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John Durham Flew to Italy to Get Joseph Mifsud’s Blackberries But Never Walked Across DOJ to Obtain James Baker’s Phones He Forgot He Knew Were There

Back in 2019, when John Durham undercut DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s conclusion that, for all the problems in the Carter Page FISA, the investigation itself was properly predicated and there was no evidence that the investigation into Trump’s associates had been politicized, Durham pointed to what he claimed was the broader scope of his own investigation that gave him reason to believe the predication was not clearcut.

I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff.  However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department.  Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.  Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.

Durham pointed both to his review of other agencies — such as the CIA review he has now completed without results — and the boondoggles he took with Billy Barr overseas as the basis (he claimed) to know more than Michael Horowitz.

Durham’s statement came shortly after he obtained two Blackberriesone dating to 2011 and the other to 2014 — that once belonged to Joseph Mifsud. By all reports, the George Papadopoulos conspiracy theories that Barr and Durham were chasing on the trip to Italy where they got those phones amounted to nothing. Taxpayers paid for Durham to fly overseas to collect information that predates the Russian operation by years, all because a sworn liar invented excuses for his crime after the fact.

It’s not that Horowitz ignored the Coffee Boy’s conspiracy theories. Rather than taking a junket to Italy to rule out Papadopoulos’ fevered speculation, Horowitz just looked in the FBI’s informant database and called the CIA.

164 During October 25, 2018 testimony before the House Judiciary and House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Papadopoulos stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG official was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos testified that Mifsud provided him with information about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hilary Clinton. Papadopoulos raised the possibility during his Congressional testimony that Mifsud might have been “working with the FBI and this was some sort of operation” to entrap Papadopoulos. As discussed in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHS), and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. In Chapter Ten, we also note that the FBI requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from the agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with the agency and the agency had no derogatory information on Mifsud.

[snip]

484 Papadopoulos has stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud, and has raised the possibility that Mifsud may have been working with the FBI. As described in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency and received no information indicating that Mifsud had a relationship with that agency or that the agency had any derogatory information concerning Mifsud.

This comparison is one reason it is so damning that Durham just admitted that he never sought to obtain (and falsely claims he never knew about) two phones formerly used by James Baker that were in the custody of DOJ IG all that time.

[I]n early January 2022, the Special Counsel’s Office learned for the first time that the OIG currently possesses two FBI cellphones of the former FBI General Counsel to whom the defendant made his alleged false statement, along with forensic reports analyzing those cellphones. Since learning of the OIG’s possession of these cellphones, the Government has been working diligently to review their contents for discoverable materials. The Government expects to make those materials available to the defense later this week.

The John Durham investigation made a big effort to obtain two dated phones based on a conspiracy theory, but didn’t even seek to obtain phones he should have known were in DOJ possession before indicting someone based off the single witness testimony of that person. Crazier still, in an update to the Court, Durham admitted that he learned but then forgot that Horowitz had obtained one of them during his prior investigation of Baker for a suspected leak.

This is not the only damning admission of investigative negligence in John Durham’s request for an extension of the deadline — which turns out to be a request for the deadline he originally requested — for what he calls discovery (but what is actually basic investigative steps he should have taken long before indicting Sussmann).

For example, in his indictment of Michael Sussmann, Durham gives the impression that Rodney Joffe only obtained data from the US in 2016 to hunt down damning data about Donald Trump. But in response to a Sussmann request, Durham conducted a review of all the 17,000 unclassified emails involving the email domain from one of Joffe’s companies, finding 226 from 2016 alone that pertain to this issue. As Sussmann has argued, lying to hide Joffe’s involvement in this would be counterproductive given how closely he works with FBI.

[T]o the extent the Indictment alleges that the FBI General Counsel and FBI might have done various things like ask “further questions,” taken additional or more incremental steps,” “allocated its resources differently or more efficiently,” or “uncovered more complete information” but for Mr. Sussmann’s purported false statement, the Special Counsel should be required to particularlize those potential questions, additional steps, resource allocations, or more complete information. Id. This is particularly necessary because [Joffe] — far from being a stranger to the FBI — was someone with whom the FBI had a long-standing professional relationship of trust and who was one of the world’s leading experts regarding the kinds of information that Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI. The notion that the FBI would have been more skeptical of the information had it known of Tech Executive-1’s involvement is, in a word, preposterous.

Similarly, the indictment makes much of the fact that Sussmann shared information with the NYT that ultimately led to an infamous October 31 story. It suggests without evidence that Sussmann — or even the Congressional sources who obviously played a role in the story — were the only ones pushing the Alfa Bank story to the NYT. It further suggests, falsely, that all the material NYT obtained on Alfa Bank came from Joffe’s effort. Crazier still, until Sussmann asked, Durham hadn’t pulled the details from a meeting the FBI (one that included James Baker and Bill Priestap, almost certain to be witnesses at Sussmann’s trial) had with the NYT.

On September 27, November 22, and November 30, 2021, the defense requested, in substance, “any and all documents including the FBI’s communications with The New York Times regarding any of [the Russian Bank-1] allegations in the fall of 2016.” In a subsequent January 10, 2022 letter, the defense also asked for information relating to a meeting attended by reporters from the New York Times, the then-FBI General Counsel, the then-FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, and the then-FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs. In response to these requests, the Special Counsel’s Office, among other things, (i) applied a series of search terms to its existing holdings and (ii) gathered all of the emails of the aforementioned Assistant Director for Public Affairs for a two-month time period, yielding a total of approximately 8,900 potentially responsive documents. The Special Team then reviewed each of those emails for relevant materials and produced approximately 37 potentially relevant results to the defense.

Pulling these records would have been just the first step Durham should have taken to figure out what other entities might have been pushing this story to the NYT and what specific allegations those entities were pushing to test some of the insinuations Durham makes in the indictment. Yet Durham never thought to look for these records before he indicted Sussmann.

Still, Durham’s failure to do anything to understand what DOJ IG had done in its parallel investigation is the most remarkable.

Before Durham was formally appointed, Billy Barr’s top aide Seth DuCharme seemed to be attempting to deconflict the investigation by bringing the two men together to talk about scope.

Perhaps Durham’s public rebuke of Horowitz undermined any cooperation since then (though Durham was certainly happy to take the Kevin Clinesmith case that Horowitz had wrapped up in a bow and claim it as his only visible sign of life for years).

But according to Durham’s filing, he didn’t reach out to Horowitz’s office until three weeks after indicting Sussmann (and perhaps more importantly, less than four weeks before indicting Igor Danchenko, in whose prosecution the DOJ IG investigation plays a central role). Durham presents his team reaching out to another unit at DOJ that he knew to have relevant material as some great feat of diligence rather than something he should have done years earlier.

On October 7, 2021, at the initiative of the Special Counsel’s Office, the prosecution team met with the DOJ Inspector General and other OIG personnel to discuss discoverable materials that may be in the OIG’s possession. The Special Counsel’s office subsequently submitted a formal written discovery request to the OIG on October 13, 2021, which requested, among other things, all documents, records, and information in the OIG’s possession regarding the defendant and/or the Russian Bank-1 allegations. The Special Counsel also requested any transcripts or other documents within the OIG’s possession containing certain search terms. In response, the OIG provided, and the Government has produced to the defense in redacted form, relevant transcripts of interviews conducted by the OIG during its review of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

That’s what led Durham to discover, for the first time, the anonymous tip of the same sort — weird forensic data discovered by Joffe — that Sussmann shared with DOJ IG in the same time period Durham was investigating.

It wasn’t until Durham asked the FBI Inspection Division for call data associated with Baker’s phone this month that they told him — because Durham had apparently never asked, not even given the endless focus on Peter Strzok and Lisa Page texts Horowitz obtained way back in 2017 — that DOJ IG had two phones that Baker had used. After Durham publicly claimed not to have known about the phones, DOJ IG then informed him that he learned DOJ IG obtained one of them in 2018 during a different investigation of Baker.

Durham’s belated outreach to DOJ IG may in fact be what first led Durham to discover the interview DOJ IG did with Baker on July 15, 2019 — shortly after deconfliction meetings in advance of Durham’s appointment — in which Baker said something that materially conflicts with the statements Baker has made to Durham, statements that in fact confirm Sussmann’s story.

Durham also obtained a transcript — the only one he provided to Sussmann in unredacted form — about some other investigation that Horowitz is currently conducting.

the transcript of an interview conducted by the DOJ Office of Inspector General in connection with an administrative inquiry that is currently ongoing;

And now, part of the reason Durham is asking for a delay in his existing deadline is that requests of Horowitz he should have made at the beginning of any investigation into whether Sussmann falsely set up Trump are proving too onerous for DOJ IG (which is working on a slew of reports on events that aren’t five years past) to do on their own.

Third, in January 2022, the OIG informed the Special Counsel’s Office for the first time that it would be extremely burdensome, if not impossible, for the OIG to apply the search terms contained in the prosecution team’s October 13, 2021 discovery request to certain of the OIG’s holdings – namely, emails and other documents collected as part of the OIG’s investigation. The OIG therefore requested that the Special Counsel’s Office assist in searching these materials. The Government is attempting to resolve this technical issue as quickly as possible and will keep the defense (and the Court as appropriate) updated regarding its status.

At this point, four months after indicting Michael Sussmann and two years after claiming he knew better than Michael Horowitz, Durham doesn’t know whether he even consulted the same records that Horowitz did.

As noted, if the same is true with respect to the Danchenko case, it is potentially lethal to Durham’s case, because his investigative theory (which is that Danchenko is responsible for FBI’s failure to act on problems with the dossier) is fundamentally incompatible with Horowitz’s (which is that it was FBI’s fault for not acting).

Durham does know, however, that he didn’t consult something that Horowitz did: Baker’s actual phones.

And that may have a real impact at trial.

At a status conference, Durham’s prosecutors dismissed the possibility that they had bullied Baker into telling the story they wanted him to tell on threat of prosecution: that Sussmann affirmatively lied about having a client, which conflicts with several other claims he had previously made under oath. They said (in a scheduling motion), instead, that once Durham’s prosecutors refreshed Baker’s memory with notes from Bill Priestap and someone else he spoke with after the Sussmann meeting, Baker remembered that Sussmann had actually affirmatively lied.

Mr. Baker made these statements before he had the opportunity to refresh his recollection with contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous notes that have been provided to the defense in discovery. Indeed, the defendant’s motion entirely ignores law enforcement reports of Mr. Baker’s subsequent three interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office in which he affirmed and then re-affirmed his now-clear recollection of the defendant’s false statement.

Effectively, they claimed they had better information when questioning Baker than anyone previously had.

Durham is going to have to present that to the jury, probably through the testimony of one of the FBI agents involved.

But that claim only works if Durham’s team had a more complete record than Horowitz’s team did when they asked the same questions. Durham doesn’t know whether that’s true or not yet, because he never bothered to figure out what Horowitz had. The delay Durham wants to do investigative work he should have done years ago is a delay, in part, to see whether that claim has any basis in fact. (And at least in December, Durham had only provided a heavily redacted transcript of what went on between Baker and the IG.)

