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Is Bill Barr Picking a Fight with Apple to Distract from the Failure of Trump’s Social Media Vetting?

To some degree, recent disclosures about Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani’s killing of three sailors in Pensacola make it seem like a mirror of the San Bernardino attack in 2015 in 2015. A man, steeped in Islamic propaganda, used a moment of vulnerability to attack Americans. He is killed in the attack, but not before he destroys a phone. At first, DOJ asks Apple for help getting the easier things from the phone, such as the materials stored in the iCloud account. Then, after a delay makes the most obvious work-arounds impossible, DOJ asks Apple to hack the phone, which would thereby make not just that phone accessible to law enforcement, but all iPhones vulnerable to cops, authoritarian governments, and criminals.

There’s even some reason to believe that the law enforcement officer grandstanding to use a terrorist attack as an opportunity to force Apple to weaken its products is lying both about what Apple and DOJ have respectively done, but about how certain it is that Apple is the only available option.

But investigators have been stymied in trying to access two key pieces of evidence — the gunman’s iPhones. Standing before giant photographs of two severely damaged devices, the attorney general publicly urged Apple to act.

“So far, Apple has not given us any substantive assistance,” Barr said, though aides later clarified that Apple had, in fact, given investigators access to cloud data linked to the gunman. “This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order.”

[snip]

In a lengthy statement, Apple disputed the attorney general’s description of its role, saying the company began responding within hours of the first FBI request on Dec. 6, and has turned over “many gigabytes” of data in the case.

“Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing,” the company said. “The FBI only notified us on January 6th that they needed additional assistance — a month after the attack occurred. . . . Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options.”

[snip]

Asked Monday whether the FBI’s technical experts on cellphones had agreed with the decision to send the letter pressing Apple to open the phones, Bowdich said he did not know.

An FBI spokesperson later said the bureau’s “technical experts — as well as those consulted outside of the organization — have played an integral role in this investigation. The consensus was reached, after all efforts to access the shooter’s phones had been unsuccessful, that the next step was to reach out to start a conversation with Apple.”

But the more important comparison may pertain to the role of social media in the attack.

Almost immediately after the 2015 attack, the FBI discovered that the woman involved in the attack, Tashfeen Malik, had pledged loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi just before the attack. That led Congress to suggest the Obama Administration hadn’t vetted Malik’s immigration processing closely enough, even though nothing in place at the time would have identified her past extremist writing.

In response, Customs and Border Patrol started laying the groundwork for a policy that seemed like dangerous overkill at the time, but that Trump nevertheless adopted: requiring visa applicants to list their social media handles so their social media activity can be vetted.

Somehow, in spite of that requirement, 17 Saudis in the US for military training were found to have jihadist material on their social media accounts, on top of al-Shamrani, and 15 of them had child porn on their social media accounts.

Barr said investigators had found evidence that 17 Saudis had through social media shared ­jihadist or anti-American material and 15 — including some of those who had shared anti-American material — were found to have had contact with or possessed child pornography.

It’s one thing for CBP to have missed Malik’s Facebook comments before they used social media to vet visa applicants.

It’s an entirely different thing to institute social media vetting, but then somehow miss that 18 people admitted onto our military bases to be trained are anti-American or pro-jihadist. All the more so given that Trump’s Muslim ban excluded Saudi Arabia — the origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers and other attempted terrorists since — even while focusing closely on Muslims from country without a history of terrorism against the US.

Plus, in spite of Barr’s vague comments explaining how a “US Attorney” reviewed child porn engaged well beyond that which George Nader pled guilty to yesterday and decided that person could return home to Saudi Arabia.

Barr said only one of those people had a “significant number” of [CP] images, and U.S. attorneys had reviewed each case and determined such people would not normally be charged with federal crimes. He said 21 cadets from Saudi Arabia had been disenrolled from their training and would be returning to the kingdom later Monday. Justice Department officials said 12 were from the Pensacola base, and nine were from other military bases.

[snip]

U.S. attorneys had independently determined the child porn did not warrant charges. Justice Department officials said the most significant case involved a cadet who possessed more than 100 images of child porn and had searched terms for child porn, according to his browser history — but even that fell below the normal threshold for a case deemed worthy of prosecution by a U.S. attorney’s office.

This seems to be part of a pattern that Ron Wyden has already complained about, the serial impunity of Saudi students who commit crimes in this country.

Normally, I oppose politicizing the response to terrorist attacks. You can’t prevent all terrorism, and the drive to do so has eroded our civil liberties.

But if you’re going to erode our civil liberties, then you better be damn sure you’re doing so for a reason. And it seems like CBP (and DOD) failed to ensure we weren’t inviting Saudis to our country to train them to be better terrorists against us in the future.

Barr wants this to be about Apple. First, however, he should be asked why the vetting Trump championed failed to work in this case.

If DOJ is going to complain that Apple isn’t degrading security, it should first explain why the last policy it took that traded privacy for security failed.

The Government’s Coy Dance on FISA and Rudy’s Grifters

As I noted last month, one of the guys indicted along with Rudy’s grifters, Andrey Kukushkin, asked the government for notice of any of several kinds of surveillance, including FISA. The government responded today with the kind of non-denial that all-but confirms that one of the grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, their co-conspirators, or their funders were implicated in a FISA order.

It starts by stating, “the Government has repeatedly informed the defendants, it does not intend to use any information that was obtained or derived from FISA or other forms of surveillance identified by Kukushkin,” meaning under FISA they have no obligation to notify defendants of its use. It then reviews the requirements of statute, which state that the government only has to provide notice if it plans to use evidence obtained via FISA. It asserts it has met the requirements of FISA.

The Government has complied with its discovery and disclosure obligations, and Kukushkin’s motion fails to set forth any legal basis to require anything more.

With respect to FISA, the Government has complied with its obligations under Section 1806 in this case. On December 1, 2019, the Government notified defense counsel that it did not intend to use any FISA-obtained or FISA-derived information against the defendants at trial.

It’s basically a legalistic way of saying, “yes, yes, yes, but no.” All the more so given that the government corrects a Kukushkin claim that the government had stated they had not obtained FISA collection.

Kukushkin incorrectly states that the Government has “denied procuring evidence pursuant to Title III or FISA warrants.” Dkt. 45 at n.1. The Government has told the defense that it did not obtain or use Title III intercepts in this investigation. The Government has not made any representations about the use of FISA warrants.

