Posts

Three Things: Numbers, Hearings and Racist Code

There’s always more than three things to address but here’s three we should look at more closely.

~ 3 ~
This is what we’re up against.

823 Americans have died of COVID-19 since yesterday. In contrast, South Korea, which learned of its first case of COVID-19 the same day the U.S. learned of its own, has only lost 281 of its citizens.

We lost not one American to an attempted shoe bombing in 2001 and yet an immediate program was developed and implemented to detect future shoe bombing attempts, requiring air travelers to take off their damned shoes and go through multiple screenings.

But Trump can’t be arsed to shut up and let the professionals handle stopping an ongoing daily stream of deaths from COVID-19.

This administration is killing Americans. Trump’s not even hiding the fact he’s willing to ignore deaths to manipulate numbers by insisting testing for the virus should be suppressed. He has the temerity to brag about his performance which has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of more than 120,000 Americans.

Yesterday the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on oversight of the Trump Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Called to testify before the committee:

Robert R. Redfield, M.D., Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (statement at 27:39)

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes o Health (at 33:40)

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (at 38:25)

Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (at 43:54)

 

Some of the GOP’s efforts are useless, wasteful filibustering — like Rep. Bob Latta’s (OH-5) question about how the human body makes antibodies. This is something he should have been briefed on let alone read on his own long before this hearing. He should have read this basic biology question MONTHS AGO when the pandemic began. So was his question about how the vaccine would be distributed WHEN WE’RE 6-18 MONTHS OUT AT BEST from having a viable, effective, safe vaccine through Phase III trials.

Rep. Diana DeGette asked Fauci about vaccine development (at about 1:28:00); I think he was extremely optimistic saying he thought there would be one by early 2021. But the question wasn’t as specific as it should have been; there are clinical trials in progress for a couple of candidates, but it’s not clear what phase they are in.

Reported last week by StatNews:

There are more than 100 projects around the world centered on the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus. As of May 11, eight candidate vaccines were being tested in clinical trials in people.

An official at the National Institutes of Health said in mid-May that large-scale testing could begin in July with a vaccine potentially available by January.

Other experts say the more likely timeline is summer or fall of 2021.

The other factor beyond the capabilities of the vaccines and developers which will predict the time to public distribution is Congress and the White House.

If we still have that malicious narcissist in the Oval Office without a veto-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, nationwide roll-out of a vaccine by the U.S. government may not happen even if an efficacious vaccine is found.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 don’t care…

Just like Trump.

~ 2 ~
The Mary Sue presented a nice overview of what happened in Tulsa this past weekend.

In short, Team Trump fucked themselves hard.

What happened this weekend was supposed to be a point where Trump turned the narrative back in his favor and moved the attention away from the activists and change that have controlled the news cycle for months. But what really happened was instead of taking the attention away from the K-Pop teens for his failures, those things all combined to add one more line to an endless line of failures that we can only hope will keep going until November.

It wasn’t just a loss of narrative and momentum but the complete trashing of campaign data harvesting.

We don’t know exactly what the data accumulated by Trump’s re-election campaign looks like after receiving ~800,000 registrations for the Tulsa rally. Some were valid, some were valid but no-shows, some were legitimate addresses of people who had zero intention of attending — likely sent by TikTok accounts.

And a mess of them must have been K-pop fans who are still feeling their oats after they DDoS’d police video monitoring during anti-racism protests as well as spamming right-wing hashtags.

Parscale’s operation better have had a good backup before the Tulsa registrations began, though I have suspicions somebody’s ass wasn’t well covered.

I mean, who is foolish enough to brag about more than 1,000,000 registrations like that, without a hint of skepticism about the data’s integrity?

Somebody prone to hubris, that’s who.

And somebody else isn’t going to pay Team Trump for data gleaned through Tulsa.

~ 1 ~
The ACLU filed suit this morning against the Detroit Police Department for its wrongful arrest of Robert Williams based on racist facial recognition technology.

The Washington Post published an op-ed by Williams explaining what happened to him and why facial recognition software should be banned.

The next morning, two officers asked if I’d ever been to a Shinola watch store in Detroit. I said once, many years ago. They showed me a blurry surveillance camera photo of a black man and asked if it was me. I chuckled a bit. “No, that is not me.” He showed me another photo and said, “So I guess this isn’t you either?” I picked up the piece of paper, put it next to my face and said, “I hope you guys don’t think that all black men look alike.”

The cops looked at each other. I heard one say that “the computer must have gotten it wrong.” I asked if I was free to go now, and they said no. I was released from detention later that evening, after nearly 30 hours in holding. …

It’s not just the software at fault, though. DPD made absolutely no attempt to confirm Williams’ identity against images they had before they took him into custody, processed him, and detained him overnight in holding.

They literally can’t be bothered or they are racist as hell in a minority majority city.

The ACLU is calling for a ban on facial recognition in Detroit, Williams being a perfect example of how flawed and racist the technology is as well as an assault on innocent citizens’ privacy.

 

Boston’s city council banned facial recognition technology this morning, setting an example for Detroit.

What’s your municipality doing about facial recognition technology?

Are you blowing off this issue because you’re white and you couldn’t possibly be misidentified?

Sure.

~ 0 ~
The House Judiciary Committee hearing on politicization at the Justice Department is still under way as hit Publish. If you haven’t been following along and want to catch up, here are four Twitter threads covering the hearing.

