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The Three Types (Thus Far) of Trump Mueller Pardons

To date, Trump has pardoned five people who were prosecuted by Mueller. I’m seeing a good deal of misunderstanding about what those pardons mean for any legal proceedings going forward, so I’d like to address some of that.

First, a lot of people say that accepting a pardon is tantamount to accepting guilt, under Burdick v.United States. It’s not. It’s narrower, though importantly goes to questions about whether a witness who has been pardoned has to testify or not. It also says that someone who has been pardoned must inform the court of the fact for it to be valid in any legal proceeding before the court.

That said, claims that Trump flunkies who’ve been pardoned have to testify are also too broad. If the people have any remaining legal exposure (as I’ll explain, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort do), they can still invoke the Fifth. That’s also true if they have state exposure for something like fraud or tax evasion. But in cases where the pardoned crime is only federal, such as Papadopoulos’ lies, it would be easy for prosecutors to immunize him in case he invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges, effectively forcing him to testify on penalty of contempt.

Thus far, Trump has issued three kinds of pardons for people prosecuted by Mueller:

  • Pardons for people with no further known (Mueller) legal exposure
  • Pardons for people with potentially grave further legal exposure
  • Fruit of the poison tree pardon for anything Mueller touched

Alex Van der Zwaan and George Papadopoulos:

Both Van Der Zwaan and Papadopoulos were pardoned for the single False Statements charge against them. Neither is known to have committed another crime. In Papadopoulos’ case, however, things could get dicey on several points. Trump forgave his $9,500 fine, which was the amount Papadopoulos accepted from suspected Israeli spooks. If he asks for that back that may raise questions about his exposure on FARA grounds. In addition, Papadopoulos has already testified before Congress that he called Marc Kasowitz after he was first interviewed by the FBI. If there were a larger prosecution about Trump’s obstruction, he might have been able to plead the Fifth for making that call — except he has already testified to it.

Papadopoulos withheld documents from Congress. With a DOJ that can enforce subpoenas, he might be asked to share those documents, which may require him to testify contrary to his 2018 OGR/HJC testimony.

If DOJ decided to reopen the investigation into a suspected Egyptian bribe to Trump because serving a subpoena on Trump Organization would now be less controversial than it was last summer, then Papadopoulos might be a key witness in that investigation, though since that’s unrelated to his charged false statements, he could still invoke the Fifth if questioned about it.

Roger Stone and Paul Manafort:

Like Van der Zwaan and Papadopoulos, Stone and Manafort were just pardoned for the crimes that they were found or pled guilty to, the money laundering, tax evasion, and FARA crimes in Manafort’s case, and the cover-up crimes in Stone’s case. For both, however, that’s not the full extent of what they were investigated or might be witnesses for.

Before I get there, let me note that multiple sources are claiming that, because Trump included Manafort’s criminal forfeiture in the language of his pardon, he’ll get his ill-gotten gains back. I’m not an expert on this, but I do know that Manafort also civilly forfeited these goods in his plea agreement.

So to attempt to reverse this forfeiture, Manafort would have to spend a great deal of money litigating it, and it’s not at all clear it’d work.

Manafort was also referred for suspected FECA violations involving two PACs that, prosecutors suspected, he got paid through via a kickback system. These cases must be closed, because they were unsealed in the Mueller Report back in September. But Manafort may face more scrutiny on them if DOJ investigates Trump’s other corrupt PACs.

Unless he, too, is pardoned, Konstantin Kilimnik remains under investigation. That’s an area where things might get more interesting for Manafort, because during the period when he was purportedly cooperating, he lied about the fact that he had conspired with Kilimnik. In any case, until the Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska investigations are closed, Manafort has some exposure.

Things are more complicated still for Stone. There were at least two investigations into Stone — probably on conspiracy and foreign agent crimes — still active in April. If the redactions if Mueller 302s are any indication, Barr shut parts of that investigation down since, which will be of interest on its own right (Congress learned of these ongoing investigations when they got unsealed portions of the Mueller Report that have only recently been made public, and I know there is some interest in learning what those investigations were or are, and that was true even before any discussions about Trump’s abuse of pardons).

In any case, the investigation into a pardon for Julian Assange was active at least as recently as October. Stone has already called on Trump to pardon Assange since his own pardon, potentially a new overt act in a conspiracy. And Trump might well pardon Assange; even pardoning him for the crimes currently charged would be a new overt act in that conspiracy, which would implicate Stone. So even if Barr shut that investigation down, there is already reason to reopen it.

So while Barr may have tried to clean up the remaining criminal exposure against Stone, it’s not clear he could succeed at doing so, much less without creating problems for others going forward.

Mike Flynn:

As I have written, Mike Flynn’s pardon was constructed in a way that attempted to eliminate all criminal exposure that might arise from anything associated with the Mueller investigation for him. In addition to pardoning Flynn for the false statements charge he pled guilty to, it pardons him for lying about being an Agent of Turkey, for being an Agent of Turkey, and for lying to Judge Sullivan.

But it also attempts to pardon Flynn for any crime that might arise out of facts known to Mueller. While, generally, I think the pardon power is very broad, this effectively tried to pardon Flynn for an investigation, not for crimes. Plus, the broadness of the pardon may backfire, insofar as it would strip Flynn of the ability to plead the Fifth more broadly. Even just a retrial of Bijan Kian (unless Trump pardons him and Mike Jr) might force Flynn to commit new crimes, because both telling the truth and lying about his secret relationship with Turkey would be a new crime.

Given his seditious behavior, Flynn might have entirely new criminal exposure by the time Joe Biden is sworn in any case. But the attempt to be expansive with Flynn’s pardon might backfire for him.

Of the five Mueller criminals pardoned so far, only Van der Zwaan is clearly free of danger going forward.

And these five don’t even cover some of the most complex pardon recipients. Any Assange pardon may be the most obviously illegal for Trump (save a self-pardon), because it would involve a quid pro quo entered before he was elected. With Steve Bannon, Trump will need to pardon for another crime, fraud associated with Build the Wall, but if it covers Mueller, it may make it easier for Bannon to repeat what truths he already told to the grand jury. With Rudy Giuliani, Trump will need to pardon for unidentified crimes currently under investigation, but also Rudy’s efforts to broker pardons, which may make the pardon itself more dicey. With Trump’s children (including Jared Kushner), I assume he’ll offer a Nixon type pardon for all crimes committed before the day of pardon. But there may be ways to make them admit to these crimes.

Billy Barr is the best cover-up artist in the history of DOJ. But Trump is attempting to pardon himself out of a dicier situation than Poppy Bush was in Iran-Contra. Plus, even assuming Mueller’s team left everything available for Barr’s discovery, Barr may be hamstrung by the fact that he doesn’t believe in most of the crimes Trump committed, something that could become especially problematic as the full extent of Trump’s dalliance with Russia becomes known going forward. Barr didn’t support some of these pardons, like a hypothetical Assange one. And now, in his absence, Trump has grown increasingly paranoid about Pat Cipollone, who will have to shepherd the rest.

The pardon power is awesome and fairly unlimited. But it’s not yet clear the Mueller pardons will do what Trump hopes they will. With virtually all of them, there are loose strings that, if they get pulled, may undo the immunity Trump has tried to offer.

The Next Gang of Thieves and War Criminals

Pardonpalooza is kicking up, with Trump pardoning low-level Mueller criminals (Alex Van der Zwaan and George Papadopoulos), corrupt Republican Congressmen (with pardons for early Trump supporters Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins and a commutation for Steve Stockman), and war criminals (the four Nisour Square Blackwater guards, in what is surely a favor for Erik Prince).

This is who Trump is: A man whose biggest legacy as President will be the utter abasement of the Rule of Law.

Ron Johnson Grasping at Chum

Russian disinformation purveyor Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley continue to serially demand and release documents from FBI in hopes of sustaining a buzz suggesting that Hillary was treated better than Donald Trump.

The latest batch is a hodgepodge. It purports to be,

messages from former FBI agent Peter Strzok related to Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign and administration officials, and the FBI’s “Midyear Exam” investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

But it is actually a hodgepodge, including texts pertaining to Guccifer 1.0, the ongoing hacks of the DNC, and other investigations pertaining to Russia, including the beginnings of a focus on Russia’s 2016 social media campaign. Some of the texts, such as one from October 21, 2016 about leaked Podesta emails involving Obama, don’t obviously involve Strzok at all.

There is no possible set of search terms that would return these texts. But they’re useful to compare with another more motivated set of texts released by the Jeffrey Jensen investigation that overlap with this one. Here’s a set of texts packaged up to justify blowing up the Flynn prosecution.

