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The Guy Investigating the Claimed Politicized Hiring of a Special Counsel Insists that the Hiring of a Special Counsel Cannot Be Political

On Monday, both John Durham and Michael Sussmann submitted their motions in limine, which are filings to argue about what can be admitted at trial. They address a range of issues that I’ll cover in several posts:

Sussmann:

Durham wants to:

  • Admit witnesses’ contemporaneous notes of conversations with the FBI General Counsel
  • Admit emails referenced in the Indictment and other, similar emails (see this post)
  • Admit certain acts and statements (including the defendant’s February 2017 meeting with a government agency, his December 2017 Congressional testimony, and his former employer’s October 2018 statements to the media) as direct evidence or, alternatively, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)
  • Exclude evidence and preclude argument concerning allegations of political bias on the part of the Special Counsel (addressed in this post)
  • Admit an October 31, 2016 tweet by the Clinton Campaign

I will link my discussions in serial fashion.


Here’s how John Durham moved to exclude any evidence that his team was ordered to produce results in time for the 2020 election, bullied witnesses, or treated Hillary Clinton as a more dangerous adversary than Russia.

The Government expects that defense counsel may seek to present evidence at trial and make arguments that depict the Special Counsel as politically motived or biased based on his appointment by the prior administration. Notwithstanding the patently untrue nature of those allegations, such matters are irrelevant to this case and would create a substantial danger of unfair prejudice, confusion, and delay. In particular, the government seeks to preclude the defendant from introducing any evidence or making any argument concerning the circumstances surrounding the appointment of the Special Counsel and alleged political bias on the part of the Special Counsel’s Office. Indeed, the defendant has foreshadowed some of these arguments in correspondence with the Special Counsel and others, and their assertions lack any valid basis.

Only relevant evidence is admissible at trial. Fed. R. Evid. 402. The definition of relevance is inclusive, see Fed. R. Evid. 401(a), but depends on the possibility of establishing a fact that “is of consequence in determining the action,” Fed. R. Evid. 401(b). Evidence is therefore relevant only if it logically relates to matters that are at issue in the case. E.g., United States v. O’Neal, 844 F. 3d 271, 278 (D.C. Cir. 2016); see Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 387 (2008). The party seeking to introduce evidence bears the burden of establishing relevancy. Dowling v. United States, 493 U.S. 342, 351 n.3 (1990).

Here, the defendant is charged with making a false statement to the FBI General Counsel in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. A jury will have to decide only whether the defendant knowingly and willfully made a materially false statement to the FBI General Counsel. Nothing more, nothing less. Baseless political allegations are irrelevant to the crime charged. See, e.g., United States v. Regan, 103 F. 3d 1072, 1082 (2d Cir. 1997) (claims of Government misconduct are “ultimately separate from the issue of [a defendant’s] factual guilt”); United States v. Washington, 705 F. 2d 489, 495 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (similar). Evidence or argument concerning these issues should therefore be excluded. See Fed. R. Evid. 402; see, e.g., O’Neal, 844 F,3d at 278; United States v. Stone, 19 CR 18 (D.D.C. Sept. 26, 2019) ECF Minute Order (granting the government’s motion in limine to exclude evidence or argument regarding alleged misconduct in the government’s investigation or prosecution of Roger Stone).

The only purpose in advancing these arguments would be to stir the pot of political polarization, garner public attention, and, most inappropriately, confuse jurors or encourage jury nullification. Put bluntly, the defense wishes to make the Special Counsel out to be a political actor when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.11 Injecting politics into the trial proceedings is in no way relevant and completely unjustified. See United States v. Gorham, 523 F. 2d 1088, 1097-1098 (D.C. Cir. 1975) (upholding trial court’s decision to preclude evidence relevant only to jury nullification); see also United States v. Rushin, 844 F. 3d 933, 942 (11th Cir. 2016) (same); United States v. Castro, 411 Fed. App’x 415, 420 (2d Cir. 2011) (same); United States v. Funches, 135 F.3d 1405, 1408-1409 (11th Cir. 1998) (same); United States v. Cropp, 127 F.3d 354, 358-359 (4th Cir. 1997). With respect to concerns about jury nullification, this Circuit has opined:

[Defendant’s] argument is tantamount to the assertion that traditional principles concerning the admissibility of evidence should be disregarded, and that extraneous factors should be introduced at trial to become part of the jury’s deliberations. Of course a jury can render a verdict at odds with the evidence and the law in a given case, but it undermines the very basis of our legal system when it does so. The right to equal justice under law inures to the public as well as to individual parties to specific litigation, and that right is debased when juries at their caprice ignore the dictates of established precedent and procedure.

Gorham, 523 F.2d at 1098. Even if evidence related to the defendant’s anticipated allegations had “marginal relevance” to this case (which it does not), the “likely (and presumably intended) effect” would be “to shift the focus away from the relevant evidence of [the defendant’s] wrongdoing” to matters that are, at most, “tangentially related.” United States v. Malpeso, 115 F. 3d 155, 163 (2d Cir. 1997) (upholding exclusion of evidence of alleged misconduct by FBI agent). For the foregoing reasons, the defendant should not be permitted to introduce evidence or make arguments to the jury about the circumstances surrounding the appointment of the Special Counsel and alleged political bias on the part of the Special Counsel.

11 By point of fact, the Special Counsel has been appointed by both Democratic and Republican appointed Attorneys General to conduct investigations of highly-sensitive matters, including Attorneys General Janet Reno, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Jeff Sessions and William Barr. [my emphasis]

Durham stuck the section between an extended section arguing that Judge Christopher Cooper should treat the interlinked investigations — by those working for the Hillary campaign and those, working independently of the campaign, who believed Donald Trump presented a grave risk to national security — into Trump’s ties to Russia as a unified conspiracy and another section asking that Clinton Campaign tweets magnifying the Alfa Bank allegations be admitted, even though the argument to include them is closely related.

Even ignoring how Durham pitches this issue, the placement of this argument — smack dab in the middle of an effort to treat protected political speech he admits is not criminal like a criminal conspiracy — seems like a deliberate joke. All the more so coming from prosecutors who, with their conflicts motion,

stir[red] the pot of political polarization, garner[ed] public attention, and, most inappropriately, confuse[d potential] jurors

It’s pure projection, presented in the middle of just that kind of deliberately polarizing argument. From the moment the Durham team — which relied heavily on an FBI Agent who reportedly sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI phone — tried to enhance Kevin Clinesmith’s punishment for altering documents because he sent anti-Trump texts on his FBI phone, Durham has criminalized opposition to Trump.

And Durham himself made his hiring an issue by claiming that the guy who misrepresented his conflicts motion by using it to suggest that Sussmann and Rodney Joffe should be executed, Donald Trump, is a mere third party and not the guy who made him a US Attorney.

But it’s also misleading, for multiple reasons.

The initial bias in question pertains to covering up for Russia, not helping Republicans

Sussmann’s likely complaints at trial have little to do with the fact that Durham was appointed by a Republican. Rather, a key complaint will likely have to do with the fact that Durham was appointed as part of a sustained campaign to misrepresent the entire set of events leading up to the appointment of his predecessor as Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, by a guy who auditioned for the job of Attorney General based on his claims — reflecting his warped Fox News understanding of the investigation — that the confirmed outcome of that investigation was false.

You cannot separate Durham’s appointment from Billy Barr’s primary goal in returning as Attorney General to undermine the evidence of improper Trump ties to Russia. You cannot separate Durham’s appointment, in the same days as Mueller acquired key evidence in two investigations (the Egyptian bank donation and Roger Stone) that Barr subsequently shut down, from Barr’s attempt to undermine the past and ongoing investigation. You cannot separate Durham’s appointment from what several other DC District judges (Reggie Walton, Emmet Sullivan, and Amy Berman Jacksonthe latter, twice) have said was Barr’s improper tampering in the Russian investigation.

That is, Durham was appointed to cover-up Trump’s confirmed relationship with Russia, not to attack Democrats. But in order to cover up for Russia, Durham will, and has, attacked the Democrats who were first victimized by Russia for viewing Russia as a threat (though I believe that Republicans were victimized, too).

That bias has exhibited in the following ways, among others:

  • Treating concern about Trump’s solicitation of further hacks by Russia and his confirmed ties to Russian money laundering as a partisan issue, and not a national security issue (something Durham continues with this filing)
  • Treatment, in the Danchenko case, of Charles Dolan’s involvement in the most accurate report in the Steele dossier as more damning that the likely involvement of Dmitri Peskov in the most inflammatory reports that paralleled the secret communications with Dmitry Peskov that Trump and Michael Cohen lied to cover up
  • Insinuations from Andrew DeFilippis to Manos Antonakakis that it was inappropriate for DARPA to ask researchers to investigate ongoing Russian hacks during an election
  • A prosecutorial decision that risks making sensitive FISA information available to Russia that will, at the same time, signal that the FBI won’t protect informants against Russia

There are other indications that Durham has taken probable Russian disinformation that implicates Roger Stone as instead reliable evidence against Hillary.

Durham’s investigation into an investigation during an election was a key prop during an investigation

Another thing Durham may be trying to stave off is Sussmann calling Nora Dannehy as a witness to explain why she quit the investigation just before the election. Even assuming Durham could spin concerns about pressure to bring charges before an election, that pressure again goes to Billy Barr’s project.

When Durham didn’t bring charges, some of the same documents Durham was reviewing got shared with Jeffrey Jensen, whose team then altered several of them, at least one of them misleadingly, to present a false narrative about Trump’s opponent’s role in the investigation. Suspected fraudster Sidney Powell seems to have shared that false narrative with Donald Trump, who then used it in a packaged attack in the first debate.

This is one of the reasons why Durham’s submission of Bill Priestap’s notes in such a way as to obscure whether those notes have some of the same indices of unreliability as the altered filings in the Mike Flynn case matters.

In other words, Durham is claiming that scrutinizing the same kind of questions that Durham himself has been scrutinizing for years is improper.

The bullying

I find it interesting that Durham claims that, “the defendant has foreshadowed some of these arguments in correspondence with the Special Counsel and others,” without citing any. That’s because the only thing in the record is that Sussmann asked for evidence of Durham bullying witnesses to alter their testimony — in response to which Durham provided communications with April Lorenzen’s attorneys.

On December 10, 2021, the defense requested, among other things, all of the prosecution team’s communications with counsel for witnesses or subjects in this investigation, including, “any records reflecting any consideration, concern, or threats from your office relating to those individuals’ or their counsels’ conduct. . . and all formal or informal complaints received by you or others” about the conduct of the Special Counsel’s Office.” Although communications with other counsel are rarely discoverable, especially this far in advance of trial, the Government expects to produce certain materials responsive to this request later this week. The Government notes that it is doing so despite the fact that certain counsel persistently have targeted prosecutors and investigators on the Special Counsel’s team with baseless and polemical attacks that unfairly malign and mischaracterize the conduct of this investigation. For example, certain counsel have falsely accused the Special Counsel’s Office of leaking information to the media and have mischaracterized efforts to warn witnesses of the consequences of false testimony or false statements as “threats” or “intimidation.”

And this set of filings reveals that Durham is still trying to force Rodney Joffe to testify against Sussmann, even though Joffe says his testimony will actually help Sussmann.

In other words, this may be a bid by Durham to prevent evidence of prosecutorial misconduct under the guise of maintaining a monopoly on the right to politicize the case.

Normally, arguments like this have great merit and are upheld.

But by making the argument, Durham is effectively arguing that the entire premise of his own investigation — an inquiry into imagined biases behind an investigation and later appointment of a Special Counsel — is illegitimate.

As we’ll see, what Judge Christopher Cooper is left with is nothing more than competing claims of conspiracy.

It Is Not News that Bill Barr Lied to Protect Kleptocracy

Let’s talk about what Bill Barr did in his second tenure as Attorney General.

Even before Jeff Sessions was fired, Barr decided — based on the false claims he saw on Fox News — that the allegations against Donald Trump were bullshit. He wrote up a memo suggesting that it was okay for the President to fire the FBI director to cover up his own crimes. And based on that audition, he was nominated and confirmed as Attorney General.

When the investigation into the aftermath of that firing shut down weeks after he was confirmed, Barr lied to downplay the degree to which the President had enthusiastically welcomed the help of a hostile country to get elected. Among the things his lies did was to hide that the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia — with Trump’s full knowledge — remained ongoing, a detail that remains unreported everywhere but here. Barr also issued a prosecution declination for crimes still in progress, Trump’s ultimately successful effort to buy the silence of witnesses against him with pardons.

Barr poured whiskey to celebrate his old friend Robert Mueller’s frailty before Congress.

