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The Error that Betrays Insufficient Attention to the Obstruction Standard in the January 6 Eastman Filing

There’s a telling error in the January 6 Committee’s filing aiming to overcome John Eastman’s claims his emails are covered by Attorney-Client privilege. In the section asserting that Trump had probably violated 118 USC 1512(c)(2) — the same obstruction statute used to charge over 200 of the other January 6 defendants — the filing asserts that six judges “to date” have “refused to dismiss charges against defendants under the section.”

That number is incorrect. As of March 2, at least ten judges had upheld DOJ’s application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2), and a few more have as much as said they would.

  1. Dabney Friedrich, December 10, 2021, Sandlin*
  2. Amit Mehta, December 20, 2021, Caldwell*
  3. James Boasberg, December 21, 2021, Mostofsky
  4. Tim Kelly, December 28, 2021, Nordean*
  5. Randolph Moss, December 28, 2021, Montgomery
  6. Beryl Howell, January 21, 2022, DeCarlo
  7. John Bates, February 1, 2022, McHugh
  8. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, February 9, 2022, Grider
  9. Richard Leon (by minute order), February 24, 2022, Costianes
  10. Christopher Cooper, February 25, 2022, Robertson

When I first made this observation, I thought I was being a bit churlish in making it. But on reflection (and after reading the quotes from lawyers in this Charlie Savage article), I think it’s an important point. All the more so given how TV lawyers have claimed that, because the January 6 Committee has claimed Trump could be charged with obstruction, then damnit DOJ should already have done so.

The fact that the Jan 6 Committee isn’t even aware of all the obstruction rulings suggests they’ve been insufficiently attentive to what the rulings actually say, aside from the baseline holding of all of them that the vote certification was an official proceeding.

While ten judges have upheld the application, there are some differences between these opinions, particularly with regards to their formulation of the corrupt mens rea required by the statute. The most important differences from my review (but I’m not a constitutional lawyer and so I should not be the one doing this analysis!!!!!), are:

  • Whether “corrupt” intent requires otherwise illegal action
  • Whether such corruption would be transitive (an attempt to get someone else to act improperly) or intransitive (whether it would require only corruption of oneself)

Dabney Friedrich argued (and I laid out briefly here) — and has repeatedly warned in pretrial hearings for Guy Reffitt — that as she understand this application it must involve otherwise illegal actions. Amit Mehta ruled (as I wrote up here) that, at least for the Oath Keepers, this corruption may be just intransitive.

On both these issues, the Jan 6 Committee’s argument is a bit muddled. Here’s how they argue that Trump’s actions (and, less aggressively, Eastman’s) demonstrate that corrupt intent.

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 provides for objections by House and Senate members, and a process to resolve such objections through votes in each separate chamber. 3 U.S.C. §§ 5, 6, 15. Nothing in the Twelfth Amendment or the Electoral Count Act provides a basis for the presiding officer of the Senate to unilaterally refuse to count electoral votes — for any reason. Any such effort by the presiding officer would violate hte law. This is exactly what the Vice President’s counsel explained at length to Plaintiff and President Trump before January 6. Plaintiff acknowledge that the Supreme Court would reject such an effort 9-0. And the Vice President made this crystal clear in writing on January 6: [1] any attempt by the Vice President to take the course of action the President insisted he take would have been illegal

Nevertheless, pursuant to the Plaintiff’s plan, the President repeatedly asked the Vice President to exercise unilateral authority illegally, as presiding officer of the Joint Session of Congress, to refuse to count electoral votes. See supra at 11-13. In service of this effort, he and Plaintiff met with the Vice President and his staff several times to advocate that he universally reject and refuse to count or prevent the counting of certified electoral votes, and both also engaged in a public campaign to pressure the Vice President. See supra at 3-17.

The President and Plaintiff also took steps to alter the certification of electors from various states.

[snip]

The evidence supports an inference that President Trump and members of his campaign knew he had not won enough legitimate state electoral votes to be declared the winner of the 2020 Presidential election during the January 6 Joint Session of Congress, but [2] the President nevertheless sought to use the Vice President to manipulate the results in his favor.

[snip]

[T]he President and the Plaintiff engaged in an extensive public and private campaign to convince the Vice President to reject certain Biden electors or delay the proceedings, without basis, so that the President and his associates would have additional time to manipulate the results. [3] Had this effort succeeded, the electoral count would have been obstructed, impeded, influenced, and (at the very least) delayed, all without any genuine legal justification and based on the false pretense that the election had been stolen. There is no genuine question that the President and Plaintiff attempted to accomplish this specific illegal result. [numbering and bold mine]

As I said, I think this is a bit of a muddle. For starters, the Jan 6 Committee is not arguing that the delay actually caused by Trump’s mob amounted to obstruction. Rather, they’re arguing (at [3]) that had Eastman’s efforts to get Pence to himself impose a delay would be obstruction.

They make that argument even though they have evidence to more closely align their argument to the fact pattern ten judges have already approved. The emails included with this filing show Pence Counsel Greg Jacob twice accusing Eastman of convincing Trump of a theory that Trump then shared with his followers, which in turn caused the riot.

[T]hanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.

[snip]

[I]t was gravely, gravely irresponsible of you to entice the President of with an academic theory that had no legal viability, and that you well know we would lose before any judge who heard and decided the case. And if the courts declined to hear it, I suppose it could only be decided in the streets. The knowing amplification of that theory through numerous surrogates, whipping large numbers of people into a frenzy over something with no chance of ever attaining legal force through actual process of law, has led us to where we are.

That is, Jacob argued, in real time, that Eastman’s knowingly impossible theory, amplified by the President, caused the riot that ended up putting Pence’s life at risk and delaying the vote certification. But the Jan 6 Committee argues instead that the attempted persuasion of Pence the was the obstructive act.

Perhaps as a result, the agency (transitive versus intransitive) involved in this obstructive act is likewise muddled. In one place (at [1]), the Jan 6 Committee argues that the obstructive act was a failed attempt to persuade Pence to take an illegal action. I’m not sure any of the failed attempts to persuade people to do something illegal (to persuade Pence to do something he couldn’t do, to persuade members of Congress to challenge the vote with either good faith or cynical challenges, to persuade Jeffrey Clark to serve as Acting Attorney General) would sustain legal challenges.

If the Commander in Chief ordered his Vice President to take an illegal act, that would be a bit different, but that’s not what the Jan 6 Committee argues happened here.

Elsewhere, this filing (and other attempts to apply obstruction to Trump) point to Trump’s awareness (at [2]) that he lost the election, and so his attempts to win anyway exhibit an intransitive corrupt intent.

As Charlie Savage noted in his story and a thread on same, to some degree the Jan 6 Committee doesn’t need to do any better. They’re not indicting Trump, they’re just trying to get emails they will likely get via other means anyway (and as such, the inclusion of this argument is significantly PR).

But to the extent that this filing — and not, say, the opinion issued by Judge Mehta after he had approved obstruction, in which he both ruled it was plausible that Trump had conspired with two militias and, more importantly (and to me, at least, shockingly), said it was also plausible that Trump may be liable under an aid and abet standard — is being used as the model for applying obstruction to Trump, it is encouraging a lot of unicorn thinking and, more importantly, a lot of really sloppy thinking. There are so many ways to charge Trump with obstruction that don’t require an inquiry into his beliefs about losing the election, and those are the ones DOJ has laid a groundwork for.

Plus, there are a few more realities that TV lawyers who want to talk about obstruction should consider.

First, it is virtually guaranteed that Friedrich’s opinion — the one that holds that “corrupt” must involve otherwise illegal actions — will be the first one appealed. That’s because whatever happens with the Guy Reffitt trial this week and next, it’s likely it will be appealed. And Reffitt has been building in an appeal of Friedrich’s obstruction decision from the start. First trial, first appeal. So TV lawyers need to study up what she has said about otherwise illegal action and lay out some rebuttals if their theory of Trump’s liability involves mere persuasion.

Second, while ultimately all 22 judges are likely to weigh in on this obstruction application (and there are only two or three judges remaining who might conceivably rule differently than their colleagues), there are just a handful of judges who might face this obstruction application with Trump or a close associate like Roger Stone or Rudy Giuliani. Judge Mehta (by dint of presiding over the Oath Keeper cases) or Judge Kelly (by dint of ruling over the most important Proud Boy cases) might see charges against Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, or Alex Jones. Chief Judge Howell might take a higher profile case herself. Or she might give it to either Mehta (who is already presiding over closely related cases, including the January 6 lawsuits of Trump) or one of the two judges who has dealt with issues of Presidential accountability, either former OLC head Moss or Carl Nichols. Notably, Judge Nichols, who might also get related cases based on presiding over the Steve Bannon case, has not yet (as far as I’m aware) issued a ruling upholding 1512(c)(2); I imagine he would uphold it, but don’t know how his opinion might differ from his colleagues.

The application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to January 6 is not, as the TV lawyers only now discovering it, an abstract concept. It is something that has been heavily litigated already. There are eight substantive opinions out there, with some nuances between them. The universe of judges who might preside over a Trump case is likewise finite and with the notable exception of Judge Nichols, the two groups largely overlap.

So if TV lawyers with time on their hands want to understand how obstruction would apply to Trump, it’d do well — and it is long overdue — to look at what the judges have actually said and how those opinions differ from the theory of liability being thrown around on TV.

I’m convinced not just that Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction, but that DOJ has been working towards that for some time. But I’m not convinced the current January 6 Committee theory would survive.

The Half of Trump’s Conspiracy to Obstruct JustSecurity Left Out: Inciting an Insurrection

Two days after Judge Amit Mehta ruled that it was plausible that Trump conspired with the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, JustSecurity has posted an imagined prosecutor’s memo laying out the case that Trump, John Eastman, and Rudy Giuliani (and others known and unknown) conspired to obstruct the vote count that almost entirely leaves out the militias.

It has gotten a lot of attention among the TV lawyer set, who imagine that it would save Merrick Garland time.

With this obnoxious tweet, Laurence Tribe betrays (yet again) that he has completely missed what DOJ has been doing for the past year. What Barb McQuade did is lay out the theory of prosecution that DOJ has long been working on — as I laid out in August. Except that McQuade (of whom I’m a great fan both personally and professionally) misses great swaths of public evidence, and in so doing, makes her case far weaker than it would need to be to prosecute a former President.

Start with McQuade’s argument substantiating that Trump corruptly tried to obstruct the vote count.

Here, attempting to prevent the certification of the votes for president is illegal only it is wrongful or for an improper purpose. It would be wrongful or improper for Trump to seek to retain the presidency if he knew that he had been defeated in the November election. His public statements suggest that he genuinely believed that he had won the election, but, as discussed above, by Jan. 6, it was apparent that there was a complete absence of any evidence whatsoever to support his belief, which at this point had become merely a wish. The statements from Krebs, Barr, Rosen, Donoghue, Ratcliffe, and Raffensperger, and the memo from his own campaign team all permit a fair inference that Trump knew that there was no election fraud, and that his efforts to obstruct the certification was therefore corrupt.

Independently, regardless of his knowledge or belief in election fraud, it was an improper purpose to hold into power after the 50 states had certified their election results, the Electoral College had voted, and litigation had been exhausted after an across-the-board rejection by the federal courts.

This is the theory of prosecution where an obstruction case against Trump would succeed or fail. And I’m not sure it meets the understanding of obstruction already laid out by the judges who would preside over the case.

Defendants have been challenging DOJ’s application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to the vote certification since at least April, and so there’s a great deal of background and seven written, one oral, and one minute opinions on the topic:

  1. Dabney Friedrich (my post on it and the obstruction application generally)
  2. Amit Mehta (my post on his intransitive application of it to the Oath Keepers)
  3. Tim Kelly (my post on its application to the Proud Boys)
  4. Randolph Moss (my post situating his application with his past OLC opinion on charging a President)
  5. John Bates
  6. James Boasberg
  7. My livetweet of Beryl Howell’s oral opinion
  8. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly
  9. Richard Leon by minute order
  10. Christopher Cooper

One of the central issues addressed in these — and something any prosecution of Trump under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) would need to address — is how you establish that the effort to obstruct the vote count is “corrupt.” While thus far all judges have upheld the application, there’s some differentiation in their understanding of corruption (something that a site like JustSecurity might productively lay out).

