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Four Sentences: What the Legal System Has Said about the Suspect Loyalty of Trump’s Aides

In an attempt to undercut Andrew McCabe’s publicity tour, the President is on a tear, attacking what he claims was McCabe and Rod Rosenstein’s “treasonous” insurance policy.

We’re at a point where both sides are making claims of treason, which only serves to feed the intensity of both sides, without convincing Trump’s supporters (and other denialists) that the concerns about Trump’s loyalty — and therefore the investigation that McCabe opened into him — are well-grounded.

But there are neutral third party observers here, weighing the claims of loyalty. Four different sentencing processes have sided with those questioning the loyalty of Trump and those close to him.

George Papadopoulos

In the first two cases where Trump flunkies have been sentenced, the flunkies themselves have pointed to how their own misplaced loyalties caused them to commit crimes. In George Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo, he attributed the actions that led to his prosecution — his attempts to broker a meeting between Putin and Trump — to a desire to curry Trump’s favor.

Eager to show his value to the campaign, George announced at the meeting that he had connections that could facilitate a foreign policy meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. While some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.

George’s giddiness over Mr. Trump’s recognition was prominent during the days that followed the March 31, 2016 meeting. He had a sense of unbridled loyalty to the candidate and his campaign and set about trying to organize the meeting with President Putin.

Papadopoulos says he lied to the FBI out of loyalty to Trump.

Mr. Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master.

[snip]

George explained that he was in discussions with senior Trump administration officials about a position and the last thing he wanted was “something like this” casting the administration in a bad light. The agents assured him that his cooperation would remain confidential.

More specifically, he lied to avoid tainting the Trump campaign with any tie to Russia.

George found himself personally conflicted during the interrogation as he felt obligated to assist the FBI but also wanted to distance himself and his work on the Trump campaign from that investigation. Attempting to reconcile these competing interests, George provided information he thought was important to the investigation while, at the same time, misleading the agents about the timing, nature, and extent of his contacts with Professor Mifsud, Olga, and Ivan Timofeev. In his answers, George falsely distanced his interactions with these players from his campaign work. At one point, George told the agents that he did not want to “get too in-depth” because he did not know what it would mean for his professional future. He told the agents he was “trying to help the country and you guys, but I don’t want to jeopardize my career.”

George lied about material facts central to the investigation. To generalize, the FBI was looking into Russian contacts with members of the Trump campaign as part of its larger investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election. This issue had dominated the news for several months with stories concerning Carter Page and Paul Manafort. The agents placed this issue squarely on the table before George and he balked. In his hesitation, George lied, minimized, and omitted material facts. Out of loyalty to the new president and his desire to be part of the administration, he hoisted himself upon his own petard.

I have argued that this memo served the dual purpose of accepting responsibility while signaling others and reaffirming his loyalty to Trump, and I stand by that. Given his efforts to reverse his sentence, Papadopoulos show of contrition at his hearing was just that, a ruse. But it was one of the things that convinced Judge Randolph Moss to impose just two weeks. Another, however, were the comments of Papadopoulos’ lawyer, Thomas Breen, who argued Trump had obstructed the Mueller investigation far more than his client had.

Trump, Breen said, “hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could,” by calling the FBI’s Russia inquiry a “witch hunt” and casting doubt on credible allegations of wrongdoing by his associates.

“The president of the United States, the commander in chief, told the world that this was fake news,” Breen said, contrasting this with Mueller’s “professional” and “well-prepared” team.

In imposing prison time, Moss emphasized that Papadopoulos lied about a manner of grave importance.

The judge noted that most defendants convicted on a false-statement charge don’t get any prison time, but he said he considered the Mueller investigation “a matter of enormous importance.” Moss, an appointee of President Barack Obama who served as a top Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton, described the inquiry as an attempt to investigate an “effort to interfere in our democracy.”

“It’s important that the public know there are real consequences when you mislead and tell lies to the FBI about a matter of grave national importance,” he said.

[snip]

Breen said his client was trying to preserve his job prospects in the Trump administration, but Moss told the lawyer that those were “not noble reasons to tell a lie.”

“This was fairly calculated,” the judge said. “It took six months for Mr. Papadopoulos to correct the record.”

So Papadopoulos’ lawyers agreed his loyalties were misplaced and Judge Moss judged that Papadopoulos’ lies pertained to something that strikes at the integrity of our democracy.

Michael Cohen

As Papadopoulos did, Michael Cohen attributed his obstruction to his blind loyalty to Trump and a desire to sustain Trump’s false narrative denying ties to Russia.

I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1.

In his cynical, Lanny Davis-crafted statement at sentencing, Cohen talked about how he put loyalty to Trump over that to his family, ending with an apology to the US.

 I blame myself for the conduct which has brought me here today, and it was my own weakness, and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light. It is for these reasons I chose to participate in the elicit act of the President rather than to listen to my own inner voice which should have warned me that the campaign finance violations that I later pled guilty to were insidious.

Recently, the President Tweeted a statement calling me weak, and he was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass. My weakness can be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump, and I was weak for not having the strength to question and to refuse his demands.

[snip]

I stand behind my statement that I made to George Stephanopoulos, that my wife, my daughter, my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first. My departure as a loyal soldier to the President bears a very hefty price.

For months now the President of the United States, one of the most powerful men in the world, publicly mocks me, calling me a rat and a liar, and insists that the Court sentence me to the absolute maximum time in prison. Not only is this improper; it creates a false sense that the President can weigh in on the outcome of judicial proceedings that implicate him.

[snip]

I want to apologize to the people of the United States. You deserve to know the truth and lying to you was unjust.

In sentencing Cohen, Judge William Pauley pointed to how his ties to Trump and the access that gave him led him to lose his moral compass.

[H]is entire professional life apparently revolved around the Trump organization. He thrived on his access to wealthy and powerful people, and he became one himself.

[snip]

But somewhere along the way Mr. Cohen appears to have lost his moral compass and sought instead to monetize his new-found influence. That trajectory, unfortunately, has led him to this courtroom today.

Cohen’s guilty plea — particularly the way he tried to cabin off cooperation implicating his family — is cynical as hell. But to the extent he is willing to help prosecutors, it entails being treated as a traitor by the President.

Mike Flynn

The other two Trump flunkies who’ve gotten close to sentencing are even more striking — in part because they have been less successful at crafting a fiction about setting their loyalty to Trump or other paymasters aside.

Flynn was set to get probation until he and his lawyer used their own sentencing memo to continue the line all the other loyal Trump flunkies have, suggesting that the investigation was illegitimate.

There are, at the same time, some additional facts regarding the circumstances of the FBI interview of General Flynn on January 24, 2017, that are relevant to the Court’s consideration of a just punishment.

At 12:35 p.m. on January 24, 2017, the first Tuesday after the presidential inauguration, General Flynn received a phone call from then-Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, on a secure phone in his office in the West Wing.20 General Flynn had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security. He and Mr. McCabe briefly discussed a security training session the FBI had recently conducted at the White House before Mr. McCabe, by his own account, stated that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with General Flynn to talk about his communications with Russian representatives.21

Mr. McCabe’s account states: “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House Counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [General Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”22

Less than two hours later, at 2:15 p.m., FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and a second FBI agent arrived at the White House to interview General Flynn.23 By the agents’ account, General Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered to give the agents “a little tour” of the area around his West Wing office. 24 The agents did not provide General Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 before, during, or after the interview. Prior to the FBI’s interview of General Flynn, Mr. McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport,” one of the agents reported.25 Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”26 One of the agents reported that General Flynn was “unguarded” during the interview and “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”27

While Emmet Sullivan — ever on guard against prosecutorial misconduct — might have done so anyway, this led the judge to ask for the paperwork behind Flynn’s claims. Which in turn led to the production of really damning details of Flynn’s lies. That, in turn, led Sullivan to hesitate before sentencing Flynn, in part because the “great deal of nonpublic information in this case” he read led him to grow disgusted about what Flynn had done. Sullivan, as the first judge to read in detail about Mueller’s underlying investigation, said some absolutely remarkable things (and note, at least some of this language pertains to Flynn selling out to Turkey, not Russia).

I’m going to also take into consideration the aggravating circumstances, and the aggravating circumstances are serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI, but you lied to senior officials in the Trump Transition Team and Administration. Those lies caused the then-Vice President-Elect, incoming Chief of Staff, and then-Press Secretary to lie to the American people. Moreover, you lied to the FBI about three different topics, and you made those false statements while you were serving as the National Security Advisor, the President of the United States’ most senior national security aid. I can’t minimize that.

Two months later you again made false statements in multiple documents filed pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. So, all along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.

[snip]

COURT: All right. I really don’t know the answer to this question, but given the fact that the then-President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering with federal elections in this country, is there an opinion about the conduct of the defendant the following days that rises to the level of treasonous activity on his part?

[snip]

I mean, arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for (indicating). Arguably, you sold your country out. The Court’s going to consider all of that. I cannot assure you that if you proceed today you will not receive a sentence of incarceration. But I have to also tell you that at some point, if and when the government says you’ve concluded with your cooperation, you could be incarcerated.

It could be that any sentence of incarceration imposed after your further cooperation is completed would be for less time than a sentence may be today. I can’t make any guarantees, but I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense.

So in this case, Flynn’s bid to discredit the investigation instead led to remarkable comments about how Flynn’s underlying crimes — the ones he lied to cover-up — amount to selling out his country.

Paul Manafort

Which brings us to Paul Manafort, who is currently facing what amount to be several life sentences because he refused to cooperate, even after promising to do so, against Trump and his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. As I have noted, Manafort’s lies served to avoid giving the government evidence that Trump conspired with Russia to get elected.

But don’t take my word for it. In announcing her ruling in the breach determination last week, Amy Berman Jackson paid special attention to Manafort’s lies about Konstantin Kilimnik. The most important lie, it seems, pertains to Manafort sharing of detailed polling data with Kilimnik at a meeting where they also discussed sanctions relief in the guise of a Ukrainian peace detail. The description of whom Manafort intended that data to be shared with is redacted. But ABJ moved directly from describing the intended recipients to judging that sharing the data amounts to a link with Russia.

Also, the evidence indicates that it was understood that [redacted] would be [redacted from Kilimnik [redacted] including [redacted], and [redacted]. Whether Kilimnik is tied to Russian intelligence or he’s not, I think the specific representation by the Office of Special Counsel was that he had been, quote, assessed by the FBI, quote, to have a relationship with Russian intelligence, close quote. Whether that’s true, I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide, nor do I have to decide because it’s outside the scope of this hearing. And whether it’s true or not, one cannot quibble about the materiality of this meeting.

[snip]

I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what was said. The intelligence reference was just one factor in a series of factors the prosecutor listed. And the language of the appointment order, “any links,” is sufficiently broad to get over the relatively low hurdle of materiality in this instance, and to make the [redacted] Kilimnik and [redacted] material to the FBI’s inquiry, no matter what his particular relationship was on that date.

She continued by saying that she didn’t even have to determine whether — as the government claims — Kilimnik has active ties to GRU. Whatever Kilimnik’s ties to Russian military intelligence, ABJ still considers his relationship with Manafort to implicate coordination with the Russian government.

I also want to say we’ve now spent considerable time talking about multiple clusters of false or misleading or incomplete or needed-to-be-prodded-by-counsel statements, all of which center around the defendant’s relationship or communications with Mr. Kilimnik. This is a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into, as paragraph (b) of the appointment order put it, Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.

Mr. Kilimnik doesn’t have to be in the government or even be an active spy to be a link. The fact that all of this is the case, that we have now been over Kilimnik, Kilimnik, and Kilimnik makes the defense argument that I should find the inaccurate statements to be unintentional because they’re all so random and disconnected, which was an argument that was made in the hearing, is very unpersuasive.

ABJ’s most striking comments, however, came in language introducing why, even though she didn’t find that Mueller’s team had proven Manafort’s lies about conspiring with Kilimnik to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, it nevertheless was obvious that what Manafort was trying to do in disclaiming a conspiracy with Kilimnik was to “shield his Russian conspirator.”

