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Devlin Barrett’s “People Familiar with the Matter”

As Devlin Barrett’s sources would have it, a man whose business ties to the Saudis include a $2 billion investment in his son-in-law, a golf partnership of undisclosed value, and a new hotel development in Oman would have no business interest in stealing highly sensitive documents describing Iran’s missile systems.

I’ll let you decide whether the claim, made in Barrett’s latest report on the stolen documents case, means the FBI is considering the issue very narrowly or Barrett’s sources are bullshitting him.

That review has not found any apparent business advantage to the types of classified information in Trump’s possession, these people said. FBI interviews with witnesses so far, they said, also do not point to any nefarious effort by Trump to leverage, sell or use the government secrets. Instead, the former president seemed motivated by a more basic desire not to give up what he believed was his property, these people said.

Barrett has a history of credulously repeating what right wing FBI agents feed him for their own political goals, which means it’s unclear how seriously to take this report. Particularly given several critical details Barrett’s story does not mention:

  • Trump’s efforts, orchestrated in part by investigation witness Kash Patel, to release documents about the Russian investigation specifically to serve a political objective
  • The report, from multiple outlets, that Jay Bratt told Trump’s lawyers that DOJ believes Trump still has classified documents
  • Details about classified documents interspersed with a Roger Stone grant of clemency and messages — dated after Trump left the White House — from a pollster, a book author, and a religious leader; both sets of interspersed classified documents were found in Trump’s office
  • The way Trump’s legal exposure would expand if people like Boris Epshteyn conspired to help him hoard the documents or others like Molly Michael accessed the classified records

To be sure: I think a good many of the documents Trump stole — including the most sensitive ones — were stolen as trophies. We know that’s why Trump stole his love letters with Kim Jong Un. And the visible contents of the FBI’s search photograph show that the most highly classified documents were stored along with Time Magazine covers.

But this report, from sources described as “people familiar with the matter,” bespeaks a partial view of the investigation, one Barrett hasn’t bothered to supplement (or challenge) with public records.

That description, “people familiar with the matter,” is the same one Barrett uses to remind readers that he got the scoop on the Iranian missile documents that his sources don’t think the Saudis would have any interest in, and his scoop that Trump stole documents about some country’s defense system (which, if the country is Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Israel, would be of acute interest to Trump’s golf partners, too).

The Washington Post has previously reported that among the most sensitive classified documents recovered by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago were documents about Iran and China, according to people familiar with the matter.

At least one of the documents seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 describes Iran’s missile program, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation. Other documents described highly sensitive intelligence work aimed at China, they said. The Post has also reported that some of the material focuses on the defense systems of a foreign country, including its nuclear capabilities.

There’s no guarantee that these “people familiar with the matter” are the same sources for both the information about the most sensitive documents Trump stole and the current understanding about Trump’s motive. It could be that Barrett is using the same vague description to protect his source(s).

But they could be the same sources. Indeed, the blind spots in Barrett’s reporting may stem from having sources familiar with the national security review of the documents, but not necessarily the ongoing investigation into it. Some of the WaPo’s past reporting on this story seems to come from people who’ve seen the unredacted affidavit, but not necessarily the investigative files.

And that’s interesting, among other reasons, because the leak to Barrett about the most sensitive documents has formed the primary harm claimed by Trump’s lawyers in filing after filing after filing, starting literally the day after Judge Aileen Cannon cited leaks in her original order enjoining the criminal investigation.

The Government is apparently not concerned with unauthorized leaks regarding the contents of the purported “classified records,” see, e.g., Devlin Barrett and Carol D. Leonnig, Material on foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities seized at Trump’s Mara-Lago, WASH. POST (Sept. 6, 2022), https://www.washingtonpost.com/nationalsecurity/2022/09/06/trump-nuclear-documents/, and would presumably be prepared to share all such records publicly in any future jury trial. However, the Government advances the untenable position in its Motion that the secure review by a Court appointed and supervised special master under controlled access conditions is somehow problematic and poses a risk to national security.

Trump cites Barrett’s work right alongside EO 13526 as “Other Authorities” central to Trump’s argument:

In any case, given the precedent of Nghia Pho (which may still be the only 18 USC 793 case cited by DOJ in this proceeding), it may not matter if Trump stole all or only some of these documents because he’s a narcissist. Trump brought a stack of classified documents to a foreign intelligence target and left them unprotected as multiple suspect foreigners infiltrated his resort. He continued to hoard such documents even after it was publicly reported that he had brought classified documents home.

During Trump’s Administration two men were sent to prison because, by bringing highly classified documents home for motives that had nothing to do with leaking, they made the documents accessible to Russian-linked sources, actions that ultimately led to a devastating compromise of US intelligence resources. Under Donald Trump’s DOJ, Pho and Hal Martin were not given a pass because they were serving their own ego.

So there’s no reason Trump’s narcissism, alone, should be a basis not to charge him.

Merrick Garland Hasn’t Done the Specific Thing You Want because DOJ Has Been Busy Doing Things They Have to Do First

The passage of the election has set off the Merrick Garland whingers again, people who like displaying their ignorance by claiming there has been no sign of progress on the investigations into Trump when (often as not) there were signs of progress that the whingers are ignoring in the last few days.

Yes. It has been almost a week since the close of polls last Tuesday. No. Merrick Garland has not carted Trump away in a paddy wagon yet (nor would the FBI, if and when they ever did arrest him).

Yes. We actually know why Garland hasn’t done so — and it’s not for want of actions that might lead there.

There are still known steps that have to or probably will happen before Trump would be indicted in any of the known criminal investigations into him. For those demanding proof of life from the DOJ investigations into Trump, you need look no further than the public record to find that proof of life. The public record easily explains both what DOJ has been doing in the Trump investigations, and why there is likely to be at least a several month delay before any charges can be brought.

The reason is that DOJ is still pursuing the evidence they would need before charging a former President.

Here’s an update on the various investigations into Trump (I’ve bolded the two appellate deadlines below).

Stolen documents

The reason I’m particularly crabby about the Merrick Garland whinging is because people were accusing DOJ of inaction hours after DOJ’s most recent step in the investigation into Trump’s stolen documents. On November 3, for example, DOJ compelled Kash Patel to testify before a grand jury under grant of use immunity, testimony that would be necessary, one way or another, before charging Trump, because DOJ would need to rule out or at least account for any claim that Trump mass-declassified the documents he stole.

DOJ continues to fight to ensure it can keep the documents it seized on August 8, and to be permitted to use the unclassified documents it seized in the investigation. The most recent filings in that fight, as I wrote up here, were filings about the disputes Trump and DOJ have about the seized documents, which Special Master Raymond Dearie will use to rule on those designations by December 16. After Dearie does that, Trump will dispute some of Dearie’s decisions, and Judge Aileen Cannon will make her own decision de novo. She has not set her own deadline for how long that decision would take. But if the Special Master process is the means by which DOJ guarantees its access to the evidence against Trump, it won’t be resolved until after the New Year, even assuming DOJ won’t have to appeal some ridiculous Cannon ruling.

Short of doing a search on another Trump property, preferably in Virginia but possibly in New Jersey or New York, this case cannot be charged until DOJ can present documents the custody of which it has guaranteed to a grand jury. DOJ has to make sure they have the evidence they would use to charge Trump (though adjudicating these disputes now might make any prosecution quicker on the back end).

That said, DOJ may guarantee custody of the documents it seized in August more quickly, via its challenge to Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master in the first place, in the 11th Circuit. Trump’s response to that appeal, which he submitted on November 10, seemed desultory, as if Chris Kice knows they will lose this appeal (indeed, that seems likely given that both the 11th Circuit and SCOTUS have already declined to see the case in the way Trump would prefer). DOJ’s response is due on November 17. Because of the way the 11th Circuit has scheduled this appeal, the panel reviewing it will be prepared for oral argument on rather quick turnaround. Even so, DOJ is not likely to guarantee access to these documents via any favorable 11th Circuit decision (which Trump will undoubtedly appeal) before December 1, and it would take about a week to present any case to the grand jury. So the very earliest that DOJ could indict this case would be early- to mid- December.

Update: In a filing submitted on November 8 but only unsealed today, DOJ asked Raymond Dearie to recommend that Judge Cannon lift the injunction on the 2,794 out of 2,916 documents over which Trump is making no privilege claim.

Update: The 11th Circuit has set a hearing for November 22, so DOJ may actually have access to those files sooner than December 1, though not all that sooner.