All parties know one thing, however: That when Horowitz conducted questioning of Baker in 2019 about this topic, unlike Durham, he had consulted with Baker’s own phone. Durham can no longer claim to have been more thorough than Horowitz, because he just admitted he didn’t even bother consulting Baker’s phones and is only now getting around to checking what else Horowitz might have consulted that he did not.

John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann on the last possible day he could have under the statutes of limitation. And now, he’s asking for a delay in discovery deadlines (if not a delay in Sussmann’s trial), so he can do basic investigative work he should have done before the statutes of limitation tolled.

Update: Judge Cooper has granted Durham’s extension.

Update: Holy shit it gets better! Durham just had to admit that, in an earlier investigation of Baker, he learned DOJ IG had obtained this phone.

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s Office’s public filing, the DOJ Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) brought to our attention based on a review of its own records that, approximately four years ago, on February 9, 2018, in connection with another criminal investigation being led by then-Acting U.S. Attorney Durham, an OIG Special Agent who was providing some support to that investigation informed an Assistant United [sic] Attorney working with Mr. Durham that the OIG had requested custody of a number of FBI cellphones. OIG records reflect that among the phones requested was one of the two aforementioned cellphones of the then-FBI General Counsel. OIG records further reflect that on February 12, 2018, the OIG Special Agent had a conference call with members of the investigative team, including Mr. Durham, during which the cellphones likely were discussed. OIG records also reflect that the OIG subsequently obtained the then-FBI General Counsel’s cellphone on or about February 15, 2018. Special Counsel Durham has no current recollection of that conference call, nor does Special Counsel Durham currently recall knowing about the OIG’s possession of the former FBI General Counsel’s cellphones before January 2022.

This post has been updated to reflect how Durham learned he already knew of the phones.

Timeline of Sussmann discovery

September 16, 2021: Michael Sussmann indictment

September 27: Sussmann asks for:

  • All evidence from wiretaps or eavesdropping (there appears to be none)
  • All communications regarding Sussmann’s security clearance reviews (900 pages)
  • Any documents pertaining to FBI treatment of anonymous tips (with repeated follow-ups)
  • All FBI communications with the NYT regarding Alfa Bank allegations in 2016 (with repeated follow-ups)
  • Materials regarding relationship between Joffe’s companies and government agencies; FBI results for 2016 result in 226 emails

October 7: Durham team meets with DOJ IG to discuss discoverable material in DOJ IG possession

October 13: Durham issues a formal discovery request to DOJ IG

October 13: Sussmann asks for Priestap’s notes

October 20: Sussmann reviews Priestap’s notes

October 25: Sussmann reply memo reveals he still hasn’t received taxi billing records and other identifiable Brady material, including an “unclassified grand jury testimony of an immunized witness, that either exculpate[s] Mr. Sussmann or conflict[s] with the core allegations that the Special Counsel has made against him”

October 29: Sussmann’s team obtains clearance

November 3: Igor Danchenko indictment

Week of November 15: Durham turns over some, but not all, of Baker’s statements, including conflicting DOJ IG fragment

November 22: Sussmann follow-up on request for FBI communications with NYT; after previously accepting June trial date, Durham proposes July 25

November 30: Sussmann follow-up on request for FBI communications with NYT; says Durham is missing some of the CIA employees in February 9, 2017 meeting

December 6: Sussmann moves for trial date, describing that Durham needs four more months for discovery

December 7: Durham response; Sussmann first gets Baker grand jury transcripts; just three grand jury transcripts provided by that point

December 8: Status conference at which Sussmann attorney reveals they’ve just seen Baker grand jury transcript

December 10: Sussmann asks for records “any records reflecting any consideration, concern, or threats from your office relating to those individuals’ or their counsels’ conduct. . . and all formal or informal complaints received by you or others”

December 14: Scheduling order

December 17: DOJ IG gives Durham forensic report arising from previous Sussmann tip

December 23: Durham gives Sussmann forensic report from DOJ IG tip

Early January 2022: OIG says it can’t get through the discovery on Crossfire Hurricane investigation by itself

January 5: Durham asks FBI Inspection Division about call log data for Baker’s phone

January 6:  FBI Inspection Division tells Durham that DOJ IG has Baker’s phones

January 7: Durham asks DOJ IG about the phones

January 10: DOJ IG provides the information on Baker’s phones; Sussmann asks for information regarding meeting with NYT, James Baker, Bill Priestap, and Michael Kortan (result did not come up on searches, so Durham had to search through 8,900 pages of Kortan’s records, resulting in 37 results)

January 20: Durham asks to have until “the end of March” for discovery (effectively, his originally requested deadline); Sussmann tells Durham he met with DOJ IG in person in March 2017 about anonymous tip

January 21: Sussmann response agreeing to February 11; DOJ IG confirms they did meet with Sussmann

January 25: Durham submits filing claiming he never knew DOJ IG had Baker’s phones (in response DOJ IG reminds Durham he already knew of one of the phones)

January 26: DOJ IG provides second forensic reports on the phones to Durham

January 28: Unclassified discovery originally due; Cooper grants extension to March 18 in the morning; Durham provides initial forensic reports to Sussmann and then (at 11:52PM) informs court he had previously been informed of Baker’s phone years ago

February 11: Classified discovery due

February 18: Motion to Dismiss due

March 18: 404(b) and remaining Jencks and Giglio due

March 25: Durham’s initial and second requested discovery deadline

May 16: Existing trial date

 

Adventures in Cut-and-Paste: John Durham says, “no specific client” is the same as, “not doing this for any client”

John Durham’s team has responded to Michael Sussmann’s request for a May trial date with a bunch of mostly nonsense.

AUSA Andrew DeFilippis does the following:

  • Blows off Susssmann’s observation that Durham promises to be ready for Igor Danchenko’s EDVA trial, which will involve far more complex classification issues, in April, even while saying classified discovery is what requires a later trial date in this case.
  • Does not deny Durham only belatedly provided Brady, while accusing Sussmann of “cherry-picking excerpts,” when Durham is the one providing excerpts.
  • Complains that Sussmann doesn’t note “law enforcement reports of Mr. Baker’s subsequent three interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office in which he affirmed and then re-affirmed his now-clear recollection of the defendant’s false statement,” which seems to suggest that like the one fragment already provided (which shows at least one sign of irregularity), Durham is claiming interview reports are more accurate than transcripts.
  • Complains that Sussmann didn’t mention a second potentially inadmissible hearsay document, written by someone else in the General Counsel’s office.
  • Accuses Sussmann of neglecting to mention a CIA report about a different meeting that Sussmann already discussed at length (indeed, Durham was the one withholding information on it when last it came up) — and which Durham admitted was based off notes that have been destroyed.
  • Mentions “three grand jury transcripts” but doesn’t describe any of them as Baker’s.
  • Invokes “serious national security equities” in a case that criminalizes reporting a cybersecurity concern.

To look on Durham’s case in the best light: After Baker reviewed notes that others took, he came to remember that Sussmann affirmatively said he was not representing a client at the meeting (though Durham doesn’t claim to have the specific words Sussmann said, nor does he quote any in his discussion of the three other 302s).

And Durham does not deny that he’s slow-walking Brady material.

But I want to look at DeFillippis’ cut-and-paste again. In the response to Sussmann, DeFillippis suggests that this second hearsay document from someone in his office matches the first, Bill Priestap’s notes taken immediately after the meeting.

Those notes, like the notes cited in the Indictment taken by an FBI Assistant Director, reflect that the defendant told Baker he had “no specific client.” [my emphasis]

Except that’s not what the indictment says Priestap’s notes say. Those say:

Michael Sussman[n] — Atty: [Perkins Coie] — said not doing this for any client

  • Represents DNC, Clinton Foundation, etc.

“Not doing this for any client,” and “no specific client,” are undoubtedly close, but they are not the same thing, particularly given the great stake Durham and others have placed on whether Sussmann believed he was doing something important for cyber security, particularly given that neither mentions billing or representing. The differences suggest that even in these near-contemporaneous records taken by professional note-takers of what Baker said, either he himself was not consistent in the language he used to relay what happened, or the meaning his interlocutors took from it was not. Probably that’s because none of them accorded it the great import that Durham has, in part because they were all trying hard to deal with a very real cyberattack by Russia.

Maybe these quotes look more similar in context. Right now, Durham seems to be desperately trying to show that he has quotations of something.

But John Durham accused Michael Sussmann of cherry picking. And right now, his own cherry picking reaffirms that there are differences in the exact quotations that he claims are the same. He may, in fact, have reason to believe Sussmann lied. Sussmann may have lied. But the question is whether his evidence — even assuming he’ll find a way to get hearsay admitted — is strong enough to rebut Baker’s repeated contradictory statements.

John Durham Wants Permission to Delay Providing Evidence of How Weak His Michael Sussmann Case Is

Donald Trump’s insurrectionists may be the only thing that can save John Durham’s indictment of Michael Sussmann.

That’s because Durham seems to think he’ll need to have two extra months over what Sussmann gauges should be necessary, and permission to delay production of Brady materials, to sustain the single false statement charge over Sussmann. As a Sussmann motion to set a trial date submitted yesterday revealed, his team and Durham’s are having a significant disagreement over when the trial should be scheduled. Durham wants four months from now to turn over discovery and wants to schedule the trial for July, whereas Sussmann thinks the trial should be held in May.

Given two exhibits Sussmann included with this motion (and other publicly available documents), it’s easy to see why Durham wants more time.

That’s because Jim Baker has said at least four different things that conflict with the alleged lie that Durham claims Sussmann told in a September 19, 2016 meeting with then-FBI General Counsel Baker:

On or about September 19, 2016, SUSSMANN met with the FBI General Counsel at FBI Headquarters in the District of Columbia to convey the Russian Bank-1 allegations. No one else attended the meeting. During the meeting, the following, in substance and part, occurred:

SUSSMANN stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client, which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that SUSSMANN was conveying the allegations as a good citizen and not as an advocate for any client;

SUSSMANN stated that he had been approached by multiple cyber experts concerning the Russian Bank-1 allegations;

SUSSMANN provided the names of three cyber experts, but did not name or mention Tech Executive-1, the Clinton Campaign, or any other person or company referenced [in Durham’s indictment];

Durham has charged Sussmann with affirmatively lying about representing a client in that meeting.

In an earlier post, I argued that Durham probably hadn’t actually quoted what transpired in this meeting because his sources (meaning Baker, Bill Priestap’s hearsay notes of Baker’s account of the meeting, and some CIA personnel Sussmann met at a later meeting) offered different versions of what Sussmann actually said.

