Posts

“Tentacles” with the “Potential to Spiral:” Geoffrey Berman, Bill Barr, and Hunter Biden’s Dick Pics

Given recent news relating to Rudy Giuliani and Hunter Biden[‘s dick pics], I want to belatedly look at what Geoffrey Berman’s book, Holding the Line, says about the Lev Parnas investigation.

Berman’s memoir is, as all autobiographies are, a complex narrative. There are many reasons why that’s true in this case. We all tell ourselves and others false stories about ourselves, often as not unconsciously. There are one or two points in Berman’s story where he makes claims belied by publicly-released documents; I assume those are inadvertent, but they serve as interesting signposts of the limits of his own firsthand knowledge of particular matters. Someone with access to classified or confidential information will be forced, as Berman seems to have been, to either nod to or entirely avoid big parts of the story, probably a really big factor in the matters I write about below. And finally, famous, powerful people shade the truth for posterity and to hide inconvenient truths. There’s a whole bunch of that in this book, a long form effort to pitch his association with the Trump Administration, not unfairly, as a worthwhile opportunity to do a lot of important work holding sex traffickers accountable (including, but not limited to, Jeffrey Epstein) and in key moments, protecting investigations from the interference of all three of Trump’s Attorneys General.

How Berman tells this story — how anyone tells their autobiography — can say as much as the facts relayed.

The most fascinating narrative construction in Berman’s autobiography comes in his discussion of Bill Barr’s confirmation.

It appears immediately after Berman’s recounting of DOJ’s effort to force SDNY to prosecute John Kerry for interfering in Trump’s plan to overturn the Iran Deal. (The SDNY prosecutor in charge of that effort, Andrew DeFilippis, played the most abusive role on John Durham’s team and resigned unexpectedly before the Igor Danchenko trial, but that’s obviously not part of the story of what transpired at SDNY.) Given the timeline laid out in Berman’s book, in which SDNY’s investigation into Kerry lasted for about a year starting on May 9, 2018, that effort must have continued until May 2019. In fact, Berman ties pressure to bring charges from DOJ on April 23, 2019 with Barr: “By the time we got pressured in April 2019, on the same day as one of the Trump tweets, Bill Barr was the attorney general.”

From there, Berman shifts back in time to talk about the turnover at Attorney General. After a short anecdote about Matt “Big Dick Toilet Salesman” Whitaker trying to glom onto Berman’s good press in NY, Berman introduces Barr’s confirmation by suggesting polarization was the cause of Barr’s close confirmation vote in the Senate.

In one marker of how much more polarized our politics have become, Barr’s first confirmation hearing in 1991 was described at the time as “placid.” He was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee, then confirmed by the full Senate in a voice vote. When Barr’s second nomination went before the Senate early in 2019, he was confirmed, but in a roll-call vote—with the 54–45 count mostly breaking down along party lines.

This was, of course, not a mark of polarization. It was a mark of Barr’s unsuitability to be Attorney General, and it was specifically attributed to his audition for the job in the form of a memo, seemingly based entirely on claims Barr picked up watching Fox News, attacking Mueller’s investigation, as well as his role in shutting down the Iran-Contra inquiry. Spinning the close vote, in a book released in 2022, as partisanship allows Berman to suggest that the close vote wasn’t entirely justified. That, in turn, makes the insipid note Berman wrote welcoming Barr to the post (a note which presumably would be accessible under FOIA) less ridiculous.

I was elated that we were getting somebody to come in to take Whitaker’s spot, and I had high hopes. The new boss was experienced and highly intelligent. He had a reputation as an institutionalist, someone who would respect the traditions and norms of the department. Most of all, I believed Barr would be a steady hand in turbulent times.

I sent him a handwritten note, relating that in his first tour of duty he had signed my certificate when I started out as a young AUSA. I said we had never had an opportunity to meet, but I was looking forward to that soon.

I added that he was “just what the doctor ordered.” Like so many other establishment Republicans, I thought he would clean things up at DOJ and respect the rule of law.

Blech! Yick!

Then, immediately after describing this suck-up note, Berman describes the reason he, of all people, should have known better then to think Barr would “respect the rule of law”: because he knew, as someone who had worked on the Iran-Contra investigation, Barr’s past history interfering in an investigation of the President.

Berman tells a superb anecdote that I hope is not embellished about how, the only time Barr was in Berman’s office, the Attorney General saw a picture of Berman with Iran-Contra Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, on whose team Berman had worked very early in his career. As Berman describes (there’s an extended history of Iran-Contra in-between — go buy the book), Barr simply stared at the picture for a minute.

The one time that Barr met with me in my personal office at the Southern District involved an uncomfortable moment, and it was telling. It happened after he noticed a photo on the wall of me with Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel in the Iran-Contra affair. It was signed, “Thank you Geoff, for all your good work.”

[snip]

That day in my office, Barr fixed his gaze on the picture of Walsh and me. He looked at it for almost a minute straight without saying a word. Just stared with a sour look on his face. It was awkward as hell. [my emphasis]

Only after describing what Berman suggests was an unfairly close confirmation vote, his own sycophantic note to Barr after it, and this exchange of indeterminate date, does Berman turn to what he calls (justifiably) a philosophical divide between him and Barr over the role of presidential power. After describing Barr’s November 2019 Federalist Society speech in which he falsely claimed that Presidential powers had been encroached over the years, Berman reviewed Donald Ayer’s June 2019 article explaining “why Bill Barr is so dangerous.”

There were critics—among them some lawyers who worked in prior Republican administrations—who felt that Barr soft-pedaled his views during the confirmation process and later acted in extreme ways on Trump’s behalf. One of them was Donald Ayer, a highly regarded lawyer who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

In a 2019 essay in The Atlantic, Ayer wrote, “In securing his confirmation as attorney general, Barr successfully used his prior service as attorney general in the by-the-book, norm-following administration of George H. W. Bush to present himself as a mature adult dedicated to the rule of law who could be expected to hold the Trump administration to established legal rules. Having known Barr for four decades, including preceding him as deputy attorney general in the Bush administration, I knew him to be a fierce advocate of unchecked presidential power, so my own hopes were outweighed by skepticism that this would come true.”

Ayer’s piece appeared after the release of the Mueller report, which many believed Barr had both preempted and misrepresented. Ayer continued, “But the first few months of his current tenure, and in particular his handling of the Mueller report, suggest something very different—that he is using the office he holds to advance his extraordinary lifetime project of assigning unchecked power to the president.”

Much of this political back-and-forth was beyond the scope of my concerns in the Southern District. I was a working prosecutor, and my focus was to lead the dedicated and hardworking public servants under me who came into work every day and busted their asses. My political views—and whatever my thoughts might have been on Barr’s high-altitude insights into the Constitution—were beside the point.

But the fact was, Barr’s top-down, unitary theories of power extended to how he viewed himself, how he ran the Justice Department, and how he felt about the people who worked for me. If Barr believed that the president could properly instruct the DOJ to take actions involving specific individuals, including his friends and enemies, that was a concern of mine. [my emphasis]

The narrative structure of this goes: Barr’s close February 2019 confirmation vote, Berman’s insipid note, the undated meltdown when Barr saw a picture of Berman with Walsh, Barr’s November 2019 discussion of views already evident in his June 2018 audition memo, and finally Ayer’s June 2019 description of the danger of Bill Barr, which had most recently been exhibited by his March 2019 response to the Mueller report. In sum, it provides a permissibly partisan frame in which to criticize Barr. But that jumbles the real timeline. Such a narrative structure allows Berman to introduce Barr’s authoritarian views in such a way as to absolve a former member of Lawrence Walsh’s team for writing a FOIAble letter claiming Barr was “just what the doctor ordered” around February 2019. It’s not that the Democrats were right to vote against Barr, the narrative allows Berman to suggest, it’s just that Ayer hadn’t written his condemnation of Barr yet.

And for some reason, Berman puts that exchange in his office, of indeterminate date, in the middle of it all. The single time, Berman says, that Barr visited Berman’s office.

It’s awfully curious that Berman doesn’t date that meeting, because Berman’s story of the Parnas and Fruman prosecution doesn’t describe the visit to SDNY that Barr was reported to have made, in real time, the day that Rudy’s flunkies were indicted — a visit to New York that also included a meeting with Rupert Murdoch. Berman actually tells the story of that day twice, first in conjunction with a contentious fight with Main Justice over whether SDNY must join in the effort to assume Trump’s defense in Cy Vance’s investigation, then in his telling of the Parnas and Fruman indictment. Both were going on at the same time. But in neither telling does Berman describe that the Attorney General showed up in New York, purportedly to meet with people like him and people who worked for him, at a time when Berman was in at least one really contentious fight with the Attorney General’s office.

Maybe Barr went to New York to visit SDNY and got lost at Murdoch’s place and so never showed up??

The Parnas and Fruman story, as told here, begins on October 8, when Berman got pulled out of Yom Kippur service to be told that Parnas and Fruman had just booked one way tickets to Europe.

What he told me was that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had just bought airline tickets for travel the next day to Frankfurt, Germany—one-way tickets—and we had to decide whether to arrest them before they boarded the plane.

As Berman described it no one else on the prosecution team supported indicting Rudy’s flunkies before they boarded a plane.

It was quickly apparent to me that I was in a minority of one. I would describe one call as almost like an intervention. I answered and six people were on the line: Audrey Strauss, the chief of the criminal division, Laura Birger, Chief Counsel Craig Stewart, Ilan Graff, Russ Capone, and Ted Diskant. Every one of them said we should let them travel.

Berman got the NY FBI Assistant Director, William Sweeney, to agree with him, and then (having apparently thus won the argument with the line prosecutors) the team worked overnight to complete the indictment, finishing (if I have my timeline correct) less than three hours before the announcement of Barr’s visit to NY.

Donaleski and Roos came into the office at about 11:00 p.m., and I joined them with coffee I had made at my apartment. (The local coffee shops were closed.) They drafted the indictment through the night, with review and revision by others either in the office or from home. Because the charges included campaign finance violations, we needed sign-off from the career attorneys at Main Justice’s Public Integrity Section. Diskant was on the phone with them at 4:00 a.m. and got the approval.

At 7:00 a.m., everyone came into the office for a final edit. At 9:00 a.m., the draft was finished, and [Rachel] Donaleski and [Nicholas] Roos went before the grand jury. By 2:00 p.m., they returned an indictment. Time to spare!

In a later post I’ll come back to that 4AM approval from Public Integrity. But note that Berman doesn’t describe getting approval from anyone else at Main Justice, even though after the indictment DOJ confirmed that Barr had been briefed from shortly after his confirmation. Just career attorneys at Public Integrity at 4AM.

Having told the heroic story of how prosecutors pulled together a last minute indictment, Berman then goes back and explains where the investigation came from. It came not from a referral from Federal Election Commission (which Republicans had made entirely dysfunctional at the time), but because SDNY’s Public Integrity section read the complaint that was submitted to the FEC.

Our public corruption unit monitors complaints filed with the FEC for possible investigation. Nick Roos read the complaint and persuaded Capone and Diskant to open the investigation. Roos and Donaleski began to put the pieces together. We confirmed that Global Energy was nothing but a shell with no business and no capital investment. Lev and Igor ran foreign money through it for the purpose of contributing to political candidates and committees in the United States.

The description of the part of the indictment relating to the firing of Marie Yovanovitch — the part of the indictment that was shelved in 2020 and which just died without charges — covers several pages. The first paragraph starts with a sentence — about the Russian donor behind some of the influence peddling — that should be in the prior paragraph. Then it lumps in the stuff implicating Rudy as a mere addition, almost an afterthought (probably necessitated, in part, by DOJ guidelines about uncharged persons).

[Andrey] Muraviev’s money was also used to donate to statewide races in Nevada. In addition, Lev and Igor contributed money, also through straw donors, to Pete Sessions, who at the time was a congressman from Texas and chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee. The outreach to Sessions was connected to their effort to get Marie Yovanovitch fired from her post as US ambassador to Ukraine. [my emphasis]

This is how it appears in the indictment:

In addition to the contributions made and falsely reported in the name of GEP, LEV PARNAS and IGOR FRUMAN, the defendants, caused illegal contributions to be made in PARNAS’s name that, in fact, were funded by FRUMAN, in order to evade federal contribution limits. Much as with the contributions described above, these 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. For example, in or about May and June 2018, PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raise $20,000 or more for a then-sitting U.S. Congressman (“Congressman-1”), who had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million in independent expenditures by Committee-1 during the 2018 election cycle. PARNAS and FRUMAN had met Congressman-1 at an event sponsored by an independent expenditure committee to which FRUMAN had recently made a substantial contribution. During the 2018 election cycle, Congressman-1 had been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million in independent expenditures by Committee-1. At and around the same time PARNAS and FREEMAN committed to raising those funds for Congressman-1, PARNAS met with Congressman-1 and sought Congressman-1’s assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. [my emphasis, footnote omitted]

After a few paragraphs about Sessions’ excuses for deciding out of the blue that Yovanovitch should be fired, Berman describes that SDNY was still “exploring” whether this meeting might one day become a FARA charge.

