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Billy Barr Signs a Memo That Wouldn’t Have Helped Carter Page

For eight months, FBI and DOJ have been diligently making changes to the way they do FISA applications, with regular reports into the FISA Court. Whether or not those changes are adequate to fix the problems that beset the Carter Page application, they represent significant effort.

Curiously, a memo Billy Barr just released purporting to enhance compliance in FISA applications appears unaware of the filings at FISC, and instead cites only changes implemented in Christopher Wray’s response to the December 9, 2019 DOJ IG Report (see PDF 466 for his letter).

Therefore, in order to address concerns identified in the report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice entitled, “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI ‘s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” (December 2019), and to build on the important reforms described by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) in his December 6, 2019, response to the Inspector General’s report, I hereby direct that the following additional steps be taken:

Arguably (as I’ll show), at least one of the provisions in the memo is weaker than a change FISC mandated itself.

And while the memo claims to want to protect the rights of people like Carter Page, Barr’s memo would in no way apply to Page. That’s because the special protections tied to political campaigns only apply to those currently associated with campaigns.

With respect to applications for authorization to conduct electronic surveillance or physical searches pursuant to FISA targeting (i) a federal elected official or staff members of the elected official, or (ii) an individual who is a declared candidate for federal elected office or staff members or advisors of such candidate’s campaign (including any person who has been publicly announced by a campaign as a staff member or member of an official campaign advisory committee or group, or any person who is an informal advisor to the campaign),

By the time FBI applied for a FISA application targeting Page, several prominent members of the campaign had dissociated the campaign from him — for his controversial ties to Russia! — in no uncertain terms; those disavowals were included in the FISA application. Yes, Page had been announced as an informal advisor, but then the campaign made very clear he was no longer an informal advisor (and even claimed he never had been).

To be sure, some of the changes proposed — both those limited to those connected with a campaign and the more general ones — are improvements. For example:

  • ¶3(b) requires non-delegable sign-off by the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General) of any application targeting someone associated with a campaign; while requiring non-delegable sign-off may introduce some problems, this is the kind of certification recommended by the DOJ IG Report (though arguably is already incorporated in the December 6, 2019 letter Barr cited).
  • ¶3(d) and ¶3(e) institutes a shorter renewal deadline for these political FISAs, 60 days instead of 90, and requires monthly reports to FISC describing the results and affirming the continued need for such surveillance. These are arbitrary but perhaps useful improvements, not least because by increasing the paperwork required to surveil a political target, they make it more likely that such surveillance will actually be worth it (as the third and fourth applications targeting Page were not).
  • ¶3(f) requires that any political application describe whether less intrusive investigative procedures have been considered — something already required in all FISA applications — and an explanation why those procedures weren’t used. Such a requirement would have been useful in Page’s case (as I noted last year), because it would have emphasized the efforts FBI was making not to take public actions, but in practice this response would almost always point to DOJ guidelines on avoiding taking public actions that might affect an election and might actually encourage the increased reliance on informants, something Trump’s people claim equates to FISA surveillance. A requirement like this might be useful if it took place in the scope of a debate about what techniques were intrusive or not, but there’s zero evidence such a debate has happened.

The memo has two parts on defensive briefings, probably designed to placate Republicans, but which likely don’t do much in practice:

  • For political targets, ¶3(a) requires the FBI Director to consider a defensive briefing before targeting someone, and if no briefing is given, then the Director must document it in writing. FBI did consider defensive briefings for Trump’s people, but for various reasons decided not to do it, but in the case of Carter Page, he had long been wittingly sharing non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers and when FBI tried to explain why such dalliances were problematic in March 2017, he simply disagreed. A defensive briefing for Page would have been as useless as President Obama’s warnings to Trump that Mike Flynn was a problem.
  • For all counterintelligence concerns pertaining to election interference, ¶4 requires the FBI Director to “promulgate procedures, in consultation with the Deputy Attorney General, concerning defensive briefings.” Not only is this requirement utterly silent about what such procedures should do, not only did Wray commit to a similar recommendation in his December 2019 letter, but defensive briefings are precisely what Acting Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is currently politicizing.

As for key review processes mandated by the memo, some are just redundant at best or stupid at worst. For example:

  • ¶1 requires FBI personnel to review the accuracy sub-file before submitting a FISA application. That process is already in place. It’s called the Woods Procedure and it’s the procedure that failed to find errors in the Page application.
  • ¶2 requires someone — it doesn’t say whether FBI or NSD bears responsibility — to report any misstatement or omission to FISC. That’s already required. Plus, this requirement twice gives NSD the authority to determine whether something amounts to a reportable incident. The ongoing DOJ IG investigation into all the errors in FISA applications suggest NSD has deemed some omissions and errors not to be worthwhile of reporting (indeed, there were multiple instances in the Page applications where NSD did not include information they knew of, in at least one case information that FBI did not have). In short, this paragraph seems more focused on ensuring NSD — and not an outside entity, like DOJ IG or the FISC — retains the ability to determine what is and is not a reportable error.
  • ¶3(c) requires an FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge who is not involved in an investigation to review the FISA application of any defined political targets. The DOJ IG Report found that even NSD lawyers involved in an investigation don’t have enough insight into a case to identify omissions. While an ASAC might have access to case files that NSD lawyers do not, there’s zero reason to believe someone with even less insight into an investigation would better be able to spot omissions than an NSD lawyer with an ongoing role in the application. So this review is likely useless busywork.
  • ¶3(g) requires the Assistant Attorney General to review the case file of a political target within 60 days of its initial grant to make sure everything is kosher, including that the investigation was properly predicated. In conjunction with the shorter renewal timeframe of such applications (which would require DAG sign-off in any case), all this amounts to is a heightened review on first renewal (the memo does not say this is not delegable, so such a review will and probably should not be done by the AAG). But in Page’s case, it would have done nothing (indeed, at the time this would have been done for Page, he was in Russia meeting high level officials, falsely claiming to represent Trump’s interests).

In short, while some of these changes are salutary, a number are just show, and some are worthless busy work.

But my real concern about them — particularly given how Barr only invokes the first Christopher Wray letter to DOJ IG — is how they interact with other details of the FISA reform events that have transpired since last December.

For example, in the last month, the FBI and DOJ engaged in a big dog-and-pony show to claim that none of the errors DOJ IG had identified in 29 FISA applications they reviewed affected probable cause and just two were material. Effectively, that big press push amounted to having NSD pre-empt DOJ IG’s findings in an ongoing investigation, and the public details of NSD’s own review raise abundant reason to doubt the rigor of it. So Barr’s emphasis (in ¶2) on NSD’s role in deciding what is an error seems to be a reassertion of the status quo ante in the midst of an ongoing investigation that is still assessing whether NSD’s reviews are adequate. That makes this feel like another attempt to pre-empt an ongoing investigation.

Even more troubling, Barr’s memo seems unaware of — and in key respects, conflicts with — an order presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg issued in March. As I noted at the time, that order recognized something that was apparent from the DOJ IG Report but which the IG either missed, ignored, or was bureaucratically unable to address: it wasn’t just FBI that dropped the ball on the Page FISA application, NSD did so too.

According to the OIG Report, the DOJ attorney responsible for preparing the Page applications was aware that Page claimed to have had some type of reporting relationship with another government agency. See OIG Rpt. at 157. The DOJ attorney did not, however, follow up to confirm the nature of that relationship after the FBI case agent declared it “outside scope.” Id. at 157, 159. The DOJ attorney also received documents that contained materially adverse information, which DOJ advises should have been included in the application. Id. at 169-170. Greater diligence by the DOJ attorney in reviewing and probing the information provided by the FBI would likely have avoided those material omissions.

Because of that, Boasberg required that DOJ attorneys, too, sign off on all FISA applications, and suggested they get more involved earlier in the process.

As a result, reminders of DOJ’s obligation to meet the heightened duty of candor to the FISC appear warranted. The Court is therefore directing that any attorney submitting a FISA application make the following representation: “To the best of my knowledge, this application fairly reflects all information that might reasonably call into question the accuracy of the information or the reasonableness of any FBI assessments in the application, or otherwise raise doubts about the requested probable cause findings.”

DOJ should also consider whether its attorneys need more formalized guidance – e.g. , their own due-diligence checklists. Consideration should also be given to the potential benefits of DOJ attorney visits to field offices to meet with case agents and review investigative files themselves, at least in select cases – e.g. , initial applications for U.S.-person targets. Increased interaction between DOJ attorneys and FBI case agents during the preparatory process should not only improve accuracy in individual cases but also likely foster a common understanding of how to satisfy the government’s heightened duty of candor to the FISC.

There’s no mention of Boasberg’s order and suggestions in Barr’s memo, and it’s unclear whether that’s because he has no idea what has transpired with the FISC, whether he thinks he can ignore Boasberg’s order, or whether his memo is just for show. In any case, it’s notable that Barr’s memo doesn’t incorporate the key insight Boasberg made, that FISA requires increased diligence from NSD, too.

Similarly, because Boasberg deemed the role of FBI’s lawyers to be “perfunctory,” he asked for more details about their role.

But the role described in the revised Woods Form appears largely 10 perfunctory. To assess whether additional modifications to the Woods Form or related procedures may be warranted, the Court is directing the FBI to describe the current responsibilities FBI OGC lawyers have throughout the FISA process.

Here, Barr has added one more FBI person (an ASAC uninvolved in the case) to the process, whose review can only be perfunctory, rather than ensuring that those with more visibility on the process have a substantive role. Barr also doesn’t incorporate into his memo a change that came from Amicus David Kris after the Wray letter cited in Barr’s memo that case agents attest to the accuracy of FISA reviews, a recommendation FBI adopted, which might accomplish more than any review by an outside ASAC.

There’s one more reason this memo is concerning. ABC reported the other day that long-time Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy Brad Wiegmann was reassigned two weeks ago and replaced by a far less experienced political appointee, Kellen Dwyer (though I’ve seen people vouch for his integrity — he’s not a hack). Wiegmann would likely be part of discussions about how to meet FISC’s demands for further accountability.

Though a relatively small unit of fewer than two dozen attorneys, the Office of Law and Policy participates in almost every National Security Council meeting, works with congressional staff to draft new legislation, and conducts oversight of the FBI’s intelligence-gathering activities.