And the government  provided Judge Oetken an ex parte filing, which is the kind of thing you’d do to be very transparent to the judge when asked about FISA.

The Government is separately submitting a supplemental letter to the Court ex parte and under seal.

Again, all this is legally uninteresting but factually intriguing given how open the government is about the likelihood they did use FISA in this case.

Especially given how they note that the representations the government makes in this letter apply to all the defendants, including Fruman and Parnas.

The Government writes in response to defendant Andrey Kukushkin’s December 12, 2019 letter motion, which is made “on behalf of all defendants,” seeking the Court to direct the Government to affirm or deny, under 18 U.S.C. § 3504, whether the defendants were the subject of any Government surveillance, including under Executive Order 12333 or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). [my emphasis]

If Kukushkin were targeted with a FISA order, it would mostly implicate some Nevada Republicans — that’s the side of the grift Kukushkin got charged under.

But if Parnas or Fruman were targeted, it might implicate Pete Sessions, Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, the other members of Congress Adam Schiff intimated were also included in the Parnas call records obtained by HPSCI, the President’s lawyer, and possibly even the President himself.

And if any of the grifters were personally targeted, it would probably mean that Bill Barr (who has been personally involved in the case since early last year) had agreed that someone in direct communication with all these Republicans was or is probably an Agent of a Foreign power.

Amy Berman Jackson Disputes Claims of “Exculpatory” Information on Russia and Ukraine

For all its import showing the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application, I’ll eventually show the DOJ IG Report  commits some of the same errors of inclusion and exclusion of important information that it accuses FBI of. Most importantly, it treats as exculpatory comments that George Papadopoulos made to Stephan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 when the FBI agents involved rightly (the record now confirms) suspected Papadopoulos’ answer was a cover story. Notably, Rosemary Collyer did not include the Papadopoulos comments in her letter to the government yesterday, suggesting she doesn’t think exclusion of those comments to be noteworthy.

Given Michael Horowitz’s focus on FBI’s withholding of exculpatory information (which they absolutely did, on a number of occasions), I find the focus of Amy Berman Jackson’s comments at Rick Gates’ sentencing hearing yesterday notable. (Thanks to CNN for culling these comments from the transcript.)

Some of the comments — including some focusing on Ukraine — seemed targeted at Republicans debating impeachment. For example, she emphasized that Gates’ information was not hearsay, and it implicated individuals associated with Ukraine and Russia.

Mr. Gates provided information — not hearsay, but information — based on his personal knowledge, meetings he attended, conversations in which he was a participant and information that was verified with contemporaneous records of numerous, undeniable contacts and communications between individuals associated with the presidential campaign, primarily but not only Manafort, and individuals associated with Russia and Ukraine.

ABJ likely recognizes, as I have emphasized, that Paul Manafort’s August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik and its aftermath — including his booking $2.4 million from pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs eight days later — represents a clearcut case of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election.

She also takes a shot at those claiming there was no basis for the investigation into Russia, and suggests that obstruction successfully prevented prosecutors from charging the underlying coordination.

Gates’ debriefings, his multiple incriminatory bits of evidence on matters of grave and international importance are a reminder that there was an ample basis for the decision makers at the highest level of the United States Department of Justice — the United States Department of Justice of this administration — to authorize and pursue a law enforcement investigation into whether there was any coordination between the campaign and the known foreign interference in the election, as well as into whether there had been any attempt to obstruct that investigation, and to leave no stone unturned, no matter what the prosecutors determined they had evidence to prove at the end of that investigation.

And she emphasizes that pursuing this investigation was critical for election security.

Gates’ information alone warranted, indeed demanded, further investigation from the standpoint of our national security, the integrity of our elections and the enforcement of our criminal laws.

But there’s a line in here that seems directed at the discussion surrounding the IG Report.

One cannot possibly maintain that this was all exculpatory information. It included firsthand information about confidential campaign polling data being transmitted at the direction of the head of the campaign to one of those individuals to be shared with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.

The investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia in its election interference started 3 days before Roger Stone spoke to Trump about how to optimize the WikiLeaks releases. It started 5 days before Trump’s campaign manager met with Konstantin Kilimnik to explain how he planned to win the investigation, discussed carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking (an effort Manafort pursued for over a year afterwards), and how to get paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. It started 11 days before Manafort booked $2.4 million in revenues — to be received in November — from his Ukrainian paymasters.

Again, ABJ has seen more of the underlying evidence from this investigation than anyone. And she sure seems to think that Bill Barr, Donald Trump, and Michael Horowitz are dismissing the seriousness of this investigation.

American Democracy Needs Better Reporters than Pete Williams

Bill Barr made big news yesterday saying intemperate things in what has charitably been called an “interview” with NBC’s Pete Williams. Those comments have distracted from other details of the so-called interview, which deserve further attention for the way that Williams was utterly useless in guiding the interview towards any of the questions that needed to be answered. Given Barr’s assault on the rule of law, garbage interviews like this undermine the Constitution.

Williams helps Barr continue to cover up his role in the Ukraine investigation

First, consider the exchange that Williams and Barr have to exonerate the Attorney General in involvement in Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine conspiracy.

Williams: Were you ever asked by the White House to talk to anybody in Ukraine about an investigation of Joe Biden? (18:40)

Barr: No.

Williams: Are you concerned that Ukraine has a missing server from the Hillary Clinton emails?

Barr [searching look]: Fortunately I haven’t gotten into the Ukraine thing. I don’t know. I’m not even sure about the nature of these allegations.

Williams: What about the allegation that it was the Ukrainians who meddled in the election, not the Russians. Are you satisfied that’s not the case?

Barr: I am confident the Russians attempted to interfere in the election. I don’t know about the Ukrainians. I haven’t even looked into it, frankly.

Williams: What was your involvement in the Department’s decision not to investigate the President’s phone call to Ukraine?

Barr: We put out a statement that explained the process, which was the Criminal Division made that decision and in the process consulted with the senior most career employees who are the experts on campaign finance laws and that process was supervised by the Deputy but I’m not going to go beyond what we’ve already said about that process.

Williams: Well, were you satisfied that everything that was done–

Barr: Absolutely.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams were using a script DOJ gave him, because Williams asks none of the questions that remain unanswered about DOJ’s role in the Ukraine investigation, such as why they didn’t do the bare minimum of connecting the dots implemented after 9/11, why the didn’t refer the complaint to the FEC, why they didn’t abide by the whistleblower protection act, why (on demand, apparently) they issued a statement exonerating the President, or who the three Ukrainians that DOJ admitted have been fed into John Durham’s investigation are.

