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Bill Barr’s DOJ Says Trump Is Too Old for Another 4 Year Term

The supplemental sentencing memo DOJ submitted for Roger Stone after all the people who had prosecuted him withdrew from the case is a pained document. It starts with a highfalutin appeal to “sovereignty” of a prosecutor seeking “justice shall be done.” But ultimately, it doesn’t say what the sentence should be.

It is well established that the prosecutor “is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935). This axiom does not simply apply to the process of bringing charges or securing a conviction—it also “must necessarily extend” to the point where a prosecutor advocates for a particular sentence. See United States v. Shanahan, 574 F.2d 1228, 1231 (5th Cir. 1978) (reviewing sentencing conduct of prosecutor). Applying that principle here, to the specific facts of this case, the government respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances. The government ultimately defers to the Court as to the specific sentence to be imposed.

I could make a more compelling argument about what the sentence should be. But, aside from arguing the witness tampering was too serious (something that’s reasonable), that’s not really done here.

Ultimately, having laid out reasons why Stone should still be sentenced to about 4-5 years, the government then argues he should get a deal because he’s old, and in ill-health, and not that much of a rat-fucker.

Finally, the Court also should consider the defendant’s advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence.

Roger Stone is 67. If Roger Stone is too old the go to prison until he’s 74, then the guy on whose behalf DOJ is arguing, Donald Trump, probably is too old — at 73 — to run for a term that will last until he’s 78.

It’s not me arguing that 73 is too old for a four year term. It’s Bill Barr’s DOJ.

Bill Barr Commits the Bruce Ohr “Crime”

Far be it for me to ever underestimate the possibility of Bill Barr nefariousness (and I’ll almost certainly have to eat these words), but I’m far less concerned about what Barr said the other day about a process to ingest Ukrainian bullshit from Rudy Giuliani than virtually everyone else. That’s because in his comments from the other day, he emphasized the import of vetting information from Ukraine, whether it comes from Rudy Giuliani or anyone else.

We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the [sic] Ukraine. There are a lot of agendas in the [sic] Ukraine, there are a lot of cross-currents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the [sic] Ukraine at face value. And for that reason we had established an intake process in the field so that any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners so that we could assess its provenance and its credibility. That is true for all information that comes to the Department relating to the [sic] Ukraine including anything Mr. Giuliani might provide.

This sounds like the kind of thing you’d do to placate your boss even while ensuring DOJ doesn’t accept a bunch of disinformation manufactured by mobbed up oligarchs to mess with America.

The WaPo’s report that Barr is sending all this to the US Attorney in Pittsburgh suggests Barr neither wants this stuff in Main DOJ but also is not sending it to either of the two places — John Durham’s inquiry or the SDNY prosecution of the Ukrainian grifters — where it might be used in an ongoing investigation.

A Justice Department official said Giuliani had “recently” shared information with federal law enforcement officials through the process described by Barr. Two people familiar with the matter said the information is being routed to the U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh.

[snip]

It is not clear whether Scott W. Brady, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, will play a similar role, or why his office was chosen. A spokeswoman for Brady’s office declined to comment.

So while I hope (again, probably over-optimistically) that this is just a convenient way to deal with a difficult boss and his criminal subject attorney, I also worry that it’s not being shared with the people investigating such information sharing as illegal foreign influence peddling.

Plus, it strikes me as a unbelievably hypocritical for Bill Barr to continue to ingest dodgy information probably sourced to corrupt oligarchs after the entire frothy right has demonized Bruce Ohr for continuing to accept information — some but not all of it sourced to Oleg Deripaska — from Christopher Steele.

Admittedly, no one can complain about the basis for which DOJ’s Inspector General relied on to make a completely irresponsible attack on Ohr — that he didn’t inform his superiors (even though they had, in fact, been informed). Barr is the boss! He has chosen who should deal with this information, in a way that Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein did not.

But Barr is, nevertheless, doing what the frothy right complains that Ohr did: continue to accept problematic information — deemed partisan (inaccurately in the case of Ohr, because his information sharing with Steele long preceded the DNC project and much of what he shared during and after that involved entirely unrelated topics) — after it had been discredited.

Perhaps, along with issuing orders that suggest Trump can commit any crime he wants between now and November 2020, Barr should issue an order explaining how DOJ should accept such information — including manufactured dirt from Steve Bannon — as a rule, so we can stop working under different rules for different parties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this time, Sullivan has been unusually quiet.

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

The Real News in Bill Barr’s Announcement: He’s Vetoing Campaign Finance Investigations, Too

Yesterday, NYT broke the news that Attorney General Barr had issued a memo, as promised, requiring his approval before opening an investigation into a presidential candidate. (Update: here’s the memo.)

The memo, which said the Justice Department had a duty to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences,” was issued on the same day that President Trump was acquitted on charges that he had abused his office to push a foreign power to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals. The memo said that the F.B.I. and all other divisions under the department’s purview must get Mr. Barr’s approval before investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

The NBC version of this — written by Barr mouthpiece Pete Williams — falsely suggests this decision was justified by the entirety of the IG Report.

His directive follows a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that harshly criticized the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. It recommended an evaluation of the kind of sensitive matters that should require high-level approval, particularly those involving politics.

While the IG Report recommended different practices for sensitive investigations going forward, the report actually showed that a lot of conspiracy theories that Barr had embraced about the opening of the investigation and the use of informants were false. The criticisms — as distinct from recommendations — were largely limited to the Carter Page FISA.

The distinction is important because the other excuse Barr offers is that, if an investigation became known — like both the Hillary email investigation and the Breitbart-dirt predicated Clinton Foundations ones — it might affect the election.

“In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections,” Mr. Barr wrote.

Those concerns, combined with the inspector general’s findings, seemed to underpin Mr. Barr’s memo to top Justice Department officials.

All the evidence in the world suggests that the known problems in Crossfire Hurricane stemmed from the opposite problem, working too hard to keep the investigation secret. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep it secret, it wouldn’t have been run out of FBI HQ, and so would have had more resources available. Had the FBI not avoided overt steps, it would have obtained call records to indicate that George Papadopoulos (and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), and not Carter Page, should have been the priority targets. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep this secret, it might have caught several of Trump’s flunkies in the act of selling out the country. (And all three of those men hid information to prevent their actions from becoming known.) And now Bill Barr wants to make it harder, not easier, to find people selling out our country before they do real damage.

