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How Twelve Years of Warning and Six Years of Plodding Reform Finally Forced FBI to Do Minimal FISA Oversight

Earlier this week, the government released the reauthorization package for the 2018 Section 702 certificates of FISA. With the release, they disclosed significant legal fights about the way FBI was doing queries on raw data, what we often call “back door searches.” Those fights are, rightly, being portrayed as Fourth Amendment abuses. But they are, also, the result of the FISA Court finally discovering in 2018, after 11 years, that back door searches work like some of us have been saying they do all along, a discovery that came about because of procedural changes in the interim.

As such, I think this is wrong to consider “FISA abuse” (and I say that as someone who was very likely personally affected by the practices in question). It was, instead, a case where the court discovered that FBI using 702 as it had been permitted to use it by FISC was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

As such, this package reflects a number of things:

  • A condemnation of how the government has been using 702 (and its predecessor PAA) for 12 years
  • A (partial — but thus far by far the most significant one) success of the new oversight mechanisms put in place post-Snowden
  • An opportunity to reform FISA — and FBI — more systematically

This post will explain what happened from a FISA standpoint. A follow-up post will explain why this should lead to questions about FBI practices more generally.

The background

This opinion came about because every year the government must obtain new certificates for its 702 collection, the collection “targeted” at foreigners overseas that is, nevertheless, designed to collect content on how those foreigners are interacting with Americans. Last we had public data, there were three certificates: counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and “foreign government,” which is a too-broadly scoped counterintelligence function. As part of that yearly process, the government must get FISC approval to any changes to its certificates, which are a package of rules on how they will use Section 702. In addition, the court conducts a general review of all the violations reported over the previous year.

Originally, those certificates included proposed targeting (governing who you can target) and minimization (governing what you can do once you start collecting) procedures; last year was the first year the agencies were required to submit querying procedures governing the way agencies (to include NSA, CIA, National Counterterrorism Center, and FBI) access raw data using US person identifiers. The submission of those new querying procedures are what led to the court’s discovery that FBI’s practices violated the Fourth Amendment.

In the years leading up to the 2018 certification, the following happened:

  • In 2013, Edward Snowden’s leaks made it clear that those of us raising concerns about Section 702 minimization since 2007 were correct
  • In 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (which had become operational for the first time in its existence almost simultaneously with Snowden’s leaks) recommended that CIA and FBI have to explain why they were querying US person content in raw data
  • In 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, the most successful reform of which reflected Congress’ intent that the FISA Court start consulting amicus curiae when considering novel legal questions
  • In 2015, amicus Amy Jeffress (who admitted she didn’t know much about 702 when first consulted) raised questions about how queries were conducted, only to have the court make minimal changes to current practice — in part, by not considering what an FBI assessment was
  • In the 2017 opinion authorizing that year’s 702 package, Rosemary Collyer approved an expansion of back door searches without — as Congress intended — appointing an amicus to help her understand the ways the legal solution the government implemented didn’t do what she believed it did; that brought some (though not nearly enough) attention to whether FISC was fulfilling the intent of Congress on amici
  • In the 2017 Reauthorization (which was actually approved in early 2018), Congress newly required agencies accessing raw data to submit querying procedures along with their targeting and minimization procedures in the annual certification process, effectively codifying the record-keeping suggestion PCLOB had made over two years earlier

When reviewing the reauthorization application submitted in March 2018, Judge James Boasberg considered that new 2017 requirement a novel legal question, so appointed Jonathan Cederbaum and Amy Jeffress, the latter of whom also added John Cella, to the amicus team. By appointing those amici to review the querying procedures, Boasberg operationalized five years of reforms, which led him to discover that practices that had been in place for over a decade violated the Fourth Amendment.

When the agencies submitted their querying procedures in March 2018, all of them except FBI complied with the demand to track and explain the foreign intelligence purpose for US person queries separately. FBI, by contrast, said they already kept records of all their queries, covering both US persons and non-US persons, so they didn’t have to make a change. One justification it offered for not keeping US person-specific records as required by the law is that Congress exempted it from the reporting requirements it imposed on other agencies in 2015, even though FBI admitted that it was supposed to keep queries not just for the public reports from which they argued they were exempted, but also for the periodical reviews that DOJ and ODNI make of its queries for oversight purposes. FBI Director Christopher Wray then submitted a supplemental declaration, offering not to fix the technical limitations they built into their repositories, but arguing that complying with the law via other means would have adverse consequences, such as diverting investigative resources. Amici Cedarbaum and Amy Jeffress challenged that interpretation, and Judge James Boasberg agreed.

The FBI’s querying violations

It didn’t help FBI that in the months leading up to this dispute, FBI had reported six major violations to FISC involving US person queries. While the description of those are heavily redacted, they appear to be:

  • March 24-27, 2017: The querying of 70K facilities “associated with” persons who had access to the FBI’s facilities and systems. FBI General Counsel (then run by Jim Baker, who had had these fights in the past) warned against the query, but FBI did it anyway, though did not access the communications. This was likely either a leak or a counterintelligence investigation and appears to have been discovered in a review of existing Insider Threat queries.
  • December 1, 2017: FBI conducted queries on 6,800 social security numbers.
  • December 7-11, 2017, the same entity at FBI also queried 1,600 queries on certain identifiers, though claimed they didn’t mean to access raw data.
  • February 5 and 23, 2018: FBI did approximately 30 queries of potential sources.
  • February 21, 2018: FBI did 45 queries on people being vetted as sources.
  • Before April 13, 2018: an unspecified FBI unit queried FISA acquired metadata using 57,000 identifiers of people who work in some place.

Note, these queries all took place under Trump, and most of them took place under Trump’s hand-picked FBI Director. Contrary to what some Trump apologists have said about this opinion, it is not about Obama abuse (though it reflects practices that likely occurred under him and George Bush, as well).

These violations made it clear that Congress’ mandate for better record-keeping was merited. Boasberg also used them to prove that existing procedures did not prevent minimization procedure violations because they had not in these instances.

As he was reviewing the violations, Boasberg discovered problems in the oversight of 702 that I had noted before, based off my review of heavily redacted Semiannual Reports (which means they should have been readily apparent to everyone who had direct access to the unredacted reports). For example, Judge Boasberg noted how few of FBI’s queries actually get reviewed during oversight reviews (something I’ve pointed out repeatedly, and which 702 boosters have never acknowledged the public proof of).

As noted above, in 2017 the FBI conducted over three million queries of FISA-acquired information on just one system, [redacted]. See Supplemental FBI Declaration at 6. In contrast, during 2017 NSD conducted oversight of approximately 63,000 queries in [redacted] and 274,000 queries in an FBI system [redacted]. See Gov’t Response at 36.

Personnel from the Office of Intelligence (OI) within the Department of Justice’s National Security Division (NSD) visit about half of the FBI’s field offices for oversight purposes in a given year. Id at 35 & n 42. Moreover OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently, so those offices [redacted] are visited annually, id at 35 n. 42, which necessitates that some other offices go for periods of two years or more between oversight visits. The intervals of time between oversight visits at a given location may contribute to lengthy delays in detecting querying violations and reporting them to the FISC. See, e.g., Jan. 18, 2019, Notice [redacted] had been conducting improper queries in a training context since 2011, but the practice was not discovered until 2017).

He also noted that the records on such queries don’t require contemporaneous explanation from the Agent making the query, meaning any review of them will not find problems.

The FBI does not even record whether a query is intended to return foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime. See July 13, 2018, Proposed Tr. at 14 (DOJ personnel “try to figure out” from FBI query records which queries were run for evidence of crime purposes). DOJ personnel ask the relevant FBI personnel to recall and articulate the bases for selected queries. Sometimes the FBI personnel report they cannot remember. See July 9, 2018, Notice.