The indictment made reference to this meeting with Sessions. It included an allegation that Lev, at the request of a Ukrainian official, had sought the removal of the US ambassador to Ukraine and had met with a congressman (Sessions) to solicit his support for the removal. We were still exploring whether these allegations might later form the basis of a FARA charge against Lev and others who, through lobbying or media appearances, sought the removal of Yovanovitch at the request of a foreign official without registering as a foreign agent.

As Berman describes it, when they included this Pete Sessions donation in the indictment (a footnote describes that the contribution was made under Fruman’s name, but misspelled), they were “exploring” the possibility that it might tie to illegal foreign influence peddling in part by “others who … sought the removal of Yovanovitch at the request of a foreign official without registering as a foreign agent.” Without naming Rudy yet, this passage suggests that they were only beginning to consider whether Rudy had committed a FARA violation when they prepared an indictment overnight on October 9 — with approval only from Public Integrity, not the FARA people in National Security Division who would one day get involved in the investigation — to arrest Rudy’s grifters before they flew to Europe.

Remember: by November 4, less than a month later, SDNY got warrants targeting Rudy, investigating FARA, 18 USC 951, and conspiracy.

I wonder whether some of the prosecutors opposed arresting Parnas and Fruman because they wanted to see what would happen at the meeting with Dmitry Firtash and what other Ukrainian government officials were involved besides Yuri Lutsenko.

Some paragraphs later, after describing Rudy’s role in the Fraud Guarantee stuff (which was superseded later, in 2020, when the Yovanovitch firing was taken out), Berman acknowledges that Rudy had also been trying to get Yovanovitch fired, effectively confirming that Rudy was one of the “others who” had tried to get Yovanovitch fired.

Yovanovitch’s removal was a major goal of Giuliani’s—and of other Trump allies—who believed that she was an obstacle to their efforts to unearth damaging information about the then presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The ambassador was considered an anticorruption advocate, and some Ukrainian officials—including those working with Lev and Igor—wanted her moved aside.

And then, a few paragraphs after that, Berman acknowledges that Parnas and Fruman were some of the agents mentioned in the articles of impeachment alleged to be soliciting Ukrainian influence to help him get reelected, even while asserting “we had no role to play” in impeachment.

It was, of course, impossible for me or anyone else to be unaware of how politically charged all of this was. The nation was in the third year of Donald Trump’s combustible presidency, and the 2020 election cycle was underway. Two months after the indictment of Lev and Igor, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump.

The first of the two articles of impeachment alleged that the president “solicited the interference of a foreign government” to take actions that would “benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.” The foreign government was Ukraine, and the reference to Trump’s being assisted by “his agents within and outside the United States Government” obviously would have to include Lev and Igor.

Impeachment is a political process. We had no role to play in it.

This passage is almost the entirety of any discussion in the entire book of the Ukraine impeachment. Berman makes no mention of the months of focus leading up to impeachment.

Of particular note, he makes no mention of the release of the Perfect Transcript in late September, less than two weeks before SDNY suddenly charged Parnas and Fruman. He doesn’t describe whether the release of the transcript alerted SDNY (if they didn’t already know) how some of the matters under investigation by SDNY — Parnas’ ask of Pete Sessions to help oust Yovanovitch — were centrally connected to the impeachment, with Trump raising them explicitly with Ukraine’s president.

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 of New York City, 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 other 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.

[snip]

Well, she’s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything. [my emphasis]

Berman also makes no mention of the references to Barr that Trump made while trying to coerce Volodymyr Zelenskyy, including those bolded above. Each reference to Barr here appears in close proximity to Trump’s attacks on Yovanovitch, that part of the Parnas indictment that SDNY was “exploring” whether it constituted a FARA violation.

Berman makes no mention of any of that. “We had no role to play” in impeachment.

But all of that had to have been central considerations to the prosecution, not least on October 8 when Berman interrupted his Yom Kippur worship to engage in a debate about whether they should pull together an indictment to charge Parnas and Fruman before they left the country, and not just to pull together an indictment, but to include the traces of a Yovanovitch charge which (Berman admits here) they were “still exploring whether these allegations might later form the basis of a FARA charge against Lev and others.”

As he describes it, they just called some folks in Public Integrity at 4AM to get approval and included the Yovanovitch charge which could implicate the investigation that would become Trump’s first impeachment.

Way before this narrative of the case in the book, and then briefly afterwards, Berman describes how Barr’s Chief of Staff inquired before the arrest announcement (what would have been October 10) about what SDNY was going to do, then bitched out Berman after the fact because it got a whole lot of press attention.

A few hours before we were to announce the charges, Rabbitt asked me, “What are you planning to do for publicity for Lev and Igor?” I said, “I’m going to have a press statement,” and he said, “Okay. Fine.”

Later that day, we made our statement. It was in front of cameras, and it got huge coverage. When I got back to my desk, Rabbitt called me up, livid. “I thought you said it was going to be a press statement?” he barked.

I replied, “I didn’t take questions. It was a press statement. If it were a press conference, we would have had questions.” I thought that was perfectly legit, but Rabbitt wasn’t satisfied. The exchange with him was a little uncomfortable, but the Lev and Igor indictments came at a fortuitous time. (It just happened that way; we didn’t intend it and couldn’t have anticipated the international travel that prompted their arrests.) If Main Justice took action against me in any way, or even just got in a public flap, the media would have assumed it was retribution after we indicted these two individuals who moved in Republican circles. It would have played as blowback from the arrests.

After we got press attention on a big matter and our visibility was high, I always felt sort of bulletproof, at least temporarily. It gave me a couple more months of grace.

[Fifteen page break, including the description of the Parnas and Fruman indictment laid out above]

Except for the concern that we not have a press conference to announce the indictments, Main Justice and Barr did not interfere in the prosecution of Lev and Igor.

The longer description of the exchanges with Brian Rabbitt comes fifteen pages before the reference back to it. In context, the reference to being “bulletproof” seems to pertain to the conflict with Barr’s people over the Vance intervention. By the time we get through the description of the Parnas charges (which Berman put in an entirely different chapter), a reader might well have forgotten that Berman recognized a high profile press conference of the sort that Barr’s Chief of Staff complained about would make it harder to fire him.

But it all makes more sense when you consider the decision to indict Rudy’s grifters overnight with approval only from career officials who happened to be working at 4AM in Public Integrity. It all makes more sense when you think about the reported visit Barr made to SDNY that Berman never mentions (which, admittedly, may never have happened).

Berman’s brief reference back to that Rabbitt complaint appears immediately after he writes, “Impeachment is a political process. We had no role to play in it,” but in a new section. It kicks off a four page section, covering events starting in January 2020 and lasting (based on documents released under FOIA) well past March, describing efforts Barr made to stymie any further investigation from SDNY. Barr wasn’t so much trying to protect Rudy, Berman describes: he thought Barr viewed the President’s personal lawyer as a potential rival. Rather, the Attorney General was trying to prevent “tentacles” from reaching others.

Main Justice and Barr did not interfere in the prosecution of Lev and Igor.

[snip]

To the extent all of this tarnished Rudy, I think Barr was fine with it. But the case had tentacles. It raised other questions and suggested new areas of inquiry. It potentially led to other subjects. And Barr certainly did involve himself in those potentialities.

[snip]

He has no way of knowing where it might go—and really, nobody does—but it looks to him as if it has the potential to spiral. [my emphasis]

In the four pages following this introduction, Berman describes how Barr effectively prevented SDNY from going any further with their investigation, first by assigning the next steps of the Rudy investigation to EDNY (to Richard Donoghue, with whom Barr had tried to replace Berman to kill the Michael Cohen investigation, but who may have gone on to save the Republic on January 3, 2021). That reportedly had the effect of prohibiting SDNY from investigating Rudy’s meetings with Andrii Derkach, who was dangling dirt that closely resembled what would come to be known as the “Hunter Biden” “laptop.” Berman describes what likely is the Derkach investigation this way:

In addition, Donoghue, as part of his new role, was given a sensitive Ukraine investigation that I thought should have gone to us.

Then Berman describes Barr assigning the intake of Rudy’s dirt on Hunter Biden (though he doesn’t describe it as such) to Scott Brady in Pittsburgh.

I didn’t know Brady well, but I considered him a solid guy.

This post describes how that all worked, and pointed to some communications about it all that the Attorney General’s office seemed to have no longer available when they were FOIAed.

The entire section is worth reading — buy the book — for the way it lays out aspects of Barr’s corrupt actions that haven’t gotten as much focus as his intervention in the Roger Stone and Mike Flynn prosecutions.

The one piece of news Berman discloses is that the FBI was withholding the 302s from the intake of Rudy’s Russian disinformation from NY’s Assistant Director, William Sweeney.

There were FBI reports of those meetings, called 302s, which we wanted to review. So did Sweeney. Sweeney’s team asked the agents in Pittsburgh for a copy and was refused. Sweeney called me up, livid.

“Geoff, in all my years with the FBI I have never been refused a 302,” he said. “This is a total violation of protocol.”

This detail is worth considering given the still ongoing GOP witch hunt targeting recently retied FBI Senior Analyst Timothy Thibault because of the compartmented way this information was all treated.

[I]t has been alleged that in September 2020, investigators from the same FBI HQ team were in communication with FBI agents responsible for the Hunter Biden information targeted by [Brian] Auten’s assessment. The FBI HQ team’s investigators placed their findings with respect to whether reporting was disinformation in a restricted access sub-file reviewable only by the particular agents responsible for uncovering the specific information. This is problematic because it does not allow for proper oversight and opens the door to improper influence.

Third, in October 2020, an avenue of additional derogatory Hunter Biden reporting was ordered closed at the direction of ASAC Thibault. My office has been made aware that FBI agents responsible for this information were interviewed by the FBI HQ team in furtherance of Auten’s assessment. It’s been alleged that the FBI HQ team suggested to the FBI agents that the information was at risk of disinformation; however, according to allegations, all of the reporting was either verified or verifiable via criminal search warrants. In addition, ASAC Thibault allegedly ordered the matter closed without providing a valid reason as required by FBI guidelines. Despite the matter being closed in such a way that the investigative avenue might be opened later, it’s alleged that FBI officials, including ASAC Thibault, subsequently attempted to improperly mark the matter in FBI systems so that it could not be opened in the future.

Chuck Grassley is focusing on later compartmentalization of this investigation, when the origin of that compartmentalization stemmed from Barr’s efforts to limit the tentacles of the SDNY investigation. Instead of reviewing what Barr did, he is hounding one of the last remaining people at FBI who had investigated Trump’s Russian ties, with Chris Wray doing nothing to support the Bureau.

All the more so given that, both the end of this section — which is followed by a section in which Berman describes how the Parnas case ended up with one 2021 jury verdict and one 2022 guilty plea — and at the end of the entire chapter, Berman emphasizes that Barr’s tampering in the Rudy case was exceptional, even amidst all the other tampering he engaged in (to include interference in the Michael Cohen, John Kerry, Halkbank, and Cy Vance cases).

The episode was one of the crazier things I encountered over the whole course of my tenure, which is really saying something.

[snip]

The “intake process in the field” nonsense was clearly not driven by his sense that all that Ukraine material would be too much for the Southern District to handle. The only burden we needed lifted from us was the attorney general’s improper meddling.

And, when Berman describes what must include this investigation among the list of reasons why Barr fired him in June 2020, he includes it under an oblique reference to “prosecutions and ongoing investigations of those in his inner circle.”

I never speculated about the specific reasons Barr wanted me out. As an attorney, I avoid allegations that I do not yet have the facts to support. But it was no secret to me that much of what we did at the Southern District—and did not do—displeased Trump. And if it displeased the president, it would have displeased Barr. That’s how it worked.

From the Greg Craig case through the non-prosecution of John Kerry and on up to the prosecutions and ongoing investigations of those in his inner circle, it was clear to Trump that he could not control SDNY. We were not loyal to him; our fealty was to the mission.

