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After Trump Spent Four Years Inviting Russia to Hack the US, Russia Allegedly Did Just That

Yesterday, Reuters revealed that the same vulnerability used to steal FireEye’s Red Team tools was also used to spy on Treasury and Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the Internet. Then WaPo revealed that Russia’s APT 29 hacking group is believed to be behind the compromise. Multiple outlets — including FireEye itself — revealed that the hack had used a vulnerability in SolarWinds IT monitoring software identified in the spring. FireEye explains the hack has targeted, “government, consulting, technology, telecom and extractive entities in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East,” (presumably reflecting what they’ve seen in their clients as they respond to their own compromise). And CISA issued an emergency directive aiming to stem the damage in agencies beyond just Treasury and NTIA (among SolarWinds’ other US government clients are DOJ and two nuclear labs, as well as Booz Allen, which might as well be US government). Later today, Reuters confirmed that DHS had also been targeted. State, NIH, and parts of the Pentagon have also been targeted.

Let me make clear before I start that thus far, this is nation-state spying, without the kind of sabotage we’ve seen from Russia in the past (if it is indeed Russia). Russia would do what they did with this vulnerability with or without Trump in office (indeed, I have a suspicion their overt hacks of the US will go up under President Biden, mostly because Trump didn’t need any help damaging the US government). While the full scope of the victims is not yet known, it’s quite clear that hackers targeted a slew of entities, governmental and not, with this campaign. So having Trump in office in no way created this campaign nor chose the target.

Nevertheless, it is the case that the President of the United States, as a policy matter, has gone to great lengths to make it easier for Russia to minimize the costs of hacking the US.

Almost four years ago, Mike Flynn called up the Russian Ambassador and asked him not to box the Trump Administration in in the wake of President Obama’s effort to hold Russia accountable for interfering in our elections, in part by hacking multiple participants in it, from both parties. Vladimir Putin complied with Flynn’s request, taking no steps in response. Not only did Sergey Kislyak make sure Flynn knew that his request had played a key role in Putin’s decision, but he told Flynn that the Trump Administration and Russia were on the same side, targeted by sanctions aiming to incur a cost for Russia’s actions. “I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.”

Well before Kislyak had suggested to the 30-year intelligence veteran that Russia and Trump were on the same side against establishment America, Flynn had already taken steps to hide his actions, perhaps because some Transition members, like Marshall Billingslea, objected to the pre-inauguration outreach to Russia.

When the whole thing got leaked to the public, Flynn lied even to the Vice President-Elect about his outreach.

But Trump appears to have been in on the secret. “The boss is aware” of Kislyak’s earlier requests of the Administration, Flynn told Kislyak on December 31, 2016. Indeed, Flynn made the first call that he would later lie about from Mar-a-Lago, while Flynn, “worked all day with trump from Mara lago,” as KT McFarland bragged in real time.

When the FBI interviewed Flynn about those calls a month later, he lied about the requests he had made of Russia. But he appears to have told a remarkable truth about one thing. “With regard to the scope of the Russians who were expelled,” from the US in retaliation for interfering in a US election, the FBI agents who interviewed him wrote, “FLYNN said he did not understand it. FLYNN stated he could understand one [diplomat expelled as a persona non-grata], but not thirty-five.” General Flynn, a thirty year veteran, thought an appropriate response to a systematic assault on American democracy was to kick out one suspected spy.

Months later (though this would not be revealed until years later), the newly installed President would make it clear he agreed with his short-lived National Security Advisor. In his first face-to-face meeting with representatives from Russia as President on May 10, 2017, President Trump told Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he was unconcerned about Russian interference in the election that had made him President, because the US had historically done the same in other countries. Trump’s officials would take efforts to hide the most embarrassing aspects of that meeting (including that Trump shared highly sensitive Israeli intelligence with the Russians), first by altering the MemCon of the meeting and then having Trump’s new National Security Advisor, HR McMaster, give, “a misleading account of what happened during TRUMP’s meeting with LAVROV.” And Russia would have known that Trump and McMaster were lying.

Before Trump would tell Russia, to their face, that he didn’t much mind that Russia had hacked American democracy, he started dismantling the United State’s ability to prevent further hacks. That started with an effort to prevent the FBI from investigating why Flynn had reached out to Russia to undermine sanctions and (as a sentencing memo approved by Bill Barr’s DOJ would later explain) who ordered him to do so. The day Trump learned the FBI had interviewed Flynn, he asked FBI Director James Comey for loyalty. Then, after Trump fired Flynn — ostensibly for lying to the Vice President — he then privately asked the FBI Director to, “let[] this thing go, to let[] Flynn go.” After Comey testified publicly to Congress about the investigation, Trump fired him.

A long line of people would follow Comey out the door, many of them experts on Russia or counterintelligence or cybersecurity. Trump invented reasons in most cases (reasons that, as with Comey, sharply conflicted with his own views about Hillary Clinton). The obvious real reason had to do with retaliation for investigating him. But in those firings and resignations, Trump got rid of numerous people who had long fought Russian organized crime (like Andrew McCabe and Bruce Ohr), and counterintelligence experts like Peter Strzok. Before and after his impeachment, he got rid of other Russian experts like Marie Yovanovitch and Alexander Vindman. Even those who left of their own accord, like Fiona Hill, were demonized for their true testimony under subpoena.

The most remarkable moment came in July 2018, shortly after the Mueller team indicted Russia’s hackers for their attack on our democracy, when Trump met Putin in Helsinki.

Days before the meeting — though possibly after he had been warned the indictment was coming — Trump announced that he and Putin were talking about cybersecurity cooperation.

Then at the actual summit, with Putin displaying Trump like a soggy trophy, Trump sided with Putin’s denials over the US intelligence community in part because of conspiracy theories about the DNC server.

My people came to me, Dan Coats, came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have confidence in both parties.

I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC?

Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.

I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer.

He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.

That is, after a lengthy meeting with Putin, Trump simply decided — perhaps because he had to decide — that Russia had not attacked the US at all. His solution, per Putin’s suggestion, was to send people who had been investigating Russian crimes to Russia, something that has gotten people killed in the past.

Meanwhile, Trump started dismantling the cybersecurity defenses built up during the Obama Administration. The first day John Bolton started as Trump’s third National Security Advisor, experienced cybersecurity guy Tom Bossert was fired as Homeland Security czar.

President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, was fired Tuesday as the president’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, consolidates power in the White House.

On Monday night, Bossert was socializing with current and former U.S. Intelligence officials at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia, and a source close to him told NBC News that the adviser was unaware of any intention at the White House to seek his resignation, and that he had no plans to quit.

“New team,” the source said, without further explanation.

Bossert was called in to Bolton’s office early Tuesday morning and told that he was being fired, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Trump’s associates may have figured out that Bossert had provided key details about the events at Mar a Lago in December 2016; he also appears to have provided emails to Mueller’s team that helped them to get those of others like Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.

Rob Joyce, a top NSA expert, was moved back to the Agency a few months after Bossert left. So even as Bolton was downgrading the pandemic expertise within NSC, he was also eliminating top cybersecurity talent.

That was done because Bolton is a power hungry asshole. But Trump continued eliminating cybersecurity expertise (even beyond that ensuring secure elections) in a fit of pique after the election. At a time when this hack would have already started, Trump fired the head of CISA, Chris Krebs, along with a deputy because they refused to back his conspiracy theories about the election. Politico reported that, in Krebs’ absence, “There is ‘massive frustration with CISA on a sluggish response to agency breaches.'”

