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The Guy Who Defended Roger Stone’s Campaign Finance Shenanigans Did Not Testify to the Grand Jury

In response to an order from DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell, the government has revealed the two witnesses of interest to Congress who did not testify to the grand jury. The first, Don Jr, should not surprise anyone who has been following closely, as that was clear as soon as the Mueller Report came out.

The other–Don McGahn–is far more interesting, especially since he was interviewed on five different occasions: November 30, December 12, December 14, 2017; March 8, 2018; and February 28, 2019.

Most likely, the reason has to do with privilege, as McGahn’s testimony, more than almost anyone else’s, implicated privilege (in part because many witnesses’ testimony cut off at the transition). McGahn ended up testifying far more than Trump knew, and it’s possible he did that by avoiding a subpoena, but had he been subpoenaed, it would provide the White House opportunity to object.

Elizabeth De la Vega said on Twitter it likely had to do with how valuable McGahn was in his five interviews. By not making him testify to the grand jury, she argued, you avoid creating a transcript that might undermine his credibility in the future. That’s certainly consistent with the Mueller Report statement finding McGahn to be “a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate given the position he held in the White House.” But that reference is footnoted to say, “When this Office first interviewed McGahn about this topic, he was reluctant to share detailed information about what had occurred and only did so after continued questioning.” Plus, while McGahn testified more than any other witness not under a cooperation agreement, Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks testified a bunch of times, too (four and three times respectively), but were almost certainly put before the grand jury.

But there is a different, far more intriguing possibility.

First, remember that Roger Stone was investigated for more than lying to Congress (indeed, just the last four warrants against him, all dating to this year, mentioned just false statements and obstruction). Which crimes got named in which warrants is not entirely clear (this government filing and this Amy Berman Jackson opinion seem to conflict somewhat). Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C), was named in all Stone’s warrants before this year. But at least by August 3, 2018, the warrants against Stone listed a slew of other crimes:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 3 (accessory after the fact)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 4 (misprision of a felony)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy)
  • 18 U.S.C. §§ 1505 and 1512 (obstruction of justice)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1513 (witness tampering)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (wire fraud)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud)
  • 52 U.S.C. § 30121 (foreign contribution ban)

For whatever reason, the government seems to have decided not to charge CFAA (if, indeed, Stone was the actual target of that investigation). They may have given up trying to charge him for encouraging or acting as an accessory after the fact.

The Mueller Report explains — albeit in mostly redacted form — what happened with the 52 U.S.C. § 30121 investigation. First Amendment and valuation concerns about a prosecution led Mueller not to charge it, even though he clearly seemed to think the stolen emails amounted to an illegal foreign campaign donation.

But that leaves wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. During the month of August 2018, DOJ obtained at least 8 warrants relating to Stone including wire fraud. Beryl Howell — who in her order requiring the government unseal McGahn’s name, expressed puzzlement about why Don McGahn didn’t testify before the grand jury — approved at least five of those warrants. Rudolph Contreras approved one and James Boasberg approved two. So apparently, very late in the Stone investigation, three different judges thought there was probable cause Stone and others engaged in wire fraud (or tried to!).

And it’s not just those judges. Roger Stone’s aide, Andrew Miller, was happy to testify about WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. But at least when his subpoena first became public, he wanted immunity to testify about the campaign finance stuff he had done for Stone.

Miller had asked for “some grant of immunity” regarding financial transactions involving political action committees for which he assisted Stone, according to Alicia Dearn, an attorney for Miller.

On that issue, Miller “would be asserting” his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions, Dearn said.

I’d like to consider the possibility that McGahn, Donald Trump’s campaign finance lawyer before he became White House counsel, was happy to testify about Trump’s attempt to obstruct justice, but less happy to testify about campaign finance issues.

Mind you, McGahn is not one of the personal injury lawyer types that Stone runs his campaign finance shenanigans with. Whatever else he is, McGahn is a professional, albeit an incredibly aggressive one.

That said, there are reasons it’s possible McGahn limited what he was willing to testify about with regards to work with Stone.

At Roger Stone’s trial the government plans (and has gotten permission) to introduce evidence that Stone lied about one additional thing in his HPSCI testimony, one that wasn’t charged but that like one of the charged lies, involves hiding that Stone kept the campaign in the loop on something.

At the pretrial conference held on September 25, 2019, the Court deferred ruling on that portion of the Government’s Notice of Intention to Introduce Rule 404(b) evidence [Dkt. # 140] that sought the introduction of evidence related to another alleged false statement to the HPSCI, which, like the statement charged in Count Six, relates to the defendant’s communications with the Trump campaign. After further review of the arguments made by the parties and the relevant authorities, and considering both the fact that the defendant has stated publicly that his alleged false statements were merely accidental, and that he is charged not only with making individual false statements, but also with corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the proceedings in general, the evidence will be admitted, with an appropriate limiting instruction. See Lavelle v. United States, 751 F.2d 1266, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1985), citing United States v. DeLoach, 654 F.2d 763 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (given the defendant’s claim that she was simply confused and did not intend to deceive Congress, evidence of false testimony in other instances was relevant to her intent and passed the threshold under Rule 404(b)). The Court further finds that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

A September hearing about this topic made clear that it pertains to what Stone’s PACs were doing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Marando argued that Stone falsely denied communicating with Trump’s campaign about his political-action-committee-related activities, and that the lie revealed his calculated plan to cover up his ties to the campaign and obstruct the committee’s work.

It sounds like Stone cleared up this testimony (Stone sent two letters to HPSCI in 2018, and one of those would have come after Steve Bannon testified about emails that included a Stone demand that Rebekah Mercer provide him funding), which may be why he didn’t get charged on that front.

As I’ve suggested, if Stone was actively trying to deny that the work of his PACs had any interaction with the Trump campaign, it might explain why he threatened to sue me when I laid out how McGahn’s continued work for Trump related to Stone’s voter suppression efforts in 2016.

And remember: when Stone aide Andrew Miller did finally testify — after agreeing to at virtually the moment Mueller announced he was closing up shop — he did so before a new grand jury, after Beryl Howell agreed with prosecutors that they were in search of evidence for charges beyond what Stone had already been indicted on or against different defendants.

McGahn’s campaign finance work for Stone and Trump is one of the things he’d have no Executive Privilege claims to protect (though barring a showing of crime-fraud exception, he would have attorney-client privilege), since it all happened before inauguration.

Again, there are lot of more obvious explanations for why he didn’t testify before the grand jury. But we know that Mueller investigated these campaign finance issues, and we know McGahn was right in the thick of them.

DOJ Suddenly Decides It Can Share the McCabe, Comey 302s with Congress

After DOJ asserted to DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell that US v. Nixon would be decided differently today, the judge instructed the parties fighting over whether DOJ will share the grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation with Congress to get busy. She set of bunch of short deadlines to determine the validity of DOJ’s claims to secrecy. As part of that, she had DOJ explain which FBI 302s (interview reports) it had shared of those the House Judiciary Committee requested, then had HJC fact check that list.

According to HJC, DOJ’s declaration alerted them, for the first time, that some of the redactions in 302s were made to protect “Executive Branch confidentiality,” a claim they’ll move to challenge.

Although DOJ discussed the bases for redaction in its Supplemental Submission and at the October 8, 2019 hearing, see DOJ Supp. Sub. ¶ 4; Hr’g Tr. 48-49 (Oct. 8, 2019), none of the bases for redactions are listed or otherwise indicated on the FBI-302 reports reviewed by the Committee. Instead, portions of the FBI-302 reports are simply blacked out without any explanation. During the Committee’s on-site reviews of the FBI-302 reports and in calls between Committee and DOJ officials, the Committee has repeatedly requested that DOJ specifically identify the complete set of bases for its redactions. The Committee still has not received this information as to any of the FBI-302 reports it has reviewed. While the Committee is generally aware that there were redactions for personally identifiable information, until the discussion during yesterday’s hearing and in DOJ’s Supplemental Submission, the Committee was unaware, for example, that the bases for redactions included either “Executive Branch confidentiality interests,” DOJ Supp. Sub. ¶ 4, or “presidential communications,” Hr’g Tr. 48:19- 20 (Oct. 8, 2019).

The more interesting revelation from the exchange, however, pertains to whether or not DOJ was going to supply all 302s, and which ones they might suppress. As DOJ explains, it has given HJC 302s for 17  of the 33 people they asked for (though the Rob Porter and Uttam Dhillon 302s were mostly redacted):

The Committee requested FBI-302s for 33 individuals. To date the Department has provided access to the FBI-302s of 17 of those individuals, several of whom had multiple interviews. Those individuals are (in alphabetical order): (1) Chris Christie, (2) Michael Cohen (six separate FBI-302s); (3) Rick Dearborn; (4) Uttam Dhillon; (5) John Kelly; (6) Jared Kushner; (7) Cory Lewandowski; (8) Paul Manafort (seven separate FBI-302s); (9) Mary McCord; (10) K.T. McFarland (five separate FBI-302s); (11) Stephen Miller; (12) Rob Porter (two separate FBI-302s); (13) Rod Rosenstein; (14) Christopher Ruddy; (15) Sarah Sanders; (16) Sean Spicer; (17) Sally Yates.

