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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.

Court Dismisses Suit on Constitutionality of Filibuster

Among the hottest issues looking forward to the beginning of the 113th Congress is the status of the filibuster. Will it remain in the status quo of recent decades, the 60 vote Senate roadblock, or will there be movement to return, or at least move closer towards, a majority vote Senate?

One of the more interesting tacts in the filibuster reform fight has been an effort by a group of people, led by Common Cause, and including members of Congress such as Representatives John Lewis, Keith Ellison, Michael Michaud and Hank Johnson, to have the filibuster declared unconstitutional by a federal Article III court. They filed their complaint on May 15th of this year and issued a press release describing their effort.

Very early this morning, the effort came to a screeching halt with an order from the DC District Court dismissing the case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This decision was, quite unfortunately, absolutely certain to have been made, and today was so ordered by Judge Emmet Sullivan.

The plaintiffs’ goal was described by the court thusly:

They bring this suit against representatives of the United States Senate seeking a declaratory judgment that Rule XXII (the “Cloture Rule” or the “Filibuster Rule”) — which requires a vote of sixty senators to proceed with or close debate on bills or presidential nominations and a two-thirds vote to proceed with or close debate on proposed amendments to the Senate Rules — is unconstitutional because it is “inconsistent with the principle of majority rule.” In the alternative, Plaintiffs challenge Senate Rule V, which provides that the Senate’s rules continue from one Congress to the next, unless amended.

An admirable goal if there ever was one, but, alas, of the Don Quixote nature perhaps. And so the court found. The first cut was on standing, and none of the plaintiffs made it:

First, the Court cannot find that any of the Plaintiffs have standing to sue. Standing is the bedrock requirement of an Article III court’s jurisdiction to resolve only those cases that present live controversies. While the House Members have presented a unique posture, the Court is not persuaded that their alleged injury — vote nullification — falls into a narrow exception enunciated by the Supreme Court in Raines v. Byrd. And none of the other Plaintiffs have demonstrated that this Court can do anything to remedy the alleged harm they have suffered.

But standing was, by traditional justiciability analysis, the least of the plaintiffs’ concerns; the real problem lay in Separation of Powers between the branches and the historical refusal of federal courts to intrude on the Article I legislative prerogative. And so it was viewed by Judge Sullivan:

Second, and no less important, the Court is firmly convinced that to intrude into this area would offend the separation of powers on which the Constitution rests. Nowhere does the Constitution contain express requirements regarding the proper length of, or method for, the Senate to debate proposed legislation. Article I reserves to each House the power to determine the rules of its proceedings. And absent a rule’s violation of an express constraint in the Constitution or an individual’s fundamental rights, the internal proceedings of the Legislative Branch are beyond the jurisdiction of this Court.

For those reasons, Judge Sullivan dismissed the complaint. There has been no announcement yet made as to appeal by Common Cause et. al, but honesty dictates the conclusion that if you cannot get past Emmet Sullivan, you stand no chance whatsoever in the ultra conservative DC Circuit. By the way, by the time this case could hit the DC Circuit, it will be down and vacant four judges, from a slated eleven seats to only seven filled seats, due to the taking of senior status by Chief Judge David Sentelle, and there is little to no movement or concern by Barack Obama on ameliorating the situation.

The concerns of the DC Circuit health aside, the filibuster lawsuit is going nowhere. Remedy for the Senate blockage will have to come from within the Senate itself, pursuant to Senate Rules modification. As Joan McCarter at Daily Kos reported on Monday, there is some evidence Harry Reid would have the 51 votes necessary to get it done.

Let’s hope Harry Reid has the famed pugilistic cajones he likes to claim, and sees to it that the Senate is returned to a functioning body. There are not just the legislative goals that hang in the lurch, but also a full slate of critical Executive Branch nominations for the coming new term for Obama and, of course, the state of emergency in the Federal Judiciary. Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats can solve that if they have the guts. They can expect nothing but spiteful obstructionism from the Senate Republicans after the election and the “fiscal cliff” showdown.

The Democrats need to govern in the absence of a responsible GOP effort to do so. It starts with fixing the filibuster problem.

Anonymous DOJ Statement: “Trust Us”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today to review the results of the Schuelke report on the prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case and to entertain the Lisa Murkowski bill requiring disclosure. In response, DOJ submitted a statement for the record, opposing any legislation enforcing its discovery obligations.

When concerns were first raised about the handling of the prosecution of Senator Stevens, the Department immediately conducted an internal review. The Attorney General recognized the importance of ensuring trust and confidence in the work of Department prosecutors and took the extraordinary step of moving to dismiss the case when errors were discovered. Moreover, toensure that the mistakes in the Stevens case would not be repeated, the Attorney General convened a working group to review discovery practices and charged the group with developing recommendations for improving such practices so that errors are minimized. As a result of the working group’s efforts, the Department has taken unprecedented steps, described more fully below, to ensure that prosecutors, agents, and paralegals have the necessary training and resources to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations with respect to discovery in criminal cases. These reforms include a sweeping training curriculum for all federal prosecutors and the requirement–for the first time in the history of the Department of Justice–that every federal prosecutor receive refresher discovery training each year.

In light of these internal reforms, the Department does not believe that legislation is needed to address the problems that came to light in the Stevens prosecution. Such a legislative proposal would upset the careful balance of interests at stake in criminal cases, cause significant harm to victims, witnesses, and law enforcement efforts, and generate substantial and unnecessary litigation that would divert scarce judicial and prosecutorial resources.