Then Barr turned to protecting Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Sean Hannity when a whistleblower objected that Trump was extorting Volodymyr Zelenskyy for help on his reelection campaign. He did so in a number of ways, including interfering in legally mandated congressional and election oversight. He also stripped the whistleblower complaint to ensure that investigative steps put into place to protect national security in the wake of 9/11 wouldn’t tie Trump’s extortion attempt to an ongoing investigation into Ukrainian efforts to exploit Rudy Giuliani’s corruption to protect (Russian-backed) Ukrainian corruption. Barr’s efforts to hide the national security impact of Russian-backed Ukrainian efforts to corrupt American democracy gave Republicans cover — cover that every single Republican save Justin Amash and Mitt Romey availed themselves of — to leave Trump in place even after he put his own personal welfare above national security.

Then Barr turned to undoing the work of the Russian investigation. After Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the case against Mike Flynn was sound and Michael Horowitz concluded that the Russian investigation was not a partisan witch hunt, Barr assigned multiple investigators — John Durham and Jeffrey Jensen — to create a new set of facts claiming it was. He intervened to minimize the punishment against Stone, in the process claiming that threats against a witness and a judge — involving the same militias that would go on to lead an attack on the Capitol on January 6 — were mere technicalities. In his attempt to shield Stone from punishment, Barr ensured that the then-ongoing investigation into Stone’s suspected conspiracy with Russia would go nowhere. Barr’s efforts to attack Emmet Sullivan for refusing to rubber stamp Barr’s corruption resulted in a death threat against the judge. Barr’s effort to invent excuses to dismiss the prosecution against Flynn included altering documents and permitting an FBI agent who had sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI device to make claims in an interview that conflicted with the agent’s own past actions.

Barr used COVID as an excuse to let Paul Manafort serve his sentence in his Alexandria condo until such time as Trump pardoned his former campaign manager for lying about the help from Russia he used to get elected.

Barr took several measures to protect Rudy Giuliani from any consequences for his repeated efforts to get help for Donald Trump from Russian-backed Ukrainians, including outright Agents like Andrii Derkach. He ensured that the existing SDNY investigation into Rudy could not incorporate Rudy’s later efforts to solicit Russian-backed Ukrainian help. He attempted to fire Geoffrey Berman. He set up a parallel process so that DOJ could review the fruits of Rudy’s influence peddling for potential use against Trump’s campaign opponent.

This is just a partial list of the false claims that Bill Barr mobilized as Attorney General to ensure that the United States remained saddled with a President who repeatedly welcomed — at times extorted — Russian-backed help to remain as President.

It is not news that Bill Barr corrupted DOJ and lied to protect kleptocracy — in its American form of Donald Trump, but also, by association, in Putin’s efforts to exploit American venality to corrupt democracy.

Nevertheless, multiple outlets have decided that now — during Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine — is a good time to invite Bill Barr onto TV or radio to tell further lies to spin his own role in protecting kleptocracy, Russian and American. They appear to think they’re clever enough to catch a shameless liar in a lie — or perhaps believe the news value of having Barr explain that he’d prefer a competent fascist to Trump but if Trump is all he gets, he prefers that to actual democracy.

You cannot win an interview with Bill Barr. Gaslighters like Barr are too skilled at exploiting our attention economy. The mere act of inviting him on accords a man who did grave damage to the Department of Justice and the Constitution in service of kleptocracy as a respectable member of society. Even assuming you’re prepared enough to challenge his lies (thus far none of the journalists who interviewed Barr has been), he’ll claim your truth, the truth, is just partisanship designed to smear those who believe kleptocracy is moral. More likely, you’ll end up like Savanah Guthrie did, letting Barr claim, unchallenged, that the allegation that Russia conducted a concerted effort to compromise Trump is a lie.

Before Russia invaded a peaceful country, it attempted to achieve the same ends by cultivating Trump, by trading him electoral advantage for Ukrainian sovereignty. Bill Barr was a central part in letting that effort continue unchecked until January 20, 2021.

If you invite him on to do anything other than apologize to Ukraine and the United States, you are part of the problem.

On Unrealistic Expectations for Mueller Report Obstruction Charges

Among those whinging that Merrick Garland hasn’t imprisoned Donald Trump yet, there is an apparent belief that the Mueller Report left obstruction charges all wrapped up in a bow, as if the next Administration could come in, break open the Report, and roll out fully-formed charges.

Even among those with a more realistic understanding of the Mueller Report, people continue to call for some public resolution of the obstruction charges, as Randall Eliason did here and Quinta Jurecic did here. Jurecic even updated her awesome heat map of the obstruction charges, with the date the statute of limitations (if an individual act of obstruction were charged outside a continuing conspiracy) would expire for each.

None of that is realistic, for a whole range of reasons.

The obstruction-in-a-box belief is based on a misunderstanding of the Mueller Report

First, the belief that Merrick Garland could have come into office 11 months ago and rolled out obstruction charges misunderstands the Mueller Report. Many if not most people believe the report includes the entirety of what Mueller found, describes declination decisions on every crime considered, and also includes a volume entirely dedicated to Trump’s criminal obstruction, a charging decision for which Mueller could not reach on account of the OLC memo prohibiting it. None of that is true.

As I laid out in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon series, the Mueller Report is only a description of charging decisions that the team made. My comparison of the stories told in the Report with those told in the Stone warrant affidavits, Stone’s trial, and the SSCI Report show that Mueller left out a great deal of damning details about Stone, including that he seemed to have advance notice of what the Guccifer 2.0 persona was doing and that Stone was scripting pro-Russian tweets for Trump in the same period when Trump asked Russia, “if you’re listening — I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

And, as DOJ disclosed hours before the 2020 election, Mueller didn’t make a final decision about whether Stone could be charged in a hack-and-leak conspiracy. Instead, he referred that question to DC USAO for further investigation. In fact the declinations in the Mueller Report avoid addressing any declination decision for Stone on conspiring with Russia. The declination in the report addresses contacts with WikiLeaks (but not Guccifer 2.0) and addresses campaign finance crimes. The section declining to charge any Trumpsters with conspiracy declines to charge the events described in Volume I Section II (the Troll operation) and Volume I Section IV (contacts with Russians), in which there is no Stone discussion. Everything Stone related — even his contacts with Henry Greenberg, which is effectively another outreach from a Russian — appears in Section III, not Section IV. The conspiracy declinations section doesn’t mention Volume I Section III (the hack-and-leak operation) at all and (as noted) in the section that specifically addresses hack-and-leak decisions, a footnote states that, “Some of the factual uncertainties [about Stone] are the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office.” This ongoing investigation would have been especially sensitive in March 2019, because prosecutors knew that Stone kept a notebook recording all his conversations with Trump during the campaign, many of which (they did have proof) pertained to advance notice of upcoming releases. That is, the ongoing investigation into Stone was also an ongoing investigation into Trump, which is consistent with what Mueller told Trump’s lawyers in summer 2018.

That’s not the only investigation into Trump that remained ongoing at the time Mueller closed up shop. The investigation into a suspected infusion of millions from an Egyptian bank during September 2016 continued (per CNN’s reporting) until July 2020, which is why reference to it is redacted in the June 2020 Mueller Report but not the September 2020 one. I noted both these ongoing investigations in real time.

The Mueller Report also doesn’t address the pardon discussions with Julian Assange, even though that was included among Mueller’s questions to Trump.

So contrary to popular belief, Volume II does not address the totality of Trump’s criminal exposure.

That ought to change how people understand the obstruction discussion in Volume II. For all the show of whether or not Mueller could make a charging decision about Trump, the discussion provably did not include the totality of crimes Mueller considered with Trump.

All the more so given the kinds of obstructive acts described in Volume II. The biggest tip-off that this volume was about something other than criminal obstruction charges, in my opinion, is the discussion of Trump’s lies about the June 9 meeting in Trump Tower. As Jurecic’s heat map, her extended analysis, and my own analysis at the time show, the case that this was obstruction was weak. “Mueller spent over eight pages laying out whether Trump’s role in crafting a deceitful statement about the June 9 meeting was obstruction of justice when, according to the report’s analysis of obstruction of justice, it was not even a close call.” At the time, I suggested Mueller included it because it explained what Trump was trying to cover up with his other obstructive actions during the same months. But I think the centrality of Vladimir Putin involvement in Trump’s deceitful statement — which gets no mention in the Report, even though the Report elsewhere cites the NYT interview where that was first revealed — suggests something else about this incident. Because of how our Constitution gives primacy in foreign affairs to the President, DOJ would have a very hard time charging the President for conversations he had with a foreign leader (Trump’s Ukraine extortion was slightly different because Trump refused to inform Congress of his decision to blow off their appropriation instructions). But Congress would (in a normal time, should) have no difficulty holding the President accountable for colluding with a foreign leader to invent a lie to wield during a criminal investigation. Trump’s June 9 meeting lie is impeachable; it is not prosecutable.

Similarly, several of the other obstructive acts — asking Comey to confirm there was no investigation into him, firing Comey, and threatening to fire Mueller — would likewise be far easier for Congress to punish than for DOJ to, because of how expansively we define the President’s authority.

That is, these ten obstructive acts are best understood, in my opinion, as charges for Congress to impeach, not for DOJ to prosecute. The obstruction section — packaged up separately from discussion of the other criminal investigations into Trump — was an impeachment referral, not a criminal referral. I think Mueller may have had a naive belief that Congress would be permitted to consider those charges for impeachment, such an effort would succeed, and that would leave DOJ free to continue the other more serious criminal investigation into Trump.

It didn’t happen.

But that doesn’t change that a number of these obstructive acts are more appropriate for Congress to punish than for DOJ to.

Bill Barr did irreparable damage to half of these obstruction charges

Bill Barr, of course, had other things in mind.

Those wailing that Garland is doing nothing in the face of imminently expiring obstruction statutes of limitation appear to have completely forgotten all the things Billy Barr did to make sure those obstruction charges could not be prosecuted as they existed when Mueller released his report.

That effort started with Barr’s declination of the obstruction charges.

Last year, Amy Berman Jackson forced DOJ to release part of the memo Barr’s flunkies wrote up the weekend they received the Mueller Report. The unsealed portions show that Rod Rosenstein, Ed O’Callaghan, and Steven Engel signed off on the conclusion that,

For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the evidence described in Volume II of the Report is not, in our judgment, sufficient to support a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that the President violated the obstruction-of-justice statutes. In addition, we believe that certain of the conduct examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances. Accordingly, were there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend, under the Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.

This was unbelievably corrupt. There are a slew of reasons — from Barr’s audition memo to the way these officials include no review of the specific allegations to the fact that some of these crimes were crimes in progress — why this decision is inadequate. But none of those reasons can make the memo go away. So unless DOJ were to formally disavow this decision after laying out the reasons why the process was corrupt (preferably via analysis done by a quasi-independent reviewer like the Inspector General), any prosecution of the obstruction crimes laid out in the Mueller Report would be virtually impossible, because the very first thing Trump would do would be to cite the memo and call these three men as witnesses that the case should be dismissed.

But Barr’s sabotage of these charges didn’t end there. At his presser releasing the heavily-redacted report, Barr excused Trump’s obstruction because (Barr claimed) Trump was very frustrated he didn’t get away with cheating with Russia unimpeded, thereby deeming his motives to be pure.

In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context.  President Trump faced an unprecedented situation.  As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates.  At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability.  Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion.  And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.  Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.  And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.

These claims were, all of them, factually false, as I laid out at the time. But because he was the Attorney General when he made them, they carry a great deal of weight, legally, in establishing that Trump had no corrupt motive for obstructing the investigation into his ties to Russia.

And after that point, Barr made considerable effort to manufacture facts to support his bullshit claims. Most obviously, he sicced one after another after another investigator on the Russian investigation to try to substantiate his own bullshit claims. In the case of Barr’s efforts to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution — which investigation lies behind four of the obstruction charges laid out in the Mueller Report — the Jeffrey Jensen team literally altered documents to misrepresent the case against Flynn. Similarly, a Barr-picked prosecutor installed to replace everyone who was fired or quit in the DC US Attorney’s Office, Ken Kohl, stood before Judge Sullivan and claimed (falsely) that everyone involved with the Flynn prosecution had no credibility.

If we move forward in this case, we would be put in a position of presenting the testimony of Andy McCabe, a person who our office charged and did not prosecute for the same offense that he’s being — that we would be proceeding to trial against with respect to Mr. Flynn.

So all of our evidence, all of our witnesses in this case as to what Mr. Flynn did or didn’t do have been — have had specific findings by the Office of Inspector General. Lying under oath, misleading the Court, acting with political motivation. Never in my career, Your Honor, have I had a case with witnesses, all of whom have had specific credibility findings and then been pressed to go forward with the prosecution. We’re never expected to do so.

Again, so long as this testimony remains credible, you can’t pursue obstruction charges remotely pertaining to Flynn, meaning four of the obstruction charges are off the table.

Barr also chipped away at the other charges underlying the obstruction charges, intervening to make it less likely that Roger Stone or Paul Manafort would flip on Trump and help DOJ substantiate that, yes, Trump really did cheat with Russia to get elected. Barr also got OLC to undercut the analysis behind charging Michael Cohen for the hush payments (which may have made it impossible for SDNY to charge Trump with the same charges).

