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Steve Bannon’s Bas-Relief Confession that Trump Told Him to Deny Discussing Sanction Relief

After a week of writing about Mike Flynn and more Mike Flynn, I’m finally getting around to the transcripts the House Intelligence Committee wrote last week. A bunch of frothy right wingers have pointed to the transcripts as PROOF OF NO COLLUSION, which is hilarious. I’ve barely begun reviewing them, but some glaring holes in the investigation include:

  • The key players — Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, but also Rick Gates — did not testify
  • Two witnesses (Michael Cohen and Roger Stone) were convicted for the lies they told to the committee and a third (Erik Prince) is reportedly under investigation, even if Billy Barr’s DOJ doesn’t prosecute Trump flunkies
  • Multiple witnesses (Michael Caputo, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner, for starters) denied knowing people or having evidence their Mueller materials show they had

Republicans mostly asked each witness, “did you collude?” which predictably elicited the “no” answers the frothers are now pointing to as PROOF. Democrats spent most of their time trying to get recalcitrant witnesses to answer questions they refused to answer rather than trying to corner them into something useful.

The investigation was a shit-show.

The craziest thing (thus far, anyway), is Steve Bannon’s two appearances. Bannon testified in January 2018 and invoked White House guidance to refuse to answer questions from both the transition and post-inauguration periods, periods others had addressed. He also claimed any communications of interest would have been turned over by the campaign, thereby hiding emails he had with Roger Stone using his personal email where they explicitly discussed Julian Assange.

When Bannon went back a month later, having consulted with Devin Nunes in the interim and after Nunes appears to have shared a transcript of Bannon’s first appearance with the White House, he provided the committee a bunch of questions he would answer — all “no” answers.

Here’s how just some of those questions parroted back (for the second time in the hearing) looked:

MR. CONAWAY: After November 8th, 2016, did you meet with Ambassador Kislyak?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: On March 27, 2017, The New York Times reported that in mid-December of 2016 Kushner met with Sergei Gorkov of the VEB. Were you aware of this meeting?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you attend a December 2016 meeting with Kushner that Kushner had with Gorkov?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did Mr. Prince have any role in the current administration?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Was there any discussion on January 27th, 2017, at the White House regarding Mr. Papadopoulos, who was contacted by the FBI that day?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that the FBI had approached him?

MR. BANNON: Not to my knowledge.

MR. CONAWAY: Was the fact that the FBI approached Mr. Papadopoulos on January 27th communicated to President Trump?

MR. BANNON: Not to my knowledge.

MR. CONAWAY: Did Mr. Trump ever discuss with you any conversations between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks after the election?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russia investigation?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: While at the White House, were you ever instructed to take any action that you believe could hinder the Russian investigation in any way?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Were you ever given any instruction at the White House that you felt might amount to an effort to obstruct justice?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you have any conversations with Director Comey after the election about whether he would remain the head of the FBI?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Once you were part of the administration, were you a part of any discussions about how to approach the Russian, vis-à-vis the sanctions, whether to do away with them or in any way minimize the effects of the sanctions?

MR. BANNON: No.

Here’s how Adam Schiff got Bannon to admit that he was literally reading from a script the White House gave him (remember that Bannon’s lawyer, William Burck, also represented White House Counsel Don McGahn).

MR. SCHIFF: Mr. Bannon, who wrote these questions?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: My understanding, Mr. Schiff, is that these came from the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: No, no, no. The questions that Mr. Conaway just asked you the questions. I asked you earlier if you had been authorized by the White House to answer all in the negative. Who wrote these questions?

MR. BANNON: Same answer.

MR. SCHIFF: What’s the same answer? Who wrote the questions?

MR. BANNON: My understanding is they came from the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: What transcript are you talking about?

MR. BANNON: This transcript of my first interview.

[snip]

MR. SCHIFF: Well, how were they produced? How do you know that the White House has authorized you to answer them? [Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: My counsel informed me that these were the questions the White House authorized me to answer.

MR. SCHIFF: But you didn’t write these questions?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: And your counsel didn’t write these questions?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: So these questions were supplied to you by the White House?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: As far as I know.

The thing is, most of these are now recognizably misdirection from some known damning detail. For example, Bannon did not attend the November 30, 2016 meeting with Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, but he was invited. Bannon’s lack of knowledge of Jared Kushner’s December meeting with Sergei Gorkov doesn’t make the meeting itself less damning — arguably, it suggests Kushner kept it on a close hold — and it doesn’t rule out Bannon being involved in a meeting with Gorkov sometime after that. Bannon’s narrow denial that Erik Prince had a role in the administration distracts from Prince’s role as a go-between with Russia during the transition, something Bannon was personally involved with (and covered up by deleting his relevant text messages). There was a discussion among senior campaign officials of the link that WikiLeaks sent Don Jr in September 2016, but it was during the election, not after it. Bannon didn’t have conversations with Jim Comey about firing him, but he had a ton of conversations about firing Comey, eight times on May 3 and 4, 2017 alone. Even the questions about obstruction of justice are consistent with explicit requests that Bannon obstruct, but that took place somewhere else, like Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster (and it’s notable that Bannon’s initial testimony dramatically backed off some of the claims Bannon made to Michael Wolff that had just been published in Fire and Fury).

As Adam Schiff begins to figure out what happened, he asks questions that make it clear that Bannon did not meet — in person — with Nunes, but did speak to him on the phone.

MR. SCHIFF: Now, I see there’s a question on here, did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russia investigation, and you’ve answered that “no.” But you’ve also answered, when my colleague asked you, that you have discussed — you had discussions with Mr. Nunes and you refused to answer the question about whether it was about the Russian investigation. Is that correct?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: However I answered, it’s in the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: Let me just ask you again. Did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russian investigation?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: Did you ever discuss the Russia investigation with Devin Nunes?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: That’s not a question I’m authorized to answer.

Even before that, Schiff cops on to Bannon’s denial about something — whether George Papadopoulos alerted the White House after he was first questioned about the FBI — that Bannon knows nothing about.

MR. SCHIFF: So one of the questions that you were supplied by the White House was, has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that he had been — that the FBI had approached him? How do you know the answer to that, Mr. Bannon?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: Can you just ask the question again?

MR. SCHIFF: Yes. One of the questions that the White House gave you to answer to our committee was, has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that the FBI had approached him?

MR. BANNON: I think I said, “Not to my knowledge.”

MR. SCHIFF: So you really did don’t know, do you?

MR. BANNON: That’s — not to my knowledge.

MR. SCHIFF: Why did the White House propose a question to you that you couldn’t answer within your knowledge?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: You have to ask the White House that.

In Papadopoulos’ Congressional testimony (which took place in October 2018, so six months after Bannon’s second HPSCI interview), the coffee boy would admit that he emailed Marc Kasowitz, who was then Trump’s personal attorney, sometime after his FBI interview.

Q And you didn’t talk to anyone from the Trump organization about that interview with the FBI?

A I don’t think I did, no.

Q So you were interviewed again by the FBI —

A I can’t remember if I reached out to Marc Kasowitz about either that or my subpoena from the Senate. And I emailed him and I said, Look, would you be interested in representing me? I think that’s what happened. But I don’t — I can’t remember exactly why I emailed him, but I think I emailed Marc Kasowitz’ firm sometimes after the interview, but I don’t remember if he ever responded or anything like that.

