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BREAKING from Fox News: Trump Cheated … and He Still Couldn’t Beat Joe Biden

Rupert Murdoch, in a sworn deposition as part of Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox, confessed that he helped Donald Trump cheat during the 2020 election. He provided Jared Kushner confidential information about Joe Biden’s ads, the kind of information that Trump had to rely on Russian spies to obtain from Hillary in 2016.

During Trump’s campaign, Rupert provided Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor,Jared Kushner, with Fox confidential information about Biden’s ads, along with debate strategy. Ex.600, R.Murdoch 210:6-9; 213:17-20; Ex.603 (providing Kushner a preview of Biden’s ads before they were public).

On January 5, Rupert and Suzanne Scott talked about having their top opinion shows, in concert, admit the truth: The election is over. Joe Biden won. The claim that the election was stolen was nothing but a Trump myth.

On January 5, Rupert and Scott discussed whether Hannity, Carlson, and Ingraham should say some version of “The election is over and Joe Biden won.” Ex.277. He hoped those words “would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election stolen. Id;Ex.600, R.Murdoch 258:5-14.

But Scott didn’t want to do that publicly, because she wanted to avoid pissing off viewers.

Scott told Rupert that privately they are all there but we need to be careful about using the shows and pissing off the viewers . Ex.277. So nobody made a statement.

The next day, her pissed off viewers attacked the Capitol.

And all the while, while Fox News assisted Trump’s efforts to weaponize a mass of angry Fox and InfoWars viewers, Rupert Murdoch knew that he had — personally! — helped Trump cheat and it still wasn’t enough for Trump to beat Joe Biden.

Again, I highly encourage you to take the time to read this. It’s another devastating indictment of the propaganda network run by Rupert.

Because, ultimately, when Rupert is forced to answer questions under oath, it becomes clear the extent to which Fox was covering up what a loser (Rupert knows that) Trump is.

Maggie Haberman’s Foray into Campaign Finance Journalism

I started unpacking this Maggie Haberman story yesterday morning.

It was an unusual story. Love or hate Maggie, she’s a really hard working journalist. But her forté is working phones, not documents.

Nevertheless, Maggie set out alone, without the involvement of an expert on documents generally or the FEC specifically (someone like David Fahrenthold) to explain why Jack Smith’s prosecutors are subpoenaing vendors of Trump’s Save America PAC.

The Justice Department has been subpoenaing documents from vendors paid by the PAC, including law firms, in an effort to determine what they were being paid for.

It seemed to be a follow-up to this story, which, by suggesting that JP Cooney had only joined the team with Smith’s hiring, falsely implied that DOJ had only started pursuing this angle after his appointment.

Three of his first hires — J.P. Cooney, Raymond Hulser and David Harbach — were trusted colleagues during Mr. Smith’s earlier stints in the department. Thomas P. Windom, a former federal prosecutor in Maryland who had been tapped in late 2021 by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s aides to oversee major elements of the Jan. 6 inquiry, remains part of the leadership team, according to several people familiar with the situation.

In addition to the documents and Jan. 6 investigations, Mr. Smith appears to be pursuing an offshoot of the Jan. 6 case, examining Save America, a pro-Trump political action committee, through which Mr. Trump raised millions of dollars with his false claims of election fraud. That investigation includes looking into how and why the committee’s vendors were paid.

In December, CNN reported that Cooney had been following the money for a year by that point, and even the NYT noted overt signs of that prong in September.

That earlier story nodded towards the same thing that this Daily Beast story, the January 6 Committee Report appendix on following the money, and this Campaign Legal Center complaint (the latter, focused on the 2020 campaign) did: Trump has apparently been treating campaign fundraising like a money laundering vehicle.

Go figure.

But Maggie, writing on her own, focuses instead on prospective crimes: the possibility that continuing to pay legal bills out of money raised starting in 2020 would be a different campaign finance violation.

Some of the $16 million appears to have been for lawyers representing witnesses in investigations related to Mr. Trump’s efforts to cling to power. But the majority of it — about $10 million — went to firms directly representing Mr. Trump in a string of investigations and lawsuits, including some related to his company, the filings showed.

Back in November, CLC did a report noting that Trump was doing that more generally, not just with lawyers.

All that’s not actually why I was interested in the story, but if you want an accounting of how much PAC money Trump is spending on legal services, Daily Beast’s tally includes the money spent by the MAGA PAC as well, adding up to $29.1 million since leaving office.

After I started unpacking Maggie’s story, I got distracted with the possibility that DOJ will tie Trump and Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman directly to the almost-murder of Michael Fanone. So, in the interim, Maggie broke the news that Smith’s prosecutors had subpoenaed Jared and Ivanka.

That story, written with Mike Schmidt, is exceptional only for the fact that they managed to avoid most of the hype about “aggressive steps” that peppers most reporting on Jack Smith. It pointed to things like the morning Oval Office meeting (Ivanka’s response to which her Chief of Staff Julie Radford was likely already questioned about, since — as the J6C Report noted explicitly — Radford was far more candid about it than Ivanka) and efforts to get Trump to call off his mob as likely topics of questioning.

Smith no doubt wants to get Jared and Ivanka’s stories about such topics locked in. Given questions about their candor before J6C, too, Smith will likely also give them an opportunity to revise their prior answers so they more closely match known facts.

Back to Maggie’s solo endeavor to read FEC filings.

There are two reasons I was interested in the story. First, having looked at FEC filings, Maggie seems to have discovered that the $195,000 in services that Boris Epshteyn billed to Save America PAC last year were not for legal services, but instead strategic consulting.

Another $1.3 million went to Silverman Thompson Slutkin and White, the firm of Evan Corcoran, a lawyer who began working with Mr. Trump last spring. Mr. Corcoran was brought into Mr. Trump’s orbit by Boris Epshteyn, a strategist who has played a coordinating role with some of the lawyers in cases involving Mr. Trump, as the investigation related to the Mar-a-Lago documents was heating up. (Mr. Epshteyn’s company was paid $195,000, but for broader strategic consulting, not legal consulting specifically.)

This is an important point, but one Maggie did not highlight (nor issue corrections on past stories). For the entirety of the time that Epshteyn was quarterbacking Trump’s response to the stolen documents probe, someone in his immediate vicinity has been telling reporters that he was playing a legal function, all the while billing Trump for the same old strategic consulting his firm, Georgetown Advisory, normally provides (though the two payments the campaign made to Epshteyn after Trump formalized his candidacy, totalling $30,000, were filed under “communications and legal consulting”).

NYT has, in various stories including Maggie in the byline, described Epshteyn’s role in the stolen documents case as “an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump’s legal efforts,” “in-house counsel for the former president who has become one of his most trusted advisers,” and “who has played a central role in coordinating lawyers on several of the investigations involving Mr. Trump.” Another even describes that Epshteyn “act[ed] as [a] lawyer [] for the Trump campaign.” The other day, Maggie described his role instead as “broader strategic consulting.”

All the time that NYT was describing Epshteyn as playing a legal role — and NYT is in no way alone in this — he was telling the Feds he wasn’t playing a legal function, he was instead playing a strategic consulting one. Many if not most of these stories also post-date the time, in September, when the FBI seized Epshteyn’s phone, which would give him a really good reason to try to claim to be a lawyer and not a political consultant.

DOJ is more likely to take FEC’s word on this issue than claims Epshteyn made to the press after his phone seizure.