Mr. Manafort doesn’t just say to the agents, Kilimnik doesn’t believe he was pressuring the witness, or Kilimnik didn’t think he was suborning perjury, he didn’t intend to violate U.S. law, he makes the affirmative assertion that Kilimnik believed the project was a European project, when Manafort plainly knew that Kilimnik knew it wasn’t and the documents plainly reflect that it wasn’t, and that was the basis for the conspiracy count to which he pled guilty in the first place.

To me, this is definitely an example of a situation in which the Office of Special Counsel legitimately concluded he’s lying to minimize things here, he’s not being forthcoming, this isn’t what cooperation is supposed to be. This is a problematic attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability and it gives rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.

We have yet to get Mueller’s sentencing memo in the DC case or ABJ’s response to any claims they may make about why Manafort chose to face a life sentence rather than tell the truth about his conspiracies with Konstantin Kilimnik.

But it’s pretty clear that ABJ believes Manafort’s lies suggest he has suspect loyalties.

Four times so far in this investigation, Trump’s aides have started the sentencing process for their crimes designed to obstruction Robert Mueller’s investigation. All four times, before four different judges, their misplaced loyalty to Trump above country has come up. And with both Flynn and Manafort — where the judges have seen significant amounts of non-public information about the crimes they lied to cover-up — two very reasonable judges have raised explicit questions about whether Trump’s aides had betrayed their country.

Trump wants this to be a case of contested claims of betrayal. But the judges who have reviewed the record have used striking language about who betrayed their country.

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

The Significance of the James Wolfe Sentence for Mike Flynn, Leak Investigations, and the Signal Application

Yesterday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson sentenced former SSCI head of security James Wolfe to two months in prison for lying to the FBI. In her comments announcing the sentence, Jackson explained why she was giving Wolfe a stiffer sentence than what George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan received: because Wolfe had abused a position of authority.

“This court routinely sentences people who come from nothing, who have nothing, and whose life circumstances are such that they really don’t have a realistic shot of doing anything other than committing crimes,” Jackson said. “The unfortunate life circumstances of those defendants don’t result in a lower penalty, so why should someone who had every chance of doing the right thing, a person who society rightly expects to live up to high moral and ethical standards and who has no excuse for breaking the law, be treated any better in this regard.”

[snip]

Wolfe’s case was not part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but the judge compared his situation to two defendants in the Mueller probe who also pleaded guilty to making false statements — former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who spent 12 days in prison, and Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who was sentenced to 30 days. Jackson concluded that Wolfe’s position as head of security for the Intelligence Committee was an “aggravating” factor.

The public shame he had endured, and the loss of his job and reputation, were not punishment enough, the judge said, but were rather the “natural consequence of having chosen to break the law.”

“You made blatant false statements directly to FBI agents who questioned you about matters of significance in the context of an ongoing investigation. And if anything, the fact that you were a government official tasked with responsibility for protecting government secrets yourself seems to make you more culpable than van der Zwaan and Papadopoulos, who held no such positions,” Jackson said.

While the resolution of this case is itself notable, it has likely significance in three other areas: for Mike Flynn, for DOJ’s leak investigations, and for encrypted messaging apps.

Emmet Sullivan will cite this sentence as precedent

It’s still far from clear that Emmet Sullivan will be sentencing Mike Flynn three months from now. Given Trump’s increasingly unstable mood, Flynn might get pardoned. Or, Flynn might try to judge shop, citing Sullivan’s invocation of treason Tuesday.

But if Sullivan does eventually sentence Flynn and if he still feels inclined to impose some prison time to punish Flynn for selling out his country, he can cite both this sentence and the language Jackson used in imposing it. Like Wolfe, Flynn occupied a (arguably, the) position of great responsibility for protecting our national security. Sullivan seems to agree with Jackson that, like Wolfe, Flynn should face more consequences for abusing the public trust. So Wolfe’s sentence might start a countertrend to the David Petraeus treatment, whereby the powerful dodge all responsibility.

(Note, this is a view that Zoe Tillman also expressed yesterday.)

DOJ may rethink its approach to using false statements to avoid the difficulties of leak cases

I have zero doubt that DOJ prosecuted Wolfe because they believe he is Ellen Nakashima’s source for the story revealing that Carter Page had been targeted with a FISA order, which is how they came to focus on him in the first place. But instead of charging him with that, they charged him for lying about his contacts with Nakashima, Ali Watkins, and two other journalists (and, in their reply to his sentencing memo, made it clear he had leaked information to two other young female national security reporters). In the sentencing phase, however, the government asked for a significant upward departure, a two year sentence that would be equivalent to what he’d face if they actually had proven him to be Nakashima’s source.

While the government provided circumstantial evidence he was Nakashima’s source — in part, her communications to him in the aftermath of the story — he convincingly rebutted one aspect of that claim (a suggestion that she changed her email footer to make her PGP key available to him). More importantly, he rightly called out what they were doing, trying to insinuate he had leaked the FISA information without presenting evidence.

The government itself admitted no fewer than four times in its opening submission that it found no evidence that Mr. Wolfe disclosed Classified Information to anyone. See infra Part I.A. Nonetheless, the government deploys the word “Classified” 58 times in a sentencing memorandum about a case in which there is no evidence of disclosure of Classified Information—let alone a charge.

[snip]

The government grudgingly admits that it lacks evidence that Mr. Wolfe disclosed Classified Information to anyone. See, e.g., Gov. Mem. at 1 (“although the defendant is not alleged to have disclosed classified information”); id. at 6 (“notwithstanding the fact that the FBI did not uncover evidence that the defendant himself disclosed classified national security information”); id. at 22 (“[w]hile the investigation has not uncovered evidence that Wolfe disclosed classified information”); id. at 25 n.14 (“while Wolfe denied that he ever disclosed classified information to REPORTER #2, and the government has no evidence that he did”).

The Court should see through the government’s repetition of the word “Classified” in the hope that the Court will be confused about the nature of the actual evidence and charges in this case and sentence Mr. Wolfe as if he had compromised such information.1

1 Similarly, the government devotes multiple pages of its memorandum describing the classified document that Mr. Wolfe is not accused of having disclosed. And although the government has walked back its initial assertion that Mr. Wolfe “received, maintained, and managed the Classified Document” (Indictment ¶ 18) to acknowledge that he was merely “involved in coordinating logistics for the FISA materials to be transported to the SSCI” (Gov. Mem. at 10), what the government still resists conceding is the fact that Mr. Wolfe had no access to read that document, let alone disclose any part of it. Beyond providing an explanation of how the FBI’s investigation arose, that document has absolutely no relevance to Mr. Wolfe’s sentencing, but it and its subject, an individual under investigation for dealings with Russia potentially related to the Trump campaign, likely have everything to do with the vigor of the government’s position.

It’s unclear, at this point, whether the government had evidence against Wolfe but chose not to use it because it would have required imposing on Nakashima’s equities (notably, they appear to be treating Nakashima with more respect than Ali Watkins, though it may be that they only chose to parallel construct Ali Watkins’ comms) and introduce classified evidence at trial. It may be that Wolfe genuinely isn’t the culprit.

Or it may be that Wolfe’s operational security was just good enough to avoid leaving evidence.

Whatever it is, particularly in a culture of increasing aggressiveness on leaks, the failure to get Wolfe here may lead DOJ to intensify its other efforts to pursue leakers using the Espionage Act.

DOJ might blame Signal and other encrypted messaging apps for their failure to find the Carter Page FISA culprit

And if DOJ believes they couldn’t prove a real case against Wolfe because of his operational security, they may use it to go after Signal and other encrypted messaging apps.

That’s because Wolfe managed to hide a great deal of his communications with journalists until they had sufficient evidence for a Rule 41 warrant to search his phone (which may well mean they hacked his phone). Here’s what it took to get Wolfe’s Signal texts.

Once the government discovered that Wolfe was dating Watkins, they needed to find a way to investigate him without letting him know he was a target, which made keeping classified information particularly difficult. An initial step involved meeting with him to talk about the leak investigation — purportedly of others — which they used as an opportunity to image his phone.

The FBI obtained court authority to conduct a delayed-notice search warrant pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3103a(b), which allowed the FBI to image Wolfe’s smartphone in October 2017. This was conducted while Wolfe was in a meeting with the FBI in his role as SSCI Director of Security, ostensibly to discuss the FBI’s leak investigation of the classified FISA material that had been shared with the SSCI. That search uncovered additional evidence of Wolfe’s communications with REPORTER #2, but it did not yet reveal his encrypted communications with other reporters.

Imaging the phone was not sufficient to discover his Signal texts.

Last December and this January, the FBI had two more interviews with Wolfe where they explicitly asked him questions about the investigation. At the first one, even after he admitted his relationship with Watkins, Wolfe lied about the conversations he continued to have on Signal.

The government was able to recover and view a limited number of these encrypted conversations only by executing a Rule 41 search warrant on the defendant’s personal smartphone after his January 11, 2018 interview with the FBI. It is noteworthy that Signal advertises on its website that its private messaging application allows users to send messages that “are always end-to-end encrypted and painstakingly engineered to keep your communication safe. We [Signal] can’t read your messages or see your calls, and no one else can either.” See Signal Website, located at https://signal.org. The government did not recover or otherwise obtain from any reporters’ communications devices or related records the content of any of these communications.

Then, in a follow-up meeting, he continued to lie, after which they seized his phone and found “fragments” of his Signal conversations.

It is noteworthy that Wolfe continued to lie to the FBI about his contacts with reporters, even after he was stripped of his security clearances and removed from his SSCI job – when he no longer had the motive he claimed for having lied about those contacts on December 15. During a follow-up voluntary interview at his home on January 11, 2018, Wolfe signed a written statement falsely answering “no” to the question whether he provided REPORTER #2 “or any unauthorized person, in whole or in part, by way of summary, or verbal [or] non-verbal confirmation, the contents of any information controlled or possessed by SSCI.” On that same day, the FBI executed a second search warrant pursuant to which it physically seized Wolfe’s personal telephone. It was during this search, and after Wolfe had spoken with the FBI on three separate occasions about the investigation into the leak of classified information concerning the FISA application, that the FBI recovered fragments of his encrypted Signal communications with REPORTERS #3 and #4.

They specify that this second warrant was a Rule 41 warrant, which would mean it’s possible — though by no means definite — that they hacked the phone.

The government was able to recover and view a limited number of these encrypted conversations only by executing a Rule 41 search warrant on the defendant’s personal smartphone after his January 11, 2018 interview with the FBI. It is noteworthy that Signal advertises on its website that its private messaging application allows users to send messages that “are always end-to-end encrypted and painstakingly engineered to keep your communication safe. We [Signal] can’t read your messages or see your calls, and no one else can either.” See Signal Website, located at https://signal.org.

Mind you, this still doesn’t tell us much (surely by design). In another mention, they note Signal’s auto-delete functionality.

Given the nature of Signal communications, which can be set to delete automatically, and which are difficult to recover once deleted, it is impossible to tell the extent of Wolfe’s communications with these two reporters. The FBI recovered 626 Signal communications between Wolfe and REPORTER #3, and 106 Signal communications between Wolfe and REPORTER #4.

Yet it remains unclear (though probably likely) that the “recovered” texts were Signal (indeed, given that he was lying and the only executed the Rule 41 warrant after he had been interviewed a second time, he presumably would have deleted them then if not before). DOJ’s reply memo also reveals that Wolfe deleted a ton of his texts to Watkins, as well.

The defendant and REPORTER #2 had an extraordinary volume of contacts: in the ten months between December 1, 2016, and October 10, 2017, alone, they exchanged more than 25,750 text messages and had 556 phone calls, an average of more than 83 contacts per day. The FBI was unable to recover a significant portion of these text messages because they had been deleted by the defendant.

All of this is to say two things: first, the government would not pick up Signal texts — at least not deleted ones — from simply imaging a phone. Then, using what they specify was a Rule 41 warrant that could indicate hacking, they were able to obtain Signal. At least some of the Signal texts the government has revealed pre-date when his phone was imaged.

That’s still inconclusive as to whether Wolfe had deleted Signal texts and FBI was able to recover some of them, or whether they were unable to find Signal texts that remained on his phone when they imaged it in October.

Whichever it is, it seems clear that they required additional methods (and custody of the phone) to find the Signal texts revealing four relationships with journalists he had successfully hidden until that point.

Which is why I worry that the government will claim it was unable to solve the investigation into who leaked Carter Page’s FISA order because of Signal, and use that claim as an excuse to crack down on the app.