At the time I was fired in mid-June 2020, the presidential election was less than five months away. I’m sure that Barr was tired of the Southern District’s independence. But it is also fair to assume there was a political component in his move to oust me.

Barr did the president’s bidding, no matter how he may try to deny that now. He no doubt believed that by removing me he could eliminate a threat to Trump’s reelection. [my emphasis]

I think there’s a good deal of evidence that Barr was not just trying to remove any threat to Trump’s reelection. He was trying to ensure that any investigations into Trump and his flunkies could not continue if and when Trump lost. In this period Barr not only closed, but disclosed the closure, of investigations into Paul Manafort’s slush funds, a suspected $10 million donation funneled through an Egyptian bank that had kept Trump afloat in September 2016, and probably parts of an investigation into Erik Prince. He replaced Donoghue in EDNY at a time when Tom Barrack was close to being charged (in the since failed prosecution). I’ve raised questions about how it became possible to disclose, literally the day before the 2020 election, the once ongoing investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia on a hack-and-leak campaign — one that may have involved “solid guy” Scott Brady. During this same period, another hand-picked US Attorney was literally presenting altered documents in the Mike Flynn docket in an attempt to blow up that prosecution (which had the side of effect of making any obstruction charges against Trump post-Presidency untenable); by September, one of those altered documents would serve as a prop in an attack Trump launched on Biden in the first debate.

Berman describes a lot of Barr’s related interventions that happened earlier — what he calls a “hostile takeover” of the DC US Attorney’s Office. But he doesn’t describe the rest of Barr’s tampering. And that tampering, which had more permanent effect, would have extended to SDNY’s investigation had Berman not dug in when Barr first tried to fire him.

Still, I find it interesting that Berman, the guy who saw how Barr prevented his office from receiving copies of the garbage that Rudy Giuliani brought home from Ukraine, describes it instead in terms of removing all threats to Trump’s reelection. As noted above, the part of the investigation that Barr assigned to EDNY rather than SDNY reportedly pertains at least in part to suspected Russian agent Andrii Derkach’s efforts to help Rudy obtain dirt on Hunter Biden, dirt that looks remarkably like the “Hunter Biden” “laptop,” dirt which Rudy brought to “solid guy” Scott Brady rather than SDNY. If Berman believes that an SDNY investigation into those matters, consolidated into one investigation, would have threatened Trump’s reelection chances, it suggests any scrutiny on Rudy’s effort to get dirt on Hunter Biden — the kind of dirt he eventually released!! — would have sunk Trump.

Instead, the circumscribed investigation that Berman managed to protect ended without charges.

As James Comer and Kevin McCarthy prioritize their investigation into Hunter Biden’s dick pics, Democrats might do well to investigate the full effect of Barr’s efforts to dismantle the investigation into Rudy’s meetings with Russian agents to obtain dirt that Trump could use in his reelection bid. Some of the same witnesses, including computer repairman Mac Issac, Rudy lawyer Robert Costello, and Rudy himself would be pertinent to both investigations.

All that’s the story included in the book, proper.

But Berman included an epilogue, perhaps a narrative feature dictated by publishing schedule or a desire to change the emphasis. In it, he describes an exchange that took place around March 9, 2020, during a period when “solid guy” Scott Brady was actively processing dirt that Rudy had obtained from suspected Russian agent Andrii Derkach. Berman describes that between the time Barr spun out the investigation into Rudy and the time when Barr fired Berman in hopes of protecting Trump’s reelection, he answered a question about the Parnas investigation in such a way that implied Barr had interfered in the Parnas investigation for political reasons.

In March 2020, I was asked if Bill Barr had interfered in our Lev and Igor prosecution. The question came to me during a press conference on an unrelated case, having to do with illicit doping of Thoroughbred horses.

“The Southern District of New York has a long history of integrity and pursuing cases and declining to pursue cases based only on the facts and the law and the equities, without regard to partisan political concerns,” I replied. “My primary commitment is and has been to maintain those core values and that’s how our office is operating.”

This was my only public statement as US attorney about the office’s political independence, and it was mild. But I did not answer that Barr never interfered for partisan reasons, because that would not have been true. That might have earned me another demerit. I was fired a few months later.

Though as Berman described it in the book, it wasn’t the Parnas investigation that Barr was interested in. It wasn’t even Rudy. It was the “tentacles” that had the “potential to spiral.”

To be clear, by March 2020, according to the book, Barr had interfered politically in several other ways — John Kerry, Greg Craig, Michael Cohen, Turkey, and others. This is not a comment limited to Rudy’s grifters.

But Berman chose to cap his book — which, as mentioned, focuses significantly on Berman’s success on unrelated cases, including things like the Epstein case — with something that occurred in March 2020, chronologically while Barr’s efforts to prevent the Rudy investigation from spiraling out of control were ongoing. That changes the lesson of Berman’s book, then, to a focus on Barr’s political interference.

Just months ago, the US Attorney for SDNY published a book that laid out in detail how Trump’s corrupt Attorney General intervened to prevent the tentacles of a Hunter Biden adjacent investigation from spiraling out of his own control. And yet that has all been lost amid the din of outrage that Twitter took down Hunter Biden’s non-consensual dick pics.

Full transparency: On Twitter (they’re not coming up on a search of the Elmo-degraded site), I’m sure I also made comments about career people at DOJ preferring Barr to BDTS. I did so even while writing posts — one, two, three, four — that noted his role in Iran-Contra and the specious claims he had already made about the Mueller investigation.

Bill Barr Complains that His Special Counsel Was Unable to Match Robert Mueller’s Record of Success

Even before the Igor Danchenko trial, Billy Barr declared victory in defeat — arguing that if John Durham could just “fill in a lot of the blanks as to what was really happening,” the inevitable acquittal would still give Durham an opportunity to spin fairy tales about what Durham imagines happened.

“What these cases show is that these are difficult cases to win,” Barr said. “There’s a reason it takes so long, and you have to build up the evidence because at the end of the day, you’re going before these juries that aren’t going to be disposed to side with the people they view as supporting Trump.”

Danchenko is slated to go on trial next month on charges of lying to the FBI about the Steele dossier, for which he was the main source. The dossier claimed that Trump and members of his campaign and company had established extensive ties to the Russian government and had colluded during the 2016 election.

The trial is widely expected to be the final criminal prosecution from Durham’s investigation before he submits a report of his findings to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But despite Durham’s limited success in the courtroom, Barr defended the investigation he ordered, saying the courtroom was allowing Durham to establish a record of what had occurred with the so-called Russiagate investigation.

“I think Durham got out a lot of important facts that fill in a lot of the blanks as to what was really happening,” Barr said. “My expectation is … the Danchenko trial will also allow for a lot of this story to be told, whether or not he’s ultimately convicted. I hope he’s convicted, but if he isn’t, I still think it provides an avenue to tell the story of what happened.”

Like an obedient puppy, Durham did use the trial as an opportunity to get extraneous details into the public record. On top of the $1 million dollar offer that Brian Auten said, vaguely, Christopher Steele might have gotten if he had corroborated the dosser — which has been treated like an FBI attempt to bribe a source for dirt on Trump and as the most exonerating possible detail, rather than an effort to investigate a real threat to the country — Durham went out of his way to give the full names of people at various meetings so Carter Page and Donald Trump can add them to lawsuits.

Mind you, along the way, the trial also revealed the FBI’s own assessment of Danchenko’s cooperation, which contributed to 25 investigations and which Barr burned to a crisp by exposing him, with Lindsey Graham’s help, as a source in 2020.

Q. And you were concerned, in July of 2020, when you became aware that Attorney General Barr was going to release a redacted version of Mr. Danchenko’s interview in January of 2017?

A. Yes.

Q. You were upset about that?

A. I was.

Q. You found out about that during a telephone conference, right?

A. I did.

Q. And you disagreed with that decision?

A. I did.

Q. The OIG had already completed a report on that investigation, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And you thought that the release of that document was dangerous?

A. Yes.

Q. You even wrote up a memo of that phone call you were on in July of 2020 where you learned that they were going to publish a redacted version of his interview, correct?

A. I did.

[snip]

Q. And within an hour of Mr. Danchenko’s January interview being released to the senate judiciary committee, the senate judiciary committee, I won’t say who, released it to the public?

A. They did.

[snip]

Q. So, Agent Helson, you wrote in October of 2020 that from 2017 until present day, Mr. Danchenko had provided information on at least 25 FBI investigations assigned to at least six field offices?

A. Correct.

Q. In addition, he aided the United States Government by introducing the United States Government to a sub-source who had provided additional information separate to his report, correct?

A. Correct.

[snip]

Q. And it’s noted that he — his reporting contributed to at least 25 active FBI investigations.

[snip]

Q. In July of 2020 his identity became public after the release of the redacted version of his interview in January of 2017. Since that public disclosure, he has received threatening messages via social media and email. It’s resulted in significant damage to his reputation from false and baseless claims aimed to undermine his credibility. Those are your words, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. The Washington Field Office had assessed that this will have negative ramifications with respect to his ability to provide for his family via personal income for the foreseeable future, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And while the FBI cannot promise complete anonymity to anyone who provides information, his identity became public only after the decision was made to release the redacted version of his interview, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. As a result of that act, his ability to continue to provide information viable to the FBI is diminished as is his ability to provide financial support to his family.

After the trial, Barr has been spending time on Fox News declaring — as much of the frothy right has — that this record, of how he deliberately harmed national security for revenge, exposed the corruption of what Barr calls “Russiagate,” the moniker frothers use to distract from the real substance of the Russian investigation.

I was disappointed, obviously. I think they did a good job prosecuting the case. Their ability to put evidence on, in a very difficult case, was limited by some rulings, and they weren’t able to get access to some witnesses overseas. So it was a tough — it was a tough case, so this should show people that it’s hard to win these cases, and sometimes it takes time to … to achieve justice. But as people say — I think Andy McCarthy said — the real public interest being served here was exposing the full extent of the corruption that was involved in Russiagate [sic] and the abuse by the FBI in that whole episode. And I think Durham is going to get a report out that’s gonna lay out all the facts.

Barr and everyone else are pointing to the exposures they and Durham made to justify their actions because they didn’t have evidence to support their claims.

Barr is whining that getting false statements convictions is hard. But Robert Mueller was able to prove that:

  • Alex Van der Zwaan lied to cover up his efforts, in conjunction with Konstantin Kilimnik and Rick Gates, to cover up Manafort’s effort to spin Ukraine’s politicized Yulia Tymoshenko prosecution during the 2016 election
  • George Papadopoulos lied to cover up his advance knowledge of the Russian effort to help Trump
  • Mike Flynn lied to cover up his back channel calls with Sergei Kislyak to undermine Obama Administration policy (and also that he was a paid agent of Turkey during the campaign)
  • Michael Cohen lied to hide the secret negotiations he had directly with the Kremlin about an impossibly lucrative real estate deal
  • Paul Manafort conspired to cover up a front organization he set up with Konstantin Kilimnik and (at a preponderance of the evidence standard) lied to cover up his August 2016 meeting with Kilimnik
  • Roger Stone lied and intimidated Randy Credico to cover up his real back channel to the Russian operation

I mean, Robert Mueller had no problem getting convictions, whether from guilty pleas, jury verdicts, or (in the case of Manafort’s lies about the August 2, 2016 meeting) a judge’s ruling.

One reason he had no problem was that these defendants were generally guilty of a lot more than just lying. It’s a lot easier to get Flynn to admit he lied about his back channel discussions with the Russian Ambassador, after all, when he was also on the hook for secretly being an agent of Turkey. It’s lot easier to get Papadopoulos to admit he lied about his advance warning of the Russian operation when he’s trying to stave off foreign agent charges tied to Israel. It’s a lot easier to get a jury verdict against Stone when he spent months plotting out his lies with multiple people on emails.

Mueller wasn’t able to get false statement verdicts from everyone, mind you. For example, because Steve Bannon and Erik Prince deleted their texts from early January 2017, Mueller did not charge them for false statements made to cover up meetings to set up a back channel with UAE and Russia. That’s one lesson that Durham should have taken to heart: Absent the mobile app records from Sergei Millian and Igor Danchenko, he had no way of knowing whether Millian called Danchenko on July 26, 2016.

