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“Was Wiped:” A Grammar Lesson for the Frothers

The frothy right is in a tizzy again.

Judicial Watch got a FOIA response that the frothers are reading out of context — without even reading the existing public record much less asking the question they now claim to want to answer — and claiming that Mueller’s attorneys kept wiping their phones.

The FOIA was for records pertaining to Lisa Page and Peter Strzok’s use of DOJ-issued mobile phones while assigned to Mueller’s team. The FOIA was not for a description of the record-keeping in the Mueller office. The FOIA was not for a final accounting of every text that every Mueller team member sent while working for Mueller. If a document mentions Page or Strzok’s phones, it is included here; if it does not, it was withheld.

That said, the frothy right is largely ignoring what the documents show, and instead referring to a single tracking sheet in isolation from the rest, to conclude that multiple Mueller officials wiped their own phones.

To understand what the documents show, it’s best to separate it into what the documents show about Page and Strzok, and then what they show about everyone else.

Mueller’s Office discovered too late that Page and Strzok’s phones had been reset according to standard procedure

The documents show, first of all, that the available paper trail backs the explanations around what happened to Page and Strzok’s Mueller iPhones, which both used for less than 3 months in 2017 while they also used (and sent damning texts on) their FBI issue Samsung phones.

The documents show that Lisa Page was among the first people assigned a Mueller iPhone. Justice Management Department’s Christopher Greer asked for iPhones specifically to deploy a standard mobile technology (though a later document reflects Adam Jed appears to have gotten an Android). Then, after a 45-day assignment, Page left. As the first person to leave the team, she left before processes were put into place to document all that; Page is actually the one who initiated the bureaucratic process of leaving. “Since we have our first detail employee leaving us, it is time to roll out our first form/policy,” Mueller’s administrative officer explained. Mueller’s Records Officer noted she didn’t have to be at the meeting, but provided an Exit Checklist to use on Page’s out-processing. The Records Officer further directed, weeks before anyone discovered Page’s damning texts with Strzok,

Please make sure [Page] doesn’t delete any text messages off her DOJ iPhone, if any.

Everything else should be saved on her H drive on JCON and in her email. This will be good for me as the RSO to go behind and see how that function works.

Mueller’s Administrative Officer also couldn’t make the meeting. But he noted that Page had a laptop “which may already been in [redacted] area, a DOJ cell phone & charger” and noted that “All equipment that I need will be covered as you go through the form.”

The FOIAed documents don’t reveal this, but a DOJ IG Report released in December 2018 reveal that Page left her devices on a shelf in the office she was using.

The SCO Executive Officer completed Page’s Exit Clearance Certification, but said that she did not physically receive Page’s issued iPhone and laptop. During a phone call, Page indicated to SCO that she had left her assigned cell phone and laptop on a bookshelf at the office on her final day there.

On July 17, two days after she left, that Administrative Officer confirmed that, “I have her phone and laptop.”

That is, everyone involved was trying to do it right, but Page was the first person put through this process so everyone admitted they were instituting procedures as they went.

Out-processing of Peter Strzok in August, in the wake of the discovery of Strzok’s texts with Page, was a good deal more terse. That said, the Records Officer did review his phone for anything that had to be saved on September 6, 2017, and found nothing of interest.

Still, their Exit Forms show both returned their iPhone. (Strzok; Page)

It’s only in January 2018, as DOJ IG started to look into their texts, that Mueller’s office discovered they couldn’t account for Page’s iPhone. JMD ultimately found it, but not until September 2018. The phone showed that it had been reset to factory settings, which was standard DOJ policy, on July 31, 2017, two weeks after Page turned it over and left SCO.

In fall 2018 and again in January 2019, numerous people at DOJ tried to find alternative ways to reconstruct any texts Page and Strzok sent on their Mueller iPhones. Because the effort started over a year after they had stopped using the phones, neither DOJ nor Verizon had even log files from the texts anymore. So a DOJ official reviewed Strzok’s phone and found nothing, may not have reviewed Page’s phone, but nevertheless found no evidence Page tried to evade review.

That is, for the subject Judicial Watch was pursuing, the FOIA was a bust.

In response to the Page-Strzok scandal, Mueller appears to have adopted a standard higher than DOJ generally

The Page-Strzok files also suggest certain things about what Mueller did as his investigation was roiled by claims focusing on the two former FBIers.

  • It appears that, after the shit started hitting the fan, Mueller engaged in record-keeping above-and-beyond that required by DOJ guidelines (that’s what the frothers are complaining about)
  • When things started hitting the fan, Mueller’s Chief of Staff Aaron Zebley seems to have started taking a very active role in the response
  • FBI continued to issue Page and Strzok updated phones even while they had Mueller iPhones, which is probably the case for at least the FBI employees on Mueller’s team, making confusion about phones more likely
  • Both DOJ and Verizon would have some ability to reconstruct any texts for phones with problems identified in real time, as opposed to the year it took with Page and Strzok

Here’s the standard DOJ adopts with regards to the use of texts on DOJ-issued phones. DOJ guidelines for retaining texts all stem from discovery obligations — and DOJ, unlike FBI, puts the onus on the user to retain texts.

The OIG reviewed DOJ Policy Statement 0801.04, approved September 21, 2016, which establishes DOJ retention policy for email and other types of electronic messaging, to include text messages. Policy 0801.04 states that electronic messages related to criminal or civil investigations sent or received by DOJ employees engaged in those investigations must be retained in accordance with the retention requirements applicable to the investigation and component specific policies on retention of those messages.

OIG also reviewed DOJ Instruction 0801.04.02, approved November 22, 2016, which provides guidance and best practices on component use of electronic messaging tools and applications for component business purposes.

Section C of 0801.04.02 (Recordkeeping Guidance for Electronic Messaging Tools in Use in the DOJ) subsection 9 (Text Messaging), states that text messaging may be used by staff only if it has been approved by the Head of the Component and in the manner specifically permitted by written component policies. Additional guidance was provided in a memo from the Deputy Attorney General dated March 30, 20 I I, titled ‘Guidance on the Use, Preservation, and Disclosure of Electronic Communications in Federal Criminal Cases.’ The memo states that electronic communications should be preserved if they are deemed substantive. Substantive communications include:

    • Factual information about investigative activity
    • Factual information obtained during interviews or interactions with witnesses (including victims), potential witnesses, experts, informants, or cooperators
    • Factual discussions related to the merits of evidence
    • Factual information or opinions relating to the credibility or bias of witnesses, informants and potential witnesses; and
    • Other factual information that is potentially discoverable under Brady, Giglio, Rule 16 or Rule 26.2 (Jencks Act).

So people using DOJ phones are only required to keep stuff that is case related. DOJ IG had, in 2015, complained about DOJ’s retention of texts, but the standard remained unchanged in 2018.

In January 2018, after someone had leaked news of the Page-Strzok texts to the NYT and after DOJ released their texts to the press (possibly constituting a privacy violation and definitely deviating from the norm of not releasing anything still under investigation by DOJ IG) and after Senator Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson started making unsubstantiated claims about the texts, Mueller’s Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley appears to have taken a very active role in the response. That’s when Mueller Executive Officer Beth McGarry Mueller’s Chief of Staff sent Page and Strzok’s Exit Paperwork to Zebley. And that’s when Mueller and DOJ IG discovered no one could find Page’s phone.

Not said in any of these documents, but revealed in the DOJ IG Report, is that Page and Strzok continued to use their FBI Samsung phones, and indeed were issued updated Samsungs after being assigned to Mueller’s team.

Based on OIG’s examination of their FBI mobile devices, Page and Strzok also retained and continued to use their FBI mobile devices. Specifically, on or about May 18, 2017, Page received an FBI-issued Samsung Galaxy S7 mobile device to replace her previously-issued FBI Samsung Galaxy SS. On or about July 5, 2017, Strzok received an FBl-issued Samsung Galaxy S7 mobile device to replace his previously-issued FBI Samsung Galaxy S5.

This was already known, because that’s where all their compromising texts were. But among other things, it makes it clear that some Mueller team members (especially the FBI employees, virtually all of whose names are redacted), may also have continued to use their existing FBI issue phone even while using the Mueller iPhone. With the exception of the 70-something year old James Quarles, whose phone “wiped itself without intervention from him” in April 2018 and who did not use text or have any photos on it when it was wiped, the suspicious events Republicans are complaining about came from DOJ employees, who might be most likely to juggle multiple phones and passwords.

Finally, one more detail of note in the Page and Strzok documents pertains to the other revelations. As noted, as part of the effort to find any texts they might have sent, DOJ reached out to Verizon, to try to figure out what kind of text traffic had been on their phones. Verizon responded that it only keeps texting metadata for 365 days, with rolling age-off, so it couldn’t help (in fall 2018 and January 2019) to access what Page and Strzok had done with their phones in summer 2017. As part of that discussion, however, JMD’s Greer noted that “our airwatch logs may only go back 1 year.” Airwatch is the portal via which corporate users of iPhones track the usage of their employees. It means that so long as something happens with a phone within a year, some data should be available on Airwatch. That is to say, DOJ had two means by which to reconstruct the content of a phone with a problem discovered in real time, means not available given the delay in looking for Page and Strzok’s phones.

The log of phone reviews covering all Mueller personnel

Ultimately, Judicial Watch’s FOIA showed that the documents they were after — the paper trail on the Page and Strzok phones — backs up what has always been claimed about the phones. They were treated via routine process, but as a result there were no texts to review when DOJ IG got around to review them.

So they instead made a stink about just four pages in the release, what appears to be a log — probably started in January 2018, as the Page and Strzok issues continued to roil — of every instance where a Mueller staff phone got reviewed.

The log starts with Page, Strzok, and two other people whose identities are redacted. It has an additional number of entries interspersed with ones from January 2018 which may be those out-processed under DOJ’s normal terms, prior to the initiation of this log. After that, though, the log seems to show meticulous record-keeping both as people were out-processed and any time something went haywire with a phone.

Here, for example, is the entry showing that Kevin Clinesmith’s phone was reviewed on March 5, 2018, and two texts and three photos that were not required to be kept as a DOJ record were emailed to him.

Here, for example, is a record showing that the phone of Uzo Asonye, a local prosecutor added to Manafort’s tax cheat trial in EDVA, got cleared of ten voice mails that pre-dated his involvement with the Mueller team when he was out-processed from the Mueller team.

In other words, Mueller’s team made sure phones were clean, even if they hadn’t been when the came into the team.

Some of what the frothers are pointing to as suspicious is someone wiping their phone when they get it — good security practice and, since the phone is new to them, nothing that will endanger records.

In others of the instances the frothers are complaining about, the log shows that someone immediately alerted record-keepers when they wiped their phone, which (if there were a concern) would provide DOJ an opportunity to check Airwatch.

One thing Republicans are focusing most closely on is that Andrew Weissmann twice “accidentally” wiped his phone, having done so on March 8 and September 27, 2018.

Note, both these instances involve the same phone, and also the same phone he had in what appears to be the final inventory. So while this is not entirely above suspicion, it’s not the case that Weissmann kept wiping phones before DOJ had a chance to check what he had on there before he got a new one. Rather, it appears he wiped the same phone twice and told the record-keepers about it in real time. Moreover, the wipes do not correlate to one possible damning explanation of them, that Weissmann was trying to cover up leaks to the press that Manafort would later accuse him and the Mueller team generally of.

There appears to have been nothing unusual about Weissmann’s out-processing review in March 2019.

So when DOJ had a chance to look at how Weissmann had used his phone for the last six months he used a Mueller phone, it found nothing.

Another of the things Republicans find particularly suspicious is that the phones of Kyle Freeny and Rush Atkinson were both wiped within days of each other (Freeny is a woman, which some of the self-described experts on the Mueller investigation got wrong in their stories on this). For Freeny and one other person (likely an FBI agent), this appears to have been an out-processing review.

Note that here and in many other cases, the description uses the passive voice. “Was [accidentally] wiped,” with no subject identified. There’s good reason to believe — based on the Records Officer retroactive descriptions about Strzok’s phone, the occasional use of the first person, and multiple references to the Administrative Officer — that these are written from the voice of the Records Officer, not the lawyer or agent in question. That is, many of the incidences of descriptions that a phone “was wiped” in no way suggest the person used the phone wiped it. Rather, it seems to be the Records Officer or someone else in the review process. And for a number of those instances there’s a clear explanation why the phone was wiped, which would be normal process for most DOJ transitions in any case.