The Moving Parts: The Walls Come Down around Trump

The other day (I forget which day it was, to be honest) I wondered aloud whether, as it became clear the walls were collapsing around Trump, he’d make a rash move to pay off his debts, perhaps to salvage something for his post-Presidenting life.

I’m not sure we’re quite at that point yet. But in recent days, a ton has happened it’s hard to make sense of.

This post doesn’t pretend to offer answers. I just want to write down everything I think is happening in one place — blogger’s prerogative, call it.

Mattis resigns, citing Trump’s fondness for authoritarians

The most alarming news is not that James Mattis resigned, but how he did so. In his resignation letter, he cited the importance of NATO, and China and Russia’s authoritarianism that leads them to promote their interest over that of their neighbors, America, and our allies, before he made it clear that Trump disagrees with Mattis in rejecting those authoritarian values.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America[,] and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. [my emphasis]

The precipitating event, though, was Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria.

Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Mr. Trump to keep American troops in Syria, where they have been fighting the Islamic State. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result.

One source says that Trump’s decision to close the Special Forces base in Syria is part of the problem.

The US is set to shut a special forces base in Syria that has been the subject of repeated Russian complaints, and that some US officials have cast as a key part of US efforts not just to defeat ISIS but to counter Iranian influence in the country.

Muhannad al-Talla, a rebel commander at al-Tanf, a US base near the Syrian border with Jordan, told BuzzFeed News that the base would see the withdrawal of the US troops who have trained and fought alongside rebels there.

I’m wondering if this base was involved in the shellacking of Putin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s mercenaries.

Another is Erdogan’s threat (or promise) to massacre our longstanding Kurdish allies.

Defense officials tell me Mattis went to the White House to discuss Syria & that he was livid after reading reports that Turkey’s Defense Minister threatened to kill US-backed Kurds & put them in ditches once the US withdrew. He was incensed at this notion of betrayal of an ally.

Effectively, it seems, Mattis told Trump, “it’s me or Vladimir Putin” … and Trump chose Putin.

Erdogan exercises leverage — or is he the messenger boy?

But it wasn’t exactly — or just — Putin that finally got Trump to deliver on the payback he started delivering 14 hours after polls closed in 2016. It was Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As I noted, Trump met with Erdogan in Argentina but not — after the Michael Cohen allocution made it clear Putin was enticing Trump with a Tower deal in 2016 — Putin.

Multiple reports say a call Trump had with Erdogan on Friday was the precipitating factor. Here’s a really alarming account of that call.

That leads me to wonder what leverage Turkey, specifically, has over Trump, such that he’d pull out of Syria in response to a threat to massacre the Kurds, which will make it easy for Turkey to massacre the Kurds.

And I have to believe Turkey’s ploy with the Jamal Khashoggi execution is part of it. Erdogan never gave a shit that the Saudis lured a dissident to their soil to dismember alive. Erdogan himself pursues such repression, even if he conducts it with a bit more cover.

Indeed, whatever Erdogan has over Trump also has him considering extraditing Fethullah Gulen to Turkey for what would certainly be similar treatment — the payoff Turkey was requesting back in December 2016 when Trump’s chosen National Security Advisor was still hiding that he had been an unregistered agent for Turkey.

Perhaps Turkey has proof not just implicating Mohammed bin Salman in the execution, but Jared Kushner in green-lighting it, or possibly even Trump?

Mueller’s moves toward endgame

It’s hard — particularly given comments from people like Nancy Pelosi — to separate all this from what feels like an approaching Mueller (attempted) endgame. The lead-up to Flynn’s aborted sentencing featured the following:

  • Flynn makes an ill-considered attack on the legitimacy of the Mueller probe
  • Emmet Sullivan orders the release of the documents with which Flynn was attempting to undercut Mueller
  • Sullivan orders the far more damning Flynn 302 that, among other things, reveals that Turkey and Russia both had compromising information on Trump and Flynn
  • DOJ indicts Flynn’s business partners for hiding how Turkey angled to force DOJ to extradite Gulen
  • At Flynn’s sentencing hearing, Sullivan emphasizes that Flynn had been an agent of Turkey while ostensibly working for Trump and mentions the word treason

Plus there’s evidence that Jared Kushner — who has been the boy plaything for all these ruthless players — probably tried to attack Flynn even while he was having a grocery store tabloid pimp the Saudis.

And it was revealed that the Mystery Appellant refusing to provide information to Mueller is a foreign-owned corporation, probably a Russian or Middle Eastern bank or sovereign wealth fund funneling money to Trump or Jared. The company appears to have asked for an en banc review today.

Mueller also asked for and got the House Intelligence Committee to release its transcript of Roger Stone’s testimony. The timing of this is the interesting thing: Mueller chose to do this when Republicans had to (and did) vote to expose Trump’s top political advisor to indictment. He could have waited, but didn’t. That suggests either he wanted Republican buy-in, or he needs the transcripts now, to finalize his case against Stone before Democrats take over in a few weeks.

The day after SSCI released materials on James Wolfe, he was indicted.

So things are moving to a head in the Mueller probe, and in a way that both Russia and Turkey may be implicated.

Matt Whitaker performs a headfake before taking the corrupt step he was hired to take

Then there was the news today on big dick toilet salesman Matt Whitaker. This morning, multiple outlets reported that DOJ had told Whitaker he didn’t have to recuse from the Mueller probe. After that became the headline, however, multiple outlets revealed that the truth was the opposite: an ethics advisor had told Whitaker he should recuse, and having heard that, Whitaker consulted a hand-picked committee that predictably told him not to.

Within days of the president’s announcement in early November that he had put Whitaker in the role on a temporary basis, Whitaker tapped a veteran U.S. attorney to become part of a four-person team of advisers on his new job, according to a senior Justice Department official. Their guidance included the question of whether Whitaker should recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation because of his past statements regarding that probe and because of his friendship with one of its witnesses, the official said.

Whitaker never asked Justice Department ethics officials for a formal recommendation, nor did he receive one, this official said.

However, after Whitaker met repeatedly with Justice Department ethics officials to discuss the facts and the issues under consideration, a senior ethics official told the group of advisers on Tuesday that it was a “close call” but that Whitaker should recuse himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the official said. Whitaker was not present at that meeting, they said.

Those four advisers, however, disagreed with the ethics determination and recommended to Whitaker the next day not to recuse, saying there was no precedent for that, and doing so now could create a bad precedent for future attorneys general.

That big dick toilet salesman Whitaker did this is not surprising.

That he chose to roll out this admission today is worth noting. One outlet reported that, up until today, Whitaker had not been briefed on the Mueller probe. Apparently, in the wake of a judge raising treason concerns after having reviewed Mike Flynn’s behavior, Whitaker has made the move to become Trump’s mole on the Mueller probe.

Update: BuzzFeed got a hold of the DOJ letter here. It makes it very clear Whitaker ignored advice to recuse.

Update: Marty Lederman notes that this letter fails to conduct a key part of the recusal analysis: why he would make a more appropriate supervisor for Mueller than Rod Rosenstein.

Trump prepares to shut down government

All this is happening as Trump prepares to shut down the government because Fox News laughed at him for getting pantsed by Nancy Pelosi.

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said the Democrats had won the showdown, and Trump had lost.

He launched into a tirade saying the president “loses, and the Democrats will win everything” based on his apparent decision to compromise with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Doocy said Trump’s defeat would not only risk his campaign commitment to build the wall, but also bring into question his electoral promises to curb the rest of the government’s spending.

In response, over the course of today, Trump told Republicans he’d veto any continuing resolution that didn’t include $5 billion for his steel slat wall, making it much more likely we’ll have a shutdown as Trump skedaddles to Mar-a-Lago to take calls from his authoritarian buddies.

This may be entirely unrelated. After all, Fox and Friends is Trump’s bubble, that’s the only place where he considers losses to matter, and after the truth that Pelosi had bested him started to seep through, the narcissist-in-chief had no choice but to make a rash demand that Republican politicians sacrifice their careers in deference to his tantrum.

Which is to say that this behavior is precisely what we should expect when a narcissist’s mirror tells his he has been bested by someone he must demean.

Or maybe it is related?

Putin — or someone else — is calling in receipts

As I’m thinking about these things, I keep thinking back to an argument I made in August. I argued that Putin had compromised Trump not with a pee tape, but by ensuring his people kept receipts every time Trump got sucked deeper and deeper into a deal with Russia.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

It has since become clear that not just Russia, but at least also Turkey and whatever bank is fighting a demand from Mueller that it turn over evidence of Trump’s graft, also have receipts.

Nevertheless, at the moment where it has become increasingly clear that Mueller knows much of whatever blackmail these partners have over Trump, Trump has chosen, instead, to alienate the Senators who might keep him from being impeached by evacuating from Syria and, later reports make clear, Afghanistan.

Trump is, on a dime and without warning to our closest allies, rolling up the American Empire. And he’s doing it not because he’s a peacenik — as far too many self-described progressives are trying to claim — but because ruthless, committed authoritarians have convinced him he needs their continued approval more than he needs the approval of even the Republican hawks in the Senate.

Update: I forgot to mention that the stock market is crashing. It started in response to Trump’s trade wars and bullying of the Fed, but accelerated given his threats to shut down the government.

Rob Kelner–the Guy Who Signed Mike Flynn’s FARA Filings–Continued to Be Insubordinate in Yesterday’s Hearing

Most of the attention in yesterday’s Mike Flynn sentencing hearing has focused on Judge Emmet Sullivan’s invocation of treason, which I addressed at length here. But — particularly since I have belatedly realized that Rob Kelner is one of the lawyers referred to in the Bijan Kian indictment who filed a FARA registration that, because of lies attributed to Flynn and Ekim Alptekin, ended up being a false statement, I want to look at two bullshit answers Kelner offered yesterday about his little ploy of introducing language on Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe in Flynn’s sentencing memo.

Taking the second one first, Sullivan asked Kelner to explain why he chose to cite Peter Strzok’s August 22, 2017 302, which had some language about what a successful liar Flynn can be, and not Flynn’s own utterly damning January 24, 2017 302. This was a question directing counsel to explain why he tried to pull a fast one over on the judge. Any responsive answer would have to address that January 24 302 (and wouldn’t need to address the McCabe memo, at all).

But instead of answering that question, Kelner instead tried to use it to attack the Mueller team.

THE COURT: The other puzzling question I have is this: Can you explain for the record why Mr. Flynn was interviewed by the FBI on January the 24th but the 302 cited in his sentencing memorandum is dated August the 22nd, 2017? There’s no reference, and the January 24th is not highlighted at all.

MR. KELNER: Yes, Your Honor. Thank you for the opportunity to address that. I think there’s been some public confusion about that. The original draft of our brief cited specifically to the FD-302 for the interview of Special Agent Strozk and cited it specifically to the McCabe memorandum, and actually originally we intended to include those documents with the filing. Prior to the filing, we shared a draft copy of our brief with the Special Counsel’s Office really for two purposes: One was to make sure that we weren’t including anything covered by the protective order, which they objected to our including, which would, perhaps, have to be redacted or filed under seal; and the other reason, frankly, was generally to understand what their reaction might be to particular points in the filing. After that, the Special Counsel’s Office discussed it with us and asked that we consider removing the Strozk 302, and the McCabe memorandum from the brief and to simply cite to them. Given our position as cooperating in the investigation, we acceded to that. We then sent them a draft of the footnotes that we would use to cite to the relevant documents, and originally those footnotes, as drafted by us, named the McCabe memorandum specifically and named the Strozk 302 specifically so that it would be clear to the reader which documents we were talking about. The Special Counsel’s Office requested that we change those citations to simply reference the memorandum and date and the FD-302 and date without the names. We acceded to that request, and I would add would not have acceded to it if in any way we felt it was misleading, but we respected the preferences of the Special Counsel’s Office.

THE COURT: All right. Any objection to what counsel said? Anything that you wish to add to that?

MR. VAN GRACK: Judge, just one point of clarification.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. VAN GRACK: Which is what we’ve represented to defense counsel in terms of what to and not to include, what we indicated was anything in the Strozk 302 and the McCabe memorandum that they thought was relevant can and should be included in their submissions. What we asked was that they not attach the documents because, as the Court is aware, there are other considerations in the material there that we wanted to be sensitive to.