But it has thus far withheld 302s from a group of others.

The Department currently anticipates making the remaining FBI-302’s available under the agreed upon terms as processing is completed, so long as they do not adversely impact ongoing investigations and cases and subject to redaction and potential withholding in order to protect Executive Branch confidentiality interests. These include, in alphabetical order (1) Stephen Bannon; (2) Dana Boente; (3) James Burnham; (4) James Comey; (5) Annie Donaldson; (6) John Eisenberg; (7) Michael Flynn; (8) Rick Gates; (9) Hope Hicks; (10) Jody Hunt; (11) Andrew McCabe; (12) Don McGahn; (13) Reince Priebus; (14) James Rybicki; (15) Jeff Sessions. In addition, the Committee requested the FBI-302 for the counsel to Michael Flynn, which also has not yet been processed.

It’s an interesting list to withhold.

Hicks, of course, was privy to a great deal (including Trump’s effort to lie about the June 9 meeting), and her testimony about certain communications during the campaign was actually fairly revealing.

At least two of these may be withheld for the pendency of the Roger Stone trial; both Steve Bannon and Rick Gates will be witnesses, and Mike Flynn’s discussions of WikiLeaks may come up as well.

These 302s (and Dhillon’s heavily redacted one) cover virtually all of the White House’s side of discussions not to fire Mike Flynn right away after discovering he lied about his call with Sergey Kislyak: James Burnham, John Eisenberg, Don McGahn, and Reince Priebus, and of course Flynn himself, were all key players in that. Of course, Eisenberg (who’s the lawyer who decided to hide the records on Trump’s call to Volodymyr Zelensky) was involved in other acts that might indicate obstruction, including advising KT McFarland not to create a false record about what Flynn said. And McGahn was involved in much else (and might even have been asked about Stone’s campaign finance issues, which McGahn represented him on, and the awareness of the Trump campaign about will be an issue at Stone’s trial). But I find it acutely interesting that DOJ is withholding a bunch of records that will make it clear how damning Trump’s reluctance to fire Flynn was, even as Flynn attempts a propaganda driven effort to give Trump an excuse to pardon him.

Then there are the 302s pertaining to the recusal of Jeff Sessions and firing of Jim Comey (and immediate pressure on Andrew McCabe). Those include Comey himself, McCabe, Rybicki, Hunt, Sessions, and Dana Boente. The fact that DOJ has been withholding these (and it’s suggestion that there are ongoing investigations) is really sketchy: it suggests that DOJ may have been withholding really damning 302s from Congress so it can decide whether to indict McCabe and — presumably — wait for DOJ IG to finish its investigation of the FISA orders some of these men approved. In other words, DOJ has been releasing one after another damning claim against Comey and McCabe, but withholding evidence about why they might be targeted.

It’s also noteworthy that Boente and McGahn’s memory regarding an effort McGahn made to shut down the Russian investigation is one of the greatest conflicts of testimony in the entire Mueller Report.

The 302s DOJ has been withholding also happens to include 302s of current DOJ officials. Boente is the FBI General Counsel. More alarmingly, Jody Hunt runs the Civil Division and Burnham is his Deputy. These are the men directing the DOJ effort to make breathtaking claims about impeachment, and they’re hiding their own actions in the investigation about which Congress is considering impeachment.

But, having been asked by Howell what the state of affairs is, DOJ has now decided that they’re going to turn over 302s they previously had suggested they might withhold. HJC expressed some surprise about the sudden change of plans.

With respect to the outstanding FBI-302 reports, the Committee was surprised but encouraged by DOJ’s statement in its supplemental filing that it “currently anticipates making the remaining FBI-302s available.” DOJ Supp. Sub. ¶ 5. The Committee had previously understood from its recent communications with DOJ that DOJ’s production was nearing completion and that there were only a limited number of remaining documents that DOJ would disclose.

It will be interesting if and when HJC obtains these records to see how DOJ tried to protect itself.

Update: I’m reminded of two things. First, as I copied out this URL, I recalled that Turkey, along with Russia, would have known that he lied about his calls with Sergey Kislyak.

Also, in the government’s most recently filing in the Mike Flynn case, they revealed that he had not been in possession of the interview reports from between the time he was initially interviewed and the time he pled guilty.

Based on filings and assertions made by the defendant’s new counsel, the government anticipates that the defendant’s cooperation and candor with the government will be contested issues for the Court to consider at sentencing. Accordingly, the government will provide the defendant with the reports of his post-January 24, 2017 interviews. The government notes that the defendant had counsel present at all such interviews.

This suggests that the government was withholding reports that would make it clear that Flynn continued to lie, even after he lawyered up.

Why Roger Stone Threatened to Sue emptywheel!

Remember when Roger Stone threatened to sue me? It was in response to this post, in which I noted that Don McGahn had been helping Stone rat-fuck for Trump for years.

Well, it turns out that that’s the topic of something the government would like to introduce as evidence about why he lied to HPSCI.

As I noted, a debate over whether the government can introduce 404(b) evidence at trial — often used to show motive — has been going on under seal. But a snippet of the topic got aired in yesterday’s hearing on such issues. And one of the things the government wants to introduce under 404(b) is that, in addition to all the lies Stone told HPSCI laid out in his indictment, he also told further lies about his coordination with the Trump campaign.

Separately, Jackson also held off in ruling on Stone’s bid to block DOJ from talking about other alleged false statements he made before the House committee during the September 2017 testimony that led Mueller to press charges.

During Wednesday’s hearing she fretted that raising Stone’s statements could prolong the trial and confuse jurors over allegations that the government didn’t choose to prosecute.

DOJ attorney Michael Marando argued that the government’s allegations needs to be heard in the context of Stone’s overall motivations.

“He went in with a calculated plan to lie, to separate himself from the campaign in order to shield the lie about his connections to WikiLeaks. He had to create that space,” Marando said.

One of those lies pertains to Stone’s communication with the campaign about the activities of his PAC.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Marando argued that Stone falsely denied communicating with Trump’s campaign about his political-action-committee-related activities, and that the lie revealed his calculated plan to cover up his ties to the campaign and obstruct the committee’s work.

Rogow disagreed, calling the allegation more prejudicial than revealing and saying that it would divert jurors into a matter that Stone was not charged with.

Note, this is likely why he wants to call Steve Bannon, which other news outlets are inexplicably quite surprised about; Stone asked Bannon for funding from Rebekah Mercer for this stuff. And, as I noted in the post in question, Don McGahn helped Stone avoid charges for voter intimidation for his PAC activities. So I guess Stone wanted to sue me because I laid out proof that he lied to HPSCI about something that served the larger purpose of distancing his rat-fucking from the campaign.

Amy Berman Jackson ruled on most of the motions in limine as follows:

Government motion to introduce two categories of 404(b) evidence: Under advisement

Government motion to introduce two newspaper articles related to such evidence: Denied, with the opportunity to submit redacted versions if the evidence is submitted

Government motion to exclude claims of prosecutorial misconduct: Granted, but Stone can introduce impeachment information

Government motion to exclude evidence of Russian interference: Granted

Stone motion to introduce evidence challenging claims that WikiLeaks obtained stolen documents from Russia: Denied

Stone motion to subpoena Crowdstrike for its reports to the DNC: Denied

Stone motion for a recording of his HPSCI testimony: Moot

Government motion to introduce upload dates for videos: Granted

Government motion to introduce an excerpt of Godfather II: Deferred

Government motion to partially redacted a grand jury transcript: Granted, along with permission to file a motion in limine to limit the same witnesses’ court testimony

ABJ ordered the two sides to figure out what portion of the HPSCI report they need to submit at trial, as well as what communications between Randy Credico and Stone should be excluded

Bill Barr Refuses to “Comply First, Complain Later” with Congressional Oversight

A number of people have talked about how dangerous — and how outdated — is much of what Attorney General Bill Barr said to a police organization the other day. I’d like to take another approach with his speech: to show what it looks like when you replace “police” with a co-equal branch of government constitutionally empowered to police the Executive. The italicized words below have swapped out the original. I’ve underlined my own additions.

The anti-oversight narrative is fanning disrespect for the law.  In recent years, we have witnessed increasing toleration of the notion that it is somehow okay to resist oversight.

Previously, it was well understood that, regardless of the circumstances, legal resistance is unacceptable because it necessarily leads to a spiral of escalating resistance that endangers the ability of Congress to oversee the Executive.  For that reason, virtually all jurisdictions have made resistance a serious crime.

Not too long ago influential public voices — whether in the media or among community and civic leaders — stressed the need to comply with oversight commands, even if one thinks they are unjust.  “Comply first” and, if you think you have been wronged, “complain later.”

But we don’t hear this much anymore.  Instead, when an incident escalates due to a suspect’s legal resistance to oversight, that fact is usually ignored by the commentary.  Congress’ every action is dissected, but the suspect’s resistance, and the danger it posed, frequently goes without mention.

We need to get back to basics.  We need public voices, in the media and elsewhere, to underscore the need to “Comply first, and, if warranted, complain later.”  This will make everyone safe – the police, suspects, and the community at large.  And those who resist must be prosecuted for that crime.  We must have zero tolerance for resisting police.  This will save lives.