It does appear Atkinson’s phone was wiped just days after Freeny’s phone, though it was identified in plenty of time to obtain the metadata, if needed.

But like Weissmann, Atkinson’s out-processing review (curiously, the very last one from the entire Mueller team) showed nothing unusual.

In short, what the frothy right appears to have worked themselves up about is that after the conduct of Page and Strzok raised concerns, Mueller imposed record-keeping that DOJ would not otherwise have done, record-keeping that attempted (even though it is not required by DOJ policy) to track every single personal text sent on those phones. And for many of the instances that frothers look at with suspicion, they’re actually seeing, instead, a normal DOJ treatment of a phone.

Timeline

May 20, 2017: Add four accounts, give them iPhones, including Lisa Page and Brandon Van Grack.

May 31, 2017: Page and Strzok first logged into SCO laptops.

June 15, 2017: What kind of tracking do we need for phones? Answer: IMEI. [Includes non-exempt team through that date.]

July 13, 2017: Out-processing of Lisa Page, for whom the process was invented. [Includes list of admin personnel.]

July 17, 2017: Page had handed over her devices, SCO still working with JMD to figure out how to back up common drive.

July 27, 2017: Michael Horowitz tells Mueller of Page-Strzok texts he discovered.

July 31, 2017: Page phone reset to factory settings.

August 9, 2017: Strzok sends exit checklists.

August 10, 2017: Strzok separates from office.

September 6, 2017: Records Officer reviews Strzok’s phone.

November 30, 2017: Mike Flynn informed of Strzok’s texts.

December 2, 2017: NYT reports on Strzok’s texts.

December 13, 2017: DOJ releases first batch of Page-Strzok texts, while trying to hide they were the source.

January 19, 2018: Stephen Boyd informs Chuck Grassley of archiving problems.

January 22, 2018: Strzok’s Mueller iPhone located.

January 23, 2018: Attempt to get texts from Verizon, but both content and metadata no longer stored.

January 25, 2018: Beth McGarry sends Aaron Zebley exit forms from Strzok and Page.

January 26, 2018: LFW notes that they’ve lost Page’s phone, but hands the search off to JMD. Greer notes, specifically, however, that “SCO policy was to reuse them and not hold.”

Late January 2018: FBI Inspection Division finds FBI Samsung phones, provide to DOJ IG.

February 8, 2018: Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc starts plotting attack on Strzok and others.

March 5, 2018: Kevin Clinesmith’s out-processing shows nothing unusual.

March 8, 2018: Andrew Weissmann wipes his phone.

May 4, 2018: Page resigns from FBI.

June 2018: DOJ IG discovers more texts, changes conclusion of Midyear Exam report.

June 14, 2018: Release of Midyear Exam report.

August 10, 2018: Strzok fired from FBI.

Early September 2018: Justice Management Division finds Page’s Mueller iPhone, provides to DOJ IG.

September 13, 2018: SCO Records Officer contacts DOJ IG about what status they got Page’s phone in.

September 21, 2018: Draft language between records officer and Aaron Zebley for DOJ IG Report. Also an attempt to check Airwatch for backups to the phones, but they only go back one year.

September 27, 2018: Andrew Weissmann wipes his phone.

October 17, 2018: DOJ IG informs SCO Records Officer that they have the phone, but that it had been reset to factory settings.

October 22, 2018: DOJ IG Cyber Agent follows up about DOJ IG Report language.

November 15, 2018: FBI Data Collection tool not archiving texts reliably.

November 27, 2018: Kyle Freeny’s phone wiped as part of out-processing.

November 29, 2018: Rush Atkinson’s phone accidentally wiped.

Late December 2018: DOJ IG releases report on archiving of DOJ phones.

December 27, 2018: Zebley responds to Rudy Giuliani claim about destruction of evidence.

January 18, 2019: JMD asks Verizon for texting data for Page and Strzok’s phones, but Verizon’s metadata records only go back 365 days.

January 30-31, 2019: LFW asks to cancel Strzok’s phone.

March 28, 2019: Andrew Weissmann’s out-processing review shows nothing unusual.

June 11, 2019: Rush Atkinson’s out-processing review shows nothing unusual.

December 9, 2019: DOJ IG releases Carter Page IG Report.

Unclear date: Inventory of all phones.

If the Steele Dossier Is Disinformation, Republicans Have Become Willful Participants in the Operation

I was among the first people to argue that the Steele dossier had been planted either partially or predominantly with Russian disinformation.

Republicans never consider the implications if the Steele dossier is disinformation

I first suggested the dossier reflected a feedback loop — magnifying both the Alfa Bank and the Michael Cohen allegations — in March 2017 (there’s increasing evidence the Alfa Bank story was disinformation, too, which I’ve also argued). In November 2017, I showed evidence suggesting the Democrats were complacent in response to their discovery of the hack in May and June 2016, in part because the dossier falsely led them to believe that the Russians hadn’t accomplished such hacks and that the kompromat Russians had on Hillary consisted of old FSB intercepts of her, not newly stolen emails. In January 2018, I showed how the dossier would be useful to Russia, partly to thwart and partly to discredit the investigation into their operation. In August 2018, I laid out six specific false claims made in the dossier that would have led Democrats or the FBI to take action counter to their own interests:

  • Russians hadn’t had success hacking targets like Hillary
  • Russians were planning to leak dated FSB intercepts rather than recent stolen emails
  • Misattribution of both what the social media campaign included and who did it, blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency
  • Carter Page, not George Papadopoulos or Roger Stone, was one key focus of Russian outreach
  • Russia had grown to regret the operation in August, when instead they were planning the next phase
  • Michael Cohen was covering up Trump’s funding of the hackers rather than Trump’s sexual scandals and an improbably lucrative business deal

Also in August 2018, I laid out the specific risk that Oleg Deripaska, who had influence over both Christopher Steele and Paul Manafort at the time, could have been manipulating both sides. In January, I wrote a much more detailed post that, in part, showed that that’s what Deripaska seems to have done. The post also showed how any disinformation in the dossier succeeded in confusing and discrediting the most experienced investigators into Russian organized crime (both Steele and at both DOJ and FBI), as well as harming Democrats.

Long after I started laying out the implications of the possibility that the dossier was disinformation, Republicans came to believe that was the case. Unsurprisingly, however, that’s all they’ve done, point to Russia’s success at feeding the FBI and Democrats disinformation (just as Russia got Don Jr, Roger Stone, and Mike Flynn to embrace and magnify other disinformation), as if that in some way uniquely damns Democrats. When, earlier this year, Chuck Grassley got footnotes declassified providing further evidence that the dossier was disinformation, Republicans just kept squawking that it was, without thinking through the implications of it.

Because Grassley and others raised the issue in the Rod Rosenstein hearing yesterday (and because I’m preparing a post on that hearing), I’m going back to look closely at three footnotes reflecting Russian knowledge of the dossier project. As with all my other posts criticizing the dossier, nothing here is meant to excuse the Democrats’ refusal to come clean on it, or the ham-handed way the project was managed in the first place. But the footnotes don’t actually say what the Republicans think they do, and in some ways they increase the import of Paul Manafort’s interactions with Deripaska during the campaign.

The three references to June 2017 reporting on mid-2016 knowledge of the dossier

There were actually three mentions of June 2017 reporting related to the Steele dossier. I’ve included the context from the IG Report and footnotes below, but summarized, they are:

  • Footnote 211: An intelligence report from June 2017 said someone associated with Oleg Deripaska was or may have been aware of Steele’s work by early July 2016.
  • Footnote 342: An early June 2017 USIC report said two people affiliated with Russian intelligence were aware of Steele’s work in “early 2016” (this is either a typo or inaccurate, as the earliest anyone could have known would have been May 2016, and more likely June 2016).
  • Footnote 347: The FBI received reporting in early June 2017 that must come from 702 coverage revealing a bunch of details about a sub-source, including that the person had contact with the Presidential Administration in June/July 2016 and that he or she was strongly pro-Hillary.

I’ve highlighted the temporal references in the longer passages below, to make this more clear, but it’s worth noting that all three of these references are to intelligence reports dated June 2017. Once you account for the error in footnote 342 (since Steele’s election reporting didn’t start until May 2016, awareness of it most post-date that), all three of the reports reflect some time to Steele’s project in roughly the same time frame: May to early July 2016.

So it’s possible that some if not all three of these reports are the same report. All the more so given that two key Deripaska deputies, Konstantin Kilimnik and Victor Boyarkin, have been publicly identified as having links to Russian intelligence.

The Mueller Report describes evidence–including but not limited to witness interviews–that Kilimnik has ties to GRU.

Manafort told the Office that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian “spy.”859 The FBI, however, assesses that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.860 Several pieces of the Office’s evidence-including witness interviews and emails obtained through court-authorized search warrants-support that assessment.

It makes no such claims about Boyarkin, though it does note that he served as defense attaché in the past, the kind of job often used for official cover. But when Treasury sanctioned Boyarkin in December 2018 along with all the people who implemented the Russian interference campaign in 2016, it identified Boyarkin as a former GRU officer.

Victor Alekseyevich Boyarkin (Boyarkin) is a former GRU officer who reports directly to Deripaska and has led business negotiations on Deripaska’s behalf.  Deripaska and Boyarkin were involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections.  Boyarkin was designated pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13661 and 13662 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Oleg Deripaska, who was previously designated pursuant to E.O. 13661 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of a senior Russian government official, as well as pursuant to E.O. 13662 for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy, as well as with entities 50 percent or more owned by designated persons.

The government refers to both of these guys as GRU-linked publicly. So if either showed up in a classified intelligence report, that affiliation would likely be more explicit. Both Kilimnik and Boyarkin were the target of retroactive surveillance as part of the investigation in Paul Manafort. And because they were interacting with Manafort, it would be likely one or both of them would learn of any issues involving Manafort, like the dossier, if such information came to Deripaska. To be clear, it is speculation that one of these men was the person associated with Deripaska who got wind of the dossier, but the description would fit both, both were under surveillance, and both would have a reason to be informed of the dossier if feeding disinformation to it was part of a larger project.

If either of them were one of the people named in the intelligence reports, it would mean Deripaska’s actions towards Manafort during the election would have been conducted by someone who knew of the Steele dossier. It would also mean that Boyarkin’s outreach (via Kilimnik) to Manafort in July 2016 would have come just after (this intelligence report reflects) learning of the dossier.

For example, in response to a July 7, 2016, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaska-backed investment, Manafort asked Kilimnik whether there had been any movement on “this issue with our friend.”897 Gates stated that “our friend” likely referred to Deripaska,898 and Manafort told the Office that the “issue” (and “our biggest interest,” as stated below) was a solution to the Deripaska-Pericles issue.899 Kilimnik replied:

I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest.

Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska].900

Eight minutes later, Manafort replied that Kilimnik should tell Boyarkin’s “boss,” a reference to Deripaska, “that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”901

It would also mean that when Manafort traveled to Madrid in early January 2017 he may have learned whatever the Deripaska people knew of the disinformation effort.

Manafort’ s activities in early 2017 included meetings relating to Ukraine and Russia. The first meeting, which took place in Madrid, Spain in January 2017, was with Georgiy Oganov. Oganov, who had previously worked at the Russian Embassy in the United States, was a senior executive at a Deripaska company and was believed to report directly to Deripaska.940 Manafort initially denied attending the meeting. When he later acknowledged it, he claimed that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.941 Other evidence, however, provides reason to doubt Manafort’s statement that the sole topic of the meeting was the Pericles lawsuit. In particular, text messages to Manafort from a number associated with Kilimnik suggest that Kilimnik and Boyarkin-not Manafort’s counsel-had arranged the meeting between Manafort and Oganov.942 Kilimnik’s message states that the meeting was supposed to be “not about money or Pericles” but instead “about recreating [the] old friendship”-ostensibly between Manafort and Deripaska-“and talking about global politics.”943

According to an old Ken Vogel story, Manafort called Reince Priebus the day the dossier came out — at a time when he’d still be in Madrid with Oganov (he returned on January 12) and suggested he discredit the Russian investigation by focusing on the Steele dossier.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a personclose to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whom he alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative.