January 6 investigation(s)

There are at least four ways that Trump might be charged in conjunction with January 6:

  • For asking Mike Pence to illegally overturn legal votes and then threatening him, including with violence, when he refused
  • For setting up fake electors to contest the election
  • For fundraising off false claims of voter fraud and using the money to benefit those who helped the attack
  • Via people like Roger Stone, in a networked conspiracy with those who attacked the Capitol

DOJ sent out subpoenas in the first three prongs of this just before the pre-election pause. This post summarizes who was included.

These are all (and have been) intersecting conspiracies (this CNN story describes how many areas the subpoenas cover). For example, since January, it has been clear that the top-down investigation most visible in the January 6 Committee work and the crime-scene investigation visible in ongoing prosecutions had converged on the pressure both Trump and the mob focused on Mike Pence. It’s unclear how DOJ will treat the intersection of these investigations, and whether DOJ will wait for all prongs to converge before charging.

The Mike Pence prong is where DOJ made its most obvious progress during the pre-election pause. On October 6, Mike Pence Counsel Greg Jacob testified before a grand jury. October 14, Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short testified. Also in October, DOJ asked Beryl Howell to compel Trump’s White House Counsels Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin as well. I’m not aware of the status of appeals on that (or whether Judge Howell compelled testimony from the two Pats in the meantime). We know that all four men would describe the debates over the extent of Pence’s authority to reject lawful electors, including the recognition from people like John Eastman that their legal theories were unsupported by law. The two Pats would also testify about Trump’s reaction to the mob, as he watched the attack on the Capitol from inside the White House dining room, including the tweet that specifically targeted Pence. These are all very credible first-hand witnesses to Trump’s words and actions both in advance of and during the attack. Obtaining their testimony would be necessary before charging a former President. But DOJ’s efforts (and success) at obtaining their testimony reflects the seriousness of the investigation.

The publication of Pence’s book, which relays his version about exchanges with Trump, would seem to invite a demand from DOJ that he testify about the same topics to the grand jury as well, particularly given the way he spun the story in ways that might help Trump. If I were a prosecutor contemplating charging the former President, I would want that potentially exculpatory (to Trump) locked in under oath. And any claim from Pence that he can’t share these details because of Executive Privilege seem ridiculous in the face of a book tour. But if DOJ decided they needed Pence’s testimony it might result in delay.

It’s unclear how much progress DOJ has made on the subpoenas issued before the pause. None of those subpoenaed have been spotted at grand jury appearances at Prettyman (though that may change this week). In particular, there are a bunch of senior Republicans involved in the fake elector plots from whom I expect DOJ to try to lock in testimony.

But two things may cause delay in any case. First, as I wrote here, subpoenas (generally served on people who might be expected to comply) are easy, because they require the person who received the subpoena to do the search for the subpoenaed materials. But it takes time to exploit phones, all the more so if the phone was seized without some way to open it. Here’s how long the communications of various high profile people have taken to exploit:

This is not indolence. It is physics and due process: it just takes time to crack phones, to filter the content, and to scope what is responsive to a warrant.

Among the steps taken before the pause, in early September, DOJ seized the phones of Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman. While it’s possible DOJ will be able to accelerate the process of exploiting these phones (they have done so with Oath Keeper lawyer Kellye SoRelle’s phone, as last week DOJ submitted material that had gone through a filter review from the phone seized from her in early September in the sedition case), you should not assume they can fully exploit these phones (with whatever Signal content is on them) in less than six months, so March. In Epshteyn’s case, his claims to be playing a legal role in the stolen document case may cause further delays because of a filter review.

As someone involved in vote fraud efforts, Latinos for Trump, and the Oath Keepers, SoRelle is one of the pivots from the White House and Willard focused activities to the crime scene. DOJ seems closer to moving against others at that pivot point. Roger Stone, for example, has been mentioned over and over in the Oath Keeper trial. But that’s probably several months off. Alex Jones sidekick Owen Shroyer has been given until the end of the month to decide whether he wants to plead or take his chances on further charges. And I expect DOJ will wait until the verdict at least in the Oath Keeper case (they might not even get through all the defense witnesses this week), and possibly in the more complex Proud Boy case (which would be February barring likely unforeseen changes), before going too much further.

There’s one more thing that may delay any more spectacular charges in January 6. The oral argument for DOJ’s appeal of Carl Nichols’ outlier decision on the application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to the insurrection won’t happen until December 12. It drew a pretty unfavorable panel for that hearing (listed as Joseph Fischer here): Trump appointees Greg Katsas (like Nichols, a former Clarence Thomas clerk, who also worked as Deputy White House Counsel in 2017) and Justin Walker (who is close to Mitch McConnell), and Biden appointee Florence Pan (who presided over January 6 cases before being promoted to the Circuit Court). It’s possible, but by no means certain, that the Trump appointees will do something nutty, in which case, DOJ would surely appeal first to the full DC Circuit panel; if they overturn Nichols, Garret Miller and the other January 6 defendants who got their obstruction charges thrown out will presumably appeal to SCOTUS.

Nichols’ decision, which ruled that January 6 did count as an official proceeding but ruled that any obstruction had to involve some kind of documents, probably wouldn’t stall any charges relating to the fake electors, which were after all about using fraudulent documents to overturn the vote certification. But it might lead DOJ to pause for other charges until the legal application is unquestioned. 18 USC 1512 is the charge on which DOJ has built its set of interlocking conspiracy charges, and so this decision is pretty important going forward.

Unlike the stolen document case, I can’t give you a date that would be the soonest possible date to expect indictments. But for a variety of reasons laid out here, unless DOJ were to indict on charges specifically focused on Mike Pence (with the possibility of superseding later), it probably would not be until March or April at the earliest.

Georgia investigation

The Georgia investigation, like the Federal one, was paused for a period leading up to the election (it’s unclear whether the run-off between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will further delay things). But during the pre-election period, DA Fani Willis won decisions for testimony from Lindsey Graham and Newt Gingrich. Those grand jury appearances were scheduled for the end of this month (though may be pushed back). In any case, Willis has indicated that any charges from this investigation may come before the end of the year.

To be clear, none of this is a guarantee that DOJ (or Willis) will indict Trump and/or his closest aides. It is, however, a summary of the reasons that are public that all these investigations have been taking steps that would have to happen before they could charge Trump, and that most have additional steps that would have to happen before prosecutors could even make a prosecutorial decision.

As Pre-Election Pause Comes to an End, Look First to Arizona (and Nevada and Georgia)

Three times — with the Russian investigation, the Ukraine impeachment, and the January 6 insurrection — the GOP had a ready-made opportunity to distance the party from Donald Trump’s corruption. Each time, they not only declined to take that opportunity, but instead consolidated as a party behind Trump.

Given the swirl of investigations around Trump, Republicans will likely will have a fourth opportunity, this time at a moment when Ron DeSantis’ fortunes look more promising than Trump’s own.

That doesn’t mean Republicans will take it. Indeed, there are some Republicans — people like Jim Jordan — whose electoral future remains yoked to Trump’s. There are a even few members of Congress — Scott Perry, above all — whose legal future may lie with Trump.

But the possibility that yesterday’s results will change the Republican commitment to defending Trump at all cost will be an important dynamic in the face of any prosecutorial steps that DOJ takes now that the pre-election pause on such steps is over.

An indictment of Trump is not going to happen today. In the stolen document case, that’s likely true because DOJ will first want to ensure access to the unclassified documents seized in August, something that won’t happen until either the 11th Circuit decision reverses Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master (that will be ripe for a hearing after November 17) or after a judgement from Special Master Raymond Dearie on December 16 that Cannon chooses to affirm. It’s not impossible, however, that DOJ will take significant actions before then — perhaps by arresting one or more of Trump’s suspected co-conspirators in hoarding the documents, or by executing warrants at other Trump properties to find the documents still believed to be missing.

In the January 6 case, DOJ’s unlikely to take action against Trump himself anytime soon because — by my read at least — there’s still a layer of charges DOJ would have to solidify before charging Trump, both in the prong working up from the crime scene (Roger Stone’s name continues to come up regularly in both the Oath Keeper and Proud Boys cases), and in the fake elector plot. With the testimony of Pence’s key aides secured before the election, Trump’s targeting of his Vice President may be the part of the investigation closest to fruition. There are probably phones — like those of Boris Epshteyn and John Eastman — that DOJ has not finished exploiting, which would have to happen before any charges.

Remember that the phone of Scott Perry — one member of that closely divided House — is among those being exploited right now.