In short, DOJ is saying, “trust us. We don’t need a law requiring us to do what case law says we need to.”

Right off the bat, I can think of 5 major problem with this statement:

No one has been held accountable

We are three years past the time when Stevens’ case was thrown out. Yet none of the prosecutors involved have been disciplined in any meaningful way.

No doubt DOJ would say that it will hold prosecutors responsible if and when the Office of Professional Responsibility finds they committed misconduct. But in the interim three years, DOJ as a whole has sent clear messages that it prefers protecting its case to doing anything about misconduct. And–as Chuck Grassley rightly pointed out at the hearing–thus far no one has been held responsible.

This statement may claim DOJ is serious about prosecutorial misconduct. But its actions (and inaction) says the opposite.

Even after this training, discovery problems remain

As the DOJ statement lays out, in response to the Stevens debacle, DOJ rolled out annual training programs for prosecutors to remind them of their discovery obligations.

And yet, last year, Leonie Brinkema found that prosecutors in the Jeff Sterling case had failed to turn over critical evidence about prosecution witnesses–one of the problems with the Stevens prosecution. The prosecutor involved? William Welch, whom Schuelke accused of abdicating his leadership role in the Stevens case (note, DOJ says the CIA is at fault for the late discovery; but Welch is, after all, the prosecutor who bears responsibility for it).

If William Welch can’t even get discovery right after his involvement in this case and, presumably, undergoing the training DOJ promises will fix the problem, then training is not enough to fix the problem.

Eric Holder won’t run DOJ forever

The statement focuses on Holder’s quick decision to dismiss the case against Stevens, as if that, by itself, guards against any similar problems in the future. But before Holder was AG, Michael Mukasey was–and Judge Emmet Sullivan grew so exasperated with Mukasey’s stonewalling on this case, he ordered him to personally respond to questions about the case.

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The Full Text of the Schuelke Report on DOJ Misconduct

Earlier this morning, we posted A Primer On Why Schuelke Report Of DOJ Misconduct Is Important that laid out all the legal and procedural background underlying the Schuelke Report into prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens criminal case.

The full 500 page report has now been released, and is titled:

Report to Hon. Emmet G. Sullivan of Investigation Conducted Pursuant to the Court’s Order, dated April 7, 2009

I wanted to get the post framework and document link up so everybody could read along and digest the report together. Consider this a working thread to put thoughts, key quotes – whatever – into as we chew on the report. Then after having been through it, Marcy and I will; later do smaller stories on specific angles raised.

We know the irreducible minimum found:

The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness

You would think the involved attorneys would be ducking and apologizing for their ethical lapses that terminated the career of the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee on the US Senate. You would, of course, be wrong.

The mouthpiece for Brenda Morris, Chuck Rosenburg, is already clucking:

Brenda is a woman of tremendous integrity and an exceptionally talented prosecutor—she was fully honest with the investigators and always hoped that one day this report would be made public so that the facts of her individual role would be known.

Um, no, Ms. Morris does not smell like a rose here Chuck. Edward Sullivan, one of the AUSAs had this statement by his lawyer already this morning:

Mr. Sullivan is a diligent attorney, with strong character and integrity, whose conduct comports with the Department’s highest ethical standards. Mr. Sullivan was rightfully exonerated by Mr. Schuelke and the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and his vindication is evidenced by the fact that he continues to prosecute cases in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section

Well, yeah, sure, you betcha Ed Sullivan. I guess that is why as late as yesterday you were personally in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals trying to have the whole matter both stayed and sealed and were arguing you would be harmed if it wasn’t. Today, Edward Sullivan is suddenly a spring flower of purity.

So, yes, all these spring flowers in bloom must be operating off some pretty fertilizer, and the manure is indeed rather deep. So, let us dive in and see what we find. Put your thought, comments and opinions in comment as we work. See you there!

William Welch Probably NOT One of the Attorneys Who Engaged in Gross Prosecutorial Misconduct in Stevens Case

As Ryan Reilly reported, Judge Emmet Sullivan is moving forward with his plan to release the scathing report on the Ted Stevens prosecution showing the prosecution was “permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence.”

Back when descriptions of this report first surfaced, I asked, “Why Is William Welch, Whose Team Is Accused of Intentional Prosecutorial Misconduct, Still at DOJ?

Given Sullivan’s latest order, I think the answer must be that Welch is not one of the four DOJ lawyers most badly implicated in the report. That’s because DOJ, which after all still employs Welch to prosecute whistleblowers, had no objection to the report being released on March 15.

The Department of Justice’s Notice advised the Court that it “does not intend to file a motion regarding Mr. Schuelke’s report” and that “[t]he government does not contend that there is any legal prohibition on the disclosure of any references in Mr. Schuelke’s report to grand jury material, court authorized interceptions of wire communications, or any sealed pleadings or transcripts that have now been unsealed.” Notice of Dep’t of Justice Regarding Materials Referenced in Mr. Schuelke’s Report, at 1-2 (“DOJ Notice”). In addition, the Department of Justice informed the Court that it was not asserting any deliberative process or attorney-work product privilege with respect to the information contained in Mr. Schuelke’s Report.

Criminal Division head Lanny Breuer has already proven himself more than willing to hide the misconduct of his prosecutors; I have no doubt he’d do so here if it badly implicated any of his current attorneys.

So I’m guessing–though that is a guess–that Welch is not one of the four fighting to prevent this release.