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Billy Barr’s OLC Declinations

The NYT reported yesterday that, in a bid to retroactively exonerate the President, Billy Barr pursued ways to overturn the campaign finance conviction of Michael Cohen.

But Mr. Barr spent weeks in the spring of 2019 questioning the prosecutors over their decision to charge Mr. Cohen with violating campaign finance laws, according to people briefed on the matter.

As part of that effort, Barr got the Office of Legal Counsel to write a memo (though not a formal opinion) about the applicability of criminal campaign finance law to efforts to squelch public information.

At one point during the discussions, Mr. Barr instructed Justice Department officials in Washington to draft a memo outlining legal arguments that could have raised questions about Mr. Cohen’s conviction and undercut similar prosecutions in the future, according to the people briefed on the matter.

[snip]

The New York Times reported previously that Mr. Barr had questioned the legal theory of the campaign finance charges against Mr. Cohen, but it was not known that the attorney general went so far as to ask for the draft memo or had raised his concerns more than once.

The memo, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, addressed the Southern District’s somewhat novel use of campaign finance laws to charge Mr. Cohen. Before Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea, the only person known to face criminal charges for payments meant to keep negative information buried during a political campaign was the former senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who was not convicted.

Mr. Barr argued, among other things, that such cases might be better suited to civil resolutions by the Federal Election Commission than to criminal prosecutions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

Mr. Cohen, who reported to prison in May 2019, was recently released on furlough and is currently serving his sentence at his Manhattan home, after citing health concerns related to the coronavirus.

There is no indication that the Justice Department planned to issue a formal opinion on the campaign finances charges. Such a step, if taken, might have raised questions about the validity of the case against Mr. Cohen and affected any future effort to investigate Mr. Trump or others in his circle for similar conduct.

The news that Barr got OLC involved in criminal charging matters has repercussions on several other levels.

First, it means that potentially before Mueller finished his report, OLC would have established new ground on campaign finance crimes. That’s important because two of the declinations in the Mueller Report involve Trump’s acceptance of campaign dirt from foreigners — both the people at the June 9 meeting, and Roger Stone’s apparent optimization of the WikiLeaks releases. While that’s a different application of campaign finance (and not one that’s a clear cut case), OLC’s involvement on one application before the Mueller Report release opens the possibility that Steve Engel similarly weighed in on another, with direction from Barr about what they should decide.

Add in the fact that Engel, along with PDAG Ed O’Callaghan, did the analysis behind Barr’s decision to decline to prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice. It would be inappropriate for OLC to make a prosecutorial decision in any case, all the more so given that OLC has an opinion saying that no one DOJ should be making such decisions at all. Now add in the fact that Engel must have weighed in during the weeks leading up to this decision about campaign finance issues.

It’s now widely agreed (though was always clear from the public record) that Trump lied in his responses to Mueller about his conversations with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks. And his hints that Stone would be pardoned are one of his most obstructive acts. Effectively, then, Engel would be playing both sides of the prosecutorial decision, setting the rules and then applying them, which isn’t how justice is supposed to work.

Finally, consider that the Stone prosecutors were prepared to introduce Stone’s lies to HPSCI about coordinating with Trump on his campaign efforts as 404(b) evidence (effectively to show that his lies were systematic). That Stone was coordinating (he kept asking Rick Gates for lists, which should have been purchased from the campaign, and he asked Steve Bannon to get him funding from Rebekah Mercer during the period when Bannon was running the campaign) would seem to be a campaign finance issue. This is another matter that OLC’s review of campaign finance may have implicated.

It’s not just that Barr went out of his way to make it legal for outsides to pay to suppress bad news, but it’s that he’s secretly rewriting campaign finance law in ways that may have wider implications. And by doing so, Barr may have limited other prosecutorial decisions implicating Trump.

Even the First Roger Stone Sentencing Memo Was Politicized

Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky’s testimony for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on how Trump and Barr are politicizing DOJ has been released. As a number of outlets are reporting, he will testify about how, when Bill Barr flunky Timothy Shea was bending to pressure to “cut Stone a break,” Shea did so because he was “afraid of the President.”

I’m more interested in a few details about the actual drafting of the memos, some of which I’ll return to. The original draft of the sentencing memo was drafted by February 5; it was not only approved, but deemed “strong.”

The prosecution team – which consisted of three career prosecutors in addition to myself – prepared a draft sentencing memorandum reflecting this calculation and recommending a sentence at the low end of the Guidelines range. We sent our draft for review to the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We received word back from one of the supervisors on February 5, 2020, that the sentencing memo was strong, and that Stone “deserve[d] every day” of our recommendation.

On February 7, the hierarchy started intervening. In addition to asking to drop the enhancements (which is what the final memo did), DOJ big-wigs also asked prosecutors to take out language about Stone’s conduct.

However, just two days later, I learned that our team was being pressured by the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to seek all of the Guidelines enhancements that applied to Stone – that is, to provide an inaccurate Guidelines calculation that would result in a lower sentencing range. In particular, there was pressure not to seek enhancements for Stone’s conduct prior to trial, the content of the threats he made to Credico, and the impact of his obstructive acts on the HPSCI investigation. Failure to seek these enhancements would have been contrary to the record in the case and to the Department’s policy that the government must ensure that the relevant facts and sentencing factors are brought to the court’s attention fully and accurately.

When we pushed back against incorrectly calculating the Guidelines, office leadership asked us instead to agree to recommend an open-ended downward variance from the Guidelines –to say that whatever the Guidelines recommended, Stone should get less. We repeatedly argued that failing to seek all relevant enhancements, or recommending a below-Guidelines sentence without support for doing so, would be inappropriate under DOJ policy and the practice of the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, and that given the nature of Stone’s criminal activity and his wrongful conduct throughout the case, it was not warranted.

In response, we were told by a supervisor that the U.S. Attorney had political reasons for his instructions, which our supervisor agreed was unethical and wrong. However, we were instructed that we should go along with the U.S. Attorney’s instructions, because this case was “not the hill worth dying on” and that we could “lose our jobs” if we did not toe the line.

We responded that cutting a defendant a break because of his relationship to the President undermined the fundamental principles of the Department of Justice, and that we felt that was an important principle to defend.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. Attorney’s Office leadership also communicated an instruction from the acting U.S. Attorney that we remove portions of the sentencing memorandum that described Stone’s conduct. Again, this instruction was inconsistent with the usual practice in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and with the Department’s policy that attorneys for the government must ensure that relevant facts are brought the attention of the sentencing court fully and accurately.

Ultimately, we refused to modify our memorandum to ask for a substantially lower sentence. Again, I was told that the U.S. Attorney’s instructions had nothing to do with Mr. Stone, the facts of the case, the law, or Department policy. Instead, I was explicitly told that the motivation for changing the sentencing memo was political, and because the U.S. Attorney was “afraid of the President.”

Ultimately, Tim Shea approved the prosecutors’ inclusion of the enhancements, but took out the language about Stone’s conduct.

On Monday, February 10, 2020, after these conversations, I informed leadership at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. that I would withdraw from the case rather than sign a memo that was the result of wrongful political pressure. I was told that the acting U.S. Attorney was considering our recommendation and that no final decision had been made.

At 7:30PM Monday night, we were informed that we had received approval to file our sentencing memo with a recommendation for a Guidelines sentence, but with the language describing Stone’s conduct removed. We filed the memorandum immediately that evening.

That means even the first sentencing memo — the one that made a strong case for prison time — had been softened by Barr’s flunkies, in some way not laid out in Zelinsky’s opening statement.

Here’s the first sentencing memo. One thing lacking from that memo — but in Zelinsky’s opening statement — pertains to Stone’s discussions directly with Trump.

And that summer, Stone wasn’t just talking to the CEO, Chairman, and Deputy Chairman of the campaign. He was talking directly to then-candidate Trump himself.

On June 14, 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that it had been hacked earlier that spring by the Russian Government. That evening, Stone called Trump, and they spoke on Trump’s personal line. We don’t know what they said.

On August 2, [sic — this should be July 31] Stone again called then-candidate Trump, and the two spoke for approximately ten minutes. Again, we don’t know what was said, but less than an hour after speaking with Trump, Stone emailed an associate of his, Jerome Corsi, to have someone else who was living in London “see Assange.”

Less than two days later, on August 2, 2016, Corsi emailed Stone. Corsi told Stone that, “Word is friend in embassy [Assange] plans 2 more dumps. One “in October” and that “impact planned to be very damaging,” “time to let more than Podesta to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC. That appears to be the game hackers are now about.”