Cybersecurity was one area where Trump’s team really was every bit the match of Obama’s — if not better. But Trump fired or removed key people one after another.

Similarly, also in a fit of pique, Trump put one after another unqualified flunky in charge of the entire Intelligence Community, first Twitter troll Ric Grenell and then resume fluffer John Ratcliffe. He did so, in substantial part, because they would ensure that Congress would not get briefed on threats from Russia. He also did so to ensure documents that purportedly undermined the case that he had been elected with Russian help would be released to the public. Under the two men, the government released documents that might have revealed key details about sources and methods to the Russians, both on how they collected on the Russian Embassy and on how quickly the CIA picked up certain pieces of intelligence in summer 2016.

Finally, things have come full circle. After Flynn blew up a perfectly good plea agreement (I’ll show in a few days he still would have been better off with that) largely in the service of making unsubstantiated claims of abuse refuted even by Barr’s DOJ along the way, Barr needed to help him out of the legal pickle and jail time his shitty defense attorney Sidney Powell got him into. As part of that effort, the Attorney General of the United States moved to dismiss the prosecution based off a claim (one that conflicted with a filing submitted by his own DOJ months earlier) that Flynn did nothing wrong by calling up Russia to undermine sanctions imposed, in part, to punish them for a hack. The case was so weak, the team trying to invent excuses for why Flynn shouldn’t be prosecuted for lying to hide his attempts to undermine sanctions on Russia altered documents. And that still didn’t work.

And so, along with a Thanksgiving turkey, Trump pardoned Mike Flynn, his first act of lame duck clemency, for Flynn’s service in protecting Trump from accountability for, himself, undermining those sanctions. Trump came into office telling Russia not to worry about hacking the United States. Trump told them explicitly, to their face, not to worry about hacking the United States. And in pardoning Mike Flynn, Trump made it clear that Russia should not worry — about Trump at least — about hacking the Untied States.

We will presumably get more certainty in days ahead about whether Russia did this hack, as well as the many key targets of it. The real question, however, will be whether Trump will be held accountable for inviting it to happen.

Update: The NYT describes analysis pointing out that Trump continues to sow conspiracy theories about voter fraud while remaining silent about getting pwned by his buddy Putin.

Analysts said it was hard to know which was worse: that the federal government was blindsided again by Russian intelligence agencies, or that when it was evident what was happening, White House officials said nothing.

But this much is clear: While President Trump was complaining about the hack that wasn’t — the supposed manipulation of votes in an election he had clearly and fairly lost — he was silent on the fact that Russians were hacking the building next door to him: the United States Treasury.

Updated with link to Politico and expanded list of targets.

Update: Richard Blumenthal, after attending a classified briefing on this compromise, has repeatedly attributed it to Russia.

Mike Pompeo has similarly stated, as fact, that Russia did it.

In His Mike Flynn Opinion, Emmet Sullivan Made a Finding of Fact Against Billy Barr’s New Reality

I’ve been unpacking the Judge Emmet Sullivan opinion dismissing Mike Flynn’s guilty verdicts.

This post lays out how Sullivan asserts authority to refuse the government’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution, but does not do so, because the question is moot.

This post shows that Sullivan laid out evidence that DOJ’s motion to dismiss was pretextual. He declined to rule that the motion itself was pretextual, because the question is moot. But he made it clear he thinks DOJ’s excuses for blowing up the Flynn prosecution are bullshit.

And this post notes that, before Sullivan started mooting the shit out of DOJ’s interest in his docket, he struck some documents that Sidney Powell had submitted to his docket because the government had not authenticated them, without at the same time striking another document that the government didn’t rely on but had not authenticated. It’s a tactical step, I think, that leaves everything else in his docket as authenticated, even though DOJ stopped short of standing by all those exhibits.

Before I get into what Sullivan says about Trump’s pardon power — which, make no mistake, Sullivan affirms as expansive — I’d like to lay out some findings of fact that Sullivan includes in this opinion. He includes a number of other findings of fact that are tangential to the question of a pardon but which Bill Barr and Donald Trump have staked a lot on. He does so, he explains, because the government has invited him to.

The Court is mindful that it is “particularly ill-suited” to reviewing the strength of the case. Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598, 607 (1985); see also In re United States, 345 F.3d 454, 455 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding that the trial court’s belief that “the evidence was strong and conviction extremely likely” was an inappropriate basis to deny leave). That said, the role of the Court is to conduct an “examination of the record” in order to ensure that the government’s “efforts to terminate the prosecution [are not] tainted with impropriety.” Rinaldi, 434 U.S. at 30. Moreover, the Court examines the factual basis underlying the government’s reasons because not doing so would amount to rubber stamping the government’s decision, contrary to the requirement of Rule 48(a). Here, the government has invited the Court’s examination of its evidence. See Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 42:22-43:1 (stating that “we’re completely unafraid here to address . . . the specifics as to why we thought we needed to dismiss this case. . . . we’d be happy to go through the evidence.”). Accordingly, the Court will briefly address some of the evidence the government points to as it is troubled by the apparently pretextual nature of certain aspects of the government’s ever-evolving justifications. See Foster v. Chatman, 136 S. Ct. 1737, 1751 (2016) (“[T]he prosecution’s principal reasons for the strike shifted over time, suggesting that those reasons may be pretextual.”).

The findings of fact Sullivan addresses primarily come in this paragraph on materiality… [my numbering throughout]

Several of the government’s arguments regarding materiality also appear to be irrelevant or to directly contradict previous statements the government has made in this case. For example, as Mr. Gleeson points out, many of the “bureaucratic formalities” [1] the government asserts reveal the “confusion and disagreement about the purpose and legitimacy of the interview and its investigative basis”—such as the drafting of the FBI’s Closing Communication or internal conversations between FBI and Department of Justice officials regarding whether to notify the Trump administration of Mr. Flynn’s false statements—are not relevant to proving materiality. See Amicus Reply Br., ECF No. 243 at 19. Nor is it [2] relevant whether Mr. Flynn was an “agent of Russia” or guilty of some other crime at the time he made the false statements. Furthermore, while the government argues that, “since the time of [Mr. Flynn’s guilty] plea, [3] extensive impeaching materials had emerged about key witnesses the government would need to prove its case,” Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 35; the government had been aware of much of this evidence since early on in the case, see, e.g., Gov’t’s Response Def.’s Mot. Compel, ECF No. 122 at 8-9.

And this passage assessing the evidence that Flynn’s lies were lies.

[4] With regard to the “inconsistent records” rationale, the government has not pointed to evidence in the record in this case that contradicts the FD-302 that memorialized the FBI agents’ interview with Mr. Flynn. Furthermore, the government’s reliance on Director Comey’s opinion about whether Mr. Flynn lied is suspect given that Director Comey was not present at the interview and that there are valid questions regarding the admissibility of his personal opinion.

With regard to Mr. Flynn’s alleged “faulty memory,” Mr. Flynn is not just anyone; he was the National Security Advisor to the President, clearly in a position of trust, [5] who claimed that he forgot, within less than a month, that he personally asked for a favor from the Russian Ambassador that undermined the policy of the sitting President prior to the President-Elect taking office. With regard to the government’s concerns about the Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence’s contemplating the goal of the interview, [6] an objective interpretation of the notes in their entirety does not call into question the legitimacy of the interview. Finally, and critically, under the terms of Mr. Flynn’s cooperation agreement, [7] the government could have used his admissions at trial, see Plea Agreement, ECF No. 3 at 8 ¶ 11; but the government ignores this powerful evidence.

