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George Papadopoulos Tied the Utility of Russian Dirt to the Campaign’s Plan to Use Dirt to Win

Judicial Watch has once again liberated documents from DOJ that undermine their narrative about the Russian investigation (and, in this case, provides yet another reason to question the fidelity of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page).

In the DOJ IG Report, it provides a description of the tip Australia provided to State which got passed on to the FBI. The most complete description of that (pages 51 to 52) introduces a block quote describing the tip by explaining the Australian tip “stated, in part, that Papadopoulos”

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

The IG Report never quotes what the other part of the memo is, but it does quote a long excerpt from a Bill Priestap transcript describing that Papadopoulos expressed confidence (in April!) that Trump would win, in part because of how much dirt the campaign had on Hillary.

In fact, the information we received indicated that Papadopoulos told the [FFG] he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and Papadopoulos commented that the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

Priestap understood that the campaign planned to win by using the dirt it had on Hillary Clinton.

Judicial Watch just liberated the FBI document memorializing on the tip. It too, redacts that other part of what Australia passed on (bizarrely, under source and law enforcement exemptions, not privacy, which seem like easily challenged exemptions).

But laid out like this (particularly given the length of the redaction as compared to Priestap’s description), it makes the context more clear.

Papadopoulos said Trump would win because they had dirt on Hillary and then suggested Russia could “assist this process” — that is, using dirt to win the election — by anonymously releasing information damaging to Hillary.

The “this process” hidden behind the redaction is “using dirt to win the election.” The antecedent of “this process” must be (because that description does not and could not appear anywhere else), using dirt to win the election.

It is, perhaps, a subtle thing. But in context as the FBI received it, Papadopoulos tied Russia anonymously dropping dirt on Hillary to the centrality of dirt on Hillary in the Trump campaign’s plan to win. It is true that the tip does not describe Papadopoulos confirming that the campaign would use the Russian dirt or had entered into a relationship to do so.

But particularly given the way Roger Stone claimed WikiLeaks was going to release Clinton Foundation documents while he was boasting of ties to WikiLeaks — that is, the dirt Trump had treated as the Holy Grail all along — the way Papadopoulos tied anonymously released damaging information from Russia to the utility of using dirt to win the election explains the FBI reaction.

Papadopoulos didn’t just raise Russia offering dirt to help win. It raised it in the context of the Trump plan to win by using dirt.

Steve Bannon’s Bas-Relief Confession that Trump Told Him to Deny Discussing Sanction Relief

After a week of writing about Mike Flynn and more Mike Flynn, I’m finally getting around to the transcripts the House Intelligence Committee wrote last week. A bunch of frothy right wingers have pointed to the transcripts as PROOF OF NO COLLUSION, which is hilarious. I’ve barely begun reviewing them, but some glaring holes in the investigation include:

  • The key players — Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, but also Rick Gates — did not testify
  • Two witnesses (Michael Cohen and Roger Stone) were convicted for the lies they told to the committee and a third (Erik Prince) is reportedly under investigation, even if Billy Barr’s DOJ doesn’t prosecute Trump flunkies
  • Multiple witnesses (Michael Caputo, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner, for starters) denied knowing people or having evidence their Mueller materials show they had

Republicans mostly asked each witness, “did you collude?” which predictably elicited the “no” answers the frothers are now pointing to as PROOF. Democrats spent most of their time trying to get recalcitrant witnesses to answer questions they refused to answer rather than trying to corner them into something useful.

The investigation was a shit-show.

The craziest thing (thus far, anyway), is Steve Bannon’s two appearances. Bannon testified in January 2018 and invoked White House guidance to refuse to answer questions from both the transition and post-inauguration periods, periods others had addressed. He also claimed any communications of interest would have been turned over by the campaign, thereby hiding emails he had with Roger Stone using his personal email where they explicitly discussed Julian Assange.

When Bannon went back a month later, having consulted with Devin Nunes in the interim and after Nunes appears to have shared a transcript of Bannon’s first appearance with the White House, he provided the committee a bunch of questions he would answer — all “no” answers.

Here’s how just some of those questions parroted back (for the second time in the hearing) looked:

MR. CONAWAY: After November 8th, 2016, did you meet with Ambassador Kislyak?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: On March 27, 2017, The New York Times reported that in mid-December of 2016 Kushner met with Sergei Gorkov of the VEB. Were you aware of this meeting?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you attend a December 2016 meeting with Kushner that Kushner had with Gorkov?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did Mr. Prince have any role in the current administration?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Was there any discussion on January 27th, 2017, at the White House regarding Mr. Papadopoulos, who was contacted by the FBI that day?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that the FBI had approached him?

MR. BANNON: Not to my knowledge.

MR. CONAWAY: Was the fact that the FBI approached Mr. Papadopoulos on January 27th communicated to President Trump?

MR. BANNON: Not to my knowledge.

MR. CONAWAY: Did Mr. Trump ever discuss with you any conversations between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks after the election?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russia investigation?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: While at the White House, were you ever instructed to take any action that you believe could hinder the Russian investigation in any way?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Were you ever given any instruction at the White House that you felt might amount to an effort to obstruct justice?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you have any conversations with Director Comey after the election about whether he would remain the head of the FBI?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Once you were part of the administration, were you a part of any discussions about how to approach the Russian, vis-à-vis the sanctions, whether to do away with them or in any way minimize the effects of the sanctions?

MR. BANNON: No.

Here’s how Adam Schiff got Bannon to admit that he was literally reading from a script the White House gave him (remember that Bannon’s lawyer, William Burck, also represented White House Counsel Don McGahn).

MR. SCHIFF: Mr. Bannon, who wrote these questions?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: My understanding, Mr. Schiff, is that these came from the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: No, no, no. The questions that Mr. Conaway just asked you the questions. I asked you earlier if you had been authorized by the White House to answer all in the negative. Who wrote these questions?

MR. BANNON: Same answer.

MR. SCHIFF: What’s the same answer? Who wrote the questions?

MR. BANNON: My understanding is they came from the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: What transcript are you talking about?

MR. BANNON: This transcript of my first interview.

[snip]

MR. SCHIFF: Well, how were they produced? How do you know that the White House has authorized you to answer them? [Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: My counsel informed me that these were the questions the White House authorized me to answer.

MR. SCHIFF: But you didn’t write these questions?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: And your counsel didn’t write these questions?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: So these questions were supplied to you by the White House?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: As far as I know.

The thing is, most of these are now recognizably misdirection from some known damning detail. For example, Bannon did not attend the November 30, 2016 meeting with Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, but he was invited. Bannon’s lack of knowledge of Jared Kushner’s December meeting with Sergei Gorkov doesn’t make the meeting itself less damning — arguably, it suggests Kushner kept it on a close hold — and it doesn’t rule out Bannon being involved in a meeting with Gorkov sometime after that. Bannon’s narrow denial that Erik Prince had a role in the administration distracts from Prince’s role as a go-between with Russia during the transition, something Bannon was personally involved with (and covered up by deleting his relevant text messages). There was a discussion among senior campaign officials of the link that WikiLeaks sent Don Jr in September 2016, but it was during the election, not after it. Bannon didn’t have conversations with Jim Comey about firing him, but he had a ton of conversations about firing Comey, eight times on May 3 and 4, 2017 alone. Even the questions about obstruction of justice are consistent with explicit requests that Bannon obstruct, but that took place somewhere else, like Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster (and it’s notable that Bannon’s initial testimony dramatically backed off some of the claims Bannon made to Michael Wolff that had just been published in Fire and Fury).

As Adam Schiff begins to figure out what happened, he asks questions that make it clear that Bannon did not meet — in person — with Nunes, but did speak to him on the phone.

MR. SCHIFF: Now, I see there’s a question on here, did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russia investigation, and you’ve answered that “no.” But you’ve also answered, when my colleague asked you, that you have discussed — you had discussions with Mr. Nunes and you refused to answer the question about whether it was about the Russian investigation. Is that correct?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: However I answered, it’s in the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: Let me just ask you again. Did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russian investigation?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: Did you ever discuss the Russia investigation with Devin Nunes?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: That’s not a question I’m authorized to answer.

Even before that, Schiff cops on to Bannon’s denial about something — whether George Papadopoulos alerted the White House after he was first questioned about the FBI — that Bannon knows nothing about.

MR. SCHIFF: So one of the questions that you were supplied by the White House was, has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that he had been — that the FBI had approached him? How do you know the answer to that, Mr. Bannon?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: Can you just ask the question again?

MR. SCHIFF: Yes. One of the questions that the White House gave you to answer to our committee was, has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that the FBI had approached him?

MR. BANNON: I think I said, “Not to my knowledge.”

MR. SCHIFF: So you really did don’t know, do you?

MR. BANNON: That’s — not to my knowledge.

MR. SCHIFF: Why did the White House propose a question to you that you couldn’t answer within your knowledge?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: You have to ask the White House that.

In Papadopoulos’ Congressional testimony (which took place in October 2018, so six months after Bannon’s second HPSCI interview), the coffee boy would admit that he emailed Marc Kasowitz, who was then Trump’s personal attorney, sometime after his FBI interview.

Q And you didn’t talk to anyone from the Trump organization about that interview with the FBI?

A I don’t think I did, no.

Q So you were interviewed again by the FBI —

A I can’t remember if I reached out to Marc Kasowitz about either that or my subpoena from the Senate. And I emailed him and I said, Look, would you be interested in representing me? I think that’s what happened. But I don’t — I can’t remember exactly why I emailed him, but I think I emailed Marc Kasowitz’ firm sometimes after the interview, but I don’t remember if he ever responded or anything like that.

This post writes up what we know about Papadopoulos’ testimony.

This makes it clear, then, that the script Bannon was given was a ham-handed attempt to get a bunch of denials in the record, denials of things that actually did happen.

Among the questions the White House included was one designed to get him to deny he had discussed eliminating sanctions on Russia.

MR. CONAWAY: Once you were part of the administration, were you a part of any discussions about how to approach the Russian, vis-à-vis the sanctions, whether to do away with them or in any way minimize the effects of the sanctions?