That’s not the only evidentiary complaint Barr makes here. He’s complaining that Durham was unable to get hearsay admitted against Danchenko. He’s angry that Durham was not permitted to introduce Millian’s wild Twitter boasts as evidence without requiring Millian to show up and make those claims under oath. And he’s complaining that Durham wasn’t able to introduce his pee tape conspiracies without charging it.

But the most alarming of the former Attorney General’s statements — before and after the trial — embrace the notion that it is a proper goal of failed prosecutions to expose information that does not rise to the level of criminality.

As I’ll show in a follow-up, the Durham fiasco is part of a piece of Barr’s larger actions, both his other failed prosecutions — most notably, that of Greg Craig — but also his efforts to undo the convictions for which there was no reasonable doubt of guilt.

It’s not enough to talk about Durham’s unprecedented failure … it’s not enough to note that Durham and his prosecutors repeatedly failed to take basic investigative steps before embracing and charging conspiracy theories that juries didn’t buy … it’s not enough to note how, in an attempt to prove those conspiracy theories, Durham and his prosecutors and abused the prosecutorial system.

Durham’s entire project is a continuation of Barr’s unprecedented politicization of DOJ, one that not only places Republicans attempting to secretly work for hostile nations above the law, but that has made the country far less safe in many other ways.

It’s not just Durham prosecuted two men without any real hope of winning conviction, all to expose things that aren’t crimes. It’s that Billy Barr hired him to do just that.

John Durham’s Last Word: An Outright Lie about the Mueller Conclusions

There were aspects of Igor Danchenko attorney Stuart Sears’ closing argument yesterday that could have been stronger.

He could have more strongly emphasized that Danchenko had nothing to do with the words that appear in the dossier, and so when John Durham claims that the words in the dossier — alleging a conspiracy between Trump and Russia — are what Danchenko told the FBI he told Steele, he’s lying. Or maybe too stupid to understand that? That said, Sears did emphasize that Danchenko told the FBI the anonymous caller had said there was nothing bad about the ties between Russia and Trump.

It’s entirely possible it wasn’t Sergei Millian, but even if it was, the caller only said there was coordination between the campaign and Russia and that there was nothing bad about it. Agent Helson told you that. That’s not anti-Trump, and we do know from the government’s own evidence that Millian was at least telling people he was going to meet with Trump campaign people the week before the phone call, the anonymous phone call.

Still, this case is about reported speech, and Durham is prosecuting Danchenko for what the record shows is Christopher Steele’s speech, not for what the record shows is Danchenko’s speech.

Sears’ materiality argument could have been more forceful (though he correctly noted, jurors should never even have to get that far). Durham claims the alleged lies about Millian were material because they caused the surveillance against Carter Page; that is literally impossible for two of the alleged lies (which were told after surveillance stopped), including the October 24 alleged lie that, for the reasons I’ve laid out here, the jury may have more reason to believe Danchenko lied. And whether Danchenko told the FBI what Durham believes to be the truth — that no call with Millian happened — or Danchenko told them what he did — that the call that happened was so sketchy it shouldn’t have been relied on, and it did not include any claim of conspiracy — the decision the FBI should have taken would have been the same, to stop relying on that allegation in the FISA application. Importantly, Danchenko raised questions about the reliability of the call with no knowledge of the FISA application or the import of the conspiracy of cooperation language to the FISA application, but nevertheless told FBI everything they would need to remove the allegation from the FISA application.

And I think Sears could have hit the significance of the mobile apps harder. He did remind jurors about how Durham attempted to elicit false testimony about whether Danchenko had said this could be a mobile app.

The government set out to prove — Mr. Keilty told you in his opening statement he was going to prove Mr. Danchenko never received an anonymous call. Now, this is where — if you recall during the trial, special counsel got a little tricky here. Remember, they asked Agent Auten to refresh his recollection by reviewing a document, a report he had written, that Mr. Danchenko claimed to have received a cellular call from an anonymous caller. That was all they had him review. Just read that part, and what does it say? A cellular call, a cellular phone.

Then Mr. Onorato got up on cross-examination and literally said: Review the same report but read the rest of the sentence onto the next page.

And the full sentence that Agent Auten actually read out loud read: The call was either a cellular phone, or it was a communication through a phone app.

It was a good try, but it didn’t work. And it was a try because they know they have no evidence at all from which you could conclude there was not a call through a messaging app. They don’t have it. It’s their burden. They don’t have it. He doesn’t have to prove he received a call on a messaging app. They have to prove he didn’t.

Sears had more evidence here, though. There was the evidence that Millian was communicating via mobile apps using his iPad in the period he was in South Korea (though Durham worked hard to withhold it from the jury), and because he was overseas, Millian would be far more likely to use mobile apps than telephony. It might have been useful to explain why Ryan James’ effort to rule out a mobile app call by looking at only telephony calls didn’t even attempt steps that could have clarified the issue. The steps Durham’s hand-picked FBI agent failed to take prove, definitively, that Durham never attempted to fill what Sears called “a giant hole” in Durham’s case.

And if they have not convinced you beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not receive an anonymous call through a phone app, that’s the end of the case. They had to prove that.

They told you they would, but did they? Are you convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, as you sit here today, that Millian or perhaps someone else didn’t reach out to him anonymously over a messaging app in July 2016? What evidence do you have to make that conclusion? What evidence do you have to make that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt? There’s none. It’s a giant hole in the case, and they can’t fill it with conjecture, speculation, and argument. Where is the evidence?

All that said, Sears laid out all the other compelling proof against Durham: that Durham’s own witnesses, Brian Auten and Kevin Helson, said Danchenko didn’t lie, and that all the details that Durham collected believing they would disprove Danchenko’s story in fact corroborated the claims Danchenko had made about the call and aftermath.

We’ll learn soon enough what the jury thinks about it. They deliberated for about three and a half hours yesterday and will resume deliberations at 9:30 this morning.

I’d like to address the underlying dynamic about the closing arguments, though.

Michael Keilty, the least corrupt member of the Durham team, had the initial close, which often is the longer of prosecutors’ two presentations, the one in which prosecutors explain to the jury which the most important pieces of evidence are and where to find them. At least by transcript pages, that wasn’t the case here: Keilty’s close spanned 21 pages, whereas Durham’s rebuttal spanned 22. Still, that’s totally within the norm, and how the prosecution splits their time is their own decision.

But that time differential is not what Judge Anthony Trenga expected. Even before Durham started, he remarked on how short Keilty’s close was and asked Durham in a bench conference how long he expected to take.

THE COURT: I thought the government’s closing was going to be a lot longer than it was. How long were you intending for rebuttal?

MR. DURHAM: I would say half an hour, 40 minutes.

THE COURT: Well, I’ll give you half an hour. All right.

MR. DURHAM: Yes, Your Honor.

I think Trenga suspected — as did I after Keilty’s close — that the entire plan from the start was to sandbag Danchenko’s team, effectively present the bulk of the close after Sears could no longer respond (this is what Durham did with Special Agent Kevin Helson’s testimony, raising the most damning testimony of the trial for the first time in a second redirect).

Sears anticipated that would happen. Based on all the times Durham pointed to evidence he didn’t have because he himself didn’t bother to try to collect it, Sears warned the jury about the Special Prosecutor’s efforts to shift the burden on Danchenko, repeatedly demanding that Danchenko affirmatively prove his claims, rather than just disprove Durham’s.

So now is the part where I have to sit down in a minute, and it’s the hardest part of the case for a defense attorney because they get the last word. And so we just have to sit there and listen and think about the things we meant to say when we were up here and forgot or the things that we think they’re getting wrong and that we feel like we can correct, like I was just able to do now, and we can’t.

And it’s particularly concerning in this case and difficult in this case because the burden shifting I heard in the government’s closing about where is the evidence that Mr. Danchenko did this or did that. He didn’t have any burden. You’re not going to see an instruction back there that says he has a burden to do anything. It’s the government’s burden to prove their case. It’s not his burden to disprove it.

The special counsel at times through its questions and arguments, they’ve not given you the full picture. They haven’t told you the whole story. Just like when they were showing the agents and had the agents testifying, well, if you knew this or if you knew that, what would you think? Oh, yeah, that would affect my views of that, or I would think that was important. They only showed them the stuff that they think helped their case.

[snip]

So I’m worried more so than usual when I go back to sit down about what you’re going to hear now and what I can’t respond to. And while I can’t do that, you can. You can pay attention to what’s said now, and you can discover those inaccuracies or misstatements, if there are any, when you go back to deliberate and consider the actual evidence in this case.

Before he did this, though, Sears talked about how Bill Barr started this investigation, burned Danchenko as a source, and how as part of the investigation Barr set up, Durham has not investigated what happened, but instead set out to prove guilt.

Agent Helson also told you that Mr. Danchenko’s information was vital to national security and led to the opening of more than two dozen active influence cases. He became a trusted source of information for our government that even led to the creation of a new team at the FBI as a result of the information he provided, the guy they are saying is a liar.

But as you’ve also heard at trial, the political winds in this country changed once then-President Trump appointed a new attorney general, William Barr. Barr not only essentially revealed Mr. Danchenko’s identity by releasing a redacted version of his January 2017 interview to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that committee released that report within an hour of receiving it to the public.

Attorney General Barr also ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Trump campaign and its connections to Russia. So a new special counsel was appointed, this special counsel, to lead that investigation.

I submit to you that if this trial has proven anything, it’s that the special counsel’s investigation was focused on proving crimes at any cost as opposed to investigating whether any occurred.

I submit to you that a fair and reasonable look at the evidence in this case shows that the special counsel — they started out with the presumption of guilt, that Mr. Danchenko had lied, and they read guilt into every piece of evidence they came across and at every detail they saw. They ignored — and we’re going to show you. They ignored how their own evidence showed he was not guilty, that he was innocent.

This narrative is all true. Even within the trial, there was abundant evidence presented that Durham sought out to find someone to charge, not to find out what happened (neither of which is an appropriate use of prosecutorial resources, absent evidence of a crime).

For any critique I have about things Sears could have done tactically, the strategic decision to make Durham defend his own investigation clearly had an effect. I think Sear’s comments got to Durham, and made him defensive.

In his close, in the middle of spending much of his close focusing on a single 2020 LinkedIn message in which Danchenko admitted he was the source for 80% of the raw intelligence in the dossier, John Durham took the time to rebut the accusation about Bill Barr deliberately exposing Danchenko by blaming Danchenko for speaking to the press.

But what do you also know about that? And don’t forget what the evidence is. Mr. Sears wants to put this on Bill Barr. He wants to put it on politicians or whatever. You heard testimony from Mr. Helson that Mr. Danchenko himself, when he was interviewed by the press — all right. I think it was couched in the terms of your recollection controls, of course, but I think it’s couched in terms of, well, he had to do what he had to do to protect himself. He went and talked to the press.

And then later in his close, he returned to it again, not presenting the proof that Sears said was absent, but instead defending Bill Barr.

That’s when Durham decided to explain to the jury what he believes the results of the Mueller investigation were.

Now, I think that counsel’s suggestion is, oh, it’s Bill Barr. Bill Barr did this for political reasons. But reflect on how this came about. The Mueller report had come out, and there’s no collusion that was established. It’s not an illogical question to ask, well, then how did this all get started? Now, you can call that political. You can suggest, I guess, inferentially that somehow people who have spent a considerable period of time away from their families and whatnot did this for political reasons or what have you. If that’s your mind-set, I suppose that’s your mind-set.

But to look into the question of how did this all happen — Director Mueller, a patriotic American, the former director of the FBI, concludes there’s no evidence of collusion here or conspiracy. Is it the wrong question to ask, well, then how did this get started? Respectfully, that’s not the case. [my emphasis]

That’s the first time when Judge Trenga interrupted and told Durham to wrap it up.

THE COURT: You should finish up, Mr. Durham.

MR. DURHAM: Yes, Your Honor.

Only after Trenga told him to stop and only after defending Billy Barr twice did Durham turn to the crucial issue before him, attempting to disprove a mobile app call.

You know that the defendant didn’t receive an anonymous call here on an app from Millian or anyone else for at least three reasons:

First, there’s absolutely no evidence in the record of such a call, none.

Second, the statements the defendant made to the FBI are not in any way consistent with how someone would describe an anonymous call. They’re consistent with how somebody would describe a call that they made up.

Even though Danchenko was a trained business intelligence analyst whose entire task from orders from Christopher Steele was to find evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russians — if he had received an anonymous call, whether he thought it was Millian or it was somebody else, that would be the very evidence of collusion that he was looking for so eagerly. As a trained researcher, he clearly would have noted every detail possible: What’s the incoming call number? What’s the area code number? What other details are there? What do you know about the person’s speech pattern? None of that information is recorded or provided. It’s simply an anonymous caller.