In these passages, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan finds as fact that:

  1. The government’s assertion that there was confusion surrounding Mike Flynn’s interview does not change that his lies were material.
  2. DOJ’s [draft] conclusion that Flynn was not an agent of Russia does not change that his lies were material.
  3. The evidence impeaching Peter Strzok and others does not change that Flynn’s lies were material (and, as Sullivan notes, even the government agreed before Flynn pled guilty).
  4. Nothing in the public record substantiates that the 302 of Janaury 24, 2017 Flynn’s interview does not accurately reflect what happened in the interview.
  5. Flynn’s claims to be forgetful are not consistent with the fact that, as the incoming National Security Advisor, he personally asked Sergey Kislyak to undermine President Obama’s policy before Trump took office.
  6. Nothing in Bill Priestap’s notes call into question the legitimacy of the Mike Flynn interview.
  7. The government could have relied on Mike Flynn’s admissions at trial.

One way to think about this language is that Billy Barr attempted to create a new set of facts by submitting documents from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation to Sullivan’s docket and making false claims about them, thereby attempting to annul the set of facts that led DOJ (even DOJ under Bill Barr, repeatedly) to argue that Mike Flynn’s lies were serious. Judge Sullivan is having none of Billy Barr’s new reality, in significant part because DOJ has not explained what changed from its prior assertions of fact and partly because none of the claims it has made about the so-called new evidence refutes DOJ’s prior representations.

These findings of fact may have a more specific effect, though. Billy Barr has served up his different set of facts and based off those, John Durham is attempting to criminalize the decisions of the people that prosecuted Mike Flynn for telling the FBI material lies. DOJ generally has no basis to appeal Sullivan’s findings, because its position in the docket is (as Sullivan notes repeatedly) moot. But Durham has even less ability to contest Sullivan’s findings of fact; he has no standing.

So unless DOJ finds a way around the fact that they themselves have mooted any further involvement before Judge Sullivan, then, any further investigation into the circumstances of Flynn’s prosecution will have to contend with the fact that a judge has already found a number of key premises entertained by those pushing the investigation into the investigation to be false.

At least as of right now, it is not relevant to Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn. But one thing Sullivan did in his opinion was to reject Billy Barr’s new reality in a way that may be invoked for any related matters before DC District courts.

Judge Sullivan Calls Bullshit on DOJ’s Pretextual Reasons for Blowing Up the Mike Flynn Prosecution

As described in this post, Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed Mike Flynn’s prosecution as moot. In his opinion dismissing the case, he asserted his authority to weigh whether DOJ’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution was in the public interest, while stopping short of doing so since the decision is moot. That part of the opinion affirmed District court authority to weigh whether DOJ has done something corrupt in blowing up Mike Flynn’s plea.

Along the way, Sullivan made it quite clear he believed that DOJ was lying about their two main excuses for blowing up Flynn’s prosecution — that his lies weren’t material nor were they clearly lies.

Given this context, the new legal positions the government took in its Rule 48(a) motion and at the motion hearing raise questions regarding its motives in moving to dismiss. The government advances two primary reasons8 justifying dismissing the case based on its assessment of the strength of the case: (1) it would be difficult to prove the materiality of Mr. Flynn’s false statements beyond a reasonable doubt; and (2) it would be difficult to prove the falsity of those statements beyond a reasonable doubt. See Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 31. As explained below, the Court finds both stated rationales dubious to say the least, arguably overcoming the strong presumption of regularity that usually attaches to prosecutorial decisions.

Sullivan argues Flynn’s lies were material under the DC circuit’s standard

As Sullivan laid out, in their efforts to justify blowing up the Mike Flynn prosecution, the government adopted a totally new standard for materiality.

In making its arguments, however, the government relies on a newly-minted definition of “materiality” that is more circumscribed than the standard in this Circuit. The government describes the materiality threshold as requiring more than “mere ‘relevance’”; rather, the false statement must have “probative weight” and be “reasonably likely to influence the tribunal in making a determination required to be made.” Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198 at 12-13 (quoting Weinstock v. United States, 231 F.2d 699, 701 (D.C. Cir. 1956)). Therefore, “[t]he materiality threshold thus ensures that misstatements to investigators are criminalized only when linked to the particular ‘subject of [their] investigation.’” Id. at 13 (quoting United States v. Kim, 808 F. Supp. 2d 44, 59 (D.D.C. 2011)).

After laying out what the standard really is — whether a lie is capable of affecting the general function of the FBI — Sullivan then notes that the government had previously argued that Flynn’s lies were material.

Given the materiality threshold’s expansive scope, the government’s new use of the narrowed definition of “materiality” is perplexing, particularly given that the government has previously argued in this case that the materiality standard required only that a statement have a “natural tendency to influence, or [be] capable of influencing.” See Gov’t’s Surreply Def.’s Reply Support Mot. Compel, ECF No. 132 at 10-11. The government, for its part, offers no response as to why it relies on this new, more stringent definition. Nor does the government direct the Court’s attention to any other case in which it has advanced this highly-constrained interpretation of materiality as applied to a false statements case.

He then lays out how — going even further — DOJ claimed it didn’t need to adhere to any standard of law, much less the precedent for this circuit. Sullivan uses that to argue that the government has lost the presumption of regularity.

Notably, during the September 29, 2020 motion hearing, the government seemed to suggest that, when moving for dismissal of an action pursuant to Rule 48(a), the government need not refer to the correct materiality standard at all when determining whether a false statement is “material.” See Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 78:21-79:3 (“[W]hen we move to dismiss, the question in our mind is not what is the legal standard of materiality for whether the evidence here will be sufficient to sustain a conviction on appeal. The question is whether we, the Department of Justice, think this evidence is material . . . .”). In view of the government’s previous argument in this case that Mr. Flynn’s false statements were “absolutely material” because his false statements “went to the heart” of the FBI’s investigation, the government’s about-face, without explanation, raises concerns about the regularity of its decision-making process.

Importantly (as I’ll return to), the opinion engages in a page-long discussion about the bullshit excuses DOJ has floated to argue these lies weren’t material.

Several of the government’s arguments regarding materiality also appear to be irrelevant or to directly contradict previous statements the government has made in this case. For example, as Mr. Gleeson points out, many of the “bureaucratic formalities” the government asserts reveal the “confusion and disagreement about the purpose and legitimacy of the interview and its investigative basis”—such as the drafting of the FBI’s Closing Communication or internal conversations between FBI and Department of Justice officials regarding whether to notify the Trump administration of Mr. Flynn’s false statements—are not relevant to proving materiality. See Amicus Reply Br., ECF No. 243 at 19. Nor is it relevant whether Mr. Flynn was an “agent of Russia” or guilty of some other crime at the time he made the false statements. Furthermore, while the government argues that, “since the time of [Mr. Flynn’s guilty] plea, extensive impeaching materials had emerged about key witnesses the government would need to prove its case,” Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 35; the government had been aware of much of this evidence since early on in the case, see, e.g., Gov’t’s Response Def.’s Mot. Compel, ECF No. 122 at 8-9.

Sullivan closes that section by reasserting the standard that the government can’t just invent bullshit to justify its decisions.

Under Ammidown, the Court must be satisfied that the government undertook a “considered judgment,” 497 F.2d at 620; and asserting a factual basis that is largely irrelevant to meeting any legal threshold likely does not meet this standard.