MR. BANNON: No.

Of course, this “no” answer only says Bannon didn’t continue to discuss ending sanctions on Russia after inauguration, but he did beforehand.

There is testimony on the Mueller Report about Bannon’s personal involvement in discussions about the Russian sanctions imposed on December 28, 2016. But Bannon — in testimony on February 12, 2018, so three days before he read this script before HPSCI — claimed to have forgotten those conversations.

Shortly thereafter, McFarland and Bannon discussed the sanctions. 1235 According to McFarland, Bannon remarked that the sanctions would hurt their ability to have good relations with Russia, and that Russian escalation would make things more difficult. 1236 McFarland believed she told Bannon that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak later that night. 1237

[snip]

In addition to her conversations with Bannon and Reince Priebus, at 4:43 p.m., McFarland sent an email to Transition Team members about the sanctions, informing the group that “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.” 1251 Less than an hour later, McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump. Bannon, Priebus, Sean Spicer, and other Transition Team members were present. 1252

[snip]

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions with Bannon the next day and that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak. 1274 Bannon, for his part, recalled meeting with Flynn that day, but said that he did not remember discussing sanctions with him. 1275

[snip]

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 100 Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101

1275 Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 9.

101 Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 4-5. Bannon recalled meeting with Flynn that day, but said he did not remember discussing sanctions with him. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 9.

The White House gave Bannon a script, telling him to deny his involvement in reaching out to Russia on sanctions. And the specific form of the question — which asks about doing away with them — suggests those conversations on December 28, 2016 went further than the Mueller Report describes.

Which explains why Trump is trying to ensure Flynn avoids prison time for hiding that detail.

Ric Grenell Declassified George Papadopoulos’ Brags about Fucking Older Women, but Not about Befriending Sergey Millian

In the name of exposing “FISA abuse,” Lindsey Graham got Ric Grenell to declassify details of George Papadopoulos bragging about fucking a woman who was 42.

CT: I was banging a 42-year-old. That’s the oldest I ever went. And she was the best sex I ever had in my life.

CHS: You know you can’t, uh, knock down them…

CT: But 42, that’s like borderline old, you know.

But Grenell left what DOJ IG treated as a reference to Sergey Millian living in Brooklyn classified (see page 66).

Grenell did so even though this reference to “Sergey” has already been formally declassified, for the DOJ IG Report (though I would argue that in places DOJ IG’s transcriptions are not always fair descriptions of what the transcripts show).

Papadopoulos did not say much about Russia during the first conversation with Source 3, other than to mention a “friend Sergey … [who] lives in … Brooklyn,” and invite Source 3 to travel with Papadopoulos to Russia in the summertime.

Perhaps this just stems from bureaucratic incompetence. But the Trump Administration made a fairly aggressive decision to declassify details about Sergey Millian for the DOJ IG Report because it served their narrative about Christopher Steele. But when it came time to claim–abundant evidence in the transcripts to the contrary–that George Papadopoulos wasn’t an obvious subject for a counterintelligence investigation, the Trump Administration treated one of the most damning details as classified.

This matters, because the frothy right has been ginning up a scandal over the delayed release of the House Intelligence transcripts, and the fact that, having been told everything is ready, Adam Schiff is taking a few days to review what Grenell has done to ensure the integrity of the redactions. They’re doing so even as both Mark Warner and Richard Burr spent the beginning of John Ratcliffe’s confirmation making sure the declassification of their report on the Russian operation would be quick and non-partisan.

But we’ve already got hints that Grenell is politicizing the declassification process. In a 90-page transcript, he redacted the detail that most undermined the frothy right narrative.

The Nuances of the Carter Page Application

I’ve now finished a close read of the last Carter Page FISA application. I think the contents bring a lot more nuance to the discussion of it over the last three years. This post will try to lay out some of that nuance.

Hot and cold running Carter Page descriptions

In most ways, the declassified application tracks the DOJ IG Report and shows how the problems with the application in practice. One newly declassified example conservatives have pointed to shows that FBI Agents believed that Page’s media appearances in spring 2017 were just an attempt to get a book contract.

The FBI also notes that Page continues to be active in meeting with media outlets to promote his theories of how U.S. foreign policy should be adjusted with regard to Russia and also to refute claims of his involvement with Russian Government efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. [redacted–sensitive information] The believes this approach is important because, from the Russian Government’s point-of-view, it continues to keep the controversy of the election in the front of the American and world media, which has the effect of undermining the integrity of the U.S. electoral process and weakening the effectiveness of the current U.S. Administration. The FBI believes Page also may be seeking media attention in order to maintain momentum for potential book contracts. (57)

Even if Page were doing media to get a book contract, short of being charged and put under a court authorized gag, there’s nothing that prevents him from telling his story. He’s perfectly entitled to overtly criticize US foreign policy. And as so often happens when intelligence analysis sees any denials as a formal Denial and Deception strategy, the FBI allowed no consideration to the possibility that some of his denials were true.

Julian Sanchez argued when the IG Report came out that FBI’s biases were probably confirmation bias, not anti-Trump bias, and this is one of the many examples that supports that.

One specific Page denial that turned out to be true — that he was not involved in the Ukraine platform issue — is even more infuriating reading in declassified form. As the IG Report noted, by the time FBI filed this last application, there were several piece of evidence that JD Gordan was responsible for preventing any platform change.

An FBI March 20, 2017 Intelligence Memorandum titled “Overview of Trump Campaign Advisor Jeff D. [J.D.] Gordon” again attributed the change in the Republican Platform Committee’s Ukraine provision to Gordon and an unnamed campaign staffer. The updated memorandum did not include any reference to Carter Page working with Gordon or communicating with the Republican Platform Committee. On May 5, 2017, the Counterintelligence Division updated this Intelligence Memorandum to include open source reporting on the intervention of Trump campaign members during the Republican platform discussions at the Convention to include Gordon’s public comments on his role. This memorandum still made no reference to involvement by Carter Page with the Republican Platform Committee or with the provision on Ukraine.

On June 7, 2017, the FBI interviewed a Republican Platform Committee member. This interview occurred three weeks before Renewal Application No. 3 was filed. According to the FBI FD-302 documenting the interview, this individual told the FBI that J.D. Gordon was the Trump campaign official that flagged the Ukrainian amendment, and that another person (not Carter Page) was the second campaign staffer present at the July 11 meeting of the National Security and Defense Platform Subcommittee meeting when the issue was tabled.

Although the FBI did not develop any information that Carter Page was involved in the Republican Platform Committee’s change regarding assistance to Ukraine, and the FBI developed evidence that Gordon and another campaign official were responsible for the change, the FBI did not alter its assessment of Page’s involvement in the FISA applications. Case Agent 6 told us that when Carter Page denied any involvement with the Republican Platform Committee’s provision on Ukraine, Case Agent 6 “did not take that statement at face value.” He told us that at the time of the renewals, he did not believe Carter Page’s denial and it was the team’s “belief” that Carter Page had been involved with the platform change.

But the application’s treatment of this issue doesn’t just leave out that information. The utterly illogical explanation of why the FBI believed he had a role in the platform — which was quoted in the IG Report — appears worse in context.

During these March 2017 interviews, the FBI also questioned Page about the above-referenced reports from August 2016 that Candidate #1’s campaign worked to make sure Political Party #1’s platform would not call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces [this matter is discussed on pgs. 25-26]. According to Page, he had no part in the campaign’s decision. Page stated that an identified individual (who previously served as manager of Candidate #1’s campaign) more likely than not recommended the “pro-Russian” changes. As the FBI believes that Page also holds pro-Russian views and appears to still have been a member of Candidate #1’s campaign in August 2016, the FBI assesses that Page may have been downplaying his role in advocating for the change to Political Party #1’s platform. (55)

(Here’s the March 16, 2017 interview.)

It’s not just that the FBI had about five other pieces of evidence that suggested Page was not involved, but for the FBI, it was enough that he was pro-Russian to suggest Page would have had the influence and bureaucratic chops to make it happen, even in the absence of any evidence to the fact. Add in the fact that FBI obtained a pen register on Page as part of this application (as reflected by notations in the margin of redacted material), and the fact that FBI didn’t track what communications he did or did not have at any time is particularly inexcusable.

So there’s abundant evidence in the Page applications that FBI acted like they normally do, seeing in every denial yet more evidence of guilt.

That said, the application does show more to explain why the FBI suspected Page in the first place and continued to have questions about his veracity until the end. For example, here’s the full explanation of how Page came to tell a Russian minister he had been the guy that Viktor Podobnyy was recruiting.

Based on information provided by Page during this [March 2016] interview, the FBI determined that Page’s relationship with Podobnyy was primarily unidirectional, with Page largely providing Podobnyy open source information and contact introductions. During one interview, Page told the FBI that he approached a Russian Minister, who was surrounded by Russian officials/diplomats, and “in the spirit of openness,” Page informed the group that he was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. (16-17)

The FBI took this both as Page’s own confirmation that he was the person in the complaint, which in turn meant that Page knew he was being recruited, and, having learned that, sought ought well-connected Russians to identify himself as such.

As the application laid out later, Page at first denied what he had previously told the FBI about this incident and the Russians who had previously tried to recruit him in his March 2017 interviews. (This occurred in his March 16, 2017 interview.)

In a reference to the Buryakov complaint, Page stated that “nobody knows that I’m Male-1 in this report,” and also added that he never told anyone about this. As discussed above, however, during a March 2016 interview with the FBI regarding his relationship with Podobnyy, Page told the FBI he informed a group of Russian officials that he (Page) was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. Thus, during the March 2017 interview, the FBI specifically asked Page if he told any colleague that he (Page) was “Male-1.” In response, Page stated that there was a conversation with a Russian Government official at the United Nations General Assembly The FBI again asked Page if he had told anyone that he was “Male-1.” Page responded that he “forgot the exact statement.”

Note, Page’s 302 quotes Page as telling the Minister, “I didn’t do anything [redacted],” but it’s unclear (given the b3 redaction) whether that relays what Page said in March 2017 or if the b3 suggests FBI learned this via other means. But the redacted bit remains one of the sketchier parts of this.