It’s quite possible that Durham has presented these allegations using such squishy language because what little evidence he has doesn’t actually agree on the claimed lies. That is, it may be that Baker believes Sussmann simply didn’t bother explaining which client he was working for, but Bill Priestap, the next in line in a game of telephone, differently understood from Baker’s report that Sussmann affirmatively failed to provide Baker information that (Priestap’s own notes prove) the FBI already had anyway, that he was working with Hillary Clinton.

But it’s far worse than that.

Jim Baker doesn’t agree with Jim Baker about what happened in the meeting. Baker has provided at least four different versions of his understanding of why Sussmann shared the Alfa Bank information with him (I’ve got longer excerpts below). At an October 3, 2018 interview with the Oversight Committee (where Baker brought it up), he said, “I don’t recall [Sussmann] saying that,” he worked for the DNC. At an October 10, 2018 interview with the Oversight Committee, he told Jim Jordan he didn’t “remember [Sussmann] saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client.” In a July 15, 2019 interview with DOJ IG, Baker explained that Sussmann said their meeting “related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients, who were, he described as I recall it, sort of cyber-security experts, had found about some strange connection between some part of Donald Trump’s organizations and Alfa Bank.” In a June 2020 interview with Durham’s team (which as a 302 may be less reliable than the other sources), Baker said, “it did not seem like Sussmann was representing a client. Baker repeated his earlier assertion that he did not know Sussmann was representing the DNC at the time and Sussmann did not advise him of that fact at this particular meeting.” Presumably, Baker testified to the grand jury, too, but that interview would have been after all of these earlier versions. In none of the publicly available versions of Baker’s story does Sussmann affirmatively say he was not representing the DNC or any other client, and in one case — the DOJ IG interview — Baker remembered Sussmann commenting that he had a client; and that version (which Sussmann wouldn’t have had access to before getting it in discovery) matches Sussmann’s public story.

As Sussmann noted in his filing, Durham dumped a whole bunch of discovery on him shortly after the indictment, but it has taken over two months to turn over the conflicting evidence that goes to the core of the alleged false statements.

While the Special Counsel has produced significant discovery since Mr. Sussmann’s Indictment, the Special Counsel has delayed in producing key evidence, which the Special Counsel was required to timely disclose under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Indeed, it was only last week—nearly two and a half months after Mr. Sussmann’s indictment, and in the face of persistent demands by Mr. Sussmann’s counsel—that the Special Counsel for the first time disclosed some (but not all) of Mr. Baker’s statements about the September 19, 2016 meeting.1

[snip]

1 Moreover, significant portions of the statements that were disclosed were redacted, an issue which defense counsel has raised with the Special Counsel.

Durham seems intent on similar delays in producing evidence undermining his case. Besides the two month date discrepancy, there are a few subtle but significant differences in their proposed schedules. In the proposed order scheduling order Sussmann has submitted, Durham would be, “under a continuing and ongoing obligation to provide defense counsel any favorable or exculpatory information (Brady), whether or not admissible in evidence, as soon as reasonably possible.” [my emphasis] Durham’s proposed version takes out the words, “as soon as reasonably possible.” Durham, of course, has already violated that part of Sussmann’s proposed scheduling order by sitting on multiple pieces of proof that have been in his and DOJ’s possession for over a year that undermine the claim Sussmann lied.

Durham may suspect the Brady discovery will make this indictment unsustainable. Durham’s more extended schedule would give Sussmann just two weeks after the final deadline for Brady discovery, from March 25 to April 8, to file the motion to dismiss he has already said he’d file. Sussmann’s more condensed schedule nevertheless gives himself three weeks, from January 28 to February 18, to incorporate classified Brady discovery into his motion to dismiss, and over a month, from January 14 to February 18, to incorporate unclassified Brady discovery.

From the start, I noted that this indictment really isn’t about the alleged false statement. Rather, Durham clearly wants to wrap this up into a grand Conspiracy to Defraud the US charge, incorporating Rodney Joffe, the researchers, Fusion GPS, and maybe Christopher Steele.

It’s not just that Durham is working on a theory that Sussmann deliberately dealt garbage to the FBI (which GOP sources also did on the Clinton Foundation) while trying to hide that fact. It’s that data originally sourced from the government was used in doing that research.

It’s actually the kind of argument that DOJ prosecutors typically succeed with. Except it’s all premised on proving that Sussman was trying to hide all this in his meeting with Baker. Even if the evidence surrounding the meeting weren’t so flimsy, this is another degree of motive that Durham is straining mightily to make.

Durham needs Sussmann to have lied, because a deliberate attempt to obscure the rest is necessary for his “storyline.” His evidence that Sussmann lied — much less, deliberately — is shoddy. But if he can’t get that, then his hopes for a larger “narrative” collapse.

So one thing Durham is likely trying to do with his delayed schedule is to buy time to try to make that claim stick. There are already several details that have been made public that show Durham will struggle to make this claim. Durham left out exculpatory details about the researchers in his indictment. The Federalist obtained — but downplayed — evidence that the researchers were not (as Durham insinuated in his indictment) involved with Fusion GPS.

Further, unlike Joffe, who worked hand-in-hand with Sussmann, according to Fusion GPS employee Laura Seago, who had worked on the Alfa project, she was not aware of anyone at Fusion GPS communicating with either [David] Dagon or [Manos] Antonakakis. And while she had heard Dagon’s name before, Seago first came across Antonakakis’s name in a newspaper article.

Antonakakis has not had any contact with Sussman, Marc Elias, or Fusion GPS, his lawyer Mark Schamel told The Federalist. “In this case,” Schamel added, “he reviewed a narrative presented to him by a well-known and respected researcher and provided his feedback, as he does for more than 100 unpublished research articles he receives every year.” Attorneys representing Lorenzen and Dagon did not return requests for comment.

Durham already confessed that he had no evidence Sussmann was working directly with the Hillary campaign on this. Most importantly, all the researchers believed and still believe that the Alfa Bank DNS data showed a real anomaly, and they first discovered it in a legitimate attempt to identify further attempts Russia made to tamper in the 2016 election. If that case were made to the jury, then Sussmann will be able to explain why Baker didn’t apparently think it all that important to ask who Sussmann was representing: because it was an alarming anomaly, no matter who brought it to the FBI.

Still, Durham is likely to get the time he wants. The backlog of trials for incarcerated pre-trial defendants in DC (including 70 or so January 6 defendants) will more likely dictate the trial date for Michael Sussmann than the substance of the dispute between the two of them.

Update: I should have also noted that Beryl Howell’s order tolling Speedy Trial because of COVID protocols will give Durham a way to get out of the 70 day Speedy Trial rule.


October 3, 2018 Oversight/HJC Interview

Mr. Baker. He told — he said that there had been — I’m not sure exactly how they originally learned about that information, but what he told me was that there were cyber — Mr. Meadows. I mean, is he a normal intel operative? How would he have come by this? Mr. Baker. He told me that he had cyber experts that had obtained some information that they thought they should get into the hands of the FBI.

[snip]

[Shen] Okay. So when Mr. Sussman came to you to provide some evidence, you were not specifically aware that he was representing the DNC or the Hillary Clinton campaign at the time? A I don’t recall, I don’t recall him specifically saying that at that time.

[snip]

Q Okay. So I guess it is just my interpretation, but I believe last round it was somewhat implied that if he did have an association to the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign that that might lead someone to believe that something improper was done. And I wonder if you could just explain to me, you know, why your view is that it was not improper because, just the mere notion that someone who is a Democrat or Republican, you know, comes to you with information, should that information somehow be discounted or considered less credible because of, you know, partisan affiliation? A Well, the FBI is responsible for protecting everybody in this country. Period, full stop. And we do that, without regard to who they are or what their political background is or anything else. If they believe they have evidence of a crime or believe they have been a victim of a crime, we will do what we can within our lawful authorities to protect them. And so when a citizen comes with evidence, we accept it. That is my, just general understanding over many, many years. We, the Bureau, we, the Department of Justice. And so that is how I construed what Michael was doing. It was, he believed he had evidence, again, either of a crime or of a national security threat, and he believed it was appropriate to provide it to us. When he did, I didn’t think there was anything improper about it whatsoever.

[snip]

Mr. Jordan. Okay. Do you know how Sussman got this material? Mr. Baker. What I recall is he told me that there were some cyber experts that somehow would come across this information and brought it somehow to his attention, and that they were alarmed at what it showed, and that, therefore, they wanted to bring it to the attention of the FBI. Mr. Jordan. Did he — Mr. Baker. They and Sussman. Mr. Jordan. They. Any names? Mr. Baker. I don’t think I ever found out who these experts were. Mr. Jordan. Did he indicate that he got this — may have got some of this information from the Democratic National Committee? Mr. Baker. I don’t recall him saying that. Mr. Jordan. Did you know when he was giving this information did you know he was working for — that he did extensive work for the DNC and the Clinton campaign? Mr. Baker. I am not sure what I knew about that at the time. I remember hearing about him in connection — when the bureau was trying to deal with the hack and investigating the hack, that my recollection is that Michael was involved in that process to some degree. I didn’t interact with him on that, so I am not sure if I knew that before this meeting or after, but I don’t recall him specifically saying —

October 18, 2018 Oversight/HJC Interview

Mr. Baker. To the best of my recollection, he told me that it had been obtained by some type of cyber experts, and I don’t know who — how they started their inquiry into this. But that is what he told me, that some certain cyber experts had obtained information about some anomalous looking thing having, to my knowledge, nothing to do with the dossier. But anyway — Mr. Jordan. Did he mention — did Fusion GPS play a role in him getting information that he subsequently gave to you? Mr. Baker. I don’t remember him mentioning Fusion GPS in connection with this material. Mr. Jordan. Did he mention at all when he was talking to you? Mr. Baker. Not to my recollection, no. Mr. Jordan. What about Glenn Simpson? Mr. Baker. Not on this thing, no. Mr. Jordan. How about Christopher Steele? Mr. Baker. No. Mr. Jordan. Okay. Did you meet with anyone else at Perkins Coie relative to this issue, Russia investigation issue?