[snip]

These anti-oversight Attorneys General have tended to emerge in jurisdictions where the nomination process is undermined by an abuse of Vacancy Reform Act.  Frequently, these candidates get rushed through because the incumbent is an entirely unqualified flunky and their confirmations are sometimes accompanied by large infusions of money from outside groups.

Once in office, they have been announcing their refusal to enforce broad swathes of the criminal law.  Most disturbing is that some are refusing to prosecute cases of resisting oversight.

Bill Barr doesn’t believe any average American should ask questions before complying with those empowered to force them to abide by the law.

But his view is entirely different when it comes to his boss complying with the only body — given the OLC memos Barr has reinforced — with the authority to police Executive branch abuses. Indeed, he has (unsurprisingly) refused to enforce contempt citations, and has instead fostered the kind of disrespect for the law he claims to believe in.

Don McGahn Is Not the Most Critical Witness on Impeachment

In the last several days, Jerry Nadler has stated more and more clearly that his committee is conducting an inquiry on whether to file articles of impeachment. Six months after gaining the majority, this feels like a slow walk perhaps intended to time any impeachment vote based on how it will impact the election.

In its press release and complaint seeking to enforce its subpoena against Don McGahn last week, the House Judiciary Committee made an alarming claim: that Don McGahn was the most important witness in its consideration of whether to file for impeachment.

McGahn is the Judiciary Committee’s most important fact witness in its consideration of whether to recommend articles of impeachment and its related investigation of misconduct by the President, including acts of obstruction of justice described in the Special Counsel’s Report.

That claim suggests that the House Judiciary Committee has a very limited conceptualization of its own inquiry and perhaps an overestimation of how good a witness McGahn will be.

McGahn’s probably not as credible as HJC Dems think

I say the latter for two reasons. First, in the early days of the Russian investigation, McGahn overstepped the role of a White House Counsel. For example, even after his office recognized they could not talk to Jeff Sessions about the Russian investigation or risk obstruction, McGahn followed Trump’s orders to pressure Dana Boente on the investigation.

At the President’s urging, McGahn contacted Boente several times on March 21, 2017, to seek Boente’s assistance in having Corney or the Department of Justice correct the misperception that the President was under investigation.326

Curiously, McGahn and Boente’s versions of what happened are among the most divergent in the entire Mueller Report, which might suggest McGahn was less than forthright in testimony that, per footnotes, came in one of his earlier interviews.

Plus, as the Mueller Report acknowledges, the NYT story that triggered one of the key events in the report — where Trump asked McGahn to publicly rebut a claim that he had asked McGahn to fire Mueller, which led him to threaten to resign — was inaccurate in its claim that McGahn had functionally threatened to resign (which was clear in real time). 

On January 26, 2018, the President’s personal counsel called McGahn ‘s attorney and said that the President wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the Special Counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest.784 McGahn’s attorney spoke with McGahn about that request and then called the President’s personal counsel to relay that McGahn would not make a statement.785 McGahn ‘s attorney informed the President’s personal counsel that the Times story was accurate in reporting that the President wanted the Special Counsel removed.786 Accordingly, McGahn’s attorney said, although the article was inaccurate in some other respects, McGahn could not comply with the President’s request to dispute the story.787

Put McGahn under oath, and Republicans will ask if he was a source for that story, and if he was, why he oversold what he did. At the very least they’ll beat him up for letting the “#FakeNews NYT” spread lies.

There are far better (tactically and Constitutionally) reasons to impeach

More troubling still, asserting that McGahn is the most important witness — and stating that he’d be a witness in “criminal obstruction” — you prioritize that cause for impeachment over others, causes that might elicit some Republican support or at the very least mobilize the Democratic base.

To my mind, the best cause for impeachment — in terms of cornering Republicans and mobilizing the Democratic base — pertains to Trump’s repurposing of otherwise allocated funding for his Wall. This was an issue about which Republicans themselves had problems. It highlights Trump’s impotence to deliver on his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for his wall. It goes to issues of efficacy on national security issues. And it highlights how Trump has abused authority — authority which goes to the core of separation of powers — to facilitate his attacks on Latino immigrants. Plus, depending on when impeachment was triggered, having focused on the power of the purse would provide a tool to rein Trump in if he survived the election.

Democrats should also focus on Trump’s abuse of the Vacancy Reform Act in his appointments to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Board, DOJ, DOD, and ODNI. Violating the spirit of Consumer Financial Protection Board gave Trump a way to gut an entity meant to protect consumers, something that Elizabeth Warren will be able to magnify better than anyone (all the more so if and when the economy starts to turn south). Appointing Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker to fire Jeff Sessions provides a different way to get to the Russian investigation, and may (if BDTS prevented Mueller from naming Trump in the Roger Stone indictment) focus more attention on the resolution of that case (which has the potential of being both a really damaging trial or a pre-trial pardon). The appointment of Patrick Shanahan as Acting Secretary of Defense provides a way to focus on ethics complaints about his tenure, to say nothing about Trump’s tolerance for familial abuse. And Trump must be held accountable for whatever predictable problems selecting a loyalist over Sue Gordon as Acting DNI will cause — and some of the predictable problems, which might involve North Korea, Iran, or cybersecurity, could be quite damning.

Another impeachment cause that would invoke some of the same issues as the Russian investigation, but in a way that would be more awkward for the President, is Trump’s abuse of security clearances, starting with, but not limited to, Kushner’s (this is an issue where the Oversight Committee has done great work). An inquiry into why Trump gave Kushner clearance would provide a way to get to Kushner’s awkward role in foreign policy, particularly the possibility that he shared US classified information with Gulf oligarchs. If Kushner is found to have shared intelligence allowing Mohammed bin Salman to target Al-Waleed bin Talal or Jamal Khashoggi, it will invoke a slew of issues that will put Republicans in an awkward position (and have the salutary effect of focusing attention on Trump’s refusal to keep the Saudis honest).

Democrats would be idiots if they didn’t make an issue of Trump’s self-dealing, including but not limited to emoluments. It’s likely Republicans would defend the President on this point, but if they do, it can form the basis for legislation to more clearly prohibit such self-dealing going forward if Democrats do well in 2020. In addition, it goes to an issue that was absolutely key to Trump’s supporters, #DrainTheSwamp, but on which he has been (predictably) an utter failure.

Finally, Democrats should include Trump’s refusal to respond to violations of the Presidential Records Act in any impeachment inquiry. It is true that most Administrations have had problems adhering to PRA going back to Poppy Bush (Obama is to a large extent an exception, but Hillary’s avoidance of the Federal Records Act undermines that good record). But when pressed, most prior Administrations have been forced to admit the details of their failures to fulfill the law. Here, Trump has simply refused to respond to all questions about PRA violations. Some of these violations involve key players in the Russian investigation: Jared, KT McFarland, and Bannon. But these same people were involved in other scandals, such as the willingness to sacrifice US standards on nuclear security so that a bunch of Republicans can make $1 million per reactor (again, this would incorporate great work done by OGR).

This is a non-exclusive list. The point is, however, that HJC should frame their impeachment inquiry broadly, partly because some of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors have pissed off Republicans in the past, and partly because a failed impeachment trial can still frame Republican obstruction in a way that voters will care about.

Obviously, I think Trump’s conduct during the Russian investigation is important, and it’s all packaged up with a bow. But it’s not even just obstruction. Trump lied under oath in his written responses to Mueller. And Trump cheated to win an election. So even while pursuing impeachment on Russia, it needs to be more broadly conceived than the issues that Don McGahn can address. 

Other witnesses have more to offer than Don McGahn

So even in the emphasis on the Russia investigation, I think there is at least one better witness: Jay Sekulow. Sekulow has done a number of things that don’t qualify for attorney client privilege, such as his conversations directly with Michael Cohen to write a false statement hiding the President’s ties to Russia. That goes directly to Trump’s sworn lies.

Then there’s John Kelly. He was at DHS for the beginning of Trump’s abusive immigration policies. He knows details of Trump’s security clearance abuses (and might actually give a damn about them). He should know details of the PRA violations (and if not, should be accountable for why not). And he knows details of Kushner’s privatized foreign policy (and probably tried to control it). Kelly was a minor witness for Robert Mueller, but should be a key witness to any impeachment inquiry.

Finally, there’s the role of the Office of Legal Counsel and its head Steve Engel in all this. Some of OLC’s opinions enabling Trump’s abusive acts have been every bit as dodgy as John Yoo’s ones. It is the place of DOJ’s oversight committee to review the circumstances of those shitty opinions. While the government would likely fight this testimony particularly aggressively based on deliberative and attorney-client privileges, both John Yoo and Steven Bradbury have testified before, Yoo on an issue (torture) pertaining to abuse. Engel would still be able to testify about patterns of communication and the degree to which Trump dictated outcomes.

I’ll grant you, there are good reasons why McGahn may be a good tactical witness. I suspect that, by the time he testified, McGahn might be prepared to Bigfoot his testimony, not least in an attempt to cleanse himself of the Trump taint. So at that level, he may be a willing, damning witness.