Instead, Williams lets Barr ignore his question about his role in reviewing the whistleblower complaint and claim — as the person who knew of the Lev Parnas investigation that also knew of the whistleblower complaint — he has no role in the Ukraine thing. This exchange raises more questions about Barr’s involvement, but Williams instead allows him to claim a clean bill of health.

Williams allows Barr to pretend bypassing MLAT is normal

Perhaps the most alarming part of this so-called interview is how Williams let Barr claim that entirely bypassing the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process in requesting law enforcement assistance from other countries is normal.

[Why he went to three countries] The presentation of that in the media [laughs] has been silly. The person running the investigation is John Durham. But this is a very unusual circumstance where we are going to foreign governments where we are asking them to assist and cooperate including some of their sensitive materials and personnel. A US Attorney doesn’t show up on the doorstep of some of these countries like London and say, Hey, I want to talk to your intelligence people and so forth. All the regularities were followed. I went through the — my purpose was to introduce Durham to the appropriate people and set up a channel where he could work with these countries. At the request of these countries — I went through the Ambassadors of each country, and the governments wanted to initially talk to me to find out, what is this about, what are the ground rules, is this going to be a criminal case, are you going to do a public report. They wanted to understand the ground rules before I met with Durham and I met with them and I set up appropriate channels. This was perfectly appropriate. (14:37)

This issue goes to the core of the problem with Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy. Barr’s nervous answer suggests he knows bypassing normal process might implicate him in a criminal conspiracy.

And Williams, supposedly a DOJ beat journalist who should know better, just lets this bullshit answer sit there, unchallenged.

Williams allows Barr to lie about techniques used by the FBI

Barr’s attack on the FBI is based on a lie about how it operates. The FBI has what’s called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. The entire point of it is to make sure paperwork is filed before any investigative steps are taken. Barr turns that on its head when he complains that the FBI opened an investigation before taking an investigative step.

They jump right into a full-scale investigation before they even went and talked to the foreign officials about exactly what was said the opened an investigation of the campaign

The DIOG lists what an agent can do at each of three levels of investigation — assessment, preliminary investigation, and full investigation. It permits the government to use Confidential Human Sources — the basis for most of Barr’s complaint about “spying” on the campaign — at the Assessment level (which is basically a tip).  Thus, in spite of what Barr says, the fact that FBI opened this as a full investigation (which DOJ IG found to be proper) had nothing to do with the FBI’s ability to use informants.

Suggests the investigation shouldn’t have been sustained once it got opened (0:20)

There has to be some basis before we use these very potent powers in our core First Amendment activity, and here, I thought this was very flimsy (2:18)

The Department as a rule of reason, … Is what you’re relying on sufficiently powerful to justify the techniques you’re using

What are the alternatives … When you step back and ask what was this all based on, it’s not sufficient (2:48)

they used very intrusive techniques they didn’t do what would normally be done under those circumstances, which is to go to the campaign and certainly there were people in the campaign who could be trusted including a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the governor of New Jersey (5:13)

Anyone covering DOJ has an obligation to point out that this is a lie, especially because Barr has never in his history leading the DOJ complained about such techniques being used with others, especially minorities, when exercising their First Amendment rights. Indeed, Barr’s DOJ currently investigates not only Muslims in mosques (which has been going on under both parties), but people protesting Trump’s immigration policies or legally representing immigrants. Barr’s DOJ used a wiretap in a garden variety leak investigation when it already knew the leaker this year. Williams has an obligation with calling Barr out for his very selective concern about the First Amendment.

But that’s not the only complaint about process. Barr keeps demanding not just that the FBI give Trump a defensive briefing (one of the subjects of the investigation, Mike Flynn, attended his first campaign briefing, and that was within days of the time Flynn inked his deal to become an undisclosed agent of Turkey), but that they just waltz to the campaign and start asking questions.

From day one they say they’re not going to talk to the campaign, they’re going to put people in there, wire them up, and have these conversations with people involved in the campaign because that way we’ll get the truth (8:44)

Barr would never let FBI approach any other investigation like this, starting by allowing the subject of the investigation to excuse their actions.

Note, one of the people Barr thought FBI should have asked — Jeff Sessions — ultimately came to be a subject of this investigation.

Barr takes this so far that he complains that John Brennan and Barack Obama tried to limit an ongoing Russian attack that was going on whether or not Trump’s flunkies were involved. 

What I find particularly inexplicable is that they talked to the Russians but not to the Presidential campaign. On August 4 Brennan braced the head of Russian intelligence, he calls the head of Russian intelligence, … they go and confront the Russians, who clear are the bad guys, and they won’t go and talk to the campaign and say what is this about (5:51)

He’s basically complaining, here, that Obama tried to keep the country safe from hostile interference in the election.

And Williams just sat there looking at his list of questions like a child.

Williams lets Barr minimize what happened in the Russian investigation

Predictably, Barr minimizes what the Russian investigation showed. He claims that what has subsequently been explained to be a suspected Russian asset with ties to both sides of the Russian operation, Joseph Mifsud, telling George Papadopoulos they were going to drop emails that later got dropped was not worthy of investigation.

In May 2016, a 28 year campaign volunteer says in a social setting … a suggestion of a suggestion that Russians had adverse information from Hillary that they might dump in the campaign (3:24)

Barr then claims there was no evidence of “collusion,” something Williams agrees with.

There never has been any evidence of collusion … completely baseless (2:57) [Well, it doesn’t turn out that way at the beginning, at the start ]

According to Mark Meadows’ definition of “collusion,” it was proven by the guilty verdict in the Roger Stone trial. Moreover, the Mueller Report makes it clear there was evidence not just of “collusion,” but also conspiracy, just not enough to charge. In this case, Williams affirmatively adds to the disinformation on this point.

Barr conflates the investigation into Carter Page and everyone else

Barr did something that the Republicans have been doing all day: conflating the investigation into Carter Page with the investigation into Trump’s other flunkies, in spite of the fact that the investigation of each individual was also individually predicated and that the investigation into Page was based off stuff going back years before he joined the Trump campaign and most of the investigative activities took place after he was fired from the campaign. In one comment, Barr literally conflates Carter Fucking Page with the President himself, and ignores that the President was only investigated after he tried to obstruct the investigation into Mike Flynn.