Indeed, this extends even to the larger investigation into Russian interference. SSCI released its report on what the Obama Administration should have done better in 2016 yesterday, and many of the criticisms stem from how closely it held the intelligence about the attack, from Congress, election professionals, and agencies that might respond. (The report also undermined Barr’s justification for the Durham investigation, in that it suggested the IC should have warned policy makers far earlier than happened about Russian intentions, and points to John Brennan’s sensitive intelligence about the operation as the first alarm.)

So the stated purpose doesn’t hold up, as most of Barr’s stated purposes don’t. That’s all the more true when you look at how Barr’s rule has dramatically expanded since he first floated it.

As both NYT and NBC noted, Barr announced the policy in January. The policy, as laid out back then, was far more limited — extending just to counterintelligence investigations.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced the Justice Department’s first policy change in response to the FBI’s mucking around in the 2016 election. Henceforth, both an AG and the FBI director must sign off on any proposed counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign.

Neither the NYT nor NBC describe any such limitation. Indeed, the make it clear that criminal investigations, including into donors!!!, must be approved.

While the department must respond “swiftly and decisively” to credible threats to the electoral process, “we also must be sensitive to safeguarding the department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship,” he wrote.

He previewed the new policy at a news conference in January, when he said his approval would be required in future investigations involving presidential candidates or campaigns.
In the memo, Mr. Barr established a series of requirements governing whether investigators could open preliminary or full “politically sensitive” criminal and counterintelligence investigations into candidates or their donors.

No investigation into a presidential or vice-presidential candidate — or their senior campaign staff or advisers — can begin without written notification to the Justice Department and the written approval of Mr. Barr.

The F.B.I. must also notify and consult with the relevant leaders at the department — like the heads of the criminal division, the national security division or a United States attorney’s office — before investigating Senate or House candidates or their campaigns, or opening an inquiry related to “illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign.”

This rule would have protected the following people from any investigation in 2016:

  • Trump, for paying off former sex partners
  • Paul Manafort, for taking $2.4M after discussing carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking in 2016
  • Roger Stone, for dark money activity and coordination still unresolved as well as optimizing materials stolen from the Democrats
  • Mike Flynn, for being on Turkey’s payroll while attending Top Secret candidate briefings
  • George Papadopoulos, for trying to monetize his access to Trump with foreign countries including Israel
  • Illegal donations from Russians, Malaysians, Emiratis, and Ukrainians in 2016
  • Illegal coordination between the campaign and its SuperPAC

The only criminal investigations into Trump flunkies that wouldn’t have been covered in 2016 would be the money laundering investigation into Manafort (which started two months before he joined the campaign) and, possibly, the counterintelligence investigation into Page (because his tie to the campaign was not known at the time).

As stated, the rule would require pre-approval for the Ukrainian grifter investigation and any investigation into known coordination problems Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has engaged in. It would protect not just Trump, but also (because they work on his campaign) his failson and son-in-law.

Plus, Barr believes that because the President can’t be indicted, he should not be investigated. So this is, quite literally, a guarantee that no crime Trump commits between now and election day will be investigated — not even shooting someone on Fifth Avenue  (at the federal level, at least, but DOJ has maintained that NYS cannot investigate the sitting president either). Barr has just announced, using fancy language to avoid headlines describing what this is, that from now until November, he will hold President Trump above the law.

Citizens United has opened up a floodgate of barely hidden cash from foreign donors into our elections. This is not a partisan thing; as noted, Mohammed bin Zayed was dumping huge money into both Hillary and Trump’s campaign. And the Attorney General of the United States has just made it easier for foreigners to tamper in our elections.

Barr has snookered reporters into believing this is the same announcement as he made in January.

It’s not. This is not about spying on a campaign, much as Pete Williams wants to pretend it is. This is about telling Trump and his associates they will not be prosecuted by DOJ, going forward, for the same crimes they’ve committed in the past.

Update: Two more details. The memo requires signed approval by the Deputy Attorney General to open a preliminary investigation of any presidential candidate. But it also requires prompt notice to the Assistant Attorney General for any assessment. That means the AG is demanding that his top deputies learn when someone does a database search.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost no mention of his lies about Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Flynn blames his former lawyers.

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

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

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

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

But wait.

There’s more.

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cursory consideration of Cray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DEFENDANT: No.

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

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

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

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

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

But there are two problems with her argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be careful what you wish for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDNY Prosecutors Protect Trump’s Privacy to Enter into a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

Whooboy is there an interesting flurry of motions over in the Ukrainian grifter prosecution. Effectively, SDNY prosecutors and (two of) Lev Parnas’ co-defendants want to slow him from sharing information with HPSCI. The letters include:

  • January 17: Parnas asks to modify the protective order a third time
  • January 22: Igor Fruman lawyer Todd Blanche says he has an attorney-client interest in some of what Parnas wants to and has already shared
  • January 22: Andrey Kukushkin lawyer Gerald Lefcourt says he just wants a privilege review
  • January 23: SDNY says Parnas should not be able to share iCloud information he obtained via discovery without review
  • January 24: Parnas lawyer Joseph Bondy makes a quick argument asserting they should be able to share the information
  • January 24: Bondy responds to Fruman letter at more length
  • January 27: Blanche responds again, invoking Dmitry Firtash to speak on behalf of unnamed others

The dispute started when Parnas asked to share content that the FBI seized from Parnas’ iCloud account and then provided to him in discovery. He listed just 11 Bates stamp numbers in the initial request, but it’s unclear what kind of files these are. In response, the lawyer that Fruman shares with Paul Manafort, Todd Blanche, objected to that request, and also asked to “claw back” any privileged materials that Parnas already produced to HPSCI (remember that Victoria Toensing has already complained that Parnas has violated privilege). Blanche makes a dig at Parnas’ media tour:

My obvious concern is that Mr. Bondy’s hasty efforts to find a forum (beyond MSNBC and CNN) for someone —  anyone — to listen to his client’s version of events caused him to irresponsibly produce privileged materials to the HPSCI.