Two key issues are whether corruption, under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) must be transitive (meaning someone tried to coerce another to do something improper) or intransitive (meaning someone exhibited corruption with their own actions), and the extent to which corruption is proven by doing acts that are otherwise illegal.

Importantly, Judge Friedrich’s opinion, and so the first jury instructions, only extends to illegal actions. In a recent hearing, she warned the Guy Reffitt prosecutors (both of whom also happen to be prosecuting cases charged as a conspiracy) that they will not prove him guilty of obstruction without first proving him guilty of other crimes at the riot.

Trump acted both transitively and intransitively corruptly

McQuade’s formulation is unnecessarily weak on the transitive/intransitive issue. There are at least two things that are missing.

First, citing some tax precedents, defendants wanted the application of obstruction to apply only to those who were obtaining an unfair personal advantage. That’s not the standard adopted in the opinions thus far, but it is a standard that some Justices one day might try to uphold. And while that standard was doable for the charged rioters (because they were attempting to make their own votes count more than the votes of the 81 million people who voted for Biden), it is a slam dunk for Trump. It’s not just that Trump was trying to win an election he knew he lost, he was trying to retain the power of the Presidency for himself. My complaint here, though, is mostly stylistic. McQuade could rewrite this paragraph easily to take advantage of the fact that, for Trump, obstruction of the vote count really was an attempt to gain personal advantage.

It’s in leaving out Trump’s transitive obstruction — even in a piece that focuses closely on the pressure of Pence — where McQuade’s memo could and I think might need to, to pass muster given the existing opinions on it — be vastly improved. That’s because it’s in Trump’s corruption of others where he clearly conspired in illegal acts.

Trump didn’t just do things an ethical President shouldn’t do (intransitive corruption). He carried out an extended campaign to pressure Pence to do something that violated Pence’s Constitutional obligations. That is, he tried to corrupt Pence (transitive corruption).

Trump transitively corrupted by conspiring with people who committed crimes

And it’s in the means by which Trump’s tried to corrupt Pence on the day of the insurrection that McQuade largely leaves out, and in the process forgoes an easy way to meet Friedrich’s current requirement (that those charged with obstruction commit a crime in attempting to obstruct the vote count).

Bizarrely, McQuade’s overt acts on January 6 are focused largely on John Eastman.

T. Trump Speaks at the Ellipse

On Jan. 6, 2021, Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters at approximately 1 p.m. on the Ellipse outside the White House.[129] During his remarks, Trump said, “If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election.”[130] He explained, “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.”[131] Trump then spoke directly to Pence: “Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now. I’m not hearing good stories.’”[132]

Giuliani, a former United States Attorney, also spoke at the rally. He declared that it would be “perfectly appropriate” for the Vice President to “cast [] aside” the laws governing the counting of electoral votes, and “decide on the validity of these crooked ballots or he can send it back to the state legislators, give them five to ten days to finally finish the work.”[133]

Another speaker at the rally was Eastman. “All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at one o’clock he let the legislatures of the states look into this so that we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!” Eastman told the crowd. [134] “We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question!”[135]

According to reports, Trump was directly involved in planning the speaker lineup.[136]

U. Pence Issues Public Letter Rejecting Eastman’s Theory

On Jan. 6, at 1:02 p.m., Pence posted to Twitter a letter stating that as Vice President, he lacked “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the Joint Session of Congress.”[137] His duties, the letter stated, were “merely ministerial,” and were limited to counting the votes. The letter further stated that he would instead follow the Electoral Count Act, permitting members of Congress, as “the people’s representatives,” to resolve any disputes.[138] The letter had been drafted with the help of two conservative legal experts — former federal Judge J. Michael Luttig and former Justice Department official John Yoo.[139] Both have confirmed that they advised Pence’s staff and outside counsel that there was no basis for the vice president to intervene in the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6. “I advised that there was no factual basis for Mike Pence to intervene and overturn the results of the election,” said Yoo, who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley. “There are certain limited situations where I thought the Vice President does have a role, for example in the event that a state sends two different electoral results. . . . But none of those were present here.”[140]

Luttig wrote subsequently that “Professor Eastman was incorrect at every turn of the analysis,” including his suggestion that the vice president could delay the electoral vote count.[141]

V. U.S. Capitol Attack Begins

At about 2 p.m., protestors broke a window at the U.S. Capitol and climbed inside.[142] The Senate and House of Representatives soon went into recess and members evacuated the two chambers.[143] At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”[144] The Capitol would not be secured again until about 6 p.m.[145]

Her discussion here doesn’t explicitly mention a single one of the 750 people already being prosecuted for crimes for their actions on January 6. She mentions neither Alex Jones (whom Trump ordered to take the mob on an unpermitted march to the Capitol and two of whose employees are already among those 750 being prosecuted) nor Roger Stone (who has ties to the two militias that orchestrated events that day and who has been a subject in the Oath Keeper investigation from its early days).

It’s not just or even primarily that Trump grasped John Eastman’s crackpot theory and used it to pressure Pence (which is not  itself a crime). It’s that he incited thousands of people to take an unpermitted walk to the Capitol to physically threaten Pence and other members of Congress directly.

As I laid out last month, DOJ has already collected a great deal of evidence that those who did break the law at the Capitol did so in response to Trump’s incitement with the motive of pressuring Pence.

Trump led his mob to believe only Pence could help them, and if Pence did, Trump falsely led many of them to believe, it would amount to following the Constitution (precisely the opposite of what his White House Counsel appears to have had told him).

Pennsylvania has now seen all of this. They didn’t know because it was so quick. They had a vote. They voted. But now they see all this stuff, it’s all come to light. Doesn’t happen that fast. And they want to recertify their votes. They want to recertify. But the only way that can happen is if Mike Pence agrees to send it back. Mike Pence has to agree to send it back.

And many people in Congress want it sent back.

And think of what you’re doing. Let’s say you don’t do it. Somebody says, “Well, we have to obey the Constitution.” And you are, because you’re protecting our country and you’re protecting the Constitution. So you are.

That’s what Trump left his mob with as he falsely promised he would walk to the Capitol with them.

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Already, at that moment, the Proud Boys had kicked off the attack. Moments later, Pence released his letter stating he would certify the vote. “Four years ago, surrounded by my family, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which ended with the words, ‘So help me God.’”

And Trump’s Tweets and speech had the direct and desired effect. When Trump called out, “I hope Pence is going to do the right thing,” Gina Bisignano responded, “I hope so. He’s a deep state.” When she set off to the Capitol, Bisignano explained, “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence.” After declaring, “I’m going to break into Congress,” Bisignano rallied some of the mobsters by talking about “what Pence has done.” She cheered through a blowhorn as mobsters made a renewed assault on the Capitol. “Break the window! she cheered, as she ultimately helped another break a window, an act amounting to a team act of terrorism.

Josiah Colt and his co-conspirators learned that Pence would not prevent the vote certification as Trump demanded. In response, they aimed to “breach the building.” Colt set out to where Pence was presiding. “We’re making it to the main room. The Senate room.” Where they’re meeting.” His co-conspirators Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave are accused of assaulting a cop to get into the Senate.

Jacob Chansley mounted the dais where Pence should have been overseeing the vote count and declared, “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor,” and left him a note, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

Matthew Greene never went to listen to Trump speak. Instead, he was following orders from top Proud Boys, a bit player in an orchestrated attack to surround and breach the Capitol. His goal in doing so was to pressure Pence.

Greene’s intent in conspiring with others to unlawfully enter the restricted area of the Capitol grounds was to send a message to legislators and Vice President KePence. Greene knew he lawmakers and the Vice President were inside the Capitol building conducting the certification of the Electoral College Vote at the time the riot occurred. Green hoped that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral Vote than they would have otherwise. Greene believed that by unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds, he and other rioters outside the building would send a stronger message to lawmakers and the Vice President inside the building, than if Green and others had stayed outside the restricted area.

There is a direct line of corrupt intent from the moment where Trump asked Pence, “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to [exercise it]?” and efforts that his mobsters — both those who planned this in advance and those who reacted to Trump’s incitement — made at the Capitol. Some of the most central players in the attack on the Capitol have testified under oath that they understood their goal to be pressuring Mike Pence. In pursuit of that, they broke into the Capitol, they assaulted cops, they occupied the Mike Pence’s seat.

I would add (because Amit Mehta did in his oral ruling that Stewart Rhodes should be detained pre-trial), in addition to the explicit attempt by Kelly Meggs to hunt down Nancy Pelosi, the other group of Oath Keepers appears to have tried to find those in the Senate, presumably including Mike Pence. If prosecutors can prove that, then, the militia that was checking in with Stone the day of the riot took overt steps to physically threaten Mike Pence.

Importantly, with the exception of QAnoner Chansley, all of the January 6 defendants I’ve laid out here were part of a conspiracy (Colt and Bisignano, because they flipped on co-conspirators, are not charged with one). All of these Jan6ers are accused of conspiring with others to carry out Trump’s will to transitively corrupt Pence by physically pressuring him to violate his Constitutional duty.

And Judge Mehta has now ruled it plausible (though he was careful to note he was addressing the lower standard of a civil suit) that Trump’s incitement amounts to entering into a conspiracy with all of these people who acted on his incitement to pressure and in some cases physically hunt down Pence.

McQuade’s theory of corruption may not meet Judge Friedrich’s standard for corruption (which we should assume as a baseline of one that Brett Kavanaugh might find palatable).

Which is why you cannot ignore the other half of the conspiracy: Trump entering into an agreement with Roger Stone to coordinate with the militias, entering into an agreement with Alex Jones to lead the mob to the Capitol, and Trump entering into an agreement with those he incited to directly pressure Pence to violate his Constitutional duty.

750 people have been charged with committing crimes at the Capitol. And the easy way to demonstrate that Trump employed illegal means in his effort to obstruct the vote certification is to point to the mountains of evidence that he conspired both via his close associates Stone and Jones but more directly via incitement with a vast number of those 750 people who allegedly broke the law.

Update: One thing McQuade does focus on (she’s a Michigander who does a lot of work on voter protection) are the fake electors. That’s another illegal act that probably should be brought in any statement of corrupt intent for the same reason Trump’s ties to the rioters should be.

Update, 2/25: Added link to Kollar-Kotelly’s opinion and noted that Leon and Cooper have now ruled.

Easy Cases: Why Austin Sarat’s Argument That Trump Should Not Be Prosecuted Is Wrong

Randolph Moss, serving as Assistant Attorney General for OLC in 2000, famously wrote the following:

Our view remains that a sitting President is constitutionally immune from indictment and criminal prosecution.

Less famously, however, the first 11 pages of that more famous memo rely on this earlier OLC memo from Moss:

We conclude that the Constitution permits a former President to be criminally prosecuted for the same offenses for which he was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate while in office.

Even less famous are words Moss released last Tuesday, now presiding as a judge over a January 6 prosecution, ruling that obstruction, 18 USC 1512(c)(2), clearly applies to the official Congressional proceeding to certify the vote count on January 6, 2021.

Hard cases may make bad law. But easy cases ought not.

For these reasons, the Court rejects Defendants’ contention that the joint session of Congress convened to certify the electoral vote is not a “proceeding before the Congress.”

Those legal documents are all useful background to my response to this Austin Sarat op-ed, opining that DOJ should not prosecute Trump for his actions related to January 6.

I worry that going forward with even a well-grounded prosecution of Trump would almost certainly turn him into a martyr, fuel a furious attack on the Biden Justice Department for using prosecution as a political weapon, spur violent outbursts, and plunge this country ever closer to the abyss which it seems to be fast approaching.

“An investigation and potential indictment and trial of Mr. Trump,” Eric Posner warns, “would give the circus of the Trumpian presidency a central place in American politics for the next several years, sucking the air out of the Biden administration and feeding into Mr. Trump’s politically potent claims to martyrdom. Mr. Trump will portray the prosecution as revenge by the ‘deep state’ and corrupt Democrats.”