Marcy https://twitter.com/emptywheel/status/1275821690170335237

Jennifer Taub https://twitter.com/jentaub/status/1275825424405323776

Courthouse News https://twitter.com/ByTimRyan/status/1275821746923417603

CNN https://twitter.com/jeremyherb/status/1275820657289428994

This is an open thread.

The Tussle in Tulsa: A Retrospective

I had been worried about the risk of violence in Tulsa this weekend given Trump’s tweet bordering on incitement ahead of his rally.

Fortunately my concern was for naught. Didn’t see a single Hawaiian shirt cross my Twitter feed while watching the lead up to and after the event, not a one in the approximately 6,600 attendees.

But the event itself didn’t live up to other expectations.

I have to believe Brad Parscale will be looking for new contracts. Or perhaps he’ll be retained just to keep him from mucking things up further somewhere else in the election cycle food chain.

He’d claimed 800,000 had reserved for the event, a number which seemed wholly unrealistic considering the population within a four-hour drive of Tulsa and the advertisements placed for non-white attendees. We know now a confluence of activist engagement via social media platform TikTok, K-pop fans, and mounting concerns about COVID-19 contagion as well as risk of violence may have artificially boosted reservations and kept attendance down.

Parscale’s claimed this morning that protesters blocked access to the venue, pointing to an AFP photo of a gate with a couple handfuls of protesters and what looks like an equal amount of media.

Unfortunately for Parscale, AFP took a photo of another gate with red-hatted, pale-skinned, maskless attendees streaming through the gate.

And other media outlets took photos outside the venue showing an awful lot of pavement.

The speech intended for outdoor overflow audience was cancelled. Wouldn’t even need a sound system to speak to this few people.

The big feat of the day: one-handed drinking.

Attendees were subjected to a 20-minute ramble about the “fake news” from his Westpoint speech last weekend after which he had difficulty walking down a ramp.

What a perfect example of the cobra effect — trying to defuse a problem but only making it worse. But Trump is too much of a narcissist to allow criticism of his person to go unanswered.

The lowest point in Trump’s speech yesterday was his remarks about COVID-19 testing.

He’s made comments before about the number of tests correlating to the number of cases. Comic Sarah Cooper has famously riffed on this.

But this time he’s expressed an intent to withhold health care from the public for personal aims — to keep the reported number of cases artificially low, without regard to the effect this would have on actual reduction of COVID-19 cases.

Aside from revealing again he’s so utterly toxic, this statement needs investigation. It’s impeachable if he both demanded a reduction or slow-down in tests, especially if he did so for the purposes of improving his polling numbers.

None of his efforts skewing reality have paid off as he’d like. We can see the tangerine emperor’s ass.

And nothing he’s done will make this grim number go away.


This is an open thread.

The Real News in Bill Barr’s Announcement: He’s Vetoing Campaign Finance Investigations, Too

Yesterday, NYT broke the news that Attorney General Barr had issued a memo, as promised, requiring his approval before opening an investigation into a presidential candidate. (Update: here’s the memo.)

The memo, which said the Justice Department had a duty to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences,” was issued on the same day that President Trump was acquitted on charges that he had abused his office to push a foreign power to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals. The memo said that the F.B.I. and all other divisions under the department’s purview must get Mr. Barr’s approval before investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

The NBC version of this — written by Barr mouthpiece Pete Williams — falsely suggests this decision was justified by the entirety of the IG Report.

His directive follows a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that harshly criticized the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. It recommended an evaluation of the kind of sensitive matters that should require high-level approval, particularly those involving politics.

While the IG Report recommended different practices for sensitive investigations going forward, the report actually showed that a lot of conspiracy theories that Barr had embraced about the opening of the investigation and the use of informants were false. The criticisms — as distinct from recommendations — were largely limited to the Carter Page FISA.

The distinction is important because the other excuse Barr offers is that, if an investigation became known — like both the Hillary email investigation and the Breitbart-dirt predicated Clinton Foundations ones — it might affect the election.

“In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections,” Mr. Barr wrote.

Those concerns, combined with the inspector general’s findings, seemed to underpin Mr. Barr’s memo to top Justice Department officials.

All the evidence in the world suggests that the known problems in Crossfire Hurricane stemmed from the opposite problem, working too hard to keep the investigation secret. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep it secret, it wouldn’t have been run out of FBI HQ, and so would have had more resources available. Had the FBI not avoided overt steps, it would have obtained call records to indicate that George Papadopoulos (and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), and not Carter Page, should have been the priority targets. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep this secret, it might have caught several of Trump’s flunkies in the act of selling out the country. (And all three of those men hid information to prevent their actions from becoming known.) And now Bill Barr wants to make it harder, not easier, to find people selling out our country before they do real damage.

Indeed, this extends even to the larger investigation into Russian interference. SSCI released its report on what the Obama Administration should have done better in 2016 yesterday, and many of the criticisms stem from how closely it held the intelligence about the attack, from Congress, election professionals, and agencies that might respond. (The report also undermined Barr’s justification for the Durham investigation, in that it suggested the IC should have warned policy makers far earlier than happened about Russian intentions, and points to John Brennan’s sensitive intelligence about the operation as the first alarm.)

So the stated purpose doesn’t hold up, as most of Barr’s stated purposes don’t. That’s all the more true when you look at how Barr’s rule has dramatically expanded since he first floated it.