In fact, particularly given the outstanding vote, a more interesting step DOJ might soon take would affect Arizona, even as the close election is settling out. There were several states where DOJ subpoenaed the bulk of those involved in the fake elector plot (here are two summary posts — one, two — of the most recent overt investigative steps). There’s one state, and I think it is Arizona (I’m still looking for the report), where everyone blew off these subpoenas. Mark Finchem is one of the people named on the subpoenas (though he appears to have clearly lost his bid to become Secretary of State).

In other words, in several states (NV, GA, and PA are others), DOJ was preparing the work to unpack the role of key Republicans in both states. Unpacking that role almost necessarily precedes a Trump indictment. But it will also significantly affect the electoral aftermath of these close states.

And all that’s before you consider that Fani Willis’ own pre-election pause will also end. Indeed, Newt Gingrich lost a bid to kill a subpoena in that investigation today.

As noted, the GOP calculus on how to respond to these investigations could change now that Trump has proven a loser once again (or maybe not!). But it’s worth remembering that top Republicans in at least four swing states — swing states that are still counting votes — are implicated in that investigation.

Boris Epshteyn’s Clearance Problems

WaPo includes three details in a profile of Boris Epshteyn that I’ve long been pondering, though WaPo doesn’t consider their import.

First, it states more clearly than past whispers have that one of several reasons Epshteyn didn’t get a job in the White House early in Trump’s term was because of “issues [getting] security clearance.”

After the election, Epshteyn became an aide on the transition team and in the White House. But his tenure in was short — he lasted about two months in the White House and was abruptly moved from the transition to be communications director for the inaugural committee. Three Trump advisers, including one person with direct knowledge of the matter, said the White House exit came after issues gaining a security clearance and clashing with other White House aides.

This was a White House that gave Jared Kushner the highest levels of clearance, took a year to get rid of Rob Porter, and similarly took time before removing Johnny McEntee — and then brought McEntee back! Which is to say, the Trump Administration, which didn’t much care who had clearance, identified a clearance problem before the delayed vetting that identified Porter and McEntee as threats. And acted on it.

And yet, this is the guy that Trump — at a time he had almost no grown-ups left in his entourage — put in charge of his response to the stolen documents investigation.

Initially, many of Epshteyn’s calls to Trump were about the 2020 election. But this year, as the controversy over classified documents located at Mar-a-Lago intensified, Trump grew furious with some of his lawyers who were urging him to return the material to the federal government. In spring, according to advisers, Trump gave Epshteyn a larger role in his legal defense team — akin to an in-house counsel.

“He came in and started giving orders,” one person familiar with the matter said.

[snip]

Epshteyn has urged a pugilistic tone in court filings about the documents, has tried to shape public relations around those filings and has called Trump repeatedly throughout the day to talk strategy, other advisers say.

So the guy who even Trump wouldn’t give clearance to is the mastermind of Trump’s strategy to refuse to give back classified documents, some of the most sensitive documents in government.

We know that investigators find Epshteyn’s role of interest from the reporting on Christina Bobb’s interview with the FBI.

Bobb also spoke to investigators about Trump legal adviser Boris Epshteyn, who she said did not help draft the statement but was minimally involved in discussions about the records, according to the sources.

Apparently her testimony described additional contacts she had with Epshteyn.

Bobb testified to the justice department about the 3 June episode on Friday, detailing Corcoran’s role and additional contacts with Trump’s in-house counsel Boris Epshteyn, one of the sources said.

One of those contacts involved Ephsteyn calling her the night before DOJ came to Mar-a-Lago — remember, DOJ was only asked to come the night before — and telling her to show up the next day to play what was, unbeknownst to her at the time, the role of the fall gal.

She told them that another Trump lawyer, Boris Epshteyn, contacted her the night before she signed the attestation and connected her with Mr. Corcoran. Ms. Bobb, who was living in Florida, was told that she needed to go to Mar-a-Lago the next day to deal with an unspecified legal matter for Mr. Trump.

So I’m not the only one focusing on Epshteyn’s role in refusing to give documents back. FBI is too.

I point this out a lot, but I’m going to point it out again. 18 USC 793 — one of the crimes Trump is being investigated for — has a conspiracy clause that exposes those who help someone commit a crime under the statute to prosecution themselves.

(g)If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions of this section, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.

By all descriptions, Trump literally brought in Epshteyn precisely because he encouraged Trump to refuse to give the documents back. And the easiest way to charge Trump under 793 would be to charge him just for hoarding the documents from June 3 to August 8, the period after which he had withheld documents in response to a lawful subpoena.

As I also point out incessantly, it would be a lot easier to charge Trump if he made highly classified documents accessible to someone who never was entitled to access them. Bobb once had clearance, and by description at least, never accessed the documents herself. Kash Patel had top clearances — indeed, by his own description, he still has clearance (though he wouldn’t have the need to know). Evan Corcoran at least treated the documents like they were sensitive.

But Epshteyn was, according to this WaPo profile, not hired into the Trump White House because of clearance concerns. And he’s the guy, by all reports, in charge of Trump’s efforts to refuse to give the most sensitive documents back. That doesn’t mean he had these documents in hand. But it does mean he was part of the effort to keep them.

There’s one more puzzle that I keep raising. The WaPo notes what a ton of stories have already: Epshteyn’s phone was seized in September.

Epshteyn recently had his phone seized by federal agents as part of that probe. A federal subpoena that went to more than 100 people across the country this spring — including fake electors and state officials — sought phone and email communications with dozens of people involved in the effort, including Epshteyn.

By all reports, the phone was seized as part of the investigation into Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election, rather than his efforts to steal classified documents. Epshteyn, who has a JD, was part of the group of lawyers dreaming up whack theories to justify stealing the election (or dupe Trump followers into an attempted coup), but there’s no indication he was lawyering then. Instead, by description, he was doing what he has always done for Trump: organizing.

But, perhaps for legal reasons, all the profiles of Epshteyn’s role in the stolen documents case describe him as playing a legal role. This WaPo piece describes him serving as “in-house counsel,” for example.

FBI seized Epshteyn’s phone almost two months ago, which presumably included five months of content from the period when he has played this purported legal role in helping Trump refuse to give highly classified documents back. Yet we’ve heard nothing about a privilege fight.

That’s particularly interesting given that — after Bobb’s testimony last month — DOJ may have had probable cause to broaden the scope of any filter on Epshteyn’s phone.

Kash Patel’s Immunized Testimony Is about Premeditation, Not (Just) about Declassification

Thankfully, the NYT has written a second story reporting that DOJ is considering asking Beryl Howell to give Kash Patel use immunity in the Trump stolen document investigation, because I was about to go back and write about the first one.

Earlier this month, the prosecutors summoned Mr. Patel to testify before a grand jury in Washington hearing evidence about whether Mr. Trump had mishandled classified documents and obstructed justice when he refused to return the records to the government.

Mr. Patel repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In response, prosecutors asked a top federal judge in Washington to compel Mr. Patel to answer questions — a move Mr. Patel’s lawyers have strenuously opposed. The question now is whether the Justice Department will grant him immunity in order to secure his testimony.

The first was newsworthy — as I laid out in this thread and as Jay Kuo wrote up in this piece — for its silence about the fact that Stanley Woodward is the defense attorney for both people described in the story (the other was Walt Nauta, the valet who moved documents around before Evan Corcoran did a search of what was left).

Woodward represents a slew of key defendants who might serve as firewalls in a larger and much more damning crime: in addition to Patel and Nauta, Dan Scavino, Peter Navarro, Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs (who has ties to Roger Stone), and the guy who kicked off the entire riot, Ryan Samsel. Woodward’s a decent defense attorney (not least because, unlike many Trump attorneys, he is a defense attorney), but he’s got a conspiracy streak that should be accounted for when reporting on his representation of events.

Both NYT stories portray Patel’s unnamed attorneys as resisting the move to immunize him.

In response, prosecutors asked a top federal judge in Washington to force Mr. Patel to testify — a move fought by Mr. Patel’s lawyers, who are concerned the government wants to use Mr. Patel’s own statements to incriminate him. [first]

[snip]

The push for the testimony has also created friction between the Justice Department and Mr. Patel’s lawyers, who have argued that the department could use his statements against him if they build out a larger obstruction investigation. [second]

This is, frankly, silly reporting. Stanley Woodward doesn’t get a choice in whether Patel is immunized. That’s the point: You immunize a witness to compel his testimony. And defense attorneys and prosecutors are adversarial; there is supposed to be “friction” between them. That’s the nature of an adversarial system.