Around this time, Deputy Campaign Chairman Gates continued to have conversations with Stone about more information that would be coming out from WikiLeaks. Gates was also present for a phone call between Stone and Trump. While Gates couldn’t hear the content of the call, he could hear Stone’s voice on the phone and see his name on the caller ID. Thirty seconds after hanging up the phone with Stone, then-candidate Trump told Gates that there would be more information coming. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, also stated that he was present for a phone call between Trump and Stone, where Stone told Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and in a couple of days WikiLeaks would release information, and Trump responded, “oh good, alright.” Paul Manafort also stated that he spoke with Trump about Stone’s predictions and his claimed access to WikiLeaks, and that Trump instructed Manafort to stay in touch with Stone.

Surely there’s someone sharp enough on HJC who can note this discrepancy and ask Zelinsky whether there was similar language in the sentencing memo that Tim Shea took out because he’s “afraid of the President.”

Zelinsky knows little about the drafting of the second memo — he describes that he heard about it in the press and the rest of his understanding appears to come from what he was told in the office.

What he was told was that DOJ actually considered attacking its own prosecutors in the memo.

We repeatedly asked to see that new memorandum prior to its filing. Our request was denied. We were not informed about the content or substance of the proposed filing, or even who was writing it. We were told that one potential draft of the filing attacked us personally.

This is akin to the Mike Flynn motion to dismiss, which insinuated that prosecutors had engaged in misconduct. The Attorney General and his flunkies are attacking career officials at DOJ to perform for the President like trained seals.

In the passage where Zelinsky offers his opinion of that second memo he notes that it matched Trump’s tweet of the interim day.

The new filing stated that the first memo did not “accurately reflect” the views of the Department of Justice. This new memo muddled the analysis of the appropriate Guidelines range in ways that were contrary to the record and in conflict with Department policy. The memo said that the Guidelines were “perhaps technically applicable,” but attempted to minimize Stone’s conduct in threatening Credico and cast doubt on the applicability of the resulting enhancement, claiming that the enhancement “typically” did not apply to first time offenders who were not “part of a violent criminal organization.” The memo also stated that Stone’s lies to the Judge about the meaning of the image with the crosshairs and how it came to be posted on Instagram “overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case,” and therefore should not be the basis for an enhancement.

The new memo did not engage with testimony in the record about Credico’s concerns. Nor did the new memo engage with cases cited in the old memo where the obstruction enhancement was applied to non-violent first-time offenders. And the memo provided no analysis for why Stone’s lies to Congress regarding WikiLeaks overlapped at all with his lies two years later to the judge about his posting images of her with a crosshairs. The new memo also stated that the court should give Stone a lower sentence because of his “health,” though it provided no support for that contention, and the Guidelines explicitly discourage downward adjustments on that basis.

Ultimately, the memo argued, Stone deserved at least some time in jail– though it did not give an indication of what was reasonable. All the memo said was that a Guidelines sentence was “excessive and unwarranted,” matching the President’s tweet from that morning calling our recommendation “horrible and very unfair.” [my emphasis]

Zelinsky’s read of that second memo also complains that it left out the record on Randy Credico’s response to Stone’s threats. In his opening statement, he provides this detail, which I don’t recall from the trial (Amy Berman Jackson was able to rely on Credico’s grand jury transcript in her sentencing, because Stone had submitted that with one of his filings).

Then, fearful of what Stone’s associates might do to him, Credico moved out of his house and wore a disguise when going outside.

Credico explains that he grew a thick mustache and wore a cap and sunglasses. Dressing up as John Bolton is indeed a fearful disguise.

The detail that Credico moved out of his house, taken in conjunction with the detail from the Stone warrants that Stone hired a private investigator to find an address to “serve” Credico with a subpoena he never served him, is especially chilling.

Stone hired a PI to hunt Credico down after Credico took measures to hide from him and (Credico has always emphasized) Stone’s violent racist friends.

In addition to making it clear that Shea politicized even the first memo in some way, Zelinsky hints at ways that Stone’s witness tampering was more aggressive than widely understood.

Let’s hope those details come out in tomorrow’s hearing.

Jeff Wall Admits that Any Scrutiny of DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss Flynn Prosecution Will Cause Irreparable Harm to Bill Barr

The hearing in Mike Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus just ended.

The key takeaway, given the make-up of the court, is that for the majority of the hearing, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson seemed clear that it was too early to overturn any action Judge Emmet Sullivan has made. He has the authority to hold a hearing, she was clear. But if he decides not to grant the motion to dismiss, she seemed to indicate, she would favor a writ of mandamus overturning Sullivan’s decision. Henderson clearly believes that Gleeson’s filing, thus far, is intemperate, which is pretty funny given what Sidney Powell has done in this case.

At the very end of the hearing, she invited Principal Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Wall to address a claim made in DOJ’s brief: that DOJ should be permitted to self-correct the harm of a bad faith prosecution. So she may have been reserving that as a reason to rule for Flynn — ultimately ruling instead for DOJ. But her comments through the rest of the hearing suggest this petition will fail.

But the notion this might involve ruling for DOJ is the most interesting part of this hearing. Flynn filed the petition, not DOJ. Powell’s argument for Flynn was predictably flimsy, self-contradictory, and false. Even Judge Neomi Rao, who will clearly rule for Flynn, seemed to be struggling to find a way to agree with Flynn.

The more interesting argument came from Wall. He argued, repeatedly, that DOJ will be irreparably harmed if Sullivan is permitted to hold a hearing on DOJ’s motion to dismiss. In particular, he seemed horrified that Sullivan might require sworn declarations of affidavits.

As Beth Wilkinson, arguing for Sullivan, mentioned, neither Sullivan nor Amicus John Gleeson has called for such a thing. Both are simply moving towards a hearing scheduled for July 16. Wilkinson also noted that District courts hold such hearings all the time. (And they predictably will have to in another case where DOJ has moved to end a prosecution recently, in which — unlike this case — there appears to have been prosecutorial misconduct, Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, which I’ll return to).

Wall is literally arguing that DOJ will be permanently damaged if it has to show up and answer for its actions in this case (in particular, to explain why the prosecutors in this case didn’t sign the motion to dismiss).

That Wall argued so forcibly as to the injury that DOJ would suffer if it had to show up and defend its motion to dismiss is all the crazier given that they didn’t file the petition. The only harm that matters here procedurally is any harm to Flynn, not DOJ, and Powell really made no such case.

When Robert Wilkins pointed out that DOJ had not filed this petition, Wall basically asked for a mulligan, the opportunity to file their own mini-writ of mandamus. Judge Henderson responded by asking (as she had more generally) why this case shouldn’t proceed under regular order, in which when DOJ missed the opportunity to file their own writ, they can’t be granted a mulligan to do so after the fact.

Along the way, Wall and Powell both repeatedly misrepresented the status of the case. More importantly, both claimed DOJ’s motion was very detailed, without noting that it also made false claims, claims on which DOJ has reversed itself at the Circuit level. That will matter in a hearing, which may be why Wall was so insistent that a hearing would do real damage to DOJ.

As noted, given Henderson’s questions for the bulk of the hearing, the Circuit will likely deny this petition. But the most striking takeaway is how panicked Wall was that DOJ might be asked to explain itself.

Setting the Scene: Today’s Flynn Hearing

I’m still doing household chores so haven’t read the Judge Emmet Sullivan response and government and Flynn reply briefs at the DC Circuit in Mike Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus as closely as I would have liked.

But before today’s hearing, I wanted to recall what the posture is.

The question before the Circuit should be whether Flynn is entitled to any help at the DC Circuit. It should be whether Sullivan has taken an action that is so egregious — and so injures Flynn — that it merits the DC Circuit weighing in to overturn Sullivan’s action.

The only action Sullivan has taken, though, is appointing an amicus, something that is soundly within normal judicial discretion.

The Circuit — with a panel including the shamelessly hackish Neomi Rao — ordered the sides to brief whether Sullivan had to grant DOJ’s motion to dismiss right away, what should be a premature question in any case. Effectively, Flynn has argued that DOJ had a reason to dismiss the prosecution and DOJ has argued that this is a separation of powers issue (in both its response and reply, the government has argued against what it argued before Sullivan and what Bill Barr has conceded publicly). Even while strictly arguing the mandamus issue (including the DC Circuit’s approach to Roger Stone’s similar premature petition for mandamus, which was properly rejected), Sullivan’s response also raised the outstanding allegations against Flynn on his Turkish influence peddling.

All of which is to say the arguments (Flynn, DOJ, and Sullivan will have have 15 minutes to argue) likely won’t be addressing the legal issues that should be before the court, and Flynn and DOJ have already made claims that aggressively conflict with the record in this case. One detail Flynn has relentlessly obscured is what information was available before Flynn allocuted to his guilt a second time; basically everything that is public already was known to him.