This post writes up what we know about Papadopoulos’ testimony.

This makes it clear, then, that the script Bannon was given was a ham-handed attempt to get a bunch of denials in the record, denials of things that actually did happen.

Among the questions the White House included was one designed to get him to deny he had discussed eliminating sanctions on Russia.

MR. CONAWAY: Once you were part of the administration, were you a part of any discussions about how to approach the Russian, vis-à-vis the sanctions, whether to do away with them or in any way minimize the effects of the sanctions?

MR. BANNON: No.

Of course, this “no” answer only says Bannon didn’t continue to discuss ending sanctions on Russia after inauguration, but he did beforehand.

There is testimony on the Mueller Report about Bannon’s personal involvement in discussions about the Russian sanctions imposed on December 28, 2016. But Bannon — in testimony on February 12, 2018, so three days before he read this script before HPSCI — claimed to have forgotten those conversations.

Shortly thereafter, McFarland and Bannon discussed the sanctions. 1235 According to McFarland, Bannon remarked that the sanctions would hurt their ability to have good relations with Russia, and that Russian escalation would make things more difficult. 1236 McFarland believed she told Bannon that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak later that night. 1237

[snip]

In addition to her conversations with Bannon and Reince Priebus, at 4:43 p.m., McFarland sent an email to Transition Team members about the sanctions, informing the group that “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.” 1251 Less than an hour later, McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump. Bannon, Priebus, Sean Spicer, and other Transition Team members were present. 1252

[snip]

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions with Bannon the next day and that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak. 1274 Bannon, for his part, recalled meeting with Flynn that day, but said that he did not remember discussing sanctions with him. 1275

[snip]

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 100 Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101

1275 Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 9.

101 Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 4-5. Bannon recalled meeting with Flynn that day, but said he did not remember discussing sanctions with him. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 9.

The White House gave Bannon a script, telling him to deny his involvement in reaching out to Russia on sanctions. And the specific form of the question — which asks about doing away with them — suggests those conversations on December 28, 2016 went further than the Mueller Report describes.

Which explains why Trump is trying to ensure Flynn avoids prison time for hiding that detail.

SSCI Has Already Dismissed One of the Key Issues John Durham Is Investigating

The other day, the NYT had an update on another area included in John Durham’s 9-month investigation of the Russian investigation. Durham appears to be chasing a theory (based on what predication, aside from Bill Barr’s fevered imagination, it’s unclear) that John Brennan tricked the FBI into investigating Trump by fooling them into believing Russia wanted Trump elected.

Questions asked by Mr. Durham, who was assigned by Attorney General William P. Barr to scrutinize the early actions of law enforcement and intelligence officials struggling to understand the scope of Russia’s scheme, suggest that Mr. Durham may have come to view with suspicion several clashes between analysts at different intelligence agencies over who could see each other’s highly sensitive secrets, the people said.

Mr. Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal, the people said.

[snip]

The Justice Department has declined to talk about Mr. Durham’s work in meaningful detail, but he has been said to be interested in how the intelligence community came up with its analytical judgments — including its assessment that Russia was not merely sowing discord, but specifically sought to help Mr. Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

A key part of this involves the credibility assigned to a Russian source and the CIA’s initial unwillingness to share his identity.

One fight, they said, concerned the identity and placement of a C.I.A. source inside the Kremlin. Analysts at the National Security Agency wanted to know more about him to weigh the credibility of his information. The C.I.A. was initially reluctant to share details about the Russian’s identity but eventually relented.

But officials disagreed about how much weight to give the source’s information, and the intelligence community’s eventual assessment apparently reflected that division. While the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded with “high confidence” that Mr. Putin was specifically trying to help Mr. Trump win the election, the National Security Agency agreed but said it had only “moderate confidence.”

As with much of the Durham investigation, this likely came from a partisan investigation — specifically the HPSCI Report on Russian interference that the GOP released with little Democratic involvement. It found that

(U) Finding #16: The lntelllgence Communi· tv Assessment judgments on Putin’s strategic intentions did not employ proper ana· lytic tradecraft. (U) While the Committee found that most ICA analysis held-up to scrutiny, the investigation also identified significant intelligence tradecraft failings that undermine confidence in the JCA judgments regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic objectives for disrupting the U.S. election. Those judgments failed to meet longstanding standards set forth in the primary guiding document for IC analysis, ICD 203, Analytic Standards including:

(U) ”Properly describe quality and credibilit:y of underlying sources.”

(U) “Properly express and explain uncertainties associated with major analytic judgments.”

(U) “Incorporate analysis of alternatives ·- [particularly] when major judgments must contend with significant uncertainties or … high-impact results.”

(U) Base confidence assessments on “the quantity and quality of source material.”

(U) “Be informed by all relevant information available.”

(U) “Be independent of political considerations.”

[snip]

The Committee’s findings on ICA tradecraft focused on the use of sensitive, [redacted] intelligence [redacted] cited by the ICA. This presented a significant challenge for classification downgrade. The Committee worked with intelligence officers from the agencies who own the raw reporting cited in the ICA to downgrade the classification of compartmented findings [redacted]

In short, in the same way that the HJC/OGR echo chamber of shoddy propaganda injected George Papadopoulos’ claims into Durham’s investigation, the HPSCI report likely gave Barr a way to demand this prong of the investigation.

The thing is, however, the Senate Intelligence Committee has also reviewed this intelligence — notably, at a time after the CIA source behind it had been exfiltrated (and after abundant other evidence proving that Putin really did prefer Trump came in). And SSCI had no problem with the conclusion.

The ICA states that:

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.[2]

  • The Committee found that the ICA provided a range of all-source reporting to support these assessments.
  • The Committee concurs with intelligence and open-source assessments that this influence campaign was approved by President Putin.
  • Further, a body of reporting, to include different intelligence disciplines, open source reporting on Russian leadership policy preferences, and Russian media content, showed that Moscow sought to denigrate Secretary Clinton.
  • The ICA relies on public Russian leadership commentary, Russian state media reports, public examples of where Russian interests would have aligned with candidates’ policy statements, and a body of intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump.

The ICA also states that:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.[3]

  • The Committee found that the ICA provided intelligence and open source reporting to support this assessment, and information obtained subsequent to publication of the ICA provides further support.
  • This is the only assessment in the ICA that had different confidence levels between the participating agencies—the CIA and FBI assessed with “high confidence” and the NSA assessed with “moderate confidence”—so the Committee gave this section additional attention.

The Committee found that the analytical disagreement was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated among the agencies and analysts, with analysts, managers, and agency heads on both sides of the confidence level articulately justifying their positions. [my emphasis]

Significantly, over time that conclusion has held up.

In fact, an even more recent SSCI Report — released in recent weeks — makes it clear that what is obviously this same reporting stream provided the “wake up” call that led the IC to take the Russian attack as seriously as they should have. The intelligence is introduced (but entirely redacted) on page 11, but the description of Brennan’s action — and the degree to which this intelligence was closely held thereafter — makes it clear that this is the CIA HUMINT.