The application also describes how Page denied having a business relationship with Aleksandr Bulatov, the first presumed time Russia tried to recruit him, claiming he may have had lunch with him in New York. That Page claimed only to have had lunch with him is all the more absurd since this was the basis for his supposed cooperation with the CIA.

Having seen how Page handled his HPSCI interview and TV interviews, it’s not surprising to see he denied ties he earlier bragged about (which, in any case, undermines any claim he was operating clandestinely). But at best, Page didn’t deny the key thing he could have to avert suspicion: to admit (as George Papadopoulos readily did) that he was overselling his access in Russia to the Trump campaign, in emails the FBI presumably obtained using FISA. Nothing in the IG Report rebuts the claim that Page claimed things in communications that provided basis to believe he was lying (the actual communications are redacted in the applications because all of the FISA collection targeted at Page has been sequestered). So while the FBI did a bunch of inexcusable things with Page, there were things that Page did — and never explained — that explain the FBI’s sustained suspicion of him.

An explanation for some of the GOP’s core beliefs about the dossier and the investigation

The release of the full application also helps to explain how Republicans came to have certain beliefs about the Steele dossier and the Russian investigation. Take this passage:

Source #1 reported the information contained herein to the FBI over the course of several meetings with the FBI from in or about June 2016 through August 2016.

The passage is slightly inaccurate: Mike Gaeta first got reports from Christopher Steele in early July.

Shortly before the Fourth of July 2016, Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that he received a call from Steele requesting an in-person meeting as soon as possible. Handling Agent 1 said he departed his duty station in Europe on July 5 and met with Steele in Steele’s office that day. During their meeting, Steele provided Handling Agent 1 with a copy of Report 80 and explained that he had been hired by Fusion GPS to collect information on the relationship between candidate Trump’s businesses and Russia.

Since initial details of Steele’s reporting have been made public, the frothy right has been unable to understand that information doesn’t necessarily flow instantaneously inside of or between large bureaucracies. And having read this line, I assume Kash Patel would have told Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy that it was proof that the FBI predicated the investigation on the Steele dossier, because “the FBI” had Steele’s reports a month before opening the investigation into Trump’s aides (though, in fact, that was months after NYFO had opened an investigation into Page). The IG Report, however, explains in detail about how there was a bit of a delay before Steele’s handler sent his reports to the NY Field Office, a delay there for a while, and a further delay after a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team asked NYFO to forward anything they had. As a result, the CH team didn’t receive the first set of Steele reports until September 19, over a month after the investigation started.

On August 25, 2016, according to a Supervisory Special Agent 1 (SSA 1) who was assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, during a briefing for then Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on the investigation, McCabe asked SSA 1 to contact NYFO about information that potentially could assist the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. 225 SSA 1 said he reached out to counterintelligence agents and analysts in NYFO within approximately 24 hours following the meeting. Instant messages show that on September 1, SSA 1 spoke with a NYFO counterintelligence supervisor, and that the counterintelligence supervisor was attempting to set up a call between SSA 1 and the ADC. On September 2, 2016, Handling Agent 1, who had been waiting for NYFO to inform him where to forward Steele’s reports, sent the following email to the ADC and counterintelligence supervisor: “Do we have a name yet? The stuff is burning a hole.” The ADC responded the same day explaining that SSA 1 had created an electronic sub-file for Handling Agent 1 in the Crossfire Hurricane case and that he

In any other world, this delay — as well as a delay in sharing derogatory information freely offered by Bruce Ohr and Kathleen Kavalec — would be a scandal about not sharing enough information. But instead, this passage about when FBI received the files likely plays a key part of an unshakeable belief that the dossier played a key role in predicating the investigation, which it does not.

Similarly, declassification of the application helps to explain why the frothy right believes that claims George Papadopoulos made to Stefan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 should have undermined the claims FBI made.

To be clear: the frothy right is claiming Papadopoulos’s denials should be treated as credible even after he admitted to a second informant that he told the story he did to Halper about Trump campaign involvement in the leaked emails because he believed if he had said anything else, Halper would have gone to the CIA about it. The FBI, however, believed the claims to be lies in real time, and on that (unlike Carter Page’s denials) the record backs them. There’s even a footnote (on page 11) that explicitly said, “the FBI believes that Papadopoulos provided misleading or incomplete information to the FBI” in his later FBI interviews.

That said, the way Papadopoulos is used in this application is totally upside down. A newly declassified part of the footnote describing Steele’s partisan funding claims that Papadopoulos corroborates Steele’s reporting (the italicized text is newly declassified).

Notwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia, based on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s herein to be credible. Moreover, because of outside corroborating circumstances discussed herein, such as the reporting from a friendly foreign government that a member of Candidate #1’s team received a suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the release of information damaging to Candidate #2 and Russia’s believed hack and subsequent leak of the DNC e-amils, the FBI assesses that Source #1’s reporting contained herein is credible.

This is the reverse of how the IG Report describes things, which explains that the DNC emails came out, Australia decided to alert the US Embassy in London about what Papadopoulos had said three months earlier, which led the FBI to predicate four different investigations (Page, Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort; though remember that NYFO had opened an investigation into Page in April) to see if any of the most obvious Trump campaign members could explain why Russia thought it could help the Trump campaign beat Hillary by releasing emails. The Steele dossier certainly seemed to confirm questions raised by the Australia report (which explains why the FBI was so susceptible, to the extent this was disinformation, to believing it, and why, to the extent it was disinformation, it was incredibly well-crafted). The Steele dossier seemingly confirmed the fears raised by the Australia report, not vice versa. It seems like circular logic to then use Papadopoulos to “corroborate” the Steele dossier. That has, in turn, led the right to think undermining the original Australian report does anything to undermine the investigation itself, even though by the end of October Papadopoulos had sketched out the outlines of what happened with Joseph Mifsud and discussed wanting to cash in on it, and Papadopoulos continued to pursue this Russian relationship, including a secret back channel meeting in London, well into the summer.

Finally, I’m more sympathetic, having read this full application, to complaints about the way FBI uses media accounts — though for an entirely different reason than the frothy right. The original complaint on this point misread the way the FBI used the September 23 Michael Isikoff article reporting on Page, suggesting it was included for the facts about the meeting rather than the denials from Page and the campaign presented in it. The discussion appears in a section on “Page’s denial of cooperation.”  And — as I’ve noted before — the FBI always sourced that story to the Fusion GPS effort, even if they inexcusably believed that Glenn Simpson, and not Steele, was the “well-placed Western intelligence source” cited in the article.

But with further declassification, the way the application relied on two articles about the Ukraine platform to establish what the campaign had actually done (see page 25), rather than refer to the platform itself — or, more importantly, Trump’s own comments about policy, which I’ll return to — appears more problematic (not least because FBI confused the timing of one of those reports with the actual policy change.

Steele and Sergei Millian as uniquely correct about WikiLeaks

There’s another thing about sourcing in this application (which carries over to what I’ve often seen in FBI affidavits). While there are passages discussing the larger investigation into Russia’s 2016 operation that remain redacted (and indeed, there’s a substitution of a redaction with “FBI” on page 7 which probably hides that the IC as a whole continued to investigate Russian hacking), key discussions of that investigation cite to unclassified materials, even in a FISA application that would have under normal circumstances never been shared publicly. For example, the discussion describing attribution of the operation to Russia from pages 6 to 10 largely relies on the October 7 joint statement and Obama’s sanctions statement, not even the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, much less (with the exception of two redacted passages) anything more detailed.

Even ignoring secret government sources, there was a whole lot more attributing Russia and WikiLeaks’s role in the hack-and-leak, especially by June 2017. Yet the Page application doesn’t touch any of that.

And that makes the way the application uses the allegations — attributed to Sergei Millian — to make knowable information about the WikiLeaks dump tie to unsupported information in the dossier all the more problematic. As parroted in the application, this passage interlaces true, public, but not very interesting details with totally unsupported allegations:

According to information provided by Sub-Source [redacted] there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them [assessed to be individuals involved in Candidate #1’s campaign] and the Russian leadership.” Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the conspiracy was being managed by Candidate #1’s then campaign manager, who was using, among others, foreign policy advisor Carter Page as an intermediary. Sub-Source [redacted] further reported that the Russian regime had been behind the above-described disclosure of DNC e-mail messages to WikiLeaks. Sub-Source [redacted] reported that WikiLeaks was used to create “plausible deniability,” and that the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page. In return, according to Sub-Source [redacted], Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page, agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise U.S.NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.

The DOJ IG report describes how FBI responded to this report by (purportedly) examining the reliability of Steele and his sources closely.

The FISA application stated that, according to this sub-source, Carter Page was an intermediary between Russian leadership and an individual associated with the Trump campaign (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” that led to the disclosure of hacked DNC emails by Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign team’s agreement, which the FBI assessed included at least Carter Page, to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue. The application also stated that this same sub-source provided information contained in Steele’s Report 80 that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Trump’s campaign for an extended period of time and that the information had reportedly been “very helpful,” as well as information contained in Report 102 that the DNC email leak had been done, at least in part, to swing supporters from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. 300 Because the FBI had no independent corroboration for this information, as witnesses have mentioned, the reliability of Steele and his source network was important to the inclusion of these allegations in the FISA application.

Except there would seem to be another necessary step: to first identify how much of this report cobbled together stuff that was already public — which included Russia’s role, the purpose of using WikiLeaks, Carter Page’s trip to Russia (but not specifics of his meetings there), and — though the application got details of what happened with Ukraine in the platform wrong — the prevention of a change to the platform. On these details, Steele was not only not predictive, he was derivative. Putting aside the problems with the three different levels of unreliable narrators (Steele, his Primary Subsource, and Millian), all of whom had motives to to package this information in a certain way, the fact that these claims clearly included stuff that had been made available weeks earlier should have raised real questions (and always did for me, when I was reading this dossier). Had the FBI separated out what was unique and timely in these allegations, they would have looked significantly different (not least because they would have shown Steele’s network was following public disclosures on key issues).

This is not the kompromat you’re looking for

Which brings me to perhaps the most frustrating part of this application.