Including these claims in the story without explaining the import of compelled testimony does a disservice to readers and makes the story far more of vehicle for obstruction.

Best as I can tell (it’s hard to tell, because the part of the earlier story addressing immunity was so muddled), this version of the story adds no new news except for the self-congratulatory detail that Trump only learned that Kash took the Fifth from the earlier story.

Mr. Trump first learned that Mr. Patel had invoked the Fifth Amendment when The New York Times reported it on Monday, according to person briefed on the matter.

This is not actually interesting unless you’re a NYT reporter or someone like Stanley Woodward wanting to make clear he’s not directly consulting on these defense issues in advance with Trump himself, which is different than consulting with someone like Boris Epshteyn, who (unlike Woodward) is not a defense attorney but nevertheless is purportedly in charge of Trump’s defense. It just so happens that these anonymously sourced stories provide all the details that Trump would need and Woodward would want public to make sure he still got paid. (Not addressed, however, is a reference in the earlier story boasting about the treatment of the video surveillance that would have led to changed testimony from Nauta.)

Sadly, this story utterly misses several key points about the import of Kash Patel’s testimony.

First, consider Kash’s potential responses if Beryl Howell does grant him use immunity. Either he testifies truthfully, he lies, or he still refuses to testify and gets jailed for contempt. This is the real tension that Woodward is getting at — what should Kash do if he is immunized, as if the story is begging for directions from those paying the bills. While Trump was still President, the answer was easy: lie and await a pardon. It’s more complicated when you’re firewalling someone who may not return to the presidency anytime soon.

More importantly, consider possible reasons why Kash might have invoked the Fifth, if it was anything more than an attempt to avoid testifying in the absence of Executive Privilege claims.

NYT — which has spread the cover story that the only Russian documents Trump attempted to disseminate as he left office were the unclassified Strzok-Page texts (ABC had a detailed story about what really happened) — says that this is all about whether Kash’s claims that Trump declassified the documents he stole are true.

Federal prosecutors investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of national security documents want to question one of his confidants about a claim that Mr. Trump had declassified national security documents he took when he left the White House.

[snip]

But the Justice Department’s interest in questioning Mr. Patel about the claim shows that prosecutors see it as potentially relevant to their investigation into the handling of the documents and whether Mr. Trump or his aides obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them.

If all Kash was asked about was whether — at a time when he was supposed to be running the Pentagon but instead happened to be at the White House at the precise moment Trump waved a magic wand to mass declassify documents he intended to steal — Trump had really declassified those documents, there’d be little cause to invoke the Fifth and he would have invoked Executive Privilege instead. If Trump didn’t declassify the documents, Kash would be admitting to lying in Breitbart, which is not only not a crime, but it is generally assumed of columns that appear in Breitbart.

If Trump actually did declassify these documents with Kash as a witness, Kash has no legal exposure whatsoever.

So (again assuming Kash invoked the Fifth because he believed he had real exposure himself, which may not be the case), what might be those possible areas of exposure? Some possibilities include [these are hypotheticals]:

  • At some time before January 20, 2021, Kash and Trump coordinated to select a group of documents — including the Russian binder, but also (per the Breitbart piece quoted in the search affidavit) the Ukraine quid pro quo and other topics of national security import — that Trump would steal when he left; this is consistent with a great deal of what Kash has said publicly.
  • The Russian binder did circulate and because the declassification process was never finalized before Trump left office — and appears not to have been finalized at all — any classified documents in it would expose the person circulating the binder to Espionage Act charges himself. If an unredacted Carter Page application were included, it would expose the person to FISA violations as well, as I noted in August.
  • Trump and Kash both know that he never declassified the documents he stole, but leading up to May 5 — at a time when Trump was trying to stave off further investigation and even before FBI reviewed the boxes returned in January — they coordinated the false Breitbart column and the false claims about declassification since.
  • The decision to make Kash and John Solomon Trump’s representatives to the Archives was an effort to assess what was stolen.
  • Kash was in some way part of the curating process of choosing which stolen classified documents to retain after 2021, effectively a continuation of the role he started to play in 2017, for which he was rewarded handsomely.

Again, all of these are strictly hypothetical! But they more closely match the known facts than the cover story that Trump was only disseminating unclassified Strzok texts.

And for all the NYT’s focus on obstruction — goddamnit, Mike Schmidt, will you never tire of reporting that Trump is primarily exposed to obstruction?!?! — many of these actions would expose Patel not just to obstruction, but to charges under the Espionage Act himself (and, as I noted, potentially FISA).

I described on August 12 — four days after the search — that if Trump asked Kash or John Solomon to access the stolen classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, then it would expand Trump’s exposure under the Espionage Act.

If Trump and Kash worked together while still in the White House to select a bunch of classified documents to steal and further disseminate, it might expose one or both to 793d.

(d)Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it; or

If, before DOJ started making the more formalized requests for Trump to return the stolen documents (and so at a time when Trump might plausibly claim he was still sorting through his documents), Kash disseminated them forward from Mar-a-Lago, it might expose one or both to 793f.

(f)Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer—

If Kash coordinated with Trump to try to create post hoc justification to keep the stolen classified documents — including with the Breitbart column and his subsequent claims about declassification — it might expose both to 793g.

(g)If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions of this section, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.

Again, this post involves a lot of hypotheses (though with the advantage that, unlike the NYT, I’m not under the illusion that the only Russian documents Trump planned to disseminate were unclassified Strzok texts). But this is an absolutely critical thought experiment (especially when trying to assess venue, as Brandon Van Grack did here) because the question before DOJ is not, and never was, solely whether a former President refused to return documents he might implausibly claim to have declassified.

The question has always been about whether Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents, and what Trump did with the classified documents after he stole them. Every single one of Kash’s claims to be privy to a purported declassification are also claims about premeditation and dissemination to people not authorized to have classified documents.

And that’s why he’d have a credible Fifth Amendment claim.

It would be unprecedented to charge a former President with violating 18 USC 793e for refusing to return classified documents — though I think DOJ has a clear case (with the South Florida venue that Van Grack explains in his piece) for documents retained between June 3 and August 8.

But if DOJ had evidence that Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents and disseminate them to frothers — some with suspect associates — it would expand his exposure into crimes that are not close calls at all.

And that’s why the decision whether to immunize Kash is not the hard trade-off that people are making it out to be. DOJ may or may not be able to mount a case against Kash himself. But if he were a key witness in a 793g case, it would make the gravity of crimes charged under the Espionage Act far more clearcut, even if charged in Florida. It would make any case against Trump far easier to prove.

Kash Patel is not primarily a witness about whether Trump declassified the documents he stole. He’s a witness about whether Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents and disseminate them to people not entitled to have them. And that’s why the serial reports about DOJ seeking to immunize Kash’s testimony are interesting.

DOJ Prepares to Pull Multiple January 6 Threads Together

After Steve Bannon got indicted for defrauding thousands of Trump supporters, he complained to Charlie Kirk that 35 Trump associates had been raided the day before.

Bannon, unsurprisingly, was calling a legal request to provide information and testify truthfully, a raid.

But he appears to be right about the numbers. Over the last five days, multiple outlets have cobbled together the numbers that Bannon had ready at hand. Here are key reports:

  • NYT1, first reporting the focus on Trump’s PAC
  • NYT2, reporting 40 subpoenas and warrants for Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman’s phones
  • CNN, reporting 30 subpoenas
  • CNN, story on scope of subpoenas
  • CNN, story on Mark Meadows
  • CBS, reporting 30 subpoenas
  • ABC, reporting 40 subpoenas

Between those reports, they describe the following having received legal process:

  • Boris Epshteyn, a key Willard participant (the NYT claims he served as an attorney)
  • Mike Roman, who played a key role in ferrying fake elector materials
  • William B. Harrison, an aide to Mr. Trump in the White House and after his presidency
  • William S. Russell, who served in the West Wing and now works for Mr. Trump’s personal office
  • Julie Radford, Ivanka’s Chief of Staff
  • Nick Luna, Trump’s body man
  • Sean Dollman, who was chief financial officer of Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign
  • Dan Scavino, Trump’s online brain
  • Bernie Kerik, who worked closely with Rudy on coup plans
  • Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager
  • Brian Jack, WH political director
  • Amy Kremer, head of Women for America First
  • Kylie Kremer, in charge of the Ellipse rally
  • Stephen Miller, Trump’s fearmongerer around race
  • Mark Meadows
  • Ben Williamson, Meadows’ aide
  • Poll watchers

In a potentially related development, the government moved to be able to share Brandon Straka’s sentencing papers with him and his lawyers. He avoided jail time by providing leads about some of the people subpoenaed, but likely wasn’t forthcoming about pre-January activities and aimed to limit visibility into his own finances, which (according to CNN) are included in the scope of this latest round of subpoenas.

