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Josh Marshall’s “Team on the Field:” Putting GOP on Defense Over Russia Requires Reversing Their Offense

Josh Marshall argued yesterday that the Democratic Party needs to start going on offense on the GOP’s complicity in Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

A new AP poll says that 54% of Americans think President Biden has been “not tough enough” on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. These kinds of public perceptions can be shaped by perceptions of a leader as much as they drive them. So you think Biden is weak as your starting point and therefore you think he’s not being tough enough on Russia rather than the other way around. Also notable, Americans’ hawkishness over Ukraine has dipped a bit from a month ago. But the first, second and third most important thing about this poll is that this is what you get when you’re not reminding Americans every day — and I mean every god-damned day — that the GOP has spent the last 7 years boosting, allying with and even conspiring with Russia.

[snip]

Will pushing the GOP’s guilt and complicity on Russia make people stop caring about inflation? Of course not. But if you’re not even putting that team on the field you are simply not doing the simplest blocking and tackling of politics. It’s that bad. [my emphasis]

I don’t disagree with him. But for a guy with his own media outlet, he needs to start taking his own advice. That’s because his site has done little to undercut the flood of disinformation that the GOP has used to hide their own complicity.

Between the tag, “Durham,”

And “John Durham,” Marshall’s site shows four stories this year.

The tag, “Hunter Biden,” returns just two things this year.

While I haven’t focused on undermining the ridiculous claims the GOP are making about the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” — I have written just three stories this year (one, two, three), though that number would be far more if you count my focus on the investigation into Rudy — I’ve written 28 stories on the Durham investigation this year. Among other things, I have shown that:

One of the only other reporters covering this stuff with any attention, Charlie Savage, has to cater to a general audience. Meanwhile, an absolute torrent of propaganda from the frothy right has ignored the accumulated evidence not just of prosecutorial abuse, but shocking sloppiness. Instead, they spin Durham’s unsubstantiated conspiracy theories as fact, and from that, conclude that Trump wasn’t really badly implicated by Russia, but instead that was all made up by Hillary ahead of time.

If I weren’t alone swimming against this tide, Durham’s rank ignorance would actually be a great vehicle to correct the frothers. As I’ve noted, Durham and his rubes appear entirely unaware that the suspicions of the researchers trying to understand the Alfa Bank anomalies — that Trump had back channel communications with the Kremlin, that people close to Trump were laundering payments from oligarchs close to Trump, and that a family member of an Alfa Bank oligarch might be helping — all proved to be true.

The story of the Durham investigation is that he has criminalized people investigating reasonable inferences that turned out to be true. And yet the story that has gotten told, largely because other reporters are largely silent about it, is that he continues to chase Russian-seeded conspiracy theories in defiance of the evidence obtained as part of the Mueller investigation.

Josh Marshall has been far more successful than me in the two decades we’ve done this online journalism thing, so I’m in no place to tell him how to run his business.

But people believe that Biden is weak on Ukraine not just because Democrats aren’t screaming about how complicit Trump and his enablers are. They believe it because Trump has seeded two screaming conspiracy theories that have filled that void with false denials that all the suspicions about Trump turned out to be true.

Update: Added a third “Hunter Biden” “laptop” story.

Bill Barr’s Legal Exposure May Lead Him to Lie about the Hunter Biden Laptop

In case you missed it on Twitter, I am currently reading the former Attorney General’s fictional autobiography, which is predictably awful. I’ll write it up at more length in the days ahead.

The most newsworthy detail — by far! — in the parts I’ve read thus far is this admission describing how he “had” to open the Durham investigation, not because there was a suspected crime, but because Barr believes Trump’s “adversaries” pushed it to hobble his Administration.

I saw the way the President’s adversaries had enmeshed the Department of Justice in this phony scandal and were using it to hobble his administration. Once in office, it occupied much of my time for the first six months of my tenure. It was at the heart of my most controversial decisions. Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal.

[snip]

I always suspected that the preelection peddling of Steele’s dossier and other similar collusion claims comprised an attempt to carry out a classic campaign dirty trick: first, develop scurrilous allegations about one’s opponent, then get them into the hands of an investigative authority, and, finally, leak the “fact” that the allegations are being investigated. This way, unverified allegations are publicized and given instant credibility on the theory that authorities thought them worthy enough to investigate. News organizations can justify publishing dubious allegations by claiming they are really just reporting the facts of a pending investigation. Before Election Day, the Clinton campaign had a good motive for instigating the collusion narrative: besides hurting Trump, it diverted attention from her own e-mail server scandal, which seemingly came to a head in early July when FBI director Comey held a news conference sharply criticizing Clinton for her mishandling of classified e-mails. [my emphasis]

Over and over, Billy situates in advance — sometimes even before he returned to government — his belief in conspiracy theories that John Durham is currently chasing. The book goes a long way to substantiating that Durham is and always was using a criminal investigation to tell a story developed before either Barr or Durham had looked at any evidence.

This entire three year investigation was started because Billy Barr wanted to get revenge, not because he wanted to investigate a crime.

That’s important background for a recent appearance Barr made to claim that the decision by social media companies not to allow the NY Post story on an unverified laptop go viral swung the election.

So when former staffer Larry Kudlow on Thursday interviewed former attorney general William P. Barr for his Fox Business show, the conversation operated from shared assumptions about Trump’s successes and the toxicity of the political left. The result was that Barr outlined a remarkable hierarchy of importance for actions that might have affected the results of a presidential contest.

Russian interference in 2016, he said, was just “some embarrassing emails about Hillary Clinton and Bernie.” The effort to “suppress” information about Hunter Biden’s laptop, meanwhile, was “probably even more outrageous” and “had much more effect on an election.”

Philip Bump lays out all the evidence that Barr’s claim the media ignored the story is false and links to a contemporaneous analysis of the uncertainties about the laptop — though not this recent, overlooked WaPo article that revealed “the data contained on the drive [that purportedly comes from Hunter Biden’s laptop] was so compromised by a variety of factors that definitive conclusions about most of its contents were impossible.”

Bump is wrong, in my opinion, to treat this recent Hunter laptop surge as a mere political conversation on the right. It’s not. It is part of a plan to undermine the investigation — and likely, by then, prosecution — of Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to obtain dirt that is believed to closely if not exactly resemble what he ended up releasing under the guise of a discovered abandoned Hunter Biden laptop. If Republicans win the House, Jim Jordan will dedicate the resources of the House Judiciary Committee full time to investigating this “story,” and will use it to sabotage whatever legal proceedings are working against Rudy at that point.

And that’s why it’s important that a once respected lawyer is going on TV endorsing conspiracy theories.

After all, Barr is legally implicated himself.

As I said, I’ll write far more about the lies Barr told in his narrative. But one key detail is his explanation for appointing Richard Donoghue as a gate-keeper over any Ukraine investigations.

In January, as the impeachment process headed toward conclusion, Deputy Attorney General Rosen issued a memo to all US attorneys’ offices designating Richard Donoghue, the US attorney in the Eastern District of New York, to coordinate Ukraine-related cases. This was done not just for efficiency but also to protect the department from manipulation by foreign interests. As we headed into an election year, we had good reason to worry that Ukraine—a hotbed of political intrigue and conspiracy theories—posed a special concern. It was a channel through which all sides could inject disinformation into our system. This could be done by feeding spurious “evidence” of supposed criminality to US law enforcement authorities. This vulnerability was compounded in a Justice Department in which any one of ninety-three US attorneys’ offices around the country can initiate an investigation based on information it receives. In addition to ensuring information sharing and avoiding conflicts, we wanted to ensure that Ukrainian actors couldn’t instigate cases willy-nilly in different jurisdictions around the country. For this reason, we selected one office to take the lead and also serve as a “traffic cop,” coordinating existing and any new cases. Rich Donoghue was chosen for this role because he already had related matters pending in his Brooklyn office and was one of the most experienced and respected US attorneys in the department.

