Russia. Indeed, that’s what the bulk of the conflicting sworn Flynn statements laid out in the government filing pertain to.

On December 1, 2017, the defendant entered a plea of guilty to “willfully and knowingly” making material false statements to the FBI on January 24, 2017, regarding his contacts with the Russian Ambassador. See Information; SOF at ¶¶ 3-4.1 In addition, in the Statement of the Offense, the defendant admitted that he “made material false statements and omissions” in multiple documents that he filed on March 7, 2017, with the Department of Justice pursuant to FARA, which pertained to a project for the principal benefit of the Republic of Turkey. See SOF at ¶ 5.

On November 30, 2017, defendant Flynn signed the Statement of the Offense, acknowledging: “I have read every word of this Statement of the Offense, or have had it read to me . . . . I agree and stipulate to this Statement of the Offense, and declare under penalty of perjury that it is true and correct.” See SOF at 6. During his initial plea hearing, defendant Flynn was shown this signature, and he acknowledged under oath that it was his. See Plea Tr. at 13-14, United States v. Flynn, No. 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017) (“12/01/2017 Plea Tr.”). Thereafter, the government read the Statement of the Offense into the record. See id. at 14-18. The defendant was asked by the Court, “Is that factual summary true and correct?,” and the defendant replied, “It is.” Id. at 18. The Court then asked whether the defendant believed the government could prove those facts at trial, to which the defendant replied “yes.” Id. at 19. Defendant Flynn was also asked at this hearing whether he had sufficient time to consult with his attorneys, to which he replied “yes,” and whether he was satisfied with the services they had provided him, to which he also responded “yes.” Id. at 6.

Defendant Flynn was originally scheduled to be sentenced on December 18, 2018. Prior to that hearing, the government submitted a sentencing memorandum that described defendant Flynn’s knowing and willful material false statements to the FBI, and his material false statements and omissions in multiple FARA filings. See Gov’t Sent’g Memo at 2-5. In his own filing, the defendant reiterated that he “d[id] not take issue” with the government’s description of his conduct. See Def. Sent’g Mem at 7 (citing Gov’t Sent’g Memo at 2-5).

As I noted, Flynn’s sworn statements in this preceding are in unreconcilable conflict, both as regards to FARA and as regards to his claim to have lied to the FBI about his conversations with Sergei Kislyak and his more recent claim that he did not lie. But by getting Covington a waiver to talk about the latter, the government intends to get abundant evidence to prove that’s true of both sets unreconcilable conflicting sworn statements, the ones about his work for Turkey and the ones about lying to the FBI about Russia.

And they make it clear they may charge Flynn with perjury once they do that, because they want Sullivan to approve that use in his order.

The order also should make clear that if the defendant’s Supplemental Motion to Withdraw his Plea of Guilty is granted, the Court may consider additional questions of the limitation on the use of this information in any subsequent trial. This limitation on the use of information should not, however, preclude the government from prosecuting the defendant for perjury if any information that he provided to counsel were proof of perjury in this proceeding.

If Sullivan approves this (and he seems to be thinking along the same lines), it means either Flynn’s motion to withdraw will be refused after Covington provides the court with additional evidence of perjury, or it will be approved after Covington provides the government with additional evidence of perjury, which the government — including the newly appointed US Attorney for DC — would then use to prosecute Flynn for perjury.

Flynn’s lawyers — who, remember, decided to risk their client’s freedom on a claim that Covington lawyers were incompetent — seem uninterested in letting the government prepare for a hearing the judge in this case has made fairly clear he intends to hold.

The government conferred by e-mail with counsel for the defendant. In response to the government’s request to amend the briefing schedule in this case, defense counsel wrote: “Our position is that at the minimum, the Department of Justice should agree to withdrawal of the plea. Accordingly, we oppose any further extension of the briefing schedule.”

But even if Sullivan denies this motion, even if Sullivan doesn’t sign the order giving Covington the cover to explain how much Flynn lied to them, the government still has adequate time to prove their case by the existing deadline on Wednesday.

It was clear going back to the early January submission of the sentencing memorandum that Flynn’s case is being very carefully reviewed by the DOJ hierarchy. That’s unlikely to have changed with the changeover in US Attorney. Which suggests that whatever else Barr’s appointment of Timothy Shea means, it likely also means that DOJ institutionally supports this aggressive response to Flynn’s gamesmanship on his guilty plea.

Update: I’m increasingly baffled by all of this, but I think this may be Sidney Powell blinking. She agrees to the continuance claiming (without explaining that she has consulted with the government) that the basis for the government’s request has changed since they emailed and asked whether they were cool with a week-long delay.

Both the relief requested and the reasons underlying the government’s Motion to Amend have changed since it conferred with the defense earlier last week. Given the government’s Motion to Confirm Waiver, which raises issues the government did not mention previously, Michael T. Flynn (“Mr. Flynn”) does not oppose the Court granting a stay of the briefing schedule with a status report due from the parties by February 20, 2020. However, it is imperative that Mr. Flynn have time to brief the issues raised by the government’s new motion regarding the attorney-client privilege.

This could be because someone got through to Flynn and explained he was facing prison on this charge and perjury charges and implored him to withdraw his request to withdraw his plea. It could be because Shea — or Barr — has decided to weigh in. It could be that, given the government’s softer request for a guidelines sentence, Flynn has cut his losses.

All this time, Sullivan has been unusually quiet.

Update: Maybe I’m missing Flynn’s response. On second thought, I think they’re claiming (who knows if it’s true) that last week the government asked for an extension for one reason, and now they’re asking for another. Which would make the inclusion of Shea on this all the more interesting, if it is true, which it’s probably not.

Mike Flynn Seizes the Rope to Hang Himself With: Pick Your Perjury

As I noted Wednesday, Mike Flynn’s legal team and the government submitted a bunch of filings.

In this post, I suggested (controversially) that prosecutors may have had a different purpose for raising probation in their reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo, to remind Judge Emmet Sullivan how pissed he gets when powerful people demand special treatment that the little people go to prison for. In this post, I suggested that Flynn’s motion to dismiss would be better suited if Sidney Powell were representing Carter Page, not Flynn.

In this post, I’ll cover the meat of the issue, Flynn’s attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, made twice, under oath.

Before I get into that meat, though, note that with a sworn declaration Flynn submitted with this filing, he has given four sworn statements in this matter:

  • December 1, 2017: Mike Flynn pled guilty before Judge Rudolph Contreras to lying in a January 24, 2017 FBI interview.
  • December 18, 2018: Mike Flynn reallocuted his guilty plea before Judge Emmet Sullivan to lying in a January 24, 2017 FBI interview.
  • June 26, 2018: Mike Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, among other things, that “from the beginning,” his 2016 consulting project “was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government,” he and Bijan Kian would “always talk about Gulen as sort of a sharp point” in relations between Turkey and the US as part of the project (though there was some discussion about business climate), and he and his partner “didn’t have any conversations about” a November 8, 2016 op-ed published under his name until “Bijan [] sent me a draft of it a couple of days prior, maybe about a week prior.” The statements conflict with a FARA filing submitted under Flynn’s name.
  • January 29, 2020: Mike Flynn declared, under oath that, “in truth, I never lied.”

Understand that from the moment Judge Emmet Sullivan picks up this motion to withdraw his plea, Sullivan will be faced with Flynn claiming he lied, at least once, under oath. Take your pick which one of these statements under oath Flynn now claims to be a lie, but at least one of them necessarily is. And Sullivan has made it clear he plans to put Flynn back under oath to resolve all this.

That’s the hole that Sidney Powell has crafted for her client to dig his way out of, a sworn statement that conflicts with two earlier ones, and sworn testimony that conflicts with her primary basis for withdrawing this plea.

Almost no mention of his lies about Russia

From there, she provides her client little help from the primary task before him: explaining why he is withdrawing his guilty plea that primarily relates to his January 24, 2017 FBI interview. In the first paragraph of her motion, she asserts that Mike Flynn does maintain he did not lie on January 24, 2017, meaning he lied under oath before both Contreras and Sullivan when he said he did.

Michael T. Flynn (“Mr. Flynn”) does maintain that he is innocent of the 18 U.S.C. §1001 charges; and he did not lie to the FBI agents who interviewed him in the White House on January 24, 2017.

She offers several different explanations for why her client apparently perjured himself twice before judges. The most sustained one — one Flynn fans have made persistently — is that he now thinks the agents didn’t actually believe he lied because they “saw no indications of deception” from Flynn, meaning that he didn’t act like he was lying. Bizarrely, one of the things Flynn includes in his sworn declaration is that he has a history of not being candid about sensitive and classified subjects with anyone who is not his superior (though I would imagine that his former superior James Clapper would argue even this is not true).

My baseline reaction to questions posed by people outside of my superiors, immediate command, or office of responsibility is to protect sensitive or classified information, except upon “need to know” and the proper level of security clearance. That type of filter is ingrained in me and virtually automatic after a lifetime of honoring my duty to protect the most important national and military secrets.

In short, Flynn claims under oath that he has a habit of not telling the truth about classified or sensitive matters. He doesn’t quite say that’s what happened here, but since he has stated under oath he knew that it was a crime to lie to the FBI and he knew the people interviewing him would have had access to transcripts of his calls with Sergei Kislyak, has has provided evidence, under oath, that he knew these FBI agents were people he had to tell the truth to and were included among those with the “need to know” about what he said to Kislyak. But the explanation that he has a virtually automatic filter that leads him not to tell the truth about sensitive information does explain why agents might observe that he had a sure demeanor even while knowing he lied: Flynn has had a lot of practice lying.

Now, this by itself surely can’t get him out of his conflicting sworn statements that he didn’t lie but he did.

So Flynn blames his former lawyers.