“[It] has been sort of the center of gravity for the Department of Justice on national security policy, and it’s a central role,” said Olsen, who at one point ran the department’s National Security Division and later advised Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Wiegmann has led the office since the Obama administration and for almost all of the Trump administration.

In particular, Wiegmann has long been involved in efforts to meet FISC’s demands regarding surveillance it authorizes. Here, just days after Wiegmann’s removal, Barr is issuing a memo that seems unaware of and in at least a few respects, potentially inconsistent with, explicit orders from the presiding FISA Judge.

There’s nothing obviously offensive about this memo. But it would do little to prevent a repeat of the Carter Page problems. And it’s not clear that it adds anything to the very real efforts to improve the FISA process at DOJ. Indeed, it may well be an effort to pre-empt more substantive concerns about the role of NSD (as opposed to FBI) in this process.

Barr released a second memo creating an audit mechanism for national security functions that feels like an effort to get ahead of ongoing DOJ IG investigation. I welcome additional oversight of FBI’s national security functions, though the timing of this and the timing of its implementation — with a report on its creation due just days before the election but all review of its functionality years down the road — feels like an attempt to stave off real legal oversight.

Running Thread of emptywheel’s Running Threads on the SSCI Report

I’ve been doing running Twitter threads on each chapter of the SSCI Russia Report. It has gotten too unwieldy for Twitter, so I’ll collect all those threads here:

Here are the posts I’ve written so far:

Page’s Intelligence Officers, Plural, Versus His Serial Willingness to Be Recruited

One last post on the John Durham Criminal Information charging Kevin Clinesmith with one count of false statements (for making and using a false document). It appears that John Durham, DOJ IG, and CIA are placing a different emphasis on Carter Page’s ties with the CIA than the FBI did, based on a differential focus on a number of contacts Page had versus Page’s willingness to be recruited.

The FISA applications for Carter Page refer to three different interactions with Russians to establish probable cause that Page was willing to be recruited by Russian intelligence officers:

  • A year long relationship with Aleksandr Bulatov (2007 to 2008), during which Bulatov used Page to network and in at least one case obtain non-public information
  • A longer relationship with Victor Podobnyy (lasting at least from January 2013 to April 2014), during which Page again provided information and networking leads
  • A 2015 exchange, after the complaint against Podobnyy was unsealed, during which Page told a Russian Minister he was the person referenced in the complaint, seeming to confirm that Page knew he was being recruited

On quick read, the DOJ IG Report and the Criminal Information seem to suggest that on August 17, 2016, CIA informed FBI that they knew of both these relationships with Page and were collecting information through him. That’s because DOJ IG Report and the Information say that the CIA informed FBI that Page had shared information about “certain Russian intelligence officers.”

Here’s how it appears in the Information.

On August 17, 2016, prior to the approval of FISA #1, the OGA provided certain members of the Crossfire Hurricane team a memorandum (“August 17 Memorandum”) indicating that Individual #1 had been approved as an “operational contact” for the OGA from 2008 to 2013 and detailing information that Individual #1 had provided to the OGA concerning Individual #1’s prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers. [my emphasis]

That’s nearly a direct quotation from the DOJ IG Report.

On or about August 17, 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team received a memorandum from the other U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Carter Page, including that Page had been approved as an operational contact for the other agency from 2008 to 2013 and information that Page had provided to the other agency concerning Page’s prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers.

In other words, a quick read of both would suggest that those plural Russian intelligence officers are Bulatov and Podobnyy.

Except that’s not right. Indeed, logically that means Page was providing information on more known or suspected Russian intelligence officers in the years immediately after he returned from Moscow. It’s also the case that Page has provided at least three different stories about Bulatov, and that he does not appear to have (indeed, arguably could not have) told CIA about Podobnyy.

Partly in an interest in challenging some of the misinformation on this point, I’ve put a timeline of Page’s known interactions with CIA, FBI, and Russian intelligence officers below. That shows, first of all, that while the CIA continued to treat Page as an approved “operational contact” until 2013, the last time CIA spoke to him was in July 2011.

That means Page couldn’t have told them about Podobnyy, because he didn’t meed Podobnyy until 2013.

Indeed, the DOJ IG twice says, subtly, that the CIA did not provide any evidence that they knew about Page’s tie with Podobnyy.

The other agency did not provide the FBI with information indicating it had knowledge of Page’s reported contacts with another particular intelligence officer. The FBI also relied on Page’s contacts with this intelligence officer in the FISA application.

[snip]

As further described in Chapter Five, the other agency’s memorandum did not provide the FBI with information indicating it had knowledge of Page’s reported contacts with another particular intelligence officer. The FBI also relied on Page’s contacts with this intelligence officer in the FISA application.

But that means there must be other suspected Russian spooks about whom Page provided information in that earlier period. Indeed, in one place the DOJ IG Report appears to confirm that, too.

Page had disclosed to the other agency contacts that he had with Intelligence Officer 1 and certain other individuals,

There’s a reference in one of Page’s FBI interviews to his NYU students, whom he likened to Podobnyy, so perhaps that’s related.

In any case, as I noted, Page told at least three different stories about Bulatov, the person about whom he shared information with both FBI and CIA. According to the DOJ IG Report, CIA only knew (so presumably got told) that his ties extended back only to 2008. The FBI maintains, however, that his relationship with Bulatov extends back to 2007. In a March 2017 interview, in addition to obfuscating about telling the Russian Minister he was Male-1, Page claimed to not even remember Bulatov, even when pushed, claimed he had only met Bulatov for lunch once, even though in one of his earlier interviews with the FBI, he said he had contact with Bulatov after he had returned to Moscow in 2008. A few weeks later, Page still affirmed that he thought “the more immaterial non-public information I give them, the better for this country,” even while resisting when an FBI agent observed that this basically was a source-handler relationship.

I don’t necessarily think Page was lying (though on his later FISA applications, FBI pointed to this discrepancy). By March 2017, Page had been driven mostly nuts by this process. I think it possible he really misremembered his earlier, acknowledged ties by then.

Still, even on the one topic that overlapped — Bulatov — Page’s stories appear inconsistent (or at least had become inconsistent after the pressure of 2017).

Ultimately, one thing that appears to have happened is CIA, DOJ IG, and Durham have focused on Page’s sharing of information about multiple people of interest to CIA in 2010 and earlier. Meanwhile, FBI focused on Page’s seeming willingness to be cultivated by known Russian spies.

Understanding that different focus helps to understand a lot of what has gone on since.

Timeline

2004-2007: Carter Page lives in Russia. [IG Report 157]

2007: Carter Page’s ties with Aleksandr Bulatov begin. [IG Report 158]

April 2008: Carter Page first meets with CIA. CIA assesses, in contradistinction to FBI’s belief, that Page’s ties to Bulatov began in 2008. [IG Report 156]

June 2008: Bulatov returns to Moscow. [June 2017 Application 14]

August 2008: Per Carter Page interview, his last contact with Bulatov (who returned to Moscow two months earlier). [June 2017 Application 14]

June 18, 2009: FBI interviews Carter Page about contact with Bulatov. Page says he has been in contact with CIA, but FBI doesn’t ask about that. [DOJ IG 61, 158]

October 2010: Page tells CIA he met with Bulatov four times and that Bulatov asked him for information about another American. [IG Report 158]

July 2011: Final meeting between Page and CIA. [IG Report 159]

December 2012: Podobnyy arrives at UN mission. [June 2017 Application 15]

2013: Intelligence Officer 1 hands off Page to Victor Podobnyy [DOJ IG 61 In a June 2013 interview, Page told the FBI he met Podobnyy at an energy conference, and had subsequently provided Podobnyy information about the energy business. [Complaint 13]

April 8, 2013: FBI intercepts conversation between Podobnyy and Sporyshev about recruiting Page. [Complaint 12]

June 13, 2013: FBI interviews Page about Podobnyy. After FBI suggests that Podobnyy is an intelligence officer, Page says his acquaintance with Podobnyy was positive for him. Page says he hadn’t spoken with CIA in “about a year or so” (it was July 2011). CIA did not provide evidence that Page told them about Podobnyy. [Buryakov Complaint 12-13, IG Report 156, 158]

August 2013: FBI interviews Page about Podobnyy, who admits he has met with Podobnyy since their interview in June. [IG Report 62]

September 2013: Podobnyy leaves UN mission. [June 2017 Application 15]

January 23, 2015: Buryakov, Prodobnyy, and Igor Sporyshev charged. The complaint refers to an informant, CS-1, who is not Page. It also includes the transcript of an intercepted conversations about how Podobnyy tried to recruit Male-1, Page. [Complaint]

February 19, 2015: Buryakov et all indicted.

March 2, 2016: FBI interviews Page in preparation for Victor Podonyy trial and learns he informed a Russian Minister and others at the UN he was identified in the indictment in “the spirit of openness.” [IG Report 62]

March 21, 2016: Trump formally names Page a foreign policy advisor.

April 1, 2016: Counterespionage Section advises NYFO to open an investigation on Page. [IG Report 62]

April 6, 2016: NYFO opens investigation into Page (note, one reference to this says the investigation was opened on April 4). [IG Report 63]

May 16, 2016: Page requests permission from campaign to make trip to Russia

July 3 to 9, 2016: Page in Moscow

July 11 or 12, 2016: Page first meets Stefan Halper at a conference in London, though DOJ IG says that was not part of an FBI tasking. Page recruits Halper to join Trump campaign.

July 31, 2016: FBI opens Crossfire Hurricane.

Previous posts

In this post, I explained how John Durham likely gets to intent with Clinesmith even though the former FBI lawyer claims he didn’t intend to mislead about Carter Page’s ties to CIA. In this post, I explained why Durham’s description of Crossfire Hurricane as a “FARA” investigation suggests he may misunderstand very basic aspects of his investigation. And in this post, I noted that Billy Barr’s approval of the timing of this guilty plea undermines Barr and Trump’s complaints about the swifter pace of the Mueller investigation.

How Durham Gets to Intent on False Statements with Kevin Clinesmith

A lot of skeptics of the John Durham investigation have raised questions about the false statements charge against Kevin Clinesmith and intent.

Clinesmith claimed to DOJ IG that he did not intend to mislead when he altered an email saying that Carter Page was a “source” for CIA, but that he did so because he believed Page not to be a recruited asset but instead some kind of sub-source.