One of the two other co-defendants, Andrey Kukushkin, weighed in — having been alerted by SDNY that, “its filter team identified materials in Mr. Parnas’ iCloud account that may fall within a common-interest attorney-client privilege held jointly by Mssrs. Kukushkin, Parnas, and aothers” — and stated that he did not object to Parnas sharing information “if all privileged materials can be removed from Mr. Parnas’ iCloud account prior to production to HPSCI.”

Having thus cued Parnas’ co-defendants to submit complaints, SDNY then weighed in, objecting to Parnas’ request. They invoke two reasons for their objection. The first poses interesting Fourth Amendment considerations; effectively SDNY argues that Parnas’ warrant return from Apple includes material that Parnas never possessed (and some material he deleted that only still exists because prosecutors obtained a preservation request).

The materials at issue include records that, as far as the Government knows, were never in Parnas’s possession. For instance, the data produced by Apple includes deleted records (which may only exist because of the Government’s preservation requests), account usage records, and other information to which a subscriber would not necessarily have access. The form of the report, which was created by the FBI, was also never in Parnas’s possession.

[snip]

Additionally, to the extent Parnas seeks to produce his own texts, emails, photographs or other materials, he should have access to the content stored on his iCloud account through other means: he can simply download his own iCloud account and produce it to HPSCI (and in fact, it appears he has already done so).

[snip]

To the extent that Parnas has deleted materials from his iCloud account, the Government is willing to work with counsel to ensure that Parnas can produce his own materials that are responsive to the Congressional request to HPSCI. To that end, the Government respectfully submits that Parnas’s counsel should identify for the Government any specific chats, emails, photographs, or other content Parnas is unable to access from his iCloud currently, but whic exist within the discovery that has been produced to him and in his view are responsive to the Congressional subpoena.

I find that stance interesting enough — basically a reverse Third Party doctrine, saying that subscribers aren’t the owners of the information Apple has collected on them, at least not in the former that FBI reports it out.

It’s the other objection I find most interesting. SDNY prosecutors — including one of the ones who argued against broad claims of privilege in the Michael Cohen — objects because the data from Parnas’ iCloud,

[I]t public disclosure still has the potential to implicate the privacy and privilege interests of third parties and co-defendants.

It then argues that requiring Parnas to specifically request content that he already deleted,

would also permit his co-defendants to raise any concerns with respect to their privilege or privacy interest prior to the materials’ release.

SDNY’s prosecutors are arguing that Parnas can’t release his own iCloud material because of other people’s privacy interests!! As if it is the place for SDNY’s prosecutors to decide what HPSCI considers proper levels of disclosure!!

I’ve been giving SDNY the benefit of the doubt on this prosecution, assuming that as prosecutors they would push back against any Bill Barr attempt to protect Rudy (though not the President). But this alarms me. It seems like SDNY is using Fruman — who is in a Joint Defense Agreement with Rudy — to speak for Rudy’s interests.

After making a cursory response to SDNY, Bondy responded in more detail to Fruman. In it, Bondy makes the kind of argument about the limits of privilege you’ll almost never see a lawyer make.

[T]he burden is on the party asserting the attorney-client privilege to first establish that there was: 1) a communication; 2) made in confidence; 3) to an attorney; 4) by a client; 5) for the purpose of seeking or obtaining legal advice. The part asserting attorney-client privilege has the burden of conclusively proving each element, and courts strongly disfavor blanket assertions of the privilege as “unacceptable.” In addition, the merre fact that an individual communicates with an attorney does not make the communication privileged.

There are also instances in which the attorney-client privilege is waived, including when the substance of otherwise privileged communications are shared with third parties, when the communications reflect a criminal or fraudulent intent between the parties, when the communications are part of a joint–yet conflicted–representation, and in cases where the parties to a joint defense have become adverse in their interests. 

Bondy then goes on to add that HPSCI “does not recognize attorney-client privilege,” which may be why, at about the time these letters were breaking, Jay Sekulow was on the floor of the Senate haranguing Democrats for not respecting that privilege (which Sekulow suggested was in the Bill of Rights). He uses that stance to suggest SDNY is making a claim that violates separation of powers.

From there, Parnas goes on to disavow any privilege shared in his brief Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian mob, in part based on discussions about his initial response to the HPSCI subpoena having been shared more widely.

Mr. Parnas waives all privilege with respect to the communications he had with Mssrs. Dowd and Downing. Furthermore, the substance of his and Mr. Fruman’s legal representation appears to have been shared with third parties, including Jay Sekulow, Rudolf Giuliani, John Sale, Jane Raskin, and others. … As the Court may know, Mssrs. Sekulow, Raskin, and Giuliani are also attorney for President Trump. Mr. Giuliani and the President have interests divergent from Mr. Parnas’s wish to cooperate with Congress and the Government. Mr. Parnas believes that his and Mr. Fruman’s ostensibly joint representation by Attorneys Dowd and Downing was conflicted and intended from its inception to obstruct the production of documents and testimony responsive to lawful congressional subpoena.

[snip]

Here, Attorney Dowd undertaking a joint representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman — with the President’s explicit permission — constituted an actual conflict of interest at the time and appears designed to have obstructed Mr. Parnas’s compliance with HPSCI’s subpoenas and any ensuring efforts to cooperate with congressional investigators or federal prosecutors.

Bondy ends by saying it’s up to those claiming a conflict to invoke it.

Bondy makes it fairly clear: he believes the privilege SDNY has set Fruman up to object to involves Rudy and Trump, neither of whom are in a position to object, particularly given that if they do, Bondy will argue that Parnas believes their grift might be criminal and therefore the privilege doesn’t apply.

So instead of the President and his lawyer claiming that Parnas’ release of this material will violate privilege, Fruman does.

Mr. Fruman has reason to believe that the Production Material contains privileged information belonging to Mr. Fruman and others.