[snip]

Mr. Baker. Yes, sir. And there was some effort — there was some belief that this was a — being conducted in a way so as to make it a covert communications channel. Mr. Jordan. Okay. And my first question would be how’d you get this? Did you ask that question? Mr. Baker. I did ask that question at a high level, yes. And he explained that he had obtained it from, again, cyber experts who had — who had obtained the information, and he said that the details of it would explain themselves. That’s my recollection. Mr. Jordan. And was he representing a client when he brought this information to you? Or just out of the goodness of his heart, someone gave it to him and he brought it to you? Mr. Baker. In that first interaction, I don’t remember him specifically saying that he was acting on behalf of a particular client. Mr. Jordan. Did you know at the time that he was representing the DNC in the Clinton campaign? Mr. Baker. I can’t remember. I have learned that at some point. I don’t — as I think I said last time, I don’t specifically remember when I learned that. So I don’t know that I had that in my head when he showed up in my office. I just can’t remember. Mr. Jordan. Did you learn that shortly thereafter if you didn’t know it at the time? Mr. Baker. I wish I could give you a better answer. I just don’t remember. Mr. Jordan. I mean, I just find that unbelievable that the guy representing the Clinton campaign, the Democrat National Committee, shows up with information that says we got this, and you don’t ask where he got it, you didn’t know how he got it. But he got it from some, you know, quote, expert. Mr. Baker. Well, if I could respond to that. Mr. Jordan. Sure. Mr. Baker. I mean, so I was uncomfortable with being in the position of having too much factual information conveyed to me, because I’m not an agent. And so I wanted to get this — get the information into the hands of the agents as quickly as possible and let them deal with it. If they wanted to go interview Sussmann and ask him all those kind of questions, fine with me. Mr. Jordan. Did that happen? Mr. Baker. I don’t know that. But I — I mean, I — well, A, I did hand it off to the — to the investigators. Mr. Jordan. I think you told us you handed it off to Mr. Strzok and Mr. Priestap? Mr. Baker. My recollection is Mr. Priestap. Mr. Jordan. Okay. And you don’t know if they followed up or not? Mr. Baker. Bill Priestap told me that they did follow up extensively.

July 15, 2019 OIG interview

Did you generally have a sense that they represented, that their political law practice had a Democratic clientele?

MR. BAKER: Maybe I should have, but I didn’t really understand it at the time.

MS. TERZAKEN: Is that right?

MR. BAKER: I did not, no.

MS. TERZAKEN: Okay.

MR. BAKER: I came to understand, you know, that, that Perkins-Coie was playing a role with respect to the DNC hack. But the, the extensiveness of their contacts with the Democratic Party, I did not, at the time, have an understanding about, that I recall.

[snip]

MS. TERZAKEN: Okay. With Michael Sussman, your conversations with him before the election, if you could briefly describe how the conversations came about, what information he provided to you.

MR. BAKER: So, I’ll go into the Sussman stuff, yeah, okay. So he came in, he, he, all of this is gone over in the transcript with the committee, so I won’t, I’ll try to just summarize briefly. My basic recollection is, in some way, shape, or form, Michael reached out, and wanted to come in and meet with me. And so we scheduled that. So Michael came in and met with me. And he had some amount of information, physical evidence, printed out, and also a thumb drive or two, that he said related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients, who were, he described as I recall it, sort of cyber-security experts, had found about some strange connection between some part of Donald Trump’s organizations and Alfa Bank, which was described as being controlled by the Kremlin. And that it appeared to be the case that this was a, it was, it, it was surmised that this was a back-channel, what do you call it, a back-channel of electronic communications. That, that somehow the Trump organization and Alfa Bank were using this, what looked like a, basically a surreptitious channel to communicate with each other.

June 2020 Durham interview (302)

Sussmann arrived at Baker’s office alone and gave Baker some electronic media and some paper approximately one inch thick. He and Baker met alone in Baker’s office, with no one else present. Sussmann advised Baker that some cyber security researchers had discovered the information and brought it to Sussmann’s attention. The information purported to describe a digital relationship between the Trump organization and Alfa Bank, and Sussmann gave Baker a technical description of that relationship. Sussmann also told Baker he thought it was important for the FBI to have the information. Sussmann also told Baker that the press had the information. Baker said that Sussmann did not specify that he was representing a client regarding the matter, nor did Baker ask him if he was representing a client. Baker said it did not seem like Sussmann was representing a client. Baker repeated his earlier assertion that he did not know Sussmann was representing the DNC at the time and Sussmann did not advise him of that fact at this particular meeting. Baker also said he did not know Sussmann’s firm, Perkins Coie, represented the Hillary Clinton campaign. Baker does not recall Sussmann advising him of the rationale for the cybersecurity researchers bringing the information to him. Additionally, Baker recalls Sussmann telling him that he believed the information was serious and credible. Baker said the meeting with Sussmann lasted approximately 15-20 minutes and he described it as short and cordial. He did not feel there was anything inappropriate about Sussmann meeting with him and providing the information to him.

[snip]

Baker said he could not recall telling Priestap at that time that Sussmann represented the DNC and the Clinton Foundation, but he (Baker) may have known it at the time.

 

John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs

Last Thursday, John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, the Perkins Coie lawyer who advised the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign about cybersecurity in 2016 as they struggled to deal with a hostile nation-state attack aiming — in part — to help elect their opponent. The indictment accuses Sussmann of lying to FBI General Counsel James Baker at a September 19, 2016 meeting at which Sussmann shared information about the curious DNS traffic between a server used by a Trump marketing contractor and Alfa Bank.

emptywheel’s long history of debunking the Alfa Bank story

Before I unpack the indictment, let me remind readers that when this story first publicly broke, I explained why the Spectrum Health (aka my boob hospital at the time) aspect of the allegations made no sense, criticized Hillary’s team (including Jake Sullivan) for jumping on the story, and echoed Rob Graham’s criticism of the researchers who accessed DNS data to conduct this research.

In addition to his technical debunking, Robert Graham made an equally important point: researchers shouldn’t be accessing this data for ad-lib investigations into presidential candidates, and it’s not even clear who would have access to it all except the NSA.

The big story isn’t the conspiracy theory about Trump, but that these malware researchers exploited their privileged access for some purpose other than malware research.

[snip]

In short, of all the sources of “DNS malware information” I’ve heard about, none of it would deliver the information these researchers claim to have (well, except the NSA with their transatlantic undersea taps, of course).

[snip]

[B]efore Tea Leaves started pushing this story to the press, the FBI had been investigating it for two months.

Which, to my mind, raises even more questions about the anonymous researchers’ identities, because (small world and all) the FBI likely knows them, in which case they may have known that the FBI wasn’t jumping on the story by the time they started pitching it.

Or the FBI doesn’t know them, which raises still more questions about the provenance of these files.

Ah well, if President Hillary starts a war with Russia based off Iraq-War style dodgy documents, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing my boob clinic is right there on the front lines.

In March 2017, I observed that the weird Alfa Bank entry in the Steele dossier suggested a feedback loop between the Alfa Bank server story and the dossier project. Then days after that, I noted all the ways that the packaging of this story made it more suspect.

In 2018, I complained about the way Dexter Filkins had strained to sustain the story, while noting that people ought to look more closely at why Alfa Bank might be the focus here; the Mueller Report since confirmed that within weeks after the story broke publicly, Vladimir Putin pushed Oligarchs from Alfa Bank to fight harder against western sanctions, something that the alleged source for the Alfa Bank entry in the dossier seemed to parrot.

In short, I not only have consistently criticized this story, but done so in ways that anticipate the most justifiable parts of the indictment. It’s only the last bit — how the Alfa narrative echoes Putin’s interests — that this indictment doesn’t incorporate.

I guess with five more years Durham might get there…

So in unpacking this indictment, I’m in no way defending the Alfa Bank – Trump Tower story. It was a sketchy allegation, the packaging of it was suspect, and those who conducted the research arguably violated ethical guidelines.

I got to where Durham got in this indictment years and years ago. But that doesn’t make it a crime.

John Durham’s “narrative”

Moreover, that doesn’t mean Durham should tell as strained a “narrative” as those who packaged up this story. Central to Durham’s indictment is an assumption that if a victim of a crime who believed at the time that the crime had a — since confirmed — political goal reports suspicious, potentially related details, the victim must be motivated exclusively out of self-interest, not good citizenship or a concern about national security. That is, this entire indictment assumes that when Russia attacks a Presidential candidate, that is not itself a national security concern, but instead nothing more than a political dispute.

Effectively, John Durham has made it a crime for someone victimized by a Russian influence operation to try to chase down Russian influence operations.

Tech Executive-1 and Clinton both had retained Perkins Coie long before this, with Sussmann getting involved specifically for cybersecurity help in the wake of the Russian hack

The indictment, perhaps deliberately, obscures the timeline and facts leading up to the charged lie. But here’s the story it tells. First, all of Durham’s subjects established contracts with each other, even though all of those contracts (including Fusion GPS’) had scopes far larger than oppo research on Trump’s relationship with Russia.

  • In February 2015, Tech Executive-1 (whom I’ll call TE-1 for brevity) retained Sussmann to deal with a US government agency [Durham does not say whether this matter was resolved or continued in this period in 2016, which is central to the question of what kind of client of Sussmann’s TE-1 was].
  • In April 2015, the Clinton Campaign retained Perkins Coie and made Marc Elias the Campaign’s General Counsel.
  • In April 2016, the victim of a Russian government election-related attack, the DNC, retained Sussmann to help it deal with aftermath, which included meeting with the FBI. As the indictment describes this was not just legal support but cybersecurity.
  • [After a Republican retained them first and on a date that Durham doesn’t reveal,] Perkins Coie retained Fusion GPS to conduct oppo research on Trump pertaining to Russia [and other topics, though Durham doesn’t mention those other topics].

Durham only mentions in passing, later, that the researchers involved here similarly knew each other through relationships that focused on cybersecurity and predated these events.

Via means and on specific dates that Durham doesn’t always provide, Tea Leaves, TE-1, Sussmann, and two Researchers got the DNS data showing an anomaly

There are two sets of research here: that done in a university setting and that done at companies associated with TE-1, though TE-1 is the pivot to both. As depicted, Durham suggests the former are more legally exposed than the latter.

  • By some time in late July 2016 [the exact date Durham doesn’t provide], a guy who always operated under the pseudonym Tea Leaves but whom Durham heavy-handedly calls “Originator-1” instead had assembled “purported DNS data” reflecting apparent DNS lookups between Alfa Bank and “mail1.trump-email.com” that spanned from May 4 through July 29.
  • Tea Leaves was a business associate of TE-1 and via means Durham doesn’t describe, the data Tea Leaves gathered was shared with TE-1.
  • “In or about July 2016” [at a time that, because of the laws of physics, must post-date the late July date when Tea Leaves collected this data and the date when he shared them with TE-1], TE-1 alerted Sussmann to the data.
  • On July 31, Sussmann billed the Clinton Campaign for 24 minutes with the billing description, “communications with Marc Elias regarding server issue.”
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t provide even a month, but by context it was at least as early as July 2016 and could have been far, far earlier], TE-1’s company provided a university with data for a government contract ultimately not contracted until November 2016, including the DNS data from an Executive Branch office of the US government that Tech Exec-1’s company had gotten as a sub-contractor to the US government. [This date of this is critical because it would be the trigger for a Conspiracy to Defraud charge, if Durham goes there.]
  • In or about August 2016 [Durham doesn’t provide a date], a federal government was finalizing but had not yet signed a cybersecurity research contract with [presumably] that same university to receive and analyze large quantities of public and non-public data “to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security.” Tea Leaves was the founder of a company that the university was considering [Durham doesn’t provide the date of consideration, but generally these things precede finalization] for a subcontract with the government contract.

TE-1 directs employees of companies under his control to research this issue

Though Durham’s indictment is somewhat vague, at least one piece of research from companies associated with TE-1 was shared with the FBI; it appears that other threads of research were not shared.