Meanwhile, John Durham toils away, trying to build conspiracy charges to substantiate the rest of Barr’s conspiracy theories. Along the way, Durham seems to be tainting other evidence that would be central to any obstruction charges against Trump. For example, in the most recent BuzzFeed FOIA release, all parts of Jim Comey’s memos substantiating Trump’s obstruction that mentioned the Steele dossier were protected under a b7(A) exemption, which is almost certainly due to Durham’s pursuit of a theory that Trump’s actions with Comey were merely a response to the Steele dossier, not an attempt to hide his Flynn’s very damning conversations with the Russian Ambassador during the transition. That is, Durham is as we speak making evidence unavailable in his efforts to invent facts to back Barr’s claims about Trump’s pure intent in obstructing the Mueller investigation.

As noted, all of these efforts are fairly self-obviously corrupt, and most don’t withstand close scrutiny (as the altered documents did not when I pointed them out). But before DOJ could pursue the obstruction charges as they existed in the Mueller Report, they would first have to disavow all of this.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz was reportedly investigating at least some of this starting in 2020. And I trust his investigators would be able to see through much of what Barr did. But even assuming Horowitz was investigating the full scope of all of them, because of the pace of DOJ IG investigations, the basis to disavow Barr’s efforts would not and will not come in time to charge those obstruction counts before the statutes of limitation expires.

The continuing obstruction statutes have barely started

In addition to obstructing the punishment of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and undermining the theory behind the Michael Cohen hush payment charges, Bill Barr also worked relentlessly to undermine the prosecution of Rudy Giuliani.

There were undoubtedly a lot of reasons Barr needed to do that. If he didn’t, he might have to treat Trump’s extortion of Ukraine (which was the follow-up to Manafort’s Ukraine ties in 2016). Rudy was central to Trump’s own obstruction of the Mueller investigation. And if Rudy were shown to be an Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, it would raise significant questions about Trump’s larger defense (questions for which there is substantiation in Mueller’s 302s).

I understand there was a sense, in the middle of Barr’s efforts, that prosecutors believed they could just wait those efforts out.

And then, literally on Lisa Monaco’s first day on the job, DOJ obtained warrants to seize 16 devices from Rudy. During all the months that people have been wailing for Garland to act, Barbara Jones has been wading through Rudy’s phones to separate out anything privileged (and, importantly, to push back on efforts to protect crime-fraud excepted communications). Almost the first thing Lisa Monaco did was approve an effort to go after the key witness to the worst of Trump’s corruption.

There are many reasons I keep coming back to that seizure to demonstrate that Garland’s DOJ (in reality, Monaco would be the one making authorizations day-to-day) will not back off aggressive investigations of Trump. Even if DOJ only had warrants for the Ukraine investigation, it would still get to larger issues of obstruction, because of how it relates to impeachment. But even if it were true those were the only warrants when DOJ raided Rudy, there’s abundant reason to believe that’s no longer true. If DOJ got warrants covering the earlier obstruction or Rudy’s role in the attempted coup, no one outside that process would know about it.

Then, in recent days, DOJ made another audacious seizure of a lawyer’s communications, a seizure that only makes sense in the context of a larger obstruction investigation, this time of the January 6 investigation, yet more evidence that DOJ it not shying away from investigating Trump’s crimes.

Indeed, DOJ currently has investigations into all the nodes of the pardon dangles, too: Sidney Powell’s work for Trump on a thing of value (the Big Lie) while waiting for a Mike Flynn pardon; Roger Stone’s coordination with militias before and after he got his own pardon; promises to the Build the Wall crowd — promises kept only for Bannon — tied to efforts to help steal the election; and Rudy’s role at the center of all this.

There would be no reason to charge the pardon dangles from 2019 (the balance of the obstruction charges that Barr didn’t hopelessly sabotage) when DOJ has more evidence about pardon bribes from 2020, including the devices of the guy at the center of those efforts, and the direct tie to the January 6 coup attempt to tie it to. Indeed, attempting to charge the earlier dangles without implicating everything Trump got out of the pardons in his attempted coup would likely negatively impact an investigation into the more recent actions.

Even assuming Mueller packaged obstruction charges for DOJ to indict, rather than Congress to impeach, the deliberate sabotage Barr did in the interim makes most of those charges impossible. The exceptions — the pardon dangles — all have additional overt acts to include that sets aside Barr’s past declination.

DOJ cannot charge the Mueller obstruction charges. But they also cannot explain why not, partly because of the institutional necessity to move beyond Barr’s damage, but partly because doing so would damage the possibility of charging the continuation of that very same obstruction.

One obstruction crime is actually a conspiracy crime

I forgot one more detail that’s really important: One of the listed acts of obstruction, Trump’s efforts to have Jeff Sessions shut down the investigation, appears to be a Stone-related conspiracy crime. As I noted, that effort started nine days after Roger Stone told Julian Assange, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government.”

Especially given that it is among the weaker obstruction crimes, this is one that would be better pursued as a conspiracy crime (though it would be tangled up in the Assange extradition).

Update: As Jackson noted on Twitter, DC Circuit should soon weigh in on ABJ’s efforts to liberate more of Barr’s declination memo.

Mike Flynn Forgets He Was Shit-Canned by Presidents of Both Parties

In a lawsuit attempting to kill an existing subpoena from the January 6 Committee and an as-yet unidentified subpoena to Verizon, Mike Flynn accuses Bennie Thompson of opposing Barack Obama. That’s the only logical conclusion one can draw from Flynn’s claim that the people behind the subpoena of him, “belong to the political party that opposed the President under whom General Flynn served.”

The body that issued the Subpoena is composed of 9 members, 7 of whom belong to the political party that opposed the President under whom General Flynn served. The remaining two members were Republicans hand-picked by Speaker Pelosi because they were vocal opponents of former President Trump from within the Republican Party.

As Flynn himself points out in his lawsuit, he served Barack Obama as Defense Intelligence Agency head for over two years, a total of 744 days. He served Donald Trump as National Security Advisor for around 24 days, a laughably short tenure even by the standards of the Trump Administration.

Plaintiff Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is a retired Lieutenant General in the United States Army, served as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from July 2012 to August 2014, and was the National Security Advisor at the start of the Trump Administration.

Mike Flynn was shit-canned by both Presidents.

Nevertheless, a man fired by Presidents of both parties wants to claim a mere subpoena is a witch hunt against him.

Flynn, predictably, gets a lot else wrong in this lawsuit. His depiction of how Billy Barr attempted, but — even after appointing a team that altered DOJ documents as part of their attempt — failed to blow up the prosecution of him gets details big and small wrong.

He was famously led into a perjury trap by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, pled guilty to making a false statement after the government threatened his son and then agreed not to prosecute his son if he pled guilty. He later sought to withdraw that plea under the guidance of new counsel after the discovery of exculpatory evidence that was withheld from him prior to his guilty plea. When the Department of Justice decided to drop the charges against him, a court stayed his sentencing while the Court considered whether to force the Department of Justice to prosecute him. Ultimately, General Flynn received a Presidential pardon.

There was no perjury trap, his very good Covington lawyers were especially worried about Flynn’s exposure as a secret agent of Turkey, none of the evidence was deemed to be exculpatory, and he had already been prosecuted.

It is true that after Sidney Powell did more harm then good, Trump pardoned the man he shit-canned. It’s also true that Flynn remained equivocal about whether Donald Trump knew about his efforts to undermine sanctions during the Transition — though transcripts of his calls with Sergey Kislyak show that he told Russia’s Ambassador, at least, that Trump did know.

But there are several details in this lawsuit — like all of these lawsuits challenging the January 6 Committee, which appear to be at least partly an attempt to coordinate cover stories — of interest.

As Josh Gerstein observed, the lawsuit is full of dated information.

On January 6, 2021, a large group of people in Washington, D.C., entered the U.S. Capitol, breached security, and disrupted the counting of Electoral College votes until order was restored. The U.S. Department of Justice has arrested more than 500 individuals in connection with those activities on January 6th. General Flynn was not part of, nor was he present, at the Capitol grounds during any of those activities at the Capitol that day. Like most Americans, he saw those troubling events unfold on television.

[snip]

Former President Trump appealed the district court’s order, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined NARA from releasing the disputed Presidential records pending its ruling. See Mem. Op. 17, Trump v. Thompson, No. 1:21-cv-2769 (D.D.C. Nov. 9, 2021).

On November 30, 2021, the D.C. Circuit held oral argument on the merits of former President Trump’s appeal. This case is still pending.

While I’m not surprised the Dhillon Law Group cited details about the January 6 investigation that are four months out of date, you’d think they — or Flynn, via Jesse Binall, who was part of the Sidney Powell team that represented him — would have heard of the legal thumping that the DC Circuit gave Jesse Binall on December 9.

As Katelyn Polantz observed, by filing this in his home district in Florida (albeit in the wrong district at first), Flynn sets up the possibility of a circuit split with the DC Circuit decision that Dhillon Law Group hasn’t heard about yet.

So this may be part of a concerted plan, but one that being implemented with the legal incompetence characteristic of Trump (and Flynn) lawyers.

Particularly given how dated this lawsuit is, I’m particularly interested in Flynn’s reliance on the investigation into Sidney Powell’s grift to explain his hesitations about cooperating with the Committee.

Flynn bases his knowledge about the investigation into Sidney Powell on a November 30 WaPo story (though he credits NYT with the scoop), not personal knowledge of the investigation.

In 2021, General Flynn was briefly a board member of a nonprofit founded and led by his defense counsel, Ms. Powell, called Defending the Republic. In September 2021, a federal prosecutor handling the January 6 Capitol attack as well as the criminal contempt of Congress proceedings against individuals referred by the Select Committee also subpoenaed the records of Defending the Republic in connection with a criminal investigation into its activities.

[snip]

In September 2021, the Department of Justice obtained a grand jury subpoena for records of a nonprofit General Flynn briefly served as a director, which was founded and led by his criminal defense counsel, Sidney Powell. The subpoena was signed by an Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting matters related to the January 6 Capitol attack as well as contempt of Congress charges against Stephen K. Bannon for not complying with the Committee’s subpoena. Isaac Stanley-Becker, Emma Brown, and Rosalind Helderman, Prosecutors Demanded Records of Sidney Powell’s Fundraising Groups As Part of Criminal Probe, NEW YORK TIMES, Nov. 30, 2021.

Here’s a December 1 Daily Beast story with other details of the investigation (which may come from Lin Wood or Patrick Byrne). Here’s my post noting that the virgin birth of the grift times awkwardly with Flynn’s own pardon.

In language immediately preceding one of those descriptions, Flynn misleadingly claims that the Committee subpoena against him starts “just before” DOJ “sought to dismiss the charges against him in May of 2020.”

(The Subpoena curiously seeks documents from General Flynn starting just before the Department of Justice sought to dismiss the charges against him in May of 2020, and long before the 2020 election or the January 2021 attack on the Capitol.) In late 2020, General Flynn publicly stated his concerns about the integrity of the 2020 elections, as did many other citizens. General Flynn did not organize or speak at any events on January 6 in Washington D.C.

The start date for the subpoena actually starts on April 1.

Still, I find it interesting that Flynn is so worried about what happened during Billy Barr’s failed attempt to blow up his prosecution. And I find it interesting that Flynn claims to have no firsthand knowledge of the investigation Molly Gaston is leading into Sidney Powell’s grift.

Incidentally, Gaston originally pulled three January 6 cases in the investigation’s early days, those of Robert Packer, Robert Gieswein, and Derrick Evans, just the latter of which, involving a then-West Virginia state politician, had any possible public corruption component. But, at a time of immense staffing shortages at DC’s US Attorney’s Office, she dropped off those cases on February 18 (in the case of Packer) and March 29 (in the case of Gieswein and Evans). I’ve long wondered what, in the weeks after Merrick Garland came in, became a higher priority for the DC US Attorney’s leading public corruption prosecutor. We now know one thing she picked up in the interim was the prosecution of Michael Riley, the Capitol Police Officer who advised rioter Jacob Hiles to delete Facebook posts about his role in the riot. And by September, Gaston’s grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grift had started taking overt steps like subpoenaing Powell’s nonprofit.

Anyway, back to Mike Flynn.

Unlike the other people suing, Flynn appears to be uncertain about whether Verizon received a January 6 Committee subpoena targeting him. John Eastman returned the subpoena targeting him with his lawsuit. Alexander included the notice of the subpoena — dated December 2 — he received from Verizon. Meadows also included the notice of the subpoena.

But Flynn doesn’t include documentation like that to substantiate his basis for believing that Verizon got a subpoena targeting him. Rather, he says that he thinks Verizon got a subpoena targeting him — from the January 6 Committee — because they got one for Mark Meadows.

Upon information and belief, the Select Committee is not only targeting a wide variety of individuals with sweeping subpoenas, but also is obtaining extensive private records about various individuals—including cooperating witnesses—by issuing subpoenas to their telecommunications providers.