As I started arguing at least by September 2017 (and argued again and again and again), to the extent the dossier got filled with disinformation, it would have had the effect of leading Hillary’s campaign to be complacent after learning they had been hacked, because according to the dossier, the Russians planned to leak years old FSB intercepts from when Hillary visited Russia, not contemporaneous emails pertaining to her campaign and recent history. It might even have led the Democrats to dismiss the possibility that the files Guccifer 2.0 was releasing were John Podesta files, delaying any response to the leak that would eventually come in October.

To the extent the dossier was disinformation, it gave the Russian operation cover to regain surprise for their hack-and-leak operation. At least with respect to the Democrats, that largely worked.

And, even though the Australians apparently believed the DNC release may have confirmed Papadopoulos prediction that Russia would dump emails, it appears to have partly worked with the FBI, as well. This passage should never appear in an application that derived from a process leading from the DNC emails to the shared tip about Papadopoulos to a request to wiretap Page:

According to reporting from Sub-Source [redacted] this dossier had been compiled by the RIS over many years, dating back to the 1990s. Further, according to Sub-Source [redacted] his dossier was, by the direct instructions of Russian President Putin, controlled exclusively by Senior Kremlin Spokesman Dmitriy Peskov. Accordingly, the FBI assesses that Divyekin received direction by the Russian Government to disclose the nature and existence of the dossier to Page. In or about June 2016, Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time. Sub-Source [redacted] also reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time and added that the information had reportedly been “very helpful.” The FBI assesses the information funneled by the Russians to Page was likely part of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Note, the FBI contemporaneously — though not after December 9, 2016 — would not have had something Hillary’s team did, the July Steele report on Russia’s claimed lack of hacking success that the FBI should have recognized as utterly wrong. Still, the earliest Steele reports they did have said the kompromat the Russians were offering was stale intercepts. At the very least, one would hope that would raise questions about why someone with purported access to top Kremlin officials didn’t know about the hack-and-leak operation. But the FBI seems to have expected there might be something more.

Trump clearly was not, but should have been, the target earlier than he was

There’s an irony about the complaints I lay out here: they suggest that Trump should have been targeted far earlier than he was.

The Page application rests on the following logic: One of the notably underqualified foreign policy advisors that Trump rolled out to great fanfare in March 2016 told someone, days later, that Russia had offered to help Trump by releasing damaging information on Hillary. The July dump of DNC emails suggested that Papadopoulos’ knowledge foreknowledge may have been real (and given Mifsud’s ties to someone with links to both the IRA and GRU people behind the operation, it probably was). The temporal coincidence of his appointment and that knowledge seemed to tie his selection as an advisor and that knowledge (and in his case, because Joseph Mifsud only showed an interest in Papadopoulos after learning he was a Trump advisor, that turned out to be true). That made the trip to Russia by another of these notably underqualified foreign policy advisors to give a speech he was even more underqualified to give, all the more interesting, especially the way the Trump people very notably reversed GOP hawkishness on Ukraine days after Page’s return.

In other words, the FBI had evidence — some of it now understood to be likely disinformation, and was trying to understand, how, after Trump shifted his focus to foreign policy, he shifted to a more pro-Russian stance in seeming conjunction with Russia delivering on their promise (shared with foreign policy advisor Papadopoulos) to help Trump by releasing the DNC emails.

It turns out the change in policy was real. And JD Gordan attributed his intervention on the RNC platform, in contravention of direction from policy director John Mashburn, to Trump’s own views.

Gordon reviewed the proposed platform changes, including Denman’s.796 Gordon stated that he flagged this amendment because of Trump’s stated position on Ukraine, which Gordon personally heard the candidate say at the March 31 foreign policy meeting-namely, that the Europeans should take primary responsibility for any assistance to Ukraine, that there should be improved U.S.-Russia relations, and that he did not want to start World War III over that region.797 Gordon told the Office that Trump’s statements on the campaign trail following the March meeting underscored those positions to the point where Gordon felt obliged to object to the proposed platform change and seek its dilution.798

[snip]

According to Denman, she spoke with Gordon and Matt Miller, and they told her that they had to clear the language and that Gordon was “talking to New York.”803 Denman told others that she was asked by the two Trump Campaign staffers to strike “lethal defense weapons” from the proposal but that she refused. 804 Demnan recalled Gordon saying that he was on the phone with candidate Trump, but she was skeptical whether that was true.805 Gordon denied having told Denman that he was on the phone with Trump, although he acknowledged it was possible that he mentioned having previously spoken to the candidate about the subject matter.806 Gordon’s phone records reveal a call to Sessions’s office in Washington that afternoon, but do not include calls directly to a number associated with Trump.807 And according to the President’s written answers to the Office’s questions, he does not recall being involved in the change in language of the platform amendment. 808

Gordon stated that he tried to reach Rick Dearborn, a senior foreign policy advisor, and Mashburn, the Campaign policy director. Gordon stated that he connected with both of them (he could not recall if by phone or in person) and apprised them of the language he took issue with in the proposed amendment. Gordon recalled no objection by either Dearborn or Mashburn and that all three Campaign advisors supported the alternative formulation (“appropriate assistance”).809 Dearborn recalled Gordon warning them about the amendment, but not weighing in because Gordon was more familiar with the Campaign’s foreign policy stance.810 Mashburn stated that Gordon reached him, and he told Gordon that Trump had not taken a stance on the issue and that the Campaign should not intervene.811

[snip]

Sam Clovis, the Campaign’s national co-chair and chief policy advisor, stated he was surprised by the change and did not believe it was in line with Trump’s stance.816 Mashburn stated that when he saw the word “appropriate assistance,” he believed that Gordon had violated Mashburn’s directive not to intervene.817

Sam Clovis would ultimately testify there had been a policy change around the time of the March 31 meeting (though Clovis’ testimony changed wildly over the course of a day and conflicted with what he told Stefan Halper).

Clovis perceived a shift in the Campaign’s approach toward Russia-from one of engaging with Russia through the NATO framework and taking a strong stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But (as noted above), to lay this out in the Page application, the FBI sourced to secondary reporting of the policy change rather than to the platform itself. More notably, in spite of all this happening after late July 2016, there’s no mention of Trump’s press conference on July 27, 2016, where he asked Russia to go find more Hillary emails (and they almost immediately started hacking Hillary’s personal accounts), said he’d consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and lifting sanctions, and lied about his ongoing efforts to build a tower in Russia.

Trump directed Mueller to a transcript of the press conference, I’ve put excerpts below. They’re a good reminder that at the same press conference where Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails (and in seeming response to which, GRU officers targeted Hillary’s personal office just five hours later), Trump suggested any efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow were years in the past, not ongoing. After the press conference, Michael Cohen asked about that false denial, and Trump “told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, ‘Why mention it if it is not a deal?’” He also said they’d consider recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which makes Konstantin Kilimnik’s travel — to Moscow the next day, then to New York for the August 2 meeting at which he and Paul Manafort discussed carving up Ukraine at the same meeting where they discussed how to win Michigan — all the more striking. Trump’s odd answer to whether his campaign “had any conversations with foreign leaders” to “hit the ground running” may reflect Mike Flynn’s meetings with Sergei Kislyak to do just that.

In other words, rather than citing Trump’s language itself, which in one appearance tied ongoing hacking to an even more dramatic policy change than reflected in the platform, the Carter Page application cited secondary reporting, some of it post-dating this appearance.

Mueller asked Trump directly about two of the things he said in this speech (the Russia if you’re listening comment and the assertion they’d look at recognizing Crimea) and obliquely about a third (his public disavowals of Russian business ties). Trump refused to answer part of one of these questions entirely, and demonstrably lied about another. Publicly, Mueller stated that Trump’s answers were totally inadequate. And these statements happened even as his campaign manager and Konstantin Kilimnik were plotting a clandestine meeting to talk about carving up Ukraine.

The FBI may have done this to stay way-the-fuck away from politics — though, to be clear, Trump’s call on Russia to find more Hillary emails in no way fits the bounds of normal political speech.

But by doing do, they ended up using far inferior sourcing, and distracting themselves from actions more closely implicating Trump directly — actions that remain unresolved.

The Carter Page application certainly backs the conclusions of the DOJ IG Report (though it also shows I was correct that DOJ IG did not know what crimes Page was being investigated for, and as such likely got the First Amendment analysis wrong). But it also shows that the Steele dossier, which fed the FBI’s inexcusable confirmation biases, undermined the FBI investigation into questions that have not yet been fully answered.

DOJ Is Abusing FOIA Exemptions to Hide Later, More Damning Testimony of Trump Aides

The government has now “released” around 200 302s (FBI interview reports) in response to BuzzFeed/CNN’s FOIA. The vast majority of those, however, are heavily and at times entirely redacted. DOJ is using an unprecedentedly broad interpretation of the already badly abused b5 (deliberative) FOIA exemption to keep much of this hidden. This includes treating communications with the following people as “presidential communications:”

a. Donald Trump, President

b. Michael Pence, Vice President

c. John Kelly, Chief of Staff

d. Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff

e. Donald McGahn, Counsel to the President

f. Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor

g. Emmett Flood, Special Counsel to the President

h. Sean Spicer, Press Secretary

i. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Deputy Press Secretary; Press Secretary

j. Robert Porter, Staff Secretary

k. Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Adviser to the President

l. Richard Dearborn, Deputy Chief of Staff

m. John Eisenberg, Deputy Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council

n. K.T. McFarland, Deputy National Security Advisor

o. Uttam Dhillon, Deputy Counsel to the President

p. Annie Donaldson, Chief of Staff to the Counsel to the President

q. Jared Kushner, Senior Adviser to the President

r. Ivanka Trump, Senior Adviser to the President

s. Hope Hicks, Director of Strategic Communications; Director of Communications

t. Stephen Miller, Senior Adviser to the President

DOJ has offered a similar — albeit smaller — list (pages 16-17) of people covered by “Presidential” privileges during the Transition (yes, both Ivanka and Jared are on that list, too).