So calling McGahn the most important witness might just be a legal tactic, a means to tie HJC’s obstruction inquiry with witnesses who have been blocked from testifying. And the White House Counsel position (to say nothing of the former White House Counsel position) is one for which there is precedent (under Clinton and Bush) for coerced testimony.

But I hope to hell HJC doesn’t really believe he’s the most important witness.

Ann Donaldson’s Code Makes Richard Burr’s Tip-Off to the White House Far More Damning

The House Judiciary Committee released Ann Donaldson’s responses to their questions yesterday. In general, she was directed not to answer even more questions than Hope Hicks was. But her answers are interesting on several counts.

First, she offers a range of answers that sometimes confirm she was part of a discussion (and that it happened in Don McGahn’s office or via telephone), sometimes suggest she was part of such a conversation but often claims she does not have an independent memory of whether she was part of it, and sometimes make clear that she was not present. Generally, her answers suggest she learned of most of the events covered by the Mueller Report either by listening in on a phone call or by acting as a sounding board for Don McGahn. She states, “I was in meetings directly with President Trump fewer than ten times” (though she was clearly on McGahn’s side of phone calls more times than that).

But Donaldson’s answers are also interesting for the way in which she applies a series of pat answers to certain questions. Here’s the “code” she uses to answer the questions:

The White House has directed that I not provide any further answer to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated. These are obviously questions for which a truthful answer would be especially damning to the President.

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s description of my handwritten notes. Donaldson answers this way for many questions about her notes, effectively confirming that the Mueller Report’s citations of her notes are accurate.

Any characterization of my notes set forth in the Report is that of the Special Counsel’s Office and may be derived, in part, from sources other than my notes. One time, she adds this to a description of something in her notes, in response to this question:

Page 72 of the Report recount a meeting that occurred the morning of May 10, 2017 at the White House involving former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and the President in which the President said he “received ‘hundreds’ of messages from FBI employees indicating their support for terminating Comey” and “asked McCabe who he had voted for in the 2016 Presidential election.” Footnote 477 notes that the account of the meeting is consistent with your notes at Bates Number SC_AD_00347.

She also answers similarly — suggesting things attributed to her in the Mueller Report may involve her relaying something she learned or other Mueller sources — in response to several questions about her interviews with Mueller.

I affirm the accuracy of the voluntary statements I made when being interviewed by the Special Counsel’s Office. Eight times, she affirms the accuracy of something the report says she said. Those are:

  1. Footnote 279 on page 49 of the Mueller Report references an entry in your notes (SC_AD_00123) stating, “just in the middle of another Russia Fiasco.” The footnote cites back to a discussion on March 2, 2017 between the President and Mr. McGahn, during which “McGahn understood the President to be concerned that a recusal would make Sessions look guilty for omitting details in his confirmation hearing; leave the President unprotected from an investigation that could hobble the presidency and derail his policy objectives; and detract from favorable press coverage of a Presidential Address to Congress the President had delivered earlier in the week.” (15)
  2. Page 51-52 of the Report states that on March 5, 2017, President Trump “told advisors he wanted to call the Acting Attorney General [Dana Boente] to find out whether the White House or the President was being investigated.” The accompanying citation (footnote 306) cites to an entry in your notes, Bates Number SC_AD_000168, stating “POTUS wants to call Dana/Is investigation/No/We know something on Flynn/GSA got contacted by FBI/There’s something hot.” (28)
  3. Page 54 of the Report indicates that on March 21, 2017 “[t]he President called McGahn repeatedly that day to ask him to intervene with the Department of Justice, and, according to the notes, the President was ‘getting hotter and hotter, get rid?’” (40)
  4. Footnote 385 of Page 62 of the Report references an entry in your notes at SC_AD_00265 that states “P called Comey – Day we told him not to? ‘You are not under investigation’ NK/China/Sapping Credibility.” (46)
  5. Page 68 of the Report states, “Notes taken by Donaldson on May 9 reflected the view of the White House Counsel’s Office that the President’s original termination letter should ‘[n]ot [see the] light of day’ and that it would be better to offer “[n]o other rationales” for the firing than what was in Rosenstein’s and Sessions’ memoranda.” The accompanying citation (footnote 442) cites your notes, Bates Number SC_AD_00342. (51)
  6. The Report, on pages 81 and 82 citing to your notes at Bates Number SC_AD_00361, states (footnote 541) that Mr. McGahn “advised that the President could discuss the issue [of whether Mr. Mueller had conflicts of interest] with his personal attorney but it would “‘look like still trying to meddle in [the] investigation’ and ‘knocking out Mueller’ would be ‘[a]nother fact used to claim obst[ruction] of justice.’” (63)
  7. Page 82 of the Report states that Mr. McGahn also “told the President that his ‘biggest exposure’ was not his act of firing Comey but his ‘other contacts’ and ‘calls,’ and his ‘ask re: Flynn.’” The accompanying citation (footnote 542) refers to your notes, SC_AD_00361. (64)
  8. Page 113 of the Report states that on January 25, 2018, the New York Times reported that in June 2017, the President had ordered Mr. McGahn to have the Department of Justice fire the Special Counsel. Page 114 of the Report states that on January 26, 2018, the President’s personal counsel called Mr. McGahn’s personal attorney and said that the President wanted Mr. McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the Special Counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest. (77)

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s description of my voluntary statements to it, although I do not have access to its records of my statements. For a number of other questions, however, she answers (as she does for many questions about her notes) that she has no reason to question the accuracy of what the report writes. It’s unclear what the difference is (though the answers she affirms generally make McGahn look smart as compared to Trump.)

Given that code, I’m particularly interested in her responses to question 30, which is about Richard Burr informing the White House about the targets of the FBI investigation, because it suggests Trump may have learned of the list.

In response to the first question on it, Donaldson provides most of her regular coded answers. She can’t speak to the accuracy of Jim Comey’s briefing of the Gang of Eight, she doesn’t dispute Mueller’s characterization of her notes and comments, but some of what is included may be from other people.

Page 52 of the Report indicates that the week after Mr. Comey briefed congressional leaders “about the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference, including the identification of the principal U.S. subjects of the investigation” on March 9, 2017, one of the leaders briefed, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Senator Richard Burr, was in contact with the White House Counsel’s office, which “appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.” You are quoted in Footnote 309 as saying that Senator Burr identified “4-5 targets.”

a. Is this statement accurate?

RESPONSE: I was not present for Mr. Comey’s briefing to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and therefore I cannot confirm whether the description of his briefing to congressional leaders is accurate.

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s quotation of “4-5 targets” from my notes.

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s description of the voluntary statements I made to it, although I do not have access to its records of my statements.

Any characterization of my voluntary statements set forth in the Report is that of the Special Counsel’s Office and may be derived, in part, from sources other than my statements.

But then, to that same question, she endorses the characterization relayed in the Mueller Report more strongly than she does elsewhere. She didn’t take this to be Burr tipping off the White House — though she specifies that that was her belief “at the time,” suggesting she now realizes that’s not true.

As stated by the Special Counsel’s Office in the Report, at the time, I “believed these were targets of [the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence].”

When asked who initiated this contact, she provides the answer the White House has instructed her to give regarding damaging information pertaining to the President.

Who initiated the contact between the White House Counsel’s office and Senator Burr?

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

In the course of explaining that this Burr tipoff happened via phone, she pushes back on the characterization that this was a formal briefing, which is the one time she disputes a characterization made by Mueller.

Where did the March 16, 2017 briefing from Senator Burr take place?

RESPONSE: To the extent this question refers to contact between Senator Burr and the Office of the White House Counsel on or about March 16, 2017 (I would not characterize this contact as a formal “briefing”), that conversation took place by telephone.

When asked why Burr tipped off the White House, Donaldson blames the decision on Burr, suggesting that it was done on his initiative (even in spite of her earlier answer refusing to answer just that question).

Why did Senator Burr provide this briefing to the White House Counsel’s office about the investigation into Russian election interference?

RESPONSE: I do not know. I cannot speak to Senator Burr’s state of mind.

Then Donaldson reaffirms that the conversation happened via a call to McGahn, which she was present for (note, I’m not really sure by what she means when she says she was not a participant on calls, but I wonder both whether it was via speaker phone and whether the other party was told she was listening).

Were you present for Senator Burr’s March 16, 2017 briefing to the White House Counsel’s office?

RESPONSE: To the extent this question refers to a telephone call between Senator Burr and the Office of the White House Counsel on or about March 16, 2017, I was in Mr. McGahn’s office during, but not a participant on, the telephone call.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In a series of three more questions about the call — including whether the President learned about it — Donaldson provides the answer the White House made her give regarding things that were damning to the President.

Who else was present?

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

Describe the substance of Senator Burr’s March 16, 2017 briefing to the White House Counsel’s office.

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

Were the contents of Senator Burr’s briefing shared with the President? If so, describe who shared the contents of the meeting and if you were present for those discussions.

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

If no one else was present, she could have just answered that. And unless someone else was present, she should be able to answer about the substance of the question. Ditto the question about passing this information on to Trump: if there were a non-damning answer, given her other practice, she could answer it.