At that point [when FBI talked to Steele’s source], when their entire case collapsed, what did they do? They kept on investigating the President well into his administration. (10:26)

He repeats that claim a second time.

Their case collapsed after the election (13:57)

Barr not only does that, but ignores the incriminatory evidence against Page, so as to be able to claim that the investigation should never have started.

From the very first day of this investigation, which was July 31 … all the way to September 2017, there was not one bit of incriminatory evidence to come in, it was all exculpatory. The people they were taping denied any involvement with Russia, denied the very specific facts that the FBI was relying on, … the FBI ignores it, presses ahead, withholds that information from the court, withholds critical exculpatory information from the court  (9:07)

Barr made an interesting claim — that the sole reason the FBI got a FISA (including a physical search FISA, which allows them to obtain stored communications like email) was to access his comms from the campaign.

I think going through people’s emails, which they did as a result of the FISA warrant, they went through everything from Page’s life. … his emails go back. The main reason they were going for the FISA warrant initially was to go back historically and seize all his emails and texts … that’s exactly why they got the FISA (12:30)

That may be true (obviously, the FBI would have wanted to know why Page went to Moscow during the campaign), but DOJ imposed minimization procedures to limit dissemination of those materials.

The final PMPs restricted access to the information collected through FISA authority to the individuals assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane team and required the approval of a DAD or higher before any FISA-derived information could be disseminated outside the FBI. In normal circumstances, the FBI is given more latitude to disseminate FISA-derived information that appears to be foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime. Evans told us that he believed these added restrictions were warranted here because of the possibility that the FISA collection would include sensitive political campaign related information.

Barr’s conflation of Page with the campaign as a whole and Trump himself was all a ploy, and a journalist could have noted the game Barr was playing in real time. Williams did not.

Williams lets additional Barr bullshit go unquestioned

In addition to those general problems, Barr made a number of other bullshit assertions. For example, Barr claimed the investigation into Trump was the first counterintelligence investigation into a candidate even though that’s what the Hillary email investigation was.

Greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent use apparatus of state to spy and effect outcome, first time in history this has been done (1:14)

Later, Williams lets a renowned authoritarian to claim not just that he cares about civil liberties, but that his primary job is protecting them.

[In response to Williams’ suggestion that this authoritarian cares about civil liberties] I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press … the Attorney General’s primary responsibility is to protect against the abuse of the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus and make sure it doesn’t play an improper role in our political life. That’s my responsibility. (18:06)

Barr poo poos the regularity of illegal foreign money coming into campaigns.

In most campaigns signs of illegal foreign money coming in (2:01)

Don’t assume campaign is acting in league with foreign powers, there has to be some basis (2:13)

This makes me, for the first time, concerned about how DOJ rolled out the Andy Khawaja indictment.

Finally, Williams asks, but doesn’t follow up on his question about whether it was appropriate for Durham to make a comment.

[After Williams mentions the grand jury] I think it was definitely appropriate because it was necessary to avoid public confusion. … Durham’s work was not being preempted, Durham was doing something different, (15:33)

Interestingly, Barr effectively confirmed Williams’ insinuation this was now a grand jury investigation, which would amount to sharing grand jury information.

I have been pointing out increasingly often that many members of the press seem uninterested in defending the parts of the Constitution that don’t directly affect press protections. The duty to uphold the rule of law is particularly important for DOJ reporters, who should know enough about how investigations work to identify when something is abnormal (as Barr’s direct involvement, generally, is, to say nothing of his international field trip).

Williams was not up to the task in this interview.

Trump HJC Defenders Claim Ukraine Aid Withheld To Fight Corruption While Rudy Rounds Up Fired Corrupt Ukrainians To Help Trump

Just as the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing was getting underway today, Inside Defense published yet another debunking of one of the central Republican defenses of Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine by pointing out that the Defense Department, back in May of this year, certified that Ukraine had made sufficient progress in fighting corruption so that the defense assistance funds designated for Ukraine could be released. Once they later learned that the White House had blocked the funding, they never got a good explanation:

The senior Pentagon official who certified in May that Ukraine should receive $250 million in U.S. military aid because it had made sufficient progress combating corruption said today he never got a “very clear explanation” from the White House as to why the funds were delayed over the summer.

“In the weeks after signing the certification I did become aware that the aid had been held,” John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters this morning.

“I never received a very clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine,” he continued.

Rood was the person in charge of determining whether Ukraine had made sufficient progress:

Rood said he learned of the White House hold on the aid, which was part of a larger $400 million assistance package, “significantly after May,” when he certified that Ukraine had made sufficient anti-corruption progress to receive the aid.

“It was a requirement under the law that we certify that and I was the person that certified it,” he said.

Despite the fact that this has been widely known for months, Republicans continued to claim that Trump was very concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that was the only reason he withheld the aid.

And yet, also around the time the hearing started, we also learned of yet another foreign trip for Rudy Giuliani in his world tour aimed at protecting Trump against impeachment. As usual, Marcy was way ahead of this move, asking yesterday if Yuriy Lutsenko, Viktor Shokin, and Konstantin Kulyk were the three former Ukrainian prosecutors who had provided statements to John Durham in Bill Barr’s “investigations” aimed at protecting Trump. In what can only be seen as confirmation of her suggestion, the New York Times told us this morning that Rudy met Lutsenko yesterday in Budapest and was in Kiev today to meet with Shokin and Kulyk:

Even as Democrats intensified their scrutiny this week of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s role in the pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Giuliani has been in Europe continuing his efforts to shift the focus to purported wrongdoing by President Trump’s political rivals.

Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, met in Budapest on Tuesday with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who has become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. He then traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday seeking to meet with other former Ukrainian prosecutors whose claims have been embraced by Republicans, including Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, according to people familiar with the effort.

Even Ken Vogel, who had the lead byline on this story, has to admit that these former prosecutors are corrupt:

The former prosecutors, who have faced allegations of corruption, all played some role in promoting claims about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a former United States ambassador to Ukraine and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in 2016.

Isn’t that interesting? We are being asked to believe that Trump withheld aid Ukraine desperately needed in its war with Russia because of his concerns about corruption. And yet, as Team Trump is doing its best to protect him, they feel that his best defense lies with some of the most corrupt of those Ukrainian officials who have been removed from office. They have provided statements that Bill Barr is likely depending on in his investigation and we learned in today’s Times article that Rudy was also traveling with a team from a wingnut media organization to film a “documentary” providing a “Republican alternative to the impeachment hearings”.