This would have been one of the few communications Manafort had with anyone in the Trump Administration (per court records, he had no direct communication after the inauguration, though he did use Sean Hannity as a back channel after that).

From that Manafort call to the present, the push to discredit the Russian investigation by treating the dossier as the Russian investigation and discrediting the former by unpacking the (admitted, egregious) problems in the latter has been the primary response to the Russian investigation. If Manafort was tipped to the fact that the dossier was full of baseless allegations because the Russians had put them there, it would mean the entire GOP effort since has been one of the intended goals of the disinformation.

Again, this rests on speculation, but if, in fact, Manafort’s interlocutors were the people identified as those who learned of the dossier, then everything the Republicans have been doing since would be part of that disinformation campaign.

210 and 211: Deripaska’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Steele dossier

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

342: On top of disinformation, FBI believed both Steele and his sources may have been boasting

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. 342

342 In late January 2017, a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team received information [redacted] that RIS [may have targeted Orbis; redacted] and research all publicly available information about it. [redacted] However, an early June 2017 USIC report indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.

347: FBI used 702 collection to test Steele’s sub-sources

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

347 The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016[redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source.

Of over 40 Potential Unmaskings of Mike Flynn During the Transition, Just One Led to Criminal Charges

Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson have just posted what they seem to think is a list of people who may have unmasked Mike Flynn’s identity in the transcripts of his conversations on December 29 and 31 with Sergey Kislyak.

As a threshold matter, what it actually shows, is that over 40 recipients of intelligence may have unmasked Mike Flynn’s identity in a finished NSA intelligence product between the 2016 election and inauguration. If they did, they did it by the book, with NSA approval per the accompanying letter from Paul Nakasone. And even if they unmasked Flynn’s identity, the person who did so may not have read it.

The implication is that one of these unmaskings was the one (or were the ones) that led to the discovery that Mike Flynn had secretly called up the Russian Ambassador and undermined US foreign policy, acting without specific orders from Trump (at least as the public record currently stands).

Mind you, almost all of them could not be. Only 8 of them post-date the calls between Flynn and Kislyak:

  • US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power (1/11/17)
  • DNI James Clapper (1/7/2017)
  • Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew (1/12/17)
  • White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (1/5/17)
  • DDNI Michael Dempsey (1/7/17)
  • PDDNI Stephanie O’Sullivan (1/7/17)
  • CIA/CTMC 1/10/17
  • Vice President Joe Biden 1/12/17

And of those, only the McDonough unmasking corresponds even remotely to the time the IC discovered Flynn’s call, except we know FBI had already discovered it on January 4. Which is to say zero of these unmaskings could be the original one. A few people could be someone reading a transcript from the calls after the fact.

Except that some of these — such as the January 11 unmasking — are believed to relate to Mohammed bin Zayed’s secret trip to the US to meet Flynn and Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, and so are of another intercept.

There’s probably a very good reason why the original unmasking doesn’t show up on this list, which reflects only NSA products and only finished intelligence reports. According to Jim Comey’s testimony, the FBI found the Kislyak-Flynn calls, not the NSA.

And so the last couple days of December and the first couple days of January, all the Intelligence Community was trying to figure out, so what is going on here? Why is this — why have the Russians reacted the way they did, which confused us? And so we were all tasked to find out, do you have anything [redacted] that might reflect on this? That turned up these calls at the end of December, beginning of January. And then I briefed it to the Director of National Intelligence, and Director Clapper asked me for copies [redacted], which I shared with him.

That’s consistent with Mary McCord’s testimony, which made it clear no one had to refer this transcript to the FBI, because it was the FBI’s.

Also on page 2 of her notes, McCord noted mention of a “referral,” and noted that ultimately no referral was required, as the FBI maintained the information and would not refer a matter to themselves.

Plus, Jim Comey says this never became a finished intelligence product, even while he admitted that the FBI unmasked his identity.

We did not disseminate this [redacted] in any finished intelligence, although our people judged was appropriate, for reasons that I hope are obvious, to have Mr. Flynn’s name unmasked. We kept this very close hold, and it was shared just as I described.

So if this transcript was an FBI intercept that never made it into a finalized intelligence product, then it wouldn’t show up in a list of finalized NSA products.

All of which is to say this list — which Politico is running with as if it’s the Holy Grail — most likely has nothing to do with Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak, and shows that the Deep State picked up Mike Flynn during the transition in a good deal of reporting, with reports that more than 40 people had a glimpse at. But only one recording launched an investigation.

The DOJ IG Footnotes Show FBI Doing What They Do and Russia Doing What They Do

Three Republican Senators — Chuck Grassley, Ron Johnson, and Lindsey Graham — have gotten Bill Barr and Ric Grenell to declassify a bunch of things pertaining to Carter Page’s surveillance. While the materials have sent the frothy right into a frenzy again, the materials are actually far more interesting, ambiguous, and at times, damning to Trump’s narrative than the right wing stenographers have made out. This post will look at a series of footnotes to the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that have been declassified. I’m going to look at allegations about Russian knowledge of Steele’s project in July 2016 and evidence the Michael Cohen claims were disinformation in more detailed in a follow-up; both revelations may hurt Trump’s narrative more than help it, contrary to claims by the frothers.

The purge at ODNI enabled this declassification to occur

Before I get into what the declassified footnotes show, it’s important to understand Grenell’s role in it. In his statement releasing the full set of declassified footnotes, Grassley thanked both Bill Barr and Grenell. In Ron Johnson’s WSJ op-ed feeding the ignorant frenzy about the footnotes, he described how he and Grassley had to keep pressing for their declassification until Grenell made it happen.

My colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley and I began pressing Attorney General William Barr, and eventually acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, for full declassification of these footnotes. That’s why they’re now public.

In Grenell’s letter providing the footnotes (which very notably did not come as a re-released IG Report, as a prior declassification had), he explained that,

[H]aving consulted the heads of the relevant Intelligence Community elements, I have declassified the enclosed footnotes. I consulted with the Attorney General William Barr, and he has authorized the ODNI to say that he concurs in the declassification insofar as it relates to DOJ equities.

Grenell, of course, is doing the DNI job part time, on top of his full-time job as Ambassador to Germany and his day job of trolling dishonestly on the Internet.  So the declassification might be better understood as the work of Kash Patel, who, while he was a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, started this declassification project and also served as a gatekeeper to ensure GOP Congressmen did not get accurate information on Russia. While he was on the National Security Council, Patel ensured that Trump did not get accurate information on Ukraine. And the release comes just days after Trump got rid of the last Senate confirmed person at ODNI, something that Adam Schiff has raised concerns about.

Don’t get me wrong: I support these declassifications and with a very few exceptions in these footnotes, don’t think embarrassing stuff got hidden because Grenell was involved (I have a different opinion about how stuff was declassified for Lindsey, even while I’m thrilled to have the precedent for entire FISA applications being released). Some of the most interesting declassifications confirm small details about FISA that have long been known, but have been impossible to prove since DOJ guarded that confirmation so assiduously. But it is crystal clear this declassification happened as a result of dismantling longtime Intelligence Community protections, for better and worse.

The footnotes show FBI and FISA worked like it normally does and so did the Russians

As noted, Grenell didn’t effectuate this declassification by having DOJ IG release an updated version of the report, but instead by releasing all the redacted footnotes, with any newly declassified information unmarked, out of context. Not only does that obscure a few key ones that weren’t further declassified or had already been declassified, but it makes it harder to understand what they mean in context. I’ll treat each of them in turn, italicizing the newly disclosed information, if any.

17: The Brits let Steele cooperate

The OIG also interviewed witnesses who were not current or former Department employees regarding their interactions with the FBI on matters falling with the scope of this review, including Christopher Steele and employees of other U.S. government agencies. 17

17 According to Steele, his cooperation with our investigation was done with the consent of his government.

The fact that Steele emphasized this — and the delayed timing of Steele’s cooperation — suggest that the UK wanted to make clear that they were willing to expose their own intelligence weaknesses to cooperate with something Trump had put significant stock in.

21, 354: DOJ IG considered some of the FISA collection on Page irrelevant to this review

We also received and reviewed more than one million documents that were in the Department’s and FBI’s possession. Among these were electronic communications of Department and FBI employees and documents from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, including interview reports (FD-302s and Electronic Communications or ECs), contemporaneous notes from agents, analysts, and supervisors involved in case-related meetings, documents describing and analyzing Steele’s reporting and information obtained through FISA coverage on Carter Page, and draft and final versions of materials used to prepare the FISA applications and renewals filed with the FISC. 21

21 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

[snip]

Emails and other communications reflect that in the first week of surveillance on Carter Page [redacted], following the granting [redacted] application -· in the October 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team collected [redacted] 354

354 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

These declassifications reveals two phrases — “collections,” and “physical searches” — that have long been treated as classified (though they appear elsewhere in the report, usually by accident). The import of these phrases, especially “physical search,” which actually includes “stored communications,” is why they’ve been hidden in the past.

While the meaning of these footnote was always clear, the import of it (that is, what DOJ IG would considered irrelevant to their review) remains unclear, especially given Michael Horowitz’s public questions about whether the collection was ever useful.

That’s especially true given how FISA surveillance was integrated into later Carter Page applications. The applications Lindsey Graham released makes it clear there was a good deal (indeed, it clearly corroborated concerns about Page’s hope to open a pro-Russian think tank as well as sustained questions about whom Page met with in Russia — though that’s partly because he oversold his ties there to the campaign). The redactions, however, were just hiding FISA vocabulary that had previously been hidden.

61 and 63: How the FBI decides to make someone an informant

The CHSPG recognizes that the decision to open an individual as a CHS will not only forever affect the life of that individual, but that the FBI will also be viewed, fairly or unfairly, in light of the conduct or misconduct of that individual. 59 Accordingly, the CHSPG identifies criteria that handling a ents must consider when assessing the risks associated with the potential CHS. [redacted]60 These risks must be weighed against the benefits associated with use of the potential CHS. 61

Once a CHS has been evaluated and recruited, the CHSPG does not allow for tasking until after the CHS has been approved for opening by an FBI SSA; the required approvals for a specific tasking have been granted; and the CHS has met with the co-handling agent assigned to his or her file, who has the same duties, responsibilities, and file access as the handling agent. 62 The CHSPG requires additional supervisory approval by a Special Agent in Charge (SAC) and review by a Chief Division Counsel CDC to open CHSs that are “sensitive” sources, [redacted]

61 Criteria used by agents and analysts to weigh the risks and benefits are: (1) access [redacted] (2) suitability: [redacted] (3) susceptibility: [redacted] (4) accessibility: [redacted] (5) security; [redacted]

62 CHSPG § 3.1.

63 CHSPG Section 3.5.1.1 Special approval and notification requirements also are necessary for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction, such as tasking a CHS to contact the subject of an investigation who is located in a foreign country. The requirements and notifications differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operating is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, [redacted]

[snip]

Under the CHSPG, which vests SSAs with daily oversight responsibility for CHSs in routine investigations, approval at the SSA level was sufficient. 525 The only relevant exception for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation were counterintelligence CHS extraterritorial operations, which required approval by an FBI Assistant Director, and which we found received approval by Priestap. 526

526 As described in Chapter Two, the special approval and notification requirements for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operation is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, CHSPG Sections 19.2, 19.3.3. Because the Crossfire Hurricane investigation at the outset was a national security investigation, the extraterritorial CHS operations in the case required Assistant Director approval.

These sections reveal details of the FBI’s rules on informants and the special approvals needed in some cases. This information had already been liberated by Terry Albury (see PDF 25 and 31ff) for the earlier sections that remain redacted (which is a testament to the novelty of this declassification, since he’s in prison for having released it). They’re interesting in the case of Carter Page because there was some dispute about using Steele (to say nothing of the disagreement between Steele and the FBI about what their relationship really entailed).

Apparently, Bill Priestap had to give approval for overseas use of informants (and this must extend to Stefan Halper), not because the investigation was sensitive, but because it was a national security investigation.