This is not entirely a lie. It is true that Jeffrey Rosen wrote a memo giving Donoghue veto authority over any investigations pertaining to Ukraine. But the move had the exact opposite effect of what Barr claimed in his narrative.

It had the effect of ensuring that Rudy could continue to chase disinformation from a known Russian agent, Andrii Derkach, to use in the election with no legal consequences.

On November 4, 2019, SDNY executed searches — searches that Main Justice would have had to be informed about — on Rudy and Victoria Toensing’s cloud accounts. In subsequent months, SDNY would execute searches on Yuri Lutsenko and several other Ukrainians, but not Andrii Derkach, not even after Rudy flew to Ukraine to meet with Derkach personally on December 5, 2019.

In the wake of those searches, on January 17, 2020, Jeffrey Rosen issued a memo putting his trusted deputy, Richard Donoghue, in charge of all Ukraine-related investigations.

As has been publicly reported, there currently are several distinct open investigations being handled by different U.S. Attorney’s Offices and/or Department components that in some way potentially relate to Ukraine. In addition, new information potentially relating to Ukraine may be brought to the attention of the Department going forward. The Department has assigned Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), who currently is handling certain Ukraine-related matters, to coordinate existing matters and to assess, investigate, and address any other matters relating to Ukraine, including the opening of any new investigations or the expansion of existing ones.

[snip]

Any and all new matters relating to Ukraine shall be directed exclusively to EDNY for investigation and appropriate handling.

[snip]

Any widening or expansion of existing matters shall require prior consultation with and approval by my office and EDNY.

Now that we know about the Rudy search in November 2019, the effect of this memo is clear: it limited the SDNY investigation to the scope of the investigation as it existed at that time, into the Lutsenko attempt to fire Yovanovitch (which was included in the original Parnas indictment), but not Rudy’s meeting with a Russian agent to help Trump win re-election.

Instead, EDNY presided over all the Ukraine goings-on during the election, during which time they could have done something about ongoing tampering. Indeed, after Geoffrey Berman succeeded in ensuring that Audrey Strauss would replace him after Barr fired him to try to shut down ongoing investigations (including, undoubtedly, the one into Rudy and Barr’s friend Victoria Toensing), Barr and Rosen replaced Donoghue with another trusted flunky, Seth DuCharme. Under DuCharme, then, EDNY sat and watched while Derkach interfered in the election and did nothing until — per yesterday’s NYT story — “the final months of the Trump administration.” According to the public timeline, it appears that they just let a known Russian agent play around in our democracy.

This step didn’t protect American democracy from Russian tampering. It protected the Russian tampering.

And now Barr is out there claiming that an effort by social media companies to protect democracy was the real crime.

Imagine if DOJ Used the Hunter Biden Inquiry to Get Testimony against Rudy Giuliani…

I’m going to return to my argument that The Laptop is functionally equivalent to the Steele dossier. But until I do, I want to return to the parallels between the Ukrainian influence peddling investigation of Hunter Biden and that of Rudy Giuliani.

First, take a look at this passage from the Ken Vogel-bylined NYT story that inflated new life in The Laptop story.

People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors had examined emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others about Burisma and other foreign business activity. Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.

Elsewhere, the NYT story reports that the investigation into Hunter Biden turned to his influence peddling in 2018, well before the laptops in question were purportedly dropped off at a blind computer repairman’s shop.

The investigation, which began as a tax inquiry under the Obama administration, widened in 2018 to include possible criminal violations of tax laws, as well as foreign lobbying and money laundering rules, according to the people familiar with the inquiry.

The contents on The Laptop were iCloud content, which the FBI could have and would have preferred to obtain with a warrant. We know the emails in question weren’t deleted by all parties because sources for stories describe still having them.

In other words, it’s unlikely that The Laptop played a critical role in the FBI investigation into the President’s son, because the FBI had other, better ways to obtain the same content and because the FBI had already turned to these matters well before the laptop got shared with the FBI on December 9, 2019.

So let’s go back to the way that Vogel-bylined NYT article reflated The Laptop story. The passage I quoted says three things:

  1. Prosecutors have looked at emails in question.
  2. NYT had obtained emails from what it credulously calls The Laptop.
  3. The “Laptop” emails were authenticated by “people familiar with them and with the investigation.”

The source for the first claim is likely someone who was a witness in the DE investigation (and we know that witnesses who have offered up their testimony have been part of the recent Murdoch-driven campaign to reflate it). The second claim is simply NYT’s ham-handed effort to make it clear the emails they received were part of the same campaign as the original NY Post story.

The third claim, however, is interesting. Written as it is, it suggests there are people who are familiar with both the investigation and the email cache. That would seem to suggest that some of the very limited universe of people involved with The Laptop — Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Robert Costello, and Mac Isaac — believe they know something about the Hunter Biden investigation.

Let’s focus on Robert Costello for the moment: He loves to be a cut-out. And when Billy Barr set up a special back channel to ingest Ukrainian-provided Russian dirt on Hunter Biden, Costello was that back channel. In other words, the lawyer that Rudy and Steve Bannon share is one possible source for that third claim, but if he were, it would suggest investigators in Delaware had spoken with him as a witness because he knew of the process by which he came to be in possession of a sketchy laptop.

Whatever testimony the source of that third claim offered could be shared with SDNY, which is investigating Rudy’s own influence-peddling scandal with Ukraine.

With all that mind, take a look at this passage of Philip Bump’s excellent summary of all the ways that laptop story is sketchy.

Giuliani was central to that effort. In late 2018, he began exploring the idea that Biden, as vice president several years before, had improperly tried to influence Ukraine to block an investigation of Burisma, a company for which Hunter Biden served as a board member. This story, promoted by an investigator targeted for termination by the U.S. government, was later debunked, but it seemed a promising line of attack. On April 1, 2019, a writer linked to Giuliani named John Solomon wrote the first of several stories about the allegations.

On April 12, the laptops were dropped off at Mac Isaac’s repair shop. Mac Isaac is legally blind and was not able to identify Hunter Biden by sight. One of the laptops, though, bore a sticker for the Beau Biden Foundation, an organization dedicated to Hunter’s late brother.

At some point in the middle of this month, Hunter Biden left Burisma’s board. Presumably he was by that point aware that questions were being asked about his role. If not, it became very clear on May 1, when the Times elevated the Burisma question in its coverage.

In the meantime, Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected president of Ukraine, and efforts to pressure him to announce an investigation into Biden began. In early May 2019, Giuliani planned a trip to Ukraine to dig up information that might damage Biden — a plan that was covered in the press. After broad outcry, he scrapped the trip. But the signal was sent: Giuliani was seeking information deleterious to Biden.

Later that month, someone in Kyiv was approached about buying Hunter Biden’s emails. This was not reported until Oct. 21, 2020, a week after the Post’s story about the laptop.

This time period — December 2018 until May 2019 — is precisely the time period that prosecutors asked Special Master Barbara Jones to prioritize for her privilege review of the last set of Rudy’s phones (as well as the one phone from Victoria Toensing).

In the initial incarnation of this investigation — the one charged in 2019, before Lev Parnas started running his mouth — the focus of this investigation was exclusively on how Rudy got Marie Yovanovitch fired.  But in September 2020, that part of the investigation was put on hold to await Rudy.

