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All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

The Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee went on a four tweet rant yesterday, complaining that the FBI is conducting an investigation into the suspected large-scale theft of highly-classified materials.

The House Minority Leader used the instance of a lawfully executed warrant in support of a national security investigation to call for an investigation not into the man suspected of stealing code word documents, but instead, of Attorney General Merrick Garland for authorizing this investigation into a classified breach.

The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Turner, more appropriately asked for a briefing, but even after admitting he hadn’t had one yet and claiming (dubiously) that he didn’t know of the suspected massive theft of highly classified information, scoffed at the seriousness that such a large-scale compromise of classified information might cause.

Mitch McConnell weighed in, belatedly, to demand transparency about an investigation into stolen secrets.

The country deserves a thorough and immediate explanation of what led to the events of Monday. Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice should already have provided answers to the American people and must do so immediately

These men are all entrusted with the protection of Americans intelligence secrets. But when faced with a choice of putting party or America’s security first, they immediately rushed to protect their party, even while admitting they don’t know the facts of the underlying investigation.

And in spite of the fact that these men have all engaged in minimizing the large-scale compromise of classified information with their rants, virtually every press outlet has reported their comments as more horse race journalism, one side against the other, as if top Republicans attacking the FBI for trying to protect classified secrets is not itself newsworthy.

The lazy-ass press couldn’t even be bothered to show how all these men, especially Marco Rubio, made wildly inconsistent statements when Jim Comey or Hillary Clinton were suspected of mishandling far less sensitive intelligence. Nor did the press bother asking these men about the destruction of DHS (including Secret Service) and DOD records that Congress itself had already asked for before magnifying their comments.

They just let these men turn this into a partisan fight rather than a serious legal investigation, all for free!

Update, 8/10PM: Included Mitch McConnell’s statement.

Hillary’s Candidate Briefing Was More Contentious than Mike Flynn’s

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page revealed that FBI Agent Joe Pientka was selected as the FBI counterintelligence briefer for both Presidential candidates in 2016 in part to give him familiarity with Mike Flynn, shortly after the former DIA head became one subject in the UNSUB investigation into how the Trump campaign got advance notice of the Russian election operation.

The FBI selected SSA 1, the supervisor for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, to provide the FBI security briefings for Trump and Clinton. 478 SSA 1 told us that one of the reasons for his selection was that ODNI had informed the FBI that one of the two Trump campaign advisors attending the August 17 briefing would be Flynn. He further stated that the briefing provided him “the opportunity to gain assessment and possibly have some level of familiarity with [Flynn]. So, should we get to the point where we need to do a subject interview … I would have that to fall back on.”

Since then, Republicans have never stopped wailing about how badly Flynn was treated in this briefing — never mentioning that Flynn was secretly working for Turkey when he sat in on this briefing, meaning FBI should have scrutinized him more closely than they did.

The CIA just released the latest chapter of its running history of Presidential briefing, the one covering Trump. (h/t Micah Zenko)

It provides accounts of the candidate briefings given to both Trump and Hillary. Its account of the first Trump one makes no specific mention of Pientka’s investigative role. Nor does it mention that at the time Flynn was asking “tactical” questions about the Middle East, he was on Turkey’s payroll.

Trump was accompanied by two advisors, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn. The briefing team, led by Gistaro, included six of the substantive experts and a colleague from the ODNI Transition Team who was available to record and take follow-up action related to any questions that might arise and not be answered on the spot.

Gistaro led off with a substantive overview of the highest priority issues the IC was following, then turned to his colleagues to elaborate on developments in their areas of specialization. They briefed on terrorism, cyber security, counterterrorism, ISIS, the civil war in Syria, the security situation in Iraq, and the Iranian nuclear program. Gistaro recalled that he was careful to watch the clock and intervene as necessary so that the briefers each had an opportunity to say their piece but did not run over their allotted time. Nevertheless, the briefing went on for two and a half hours, longer than scheduled, and even then could not cover all the planned subjects. It was agreed that a second session was necessary.

In this first session, Trump was primarily a listener. He did ask some “big picture” questions, reflecting the fact that the material was new to him. Because several of the issues related to matters Flynn had dealt with in the military, he was the most active questioner. In Gistaro’s words, “He was on his home turf.” Most of Flynn’s questions were on the Middle East and were quite tactical. However, a few of his questions, especially on Iran, raised policy issues and had to be turned aside for referral, if he wished, to the national security advisor. Trump’s verdict on the session was a “thumbs-up” to IC officers as he departed. Christie later described the briefing as outstanding.

Here’s the FBI summary of that briefing, which focused primarily on questions about Russia, not Turkey, which might have been really useful once FBI discovered that Flynn was secretly on their payroll.

The history separates its account of the second briefing from claims Trump made about the briefing days later in a town hall by several pages.

Trump received a second preelection briefing roughly two weeks later, on 2 September, also at the FBI office in Manhattan. Again, Trump was accompanied by Christie and Flynn. This one-and-a-half-hour briefing rounded out the agreed list of topics, focusing on cyber security, Russia, China, and North Korea. On this occasion, Trump had numerous questions, some of which raised policy issues. Most, however, reflected his interest in financial and trade matters and in press reports about Russia’s reported interference in the US election campaign.

At the briefing of 2 September, Trump told the briefers that he valued the first session in August and their expertise. They were surprised when he assured them that “the nasty things he was saying” publicly about the Intelligence Community “don’t apply to you.” Afterward, Flynn complimented the briefers in remarks to the press.