This difficult judgment does not mean that Attorney General Garland should do nothing.

He can serve justice by building on the work of the House committee and helping to fully develop the facts of what Trump did in the lead up to and on January 6. Garland should present those facts clearly, logically, and with irrefutable documentation. And he should do what McConnell and Graham suggested in February by citing chapter and verse the numerous federal criminal laws that Trump violated.

First, some background.

Unless you went to Amherst College, you may never have heard of Sarat. He created a Law and Society program there and has served as a Dean. I’ve had conversations a number of prominent and not-so prominent lawyers who graduated from Amherst during Sarat’s tenure — some you’ve heard of!! — who have spoken of the great influence the professor has had on their career. And while I’m not a lawyer, like many of those lawyers, I first learned to read a legal document from Sarat.

Over thirty years ago in a class on how the state regulates sexuality, Sarat assigned me to read Griswold v Connecticut and Roe v Wade alongside Tolstoy and Kiss of the Spider Woman, the latter of which I taught on my own right and included in my dissertation years later. Sarat taught me critical skills you may benefit from at this site.

My complaint with Sarat’s argument is that he violates the rule he taught me so many years ago: He didn’t read the relevant legal documents before writing this op-ed. The sources he links in his op-ed are:

  • Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks’ MSNBC appearance addressing the issue
  • A column on a June 2021 Rachel Maddow appearance in which she suggested the House could send a criminal referral to DOJ
  • An article about a bunch of people responding to Liz Cheney’s invocation of obstruction (the same statute Moss ruled on), which itself betrays that those people quoted in the article missed how obstruction was already being used in DOJ’s prosecution
  • Lawrence Tribe’s column that is riddled with factual errors that make it clear Tribe is unfamiliar with the public record
  • Mitch McConnell’s speech, justifying why he was voting against impeaching Trump, noting that he could be criminally prosecuted
  • Lindsey Graham’s comments making the same argument: that Trump should not be impeached but could be prosecuted
  • A report on DC District Attorney Karl Racine’s comments that Trump could be charged with a misdemeanor
  • A BoGlo op-ed that calls for prosecution but envisions Trump’s vulnerability with regards to January 6 to pertain to incitement
  • A NY Mag piece that includes obstruction among the possible laws Trump may have broken, but claims that DOJ, “seems to be pursuing misdemeanor trespass cases at the Capitol more aggressively than potential felony charges for Trump,” which misunderstands how DOJ appears to be using misdemeanor arrests (and indeed, how those witnesses would be necessary to any Trump prosecution)
  • A Ryan Cooper piece that states as fact that Garland’s DOJ, “is enabling Republican lawlessness through its pathetic unwillingness to prosecute Trump and all his cronies for their crimes against democracy;” Cooper makes no mention of the Tom Barrack prosecution, and while he invokes Rudy Giuliani he doesn’t mention the decision — seemingly made in Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s first days — to seize Rudy Giuliani’s phones and spend 8 months getting a privilege review on the contents of Rudy’s phones right through April 2021
  • A law review article on prosecutorial discretion
  • Robert Jackson’s seminal text about the role of a Federal prosecutor
  • The Bordenkircher precedent on plea negotiations that upholds prosecutorial discretion
  • The quip, “hard cases make bad law”
  • An Eric Posner op-ed published before Trump attempted a coup

Some of these things — the Bordenkircher opinion, McConnell and Graham’s comments suggesting Trump could be prosecuted, and Robert Jackson — are important primary sources. But most of the rest are secondary sources, and many of them — notably Tribe and Cooper — are demonstrably wrong on the facts because they didn’t consult available primary sources.

And as a result of consulting erroneous sources like Tribe, Sarat misunderstands the case before him.

For example, many of Sarat’s sources imagine that Trump’s biggest criminal exposure is in incitement and not the same obstruction charge with which well over 200 insurrectionists have already been charged and to which at least a dozen people have already pled guilty (most of them even before Moss and his colleagues upheld the application in recent weeks). Nine pled guilty to obstruction as part of cooperation agreements and several of those cooperators interacted with Roger Stone in the days and hours leading up to the assault on the Capitol.

Many of Sarat’s sources assume that DOJ couldn’t get to Trump except for the work the January 6 Committee is doing.

In spite of Garland’s repeated claims that his DOJ would pursue the January 6 investigation wherever the evidence leads — including at an appearance where he discussed that famous Moss memo that relies so heavily on that less famous Moss memo — Sarat suggests that Garland would have to launch an investigation, one entirely separate from the investigation already in progress, anew. “Based on what we now know, there appears to be ample reason for Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a criminal probe of Trump.” That is, Sarat treats the question before him as whether Merrick Garland should take to a podium and announce, “we are investigating the former President,” and not whether DOJ should continue the investigation(s) that it already has in progress, working to prosecute organizer-inciters like Alex Jones’ side-kick Owen Shroyer (who helped lure mobsters to the Capitol) and flipping low-level conspirators to build the case against more senior conspirators, conspirators whose ties to Trump associates like Jones and Stone have already been raised in court documents.

The question is not whether DOJ should open an investigation into Donald Trump. The question is whether, if and when DOJ accumulates enough evidence — surely helped by Select Committee efforts but in no way relying entirely on them — to show probable cause that Trump conspired with others to prevent Congress from certifying the vote on January 6, 2021, to charge him like DOJ has already charged hundreds of others.

And that question is significantly a question about equity.

The question is whether, if Paul Hodgkins has to serve eight months in prison for occupying the Senate while waving a Donald Trump flag around (Hodgkins is already three months into that sentence), Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Jacob Chansley has to serve 41 months in prison (Chansley has been in jail since January 9, 2021) for occupying the Senate dais, in defiance of orders from a cop, with a spear and a blowhorn and leaving a message for Mike Pence reading, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Kevin Fairlamb has to serve 41 months in prison (Fairlamb has been in jail since January 22, 2021) for punching one of the cops protecting the Capitol “with the purpose of influencing, affecting, and retaliating against the conduct of government by stopping or delaying the Congressional proceeding by intimidation or coercion,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Gina Bisignano faces 41 months for traveling to DC boasting, “The insurrection begins,” marching to the Capitol while narrating her actions — “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence” and “I’m going to break into the Capitol” — and then helping to break a window to get into the Capitol, Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Matthew Greene faces 41 months in prison for — months after Trump instructed the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” — joining the Proud Boys in an orchestrated assault on the Capitol in hopes, “that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral College Vote than they would have otherwise,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well. Greene has been in jail since April 21, 2021.

The question is whether, if Jon Schaffer faces 41 months for, after learning “that Vice President Pence planned to go forward with the Electoral College vote certification,” forcibly storming the Capitol armed with bear spray, Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Josiah Colt faces 51 months because, after he, “learned that the Vice President had not intervened to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote,” he stormed the Capitol, broke into the Senate, and then occupied Pence’s chair, Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Graydon Young faces 63 months because he barged into the Capitol as part of a stack of kitted out militia members with the purpose of “intimidating and coercing government personnel who were participating in or supporting” the vote certification, Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

At this point, there’s no way to avoid the things Sarat would like to avoid by merely talking about Trump’s crimes rather than prosecuting them, to say nothing of the way that would violate DOJ rules prohibiting doing so. That’s true, in large part, because Trump is claiming martyrdom for those who did his dirty work. Between right wing lawyers swooping in to push defendants to renege on their guilty pleas, continued efforts by defendants’ co-conspirators to claim they were all set up by the Deep State, and schemes to profit off continued propaganda in support of Trump, every one of these cases involves some of the things that Sarat fears would occur if Trump, too, were prosecuted. Trump has a press conference scheduled for January 6 that will undoubtedly do some of the things Sarat would like to stave off. That din will only get louder as trials start in February. The claims of martyrdom are already baked into this investigation, and so would be better addressed by a direct debunking rather than a belated attempt at avoidance, not least because white terrorists have a history of undermining prosecutions by claiming martyrdom.

But there’s another reason, besides equity, that demands that DOJ prosecute Trump if prosecutors can collect the evidence to do so.

All five of the opinions (Dabney Friedrich, Amit Mehta, Tim Kelly, James Boasberg, plus Moss) upholding the application of obstruction to the vote certification have some discussion of what separates “corrupt” efforts to obstruct the vote count from political lobbying or civil disobedience. The discussion entails whether corruption requires an attempt to corrupt someone else, or whether it only involves corruptness in one’s own actions. A number of these opinions take an easy route, stating simply that the defendants in question are alleged to have broken the law in other ways in their efforts to obstruct the vote count, which gets past corruptness in one’s own actions, so a further analysis of whether legal actions might amount to obstruction is unnecessary as applied to those defendants. That’s an intransitive understanding of the corrupt purpose necessary to obstruction.

All stop short of where James Pearce, the prosecutor guiding this adoption of 1512(c)(2), went in responding to a question from Trump appointee Carl Nichols; Pearce stated that one way an unnamed person just like Trump might act corruptly would be by asking someone else to violate their duty: If that person, “calls Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way … knowing it is not an available argument [and is] asking the vice president to do something the individual knows is wrongful … one of the definitions of ‘corruptly’ is trying to get someone to violate a legal duty.” That’s a transitive kind of corruption, an attempt to get someone else to violate their oath. Even some of the confessed obstructors listed here (most notably, the first Proud Boy to plead guilty) were knowingly doing that.

But there’s a third option. In his opinion on the application of 1512(c)(2), somewhat uniquely among the five opinions upholding the application thus far, former OLC head Judge Moss ruled that if the use of illegal activity to interrupt the vote count weren’t enough to distinguish between normal protests and obstruction, then the court could turn to whether the defendants (whom, in this case, you’ve likely never heard of) were attempting to obtain an improper benefit for themselves … or someone else.

To the extent any additional guardrail is necessary, other recognized definitions of the term “corruptly” both fit the context of the obstruction of a congressional proceeding and provide additional guidance. In his separate opinion in Aguilar, for example, Justice Scalia quoted with approval the jury instruction given by the district court in that case: “An act is done corruptly if it’s done voluntarily and intentionally to bring about an unlawful result or a lawful result by some unlawful method, with a hope or expectation of . . . [a] benefit to oneself or a benefit to another person.” 515 U.S. at 616–17 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Because the Aguilar majority ruled on other grounds, it did not opine on the meaning of “corruptly.” Id. at 598–603. But there is no reason to doubt Justice Scalia’s observation that formulations of this type are “longstanding and well-accepted,” id. at 616, and, indeed, the D.C. Circuit cited to a similar definition—“a person acts ‘corruptly’ when taking action ‘with the intent to obtain an improper advantage for [one]self or someone else, inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others’”—in United States v. Pasha, 797 F.3d 1122, 1132 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. North, 910 F.2d 843, 882 (D.C. Cir. 1990), opinion withdrawn and superseded in other part on reh’g, 920 F.2d 940 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). In the garden-variety disruption or parading case, in contrast, the government need not prove that the defendant sought unlawfully to obtain a benefit for himself or another person in the proceeding itself. But, because the Court is persuaded that Defendants’ vagueness argument fails even without this refinement, and because the Court has yet to hear from the parties on the proper jury instructions, the Court will leave for another day the question whether this formulation—or a slightly different formulation—will best guide the jury.

This language likely came out of some ill-advised claims from the defense attorneys in question, who claimed there would be no injustice that could result from obstructing the certification of Joe Biden’s vote. The claim was ridiculous. It suggested that nullifying the votes of 81 million people and depriving Biden of his legal victory would create no victims.

But the comment brought the briefing before Moss to where it didn’t go (except to a limited degree before Kelly) in the other challenges.

The obstruction of the vote count on January 6, 2021 was corrupt because people put on body armor, broke into the locked Capitol, and beat up cops in an attempt to obstruct the certification of Biden’s victory — the intransitive corruption of the people who broke other laws to carry it out. It was corrupt because those who carried it out sought to intimidate people like Mike Pence to do what he otherwise refused to. But it was corrupt because the entire goal, shared by all the people charged with obstruction, was to declare Trump the victor in an election he didn’t win.