Yovanovitch’s name doesn’t appear in Bump’s summary at all. Yet it happened in the same month — May 2019, the culmination of this effort — when Rudy was going to go to Kyiv to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, and when someone was wandering around Kyiv offering to sell what looks like what ended up packaged as The Laptop.

Whether or not Rudy’s effort to solicit what ended up being dirt that looked just like The Laptop was originally the focus of the investigation, DOJ has now obtained a privilege review of Rudy’s comms from that time period when he was soliciting it.

“The Laptop” Is the Functional Equivalent of The Steele Dossier, 1: Rudy Is the Real Scandal

I’m going to explain how The Laptop that Rudy Giuliani floated just before the election is the functional equivalent of the Steele dossier.

Before I do, let me make a fairly obvious (if counterintuitive) point: Of the three people that powerful Ukrainians attempted to cultivate for their ties to the Vice President or President — Paul Manafort, Hunter Biden, and Rudy Giuliani — just one provably affected US policy through the Vice President or President: Rudy.

Contrary to what you may have read, for example, Manafort actually wasn’t the one who prevented the GOP platform from being strengthened to support Ukraine, JD Gordon was (though Trump’s do-not-recall answer about his own involvement can’t rule that out). Mueller’s decision not to prosecute Gordon as an agent of Russia was only recently made public (thanks to the relentless work of Jason Leopold and his lawyer).

And while there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that Manafort entered into a quid pro quo on August 2, 2016, trading campaign strategy for a commitment to help carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking along with $19 million a financial benefit for Manafort personally, because the investigation into Manafort became public in 2016, his ongoing efforts to push that Russian plan to dismember Ukraine never (as far as has been made public) had the involvement of Trump. It’s possible Trump was involved or Manafort got certain commitments in 2016, but Manafort’s own cover-up prevented DOJ from determining whether or not that was true.

According to the NYT story that has renewed the frenzy around the laptop Rudy Giuliani released just before the election, Federal prosecutors still haven’t determined whether Hunter Biden’s treatment of Chinese, Kazakh, and Ukrainian influence efforts amounted to a crime. But they do have evidence that Hunter Biden tried to be explicit that he could not influence his father to help Burisma.

In one email to Mr. Archer in April 2014, Mr. Biden outlined his vision for working with Burisma. In the email, Hunter Biden indicated that the forthcoming announcement of a trip to Ukraine by Vice President Biden — who is referred to in the email as “my guy,” but not by name — should “be characterized as part of our advice and thinking — but what he will say and do is out of our hands.”

The announcement “could be a really good thing or it could end up creating too great an expectation. We need to temper expectations regarding that visit,” Hunter Biden wrote.

Vice President Biden traveled to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, about a week after the email.

In the same April 2014 email, Hunter Biden indicated that Burisma’s officials “need to know in no uncertain terms that we will not and cannot intervene directly with domestic policymakers, and that we need to abide by FARA and any other U.S. laws in the strictest sense across the board.”

He suggested enlisting the law firm where he worked at the time, Boies Schiller Flexner, to help Burisma through “direct discussions at state, energy and NSC,” referring to two cabinet departments and the National Security Council at the White House.

The firm “can devise a media plan and arrange for legal protections and mitigate U.S. domestic negative press regarding the current leadership if need be,” Mr. Biden wrote in the email.

And sworn testimony from experts in both parties say Hunter did not dissuade his father from taking steps to crack down on corruption.

Of these three well-connected Americans being cultivated by powerful and corrupt Ukrainians — some but not all of them known Russian agents — only Rudy Giuliani is known to have had a direct effect on policy. Among other things, Rudy got Marie Yovanovitch fired. In only Rudy’s case, then, do we have clearcut proof that a Ukrainian influence operation had the desired effect of  changing American policy. Though even there, it’s not yet clear whether Rudy’s unregistered influence peddling was criminal.

(Obviously, Manafort pled guilty to being an unregistered Ukrainian agent during the earlier period, and he got paid orders of magnitude more than Hunter Biden did, too.)

So as we fight about The Laptop again, based on a reference to verified emails in a NYT article bylined by serial Rudy mouthpiece Ken Vogel, the first thing we should keep in mind is that there’s far more evidence that Rudy Giuliani successfully influenced the President or Vice President as a secret agent of Ukraine than Hunter Biden.

Ten Things TV Lawyers Can Do Rather than Whinging about Merrick Garland

I continue to have little patience for the people–many of them paid to expound as lawyers on TV–who spend their time whinging that Merrick Garland is not moving quickly enough to hold Trump accountable rather than spending their time doing other more productive things to protect democracy.

I’m not aware that any of these people has tracked the January 6 investigation closely enough to name those one or two degrees away from the former President who have been charged or are clearly subjects of investigation. Similarly, I’ve seen none do reporting on the current status of Rudy Giuliani’s phones, which after a Special Master review will release a bunch of information to prosecutors to use under any warrant that DOJ might have. Indeed, many of the same people complain that Trump has not been accountable for his Ukraine extortion, without recognizing that any Ukraine charges for Trump would almost certainly have to go through that Rudy investigation. The approval for the search on Rudy’s phones may have been among the first decisions Lisa Monaco made as Deputy Attorney General.

It’s not so much that I’m certain DOJ would prosecute Trump for his serial attempts to overthrow democracy. There are tea leaves that DOJ could get there via a combination of working up from pawns who stormed the Capitol and down from rooks referred from the January 6 Commission. But I’m more exasperated with the claims that there were crimes wrapped with a bow (such as Trump’s extortion of Ukraine) that Garland’s DOJ could have charged on March 11, when he was sworn in. Even the Tom Barrack prosecution, a Mueller referral which reportedly was all set to indict in July 2020, took six months after Biden’s inauguration before it was indicted. The January 6 investigation started less than eleven months ago; eleven months into the Russian investigation, Coffee Boy George Papadopoulos had not yet been arrested and he was still months away from pleading guilty, on a simple false statements charge. We have no idea how much deliberate damage Billy Barr did to other ongoing investigations arising out of the Mueller investigation, but his public actions in the Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort cases suggests it is likely considerable. As for the January 6 investigation, as I’ve noted, it took nine months from the time FBI learned that a Capitol Police Officer had warned Jacob Hiles to delete his Facebook posts until the time DOJ indicted Michael Riley on two counts of obstruction. To imagine that DOJ would have already indicted Trump on anything he might be hypothetically under investigation at this point, particularly relating to January 6, is just denial about how long investigations take, even assuming the subject were not the former President with abundant access to free or RNC-provided legal representation.

It’s not that I don’t understand the gravity of the threat. I absolutely share the panic of those who believe that if something doesn’t happen by midterms, Republicans will take over the House and shut every last bit of accountability down. I agree the threat to democracy is grave.

But there is no rule that permits DOJ to skip investigative steps and due process simply because people have invested in DOJ as the last bulwark of democracy, or because the target is the greatest threat to democracy America has faced since the Civil War. DOJ investigations take time. And that is one reason why, if people are hoping some damning indictment will save our democracy, they’re investing their hopes in the wrong place, because an investigation into Trump simply will not be rolled out that quickly. Even if Trump were indicted by mid-terms, the Republicans have invested so much energy into delegitimizing rule of law it’s not clear it would sway Fox viewers or even independent voters.

I can’t tell you whether DOJ will indict Trump. I can tell you that if they do, it will not come in time to be the one thing that saves democracy.