This is outright abuse, and given yesterday’s opinion stating he will review the existing redactions in the Mueller Report, I expect Judge Reggie Walton to deem it as such once the litigation rolls around to that point.

All the more so given that it can be demonstrably shown that DOJ is selectively releasing 302s such that Trump aides’ false statements are public, but their later more accurate (and damning) statements are hidden. There are at least three examples (Steve Bannon, KT McFarland, and Mike Flynn) where DOJ is still withholding later, more accurate statements while releasing earlier deceitful ones, and two more cases (JD Gordon and Sam Clovis) where DOJ may be hiding discussions of Trump pro-Russian policy stances. And in one case (Clovis), DOJ appears to have used a b3 (protected by statute) exemption that doesn’t appear to be justifiable.

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon was interviewed on at least five occasions:

  • February 12, 2018: large swaths unredacted
  • February 14, 2018: Heavily redacted under both b5 and (pertaining to WikiLeaks, Stone, and Cambridge Analytica, ongoing investigation), but with key passages revealed
  • October 26, 2018: Not yet released
  • January 18, 2019: Proffer released, but 302 not yet released
  • Unknown date (in advance of Stone trial): Not yet released

There are significantly redacted discussions (protected under ongoing investigation redactions) in Bannon’s February 14 302 that conflict with his later public admissions. And Bannon’s testimony in the Roger Stone trial shows that his 302s — including the trial prep one — conflict with his grand jury testimony. What has thus far been made public includes denials of coordination on WikiLeaks that both his October 2018 and January 2019 302s must contradict. Yet DOJ has not released the later, more damning 302s yet.

KT McFarland

As has been publicly reported, KT McFarland at first lied to the FBI but — in the wake of Mike Flynn’s plea deal — unforgot many of the key events surrounding discussions about sanctions during the Transition. While DOJ has not yet released her first 302, the others are, in general, lightly redacted. They show how she appears to have told a cover story about discussions about sanctions during the Transition. The 302 in which she cleaned up her testimony, which would show what really happened during the Transition, is largely redacted.

  • August 29, 2017: Not yet released
  • September 14, 2017: Lightly redacted (though hiding details of Tom Bossert email and her claims about the Flynn sanctions discussion)
  • October 17, 2017: Lightly redacted, though with some Mar-a-Lago and sanctions cover story details redacted
  • October 19, 2017: Significantly redacted
  • December 5, 2017: Lightly redacted; this captures McFarland’s panic in the days after Flynn’s plea
  • December 22, 2017: Very heavily redacted

Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn’s initial 302, from January 24, 2017, has been public for some time. Flynn has twice admitted, under oath, that he lied in that 302.

None of his other Russia-related 302s, including those where he corrected his story in November 2017, have been made public (though DOJ may be withholding these because he has not yet been sentenced). Among the 302s DOJ is withholding involves at least one describing how the Trump campaign discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks after the John Podesta emails dropped.

JD Gordon

JD Gordon’s testimony was critical to Mueller’s finding that Trump and Paul Manafort had no personal involvement in preventing convention delegate Diane Denman from making the RNC platform more hawkish on Ukraine. Details of this investigation into Gordon’s role appear entirely unredacted in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page as part of the case that FBI should have removed any claim that Page was involved in the platform.

Gordon’s first interview is largely unredacted. It soft-pedals Trump’s pro-Russian stance on the campaign.

GORDON flagged DENMAN’s amendment because TRUMP had mentioned not wanting to start World War III over Ukraine. TRUMP had mentioned this both in public and in private, including at the campaign meeting on March 31, 2016. This was not GORDON’s stance but TRUMP’s stance on Ukraine.

[snip]

DENMAN [redacted] and asked GORDON what he had against the free people. GORDON explained TRUMP’s statements regarding World War III to her. She asked why they were there and who GORDON was on the phone with. GORDON told her he was on the phone with his colleagues but didn’t provide names.

But Gordon’s final 302 is largely redacted, though it leaves unredacted the World War III excuse. Some of the redactions appear to hide Gordon’s testimony about the things Trump said in campaign appearances that Gordon used to explain his intervention in the Convention.

There is also discussion in his last interview about whether he consulted with Jeff Sessions on the platform issue during phone calls placed at the time (which he denied he had).

The Mueller Report also describes how Sergey Kislyak invited Gordon to his residence in DC shortly after the convention; that reference is based entirely on emails exchanged between the two; it would be worthwhile to know what he said if he was asked about the invite in his FBI interviews, but if so, it is redacted.

Sam Clovis

Sam Clovis appears to have had three interviews, though it seems Mueller’s team may never have trusted his testimony. The interviews are cited just three times in the Mueller Report, and he makes denials in his interviews that conflict with communication-based evidence laid out in the Mueller Report and what he is reported to have told Stefan Halper in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page (PDF 367-370). Clovis’ testimony is particularly important because he claims there was a shift in policy towards Russia during the campaign, but his released testimony is inconsistent on that point.

Clovis was first interviewed on October 3, 2017 at his office at USDA. The 302 makes clear that “about a quarter of the way through the interview, CLOVIS was warned that lying to the agents could constitute a federal offense.” In that interview, Clovis makes extremely strong denials about Russia.

CLOVIS started off the interview by explaining that he hates Russia and that should be clear throughout his interview.

[snip]

Russia was never a topic between CLOVIS and TRUMP. They would occasionally discuss it in debate prep. CLOVIS did most of the debate prep during the primaries. They talked about a Ukrainian policy and discussed having a bipartisan approach to this because of the divided based on Ukraine.

[snip]

A lot of people approached the campaign with ideas about foreign policy topics. Some of them wanted to approach and engage Russia but CLOVIS never trusted RUSSIA.

[snip]

CLOVIS thought interacting with Russia was a bad idea on any level because of comments TRUMP made.

[snip]

CLOVIS thinks the Special Counsel investigation is more political than practical. From CLOVIS’ perspective he didn’t see anything that warranted an investigation. CLOVIS said the campaign didn’t have anything to do with Russians. No one advised anyone to meet with Russians. CLOVIS wanted nothing to do with Russia and would never approve a meeting with the Russians. CLOVIS explained that Russians are different with Russia. You can’t just sit down at the table with them.

[snip]

CLOVIS does not recall Russia being brought up in the March 31, 2016 meeting.

[snip]

PAGE had an interesting background, including time in the Navy, experience in energy policy and Russian business. They were rushed into putting a foreign policy team together. CLOVIS thought PAGE was pretty harmless but also didn’t provide much value. CLOVIS said he never talked to PAGE about meetings with Russia and doesn’t remember PAGE ever bringing up Russia.

[snip]

CLOVIS didn’t think the change [in platform] was in line with TRUMP’s stance. CLOVIS thought their plan was to support Ukraine in their independence by engaging their NATO allies. CLOVIS is concerned PUTIN is trying to establish a Soviet empire.

That very same day, the FBI interviewed Clovis a second time, also in his USDA office. In the second interview, Clovis made comments that probably conflict with what Clovis told Stefan Halper in August 2016.

CARTER PAGE and GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS were not involved with the campaign team. They were not players in the campaign.

More importantly, in the second interview — on the same day!! — Clovis admitted that Trump did want better ties with Russia.

TRUMP wanted improved relations with Russia. The “bromance” TRUMP had with PUTIN bothered CLOVIS but the press and the public fed on it. CLOVIS felt like he had to cleanup with a shovel because TRUMP played up his bromance with PUTIN for the public.

Clovis also denied discussions of a trip to Russia that the FBI had proof he was personally involved in.

CLOVIS was asked about emails regarding an “unofficial trip” to Russia which were discussed in a Washington Post article. CLOVIS indicated this was info he was not privy to. CLOVIS said he doesn’t know who would have authorized such meetings but he never gave PAPADOPOULOS any indication to setup meetings.

CLOVIS denied learning about any dirt on Hillary, something that Papadopoulos provided conflicting testimony on.

CLOVIS was asked if he ever heard anyone discuss Russians having dirt on HILLARY CLINTON. CLOVIS said he wasn’t aware of that and if someone had that info they probably wouldn’t bring it to CLOVIS. CLOVIS pointed out that he was never asked to do anything untoward.

And in this second interview, Clovis softened on whether anyone had been compromised by Russia.

CLOVIS further explained how Russia can be very sneaky and will try to distract you on one side while sneaking by you on the other side. They will use any mechanism they can. CLOVIS fought them for years. CLOVIS didn’t feel like there was anything going on with the campaign though.

The interview ends with what may to be a discussion about a subpoena.

CLOVIS asked the agents [redacted] since he had cooperated. He was concerned about his travel plans and indicated he planned on leaving [redacted] and returning to D.C. [redacted] Agents agreed to [redacted] but said they would contact him later with information [redacted].

Note, the most substantive redactions in these two 302s have b3 redactions, which covers information “exempted from disclosure by statute.” While some of the last paragraph might be a discussion about serving a grand jury subpoena, none of the rest of it should be. And in other 302s, discussions of the same events (such as the March 31 meeting) are not redacted under b3 exemptions. It is hard to see how that redaction is permissible.

Clovis’ October 26 interview is entirely redacted under b5 exemptions.

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.

Why Hasn’t George Papadopoulos Outed “Source 3”?

There’s something I’ve been wondering about the DOJ IG Report into Carter Page.

The report revealed details (though not all details) about Stefan Halper’s interactions with George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Sam Clovis, which had been previously reported. It debunked Papadopoulos’ claims that some other people — some US defense personnel in the UK, Alexander Downer, Joseph Mifsud, and Israelis offering cash — were FBI informants attempting to entrap him.

But it also revealed that another informant, described as Source 3 in the report, had multiple meetings with Papadopoulos. The person is described as someone with access to Papadopoulos that they recruited — in accelerated fashion — for this purpose.

Case Agent 3 and an Intelligence Analyst identified Source 3 as an individual with a connection to Papadopoulos who may be willing to act as a CHS, based on statements Source 3 had made to the FBI several years prior, during an interview in an unrelated investigation. Source 3 had never previously worked for the FBI as a CHS, and the Delta records for Source 3 state that the opening of this CHS “was accelerated due to operational necessity.”