Add in the fact that DOJ is now claiming that a judge cannot stop DOJ from dismissing a prosecution of the President’s buddy for no good reason, and we should expect that today’s hearing will pose a grave risk to the rule of law in this country.

You can stream the hearing here.

Defendant Barr’s Flip-Flops Finally Attract Press Attention

Bill Barr’s sloppy lying may finally be catching up to him.

The press should have stopped treating the Attorney General as credible after he obviously lied about the contents of the Mueller Report. But he continued to be accorded the courtesy of the office, through changing DOJ stories about his involvement in Trump’s effort to coerce a quid pro quo in Ukraine (and the impeachment that followed) and his cover stories to explain unprecedented interference in the prosecution of Trump flunkies.

But over the course of the last week, the press has gone from reporting anonymous DOJ scoops, to noting how later DOJ claims conflicted with that scoop, to outright debunking of Barr (even if they’re not yet treating him as the consistent liar they recognize Trump to be).

On Tuesday, WaPo had a scoop citing an anonymous DOJ official stating that Barr personally ordered the attack on protestors, perhaps an effort to shift the focus from Trump.

Attorney General William P. Barr personally ordered law enforcement officials to clear the streets around Lafayette Square just before President Trump spoke Monday, a Justice Department official said, a directive that prompted a show of aggression against a crowd of largely peaceful protesters, drawing widespread condemnation.

The claim took the heat off of President Trump.

In a presser on Thursday, Barr offered a more elaborate explanation. He claimed he made the decision to move the perimeter around the White House on Trump’s orders — to protect the White House from protestors — before the arrival of protestors on Monday.

On Monday, the president asked me to coordinate the various federal law enforcement agencies, not only the multiple department of justice agencies, but also other agencies such as those in the Department of Homeland Security. So we had a coordinated response and worked with the National Guard and also with the DC police. That morning, we decided that we needed more of a buffer to protect the White House and to protect our agents and secret service personnel who could be reached by projectiles from H Street. I made the decision that we would try to move our perimeter northward by a block to provide this additional protection. And later at 2:00 on Monday, I met with all the various law enforcement agencies and we set our tactical plan. And that plan involve moving our perimeter a block North to I Street. It was our hope to be able to do that relatively quickly before many demonstrators appeared that day.

Unfortunately, because of the difficulty in getting appropriate units into place, by the time they were able to move our perimeter up to I street, a large number of protestors had assembled on H Street. There were projectiles being thrown and the group was becoming increasingly unruly. And the operation to what… They were asked to three times if they would move back one block, they refused. And we proceeded to move our perimeter out to I Street.

In the same presser, he claimed that he saw “instigators” before the move to push them back, thereby claiming both advance planning but also an imminent threat.

I think one of the difficulties is that while there are peaceful demonstrators and participants in these protests, the instigators, those committed to violence, basically shield themselves by going among them and carrying out acts of violence. I saw the projectiles on Monday when I went to Lafayette Park to look at the situation. And as one of the officials said, he pointed out various knots of people where the projectiles were coming from and we could see… and it was a lot of demonstrators. And it’s hard to know exactly where they’re coming from. Frequently, these things are thrown from the rear of the demonstration, but we could not continue to protect the federal property involved and protect the safety of our agents with such a tight perimeter. And so our object was to move it out by one block. Next question, please.

On Friday, however, Barr started backing away from responsibility. That day, the AP reported that Barr had not given the tactical move to attack the protestors. Instead, some unnamed person who could not be directly tied to a Barr (and therefore a Trump) command did that.

On Friday, Barr told the AP that both he and U.S. Park Police were in agreement on the need to push back the security perimeter. He said he attended a meeting around 2 p.m. Monday with several other law enforcement officials, including Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, where they looked at a map and decided on a dividing line. Under the plan, the protesters would be moved away from Lafayette Park and federal law enforcement officials and members of the National Guard would maintain the perimeter line, Barr said.

[snip]

Barr said it was a Park Police tactical commander — an official he never spoke to — who gave the order for the law enforcement agencies to move in and clear the protesters.

“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” he said. “I was frustrated and I was also worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.’”

Barr insisted there was no connection between the heavy-handed crackdown on the protesters and Trump’s walk soon after to St. John’s Church.

Finally, on Sunday, Margaret Brennan interviewed Barr on Face the Nation, one of the first times during this tenure as AG Barr has sat for an interview with someone who was neither (like Pete Williams or Pierre Thomas) someone he knew from the Poppy days, nor (like Catherine Herridge) a right wing stenographer. Brennan challenged a lot of these inconsistencies, leading to Barr to make a comment — that pepper balls are not tear gas — that has been widely mocked since.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the events of the week. On Monday, Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters. You’ve spoken about this. The federal agents who were there report up to you. Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?

BARR: They were not peaceful protesters. And that’s one of the big lies that the- the media is- seems to be perpetuating at this point.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Three of my CBS colleagues were there. We talked to them.

BARR: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not hear warnings. They did not see protesters–

BARR: There were three warnings.

MARGARET BRENNAN:–throwing anything.

BARR: There were three warnings given. But let’s get back to why we took that action. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, OK, there were violent riots in- at Lafayette Park where the park police were under constant attack at the- behind their bike rack fences. On Sunday, things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park and they were hurled at police. There were fires set in not only St. John’s Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down.

MARGARET BRENNAN: These were things that looters did.

BARR: Not looters, these were- these were the- the violent rioters who were- dominated Lafayette Park.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what I’m asking about–

BARR: They broke into the Treasury Department,–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –on Monday when it was a peaceful protest.

BARR: I’m going to- let me get to this, because this has been totally obscured by the media. They broke into the Treasury Department, and they were injuring police. That night,–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sunday night?

BARR: Sunday night, the park police prepared a plan to clear H Street and put a- a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is something you approved on Sunday night?

BARR: No. The park police on their own on- on Sunday night determined this was the proper approach. When I came in Monday, it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block. That decision was made by me in the morning. It was communicated to all the police agencies, including the Metropolitan Police at 2:00 p.m. that day. The effort was to move the perimeter one block, and it had to be done when we had enough people in place to achieve that. And that decision, as I say, was communicated to the police at 2:00 p.m.. The operation was run by the park police. The park police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police. And at that point, it was not to respond–

MARGARET BRENNAN: On Monday, you’re saying there were projectiles–

BARR: On Monday, yes there were.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As I’m saying, three of my colleagues were there.

BARR: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not see projectiles being thrown–

BARR: I was there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: –when that happened.

BARR: I was there. They were thrown. I saw them thrown.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you believe that what the police did using tear gas and projectiles was appropriate?

BARR: Here’s- here’s what the media is missing. This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the methods they used you think were appropriate, is that what you’re saying?

BARR: When they met resistance, yes. They announced three times. They didn’t move. By the way, there was no tear gas used. The tear gas was used Sunday when they had to clear H Street to allow the fire department to come in to save St. John’s Church. That’s when tear gas was used.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There were chemical irritants the park police has said–

BARR: No, there were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant.

It’s not chemical.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Pepper spray, you’re saying is what was used–

BARR: Pepper balls. Pepper balls.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, and you believe that was appropriate. What I want to show you is what a lot of people at home who were watching this on television saw and their perception of events. So while the president says that he appreciates peaceful protest, around the same time, this crowd–

BARR: Well, six minutes- six minutes difference–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, around same time the area is being cleared of what appear to be peaceful protesters using some force. And after the speech is finished, the president walks out of the White House to the same area where the protesters had been and stands for photo op in front of the church where the protesters had been. These events look very connected to people at home. In an environment where the broader debate is about heavy handed use of force in law enforcement, was that the right message for Americans to be receiving?

Along the way, however, Barr’s explanation got more and more inconsistent.

What started out as an apparent effort to shield the President from direct responsibility for attacking protestors to clear way for his photo op became, by the end of the week, an effort to create a legal justification — protestors throwing things — while still distancing the time of the order from the photo op.

That’s a conflict Phil Bump highlighted in a particularly good job of shredding Barr’s statements, relying on an earlier detailed timeline he did. In addition to mocking Barr’s claim that pepper balls are not tear gas because they’re naturally occurring, Bump shows how Barr’s statements yesterday conflict with the justification for using tear gas.

“Here’s what the media is missing,” Barr said to Brennan on Sunday. “This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.”

The problem with that framing is twofold.

First, it contradicts that same statement from the Park Police that serves as the backbone of the tear-gas defense. In that statement, the Park Police claim that protesters “began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” at 6:33 p.m. This prompted the effort to clear the square to “curtail the violence that was underway.” There’s nothing about this being a planned operation.

What’s more, Barr himself made the claim to Brennan that the protesters were being violent at the time that the effort to remove them began.