Look closely: Kelner never actually answers Sullivan’s question, at all. Instead, he blames the decisions surrounding how those materials were cited in Flynn’s memo (which was not Sullivan’s question) on Mueller’s office.

Mueller’s team probably withheld the filings because there are legal proceedings involving both McCabe and Strzok. You can argue that those legal proceedings served as an excuse to hide embarrassing information and you might even be right. But that doesn’t give you permission to just blow off a legitimate question from the judge.

The second one is, given Kelner’s tenure of representation for Flynn, even more egregious.

Sullivan unsurprisingly expressed difficulty squaring the suggestion that there were extenuating circumstances to Flynn’s brazen lies in his FBI interview with Flynn’s claim that he was accepting responsibility for his actions. So the judge asked Kelner why he included them.

THE COURT: The references that I’ve mentioned that appear in your sentencing memorandum raise some concerns on the part of the Court. And my question is, how is raising those contentions about the circumstances under which Mr. Flynn lied consistent with acceptance of responsibility?

MR. KELNER: Your Honor, the principle reason we raised those points in the brief was to attempt to distinguish the two cases in which the Special Counsel’s investigation has resulted in incarceration, the Papadopoulos and Van der Zwaan cases in which the Special Counsel had pointed out as aggravating factors the fact that those defendants had been warned and the fact that those defendants did have counsel and lied anyway, and we felt it was important to identify for the Court that those aggravating circumstances do not exist in this case relevant to sentencing.

Kelner — the guy who signed a FARA registration that he might have faced his own legal consequences for if it weren’t for his client’s guilty plea accepting responsibility for the lies told in the registration himself — completely ignored Flynn’s FARA lies, both in his answer to this question and the brief generally. Flynn not only had benefit of counsel when he told one of the lies he pled guilty, again, to telling yesterday, Flynn had benefit of his, Rob Kelner’s, counsel.

And Kelner is only avoiding consequences for those FARA filings himself because (the existing story goes) his client is such an egregious liar, he has also lied to him, his lawyer, in the past.

That seems like a pretty major aggravating factor.

Much later in the hearing, when Kelner realized his client was facing prison time, he tried to take responsibility for all the things that showed up in that sentencing memo. Rather than leaving well enough alone, Kelner renewed his bullshit claim that what George Papadopoulos and Alex Van Der Zwaan did was worse than lying to the FBI and hiding your paid ties to a frenemy government. That led to Sullivan pointing out why even just Flynn’s lies to the FBI were, because he was in such an important role, worse than those of Mueller’s other false statements defendants.

MR. KELNER: Your Honor, with your indulgence, if I could make a few points.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. KELNER: First of all, let me make very clear, Your Honor, that the decisions regarding how to frame General Flynn’s sentencing memorandum made by counsel, made by me, made by Mr. Anthony, are entirely ours and really should not and do not diminish in any way General Flynn’s acceptance of responsibility in this case. And I want to make that —

THE COURT: That point is well taken, but you understand why I had to make the inquiry?

MR. KELNER: I do.

THE COURT: Because I’m thinking, this sounds like a backpedaling on the acceptance of responsibility. It was a legitimate area to inquire about. And I don’t want to be too harsh when I say this, but I know you’ll understand.

[snip]

MR. KELNER: Right. We understand the Court’s reason for concern. I just wanted to make very clear the very specific reasons that those sections in the brief were included, to distinguish the Papadopoulos and Van der Zwaan cases, which did result in incarceration, we think are meaningfully distinguishable in many respects.

THE COURT: Let me stop you on that point, because I’m glad you raised that, and I was going to raise this point at some point. We might as well raise it now since you brought up Papadopoulos and Van der Zwaan. The Court’s of the opinion that those two cases aren’t really analogous to this case. I mean, neither one of those individuals was a high-ranking government official who committed a crime while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House. And I note that there are other cases that have been cited in the memorandum with respect to other individuals sentenced in 2017, I believe, for 1001 offenses, and the point being made — and I think it’s an absolutely good point — the point being made that no one received a jail sentence. My guess is that not one of those defendants was a high-ranking government official who, while employed by the President of the United States, made false statements to the FBI officers while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House. That’s my guess. Now, if I’m wrong, then you can point me to any one or more of those cases. This case is in a category by itself right now, but I understand why you cited them. I appreciate that.

MR. KELNER: Your Honor, we don’t disagree. We recognize that General Flynn served in a high-ranking position, and that is unique and relevant. But I —

THE COURT: Absolutely.

But Kelner took that comment, and kept digging, claiming that Flynn’s cooperation should be worth more because his cooperation was more “consequential” than that of the little people.

MR. KELNER: But I would submit to you a couple of points in response for the Court’s consideration. Number one, because of his high rank and because of his former high office, when it came time to deal with this investigation and to deal with the Special Counsel’s Office, that, too, set a higher standard for him, and he did understand that as a three-star general and a former National Security Advisor, what he did was going to be very consequential for the Special Counsel’s investigation, and very consequential for the nation, so he made decisions early on to remain low profile, not to make regular public statements, as some other people did. That was acknowledged by the Special Counsel’s Office when we did first hear from them, the value of that silence. And then he made the decision publicly and clearly and completely and utterly to cooperate with this investigation, knowing that, because of his high rank, that was going to send a signal to every other potential cooperator and witness in this investigation, and that was consequential, and we appreciate the fact that the Special Counsel memorialized that in his brief. That did make a decision, and that was another kind of high standard that was set for him and that he rose to and met decisively. In addition, there have been other cases —

Sullivan interrupted Kelner at this point, perhaps in an effort to get him to stop damaging his client. It didn’t work though, because having argued that Flynn’s efforts to undo his lies were worth more than that of the little people, Kelner then … brought up David Petraeus.

THE COURT: Can I just stop you right now? Is — How do you wish to proceed? Do you wish to proceed with sentencing today or do you want to defer it?

MR. KELNER: Thank you, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Or are you leading up to that point?

MR. KELNER: I’m leading up to that.

THE COURT: No, that’s fine.

MR. KELNER: Just a bit of indulgence, if I may.

THE COURT: No, no. Go ahead. That’s fine.

MR. KELNER: And let me just finish that last point.

THE COURT: No, no, no. I’m not trying to curtail you. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

MR. KELNER: I’m building up to it. I’m building up to it, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. KELNER: In addition, I would note there have been other high profile cases, one involving a four-star general, General Petraeus.

THE COURT: I don’t agree with that plea agreement, but don’t —

MR. KELNER: It’s a classic —

THE COURT: He pled to a misdemeanor?

Right before Sullivan closed the hearing, he expressed his disapproval of that sentence once again with Kelner, presumably as a warning not to argue Flynn should get light treatment, like Petraeus did, because he’s an important decorated general.

While bringing up the double standard the Obama Administration used with Petraeus is totally fair game, especially in Espionage-charged leak cases (which this is not), this was an instance where Kelner either couldn’t hear or didn’t give a fuck about what the judge had already told him, which is that, having read all the sealed underlying documents, he believes the stuff Flynn lied about “is in a category by itself.”

Honestly, if I were Mike Flynn and I had the money I’d fire Kelner after recent events, because — even if Kelner is not responsible for the ploy that badly backfired (and I suspect he’s not, at least not entirely) — by returning to sentencing with a different lawyer, you can try to start fresh with Sullivan, whom you’ve already pissed off.

But it’s not clear that Flynn can do that.

Because while firing Kelner might permit Flynn to claim he had nothing to do with this disavowal of responsibility that Kelner is now claiming responsibility for, Kelner’s still required to claim that Flynn is responsible for the false statements submitted in a document signed by Kelner back in 2017.

More importantly, according to Kelner, the Kian trial is the only thing left for Flynn to offer as far as cooperation.

Nothing has been held back. That said, it is true that this EDVA case that was indicted yesterday is still pending, and it’s likely, I would think, that General Flynn may be asked to testify in that case. We haven’t been told that, but I think it’s likely, and he’s prepared to testify. And while we believe that the Special Counsel’s Office views his cooperation as having been very largely complete, completed at this point, it is true that there’s this additional modicum of cooperation that he expects to provide in the EDVA case, and for that reason, we are prepared to take Your Honor up on the suggestion of delaying sentencing so that he can eke out the last modicum of cooperation in the EDVA case to be in the best position to argue to the Court the great value of his cooperation.

It seems likely that if Kian goes to trial, it will be Kelner’s testimony, not Flynn’s, that might be most important.

Kelner and Flynn are yoked together, Kelner to the lies Flynn told him to file in that FARA filing, and Flynn to the insubordinate effort to dismiss the importance of Flynn’s lies.

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

In Defense of Emmet Sullivan: Van Grack Suggested Mueller Did Review Whether Flynn’s Behavior Amounted to Treason

I’d like to defend Judge Emmet Sullivan’s intemperate mentions of unregistered foreign agents and treason in the Mike Flynn sentencing hearing yesterday. Not only has the discussion about his comments gotten the precise language used wrong, but it fails to understand the import of Mike Flynn’s lies about being an agent of the Turkish government.

There are two comments in question. First, in part of a speech about how he would weigh the mitigating and aggravating factors in Flynn’s sentencing, Sullivan said that Flynn was “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.”

I’m going to also take into consideration the aggravating circumstances, and the aggravating circumstances are serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI, but you lied to senior officials in the Trump Transition Team and Administration. Those lies caused the then-Vice President-Elect, incoming Chief of Staff, and then-Press Secretary to lie to the American people. Moreover, you lied to the FBI about three different topics, and you made those false statements while you were serving as the National Security Advisor, the President of the United States’ most senior national security aid. I can’t minimize that.

Two months later you again made false statements in multiple documents filed pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. So, all along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States. [my emphasis]

Then, after having gotten Flynn to finally take him up on consulting with his attorneys, but before they recessed, Sullivan sat Flynn down and asked prosecutor Brandon Van Grack if prosecutors had evaluated Flynn’s activities to see if his behavior rose to the level of “treasonous activity.” Van Grack responded by answering about the crime of treason.

COURT: All right. I really don’t know the answer to this question, but given the fact that the then-President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering with federal elections in this country, is there an opinion about the conduct of the defendant the following days that rises to the level of treasonous activity on his part?

MR. VAN GRACK: The government did not consider — I shouldn’t say — I shouldn’t say did not consider, but in terms of the evidence that the government had at the time, that was not something that we were considering in terms of charging the defendant.

THE COURT: All right. Hypothetically, could he have been charged with treason?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I want to be careful what I represent.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. VAN GRACK: And not having that information in front of me and because it’s such a serious question, I’m hesitant to answer it, especially because I think it’s different than asking if he could be charged under FARA or if there were other 1001 violations, for example. [my emphasis]

Flynn went off, consulted with his lawyers, and wisely decided the last thing he should do is let Sullivan sentence him while he was thinking of treason. When he came back, the first thing Sullivan did was correct that Flynn was not acting as a foreign agent while serving as National Security Advisor and explain that he did not think Flynn had committed treason, but wanted to know what Mueller’s thinking on uncharged crimes was.

THE COURT: All right. I just want to ask a couple of questions. This is directed to either government counsel or defense counsel. I made a statement about Mr. Flynn acting as a foreign agent while serving in the White House. I may have misspoken. Does that need to be corrected?

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor, that would be correct, which is that the conduct ended, I believe, in mid-November 2016.

THE COURT: All right. That’s what I thought, and I felt terrible about that. I just want the record clear on that. You agree with that, Counsel?

MR. KELNER: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. I also asked about — and this is very important — I also asked about the Special Counsel’s Office. I also asked questions about the Special Counsel and the — and other potential offenses for the purpose of understanding the benefit, if any, that Mr. Flynn has received in the plea deal. I wasn’t suggesting he’s committed treason. I wasn’t suggesting he committed violations. I was just curious as to whether or not he could have been charged, and I gave a few examples.