Case Agent 3 said that he considered Source 3 to be a reliable CHS because Source 3 was always available when the FBI needed Source 3, provided good descriptions of the conversations with Papadopoulos, and the summaries that Source 3 provided to the FBI were corroborated by the consensual monitoring. The FBI performed a human source validation review on Source 3 in 2017, and recommended Source 3 for continued operation.

Papadopoulos and Source 3 met multiple times between October 2016 and June 2017, all of which occurred after the FBI understood that Papadopoulos had ceased working on the Trump campaign. 471 All but one of their meetings were consensually monitored by the FBI; however, not all of them were transcribed by the FBI. Instead, Case Agent 3 said that he and the Intelligence Analyst would review the recordings to find portions that were of investigative interest, and those portions were written up or reviewed.

Papadopoulos clearly trusted this person more than Halper. He told Source 3 that he told Halper the story he had about ties to WIkiLeaks because he expected Halper would, “tell the CIA or something if I’d have told him something else. I assume that’s why he was asking.” He told Source 3 about Sergei Millian (whose ties to Papadopoulos the FBI had already identified). He told Source 3 a version of the Joseph Mifsud story and admitted he was going to try to monetize that relationship.

Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

For years, Papadopoulos has been trying to dismiss his guilty plea by saying he was set up by a network of nefarious informants.

And yet he hasn’t revealed who Source 3 — someone he obviously met on multiple occasions — is.

The claims of Marcus DiPaola — someone who claimed to be an informant for the FBI until he recently got exposed by Fox News, before leaking a damning internal Fox report about its own susceptibility to propaganda — got me thinking about this question again. While my own interactions with the FBI make me very skeptical that FBI would work with someone acting as a journalist as an informant, which is what he claims happened. And the timing — DiPaola claims he approached the FBI in January 2016, not earlier as the IG Report describes Source 3 did — doesn’t line up.

So I don’t think DiPaola is Source 3.

But it made me all the more cognizant that Papadopoulos, who never met a real or suspected informant he didn’t burn, has been silent about this person.

Which may hint that Papadopoulos suspects Source 3 could tell a whole lot of truths if he or she were identified that would blow his current schtick.

Update: I just realized that the date of a Fox Report that seems to have come from DiPaola is December 9, the date of the IG Report. So that might support the possibility that he was Source 3.

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.

Beware the Deep State Bearing Granola Bars: George Papadopoulos’ 302s

The government released another bunch of 302s in response to BuzzFeed’s FOIA last night. They include a bunch (but not all, and not the most important) of the reports from George Papadopoulos. This post will lay out what they show.

As background, however, remember what FBI knew about some of his interactions with Joseph Mifsud before interviewing Papadopoulos.

Interactions with informants

First, there was the tip FBI received from Australia on July 27, 2016, after the release of the WikiLeaks emails made it seem like Papadopoulos had had advance knowledge they would be released. As laid out in the DOJ IG Report, after telling Alexander Downer and Erica Thompson that,

he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and … the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

Papadopoulos then,

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

In at least one (late October 2016) interview with the informant identified as “Source 3” in the IG Report, Papadopoulos had laid out the outlines of his conversations with Mifsud in direct connection with the possibility he might meet Putin.

In the second consensually monitored conversation, at the end of October 2016, Papadopoulos told Source 3 that Papadopoulos had been “on the front page of Russia’s biggest newspaper” for an interview he had given 2 to 3 weeks earlier. Papadopoulos said that he was asked “[w]hat’s Mr. Trump going to do about Russia if he wins, what are your thoughts on ISIS, what are your thoughts on this?” and stated that he did not “understand why the U.S. has such a problem with Russia.” Papadopoulos also said that he thinks Putin “exudes power, confidence.” When Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian  Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

That said, with both Stefan Halper and this source, Papadopoulos had denied that the campaign had any foreknowledge of the WikiLeaks releases, likening optimizing them (in the way that Roger Stone did) to treason. Papadopoulos had told Source 3 that he gave that story to Halper, in part, because he thought Halper might tell CIA what he had said, so he was already crafting a story to tell authorities.

The FBI also knew Papadopoulos was spending a lot of time with Sergei Millian, whom they also had under a counterintelligence investigation.

January 27, 2017

The government didn’t release the substantive 302 from Papadopoulos’ first interview, there’s just the 302 recounting what happened on the way to the FBI and that Papadopoulos sent the FBI agent two emails after the interview. There are 12 pages withheld for a referral right before that 302 — which makes me wonder whether they’ve referred Papadopoulos’ original 302 to John Durham (which would be really corrupt, because there’s nothing classified in there, and hiding would make it harder to assess the legitimacy of the Durham investigation). The 302 that got released does make it clear the FBI told Papadopoulos, “the nature of the interview was to discuss a contact of his, who currently resides in New York,” meaning Millian, who had just been reported as a source for Christopher Steele. That is consistent with what Papadopoulos has said about the interview; he has complained he accepted the interview thinking it would only be about Millian.

Excerpts of this interview described in the government’s sentencing memo make it clear that Papadopoulos only raised Mifsud after pressed by agents.

the defendant identified the Professor only after being prompted by a series of specific questions about when the defendant first learned about Russia’s disclosure of information related to the campaign and whether the defendant had ever “received any information or anything like that from a [] Russian government official.” In response, while denying he received any information from a Russian government official, the defendant identified the Professor by name – while also falsely claiming he interacted with the Professor “before I was with Trump though.” Over the next several minutes in the interview, the defendant repeatedly and falsely claimed that his interactions with the Professor occurred before he was working for the Trump campaign, and he did not mention his discussion with the Professor about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Clinton. That fact only came up after additional specific questioning from the agents. The agents asked the defendant: “going back to the WikiLeaks and maybe the Russian hacking and all that, were you ever made aware that the Russians had intent to disclose information [] ahead of time? So before it became public? Did anyone ever tell you that the Russian government plans to release some information[,] like tell the Trump team ahead of time[,] that that was going to happen?” The defendant responded, “No.” The agents then skeptically asked, “No?” The defendant responded: “No, not on, no not the Trump [campaign], but I will tell you something and – and this is . . . actually very good that we’re, that you just brought this up because I wasn’t working with Trump at the time[.] I was working in London . . . with that guy [the Professor].” Only then, after acknowledging that the agents had “brought this up” and lying about when he received the information, did the defendant admit that the Professor had told him “the Russians had emails of Clinton.”

February 1, 2017

On February 1, the FBI agent called Papadopoulos directly to set up a meeting at George’s Ice Cream & Sweets shop for another interview (the call was recorded in a 302).

The substantive 302 makes it clear that, in the previous one, Papadopoulos had agreed to help the FBI, because he “stated that he wished to hear more about how he could potentially help the FBI.” The agent explained that he wanted Papadopoulos’ cooperation “specifically in an attempt to obtain further information about his London-based contact, JOSEPH MIFSUD.” Papadopoulos revealed what he had learned from Googling Mifsud subsequent to his first interview. He revealed that Mifsud was “an associate of a Russian discussion club of some sort” — a reference to the Valdai Discussion Club, which Mifsud had attended between the time he first met Papadopoulos and started cultivating him in London.

It’s clear that Papadopoulos had provided more information about Olga Polonskaya (possibly her email), because the agent asked about her, and Papadopoulos explained he was first introduced as one of Mifsud’s students (which was true), but then Nagi Idris told him she was Putin’s niece.

The agent also asked Papadopoulos whether he had ever met the Russian Ambassador, which he had told Source 3 he had the previous October. Papadopoulos said he had not met any Russian government officials, the meeting with the Ambassador never happened.

The agent asked Papadopoulos (who, remember, said he learned about the emails before he joined the campaign) if he had told the campaign about the emails. He responded by saying he had raised Mifsud’s name, though appears to have dodged whether he raised the emails.

Papadopoulos told the FBI that Mifsud had recently reached out and would be in DC in February, and also offered to go meet with him in the UK.

Papadopoulos was asked about Millian; his responses appear defensive, affirmatively raising both whether Millian knew about the emails and his role in the dossier.

The agent then told Papadopoulos he may have been recruited and asked if there was anyone else who might be doing so.

The agent then asked Papadopoulos if he still wanted the FBI to analyze his phone for malware; Papadopoulos said he had replaced it, but would still like to have the FBI analyze his old phone (nothing in the record suggests that happened, and the statement of the offense reveals he got a new phone on February 23, so it’s possible he just decided he didn’t want to hand over the phone and afterwards got a new one).

Papadopoulos said he wanted to speak to an attorney before committing to help the FBI, said he did not yet have one, but would be getting one the following day.

Note: From this interview, I can understand why Republicans think Papadopoulos got a bad deal, because he clearly kept saying he wanted to cooperate.

February 2, 2017

As he said he would do, the agent tried to call Papadopoulos the next day, only to find his voicemail box was full. Instead, he texted Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos said he had discussed the matter with a lawyer and had been advised not to engage any longer.

I truly feel proud that was able to do my part to assist with everything I know but as you saw yesterday there was nothing else to add and we had a nice coffee but nothing of substance.

[snip]

You guys are professionals and am sure you can deal with that person if he truly is a threat. Can’t help anymore than I have. If there is something directly related to me then that’s another matter.

The agent said he had one more thing to clear up, asked to talk to Papadopoulos, they agreed to meet at 6:30 PM, then Papadopoulos called back and said he had spoken with an attorney who told him not to go, but offered to meet Monday in the Chicago Field Office.

In spite of repeated questioning, Papadopoulos did not offer up the name of the attorney he had consulted (nor did they meet the following Monday, which would have been February 6). That’s significant, because in his Congressional testimony, Papadopoulos revealed that he had called Marc Kasowitz — at a time when he was representing Trump — and asked him if he wanted to represent him (meaning, this happened before he had an attorney).

Q And you didn’t talk to anyone from the Trump organization about that interview with the FBI?

A I don’t think I did, no. Q So you were interviewed again by the FBI — A I can’t remember if I reached out to Marc Kasowitz about either that or my subpoena from the Senate. And I emailed him and I said, Look, would you be interested in representing me? I think that’s what happened. But I don’t — I can’t remember exactly why I emailed him, but I think I emailed Marc Kasowitz’ firm sometimes after the interview, but I don’t remember if he ever responded or anything like that.

