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Some Perspective on the Politicized Leak Investigation Targeting Adam Schiff

The NYT reported the other day that DOJ obtained phone records of Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and a bunch of House Intelligence Committee staffers in the guise of what it reports is a leak investigation (though given the specific form of Bill Barr’s prevarications about his knowledge, may have been repackaged as something else when the investigation was resuscitated in 2020).

Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.

The initial collection and especially the subsequent treatment were clearly politicized — and more importantly, stupid, from an investigative standpoint. But, especially because this involves Adam Schiff, some exactitude about what went on really is required.

This is not spying

First, this is not “spying.” If the use of informants to investigate members of the Trump campaign and Hillary Clinton’s Foundation during a political campaign is not spying, if the use of a lawful FISA to conduct both physical and electronic surveillance on recently departed campaign volunteer Carter Page is not spying — and Adam Schiff said they were not, and I agree — then neither is the use of a subpoena to collect the phone records of Democrats who had knowledge of information that subsequently leaked in a fully predicated (and very serious) leak investigation.

This is “just” metadata

According to all reports, the government obtained the iPhone metadata records of 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses. Apple suggests other tech companies probably got subpoenas, too, which means that some of those email addresses probably weren’t Apple emails.

But it was — as Adam Schiff said many times when defending a program that aspired to collect “all” the phone records in the United States — “just” metadata.

I don’t mean to belittle the impact of that. As I and others argued (against Schiff), metadata is actually profoundly revealing.

But if this is a problem (it is!), then people like Adam Schiff should lead a conversation about whether the standard on collection of metadata — currently, it only needs to be “relevant to” an investigation — is what it should be, as well as the rules imposed on future access to the data once collected prevent abuse.

Apple (and other tech companies) wouldn’t have known this was Adam Schiff

Even people who understand surveillance seem to believe that Apple would have known these requests targeted Adam Schiff in a leak investigation and therefore should have done more to fight it, as if the actual subpoena would be accompanied with an affidavit with shiny flags saying “HPSCI Ranking Member.”

They wouldn’t have. They would have gotten a list of selectors (some of which, by its description, it probably did not service), a description of the crime being investigated (a leak), and a gag order. The one thing that should have triggered closer review from Apple was the number of selectors. But apparently it did not, and once Apple complied, the data was swept up into the FBI’s servers where it presumably remains.

The subpoena was overly broad and not tailored to limit damage to Schiff

All that said, there were aspects of the subpoena that suggest it was written without any consideration for limiting the damage to Congressional equities or reasonable investigative targets. Focusing on these details are important because they distinguish what is really problematic about this (and who is to blame). According to reports, the subpoena:

  • Obtained information from a minor, who would have had no access to classified information
  • Included a series of year-long gags
  • Obtained all the toll records from date of creation
  • May have focused exclusively on Democratic members and staffers

It’s conceivable that, after years of investigation, DOJ would have reason to believe someone was laundering leaks through a child. But given how broad this subpoena is, it’s virtually impossible the affidavit included that kind of specific knowledge.

With journalists, DOJ is supposed to use shorter gags–three months. The series of year-long gags suggests that DOJ was trying to hide the existence of these subpoenas not just to hide an investigation, but to delay the political embarrassment of it.

There’s no reason to believe that Adam Schiff leaked a FISA application targeting Carter Page first obtained in 2016 in 2009 (or whenever the Californian lawmaker first set up his Apple account). It’s a physical impossibility. So it is completely unreasonable to imagine that years-old toll records would be “relevant to” a leak investigation predicated off a leak in 2017. Mind you, obtaining all records since the inception of the account is totally normal! It’s what DOJ did, for example, with Antionne Brodnax, a January 6 defendant who got notice of subpoenas served on him, but whose attempt to limit the subpoena failed because those whose records are subpoenaed have no authority to do that. There are two appropriate responses to the unreasonable breadth of this request: both a focus on the failure to use special caution with Congressional targets, but also some discussion about how such broad requests are unreasonable regardless of the target.

Given the number of these selectors, it seems unlikely DOJ did more than ID the people who had access to the leaked information in question. Except if they only obtained selectors for Democrats, it would suggest investigators went into the investigation with the assumption that the leak was political, and that such a political leak would necessarily be partisan. That’s simply not backed by exhibited reality, and if that’s what happened, it should force some scrutiny on who made those assumptions. That’s all the more true given hints that Republicans like Paul Ryan may have tipped Page off that he had been targeted.

These kinds of limiting factors are where the most good can come out of this shit-show, because they would have a real impact and if applied broadly would help not just Schiff.

Barr continued to appoint unqualified prosecutors to do his political dirty work

I think it would be useful to separate the initial records request — after all, the leak of a FISA intercept and the target of a FISA order are virtually unprecedented — from the continued use of the records in 2020, under Billy Barr.

The NYT explains that the initial investigators believed that charges were unlikely, but Barr redoubled efforts in 2020.

As the years wore on, some officials argued in meetings that charges were becoming less realistic, former Justice Department officials said: They lacked strong evidence, and a jury might not care about information reported years earlier.

[snip]

Mr. Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases. Some cases had nothing to do with leaks about Mr. Trump and involved sensitive national security information, one of the people said. But Mr. Barr’s overall view of leaks led some people in the department to eventually see the inquiries as politically motivated.

[snip]

After the records provided no proof of leaks, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington discussed ending that piece of their investigation. But Mr. Barr’s decision to bring in an outside prosecutor helped keep the case alive.

[snip]

In February 2020, Mr. Barr placed the prosecutor from New Jersey, Osmar Benvenuto, into the National Security Division. His background was in gang and health care fraud prosecutions.

Barr used this ploy — finding AUSAs who were unqualified to work on a case that others had found no merit to — on at least three different occasions. Every document John Durham’s team submitted in conjunction with the Kevin Clinesmith prosecution, for example, betrayed that investigators running it didn’t understand the scope of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation (and thereby also strongly suggested investigators had no business scrutinizing a counterintelligence investigation at all). The questions that Jeffrey Jensen’s team, appointed by Barr to review the DOJ IG investigation and the John Durham investigation to find conclusions they didn’t draw, asked Bill Barnett betrayed that the gun crimes prosecutors running it didn’t know fuckall about what they were doing (why Barnett answered as he did is another thing, one that DOJ IG should investigate). And now here, he appointed a health care fraud prosecutor to conduct a leak investigation after unbelievably aggressive leak investigators found nothing.

DOJ IG should include all of those investigations in its investigation, because they all reflect Barr’s efforts to force prosecutors to come to conclusions that the evidence did not merit (and because the Jensen investigation, at least, appears to have altered records intentionally).

FBI never deletes evidence

In an attempt to disclaim responsibility for yet more political abuse, Billy Barr issued a very interestingly worded disavowal.

Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He added that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on the Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of the former president’s push to unmask leakers of classified information.

There are two parts to this: One, that “while he was attorney general,” Congresspersons’ records were not sought, and two, sought in a leak case. The original subpoena for these records was in February 2018, so not during Barr’s tenure as Attorney General. He doesn’t deny asking for those previously-sought records to be reviewed anew while Attorney General.

But he also limits his disavowal to leak cases. Under Barr’s fervent imagination, however, these investigations may well have morphed into something else, what he may have imagined were political abuse or spying violation cases. DOJ can and often does obtain new legal process for already obtained records (which would be unnecessary anyway for toll records), so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Barr directed his unqualified prosecutor to use those already-seized records to snoop into some other question.