Sullivan debunks DOJ’s claims that Flynn may not have lied

Then Sullivan debunks DOJ’s claims that there was any doubt that Flynn lied, focusing primarily on the import of the fact that Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka didn’t believe he exhibited signs of lying when walking out of the interview. Primarily, this discussion focuses on how the claim is legally irrelevant and conflicts with what DOJ has said in the past.

The government’s second rationale is that it “does not believe it could prove that Mr. Flynn knowingly and willfully made a false statement beyond a reasonable doubt.” Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198 at 18; see also Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 38-39. To support this rationale, the government initially pointed to the fact, which was known at the time Mr. Flynn pled guilty, that the FBI agents who interviewed him did not think he was lying, and it also noted the “equivocal” or “indirect” nature of Mr. Flynn’s responses. Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198 at 18. The government further contends that evidentiary problems have “emerged” including: (1) “inconsistent FBI records as to the actual questions and statements made,” id. at 19; (2) “Director [James] Comey’s own sentiment that the case was a ‘close one,’” id. (quoting Ex. 5 to Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198); and (3) “substantial impeaching materials on the key witnesses,”9 Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 39.

[snip]

As an initial matter, whether or not the FBI agents thought Mr. Flynn was lying is irrelevant in a false statements case. See Brogan v. United States, 522 U.S. 398, 402 (1998). And the government has not explained how evidence that the government previously stated was “consistent and clear,” Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 4-5; suddenly became “equivocal” or “indirect.” With regard to the “inconsistent records” rationale, the government has not pointed to evidence in the record in this case that contradicts the FD-302 that memorialized the FBI agents’ interview with Mr. Flynn.

Sullivan then goes on to debunk a lot of the other bullshit DOJ threw into his docket. I’ll return to this. But the important point is that Sullivan relied on DOJ’s past assertions to debunk the claims that DOJ later threw up.

Having reviewed DOJ’s two substantive excuses for blowing up Flynn’s prosecution, Sullivan suggests they’ve forfeited the presumption of regularity they’d need to convince him to dismiss Mike Flynn’s prosecution, but ultimately avoids saying whether he would have rejected their request or not because the question is moot.

Again, under Ammidown, the Court must be satisfied that the government undertook a “considered judgment.” 497 F.2d at 620. Asserting factual bases that are irrelevant to the legal standard, failing to explain the government’s disavowal of evidence in the record in this case, citing evidence that lacks probative value, failing to take into account the nature of Mr. Flynn’s position and his responsibilities, and failing to address powerful evidence available to the government likely do not meet this standard.

Thus, the application of Rule 48(a) to the facts of this case presents a close question. However, in view of the President’s decision to pardon Mr. Flynn, Mr. Flynn’s acceptance of the pardon, and for the reasons stated in the following section, the appropriate resolution is to deny as moot the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 48(a).

So first Sullivan laid out that he had the authority to decide, but stopped short of deciding because the question is moot. Then he laid out abundant reason why DOJ had forfeited the presumption of regularity such that their rationale for asking that the case be dismissed would otherwise have to be accepted, but once again stops short of ruling, because the question is moot.

He has the authority to decide but won’t because the question is moot.

He shows all the evidence that the government is full of shit, but does not rule as such, because the question is moot.

Because the government has very little way to appeal either of these rulings, the rest of the opinion (and the steps Sullivan took to get there) will likely never be appealed. Sullivan has laid a record out that almost certainly cannot be challenged. He has used the mootness of the question as a shield to lay out two key judgments: that he could decide, and that he could have decided against the government.

John Durham and the First Fight over a Doctored MemCon of Trump’s Meetings with Russia

A year ago, John Durham was investigating who leaked the fact that Mike Flynn had secretly worked with Russia to undermine sanctions that served, in part, to punish Russia for helping Trump get elected. Mike Flynn and KT McFarland had been claiming that David Ignatius forced them to lie about conversations that they made active efforts to cover-up even when they were secret, an obviously bullshit claim, but one that DOJ adopted as credible nevertheless.

The problem with that prong of the investigation (even beyond the fact that Flynn and McFarland were already covering Flynn’s calls before they had been made public) — as I pointed out when it was reported — that the most likely sources of the news that Flynn had been having secret conversations with the Ambassador were several groups that could leak this information legally: Original Classification Authorities, outgoing or not, or members of Congress. For the record, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appear to have assumed the leak came from Congress. But if James Clapper or Jim Comey or another OCA leaked it as part of a counterintelligence inquiry into why Flynn did that, it would be entirely legal. All the more so given that Trump was not yet in office.

Given the new details we have on the Durham investigation — including yet more proof he and his investigators grossly misunderstand counterintelligence — I’d like to return to another leak: that Trump shared highly classified Israeli intelligence with Sergey Lavrov in their meeting on May 10, 2017. Given recent events, I think there is a decent chance that Durham investigated and may still be investigating this one, too.

As I noted, among the last Mueller 302s released to BuzzFeed were three or four that dealt with this leak, a coincidence in timing that is among the reasons I suspect Durham may have reviewed these 302s. They first described how after a meeting around the time Jim Comey was fired, an FBI counterintelligence detailee to the White House got called into Acting Homeland Security Advisor John Daly’s office after a meeting and grilled in a way that the detailee seemed to find inappropriate. Among other things, Daly asked the detailee what he thought of Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

A second interview with the detailee conducted on the same day appears to describe the aftermath of the meeting on May 10, 2017, at which Trump shared this intelligence. It appears the detailee read the MemCom of the meeting and realized what Trump had done. He appears to have first alerted his boss of what happened (it’s unclear whether that boss was at the White House or FBI), and then escalated it. He tried to tell Tom Bossert, but instead told Daly, which led to the grilling by Daly laid out in the first interview. After that meeting, the detailee told Bossert what happened. The detailee’s notice to Bossert led him to take measures to minimize the damage, as described by the original report on the meeting.

Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout. Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.

One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.

Over two years before similar events would lead to impeachment, Trump’s aides were trying to doctor the record of his calls with Russia to hide how he had damaged our allies.

According to the 302, Bossert applauded the detailee for alerting him of the problem. “Thank god you came to us.”

But then after the story leaked to the WaPo and NYT, the detailee was summoned to Bossert’s office, only to be grilled by both Bossert and Daly. After the detailee was grilled for 20-30 minutes, someone else was, as well. Almost immediately after his grilling, the detailee saw HR McMaster give a press conference at which, per the detailee, McMaster “gave a misleading account of what happened during TRUMP’s meeting with LAVROV.” Like Flynn had earlier that year, McMaster was lying publicly about something the Russians knew was a lie.

After he was grilled, the detailee appears to have informed FBI chain of command, including Bill Priestap.

Shortly thereafter, it appears that the detailee learned from Bossert that he was not getting a job he expected. The detailee asked when that decision was made, Bossert appears to have lied either about the job offer or about the decision to alter the MemCon in real time.

Not long after, the detailee left the NSC. Before he did, he put copies of emails recording all this as well as the partially redacted MemCon he had seen in a safe. The 302 suggests that the White House fired all the other people who had seen the MemCon.

Among the other 302s released last week include a record of FBI obtaining copies of Bill Priestap’s discussions with Ezra Cohen-Watnick and what appears to be the detailee at the time, which almost certainly includes notes relaying the events surrounding the MemCon. There’s also an almost entirely redacted 302 from Ted Gistaro, which was at least his second interview. Gistaro was Trump’s briefer both at Mar-a-Lago during the Transition period when Flynn was secretly calling Sergey Kislyak and probably still during the May 2017 period. Another 302 might be the FBI picking up the documents that the detailee had left behind.