DOJ should not back off prosecuting Trump along with all those others charged in the same crime, some of whom (I believe DOJ will ultimately be able to prove) are co-conspirators with Trump in a large networked conspiracy, for the crime of trying to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden’s win. Judges, defense attorneys, and defendants themselves — including many of the trespassers — keep insisting that Donald Trump was the key participant in the crime they’re all pleading guilty to.

His improper advantage was undoubtedly the goal.

“What every prosecutor is practically required to do is to select the cases for prosecution and to select those in which the offense is the most flagrant, the public harm the greatest, and the proof the most certain,” Jackson told America’s US Attorneys in the famous speech Sarat cited. Those watching the DOJ investigation rather than just the Select Committee or some often ill-informed TV lawyers have raised real questions about whether DOJ has honored that advice, because so many hapless Trump dupes are being prosecuted for their role in attempting to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power (as I have laid out, there appear to be investigative reasons why DOJ has prosecuted the misdemeanants they have). But about one thing, Jackson had no doubt: “In the enforcement of laws that protect our national integrity and existence, we should prosecute any and every act of violation.”

As noted above, DOJ has thus far accused 275 people of obstructing the certification of Joe Biden’s victory (a good number of those have been permitted to plead down to a misdemeanor). DOJ has already decided that it will treat obstruction of the vote certification as a crime that endangers our national integrity. Charging Trump with obstruction would amount to holding the guy who stood to benefit to the same standard as those whose corrupt actions attempted to steal for him an improper advantage.

The question is not, as so many commentators who discovered the obstruction application only when Liz Cheney called their attention to it, whether to open an investigation into Trump. 700 people have already been charged in the investigation that might one day charge Trump. The question is whether to hold Trump to the same standard as the hundreds who have gone before him.

Prosecuting Trump may be the only way to confirm that Chansley and Bisignano and Colt and Young aren’t martyrs to Trump’s losing cause.

Other Posts

Because new readers are coming to this site via this post, I wanted to include some other overview posts about January 6 that may be helpful:

A Taxonomy of the [Visible] January 6 “Crime Scene” Investigation: This post explains what I understand the DOJ investigation to have accomplished in a year.

The Pied Piper of Insurrection, and Other Challenges in Charging the January 6 Organizer-Inciters: The 700 arrests thus far have been relatively easy, because everyone arrested was — at a minimum — trespassing on January 6. The next step of the investigation — arresting the organizer-inciters who themselves implemented Trump’s plans — is where DOJ will have to have more evidence of conspiracy or other corrupt mens rea supporting obstruction. This post looks at several of them.

Ten Things TV Lawyers Can Do Rather than Whinging about Merrick Garland: I can’t promise you DOJ will prosecute Trump or even Rudy Giuliani and Alex Jones. I can promise that if they were to charge Trump, it wouldn’t be before midterms. Complex investigations of very powerful people simply don’t work that fast. For that reason, among others, those spending their time whinging about Merrick Garland’s purported inaction would be better served finding some other way to save democracy. This post provides ten ways to do that.

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

In this post, I laid out the range of highly classified or other potentially unavailable information that Igor Danchenko will be able to make a credible claim to need to defend himself against charges he knowingly lied to the FBI.

That list includes:

  • Details about a Section 702 directive targeting Danchenko’s friend, Olga Galkina
  • Extensive details about Sergei Millian’s Twitter account, including proof that Millian was always the person running it
  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Millian
  • Materials relating to Millian’s cultivation, in the same weeks as a contested phone call between Danchenko and Millian, of George Papadopoulos
  • Evidence about whether Oleg Deripaska was Christopher Steele’s client for a project targeting Paul Manafort before the DNC one
  • All known details of Deripaska’s role in injecting disinformation into the dossier, up through current day
  • Details of all communications between Deripaska and Millian
  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page
  • Both the FISA applications targeting Page and the underlying discussions about them
  • FISA-obtained collection that is helpful and material to Danchenko’s defense, including all substantive collection incriminating Page obtained before Danchenko’s January interviews, and all intelligence relating to the specific alleged lies in the indictment
  • Materials relating to FBI’s attempt to corroborate the dossier, including materials from Page’s FISA collection that either corroborated or undermined it

As I noted, I know of no prior case where a defendant has had notice of two separate FISA orders as well as a sensitive ongoing counterintelligence investigation and a credible claim to need that information to mount a defense. Durham has committed to potentially impossible discovery obligations, all to prosecute five (or maybe two) lies that aren’t even alleged to have willingly obstructed an investigation. For reasons I lay out below, Durham may not, legally, be able to do that.

To be quite clear: that Danchenko can make a credible claim to need this stuff doesn’t mean he’ll get it, much less be permitted to present it at trial. But, particularly given that the two FISA orders and the counterintelligence investigations have all been acknowledged, DOJ can’t simply pretend they don’t have the evidence. For perhaps the first time ever, DOJ doesn’t get to decide whether to rely on FISA information at trial, because the indictment was written to give the defense good cause to demand it.

Still, much of this stuff will be dealt with via the Classified Information Proecdures Act, CIPA. CIPA is a process that purports to give the government a way to try prosecutions involving classified information, balancing discovery obligations to a defendant with the government’s need to protect classified information. (Here’s another description of how it works.)

Effectively, Danchenko will come up with a list similar to the one above of classified information he believes exists that he needs to have to mount a defense. The government will likewise identify classified information that it believes Danchenko is entitled to under discovery rules. And then the judge — Anthony Trenga, in this case — decides what is material and helpful to Danchenko’s defense. Then the government has the ability to “substitute” language for anything too classified to publicly release, some of it before ever sharing with the defendant, the rest after a hearing including the defense attorneys about what an adequate substitution is.

Here’s a fragment of an exhibit from the Joshua Schulte case that shows the end product of the CIPA process: The CIA was able to replace the name of a vendor the CIA used (presumably as a cover) with the generic word, “vendor,” thereby preventing others from definitively attributing the cover with the CIA. It replaced the description of those who would use the hacking tool with “operators.” Elsewhere, the same exhibit replaced the name of one of Schulte’s colleagues. It redacted several other words entirely.

Here are some more exhibits — CIA Reports submitted at the Jeffrey Sterling trial — that show the outcome of the CIPA process.

On top of the fact that CIPA adds a way for the government to impose new roadblocks on discovery (and discovery only begins after a defendants’ attorneys are cleared), it can end up postponing the time when the defendant actually gets the evidence he will use at trial. So it generally sucks for defendants.

But the process is also onerous for the prosecutor. Basically, the prosecutor has to work with classification authorities from the agency or agencies that own particular classified information and cajole them to release enough information to get past the CIPA review. In my earlier post, I described that Patrick Fitzgerald had to do this with the Presidential Daily Briefs, and it took him several attempts before he had declassified enough information to satisfy Judge Reggie Walton that it provided Scooter Libby with the means to make his defense. If the agency involved in the CIPA process hasn’t totally bought off on the importance of the prosecution, they’re going to make the process harder. Often, the incentive for agencies to cooperate stems from the fact that the defendant is accused of leaking secrets that the agency in question wants to avenge.

Because the process is so onerous, DOJ works especially hard to get defendants to plead before the CIPA process, and often because the defendant is facing the kind of stiff sentence that comes with Espionage charges, CIPA makes it more likely they’ll plead short of trial.

Those two details already make Danchenko’s trial different from most CIPA cases. That’s true, first of all, because Danchenko never had any agency secrets, and prosecutors will be forced to persuade multiple agencies (at least the FBI and NSA, and possibly CIA and Treasury) to give a Russian national secrets even though his prosecution will set no example against leaking for the agencies. Indeed, the example Danchenko will be setting, instead, is that the FBI doesn’t honor its commitments to keep informant identities safe. Additionally, there’s little reason for Danchenko to plead guilty, as the punishment on five 18 USC 1001 charges would not be much different than one charge (remember, Kevin Clinesmith got probation for his 18 USC 1001 conviction), and Danchenko would still face deportation after he served any sentence, where he’s likely to face far greater retaliation than anything US prisons would pose. That will influence the CIPA process, too, as a successful prosecution would likely result in the Russian government coercing access to whatever secrets that intelligence agencies disclose to Danchenko during the prosecution.

CIPA always skews incentives, but this case skews incentives differently than other CIPA cases.

Add in that Judge Trenga, the judge in this case, has been pondering CIPA issues of late in the case of Bijan Kian, Mike Flynn’s former partner, who was prosecuted on Foreign Agent charges. Trenga was long unhappy with the way DOJ charged Kian’s case, and grew increasingly perturbed with DOJ’s attempts to salvage the case after Flynn reneged on his cooperation agreement. Trenga overturned the jury’s guilty verdict, but was subsequently reversed on that decision by the Fourth Circuit. Since then, Kian has been demanding two things: more access to classified materials underlying evidence he was given pursuant to the CIPA process right before trial showing previously undisclosed contacts between Flynn and Ekim Alptekin not involving Kian, and a new trial, partly based on late and inadequate disclosure of that CIPA information.

Following a series of ex parte hearings regarding classified evidence pursuant to the Confidential Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), the government, on the eve of trial, handed Rafiekian a one-sentence summary, later introduced as Defendant’s Exhibit 66 (“DX66”), informing Rafiekian that the government was aware of classified evidence relating to interactions between Flynn and Alptekin that did not “refer[] to” Rafiekian. DX66.1 Following receipt of DX66, Rafiekian immediately sought access to the underlying information pursuant to CIPA because “[i]t goes right to the question of what happened and what he knew and what statements were made and who was making them,” and “[i]f Mr. Rafiekian is convicted without his counsel having access to this exculpatory evidence, we believe it will go right to the heart of his due process and confrontation rights.” Hr’g Tr. 31 (Jul. 12, 2019), ECF No. 309. The Court took the request under advisement, noting that it “underst[ood] the defense’s concern and w[ould] continue to consider whether additional disclosure of information” would be necessary as the case developed. Id. at 32. At trial, the government used DX66 in its rebuttal argument in closing to show that Rafiekian participated in the alleged conspiracy—“even though the information in that exhibit related solely to Flynn and explicitly excluded Rafiekian.” Rafiekian, 2019 WL 4647254, at *17.

1 DX66 provides in full: The United States is in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant or FIG.

With regards to the first request, Trenga has ruled that Kian can’t have the underlying classified information, because (under CIPA’s guidelines) the judge determined that, “the summary set forth in DX Exhibit 66 provides the Defendant with substantially the same ability to make his defense as would disclosure of the specific classified information.” But his decision on the second issue is still pending and Trenga seems quite open to Kian’s request for a new trial. So Danchenko and Durham begin this CIPA process years into Trenga’s consideration about how CIPA affects due process in the Kian case. I don’t otherwise expect Trenga to be all that sympathetic to Danchenko, but if Trenga grants Kian a new trial because of the way prosecutors gained an unfair advantage with the CIPA process (by delaying disclosure of a key fact), it will be a precedent for and hang over the CIPA process in the Danchenko case.

Then there are unique challenges Durham will face even finding everything he has to provide Danchenko under Brady. In the Michael Sussmann case, I’ve seen reason to believe Durham doesn’t understand the full scope of where he needs to look to find evidence relevant to that case. But given the centrality of investigative decisions in the Danchenko case — and so the Mueller investigation — to Durham’s materiality claims, Durham will need to make sure he finds everything pertaining to Millian, Papadopoulos, and Kiliminik and Deripaska arising out of the Mueller case. In the case of Steve Calk, that turned out to be more difficult than prosecutors initially imagined.

But all of these things — the multiple sensitive investigations relevant to Danchenko’s defense, normal CIPA difficulties, unique CIPA difficulties, and the challenges of understanding the full scope of the Mueller investigation — exist on top of another potential problem: DOJ doesn’t control access to some of the most important evidence in this case.

As I noted in my earlier post, there are multiple things FBI obtained by targeting Carter Page that Danchenko will be able to demand to defend himself against Durham’s materiality claims. For example, FBI obtained information under FISA that seems to undercut Page’s claims that he didn’t meet with Igor Diveykin, a claim Danchenko sourced to Olga Galkina, who is central to Durham’s materiality claims.