164, 464, 484: Joseph Mifsud was neither a CIA asset nor had CIA collected on him

During one of these meetings, Papadopoulos reportedly “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign “received some kind of a suggestion from Russia” that it could assist the campaign by anonymously releasing derogatory information about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 164

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

(U) We refer to Joseph Mifsud by name in this report because the Department publicly revealed Mifsud’s identity in The Special Counsel’s Report (public version). According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Papadopoulos first met Mifsud in March 2016, after Papadopoulos had already learned that he would be serving as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign. According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Mifsud only showed interest in Papadopoulos after learning of Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign, and told Papadopoulos about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then candidate Clinton in late April 2016. The Special Counsel found that Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about the timing of his discussions with Mifsud, as well as the nature and extent of his communications with Mifsud. The Special Counsel charged Papadopoulos under Title 18 U.S.C. § 1001 with making false statements. Papadopoulos pled guilty and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. See The Special Counsel’s Report, Vol. 1, at 192‐94

[snip]

The FBI’s Delta files contain no evidence that Mifsud has ever acted as an FBI CHS,463 and none of the witnesses we interviewed or documents we reviewed had any information to support such an allegation. 464

464 The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from that agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with that agency.

[snip]

In Crossfire Hurricane, the “articulable factual basis” set forth in the opening EC was the FFG information received from an FBI Legal Attache stating that Papadopoulos had suggested during a meeting in May 2016 with officials from a “trusted foreign partner” that the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist by releasing information damaging to candidate Clinton and President Obama. 484

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

These declassifications debunk something George Papadopoulos has long claimed: that Joseph Mifsud was part of a Deep State plot run by either the FBI or CIA. The FBI asked CIA if they knew anything about him but did not.

166: How the FBI got involved

The Legat told us he was not provided any other information about the meetings between the FFG and Papadopoulos. 166

166 According to Legat, the senior intelligence official stated at the meeting with the USG official that the FFG information “sounds like an FBI matter.”

This explains how, after Australia passed the Papadopoulos tip to State, State called in both the FBI Legal Attaché in London and a senior intelligence officer — probably Gina Haspel, who at the time was London Station Chief — to explain the tip, after which the SIO said FBI should deal with it. Again, it undermines part of the claims of a Deep State coup.

205: Proof Steele should have known FBI considered him an informant, not a consultant

Steele stated that he never recalled being told that he was a CHS and that he never would have accepted such an arrangement, despite the fact that he signed FBI admonishment and payment paperwork indicating that he was an FBI CHS. 205

205 During his time as an FBI CHS, Steele received a total of $95,000 from the FBI. We reviewed the FBI paperwork for those payments, each of which required Steele’s Signed acknowledgement. On each document, of which there were eight, was the caption “CHS Payment” and “CHS’s Payment Name.” A signature page was missing for one of the payments.

This passage was redacted to hide the fact that when the FBI pays informants they don’t do so under their own name. The passage as a whole provides reason why Steele should have known, contrary to his claims, that FBI treated him bureaucratically as an informant. The fact he had a payment name may or may not strengthen that proof.

208: Oligarchs spent much of 2015 trying to meet the FBI through Steele

In our review of Steele’s CHS file, other pertinent documents, and interviews with Handling Agent 1, Ohr, and Steele, we observed that Steele had multiple contacts with representatives of Russian oligarchs with connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS) and senior Kremlin officials. 208

208 (U) A 2015 report concerning oligarchs written by the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit (TOCIU) noted that from January through May 2015, 10 Eurasian oligarchs sought meetings with the FBI, and 5 of these had their intermediaries contact Steele. The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity. The FBI’s Validation Management Unit did not perform such an assessment on Steele until early 2017 after, as described in Chapter Six, the Crossfire Hurricane team requested an assessment in the context of Steele’s election reporting. Handling Agent 1 told us he had seen the TOCIU report and was not concerned about its findings concerning Steele because he was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts to Russian oligarchs. We found that the TOCIU report was not included in Steele’s Delta file. Handling Agent 1 said that he found preparation of the TOCIU report “curious” because he believed that TOCIU was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts and fully supported them.

The fact that Steele was a liaison between the US government and Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs was not secret. Indeed the sections on Bruce Ohr, as well as Ohr’s declassified 302s, make that clear. What’s most interesting about this (prior) redaction is that, while marked as unclassified, the footnote was redacted. While it’s damning that this was not in Steele’s Delta file, that it had been but is not now redacted may say more about investigations into Ohr and Oleg Deripaska and others, than it does about Steele (meaning they’re no longer protecting those investigations).

210 and 211: Deripaska’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Steele dossier

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

I’m going to save my longer discussion on this for a separate post, though I already flagged and explained why these two footnotes were important in this post. The short version is, it suggests that to the extent the dossier was disinformation, focusing on Carter Page would have given cover for whatever mission Konstantin Kilimnik was pursuing in July 2016, at which point Deripaska may have already known of the dossier (remember he went to Moscow and met with Viktor Yanukovych before the meeting). Note, too, that the redacted word that has been substituted as “possibly aware” is too short to be that uncertain, so I question the substitution. Also note that footnote 210 is one of a handful footnotes in the entire report that was not further declassified with this review.

214: Steele used to be a spook

Steele told us he had a source network in place with a proven “track record” that could deliver on Fusion GPS’s requirements. Steele added that this source network previously had furnished intelligence on Russian interference in European affairs. 214

214 Steele told us that the source network did not involve sources from his time as a former foreign government employee and was developed entirely in the period after he retired from governmental service

This redaction only served to hide what we all knew, that Steele used to be an MI6 officer. Either the UK no longer considers that sensitive or they really want to give Trump what he wants.

242: The Carter Page investigation wasn’t only about whether he was a spy

Case Agent 2 told the OIG that he informed Steele that the FBI was interested in obtaining information in “3 buckets.” According to Case Agent 2’s written summary of the meeting, as well as the Supervisory Intel Analyst’s notes, these 3 buckets were:

(1) Additional intelligence/reporting on specific, named individuals (such as [Page] or [Flynn]) involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship; 241 (2) Physical evidence of specific individuals involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship (such as emails, photos, ledgers, memorandums etc); [and] (3) Any individuals or sub sources who [Steele] could identify who could serve as cooperating witnesses to assist in identifying persons involved in the Trump campaign-Russian relationship. 242

242 The FBI advised the OIG that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was a national security investigation, and these activities therefor[e] involved national security extraterritorial CHS operations [redaction]

The only thing interesting about this declassification is how it relates the earlier and later ones, at 63 and 526, on special approval for using an informant overseas. It is equally interesting, however, that the description of why FBI focused on what they did remains substantially classified.

244: The FBI’s knowledge of Sergei Millian’s activities remains classified

For example, Steele identified a sub-source (Person 1) who Steele said was in direct contact with Steele’s primary source {Primary Sub-source). 244

244 Person 1 [redacted]

Like the footnote about Crossfire Hurricane’s knowledge of Oleg Deripaska’s ties with Steele, nothing new has been redacted here. Incidentally, after the first batch of these declassifications had come out and I called Sergei Millian out on making a chronologically impossible claim about what they showed, we had a charming exchange where he told me his interest in what I told the FBI was unique, which I include here solely to break up the monotony of this post!

253: Someone told Steele that Millian was hiding out

According to Handling Agent l’s records, during October 2016, Steele communicated with him four times and provided seven written reports, one of which concerned Carter Page and thus was responsive to the FBI’s request for information concerning Page’s activities. 253

253 (U) These seven reports, with selected highlights, were:

(U) Report 130 (Putin and his colleagues were surprised and disappointed that leaks of Clinton’s emails had not had a greater impact on the campaign; a stream of hacked Clinton material had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant western media outlets like WikiLeaks and the stream would continue until the election);

[redacted] Report 132 (a top level Russian intelligence figure claimed that Putin regrets the operation to interfere in the U.S. elections);

(U) Report 134 (a close associate of Rosneft President Sechin confirmed a secret meeting with Carter Page in July; Sechin was keen to have sanctions on the company lifted and offered up to a 19 percent stake in return);

(U) Report 135 (Trump attorney Michael Cohen was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage control in an attempt to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed; Cohen had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials; immediate issues were efforts to contain further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit damage from the exposure of Carter Page’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month);

(U) Report 136 (Kremlin insider reports that Cohen’s secret meeting/s with Kremlin officials in August 2016 was/were held in Prague);

[redacted] Report 137 (Divyekin was moved from his position in the Presidential Administration to one in the Duma; this move followed Divyekin being exposed in the western media, e.g., the Yahoo News story of September 23, 2016, as a secret interlocutor of Page); and

[redacted] Report 139 (Person 1 was forced to lie low abroad following his/her exposure in the western media and was currently in [redacted]).

There are three things about these disclosures. First, the redacted bullets were classified (they had some redaction other than the Unclassified markings these other paragraphs have). If they were known disinformation, it’s not clear why they’d be classified.

Second, this and other declassified passages suggest that FBI had IDed Divyekin (otherwise it’s unlikely to be classified). The application itself said FBI believed this person to be Igor Nikolayevich Dyevkin, who work(ed) in the Presidential Administration. Unless these original redactions were attempts to hide what FBI didn’t know but should have?

The other detail is that — whether disinformation or no — Steele got a report in October, during the month after FBI started actively investigating Millian, that claimed he had hidden out. He was in New York at the time, though, and remained out and about at least through the inauguration (where he partied with Papadopoulos). So why redact his purported locale?

This spreadsheet lists which files the FBI got when.

265: Grenell liberates basic FISA vocabulary that has long been hidden

The same day, OGC submitted a FISA request form to OI providing, among other things, a description of the factual information to establish probable cause to believe that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power, the “facilities” to be targeted under the proposed FISA coverage, and the FBI’s investigative plan. 265

“Facilities” are the items to be searched or subjected to electronic surveillance, such as email accounts, telephone numbers, physical premises, or personal property.

The term facilities has long been unredacted in reports on FISA, but without a definition (though the definition was obvious). Its declassification is long overdue. That said, this definition leaves out a lot of things that can be defined as facilities, such as IP addresses and encryption keys.

276: The rush to surveil Page before he met with foreigners

3: 11 p.m., Lisa Page to McCabe: “QI now has a robust explanation re any possible bias of the chs in the package. Don’t know what the holdup is now, other than Stu’s continued concerns. Strong operational need to have in place before Monday if at all possible, which means ct tomorrow. 276

As described below, it appears the desire to have FISA authority in place before Monday, October, 17, was due, at least in part, to the fact that Carter Page was expected to travel to the United Kingdom and South Africa shortly thereafter, and the Crossfire Hurricane team wanted FISA coverage targeting Carter Page in place before that trip.

This sounds shocking and any rush may have led to problems with the application (though the most serious problems were more substantive than that). But it’s not unusual to tie surveillance to upcoming foreign activities. After all, FBI is trying to understand what someone’s relationship to foreign governments is. And Page had some pretty interesting meetings in places besides just Russia.

Moreover only the details of where Page was traveling were classified in the original release — a description of his travel appears at 321ff.

293, 362, 368, 377: Individualized FISA orders automatically qualify the target for 705(b) surveillance

Yates signed the application, and OI submitted the application to the FISC the same day. By her signature, and as stated in the application, Yates found that the application satisfied the criteria and requirements of the FISA statute and approved its filing with the court. 293

293 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5

362 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

368 Boente’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

Rosenstein’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

A set of four footnotes describing that the Attorney General designee signature on the Page applications are one of the declassifications that has been significantly misunderstood.

Under FISA, for authorizations that are more strict (with an individualized content warrant being the most strict), authorization for less or equivalent surveillance is fairly automatic. People targeted with individual orders here in the US must either be covered, when they travel overseas, by 703 (surveillance overseas with the assistance of a US provider) or 704 (surveillance without assistance overseas, meaning EO 12333 surveillance), but there’s an authorization, 705(b), that allows both domestic collection and 12333 collection overseas. As far as all public records and some non-public ones show, 703 has never been used. 705(b) has instead, meaning that when people travel overseas, the government uses techniques available under EO 12333. There’s good reason to believe that the techniques available under 705(b)/EO 12333 are much niftier, including (as one example) more sophisticated device hacks.

I wrote about the import of 705(b) authority with Carter Page back in April 2017 (in a piece that also suggested he might be the first person ever to get to review his FISA application).

That he was approved for 705(b) is important because he was surveilled overseas. But that is in no way unique to Page. Nor, even if this were “physical search” mean they were surveilling his person. A hack of a phone, conducted from Maryland, would qualify.

