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The “Big Boss” Directing Tom Barrack’s Actions

There’s something almost entirely missing from the Tom Barrack indictment charging him with acting as an Emirate Agent. The money.

The indictment invokes forfeiture law, suggesting that someone profited from all of this or there’s some other loot the government wants to seize (but it lists none specifically; a memo requesting detention until a bail hearing requests that Barrack be made to identify all his financial assets to get bail).

But other than that, the sole mention of money describes that, on July 14, 2016 (months after this relationship started), Barrack pitched a “guidance board” that would tie UAE’s investments with strategic goals.

The presentation proposed the creation of a guidance board “through which all [UAE] investments are intertwined with the strategic vision of the country’s foreign and domestic policies as well as economic goals,” with the guidance board mandating “that all investments in operating companies use the resources at their disposal to influence [UAE’s interests] abroad … and partner with leading [UAE] friendly-influential figures to do so.” The presentation further proposed that the defendant THOMAS JOSEPH BARRACK work directly with Emirati Official 2 to execute the proposed strategy.

Then, months later on December 14, after Trump’s victory, this proposal assumed continued influence over Trump’s actions.

While the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also accomplish a secondary mandate to garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [Trump] … We will do so by sourcing investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [Trump] Presidency.”

This suggests that Barrack and Colony Capital would be expected to direct UAE’s Sovereign Funds in such a way as to implement their policy goals. A 2018 NYT story described how Barrack’s investment firm raised $7 billion in the time after Trump got the nomination, almost a quarter of it from Saudi and Emirate sources — but none of that appears in the indictment.

Mr. Barrack’s company, known as Colony NorthStar since a merger last year, has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia, according to an executive familiar with the figures.

These financial relationships will face a great deal of scrutiny as this case goes forward because a Foreign Agent cannot be someone “engaged in a legal commercial transaction.” One defense Barrack might try to make is that this was all about obtaining customers for his investment fund. But if no money changed hands, Barrack might suggest he sincerely believed in the import of fostering better ties between the Emirates and the US.

A Foreign Agent, not a lobbyist

Contrary to what you might have read, this is not a FARA case, which is generally treated as a regulation covering certain kinds of lobbying for foreign (including non-governmental, like the political party Paul Manafort hid his work for) entities. Barrack was charged under 18 USC 951, which is about working for a foreign government directly. The statute is sometimes referred to as Espionage Lite, and in this case, the government might believe at least some of the people involved — perhaps Al Malik, who fled the country days after the FBI interviewed him in April 2018 — are spies. By charging 951, though, the government only has to show that the team was ultimately working on orders from government officials without registering, not that someone was secretly reporting to another country’s spying agencies.

And this is pretty clearly about a relationship directly with UAE. In addition to Barrack and his employee Matthew Grimes, the indictment describes a chain of command in which several senior Emirati officials convey requests through Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi (referred to as Alshahhi in the indictment and as Al Malik here and elsewhere) to Barrack. On the Emirati side, Emirati Official 1 (EO1), is described as someone who, “held a high-ranking position in its armed forces,” but who, given events described in the indictment, must be Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed. Emirati Official 2 (EO2) is described as a “high-ranking official with responsibilities related to national security,” but appears to be National Security Advisor Tahnoun Bin Zayed. Emirati Official 3 (EO3) is described as a member of UAE’s National Security Council. Their orders often get delivered to Al Malik through Emirati Official 4 (EO4), who is described as a government official who reports to EO 2 and EO3. There’s also a diplomat, Emirati Official 5, who asked Barrack to provide insight into the top national security appointments Trump was planning. Basically, this amounts to MbZ tasking EO4 to instruct Al Malik to provide instructions in turn to Barrack. This structure is important, because it demonstrates that Barrack was being directed directly by the UAE government and, starting in October 2016, directly by MbZ himself.

A secret agent hiding the direct orders he was following

Aside from this reporting structure, two things will help the government make the case that Barrack was working as an Agent of UAE. Officials from the Emirates explicitly said that they wanted to use Barrack to represent their policy interests in the US rather than relying on their ambassador. For example, EO2 explains why he prefers to work through Barrack than UAE’s ambassador because he, “knows ambassadors can’t do much and they are limited even if they’re active.” After Barrack started doing TV appearances where he pitched the UAE, Al Malik told him that EO1 had said, “you are the new trusted friend!” And after Grimes submitted a Barrack op-ed for advance review by Emirate officials, Al Malik responded that, “Big boss loved it.” Then after the op-ed came out (having had a reference to dictatorships that the Emiratis found objectionable removed), Barrack asked through Al Malik “how Boss liked the article?” The indictment further describes how, in December, the Emirates directed Barrack and Grimes to put together a set of plans — “100 days/6 months/year/4 years” — of what they wanted to accomplish along with the Saudis; on that plan Barrack, Al Malik affirmed in Arabic, would “be with the Arabs.” Then, when Al Malik wrote Grimes and suggested the US should list the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Grimes responded, “At your direction.” This is the language of clear direction, channeled right from the top of the UAE government.

And while not required (remember that Maria Butina didn’t really hide what she was up to or even her ties to Aleksander Torshin), the indictment describes several ways that those involved tried to keep this relationship secret. As Barrack shared a Trump speech in advance, he described that it was “Totally Confidential.” In September, just as Barrack would start dealing directly with MbZ and two days before he’d call out MbZ in a Bloomberg interview, the go-betweens instructed Barrack to download the encrypted messaging app that MbZ uses. Barrack seems to have gotten a text directly from MbZ on September 29. And then in October, Grimes arranged to get both Barrack and himself dedicated phones to use to communicate with MbZ and others via the encrypted app.

While not included in the indictment, the detention memo also describes that Barrack downplayed his ties with Al Malik in a filing to the State Department.

Indeed, in June 2017, the defendant completed and submitted paperwork to the U.S. Department of State in connection with his efforts to secure an official position in the Administration. In his submissions, the defendant materially misrepresented his connection to Al Malik, falsely claiming to have had only infrequent contact with Al Malik and further claiming that he did not know Al Malik’s citizenship or whether Al Malik was affiliated with a foreign government, despite describing Al Malik in private communications as the UAE’s “secret weapon.” Further, in his submissions to the U.S. Department of State, the defendant was required to report any occasions when he had been asked to provide advice, serve as a consultant, even informally, or otherwise work on behalf of a foreign government. The defendant failed to disclose his extensive activities on behalf of the UAE.

It’s partly all this secrecy that will help the government prove their case.

But the way the government uses additional charges to show that Barrack tried to hide all this will help. In addition to 951 and Conspiracy to violate 951 charges (the latter of which was likely included because it’s easier to prove and to provide defendants, particularly Grimes, with a charge that has less onerous penalties to plead to), the government charged Barrack with obstruction of justice and four counts of false statements for attempting to lie about this. In a June 20, 2019 interview with the FBI, the indictment alleges that Barrack lied about whether:

  1. Al Malik asked Barrack to do things for UAE
  2. Barrack downloaded an encrypted app to use to communicate with MbZ and other Emirati officials
  3. Barrack set up a meeting between MbZ and Trump and, generally, whether he had a role in facilitating communications between them
  4. He had a role in prepping MbZ for a September 2017 meeting with Trump

Curiously, the detention memo mentions two more lies that aren’t included in the indictment:

(1) writing a draft of a speech to be delivered by the Candidate in May 2016; (2) reviewing a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to senior UAE officials on how to increase the UAE’s influence in the United States with his assistance;

In any case, this structure makes it easy to hold Barrack accountable at least via his lies to the FBI, and that he allegedly lied is powerful evidence that the full scope of the relationship was meant to be secret.