All that is to say that among the very last documents that Bill Barr’s DOJ cleared for public release deal with a very complex set of problems central to questions of Trump’s relationship with Russia during the days that FBI would expand its counterintelligence investigation to incorporate Trump, as well. There’s the matter of the leak, which has never been charged. The original WaPo, which appears to have relied on more sources, cites both current and former officials, including at least one who remained close to Trump officials.

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

[snip]

“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”

[snip]

“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”

Given that Bossert called NSA and CIA to alert them, there would be many candidates for this, including the OCAs for the intelligence and the partnership with our ally. Indeed, the journalists on the original story cover CIA and the Pentagon, not FBI. But the grilling of the detailee suggests that the White House suspected him.

Then there’s the matter of what the FBI should do with this information — and it seems fairly clear that the detailee was one if not the primary source of the information for the people overseeing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. It is absolutely within Trump’s right to give our enemies classified information. It also undoubtedly damages the US (as the Trump-friendly source[s] for the story seem to agree).

If Andrew McCabe included this exchange among the things he considered before opening a counterintelligence investigation into Trump, I can see how Durham — who has exhibited over and over that he doesn’t understand counterintelligence — would deem it inappropriate, particularly if egged on by Bill Barr. If an FBI counterintelligence detailee at the White House had a role in its dissemination, all the more so.

But I can also see how, from a counterintelligence investigation, McMaster’s lies about this (on behalf of Trump) would raise concerns about Trump’s compromise. As with Flynn before him, the Russians would know that Trump was lying about his coziness with Russia.

Barr has set Durham up such that he can issue a report that the Attorney General — whoever it is — will be expected to make public (though if the report violates the rules that got Jim Comey fired, there would be a good excuse not to). If this is part of Durham’s investigation, Barr may be trying to suggest that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump was wholly inappropriate.

There’s a problem with that, of course. Trump had already probably committed a crime in working on a pardon for Julian Assange, well before he was even elected. That is, neither the leak to Ignatius (by whomever) nor the leak about the Russian meeting (by whomever) can be said to have inappropriately kicked off the counterintelligence investigation into Trump. His actions in October 2016 had already done that.

But, even if Durham showed any inkling of understanding of the counterintelligence matters he is investigating,  there’s no reason to believe he would know that there are seemingly ongoing matters that implicate Trump even before he was elected.

And if this is Barr’s play, of course, it may be undercut once Trump leaves office. Already, HR McMaster has, years later, criticized Trump’s efforts to coddle Russia. If asked to do so under oath in the next Congress, he may have far more to say about the damage Trump did to the country because he was so insecure about Russia’s help in the election.

Update: Bill Leonard, the former head of ISOO (and as such the guy who was in charge of the entire US classification system during the W administration), has corrected me on my assertion that Trump could legally share this information. He could under US law, but doing so violated international law. He explains:

Based upon reporting, the information Trump compromised was provided to the U.S. by an intelligence partner pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  Under international law, this bilateral executive agreement obligated the U.S. to protect the information.  Within the U.S., we have elected to utilize the classification system to protect such shared information.
While as President, Trump is free to abrogate the bilateral agreement, there is no indication that this was his intent.  Thus, pursuant to International law, he was obligated to protect it which he clearly failed to do.
Reverse the situation.  Foreign leaders do not have the right to unilaterally disclose U.S. classified information that has been shared with their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  The same restrictions pertain to a U.S. president.
Classification is but one of the many authorities this president has abused.  It needs to be called out as such.

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket

Bill Barr could come to regret his neat effort to place a ticking time bomb inside the Joe Biden DOJ, because John Durham has evidence in hand that Bill Barr’s DOJ tampered with documents.

I’ve been thinking … There’s something that doesn’t make sense about Bill Barr’s roll-out of the order making John Durham a Special Counsel. For the better part of a year, Barr has been saying that Durham could roll out actual indictments before the election, since none of the people he would indict were candidates. Yet Barr claimed, in his order, that he decided (not Durham) that, “legitimate investigative and privacy concerns warrant confidentiality” until after the election. And then he waited almost an entire month before he revealed the order. He did so in spite of adopting 28 CFR 600.9, which otherwise requires notice to Congress, to govern this appointment.

Let me interject and say that while Barr’s appointment of a DOJ employee, US Attorney John Durham, violates the Special Counsel statutes, that’s not the authority under which Barr appointed Durham. He did so under 28 USC 509, 510, 515, which is what Mueller was technically appointed under. Thanks to the Mueller investigation and some well-funded Russian troll lawyers, there’s a whole bunch of appellate language authorizing the appointment of someone under 28 USC 515 but governed under 28 CFR 600.9. The unusual nature of the appointment would provide President Biden’s Attorney General an easy way to swap Durham for Nora Dannehy (who as a non-departmental employee would qualify under the Special Counsel guidelines), and given her past involvement in the investigation, it should suffer no loss of institutional credibility or knowledge. But it doesn’t damage Durham’s legal authority in the meantime.

Barr probably lied about the significant reasons to delay notice to Congress. According to the AP, Durham is no longer focused on most of the scope he had been investigating, to include George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and GOP claims that the CIA violated analytic tradecraft in concluding that Vladimir Putin affirmatively wanted Trump elected. He is, according to someone in the immediate vicinity of Barr, focused just on the conduct of FBI Agents before Mueller’s appointment, even though the language of this appointment approves far more.

The current investigation, a criminal probe, had begun very broadly but has since “narrowed considerably” and now “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI,” Barr said. He said he expects Durham would detail whether any additional prosecutions will be brought and make public a report of the investigation’s findings.

[snip]

A senior Justice Department official told the AP that although the order details that it is “including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” the Durham probe has not expanded. The official said that line specifically relates to FBI personnel who worked on the Russia investigation before the May 2017 appointment of Mueller, a critical area of scrutiny for both Durham and for the Justice Department inspector general, which identified a series of errors and omissions in surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign associate.

The focus on the FBI, rather than the CIA and the intelligence community, suggests that Durham may have moved past some of the more incendiary claims that Trump supporters had hoped would yield allegations of misconduct, or even crimes — namely, the question of how intelligence agencies reached their conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

We know from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation and documents Barr otherwise released where Barr thought John Durham was heading. There are questions about who knew about credibility problems of Christopher Steele’s primary source Igor Danchenko (though the GOP has vastly overstated what his interview said, ignoring how much of the dossier it actually corroborated, Danchenko’s later interviews, and FBI’s later interviews of one of his own sources). There are some analysts who questioned the viability of the investigation into Flynn; it appears they asked to be removed from the team.

And Jensen, at least, seemed to want to claim that Peter Strzok got NSLs targeting Flynn in February and March 2017 that he had previously refused to approve. Someone seems to have convinced Flynn investigative agent Bill Barnett that those NSLs, which were lawyered by Kevin Clinesmith, were illegal, but given the predication needed for NSLs that seems a wild stretch. Plus, it would be unlikely (though not impossible) for Durham to indict Clinesmith without a Durham-specific cooperation agreement before if he believed Clinesmith had committed other crimes. I mean, it’s possible that Clinesmith, under threat of further prosecution, is claiming that mere NSLs are illegal, but I’d be surprised. Not least because after these NSLs, Strzok worked hard to put a pro-Trump FBI Agent in charge of the Flynn investigation.

Occam’s razor suggests that Durham asked for the special counsel designation because he wants to be permitted to work through these last bits and finish up the investigation, along with the prior authority (which Mueller did not have) to publish his findings.