  • In or about early August 2016 [the dates of which Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 directed personnel at two companies in which he had an ownership interest to search for what the indictment calls, “any Internet data reflecting potential connections or communications between Trump or his associates and Russia,” which Durham describes to be “derogatory information on Trump.” In connection with this tasking, TE-1 later stated [on a date Durham doesn’t describe] he was working with someone who had close ties to the Democratic Party.
  • At some point, an individual tasked with this work described being “uncomfortable regarding this tasking,” [Durham doesn’t describe when he learned this or whether there is any contemporaneous proof].
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t describe the date], TE-1 provided one of his companies with personal (but publicly available) data from six Trump associates and one purported US-based lobbyist for Alfa Bank and directed these individuals should be the focus of that company’s data queries and analysis [Durham doesn’t say whether these six associates overlapped with the people Fusion had been tasked to research, nor does he allege they got included in the eventual reports to the FBI; both details are needed to assess his case].
  • On August 12, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 met in Elias’ office; Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton Campaign describing, “confidential meetings with Elias, others.”
  • On August 15, employees at one of the companies queried their holdings against a set of addresses that referred to Trump and/or Alfa Bank.
  • During the same time period [Durham doesn’t specify when], employees at Internet Company-3 drafted a written paper that included technical observations that Sussmann would later convey to the FBI.

Around the time this started, Sussmann met Fusion and a bunch of meetings happened that were billed to Hillary

  • On July 29, Sussmann and Marc Elias met with Fusion GPS [Durham doesn’t affirmatively claim this data pertained to the server issue], and Sussmann billed his time to the Hillary Campaign under “General Political Advice,” a different description than all the other Fusion meetings that Durham more credibly claims relate to the Alfa Bank allegation.
  • Around “the same [August] time period” [Durham doesn’t provide the date], Sussmann, Elias, and Fusion personnel began exchanging emails with the subject line, “Connecting you all by email;” [Durham doesn’t say who initiated the email, but it suggests that before this period, Sussmann and Fusion did not have direct contact].
  • On August 17, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 conducted an additional conference call, for which Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton campaign, noting “telephone conference with” TE-1 and Elias.
  • On August 19, 2016, Sussman and Elias had another in-person meeting that Sussmann described as a meeting with TE-1, which was billed as a “confidential meeting with Elias, others.”

Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves worked with TE-1 on a “storyline” and “narrative” with varying degrees of skepticism expressed

This is the stuff Durham–with some justification–will and has used to taint all this as a political project.

  • On July 29, Researcher-2 emailed Researcher-1 the data compiled by Tea Leaves [Durham provides no evidence that TE-1 was involved in this exchange].
  • On August 19, Researcher-1 queried Internet data maintained by TE-1’s company [it is not clear but this suggests it was not the data turned over to the University] for the aforementioned mail1.trump-email.com domain. Researcher-1 then emailed TE-1 with the list of domains that had communicated with it, saying the list, “does not make much sense with the storyline you have.”
  • On August 20, Tea Leaves emailed Tech Exec-1, Researcher-1, and Researcher 2, stating that, “even if we found what [TE-1] asks us to find in DNS, we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying, ‘send money here’.” Tea Leaves then explained that one could fill out sales forms and cause them, “to appear to communicate with each other in DNS.” Tea Leaves then noted that “it’s just not the case that you can rest assured that Hillary’s opposition research and whatever professional gov and investigative journalists are also digging come up with the same things.”
  • On August 20, TE-1 clarified that the task was “indeed broad,” and that,
    • Being able to provide evidence of *anything* that shows an attempt to behave badly in relation to this [Durham doesn’t describe what the antecedent of “this” is], the VIPs would be happy. They’re looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination.
  • Still on August 20, seemingly distinguishing between that task and the Alfa Bank allegations, TE-1 said, “the prior hypothesis was all that they needed: mailserver dedicated or related to trump … and with traffic almost exclusively with Alfa was sufficient to do the job. … Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.” [Ellipses original]
  • On August 21, TE-1 emailed the recipients [but not, apparently, Sussmann], urging them to do further research on Trump which would “given the base of a very useful narrative.” He added that he didn’t believe the trump-email.com domain was a secret communications channel but a “red herring,” because the host was “a legitimate valid company,” stating they could “ignore it, together with others that seem to be part of the marketing world.”
  • On August 22, Researcher-1 raised doubts about whether, using only the tools they were currently using, they could prove their hypothesis. Among the concerns raised is that they couldn’t prove that “this is not spoofed [] traffic.” [brackets original; bolded in the original]
  • Later in or about August 2016 [on dates Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 exchanged emails with personnel from Fusion.

Sussmann drafts a white paper and (via unstated means) TE-1 gets Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves to review it

  • Between September 5 and September 14, Sussmann drafted a white paper, generally billing his time to the Clinton Campaign, but on September 14, billing time to both Clinton and TE-1.
  • On September 14, TE-1 [not Sussmann] sent the white paper he had drafted to Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves to ask them if a review of less than an hour would show this to be plausible. Though some of them noted how limited the standard of “plausibility” was, they agreed it was plausible, and Researcher 2 said [Durham does not quote the specific language here] “the paper should be shared with government officials.”

Sussmann shares this and other information with James Baker and–Durham claims–affirmatively lies about whether he is representing someone

  • Both before the September 19 meeting and after it (notably in a September 12 meeting involving the NYTimes, in which Marc Elias also participated), Sussmann spoke to the press about what Durham credibly suggests was the Alfa Bank white paper. Sussmann billed this to Clinton.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with Baker and provided him with three white papers and a thumb drive with data. Durham doesn’t actually make clear where all three of these came from.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with James Baker. Durham claims that “he stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client” [which Durham cannot quote because there’s no contemporaneous record], that he had been approached by multiple cyber experts [Durham doesn’t say whether the three he named were Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves or other people, as seems to be the case], three white papers [which I may return to because this is another problematic spot in his story], and some of the data, which Durham calls “purported.”
  • Immediately after the September 19 meeting, Baker met with Bill Priestap whose notes read:
    • Michael Sussman[n] — Atty: Perkins Coie — said not doing this for any client
      • Represents DNC, Clinton Foundation, etc. []
      • Been approached by Prominent Cyber People (Academic or Corp. POCs), People like: [three names redacted]
  • Durham substantiates a claim that Sussmann billed the meeting itself to Hillary to a description, “work and communications regarding confidential project,” that does not, at least as he quotes it, mention a meeting with the FBI General Counsel at all.

Some of this — the reference to crafting a narrative and a storyline — is damning and validates my discomfort with the political nature of this project five years ago. Other parts of this emphasize the researchers’ insistence on truth from at least parts of this effort. Still others (such as the recognition that this could be spoofed data) will almost certainly end up being presented as exculpatory if this ever goes to trial, but Durham seems to think is inculpatory.

In one place, Durham describes “aforementioned views,” plural, that the Alfa Bank data was a “red herring,” something only attributed to TE-1 in the indictment, seemingly presenting TE-1’s stated view on August 21 to everyone involved, including Sussmann, who does not appear to have been on that email chain. He claims Sussmann, Researcher 1 and 2, TE-1, and Tea Leaves drafted the white paper(s) shared with the FBI, but all he substantiates is a less than one hour review by everyone but Sussmann. He leaves out a great deal of detail about what Jean Camp and someone using the moniker Tea Leaves did and said, publicly, after the FBI meeting, which may totally undercut Durham’s “narrative.”

But other parts, even of the story that Durham tells, are problematic for his narrative. First, there is not (yet) the least hint that Tea Leaves — whom he calls “The Originator” — fabricated this data (or even packaged it up misleadingly, though I think there is evidence he did). Nor is there the least hint that TE-1 asked Tea Leaves to come up with the data. That part of the story is fundamentally important and Durham simply ignores it with that legally unnecessary — particularly given that Durham clearly labels this person as Tea Leaves — moniker “Originator,” giving the anomalous forensic data a kind of virgin birth. And while two of the four tech experts described herein (there appear to be at least three others not described) expressed some doubt about the meaning of it, none of them seems to have doubted that there was an anomaly in the Trump marketing server and Alfa Bank.

Based on this story, though, Durham insinuates Sussmann fed information that he, Sussmann, knew to be bullshit to the FBI on behalf of both Hillary and TE-1, and in so doing affirmatively hid that the bullshit “storyline” was designed to help Hillary which (he claims) would have led the FBI to treat it differently.

In spite of a lot of thus far extraneous details, that’s the only crime he has alleged.

The existing case is remarkably weak

As a number of people have noted, as charged this is a remarkably weak case. Ben Wittes dedicates a section of his post on this indictment to those weaknesses. They are, succinctly:

  • The evidence regarding the core allegation in the indictment pits Sussmann’s word against James Baker’s; there are no other witnesses.
  • After the meeting with Baker, Sussmann repeatedly admitted under oath he was representing a client, a detail which could be exculpatory or inculpatory.
  • Baker testified to Congress he did believe Sussmann was representing a client (meaning Baker will be used to discredit Baker, the one witness to Sussmann’s alleged lie).
  • Even in Bill Priestap’s nearly-contemporaneous notes which are the only documentation of Sussmann’s comments, he describes Sussmann as Hillary’s lawyer (including for the Clinton Foundation, which may be incorrect), so FBI knew full well that Sussmann represented Hillary.
  • Priestap’s notes may be inadmissible hearsay at trial.

The NYT article predicting these charges also claim Durham is conflating Sussmann’s tracking of his hourly work with the actual money charged to the Hillary campaign.

Moreover, internal billing records Mr. Durham is said to have obtained from Perkins Coie are said to show that when Mr. Sussmann logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter — though not the meeting with Mr. Baker — he billed the time to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

[snip]

They are also said to have argued that the billing records are misleading because Mr. Sussmann was not charging his client for work on the Alfa Bank matter, but needed to show internally that he was working on something. He was discussing the matter with Mr. Elias and the campaign paid a flat monthly retainer to the firm, so Mr. Sussmann’s hours did not result in any additional charges, they said.

There are a number of other ways that Sussmann’s presumably well-funded defense will combat these charges. But as to the allegation buried amid all these details, Durham’s evidence is weak.

Durham’s materiality broadcasts his bid for a ConFraudUS conspiracy

But that’s not what this is about.

Durham is not just alleging that Sussmann was hiding that he was working for Hillary. He is also claiming that Sussmann was at the same time representing TE-1 at that meeting. In the indictment, I think that’s based on a single data point — that Sussmann billed TE-1’s company for “communications regarding confidential project” on September 14. I’m not sure whether that makes the false statements case still weaker or stronger.

But it’s a key part of where Durham obviously wants to go.