Again, I noted this in the past.

In short, as Boasberg was considering Wray’s claim that the FBI didn’t need the record-keeping mandated by Congress, he was discovering that, in fact, FBI needs better oversight of 702 (something that should have been clear to everyone involved, but no one ever listens to my warnings).

FISC rules the querying procedures do not comply with the law or Fourth Amendment

In response to Boasberg’s demand, FBI made several efforts to provide solutions that were not really solutions.

The FBI’s first response to FISC’s objections was to require General Counsel approval before accessing the result of any “bulk” queries like the query that affected 70K people — what it calls “categorical batch queries.”

Queries that are in fact reasonably likely to return foreign-intelligence information are responsive the government’s need to obtain and produce foreign-intelligence information, and ultimately to disseminate such information when warranted. For that reason, queries that comply with the querying standard comport with § 1801 (h), even insofar as they result in the examination of the contents of private communications to or from U.S. persons. On the other hand, queries that lack a sufficient basis are not reasonably related to foreign intelligence needs and any resulting intrusion on U.S. persons’ privacy lacks any justification recognized by§ 1801 (h)(l). Because the FBI procedures, as implemented, have involved a large number of unjustified queries conducted to retrieve information about U.S. persons, they are not reasonably designed, in light of the purpose and technique of Section 702 acquisitions, to minimize the retention and prohibit the dissemination of private U.S. person information.

But Boasberg was unimpressed with that because the people who’d need to consult with counsel would be the most likely not to know they did need to do so.

He also objected to FBI’s attempt to give itself permission to use such queries at the preliminary investigation phase (before then, FBI was doing queries at the assessment stage).

The FBI may open a preliminary investigation with even less of a factual predicate: “on the basis of information or an allegation indicating the existence of a circumstance” described in paragraph a. orb. above. Id. § II.B.4.a.i at 21 (emphasis added). A query using identifiers for persons known to have had contact with any subject of a full or preliminary investigation would not require attorney approval under § IV.A.3, regardless of the factual basis for opening the investigation or how it has progressed since then.

Boasberg’s Fourth Amendment analysis was fairly cautious. Whereas amici pushed for him to treat the queries as separate Fourth Amendment events, on top of the acquisition (which would have had broad ramifications both within FISA practice and outside of it), he instead interpreted the new language in 702 to expand the statutory protection under queries, without finding queries of already collected data a separate Fourth Amendment event.

Similarly, both Boasberg and the amici ultimately didn’t push for a written national security justification in advance of an actual FISA search. Rather, they argued FBI had to formulate such a justification before accessing the query returns (in reality, many of these queries are automated, so it’d be practically impossible to do justifications before the fact).

Boasberg nevertheless required the FBI to at least require foreign intelligence justifications for queries before an FBI employee accessed the results of queries.

The FBI was not happy. Having been told they have to comply with the clear letter of the law, they appealed to the FISA Court of Review, adding apparently new arguments that fulfilling the requirement would not help oversight and that the criminal search requirements were proof that Congress didn’t intend them to comply with the other requirements of the law. Like Boasberg before them, FISCR (in a per curium opinion from the three FISCR judges, José Cabranes, Richard Tallman, and David Sentelle) found that FBI really did need to comply with the clear letter of the law.

The FBI chose not to appeal from there (for reasons that go beyond this dispute, I suspect, as I’ll show in a follow-up). So by sometime in December, they will start tracking their backdoor searches.

FBI tried, but failed, to avoid implementing a tool that will help us learn what we’ve been asking

Here’s the remarkable thing about this. Something like this has been coming for two years, and FBI is only now beginning to comply with the requirement. That’s probably not surprising. Neither the Director of National Intelligence (which treated its intelligence oversight of FBI differently than it did CIA or NSA) nor Congress had demanded that FBI, which can have the most direct impact on someone’s life, adhere to the same standards of oversight that CIA and NSA (and an increasing number of other agencies) do.

Nevertheless, 12 years after this system was first moved under FISA (notably, two key Trump players, White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg and National Security Division AAG John Demers were involved in the original passage), we’re only now going to start getting real information about the impact on Americans, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. For the first time,

  • We will learn how many queries are done (the FISC opinion revealed that just one FBI system handles 3.1 million queries a year, though that covers both US and non US person queries)
  • We will learn that there are more hits on US persons than previously portrayed, which leads to those US persons to being investigated for national security or — worse — coerced to become national security informants
  • We will learn (even more than we already learned from the two reported queries that this pertained to vetting informants) the degree to which back door searches serve not to find people who are implicated in national security crimes, but instead, people who might be coerced to help the FBI find people who are involved in national security crimes
  • We will learn that the oversight has been inadequate
  • We will finally be able to measure disproportionate impact on Chinese-American, Arab, Iranian, South Asian, and Muslim communities
  • DOJ will be forced to give far more defendants 702 notice

Irrespective of whether back door searches are themselves a Fourth Amendment violation (which we will only now obtain the data to discuss), the other thing this opinion shows is that for twelve years, FISA boosters have been dismissing the concerns those of us who follow closely have raised (and there are multiple other topics not addressed here). And now, after more than a decade, after a big fight from FBI, we’re finally beginning to put the measures in place to show that those concerns were merited all along.

DOJ Should Just Give Andrew McCabe What He Wants, But They Won’t

185 paragraphs into his complaint against Bill Barr, Christopher Wray, and DOJ and FBI for unlawful termination, Andrew McCabe makes what is probably an untrue statement.

Had Plaintiff pledged his personal loyalty to Trump, voted for Trump in the 2016 election (or falsely told Trump that he had), not worn a T-shirt supporting Dr. McCabe’s campaign, and not been married to Dr. McCabe, Defendants would not have reached the decisions to demote him and terminate him, nor would they have proceeded on the accelerated schedule that deprived him of his full vested pension and related benefits.

The statement is true, insofar as they’re the issues that Trump bitched about for the year leading up to McCabe’s firing in part to discredit the Mueller investigation. They’re true because Trump has claimed they’re true, so there will be abundant evidence to submit to prove they are true. But they’re not true insofar as the Russian investigation is what led Trump to hunt down his perceived enemies, and the DOJ IG investigation is the claimed reason for McCabe’s firing.

But the claims nevertheless assert the principle that FBI employees can’t be forced to take a loyalty oath. And as such, the lawsuit seeks to uphold a principle at the core of our judicial system.

That’s not the only complaint McCabe makes. Along another First Amendment claim, he also makes two due process claims and one mandamus claim that gets into the legal fine print of the way that, in response to pressure from Trump, top DOJ officials fast-tracked an effort to get rid of McCabe.

The legal details are actually of real interest, given that Wray, then Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools, and Jeff Sessions, among others, bolloxed the firing of McCabe. As Schools told McCabe while he was trying to accelerate the review of his termination in March 2018, “We’re making it up as we go along.” DOJ fucked up in two significant ways.

First, they didn’t get around to “firing” McCabe until 10:00 pm on March 16, 2018, after FBI clocked the final day McCabe had to put in before qualifying for retirement at 5:00 pm that same day. FBI registered that day as a full vacation day. By the time Sessions fired McCabe late at night, he claims, he was already legally retired. (Note, there’s a real tragicomic section describing Sessions’ role, including that the firing did not come with any of the official details like time of termination needed for such a firing, that are very similar to the way that Sessions himself would be fired 8 months later).