According to Director Brennan, he recommended that the intelligence be briefed to the Gang of Eight, stating, “I think it’s important that this be a personal briefing.”

[snip]

According to multiple administration officials, the receipt of the sensitive intelligence prompted the NSC to being a series of restricted PC meetings to craft the administration’s response to the Russians’ active measures campaign. These restricted “small group” PC meetings, and the corresponding Deputies Committee (DC) meetings, were atypically restricted, and excluded regular PC and DC attendees such as the relevant Senior Directors within the NSC and subject matter experts that normally accompanied the principals and deputies from the U.S. Government departments and agencies.

According to former NSC Senior Director for Intelligence Programs, Brett Holmgren, no one other than the principals participated in the initial PC meetings, due to the sensitivity of the intelligence reporting. Mr. Holmgren further stated that the “reports were briefed verbally, often times by Director Brennan. So I didn’t get access to a lot of these reports until the November or December time frame.”

To be clear, ultimately this more recent SSCI Report comes down on the same side that the Durham inquiry seems to be — that CIA ended up holding this too close, making it difficult for other agencies to properly vet it. This SSCI Report argues that the close hold led to a less robust response than the US should have mounted.

So all four reviews — HPSCI’s, SSCI’s ICA assessment and 3rd volume, along with Durham’s current review — agree that the CIA held this information really closely. But the bipartisan reports that assess whether the conclusion held up over time — just the SSCI ones — not only find that CIA was right, but that that view marked the belated moment when the US IC started taking the attack seriously enough.

In other words, John Durham is investigating something that the proper oversight authorities already have deemed the correct result that actually came too late and not broadly enough, and trying to find fault with it. Bill Barr is trying to get Durham to criminalize an intelligence conclusion that is the one thing that didn’t lead us to get more badly damaged by the attack.

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

As I noted, I spent much of the last month wading through the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. Back when the IG Report came out, a bunch of people — largely Devin Nunes flunkies — declared, incorrectly and apparently without close review, that the IG Report shows that Devin Nunes was right and Adam Schiff was wrong in their memos from 2018.

The reality is that both were talking past each other, with Nunes trying to make the Steele dossier stand in for and discredit the entire investigation, and Schiff trying to point out that the Steele dossier did not predicate the entire Russia investigation. Nunes made dishonest claims about the Ohrs and Comey’s briefing of the Steele dossier to Trump. Schiff wrongly defended the FBI’s treatment of the September 23, 2016 Michael Isikoff story and overstated the known reliability of the dossier at the time of the memo, to which additional details were added by the IG Report.

Schiff overstates both the predicted and actual efficacy of the FISA collection, which is something it’d be nice to see both parties return to. Though it has long been evident that the FBI and the IC generally often continues surveillance (and surveillance programs) past their point of usefulness, the Intelligence Committees do a piss poor job of challenging such collection.

Before I compare the two, though, consider that both memos came before almost a year of parallel investigations (one conducted by House Republicans, another conducted by the DOJ IG) into the process. Even Nunes was not aware when he wrote his memo of some of the problems identified in the IG Report. I say that with great confidence, not least because I spoke with a Republican who had read the FISA application closely months after the Nunes memo was written who told me there was so much else in Carter Page’s FISA application that approval of the application was not a close call even with concerns about the dossier; the person changed his opinion after that time. In other words, when both parties released a memo about the Carter Page application in early 2018, neither side knew of some of the problems revealed in the IG Report. That’s actually evident from the things Nunes does not complain about in his memo (though he may remain silent about Page’s past relationship with CIA for classification reasons), and it means some of Schiff’s assurances about the dossier have been proven inaccurate since.

This post will conduct a paragraph-by-paragraph assessment of the letters that uses the IG Report, with one key exception, as arbiter of accuracy. The exception is DOJ IG’s conclusions on (but not facts presented about) Bruce Ohr, as that is one area where DOJ IG can be shown to misrepresent the record.

Nunes Memo

¶1-4: The introductory paragraphs of the Nunes memo lays out when FBI obtained FISA orders on Page and who approved them. These details are true, though uncontroversial. From there, Nunes adopts an outline of allegations that are either less sound or inaccurate:

¶5 (marked as 1):

“The dossier was essential:”

The IG Report said the FBI lawyer said ” the Steele reporting in September ‘pushed it over’ the line in terms of establishing probable cause,” and generally the IG Report shows that FBI would not have initiated the FISA process without the dossier, though by the time the application was approved FBI had collected more damning information on Page.

The IG Report describes five things substantiated probable cause against Page:

  • Russia’s effort to influence the election
  • The Papadopoulos report
  • Page’s past history with Russia, including his Gazprom dealings, his serial recruitment by Russian intelligence officers, his comments about what he had told the FBI
  • The Steele allegations
  • His enthusiasm about being offered a “blank check” to start a pro-Russian think tank on his July trip to Russia

“Steele was a longtime FBI source:” Steele had been known to Bruce Ohr and Andrew McCabe via mutual interest in combatting organized crime since the 2000s. Ohr first introduced Steele to an FBI handler in 2010. He was formally opened as a CHS in 2013, though the two sides disagreed about the terms of that relationship.

Steele was paid over $160K, to obtain derogatory research: True, but not part of the IG Report. The Nunes memo doesn’t note that Steele was paid $95,000 by the FBI, none of it for dossier-related work.

¶ 6, 7 (marked as 1a and 1b): “Neither the initial applications nor the renewals disclose the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials:” The footnote disclosing this did not name any Democrat, but it wouldn’t have in any case. It did say that,

[Steele], who now owns a foreign business/financial intelligence firm, was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #l’s ties to Russia (the identified U.S. person and [Steele] have a long-standing business relationship). The identified U.S. person hired [Steele] to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #l’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate # 1 ‘s campaign.

The political origins of the dossier were suspected by senior FBI and DOJ officials before the first application. After that, they had far more specific knowledge of it, thanks largely to Bruce Ohr. The FBI did not disclose its enhanced understanding of the nature of the project in reauthorizations, though some of the people involved believed the initial footnote remained adequate.

“The FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.” It wasn’t the same information. FBI authorized Steele to be paid if he completed taskings focused on the subjects of the investigation, but they offered that in the (false) expectation he’d offer them information exclusively. He was not, ultimately, paid for this.

¶8 (marked as 2): “The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff … This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself.

This entirely misstates the point of the Yahoo inclusion, which was to include Page’s denials.

Evans told the OIG that 01 included the reference to the September 23 Yahoo News article in the FISA application solely because it was favorable to Carter Page and not as corroboration for the Steele reporting in the application. According to Evans, the application’s treatment of the article was favorable to Page in three respects: (1) the application described statements in the article that the campaign distanced itself from Page and minimized his role as an advisor; (2) the application stated that Page denied the allegations in the news article in a letter to the Director; and (3) as described below, the application made clear that the people who financed Steele’s reporting were likely the same source for the information in the article.

While it is true that the FISA application did not attribute the quote to Steele (not even after FBI learned he had been the source from Bruce Ohr), the application did attribute it to Glenn Simpson.

Given that the information contained in the September 23rd News Article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered during his/her research, the FBI assesses that [Steele’s] business associate or the law firm that hired the business associate likely provided this information to the press.