He invokes only the consultation of their shell company, Global Energy Producers, with [Rudy’s former firm] Greenberg Traurig in conjunction to substantiate a common attorney-client interest, then nods to more:

This is but one example, and there are many more, but certainly the privilege issues implicated by the repeated amendments to the Protective Order are far more expansive than the attorney-client relationships identified in Mr. Bondy’s letter.

Fruman then complains that he cannot — as Parnas has said he must do — invoke privilege because he’s not in possession of the materials (just the taint team and Parnas have them).

The best part is where, still faced with the problem that the people whose privilege is at issue (Rudy and Trump) cannot politically invoke it, Fruman finds someone else whose privilege, he says, has been violated: Dmitry Firtash.

Mr. Fruman is not the only person whose privilege information is at risk. For example, Mr. Parnas has represented that he was employed as a translator for Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova in connection with their representation of Dymitry Firtash. Clearly, any materials Mr. Parnas received as a translator assisting attorneys in the representation of Mr. Firtash would be protected by attorney-client privilege. And that privilege would be held by Mr. Firtash, the client, not Mr. Parnas.

It’s increasingly clear what Parnas and Bondy are up to: They’re trying to make it politically (and given the OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of the President) bureaucratically impossible to pursue further charges. If everything recent Parnas did was done for the President, he shouldn’t be the only one facing prosecution for it.

Fruman, meanwhile, seems to be the sole member of the Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob who is a party here, trying to prevent his position from deteriorating by speaking for all the affected parties, only without naming Rudy or Trump (presumably backed by the same old pardon promises Trump always uses to get witnesses against him to take the fall).

What’s not clear is what SDNY is up to. Because it sure seems like they’ve used Fruman to protect Trump’s and even Rudy’s interests.

Judge Oetken scheduled a hearing for Thursday to resolve all this. Which may be too late for Parnas’ play.

The Whack-a-Mole Cover Story: Bill Barr’s Knowing Complicity Moved a Month Earlier

Attentive readers of yesterday’s NYT Bolton story have noted that Bolton says that by August, Trump’s demand in the quid pro quo was not just the announcement of an investigation, but “all materials they had about the Russia Investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine.”

In his August 2019 discussion with Mr. Bolton, the president appeared focused on the theories Mr. Giuliani had shared with him, replying to Mr. Bolton’s question that he preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine.

That is, in August of last year, Trump was extorting Ukraine to obtain materials about 2016.

Some have suggested this is new news. But it’s not. It came up at Mick Mulvaney’s October 17, 2019 press conference. As he told it, the hold was primarily because of corruption and to press the rest of Europe to provide their fair share of funding for Ukraine. Mulvaney made a statement that — given that we now know DOD reviewed how much Europe provided and concluded they were providing more than the US — is fairly breathtaking in retrospect. Mulvaney gets away with this by claiming it’s just about lethal aid.

So we actually looked at that, during that time, before — when we cut the money off, before the money actually flowed, because the money flowed by the end of the fiscal year — we actually did an analysis of what other countries were doing in terms of supporting Ukraine.  And what we found out was that — and I can’t remember if it’s zero or near zero dollars from any European countries for lethal aid.  And you’ve heard the President say this: that we give them tanks and other countries give them pillows.  That’s absolutely right, that the — as vocal as the Europeans are about supporting Ukraine, they are really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid.  And they weren’t helping Ukraine, and then still to this day are not.

From those two excuses — corruption and European support — Mulvaney then adds, as what he probably intends to be a throwaway comment, that part of this was investigating the DNC server, all the while trying to pretend that an investigation into the DNC server (he can never seem to label this the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory) pertains to corruption.

Did he also mention to me in pass the corruption related to the DNC server?  Absolutely.  No question about that.  But that’s it.  And that’s why we held up the money.

Now, there was a report —

Q    So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?

MR. MULVANEY:  The look back to what happened in 2016 —

Q    The investigation into Democrats.

MR. MULVANEY: — certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation.  And that is absolutely appropriate.

[snip]

Did he also mention to me in pass the corruption related to the DNC server?  Absolutely.  No question about that.  But that’s it.  And that’s why we held up the money.

Now, there was a report —

Q    So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?

MR. MULVANEY:  The look back to what happened in 2016 —

Q    The investigation into Democrats.

MR. MULVANEY: — certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation.  And that is absolutely appropriate.

Someone latches on to Mulvaney’s admission that Trump was demanding an investigation into his opponents, and raises “the Bidens.” Someone else notes that even if you’re just talking about the DNC, it still means Trump engaged in a quid pro quo to investigate his prospective opponents, since the DNC is also involved in 2020.

Q    Mr. Mulvaney, what about the Bidens, though, Mr. Mulvaney?  Did that come into consideration when that money was held up?

MR. MULVANEY:  I’m sorry, I don’t know your name, but he’s being very rude.  So go ahead and ask your question.

Q    Just to clarify, and just to follow up on that question: So, when you’re saying that politics is going to be involved —

MR. MULVANEY:  Yeah.

Q    — the question here is not just about political decisions about how you want to run the government.  This is about investigating political opponents.  Are you saying that —

MR. MULVANEY:  No.  The DNC — the DNC server —

[snip]

Q    Are you saying that it’s okay for the U.S. government to hold up aid and require a foreign government to investigate political opponents of the President?

MR. MULVANEY:  Now, you’re talking about looking forward to the next election.  We’re talking —

Q    Even the DNC.  The DNC is still involved in this next election.  Is that not correct?

Mulvaney starts to panic, and to get out of that panic, invokes the Durham investigation. To defer from 2020, Mulvaney says Trump was just obtaining information for an ongoing investigation.

MR. MULVANEY:  So, wait a second.  So there’s —

Q    So are you saying —

MR. MULVANEY:  Hold on a second.  No, let me ask you —

Q    But you’re asking to investigate the DNC, right?

MR. MULVANEY:  So, let’s look at this —

Q    Is the DNC political opponents of the President?

MR. MULVANEY:  There’s an ongoing — there’s an ongoing investigation by our Department of Justice into the 2016 election.  I can’t remember that person’s name.

Q    Durham.