If this information really does show that Page was lying about his activities in Russia, it would provide proof that after the initial FISA order, FBI had independent reason to target Page.

Similarly, FBI believed that Page’s explanation for how he destroyed the phone he was using in Fall 2016 was an excuse made up after he knew he was being investigated; that belief seems to be based, in part, on information obtained under FISA.

The FBI’s suspicions about that broken phone seem to be related to their interest in collecting on an encrypted messaging app Page used, one of the two reasons why FBI sought reauthorization to target Page in June 2017. Danchenko will need this information to prove that the June 2017 reauthorization was driven entirely by a desire to get certain financial and encrypted communication evidence, and so could not have been affected by Danchenko’s May and June 2017 interviews.

Information obtained from targeting Page under FISA will similarly be central to Danchenko’s defense against Durham’s claims that his alleged lies prevented FBI from vetting the dossier. That’s because the spreadsheet that FBI used to vet the dossier repeatedly relied on FISA-collected information to confirm or rebut the dossier. Some of that pertains to whether Page met with Igor Diveykin, an allegation Danchenko sourced to Olga Galkina, making it central to his defense in this case.

Other FISA-collected material was used to vet the Sergei Millian claim, which Durham charged in four of five counts.

Some of this may not be exculpatory (though some of it clearly would be). But it is still central to the case against Danchenko.

The thing is, Durham may not be legally able to use this information in Danchenko’s prosecution, and even if he is, it will further complicate the CIPA process.

Back on January 7, 2020, James Boasberg — acting in his role as the then-presiding FISA Judge — ordered that the FBI adopt limits on the use of any information obtained via the four Carter Page FISA orders. Such orders are one of the only tools that the FISA Court has to prohibit the use of information that the Executive collects but later determines did not comply with FISA (the government only retracted the probable cause claims for the third and fourth FISA orders targeting Page, but agreed to sequester all of it). A subsequent government filing belatedly obtaining permission to use material obtained via those FISA orders in conjunction with Carter Page’s lawsuit laid out the terms of that sequester. It revealed that, according to a June 25, 2020 FISA order, the government can only legally use material obtained under those FISA orders for the following purposes:

  1. Certain identified ongoing third-party litigation pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  2. Ongoing and anticipated FOIA and civil litigation with Page
  3. FBI review of the conduct of its personnel involved in the Page investigation
  4. DOJ OIG monitoring of the implementation of one of the recommendations stemming from the OIG Report
  5. The review of the conduct of Government personnel in the Page and broader Crossfire Hurricane investigations [my emphasis]

On November 23, 2020, Boasberg issued a follow-up order in response to learning, on October 21, 2020, that DOJ had already shared sequestered FISA information with the US Attorney for Eastern Missouri (the Jeffrey Jensen review), the US Attorney for DC (possibly, though not certainly, the Durham case), and the Senate Judiciary Committee (FISC may have learned of the latter release when the vetting spreadsheet was publicly released days before DOJ informed FISC of that fact). Effectively, Bill Barr’s DOJ had confessed to the FISA Court that it had violated FISA by disseminating FISA-collected information later deemed to lack probable cause without first getting FISC approval. Boasberg ordered DOJ to “dispossess” the MOE USAO and DC USAO of the sequestered information and further ordered that those US Attorneys, “shall not access materials returned to the FBI … without the prior approval of the Court.”

There’s no evidence that Durham obtained approval to access this information (though DOJ applications to FISC often don’t get declassified, so it’s not clear it would show up in the docket). And when I asked DOJ whether Durham had obtained prior approval to access this sequestered information even for his own review, much less for use in a prosecution, I got no response. While accessing the sequestered material for review of the conduct of Government personnel is among those permitted by the original order (bolded above), using it to review the conduct of non-governmental sources like Danchenko was not, to say nothing of prosecuting such non-governmental sources. To get approval to use sequestered information in the Danchenko case, Durham would have to convince FISC to let Durham share such information with a foreign national whose prosecution would lead to his deportation to Russia. And if he shared the information without FISC approval, then Durham himself would be violating FISA.

To be sure, it would be the most unbelievable kind of malpractice to charge the Danchenko case without, first, ascertaining how Durham was going to get this sequestered information. I’d be shocked if Durham hadn’t gotten approval first. But then, I was shocked that when Durham charged Kevin Clinesmith, he didn’t know what crimes FBI investigated Page for. I am shocked that Durham used Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed to substantiate a factual claim that Millian didn’t speak with Danchenko. So who knows? Maybe Durham has not yet read this evidence, to say nothing of ensuring he can share it with a Russian national in discovery. It would shock me, but I’m growing used to being shocked by Durham’s recklessness.

In any case, depending on what the FISC has decided about disseminating — and making public — this sequestered information, it will, at the very least, create additional challenges for Durham. Durham couldn’t just assert that DOJ IG had determined that the this information was not incriminating to Page and therefore not helpful to Danchenko to avoid sharing the sequestered FISA information. Under CIPA, Judge Trenga would need to review the information himself and assess whether information obtained under Page’s FISA was material and helpful to Danchenko’s defense. If he decided that Danchenko was entitled to it in his defense, then Durham might have to fight not just with FBI and NSA to determine an adequate substitution for that information, but also FISC itself.

CIPA assumes that the Executive owns the classification decisions regarding any information to be presented at trial, and therefore the Executive gets to balance the value of the prosecution against the damage declassifying the information would do. Here, as with Fitzgerald, a Special Counsel will be making those decisions, setting up a potential conflict with all the agencies that may object. But here, FISC has far more interest in the FISA information than it would if (say) it were just approving the use of FISA-obtained material to prosecute the person targeted by that FISA.

Again, John Durham is going to have to declassify a whole bunch of sensitive information, including information sequestered to protect Carter Page, to give it to a foreign national who never had those secrets such that, if Durham succeeds at trial, it may lead inevitably to Russia obtaining that sensitive information. All that for five shoddily-charged false statements charges. This is the kind of challenge that a prosecutor exercising discretion would not take on.

But Durham doesn’t seem to care that he’s going to damage all the people he imagines are victims as well as national security by bringing this case to trial.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

Blind Spots in the Ashli Babbitt Panopticon

In a status hearing for Thomas Baranyi yesterday, AUSA Candice Wong explained why she hadn’t finished discovery for Baranyi, who stood right behind Ashli Babbitt when she was shot: because new discovery from “other investigations” keeps coming in. By “other investigations,” she likely means content recorded by other defendants when they were storming the Capitol.

For example, in the most recent (laudably detailed) discovery notice to Baranyi’s attorney, Wong included 17 files, six sets of which were designated by “D” — probably defendants — and three sets of which designated by “W” — probably uncharged witnesses.

MARKED SENSITIVE: Videos obtained via legal process and otherwise from other Capitol investigations (17 files):

a. D-2 – 3 photographs, 1 video

b. D-3 – 3 videos

c. D-4 – 1 video

d. D-5 – 1 video

e. D-6 – 1 video

f. D-7 – 1 video

g. W-4 – 2 videos

h. W-5 – 1 video

i. W-6 – 3 videos

In the hearing, Wong explained that incoming discovery might be important for either the defense or the government. It significantly consisted of activity that CCTV hadn’t captured. Wong also explained that as important as the video itself, new discovery has recorded the words of rioters that weren’t otherwise recorded.

Wong’s comments confirm something I’ve pointed out before. Even with the flood of video that captured the events of January 6, there are gaps in that coverage, gaps that the government has seemingly attempted to fill by targeting the arrests of those known to have taken their own video.

That there are gaps in the case against Baranyi, who was in one of the most important locations of the entire riot, suggests something else: that there may be limited CCTV coverage from that hallway. Certainly, Wong seems to be saying that prosecutors are relying, in part, on other defendants’ footage to understand what the key defendants were doing.

Here are all the discovery notices for Baranyi, with a description of the types of material provided:

  • February 24: Arrest materials and 302s, T-Mobile and WhatsApp subpoena returns, plus ten open-source videos.
  • April 19: Extracts of Baranyi’s phone, social media posts about Baranyi, two more open-source videos, plus 20 zipped USCP surveillance videos
  • June 1: MPD body cam footage
  • June 24: Bates-stamped discovery, probably significantly replicating earlier discovery
  • July 1: MPD footage from “Upper House Door exit,” CCTV from Crypt East, two officer interview transcripts, four open-source videos described as, “CSPAN; Storyful; two of shooting,” plus, the 17 files described above.

As noted below, Wong gave the four other defendants who were also at the door — Zach Alam, Chad Jones, Christopher Grider, and John Sullivan –a similar discovery notice in the last week or so. That suggests the MPD footage and the “D” and “W” videos cover that confrontation that is common to all five cases.

Some of the USCP video provided to those four defendants may be common. But Alam, the most boisterous of the lot, only received eight of them (and most of these defendants were all over the Capitol). For most of these defendants, then, the government seems to be relying on open-source video and, increasingly, on the video taken by other defendants.


Zach Alam (one, two, three, four): Eight files from USCP surveillance and ten open-source videos. Many of the same files disclosed to Baranyi.

Chad Jones (one, two, three, four, five): Ten open source, 22 USCP videos, MPD body cam, many of the same files as disclosed to Baranyi on July 1, as well as an extra YouTube of Jones outside.

Christopher Grider (one, two, three, four, five): 20 USCP videos, ten open-source videos, two of his own videos, many of the same filings disclosed to Baranyi.

Brian Bingham: No discovery docketed.

Alex Sheppard No discovery docketed.

Kurt Peterson: CCTV footage of the building exit and some BWC, as well as 17 open-source videos.

Ryan Bennett (one, two): only his own videos from Facebook and his phone.

Phillip Bromley: Unclear whether all discovery docketed, though a set of files marked Highly Sensitive (as CCTV would be), including four videos and two images, are included.

David Mish: Discovery mentions video clips but does not detail them.

Brian McCreary: No discovery docketed.

Sam Montoya: 20 USCP videos, 16 MPD BWC videos, nine open-source videos

John Sullivan (one, two, three): Sullivan’s own video, 24 USCP videos plus 2 screenshots, 17 MPD BWC videos.

The Rickety 702 System: Why It Continues to Fail

Back in 2009, I showed how a heavily redacted opinion rejecting what we now know to be a Yahoo challenge to the Protect America Act found that the predecessor to FISA 702 was constitutional because of the minimization procedures implementing certificates implementing the surveillance program. We learned seven years later that Yahoo hadn’t been provided those minimization procedures as part of their challenge, and indeed, DOJ withheld a key document from Reggie Walton, who presided over the challenge, until after he made key decisions in the case. That was also the first year the government finally presented details about the intended use of what had become 702 to FISC, most importantly that FBI was getting raw data they would encourage Agents to query, even at the assessment level. But even two years later, FISC was still just pushing FBI to follow rules imposed requiring them to track their queries of the raw 702 data. Two years later, after being presented with evidence that FBI still hasn’t complied with the law as currently written, outgoing presiding judge James Boasberg nevertheless reauthorized the program.

In general, Boasberg’s opinion reauthorizing 702 from last November describes violations pertaining to FBI access of 702 data for queries that have both a national security and criminal investigative function, FBI’s improper use of batch queries, and real problems with protections for attorney-client communications at NSA that could really blow up in the IC’s face one of these days, all problems FISC has been reviewing for years. The opinion also describes how training and COVID has delayed what will be an inevitable accounting for the fact that one key purpose of 702 when it was started — to select a fraction of all the intelligence NSA examines and put it into FBI coffers to make it available for querying — is a poor fit with the current law.

To understand one reason why this never gets better, I wanted to look at the structure of this and all other reauthorization opinions, because it never fixes some of the problems built in from the start.

The 702 opinions, like traditional FISA approvals, are all driven by the statute, ticking one after another required element off. If everything gets ticked, in order, then hundreds of thousands of people remain targeted for surveillance, along with all the people they communicate with.