He would have known to remember the cell phone application if it was a cell phone application that was involved. Look, that’s what a good research analyst does, looks into the details, records those details, and reports on those details. Mr. Danchenko did none of that. He didn’t provide any of that information to Steele, and he didn’t provide any of that information to the FBI.

Third, the most conclusive evidence that such a call never occurred, if you look at Government’s Exhibit 207T, the defendant’s August 18 email to Mr. Millian where the defendant states in his own words — I mean, he can’t get away from his own words. His words state that he wrote to Millian several weeks earlier and that they were contacts on LinkedIn but says nothing about the call that he told the FBI he thought was probably Millian. What possible reason could explain why the defendant wouldn’t at least ask Millian if he had called?

Because he had spent his time doing other things, including defending Bill Barr twice, in the middle of walking the jury through what Durham believes is his smoking gun evidence, he made a bid for more time.

I want you to look at Government’s Exhibit 115T, the August 24 email — Can I have five more minutes, Your Honor?

THE COURT: One minute.

MR. DURHAM: One minute.

The point being, I think (and Trenga may have thought) that Durham attempted to sandbag Danchenko, delaying the entirety of his substantive close until after Sears had finished.

And indeed, Durham’s presentation of what they believe is their smoking gun evidence didn’t come until Durham’s own close, not Keilty’s.

An attempted sandbag.

Though it only came after Durham spent his time trying to defend Barr’s actions, not just in exposing an FBI source, but in launching this investigation in the first place.

Which is why it matters that Durham lied about the conclusion of the Mueller investigation when he claimed, “Director Mueller, a patriotic American, the former director of the FBI, concludes there’s no evidence of collusion here or conspiracy.”

Mueller didn’t charge conspiracy and it is true that he said the available evidence did not prove it (in at least two cases, notably, because people had destroyed mobile app communications). But even ignoring the then-ongoing investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired to hack with Russia, Mueller explicitly stated that, “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts” — such as the finding that, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” — “does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”

Mueller pointedly said his statement explaining that he didn’t charge conspiracy doesn’t mean there is no evidence of conspiracy, but John Durham got up before a jury and asserted that anyway. To defend his actions spending almost twice as long hunting for guilt as Mueller did investigating Trump aides for their potential role in a crime, Durham affirmatively claimed what Mueller said one could not claim.

All the more so given that (as Onorato had already established), three of the first four subjects of the investigation were convicted, and five of those convicted — Mike Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone — were either convicted or (in the case of Manafort) found by a judge to have lied to cover up their interactions with agents of Russia in 2016.

Indeed, Brittain Shaw even explicitly used the standard on which the FBI first opened the investigation — to figure out whether claims like the ones George Papadopoulos made to Australia were true or not — in her attempt to prove the materiality of the literally true alleged lie Durham prosecuted Danchenko for.

With respect to knowing whether someone passed false information that contained allegations — not the Lewandowski part but somebody made up that they were an insider or had inside information, in the course of looking at Russian interference, as you did in the Special Counsel’s investigation, would that have been important to you?

In their bid to win this case, Durham and his prosecutors have argued not only that one can investigate whether someone is telling the truth when he claims to have inside access to Trump (as evidence in this trial showed Millian was doing), much less to Russia, as Papadopoulos was doing. Indeed, in his attacks on the FBI, Durham claimed one would be negligent not to investigate such things. Durham even argued that Mueller didn’t investigate Sergei Millian thoroughly enough.

And yet, when it came time to prove his own case, to explain why he hadn’t taken basic steps to disprove a mobile app call, Durham instead squandered his time inventing false claims about the results of the Mueller investigation.

We’ll see what the jury has to say about Durham’s defense of his prosecution. But there is no more fitting way for Durham to end this fiasco than to lie about how and why it all got started in the first place.

Update: Changed how long the jury has deliberated to include their lunch.

“It Certainly Sounds Creepy:” John Durham Adopts the “Coffee Boy” Defense

At one point during his redirect of FBI Supervisory Analyst Brian Auten yesterday, John Durham was so desperate to insinuate that the Crossfire Hurricane/Mueller team was incompetent, that he even argued that they didn’t investigate Sergei Millian thoroughly enough.

Durham was trying to suggest that Auten should have discovered and pulled the call records for a 212 number, in addition to the 404 prefix number around which Durham has built his entire case.

Q. Right. Do you recall whether or not the FBI ever did — in Crossfire Hurricane ever run that number down to see what the records might show?

A. The 212 number?

Q. Correct.

A. It’s possible. I don’t have a recollection of that while I sit here now.

Q. If you had done that, if the investigators had done that, is that something you think you would recall?

A. Not necessarily.

Q. There’s some probability that if you had actually run the numbers to the ground, you would remember that?

A. No. But, I mean, for a number trace, that may have been one of the analysts that I had under me. If we did it, again, I don’t know whether it was run or not.

Durham was trying to suggest that the FBI should have found a second phone number used by Sergei Millian that — it appears from Durham’s own exhibit list — Durham either didn’t know about or wanted to keep hidden. In the process, he implied that Mueller didn’t investigate Millian, whom Durham still believes was a victim in all this, aggressively enough.

I predicted, on multiple occasions, that Durham would be destroying his purported victims in a claimed effort to avenge them.

He should have listened to me.

Because thus far, Durham’s vengeance for Trump and his flunkies has done more to air details of the criminal investigations into everyone Durham claims to be defending than it has served to present proof of Danchenko’s guilt.

Close to the beginning of his cross-examination yesterday, Danchenko attorney Danny Onorato got Auten to lay out that three of the original subjects of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation — everyone but Carter Page — were convicted.

Q Now, you also understand that when Crossfire Hurricane opened — I think you testified yesterday that there were four people who the government was looking at, correct?

A Correct.

Q Papadopoulus?

A Correct.

Q Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager?

A Correct.

Q Carter Page?

A Correct.

Q And the fourth?

A Michael Flynn.

Q And are you aware that — I think Mr. Durham asked you — whether Mr. Page was ever charged or convicted of a crime?

A Yes, he did. He asked me that.

Q And what did you tell him?

A No.

Q What about the other three people?

A Well, Mr. Manafort, yes.

Q Was he convicted?

A Yes.

Q Next person?

A Michael Flynn.

Q Convicted?

A Yes.

Q Okay. Next?

A George Papadopoulos.

Q Okay. And?

A Yes.

Q So three of those four were convicted of crimes?

A Correct.

Q Based on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation?

A As it went over to the special counsel’s office, yes.

Q Okay.

Even before rehearsing the results of the Mueller investigation, Onorato had Auten describe that the Australian tip that predicated the entire investigation pertained to George Papdopoulos.

Okay. Now, given your background with respect to, you know, analytics and, you know, your work history, is it fair to say that you were assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation?

A Yes.

Q Now, a quick summary would be to say that Crossfire Hurricane started because someone who was represented to be a high-level Trump campaign official and advisor, Mr. Papadopoulos, allegedly indicated that the Russians would help leak damaging information to the Clintons and Obamas, right?

A They had received a suggestion that they could be helped that way, yes.

Q Again, that person was George Papadopoulos, right?

A That is correct.

Q Okay. And the FBI opened an investigation on July 31, 2016?

A Yes.

Q That was before you had any information regarding the Steele dossier, right?

A That is correct.

Q That was before you even — so you would agree with me that the opening of that investigation had nothing to do with the Steele information; it had nothing to do with the initiation of Crossfire Hurricane?

A Correct.

Q You would agree that the goal of Crossfire Hurricane was to determine whether or not there was truth to the allegation that a friendly foreign government had provided the U.S. with respect to Russia and collusion between the Trump administration?

A That is correct. [my emphasis]

Onorato was laying the foundation — as I also predicted — to show proof that Durham’s entire basis for claiming that Millian could not have called Danchenko in July 2016 was easily disproven with basic details of Millian’s cultivation of Papadopoulos in the very same time period. This wasn’t about the fact that Papadopoulos admitted he had lied to cover up his ties with Russian-linked figures.

But it seems to have made Durham nervous that the jury would notice he had.

Perhaps because of this, Durham several times made really defensive comments about George Papadopoulos.

Durham spent part of his redirect of Auten attacking his claim that Papadopoulos was a “high level advisor to the Trump Campaign” (which arose from Onorato’s accurate description of the tip from Australia, as I noted in bold above), delivering the “Coffee Boy” defense Trump once used with great flourish to the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”

Q. Okay. Now, there were a number of questions that defense counsel asked you that you — well, there were a number of questions that counsel asked you that I want to probe a little bit more deeply. Mr. Onorato asked you or made reference to George Papadopoulos and said — and said — incorporated in his question, that George Papadopoulos was a high level advisor to the Trump Campaign, and you said yes. Well, tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury with respect to George Papadopoulos, how old was George Papadopoulos in the 2016 election?

A. I want to say Papadopoulos was in his 30s.

Q. How about 28? Does that refresh your recollection?

A. It could be around 28.

Q. And was he such a high level advisor that he still had on his resume that he was in a student UN panel?

A. No, that was on his resume.

Q. Right. So this person that you agreed to was a high level advisor to Trump, the Trump Campaign, was a 28-year old who still had on his resume that he was a UN — a student UN person? [my emphasis]

When Auten tried to remind Durham that Trump himself had pitched Papadopoulos as a key foreign policy advisor, Durham interrupted.

A. I would say that part of my articulation of that deals with the fact that Mr. Papadopoulos was part of the small group of advisors that were named, I believe, in March of 2016

Q. Right.

A. For the president — for the former president.

Q. With respect to high level advisor, you don’t have any idea whether Papadopoulos even, you know, had occasion to talk to Trump, do you?

A. Well, he was at the meeting that — that was announced —

Q. He was at one meeting —

MR. ONORATO: Can the witness finish his question — his answer?

MR. DURHAM: Sure.

Remember that Durham and Bill Barr went on a junket to Italy together to chase Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories without ever interviewing Papadopoulos first (which he still has not done, three years later). And now he’s telling us Papadopoulos was just a low level coffee boy?

After attempting to debunk that people — like the former President, the former Attorney General, and he himself treated Papadopoulos as if he had credibility — Durham then tried to get Auten to agree that Mueller was more worried that Papadopoulos was an asset of Israel’s than Russia’s. When Auten tried to clarify that, no, Mueller investigated Papadopoulos for both, Durham interrupted again.

Q. And, in fact, with respect to Mr. Papadopoulos, isn’t it, in fact, true that, as to Papadopoulos, what the FBI thought it was more — of more interest in Papadopoulos was his relationship to Middle Eastern countries, not to Russia?

A. Actually, I would argue that it was a combination of both. I think —

Q. And I — I’m sorry.

THE COURT: Go ahead. Finish your answer.

THE WITNESS: I think I’ve asserted in testimony that it was a both and.

Before this, Durham twice went on at great length suggesting that Millian couldn’t be a spy recruiting George Papadopoulos — even though Papadopoulos himself described Millian as “a very shady kind of person” — because they were discussing real estate and energy, not “collusion” with Russia. He did this first in a morning hearing before the jury came in.

The defendant has provided what he has premarked as Defendant’s Exhibit 480, 4-8-0, which is an email, a LinkedIn message from Millian to George Papadopoulos. Unless the defendant is going to somehow explain to the jury what Millian and Papadopoulos were communicating about at this period of time, then the Court should not permit it. Papadopoulos and Millian, as I think the defense knows from the discovery in this case, were exchanging any number of emails or Facebook exchanges or LinkedIn all about real estate, potential real estate transactions.

And so what the defense would be asking the jury to do is to draw some adverse inference that there was something going on between Millian and Papadopoulos that they really don’t know about, but it certainly sounds creepy. Well, in fact, if you look at what the communications were, as I say, between Papadopoulos and Millian, they are all about real estate, potential real estate investments.

[snip]

MR. DURHAM: 486 is from Millian to Papadopoulos. Again, you know, its irrelevant to these proceedings, but for the same reason, in the government’s view, it would be inadmissible unless we want to get into evidence relating to what Papadopoulos and Millian were doing at or about the time these email exchanges were occurring. [my emphasis]

He did it again in the middle of Onorato’s cross in the guise of voir dire before admitting the communications between Millian and Papadopoulos.