As both NYT and NBC noted, Barr announced the policy in January. The policy, as laid out back then, was far more limited — extending just to counterintelligence investigations.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced the Justice Department’s first policy change in response to the FBI’s mucking around in the 2016 election. Henceforth, both an AG and the FBI director must sign off on any proposed counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign.

Neither the NYT nor NBC describe any such limitation. Indeed, the make it clear that criminal investigations, including into donors!!!, must be approved.

While the department must respond “swiftly and decisively” to credible threats to the electoral process, “we also must be sensitive to safeguarding the department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship,” he wrote.

He previewed the new policy at a news conference in January, when he said his approval would be required in future investigations involving presidential candidates or campaigns.
In the memo, Mr. Barr established a series of requirements governing whether investigators could open preliminary or full “politically sensitive” criminal and counterintelligence investigations into candidates or their donors.

No investigation into a presidential or vice-presidential candidate — or their senior campaign staff or advisers — can begin without written notification to the Justice Department and the written approval of Mr. Barr.

The F.B.I. must also notify and consult with the relevant leaders at the department — like the heads of the criminal division, the national security division or a United States attorney’s office — before investigating Senate or House candidates or their campaigns, or opening an inquiry related to “illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign.”

This rule would have protected the following people from any investigation in 2016:

  • Trump, for paying off former sex partners
  • Paul Manafort, for taking $2.4M after discussing carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking in 2016
  • Roger Stone, for dark money activity and coordination still unresolved as well as optimizing materials stolen from the Democrats
  • Mike Flynn, for being on Turkey’s payroll while attending Top Secret candidate briefings
  • George Papadopoulos, for trying to monetize his access to Trump with foreign countries including Israel
  • Illegal donations from Russians, Malaysians, Emiratis, and Ukrainians in 2016
  • Illegal coordination between the campaign and its SuperPAC

The only criminal investigations into Trump flunkies that wouldn’t have been covered in 2016 would be the money laundering investigation into Manafort (which started two months before he joined the campaign) and, possibly, the counterintelligence investigation into Page (because his tie to the campaign was not known at the time).

As stated, the rule would require pre-approval for the Ukrainian grifter investigation and any investigation into known coordination problems Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has engaged in. It would protect not just Trump, but also (because they work on his campaign) his failson and son-in-law.

Plus, Barr believes that because the President can’t be indicted, he should not be investigated. So this is, quite literally, a guarantee that no crime Trump commits between now and election day will be investigated — not even shooting someone on Fifth Avenue  (at the federal level, at least, but DOJ has maintained that NYS cannot investigate the sitting president either). Barr has just announced, using fancy language to avoid headlines describing what this is, that from now until November, he will hold President Trump above the law.

Citizens United has opened up a floodgate of barely hidden cash from foreign donors into our elections. This is not a partisan thing; as noted, Mohammed bin Zayed was dumping huge money into both Hillary and Trump’s campaign. And the Attorney General of the United States has just made it easier for foreigners to tamper in our elections.

Barr has snookered reporters into believing this is the same announcement as he made in January.

It’s not. This is not about spying on a campaign, much as Pete Williams wants to pretend it is. This is about telling Trump and his associates they will not be prosecuted by DOJ, going forward, for the same crimes they’ve committed in the past.

Update: Two more details. The memo requires signed approval by the Deputy Attorney General to open a preliminary investigation of any presidential candidate. But it also requires prompt notice to the Assistant Attorney General for any assessment. That means the AG is demanding that his top deputies learn when someone does a database search.

Paul Manafort Is One of 37 People in an Omertà with the President

Apparently, Bob Woodward committed some journalism along with canonizing racist John Kelly and wife-beater Rob Porter in his book: he got a number for how many people are included the Joint Defense Agreement that gives Rudy Giuliani such confidence the President is not at risk: 37.

And Politico committed still more journalism and answered the question we’ve all been asking: yes, Paul Manafort is among those 37.

Giuliani also confirmed that Trump’s lawyers and Manafort’s have been in regular contact and that they are part of a joint defense agreement that allows confidential information sharing.

“All during the investigation we have an open communication with them,” he said. “Defense lawyers talk to each other all the time where as long as our clients authorize it therefore we have a better idea of what’s going to happen. That’s very common.”

Giuliani confirmed he spoke with Manafort’s lead defense lawyer Kevin Downing shortly before and after the verdicts were returned in the Virginia trial, but the former mayor wouldn’t say what he discusses with the Manafort team. “It’d all be attorney-client privilege not just from our point of view but from theirs,” he said.

That means when John Dowd complained that the raid of Manafort’s condo (where his eight iPods were seized), that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers. And when, in January, Trump confidently said he was sure Manafort would protect him, that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers.  And when, just before the EDVA trial, Kevin Downing was ostentatiously saying there was no way Manafort was flipping, and when he was balking on a plea with Mueller immediately after the trial, he was also talking to Rudy Giuliani.

Mind you, Rudy G will learn right away if Manafort starts considering cooperating, rather than just pleading, because Manafort will have to (finally!) drop out of the JDA before those discussions start.

And while I suspect Mueller has slowly been peeling away people like Sam Patten, that the JDA is so big likely means some or most of the following people are part of the omertà (and Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Mike Flynn were part of it):

  • Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Jared Kushner
  • The Trump Org defendants: Don Jr, Rhonna Graff
  • Bill Burck’s clients: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn (and up to three more)
  • Victoria Toensing’s clients: Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, Sam Clovis
  • The hush payment recipients: Hope Hicks, Brad Parscale, Keith Schiller
  • Roger Stone and his buddies: Stone, Michael Caputo, Sam Nunberg, Andrew Miller, plus some (probably)

That’s 20. Some other likely (and enticing) JDA members are: Devin Nunes, Jeff Sessions, Tom Barrack, Keith Kellogg, John Mashburn, KT McFarland, JD Gordon, Walid Phares, Stephen Miller, Sean Spicer, Rob Porter, Corey Lewandowski, John Kelly. Heck, it’s not even clear that George Papadopoulos is not part of the JDA.