As part of a broader strategy to claim that Flynn’s Covington team was incompetent, Sidney Powell claims (relying on Flynn’s declaration) that when the government made it clear to his lawyers they knew he had been lying, Flynn asked his lawyers “to make further inquiry with the SCO prosecutors about whether the FBI agents believed I had lied to them” (Flynn’s declaration is internally contradictory on this point, because he claims he heard rumors they didn’t believe this by November 30 but then, seven paragraphs later, he claims he never heard those rumors before he pled guilty on December 1). His attorney inquired and came back with the truthful response that the “agents stand by their statements.” Flynn claims that his attorneys did not tell him what he claims to be a critical detail, that the agents thought he sounded like he was telling the truth even though abundant other evidence (including Peter Strzok’s texts to Lisa Page, written before any draft 302s) make it clear they knew he was lying.

The information that counsel withheld concerned prior statements that the two FBI agents who interviewed Mr. Flynn in the White House had made about his “sure demeanor,” the lack of “indicators of deception,” and similar observations. Exs. Michael Flynn Declaration;Lori Flynn Declaration.

In an earlier round of briefing in this case, the government represented that it had communicated this information to the defendant on the day that the plea agreement was signed, November 30, 2017 [Gov’t’s Opp’n, ECF No. 122 at 16]. In its December 16, 2019 Opinion, moreover, this Court accepted and relied on that representation [Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 144 at 32].As the Flynn Declarations demonstrate, however, that representation was mistaken: the government almost certainly made a disclosure to the defendant’s counsel on that day, but Covington did not then communicate the information to the defendant himself. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, communication to counsel is communication to the client, but it was not that day.

Flynn now claims it would have changed his mind to plead guilty if he learned that the FBI agents thought he was a pretty convincing liar, but his lawyers incompetently didn’t share that detail with him.

But wait.

There’s more.

Powell also suggests that the way the FBI investigated Flynn — first by monitoring how he responded to Trump’s first national security briefing (the one Flynn attended while secretly signing up to work for the Turkish government) and then by interviewing him in the White House — is proof they weren’t really investigating him.

Meanwhile, on January 24, 2017, as we have briefed elsewhere, FBI Director Comey and Deputy Director McCabe dispatched Agents Strzok and “SSA 1” to the White House— deliberately contrary to DOJ and FBI policy and protocols—without notifying DOJ.9

9 This was actually the FBI’s second surreptitious interview of Mr. Flynn—without informing him even so much as that he was the subject of their investigation. SSA 1 had “interviewed him” in a “sample Presidential Daily Briefing” (“PDB”) on August 17, 2016—unbeknownst to anyone outside the FBI or DOJ until revealed in the recent Inspector General Report of December 9, 2019.

This also goes to Mr. Flynn’s claim of actual innocence. Against the baseline interview the FBI surreptitiously obtained under the guise of the PDB (in August 2016), the agents conducted the White House interview and immediately reported back in three extensive briefings during which both agents assured the leadership of the DOJ and FBI they “saw no indications of deception,” and they believed so strongly that Mr. Flynn was shooting straight with them that Strzok pushed back against Lisa Page’s disbelief and Deputy Director McCabe’s cries of “bullshit.” ECF No. 133-2 at 4. This development is addressed in Flynn’s Motion to Dismiss for Egregious Government Misconduct filed contemporaneously herewith.

[snip]

The electronic communication written by SSA 1 arising from the presidential briefing was approved by Strzok. It was uploaded into Sentinel August 30, 2016. IG Report at 343 and n. 479. In truth, but unknown to Mr. Flynn until the release of this Report, SSA1 was actually there because he was investigating the candidate’s national security advisor as being “an agent of Russia.” This report of that interaction including purported statements by Mr. Flynn was put it in a sub-file of the Crossfire Hurricane file. That, and the DOJ document completely exonerating Mr. Flynn of that slanderous assertion, has never been produced to Mr. Flynn. This was extraordinary Brady and Giglio information that should have been provided to Mr. Flynn by Mr. Van Grack no later than upon entry of this Court’s Brady order

[snip]

With every disclosure and IG Report of the last eighteen months, it has become increasingly clear the FBI was not trying to learn facts from Mr. Flynn on January 24, 2017. Rather, the Agents were executing a well-planned, high-level trap that began at least as far back as August 15, 2016, when Strzok and Page texted about the “insurance policy” they discussed in McCabe’s office, opened the “investigation” on Mr. Flynn the next day, and inserted SSA 1 surreptitiously into the “sample PDB” the next day to investigate and assess Mr. Flynn.

Even if these assertions were true, none of it rebuts that Flynn told lies in that interview.

Which is probably why Powell goes on to argue that the answers that Flynn claims weren’t lies weren’t material to the FBI investigation, based in part on Judge Sullivan’s comments from the December 2018 sentencing hearing that probably were more indication that he wanted prosecutors to lay out how bad Flynn’s lies were.

Finally, the Court was not satisfied with the factual basis for the plea. It said it had “many, many, many questions.” Hr’g Tr. Dec. 18, 2018 at 20. The Court, sensing the materiality issues in the case, specifically left those questions open for another day. Id. at 50. 40

40 The element of materiality boils down to whether a misstatement “has a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the decision-making body to which it was addressed.” United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 522-23 (1995). In applying this rule, courts analyze the statement that was made and the decision that the agency was considering. Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989, 2002-03 (2016). For a misstatement to be material, the agency must show that it would have made a different decision had the defendant told the truth.

The government alleges misstatements that were not material because the FBI agents did not come to the White House for a legitimate investigative purpose; they did not come to investigate an alleged crime. Instead, they came to get leverage over Mr. Flynn at a time when they felt the new administration was still disorganized. So they ignored policies and procedures. They went around the Department of Justice and the White House Counsel’s office, and they walked into the National Security Advisor’s office under false pretenses. They decided not to confront Mr. Flynn with any alleged misstatement not for a legitimate law enforcement purpose, but rather because they did not know if the effort to purge him from his office would be successful. If it was not, they wanted to maintain a collegial working relationship with him. If Mr. Flynn had answered the questions the way in which they imagine he should, nothing at all would have changed in the actions the FBI would have taken.

Powell, of course, presents no evidence for these wild claims. Moreover, she ignores the evidence of materiality that prosecutors submitted in their own sentencing memo.

The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

She ignores, too, that prosecutors put her on notice that they’re going to show that Flynn continued to lack candor in his first meetings with Mueller’s team, a team that did not include either of the FBI agents she says had it in for her client.

Based on filings and assertions made by the defendant’s new counsel, the government anticipates that the defendant’s cooperation and candor with the government will be contested issues for the Court to consider at sentencing. Accordingly, the government will provide the defendant with the reports of his post-January 24, 2017 interviews. The government notes that the defendant had counsel present at all such interviews.

Flynn’s declaration actually accords with this. He describes how, after his first interview with Mueller’s prosecutors, “my attorneys told me that the first day’s proffer did not go well.” It wasn’t until several more meetings before Mueller’s team gave Flynn’s attorneys his first 302, which made it clear how dramatically he had lied.

All of which is to say that Powell’s most robust support for Flynn’s claim that he didn’t lie is that FBI agents believed he had lied well, which probably isn’t going to convince Sullivan to let him withdraw his sworn plea that he did in fact lie.

Cursory consideration of Cray

That makes it all the more problematic that Powell barely addresses what Judge Sullivan told both sides to: a hearing with sworn witnesses and to address US v Cray. True, she does say that if the government doesn’t agree with this motion Sullivan should maybe hold a hearing.

No hard and fast rule governs whether an evidentiary hearing is required before a court can properly adjudicate ineffective assistance of counsel claims, including those undergirding a motion to withdraw a guilty plea. Much depends on exactly what is being contested and what materials the court will have to consider in deciding the merits. In Taylor, 139 F.3d at 932-33, this Circuit wrote:

Ordinarily, when a defendant seeks to withdraw a guilty plea on the basis of ineffective assistance of trial counsel the district court should hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the merits of the defendant’s claims. . . . On the other hand, some claims of ineffective assistance of counsel can be resolved on the basis of the trial transcripts and pleadings alone.3

But she doesn’t commit to putting her client (and his former attorney) under oath, which is where this is heading.

And her briefing on Cray is cursory. She deals with the standard under which that defendant tried to withdraw his plea.

United States v. Cray, 47 F.3d 1203 (D.C. Cir. 1995), which this Court requested counsel address, denied withdrawal of a guilty plea because there was no violation of Rule 11. As more recent circuit decisions hold, Rule 11 violation is only one of the reasons that warrants granting a motion to withdraw a plea. Here, Sixth Amendment violations taint Mr. Flynn’s plea, and it cannot stand.38 United States v. McCoy, 215 F.3d 102, 107 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (“A plea based upon advice of counsel that ‘falls below the level of reasonable competence such that the defendant does not receive effective assistance’ is neither voluntary nor intelligent.”) (internal citation omitted).

Moreover, she claims there was a Rule 11 violation in the reallocution before Judge Sullivan, because he didn’t ask Flynn whether there were other promises to induce him to plead.

That plea colloquy did not, however, inquire into whether any undisclosed promises or threats induced the plea agreement. Moreover, the Court specifically expressed its dissatisfaction with the underlying facts supposedly supporting the factual basis for the plea. United States v. Cray, 47 F.3d 1203, 1207 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (“Where the defendant has shown his plea was taken in violation of Rule 11, we have never hesitated to correct the error.)”

But Judge Contreras did allocute to that (in addition to making Flynn attest that he was happy with the advice Rob Kelner gave him).

THE COURT: Have any threats or promises other than the promises made in the plea agreement been made to you to induce you to give up your right to the indictment?

THE DEFENDANT: No.