The other way they bolloxed McCabe’s firing is by demoting him on January 28, 2018. On that day, Wray gave McCabe a choice: to remain at FBI in a demoted role of his picking if he lied and said the demotion was voluntary, or remain in a lesser role of Wray’s choice if he refused to lie. Instead, McCabe took terminal leave, meaning he was no longer one of the positions that the Attorney General or Acting Attorney General could terminate directly. As McCabe described it, Sessions didn’t have the authority to fire McCabe.

Sessions publicly announced that he had terminated Plaintiff “[p]ursuant to [DOJ] Order 1202,”but that did not give Sessions the authority to terminate employees in Plaintiff’s position. DOJ Order 1202, promulgated pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 3151, provides that the FBI Director alone has authority to terminate career FBI senior executives, except that the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General retain authority to remove those who serve in certain enumerated “key positions.” After Defendant Wray removed Plaintiff from the role of Deputy Director in January 2018 and replaced him with Bowdich, Plaintiff remained a career FBI senior executive but did not serve in any of the “key positions” listed in DOJ Order 1202. Defendant Wray, as FBI Director, did not authorize Plaintiff’s termination and in fact previously refused Sessions’ request to terminate Plaintiff. Accordingly, Plaintiff was not, in fact, terminated before his retirement.

[snip]

Additionally, Sessions lacked any authority to terminate Plaintiff due to conflicts of interest and recusals, including Sessions’ March 2017 recusal from “investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.” Defendants’ pretextual basis for Plaintiff’s termination arose from the OIG investigation of Plaintiff’s actions related to the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, specifically his actions regarding campaign-related articles published in October 2016 by the Wall Street Journal. Sessions’ recusal, on its face, extended to the OIG investigation. Sessions’ recusal was therefore a “disability” under 28 U.S.C §508(a), meaning that he lacked qualification to participate in Plaintiff’s termination. As a result, Sessions had no authority to terminate Plaintiff.

The entire complaint is (as one would expect for a suit filed by four Arnold & Porter lawyers on behalf of a lawyer who happens to be a former top FBI official) very well lawyered in such a way that the legal issues are very narrow, even while invoking the entirety of Trump’s obstructive behavior along the way.

The easiest way DOJ could make this go away would be to grant McCabe’s request, to find that he had retired before he was fired, with the benefits accruing accordingly (McCabe refutes the findings of the DOJ IG investigation against him in more cursory fashion, though it’s key to his due process claims and his allegations reflect badly on the well-respected Michael Horowitz). But to do that, DOJ would rob Trump of one of his favorite petty wins.

So they probably won’t.

It Is False To Claim the Counterintelligence Investigation into Trump Is Unprecedented

There’s a conceit among the frothy right that the counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump is unprecedented. At a recent hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray, for example, Josh Hawley set up the question this way.

Hawley: Director Wray, earlier this year I sent the FBI two letter seeking additional information about news reports that the agency, the Bureau, had opened a counterintelligence investigation of the President following the exercise of the President’s constitutional prerogatives to direct foreign policy and otherwise oversee the Executive Branch. I did not receive a response to those letters beyond a form letter acknowledging receipt. And since I have you here and have you under oath, let me just ask you what I want to know. To your knowledge has the FBI ever launched a counterintelligence investigation into another President in American history?

Wray: I don’t know the answer to that question.

Hawley: And so it would be “no” then, since it’s “to your knowledge”? It’s fair to say you’re not aware of one, personally, is all I’m asking?

Wray: It’s fair to say I’m not aware of one.

Hawley: Is it safe to say then, to the best of your knowledge, that such a move would be and is unprecedented?

Wray: Um, well again, we’ve been around for 111 years, so I don’t really know what is precedented or not precedented in that regard.

The question, as framed, is totally bullshit, and Democratic members of Congress should stop letting their colleagues frame what happened to Donald Trump in such a way.

The proper question is, is there precedent that a counterintelligence investigation was opened into a major party candidate (distinguishing from Eugene Debs, into whom I’m sure there was a standing counterintelligence investigation through his presidential runs).

And the answer to that is simple. The precedent is Hillary Clinton.

In 2016, there was a counterintelligence investigation touching on both the Democratic and Republican candidates for President. The one into the Democrat was public. FBI managed it in ways, twice, that had an impact on the race. In addition to that CI investigation, there was also an investigation — predicated in part on oppo research from the Republican party — that involved the candidate’s interactions with foreign leaders. The latter investigation, into the Clinton Foundation, leaked. It leaked so egregiously that the Deputy Director of the FBI was fired for the leak.

The counterintelligence investigation into the Republican candidate was not public. Unlike the investigation into the Democrat, the one into the Republican was also not, at first, predicated against the candidate himself (to be honest, the Clinton email investigation would have been differently, and probably better, handled if Hillary weren’t the only possible target). It did not come to be opened against the guy who was still a candidate when the investigation was opened until he obstructed the investigation by firing the people conducting it.

The proper question for Josh Hawley to ask is, “Is there precedent for a criminal investigation against a sitting president for obstructing the investigation into what his campaign did to get elected?” The answer is easy. Yes. That is what happened with Nixon, and appropriately so.

The thing is, I can guarantee you Republicans would support an investigation into Hillary for obstructing the counterintelligence investigation into her behavior. The reason I can guarantee it is Republicans to this day — from the President on down — think there should be an ongoing investigation into whether Democrats gamed the investigation into Hillary. If Hillary had won, Senate Republicans would have demanded a special prosecutor into Hillary’s server, to say nothing of whether her interactions with foreign leaders were influenced by the Clinton Foundation.

Virtually all the conspiracy theories about the investigation into Trump, from the claims of a coup on down, are premised on granting him, as candidate, the privileges he would get when he became President. Those theories ignore the fact that in 2016, the FBI conducted CI investigations into both candidates. And there’s no question which it treated worse in doing so.

About the Two Investigations into Donald Trump

I’m still pretty cranky about the timing and form of Andrew McCabe’s publicity tour.

But since it’s out there, I’d like to comment on three details, two of which have gotten significant comment elsewhere.

Trump wanted Rod Rosenstein to include Russia in the reasons he should fire Comey

The first is that Trump specifically asked Rosenstein to include Russia — McCabe doesn’t further specify what he meant — in the letter recommending he fire Jim Comey.

McCabe says that the basis for both investigations was in Mr. Trump’s own statements. First, Mr. Trump had asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.  Then, to justify firing Comey, Mr. Trump asked his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to write a memo listing the reasons Comey had to go. And according to McCabe, Mr. Trump made a request for that memo that came as a surprise.

Andrew McCabe: Rod was concerned by his interactions with the president, who seemed to be very focused on firing the director and saying things like, “Make sure you put Russia in your memo.” That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.

If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein listed the Russia investigation in his memo to the White House, it could look like he was obstructing the Russia probe by suggesting Comey’s firing. And by implication, it would give the president cover.

Scott Pelley: He didn’t wanna put Russia in his memo.

Andrew McCabe: He did not. He explained to the president that he did not need Russia in his memo. And the president responded, “I understand that, I am asking you to put Russia in the memo anyway.”

When the memo justifying Comey’s firing was made public, Russia was not in it. But, Mr. Trump made the connection anyway, telling NBC, then, Russian diplomats that the Russian investigation was among the reasons he fired Comey.

The most obvious explanation for this is that Trump wanted to box DOJ in, to prevent them from expanding their investigative focus from one campaign foreign policy advisor, a second campaign foreign policy advisor, his former campaign manager, his National Security Advisor, and his lifelong political advisor to the one thing those five men had in common, Trump.

But it’s also possible that Trump wanted Rosenstein to do what Don McGahn had narrowly prevented Trump from doing, effectively shifting the obstruction to Rosenstein. That seems like what Rosenstein was worried about, an impression he may have gotten from his instructions from McGahn, laying out the case that investigating Russia would get you fired.