Not only are many of the details Durham included in the indictment irrelevant to the false statements charge, but if they were crimes by themselves, they would have been tolled under any five year statute of limitations already. There are only two conceivable purposes for including them in this indictment. First, to give the Alfa Bank Oligarchs more cause to sue more people, effectively a US prosecutor assisting Russians in cynical lawfare. Durham’s investigation incorporates stuff the Oligarchs have already liberated, so is itself derivative of Russian lawfare. Effectively, that means that a prosecutor working for Bill Barr’s DOJ pursued a prosecution that was complementary to an intelligence-related effort by foreigners who pay Kirkland & Ellis a lot of money. Sussmann will have real cause to question whether Brian Benczkowski (who recused from matters involving this aspect of Alfa Bank) or any other Kirkland & Ellis lawyer had a role in this strand of the investigation.

Then there’s the most obvious way to extend the statute of limitations on the events that happened in July and August 2016: to include them in a conspiracy that continued after those dates (and indeed, Durham refers to Elias, Researcher 1 and 2, and Tea Leaves in the way DOJ often uses to refer to charged or uncharged co-conspirators).

Given the extended statement Durham includes to explain why Sussmann’s alleged lie is material under the charged statute, that’s undoubtedly where Durham wants to head with his investigation.

SUSSMANN’s lie was material because, among other reasons, SUSSMANN’s false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of SUSSMANN’s clients.

Had the FBI uncovered the origins of the relevant data and analysis and as alleged below, it might have learned, among other things that (i) in compiling and analyzing the Russian Bank-1 allegations, Tech Executive-1 had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump; (ii) in furtherance of these efforts, Tech Executive-1 had enlisted, and was continuing to enlist, the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract; and (iii) SUSSMAN, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.

Don’t get me wrong. This will clearly pass the incredibly low standard for materiality under existing precedent. Though Sussmann will surely make much of citing the invented standard Billy Barr used to try to dismiss the Mike Flynn prosecution, which first requires the investigation in question to be legitimate.

The Government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue. Moreover, we not believe that the Government can prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.

[snip]

In any event, there was no question at the FBI as to the content of the calls; the FBI had in its possession word-for-word transcripts of the actual communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13. at 3. With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said. Whatever gaps in his memory Mr. Flynn might or might not reveal upon an interview regurgitating the content of those calls would not have implicated legitimate counterintelligence interests or somehow exposed Mr. Flynn as beholden to Russia.

If DOJ had no interest in figuring out whether Trump was undermining sanctions to pay off a quid pro quo, they sure as hell have no interest in launching a 3-year investigation to figure out the tie between these allegations and Hillary that was obvious to Priestap in real time, particularly given how quickly the FBI dismissed the allegations in 2017 and given that the allegations are not publicly known to have had a tie to their larger Russian investigation.

Still, while Durham will have no trouble proving Sussmann’s claimed lie meets the standards of materiality, Durham’s claims for it are ridiculous.

It’s a load of horseshit that FBI would have treated this tip any differently — which amounted to investigating it, alerting the press there was nothing to it, then dismissing it pretty quickly, as far as is public — if they knew that Sussmann was formally being paid at that meeting by Hillary, if he in fact was. Priestap knew Sussmann was representing Hillary and said as much in the best evidence Durham has! In fact, FBI’s warning to the NYT about this story in October could be presented as evidence that FBI already incorporated an assumption this came from Hillary.

Likewise, it’s a load of horseshit that FBI couldn’t know that the Bureau needed to ID the researchers behind the project. If I was able to figure that was important out before the 2016 election, and I did, then the experts at the FBI surely figured that out.

But what Durham’s materiality statement emphasizes — what Durham claims Sussmann intended to hide with his claimed lie — is that, “researchers at a U.S.-based university … were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract.” That’s the significance of ¶¶23a through e of the indictment, which describe how TE-1 provided data that included some from an Executive Branch office of the U.S. government, which his company had obtained “as a sub-contractor in a sensitive relationship between the U.S. government and another company,” to the university at which Researcher 1 and 2 were working, and both with his university researcher allies and employees of his own company, he tasked people to research Donald Trump. Durham is suggesting that subset of data taints the whole pool that TE-1 shared, making it a Federal interest.

It’s not just that Durham is working on a theory that Sussmann deliberately dealt garbage to the FBI (which GOP sources also did on the Clinton Foundation) while trying to hide that fact. It’s that data originally sourced from the government was used in doing that research.

It’s actually the kind of argument that DOJ prosecutors typically succeed with. Except it’s all premised on proving that Sussman was trying to hide all this in his meeting with Baker. Even if the evidence surrounding the meeting weren’t so flimsy, this is another degree of motive that Durham is straining mightily to make.

Durham needs Sussmann to have lied, because a deliberate attempt to obscure the rest is necessary for his “storyline.” His evidence that Sussmann lied — much less, deliberately — is shoddy. But if he can’t get that, then his hopes for a larger “narrative” collapse.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

That becomes more clear when you consider some details that Durham doesn’t include in his indictment.

Two details that were public to everyone involved make it clear why Durham’s silence about the exact dates in July when this operation started is so corrupt.

On July 22, WikiLeaks published emails that were at the time believed and since have been confirmed by the FBI to have been hacked by Russia. Durham hides the dates in July when many of these events transpired, but everything he includes suggests this activity post-dated the time when WikiLeaks published stolen emails and the entire security community in the US, surely including every researcher mentioned in this story, coalesced on the belief that Russia was the culprit. Durham refers to Russia’s attack on Hillary (and therefore on the US) inaccurately as, “the hacking of its email servers by the Russian government” and “a hack” (the hack went well beyond just email and continued through the period of Sussmann’s meeting with Baker). But, amazingly, Durham’s “narrative” doesn’t account for the fact that Hillary was targeted not just with an attack but with an information operation. And the timeline he presents here affirmatively hides that these events took place after the entire security community understood that there was an information operation aspect to the attack.

Then, on July 27, Trump gave a press conference in Florida where he said numerous things that make all the actions of Sussmann and others justifiable on national security grounds. First, Trump raised doubts about the Russian attribution of the DNC hack that, by that point in July, was the consensus among national security experts, undoubtedly including every tech expert mentioned in this indictment.

I watched this guy Mook and he talked about we think it was Russia that hacked. Now, first of all was what was said on those that’s so bad but he said I watched it. I think he was live. But he said we think it was Russia that hacked.

And then he said — and this is in person sitting and watching television as I’ve been doing — and then he said could be Trump, yeah, yeah. Trump, Trump, oh yeah, Trump. He reminded me of John Lovitz for “Saturday Night Live” in the liar (ph) where he’d go yes, yes, I went to Harvard, Harvard, yes, yes. This is the guy, you have to see it. Yes, it could be Trump, yes, yes. So it is so farfetched. It’s so ridiculous. Honestly I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power but Russia has no respect for our country.

And that’s why — if it is Russia, nobody even knows this, it’s probably China, or it could be somebody sitting in his bed. But it shows how weak we are, it shows how disrespected we are. Total — assuming it’s Russia or China or one of the major countries and competitors, it’s a total sign of disrespect for our country. Putin and the leaders throughout the world have no respect for our country anymore and they certainly have no respect for our leader. So I know nothing about it.

Trump then offered his bullshit explanation for why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, framing it in terms of whether he had business ties to Russia.

TRUMP: Because it’s under order. And I’ll release them when the audits completed. Nobody would release when it’s under — I’ve had audits for 15 or 16 years. Every year I have a routine audit. I’m under audit, when the audits complete I’ll release them. But zero, I mean I will tell you right now, zero, I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?

Trump then said the nation-state hack of his opponent wasn’t the important thing, the content of the emails that were released was, thereby encouraging the press to participate in the information operation aspect of this attack.

He already did something today where he said don’t blame them, essentially, for your incompetence. Let me tell you, it’s not even about Russia or China or whoever it is that’s doing the hacking. It was about the things that were said in those e-mails. They were terrible things, talking about Jewish, talking about race, talking about atheist, trying to pin labels on people — what was said was a disgrace, and it was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and believe me, as sure as you’re sitting there, Hillary Clinton knew about it. She knew everything.

Trump then asked Russia to further hack his opponent.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

Trump then doubled down on the comment he made about his taxes, assuring the press that he had “zero” business ties with Russia.

TRUMP: No, I have nothing to do with Russia, John (ph). How many times do I have say that? Are you a smart man? I have nothing to with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia.

And even — for anything. What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I told it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago. I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, OK?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course I can. I told you, other than normal stuff — I buy a house if I sold it to a Russian. I have nothing to do with Russia. I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course not. I own the Trump organization. Zero, zero. Go ahead.

Trump then reiterated his claim that no one could attribute the DNC hack to Russia.

TRUMP: No, but they seem to be, if it’s Russians. I have no idea. It’s probably not Russia. Nobody knows if it’s Russia. You know the sad thing is? That with the technology and the genius we have in this country, not in government unfortunately, but with the genius we have in government, we don’t even know who took the Democratic National Committee e-mails. We don’t even know who it is.

I heard this morning, one report said they don’t think it’s Russia, they think it might be China. Another report said it might be just a hacker, some guy with a 200 I.Q. that can’t get up in the morning, OK? Nobody knows. Honestly they have no idea if it’s Russia. Might be Russia. But if it’s any foreign country, it shows how little respect they have for the United States. Yes, ma’am.

Finally, Trump also stated that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia.

QUESTION: I would like to know if you became president, would you recognize (inaudible) Crimea as Russian territory? And also if the U.S. would lift sanctions that are (inaudible)?

TRUMP: We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.

Each of these comments, individually, would have raised eyebrows. The same comments, made by an American citizen, would equally have raised alarms among those committed to cybersecurity.

But for a presidential candidate to encourage the hostile nation-state information operation targeting his opponent, then ask the hostile nation-state to further target her, in conjunction with the repeated denials of any business ties to Russia raised real, legitimate questions about whether Trump was putting his own interests above the national security of the country.

You might excuse Durham for excluding this from his indictment because after all he was busy indicting a ham sandwich based on hearsay evidence he might be able to exclude these facts at trial. Except that an August 20 comment from TE-1 that Durham quotes in his indictment may be a direct reference to (and at the least incorporates knowledge of) this press conference.

Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.

That is, Durham included what appears to be a reference to the July 27 press conference. It appears (though Durham obscures this point) that all the actions laid out in this indictment post-date the press conference. Virtually everyone in the US committed to ensuring America’s national security was alarmed by Trump’s comments in this press conference. Yet Durham doesn’t acknowledge that all these actions took place in the wake of public comments that made it reasonable for those committed to cybersecurity to treat Donald Trump as a national security threat, irrespective of partisan affiliation.

Durham will work hard to exclude detail of Trump’s press conference from trial. But I assume that if any of the named subjects of this investigation were to take the stand at trial, they would point out that it was objectively reasonable after July 27 to have national security concerns based on Trump’s encouragement of Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton and his defensive denials of any business ties. Any of the named subjects of the indictment would be able to make a strong case that there was reason to want to, as a matter of national security, test Trump’s claim to have no financial ties to Russia. Indeed, the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded that Trump posed multiple counterintelligence concerns, and therefore has concluded that Durham’s portrayal of politics as the only potential motive here to be false.