“Three of my colleagues were there,” Brennan told him. “They did not see projectiles being thrown.”

“I was there,” Barr replied. “They were thrown. I saw them thrown.”

The timing of Barr’s visit is important, and we’ll get to it in a bit. But suffice it to say that video evidence from the period not only doesn’t back up the Park Police claim, it also doesn’t show Barr reacting to any such events.

It has been rare, possibly unprecedented, for the press to track Barr’s obvious lies this closely, even in the case of legal cases (like the Flynn prosecution) where Barr’s flip-flops are docketed.

I think a lot of things explain the unusual attention to Barr’s flip-flops. The assault on protestors and Trump’s tone-deaf photo op was so pathetic, the White House went into damage control. And because there were so many journalists at Lafayette Park, there were a slew of witnesses attesting to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the official version of the story (starting with the Park Police’s flip-flops on the tear gas). Now, Barr is in a position of accusing three CBS reporters and at least one WaPo reporter, whose versions of this story differ dramatically from his own, of lying: His word against the reports of outside observers who have film to backup those reports.

But Barr’s changing excuses may also be partly explained by one other thing.

As noted, Barr’s first instinct seemed to be to distance the President from the order targeting peaceful protestors, and as he has repeatedly done, he took responsibilty (and Kayleigh McEnany happily gave him responsibility). But that created new problems: including why the Attorney General was ordering cops, many of them not within his chain of command, but more importantly, why Trump —  through orders given to Barr who executed those orders by issuing orders of his own — had responded to First Amendment protected activities with a violent assault.

The stakes of the answers to that question may have gone up with the filing of a lawsuit captioned, “Black Lives Matter v. Donald Trump:” Bill Barr is a named defendant.

Defendant William Barr is the Attorney General of the United States. He is sued in his individual and official capacity. He personally issued the order that resulted in the unlawful actions complained of in this lawsuit.

[snip]

At approximately 6:08 pm, Defendant Barr entered Lafayette Square.

At 6:10 pm, Defendant Barr was behind the law enforcement officials in Lafayette Square pointing north towards St. John’s Church. The Department of Justice subsequently acknowledged that Defendant Barr personally ordered that Lafayette Square be cleared.

Let me be clear: because this suit focuses on Bivens complaints about the violation of Constitutional rights, it probably won’t succeed in terms of the damages requested. Recent proceedings have largely gutted Bivens.

But what the suit does do is trace a link between Barr’s actions and the complaints of the plaintiffs (who include a 9-year old boy, a Navy veteran, and a former Eagle Scout). It does so through some of the same details that Barr is now trying to obfuscate.

And what the lawsuit may do is force a way to make the events that Barr is trying to cover up public.

Barr’s lies are consistent with all his other lies. He makes broad claims to power — not authority — and then he keeps changing the story as needed to try to give his claims retroactive legal cover.

This time, he may be forced to do so in court.

Update: WaPo did an unbelievably detailed piece showing no evidence for Park Police claims of dangerous projectiles, and making evident how the clearance of the Square led to the photo op.

When Billy Barr Called a Press Conference to Target Non-Terrorists Rather than Brag about the Right Wing Terrorists FBI Caught

What if the FBI succeeded in thwarting a right wing terrorist attack but rather than bragging about that success, instead redoubled its efforts to target peaceful protestors as terrorists?

That’s what happened this week.

On Tuesday, the FBI terrorism agents arrested three adherents of the “Boogaloo” movement, a group of extremists planning a civil war. All have military experience and one, Andrew Lynam, is currently in the Army Reserve. At a ReOpen Nevada protest held in April, at which they were all heavily armed, Lynam told a person who’d go on to become an FBI informant that, “their group was not for joking around and that it was for people who wanted to violently overthrow the United States government.” One of them planned to use the cover of the George Floyd protests to conduct attacks and sow panic.

CHS stated that PARSHALL and LOOMIS’s idea behind the explosion [targeting Lake Mead] was to hopefully create civil unrest and rioting throughout Las Vegas. They wanted to use the momentum of the George Floyd death in police custody in the City of Minneapolis to hopefully stir enough confusion and excitement, that others see the two explosions and police presence and begin to riot in the streets out of anger.

They were arrested on the way to a Black Lives Matter protest with the makings of Molotov cocktails and an AR-15 in their vehicles.

Normally when the FBI thwarts a terrorism attack in process, they hold a big press conference to brag about it. As of this morning, however, neither DOJ nor FBI have posted the arrest on their national news websites (the Nevada US Attorney’s Office has).

Instead of boasting about the plotters arrested as terrorists, yesterday Billy Barr, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Acting DEA Administrator (and Barr flunky) Timothy Shea, and the head of ATF had a press conference that seemed designed to provide post hoc and advance justification for abusive steps Barr has and plans to authorize. (The Daily Beast also remarked on their silence about the Boogaloo arrests, and noted that that was one of the only arrests of ideologically motivated groups that have taken place during the uprising.)

The specifics of their statements, given the legal framework around national security investigations and known and presumptive OLC memos authorizing such things, deserves more attention.

The culprit is Antifa, not (also) the right-wingers carrying guns

In questions, for example, Pierre Thomas asked Bill Barr about the Boogaloo bust. Barr responded by focusing on Antifa.

And that’s why in my prepared statement, I specifically said, in addition to Antifa and other extremist groups like Antifa, there were a variety of groups and people of a variety of ideological persuasion. So I did make that point. I’m not going to get too specific, but the intelligence being collected by our US attorney’s office is particularly integrated by the FBI from multiple different sources is building up. There are some specific cases against individuals, some Antifa related.

Chris Wray also responded to the question about Boogaloo by emphasizing that Antifa was a terrorist organization.

Sure. Let me say first, as I’ve said for quite some time and including even my first few months in job, we, the FBI have quite a number of ongoing investigations of violent anarchist extremists, including those motivated by an Antifa or Antifa like ideology. And we categorize and treat those as domestic terrorism investigations and are actively pursuing them through our joint terrorism task forces.

This repeats comments both Wray and Barr made in their prepared speeches. Barr saidhe culprit here is “Antifa” and it is violent.

At some demonstrations, there are groups that exploit the opportunity to engage in looting.  And finally, at some demonstration, there are extremist agitators who are hijacking the protests to pursue their own separate and violent agenda.

We have evidence that Antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions, have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity.

Wray said the same. The culprits are “Antifa” and other agitators.

We’re seeing people who are exploiting this situation to pursue violent, extremist agendas—anarchists like Antifa and other agitators. These individuals have set out to sow discord and upheaval, rather than join in the righteous pursuit of equality and justice. And by driving us apart, they are undermining the urgent work and constructive engagement of all those who are trying to bring us together—our community and religious leaders, our elected officials, law enforcement, and citizens alike.

There is a foreign nexus that will allow us to use transnational tools

In his prepared speech, Barr claimed that there are foreign actors involved.

We are also seeing foreign actors playing all sides to exacerbate the violence.

It’s true that the Russians who helped Trump get elected are sowing dissension but that would be dealt separately from a press conference if Barr weren’t trying to use the foreign nexus to access national security tools he says can’t be used with Trump supporters.

Barr returned to this later, and specifically said they maybe can’t offer proof.

I may ask Chris if he cares to provide a little more detail. I’m not sure how much detail we want to get into, but people shouldn’t think that countries that are hostile to the United States, that their efforts to influence the US or weaken the US or sow discord in the US is something that comes and goes with the election cycle. It is constant. And they are constantly trying to sow discord among our people, and there’s a lot of disinformation that circulates that way. And I believe that we have evidence that some of the foreign hackers and groups that are associated with foreign governments are focusing in on this particular situation we have here and trying to exacerbate it in every way they can. Unless Chris has something to add, I can turn it over to … Yeah.

By suggesting there’s a foreign nexus, Barr is laying the groundwork to claim to need tools only available with that foreign nexus (something that has been done with past protest movements).

Every store that gets raided gives federal jurisdiction

After making it clear that Billy Barr intends to target Antifa as the culprit here, and use national security tools to do so, Barr and his flunkies then laid out how they think they have national jurisdiction.

Barr asserted his own jurisdiction based off the federal buildings he said that had been targeted (and because protestors were in front of the White House).

Many of the buildings, as you know, and facilities here, and the monuments are the responsibility of the federal government and the proceedings and process of the federal government take place here. And so when you have a large scale civil disturbance that is damaging federal property, threatening federal property, threatening federal law enforcement officers, threatening the officials in government and their offices and our great monuments, it is the responsibility of the federal government to render that protection.

Barr described how that Federal jurisdiction — and his invocation of the word “riot” — allows them to lead the response via what is the intelligence-driven network used against terrorists.