Like I said, virtually every media outlet seems to be repeating the claim that Epshteyn has been playing a legal, not political role. But there’s one Maggie story, in particular, where the question of Epshteyn’s role is central: This story, quoting Eric Herschmann calling Epshteyn (and Evan Corcoran) idiots, a habit that made Herschmann a star witness for the January 6 Committee. Herschmann’s glee about calling Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, John Eastman, and now Epshteyn and Corcoran idiots always distracted from sketchier aspects of Herschmann’s behavior, such as Keith Kellogg’s puzzlement about why a lawyer sat in the Oval Office while Trump ordered Mike Pence to break the law and said nothing.

Anyway, this Maggie story focusing on Epshteyn’s role not only called him an idiot, but also insinuated he was witness tampering.

To the extent anyone is regarded as a quarterback of the documents and Jan. 6-related legal teams, it is Boris Epshteyn, a former campaign adviser and a graduate of the Georgetown University law school. Some aides tried to block his calls to Mr. Trump in 2020, according to former White House officials, but Mr. Epshteyn now works as an in-house counsel to Mr. Trump and speaks with him several times a day.

Mr. Epshteyn played a key role coordinating efforts by a group of lawyers for and political allies of Mr. Trump immediately after the 2020 election to prevent Joseph R. Biden Jr. from becoming president. Because of that role, he has been asked to testify in the state investigation in Georgia into the efforts to reverse Mr. Biden’s victory there.

Mr. Epshteyn’s phone was seized by the F.B.I. last week as part of the broad federal criminal inquiry into the attempts to overturn the election results and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

[snip]

In his emails to Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Rowley, Mr. Herschmann — a prominent witness for the House select committee on Jan. 6 and what led to it — invoked Mr. Corcoran’s defense of Mr. Bannon and argued pointedly that case law about executive privilege did not reflect what Mr. Corcoran believed it did.

Mr. Herschmann made clear in the emails that absent a court order precluding a witness from answering questions on the basis of executive privilege, which he had repeatedly implored them to seek, he would be forced to testify.

“I certainly am not relying on any legal analysis from either of you or Boris who — to be clear — I think is an idiot,” Mr. Herschmann wrote in a different email. “When I questioned Boris’s legal experience to work on challenging a presidential election since he appeared to have none — challenges that resulted in multiple court failures — he boasted that he was ‘just having fun,’ while also taking selfies and posting pictures online of his escapades.”

[snip]

In language that mirrored the federal statute against witness tampering, Mr. Herschmann told Mr. Corcoran that Mr. Epshteyn, himself under subpoena in Georgia, “should not in any way be involved in trying to influence, delay or prevent my testimony.”

“He is not in a position or qualified to opine on any of these issues,” Mr. Herschmann said.

Mr. Epshteyn declined to respond to a request for comment. [my emphasis]

The story ends by reporting that Herschmann’s, “testimony was postponed.”

I’m not aware of any report that describes Herschmann has been called back to testify.

The story is dated September 16, 2022.

Two days earlier, Cassidy Hutchinson had testified to the January 6 Committee (after already beginning to cooperate with DOJ) that after she testified on May 17 that Herschmann was present for a conversation about Trump saying that “Hang Mike Pence” chants were justified, her then-lawyer Stefan Passantino seemingly contacted Herschmann who then called Hutchinson and told her, “I didn’t know that you remembered so much.”

Ms. Cheney. When Stefan said “I’ll talk to some people,” do you know who he was referring to?

Ms. Hutchinson. I didn’t ask. assume it was the same entourage of people that he had been conferring with for the past few weeks.

You know, I had also received a call from Eric Herschmann, I believe on Friday, May 20th. I believe it was Friday, May 20th. It was, because this was after the interview.

And Eric called me that evening, and I just apologized. And he was like, you know, “I didn’t know that you remembered so much, Cassidy. Mark [Meadows] really put you in bad positions. I’m really sorry that he didn’t take care of you better. You never should’ve had to testify to any of that. That’s all of our jobs. I don’t know why they didn’t ask us, they asked you instead.”

And I was just like, “Look, Eric like, it is what it is.” And he kind of talked for — it was probably a 30-minute conversation.

In the same J6C appearance two days before that Maggie story painting Ephsteyn as a witness tamperer, Hutchinson told the committee that she suspected that Passantino had spoken to Maggie about her testimony, something that, if true, would have had the effect of sharing her testimony with other witnesses without appearing to obstruct the investigation. She also described Alex Cannon to be involved in the outreach to Maggie.

The next day, September 15, Hutchinson provided the committee more detail about Passantino’s alleged efforts to share her testimony with Herschmann and others. Passantino told her to call Trump’s lawyer, Justin Clark, as well as Alex Cannon and Eric Herschmann, Hutchinson told the committee on September 15.

The day after my third interview with the committee, on Wednesday, May 18th, Stefan let me know that I — he spoke with Justin Clark, Alex Cannon, and Eric Herschmann and suggested that I call — that I have a call with all three of them.

I reached out to initiate the call with Alex Cannon and Justin Clark per Stefan’s instruction. And the that Friday, May 20th, received a call on Signal from Eric Herschmann.

So on September 14, Hutchinson told J6C about behavior involving Herschmann resembling witness tampering, including behavior involving Maggie Haberman! On September 15, Hutchinson told J6C about behavior involving Herschmann resembling witness tampering. And on September 16, Maggie Haberman quoted Herschmann blaming Epshteyn for any witness tampering.

All that background is why I find the way Maggie ended her foray into campaign finance journalism so interesting. She quotes anonymous sources — not the public J6C transcripts showing that Passantino and Alex Cannon were sourcing her earlier reporting on this — attributing Hutchinson’s testimony as the genesis of this focus on paying law firms.

The questions of which lawyers and vendors have been paid, and for what, intensified after the House select committee investigating Mr. Trump’s efforts to cling to power told the Justice Department that it had evidence that a lawyer representing a witness had tried to coach her testimony in ways that would be favorable to Mr. Trump. The witness in question was later identified by people familiar with the committee’s work as Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide.

Her lawyer at the time, Stefan Passantino, was a former White House deputy counsel under Mr. Trump and was paid through Save America.

The reason I’m interested in this is because the point of Passantino’s alleged efforts to coach Hutchinson’s testimony was not, primarily, to protect Trump. According to Hutchinson’s testimony, at least, it was to protect Eric Herschmann, someone who has had tremendous success (like his close associate Jared Kushner) laundering his reputation through Maggie Haberman.

Ms. Hutchinson. ~ You previously asked about individuals he had raised with me. In my conversation with him earlier that afternoon, when I [sic] asking him about the engagement letter, I did also ask Stefan if he was representing any other January 6th clients. And he had said, “No one that I believe that you would have any conflicts with.”

And I said, “Would you mind letting me know?” Now, again, to this day, I still don’t know if that’s really a kosher question to ask an attorney, if they can share their clients with me, but I wanted to make sure that there actually weren’t any conflicts, because I didn’t have anything in writing.

He wouldn’t tell me anybody he was representing before the January 6th Committee, but he did tell me that he had previously represented Eric Herschmann and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in unrelated matters.

And in that same conversation, he said, “So if you have any conversations with any of them, especially Eric Herschmann, we want to really work to protect Eric Herschmann.”

And I remember saying sarcastically to him, “Eric can handle himself. Eric has his own resources. Why do I have to protect Eric?” He said, “No, no, no. Like, just to keep everything straight, like, we want to protect Eric with all of this.”

Ms. Cheney. Did he explain what he meant?