Central to Durham’s theory of prosecution is that there was no sound national security basis to respond to anomalous forensic data suggesting a possible financial tie between Trump and Russia. Except that, after that July 27 speech — and all of these events appear to post-date it — that theory is unsustainable.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

And not only was it objectively reasonable to test whether Trump’s claims to have “zero” business ties to Russia were false, but those suspecting that Trump was hiding such ties were, in fact, correct.

According to Michael Cohen, when Trump walked off the stage from that July 27 press conference, Cohen asked Trump why he had claimed that he had zero business ties with Russia when he had in fact been pursuing an impossibly lucrative deal to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow. And we now know that within hours of Trump’s request, GRU hackers made a renewed assault on Hillary’s own servers. By the time security researchers pursued anomalous data suggesting covert communications with a Russian bank, Cohen had already participated in discussions about working with two sanctioned Russian banks to fund the Trump Tower deal, had agreed to work with a former GRU officer to broker it, had spoken to an aide of Dmitry Peskov, and had been told that Putin was personally involved in making the deal happen. Just on the Trump Tower basis alone, Trump had publicly lied in such a way that posed a counterintelligence risk to America.

But that was not the only thing that Trump had done by the date when a bunch of security researchers responded to anomalous forensic data to test whether Trump was hiding further ties to Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton.

In March, Trump hired Paul Manafort, a financially desperate political operative with close ties to a Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, who (SSCI provided three redacted examples of) may have been involved in the hack-and-leak operation. In April, Manafort started leveraging his relationship with Trump to try to make money. In May, Manafort started regularly sending Kilimnik the campaign’s internal polling data. All that happened before researchers started testing Trump’s claims to have had no tie to Russia. On July 28, Kilimnik emailed Manafort to set up a meeting to talk about the future of Ukraine. Just days after the researchers started the inquiry, on August 2, Manafort met with Kilimnik to discuss carving up Ukraine in the same meeting where he described his strategy to win the election.

In April, an academic with close ties to Russia, Joseph Mifsud, told an unqualified braggart whom Trump had added to his team to pretend he had a foreign policy plan, George Papadopoulos, that Russia had thousands of Hillary’s emails that they intended to release to help Trump.

In May, according to Rick Gates’ testimony, Roger Stone started claiming he had advance knowledge of what would become the WikiLeaks releases. On or about June 15, per Gates, Stone told him that “he had contact with Guccifer 2.” According to a warrant affidavit targeting Stone, he searched Google on “Guccifer” before the Guccifer website went up that day. On June 23, Manafort called Stone and then the two old friends met for 30 minutes in the Trump cafeteria. On June 30, Stone spoke to Trump. According to multiple sources (including Michael Cohen), Stone knew of the DNC drop before it happened.

In June, Don Jr accepted a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya at which he believed he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the meeting, Veselnitskaya asked Don Jr to end sanctions on Russia, and the candidate’s son said his dad would reconsider it if he won.

In short, the researchers who, in the wake of Trump’s damning comments, were testing whether Trump had lied about having ties to Russia, not only had objectively reasonable reasons to do that research. But their suspicions were proven correct, over and over again.

Durham describes the outcome of the FBI investigation into the allegations this way:

The FBI’s investigation of these allegations nevertheless concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel with Russian Bank-1. In particular, and among other things, the FBI’s investigation revealed that the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather, had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients.

Nothing here suggests the FBI disproved that this was an anomaly.

And there’s one more detail that Durham didn’t include in the Sussmann indictment: on July 26, Australia first shared their report about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer in May. The next day, July 27, the FBI Legat in the UK got the tip. On July 31 — before the substantive research into the Alfa Bank allegation began — the FBI opened an UNSUB investigation into who got advance warning about the Russian operation and shared it with George Papadopoulos. In other words, by hiding the dates when Tea Leaves first discovered the anomalous data, Durham is hiding not just the damning things that publicly happened before the Alfa Bank operation got started, but probably details about the tip that turned into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

In the wake of the Sussmann indictment, the usual Russian denialists have claimed that this proves that what they call “Russiagate” was all a fraud.

Such claims defy the rules of physics, suggesting that events that happened after the FBI opened an investigation to learn how and why the Trump campaign (via three channels, as it turns out) learned of the Russian attack in advance were in fact the cause of it.

It is likely that Durham will be able to exclude all these details from a Michael Sussmann trial, at least if it remains just a false statements case. He will be able to convince Judge Christopher Cooper, who is presiding over the case, that this information — that the researchers not only had reason to believe Trump presented a cybersecurity risk to the country, but that the researchers turned out to be right, and that FBI had itself determined there was reason to carry out the same kinds of investigations that the researchers did, possibly before any one of them took a single step — is irrelevant to the case against Sussmann. But if Durham charges ConFraudUS based on a claim that it was illegitimate to look into why Donald Trump was inviting Russia to hack his opponent, it will become centrally important that, before these researchers started conducting their investigation, the FBI had likewise decided such an investigation had merit.

The Alfa Bank story was sleazy and unethical. But it was still, nevertheless, an instance where someone representing the victim of a nation-state attack attempted to chase down information that may have pertained to that nation-state attack.

John Durham will go down in history as the guy who decided that torturing detainees, even in excess of legal guidance, was not a crime, but a victim sharing concerns about nation-state hacking is.

Update: It’s likely that Richard Burt was one of the people investigated as part of this effort. Per the Mueller Report, he was the person Petr Aven asked to establish a tie with Trump’s transition in 2016.

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, A ven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. A ven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

While at a L1 board meeting held in Luxembourg in late December 2016, Aven pulled Burt aside and told him that he had spoken to someone high in the Russian government who expressed interest in establishing a communications channel between the Kremlin and the Trump Transition Team. 1171 Aven asked for Burt’s help in contacting members of the Transition Team. 1172 Although Burt had been responsible for helping Aven build connections in the past, Burt viewed Aven’s request as unusual and outside the normal realm of his dealings with Aven. 1173

Burt, who is a member of the board of CNI (discussed at Volume I, Section IV.A.4, supra), 1174 decided to approach CNI president Dimitri Simes for help facilitating A ven’ s request, recalling that Simes had some relationship with Kushner. 1175 At the time, Simes was lobbying the Trump Transition Team, on Burt’s behalf, to appoint Burt U.S. ambassador to Russia.1176

Burt contacted Simes by telephone and asked if he could arrange a meeting with Kushner to discuss setting up a high-level communications channel between Putin and the incoming Administration. 1177 Simes told the Office that he declined and stated to Burt that setting up such a channel was not a good idea in light of the media attention surrounding Russian influence in the U.S. presidential election. 1178 According to Simes, he understood that Burt was seeking a secret channel, and Simes did not want CNI to be seen as an intermediary between the Russian government and the incoming Administration. 1179 Based on what Simes had read in the media, he stated that he already had concerns that Trump’s business connections could be exploited by Russia, and Simes said that he did not want CNI to have any involvement or apparent involvement in facilitating any connection. 118

Update: Corrected scope of Benczkowski’s recusal. His should cover the server issue (and Alfa Bank issues for the first two years he was CRM).

Update: Brian Krebs wrote a post laying out all the people who still believe there’s something going on technically. I don’t think that’s inconsistent, at all, with this one. As noted, everyone who looked at this believes it’s an anomaly. What I keep pointing to is the aftermath of that anomaly got Alfa Bank to act in a certain way that is consistent with Putin’s interests. Krebs notes that it has also led to a lot of scrutiny of security researchers in the US, not unlike the way the aftermath of the Steele dossier discredited most top Russian experts in the US government.

Update: This transcript of Preet Bharara and Joyce Vance discussing the many weaknesses of the Durham indictment largely replicates what I’ve laid out here but is worth a review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Judge Emmet Sullivan Just Created Four Big Problems for DOJ in the Mike Flynn Case

Judge Emmet Sullivan just issued an order that may well destroy DOJ’s presumption of regularity (the legal principle that unless the government really fucks up, you have to assume they didn’t fuck up) in the Mike Flynn case.

He noted that on September 29, he had ordered DOJ to certify all documents submitted as exhibits in the motion to dismiss proceeding, but that DOJ had not done so. Instead, it admitted that it had “inadvertently” altered two Peter Strzok and one Andrew McCabe documents, and asked for a mulligan.

So now he’s ordering DOJ to do what he first ordered: to certify all the exhibits submitted to this docket (both those submitted directly by DOJ and those submitted by Flynn’s team) and provide a transcription and the author and date of any handwritten notes.

MINUTE ORDER as to MICHAEL T. FLYNN. During the September 29, 2020 motion hearing, the Court informed the government that it would need government counsel to authenticate documents filed with the Court. See Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 91:19-92-21; see also Min. Order (Sept. 29, 2020) (ordering the parties to file any supplemental materials by no later than October 7, 2020). On October 7, 2020, the government filed [259] Notice of Compliance in which it stated that: (1) Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) agents assigned to review Mr. Strzok’s notes had placed sticky notes on the document with estimated dates, and the sticky notes had not been removed prior to scanning the documents for production purposes (see ECF Nos. 248-2, 248-3); and (2) a sticky note with an estimated date had been placed on the notes of Andrew McCabe, and the sticky note had not been removed prior to scanning the document for production purposes (see ECF No. 248-4). The government stated that the notes of Mr. Strzok and Mr. McCabe were otherwise unaltered, and it provided the unaltered versions of Mr. Strzok’s and Mr. McCabe’s notes. See Exs. to Notice of Compliance, ECF Nos. 259-1, 259-2, 259-3. However, the government did not address the Court’s authentication request despite the government’s acknowledgement that altered FBI records have been produced to Mr. Flynn and filed on the record in this case. See Notice of Compliance, ECF No. 259. The government has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a), has attached 13 Exhibits to that motion, and has cited the Exhibits throughout its motion to support its description of the factual background and its argument in support of dismissal. See generally Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198. The government has also filed a supplement to its motion and attached an Exhibit to that supplement. Suppl., ECF No. 249. Although the government relies heavily on these 14 Exhibits, the government has not provided a declaration attesting that the Exhibits are true and correct copies. “The presumption [of regularity] applies to government-produced documents” and “to the extent it is not rebutted–requires a court to treat the government’s record as accurate.” Latif v. Obama, 666 F.3d 746, 748, 750 (D.C. Cir. 2011). Here, however, the government has acknowledged that altered FBI records have been produced by the government and filed on the record in this case. See Notice of Compliance, ECF No. 259. Accordingly, the government is HEREBY ORDERED to file, by no later than October 26, 2020, a declaration pursuant to penalty of perjury under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1746 in support of its motion to dismiss that the Exhibits attached to its motion and supplement are true and correct copies. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the government’s declaration shall identify each exhibit by name, date, and author. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the government shall provide transcriptions of all handwritten notes contained in the Exhibits. The government has also filed on the record in this case numerous notices of filing discovery correspondence and Mr. Flynn has generally filed the discovery produced on the record in this case as Exhibits to his supplementary filings. See ECF Nos. [228], [231], [237], [248], [251], [257], [264]. The government has acknowledged that the discovery provided to Mr. Flynn and thereafter filed on the record contained altered FBI records. See Notice of Compliance, ECF No. 259. Accordingly, the government is HEREBY ORDERED to file, by no later than October 26, 2020, a declaration pursuant to penalty of perjury under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1746 that the discovery documents provided to Mr. Flynn and filed on the record in this case are true and correct copies. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the government’s declaration shall identify each discovery document by name, date, and author. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the government shall provide transcriptions of all handwritten notes contained in the Exhibits.