It’s a pity for Adam Schiff that no one in charge of surveillance in Congress imposed better trackability requirements on FBI’s access of its investigative collections.

Both an IG investigation and a Special Counsel are inadequate to this investigation

Lisa Monaco asked Michael Horowitz to investigate this investigation. And that’s fine: he can access the records of the investigation, and the affidavits. He can interview the line prosecutors who were tasked with this investigation.

But he can’t require Barr or Jeff Sessions or any of the other Trump appointees who ordered up this investigation to sit for an interview (he could move quickly and ask John Demers to sit for an interview).

Because of that, a lot of people are asking for a Special Counsel to be appointed. That would be nice, except thus far, there’s no evidence that a crime was committed, so there is no regulatory basis to appoint a Special Counsel. The standard for accessing records is very low, any special treatment accorded journalists or members of Congress are not written into law, and prosecutorial discretion at DOJ is nearly sacrosanct. The scandal is that this may all be entirely legal.

Mind you, there’s good reason to believe there was a crime committed in the Jeffrey Jensen investigation, the same crime (altering documents) that Barr used to predicate the Durham Special Counsel appointment. So maybe people should revisit that?

Luckily, Swalwell and Schiff know some members of Congress who can limit such abuses

If I learned that DOJ engaged in unreasonable surveillance on me [wink], I’d have no recourse, largely because of laws that Adam Schiff has championed for years.

But as it happens, Schiff and Swalwell both know some members of Congress who could pass some laws limiting the ability to do some of the things used against them that affect thousands of Americans investigated by the FBI.

Now that Adam Schiff has discovered, years after we tried to reason with him on this point, that “it’s just metadata” doesn’t fly in this day and age, maybe we can talk about how the FBI should be using metadata given how powerful it has become?

The renewed focus on Schiff’s metadata would have come after Schiff disclosed Nunes’ ties to Rudy Giuliani’s grift

Another factor of timing hasn’t gotten enough attention. In late December, Schiff released the Democrats’ impeachment report. Because Schiff obtained subpoenas (almost certainly targeting Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani), he included call records of calls implicating Devin Nunes and his staffer Derek

Over the course of the four days following the April 7 article, phone records show contacts between Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, Representative Devin Nunes, and Mr. Solomon. Specifically, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas were in contact with one another, as well as with Mr. Solomon.76 Phone records also show contacts on April 10 between Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Nunes, consisting of three short calls in rapid succession, followed by a text message, and ending with a nearly three minute call.77 Later that same day, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon had a four minute, 39 second call.78

[snip]

On the morning of May 8, Mr. Giuliani called the White House Switchboard and connected for six minutes and 26 seconds with someone at the White House.158 That same day, Mr. Giuliani also connected with Mr. Solomon for almost six minutes, with Mr. Parnas, and with Derek Harvey, a member of Representative Nunes’ staff on the Intelligence Committee.159

69 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI _20190930_00848-ATTHPSCI_20190930_00884. Mr. Parnas also had an aborted call that lasted 5 seconds on April 5, 2019 with an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes on the Intelligence Committee, Derek Harvey. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00876. Call records obtained by the Committees show that Mr. Parnas and Mr. Harvey had connected previously, including a four minute 42 second call on February 1, 2019, a one minute 7 second call on February 4, and a one minute 37 second call on February 7, 2019. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00617, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00630, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00641. As explained later in this Chapter, Rep. Nunes would connect separately by phone on April 10, 11, and 12 with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00913- ATTHPSCI_20190930_00914; ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125.

76 Specifically, between April 8 and April 11, phone records show the following phone contacts:

  • six calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas (longest duration approximately five minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115-ATTHPSCI_20190930-02131;
  • four calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Solomon (all on April 8, longest duration approximately one minute, 30 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02114- ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115;
  • nine calls between Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon (longest duration four minutes, 39 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00906; and
  • three calls between Mr. Parnas and Ms. Toensing (longest duration approximately six minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00905.

77 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125, ATTHPSCI_20190930-03236.

78 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00902.

[snip]

158 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02313.

159 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02314; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02316; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02318; ATTHPSCI 20190930 01000.

Because Nunes doesn’t understand how phone records work, he — and most other Republicans in Congress — accused Schiff of subpoenaing the record of his colleagues. That’s not what happened. Instead, Nunes and a key staffer got involved in with Rudy’s efforts to solicit dirt from Russian assets and as a result they showed up in Rudy’s phone records.

But it’s the kind of thing that might lead Barr to intensify his focus on Schiff.

The last section of this was an update.

Tea Leaves on the Garland-Monaco DOJ and the Stay in Andrew McCabe’s Lawsuit

The effort to figure out precisely why moderate Merrick Garland and career DOJ employee Lisa Monaco are having the Department of Justice sustain shitty positions adopted under Bill Barr has reached a fever pitch. In my piece on Monaco, I noted one thing — her presumed approval, on her first day in the job, of a raid on Rudy Giuliani — that suggests some people are mistaking a likely effort to sustain DOJ as an institution for an effort to protect Trump.

I’d like to point to another tea leaf — something that happened (perhaps coincidentally) on Monaco’s third full day on the job. That’s when the two sides in Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit moved to stay discovery pending an effort to settle the case.

The parties jointly move this Court to stay all discovery in this proceeding, for 45 days after this motion is granted, and to extend all previously set case deadlines and events by 45 days. The parties request this relief so that they may explore the possibility of settlement.

Good cause exists for the requested relief, because the stay and extension would allow the parties to focus their efforts on discussing settlement expeditiously, free from any competing obligations and ongoing disputes related to discovery, and without burdening the Court with potentially unnecessary discovery disputes. The parties propose to update the Court two business days before the stay’s expiration about whether a further stay and extension is warranted.

On its face, a settlement with McCabe would look like a stark reversal of a Trump policy. Top levels of Trump’s DOJ signed declarations swearing that McCabe’s firing was for cause. At that level, the interest in settling the lawsuit looks like a pretty serious reversal.

That said, depending on how broadly Judge Randolph Moss ruled discovery must extend (an issue that is still pending), McCabe’s lawsuit could seriously embarrass DOJ. Even just his case in chief, in which DOJ IG and OPR ignored the testimony of key witness, FBI press person Michael Kortan (with whom McCabe’s office worked on the story that DOJ claims he was trying to hide), full discovery could badly embarrass DOJ. Still more so if the extent to which DOJ pushed to indict McCabe, allegedly after the grand jury rejected charges against him, became public. By the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ had altered a McCabe document and submitted it to Emmet Sullivan, another potentially damaging revelation (though one probably outside any imaginable scope of discovery).

And that’s just what we know about. In the weeks leading up to McCabe’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, DOJ was refusing to share documents that McCabe needed to adequately prep for his appearance.

I’m not sure what this particular move suggests about DOJ. But I know that full exposure of the witch hunt against McCabe would badly damage DOJ, including some career employees who served Barr’s whims. But a settlement would also damage the Trump DOJ, because it would prove that Trump politicized his entire DOJ to take out perceived enemies.

That is, amid all the other tea leaves, what happens with the McCabe suit may indicate which damage to DOJ the Garland-Monaco DOJ seems most intent on avoiding.

Update: The two sides just filed an update: No settlement has been reached, but they remain in talks.

Consistent with their April 23, 2021 Joint Motion to Stay Discovery and Extend All Case Deadlines (Dkt. 56), the parties submit this joint notice regarding the current stay of litigation.