Ms. Hutchinson. No. And, to be honest, I didn’t ask. I didn’t have anything with Eric anyway that I felt that I had to protect. And I say that because, at the time of being back in Trump world — this is where I look back and regret some of this, but — like, I did feel a need to protect certain people. But with somebody like Eric, I didn’t feel that need, I didn’t find it necessary.  didn’t — I didn’t think that Eric did anything wrong at the time.

Ms. Cheney. Did it have something to do with NARA?

Ms. Hutchinson. He never really explained to me what it was exactly that we wanted to protect Eric on. I sort of erred on the side of: Maybe he just represents Eric in ongoing litigation, whether it’s financial disclosures or whatever it might be.

And, again, I just didn’t prod too much on that either, because, you know, I was under the impression that Eric helped set me up with Stefan, so I didn’t — I was worried that Stefan would then go back-channel to Eric and — this is my very paranoid brain at the time, but I was worried that if I, you know, pushed this subject a little too much, that he would then go back to Eric Herschmann and say, “Cassidy asked a lot of questions about you, like, why she needs to protect you.” So just didn’t really press the subject too much on that.

And as Hutchinson learned somewhat belatedly, Passantino had business ties to Alex Cannon and, possibly, Herschmann.

So I — “I want to make sure that I’m getting the dates right with these things?

He goes, “No, no, no.” He said, “Look, we want to get you in, get you out.

We’re going to downplay your role. You were a secretary. You had an administrative role. Everyone’s on the same page about this. It’s extremely unfair that they’re” “they’re” being the committee – “that the committee is putting you in this position in the first place. You really have nothing to do with any of this. It’s Mark’s fault that you’re even involved in this. We’re completely happy to be taking care of you now. We had no idea that you weren’t being taken care of this last year. So we’re really happy that you reached back out to us. But the less you remember, the better. I don’t think that you should be filling in any calendars or anything.”

[Redacted] When he said a

Ms. Cheney. Go ahead.

[Redacted] So everyone’s on the same page about this, did he explain who he was referring to when he said “everyone”?

Ms. Hutchinson. He didn’t at that moment. Then there are times throughout my working relationship with Stefan where he said similar things that I asked.

Later that day, sort of put together that the “they” he was referring to then were Justin Clark, Alex Cannon, Eric Herschmann. I think that’s — yeah, think that’s all of them.

Ms. Cheney. And how did you put that together?

Ms. Hutchinson.  Because he — he had said that — Justin — yeah, Justin Clark. Stefan had told me that — towards the end of the day that because he was involved with Elections, LLC, and tangentially, I guess Trump’s PACs, he had law partners. And unless I was extremely unwilling for him to share, he said it would be natural for him to have to share that information with the people that he works with that are his partners that are involved in Trump world.

That is, Hutchinson testified that Passantino’s alleged effort to coach her testimony was not (necessarily) an effort to protect Trump. It was an effort to protect his business scheme, a business scheme that may have included Herschmann.

In Maggie’s foray into campaign finance journalism, she did not calculate payments to Elections LLC in her discussion of law firms paid by Save America PAC, though it was paid upwards of $400,000 since Trump left office. The last of those payments — for $10,000 — was on December 7, after Trump formalized his 2024 presidential bid. So if Maggie’s right that these payments are illegal, then that $10,000 would be one of the first overt acts in this new criminal exposure.

As it happens, all this ties back to Maggie’s newest story breaking the news of a subpoena to Ivanka and Jared. I’m sure Jack Smith wants to ask Ivanka and Jared about their efforts to get dad to call off his mob.

But he may also want to know why Herschmann — a lawyer whose legal status in the White House remains entirely unexplained — why Herschmann, according to Pat Cipollone’s testimony, told the White House Counsel not to join in that Oval Office meeting where Trump ordered Pence to break the law because “this is family.”

“This is family,” Cipollone said Herschmann told him before he walked in the door. “You don’t need to be here.”

I would imagine that Jack Smith wants to know why, at that moment when Trump prepared to give his Vice President an illegal order, Herschmann was treated as family.

Update: Anna Bower informed me that Epshteyn told the Fulton County Grand Jury that he,

served as a legal, communications, and policy advisor to President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign; and he continues to serve as legal counsel to President Trump to this day.

He cited NY state’s bar rules to argue that his ethical obligations extend well beyond attorney-client privilege.

In contrast, the client confidences that Mr. Epshteyn is required to safeguard as a New York-licensed attorney pursuant to Rule 1.6 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct (“NYRPC”)4 reach a broader and less easily identifiable array of communications and information. Like its corollary rule in virtually every U.S. jurisdiction, NYRPC 1.6 provides that “[a] lawyer shall not knowingly reveal confidential information … or use such information to the disadvantage of a client or for the advantage of the lawyer or a third person” absent client consent or “to comply with other law or court order.” NYRPC l.6(a)-(b). The rule defines “Confidential Information” to mean “information gained during or relating to the representation of a client, whatever its source, that is (a) protected by the attorney-client privilege, (b) likely to be embarrassing or detrimental to the client if disclosed, or ( c) information that the client has requested be kept confidential.” NYRPC 1.6(a)(3). The duty to preserve client confidences under Rule 1.6 is much broader that the attorney-client privilege, it includes any information gained during the representation regardless of its nature or source, and it necessarily includes information that is not subject to any other privilege or protection, provided that it is not already generally known in the community.

Epshteyn has always had a far stronger case he was working in a legal role starting in April or May of last year than while he was on the campaign (where he was described by other witnesses, like Jenna Ellis was also described, as playing a PR role).

In public comments from Emily Kohrs, she suggested that Rudy, who was barred in NY still when he represented Trump during the 2020 election, provided thoughtful question by question answers about whether he could answer questions.

Welcome to the Jim Jordan and James Comer Look the Other Way Committees, Brought to You By Access Journalism

In an article published 112 days before the November election, Politico included this sentence about all the investigations Republicans planned to conduct if they won the House.

Republicans on the [Oversight] committee plan to hold high-profile probes into Hunter Biden’s dealings with overseas clients, but they also want to hone in on eliminating wasteful government spending in an effort to align the panel with the GOP’s broader agenda.

Politico’s Jordain Carney did not note the irony of planning, almost four months before the election, an investigation into foreign efforts to gain influence by paying the then Vice President’s son years ago, next to a claim to want to eliminate wasteful spending. He just described it as if yet another investigation into Hunter Biden, even as DOJ continued its own investigation, wasn’t an obvious waste of government resources.

Politico’s Olivia Beavers didn’t point that out either in a 1,400-word profile in August on James Comer entitled, “Meet the GOP’s future king of Biden investigations,” the kind of sycophantic profile designed to ensure future access, known as a “beat sweetener.” (Beaver is currently described as a Breaking News Reporter; this profile was posted 3 days after the search of Mar-a-Lago.) She did acknowledge that these investigations were, “directing the party’s pent-up frustration and aggression toward Democrats after years in the minority,” not any desire to make government work or eliminate wasteful spending. But she nevertheless allowed Comer and his colleagues to claim that an investigation into Joe Biden’s son could be credible — that it would somehow be more credible than the bullshit we expect from Marjorie Taylor Greene.

He’s long been known on both sides of the aisle as a sharp and affable colleague, and has the tendency to lean in with a hushed voice, almost conspiratorially, only to crack a well-timed joke that’s often at his own expense. Beyond that personal appeal, though, Comer emphasized it’s his priority to ensure the oversight panel’s work remains “credible.”

That’s a tricky path to tread, given his party’s investigative priorities are still subject to the whims of former President Donald Trump as well as an increasingly zealous conservative base and media apparatus. But Comer’s particularly well-suited to the task, according to more than two dozen House Republicans interviewed. And if he manages to do it right, it could provide a launching pad to higher office — Comer is not discounting a future bid for Senate or Kentucky governor, though that likely wouldn’t occur until after his four remaining years leading the panel.