Memorandum opinion and order

The opinion starts with introductory mapping. Even at that point, Boasberg describes this reauthorization as a “status-quo” reauthorization, meaning the request certificates from the government have remained largely the same and so don’t present any new issues to reconsider.

I. Government’s Submission

A. 2020 Certifications and Amendments: The opinion starts by laying out what gets included in the package, which basically includes the certificates, along with the targeting (NSA and FBI), querying (NSA, FBI, CIA, and NCTC), and minimization (NSA, FBI, CIA, and NCTC) procedures that implement the certificates.

B. Subject Matter of the Certification: This section describes, in heavily redacted fashion, what the certificates do and the rules and intent for all of them. Last we knew, there were three certifications: one targeting terrorists, one targeting proliferation, and one targeting “foreign governments,” focusing not just on other country’s spying, but also (to the extent it is a separate entity) their hacking. This section also notes, importantly, that these certificates renew prior authorizations; every year, FISC approves the new rules to apply to any new collections but also all the stuff already in the government’s possession. This is important, because analysts will continue to query (governed by one set of procedures) and report out (governed by minimization procedures) communications obtained in year’s past. Thus, every new approval covers all the stuff that came before (which also means the judges largely rely on their earlier decisions).

II. Review of the 2020 Certifications and Prior Certifications

One of the first things FISC does in these opinions is review the changes from past certifications, usually coming to the conclusion that, “we’ve approved these certifications going back 12 years, so we’ll just approve them again.” And some of this, as Boasberg admits in this opinion, is a matter of “check[ing]” procedural boxes — do the applications have the things required of them.

III. Targeting Procedures

Then each set of procedures is approved in isolation. First, the judge reviews whether targeting procedures fulfill the requirement that targeting procedures are “reasonably designed” to ensure that targets are outside the US and the procedures do not intentionally target communications entirely made up of US persons. For years, this has focused on making sure that if NSA or FBI get it wrong and target someone who’s in the US or is a US person, they detask the target quickly.

IV. Minimization and Querying Procedures

Then, the judge reviews whether the minimization procedures limit the dissemination of non-public US person data, allowing for its use for a foreign intelligence purpose and the sharing of evidence of a crime. Most opinions come with some language like this (from last year’s opinion) rationalizing — even though NSA and FBI have always refused to provide the data to test this assumption — that this content will be less impactful than traditional FISA collection.

In applying these statutory requirements, the Court is mindful that Section 702 acquisitions target persons reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons outside the United States. Although such targets may communicate with or about U.S. persons, Section 702 acquisitions, as a general matter, are less likely to acquire information about U.S. persons that is unrelated to the foreign-intelligence purpose of the acquisition than, for example, electronic surveillance or physical search of a home or workplace within the United States that a target shares with U.S. persons.

Remember, unlike traditional FISA, there’s no individualized review of the foreign intelligence claims of these targets. So yeah, someone in Iran may have less contact with Americans, but the claims about that person require a far lower burden of foreign intelligence interest.

In last year’s opinion, Boasberg noted that the minimization (limits on dissemination) and querying (limits on searching the files) work together and analyzed them together. Nevertheless, with some more box-checking (for example, on whether each agency requires a record of queries made), Boasberg then concludes that since not much has changed, he can approve both the minimization and querying procedures.

Nothing detracts from the Court’s earlier findings [in past years] that these procedures as written are statutorily and constitutionally sufficient.

Remember: the FBI queries are the area where 702 has been particularly controversial of late, but the analysis of their application does not come here, in the section that approves them.

There is a discussion of attorney-client communications in here, particularly with regards to NSA’s use of attorney-client communications. But even after observing that,

The government does little by way of justifying the differing treatment of privileged communications by NSA,

Boasberg nevertheless relies on past approval for this same application to approve last year’s certificates.

[T]he Court has previously approved the dissemination provisions in the NSA procedures highlighted above, which unambiguously contemplate the dissemination of attorney-client privileged communications of the types being discussed here [redacted] subject to certain limitations and requirements.

[snip]

The Court again concludes that NSA’s procedures, as a whole and applied to it, an agency with no law-enforcement mission or authority, are reasonably designed to protect the substantial privacy interests in attorney-client communications, consistent with the need to exploit those communications for legitimate foreign-intelligence purposes.

Boasberg does “admonish[]” NSA to make sure none of this dissemination ends up in an FBI report. But having expressed concerns about how NSA exploits attorney-client communications, he nevertheless approves its use for foreign intelligence purposes.

V. Fourth Amendment Requirements

Then, in totally separate analysis, Boasberg (like judges before him) assesses whether all those procedures he just reviewed “are consistent with the Fourth Amendment.” This review, like all the ones since 2008, has relied on procedures to find that the program as a whole complies with the Fourth Amendment.

It does so by finding that the Targeting Procedures limit the collection to people not protected by the Fourth Amendment, and the interests of those swept up in that collection can be protected with Minimization and Querying Procedures.

For reasons explained above, the Court has found that the proposed targeting procedures, as written, are reasonably designed to limit acquisitions to those targets reasonably believed to be non-Untied States persons located outside the United States. The Fourth Amendment does not protect the privacy interests of such individuals. [citation omitted]

To the extent U.S.-person information is acquired under Section 702 — e.g., when a communication between a U.S. person and a Section 702 target is intercepted — the government can reduce the intrusiveness of the acquisition for Fourth Amendment purposes by restricting use or disclosure of such information.

After language about the import of national security interests, Boasberg then concludes that, “those procedures, as written, are consistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

VI. Implementation and Compliance Issues

It’s only after ruling everything meets the legal requirements — all the boxes are checked — that Boasberg (and this opinion is in no way unique on the structure — turns to a list of compliance issues. Yes, this analysis feigns to be part of reviewing “how [the procedures] are implemented.” But Boasberg has already found the procedures, in the abstract, sufficient to comply with the Fourth Amendment.

As part of his analysis, Boasberg offers the following excuses for the FBI:

  • It took time for them to make the changes in their systems
  • It took time to train everyone
  • Once everyone got trained they all got sent home for COVID
  • Given mandatory training, personnel “should be aware” of the requirements, even if actual practice demonstrates they’re not
  • FBI doesn’t do that many field reviews
  • Evidence of violations is not sufficient evidence to find that the program inadequately protects privacy
  • The opt-out system for FISA material — which is very similar to one governing the phone and Internet dragnet at NSA until 2011 that also failed to do its job — failed to do its job
  • The FBI has always provided national security justifications for a series of violations involving their tracking system where an Agent didn’t originally claim one
  • Bulk queries have operated like that since November 2019
  • He’s concerned but will require more reporting

At the end of this section, Boasberg issued a 5-bullet conclusion that the certifications check all the boxes, the 2020 certifications comply with FISA and the Fourth Amendment, the minimization procedures (incorporating therein the querying procedures) mean access to prior collections complies with FISA and the Fourth Amendment, and one querying procedure is approved for the 2020 collection.

By conducting first an abstract analysis and only then an analysis of what that has meant in past practice, and where real concerns remain to require ongoing reporting, Boasberg “gets to yes” (as Brennan’s Liza Goitein aptly wrote). Boasberg repeatedly said he didn’t have evidence to assess whether this really works to meet the requirements, but nevertheless signed the reauthorization.

Reporting requirements

Boasberg doesn’t provide a heading for his reporting requirements. But as part of his order approving the certifications, he lays out all the reports that he and past judges have required to make up for the fact that there’s no evidence these protections work. There are 11 old ones and two new ones.

Two years ago, as part of the most rigorous amicus intervention known to date, the amici recommended that Boasberg consider the querying at the heart of the FBI’s use of 702 as its own Fourth Amendment consideration. Even though Boasberg refused, FBI still threw a fit and appealed his demand that they comply with the law as written. And this opinion, as noted, still lumps the abstract analysis of compliance of minimization procedures and querying in together.

Yet the document itself, by separating the box-checking from the concepts the box-checking is supposed to fulfill, and separating both of those from the program as implemented, and even still authorizing a program while deferring the obvious proof of compliance by simply asking for 13 different reports, often of non-compliance, doesn’t actually do what it is supposed to do.

Unless what it is supposed to do is give the patina of legal review while instead turning judges into a bureaucratic functionary who can, once a year, offer some compliance suggestions that may not be implemented.

FISC Suspects John Ratcliffe of Relaxing Rules for Unmasking of FISA Material

I Con the Record released last year’s FISA 702 reauthorization the other day. A number of people have written pieces about it. I think my piece, predicting what would happen with this one, written in September 2020, sums it up nicely. I say that because, as presiding Judge James Boasberg notes in his opinion, the certification process was largely a “status-quo replacement of certifications and procedures approved by the court [on] December 6, 2019.”

With regards to the pressing issue reported on by others (which I will return to) — whether FISC will ever fully account for the problems with the way FBI does back door searches, on FISA 702 material, traditional FISA material, and otherwise — because of the way certifications happen, the court is still working through stuff that happened over a year ago.

But a more interesting aspect of the filing deals with one of the more substantive changes in the “status-quo” reauthorization. Because of changes at the National Counterterrorism Center made under Ric Grenell and John Ratcliffe, ODNI had to change the title in the minimization procedures governing NCTC’s access to raw 702 data. When NCTC wants to override requirements that data get purged after five years, one of two fairly senior people needs to sign off on it. Before, those people were the Deputy Director for Intelligence and the Deputy Director for Terrorist Identities; now they are the Assistant Director for Intelligence and the Assistant Director for Identity Intelligence. Boasberg found that change was no big deal.

Boasberg was more troubled by a change arising from the same reorganization that assigns authority to disseminate unmasked information on US persons. Before, that approval had to come from the NCTC Director “or a designee who shall hold a position no lower than Group Chief within the NCTC Directorate of Intelligence.” Now, a “Group Chief” within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence can be delegated that authority. As Boasberg interprets it, this might allow NCTC to expand the universe of people who can authorize the dissemination of unmasked US person data.

This proposed change gives the Court pause. That the change is purportedly necessitated by the transfer of one analytic group to another directorate does not mean that the practical effect of the proposed change would be limited to that group. Presumably there are other groups within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence, and, on its face, this change would allow the NCTC Director to delegate dissemination determinations to chiefs of those other groups, as well as to other, more senior officials within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence, none of whom currently can be delegated such authority.

Mind you, Boasberg approved the change anyway.

To be sure, the Court does not second-guess internal organizational decisions made by the Executive. The Court, moreover, has no objection in principle to the maintenance of the status quo vis-à-vis the group, previously within the Directorate of Intelligence, and now within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence, that is “responsible for identifying and locating members of terrorist networks.” Id. But the Court has not been provided enough information about other groups within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence to know whether the extension of delegated authority to chiefs of those other groups to authorize [redacted] disseminations is equally appropriate. The Court will approve the proposed change, but require the government to report in the future on the exercise of the delegation authority to any group chief or official within the Directorate of Identity Intelligence other than the one specifically discussed in the government’s submission.

This is how FISA problems get so bad (as the FBI back door searches did) such that it takes years before FISC learns and catalogs current problems: it requires reporting, not imposes prohibitions, and as a result only learns if there are problems months or years after the fact.

Probably, this change did not result in a relaxation of the rules regarding who could unmask US person identities. Probably, the changes imposed under Grenell and Ratcliffe were just an attempt to root out people they deemed to be disloyal to Donald Trump. Probably, this has resulted in the same fairly strict rules regarding the unmasking of US person identities that were in place before.

But it’s fairly ironic that Boasberg suspected that a change made in a certification signed by John Ratcliffe would make it easier for the government to unmask the identities of Americans who had been captured in FISA surveillance — because that’s the kind of thing the GOP led a years-long campaign accusing others of.

Former Presiding FISA Judge John Bates’ Curious Treatment of White Person Terrorism

By chance of logistics, the men and women who have presided over a two decade war on Islamic terrorism are now presiding over the trials of those charged in January 6.