Flynn now claims that he pled to ensure Mueller would not prosecute his failson, but he didn’t raise it on December 1, 2017 when asked if there any more promises made to him.

Moreover, Powell does not address another part of Cray: that when the judge put him under oath, he revealed that his claims of innocence related to other charges, something Flynn is doing here.

Powell claims Covington did not give Flynn notice of their conflict but provides evidence they did

Rather than making a robust case that Flynn did not commit the crime that he pled guilty to, lying about Russia, she instead argues that Covington was fatally conflicted when they advised Flynn to plead guilty. She argues that Flynn told the entire truth to his Covington attorneys while they were preparing his FARA filing, they didn’t include the information he had provided them, and so they made him plead guilty to get out of trouble they had created themselves.

Before I explain the problems with this, recall that I raised questions about a conflict immediately after the December 2018 sentencing hearing. So I’m actually sympathetic to the argument.

But there are two problems with her argument.

First, she’s obscuring the nature of the lies in Flynn’s FARA filing in an effort to pretend that Flynn did not lie to Covington when preparing the filing. I debunked some of her claims here, but one bears repeating. Flynn’s statement of offense described one of the false statements on the filing as “an op-ed by FLYNN published in The Hill on November 8, 2016 was  written at his own initiative.” Powell pretends this is a dispute over whether Flynn actually wrote the op-ed himself. Flynn did tell Covington, truthfully, that Kian had drafted the op-ed, which Powell notes repeatedly.

But Covington’s notes also show that Flynn told Covington the op-ed had nothing to do with the Turkish contract, and that he did it solely to prove that the Trump campaign was serious about fighting Islamic terrorism.

That is, he not only lied about whether it was his idea to write it, but lied about it being the deliverable for the Turkish contact altogether. As noted above, Flynn testified under oath he didn’t even know this op-ed was coming until Kian delivered it in full draft form to him. And, as DOJ has already made clear, Covington’s lawyers will testify that Flynn didn’t tell them the truth about the op-ed, as this interview report from Rob Kelner makes clear.

(U//FOUO) KELNER was informed by FLYNN the published 11/8/2016 Op-Ed article in The Hill was something he, FLYNN, had wanted to do out of his own interest. FLYNN wanted to show how Russia was attempting to create a wedge between Turkey and the United States. FLYNN informed KELNER the Op-Ed was not on behalf of FIG’s project with INOVO.

So the public record — including notes released by Powell — shows that Flynn (and Kian) were responsible for the false statements in the FARA filing, not Covington.

Moreover, documents submitted by Powell on Wednesday make it clear Covington informed Flynn of the conflict. Flynn (and his wife, who submitted a declaration that now makes it possible for prosecutors to breach spousal privilege) suggests he was only informed of the conflict twice — once in August and once in November after his first proffers. He describes the August advice as a 15-minute conversation he had after pulling over on the side of a road.

The call then occurred while we were driving to have dinner with some friends. It was an approximately 15-minute phone call, where we had pulled off to the side of a highway. They informed us that there was a development regarding a conflict of interest. They also mentioned the possibility of Bijan being indicted. Speaking to the conflict of interest, they stated that they were prepared to defend as vigorously, if the conflict became an issue. We told them we trusted them.

The government has, in the past, noted they raised a potential conflict with Covington twice, on November 1 and November 16, before they ever spoke with Flynn. An exhibit Powell included Wednesday shows that on November 20, 2017, Flynn responded to a Covington email stating the description of the conflict “is very clearly stated” but that “we’re good going forward with you all and very much trust that you will continue to guide us through this difficult time.” The email reflected at least three warnings from Covington:

  • August 30, where they informed him of the conflict and suggested he “obtain advice from a lawyer independent of Covington”
  • A later conversation where they suggested the name of another lawyer with expertise in legal ethics who had already determined he had no conflict who was “willing to be engaged by you for a reduced, fixed fee”
  • The warning on November 19, which for the third time advised him to “seek advice from an independent lawyer about this”

Flynn did not contest their representation of those (at least) three warnings. Powell now claims they cited the wrong rule of professional conduct — about the only claim in the filing that might have merit. And — in a passage denying their (at least) third warning to Flynn — she also suggests that the Covington lawyers faced criminal liability themselves for repeating what their client told them.

What had begun as a simple mistake in doing the FARA filing suddenly had the potential of exposing the Covington lawyers to civil or criminal liability, significant headlines, and reputational risk. That the Covington lawyers thought that a “drive-by” cell-phone chat, while their client was on his way to dinner with his wife, was sufficient disclosure in these dire circumstances revealed their cavalier attitude and presaged far worse. [emphasis original]

She doesn’t note, of course, that Covington’s possible exposure on FARA, and the ability of the government to get them to testify, remained the same whether or not they remained Flynn’s lawyer.

And all that’s before Covington starts producing other records that are less complimentary to Flynn.

Remember: A key part of Sidney Powell’s argument here is that Covington — the lawyers who advised Flynn that if he withdrew his plea in December 2018 he’d only be giving Judge Sullivan more rope to hang himself with — provided obviously incompetent legal advice.

Be careful what you wish for

Way back when Flynn first got cute in advance of his December 2018 sentencing, I warned him, be careful what you wish for. Raising the circumstances of his FBI interview was likely, I predicted, to get Sullivan to ask for those details.

Which he subsequently did, resulting in damning new information about Flynn’s lies to be released.

I feel like that’s bound to happen here. For example, Powell keeps complaining that DOJ won’t provide her Flynn’s DIA briefings regarding his trips to Russia. She has raised what happened in Flynn’s proffers, but not provided the 302s which even Flynn’s declaration suggests was a disaster. The government has already telegraphed they may release this stuff.

There’s even the possibility that if Judge Sullivan asks to have witnesses, DOJ will ask that Don McGahn, John Eisenberg, or Reince Priebus testify. According to the Mueller Report, they all believed he was lying to them about what he remembered he had said to Kislyak.

So in addition to not heeding the advice about giving a judge more rope to hang you with, I feel like someone should have warned Flynn to be careful of what he wishes for. Again.

A number of people have pointed to Bill Barr’s sudden installation of a loyal aide at DC US Attorney and assumed it means the fix is in for the Flynn sentencing.

Attorney General William P. Barr on Thursday named former federal prosecutor Timothy Shea as the District’s interim U.S. attorney.

Shea, 59, currently serves as a counselor to Barr at the Justice Department. He will oversee the nation’s largest U.S. attorney’s office with 300 prosecutors.

The announcement comes just a day before Jessie K. Liu, the city’s current U.S. attorney, leaves office on Friday.

Liu, 47, has served in the post for a little over two years. President Trump on Jan. 6 nominated her to become the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, and her nomination is pending before the Senate Banking Committee.

I absolutely don’t discount the possibility that Barr did this to better retaliate against Andrew McCabe and shut down the remaining investigations of Trump’s aides being conducted by the DC US Attorney’s office. As I may get around to showing, I think the risk is particularly acute for Roger Stone’s sentencing, where Trump has far more untapped exposure than Flynn. And it may well be the case that Barr and Shea force prosecutors to submit a half-hearted response to this motion to withdraw (though some of them are actually NSD attorneys who report up through other channels).

But at this point, the damage has already been done. There is no way to change the fact that Flynn has sworn to statements, under oath, before Judge Sullivan that materially conflict.

Sidney Powell Wants to Have Mike Flynn’s Acceptance of Responsibility and Claims of Innocence Too

Eight days ago, in a filing moving to withdraw Mike Flynn’s plea deal, Sidney Powell said this:

Michael T. Flynn is innocent.

Today, in her sentencing memo, Sidney Powell makes no such claim. Instead, she claims that since November 2017 — 8 months after the second of two lies he pled guilty to, under oath, twice — he has mostly told the truth (a claim that is probably not true).

Since November 2017 (and before), Mr. Flynn told the government the truth about every question it asked him, including what he knows concerning the Flynn Intel Group’s (“FIG”) involvement with Inovo BV, Ekim Altepkin, and the Government of Turkey.

Her only mentions of the primary crime to which Mike Flynn pled guilty are — first — to nod to a brief that backfired when it was filed the first time and which Flynn disavowed under oath before Judge Emmet Sullivan.

Mr. Flynn previously briefed the unique circumstances of the January 24, 2017 FBI “interview” at issue. ECF No. 50 at 7-9.

And, then, to call his out and out lies to the FBI about what he said to the Russian Ambassador an “alleged false statement.”

Admittedly, Mr. Flynn was a high-ranking government official, as was Mr. Wolfe who was charged with a § 1001 violation. That is the only similarity. Mr. Flynn did not participate in any “repeated” conduct. He did not use his position to participate in illegal conduct. Additionally, Mr. Flynn’s alleged false statement did not result in the “significant disruption of an important governmental function” nor did it “significantly impact national security.”

The rest of her sentencing memo, aside from competent arguments about base level sentences and reminding over and over that Flynn served in the military for a long time (which backfired when Rob Kelner raised it in December 2018), consists of the same arguments she made in her motion to withdraw his plea, arguments that conflict in key ways with his sworn grand jury testimony and blame everyone else for false claims that not only reflect what he told his lawyersbut which he signed his name to, repeatedly.

The government also continues its campaign to hold Mr. Flynn responsible for false statements in a FARA filing. It ignores the facts in its possession as well as the decision of another court. Any misstatements in the March 2017 FARA filing at issue were not the fault of Mr. Flynn. He gave his lawyers complete and accurate documents and information. Moreover, he did his part to make sure any FARA filing was accurate. The FARA statements listed in the Statement of Offense (ECF No. 4) are either not false or not attributable to Mr. Flynn.