[snip]

[O]fficials were anxious to see what issues related to intelligence would arise during the debates in 2016, including whether the candidates would make direct or indirect reference to information they had received in their preelection briefings. This anxiousness was reinforced before the formal candidate debates during a quasi debate on 7 September, when Trump and Clinton were questioned, separately, by NBC newsman Matt Lauer. On this occasion, Trump made reference to intelligence briefers’ “body language” in suggesting that they were “not happy” with policies of the Obama administration. These comments caused outrage in the following days among news commentators and former intelligence officers and prompted reporters to dig for information about what had transpired during Trump’s briefings.

Thus, unlike with some other instances, this account doesn’t make clear whether Trump was lying outright about his public comment. Notably, too, this account makes no mention of Flynn’s own role in lying about the briefing, which seems remarkable given the comment about his compliment to the briefers.

Given how the history soft-pedals these issues, it makes the description of the single Hillary briefing all the more jarring.

Clinton, although feeling under the weather and unavoidably delayed 20 minutes, joined the briefers in a small secure room (SCIF, in intelligence argot) at the FBI field office in White Plains, New York, on 27 August. Given all that Clinton was going through related to her handling of personal emails during the campaign, Gistaro regretted that the first question the security officer asked Clinton as she approached the room was whether she had any cell phones with her. The Secretary very professionally assured the questioner that she had left her cell phones at home

Hillary, of course, had been cleared of misconduct before that August 27 briefing, and was well-versed in the use of SCIFs. Yet she was treated by the security officer as a suspect.

Whereas Mike Flynn, who was quite literally working for a frenemy government during both of these classified briefings, and under investigation for suspect ties to Russia, was nevertheless freely served up answers to all the tactical questions he posed.

The Frothy Right Embraces CIA’s Unmasking the Identities of Political Candidates

I was going to wait to address the frothy right’s latest attempt to gaslight an election year scandal by recycling Russian intelligence — which might well be disinformation — in an attempt to suggest that Hillary Clinton, in all-powerful fashion, managed to drum up not just the entire Russian investigation into Donald Trump, but also went back in time and planted the evidence dating back months and years that substantiated investigative concerns.

But there’s something so fundamentally stupid about this latest effort I can’t wait to lay out the other reasons this report is actually more damning for Republicans.

At issue is a report from John Ratcliffe, sent on September 29, 2020, explaining that,

In late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The IC does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.

The following week, presumably in an attempt to dredge up some kind of attack out of an absurd attack, Ratcliffe released the underlying reports that, he claimed in his original report, show the following:

According to his handwritten notes, former Central Intelligence Agency Director Brennan subsequently briefed President Obama and other senior national security officials on the intelligence, including the “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.”

On 07 September 2016, U.S. intelligence officials forward an investigative referral to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok regarding “U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private mail server.”

By releasing the exhibits, Ratcliffe should raise real questions about his credibility. For example, I’m not at all sure this date, from Brennan’s notes, reads July 26 and not July 28, a critical difference for a ton of reasons.

The FBI report has a slew of boilerplate making it clear how sensitive this report was (for obvious reasons; effectively it shows that the CIA had some kind of visibility into Russian intelligence analysis), which makes it clear how utterly unprecedented this desperate declassification is. Former CIA lawyer Brian Greer discusses that in this Lawfare post.

Plus, Ratcliffe left out an unbelievably important part of the report: the role of Guccifer 2.0 in the Russian report. Intelligence collected in late July 2016 claimed that Hillary was going to work her alleged smear around neither the GRU (which had already been identified as the perpetrator of the DNC hack) nor WikiLeaks (which had released the DNC files, to overt celebration by the Trump campaign), but Guccifer 2.0, who looked to be a minor cut-out in late July 2016 (when this intelligence was collected), but who looked a lot more important once Roger Stone’s overt and covert communications with Guccifer 2.0 became public weeks later.

The report suggests Hillary magically predicted that days after this plot, President Trump’s rat-fucker would start a year’s long campaign running interference for Guccifer 2.0. Not only did Hillary successfully go back and trick George Papadopoulos into drunkenly bragging about Russian dangles in May 2016, then, Hillary also instantaneously tricked Stone into writing propaganda for Guccifer 2.0 days later.

No wonder they consider Hillary so devious.

Mind you, rather than producing evidence that Hillary seeded this story with the FBI (when her public attacks on Trump went right after the Russian intelligence services involved), they appear to be claiming that Hillary used the Steele dossier — which included no reporting on Guccifer 2.0, which was a very early sign of its problems — to plant a story that centered on Guccifer 2.0.

Next up, they’re going to accuse Hillary of going back in time and planting the extensive forensics that prove that the Guccifer 2.0 persona was a GRU operation.

Lucky for them, stupid stories work just fine for gaslighting the weak-minded frothers.

But here’s the craziest aspect of all of this.

The FBI report released here, dated September 7, describes three pieces of intelligence that a CIA fusion cell had collected that might be useful for the Crossfire Hurricane team. a, b, c.

The intelligence on Hillary is paragraph a.

This is CIA intelligence reporting on an American citizen, which means the original report would have necessarily masked the US person, which John Brennan would have had to unmask before reporting it at the White House meeting.

For the set of documents Ratcliffe released to exist, it would mean that John Brennan unmasked candidate the identity of Hillary Clinton, right in the middle of a presidential campaign, and shared raw intelligence incorporating that unmasked identity with others. For the Hillary intelligence to appear as paragraph a would mean she was likely the first American CIA unmasked in reporting that got shared as part of Crossfire Hurricane.

The people chasing this gaslight are some of the same people who continue to wail that — four months later — a bunch of people unmasked a report on Mike Flynn that was not, given what we can see from the closing documents in the case, shared with the Crossfire Hurricane team. For example, Andy McCarthy has written about unmasking over and over and over. Yet here he is, hopping on this latest gaslight, with nary a mention that after all this time, it looks like Hillary was the first person — the Presidential candidate herself!!! — to have her identity unmasked by the nefarious Crossfire Hurricane team.