Q. And do you remember what Papadopoulos and Millian were involved in that generated these numbers?

A. I don’t recall exactly what they were involved in, but it was —

Q. But was it pretty much they were involved in real estate or investment discussions over a long period of time?

A. That, I don’t recall exactly.

Q. Well, how about generally? Do you generally refer — recall that Papadopoulos and Millian were involved in discussions about real estate projects and the like?

A. In January of…

Q. Well, this whole period that’s reflected in Defendant’s Exhibit 403.

A. Yeah, again, I don’t know if I — I don’t know if I can speak to that at this point.

Q. Well, you — you were the analyst — that supervisory analyst, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you recall, sir, what it was that Mr. Millian was involved in, the kind of investments?

A. Yes, he was involved in investments and the like.

Q. Right.

A. But I don’t know if I can speak to, at this point, these phone records being tied to any real estate deals or anything of that sort.

Q. Right. So all of these records have shown there was contact between the two of them, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And did you know that Millian was involved in the energy sector as well?

A. Yes, correct.

Q. And did you know that Papadopoulos was talking about getting involved in the energy sector in the Middle East?

A. Yes, I did know that.

Q. Does that refresh any recollection as to whether or not the contact between Millian and Papadopoulos had to do with energy and other investments?

A. Again, I am familiar with both of those things. I don’t know if that is what this document was actually written for.

Q. Okay. And there’s nothing in this document that tells you what it is about, correct?

A. No. Gmail talks about — there are a couple of references on — it’s not — it’s Bates Number — last Bates number is 105262.

Q. Uh-huh.

A. And there are two paragraphs that talk about another individual involved with energy.

Q. Right. This is all about business, correct?

A. Again, I don’t know if all of this is about business. I know that there are paragraphs in here involving energy.

Q. Okay. So one can tell from this is that they were involved in exchanges of emails or the like, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And it appears it has to do with energy, correct?

A. It might , yes. Again, there are a lot of — there are a lot of communications on here.

Q. Yes.

A. So I would not be able to state with any substance that these are all involving energy issues.

Q. You can’t say that because the document doesn’t tell the jury what it’s about, other than that it, at least it has partially to do with energy?

A. Correct.

Q. Between Millian and Papadopoulos, correct?

A. That’s what it appears, correct.

Q. So it would be unreasonable to conclude anything or draw any conclusions from this other than Papadopoulos and Millian were involved in investments in the energy sector, right?

A. I don’t know if I can say that it follows necessarily from this, that all of these things deal with that.

Q. That wasn’t my question, though.

A. Okay.

Q. My question was: It would be unreasonable to conclude from this document anything other than they were at least involved in talking about — the energy sector, correct?

A. I would say that from this document there may —

Q. Uh-huh.

A. — there are likely communications within this list of communications dealing with energy, though I cannot say, analytically speaking, that all of these deal with energy

Q. Fair enough. You know that Millian was involved in the energy sector and real estate?

A. I do recall that.

Q. And Papadopoulos is involved in the energy sector and real estate?

A. I recall that.

Q. And so this document doesn’t have anything to do, from looking at it on its particulars, anything to do with Russia and Russia collusion and the like, correct?

A. So the only thing that this has is — it has a list of — most of it is a list of communications between the two parties, dates, times.

Q. Okay. [my emphasis]

When he finally got the witness back and the exhibits admitted, Onorato mocked the way Durham had wasted all his time.

Q. Okay. And I’m glad that Mr. Durham took five minutes of my examination with you to talk about something I didn’t want to ask you about, okay? I don’t care if they were talking about going to the beech or vacation. It’s not relevant to —

He then noted that he really didn’t give a fuck what they were talking about. This was about metadata. Onorato was introducing it to show that the investigation into both Millian and Papadopoulos revealed that there were communications between the two men — communications not relying on the single cell phone that Durham bothered to obtain the call records for. Danchenko’s lawyer was showing that, during the same period when, Durham is arguing, Millian could not have arranged a meeting in New York with Danchenko because he was in Asia and the single phone the records of which Durham bothered to pull had been turned off temporarily, Millian had been arranging a meeting in New York with Papadopoulos.

Q. So the import of that document is that you were investigating Mr. Papadopoulos after Crossfire Hurricane, right?

A. In Crossfire Hurricane, yes.

Q. Right. But you got —

A. And special counsel.

Q. Right. And then Mr. Millian was also being investigated, right?

A. Correct.

Q. And so, the import of that is that there’s communication between Papadopoulos and Millian, and the FBI was documenting that because it was important, right?

A. Correct.

Q. Okay. It doesn’t — I don’t care about the contents of what they were discussing, just the fact that there was this relationship that you needed to explore, right?

Again, the primary purpose of introducing Papadopoulos was to show that the entire metadata-based argument that Durham will make about the impossibility of a call between Millian and Danchenko simply ignored publicly-known metadata from the very same period, metadata that the FBI believed was important.

Onorato was not trying to and does not need to prove that Millian was recruiting Papadopoulos as a Russian asset.

But the mere act of introducing these communications flipped the table, and Durham started making a desperate defense of two of the claimed victims he was championing.

Durham’s observation that all those communications “certainly sound[] creepy” was made outside the presence of the jurors. But in his bid to claim Papadopoulos was just a Coffee Boy, Durham himself introduced the possibility that two men he is attempting to claim were unfairly investigated really were engaged in “Russia collusion.”

Oleg Deripaska Indicted for His Anchor Baby and Flowers for a TV Host

SDNY just unsealed an indictment against Oleg Deripaska and three others for sanctions violations. Just one person — naturalized US Citizen Olga Shikri — was in the US to be arrested. The other main consequences from this indictment will be the forfeiture of property related to the sanctions violations. The indictment lists the three properties that were searched last year.

The central allegations in the indictment pertain to efforts — successful with a first child, and unsuccessful with a second — to set up Deripaska’s girlfriend to give birth in the US and via that process, obtain US citizenship for the child.

Then, in or about 2020, SHRIKI and BARDAKOVA helped DERIPASKA’s girlfriend, VORONINA, travel from Russia to the United States so she could give birth to DERIPASKA’s and VORONINA’s child in the United States.  Despite DERIPASKA’s ongoing support for the Russian regime, he funded hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions so that his child could take advantage of the U.S. healthcare system and U.S. birthright.  SHRIKI orchestrated the payment of approximately $300,000 worth of U.S. medical care, housing, childcare, and other logistics to aid VORONINA and DERIPASKA’s efforts to help VORONINA give birth in the United States, which resulted in the child receiving U.S. citizenship.  DERIPASKA counseled VORONINA on obtaining a visa to travel to the United States, including by telling her to be “careful” ahead of an interview by U.S. immigration authorities.  VORONINA thereafter applied for and obtained a U.S. visa for a purported ten-day tourism visit without disclosing her intent to travel and stay in the United States for approximately six months to give birth to DERIPASKA’s child.  Following the birth, SHRIKI, BARDAKOVA, and VORONINA conspired to conceal the name of the child’s true father, DERIPASKA, going so far as to change, slightly, the spelling of the child’s last name.

Later, in or about 2022, at DERIPASKA’s further behest and for his further benefit, SHRIKI and BARDAKOVA attempted to facilitate VORONINA’s return to the United States to give birth to DERIPASKA’s and VORONINA’s second child.  This second attempt included BARDAKOVA and VORONINA’s attempt to use false statements to conceal DERIPASKA’s funding and secure VORONINA’s entry into the United States – an attempt that was thwarted, and VORONINA was denied entry and returned immediately to Istanbul, through which she had flown from Russia to the United States.

In addition to a music studio sold in 2019, the indictment refers to other purchases in the US, including Easter flowers for a US TV host.

BARDAKOVA – largely based in Russia – directed SHRIKI to engage in particular illegal transactions on DERIPASKA’s behalf.  These instructions included directing SHRIKI to obtain U.S. goods and technology for DERIPASKA.  Moreover, between in or about May 2018 and in or about 2020, BARDAKOVA instructed SHRIKI to purchase and send flower and gift deliveries on behalf of DERIPASKA to DERIPASKA’s social contacts in the United States and Canada.  The deliveries included, among others, Easter gift deliveries to a U.S. television host, two flower deliveries to a then-former Canadian Parliament member, and two flower deliveries in 2020 to VORONINA while she was in the United States in 2020 to give birth to DERIPASKA’s child.

Perhaps most interesting to me is that the investigation was active in 2020, in the wake of Geoffrey Berman’s firing. Shriki is accused of destroying records in advance of a September 23 grand jury appearance. This was the period when Barr was furiously cleaning up all remaining traces of the Russian investigation (and it was the same month when Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Interpol red notice was withdrawn, even though the indictment against him in the US remains).

In Berman’s book (which I’ll write about one of these days), he makes it quite clear Barr was protecting Rudy in this period. Was he also protecting Deripaska?

Update: Interesting timing! Andy Beshear announced he has recouped the $15 Million Matt Bevin dumped in Deripaska’s aluminum venture in KY.

When Steven Engel and Ed O’Callaghan Said It Was Legal for Russia to Hack Hillary

There’s a detail of Bill Barr’s memo declining any prosecution of Trump for the Mueller investigation that I intended to point out after it was released.

Steven Engel and Ed O’Callaghan treated Russia’s hack of Hillary as if it was not a crime.

They did so because they treated Trump’s direction to Corey Lewandowski to order Jeff Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation of Russian election tampering prospectively, not historically, along with Trump’s efforts to constrain Mueller’s investigation in other ways. In doing so, they applied the conclusion they had drawn — that Mueller hadn’t charged any underlying conspiracy and therefore there was no underlying crime into which Trump was trying to obstruct the investigation — to the Russian hack-and-leak itself.

The Report also discusses a second category of actions taken by the President after the appointment of the Special Counsel, most notably after he learned that the Special Counsel had opened an investigation into potential obstruction of justice. Most of the conduct identified consists of facially lawful actions that are part of the President’s constitutional responsibility to supervise the Executive Branch. The Special Counsel considers, for example, whether the President obstructed justice by asking the White House Counsel to direct the firing of the Special Counsel; by asking Corey Lewandowski to contact the Attorney General and seek his assistance in narrowing the Special Counsels investigation; and by asking the Attorney General to reverse his recusal and to supervise the Special Counsel’s investigation. We do not believe that the principles of federal prosecution support charges based upon any of those actions. As noted, the evidence does not establish that the President took any of these actions because he sought to prevent the investigation of an underlying criminal offense, separate and apart from the obstruction case, and the Department rarely brings obstruction cases absent a separate criminal offense. Such a prosecution is doubly inappropriate where, as here, the conduct under investigation is lawful on its face, and the evidence of any corrupt motive is, at the very least, questionable. Federal criminal statutes should be construed to avoid criminalizing generally innocent conduct. S See, e.g., Arthur Anderson, 544 U.S. at 703-04; Ratzlaf. United States, 510 USS. 135, 144 (1994). The standard for demonstrating that a public official acted with corrupt intent is demanding. And there is considerable evidence to suggest that the President took these official actions not for an illegal purpose, but rather because he believed the investigation was politically motivated and undermined his Administration’s efforts to govern.

Moreover, in evaluating the nature of the President’s conduct, it bears emphasis that none of his requests to change the supervision of the investigation were actually carried out. The conduct under investigation is based entirely upon “directions” by the President to subordinates to take actions on his behalf that they did not undertake. In each instance, if the President truly wanted to cause those actions, he could have done it himself (for instance, ordering the Deputy Attorney General to terminate the Special Counsel or directing the Attorney General to unrecuse or to resign). After the President provided his direction, in each instance, the orders were not carried out. Of course, it is true that an act may constitute an attempt or an endeavor, even if unsuccessful. But the facts that the President could have given these directions himself, and did not remove any subordinate for failing to convey his directions, weigh against finding an intent to obstruct justice. [my emphasis]

The Lewandowski direction, recall, wasn’t exclusively about the investigation into Trump. Trump’s scripted instructions were explicitly about “election meddling,” something Mueller charged in two separate indictments. Trump’s script for Sessions would have shut down investigation into Russia’s hack-and-leak campaign, not just Trump’s potential role in it.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation. 605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions. 606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.”607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS .. . is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections. 610

By treating the Lewandowski direction in the same analysis as stuff that more directly pertained to the investigation into Trump himself, Engel and O’Callaghan applied the same (corrupt) conclusion — that there was no underlying crime — to the Russian hack-and-leak as they did to Trump’s efforts to maximize the effect of the hack-and-leak. That amounts to claiming that Russia’s hack of Hillary and the Democratic party was not a crime.