For example, the Select Committee issued a subpoena to Verizon Wireless seeking subscriber information and cell phone data associated with former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows (the “Verizon Subpoena”). The subscriber information requested includes subscriber names and contact information, authorized users, time of service provided, account changes, associated IP addresses, and other metadata. The cell phone data requested could include all calls, text messages, and other records of communications associated with that phone number. This data can be used for historic cell site analysis. The Verizon Subpoena requested all of Mr. Meadows’ personal cell phone data for four months: from October 1, 2020, and January 31, 2021.

That is, unless Verizon has lost track of whom to bill for his cell service (or unless the General is confused about who is service provider is), it appears that Flynn — who was, for a period, on the board of the Powell nonprofit already being investigated by a grand jury in September — didn’t get a letter on December 2 alerting him that January 6 had subpoenaed his phone records.

Don’t get me wrong: particularly given his propensity to lie, Mike Flynn is not wrong to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions from the January 6 Committee (though he still is on the hook for the document request). That would be true even if Molly Gaston weren’t investigating Sidney Powell, but with the investigation, he’s quite right to invoke the Fifth (again — he did so with the SSCI Russian investigation too).

But if there’s a reason why the House Committee didn’t feel the need to ask for his phone records, that may be the least of his worries.

The most interesting aspect of the January 6 investigation that no one is covering — not even in a NYT story on criminal referrals — is the means by and extent to which the Committee is deconflicting with DOJ. There must be a legislative affairs person doing this near full time, unless Thompson and Liz Cheney — the daughter of someone who played a key role in screwing up Iran-Contra by refusing to do this — are doing this at a higher level. But the story about whom the Committee hasn’t subpoenaed — which includes both Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, both known to be under investigation by DOJ — is as interesting as who they have.

Michael Sussmann Attempts to Bill [of Particulars] Durham for His Sloppy Indictment Language

“Without prejudice to any other pretrial motions”

Michael Sussmann’s lawyers reserve their right to challenge the Durham indictment of Sussmann via other pretrial motions in their motion for a Bill of Particulars six different times. The motion does so three different times when noting that Durham used squishy language to paraphrase Sussmann’s alleged lie and couldn’t seem to decide whether he affirmatively lied or lied by omission.

Mr. Sussmann is entitled to understand which particular crime he must defend himself against. Without prejudice to any other pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may bring on the matter, Mr. Sussmann is also entitled to additional particulars regarding the alleged omissions in the Indictment, including regarding the legal duty, if any, that required him to disclose the allegedly omitted information the Indictment suggests he should have disclosed.

[snip]

The Special Counsel should be required to clarify which crime he believes Mr. Sussmann committed and, to the extent the Special Counsel is proceeding on an omissions theory, he should be required to provide additional particulars (without prejudice to any motions Mr. Sussmann may make later).

[snip]

To the extent that the Special Counsel believes the Indictment is alleging a material omission under Section 1001(a)(1), and without prejudicing any other motions Mr. Sussmann may make on this issue, the Special Counsel should be required to clarify: (1) what specific information Mr. Sussmann failed to disclose; (2) to whom he failed to disclose it; (3) what legal duty required Mr. Sussmann to make the required disclosure; and (4) why the omission was material. See United States v. Safavian, 528 F.3d 957, 964 (D.C. Cir. 2008). [my emphasis]

It does so twice when asking that Durham address problems with his claims that Sussmann’s alleged lie was material.

The Indictment does make several allegations regarding materiality, and yet these allegations are vague, imprecise, and inconsistent. Suggesting the FBI might have asked more questions, taken other steps, or allocated resources differently, without specifying how or why it would have done so, leaves Mr. Sussmann having to guess about the meaning of the allegations that the Special Counsel has leveled against him. Accordingly, without prejudice to any pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may make regarding materiality, Mr. Sussmann requests that the Court order the Special Counsel to provide more detail about why the purported false statement was material.

[snip]

Accordingly, without prejudice to any pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may make regarding materiality, Mr. Sussmann requests that the Special Counsel be ordered to provide more detail about why the purported false statement was material. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). [my emphasis]

And the motion does so again when pointing out that Durham hasn’t included specifics about another alleged lie, to just two of an unidentified number of people who attended a meeting at CIA, which Sussmann elsewhere describes as improper inclusion of 404(b) material in an indictment.

Without prejudicing any other motions Mr. Sussmann may make on this issue, the Special Counsel should first be required to clarify the false statement alleged to have been made to the two anonymous Agency-2 employees, and any other individuals present at the meeting, in February 2017. [my emphasis]

A list of things John Durham didn’t provide in his Michael Sussmann indictment

It’s only after making it clear that this is just his opening move before filing a motion to dismiss and other legal challenges to the indictment…

The Indictment is seriously vulnerable to challenge as a matter of law, and Mr. Sussmann will make relevant pretrial motions at the appropriate time. For now, Mr. Sussmann moves for a bill of particulars.

…that Sussmann lays out a list of things he claims he can’t figure out from Durham’s sloppy indictment:

For the foregoing reasons, this Motion for a Bill of Particulars should be granted, and the Court should order the Special Counsel to promptly:

A. Provide particulars regarding the specific false statement the Special Counsel alleges Mr. Sussmann made to Mr. Baker, namely:

1. The exact words of Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement;

2. The specific context in which the statement was made so that the meaning of the words is clear;

3. What part of the statement is allegedly false, i.e., whether the statement was false because Mr. Sussmann allegedly stated he was not “acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning a Presidential Candidate” as alleged in Paragraph 46, or if he falsely stated that he was not doing any “work” on behalf of a client more generally, as alleged in Paragraphs 4, 27(a), 28;

4. What is meant by “his work,” as referenced in Paragraph 4;

5. What is meant by “acting [or acted] on behalf of any client” as alleged in Paragraphs 27(a) and 30; and

6. What “this” refers to in the Assistant Director’s notes referenced in Paragraph 28.

B. Provide particulars regarding the statutory violation charged and, if applicable any alleged omissions, namely:

1. Which crime the Special Counsel believes Mr. Sussmann has committed; and

2. To the extent the Special Counsel alleges that Mr. Sussmann made a material omission in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(1), as suggested by Paragraph 30 of the Indictment –

a. the specific information Mr. Sussmann allegedly failed to disclose;

b. to whom he allegedly failed to make that disclosure;

c. what legal duty required Mr. Sussmann to disclose such information; and

d. why the allegedly omitted information was material.

C. Provide particulars regarding how the alleged false statement to Mr. Baker was material, specifically:

1. The “other reasons” Mr. Sussmann’s false statement was material, as alleged in Paragraphs 5 and 32;

2. What “his work” refers to as referenced in Paragraph 5, what about such work was unknown to the FBI, and how the “political nature of his work” was material to the FBI’s investigation;

3. How Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement was material to the FBI’s ability to “assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis,” as alleged in Paragraph 5, when Mr. Sussmann disclosed the origins of the data and technical analysis;

4. How Mr. Sussmann’s role as a paid advocate was materially “relevant” to the FBI’s investigation, as alleged in Paragraph 32, given that the information itself raised serious national security concerns and the FBI otherwise enables civilians to provide anonymous tips; and

5. What potential questions, additional steps, resource allocations, or more complete information the FBI would have gathered absent Mr. Sussmann’s false statement, as alleged in Paragraph 32.

D. Provide particulars regarding the alleged false statement Mr. Sussmann made to all Agency-2 employees and representatives, as alleged in Paragraphs 39 and 42, namely:

1. The exact words of Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement;

2. The specific context in which the statement was made so that the meaning of the words is clear;

3. What portion of the statement is allegedly false;

4. The identities of all individuals to whom the statement was made, including:

a. both Employee-1 and Employee-2 as referenced in Paragraph 42; and

b. anyone else present who also heard the false statement.

E. Provide particulars regarding the identities of the “representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign” referenced in Paragraph 6.

Motions for a Bill of Particular rarely work

Make no mistake, most demands for a Bill of Particulars like this fail. The prosecution will argue that everything Sussmann needs is in the indictment and, if Judge Christopher Cooper agrees, Sussmann will just submit his motion to dismiss and other challenges like he’s clearly planning to do anyway.

That’s almost certainly what will happen for several of these requests, such as the names of Clinton Campaign personnel Durham accuses Sussmann of coordinating with on the Alfa Bank materials. But Sussmann likely doesn’t really need these names because he likely knows that Durham has nothing to substantiate this claim. If he did, Durham would have described such evidence in his speaking indictment. Sussmann may well know there are no names — of campaign personnel with whom he personally coordinated in advance of the James Baker meeting, at least — to give, because he didn’t coordinate with anyone from the campaign (Durham probably wants to substantiate this claim by charging Marc Elias in a conspiracy with Sussmann, but that all depends on being able to prove that anyone was lying about all this).

Similarly, Sussmann seems to know — and Durham may not — that there were more than just two people at a February 9, 2017 meeting at which Sussmann tried to bring new concerns to the attention of the government. This request seems to suggest there was at least one and possibly other witnesses who were at this meeting that Durham should know of who didn’t corroborate a claim that Sussmann lied, witnesses Durham didn’t mention in his indictment.

Likewise, Sussmann is unlikely to get very far asking for more details about Durham’s materiality claim, in particular, Durham’s repeated allegation that what he presented were just some, “among other reasons,” why Sussmann’s alleged lie was material. Prosecutors will argue that materiality is a matter for the jury to decide. But if Sussmann can force Durham to admit he has a theory of prosecution he hasn’t included in his indictment — that Durham believes that, rather than raising a real anomaly to the FBI’s attention because it was a real anomaly, lawyers who were paid by Hillary were trying to start a witch hunt against Donald Trump (never mind that the actual investigation that would prove at least three Trump officials, and probably Trump himself, got advance warning of a Russian attack on Hillary started three weeks before the meeting at which Sussmann is alleged to have lied) — then it will make it far easier for Sussmann to attack the indictment down the road.

What a false statement charge is supposed to look like

But Sussmann may succeed on his key complaint, that Durham has built a 27-page indictment around a false claim allegation without any means to clearly lay out what was the specific lie Sussmann told.

To understand what Sussmann means when he says,

It is simply not enough for the Indictment to make allegations generally about the substance of the purported false statement. Rather, the law requires that the Special Counsel identify the specific false statement made, i.e., the precise words that were allegedly used.

We can look at the false statements that Trump’s associates made to cover up the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. For example, for each of six charged lies in the Roger Stone indictment, Mueller’s prosecutors quoted the precise questions he was asked as well as his response, then laid out specific evidence that each lie was a lie.

22. During his HPSCI testimony, STONE was asked, “So you have no emails to anyone concerning the allegations of hacked documents . . . or any discussions you have had with third parties about [the head of Organization 1]? You have no emails, no texts, no documents whatsoever, any kind of that nature?” STONE falsely and misleadingly answered, “That is correct. Not to my knowledge.”

23. In truth and in fact, STONE had sent and received numerous emails and text messages during the 2016 campaign in which he discussed Organization 1, its head, and its possession of hacked emails. At the time of his false testimony, STONE was still in possession of many of these emails and text messages, including:

a. The email from STONE to Person 1 on or about July 25, 2016 that read in part, “Get to [the head of Organization 1] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [Organization 1] emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.”;

b. The email from STONE to Person 1 on or about July 31, 2016 that said an associate of Person 1 “should see [the head of Organization 1].”;

c. The email from Person 1 to STONE on or about August 2, 2016 that stated in part, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”;

d. Dozens of text messages and emails, beginning on or about August 19, 2016 and continuing through the election, between STONE and Person 2 in which they discussed Organization 1 and the head of Organization 1;

e. The email from STONE on or about October 3, 2016 to the supporter involved with the Trump Campaign, which read in part, “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.”; and

f. The emails on or about October 4, 2016 between STONE and the high-ranking member of the Trump Campaign, including STONE’s statement that Organization 1 would release “a load every week going forward.”

For some of Stone’s charged lies, prosecutors even had communications with Jerome Corsi or Randy Credico or one of his lawyers showing Stone planned in advance to lie.

In George Papadopoulos’ statement of offense, for each of several lies outlined, prosecutors laid out specifically what he told the FBI and then laid out how Papadopoulos’ own communications records and his later testimony proved those statements to be false.

c. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS claimed he met a certain female Russian national before he joined the Campaign and that their communications consisted of emails such as, ‘”Hi , how are you?”‘ In truth and in fact, however, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the female Russian national on or about March 24, 2016, after he had become an adviser to the Campaign; he believed that she had connections to Russian government officials; and he sought to use her Russian connections over a period of months in an effort to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and Russian government officials.

The most recent Mueller backup liberated by Jason Leopold reveals that, in addition to Papaodpoulos’ communications and later testimony that prove this particular claim to be an intentional lie, Papadopoulos also emailed the FBI on January 27 after consulting his records, laying out his claim that he met Olga before he joined the Trump campaign and never met her after that.