If McGahn passed on the list of people being investigated to Trump, it would make the conversation between Comey and Trump that took place on March 30, two weeks later, more significant. Trump starts by raising Comey’s public testimony on March 20, where he confirmed the investigation. But then Comey raises the Gang of Eight briefing.

After Comey raises the Gang of Eight briefing, Trump requests that Comey clear him publicly. But then Trump makes the comment about wanting to know if “some satellite” to his campaign did something, he would want that to be public. Remember, here’s what Burr told McGahn, with Donaldson present:

Donaldson 11/6/17 302, at 14-15. On March 16, 2017, the White House Counsel’s Office was briefed by Senator Burr on the existence of “4-5 targets.” Donaldson 11 /6/17 302, at 15. The “targets” were identified in notes taken by Donaldson as “Flynn (FBI was ~ooking for phone records”; “Comey~Manafort (Ukr + Russia, not campaign)”; [redacted reference to Roger Stone] “Carter Page ($ game)”; and “Greek Guy” (potentially referring to George Papadopoulos, later charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 for lying to the FBI). SC_AD_00198 (Donaldson 3/16/17 Notes). Donaldson and McGahn both said they believed these were targets ofSSCI. Donaldson 11/6/17 302, at 15; McGahn 12/ 12/17 302, at 4. But SSCI does not formally investigate individuals as “targets”; the notes on their face reference the FBI, the Department of Justice, and Corney; and the notes track the background materials prepared by the FBI for Corney’s briefing to the Gang of8 on March 9. See SNS-Classified-0000140-44 (3/8/17 Email, Gauhar to Page et al.); see also Donaldson 11 /6/17 302, at 15 (Donaldson could not rule out that Burr had told McGahn those individuals were the FBI’s targets).

If McGahn passed on this information, Trump would have believed that the Mike Flynn investigation would soon be over, and that Paul Manafort was not being investigated for behavior related to his campaign. Trump never gave a shit about George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.

But Roger Stone was his life-long rat-fucker. And during the campaign, Stone spoke repeatedly with Trump to inform him about what he had learned of WikiLeaks’ plans.

It’s one thing if this was a comment about Sergei Millian, as Comey thought it was. But if Trump knew at this point that Roger Stone was under investigation, that would be a very different thing.

Especially because March 2017 is when Stone ratcheted up his efforts to cover up his discussions with WikiLeaks.

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

Thread: House Judiciary Committee Hearing with John Dean

Here’s a post dedicated to the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing today at 2:00 p.m. EDT. I will add content as we go along.

Former White House counsel John Dean will testify today. You’ll recall he served under Richard M. Nixon’s administration. The right-wing media sphere has already been making noise about the HJC taking testimony from a convicted felon.

Except he’s *their* convict, a Republican who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his role in covering up Nixon’s Watergate scandal. I’m sure he’ll have plenty to say about criminality in the White House and subsequent cover-ups.

More here later — bring related chatter here.

UPDATE — 2:30 p.m. —

Via CNN: Justice Department strikes deal with House Democrats over Mueller report evidence, Nadler says

Yeesh. This is like Watergate all over again. Back then Nixon had agreed to accommodate the HJC with access to some of the Oval Office tapes, but the person who would screen them was Senator Stennis who had a hearing disability. We won’t know if Barr truly fulfills the spirit of this agreement with Nadler or pulls a Nixonian Stennis compromise. The HJC took Nixon to court.

Minority Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA) attacked Dean as expected and attacked the hearing saying the committee’s priorities are upside down. If the country had been attacked as Nadler said then committee should be focused on that.

Which we all know is bullshit since the House has already passed legislation  — the very first bill of the 116th Congress, H.R. 1 For The People Act 2019 — intended to secure elections from attack by foreign influence which paid legislators to skew districts via gerrymandering, manipulated races by way of dark money donations to legislators, and hid additional financial influence through undisclosed financial statements including tax returns.  That bill is sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, buried under ~150 other bills he’s bottlenecked. If Collins has a problem with priorities he should have a chat with McConnell and ask why McConnell is uninterested in protecting this country’s elections.

UPDATE — 2:35 p.m. —

Following John Dean’s opening statement, former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance is up. Nice to see a familiar face which will be helpful in news coverage. She’s definitely read the Special Counsel report, and she’s able to explain what she’s seen in it as a former prosecutor which would spur her to indict.

UPDATE — 2:40 p.m. —

Heritage Foundation’s John G. Malcolm, vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government. “Less enthusiastic” about Mueller because he didn’t make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” for Barr, blah-blah. Followed by apologia for Trump who must surely be innocent because he was so cooperative providing “over a million pages of documents, allowed key members of his staff to be interviewed, and submitted written answers to questions.” Sure, sure, right.

You know this is what Collins will tee off, the beat down on Mueller’s job performance while disregarding SCO report Volume II, pages 1-2 in which Mueller explains why he can’t make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment.”

UPDATE — 2:45 p.m. —

Another familiar face, former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, has also read the SCO report. She’s explaining the obstruction of justice charges she read in the report.

I’m sure the GOP will come out swinging but it’s really tough to get around this wham-wham-wham beat down ticking off the obstruction.

____

I’ll add the panelists’ statements here after the hearing. ~Rayne

Trump Claimed To Be Angry Flynn Didn’t Make Good on Putin’s January 21 Requested Phone Call

As I noted, newly unsealed parts of Mike Flynn’s January 24, 2017 302 make it clear that he explained away his calls with Sergey Kislyak on December 29, 2016, in part, by claiming that Kislyak asked Flynn to set up a videoconference between Trump and Putin on January 21, 2017, the day after Trump would be inaugurated.

During the call, KISLYAK asked FLYNN to set-up a VTC between President-elect TRUMP and Russian President PUTIN on January 21st.

[snip]

The interviewing agents asked FLYNN if he recalled any []ation with KISLYAK surrounding the expulsion of Russian diplomats or closing of Russian properties in response to Russian hacking activities surrounding the election. FLYNN stated that he did not. FLYNN reiterated his conversation was about the PUTIN/TRUMP VTC…

That’s damning enough: Putin wanted to capitalize on his investment right away.

But it’s still more damning given a detail from the Comey memos. During the January 27, 2017 dinner that Trump invited Comey to that same day to demand loyalty, Trump suggested he believed Flynn was unreliable. The basis for that unreliability is that Flynn didn’t tell Trump that Putin — and not Theresa May — was the first foreign leader to give him a congratulatory call after the inauguration.

He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgement and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [Putin] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [Putin] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the President learned of [Putin’s call] and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment or after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [President] of a country like [Russia]. This isn’t [redacted] we are talking about.”) He said that if he called [redacted] and didn’t get a return call for six days he would be very upset. In telling the story, the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgment issues.”

This was, remember, the day that Don McGahn and Sally Yates had their second conversation about the FBI investigation into Flynn for lying about his December 29, 2016 conversation with Kislyak. I’ve had mixed opinions about this passage, originally thinking it was an attempt to distance himself from Flynn, but later noting that it fit the (largely chronologically undated) observations by Trump aides that Trump really was fed up by Flynn by the time he was forced to resign.

Here’s the thing, though. At least according to the White House record of Trump’s toast to May, the claim is a lie. That’s because Trump never claimed that May was the first to call Trump after his inauguration. Rather, he applauded her because she was the first to visit Trump after inauguration.

Thank you very much. I am honored to have Prime Minister Theresa May here for our first official visit from a foreign leader. This is our first visit, so — great honor.

It is true that May called Trump sometime on January 21.

It’s also true that in the first question after their comments on January 27, Trump was asked about the phone call with Putin the following day (and he feigned uncertainty whether it would happen).

STEVE HOLLAND, REUTERS: Thank you. You’re going to be speaking tomorrow with the Russian president. What message would you like to convey to him? How close are you to lifting some of the sanctions imposed on Russia over its Ukraine incursion? What would you expect in return?

And Prime Minister May, do you foresee any changes in British attitudes towards sanctions on Russia?

TRUMP: Well, I hear a call was set up, Steve, and we’ll see what happens. As far as the sanctions, very early to be talking about that. But we look to have a great relationship with all countries, ideally. That won’t necessarily happen, unfortunately probably won’t happen with many countries.

But if we can have, as we do with Prime Minister May and the relationship that we’ve all developed and even in the short relationship that we just developed just by being with each other and have lunch and — we’ve really had some very interesting talks and very productive talks. But if we can have a great relationship with Russia and with China and with all countries, I’m all for that. That would be a tremendous asset.

If nothing else, it means Trump knew of the call before lunch, which was scheduled after the press conference, so could not have been surprised to learn of call timing by then.

But now consider the comment after considering that Trump had at least one conversation with Don McGahn about the substance of Flynn’s lies before this meeting, and — given McGahn’s request to have the underlying materials — may have asked to know specifically what Flynn said.