It’s possible, too, that Trump was particularly interested in the public statement for the benefit of the Russians, a view supported by the fact that Trump made sure he fired Comey before his meeting with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, and then stated that he had more freedom with Comey gone. That is, it’s possible he needed to prove to the Russians that he could control his own DOJ.

The order to Rosenstein was one of the predications for the investigation into Trump

McCabe elaborates on a story told at least partly by the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts: that the day after Trump fired Comey, FBI moved to open two investigations into Trump. A number of people have suggested McCabe just vaguely pointed to Trump’s statements, but he’s more specific than that. One of the statements was that order to Rosenstein to include Russia in the firing memo.

Scott Pelley: How long was it after that that you decided to start the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president?

Andrew McCabe: I think the next day, I met with the team investigating the Russia cases. And I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward. I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.

[snip]

Andrew McCabe: There were a number of things that caused us to believe that we had adequate predication or adequate reason and facts, to open the investigation. The president had been speaking in a derogatory way about our investigative efforts for weeks, describing it as a witch hunt…

President Trump on Feb. 16, 2017: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years.

Andrew McCabe: …publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president’s mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you’ve referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

As McCabe describes it, the other things are obstruction-related: Trump’s attacks on the Russian investigation.

But remember, McCabe had heard the substance of Mike Flynn’s comments to Sergei Kislyak. The rest of us have seen just outlines of it. In some way, Mike Flynn convinced Sergei Kislyak on December 29, 2016, that Russia had Trump’s assurances on sanctions relief. Trump may well have come up specifically. In any case, the FBI would have had good reason — from Flynn’s lies, and his call records showing his consultations before he lied — to suspect Trump had ordered Flynn’s statements to Kislyak.

McCabe describes the genesis of the obstruction and the counterintelligence investigation

Finally, McCabe provides additional details to the dual investigation into Trump: the obstruction one arising out of Trump’s efforts to kill the Russian investigation, and the counterintelligence one into whether Trump was doing that at Russia’s behest (which goes back to my initial point, that Trump may have wanted Russia included in the firing memos as a signal to Russia he could kill the investigation).

Andrew McCabe: …publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president’s mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you’ve referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

Scott Pelley: What was it specifically that caused you to launch the counterintelligence investigation?

Andrew McCabe: It’s many of those same concerns that cause us to be concerned about a national security threat. And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, “Why would a president of the United States do that?” So all those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?

Scott Pelley: Are you saying that the president is in league with the Russians?

Andrew McCabe: I’m saying that the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn’t mean someone is guilty. I would say, Scott, if we failed to open an investigation under those circumstances, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.

With that laid out, I’d like to look at Rod Rosenstein’s August 2 memo laying out precisely what Mueller was — and had, from the start — been authorized to investigate, which both Paul Manafort and the President’s flunkies in Congress spent a great deal of effort trying to unseal. Knowing as we now do that the redacted passages include at least one and probably two bullet points relating to Trump himself, it seems more clear than every that once you lay out the investigations into Trump’s flunkies known to have been predicated at the time, that’s all that would have been included in the memo:

  • Obstruction investigation into Trump
  • Counterintelligence investigation into Trump
  • Election conspiracy investigation into Manafort
  • Ukrainian influence peddling investigation into Manafort
  • Transition conspiracy investigation into Flynn
  • Turkish influence peddling investigation into Flynn
  • Counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page
  • Election conspiracy investigation into George Papadopoulos
  • Election conspiracy investigation into Roger Stone

At that point, there wouldn’t have been space for at least two of the three bullets that now exist on a scope memo, as laid out by Jerome Corsi’s draft plea (though “c” may have been there in conjunction with Stone).

At the time of the interview, the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including:

a. the theft of campaign-related emails and other documents by the Russian government’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (“GRU”);

b. the GRU’s provision of certain of those documents to an organization (“Organization 1”) for public release in order to expand the GRU’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign; and

c. the nature of any connections between individuals associated with the U.S. presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and the Russian government or Organization 1.

That’s another to believe — as I have long argued — that bullets a and b got moved under Mueller at a later time, probably around November 2017. After Flynn flipped, the Middle Eastern pass-through corruption would likely have been added, and inauguration graft probably got added after Rick Gates flipped (before the non-Russian parts of both got spun off).

One thing that means, if I’m correct, is that at the time Mueller was hired, the investigation consisted of predicated investigations into probably six individuals. While there would have been a counterintelligence and criminal aspect to both, there was a criminal aspect to each of the investigations, with specific possible crimes envisioned. If that’s right, it means a lot of hot air about Mueller’s appointment simply misunderstood what part of Comey’s confirmed investigation got put under Mueller at first.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

In any case, the certainty that there are at least one and probably two bullets pertaining to Trump in that August 2 memo is interesting for a few more reasons.

It makes it far more likely that the Strzok 302 — based on a July 19, 2017 interview, drafted the following day, and finalized August 22 — was an effort to formalize Mueller’s authorization to investigate the President. The part of the 302 that pertains to Mike Flynn’s interview takes up the middle third of the report. The rest must lay out the larger investigations, how the FBI found the intercepts between Flynn and Kislyak, and what the response to the interview was at DOJ.

The 302 is sandwiched between two events. First, it follows by just a few weeks the release of the June 9 meeting emails. Indeed, the interview itself took place on the day the NYT published the interview where Trump admits he and Putin spoke about adoptions — effectively making it clear that Putin, not Trump, drafted a statement downplaying that the meeting had established a dirt-for-sanctions relief quid pro quo.

The 302 was also drafted the day before Mueller started pursuing the transition emails and other comms from GSA that would have made it clear that Trump ordered Flynn’s statements and key members of the transition team knew that.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

It also happens to precede, by days, when Michael Horowitz would inform Christopher Wray and then Mueller about the Page-Strzok texts, though that is almost certainly an almost unbelievable coincidence.

In any case, as I’ve noted, unsealing that August 2 memo has been like a crown jewel for the obstructionists, as if they knew that it laid out the investigation into Donald Trump. That effort has been part of a strategy to suggest any investigation into Trump had to be improper, even one investigating whether he engaged in a quid pro quo even before the General Election started, trading US policy considerations — starting with, but not limited to, sanctions relief — in exchange for help getting elected.

The obstructionists want to claim that an investigation that started with George Papadopoulos and then Carter Page and then Mike Flynn (the obstructionists always seem to be silent about Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, as if they knew who engaged in substantive conspiracy with the Russians) should not end up with Donald Trump. And they do so, I think, to suggest that at the moment it discovered that quid pro quo in July 2017, it was already illegitimate.

But as McCabe said, “the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn’t mean someone is guilty. I would say, Scott, if we failed to open an investigation under those circumstances, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.”

It just turned out that Trump was guilty.

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

The Disinformation Campaign Targeting Mueller and the Delayed Briefing to SSCI on Russian Election Interference

A lot of people are reporting and misreporting details from this Mueller filing revealing that it had been the target of disinformation efforts starting in October.

1000 non-sensitive files leaked along with the file structure Mueller provided it with

To substantiate an argument that Concord Management should not be able to share with Yevgeniy Prigozhin the sensitive discovery that the government has shared with their trollish lawyers, Mueller revealed that on October 22, someone posted 1000 files turned over in discovery along with a bunch of other crap, partially nested within the file structure of the files turned over in discovery.

On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: “We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!”1 The tweet also included a link to a webpage located on an online file-sharing portal. This webpage contained file folders with names and folder structures that are unique to the names and structures of materials (including tracking numbers assigned by the Special Counsel’s Office) produced by the government in discovery.2 The FBI’s initial review of the over 300,000 files from the website has found that the unique “hashtag” values of over 1,000 files on the website matched the hashtag values of files produced in discovery.3 Furthermore, the FBI’s ongoing review has found no evidence that U.S. government servers, including servers used by the Special Counsel’s Office, fell victim to any computer intrusion involving the discovery files.

