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DOJ Unimpressed by Mo Brooks’ Kickass Conspiracy Defense

Last night, DOJ refused to certify that Mo Brooks’ actions laid out in a lawsuit by Eric Swalwell were done in the course of his employment as a Congressman. To understand why, and why Brooks may have given DOJ an easy way to prosecute him in conjunction with January 6, you have to look at the sworn declaration Brooks submitted in support of a claim that his call on Trump rally attendees to “kick ass” was part of his duty as a Congressperson.

Broadly, the Swalwell lawsuit accuses Brooks of conspiring with Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, and Rudy Giuliani to violate his civil rights by trying to prevent him from performing his official duties. One of the descriptions of the conspiracy is:

169. As described more fully in this Complaint, the Defendants, by force, intimidation, or threat, agreed and conspired among themselves and with others to prevent members of Congress, including the Plaintiff, and Vice President Mike Pence from counting the Electoral College Votes and certifying President Biden and Vice President Harris as the winners of the 2020 presidential election.

It alleges Brooks committed a number of overt acts, which include a series of Tweets that mirror and in one case anticipate the public claims the other alleged co-conspirators made, as well as his speech at the January 6 Trump rally where he incited listeners to “kick ass” to save the Republic.

Mo Brooks addressed the large crowd at the January 6 rally. He said “America is at risk unlike it has been in decades, and perhaps centuries.” He told the crowd to start “kicking ass,” and he spoke with reverence, at a purportedly peaceful demonstration, of how “our ancestors sacrificed their blood, sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives,” before shouting at the crowd “Are you willing to do the same?!” Brooks intended these words as a threat of violence or intimidation to block the certification vote from even occurring and/or to coerce members of Congress to disregard the results of the election.

In general, Brooks’ sworn declaration, submitted in support of a petition to certify that he was acting within the scope of his office as a Congressperson, claimed over and over that the actions he admits to (he claims all but one of the Tweets in question were sent by his staffers) were done,

pursuant to my duties and job as a United States Congressman concerning presidential election dispute resolution obligations imposed on Congress by the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 12 in particular, and the United States Code, 3 U.S.C. 15 in particular.

That includes, for example, when Brooks claims he,

drafted my January 6, 2021 Ellipse Speech in my office at the Rayburn House Office building on my Congressional Office computer. I also timed, reviewed and revised, and practiced my Ellipse Speech in my office at the Rayburn House Office Building.

Claiming such actions were part of his duties as a Congressperson is how Brooks responds to most of the allegations against him. One notable exception is when he claimed,

I only gave an Ellipse Speech because the White House asked me, in my capacity as a United States Congressman, to speak at the Ellipse Rally. But for the White House request, I would not have appeared at the Ellipse Rally.

The far more notable exception came when, presumably in an effort to disclaim intending to invite rally participants to “kick ass” on January 6, Brooks explains that the “kicking ass” was instead an effort to get Republicans to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Swalwell errs by splicing one sentence and omitting the preceding sentence in a two-sentence paragraph that emphasizes I am talking about “kicking ass” in the 2022 and 2024 ELECTIONSThe full paragraph states, in toto:

But lets be clear, regardless of today’s outcome, the 2022 and the 2024 elections are right around the corner, and America does not need and cannot stand, cannot tolerate any more weakling, cowering, wimpy Republican Congressmen and Senators who covet the power and the prestige the swamp has to offer, while groveling at the feet and the knees of the special interest group masters. As such, today is important in another way, today is the day American patriots start by taking down names and kicking ass.

My intent in uttering these words was to encourage Ellipse Rally attendees to put the 2020 elections behind them (and, in particular, the preceding day’s two GOP Senator losses in Georgia) and to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections.

“As such” is the key phrase in the second sentence because it emphasizes that the paragraph’s second sentence is in the context of the paragraph’s first sentence’s 2022 and 2024 election cycles (that began November 4, 2020).

Consisted with this is the middle part of the paragraph’s second sentence, which states, “taking down names”. Whose names are to be “taken down”? The names of those Senators and Congressmen who do not vote for honest and accurate elections after the House and Senate floor debates later in that afternoon and evening. Once we get and “take down” their names, our task is to “kick their ass” in the 2022 and 2024 election cycles. [emphasis original]

This claim is inconsistent with many of the other claims that Brooks makes. And claiming that he means to replace Senators and Congresspeople who don’t vote against the legal outcome of the election only defers the threats against those who don’t participate in an election scam.

But the most important part, for the purposes of Brooks’ efforts to dodge this lawsuit, is that he has just confessed, in a sworn declaration, to have been campaigning when he delivered the speech that he wrote using official resources.