And so, because I believe the panicked hand-wringing is about the least productive way to save democracy, I made a list. Here are ten way that TV lawyers could better spend their time than whinging that Merrick Garland hasn’t indicted Donald Trump yet:

  1. Counter the propaganda effort to treat the Jan 6 defendants as martyrs.
  2. Explain how brown and black defendants actually faced worse conditions in the DC jail — and have complained with no results for years.
  3. Explain how DOJ has lost cases against white terrorists (including on sedition charges) in the past.
  4. Describe what really goes into an indictment, what kind of evidence is required, how long it takes, and the approvals that are needed to help people understand what to really expect.
  5. Emphasize the prosecutions/charges/investigations that have or are occurring.
  6. Describe the damage done by Trump’s pardons.
  7. Describe the way that even loyal Trumpsters will be and have been harmed as he corrupts the rule of law.
  8. Focus on the efforts of Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson to undercut the investigation into Project Veritas’ suspected theft of Ashely Biden’s diary
  9. Explain how shoddy John Durham’s indictments are.
  10. Focus on the legal threats to democracy in the states.

Counter the propaganda effort to treat the Jan 6 defendants as martyrs

Whether or not Trump is ever charged with crimes related to January 6, the right wing noise machine has already kicked into gear trying to make it harder to prosecute other culprits for the January 6 riot. They’ve done so by falsely claiming:

  • The event was just a protest like the protests of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, a claim DOJ already debunked, in part by showing that the Kavanaugh protestors who briefly halted his confirmation hearing had been legally admitted.
  • They’re being treated more harshly than those who used violence at BLM or Portland protests. DOJ has submitted multiple filings showing that such claims are based on cherry-picked data that ignore the state charges many of these defendants face, the better quality of evidence against Jan 6ers (in part because they bragged about their actions on social media), and the more heinous goal of the protest involved.
  • Large numbers of non-violent January 6 are being held in pretrial detention. In reality, the overwhelming majority of those detained were charged either in a militia conspiracy or for assaulting cops. The exceptions to this rule are generally people (like Brandon Fellows or Thomas Robertson) who violated pretrial release conditions. Additionally, a good number of those accused of assaulting cops have been released.
  • January 6 defendants are subjected to especially onerous treatment in jail. Many of the conditions they’re complaining about are COVID restrictions imposed on all detainees (though often more restrictive for those who, like a lot of January 6 defendants, choose not to get vaccinated). And in an inspection triggered by January 6 defendant Christopher Worrell’s complaints, the Marshals determined that the other part of the DC jail violated Federal standards, though the part in which the Jan 6ers are held did not.
  • January 6 defendants are just patriots trying to save the country. In reality, of course, these people were attempting to invalidate the legal votes of 81 million Americans.

Again, all these claims are easily shown to be false. But far too many people with a platform are allowing them to go unanswered, instead complaining that DOJ is not doing enough to defend the rule of law. This sustained effort to turn the Jan 6ers into martyrs will achieve real hold unless it is systematically countered.

Explain how brown and black defendants actually faced worse conditions in the DC jail — and have complained with no results for years

As noted above, after Proud Boy assault defendant Worrell complained about the treatment he received in DC jail, the Marshals conducted a snap inspection. They discovered that the older part of the DC jail, one housing other detainees but not Jan 6ers, did not meet Federal standards and have started transferring those detainees to a prison in Pennsylvania.

What has gotten far less attention is that problems with the DC jail have been known for decades. Even though the problems occasionally have gotten passing attention, in general it has been allowed to remain in the inadequate condition the Marshals purportedly discovered anew because a white person complained.

This is an example, then, when a white person has claimed himself to be the victim when, in fact, it’s yet another example of how brown and black people have less access to justice than similarly situated white people.

This development deserves focused attention, most of all because it is unjust. But such attention will flip the script that Jan 6ers are using in an attempt to get sympathy from those who don’t understand the truth.

Explain how DOJ has lost cases against white terrorists (including on sedition charges) in the past

There’s a lot of impatience that DOJ hasn’t simply charged January 6 defendants with sedition or insurrection.

Thus far, DOJ has chosen to use a less inflammatory and more flexible statute, obstruction, instead. Obstruction comes with enhancements — for threatening violence or especially obstructive behavior — that DOJ has used to tailor sentencing recommendations.

The wisdom of this approach will soon be tested, as several DC Judges weigh challenges to the application of the statute. If the application is overturned, it’s unclear whether DOJ will charge something else, like sedition, instead.

But DOJ probably chose their current approach for very good reason: because sedition is harder to prove than obstruction, and in the past, white terrorists have successfully beaten such charges. That’s true for a lot of reasons, partly because the absence of a material support statute makes association with a right wing terrorist group harder to prosecute.

A cable personality whom I have great respect for — NBC’s Barb McQuade — knows this as well as anyone, as she was US Attorney when a sedition conspiracy case against the Hutaree collapsed. In that case, DOJ had trouble proving that defendants wanted to overthrow the US government, the kind of evidentiary claim that DOJ will face in January 6 trials, even as currently charged.

There are real challenges to prosecuting white terrorism. Some education on this point would alleviate some of the impatience about the charging decisions DOJ has made.

Describe what really goes into an indictment, what kind of evidence is required, how long it takes, and the approvals that are needed to help people understand what to really expect

In the period between the time Steve Bannon was referred to DOJ for contempt and the time he was charged, a number of commentators used the delay to explain what it takes to get an indictment (against a high profile political figure) that stands a chance of work; one good example is this column by Joyce Vance.

There have been and are numerous examples of similar delays — the Tom Barrack indictment and the Rudy Giuliani Special Master review are two — that offer similar teaching opportunities about the process and protections involved in indicting someone.

Due process takes time. And yet in an era of instant gratification, few people understand why that’s the case. If we’re going to defend due process even while trying to defend our democracy, more education about what due process involves would temper some of the panic.

Emphasize the prosecutions/charges/investigations against Trump that have or are occurring

Given the din calling for prosecution of Donald Trump, you’d think none of his associates had been prosecuted. As Teri Kanefield noted the other day, it would be far better if, instead of saying Trump had suffered no consequences for his actions, there was some focus instead on where he had.

Trump’s business is currently under indictment with multiple investigations into it ongoing. His charity was shut down and fined for self-dealing. Trump’s Inauguration Committee will be civilly tried for paying above market rates to Trump Organization.

His Campaign Manager, his National Security Advisor, his Coffee Boy, his Rat-Fucker, and one of his personal lawyers were found guilty of lying to cover up what really happened with Russia in 2016. Several of these men (as well as a top RNC donor) also admitted they were secretly working for frenemy countries, including (in Mike Flynn’s case), while receiving classified briefings as Trump’s top national security aide. Trump’s biggest campaign donor, Tom Barrack, is being prosecuted for using the access he purchased to Trump to do the bidding of the Emirates. Another of Trump’s personal lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, is under investigation for the same crime, secretly working for another country while claiming to represent the interests of the President of the United States.

The sheer scale of this is especially breathtaking when you consider the projection the GOP has — successfully — focused on Hunter Biden for similar crimes. Even with years of effort and help from Russia, the GOP has not yet been able to prove that the President’s son’s influence peddling or potential tax accounting violated the law. Yet the GOP continues to focus on him relentlessly, even as the long list of Republicans who admit to the same crime continues to grow.

Trump has already proven to be the most corrupt president in some time, possibly ever. And instead of relentless messaging about that, Democrats are complaining about Merrick Garland.

Describe the damage done by Trump’s pardons

One reason why it’s hard to focus on all those criminal prosecutions is because Trump pardoned his way out of it. With the exception of Michael Cohen and Rick Gates, all the people who lied to cover up his Russian ties were pardoned, as was Steve Bannon and others who personally benefitted Trump.