The Justice Department is also working closely with our state and local partners to address violent riots around the country.  Our federal law enforcement efforts are focused on the violent instigators.

Through the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, component field offices, and state and local law enforcement, we are receiving real-time intelligence, and we have deployed resources to quell outbreaks of violence in several places.

While Wray didn’t use the word “riot” he described the centrality of the Joint Terrorism Task Force to the Federal response.

We’re making sure that we’re tightly lashed up with our state, local, and federal law enforcement partners across the country, by standing up 24-hour command posts in all of our 56 field offices. We have directed our 200 Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country to assist local law enforcement with apprehending and charging violent agitators who are hijacking peaceful protests.

Timothy Shea invented an excuse not used in his request to get involved: the DEA has jurisdiction because some people stole controlled substances from pharmacies, possibly after they had been looted.

In addition, DEA continues to investigate drug related crimes, including the theft of controlled substances from looted pharmacies, which is happening here in the District of Columbia and across the country. In the national capital region, approximately or over 150 DEA special agents have partnered with the metropolitan police department at their request and the National Guard to enforce security posts and maintain a secure perimeter in designated areas.

Acting ATF Director Regina Lombardo made a similar claim to jurisdiction (though theirs legitimately extends to explosives activity): ATF is investigating firearm dealer thefts.

 ATF has also responded to 73 federal firearms licensed dealers. We have identified many suspects that made arrest and recovered many firearms already.

When it came to Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal, the only real excuse he offered was that Billy Barr requested BOP get involved. Though he did offer the bogus claim that BOP’s riot team is “experienced in … conflict resolution.”

The Attorney General asked the BOP to request and assist other law enforcement agencies in maintaining order and peace in the district of Columbia. BOP crisis management teams are highly trained to deal with various types of emergency situations, including crowd control and civil disturbances. They are experienced in confrontational avoidance and conflict resolution.

Barr offered even more transparently bullshit excuses for inviting in the kinds of people who put down riots among violent felons, claiming that there weren’t enough Marshals to go around, and that no one else in the US Government (like Park Police) know how to deal with the kinds of crowds they deal with all the time. Barr also provided a totally bullshit excuse for why the riot teams weren’t wearing identification.

Let me just add that the Bureau of Prisons SORT teams are used frequently for emergency response and emergency situations, in either civil disturbances or hurricanes or other things like that. They’re highly trained. They’re highly trained units. And in fact, in the Department of Justice, we do not really have large numbers of units that are trained to deal with civil disturbances. I know a lot of people may be looking back on history, think we can call on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of US Marshals, and that’s simply not the case. Our marshals’ response for us is approximately a hundred US Marshals. And so, historically when there have been emergencies where we have to respond with people who do have experience in these kinds of emergencies that are highly trained people, we use what are called SORT teams, response teams from the Bureau of Prisons.

And I could see a number … Now, in the federal system, we don’t wear badges with our name. I mean, the agents don’t wear badges and their names and stuff like that, which many civilian police agents, I mean, non-federal police agencies, do. And I could understand why some of these individuals simply wouldn’t want to talk to people about who they are, if that were, if that in fact was the case.

The photo op was not a photo op

But Barr’s bullshit explanation for why he sicced riot teams on peaceful protestors was still more credible than the excuse he offered for violently attacking peaceful protestors, including priests at a church serving them, for a photo op. He had decided (using the jurisdiction assumed by claiming everything is a federal building) to expand the perimeter around the White House.

Unfortunately, because of the difficulty in getting appropriate units into place, by the time they were able to move our perimeter up to I street, a large number of protestors had assembled on H Street. There were projectiles being thrown and the group was becoming increasingly unruly. And the operation to what… They were asked to three times if they would move back one block, they refused. And we proceeded to move our perimeter out to I Street.

And that had nothing at all whatsoever with the President’s desire for a photo op and he just happened to be in the photo op that had nothing to do with the violent attack on peaceful protestors and the exploitation of a house of worship.

Obviously, my interest was to carry out the law enforcement functions of the federal government and to protect federal facilities and federal personnel, and also to address the rioting that was interfering with the government’s function. And that was what we were doing. I think the president is the head of the executive branch and the chief executive of the nation, and should be able to walk outside the White House and walk across the street to the church of presidents. I don’t necessarily view that as a political act. I think it was entirely-I don’t necessarily view that as a political act. I think it was entirely appropriate for him to do. I did not know that he was going to do that until later in the day after our plans were well underway to move the perimeter, so there was no correlation between our tactical plan of moving the perimeter out by one block and the president’s going over to the church. The president asked members of his cabinet to go over there with him, the two that were present, and I think it was appropriate for us to go over with him.

Let me be clear. These are — most of them — transparently bullshit excuses. Unfortunately, the way our intersecting justifications for using national security authorities work, such transparently bullshit excuses provide the legal cover that the Federal government has long used, especially when it comes to spying on brown people.

To be clear, this is not new. It’s just incredibly ham-handed and pretty transparently done after the fact, after the press already identified Barr’s abuses. And I assume OLC only now is writing memos to match the transparently bogus claims made in yesterday’s presser.

The Father of the DEA Dragnet Sics It on Free Speech

BuzzFeed had an important scoop yesterday, revealing that Timothy Shea — the Billy Barr flunky who presided over the US Attorney’s Office in DC long enough to interfere in the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone prosecutions who has since been put in charge of the DEA — requested authority to engage in domestic surveillance targeting George Floyd protestors.

On top of the problematic implications of the move, in the abstract, it’s worth considering what it might mean more specifically. It might be best understood as Barr deploying all the investigative tools he finds so inexcusable when used against Trump associates being cultivated by a hostile foreign government, using them against Americans exercising their Freedom of Speech and Assembly.

Using the DEA to surveil protestors gives Barr a number of things (in addition to more bodies to throw at the problem). While the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page revealed the FBI has a source with tentacles into all branches of society, the DEA’s informant network is understood to be even more extensive, and often more easily leveraged because of steep war on drug sentences.

There’s good reason to believe the DEA’s access to Stingrays used to track cell phone location escapes the close scrutiny of other agencies. As Kim Zetter noted on Twitter, that may include Dirtboxes, plane-based Stingray technology.

But the FBI and, especially, the US Marshals also have that technology.

What they don’t necessarily have, however, is access to a surveillance program the precursor to which Barr approved, with no legal review, the last time he was Attorney General.

In 1992, Barr authorized the DEA to use a drug related subpoena authority, 876(a), to start collecting the call records between certain foreign countries and the United States. Over time, the dragnet came to include every country the government could claim had any involvement in narcotics trafficking. That dragnet was the model for the phone dragnet that Edward Snowden revealed in 2013. While it was shut down in the wake of the Snowden revelations (and after it became clear DOJ was using it for entirely unrelated investigations), OLC had initiated the process of reauthorizing it in 2014. Given Barr’s fondness for surveillance, it would be unsurprising if he had gotten Trump’s supine OLC to reauthorize and possibly expand its use.

So one thing Barr may be using is the kind of dragnet civil libertarians are celebrating the cessation of in Section 215.

But there’s another DEA dragnet that would be more powerful in this circumstance, and would not need reauthorization: Hemisphere, which was first disclosed in 2013. That’s a program operated under the Drug Czar’s authorities (and therefore substantially hidden under White House authorities). Rather than collect a dragnet itself, the government instead relies on the dragnet AT&T has collected over decades. It asks AT&T to do analysis, not just of call or text records, but also co-location.

A DOJ IG Report on the DEA’s various dragnets released in March 2019 makes it clear (based on redactions) that Hemisphere is still active.

There are many reasons why Barr might want his flunky at DEA to get involved in surveilling Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. Chief among them probably include DEA’s extensive informant network and DEA’s practice of mapping out entire networks based solely on subpoenas served on AT&T.

Both of those are things that Barr has said were totally inappropriate surveillance techniques deployed against political activity.

Curiously, he no longer has any apparent concern about deploying invasive surveillance against sensitive political issues.

In a Motion Claiming that Appointing an Amicus Is “Unprecedented,” Billy Barr Argues Against Billy Barr Twice More

DOJ has availed itself of the opportunity to provide a response to Mike Flynn’s petition for a write of mandamus at the DC Circuit.

As I’ll show, I think the reason they did so was to make yet another argument that Mike Flynn can lie wherever and about whatever, but those lies may never be deemed material to a proceeding, and therefore he must go scot-free. Along the way, however, DOJ argues that merely appointing an amicus is a totally unprecedented act. And to get there, DOJ twice argues against DOJ.