1 On that same date, a reporter contacted the Special Counsel’s Office to advise that the reporter had received a direct message on Twitter from an individual who stated that they had received discovery material by hacking into a Russian legal company that had obtained discovery material from Reed Smith. The individual further stated that he or she was able to view and download the files from the Russian legal company’s database through a remote server.

2 For example, the file-sharing website contains a folder labeled “001-W773.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “Yahoo.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “return.” Within the “return” folder were several folders with the names of email addresses. In discovery in this case, the government produced a zip file named “Yahoo 773.” Within that zip file were search warrant returns for Yahoo email accounts. The names of the email accounts contained in that zip file were identical to the names of the email address folders within the “return” subfolder on the webpage. The webpage contained numerous other examples of similarities between the structure of the discovery and the names and structures of the file folders on the webpage. The file names and structure of the material produced by the government in discovery are not a matter of public record. At the same time, some folders contained within the Redstone Hacking release have naming conventions that do not appear in the government’s discovery production but appear to have been applied in the course of uploading the government’s production. For example, the “001- W773” folder appears within a folder labeled “REL001,” which is not a folder found within the government’s production. The naming convention of folder “REL001” suggests that the contents of the folder came from a production managed on Relativity, a software platform for managing document review. Neither the Special Counsel’s Office nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office used Relativity to produce discovery in this case. [my emphasis]

It sounds like Mueller’s office found out about it when being contacted by the journalist who had been alerted to the content on Twitter.

But before Mueller asked Concord’s trollish lawyers about it, the defense attorneys — citing media contacts they themselves had received — contacted prosecutors to offer a bullshit excuse about where the files came from.

On October 23, 2018, the day after the tweet quoted above, defense counsel contacted the government to advise that defense counsel had received media inquiries from journalists claiming they had been offered “hacked discovery materials from our case.” Defense counsel advised that the vendor hired by the defense reported no unauthorized access to the non-sensitive discovery. Defense counsel concluded, “I think it is a scam peddling the stuff that was hacked and dumped many years ago by Shaltai Boltai,” referencing a purported hack of Concord’s computer systems that occurred in approximately 2014. That hypothesis is not consistent with the fact that actual discovery materials from this case existed on the site, and that many of the file names and file structures on the webpage reflected file names and file structures from the discovery production in this case.

Without any hint of accusation against the defense attorneys (though this motion is accompanied by an ex parte one, so who knows if they offered further explanation there), Mueller notes any sharing of this information for disinformation purposes would violate the protective order in the case.

As stated previously, these facts establish a use of the non-sensitive discovery in this case in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the protective order. The order states that discovery may be used by defense counsel “solely in connection with the defense of this criminal case, and for no other purpose, and in connection with no other proceeding, without further order of this Court,” Dkt. No. 42-1, ¶ 1, and that “authorized persons shall not copy or reproduce the materials except in order to provide copies of the materials for use in connection with this case by defense counsel and authorized persons,” id. ¶ 3. The use of the file names and file structure of the discovery to create a webpage intended to discredit the investigation in this case described above shows that the discovery was reproduced for a purpose other than the defense of the case.

Update: Thursday evening, Mueller submitted another version of this clarifying that the @HackingRedstone tweets alerting journalists to the document dump were DMs, and so not public (or visible to the defense). The first public tweet publicizing the dump came on October 30, so even closer to the election.

Shortly after the government filed, defense counsel drew the government’s attention to the following sentence, which appears on page nine of the filing: “On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: ‘We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!’” Defense counsel pointed out that this sentence could be read to suggest that the Twitter account broadcast a publicly-available “tweet” on October 22. In fact, the Twitter account @HackingRedstone began sending multiple private direct messages to members of the media promoting a link to the online file-sharing webpage using Twitter on October 22. The content of those direct messages was consistent with, but more expansive than, the quoted tweet to the general public, which was issued on October 30. By separate filing, the government will move to file under seal the text of the direct messages. The online file sharing webpage was publicly accessible at least starting on October 22.

I’m not sure it makes the defense response any more or less suspect. But it does tie the disinformation even more closely with the election.

The Mueller disinformation was part of a month-long election season campaign

This thread, from one of the journalists who was offered the information, put it all in context back on November 7, the day after the election.

The thread shows how the release of the Mueller-related files was part of a month-long effort to seed a claim that the Internet Research Agency had succeeded in affecting the election.

Update: This story provides more background.

Other signs of the ongoing investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls

Given how the Mueller disinformation functioned as part of that month-long, election oriented campaign, I’m more interested in this passage from the Mueller investigation than that the investigation had been targeted. Mueller argues that they shouldn’t have to share the sensitive discovery with Yevgeniy Prigozhin because the sensitive discovery mentions uncharged individuals who are still trying to fuck with our elections.

First, the sensitive discovery identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in operations that interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment.

To be sure, we knew the investigation into Prigozhin’s trolls was ongoing. On October 19, just days before these files got dropped, DOJ unsealed an EDVA complaint, which had been filed under seal on September 28, against Prigozhin’s accountant, Alekseevna Khusyaynova. Along with showing Prigozhin’s trolls responding to the original Internet Research Agency indictment last February, it showed IRA’s ongoing troll efforts through at least June of last year.

Then, in December, Concord insinuated that Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson had obtained information via the firewall counsel and taken an investigative step on that information back on August 30.

On August 23, 2018, in connection with a request (“Concord’s Request”) made pursuant to the Protective Order entered by the Court, Dkt. No. 42-1, Concord provided confidential information to Firewall Counsel. The Court was made aware of the nature of this information in the sealed portion of Concord’s Motion for Leave to Respond to the Government’s Supplemental Briefing Relating to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Indictment, filed on October 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 70-4 (Concord’s “Motion for Leave”). Seven days after Concord’s Request, on August 30, 2018, Assistant Special Counsel L. Rush Atkinson took investigative action on the exact same information Concord provided to Firewall Counsel. Undersigned counsel learned about this on October 4, 2018, based on discovery provided by the Special Counsel’s Office. Immediately upon identifying this remarkable coincidence, on October 5, 2018, undersigned counsel requested an explanation from the Special Counsel’s Office, copying Firewall Counsel on the e-mail.

[snip]

Having received no further explanation or information from the government, undersigned counsel raised this issue with the Court in a filing made on October 22, 2018 in connection with the then-pending Motion to Dismiss. In response to questions from the Court, Firewall Counsel denied having any communication with the Special Counsel’s Office.

This was a bid to obtain live grand jury investigative information, one that failed earlier this month after Mueller explained under seal how his prosecutors had obtained this information and Dabney Friedrich denied the request.

What this filing, in conjunction with Josh Russell’s explanatory Twitter thread, reveals is that the Mueller disinformation effort was part of a disinformation campaign targeted at the election.

Dan Coats doesn’t want to share the report on Russian election tampering with SSCI

And I find that interesting because of a disturbing exchange in a very disturbing Global Threats hearing the other day. After getting both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray to offer excuses for White House decisions to given security risks like Jared Kushner security clearance, Martin Heinrich then asked Coats why ODNI had not shared the report on election tampering even with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Heinrich: Director Coats, I want to come back to you for a moment. Your office issued a statement recently announcing that you had submitted the intelligence community’s report assessing the threats to the 2018 mid-term elections to the President and to appropriate Executive Agencies. Our committee has not seen this report. And despite committee requests following the election that the ODNI brief the committee on any identified threats, it took ODNI two months to get a simple oral briefing and no written assessment has yet been provided. Can you explain to me why we haven’t been kept more fully and currently informed about those Russian activities in the 2018–

Chairman Richard Burr interrupts to say that, in fact, he and Vice Chair Mark Warner have seen the report.