To counter these claims, government can and will lay out:

  • How the Covington notes and lawyers’ 302s show Flynn lied to his lawyers, which led directly to false statements in his FARA filing
  • Show how Flynn’s sworn grand jury testimony (which she doesn’t mention) undermines her claims that the EDVA prosecutors tried to get Flynn to lie last year
  • Lay out how Powell is making utterly misleading claims about what the government said about Flynn’s exposure to false statements and conspiracy charges
  • Explain that the reason Judge Anthony Trenga ruled there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict against Bijan Kian was precisely because Flynn reneged on the testimony laid out in his sworn grand jury transcript

That will leave Flynn with his motion to withdraw his guilty plea in tatters, and any claim he is taking responsibility for his crimes shot to hell.

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

The DOJ IG’s office has made two sets of corrections to their Report on Carter Page, the first on December 11 (two days after its release) and a second on December 20 (eleven days after its release). Three of those corrections fix overstatements of their case against the FBI (but which don’t catch all their overstatements and errors in making that case). One correction explains that more information has been declassified (without explaining an inconsistent approach to Sergei Millian as compared with other people named in the Mueller Report). And one correction — one of the changes made Friday — fixes a legal reference.

Here’s that correction:

On page 57, we added the specific provision of the United States Code where the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is codified, and revised a footnote in order to reference prior OIG work examining the Department’s enforcement and administration of FARA.

The correction changed this passage

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by [FBI’s Cyber and Counterintelligence Division] and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Title 18 U.S.C. § 951, which makes it a crime to act as an agent of a foreign government without making periodic public disclosures of the relationship. 170

170 The FARA statute defines an “agent of a foreign government” as an individual who agrees to operate in the United States subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official. 18 U.S.C. § 951(d).

To read like this:

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by CD and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), 22 U.S.C. § 611, et seq., and 18 U.S.C. § 951 (Agents of Foreign Governments). 170

170 We have previously found differing understandings between FBI agents and federal prosecutors and NSD officials about the intent of FARA as well as what constitutes a “FARA case.” See DOJ OIG, Audit of the National Security Division~ Enforcement and Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Audit Division 16-24 (September 2016), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2016/al624.pdf (accessed December 19, 2019)

The error appears harmless on its face, just a minor citation error that conflated FARA with 951 in the original report. But both in this instantiation and in the IG Report as a whole, the error may totally undermine its analysis and, indeed, the analytical framework of this entire IG investigation. That’s because if the people conducting this analysis did not understand the difference between the two statutes — and the error goes well beyond the citation enhancement described in the correction, because it exhibits utter lack of knowledge that there are two foreign agent statutes — then the Report’s analysis on the First Amendment may be problematic (and almost certainly is with respect to Page).

As I’ve written at length and as the cited IG Report from 2016 explains, the boundary between 22 USC 611 (FARA) and 18 USC 951 (Foreign Agent), both laws about what makes someone a “foreign agent,” remains ambiguous. Maria Butina, Anna Chapman, and the Russians who tried to recruit Carter Page were prosecuted under 18 USC 951 (though often that gets charged as a conspiracy because proving it requires less classified evidence), Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Sam Patten pled guilty to FARA violations. Mike Flynn’s former partner, Bijan Kian, was charged with conspiring to file a false FARA filing and acting as a Foreign Agent, invoking both statutes in one conspiracy charge; partly because of the way he was charged and partly because Flynn reneged on his statements regarding their activities, Judge Anthony Trenga acquitted him after he was found guilty, which may suggest the boundary between the two will present legal difficulties for prosecuting such cases.

18 USC 951 is sometimes called “espionage light,” though that phrase ignores that DOJ will often charge a known foreign spy under 951 — like the SVR (foreign intelligence) agents who tried to recruit Page — because proving it requires far less classified information. It requires the person be working on behalf of a foreign government, not just a foreign principal, and can but does not necessarily include information collection. FARA, however, only requires a person to be working on behalf of a foreign principal (which might be a political party or a company), and generally pertains to political influence peddling (it includes political activities, lobbying, and PR in its definitions, along with some financial stuff). 18 USC 951 will more often be clandestine, though as Butina’s case shows, it does not have to be, whereas FARA may cover activities that are overt if the person engaging in them does not register properly. A recent Lawfare post describes how DOJ’s superseding indictment of the Internet Research Agency relies on an interesting and potentially troubling new application of FARA.

In Mueller’s description of how the two laws might be applied criminally, he suggests 951 does not require willfulness, but a criminal violation of FARA would.

The Office next assessed the potential liability of Campaign-affiliated individuals under federal statutes regulating actions on behalf of, or work done for, a foreign government.

a. Governing Law

Under 18 U.S.C. § 951, it is generally illegal to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without providing notice to the Attorney General. Although the defendant must act on behalf of a foreign government (as opposed to other kinds of foreign entities), the acts need not involve espionage; rather, acts of any type suffice for liability. See United States v. Duran, 596 F.3d 1283, 1293-94 (11th Cir. 2010); United States v. Latchin, 554 F.3d 709, 715 (7th Cir. 2009); United States v. Dumeisi, 424 F.3d 566, 581 (7th Cir. 2005). An “agent of a foreign government” is an ” individual” who “agrees to operate” in the United States “subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official.” 18 U.S.C. § 951 ( d).

The crime defined by Section 951 is complete upon knowingly acting in the United States as an unregistered foreign-government agent. 18 U.S.C. § 95l(a). The statute does not require willfulness, and knowledge of the notification requirement is not an element of the offense. United States v. Campa, 529 F.3d 980, 998-99 (11th Cir. 2008); Duran, 596 F.3d at 1291-94; Dumeisi, 424 F.3d at 581.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) generally makes it illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal by engaging in certain (largely political) activities in the United States without registering with the Attorney General. 22 U.S.C. §§ 611-621. The triggering agency relationship must be with a foreign principal or “a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(l). That includes a foreign government or political party and various foreign individuals and entities. 22 U.S.C. § 611(6). A covered relationship exists if a person “acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant” or “in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the [foreign principal’s] direction or control.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(l). It is sufficient if the person “agrees, consents, assumes or purports to act as, or who is or holds himself out to be, whether or not pursuant to contractual relationship, an agent of a foreign principal.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(2).

The triggering activity is that the agent “directly or through any other person” in the United States (1) engages in “political activities for or in the interests of [the] foreign principal,” which includes attempts to influence federal officials or the public; (2) acts as “public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal”; (3) ” solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of such foreign principal”; or ( 4) “represents the interests of such foreign principal” before any federal agency or official. 22 U .S.C. § 611 ( c )(1 ).

It is a crime to engage in a “[w]illful violation of any provision of the Act or any regulation thereunder.” 22 U.S.C. § 618(a)(l). It is also a crime willfully to make false statements or omissions of material facts in FARA registration statements or supplements. 22 U.S.C. § 618(a)(2). Most violations have a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. 22 U.S.C. § 618. [my emphasis]

So back to the DOJ IG Report. As the revised footnote notes, at least until 2016, the FBI used the same case number for FARA and 951 cases. That probably makes sense from an investigative standpoint, as it’s often not clear whether someone is working for a foreign company or whether that company is a cut-out hiding a foreign government paymaster (as the government alleged in Flynn’s case). But it makes tracking how these cases get investigated more difficult, and obscures those cases where there’s a clear 951 predicate from the start.

The original text of this passage of the IG Report suggests that at least the person who wrote it — and possibly the entire DOJ IG team investigating this case — were not aware of what I’ve just laid out, that there’s significant overlap between 951 and FARA, but that clear 951 cases and clear FARA cases will both use this case designation. That’s important because one of these statutes involves politics (and so presents serious First Amendment considerations), whereas the other one does not have to (and did not, in Carter Page’s case).

It’s unclear whether this error was repeated in several other places in the Report. The passage describing how the individualized investigations were opened says these were all FARA cases:

After conducting preliminary open source and FBI database inquiries, intelligence analysts on the Crossfire Hurricane team identified three individuals–Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn–associated with the Trump campaign with either ties to Russia or a history of travel to Russia. On August 10, 2016, the team opened separate counterintelligence FARA cases on Carter Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos, under code names assigned by the FBI. On August 16, 2016, a counterintelligence FARA case was opened on Flynn under a code name assigned by the FBI. The opening ECs for all four investigations were drafted by either of the two Special Agents assigned to serve as the Case Agents for the investigation (Case Agent 1 or Case Agent 2) and were approved by Strzok, as required by the DIOG.

But if the person writing this did not know that a “foreign agent” case might be FARA, 951, or both, then it would mean this passage may misstate what the investigations were.

And the analysis over whether the investigation was appropriately predicated uses just FARA.

The FBI’s opening EC referenced the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and stated, “[b]ased on the information provided by [the FBI Legal Attache], this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.”

In other words, it seems that this entire report is based on the assumption that the FBI was conducting an investigation into whether these four men were engaged in influence peddling that should have been registered and not also considering whether they were acting as clandestine agents for Russia.

That certainly appears to be the case for some of these men. For example, the first known warrant investigating Paul Manafort — which was focused on his Ukrainian work — listed only FARA, not 951. The derogatory language on George Papadopoulos speaks in terms of explicit, shameless influence peddling (which I’ll review in a follow-up post).

That said, the predication of the Flynn investigation would have included his past ties to the GRU, the agency that had hacked the DNC, and non-political relationships with Russian companies RT, Kaspersky, and Volga-Dnepr Airlines. He notified the Defense Intelligence Agency of all those things, though the government claims some of his briefings on this stuff includes inculpatory information. And he excused his payments from other Russian sources because his speakers bureau, and not Russia itself, made the payments, which might be considered a cut-out.

When Mueller got around to describing his prosecutorial decisions about these four men, he described both statutes (and explained that the office found that Manafort and Gates had violated FARA with Ukraine, Flynn had violated what it calls FARA with Turkey but elsewhere they’ve said included 951, and there was evidence Papadopoulos was an Agent of Israel under either 951 or FARA but not sufficient to charge.