Let’s take a look at just how corrupt these three OAN stars are. First, Lutsenko. USA Today reported on a criminal investigation of him on October 1:

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) opened criminal proceedings against Yuriy Lutsenko over his possible abuse of power, the government agency said.

It said that Lutsenko and other former lawmakers may have conspired to “provide cover” for illegal gambling businesses in Ukraine. Lutsenko disputes the allegations.

And if that’s not enough, it appears that Lutsenko was also involved in the ouster of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch:

The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.

According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.

The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

So Lutsenko helped the efforts to oust a very important ambassador who was doing good work and was so corrupt in general that he not only got fired but had a criminal case opened against him, and yet he’s one of the prime targets of Team Trump when they are trying to mount their final defense against impeachment.

But Shokin is even more corrupt. Recall that the false Trump claim is that Shokin was fired for investigating Hunter Biden. The truth is pretty much the opposite:

At the heart of Congress’ probe into the president’s actions is his claim that former Vice President and 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden strong-armed the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor in order to thwart an investigation into a company tied to his son, Hunter Biden.

But sources ranging from former Obama administration officials to an anti-corruption advocate in Ukraine say the official, Viktor Shokin, was ousted for the opposite reason Trump and his allies claim.

It wasn’t because Shokin was investigating a natural gas company tied to Biden’s son; it was because Shokin wasn’t pursuing corruption among the country’s politicians, according to a Ukrainian official and four former American officials who specialized in Ukraine and Europe.

Shokin’s inaction prompted international calls for his ouster and ultimately resulted in his removal by Ukraine’s parliament.

It comes as no surprise then, that Shokin’s “depostion” was central to John Solomon’s propaganda campaign in favor of Trump.

But what about Kulyk? It turns out that Kulyk is the first person mentioned in a Washington Post story that ran on Sunday informing us on the real progress Zelensky is making against corruption and that this progress comes at the risk of angering Trump:

By the end of this month, more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors will be out of their jobs as part of sweeping professional reviews under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Among the prosecutors heading for the exit: a key Kyiv contact for Rudolph W. Giuliani.

/snip/

Now that Zelensky’s reform push is underway, some of those Giuliani-linked officials are in the crosshairs.

A prosecutor named Kostiantyn H. Kulyk is one of the first.

Zelensky’s new prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka — “100 percent my person,” Zelensky told Trump in July — last week gave a dismissal notice to Kulyk, a key player in the effort to provide Giuliani with political ammunition of dubious accuracy. Kulyk denies meeting Giuliani, but former associates say he prepared a seven-page dossier that his boss later passed along to the former New York mayor. Kulyk did not respond to a request for comment.

And so Team Trump has decided that in order to protect Trump in relation to actions that they claimed were part of a fight against corruption in Ukraine, corrupt Ukrainians are needed in order to produce a narrative that will exonerate him. The Post summed it up well:

Trump’s views of Ukraine — and his demands to investigate the Biden family — were largely shaped by Giuliani, his personal lawyer. The theories and opinions that were passed to Giuliani came from some of the very officials whom Ukrainian activists claim are prime corruption culprits in their own system.

By relying on these corrupt Ukrainians to support their arguments, Trump, Giuliani and Barr are proving that under the Trump Administration, the US courts corruption in order to advance the personal and political future of its President, at great risk to the strategic interests of the US.

Bill Barr Apparently Threatens to Withdraw FBI Protection from Donald Trump

The Attorney General gave another intemperate speech last night. In it, he said that those who disrespect law enforcement deserve to have the protection offered by law enforcement withdrawn.

But I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves ― and if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.

HuffPo asked who he meant to include in this comment, but DOJ refused to answer.

So I guess we should just assume Barr means to target his comments at the most visible critic of policing powers in the country, Donald Trump, who routinely attacks law enforcement on his high follower Twitter account. That would suggest that the Attorney General just threatened to withdraw the protection of the FBI from the President, his family, and all his flunkies last night.

Bill Barr and I totally disagree on policing, so it’s no surprise we disagree here. I think the FBI should continue to protect Trump and his associates, even while they investigate some of them for their criminal behavior. I think it’s a rash threat, on Barr’s part, to withdraw that support simply because Trump doesn’t like being investigated like any other suspected criminals.

Ah well. At least Barr has moved on from excusing Trump’s criminal behavior by rewriting the sworn record about what, precisely, frustrated Trump about being criminally investigated.

Did Mike Flynn Gamble and Lose on Bill Barr and Michael Horowitz?

Since the beginning of Mike Flynn’s attempt to blow up his plea deal, he has been investing his hopes on two things: first, that Bill Barr’s efforts to discredit the investigation into Flynn and other Trump flunkies will find something of merit, and that Michael Horowitz’s Inspector General Report into the origins of the Russian investigation will likewise substantiate Flynn’s claims the investigation into him was a witch hunt.

Even before Covington & Burling had withdrawn from representing Flynn, Sidney Powell wrote Barr and Jeffrey Rosen making wild claims that Flynn had been illegally targeted. Both that letter and Flynn’s motion for what he purported was Brady material asked for FISA materials that actually related to FISA orders on Carter Page, as well as any Brady or Giglio material found in Barr and Horowitz’s investigations.

His reply tied the FISA Report directly to its claim that the government can’t be trusted to comply with Brady.

The Mueller Report established that there was no conspiracy between anyone in the Trump campaign and Russia. It is also apparent now, or will be upon the release of the FISA report of the Inspector General, that the FBI and DOJ had no legal basis to obtain a FISA warrant against Carter Page or to investigate Mr. Flynn. 13 Yet, the government wants us to accept its word that the defense has everything to which it is entitled. Fortunately Brady exists to protect the accused “from the prosecutor’s private deliberations, as the chosen forum for ascertaining the truth about criminal accusations.”

The entire effort to blow up his plea deal was a risky bet that either Barr and/or Horowitz would deliver some basis for Emmet Sullivan to throw out his prosecution.

Thus far, the only thing Barr’s worldwide wild goose chase has turned up are two phones once owned by Joseph Mifsud that the government quickly pointed out are totally unrelated to Flynn.