Trump Puts his Rasputin Guy, Michael Caputo, at Department of Health and Human Services During a Pandemic

As Politico reported yesterday, in a bid to marginalize Alex Azar (who has been largely silenced in the middle of a pandemic since Rod Rosenstein’s sister Nancy Messonier told the truth in public), Trump has made Michael Caputo the spokesperson at Department of Health and Human Services.

The move is interesting for several reasons. It suggests the White House believes the way to control a Senate-confirmed cabinet member is to hire a spokesperson for that person, not to replace him or work out problems with him.

The move is designed to assert more White House control over Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whom officials believe has been behind recent critical reports about President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to two officials with knowledge of the move.

That, in turn, suggests that in the middle of a pandemic, Trump’s White House is treating HHS as a PR shop, not a functional agency.

But the far more interesting aspect of this hire is that, as recently as February 3, Bill Barr’s DOJ claimed in FOIA exemptions on Caputo’s FBI interview report that it was conducting an ongoing investigation into something Caputo did during the 2016 election — possibly with Roger Stone — called Project Rasputin. What Project Rasputin was is redacted in the 302. But whatever it was is closely enough connected with his and Stone’s willingness to take a meeting with a Russian selling dirt on Hillary Clinton that Caputo told Mueller’s team that, “‘Project Rasputin’ was mutually exclusive from anything having to do with” the guy selling that dirt.

Of course, on precisely the same day that Bill Barr’s DOJ released materials indicating it was still investigating something called Project Rasputin that Caputo had been involved in, Barr replaced then DC US Attorney Jesse Liu, who had permitted the Roger Stone investigation and prosecution to proceed unmolested by the kind of unprecedented interference that Barr would engage in just days later. Which raises questions about whether Trump doesn’t care that his own DOJ was still investigating something Caputo did in 2016, or whether Barr saw to it that investigation ended, making Caputo hirable for the first time in Trump’s Administration.

When I asked Caputo what Project Rasputin was, he simply responded by tweeting a picture of the charlatan advisor to a czar, a picture he has since deleted (along with a bunch of other Tweets he purged before taking this position).

Ah well. I’m glad that Trump’s desperation to stop Azar from telling the truth about how the President ignored sound medical advice in favor of conspiracy theories will provide yet another pressing reason to ask Reggie Walton to fully declassify the 302s describing this project.

Kavanaugh’s Tell: “Revenge on Behalf of the Clintons,” Plural

There’s a part of Brett Kavanaugh’s bombastic statement Thursday that has stuck with me, because it reveals the foundational logic of his statement — indeed, his entire candidacy for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

After complaining about how the nomination has destroyed his family, he accuses a shady, largely fictional, mirror image of the Right Wing Noise Machine of seeking revenge.

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions, from serving our country.

The guy who insisted that–

I am strongly opposed to giving the President any ‘break’ in the questioning regarding the details of the Lewinsky relationship — unless before questioning on Monday, he either (i) resigns or (ii) confesses perjury and issues a public apology to [sexual assault cover-up expert Ken Starr].

That guy thinks the scrutiny of his own sexual past is just “revenge on behalf of the Clintons,” plural. Not just Hillary for — as he explicitly mentions — “President Trump and the 2016 election.” But also Bill Clinton, the man whom Kavanaugh demanded describe details of his use of sex toys and enjoyment of blowjobs under oath, and perhaps even Chelsea, the young girl who had to watch her parents be humiliated before the entire nation.

In spite of Kavanaugh’s suggestion that this imagined campaign would have consequences for decades, his admission that it might be revenge means it must be revenge for something. For something done to the Clintons. Hillary. And Bill.

For a guy who is unashamed about using stolen emails, the notion that he considers this revenge for Hillary is troubling enough. If this is revenge, it is revenge for Hillary being wronged during the 2016 election, and a big part of that wrong was using stolen emails. And Kavanaugh is no more embarrassed about using stolen emails than the guy who appointed him.

Kavanaugh suggests, in the same breath, that Hillary was wronged, but that denying him a seat on the Supreme Court, even for behavior that resembles that wrong, would be an outrage, even if his nomination was due entirely to the fact that she was wronged.

Brett Kavanaugh is not going to quit, no matter if his entire nomination is illegitimate because Hillary was wronged.

Perhaps more plausibly, Kavanaugh’s use of the plural, “Clintons,” suggests he thinks this is revenge for his own actions 20 years ago, his own demand that a man and his family be publicly humiliated.

But, again, if this is revenge, it suggests what happened to Clinton — the insistence that Bill confess under oath to Kavanaugh about cumming into Monica’s mouth — was itself wrong.

And once again, Brett Kavanaugh, the guy whose career was launched by demanding to hear the sordid details of sex under oath, does not care. Kavanaugh does not care that (as David Brock laid out early in this process) he himself “set a perjury trap for Clinton, laying the foundation for a crazed national political crisis and an unjust impeachment over a consensual affair.” He may recognize this as revenge and in so doing acknowledge that it is akin to the coordinated campaign he wrongly assumes is amassed against him, but he does not care that Democrats are (he imagines) adopting his own playbook.

You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.

In using that word “revenge” and imagining that Democrats are exacting revenge for both the Clinton impeachment and the use of corrupt means as a means of winning the 2016 election, Kavanaugh admits that he’s just getting a taste of the medicine he once administered. But his response to that is not to take a step back from the edge of the abyss that he himself created (and imagines himself to be standing on), take a step back with the recognition that he himself is not immune from his own tactics, but instead to complete the next logical step, the adoption of those same measures on the highest court of the land.