“I’m not going to be chasing some of these right-wing blogs and some of their conspiracy theories,” Comer told POLITICO in an hour-long interview conducted in a rented RV trailer that his campaign had parked at the picnic. “We’ll look into anything, but we’re not going to declare a probe or an investigation unless we have proof.”

[snip]

And though Comer has said Hunter Biden would likely get subpoenaed in the event of a declined invitation to the committee next year, he doesn’t want to appear trigger-happy with issuing subpoenas, either.

“This isn’t a dog-and-pony show. This isn’t a committee where everybody’s gonna scream and be outraged and try to make the witnesses look like fools,” he said, before nodding at House Democrats’ past probes of the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. “Unlike Adam Schiff, we’re gonna have something concrete, substantive on Hunter Biden or I’m not going to talk about Hunter Biden.”

Beavers didn’t mention the platitudes she included in her August article when she reported, yesterday, on the press conference Comer and Jim Jordan have scheduled for today, less than 24 hours after the 218th House seat for Republicans was called, to talk about the investigation into Hunter Biden.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and James Comer (R-Ky.) discussed plans to investigate politicization in federal law enforcement and Hunter Biden’s business affairs.

“We are going to make it very clear that this is now an investigation of President Biden,” Comer said, referring to a planned Republican press conference Thursday about the president and his son’s business dealings.

Beavers has let Comer forget the claim, which she printed as good faith in August, that Comer was “not going to declare a probe or an investigation unless we have proof.”

Olivia. Comer lied to you in August. As a journalist, you might want to call that out.

There is no functioning democracy in which the opposition party’s first act after winning a majority should be investigating the private citizen son of the President for actions taken three to six years earlier, particularly not as a four year criminal investigation into Hunter Biden — still overseen by a Trump appointee — continues.

There is no sane argument for doing so. Sure, foreign countries paid Hunter lots of money as a means to access his father. But according to an October leak from FBI agents pressuring to charge the President’s son (one that Comer pitched on Fox News), which claimed there was enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden for tax and weapons charges but which made no mention of foreign influence peddling charges, that foreign influence peddling apparently doesn’t amount to a crime. Nothing foreign countries did with Hunter Biden is different from what Turkey did with Mike Flynn, Ukraine did with Paul Manafort, Israel did with George Papadopoulos, and multiple countries did with Elliot Broidy. Jim Jordan and James Comer not only had no problem with that foreign influence peddling, they attacked the FBI for investigating them.

If James Comer and Jim Jordan really cared about foreign influence peddling, they would care that, since leaving the White House, the Trump family has entered into more than $3.6 billion of deals with Saudi Arabia ($2 billion to Jared’s investment fund, a $1.6 billion real estate development in Oman announced the day before Trump’s re-election bid, and a golf deal of still-undisclosed value; Judd Legum has a good post summarizing what we know about this relationship). Given that the Oversight panel under Carolyn Maloney already launched an investigation into Jared’s fund — like Hunter Biden’s funding, notable because of the obvious inexperience of the recipient — Comer could treat himself and American taxpayers with respect by more generally investigating the adequacy of protection against foreign influence, made more acute in the wake of the opinion in the Steve Wynn case that guts DOJ’s ability to enforce FARA.

With today’s press conference, you will see a bunch of journalists like Olivia Beavers treating this as a serious pursuit rather than pointing out all the hypocrisy and waste it entails as well as the lies they credulously printed during the election about it. You will see Beavers rewarding politicians for squandering government resources to do this, rather than calling them out for the hypocrisy of their actions.

Maybe, if Comer becomes Governor of Kentucky, Beavers will have the inside track on access to him. I guess then it will have been worth it for her.

This Hunter Biden obsession has been allowed to continue already for three years not just because it has been Fox’s non-stop programming choice to distract from more important matters, but because journalists who consider themselves straight journalists, not Fox propagandists, choose not to call out the rank hypocrisy and waste of it all.

For any self-respecting journalist, the story going forward should be about how stupid and hypocritical all this is, what a waste of government resources.

We’re about to find out how few self-respecting journalists there are in DC.

Update: NBC journalist Scott Wong’s piece on the GOP plans for investigations was similarly supine. The funniest part of it is that it treated a 1,000 page “report,” consisting almost entirely of letters Jordan sent, as if it were substantive. I unpacked the details NBC could have disclosed to readers here.

Meanwhile, this Carl Hulse piece doesn’t disclose to readers that Marjory Taylor Greene’s investigation into the jail conditions of January 6 defendants, besides being an attempt to protect potential co-conspirators, also is falsely premised on claims that the January 6 defendants are treated worse (and not better) than other defendants as well as false claims that many of the pre-trial detainees are misdemeanants.

The Intelligence Gaps Where the Saudis Hid Their October Surprise

NYT has a story on Joe Biden’s serial surprise as he discovered the Saudis were reneging on what the President thought was a deal to keep pumping oil.

Here’s the timeline:

May: Amos Hochstein and Brett McGurk believe they make a deal for a two-part increase of production

June 2: OPEC announces the first part of production increases and Biden announces his Saudi trip

June 3: Trump travels from Mar-a-Lago to Bedminster for Saudi golf tournament

June 7: Adam Schiff and others send Biden a letter warning about Saudi Arabia

Prior to July 15: Briefings for Intelligence Committees on secret plan

July 15: Biden meets with Mohammed bin Salman

August 3: Saudis announce half of production increase promised (“the first public warning”)

September 5: OPEC announced production cuts

Late September: US officials begin hearing of deep production cuts on October 5

September 24: MbS says there will be no production cuts

September 27: Abdulaziz argues cuts would impede diversification plans

September 28: Saudis inform the US they will announce production cuts

October 26: Jared Kushner speaks at Saudi investment summit

NYT emphasizes the Saudi expression of self interest and hints at influence from Russia.

American officials say they believe that Prince Mohammed was particularly influenced by a high-level Sept. 27 meeting in which Prince Abdulaziz, the energy minister, argued that oil production cuts were needed to keep prices from plummeting to as low as $50 per barrel. The U.S. officials said they learned Prince Abdulaziz asserted that, under such as scenario, the Saudi government would lack the resources to fund economic diversification projects at the heart of Prince Mohammed’s domestic agenda.

Some U.S. officials believe that the Russians influenced the Saudi about-face, pointing to Prince Abdulaziz’s strong working ties with top Russian officials close to Mr. Putin, particularly Alexander Novak, the deputy prime minister who oversees energy policy.

[snip]

On Tuesday, speaking on stage at the annual investment forum in Riyadh, Prince Abdulaziz said that the kingdom would do what was in its best interests.

“I keep listening to, ‘Are you with us or against us?’ Is there any room for, ‘We are for Saudi Arabia and the people of Saudi Arabia’?” he said. “We will have to deliver our ambitions.”

But the story focuses more on how the Americans repeatedly got caught by surprise.

The Americans came away from the summit with the belief that the agreement was on track and that Prince Mohammed was satisfied. But in Riyadh, top Saudi officials were privately telling others that they had no plans for further meaningful oil production increases.

Indeed, the first public warning of this came on Aug. 3, when OPEC Plus announced a paltry bump in production for September of 100,000 barrels a day — half of what U.S. officials believed the Saudis had promised them.

American officials said they did not understand why that decision was made. Then OPEC Plus announced on Sept. 5 it would cut production by 100,000 barrels per day — retracting the increase it had announced a month earlier. After that, U.S. officials were increasingly confused and concerned about the kingdom’s direction.