¶9, 10 (marked as 2a and 2b): “Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations–an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI. … Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo.”

This is correct, insofar as Steele was closed for cause because he disclosed that he had shared information with the FBI, which amounted to being a control problem.

Strzok told the OIG that the FBI closed Steele “because he was a control problem. We did not close him because we thought he was [a] fabricator.” According to Strzok, Steele’s decisions to discuss his reporting with the media and to disclose his relationship with the FBI were “horrible and it hurt what we were doing, and no question, he shouldn’t have done it.”

But there are more serious violations, such as breaking the law.

However, a CHS must be closed for cause “if t here is grievous action by the CHS or a discovery of previously unknown facts or circumstances that make the individual unsuitable for use as a CHS.”97 Reasons that justify closing a CHS for cause include commission of unauthorized illegal activity, unwillingness to follow instructions, unreliability, or serious control problems. 98

Also, Steele’s decision to share the information, while utterly stupid from a HUMINT standpoint, was not actually a violation of any warning the FBI had given him, since he disclosed information he had collected for someone else.

Steele’s handling agent said that Steele should have been closed for cause because of the attention he was attracting for himself, but he recognized that Steele was not leaking information he had collected for the FBI (and the IG Report didn’t find any orders that he not speak to the press, either).

Handling Agent 1 told us that he understood why Steele would believe in September 2016 that he did not have an obligation to discuss his press contacts with him given that: (1) Steele’s work resulted from a private client engagement; and (2) Handling Agent 1 told Steele on July 5 that he was not collecting his election reporting on behalf of the FBI. However, Handling Agent 1 ‘s view was that while it was obvious that Fusion GPS would want to publicize Steele’s election information, it was not apparent that Steele would be conducting press briefings and otherwise interjecting himself into the media spotlight. Handling Agent 1 told us that he would have recommended that Steele be closed in September 2016 if he had known about the attention that Steele was attracting to himself. According to Handling Agent 1, Steele should have had the foresight to recognize this fact and the professionalism to afford Handling Agent 1 an opportunity to assess the situation. However, we are unaware of any FBI admonishments that Steele violated by speaking to third parties, including the press, about work that he had done solely for his firm’s clients and where he made no mention of his relationship with the FBI.

[snip]

According to Handling Agent 1, while Steele appeared to follow the directions of Fusion GPS, he did not treat his other client – the FBI – fairly. According to Handling Agent 1, if Steele “had been straight with the FBI,” he would not have been closed as a CHS.

¶11 (marked as 3): Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via … Bruce Ohr.

This is true, but it was part of a 10 year relationship based on sharing information about organized crime, and this information included non-dossier related information on Trump (focused on Oleg Deripaska’s double game offers to offer evidence against Paul Manafort) and other Russian (including doping) and non-Russian matters.

The IG Report makes the same kinds of errors in its portrayal of Ohr as the FISA Application does about Page, effectively arguing Ohr should be disciplined for the kind of information sharing DOJ and FBI have insisted they need to encourage since 9/11.

Ohr said, “Steele said he ‘was desperate.'”

This is true, though the IG Report shows (but then misrepresents) that Ohr specifically said this was an ideological desperation, not a political one: “but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

¶12 (marked as 3a): “During this same time period, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump … the Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.”

This is dishonest. Nellie Ohr’s last day working as a contractor for Fusion was September 24, 2016, so she was no longer employed by Fusion at the time of the first Page application or at the time when Ohr was helping FBI vet the dossier. The IG Report does not say their relationship should have been disclosed to the FISC, nor should it have been, as Nellie Ohr’s research was a separate stream from Steele’s.

¶13 (marked as 4):

“corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its ‘infancy’ at the time of the initial Page application.”

This is true, but that is not unusual in the FISA context.

Evans and other witnesses told us that the fact that the source information in the FISA application had not yet been corroborated was not unusual in the FISA context

DOJ assessed the reliability of this information, for the first application, by assessing Steele’s reliability and including information on his subsources. His past as an MI6 officer gave him more credibility than other sources might have had. All the applications misstated what Steele’s handling agent had said about the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated.

“a source validation report … assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated.”

The source validation that found Steele’s reporting to be minimally corroborated was done in March 2017, after the first two FISA applications and the Trump briefing.

“Yet in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steel dossier, even though it was–according to his June 2017 testimony–‘salacious and unverified.'”

This is an utterly dishonest attack. As noted, the validation review referred to here took place two months after Comey briefed Trump on the dossier. And Comey briefed Trump on it largely because it was salacious, out of desire to warn Trump about what was out there.

“McCabe testified … that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from FISC without the Steele dossier.”

McCabe said something different to the IG when asked about this quote and this discrepancy remains unresolved.

McCabe told us that he did not recall his exact testimony, but that his view was that the FBI would have “absolutely” sought FISA authority on Carter Page, even without the Steele reporting, based upon Page’s historical interactions with known Russian intelligence officers and the fact that Page told known Russian intelligence officers about the FBI’s knowledge of those interactions. However, McCabe also told us that he was not privy to the discussions that took place between attorneys in FBI OGC and Case Agent 1 on the sufficiency of the evidence to establish probable cause before the Crossfire Hurricane team received Steele’s election reports. McCabe said he could not speculate as to whether the FBI would have been successful in obtaining FISA authority from the FISC without the inclusion of the Steele reporting.

Schiff Memo

¶1-4: Introductory matter, including an assertion that ODJ would have been remiss if they had not sought a FISA warrant. The IG Report showed that while there was no question about investigating Page’s ties to Russia, there was some question about the efficacy of the FISA application.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly.

¶5: “Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. In fact, the FBI’s closely held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.”

This is true. The FBI opened the investigation on July 31 based off the Australian tip, and the Crossfire Hurricane team only got the Steele dossier information on September 19.

¶6-7:

“Multi-pronged rational for surveilling Page” There were five things the first Page application used to establish probable cause, as noted above.

“no longer with the Trump campaign” True.

“narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities … did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump” This is a bit cynical, because while the FBI did not use all the reports they had gotten from Steele (including the pee tape allegation), the Page application used the specific references to Page plus more general allegations about cooperation between Russia and Trump.

Specifically, the following aspects of Steele’s Reports 80, 94, 95, and 102 were used to support the application:

  • Compromising information about Hillary Clinton had been compiled for many years, was controlled by the Kremlin, and the Kremlin had been feeding information to the Trump campaign for an extended period of time (Report 80);
  • During his July 2016 trip to Moscow, Carter Page attended a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, Chairman of Rosneft and close associate of Putin, to discuss future cooperation and the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia; and a secret meeting with Igor Divyekin, another highly placed Russian official, to discuss sharing compromising information about Clinton with the Trump campaign (Report 94);
  • Page was an intermediary between Russia and the Trump campaign’s then manager (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy” of cooperation, which led, with at least Page’s knowledge and agreement, to Russia’s disclosure of hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign’s agreement to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue (Report 95); 267 and
  • Russia released the DNC emails to Wikileaks in an attempt to swing voters to Trump, an objective conceived and promoted by Carter Page and others (Report 102).

