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Republican Complaints about Phone Records Back Democratic Impeachment Case

Way back in 2001, Victoria Toensing wrote an article justifying the subpoena of phone records of her future client, John Solomon, to find out who leaked details to him that Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli had been picked up on a wiretap of a mob figure. In it, she justified serving limited subpoenas, approved by Robert Mueller, on a third party carrier to find out who had committed a crime. She emphasized there was nothing political about the subpoena of Solomon’s phone records.

By ensuring that journalists not be subpoenaed every time they possess evidence, the department was demonstrating its respect for the press’s constitutional role.

The guidelines set down specific conditions that must be met before a subpoena can be issued for a reporter’s telephone records: There must be reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed; the information sought must be essential to a successful investigation; the subpoena must be narrowly drawn; all reasonable alternative steps must have been pursued, and the attorney general must approve the decision. The department has 90 days to notify the reporter of a subpoena to a third party, such as a telephone company.

Were those conditions met in Solomon’s case? Clearly, yes. His articles state that wiretap information was disclosed. The subpoena was limited, asking for home phone records for a period of six days, May 2 through 7. The U.S. attorney, Mary Jo White, certified that all alternative steps had been taken. Then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Robert S. Mueller III (now the FBI director) approved the subpoena — Ashcroft having recused himself. Solomon received his timely notice.

There is one other guideline factor: whether negotiations are required with the reporter before a subpoena is issued. The AP has argued — incorrectly — that the guidelines were violated because there were no negotiations. But negotiations are mandated only when the subpoena goes directly “to the reporter.” The guidelines do not require them if the subpoena is to a third party and the department concludes negotiations might be detrimental to the investigation.

Eighteen years later, Toensing is outraged that her own phone records were collected by the constitutionally appropriate authority in the investigation of multiple crimes.

A table of the April call records described in the report suggests the subpoena apparently targeted Lev Parnas — someone already indicted for crimes related to this investigation — and Rudy Giuliani — who’s a subject of that same investigation. (h/t Kelly for the table)

Nevertheless, in addition to Toensing and Solomon, the subpoena obtained records showing calls with Devin Nunes, several of the staffers most involved in sowing conspiracy theories, and numbers believed to involve the President (who is the subject of this investigation).

Nunes, of course, has made several efforts in recent years to expand the government’s collection of metadata in national security investigations, which this is. Trump also has favored continued, aggressive use of metadata collection in national security contexts.

The apparent fact that Schiff obtained all these records by targeting two suspected criminals hasn’t comforted the GOP, which is trying to claim that he violated the law or norms in issuing a subpoena.

One particularly delectable version of such complaints comes from Byron York. For some inconceivable reason, York decided to contact John Yoo — who, on multiple occasions in the year after Toensing wrote her column justifying a subpoena, wrote legal memos authorizing efforts to collect all phone records in the US with no legal process. York asked Yoo about whether subpoenaing AT&T for the phone records of two people as part of an impeachment investigation was proper.

John Yoo expressed a heretofore unknown respect for privacy. Even while he admitted that this presents no attorney-client problems, he suggested it would be proper for the White House to try to pre-empt any such subpoena.

There is certainly a constitutional privacy issue here, but I don’t think an attorney-client privilege issue. The attorney-client privilege covers the substance of the communication, but it doesn’t protect the fact that a communication took place.

For example, when one party to a lawsuit has to hand over documents to the other party, it can redact the content of the document if it is attorney-client privileged or withhold the document itself, but not the fact of the document’s existence (there is usually a log created that sets out the from, to, date information, etc.).

That is a separate question from whether Giuliani and Nunes had any constitutional rights violated by the House when it obtained these records. I am surprised that Giuliani and the White House did not think this would come up and sue their telecom providers to prevent them from obeying any demands from the House for their calling records.

York then quotes a policy from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that shows this subpoena — which did not target Solomon — does not fall under RCFP’s stated concern for subpoenas used to find out a journalist’s sources.

Courts…have begun to recognize that subpoenas issued to non-media entities that hold a reporter’s telephone records, credit card transactions or similar material may threaten editorial autonomy, and the courts may apply the reporter’s privilege if the records are being subpoenaed in order to discover a reporter’s confidential sources.

The subpoena didn’t discover Solomon’s sources; it just demonstrated Parnas and Rudy’s outlets.

Most remarkable of all, York quotes Rudy providing direct evidence supporting impeachment.

Schiff, Pelosi, Nadler have trashed the U.S. Constitution and are enabled by a pathetic fawning press. They have proceeded without respect for attorney-client privilege, including threats of contempt and imprisonment.

Here’s the thing. Either Rudy Giuliani was acting as a person the President appointed to pursue the foreign policy of the United States — something Republicans have, at times, argued in their attempts to defend the President.