There are several important takeaways from this news.

First, DOJ’s scope is broader than the fake electors, broader even then the financing of the coup attempt (which, remember, Merrick Garland said was under investigation as early as January 5). As CBS describes, some of these subpoenas cover events that have long been part of the investigation for rioters: how they networked at state riots and earlier MAGA rallies, and how they responded to Trump’s call for Stop the Steal in December 2020. Only, this time it asks for evidence about those who organized those events.

Virginia-based attorney David A. Warrington, who said he represents approximately a dozen clients who have been issued subpoenas, said the FBI was “very professional” when serving his clients. He added that the subpoenas his clients received are nearly identical, describing them as lengthy documents divided into sections and subsections. They cover issues related to “alternate” electors and election certification deadlines on December 14 and January 6, fundraising by the Save America PAC and the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally — but not the ensuing riot.

The subpoenas require individuals provide documents and any communication between themselves and Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell and Bernie Kerik, Warrington said. The subpoenas also demand recipients to provide any communication with dozens of individuals who appeared on slates of fake electors.

At least some of the subpoenas compel recipients to appear before a grand jury on September 23 at the Washington, D.C., district courthouse, Warrington said.

Mother and daughter Amy and Kylie Kremer were served subpoenas last week, according to Warrington. They are listed as “host(s)” on the National Park Service permit for the Ellipse rally on January 6, 2021.

As NYT describes, they also focused on speakers and security for the Ellipse rally and members of the legislative branch who were part of the planning.

According to one subpoena obtained by The New York Times, they asked for any records or communications from people who organized, spoke at or provided security for Mr. Trump’s rally at the Ellipse. They also requested information about any members of the executive and legislative branches who may have taken part in planning or executing the rally, or tried to “obstruct, influence, impede or delay” the certification of the presidential election.

As CNN notes, it also covers compensation and communications with DOJ.

Some of the subpoenas, including one reviewed by CNN, were broad in scope, seeking information on a range of issues, including the fake elector scheme, Trump’s primary fundraising and political vehicle, Save America PAC, the organizing of the Trump rally on January 6, and any communications with a broad list of people who worked to overturn the 2020 election results.

The subpoena reviewed by CNN seeks records related to compensation provided to or received from a list of people that included Trump lawyers and campaign staffers through January 20, 2021.

It also asks for communications with anyone in the Justice Department.

Many of these people have communications with members of Congress and as such will prepare DOJ to surpass Speech and Debate protections for relevant figures.

But there are ways that last week’s actions are still broader.

I assume that the probable cause that DOJ showed to seize Epshteyn and Roman’s phones tied to the fake elector plot. Ephsteyn was the focus of DOJ’s activities for some time and Roman played a key role ferrying materials between the players.

But it has become clear that DOJ is what I’ll call sheep-dipping phones: seizing them for one purpose and then getting separate warrants to obtain the same content for other investigations. That fairly clearly is what happened with John Eastman and Scott Perry, where DOJ IG seized their phones but (in Eastman’s case) Thomas Windom quickly got involved. The late date and the sustained focus on Victoria Toensing, whom Congress has never mentioned, suggests I was right when I argued that DOJ could use the seized material from Rudy’s phones for the January 6 investigation.

And in Epshteyn’s case, he has been centrally involved in another of Trump’s schemes for which DOJ has already shown probable cause: He has been centrally involved in Trump’s response to the investigation into stolen classified documents.

As a number of outlets have noted, this subpoena bonanza took place just before the 60-day period when DOJ will have to avoid any big public steps in its investigations. But they’ve just arranged to obtain plenty to keep them busy — and quite possibly, enough to emerge on the other side with the ability to start putting all these parts together: a scheme to attack our democracy and get rich while doing it.

Update: In a second CNN story on the subpoena bonanza, they describe that those who blew off the January 6 Committee are being instructed to turn over what the committee asked for.

The subpoenas also ask for the recipients to identify all methods of communication they’ve used since fall 2020 and to turn over to DOJ anything the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, has demanded – whether they cooperated with the House panel or not.

I’ve been anticipating that (and DOJ will have seized the phone records people sued to keep away from J6C long ago).

Update: Added a third CNN story.

More than Twenty Transcripts: The January 6 Committee’s Investigation into Fake Electors

Last week, Politico reported that the January 6 Committee is preparing to share twenty transcripts from their investigation. Thus far, no outlet has confirmed which twenty transcripts are in that bunch. But the delay of the Proud Boy leader trial has alleviated the urgency — one that arose out of discovery requirements, not investigative curiosity — behind DOJ’s request for those transcripts. Though unless the Oath Keepers’ bid to move their trial succeeds, there will be some urgency to obtain and turn over transcripts of Stewart Rhodes, Kellye SoRelle, Jason Van Tatenhove, Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and probably Ali Alexander’s depositions.

That suggests the initial twenty transcripts might pertain to the fake electors scheme, which (as CNN also noted), Bennie Thompson had previously said was a priority focus for DOJ.

If that’s the case, though, the number — twenty — is rather curious. That’s because the Committee subpoenaed more than twenty people involved in the scheme and spoke to still more.

First, there are the fourteen people who were subpoenaed back on January 28, the chair and secretary of the fake elector slate for each of seven states.

Of these fourteen people, DOJ is reported to have obtained warrants targeting McDonald and DeGraffenreid and included Cottle, Pellegrino, and Shafer in subpoenas, and probably also the Michigan electors.

In addition, there were six people subpoenaed in February. Here’s how the Committee described them:

Michael A. Roman and Gary Michael Brown served, respectively, as the Director and Deputy Director of Election Day Operations for former President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. They reportedly participated in efforts to promote allegations of fraud in the November 2020 election and encourage state legislators to appoint false “alternate” slates of electors.

Douglas V. Mastriano was part of a plan to arrange for an “alternate” slate of electors from Pennsylvania for former President Trump and reportedly spoke with President Trump about post-election activities.

Laura Cox reportedly witnessed Rudy Giuliani pressure state lawmakers to disregard election results in Michigan and say that certifying the election results would be a “criminal act.”

Mark W. Finchem advanced unsubstantiated claims about the election and helped organize an event in Phoenix, Arizona on November 30th, 2020 at which former President Trump’s legal team and others spoke and advanced unproven claims of election and voter fraud. He was in Washington on January 6th, 2021 and stated that he had evidence to deliver to Vice President Pence in an effort to postpone the awarding of electors.

Kelli Ward reportedly spoke to the former President and members of his staff about election certification issues in Arizona and acted to transmit documents claiming to be an  “alternate” Electoral College elector from Arizona.

Roman shows up in DOJ’s general fake elector subpoena (more on him here), and Finchem and Ward show up on at least some of the AZ-targeted ones.

Then there are others the Committee is known to have interviewed who show up on subpoenas from Thomas Windom’s DOJ investigation:

The Committee also sent the following people, also included in the Windom legal process, subpoenas and presumably interviewed them:

Finally, there are those with knowledge of the scheme whose depositions have shown up in Committee hearings, including, but not limited to the fourth hearing, which focused on The Big Lie (again, I’ve linked to those who received a formal subpoena).

  • Cleta Mitchell
  • Rusty Bowers, AZ House Speaker
  • Bill Stepien, Trump campaign manager
  • Matt Morgan, Trump campaign lawyer
  • Jocelyn Benson, MI Secretary of State
  • Mike Shirkey, MI Senate Majority Leader who visited the White House
  • Angela McCallum, Trump campaign staffer
  • Robert Sinners, Trump campaign staffer
  • Brian Cutler, PA House Speaker
  • Cassidy Hutchinson, who testified that discussions about fake electors started in November
  • Ronna McDaniel, GOP Chair

Mark Meadows, of course, was also key to the fake elector plot, but blew off a subpoena.

So the Committee subpoenaed at least thirty people who played roles in the fake elector schemes, with only Meadows known to have entirely blown off the subpoena, and also interviewed people like Justin Clark (Trump’s election lawyer, not the former DOJ official) who are also included on DOJ subpoenas.

I raise all this for several reasons.

I’m beginning an attempt to lay out the overlap (or not) between the various investigations, including Fani Willis’ Fulton County investigation, which has expanded to include the fake electors as well. The three investigations seem to be adopting fairly incompatible approaches, and that may create a conflict in the weeks ahead. This is a first pass at laying out the overlapping scope of the known Committee and DOJ investigations, which I hope leads others to correct and add to this effort.