Finally, the Office investigated whether one of the above campaign advisors-George Papadopoulos-acted as an agent of, or at the direction and control of, the government of Israel. While the investigation revealed significant ties between Papadopoulos and Israel (and search warrants were obtained in part on that basis), the Office ultimately determined that the evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction under FARA or Section 951

So it’s unclear whether the investigations into Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort really were just FARA cases when they began, or were 951.

But the language Mueller used to describe his declination for Page (which includes a redacted sentence about his activities) makes it sound like his FISA applications alleged him to be — as would have to be the case for a FISA order — an Agent of Russia, implicating 951.

On four occasions, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issued warrants based on a finding of probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801 (b ), 1805(a)(2)(A). The FISC’s probable-cause finding was based on a different (and lower) standard than the one governing the Office’s decision whether to bring charges against Page, which is whether admissible evidence would likely be sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Page acted as an agent of the Russian Federation during the period at issue. Cf United States v. Cardoza, 713 F.3d 656, 660 (D.C. Cir. 2013) ( explaining that probable cause requires only “a fair probability,” and not “certainty, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or proof by a preponderance of the evidence”).

Indeed, the IG Report provides abundant reason to believe this is the case. That’s because the FBI Field Office opened an investigation into Page in April 2016 based on a March 2016 interview pertaining exclusively to what are called “continued contacts” with SVR intelligence officers who tried to recruit him starting at least in 2009, interactions that they had been tracking for seven years.

An FBI counterintelligence agent in NYFO (NYFO CI Agent) with extensive experience in Russian matters told the OIG that Carter Page had been on NYFO’s radar since 2009, when he had contact with a known Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 1). According to the EC documenting NYFO’s June 2009 interview with Page, Page told NYFO agents that he knew and kept in regular contact with Intelligence Officer 1 and provided him with a copy of a non-public annual report from an American company. The EC stated that Page “immediately advised [the agents] that due to his work and overseas experiences, he has been questioned by and provides information to representatives of [another U.S. government agency] on an ongoing basis.” The EC also noted that agents did not ask Page any questions about his dealings with the other U.S. government agency during the interviews. 180

NYFO CI agents believed that Carter Page was “passed” from Intelligence Officer 1 to a successor Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 2) in 2013 and that Page would continue to be introduced to other Russian intelligence officers in the future. 181 In June 2013, NYFO CI agents interviewed Carter Page about these contacts. Page acknowledged meeting Intelligence Officer 2 following an introduction earlier in 2013. When agents intimated to Carter Page during the interview that Intelligence Officer 2 may be a Russian intelligence officer, specifically, an “SVR” officer, Page told them he believed in “openness” and because he did not have access to classified information, his acquaintance with Intelligence Officer 2 was a “positive” for him. In August 2013, NYFO CI agents again interviewed Page regarding his contacts with Intelligence Officer 2. Page acknowledged meeting with Intelligence Officer 2 since his June 2013 FBI interview.

In January 2015, three Russian intelligence officers, including Intelligence Officer 2, were charged in a sealed complaint, and subsequently indicted, in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for conspiring to act in the United States as unregistered agents of the Russian Federation. 182 The indictment referenced Intelligence Officer 2’s attempts to recruit “Male-1” as an asset for gathering intelligence on behalf of Russia.

On March 2, 2016, the NYFO CI Agent and SDNY Assistant United States Attorneys interviewed Carter Page in preparation for the trial of one of the indicted Russian intelligence officers. During the interview, Page stated that he knew he was the person referred to as Male-1 in the indictment and further said that he had identified himself as Male-1 to a Russian Minister and various Russian officials at a United Nations event in “the spirit of openness.” The NYFO CI Agent told us she returned to her office after the interview and discussed with her supervisor opening a counterintelligence case on Page based on his statement to Russian officials that he believed he was Male-1 in the indictment and his continued contact with Russian intelligence officers.

The FBI’s NYFO CI squad supervisor (NYFO CI Supervisor) told us she believed she should have opened a counterintelligence case on Carter Page prior to March 2, 2016 based on his continued contacts with Russian intelligence officers; however, she said the squad was preparing for a big trial, and they did not focus on Page until he was interviewed again on March 2. She told us that after the March 2 interview, she called CD’s Counterespionage Section at FBI Headquarters to determine whether Page had any security clearances and to ask for guidance as to what type of investigation to open on Page. 183 On April 1, 2016, the NYFO CI Supervisor received an email from the Counterespionage Section advising her to open a [~9-character redaction] investigation on Page. The NYFO CI Supervisor said that [3 lines redacted] In addition, according to FBI records, the relevant CD section at FBI Headquarters, in consultation with OGC, determined at that time that the Page investigation opened by NYFO was not a SIM, but also noted, “should his status change, the appropriate case modification would be made.” The NYFO CI Supervisor told us that based on what was documented in the file and what was known at that time, the NYFO Carter Page investigation was not a SIM.

Although Carter Page was announced as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign prior to NYFO receiving this guidance from FBI Headquarters, the NYFO CI Supervisor and CI Agent both told the OIG that this announcement did not influence their decision to open a case on Page and that their concerns about Page, particularly his disclosure to the Russians about his role in the indictment, predated the announcement. However, the NYFO CI Supervisor said that the announcement required noting his new position in the case file should his new position require he obtain a security clearance.

On April 6, 2016, NYFO opened a counterintelligence [8-9 character redaction] investigation on Carter Page under a code name the FBI assigned to him (NYFO investigation) based on his contacts with Russian intelligence officers and his statement to Russian officials that he was “Male-1” in the SONY indictment.

181 CI agents refer to this as “slot succession,” whereby a departing intelligence officer “passes” his or her contacts to an incoming intelligence officer.

182 Intelligence Officer 3 pied guilty in March 2016. The remaining two indicted Russian intelligence officers were no longer in the United States.

183 CI agents in NYFO told us that the databases containing security clearance information were located at FBI Headquarters. When a subject possesses a security clearance, the FBI opens an espionage investigation; if the subject does not possess a security clearance, the FBI typically opens a counterintelligence investigation. [my emphasis]

I’ve discussed Page’s designation as a “contact approval” until 2013 by CIA here, though to reiterate, his last contact with the CIA was in 2011, and while they knew about his contacts with Alexander Bulatov, a Russian intelligence officer working under cover as a consular official in NY, they apparently did not know or ask him about his contacts with Victor Podobnyy. This previous relationship with the CIA absolutely should have been disclosed, but does not cover activity in 2015, when he would have discussed his inclusion in the Podobnyy/Evgeny Buryakov indictment with a person described as a Russian minister.

The NYFO believed they should have opened an investigation into Page even before the interview, on March 2, 2016, when he admitted telling Russians he was Male-1 in the indictment and (per the Mueller Report), said he “didn’t do anything,” perhaps disavowing any help to the FBI investigation. The IG Report notes that Page provided Intelligence Officer 1 (who must be Bulatov) a copy of a non-public annual report from an American company.” The Podobnyy indictment notes that Page provided Podobnyy — someone he knew to be a foreign intelligence officer — documents about the energy business. The NYFO CI Agent’s description of Page’s, “continued contact with Russian intelligence officers” seems to suggest the person described as a Russian Minister is known or believed to be an intelligence officer (otherwise she would not have described this as ongoing contact).

Notably, NYFO’s focus was not on whether Page was engaged in political activities, whether he was a Sensitive Investigative Matter (SIM) or not. Indeed, at the time they opened the investigation in April 2016, they didn’t know he had a tie to the Trump campaign.

Rather, their focus was on whether Page, whose deployments in the Navy included at least one intelligence operation, had a security clearance, because that dictated whether the investigation into him would be an Espionage one or a Counterintelligence one. The actual type of investigation remains redacted (the word cannot be either “counterintelligence,” because of length, or “espionage” because the article preceding it forecloses the word starting with a vowel), but it is described as a counterintelligence investigation. Given the nature of the non-public information Page shared, that redacted word may pertain to economic information, perhaps to either 18 USC 1831 or 1832. Even going forward, NYFO was primarily interested in whether he would obtain a clearance that would increase the risk that the information he was happily sharing with known Russian intelligence officers would damage the US.

The counterintelligence case into Page was opened — and the FISA order targeting him was significantly predicated on — his voluntary sharing of non-public economic information with known Russian intelligence officers over a period of years. That’s almost certainly not a FARA investigation because at that point NYFO had no knowledge that Page was even engaging in politics.

And that’s important because of the IG Report’s analysis of whether and how obtaining a FISA order on Page implicated his First Amendment activities.

In its analysis of how FISA treats First Amendment activities, the Report includes the following discussion, once again citing FARA, relying on House and Senate reports on the original passage of FISA.

FISA provides that a U.S. person may not be found to be a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment. 129 Congress added this language to reinforce that lawful political activities may not serve as the only basis for a probable cause finding, recognizing that “there may often be a narrow line between covert action and lawful activities undertaken by Americans in the exercise of the [F]irst [A]mendment rights,” particularly between legitimate political activity and “other clandestine intelligence activities. “130 The Report by SSCI accompanying the passage of FISA states that there must be “willful” deception about the origin or intent of political activity to support a finding that it constitutes “other clandestine intelligence activities”:

If…foreign intelligence services hide behind the cover of some person or organization in order to influence American political events and deceive Americans into believing that the opinions or influence are of domestic origin and initiative and such deception is willfully maintained in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, then electronic surveillance might be justified under [“other clandestine intelligence activities”] if all the other criteria of [FISA] were met. 131

129 See 50 U.S.C. §§ 1805(a)(2)(A), 1824(a)(2)(A).

130 H. Rep. 95-1283 at 41, 79-80; FISA guidance at 7-8; see also Rosen, 447 F. Supp. 2d at 547-48 (probable cause finding may be based partly on First Amendment protected activity).