On April 27, 2021, this Court granted the parties’ joint motion for a 45-day stay of all discovery so that the Parties could focus on exploring the possibility of settlement. No settlement has been reached, but the parties are continuing their discussions. In the event that they agree that a further stay is warranted, they will so notify the Court by filing another joint motion to extend the stay and related deadlines.

The [Thus Far] Missing Seth DuCharme Emails Pertaining to Rudy Giuliani’s Russian Disinformation

As I’ve been harping of late, Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen went to great lengths to protect Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to obtain and disseminate what the Intelligence Community already knew was Russian-backed disinformation laundered through Andrii Derkach. That effort included the following:

  • For whatever reason, not warning Rudy that the Intelligence Community knew Russia was targeting him for an information operation before he traveled to his December 2019 meeting with Derkach
  • Prohibiting SDNY from expanding its existing investigation into Rudy’s foreign influence peddling to include his efforts with Derkach by making EDNY a gate-keeper for any such decisions
  • Asking Pittsburgh USA Attorney Scott Brady to accept the information that the IC already knew was Russian disinformation from Rudy
  • Doing nothing while Rudy continued to share information the IC already knew was Russian disinformation during an election
  • After belatedly opening an investigation into the Derkach effort that the IC had known was Russian disinformation for a year, opening it at EDNY and scoping it to ensure that Rudy’s own actions would not be a subject of the investigation

As a result of this remarkable effort, led by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, to protect Russian disinformation, DOJ willingly ingested a bunch of Russian disinformation and used it to conduct an investigation into the son of the President’s opponent.

Last year, when it was disclosed that Barr had directed Brady to willingly accept this Russian disinformation, American Oversight FOIAed and then sued for the paper trail of the effort, submitted as four separate FOIAs:

  1. [To OIP and USAPAW] “Brady Order and Written Approval” — which specifically asked for “two readily-identifiable, specific documents” — described as:
    • The written approval of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General authorizing U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania (USAPAW) to create and/or administer a process for receiving purported investigatory information from Rudy Giuliani concerning matters that relate to former Vice President Biden
    • A copy of the Attorney General’s order directing USAPAW to conduct an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation
  2. [To OIP and USAPAW] “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications,” described as:
    • All directives or guidance provided to USAPAW regarding an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani, including information that may concern former Vice President Biden
    • All records reflecting communications between (1) the Office of the Attorney General or the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and (2) USAPAW regarding an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani
    • All records reflecting communications within the OAG or the ODAG regarding any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani, including information which may concern former Vice President Biden
  3. [To USAPAW] “Brady-Giuliani Communications,”described as all records reflecting communications between (1) USAPAW in the course of any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani and (2) Rudy Giuliani, or any of Mr. Giuliani’s personal assistants or others communicating on his behalf, including but not limited to Jo Ann Zafonte, Christianne Allen, or Beau Wagner
  4.  [To USAPAW] “Brady-White House Communications,” described as any communications between (1) USAPAW in the course of any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani and (2) anyone at the White House Office

Before American Oversight filed the lawsuit, the Trump Admin did two things that will have an effect on what we’re seeing. First, DOJ combined requests one and two above; as we’ll see, that had the effect of hiding that Barr didn’t put anything in writing. In addition, USAPAW told American Oversight that they were going to refer the request for such an order to Main Justice for referral.

While the lawsuit was filed under the Trump Administration, the substantive response to it started in February. The FOIA is a way to understand more about this effort — both how willing Barr’s DOJ was to put this scheme in writing, as well as the volume of paper trail that it generated.

The first status report, submitted on February 22, revealed the following based on an initial search:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ: 8,851 items
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW: 1,400 pages
  3. “Brady-White House Communications:” none

The second status report, submitted on April 1, reported that of the initial search, the following was deemed potentially responsive:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ: 30 pages referred
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW, of 272 pages reviewed so far:
    • 3 pages released in full
    • 189 pages referred to other agencies for consultation
    • 83 duplicates or non-responsive

Here is the USAPAW production.

The third status report, submitted on May 3, reported the following:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ:
    • 18 pages released in partly redacted form
    • 4 pages withheld entirely under b5 deliberative exemption
    • 6 pages awaiting a response from some other component
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW, of 263 pages reviewed this month:
    • 5 pages released, 3 of which include b6, b7A and b7C redactions
    • 14 pages referred to another component
    • 244 pages non-responsive or duplicates

Here is the USAPAW production and here is the Main DOJ production.

Here’s what has currently been provided to American Oversight (go here for live links).

Note, this may be clarified in upcoming dumps, but for now, there appears to be something very irregular with the OIP response. At first, DOJ said there were up to 8,851 items that were responsive to American Oversight’s request. But with the next status report, DOJ said there were just 30 pages. The most recent release claimed to account for 28 of those 30 pages.

In the second joint status report, OIP stated that it had completed its search and its initial responsiveness and deduplication review of potentially responsive documents and identified approximately 30 pages of material likely responsive to Plaintiff’s request. See ECF No.7, ¶ 2. OIP further stated that it had sent these records out for consultation pursuant to the Department’s regulations, 28 C.F.R. § 16.4(d), and expected to be able to provide its first response to Plaintiff on or around April 29, 2021. Id. On April 29, 2021, OIP made its first interim response. It released 18 pages in part with portions redacted pursuant to Exemptions 5 and/or 6 and withheld four pages in full pursuant to Exemption 5. OIP is awaiting responses from other components on the remaining six pages.

The math looks like this:

18 pages released

4 pages withheld under b5 exemption*

6 pages referred to another component

Total: 28 pages

Remaining: 2 pages

That’s a problem because there are at least two pages of emails that were part of the USAPAW response that must have had a counterpart at DOJ, as well as one missing from both (though USAPAW has 1000 pages to release):

  • A January 3, 2020 email from Seth DuCharme to Scott Brady asking, “Scott do you have time for a quick call today in re a possible discreet assignment from OAG and ODAG?” (Brady’s response, which includes DuCharme’s original, is included in both, but the copy released by OIP was printed out from Brady’s account, not DuCharme’s).
  • A February 11, 2020 email from Brady to DuCharme, asking “Seth, do you have a few minutes to catch up today?” The email should exist in both accounts, and should be included in both OIP and USAPAW’s response.
  • A March 5, 2020 email from Brady to DuCharme, asking “Seth: do you have 5 minutes to talk today?”

Brady resigned effective February 26 and DuCharme resigned effective March 19. At the time he resigned, DuCharme was supervising an investigation into this Derkach stuff, one that excluded Rudy as a subject.

I assume this will become more clear with further releases (indeed, American Oversight may have the next installment already). Perhaps there’s a sound explanation. But thus far, it looks like only the Brady side of exchanges between him and DuCharme have been provided in response.

* The response letter to Jerry Nadler was two pages long, and the draft was sent twice (or there were two drafts), so those probably account for the 4 pages withheld on b5 exemptions.

Rudy Giuliani’s Alleged “Cooperation” Is a Threat to Lay out How Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen Protected Russian Disinformation

Now that I’ve waded through Rudy Giulilani’s response to learning that SDNY had conducted a covert search on him in November 2019 before it conducted an overt search in April 2021, I’m certain Rudy engaged in just the kind of bad lawyering SDNY hoped he would — more on that in a week or so.