In late September, American officials began hearing that Saudi Arabia could get OPEC Plus to announce a deep cut to oil production at a meeting scheduled for Oct. 5. [my emphasis]

There’s no comment about Trump’s ongoing meetings with the Saudis as this transpired, not even the one the day after Biden announced his visit, the same day (as it happens) that Trump refused to give back all the classified documents he stole. There’s no comment about MbS’s repeated, publicly stated preference for Trump over Biden.

The story describes Biden’s surprise as the result of wishful thinking. And the US wasn’t totally surprised. They got advance warning of the October cuts with enough time to send Janet Yellen to attempt to reverse the cuts.

But as depicted, the Saudis were saying, from the start, that they intended to renege on the deal with Biden, and the US went on believing the deal would hold for months.

There is no way the US should be taken by that much surprise: not by the Saudis, not by the Israelis, not even by the Brits. If they genuinely were this badly surprised, it would suggest significant intelligence gaps on the part of the US. The US spends billions to avoid such surprises.

One of the last times the IC had a surprise this big came when Vladimir Putin decided, after secret phone calls with Mike Flynn, not to respond to Obama’s 2016 sanctions. (They quickly found an explanation for the surprising turn of events, which intelligence collection Trump’s Director of National Intelligence burned years later.)

Perhaps it’s the paranoia fostered by a man who repeatedly intervenes in US foreign policy to obtain personal benefit, but I can’t help but notice these intelligence failures followed Trump’s meeting with the Saudis in Bedminster.

The Legal and Political Significance of Nuclear Document[s] Trump Is Suspected to Have Stolen

After Merrick Garland called Trump’s bluff yesterday, multiple outlets reported that DOJ was looking for documents relating to nuclear weapons.

Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.

[snip]

Material about nuclear weapons is especially sensitive and usually restricted to a small number of government officials, experts said. Publicizing details about U.S. weapons could provide an intelligence road map to adversaries seeking to build ways of countering those systems. And other countries might view exposing their nuclear secrets as a threat, experts said.

It’s unclear whether this information is coming from investigators trying to demonstrate what a no-brainer this search was, people who’ve otherwise seen the Attachment listing items to seize, or from Trump’s camp in an effort to pre-empt damage from when this will be released. With few exceptions, most details made public about the search thus far have come from Trump’s side.

But the report that FBI showed probable cause to believe Trump was hoarding a document or documents pertaining to nukes has several significant legal and political implications.

First, it makes it far more likely that Trump has violated, and can be proven to have violated, part of the Espionage Act, 18 USC 793.

In my post describing the likely content of an affidavit justifying a search of the former President, I noted that somewhere in there, the FBI would have had to anticipate and rule out the possibility that Trump simply declassified these documents which, if Trump could prove it, would render the documents simply stolen documents covered by the Presidential Records Act.

  • Some explanation of why DOJ believes that these documents weren’t actually declassified by Trump before he stole them

But the fact that these are nuclear documents, under the Atomic Energy Act, Trump cannot declassify them by himself. They’re “restricted documents,” the one kind of document that’s true of. Here are threads by Kel McClanahan and Cheryl Rofer explaining the distinctions — even Chelsea Manning weighed in! As McClanahan likened it, nuclear documents are protected by two padlocks, and Trump only had the legal key to one of those padlocks.

So by showing probable cause that Trump had stolen at least one document pertaining to nuclear weapons, FBI would accomplish that task: Trump could not claim to have declassified any such documents, because he cannot have declassified them by himself.

Now consider how it impacts Trump’s exposure under the Espionage Act. As I laid out here, to prove someone violated the Espionage Act, you don’t actually prove they were refusing to return classified information; you prove they had what is called “National Defense Information.” Even if Trump claimed to have declassified the documents, if the Agency in question (here, likely DOD or DOE) still believed the information to be classified and still treated as such, it could still qualify as NDI. But ultimately, a jury gets to decide whether something is NDI or not. One key difference between the first and second Joshua Schulte trials, for example, is that DOJ relied not on expert testimony to prove that he leaked or was trying to leak NDI, but rather on the logic of why the government would want to keep information about its assets secret. I thought it was one of the areas where the second prosecution was vastly more effective than the first.

There are few easier concepts to explain to a juror than that you need to keep information about nuclear weapons safe, and that doing so pertains to the national defense.

Then there’s the backstory. Early in the Trump Administration, there were reports that Trump had a scheme (one that involved all Trump’s sketchiest flunkies, including Mike Flynn) to transfer sensitive nuclear reactor technology to Saudi Arabia. The Oversight Committee conducted an investigation, the results of which, with the hindsight of Mohammed bin Salman’s $2 billion investment in a paper-thin Jared Kushner finance scheme and the Foreign Agent charges against Tom Barrack, look all the more suspect.

In 2017, President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, orchestrated a visit to Saudi Arabia as the President’s first overseas trip. Mr. Kushner also met on his own with then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who subsequently ousted his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, launched a crackdown against dozens of Saudi royal family members, and reportedly bragged that Mr. Kushner was “in his pocket.”

In October 2018, the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was met with equivocation by President Trump and other top Administration officials. This month, the White House ignored a 120-day deadline for a report on Mr. Khashoggi’s killing requested on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Within the United States, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia—a potential risk to U.S. national security absent adequate safeguards. These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia—and apparently have been in close and repeated contact with President Trump and his Administration to the present day.

However, experts worry that transferring sensitive U.S. nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman conceded this point in 2018, proclaiming: “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

When Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act, it imposed stringent controls on the export of U.S. technology to a foreign country that could be used to create nuclear weapons. Under Section 123 of the Act, the U.S. may not transfer nuclear technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress, in order to ensure that the agreement reached with the foreign government meets nine specific nonproliferation requirements.

[snip]

[W]histleblowers provided new information about IP3 International, a private company that has assembled a consortium of U.S. companies to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia. According to media reports, IP3’s only project to date is the Saudi nuclear plan. A key proponent of this nuclear effort was General Michael Flynn, who described himself in filings as an “advisor” to a subsidiary of IP3, IronBridge Group Inc., from June 2016 to December 2016—at the same time he was serving as Donald Trump’s national security advisor during the presidential campaign and the presidential transition. According to the whistleblowers, General Flynn continued to advocate for the adoption of the IP3 plan not only during the transition, but even after he joined the White House as President Trump’s National Security Advisor.

[snip]

Another key proponent of this effort was Thomas Barrack, President Trump’s personal friend of several decades and the Chairman of his Inaugural Committee.

The nuclear energy scheme (which did not involve nuclear weapons, but implicated concerns that the Saudis would develop them) overlaps closely with the scope of the Foreign Agent charges against Barrack (and I don’t rule out that FBI’s focus on such document(s) stems, in part, from Barrack’s upcoming trial). One of the overt acts charged against Barrack, for example, is that he “forced” the Trump White House to elevate the treatment of MbS on a visit to the US in March 2017 beyond that accorded by his rank at the time.

To be sure: There’s not a hint of evidence that the government has reason to believe Trump tried to sell or otherwise share the documents he stole with foreign entities. If the government suspected Trump might do so with Restricted Documents covered by the Atomic Energy Act, it would implicate a different crime, 40 USC 2274, with which Jonathan Toebbe was charged last year for trying to deal such technology to Brazil. Trump has succeeded in obscuring the crimes listed on his warrant (though not all crimes need to be listed on the overt warrant), but if the Atomic Energy Act were implicated, that would be really hard to do (unless this leaked detail is an effort on Trump’s part to prepare for the mention of the Atomic Energy Act on the warrant, though I doubt that’s the case).