MR. MULVANEY:  Durham.  Durham, okay?  That’s an ongoing investigation, right?  So you’re saying the President of the United States, the chief law enforcement person, cannot ask somebody to cooperate with an ongoing public investigation into wrongdoing?  That’s just bizarre to me that you would think that you can’t do that.

In other words, in Mulvaney’s presser, he excused the political aspect of Trump’s quid pro quo by claiming the President was pressing Ukraine to cooperate in the Durham investigation. He claimed that this wasn’t about Biden but instead about 2016.

Of course, that had to have caused all sorts of heartache over at DOJ, because they had been saying for almost a month that Bill Barr had no clue about any of this and here Mulvaney was saying that the quid pro quo was about the investigation Barr set up and was micromanaging.

After DOJ pushed back, the White House adopted the line that this was about Burisma’s corruption.

To be sure, the impeachment witnesses didn’t always support that. Kurt Volker, for example, invented a story that when he pushed Ukraine to investigate Burisma, he meant they should investigate the corrupt company, not Biden and that the request to investigate 2016. He discounted the request for an investigation into 2016 by suggesting Ukrianians might be trying to buy influence.

SCHIFF: Ambassador, let me also ask you about the allegations against Joe Biden, because that has been a continuing refrain from some of my colleagues, as well. Why was it you found the allegations against Joe Biden, related to his son or Burisma, not to be believed?

VOLKER: Simply because I’ve known Vice President — former Vice President Biden for a long time, I know how he respects his duties of higher office and it’s just not credible to me that a Vice President of the United States is going to do anything other than act as how he sees best for the national interest.

[snip]

SCHIFF: I take it since you say that — you acknowledge that asking for an investigation of the Bidens would have been unacceptable and objectionable, that had the President asked you to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, you would have told him so?

VOLKER: I would have objected to that. Yes, sir.

SCHIFF: Mr. Goldman?

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just one follow up on that, Ambassador Volker. When — when you say thread the needle, you’re — you mean that you understood the relationship between Vice President Biden’s son on — and Burisma but you were trying to separate the two of them in your mind? Is that right?

VOLKER: Well I believe that they were separate, that — and I — this references the conversation I had with Mr. Giuliani as well, where I think the allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and not credible.

A separate question is whether it is appropriate for Ukraine to investigate possible corruption of Ukrainians that may have tried to corrupt things or buy influence. To me, they are very different things. As I said, I think the former is unacceptable, I think the latter in this case is …

[snip]

GOLDMAN: Now he was insisting from a public commitment from President Zelensky to do these investigations, correct?

VOLKER: Now, what do we mean by these investigations?

GOLDMAN: Burisma and the 2016 election.

VOLKER: Burisma and 2016, yes.

GOLDMAN: And, at the time that you were engaged in coordinating for this statement, did you find it unusual that there was such an emphasis on a public statement from President Zelensky to carry out the investigations that the president was seeking?

VOLKER: I didn’t find it that unusual. I think when you’re dealing with a situation where, I believe the president was highly skeptical about President Zelensky being committed to really changing Ukraine after this entirely negative view of the country, that he would want to hear something more from President Zelensky to be convinced that — OK, I’ll give this guy a chance.

GOLDMAN: And he — perhaps he also wanted a public statement because it would lock President Zelensky in to do these investigations that he thought might benefit him?

VOLKER: Well again, we’re — when we say these investigations what I understood us to be talking about was Ukrainian corruption.

GOLDMAN: Well, what we’re talking about is Burisma and the 2016 election, let’s just —

VOLKER: Correct, correct — yes, right.

[snip]

VOLKER: I do remember having seen some of the testimony of Mr. Kent, a conversation in which he had asked me about the conspiracy theories that were out there in Ukraine. I don’t remember what the date of this conversation was.

And my view was, well, if there are things like that, then why not investigate them? I don’t believe that there’s anything to them. If there is — 2016 election interference is what I was thinking of — we would want to know about that. But I didn’t really there was — believe there was anything there to begin with.

It was a thin story, but necessary to explain why Volker did something he knew to be utterly corrupt, and then got caught doing it. While not explicitly, he was endorsing the possibility that Ukraine might have had a corrupt role in 2016.

All that said, Bolton’s certainty that Trump was also asking for Ukraine to provide the US with information on 2016 raises the import of this detail: Bolton claims (and DOJ has been releasing conflicting comments since yesterday) that he warned Bill Barr about this shadow Ukraine policy in July.

Mr. Bolton also said that after the president’s July phone call with the president of Ukraine, he raised with Attorney General William P. Barr his concerns about Mr. Giuliani, who was pursuing a shadow Ukraine policy encouraged by the president, and told Mr. Barr that the president had mentioned him on the call. A spokeswoman for Mr. Barr denied that he learned of the call from Mr. Bolton; the Justice Department has said he learned about it only in mid-August.

After releasing an initial denial yesterday, today DOJ has issued a non-denial confirmation.

A Justice Department official familiar with the matter said Mr. Bolton did call Mr. Barr to express concerns about Mr. Giuliani and his shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. It wasn’t clear what, if anything, the attorney general did with that information.

Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec denied that Mr. Barr learned of the Ukraine call from Mr. Bolton. The department has repeatedly said he learned about it in mid-August.

We don’t know for sure, but the difference in timeline may be utterly critical to Barr’s implication in this conspiracy. For starters, Bolton’s warning to Barr undoubtedly came before Barr stopped into a meeting in September with Rudy Giuliani about the Venezuelan who happened to be funding some of the Ukrainian grift. Bolton’s warning may make DOJ’s efforts to bracket off the Parnas and Fruman investigation, which Barr undoubtedly knew about, from the whistleblower complaint far more suspect.

Most importantly, we don’t know when multiple Ukrainians offered John Durham dirt (much less who they are). But if happened between Bolton’s warning in July and when Barr has previously claimed to have learned that Trump told Zelensky that he, Bill Barr, would happily receive the dirt he was extorting, it would make Durham’s acceptance of that dirt part of the conspiracy itself. That is, it would make Barr’s efforts to use DOJ to investigate Trump’s opponents a key part of both a conspiracy being investigated in SDNY, from which Barr has irresponsibly not recused, as well as an impeachment investigation, from which Barr has also not recused.