But I started the effort when I realized that depositions of almost none of the fake electors themselves have appeared in the Committee hearings yet.

Just one, Andrew Hitt, was quoted in the January 6 Committee hearing focused on the Big Lie. Hitt claimed that the Wisconsin fake electors would only be used if a court ruled in favor of the state-based challenges to the election.

ANDREW HITT:

I was told that these would only count if a court ruled in our favor. So that would have been using our electors — well, it would have been using our electors in ways that we weren’t told about and we wouldn’t have supported.

Mind you, the Committee’s public focus was on those who rejected Trump’s attempts at fraud, even those who, like Laura Cox, had supported other schemes, like unnecessary audits. So it may well be that the transcripts of greatest interest to DOJ are those from depositions that were not shown publicly.

Or, it’s possible DOJ’s priorities have entirely changed, and they focused on other investigative prongs.

January 6 Committee Hearing Resources

June 9 Hearing (Peaceful Transfer of Power): Rayne’s open threadlive-tweet; post; transcript

June 13 Hearing (The Big Lie): Rayne’s open threadlive-tweetpost; transcript

June 16 Hearing (Pressuring Pence): Rayne’s open thread, live-tweet; post; transcript

June 21 Hearing (Election workers): Rayne’s open threadlive-tweetpost; transcript

June 23 Hearing (DOJ officials): Rayne’s open threadlive-tweetpost; transcript

June 28 Hearing (Cassidy Hutchinson): Rayne’s open threadlive-tweetpost; transcript

July 12 Hearing (Stephen Ayers): Rayne’s open threadlive-tweet post; transcript

July 21 Hearing (Sarah Matthews and Matthew Pottinger): Rayne’s open thread; live-tweet; post; transcript

Crime in the Era of Encrypted Apps: The Relationship between the DOJ and January 6 Investigations into Fake Electors

Yesterday, DOJ took a slew of overt steps in their investigation into the fake electors:

  • WaPo: Law enforcement activity targeting GA lawyer David Carver and Trump staffer Thomas Lane, subpoenas for GA GOP Chair David Shafer and Michigan fake electors
  • NYT: Subpoenas to Trump campaign aide in MI, Shawn Flynn, as well as Carver, Lane, and Shafer
  • CBS: Search warrants for NV GOP Chair Michael McDonald and Secretary James DeGraffenreid
  • CNN: Subpoena for Shafer, a warrant for David Carver’s phone, information on a GA Signal chat

Even though some of these reports cite the late January batch of subpoenas DOJ sent to people who had declined to participate in the fake elector scheme, the timing of the action — taking place one day after the hearing on the scheme — has set off the usual set of whinging that DOJ isn’t doing as much as the January 6 Committee.

Yet even the first of these stories — the WaPo one — provides reason to believe that DOJ is not chasing the January 6 Committee on this investigation at all. And as I keep pointing out, in April 2021, DOJ took steps — starting on Lisa Monaco’s first day in office — that will be critical to this investigation.

I’ve laid out how, by seizing Rudy Giuliani’s phones in conjunction with his Ukraine influence peddling investigation on April 28, DOJ has made the content available for the January 6 investigation at whatever time they were able to show probable cause for a warrant. That’s because the privilege review covered all content from the phones that post-dates January 1, 2018 and the privilege review was conducted prior to any review for relevance, so it would cover content whether or not it related to Ukraine.

As this table lays out, the review on half the devices DOJ was able to get into (there were two the passwords for which it had not cracked by April) included content to date of seizure on April 28, 2021.

Special Master Barbara Jones turned over the last of this material on January 21, days before Monaco confirmed that DOJ is investigating the fake elector scheme. In April, purportedly to conduct an interview in advance of an imminent decision on Rudy’s Ukraine influence-peddling, DOJ asked for his help to get into the last several phones (the numbers in this story don’t match Barbara Jones’ reports, but CNN may suggest there were two newly discovered phones; there has been no overt activity in the Special Master docket since then).

All of which is to say that whatever material Rudy, a prolific texter, had on his phones about the fake elector scheme he was central to would have been available to DOJ with a warrant since January, but that’s only true because DOJ started this process on Monaco’s first day on the job.

Even in spite of that (and the timing of Monaco’s announcement of the investigation into the fake electors), like many people, I believed DOJ might have been chasing the January 6 Committee investigation. Except several details revealed in recent days makes it clear that DOJ had developed information independent of the Committee.

For example, I first learned that Boris Epshteyn was involved from this slide in Tuesday’s hearing, which left Epshteyn’s name unredacted whereas the copy docketed in the John Eastman litigation redacts it.

But Kyle Cheney noted that Epshteyn’s name was first made public in a footnote in the associated court filing. That filing was dated May 26.

Before May 26, according to earlier NYT and CNN stories on DOJ’s investigation into the fake electors, prosecutors were already asking about Epshteyn’s role. Here’s CNN:

Former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, adviser Boris Epshteyn and campaign lawyer Justin Clark are among the list of names the witness was asked about, the source said.

Yesterday’s WaPo story similarly described prosecutors asking about the involvement of someone — Bernie Kerik — whose role the January 6 Committee has not yet (as far as I’m aware) public disclosed.

Those earlier subpoenas sought all documents since Oct. 1, 2020, related to the electoral college vote, as well as any election-related communications with roughly a dozen people in Trump’s inner circle, including Rudy Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, Boris Epshteyn, Jenna Ellis and John Eastman.

One would-be Trump elector in Georgia, Patrick Gartland, had been appointed to the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration and believed that post meant serving as an elector would have created a conflict of interest for him. Still, two FBI agents recently came to his home with a subpoena and asked whether he had any contact with Trump advisers around the time of the November election. “They wanted to know if I had talked to Giuliani,” Gartland said.

One possible explanation (though not the only one) is that DOJ has a more Rudy-focused understanding of the elector scheme than the Committee, which would make sense if they had materials from Rudy’s devices that the Committee doesn’t have.

To be clear: I think it likely that DOJ has or will exploit the January 6 investigation into the same topic in at least two ways.

First, I think it likely that DOJ piggybacked on the Committee’s privilege fight with Eastman. They’ve always had the ability to serve a warrant on Chapman University for the same emails the Committee has been receiving covertly, after all, which is the kind of thing DOJ loves to do in an investigation. But by doing so in the wake of Judge David Carter’s privilege decisions, DOJ can get crime-fraud excepted communications without a Special Master process like the one they used with Rudy.

And, because the January 6 Committee is obtaining sworn depositions from some of the people involved, DOJ may get evidence of false statements — from people claiming to have no knowledge of the larger scheme or corrupt intent of the fake electors — that they could use to coerce cooperation down the road.

With the warrants in NV and GA, DOJ is taking the kind of overt acts that sometimes precede arrests. Because DOJ can get email and social media content covertly, it almost always does that before serving subpoenas (to minimize the chance someone will destroy evidence in response). Only after that, usually, do they seize someone’s phone. That kind of stuff takes months. So there’s no way DOJ could have gotten there overnight based entirely off watching the January 6 hearing.

In Tuesday’s hearing, it became clear that the GOP will try to, institutionally, blame Trump for all this. That may not be true. But it may be useful for DOJ investigators.

Update: Fixed the names of the NV GOPers.

Rudy Giuliani Launched a Lynch Mob over a Ginger Mint

I find it harder to describe the details of yesterday’s January 6 Committee hearing, covering pressure Trump put on states to alter the vote, than the earlier hearings. That’s because the testimony about Trump’s bullying of those who upheld democracy — particularly election worker Shaye Moss and Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers — elicited so much emotion. This is what Trump has turned great swaths of the Republican Party into: bullies attacking those who defend democracy.

Trump’s bullies attacking anyone defending democracy

Bowers described how a mob, including an armed man wearing a 3%er militia patch, came to his house as his daughter fought a terminal illness.

Moss described how a mob descended on her granny’s house, hunting for her and her mother, Ruby Freeman. At least one member of the mob targeting those two Black women who chose to work elections betrayed self-awareness off their regressive stance: Moss testified that one of the threats targeted at her said, “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”

And Adam Schiff got Moss to explain a detail that formed the core of a video Rudy Giuliani used to summon his mob. Rudy had claimed that when Ms. Freeman passed Shaye something, it was a thumb drive to replace votes.

It was actually a ginger mint.