[snip]

THE COURT: And I said early on, Don’t read too much into the questions I ask. But I’m not suggesting he committed treason. I just asked a legitimate question.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor. And that affords us an opportunity to clarify something on our end which is, with respect to treason, I said I wanted to make sure I had the statute in front of me. The government has no reason to believe that the defendant committed treason; not just at the time, but having proffered with the defendant and spoken with him through 19 interviews, no concerns with respect to the issue of treason. [my emphasis]

Now, I will be honest with you: I was screaming at Sullivan when I read this being tweeted out in real time, in part because I spend so much time arguing that Trump and his flunkies won’t be charged with treason because we’re not at war. I do think, in an effort to convey to Flynn just how reprehensible he believes his actions were, Sullivan got out over his skis. But I think his comments are far more defensible — and telling — than much of the commentary appreciates.

Here’s why.

First, even the docket makes it clear that there are a bunch of sealed documents that Sullivan has gotten, including an ex parte version of the government’s addendum describing Flynn’s cooperation. Sullivan started the hearing yesterday emphasizing that point, then returned to it after he had gotten Flynn to plead guilty again under oath.

There’s a great deal of nonpublic information in this case, and I’ll just leave it at that.

If any of my questions require a party to disclose nonpublic information, or if I begin to discuss something nonpublic, don’t be shy in telling me. My clerks over the years have learned to do this (indicating) if I get off of script or if I get into areas where — I won’t get offended if you do it. I may not see you, so stand up and raise your hands or say something, please. I don’t want to unintentionally say something that should not be revealed on the public docket.

There’s a new document that was filed at 10:19 this morning. The government filed a sealed motion alerting the Court that it inadvertently omitted one document from the government’s in-camera production.

[snip]

Having carefully read all the materials provided to the Court in this case, including those materials reviewed under seal and in-camera, I conclude that there was and remains to be a factual basis for Mr. Flynn’s plea of guilty. [my emphasis]

By yesterday morning, Emmet Sullivan probably became one of the few people outside Mueller’s team and his DOJ supervisors that understands the activities that Trump and his associates, including Flynn, engaged in from 2015 to 2017. He understands not just the significance of Flynn’s lies, but also how those lies tied to graft and conspiracy with foreign countries — countries including, but not limited to, Russia.

It should gravely worry the Trump people that Sullivan’s comments about whether Flynn’s behavior was treasonous came from someone who just read about what the Mueller investigation has discovered.

Now consider that, as part of his effort to understand how much benefit Flynn got from pleading guilty to one charge of false statements for his multiple lies, Sullivan and Van Grack had this exchange.

MR. VAN GRACK: [W]e’d like to bring to the Court’s attention that we just had an indictment unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia charging Bijan Rafiekian and Ekim Alptekin with various violations, and the defendant provided substantial assistance to the attorneys in the Eastern District of Virginia in obtaining that charging document.

THE COURT: All right. Could the defendant have been indicted in that indictment? Could he have been charged in that indictment?

MR. VAN GRACK: And, Your Honor, the answer is yes, and the reason for that is that in the Statement of Offense in this case, the defendant refers to false statements in that FARA filing that are part of the indictment filed in the Eastern District of Virginia.

[snip]

THE COURT: And that would have been — what’s the exposure in that indictment if someone is found guilty?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I believe, if you’ll give me a moment, I believe it was a conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, which I believe is a five-year offense. It was a violation of 18 U.S.C. 951, which is either a five- or ten-year offense, and false statements — under those false statements, now that I think about it, Your Honor, pertain to Ekim Alptekin, and I don’t believe the defendant had exposure to the false statements of that individual.

THE COURT: Could the sentences have been run consecutive to one another?

MR. VAN GRACK: I believe so.

THE COURT: So the exposure would have been grave, then, would have been — it would have been — exposure to Mr. Flynn would have been significant had he been indicted? [my emphasis]

Van Grack not only says that Flynn could have been charged in that conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent indictment, but that the lies he told were part of the indictment.

And in fact, this language in Flynn’s statement of the offense (which Sullivan read yesterday in court):

On March 7, 2017, FLYNN filed multiple documents with the Department of Justice pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) pertaining to a project performed by him and his company, the Flynn Intel Group, Inc. (“FIG”), for the principal benefit of the Republic of Turkey (“Turkey project”). In the FARA filings, FLYNN made materially false statements and omissions, including by falsely stating that (a) FIG did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved in the Turkey project, (b) the Turkey project was focused on improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, and (c) an op-ed by FLYNN published in The Hill on November 8, 2016, was written at his own initiative; and by omitting that officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction over the Turkey project.

Became this language in the Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin indictment:

From approximately January 2017 through approximately March 2017, outside attorneys for Company A gathered information to determine whether Company A or any of its employees had an obligation to register under FARA based upon Company A’s work on “Operation Confidence.” During this process, RAFIEK.IAN and ALPTEKIN knowingly provided false information to Company A’s attorneys in an effort to hide from the attorneys – and ultimately from the FARA Unit – the involvement of Turkish government officials in the project.

Among other things, RAFIEKIAN falsely told Company A’s attorneys that:

a. The meeting on or about September 19, 2016 in New York City had nothing to do with Project Confidence, and instead was in furtherance of an abandoned “Project Truth” that was distinct from Project Confidence;

b. There were no other contacts with Turkish government officials regarding the project;

c. The op-ed was Person A’s own idea, and he wrote it on his own behalf, and unrelated to the project;

[snip]

Attorneys for Company A also solicited information from ALPTEKIN for use in the FARA filings. Through his own attorneys, ALPTEKIN falsely told Company A’s attorneys that:

a. ALPTEKIN had not been consulted on the op-ed, and that he would have opposed it if he had been consulted;

[snip]

On or about March 7, 2017, RAFIEKIAN and ALPTEKIN caused to be made the following false statements of material fact in documents filed with and furnished to the Attorney General under the provisions of FARA, and omitted the following material facts necessary to make the statements therein not misleading. RAFIEKIAN reviewed the filings and provided comments to Company A’s attorneys before the filings were submitted, but did not request that any of these false statements be changed.

[snip]

Exhibit A to Company A’s FARA Registration Statement falsely stated that “[Company A] does not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved with its retention by [Company B] for the three-month project.”

[snip]

Paragraph 13: “In addition to the above described activities, if any, have you engaged in activity on your own behalf which b~nefits your foreign principal?”

Response: “Because of its expertise, [Company A J -officials write, speak, and give interviews relating to national security. Although not undertaken at the direction or control of a foreign principal, it is possible that such activities may have an indirect benefit to a principal. On his own initiative, [Person A J published an op-ed in The Hill on November 8, 2016, that related to the same subject matters as [Company A] work for [Company BJ. Neither [Company BJ, nor any other person requested or directed publication of the op-ed.”

The Attachment to Company A’s FARA Supplemental Statement falsely stated that “[Company A] understood the engagement to be focused on improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, particularly with respect to the stability of Turkey and its suitability as a venue for investment and commercial activity.”

While there are other false statements alleged (presumably the ones Van Grack said Flynn was not implicated in), the EDVA indictment actually charges four counts of false statements, and one of those directly maps to the lie Flynn himself pled guilty to.

Side note: it’s worth mentioning that Rob Kelner — who is still Flynn’s lawyer — is the guy who submitted those false FARA statements, which means he may be the lawyer that will take the stand in the EDVA trial to attest to the lies on those forms. It’s Kelner who still has some cooperation with prosecutors to do, at least as much as Flynn.

Significantly, as I noted the other day, both the conspiracy and the foreign agents charges in the EDVA indictment say the conduct continued through March 2017, the date Flynn Intelligence Group filed false FARA filings, hiding the fact that they knew Turkey was behind the Fethullah Gulen project.

COUNT ONE Conspiracy – 18 U.S. C. § 3 71 THE GRAND JURY FURTHER CHARGES THAT: 1. The allegations contained in the General Allegations of this Indictment are incorporated here by reference. 2. From at least July 2016, through at least March 2017, in the Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, the defendants,

[snip]

COUNT TWO Acting as an Unregistered Agent of a Foreign Government – 18 U.S. C. § 9 51 THE GRAND JURY FURTHER CHARGES THAT: 1. The allegations contained in the General Allegations of this Indictment are incorporated here by reference. 2. From approximately July 2016 through approximately March 2017, in the Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, the defendants, [my emphasis]

There’s a reason it gets charged that way, which is even more important for Flynn than for his co-conspirators (a reason that also played out in Paul Manafort’s case, in which he was charged for hiding his ties to Ukraine at a time when they would have impacted the Trump campaign).

The point of these registration crimes is that so long as you withhold full disclosure about your actions, you continue to lie to the federal government and the public about the significance of your actions. By filing a registration in March 2017 specifically denying what all the co-conspirators knew — that Flynn Intelligence Group was actually working for Turkey, not Ekim Alptekin’s cut-out Inovo — it prevented the public and the government from assessing the import of Flynn’s actions in trying to force DOJ to deem Gulen a terrorist who could be extradited to Turkey. And frankly, so long as Flynn continued to hide that detail, it made him susceptible to pressure if not blackmail from Turkey.

There’s a grammatical difference between Sullivan’s two comments. He first said that Flynn was “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor.” That was, technically, true. For the entirety of the time Flynn served as National Security Advisor, FIG had not admitted that it had actually been working directly for Turkey. Indeed, FIG continued to lie (and so remained unregistered) about that fact until December 1, 2017, when Flynn pled guilty.

As I’ll show in a follow-up post, it is critically important that Flynn continued to lie about whether he had been working directly for Turkey when he met with the FBI on January 24, 2017.

Sullivan’s follow-up used different grammar. Then, he said “Flynn [was not] acting as a foreign agent while serving in the White House.” That is also true. He was no longer secretly being paid by the government of Turkey to do things like slap his name on op-eds written by other people.

Still, even though he was no longer being paid to take specific actions requested by the government of Turkey, for the entire time he worked at the White House (and for more than eight months afterwards), his past work as an agent of a foreign government — as opposed to a foreign company cut-out — remained unregistered, undisclosed to the public.

With that in mind, I want to return to the specific exchange that Sullivan had. In response to his question about whether Flynn’s behavior amounted not to treason, but to treasonous activity, Van Grack at first says they did not consider treason, but then corrected himself.

COURT: All right. I really don’t know the answer to this question, but given the fact that the then-President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering with federal elections in this country, is there an opinion about the conduct of the defendant the following days that rises to the level of treasonous activity on his part?

MR. VAN GRACK: The government did not consider — I shouldn’t say — I shouldn’t say did not consider, but in terms of the evidence that the government had at the time, that was not something that we were considering in terms of charging the defendant. [my emphasis]

All of this seems to be consistent with Mueller reviewing Flynn’s actions, reviewing statute, finding that Flynn’s behavior did rise to the standards described in 18 USC 951 (with which Van Grack said he could have been charged), but did not rise to treason (as it clearly did not). Van Grack explained that “in terms of other offenses, they were not sort of in consideration in our interfacing with the defendant,” which seems to admit that Flynn could have been charged with other crimes, but was not, because he cooperated.

This walkback, I’m convinced, is as much for the benefit of the prosecutors, who gave Flynn an unbelievable sweetheart deal, as it was for the sake of judicial restraint. Mueller is forgiving Flynn working in the White House while continuing to hide that he had, during the campaign, secretly and knowingly worked for a foreign government, in consideration of his cooperation unveiling other activities.

But legal standards aside, Sullivan — one of the only people who has read a summary of what Flynn provided in his cooperation — still could not hide his disgust about the conduct he knows far more about than we do.

This crime is very serious. As I stated, it involves false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on the premises of the White House, in the White House in the West Wing by a high ranking security officer with, up to that point, had an unblemished career of service to his country. That’s a very serious offense.

You know, I’m going to take into consideration the 33 years of military service and sacrifice, and I’m going to take into consideration the substantial assistance of several ongoing — several ongoing investigations, but I’m going to also take into consideration the aggravating circumstances, and the aggravating circumstances are serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI, but you lied to senior officials in the Trump Transition Team and Administration. Those lies caused the then-Vice President-Elect, incoming Chief of Staff, and then-Press Secretary to lie to the American people. Moreover, you lied to the FBI about three different topics, and you made those false statements while you were serving as the National Security Advisor, the President of the United States’ most senior national security aid. I can’t minimize that.

Two months later you again made false statements in multiple documents filed pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. So, all along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.

I mean, arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for (indicating). Arguably, you sold your country out. The Court’s going to consider all of that. I cannot assure you that if you proceed today you will not receive a sentence of incarceration. But I have to also tell you that at some point, if and when the government says you’ve concluded with your cooperation, you could be incarcerated.