Or, Rudy was acting as the President’s personal lawyer. Here, he asserts he was acting as the President’s lawyer. If that’s the case — and Rudy says it was — it confirms a key allegation made by Democrats: that Trump demanded concessions from Ukraine purely for his own personal benefit.

As Yoo notes, Rudy (and Jay Sekulow and Toensing) would not have an attorney-client claim over metadata in any case. But Rudy nevertheless claims Trump’s privilege has been implicated in these call records.

With that claim, he confirms that his client violated his oath of office.

The Proper Recipients for Lev Parnas’ Allegations Are the Ethics Committee and SDNY

CNN has a follow-up to Daily Beast’s story describing the jaunt Devin Nunes took to Vienna last December to dig up fabricated dirt on Joe Biden. It describes two things Parnas wants to share with HPSCI. First, Parnas wants to spill details about the Ukrainians, including Viktor Shokin, he set up Nunes with to pursue the Biden smear that has been the centerpiece of Trump’s impeachment defense.

“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” said Bondy.

[snip]

Bondy tells CNN that his client and Nunes began communicating around the time of the Vienna trip. Parnas says he worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine, according to Bondy.

Parnas confirms something I noted: the timing, between the time Republicans got shellacked in midterm elections and the time Adam Schiff took over as House Intelligence Committee.

Bondy told CNN that Nunes planned the trip to Vienna after Republicans lost control of the House in the mid-term elections on Nov. 6, 2018.

“Mr. Parnas learned through Nunes’ investigator, Derek Harvey, that the Congressman had sequenced this trip to occur after the mid-term elections yet before Congress’ return to session, so that Nunes would not have to disclose the trip details to his Democrat colleagues in Congress,” said Bondy.

Additionally, he wants to describe the “team,” including Rudy, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, Nunes’ chief conspiracist Derek Harvey, and John Solomon, that got together at Trump International to advance these smears.

Bondy tells CNN that Parnas is also willing to tell Congress about a series of regular meetings he says he took part in at the Trump International Hotel in Washington that concerned Ukraine. According to Bondy, Parnas became part of what he described as a “team” that met several times a week in a private room at the BLT restaurant on the second floor of the Trump Hotel. In addition to giving the group access to key people in Ukraine who could help their cause, Parnas translated their conversations, Bondy said.

The group, according to Bondy,  included Giuliani, Parnas, the journalist Solomon, and the married attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing. Parnas said that Harvey would occasionally be present as well, and that it was Parnas’ understanding that Harvey was Nunes’ proxy, Bondy said.

Solomon confirmed the meetings to CNN but said that calling the group a team was a bit of a mischaracterization. Solomon said that connectivity happened more organically, and that his role was only as a journalist reporting a story.

A detail Parnas offers that is probably not true is that Nunes was working off John Solomon stories.

Parnas says that Nunes told him he’d been partly working off of information from the journalist John Solomon, who had written a number of articles on the Biden conspiracy theory for the Hill, according to Bondy.

That timing doesn’t work, as the key Solomon stories came out after the December trip. This appears to be an attempt on Parnas’ part to hide his role not just in translating the stories, but concocting them.

The story has generated a lot of excitement among the left, with people calling to give Parnas’ attorneys exactly what they’re looking for, a date with HPSCI.

That would be a mistake.

I say that for several reasons. First, this is part of a larger disinformation campaign, in which Parnas is a key player. He is legally fucked and has little downside to share just part of his information, while leaving the key bits (such as who is behind the larger campaign) obscured. His lawyers no doubt want to wring immunity from HPSCI to screw up the SDNY case.

But thus far, particularly given HPSCI’s narrow focus, Parnas’ story doesn’t help the impeachment case much. Moreover, it risks inserting disinformation into a thoroughly credible story of corruption. More importantly, it would make most Republicans  even more defensive, as members of HPSCI came under scrutiny, making it less likely rather than more they’d support impeachment.

Finally, Schiff has gotten nowhere with his demands for the documentary backup to these stories. Thus, HPSCI would be at a distinct disadvantage in trying to suss out what was true and bullshit in Parnas’ claims (in the same way that both HPSCI and SSCI did not have the key details on Don Jr’s involvement in 2016 events, which is why he would meet with them but not Mueller).

The proper place in Congress for these allegations is the Ethics Committee. Schiff has the ability to ask all three staffers and Nunes to step down from the committee until such issues are adjudicated, where they would be pursued in private, tamping down the polarizing aspect of this.

And, too, these allegations also belong in FBI, where they already are, with investigators whose subpoena power actually works. Anything that would undercut that effort would backfire in the long run.