Never mind that by imagining credible questions about his past treatment of women is solely about the Clintons strips the agency of the millions of women trying to prevent abusers from again getting promoted in spite of it.

Kavanaugh, wrongly, thinks this is revenge for tactics he pioneered long ago. Having faced those tactics and discovered how painful they are, he has doubled down.

Paul Manafort’s Modus Operandi: Accuse the Female Politician of Crimes She Didn’t Commit, Then Dodge Sanctions

As Paul Manafort’s plea was being unveiled yesterday, a number of legal observers were shocked by how detailed the criminal information was, complete with 38 pages of exhibits. Hopefully, this will stop me from having to bitch incessantly about how many journalists have swallowed Rudy Giuliani’s claims about Mueller writing up a report. As I keep saying (and as Mueller’s boss Rod Rosenstein has said in testimony), there won’t be a report, there will be indictments.

Ostensibly, the exhibits are there to prove the assertion that Paul Manafort lied to DOJ about what kind of work he was doing for Ukraine.

Although MANAFORT had represented to the Department of Justice in November 2016 and February 2017 that he had no relevant documents, in fact MANAFORT had numerous incriminating documents in his possession, as he knew at the time. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a court-authorized search of MANAFORT’S home in Virginia in the summer of 2017. The documents attached hereto as Government Exhibits 503, 504, 517, 532, 594, 604, 606, 616, 691, 692, 697, 706 and 708, among numerous others, were all documents that MANAFORT had in his possession, custody or control (and were found in the search) and all predated the November 2016 letter.

But I don’t think that’s why they’re there.

They’re there to show what Paul Manafort does when he’s running a campaign.

Because they show that for the decade leading up to running Trump’s campaign, Manafort was using the very same sleazy strategy to support Viktor Yanukovych that he used to get Trump elected.

In other words, these exhibits are a preview of coming attractions.

Take out the female opponent by prosecuting her

The criminal information provided far more detail about something we had only seen snippets of in the Alex Van der Zwaan plea: Manafort’s use of Skadden Arps to whitewash Yanukovych’s prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko.

It describes how Manafort used cut-outs to place stories claiming his client’s female opponent had murdered someone.

MANAFORT took other measures to keep the Ukraine lobbying as secret as possible. For example, MANAFORT, in written communications on or about May 16, 2013, directed his lobbyists (including Persons D1 and D2, who worked for Company D) to write and disseminate within the United States news stories that alleged that Tymoshenko had paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official. MANAFORT stated that it should be “push[ed]” “[w]ith no fingerprints.” “It is very important we have no connection.” MANAFORT stated that “[m]y goal is to plant some stink on Tymo.”

And it shows Manafort seeding lies that his client’s female opponent had criminal intent when he knew there was no proof to back the claim.

MANAFORT directed lobbyists to tout the report as showing that President Yanukovych had not selectively prosecuted Tymoshenko. But in November 2012 MANAFORT had been told privately in writing by the law firm that the evidence of Tymoshenko’s criminal intent “is virtually non-existent” and that it was unclear even among legal experts that Tymoshenko lacked power to engage in the conduct central to the Ukraine criminal case. These facts, known by MANAFORT, were not disclosed to the public.

This propaganda effort against Manafort’s client’s female opponent included placing stories in Breitbart.

Sanctions will backfire

Manafort placed so much effort on inventing stories about Tymoshenko in part to take her out as a political opponent (and to create an opportunity to pitch Yanukovych’s corruption as a tolerable partner to Europe). But he did so, too, to undermine support for sanctions against Yanukovych for human rights abuses, of which Tymoshenko was the poster child.  Particularly after John Kerry replaced Hillary, Manafort undermined sanctions by promising raw material exploitation opportunities. (This bullet point, at PDF 25, is dated February 24, 2013).

We’ll learn more about what role Manafort himself played in Trump’s policy on sanctions (even aside from any quid pro quo that may have come out of the June 9 Trump Tower meeting), but we know that Trump’s view on sanctions is among the questions Mueller wants to ask Trump, and we know that in an op-ed encouraged by the Trump campaign (and highlighted to Ivan Timofeev), George Papadopoulos argued that sanctions had hurt the US.

Obama lost Ukraine

Manafort was even using some of the very same lines that Trump still uses, such as blaming Obama for “losing” Ukraine (this quarterly memo for Yanukovych, at PDF 21-, is dated April 22, 2013).

Electoral irregularities are my opponents’ fault

Shortly after Yanukovych won in 2010, Manafort boasted that he had established a baseline to be able to claim that Tymoshenko’s complaints about election irregularities were disinformation. (This memo, at PDF 6, is dated February 20, 2010.)

Manafort also prepared a full court press to influence the electoral observers in advance of Ukraine’s 2012 parliamentary election (this document, at PDF 5, is dated as October 9, 2012 in the trial exhibit list).

One thing we’re going to see in former Manafort partner Roger Stone’s eventual indictment is a focus on the work of his Stop the Steal PAC, both just after Manafort arrived to manage the Convention, and his voter suppression efforts (which paralleled Russian ones) during the general election.

Hillary Clinton is the enemy

Finally, as early as February 2013 (see PDF 14), Paul Manafort was advising his client that replacing Hillary Clinton with someone who would value raw material deals over human rights would be a positive development.

As it happens, in 2016, Paul Manafort could please all his clients by offering a man who valued raw material deals over human rights as a positive development.

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

How Does the Strzok Text Dump Differ from Jim Comey’s July 5, 2016 Speech?

I’m a bit bemused by the response to DOJ’s release of the texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. As Rod Rosenstein testified before HJC yesterday, the release came after notice to Strzok and Page through their lawyers. The release of the texts came with the approval of DOJ IG Michael Horowitz — who says the investigation into the underlying conduct may last through spring. And Rosenstein strongly implied he wanted them released, taking responsibility for it (while claiming not to know whether Jeff Sessions had a role in their release).