That also means they imply that Trump believed the investigation of Russian hacking would interfere with his ability to govern.

Engel and O’Callaghan’s treatment of the Lewandowski direction with the other obstruction introduces other absurdities into their analysis. For example, Lewandowski wasn’t a subordinate. Trump couldn’t fire Lewandowski for blowing off this order. They don’t consider how much sketchier that made this order: Trump was trying to bypass the entire official chain-of-command to shut down the Russian investigation, making this less a Presidential order than a personal one.

To be clear: I don’t really think Engel and O’Callaghan meant to argue that Russia’s hack of Hillary wasn’t a crime; O’Callaghan would have overseen the decision to charge both Russian indictments.

Perhaps they hadn’t read the Mueller Report closely enough in the seven and a half hours they had before they started drafting this memo to understand the distinction. Perhaps they simply didn’t expect their analysis ever to be made public, so they didn’t much care that lumping the Lewandowski direction in with the other obstruction revealed that they hadn’t thought through this analysis, at all.

Their sloppy treatment of Lewandowski is just another testament to the corruption embodied by this whole memo.

But there it is, analysis from men who’ve since been welcomed at Dechert and WilmerHale that, read literally, suggests they think it was legal for Russia to hack Hillary.

Don’t Analyze Trump Legal Filings Based on the Law, Analyze Them Based on Power

I think people are making a grave mistake of applying principles of law to Trump’s legal maneuvering.

Trump’s lawyers are not making arguments about law.

If there were lawyers concerned about principles of justice participating in his defense, they’d be stridently advising him to work on a plea deal admitting guilt to 18 USC 2071, removing government documents, maybe even agreeing to the probably unconstitutional part of the law that would prohibit him from running for President again, in exchange for removing the more serious 18 USC 793 and 1519 charges from consideration. Such a plea deal is never going to happen. Win or lose, Trump is pursuing power, not adjudication under the law, not even recognition of the law.

One way you can be certain about that is because Evan Corcoran, who got his and Steve Bannon’s asses handed to them in Carl Nichols’ courtroom making legally ridiculous arguments that treat Executive Privilege as a theory of impunity applicable to everyone who is loyal to Trump, has taken from that setback not that his claims about Executive Privilege are ignorant and wrong. Instead, he has doubled down on that approach with Eric Herschmann (and probably the Two Pats, Cipollone and Philbin), undoubtedly believing that so long as he can delay the time until Bannon reports to prison and Trump’s former White House Counsels testify about what really went down on January 6, his people can reclaim Executive authority and make all this go away.

He’s definitely not wrong that he can delay the time until Bannon is jailed, and he may not be wrong about the rest of it.

Four years ago last week, Paul Manafort entered into a plea agreement with Mueller’s team and then promptly started lying about matters to which he had already confessed to get the plea deal in the first place. Manafort managed to sustain the appearance of cooperation through the mid-term election, after which Trump took action that would have been politically problematic before it — firing Jeff Sessions and hiring Billy Barr. Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort had lied during his plea deal. But it didn’t matter. Trump and Barr spent the next two years erasing every legal judgment against him and the Trump flunkies that had remained loyal, erasing Manafort’s conviction and even his forfeiture. They erased a good deal of evidence that he conspired with Russia to get elected in the process. In the end, everyone who played a part in this process ended up better off — in significant part because the process, especially Barr’s part in it, has never been fully reported for what it was. Trump even used the ensuing process of discrediting the Russian investigation as a means to train Republicans — along with likely Fox viewers like Aileen Cannon — to believe he was mistreated in the Russian investigation, when the opposite is the case.

Along the way, Trump did grave damage to rule of law and undermined trust in US institutions. For him, that was a side benefit of the process, but a very important and lasting benefit, indeed.

He’s undoubtedly trying to play the same trick again: Stall the investigation past the election, and then (seemingly confident that Republicans will win at least one house of Congress, by democracy or by deceit) flip the entire investigation into yet another example where Trump has not flouted the law, but instead the law has failed to recognize Trump’s impunity from it.

Consider the analysis of Trump’s objections to Judge Raymond Dearie’s draft Special Master plan. As noted, Trump wailed about two things: that Dearie asked whether Judge Aileen Cannon’s inclusion of any Rule 41(g) claims (which is basically a legal way to demand property back before an indictment) in her order accorded with law and asked Trump to provide a list of the documents he claims to have declassified.

[W]e are concerned that it contemplates resolving issues that were not raised by Judge Cannon in her order, her order denying the stay, or oral argument. Specifically, Judge Cannon was aware of the likelihood of eventual Rule 41(g) litigation and established a process by which the Special Master would evaluate any such claims before reporting and recommending to the Court. While the Plaintiff is, of course, willing to brief anything ordered by the Court under the auspices of the Special Master, we are concerned that the Draft Plan directs the Plaintiff to address whether Rule 41(g) litigation should be litigated under Case No. 9:22-MJ-08332-BER. The Plaintiff respectfully sees no indication the District Court planned to carve out related litigation for a merits determination by the issuing magistrate for the warrant in question. Most importantly, none of the District Court’s Orders have ever indicated that this was even a consideration.

Similarly, the Draft Plan requires that the Plaintiff disclose specific information regarding declassification to the Court and to the Government. We respectfully submit that the time and place for affidavits or declarations would be in connection with a Rule 41 motion that specifically alleges declassification as a component of its argument for return of property. Otherwise, the Special Master process will have forced the Plaintiff to fully and specifically disclose a defense to the merits of any subsequent indictment without such a requirement being evident in the District Court’s order.

Virtually everyone has suggested that the reason that Trump is balking at the order to tell Dearie which documents he declassified is because his lawyers want to avoid lying and they know Trump hasn’t declassified any of these documents. Such observations apparently apply even to Evan Corcoran, who (according to the NYT) suckered Christina Bobb into signing a declaration he wrote about a search he had done that claimed a diligent search was done that has since been proven not to be a diligent search.

Suffice it to say I’m skeptical that these lawyers — at least some of them — would be averse to filing a declaration saying, “Our client tells us he declassified it all,” if it would serve Trump’s purposes. All the more so given that none of them were in a position to know whether Trump declassified them all or not, and Trump not only doesn’t care whether he lies to his lawyers, he’s probably constitutionally incapable of doing anything but.

That’s not the reason why they’re balking about Dearie’s request for a list of documents Trump declassified.

Consider the schedule Trump proposed.

This schedule ensures that key decisions come to a head in mid-November, after the election.

Trump’s goal here is not any final determinations from Dearie (absent a determination that the FBI was mean to Trump just like they were to Carter Page). Cannon’s order fairly obviously invites Trump to contest Dearie’s ultimate decisions so she can de novo decide the issues. Trump’s goal is undoubtedly (because it always is) to create conflict, to sow an invented narrative that DOJ is out to get him. And Trump’s optimal outcome is not necessarily even that Cannon will say Trump declassified all these documents, including some of the Intelligence Community’s crown jewels. Such a proposition might even piss off a few of the Republicans who’ve not entirely lost their mind, until such time as Trump convinces them through the process of repetition and demonization that the IC should never have been spying on (say) Russia in the first place.

Trump’s goal here is to sustain the conflict until such time as Jim Jordan can save him, and the two of them can resume their frontal assault on rule of law again.

All Cannon needs to do to serve that end is at some point, after the election, declare that Trump’s claims about classification, even if incorrect and foolish, are reasonable for a former President. That’s all it would take to make it prohibitively difficult for future prosecutors to indict the 793 charges. This is the same way Barr made it prohibitively difficult for prosecutors to charge outstanding Mueller charges, notwithstanding the number of self-imagined liberals who blame Merrick Garland for that damage.

A more obvious tell comes earlier in Trump’s proposed schedule.

He wants the classified documents shared with his team — none of whom currently has the requisite clearance — this week. Only after that does he want to create the privilege log for the 64 documents his lawyers have had for four days; he wants another two weeks (so 18 days out of a 75 day process, total) before he makes such privilege determinations.

To be fair, that may be what Judge Cannon intended, too. She, meanwhile, will have to review at least one protective order this week, and may use that as further opportunity to muck in the process, to reinforce her demand that DOJ start the process of sharing classified documents even before the 11th Circuit weighs in.

There are probably two very good reasons why Trump wants classified documents in hand before they make any privilege claim. First because (as I have repeatedly pointed out), Cannon used those potentially privileged documents as the harm she hung her authority to wade in on. If Dearie rules that — as DOJ has repeatedly claimed — these documents were pulled out not because they really are privileged, but only because they set the bar for potential privilege so low as to ensure nothing was reviewed, then it takes one of the three harms that Cannon has manufactured off the table. Every time a claimed harm is taken off the table, another basis for Cannon’s power grab, and another basis from which to claim conflict, is eliminated.

Trump needs to forestall that from happening until such time as he has created more conflict, more claimed injury.

The other reason, I suspect, that Trump wants the classified documents in hand before the potentially privileged documents is because he knows that some of the classified documents he stole involve either his White House Counsel (which would be the case if documents pertaining to his Perfect Phone Call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy were in the stash) or his Attorney General (which might be the case with the clemency for Roger Stone). DOJ has always limited its comments about attorney-client privilege to those involving Trump’s personal lawyers, and that approach has continued since then, even in their motion for a stay before the 11th Circuit. They’re not wrong on the law: classified documents involving White House or DOJ lawyers are obviously government documents. But that wouldn’t prevent Trump from claiming they are privileged (or Cannon agreeing with him on that point).

Thus the delay. Trump needs to delay the potentially privileged review until such time as he has those classified documents in hand and can claim that DOJ didn’t include all the potentially privileged ones because they assumed that government lawyers work for taxpayers, not for Trump.

It doesn’t have to be true or legally sound. It needs to be a conflict that can be sustained long enough to let Cannon decide, and decide in such a way that Trump keeps claiming he’s the victim.

Like I said, Corcoran may not be wrong that this will work. A lot depends on what the 11th Circuit decides. But a lot, too, depends on commentators continuing to treat this as a good faith legal dispute when instead it’s just more manufactured conflict.

Aileen Cannon Calls an Investigation into “What’s Literally a Stolen Diary” … “Politicized”

This is a minor point, but one that deserves more attention. Plus, I plan to use it in future posts about the unlawful assault on property rights that Judge Aileen Cannon has mounted in her opinion appointing a Special Master to stall the investigation into Donald Trump’s suspected theft of classified documents.

In a footnote of her opinion, Judge Cannon pointed to the Special Master appointed in the Project Veritas case as a precedent of a judge (Analisa Torres, in this case), appointing a Special Master “in politicized circumstances.”

Moreover, at least one other court has authorized additional independent review for attorney-client privilege outside of the law firm context, in politicized circumstances. See In re Search Warrant dated November 5, 2021, No. 21-Misc-813, 2021 WL 5845146, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2021) (appointing a special master to conduct review of materials seized from the homes of employees of Project Veritas for potentially attorney-client privileged materials).

To be fair, I kept waiting for Trump’s lawyers to raise this precedent (though not for the principle Cannon did).

But they didn’t.

Not in the original complaint (in which they relied heavily on the Lynne Stewart and Michael Cohen precedent). Not in their supplement (in which they added the Rudy precedent to those they relied on). Similarly, it didn’t come up in the hearing (in which Rudy featured prominently).

This was Judge Cannon going out of her way to find what she believed was a precedent on her own, one that she said supported an, “independent review for attorney-client privilege outside of the law firm context, in politicized circumstances.” But the opinion isn’t about attorney-client privilege. It was, explicitly, about press privileges.

In light of the potential First Amendment concerns that may be implicated by the review of the materials seized from Petitioners, the Court finds that the appointment of a special master will “help[] to protect the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.”

The opinion further holds there is no basis of law to do what Cannon did–intervene because of leaks (more on the leaks Cannon made up later).

Project Veritas and O’Keefe request that the Court order the Government to conduct a search for alleged leaks related to the Government’s investigation. O’Keefe Mot. II at 1. Petitioners do not provide a legal basis for their request or allege that the Government violated any specific rule, law, or policy

Crazier still, there’s no mention in the opinion, at all, about politics.

Nor should there be. This is a case about theft. We know it’s about theft because the two people who’ve already pled guilty in the case acknowledged it in real time (and pled guilty to transporting stolen goods across state lines).