But that still leaves space in the JDA for people who were already comparing notes with known members of the JDA, including Rinat Akhmetshin, Rob Goldstone, and Ike Kaveladze (along with Emin and Aras Agalarov, who are all represented by Scott Balber).

No wonder Rudy thinks he knows everything that Mueller has.

That’s why the collective panic on the discovery that Stone’s phone was likely among the ~10 or so that Mueller got warrants for in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation agreement is so interesting, and also why Manafort, playing his part as point, tried so hard to find out who the other four AT&T users whose phones were obtained with his own.

These guys may be good at omertà. But every single one we’ve seen so far has shitty OpSec; they’ve been saying their co-conspiracy communications on their phones and on iCloud. Plus there are people like Omarosa wandering among them, dismissed as irrelevant even while they record everything they hear. And meanwhile, Mueller is chipping away at the edges, people they haven’t considered (like Patten). And all the while he’s been building his case against Stone and Don Jr.

Trump Is Willing to Pay for Joint Defense for Hope Hicks, But Not for France

As I laid out last week, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

I keep coming back to this exchange between Dana Bash and Rudy Giuliani over the weekend.

BASH:  But let’s just focus on one of the things that you said…

GIULIANI: Go.

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight-lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

They have nothing, Dana. They wouldn’t be pressing for this interview if they had anything. [my emphasis]

Rudy asserts that every critical witness is a member of a Joint Defense Agreement involving Trump.

That’s a big Joint Defense Agreement. It also suggests that if Mueller can learn who is in it, he’s got a map of everyone that Trump himself thinks was involved in the conspiracy with Russia.

Some people will be obvious — not least, because they share lawyers. Witnesses with shared lawyers include:

Erik Prince, Sam Clovis, Mark Corallo (represented by Victoria Toensing)

Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn (represented by William Burck)

Don Jr, Rhona Graff (represented by Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas)

Almost certainly, it includes the key witnesses who’ve been moved onto various parts of the Reelection campaign, including 2020 convention security head Keith Schiller (represented by Stuart Sears) and Brad Parscale (defense attorney unknown).

Others are obvious because we know they’re centrally involved — people like Jared Kushner (represented by Abbe Lowell) and Hope Hicks (represented by Robert Trout). Indeed, Hicks may also fall into the category of shared lawyers — at least from the same firm — as Trout Cacheris & Janis got paid $451,779 by the RNC in April for representing Hope and two other witnesses.

One implication from this (which would be unbelievable, if true) is that Paul Manafort remains a part of the Joint Defense Agreement. But that is the only way that Trump can assess his vulnerability — as he has in the past, and appears to have shared with the Russians — to go exclusively through Manafort.

There are other implications of claiming that every critical witness is part of the Joint Defense Agreement — including that the Attorney General (represented by Iran-Contra escape artist lawyer Charles Cooper) must be part of it too. So, too, must Stephen Miller (defense attorney unknown).

But here’s the really telling thing. A key part of Trump’s foreign policy — one he’ll be focusing on relentlessly in advance of next week’s NATO summit — is that other members of the United States’ alliances are freeloaders. He’s demanding that NATO members all start paying their own way for our mutual defense.

But Trump is willing to make sure that those protecting him get paid (even if he’s not willing to pay himself). (I stole this observation from an interlocutor on Twitter.)

Which is saying something about what Trump is willing to do when he, himself, is at risk.

Roger Stone and ConFraudUs

CNN’s David Gelles has an instructive tweet this morning showing how the rate at which Trump tweets about the Mueller “witch hunt” is accelerating.

Assuming this includes this morning’s two “witch hunt” tweets, Trump is on pace to use the phrase 28 times by the end of the month, though I bet he’ll continue to accelerate the use of it in the week remaining in the month.

The Mueller investigation is, I suspect, coming to a head.

I don’t claim I know how it will turn out. The president has an enormous amount of power and his flunkies in Congress promise they’re about to end Rod Rosenstein’s bend-don’t-break defense by impeaching him (though Rosenstein and Chris Wray have just thrown more documents out to slow the Republicans). It’s certainly possible that Trump will make a last ditch effort to undercut the Mueller investigation and that effort will be competently executed and none of the secondary fall-back defenses Mueller has put into place will work. For now, though, the Trump team seems intent on a delay and discredit strategy, which won’t stave off any imminent steps.

So we shall see whether Trump succeeds in undercutting the investigation. I keep thinking, “that’s why they play the game,” but this is no game.

There are a number of reasons I think Mueller’s investigation is coming to a head. But consider one detail. I’ve long explained that Mueller seems to be building a series of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States indictments that will ultimately incorporate the entire Russian operation (and may integrate the Trumpsters’ international self-dealing as well). As Mueller’s team has itself pointed out, for heavily regulated areas like elections, ConFraudUs indictments don’t need to prove intent for the underlying crimes. They just need to prove,

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Let’s see how evidence Mueller has recently shown might apply in the case of Roger Stone, Trump’s lifelong political advisor. We already knew that Stone had communications that he did not immediately disclose with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks. With both, Stone has contributed to and reinforced claims the entities were not Russian operations, though his conversion about the source of the Hillary emails was pretty sudden and curiously timed.