But a big part of his letter was not an attempt to engage in good lawyering, but instead to send messages to a variety of people. He provided co-conspirators a map they can use to understand which of their communications are in SDNY’s hands, and which are not. But he also laid out what he called his “cooperation,” which aside from minimal claims (which SDNY disputed) to have cooperated with SDNY against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, really amounts to the corrupt stuff he believed he was protected for because he did it on behalf of Donald Trump. Indeed, he claims that if Judge Paul Oetken only knew he had permission to do all this stuff, then he wouldn’t have approved the warrants against him.

It is unknown if the Government informed the Court of Giuliani’s cooperation with the State Department or his offers to cooperate with the SDNY or his actual cooperation with the Western District of Pennsylvania.

His first claim of “cooperation” revisits claims he made in the wake of the whistleblower complaint in 2019, claiming that he was working closely with State when he was lobbying to fire Marie Yovanovitch.

It was premature and unwarranted for the Government to seize Giuliani’s ESI because Giuliani had already cooperated with the US State Department (“State”) through Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, in March 2019 concerning Ukraine. He also cooperated again in July and August of 2019 at the request of the State Department in assisting them with regard to Ukraine.

This is almost certainly the meat of the SDNY investigation, and whatever else Rudy has done by invoking it, he has put Mike Pompeo on the hotseat.

It may not be a coincidence that in the wake of this letter, Gordon Sondland sued Mike Pompeo for covering up what really happened in State in 2019 and provided several excuses — most importantly, that Pompeo refused to let him access his own backup materials before testifying — for why his two existing sessions of sworn testimony might conflict with what SDNY seized from Rudy.

In his other claim of cooperation, Rudy detailed how he shared disinformation from Russian agent Andrii Derkach with DOJ, which he described as “cooperation” with Main Justice in the guise of its delegate, Pittsburgh US Attorney Scott Brady.

Before I repeat Rudy’s description of how he shared disinformation from Andrii Derkach with a hand-picked and very pro-Trump US Attorney, consider several details: first, immediately in the wake of the raid on Rudy in April, there were leaked explanations for how Rudy managed to meet with a known Russian agent — right in the middle of impeachment!! — even though both National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and FBI’s Counterintelligence folks knew that Russia was feeding Derkach disinformation to feed to Rudy.

The WaPo originally reported that the FBI had warned Rudy, but had to retract that. Rudy never got warned.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, published Thursday, incorrectly reported that One America News was warned by the FBI that it was the target of a Russian influence operation. That version also said the FBI had provided a similar warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani, which he has since disputed. This version has been corrected to remove assertions that OAN and Giuliani received the warnings.

The FBI became aware in late 2019 that Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operation aimed at circulating falsehoods intended to damage President Biden politically ahead of last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter.

Officials planned to warn Giuliani as part of an extensive effort by the bureau to alert members of Congress and at least one conservative media outlet, One America News, that they faced a risk of being used to further Russia’s attempt to influence the election’s outcome, said several current and former U.S. officials. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains highly sensitive.

The FBI became aware of the Russian information operation at a time when Giuliani was deeply involved with former president Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign and related activities in Ukraine to surface unflattering or incriminating information about the Biden family.

[snip]

In late 2019, before Giuliani’s trip to Kyiv, U.S. intelligence agencies warned the Trump White House that Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operation, as The Post reported last year. Officials became concerned after obtaining evidence, including communications intercepts, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence. The warnings led then-national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien to caution Trump that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia.

Then, after matching the WaPo’s original story and similarly having to retract it, NBC offered an explanation why Rudy wasn’t given that briefing: because it would “complicate” what NBC called “the criminal investigation” into Rudy.

The FBI prepared a so-called “defensive” briefing for Rudy Giuliani in 2019 in which agents were poised to warn him he was being targeted by a Russian intelligence influence operation as he sought to gather opposition research on the Biden family, according to a source familiar with the matter.

But that briefing was not given, according to a second source familiar with the matter, because of concerns that the briefing could complicate the criminal investigation into the former New York City mayor.

Yet, at the time Rudy would have gotten this warning, SDNY had already shown probable cause Rudy was an agent of one or another pro-corruption Ukrainians, almost certainly Yuri Lutsenko in his efforts to fire Marie Yovanovitch. Without a Derkach angle to the SDNY investigation — an angle Jeffrey Rosen went to great lengths to prevent them from pursuing — it’s not clear how it would have complicated that investigation.

Rudy didn’t get his warning and instead of warning him, Trump said that was Rudy being Rudy. So Rudy first met with Lutsenko, the subject of the first investigation, and headed from that meeting directly to meet with Derkach.

A month later, Rosen issued a memo prohibiting any prosecutors from expanding the scope of their already opened investigations, which would have had the effect of preventing SDNY from investigating Rudy’s ongoing influence peddling for known Russian agent Andrii Derkach, about whom FBI decided not to warn Rudy even though everyone briefed on it knew it was a Russian intelligence operation.

But that wasn’t the only thing that Billy Barr and Rosen’s efforts to divvy up Ukrainian investigations did. After Rosen wrote that memo (ensuring no one could start an investigation into Rudy’s dalliances with Derkach), but still a week before Trump was acquitted for coercing dirt from Ukraine to use against Joe Biden, per Rudy’s timeline, Barr assigned Pittsburgh US Attorney Scott Brady to oversee intake of all Ukrainian dirt and, within a day, Rudy was in the business of sharing Derkach’s dirt directly with Pittsburgh’s US Attorney’s office.

In his letter, Rudy clearly identifies four of the nine people who rushed to accept Rudy’s dirt, which the government had identified as Russia disinformation before he went to collect it in December.

[I]n January 2020, counsel for Giuliani contacted high officials in the Justice Department, to inform them that Giuliani wanted to provide evidence for their consideration about the Ukraine. Within a day, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott W. Brady, contacted Giuliani’s counsel and offered to hold a meeting in Pittsburgh with both the United States Attorney’s office personnel and the FBI. Mayor Giuliani immediately accepted, and a meeting was scheduled for January 29, 2020.

On January 29, 2020, Mayor Giuliani and his counsel, flew to Pittsburgh at their own cost, where they were met by agents of the FBI and transported to FBI headquarters in Pittsburgh. Present at that meeting were the United States Attorney, the First Assistant United States Attorney, the Chief of the Criminal Division, and two additional Assistant United States Attorneys (“AUSA’s”) from the Western District of Pennsylvania. The FBI was represented by the Special Agent in Charge (“SAIC”) of the Pittsburgh FBI, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (“ASAIC”), and three other special agents of the FBI.

Prior to the meeting, Giuliani’s counsel had provided the Pittsburgh United States Attorney’s office with documents and an extensive outline of the subject matter to be discussed, so that the Government could be fully informed and prepared to ask probing questions. Giuliani began the meeting by making a presentation with handouts. During his presentation, and at the end of it, the Mayor and his counsel answered every question they were asked, to the apparent satisfaction of all of the Government officials in the room. In addition to the presentation, Giuliani provided the Government with the names and addresses of individual witnesses, both in the United States and in Ukraine, that could corroborate and amplify the information that the Mayor was providing. Subsequent to that meeting, and covering a period of months, counsel for Giuliani received a number of inquiries, discussions and requests from the First Assistant United States Attorney. All requests were granted and all inquiries were answered. [my emphasis]

And, as Rudy tells it, that First AUSA kept coming back for more, a claim (like his other claims about the personnel involved) that matches a story published in the NYT after those involved knew that Trump had lost. That story also described that Brady kept pushing for inappropriate investigative steps until, ultimately, Seth DuCharme had to get involved.