So for now, Trump’s past history of attempting to share nuclear technology with the Saudis for the profit of his closest advisors is just background noise: something that makes it all the more concerning he is suspected of stealing such documents. But if the FBI did not find nuclear documents they have reason to believe Trump stole, then that could change quickly.

Finally, there’s a political angle. The press has been absolutely remiss in calling out Republicans for their hypocrisy about classified information — or their irresponsibility in parroting Trump’s complaints about a serious breach investigation. Instead, the press treated the nation’s security as a he-said, she-said fight between political parties.

But the report that the FBI has reason to believe that Trump stole documents about nuclear weapons provides just the kind of horse race angle that seems to be the only thing that vast swaths of journalists can understand anymore. That’s because in 2016, Marco Rubio argued that Trump was “unfit for the Presidency” because we could not give the “nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.”

Indeed, Val Demings, who is in a close fight against Rubio in November’s Senate elections, just made it an issue yesterday, before the nuclear angle became clear.

2016 Marco Rubio scoffed at the notion that someone like Trump should be given access to the nuclear codes. 2022 Marco Rubio — largely because he wants to win Trump’s favor in the election against Demings — doesn’t even want the FBI to investigate whether Trump stole the nuclear codes when he left office.

Perhaps with a horserace angle, the press might finally hold Republicans accountable for their irresponsibility of their efforts to protect Trump here.

How Adam Schiff Proves that Adam Schiff Is Lying that It Is “Unprecedented” for Congress to Be Ahead of DOJ

I had imagined I would write a post today introducing Andrew Weissmann — who like a lot of other TV lawyers has decided to weigh in on the January 6 investigation without first doing the least little bit of homework — to the multiple prongs of the DOJ investigation that he complains is not investigating multiple spokes at once.

Department of Justice January 6 investigations interview with Andrew Weissmann and Rep. Adam Schiff from R G on Vimeo.

But as I was prepping for that, I watched another of the Ari Melber pieces where he replicates this false claim.

Let me correct that. Melber actually doesn’t present Weissmann’s argument that the multiple pronged DOJ investigation should have multiple prongs, perhaps because since Weissmann first made it, it became clear he missed the Sidney Powell investigation entirely, the status of the investigations into Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani, the influencers that DOJ has already prosecuted as part of the investigation into the crime scene, and that DOJ actually started the fake electors investigation months before it was previously known.

Rather, Melber presents Adam Schiff’s claim that it is “unprecedented” for a congressional committee to be “so far out ahead” of DOJ.

Melber: We haven’t seen this kind of — he called it a breakdown, you might put it differently, but whatever it is, between the Justice Department and the Committee, but it also reflects that you’ve gotten some witnesses first. Do you share Mr. Weissmann’s concern? Could the DOJ be doing more quickly?

Schiff: I very much share his concern and have been expressing a very similar concern really for months no. It is so unprecedented — and I’ve been a part of many Congressional investigations that have been contemporaneous with Justice Department investigations — but it is unprecedented for Congress to be so far out ahead of the Justice Department in a complex investigation because as he was saying, as Andrew was saying, they’ve got potent tools to get information. They can enforce their own subpoenas in a way we can’t.

Let me introduce Adam Schiff to the House Intelligence Committee investigation into the 2016 Russian attack, on which a guy named Adam Schiff was first Ranking Member, then Chair, and the Mueller investigation into the same, on which Andrew Weissmann was a senior prosecutor.

Donald Trump Jr.

Interviewed by HPSCI on December 6, 2017

Never interviewed by Mueller’s team

Roger Stone

Interviewed by HPSCI on September 26, 2017

Never interviewed by Mueller’s team

Jared Kushner

First interviewed by HPSCI on July 25, 2017

First interviewed by DOJ on November 1, 2017

Steve Bannon

First interviewed by HPSCI on January 16, 2018

First interviewed by Mueller on February 12, 2018

John Podesta

Interviewed by HPSCI in June and December, 2017

Interviewed by Mueller in May 2018

Jeff Sessions

Interviewed by HPSCI on November 30, 2017

Interviewed by Mueller on January 17, 2018

JD Gordon

Interviewed by HPSCI on July 26, 2017

First interviewed by Mueller on August 29, 2017

Michael Caputo

Interviewed by HPSCI on July 14, 2017

Interviewed by Mueller on May 2, 2018

Michael Cohen

Interviewed by HPSCI on October 24, 2017

First interviewed by Mueller on August 7, 2018

Now, Schiff, who claimed it was unprecedented for a congressional investigation to precede a DOJ one, might say that the HPSCI investigation into Russia doesn’t count as a clear precedent because it wasn’t all that rigorous because it was led by Devin Nunes (that’s partly right, but there were plenty of Democratic staffers doing real work on that investigation too). But even on the January 6 Committee, there are already multiple instances where the Committee has interviewed witnesses before DOJ has (or interviewed witnesses that DOJ never will, before charging them), but gotten less valuable testimony than if they had waited.

One example, Ali Alexander, is instructive. He at least claimed he was going to tell the January 6 Committee a story that had already been debunked by DOJ. But before DOJ interviewed Alexander, at least two people with related information had gotten cooperation recognition in plea agreements, and several direct associates — most notably Owen Shroyer — had had their phones fully exploited.

Weissmann would likely point to good reasons why Mueller took more time, too: because later interviews with people like Michael Caputo or Jared Kushner required a lot more work on content acquired with covert warrants first, or because with people like Michael Cohen there was an entire financial investigation that preceded the first interview, or because DOJ was just a lot more careful to lay the groundwork with subjects of the investigation.

But the same is true here. DOJ will likely never interview Rudy on this investigation. But Lisa Monaco took steps on her first day in office that ensured that at whatever time DOJ obtained probable cause against Rudy, they had the content already privilege-reviewed. And DOJ did a lot of investigation into Sidney Powell before they started subpoenaing witnesses.

Many of the other witnesses that HPSCI interviewed long (or even just shortly) before DOJ did on Russia lied to HPSCI.

As both these men know, and know well, it is simply false that Congress never gets ahead of DOJ. But there are good reasons for that, and one of those reasons is precisely the one that Weissmann claims should lead DOJ to go more quickly: that it has far more tools to use to ensure that interviews that happen will more robustly support prosecutions.

House January 6 Committee: Public Hearings – Day 1 [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Any updates will be published at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

This post and comment thread are dedicated to the House January 6 Committee hearings scheduled to begin Thursday June 9, 2022, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Please take all comments unrelated to the hearings to a different thread.

The hearings will stream on:

House J6 Committee’s website: https://january6th.house.gov/news/watch-live

House J6 Committee’s YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ0yNe3cFx4

C-SPAN’s House J6 hearing page: https://www.c-span.org/video/?520282-1/open-testimony-january-6-committee

C-SPAN’s YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/c/C-SPAN/featured

Check PBS for your local affiliate’s stream: https://www.pbs.org/ (see upper right corner)

Twitter is carrying multiple live streams (NBC, PBS, Washington Post, Reuters, CSPAN, Bloomberg): https://twitter.com/i/events/1533876297926991877

MSNBC will carry coverage on their cable network with coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET as well as on MSNBC’s Maddow Show podcast feed. Details at this link.

ABC, NBC, CBS will carry the hearings live on broadcast and CNN will carry on its cable network.

Fox News is not carrying this on their main network. Their weeknight programming including Tucker Carlson’s screed will continue as usual and will likely carry counterprogramming.