Now we know that in May, Stone had lunch with someone calling himself Henry Greenberg offering dirt on Hillary. His explanation — based only on the texts that Michael Caputo was asked about in a Mueller interview — is not that he didn’t entertain the offer, but that he didn’t take Greenberg up on the offer as made in late May because Greenberg was asking for big money.

Both clearly recognized Greenberg as a Russian, therefore a foreigner offering something of value during an election.

Bizarrely, in trying to rebut the import of this exchange publicly, Caputo and Stone are doing nothing more than working the public refs, claiming to assume this was an FBI sting. Mueller knows whether it was an FBI sting, and there’s virtually no way he’d be asking questions about it if it were (particularly if Stone really didn’t take the bait). In short, Stone has no justification for this he’s willing to offer publicly; instead, he’s just adopting the SpyGate narrative in an attempt to discredit the investigation. And that’s assuming there were no follow-ups or other damning texts that didn’t involve someone willing to leak them to the press.

And all that happened before Peter Smith came on the scene, someone who, unlike Donald Trump, was willing to spend money for such things, an operation Stone is suspected of being involved in but which he studiously avoids mentioning when trying to explain himself. Smith did obtain emails from people Matt Tait advised him might be part of a Russian operation, and when he couldn’t validate them, sent them on to Wikileaks.

Which is to say Stone repeatedly entertained offers from foreigners illegally offering dirt that would benefit the Trump campaign — Greenberg, Guccifer 2.0, possibly Peter Smith’s Dark Web hackers. He may even have exhibited a belief that Australian Julian Assange had and could release the latter dirt, possibly with the knowledge they came from Russians.

So we’ve got Stone meeting with other people, repeatedly agreeing to bypass US election law to obtain a benefit for Trump, evidence (notwithstanding Stone’s post-hoc attempts to deny a Russian connection with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks) that Stone had the intent of obtaining that benefit, and tons of overt acts committed in furtherance of the scheme.

And all that’s without leaning on the the other stuff Mueller found on Stone’s phone, which Stone is also trying to explain away by public conspiracies (in this case that the phone content was obtained with a FISA order rather than with a probable cause warrant obtained on March 9).

This is just one of the people Mueller has publicly focused on in recent days. We could lay out similar arguments for Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, at a minimum. Mueller had — and acted on — probable cause warrants covering five AT&T phones in March, all of which probably had close ties to Rick Gates. Assuming those targets are distributed proportionately with the US population, he’s likely to have obtained warrants for as many as 15 phones just in that go-around.

So if Roger Stone is any indication, the Mueller investigation may soon be moving into a new phase.

How the Mueller Team Thinks of ConFraudUs

I’ve written before how I think Conspiracy to Defraud the United States (ConFraudUs) provides Mueller a way to charge a variety of conduct with conspiracy charges that additional defendants can be dropped into, all of which might form an interlocking series of ConFraudUs indictments that map out the entire election crime. In this post, I observed how the charge worked in the Manafort and Internet Research Agency indictments. In this one, I described how it might work to charge Jared (and everyone else) for pretending to be serving US foreign policy interests while actually making bank.

In response to a challenge from Concord Consulting in the IRA indictment, the Mueller team has laid out how they think of ConFraudUs. The filing hints at how and why they may be using this as a backbone for their pursuit of the 2016 election tampering culprits.

In a blustery motion claiming that Mueller only charged Concord with ConFraudUs because he needed to charge some Russians, any Russians, to justify his appointment, Concord demanded access to the grand jury instructions on the ConFraudUs charge, claiming that the charge requires willfulness. (Click through to read the footnotes here, which include a gratuitous Casablanca reference and complaints about US tampering in elections.)

Now, some twenty years later, the Deputy Attorney General acting for the recused Attorney General has rejected the history and integrity of the DOJ, and instead licensed a Special Counsel who for all practical political purposes cannot be fired, to indict a case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian Government.2 The reason is obvious, and is political: to justify his own existence the Special Counsel has to indict a Russian – any Russian. 3 Different from any election case previously brought by the DOJ, the Special Counsel used the catch-all provision of the federal criminal code, the defraud prong of conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371, to allege that a foreign corporate defendant with no presence in the United States and having never entered the United States, engaged in the make-believe crime of conspiring to “interfere” in a United States election. Indictment, Dkt. 1, ¶ 2. Presumably to bolster these allegations (which have a strong odor of hypocrisy) 4 , the Special Counsel has pleaded around the knowledge requirements of all related substantive statutes and regulations by asserting that Concord conspired to obstruct the functions of the United States Departments of Justice (“DOJ”) and State (“DOS”), and the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”).5 But violations of the relevant federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration requirements administered by the DOJ and the FEC require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” a word that does not appear anywhere in Count One of the Indictment. See 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d) and 22 U.S.C. § 618(a).6

Violations of the federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration … require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” say the Russians who trolled our election.

That’s true, Mueller concedes.

Then points out they haven’t charged those underlying crimes. They’ve just charged ConFraudUs. And the standard for ConFraudUs is “intent to defraud the US;” there’s no “willfullness” standard required.