Devin Nunes Billed Taxpayers $63,000 for a Jaunt to Europe Chasing Accused Fraudster Lev Parnas’ Disinformation

Betsy Woodruff Swan just put the maraschino cherry on the impeachment sundae with this story describing how Lev Parnas served as tour guide for a trip Devin Nunes, failed NSC staffer Derek Harvey, and two other House Intelligence staffers took to Europe last year.

Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, Parnas’  lawyer Ed MacMahon told The Daily Beast.

Nunes aide Derek Harvey participated in the meetings, the lawyer said, which were arranged to help Nunes’ investigative work. MacMahon didn’t specify what those investigations entailed.

Nunes is the top Republican on the House committee handling the impeachment hearings—hearings where Parnas’s name has repeatedly come up.

Congressional records show Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018. Three of his aides—Harvey, Scott Glabe, and George Pappas—traveled with him, per the records. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000.

The travel came as Nunes, in his role on the House Intelligence Committee, was working to investigate the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling.

There’s much that’s crazy about the story: The inclusion of Harvey, a Mike Flynn loyalist who got fired from NSC; the role of Parnas’ lawyer, Ed MacMahon (who seems to be aiming to discomfort as many of the powerful people Parnas interacted with as possible); and the release of this story at the end of a week during which Nunes offered debunked conspiracy after debunked conspiracy in a bid to defend Trump.

But it’s the timing of the trip I find most interesting. While I’m sure Swan has a reason to invoke Nunes’ efforts to undercut Mueller, the trip actually comes long after HPSCI had moved on from trying to confuse about the Russian investigation. The effort had been picked up by a joint House Judiciary/Oversight effort; and even that was largely over by December 2018. Just as interestingly, the trip came after Republicans got shellacked in mid-term elections but before Democrats took over in the House. That is, this seems like a last ditch effort to chase down something that accused fraudster Lev Parnas was dangling in front of easy marks, while Nunes still had unfettered ability to squander taxpayer funds.

Devin Nunes has spent 2.5 years squealing that a respected Russian expert, Christopher Steele, shared information with DOJ with our own experts on organized crime, because that information was paid for by DNC. But he’s now billing taxpayers to chase after disinformation from an obvious grifter.

Alexander Vindman Proves That Working Within System Works Even While Derek Harvey Works To Destroy It

Jim here.

Last night, two very remarkable stories were published that, taken together, illustrate an extreme chasm in our defense community that receives far too little attention. To set the stage, it is necessary to go back to the early 2000’s for a development that has mostly been erased from our collective memory but has had an indelible and particularly harmful and lingering effect. As the George W. Bush Administration executed its pivot from the war in Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq, it became necessary for the Bush folks to craft a set of intelligence “facts” supporting and then sustaining the action in Iraq. A primary tool used in this effort was create a separate intelligence apparatus, since the existing intelligence agencies did not produce analyses supporting the invasion.

A huge impact of this illegal war was that it devastated morale within the military at all ranks. Sadly, many of our highest ranking–and most ethical–officers chose retirement rather than to serve while an illegal war was being waged. With the Defense Secretary, Vice President and President clearly leading the charge for the war, it seems obvious that these officers realized that their analyses showing that the invasion was not justified were falling on deaf ears and that they would never be able to inject a dose of reality into the artificial reality on which the whole war effort rested. The result, as they had to be able to foresee, was that the Iraqi people and our enlisted forces suffered unnecessary and devastating losses, with impact continuing into the present even after “end” of US action in Iraq.

By 2006, some of these retired officers even began to speak out, calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. In a normal world, where the system of checks and balances within the military and with legislative and executive oversight functions operating properly, these officers would not have needed to retire, but instead would have been key factors in rejecting the invasion as unnecessary and based only on a set of political objectives rather than an actual need for military action to stave off harm to the region. As a trained geneticist, my feeling was that this event served as a sort of genetic selection within the military, where the population of those remaining and advancing through the ranks was enriched for those who bought into distorted politics of the invasion and a willingness to shape “facts” around a desired outcome. Our only hope, I felt, was that at least some would desire to stay within the system anyway and continue to work for the ideals of their oath to the Constitution administered when they joined the military.

So, fast forward to last night. The New York Times article on Alexander Vindman illustrates that Vindman is indeed just that sort of person I hoped would continue to stay and work within the system. His work as the senior Ukraine analyst on the National Security Council put him into position to see the illegal plan that the Trump Administration was carrying out force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden in return for the release of essential Ukraine aid that Trump had frozen. Vindman’s response was by the book: document the crime and then report it up the chain of command:

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

/snip/

“This would all undermine U.S. national security,” Colonel Vindman added, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments in the call.

 

Vindman then went on to report his concerns:

“I did convey certain concerns internally to national security officials in accordance with my decades of experience and training, sense of duty, and obligation to operate within the chain of command,” he plans to say.