DOJ says only DOJ can determine if Flynn can lie and lie and lie

I’ve long believed that Sullivan’s order that amicus John Gleeson consider whether Flynn should be held in contempt for perjury made Flynn’s challenge more airtight. Indeed, the DC Circuit didn’t even include that among the things it asked to be briefed. Nevertheless, Sullivan included it, mostly to point out that even if the Circuit resolved the motion to dismiss, the question of whether Flynn should be held in contempt remains. Sullivan argues along the way that contempt is part of the court’s inherent authority.

Regardless how this Court resolves the Rule 48 issue, questions remain whether Mr. Flynn should be subject to any sanction pursuant to statute, the Federal Rules, and federal courts’ inherent authority to discipline those who fail to tell the truth under oath and obstruct justice in the courtroom. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 401–402; Fed. R. Crim. P. 42; Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 41–44 (1991) (upholding court’s inherent authority to punish “acts which degrade the judicial system, including … misleading and lying to the Court” (quotations omitted)). This factbound inquiry involves well-established Article III powers, and the district court should be permitted to address it in the first instance.

The contempt power is “settled law” that “is essential to the administration of justice.” Young v. U.S. ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., 481 U.S. 787, 795 (1987). It springs from the court’s Article III responsibility to protect its essential functions, including preserving the integrity of courts and the truthseeking process. See Int’l Union, United Mine Workers of Am. v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 831 (1994). Under this inherent power, “a court may issue orders, punish for contempt, vacate judgments obtained by fraud, conduct investigations as necessary to exercise the power, bar persons from the courtroom, assess attorney’s fees, and dismiss actions.” United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 461 (4th Cir. 1993).

To be clear, a contempt finding or sanction against Mr. Flynn may prove unwarranted. If the representations in his January 2020 declaration are true, they present attenuating circumstances for his prior, contrary statements. But the nature and extent of Mr. Flynn’s reversals under oath—from whether he lied to the government in January and March 2017, to whether he was coerced into pleading guilty, misled by his former attorneys, or improperly dissuaded from withdrawing his guilty plea in 2018 when Judge Sullivan offered that option—raise questions that any judge should take seriously. They thus provide a basis for invoking the district court’s authority to “conduct investigations as necessary.” Id.7

7 Contrary to Mr. Flynn’s suggestion (Pet. 11–17), Judge Sullivan’s appointment of an amicus to brief the contempt power is appropriate. Because contempt implicates core Article III powers, “Courts cannot be at the mercy of another Branch in deciding whether [contempt] proceedings should be initiated.” Young, 481 U.S. at 796. That is why the Federal Rules explicitly authorize the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate contempt. See id.; see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(a)(2). Judge Sullivan’s amicus order is more restrained: It does not appoint Judge Gleeson to prosecute any contempt charge, but merely to address whether initiating a contempt proceeding here would be appropriate, and gives Mr. Flynn the last word on the question

The government must have anticipated this, because it argues at length that Flynn’s lies didn’t obstruct anything, without ever explaining why not. Along the way, they bizarrely argue there’s no evidence of he lied out of contempt for the court, suggesting that this happens all the time.

Petitioner also cannot be prosecuted for contempt because there is no evidence of “contumacious intent.” Brown, 454 F.2d at 1007. Even assuming that petitioner had the intent to commit perjury, that would not establish that he had the “inten[t] to obstruct the administration of justice.” Sealed Case, 627 F.3d at 1238. There is no indication that petitioner pleaded guilty and then moved to withdraw his plea as “part of some greater design to interfere with judicial proceedings.” Dunnigan, 507 U.S. at 93. Rather, the record shows that petitioner—like other defendants who enter pleas they later seek to withdraw— pleaded guilty with the intent to resolve the allegations against him on the best terms he thought possible at the time. Doc. 160-23, at 8-9. Our adversarial system treats plea colloquies and later motions to withdraw as an accepted part of normal judicial proceedings. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b), (d). An intent to acquiesce in the prosecution’s charges, even falsely, is not an intent to interfere with judicial proceedings themselves for purposes of contempt under Section 401(1).

DOJ then argues that only DOJ could prosecute Flynn for perjury.

I have zero doubt that Neomi Rao will adopt this view, for present purposes, because she has never met a ridiculous argument she didn’t like. But it would be shameful for any self-respecting judge to do so, as it effectively eviscerates judicial authority.

Appointing an amicus is unprecedented

DOJ then argues that Judge Sullivan did something unprecedented, which is what they use to justify issuing a writ.

III. A Writ Of Mandamus Is Appropriate And Necessary Relief In Light Of The District Court’s Unprecedented Order

Several pages later, after laying out the very high bar for a writ of mandamus, the government describes what Sullivan has done: appoint an amicus.

For the same reasons that the mandamus factors were met in Fokker and In re United States, those factors are met here. The only distinction between the cases is that, in Fokker and In re United States, the district court had entered an order denying the motion, while here the district court has entered an order providing for further proceedings and contemplating additional, court-initiated criminal charges.

The government is basically arguing that even appointing an amicus amounts to deciding against Flynn. Nowhere does the government claim that Flynn would be injured by this amicus, and Flynn’s only claim to injury is the delay (he himself is responsible for over a year of delay on this case).

Billy Barr argues against Billy Barr

Appropriately, for a DOJ that has refuted its repeated claims that Flynn’s lies were material by arguing they weren’t material, Billy Barr once against argues against Billy Barr.

This brief does so in two ways.

As I’ve noted, DOJ needs some kind of explanation for what changed their opinion. In front of Sullivan, they argued they had gotten “new” information, none of which is new.

Jocelyn Ballantine is (inexplicably) on this brief. She cannot argue those other things are new, because she knew all of them when she argued, in the past, that Flynn’s lies were material.

So this brief, while presenting all that other not-new information (without making any of the arguments necessary to justify DOJ’s flip-flop), doesn’t argue that it is new.

Instead, this brief argues that the investigation into Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe is “new.”

Thereafter, new information emerged about essential participants in the investigation. Strzok was removed from the investigation due to apparent political bias and was later terminated from the FBI. The second interviewing agent was criticized by the Inspector General for his tactics in connection with the larger investigation. See Doc. 169, at 6-7. And McCabe was terminated after the Department of Justice determined that he lied under oath, including to FBI agents. Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, A Report of Investigation of Certain Allegations Relating to Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe 2 (Feb. 2018).

There are several problems with this.

First of all, DOJ never managed to indict McCabe for his alleged lies, and whether he lied is currently being litigated. Also, DOJ IG has reviewed Strzok’s conduct at great length — including the documents that at the District level DOJ claimed falsely were new — and it affirmatively stated that any bias Strzok have did not affect any decision reviewed.

But the most important reason this is outright absurd is that both of these things were public and known to Flynn on December 18, 2018 (indeed, the investigation into Strzok was known to Flynn when he pled the first time). As Beth Wilkinson noted in Sullivan’s response, Flynn disclaimed those things under oath!!!

After being placed under oath again, Mr. Flynn confirmed that (1) he did not wish to “challenge the circumstances” surrounding his FBI interview; (2) by pleading guilty he would be giving up “forever” his right to challenge that interview; (3) he knew at the time of his interview that lying to the FBI was a crime; and (4) he was “satisfied with the services provided by [his] attorneys.” Id. at 7–9. Mr. Flynn also disclaimed any reliance on revelations that certain FBI officials involved in the interview were being investigated for misconduct. Id. at 9.

We’re five months past the time Billy Barr appointed Jeffrey Jensen to go come up with some excuse to dismiss the Flynn prosecution, and DOJ still can’t decide (or find anything) what is new to justify the flip-flop.

But there is an even bigger Billy Barr belly flop in this response. As Wilkinson noted in the Sullivan response, in its motion to dismiss, DOJ acknowledged that it can only dismiss the prosecution with leave of the judge.

The government’s motion acknowledges that Rule 48 does not require Judge Sullivan to serve as a mere rubber stamp.

[snip]

First, the motion acknowledges that a Rule 48(a) dismissal requires leave of the court. Id. at 10. While the government argued that the court’s discretion was “narrow” and “circumscribed,” id., it did not argue that the court lacked discretion altogether.

Barr reiterated this point in his interview with Catherine Herridge.

Does Judge Sullivan have a say?

Yes. Under the rules, the case can be dismissed with leave of court. Generally, the courts have said that that provision is in there to protect defendants, to make sure the government doesn’t play games by bringing a charge and then dismissing it; bringing another charge, dismissing it. But he does have a say.

Now, after Bill Barr’s DOJ has twice said that the Judge has a say, Billy Barr’s DOJ argues that the District Court has no authority to reject it.

Simply put, the district court has no authority to reject the Executive’s conclusion that those reasons justify a dismissal of the charges.

Again, Neomi Rao will have no embarrassment in agreeing even with a seemingly schizophrenic argument that will help Trump out, and she may well bring Karen Henderson along.