131 See S. Rep. 95-701 at 24-25. The Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq., is a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals such as a foreign government or foreign political party in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.

The first citation to the House report says only that an American must be working with an intelligence service and must involve a violation of Federal criminal law, which may include registration statutes. The second citation says only that political activities should never be the sole basis of a finding of probable cause that a US person was an agent of a foreign power. Neither would apply to Carter Page, since the evidence against him also included sharing non-public information that had nothing to do with politics, and he shared that information with known intelligence officers.

The citation to the Senate report is a miscitation. The quoted language appears on page 29. The cited passage spanning pages 24 and 25, however, emphasizes that someone can only be targeted for activities that involve First Amendment activities if they involve an intelligence agency.

It is the intent of this requirement that even if there is some substantial contact between domestic groups or individual citizens and a foreign power, as defined in this bill, no electronic surveillance wider this subparagraph may be authorized unless the American is acting under the direction of an intelligence service of a foreign power.

With Page, the FBI had his admitted and sustained willingness to share non-public information with known intelligence officers, the Steele allegations suggesting he might be involved in a conspiracy tied to the hack and leak of Hillary’s emails, and his stated plans to set up a think tank that would serve as the kind of cover organization that would hide Russia’s role in pushing Page’s pro-Russian views.

The question of whether Page met probable cause for being a foreign agent doesn’t, in my mind, pivot on any analysis of First Amendment activities, because he had a clear, knowing tie with Russian intelligence officers with whom he was sharing non-public information. The question pivots on whether he could be said to doing so clandestinely, since he happily admitted the fact, if asked, to both the CIA and FBI. Both the Steele allegations (until such point, after his first application, that they had been significantly undermined) and Page’s enthusiasm to set up a Russian-funded think tank probably get beyond that bar.

And remember, for better and worse, this is probable cause, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The DOJ IG Report analysis all seems premised on assessing FARA violations, not violations of 18 USC 951. That may be the appropriate lens through which to assess the actions of Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort.

But the evidence presented in the report seems to suggest that’s a mistaken lens through which to assess the FISA application targeting Carter Page, the only Trump flunky who was so targeted. And given the evidence that at least some of the people who wrote the report did not understand how the two statutes overlap when they conducted the analysis, it raises real questions about whether all that analysis rests on mistaken understandings of the law.

Update: I’ve corrected the introduction of this to note that DOJ or FBI declassifies information, not DOJ IG.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

Since the NYT revealed that SDNY is investigating Rudy Giuliani for what they call “lobbying” laws,

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

And since the WSJ reported that Pete Sessions — named as Congressman 1 in the Lev Parnas/Igor Fruman indictment — was cooperating with a grand jury subpoena targeting Rudy,

A grand jury has issued a subpoena related to Manhattan federal prosecutors’ investigation into Rudy Giuliani, seeking documents from former Rep. Pete Sessions about his dealings with President Trump’s personal lawyer and associates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The subpoena seeks documents related to Mr. Giuliani’s business dealings with Ukraine and his involvement in efforts to oust the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, as well as any interactions between Mr. Sessions, Mr. Giuliani and four men who were indicted last week on campaign-finance and conspiracy accounts, the people said.

Mr. Sessions’ knowledge of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings is a primary focus of the subpoena, the people said.

There has been a closer review of whether it would be possible to indict the President’s personal lawyer under foreign agent laws, with broad consensus that what Rudy is doing is actually covered by FARA — and not just his work for Ukraine, but also (among other places) for Turkey.

But there have been a number of claims that, I think, have been too pat about how easy or hard this is going to be.

Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Bijan Kian are not apt precedents

First, a number of people have looked at how SDNY considered — but did not charge — Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, and Vin Weber under FARA, suggesting the same considerations would hold true with Rudy. Others have looked at Greg Craig (who was prosecuted but acquitted in DC for FARA after SDNY decided not to charge it) and Bijan Kian (who was convicted but then had his conviction thrown out by Judge Anthony Trenga based on the legal theory DOJ used) to suggest these cases are too difficult to charge to get Rudy.

It is absolutely the case that when powerful men with skilled lawyers have been pursued under FARA in recent years, DOJ has succeeded not in trial, but instead has gotten either plea deals or failed at trial (and that may have been one of the facts behind Mueller’s decision to strike a plea deal with Paul Manafort). That is sound evidence that SDNY is no doubt aware of.

But several things distinguish Rudy.

Most notably, all of those earlier cases came before DOJ’s newfound commitment to prosecuting FARA, with Mike Flynn prosecutor Brandon Van Grack taking over where a woman named Heather Hunt had been in charge before. At a minimum, that means a process that originally took place with Craig, Podesta, Weber, and Kian under an assumption that FARA would be treated solely as a registration issue may now be taking place under an assumption that violations of FARA — presumably to include both a failure to register and (what most charges have been so far) false statements under registration — can be prosecuted. That assumption would dramatically change the attention with which DOJ would document their communications, so prosecutors would not now be stuck going to trial (as Craig’s prosecutors were) without having DOJ’s documentation of a key meeting.

Notably, the same thing that triggered the FARA prosecution of Mike Flynn — concerns raised by Congress — happened last year when seven Democratic Senators wrote National Security Division head John Demers asking for a review. So there may well be documentation of Rudy’s claims about whether he does or does not need to register that SDNY is building a prosecution around.

Plus, one thing clearly distinguishes Rudy from all these other men. Rudy is not taking this investigation seriously, and does not have a lawyer reviewing his exposure. From reports, he may not have the ready cash to pay the likes of Rob Kelner (Flynn’s original, very competent, lawyer) or Robert Trout (Kian’s excellent lawyer). So he may be doing things now (not least, running his mouth on TV and making public statements about who he works for and how it gets paid) that put him at greater exposure.

Rudy G’s efforts to implicate State and DOJ (and the President) in his work

That said, another thing distinguishes Rudy from these past cases. Since the whistleblower complaint got made public, he has spent most of his time insisting that everything he did, he did with the awareness and involvement of — at least — the State Department. And in Trump’s July 25 call to Volodymyr Zelensky, he invoked Bill Barr’s name right alongside his nominal defense attorney.

Both foreign agent statutes (FARA — the one being discussed for Rudy, and 18 USC 951 — another one, with more flexibility, that Kian was charged under) require registration with the Attorney General. And while telling foreigners you’re negotiating with that the Attorney General will be by soon to pick up the disinformation demanded does not fulfill the requirements for registry (in part, the point of registering is to provide a paper trail so the public can track who is paying for what), it does change things that Rudy is suggesting that his work has the imprimatur of official policy to it.

That said, the assumption that implicating powerful government figures will keep you safe is a dangerous proposition. If the easiest way to end the Ukraine inquiry is to blame Rudy for it all (and if that’s still possible after several weeks of damning testimony), that may well come to pass.

And if Bill Barr needs to greenlight a FARA prosecution of Rudy as a way to minimize the damage to the Administration, and to himself, he may well do that (yet another reason why he should have recused long ago).

That’s all the more true given that most of Trump’s aides seem to recognize how damaging Rudy is for Trump’s exposure. If Trump won’t separate himself from Rudy, his lackeys might one day decide, then separate Rudy from Trump by prosecuting him, the same way they separated Michael Cohen from Trump.

That said, with Trump, loyalty is always transactional. And if he believes Rudy has dirt that can bring him down — and given the likelihood some of what Rudy is doing is the continuation of what Paul Manafort had been doing since August 2, 2016, that may be true — then Trump will defend Rudy’s work even if it means claiming everything he did operated under Article II authority.

The additional factor: ConFraudUs

The discussions about Rudy’s exposure under FARA, however, seem not to have considered another factor: that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have already been charged with conspiracy in conjunction with actions Rudy had a key role in. The Ukrainian grifter indictment charges them with two counts of Conspiracy to Defraud the US for hiding what money was behind their influence campaign on Ukraine (count 1) and Nevada marijuana (count 4), as well as False Statements to the FEC (count 2) and falsification of records (count 3) tied to the Ukraine influence operation. Counts 1-3 all pertain to the Ukrainian grifters laundering of campaign funds through Global Energy Producers, a front that (SDNY alleges) they falsely claimed was “a real business enterprise funded with substantial bona fide capital investment,” the major purpose of which “is energy trading, not political activity.” Those funds went, among other places, to the Trump related Super PAC America First Action and to Congressman Sessions.

Rudy has equivocated about his relationship to the Ukrainian grifters (and claims it goes through Fraud Guarantee, not GEP). But John Dowd, writing as the grifters’ lawyer, already stated for the record that he does have ties and those ties relate to his representation of the President. That is, the grifters are working for him, even while he works for them.

That’s important because Sessions’ statements have denied any official action in response to meetings with the grifters, but he also had meetings with Rudy in the time period, official action in response to which he has not denied. In addition, Rudy (whom Sessions says he has been friends with for three decades) also headlined a fundraiser for Sessions. And on top of the straw donations the grifters gave Sessions directly, America First Action gave Sessions far more to him, $3 million, the indictment notes twice.

In other words, while Sessions has denied doing anything in response to the grifters’ meetings, he has not denied doing anything in response to Rudy’s communications with him. If he sent his letter calling for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch in response to a request from Rudy — whose finances are inextricably tied to the grifters — then it may be fairly easy to add him to the conspiracy the (successful) object of which was to get Yovanovitch fired. The propaganda Rudy sent (as laid out by NYT, and which the State IG already sent to the FBI earlier this year) would then simply be part of the conspiracy.

A few more points. There’s a passage of the indictment included to substantiate the allegation that the grifters were affirmatively trying to hide their purpose.