The OGC Attorney told us that- his belief that Page had never been a source for the other U.S. government agency, but instead interacted with a source-was based on telephone conversations with the Liaison. He said he recalled the Liaison “saying that [Page] was not a source of theirs,” but rather “incidentally reporting information via a source of theirs” and that they “ended up not actually opening him.”396

[snip]

We asked the OGC Attorney about this instant message exchange with SSA 2 in which he told SSA 2 that Carter Page was never a source. The OGC Attorney stated, “That was my, the impression that I was given, yes.” We also asked why he told SSA 2 in the instant message exchange that the other U.S. government agency “confirmed explicitly that he was never a source.” The OGC Attorney explained that his statement was just “shorthand” for the information provided by the other agency about Page and that he had no particular reason to use the word “explicitly.”

[snip]

We asked the OGC Attorney about the alteration in the email he sent to SSA 2. He initially stated that he was not certain how the alteration occurred, but subsequently acknowledged that he made the change. He also stated it was consistent with his impression of the information that he had been provided by the Liaison.

Clinesmith’s lawyer told a similar story to the NYT, so he either still believes that or has settled on that story to avoid further legal exposure.

Mr. Clinesmith’s argued that he did not change the document in an attempt to cover up the F.B.I.’s mistake. His lawyers argued that he had made the change in good faith because he did not think that Mr. Page had been an actual source for the C.I.A.

Neither Michael Horowitz nor Durham appear to believe this story. Durham quotes the CIA liaison saying that Clinesmith had no basis to formulate that belief.

The Liaison focused on the portion of the exchange in which the 0GC Attorney stated that Page “was never a source.” The Liaison told us that this statement was wrong, as was the 0GC Attorney’s statement that Page “was a U.S. sub-source of a source.” The Liaison said that such an assertion is “directly contradictory to the [documents]” the agency provided to the FBI. The Liaison also said it was inaccurate to describe Carter Page as “like a sub-source of [a digraph]” and to state that the other agency had “confirmed explicitly that [Page] was never a source.” We asked the Liaison whether the Liaison ever told the 0GC Attorney that Page was not a source. The Liaison said that, to the best of the Liaison’s recollection, the Liaison did not and would not have characterized the status of a “[digraph]” without either first reaching out to the other agency’s experts responsible for the underlying reporting, or relying on the proper supporting documentation for an answer. The Liaison stated, “I have no recollection of there being any basis for [the 0GC Attorney] to reach that conclusion, and it is directly contradicted by the documents.”

And Horowitz subtly suggested that Clinesmith formulated this belief without reading the documents that the CIA liaison had told him to refer to to understand Page’s tie with the CIA.

The Liaison responded that same day by providing the OGC Attorney with a list of documents previously provided by the other agency to the FBI mentioning Page’s name, including the August 17 Memorandum.

[snip]

We asked the OGC Attorney if he read the documents identified by the Liaison in her June 15, 2017 email. The OGC Attorney told the OIG that he “didn’t know the details of…the content of the [documents]” and did not think he was involved in reviewing them. He also said he “didn’t have access to the [documents] in the OGC space,” but that the investigative team was provided the list of documents and that they would have been reviewing them.

This is a detail that Durham repeated in the Criminal Information charging Clinesmith.

Later that same day, the OGA Liaison responded by email in which the liaison provided the defendant with a list (but not copies) of OGA documents.

Both seem to suggest that Clinesmith provided no credible explanation for how he came to conclude that Page was not a source, even if he maintains that he believed in good faith that an operational contact was not a source.

Still, the only proof of that is (at least as far as the public record goes) the CIA liaison’s imperfect memory of that conversation. He says, she says. Not a strong case that Clinesmith intentionally changed the email to mislead.

So how, a number of Durham skeptics are rightly asking, will Clinesmith allocute to guilt in changing the document, when he has consistently claimed he did not intend to mislead anyone by changing the email.

That’s not how Durham has formulated this false statements charge.

Clinesmith is not charged with lying about whether Page was a source. Rather, he’s charged under 18 USC 1001(a)(3), which reads:

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—

(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.

That is, he’s not charged with lying, but instead with using a false document that he knew to contain a materially false statement.

The Information explains that,

Specifically, on or about June 19, 2017, the defendant altered the OGA Liaison’s June 15, 2017 email by adding that Individual #1 “was not a source” and then forwarded the email to the SSA, when in truth, and in fact, and as the defendant well knew, the original June 15, 2017 email from the OGA Liaison did not contain the words “not a source.”

This shifts the burden on intent significantly, because while Clinesmith contends he did not intend to mislead, he doesn’t deny altering the email, for whatever purpose. SSA 2 (SSA in the Information) has already testified to the IG (and presumably said the same thing to Durham) that that altered verbiage was material to him.

We discussed the altered email with SSA 2, who told us that the OGC Attorney was the person he relied upon to resolve the issue of whether Carter Page was or had been a source for the other U.S. government agency. SSA 2 told us that the statement inserted into the Liaison’s email-that Page was “not a source”- was the most important part of the email for him. SSA 2 said “if they say [he’s] not a source, then you know we’re good.” SSA 2 also said that if the email from the Liaison had not contained the words “not a source” then, for him, the issue would have remained unresolved, and he would have had to seek further clarification. SSA 2 stated: “If you take out ‘and not a source,’ it’s not wrong, but it doesn’t really answer the question.” He also said that something lesser, such as a verbal statement from the Liaison through the OGC Attorney, would not have resolved the issue for him. SSA 2 also told us it was important to him that the OGC Attorney had first sent the Liaison’s response email to the 01 Attorney, because if they discussed the issue and they have “decided we don’t have to do a footnote that he’s not a source … we’ve resolved this. We’re good to move forward.” He also said that he “would assume that the [OI Attorney]. .. received exactly what [SSA 2] received since it was a forward.”

SSA 2 has testified, then, that Clinesmith’s alteration of the email was material to his understanding of Page’s status; anything less than those words would have led him to include a footnote in the fourth Page application.

While I know a lot of Durham skeptics (including bmaz, who’ll promptly call me and yell at me) think Durham has a problem with allocution here, I think by crafting this under 18 USC 1001(a)(3), Durham avoids those problems. It doesn’t matter why Clinesmith altered the email (whether you believe him or not — and again, I don’t think Durham does). All Clinesmith is charged with is intentionally altering the email, which he has already admitted to.

One more point about intent. The frothy right has falsely claimed Clinesmith newly implicated his colleagues in altering this email. There’s nothing new here. The DOJ IG Report stated that Clinesmith forwarded the email, unaltered, to people who weren’t the affiants on the FISA application.

That same day, the OGC Attorney forwarded the Liaison’s email response to Case Agent 6 and an FBI SSA assigned to the Special Counsel’s Office, without adding any explanation or comment. The SSA responded by telling Case Agent 6 that she would “pull these [documents] for you tomorrow and get you what you need.”

This passage doesn’t get the frothy right where they think it does, either, at least not yet. They forget, for example, that Mueller has testified that he was not involved in the FISA process. And the information about Page’s role with the CIA was important to Mueller’s team for different reasons — most notably because in June 2017, Mueller’s team would be trying to assess what to make of FBI 302s where Page is recorded as equivocating about whether he had told anyone he was Male-1 in the Victor Podobnyy indictment, which would amount to an attempt to deny that he had gone out of his way to maintain contact with Russia even after it became clear those contacts were with intelligence officers.

It’s possible Durham thinks that something these two people did led Clinesmith to start lying about what kind of source Page was. But in addition to working with them, he also immediately told his boss that Page was a subsource–the explanation he has offered since.

The Clinesmith Information Suggests that John Durham Misunderstands His Investigation

Paragraph 2 of the Kevin Clinesmith Criminal Information reads:

On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane into whether individual(s) associated with Donald J. Trump for President Campaign were witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Russian government. By August 16, 2016, the FBI had opened individual cases under the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella on four United States persons including a United States person referred to herein as “Individual 1.”

That paragraph is, at a minimum, deeply dishonest.

But I believe — and four experts I asked on the topic (which does not include Andrew Weissmann, who has since tweeted about this) agree — that it may be something worse. It appears to be evidence that John Durham doesn’t understand his own investigation.

The paragraph is dishonest because it suggests that the investigation into Carter Page arose exclusively out of the Crossfire Hurricane predication. That’s false.

As the DOJ IG Report made clear, the NY Field Office opened an investigation into Page during the spring of 2016 upon discovering that, when he was identified in the indictment of one of the Russians trying to recruit him in 2013, he went to other Russians and apparently tried to reassure them that he had not told the FBI about their efforts (and when interviewed by the FBI, Page repeatedly said sharing non-public economic information with known Russian intelligence officers was a positive for him).

On March 2, 2016, the NYFO CI Agent and SDNY Assistant United States Attorneys interviewed Carter Page in preparation for the trial of one of the indicted Russian intelligence officers. During the interview, Page stated that he knew he was the person referred to as Male-1 in the indictment and further said that he had identified himself as Male-1 to a Russian Minister and various Russian officials at a United Nations event in “the spirit of openness.” The NYFO CI Agent told us she returned to her office after the interview and discussed with her supervisor opening a counterintelligence case on Page based on his statement to Russian officials that he believed he was Male-1 in the indictment and his continued contact with Russian intelligence officers.

The FBI’s NYFO CI squad supervisor (NYFO CI Supervisor) told us she believed she should have opened a counterintelligence case on Carter Page prior to March 2, 2016 based on his continued contacts with Russian intelligence officers; however, she said the squad was preparing for a big trial, and they did not focus on Page until he was interviewed again on March 2. She told us that after the March 2 interview, she called CD’s Counterespionage Section at FBI Headquarters to determine whether Page had any security clearances and to ask for guidance as to what type of investigation to open on Page. 183 On April 1, 2016, the NYFO CI Supervisor received an email from the Counterespionage Section advising her to open a [redacted] investigation on Page.