Schiff: In one of the videos we just watched, Mr. Giuliani accused you and your mother of passing some sort of USB drive to each other. What was your mom actually handing you on that video?

Moss: A ginger mint.

Moss testified that none of the people who had been working with her full time on elections in Fulton County, Georgia are still doing that work. They’ve all been bullied out of working to uphold democracy.

Tying the state violence to the January 6 violence

Early in the hearing, Schiff tied these threats of violence to Stop the Steal, the organization behind the purported speakers that formed the excuse to bring mobs to the January 6 attack. He explained, “As we will show, the President’s supporters heard the former President’s claims of fraud and the false allegations he made against state and local officials as a call to action.” Shortly thereafter, investigative counsel Josh Roselman showed a video from Ali Alexander predicting at a protest in November 2020, “we’ll light the whole shit on fire.”

Much later in the hearing, Schiff tied the takeover of state capitals to the January 6 riot with a picture of Jacob Chansley invading Capitols in both AZ and DC.

Chansley already pled guilty to attempting to obstruct the vote certification, and one of the overt acts he took was to leave Mike Pence this threatening note on the dais.

So one thing the hearing yesterday did was to tie the threats of violence in the states to the expressions of violence on January 6.

Showing obstruction of the vote certification, including documents

A second video described the fake electors scheme, developing several pieces of evidence that may help DOJ tie all this together in conspiracy charges.

The video included testimony from Ronna McDaniel acknowledging the RNC’s involvement. (Remember that McDaniel joined in the effort to censure Liz Cheney when she learned the committee had subpoenaed Kathy Berden, the lead Michigander on that fake certificate; Berden has close ties to McDaniel.)

Essentially he turned the call over to Mr. Eastman who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any of the states. I think more just helping them reach out and assemble them. But the — my understanding is the campaign did take the lead and we just were … helping them in that role.

The video also cited Trump’s own campaign lawyers (including Justin Clark, who represented Trump in conjunction with Steve Bannon’s refusal to testify) describing that they didn’t believe the fake electors scheme was prudent if the campaign no longer had legal challenges in a given state.

In a videotaped deposition, former campaign staffer Robert Sinners described himself and other workers as, “useful idiots or rubes at that point.” When ask how he felt upon learning that Clark and Matt Morgan and other lawyers had concerns about the fake electors, Sinners explained, “I’m angry because I think in a sense, no one really cared if … if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy.” He went on, “I absolutely would not have” continued to participate, “had I known that the three main lawyers for the campaign that I’ve spoken to in the past and leading up were not on board.”

And electors in individual states claimed to have been duped into participating, too. Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Andrew Hitt described that, “I was told that these would only count if a court ruled in our favor.” So using them as an excuse to make challenges on January 6, “would have been using our electors, well, it would have been using our electors in ways that we weren’t told about and we wouldn’t have supported.”

In the wake of yesterday’s hearing, one of MI’s fake electors, Michele Lundgren, texted reporters to claim that they had not been permitted to read the first page of the form they signed, which made the false claims.

As the video showed the fake certificates next to the real ones, Investigative Counsel Casey Lucier explained that,

At the request of the Trump campaign, the electors from these battleground states signed documents falsely asserting that they were the duly elected electors from their state, and submitted them to the National Archives and to Vice President Pence in his capacity as President of the Senate.

[snip]

But these ballots had no legal effect. In an email produced to the Select Committee, Dr. Eastman told a Trump campaign representative [Boris Epshteyn] that it did not matter that the electors had not been approved by a state authority. Quote, the fact that we have multiple slates of electors demonstrates the uncertainty of either. That should be enough. He urged that Pence act boldly and be challenged.

Documents produced to the Select Committee show that the Trump campaign took steps to ensure that the physical copies of the fake electors’ electoral votes from two states were delivered to Washington for January 6. Text messages exchanged between Republican Party officials in Wisconsin show that on January 4, the Trump campaign asked for someone to fly their fake electors documents to Washington.

A staffer for Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson texted a staffer for Vice President Pence just minutes before the beginning of the Joint Session. This staffer stated that Senator Johnson wished to hand deliver to the Vice President the fake electors votes from Michigan and Wisconsin. The Vice President’s aide unambiguously instructed them not to deliver the fake votes to the Vice President.

Lucier made it clear, though, that these fake electors were delivered to both Congress (Johnson) and the Executive Branch (the Archives).

This video lays out critical steps in a conspiracy to obstruct the vote certification, one that — because it involves a corrupt act with respect to fraudulent documents — would even meet Judge Carl Nichols’ standard for obstruction under 18 USC 1512(c)(2).

The Court therefore concludes that § 1512(c)(2) must be interpreted as limited by subsection (c)(1), and thus requires that the defendant have taken some action with respect to a document, record, or other object in order to corruptly obstruct, impede or influence an official proceeding.

Understand, many of these people are awful and complicit (and bmaz will surely be by shortly to talk about what an asshole Rusty Bowers is). But with respect to the fake electors scheme, the Committee has teed up a parade of witnesses who recognize their own criminal exposure, and who are, as a result, already rushing to blame Trump for all of it. We know DOJ has been subpoenaing them for evidence about the lawyers involved — not just Rudy and Eastman, but also Justin Clark.

DOJ has also been asking about Boris Epshteyn. He showed up as the recipient of an email from Eastman explaining that it didn’t matter that the electors had no legal legitimacy.

As Kyle Cheney noted, the Committee released that email last month, albeit with Epshteyn’s name redacted.

The Republican Party has not just an incentive, but a existential need at this point, to blame Trump’s people for all of this, and it may do wonders not just for obtaining cooperative and cooperating witnesses, but also to change how Republicans view the January 6 investigation.

Exposing Pat Cipollone’s exceptional unwillingness to testify

Liz Cheney continued to use the hearings to shame those who aren’t cooperating with the Committee. In her opening statement, she played the video of Gabriel Sterling warning of violence, where he said, “All of you who have not said a damn word [about the threats and false claims] are complicit in this.”

Then after Schiff talked about the threat to democracy in his closing statement …

We have been blessed beyond measure to live in the world’s greatest democracy. That is a legacy to be proud of and to cherish. But it is not one to be taken for granted. That we have lived in a democracy for more than 200 years does not mean we shall do so tomorrow. We must reject violence. We must embrace our Constitution with the reverence it deserves, take our oath of office and duties as citizens seriously, informed by the knowledge of right and wrong and armed with no more than the power of our ideas and the truth, carry on this venerable experiment in self-governance.

Cheney focused on the important part played by witnesses who did what they needed to guard the Constitution, twice invoking God.

We’ve been reminded that we’re a nation of laws and we’ve been reminded by you and by Speaker Bowers and Secretary of State Raffensperger, Mr. Sterling, that our institutions don’t defend themselves. Individuals do that. And we’ve [been] reminded that it takes public servants. It takes people who have made a commitment to our system to defend our system. We have also been reminded what it means to take an oath, under God, to the Constitution. What it means to defend the Constitution. And we were reminded by Speaker Bowers that our Constitution is indeed a divinely inspired document.

That set up a marked contrast with the list of scofflaws who’ve obstructed the Committee.

To date more than 30 witnesses called before this Committee have not done what you’ve done but have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Roger Stone took the Fifth. General Michael Flynn took the Fifth. John Eastman took the Fifth. Others like Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro simply refused to comply with lawful subpoenas. And they have been indicted. Mark Meadows has hidden behind President Trump’s claims of Executive Privilege and immunity from subpoena. We’re engaged now in litigation with Mr. Meadows.

Having set up that contrast, Congresswoman Cheney then spent the entire rest of her closing statement shaming Pat Cipollone for refusing thus far to testify.

The American people in our hearings have heard from Bill Barr, Jeff Rosen, Richard Donoghue, and many others who stood up and did what is right. And they will hear more of that testimony soon.

But the American people have not yet heard from Mr. Trump’s former White House counsel, Pat Cipollone. Our Committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Mr. Cipollone to testify here. Indeed, our evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right. They tried to stop a number of President Trump’s plans for January 6.

Today and in our coming hearings, you will hear testimony from other Trump White House staff explaining what Mr. Cipollone said and did, including on January 6.

But we think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally. He should appear before this Committee. And we are working to secure his testimony.

In the wake of this, someone “close to Cipollone” ran to Maggie Haberman and sold her a bullshit story, which she dutifully parroted uncritically.