[snip]

Q Right, right, right. So when you sent this email, would it have been after the first FBI interview, but before the second one, or –

A I think it would be after I was done with my initial contacts with the FBI.

It’s certainly possible that Papadopoulos just consulted a friend who was an attorney (who wisely told him to stop meeting with the FBI without representation). But it is possible that the President’s then-defense attorney told him to stop meeting with the FBI.

February 10, 2017

The date of interview recorded on the second 302 is February 10, 2017. But both Papadopoulos’ arrest affidavit and his statement of offense say the interview happened on February 16. That’s actually a fairly significant discrepancy because, per the Mueller Report, the FBI interviewed Mifsud on February 10, and one argument they made to substantiate that his lies were material were that those lies prevented them from pinning down Mifsud on his lies. It appears the February 10 date is correct, but that FBI treated a call (also with his counsel) on February 16, as the interview in question.

In any case, this is Papadopoulos’ first interview represented by counsel. The government has said that Papadopoulos repeated the same lies he told on January 27, and it’s clear he did. He said Mifsud wanted to impress him because he “had recently come off his advisory position for the BEN CARSON campaign.” Papadopoulos misrepresented how he got hired by Sam Clovis, suggesting there was a time between when they spoke and his hiring, when it happened on the same call; in the interview Papadopoulos said happened in person in London, though it happened by phone. Papadopoulos describes the emails coming up during a discussion about Hillary’s campaign, not Trump’s. He left out that Mifsud said the Russians planned to anonymous leak the emails. Papadopoulos twice falsely said he hadn’t told any foreign government officials that Russia planned to disclose information (in addition to Australia, he told a Greek official).

This 302 seems to reflect the FBI agents cueing Papadopoulos to tell them about telling someone at a nightclub about emails, which he said he had not; it makes me wonder if he said that to Source 3 in one of their interviews after the election (which, if so, would make the IG Report’s silence on the topic really suspect), or whether — as many people suspect — he said that to Erica Thompson at a dinner party, then repeated it again to her and Downer when they had drinks.

February 16, 2017

On February 16, the Assistant General Counsel for FBI’s Cyber Law Branch called and set up a phone interview to try to clarify the timing of the conversation with Mifsud, explaining that resolving some inconsistencies in his story was time sensitive. The 302 is heavily redacted, but it’s clear that Papadopoulos refused to be pinned down on timing — it even seems like FBI had figured out that it had occurred at his breakfast meeting with Mifsud, but Papadopoulos couldn’t recall whether it had happened then.

Papadopoulos then dug in on a story that tried to claim these emails couldn’t be the ones stolen from the DNC, first reiterating that “he did not believe MIFSUD’s claims that the Russians had HILLARY CLINTON’s e-mails” (a claim utterly inconsistent with having told others about it), and then suggesting that the emails might be Hillary’s deleted emails.  This passage — and its heavy redaction — is particularly interesting, because it appears to be the first time Papadopoulos told this story, and it’s the story he has since settled on, but it appears that he only told it after the FBI asked him about the comments three times.

This interview appears to be the first time the FBI asked Papadopoulos not to speak to the media, which he agreed to do.

July 27, 2017

The next interview report documents his arrest at Dulles on July 27, 2017. While this was not an interview — indeed, arresting agents had to tell Papadopoulos several times to shut up because he didn’t have his attorney present — Papadopoulos did offer up some lame excuses that seem to indicate he knew he hadn’t told the full truth:

[H]e was only able to provide the information that he remembered, PAPADOPOULOS then stated that if he had forgotten something, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s lying.

[snip]

[Papadopoulos] then added that he was only twenty-eight years old when he was thrust into the national spotlight with all this.

[snip]

PAPADOPOULOS stated that he didn’t understand why he was in the current situation that he was, when both FLYNN and MANAFORT are not.

[snip]

At one point while PAPADOPOULOS was waiting in the booking room he expressed concern with the fact that he was just a small fish and yet he was going to look like the fall guy for this investigation.

Papadopoulos appears to have asked to call a second attorney, in addition to his own, who by the length of last name could be Jay Sekulow, which would be consistent with him having reached out to Kasowitz earlier in this process.

Papadopoulos also repeatedly said he had told the whole story in a statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is interesting given that this would have taken place when Jared Kushner and Michael Cohen were writing statements for Committee testimony as a way to script and coordinate stories. That would make it all the more interesting if Papadopoulos did mention Sekulow, because Sekulow was the one coordinating all these statements.

After he turned into a MAGA star, Papadopoulos would suggest the FBI bullied him during his arrest. According to the 302, he thanked them for their kindness.

At approximately 10:40 PM PAPADOPOULOS was provided with coffee and water and PAPADOPOULOS thanked the agents for treating him very well.

July 28, 2017

The day after he was arrested, Papadopoulos needed help getting home because he had had his passports confiscated and had not replaced his driver’s license after he had recently lost his wallet, so the agents drove him to the airport and made sure he could get on a plane.

Agents then provided PAPADOPOULOS with his attorney’s telephone number and a granola bar for his travel back to Chicago.

August 10, 2017

In his first interview after being charged, Papadopoulos told a very clear story of the chronology of working for Carson, then interviewing with Clovis and being hired that same call, then traveling to Rome where he met Mifsud, all details he had claimed to not remember previously. He explained how Olga offered to connect him with people in Russia. He described both Trump and Jeff Sessions responding to his offer to try to set up a meeting with Putin enthusiastically. He described Mifsud introducing him to Ivan Timofeev, something he had not disclosed previously (but which would have been apparent once FBI accessed his Facebook account). Papadopoulos still claimed, at this point, not to have told anyone about the Russians having dirt on Hillary.

August 11, 2017

Though heavily redacted, this 302 appears to parallel the August 10 one, getting the timeline of meeting Mifsud correct, describing Trump and Sessions’ enthusiasm for a Putin meeting,

It describes Papadopoulos remembering, then backing off a memory of discussing the emails with Clovis.

PAPADOPOULOS stated to the best of his recollection he remembered CLOVIS being upset after PAPADOPOULOS said, “Sam, I think they have her emails.” PAPADOPOULOS then reiterated he was not certain if that event actually happened or if he was wrongfully remembering an event which did not occur.

September 19, 2017

This interview, his most substantive, is almost entirely redacted. From what’s unredacted, it’s clear Papadopoulos was withholding information until shown the evidence of something via communication records. For example, he admitted to an April 12 meeting that did not appear elsewhere. He was prodded to describe a Skype conversation with Timofeev. Papadopoulos needed to be “specifically asked,” before he admitted he told the Greek Foreign Minister about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton, too.

This interview included questions about the Transatlantic Group that he attended with Walid Phares and Sam Clovis, during which Papadopoulos discussed a September 2016 meeting with Putin’s office in London. Papadopoulos refused to walk the FBI through his notes on this planned meeting.

PAPADOPOULOS then stated he could not read his own handwriting and, therefore he could not assist the interviewers with further identifying what his notes referenced.

September 20, 2017

Papadopoulos had one more interview during the pre-plea period, which was memorialized in a 4-page 302. But that was not included in yesterday’s dump. That interview covered:

  • How the campaign supported his efforts to set up a meeting with Putin.
  • Details about how he used his journal.
  • What he told others on the campaign about the Hillary dirt, possibly including the Sam Clovis reference.
  • What an email Sergei Millian sent him on August 23, 2016, offering a disruptive technology that might help his political work, meant.

October 5, 31, 2017

Papadopolous pled guilty on October 5, 2017. A 302 describes how Papadopoulos got the card of the FBI agent to talk to him about a problem he had had with his email account. The next day Papadopoulos explained what the problem was, and the agent told him to change his password and make sure forwarding was not on.

On October 28, the agent asked Papadopoulos whether the media or anyone from the Trump campaign had tried to contact him. Papadopoulos said neither had, and agreed to let the FBI know if that happened. After news of his plea broke on October 31, the FBI agent contacted Papadopoulos again, to find out whether he made any contact. Papadopoulos said he didn’t think the media has his phone number.

November 7, 2017

The agent called Papadopoulos to ask about media reports on people in the campaign that conflicted with his own testimony. Papadopoulos explained he had seenreports that Sessions had shut down his efforts to arrange a Trump Putin meeting. Papadopoulos said he “would stick to his original story,” (which is what he did earlier than year on telling anyone about emails). Papadopoulos said he wouldn’t have continued his efforts if Sessions hadn’t approved.

Papadopoulos disputed Bannon’s claims never to have met with Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos “remembered specifically coordinating with BANNON when he was arranging the meeting between TRUMP and the Egyptian president.” (Bannon would distance himself from Papadopoulos in his second interview with the FBI, saying that Mike Flynn handled all this.)

Papadopoulos responded to reading the first five pages of Carter Page’s HPSCI transcript by describing a call, possibly in late March, where Page told Papadopoulos to “stop showing off,” possibly because Papadopoulos was trying to broker a Russia meeting.

December 2017

Per the sentencing memorandum, the government reached out to set up a meeting in late December, but after learning that Papadopoulos had cooperated in a NYT interview, canceled the interview.

the government arranged to meet again with the defendant to ask further questions in late December 2017. However, upon learning that the defendant had participated in a media interview with a national publication concerning his case, the government canceled that meeting.

There may or may not be a 302 pertaining to this.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Before and continuing into the holiday break, I wrote a slew of posts on the DOJ IG Carter Page Report. Those are:

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

The IG Report made nine recommendations, which FBI largely accepted with implementing plans. Those recommendations focus on the paperwork side of FISA applications and the protections against purported politicization. Most of those recommendations (save, especially, the one suggesting Bruce Ohr be punished for sharing national security threat information) are worthwhile. But they are inadequate to ensuring similar problems don’t recur. Moreover, there are questions that should be asked even before we get to “fixing” FISA.

This post attempts to ask some of those questions.

What should FBI have done when faced with a credible allegation Trump’s associates had advance knowledge of a hostile attack on our elections?