As promised, wanted to send you the name of the individual that Joseph Mifsud introduced me to over lunch in February or early March (while I was working with the London Center of International Law Practice and did not even know at that time whether or not I would even have moved back to the U.S. or especially worked on another presidential campaign).

He introduced her as his student, but was looking to impress her by meeting with me fresh off my Ben Carson gig. That is all I know. Never met her again.

I could go on for each of the false statements charged against Trump’s flunkies (and also show how, when Andrew Weissmann fell short of this kind of evidence, Amy Berman Jackson ruled against prosecutors on two of five claimed lies alleged in Paul Manafort’s plea breach determination).

Even Mike Flynn’s statement of offense, substantiating a charge that Trump loyalists have spent years wailing about, laid out clearly the two charged lies.

During the interview, FLYNN falsely stated that he did not ask Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia. FLYNN also falsely stated that he did not remember a follow-up conversation in which the Russian Ambassador stated that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of FL YNN’s request.

[snip]

During the January 24 voluntary interview, FLYNN made additional false statements about calls he made to Russia and several other countries regarding a resolution submitted by Egypt to the United Nations Security Council on December 21, 2016. Specifically FLYNN falsely stated that he only asked the countries’ positions on the vote, and that he did not request that any of the countries take any particular action on the resolution. FLYNN also falsely stated that the Russian Ambassador never described to him Russia’s response to FL YNN’s request regarding the resolution.

Not only did prosecutors describe what a transcript of these calls said, but they also had testimony from both Flynn himself and KT McFarland substantiating that these were lies. They even had a text that Flynn sent McFarland, before any of these intercepts had leaked, that Flynn later admitted he had deliberately written to cover up the content of his calls with Sergey Kislyak.

Then, after Sidney Powell spent six months trying to claim that one of Flynn’s lies wasn’t clearly laid out in his original 302, Judge Emmet Sullivan meticulously pointed out that the notes of both FBI interviewers matched every iteration of Flynn’s 302.

Having carefully reviewed the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD302, and the statements contained therein, the Court agrees with the government that those documents are “consistent and clear that [Mr. Flynn] made multiple false statements to the [FBI] agents about his communications with the Russian Ambassador on January 24, 2017.” Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 4-5. The Court rejects Mr. Flynn’s request for additional information regarding the drafting process for the FD-302s and a search for the “original 302,” see Def.’s Sur-Surreply, ECF No. 135 at 8- 10, because the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD-302, and Mr. Flynn’s own admissions of his false statements make clear that Mr. Flynn made those false statements.

These are what false statements charges are supposed to look like. They’re backed by contemporaneous admissible evidence and laid out in specific detail in charging documents.

Trump and his supporters have wailed for years about these charges. Except prosecutors had evidence to substantiate them, the kind of evidence Durham makes no claim to have.

What few witnesses Durham has may not all agree on Sussmann’s alleged lies

Sussmann is more likely to succeed with his request to have his alleged false statement laid out in quote form and in context — and even if he doesn’t, he may back Durham into a corner he doesn’t want to be in — because Sussmann has presented several central questions about what the allegation really is. Is it that Sussmann didn’t offer up that he was working with (Sussmann claims) Rodney Joffe or  (Durham also alleges) Hillary on the Alfa Bank issues? Is it that Sussmann falsely claimed not to be billing the meeting with James Baker (evidence of which Durham has not presented)? Or does Durham have any shred of evidence that Baker affirmatively asked Sussmann, “are you sharing this on behalf of a client,” or even less supported in the indictment, “are you sharing this on behalf of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton”? Similarly, Durham doesn’t explain whether when he claims that Sussmann lied about “this,” or “his work,” he means about the meetings that were actually billed to Hillary’s campaign internally at Perkins Coie (even if Hillary paid no money specifically tied to those meetings), or that the meeting with Baker was billed to one or another client (no evidence of which Durham presents). Those details will all be necessary for Durham to prove his case and for Sussmann to rebut it. And Sussmann needs to know whether he should focus his time on the absence of billing records substantiating that he met with Baker and then billed it to Hillary (something implicated by the meaning of “this” and “his work”), or whether he needs to focus on showing whether Priestap distinguished these allegations from the other claims about a Russian information operation undeniably targeting Hillary (something implicating whether this is supposed to be a crime of commission or omission).

It’s quite possible that Durham has presented these allegations using such squishy language because what little evidence he has doesn’t actually agree on the claimed lies. That is, it may be that Baker believes Sussmann simply didn’t bother explaining which client he was working for, but Bill Priestap, the next in line in a game of telephone, differently understood from Baker’s report that Sussmann affirmatively failed to provide Baker information that (Priestap’s own notes prove) the FBI already had anyway, that he was working with Hillary Clinton.

If, having had these weaknesses laid out by Sussmann’s attorneys, Durham can show that all his evidence actually substantiates the same false claim, he could get a superseding indictment making that clear. But once he does that, it may tie his hands at trial.

But it’s distinctly possible that Durham can’t prove that what little evidence he has backs the same interpretation of Sussmann’s alleged lie. That is, there may be a reason — on top of the fact that he has no contemporaneous transcript from a witness — that he avoided being more specific in his indictment, and that’s because it was the only way he could cobble together enough evidence to get a grand jury to indict.

So while much of the rest of this motion of a Bill of Particulars may serve only to call attention to gaping holes in the rest of the indictment, the request for specifics about what, specifically, Sussmann is alleged to have said when he lied may succeed. And even if it doesn’t, it may force Durham to commit to an interpretation that not all of his thin evidence would ultimately support.

DOJ Put Someone Who Enabled Sidney Powell’s Lies — Jocelyn Ballantine — in Charge of Prosecuting the Proud Boys

Because of Joe Biggs’ role at the nexus between the mob that attacked Congress and those that orchestrated the mob, his prosecution is the most important case in the entire January 6 investigation. If you prosecute him and his alleged co-conspirators successfully, you might also succeed in holding those who incited the attack on the Capitol accountable. If you botch the Biggs prosecution, then all the most important people will go free.

Which is why it is so unbelievable that DOJ put someone who enabled Sidney Powell’s election season lies about the Mike Flynn prosecution, Jocelyn Ballantine, on that prosecution team.

Yesterday, at the beginning of the Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs hearing, prosecutor Jason McCullough told the court that in addition to him and Luke Jones, Ballantine was present at the hearing for the prosecution. He may have said that she was “overseeing” this prosecution. (I’ve got a request for clarification in with the US Attorney’s office.)

Ballantine has not filed a notice of appearance in the case (nor does she show on the minute notice for yesterday’s hearing). In the one other January 6 case where she has been noticeably involved — electronically signing the indictment for Nick Kennedy — she likewise has not filed a notice of appearance.

Less than a year ago when she assisted in DOJ’s attempts to overturn the Mike Flynn prosecution, Ballantine did three things that should disqualify her from any DOJ prosecution team, much less serving on the most important prosecution in the entire January 6 investigation:

  • On September 23, she provided three documents that were altered to Sidney Powell, one of which Trump used six days later in a packaged debate attack on Joe Biden
  • On September 24, she submitted an FBI interview report that redacted information — references to Brandon Van Grack — that was material to the proceedings before Judge Emmet Sullivan
  • On October 26, she claimed that lawyers for Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had checked their clients’ notes to confirm there were no other alterations to documents submitted to the docket; both lawyers refused to review the documents

After doing these things in support of Bill Barr’s effort to undermine the Flynn prosecution (and within days of the Flynn pardon), Ballantine was given a confidential temporary duty assignment (it may have been a CIA assignment). Apparently she’s back at DC USAO now.

Three documents got altered and another violated Strzok and Page’s privacy

As a reminder, after DOJ moved to hold Mike Flynn accountable for reneging on his plea agreement, Billy Barr put the St. Louis US Attorney, Jeffrey Jensen, in charge of a “review” of the case, which DOJ would later offer as its excuse for attempting to overturn the prosecution.

On September 23, Ballantine provided Powell with five documents, purportedly from Jensen’s investigation into the Flynn prosecution:

I outlined the added date on the first set of Strzok notes here:

There was never any question that the notes could have been taken no earlier than January 5, because they memorialized Jim Comey’s retelling of a meeting that other documentation, including documents submitted in the Flynn docket, shows took place on January 5. Even Chuck Grassley knows what date the meeting took place.

But DOJ, while using the notes as a central part of their excuse for trying to overturn the Flynn prosecution, nevertheless repeatedly suggested that there was uncertainty about the date of the notes, claiming they might have been taken days earlier. And then, relying on DOJ’s false representations about the date, Sidney Powell claimed they they showed that Joe Biden — and not, as documented in Mary McCord’s 302, Bob Litt — was the one who first raised the possibility that Flynn may have violated the Logan Act.

Strzok’s notes believed to be of January 4, 2017, reveal that former President Obama, James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and apparently Susan Rice discussed the transcripts of Flynn’s calls and how to proceed against him. Mr. Obama himself directed that “the right people” investigate General Flynn. This caused former FBI Director Comey to acknowledge the obvious: General Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak “appear legit.” According to Strzok’s notes, it appears that Vice President Biden personally raised the idea of the Logan Act.

During the day on September 29, Powell disclosed to Judge Sullivan that she had spoken to Trump (as well as Jenna Ellis) about the case. Then, later that night, Trump delivered a prepared attack on Biden that replicated Powell’s false claim that Biden was behind the renewed investigation into Flynn.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

In a matter of days, then, what DOJ would claim was an inadvertent error got turned into a campaign attack from the President.

When DOJ first confessed to altering these notes, they claimed all the changes were inadvertent.

In response to the Court and counsel’s questions, the government has learned that, during the review of the Strzok notes, FBI agents assigned to the EDMO review placed a single yellow sticky note on each page of the Strzok notes with estimated dates (the notes themselves are undated). Those two sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. The government has also confirmed with Mr. Goelman and can represent that the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

Similarly, the government has learned that, at some point during the review of the McCabe notes, someone placed a blue “flag” with clear adhesive to the McCabe notes with an estimated date (the notes themselves are also undated). Again, the flag was inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. Again, the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

There are multiple reasons to believe this is false. For example, when DOJ submitted notes that Jim Crowell took, they added a date in a redaction, something that could in no way be inadvertent. And as noted, the January 5 notes had already been submitted, without the date change (though then, too, DOJ claimed not to know the date of the document).

But the most important tell is that, when Ballantine sent Powell the three documents altered to add dates, the protective order footer on the documents had been removed in all three, in the case of McCabe’s notes, actually redacted. When she released the re-altered documents (someone digitally removed the date in the McCabe notes rather than providing a new scan), the footer had been added back in. This can easily be seen by comparing the altered documents with the re-altered documents.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe noteswith the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

This is something that had to have happened at DOJ (see William Ockham’s comments below and this post for proof in the metadata that these changes had to have been done by Ballantine). The redaction of the footers strongly suggests that they were provided to Powell with the intention of facilitating their further circulation (the other two documents she shared with Powell that day had no protective order footer). In addition, each of these documents should have a new Bates stamp.

DOJ redacted Brandon Van Grack’s non-misconduct

On September 24, DOJ submitted a report of an FBI interview Jeffrey Jensen’s team did with an Agent who sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI-issued phone, Bill Barnett. In the interview, Barnett made claims that conflicted with actions he had taken on the case. He claimed to be unaware of evidence central to the case against Flynn (for example, that Flynn told Sergey Kislyak that Trump knew of something said on one of their calls). He seemed unaware of the difference between a counterintelligence investigation and a criminal one. And he made claims about Mueller prosecutors — Jeannie Rhee and Andrew Weissmann — with whom he didn’t work directly. In short, the interview was obviously designed to tell a politically convenient story, not the truth.

Even worse than the politicized claims that Barnett made, the FBI or DOJ redacted the interview report such that all reference to Brandon Van Grack was redacted, substituting instead with the label, “SCO Atty 1.” (References to Jeannie Rhee, Andrew Weissmann, and Andrew Goldstein were not redacted; there are probable references to Adam Jed and Zainab Ahmad that are not labeled at all.)

The result of redacting Van Grack’s name is that it hid from Judge Sullivan many complimentary things that Barnett had to say about Van Grack:

Van Grack’s conduct was central to DOJ’s excuse for throwing out the Flynn prosecution. Powell repeatedly accused Van Grack, by name, of engaging in gross prosecutorial misconduct. Yet the report was submitted to Judge Sullivan in such a way as to hide that Barnett had no apparent complaints about Van Grack’s actions on the Flynn case.

I have no reason to believe that Ballantine made those redactions. But according to the discovery letter she sent to Powell, she sent an unredacted copy to Flynn’s team, while acknowledging that the one she was submitting to the docket was redacted. Thus, she had to have known she was hiding material information from the Court when she submitted the interview report.