Officials said that Mr. Brady almost immediately started pushing to take aggressive steps. He had a list of people he wanted F.B.I. agents to question. It was not clear whether they were the same witnesses that Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Costello had submitted, but a former law enforcement official said that Mr. Brady had wanted the F.B.I. to question people mentioned in Mr. Giuliani’s materials.

The steps were outside “normal investigative procedures,” one former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the events said, particularly in an election year; Justice Department policy typically forbids investigators from making aggressive moves before elections that could affect the outcome of the vote if they become public.
The Pittsburgh F.B.I. office refused to comply without the approval of David L. Bowdich, the F.B.I.’s deputy director, the former official said.

Mr. Brady’s demands soon prompted a tense confrontation with F.B.I. officials at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington. The meeting was mediated by Seth D. DuCharme, now the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and at the time a trusted aide and ally of Mr. Barr’s at the Justice Department in Washington.

Then, after Barr failed to replace Geoffrey Berman with a hand-picked flunky when he fired him on June 20 of last year, Barr instead installed DuCharme in Brooklyn on July 10, thereby making DuCharme (who had already been personally involved in Pittsburgh) the gatekeeper on any investigations pertaining to Ukraine. And sometime months after that — as Rudy continued to share known Russian disinformation during the election — DuCharme approved not an expansion of the investigation in SDNY that Barr tried to shut down by firing Berman, which would have been the logical thing to do if you were concerned about Russians interfering in our elections, but instead a parallel investigation in EDNY that, per the more recent NYT report, by design would not treat Rudy as a subject. Meanwhile, Rosen created repeated roadblocks — higher and higher levels of approvals for a search of Rudy — in an attempt to prevent SDNY from advancing their investigation into Rudy any further.

There are some involved in this story, like the FBI Agents who got promoted into the jobs formerly held by Andrew McCabe and Bill Priestap and Peter Strzok, who probably let all this happen because they knew the best way to advance their careers was to not make the mistake that their predecessors had made by trying to keep the country safe from Russian interference during an election. Others may rationalize what they did as a means to placate the President, perhaps imagining that it wouldn’t do that much damage to the country — that was the excuse cited by the NYT article on the Pittsburgh investigation. But those people, in recognizing Trump would lash out if they tried to investigate Russian interference in the 2020 election, would have therefore understood that Trump wanted Russian spies to interfere in the election and would be furious if they prevented it. They would have had to have understood that the way to keep Trump happy was to let Russia have its way. They would have been operating on the recognition that all the claims about what Trump did in 2016 were true, at least as far as 2020.

Plus, no one who pushed as hard as Scott Brady did can claim to be trying to placate the President.

Finally, worst of all, there are those who took a vow to “protect and defend against enemies foreign and domestic” who made affirmative attempts to protect not just the disinformation that Rudy was feeding to DOJ and FBI, but also protect Rudy for serving as the willful handmaiden of someone they knew was a Russian spy.

The Russian scandal of 2020 is, in many ways, even more scandalous than the Russian scandal of 2016. At least Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were in a position to claim plausible deniability. Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen are not.

Update: This email obtained via American Oversight shows that the decision to use Scott Brady to protect the Russian disinformation intake started earlier, by January 3.

Bill Barr Issued Prosecution Declinations for Three Crimes in Progress

On March 24, 2019, by judging that there was not evidence in Volume II of the Mueller Report that Trump had obstructed justice, Billy Barr pre-authorized the obstruction of justice that would be completed with future pardons of Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. He did so before the sentencing of Flynn and before even the trial of Stone.

This is why Amy Berman Jackson should not stay her decision to release the Barr Memo. It’s why the question before her goes well beyond the question of whether the Barr memo presents privileged advice. What Barr did on March 24, 2019 was pre-authorize the commission of crimes that ended up being committed. No Attorney General has the authority to do that.

As the partially unsealed memo makes clear, Steve Engel (who, even per DOJ’s own filing asking for a stay, was not permitted to make prosecutorial decisions) and Ed O’Callaghan (who under the OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of the President, could not make prosecutorial decisions about the President) advised Bill Barr that he should, “examine the Report to determine whether prosecution would be appropriate given the evidence recounted in the Special Counsel’s Report, the underlying law, and traditional principles of federal prosecution.”

In her now-unsealed memo ordering the government to release the memo, ABJ argues, “the analysis set forth in the memo was expressly understood to be entirely hypothetical.”

It was worse than that.

It was, necessarily, an instance of “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses.” As the memo itself notes, the entire exercise was designed to avoid, “the unfairness of levying an accusation against the President without bringing criminal charges.” It did not envision the possibility that their analysis would determine that Trump might have committed obstruction of justice. So predictably, the result of the analysis was that Trump didn’t commit a crime. “[W]ere there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend, under Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.”

The government is now appealing ABJ’s decision to release the memo to hide the logic of how Engel and O’Callaghan got to that decision. And it’s possible they want to hide their analysis simply because they believe that, liberated from the entire “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses” premise of the memo, it becomes true deliberative advice (never mind that both Engel and O’Callaghan were playing roles that OLC prohibits them to play).

But somehow, in eight pages of secret analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan decide — invoking the entire Special Counsel’s Report by reference — that there’s not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump obstructed justice.

We can assume what some of these eight pages say. In the newly unsealed parts, Engel and O’Callaghan opine, “that certain of the conduct examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances.”

As Quinta Jurecic’s epic chart lays out, the potential instances of obstruction of justice before Engel and O’Callaghan included a number of things involving Presidential hiring and firing decisions — the stuff which the memo Bill Barr wrote as an audition for the job of Attorney General said could not be obstruction.

To address those instances of suspected obstruction, then, Engel and O’Callaghan might just say, “What you said, Boss, in the memo you used to audition to get this job.” That would be scandalous for a whole bunch of reasons — partly because Barr admitted he didn’t know anything about the investigation when he wrote the memo (even after the release of the report, Barr’s public statements made it clear he was grossly unfamiliar with the content of it) and partly because it would raise questions about whether by hiring Barr Trump obstructed justice.

But that’s not actually the most scandalous bit about what must lie behind the remaining redactions. As Jurecic’s chart notes, beyond the hiring and firing obstruction, the Mueller Report laid out several instances of possible pardon dangles: to Mike Flynn, to Paul Manafort, to Roger Stone, and to Michael Cohen. These are all actions that, in his confirmation hearing, Barr admitted might be crimes.

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

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Even Barr admits the question of pardon dangles requires specific analysis.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Yet somehow, in eight pages of analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan laid out “the specific facts” that undermined any case against Trump for those pardon dangles. I’d be surprised if they managed to do that convincingly in fewer than eight pages, particularly since they make clear that they simply assume you’ve read the Mueller Report (meaning, that analysis almost certainly doesn’t engage in the specific factual analysis that Bill Barr says you’d need to engage in).

The far, far more problematic aspect of this analysis, though, is that, of the four potential instances of pardon dangles included in the Mueller Report, three remained crimes-in-progress on March 24, 2019 when Barr issued a statement declining prosecution for them.