As a later filing to Judge Sullivan admitted, they were actually repackaged from the FBI original, and in the process an error was introduced into the document (adding the wrong time for the “Will do” text).

The set released to Johnson includes just a few of those texts, completely out of context.

But those texts reveal one reason why the Jensen texts were packaged up: to alter the UTC times to Eastern time, the kind of thing that, for trial exhibits, needs to be formally noticed. It’s the kind of thing Sullivan wouldn’t need to assess the evidence, but that would make the connections Jensen was trying to feed the public (some false) easier to put together.

Neither the Senators, their staff, nor the frothy right seem to have cared that these texts reflect a random grab bag to keep them occupied. Chuck Ross got himself in a tizzy, for example, because Strzok read the Michael Isikoff article reflecting information from Steele and determined that the Steele reports were “intended to influence as well as inform.”

In his rendition of the text, Ross claims that this means Strzok knew “Steele was a source” for the story. Of course, it means no such thing (and Ross had to mis-cite it to make the claim). It actually reflects that Strzok knew Steele’s reports were a source for the story, which was noticed to the FISA Court from the very first application, and so nothing we didn’t already know.

Then there’s the Federalist, which claims that this text proves the FBI was wiretapping calls between Fox News and George Papadopoulos.

The text is a copy of a text sent by someone else (that is, forwarded to the person who forwarded this to Strzok). It appears to come from Chicago (CG). Chicago was running an informant on Papadopoulos, who spoke quite a lot to him while being monitored. The most likely explanation for this is that after news about Sergei Millian was breaking (whose name is redacted in all these texts), Papadopoulos told the informant that Fox had reached out to him. In the same way Papadopoulos bragged falsely about meeting Russia’s ambassador and Putin’s niece, he may well have exaggerated the seniority of the person he spoke with.

Meanwhile, some of the texts provide needed content.

One text explains part of why Joe Pientka wrote up the briefing he gave Mike Flynn, Chris Christie, and Trump in August 2016: to capture what was said in case anyone leaked it.

He was wise to do so! Both Flynn and Trump would go on to make claims about what went on in the briefing, with Flynn falsely claiming that briefers said they disagreed with President Obama’s policies, claims that do not accord with the record — thus far — we’ve gotten of it.

And in January, amid a recurring discussion about how to organize the investigations — and exhibiting a concern that the multiple (Egypt, Flynn on Turkey, Papadopoulos and Israel) different CI concerns would turn into a Trump focused investigation rather than one focused on multiple legitimate concerns run by people with specific expertise to them — Strzok raised the risk of Flynn leaking. Flynn had a history of sharing classified information inappropriately. In one of the calls with Kislyak, Flynn offered up what kind of calls the Transition had been making (which might have been classified if it happened after inauguration).

Flynn: Yeah, there … there, I can tell you that there’s, uh, you know, a litany of countries that are … that we’re talking … I’m … I’m talking directly to. And … and that …

Kislyak: I see.

Flynn: Basically, just as I asked you.

With this disclosure, Flynn basically admitted to the Russians that Trump’s people were conducting a systematic effort to undermine Obama’s policy. And Kislyak just took at all in, letting Flynn run his mouth.

“I see.”

So at a time he would have been reviewing these transcripts and seeing how little filter Flynn had with a hostile country, Stzrok noted that the conversations with Kislyak or others could easily turn into an Espionage investigation, file code 65, if Flynn shared classified information.

There’s more, reflecting a real concern about the leaks that also (rightly) pissed off Trump, along with real efforts to chase them down.

But for now, DOJ and FBI appear to be throwing random shit Ron Johnson’s way to get through the end of the term, when he’ll no longer Chair HGSAC.

Organized Crime

Know what you call a crowd that requires 25 pardons to cover their illegal activities of the last 5 years?

As it happens, Trump is mulling the pardons at a juncture when loyalty appears his principal concern, complaining repeatedly over the past weeks that Republicans are deserting him when he needed them to help overturn the election results.

He has largely frozen out those advisers and associates who do not seem on the same page. One person who used to speak to Trump regularly, but who delicately encouraged him to soften his post-election stance, no longer has his calls returned and hasn’t heard from Trump in weeks.

In all, the President is considering pardons for more than two dozen people in his orbit whom he believes were targeted — or could be targeted in the future — for political ends. That’s in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have approached the White House directly, and tens of thousands more whose petitions are pending at the Justice Department.

Organized crime.

The Forgotten Coffee Boy Errands

Among the things Steve Bannon has lied about most assiduously was the role George Papadopoulos played in setting up a fall 2016 meeting with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The first time he was asked about the Egypt meeting in a February 2018 interview with Mueller, he gave Jared Kushner credit. Later in the same interview, Bannon claimed he,

would generally blow off Papadopoulos and thought to himself “I don’t need this guy.” Flynn would be on the hook for the meetings Papadopoulos was suggesting, and Bannon didn’t need Papadopoulos.

Bannon transitioned immediately from that claim to disavowing advance knowledge of the emails Russia had.

Papadopoulos never told Bannon about the Russians having dirt on Clinton, and Bannon never heard Papadopoulos tell anyone in the campaign, such as Sam Clovis, that the Russians had dirt on Clinton.

Of course, by the time Bannon joined the campaign proper, he was already talking to Roger Stone about Russia dealing emails.

In an interview with SSCI, Bannon told even more ridiculous lies about Papadopoulos’ role in the el-Sisi meeting. When asked about a sustained thread between him and the Coffee Boy around the meeting, Bannon claimed he had accidentally emailed Papadopoulos about the meeting when he intended to email someone else.

Between September 16, 2016, and September 18, 2016, Papadopoulos and Bannon exchanged dozens.of messages relating to a potential engagement between President El~Sisi of Egypt and Trump, ultimately confirming a dinner meeting at 9:00 p.m. on Monday, September, 19, 2016. During this email exchange, Bannon asked Papadopoulos to email a briefing in advance of the meeting with President El-Sisi, which Papadopoulos sent noting that “while in Athens over dinner with Greek defense minister last May, he personally introduced me to the Egyptian defense minister and the rest became monthly consultations with the Egyptians in DC.” There are an additional two email messages related to this conversation that were redacted when produced to the Committee. Bannon told the Committee that he mistook Papadopoulos for a separate Campaign staffer and never meant to engage with Papadopoulos on this issue. Bannon Tr., pp. 95-98.

At the time then, Papadopoulos told Bannon that his ties with Egypt started back in May, when he was in Greece the same day as Putin and when he bragged to Greece’s Foreign Minister that the Russians had Hillary’s emails.

These same ties were key to the role that Papadopoulos played during the Transition, when he was hoping Flynn would hire him for a key NSC job on energy (hopes for that job is the excuse he later used for lying to the FBI). He had at least two more substantive discussions with Bannon in this period, one on and following December 9, and another on and following January 4.

Papadopoulos, however, was about to travel to Greece, and was keeping senior members of the Trump Transition Team apprised of his engagements. On December 9, 2016, Papadopoulos passed on a purported request from the Prime Minister of Greece to meet with President-Elect Trump in early January 2017 to Bannon.3415 In an email the following day, December 10, 2016, Papadopoulos further stated that he “[s]poke with the Greek defense minister.3416 They want to sign a government to government agreement with the USA for all rights to all energy fields offshore. Strategic foothold in the Mediterranean and Balkans.”3417 Bannon replied to the note, adding Michael Flynn and Kathleen Troia (K.T.) McFarland to the communication, both of who were-senior national security officials on the Transition Team.3418 Papadopoulos then wrote to the group on December 10, 2016, that the Greek defense minister had “earmarked the island of [K]arpathos for a potential listening post and air base for the US” and further stated “A base on [K]arpathos is key to controlling sea lines of communication in the Aegean/plan b should Incirlik once again become unusable.”3419 The following day, December 11, 2016, Papadopoulos wrote to Flynn’s Transition Team email address, passing along the phone number for Kammenos, the Greek Defense Minister, noting that the “[l]ine is not secure, however. He can pass along a secure number when you both find the time to discuss.”3420

Papadopoulos again reached out to Bannon on January 4, 2017, relaying a request from the Greek Foreign Minister for a phone call with Trump. 3421 Bannon responded, adding Flynn, which Papadopoulos used to also request a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador .. 3422

3415 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, December 9, 2016 (B&P GP F:ile 2018 000609).

3416 (U) According to Greek press reporting, Papadopoulos and Kammenos had lunch in Piraeus on Saturday, December 10, 2016, where Papadopoulos described himself as a “representative of Trump.” Kourdistoportocali.com, “World Exclusive: George Papadopoulos. and Panos Kammenos in ‘Dourabei, ‘” December 10, 2016.