On January 26, 2017, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates contacted White House Counsel Donald McGahn and informed him that she needed to discuss a sensitive matter with him in person. 142 Later that day, Yates and Mary McCord, a senior national security official at the Department of Justice, met at the White House with McGahn and White House Counsel’s Office attorney James Burnham. 143 Yates said that the public statements made by the Vice President denying that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions were not true and put Flynn in a potentially compromised position because the Russians would know he had lied. 144 Yates disclosed that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. 145 She declined to answer a specific question about how Flynn had performed during that interview, 146 but she indicated that Flynn’s statements to the FBI were similar to the statements he had made to Pence and Spicer denying that he had discussed sanctions.147 McGahn came away from the meeting with the impression that the FBI had not pinned Flynn down in lies, 148 but he asked John Eisenberg, who served as legal advisor to the National Security Council, to examine potential legal issues raised by Flynn’s FBI interview and his contacts with Kislyak. 149

That afternoon, McGahn notified the President that Yates had come to the White House to discuss concerns about Flynn.150 McGahn described what Yates had told him, and the President asked him to repeat it, so he did. 151 McGahn recalled that when he described the FBI interview of Flynn, he said that Flynn did not disclose having discussed sanctions with Kislyak, but that there may not have been a clear violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. 152 The President asked about Section 1001, and McGahn explained the law to him, and also explained the Logan Act. 153 The President instructed McGahn to work with Priebus and Bannon to look into the matter further and directed that they not discuss it with any other officials. 154 Priebus recalled that the President was angry with Flynn in light of what Yates had told the White House and said, “not again, this guy, this stuff.” I 55

[snip]

The next day, January 27, 2017, McGahn and Eisenberg discussed the results of Eisenberg’s initial legal research into Flynn’s conduct, and specifically whether Flynn may have violated the Espionage Act, the Logan Act, or 18 U.S.C. § 1001. 160 Based on his preliminary research, Eisenberg informed McGahn that there was a possibility that Flynn had violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001 and the Logan Act. 16 1 Eisenberg noted that the United States had never successfully prosecuted an individual under the Logan Act and that Flynn could have possible defenses, and told McGahn that he believed it was unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a Logan Act charge under the circumstances. 162

That same morning, McGahn asked Yates to return to the White House to discuss Flynn again. I63 In that second meeting, McGahn expressed doubts that the Department of Justice would bring a Logan Act prosecution against Flynn, but stated that the White House did not want to take action that would interfere with an ongoing FBI investigation of Flynn. 164 Yates responded that Department ofJustice had notified the White House so that it could take action in response to the infonnation provided.165 McGahn ended the meeting by asking Yates for access to the underlying information the Department of Justice possessed pertaining to Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak. 166

In other words, by the time Trump claimed to the FBI Director that he didn’t know Putin called him on January 21, he already knew that the FBI had interviewed Flynn about a conversation where (he claimed) Kislyak had asked to set up a call on January 21, and he may have had more specificity about whether or not the request for a January 21 call came up.

We can’t tell, given the kind of liars we’re dealing with, what is true. These are some of the possibilities:

  • Kislyak never asked for a January 21 meeting but Flynn used the actual call on January 21 as an excuse
  • In response to Kislyak’s request, Flynn did set up the meeting, but Trump was trying to claim he didn’t listen in that day
  • Kislyak asked for a January 21 meeting and Putin did call, but Flynn somehow intercepted the call and kept it a secret from the President

Whichever it is, the centrality of setting up a January 21 call with Putin — as opposed to the January 28 call we already knew about — really raises the import of Trump’s claimed reason to be pissed at Flynn in a meeting where he was already thinking about how to end an investigation into his ties with Russia.

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

Why Didn’t Mueller Hold Counterintelligence Suspect Mike Flynn Responsible for Sanctions Call?

There’s a problem with the way the Mueller Report describes events pertaining to Mike Flynn.

It describes how someone under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia and already on thin ice with the President-Elect got on the phone and, through the Russian Ambassador, persuaded Vladimir Putin to hold off on retaliating for US sanctions. It describes how Flynn avoided leaving a paper trail of that call. Ultimately, the report remains inconclusive about whether Flynn made that call on his own initiative — which would seem to bolster the case he had suspect loyalties with the Russians — or at the direction of the President — in which case his actions would be appropriate from a constitutional standpoint (because this is the kind of thing the President can choose to do), but not a legal one (because he was purposely hiding it from the Obama Administration). One or the other would seem to be a necessary conclusion, but the Mueller Report reaches neither one.

In part, that’s because both Flynn and KT McFarland seem to have protected President Trump’s plausible deniability even after both got caught lying about these events. But it also appears that Mueller is more certain about the answer than he lets on in the public report.

This is the subject that, in my post noting that the Mueller Report has huge gaps precisely where the most acute counterintelligence concerns about Trump’s relationship with Putin are, I suggested created a logical problem for the report as a whole.

If it is the case that Flynn did what he did on Trump’s orders — which seems the only possible conclusion given Mueller’s favorable treatment of Flynn — then it changes the meaning of all of Trump’s actions with regard to the Russian investigation, but also suggests that that conclusion remains a counterintelligence one, not a criminal one.

Mike Flynn was under active counterintelligence investigation but he’s not an Agent of Russia

According to the Mueller Report, the first Rosenstein memo laying out the detailed scope of the investigation, dated August 2, 2017, included “four sets of allegations involving Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump.” Two of those four must be his unregistered sleazy influence peddling for Turkey (which he got to plead off of as part of his plea agreement) and the Peter Smith operation to obtain Hillary’s deleted emails (about which his testimony is reflected in the Mueller Report).

Then there’s the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn. We’ve known that the FBI had a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn since before HPSCI released its Russian Report, and a later release of that report described that the investigation was still active when the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017.

A key focus of that investigation —  one reflected in Flynn’s January 24, 2017 302 — was his paid attendance at a December 10, 2015 RT event in Moscow in December 2015, where he sat with Putin. The Mueller Report makes just one reference to that event, and only as a way of describing the public reporting on Trump flunkies’ ties to Russia during the campaign.

Beginning in February 2016 and continuing through the summer, the media reported that several Trump campaign advisors appeared to have ties to Russia. For example, the press reported that campaign advisor Michael Flynn was seated next to Vladimir Putin at an RT gala in Moscow in December 2015 and that Flynn had appeared regularly on RT as an analyst.15

15 See, e.g., Mark Hosenball & Steve Holland, Trump being advised by ex-US. Lieutenant General who favors closer Russia ties, Reuters (Feb. 26, 2016); Tom Hamburger et al., Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin, Washington Post (June 17, 2016). Certain matters pertaining to Flynn are described in Volume I, Section TV.B.7, supra.

However, in addition to that trip, the FBI must have been scrutinizing earlier Kislyak contacts that don’t show up in the Report at all:

  • A meeting on December 2, 2015 (described in the HPSCI report) that Kislyak that Flynn and his failson attended in advance of the RT trip at the Russian Embassy
  • A call to Kislyak sometime after GRU head Igor Sergun’s death in Lebanon on January 6, 2016; in his interview with the FBI; Flynn said he called to offer condolences, though he used that excuse for other calls that involved substantive policy discussions; he also claimed, not entirely credibly, not to be associated with the Trump campaign yet
  • Other conversations during the campaign that Flynn revealed to friends that otherwise don’t show up in public documents

In one of the only (unredacted) references to the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, the Mueller Report describes that Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key focus of that investigation.

Previously, the FBI had opened an investigation of Flynn based on his relationship with the Russian government.105 Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key component of that investigation.10

But that passage doesn’t reveal the scope of those contacts and, in spite of detailed analysis of other people’s contacts with Kislyak (including an invite to JD Gordan to his residence that appears similar to the December 2015 one Kislyak extended to Flynn and his son), the Report doesn’t mention those earlier contacts.

Perhaps far more interesting, in the report’s analysis of whether any Trump aide was an agent of Russia, it does not include Flynn in the paragraph explaining why Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page were not charged as such. Instead, his foreign influence peddling is treated in a separate paragraph discussing just Turkey.

In addition, the investigation produced evidence of FARA violations involving Michael Flynn. Those potential violations, however, concerned a country other than Russia (i.e., Turkey) and were resolved when Flynn admitted to the underlying facts in the Statement of Offense that accompanied his guilty plea to a false-statements charge. Statement of Offense, United States v. Michael T Flynn, No. l:17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017), Doc. 4 (“Flynn Statement of Offense”). 1281

The footnote to that paragraph, which given the admission elsewhere that a separate counterintelligence investigation into Flynn focused on Russia, likely deals with Russia, is entirely redacted for Harm to Ongoing Matters reasons.

While we can’t be sure (hell, we can’t even be totally sure this does relate to Russia!), this seems to suggest that the investigation into Russian efforts to cultivate Flynn is ongoing, but he has been absolved of any responsibility for — as an intelligence officer with 30 years of counterintelligence training — nevertheless falling prey to such efforts.

All of which is to say that, along with the descriptions of Trump’s most alarming interactions with Russians including Vladimir Putin, many of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak and other Russians (including not just Putin but the guy who headed GRU until just before the election hacking started in earnest in January 2016) appear to be treated as counterintelligence information not suitable for public sharing.

The Mueller Report deliberately obscures key details of the timeline on the sanctions call

That’s important to note, because the counterintelligence conclusion on Flynn has to be utterly central to the analysis of Trump’s attempt to obstruct the investigation into Flynn.