Yesterday, the government and Flynn asked Judge Sullivan to delay the briefing schedule that would have led up to a December 18 sentencing, a request Sullivan granted today. The request noted that both sides expect the IG Report to relate to Flynn’s case, even while DOJ pretends not to have inside information about when the report will be released.

Additionally, the parties note that the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is conducting an Examination of the Department’s and the FBI’s Compliance with Legal Requirements and Policies in Applications Filed with the US. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Relating to a certain US. Person. The parties expect that the report of this investigation will examine topics related to several matters raised by the defendant. As widely reported by the media, that report is expected to issue in the next several weeks.

Thus far, however, the public reporting on the IG Report suggests the report will not only not corroborate the claims Flynn wants it to, but affirmatively undermine some of his claims. For example, the NYT describes that the report attributes blame to low-level employees but not the senior figures — Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok — that Flynn’s entire challenge focuses on.

A highly anticipated report by the Justice Department’s inspector general is expected to sharply criticize lower-level F.B.I. officials as well as bureau leaders involved in the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation, but to absolve the top ranks of abusing their powers out of bias against President Trump, according to people briefed on a draft.

[snip]

In particular, while Mr. Horowitz criticizes F.B.I. leadership for its handling of the highly fraught Russia investigation in some ways, he made no finding of politically biased actions by top officials Mr. Trump has vilified like the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey; Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy who temporarily ran the bureau after the president fired Mr. Comey in 2017; and Peter Strzok, a former top counterintelligence agent.

And Horowitz’s reported finding that DOJ and FBI did not coordinate very well (something backed by materials Flynn already has in his possession) undermines Flynn’s allegations that everyone who works at both FBI and DOJ was in cahoots against Trump and therefore Flynn.

[T]he bureau and the Justice Department displayed poor coordination during the investigation, they said.

Finally, the adverse findings Horowitz will lay out largely relate to the Carter Page FISA, which had very little bearing on Flynn.

Investigators for the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, uncovered errors and omissions in documents related to the wiretapping of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page — including that a low-level lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, altered an email that officials used to prepare to seek court approval to renew the wiretap, the people said.

[snip]

Mr. Horowitz’s investigators have suggested that he is likely to conclude that the filings exaggerated Mr. Steele’s track record in terms of the amount of value that the F.B.I. derived from information he supplied in previous investigations. The court filings in the Page wiretap application said his material was “used in criminal proceedings,” but it was never part of an affidavit, search warrant or courtroom evidence.

(Note, I believe the IG is wrong to base the value of Steele’s information on what shows up in affidavits, because this is precisely the kind of thing that would be parallel constructed out of affidavits, by design.)

And the report will specifically deny a key claim Flynn has made, that the investigation into him derives from Steele or the CIA.

None of the evidence used to open the investigation came from the C.I.A. or from a notorious dossier of claims about Trump-Russia ties compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent whose research was funded by Democrats, the report concludes, according to the people briefed on it.

In short, the report will be damning on some fronts. But not damning in a way that will be very useful for Flynn.

Which leaves him well over his skis at a time when Sullivan may be conducting a close review of how flimsy Powell’s claims really are.

Update: And even as I was posting this, the NYT reported that the report will also confirm that the FBI was not spying on Trump’s campaign.

Bill Barr Moves from Treating Understaffing at BOP as a “SNAFU” to a “Perfect Storm of Screw-Ups”

In its annual review of management and performance challenges, DOJ’s IG listed “Managing a safe, secure, and human prison system” first among all challenges, bumped up two positions and significantly expanded from where challenges running the Bureau of Prisons occupied in that report last year.

After listing contraband — including phones like the one Joshua Schulte allegedly used to leak more CIA secrets from MCC or the one an inmate used to arrange a guard’s murder — the report then focuses on BOP’s outdated cameras, inadequate monitoring, and insufficient staffing. While all three factored in Jeffrey Epstein’s ability to kill himself, the inmate monitoring section mentions the deaths in custody of both Epstein and Whitey Bulger, while showing that those two famous prisoners were part of a trend of less notorious prisoners.

In addition to the issues relating to security cameras, the BOP also faces challenges ensuring that its correctional officers monitor inmates at required frequencies and in accordance with policies to protect inmates, including reducing the risk of inmate homicides and suicides. From FY 2015 through July 2019, the BOP has experienced 46 inmate deaths by homicide and 107 inmate deaths by suicide, including the deaths of high-profile inmates, James “Whitey” Bulger and Jeffrey Epstein. Inmate deaths by suicide in BOP facilities have increased from 8.1 per 100,000 federal inmates in FY 2016 to 14.7 per 100,000 inmates in FY 2018. The OIG is currently investigating several recent inmate homicide and suicide deaths, including those of Bulger and Epstein, to assess any systemic issues that they present, and to ensure that BOP staff are conducting consistent and appropriate monitoring of the inmates in BOP custody to ensure their physical safety.

In short, the IG identified several of the factors that contributed to Epstein’s death to be among the most urgent problems facing DOJ.

Of course, all that was not just knowable, but known, months before Epstein’s death. As I noted at the time, four months before Epstein’s death, Republican Senators Shelly Capito raised concerns about BOP staffing levels, citing several deaths in West Virginia’s Hazelton prison, where Bulger was killed. At the time, Barr brushed off Capito’s question about budget cuts by calling it a SNAFU.

In response to a question from a Republican Senator about these issues, the Attorney General admitted failure. “I think this is an area where we have stumbled.” Rather than answering Senator Capito’s question about the budget, though (again, this was an Appropriations hearing), he instead explained that the problem wasn’t budget, it’s that the BOP doesn’t have all its assigned slots full because of how it hires.

I’ve been looking into this because it’s been very frustrating to me because I’ve always supported Bureau of Prisons in the past and think it’s a great organization and if we’re going to have people incarcerated we have to make sure they’re incarcerated under proper conditions. We are  — The way I look at it our authorized level is good and adequate. It’s that we’re four to five thousand people short of our authorized level.

Barr went on to provide evidence of a systematic underlying problem. “Every year we lose 2,600 of these correctional officers.” Without considering why turnover in the BOP is so high, he instead offered this solution. “My view is we just have to turn on the spigot and just keep these new entry level people coming in at a rate where we’re going to be able to get up to and maintain our enacted level. So I think this is largely a SNAFU by the department.”