Perhaps because these pardons happened in the wake of January 6, Trump avoided some of the shame he might otherwise have experienced for these pardons. But for several reasons, there should be renewed attention to them.

That’s true, for starters, because Trump’s pardons put the entire country at risk. By pardoning Eddie Gallagher for war crimes, for example, the US risks being treated as a human rights abuser by international bodies. The military faces additional disciplinary challenges. And those who cooperated against Gallagher effectively paid a real cost for cooperating against him only to see him escape consequences.

Paul Manafort’s pardon is another one that deserves renewed attention. That’s true not just because the pardon ended up halting the forfeiture that otherwise would have paid for the Mueller investigation, the cost of which right wingers claimed to care about. It’s true because Trump has basically dismissed the import of industrial scale tax cheating (even while right wingers insinuate that Hunter Biden might have made one error on his taxes). And finally, it’s true because Trump made an affirmative choice that a guy who facilitated Russia’s effort to undermine democracy in 2016, sharing information directly with someone deemed to be a Russian spy, should not be punished for his actions.

Finally, there should be renewed attention on what Trump got for his pardons. Did Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn pay central roles in January 6 in exchange for a pardon?

The US needs some means to prohibit such self-serving pardons like Trump pursued. But in the meantime, there needs to be some effort to shame Trump for relying on such bribes to stay out of prison himself.

Describe the way that even loyal Trumpsters will be and have been harmed as he corrupts the rule of law

Donald Trump pardoned Steve Bannon for defrauding a bunch of Trump loyalists. According to very recent reporting, Sidney Powell is under investigation (and being abandoned by her former allies) on suspicion she defrauded the thousands of Trump supporters who sent money to support her election conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party continues to dump money into protecting Trump for his own crimes, even as Republicans lose races that could have benefitted from the money.

However, some RNC members and donors accused the party of running afoul of its own neutrality rules and misplacing its priorities. Some of these same officials who spoke to CNN also questioned why the party would foot the legal bills of a self-professed billionaire who was sitting on a $102 million war chest as recently as July and has previously used his various political committees to cover legal costs. According to FEC filings from August, the former President’s Make America Great Again committee has paid Jones Day more than $37,000 since the beginning of the year, while his Make America Great

Again super PAC has paid a combined $7.8 million to attorneys handling his lawsuits related to the 2020 election.

“This is not normal. Nothing about this is normal, especially since he’s not only a former President but a billionaire,” said a former top RNC official.

“What does any of this have to do with assisting Republicans in 2022 or preparing for the 2024 primary?” the official added.

Bill Palatucci, a national committeeman from New Jersey, said the fact that the RNC made the payments to Trump’s attorneys in October was particularly frustrating given his own plea to party officials that same month for additional resources as the New Jersey GOP sought to push Republican Jack Ciattarelli over the finish line in his challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

“We sure as heck could have used $121,000,” Palatucci told CNN.

Loyal Trumpsters are the victim of one after another grift, and that should be emphasized to make it clear who is really taking advantage of them.

And one after another former Trump loyalist get themselves in their own legal trouble. One of the messages Michael Cohen tried to share in his testimony before going to prison was that “if [other Republicans] follow blindly, like I have,” they will end up like he did, going to prison. Hundreds of January 6 defendants — some of whom imagined they, too, might benefit from Trump’s clemency (they still might, but they’ll have to wait) — are learning Cohen’s lesson the hard way.

Kleptocracy only benefits those at the top. And yet Trump’s supporters continue to aggressively pursue policies that will make the US more of a kleptocracy.

It’s fairly easy to demonstrate the damage degrading rule of law in exchange for a kleptocracy is. Except average people aren’t going to understand that unless high profile experts make that case.

Focus on the efforts of Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson to undercut the investigation into Project Veritas’ suspected theft of Ashely Biden’s diary

The Project Veritas scandal remains obscure and may never amount to charges against PV itself. Yet even as it has become clear that DOJ is investigating theft, key Republicans Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson are trying to shut down the investigation into that theft. Chuck Grassley’s efforts to do so are particularly noxious given that a long-term staffer of his, Barbara Ledeen, is a sometime co-conspirator of Project Veritas.

Republicans have undermined legitimate investigations into Trump, over and over, with little pushback from the press. This is an example where it would seem especially easy to inflict a political cost (especially since Grassley is up for re-election next year).

It would be far more useful, in defending rule of law, to impose political costs on undermining the investigations that commentators are demanding from DOJ than it is to complain (incorrectly) that such investigations aren’t happening. Merrick Garland (however imperfect) is not the enemy of rule of law here, Jim Jordan is.

Explain how shoddy John Durham’s indictments are

One of the complaints that David Rothkopf made in the column that kicked off my latest bout of impatience with the hand-wringing about Garland complained that Garland “is letting” Durham charge those who raise concerns about Trump’s ties to Russia, even while (Rothkopf assumes) ignoring Trump’s own efforts to obstruct the investigation.

We have seen that Garland is letting the highly politicized investigation of special prosecutor John Durham into the conduct of the Trump-Russia investigation continue (by continuing its funding). We therefore have the real prospect that those who sought to look into the Trump-Russia ties that both Mueller and Congressional investigations have demonstrated were real, unprecedented and dangerous might be prosecuted while those who actively sought the help of a foreign enemy to win an election will not be.

As I have noted, both of Durham’s indictments have been shoddy work, hanging charges on Twitter rants and other hearsay evidence.

And while there was some worthwhile criticism of the Michael Sussmann indictment (perhaps because he’s well-connected in DC), Democrats seem to take Durham’s word that Igor Danchenko — and not Christopher Steele or Russian disinformation — is responsible for the flaws in the dossier. Perhaps as a result, the legal experts who could point out how ridiculous it is to rely on a Twitter feed for a key factual claim have remained silent.

With such silence, it is not (just) Garland who “is letting [Duram’s] highly politicized investigation” continue unchecked, but also the experts whose criticism could do something to rein him in.

If the investigation is politicized — and it is — then Durham is a far more appropriate target than Garland.

Focus on the legal threats to democracy in the states

There has, admittedly, been deserved focus on the ways Republicans are chipping away at democratic representation in the states.

But that is where the battle for democracy is being fought. And in most of the states where Trump attempted to undermine the 2020 election, there are follow-on legal issues, whether it’s the investigation into the suspected voting machine theft in Colorado (including into a former campaign manager for Lauren Boebert), a seemingly related investigation in Ohio, or the effort to criminalize efforts to ease voting by seniors during the pandemic in Wisconsin.

Republicans are trying to criminalize democracy. That makes it all the more important to ensure that the call for rule of law remains laser focused on the criminal efforts to cheat to win, if for no other reason than to shame those involved.

The threat to democracy is undoubtedly grave. Republicans are deploying their considerable propaganda effort into legitimizing that attack on democracy (even while suggesting Biden has committed the kind of graft that Trump engaged in non-stop, classic projection).

In the face of that unrelenting effort, expert commentators who support democracy have a choice: They can defend the rule of law and shame those who have denigrated it, or they can spend their time complaining about the guy trying, however imperfectly, to defend it himself. The latter will make Garland less able to do his job, the former will help him do whatever he is willing and able to do.

Update: Added “suspected” to the PV bullet.

The Publisher of the Steele Dossier, Ben Smith, Reports that the Hunter Biden Laptop Was Just a Political Dirty Trick

The recent Igor Danchenko indictment and overly credulous reporting on it have created a big new push for former BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith to reflect on his role in the dissemination of the Steele dossier.

In a Sunday column on mis- and disinformation, however, he makes no mention of it.