[snip]

On April 6, 2016, NYFO opened a counterintelligence [redacted] investigation on Carter Page under a code name the FBI assigned to him (NYFO investigation) based on his contacts with Russian intelligence officers and his statement to Russian officials that he was “Male-1” in the SONY indictment. Based on our review of documents in the NYFO case file, as well as our interview of the NYFO CI Agent, there was limited investigative activity in the NYFO investigation between April 6 and the Crossfire Hurricane team’s opening of its investigation of Page on August 10. The NYFO CI Agent told the OIG that the steps she took in the first few months of the case were to observe whether any other intelligence officers contacted Page and to prepare national security letters seeking Carter Page’s cell phone number(s) and residence information. The NYFO CI agent said that she did not use any CHSs to target Page during the NYFO investigation. The NYFO investigation was transferred to the Crossfire Hurricane team on August 10 and became part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

Carter Page was the subject of a legitimate counterintelligence investigation months before Crossfire Hurricane got opened, based off conduct that continued three years after CIA had ended approval for Page as an operational contact, based off conduct with multiple Russians — at least one a known intelligence officer — that Page did not share with the CIA. Carter Page was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation started irrespective of all ties Page had formerly had with the CIA that is the issue at the core of the Clinesmith Information.

By pretending that every investigation into Trump’s flunkies (including the ongoing Money Laundering investigation into Paul Manafort) got opened by Crossfire Hurricane, Durham creates a narrative that is every bit as dishonest as the worst stories about Crossfire Hurricane.

Durham is doing precisely what he is tasked with investigating others for.

But Durham’s mischaracterization of the investigation as a “FARA” investigation is far more troubling. Either he doesn’t know what he’s doing — replicating an error that DOJ IG had to fix in its Carter Page investigation — or he’s deliberately misrepresenting what was a counterintelligence investigation that, at the start, envisioned the possibility that Page was unwittingly being cultivated.

And from this error, paragraph 4 of the Information creates the (again, false) impression that the suspicions that Carter Page might be a willing agent of Russia all came from the Crossfire Hurricane team.

Each of these FISA applications allege there was probable cause that Individual #1 was a knowing agent of a foreign power, specifically Russia.

Again, that’s false! Page told the FBI, repeatedly, that he thought it was a good thing to share non-public information with people he knew to be Russian intelligence officers. He told the FBI that well before Kevin Clinesmith got involved at all. He told the FBI that years after CIA no longer considered him an approved operational contact. That was the basis for investigating him, long before any of the people Durham is investigating got involved.

As I’ve noted, it took DOJ IG eleven days after publishing its report in December before it discovered that it didn’t know what FBI was investigating. After those eleven days, it issued a correction for some (but not all) of the references where it incorrectly portrayed the investigation as limited to FARA.

On page 57, we added the specific provision of the United States Code where the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is codified, and revised a footnote in order to reference prior OIG work examining the Department’s enforcement and administration of FARA.

But there remain incorrect treatments of this nuance, and the IG Report conducted a First Amendment analysis about Carter Page that should have been mooted as soon as he admitted he was sharing information — economic information with no political tie — with people he knew to be Russian intelligence officers.

Still, at least DOJ IG explained the source of confusion: for any investigation involving registering as a foreign agent, the FBI uses the same case file number.

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by CD and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), 22 U.S.C. § 611, et seq., and 18 U.S.C. § 951 (Agents of Foreign Governments). 170 As described in Chapter Two, the AG Guidelines recognize that activities subject to investigation as “threats to the national security” may also involve violations or potential violations of federal criminal laws, or may serve important purposes outside the ambit of normal criminal investigation and prosecution by informing national security decisions. Given such potential overlap in subject matter, neither the AG Guidelines nor the DIOG require the FBI to differently label its activities as criminal investigations, national security investigations, or foreign intelligence collections. Rather, the AG Guidelines state that, where an authorized purpose exists, all of the FBI’s legal authorities are available for deployment in all cases to which they apply . 171

That’s why the EC opening the investigation — which has subsequently been released — calls this a “FARA” investigation; because it’s a bureaucratic detail that in no way circumscribes the scope of the investigation. But the EC opening the investigation into Flynn — and assuredly, the EC opening the investigation into Page, though no one has released that yet — specifically names 18 USC 951 as well.

[See the update below for the evolution of the case ID# 97 that was used with Crossfire Hurricane.]

From the start, this was about more than doing political work for Russians.

People who know how FBI filing systems work, or know how FARA overlaps with 951, or know what the “COUNTERINTELLIGENCE” label appearing before the designation of this as a FARA case, would understand that FARA’s not a description of the actual investigation.

Apparently, Durham and his team (which does not include any National Security Division personnel, at least on the Clinesmith Information) don’t know or don’t care about any of that. His spokesperson did not return a call asking for clarification.

The point is, these were all counterintelligence investigations. As DOJ IG explained, the FBI may believe the investigation focuses on threats to national security and/or it may believe the investigation focuses on potential crimes. As one person I spoke with characterized this error, it’s like not knowing that the wall between intelligence and criminal investigations came down after 9/11.

And yet, Durham — who in December suggested he didn’t believe this investigation that he still treats as a criminal investigation was not properly predicated as a full investigation — appears not to understand that very basic fact about this investigation.

If Durham believes, erroneously, that the FBI opening a criminal investigation into Page into something that overlaps with First Amendment protected activity, it might explain why he hasn’t just closed up shop right now. It may explain why he claimed this was not a properly predicated full investigation. It may explain why he doesn’t understand why FBI continued the investigation based on behavior entirely unrelated to the Steele dossier.

But now Durham has made an assertion that likely arises from a total misunderstanding of what he’s investigating. He has betrayed that his entire investigation appears premised on a misunderstanding.

Update: I’ve fixed a reference to “operational contact,” which I originally had as “operational conduct.”

Update: Per a recently released Mike Flynn file, we know the case ID# for Crossfire Hurricane was 97F-HQ-063661. NARA describes how that case ID # started as a way to codify the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But then in 1950 it also came to include those who had knowledge of espionage, counter-espionage, or sabotage from a foreign country. Likewise, the FBI itself makes it clear that 97 covers both FARA and 18 USC 951. Durham only had to refer to a public FOIA document to understand his error.

Horowitz

DOJ’s Accounting of Its FISA Errors Cannot Be Compared to the Carter Page Report

Last year, Bill Barr adopted the stance that Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s assessment of FISA — in the report on the Carter Page FISA applications — wasn’t strict enough, because it found no evidence that the errors in the applications arose from political bias. Last week, Bill Barr’s DOJ adopted the opposite stance, that DOJ IG was too critical of FISA, finding errors in the FBI process where there were none.

It did so in the second of two filings reviewing the errors that DOJ IG had found in 29 other FISA applications. When DOJ IG released an interim report (MAM) describing those errors in March, it appeared to suggest that the level of error in the Carter Page applications — at least with respect to the Woods Files — was actually lower than what DOJ IG had found in the 25 applications.

Now, DOJ appears to be trying to claim — without basis — that that’s not the case.

Ahead of the release of the actual filing, DOJ and FBI orchestrated a press release last week, announcing that they would tell the court none of the errors identified by DOJ IG invalidated the probable cause finding for the 29 files. Predictably, both the responsible press and the frothy right (in stories that misunderstood the findings of either DOJ IG report and at times made errors about the FISA process), concluded that this review shows that Page’s application was uniquely bad.

Only after the press had jumped on that conclusion did DOJ release the filing (here’s the earlier one and here’s AAG John Demers’ statement in conjunction with last week’s release).

The filing makes it clear that it is impossible to draw any comparison between these findings about the earlier Carter Page ones (or even to declare — as many in the press have — that this filing proves DOJ’s FISA problems aren’t as bad as DOJ IG suggested).

That’s true for three reasons:

  • DOJ IG has not finished the kind of review on any of the 29 files it did for Page, and DOJ is not claiming it did either
  • DOJ used a dramatically different methodology for this Woods review than DOJ IG did for the Page review
  • DOJ effectively disagreed with DOJ IG’s findings for roughly 46% of the errors DOJ IG identified — and it’s not clear they explained to the FISA Court why they did so

Before I explain these, there’s a more important takeaway.

In giving itself a clean bill of health, DOJ judged that it doesn’t matter that a 2016 FISA application claimed that one of their sources accused a person of sympathizing with a particular terrorist organization when in fact the source said the person had become sympathetic to radical Muslim causes. For the purposes of FISA, this is a huge distinction, because a terrorist organization counts as a foreign power for the sake of FISA, but radical Muslim causes do not. It’s the difference between targeting someone as a suspected agent of a foreign power and targeting them for First Amendment protected activities. DOJ said this error didn’t matter because there was so much other derogatory information against the target; whether that’s true or not, it remains the case that DOJ’s self-congratulation nevertheless admits to a key First Amendment problem in one of the applications.

Woods violations are different from significant inaccuracies are different from material inaccuracies are different from probable cause

As I explained in this post, the IG Report on Carter Page found two types of problems: 17 “significant inaccuracies” that were mostly errors of omission (see PDF 12 and 14-15 for a list), and Woods file errors (PDF 460ff) for which an assertion made in the application did not have or match the back-up in the accuracy file that is supposed to prove it. The “significant inaccuracies” are the more serious of the two, but a number of those were overblown and in a few cases, dubious, in the DOJ IG Report.

Both of those categories are different from material misstatements, of which DOJ admitted to a number by the time they withdrew the probable cause claim from the third and fourth, but not the first two, Page applications. Before the conclusion of the DOJ IG Report they had told the court of the following material misstatements:

  • July 12, 2018: Cover stories Papadopoulos gave to informants that FBI accurately assessed in real time as false, statements Bruce Ohr made that (in the slightly misrepresented form included in the DOJ IG Report) call into question Christopher Steele’s motives, admissions that Steele himself had spoken to the press
  • October 25, 2019 and November 27, 2019: Details about the actions of Kevin Clinesmith — first not disclosing and then altering a document to hide Page’s relationship with the CIA that covered some but not all of his willful sharing of non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers

It’s not clear the government specified which aspects of the DOJ IG Report it submitted to Rosemary Collyer in December 2019 it deemed material, but she focused on:

  • Statements made by Steele’s primary sub-source that undermined key claims about Page
  • Page’s denials (some proven true, some of still undetermined veracity) of details in the Steele dossier
  • Steele’s derogatory comments about Sergei Millian

On the scale of severity, the material misstatements are the ones that matter, because they’re the ones that will affect whether someone gets wiretapped or not. But the Woods file errors in the Carter Page report identified by DOJ IG describe just four (arguably, three) details even related to things ultimately deemed material which, in turn, led to the withdrawal of two of the applications. None directly described the core issues that led to the withdrawal of the two applications (though the Page denials in conjunction with the sub-source comments did).

Indeed, one key conclusion of this entire process — one that DOJ, DOJ IG, and FISC have all agreed with — is that the Woods files process is not very useful at finding the more important errors of omission of the kind that were the most serious problems in the Page application.