Occam’s razor also suggests that the reason Barr didn’t reveal this change of status until this week has everything to do with pressure from Trump and nothing to do with investigative equities and everything to do with using this investigation like he has all of his US Attorney led investigations, as a way to placate Trump. Trump has reportedly been complaining that Barr didn’t do more to undermine the election, and so he rolled this out as a way to buy space and time.

Axios reports that it may not work. Trump might fire Barr and replace him with someone who would order that Durham report right away.

Behind the scenes: Within Trump’s orbit, sources told Axios, Tuesday’s revelation was seen as a smokescreen to forestall the release of the so-called Durham report, which senior administration officials believe is already complete — and which Barr had ruled out issuing before the election.

  • Another senior administration official disputed that assessment, saying: “The reason the Attorney General appointed John Durham as Special Counsel is because he’s not finished with his investigation,” and that Barr “wanted to ensure that John Durham would be able to continue his work independently and unimpeded.”
  • Trump has been ranting about the delay behind the scenes and mused privately about replacing Barr with somebody who will expedite the process. But it’s unclear whether he will follow through with that, per sources familiar with the conversations.
  • Barr met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other officials in the West Wing Tuesday afternoon.

Except that doesn’t work. If Trump were to name John Ratcliffe Acting Attorney General (he’d be the perfect flunky for the job), he would be powerless to force Durham to report more quickly. Sure, he could fire Durham, but he’d have to provide notice to Congress, and there’s virtually no remedy Congress would or could offer in the next 48 days. Ratcliffe can’t write a report himself. And the people doing the work for Durham aren’t DOJ employees, so firing them would do nothing to get a report. For better and worse, Barr has ensured that Ratcliffe or whatever other flunky were appointed could not do that, at least not in the 48 days before such person would be fired by President Biden.

Again, Ockham’s Razor suggests that Durham will finish his work and write a public report debunking the Papadopoulos conspiracies, confirming that CIA’s analytic work was not improper, and otherwise concluding that Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of documents was the only crime that occurred.

More importantly, there’s a problem with Axios’ report, that “Barr had ruled out issuing a report before the election,” and that’s what makes this special counsel appointment more interesting. Barr tried to force Durham to issue a report before the election. That led Durham’s trusted aide Nora Dannehy to quit before September 11, thereby seemingly creating the need for a special counsel designation at that point.

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned from the U.S. Justice Department probe – at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

[snip]

Colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr – who appointed Durham to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resignation for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.

[snip]

The thinking of the associates, all Durham allies, is that the Russia investigation group will be disbanded and its work lost if Trump loses.

And Barr himself had, for months, been saying that he would shut down Durham if Trump lost. Yet here we are, after the election, learning that Barr has provided Durham additional protections.

That’s all the more interesting given what Barr did after Dannehy quit in the face of pressure to issue some kind of report before the election. First, he gave a screed at Hillsdale College that pretty clearly targeted Dannehy, among others. Then, Barr attempted to let Jeffrey Jensen release an interim Durham report himself.

Less than a week after Dannehy quit, Jensen’s team interviewed Bill Barnett, someone who would be a key witness for any real Durham investigation of early actions by the FBI. The interview was clearly a political hack job, leaving key details (such as the role of Flynn’s public lies about his calls with Sergey Kislyak in the investigation) unasked. Barnett’s answers materially conflict with his own actions on the case. He was invited to make comments about the politicization of lawyers — notably Andrew Weissmann and Jeannie Rhee — he didn’t work with on the Mueller team. And he claimed to be unaware of central pieces of evidence in the case.

It took just a week for the FBI to write up and release the report from that interview, even while DOJ still hasn’t released a Bill Priestap interview 302 that debunked a central claim made in the Flynn motion to dismiss. And the interview was released in a form that hid material information about Brandon Van Grack’s actions from Judge Sullivan and the public.

But that’s not all. A day earlier prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent five documents to Sidney Powell:

  • The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes
  • The second set of altered Strzok notes
  • The altered Andrew McCabe notes
  • Texts between FBI analysts
  • A new set of Strzok-Page texts, which included new Privacy Act violations

All were packaged up for public dissemination, with their protective order footers redacted. There were dates added to all the handwritten notes, at least one of which was misleading. The Strzok-Page texts were irrelevant and included new privacy violations; when later asked to validate them, DOJ claimed they weren’t relying on them (which raises more questions about the circumstances of their release). There’s good reason to believe there’s something funky about the FBI analyst texts released (indeed, as politicized as his interview was, Barnett dismissed the mistaken interpretation DOJ adopted of their meaning, that the analysts were getting insurance solely because of the Russian investigation); DOJ made sure that the identities of these analysts was not made public, avoiding any possibility that the analysts might weigh in like Strzok and McCabe did when they realized their notes had been altered.

One of those alterations would come to serve as a scripted Trump attack on Joe Biden in their first debate. In a September 29 hearing, Sidney Powell admitted meeting regularly with Trump campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, and asking Trump to hold off on a Flynn pardon, making it clear that this docket gamesmanship was the entire point.

And then, on October 19, Durham got Barr to give him the special counsel designation that would give him independence he had not had during 18 months of Barr micromanagement and also ensure that he could remain on past the time when Barr would be his boss.

Days later, on October 22, DOJ wrote Sidney Powell telling her they were going to stop feeding her with documents she would use to make politicized attacks.

Let’s assume for a minute that Durham was, in good faith, pursuing what the FBI was doing in the spring of 2017, an inquiry for which Barnett was a key — and at that point, credible — witness. That investigation was effectively destroyed with the release of the politicized Barnett interview report. Any defense attorney would make mincemeat of him as a witness.

Which is to say that Barr’s effort to let Jensen release the things that Durham refused to before the election damaged any good faith investigation that Durham might have been pursuing. And that’s before DOJ got caught altering documents, documents for which Durham has original copies. It’s not clear whether Durham is watching this docket that closely, but if he is, he knows precisely what, how, and to what extent these documents have been altered. And he probably has a good sense of why they were released in the way they were.

Again, Ockham’s Razor says that Durham will just muddle along and after a delay release a report saying he found nothing — which itself will be incendiary enough to the frothy right.

But by incorporating 28 CFR 600.4 into the scope of his special counsel appointment clearly allows him to investigate any attempts to interfere with his investigation.

federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses;

It’s likely those pre-election antics did interfere with the investigation. And even if Durham hasn’t thought that through yet, it’s possible that Michael Horowitz will inform him of the details.

Bill Barr Hid Evidence of a Bribery for Pardon Investigation During the Election

Beryl Howell just partially unsealed an opinion she wrote on August 28, permitting DOJ to access some attorney’s communications in a bribery-for-pardon scheme. It’s unclear who the targets of the investigation are — though their names are too short to be Rudy Giuliani.

But one thing is clear: Judge Howell asked DOJ to tell her whether the opinion could be unsealed.

The order associated with that opinion directed the government to submit a “report advising whether any portions of the accompanying Memorandum Opinion may be unsealed to the public in whole or in part and, if so, proposing any redactions.”

DOJ did not respond until November 25, and in their response, they asked her to keep the entire thing under seal.

On November 25, 2020, the government submitted a status report requesting that the Court “maintain the Memorandum Opinion under seal” because it “identifies both individuals and conduct that have not been charged by the grand jury” and declining to suggest any redactions for a publicly available version.

She made them go line by line to get the redactions issued with this opinion.

So basically Barr hid that someone tried to bribe Trump for a pardon through the entire election.

Update: Howell gave them 90 days so Barr didn’t intentionally hold it.