It could be that any sentence of incarceration imposed after your further cooperation is completed would be for less time than a sentence may be today. I can’t make any guarantees, but I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense. [my emphasis]

I remain frustrated that Sullivan raised treason at all yesterday, as I spend a great deal of time tamping down discussion of treason; none of the Trump flunkies’ actions that have been thus far revealed reach treason.

But I think I’m beginning to understand what a big deal it was for Flynn to continue to lie about his service for Turkey, even aside from the disgust I share with Sullivan that anyone would engage in such sleazy influence peddling while serving as a key foreign policy advisor for a guy running for President.

Flynn did a lot of really sleazy things. There was no discussion yesterday, for example, about how he gleefully worked on cashing in with nuclear deals even while Trump was being inaugurated. The public lacks both a full accounting of his sleazy actions and full understanding of their import for national security.

Mueller’s team thinks Flynn’s cooperation has been so valuable that it should wipe away most punishment for those sleazy actions. Emmet Sullivan, having read a great deal of secret information, is not so sure.

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

The Flynn Sentencing: What Comes Next?

As Zoe Tillman describes, the Mike Flynn sentencing hearing today was even more unpredictable than I imagined (and I anticipated it would bring some surprises). Judge Emmet Sullivan (after apparently putting Flynn under oath so these questions, too, could be charged for perjury) asked him several times whether — given the sentencing memorandum he submitted suggesting extenuating circumstances for his lies to the FBI (but not to DOJ’s FARA team) — he believed he had lied, whether he knew that was a crime, whether he wanted to plead guilty.

Throughout the proceedings, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan repeatedly asked Flynn if he wanted to go ahead with sentencing, given his lawyers’ comments questioning the conduct of the FBI officials and agents who handled his questioning in January 2017, and the fact that Flynn might not be finished cooperating.

Having established that — and offered Flynn several opportunities to delay sentencing, he laid into him, even going so far as to ask prosecutor Brandon Van Grack if Mueller had considered charing Flynn with treason.

“Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for,” Sullivan said, gesturing to an American flag displayed behind his chair. “Arguably you sold your country out.”

Sullivan continued: “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense.”

Flynn at that point took up the judge’s offer of additional time to consult with his lawyers. Before the judge took a break, however, he asked special counsel prosecutor Brandon Van Grack if Flynn could have been charged with treason for his conversations with now-former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016, after then-president Barack Obama had entered sanctions against Russia for interfering in the election.

That’s when Flynn asked Sullivan for a break. When he and his lawyers returned, they took Sullivan up on his offer for a delay, and suggested a status hearing in March.

But it’s not entirely clear how that will help — aside from giving Sullivan time to set aside the visceral disgust he showed for Flynn today.

Here’s are some possible scenarios:

Flynn Finds Something Else to Cooperate On

This is the ostensible reason to delay the sentencing, so that Flynn can cooperate some more, in an attempt to convince Sullivan he should avoid prison time.

When Sullivan asked Van Grack whether Flynn was done cooperating, and the prosecutor replied that it remained a possibility. That stops short of even promising that Flynn will be called to testify in the trial against his former partner, Bijan Kian. As I noted yesterday, the indictment seemed to be built to avoid that, and as an unindicted co-conspirator there may be problems if Flynn does testify, to say nothing of his limited credibility as a sworn liar. Moreover, Flynn’s substantial cooperation in getting prosecutors to this point was already baked into today’s sentencing. It’s hard to imagine what Flynn could do to improve on that.

Which leaves the possibility that Flynn knows of something — some other crime, whether by Trump and his circle, or some of his other pals — that he can offer to federal prosecutors. It is possible that, seeing an angry judge talking about treason and imagining prison, Flynn unforgot somethings he knows, so took his lawyer aside and said there was another area he might be willing to share with prosecutors.

Trump Risks Clemency

A more likely motivation, for Flynn, is the hope that Trump will decide to give Flynn the pardon he floated over a year ago. If Flynn delays long enough, Trump might get into a place where it’ll be politically feasible for him to commute any sentence Flynn makes.

Maybe he, like the nutters who occupy the same bubble he does, that after a series of false hoaxes over the last year, someone will finally discover something that will provide the excuse Trump needs.

Or maybe he’s just delaying in hopes that one of the long shot challenges to Mueller’s authority — or perhaps his firing — will get him off his charges.

All of these, of course, would amount to a play for time, in the hopes that his fortune will improve.

Kelner Falls on His Sword

After they came back from the break, Robert Kelner said something suggesting that Sullivan shouldn’t penalize Flynn in his sentencing for something his attorney (that is, he, Kelner) had written in a sentencing memo.

It’s unclear to me whether Kelner was referencing the stunt suggesting there were extenuating circumstances explaining why Flynn lied or a reference he made to David Petraeus (Sullivan explicitly suggested he thought Petraeus got an easy deal). It’s equally unclear to me how much of Sullivan’s tirade today stemmed from Flynn’s actual conduct (and the sweet deal he himself got) or the stunt.

Particularly if it’s the former, then it’s possible to win some favor from Sullivan by having Kelner even more publicly fall on his sword, claiming (the claim would almost certainly be utter bullshit) that it was his idea to try that stunt. That might provide Flynn an opportunity to present a new, chastened sentencing memo in March, such that Sullivan would be more amicable to giving him probation.

There’s a tension underlying this: One reason Flynn wanted to get sentenced early was so he could return to sleazy influence peddling so he could pay his legal bills. Now he’s looking at still more legal bills for a stunt that he probably demanded.

The Unfolding Turkish and Russian Stories Change the Context

Judge Sullivan (or his clerks) have read, at a minimum, the following:

  • An unredacted copy of Flynn’s 302
  • An unredacted copy of the McCabe memo
  • A partly unredacted copy of the Strzok 302 (some parts of it are not relevant to this case, so may not have been shared)
  • An unredacted copy of Flynn’s cooperation addendum
  • An ex parte version of the Flynn cooperation addendum including details Flynn doesn’t know
  • Information, in some form, on the Kian indictment

And there are still some sealed items in Flynn’s docket.

So Sullivan should have a pretty complete idea of what cooperation Flynn has given.

That said, it’s not impossible that as both the Kian prosecution (I suspect he’ll plead) and the Russian investigation proceeds, additional information will become known — or at least public — to change the context of Flynn’s actions. Maybe, if the crimes of his business partner end up far worse than we know, Flynn’s treatment for the foreign agent charge won’t appear as easy. Maybe, if people next to Trump get charged with serious crimes, the value of Flynn’s cooperation will make him look less like a sell-out.

But the opposite could happen, as well. As his co-conspirators attempt to save themselves, they may be able to present credible evidence about stuff Flynn has thus far suppressed (if not from Mueller, from the public).

And what if Trump ultimately quits in disgrace? Sure, he could pardon his co-conspirators on the way out (though I doubt he’d do that if there weren’t a benefit to him). But if Trump leaves in disgrace, Flynn’s continued good relations with Trump may only make him look like more of a sell-out.

The point is, short of finding other criminals to flip on or finding a way to remove Mueller’s authority, it’s not clear how Flynn’s fortune can improve over the next three months, and there are definitely ways his fortune could go south.

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

Mike Flynn Steps in It: In a Bid to Feed the Frothy Right, He Leads to Release of Damning New Details Showing He Lied to Protect Trump

Last week, I suggested that Mike Flynn’s cute trick of publicly releasing information from Andy McCabe’s memo and Peter Strzok’s 302 might backfire.

He cited a memo that fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote the day of Flynn’s interview and the interview report (called a “302”) that fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok had a hand in writing up in August 2017, some seven months after the interview.

In response, the judge in his case, Emmet Sullivan, issued an order asking not just for those two documents, but any documents related to the matters Flynn writes up, to be filed by tomorrow, along with the government’s reply to his memorandum.

And so it is that on the one year anniversary of the order Sullivan issued to ensure that Flynn got any exculpatory information relating to his plea, that the hopes among the frothy right that Flynn’s prosecution (including for lying about his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey) will be delegitimized and with it everything that happened subsequent to Flynn’s plea might be answered.

Or maybe not.

[snip]

DOJ has never had the opportunity to write its own explanation for what happened with Flynn’s interview. By inviting a reply specifically in the context of this Flynn claim, Sullivan has given DOJ the opportunity to do just that, finally.

[snip]

Sullivan’s order may result in documentation that reveals just how shoddy all the claims irregularity surrounding Flynn’s interview have been all this time.

Boy oh boy was I right.

In response to Judge Sullivan’s order, the government filed Flynn’s 302 under seal. After Sullivan reviewed it, he deemed it pertinent to Flynn’s sentencing, and had the government release a redacted version.

And it is unbelievably damning, in part because it shows the degree to which Flynn’s lies served to protect Trump.

The 302 shows how the FBI Agents first let Flynn offer up his explanation for his conversation with Kislyak. He lied about the purpose for his call to Kislyak on December 29 (he said he had called to offer condolences about the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey) and he lied about the purpose of his call about Israel (he claimed he was, in part, doing a battle drill “to see who the administration could reach in a crisis” and in the process tried to find out how countries were voting on the Israeli motion; Flynn denied he had asked for any specific action).

Then, after the Agents specifically asked whether he recalled any conversation about the Obama actions, Flynn doubled down and claimed he did not know about those actions because he was in Dominican Republic.

He was hiding two things with this claim: first, I believe Susan Rice had given the Trump Administration a heads up on what Obama was going to do (at the very least the Obama Admin had asked the transition not to send mixed messages, and at least one person on the transition says they agreed not to). More importantly, he was hiding that he had already talked about the actions with KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago relaying orders from Trump.

And Flynn again denied having had a heads up from Susan Rice when he claimed he didn’t know that Russia’s diplomats were being expelled.

Finally, Flynn offered an excuse that is at least partly bullshit for why he called Kislyak multiple times.

The reason he kept calling Kislyak was, at least in part, because he was coordinating with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. His earlier claim that he didn’t respond to Kislyak is also probably a lie; he delayed his response to contact Mar-a-Lago first.

Sullivan said this 302 is relevant to Flynn’ sentencing, so he may actually use it to justify ignoring the joint requests of Flynn and Mueller for no jail time (though I’m not betting on it).

But by giving DOJ the opportunity to present this 302 for publication, Flynn provided proof of what has been hidden all this time — why Trump responded to the way he did about this investigation.

Flynn lied to hide Trump’s involvement in all this (and, to an extent, the degree to which it involved specifically ignoring a heads up from Obama).

Flynn lied to hide Trump’s personal involvement in telling the Russians to hold off on responding to Obama’s sanctions. And when the FBI investigated those lies, Trump fired the FBI Director to try to end that investigation.

Update: Jeebus. This 302 also reveals that he was quoting directly from the instructions KT McFarland had given him, relaying Trump’s orders. Here’s what McFarland said she had told Flynn, in an email shared with multiple transition officials.

She also wrote that the sanctions over Russian election meddling were intended to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”

“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.

And here’s what — quoting from the transcript of his calls with Kislyak — the Agents asked him if he said.

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

That Peter Strzok 302 Probably Comes from the Obstruction Case File

I’d like to provide a plausible explanation for questions about an FBI 302 released yesterday as part of the Mike Flynn sentencing.

As a reminder, after Flynn pled guilty, his case ultimately got assigned to Emmet Sullivan, who is laudably insistent on making sure defendants get any possible exonerating evidence, even if they’ve already pled guilty. On his orders, the government would have provided him everything early in 2018.

In Flynn’s sentencing memo submitted earlier this week, his lawyers quoted from an Andrew McCabe memo written the day of his interview and a 302 that they described to be dated August 22, 2017, a full 7 months after his interview. In predictable response, Sullivan instructed the government to provide that McCabe memo and the 302 cited by Flynn’s lawyers.

When the government submitted those two documents yesterday, they raised still more questions, because it became clear the 302 (which is what FBI calls their interview reports) in question was of an interview of Strzok conducted on July 19, 2017, drafted on July 20, and finalized on August 22. The 302 described that Strzok was the lead interviewer in Flynn’s interview, whereas his interviewing partner wrote up the 302.

This has raised questions about why we only got the Strzok 302, and not the original one cited by Strzok.