But this is an embarrassment. Bill Barr keeps shredding the credibility of the Justice Department by arguing against past arguments he has personally approved, even very recent ones. There’s no longer any pretense they have to make and sustain an argument, only provide words on a page for captive judges to rubber stamp.

Stealing Elections: The Underlying Assumption behind Billy Barr’s Flip-Flop on the Materiality of Flynn’s Lies

Marty Lederman has a very long piece assessing DOJ’s motion to dismiss the Mike Flynn case, one that pulls together a lot of the public record (including details, like about DOJ’s January 24, 2017 sentencing memorandum, that haven’t gotten attention other than at this site). As a very sober assessment that criticizes the FBI but lays out the national security implications, it’s well worth reading.

Even after he wades through all those details, though, Lederman argues that the important takeaway isn’t whether Flynn will do prison time or not (he notes, as I have, that Flynn will be pardoned in any case), but instead what this incident says about Bill Barr.

Unfortunately, just as with the public’s anticipation of and reaction to the Mueller investigation, the inordinate focus on whether a particular individual committed one or another offense under the U.S. criminal code is diverting attention from where it ought to be, on much more significant matters of constitutional governance.

Most importantly, as I’ll explain, what’s most alarming and troubling about the DOJ brief itself is not that it asks the court for leave to dismiss the charge against Flynn, but that it depends upon the rather shocking view of the Attorney General and the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia that Flynn’s underlying conduct in 2016 and 2017 was unobjectionable and that therefore there wasn’t a “legitimate” basis for the FBI to be investigating Flynn’s secret communications with the Russian Ambassador at all, even though Russia had just completed an elaborate effort to manipulate the American electoral process in order to help elect Donald Trump.

[snip]

There is, however, at least one other possibility—one that’s much more troubling but that doesn’t involve prosecutorial “bad faith,” as such:  It could be, as Charlie Savage recently put it, that Attorney General Barr sincerely “considers to be illegitimate the government’s counterintelligence effort to understand the scope of Russian election interference in 2016 and any links to the Trump campaign.”  That would explain the astounding assertions in the DOJ motion that Flynn’s calls with Kislyak “were entirely appropriate on their face” and that there wasn’t any “legitimate” basis for a counterintelligence investigation, even after Flynn lied to the Vice-President-Elect about the content of the calls.  Indeed, in a recent interview, Attorney General Barr asserted that the FBI investigation was “based on a perfectly legitimate and appropriate call [Flynn] made as a member of the transition.”  According to Barr, there “was nothing wrong with it whatever. In fact, it was laudable.”

If that’s the reason Barr insisted on moving to dismiss the Flynn charge, it raises a far, far greater problem than whether Michael Flynn is or isn’t convicted of a criminal offense.  Such a view reflects an alarming disregard for the constitutional difference between an incumbent President and the incoming administration.  It ignores the harms of engaging in such private diplomacy in secret, without the knowledge of the State Department.  It treats as “laudable” an effort to undermine the incumbent President’s conduct of foreign affairs in real time—and to do so in order to accommodate a hostile nation that had just engaged in a concerted effort to distort the U.S. presidential campaign in order to secure the election of the very President whose agent is engaged in the stealth diplomacy, and where that very President (and/or his agent engaged in the shadow communications) might possibly be in debt to that nation, and/or compromised by it.  It also assumes that the FBI should have turned a blind eye to all this even after several top officials of the new administration made repeated false representations to the public about the new National Security Advisor’s communications with that foreign power, either knowing that the statements were false or, more troubling still, having been assured by Flynn that the communications were very different from what the Bureau knew them to be.  If the Attorney General of the United States believes all of that conduct was “legitimate,” “appropriate” and “laudable,” and that there wasn’t any “legitimate” basis for investigating it, then how can anyone be confident that the Department of Justice under his stewardship will faithfully fulfill its constitutional responsibilities?

I think Lederman is right: Even more than the question of whether Flynn does time is the question of what it means that Barr intervened and — based off no new evidence — weighed in to say that it was laudable that Flynn called up Russia and undermined the punishment Obama imposed after Russia tampered in the election and illegitimate for FBI to investigate why he did so (predictably, the motion to dismiss doesn’t deal with Flynn’s work for Turkey).

But I would go further.

Lederman is rightly offended that Bill Barr has just given sanction to undermining the constitutional transition between one administration and another.

But that’s not all that the FBI was investigating, nor is it what the record suggests Barr is sanctioning.

In his post, Lederman suggests the FBI didn’t take any of the logical steps to chase down Flynn as a counterintelligence concern.

As I hoped I’ve shown above, that was precisely correct—the principal objective of any interview with Flynn should have been to get to the bottom of the potential counterintelligence threat.  FBI Director Comey himself later testified that he sent his agents to interview Flynn on January 24, 2017 at least in part because there was a “disconnect” between what the Vice President was saying in public and what Flynn had in fact said to Kislyak, and Comey wanted his agents “to sit before [Flynn] and say ‘what is the deal?’”  And FBI Counterintelligence Chief Bill Priestap apparently agreed.  His notes from that morning state his view that “if [Flynn] initially lies, then we present him [redacted] and he admits it, document for DOJ, and let them decide how to address it.”

As far as the available public record shows, however, the agents who interviewed Flynn didn’t take that route.  Instead, it appears that Bureau leadership apparently decided before the interview that if Flynn didn’t confirm to the agents what they knew he had said to Kislyak, “they would not confront him or talk him through it.”  (The quote is from a later 302 report of an interview with one of the agents, Peter Strzok.  Unfortunately, the reasons for that decision appear to be redacted from Strzok’s 302 Report.  Nor is it clear who made this tactical decision.)  In the interview itself, Flynn said he couldn’t recall any discussion with Kislyak of the sanctions and expulsions, even after the agents used his own words from those conversations in order to jog his memory (and/or to subtly signal to him that they had a recording).  And then the agents left it at that.  They didn’t confront Flynn with evidence of what he had said to Kislyak; didn’t ask him why he said such things; about who else, if anyone, he discussed the call with, before or after; why he had disregarded the Obama administration’s pointed request that he not have such conversations; why he had lied to Pence, et al.; etc.  In other words, they didn’t do any of the things one might expect investigators to do if their goal was to get to the bottom of the case, and assess the scope and degree of any possible counterintelligence threat, during that interview.  Instead, all they appeared to accomplish was to confirm that Flynn was committed to lying about his calls with Kislyak.

This is the one part of Lederman’s post that I believe is wrong.

On January 24, 2017, the FBI would have learned that Flynn was going to continue to lie about his discussion of sanctions. But the evidence would still have supported an interpretation that Flynn had gone rogue, that he — someone who had been paid directly by Russia in the previous year and met directly with Putin — had decided to undermine all of US policy in response to the Russian operation all by himself.

That interpretation would change.

Moreover, the record shows the FBI did take next steps, but next steps that served to get at the key purpose for Flynn’s lies, to hide that he had consulted with Mar-a-Lago before calling Kislyak. As I have laid out here, the FBI did some call records analysis (on Flynn’s private phone, because he hadn’t used his government issue BlackBerry). That would have disclosed a bunch of calls to Mar-a-Lago beforehand, calls that were clearly inconsistent with Flynn’s claims to the FBI. Ultimately, FBI obtained the devices that first Flynn, and then other members of the Transition had used. Those would show emails explicitly discussing strategy on sanctions. Between getting those communications and getting Flynn to flip, FBI would eventually have gotten KT McFarland to tell her version of the story.

After a year of work, the FBI would have substantiated that Flynn’s lies served to hide his consultation with Mar-a-Lago. Mueller never got him or McFarland or Steve Bannon to admit that Trump weighed in ahead of time (and Mueller was deliberately coy about whether he has phone records suggesting he did).

Ultimately, though, Mueller was never able to answer a key question: whether Trump had ordered Flynn to do what he did.

Although transition officials at Mara-Lago had some concern about possible Russian reactions to the sanctions, the investigation did not identify evidence that the President-Elect asked Flynn to make any request to Kislyak.

As Lederman himself notes, Trump blew off questions about his role in all of this when asked.

Although it’s therefore almost certain Trump knew at least roughly what Flynn planned to say to Kislyak, the Mueller investigation did not find any evidence that Trump directed Flynn to say anything about sanctions.  (Mueller asked Trump specifically about these incidents (see Questions V(b)-(e)), but in his written responses the President … simply ignored those questions, as though they hadn’t even been asked.)  Several weeks later, then-President Trump said in a press conference that although he didn’t direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak, “it certainly would have been okay with me if he did.  I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.”

And Lederman notes the part of the January sentencing memo that describes how central a question sanctions were to Mueller’s investigation.