296: Steele fluffed his MI6 experience

Steele is a former [redacted] and has been an FBI source since in or about October 2013. [Steele’s] reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings and the FBI assesses [Steele] to be reliable. 296

296 Although Case Agent 2’s summary of the early October meeting with Steele states that Steele described his former position in a manner consistent with the footnote in the FISA application, other documentation (discussed in Chapter Eight) indicates that Steele’s former employer told the FBI in November 2016, after the first application was filed, that Steele had served in a “moderately senior” position, not a “high‐ranking” position as Steele suggested.

This is a complaint about whether Steele or the FBI agent was responsible for the depiction of how he was described in a footnote in the application. It basically shows that Steele fluffed his experience when meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, but this kind of distinction is often semantics.

301 to 303: Hiding more details about Sergei Millian

Before the initial FISA application was filed, FBI documents and witness testimony indicate that the Crossfire Hurricane team had assessed, particularly following the information Steele provided in early October, that Source E was most likely a person previously known to the FBI, referred to hereinafter as Person 1. 301

[snip]

In addition, we learned that Person 1 was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The 01 Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, Person 1 [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, Person 1 had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that Person 1 “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that Person 1 was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on Person 1, the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was Person 1.

301 is one of a small number of footnotes that did not get declassified any further. 302 still hides the source of intelligence claiming that Millian was rumored to be a former Russian intelligence officer, though that Glenn Simpson believed it was not really secret. Clearly there are things about Millian — or about the reporting on Millian — that remain legitimately secret. For some reason, 303 was included on the declassification list even though it had been entirely declassified (it was clearly at least FOUO) for the initial release of the report.

328: Secret discussions sometimes remain secret

Priestap said he interpreted the comments about Steele’s judgment to mean that “if he latched on to something … he thought that was the most important thing on the face of this earth” and added that this personality trait doesn’t necessarily “jump out as a particularly bad or horrible [one]” because, as a manager, it can be helpful if the “people reporting to [you] think the stuff they’re working on is the most important thing going on” and use their best efforts to pursue it. Information from these meetings was shared with the Crossfire Hurricane team. However, we found that it was not memorialized in Steele’s Delta file and therefore not considered in a validation review conducted by the FBI’s Validation Management Unit (VMU) in early 2017. 328

328 Priestap told the OIG that he recalled that he may have made a commitment to Steele’s former employer not to document the former’s employer’s views on Steele as a condition for obtaining the information.

It’s unclear whether DOJ IG doesn’t believe Bill Priestap’s explanation for not including details that might be considered derogatory about Steele. And he’s right that the judgment — that Steele might follow shiny objects — might not be a bad thing in a well-managed source. In any case, the US now appears uninterested in hiding this detail.

334: For some reason Steele’s primary sub-source claimed to believe he was getting paid to meet with friends

As noted in the first FISA application, Steele relied on a primary sub-source (Primary Sub-source) for information, and this Primary Sub-source used a network of sub-sources to gather the information that was relayed to Steele; Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting. 334

334 When interviewed by the FBI, the Primary Sub‐source stated that he/she did not view his/her contacts as a network of sources, but rather as friends with whom he/she has conversations about current events and government relations. The Primary Sub‐source [was] [redacted]

This passage (the “was” was previously unredacted but is now redacted) has generated a lot of uncritical attention, as has the DOJ IG Report’s reporting on the primary sub-source generally. One possibility for who this person is is that he’s someone in a British-based Russian community; that community has successfully been targeted for assassination repeatedly (and if the person were in Russia, would be even more vulnerable). If this person was knowingly part of disinformation, undermining Steele would be part of the disinformation. If the person was not, he might want to minimize what he did to avoid assassination himself. But the claim — made here — that someone getting paid to tell Steele these stories (as he was) didn’t realize his network was being treated as subsources is laughable, and reflects more on the reliability of what the Primary Subsource actually said, because it is solid evidence he’s spinning his relationship with Steele.

339: People who would have ties to Russian intelligence are alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence

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

339 The Primary Sub‐source also told the FBI at these interviews that the subsource who provided the information about the Carter Page‐ Sechin meeting had connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS). [redacted]

From the day the dossier came out, it was explicit that some of the claimed sources for it had ties to Russian intelligence, and it would be unsurprising if someone close to Igor Sechin did too. The context to this footnote — that the Primary Subsource’s texts with the subsource didn’t reflect any payment to Page — is actually far more damning for Steele (or his Subsource, who for reasons I laid out above, I think shouldn’t be trusted). But the fact that spooks talk to spooks is actually not all that interesting (and in Steele’s dossier, is explicit).

Note there’s a redaction after this claim, which may be an assessment of whether the claim, in this case, makes any sense.

342: On top of disinformation, FBI believed both Steele and his sources may have been boasting

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. 342

342 In late January 2017, a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team received information [redacted] that RIS [may have targeted Orbis; redacted] and research all publicly available information about it. [redacted] However, an early June 2017 USIC report indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.

There are two allegations in this newly declassified information. First, that someone on the Crossfire Hurricane team received information that said Steele’s company may have been targeted. And second, a recurring report about one or multiple June 2017 reports stating that Russian intelligence knew of Steele’s efforts in “early” or “July” 2016.

The first claim, with the continued redaction, is unclear about three things: whether Steele was targeted by human or cyber spying, and who conducted the open source investigation, and what the “it” refers to (it could be Orbis, or the attempted targeting of him). It would be thoroughly unsurprising if Steele had been phished, for example, as virtually all anti-Russian entities were in this period. Phishing might have entailed open source investigation into Orbis (but then, so would human targeting). If phishing or any other hacking were successful, Russia might have learned of his project that way.

I’ll deal with this June 2017 report(s) in more depth later. Here, though, the Supervisory Intel Analyst was making a distinction between knowing of Steele’s project and compromising it that may not be entirely credible. It’s important in this context because the FBI did not consider, before Page’s June 2017 FISA application, whether Steele’s allegations about him were disinformation. (Elsewhere, Priestap describes that he considered but dismissed the possibility because he didn’t understand how that would work.)

347: FBI used 702 collection to test Steele’s sub-sources

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

347 The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source.

A number of frothy right wingers have pointed to this as further proof of a grand conspiracy. It could be that. But that’s not necessarily what this shows. It does show that 1) the sub-source was in touch with both the primary Subsource (which you’d want to prove to make sure the contact actually happened, and 2) the sub-source had the kind of contacts — with Russia’s Presidential Administration — to reflect actual access to information. The Hillary support absolutely could mean that the sub-source played up whatever he or she had learned from Russian sources, in which his or her claim that Steele’s reporting was exaggerated might be a way to deflect blame. That said, the better part of potential sources for this dossier would not have been pro-Hillary.

The declassification reveals the interesting detail that one and only one of Steele’s subsources was targeted under Section 702.

350: The FBI identified the Michael Cohen reporting as erroneous from early on

Stuart Evans, NSD’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General who oversaw OI, stated that if OI had been aware of the information about Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1, it would have been evaluated by OI. He told us: “Counterintelligence investigations are complex, and often involve as I said, you know, double dealing, and people playing all sides…. I think that [the connection between Steele and Russian Oligarch 1] would have been yet another thing we would have wanted to dive into. “350

350 In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful. A USIC report dated February 27, 2017, contained information about an individual with reported connections to Trump and Russia who claimed that the public reporting about the details of Trump’s sexual activities in Moscow during a trip in 2013 were false, and that they were the product of RIS “infiltrate[ing] a source into the network” of a [redacted] who compiled a dossier of that individual on Trump’s activities. The [redacted] noted that it had no information indicating that the individual had special access to RIS activities or information.

This footnote is meant to elaborate on Evans’ comment about counterintelligence investigations involving a lot of double dealing, context that is particularly important to reading the still redacted footnote. The footnote explains two things. First, that by January 12, 2017 — that is, days after Buzzfeed published the dossier — what is probably another intelligence service (it could even be the Czechs, given the import of Prague) raised concerns about the accuracy of the subset of reporting on Michael Cohen. Given how Steele represented his reports, however, one set of reports would not necessarily reflect on the accuracy of the others (unless they pointed to disinformation from the primary Subsource); that’s how raw intelligence works! The accuracy of the Cohen reporting does not necessarily reflect on the Page FISA application, which is what this report is about.

The record shows that Mueller did not use the Steele dossier in his investigation of Cohen — which seems to have arisen from Suspicious Activity Reports from his banks showing that immediately after the election a bunch of foreigners, including a key Russian, started paying him large sums. And given what else we know about Cohen, confirmation that this is disinformation actually suggests the disinformation was more sophisticated than otherwise understood, in that it provided cover for other things Russia was doing, something I’ll return to.

As to the 2013 dossier about 2013, because of the redactions, it’s unclear whether the FBI obtained a report of someone reporting that he had learned about a Russian dossier on Trump from his 2013 trip, or that someone else was doing a dossier about someone associated with Trump’s trip. Given what we know from Giorgi Rtskhiladze’s testimony to the FBI and Cohen’s discussion of it since, we already knew there was a dossier material from Trump’s 2013 trip, and had been floated continuously since then. Indeed, this report could actually suggest that the CIA learned of the interactions Rtskhiladze (who had ties to Russia and Trump) had before FBI did.

Update: the version of the footnote that appears in the letter to Grassley shows this footnote was transcribed incorrectly in the full version (replacing “a dossier of information” with “a dossier of that individual”), which raises questions about some of the other transcriptions.

That doesn’t actually change my point:

  1. At least according to Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony, the alleged pee tape had been out there since 2013
  2. Giorgi Rtskhiladze is one person — and if Cohen is to be believed, he’s not alone — who knew of the pee tape allegation, and he definitely wanted to claim it was not real (which I’m not contesting), even while having tried to pressure Cohen with it; he also would fit the description of someone who has ties to Russia and Trump but not public ties to Russian intelligence
  3. The redaction of whose dossier this was — which was DOJ IG’s transcription of the report, not a direct quote — is redacted. If this is about Steele (and I’m not wedded to either reading), then for some reason DOJ IG’s redacted description is sensitive (for some reason they didn’t write “source #1”). And the Steele dossier is not just about Trump’s activities. There are multiple possible explanations for why it is sensitive.

I should not have used “2013” above to distinguish this second claim. But my underlying point remains: in context, that redaction suggests something else is going on.

In any case, I’m grateful to my fan who pointed out the difference in the footnote.

365: Classified stuff about Millian that had already been declassified remains declassified

Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 did advise the court of a news article claiming that Person 1 was a source for some of the Steele reports and that Person 1 denied having any compromising information regarding the President. 365

365 In Chapter Five, we describe how the FBI did not specifically and explicitly advise or about the FBI’s assessment before the first FISA application that Person 1 was the sub-source who provided the information relied upon in the application from Steele Reports 80, 95, and 102; that Steele had provided derogatory information regarding Person 1; and that the FBI had an open counterintelligence investigation on Person 1. As noted previously, in the next chapter, we describe the information from the Primary Sub-source interview concerning Person 1 and the information that was not shared with or about inconsistences [sic] between the Primary Sub-source and Steele concerning information provided by Person 1.

As with other instances, there was stuff about Sergei Millian that was declassified for the original release, but as a result was included in this declassification review.

372: FISA collections that corroborated Page’s application has been sequestered

In original form, this footnote (modifying an entirely redacted bullet) described what the third application had said. Because the FISC ordered FBI to sequester all collection from the FISA applications targeting Page, this footnote now marks the information as sequestered.

379: FBI violated minimization procedures in retaining information on Carter Page

According to NSD supervisors, as of October 2019, NSD had not received a formal response from the FISC to the Rule 13 Letter. 379

379 On May 10, 2019, NSD sent a second letter to the FISC concerning the Carter Page FISA applications, advising the court of two indicants in which the FBI failed to comply with the SMPs applicable to physical searches conducted pursuant to the final FISA orders issued by the court on June 29, 2017. According to the letter, the FBI took and retained on an FBI‐issued cell phone photographs of certain property taken in connection with a FISA‐authorized physical search on July 13, 2017, which NSD assessed did not comport with the SMPs. In addition in a separate incident on July 29, 2017, the FBI took photographs in connection with another FISA‐authorized physical search and transferred the photographs to an electronic folder on the FBI’s classified secret network. . According to NSD, court staff contacted an NSD official in response to this letter and asked when the information at issue would be removed from non‐compliant FBI systems, and asked about other cases that might be impacted by the same problem. On October 9, 2019, NSD sent another letter to the FISC advising the court that the FBI completed the remedial process for the information associated with the Page FISA applications and information from other cases impacted by the same problem.