Four Things Judge Emmet Sullivan Should Do in the Wake of Flynn’s Pardon

As I noted, Trump attempted to be expansive with his pardon of Mike Flynn. He failed. I think the chances that Flynn does prison time are almost as high today as they were last week.

And while I think there is absolutely nothing defective in the pardon that Trump signed and while I’m certain that Judge Sullivan will honor that pardon (though DOJ is asking him to dismiss the charges with prejudice; Sullivan should dismiss them without prejudice), there are four things that Sullivan has the means of doing to raise the cost of Trump’s pardon. Those are:

  • Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes
  • Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon
  • Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents
  • Identify who wrote the pardon

Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes

While whoever wrote this pardon tried (but failed) to make it comprehensive, it only names one of Flynn’s crimes: false statements (indeed, that’s the only crime that DOJ lists for the pardon on its website).

But by moving to withdraw his plea, Flynn put his other crimes before Judge Sullivan. So Sullivan has every right to inquire whether this pardon includes all of Flynn’s crimes. He could issue an order for Trump to come before him to answer whether the pardon forgives Flynn for:

  • His lies about what he said to Sergey Kislyak during the transition
  • Serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Lying about serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Conspiring with others to hide that he was an undisclosed Foreign Agent of Turkey
  • Lying about his own guilt and the circumstances surrounding his guilty pleas
  • Lying about lying to Flynn’s Covington lawyers

The answer to all those questions is yes. Trump does mean to pardon Mike Flynn for secretly working for Turkey while getting classified briefings. Trump does mean to pardon Flynn for lying to Sullivan (and he does know that Flynn did lie to Sullivan). Sullivan has a need to know that explicitly and he should get Trump on the record.

Trump won’t show, of course.

Until he is made to, after January 20th.

Note, I’d also make Trump state, under oath, when he signed the pardon. It is dated with Wednesday’s date, but I highly doubt that DOJ had it written by then. If Trump signed it after having lunch with Mike Pence yesterday, it’s possible that Trump didn’t write it this broadly until broaching a pardon for himself with Pence.

Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon

Judge Sullivan also has reason to want to know if someone offered Trump something of value for this pardon. He has evidence they did — in the altered documents designed to serve as a campaign attack on Joe Biden. And the news is full of evidence that Sidney Powell may have offered further benefit, in her efforts to challenge Trump’s election loss.

Sullivan should put both Flynn and Powell under oath and require that they confirm or deny whether they have offered favors to Trump for the pardon.

They won’t show, of course.

Until they are made to, after January 20th.

None of this would invalidate the pardon, of course. But if Trump got some other benefit from Flynn’s lies that went into this pardon, especially efforts to undermine a legal election, then the Attorneys General in those states that already investigating Trump’s efforts to steal the election would have reason to want to know that, and Sullivan has the means to get them under oath to do that.

Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents

People at both FBI and DOJ altered documents submitted in Sullivan’s court, the FBI by adding false dates to exhibits and DOJ by redacting footers indicating that the documents were covered by the protective order. Sullivan has reason to ask how that happened and who was involved in the effort.

Even if Trump pardoned everyone involved, there would still be a means for Sullivan to punish most of those involved, because most of those involved have law licenses and can be disbarred.

Sullivan should schedule a hearing — no need to rush, he might as well schedule it for January 26, after everyone involved gets a COVID shot — to ask the following people if they had a role in altering the documents (or eliciting a corrupt interview with Bill Barnett):

  • AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine
  • AUSA Sayler Fleming
  • AUSA Ken Kohl
  • US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen
  • FBI Executive Assistant Director John Brown
  • FBI Agent Keith Kohne
  • Acting DEA Administrator Timothy Shea
  • AG Bill Barr
  • DAG Jeffrey Rosen

Again, most of these people have law licenses that Sullivan could put at issue, and he has good reason to want to hold someone accountable for altering documents in his court.

These people won’t want to show. But after January 20th, they may have no way of avoiding it.

Identify who wrote the pardon

In his confirmation hearing, Bill Barr said that pardoning someone for giving false testimony would be a crime. Trump just committed that crime. Whatever lawyer wrote up the pardon language — whether it’s Barr or White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — just conspired to commit a crime.

Judge Sullivan should identify everyone who had a role.

[Fourth item added after the original post.]

Kraken Clemency: Did Trump Issue the Flynn Pardon Wednesday To Avoid Potential Conflict with Sidney Powell’s Batshittery??

I have to admit: given the certainty that Trump was going to pardon Mike Flynn eventually, I’m really grateful he did it on Wednesday, because it allowed for a truly epic headline, “Trump Pardons an Undisclosed Agent of Turkey Along with a Thanksgiving Bird.”

But I’m really mystified by the timing of it.

After all, there was still an outside chance that Judge Emmet Sullivan would agree to DOJ’s motion to dismiss, which would have eliminated Flynn’s guilty verdict more convincingly than this pardon. And, given that the pardon seems to exist only in Tweet form as of right now, Sullivan could still file his ruling, knowing that he’d be getting notice of a pardon sometime next week. Alternately, the early pardon could give Sullivan the opportunity to craft his other decisions, such as regarding Flynn’s motion to withdraw his plea, in ways that might have legal repercussions for Flynn and his son. So it seems risky to pardon Flynn before Sullivan rules.

I can think of several possible reasons for the timing. But the most intriguing is a tie between Sidney Powell’s efforts to sustain Trump’s most baseless conspiracy theories without any potential conflict for Flynn.

The upcoming Sullivan decision

Depending on how Trump words the pardon, the timing of this might still be an effort to pre-empt Sullivan’s decision. If Trump were to describe the pardon as all crimes Flynn committed from July 2016 to the present (meaning Wednesday), and if courts accepted that unspecific language, then it would cover not just Flynn’s lies to the FBI, but also his efforts to hide that he was an Agent of Turkey and his sworn materially conflicting statements before Judges Rudolph Contreras and Sullivan as well as the grand jury.

Or to put it another way, this may be an effort to write an even more abusive pardon in a way that few will notice.

Though I’ll notice.

The upcoming BuzzFeed FOIA release

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed will get another big drop of FBI 302s from the Mueller investigation. According to FOIA terrorist Jason Leopold, DOJ has not told them whether the drop will include the Flynn 302s, but does claim this will be the last release (which would seem to suggest it has to include the Flynn 302s).

Almost year ago, the government provided Flynn with his 302s, which make up 761 pages. They subsequently said that his cooperation with Mueller was not substantial and raised questions about his candor even after his initial interview. That’s consistent with Flynn’s own description of the early proffers, given that his Covington lawyers tried to get him back on track to cooperate after the first one.

Releasing the warrants in Flynn’s case was damning enough (though as a result of the timing, almost no one has scrutinized them closely). But these 302s may prove still more damning (not least because they should provide additional details of a meeting where Trump discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks after the Podesta emails dropped). They also may show that Flynn continued to lie to protect the President even while he was pretending to cooperate.

So Trump may have been tipped that if he wanted to limit the outrage over this pardon, he should get it done before the 302s come out on Tuesday, if indeed they will come out.

The conflict between Sidney Powell TV election lawyer and Sidney Powell TV defense attorney

Finally, I wonder whether some smart lawyer grew concerned that Sidney Powell was claiming to represent the President even while she was representing someone asking for a pardon.

On November 15, Trump explicitly named Powell as part of his team. On November 20, Powell appeared at Rudy the Dripper’s press conference. On November 22, Rudy and Jenna Ellis made a show of cutting ties with her.