Today, the AP has an interview (conducted on a flight to Montana) with Barr, in which he tries to assure the public that Epstein really did just kill himself by explaining that he, personally, reviewed the security footage, just like he claimed to have read the Mueller Report.

The attorney general also sought to dampen conspiracy theories by people who have questioned whether Epstein really took his own life, saying the evidence proves Epstein killed himself. He added that he personally reviewed security footage that confirmed that no one entered the area where Epstein was housed on the night he died.

He calls the several known factors that contributed to Epstein’s ability to kill himself “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”

Attorney General William Barr said he initially had his own suspicions about financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death while behind bars at one of the most secure jails in America but came to conclude that his suicide was the result of “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”

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 Gaping Hole in the Impeachment Investigation Where Bruce Swartz Should Be

In her testimony Friday, Marie Yovanovitch repeatedly said that, if Trump believed that Burisma needed to be investigated, there were official channels to do so.

That’s a part of the impeachment inquiry that hasn’t received enough attention — but is likely to receive a lot more starting tomorrow, when Kurt Volker testifies.

That’s because his story seems to have a big gaping hole where Bruce Swartz, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs, should be.

There’s a subtle detail about the efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens that needs more attention — and elucidation: a purported effort by Kurt Volker to get Bruce Swartz to officially ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. He would have been in the loop in any normal requests between the US and Ukraine.

As Trump’s people were pressuring Ukraine to open up an investigations for Trump, Andriy Yermak deferred by asking for an official request from the US government to open such an investigation. As an experienced diplomat, Kurt Volker proposed doing what should happen next, calling Bruce Swartz to put such investigations into formal channels. But according to him, this inexplicably never happened.

A Hi, did you connect with Andriy? Yeah.

Q And then what did You say?

A Not yet. Will talk with Bill and then call him later today. Want to know our status on asking them to investigate.

Q Okay. What did you mean by “our status on asking them to investigate”?

A Whether we had ever made an official request from the Department of Justice.

Q And then skipping down later, you say: Hi — this is August 17th, 2019, at 3:02 — Hi, I’ve got nothing. Bill — meaning Bill Taylor, correct?

A Yes.

Q Had no info on requesting an investigation. Calling a friend at DOJ, Bruce Schwartz (ph). Who is Bruce Schwartz (ph) ?

A Bruce Schwartz is a senior official in the Department of Justice responsible for international affairs, someone I’ve known for many years.

Q Did you reach out to Mr. Schwartz (ph) about mentioning these investigations or whether — I’m sorry, strike that. Did you reach out to Mr. Schwartz (ph) about whether the U.S. had ever requested an official investigation in Ukraine about these two issues that we’ve been talking about?

A I reached out to him and we did not connect.

Q So you never spoke with Bruce Schwartz (ph) ?

A At this — not at this — not in — well

Q Not in this context?

A Not in this context and not since then.

Q Did you speak with anyone at DOJ about whether the U.S. had requested an official investigation?

A No, I did not. I did ask I did ask our Charge to also check. And I later understood that we never had. And because of that was another factor in my advising the Ukrainians then don’t put it in now.

Q You told the Ukrainians don’t put it in the specific investigation?

A Yes, yes.

Q Did you speak with the Ukrainians about whether or not the U.S. had ever requested an official investigation?

A It came up in this conversation with Andriy about the statement, and he asked whether we ever had. I didn’t know the answer. That’s why I wanted to go back and find out. As I found out the answer that we had not, I said, well, let’s just not go there.

Q So Mr. Yermak wanted to know whether the U.S. DOJ

A Yes.

Q had ever made an official request?

A Yes. He said, I think quite appropriately, that if they are responding to an official request, that’s one thing. If there’s no official request, that’s different. And I agree with that.

Q And then Ambassador Sondland then asked: Do we still want Zelensky to give us an unequivocal draft with 2016 and Burisma?

A Yes.

Q And you responded how?

A I said: That’s the clear message so far.

Q That’s the clear message from whom?

A From Giuliani and what we had discussed with Gordon. That’s the clear message so far .

[snip]

Q And, to your knowledge, there never was an official United States Department of Justice request?

A To my knowledge, there never was. And about this time, I stopped pursuing it as well, because I was becoming now here convinced this is going down the wrong road.

For his part, Bill Taylor opposed even calling Swartz, because it was so improper to ask Ukraine to investigate an American in the first place.

Q There was a reference to reaching out Department. You mentioned Deputy Assistant Attorney General, which I assume is Bruce Swartz.

A It is.

Q Did you ask Ambassador Volker to reach out to Bruce Swartz?

A He volunteered to do that.

Q Okay. And what was the feedback from Swartz?

A I don’t know that they ever connected.

Q Okay. And was there any followup effort to close the loop with the Justice Department?

A No. I thought the whole thing was a bad idea.

Q You thought it was a bad idea to reach out to Bruce Swartz?

A No. I thought the idea of the Americans asking the Ukrainians to investigate a violation of Ukrainian law was a bad idea.

Q Okay

A But Kurt, for some reason, wanted to pursue that. And when he volunteered to take that question to Bruce Swartz, that was fine with me.

Q Okay. I mean, is it possible that Swartz’s feedback on that issue would have been compelling to the group? Like, why didn’t anyone fo1low up with Swartz?

A No idea.

State’s Special Adviser for Ukraine Catherine Croft, in attempt to distance herself from any role in pushing investigations, seems to have filled in a key detail here. Or perhaps created a huge void. She says she did reach out to Swartz. She doesn’t know whether he and Volker connected, but doesn’t think so.

But she thinks that Volker didn’t really want to talk to Swartz.

He wanted to speak with Bill Barr.

A No. No. I had no involvement in anything related to — the one exception is, I did send one email to Bruce Swartz at DOJ relaying Ambassador Volker’s request for a meeting with the Attorney General.

Q Okay.

A And when asked what the topic was, I said 2016 elections.

Q Okay.

A But that’s where my involvement in that ended. I just related that, and then I understood those two to be in contact.

Q Do you know if Ambassador Volker had tried to call Bruce Swartz?

A I believe he did.

Q And do you know if Bruce Swartz replied?

A I don’t know.

Q And he instructed you to email Bruce Swartz to see about the viability of Ambassador Volker meeting with the Attorney General?

A He just sort of gave me a vague direction to get him a meeting with the Attorney General, so that was my job.

Q 0kay. So you emailed Bruce Swartz?

A Yes.