3417 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, December 10; 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000609).

3418 (U) Email, Bannon to Papadopoulos, Flynn, McFarland, December 10, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000609).

3419 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn, Bannon, McFarland, and Kellogg, December 10, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000610).

3420 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn, December 11, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000610).

3421 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, January 4, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635).

3422 (U) Email, Bannon to Papadopoulos and Flynn, January 4, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635); Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn and Bannon, January 6, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635). [my emphasis]

The latter one, in which Papadopoulos wrote Bannon about Greece and Bannon then looped in Flynn, in response to which Papadopoulos also passed on a request from Egypt’s Ambassador, appears to be the email mentioned in an October 2016 warrant application targeting Mike Flynn.

Emails obtained pursuant to a judicially-authorized search warrant show that one or about January 6, 2017, a member of the Trump campaign team on foreign policy issues e-mailed [Flynn] and advised that a foreign government official had been asking to meet with FLYNN. Later that day, FLYNN responded to the Trump campaign member: “We’ll reach out and try to meet this coming week.” FLYNN’s response was also sent to [KT McFarland] and [Flynn’s scheduler Daniel Gelbinovich].

When Papadopoulos testified about this to the House, he left out the Egyptian part of things.

A So I never spoke about Russia at all with Michael Flynn, K.T. McFarland during the transition. It was about an energy project that the Greek Government wanted to discuss with the incoming administration, and that’s why I was put in touch — that’s my understanding of why I was put in touch with Michael Flynn during the transition over email to discuss this deal that, I guess, the Greek Government wanted to discuss with the higher-ups in the incoming administration about, I don’t know, giving U.S. companies rights to their energy reserves, something along those lines.

[snip]

Q Okay. So you never had a conversation or were aware of conversations with Michael Flynn relating to Saudi Arabia?

A To my recollection, the only interactions I had with Michael Flynn were regarding this Greek energy deal, and I think that’s documented in emails.

Even when asked specifically about who else he spoke with in the Transition, Papadopoulos left Egypt off, then claimed not to remember whether he had any meetings with Egyptian officials.

Q Okay. So you never had a conversation or were aware of conversations with Michael Flynn relating to Saudi Arabia?

A To my recollection, the only interactions I had with Michael Flynn were regarding this Greek energy deal, and I think that’s documented in emails.

[snip]

Q Any meetings with Egyptian officials?

A During the transition? I can’t remember, but it’s possible, because I had a very close network with them. But I can’t remember about Egypt in particular.

Given that an Egyptian bank may have given Trump a big infusion of cash after the first meeting, I can understand why everyone would be so forgetful about this meeting.

But given the likelihood all these people will lose their Fifth Amendment privilege after they get pardoned in the next few weeks, perhaps they can be asked to refresh their memory about why the Egypt operation was so closely tied to the Russian one.

The Mistaken Presumptions of Virtually All Discussions of a Future Trump Prosecution

Jack Goldsmith has written a piece arguing against a Trump prosecution under the Biden Administration. He’s wrong on a key point that many other people engaging in this discussion also are. He’s wrong about what crime might be prosecuted and whose DOJ investigated it.

Before I get to that, though, I want to critique two smaller issues in his post.

First, he links to the DOJ IG investigation on Carter Page, apparently suggesting it supports a claim that that report found there were inappropriate parts of the investigation into Donald Trump.

The first in this line was the investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and presidential transition by the FBI and the Obama Justice Department, which continued with the Mueller investigation. Some elements of this investigation were clearly legitimate and some, clearly not.

Except that’s not what that report shows (even ignoring the report’s own problems). It shows that FBI followed the rules on informants and even on including an investigative agent in Trump’s first security briefing (after which Flynn promptly moved to cover up his secret relationship with Turkey). It shows that there were problems with the Carter Page FISA application. But the single solitary thing in the report that would not survive a Franks review is Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email. Every single other thing would meet the Good Faith standard used in Fourth Amendment review. And all that’s separate from the question of whether Carter Page was a legitimate target for investigation, which the bipartisan SSCI investigation has said he was.

I also disagree with Goldsmith’s concerns about the status of the Durham investigation going forward.

But though Durham started out as a credible figure, the review was damaged from the beginning due to Trump’s and Barr’s ceaseless public prejudging of the case (and, for some, Durham’s response to one of Horowitz’s reports). And all of that was before Barr expanded the investigation into a criminal one and then later appointed Durham as a special counsel to ensure that his criminal investigation could continue into the Biden administration. Once again, the nation is divided on the legitimacy of all of this.

The third challenge, exacerbating the first two, is that these investigations—the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and transition, the Durham investigation, and the Hunter Biden investigation—extended (or will extend) into an administration of a different party. That means that what began as a cross-party investigation where the worry was bias against political opponents will transform, in the middle of the investigation, into an intraparty investigation, where the worry will shift to one party’s desire for self-protection.

I think the Durham investigation is misunderstood by all sides. Even according to Billy Barr, Durham has debunked some conspiracy theories Republicans have floated and he appears to have moved beyond the question of whether the CIA wrongly concluded that Putin wanted to elect Trump. That means if he were to write a report, it would substantially consist of telling the frothy right that their conspiracy theories were just that, and that George Papadopoulos really did entertain recruitment by at least one Russian agent.

That said, the Durham investigation has, unfortunately, been hopelessly biased by Billy Barr’s work in at least two ways. Durham apparently believes that the treatment of partisan bias at DOJ has been equally applied, which is demonstrably false (which also means he’s relying on witnesses who have themselves committed the sins he has used to predicate his own investigation, using FBI devices to speak for or against a political candidate). More troublingly, every single legal document his prosecutors have filed thus far have betrayed that they don’t understand the most basic things about the counterintelligence investigations they’re focusing on. But because of that ignorance, I’m fairly confident that if Durham tried to prosecute people for the theories that Bill Barr has been pushing while micromanaging this, Durham’s prosecutors would get their ass handed to them. Plus, even without Biden’s AG doing anything, I think there’s a possibility that Durham’s independence can be put to good use to investigate the crimes that Barr’s DOJ may have committed in pushing these theories. And there’s an easy way to solve the political nastiness of Barr’s special counsel appointment: by swapping Durham for Nora Dannehy. In short, freed from the micromanaging and mistaken beliefs of Bill Barr, Durham may evolve into a totally useful entity, one that will debunk a lot of the bullshit that the frothy right has been spewing for years.

In any case, the only reason it would be perceived as a cross-party investigation was the micromanagement of Barr. The FBI is not a member of either party, and if Durham finds real crimes — like that of Clinesmith — by all means he should prosecute. Once he is freed of Barr’s micromanagement, though, he may discover that he was given a very partial view of the evidence he was looking at.

Which brings me to Goldsmith’s treatment of whether or not Trump should be prosecuted. Before giving three reasons why one shouldn’t investigate Trump, he lays out what he sees as the potential crime this way:

Many people have argued that the Biden Justice Department should continue this pattern by examining the criminal acts Trump might have committed while in office—some arguing for a full-blown broad investigation, others (like my co-author, Bob Bauer, in “After Trump”) for a measured, narrowly tailored one. I don’t think this is a good idea. I doubt Trump has committed prosecutable crimes in office (I am confident that obstruction of justice prosecution would fail), I doubt he will ever go to jail if he did commit criminal acts in office (which would make the effort worse than useless), Trump will thrive off the attention of such an investigation, and the Biden administration will be damaged in pursuing other elements of its agenda (including restoration of the appearance of apolitical law enforcement). But the main reason I am skeptical is that such an investigation would, in the prevailing tit-for-tat culture, cement the inchoate norm of one administration as a matter of course criminally investigating the prior one—to the enormous detriment of the nation. (I do not believe that federal investigations for Trump’s pre-presidential actions raise the same risk.

There are two problems inherent with Goldsmith’s logic here, problems that virtually all the other people who engage in this debate also make.

First, he assumes that any prosecution of Trump would have to engage in further investigation. Here’s just one of several places where he makes that assumption clear.

The investigation by one administration of the predecessor president for acts committed in office would be a politically cataclysmic event.

Goldsmith doesn’t consider the possibility that such an investigation was begun under Mueller and continued under Bill Barr, waiting for such time as Trump can be charged under DOJ guidelines. It’s odd that he doesn’t consider that possibility, because Mueller laid that possibility out clearly in the report, describing leaving grand jury evidence banked for such time as Trump could be charged (indeed, it’s fairly clear a January 2019 Steve Bannon grand jury appearance included such evidence). If Bill Barr’s DOJ conducted an investigation that shows Trump committed a crime, it would break out of the tit-for-tat that Goldsmith complains about.