And that’s important because all three of these reports — the March DOJ IG MAM and the June and July responses to FISA — stem from, and only explicitly claim to address, Woods file errors. In its MAM, DOJ IG described what it called its “initial” review this way:

During this initial review, we have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

For its part, DOJ calls DOJ IG’s report “preliminary” (seemingly ignoring that the IG claimed in that MAM and claims on its website to be continuing this part of what it calls a preliminary part of a larger review of FISA). DOJ’s Office of Intelligence did do materiality reviews of both the errors DOJ IG found and some that it found in the process of compiling these reports (in addition to the CT material misstatement described above, it found what sounds like the omission of exculpatory statements in a CI case).

But all this amounts to the more basic of the two kinds of reviews that DOJ IG did in the Carter Page case.

For these reports, DOJ continued to use the accuracy review methodology it now agrees is inadequate

As noted, all parties now agree that the Woods procedure wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. One reason it wasn’t is because the FBI has always given agents a few weeks notice before they review one of their Woods files, allowing them to scramble to fill out the accuracy file.

But DOJ IG (perfectly reasonably) didn’t give the Crossfire Hurricane team or any of the people involved in the 29 FISA applications it reviewed here that same notice. It conducted its Woods file assessment on what was actually in the accuracy file. In the case of the Carter Page review, they found a placeholder for a 302 that said exactly what DOJ IG faulted FBI for not having evidence for, an observation about how much Stefan Halper has been paid, and publicly available details about Gazprombank, among other true claims that were nevertheless not backed up in the Woods file. It would have been child’s play — but take some work — to get proof of those and most other claims in the file. The Woods file review that DOJ IG did in the Page case — and almost certainly, the review of the 29 files — tested whether the Woods procedures were being adhered to at all, not whether the Woods procedure effectively ensured only documented claims made it into a FISA application.

If you’re going to rely on the Woods procedure as an accuracy tool, that’s what reviews need to do, because otherwise they’re doing nothing to test the accuracy of the reports.

And DOJ now agrees. In its June filing, DOJ committed to changing how it does accuracy reviews starting in September (maybe). Starting then, agents will get no notice of a review before it happens, and the accuracy rate of that no-notice review will be tracked along with the accuracy once an agent is given time to chase down the documentation he didn’t include the first time.

NSD has determined that commencing with accuracy reviews starting after September 30, 2020, it will not inform the FBI field offices undergoing NSD oversight reviews which applications will be subjected to accuracy reviews in advance of those reviews. This date is subject to current operational limitations the coronavirus outbreak is imposing. NSD would not apply this change in practice to accuracy reviews conducted in response to a request to use FISA information in a criminal proceeding, given the need to identify particular information from particular collections that is subject to use. NSD also would not apply this change in practice to completeness reviews ( discussed further below); because of the pre-review coordination that is contemplated for those reviews.

NSD will expect that the relevant FBI field offices have ready, upon NSD’s arrival, the accuracy sub-files for the most recent applications for all FISAs seeking electronic surveillance or physical search. NSD will then, on its arrival, inform the FBI field office of the application(s) that will be subject to an accuracy review. If the case will also be subject to a completeness review, pre-coordination, as detailed below, will be necessary. The Government assesses that implementing this change in practice will encourage case agents in all FISA matters to be more vigilant about applying the accuracy procedures in their day-to-day work.

In addition, although NSD’s accuracy reviews allow NSD to assess individual compliance with the accuracy procedures, NSD’s historical practice has been to allow agents to obtain documentation during a review that may be missing from the accuracy sub-file. NSD only assesses the errors or omissions identified once the agent has been given the opportunity to gather any additional required documentation. While the Government believes that, in order to appropriately assess the accuracy of an application’s content, it should continue to allow agents to gather additional documentation during the accuracy review, it assesses that this historical practice has not allowed for the evaluation of how effective agents have been at complying with the requirement to maintain an accuracy sub-file, complete with all required documentation.

As a result, NSD will tally and report as a part of its accuracy review process all facts for which any documentation, or appropriate documentation, was not a part of the accuracy sub-file at the time the accuracy review commenced.

That said, that’s not how DOJ did these reviews. In fact, John Demers emphasized this fact in his statement claiming victory over these reviews.

In addition, when the OIG found a fact unsupported by a document in the Woods file, the OIG did not give the FBI the opportunity to locate a supporting document for the fact outside the file.

Indeed, that’s not the only thing that DOJ did to help DOJ clean up DOJ’s shitty performance on DOJ IG’s review of their work. After FBI Field Office lawyers got the DOJ IG assessment, they pulled together the existing documentation, then DOJ’s OI worked with agents to fill in what wasn’t there. In fact, DOJ even got an extension on the second report because DOJ and FBI agents were still working through the files, suggesting it took up to three months of work to get the files to where DOJ was willing to tell FISC about them.

In other words, whereas the Crossfire Hurricane team got judged — by Bill Barr’s DOJ — on what was in the Woods file when DOJ IG found it, Bill Barr’s DOJ is judging Bill Barr’s DOJ on what might be in a Woods file after agents have up to three months to look for paperwork to support claims they made as long as six years ago.

DOJ disagreed with DOJ IG’s finding of error about 46% of the time

Finally, DOJ and DOJ IG did not use the same categories of information to track errors on the Woods file reviews, and one of the most common ways they dismissed the import of an error was by saying that DOJ IG was wrong.

The MAM divides the errors it found into three categories: claims not supported by any documentation, claims not corroborated by the supposed back-up, and claims that were inconsistent with the supporting documentation.

[W]e identified facts stated in the FISA application that were: (a) not supported by any documentation in the Woods File, (b) not clearly corroborated by the supporting documentation in the Woods File, or (c) inconsistent with the supporting documentation in the Woods File.

In addition to the two material errors they found, DOJ claims the errors they found fall into five categories (described starting on page 10):

  • Non-material date errors
  • Non-material typographical errors
  • Non-material deviations from the source documentation
  • Non-material misidentified sources of information
  • Non-material facts lacking supporting documentation

But to get to that number, DOJ also weeded out a number of other problems identified by DOJ IG via three other categories of determination reflected in the up to three month back and forth with OI:

  • Claims made that were substantiated by documents added to the file after DOJ IG’s review
  • Claims that, after reviewing additional information, OI “determined that the application accurately stated or described the supporting documentation, or accurately summarized other assertions in the application that were supported by the accuracy subfile”
  • Claims not backed by any document, but for which “the supporting documentation taken as a whole provided support for the fact in the application”

DOJ doesn’t count those instances in its overview — as distinct from individual narratives — of the report (indeed, the scope of added documentation is not qualified at all). And while the DOJ fillings say FBI described that it added documentation to the file in the redacted FBI declaration for FISC, it’s not clear whether it told FISC what it added and how much and where and when it came from (FBI has been known to write 302s long after the fact to document events not otherwise documented in real time).

Here’s what all this looks like in one table (FBI did what is probably a similar table, but it’s classified). Note that DOJ IG used still different categories for the Carter Page review: “Supporting document does not state this fact,” which is probably the same as their “not clearly corroborated” category. In my table, I’ve counted that as a “lacking documentation error.”

There are several takeaways from this table.

First, the numerical discrepancy provides some idea of how many errors DOJ IG found that DOJ made go away either by finding documentation for them, or by deciding that DOJ IG was wrong. DOJ IG said it found an average of 20 errors in the 25 applications it was able to review, or 500 total. DOJ says it found 63 errors in the June report and 138 errors in the July Report, over a total of 29 applications (they did a review of the four files for which DOJ IG was provided with no Woods file, so had 4 more files than DOJ IG).

My numbers are off by 3 from theirs, which might be partly accounted for recurrent errors in a reauthorized application or lack of clarity on DOJ’s narrative. Or maybe like DOJ, I subtracted 48 from 138 and got 91.

Approximately 48 of these 138 non-material errors reflect typographical errors or date discrepancies between an assertion in an application and a source document. Of the remaining 91 non-material errors or unsupported facts, four involve nonmaterial factual assertions that may be accurate, but for which a supporting document could not be located in the FBI’s files; 73 involve non-material deviations between a source document and an application; and 13 involve errors in which the source of an otherwise accurate factual assertion was misidentified.

But my count shows that DOJ simply declared DOJ IG to be wrong 151 times in its assessment that something was an error, with an amazing 35 examples of that in one application, and of which 14 across all applications were instances where DOJ couldn’t find a document to support a claim (not even with three months to look), but instead said the totality of the application supported a claim.

Claiming that the totality of an application supports a claim, while being unable to find documentation for a discrete fact, sure sounds like confirmation bias.

And in the up to three months of review, FBI found documentation to support upwards of 130 claims that originally were not supported in the Woods file. In other words, these weren’t errors of fact — they were just instances of FBI not following the Woods procedure.

We know that if the Crossfire Hurricane team had been measured by the standard DOJ did in these filings, it would have done better than most of these applications (again, only with respect to the Woods file). That’s because, aside from the four claims that rely on intercepted information (which is not public), there is public documentation to support every claim deemed unsupported in the report but three: the one claiming that James Clapper had said that Russia was providing money in addition to the disinformation to help Trump.

The DNI commented that this influence included providing money to particular candidates or providing disinformation.

And the two claiming that Christopher Steele’s reporting had been corroborated, something the DOJ IG Report lays out at length was not true in the terms FBI normally measured. Except, even there, Steele handler Mike Gaeta’s sworn testimony actually said it had been. He described jumping when Steele told him he had information because he was a professional,

And at that time there were a number of instances when his information had borne out, had been corroborated by other sources.

He also provided a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Steele’s reporting was not corroborated in the way DOJ IG measured it in the report: because you could never put Steele on a stand, so his testimony would never be used to prosecute people.

From a criminal perspective and a criminal investigative kind of framework, you know, Christopher Steele and [redacted] were never individuals who were going to be on a witness stand.

In other words, while it appears that DOJ cleaned up many of the errors identified by DOJ IG by finding the documentation to back it over the course of months, the public record makes it clear that Crossfire Hurricane would have been able to clear up even more of the Page Woods file.