This is a question I’ve asked over and over of Republicans, but I’ve never got an answer.

Three of four people who were original subjects of this investigation covered up their actions. There are outstanding questions about all four and there were ongoing investigations into at least Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn when Mueller closed up shop. And a fifth Trump associate — Roger Stone — was found guilty of hiding details of how he tried to optimize the fruits of the Russian attack, without yet revealing what it is that he was hiding. So there’s no question the investigation was merited.

So what should the FBI have done when it got the tip from Australia? The IG Report raises questions about whether FBI should provide defensive briefings in this situation, but not how to conduct an investigation at a time when our country and elections are under active threat.

In retrospect, was the decision not to use other legal process the best one?

Peter Strzok famously lost a fight to investigate more aggressively, the true meaning of his “insurance file” comment. As a result, the FBI did not use any overt methods during the election.

Significantly, that means they didn’t get call records that would have provided a ready explanation for how Papadopoulos had learned Russia wanted to dump emails (particularly in conjunction with what he told CHS 3 about Mifsud). Doing so might have confirmed Carter Page’s claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails. And it would have identified that Konstantin Kilimnik (who could be targeted under 702) had a suspicious record of communications with Manafort.

Rather unbelievably, FBI may not have asked Apple or Google for Carter Page’s app download history, which is how they usually find out if someone is using encrypted messaging apps (they did not learn what he was using until April 2017).

Particularly given all the chatter about the subjects of investigation, and given that three of them — Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos — were “fired” from their free campaign jobs because of their ties to Russia, was that really the right decision? And given how successful FBI is at obtaining gags on legal process, was using FISA with Page really that much less invasive or was FISA used simply because his sustained ties to Russian intelligence officers meant FISA was the appropriate framework?

Why did FBI forgo a Section 215 order on Page?

Nothing in the public record suggests FBI got a Section 215 order before they obtained traditional FISA (including physical search) against Page. That’s true, even though the predication for 215 is lower (just talking to an agent of a foreign power, which Page had long been doing, is enough). This would have been a way to obtain the call records and download history that might have indicated that Papadopoulos was a more urgent target than Page, lessening the urgency to get a FISA targeting Page. If FBI in fact did not obtain that 215 order before the content order (once he was approved for the content order, the 215 order would have been presumptively approved), why not, and should they have? Past IG Reports have said the process of applying for a 215 is onerous enough that Agents often forgo it; is that what happened here?

Does the public agree with the FBI about the intrusiveness of informants?

One of the disconcerting aspects of the IG Report is its treatment of informants (Confidential Human Sources, or CHS, in the report). It spends a long time assessing whether the use of informants against Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos had the requisite oversight, ultimately concluding FBI followed the rules but the rules for politically exposed people should be more stringent.

Along the way, it revealed that the FBI:

  • Happened to have an informant on the books (Stefan Halper) with existing ties to three of the subjects of the investigation
  • Managed to convince someone Papadopoulos trusted (CHS 3) to report on him and used an accelerated process to open him or her as an informant, and tried but failed to get at least two other people to report on him
  • Had five other people in Trump’s orbit who were informants (Felix Sater might be one of these)
  • Accepted information obtained voluntarily from one of those informants
  • Had used informants to targeted the Clinton Foundation during the election period and at least some of those informants were handled by an Agent who wanted her to lose

That’s probably on top of Patrick Byrne, if indeed his claims to have been tasked against Clinton and Maria Butina in 2016 are true.

That’s a lot of informants situated to report on very powerful people.

Trump’s supporters have declared all this proof that they were “spied” on (ignoring the targeting against Hillary). Meanwhile, the FBI has pointed out that they more than complied with FBI’s rules on using informants, though there was less discussion in the IG Report about the fact that per its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, FBI could have used these informants at lower levels of predication. Before the IG Report recommended rules about heightened review (much of which would have been satisfied in this case anyway), we might ask whether we, as the public, agree that the use of informants is really as unintrusive as FBI thinks. And does it involve tradeoffs as compared to other methods? For example, which would have been preferable, getting Papadopoulos’ call records (which would have shown his ties to Mifsud), or throwing a series of informants at him?

Is the consideration of least intrusive means adequately reviewed?

The DIOG requires that FBI agents at least consider whether the “least intrusive” means of investigation will be an appropriate investigative step. The IG Report reviews this requirement, which is meant to ensure FBI agents balance privacy considerations with the import of the investigation, but never comments on whether the review here was correct. Moreover, it seems that there’s a rule that lowers this consideration significantly when a matter is deemed to pertain to national security (as this would have been).

I’ve long wondered whether FISA process in general gets adequate review on whether it’s really the correct least intrusive means judgment.

Is the FBI Director declaration regarding other investigative techniques adequately reviewed?

FISA requires that the FBI Director or his designee certify that the information the FISA application wants to obtain, “cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques.” The IG Report notes this, largely because that’s what Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe reviewed the Page applications for, not probable cause. But it did not discuss how this determination is made, and I would bet a lot of money that this is an area where FISA could use more review.

Particularly given the use of gags in so much criminal process and the widespread availability of fairly exotic surveillance techniques, what is the measure for this declaration?

Does FBI conduct certain investigative techniques using FISA to keep them secret?

I noted that the FBI was close to concluding they didn’t need another FISA on Carter Page, but then learned he had used some encrypted app, and so got another FISA. This supports my suspicion that the FBI will use certain surveillance techniques under cover of FISA they otherwise would eschew just to keep it secret. There may be good reason for that (indeed, it might ensure that the most exotic surveillance only gets used with much closer District Court judge review than magistrates normally give warrant applications), but it would also skew the incentives for using FISA. While policy makers may not need to know what those techniques are, they deserve to know if FISA makes certain otherwise unavailable techniques available.

Why do we need FISA?

I don’t mean to be glib. Since the IG Report came out, a lot of people who’ve used it have said we need to preserve this ability. But they’re not explaining why. That’s a two-fold question. First, why does FBI need a different probable cause standard for foreign intelligence (the likely and noncontroversial answer is, spying on a lot of people, including diplomats, who haven’t committed an obvious crime). But the other question is, why can’t that level of secrecy and court review be accomplished at normal district courts? In the wake of 9/11, most courts (especially most courts that will regularly have FISA cases, like DC, NY, VA, and CA) have sophisticated court security procedures that would seem to accomplish much of what FISA was originally intended for. Having normal district judges — even if only a subset of them — review FISA applications might inject more viewpoints onto the Fourth Amendment review. Furthermore, it would ensure that more judges reviewing such applications are also seeing the kinds of criminal cases that might arise from them (something that I’ve argued was useful with Michael Mosman, who ironically was the judge that approved Page’s second FISA application).

In recent years, the FBI has devolved its FISA process to its field offices; why can’t that happen in the courts, as well?

Is relationship between lawyers and FBI agents on FISA too attenuated?

The explanation the IG Report used for blaming the FBI agents for all the missing information in FISA applications stems from the more attenuated involvement of National Security Division lawyers (Office of Intelligence, or OI here) in warrant applications than happens in traditional criminal investigations.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if 01 received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

From that the IG Report decides that the problems in the Page applications arose through sloppiness or worse from the agents. But perhaps this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Perhaps, instead, the problems arose from OI lawyers having less ownership of what happens downstream from a FISA application than normal prosecutors would have, meaning they’re outsourcing more decision-making about relevance to agents whose motivations are at odds with that kind of decision-making. In other words, the remedy for this may not be instituting more checklists (which is what DOJ IG recommended and FBI has committed to), but changing the relationship between OI lawyers and the FBI agents applying for FISA?

Is there any legitimate reason to withhold review from defendants?

When Congress passed FISA, it envisioned that at least some defendants would review their FISA applications, but that hasn’t happened, at all. In the interim, the “wall” between FISA and criminal prosecutions has come down, making it more likely that FISA collection will end up as part of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, former NSD AAG David Kris suggests defendants should get review, which would mean that agents would know that any given FISA application might get shared with a defendant if it turned into a criminal case. At the very least, it seems that FBI and NSD should explain to Congress why they shouldn’t be asked to do this.

One of the problems may be with the definition of “aggrieved” under FISA. That includes both the target and those subject to collection under a FISA order. For example, Carter Page would have been aggrieved in Victor Podobnyy’s FISA order (which is probably where the reports that he had been collected under FISA in the past came from), and Mike Flynn would have been aggrieved under a FISA application targeted at Sergey Kislyak. Normally, only the target of a criminal warrant would get to challenge it. Effectively, one way the government is likely using FISA is to find out what Americans are talking to suspected spies, so the FBI would not want to reveal that use. (Though one of the problems likely arises from how the government defines “facilities” that can be targeted, because they don’t have to be owned by the person being targeted.)

Perhaps, then, one way to extend review to the actual defendants who were the targets of FISA surveillance would be to change the definition of aggrieved party, but along the way to change how searches on already collected FISA data are conducted.

What are the boundaries between FISA’s agent of a foreign power, 18 USC 951’s Agent of a Foreign Power, and FARA?

As I noted, the entire DOJ IG Report may suffer from a misunderstanding about what crime(s) FBI was targeting. Until 11 days after the report was released, it appeared to believe that Trump’s aides were only being investigated for FARA, which is basically unregistered political influence peddling. That appears to have been true, but it’s almost certainly not true of Page, against whom there was already an investigation into his willingness to share non-public economic information Russia’s spies ask for. If that’s true that the entirety of the First Amendment analysis in the report is superfluous, because Page — the only Trump aide targeted under FISA — had already met the standards for targeting under the First Amendment before FBI turned to his political speech in August 2016. That is, because Page was already being investigated for sharing non-political stuff with Russian spies , there should never have been a First Amendment question.

Particularly given the different status of FARA in 1978 when FISA was passed, its virtual lapse for years, followed by a recent focus on it in recent years (at a time when there are fewer protections against foreign influence peddling). it seems vitally important for Congress to demand an understanding of how these three statutory regimes intersect, and — hopefully — provide some clarity on it for everyone else.

Update: Added the question about various Foreign Agent designations.