Goldsmith also appears to believe, even in spite of Trump’s transactionalism, that any crime Trump committed in office would have begun and ended during his term of office.

Part of these two errors appear to stem from another one. Goldsmith clearly believes the only crime for which Mueller investigated Trump is obstruction and he dismisses the possibility that an obstruction prosecution would stick. I’m agnostic about whether that view of obstruction is true or not. Even just reviewing how the Mueller Report treated the Roger Stone investigation, though, I’m certain there are places where the Mueller Report protected investigative equities. That may be true of the obstruction case as well. If so, then it would suggest the obstruction case might be far stronger than we know.

But it is false that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction. That’s because Trump may have entered into a conspiracy with his rat-fucker. In addition to investigating Roger Stone for covering up who his tie to Wikileaks was, Mueller also investigated Roger Stone for entering the CFAA conspiracy with Russia, a part of the investigation that recently declassified information as well as the warrants in the case make clear continued after the close of the Mueller investigation. Not only did Mueller ask Trump about his contacts with Stone on the specific issue for which the rat-fucker remained under investigation after Mueller closed up shop, but Mueller’s last warrants listed Stone’s written record of his communications with Trump during the campaign among the items to be seized in the search of Stone’s homes. If Stone entered into the CFAA conspiracy with Russia and those contacts show that Trump entered into an agreement with Stone on his part of the conspiracy, then Mueller was investigating Trump himself in the conspiracy. There is no way you target Stone’s records of communications with Trump unless Trump, too, was under investigation for joining that conspiracy.

I know I’m the only one saying this, but that’s in significant part because — as far as I know — I’m the single solitary journalist who has read these documents (plus, the unsealed language showing the investigation into Stone on the CFAA charges got buried in the election). But the record makes this quite clear: by investigating Roger Stone, Mueller also investigated Donald Trump for joining the CFAA conspiracy with Russia that helped him get elected. And because Mueller did not complete the investigation into Roger Stone before he closed up shop, he did not complete the investigation into Donald Trump.

And while I’m less certain, abundant evidence tells us what Stone and Trump’s role in the conspiracy may have been: to enter into a quid pro quo trading advance access to select John Podesta files (and, possibly, optimizing their release to cover up the DHS/ODNI Russian attribution statement) for a pardon for Julian Assange.

Stone did something in August 2016 to obtain advance copies of the Podesta files that the frothy right believed would be particularly beneficial in attacking Podesta and Hillary. Days before the Podesta file release in October 2016, Stone and Credico appear to have started talking about a pardon for Julian Assange. After the release of the Podesta files, Trump discussed reaching out to Assange with more people, including Mike Flynn. And no later than 7 days after the election — and given Credico’s refusal to give a straight answer about this, probably before — Stone set out on an extended effort to deliver on that pardon. And Trump took an overt act, as President, to try to deliver on that quid pro quo when he ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to shut down any investigation into the hack-and-leak (which would have shut down the investigation into Assange’s role in it).

I have no idea whether DOJ obtained enough evidence to charge a former president in conspiring with a hostile foreign power to get elected. The investigation into Stone’s role in the conspiracy may have shut down when Barr’s intervention in Stone’s sentencing led all four prosecutors to drop from the case, so it’s possible that a Biden DOJ would need to resume that investigation (and finish it up before statutes of limitation tolled). Still, as of October 1, when DOJ withheld almost the entirety of two interviews with Margaret Kunstler to protect an ongoing investigation, that part of the investigation was ongoing. So if you want to consider the possible universe of Trump charges, this is the possibility you’d need to consider: that after Mueller shut down but before the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ acquired enough evidence to prosecute Donald Trump once he becomes available to prosecute under DOJ rules.

I think there are other instances where Trump cheated to win in criminal fashion (even ignoring the hush payments for which he got named in Cohen’s charging documents). For example, Barr very obviously violated DOJ guidelines in his treatment of the whistleblower complaint about the Volodymyr Zelenskyy call, and with the evidence that OMB, State, and DOD withheld from the impeachment inquiry and witnesses subject to subpoena (indeed, at least some of whom will likely have no Fifth Amendment privileges after a pardon), the impeachment case is likely far stronger than Goldsmith imagines. Plus, there is an obvious tie to the SDNY investigation into Lev Parnas (where the whistleblower complaint would have been referred had Barr not violated DOJ guidelines). So on that case, it might be a question of Biden shutting down an ongoing investigation, not one of starting a new investigation.

Perhaps the most difficult and controversial decision for a Biden AG will be whether to reopen the investigation into the Egyptian payment Trump may have gotten in 2016 that kept his campaign afloat, one that SCOTUS reviewed (for the Mystery Appellant challenge) and sustained a subpoena for. Per CNN, DOJ doesn’t yet have enough to prosecute that, but that’s because DOJ chose not to subpoena Trump Organization for documents. And a Biden Administration could sanction the Egyptian bank to require it to cooperate in a way they refused to do under Mueller.

But those two instances can’t be shown via the public evidence. The overt act that Trump took in response to Roger Stone’s request — one Stone documented in a DM to Julian Assange — is public. Importantly, this would be a conspiracy that started before Trump got elected and extended into his presidency.

If you want to imagine whether Biden would prosecute Trump, you have to consider the possibility that he would prosecute Trump for crimes Bill Barr investigated.

Republicans Push to Punish Eric Swalwell because He Didn’t Sell Out the Country Like They Did

I’d like to tell a story about how six different men responded when law enforcement approached them about possible compromise by foreign spies.

Carter Page knowingly shares non-public information with known Russian spies

When Carter Page learned that he had been named in an indictment of Russian spies, he called up a Russian minister at the UN to tell him, in the spirit of openness, he was the guy identified as the recruiting target in the indictment. When the FBI interviewed him about his relationships with those foreign spies, Page admitted he had called the Russian minister, but explained that his relationship with the Russian intelligence officer was positive for him. He later explained that sharing non-public information with people he knew to be foreign spies helped both the US and Russia. Page enthusiastically took a trip to Moscow to give two speeches that — witnesses observed — normally featured far more prominent speakers than Page. Page came back from that trip bragging about the “open checkbook” he had been offered to start a pro-Russian think tank. When Page was asked a year later whether he could see why people thought he was being recruited, he disagreed and — according to an FBI 302 — backed off his prior admission to the FBI that he had reached out to the Russian minister.

For three years, the GOP has claimed that Carter Page is a maligned victim of FBI overreach.

George Papadopoulos refuses to explain the back channel meeting with Putin he tried to schedule

When the FBI first interviewed George Papadopoulos about the suspicious job offers Sergei Millian offered him — an offer to pay him so long as he also worked at the White House, asked how he learned in advance that the Russians had dirt on Hillary that they planned to release to help Trump get elected, and told him they thought he was being recruited, he lied. Among other things, Papadopoulos hid his entire relationship with one Russian national, Ivan Timofeev, whom he had interacted with. After the interview, Papadopoulos called Trump’s personal lawyer and told him of the interview. As others did, Papadopoulos crafted a false statement to share with Congress. In subsequent interviews, even after he agreed to cooperate, Papadopoulos hid the existence of a phone he used to interact with Joseph Mifsud. When asked about notes planning a back channel meeting with Putin’s people in London in September that ultimately didn’t happen, Papadopoulos claimed he couldn’t read his notes to explain the plans.

The GOP not only claimed that Papadopoulos was a maligned hero, the Attorney General of the United States assigned a US Attorney, in part, to fly around the world chasing Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories in an attempt to substantiate his denials that these were Russian assets trying to cultivate Papadopoulos.

Mike Flynn gets a defensive briefing then hides his Turkish clients

Shortly after the FBI sat down with Donald Trump and Mike Flynn to warn them, generally, about how foreign intelligence services would increase their focus on the two and those around them, Mike Flynn went back to his business partner and the go-between with his Turkish clients, and adopted a new name for the project for Turkey — Confidence rather than Truth — and a payment vehicle that would hide the true client, attempting to sever the prior discussions directly with Turkey’s ministers from the half-million dollar deal that resulted.

Trump just pardoned Flynn for his efforts to hide those ties.

Rather than cooperating with the FBI about Flynn’s suspect Russian calls, Trump fires them

When DOJ came to the White House on January 26, 2017 and told White House counsel Don McGahn that Mike Flynn — seemingly without any approval from Donald Trump himself and clearly without notifying the Vice President — had called up the Ambassador from Russia and, in a conversation where the Ambassador was addressing other issues, raised sanctions imposed to punish Russia and asked the Ambassador not to respond in kind, and then lied about that publicly, McGahn assigned lawyer John Eisenberg to figure out whether Flynn could be prosecuted. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus tried to find out what kind of surveillance Flynn had been and was under. Trump first asked the head of the FBI for loyalty, then asked him to let the investigation of Flynn go, and then fired him to end the investigation.