By then, Michael Cohen had already pled guilty and testified against Trump. But Paul Manafort had only just been sentenced after having reneged on a cooperation agreement by telling lies to hide what the government has now confirmed involved providing assistance (either knowing or unknowing) to the Russia election operation. Mike Flynn had not yet been sentenced — and in fact would go on to renege on his plea agreement and tell new lies about his conduct, including that when he testified to the FBI that he knew he discussed sanctions, he didn’t deliberately lie. And Roger Stone hadn’t even been tried yet when Barr said Stone’s lies to protect Trump weren’t a response to Trump’s pardon dangles. In fact, if you believe Roger Stone (and I don’t, in part because his dates don’t line up), after the date when Barr issued a declination statement covering Trump’s efforts to buy Stone’s silence, prosecutors told him,

that if I would really remember certain phone conversations I had with candidate trump, if I would come clean, if I would confess, that they might be willing to, you know, recommend leniency to the judge perhaps I wouldn’t even serve any jail time

If that’s remotely true, Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for the pardon dangles that led Stone to sustain an obviously false cover story through his trial itself contributed to the obstruction.

Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for obstruction crimes that were still in progress may explain his even more outrageous behavior after that. For each of these remaining crimes in progress, Barr took steps to make it less likely that Trump would issue a pardon. He used COVID as an excuse to spring Paul Manafort from prison to home confinement, even though there were no cases of COVID in Manafort’s prison at the time. He engaged in unprecedented interference in the sentencing process for Roger Stone, even going so far as claiming that threats of violence against (as it happens) Amy Berman Jackson were just a technicality not worthy of a sentencing enhancement. And Bill Barr’s DOJ literally altered documents in their effort to invent some reason to blow up the prosecution of Mike Flynn.

And Barr may have realized all this would be a problem.

On June 4, a status report explained that DOJ was in the process of releasing the initially heavily redacted version of this memo to CREW and expected that it would be able to do so by June 17, 2020, but that “unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control” might delay that.

However, OIP notes that processing of the referred record requires consultation with several offices within DOJ, and that unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control may occur in these offices that could delay OIP’s response. Accordingly, OIP respectfully submits that it cannot definitively guarantee that production will be completed by June 17, 2020. However, OIP will make its best efforts to provide CREW with a response regarding the referred record on or before June 17, 2020

This consultation would have occurred after Judge Emmet Sullivan balked at DOJ’s demand that he dismiss the Flynn prosecution, while the DC Circuit was reviewing the issue. And it occurred in the period when Stone was using increasingly explicit threats against Donald Trump to successfully win a commutation of his sentence from Trump (the commutation occurred weeks after DOJ gave CREW a version of the memo that hid the scheme Barr had engaged in). That is, DOJ was making decisions about this FOIA lawsuit even as Barr was taking more and more outrageous steps to try to minimize prison time — and therefore the likelihood of a Trump pardon — for these three. And Trump was completing the act of obstruction of justice that Barr long ago gave him immunity for by commuting Stone’s sentence.

Indeed, Trump would go on to complete the quid pro quo, a pardon in exchange for lies about Russia, for all three men. Trump would go on to commit a crime that Barr already declined prosecution for years earlier.

While Barr might believe that Trump’s pardon for Mike Flynn was righteous (even while it undermined any possibility of holding Flynn accountable for being a secret agent of Turkey), there is no rational argument you can make that Trump’s pardon of Manafort after he reneged on his plea deal and Trump’s pardon of Stone after explicit threats to cooperate with prosecutors weren’t obstruction of justice.

This may influence DOJ’s decision not to release this memo, and in ways that we can’t fathom. There are multiple possibilities. First, this may be an attempt to prevent DOJ’s Inspector General from seeing this memo. At least the Manafort prison assignment and the Stone prosecution were investigated and may still be under investigation by DOJ. If Michael Horowitz discovered that Barr took these actions after approving of a broad pre-declination for pardon-related obstruction, it could change the outcome of any ongoing investigation.

It may be an effort to stave off pressure to open a criminal investigation by DOJ into Barr’s own actions, a precedent no Attorney General wants to set.

Or, it may just be an effort to hide how many of DOJ’s own rules DOJ broke in this process.

But one thing is clear, and should be clearer to ABJ than it would be to any other judge: Bill Barr issued a prosecution declination for three crimes that were still in process. And that’s what DOJ is hiding.

Amy Berman Jackson Accuses Bill Barr of a Preemptive Strike on the Mueller Report

I was down so many rabbit holes today I forgot to link to Amy Berman Jackson’s unsealed opinion, which she released today (here’s the redacted version).

Much of what had previously been redacted pertained to the first section, which got released last night. Otherwise, there’s ABJ’s accusation that DOJ was hiding that Bill Barr launched a pre-emptive strike on the Mueller Report.

But given ABJ’s notice that she’s still considering whether to grant the government a stay, I think this footnote (the bold was formerly redacted) is of interest.

18 There is no need for the Court to determine what its ruling would have been had the agency candidly informed it that the purpose of the document was to provide legal analysis to help shape the assessment of the Special Counsel’s report that the Attorney General was planning to announce for the reasons set forth in Section I of the memorandum. It is the government’s burden to support its withholdings.

This is the question before her now, whether the advice in the redacted section is so tainted by its purpose that she’ll release the full memo.

My guess is she won’t — unless there’s something about the analysis itself, such as that it obviously replicates Barr’s opinion about the investigation that he used to get hired, or if it misrepresents the results of the investigation (remember, ABJ presided over Paul Manafort’s DC proceedings and Roger Stone’s trial, so she knows what Mueller found as well as anyone). And the pardons Trump has since offered the people whose lies he guaranteed by dangling those pardons may alter this calculus, particularly if the analysis contradicts Barr’s agreement, offered three times in his confirmation hearing, that dangling pardons for false testimony would be obstruction.

Until then, DOJ has already launched its appeal.

Lev Parnas Wants in on the Rudy Giuliani Warrant Bonanza

Lev Parnas just submitted a filing in his case — joined by the remaining defendants — asking for a discovery hearing where SDNY will tell them when they will get the evidence seized from Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing that is helpful to their defense. It describes how, after inquiring how the searches on Rudy and Toensing affect them, on May 14, the government explained that Judge Paul Oetken has given the government multiple gags, covering the time through June 30, to delay disclosure.

And it sounds like the government seized material from more than just Rudy and Toensing. At least two sentences of this description of the searches likely doesn’t pertain to them.

Parnas explains that he expects those searches will include materials useful to his defense from:

  • Rudy
  • Toensing
  • “the former President”
  • Billy Barr
  • “high-level members of the Justice Department”
  • Jay Sekulow
  • Jane Raskin
  • Senator Lindsey Graham
  • Congressman Devin Nunes

He expects those materials will reveal “the timing of the arrest and indictment of the defendants as a means to prevent potential disclosures to Congress in the first impeachment inquiry of then-President” Trump. He says he’ll have exceptions to any “potentially applicable privilege.”

He also expects that there may be information that got deleted (the implication is, by him) about “how to address their prior relationships, and the unfolding investigation.”

Update: As a number of people have noted, that big redaction is one of the fake redactions that defense attorneys sometimes disclose sensitive information under. Copy and pasting shows that the following other people were also targeted.