To deal with the flood of defendants, the Senior Judges in the DC District have agreed to pick up some cases. And because FISA mandates that at least three of the eleven FISA judges presiding at any given time come from the DC area, and because the presiding judge has traditionally been from among those three, it means a disproportionate number of DC’s Senior Judges have served on the FISA Court, often on terms as presiding judge or at the very least ruling over programmatic decisions that have subjected millions of Americans to collection in the name of the war on terror. Between those and several other still-active DC judges, over 60 January 6 cases will be adjudicated by a current or former FISA judge.

Current and former FISA judges have taken a range of cases with a range of complexity and notoriety:

  • Royce Lamberth served as FISC’s presiding judge from 1995 until 2002 and failed in his effort to limit the effect of the elimination of the wall between intelligence and criminal collection passed in the PATRIOT Act. And during a stint as DC’s Chief Judge he dealt with the aftermath of the Boumediene decision and fought to make the hard won detention reviews won by Gitmo detainees more than a rubber stamp. Lamberth is presiding over 10 cases with 14 defendants. A number of those are high profile cases, like that of Jacob Chansley (the Q Shaman), Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother, bullhorn lady and mask refusenik Rachel Powell, and Proud Boy assault defendant Christopher Worrell.
  • Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is still an active DC District judge, but she served as FISC presiding judge starting way back in 2002, inheriting the difficulties created by Stellar Wind from Lamberth. She’s the one who redefined “relevant to” in an effort to bring the Internet dragnet back under court review. She is presiding over ten January 6 cases with 12 defendants. That includes Lonnie Coffman, who showed up to the insurrection with a truck full of Molotov cocktails, as well as some other assault cases.
  • John Bates took over as presiding judge of FISC on May 19, 2009. In 2010, he redefined “metadata” so as to permit the government to continue to use the Internet dragnet; the government ultimately failed to make that program work but FISC has retained that twisted definition of “metadata” nevertheless. In 2011, he authorized the use of “back door searches” on content collected under FISA’s Section 702. In 2013, Bates appears to have ruled that for Islamic terrorists, the FBI can get around restrictions prohibiting surveillance solely for First Amendment reasons by pointing to the conduct of an American citizen suspect’s associates, rather than his or her own. And while not a FISA case, Bates also dismissed Anwar al-Awlaki’s effort to require the government to give him some due process before executing him by drone strike; at the time, the government had presented no public evidence that Awlaki had done more than incite violence. Bates has eight January 6 cases with nine defendants (as well as some unrelated cases), but he is presiding over several high profile ones, including the other Zip Tie Guy, Larry Brock, the scion of a right wing activist family, Leo Bozell IV, and former State Department official Freddie Klein.
  • Reggie Walton, who took over as presiding judge in 2013 but who, even before that, oversaw key programmatic decisions starting in 2008, showed a willingness both on FISC and overseeing the Scooter Libby trial to stand up to the Executive. That includes his extended effort to clean up the phone and Internet dragnet after Bush left in 2009, during which he even shut down part or all of the two dragnets temporarily. Walton is presiding over six cases with eight defendants, most for MAGA tourism.
  • Thomas Hogan was DC District’s head judge in the 2000s. In that role, he presided over the initial Gitmo detainees’ challenges to their detention (though many of the key precedential decisions on those cases were made by other judges who have since retired). Hogan then joined FISC and ultimately took over the presiding role in 2014 and in that role, affirmatively authorized the use of Section 702 back door searches for FBI assessments. Hogan is presiding over 13 cases with 18 defendants, a number of cases involving multiple defendants (including another set of mother-son defendants, the Sandovals). The most important is the case against alleged Brian Sicknick assailants, Julian Khater and George Tanios.
  • James Boasberg, who took over the presiding position on FISC on January 1, 2020 but had started making initial efforts to rein in back door searches even before that, is presiding over about eight cases with ten defendants, the most interesting of which is the case of Aaron Mostofsky, who is himself the son of a judge.
  • Rudolph Contreras, who like Kollar-Kotelly and Boasberg is not a senior judge, is currently a FISC judge. He has six January 6 cases with seven defendants, most MAGA tourists accused of trespassing. There’s a decent chance he’ll take over as presiding judge when Boasberg’s term on FISC expires next month.

Of the most important FISA judges since 9/11, then, just Rosemary Collyer is not presiding over any January 6 cases.

Mind you, it’s not a bad thing that FISA judges will preside over January 6 cases. These are highly experienced judges with a long established history of presiding over other cases, ranging the gamut and including other politically charged high profile cases, as DC District judges do.

That said, in their role as FISA judges — particularly when reviewing programmatic applications — most of these judges have been placed in a fairly unique role on two fronts. First, most of these judges have been forced to weigh fairly dramatic legal questions, in secret, in a context in which the Executive Branch routinely threatens to move entire programs under EO 12333, thereby shielding those programs from any oversight by a judge. These judges responded to such situations with a range of deference, with Royce Lamberth and Reggie Walton raising real stinks and — the latter case — hand-holding on oversight over the course of most of a year, to John Bates and to a lesser degree Thomas Hogan, who often complained at length about abuses before expanding the same programs being abused. Several — perhaps most notably Kollar-Kotelly when she was asked to bring parts of Stellar Wind under FISA — have likewise had to fight to affirm the authority of the entire Article III branch, all in secret.

Ruling on these programmatic FISA applications also involved hearing expansive government claims about the threat of terrorism, the difficulty and necessity of identifying potential terrorists before they attack, and the efficacy of the secret programs devised to do that (the judges who also presided over Gitmo challenges, which includes several on this list, also fielded similar secret claims about the risk of terrorism). Some of those claims — most notably, about the efficacy of the Section 215 phone dragnet — were wildly overblown. In other words, to a degree unmatched by most other judges, these men and women were asked to balance the rights of Americans against secret government claims about the risks of terrorism.

Now these same judges are part of a group being asked to weigh similar questions, but about a huge number of predominantly white, sometimes extremist Christian, defendants, but to do so in public, with defense attorneys challenging their every decision. Here, the balance between extremist affiliation and First Amendment rights will play out in public, but against the background of a two decade war on terror where similar affiliation was criminalized, often in secret.

Generally, the District judges in these cases have not done much on the cases yet, as either Magistrates (on initial pre-indictment appearances) or Chief Judge Beryl Howell (on initial detention disputes) have handled some of the more controversial issues, and in a few cases, Ketanji Brown Jackson presided over arraignments before she started handing off cases in anticipation of her Circuit confirmation process.

But several of the judges have written key opinions on detention, opinions that embody how differently the conduct of January 6 defendants looks to different people.

Lamberth, for example, authored the original detention order for “Zip Tie Guy” Eric Munchel and his mom, Lisa Eisenhart. Even while admitting that Munchel made efforts to limit any vandalization during the riot, Lamberth nevertheless deemed Munchel’s actions a threat to our constitutional government.

The grand jury charged Munchel with grave offenses. In charging Munchel with “forcibly enter[ing] and remain[ing] in the Capitol to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote,” Indictment 1, ECF No. 21, the grand jury alleged that Munchel used force to subvert a democratic election and arrest the peaceful transfer of power. Such conduct threatens the republic itself. See George Washington, Farewell Address (Sept. 19, 1796) (“The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government. All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency.”). Indeed, few offenses are more threatening to our way of life.

Munchel ‘s alleged conduct demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the rule of law. Munchel is alleged to have taken part in a mob, which displaced the elected legislature in an effort to subvert our constitutional government and the will of more than 81 million voters. Munchel’ s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends. Such conduct poses a clear risk to the community.

Defense counsel’s portrayal of the alleged offenses as mere trespassing or civil disobedience is both unpersuasive and detached from reality. First, Munchel’s alleged conduct carried great potential for violence. Munchel went into the Capitol armed with a taser. He carried plastic handcuffs. He threatened to “break” anyone who vandalized the Capitol.3 These were not peaceful acts. Second, Munchel ‘s alleged conduct occurred while Congress was finalizing the results of a Presidential election. Storming the Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral votes is not the akin to a peaceful sit-in.

For those reasons, the nature and circumstances of the charged offenses strongly support a finding that no conditions of release would protect the community.

[snip]

Munchel gleefully entered the Capitol in the midst of a riot. He did so, the grand jury alleges, to stop or delay the peaceful transfer of power. And he did so carrying a dangerous weapon. Munchel took these actions in front of hundreds of police officers, indicating that he cannot be deterred easily.

Moreover, after the riots, Munchel indicated that he was willing to undertake such actions again. He compared himself-and the other insurrectionists-to the revolutionaries of 1776, indicating that he believes that violent revolt is appropriate. See Pullman, supra. And he said “[t]he point of getting inside the building is to show them that we can, and we will.” Id. That statement, particularly its final clause, connotes a willingness to engage in such behavior again.

By word and deed, Munchel has supported the violent overthrow of the United States government. He poses a clear danger to our republic.

This is the opinion that the DC Circuit remanded, finding that Lamberth had not sufficiently considered whether Munchel and his mother would pose a grave future threat absent the specific circumstances present on January 6. They contrasted the mother and son with those who engaged in violence or planned in advance.

[W]e conclude that the District Court did not demonstrate that it adequately considered, in light of all the record evidence, whether Munchel and Eisenhart present an identified and articulable threat to the community. Accordingly, we remand for further factfinding. Cf. Nwokoro, 651 F.3d at 111–12.

[snip]

Here, the District Court did not adequately demonstrate that it considered whether Munchel and Eisenhart posed an articulable threat to the community in view of their conduct on January 6, and the particular circumstances of January 6. The District Court based its dangerousness determination on a finding that “Munchel’s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends,” and that “[s]uch conduct poses a clear risk to the community.” Munchel, 2021 WL 620236, at *6. In making this determination, however, the Court did not explain how it reached that conclusion notwithstanding the countervailing finding that “the record contains no evidence indicating that, while inside the Capitol, Munchel or Eisenhart vandalized any property or physically harmed any person,” id. at *3, and the absence of any record evidence that either Munchel or Eisenhart committed any violence on January 6. That Munchel and Eisenhart assaulted no one on January 6; that they did not enter the Capitol by force; and that they vandalized no property are all factors that weigh against a finding that either pose a threat of “using force to promote [their] political ends,” and that the District Court should consider on remand. If, in light of the lack of evidence that Munchel or Eisenhart committed violence on January 6, the District Court finds that they do not in fact pose a threat of committing violence in the future, the District Court should consider this finding in making its dangerousness determination. In our view, those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors, and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned, or coordinated such actions, are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way. See Simpkins, 826 F.2d at 96 (“[W]here the future misconduct that is anticipated concerns violent criminal activity, no issue arises concerning the outer limits of the meaning of ‘danger to the community,’ an issue that would otherwise require a legal interpretation of the applicable standard.” (internal quotation and alteration omitted)). And while the District Court stated that it was not satisfied that either appellant would comply with release conditions, that finding, as noted above, does not obviate a proper dangerousness determination to justify detention.

The District Court also failed to demonstrate that it considered the specific circumstances that made it possible, on January 6, for Munchel and Eisenhart to threaten the peaceful transfer of power. The appellants had a unique opportunity to obstruct democracy on January 6 because of the electoral college vote tally taking place that day, and the concurrently scheduled rallies and protests. Thus, Munchel and Eisenhart were able to attempt to obstruct the electoral college vote by entering the Capitol together with a large group of people who had gathered at the Capitol in protest that day. Because Munchel and Eisenhart did not vandalize any property or commit violence, the presence of the group was critical to their ability to obstruct the vote and to cause danger to the community. Without it, Munchel and Eisenhart—two individuals who did not engage in any violence and who were not involved in planning or coordinating the activities— seemingly would have posed little threat. The District Court found that appellants were a danger to “act against Congress” in the future, but there was no explanation of how the appellants would be capable of doing so now that the specific circumstances of January 6 have passed. This, too, is a factor that the District Court should consider on remand. [my emphasis]

The DC Circuit opinion (joined by Judith Rogers, who ruled for Gitmo detainees in Bahlul and a Boumediene dissent) was absolutely a fair decision. But it is also arguably inconsistent with the way that the federal government treated Islamic terrorism, in which every time the government identified someone who might engage in terrorism (often using one of the secret programs approved by this handful of FISA judges, and often based off far less than waltzing into the Senate hoping to prevent the certification of an election while wielding zip ties and a taser), the FBI would continue to pursue those people as intolerably dangerous threats. Again, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, but that is how it did work, in significant part with the approval of FISA judges.