That’s one of the points that Zoe Lofgren made, in her role as Chair of the Committee on House Administration, when providing a response from Congress in lieu of one from the House General Counsel. After noting that Members of Congress cannot, as part of their official duties, commit a crime, she then notes that members are also prohibited from using official resources for campaign purposes.

Conduct that is campaign or political in nature is also outside the scope of official duties and not permissible official activity. For example, regulations of the Committee on House Administration provide that a Member may use their official funds only for “official and representational expenses,” and “may not pay for campaign expenses” or “campaign-related political party expenses with such funds.”5

Similarly, the Committee on Ethics notes that, “Official resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes.”6 For purposes of this rule, “official resources” includes not only official funds, but “goods and services purchased with those funds,” “House buildings, and House rooms and offices,” “congressional office equipment,” “office supplies,” and “congressional staff time.”7 The limitations on the authorized use of official time and space for campaign or political purposes extends to activities such as “the drafting of campaign speeches, statements, press releases, or literature.”8 Moreover, the scope of campaign or political activities that may not be conducted with official resources is not limited to the Member’s own reelection campaign. As the Committee on Ethics explains:

Members and staff should be aware that the general prohibition against campaign or political use of official resources applies not only to any Member campaign for re-election, but rather to any campaign or political undertaking. Thus the prohibition applies to, for example, campaigns for the presidency, the U.S. Senate, or a state or local office, and it applies to such campaigns whether the Member is a candidate or is merely seeking to support or assist (or oppose) a candidate in such a campaign.9

In his motion, Representative Brooks represents to the court that he intended his January 6, 2021, speech to incite action by the thousands of attendees with respect to election activity. Representative Brooks states that he sought “to encourage Ellipse Rally attendees to put the 2020 elections behind them (and, in particular, the preceding day’s two Georgia GOP Senate losses) and to inspire listeners to start focusing on the 2022 and 2024 elections, which had already begun.”10 For example, Representative Brooks affirms that in his speech, he said, “Today is a time of choosing, and tomorrow is a time for fighting.” 11 According to Representative Brooks, the first half of that statement, “Today is a time of choosing,” is not a “call for violence,” but is instead a reference to “[w]hich Senators and Congressmen to support, and oppose, in future elections.”12 Further, he explains that the second half of that statement, “tomorrow is a time for fighting,” is a reference to “fighting” “[t]hose who don’t vote like citizens prefer … in future elections, as is emphasized later in the speech.”13

Similarly, Representative Brooks also declares that in his speech, he said, that “the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner” and that “As such, today is important in another way, today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” 14 As he said “the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner,” Representative Brooks withdrew a red cap that stated “FIRE PELOSI” from his coat, donned the cap, and wore it for the remainder of his speech.15 Representative Brooks says that, “The phrase, ‘As such’ emphasizes that the second sentence is in the context of the first sentence’s ‘2022 and 2024 elections’ time frame … and the desire to beat offending Republicans in those elections!”16 He asks and answers his own question about the timing: “When do citizens kick those Republican asses? As stated in the first sentence, in the ‘2022 and 2024 elections that are right around the corner.’”17 He later affirms that, “My ‘kicking ass’ comment referred to what patriotic Republicans needed to do in the 2022 and 2024 elections and had zero to do with the Capitol riot.”18

For Lofgren’s purpose, the important part is that Brooks has sworn under oath that the specific language that seemed to invite violence was instead campaign activity outside the scope of his official duties.

Essentially, in deflecting the allegation that his speech was an incitement to violence, Representative Brooks has sworn under oath to the court that his conduct was instead in furtherance of political campaigns. As noted, standards of conduct that apply to Members and precedents of the House are clear that campaign activity is outside the scope of official duties and not a permissible use of official resources.

She doesn’t say it, but Brooks’ declaration, including his confession that he wrote the speech in his office, is also a sworn declaration that he violated campaign finance laws by using his office for campaign activities.

The DOJ response to Brooks’ request for certification cites Lofgren’s letter while adopting a similar approach to it, one that would extend beyond Brooks’ actions to Trump himself. The entire rally, they say, was a campaign rally, and therefore outside the scope of Brooks’ employment as a Congressperson — or the scope of employment of any elected official.

The record indicates that the January 6 rally was an electioneering or campaign activity that Brooks would ordinarily be presumed to have undertaken in an unofficial capacity. Activities specifically directed toward the success of a candidate for a partisan political office in a campaign context—electioneering or campaign activities—are not within the scope of the office or employment of a Member of the House of Representatives. Like other elected officials, Members run for reelection themselves and routinely campaign for other political candidates. But they do so in their private, rather than official, capacities.