In a chart, the Government identified that it had sought and seized a variety of undisclosed materials from multiple individuals, including: the iCloud and e-mail accounts of Rudolph Giuliani (11/04/19); the iCloud account of Victoria Toensing (11/04/19); an email account believed to belong to former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko (11/6/19); an e-mail account believed to belong to the former head of the Ukrainian Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov (12/10/19); the e-mail account of Victoria Toensing (12/13/19); the iPhone and iPad of pro-Trump Ukrainian businessman Alexander Levin (02/28/2020 and 3/02/2020); an iCloud account believed to belong to Roman Nasirov (03/03/2020); historical and prospective cell site information related to Rudolph Giuliani and Victoria Toensing (04/13/2021); electronic devices of Rudolph Giuliani and Giuliani Partners LLC (04/21/2021); and the iPhone of Victoria Toensing.

Several of these people were named in a July 2019 OCCRP story on Parnas and Fruman that the whistleblower included in his complaint against Trump. Which is to say, this is the investigation we would have gotten had DOJ not worked so hard to protect Rudy and, through him, Trump, back in 2019.

Frankenstein’s OLC: DOJ Says DOJ Can’t Do What DOJ Did in the Barr Memo

DOJ’s memo asking Amy Berman Jackson to stay her opinion releasing the OLC memo admits that DOJ is not permitted to do what DOJ did with the Barr memo it is trying to withhold from FOIA. And part of the memo itself, which DOJ unsealed last night, also shows DOJ is not permitted to do what DOJ did.

The memo itself admits, for example, that the OLC is not permitted to do what only other parts of DOJ — here, FBI — have the authority to do.

One relevant factor in determining whether a document is predecisional is whether the author possesses the legal authority to decide the matter at issue. See, e.g., Electronic Frontier Found. v. DOJ, 739 F.3d 1, 9 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (“OLC is not authorized to make decisions about the FBI’s investigative policy, so the OLC Opinion cannot be an authoritative statement of the agency’s policy.”).

That undoubtedly extends to prosecutorial decisions. And yet OLC did make a prosecutorial decision.

Rather, the declarations and briefs on the whole made clear that the decision in question was whether the facts articulated by Volume II of the Special Counsel’s Report were sufficient to establish that the President had committed obstruction of justice, i.e., whether the facts constituted prosecutable conduct under the Principles of Federal Prosecution.

DOJ found a way around that, of course, in Julie Straus Harris’ flourish: the inclusion of Ed O’Callaghan in the deliberation. Except that’s a problem, because every declaration in this litigation treats this as an OLC memo, not a prosecutorial memo.

Moreover, it means O’Callaghan made a decision he was not permitted to do by the OLC: make a decision about whether or not the President committed a crime.

In fact, the memo itself states that DOJ is limited in what it can do: either bring charges or not.

Although the Special Counsel has declined to reach a conclusion, we think that the Department should reach a judgement on this matter. Under traditional principles of prosecution, the Department either brings charges or it does not.

Except in this instance, Barr did something else (indeed, ABJ’s memo makes it clear that was the entire point): he announced a decision on prosecution that was more than a declination. He chose to make a decision that OLC says he can’t make.

OLC does not, as it would be required to, state that DOJ can make a prosecutorial decision that involves something other than bringing charges or not.

This is, ultimately, a Frankenstein monster, both a prosecutorial decision that, absent more analysis than appears here, OLC says neither O’Callaghan nor Barr were permitted to make, and an OLC memo engaged in a prosecutorial role that OLC says OLC can’t do. Effectively, then, this memo engages in activities that defies the claim that OLC guidance governs the entirety of the Executive Branch, including OLC.

On the Barr Memo: Julie Straus Harris Says Julie Straus Harris’ Unexplained “Flourish” Wasn’t a Lie

Yesterday, DOJ told Amy Berman Jackson that they will appeal her decision to release the entirety of a memo written to justify Billy Barr taking a “Heads Trump wins Tails democracy loses” approach to the decision on how to deal with the Mueller Report. There are several problems with their motion for a stay while they do that.

To understand the first problem, note the signature line of their motion for a stay.

It is signed by — among others — Julie Straus Harris.

That’s a problem, possibly even an ethical one, because in addition to problems with the declarations submitted by Vanessa Brinkmann and Paul Colburn, ABJ had a specific problem with a brief submitted by Straus Harris (and approved by Elizabeth Shapiro, her boss).

As ABJ noted in her opinion, Straus Harris added a “flourish” that was not supported by any of the underlying declarations.

And the in camera review of the document, which DOJ strongly resisted, see Def.’s Opp. to Pl.’s Cross Mot. [Dkt. # 19] (“Def.’s Opp.”) at 20–22 (“In Camera Review is Unwarranted and Unnecessary”), raises serious questions about how the Department of Justice could make this series of representations to a court in support of its 2020 motion for summary judgment:

[T]he March 2019 Memorandum (Document no. 15), which was released in part to Plaintiff is a pre-decisional, deliberative memorandum to the Attorney General from OLC AAG Engel and PADAG Edward O’Callaghan . . . . The document contains their candid analysis and advice provided to the Attorney General prior to his final decision on the issue addressed in the memorandum – whether the facts recited in Volume II of the Special Counsel’s Report would support initiating or declining the prosecution of the President . . . . It was provided to aid in the Attorney General’s decision-making processes as it relates to the findings of the Special Counsel’s investigation . . . . Moreover, because any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General, the memorandum is clearly pre-decisional.

Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. [Dkt. # 15-2] (“Def.’s Mem.”) at 14–15 (internal quotations, brackets, and citations omitted).13

13 The flourish added in the government’s pleading that did not come from either declaration – “PADAG O’Callaghan had been directly involved in supervising the Special Counsel’s investigation and related prosecutorial decisions; as a result, in that capacity, his candid prosecutorial recommendations to the Attorney General were especially valuable.” Id. at 14 – seems especially unhelpful since there was no prosecutorial decision on the table.

In the motion for a stay, Julie Straus Harris says, sorry, “the briefs” — her briefs — “could have been clearer … but the government’s counsel” — meaning, Straus Harris — “did not intend to mislead the Court.”

On the merits, the Court’s decision was substantially premised on the view that the government’s briefs and declarations incorrectly described the nature of the decisional process in which the Attorney General was engaged. In retrospect, the government acknowledges that its briefs could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused. But the government’s counsel and declarants did not intend to mislead the Court, and the government respectfully submits that imprecision in its characterization of the decisional process did not warrant the conclusion that Document no. 15 was unprotected by the deliberative process privilege.

The motion spends several pages explaining why the Brinkmann and Colburn declarations were not misleading. That section vaguely waves at “briefing” to address claimed inaccuracies in the briefs written by Straus Harris. The section mentions the offending brief once, but without even remotely addressing the brief itself.

The first Colborn Declaration likewise explained that Document no. 15 “was submitted to the Attorney General to assist him in determining whether the facts set forth in Volume II of Special Counsel Mueller’s report ‘would support initiating or declining the prosecution of the President for obstruction of justice under the Principles of Federal Prosecution.’” Colborn Decl. ¶ 17. That description quotes from the unredacted portion of the opening sentence of the memorandum and is accurate; it neither states nor necessarily implies that the authors were advising the Attorney General on whether the President should actually be prosecuted. See also Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (Def.’s Mem.) (ECF No. 15-2) 14 (quoting Colborn Decl.). [my emphasis]

But the section explaining that ABJ’s complaints, while understandable, are unfounded never addresses ABJ’s complaint about the Straus Harris “flourish,” which is a complaint of a different kind. Edward O’Callaghan is only mentioned as an author of this memo.