Ballantine falsely claimed Strzok and McCabe validated their notes

After some of these alterations were made public, Judge Sullivan ordered DOJ to authenticate all the documents they had submitted as part of their effort to overturn the Flynn prosecution. The filing submitted in response was a masterpiece of obfuscation, with three different people making claims while dodging full authentication for some of the most problematic documents. In the filing that Ballantine submitted, she claimed that Michael Bromwich and Aitan Goelman, lawyers for McCabe and Strzok, “confirmed” that no content was altered in the notes.

The government acknowledges its obligation to produce true and accurate copies of documents. The government has fully admitted its administrative error with respect to the failure to remove three reviewer sticky notes containing estimated date notations affixed to three pages of undated notes (two belonging to former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and one page belonging to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) prior to their disclosure. These dates were derived from surrounding pages’ dates in order to aid secondary reviewers. These three sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the relevant documents were scanned by the FBI for production in discovery. See ECF 259. The government reiterates, however, that the content of those exhibits was not altered in any way, as confirmed by attorneys for both former FBI employees. [underline original]

According to an email Bromwich sent Ballantine, when Ballantine asked for help validating the transcripts DOJ did of McCabe’s notes, McCabe declined to do so.

I have spoken with Mr. McCabe and he declines to provide you with any information in response to your request.

He believes DOJ’s conduct in this case is a shocking betrayal of the traditions of the Department of the Justice and undermines the rule of law that he spent his career defending and upholding. If you share with the Court our decision not to provide you with assistance, we ask that you share the reason.

We would of course respond to any request that comes directly from the Court.

And according to an email Goelman sent to Ballantine, they said they could not check transcriptions without the original copies of documents.

Sorry not to get back to you until now.  We have looked at the attachments to the email you sent yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  We are unable to certify the authenticity of all of the attachments or the accuracy of the transcriptions.  To do so, we would need both more time and access to the original notes, particularly given that U.S. Attorney Jensen’s team has already been caught altering Pete’s notes in two instances.  However, we do want to call your attention to the fact that Exhibit 198-11 is mislabeled, and that these notes are not the notes of Pete “and another agent” taken during the Flynn interview.

Additionally, we want to register our objection to AUSA Ken Kohl’s material misstatements to Judge Sullivan during the September 29, 2020, 2020, [sic] telephonic hearing, during which Mr. Kohl inaccurately represented that Pete viewed himself as an “insurance policy” against President Trump’s election.

I have no reason to believe the content was altered, though I suspect other things were done to McCabe’s notes to misrepresent the context of a reference in his notes to Flynn. But not only had McCabe and Strzok not validated their notes, but they had both pointedly refused to. Indeed, during this same time period, DOJ was refusing to let McCabe see his own notes to prepare for testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nevertheless, Ballantine represented to Judge Sullivan that they had.

It baffles me why DOJ would put Ballantine on the most important January 6 case. Among other things, the conduct I’ve laid out here will make it easy for the defendants to accuse DOJ of similar misconduct on the Proud Boys case — and doing just that happens to be Nordean’s primary defense strategy.

But I’m mindful that there are people in DC’s US Attorney’s Office (not Ballantine) who took actions in the past that may have made the January 6 attack more likely. In a sentencing memo done on Barr’s orders, prosecutors attempting to minimize the potential sentence against Roger Stone suggested that a threat four Proud Boys helped Roger Stone make against Amy Berman Jackson was no big deal, unworthy of a sentencing enhancement.

Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.

Judge Jackson disagreed with this assessment. In applying the enhancement, she presciently described how dangerous Stone and the Proud Boys could be if they incited others.

Here, the defendant willfully engaged in behavior that a rational person would find to be inherently obstructive. It’s important to note that he didn’t just fire off a few intemperate emails. He used the tools of social media to achieve the broadest dissemination possible. It wasn’t accidental. He had a staff that helped him do it.

As the defendant emphasized in emails introduced into evidence in this case, using the new social media is his “sweet spot.” It’s his area of expertise. And even the letters submitted on his behalf by his friends emphasized that incendiary activity is precisely what he is specifically known for. He knew exactly what he was doing. And by choosing Instagram and Twitter as his platforms, he understood that he was multiplying the number of people who would hear his message.

By deliberately stoking public opinion against prosecution and the Court in this matter, he willfully increased the risk that someone else, with even poorer judgment than he has, would act on his behalf. This is intolerable to the administration of justice, and the Court cannot sit idly by, shrug its shoulder and say: Oh, that’s just Roger being Roger, or it wouldn’t have grounds to act the next time someone tries it.

The behavior was designed to disrupt and divert the proceedings, and the impact was compounded by the defendant’s disingenuousness.

The people at DOJ who claimed that this toxic team was not dangerous in the past may want to downplay the critical role that Stone and the Proud Boys played — using the same kind of incendiary behavior — in the January 6 assault.

Whatever the reason, though, it is inexcusable that DOJ would put someone like Ballantine on this case. Given Ballantine’s past actions, it risks sabotaging the entire January 6 investigation.

DOJ quite literally put someone who, less than a year ago, facilitated Sidney Powell’s lies onto a prosecution team investigating the aftermath of further Sidney Powell lies.

Update: DC USAO’s media person refused to clarify what Ballantine’s role is, even though it was publicly acknowledged in court.

We are not commenting on cases beyond what is stated or submitted to the Court. We have no comment in response to your question.

Update: Added links to William Ockham’s proof that Ballantine made the realteration of the McCabe notes.

Update: One more point on this. I am not claiming here that anyone at DOJ is deliberately trying to sabotage the January 6 investigation, just that putting someone who, less than a year ago, made multiple representations to a judge that could call into question her candor going forward could discredit the Proud Boys investigation. I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO put her on the team because they urgently need resources and she was available (possibly newly so after the end of her TDY). I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO who are also implicated in Barr’s politicization, perhaps more closely tied to the intervention in the Stone case, put her there with corrupt intent.

But it’s also important to understand that up until February 2020, she was viewed as a diligent, ruthless prosecutor. I presume she buckled under a great deal of pressure after that and found herself in a place where competing demands — her duty of candor to the Court and orders from superiors all the way up to the Attorney General — became increasingly impossible to square.

Importantly, Lisa Monaco’s chief deputy John Carlin, and probably Monaco herself, would know Ballantine from their past tenure in the National Security Division as that heretofore ruthless national security prosecutor. The only mainstream outlet that covered anything other than DOJ’s admission they had added post-its to the notes was Politico. And the instinct not to punish career employees like Ballantine would mean what she would have avoided any scrutiny with the transition. So her assignment to the case is not itself evidence of an attempt to sabotage the prosecution.

Tea Leaves on the Garland-Monaco DOJ and the Stay in Andrew McCabe’s Lawsuit

The effort to figure out precisely why moderate Merrick Garland and career DOJ employee Lisa Monaco are having the Department of Justice sustain shitty positions adopted under Bill Barr has reached a fever pitch. In my piece on Monaco, I noted one thing — her presumed approval, on her first day in the job, of a raid on Rudy Giuliani — that suggests some people are mistaking a likely effort to sustain DOJ as an institution for an effort to protect Trump.

I’d like to point to another tea leaf — something that happened (perhaps coincidentally) on Monaco’s third full day on the job. That’s when the two sides in Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit moved to stay discovery pending an effort to settle the case.

The parties jointly move this Court to stay all discovery in this proceeding, for 45 days after this motion is granted, and to extend all previously set case deadlines and events by 45 days. The parties request this relief so that they may explore the possibility of settlement.

Good cause exists for the requested relief, because the stay and extension would allow the parties to focus their efforts on discussing settlement expeditiously, free from any competing obligations and ongoing disputes related to discovery, and without burdening the Court with potentially unnecessary discovery disputes. The parties propose to update the Court two business days before the stay’s expiration about whether a further stay and extension is warranted.

On its face, a settlement with McCabe would look like a stark reversal of a Trump policy. Top levels of Trump’s DOJ signed declarations swearing that McCabe’s firing was for cause. At that level, the interest in settling the lawsuit looks like a pretty serious reversal.

That said, depending on how broadly Judge Randolph Moss ruled discovery must extend (an issue that is still pending), McCabe’s lawsuit could seriously embarrass DOJ. Even just his case in chief, in which DOJ IG and OPR ignored the testimony of key witness, FBI press person Michael Kortan (with whom McCabe’s office worked on the story that DOJ claims he was trying to hide), full discovery could badly embarrass DOJ. Still more so if the extent to which DOJ pushed to indict McCabe, allegedly after the grand jury rejected charges against him, became public. By the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ had altered a McCabe document and submitted it to Emmet Sullivan, another potentially damaging revelation (though one probably outside any imaginable scope of discovery).

And that’s just what we know about. In the weeks leading up to McCabe’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, DOJ was refusing to share documents that McCabe needed to adequately prep for his appearance.

I’m not sure what this particular move suggests about DOJ. But I know that full exposure of the witch hunt against McCabe would badly damage DOJ, including some career employees who served Barr’s whims. But a settlement would also damage the Trump DOJ, because it would prove that Trump politicized his entire DOJ to take out perceived enemies.

That is, amid all the other tea leaves, what happens with the McCabe suit may indicate which damage to DOJ the Garland-Monaco DOJ seems most intent on avoiding.

Update: The two sides just filed an update: No settlement has been reached, but they remain in talks.

Consistent with their April 23, 2021 Joint Motion to Stay Discovery and Extend All Case Deadlines (Dkt. 56), the parties submit this joint notice regarding the current stay of litigation.

On April 27, 2021, this Court granted the parties’ joint motion for a 45-day stay of all discovery so that the Parties could focus on exploring the possibility of settlement. No settlement has been reached, but the parties are continuing their discussions. In the event that they agree that a further stay is warranted, they will so notify the Court by filing another joint motion to extend the stay and related deadlines.

Bill Barr Is Not Dick Cheney

Imagine if David Addington had co-signed the torture memos written by John Yoo?

I wanted to comment on a Quinta Jurecic column about the Barr Memo that Merrick Garland’s DOJ chose to withhold parts of, as well as this thread from Kel McClanahan responding to Jurecic. Their exchange focuses on how judges may have responded to Donald Trump’s Administration, and what kind of the traditional deference we should expect Garland’s DOJ to get. I’d like to add a few points that may show one possible angle for accountability for Bill Barr moving forward.

Those points start in the difference between Dick Cheney and Bill Barr. Bill Barr is not Dick Cheney. Both men were the masterminds of horrible policy under their respective (most recent) president. Both, in different ways, badly politicized the government. But Dick Cheney was, in my opinion, the most accomplished master of bureaucracy that DC had seen in a very long time. Barr, by contrast, either didn’t have Cheney’s bureaucratic finesse or just didn’t fucking care to hide his power plays. And the difference may provide means for accountability where it didn’t under Obama.

The worst Bush policies that Cheney implemented were torture and Gitmo, warrantless wiretapping, and the Iraq War. The first two implemented illegal policies by using Office of Legal Counsel to sanction them in advance. And, significantly (but not entirely) because of that, Obama never found the political means to fully excise those earlier policies. Obama only ever got paper prohibitions on torture, he never closed Gitmo, and one of the last things Loretta Lynch did was finalize an effort to legalize the last bits of Stellar Wind by approving EO 12333 sharing rules.

I believe that’s because Cheney used OLC specifically and the Executive bureaucracy generally to make any reversals more costly, a reversal of a position of the Executive Branch, rather than a treatment of crime as crime.

Barr used OLC too, plus he shielded a bunch of epically corrupt efforts to turn DOJ into the instrument of Trump’s personal will under his prerogative as Attorney General, especially prosecutorial discretion. The Barr Memo itself — a request to be advised to make a decision that Trump was not guilty of obstruction and then to announce it — was what he claims to be an instance of prosecutorial discretion. The decision to engage in unprecedented interference with Roger Stone’s sentencing was billed as an incidence of prosecutorial discretion. The decision to reverse the Mike Flynn prosecution, which entailed reversing prosecutorial decisions his own DOJ had approved at the highest levels, adopting a standard on crime that was inconsistent with every precedent, and ultimately included inventing evidence and altering documents, all that was billed as an instance of prosecutorial discretion. The decision to not only protect Rudy Giuliani from legal consequences of participating in an information campaign waged by a known agent of Russia, but also to ingest that disinformation and use it to conduct a criminal investigation of Trump’s rival’s son was also billed as an instance of prosecutorial discretion.

But in all those actions, Barr took steps that necessitated further exercise of corruptly exercised “prosecutorial discretion,” which snowballed. This is why the content of the Barr memo, which we can anticipate with a high degree of certainty, matters. The Barr memo necessarily addresses the pardon dangles (as well as the stuff that Barr said couldn’t be obstruction if a President did it). And I believe that the content of the Barr memo likely contributed to this snowball effect, possibly leading Barr to take later steps to try to limit the impact of having issued a prosecutorial declination for a crime still in progress, which in turn snowballed.

The aftermath of this effect is one detail that Jurecic and McClanahan don’t address. Jurecic says that under Trump,

judges were, perhaps unconsciously, responding to their own distrust in Trump’s oath of office by denying him—in one form or another—the presumption of good faith

She argues that Amy Berman Jackson’s anger about the memo is just another instance of this. That may be true, in part.