Trump just pardoned Mike Flynn claiming that it was wrong for the FBI to try to figure out why Flynn had secretly undermined sanctions and then lied about it.

Trump calls Paul Manafort “very brave” for hiding details about his Russian intelligence officer partner

When the government entered into a cooperation agreement with Paul Manafort in 2018, in part to learn what Manafort knew about his business partner Konstantin Kilimnik’s ties to Russian intelligence, and particularly to learn why Manafort had swapped campaign polling data and the campaign’s strategy to win swing states with a discussion of carving up Ukraine and payoffs from Ukranian and Russian oligarchs, the President’s defense attorney remained in regular contact with Manafort’s lawyer to learn about the interrogations. After prosecutors told Judge Amy Berman Jackson on November 26 that Manafort had been lying rather than cooperating — in significant part, it would become clear, to protect his Russian spy business partner — Rudy complained on the President’s behalf about “the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort.” Not long later, Trump would call Manafort “very brave” for (among other things) lying to prosecutors to protect his Russian spy business partner.

Eric Swalwell cooperates with the FBI and cuts off the Chinese intelligence officer trying to recruit him

According to a recent Axios piece witten without context, when the FBI approach Eric Swalwell and told him a woman volunteering with his campaign was a Chinese spy, he cooperated with the FBI and cut off all contact with her.

A statement from Swalwell’s office provided to Axios said: “Rep. Swalwell, long ago, provided information about this person — whom he met more than eight years ago, and whom he hasn’t seen in nearly six years — to the FBI. To protect information that might be classified, he will not participate in your story.”

What happened: Amid a widening counterintelligence probe, federal investigators became so alarmed by Fang’s behavior and activities that around 2015 they alerted Swalwell to their concerns — giving him what is known as a defensive briefing.

Swalwell immediately cut off all ties to Fang, according to a current U.S. intelligence official, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

For this, GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others argue, Swalwell should be kicked off the House Intelligence Committee.

McCarthy, however, is demanding answers from Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of that committee, after Swalwell said they knew about the report.

“This is a national security threat,” McCarthy said. “Now we have Eric Swalwell, who’s been swindled by the Chinese, but what’s even more interesting here is why did he attack the American Director of Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s report talking about the expansion of China spying throughout … just last week. He attacked … Ratcliffe defending China.”

“This man should not be in the intel committee. He’s jeopardizing national security,” he doubled down, adding, “When did Nancy Pelosi know of this and why did she maintain him on the committee? Adam Schiff, who has spent four years as chair worried about the foreign intervention into our country, knowingly keep an individual on the committee, if he knew, as Swalwell says, that he was with a Chinese individual who was a spy, who helped him run for Congress?”

I can only assume that McCarthy thinks that Swalwell cooperated too much with the FBI and should have lied or fired people instead.

 

20 Months: A Comparison of the Mueller and Durham Investigations

Because Jonathan Turley and John Cornyn are being stupid on the Internet, I did a Twitter thread comparing the relative output of the Mueller and Durham investigations in their first 18 months. Actually, Durham has been investigating the Russian investigation for 20 months already.

So I did a comparison of the Mueller and Durham investigations over their first 20 months. Here’s what that comparison looks like.

So, in 20 months, Durham went on a boondoggle trip to Italy with Bill Barr to chase conspiracy theories, charged one person, and had his top investigator quit due to political pressure.

In the Mueller investigation’s first 20 months, his prosecutors had charged 33 people and 3 corporations (just Roger Stone was charged after that) and, with Manafort’s forfeiture, paid for much of their investigation.

Update: I’ve corrected the Manafort forfeiture claim. While I haven’t checked precisely how much the US Treasury pocketed by selling Manafort’s properties, I think the declining value of Trump Tower condos means that Manafort’s forfeiture didn’t quite pay for the entire investigation. I’ve also corrected in which month Manafort was found guilty in EDVA.

Update: In response to the Durham appointment, American Oversight reposted the travel records from the Italy boondoggle, which was actually in September, not October (Barr also made a trip to Italy in August 2019 for the same stated purpose, so I wonder if there were two boondoggles). I’ve corrected the timeline accordingly.

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket

Bill Barr could come to regret his neat effort to place a ticking time bomb inside the Joe Biden DOJ, because John Durham has evidence in hand that Bill Barr’s DOJ tampered with documents.

I’ve been thinking … There’s something that doesn’t make sense about Bill Barr’s roll-out of the order making John Durham a Special Counsel. For the better part of a year, Barr has been saying that Durham could roll out actual indictments before the election, since none of the people he would indict were candidates. Yet Barr claimed, in his order, that he decided (not Durham) that, “legitimate investigative and privacy concerns warrant confidentiality” until after the election. And then he waited almost an entire month before he revealed the order. He did so in spite of adopting 28 CFR 600.9, which otherwise requires notice to Congress, to govern this appointment.

Let me interject and say that while Barr’s appointment of a DOJ employee, US Attorney John Durham, violates the Special Counsel statutes, that’s not the authority under which Barr appointed Durham. He did so under 28 USC 509, 510, 515, which is what Mueller was technically appointed under. Thanks to the Mueller investigation and some well-funded Russian troll lawyers, there’s a whole bunch of appellate language authorizing the appointment of someone under 28 USC 515 but governed under 28 CFR 600.9. The unusual nature of the appointment would provide President Biden’s Attorney General an easy way to swap Durham for Nora Dannehy (who as a non-departmental employee would qualify under the Special Counsel guidelines), and given her past involvement in the investigation, it should suffer no loss of institutional credibility or knowledge. But it doesn’t damage Durham’s legal authority in the meantime.

Barr probably lied about the significant reasons to delay notice to Congress. According to the AP, Durham is no longer focused on most of the scope he had been investigating, to include George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and GOP claims that the CIA violated analytic tradecraft in concluding that Vladimir Putin affirmatively wanted Trump elected. He is, according to someone in the immediate vicinity of Barr, focused just on the conduct of FBI Agents before Mueller’s appointment, even though the language of this appointment approves far more.

The current investigation, a criminal probe, had begun very broadly but has since “narrowed considerably” and now “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI,” Barr said. He said he expects Durham would detail whether any additional prosecutions will be brought and make public a report of the investigation’s findings.

[snip]

A senior Justice Department official told the AP that although the order details that it is “including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” the Durham probe has not expanded. The official said that line specifically relates to FBI personnel who worked on the Russia investigation before the May 2017 appointment of Mueller, a critical area of scrutiny for both Durham and for the Justice Department inspector general, which identified a series of errors and omissions in surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign associate.

The focus on the FBI, rather than the CIA and the intelligence community, suggests that Durham may have moved past some of the more incendiary claims that Trump supporters had hoped would yield allegations of misconduct, or even crimes — namely, the question of how intelligence agencies reached their conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

We know from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation and documents Barr otherwise released where Barr thought John Durham was heading. There are questions about who knew about credibility problems of Christopher Steele’s primary source Igor Danchenko (though the GOP has vastly overstated what his interview said, ignoring how much of the dossier it actually corroborated, Danchenko’s later interviews, and FBI’s later interviews of one of his own sources). There are some analysts who questioned the viability of the investigation into Flynn; it appears they asked to be removed from the team.

And Jensen, at least, seemed to want to claim that Peter Strzok got NSLs targeting Flynn in February and March 2017 that he had previously refused to approve. Someone seems to have convinced Flynn investigative agent Bill Barnett that those NSLs, which were lawyered by Kevin Clinesmith, were illegal, but given the predication needed for NSLs that seems a wild stretch. Plus, it would be unlikely (though not impossible) for Durham to indict Clinesmith without a Durham-specific cooperation agreement before if he believed Clinesmith had committed other crimes. I mean, it’s possible that Clinesmith, under threat of further prosecution, is claiming that mere NSLs are illegal, but I’d be surprised. Not least because after these NSLs, Strzok worked hard to put a pro-Trump FBI Agent in charge of the Flynn investigation.

Occam’s razor suggests that Durham asked for the special counsel designation because he wants to be permitted to work through these last bits and finish up the investigation, along with the prior authority (which Mueller did not have) to publish his findings.

Occam’s razor also suggests that the reason Barr didn’t reveal this change of status until this week has everything to do with pressure from Trump and nothing to do with investigative equities and everything to do with using this investigation like he has all of his US Attorney led investigations, as a way to placate Trump. Trump has reportedly been complaining that Barr didn’t do more to undermine the election, and so he rolled this out as a way to buy space and time.