As an initial matter, the government agrees that the plain language of the statutory provisions Concord Management has identified in the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d), and the Foreign Agent Registration Act 22 U.S.C. § 618(a), set forth a “willfulness” standard with respect to knowledge. The government, however, did not charge Concord Management with substantive violations of FECA, FARA, or for that matter, visa fraud — an offense that requires only a “knowing” standard. See 18 U.S.C. § 1546. Concord Management is alleged to have conspired to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. As described in more detail below, the mens rea for that offense is intent to defraud the United States, not to willfully commit substantive offenses that are not charged in the Indictment

Which brings them to where they lay out precisely what ConFraudUs requires:

The essential elements of a conspiracy to defraud the United States consist of the following: (1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States; (2) the defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and (3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme. See United States v. Treadwell, 760 F.2d 327, 333 (D.C. Cir. 1985); United States v. Coplan, 703 F.3d 46, 61 (2d Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 571 U.S. 819 (2013). The agreement to defraud must be one to obstruct a lawful function of the Government or its agencies by deceitful or dishonest means. Coplan, 703 F.3d at 60–61; see United States v. Davis, 863 F.3d 894, 901 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (explaining that a charge under the defraud clause requires proof that a defendant “knowingly agreed with [the codefendant] (or another person) to defraud the federal government of money or to deceptively interfere with the lawful functions of” a particular government agency). The mens rea is a specific intent to defraud the United States, not willfulness. See United States v. Khalife, 106 F.3d 1300, 1303 (6th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1045 (1998); United States v. Jackson, 33 F.3d 866, 871–72 (7th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1005 (1995). The mens rea requirements of particular substantive crimes, in short, do not carry over to defraud-clause prosecutions. See, e.g., Jackson, 33 F.3d at 870–72 (government need not establish the level of willfulness required to prove a “structuring” offense when it charges the same behavior as a conspiracy to defraud); Khalife, 106 F.3d at 1303 (same).4

So,

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Basically, the Mueller team argues, Concord and all its trolls only have to agree to pull a fast one on the American electoral regulatory apparatus, with at least one overt act like … a trollish tweet. They don’t have to individually willfully violate the underlying law.

We’ll see what Judge Dabney Friedrich has to say about this argument (though as far as I understand it, the Mueller argument is not at all controversial). As a reminder, Rick Gates has already pled guilty to this charge.

However Friedrich rules, however, you can how this would apply to a number of other known actions. Did Don Jr conspire with Aras Agalarov and his surrogates to defraud the fair management of elections when he stated, in the context of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton, that he would revisit the Magnitsky Act sanctions when his father won the election (several witnesses gave sworn testimony that this happened)? Did Roger Stone conspire with Guccifer 2.0 when they (as reported but not yet substantiated with evidence) discussed how to find Russian hackers who had stolen Hillary’s emails? Did Brad Parscale conspire with Cambridge Analytica, not just to permit foreigners to illegally provide assistance to the Trump campaign, but also to use stolen models to heighten discontent among Democratic voters?

Importantly, Mueller would not have to prove that all participants in all these conspiracies had the mens rea required by the underlying charges. It’s enough that they’re trying to deceitfully thwart the lawful functioning of a government process.

Obviously, Mueller hasn’t yet charged any of these ConFraudUs conspiracies, if indeed they happened. But you can see why he might use ConFraudUs to do so.

The GOP PAC-thetic Effort to Disclaim Cambridge Analytica

In the wake of Friday’s news that Cambridge Analytica had not deleted psychographic data based off Facebook data, Republicans have claimed they didn’t rely on CA in 2016’s election. Major Garrett, for example, reported that, for most but not all uses, the Trump campaign replaced CA with RNC data after proving the latter more accurate.

In late September 2016, Cambridge and other data vendors were submitting bids to the Trump campaign. Then-candidate Trump’s campaign used Cambridge Analytica during the primaries and in the summer because it was never certain the Republican National Committee would be a willing, cooperative partner. Cambridge Analytica instead was a hedge against the RNC, in case it wouldn’t share its data.

The crucial decision was made in late September or early October when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital guru on the 2016 campaign, decided to utilize just the RNC data for the general election and used nothing from that point from Cambridge Analytica or any other data vendor. The Trump campaign had tested the RNC data, and it proved to be vastly more accurate than Cambridge Analytica’s, and when it was clear the RNC would be a willing partner, Mr. Trump’s campaign was able to rely solely on the RNC.

Cambridge Analytica data was used for some targeted digital advertising and a large TV buy, but the main source of “get out the vote” and matching digital outreach data came from the RNC.

This story is not much different from one that got told last fall, in the wake of Brad Parscale’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. After using CA data for the first month of the general, the campaign transitioned to using RNC data (for whatever reason).

But according to both Parscale and [CA Chief Product Officer] Oczkowski, the campaign didn’t use Cambridge’s trove of data, opting instead for the RNC’s data file.

“The RNC was the voter file of record for the campaign, but we were the intelligence on top of the voter file,” Oczkowski says. “Sometimes the sales pitch can be a bit inflated, and I think people can misconstrue that.”

Parscale describes the firm’s work this way: “As I’ve said multiple times over prior statements, Matt Oczkowski and his team created a daily tracker of polling, so that I could see how Trump was doing in key swing states. They provided that to me daily.” Parscale says Cambridge also helped the campaign with what he calls “persuasion online media buying. They also helped us identify potential donors. And they created a visualization tool that showed in each state which areas were most persuadable and what those voters care about.”