Q Did you call Bruce Swartz?

A No, I don’t think so. I think I just — I think I just emailed him.

Q Did he email you back?

A Yes. And then I put him in touch with Kurt and then I was out of the —

Q You put him in touch with who?

A With Ambassador Volker.

Q And did they having a meeting?

A I don’t know.

Q So you don’t know —

A I don’t think so. I don’t think. But not that I’m aware of. [my emphasis]

This should raise all sorts of questions. Because if Volker — by whatever means — bypassed Swartz and instead made the request of Barr, then it would make Barr (yet again) more central to this story. And it might explain how all his narrow denials (he never spoke to Ukraine directly, he never made a request of Ukraine directly, but nevertheless some Ukrainian “volunteers” bearing “evidence” did get to John Durham can be true.

Moreover, it would be consistent with what Barr was doing in the same time period, flying around the world asking foreign countries to invent dirt on Democrats.

There’s a reason this request never got to Bruce Swartz. And that goes to the core of the impropriety of this ask.

And there’s an enormous irony (or one might say, a hypocrisy) about this.

Along the frothy right’s complaints about the contacts that Russian organized crime expert Christopher Steele had with organized crime experts at DOJ like Bruce Ohr, they’ve also complained that Ohr passed Steele’s information (almost certainly pertaining to Paul Manafort) onto other organized crime experts.

Including Bruce Swartz. Here’s John Solomon’s version. Kimberley Strassel’s. Sara Carter’s. Mollie Hemingway’s. And Fox News.

In short, a key complaint about Christopher Steele’s sharing of information is that the ways it got shared at DOJ include the experts and official channels who should handle such things.

Precisely the opposite has occurred with Bill Barr’s witch hunt. And yet none of the frothy right are complaining that Bill Barr’s investigation doesn’t meet the standards that Christopher Steele’s did.

Bill Barr’s Screed: Blindness about Current Threats

A lot of people are talking about the intemperate speech that Bill Barr gave to the Federalist Society yesterday. I’ll leave the detailed unpacking, about both its legal and historical claims, to others. To me, I find it unsurprising from a guy who used to be a serious authoritarian attorney but who has rotted his brain for the last two decades watching Fox News.

Obviously, Barr makes claims about “progressive” politics while ignoring that some things he celebrates — such SCOTUS letting conservatives gerrymander their fellow citizens out of representation — show that Republicans, not “progressives” are the ones “willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications.” Relatedly, Barr absolutely disappears all trace of conservative opposition to Trump (or, for that matter, any other opposition aside from those who adopt the term “resisistence”), and they’re the people who actually fit the description of “conservative” that he imagines he can still claim.

Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise.  We are interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing.  This means that we naturally test the propriety and wisdom of action under a “rule of law” standard.  The essence of this standard is to ask what the overall impact on society over the long run if the action we are taking, or principle we are applying, in a given circumstance was universalized – that is, would it be good for society over the long haul if this was done in all like circumstances?

Donald Trump’s Republican Party is no longer conservative, in any way, and it is sheer denial for Barr to think he merits this moniker any more.

Given that fact, I’m amused, reading the speech, by the possibility that Barr’s own actions may (or may not) bring about the state he claims to fear, with the Executive actually being reined in. It is his own hubris, in fact, that poses the risk here.

I’m also struck by how he admits that his job is to “carry into effect the laws passed by the Legislature,” because it is here that Bill Barr, personally, has failed this country.

To be sure, Executive power includes the responsibility for carrying into effect the laws passed by the Legislature – that is, applying the general rules to a particular situation.

Congress passed (and the Executive approved) a law requiring entities to share information that the Federal Election Commission to do his job. This is a law that Barr’s DOJ continues to enforce. But his own DOJ broke the law by failing to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC.

Congress passed (and the Executive approved) a law requiring Inspectors General to share whistleblower complaints with Congress within stated timelines. Barr’s DOJ broke that law, and in the process allowed the President to continue to extort Ukraine when Congress should have had warning.

Congress passed (and the Executive approved) the Budget Control Impoundment Act, a means of enforcing their power of the purse. If the President fails to spend money appropriated by Congress in the way they intend it to be spent, he must inform them, and provide them a timely way to override his actions. This is a crime that lies at the core of the impeachment investigation, but Barr has done nothing to pursue action even against Mick Mulvaney, who admitted that the Administration violated the law, to say nothing of the President.

Bill Barr complains that Congress is spending too much time conducting oversight and not enough time legislating (though he should take this up with Mitch McConnell, because the House is getting plenty of legislating done). But meanwhile, he has failed to do his duty, as he himself describes it.

But the most striking part of this speech is how he ends it. He suggests that the best moments in history (including Americas genocide of Native Americans and imperialism) have been accomplished through robust Executive power.

At every critical juncture where the country has faced a great challenge –

– whether it be in our earliest years as the weak, nascent country combating regional rebellions, and maneuvering for survival in a world of far stronger nations;

– whether it be during our period of continental expansion, with the Louisiana Purchase, and the acquisition of Mexican territory;

– whether it be the Civil War, the epic test of the Nation;

– World War II and the struggle against Fascism;

– the Cold War and the challenge of Communism;

– the struggle against racial discrimination;

– and most recently, the fight against Islamist Fascism and international terrorism.

One would have to say that it has been the Presidency that has stepped to the fore and provided the leadership, consistency, energy and perseverance that allowed us to surmount the challenge and brought us success.

He may have a point about some of these, especially the Civil War and Civil Rights.

Except Bill Barr appears to have zero clue what the biggest current threats to the country are. There’s no mention of climate change, of course, but President Trump has undercut efforts to respond to that emergency.

Closer to home for Barr, there’s a mention of what he calls “Islamist Fascism,” but no mention of white supremacist terrorism, which the FBI considers an increasingly grave threat. The President Barr enables fuels that terrorism, in large part because no one will rein in his worst behaviors.

Finally, there are the threats to our sovereignty posed by the ability of foreign powers — and Russia is just one — the buy up or compromise our politicians, starting with the President, and set US policy in ways that harm this country. This is the threat that Barr not only denies aggressively, but fosters, by flying around the world to find foreign propaganda to inject into our criminal justice system.

It may be true that some of our greatest moments as a nation were shepherded by a strong Executive. But in this particular case, the Executive that Barr is enabling is accelerating three of the greatest threats to this country. And making Trump stronger only exacerbates those threats.