The two discussions in the Mueller Report (Volume I pages 168 to 173 and Volume II pages 24 to 48) of Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Sergey Kislyak are totally unsatisfying, probably in part because two key witnesses (Flynn and KT McFarland, and possibly others including Steve Bannon) lied when the FBI first interviewed them about the calls; they had also created a deliberately misleading paper trail for the events.

In both places, the Report provides times for some events on December 29, but obscures the most critical part of the timeline. I’ve put the Volume I language at the end of this post. It provides the following timeline for December 29, 2016:

1:53PM: McFarland and other Transition Team members and advisors (including Flynn, via email) discuss sanctions.

2:07PM: [Transition Team Member] Flaherty, an aide to McFarland, texts Flynn a link to a NYT article about the sanctions.

2:29PM: McFarland calls Flynn, but they don’t talk.

Shortly after 2:29PM: McFarland and Bannon discuss sanctions; according to McFarland’s clean-up interview, she may have told Bannon that Flynn would speak to Kislyak that night.

3:14PM: Flynn texts Flaherty and asks “time for a call??,” meaning McFarland. Flaherty responds that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert. Flynn informs Flaherty in writing that he had a call with Kislyak coming up, using the language, “tit for tat,” that McFarland used on emails with others and that Flynn himself would use with Kislyak later that day.

Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.

Sometime in here but the Report doesn’t tell us precisely when: Flynn talks to Michael Ledeen, KT McFarland, and then Kislyak. [my emphasis]

4:43PM: McFarland emails other transition team members saying that,  “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.”

Before 5:45PM: McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and others on the sanctions. McFarland remembers that someone at the briefing may have mentioned the upcoming Kislyak call.

After the briefing: McFarland and Flynn speak by phone. Flynn tells McFarland, “that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration,” and McFarland tells Flynn about the briefing with Trump.

The next day, December 30, 2016 — after Putin announced they would not retaliate to Obama’s sanctions — Flynn sent a text message to McFarland that very deliberately did not reflect the true content of his communication with Kislyak, reportedly because he wanted to hide that from the Obama Administration (the Trump team had falsely told Obama they would not fuck with their existing policy initiatives).

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

On December 31, after Kislyak called again to tell Flynn that Putin had decided not to retaliate because of the Trump Administration request not to, he and McFarland communicated again about their attempts to convince Russia not to respond to sanctions. Flynn spoke with others that day but “does not recall” whether they discussed the sanctions, though he remembers (but Bannon does not) that Bannon seemed to know about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak.

The narrative for the same events in the obstruction section has less detail, but infuriatingly, similarly manages to leave out all the details (in bold above) about when Flynn spoke to McFarland and when he called Kisylak.

The thing is, Mueller knows precisely when those Flynn calls happened. The Volume I version of events make it clear they have the call records of Flynn, Michael Ledeen, and McFarland that would provide a precise timeline.

They just refuse to provide those times and the times of key emails, which would add to the clarity about whether Trump learned of Flynn’s plans before he contacted Kislyak.

In the “Intent” discussion regarding obstruction, however, the report suggests that the Trump briefing, where sanctions did come up, preceded the first Flynn call to Kislyak (even though the timeline here suggests it did not).

In advance of Flynn’s initial call with Kislyak, the President attended a meeting where the sanctions were discussed and an advisor may have mentioned that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak.

That’s particularly interesting given that the Volume II discussion of events describes how, after Trump fired Flynn, he also fired KT McFarland but offered her a position as Ambassador to Singapore. There’s very little discussion of the explanation for her firing, but they do describe how Trump tried to make McFarland write a memo — very similar to the false one he tried to make Don McGahn write denying that Trump had ordered him to have Rod Rosenstein removed — denying that he had any role in Flynn’s discussion with Kislyak about sanctions. McFarland did not write the memo, as she explained in a Memo for the Record, because she did not know whether Trump had spoken with Flynn or with Russia directly.

The next day, the President asked Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email that would confirm that the President did not direct Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador about sanctions.253 Priebus said he told the President he would only direct McFarland to write such a letter if she were comfortable with it.254 Priebus called McFarland into his office to convey the President’s request that she memorialize in writing that the President did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak.255 McFarland told Priebus she did not know whether the President had directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions, and she declined to say yes or no to the request.256

256 KTMF _00000047 (McFarland 2/26/ 17 Memorandum_ for the Record) (“I said I did not know whether he did or didn’t, but was in Maralago the week between Christmas and New Year’s (while Flynn was on vacation in Carribean) and I was not aware of any Flynn-Trump, or Trump-Russian phone calls”); McFarland 12/22/ 17 302, at 17.

Again, at a minimum, Mueller knows if Trump called Flynn, and may know if Trump called Kislyak or — more likely — Putin. But he’s not telling.

Trump was already pissy with Flynn, so why didn’t he blame him for the sanctions calls?

There’s one more contradictory detail about Trump’s behavior in this narrative.

According to enough witnesses to make it a reliable claim, Trump had already soured on Flynn in December 2016, before all this blew up (but not before Obama warned Trump and Elijah Cummings warned Mike Pence about Flynn’s suspect loyalties).

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10

As I’ve noted before, Trump made the same complaint to Jim Comey in their “loyalty demand” dinner on January 27, 2017 — but he did so in the context of Flynn not informing him that Vladimir Putin had beaten Theresa May to congratulating him about his inauguration.

All these details — including that Flynn publicly informed Trump of Putin’s call — should make Flynn a bigger counterintelligence concern, not one that could be dismissed more easily than Page and Manafort and Papadopoulos.

Unless Mueller had more certainty that Trump was in the loop of these sanctions discussions — either through Flynn or directly with Putin — than he lets on in the public report.

Mike Flynn’s Interviews with Prosecutors

To sum up, Mueller knows that someone already under investigation for his suspect calls to Russia and Sergey Kislyak got on the phone with Kislyak and undercut the Obama Administration’s attempt to punish Russia for its election interference. Flynn deliberately created a false record of that call, then lied about it when it became public the following month, and continued to lie about it when the FBI asked him about it.Trump allegedly got pissy that Flynn’s counterintelligence exposure had already been raised by Obama, but also got pissy that Flynn wasn’t being obsequious enough to Putin. But, when this all began to blow up in the press, rather than firing Flynn right away for being a counterintelligence problem — the outcome Sally Yates clearly expected would be the no-brainer result — Trump instead repeatedly tried to protect Flynn.

Which is why the likelihood that a key part of Flynn’s cooperation, that relating to the counterintelligence side of the equation, is so interesting.

As I noted when the addendum showing Flynn’s cooperation came out, it likely broke into the Turkish influence peddling [A], two (or maybe three?) topics relating to Trump [B], as well as more classified part of the investigation conducted under Mueller [C].

A Criminal Investigation:

11+ line paragraph

6.5 line paragraph

2 line paragraph

B Mueller investigation:

Introductory paragraph (9 lines)

i) Interactions between Transition Team and Russia (12 lines, just one or two sentences redacted)

ii) Topic two

10 line paragraph

9 line paragraph

C Entirely redacted investigation:

4.5 line paragraph

The footnotes from the Mueller Report describing what Flynn told prosecutors when seems to reinforce this.

  1. November 16, 2017: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call
  2. November 17, 2017: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you”
  3. November 19, 2017: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump
  4. November 20, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius
  5. November 21, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump
  6. November 29, 2017: Peter Smith
  7. January 11, 2018: November 30 meeting with Kislyak
  8. January 19, 2018: Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017
  9. April 25, 2018: Peter Smith
  10. May 1, 2018: Peter Smith
  11. September 26, 2018: Proffer response on meetings with Foresman

We know from court filings that Flynn had 19 interviews with prosecutors, of which four pertain to his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey. Here’s what that seems to suggest about his interviews (assuming, probably incorrectly, that they didn’t cover multiple topics at once):

  • Turkish influence peddling: 4 interviews, unknown dates
  • Transition events, 7 interviews: 11/16/17, 11/17/17, 11/19/17, 11/20/17, 11/21/17, 1/11/18, 1/19/18
  • Peter Smith, 3 interviews: 11/29/17, 4/25/18, 5/1/18
  • Counterintelligence: Remaining 5 interviews???, unknown dates

It’s possible, however, there’s a third “links” topic pertaining to Transition era graft, which for scope reasons would not appear in the Mueller Report.

The possibility that Flynn may have had five interviews dedicated to a counterintelligence investigation that implicated Trump would make this Brian Ross story far more interesting. As the Report lays out, when hints that Flynn flipped first came out on November 22, 2017, one of Trump’s lawyers (probably John Dowd) left a voice mail message (!!!) with one of Flynn’s lawyers (probably Rob Kelner). He specifically wanted a heads up about anything that “implicates the President” which would create a “national security issue.”

I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. . . . [I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with … the government. … [I]f . .. there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, . . . so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests ifwe can …. [R]emember what we’ve always said about the ‘ President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains ….

The following day, Trump’s lawyer told Flynn’s that cooperating would reflect hostility to the President.

A week later, once the plea was official on December 1, Flynn had the following leaked to ABC.