“interaction with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign … FBI interviewed Page in March 2016.” It is both true that Page’s actual interactions with Russian officials — including the offer of an “open checkbook” to open a pro-Russian think tank during his July 2016 trip — and his comments to the FBI in March 2016 were part of the case for probable cause.

“DOJ also disclosed” It is true DOJ disclosed Steele’s prior relationship and the details of his termination as a source — though at first they incorrectly only said he had been suspended — but they did not supplement the application with details of the Fusion project as they became known after the first application.

¶8-10: Repetition of the opening blather.

¶11-13: The investigation was started based off Australia’s tip about Papadopoulos and by the time the Crossfire Hurricane team received dossier information on September 19, they had already opened investigations against 4 Trump people, Page, Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort [the other three names of which are redacted]. That’s true. Here’s what the government told FISC about the Papadopoulos tip:

In or about March 2016, George Papadopoulos [footnote omitted] and Carter Page (the target of this application) were publicly identified by Candidate #1 as part of his/her foreign policy team. Based on reporting from a friendly foreign government, which has provided reliable information in the past … the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #l’s campaign. In or about July 2016, the above-referenced friendly foreign government provided information to a senior official within the U.S. [government] regarding efforts made by the Russian Government to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Specifically, according to this information, during a meeting in or about April 2016 between officials of the friendly foreign government and George Papadopoulos … Papadopoulos suggested that Candidate #l’s campaign had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to another candidate for U.S. President (Candidate #2). It was unclear whether Papadopoulos or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear from this reporting how Candidate #l’s campaign reacted to the alleged Russian offer. Nevertheless, as discussed below, the FBI believes that election influence efforts are being coordinated between the RIS and Page, and possibly others.

Note the Schiff memo supplements what the government told FISC and what FBI knew at the time with information from Papadopoulos’ plea deal, though by October 2016, the FBI had come to learn outlines of Papadopoulos’ interactions with Mifsud via an informant.

¶14: Details about the Page applications. As corrected these claims are true. The Schiff memo doesn’t list the judges, but they are:

  • September application: Rosemary Collyer, W appointee
  • January application: Michael Mosman, W appointee
  • April application: Anne Conway, Poppy appointee
  • June application: Raymond Dearie, Reagan appointee

Note that the Schiff memo describes both electronic surveillance and physical search; the IG Report hides the latter. The physical search authorization is important because that provided FBI authorization to obtain Page’s stored communications, including emails.

¶15: FISA was not used to spy on the campaign. True, but the use of physical surveillance would permit the FBI to obtain stored communication, and it’s not public whether the specific minimization procedures adopted by FISC limited the access to emails Page sent while on the campaign.

¶16-17: Page’s connections to Russian Government and intelligence officials. To the extent this information is public, this is largely true (though it’s probably more accurate to state that one of the Russians indicted, Victor Podobnyy, attempted to recruit Page, and he talked about it with a second). We now know, however, that an earlier attempted recruitment happened with the knowledge of CIA, and there’s no allegation that Page hid his willingness to share information with Russian intelligence officers until 2017. That raises problems for claims he was secretly working with Russian spies.

¶18: Page’s suspicious activity during the 2016 campaign. To the extent this is public, it does reflect what FBI told FISC. The memo doesn’t deal with real questions about the allegations about whom Page met with in Russia. There’s still no corroboration that Page met with anyone named Divyekin (indeed, Dmitry Peskov affirmatively chose not to set up a meeting for him with the Kremlin), but the IG Report reveals that the people who brought Page to Moscow provided RUMINT that he had met with Igor Sechin. The Mueller Report concluded Page’s activities in Moscow “were not fully explained.”

¶19: Subsequent renewals. Much of this discussion is redacted, though it’s clear it provides details of Page’s December trip to Moscow, where he met with the Deputy Prime Minister again, and probably refers to Page’s meeting with the VP of Gazprombank in Singapore.

This table shows the new claims made in each FISA application described in the IG Report.

It’s not clear that Page’s denials in the HPSCI interview are as damning as Schiff makes out, as some of them amounted to denials of claims in the dossier than have not been proven. The IG Report would go on to describe other denials from Page that were provably true, denials that did not get included in reauthorization applications.

¶20: The Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable information. Publicly, Michael Horowitz has suggested this is not the case. But the IG Report admits that that investigation team “did not review the entirety of the FISA [intelligence collected by] targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those [redacted] under FISA authority that were relevant to our review.”

The Report suggests that the reality is that the first two, and possibly three, warrants were useful, as they captured Page interacting with Russia in suspicious ways, but that the fourth and maybe the third application were far less useful, in part because by that point Page knew he was being surveilled and by that point he was no longer a key player in Trump’s orbit.

¶21-22: DOJ was transparent with the Court about Steele’s sourcing. The Schiff memo accurately describes the footnote used to inform the court of the political nature of Steele’s project. It doesn’t describe that FBI didn’t amend that description as more information became known, though there is disagreement over whether more was necessary.

¶23: DOJ explained the FBI’s reasonable basis for finding Steele credible. The Schiff memo accurately describes how DOJ described Steele. But it doesn’t note that the reauthorizations did not reflect questions FBI had come to raise about the credibility of the dossier, nor does it note (and it probably wasn’t known) that the applications used language from an intelligence report rather than from Steele’s handling agent to describe the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated, and as a result overstated that.

¶24-25: FBI properly notified FISC after it terminated Steele as a source. As a minor point, in the first reauthorization, FBI said Steele had been suspended rather than closed, when he had actually been closed. More seriously, the Schiff memo badly understates how obvious it should have been that Steele had a role in Michael Isikoff’s October 21 story (though, as noted, the FBI attributed the story to Simpson in any case).

¶26: The FBI never paid Steele for the dossier. Here, the two memos are talking past each other dishonestly. The FBI did authorize Steele to be paid for any exclusive reporting on specific taskings, but what he provided was always his work for Fusion.

¶27: DOJ appropriately provided the Court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference, including … Papadopoulos. This is largely true. The IG Report complains that FBI didn’t include Papadopolous’ really damning admissions to informants, but the FBI correctly deemed the denials he made (and Joseph Mifsud’s denials) to be inaccurate, so had they been included they would have been included to substantiate deceit.

¶28: DOJ made proper use of news coverage. The unredacted claims are all true (though don’t account for FBI’s failures to identify Isikoff’s article as coming from Steele).

¶29-30: The Majority’s reference to Bruce Ohr is misleading.

This passage states that Ohr’s meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team happened after the FISA application, which is true, but it doesn’t mention a meeting had with Andrew McCabe (not Crossfire Hurricane) days before the FISA application. The McCabe meeting included reporting from Steele (whom Ohr had spoken to the previous day) and Simpson; I argue, however, that the precipitating reason for the meeting had to do with Oleg Deripaska, which the IG Report inaccurately treats as synonymous with the Steele dossier (though it’s problematic for other reasons).

Also, the Schiff memo speaks of “debriefs” without describing the multiple meetings.

The Schiff memo correctly calls the Nunes memo on insinuating that because Ohr worked with Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein that meant there was a conspiracy; in fact, the IG Report argues he should be disciplined because he didn’t provide them enough notice of what he was doing.

The evidence in the IG Report backs Schiff’s conclusion — that Ohr’s contacts with the Crossfire Hurricane team amounted to debriefing about Steele’s project — more than it backs its own.