The key Trump world figures and the black box White House

Over coming days, we’ll learn who all the Trump officials named in the indictment are, but a key, unstated part of it all is Barrack’s success at placing Paul Manafort on Trump’s campaign. The indictment dates Barrack’s role as an “informal” advisor to Trump’s campaign to “approximately April 2016,” one month after Barrack had a key role in installing Manafort on Trump’s campaign.  It describes how Al Malik set up a meeting on April 24, in advance of which Barrack boasted that he had a 30-year relationship with Trump and had “staffed the Campaign.” After a meeting in the Emirates, EO 4 confirmed to Alshahhi that Barrack would be “the only channel” to Trump for UAE. Days later, Barrack sent Alshahhi a draft Trump energy speech and asked for feedback. Ultimately, Barrack succeeded in getting a promise to “work with our Gulf allies” into a May 26 Trump speech.

It’s not really clear with whom Barrack was working on the campaign. The indictment describes that “a senior member of the Campaign” emailed Barrack with a revision of the Energy speech, in response to which, Barrack instructed the “senior member” that they needed “one paragraph to balance foreign-policy concerns for energy dependent allies in the gulf.” ¶22 It’s likely that this is either Manafort himself (who had not yet fully pushed out Corey Lewandowski but was well on his way) or Rick Gates, the latter of whom played a similar role when Roger Stone wanted to script Trump’s foreign policy statements at that stage of the campaign.

Barrack’s role as Chair of Trump’s Inauguration Committee is minimal to the crimes in this indictment (meaning double jeopardy would not prevent him from being charged in that, too). But one paragraph does describe how Barrack agreed when Al Malik offered to “take care of ME side” of the the Inauguration. And the indictment describes that when Al Malik attended the Inauguration, he did so as Barrack’s personal guest.

Similarly, there’s no mention of December and January meetings involving Jared Kushner and others, even though the December 12, 2016 meeting happened right after Barrack was in UAE on December 2.

One thing the indictment may have tried to do is insulate the indictment from any Executive Privilege concerns. Its narrative stops at the White House door. The indictment describes Al Malik asking Grimes to get the Administration to list the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO and describes a public report shortly thereafter describing that it was under consideration, but it doesn’t describe who or even whether Barrack talked to to make that happen. It describes that Al Malik asked Grimes to set up a phone call between MbZ and Trump, describes Grimes observing that it got set up “right after I spoke to [Barrack] about it,” and quotes Grimes saying, “We can take credit for phone call.” But the overt acts of the indictment don’t actually say whether they deserved credit, or whether someone else had picked up the influence racket. The government must know he did, because they charge him for lying about setting up this meeting but it, by itself, is not an overt act. The day after MbZ met with Trump, Barrack wrote Al Malik describing that he had “lots of info on [the White House] meeting!” without describing Barrack’s source for that information. In an exception that proves the rule, the indictment describes how, as part of an effort to kill plans for a meeting at Camp David to mediate tensions in the Gulf, Barrack left a message with Trump’s Executive Assistant saying he had “something very important to share [using an ellipsis rather than naming Trump or anyone else] about the Middle East,” followed by Al Malik, two days later, offering “very special thanks and appreciations from the big guy.”

In other words, even though two of the charged lies pertain to Barrack’s role in shaping US policy in events that directly involved Trump, and even though comments suggest Barrack successfully interceded, the White House is treated as a black box; no discussions within the White House or between Barrack and Trump appear in the indictment, but they are implied in many places.

Where this came from where it will go

This investigation started well before 2018, because that’s when Al Malik fled the country just days after an FBI interview. That means it could have been a referral from the Mueller investigation (though given that Barrack lives in Los Angeles, it’s not clear why Mueller would have referred it to EDNY rather than CDCA). DOJ conducted other investigations into UAE’s foreign influence peddling there (as well as some investigations into Jared), so it’s possible this arose out of those investigations.

One thing that’s curiously missing from this indictment, though (along with references to the December 2016 or January 2017 meetings) is any reference to George Nader, who also was operating on instructions direct from MbZ and who provided extensive grand jury testimony as part of that investigation. When Nader tried to obtain a copy of his grand jury transcript as part of his defense in other influence peddling crimes in November 2019, it was revealed there were still multiple ongoing investigations referenced in it. There’s good reason to believe that Nader was not entirely forthcoming with Mueller though, in which case DOJ may not want to invoke him at all.

It’s equally interesting where this might go, which is part of the reason I find the different treatment of Candidate Trump from President Trump in the indictment really notable. This is an investigation that Billy Barr didn’t kill and that survived any pardon attempt, which suggests that Barr and Trump didn’t entirely kill all investigations implicating Trump (though the Rudy Giuliani investigation already showed that). But there are a number of things — most notably, the Inauguration — that might be implicated here but really isn’t part of the indictment.

Merrick Garland’s DOJ is not shying away from crimes that directly implicate Donald Trump. But the way they treated the White House as a black box in this indictment suggests significant deference to things Trump did while President.

Update: This Intercept story from June 2019 strongly suggests that this Barrack investigation arose out of the Mueller investigation.

Al-Malik’s name later surfaced in connection with a federal probe into potential illegal donations to Trump’s inaugural fund and a pro-Trump Super PAC by Middle Eastern donors. Al-Malik was interviewed by members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and was “cooperating” with prosecutors, his lawyer told The Intercept last year. The New York Times recently reported that investigators are looking into “whether Mr. al-Malik was part of an illegal influence scheme,” although no details of that potential scheme have been made public.

In fact, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that al-Malik served as a paid intelligence source for the UAE throughout 2017, The Intercept has learned.

[snip]

After he was interviewed as part of the Mueller investigation, al-Malik left Los Angeles, where he’d been based for several years, and went back to the UAE.

And the story describes Al Malik’s handler as the Director of UAE’s National Intelligence Service, Ali al-Shamsi.

Among the Emirati government officials overseeing al-Malik was Ali al-Shamsi, director of the Emirati National Intelligence Service, according to The Intercept’s sources. A source who knows al-Shamsi described him as “more than just a spy. He’s also a discreet messenger” for Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, and his brother Tahnoun bin Zayed, the UAE’s national security adviser.

This description is perfectly consistent with the description of EO 4 from the indictment.

The George Nader Problem: NSA Removes the Child Exploitation Content from Its Servers

When Lebanese-American dual citizen George Nader was stopped at Dulles after arriving on a flight from Dubai on January 17, 2018, he had at least 12 videos on his phone depicting boys as young as two years old being sexually abused, often with the involvement of farm animals. In the days before a Mueller prosecutor obtained the contents of the three phones Nader had with him, Nader sat for at least four interviews with Mueller’s prosecutors and told a story (which may not have been entirely forthright) about how he brokered a meeting in the Seychelles between Russia and Erik Prince a year earlier. Nader exploited Prince’s interest in work with Nader’s own employer — Mohammed bin Zayed — to set up the back channel meeting, and as such was a very effective broker in the service of two foreign countries, one hostile to the US. As such, I assume, Nader became a key counterintelligence interest, on top of whatever evidence he provided implicating Trump and his flunkies.

Mueller’s team got the returns on Nader’s phones back on March 16. An FBI Agent in EDVA in turn got a warrant for the child porn. But two days after the agent got the warrant return, Nader skipped town and remained out of the country until days after Mueller shut down his investigation, at which point he returned to the US and was promptly arrested for his abuse of children. Even without the other influence peddling that Nader had done on behalf of the Emirates, he would have remained a key counterintelligence interest for the entire 14 months he remained outside the country. After all, Nader had been making key connections since at least the time he introduced Ahmed Chalabi to Dick Cheney, and probably going back to the Clinton Administration.

So it is quite possible that for the entire period Nader was out of the country, he was surveilled. If that happened, it almost certainly would have happened with the assistance of NSA. As an agent of Dubai, he would be targetable under FISA, but as a US citizen, targeting him under FISA would require an individualized FISA warrant, and the surveillance overseas would take place under 705b.