This footnote reveals something specific to Page and more generalized as well. First, FBI did “physical searches” on Page on June 29 and July 13, 2017. Remember, “physical searches” can include searches of stored communication, and in this period, FBI had a specific interest in Page’s use of an encrypted messaging app and bank accounts they had not yet reviewed, so these may not be searches of wherever Page lived at the time (though he has said he was out of the country during one or both of them). It appears the minimization violation pertained to the means by which FBI collected the information, basically by taking a picture of evidence. The language makes it clear that this is a more general problem, one suggesting the FBI had misused cell phones in conjunction with FISA searches (but which are probably totally okay under criminal physical searches).

This is the kind of thing, incidentally, where FBI (or NSA) usually gets FISA to adjust the rules to incorporate such practice, while requiring FBI to purge files of collection that violated the rules when collected.

389: Was the Primary Sub-Source actually not truthful and cooperative?

The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not recall anyone asking him whether he thought the Primary Sub-source was “truthful and cooperative,” as noted in the renewal applications. 389

Email communications reflect that in March 2017—after the first FISA application and first renewal were filed and before the last two renewals—the Supervisory Intel Analyst reviewed the first FISA application and the first renewal at OGC’s request to assist with potential redactions before the Department responded to Congressional information requests. The Supervisory Intel Analyst provided comments to the OGC Attorney, including advising him that the Primary Sub‐source was not [redacted] as stated in the FISA applications, and asking whether a correction should be made. The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not provide any other comments relating to the Primary Sub‐source, and he told us that he did not notice anything else potentially inaccurate or incomplete in the applications at that time.

Nothing new was declassified in this declassification review — the redaction continues to hide what had been claimed about Steele’s Primary Sub-Source. That raises questions about what might still be hidden here, including that there may be some question about how helpful the Primary Sub-Source really was.

475 FBI still had stuff from a pro-Trump informant in their files

The Handling Agent placed the materials into the FBI’s files. 475

475 We notified the FBI upon learning during our review that [redacted] material that the CHS had provided to the FBI were still maintained in FBI files.

This footnote was not further declassified with the declassification review. It pertains to a standing FBI informant who (unbeknownst to the Crossfire Hurricane team) was a part of the Trump campaign and had provided some information to his handler. For some reason, it seems the information should have been removed from FBI files, perhaps because it was disinformation. Note the SSA on this other team was avowedly anti-Hillary and was working on the Clinton Foundation investigation.

Chuck Grassley and His Two Republican Friends

After spending several days hemming and hawing about it, Chuck Grassley has sent a letter to President Trump, asking that he “provide more detailed reasoning for the removal of Inspector General Atkinson no later than April 13, 2020.”

The letter cites the basis for which Congress can make such demands: Inspector Generals work for both Congress and the Executive.

Further, the IC IG and indeed all inspectors general (IG) are designed to fulfill a dual role, reporting to both the President and Congress, to secure efficient, robust, and independent agency oversight. To ensure inspectors general are fully capable of performing their critical duties, and in recognition of their importance both to efficient administration and to the legislative function, Congress set clear, statutory notice requirements for their potential removal.

And it lays out how Trump’s move — not just putting Michael Atkinson on 30-day administrative leave (something Obama did , but also naming Thomas Monheim as Atkinson’s replacement immediately, something without precedent that Adam Schiff also raised concerns about.

Further, according to public reports, Mr. Atkinson already was placed on administrative leave, effectively removing him from his position prior to the completion of the statutorily required notice period.

[snip]

Please also provide your views on how the appointment of an acting official prior to the end of the 30 day notice period comports with statutory requirements.

The letter is precisely the kind of Congressional pushback on a removal that laws governing the appointments of Inspectors General envision. This is not just a show; Grassley has a long history of caring deeply about this stuff (and twice defended Schiff’s efforts to keep the identity of the Ukraine whistleblower secret).

The problem with his letter is this:

Just two of the Senators who co-signed this letter, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, are Republicans (Gary Peters, ranking member on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also signed). Grassley unsurprisingly didn’t get the hackish Ron Johnson, who as the Chair of HGSAC should make a pretense of giving a damn about oversight, to sign on. He didn’t get the Senator with the biggest role in overseeing the ICIG, Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr, to sign on (though Mark Warner is Ranking Member on the committee). And he didn’t get any of the other Senators — like Lisa Murkowski or Lamar Alexander — who purportedly considered voting for impeachment to sign on.

And that means, without enough Republicans to be able to threaten that a majority of the Senate would back an effort to enforce this request, Trump can and might well just blow this request off.

The Stakes and Misinformation about the Andrew McCabe Declination

Amid the other crazy events of the week, DOJ informed Andrew McCabe he would not be prosecuted as a result of the criminal referral arising from DOJ IG’s finding that he lacked candor when asked about an October 30, 2016 Devlin Barrett story.

While it’s possible the Tuesday Afternoon Massacre and Jessie Liu’s removal had some role in the timing of this notice, one thing is clear: McCabe got notice primarily because Judge Reggie Walton had imposed a deadline in a CREW FOIA to release some transcripts about the stalled decision-making process. Probably, DOJ made the decision last fall after a grand jury refused to charge McCabe, but stalled on giving McCabe notice because DOJ knew it would piss off Trump. But since the court transcripts would reveal some of that, the FOIA deadline finally forced DOJ’s hand.

In the aftermath of the McCabe news, a bunch of frothy Republicans, including Chuck Grassley, have analogized the investigation into McCabe with the investigations into Roger Stone (for conducting a two year cover-up, including making threats against a witness and a judge) and Mike Flynn (for lying multiple times to the FBI, continuing to fudge the truth in the ongoing investigation, and lying to hide that he was on Turkey’s payroll at a time when he was Trump’s top national security advisor). Even taken on their face, that’s a ridiculous comparison, one that dismisses the import of threatening judges and secretly serving as agents for frenemy governments while receiving intelligence briefings. The accusations against the men are different, with a lack of candor allegation against McCabe versus lying against the others, and egregious mitigating factors implicating national security with the others. Whereas grand jury reportedly refused to even charge McCabe, a jury found Stone guilty of every count with which he was charged.

More importantly, the comparison has treated the allegation against McCabe with a seriousness that the underlying record — as laid out in McCabe’s lawsuit against DOJ — does not merit.

And McCabe’s lawsuit may provide a partial explanation for why DOJ stalled so long before declining to prosecute the case. That’s because a key part of DOJ’s defense against McCabe’s lawsuit is that they could or even had to move so quickly to fire McCabe because there was reasonable reason to believe that McCabe had committed a crime for which he could be imprisoned.

Mr. McCabe was given seven days to provide oral and written responses to the notice of proposed removal to ADAG Schools. That response period was a departure from the 30-day response period more frequently provided for a proposed removal. But FBI policy governing the removal of Senior Executive Service (SES) employees provides that “if there is reasonable cause to believe the employee has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment can be imposed, the advance notice may be curtailed to as little as seven days.” FBI SES Policy at 16 (attached as Ex. 2). Given the Inspector General’s findings that Mr. McCabe lacked candor under oath, findings which Assistant Director Will seconded after her independent assessment, there was reasonable cause to believe that Mr. McCabe had committed a crime for which a sentence could be imposed—and, therefore, a sound basis for affording Mr. McCabe seven days to respond.

DOJ has excused their rush to fire McCabe based on having reasonable grounds to believe he could be prosecuted for lies, but the rush to fire McCabe resulted in DOJ ignoring clear evidence that the IG Report was fundamentally flawed in a way that easily explains why a grand jury would refuse to indict. So the lawsuit, if McCabe gets discovery, is likely to show that he was rushed out the door to prevent him from building the case that he was being rushed out the door based on a case riddled with problems.

When the IG Report came out, I found it pretty compelling and therefore the criminal referral understandable (though I did not believe criminal charges would be upheld), even while noting the big push to make that happen before McCabe retired delegitimized it. But now it’s clear that the report didn’t get the normal level of pre- and post-publication review, McCabe’s OPR process was rushed to beat his retirement deadline, and had either of those processes been conducted in the normal fashion, they would have likely caught significant problems with the report.

Indeed, McCabe presented compelling evidence — even in a very rushed written response submitted to OPR hours before Jeff Sessions fired him — that he had at least colorable explanations to rebut the IG Report allegations.

As laid out, the IG Report accused McCabe of lacking candor about two kinds of things: first, whether he had told Comey he was a source for the WSJ story, and what role he and Lisa Page had in the story. Both the middle meetings — May 9, 2017, hours before Comey’s firing and his ascension to Acting Director, and July 28, 2017, in the context of a meeting about the discovery of the Page-Strzok texts — were on two of the most momentous days of McCabe’s career. The other two pertain to whether or not McCabe told Comey about his involvement in the WSJ story, which the IG Report portrayed as a difference of opinion about a casual meeting the two had, about which the IG sided with Comey’s version.

Thus, to a significant degree, the question of McCabe’s candor pivoted on whether he had really told Comey he was involved in the WSJ story.

And, as McCabe alerted OPR before he got fired, the IG Report included no mention of one of the most central players in the October 2016 WSJ story, FBI’s Assistant Director of Public Affairs Michael Kortan, with whom McCabe worked closely on the WSJ story. In other words, the IG Report suffers from the kind of egregious failure to include exculpatory information that it just took FBI to task about in the Carter Page IG Report (which also happens to be true of the Carter Page IG Report generally and its treatment of Bruce Ohr specifically). So when the IG Report sides with Comey’s version of the story because,

no other senior FBI official corroborated McCabe’s testimony that, among FBI executive leadership, “people knew generally” he had authorized the disclosure,

The Report can only make such a claim because it entirely left out the testimony of one of the most central players, Kortan. And as McCabe has made clear, in the OPR adjudication, his team did not get the exculpatory information involving Kortan until two days before the final decision.

Reports of why the grand jury refused to indict have pointed to Kortan’s testimony, and it’s clear why: because his testimony totally undermines the conclusions of the IG Report and therefore any basis to indict him.

Most importantly, McCabe submitted an email showing that he informed Comey (and some of the other senior FBI people whom the IG Report claimed didn’t know he was involved) that he was involved in the WSJ story.

With the declination of McCabe, DOJ has admitted that a key reason they claim to have relied on (a claim McCabe disputes) on rushing McCabe’s firing is false: he’s not likely to face prison time, because a grand jury won’t even indict him. And that may increase the chances that McCabe will get to prove precisely why he was rushed out the door with Trump screaming about him all the way.

Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson Waste Taxpayer Dollars Looking for Foreign Hackers the One Place They Aren’t

Last Wednesday, majority staffers for the Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees wrote Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson a memo that purports to update those Committee chairs of the status of an investigation into —  well, the purpose of the investigation is actually not clear, but ultimately it’s an investigation designed to keep hopes of finding some smoking gun in Hillary’s servers that several other investigations haven’t found, an investigation that Grassley has been pursuing for four years.

As the memo describes, the most recent steps in this “investigation” involve some interviews that were completed and all related backup documentation obtained in April, four months ago.

We pursued this issue by requesting interviews with the two ICIG officials. On December 4, 2018, your staff, along with staff from Senators Feinstein and McCaskill, interviewed ICIG employees Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian. On December 20, 2018, you transmitted a copy of an interview summary of the Majority’s questions and the witness’s answers to the ICIG for a classification review. On January 30, 2019, the ICIG provided classified and unclassified versions of the interview summary, and the Office of Senate Security redacted the classified information. On February 28, 2019, the ICIG provided documentary evidence including copies of emails and notes from meetings. On April 9, 2019, the DOJ IG and ICIG provided a summary of their findings related to these Chinese hacking allegations.

The staffers use these investigative steps, completed four months ago, to make two insinuations: that State tried to classify Hillary’s emails as deliberative rather than classified (something long known, and easily explained by the known debate over retroactive classification for the emails).

In addition, the staffers report that one but not a second Intelligence Committee Inspector General employee remarked that FBI Agents seemed non-plussed by their concerns that China had hacked Hillary. The description of that claim in the topline of the memo drops Peter Strzok’s name as its hook.