¶31: Strzok and Page’s text messages are irrelevant to the FISA application. That is true. The IG Report found,

As part of this review, in order to determine whether there was any bias in the investigative activities for Crossfire Hurricane that we reviewed, we asked agents and analysts assigned to the case about the roles Strzok and Page played in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and their level of involvement in decision making. With respect to Strzok, these witnesses told us that while he approved the team’s investigative decisions during the time he was in the supervisory chain of command for the investigation, he did not unilaterally make any decisions or override any proposed investigative steps. Priestap, in addition to telling us that it was his (Priestap’s) decision to initiate the investigation, told us that to his knowledge, Strzok was not the primary or sole decision maker on any investigative step in Crossfire Hurricane. Further, as described above, in January 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane cases were divided between two operational branches within CD, and Strzok no longer supervised the Carter Page investigation, which was transferred to Operations Branch II, CD-1, under the supervision of then DAD Boone. In this report, we describe those occasions when Strzok was involved in investigative decisions.

With respect to Lisa Page, witnesses told us that she did not work with the team on a regular basis or make any decisions that impacted the investigation.

The Government’s Coy Dance on FISA and Rudy’s Grifters

As I noted last month, one of the guys indicted along with Rudy’s grifters, Andrey Kukushkin, asked the government for notice of any of several kinds of surveillance, including FISA. The government responded today with the kind of non-denial that all-but confirms that one of the grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, their co-conspirators, or their funders were implicated in a FISA order.

It starts by stating, “the Government has repeatedly informed the defendants, it does not intend to use any information that was obtained or derived from FISA or other forms of surveillance identified by Kukushkin,” meaning under FISA they have no obligation to notify defendants of its use. It then reviews the requirements of statute, which state that the government only has to provide notice if it plans to use evidence obtained via FISA. It asserts it has met the requirements of FISA.

The Government has complied with its discovery and disclosure obligations, and Kukushkin’s motion fails to set forth any legal basis to require anything more.

With respect to FISA, the Government has complied with its obligations under Section 1806 in this case. On December 1, 2019, the Government notified defense counsel that it did not intend to use any FISA-obtained or FISA-derived information against the defendants at trial.

It’s basically a legalistic way of saying, “yes, yes, yes, but no.” All the more so given that the government corrects a Kukushkin claim that the government had stated they had not obtained FISA collection.

Kukushkin incorrectly states that the Government has “denied procuring evidence pursuant to Title III or FISA warrants.” Dkt. 45 at n.1. The Government has told the defense that it did not obtain or use Title III intercepts in this investigation. The Government has not made any representations about the use of FISA warrants.

And the government  provided Judge Oetken an ex parte filing, which is the kind of thing you’d do to be very transparent to the judge when asked about FISA.

The Government is separately submitting a supplemental letter to the Court ex parte and under seal.

Again, all this is legally uninteresting but factually intriguing given how open the government is about the likelihood they did use FISA in this case.

Especially given how they note that the representations the government makes in this letter apply to all the defendants, including Fruman and Parnas.

The Government writes in response to defendant Andrey Kukushkin’s December 12, 2019 letter motion, which is made “on behalf of all defendants,” seeking the Court to direct the Government to affirm or deny, under 18 U.S.C. § 3504, whether the defendants were the subject of any Government surveillance, including under Executive Order 12333 or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). [my emphasis]

If Kukushkin were targeted with a FISA order, it would mostly implicate some Nevada Republicans — that’s the side of the grift Kukushkin got charged under.

But if Parnas or Fruman were targeted, it might implicate Pete Sessions, Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, the other members of Congress Adam Schiff intimated were also included in the Parnas call records obtained by HPSCI, the President’s lawyer, and possibly even the President himself.

And if any of the grifters were personally targeted, it would probably mean that Bill Barr (who has been personally involved in the case since early last year) had agreed that someone in direct communication with all these Republicans was or is probably an Agent of a Foreign power.

Days after America Learns to Hate FISA, Lev Parnas’ Co-Conspirator Focuses the Issue

During the first status hearing for Lev Parnas and his co-conspirators, the government stated clearly that no Title III wiretaps had been used in the case. I recognized at the time that didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t wiretapped. As people engaged in transnational political influence peddling, they were prime candidates to have been collected under FISA, either targeted at them or (under 702) their co-conspirators overseas.

I’m not the only one who noticed that. The lawyers for Andrey Kukushkin — who was indicted on the Nevada marijuana part of the grift, one that explicitly described funding from an unidentified Russian — have asked Judge Paul Oetken to make the government tell them whether their client or any of his co-conspirators (including unindicted co-conspirators) were the subject of any of various forms of surveillance, including 12333 and FISA. The government responded with the kind of non-denial that suggests it is quite likely one or some of these grifters (or their Russian unindicted co-conspirator) were collected under those authorities.

As we have previously told you, the Government did not obtain or use Title III intercepts in the course of this investigation. Additionally, the Government does not intend to use any information that was obtained or derived from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the other forms of surveillance identified in your letter.

Remember: The government doesn’t have to tell defendants who were targeted under FISA that they were so long as the government doesn’t rely on any evidence obtained under FISA in their prosecution. But Kukushkin seems to have a pretty clear suspicion that the government knows what he has said in his communications.

The government has said (including in a motion asking the court to revoke Parnas’ bail last night) that there are likely going to be follow-on charges. And Foreign Agent charges are the kind of thing you might expect given the way the grifters were funneling foreign money into politics. Which would mean they’re precisely the kind of people that FISA was envisioned for.

That said, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were in close contact with the President’s lawyer, and Parnas also spoke at key times to Devin Nunes (who consistently only cares about surveillance implicating him), John Solomon, and other people squealing when Adam Schiff revealed just their metadata.

So if FISA were used, a bunch of people who’ve just learned to hate FISA may have been incidentally collected in conversations with indicted fraudsters.

The thing is, Bill Barr has repeatedly said that he was briefed on this case and fully approved of it. Which means Barr may soon be in the position of defending a controversial FISA, one possibly approved under him or another Trump Attorney General.

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.

Paul Manafort Is the Linchpin in Russia’s Effort to Recorrupt Ukraine

Yesterday, a vague NYT report described Senators and their staffers being briefed that Russia was behind the effort to blame the 2016 hack on Ukraine.

Russian intelligence officers aimed part of their operation at prompting the Ukrainian authorities to investigate the allegations that people in Ukraine tried to tamper with the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, according to a former official.

One target was the leak of a secret ledger disclosed by a Ukrainian law enforcement agency that appeared to show that Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, had taken illicit payments from Ukrainian politicians who were close to Moscow. He was forced to step down from the Trump campaign after the ledger became public in August 2016, and the Russians have since been eager to cast doubt on its authenticity, the former official said.

Intelligence officials believe that one of the people the Kremlin relied on to spread disinformation about Ukrainian interference was Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who had ties to Mr. Manafort. After his ouster from the campaign, Mr. Manafort told his former deputy later in 2016 that Ukrainians, not Russians, stole Democratic emails. Mr. Deripaska has broadly denied any role in election meddling.