This understanding that the scope of federal office excludes campaign activity is broadly reflected in numerous authorities. This Court, for example, emphasized “the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection” in holding that House or Senate mailings aimed at that purpose are “unofficial communication[s].” Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982) (upholding statute that provided franking privileges for official communications but not unofficial communications).

The current House Ethics Manual confirms that the official business of Members of the House does not include seeking election or reelection for themselves or others. House resources generally cannot be used for campaign purposes, and Members’ staff may engage in campaign work only “on their own time and outside the congressional office.” House Ethics Manual, Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, 110th Cong., 2d Sess., at 121 (2008). For instance, Representatives cannot conduct campaign activities from House buildings or offices or use official letterhead or insignia, and congressional staff on official time should terminate interviews that focus on campaign issues. See id. at 127–29, 133. Of direct relevance here, a Member of Congress also cannot use official resources to engage in presidential campaigns: “[T]he general prohibition against campaign or political use of official resources applies not only to any Member campaign for re-election, but rather to any campaign or political undertaking,” and this “prohibition applies to, for example, campaigns for the Presidency.” Id. at 124; see Lofgren Letter 2.

First, the record indicates that Brooks’s conduct was undertaken as part of a campaign-type rally, and campaign activity is not “of the kind he is employed to perform,” or “within the authorized time and space limits” for a Member of Congress. Restatement §§ 228(1)(a), (b). Second, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in a conspiracy and incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6. That alleged conduct plainly would not qualify as within the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States, because attacking one’s employer is different in kind from any authorized conduct and not “actuated . . . by a purpose to serve” the employer. Id. § 228(1)(c). Brooks does not argue otherwise. Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations of conspiracy and incitement. The Department does not address that issue here because the campaign-related nature of the rally independently warrants denial of certification, and because the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more generally. But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint. [my emphasis]

Brooks might object to DOJ’s determination that the entire rally was a campaign event; he claims the other parts of his speech were part of his duty as a Congressperson. But if pressed on that point, the inconsistencies within his own sworn declaration would either support the view that Trump’s actions also weren’t part of his official duties, or that he himself meant the “kick ass” comment to refer to events of the day and therefore did incite violence. That is, the inconsistencies in Brooks’ sworn declaration may corner him into statements that go against Trump’s interests as well.

Importantly, DOJ’s filing treats the question of whether Brooks committed a crime as a separate issue entirely, asking Judge Amit Mehta not to rule in Brooks’ favor without first analyzing Brooks’ conduct to determine if the conduct alleged in the complaint — which happens to be but which DOJ doesn’t spell out — is a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, the same charge used against three different militias charged in January 6.

Once again, DOJ emphasizes that this language applies to any Federal employee.

Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations of conspiracy and incitement. The Department does not address that issue here because the campaign-related nature of the rally independently warrants denial of certification, and because the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more generally. But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint.

[snip]

Here, the Complaint alleges that Brooks conspired with the other Defendants and the “rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6” to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes. Compl. ¶ 12. To serve that end, the Complaint alleges that, among other things, the Defendants conspired amongst themselves and with others to “injure members of Congress . . . and Vice President Pence” in an effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 12, 171, 179. Such a conspiracy would clearly be outside the scope of the office of a Member of Congress: Inciting or conspiring to foment a violent attack on the United States Congress is not within the scope of employment of a Representative—or any federal employee— and thus is not the sort of conduct for which the United States is properly substituted as a defendant under the Westfall Act.

Brooks does not argue otherwise. Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations that he conspired to incite the attack on the Capitol. See Brooks Aff. 17–18.5 The Department of Justice does not address that issue here. The campaign or electioneering nature of Brooks’s participation in the January 6 rally independently warrants denial of certification, and the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more broadly.6 But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint. Cf. Osborn v. Haley, 549 U.S. 225, 252 (2007) (recognizing that scope-of-employment questions may overlap substantially with the merits of a tort claim).

6 As this Court is aware, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for several months continued their investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack. This investigation is ongoing. More than 535 defendants have been arrested across the country and at least 165 defendants have been charged on counts ranging from destruction of government property to conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding. See Department of Justice Statement, https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/six-monthsjanuary-6th-attack-capitol. [my emphasis]

Someone could write a book on how many important cases Judge Mehta has presided over in recent years. But he’s got a slew of January 6 defendants, including all the Oath Keeper conspirators. And so Mehta is not just aware that DOJ is conducting an ongoing investigation, he has also presided over four guilty pleas for conspiring to obstruct the vote count, close to (but charged under a different law) as the claim Swalwell made in his complaint.