[A]ccording to one ICIG official, some members of the FBI investigative team seemed indifferent to evidence of a possible intrusion by a foreign adversary into Secretary Clinton’s non-government server. The interview summary makes clear exactly what information Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian knew regarding the alleged hack of the Clinton server, as well as the information they shared with the FBI team, including Peter Strzok, the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in charge of the Clinton investigation.

Wow, that Peter Strzok is some devious asshole, showing no concern about Hillary being hacked by a foreign government, huh? Presumably, that’s the headline the taxpayer funded staffers wanted: BREAKING Peter Strzok doesn’t care about foreign hacking or State trying to protect Hillary.

To the credit of press outlets that did cover this report, they did get what the more relevant conclusion to these documents is: After spending a year double-checking the work of the FBI, these Senate staffers found that the FBI was right when it said it had found no evidence Hillary’s server had been hacked.

What the backup actually shows is that an ICIG Inspector, Phil Rucker, found an “anomaly” while reviewing Hillary Clinton’s emails, an unknown Gmail for a company called Carter Heavy Industries in her email headers, which he thought could have been used to steal her emails as sent. At a meeting largely designed to explain the ICIG efforts to review Hillary’s email for classified information to Strzok, who had just been promoted to the DAD position at FBI a week earlier, Rucker shared what he found with Strzok and the FBI agent he had already been liaising with, Dean Chappell. The FBI already knew of it, and that same day would confirm the explanation: that tech contractor Paul Combetta had used a dummy email to copy over Hillary’s emails as he migrated Hillary’s email onto a Platte River server.

When interviewed about all this three years later, after Peter Strzok had become the villain in Donald Trump’s Deep State coup conspiracy, Rucker accused Strzok of being “aloof and dismissive” of his concerns.

Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Chappell was normal and professional as he had come to know him to be, but that he didn’t know anything about Mr. Strzok prior to the meeting. Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Strzok seemed to be “aloof and dismissive.” He said it was as if Mr. Strzok felt dismissive of the relationship between the FBI and ICIG and he was not very warm. He said that Mr. Strzok didn’t ask many questions including any about SAP related issues. He said the meeting lasted approximately 30 to 60 minutes and that only people from the FBI attended; there were no employees from DOJ. Mr. Rucker said that he knows that an FBI attorney was present, but he cannot remember the person’s name or even whether it was a man or a woman.

[snip]

Mr. Rucker said that he discussed SAP with the FBI. He said he discussed another of Secretary Clinton’s emails that they were never able to quite figure out. He said he verbally presented this information to Mr. Strzok which lasted only for a minute or so. He said that he doesn’t think he mentioned Carter Heavy Industries by name, but only the appearance of a Gmail address that seemed odd. He said that Mr. Strzok seemed “nonplused” by the info, and that he didn’t ask any follow-up questions. He said that Mr. Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery and he felt like Mr. Chappell was walling Mr. Rucker off intentionally as an investigator would, to protect the investigation.

That last detail — that Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery — is key. In fact, the emails sent in advance of the February 18, 2016 meeting reveal that several weeks earlier, Rucker had already shared this anomaly with Chappell, and Chappell had told him then that he already knew about it.

Along with making accusations about Strzok, Rucker changed his story about how strongly he believed that he had found something significant. The day before Chappell told him the FBI was already aware of the email, Rucker had emailed him that the anomaly was probably nothing.

Additionally, he wanted me to run something that I found in my research of the email metadata past you or someone on the team. It’s probably nothing, but we would rather be safe than sorry.

But when interviewed last year by Senate staffers seeking more evidence against Strzok, Rucker claimed that until a news report explained the anomaly in 2018, he had 90% confidence he had found evidence that China had hacked Hillary’s home server, and still had 80% confidence after learning the FBI had explained it.

Rucker: Mr. Rucker said that he didn’t find any evidence in the remainder of the email review they conducted, but that based on the subpoena issued by the FBI in June 2016 which he learned about this year through a news article, it decreased his confidence level from 90% to 80%.

Meanwhile, the one other ICIG employee interviewed last year, Jeanette McMillan, described what Rucker claimed was dismissiveness as adopting a poker face.

[T]hey provided the information to Mr. Strzok who found it strange. Even before their meeting with Mr. Strzok, Dean Chappell of the FBI informed them that he was aware of the Carter Heavy Industries email address. She said that she doesn’t know whether Mr. Chappell knew before they dropped off the original packet in January 2016, or if he learned of it afterward. News of this email address being found on Secretary Clinton’s emails wasn’t shocking to them, she said, but they took It seriously.

[snip]

[T]he FBI employees in attendance were “poker faced.”

In other words, what the backup released last week actually shows is a tremendous waste of time trying to second guess what the FBI learned with the backing of subpoenas and other investigative tools. To cover over this waste of time, Grassley and Johnson instead pitch this as a shift in their investigation, this time to examine claims that Strzok wasn’t concerned about State arguing that emails weren’t classified (and probably an attempt to examine the document, believed to be a fake, suggesting Loretta Lynch would take care of the Hillary Clinton investigation).

Staff from the Intelligence Community Inspector General’s office (ICIG) witnessed efforts by senior Obama State Department officials to downplay the volume of classified emails that transited former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized server, according to a summary of a bipartisan interview with Senate investigators.

In fact, in the “summary” released, McMillan told Senate investigators that, “If anything, there were problems at State with upgrading of information,” exactly the opposite of what Grassley and Johnson claim in their press release.

And that word — summary — should raise a lot of questions. It’s not a transcript; in most cases, the report is a paraphrase of what the witnesses said. Moreover, it’s only a “summary” of what Majority staffers asked. Minority staff questions were not included at all, as best demonstrated by this nearly hour-long gap in the “summary.”

Because of the way Grassley brought this “investigation” with him when he assumed the Chairmanship of the Finance Committee, this release — from Chuck Grassley as Finance Committee Chair and Ron Johnson as Homeland Security Chair — effectively did not involve the Ranking members of the committees that did the work — Dianne Feinstein as Judiciary Ranking member and Claire McCaskill as HSGAC Ranking member.

To put what a colossal misuse of taxpayer funds this is, consider, first of all, that Grassley has been pursuing this for over four years.

Last fall, Majority staffers actually asked Rucker how ICIG came to be involved in the Hillary investigation.

How did ICIG come to be involved with the Secretary Clinton email investigation?

Rucker: – Mr. Rucker said ·that on March 12, 2015, the Senate sent a letter to ICIG requesting assistance regarding a Russian hacker who allegedly broken into Sidney Blumenthal’s email account. He said that the Sidney Blumenthal emails looked legitimate and were not at the SSRP level. He said that [redacted], a former CIA employee who worked with Blumenthal, was the author of most of the material. That was determined in part, he said, based on his writing style. Shortly after wards, he said, ICIG received another Senate request for assistance, this timein relation to the email practices of several former Secretaries of State including Secretary Clinton. He said that through ICIG, he was brought in to assist State in reviewing the email information in June 2015.

But they knew the answer to that. As their own staffers tacitly reminded Grassley and Johnson, Grassley has been pursuing this since 2015.

Your investigation began in March 2015 with an initial focus on whether State Department officials were aware of Secretary Clinton’s private server and the associated national security risks, as well as whether State Department officials attempted to downgrade classified material within emails found on that server. For example, in August 2015, Senator Grassley wrote to the State Department about reports that State Department FOIA specialists believed some of Secretary Clinton’s emails should be subject to the (b)(1), “Classified Information” exemption whereas attorneys within the Office of the Legal Advisor preferred to use the (b)(5), “Deliberative Process” exemption. Whistleblower career employees within the State Department also reportedly notified the Intelligence Community that others at State involved in the review process deliberately changed classification determinations to protect Secretary Clinton.1 Your inquiry later extended to how the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) managed their investigation of the mishandling of classified information.

That means that this effort — to misrepresent an interview conducted in December as a way to introduce new (and obviously bogus) allegations against Strzok — is a continuation of Barbara Ledeen’s efforts to prove some foreign government had hacked Hillary’s home server, as laid out in the Mueller Report.

Ledeen began her efforts to obtain the Clinton emails before Flynn’s request, as early as December 2015.268 On December 3, 2015, she emailed Smith a proposal to obtain the emails, stating, “Here is the proposal I briefly mentioned to you. The person I described to you would be happy to talk with you either in person or over the phone. The person can get the emails which 1. Were classified and 2. Were purloined by our enemies. That would demonstrate what needs to be demonstrated.”269

Attached to the email was a 25-page proposal stating that the “Clinton email server was, in all likelihood, breached long ago,” and that the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian intelligence services could “re-assemble the server’s email content.”270 The proposal called for a three-phase approach. The first two phases consisted of open-source analysis. The third phase consisted of checking with certain intelligence sources “that have access through liaison work with various foreign services” to determine if any of those services had gotten to the server. The proposal noted, “Even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign[.]” Smith forwarded the email to two colleagues and wrote, “we can discuss to whom it should be referred.”271 On December 16, 2015, Smith informed Ledeen that he declined to participate in her “initiative.” According to one of Smith’s business associates, Smith believed Ledeen’s initiative was not viable at that time.272

[snip]

In September 2016, Smith and Ledeen got back in touch with each other about their respective efforts. Ledeen wrote to Smith, “wondering if you had some more detailed reports or memos or other data you could share because we have come a long way in our efforts since we last visited … . We would need as much technical discussion as possible so we could marry it against the new data we have found and then could share it back to you ‘your eyes only.'”282

Ledeen claimed to have obtained a trove of emails (from what she described as the “dark web”) that purported to be the deleted Clinton emails. Ledeen wanted to authenticate the emails and solicited contributions to fund that effort. Erik Prince provided funding to hire a tech advisor to ascertain the authenticity of the emails. According to Prince, the tech advisor determined that the emails were not authentic.283

Remember, Ledeen was willing to reach out to hostile foreign intelligence services to find out if they had hacked Hillary, and she joined an effort that was trawling the Dark Web to find stolen emails. She did that not while employed in an oppo research firm like Fusion GPS, funded indirectly by a political campaign, but while being paid by US taxpayers.

Chuck Grassley is now Chair of the Finance Committee, the Committee that should pursue new transparency rules to make it easier to track foreign interference via campaign donations. Ron Johnson is and has been Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, from which legislation to protect elections from foreign hackers should arise.

Rather than responding to the real hacks launched by adversaries against our democracy, they’re still trying to find evidence of a hack where there appears to have been none, four years later.

Update: For some reason I counted 2015-2019 as five years originally. That has been fixed.

Dear Lindsey: Not Even Trump Gives a Shit What You Think about the Whitaker Appointment

About the most competent thing Trump managed with his ham-handed roll out of a hatchet man to oversee the Mueller investigation was to pick someone with close ties to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley. Matt Whitaker has driven all around Iowa with Grassley.

And somehow, Whitaker managed to have Gary Barnett, whose Linked In profile says he still works as Jeff Flake’s Chief Counsel, installed as his new Chief of Staff in time to attend Whitaker’s takeover strategy huddle, while Sessions huddled with Senate confirmed officials.

So whatever else he is or is not, Whitaker is certainly well wired with one of the committees that would have oversight on his actions.

Perhaps that’s why Lindsey Graham and CBS Face the Nation thought he’d be a good guest to opine that everything pertaining to Whitaker’s appointment is hunky dory.

Graham told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan on Sunday he believes the acting attorney general was “appointed appropriately” and “legally,” and he’s “confident” Whitaker won’t interfere in Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

“I talked with Matt yesterday,” Graham said. “I’m going to meet with him next week when we get our schedules aligned here. I think he was appropriately appointed legally. I don’t think he has to recuse himself. I am confident the Mueller investigation will be allowed to come to a good solid conclusion, that there’ll be no political influence put on Mr. Mueller by Mr. Whitaker to do anything other than Mr. Mueller’s job. I’m confident that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job without interference.”

To be clear: I’m not minimizing the degree to which Trump has eliminated one possible source of resistance to his hatchet man plan, by picking someone wired into SJC (and backed vocally by Leonard Leo, since Republican SJC members appear to answer to him).

But by picking Whitaker, Trump has affirmatively told the Senate they — and the professionals for whom they have spent the time to advise and consent — are expendable. After all, the sole reason to appoint Whitaker rather than rely on normal succession is to prevent Rosenstein from having oversight of investigations into Trump.