Bolton’s certainty that Trump wanted Ukraine to provide materials for a US investigation into Trump’s foes is not at all new. But the fact that Barr should have known he was part of this conspiracy a month earlier than he had previously admitted is.

FISC Reveals DOJ Has Withdrawn Probable Cause Assertion for Two of Carter Page Applications

The FISA Court just declassified an order — issued on January 7 — revealing that along with the previously released December 9 order listing problems with the Carter Page applications, DOJ also reassessed its previous probable cause assessment.

DOJ assesses that with respect to the applications in Docket Number 17-375 and 17-679, “if not earlier, there was insufficient predication to establish probable cause to believe that [Carter] Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

[snip]

The Court understands the government to have concluded, in view of the material misstatements and omissions, that the Court’s authorizations in Docket Numbers 17-375 and 17-679 were not valid. The government apparently does not take a position on the validity of the authorizations in Docket Numbers 16-1182 and 17-52, but intends to sequester information acquired pursuant to those dockets in the same manner as information acquired pursuant to the subsequent dockets.

The function of this January 7 order is to demand that FBI follow up on a previous agreement to “sequester all collection the FBI acquired pursuant to the Court’s authorizations in the above-listed four docket numbers targeting [Carter] Page pending further review of the OIG Report and the outcome of related investigations and any litigation,” to explain how it is doing so, how it has chased down all information collected pursuant to the Page orders, and why it needs to keep the data at all.

The reason it needs to keep the data, incidentally, is in case it is sued or John Durham decides to prosecute someone (including Kevin Clinesmith, who altered an email that was used as back-up to the final renewal application) or Page decides to sue. Indeed, one of the most unprecedented aspects of this order is that the docket numbers have been declassified, which will make FOIAing the records far easier.

Which is probably what the only substantive redaction remaining in the order pertains to: the possibility that someone will be held liable under FISA for illegal surveillance.

A lot of people are assuming that DOJ took this stance only because Bill Barr wanted to prove that Trump was illegally wiretapped (which would only be true if he was in direct contact with Page, which everyone has denied). That’s certainly possible!

But it’s quite possible that DOJ and FBI feel the need to be proactive on this point and FISC — particularly given the letters it has received from Congress — feels the need to look stern. Moreover, it is in everyone’s interest for DOJ to withdraw at least the last application (the one influenced by Clinesmith’s actions). It’s an important precedent, and there’s no reason Carter Page’s personal data should be floating around the FBI after discovering he was improperly surveilled. This doesn’t mean the FBI didn’t have reason to investigate Page. In a March 23, 2017 interview, after all, Carter Page was quite clear he knew he was being recruited by Russian intelligence officers and he believed the more immaterial non-public information he gives them, the better off we are.

But, first of all, he wasn’t hiding his happiness to share information with Russian spies, meaning he wasn’t acting in the clandestine matter that would merit a FISA order. And by April 2017, it was pretty clear that the Russians had lost all interest in recruiting Page.

In any case, FISC’s demand for what the government is doing with the data is not unusual. Similar things have happened virtually every other time the government did something improper.

There’s one more important lesson, though: Even from the start, people raised questions about whether the applications targeting Page were prudential. By the third application — the first one being withdrawn — there were not only real questions about whether it would yield anything more, but whether Page was central enough to their investigation to want to surveil him. Had the FBI simply not pursued surveillance it questioned whether it really needed, the worst revelations of the IG Report would have been avoided.

So one of the lessons of this whole fiasco is that the FBI would benefit from giving greater consideration about whether its most intrusive methods are necessary.

Lev Parnas Says Bill Barr Should Recuse … But Doesn’t Say Why

In this post, I laid out why Lev Parnas’ current publicity tour may not be as insane, from a defense standpoint, as it seems. I laid out how Barr would have significant ability to protect potential co-conspirators of Parnas — starting with Rudy and extending to Rudy’s client. I explained how Barr’s veto authority over some of this might limit Parnas’ ability to cooperate his way out of his legal problems, and at the very least increases the chance he’s stuck holding the bag for various plots that include far more powerful people. Most interesting, however, were the ways Parnas hinted at but stopped short of implicating Barr in the plot by suggesting,

  • He had been told, by Rudy and others, they had spoken to Barr about all this
  • He had witnessed Rudy and others speaking to Barr about all this
  • He might have texts proving Barr’s involvement, but couldn’t remember whether that was the case or not

To be clear: Parnas is obscuring the degree to which he insinuated himself in Trump’s circles to make all this possible. He is pretending everything he did was ordered by powerful Americans, when the evidence suggests otherwise. So it might not serve justice for him to try to cooperate with prosecutors (because he could well be the most responsible). But I’m beginning to understand how pursuing this angle might be a reasonable defensive approach.

Today, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy just sent a request to Barr requesting his recusal, copying it to his docket.

It actually flubs the argument it tries to make about how impeachment relates to this criminal case, describing how both the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call transcript and the whistleblower complaint mention Barr over and over, without mentioning that Parnas and Igor Fruman were also incorporated in the whistleblower complaint by repeated reference to this article, which includes the influence peddling for which the grifters were already indicted. That is, the case is far stronger than this letter lays out, because both Parnas and Barr were named in the whistleblower complaint.

Worse still, this letter doesn’t talk about any of the things Bill Barr’s DOJ has done that obstructed full investigation of the complaint:

  • Scoping the assessment of the complaint to specifically avoid connecting the complaint to the investigation of Parnas and Fruman
  • Not sharing the complaint, as required by MOU, with the FEC, which would have led the FEC to tie the complaint to the pre-existing investigation it had of Parnas and Fruman
  • Getting OLC to invent reason to withhold the complaint from Congress, which if it had been successful would have prevented all investigation of these activites

In short, the actions of DOJ overseen by Barr, not just his mention in the complaint and ties to Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, mandate his recusal. But for some reason (perhaps because that would be more aggressive than even Bondy is willing to go), Bondy doesn’t include those actions.