But it is also a fact that after ABJ presided over the Stone and Manafort cases, and as such ABJ has a detailed knowledge of what the Mueller Report showed that Barr did not get in the 48 hours while he was trying to get advice on how best to give Trump a clean bill of health (and, indeed, his public comments show he never got that detailed knowledge). In both those cases, Barr abused his discretion as Attorney General to try to make a pardon unnecessary, the snowball effect that his memo may have necessitated.

In service to his effort to minimize Stone’s prison time, Barr treated a threat against ABJ personally as a technicality. Then he lied about what he had done, falsely claiming that he had used the same thought process ABJ had when in fact he instead said threats against her could have no effect on the trial. After he treated the threat against ABJ as a technicality in the Stone case, a Mike Flynn supporter riled up by the lies Barr mobilized to try to overturn Flynn’s prosecution threatened to assassinate Emmet Sullivan. And even after that, Barr kept throwing more and more resources at undoing two decisions Emmet Sullivan made in December 2019, that Flynn’s lies were material and that prosecutors had not engaged in misconduct in his prosecution.

With his memo on the Mueller Report, Barr turned at least the year-plus prosecution of Roger Stone over which ABJ presided — and to a lesser degree the 18-month Paul Manafort prosecution — into legal nullities, in advance.

In short, it may be true that judges generally and ABJ specifically distrusted the good faith of Barr and DOJ’s effort to protect Barr.

But it is also the case that in the wake of this memo, Barr usurped the judicial authority of both ABJ and Emmet Sullivan and he took steps that minimized and contributed to dangerous threats against both.

ABJ is angry. Reggie Walton is angry. Other DC District judges are angry. But they’re angry in the wake of  Attorney General Bill Barr usurping their authority and dismissing violent threats against them and their colleagues.

This is one way Barr is different from Cheney. Cheney’s decisions, too, involved treating judges like doormats. In the effort to legalize a part of Stellar Wind in 2004, for example, DOJ told Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that she had no authority to do anything but rubber stamp a massive pen register that might collect the Internet records of millions of Americans. But DOJ did that in secret; it was years before any but a handful of Kollar-Kotelly’s colleagues even knew that, and I’m one of the very few human beings who understands that that happened. Where such claims happened in public, as with detainee fights related to Gitmo, even SCOTUS ultimately defied Cheney’s claims about Article III authority in Boumediene. But unlike Barr, Cheney maintained the illusion of legal order, in which Article III could rein in Article II.

Then there’s how they used OLC.

Jurecic portrays the dispute between ABJ and DOJ as one about their candor about the content of the memo.

For all the rhetorical fireworks, the substantive dispute between the government and Jackson is relatively narrow. It more or less boils down to an argument over whether or not the Justice Department was adequately precise in court about the specific arguments the memo addressed, and whether the department misled the court on the subject.

That’s part of it, but there’s another part that Jurecic and McClanahan don’t address — and that DOJ did not address at all in their response to ABJ, something that goes as much to the core of the deliberative claim as the substance of what Barr was trying to do.

ABJ complained not just that DOJ’s two declarants, Paul Colburn and Vanessa Brinkmann, and the attorney arguing the case, Julie Straus Harris, weren’t sufficiently clear about the substance of the memo (and I’m somewhat sympathetic to those who said she should have figured this out).

ABJ also made several process complaints about the memo — first, that Brinkmann’s declaration did not include details that are required in such declarations:

[Brinkmann] does not claim to have any personal knowledge of why the document was created or what its purpose might be, and while she states generally at the beginning of the declaration that she consulted with “knowledgeable Department personnel,” she does not state that she spoke with any particular person to gain first hand information about the provenance of this document. Id. ¶ 3. Instead, she appears to rely on her review of the document itself to make the following unattributed pronouncements about the decision that is supposedly at issue:

While the March 2019 Memorandum is a “final” document (as opposed to a “draft” document), the memorandum as a whole contains pre-decisional recommendations and advice solicited by the Attorney General and provided by OLC and PADAG O’Callaghan. The material that has been withheld within this memorandum consists of OLC’s and the PADAG’s candid analysis and legal advice to the Attorney General, which was provided to the Attorney General prior to his final decision on the matter. It is therefore pre-decisional. The same material is also deliberative, as it was provided to aid in the Attorney General’s decision-making process as it relates to the findings of the SCO investigation, and specifically as it relates to whether the evidence developed by SCO’s investigation is sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-ofjustice offense. This legal question is one that the Special Counsel’s “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election” . . . did not resolve. As such, any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General. [emphasis original]

She also complained that Straus Harris included a “flourish” on similar topics that was not based on the declarations before her.

The flourish added in the government’s pleading that did not come from either declaration – “PADAG O’Callaghan had been directly involved in supervising the Special Counsel’s investigation and related prosecutorial decisions; as a result, in that capacity, his candid prosecutorial recommendations to the Attorney General were especially valuable.” Id. at 14 – seems especially unhelpful since there was no prosecutorial decision on the table.

These are complaints about process, how certain content got into the declarations and memos submitted before her court, as much as they are about content. Again, DOJ simply blew off these complaints in their response to ABJ.

ABJ explains why they’re important in the section of her opinion addressing any claim to attorney-client privilege.

There are also other problems with the agency’s showing.

While the memorandum was crafted to be “from” Steven Engel in OLC, whom the declarant has sufficiently explained was acting as a legal advisor to the Department at the time, it also is transmitted “from” Edward O’Callaghan, identified as the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. The declarants do not assert that his job description included providing legal advice to the Attorney General or to anyone else; Colborn does not mention him at all, and Brinkmann simply posits, without reference to any source for this information, that the memo “contains OLC’s and the PADAG’s legal analysis and advice solicited by the Attorney General and shared in the course of providing confidential legal advice to the Attorney General.” Brinkmann Decl. ¶ 16.19

The declarations are also silent about the roles played by the others who were equally involved in the creation and revision of the memo that would support the assessment they had already decided would be announced in the letter to Congress. They include the Attorney General’s own Chief of Staff and the Deputy Attorney General himself, see Attachment 1, and there has been no effort made to apply the unique set of requirements that pertain when asserting the attorney-client privilege over communications by government lawyers to them. Therefore, even though Engel was operating in a legal capacity, and Section II of the memorandum includes legal analysis in its assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the purely hypothetical case, the agency has not met its burden to establish that the second portion of the memo is covered by the attorney-client privilege.

19 The government’s memorandum adds that “PADAG O’Callaghan had been directly involved in supervising the Special Counsel’s investigation and related prosecutorial decisions,” Def.’s Mem. at 14, but that does not supply the information needed to enable the Court to differentiate among the many people with law degrees working on the matter.

Effectively, the details inserted into declarations and memos without the proper bases — the flourishes — both hint at and and serve to hide that there is no regularity to either the prosecutorial decision or the OLC advice included in this memo. Had Brinkmann supplied the details that would make her declaration proper — “well, I asked Ed O’Callaghan and he said this wasn’t so much Engel giving Barr advice but instead a bunch of men sitting in Barr’s office laying a paper trail” — it would have given the game away. But that’s what the record describes, and the import of the unexplained structure of this “OLC memo” — which normally would be given great deference in the case of deliberative claims — which is co-authored by someone acting in a prosecutorial role.

And rather than address ABJ’s complaints, the DOJ response admits that OLC is not authorized to make decisions for other parts of DOJ.

One relevant factor in determining whether a document is predecisional is whether the author possesses the legal authority to decide the matter at issue. See, e.g., Electronic Frontier Found. v. DOJ, 739 F.3d 1, 9 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (“OLC is not authorized to make decisions about the FBI’s investigative policy, so the OLC Opinion cannot be an authoritative statement of the agency’s policy.”).

And unstated in this Frankenstein structure is that the memo asks Ed O’Callaghan to make a decision that OLC has said that prosecutorial figures cannot make about the President.

This is why the comparison with Cheney is useful. John Yoo and Steven Bradbury wrote some unbelievably inexcusable memos to authorize the illegal actions Cheney wanted to pursue. They were used as (and indeed, at one point CIA asked for) advance prosecutorial declinations for crimes not yet committed. But with one exception from Bradbury, they maintained the form of an OLC memo. They started their memos with the assumptions that their ultimate audience had asked them to consider, performed the illusion of legal review, and provided the answer they knew their audience wanted.

Imagine if John Yoo had put David Addington or John Rizzo’s names on his memo as co-author; it would change the legal value of the memo entirely. Sure, we know that Yoo was right there in the room as Addington planned the torture program. But he nevertheless performed the illusion of legal advice.

Not so here.

I think McClanahan is right that the declarations being made to hide OLC memos from FOIA release have always been dodgy. I complained about Colburn pulling tricks in 2011 and 2016, for example. But to the extent that anyone looked at those memos — and to the extent that Barack Obama tried to break from the policies justified by them — they nevertheless had the appearance of regularity. They looked like legal advice, even if the legal advice was transparently shitty. And as a result, they made it very hard to hold people accountable for crimes they committed in reliance on the memo.

What separates this memo from the shitty memos used to justify torture is that it doesn’t have the appearance of regularity. It doesn’t even pretend that it’s not excusing (at least insofar as the pardon dangles) crimes in progress.

I agree with McClanahan that DOJ far too often is granted the presumption of regularity. The ultimate fate of this memo may break that habit.

But it also is different, and should be treated differently (and I hope CREW addresses this on appeal) because the process problems with this FOIA — the unexplained claims made by both Brinkmann and Straus Harris — were there to hide the fact that the process that created this memo was irregular, and therefore the claims themselves should not be accorded the presumption of regularity of a deliberative OLC memo.

And once you start to pull the threads on the attempts Barr made to protect Trump, they all tend to suffer from the same inept implementation. That inept — and, I suspect, at times illegal — implementation is what the Garland DOJ on its own or after being forced by the DC Circuit should use to distinguish Barr’s abuse of Attorney General prerogative from that entitled to defense out of an institutional basis. Barr not only abused his power (which Cheney also did) but he did so either without caring enough to pretend he was doing it right, or because he didn’t have the competence to do so (it also probably made things more difficult for him that he had to coerce so many career employees to effect his policies).

Both the torture memos and the Barr memo on the Mueller report were designed (at least in part) to immunize crimes in process. But Cheney’s willing OLC enabler at least insisted on pretending to be an objective lawyer.

Bill Barr Issued Prosecution Declinations for Three Crimes in Progress

On March 24, 2019, by judging that there was not evidence in Volume II of the Mueller Report that Trump had obstructed justice, Billy Barr pre-authorized the obstruction of justice that would be completed with future pardons of Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. He did so before the sentencing of Flynn and before even the trial of Stone.

This is why Amy Berman Jackson should not stay her decision to release the Barr Memo. It’s why the question before her goes well beyond the question of whether the Barr memo presents privileged advice. What Barr did on March 24, 2019 was pre-authorize the commission of crimes that ended up being committed. No Attorney General has the authority to do that.

As the partially unsealed memo makes clear, Steve Engel (who, even per DOJ’s own filing asking for a stay, was not permitted to make prosecutorial decisions) and Ed O’Callaghan (who under the OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of the President, could not make prosecutorial decisions about the President) advised Bill Barr that he should, “examine the Report to determine whether prosecution would be appropriate given the evidence recounted in the Special Counsel’s Report, the underlying law, and traditional principles of federal prosecution.”

In her now-unsealed memo ordering the government to release the memo, ABJ argues, “the analysis set forth in the memo was expressly understood to be entirely hypothetical.”

It was worse than that.

It was, necessarily, an instance of “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses.” As the memo itself notes, the entire exercise was designed to avoid, “the unfairness of levying an accusation against the President without bringing criminal charges.” It did not envision the possibility that their analysis would determine that Trump might have committed obstruction of justice. So predictably, the result of the analysis was that Trump didn’t commit a crime. “[W]ere there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend, under Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.”

The government is now appealing ABJ’s decision to release the memo to hide the logic of how Engel and O’Callaghan got to that decision. And it’s possible they want to hide their analysis simply because they believe that, liberated from the entire “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses” premise of the memo, it becomes true deliberative advice (never mind that both Engel and O’Callaghan were playing roles that OLC prohibits them to play).

But somehow, in eight pages of secret analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan decide — invoking the entire Special Counsel’s Report by reference — that there’s not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump obstructed justice.

We can assume what some of these eight pages say. In the newly unsealed parts, Engel and O’Callaghan opine, “that certain of the conduct examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances.”

As Quinta Jurecic’s epic chart lays out, the potential instances of obstruction of justice before Engel and O’Callaghan included a number of things involving Presidential hiring and firing decisions — the stuff which the memo Bill Barr wrote as an audition for the job of Attorney General said could not be obstruction.