As I noted at the time, however, Oczkowski claimed to be unaware of what CA was doing because the PAC activities were firewalled from campaign activities.

“I had absolutely no understanding any of this was going on, and I was surprised as everybody else when I saw the story” about Nix’s approach to Assange, Oczkowski says. During the campaign, he says his team was walled off from the rest of Cambridge, because the company was also working with a Trump Super PAC. Federal regulations prevent campaigns from coordinating with Super PACs. Of the 13 Cambridge staffers who worked in Trump’s San Antonio office, only four remain at the company.

Which, of course, suggests that the interesting stuff with CA was happening at the Super PAC, which just happens to have been run by the Mercers.

Today, Daily Beast reported that a Cambridge Analytica employee, Emily Cornell, gleefully pounced on the opportunity presented by the release of more stolen Hillary emails.

Cambridge Analytica hoped to capitalize on Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton and her ally, an email written by one of its employees indicates.

Emily Cornell, the employee, sent the email on July 29, 2016. It went out to people working with Make America Number One, the pro-Trump super PAC funded by Republican super-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

After noting some of the firm’s work for the super PAC, Cornell wrote: “With her campaign getting hacked, I can only imagine what a new swatch [sic] of emails will do to her already fractured base!”

This seems to confirm two things. First, the Mercer directed efforts remained happy to exploit Russia’s theft even later in the process (remember the Alexander Nix email to Julian Assange kept Mercer in the loop). And also, the Trump campaign claim to have ditched Cambridge Analytica are only meaningful insofar as they really maintained that firewall between campaign and PAC.

Mueller Wants to Know How Far the Game of Email Telephone Got within the Trump Campaign

NBC has a story that has gotten a lot of people excited, reporting that Mueller’s team has been asking:

  • Policy towards Russia: Why Trump took policy positions that were friendly toward Russia and spoke positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • Roger Stone: Whether Stone was aware of information the group had before it became public and when it might be released
  • Trump’s knowledge: Whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release

I think this story is both less and more than people are making it out to be.

It’s being overhyped for its facial value. Of course Mueller is going to ask about what the president knew and when he knew it. Of course he’s going to chase down whether Roger Stone’s repeated claims to know what was coming were bluster or not.

But on at least two counts, I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

First, as I noted when George Papadopoulos’ plea came out, the FBI charged the former foreign policy advisor for lying about whether he had been told of dirt on Hillary in the form of emails (which we now know they said they might anonymously leak to help Trump) before or after he joined the campaign. That they believed this important enough to charge suggests that, after two full months of cooperation, they got the answer they expected.

FBI found those lies to be significant enough to arrest him over because they obscured whether he had told anyone on the campaign that the Russians had dirt in the form of Hillary emails.

To be sure, nothing in any of the documents released so far answer the questions that Papadopoulos surely spent two months explaining to the FBI: whether he told the campaign (almost certainly yes, or he wouldn’t have lied in the first place) and when (with the big import being on whether that information trickled up to Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner before they attended a meeting on June 9, 2016 in hopes of obtaining such dirt).

I’m sure that’s intentional. You gotta keep everyone else guessing about what Mueller knows.

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

There’s no way Papadopoulos’ plea would have been rolled out in the way it was except to get everyone he had told about the emails (as well as those who were instructing him on how to negotiate a meeting with Putin) on the record first.

So Mueller has a good idea of who learned first hand from Papadopoulos about the emails. What he may not know (or may be trying to lock in with further testimony) is how far that game of telephone extended; did it include Trump, and if so via what interlocutors. (Rick Gates may be, or may already have, enlightened Mueller on this point.)

These questions are also interesting against the background of something else suggested by the Papadopoulos plea (and subsequent NYT reporting), which I laid out here. Papadopoulos appeared to be signaling Ivan Timofeev, and those signals were closely tied to email releases.

In this post I did a timeline of all the known George Papadopoulos communications. The timeline made something clear: on two occasions, Papadopoulos alerted Ivan Timofeev to something in a Trump speech. On each occasion, something happened with emails.

[snip]

I’m not saying that the timing of these email releases were dictated by the speeches. Of course they weren’t. They were timed to do maximal damage to the Hillary campaign (not incidentally, in a way that coincided with the “later in the summer” timing Don Jr asked for in his communications with Rob Goldstone).

Rather, I’m saying that Papadopoulos seems to have been signaling Timofeev, and those signals closely mapped to email releases.

And those signals are among the things he tried to destroy.

Importantly, that signaling pertained to public statements on policies of Russian interest. I laid out three apparent incidences in that post, incidences mentioned in the plea.

In this post, I suggested what might be a fourth: when Trump’s twitter account tweeted about Hillary’s emails just 40 minutes after the June 9 Trump Tower meeting started and incorporated a potentially accurate number for how many staffers Hillary had.

I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?

[snip]

I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

If this (or, specifically mentioned in the NBC story, Trump’s July call for Russia to release Hillary’s emails) were part of the signaling, then Trump either could have been in the loop, or one of the flunkies who ran his iPhone account before he switched to iPhone himself could have been.

Which leads me to one more question reported by NBC today, almost as an afterthought. At least one witness was asked about the boundaries of Dan Scavino’s job.

At least one witness has been asked about Trump aide Dan Scavino, specifically about any involvement he may have had in the campaign’s data operation. Scavino currently runs the White House’s social media operations and is one of Trump’s closest aides.

I’m particularly interested in this given the report that Scavino was involved in negotiations through Rob Goldstone for promotions on Russian social media platform VKontakte, and the odds that he might have been the one tweeting any signaling tweets using Trump’s campaign.