The exceptions prove the rule. There are, as my table notes, two or three claims that do not accurately describe what the underlying document says, claiming:

  • That Page never refuted the claims against him (he had, and in many cases, was telling the truth in his refutations)
  • That Steele told the FBI he never shared information with anyone outside his “business associate” [Fusion] and the FBI (he also shared it with State, as other parts of FBI had been told)
  • That in his first FBI interviews Papadopoulos admitted he had met with Australian officials but not that he discussed Russia during those meetings (it’s unclear how accurate this claim is)

Assume the last bullet (used just once) reflects the redacted parts of Papadopoulos’ 302s even though it does match his current statements, that nevertheless leaves you with an error rate on arguably the worst category — misrepresenting your evidence — of 2 or 3 per application. The first two of these are the Woods file errors that turned out to have a tie (a significant one in the first bullet) with the material reasons why some of the files were withdrawn. They’re the two errors in the Woods file that most directly tied to omitted evidence in the application that would lead to their withdrawal.

Of the 29 applications reviewed by DOJ, 12 of them have 3 or more “deviations from the source” material. One has 14 and another has 15.

So on the worst measure that this review actually did measure, the one that on Page’s application tied most directly to reasons to withdraw the application, Page’s application actually was within the norm.

It may well be that when all the reviews are done, DOJ will have proof that Carter Page’s application was an exceptionally bad application. Certainly, the material misstatements may end up being worse.

But the only thing this apples to oranges comparison of the Page methodology and the traditional DOJ methodology has proven is that — as a matter of the Woods file reviews — Bill Barr has used a different standard for Bill Barr’s DOJ than he has with Crossfire Hurricane. And that if the Page file had been treated as all the others were, from a Woods file perspective, it actually wouldn’t look that bad.

It also shows that when Bill Barr’s DOJ wants to continue spying on Americans who don’t happen to be associated with Donald Trump, he’s happy to argue that Michael Horowitz’s very legalistic reviews of the sort that did Andrew McCabe in are wrong.

Updated for clarity.

Task and Countertask: The Interview of Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource

According to the interview report from Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource, the PSS confirmed that he had two sources behind the reporting that Carter Page met with Igor Sechin. He said one of those two sources — whom he described having ties to FSB — told him that Russia was sitting on kompromat against Trump (and Hillary). He described that his source for all the Michael Cohen reporting came from an old friend whom he trusted 100%. Steele’s Primary Subsource even took credit for some of the specific phrases in the Steele dossier — such as the one describing Michael Cohen’s efforts to sweep the Carter Page and Paul Manafort scandals “under the carpet.”

Even the Primary Subsource’s interactions with a person he believed to be Sergei Millian tracked most of the report based off the call.

[PSS] recalls that this 10-15 minute conversation included a general discussion about Trump and the Kremlin, that there was “communication” between the parties, and that it was an ongoing relationship. [PSS] recalls that the individual believed to be [Millian] said that there was an “exchange of information” between Trump and the Kremlin, and that there was “nothing bad about it,” Millian said that some of the information exchange could be good for Russian, and some could be damaging to Trump, but deniable. The individual said that the Kremlin might be of help to get Trump elected, but [PSS] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wikileaks.

The passage shows how badly DOJ IG over-read the interview when it first published the report and affirmatively stated that PSS “had no discussion” or “made no mention at all of” WikiLeaks.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary SubSource] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

To be sure, the provenance of that claimed Millian conversation is an utter shitshow — consisting of a call with someone the Primary Subsource believed, but had no way of confirming, was Millian. But Steele’s Primary Subsource did confirm that most of that report tracked the call, whoever it was from.

Still, you wouldn’t know that the Primary Subsource described the multiple sources behind key allegations in the dossier from the way the DOJ IG Report described what was a raw intelligence report. For example, this passage doesn’t reveal that the Primary Subsource heard details on Page’s trip from people with high level connections, including the meeting with Sechin (remember, the FBI had another source report that he had heard rumors about the Sechin meeting, which probably partly explains why Mueller concluded that Page’s whereabouts in Russia were still uncertain).

A second example provided by the Primary Sub-source was Report 134’s description of a meeting allegedly held between Carter Page and Igor Sechin, the President of Rosneft, a Russian energy conglomerate. 337 Report 134 stated that, according to a “close associate” of Sechin, Sechin offered “PAGE/ TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft” in return for the lifting of sanctions against the company. 338 The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. 339 We reviewed the texts and did not find any discussion of a bribe, whether as an interest in Rosneft itself or a “brokerage. ” 340

The IG Report also repeats uncritically stuff from both the PSS and his sources that is pretty obviously bullshit, such as the claim from the PSS — who had been paid full time by Orbis for years to collect this intelligence — that he didn’t expect his reporting to show up in written reports.

The Primary Subsource also stated that he/she never expected Steele to put the Primary Subsource’s statements in reports or present them as facts. According to WFO Agent 1, the Primary Sub-source said he/she made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that “it was just talk.” WFO Agent 1 said that the Primary Sub-source explained that his/her information came from “word of mouth and hearsay;” “conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers;” and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he/she heard made in “jest.”341 The Primary Sub-source also told WFO Agent 1 that he/she believed that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information to his/her requests.

Or the claim from a subsource who would be the key source of disinformation in the dossier if such disinformation exists that nothing in the dossier was attributable to her.

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

Nor would you know that from the reporting on the interview report of the Primary Subsource, released last night by Lindsey Graham.

Ultimately, the belated assessment of the Supervisory Intel Analyst probably appropriately attributes blame for problems with the dossier to multiple sources; a lot of the problems with this dossier stem from communication breakdowns and exaggerations from multiple people trying to make a buck.

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source.

Let me be very clear: none of this means these allegations are true, nor does this excuse the failures to alert the FISA Court to key problems in the dossier. I was one of the first people to raise doubts about some of the problems with the allegations in the dossier, and I stand by that.

Operational security

What’s more interesting about the interview are the hints of all the ways the dossier could have gone so badly wrong. The interview report describes multiple ways that Russia’s spooks might have found out about the project and fed it with disinformation (the footnotes declassified earlier this year describes that several Russian spooks knew of the project after what would have been the PSS’ first trip to Russia to do the reporting).

Steele’s PSS was an analyst by training that Steele increasingly used in an operational role (including by getting him hired at some kind of consulting company that seems to have served as a kind of cover for his travel to Russia). The arrangement seems to have had spotty operational security. For better and worse, PSS said that he rarely took substantive notes.

[PSS] was asked if he takes notes on the information he is collecting from his sources, or if he keeps any kind of records. He was told by Steele that it is a security risk to take notes; he hasn’t kept notes or electronic records. He occasionally makes scribbles and/or chicken scratch notes here and there, but gives verbal debriefs in [redacted] following his trips [to Russia].

PSS would then share the information with Steele, whom he always briefed alone (making misunderstandings more likely). He had no communications with Steele while in Russia. PSS described that his debriefings with Steele were always at the Orbis office, which meant if Steele himself were surveilled, PSS’ ties to Steele would become obvious.

PSS was originally tasked to investigate Manafort (which he had little success on), at a time when Fusion was still being paid by Paul Singer, meaning this interview seems to confirm, once and for all, that not just Fusion’s reporting, but Steele’s, was initially paid for by a Republican. PSS specified for that reporting he did some of his reporting to Steele via an encrypted app.

But his communications with Steele included many insecure methods. He first met Steele in a Starbucks. Early on, he communicated with him via email and Skype, and Steele would task him, at least in part, via email. He described discussing Page’s trip to Russia with Source 3 on some kind of voice call, possibly a phone, while he was at a public swimming pool, though he also described talking in an opaque way about election interference. Likewise, the most problematic December 13 report was based on a conversation with the same source, which was also a phone call.

In short, while Steele and PSS and PSS’ sources made some efforts to protect their communications from the Russians that surely considered Steele a target, those efforts were inconsistent.

PSS described making three trips to Russia for his election year reporting. On the second trip, he got grilled suspiciously at the border. On his third, “nothing bad happened,” which made PSS suspicious about how perfectly everything had gone.

PSS repeatedly described being uncomfortable with the election year tasking, and he seems to have had suspicions in real time that Russia had taken note of it.

Ties to intelligence

Meanwhile, for all the reports that PSS was “truthful and cooperative,” the interview report describes that he “balked, meandered in the conversation, and did not really answer the question” about whether he used other sources for his election year reporting aside from the six he described to the FBI. And, as laid out in the interview report, it became increasingly clear over the three days of interviews that PSS was not entirely forthcoming about any interactions he had had with Russian intelligence.

This started with his lawyers’ careful caveat at the beginning of the process that PSS did not have any contacts with people he knew to be part of the Russian intelligence services (the interview as a whole was conducted under a proffer).

[PSS] indicated, to his knowledge, he has not had any contacts with the Russian intelligence or security services. [ANALYST NOTE: His attorney emphasized “to his knowledge” during this part of the discussion.]

PSS said he had contact with Russian government officials, but — “as far as he … knew,” not with anyone in SVR, GRU, or FSB.

On day three, however, PSS described a friend (whose experience he drew on for a report on how Russia coerces criminal hackers to work for the intelligence services) who had had been busted for involvement with online pornography and pressured to work with the FSB. The Senior Intel Analyst noted that conflicted with his earlier claim to have no known ties to Russian spooks.

[ANALYST NOTE: This is in contradiction to [PSS’s] statement the first day, at which time he indicated that he did not have any contacts associated with the Russian intelligence and security services.]

Later that same day, PSS seemed to acknowledge that a Russian official and a Russian journalist he interacted with were spooks. The FBI noted,

[ANALYST NOTE: This contradicted [PSS’s] earlier statements regarding having no contact with Russia’s intelligence and security services, and it also contradicted regarding not really knowing if [a Russian official] was actually connected to Russia’s intelligence and security services.]

The EC goes on to describe PSS “brush[ing] aside the idea of being approached by the intelligence and security services” while he was a student.

This squirreliness about his own ties with Russian spooks was probably just self-preservation, an effort to avoid any exposure on 18 USC 951, but it is probably the key issue where the FBI questioned his candor in real time.

Countertasking

Meanwhile, PSS described at least three of his sources — Source 1, Source 2, and Source 3 — in such a way that led the FBI to wonder whether PSS was being tasked by his own sources. S1, for example — who has a close relationship to a Russian intelligence officer (probably FSB) —  always asks PSS to do projects together.