As he explained to Trey Gowdy — who, like a number of Republicans, claimed to be at a loss of what to say to constituents who asked “what in the hell is going on with DOJ and the FBI” — the release of the texts proves that any wrongdoing will be met with consequences.

Gowdy: What happens when people who are supposed to cure the conflict of interest have even greater conflicts of interests than those they replace? That’s not a rhetorical question. Neither you nor I nor anyone else would ever sit Peter Strzok on a jury, we wouldn’t have him objectively dispassionately investigate anything, knowing what we now know. Why didn’t we know it ahead of time, and my last question, my final question — and I appreciate the Chairman’s patience — how would you help me answer that question when I go back to South Carolina this weekend?

Rosenstein: Congressman, first of all, with regard to the Special Counsel, Mr. Strzok was already working on the investigation when the Special Counsel was appointed. The appointment I made was of Robert Mueller. So what I’d recommend you tell your constituents is that Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray are accountable and that we will ensure that no bias is reflected in any actions taken by the Special Counsel or any matter within the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. When we have evidence of any inappropriate conduct, we’re going to take action on it. And that’s what Mr. Mueller did here as soon as he learned about this issue — he took action — and that’s what I anticipate the rest of our prosecutors, the new group of US Attorneys, our Justice Department appointees. They understand the rules and they understand the responsibility to defend the integrity of the Department. If they find evidence of improper conduct, they’re going to take action.

So Congressman, that’s the best assurance I can give you. But actually, there’s one other point, which is you should tell your constituents that we exposed this issue because we’re ensuring that the Inspector General conducts a thorough and effective investigation, and if there is any evidence of impropriety, he’s going to surface it and report about it publicly.

I actually think Rosenstein did a much better job than others apparently do, yesterday, at distinguishing between the Strzok texts (which apparently were on DOJ issued cell phones and, in spite of having Hillary investigation subject lines may not have been logged into Sentinel) and the political views of Andrew Weissmann or the past representation of Jeannie Rhee. Furthermore, he repeatedly said he would only fire Mueller for cause, and made it clear there had been no cause. Several times he talked about how closely he has worked with Mueller, such as on the scope of what gets included in his investigation (even while defending the charges against Manafort as appropriately included).

That said, I wonder how Rosenstein distinguishes, in his own mind, what he did in approving the release of the texts from an ongoing investigation and what Jim Comey did on July 5, 2016, when he gave a press conference about why Hillary Clinton had not been charged. While Rosenstein’s biggest complaint in his letter supporting the firing of Comey was that he substituted his decision for that of prosecutors, he also argued that the Department shouldn’t release derogatory information gratuitously.

Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation. Derogatory information sometimes is disclosed in the course of criminal investigations and prosecutions, but we never release it gratuitously. The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.

In response to skeptical question at a congressional hearing, the Director defended his remarks by saying that his “goal was to say what is true. What did we do, what did we find, what do we think about it.” But the goal of a federal criminal investigation is not to announce our thoughts at a press conference. The goal is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a federal criminal prosecution, then allow a federal prosecutor who exercises authority delegated by the Attorney General to make a prosecutorial decision, and then – if prosecution is warranted – let the judge and jury determine the facts. We sometimes release information about closed investigations in appropriate ways, but the FBI does not do it sua sponte.

In some ways this is worse because of the off chance that Inspector General Michael Horowitz finds that these texts don’t merit some kind of response; the investigation is not finished yet.

That said, I actually do think there’s a difference: Strzok and Page are department employees, rather than subjects of an external investigation. DOJ exercises awesome power, and usually DOJ is releasing the texts of private citizens in this kind of embarrassing way.

Even former clearance holders seem surprised that these texts were discovered. It is unbelievable to me how few people understand the great liberty that counterintelligence investigators like Strzok can have in obtaining the communications of investigative targets like he has now become, particularly during leak or insider threat investigations. That may not be a good thing, but it is what other targets have been subjected to. So I think it reasonable to have FBI’s own subject to the same scrutiny, for better and worse.

I do think it worthwhile for DOJ to show that it will hold people accountable for improper actions.

Plus, aside from one August comment — which we may obtain more context on when Horowitz does finish this investigation — about an “insurance” policy against Trump, the texts simply aren’t that damning (though they do raise questions about Strzok’s role in the investigation). Strzok agrees with Rex Tillerson, after all, that Trump is an idiot.

So as far as that goes, I’m actually okay with Rosenstein’s release of these texts.

Except I worry about something else.

I actually worry less about Mueller getting fired than just about every other Trump opponent on the planet. Rosenstein seems intent to let him do his work, and (notably at several times during the hearing) seems to agree with the gravity of the investigation. Trump can’t get to Mueller without taking out Rosenstein (and Rachel Brand). And I actually think Rosenstein has thus far balanced the position of a Republican protecting a Republican from Republican ire fairly well. I expect the next shoes Mueller drops — whenever that happens — will change the tone dramatically.

What bothers me most about the release of these texts, however, is that they are a response to the same pressure that Comey was responding to (and which he thought he was smart enough to manage, just as Rosenstein surely thinks he can handle it here).

They are a response — from the same people who ran the Benghazi investigation then ignored DOJ’s prosecution of the Benghazi mastermind — to a willingness to challenge the very core of DOJ functionality, all in a bid to politicize it.

Perhaps Rosenstein is right to bide his time — to create space for Mueller to drop the next few shoes — with the release of the Strzok texts.