While I don’t have a full explanation, certain things are missing from the discussion.

Folks are misunderstanding what the 302 represents. It is not the 302 reporting the Flynn interview. Rather, it is a 302 “collect[ing] certain information regarding Strzok’s involvement in various aspects of what has become the Special Counsel’s investigation,” which he described to one Senior Assistant Special Counsel and an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, presumably one assigned to SCO. The 302 notes that Strzok wasn’t just involved in the investigation of Mike Flynn. While it redacts the names, it also lists the other parts of the investigation he oversaw.

We know he was involved in the Papadopoulos investigation, and it appears likely he was involved in the Page investigation, as well. Both this passage and the next one describes the people at DOJ that Strzok interacted with in these investigations, which is further evidence the purpose of this 302 is not to capture the interview, but instead to capture details about internal workings surrounding the investigation itself.

The part of this 302 that is unredacted makes up maybe a third of the substance of the 302, and it appears between almost full page redactions before and after the part describing the Flynn interview. Again, the other stuff must be as pertinent to the purpose of this 302 as the Flynn interview itself.

had thought the interview might be an effort by SCO to capture Strzok’s institutional knowledge in the wake of the discovery of his texts with Lisa Page as a way to prepare some other FBI Agent to be able to testify at trial. But the timing appears wrong. DOJ’s IG first informed Mueller about the texts on July 27, and he was removed from the team the next day (though not processed out of that clearance, according to this report, until August 11).

Strzok was assigned to lead the Russia investigation in late July 2016. 197 Page also worked on the Russia investigation, and told us that she served the same liaison function as she did in the Midyear investigation. Both Page and Strzok accepted invitations to work on the Special Counsel staff in 2017. Page told the OIG that she accepted a 45-day temporary duty assignment but returned to work in the Deputy Director’s office at the FBI on or around July 15, 2017. Strzok was removed from the Special Counsel’s investigation on approximately July 28, 2017, and returned to the FBI in another position, after the OIG informed the DAG and Special Counsel of the text messages discussed in this report on July 27, 2017. [my emphasis]

But the interview does line up temporally with other known events: Around the time Strzok was interviewed, both Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates were interviewed in the obstruction case, interviews that would also result in 302s summarizing the interview. Jim Comey had already turned over his memos on meetings with Trump by that point; eventually he would be interviewed by Mueller as well, though it’s not clear when that interview (and correlating 302) was.

Yates and Comey are both among the people the 302 explicitly describes Strzok interacting with.

In other words, it seems likely that this 302 was designed to capture what Strzok knew about the internal workings of DOJ and FBI surrounding the Mike Flynn interview, and likely was focused on explaining the significance of Flynn’s lies and subsequent firing to the obstruction case. That is, this would have served to turn what Strzok learned as investigator into information Strzok had to offer as a witness, in the same way that Mueller would have had to turn what Comey and Rosenstein knew as supervisors into information relevant to their role as witnesses. It probably had the unintended benefit of capturing what Strzok knew about key parts of the investigation before he was indelibly tainted by the discovery of his text messages.

If this is the explanation, it raises questions about why we only got this 302, and not the original one.

There’s a very likely answer to that: that original 302 presumably didn’t include this detail, at least not in the easily quotable form that would serve Flynn’s political purposes.

Flynn has, as far as we know, gotten everything. His lawyers chose which of those documents to quote. And Judge Sullivan only ordered the government to produce these two (though invited them to submit anything else they wanted to, an invitation they did not take up).

But there’s another piece of evidence that there’s far less to this 302 than some are suggesting: because Republicans in Congress chased down this detail over the last year, and in their most recent incarnation of drumming up conspiracies about Flynn, in questioning Jim Comey just a week ago, Trey Gowdy did not focus on the question of the 302s produced, but instead tried to suggest that Flynn didn’t mean to lie.

Note that, contrary to what right wingers have suggested, Comey did not say anything inconsistent with the Strzok interview 302; rather, he said he wasn’t sure where his knowledge came from.

Mr. Gowdy. Who is Christopher Steele? Well, before I go to that, let me ask you this.

At any — who interviewed General Flynn, which FBI agents?

Mr. Comey. My recollection is two agents, one of whom was Pete Strzok and the other of whom is a career line agent, not a supervisor.

Mr. Gowdy. Did either of those agents, or both, ever tell you that they did not adduce an intent to deceive from their interview with General Flynn?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever testified differently?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall being asked that question in a HPSCI hearing?

Mr. Comey. No. I recall — I don’t remember what question I was asked. I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing.

Mr. Gowdy. Who would you have gotten that from if you were not present for the interview?

Mr. Comey. From someone at the FBI, who either spoke to — I don’t think I spoke to the interviewing agents but got the report from the interviewing agents.

Mr. Gowdy. All right. So you would have, what, read the 302 or had a conversation with someone who read the 302?

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember for sure. I think I may have done both, that is, read the 302 and then spoke to people who had spoken to the investigators themselves. It’s possible I spoke to the investigators directly. I just don’t remember that.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again, what was communicated on the issue of an intent to deceive? What’s your recollection on what those agents relayed back?

Mr. Comey. My recollection was he was — the conclusion of the investigators was he was obviously lying, but they saw none of the normal common indicia of deception: that is, hesitancy to answer, shifting in seat, sweating, all the things that you might associate with someone who is conscious and manifesting that they are being — they’re telling falsehoods. There’s no doubt he was lying, but that those indicators weren’t there.

Mr. Gowdy. When you say “lying,” I generally think of an intent to deceive as opposed to someone just uttering a false statement.

Mr. Comey. Sure.

Mr. Gowdy. Is it possible to utter a false statement without it being lying?

Mr. Comey. I can’t answer — that’s a philosophical question I can’t answer.

Mr. Gowdy. No, I mean, if I said, “Hey, look, I hope you had a great day yesterday on Tuesday,” that’s demonstrably false.

Mr. Comey. That’s an expression of opinion.

Mr. Gowdy. No, it’s a fact that yesterday was —

Mr. Comey. You hope I have a great day —

Mr. Gowdy. No, no, no, yesterday was not Tuesday.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again — because I’m afraid I may have interrupted you, which I didn’t mean to do — your agents, it was relayed to you that your agents’ perspective on that interview with General Flynn was what? Because where I stopped you was, you said: He was lying. They knew he was lying, but he didn’t have the indicia of lying.

Mr. Comey. Correct. All I was doing was answering your question, which I understood to be your question, about whether I had previously testified that he — the agents did not believe he was lying. I was trying to clarify. I think that reporting that you’ve seen is the product of a garble. What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true. They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.

Mr. Gowdy. Would that be considered Brady material and hypothetically a subsequent prosecution for false statement?

Mr. Comey. That’s too hypothetical for me. I mean, interesting law school question: Is the absence of incriminating evidence exculpatory evidence? But I can’t answer that question. [my emphasis]

What may best explains this exchange is that, when it happened, Comey had never seen the Strzok 302, he had just seen the original one, but Gowdy had seen both. That would be consistent with Andrew McCabe’s testimony to HPSCI, which acknowledged that the Agents didn’t detect deception but knew Flynn’s statements did not match the FISA transcript.

McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”

Gowdy may be suggesting that the original 302 was unfair because it did not admit how well Flynn snookered the FBI’s top Counterintelligence Agent. But that detail may not be something Comey is even aware  of, because it only got written down after he had been fired. That would explain why Flynn wouldn’t want that original one disclosed, because it might make clear that the FBI immediately recognized his claims to be false, even if they didn’t know (before doing the requisite follow-up) why he lied.

One thing we do know: there are two (related) criminal investigations that have come out of Mike Flynn’s interview. The first, into his lies, and the second, into Trump’s efforts to keep him on in spite of his lies by firing the FBI Director.

While we can’t say for sure (and Mueller’s office would not comment in response to my questions when I asked if something like this explained the 302), one possible explanation for why we’re seeing just this 302 is it’s the only one that makes Flynn look good.

Update: As JL notes, the Mueller filing makes it clear that the 302 is neither from the Flynn investigation nor from an investigation into Strzok’s conduct.

Strzok was interviewed on July 19, 2017, in relation to other matters, not as part of the investigation of the defendant or any investigation of Strzok’s conduct.

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

On Emmet Sullivan’s Order for Mike Flynn’s 302s: Be Careful What You Ask For

In his sentencing memorandum, Mike Flynn waved the following in front of Judge Emmet Sullivan, like a red cape before a bull.

There are, at the same time, some additional facts regarding the circumstances of the FBI interview of General Flynn on January 24, 2017, that are relevant to the Court’s consideration of a just punishment.

At 12:35 p.m. on January 24, 2017, the first Tuesday after the presidential inauguration, General Flynn received a phone call from then-Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, on a secure phone in his office in the West Wing.20 General Flynn had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security. He and Mr. McCabe briefly discussed a security training session the FBI had recently conducted at the White House before Mr. McCabe, by his own account, stated that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with General Flynn to talk about his communications with Russian representatives.21

Mr. McCabe’s account states: “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House Counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [General Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”22

Less than two hours later, at 2:15 p.m., FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and a second FBI agent arrived at the White House to interview General Flynn.23 By the agents’ account, General Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered to give the agents “a little tour” of the area around his West Wing office. 24 The agents did not provide General Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 before, during, or after the interview. Prior to the FBI’s interview of General Flynn, Mr. McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport,” one of the agents reported.25 Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”26 One of the agents reported that General Flynn was “unguarded” during the interview and “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”27

He cited a memo that fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote the day of Flynn’s interview and the interview report (called a “302”) that fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok had a hand in writing up in August 2017, some seven months after the interview.

In response, the judge in his case, Emmet Sullivan, issued an order asking not just for those two documents, but any documents related to the matters Flynn writes up, to be filed by tomorrow, along with the government’s reply to his memorandum.

And so it is that on the one year anniversary of the order Sullivan issued to ensure that Flynn got any exculpatory information relating to his plea, that the hopes among the frothy right that Flynn’s prosecution (including for lying about his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey) will be delegitimized and with it everything that happened subsequent to Flynn’s plea might be answered.

Or maybe not.

For those unfamiliar with his background, back in the waning years of the Bush Administration, Sullivan presided over the Ted Stevens’ prosecution. After Stevens was convicted, DOJ started ‘fessing up to a bunch of improprieties, which led Sullivan (on newly confirmed Eric Holder’s recommendation) to throw out the conviction. Sullivan demanded a report on the improprieties, which ended up being a scathing indictment of DOJ’s actions (that nevertheless didn’t lead to real consequences for those involved). Since that time, Sullivan has been wary of DOJ’s claims, which has led him to do things like routinely issue the order he did with Flynn’s case, making sure that defendants get any exculpatory evidence they should get.

Regardless of how this request works out, you should applaud Sullivan’s diligence. He’s one of just a few judges who approaches the government with the skepticism they deserve. And to the extent that problems with our criminal justice system only get noticed when famous people go through it, it’s important that this one be treated with such diligence.

Still, those problems include both abuse, like we saw in the Stevens case, and special treatment, like David Petraeus got, and it’s actually unclear whether Sullivan’s request will uncover one or the other (or neither). I say that for several reasons.

First, because the public evidence suggests that — if anything — Obama’s appointees demanded FBI proceed cautiously in their investigation of Trump’s people, delaying what in any other case would have been routine early collection. When FBI discovered Flynn making suspicious comments to Sergei Kislyak, concerns about how to proceed went all the way up to Obama.

Moreover, contrary to most reporting on this interview, the FBI’s suspicions about Flynn did not arise exclusively from his calls to Kislyak. The interview happened after a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn had been open for months, as laid out by the House Intelligence Committee Russia report.

Director Comey testified that he authorized the closure of the CI investigation into general Flynn by late December 2016; however, the investigation was kept open due to the public discrepancy surrounding General Flynn’s communications with Ambassador Kislyak. [redacted] Deputy Director McCabe stated that, “we really had not substantiated anything particularly significant against General Flynn,” but did not recall that a closure of the CI investigation was imminent.

If McCabe believed the CI investigation into Flynn had produced mostly fluff, it might explain why he would approach setting up an interview with him with less than the rigor that he might have (as arguably happened with Hillary in the analogous situation). He didn’t expect there to be a there there, but then there was (remember, Jim Comey has repeatedly said that the one thing that might have led the Hillary investigation to continue past her interview as if they caught her lying; the difference is that Flynn told obvious lies whereas Hillary did not).