Indeed, when media reports about the GEP contributions first surfaced, an individual working with PARNAS remarked, “[t]his is what happens when you become visible … the buzzards descend,” to which PARNAS responded, “[t]hat’s why we need to stay under the radar…”

The indictment doesn’t disclose a number of details about this communication: who the interlocutor is, how it was collected, and whether it involved a mere warrant (for stored communications such as email or texts) or a wiretap. But particularly given the seeming overlap between these activities and those of people we know were surveilled during the period in question, it’s a pregnant inclusion in the indictment. It suggests the Feds may already be privy to far more about this scheme and the reasons the grifters might want it suppressed. Add that to the fact that, as WSJ reported, the Feds already have Rudy’s bank records, which will show whether he really worked for Fraud Guarantee or whether that, like GEP, is just a front.

Cui bono

Finally, consider this. The indictment says that the grifters were pushing to oust Yovanovitch to benefit  particular unnamed Ukrainians’ interests.

[T]hese contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.

[snip]

At and around the time PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raising those funds for [Sessions], PARNAS met with [SESSIONS] and sought [his] assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall [Yovanovitch]. PARNAS’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.

According to NBC, the Ukrainian in question was Yurii Lutsenko. But Lutsenko has since been ousted, and he has reneged on statements elicited by Rudy implicating the Bidens. More importantly, one of the promises Zelensky made in his July 25 call to Trump was to put in his own prosecutor who would pursue the two investigations — to trump up a claim Ukraine was behind the election tampering in 2016, and to invent evidence against Hunter Biden — that Trump wanted.

The President: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor bf New York Ci:ty, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The oteer thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son. that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand arid I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look. into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.

Which is what led to Lutsenko’s ouster.

Moreover, the prosecutor Biden shut down was not Lutsenko, but Viktor Shokin, who has written affidavits which then got fed to John Solomon on behalf of Dmitry Firtash, who is trying hard to avoid extradition (on bribery charges) to the US.

That — plus the financial and legal ties between Firtash and the grifters — suggests there may be other Ukrainians on whose behalf the grifters were working to get Yovanovitch withdrawn. Firtash is certainly one. A corrupt prosecutor with ties to Russian intelligence, Kostiantyn Kulyk, who had worked for all these guys — and who is behind a dossier on accusing Hunter Biden of corruption — may be another. That is, Yovanovitch may have been the impediment not to inventing dirt on the Bidens, which is a fairly easy ask, but instead on creating the pre-conditions for people like Firtash to go free (which would also explain the natural gas angle).

All of which is to say that it would be a fairly trivial matter to establish the evidence to charge Rudy in ConFraudUs along with the Ukrainian grifters, as SDNY already has a lot of the evidence it would need.

Yes, Rudy Giuliani is, by all appearances, in blatant violation of FARA. Yes, he may get away with that, in part because DOJ hasn’t yet figured out hard to charge it consistently (though knows what not to do given recent history), and in part because he has made sure to implicate Trump and his cabinet officials.

But there’s a larger question about whether those same financial ties expose Rudy for much uglier conspiracy charges.

Judge Trenga’s Bijan Kian Decision May Hurt, Not Help, Mike Flynn

As expected, Judge Anthony Trenga has overturned the conviction of Mike Flynn’s former partner, Bijan Kian. Trenga has long expressed doubts about the way the government charged this case. And when Flynn reneged on a part of his plea colloquy, it made him useless as a witness but — following a ruling from Trenga — did not make his statements available as a co-conspirator.

While a lot of people are seeing this (accompanied by the news that Vin Weber and Tony Podesta won’t be charged) as a blow for DOJ’s new FARA prosecution practice, I think Trenga’s opinion has greater repercussions for 18 USC 951 prosecutions than it does for FARA, because he finds (convincingly) that Congress intended the standards for the former to be significantly higher than for the latter.

That said, a central part of Trenga’s ruling derived from his decisions regarding Flynn’s role in this and was, in part, a result of Flynn’s decision to renege on his plea colloquy. Because the government couldn’t call him to testify but neither could rely on his statements as a co-conspirator, it made the most important evidence fairly useless at trial.

There was no competent evidence from which the jury could find that Alptekin acted as the type of “intermediary” the Government contends. In fact, the only evidence of any association between Alptekin and the Turkish government in connection with FIG’s retention is reflected in the hearsay statements of Alptekin to Rafiekian, which were admitted not as proof of Alptekin’s relationship or role relative to Turkey, but solely as evidence of what Alptekin told Rafiekian. Accordingly, the jury had no evidence of what Alptekin’s actual relationship or role was relative to the Turkish government, and because of that absence of evidence could not find for its purposes in deciding the case that Alptekin was, in fact, operation as an agent, alter ego, representative, “cut-out”, or any other type of “intermediary” for the Turkish government.”

That’s not the only basis for Trenga overturning the conviction. He also points to Alptekin’s disappointment with what FIG delivered to support a ruling that FIG was not working at the direction of Turkey (as required under 951 but not FARA). But the Flynn head fake is a key part of this.

So while a bunch of Flynn frothers who ignore all the very public ways that Sidney Powell’s claims about Flynn’s prosecution are horseshit are celebrating this decision, unless Emmet Sullivan finds any of Powell’s claims persuasive, this decision is likely to hurt Flynn. The government has already said they’re going to write a new sentencing memo, and this opinion will provide compelling reason to argue that Flynn ultimately did not cooperate.

Trenga’s decision is, given the facts of the case, quite compelling. But that says nothing about what Sullivan’s decision in upcoming months will be.

Admitted Former Foreign Agent Mike Flynn Demands More Classified Information

According to Mike Flynn’s Fox News lawyer, Sidney Powell, to “defend” himself in a guilty plea he has already sworn to twice under oath, he needs to obtain unredacted versions of a Comey memo showing he was not targeted with a FISA warrant and a FISA order showing that people who were targeted with FISA warrants might have been improperly scrutinized while they were overseas.

That’s just part of the batshittery included in a request for Brady material submitted to Emmet Sullivan last Friday.

The motion is 19 pages, most of which speaks in gross generalities about Brady obligations or repeats Ted Stevens Ted Stevens Ted Stevens over and over again, apparently a bid to convince Judge Emmet Sullivan that this case has been subject to the same kind of abuse that the late Senator’s was.

After several readings, I’ve discovered that Powell does make an argument in the motion: that if the government had provided Flynn with every damning detail it has on Peter Strzok, Flynn might not have pled guilty to lying to Strzok about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak or admitted that he used a kickback system to hide that he was a paid agent of Turkey while getting Top Secret briefings with candidate Trump.

They affirmatively suppressed evidence (hiding Brady material) that destroyed the credibility of their primary witness, impugned their entire case against Mr. Flynn, while at the same time putting excruciating pressure on him to enter his guilty plea and manipulating or controlling the press to their advantage to extort that plea. They continued to hide that exculpatory information for months—in direct contravention of this Court’s Order—and they continue to suppress exculpatory information to this day.

One of the things Powell argues Flynn should have received is unredacted copies of every text Strzok sent Lisa Page.

The government’s most stunning suppression of evidence is perhaps the text messages of Peter Srzok and Lisa Page. In July of 2017, (now over two years ago), the Inspector General of the Department of Justice advised Special Counsel of the extreme bias in the now infamous text messages of these two FBI employees. Mr. Van Grack did not produce a single text messages to the defense until March 13, 2018, when he gave them a link to then-publicly available messages. 14

Mr. Van Grack and Ms. Ahmad, among other things, did not disclose that FBI Agent Strzok had been fired from the Special Counsel team as its lead agent almost six months earlier because of his relationship with Deputy Director McCabe’s Counsel—who had also been on the Special Counsel team—and because of their text messages and conduct. One would think that more than a significant subset of those messages had to have been shared by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice with Special Counsel to warrant such a high-level and immediate personnel change. Indeed, Ms. Page left the Department of Justice because of her conduct, and Agent Strzok was terminated from the FBI because of it.

14 There have been additional belated productions. Each time more text messages are found, produced, or unredacted, there is more evidence of the corruption of those two agents. John Bowden, FBI Agent in Texts: ‘We’ll Stop’ Trump From Becoming President, THE HILL (June 14, 2018), https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/392284-fbi-agent-in-texts-well-stop-trumpfrom-becoming-president; see also U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election. Redacted Ed. Washington, D.C. (2018) (https://www.justice.gov/file/1071991/download). But the situation is even worse. After being notified by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice of the extraordinary text communications between Strzok and Page (more than 50,000 texts) and of their personal relationship, which further compromised them, Special Counsel and DOJ destroyed their cell phones. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Report of Investigation: Recovery of Text Messages From Certain FBI Mobile Devices, Redacted Ed. Washington, D.C. (2018), https://www.justice.gov/file/1071991/download. This is why our Motion also requests a preservation order like the one this Court entered in the Stevens case.

As is true of most of this filing, Powell gets some facts wrong here. The public record says that as soon as Mueller got the warning from Michael Horowitz about the texts, he started moving Strzok off the team. He didn’t need to see the texts, that they were there was issue enough. And Lisa Page remained at FBI until May 2018, even after the texts were released to the public.

And while, if Sullivan had taken Flynn’s initial guilty plea rather than Rudy Contreras, one might argue that Van Grack should have alerted Flynn’s lawyer Rob Kelner of the existence of the Strzok-Page texts, DOJ was not required to turn them over before Flynn’s guilty plea. Moreover, the problem with claiming that withholding the Strzok-Page texts prevented Flynn from taking them into account, is that they were made public the say day Emmet Sullivan issued his Brady order and Flynn effectively pled guilty again a year after they were released, in sworn statements where he also reiterated his satisfaction with his attorney, Kelner. Any texts suggesting bias had long been released; what remains redacted surely pertains either to their genuine privacy or to other counterintelligence investigations.