If the surveillance did happen, Nader’s sexual abuse of boys would have had foreign intelligence value. It would be of interest, for example, to know who knew of his abuse and whether they used it as leverage over Nader. The source of the videos showing the children being exploited would be of interest. So, too, would any arrangements Nader made to procure the actual boys he abused, particularly if that involved high powered people in Middle Eastern countries.

Understanding how George Nader fit in international efforts to intervene in US affairs would involve understanding his sexual abuse of boys.

And that poses a problem for the NSA, because it means that really horrible content — such as Nader’s videos showing young boys being abused with goats for the object of an adult’s sexual pleasure — is among the things the NSA might need to collect and analyze.

I’ve been thinking about George Nader as I’ve been trying to understand one detail of the recent FISA 702 reauthorization. In January 2020, the NSA got permission to — in the name of lawful oversight — scan its holdings for child exploitation, stuff like videos of adults using goats to sexually abuse very young boys.

In a notice filed on January 22, 2020, the government informed the Court that NSA had developed a method, [redacted] of known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography), to identify and remove such material from NSA systems. To test this methodology, NSA ran the [redacted] against a same of FISA-acquired information in NSA systems. The government concedes that queries conducted for such purposes do not meet generally applicable querying standard; nor do they fall within one of the lawful oversight functions enumerated in the existing NSA querying procedures. Nevertheless, NSD/ODNI opined that “the identification and removal of child exploitation material … from NSA systems that is a lawful oversight function under section IV.C.6,” and that the deviation from the querying procedures was “necessary to perform this lawful oversight function of NSA systems.” Notice of Deviation from Querying Procedures, January 22, 2020, at 3; see Oct. 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10.

NSA anticipates using such queries going forward, likely on a recurring basis, to proactively identify and remove child-exploitation material from its systems. The government submits that doing so is necessary to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly disturbing, illegal material.” October 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10. The Court credits this suggestion and likewise finds that performance of these queries qualifies as a lawful oversight function for NSA systems. But the Court encouraged the government to memorialize this oversight activity in § IV.C.6, among the other enumerated lawful oversight functions that are recognized exceptions to the generally acceptable querying standards.

The government has done so. Section IV.C.6 now includes a new provision for “identify[ing] and remov[ing] child exploitation material, including child pornography, from NSA systems.” NSA Querying Procedures § IV.C.6.f. The Court finds that the addition of this narrow exception has no material impact on the sufficiency of the querying procedures taken as a whole.

At first, I thought they were doing this to protect the children. Indeed, my initial concern was that NSA was using these scans to expand the use of NSA queries for what wound up being law enforcement action, such that they could ask to do similar scans for the seven other crimes they’ve authorized sharing FISA data on (though of the other crimes, only snuff videos would be as easy to automate as child porn, which has a well-developed technology thanks to Facebook and Google). I thought that, once they scanned their holdings, they would alert whatever authority might be able to rescue the children involved that they had been victimized. After all, under all existing minimization procedures, the NSA can share proof of a crime with the FBI or other relevant law enforcement agency. Indeed, in 2017, FISC even authorized NSA and FBI to share such evidence of child exploitation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, so they could attempt to identify the victims, help bring the perpetrators to justice, and track more instances of such abuse.

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening.

Indeed, as described, “saving the victims” is not the purpose of these scans. Rather, preventing NSA personnel from having to look at George Nader’s pictures showing goats sexually abusing small boys is the goal. When I asked the government about this, NSA’s Director for Civil Liberties, Privacy and Transparency, Rebecca Richards, distinguished finding child exploitation material in the course of intelligence analysis — in which case it’ll get reported as a crime — from this, which just removes the content.

NSA does not query collected foreign intelligence information to identify individuals who may be in possession of child exploitation material. This particular provision allows NSA to identify and remove known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography) from NSA systems.

The Court agreed that this was appropriate lawful oversight to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly distributing, illegal material.” The point of the query is not to surface the material for foreign intelligence analysis, the function of the query is to remove the material. If NSA finds such information in the course of its analytic process to identify and report on foreign intelligence, it will review and follow necessary crimes reporting.

The Court credits the suggestion to conduct this activity as part of NSA’s lawful oversight function. [my emphasis]

I asked NSA a bunch of other questions about this, but got no further response.

First, isn’t the NSA required to (and permitted to, under the minimization procedures) alert the FBI to all such instances they find? So wouldn’t this be no different from a law enforcement search, since if found it will lead to the FBI finding out about it?

Second, as offensive as this stuff is, isn’t it also of value from a foreign intelligence perspective? Ignoring that George Nader is a US person, if a high profile advisor to MbZ was known to exploit boys, wouldn’t that be of interest in explaining his position in MbZ’s court and his preference for living in Dubai instead of VA? Wouldn’t it be of interest in understanding the counterintelligence threat he posed?

If it is of FI interest (I seem to recall a Snowden revelation where similar discoveries were used against a extremist cleric, for example), then how is it recorded to capture the FI use before it is destroyed? And in recording it, aren’t there NSA and/or FBI personnel who would have to look more closely at it? Wouldn’t that increase the amount of child exploitation viewed (presumably with the benefit of finding more predators, even if they are outside US LE reach)?

Finally, can you tell me whether NCMEC is involved in this? Do they receive copies of the material for their databases?

Are you saying that if the NSA finds evidence of child exploitation via these searches, it does not refer the evidence to FBI, even if it implicates victims in the United States?

Another question I have given Richards’ response is, why would NSA personnel be accessing collections that happen to include child exploitation except for analytic purposes?

But maybe that’s the real answer here: NSA employees would access child exploitation 1) for analytical purposes (in which case, per Richards, it would get reported as a crime) or 2) inappropriately, perhaps after learning of its presence via accessing it for analytic purposes (something that is not inconsistent with claims Edward Snowden has made).

After all, there have been two really high profile examples of national security personnel accused of critical leaks in the last decade who also have been accused of possessing child pornography: Donald Sachtleben, who after he was busted for (amazingly) bringing child porn on his laptop into Quantico, he later became the scapegoat for a high profile leak about Yemen, and Joshua Schulte, on whose computer the government claims to have found child porn on when it searched the computer for evidence that he stole all of CIA’s hacking tools.

So perhaps the NSA is just removing evidence of child exploitation from its servers — which it spent a lot of resources to collect as foreign intelligence — to avoid tempting NSA employees from accessing it and further victimizing the children?

If that’s correct, then it seems that NSA has taken a totally backwards approach to mitigating this risk.

If you’re going to scan all of NSA’s holdings to ID child exploitation, why not do so on intake, and once found, hash and encrypt it immediately. Some of what analysts would be interested in — tracking the dissemination of known child porn or the trafficking of known victims by transnational organized crime, for example — could be done without ever viewing it, solely after those existing hashes. If there were some other need — such as identifying a previously unidentified victim — then the file in question can be decrypted as it is sent along to FBI. That would have the added benefit of ensuring that if NSA personnel were choosing to expose themselves to George Nader’s videos of young boys being abused with farm animals, then the NSA would have a record of who was doing so, so they could be fired.

I get why the NSA doesn’t want to host the world’s biggest collection of child abuse, particularly given its difficulties in securing its systems. I don’t have any answers as to why they’re using this approach to purge their systems.

Child Rapist George Nader Introduced Dick Cheney and Ahmad Chalabi

Last night, BuzzFeed released the second-to-last dump of 302s in their Mueller FOIA. There’s a ton that’s interesting in it (and I’m just skimming much of it). But — as I said to Jason Leopold — this George Nader interview, by itself, made the FOIA dump worth the price of admission.