[S1] is always trying to get [PSS] to start projects and make money together — [PSS] related how [S1], like others, is always asking questions like, “Can you get us some projects?” or “Can you get us financing?” or “Let’s do something together dealing with [redacted]!” [PSS] doesn’t consider this as his source “tasking him” but as simply the normal course and scope of networking in these circles. [PSS] did help [S1] with an academic book about [redacted].

And both Source 2 and Source 3 — the sources for some of the more problematic information in the Steele dossier — knew PSS brokered intelligence. Both also discussed brokering information in Russia.

[S3] is one of the individuals who knows that [PSS] works for due diligence and business intelligence. [As an aside at this point, [PSS] insisted that [S2] probably has a better idea about this than does [S3] because [S2] is always trying to monetize his relationship with [PSS]. [PSS] reiterated again to interviewers that [S2] will often pitch money-making ideas or projects — “Let’s work together. I [S2] can try and get [redacted] to answer a question, but I’ll need some money to do it.”] [S3] has an understanding that [PSS] is “connected.” In fact, either [redacted] morning or [redacted] morning, [S3] reached out to [PSS] and asked him for help in [redacted] on how [redacted] living in the United States are viewing the Trump administration. She is asking him [redacted] by the weekend, probably so she can sell it to a friend in Moscow.

And because PSS asked Orbis to help S1 — the guy with close ties to an FSB officer — get a scholarship for language study in the UK, S1 presumably knows what Orbis and who Steele is.

In addition to S1, Source 5 also has ties to Russian intelligence. This showed up in footnote 339, which was partly declassified earlier this year.

This is to be expected, of course. Indeed, the dossier prominently touts the intelligence sourcing of its allegations, as I noted the first day the dossier was published. If the person on whose source network Steele was relying didn’t have ties to spooks, it would be as problematic.

The thing, though, is that it’s certain now that many of the allegations in the dossier are not true or were rumor, particularly virtually all the allegations sourced to Source 3 (the source for all the Michael Cohen reporting), PSS’s childhood friend whom he trusts 100%. That’s true even though generally the reports were sourced to people with at least indirect access to senior level officials.

All the huffing and puffing aside, that should be the takeaway from this. Steele was definitely not collecting this intelligence in optimal fashion, and sharing it with the press made things far worse. But in January 2017, it looked like raw intelligence, of varying quality, which is precisely what it was billed at. Yet, well before any pitches Steele made to the press, it seems some really well-connected people in Russia were feeding Steele’s PSS information that distracted from the real events going on and focused it elsewhere.

Lindsey Graham Provides Yet More Proof that Peter Strzok Didn’t Have It In for Trump

Lindsey Graham just released two more documents that don’t show what [his personally implicated staffer Barbara Ledeen] claims they show.

The more important is the Electronic Communication memorializing FBI’s 3-day interview with Christopher Steele’s primary subsource for the dossier. It’ll take me much of tomorrow to write it up, but suffice it to say that, as an utterly committed Steele skeptic, the EC is actually far more supportive of the dossier than I thought it’d be or than the DOJ IG Report claimed it was. Though it also provides tons of details of how it might have gone haywire, if it did.

More briefly, Lindsey also released an annotation Peter Strzok did (probably as part of his job hunting down leaks) of the February 14, 2017 NYT story alleging Trump’s flunkies had close ties with Russian intelligence.

The annotation shows that Strozk found multiple problems with the NYT story. Strozk’s corrections explain that,

  • None of Trump’s flunkies were known to have ties directly with Russian intelligence but:
    • While Carter Page had extensive ties with SVR, that wasn’t during his time on the campaign
    • At least one of Paul Manafort’s contacts had contact with Russian intelligence
    • Sergey Kislyak had contact with three people — Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions, and one other person (probably JD Gordon)
  • The FBI didn’t have intercepts on people; while it had given names — that explicitly include Manafort’s Ukrainian colleagues — to CIA and NSA, but did not ask for close scrutiny of them
  • The counterintelligence case in which Manafort was a subject was not opened until 2016, although FBI may have had an earlier kleptocracy investigation earlier
  • In February 2017, the FBI did not have an investigation into Roger Stone
  • While Christopher Steele might have credibility, he didn’t have much insight into the reliability of his subsources

Strzok also inadvertently revealed (by debunking claims in the story) that by February 2017, the FBI had sent out call log and credit report NSLs on Manafort, Page, and Flynn, but hadn’t gotten many of those back, and had not gotten detailed banking records. The investigation was barely begun in February 2017.

To be fair, these details were largely known, though the specificity about the NSLs is not only welcome, but unprecedented and unnecessary.

Ultimately, though, this is yet another piece of evidence — like Strzok’s observations that Flynn didn’t betray he was lying and his judgment that the Russian investigation would amount to little — that Strzok didn’t have it in for Trump or his flunkies, but instead assessed the case in real time.

Nevertheless, Strzok remains the big villain in this story.

Update: I inadvertently left off the Steele judgment above.

Update: Strzok’s Steele judgment actually shows up in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

Following the January interview with the Primary Sub-source, on February 15, 2017, Strzok forwarded by email to Priestap and others a news article referencing the Steele election reporting; Strzok commented that “recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal [Steele] may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub-source network.”

The IG did not, however, note that this is one of several moments where Strzok clearly expressed skepticism, no matter his views about Trump, nor did it describe the other critiques he made.

Judge Reggie Walton Has Questions about the Non-Stone Redactions in the Mueller Report

Judge Reggie Walton appears to have questions about the non-Roger Stone redactions in the Mueller Report — but we won’t learn what they are for another six weeks or more.

I say that because of two orders he has recently issued in the BuzzFeed/EPIC FOIA lawsuit to liberate the document. Back in May, the plaintiffs pointed to a number of developments in the Roger Stone case, arguing that DOJ can no longer rely on any of the FOIA exemptions previously used to hide such information.

First, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) may no longer assert that it is prohibited by Judge Jackson’s order from disclosing additional material from the Mueller Report pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), as that order has now been lifted. 11.

Second, because the DOJ has disclosed extensive new material concerning its investigation of Mr. Stone—in addition to the new material already disclosed by the DOJ during Mr. Stone’s trial—the DOJ may no longer withhold that same information contained in the Mueller Report. See Mobley v. CIA, 806 F.3d 568, 583 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Fitzgibbon v. CIA, 911 F.2d 755, 765 (D.C. Cir. 1990)) (“[W]hen information has been ‘officially acknowledged,’ its disclosure may be compelled even over an agency’s otherwise valid exemption claim.”). Plaintiffs are thus entitled to any such material under the FOIA.

Third, the DOJ’s Exemption 7(A) claims predicated on the Stone trial are moot. Exemption 7(A) applies only to records compiled for law enforcement purposes, the disclosure of which “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). “[A] law enforcement agency invoking the exception [must] show that the material withheld ‘relates to a concrete prospective law enforcement proceeding.’” Juarez v. DOJ, 518 F.3d 54, 58 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Bevis v. Dep’t of State, 801 F.2d 1386, 1389 (D.C. Cir. 1986)) (emphasis added). Notably, disclosure “cannot interfere with parts of the enforcement proceeding already concluded.” CREW v. DOJ, 746 F.3d 1082, 1097 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting North v. Walsh, 881 F.2d 1088, 1100 (D.C. Cir. 1989)).

In response, last week, Walton ordered DOJ to file a response by this Friday.

Upon consideration of the plaintiffs’ 119 Notice of Factual Developments Relevant to Pending Motions, it is hereby ORDERED that, on or before June 12, 2020, the United States Department of Justice shall file its response to the plaintiffs’ notice.

DOJ’s response will be interesting, given that, in May, DOJ withheld information from Stone’s warrants partly for privacy reasons (protecting Ted Malloch’s privacy, among others), and partly because of pending investigations. The latter material actually appears to pertain to things that don’t appear in the Mueller Report, however, so any 7A exemptions that DOJ invokes will be of some interest.

But, particularly given the fact that DOJ has not yet responded to that order yet, it suggests that an order Walton issued yesterday, delaying the public hearing on the lawsuit and instead scheduling an ex parte hearing with the government on July 20 — possibly extending to July 21 and 22 (!!!) — pertains to other matters.

Having reviewed the unredacted version of the Mueller Report, the Court cannot assess the merits of certain redactions without further representations from the Department. However, because the Court must discuss the substance of the redactions with the Department, and because such a discussion cannot occur remotely due to the lack of a secure connection between the Court and the Department necessary to avoid disclosure of the redacted information, and in light of Chief Judge Howell’s May 26, 2020 Order, In re: Further Extension of Postponed Court Proceedings in Standing Order 20-9 and Limiting Court Operations in Exigent Circumstances Created by the COVID-19 Pandemic, Standing Order No. 20-29 (BAH), it is hereby

ORDERED that the status conference currently scheduled for June 18, 2020, is VACATED.

It is further ORDERED that, on July 20, 2020, at 9:30 a.m.,1 the Department shall appear before the Court for an ex parte hearing to address the Court’s questions regarding certain redactions of the Mueller Report.2

1 The Department shall be prepared to appear before the Court for a continuation of the July 20, 2020 ex parte hearing on July 21, 2020, and July 22, 2020, if necessary.

2 The Court will advise the Department as to the topics that the Department should be prepared to discuss at the July 20, 2020 ex parte hearing at a later date.

Curiously, Walton isn’t even asking the government to brief these redactions; he’s asking for someone to come into his courtroom and discuss it, possibly for an extended discussion.

The least interesting topic in question might pertain to the significant redactions of the Internet Research Agency materials, which were redacted in significant part for national security reasons rather than to protect the integrity of an upcoming trial, as they were for Stone. I doubt Walton will have much interest in unsealing that stuff anyway, because he is generally quite sober about protecting national security information.

But there are other things of interest that Walton would want to preserve secrecy on until he tests DOJ’s claims about them. The most obvious are the two discussions apiece about how Trump père and fils avoided testifying; those discussions are currently hidden under a grand jury redaction, one that is arguably inconsistent with other discussions of grand jury actions (including, most recently, a bunch of 302s describing the FBI serving witnesses with subpoenas). We, as voters, should know the details of how Trump dodged a Mueller interview before November 3, and these redactions have always been one of the obviously abusive redactions.

Similarly, DOJ redacted at least two names from the Report’s description of an October 20 scope memo (which the frothy right has gotten disinterested in obtaining), one of which is Don Jr.

DOJ has claimed these privacy redactions are of tertiary third parties, which — given that the second redaction is almost certainly the failson — is clearly false in this instance.