More importantly, while SJC could have a hearing and Lindsey promises he’ll meet with Whitaker, none of that will have an immediate effect. SJC has absolutely no way to prevent Whitaker from burning up all the norms critical to a functioning DOJ, including recusal where it clearly is called for. There’s not even a way to prevent Whitaker from trumping up some charge and firing Mueller before any such meeting happens.

And it’s not SJC’s place to judge if Whitaker’s appointment is illegal. That role belongs to OLC (whose head, Steven Engel, has already been in at least one discussion about whether it is constitutional) and the Courts. If the question gets to the latter, SJC is not among the leading entities that might have standing to challenge it.

Having Lindsey’s seal of approval might make it easier for Whitaker to last out the two months or so until Democrats take the House. But that will have zero role in whether Whitaker blows up the Constitution.

Lindsey (and CBS) think he matters here. That’s quaint.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Standards of Nonsense

Okay, in case you have not already guessed, Marcy is away, mostly, for a couple of days. Even a prolific presence like her is entitled to that. So, you get me for today. Sorry!

Now, because I have been a little involved in trying to figure what is the “real standard of proof” for people in the shoes of, say, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, I have been a tad predisposed this morning. But let us for now go back to Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh, Collins, Flake, Grassley and the “standard of proof”.

An executive branch nomination is NOT a criminal trial. Any talk about “presumed innocent” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” is asinine and duplicitous. There is no set standard for a nomination consideration, much less one for the Supreme Court. Senators, especially those on the screening Senate Judiciary Committee, get to make their own individual assessments. In a perverse kind of way, it is like impeachment’s “high crimes and misdemeanors”, it is easy for people to argue, but the net result is that it is whatever strikes Congress as being applicable.

Frankly, I think the argument over what Susan Collins’ standard was is kind of silly and diversionary. Collins stated on the record:

“This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more likely than not as our standard.”

This is bullshit. As David Graham, again, pointed out:

Citing the lack of corroboration of Ford’s account as well as lacunas in Ford’s own recollection, Collins said she did not believe the “more likely than not” standard had been met.

Although she did not use the phrase, the standard that Collins offers appears to be the same as “the preponderance of the evidence,” which is the burden of proof required in civil trials—as opposed to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard in criminal cases. This is also the standard that many colleges now use in evaluating sexual-violence claims under Title IX. Obama-era guidance required schools to use a preponderance-of-evidence standard, though the Trump Education Department has granted schools greater leeway, instructing that “findings of fact and conclusions should be reached by applying either a preponderance of the evidence standard or a clear and convincing evidence standard.”

So, what is the relevant standard? As propounded earlier, there is no set one in these circumstances. It certainly is not “beyond a reasonable doubt” as is in criminal trials. Anybody using that language, including most of the geriatric white geezers in the SJC, is lying.

“Clear and convincing evidence”? Nope, there is no precedent for that either. Preponderance of the evidence/more likely than not? Again, there is scant authority to establish that as a relevant standard. Bottom line is Susan Collins manufactured her own “standard” and then cynically applied it, all without any legitimate basis. And, maybe, that is the kind of intellectual malleability these SJC determinations engender, but, if so, people like Collins, and the journalists that cover her charade, should acknowledge it.

So, what is the real “standard”? Again, there is none I can find. But if the course and scope of “background investigations” conducted by the FBI at the behalf of an Article II Executive Branch request is any indication, it is far different than being duplicitously portrayed by both the White House and Senate Judiciary Republicans.

Here is a specialist in clearance and background investigation issues, Brad Moss:

Um, not totally true. It happens for high level national security operatives working for the NSC and related White House components. Those individuals have to hold TS/SCI access and often times can be subject to invasive polygraph screenings.

Actual vetting, not that Kushner BS.

Here is another, Kel McClanahan, of National Security Counselors:

The White House can’t order @FBI to just rummage through a random person’s life. They can definitely AUTHORIZE FBI to rummage through a person’s life who has agreed to be subjected to a background investigation.

If this is true, it was McGahn & not Trump who was playing games…

Yes. Exactly. And, as a Senator who was one of the maybe 115 American citizens able to actually read the “FBI Investigation” work product, for Susan Collins and Jeff Flake to blithely sign off on the limited, restricted and choked off nonsense, is beyond craven. It is straight up duplicitous. And the New York Times article is kind compared to the chicanery that was clearly afoot from Don McGahn, a close friend and Federalist Society gang member for decades with Brett Kavanaugh.

In short, it is NOT about the relative “standard of proof” used by Susan Collins. She used “more likely than not” standard (effectively a preponderance of evidence standard). When she said that was the standard, she was lying. It never has been, and never will be. That was manufactured bullshit.

People have also argued that the standard should have been “reasonable accusation” or “credible accusation”. And those are even lesser than than the preponderance/more likely than not” standard Collins artificially, self servingly and cynically utilized.

Is clearance on a Background Investigation warranted? Does anybody, including the high holy Brett Kavanaugh, have any god given right to have a clean BI and be elevated to the Supreme Court? Of course not (See Title 32 of the CFR), that is gibberish propounded by old white conservative and misogynistic demagogues, like Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn and Graham in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And it is pure rubbish.

And, so too is the manufactured “standard” Susan Collins magically announced in her drama queen dog and pony show yesterday that seemed to narcissistically go on forever.

The bottom line is that whether under Collins’ manufactured and elevated standard, or even lesser ones such as reasonable or credible allegations, Brett Kavanaugh was not fit for passage and subsequent confirmation.

As Mark J. Stern detailed in Slate, Susan Collins’ manifesto announced with all the drama of a royal wedding, was in incredible bad faith. Her “standard” was nonsense and nowhere close to any applicable standard. It was a joke.

But, even more so, under ANY standard Susan Collins could have cited, her “finding” thereunder was garbage. Even in criminal sex cases, not just occasionally, but often, finders of fact (usually juries), decisions come down to weighing the relative credibility of an accuser versus the accused. And, given the relentless series of outright lies Brett Kavanaugh stated under oath, there is no way that a sentient human could see his testimony as more credible than the measured, and admitting as to gaps, honesty of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. And, again, credibility of witnesses is what criminal trials, much less less than even civil litigation burdens, as here, are decided by every day.

This is because there are usually zero other witnesses to such kidnapping, molestation and attempted rape cases as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford credibly alleged, but also because time and reticence of victims is often a factor. And, yet, cases are filed and determinations made on just such “he said/she said” allegations every day. The implication by Susan Collins, Chuck Grassley, the other wrinkled old entitled white men like Hatch in the SJC, not to mention their cynically hired criminal prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, are complete baloney.

Somebody go ask Rachel Mitchell, and the sad old men that hired her before they fired her, how many times she has operated off of an accuser’s words. The answer will be a lie, because it happens all the time. And, yeah, that is enough to generate a full and meaningful “background investigation” despite the bullshit being proffered by the White House, Don McGahn and the SJC.

Can Senator Feinstein Block The Appointment of Rachel Mitchell?

As you know by now, Maricopa County (Arizona) sex crimes unit chief Rachel Mitchell has been deemed by Chuck Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Republicans as their front person to examine Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. From NBC News:

The woman chosen by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser will be in an unusual position when she goes face-to-face with Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Tuesday that he hired Rachel Mitchell, an outside attorney to question Kavanaugh and Ford, on behalf of the 11 male Republicans on the committee — despite Ford’s wishes to be questioned by the senators themselves about her accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers.

So, the eleven old white men of the SJC want a female stand in to make their evisceration and shining on of putative kidnapping, sexual assault and attempted rape victim Dr. Ford. Because the optics the GOP men, and men are the only sex that has ever served for Republicans on SJC, looked too ugly for even them.

But is this unprecedented move, clearly designed with public optics and maximal humiliation of Dr. Ford even appropriate? Maybe not!

Now, I am not a Senate Rules expert, but a comment made me go do a little digging. Here is the text of the the most recent version of the United States Senate Standing Rules, Orders, Laws, And Resolutions. Here, specifically, is the section, contained in Chapter 43 thereof, in §4301(i)(3) relating to committee retention of consultants:

(3) With respect to the standing committees of the Senate, any such consultant or organization shall be selected by the chairman and ranking minority member of the committee, acting jointly. With respect to the standing committees of the House of Representatives, the standing com- mittee concerned shall select any such consultant or organization. The committee shall submit to the Committee on Rules and Administration in the case of standing committees of the Senate, and the Committee on House Oversight in the case of standing committees of the House of Representatives, information bearing on the qualifications of each consultant whose services are procured pursuant to this subsection, including organizations, and such information shall be retained by that committee and shall be made available for public inspection upon request. (Emphasis added)

So, Senator Feinstein, is this indeed the case? If so, why would you assent to appointment of a prosecutorial thug like Rachel Mitchell to examine the putative victim here, Dr. Ford?

Rachel Mitchell is currently head of the Sex Crimes Unit in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO). She has served under three heads of the MCAO, but she was elevated to her current position because she was an extremist who fit the desired bill by the notorious former MCAO head, Andrew Thomas. As you may recall, Andy Thomas not only had to leave the MCAO in disgrace, but subsequently was disbarred for his zealotry. And that kind of craven zealot is exactly who Rachel Mitchell identified with and was promoted by back in January of 2005. And is Mitchell always hard on sex criminals? No, in fact her past also includes sweetheart deals to abusive clergy members in politically charged cases.

Rachel Mitchell is one of the worst choices imaginable for the current task. It is a heinous move by Chuck Grassley and a direct and complete screw you to Dr. Ford and sexual abuse and rape victims across the United States and world.

And the “screw you” to victims is especially salient with the existence of additional putative victims of Brett Kavanaugh’s drunken debauchery. Not only is there Debbie Ramirez, who did not seek to come forward, but was located because friends and classmates of hers and Kavanaugh, while Kavanaugh was at Yale, started recalling her victimization and talking about it. Jane Mayer has more on that, not to mention her and Ronan Farrow’s original reporting on Ramirez.

And, just as of an hour or two ago, yet another troubling story of Brett Kavanaugh’s misogyny and conduct has been made public by her lawyer Michael Avenatti. Julie Swetnick has issued a sworn affidavit that is chilling. Swetnick is a A 1980 graduate of Gaithersburg High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and has has held multiple security clearances for work done at the Treasury Department, U.S. Mint, IRS, State Department and Justice Department. In short, she is a more than credible person who has put her statement under oath and penalty of perjury.

Here is her affidavit, and it is chilling. It describes what now seems obvious, Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were part of a group of a private boys school wilding gang that drank to excess regularly mistreated women. Judge and Kavanaugh were “joined at the hip” according to Swetnick. She further states:

There is more, much more, including descriptions of girls, including Ms. Swetnick herself, being knocked out with spiked punch and gang raped.

And that is where we find ourselves today. It appears that Senator Feinstein can put the kibosh on the craven hiring of a zealot prosecutorial thug like Rachel Mitchell and, further, can with the help of any and all Republican Senators of conscience, slow down this train wreck and investigate the claims and give a real hearing. That means someone among Jeff Flake, Lisa Murlowski, Susan Collins, or another, needs to step up and do the right thing. Will they? Will Senator Feinstein?

Within the last minute, Senator Feinstein has issued the following statement:

Washington—Following the release of a sworn affidavit from Julie Swetnick detailing new allegations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, all 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today urged President Trump to immediately withdraw the nomination or order an FBI investigation into all allegations.

The senators wrote: “We are writing to request that you immediately withdraw the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court or direct the FBI to re-open its background investigation and thoroughly examine the multiple allegations of sexual assault.

“Judge Kavanaugh is being considered for a promotion. He is asking for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court where he will have the opportunity to rule on matters that will impact Americans for decades. The standard of character and fitness for a position on the nation’s highest court must be higher than this. Judge Kavanaugh has staunchly declared his respect for women and issued blanket denials of any possible misconduct, but those declarations are in serious doubt.”

That is a nice statement, but there appears to be so much more that Senator Feinstein can do Jeff Flake just took to the Senate Floor and, despite some words of empathy, wholeheartedly accepted that tomorrow’s sham hearing in SJC is all that there will ever be. While Flake appeared close to tears, he, as usual, said and intends to do nothing admirable and/or heroic.

It is a sad show we are watching. The hallowed halls of the Supreme Court deserve better, and so too do the American people.