Burr: Before you respond, let me just acknowledge to the members that the Vice Chairman and I have both been briefed on the report and it’s my understanding that the report at some point will be available.

Coats then gives a lame excuse about the deadlines, 45 days, then 45 days.

Coats: The process that we’re going through are two 45 day periods, one for the IC to assess whether there was anything that resulted in a change of the vote or anything with machines, uh, what the influence efforts were and so forth. So we collected all of that, and the second 45 days — which we then provided to the Chairman and Vice Chairman. And the second 45 days is with DHS looking, and DOJ, looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take. We’re waiting for that final information to come in.

After Coats dodges his question about sharing the report with the Committee, Heinrich then turns to Burr to figure out when they’re going to get the information. Burr at least hints that the Executive might try to withhold this report, but it hasn’t gotten to that yet.

Heinrich: So the rest of us can look forward — so the rest of us can then look forward to reading the report?

Coats: I think we will be informing the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of that, of their decisions.

Heinrich: That’s not what I asked. Will the rest of the Committee have access to that report, Mr. Chairman?

[pause]

Heinrich: Chairman Burr?

Burr; Well, let me say to members we’re sort of in unchartered ground. But I make the same commitment I always do, that anything that the Vice Chairman and myself are exposed to, we’ll make every request to open the aperture so that all members will be able to read I think it’s vitally important, especially on this one, we’re not to a point where we’ve been denied or we’re not to a point that negotiations need to start. So it’s my hope that, once the final 45-day window is up that is a report that will be made available, probably to members only.

Coming as it did in a hearing where it became clear that Trump’s spooks are helpless in keeping Trump from pursuing policies that damage the country, this exchange got very little attention. But it should!

The Executive Branch by law has to report certain things to the Intelligence Committees. This report was mandated by Executive Order under threat of legislation mandating it.

And while Coats’ comment about DOJ, “looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take,” suggests part of the sensitivity about this report stems from a delay to provide DOJ time to decide whether they’ll take prosecutorial action against what they saw in the election, the suggestion that only members of the committee (not staffers and not other members of Congress) will ever get the final report, as well as the suggestion that Coats might even fight that, put this report on a level of sensitivity that matches covert actions, the most sensitive information that get shared with Congress.

Maybe the Russians did have an effect on the election?

In any case, going back to the Mueller disinformation effort, that feels like very familiar dick-wagging, an effort to make key entities in the US feel vulnerable to Russian compromise. Mueller sounds pretty sure it was not a successful compromise (that is, the data came from Concord’s lawyers, not Mueller).

But if the disinformation was part an effort to boast that Putin’s allies had successfully tampered with the vote — particularly if Russia really succeeded in doing so — it might explain why this report is being treated with the sensitivity of the torture or illegal spying program.

Update: I’ve corrected this to note that in the end the Intelligence Authorization did not mandate this report, as was originally intended; Trump staved that requirement off with an Executive Order. Still, that still makes this look like an attempt to avoid admitting to Congress that your buddy Putin continues to tamper in US elections.

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

Peter Strzok’s Out of Scope Polygraph

I watch shit-show hearings so you don’t need to.

And yesterday’s HJC hearing with Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray was one of the shitshowiest I’ve sat through. I hope to do a post mapping out the cynical theater the Republicans put on yesterday, and how they succeeded in manipulating the press. But first, I want to point to the one really good point Doug Collins sort of made at the hearing.

In January 2016, Peter Strzok had an out of scope polygraph. And yet, by all appearances, he remained working on a sensitive leak investigation, then moved onto an investigation into one of the most damaging spying operations targeting the United States since the Cold War.

Let’s go back to something I asked, you and I had a conversation about a few months ago. Mr. Strzok’s issue I asked at the time did he have a security clearance. You said you would check. Now it appears that security clearance has been revoked. The concern I have again is again, process, inside the Department of Justice on what happens when you have someone of his caliber, counterintelligence level, this is not a new recruit, this is somebody who’s been around has had sensitive information. And on January 13, 2016, an individual from FBI’s Washington Field Office emailed Mr. Strzok and other employees that their polygraphs were, I think it was, “out of scope.” I asked you about that. And asked you if he had been polygraphed. You didn’t know at the time. It said the polygraph raised flags. Now, my question about this would be you didn’t know about the polygraph at the time. We just assume now that it’s out there, you do. Would the topic of extramarital affair have come up in that polygraph or possibility of extramarital affair come up to to put it out of scope?

[snip]

Do you think it’s interesting you would continue to have someone in an investigation of such magnitude and sensitivity who basically had a failed polygraph or an out of scope polygraph test in which they had to then go back and re-answer or complete sensitive [sic] compartmentalized information request on this. Would they stay in that investigation? And if so were they treated differently because of his position or who he was?

[snip]

Does it not strike you as strange, Mr. Wray, and I was not going here but now you’ve led me here. Does it not strike you as strange  that someone who has had an issue with a polygraph, during the investigation in which you have, in which sensitive information were coming about, in which we’ve now seen the text and other things, what would be–could they just flunk a polygraph and you just keep them on, if they could flunk questions, you keep them on sensitive information simply because that — not speaking of Mr. Strzok here, I’m talking overall policy. Is your policy just to keep people around that lie?

I get that polygraphs come close to junk science and don’t measure what they claim to measure. I get that Collins is just trying to discredit the Mueller investigation.

But if you’re going to require that cleared employees — throughout the federal government — take and pass polygraphs, shouldn’t you act when someone has an adverse polygraph? Especially if you’re the FBI, the agency that investigates everyone else’s clearance?

It turns out, FBI already knows it had a problem on this front. In March of this year, DOJ’s Inspector General completed an investigation into how the FBI responded to adverse polygraphs. Based on a review of what happened with problematic polygraph results from 2014 to 2016 — so covering the period in which Strzok’s took place — DOJ IG found that the FBI was not following protocols. Two of its findings pertain directly to what appears to have happened with Strzok. First, the FBI wasn’t always pulling people off SCI information after someone had failed a poly.

Second, we found that the FBI did not always comply with its own policy governing employee access to Sensitive Compartmented Information, classified national intelligence information concerning or derived from sensitive intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes, which is to be handled exclusively within formal access control systems established by the Director of National Intelligence. The FBI’s policy generally prohibits access to Sensitive Compartmented Information for FBI employees who have not passed a polygraph examination within a specified period. We identified instances in which employees unable to pass multiple polygraph examinations were allowed to retain access to sensitive information, systems, and spaces for extended periods of time without required risk assessments — potentially posing a security risk to the FBI.

While it appears Strzok had just one problematic polygraph, not multiple ones, this appears to be what Collins is talking about: someone not being pulled off sensitive cases when a polygraph triggers a warning, presumably because the FBI considered them too valuable to deal with according to protocol.

In addition, when the FBI investigated failed polygraph, the IG found, the FBI’s investigators weren’t always accessing all materials available to them.

Third, we found that investigations of unresolved polygraph results did not always draw on all sources of FBI information. We identified communication issues between the FBI’s Analysis and Investigations Unit (AIU), which investigates and makes adjudicative recommendations on employee polygraph results, and other FBI personnel security stakeholders. We also had concerns about the AIU’s thoroughness in leveraging all relevant FBI information during its investigations. These issues prevent the AIU from consistently producing thorough and efficient investigations.