Cheney had just laid out that the “institutional concerns” had been waived by other lawyers (and were, legally, in the case of Bill Clinton). And any privilege issue went out the window when Sean Hannity learned of the White House Counsel complaints. Plus, White House Counsel lawyer Eric Herschmann has testified at length, including about matters — such as the call Trump made to Vice President Pence shortly before the riot — involving Trump personally.

Given Cheney’s invocation of those who pled the Fifth, I wonder she suspects that Cipollone’s reluctance has less to do with his claimed excuses, and more to do with a concern that he has personal exposure.

He may! After all, he presided over Trump’s use of pardons to pay off several key players in the insurrection, including three of the people Cheney invoked to set up this contrast: Flynn, Stone, and Bannon (though I suspect Cipollone had checked out before the last of them). And these pardons — and the role of pardons in the planning for January 6 more broadly — may expose those involved, potentially including Cipollone, in the conspiracy.

Whether or not Cheney shames Cipollone into testifying, including with her appeal to religion, he may not have the same luxury of refusing when DOJ comes calling.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Oddly-Timed Story: White House Counsel McGahn’s Call to FCC’s Ajit Pai

[NB: Check the byline — it’s Rayne and some of this post is speculative.]

Maybe it’s something; maybe it’s nothing. But with White House Counsel Don McGahn under so much scrutiny this week, the timing of the story about McGahn’s call to the Federal Communications Commission seems odd.

You may recall I wrote recently (item 2) about the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, a deal which would have created a behemoth reaching at least 72% of U.S. households via local broadcast TV stations. FCC chair Ajit Pai revealed in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday this past week that McGahn had called him about the Sinclair Broadcast Group-Tribune Media merger.

Let’s look at the timeline of events related to this deal:

22-JAN-2017 — Ajit Pai named FCC chair on Trump’s second full day in office.
7-MAR-2017 — Trump nominates Ajit Pai to a second five-year term with the FCC as its chair.

Trump and Pai met at the White House on Monday for a meeting that was closed to the press, although an FCC official said that no pending business before the agency was discussed.

17-MAR-2017 — Rumors surfaced about a Sinclair-Tribune merger.
8-MAY-2017 — Sinclair announced it would buy Tribune; assets would include WGN (Chicago) and WMIL (Milwaukee) radio stations. Tribune newspapers were not included in the deal.
2-OCT-2017 — Senate confirms Pai as FCC chair.
24-OCT-2017 — FCC killed a rule requiring broadcasters to have physical offices in their primary local coverage area. The move was seen as beneficial to Sinclair’s merger as they would not have to change office locations.

16-JUL-2018 — Pai expressed concerns about the merger deal, drafting a Hearing Designated Order (HDO) to place the merger before an administrative judge.
17-JUL-2018 — McGahn called Pai for an update on the Sinclair-Tribune merger.
18-JUL-2018 — FCC signs and issues the HDO.
18-JUL-2018 — House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology announced an FCC oversight hearing for 25-JUL-2018.
24-JUL-2018 — Trump tweets about his disappointment with FCC about the Sinclair-Tribune deal:

So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune. This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!

25-JUL-2018 — During House Energy and Commerce Committee FCC oversight hearing, Chairman Frank Pallone asked Pai, “If the President or anyone in the White House discusses or has discussed the Sinclair-Tribune merger with you or anyone at the FCC, will you commit to disclosing that in the public docket? Yes or no?” Pai responded, “Yes, except, Congressman, we have ex parte rules, because this is now a restricted proceeding. We are limited in what information we can receive and what we can put on the record. But consistent with our restricted ex parte rules, we would be happy to accommodate to the extent we can.” (video excerpt)
02-AUG-2018 — Pai did not mention the call from McGahn during an FCC press conference.
09-AUG-2018 — Tribune, not Sinclair, terminated the deal.
16-AUG-2018 — Pai appears before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, disclosing McGahn’s call.
18-AUG-2018 — NYT publishes the first of two pieces on McGahn.
19-AUG-2018 — NYT publishes the second of two pieces on McGahn.
20-AUG-2018 — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone Jr. said McGahn’s call to Pai should have been disclosed the previous week during a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing the previous week. Pallone wants answers about that call.

A couple things stand out immediately. First, Pai parsed responses to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee. He was already on thin ice because of his claim a DDoS swamped public comments related to net neutrality but the FCC’s inspector general found Pai to be less than honest about the DDoS.

Second, the story about McGahn calling Pai was published on Thursday afternoon, approaching an advanced news dump zone during August. Why did NYT run not one but two stories about McGahn over the weekend? Why didn’t they wait until Monday? It’s as if somebody realized they needed to get a story out in spite of late summer weekend doldrums.

In this past weekend’s hullabaloo about McGahn’s “cooperation” with Special Counsel’s Office, there was a concerted effort to portray McGahn as serving and protecting the presidency, not Trump. As White House Counsel this is McGahn’s job but the obvious effort to distance McGahn from Trump should be noted.

Which makes me wonder: why did McGahn as White House Counsel, responsible for protecting the presidency, need an update from the chair of the independent FCC on a media merger? Why wouldn’t Commerce Department address this if Trump was curious? Or why wouldn’t Trump act like an ass and bumble a demand for information directly over Twitter as he has before with companies like Boeing?

As Marcy has pointed out, McGahn has extensive background in campaign finance; he was the Trump campaign’s counsel during the 2016 election season. Coincidentally he was counsel when David Smith, CEO of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, told Trump, “We are here to deliver your message.

Sounds like an offer of an unreported in-kind campaign donation to me since there are no reports that Smith or anyone at Sinclair made a similar offer to any other GOP primary candidate or to Hillary Clinton. Sinclair vigorously denied they hadn’t offered equal time when Sinclair’s offer to Trump was reported:

. . .there was a flap when Trump advisor Jared Kushner told a private business luncheon in December that Sinclair executives worked with the campaign to spread pro-Trump messages in Sinclair newscasts, which reach 81 markets in key heartland regions that supported Trump. Sinclair vehemently denied the claim, asserting that it offered equal amounts of air time for in-depth interviews to Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and that Clinton declined the invitation.

Did McGahn know about and approve this offer?

Pai’s squirrelly behavior about Sinclair-Tribune as well as McGahn’s sudden distancing from Trump cast a different light on David Smith’s so-helpful offer and Sinclair’s mandatory group-wide airing of former White House communications aide Boris Epshteyn’s program — the same Epshteyn who has a history of pro-Russian sentiment. Add these couple line items to the timeline:

25-MAR-2017 — Epshteyn left his role as Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations, having previously served in Trump campaign communications and as director of communications for Trump inauguration committee.
17-APR-2017 — Sinclair announced Epshteyn joined them as a political analyst.

Conveniently after the rumors emerged about the Sinclair-Tribune merger but before it was formally announced — what a coincidence.

It doesn’t appear Epshteyn was replaced in the White House. Was Epshteyn placed with Sinclair at Trump’s request — not because of Epshteyn’s rumored confrontational approach to Fox News — after having been parked with the White House for two months post-inauguration for the purposes of resume padding?

Is Epshteyn really an independent political analyst or is he still shilling for Trump as an under-cover communications aide on Sinclair’s dime — gaslighting America for Trump’s benefit — given David Smith’s eagerness to deliver Trump’s message? Is Epshteyn really doing advance work for Trump 2020 campaign?

Is this the reason why Sinclair issued a diktat to all its 173 stations that they must read on air a statement about other media outlets’ “fake news,” in order to elevate their content, including Epshteyn’s by contrast, engaging in what NPR’s David Folkenflik called “negative campaigning”?

Is this the reason why Ajit Pai didn’t disclose the call from McGahn and attempted to obstruct access to information about the call behind an HDO that McGahn called not on behalf of the president but on behalf of the Trump 2020 campaign?

Did McGahn help push the two back-to-back NYT articles this weekend to wallpaper over what may have been a Hatch Act violation — using his role as White House Counsel to reach Ajit Pai and press for approval of the Sinclair-Tribune merger to benefit Trump 2020?

Reaching at least 72% of American households from now until Election Day 2020, to push anti-Democratic Party content while collecting data on viewers and shaping voter turnout, might have been adequate motivation to do so if one were working for the Trump campaign — not to mention  McGahn’s legal exposure.

It’d be nice if one of the Congressional committees conducting oversight of the FCC asked Pai more pointed questions about that phone call.

It’d be nice, too, if somebody asked any of the 2016 GOP primary candidates or Hillary Clinton’s campaign team if they received the same offer from Sinclair’s Smith extended to Trump or his proxies (hello, Jared).

And there’s more than one David helming a media empire who needs to answer some questions about their friend Trump.