So Mehta has already accepted that it is a crime to obstruct the vote count, four different times, with Jon Schaffer, Graydon Young, Mark Grods, and Caleb Berry. He’d have a hard time ruling that, if Swalwell’s allegations are true (as noted, Brooks contends that some of them are not, and they certainly don’t yet present enough proof to support a criminal prosecution), Brooks would be exempt from the same criminal conspiracy charges that the Oath Keepers are pleading guilty to.

DOJ’s declaration is not (just) an attempt to create space — by distinguishing campaign activities from official duties — between this and DOJ’s decision to substitute for Trump in the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit. It is an effort to preserve the principle that not just Congresspeople, but all Federal employees, may be charged and convicted of a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, particularly for actions taken as part of campaign activities.

Welcome to Lisa Monaco’s DOJ, E Jean Carroll Lawsuit Edition

During Lisa Monaco’s confirmation hearing, several people joked about how few questions she was getting. Because Vanita Gupta had been targeted by Republicans, Monaco was left for broad swaths of the hearing, a spectator to that effort.

There were some good exchanges. In addition to complaining about DOJ’s refusal to respond to questions from Democratic members of Congress, Sheldon Whitehouse asked about OLC, to which Monaco provided an anodyne answer that was enough for Whitehouse, who was going to vote for Monaco one way or another. Josh Hawley asked some legitimately good questions, including about end-to-end encryption. To those questions, Monaco hewed a middle ground and an adherence to the laws on the books. John Cornyn asked the same question Republicans harped on with Merrick Garland, whether she would let John Durham finish his work, to which she responded that her job is to make sure he has the resources to do so, which (while more nuanced that it sounded) shut down that line of questioning.

It was a testament to how shallowly Republican staffers interpreted Lisa Monaco’s long career that Chuck Grassley asked Monaco whether she had involvement in Crossfire Hurricane — the answer was obviously no, given her White House role at the time. But Grassley didn’t ask whether her position at the nexus of Mike Flynn’s efforts to obtain information from the Obama White House in advance of making calls with Sergey Kislyak that Flynn lied to hide would affect her view of the Russian investigation. Perhaps only Susan Rice was more personally betrayed by Mike Flynn’s outreach to Russia, and yet Republicans seemed to not even realize that Flynn and KT McFarland sent Tom Bossert to query Monaco in advance of Flynn’s covert call with Russia, making her the Obama person most directly victimized by Flynn’s underhandedness.

That blithe ignorance of how Monaco’s personal history might affect her tenure extended beyond the Senate Judiciary Committee. For example, while every Assange supporter has targeted Biden and Garland for their pleas to drop the Assange prosecution, none have thought about the fact that Monaco was in charge of the response to the 2016 Russian interference campaign that led even WikiLeaks sympathizers in the Obama Administration to completely reconsider Assange’s game and his longterm relationship with Russia (then again, Assange supporters, almost to a one, have convinced themselves to believe bullshit propaganda about that decision being made under Trump).

Most people have failed to ask these questions about Monaco’s career experiences, even though as Deputy Attorney General, Monaco runs DOJ on a day-to-day basis and makes a lot of these decisions and serves as a key advisor to Garland where she doesn’t.

As a result of the very surface approach to Monaco’s career, there were a whole slew of questions in her confirmation hearing that should have been asked (and should be asked before Monaco’s close associate Matt Olsen is confirmed as National Security Division head), but were not. When Lisa Monaco was Robert Mueller’s top advisor in 2006, for example, what role did she play legalizing the phone dragnet aspiring to collect the phone records of all Americans under FISA’s Section 215? Given her past failures to fulfill promises of transparency, specifically as it relates to FISA, what can she do to ensure she will deliver on such transparency as Deputy Attorney General? What was her role in the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, and what does that say about her willingness to support unfettered executive authority? With the value of hindsight, does Monaco believe that she was suckered into continuing John Brennan’s permissive approach to drone strikes as White House Homeland Security Advisor, and if so what would she do to give herself the leverage to actually change bad policies baked in by her predecessors?

Don’t get me wrong: Monaco has almost unparalleled qualifications to be Deputy Attorney General, she brings a lot of great qualities to the job, and I’m sure she’s a lovely person. But there was almost no consideration about what affect her long tenure at DOJ and in National Security roles would have on her view towards Presidential authority and DOJ institutional precedent before she was confirmed.

Indeed, in perhaps the question that got closest to asking how she would treat initiatives from career DOJ officials already in place, Monaco explained to Amy Klobuchar that she viewed her job as to empower the people at DOJ she believed operated from an inherently unpartisan stance.