Axios reports that it may not work. Trump might fire Barr and replace him with someone who would order that Durham report right away.

Behind the scenes: Within Trump’s orbit, sources told Axios, Tuesday’s revelation was seen as a smokescreen to forestall the release of the so-called Durham report, which senior administration officials believe is already complete — and which Barr had ruled out issuing before the election.

  • Another senior administration official disputed that assessment, saying: “The reason the Attorney General appointed John Durham as Special Counsel is because he’s not finished with his investigation,” and that Barr “wanted to ensure that John Durham would be able to continue his work independently and unimpeded.”
  • Trump has been ranting about the delay behind the scenes and mused privately about replacing Barr with somebody who will expedite the process. But it’s unclear whether he will follow through with that, per sources familiar with the conversations.
  • Barr met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other officials in the West Wing Tuesday afternoon.

Except that doesn’t work. If Trump were to name John Ratcliffe Acting Attorney General (he’d be the perfect flunky for the job), he would be powerless to force Durham to report more quickly. Sure, he could fire Durham, but he’d have to provide notice to Congress, and there’s virtually no remedy Congress would or could offer in the next 48 days. Ratcliffe can’t write a report himself. And the people doing the work for Durham aren’t DOJ employees, so firing them would do nothing to get a report. For better and worse, Barr has ensured that Ratcliffe or whatever other flunky were appointed could not do that, at least not in the 48 days before such person would be fired by President Biden.

Again, Ockham’s Razor suggests that Durham will finish his work and write a public report debunking the Papadopoulos conspiracies, confirming that CIA’s analytic work was not improper, and otherwise concluding that Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of documents was the only crime that occurred.

More importantly, there’s a problem with Axios’ report, that “Barr had ruled out issuing a report before the election,” and that’s what makes this special counsel appointment more interesting. Barr tried to force Durham to issue a report before the election. That led Durham’s trusted aide Nora Dannehy to quit before September 11, thereby seemingly creating the need for a special counsel designation at that point.

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned from the U.S. Justice Department probe – at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

[snip]

Colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr – who appointed Durham to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resignation for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.

[snip]

The thinking of the associates, all Durham allies, is that the Russia investigation group will be disbanded and its work lost if Trump loses.

And Barr himself had, for months, been saying that he would shut down Durham if Trump lost. Yet here we are, after the election, learning that Barr has provided Durham additional protections.

That’s all the more interesting given what Barr did after Dannehy quit in the face of pressure to issue some kind of report before the election. First, he gave a screed at Hillsdale College that pretty clearly targeted Dannehy, among others. Then, Barr attempted to let Jeffrey Jensen release an interim Durham report himself.

Less than a week after Dannehy quit, Jensen’s team interviewed Bill Barnett, someone who would be a key witness for any real Durham investigation of early actions by the FBI. The interview was clearly a political hack job, leaving key details (such as the role of Flynn’s public lies about his calls with Sergey Kislyak in the investigation) unasked. Barnett’s answers materially conflict with his own actions on the case. He was invited to make comments about the politicization of lawyers — notably Andrew Weissmann and Jeannie Rhee — he didn’t work with on the Mueller team. And he claimed to be unaware of central pieces of evidence in the case.

It took just a week for the FBI to write up and release the report from that interview, even while DOJ still hasn’t released a Bill Priestap interview 302 that debunked a central claim made in the Flynn motion to dismiss. And the interview was released in a form that hid material information about Brandon Van Grack’s actions from Judge Sullivan and the public.

But that’s not all. A day earlier prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent five documents to Sidney Powell:

  • The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes
  • The second set of altered Strzok notes
  • The altered Andrew McCabe notes
  • Texts between FBI analysts
  • A new set of Strzok-Page texts, which included new Privacy Act violations

All were packaged up for public dissemination, with their protective order footers redacted. There were dates added to all the handwritten notes, at least one of which was misleading. The Strzok-Page texts were irrelevant and included new privacy violations; when later asked to validate them, DOJ claimed they weren’t relying on them (which raises more questions about the circumstances of their release). There’s good reason to believe there’s something funky about the FBI analyst texts released (indeed, as politicized as his interview was, Barnett dismissed the mistaken interpretation DOJ adopted of their meaning, that the analysts were getting insurance solely because of the Russian investigation); DOJ made sure that the identities of these analysts was not made public, avoiding any possibility that the analysts might weigh in like Strzok and McCabe did when they realized their notes had been altered.

One of those alterations would come to serve as a scripted Trump attack on Joe Biden in their first debate. In a September 29 hearing, Sidney Powell admitted meeting regularly with Trump campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, and asking Trump to hold off on a Flynn pardon, making it clear that this docket gamesmanship was the entire point.

And then, on October 19, Durham got Barr to give him the special counsel designation that would give him independence he had not had during 18 months of Barr micromanagement and also ensure that he could remain on past the time when Barr would be his boss.

Days later, on October 22, DOJ wrote Sidney Powell telling her they were going to stop feeding her with documents she would use to make politicized attacks.

Let’s assume for a minute that Durham was, in good faith, pursuing what the FBI was doing in the spring of 2017, an inquiry for which Barnett was a key — and at that point, credible — witness. That investigation was effectively destroyed with the release of the politicized Barnett interview report. Any defense attorney would make mincemeat of him as a witness.

Which is to say that Barr’s effort to let Jensen release the things that Durham refused to before the election damaged any good faith investigation that Durham might have been pursuing. And that’s before DOJ got caught altering documents, documents for which Durham has original copies. It’s not clear whether Durham is watching this docket that closely, but if he is, he knows precisely what, how, and to what extent these documents have been altered. And he probably has a good sense of why they were released in the way they were.

Again, Ockham’s Razor says that Durham will just muddle along and after a delay release a report saying he found nothing — which itself will be incendiary enough to the frothy right.

But by incorporating 28 CFR 600.4 into the scope of his special counsel appointment clearly allows him to investigate any attempts to interfere with his investigation.

federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses;

It’s likely those pre-election antics did interfere with the investigation. And even if Durham hasn’t thought that through yet, it’s possible that Michael Horowitz will inform him of the details.

Billy Barr Releases 302 that Proves View of Pro Mike Flynn Agent Held Sway in Mueller Report Conclusions

Before I do a deep dive of the 302 that Billy Barr had released in yet another attempt to blow up the Mike Flynn prosecution, let me review the conclusion of the Mueller Report was with regards to whether President Trump even knew about Mike Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak, much less ordered them.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

The conclusion is central to the finding that there was no proof of a quid pro quo. If Trump had ordered Flynn to undermine sanctions — as a sentencing memo approved by Main DOJ explained — it would have been proof of coordination.

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

That means the conclusion adopted by the Mueller Report is precisely the one that the FBI Agent who investigated Flynn, William Barnett, held, as described repeatedly in the interview done by Jeffrey Jensen in an attempt to undermine the Mueller prosecution.

With respect to FLYNN’s [redacted] with the Russian Ambassador in December 2016, BARNETT did not believe FLYNN was being directed by TRUMP.

The Mueller Report reached that conclusion in spite of the fact that — as Barnett describes it — in his second interview, Flynn said that Trump was aware of the calls between him and the Russian Ambassador.

During one interview of FLYNN, possibly the second interview, one of the interviewers asked a series of questions including one which FLYNN’s answer seemed to indicate TRUMP was aware of [redacted] between FLYNN and the Russian Ambassador. BARNETT believed FLYNN’s answer was an effort to tell the interviewers what they wanted to hear. BARNETT had to ask the clarifying question of FLYNN who then said clearly that TRUMP was not aware of [redacted]

Barnett then goes on a paragraph long rant claiming there was no evidence that Trump was aware.

BARNETT said numerous attempts were made to obtain evidence that TRUMP directed FLYNN concerning [redacted] with no such evidence being obtained. BARNETT said it was just an assumption, just “astro projection,” and the “ground just kept being retreaded.”

The claim that there was no evidence that Trump directed Flynn to undermine sanctions is false. I say that because Flynn himself told Kislyak that Trump was aware of his conversations with Kislyak on December 31, 2016, when Kislyak called up to let Flynn know that Putin had changed his mind on retaliation based on his call.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

Flynn literally told the Russian Ambassador that Trump was aware of the discussions, but Barnett claims there was no evidence.

Now is probably a good time to note that, months ago, I learned that  Barnett sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI phone, the mirror image of Peter Strzok sending anti-Trump texts.