The Deripaska role in this may partly explain the vagueness about the briefing. At least per FOIA redactions made in August, there was an ongoing investigation pertaining to Deripaska at the time.

The article is not vague about one thing: the purpose for the disinformation campaign, which (in addition to permitting Trump to deny the role Russia had in getting him elected) has to do with Ukrainian internal politics. Russia wants Ukraine to investigate people that, the conspiracy theories go, “tried to tamper in the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.”

This explains the nature of the campaign: Rudy’s disinformation packet (including the John Solomon articles that come from his efforts) target Sergii Leshchenko, NABU, and the Anti-Corruption Action Centre. None of those entities should be the focus of an American smear campaign, to say nothing of an impeachment defense. But painting Joe Biden’s efforts to combat Ukrainian corruption as the opposite and dropping the name of George Soros was sufficient to recruit Donald Trump into ordering his Administration to pursue the effort and enticing the fragile-minded Devin Nunes into chasing the conspiracy like a puppy. The US had been using the leverage it had over Ukraine to push it to address corruption. This disinformation campaign appealed to Trump’s weaknesses to get him to reverse that policy, creating conditions to expand corruption, even while tainting the newly elected President elected on an anti-corruption platform.

Still, Paul Manafort is a key part of that. That’s partly because Manafort continues to protect Trump and at least one of his associates — in part by lying about a meeting on August 2, 2016 where he discussed his ties with both Deripaska and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs as well as carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking. It’s also because legitimate concerns raised in 2016 about Manafort’s corruption one of the two main ways Ukrainians commented on the election (the other involves criticism of Trump’s comments on Crimea, comments he has since disavowed under oath). The claim — which is false on several levels — is that because Leshchenko publicized the Black Ledger, it led to Manafort’s resignation (Leshchenko has published a second piece making this clear). And, as I and Leschenko keep noting, Manafort knew he was in the Black Ledger months before it became public. If anyone should be held responsible for any taint the publication of his inclusion in the Black Ledger, it’s him; if it was a problem, he should have disclosed that problem to the candidate.

With all that said, then, I want to note something that happened with Rudy’s disinformation packet, which I unpacked in detail here. As I noted, there are two versions of three sets of notes from January 2016, one of a phone interview with Viktor Shokin conducted on January 23, 2019, and two of an in-person interview with Yuriy Lutsenko conducted in NY on January 25 and 26. The first set appears to be what Rudy gave Pompeo. The second may reflect Pompeo’s notes on them, which include some proofreading, stars for emphasis, remarks on timing.

But as I noted, the original version appears to have come with underlines already included.

The only annotation added to that section was to circle Leshchenko’s name (which is not transliterated as he does it, so this could either be emphasis or one of several really nitpicky notations of errors in the notes).

The reason I’m interested in this is because, while the passage has a bunch of errors (for example, the size of the Black Ledger is wrong, the allegation against Yovanovitch is invented, Leshchenko released something else, that’s not how US media got the story), it does make it clear that Manafort was in the Ledger. That is, even disinformation (which Lutsenko has since recanted) designed to help Trump includes the allegation that Manafort was in the Ledger. It also asserts that Manafort was laundering money through Kyrgyzstan, which is also true.

Furthermore, nothing here refutes the validity of the Ledger more generally.

That might not be clear to someone reading quickly, of course, because of the way the other details were underlined.

Which is why it is all the more inexcusable that Republicans — including but not limited to Rudy and Devin Nunes — continue to suggest that Manafort was unfairly tainted by the ledger, as happened in this exchange between Nunes and David Holmes last week.

Nunes: [Leshchenko] provided widely known as the black ledger, have you ever heard of the black ledger?

Holmes: I have.

Nunes: The black ledger, is that seen as credible information?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: The black ledger is credible?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: Bob Mueller did not find it credible, do you dispute what Bob Mueller’s findings were? They didn’t use it in the prosecution or in the Report?

Holmes: I’m not aware that Bob Mueller did not find it credible. It was evidence in other criminal proceedings. Its credibility was not questioned in those proceedings.

Even in Rudy’s own disinformation, which is full of easily identifiable lies, it states clearly that Manafort was in the ledger and was laundering money (the latter allegation of which he has pled guilty to). And yet Republicans are still running around ignoring even their own manufactured dirt to pretend the accusations against Manafort were simply made up.

Perhaps that’s because, without Manafort, Trump’s own stakes in this go down substantially.

Timeline: How Rudy Made It Hard for Mike Pompeo to Show Any Leadership

American Oversight FOIAed the documents showing Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to smear Marie Yovanovitch and the Bidens at State. For some of these, this represents another instance where NGOs have successfully obtained documents refused to Congress, but many of these were turned over to Congress by State’s Inspector General Steve Linnick in early October.

I did a thread on the documents here, but wanted to lay out the timeline of what the documents include. What it shows is that Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pompeo spoke twice around the time Rudy delivered a packet of disinformation to the Secretary of State. When Rudy’s campaign started showing publicly, with response from other Ambassadors and Congress, Department of State blew off their concerns.

March 26-29: Rudy shares a packet of information with Mike Pompeo wrapped up with Trump and White House labels

The bulk of these records document Mike Pompeo talking with Rudy Giuliani twice — on March 26 and 29 — and appear to include the materials they talked about, the packet of disinformation Rudy sent to State. The March 26 call does not appear in some of the month-long metrics sheets (see PDF 43), which makes me wonder whether Rudy called out of the blue.

March 26, 9:49AM: S (Pompeo) speaking with Rudy

March 26, 9:53AM: S finished speaking with Rudy

Pages 59-100 appears to be the disinformation packet Rudy sent, as follows:

  • Cover sheet addressing the packet, ostensibly from the White House (59)
  • Trump Hotels cover sheets (60 and 73; 77 and 88)
  • Initial copy of Viktor Shokin notes (61-62)
  • One copy of Yuriy Lutsenko notes, with underlines on section Lutsenko interview (63-66)
  • Annotated copy of Shokin notes (67-68)
  • Annotated copy of Lutsenko notes, incorporating original underlines (69-72)
  • A list of names (including Sergii Luschenko) (74)
  • A March 2016 letter from George Kent on US Embassy in Ukraine letterhead responding to a query about how US assistance was spent, with a post-it titled “Solomon articles” (75-76)
  • Two timelines (in another Trump folder) with no headers or title, ostensibly laying out Obama Administration corruption; the second has a post-it querying about its source (78-87)
  • Four John Solomon articles: one dated March 20 claiming Lutsenko had opened an investigation into how the Black Ledger was released, claiming it was a plot to help Hillary; another dated March 20 reporting Lutsenko claiming Yovanovitch had given him a do not prosecute list; a third dated March 20 reporting Lutsenko’s claim he had opened an investigation into the Black Ledger release; the draft of the March 26 column sent to Lev Parnas, Joe DiGenova, Victoria Toensing, and claiming the US embassy had shut down an investigation into a Soros backed anti-corruption group; the March 26 draft was sent from an unidentified ProtonMail account to someone unidentified (89-100)

That packet seems to show that Solomon wrote his four articles smearing Yovanovitch and Democrats based in part on the notes Rudy took in meetings with Shokin and Lutsenko. The draft status of the last Solomon article suggests that they were shared sometime on March 26, before it was posted.