But at some point, Republicans need to start calling out Republicans for the damage they’re doing to rule of law with this constant playing of the refs, this demand for proof that Democrats aren’t getting some advantage through the rule of law. If those next shoes don’t have the effect I imagine, it may be too late.

National Enquirer’s Serial Spy Novel: Featuring Hillary, Flynn, Assange, Pence, and Ryan

The claim that “Trump catches Russia’s White House spy” — clearly an attempt to smear Mike Flynn — actually got me to drop the $4.99 for a copy of the National Enquirer to read the hit job. And it’s actually more than a contrived effort to claim Flynn is a Russian spy: it’s a four-page spread, implicating Hillary and Mike Pence, too.

The story about Flynn is, instead, mostly a story about Jack Barsky, the former Russian spy who has gotten a lot of press of late tied to the release of his book. Just Thursday, CNN published an interview with him claiming, “What is clear is that email accounts of Democrat operatives were hacked and those hacks originated in Russia. Anything beyond that is pure speculation.” But amid a two-page story of Barsky’s life (as if the details of his life — and Barsky himself — were newly discovered), NE includes two quotes. A “national security intelligence source” warns of other Russian spies:

Jack Barsky is a Russian spy that was caught. But what is really frightening is that there are others out there like him embedded deep into Washington D.C. … Barsky being tracked down will greatly help the president smoke out other rats in his ranks.

And amid a four paragraph discussion of Mike Flynn, NE quotes an “administration source.”

The revelations [about Barsky] come as still-unfolding details continue to worm their way into the public eye about Trump’s own White House “turncoat” — now-ousted national security adviser and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Flynn was booted from Trump’s cabinet after intercepted phone calls exposed how he had colluded with Russian officials — and then had the chutzpah to lie about it when questioned by Vice President Mike Pence.

“He was, in essence, the Russian spy in Trump’s midst,” said an administration source who spoke to The ENQUIRER on the condition of anonymity. “Trump was lucky to root him out when he did.”

The unfolding Russian spy drama will overshadow the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing investigating alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin, source said.

Of course, Trump transition official Devin Nunes has already canceled the next hearing into ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin, but perhaps Trump plans on magnifying this hit job in upcoming days, replete with spooky language — “embedded,” “smoke out other rats,” “worm their way,” “turncoat,” “root him out,” — to shift the focus on disloyalty within the Trump Administration.

Which brings us to the other main story in this four-page spread.

It describes how “Trump crushe[d] Clinton coup” designed to install Mike Pence, purportedly revealed by Julian Assange in these two tweets (and some follow-up):

It treats Assange’s claims about his arch enemy as credible because, as a “Beltway insider sniffed … Assange is plugged in and has deep connections to Russian intelligence, along with similar networks around the world.”

The story cites a “White House insider” describing Trump giving Pence a loyalty oath.

President Trump called Pence into the Oval Office and forced him to take a lie detecter test to prove his loyalty. Pence swore he had nothing to do with Hillary and was being moved around like a chess piece in evil Hillary’s game!

After alleging Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson might be a cut-out and/or love interest for Assange, the story then turns on Paul Ryan, citing a quote first published in October, the audio of which was released by Breitbart the same day as the Assange tweets, March 14. The NE claimed that Hillary leaked the call to sow dissent before the health care vote.

The timing of the leak is not a coincidence. The call took place in October and leaked now — just as Ryan and Trump are working to muster support for the health care bill to replace Obamacare. Hillary’s people leaked it to drive a wedge between Trump and Ryan, undermine their efforts to reform health care and destroy the president!

In short, the second article is even more fevered than the one implicating Flynn.

Finally, in addition to a short piece attacking Chris Matthews, the spread includes a non-denial denial of Christopher Steele’s dossier, claiming it showed “Trump orgies” and “graphic sex involving hookers,” which is not precisely what pee gate claimed. It then dismisses the claims because “Trump neither drinks nor uses drugs,” as if that would rule out orgies.

Undoubtedly, all this was placed with the cooperation of the White House, if not direct quotes from Trump (which is something he has a history of doing). While the Flynn story has been viewed — particularly alongside unsubstantiated claims that Flynn is cooperating with the FBI — as an attempt to damage him for snitching, it almost certainly dates to earlier than more recent attacks on Flynn, and in conjunction with stories of loyalty oaths from Pence appears tame by comparison.

Trump wants to justify a witch hunt among the National Enquirer set. And at least thus far, Flynn and warnings of replacement by Pence are no more than the excuse for launching it.

US Indicts Hal Martin — But Offers No Hint He’s the Source for Shadow Brokers, Or Anyone Else

After David Petraeus shared notebooks full of code word intelligence with his girlfriend (and boxes of other classified information), then lied about it to the FBI, the government let Petraeus off with two years of probation.

DOJ just indicted Hal Martin — the Booz Allen contractor who allegedly stole terabytes of NSA information — with 20 charges each carrying up to 10 years of punishment. The indictment includes no hint that Martin did anything but hoard the files he stole. There’s no allegation he shared them with anyone (though, like Petraeus, he definitely kept very sensitive documents in highly insecure fashion).

Significantly, there’s no mention of the Shadow Brokers or even a description of the hacking tools Martin allegedly stole (though that’s likely because DOJ would draw up the indictment to avoid confirming that NSA even has hacking tools, much less the ones released to the public).

The only description of a document specifically targeting an adversary akin to the one described to the WaPo seems to target a terrorist organization, not Russia (meaning that they’re not presenting evidence Martin preferentially collected information on Russia, though again, if he were, they might hide that).

And the indictment alleges that Martin continued to steal documents up until 12 days before he was arrested, and significantly, three days after the first Shadow Brokers post on August 13.