Instead, his column questions the inclusion of the Hunter Biden laptop story in a media executive seminar on, “help[ing] newsroom leaders fight misinformation and media manipulation.” Smith claims that treatment of the laptop story is, in fact, proof that the term “media manipulation” means  “any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.”

A couple of them, though, told me they were puzzled by the reading package for the first session.

It consisted of a Harvard case study, which a participant shared with me, examining the coverage of Hunter Biden’s lost laptop in the final days of the 2020 campaign. The story had been pushed by aides and allies of then-President Donald J. Trump who tried to persuade journalists that the hard drive’s contents would reveal the corruption of the father.

The news media’s handling of that narrative provides “an instructive case study on the power of social media and news organizations to mitigate media manipulation campaigns,” according to the Shorenstein Center summary.

The Hunter Biden laptop saga sure is instructive about something. As you may recall, panicked Trump allies frantically dumped its contents onto the internet and into reporters’ inboxes, a trove that apparently included embarrassing images and emails purportedly from the candidate’s son showing that he had tried to trade on the family name. The big social media platforms, primed for a repeat of the WikiLeaks 2016 election shenanigans, reacted forcefully: Twitter blocked links to a New York Post story that tied Joe Biden to the emails without strong evidence (though Twitter quickly reversed that decision) and Facebook limited the spread of the Post story under its own “misinformation” policy.

But as it now appears, the story about the laptop was an old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign, and describing it with the word “misinformation” doesn’t add much to our understanding of what happened. While some of the emails purportedly on the laptop have since been called genuine by at least one recipient, the younger Mr. Biden has said he doesn’t know if the laptop in question was his.

And the “media manipulation campaign” was a threadbare, 11th-hour effort to produce a late-campaign scandal, an attempt at an October Surprise that has been part of nearly every presidential campaign I’ve covered.

The Wall Street Journal, as I reported at the time, looked hard at the story. Unable to prove that Joe Biden had tried, as vice president, to change U.S. policy to enrich a family member, The Journal refused to tell it the way the Trump aides wanted, leaving that spin to the right-wing tabloids. What remained was a murky situation that is hard to call “misinformation,” even if some journalists and academics like the clarity of that label. The Journal’s role was, in fact, a pretty standard journalistic exercise, a blend of fact-finding and the sort of news judgment that has fallen a bit out of favor as journalists have found themselves chasing social media.

While some academics use the term carefully, “misinformation” in the case of the lost laptop was more or less synonymous with “material passed along by Trump aides.” And in that context, the phrase “media manipulation” refers to any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.

Unless Smith considers the two details he cites — some researchers have confirmed that some of the emails are authentic, yet Hunter Biden doesn’t claim to know whether the laptop in question was his — to be proof one way or another that this was a “politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” he cites no evidence for his conclusion.

Smith doesn’t mention any of the reasons why there was and remains good reason to suspect the laptop — the provenance of which even Glenn Greenwald once proclaimed to be “bizarre at best” — was more than that. From the time President Trump first started extorting an investigation into the Bidens from Ukraine through at least January 2020, Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU was found hacking Burisma, the company with which Hunter had a sketchy consulting relationship that was the initial hook for the laptop stories. Rudy Giuliani not only played a central role in the brokering of the laptop story, but reportedly had been sitting on a copy of the files for some time. Rudy, of course, had played a key role in Trump’s attempt to extort news of a Biden investigation and even during the impeachment inquiry, in spite of warnings from the intelligence community, traveled to Ukraine to meet with Andrii Derkach, who was subsequently sanctioned as a Russian agent. According to Ben Smith’s employer, Derkach’s efforts to deal “misleading information” to Rudy as part of a 2020 election operation are under investigation by EDNY; a parallel investigation into Rudy for serving as an unregistered agent of Ukrainian interests in events that were part of the impeachment inquiry remains ongoing at SDNY. An intelligence report related to the second story hung on the laptop, regarding Hunter’s ties to China, was disclosed to have been attributed to an intelligence analyst whose identity was entirely fabricated, down to his artificially generated face. And the IC’s report on efforts to interfere in the 2020 election includes one conclusion that sounds suspiciously similar to the efforts that led to the laptop story.

A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of people linked to Russian intelligence to launder influence narratives–including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden–through US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, some of whom were close to former President Trump and his administration.

If the Hunter Biden laptop story was just a political dirty trick, then it was one that exactly paralleled well-substantiated efforts involving Russian intelligence agents.

We now know, thanks to the investigation into Project Veritas, that the “sister” media package right wing propaganda outlets were pitching, the dissemination of a diary from Hunter’s half-sister in the very same weeks leading up to the election, similarly features a sketchy origin story that — SDNY has shown probable cause to believe — actually serves to hide the theft of the underlying diary. While SDNY has not yet charged anyone much less proven the case, it claims that the story about how reporters came to obtain such a juicy campaign prop was, itself, misinformation hiding theft. That’s another detail that Smith doesn’t mention in his piece.

Even if the similarities between Smith’s “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” and the acknowledged interference attempt by Russian agents are mere coinkydink, it nevertheless is the case that the Hunter Biden laptop package was an attempt at media manipulation, part of the reason it was presented to the seminar.

That’s because — again, as even Glenn Greenwald acknowledged — the presumptively authentic emails offered as the dangle in the laptop package provided, “no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma.” By offering “authentic” emails and derogatory pictures just before the election, right wing operatives attempted to make a story that had long been reported (and key parts of it debunked by experts testifying under oath as part of the first impeachment) go viral just before the election not by offering any proof of the key allegations, but by waving something “authentic” around that could substitute for real proof.

It briefly worked, too, as high profile journalists disseminated the most inflammatory details in the story — effectively delivering the announcement of a criminal investigation pertaining to Ukraine that Trump demanded from Volodymyr Zelenskyy — and only after that started identifying really problematic parts of the story.

This entire episode was an effort to disseminate something “authentic” that nevertheless lacked proof of the underlying allegations as a way to lead people to believe those allegations. Classic media manipulation, and it nearly succeeded.

And Ben Smith, the man who published a dossier full of unproven allegations that — Republicans in Congress now believe — injected Russian disinformation into what otherwise might have been just an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” a dossier that (like Hunter Biden’s laptop) long stood as the proxy understanding for a criminal investigation into dramatically different facts, dismisses the possibility that it was disinformation blithely, presenting no real evidence for or against.

It is undoubtedly the case that there remain real questions about the Hunter Biden laptop package, questions that may get renewed attention given the new focus on the Ashley Biden diary package. Maybe one day, Ben Smith will be able to state, as fact, that it was just an, “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign;” or maybe EDNY will uncover the real provenance of those “authentic” files all packaged up and handed to a guy who made no secret of his willingness to accept and disseminate Russian disinformation.

But at a time when he is actively refusing to reflect on his own actions in disseminating an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” that seems to have been exploited as an easy vehicle for hostile disinformation, Ben Smith might want to be a little more cautious about assuming those lines are so easy to distinguish.

While Lindsey Graham Was Stalling Merrick Garland’s Confirmation He Was Hoping for Imminent Hunter Biden and John Durham News

One of the very last things Lindsey Graham did as Senate Judiciary Chair was to send a letter to Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson urging him not to do anything about two investigations that — according to his addled little brain — “Democrats would rather go away.” In addition to the Delaware investigation of Hunter Biden, Lindsey included the John Durham investigation in that.

I was even the primary sponsor of bipartisan legislation, favorably reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to protect Special Counsel Mueller’s probe from being terminated. Special Counsel Mueller of course found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but it was important for public trust that the probe be completed without interference.