Most interestingly, Bondy doesn’t include any of the allegations Parnas had made publicly about Barr’s potential more direct role. Nor does he answer the question of whether or not Parnas has texts more directly implicating Barr.

What Bondy does do, in the wake of the press blitz he has choreographed, is note that “evidence has been brought to light linking you further to your long-time colleagues Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova, as well as to Mr. Giuliani, which undoubtedly creates at least the public appearance of a conflict of interest.” I mean, there is, absolutely, the appearance of a conflict of interest, but Bondy was the one who brought all that evidence to light!

Finally, though, Bondy suggests, with uncertain veracity, that SDNY has done things that suggest a purported conflict has already harmed Parnas.

In addition to harmful perceptions, this conflict of interest appears to have caused actual harm to Mr. Parnas who, given delays in the production of discovery in his federal case, was rendered unable to comply with a duly-issued congressional subpoena in time for congressional investigators to make complete use of his materials or properly assess Mr. Parnas as a potential witness. Furthermore, prosecutors have, thus far, refused to meet with Mr. Parnas and to receive his information regarding the President, Mssrs. Giuliani, Toensing, DiGenova and others–all of which would potentially benefit Mr. Parnas if he were ever to be convicted and sentenced in his criminal case.

For better and worse, getting FBI to image a bunch of phones and return them to a defendant within three months including two major holidays is not that long a wait. It took two months before Special Master Barbara Jones first started making privilege designations in the Michael Cohen case (involving one of the same prosecutors), and that was an even more politically sensitive case than this one. So while mentioning the delay is useful for Democrats (especially when the Senate tries to refuse to hear Parnas’ testimony because it didn’t get turned over in time), and valuable from a defense standpoint as it lays groundwork for appeal, it’s not a real injury on the part of prosecutors.

With regards to prosecutors’ refusal to meet with Parnas about cooperating against his possible co-conspirators, as the WSJ reported yesterday, late last year Bondy failed to convince SDNY that Parnas was not — as accused in his indictment — directed by a still-unnamed Ukrainian official to try to oust Marie Yovanovitch.

At a meeting with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office late last year, people familiar with the matter say, Mr. Parnas’s attorney disputed that he pushed for the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of a Ukrainian official—one of the charges in the campaign finance indictment.

This is another way of saying that Parnas is unwilling to plead to the allegations in the existing indictment, and may also suggest that while Parnas is happy to incriminate Rudy and his American buddies, he’s not willing implicate his original boss, whoever that might be. So prosecutors likely have good reason not to meet with Parnas to hear him implicate Rudy and friends (not least, because they already have this documentary evidence that implicates them anyway, and now Parnas is providing whatever testimony they might need on the Rachel Maddow Show).

Bondy is absolutely right: Bill Barr should have recused from this — and all review of the whistleblower complaint — back in August when it was clear he was named. Even assuming Barr took no action on any of this influence peddling, this goes well beyond just the appearance of conflict to known participation in known events — such as the meeting with Rudy that DOJ admitted to only last week after covering it up for months — that merit recusal.

But Bondy is also being less than candid with his letter, playing the public docket as much as he is making a real legal request.

Lev Parnas Wouldn’t Reveal Whether He Has Receipts on Bill Barr

I suggested in this post that Lev Parnas appears to believe that how and when he was arrested was an attempt to silence him and force him to take the fall for Trump.

With that in mind, I want to reexamine why he might believe that coming forward now might help his defense.

Obviously, one thing he is trying to do — thus far unsuccessfully — is make it clear that in his actions regarding Ukraine, he is a co-conspirator with the President, Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, and, of course, Rudy Giuliani. That doesn’t mean he didn’t insert himself into that role — by all appearances he did; that’s what his existing indictment is about, how he spent big money to insinuate himself into Trump’s immediate circle.

But since that time, Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova took actions that might be deemed an overt act of a conspiracy. So did Trump, not least on July 25, 2019, on a call with President Zelensky. Implicating powerful Americans in his influence-peddling is particularly important because, if he can’t do that, he may be exposed to further charges. WSJ reports that, late last year, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy tried to convince prosecutors that Parnas did not “push[] for the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of a Ukrainian official—one of the charges in the campaign finance indictment.” If Parnas can claim that anything he did after some point in 2018 — which otherwise might be deemed to be FARA violations, suborning perjury, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, bribery, and more — he did with the approval of the President of the United States, he might be able to claim that those actions were the official foreign policy of the United States, which would basically be the same claim Trump is using to defend against impeachment.

None of that may matter, however, depending on what SDNY plans or is allowed to do.

After all, Barr had been briefed on this investigation since shortly after he was confirmed, probably indicating that SDNY deemed it a significant matter reflecting the sensitivities of an investigation into political figures including Pete Sessions, some Las Vegas politicians, Ron DeSantis, and the President’s SuperPAC. As such, Barr would receive advance notice before SDNY took steps against any of these political figures (and it would have to happen before pre-election blackouts kick in in August). The Criminal Division would need to approve any search or prosecution of an attorney, covering Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova. Barr would have to approve any legal process targeting media figures like John Solomon or Sean Hannity, as he would have to approve their treatment as subjects of the investigation. And, just on Monday, Barr stated he will require Attorney General approval before DOJ or FBI can open a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign (and Trump started his reelection campaign almost immediately upon inauguration).

In short, for SDNY to go after any of Parnas’ other known potential co-conspirators, aside from Fruman, Bill Barr or Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski would have to approve.

That gives Barr veto power over including most of Parnas’ potential co-conspirators in an indictment with him. And he has made no secret that he was brought in to protect Trump from facing any legal consequences for his crimes.

For a time, it looked like Barr believed he couldn’t protect Rudy. But then Rudy loudly announced he had insurance.

“I’ve seen things written like he’s going to throw me under the bus,” Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News’ Ed Henry about the characterizations and comments made in the media about him and his relationship with the president. “When they say that, I say he isn’t, but I have insurance.”

And if Rudy’s actions are beyond legal sanction, then Parnas is left holding the bag, just like Michael Cohen appears to have been for hush payments he made on the orders of Trump. Indeed, while Parnas expressed some interest in cooperating with prosecutors, if prosecutors are barred from pursuing anyone more senior than Parnas, then there’s little for Parnas to offer.