Finally, at least as far as public evidence goes, Strzok was, if anything, favorable to Flynn for the period he was part of the investigation. He found Flynn credible in the interview, and four months later didn’t think anything would come of the Mueller investigation. So the available evidence, at least, shows that Flynn was treated well by Strzok.

The filing also complains about information just turned over on August 16.

For example, just two weeks ago, Mr. Van Grack, Ms. Curtis, and Ms. Ballantine produced 330 pages of documents with an abject denial the production included any Brady material.6 Yet that production reveals significant Brady evidence that we include and discuss in our accompanying Motion (filed under seal because the prosecutors produced it under the Protective Order).

6 “[T]he government makes this production to you as a courtesy and not because production of this information is required by either Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), or the Court’s Standing Order dated February 16, 2018.” Letter from Mr. Brandon Van Grack to Sidney K. Powell, Aug. 16, 2019.

Given the timing, it may well consist of the unclassified materials showing that Turkey (and possibly Russia) believed Flynn to be an easy mark and expected to be able to manipulate Trump through him. I await either the unsealing of Powell’s sealed filing or the government response to see if her complaints are any more worthy than this filing.

That’s unlikely. Because the rest of her memo makes a slew of claims that suggest she’s either so badly stuck inside the Fox bubble she doesn’t understand what the documents in question actually say, or doesn’t care. In her demand for other documents that won’t help Flynn she,

  • Misstates the seniority of Bruce Ohr
  • Falsely claims Bruce Ohr continued to serve as a back channel for Steele intelligence when in fact he was providing evidence to Bill Priestap about its shortcomings (whom the filing also impugns)
  • Suggests the Ohr memos pertain to Flynn; none of the ones released so far have the slightest bit to do with Flynn
  • Falsely suggests that Andrew Weissmann was in charge of the Flynn prosecution
  • Claims that Weissman and Zainab Ahmad had multiple meetings with Ohr when the only known meeting with him took place in fall 2016, before Flynn committed the crimes he pled guilty to; the meeting likely pertained to Paul Manafort, not Flynn
  • Includes a complaint from a Flynn associate that pertains to alleged DOD misconduct (under Trump) to suggest DOJ prosecutors are corrupt

In short, Powell takes all the random conspiracy theories about the investigation and throws them in a legal filing without even fact-checking them against the official documents, or even, at times, the frothy right propaganda outlets that first made the allegations.

Things get far weirder when it comes to her demands relating to FISA information. In a bid to claim this is all very pressing, Powell demands she get an unredacted version of the Comey IG Report.

Since our initial request to the Department by confidential letter dated June 6, 2019, we have identified additional documents that we specify in our Motion. Now, with the impending and just-released reports of the Inspector General, there may be more. The Report of the Inspector General regarding James Comey’s memos and leaks is replete with references to Mr. Flynn, and some information is redacted. There may also be a separate classified section relevant to Mr. Flynn. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Report of Investigation of Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s Disclosure of Sensitive Investigative Information and Handling of Certain Memoranda, Oversight and Review Division Report 19-02 (Aug. 29, 2019), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2019/o1902.pdf

The only redacted bits in the report are in Comey’s memos themselves — the stuff that the frothy right is currently claiming was so classified that Comey should have been prosecuted for leaving them in a SCIF at work. Along with unclassified sections quoting Trump saying he has “serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment” (the redacted bit explains that the President was pissed that Flynn didn’t tell him about Putin’s congratulatory call right away) and “he had other concerns about Flynn,” there’s this section that redacts the answer to Reince Priebus’ question about whether the FBI has a FISA order on Flynn (PDF 74).

The answer, though, is almost certainly no. Even if the FBI obtained one later, there was no way that Comey would have told Priebus that Flynn was targeted; the FBI became more concerned about Flynn after this February 8 conversation, in part because of his continued lies about his work with Turkey.

Flynn’s team also demands an unredacted copy of this 2017 FISA 702 Rosemary Collyer opinion, though Powell’s understanding of it seems to based off Sara Carter’s egregiously erroneous reporting on it (here’s my analysis of the opinion).

Judge Rosemary Collyer, Chief Judge of the FISA court, has already found serious Fourth Amendment violations by the FBI in areas that likely also involve their actions against Mr. Flynn. Much of the NSA’s activity is in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. Not only did the last administration—especially from late 2015 to 2016—dramatically increase its use and abuse of “about queries” in the NSA database, which Judge Collyer has noted was “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” it also expanded the distribution of the illegally obtained information among federal agencies.10 Judge Collyer determined that former FBI Director Comey gave illegal unsupervised access to raw NSA data to multiple private contractors. The court also noted that “the improper access granted the [redacted] contractors was apparently in place [redacted] and seems to have been the result of deliberate decision making” including by lawyers.11, 12

10 See also Charlie Savage, NSA Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications, THE N.Y. TIMES (Jan. 12, 2017) (reporting that Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed new rules for the NSA that permitted the agency to share raw intelligence with sixteen other agencies, thereby increasing the likelihood that personal information would be improperly disclosed), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/us/politics/nsa-gets-more-latitude-to-share-interceptedcommunications.html; See also Exec. Order No. 12,333, 3 C.F.R. 200 (1982), as amended by Exec. Order No. 13,284, 68 Fed. Reg. 4075 (Jan. 23, 2003).

11 FISC Mem. and Order, p. 19, 87 (Apr. 26, 2017) www.dni.gov/files/documents/icotr/51117/2016_Cert_FISC_Memo_Opin_Order_Apr_2017.pdf (noting that 85% of the queries targeting American citizens were unauthorized and illegal).

12 This classified and heavily redacted opinion is one of the documents for which defense counsel requests a security clearance and access.

As a threshold matter, Powell gets virtually everything about the Collyer memo wrong. Collyer didn’t track any increase in “about” searches (it was one of the problems with her memo, that she didn’t demand new numbers on what NSA was doing). It tracked a greater number of certain kinds of violations than previously known. The violation resulting in the 85% number she cited was on US persons targeted between November 2015 and May 2016, but the violation problem existed going back to 2012, when Flynn was still part of the Deep State. What Collyer called a Fourth Amendment violation involved problems with 704/705b targeting under FISA, which are individualized warrants usually tied to individualized warrants under Title I (that is, the kind of order we know targeted Carter Page), and probably a limited set of terrorism targets. Given that the Comey memo almost certainly hides evidence that Flynn was not targeted under FISA as of February 8, 2017, it means Flynn would have had to be a suspected terrorist to otherwise be affected. Moreover, the NSA claimed to have already fixed the behavioral problem by October 4, 2016, even before Carter Page was targeted. I had raised concerns that the problems might have led to problems with Page’s targeting, but since I’ve raised those concerns with Republicans and we haven’t heard about them, I’m now fairly convinced that didn’t happen.

At least some of the FBI violation — letting contractors access raw FISA information — was discontinued in April 2016, before the opening of the investigation into Trump’s flunkies, and probably all was discontinued by October 4, 2016, when it was reported. One specific violation that Powell references, however, pertains to 702 data, which could not have targeted Flynn.

Crazier still, some of the problems described in the opinion (such as that NSA at first only mitigated the problem on the tool most frequently used to conduct back door searches) cover things that happened on days in late January 2017 when a guy named Mike Flynn was National Security Advisor (see PDF 21).

Powell should take up her complaints with the guy running National Security at the time.

Craziest still, Powell describes data collected under EO 12333 as “illegally obtained information” (Powell correctly notes that the Obama Administration permitted sharing from NSA to other agencies, but that EO would not affect the sharing of FISA information at all). If EO 12333 data, which lifetime intelligence officer Mike Flynn used through his entire career, is illegally obtained, then it means lifetime intelligence officer Mike Flynn broke the law through his entire government career.

Sidney Powell is effectively accusing her client (incorrectly) of violating the law in a motion that attempts to argue he shouldn’t be punished for the laws he has already admitted breaking.

In short, most of the stuff we can check in this motion doesn’t help Flynn, at all.

And at least before Powell submitted this, Emmet Sullivan seemed unimpressed with her claims of abuse.

The government and Flynn also submitted a status report earlier on Friday. In the status report, the government was pretty circumspect. Flynn’s cooperation is done (which is what they said almost a year ago), they’d like to schedule sentencing for October or November, and they’ve complied with everything covered by Brady. Anything classified, like Powell is demanding, would be governed by CIPA and only then discoverable if it is helpful to the defense.

Powell made more demands in the status report, renewing her demand for a security clearance and insisting there are other versions of the Flynn 302.

To sort this out, the government suggested a hearing in early September, but Powell said such a hearing shouldn’t take place for another month (during which time some of the IG reports she’s sure will be helpful will come out).

The parties are unable to reach a joint response on the above topics. Accordingly, our respective responses are set forth separately below. Considering these disagreements, the government respectfully requests that the Court schedule a status conference. Defense counsel suggests that a status conference before 30 days would be too soon, but leaves the scheduling of such, if any, to the discretion of the Court. The government is available on September 4th, 5th, 9th or 10th of 2019, or thereafter as the Court may order. Defense counsel are not available on those specific dates.

Judge Sullivan apparently sided with the government (and scheduled the hearing for a date when Flynn’s attorneys claim to be unable to attend).

Every time Flynn has tried to get cute thus far, it has blown up in his face. And while Sullivan likely doesn’t know this, the timing of this status hearing could be particularly beneficial for the government, as they’ll know whether Judge Anthony Trenga will have thrown out Bijan Kian’s conviction because of the way it was charged before the hearing, something that would make it far more likely for the government to say Flynn’s flip-flop on flipping doesn’t amount to full cooperation.

And this filing isn’t even all that cute, as far as transparent bullshit goes.