It would be the height of folly for someone who knew he was the source for the Shadow Brokers to keep stealing documents after Shadow Brokers had gone public (though at that point, it wasn’t clear precisely what Shadow Brokers was going to release).

Certainly, the way in which DOJ has charged this — larding on 20 different charges — suggests they’re trying to coerce him into cooperating. The case against Chelsea Manning, which was partly an attempt to coerce Manning to testify against Julian Assange and Wikileaks, was very nearly parallel in the charging of many documents. In Manning’s case, there was no way for her to cooperate to implicate Assange except to lie; there’s nothing Assange did to elicit the files. That may be the case for Martin, too.

The big difference here is there’s absolutely no hint that Martin shared any of this. Given the Petraeus and Hillary precedents, the government will have a difficult time coercing Martin further, given that Petraeus didn’t even do prison time for hoarding and then sharing equally classified documents (albeit not as many of them).

Nevertheless, it appears that that DOJ is trying to coerce Martin to get information it offers no proof he even has.

Update: As it happens, DOJ indicted Hal Martin just over 4 hours before Jeff Sessions, who has refused to recuse himself in investigations of the Russian hack of the DNC, was confirmed as Attorney General. Again, there’s no evidence whatsoever that DOJ has any evidence Martin was a source for Shadow Brokers, who are presumed to have a tie to the DNC hack. But if they suspect it, indicting Martin with such extensive charges before Sessions comes in will make it hard for Sessions to reverse what seems to be an effort to coerce Martin to reveal any tie to the hack.

The Self Serving Jill Stein Recount Scam

ap_514085205775-021470928390Jill Stein, admittedly, always struck me as a bit of a naive and somewhat unhinged candidate. But, Stein was the “Green Party” candidate and, once Bernie Sanders lost, became the go to darling for ill advised voters and activists that were far too willing to wreck the world with Donald Trump than consider the circumstances and vote for an eminently qualified, albeit terribly flawed, candidate in the form of Hillary Clinton. It is hard to argue with anarchist, blow it all up, demagogues when trying to protect a lame, and status quo, candidate. Even when the ultimate opponent is a raging racist, bigoted, misogynistic, female choice hating and torture loving shill like Donald Trump.

So many otherwise Democratic voters went off and voted for Stein and/or Gary Johnson. Did it make the “final difference”? I have no idea, but there is certainly an argument that could be made.

Was it the Jim Comey FBI factor from the stunningly inappropriate rogue actions by the FBI Director putting his self righteous thumb on the electoral scale in both the start of the critical summer elections season and, then, yet again in the last two weeks before the election? It is easy to make that argument, irrespective of any other factor.

Was it that Hillary did not expend personal and campaign time and dime in Wisconsin and other Rust Belt states when she did a lost, but very much growing, cause venue such as Arizona? Easy case for that argument as well.

The actual data and competent reportage seems to indicate that all of the above were significant factors. It strikes me that is right.

All of the above factors fed into the defeat of Clinton and the election loss by her, if only by the electoral college, at the tiny hands of Trump. So be it. That is what happened under the electoral laws and process (yes, let us not forget the pernicious meddling of Russia and/or Wikileaks, whether they are coupled or not) pertinent to the 2016 US Presidential election. But, like the result or not, that was all pursuant to the Constitution and election laws as are currently extant in the United States. There is not one competent piece of evidence that the actual vote itself was “hacked” or “rigged”. Just none.

Which brings us to the much ballyhooed action of Jill Stein to crowd fund and conduct audits and or recounts in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The second she started her effort, I opined it was an attention grabbing craven play by Stein, and not a legitimate effort with any eye to any substantive results. On a more private forum I intoned:

But that is the thing: It IS bomb throwing, and stupidly so. There is NO evidentiary basis for fraud or mistake that I have seen. The guy who started it, [J. Alex] Halderman himself, admits as much legally when he says he thinks it is most likely poll inaccuracy, not anything nefarious.

I know all the beaten down, especially Clinton diehards, that cannot fathom how she blew this election, want to grasp for something. But it just isn’t there.

I stand by that completely. What Jill Stein is doing is blatant self promotion, list building, reputational repair where it is undeserved, and slush funding for an incoherent Green Party. It is detestable to the extreme. Stein has glommed onto this recount scam as a way to serve herself, she certainly is not serving anything else.

To quote a significant Democratic election law attorney, and longtime friend of this blog, Adam Bonin:

“If there were something to do here, there are a lot of us who would be jumping on it”

Early on the hashtag #AuditTheVote was attached to this chicanery. Here is the problem with that – two out of three of Stein’s target states already “audit the vote” as a regular matter of law without the need for Stein’s self serving injection into the matter. In fact, Stein’s primary target, Wisconsin, has a reasonably robust random audit provision in Wisconsin Revised Statute 7.08(6), which has been generally deigned to require:

The voting system audit procedures consist of two independent processes: an audit conducted by municipalities of reporting units randomly selected by the State Elections Board and an audit of reporting units conducted by the State Elections Board. Number of Reporting Units to Audit: Per the requirements of section 7.08(6), Wis. Stats., each type of electronic voting system in Wisconsin must be audited after the general election to ensure that each system does not exceed the error rate prescribed in the federal voting system guidelines. The State Elections Board will randomly select fifty (50) reporting units across Wisconsin which will be subject to municipal audit, including a minimum of five (5) reporting units for each voting system used in Wisconsin. If fewer than five (5) reporting units for any voting system are selected through the random selection process, then additional reporting units will be randomly selected by voting system until five reporting units per voting system have been selected. If there are fewer than 5 reporting units using a voting system the State Elections Board staff will audit those reporting units if the reporting units are not selected as part of the random draw. until five reporting units per voting system have been selected. If there are fewer than 5 reporting units using a voting system the State Elections Board staff will audit those reporting units if the reporting units are not selected as part of the random draw.