There’s a ton of details about how he brokered meetings between Erik Prince and Kirill Dmitriev and lots of significantly redacted discussions of meetings with Don Jr. There’s great theater where, several times, Nader denied something, including meeting “any” Russian government officials at a trip to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016, only to have Mueller’s team show him a picture (in the case of Putin) or a text (in the case of his denials that he had met Steve Bannon) that forced him to immediately backtrack off his claims. Nader describes how he — a convicted pedophile during this entire period — could get along with all sides: Clinton and Trump, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Everyone’s favorite child rapist.

But by far the craziest part of this amazing interview — the thing that has my brain reeling this afternoon — has nothing to do with Russia.

In describing his background, you see, Nader claimed that he’s the one who introduced Ahmad Chalabi to Dick Cheney.

For those who don’t remember, Chalabi had a significant role in drumming up the Iraq War (here’s what I wrote after he died in 2015, and here’s a piece I wrote about him 10 years earlier, in advance of my book on such things). So by introducing Chalabi to Cheney, Nader played some role — how big, it’s unclear — in perhaps the single greatest American foreign policy debacle of all time.

And now he’s rotting away in prison for trafficking a boy.

Erik Prince Was Like a “Kid at Christmas” When He Met the Sanctioned Russian Bearing Normalized Business Relations

DOJ released the latest bunch of Mueller 302s in response to the BuzzFeed FOIA last night. They include the 302 from an Erik Prince interview on April 4, 2018.

There are, as is the norm for DOJ’s politicized treatment of this FOIA, redactions of embarrassing stuff and unredacted descriptions that later testimony would prove to be a lie. Much of that hides Prince’s relationship with Roger Stone, including his funding of Stone’s racist voter suppression efforts in 2016.

But with regards to Prince’s meeting with Kirill Dmitriev in the Seychelles in January 2017, the 302 is crazy. It makes it clear that Prince walked into the meeting hoping to make a buck and denied to the FBI knowing that making a buck from Dmitriev would require lifting sanctions on Russia.

Prince describes knowing George Nader back to 2006, when he was working for the Vice President of Iraq — Prince called Nader a “courtesan.” Prince provided details about the meeting, during the election, when Nader set up a meeting with Joel Zamel, offering social media products. The meeting was specifically tied to overturning Obama’s Iran deal, and Prince is the one who decided to bring Don Jr rather than Steve Bannon.

Early in the interview, Prince described his mercenary business with the Emirates, explaining that he focused on “‘peripheral’ areas where the Department of Defense does not have a significant presence, such as Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.” As part of his description of his relationship with Mike Flynn, whom he first met in June 2016, Prince describes “another time” meeting with Flynn in an Irish bar to talk “about how to put out fires in peripheral areas,” the same phrase he used to describe the places his mercenaries work.

Prince described knowing nothing about the December 15, 2016 meeting between Flynn, Kushner, Bannon, and Mohammed bin Zayed in NYC. But then the FBI showed him texts showing that he and Nader met right around the meeting, and Nader said he could not wait to “Follow up on our excited mission,” which Prince understood as a reference to using his mercenaries in Yemen. Prince also confirmed that texts from December 20 pertaining to “big real hunting” in the “neighboring country” also pertained to his plan to use mercenaries in Yemen. Prince’s description of the meeting he had with MbZ in the Seychelles immediately preceding his meeting with a back channel to Russia also invoked, “peripheral countries where the UAE had troops, like Somalia, Libya and Yemen.”

Over and over, this 302 makes it clear that MbZ was dangling more mercenary contracts for Prince, and he was eager to get them.

In precisely that period in December when Nader was floating business deals in “peripheral countries,” per a question Prince was asked, Nader sent him a picture of himself with Vladimir Putin, which Prince offered some lame excuse for.

Prince does not know why Nader sent Prince an image of Nader and Putin together, other than the fact that Nader always likes to show off his connections.

It’s in that context that Prince and Nader ended up planning and then  meeting in New York at least twice on January 3 and 4, 2017, possibly bracketing at least one meeting Prince had with Bannon at Trump Tower.

In the same way Prince had no explanation for the Putin image, Prince had no explanation for why Nader sent him information on Kirill Dmitriev on January 3 and 4. Nor did he have any recollection of calling … someone, whose name is redacted (earlier, the interview established that Prince had Trump’s direct phone line). Later, however, after his meeting in the Seychelles with Dmitriev, Prince recalls sharing the very same bio with Bannon, though it may have been a separate screen cap of the same bio.

But the context of his meeting with Dmitriev, set up by someone Prince called a courtesan, is that Prince badly wanted more business with MbZ, and that’s how he was lured to a meeting with a sanctioned Russian after getting sent a picture of Putin.

Prince was like a kid at Christmas about his meeting with MBZ, he could only focus on the presents under the tree. Prince had previously conducted significant business with the UAE and he hoped to gain business for the future.

Before Prince had the meeting with Dmitriev, MbZ first asked Prince — the self-described kid at Christmas eager for presents from MbZ — whether he could deliver the Trump Administration.

In Prince’s mind, Prince was not there on behalf of the upcoming Trump administration. Prince did not play up his relationship with Bannon or anyone else close to Trump. MBZ asked though whether Prince thought that the Trump administration would support the ideas that they were discussing. In response, Prince cited Trump’s campaign promises and what Prince had heard from Trump’s Strategic Policy Advisor, Bannon, on the issues.

Only then, after giving MbZ — the guy from whom Prince wanted Christmas presents in the form of more contracts for mercenary work  — the answers he wanted, did Prince meet with Dmitriev, the back channel from Russia. Here’s how savvy man of the world and self-described kid at Christmas seeking presents Erik Prince addressed sanctions.

Dmitriev also talked about the two countries resuming normal trade relations, but Prince does not recall Dmitriev specifically mentioning sanctions.

Then there’s this interesting bit where Prince presumes to speak for what Dmitriev, whom he claims he met for mere minutes over beer, was thinking.

Dmitriev knew Prince had been a loud advocate for Trump but Prince does not recall Dmitriev speaking as if Prince was a contact to the Trump people.

[snip]

Dmitriev insinuated to Prince that he wanted Prince to pass along the message of better relations to people in the U.S. Dmitriev emphasized wanting to get past the past. Prince does not recall any discussion of potential Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. [my emphasis]

There’s a paragraph in the 302, right after Prince offers yet more ridiculous explanations for why he would have gotten Dmitriev’s bio before meeting if the meeting weren’t pre-arranged that should explain whether Prince knew, having read Dmitriev’s bio, he understood that his bank was under sanctions. But it is redacted for privacy reasons.

In spite of all the evidence that he couldn’t explain of advance warning that this was a back channel meeting with Russia, Erik Prince by his own description was an easy mark. A child, hoping to open Christmas presents he would only get in context with this back channel meeting.

They dangled more contracts before the mercenary and he took a meeting with a sanctioned Russian, then reported back to Steve Bannon.

Reggie Walton Seems Interested Revealing Some of Mueller’s Referrals

I made at least one error in this post. I surmised, based on the exemptions DOJ had claimed in a reprocessed version of the Mueller Report released last month, that there might be ongoing investigations into Rudy Giuliani’s grifters reflected in it.

But the sentencing of George Nader a week later reminded me that it cannot be the case that DOJ did a full reprocessing of the Mueller Report. Warrants made it clear that Nader’s prosecution for child porn — which developed into a prosecution for sexually abusing a boy — was a referral from the Mueller team.

Yet the reprocessed Mueller Report continues to redact all the referrals in Appendix D not previously unsealed (that is, all but the Michael Cohen and Greg Craig ones), including one that must be the Nader prosecution, under b7A redactions signaling an ongoing investigation, quite possibly this one.

The Nader referral, because it was prosecuted, should not be redacted under any exemption. Well before this reprocessing, Nader’s prosecution was public (meaning the privacy exemptions are improper), and by the time of this reprocessing, his conviction had been entered, so was no longer ongoing.