Twitter accounts live tweeting the hearing tonight:

Brandi Buchman-DailyKos: https://twitter.com/Brandi_Buchman/status/1535034512639512576

Scott MacFarlane-CBS: https://twitter.com/MacFarlaneNews/status/1535050143879266306

Chris Geidner-Grid News: https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner/status/1535052708922937345

JustSecurity’s team live tweeting: https://twitter.com/just_security/status/1534955708881457154

If you know of any other credible source tweeting the coverage, please share a link in comments.

Marcy will not be live tweeting as the hearing begins 2:00 a.m. IST/1:00 a.m. UTC/GMT. She’ll have a post Friday morning Eastern Time. Do make sure to read her hearing prep post, though.

An agenda for this evening’s hearing has not been published on the committee’s website.

~ ~ ~

Any updates will appear at the bottom of this post; please bear with any content burps as this page may be edited as the evening progresses.

Again, this post is dedicated to the House January 6 Committee  and topics addressed in testimony and evidence produced during the hearing.

All other discussion should be in threads under the appropriate post with open discussion under the most recent Trash Talk.

To new readers and commenters: welcome to emptywheel. New commenters, please use a unique name to differentiate yourself; use the same username each time you comment.

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~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 7:30 P.M. ET 10-JUN-2022 —

According to Scott MacFarlane-CBS there will be a total of six House J6 Committee hearings this month.

House J6 Committee hearing schedule (as of eve 6/10/2022):

Monday June 13 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
10:00 AM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Wednesday June 15 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
10:00 AM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Thursday June 16 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
1:00 PM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Tuesday June 21 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
**10:00 AM ET | Date-Time-Place Subject to Confirmation**
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Thursday June 23 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
**8:00 PM ET | Date-Time-Place Subject to Confirmation**
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Date, time, and location of the next three hearings have been published on the U.S. House of Representatives’ calendar. The last two have not yet been confirmed and published.

Tom Barrack Appears to Claim Trump Knew Barrack Was Catering US Foreign Policy to the Emirates

In this post, I described the import of the false statement and obstruction charges against Tom Barrack. While Barrack may have been honest about his ties to the Emirates in a 2017 interview with Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, he is accused of lying about those ties in 2019, which — if DOJ has the goods on those later lies — will make it clear he was affirmatively hiding his role at that point.

[A]ssuming the FBI didn’t charge a billionaire with false statements without having him dead to rights on the charges, by June 2019, the FBI foreclosed several of the defenses that Barrack might offer going forward: that he was doing all this as a legal commercial transaction (which is exempt from the foreign agent charges) or that he wasn’t really working for UAE, he just thought the alliance really served US interests and indulged the Emiratis by referring to MbZ as “boss.” By denying very basic things that the FBI appears to have records for, then, Barrack made it a lot harder to argue — in 2021 — that’s there’s an innocent explanation for all this.

[snip]

This case will sink or swim on the strength of the false statements charges, because if Barrack’s alleged lies in June 2019 were clearcut, when he presumably believed he would be protected by Barr and Trump, then it makes several likely defenses a lot harder to pull off now.

The government made the same argument in a filing last month responding to Barrack’s motion to dismiss: If Barrack did not know his back channel with the Emirates was a problem, why did he (allegedly) lie about it?

Although not dispositive to Barrack’s vagueness challenge, if Barrack actually believed that he had done nothing wrong, it is unclear why he allegedly lied to FBI special agents during his voluntary June 20, 2019 interview as set forth in Counts Three through Seven of the Indictment.

It’s now clear that Barrack’s alleged false statements are even more important than that.

That’s because Barrack is now arguing that, because the Trump Administration approved of how Barrack was peddling US policy to the Emirates, Barrack could not have been a secret foreign agent under 18 USC 951.

That revelation has slowly become clear over the course of a dispute over discovery (motion, response, reply) pertaining to Barrack’s demand, among other things, for, “all communications between Mr. Barrack and the Trump Campaign and Administration regarding the Middle East.”

In the government’s response, they note that 18 USC 951 requires notice to the Attorney General, not to members of a private political campaign.

The defendants argue that evidence of Barrack’s disclosure of his UAE connections to members of the Trump Campaign are exculpatory. But Section 951 requires notice to the Attorney General, not to private citizens affiliated with the Trump Campaign. See 18 U.S.C. § 951(a). This makes sense, since the Attorney General is the official charged with enforcing the law and the senior official in charge of the FBI, the agency responsible for investigating and responding to unlawful foreign government activity inside the United States. By contrast, members of the Trump Campaign have no such responsibilities with respect to the internal national security of the United States and had no authority to sanction or bless the defendants’ illegal conduct. They are not government officials, and even if they were, they are not the Attorney General or a representative thereof.

According to the indictment, Paul Manafort not only knew that Barrack was working for the Emirates, but was cooperating with Barrack’s efforts.

In Barrack’s reply, after a heavily redacted passage, he complains about DOJ’s claim — made in the press conference announcing his arrest — that he had deceived Trump about what he was doing.

The government’s position is particularly astonishing in light of its public claim at the time of Mr. Barrack’s arrest that he had deceived Mr. Trump and the administration. Specifically, the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division announced that the “conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President,” and that this indictment was needed to deter such “undisclosed foreign influence.” [citation removed] In that same press release, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI NY Field Office asserted that the indictment was about “secret attempts to influence our highest officials.” Id. When Mr. Barrack raised concerns with the government about these false statements in the press release, the government responded that these statements were a fair representation of the conduct alleged in the indictment. [citation removed] Thus, in one breath the government claims that Mr. Barrack deceived Mr. Trump and the administration and that such evidence is part of its case, but in the next breath contends that contrary evidence is neither relevant nor exculpatory and apparently withheld such discovery on that basis.

Barrack’s lawyers include the 2021 comments about whether Trump knew of all this as exhibits, but more recent correspondence about it remains sealed.

In other words, Barrack seems to be arguing, he didn’t betray Trump; Trump wanted him to cater American foreign policy to rich Gulf Arab nations.

Barrack spends four pages of his reply making the same kinds of complaints about the documentation of his 2019 FBI interview that Mike Flynn made in 2020, even complaining that the fact that the AUSAs prosecuting the case were in the room makes them conflicted on the case. It’s clear why he did so: because if Barrack did lie to an FBI run by Trump’s appointed FBI Director and ultimately overseen by Bill Barr in 2019, then he was continuing to hide his influence-peddling from the one person that mattered under the law, Bill Barr (though given what we know of Barr’s interference in Ukraine investigations, I would be unsurprised if Barr knew that Trump knew of Barrack’s ties to the Emirates, which would explain why he swapped out US Attorneys in EDNY at the time).

Remember: Barrack is alleged to have been pursuing policies pushed by Mohammed bin Zayed. But among the things he is accused of doing for the Emirates was to “force” the White House to elevate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (then just the Deputy Crown Prince) during a visit to DC in March 2017. At the time the FBI interviewed Barrack in June 2019, Trump was under significant pressure for his possible complicity in the Jamal Khashoggi assassination.

And now — at a time when EDNY is talking about indicting Barrack’s not-yet indicted co-conspirators — we learn that MbS invested $2 billion dollars in Jared Kushner’s brand new firm even in spite of all the reasons not to.

Six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince, a close ally during the Trump administration, despite objections from the fund’s advisers about the merits of the deal.

A panel that screens investments for the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund cited concerns about the proposed deal with Mr. Kushner’s newly formed private equity firm, Affinity Partners, previously undisclosed documents show.