In a sentencing memorandum it filed in January 2020, the Department of Justice explained that after Flynn’s calls with Kislyak and the false stories that Pence and others were purveying, the FBI “did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians,” and that “determining the extent of [Flynn’s] actions, why [he] took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.”  This was particularly true because “[a]ny effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.”

What he doesn’t consider, however (though he comes awfully close), is the aspect of Mueller’s investigation that considered whether there was a quid pro quo.

In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.

That is, Mueller wasn’t just investigating whether Trump was friendly to Russia because he was friendly to Russia or whether he was friendly to Russia out of tacit acknowledgement that Russia had helped him.

Mueller was also investigating (and parts of DOJ may still be investigating) whether Trump entered into one or more quid pro quos in which he accepted help getting elected in exchange for implicit or explicit pay-offs later.

Whether or not Mueller proved a quid pro quo (and there are aspects of this that remain ongoing, or recently were ongoing before Barr’s latest efforts to undermine them), that was an obvious, legitimate topic for investigation after a campaign advisor got approached about Russia’s help in April and after Trump asked Russia for help in the same press appearance where he offered to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

That’s what FBI’s investigation ultimately became. That’s the question the answer to which Flynn’s lies about consulting with Mar-a-Lago have obscured. That is the part of the investigation that Flynn’s lies had a material impact on.

Bill Barr is saying it was illegitimate for the FBI to investigate whether the incoming President engaged in a quid pro quo to get elected and therefore Flynn’s lies that hid key details needed to answer that question are not material to any investigation that FBI should be engaging in.

And he’s saying it just before campaign season begins again in earnest.

The Eight Investigations into the Russian Investigation Have Already Lasted 47% Longer than the Investigation Itself

Before the holiday weekend, FBI Director Christopher Wray announced an “after-action review of the Michael Flynn investigation.” Thus far, that makes the eighth known investigation into the Russian investigation — and every known investigation included at least a small component relating to Mike Flynn. The investigations into the Russian investigation, which collectively have lasted around 2,064 days, have gone on 47% longer than the investigation itself.

This table lists all the known investigations pertaining to the Russian investigation, save those into people involved in the Carter Page FISA applications. All have at least a component touching on the investigation into Mike Flynn.

This table assumes the Russian investigation is ongoing, based off the redactions in the Roger Stone warrant releases and FOIAed 302s, even though Mueller closed up shop a year ago.

At least three of the investigations in this table pertain to allegations first seeded with Sara Carter and then to various Congressional staffers that Andrew McCabe said, “Fuck Flynn, and I fucking hate Trump.” McCabe was actually considered the victim of the first investigation, which was conducted by the FBI’s Inspection Division, the same entity that will conduct the investigation announced last week. While the full timing of that investigation is not known, Strzok gave a statement to the Inspection Division on July 26, 2017. That Inspection Division investigation led into the investigation into McCabe himself, though that investigation focused on his confirmation of the investigation into the Clinton Foundation (and so is not counted in this table).

Mike Flynn kept raising the “Fuck Flynn” allegations with prosecutors, leading the government to review the allegations two more times, including an October 25, 2018 interview with Lisa Page where she was also asked about her role in editing the Flynn 302s.

The defendant’s complaints and accusations are even more incredible considering the extensive efforts the government has made to respond to numerous defense counsel requests, including to some of the very requests repeated in the defendant’s motion. For instance, the defendant alleges that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said, “‘First we f**k Flynn, then we f**k Trump,’ or words to that effect;” and that Deputy Director McCabe pressured the agents to change the January 24 interview report. See Mot. to Compel at 4, 6 (Request ##2, 22). Defense counsel first raised these allegations to the government on January 29, 2018, sourcing it to an email from a news reporter. Not only did the government inform defense counsel that it had no information indicating that the allegations were true, it conducted additional due diligence about this serious allegation. On February 2, 2018, the government disclosed to the defendant and his counsel that its due diligence confirmed that the allegations were false, and referenced its interview of the second interviewing agent, 4 who completely denied the allegations. Furthermore, on March 13, 2018, the government provided the defendant with a sworn statement from DAD Strzok, who also denied the allegations.

Nevertheless, on July 17, 2018, the defense revived the same allegations. This time, the defense claimed that the source was a staff member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (“HPSCI”). The HPSCI staff member allegedly told the defendant that the second interviewing agent had told the staff member that after a debrief from the interviewing agents, Deputy Director McCabe said, “F**k Flynn.” Once again, the government reviewed information and conducted interviews, and once again confirmed that the allegations were completely false. And after defendant and his counsel raised the accusation for a third time, on October 15, 2018, the government responded by producing interview reports that directly contradicted the false allegations. Despite possessing all of this information, defense counsel has again resurrected the false allegations, now for a fourth time

The DOJ IG investigation into whether Jim Comey violated policy or the law by bringing home his CYA memos started in July 2017 and continued through last summer. Obviously, one of those memos recorded Trump asking Comey to let the Flynn investigation go.

The table above does not include the DOJ IG Report on the Midyear Exam investigation (into Hillary), even though that was the first to examine the Lisa Page and Peter Strzok texts. For timing purposes, only the DOJ IG investigation into Carter Page’s FISA applications investigation counts the investigation into Page and Strzok. That investigation also considered the treatment of Flynn’s presence in the first intelligence briefing for Trump.

Finally, there’s the John Durham investigation — which Bill Barr’s top aides were scoping at least as early as April 12 of last year. There is no public scope document. Similarly, there’s no public scope document of the Jeffrey Jensen review, which Barr launched to create some excuse to move to dismiss the Flynn prosecution after prosecutors recommended (and all of DOJ approved) prison time. Wray’s statement announcing the FBI’s own investigation into the Flynn investigation made clear that the Jensen investigation remains ongoing.

FBI Director Christopher Wray today ordered the Bureau’s Inspection Division to conduct an after-action review of the Michael Flynn investigation.  The after-action review will have a two-fold purpose:  (1) evaluate the relevant facts related to the FBI’s role in the Flynn investigation and determine whether any current employees engaged in misconduct, and (2)  evaluate any FBI policies, procedures, or controls implicated by the Flynn investigation and identify any improvements that might be warranted.

The after-action review will complement the already substantial assistance the FBI has been providing to U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen in connection with his work on the Flynn case.  Under Director Wray’s leadership, the FBI has been fully transparent and cooperative with Mr. Jensen, and the FBI’s help has included providing special agents to assist Mr. Jensen in the fact-finding process.  Although the FBI does not have the prosecutorial authority to bring a criminal case, the Inspection Division can and will evaluate whether any current on-board employees engaged in actions that might warrant disciplinary measures.  As for former employees, the FBI does not have the ability to take any disciplinary action.

Director Wray authorized this additional level of review now that the Department of Justice, through Mr. Jensen’s work, has developed sufficient information to determine how to proceed in the Flynn case.  However, Mr. Jensen’s work will continue to take priority, and the Director has further ordered the Inspection Division to coordinate closely with Mr. Jensen and ensure that the review does not interfere with or impede his efforts.  Relatedly, for purposes of ensuring investigative continuity across these related matters, the Inspection Division will also utilize to the extent practicable the special agents that the FBI previously assigned to assist Mr. Jensen.

In Bill Barr’s interview with Catherine Herridge, he discussed the Jensen review in terms of criminal behavior, which would mean Jensen and Durham are both considering criminal charges for some of the same activities — activities that had been investigated six times already.

Based on the evidence that you have seen, did senior FBI officials conspire to throw out the national security adviser?

Well, as I said, this is a particular episode. And it has some troubling features to it, as we’ve discussed. But I think, you know, that’s a question that really has to wait an analysis of all the different episodes that occurred through the summer of 2016 and the first several months of President Trump’s administration.

What are the consequences for these individuals?

Well, you know, I don’t wanna, you know, we’re in the middle of looking at all of this. John Durham’s investigation, and U.S. Attorney Jensen, I’m gonna ask him to do some more work on different items as well. And I’m gonna wait till all the evidence is, and I get their recommendations as to what they found and how serious it is.

But if, you know, if we were to find wrongdoing, in the sense of any criminal act, you know, obviously we would, we would follow through on that. But, again, you know, just because something may even stink to high heaven and be, you know, appear everyone to be bad we still have to apply the right standard and be convinced that there’s a violation of a criminal statute. And that we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. The same standard applies to everybody.

This is one reason why DOJ’s claim to have found “new” information justifying their flip-flop on Flynn’s prosecution would be so absurd if DOJ weren’t making the claim (with no documentation) in court. Different entities in DOJ had already investigated circumstances surrounding the Flynn investigation at least seven times before Jensen came in and did it again.

But I guess Barr is going to keep investigating until someone comes up with the result he demands.