The reprocessing did change two Stone-related referrals to the same privacy exemption used for most other referrals — b(6)/b(7)(C-4) instead of b(6)/b(7)(C-3). (These are the newly reprocessed redactions; compare with pages 240-241 of the initial FOIA release.)

The change from C-3 to C-4 signifies that the person involved was only mentioned in the report, but that category is unrelated to whether or not the person remains under a separate investigation. But all referrals still use the b7(A) exemption, even though we know at least one — that of George Nader — is no longer ongoing.

That’s a very complicated way of saying that we can be certain DOJ is claiming some of these referrals are ongoing investigations even though no investigation is ongoing, whether because — like Nader — the investigation has been completed, because the investigation was properly closed, or because Billy Barr intervened and improperly closed them (as might be the case for investigations known to be targeting Erik Prince and Jared Kushner).

And that’s why some filings this week in this lawsuit are so interesting.

A month ago, Judge Reggie Walton, after having reviewed an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report, canceled a public status conference and instead scheduled an ex parte hearing on July 20 at which DOJ would have to answer his questions about the redactions.

Knowing that it would have to answer Walton’s questions, yet claiming to respond to an earlier BuzzFeed/EPIC filing, DOJ offered up that it was preparing to reissue the report in light of the completion of the Roger Stone prosecution. It released that copy — the one that claims at least one investigation that has been completed is ongoing — on June 19.

Which brings us to this week. On Monday, Judge Walton ordered the government to answer questions he raised in an Excel spreadsheet addressing the redactions.

To accord the Department knowledge of the questions that the Court has regarding some of the redactions prior to the ex parte hearing, the Court has prepared an Excel spreadsheet that catalogues these questions, which is attached as Exhibit A to this Order. 1 To the extent that the Department is able to respond to the Court’s questions in writing, it is hereby

ORDERED that, on or before July 14, 2020, at 5:00 p.m., the Department shall file2 under seal its responses to the Court’s questions by completing Column G of Exhibit A. 3

SO ORDERED this 6th day of July, 2020.

1 Exhibit A will be issued under seal and will remain under seal unless otherwise ordered by this Court.

2 The Department shall coordinate with chambers regarding the delivery of a hard copy of its submission.

3 The Court will advise the Department as to whether the Department’s written explanations obviate the need for the ex parte hearing currently scheduled for July 20, 2020.

Judge Walton gave DOJ just over a week to answer the questions.

Yesterday, DOJ asked for more time. DOJ described that they needed to consult with other entities to respond to Walton’s questions, and explained that they had not yet gotten answers from some of the “entities” they needed to hear from.

The Department has been diligently working to comply with the Court’s Order. That work has involved consultations with numerous Department components, including the Office of Information Privacy, the National Security Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices. However, the Department requires one additional week—until 5:00 PM on July 21, 2020—to coordinate and provide responses to all of the Court’s questions. This additional time is necessary because the majority of Court’s inquiries concerning the redactions require the Department to consult with various entities with equities in the information at issue, both within and outside the Department. The Department has received information from some, but not all, of the entities. Once the Department has completed its consultation with these entities, the Department needs time to compile information received from those entities into a detailed response that addresses all of the Court’s questions. Those entities then need time to review the compiled draft responses before the responses are filed under seal with the Court.2 The Department’s goal with this process is to ensure fulsome responses to the Court’s questions that would obviate the need for a hearing. [my emphasis]

This paragraph is fairly dense, but two things are worth noting. First, after describing “Department components” it would need to consult, the filing then notes that the entities with which DOJ must consult aren’t all inside the Department. This reference may be innocent. After all, any investigations into Russians or other foreigners might implicate foreign intelligence agencies, and Treasury has an ongoing sanctions process working against Oleg Deripaska, another possible referral. So those non-departmental entities could be CIA, NSA, and Treasury, among others.

Or, those non-departmental entities could be the White House.

There has already been abundant evidence that DOJ is consulting with the White House on its response to the BuzzFeed/EPIC FOIA (or at least deferring to their goals), particularly with regards to the 302 releases. Perhaps they’re doing so in the guise of honoring executive privilege claims that Trump never claimed during the investigation. But particularly if this involves hiding details about the investigation into Don Jr and/or Jared, it would be particularly abusive here.

Meanwhile, the reference to US Attorney’s Offices, plural, strongly suggests that these questions get into b7(A) redactions, because the primary reason to need to ask US Attorney’s Offices about these redactions is if they’re investigating or prosecuting cases.

We know of Mueller referrals to, at least, DC, SDNY, and EDVA. The GRU indictment was sent back to WDPA, where it started. And there were reports that investigations into Jared, Tom Barrack, and Elliot Broidy were in EDNY (though it’s unclear which of those, if any, were referrals from Mueller).

That doesn’t necessarily mean these consultations are about unknown referrals. But a footnote to the DOJ filing strongly suggests they are.

2 Although “the question in FOIA cases is typically whether an agency improperly withheld documents at the time that it processed a FOIA request,” in the interest of saving resources and promoting efficiency, if the Department determines during its review that there no longer exists a basis for a redaction, the Department plans to indicate as such in its response to the Court’s questions, withdraw the redaction, and reprocess the Report with the redaction lifted at the appropriate time. ACLU v. Dep’t of Justice, 640 F. App’x 9, 13 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (unpublished); see also Bonner v. Dep’t of State, 928 F.2d 1148, 1152 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (“To require an agency to adjust or modify its FOIA responses based on post-response occurrences could create an endless cycle of judicially mandated reprocessing.”). The Report was originally processed in spring 2019. A basis may no longer exist for a redaction if, for example, material was redacted concerning a prosecution that had been ongoing at the time of the redaction that has now been completed. See Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Dep’t of Justice, 746 F.3d 1082, 1097 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (stating that because a “proceeding must remain pending at the time of our decision,” an agency’s “reliance on Exemption 7(A) may become outdated when the proceeding at issue comes to a close”).[my emphasis]

DOJ directly addresses b7(A) redactions, claiming that if the investigation was ongoing when it originally did the FOIA review, it is not in violation of FOIA if it hasn’t since released the information (the filing is silent on the reprocessing done last month).

Mind you, DOJ will argue that all of these redactions are still proper under privacy protections. But on that point, DOJ (and Billy Barr personally) has outright lied publicly, claiming that these redactions only protect tangential third parties and not people like the President’s son or son-in-law.

Having looked at Walton’s questions, DOJ directly addressed redactions that originally protected ongoing investigations and contacted more than one US Attorney’s Office for consultations. That says he may consider ordering DOJ to release information about investigations that were started but did not end in prosecution.

Which makes the delay more interesting. It may be totally innocent, the slow pace of bureaucracy, particularly as offices still recover from COVID shut-downs. But one US Attorney’s Office of interest has undergone a sudden change of leadership between the time Judge Walton asked for this information and the time DOJ will respond. Last night, Billy Barr swapped EDNY US Attorney Richard Donoghue with PDAAG Seth DuCharme. While Barr has shown trust in both (he put Donoghue in charge of reviewing Ukraine related allegations), DuCharme has been one of the people who has orchestrated his efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. Whatever answers DOJ provides to Walton, then, will be answers that Barr’s newly appointed flunky will oversee. That’s by no means the most suspicious part of DuCharme’s appointment, but it is something DuCharme will review in his first week on the job.

DOJ may successfully argue that all of this should remain redacted for privacy reasons. And, with the possible exception of an Erik Prince referral, if they’re disclosed as closed investigations, it would not necessarily indicate whether they were closed through more Barr interference. But it certainly suggests Walton may be thinking that some of this should be public.