Which brings us to Parnas’ expressed fear of Barr.

In the second installment of his Maddow interview, Parnas claimed he was doing all of this because he fears Barr — or deems Trump too powerful when he is protected by Barr.

PARNAS: The only reason – if you’ll take a look, and you know very well because you have been following, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now, and he wasn’t as powerful in ’16 and ’17 –

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: – he became that powerful when he got William Barr.

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: People are scared. Am I scared? Yes, and because I think I`m more scared of our own Justice Department than of these criminals right now, because, you know, the scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong and – or when you’re not, you know, and that’s the tool they’re using.

I mean, just – because they’re trying (ph) to scare me into not talking and with God’s help, and with my lawyer next to me that I know will go bat for me no matter what, with the truth –

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: – and I’m taking a chance.

That comment makes sense whether he believes Barr had him arrested to silence him or even just worries that Barr will protect everyone else. It would even make sense if — as is quite possible — Parnas is working for powerful Russians or Ukrainians who’ve been trying to control Trump by making him vulnerable.

There’s no doubt that abundant evidence can be shown that Barr is not just covering up, but actively obstructing any investigation into Trump’s actions. As I’ve noted repeatedly, Barr or one of his subordinates:

  • Scoped the assessment of the whistleblower complaint to ensure it wasn’t tied to the ongoing investigation of Parnas and Fruman in SDNY
  • Failed to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC, which (if it were functional) could have imposed civil penalties for the illegal solicitation of campaign help
  • Had OLC invent a bullshit reason to withhold the complaint from Congress
  • Had Kerri Kupec exonerate Trump publicly, reportedly in response to a demand from Trump

Mind you, I’m the only one harping on this obstruction, but they’re still details that deserve more attention.

But that’s not how Parnas is focusing on Barr.

In his interview with Maddow, Parnas twice alleged that he had seen Barr receiving calls from Rudy and others on this stuff. First, he said that Rudy and Toensing and DiGenova had told him they were engaging Barr on this project.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

He then expanded on that to say, first, that he witnessed conversations between the lawyers and Barr, and then, less convincingly, claimed that “Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.”

PARNAS:  I personally did not speak to him, but I was involved in lots of conversations that Joe diGenova had with him in front of me, Rudy had with him in front of me, and setting up meetings with Dmytro Firtash’s team. I was involved in that.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Rudy Giuliani was ever in contact with Mr. Barr, specifically about the fact that he was trying to get Ukraine to announce these investigations into Joe Biden?

PARNAS:  Oh, absolutely.

MADDOW:  Mr. Barr knew about it?

PARNAS:  Mr. Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr – Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

Claiming “Barr had to have known everything,” while seemingly consistent with the public actions of Barr’s DOJ, is not going to be strong enough to get Barr, personally, in trouble.

Though it is worth noting that (in the same way that Devin Nunes unforgot speaking to Parnas as Parnas started rolling out receipts), CNN reported that Barr had attended a meeting where Rudy pitched the case of the Venezuelan paying for the grift long after he had to have known Rudy was under criminal investigation.

The Giuliani meeting at the Justice Department in September became public months ago in the wake of the arrest of two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were working on Giuliani’s Ukraine mission for the President.

Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, issued a public statement at the time expressing regret for holding the meeting and saying he wouldn’t have met with Trump’s personal lawyer had he known about Giuliani’s role in the ongoing investigation.

But department officials didn’t mention then that Barr was also in the meeting. Barr was at the meeting for about 10 minutes and had dropped in to greet other lawyers who worked alongside Giuliani to represent the Venezuelan businessman, according to a Justice Department official. His presence is also notable because Justice officials have said he was briefed after taking office in February on the investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors into Parnas and Fruman, and the connections with Giuliani.

There’s almost certain to be more, though. When Maddow asked Parnas whether he knew whether Barr ever spoke with any of the Ukrainians that Parnas was grifting (the question I’ve been asking for some time), he claimed not to recall, even though the entire point of his interview was to talk about how he had come forward out of fear of Bill Barr.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Attorney General William Barr every [sic] spoke with any Ukrainian officials?

PARNAS:  I don’t recall at this moment. I’d have to look at my text messages and see.

There is absolutely no way that Parnas did not know, when he gave this answer, whether he has proof that Barr was personally involved with the three Ukrainians who have spoken to John Durham. None.

Which likely means Parnas does have proof that, contrary to every denial DOJ has issued since they started issuing very carefully crafted denials since September 25, Barr did interact with the corrupt Ukrainians Rudy was teeing up.

Parnas kept receipts, for just the moment when his grifting on behalf of Trump and his associates can do damage. Those receipts might, conservatively, make additional charges from SDNY more difficult. They might even make a cooperation deal possible.

But it sure sounds like something even crazier. Parnas apparently believes Barr makes Trump something he hadn’t been before, protecting Trump in a way he hadn’t been. But that’s only true if Parnas can’t produce proof that Barr is part of this conspiracy.

In other words, whatever the reality, Parnas appears to be dribbling out the receipts implicating the people that SDNY prosecutors work for in an attempt to either increase the chances of cooperating out of his indictment or at least raising the costs of any further charges.

Perhaps a more interesting question is why SDNY prosecutors permitted Parnas to launch this media campaign. They didn’t have to: Parnas got permission to modify the protective order on this stuff so he could release it, and they may have had to question Robert Hyde earlier than they otherwise intended to because of the publicity surrounding Parnas’ texts with Hyde. SDNY might be doing it to encourage a criminal target to run his mouth and say something incriminating. They might have done it for counterintelligence reasons, to see who responded to this media campaign. But it’s also possible that SDNY is happy for Parnas to expand the possible scope of their own investigation by making it harder for Barr to protect Rudy and others.

The suspense, though, has to do with that non-committal answer Parnas gave about whether he has any texts directly implicating the Attorney General of the United States. A defendant being prosecuted by the Department of Justice was asked whether he had proof that the top law enforcement officer in the country was personally implicated in his corrupt influence peddling.

And Parnas is not telling. Yet.