Well, that is actually pretty robust. And all of which would have been, and will be, performed without the preening self interjection of Jill Stein in her first state of concern, Wisconsin.

Just Wisconsin? Nope. Pennsylvania also has an inherent audit provision, though not quite as robust as Wisconsin. The bottom line is, though, there are already “audit the vote” provisions in two out of three of Jill Stein’s targets, even though she declined to say so in her propaganda seeking funding to stay in the spotlight and reconstruct her reputation. In fairness, Michigan has no such automatic audit provision, so there is that.

Next, you need to consider that there is a substantive difference between “audits” of the vote and flat out recounts. Stein has always been about recounts, despite the bogusly applied #AuditTheVote nomenclature applied by Stein and her glommers on. Recounts are expensive, labor intensive, and time consuming. And they are asinine where there is not a single shred of competent evidence to support fraud or mistake that could, even in the remotest possibility, change the outcome in a given state or states.

And, let us be crystal clear here, there is still NO competent evidence whatsoever of fraud, mistake or other irregularity that could change the result. None. And that is the thing, unless there is fraud, mistake or systematic error, recounts can do nothing to legally support a challenge to the election results. A challenge has to stand up in court. It cannot be thin and based upon rote supposition and suspicion. Even if Stein’s folly turns up a minor discrepancy here and there, that will not suffice.

The vote differential, again in Wisconsin for instance, between Clinton and Trump currently stands at 27,259 votes. Yes, that is less than the total of Stein, so despite the wild claim she threw the election that some Clinton supporters have thrown, I will not. Some Stein voters were never going to vote for Clinton; so while Stein’s vanity run deserves ridicule, it does not, in and of itself, “prove” Clinton would have won but for Stein. Close enough for ridicule given that Trump is the result? Sure. But, again that, too, holds for ridicule of Clinton’s own arrogant and detached campaign and the fatally pernicious effects of the completely rogue arbiter of his own justice, James Comey.

So, where does that leave us? With a Norma Desmond like self promoting grifter, dying to redeem her name and stay in some/any spotlight, in the form of Jill Stein. She was a cancer on the election (hey, her dinner with Putin and Mike Flynn was cool though!) that, at a minimum, helped elect Trump, and she is sticking around to create more hell now that said deed is done.

This is absurd. Jill Stein is a grifter and a fraud. And she is playing this opportunity to, first off, list build for herself and the Greens, secondly, resuscitate her and their name, thirdly, stay in the press, and lastly, create an amorphous slush fund to continue those things. Stein is succeeding beyond wildest expectations if your idea of the normal course of business is Donald Trumpian level grifting.

For a woman who raised only $3.5 million during her entire vanity run for President, Stein has now raised nearly $6 million dollars in far less than a week on this scam. That is NOT because Stein has dedicated Green Party followers wanting to bleed yet more money into their candidate after the election; no, it is because desperate Clintonians are seeking some way, any way, to stop Trump. And playing on that desperation is exactly the fraud of Jill Stein.

A common refrain I see is that, “golly, there is no harm, and much good, that can come from confirming the vote”. But that is just more self serving balderdash from the desperate and/or Stein acolytes. In fact, there is great harm that can come from Stein’s shenanigans. Here is Rick Hasen from the Election Law Blog, quoting the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel:

Wisconsin could be at risk of missing a Dec. 13 deadline to certify its 10 electoral votes if clerks can’t complete an expected recount by then.

Hitting the deadline could be particularly tricky if Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein is able to force the recount to be conducted by hand, Wisconsin’s top election official said.

Stein — who received just 1% of the vote in Wisconsin — has promised to file for a recount by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline in Wisconsin. She is also planning to ask for recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which have deadlines next week.

A federal “safe harbor” law requires states to complete presidential recounts within 35 days of the election to ensure their electoral votes are counted. This year, that’s Dec. 13.

What is the upshot of this? Easy, Stein’s effort could easily place Wisconsin, in light of the December 13 deadline, of missing the deadline and disenfranchising all voters in Wisconsin. Yes, there are potential repercussions from actions like Stein is taking, especially when there is no known basis or grounds whatsoever evidentiary wise to support them. And that is just Wisconsin. Michigan and Pennsylvania are in even bigger jeopardy thanks to the self serving hubris of Jill Stein, should she actually continue on to file in those states as promised, without any rational basis for challenging the vote therein.

Lastly, while I have been writing the instant post, the attorney for the DNC and Clinton Campaign, Marc E. Elias, has weighed in on Medium with an official take for both himself and, by all appearances, the aforementioned campaign entities. The Reader’s Digest version, by my eyes, is that, while the DNC and Clinton camps are going to join into the Stein effort, they have never seen any basis for it, and are being dragged into a position of noticing their appearance and joinder simply in order to preserve their rights to be involved should Stein’s group go so far off the rails or, in the remotest of all potentialities, find anything. That is not joinder with enthusiasm, it is joinder to protect your legal voice. Trump is now doing the same for similar reasons. I do not blame either Clinton or Trump for doing so, in fact, Stein’s idiocy put both of said parties in that regrettable posture. Don’t cast your eye askew for one second at Elias and the Dems, nor even Trump and the Repubs, ….Stein and her idiotic self serving publicity play made them do it.

In short, this effort by Jill Stein is nothing more than a self promoting vanity play. If you want to donate to that grift, by all means, go ahead. But don’t blather about how it is going to help democracy or promote fair elections. That is absurd. In fact, just exactly as absurd as Jill Stein’s cynical grift on her current donors who are far different than her few and far between Green donors.

Stein is scamming the dispossessed. That is a Trumpian level fraud.