The Kinds and Significance of Russian Interference — 2016 and 2020

Trump’s meltdown last week — in which he purged top staffers at the Director of National Intelligence after a briefing on Russian interference in the 2020 election, followed by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien making shit up on Meet the Press — has created a firestorm about Russian interference in the 2020 election. That firestorm, however, has spun free of what ways Russia interfered in 2016 and what effect it had.

Five ways Russia interfered in 2016

First, remember that there were at least five ways Russia interfered in 2016:

  • Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt
  • Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary
  • Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation
  • Tampering with the voting infrastructure
  • Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt

The most obvious way Russia interfered in 2016 was by hacking the DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta (it also hacked some Republicans it did not like). It released both the DNC and Podesta data in such a way as to exaggerate any derogatory information in the releases, successfully distracting the press for much of the campaign and focusing attention on Hillary rather than Trump. It released DCCC information that was of some use for Republican candidates.

Roger Stone took steps — not all of which are public yet — to optimize this effort. In the wake of Stone’s efforts, he moved to pay off one participant in this effort by trying to get a pardon for Julian Assange.

Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary

In addition to creating a messaging problem, the hack-and-leak campaign created ongoing security challenges for Hillary. Someone who played a key role in InfoSec on the campaign has described the Russian effort as a series of waves of attacks. The GRU indictment describes one of those waves — the efforts to hack Hillary’s personal server — which came in seeming response to Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. An attack that is often forgotten, and from a data perspective was likely one of the most dangerous, involved a month-long effort to obtain Hillary’s analytics from the campaign’s AWS server.

Whatever happened with this data, the persistence of these attacks created additional problems for Hillary, as her staff had to spend time playing whack-a-mole with Russian hackers rather than optimizing their campaign efforts.

Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation

Putin’s “chef,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin, also had staffers from his troll factory in St. Petersburg shift an ongoing campaign that attempted to sow division in the US to adopt a specific campaign focus, pushing Trump and attacking Hillary. Importantly, Prigozhin’s US-based troll effort was part of a larger multinational effort. And it was in no way the only disinformation and trolling entity involved in the election. Both parties did some of this, other countries did some, and mercenaries trying to exploit social media algorithms for profit did some as well.

Tampering with the voting infrastructure

Russia also tampered with US voting infrastructure. In 2016, this consisted of probing most states and accessing voter rolls in at least two, though there’s no evidence that Russian hackers made any changes. In addition, Russian hackers targeted a vendor that provided polling books, with uncertain results. The most substantive evidence of possible success affecting the vote in 2016 involved failures of polling books in Durham County, NC, which created a real slowdown in voting in one of the state’s most Democratic areas.

In recent days, there have been reports of a ransomware attack hitting Palm Beach County in September 2016, but it is unclear whether this was part of the Russian effort.

Because there’s no certainty whether the Russian hack of VR Systems was behind the Durham County problems, there’s no proof that any of these efforts affected the outcome. But they point to the easiest way to use hacking to do so: by making it harder for voters in particular areas to vote and harder for specific localities to count the vote.

Some of what Russia did in 2016 — such as probes of a particularly conservative county in FL — may have been part of Russia’s effort to discredit the outcome. They didn’t fully deploy this effort because Trump won.

Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Finally, Russia accompanied its other efforts with various kinds of influence peddling targeting Trump’s aides. It was not the only country that did so: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, and Israel were some of the others. Foreign countries were similarly trying to target Hillary’s campaign — and the UAE effort, at least, targeted both campaigns at once, through George Nader.

Importantly, however, these efforts intersected with Russia’s other efforts to interfere in the election in ways that tied specific policy outcomes to Russia’s interference:

  • An unrealistically lucrative Trump Tower deal involved a former GRU officer and sanctioned banks
  • At a meeting convened to offer Trump dirt about Hillary, Don Jr agreed in principle to revisit ending Magnitsky sanctions if Trump won
  • George Papadopoulos pitched ending sanctions to Joseph Mifsud, who had alerted him that Russia had emails they intended to drop to help Trump
  • Paul Manafort had a meeting that tied winning the Rust Belt, carving up Ukraine, and getting paid personally together; the meeting took place against the background of sharing internal polling data throughout the campaign

As I’ll note in a follow-up, information coming out in FOIAed 302s makes it clear that Mike Flynn’s effort to undercut Obama’s December 2016 sanctions was more systematic than the Mueller Report concludes. So not only did Russia make it clear it wanted sanctions relief, Trump moved to give it to them even before he got elected (and his Administration found a way to exempt Oleg Deripaska from some of these sanctions).

Manafort continued to pursue efforts to carve up Ukraine until he went to jail. In addition, Trump continues to take actions that undercut Ukraine’s efforts to fight Russia and corruption. Neither of these have been tied to a specific quid pro quo (though the investigation into Manafort’s actions, especially, remained inconclusive at the time of the Mueller Report).

So while none of these was charged as a quid pro quo or a conspiracy (and the reasons why they weren’t vary; Manafort lied about what he was doing, and why, whereas Mueller couldn’t prove Don Jr had the mens rea of entering into a quid pro quo), Russia tied certain policy outcomes to its interference.

Trump’s narcissism and legal exposure exacerbated the effects

The Russian attack was more effective than it otherwise would have been for two reasons. First, because he’s a narcissist and because Russia built in plausible deniability, Trump refused to admit that Russia did try to help him. Indeed, he clings more and more to Russian disinformation about what happened, leading the IC to refuse to brief him on the threat, leading to last week’s meltdown.

In addition, rather than let FBI investigate the people who had entered into discussions of a quid pro quo, Trump obstructed the investigation. Trump has spent years now attacking the rule of law and institutions of government rather than admit what DOJ IG found — there was reason to open the investigation, or admit what DOJ found — there was reason to prosecute six of his aides for lying about what happened.

The Russian effort was just one of the reasons Hillary lost

It’s also important to remember that Russia’s interference was just one of the many things that contributed to Hillary’s loss.

Other aspects were probably more important. For example, Republican voter suppression, particularly in Wisconsin and North Carolina, was far more important than any effect the VR Systems hack may have had in Durham County. Jim Comey’s public statements about the email investigation had at least as much effect as the Russian hack-and-leak campaign did on press focus. Hillary made some boneheaded choices — like barely campaigning in WI and MI; while I had worried that she made those choices because Russia tampered with her analytics (with the AWS hack), that doesn’t seem to have happened. Disinformation sent by the Trump campaign and associates was more significant than Russian disinformation. It didn’t help that the Obama Administration announced a sharp spike in ObamaCare prices right before the election.

The response matters

As noted, Trump’s narcissism dramatically increased the effect of the Russian efforts in 2016, because he has always refused to admit it happened.

Compare that to Bernie’s response to learning that Russia was trying to help his campaign, which accepted that it is happening and rejected the help.

“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”

This was not perfect — Bernie could have revealed this briefing himself weeks ago, Bernie blamed the WaPo for reporting it when it seems like the story was seeded by O’Brien. But it was very good, in that it highlighted the point of Russian interference — sowing divisions — and it reaffirmed the import of Americans selecting who wins. Plus, contrary to Trump, there’s no reason to believe Bernie would pursue policies that specifically advantaged Russia.

Other factors remain more important than Russian interference

There’s very serious reason to be concerned that Russia will hack the outcome of 2020. After all, it would need only to affect the outcome in a small number of precincts to tip the result, and the prospect of power outages or ransomware doing so in urgent fashion have grown since 2016.

That said, as with 2016, there are far more urgent concerns, and those concerns are entirely American.

Republicans continue to seek out new ways to suppress the vote, including by throwing large swaths of voters off the rolls without adequate vetting. There are real concerns about voting machines, particularly in Georgia (and there are credible concerns about the reliability of GA’s tally in past elections). Republicans have continued to make polling locations less accessible in Democratic precincts than in Republican ones.