We now find the shoe on the other foot. We have two properly predicated, ongoing investigations Democrats would rather go away: Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and the investigation by the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office into Hunter Biden. Special Counsel Durham’s probe has already yielded a felony conviction.

I am writing to respectfully request that you refrain from interfering in any way with either investigation while the Senate processes the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the position of Attorney General. The American public deserve the truth and must know that these investigations will continue without political interference.

There’s a lot that’s ridiculous about this letter. It is laughably false to claim that Mueller “found no evidence of ‘collusion,'” — that would be a false claim even if Lindsey had used the legally relevant term of “conspiracy.”

The shoe is not on the other foot. In contradistinction to Trump’s incessant focus on the Russian investigation, there has been no peep about these investigations from the Biden White House. Instead, Hunter Biden rolled out a book deal the other day, which led his father to focus on the import of recovery from addiction, not legal risk.

Lindsey waves Durham’s single felony conviction around — as compared to Mueller’s much more productive investigation and based on evidence entirely derived from Michael Horowitz’ investigation — even after presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg concluded that Kevin Clinesmith did not commit that crime out of any ill-will and sentenced him to a year of probation.

It’s just such a pathetic effort to sustain conspiracy theories Trump chased, and in spite of the Fox News piece on this letter quoting someone that sounds remarkably like Lindsey Graham talking about an ongoing investigation he shouldn’t know about off the record, it’s not actually clear that either of these will result in a showy prosecution. Hell, for all we know, Durham has shifted his focus to what the FBI Agents who were sending pro-Trump tweets on their phones did during the investigation or why Bill Barr’s DOJ submitted altered documents to a criminal docket, precisely the crime Clinesmith pled guilty to.

To repeat, Graham wrote this to urge Wilkinson, who remains in charge of DOJ and oversees the Durham investigation (Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin probably oversees the Hunter Biden one) because Merrick Garland remains the most senior Cabinet official who hasn’t been confirmed yet. This was one of his last acts as Chair of SJC.

But the other major final stunt before handing his gavel over to Dick Durbin was precisely that delay. In spite of Garland’s bipartisan support and in spite of Durbin’s exhortations to stop delaying, Lindsey simply didn’t take up Garland’s nomination when he counterparts were doing so. And so DOJ may not get a confirmed Attorney General until late February or early March.

Probably, Lindsey primarily stalled this confirmation just to impose a price on Democrats for impeaching the former President.

But I had been wondering whether Lindsey didn’t have more in mind, perhaps the delay of charges that DOJ would not unseal without Garland’s sanction. And that may be the case.

But along with that delay, Lindsey has also delayed his opportunity to obtain assurances from Garland that he’ll leave these two investigations Lindsey is obsessed about untouched.

A Modest Proposal: Include Lindsey Graham’s Threats against Brad Raffensperger in any Special Counsel Mandate

Lindsey Graham has endorsed the idea of appointing a Special Counsel to investigate Hunter Biden.

Graham on a special counsel for Hunter Biden: I think it’s a good idea..if you believe a special counsel was needed to look at the Trump world regarding Russia. How can you say there’s no need for special counsel regarding Hunter Biden?”

Apparently, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn’t see the difference between appointing a Special Counsel after the President has fired the FBI Director to stop an investigation into himself and a Special Counsel to investigate the President-Elect’s son two years into an investigation that has (thus far) found nothing. Graham doesn’t even seem to realize that various parts of the Trump DOJ have investigated — at a minimum — Trump’s son-in-law (as part of a referral from the Mueller investigation, though the topic is unknown), Trump’s personal lawyer, and any number of his corrupt former campaign managers, without needing a Special Counsel to protect the independence of the investigation, not even after the confirmed interference by the Attorney General.

The call for a Special Counsel to continue an investigation that has already lasted two years (that is, longer than the entire Mueller investigation and twice as long as it took to indict Manafort on 44 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, money laundering, and unregistered influence-peddling) without finding anything comes along with President Trump’s call for another Special Counsel investigating purported voter fraud.

As I said in my post noting that John Durham has unaltered originals of documents that — under Billy Barr’s micromanagement — got altered and submitted to a judge, followed by a lie to the same judge, one way to deal with the Durham Special Counsel designation is to have him investigate crimes that Barr’s associates may have committed in their efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. John Durham will control the day-to-day conduct of this investigation, but he doesn’t — cannot legally, under current precedent — control the scope.

Something similar could be done with both of the Special Counsel investigations Trump wants to push. Rudy Giuliani will no doubt be pardoned in the next 35 days. And the next day, Rudy will wake up and continue pursuing the same disinformation, largely about Hunter Biden, from Russian-tied mobbed up oligarchs. So Sally Yates or Doug Jones or whoever Biden makes Attorney General can very easily ask a Special Counsel to include Rudy’s potential crimes among those the Special Counsel investigates. The Special Counsel doesn’t even have a reporting mechanism to complain about scope (which John Durham might have used when Barr was flying him around the world chasing George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories). If the Special Counsel complained about the scope, she could quit and be replaced by someone Biden’s AG believed appropriate. If the Special Counsel leaked anything, Biden’s AG would have the Comey precedent to justify firing the Special Counsel.

So, too, could a Special Counsel appointed by Trump to investigate voting irregularities be scoped to investigate the more credible allegations of crimes committed during the election, most notably threats and other coercive means used against those (including Republicans) trying to conduct free and fair elections. Among others whose conduct could be investigated are government employees who also served as counsel on Trump-backed lawsuits challenging the election. A Special Counsel investigating allegations of crime during the election could review fraudulent claims alleging fraud in sworn declarations submitted in these frivolous lawsuits; such an investigation could consider whether there was an organized effort to collect such perjurious statements, and if so, who funded it all. Such a Special Counsel could investigate whether then-President Trump’s multiple calls haranguing GOP officials constituted a threat or some kind of bribe. A Special Counsel could and should review the range of violent threats against participants on both sides of the election.

Among the most alarming potential crimes alleged during the post-election period, as it happens, involves Lindsey Graham himself. He called up Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, and — while witnesses were listening — pushed Raffensperger to disqualify legal votes.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that he has come under increasing pressure in recent days from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who he said questioned the validity of legally cast absentee ballots, in an effort to reverse President Trump’s narrow loss in the state.

[snip]

In the interview, Raffensperger also said he spoke on Friday to Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has echoed Trump’s unfounded claims about voting irregularities.

In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested because counties administer elections in Georgia.

“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger said.

It’s unclear whether Lindsey’s actions constitute a crime or not. But that’s why it would be a reasonable thing for a Special Counsel, one not directly controlled by Biden’s AG, to review: to ensure it receives a fair review without political influence.

Lindsey Graham seems to believe that Trump’s calls for Special Counsels are merited.

Very well then.

Missing the National Security Crises for the Trump Temper Tantrums

Even after Republicans and Vladimir Putin have conceded that Donald Trump will no longer be President in 35 days, key parts of the press corps seem unable to look beyond Trump’s temper tantrums to the state of the country.

NBC,  for example, has a 17-paragraph story about Pat Cipollone’s efforts to persuade Trump not to fire Chris Wray and maybe Chad Wolf and maybe Gina Haspel and who knows maybe some more national security figures Trump is pissy about because they haven’t catered to his personal demands. The story doesn’t once mention that these same national security officials — especially Wray and Wolf — are neck deep in a crisis attempting to assess and respond to the SolarWinds compromise of multiple US agencies.

While Trump’s frustrations with Attorney General Bill Barr boiled over in recent days, and Barr resigned on Monday, the president’s advisers hope he’s been persuaded against ousting Wray. Multiple current and former senior administration officials said firing Wray does not appear imminent, but they also point out that the president could make such a decision on a whim at any time. Indeed officials said they are prepared for Trump to go on a firing spree before leaving office next month.