Klobuchar: After the last four years where civil servants withstood political interference, what do you see your role is as restoring the trust in the Department of Justice?

Monaco: Well Senator, as I said in my opening remarks, I think that the career men and women of the Justice Department are its backbone. They’re the people that enforce the law independently, faithfully, fairly, impartially, without any consideration of improper motive. I think they simply want to do their job. They want to do their job with the resources and the tools to keep the American people safe, to prosecute violent crime, to administer justice with compassion, and with humility, as Judge Garland talked about before this committee. And they want to see equal justice under law, and they want to do the work that this Committee has done on a bipartisan basis to administer criminal justice reform. And so I think my role is to ensure that they’ve got the tools and resources to do their job and to protect them from improper influence, any partisan motive, because I think they just want to do their job.

This is the belief system that leads Monaco to respond to a question about career DOJ prosecutor John Durham’s clearly politicized investigation by saying that her job is to make sure he has the resources he wants to continue that investigation.

In her role at DOJ, Monaco has overseen some key wins: with the announcement yesterday that FBI had seized much of the ransomware payment that Colonial pipelines had paid Dark Side hackers, with her quiet presence on the public line listening as Paul Hodgkins made the first pure guilty plea of the January 6 investigation, with the decision — on her first full day in office — to let SDNY resume its investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s foreign influence peddling.

But also under her leadership, DOJ has delayed notice to NYT about an effort to get their Internet records in a clearly politicized investigation. DOJ has moved to hide the contents of a Bill Barr memo that clearly abused his authority and the role of OLC (and with that decision, protected career employees who were making similarly dubious claims when Monaco ran the National Security Division). DOJ has defended a lot of legal stances that were obviously political on their face, most recently and egregiously by sustaining DOJ support to give Trump immunity from suit in his attack on alleged rape survivor, E. Jean Carroll. That is, as she did before with Cheney’s Stellar Wind and Brennan’s drone program, Monaco seems to have chosen not to make a clean break from the horrible policies of her predecessors, choosing instead to ensure the continuity of the institution.

Again, Lisa Monaco oozes intelligence and competence; she’s undeniably qualified to be where she’s at. But she also got where she’s at by cleaning up the messes left by Stellar Wind, the torture program, and John Brennan’s drone program by improving those shitty policies without demanding any accountability for the abuse of DOJ and presidential authority they entailed. Plus, as a career DOJ official, she’s going to defend professionals who did stupid things on the orders of a deeply politicized boss.

Particularly in the wake of the decision to defend Trump against Carroll’s suit, people are wondering how Merrick Garland could make such a horrible decision. My suspicion is they would be better asking what Lisa Monaco’s role was in the decision.

Devout Catholic Bill Barr Stakes the Credibility of His Institution on Shielding an Accused Rapist

Yesterday, Billy Barr had his DOJ intervene in E Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump.

In a filing submitted under the name of Director of DOJ’s Torts Branch, James Touhey, Jr., DOJ claimed that when President Trump accused Carroll last year of making up the rape to sell books and help Democrats, accused other men of rape, and called Carroll unattractive, he was acting in his official capacity as President of the United States.

6. James G. Touhey, Jr., the Director of the Torts Branch within the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, certified that the defendant employee,President Trump, was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose. The claim asserts defamation based on a written statement issued to the press and two statements the President made in interviews in June 2019 in which the President vehemently denied accusations made in Plaintiff’s then-forthcoming book. The President explained that these accusations were false and that the incident she alleged never happened. Acting pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 15.4(a),the Attorney General’s delegate certified that President Trump was acting within the scope of his office as President of the United States when he publicly denied as false the allegations made by Plaintiff.

As with other corrupt interventions by Barr’s DOJ, no SDNY attorney signed the filing.

If the move to replace Donald Trump with the US government as defendant succeeds, the entire suit will be dismissed, because the US government cannot be sued for defamation.

The move comes one month after the judge in the case, Verna Saunders, ruled Trump could not delay a deposition and DNA test in the lawsuit.

As I contemplated Barr’s decision to claim that accusing a credible alleged rape victim was all part of Trump’s job as President, I thought briefly about what it says of Bill Barr’s faith, that he would make it official DOJ policy to condone attacks on claimed rape victims like this.

But then I remembered that Bill Barr is of the generation of Catholics where that is the job of the official bureaucracy, to throw all the institutional weight of the Church into protecting alleged rapists and suppressing credible accusations, even to the point of attacking the victims.

And so Bill Barr will further degrade an institution that’s supposed to guard the interests of the less powerful in society, and instead use the power of the institution to corruptly hide how depraved those leading the institution really are.