Facebook refuses to police the accuracy of political ads, and Trump has flooded Facebook with disinformation.

And Bloomberg’s efforts this year — which include a good deal of trolling and disinformation — are unprecedented in recent memory. His ad spending has undercut the ability to weigh candidates. And his personnel spending is increasing the costs for other candidates.

Russian efforts to sway the vote are real. Denying them — as some of Bernie’s supporters are doing in ways that hurt the candidate — does not help. But, assuming DHS continues to work with localities to ensure the integrity of voting infrastructure, neither does overplaying them. Between now and November there’s far more reason to be concerned about American-funded disinformation and American money distorting our democratic process.

The Real News in Bill Barr’s Announcement: He’s Vetoing Campaign Finance Investigations, Too

Yesterday, NYT broke the news that Attorney General Barr had issued a memo, as promised, requiring his approval before opening an investigation into a presidential candidate. (Update: here’s the memo.)

The memo, which said the Justice Department had a duty to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences,” was issued on the same day that President Trump was acquitted on charges that he had abused his office to push a foreign power to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals. The memo said that the F.B.I. and all other divisions under the department’s purview must get Mr. Barr’s approval before investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

The NBC version of this — written by Barr mouthpiece Pete Williams — falsely suggests this decision was justified by the entirety of the IG Report.

His directive follows a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that harshly criticized the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. It recommended an evaluation of the kind of sensitive matters that should require high-level approval, particularly those involving politics.

While the IG Report recommended different practices for sensitive investigations going forward, the report actually showed that a lot of conspiracy theories that Barr had embraced about the opening of the investigation and the use of informants were false. The criticisms — as distinct from recommendations — were largely limited to the Carter Page FISA.

The distinction is important because the other excuse Barr offers is that, if an investigation became known — like both the Hillary email investigation and the Breitbart-dirt predicated Clinton Foundations ones — it might affect the election.

“In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections,” Mr. Barr wrote.

Those concerns, combined with the inspector general’s findings, seemed to underpin Mr. Barr’s memo to top Justice Department officials.

All the evidence in the world suggests that the known problems in Crossfire Hurricane stemmed from the opposite problem, working too hard to keep the investigation secret. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep it secret, it wouldn’t have been run out of FBI HQ, and so would have had more resources available. Had the FBI not avoided overt steps, it would have obtained call records to indicate that George Papadopoulos (and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), and not Carter Page, should have been the priority targets. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep this secret, it might have caught several of Trump’s flunkies in the act of selling out the country. (And all three of those men hid information to prevent their actions from becoming known.) And now Bill Barr wants to make it harder, not easier, to find people selling out our country before they do real damage.

Indeed, this extends even to the larger investigation into Russian interference. SSCI released its report on what the Obama Administration should have done better in 2016 yesterday, and many of the criticisms stem from how closely it held the intelligence about the attack, from Congress, election professionals, and agencies that might respond. (The report also undermined Barr’s justification for the Durham investigation, in that it suggested the IC should have warned policy makers far earlier than happened about Russian intentions, and points to John Brennan’s sensitive intelligence about the operation as the first alarm.)

So the stated purpose doesn’t hold up, as most of Barr’s stated purposes don’t. That’s all the more true when you look at how Barr’s rule has dramatically expanded since he first floated it.

As both NYT and NBC noted, Barr announced the policy in January. The policy, as laid out back then, was far more limited — extending just to counterintelligence investigations.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced the Justice Department’s first policy change in response to the FBI’s mucking around in the 2016 election. Henceforth, both an AG and the FBI director must sign off on any proposed counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign.

Neither the NYT nor NBC describe any such limitation. Indeed, the make it clear that criminal investigations, including into donors!!!, must be approved.

While the department must respond “swiftly and decisively” to credible threats to the electoral process, “we also must be sensitive to safeguarding the department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship,” he wrote.

He previewed the new policy at a news conference in January, when he said his approval would be required in future investigations involving presidential candidates or campaigns.
In the memo, Mr. Barr established a series of requirements governing whether investigators could open preliminary or full “politically sensitive” criminal and counterintelligence investigations into candidates or their donors.

No investigation into a presidential or vice-presidential candidate — or their senior campaign staff or advisers — can begin without written notification to the Justice Department and the written approval of Mr. Barr.

The F.B.I. must also notify and consult with the relevant leaders at the department — like the heads of the criminal division, the national security division or a United States attorney’s office — before investigating Senate or House candidates or their campaigns, or opening an inquiry related to “illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign.”

This rule would have protected the following people from any investigation in 2016:

  • Trump, for paying off former sex partners
  • Paul Manafort, for taking $2.4M after discussing carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking in 2016
  • Roger Stone, for dark money activity and coordination still unresolved as well as optimizing materials stolen from the Democrats
  • Mike Flynn, for being on Turkey’s payroll while attending Top Secret candidate briefings
  • George Papadopoulos, for trying to monetize his access to Trump with foreign countries including Israel
  • Illegal donations from Russians, Malaysians, Emiratis, and Ukrainians in 2016
  • Illegal coordination between the campaign and its SuperPAC

The only criminal investigations into Trump flunkies that wouldn’t have been covered in 2016 would be the money laundering investigation into Manafort (which started two months before he joined the campaign) and, possibly, the counterintelligence investigation into Page (because his tie to the campaign was not known at the time).

As stated, the rule would require pre-approval for the Ukrainian grifter investigation and any investigation into known coordination problems Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has engaged in. It would protect not just Trump, but also (because they work on his campaign) his failson and son-in-law.

Plus, Barr believes that because the President can’t be indicted, he should not be investigated. So this is, quite literally, a guarantee that no crime Trump commits between now and election day will be investigated — not even shooting someone on Fifth Avenue  (at the federal level, at least, but DOJ has maintained that NYS cannot investigate the sitting president either). Barr has just announced, using fancy language to avoid headlines describing what this is, that from now until November, he will hold President Trump above the law.

Citizens United has opened up a floodgate of barely hidden cash from foreign donors into our elections. This is not a partisan thing; as noted, Mohammed bin Zayed was dumping huge money into both Hillary and Trump’s campaign. And the Attorney General of the United States has just made it easier for foreigners to tamper in our elections.

Barr has snookered reporters into believing this is the same announcement as he made in January.

It’s not. This is not about spying on a campaign, much as Pete Williams wants to pretend it is. This is about telling Trump and his associates they will not be prosecuted by DOJ, going forward, for the same crimes they’ve committed in the past.

Update: Two more details. The memo requires signed approval by the Deputy Attorney General to open a preliminary investigation of any presidential candidate. But it also requires prompt notice to the Assistant Attorney General for any assessment. That means the AG is demanding that his top deputies learn when someone does a database search.

The 900 Pages of George Nader Testimony the Government Wants to Keep Hidden

Brad Heath spotted this Beryl Howell opinion granting George Nader’s request to get a copy of his own grand jury transcript.

We can be sure it’s Nader because of the details she includes: Someone currently jailed for crime with significant mandatory minimums charged using evidence from a phone seized in the Mueller investigation, awaiting trial early next year. The person provided testimony with immunity on four occasions in February and March 2018.

That all fits Nader and only Nader.

In my continuing interest in tracking the dregs of the Mueller investigation, several details are of interest. Howell describes that his transcript is 900 pages long. Several of the redactions suggest Nader may need the transcripts to craft a defense in potential additional charges, which would more obviously raise a need to consult the transcript and the limits of his immunized testimony. And, the government claims that Nader was asked “questions regarding ongoing investigations.”

That’s not surprising in the least. Nader’s testimony touched on so many crimes it is unsurprising some of them remain active investigations (note the attached picture, which shows Nader with Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman.