He will testify that he watched with alarm as “outside influencers” began pushing a “false narrative” about Ukraine that was counter to the consensus view of American national security officials, and harmful to United States interests. According to documents reviewed by The Times on the eve of his congressional testimony, Colonel Vindman was concerned as he discovered that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was leading an effort to prod Kiev to investigate Mr. Biden’s son, and to discredit efforts to investigate Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his business dealings in Ukraine.

Vindman made not one, but two reports to the top lawyer in the NSC, John Eisenberg. Were it not for the whistleblower report and the impeachment inquiry stemming from it, the sad reality is that Vindman’s heroic actions might have ended with his reports to Eisenberg, as Eisenberg has been shown to have been working to quash the efforts to expose Trump’s illegal actions. But now that the House of Representatives has finally rediscovered the real duty of oversight (we already miss you, Elijah Cummings!), Vindman today has the opportunity provide a deposition to the three committees carrying out the impeachment investigation.  Vindman’s testimony seems likely to seal Trump’s fate, as it is nearly impossible to see how at least one article of impeachment won’t arise from the facts Vindman lays out. Whether Senate Republicans will also find their duty to truth rather than manufactured reality, of course, seems less likely, but at the very least it will be valuable to watch them squirm when the decision is laid squarely in their laps.

At almost the same time the Vindman article came out in the Times, Daily Beast detailed how a retired military officer, Derek Harvey, is working outside proper channels to disclose the identity of the whistleblower, endangering this individual and making future whistleblowers less likely to expose corruption. Harvey seems to be a poster child for exactly the type of officer who flourished after the mass exodus of those with a conscience. Here is how Daily Beast described his background:

Derek Harvey’s career has been extraordinary. As a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, he played an important role in the 2007-8 troop surge in Iraq. David Petraeus kept Harvey aboard for an intelligence billet at U.S. Central Command. Harvey aligned with another member of the counterinsurgency coterie, DIA Director Mike Flynn, and followed Flynn onto Trump’s White NSC. From there, Harvey became a crucial aide to Nunes, a pivotal Flynn and Trump ally. There is no reasonable definition of Deep State that excludes Derek Harvey from elite membership.

So Harvey accelerated his military career, and career after retiring but staying within military intelligence, by joining forces with the Petraeus effort to craft “facts” around the Iraq surge–a cataclysmic failure that Petraeus always claimed as a stunning success–and then eventually joined Mike Flynn both in DIA and the NSC. One stop in Harvey’s career not on that list is detailed in Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars” [quoted here]:

Based on what Harvey reported to General Petraeus, according to Woodward’s book, Petraeus “decided to create his own intelligence agency inside CentCom” (pg. 78, “Obama’s War”) to offset the shortcomings of the DNI, CIA, NSA, DIA and other US intelligence gathering agencies in gathering information about the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. He asked Harvey to draft plans for an agency modeled on Harvey’s approach. Reports Woodward, “Soon, Harvey was appointed director of the new Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence based at CentCom headquarters in Tampa, Florida.”

According to Woodward, Petraeus moved over $100 million into this project with Congress unaware of that move for several months. Harvey’s analysis that he gave to Petraeus: “the war could be won, but the U.S. government would have to make monumental long-term commitments for years that might be unpalatable with voters” (p. 79).

So Harvey clearly is essentially a ratfucker for hire, being willing to craft an intelligence set of “facts” to serve whatever master is paying him to do so. Although Woodward paints a rather admiring picture of Harvey’s diligence in approaching his intelligence gathering, comparing it to that of a homicide detective, historical context tells us that Petraeus simply didn’t like what he was getting from the existing agencies and needed his own “intelligence” to continue on his chosen path.

But, as you see above, Harvey is now working for Devin Nunes (R-Cow) and that is an especially devious team. From Daily Beast:

Derek Harvey, who works for Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, has provided notes for House Republicans identifying the whistleblower’s name ahead of the high-profile depositions of Trump administration appointees and civil servants in the impeachment inquiry. The purpose of the notes, one source said, is to get the whistleblower’s name into the record of the proceedings, which committee chairman Adam Schiff has pledged to eventually release. In other words: it’s an attempt to out the anonymous official who helped trigger the impeachment inquiry.

Mark Zaid explained to Daily Beast the horrible implications of what Harvey is doing:

“Exposing the identity of the whistleblower and attacking our client would do nothing to undercut the validity of the complaint’s allegations,” said Mark Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s attorneys. “What it would do, however, is put that individual and their family at risk of harm. Perhaps more important, it would deter future whistleblowers from coming forward in subsequent administrations, Democratic or Republican.”

It’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Alexander Vindman and Derek Harvey. Vindman is a patriot committed to the security of the US and working within the system while Harvey is willing to sell out US security to whatever wingnut is willing to pay him and to bypass every safeguard built into the system.