This is going to create four problems for DOJ.

First, there’s no way they can finish this by Monday. Even if the lawyers on this case were as familiar with these documents as they claimed to be, it would take more than this weekend to transcribe and double check everything. They will likely ask for an extension, one that would extend the order past the election.

Plus, once they do transcribe these documents, it will become crystal clear that parts of the notes — most notably, the Bill Priestap notes they’ve claimed are a smoking gun — in fact confirm that every single witness agreed on the purpose of the January 24, 2017 Mike Flynn interview: to see whether Flynn would lie. By submitting a transcript, then, they will have to admit they’ve misrepresented the substance of the documents.

Then, this order will catch them in their past false claims about the date of (at least) the January 5, 2017 Peter Strzok notes. As I’ve noted, DOJ has submitted several documents in this docket making it clear that Strzok’s notes must have been written on January 5, 2017. Except they falsely claimed not to know. There’s probably no easy way out of this problem.

Finally, there is this exhibit, which also had a date added, but a date added via means that cannot have been accidental.

It’s possible that that redaction doesn’t cover over an existing date (but my annotation, in red, may show the hash marks of a date). But I don’t see how DOJ can authenticate this, and they’re going to have to tell Sullivan who wrote it, making it really easy for journalists to call up the author and get him to confirm or deny the date.

Notably, after Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers gave notice that DOJ had altered their notes, Sidney Powell submitted a demand that Judge Sullivan prevent anyone else from telling him their notes had been altered. So maybe she has exhibits about which she has specific concerns.

The false Strzok claims, by themselves, are going to make a truthful declaration here difficult, if not impossible. But that’s not even the only problem this order will create for DOJ.

Update: There are two sets of documents Sullivan is now asking DOJ to ID the author, provide date, and transcribe: those linked in this post and those in this document cloud project.

The Desperation of the Jeffrey Jensen Investigation Already Made Clear that John Durham Won’t Indict

Yesterday, a sick man called into Maria Bartiromo’s show and wailed that his opponents had not been indicted.

Bartiromo: Mr. President. We now know from these documents that John Ratcliffe unveiled that it was Hilary Clinton’s idea to tie you to Russia in some way. It was successful. The whole country was talking about it for two and a half years. But what comes next, Mr. President? We can have all of these documents, we can see exactly what happened but unless John [Durham] comes out with a report or indictments unless Bill Barr comes out with a — a — some kind of a ruling here, do you think this is resonating on the American people?

Trump: Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction unless I win and we’ll just have to go, because I won’t forget it. But these people should be indicted, this was the greatest political crime in the history of our country and that includes Obama and it includes Biden. These are people that spied on my campaign and we have everything. Now they say they have much more, OK? And I say, Bill, we’ve got plenty, you don’t need any more. We’ve got so much, Maria, even — just take a look at the Comey report, 78 pages of kill, done by Horowitz, and I have a lot of respect for Horowitz, and he said prosecute. He recommended prosecute and they didn’t prosecute. I was — I couldn’t believe it, but they didn’t do it, because they said we have much bigger fish to fry. Well, that’s OK, they indicted Flynn for lying and he didn’t lie. They destroyed many lives, Roger Stone, over nothing. They destroyed lives. Look at Manafort, they sent in a black book, it was a phony black book, phony, they made up a black book of cash that he got from Ukraine or someplace and he didn’t get any cash.

In the comment, he described speaking directly to Billy Barr about the urgency of prosecuting his political opponents.

In response to this attack, Billy Barr has started telling Republican members of Congress that John Durham isn’t going to indict before the election.

Attorney General Bill Barr has begun telling top Republicans that the Justice Department’s sweeping review into the origins of the Russia investigation will not be released before the election, a senior White House official and a congressional aide briefed on the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans had long hoped the report, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, would be a bombshell containing revelations about what they allege were serious abuses by the Obama administration and intelligence community probing for connections between President Trump and Russia.

  • “This is the nightmare scenario. Essentially, the year and a half of arguably the number one issue for the Republican base is virtually meaningless if this doesn’t happen before the election,” a GOP congressional aide told Axios.
  • Barr has made clear that they should not expect any further indictments or a comprehensive report before Nov. 3, our sources say.

Barr is excusing the delay by saying that Durham is only going to prosecute stuff he can win.

What we’re hearing: Barr is communicating that Durham is taking his investigation extremely seriously and is focused on winning prosecutions.

  • According to one of the sources briefed on the conversations Barr said Durham is working in a deliberate and calculated fashion, and they need to be patient.
  • The general sense of the talks, the source says, is that Durham is not preoccupied with completing his probe by a certain deadline for political purposes.

This back and forth represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what must be going on.

The Durham investigation should not, at this point, be considered separately from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation attempting to invent a reason to blow up the Flynn prosecution. That’s been true since Barr appointed Jensen because Durham hadn’t yet discovered anything to dig Sidney Powell out of the hole she had dug Flynn. But it’s especially true now that documents that would be central to the Durham inquiry are being leaked left and right — whether it’s the report that the FBI knew that Igor Danchenko had been investigated (like Carter Page and Mike Flynn) as a possible Russian agent, or specific details about when the FBI obtained NSLs on Mike Flynn.

The investigative integrity of the Durham investigation has been shot beyond recovery.

Plus, the sheer desperation of the Jensen investigation raises real questions about whether a credible investigation could ever find anything that could sustain a prosecution, in any case. That’s because:

  • Jensen has repeatedly provided evidence that proves the opposite of what DOJ claims. For example, the Bill Priestap notes that DOJ claimed were a smoking gun actually show contemporaneous proof for the explanation that every single witness has offered for Mike Flynn’s interview — that they needed to see whether Flynn would tell the truth about his calls with Sergey Kisklyak. Plus, now there’s a Priestap 302, one DOJ is hiding, that further corroborates that point. That evidence blows all the claims about the centrality of the Logan Act to interviewing Flynn out of the water, and it’s already public.
  • Jensen’s investigators submitted altered exhibits to sustain easily disprovable claims. DOJ has claimed that this tampering with evidence was inadvertent — they simply forgot to take sticky notes off their files. That doesn’t explain all the added dates, however, undermining their excuse. Moreover, if they didn’t intentionally tamper with evidence, they’re left claiming either that they haven’t read the exhibits they’ve relied on thus far in this litigation, or that they’re so fucking stupid that they don’t realize they’ve already disproven their own assumptions about dates. Add in the way their “errors” got mainlined to the President via a lawyer meeting with Trump’s campaign lawyer, and the whole explanation gets so wobbly no prosecutor would want to proceed toward prosecution with problems that could so easily be discoverable (or already public).
  • Jensen’s investigators got star witness William Barnett to expose himself as a partisan willing to forget details to help Trump. Along with an analyst that was skeptical of the Flynn case (but who was moved off before the most damning evidence came in), Barnett would need to be the star witness in any case alleging impropriety in the investigation. But rather than hiding Barnett’s testimony and protecting his credibility, Jensen made a desperate bid to get his claims on the record and make it public. And what the 302 actually shows — even without a subpoena of Barnett’s personal ties and texts sent on FBI phones — is that in his interview, Barnett claimed not to understand the case (even though documents he filed show that he did, contemporaneously), and either did not remember or deliberately suppressed key evidence (not least that Flynn told Kislyak that Trump had been informed of his calls).  The 302 further showed Barnett presenting as “truth” of bias claims that instead show his willingness to make accusations about people he didn’t work with, even going so far as to repackage his own dickish behavior as an attempt to discredit Jeannie Rhee. Finally, by hiding how many good things Barnett had to say about Brandon Van Grack, DOJ has made it clear that the only thing Barnett can be used for is to admit that he, too, believes Flynn lied, didn’t have a problem with one of the key investigators in the case, and that his views held sway on the final Mueller Report. Had Durham managed this witness, Barnett might have been dynamite. Now, he would be, at best, an easily discredited partisan.

Jensen is working from the same evidence that Durham is. And what the Jensen investigation has shown is that it takes either willful ignorance or deliberate manipulation to spin this stuff as damning. And in the process, Jensen has destroyed the viability of a witness and possibly other pieces of evidence that any credible prosecution would use.

DOJ might make one last bid in giving Trump what he wants, allegations against his adversaries, by using the initial response in the McCabe and Strzok lawsuits as a platform to make unsubstantiated attacks on them (DOJ got an extension in both cases, but one that is still before the election). But those attacks will crumble just like the Jeffrey Jensen case has, and do so in a way that may make it easier for McCabe and Strzok to get expansive discovery at the underlying actions of people like Barnett.

Billy Barr has largely shot his wad in drumming up accusations against Trump’s critics. And along the way, he has proven how flimsy any such claims were in the first place.

The “Scanned” Andrew McCabe Notes Weren’t [Just] “Scanned”

The story DOJ offered yesterday to explain why they had altered several exhibits of undated notes raise more questions then they answered. In both cases where DOJ has admitted the exhibits had added dates — Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe — those dates are problematic.

Plus, the excuse offered for those dates — that someone forgot to take off a clear sticky and post-it notes before copying the exhibit — can’t explain the third instance where DOJ added a date, where they incorporated it into the redaction of notes taken from a meeting involving ODAG’s office.

Indeed, the redaction may even cover an existing date (see what look like the slashes of a date, outlined in red, though that could also record the names of other attendees), with a date added in the redaction (outlined in yellow).

Moreover, there’s a problem with the excuse DOJ offered about the McCabe notes, which went as follows:

Similarly, the government has learned that, at some point during the review of the McCabe notes, someone placed a blue “flag” with clear adhesive to the McCabe notes with an estimated date (the notes themselves are also undated). Again, the flag was inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production.

That is, DOJ is claiming that “someone” missed a blue “flag” when they were “scanning” McCabe’s notes and so inadvertently left a date — the wrong date, probably — on the exhibit, without leaving any sign on the exhibit itself.

The problem with this explanation is that we know precisely what a blue sticky left on an actual “scan” looks like. It looks just like what we say in the Bill Priestap notes submitted three times under two different Bates stamp numbers.

That is, if the document were just scanned, it would show up quite obviously, as it does here, and would be impossible to miss.

And yet this “scan” attributed to “somebody” doesn’t show up, possibly because the redaction covers it.