Similarly, given KT McFarland’s public claims that she was caught in a perjury trap, any passage that explains why she wasn’t charged with false statements (which might be the redaction on page 194 of the first part of the report) might be justifiably released.

But there are two redactions that — given recent events — are far more interesting.

There’s a sentence describing Mueller’s decision not to charge Carter Page as an agent of Russia. While, in Page’s case, I might otherwise support leaving this redacted, DOJ has declassified far more sensitive information than what must appear here in response to GOP demands.

The redacted sentence likely summarizes what the fully declassified FISA applications reveal: which is that there was a great deal of evidence that Page was willing to work with known Russian intelligence officers, including sharing non-public information on US businesses, as well as evidence he either lied or had gotten so unbalanced by 2017 that he didn’t tell the truth about those contacts as they they continued to be investigated. Because the FISA application was a case of selective declassification, this passage might be justifiably unsealed to prevent that kind of selective release.

Finally, in the that same section of the report discussing why Mueller didn’t charge people with violations of FARA or 18 USC 951, there’s a footnote about an ongoing investigation that must pertain to Mike Flynn.

My guess is this pertains to a counterintelligence investigation into the ways Russia was cultivating Flynn, something the transcripts of his calls with Sergey Kislyak make clear was happening (which is to say, it doesn’t necessarily say Flynn was at risk of prosecution but that FBI had a duty to investigate). Mueller said FBI was still investigating counterintelligence issues pertaining to Flynn during his July 2019 congressional testimony, which would be consistent with the b7A redaction here.

In any case, given DOJ’s decision to flip-flop on Flynn’s prosecution, any indication there was an ongoing investigation pertaining to Flynn 15 months after he pled guilty for lying would sharply undercut DOJ efforts to exonerate Flynn. And given DOJ’s declassification of so much else pertaining to Flynn — up to and including some, but not all, of the FISA intercepts collecting his calls with Russia — it would be hard for them to argue that this passage could not be declassified.

Unless, of course, the investigation remains ongoing.

Which makes Walton’s apparent delay regarding what topics he expects DOJ to cover next month rather interesting. By July 20, when this ex parte hearing will take place, the DC Circuit may well have decided the Mandamus petition targeting Judge Emmet Sullivan (though, particularly given Noel Francisco’s inclusion on DOJ’s brief on the topic, I expect it to be appealed no matter the decision). And even though he has read the entire report, Walton’s order deferred instructing DOJ about what they would have to discuss until “a later date,” meaning it’s unlikely he issued a sealed order doing so yesterday. At the very least, Walton may delay until he gets DOJ’s response on the Stone materials on Friday.

If there really is an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, I would expect (and always have expected) Walton to leave this redaction untouched. But if Billy Barr’s DOJ squelched that investigation, too, I imagine Walton would make the footnote and any discussions about it public.

Once upon a time, DOJ might have gotten by with just the Stone redactions and the abusive redactions protecting Trump and his son. But in recent months, DOJ has done plenty to justify more broadly releasing some of this information.

Sadly, that won’t happen for over a month yet.

In a Bid to Remain Relevant, PCLOB Will Treat Carter Page as a Suspected Terrorist

It takes until paragraph 19 of this story on the decision by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to examine Title I FISA processes before it explains why the decision is such an obvious political game.

[PCLOB Chair Adam] Klein said the board plans only to examine counterterrorism matters, which would preclude any review of wiretap applications for Page or any investigation by the FBI of the Trump campaign.

PCLOB’s mandate is limited to counterterrorism. There were efforts to expand its mandate to include counterintelligence as part of Section 215 reauthorization that failed, so Congress has expressed an intent in recent days to limit PCLOB’s mandate to counterterrorism. Which means PCLOB has no mandate to investigate the Carter Page investigation.

But in spite of that limit on PCLOB’s mandate, PCLOB’s Republicans have decided to examine what the story calls DOJ IG’s “findings.”

Adam I. Klein, the chairman of the privacy board, said that the issues Horowitz surfaced were precisely those that the board was established to examine.

“This is at the heartland of our jurisdiction,” said Klein, a lawyer and prominent researcher of FISA and other national security laws. “The IG found systemic compliance problems. At a minimum, we have a duty to inform ourselves.”

Let’s review the posture of DOJ IG’s investigations into FISA-related functions. DOJ IG did an investigation into the Carter Page FISA applications, and found significant problems, both Woods Procedure compliance problems and lack of disclosure of material facts to the court. The way in which FBI first validated and then fact-checked an informant — long cited as a problem by defense attorneys representing counterterrorism defendants — was among the most egregious problems in the Page applications.

The Page investigation is the only finished investigation. That investigation is into a counterintelligence case, and therefore well outside of PCLOB’s mandate.

Based on the findings in that report, DOJ IG set out on an investigation into whether the problems evinced in the Page report are more systematic. As originally scoped, however, that review focused on whether the Woods Procedures–failures in which were not the most urgent or egregious aspect of the Carter Page problems–works. After three months, DOJ IG decided to issue a Management Advisor Memorandum to formally reveal its interim results that show that the Woods Procedures, and the National Security Division’s associated Accuracy Reviews, don’t work.

As a result of these findings, in December 2019, my office initiated an audit to examine more broadly the FBI’s execution of, and compliance with, its Woods Procedures relating to U.S. Persons covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019. As an initial step in our audit, over the past 2 months, we visited 8 FBI field offices of varying sizes and reviewed a judgmentally selected sample of 29 applications relating to U.S. Persons and involving both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. This sample was selected from a dataset provided by the FBI that contained more than 700 applications relating to U.S. Persons submitted by those 8 field offices over a 5-year period. The proportion of counterintelligence and counterterrorism applications within our sample roughly models the ratio of the case types within that total of FBI FISA applications. Our initial review of these applications has consisted solely of determining whether the contents of the FBI’s Woods File supported statements of fact in the associated FISA application; our review did not seek to determine whether support existed elsewhere for the factual assertion in the FISA application (such as in the case file), or if relevant information had been omitted from the application. For all of the FISA applications that we have reviewed to date, the period of courtauthorized surveillance had been completed and no such surveillance was active at the time of our review.

[snip]

As a result of our audit work to date and as described below, we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy.

[snip]

During this initial review, we have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

The statistics provided in the MAM reveal that, with respect to Woods Procedures, Carter Page’s FISA applications were actually far better than all but one of the applications DOJ IG reviewed.

But the MAM is not a finished review and, aside from a passing reference to FBI’s failures to document informant reliability, hasn’t focused on issues known to be problematic in FISA applications targeting counterterrorism suspects.

Meanwhile, PCLOB plans to use its mandate to review counterterrorism programs to demand a list of prominent individuals targeted under FISA for the period of the DOJ IG review, 2015 to 2019.

The board will also request the number of investigations touching on prominent individuals in which the FBI sought an order from the surveillance court between 2015 and 2019. Those investigations, which the bureau defines as sensitive investigative matters, may include public officials or candidates for office, according to Justice Department guidelines.

As far as is public there have been zero prominent individuals known to be targeted under FISA. Carter Page — an unknown advisor with no institutional affiliation in DC — certainly didn’t qualify when he was targeted. (I can think of one person investigated as part of the Russian investigation who is a key influence peddler in DC who might have been targeted, but the person is not nationally known outside of political circles.)

There have, however, been key leaders in the Muslim community — who are virtually unknown outside of the Muslim or civil liberties community — targeted under FISA, per one of the most important reports to come out of the Snowden leaks (though before the period of PCLOB’s review).

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

PCLOB probably can’t access this list because its members all have clearance, but this is where you’d start to understand the First Amendment impact of FISA on counterterrorism subjects, not by asking for a list of all the prominent people more likely to be targeted under counterintelligence.

Don’t get me wrong. If this PCLOB review were credible, I’d welcome it. If PCLOB’s mandate actually matched the scope of FISA, it could be a welcome new check on the authority.

But, as I noted in a post on some of the efforts to reform FISA legislatively, because PCLOB’s mandate does not cover some of the FISA practices of most concern, it is useless as an oversight body.

One would imagine that Carter Page, whom the Republicans think was targeted because he volunteered for the Trump campaign, would be among the people bill drafters had in mind for First Amendment protect activities.

Except he wouldn’t be included, for two reasons.

First, PCLOB’s mandate is limited to counterterrorism programs. That didn’t matter for their very good Section 215 report, because they were examining only the CDR program, which itself was limited to terrorism (and Iran).

But it did matter for the Section 702 report. In fact, PCLOB ignored some of the most problematic practices under Section 702, conducted under the guise of cybersecurity, because that’s outside their mandate! It also didn’t explore the impact of NSA’s too-broad definition of targeting under the Foreign Government certificate.

In this case, unless you expand the scope of PCLOB, then this report would only report on the targets of terrorism FISA activity, not foreign intelligence FISA activity, and so not people like Carter Page.

I was told by a key congressional negotiator that expanding PCLOB’s mandate to match FISA (that is, to include counterintelligence and foreign cyber investigations) would kill the bill. Mind you, the bill died overnight anyway, in part because Trump and his supporters want something that more directly feels like a response to the Carter Page applications.

Particularly given that FISA remains under active legislative debate, then, PCLOB would be much better served by arguing that their mandate needs to be expanded to cover all national security investigations, citing their inability to review what happened to Carter Page without overstepping their mandate.

Instead, they appear intent on overstepping their mandate.

Update: In a response to some questions from PCLOB’s press person, it appears PCLOB may misunderstand the results of DOJ IG’s interim findings. PCLOB appears to believe that DOJ IG has found material problems with the 29 files it reviewed, rather than Woods Procedures violations that it has not yet determined to be material.

As you’re aware, the most recent DoJ IG examination found problems with all 29 FISA applications it examined, many of which were for counterterrorism. Of these 29, the Board has requested only those applications that were related to counterterrorism.

The IG’s findings are troubling and suggest systematic shortcomings, with serious implications for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.

It also appears to believe the FISA mandate to involve PCLOB would permit PCLOB to meaningfully address First Amendment issues even though it could not address many of the problems disproportionately affecting Americans.

Finally, as you may know, the House draft of the USA FREEDOM Act reauthorization bill includes a provision that directs the Board to examine whether activities protected under the First Amendment have any impact on the FISA process.  Should the bill ultimately pass Congress and be signed into law, the forum would help inform Board members on that project as well.