So while these questions are, on the one hand, bloody obvious, they also may suggest a far more advanced understanding of how this operation might have worked.

Kushner Floats! Was Trump’s Witch Hunt Outburst about Jared Losing Clearance?

President Trump had one of his regular tweetbursts this morning about the Mueller investigation, culminating in an all caps tweet WITCH HUNT!

These outbursts are admittedly routine. But there was something unusual about this one. As MMFA’s Lis Starr noted, the three tweets leading up to this, citing Judge Napolitano, Johnathan Turley, and Ken Starr, were all reruns of Fox coverage from the last several days.

In other words, Trump resorted to the DVR to be able to justify his rant this morning. Clearly, he’s even more obsessed today than normal.

That, plus one more detail, makes me wonder whether Trump was reacting to new approaches put in place after Jared (and probably Ivanka) had his clearance downgraded to Secret on Friday.

A memo sent Friday downgraded the presidential son-in-law and adviser and other White House aides who had been working on interim clearances.

Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has had his security clearance downgraded — a move that will prevent him from viewing many of the sensitive documents to which he once had unfettered access.

Kushner is not alone. All White House aides working on the highest-level interim clearances — at the Top Secret/SCI-level — were informed in a memo sent Friday that their clearances would be downgraded to the Secret level, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The SCI acronym stands for sensitive compartmentalized information, a category of information that comes from sensitive intelligence sources and must be walled off.

The memo was not signed by chief of staff John Kelly, but it comes as the retired Marine general and other top White House aides are grappling with the fallout of a scandal involving former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, which revealed that dozens of White House aides had yet to receive permanent clearances but nonetheless had access to some of the country’s deepest secrets.

There are several interesting tidbits about the Politico story reporting that Jared has finally been stripped of his TS/SCI interim clearance. First, John Kelly didn’t sign the memo, even though that’s who Trump put in charge of over-riding typical clearance process to protect his spawn. If Don McGahn signed it, it might mean Friday’s memo came after a follow-up to Robert Mueller’s boss, Rod Rosenstein, informing him, back on February 9, of significant new information that required review before he could be cleared.

Also, Politico cites a statement from Abbe Lowell, Jared’s defense attorney.

Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell said in a statement that Kushner “has done more than what is expected of him in this process.”

Lowell added that the changes would “not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president.”

But the statement is just the same one he used back on February 16, when news of Jared’s impending clearance problems first came out. Lowell still has yet to issue any new bravado since he went silent in the face of last week’s more serious reports.

Meanwhile, Jared is not staying out of trouble. The Trump 2020 campaign announced that Brad Parscale — one of the people most suspect for coordinating data analysis with the Russians — would run his 2020 re-election campaign. The announcement included this quote from Kushner.

Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President, and President Trump’s son-in-law, said, “Brady was essential in bringing a disciplined technology and data-driven approach to how the 2016 campaign was run. His leadership and expertise will be help [sic] build a best-in-class campaign.”

Even aside from the typo, this is a no-no, as it ties Kushner’s official White House role to a campaign document.

I almost wonder whether all their fundraising is about paying lawyers at this point. On Friday, CNBC reported that when RNC stopped paying the legal defense of people like Don Jr, it started paying rent at Trump Tower. And the legal defense to pay Trump aides’ legal fees also just went active. Increasingly, it seems, the Trump “campaign” is all about staying out of prison.

Meanwhile, the Kushner family’s partner on the underwater 666 Fifth Avenue is negotiating to get out.

Kushner Cos. says it’s negotiating to buy the 49.5 percent of a debt-laden office tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue that it doesn’t already own from partner Vornado Realty Trust.

Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kushner Cos., declined to elaborate on terms for either the purchase or a restructuring of the building’s debt. A Vornado representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The talks were first reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this month, Vornado recategorized how it accounts for the property, 666 Fifth Ave., because “we do not intend to hold this asset on a long-term basis,” it said in an annual report. That language typically means the company plans to unload an asset within a year, a person familiar with Vornado’s thinking said at the time.

That’s going to shine a lot more light on Kushner’s finances, and his efforts to abuse his position as his father-in-law’s “peace” negotiator to get bailed out by any number of slimy foreign oligarchs.

Jared’s in real trouble. It’s a wonder he can stay afloat amid this witch hunt.

Update: Bingo.

Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.

Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.

It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.

[snip]

White House officials said [National Security Advisor HR] McMaster was taken aback by some of Kushner’s foreign contacts.

“When he learned about it, it surprised him,” one official said. “He thought that was weird…It was an unusual thing. I don’t know that any White House has done it this way before.”

Meanwhile, the normally loquacious Abbe Lowell is outsourcing the no-commenting to a spokesperson.

“We will not respond substantively to unnamed sources peddling second-hand hearsay with rank speculation that continue to leak inaccurate information,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner’s lawyer.

Update: Let’s look more closely at something loquacious Abbe Lowell had to say the last time he wanted to go on the record about his client, on February 16.

Lowell said Kushner’s job is “to talk with foreign officials, which he has done and continues to do properly.”

He was denying, 11 days ago, something only now being aired: that Kushner wasn’t properly alerting the NSC of his contacts with foreign leaders. But now we know, he wasn’t properly alerting the National Security Advisor — the one that replaced the one who lied to the FBI about his contacts with foreigners, I mean.

No wonder Lowell has gone silent.