Finally, there’s one other, major reason to think this ploy may not work out the way Flynn might like. That’s because the frothy right, its enablers in Congress, and the White House itself has pursued this line for most of a year. Particularly in the wake of Flynn’s cooperation agreement, claiming that Flynn was just confused or forgetful when he spoke to the FBI has been central to Trump’s serial cover stories for why he fired Flynn.

So Republicans hoping to find the smoking gun have looked and looked and looked and looked and looked at the circumstances of Mike Flynn’s interview. Already by March of last year, they had resorted only to misstating Comey’s testimony about what happened in the HPSCI report.

Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

Nothing in the report — which now includes a section substantially declassified to reveal more purportedly incriminating details about Flynn — suggests real impropriety with his interview.

Even in that very same paragraph, they quote McCabe (the guy who wrote up a memo that same day, which is probably what Sally Yates relied on when she suggested to the White House they needed to fire Flynn) stating very clearly that the FBI agents recognized that Flynn had lied.

McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”

The degree to which, after looking and looking and looking and looking for some smoking gun relating to the Flynn interview but finding very little is perhaps best indicated by where that search has gotten after looking and looking and looking and looking — as most recently exhibited in Jim Comey’s questioning from a week ago, by the Republicans’ best prosecutor, Trey Gowdy. After (apparently) hoping to catch Comey lying about what investigators thought when the lifetime intelligence officer managed to lie without any tells but instead leading him through a very cogent explanation of it, Gowdy then resorts to sophistry about what day of the week it is.

Mr. Gowdy. Who is Christopher Steele? Well, before I go to that, let me ask you this.

At any — who interviewed General Flynn, which FBI agents?

Mr. Comey. My recollection is two agents, one of whom was Pete Strzok and the other of whom is a career line agent, not a supervisor.

Mr. Gowdy. Did either of those agents, or both, ever tell you that they did not adduce an intent to deceive from their interview with General Flynn?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever testified differently?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall being asked that question in a HPSCI hearing?

Mr. Comey. No. I recall — I don’t remember what question I was asked. I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing.

Mr. Gowdy. Who would you have gotten that from if you were not present for the interview?

Mr. Comey. From someone at the FBI, who either spoke to — I don’t think I spoke to the interviewing agents but got the report from the interviewing agents.

Mr. Gowdy. All right. So you would have, what, read the 302 or had a conversation with someone who read the 302?

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember for sure. I think I may have done both, that is, read the 302 and then spoke to people who had spoken to the investigators themselves. It’s possible I spoke to the investigators directly. I just don’t remember that.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again, what was communicated on the issue of an intent to deceive? What’s your recollection on what those agents relayed back?

Mr. Comey. My recollection was he was — the conclusion of the investigators was he was obviously lying, but they saw none of the normal common indicia of deception: that is, hesitancy to answer, shifting in seat, sweating, all the things that you might associate with someone who is conscious and manifesting that they are being — they’re telling falsehoods. There’s no doubt he was lying, but that those indicators weren’t there.

Mr. Gowdy. When you say “lying,” I generally think of an intent to deceive as opposed to someone just uttering a false statement.

Mr. Comey. Sure.

Mr. Gowdy. Is it possible to utter a false statement without it being lying?

Mr. Comey. I can’t answer — that’s a philosophical question I can’t answer.

Mr. Gowdy. No, I mean, if I said, “Hey, look, I hope you had a great day yesterday on Tuesday,” that’s demonstrably false.

Mr. Comey. That’s an expression of opinion.

Mr. Gowdy. No, it’s a fact that yesterday was —

Mr. Comey. You hope I have a great day —

Mr. Gowdy. No, no, no, yesterday was not Tuesday.

Then Gowdy tries a new tack: suggesting that Flynn should have gotten the agents’ finding that he lied without any physical tells provided as some kind of Brady evidence.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again — because I’m afraid I may have interrupted you, which I didn’t mean to do — your agents, it was relayed to you that your agents’ perspective on that interview with General Flynn was what? Because where I stopped you was, you said: He was lying. They knew he was lying, but he didn’t have the indicia of lying.

Mr. Comey. Correct. All I was doing was answering your question, which I understood to be your question, about whether I had previously testified that he — the agents did not believe he was lying. I was trying to clarify. I think that reporting that you’ve seen is the product of a garble. What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true. They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.

Mr. Gowdy. Would that be considered Brady material and hypothetically a subsequent prosecution for false statement?

Mr. Comey. That’s too hypothetical for me. I mean, interesting law school question: Is the absence of incriminating evidence exculpatory evidence? But I can’t answer that question.

I mean, maybe there are some irregularities explaining why it took seven months to write up Flynn’s 302 and how information about the interview was shared within DOJ in the interim; if there is I’d like to know what those are. But what everyone seems to agree is that there was no dispute, from the very beginning, that Flynn lied.

And Flynn’s statement actually makes things worse for himself (and, importantly, for one of the White House cover stories that his firing was immediately precipitated by Don McGahn confronting him with the transcript of his conversation with Kislyak). Flynn’s own sentencing memo makes it clear the FBI Agents were quoting directly from the transcript about what he said.

FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”

So Flynn would have known, way back when the White House was trying to find excuses to keep him on, precisely what he had been caught saying.

Finally, remember two more details. While we can’t read it, Sullivan (and Flynn’s team) know what’s behind this redaction:

That means Sullivan knows, even if we don’t, why Mueller thinks it so important that Flynn lied, and so may have a very different understanding about the import of those lies.

Finally, note that along with requiring the government to turn over all the filings relating to his interview (not just the two Flynn selectively quoted from), Sullivan also instructed the government to file their reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo by the same time.

DOJ has never had the opportunity to write its own explanation for what happened with Flynn’s interview. By inviting a reply specifically in the context of this Flynn claim, Sullivan has given DOJ the opportunity to do just that, finally.

DOJ may have a very interesting explanation for why they approached a counterintelligence interview with a guy they might have considered one of them with jocularity.

Sure, there may yet be damning details. As I’ve said, I really look forward to learning why it took seven months to formally memorialize this interview.

But the GOP has been looking for a smoking gun for a year and have not apparently found one. It’s quite possible we’ll learn something else tomorrow, that Mike Flynn actually got special treatment that none of us would get if we were suspected of being recruited by Russian intelligence.

At the very least, Sullivan’s order may result in documentation that reveals just how shoddy all the claims irregularity surrounding Flynn’s interview have been all this time.

Update: Elevating this from pinc’s comment. If DOJ chooses to tell a story that at all resembles Greg Miller’s account of the meeting (including that Flynn specifically said he didn’t want to have a lawyer of any type present), then this could spectacularly backfire.

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

DOJ Still Claiming Its Kid Glove Oversight of Prosecutors Is Adequate

During the uproar over Jim Comey’s role in the Hillary email investigation, a lot of commentators figured it’d all come out in an Inspector General report. But as I noted, DOJ exempts its lawyers from normal kind of oversight, subjecting them instead to Office of Professional Responsibility investigations without statutory independence. The problem has been debated at least since 2007, but Congress squelched efforts to change it in 2008. That, helped by the interference of the now-deceased David Margolis, was how John Yoo got off after writing shoddy memos authorizing torture.

Last month, DOJ’s IG released its yearly review of top management challenges. And, as Michael Horowitz’s predecessor Glenn Fine had done before him, he made a bid for being able to review the conduct of DOJ’s lawyers. The report argues that the oversight for lawyers should be the same as it is for agents.

The OIG, however, does not have authority to investigate allegations of misconduct against Department attorneys when the allegations are related to their work as lawyers. Those allegations fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The OIG has long believed that there is no principled basis for this continued limitation on our jurisdiction, and no reason to treat the investigation of misconduct by prosecutors differently than misconduct by agents. Under the current system, misconduct allegations against agents are handled by a statutorily independent OIG, while misconduct allegations against prosecutors are handled by a Department component that lacks statutory independence and whose leadership is both appointed by and removable by the Department’s leadership.

As Horowitz has done with IG statutory independence with respect to accessing evidence, the report focuses on bills to address the problem.

Bipartisan bills pending in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate would remove this limitation on the OIG’s jurisdiction. The legislation, as now proposed, would allow the OIG to investigate these important matters, where appropriate, with the independence and transparency that is the touchstone of all of the OIG’s work, thereby providing the public with confidence regarding the handling of these matters. The Department’s attorneys should be held to the same standards of oversight as other Department components, and the OIG should have oversight over all Department employees, just like every other OIG.

Most interesting, however, is the way that DOJ claimed this long-established problem doesn’t exist. Unbelievably, “the Department” claimed that OPR has the same independence as OIG.

In response to a draft of this report, the Department questioned our position that the OIG should have the same authority as every other federal Inspector General to review allegations of misconduct by Department attorneys in connection with their work as lawyers. Among other things, the Department took issue with our description of OPR’s relative lack of independence as compared to the OIG by asserting that (1) OPR’s Counsel “remains unchanged with successive Attorneys General and presidential administrations,” (2) the OIG has not “criticized OPR’s work, the thoroughness of its investigations, or the soundness of its findings,” and (3) the OIG has not “identified a single OPR investigation that failed to appropriately hold accountable . . . Department attorneys.”

The report calls bullshit on the claim that the department hasn’t replaced OPR officials, noting that Holder did replace OPR Counsel Marshall Jarret in 2009 in the midst of the Ted Stevens scandal (Jarret was also backing off promises he would make the results of the Yoo investigation with Congress).

On the first point, the same could be said of supervisory attorneys throughout the Department and, in fact, contrary to the Department’s claim with regard to OPR, in April 2009, less than 4 months after the last change in presidential administrations, the new Attorney General replaced the OPR Counsel without any public explanation.

Holder actually replaced the OPR Counsel one more time, in 2011.

The report goes on to note that we can’t assess OPR’s work because, unlike most IG Reports, it is not public.

On the second and third points, neither the OIG nor the public are in a position to fully assess the thoroughness and soundness of OPR’s work precisely because OPR does not disclose sufficient information to allow for such an assessment.

The report then lists off a bunch of people — including the judge in the Ted Stevens case, Emmet Sullivan — who have complained about OPR’s work.

However, federal judges, the American Bar Association, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) have all questioned the level of independence, transparency, and accountability of OPR. See, e.g., Order by Hon. Emmet G. Sullivan Appointing Henry F. Schuelke Special Counsel in United States v. Stevens, No. 08-cr-231 (Apr. 7, 2009), p. 46. (“the events and allegations in this case are too serious and too numerous to be left to an internal investigation that has no outside accountability”) ; “Criminal Law 2.0,” by Hon. Alex Kozinski, 44 Geo. L.J. Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc. iii (2015); ABA Recommendation urging the Department of Justice to release “as much information regarding individual investigations as possible,” Aug. 9-10, 2010, available here; “Hundreds of Justice Department Attorneys Violated Professional Rules, Laws, or Ethical Standards: Administration Won’t Name Offending Prosecutors,” Report by POGO, March 13, 2014, available here.

The report ends with a reassertion that the Inspector General Act requires far more of inspectors general than OPR provides.

Moreover, whatever the soundness of OPR’s work, the Department’s efforts to equate OPR’s independence and transparency with that of the OIG flies directly in the face of the Inspector General Act, which fundamentally exists to create entities with an enhanced degree of independence and transparency so that they can credibly conduct investigations and reviews where there would be an expectation that more independent and transparent oversight is required. That is the very reason why Attorney General Ashcroft expanded the OIG’s jurisdiction in 2001 to include the FBI and the DEA, and there simply is no reason why Department attorneys continue to be protected from the possibility that their conduct may warrant independent review by the OIG in appropriate cases.

Frankly, there is evidence that OPR’s investigation has been inadequate, starting with both the Yoo and the Stevens investigations.

But there have also been a slew of cases of prosecutors withholding evidence from defendants, cases that ought to merit some real review (to say nothing of the Clinton email case). For example, just this week, Ross Ulbricht’s lawyers revealed they had discovered evidence of a third corrupt agent, the evidence of which had been withheld from the defense team.

There’s no hint of why Horowitz is making this point now. But there sure are a number of cases that might elicit actual independent review.