“I wouldn’t take anything off the table in coming weeks,” the senior administration official said of personnel changes, as well as presidential pardons. The official said to expect “some more fairly significant terminations in the national security or intelligence community.”

That this story could even be reported with an unrelenting focus on Trump’s revenge fantasies and not, instead, an extended discussion of the way these revenge fantasies have distracted the entire Administration from urgent crises which Trump’s past revenge fantasies have invited and made worse is an alarming failure of basic framing.

Similarly, in the middle of a 19-paragraph AP story on the transition at DOJ from Bill Barr to Jeffrey Rosen, it summarizes the main point of the story: the biggest issue before DOJ as it prepares for pardonpalooza, continues to cope with running prisons and fraud investigations during a pandemic, sues some of the world’s biggest tech companies, and deals with Mexico’s withdrawal from virtually all drug enforcement cooperation is whether or not the Attorney General, some Attorney General, any Attorney General appoints a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden.

As Barr exits, the biggest thing by far hanging over the Trump Justice Department is its investigation into Hunter Biden, which involves multiple U.S. attorney offices and FBI field offices.

The AP is so deep inside Trump’s manic delusions that it states, as fact, that appointing a special counsel would by itself make for a more complicated investigation, as if someone could just chase Rudy Giuliani conspiracies for four years without Biden’s Attorney General making a solid case the person should be fired.

Appointing a special counsel for the Hunter Biden probe would also signal a more prolonged and complicated investigation than the current inquiry, so far largely centered on his taxes.

DOJ has already spent something like 4 US Attorney years investigating Hunter Biden and has yet to charge him with a single crime; while it remains to be seen whether the tax charges are real, at some point an investigation will butt up against the reality that even the politicized Scott Brady one did: most of the allegations against Hunter Biden are the product of very frothy conspiracy theorizing and aggressive disinformation that straight reporters are not obliged to adopt.

It is useful — important even — to report on the Trump’s temper tantrums. But his tantrums, at this point, are most important for the way they’ve paralyzed and corrupted the entire government during a time it faces multiple urgent crises. Don’t let sources dodge how indulging the President’s childish whims means they, too, are failing to do their real job serving the country.

The country is burning. It is burning, in significant part, because the President has always prioritized his own personal vendettas over the good of the country.

If you need to report on how Trump has put his own revenge fantasies over all else during his Lame Duck, do so as a first step towards holding him accountable for the wreckage that has resulted, not to indulge those fantasies as if the rest of us should care about them anymore.

The Claim that Billy Barr Didn’t Release Any Investigative Information During the Election Is False

Even before Billy Barr’s obsequious resignation, he and his handlers had been working the press to boost his tainted reputation. Consider not one (dated December 10) but two (dated December 14) WSJ stories boasting about how Barr kept the Hunter Biden investigations from going public. The WSJ lauds Barr for doing things that he pushed to have Peter Strzok and others prosecuted for also doing in the Russian investigation (one theory that John Durham and Jeffrey Jensen pursued is that because Strzok didn’t approve NSLs against Mike Flynn in November 2016 he had no basis to do so in February and March 2017).

Mr. Barr took more steps than previously reported to insulate the investigations, despite calls from President Trump and Republican allies to announce a probe involving President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Mr. Barr and senior department officials relayed the instructions in conversations with prosecutors, questioning whether their staff members could be trusted and warning against issuing subpoenas or taking other steps that might become public, some of the people familiar with the matter said.

It’s full of fawning praise that accepts as true that Barr would never reveal information from an ongoing probe.

As the election drew nearer, calls from Mr. Trump and some Republican allies for the investigations rose in urgency. Mr. Barr and other top Justice Department officials resisted inquiries from several Republican lawmakers and their staffs for information on whether investigators were examining Hunter Biden, two people familiar with the matter said.

“It’s not even debatable that it is wrong for anyone in the chain of command at DOJ, especially the top law enforcement person in the country, to reveal an ongoing confidential criminal investigation. And Bill Barr was not going to do that,” said Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney and longtime friend of the attorney general.

The WSJ even points to the Scott Brady investigation, without noting what happened to it during the investigation.

After the acquittal, Mr. Barr announced that the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, Scott Brady, would receive and review information related to Hunter Biden and Ukraine from Mr. Giuliani.

As the NYT reported, Brady was pushing the FBI to do stuff they deemed inappropriate, particularly during an election year. It sounds like, to the degree that these investigations remained secret, that was due more to the FBI than to Barr or his hand-selected partisan US Attorney.

The steps were outside “normal investigative procedures,” one former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the events said, particularly in an election year; Justice Department policy typically forbids investigators from making aggressive moves before elections that could affect the outcome of the vote if they become public.

The Pittsburgh F.B.I. office refused to comply without the approval of David L. Bowdich, the F.B.I.’s deputy director, the former official said.

Mr. Brady’s demands soon prompted a tense confrontation with F.B.I. officials at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington. The meeting was mediated by Seth D. DuCharme, now the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and at the time a trusted aide and ally of Mr. Barr’s at the Justice Department in Washington.

[snip]

Still, Mr. Brady pressed the F.B.I. to do more, officials said. The agents found ways to ostensibly satisfy Mr. Brady without upending the election. It is not clear how they compromised, but agents could have investigated more discreetly, like questioning witnesses they were confident would keep quiet or checking databases.

WSJ addresses the Durham investigation this way in its last three paragraphs.

Mr. Barr soon after ordered an investigation into the origins of the FBI’s 2016 probe that had led to Mr. Mueller’s appointment. Mr. Barr openly contemplated releasing the results ahead of November’s election. He told The Wall Street Journal in August the department’s election-sensitivities policy did not apply because the previously announced inquiry did not “reach to Obama or Biden, and therefore the people under investigation are in fact not really political figures.”

Then, the federal prosecutor leading that review, John Durham, hadn’t completed his work in time. Mr. Durham’s deputy resigned in part over concerns that Mr. Barr would use the findings for political gain, the Journal previously reported. Mr. Trump and his allies said they hoped some findings would be released before the election. Mr. Durham hasn’t commented on his team’s work.

In October, Mr. Barr appointed Mr. Durham special counsel, meaning he can only be removed for cause and likely leaving the probe for his successor to address. He didn’t disclose that appointment until Dec. 1.

I’m not sure how a piece that describes Nora Dannehy’s resignation can claim — anywhere — that Barr worked hard to keep investigative information secret. He tried to do the opposite, and failed, at least with respect to the Durham investigation.

But what he did in response should disabuse any journalist of the claim that Barr tried to keep investigative information secret.

In the 60 days leading up to the election, the Jeffrey Jensen released an interview report — from a witness that John Durham surely also interviewed — that was so obviously intended for political effect that it left out key details and evidence from the investigation into Mike Flynn and invited a pro-Trump FBI Agent to make accusations about Mueller prosecutors he didn’t even work with. The report was also redacted so as to hide material, complimentary information about the Mueller investigation.

At the same time, the Jensen investigation released a package of exhibits also reviewed as part of the Durham investigation, at least three of which had been altered, including to have their protective order footers removed:

One of the alterations — a misleading date falsely suggesting Biden played a role in the Mike Flynn investigation that DOJ knew well Bob Litt actually played — was used by Trump to make an attack on Joe Biden.

It is simply false to say that Barr didn’t release investigative information affecting Joe Biden. Indeed, under his micromanagement, Jensen did far worse than Jim Comey did in 2016, because the information was packaged up