To be sure: Straus Harris didn’t simply invent O’Callaghan’s role or his import out of thin air. She’s not making stuff up. She’s right that her claim about O’Callaghan was not a lie, even if she never makes it explicitly. But in a legal and ethical sense, she made an assertion about which no one has asserted to the veracity or even explained. This memo assumes as given that OLC and a prosecutor’s supervisor can get together and write an OLC memo, something which was obviously problematic even before these memos started coming out. And that’s a problem because the reasons why DOJ didn’t want to explain O’Callaghan’s role in a declaration (indeed, could not) go to the core of the problems with the Barr Memo.

I’m sympathetic that Straus Harris got put on the front line to answer for Billy Barr’s wildly inappropriate efforts to give the President a clean bill of health. But she is now in a position where she’s submitting a brief about her own conduct, and that brief entirely ignores ABJ’s complaint about her conduct.

Had Paul Colburn included in his declarations an admission that DOJ had let O’Callaghan serve a hybrid role, ABJ wouldn’t have had the confusion that DOJ is now trying to explain away. But admitting that would have — and does — admit to far graver problems with the Barr Memo.

DOJ Reaches a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the MCC Guards Bill Barr Used as Scapegoats for Jeffrey Epstein’s Death

Back when DOJ rolled out a draconian prosecution against two of the prison guards — Michael Thomas and Tova Noel — whose negligence created the opportunity for Jeffrey Epstein to kill himself, I noted all the ways they were being made scapegoats so Billy Barr could avoid admitting that his own system-wide failures to address staff shortages in the prison system played a far more important role in Epstein’s death.

That he calls these “screw-ups” didn’t prevent his DOJ from filing a six count indictment this week against the guards on duty the night Epstein died, Michael Thomas and Tova Noel, an overarching conspiracy charge along with false records charges for each of five prisoner checks one or both of them had claimed to have done that night, but did not.

It’s an odd indictment.

It shows that in addition to Thomas and Noel, two other guards filed false records, one — along with Noel, for a 4PM prisoner check during which Epstein wasn’t even on the floor — and another –again with Noel, for a 10PM check.

Furthermore, there’s no evidence that they failed to complete the checks because they were trying to facilitate suicide. Indeed, Thomas is described as one of the guards who had found Epstein before his earlier suicide attempt succeeded on July 23. More importantly, when Epstein was found dead (the indictment is very unclear about who first found him, though the implication is Thomas was), both defendants immediately admitted they hadn’t done their job.

NOEL told Supervisor-1 “we did not complete the 3 a.m. nor 5 a.m. rounds.” THOMAS stated, “we messed up,” and “I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds.”

Additionally, there’s no time of death in the indictment, leaving open the possibility that Epstein died before Thomas came on shift at midnight, meaning one of the other guards would be the other responsible party.

While the conspiracy charge relies, in part, on a ConFraudUs argument — effectively arguing that by making false records claiming they had done their rounds, they impaired the lawful function of the government, the indictment also alleges they intended to impair “the investigation or proper administration” of government.

Sure, they impaired their supervisor’s ability to bust them for slacking (and, for two hours, literally sleeping) on the job. Sure, they impaired an escalating bed check system that was unnecessary in any case to find Epstein.

It’s certainly possible that the government suspects there’s more to this, that Thomas, having been involved in thwarting Epstein’s first suicide, he got recruited to facilitate his second one. It’s possible the government is suspicious about the fact that Noel walked up to the door of Epstein’s unit around 10:30PM. Certainly, by larding on six charges, they’re holding an axe over the guards’ heads to make them plead out quickly. Though there’s no reason to believe either one of them was involved in the more important failure, to make sure Epstein had a cellmate who could have called guards right away.

But as presented, the evidence presented in this indictment suggests not so much a conspiracy to make it easier for Epstein to kill himself, but instead, a conspiracy — one involving other guards on the SHU that night — to cut corners to make their thankless job easier. Part of that seems driven the pay and understaffing leading guards to take taxing overtime shifts; both defendants were working an overtime shift that night, with Noel working 16 hours straight that day.

I don’t mean to apologize for the defendants for behavior that, with several other factors, created the opportunity for Epstein to kill himself.

Rather, I mean to highlight how the grunts in this story are being threatened with long prison sentences, while the guy (once again) watching videos himself rather than fixing the systemic problems gets away with calling it “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”

The government was pushing to take the two guards to trial last year.

Before COVID scotched that plan, Thomas’ lawyer, Montell Figgins, unsuccessfully tried to obtain documents that would show the guards’ misconduct was not only known to Bureau of Prisons management before Epstein’s death, but also required because of how badly prisons were understaffed.

The requested documents in this motion are essential to Mr. Thomas’ ability to prepare a defense. Mr. Thomas contends that the conduct with which he is being charged is: 1) rampant throughout the BOP; 2) made with knowledge and acquiescence by the leadership of the BOP; and 3) is the direct result ofBOP policies and mismanagement that forced the defendant to engage in conduct for which he is now being charged criminally.

Figgins also argued that there were necessarily other people — other guards and supervisors — who had to be complicit in their actions.

Additionally, Michael Thomas is charged with making false statements for signing certain count slips and round sheets. However, what the government has deliberately failed to clarifiy [sic] is that those documents have to be approved by supervisors and are signed and/or initialed by other BOP employees. If this is the case, why is Michael Thomas and Tova Noel the only two employees charged with making false statements.

The judge denied that request, accepting the government’s representation that, among other things, the prosecution had investigated this thoroughly and any IG Report showing a systemic problem at the Metropolitan Corrections Center and Bureau of Prisons more generally was far from completed and therefore anything that existed would be deliberative.

Since then, the trial has been delayed over and over because of COVID, and would not have taken place until sometime in October or later.

But now it’s almost certainly not going to happen at all.

Yesterday, the government moved to enter non-prosecution agreements against the two defendants, arguing that the investigation they had already said merited prosecution now merits no prosecution.

After a thorough investigation, and based on the facts of this case and the personal circumstances of the defendants, the Government has determined that the interests of justice will best be served by deferring prosecution in this District.

In addition to 100 hours of community service, Thomas and Noel are required to cooperate with the Inspector General’s investigation the drafts of which they had been denied in discovery last year.

The defendants will cooperate with a pending Department of Justice Office of Inspector General review by providing truthful information related to their employment by the Bureau of Prisons, including about the events and circumstances described in the Indictment;

This indicates that the IG Report still is nowhere near done. It may also indicate that the IG requires their cooperation to lay out an accurate chain of authority for the circumstances behind Epstein’s suicide, cooperation they would have been legally entitled to withhold under a Fifth Amendment claim pending trial.

Their prosecution, had it succeeded, would have made a full report by the IG impossible; now their punishment is to cooperate with the IG.

All this strongly suggests that Figgins was absolutely right, a year ago, when he argued that a full investigation of the events would show that Thomas and Noel were, in the least worst case scenario, just bit players in a larger system of incompetence and neglect that allowed Epstein to take his secrets to the grave. The evidence still strongly suggests that Epstein was allowed to kill himself by that neglect.

But given the seeming confirmation that Thomas and Noel were being scapegoated to short-circuit a larger investigation and given that DOJ IG did not complete its investigation while Bill Barr retained some ability to influence the investigation, there may be more to it.

It remains unclear whether Bill Barr’s refusal to staff prisons adequately led to Epstein’s death or something more malign happened. Whichever it is, these two prison guards very nearly became sacrifices in Barr’s effort to hide his own complicity.