So Billy Barr has released a 302 completed just a week ago, without yet releasing the Bill Priestap 302 debunking some of the earlier claims released by Billy Barr in an attempt to justify blowing up the Flynn prosecution, much less the 302s that show that Flynn appeared to lie in his first interview with Mueller’s investigators (as well as 302s showing that KT McFarland coordinated the same story).

And the 302 is an ever-loving shit show. Besides the key evidence — that his claim that investigators didn’t listen to him even though the conclusion of the Mueller Report is the one that he says only he had — Barnett disproves his claims over and over in this interview.

Barnett’s testimony substantially shows five things:

  • He thought there was no merit to any suspicions that Flynn might have ties to Russia
  • He nevertheless provided abundant testimony that some of the claims about the investigation (specifically that Peter Strzok and probably Brandon Van Grack had it in for Flynn) are false
  • Barnett buries key evidence: he mentions neither that Flynn was publicly lying about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak (which every other witness said was driving the investigation), and he did not mention that once FBI obtained call records, they showed that Flynn had lied to hide that he had consulted with Mar-a-Lago before he called Sergey Kislyak
  • Jensen didn’t ask some of the most basic questions, such as whether Barnett thought he had to investigate further after finding the Kislyak call or who the multiple people Barnett claimed joked about wiping their phone were
  • Barnett believes that Mueller’s lawyers (particularly Jeannie Rhee and Andrew Weissmann) were biased and pushing for a conclusion that the Mueller Report shows they didn’t conclude, but he didn’t work primarily with either one of them and his proffered evidence against Rhee actually shows the opposite

According to the org charts included in the Carter Page IG Report (PDF 116), it appears that Barnett would have been on a combined Crossfire Hurricane team from July 31 to December 2016; the report says he was working on the Manafort case.

Then, he took over the Flynn case. He would have reported up through someone else who also oversaw the George Papadopoulos investigation, but he would not be part of that investigation.

Even after a subsequent reorganization, that would have remained true until the Mueller investigation, when — by his own description — Barnett remained on the Flynn team.

Early in his 302, Barnett described that he thought the investigation was “supposition on supposition,” which he initially attributed to not knowing details of the case. Much later in the interview, he said he, “believed there were grounds to investigate the other three subjects in Crossfire Hurricane; however, he thought FLYNN was the ‘outlier.'” which conflicts with his earlier claim.

By his own repeated description, Barnett did not open the Flynn case and did not understand why it had been opened (he doesn’t explain that this was an UNSUB investigation, which undermines much of what he says). Moreover, his complaints about the flimsy basis for the Flynn investigation conflict with what Barnett said in the draft closing memo for the investigation, which explained that the investigation was opened,

on an articulable factual basis that CROSSFIRE RAZOR (CR) may wittingly or unwittingly be involved in activity on behalf of the Russian Federation which may constitute a federal crime or threat to the national security.

[snip]

The goal of the investigation was to determine whether the captioned subject, associated with the Trump campaign, was directed and controlled by and/or coordinated activities with the Russian Federation in a manner which is a threat to the national security and/or possibly a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 18 U.S.C. section 951 et seq, or other related statutes.

A key detail here is that Barnett himself said part of this was an attempt to figure out whether Flynn may have unwittingly been targeted by Russia, which makes his focus on crime in the Jensen interview totally contradictory.

Barnett did explain that NSLs were written up in December but pulled back (these were also released last night, though not with the detail that they were withdrawn). He claimed not to know why the NSLs were withdrawn.

A National Security Letter (NSL) had been prepared to obtain “toll records” for a phone belonging to FLYNN. The request was “pulled back” prior to the records being obtained. Peter Strzok (STRZOK) was the individual who ordered the NSL be pulled back. BARNETT was not told why the NSL was pulled back.

In the draft closing that Barnett himself wrote, he explained that because Flynn was not at that point named as a possible agent of a foreign power, that limited the investigative techniques they might use.

The writer notes that since CROSSFIRE RAZOR was not specifically named as an agent of a foreign power by the original CROSSFIRE HURRICANE predicated reporting, the absence of any derogatory information or lead information from these logical source reduced the number of investigative avenues and techniques to pursue.

That’s also another reason (not noted by Barnett in this interview) why he didn’t get a 215 order.

BARNETT chose not to obtain records through FISA Business Records because he advised this process is comparatively onerous.

Note that Strzok’s order to withdraw the NSL is yet more proof that Strzok was not out to get Flynn.

Barnett also confirmed something else that Strzok has long said — that they chose not to use any overt methods during the election (unlike the Hillary investigation).

BARNETT was told to keep low-key, looking at publicly available information.

Again, this adds to the evidence that no one was out to get Trump.

Barnett also explains how Stefan Halper shared information about Flynn, and he — a pro-Trump agent skeptical of the investigation — decided to chase down the Svetlana Lokhova allegation.

The source reported that during an event [redacted] 2014 FLYNN unexpectedly left the event [redacted] The source alleged FLYNN was not accompanied by anyone other [redacted] BARNETT believed the information concerning [redacted] potentially significant and something that could be investigated. However, Intelligence Analysts did not locate information to corroborate this reporting concerning redacted] FLYNN, including inquiries with other foreign intelligence agencies. BARNETT found the idea FLYNN could leave an event, either by himself or [redacted] without the matter being noted was not plausible. With nothing to corroborate the story, BARNETT thought he information was not accurate.

Later on, Barnett seems to make an effort to spin his inclusion of the Lokhova information in the closing memo as an attempt to help Flynn, describing,

BARNETT wanted to include information obtained during the investigation, including non-derogatory information. BARNETT wanted to include [redacted] specifically [redacted] FLYNN. The [redacted] and FLYNN were only in the same country, [redacted], the same time on one occasion and at that time they were visiting different cities.

That is, something in the closing memo that has been spun as an attack on Flynn he here spins as an attempt to include non-derogatory information, to help Flynn.

I find it curious that the main reason Barnett dismissed this allegation is because he found it implausible that a 30-year intelligence officer would know how to leave a meeting unnoticed. But let it be noted that for over a year, Sidney Powell has suggested that chasing down this tip was malicious targeting of Flynn, and it turns out a pro-Trump agent is the one who chased it down.

In many places, Barnett’s narrative is a muddle. For example, early in his interview, he said that he worked closely with Analyst 1 and Analyst 2. Analyst 2 worked on the Manafort investigation. Barnett had to get the Flynn files from Analyst 1, suggesting Analyst 1 had a key role in that investigation. But then later in the interview, after explaining that Analyst 1, “believed the investigation was an exercise in futility,” Barnett then said that Analyst 3 “was the lead analyst on RAZOR.” Barnett described that Analyst 3 was “‘a believer’ due to his conviction FLYNN was involved in illegal activity,” but also described that Analyst 3 was the one who didn’t want to interview Flynn. But then Barnett explains several other people who did not want to interview Flynn, in part because the pretense Barnett wanted to use (that it was part of a security clearance) was transparently false.

Barnett then explains that he did not change his opinion about whether Flynn was compromised based on reading the transcript (it’s unclear whether he read just one or all of them) of Flynn’s call with Kislyak. He explained that he “did not see a potential LOGAN ACT violation as a major issue concerning the RAZOR investigation.”

There are several points about this request. First, Jeffrey Jensen is taking a line agent’s opinion about a crime as pertinent here, after Billy Barr went on a rant the other day about how line agents and prosecutors don’t decide these things (showing the hypocrisy of this entire exercise). Barnett’s account undermines the disinformation spread before that the Logan Act claim came from Joe Biden, disinformation which Jensen himself wrongly fed.  Significantly, Barnett does not appear to have been asked whether he thought the transcripts meant he had to investigate further. 

Barnett says “in hindsight” he believes he was cut out of the interview of Flynn, based solely on the norm that normally “a line agent/case agent would do the interview with a senior FBI official present in cases concerning high ranking political officials.” He doesn’t consider the possibility that Joe Pientka did it because he had been in the counterintelligence briefing with Flynn the previous summer, which is what the DOJ IG Report said.

He then says “There was another reorganization of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation after the 1/24/17 interview of Flynn. This conflicts, somewhat, with both the org charts Michael Horowitz did, but also texts already released showing the reorg started in the first days of January (though the texts are consistent with the initial plan for Barnett and Andy McCabe to interview Flynn and I don’t necessarily trust the DOJ IG Report over Barnett), but that was before a lot else happened.

Only after describing a post-interview reorganization does Barnett raise something that all the public record says happened earlier, that, “The FBI was reacting to articles being reported in the news, most notably an article written by Ignatius concerning [redacted] involving FLYNN to a Russian Ambassador.” But even here, Barnett does not talk (nor does he appear to have been asked) about Flynn lying to the press about the intercepts. In other words, Jensen’s investigators simply didn’t address what every single witness says was the most important factor at play in the decision to interview Flynn, his public lies about the calls with Kislyak.