They are in a sketchy business and here they are taking what’s literally a stolen diary and info . . . and trying to make a story that will ruin [the Victim’s] life and try and effect the election. [The Victim] can easily be thinking all her stuff is there and not concerned about it. .  . we have to tread even more carefully and that stuff needs to be gone through by us and if anything worthwhile it needs to be turned over and MUST be out of that house.

We know, too, that it’s not just about a stolen diary. In addition to the diary (which by the way included Ms. Biden’s extensive accounts of her own addiction treatment, the most personal kind of medical record), the thieves stole,

tax records, a digital camera, a digital storage card containing private family photographs, a cellphone, books, clothing, and luggage.

Aileen Cannon believes that the investigation of this theft — the culprits have admitted it!! — is politicized.

Presumably Aileen Cannon believes an investigation into stolen property must be about politics because she believes James O’Keefe’s claim that this was an investigation started under Joe Biden. Had she done as much work to fact-check O’Keefe as she did to find precedents for Trump, though, she would know that this investigation was not started under Joe Biden.

It was started under Donald Trump.

The first call records in this investigation were obtained in November 2020, while Bill Barr was Attorney General (under Merrick Garland, such a step might have required the AG’s approval, but Barr was less interested in such protections). The first warrant targeting people purporting to play the role of journalists was obtained on January 14, 2021. That one, I imagine, did require Main DOJ approval, hopefully even from then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Aileen Cannon argues that the investigation started under Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen into the theft — this is not contested! — of things including medical and tax records is politicized, mostly because the victim is the current President’s daughter.

Effectively, then, Judge Cannon is arguing that private citizen Ashley Biden can have no recourse for when someone literally steals her medical and tax records, but Trump must have special judicial interference to prevent the FBI taking medical and tax records in the process of investigating 11,000 stolen records.

How To Be a Handmaiden to Corruption, Barr Memo Press Coverage Edition

Much of the coverage of the Barr Memowritten over a weekend after a 7-hour review of the Mueller Report to justify a public statement to Congress exonerating the former President — continues to magnify the corruption of Barr’s act, rather than expose it.

The memo makes numerous factual errors (errors that can be easily documented thanks to a public record liberated by Jason Leopold). One Judge — Amy Berman Jackson — issued a ruling saying that the memo doesn’t do what it claimed it did (deliberate about whether Trump could be charged). She even included a timeline to show her work. Three more Circuit Judges agreed with ABJ’s opinion that DOJ misrepresented what they claimed they had done — by saying they were making a prosecutorial decision rather than a public messaging decision — in an attempt to keep the memo under wraps.

You’d think that after four judges had called out DOJ for shenanigans with this memo, anyone remotely interested in performing the function of journalism would explain why those judges found the project so suspect, and the import of that to the actual claims made in the memo. CREW spent years doing the hard work of liberating the memo to make it easy for journalists!

Instead, numerous outlets simply parroted the language of the memo that four judges had ruled to be a messaging project, thereby treating the memo as a valid exercise of legal analysis and not a performance of corruption.

I’d like to pay tribute to some of the outlets that chose to be a handmaiden to corruption rather than journalists.

I should say, while I bitched about it the day of the release, the NYT improved their story by adding the work of Charlie Savage. (early version; later version) It still treats the focus on Don McGahn as real rather than tactical and chooses to primarily quote experts explaining the problems with the memo rather than lay that out directly. But it notes (as I did) that the memo doesn’t explain something that was at the core of Mueller’s obstruction analysis — pardons. It provides actual reporting explaining that Merrick Garland’s DOJ wasn’t hiding the substance of this when they fought to keep it sealed last year, they were making a “narrower legal” argument — presumably trying to preserve the exemption it had been sealed under (the b5A deliberative privilege).

After losing in court on Friday, the Justice Department had the option to appeal the case. But the department’s senior leadership decided to release the document, according to a senior official in federal law enforcement. The leadership never opposed airing its contents, but had contested its release on narrower legal grounds, the person added.

Compare that with some of the stenography that remains untouched.

Eric Tucker, Memo sheds light on decision to clear Trump in Russia probe (AP)

Unsurprisingly, Eric Tucker ignores the opinions from four judges who called out this memo and spends three paragraphs ignoring the evidence that this was a hash job instead describing it as a record of “how two of the department’s senior-most leaders arrived at that conclusion,” something the judicial record says it’s not. He then spends seven paragraphs rehashing part of Steven Engel and Ed O’Callaghan’s argument, never calling out factual errors and ignoring their even more problematic treatment of witness tampering. Only after that does Tucker explain that two courts (he only mentions the Circuit) deemed that it had been improperly withheld, without explaining why. Finally, in the last two paragraphs, he quotes from CREW about the substance of the memo, as if he doesn’t have the competence to assess it himself.

Ryan Lucas, DOJ releases a Mueller-era memo to Barr on the decision not to prosecute Trump (NPR)

Unlike the AP, NPR didn’t claim, in its headline, that this memo actually did represent the decision-making process. But Ryan Lucas dedicated much of his story on the memo — paragraphs three and four, and then nine through eleven — parroting the claimed rationale of the lawyers. It describes the rebukes from the judges this way: “A district court judge and a panel of circuit court judges disagreed and ordered its release.” That leaves him free to pitch the question of Barr’s exoneration of Trump (which he calls “declin[ing] to prosecute Trump”) as a he-said, she-said affair, pitting CREW and 1,000 former prosecutors against Trump and his supporters. Lucas ends the piece by describing the current investigation into whether Trump violated the Espionage Act and obstructed an investigation by refusing to return classified documents an investigation into “storing presidential documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence.”

Robert Legare, Government lawyers advised Barr not to bring obstruction charges against Trump after Mueller report, newly-released memo reveals (CBS)

Of 28 paragraphs in this story, twelve report the claimed analysis of the memo unfiltered, as if it really was a predecisional declination memo, as if it really did analyze the entirety of the report, as if it was factually accurate. It dedicates four paragraphs to more recent efforts of Barr and the others involved to justify their decisions or separate themselves from Trump. Rather than describing the years-long fight featuring judges repeatedly calling out both the project of the memo itself and the means by which it was hidden, Legare described only that it, “was ordered unsealed by an Appeals Court after a FOIA request and subsequent lawsuit were filed seeking its release.” Ultimately, then, this article treats the memo as something the judges say it’s not — a view that would be reinforced by an assessment of the actual claims made against the now-public record of the investigation itself.

Ryan J. Reilly and Dareh Gregorian, DOJ releases unredacted memo to Barr on Trump, obstruction in Mueller probe (NBC)

Reilly interrupted breaking a story about an important January 6 militia arrest the other day to cover this live and did a pretty good job on the air. But in the write-up with Dareh Gregorian, they spend paragraphs three through eight quoting at length from the memo. Along the way, they claim the memo “dismiss[ed] Mueller’s concerns about Trump’s … dangling of pardons to some witnesses,” rather than calling it out for ignoring pardons entirely. While the piece noted that Barr “announced that the Justice Department would not prosecute the case the same day the memo was sent to him” and described ABJ’s ruling that, “Barr’s mind had already been made up before the memo was written,” thereby hinting that the memo was just a messaging project, they don’t consider the import of that sequence for the analysis itself. And rather than identifying the problems of the memo themselves, they describe that, “many people strongly disagreed with the analysis laid out in the memo,” and explicitly identify CREW as ” left-leaning,” treating the actual substance as something inaccessible to them and so just a matter for ongoing political dispute.

Alexander Mallin, DOJ releases memo behind Barr’s decision not to prosecute Trump for obstruction (ABC)

To his credit, in the five paragraphs describing what led to the release of the memo with which Alexander Malin starts his coverage, he describes the judges concluding that, “Barr and other DOJ officials were not candid in their statements about the role the memo played in their decision to not charge Trump.” Which makes it all the more mystifying why he dedicates eleven paragraphs of his story quoting the memo at length, with no fact-checking or push-back, as if it the memo really was real analysis that led to Barr’s decision to make an announcement that he wouldn’t have charged Trump if he could have.

I get it. This memo came out amid a flood of news, especially for those of us on the DOJ beat. I get that people rushed to do quick analyses so they could go back to watching dockets in Florida, Georgia, and DC.

But what happened with this memo — four judges overriding a b5 exemption based on their assessment that DOJ misrepresented the function of the memo — is virtually unprecedented. That, by itself, should lead reporters to scrutinize the memo (or at least the process) for the kind of dishonesty the judges judged it was, rather than treating it as a transparent record of legal analysis that ABJ already showed it’s not. All the more so when, as is the case here, thousands of pages recording the underlying evidence (evidence that the authors of the memo explicitly say they’re not going to cite) are publicly available.

If you’re reporting on a document that DOJ made false claims in an attempt to keep secret, parroting what it says at length, with no discussion of why DOJ made misrepresentations to keep it secret, with no effort on your own to test whether what it says is any more true than what was said to keep it hidden, you’re doing readers a disservice.

Four judges and CREW (plus Leopold, with his earlier Mueller Report FOIA) have given you an easy way to reassess what Bill Barr did to pre-empt the results of the Mueller Report in 2019. To instead simply repeat his past claims or those whom he ordered (and worked with) to justify a pre-ordained result is not journalism.

The Word “Pardon” Doesn’t Appear in the Barr Memo

As I noted in this post, there’s something missing in this passage — indeed, in the entirety of — the Barr Memo declining prosecution of former President Trump.

We likewise do not believe that the President’s public statements exhorting witnesses like Flynn, Manafort, Stone, or Cohen, not to “flip” should be viewed as obstruction of justice. The Report makes clear that the President equated a witness’s decision to “flip” with being induced by prosecutors to manufacture false evidence against others. We cannot say that the evidence would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the President’s statements, most of which were made publicly, were intended to induce any of those witnesses to conceal truthful evidence or to provide false evidence. Once again, this conclusion is buttressed by the absence of any clear evidence that these witnesses had information that would prove the President had committed a crime. The President’s public statements could be viewed as efforts to defend himself from public criticism related to the Special Counsel’s investigation or to discourage the witnesses from making what the President believed might be false statements in exchange for a lesser sentence. Those statements do not warrant a prosecution for obstruction of justice.

The word “pardon.”

That’s important for two reasons. First, Barr said repeatedly, under oath, as part of his confirmation hearing, that trading false testimony for a pardon would be obstruction. Here’s what he said, for example, in response to a question from Lindsey Graham.

Lindsey: So if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes, under that, under an obstruction statute, yes.

Here’s what he said to Patrick Leahy.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

And pardons are a critical part of the discussion in the Mueller Report to substantiate obstruction. The word pardon appears 67 times. Indeed, contrary to the discussion in the Barr Memo that claimed most of Trump’s witness-tampering happened in public, several of the discussions of pardons described in the Mueller Report involved non-public communication.

A voicemail that John Dowd left for Rob Kelner in November 2017 was presented as background to Trump’s public discussion of a pardon for Mike Flynn.

I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. . . . [I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with . . . the government. . . . [I]f . . . there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, . . . so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests if we can. . . . [R]emember what we’ve always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains . . . .835

[snip]

On December 1, 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements pursuant to a cooperation agreement.841 The next day, the President told the press that he was not concerned about what Flynn might tell the Special Counsel.842 In response to a question about whether the President still stood behind Flynn, the President responded, “We’ll see what happens.”843 Over the next several days, the President made public statements expressing sympathy for Flynn and indicating he had not been treated fairly.844 On December 15, 2017, the President responded to a press inquiry about whether he was considering a pardon for Flynn by saying, “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this: When you look at what’s gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”845

Paul Manafort told Rick Gates that Trump was “going to take care of us,” which Gates took to suggest a pardon.

In January 2018, Manafort told Gates that he had talked to the President’s personal counsel and they were “going to take care of us.”848 Manafort told Gates it was stupid to plead, saying that he had been in touch with the President’s personal counsel and repeating that they should “sit tight” and “we’ll be taken care of.”849 Gates asked Manafort outright if anyone mentioned pardons and Manafort said no one used that word.850

And the private comments Robert Costello made to Michael Cohen — again in the context of Trump’s public comments about Cohen not flipping — led him to believe Trump would, at least, pay his defense fees.

In an email that day to Cohen, Costello wrote that he had spoken with Giuliani.1026 Costello told Cohen the conversation was “Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’. . . they are in our corner. . . . Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”1027

By issuing his prosecution declination while Trump’s attempted witness tampering was still in progress, Barr ensured that the corrupt trade-off would and could  be completed, at least with Flynn, Stone, and Manafort.

And in doing so, he ensured that ongoing investigations wouldn’t find precisely the evidence he was sure didn’t exist.