The question is how he wants to use this transcript. It’s possible he needs it to argue that potentially pending charges against him are improperly based on immunized testimony (and as such wants to eliminate criminal exposure before making the best plea deal he can).  Or it’s possible he wants the transcript to be able to explain the risks any cooperation he’d offer would pose to powerful people.

There Are More Charges Pending for George Nader or an Accomplice

On July 19, the government moved to unseal a bunch of search warrants involved in the investigation of George Nader. Among other things, the warrants revealed that Mueller originally obtained warrants for one of Nader’s Gmail accounts and a Hotmail account associated with his work on November 30, 2017.

The EDVA obtained a warrant to access the data from the iPhone 7 on which a Mueller-related FBI agent had found child porn on March 16, 2018. The case agent first accessed the data on March 22. Nader skipped town on March 24.

That’s … remarkable timing. It suggests he may have gotten tipped off.

Especially since, along with the four phones he was carrying when he was arrested on June 3, he was carrying a shit-ton of luggage.

That’s totally inconsistent with Nader’s claimed explanation for returning to the US, which was to consult with a heart doctor. Remember: he returned just days after Mueller officially closed up shop.

Finally, there’s this interesting detail from the government response to the judge’s order asking what had to remain sealed in Nader’s case.

The United States does not believe that any of the documents (other than those portions involving the health status of the Defendant and noted by his counsel) identified in the docket under the caption indicated above need to remain under seal.

Though it is not directly responsive, as the Court is aware, the government has successfully sought to unseal a number of search warrants that were authorized by the U.S. Magistrate Judges in this Court in this matter. See Dkt. 71. However, there are a number of search warrants and affidavits that involve charges and subjects beyond that contained in the current Indictment. While the defense in this matter will be given access to these documents and the subsequent materials obtained pursuant to this Court’s Discovery Order and Protective Orders, they should remain under seal until the investigations are complete for the reasons set forth in the original sealing orders obtained.

One of the unsealed warrant applications describes Nader discussing child porn with someone in the Czech lands as recently as 2016. So it may be there are more trafficking charges; that same passage cites a warrant issued in April that was not among the ones unsealed.

Or it may pertain to something more interesting, such as his pitch to have PsyGroup help Trump get elected.

Update: Because very few people understand how this timing works, here’s the timeline that shows that Mueller’s team properly referred the child porn after they found it, and Mueller’s known interviews (aside from a grand jury appearance) precede when the porn was found.

November 30, 2017: Mueller obtains warrants for one of Nader’s Gmail accounts and a work-related Hotmail account.

January 16, 2018: Mueller obtains a warrant for Nader’s person.

January 17, 2018: Nader detained in Dulles, interviewed, phones seized; Mueller obtains warrant to search Nader’s three phones.

January 19, 2018: Nader interviewed by Mueller FBI Agent under proffer.

January 22, 2018: Nader interviewed by Mueller FBI Agent under proffer.

January 23, 2018: Nader interviewed by Mueller FBI Agent under proffer.

February 12, 2018: Agent in Mueller investigation conducts first review of Nader phone files, sees three child porn videos sent via WhatsApp.

Week before March 6, 2018: Nader appears before grand jury.

March 5, 2018: iPhone 7 files saved to hard drive for referral to EDVA (where the files were illegally transported).

March 16, 2018: EDVA obtains warrant to access iPhone 7 files.

March 22, 2018: EDVA case agent reviews iPhone 7 files, finds four more child porn videos.

March 24, 2018: Nader flies to Dubai.

April 19, 2018: Arrest warrant.

June 3, 2019: Nader returns to the US, ostensibly for a heart surgeon consult, but with four suitcases.

OPEN THREAD: Everything Else Not about Robert Mueller

[Please check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Though today will probably be nutzo with Mueller hearing content, we need a place to capture everything else going on.

Let me repeat: this is everything else NOT about Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) investigation and resulting report which will be addressed in a House Judiciary Committee hearing today.

I’ll kick this off with a few things I’ve had on my desktop. Caution: may contain speculation.

~ ~ ~

This is tangential to the Special Counsel’s investigation, but not a direct part of it.

Former Trump campaign adviser George Nader, who testified before the SCO, may also be prosecuted in New York as well as by the feds in Virginia:

I don’t recommend reading the government’s motion opposing Nader’s release on bond linked in her thread unless you have a strong constitution. I couldn’t stomach it. Judge Leonie Brinkema denied his release, thank goodness.

Nader was indicted last Friday when charges filed in April 2018 related to transporting a minor in 2000 for the purposes of sex and for possession of child pornography were unsealed. The charges had remained sealed while Nader cooperated with the SCO investigation.

He had been arrested in early June at JFK International airport in New York when he returned after complications from heart surgery.

I assume whatever was found at JFK voided any immunity agreement, as well it should.

At some point we need a society-wide discussion about the confluence of men whose proclivities deny consent to those with less power. It’s this issue I want us to address — it’s entwined with the anti-democratic movement.

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I really hate to think about Alan Dershowitz at all let alone about his sex life. But didn’t anybody notice the weird caveat last week when he spoke about his love life last week Thursday?

“I have had sex with one woman since the day I met Jeffrey Epstein. I challenge David Boies to say under oath that he’s only had sex with one woman during that same period of time. He has an abnormal amount of chutzpah to attack me and challenge my perfect, perfect sex life during the relevant period of time …”

This guy can play all kinds of word games, right? He parses like crazy. So why didn’t he say I’ve only had sex with my wife/life partner [insert her name because she’s a human being]?

And yet we know he’s admitted to receiving therapeutic massage at pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s place. Was he prevaricating about the meaning of the word ‘sex’ as Bill Clinton once did?

Not kink shaming sex between consenting adults, but that’s my point — were any these ‘massages’ or not-sex-sex with some other person actually with a non-consenting human? Like a minor?

Really wonder if it would be beneficial to go through the body of Dershowitz’ work with an eye to his opinions with regard to consent by individuals with less power in a given situation.

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Deutsche Bank (DB) is in a world of hurt. It’s trying to downsize and reorganize in a big fat hurry, expecting to shed as many as 18,000 jobs over the next 2-3 years.

It’s also clients and deposits, hemorrhaging nearly a billion dollars a day after the bank announced it was exiting prime brokerage.

Now DB is trying to shed a problematic client, Jeffrey Epstein, whose accounts are like a mythic hydra. Lop off the known accounts and a bunch more unknown pop up.

DB has submitted Suspicious Activity Reports a number of times on Epstein’s accounts’ transactions; while not all activity triggering a SAR may be illicit, this is Epstein we’re talking about.

Timing is also rather interesting — check this excerpt from the NYT:

In 2015 and 2016, anti-money laundering compliance officers in Deutsche Bank’s offices in New York and Jacksonville, Fla., raised a variety of concerns about the work the bank was doing with Mr. Epstein. The employees were concerned that the bank’s reputation could be harmed if it became public that Mr. Epstein was a client, according to the three people familiar with the relationship.

Huh. What an interesting overlap with the U.S. 2016 campaign season. This, too, was interesting:

In addition, the compliance officers on at least one occasion noticed potentially illegal activity in one of Mr. Epstein’s accounts, including transactions in which money was moving outside the United States, two of the people said. The compliance officers produced a so-called suspicious activity report, but it is unclear whether the report was ever filed with the Treasury Department’s financial-crimes division.

Despite the compliance officers’ misgivings, the bank continued to do extensive business with Mr. Epstein.

What’s the bottleneck? Did corruption inside DB prevent Epstein from being discovered earlier than last fall’s investigative reporting by the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown? Did any of these banking transactions mirror human trafficking transactions?

Will we ever know or will this all quietly go away?

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There will be a separate post for the Mueller hearing today. Please take all Mueller hearing related content to that thread, thanks. This is an open thread.