March 27, 11:28AM: Rudy’s assistant, Jo Ann Zafonte, emails Trump’s then personal assistant Madelein Westerhout, asking for a number for Pompeo

March 27, 11:52: Westerhout asks someone what number she can have.

March 27, 12:03: In response, State gives Westerhout the scheduler’s number.

March 28, 9:27AM: Rudy (apparently, himself) calls to confirm the call on March 29

March 28, 9:34AM: State Ops Center emails someone whose name is redacted to ask if there will be monitors on Rudy’s call to Pompeo

March 28, 9:37AM: The person with redacted name informs David Hale about the call

March 29, 8:14AM: State puts Pompeo through to Rudy on his unsecure cell phone

March 29, 8:18AM: The call ends

April 1, 1:30: Pompeo speaks to Nunes (in one case described as HPSCI “Chairman”) on a secure line

April 8-15: Bill Taylor and other Ambassadors write David Hale about the smear of Yovanovitch

Pages 2-22 show Bill Taylor and other Ambassadors sending a letter decrying the attack on Yovanovitch (it was organized by John Herbst) to David Hale. The letter explained that the attack would not only weaken “the structure of our diplomatic engagement,” but “weaken the alliance” with Ukraine, “making it harder to take effective action against corruption.”

Hale forwarded it to Counselor Thomas Brechbuhl and Philip Reeker, as an FYI. Later that day, Reeker sends Brechbuhl an email memorializing a meeting about the topic which is entirely redacted under a deliberation exemption. The next day, Herbst sent a copy to Brechbuhl and someone else, the latter of whom responded to the FOIA. Herbst explained, “As we offered David, we would be happy to provide further information…” Brechbuhl responded mid-day the next day saying, “Thank you for your concern and offer. It’s much appreciated” — a polite brush-off.

On April 15, Hale sends it to someone whose name is redacted saying, “Not sure what to do with this.”

April 12-Jun 11: State ignores the concerns of Steny Hoyer and Eliot Engel

Pages 27-31 and 34-37 involve an April 12 letter Steny Hoyer and Eliot Engel sent to Pompeo urging him to defend his diplomats, using Yovanovitch as the urgent example. Internally, State (including Charles Faulker, who has been ousted for corruption) note that the Congressmen will not make the letter public. But Mary Elizabeth Taylor, the Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary, does ask that it be tasked and turned around quickly.

Nevertheless, Taylor does not respond until June 11, in a letter in which she deflects with the Congressmen, claiming that Yovanovitch was due to finish her assignment this summer, and the end of her service coincided with the presidential transition in Ukraine.

Other

This doesn’t fit into the timeline at all, but pages 23-25; 32-33 include details Trident Acquisitions Chairman Edward Verona sent to Mike McKinley (these are included because he makes a reference to Yovanovitch) about a November 2018 visit to Ukraine.

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.

Paul Manafort Knew of His Inclusion in the Black Ledger Two Months before NYT Story

In spite of Fiona Hill’s warnings not to peddle in Russian backed disinformation, the seemingly single frothy right talking point today is to embrace the claim that Ukraine, like Russia, tried to tamper in the 2016 election.

None of them have noted the fact that Paul Manafort confessed that he discussed carving up Ukraine and how to win Michigan in a meeting where he talked about how to get back on the gravy train of Ukrainian oligarchs  Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov (as well as Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska).

Instead, they’ve tried to pitch Ukrainians standing up for the territorial integrity of Ukraine as anti-Trump, in contradiction to Trump’s sworn answers to Robert Mueller. They’ve also accused Republican-paid experts doing open source research on Russian and Ukrainian corruption of being Democratic operatives. In particular, they’ve misrepresented sworn testimony to launch a claim that Sergii Leshchenko was a source for the Steele dossier and/or he said something mean about Paul Manafort, the aforementioned confessed recipient of Ukrainian influence peddling during the 2016 election.

The other day, Leshchenko debunked such claims, in part by noting that the version of the Black Ledger he released had had the Manafort related entries stripped from it.

I published the first portion of the “black ledger” on May 31, 2016. I published 22 pages from the secret manuscript of the Party of Regions, which was sent anonymously to my official email address at the parliament’s domain. The document listed under-the-table cash payments to Ukrainian politicians, lawmakers, judges and members of the Central Election Commission. However, Manafort was not mentioned there. His name was not in the 22 pages I obtained.

I did not have any other pages except for these ones, although I now know it was an excerpt from more than 800 pages that the black ledger contained. Believe me, had Manafort’s name been in the pages I obtained, I would have published it, because I think Manafort helped establish one of the most outrageously corrupt regimes in the world, headed by Yanukovych.

I learned that Manafort was featured in the full version of the black ledger only on Aug. 14, 2016 when the New York Times reported it. The day before, I was contacted by a Times’ journalist and asked if I knew anything about Manafort in Yanukovych’s records. I said I didn’t, and it was true. If I had that information, I would have been the first to publish it.

Four days after the New York Times article, on Aug. 18, 2016, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, or NABU, officially confirmed that Manafort’s name appeared in the black ledger. According to it, he received cash payments of more than $12.7 million.

That raises the significance of something else Leshchenko notes (but which has largely escaped notice of the press here).

In a February 14, 2018 interview, member of the far right in good standing Steve Bannon told Robert Mueller that Manafort knew the story of his inclusion in the Black Ledger was coming two months before it came out in the NYT. (PDF 112-113)

Bannon told Trump he would take the position as Campaign Chief Executive.

At the time Trump was 16 points down, the campaign had no organization, no money, 75 % of the population thought the country was in decline, they were working with the “deplorables,” and Bannon had a 100% certitude that they would win . Bannon believed the big task was to give people permission to vote for Trump as commander in chief.

The next day Bannon met with Manafort, which was the same time that the news about the “Black Ledger” was breaking. Bannon was at campaign headquarters when Manafort told Bannon to come up to Trump Tower. When Bannon arrived, Manafort showed him something about a NY Times story about the ”Black Ledger” and $15 million dollars from the Ukraine. Bannon asked when t his story was coming out. Manafort replied that he had known about the story coming out for approximately 2 months and had not gotten involved in it. Bannon subsequently told Trump to keep Manafort, to not fire him, and to keep him around for a couple of weeks. Bannon called Kushner, and asked him to get back in order to do something publicity wise to counteract the negative press surrounding the story. Trump had asked Bannon at one time about “what was this thing with Manafort out of the Ukraine,” and they talked for approximately 15 minutes on it . Trump was never linked with other Russian news stories at the time, and he believed Manafort was a promoter . Trump was more worried about how they story made them look . Bannon believed that Trump talked with Manafort about the story.

There are several implications about this story, starting with the fact that Bannon didn’t think the story required Manafort to resign. Importantly, this means Manafort recognized that he would be implicated by the Black Ledger even though his name was not published in what Leshchenko released.

Significantly: If there was an impact by the story breaking in August 2016 — if it did damage to the Trump campaign — Trump has one person to blame for that. Paul Manafort, both because of his real corruption, but also because he didn’t warn the candidate.

Not Sergii Leshchenko. But Paul Manafort.

The same guy who Russian-backed Ukrainians had targeted for influence just 12 days before the story broke.