During the campaign, Trump asked Flynn to be one of a small group of close advisors charged with improving relations in Russia and other hot spots. The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

[snip]

“Flynn is very angry,” the confidant told ABC News Friday. “He will cooperate truthfully on any question they ask him.” [my emphasis]

Only, originally, the story read that Trump asked Flynn to reach out to Russia before the election. The story is often cited as one of the big gaffes of the Russian investigation, but Mother Jones has since corroborated the pre-election timeline with two Flynn associates.

For some reason, Mueller did not hold Mike Flynn responsible for — at a time when he was under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia — undercutting the official policy of the US on punishing Russia for its election year attack. I wonder whether the content of up to five counterintelligence interviews with Flynn may explain why.

As they are elsewhere, the Washington Post is trying to liberate the filings about Flynn’s cooperation that would explain all this. On Thursday, Emmet Sullivan — the same judge who, after seeing all the sealed filings in Flynn’s case, used some really inflammatory language about Flynn’s loyalty — set a briefing schedule for that effort. Then, acting on his own on Friday, Sullivan scheduled a hearing for June 24 (after the next status report in Flynn’s case but before he would be sentenced) to discuss liberating those filings.

So maybe we’ll find out from the WaPo’s efforts to liberate those documents.

Timeline of known Flynn investigation

November 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump that Mike Flynn’s name kept surfacing in concerns about Russia.

November 18, 2016: Trump names Flynn National Security Adviser.

November 18, 2016: Elijah Cummings warns Mike Pence of Flynn’s Turkish lobbying.

Shortly after inauguration: On “first” call with Kislyak, Flynn responds to Ambassador’s invitation to Russian Embassy that, “You keep telling me that,” alerting others to previous contacts between them.

January 24, 2017: In interview with FBI, Flynn lies about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak.

January 26 and 27, 2017: Sally Yates warns the White House about Flynn’s lies.

February 2, 2017: WHCO lawyer John Eisenberg reviews materials on Flynn’s interview.

February 13, 2017: Flynn fired.

July 19, 2017: Peter Strzok interviewed, in part, about Flynn interview, presumably as part of obstruction investigation.

November 16, 2017: Interview covers: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call.

November 17, 2017: Interview covers: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you.”

November 19, 2017: Interview covers: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump.

November 20, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius.

November 21, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump.

November 22, 2017: Flynn withdraws from Joint Defense Agreement; Trump’s lawyer leaves a message for Flynn’s lawyer stating, in part, “if… there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security
issue,…so, you know,…we need some kind of heads up.”

November 23, 2017: Flynn’s attorney returns Trump’s attorney’s call, the latter says cooperation would reflect hostility to the President.

November 29, 2017: Interview covers Peter Smith.

December 1, 2017: Flynn pleads guilty, has story leaked to Brian Ross that his cooperation covers Trump’s orders that he take “serve as point person on Russia,” originally stating that the order preceded the election; the story is corrected to say the order comes ” shortly after the election.” Two Flynn associates subsequently told Mother Jones the contacts did start before the election.

January 11, 2018: Interview covers November 30 meeting with Kislyak.

January 19, 2018: Interview covers Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017.

April 25, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

May 1, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

September 17, 2018: Status report asking for sentencing.

September 26, 2018: Flynn’s attorney offers proffer response on meetings with Bob Foresman.

December 18, 2018: After Judge Emmet Sullivan invokes treason and selling out his country, Flynn delays sentencing.


The Volume I Narrative about December 29, 2016

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

The sanctions were announced publicly on December 29, 2016. 1231 At 1 :53 p.m. that day, McFarland began exchanging emails with multiple Transition Team members and advisors about the impact the sanctions would have on the incoming Administration. 1232 At 2:07 p.m., a Transition Team member texted Flynn a link to a New York Times article about the sanctions. 1233 At 2:29 p.m., McFarland called Flynn, but they did not talk. 1234 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 McFarland also believed she may have discussed the sanctions with Priebus, and likewise told him that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak that night. 1238 At 3: 14 p.m., Flynn texted a Transition Team member who was assisting McFarland, “Time for a call???”1239 The Transition Team member responded that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert, a Transition Team senior official, to which Flynn responded, “Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.” 1240

Flynn recalled that he chose not to communicate with Kislyak about the sanctions until he had heard from the team at Mar-a-Lago.1241 He first spoke with Michael Ledeen, 1242 a Transition Team member who advised on foreign policy and national security matters, for 20 minutes. 1243 Flynn then spoke with McFarland for almost 20 minutes to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to Kislyak about the sanctions. 1244 On that call, McFarland and Flynn discussed the sanctions, including their potential impact on the incoming Trump Administration’s foreign policy goals. 1245 McFarland and Flynn also discussed that Transition Team members in Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation. 1246 They both understood that Flynn would relay a message to Kislyak in hopes of making sure the situation would not get out of hand.1247

Immediately after speaking with McFarland, Flynn called and spoke with Kislyak. 1248 Flynn discussed multiple topics with Kislyak, including the sanctions, scheduling a video teleconference between President-Elect Trump and Putin, an upcoming terrorism conference, and Russia’s views about the Middle East. 1249 With respect to the sanctions, Flynn requested that Russia not escalate the situation, not get into a “tit for tat,” and only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner.1250

Multiple Transition Team members were aware that Flynn was speaking with Kislyak that day. 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 During the briefing, President-Elect Trump asked McFarland if the Russians did “it,” meaning the intrusions intended to influence the presidential election. 1253 McFarland said yes, and President-Elect Trump expressed doubt that it was the Russians.1254 McFarland also discussed potential Russian responses to the sanctions, and said Russia’s response would be an indicator of what the Russians wanted going forward. 1255 President-Elect Trump opined that the sanctions provided him with leverage to use with the Russians. 1256 McFarland recalled that at the end of the meeting, someone may have mentioned to President-Elect Trump that Flynn was speaking to the Russian ambassador that evening. 1257

After the briefing, Flynn and McFarland spoke over the phone. 1258 Flynn reported on the substance of his call with Kislyak, including their discussion of the sanctions. 1259 According to McFarland, Flynn mentioned that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration.1260 McFarland also gave Flynn a summary of her recent briefing with President-Elect Trump. 1261

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

William Barr Absolved Trump of Obstruction without Having the Faintest Clue What He Obstructed

Bill Barr just finished testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It was remarkable.

Among the opinions the Attorney General espoused are that:

  • You only need to call the FBI when being offered campaign assistance by a foreign intelligence service, not a foreigner
  • It’s okay to lie about the many dangles hostile foreign countries make to a political campaign, including if you accepted those dangles
  • Because Trump was being falsely accused (it’s not clear of what, because the report doesn’t address the most aggressive accusation, and many other accusations against Trump and his campaign are born out by the Mueller Report), it’s okay that he sought to undermine it through illegal means
  • It’s okay for the President to order the White House Counsel to lie, even about an ongoing investigation
  • It’s okay to fire the FBI Director for refusing to confirm or deny an ongoing investigation, which is DOJ policy not to do
  • It’s okay for the Attorney General to call lawfully predicated DOJ investigative techniques “spying” because Fox News does
  • Public statements — including threatening someone’s family — cannot be subornation of perjury
  • You can exhaust investigative options in a case having only obtained contemptuous responses covering just a third of the investigation from the key subject of it

The Attorney General also got himself in significant trouble with his answers to a question from Charlie Crist about whether he knew why Mueller’s team was concerned about press reports. His first answer was that he didn’t know about the team’s concerns because he only spoke with Mueller. But he later described, in the phone call he had with Mueller, that Mueller discussed his team’s concerns. Worse still, when called on the fact that the letter — as opposed to Barr’s potentially suspect representation of the call — didn’t mention the press response, he suggested Mueller’s letter was “snitty” and so probably written by a staffer, meaning he assumed that the letter itself was actually from a staffer.

But that’s not the most amazing thing.

The most amazing thing is that, when Cory Booker asked Barr if he thought it was right to share polling data with Russians — noting that had Trump done so with a Super PAC, rather than a hostile foreign country, it would be illegal — Barr appeared to have no clue that Paul Manafort had done so. He even asked whom Manafort shared the data with, apparently not knowing he shared it with a guy that Rick Gates said he believes is a Russian spy.

That’s remarkable, because he basically agreed with Ben Sasse that Deripaska — with whom Manafort was sharing this campaign data — was a “bottom-feeding scum-sucker.”

So the Attorney General absolved the President of obstruction without having the faintest clue what actions the investigation of which Trump successfully obstructed by floating a pardon to Manafort.

There may be an explanation for this fairly shocking admission on Barr’s part. He also admitted that he and Rod Rosenstein started making the decision on obstruction before they read the report. Indeed, several times during the hearing, it seemed he still has not read the report, as he was unfamiliar with allegations in it.

In short, the Attorney General said it was okay for Trump to obstruct this investigation because (he claims) Trump was falsely accused, without being aware that the report showed that several of the key allegations against Trump — including that his campaign manager coordinated with Russians, including one Barr agrees is a bottom-feeding scum-sucker” with ties to Russian intelligence — were actually true.

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