In one place, Barnett claims that “base-line NSLs” were filed “after the article by Ignatius,” which would put it in mid-January, before the interview. Later, he says that “In February 2017, NSLs were being drafted with [SA3] instructing BARNETT what needed to be done,” putting it after Flynn obviously lied in his interview. At best, that suggests Barnett is eliding the timeline in ways that (again) don’t deal with the risk of Flynn’s public lies about the Kislyak call.

Barnett then claims that McCabe was running this (in spite of the involvement of SA3 and his earlier report — and Horowitz’s org chart, not to mention other evidence documents already released — showing the continued involvement of Strzok). Barnett also backed getting NSLs in early 2017, and even insisted, again, that they should have been obtained earlier. Jensen appears to be making a big deal out of the fact that Kevin Clinesmith approved the NSLs against Flynn in 2017.

BARNETT said he sent an e-mail to CLINESMITH on 02/01/2017 asking CLINESMITH about whether the predication information was acceptable, as it was the same information provided on the original NSL request in 2016. CLINESMITH told BARNETT the information was acceptable and could be used for additional NSLs.

There’s a lot that’s suspect about this line of questioning, not least that the predicate for the investigation as a whole was different than the one for Flynn. But I’m sure we’ll hear more about it.

A Strzok annotation of a NYT article that Lindsey Graham released makes it clear that by February 14, 2017, the FBI still hadn’t obtained the returns from most of the NSLs.

Barnett seems to suggest that as new information came in “in BARNETT’s opinion, no evidence of criminal activity and no information that would start a new investigative direction.” If he’s referring to call records (which is what the NSLs would have obtained) that is, frankly, shocking, as the call records would have shown that Flynn also lied about being in touch with Mar-a-Lago before calling Kislyak. It’s what Flynn was trying to hide with his lies! And yet Barnett says that was not suspect.

Then Barnett moved onto the Mueller team. He starts his discussion with another self-contradictory paragraph.

BARNETT was told to give a brief on FLYNN to a group including SCO attorney Jean Rhee (RHEE), [four other people], and possibly [a fifth] BARNETT said he briefly went over the RAZOR investigation, including the assessment that there was no evidence of a crime, and then started to discuss [redacted — probably Manafort] which BARNETT thought was the more significant investigation. RHEE stopped BARNETT’s briefing [redacted] and asked questions concerning the RAZOR investigation. RHEE wanted to “drill down” on the fees FLYNN was paid for a speech FLYNN gave in Russia. BARNETT explained logical reasons for the amount of the fee, but RHEE seemed to dismiss BARNETT’s assessment. BARNETT thought RHEE was obsessed with FLYNN and Russia and she had an agenda. RHEE told BARNETT she was looking forward to working together. BARNETT told RHEE they would not be working together.

First, by his own description, Barnett was asked to brief on Flynn, not on Manafort (or anyone else); he was still working Flynn and not (if Horowitz’s org chart is to be trusted) involved anymore with Manafort at all. So if he deviated from that, he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do in the briefing, which might explain why people in the briefing asked him to return to the matter at hand, Flynn. Furthermore, in much of what comes later, Barnett claims the prosecutors overrode the agents (in spite of the fact that, as shown, the final conclusion of the report sided with Barnett). But Barnett here shows that from his very first meeting with Mueller prosecutors, he was the one being bossy, not the prosecutors.

Update: I’ve since learned that the redacted information pertains to the Flynn Turkey case. The point about Rhee still stands, however. Rhee was in charge of the Russian side of the investigation. She asked questions about the Russian side of the investigation. She was polite and professional. He responded by being an abusive dick. What this paragraph shows is that Barnett has a workplace behavior problem, and he used his own workplace behavior problem to try to attack the female colleague he was being an asshole to.

Barnett’s continued complaints about Rhee (and Weissmann) are nutty given that, as a Flynn agent, he wouldn’t have been working with them.

Barnett claims that,

In March or April 2017, Crossfire Hurricane went through another reorganization. All of the investigations were put together.

The timing coincides with, but the structure does not match, what appears in the Carter Page IG Report (though, again, I don’t necessarily assume DOJ IG got it right).

Then Barnett makes a claim that conflicts with a great deal of public facts:

On 05/09/2017, COMEY was fired which seemed to trigger a significant amount of activity regarding Crossfire Hurricane. Carter Page was interviewed three times and PAPADOPOULOS was also interviewed. Both investigations seemed to be nearing an end with nothing left to pursue. the MANAFORT case was moved from an investigative squad to a counter intelligence squad [redacted] The Crossfire Hurricane investigations seemed to be winding down.

The appointment of the SCO changed “everything.”

At least according to the Horowitz org chart, these weren’t his investigations. A list of interviews shows that FBI had not interviewed the witnesses to Carter Page’s trip before June 2017 (though it is true that the investigation into him was winding down). The details of the Papadopoulos investigation would have shown that it was after at least the first (and given the Strzok note about NSLs) after probably several more interviews before the FBI discovered that Papadopoulos tried to hide extensive contacts with Russians by deactivating his Facebook account. Mueller didn’t even obtain Papadopoulos’ Linked In account until July 7, 2017, and that was just the second warrant obtained by Mueller’s prosecutors, almost three months after he was appointed; that warrant would have disclosed Papadopoulos’ ties to Sergei Millian and further contacts with the Russians. Some of the earliest activity in the investigation pertain to Michael Cohen (in an investigation predicated off of SARs), with the Roger Stone investigation barely beginning in August, neither of which are included in Barnett’s comments. And Barnett makes no mention of the June 9 meeting, discovered only as a result of Congress’ investigations, which drove some of the early investigative steps.

Which is to say, the evidence seems to have changed everything. And yet he says it was Mueller.

And yes, Jim Comey’s firing is part of that. But as to that, Barnett has this ridiculous thing to say:

As another example [of a “get Trump” attitude] BARNETT said the firing of FBI Director COMEY was interpreted as obstruction when it could just as easily have been done because TRUMP did not like COMEY and wanted him replaced.

Well, sure, in the absence of the evidence that might be true. But not when you had Comey’s memos that described how, first of all, Trump had committed to keeping Comey on (meaning he didn’t not like Comey!) but afterwards had tried to intervene in an ongoing investigation. It’s possible Barnett did not know that in real time — it wasn’t his investigation — but it’s not a credible opinion given what is in the memos.

Barnett also claims, as part of his “proof” that people wanted to get Trump that,

Concerning FLYNN, some individuals in the SCO assumed FLYNN was lying to cover up collusion between the TRUMP campaign and Russia. BARNETT believed Flynn lied in the interview to save his job, as that was the most plausible explanation and there was no evidence to contradict it.

Yes. There is evidence. The evidence is that Flynn’s lies hid his consultations with Mar-a-Lago, about which he also lied.

In a passage similarly suggesting that KT McFarland told the same lies that Flynn did because she wanted to get the Singapore job, Barnett seems to refer to (and DOJ seems to have redacted) a reference to Brandon Van Grack (who is the only Mueller prosecutor whose name would span two lines).

If that is, indeed, a reference to Van Grack, then it means DOJ is hiding evidence that Van Grack (along with Strzok) was not biased against Flynn.

Note, too, that Barnett doesn’t reveal that McFarland only unforgot her conversations with Flynn after Flynn pled guilty, which has a significant bearing on how credible that un-forgetting was. Nor does he note that Mueller didn’t charge McFarland with lying. The Mueller Report almost certainly has a declination description for why they didn’t charge McFarland, which (if true), would make a second thing where Barnett’s minority opinion had been determinative for the actual report, in spite of his claim that the prosecutors were running everything.

Finally, the 302 notes that Barnett was asked about whether he “wiped” his own phone.

BARNETT had a cellular telephone issued by the SCO which he did not “wipe.” BARNETT did hear other agents “comically” talk about wiping cellular telephones, but was not aware of anyone “wiping” their issued cellular telephones. BARNETT said one agent had a telephone previously issued to STRZOK.

If this were even a half serious investigation, Barnett would have been asked to back that claim with names. He was not.

What Billy Barr and Jeffrey Jensen have done is show that the only witness they’ve found to corroborate their claims can’t keep his story straight from one paragraph to another, and claims to be ignorant of several central pieces of evidence against Flynn.

That’s all they have.


Given that this post takes such a harsh view on Barnett, reminder I went to the FBI in 2017 regarding someone with no ties to Trump but who sent me a text about (and denigrating) Flynn.