Sidney Powell is practice law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.

According to Maggie Haberman, either he didn’t like her appearance and/or advisors convinced Trump to separate himself from her nutjobbery. Three days later, November 25, Trump pardoned Powell’s client. The next day, after days of promising to Bring the Kraken, Powell finally started releasing her epically batshit suits. Trump has promoted them.

Indeed, it even appears some Administration lawyers are still associated with Powell’s efforts.

I’m not sure I understand whether there would be a conflict between Powell representing Trump (for free, inevitably, as all lawyers do), making desperate efforts to overturn the election at the same time she was trying to ensure her client did no prison time. If that’s a conflict, it may still exist anyway given Powell’s admission to Judge Sullivan that she had repeatedly discussed Flynn with Trump’s campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis. The fact that DOJ packaged up altered documents to support a Trump attack on Biden may make those ties more important anyway (or lead to more details about them becoming public).

But if Powell’s involvement made Pat Cipollone and/or Bill Barr — who presumably share the challenging task of helping Trump write pardons that don’t backfire — squeamish, it might explain the timing.

Even Bill Barr (in His Confirmation Hearing) Agreed that Trump Just Committed a Crime

Three different times during Bill Barr’s confirmation to be Attorney General, he agreed that agreeing to pardon someone for false testimony — as Donald Trump just did for Mike Flynn — would be a crime.

Patrick Leahy, specifically invoking Barr’s sanction of the Caspar Weinberger pardon that squelched the Iran-Contra investigation, asked Barr about pardons.

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.

Then, in this exchange from Amy Klobuchar, it appeared to take Barr several questions before he realized she knew more about the evidence than he did, and started couching his answers.

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.

Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page one that if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. So what if a President drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

Barr: Again, I’d have to know the specifics.

Shortly after that exchange, Lindsey Graham tried to clarify the issue, asking the pardon question at a more basic level, coaching another not to testify, as Trump has done on Twitter repeatedly.

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

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

Lindsey: So if there’s some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence? That would be obstruction of justice, potentially?

Barr: [nods]

Admittedly, by the third exchange, both Lindsey and Barr were hedging far more carefully about the set of facts.

But on three different occasions during his confirmation hearing, Barr made some kind of statement that said floating pardons for false testimony would be a crime.

Thanks to records made available by Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell, we know that Trump was personally involved with Mike Flynn’s negotiations with Russia about the UN statement on Israel. We also know that within two days after Flynn intervened to undermine Obama’s sanctions, Trump knew of Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn lied to cover that up with the FBI, and lied about his knowledge of Trump’s involvement with Mueller.

According to Bill Barr’s own testimony to Congress then, Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn is obstruction of justice.

Trump Pardons an Undisclosed Agent of Turkey Along with a Thanksgiving Bird

Update: Trump has indeed pardoned the Agent of Turkey along with a farmyard turkey.

The significance of this, however, will depend on the wording of the pardon. 

At least three outlets (CNN, Axios, NYT) have reported the entirely unsurprising news that Trump is considering pardoning admitted liar and undisclosed Agent of Turkey, Mike Flynn. Only the NYT provides a reasonable account of what has happened since DOJ moved to dismiss the case, and only after repeating Trump’s false claims about the investigation.

None of the outlets reviewed how complex successfully pardoning Flynn will be, without making Trump’s — or Flynn’s son’s — fate worse. That’s true because the posture of the Flynn case before Judge Emmet Sullivan is such that Sullivan has multiple possible options for holding Flynn accountable, depending on when Sullivan moves and when Trump does.

If Trump pardoned Flynn for the crimes to which Flynn pled guilty, false statements, today, a Foreign Agent of Turkey pardoned right alongside a Thanksgiving turkey — then DOJ’s motion to dismiss the prosecution for Flynn’s false statements charges would likely be mooted. But there’s still a pending motion to withdraw Flynn’s plea before Judge Sullivan, which by itself mooted DOJ’s promises not to prosecute Flynn for hiding that he was working for the government of Turkey rather than just a foreign business in a FARA filing in March 2017. Plus, when Flynn pled, it was understood that would end the investigation, but given that he reneged on his plea, there’s nothing stopping DOJ from investigating Mike Jr for his involvement with Turkey, if Flynn were pardoned.

So to get Flynn out of immediate legal jeopardy, Trump would need to pardon Flynn for crimes to which he pled guilty — the false statements to hide Trump’s involvement in “colluding” with Russian to undermine US policy — but also the crime to which Flynn didn’t plead guilty, hiding that he was an Agent of Turkey while getting classified briefings during the 2016 campaign. That’s all the more true given that DOJ’s appeal of the Bijan Kian case is still unresolved (it is scheduled for oral argument on December 11), and trying Kian along with Mike Flynn, charged as a co-conspirator, would eliminate many of the legal difficulties from the first trial.

Trump might even have to pardon Flynn Jr.

But that’s still not adequate. Flynn made multiple materially conflicting statements before Judge Sullivan and the grand jury. When directing amicus John Gleeson on what he should consider, Sullivan asked whether he should hold Flynn in contempt. Gleeson said that, instead, he should consider those additional lies when sentencing him on the charged crimes. DOJ argued that Sullivan should, instead, refer the charges to DOJ. Even if Sullivan referred those charges today and Bill Barr declined prosecution (as DOJ made clear in hearings they would), Biden’s DOJ could reopen the case. So to get Flynn out of trouble for his efforts to blow up his own prosecution, Trump would have to pardon those crimes as well. But if Trump pardoned Flynn today, Sullivan could wait and ultimately hold Flynn in contempt; while Trump succeeded in freeing Joe Arpaio of criminal contempt with a pardon, it’s not clear whether that could work preemptively.

Assuming Trump does pardon Flynn for some or all of these crimes, it would add several overt actions to obstruction charges against himself. So unless he’s sure that Mike Pence would give him a last minute pardon (or certain that his own self-pardon would withstand legal review), then pardoning all Flynn’s crimes would pile up his own exposure.

Then, if Trump does pardon Flynn, it will surely become a matter for a hearing before one or the other of the Judiciary Committees into Trump’s abuse of the pardon power. Flynn will have no Fifth Amendment privilege and Biden’s DOJ will have the ability to enforce contempt motions from Congress. As I have noted, in the process of attempting to blow up Flynn’s prosecution, Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell and DOJ have released documents that will make it far harder for Mike Flynn to sustain his claim not to remember what Trump’s involvement in the “collusion” with Russia was. Public testimony (or even depositions run by staffers) might elicit evidence that would subject Trump himself to conspiracy charges or might result in new false statements charges.

Finally, there’s the matter of the documents that got altered as part of DOJ’s effort to blow up Flynn’s prosecution. There, Flynn is probably totally safe from legal jeopardy. But the lawyers might not be, at least at DOJ and possibly including Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis. Importantly, at the time of that effort, there was no conceivable privilege protecting discussions between Flynn’s defense attorney and Trump’s campaign lawyer, nor between Powell and Trump. Since then, Powell’s involvement in Trump’s attempts to lie about the election have been contested (and Trump and Powell could both face consequences for their lies on that front). So Trump’s decision to pardon Flynn now after being told by Powell before September that Flynn didn’t want a pardon would raise questions about its tie to the election.

Don’t get me wrong: The pardon power is awesome, and assuming a competent lawyer like Pat Cipollone is involved in the process, Trump might manage to negotiate all these risks and successfully ensure that Flynn does no prison time for his crimes. But this is the kind of complexity that Trump will face as he tries to pay off those who protected him.