I’m not sure whether this would include reviewing an employee’s FBI communications or not, but it might (and probably should). If FBI had reviewed Strzok’s FBI texts in January 2016, they would have discovered he was conducting an undisclosed extramarital affair, the probable explanation of any finding of deception on his polygraph. They’d also have discovered that Strzok agreed with most of the country about what a buffoon Donald Trump was — which in his case would be problematic given that he was carrying out an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

In September, Michael Horowitz informed Christopher Wray of the problem, as he had immediately informed Wray of Strzok’s problematic texts.

Now, that Strzok had a bad polygraph may create problems for any affidavits that Strzok was an affiant for. If he was specifically asked about extramarital affairs in his interview, and lied about it, that lie will be used to challenge any investigative steps that he swore to. While Strzok’s not known to have been the affiant for key steps (such as the Paul Manafort warrants or the Carter Page FISA order), this could create problems for Mueller elsewhere (a point that Wray and Rosenstein admitted elsewhere).

But there’s the counterpart of this. Pulling Strzok off the Hillary investigation in January 2016 would have identified the source of his apparent deception, and led to minor disciplinary action, after which he would have been back on the beat hunting out foreign spies. Instead, his involvement in these two cases has unnecessarily discredited both of them, even though his investigative actions appear to have been defensible in both cases.

Roger Stone and ConFraudUs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Attempt to Learn How Much Mueller Knows about Roger Stone’s “Collusion,” Devin Nunes Blames FBI for Stone and Michael Caputo’s Perjury to HPSCI

On Thursday, in the wake of the release of the DOJ IG Report showing that Jim Comey hurt Hillary Clinton with his intervention after the end of the email server investigation, the Gang of Eight met with Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray to discuss the House Intelligence Committee demand for documents allegedly investigating FISA abuse.

On Thursday night, Rudy Giuliani (whose receipt of leaks from the NY FBI field office received no attention in the IG Report) appeared on Sean Hannity and argued that the Mueller investigation (which removed Strzok once his inappropriate texts were revealed) should be suspended immediately and instead investigated by those very same NY FBI agents.

Every FBI agent should demand that that man be fired and tomorrow Mueller should suspend his investigation and he should go see Rod Rosenstein who created him and the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General Sessions who should now step up big time to save his Department should suspend that investigation.  Throw out all the people is that have been involved in the phony Trump investigation and bring in honest FBI agents from the New York office who I can trust implicitly and they should turn their attention to Comey, Strzok, Page.

[snip]

Who are we providing them to? People who have already concluded to frame Donald Trump, agents who started a phony Russia investigation. That’s the whole core of this. That’s why the investigation should be suspended. And I am talking for myself now, not the president. But I believe he would agree with this. A very serious investigation has to be done of the FBI agents at the very top by FBI agents who are honest in order to prosecute them…

Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions have a chance to redeem themselves and that chance comes about tomorrow. It doesn’t go beyond tomorrow. Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended and honest people should be brought in, impartial people to investigate these people like Peter Strzok. Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week.

On Friday, in the wake of the Thursday Gang of Eight meeting, Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes, Trey Gowdy, and Bob Goodlatte had a meeting with Wray and Rosenstein to demand documents on their investigation into alleged FISA abuse.

Also on Friday, Roger Stone appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show to comment on the IG Report. He made no comment about the story he was seeding with the WaPo, spinning that the Russian he reached out to learn about dirt on Hillary Clinton, whom he didn’t mention when the House Intelligence Committee asked him about contacts with Russians, was actually an FBI spy. In its story this morning, the WaPo didn’t point out all the reasons why it’s almost certain that “Henry Greenberg” was not operating under the control of the FBI; as a result, the WaPo gave the informant story credibility it shouldn’t have.

Today, Devin Nunes went on Fox to report on the Friday meeting. In three segments (one, two, three), Maria Bartiromo treated the Friday meeting as breaking news. Nunes said that their subpoenas “will be complied with” or the House would take other measures. When Bartiromo asked Nunes specifically what he was looking for, he didn’t respond. Instead, he posed the quest this way.

How did you use our nation’s counterintelligence capabilities. These are capabilities used to track terrorists and other bad guys around the globe. How did you weaponize that against a political campaign, against the Trump campaign, where ultimately it ended up in Carter Page having a FISA warrant put against him which allowed the government to go in and grab all of his emails and phone calls. So that’s primarily what we’ve been investigating for many many months. I will tell you that Chairman Gowdy was very very clear with the Department of Justice and FBI and said that if there was any vectoring of any informants or spies or whatever you want to call them into the Trump campaign before the investigation began, we better know about it by Sunday, meaning today. He was very very clear about that. And as you probably know there’s breaking news this morning that now you have a couple Trump campaign people who are saying that they were, that they’ve amended their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, they sent in both Friday night and this morning, amendments to their testimony saying that in fact they feel like somebody, they’re not claiming that it was the FBI, but someone ran informants or spies into them to try to get information and offer up Russian dirt to the Trump campaign. Now this would have been in May of 2016. Which is obviously months before this counterintelligence investigation was opened by the FBI into the Trump campaign.

[snip]

If I were them I would pick up the phone and let us know what this is about, this story that broke in the Washington Post, this morning, just hours ago. They probably ought to tell us whether or not they were involved in that or else they have a major major problem on their hands.

[snip]

We should have been told about this about eight months ago. In compliance with the subpoena that we issued last August.But for sure a couple months ago, when we began to ask, we asked questions about, we had a subpoena, and we wanted to figure out what they were doing before and af, right before and right after the opening of the counterintelligence investigation. So we asked for specific information and documents. As you know, that’s what we’ve been fighting over for the last couple months now. And on Friday night it culminated with us telling them because they have swore up and down that they have given us everything that’s pertinent to our investigation after the investigation was open. And they have claimed that there is nothing else that exists before that date. Now, this Washington Post story, I don’t know that they’re claiming for sure that this was an FBI spy or informant, you know, I have no idea whether it is or not, but it has all the makings of the looks of some type of spy or informant. And that would be a major problem because that is not something that has ever been brought to us, and it would be totally out of bounds.

In an appearance providing extensive details about past classified requests and meetings with DOJ (including the one on Friday), Nunes also accuses Rosenstein of leaking by telling the press that Nunes hasn’t read the documents they’ve been demanding but which DOJ has already turned over.

At midnight, just a week ago, the Department of Justice put out something on Republicans saying that we had not read documents that the Department of Justice had provided for us to read. Now, that is a major leak, of a classified meeting, that also happens to be false because they knew that we ran out of time and didn’t have time to actually read these documents, but they did that to embarrass the Speaker of the House and myself and Chairman Gowdy who were given access to those documents but not given time to read those documents. That came from the top of the Department of Justice. Why are those people still working at the Department of Justice. They are leaking.

[snip]

Here’s the bottom line. Mr. Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, and Director Wray have to decide whether or not they want to be part of the cleanup crew or they want to be part of the cover-up crew.

Then Nunes ends by saying he will move towards impeaching Rosenstein and Wray this week, based off a claim that the FBI is withholding details about that contact with “Greenberg,” the one both Stone and Caputo lied to his own committee to cover up.

Nunes: There”s going to be hell to pay by Wednesday morning.

[snip]

This is going to go from myself and just a few committee chairmen to all the members of the House of Representatives who are going to begin to take action against the Department of Justice and FBI.

Bartiromo: Taking action meaning contempt of Congress?

Nunes: Well that’s just one of the options. That’s just one of many options. But I can tell you that it’s not gonna be pretty.

Bartiromo: Are you going to force the resignation of Rod Rosenstein?

Nunes: We can’t force the resignation, but we can hold in contempt, we can pass sense of Congress resolutions, we can impeach, and look, I think we’re getting close to there.