That is, with Islamic terrorism, the government treated potential threats as threats, whereas here CADC required Lamberth to look more closely at what could make an individual predisposed to an assault on our government — a potential threat — as dangerous going forward. Again, particularly given the numbers involved, that’s a better application of due process than what has been used for the last twenty years, but it’s not what happened during the War on Terror (and in weeks ahead, this will be relitigated with consideration of whether Trump’s continued incitement makes these defendants an ongoing threat).

Now compare Lamberth’s order to an order John Bates issued in the wake of and specifically citing the CADC ruling, releasing former State Department official Freddie Klein from pretrial detention. Klein is accused of fighting with cops in the Lower West Terrace over the course of half an hour.

Bates found that Klein, in using a stolen riot shield to push against cops in an attempt to breach the Capitol, was eligible for pre-trial detention, though he expressed skepticism of the government’s argument that Klein had wielded the shield as a dangerous weapon).

The Court finds that Klein is eligible for pretrial detention based on Count 3. Under the BRA, a “crime of violence” includes “an offense that has as an element of the offense the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.” 18 U.S.C. § 3156(a)(4)(A). The Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States defined “physical force” as “force capable of causing physical pain or injury to another person.” 559 U.S. 133, 140 (2010); see also Def.’s Br. at 9.

[snip]

6 The Court has some doubts about whether Klein “used” the stolen riot shield as a dangerous weapon. The BRA does not define the term, but at least for purposes of § 111(b), courts have held that a dangerous weapon is any “object that is either inherently dangerous or is used in a way that is likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” See United States v. Chansley, 2021 WL 861079, at *7 (D.D.C. Mar. 8, 2021) (Lamberth, J.) (collecting cases). A plastic riot shield is not an “inherently dangerous” weapon, and therefore the question is whether Klein used it in a way “that is likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” The standard riot shield “is approximately forty-eight inches tall and twenty-four inches wide,” see Gov’t’s Br. at 13, and the Court disagrees with defense counsel’s suggestion that a riot shield might never qualify as a dangerous weapon, even if swung at an officer’s head, Hr’g Tr. 18:18–25, 19:1–11. See, e.g., United States v. Johnson, 324 F.2d 264, 266 (4th Cir. 1963) (finding that metal and plastic chair qualified as a dangerous weapon when “wielded from an upright (overhead) position and brought down upon the victim’s head”). But it is a close call whether Klein’s efforts to press the shield against officers’ bodies and shields were “likely to endanger life or inflict great bodily harm.” See Chansley, 2021 WL 861079, at *7.

But Bates ruled that there were certain things about the case against Klein — that he didn’t come prepared for combat, that he didn’t bring a weapon with him and instead just made use of what he found there, that any coordination he did involved ad hoc cooperation with other rioters rather than leadership throughout the event — that distinguished him from other defendants who (he suggested) should be detained, thereby limiting the guidelines laid out by CDC.

Bates’ decision on those points is absolutely fair. He has distinguished Klein from other January 6 defendants who, he judges, contributed more to the violence.

But there are two aspects of Bates’ decision I find shocking, especially from the guy who consistently deferred to Executive Authority on matters of national security and who sacrificed all of our communicative privacy in the service of finding hidden terrorist threats to the country. First, Bates dismissed the import of Klein’s sustained fight against cops because — he judged — Klein was only using force to advance the position of the mob, not trying to injure anyone.

The government’s contention that Klein engaged in “what can only be described as hand-to-hand combat” for “approximately thirty minutes” also overstates what occurred. See Gov’t’s Br. at 6. Klein consistently positioned himself face-to-face with multiple officers and also repeatedly pressed a stolen riot shield against their bodies and shields. His objective, as far as the Court can tell, however, appeared to be to advance, or at times maintain, the mob’s position in the tunnel, and not to inflict injury. He is not charged with injuring anyone and, unlike with other defendants, the government does not submit that Klein intended to injure officers. Compare Hr’g Tr. 57:12–18 (government conceding that the evidence does not establish Klein intended to injure anyone, only that “there was a disregard of care whether he would injure anyone or not” in his attempt to enter the Capitol), with Gov’t’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. to Reopen Detention Hearing & For Release on Conditions, ECF No. 30 (“Gov’t’s Opp’n to McCaughey’s Release”), United States v. McCaughey, III, 21-CR-040-1, at 11 (D.D.C. Apr. 7, 2021) (government emphasizing defendant’s “intent to injure” an officer who he had pinned against a door using a stolen riot shield as grounds for pretrial detention). And during the time period before Klein obtained the riot shield, he made no attempts to “battle” or “fight” the officers with his bare hands or other objects, such as the flagpole he retrieved. That does not mean that Klein could not have caused serious injury— particularly given the chaotic and cramped atmosphere inside the tunnel. But his actions are distinguishable from other detained defendants charged under § 111(b) who clearly sought to incapacitate and injure members of law enforcement by striking them with fists, batons, baseball bats, poles, or other dangerous weapons.

[snip]

Klein’s conduct was forceful, relentless, and defiant, but his confrontations with law enforcement were considerably less violent than many others that day, and the record does not establish that he intended to injure others. [my emphasis]

Bates describes that Klein wanted to use force in the service of occupying the building, not harming individual cops.

Of course, using force to occupy a building in service of halting the vote count is terrorism, but Bates doesn’t treat it as such.

Even more alarmingly, Bates flips how Magistrate Zia Faruqui viewed a government employee like Klein turning on his own government. The government had argued — and Faruqui agreed — that when a federal employee with Top Secret clearance attacks his own government, it is not just a crime but a violation of the Constitutional oath he swore to protect the country against enemies foreign and domestic.

Bates — after simply dismissing the import of Klein’s admittedly limited criminal history that under any other Administration might have disqualified him from retaining clearance — describes what Klein did as a “deeply concerning breach of trust.”

The government also argues that “Klein abdicated his responsibilities to the country and the Constitution” on January 6 by violating his oath of office as a federal employee to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Id. at 24–25 (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 3331). The fact that, as a federal employee, Klein actively participated in an assault on our democracy to thwart the peaceful transfer of power constitutes a substantial and deeply concerning breach of trust. More so, too, because he had been entrusted by this country to handle “top secret” classified information to protect the United States’ most sensitive interests. In light of his background, Klein had, as Magistrate Judge Faruqui put it, every “reason to know the acts he committed” on January 6 “were wrong,” and yet he took them anyway. Order of Detention Pending Trial at 4. Klein’s position as a federal employee thus may render him highly culpable for his conduct on January 6. But it is less clear that his now-former employment at the State Department heightens his “prospective” threat to the community. See Munchel, 2021 WL 1149196, at *4. Klein no longer works for or is affiliated with the federal government, and there is no suggestion that he might misuse previously obtained classified information to the detriment of the United States. Nor, importantly, is he alleged to have any contacts—past or present—with individuals who might wish to take action against this country. [my emphasis]

Bates then argues that Klein’s ability to obtain clearance proves not that he violates oaths he takes (the government argument adopted by Faruqui), but that he has the potential to live a law-abiding life.

Ultimately, Klein’s history—including his ability to obtain a top-level security clearance—shows his potential to live a law-abiding life. His actions on January 6, of course, stand in direct conflict with that narrative. Klein has not—unlike some other defendants who have been released pending trial for conduct in connection with the events of January 6—exhibited remorse for his actions. See, e.g., United States v. Cua, 2021 WL 918255, at *7–8 (D.D.C. Mar. 10, 2021) (Moss, J.) (weighing defendant’s deep remorse and regret in favor of pretrial release). But nor has he made any public statements celebrating his misconduct or suggesting that he would participate in similar actions again. And it is Klein’s constitutional right to challenge the allegations against him and hold the government to its burden of proof without incriminating himself at this stage of the proceedings. See United States v. Lawrence, 662 F.3d 551, 562 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (“[A] district court may not pressure a defendant into expressing remorse such that the failure to express remorse is met with punishment.”). Hence, despite his very troubling conduct on January 6, the Court finds on balance that Klein’s history and characteristics point slightly toward release.

In short, Bates takes the fact that Klein turned on the government he had sworn to protect and finds that that act weighs in favor of release.

Bates judges that this man, whom he described as having committed violence to advance the goal of undermining an election, nevertheless finds that — having already done that — Klein does not pose an unmanageable prospective threat.

Therefore, although it is a close call, the Court ultimately does not find that Klein poses a substantial prospective threat to the community or any other person. He does not pose no continuing danger, as he contends, given his demonstrated willingness to use force to advance his personal beliefs over legitimate government objectives. But what future risk he does present can be mitigated with supervision and other strict conditions on his release.

Again, it’s not the decision itself that is troubling. It’s the thought process Bates used, both for the way Bates flips Klein’s betrayal of his oath on its head, and for the way that Bates views the threat posed by a man who already used force in an attempt to coerce a political end. And it’s all the more troubling knowing how Bates has deferred to the Executive’s claims about the nascent threat posed even by people who have not, yet, engaged in violence to coerce a political end.

Bates similarly showed no deference to the government’s argument that Larry Brock, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who also brought zip ties into the Senate chamber, should have no access to the Internet given really inflammatory statements on social media, including a call for “fire and blood” as early as November. Bates decided on his own that Probation could sufficiently monitor Brock’s Internet use, comparing Brock to (in my opinion) two unlike defendants to justify the decision. Again, the decision itself is absolutely reasonable, but for the guy who decided the government could monitor significant swaths of transnational Internet traffic out of a necessity to identify potential terrorists, for a guy who okayed the access of US person’s content with no warrant, it’s fairly remarkable that he hasn’t deferred to the government about the danger Brock poses on the Internet (to say nothing of Brock’s likely sophistication at evading surveillance).

Again, I’m not complaining about any of these opinions. The outcomes are all reasonable. It is genuinely difficult to fit the events of January 6 into our existing framework (and perhaps that’s a good thing). Plus, there is such a range of fact patterns that even in the Munchel opinion give force to the mob even while trying to adjudicate individuals’ actions.

But either because these discussions are public, or because we simply think about white person terrorism differently, less foreign, perhaps, than we do Islamic terrorism, the very same judges who’ve grappled with these questions for the past two decades don’t necessarily have the ready answers they had in the past.

FISA Judges January 6 cases

Lamberth:

Kollar-Kotelly:

Bates:

Walton:

Hogan:

Boasberg:

Contreras:

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.

Kevin Clinesmith Sentenced to a Year of Probation

Judge James Boasberg just sentenced Kevin Clinesmith to a year of probation for altering a CIA email describing Carter Page’s prior relationship with the CIA.

Carter Page spoke at some length in his typical rambling style. Notably, he did not call for a harsh sentence for Clinesmith. And much of what he said was irrelevant to the sentencing (he seemed to be pitching to be a FISC amicus, as if the ties between him and Russian intelligence weren’t real concerns).

Anthony Scarpelli, arguing for the government, did not repeat a claim made in their sentencing memorandum, that Clinesmith may have made this alteration for political reasons. Judge Boasberg noted that the DOJ IG Report had found no evidence of such.

The government did suggest that Clinesmith had altered the email for more than just to avoid the work of correcting it. Boasberg didn’t see it that way. He found the argument of Clinesmith’s lawyer, Justin Shur, compelling that there was no personal benefit to Clinesmith because he wasn’t on the hook for the earlier mistakes in the application.

Boasberg also made a quip that, unlike certain politicians, Clinesmith had not chosen to be in the public limelight.

The hearing was perhaps most interesting for Boasberg’s comments, as the presiding FISA judge presiding over a criminal case pertaining to FISA, about the import of the FISA court’s role in checking Executive authority. I’ll return to those comments when a transcript is available.

Ultimately, then, this closes the most productive aspect of the Durham investigation, which has gone on almost as long as the investigation it is supposed to investigate.