To address those instances of suspected obstruction, then, Engel and O’Callaghan might just say, “What you said, Boss, in the memo you used to audition to get this job.” That would be scandalous for a whole bunch of reasons — partly because Barr admitted he didn’t know anything about the investigation when he wrote the memo (even after the release of the report, Barr’s public statements made it clear he was grossly unfamiliar with the content of it) and partly because it would raise questions about whether by hiring Barr Trump obstructed justice.

But that’s not actually the most scandalous bit about what must lie behind the remaining redactions. As Jurecic’s chart notes, beyond the hiring and firing obstruction, the Mueller Report laid out several instances of possible pardon dangles: to Mike Flynn, to Paul Manafort, to Roger Stone, and to Michael Cohen. These are all actions that, in his confirmation hearing, Barr admitted might be crimes.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Even Barr admits the question of pardon dangles requires specific analysis.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Yet somehow, in eight pages of analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan laid out “the specific facts” that undermined any case against Trump for those pardon dangles. I’d be surprised if they managed to do that convincingly in fewer than eight pages, particularly since they make clear that they simply assume you’ve read the Mueller Report (meaning, that analysis almost certainly doesn’t engage in the specific factual analysis that Bill Barr says you’d need to engage in).

The far, far more problematic aspect of this analysis, though, is that, of the four potential instances of pardon dangles included in the Mueller Report, three remained crimes-in-progress on March 24, 2019 when Barr issued a statement declining prosecution for them.

By then, Michael Cohen had already pled guilty and testified against Trump. But Paul Manafort had only just been sentenced after having reneged on a cooperation agreement by telling lies to hide what the government has now confirmed involved providing assistance (either knowing or unknowing) to the Russia election operation. Mike Flynn had not yet been sentenced — and in fact would go on to renege on his plea agreement and tell new lies about his conduct, including that when he testified to the FBI that he knew he discussed sanctions, he didn’t deliberately lie. And Roger Stone hadn’t even been tried yet when Barr said Stone’s lies to protect Trump weren’t a response to Trump’s pardon dangles. In fact, if you believe Roger Stone (and I don’t, in part because his dates don’t line up), after the date when Barr issued a declination statement covering Trump’s efforts to buy Stone’s silence, prosecutors told him,

that if I would really remember certain phone conversations I had with candidate trump, if I would come clean, if I would confess, that they might be willing to, you know, recommend leniency to the judge perhaps I wouldn’t even serve any jail time

If that’s remotely true, Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for the pardon dangles that led Stone to sustain an obviously false cover story through his trial itself contributed to the obstruction.

Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for obstruction crimes that were still in progress may explain his even more outrageous behavior after that. For each of these remaining crimes in progress, Barr took steps to make it less likely that Trump would issue a pardon. He used COVID as an excuse to spring Paul Manafort from prison to home confinement, even though there were no cases of COVID in Manafort’s prison at the time. He engaged in unprecedented interference in the sentencing process for Roger Stone, even going so far as claiming that threats of violence against (as it happens) Amy Berman Jackson were just a technicality not worthy of a sentencing enhancement. And Bill Barr’s DOJ literally altered documents in their effort to invent some reason to blow up the prosecution of Mike Flynn.

And Barr may have realized all this would be a problem.

On June 4, a status report explained that DOJ was in the process of releasing the initially heavily redacted version of this memo to CREW and expected that it would be able to do so by June 17, 2020, but that “unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control” might delay that.

However, OIP notes that processing of the referred record requires consultation with several offices within DOJ, and that unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control may occur in these offices that could delay OIP’s response. Accordingly, OIP respectfully submits that it cannot definitively guarantee that production will be completed by June 17, 2020. However, OIP will make its best efforts to provide CREW with a response regarding the referred record on or before June 17, 2020

This consultation would have occurred after Judge Emmet Sullivan balked at DOJ’s demand that he dismiss the Flynn prosecution, while the DC Circuit was reviewing the issue. And it occurred in the period when Stone was using increasingly explicit threats against Donald Trump to successfully win a commutation of his sentence from Trump (the commutation occurred weeks after DOJ gave CREW a version of the memo that hid the scheme Barr had engaged in). That is, DOJ was making decisions about this FOIA lawsuit even as Barr was taking more and more outrageous steps to try to minimize prison time — and therefore the likelihood of a Trump pardon — for these three. And Trump was completing the act of obstruction of justice that Barr long ago gave him immunity for by commuting Stone’s sentence.

Indeed, Trump would go on to complete the quid pro quo, a pardon in exchange for lies about Russia, for all three men. Trump would go on to commit a crime that Barr already declined prosecution for years earlier.

While Barr might believe that Trump’s pardon for Mike Flynn was righteous (even while it undermined any possibility of holding Flynn accountable for being a secret agent of Turkey), there is no rational argument you can make that Trump’s pardon of Manafort after he reneged on his plea deal and Trump’s pardon of Stone after explicit threats to cooperate with prosecutors weren’t obstruction of justice.

This may influence DOJ’s decision not to release this memo, and in ways that we can’t fathom. There are multiple possibilities. First, this may be an attempt to prevent DOJ’s Inspector General from seeing this memo. At least the Manafort prison assignment and the Stone prosecution were investigated and may still be under investigation by DOJ. If Michael Horowitz discovered that Barr took these actions after approving of a broad pre-declination for pardon-related obstruction, it could change the outcome of any ongoing investigation.

It may be an effort to stave off pressure to open a criminal investigation by DOJ into Barr’s own actions, a precedent no Attorney General wants to set.

Or, it may just be an effort to hide how many of DOJ’s own rules DOJ broke in this process.

But one thing is clear, and should be clearer to ABJ than it would be to any other judge: Bill Barr issued a prosecution declination for three crimes that were still in process. And that’s what DOJ is hiding.

RICO Comes to the January 6 Investigation — But Not the Way You Think

Longterm readers of this site know that bmaz always gets incensed when people discuss RICO, mostly because those discussions tend towards magical thinking that RICO can make complex legal questions magically result in jail time for bad guys.

That’s why I put RICO in the title.

But RICO really has come up in a January 6 case: pertaining to DOJ’s attempted seizure of the $90,000 John Sullivan made off selling his video of the insurrection. Much of that filing dismisses Sullivan’s attempt to keep the money because he needs it for living expenses. If he genuinely needed it to pay his lawyer, he might have an argument, but DOJ says he’s got other bank accounts with significant funds for that.

Here, the defendant has submitted no declaration, financial affidavit, or banking statements. He has not provided any information about his assets outside his bank account ending in 7715, the only account from which funds were seized. He has not provided information about his short- or long-term liabilities. He has not detailed his sources of income, despite being, to the government’s understanding, currently employed by his father. He has not described his ability to use other assets, liquid and non-liquid, to pay basic necessities, including the assistance of family members and friends. He has not provided information regarding what funds he has recently expended toward household expenses and what any additional funds are requested, nor detailed what the “household expenses” entail. Such specification is particularly essential where expenditures can dramatically vary, irrespective of necessity, based on a defendant’s typical lifestyle. Cf. United States v. Egan, 2010 WL 3000000, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 29, 2010) (“The Court does not take lightly a request to release funds allegedly stolen from former customers in order to finance luxuries” such as high-end vehicles or a multimillion-dollar home”).

A more fulsome showing is particularly warranted in light of the defendant’s Pretrial Services Report from the arresting jurisdiction, which was prepared from an interview conducted on January 15, 2021 and, according to D.C. Pretrial Services, submitted to this Court with the Rule 5 papers. That document reported significant funds in unspecified bank accounts of the defendant – funds that wholly predate, and lie entirely outside the scope of, the government’s seizure warrants. The government’s seizure warrants instead surgically targeted the defendant’s $90,875 in proceeds from sales of his video footage from the U.S. Capitol – all of which was deposited into his bank account subsequent to January 15. The Pretrial Services Report further noted multiple vehicles owned by the defendant. And it provided a specific estimate of the defendant’s monthly expenses to include rent, groceries, cell phone, auto insurance, and other incidentals – which, if extrapolated, should mean that the defendant retains substantial assets notwithstanding the government’s seizure of the $62,813.76 on April 29, 2021.

The government, moreover, is aware of at least one other bank account of the defendant with America First Credit Union in which he retained a positive balance as of March 19, 2021. Again, this account and the funds therein lie wholly outside the scope of the government’s seizure warrants.

But there’s a part of the filing that probably answers a question I asked: aside from the First Amendment concerns of seizing funds from making a video, I wondered why DOJ had invoked the obstruction charge against Sullivan to do so, rather than the civil disorder charge, as the basis for the seizure. There’s more evidence that Sullivan was trying to maximize chaos than obstruct the counting of the vote, so it seemed like civil disorder was the more appropriate felony.

It seems that invoking obstruction gave DOJ a way to seize the funds, and even then it had to go through RICO magic.

Here’s the language in question: I’ve highlighted the RICO reference in bright red letters for bmaz’s benefit.

Title 18, United States Code, Section 981(a)(1)(C) provides that “[a]ny property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to a violation of … any offense constituting ‘specified unlawful activity’ (as defined in section 1956(c)(7) of [Title 18 of the U.S. Code])” is “subject to forfeiture to the United States.” The provision thus subjects “proceeds” traceable to violations of specified unlawful activities (“SUAs”) to civil forfeiture. Meanwhile, criminal forfeiture is authorized when 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C) is used in conjunction with 28 U.S.C. § 2461(c), which holds that “[i]f the defendant is convicted of the offense giving rise to the forfeiture, the court shall order the forfeiture of the property as part of the sentence in the criminal case.” In turn, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(7) – which was cross-referenced in § 981(a)(1)(C) – incorporates as SUAs all predicate offenses under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) statute – that is, “any act or activity constituting an offense listed in section 1961(1) of this title [Title 18] except an act which is indictable under subchapter II of chapter 53 of title 31.”

Finally, 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1) sets forth the RICO predicates and expressly includes, among those predicates, 18 U.S.C. § 1512. 3 Thus, “[b]y application of § 2461(c), forfeiture of property is mandated for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512, since it is a racketeering activity identified in 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1), which is a specified unlawful activity under 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(7)(A).” United States v. Clark, 165 F. Supp. 3d 1215, 1218 (S.D. Fla. 2016) (emphasis added).

The forfeiture law, 18 USC §981, allows for forfeiture when a person profits off any of a bunch of crimes. Terrorism is in there, for example, but Sullivan is not charged with a crime of terrorism (they might get there with Sullivan if he were charged with breaking a window that surely cost more than $1,000 to fix, but they haven’t charged him for that, even though his own video suggests he did break a window and all those windows are ridiculously expensive). Instead, DOJ is using 18 USC §1956, money laundering, to get to forfeiture. Sullivan is not alleged to have laundered money. But that law includes RICO’s predicates among the unlawful activities for which one might launder money. And obstruction, 18 USC §1512, is a specific unlawful activity that may be part of RICO.

That is, they found a crime that Sullivan allegedly committed — obstruction — nested three layers deep in other statutes.

DOJ admits that obstruction hasn’t led to forfeiture all that often — but they’ve found nine cases, none in DC, where it has.

3 There is a limited number of forfeiture allegations paired with § 1512 as the SUA. Section 1512 prohibits (a) killing or assaulting someone with intent to prevent their participation in an official proceeding, (b) intimidating someone to influence their testimony in such a proceeding, (c) corrupting records or obstructing, impeding, or influencing such a proceeding, and (d) harassing or delaying someone’s participation in such a proceeding – crimes that do not often generate profits. Nonetheless, the government has identified at least nine indictments where a § 1512 count was a basis for the forfeiture allegation. See United States v. Clark, 4:13-cr-10034 (S.D. Fla.); United States v. Eury, 1:20CR38-1 (M.D.N.C.); United States v. Ford and Prinster, 3:14-cr45 (D. Or.); United States v. Shabazz, 2:14-cr-20339 (E.D. Mich.); United States v. Cochran, 4:14- cr-22-01-HLM (N.D. Ga.); United States v. Adkins and Meredith, 1:13cr17-1 (N.D. W. Va.); United States v. Faulkner, 3:09-CR-249-D (N.D. Tex.); United States v. Hollnagel, 10 CR 195 (N.D. Ill.); United States v. Bonaventura, 4:02-cr-40026 (D. Mass.). Congress likewise included some of § 1512’s surrounding obstruction-related statutes as SUAs, and forfeiture allegations have also referenced these sister statutes. E.g., United States v. Fisch, 2013 WL 5774876 (S.D. Tex. 2013) (§ 1503 as SUA); United States v. Lustyik, 2015 WL 1401674 (D. Utah 2015) (same).

Of course, those obstruction charges were probably garden variety obstruction (say, threatening trial witnesses for pay), not the already novel application of obstruction that other defendants are challenging.

bmaz may swoop in here and accuse DOJ of using RICO for magical thinking. At the very least, this all seems very precarious, as a matter of law.

I’m all in favor of preventing someone from profiting off insurrection. But this seems like a novel application of law on top of a novel application of law.

Sullivan has a hearing today before Judge Emmet Sullivan, so we may get a sense of whether the judge thinks this invocation of RICO is just magical thinking.