So let’s unpack what’s going on here, aside from a really well orchestrated campaign that has been in the works since January.

First, note how Nunes twists the meaning of counterintelligence here? When discussing why the FBI obtained a FISA order on Carter Page, whom FBI suspected was a willing Russian asset going back to 2013 and whom FBI had questioned the same month Trump added him to the campaign, as part of those ongoing concerns, Nunes suggests FISA orders are only used on terrorists and international bad guys, not people who’ve been suspected of being Russian assets for years. But later in the appearance, he treats the formal start of the counterintelligence investigation into Russians infiltrating Trump’s campaign — the counterintelligence investigation (he is now using counterintelligence in its traditional sense) — as if any investigation of Page or Manafort on their own right before that would be corrupt.

Then Nunes moves to suggest that a Russian contact that Mueller may have only discovered after he obtained a warrant for Stone’s phone on March 9 — a contact that both Caputo and Stone lied to the committee about — is something the FBI has been hiding, not Caputo and Stone.

In an appearance providing a slew of non-public information about a long series of contacts, Nunes accuses Rosenstein for once doing the same thing, with the important difference that Rosenstein was correcting the false claims that Nunes was presenting to the press.

And out of all that — out of Nunes’ willingness to blame the FBI for Stone and Caputo’s lies to his own committee — Nunes is going to bring an impeachment case against Rosenstein and Wray.

Obviously, there’s an easy way for Rosenstein and Wray to defuse this, in more of the bend don’t break approach they’ve been using with these extortionists. They could explain what I have surmised: that the materials about the contact with “Greenberg” that Stone and Caputo lied to him about actually came pursuant to a grand jury search warrant based on information Rick Gates provided in February and March. This is probably a grand jury search warrant (or one similar) that Paul Manafort already tried to, but failed, to get unsealed. As far as we know, Rosenstein and Wray haven’t provided any grand jury material to HPSCI.

Of course, providing the background to this question would require providing more details about what Mueller does and doesn’t know about Roger Stone’s efforts to conspire with Russians during the election.

That’s the hostage situation that Nunes is creating here: Impeachment or details about what Mueller knows of Roger Stone’s conspiracy with Russians to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Why Are Republicans Still Squealing about FISA Applications If HPSCI Report Cedes Carter Page Concerns?

Republicans in Congress continue to make fairly breath-taking demands on Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray in what seems to be an attempt to create a bogus claim of non-responsiveness that Trump can use to fire one or both of them.

First there was the demand that the House Intelligence Committee get all of FBI’s non-grand jury records on the Mueller investigation, a demand Paul Ryan backed. Then there was the push to publish the Nunes memo over DOJ’s objections. More recently, after Wray’s doubling the number of FBI staffers (to 54) in an attempt to meet a Bob Goodlatte document deadline for FISA, Hillary investigation, and McCabe firing materials proved insufficient, Jeff Sessions has put Chicago’s US Attorney, John Lausch, in charge of the response. As with Sessions’ selection of Utah US Attorney John Huber to review other GOP demands, Sessions seems to be giving himself and his deputies cover from fairly ridiculous GOP demands.

Nevertheless, such concessions have not entirely sheltered Trump’s main targets from the kinds of complaints that might expose Robert Mueller’s investigation below them. Mark Meadows, one of the lead attack dogs in this congressional obstruction effort, even suggested Congress might impeach Rosenstein for failing to meet a 2-week deadline on a Bob Goodlatte subpoena.

Through it all, the complaints that FBI used the Steele dossier as one piece of evidence in Carter Page’s FISA application, persist. This, in spite of the fact that Page had been under FISA surveillance years before, and in spite of the fact that all sides agree that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s aides started in response to the George Papadopoulos tip from Australia.

This, in spite of the passage from the Schiff memo (including one redacted sentence) that seems to assert that FBI considered Page an on-going counterintelligence concern.

DOJ cited multiple sources to support the case for surveillance Page — but made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials. [entire short sentence redacted] In fact, the FBI interviewed Page in March 2016 about his contact with Russian intelligence, the very month candidate Donald Trump named hi a foreign policy advisor.

And the Schiff memo is consistent with what Sheldon Whitehouse (among the few other people who had read the application at the time) said.

Whitehouse: I’ve got to be careful because some of this is still classified. But the conclusion that I’ve reached is that there was abundant evidence outside of the Steele dossier that would have provoked any responsible FBI with a counterintelligence concern to look at whether Carter Page was an undisclosed foreign agent. And to this day the FBI continues to assert that he was a undisclosed Russian foreign agent.

Importantly, however, it’s no longer just former prosecutors in the Democratic party who seem to confirm that Page was a real counterintelligence concern, and therefore legitimately a FISA target. At least, that’s what these two passages from the GOP House Intelligence Report suggest.

If you’re complaining that the Intelligence Community didn’t inform Trump about that members of his campaign team were “assessed to be potential counterintelligence concerns,” (and this likely includes Paul Manafort, as well as Page), then you can’t very well complain if FBI obtained a FISA warrant once those counterintelligence concerns left the campaign team. Hell, you’re practically inviting the FBI to obtain such a warrant while the counterintelligence concern is on the campaign, to help warn the candidate.

I know this is a bit to ask, but the GOP should not be able to have it both ways, to try to discredit the Trump investigation by pointing to the use of the Steele dossier in targeting Page, even while demanding FBI should have shared what it knew about Page because he posed a risk to Trump.

Does NSC Consider the Skripal Assassination Attempt to Be Election Related?

There’s something that remains unspoken about the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal.

While most observers do not question that Russia was behind the attack, and while Russia certainly seems to be flouting their role in it, I’ve seen no substantiated explanation for why Russia would carry out the attempt in the way they did. It’s not just that Russia conducted another apparent assassination operation in the UK even as recent press attention has focused on a series of similar attacks. But they did so using a nerve agent, justifying the kind of elevated response we’re seeing from Europe and being contemplated in the US.

There were reports that Skripal was a source for either Christopher Steele or someone close to Steele, suggesting that he might be responsible for some of the dossier or the more recent, related report, that Russia’s Foreign Ministry bragged about getting Mitt Romney eliminated from consideration to be Secretary of State (which might explain the timing of the attack, except that it probably required more planning than that). But Luke Harding, who has made similar denials that other deaths are related to the dossier, denies that’s the case.

It is understood he had nothing to do with the dossier on Russia and Trump written by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Before Steele went into private business he led MI6’s response to Litvinenko’s murder. Skripal was not a source and whatever he knew about Russian military intelligence was long out of date.

Given the response — with 10 European countries following the UK’s decision to expel Russian diplomats believed to be spies — I’ve been wondering what the motive is. All the more so given this detail in a story on the likelihood the US will also follow UK’s move.

Trump’s National Security Council reached recommendations for a U.S. response to the U.K. attack at a meeting on Wednesday and presented the proposals to him on Friday. Trump discussed the issue that day with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, FBI Director Chris Wray, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others, two people familiar with the talks said.

It’s interesting enough that Wray was among the NatSec officials Trump has consulted on whether to match the British action. The FBI was key in decisions in the 2016 sanctions, including the focus on San Francisco, but this is about the UK action, not US.

But Trump consulted Rod Rosenstein, not Jeff Sessions, on the decision. Particularly given how half-assedly Sessions has adhered to his own recusal on the Russia investigation, Rosenstein’s inclusion suggests the expulsion decision may be more closely linked to the Mueller investigation than otherwise known.

Perhaps Harding is lying about Skripal’s tie to Steele. Perhaps Skripal has GRU connections to others running the GRU hack-and-leak operation. But the inclusion of Rosenstein makes me wonder if there’s some closer tie to the Mueller investigation than we know.