Those objections included: “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management”;the possibility that the kingdom would be responsible for “the bulk of the investment and risk”; due diligence on the fledgling firm’s operations that found them “unsatisfactory in all aspects”; a proposed asset management fee that “seems excessive”; and “public relations risks” from Mr. Kushner’s prior role as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, according to minutes of the panel’s meeting last June 30.

But days later the full board of the $620 billion Public Investment Fund — led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and a beneficiary of Mr. Kushner’s support when he worked as a White House adviser — overruled the panel.

Barrack’s apparent claim that Trump knew exactly what he was doing does nothing to change his legal posture before Trump became President, and DOJ indicted this before the statute of limitation expired on that conduct.

But the apparent claim that Trump knew about this — and the possibility that Barr did too, at least after the fact — would change the kind of crime that happened in 2017, after Trump became President. And, possibly, the culprit.

“Problem:” SDNY Charges Elena Branson as Unregistered Agent of Russia

Back in 2013, the Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce (Sergei Millian’s organization) sent Elena Branson language from FARA with the subject line, “Problem.”

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

Branson, who the prior year had founded the Russian Center of New York and subsequently became the Chair of Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS), apparently didn’t think it was an urgent problem. It wasn’t until 2019 that she appears to have considered — but then, after asking Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov for guidance, decided not to — register under FARA.

b. On or about December 10, 2019, BRANSON received an email indicating that BRANSON had requested a new FARA “eFile” account.21 That day, a member of the FARA Unit emailed the Branson RCNY Account with an eFile account number and temporary password to log in to the FARA eFile system. Later that day, a user logged in to the FARA eFile system using that account number and temporary password, and entered the registration name “Russian Center, Inc.” and the RCNY Office as the address. The user did not submit a FARA registration for the account. A user then accessed the account again on or about December 11, 2019, but, again, the individual did not submit a FARA registration. The internet protocol addresses connected to both log-ins of this account resolve to the same zip code as the RCNY Office.

c. On or about December 26, 2019, BRANSON emailed the Embassy Email Account. In the cover email, BRANSON wrote, in part, “[A] letter is in the attachment. Respectfully, Elena.” In the attached letter, BRANSON wrote, in part, that she had been asked questions from “compatriots” about “whether it is necessary to register their public organizations as a foreign agent.” BRANSON further wrote “[t]hese questions began to arise after the arrest of Maria Butina in Washington in July 2018 on charges of working as a foreign agent in the United States without registration.” BRANSON concluded the letter by asking the Embassy to advise such Russian compatriot groups, writing, “I am asking you to provide legal advice regarding registration as a foreign agent . . . for public organizations of Russian compatriots in the United States.” The letter was addressed to Ambassador-1.

Branson’s failure to register lies at the core of a 6-count complaint unveiled by SDNY yesterday, charging Branson in several conspiracies, under both FARA and 18 USC 951, as well as for visa fraud.

Branson won’t be arrested off this complaint. She’s long gone.

A month after the FBI interviewed her and searched her office in September 2020, she fled the country. Not long after Biden was inaugurated, Branson sold her NYC apartment.

During this investigation, the FBI has, among other things, executed judicially authorized search warrants for (i) approximately eight of BRANSON’s electronic accounts (the “Branson Accounts”3); (ii) the RCNY office (which was also BRANSON’s residence) in Manhattan, New York (the “RCNY Office”); and (iii) BRANSON’s person, for all electronics and other materials in her possession at the time of the search. From the RCNY Office and the search of BRANSON’s person, the FBI recovered a total of approximately 34 electronic devices (the “Branson Electronics”), including approximately 11 cellular phones. The FBI also conducted a voluntary interview of BRANSON on the same day as the search of the RCNY Office (the “Branson Interview”) and has interviewed other individuals living in the United States in connection with the investigation.

The searches of the RCNY Office (the “RCNY Search”) and BRANSON’s person, as well as the Branson Interview, took place on or about September 29, 2020. BRANSON flew to Moscow, Russia, on or about October 20, 2020, and BRANSON does not appear to have returned to the United States since that date. In or about March 2021, BRANSON sold the RCNY Office, which had been her residence in New York City. During in or about October and November 2020, BRANSON’s then boyfriend 9 (“Boyfriend-1”) wired approximately $197,000 to two of BRANSON’s bank accounts at Russian banks.4 On or about October 15, 2021, RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Russian state-controlled television station, published an interview conducted by Maria Butina5 of BRANSON. During this interview, BRANSON told Butina, in substance and in part, that BRANSON left the United States for Moscow approximately one month after the Branson Interview because BRANSON was “scared” and thought the “probability was very high” that she would be arrested if she stayed in the United States.6

3 The Branson Accounts include four email accounts and four social media accounts, including BRANSON’s Facebook account (the “Branson Facebook Account”).

So Branson will only be arrested if she decides to flee Putin’s increasingly totalitarian regime.

Unlike the prosecution of Jack Hanick, then, whose indictment may have been timed to tolling statutes of limitation last November and in which the US is working on getting him extradited from the UK, this complaint seems to be more about messaging in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As a messaging vehicle, it shows how Russia has committed to the “consolidation” of Russian diaspora, cultivating a Russian identity that can be used to mobilize political pressure (and, in Ukraine and the Baltics, justifications for imperialism).

In or about November 2015, Lavrov published an article titled “Russian World: Steering Towards Consolidation.” In this article, Lavrov wrote, in part, “The provision of support to the Russian world is an unconditional foreign-policy priority for Russia, as formalized by Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept. . . . Over the years, we have managed to elevate our work in this area to an entirely new level and to create effective cooperation mechanisms in close contact with representatives of foreign communities.”

Some of Branson’s activities are mundane cultural exchanges paid for by Russian government entities. Some sprinkle the names of likely spies or handlers in the description.

Perhaps most interesting, the complaint provides an interesting addition to this passage from the Mueller Report.

Later [on November 9, 2016, the day after Trump’s victory, Kirill] Dmitriev flew to New York, where Peskov was separately traveling to attend the chess tournament. 1020 Dmitriev invited Nader to the opening of the tournament and noted that, if there was “a chance to see anyone key from Trump camp,” he “would love to start building for the future.” 1021 Dmitriev also asked Nader to invite Kushner to the event so that he (Dmitriev) could meet him. 1022 Nader did not pass along Dmitriev’s invitation to anyone connected with the incoming Administration. 1023 Although one World Chess Federation official recalled hearing from an attendee that President-Elect Trump had stopped by the tournament, the investigation did not establish that Trump or any Campaign or Transition Team official attended the event. 1024 And the President’s written answers denied that he had. 1025

The complaint describes how Branson had been instructed to arrange a meeting with Trump or Ivanka in March 2016, around the same time Russia was hacking John Podesta, though the complaint is remarkably coy about whether Branson ever sent her draft letter to Trump Organization (and if so, whether it was among the documents showing direct ties to Russia that Trump Organization withheld from Mueller’s inquiry and SSCI).

In or about March 2016, BRANSON exchanged a series of emails with Minister-2. During these messages, in part, Minister-2 asked BRANSON to organize a meeting with CC-2 and the now-former President of the United States, who was then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, or his daughter, in New York. On or about March 23, 2016, BRANSON received an email from Minister-2 with the subject line “additional meetings of [CC-2].” The email stated, in part, that the author was requesting BRANSON’s assistance in organizing meetings for CC-2 with “the management” of certain specified U.S. companies. On or about March 16, 2016, BRANSON sent an individual, who was then-chair of KSORS, a draft letter addressed to the now-former President, inviting him to the Russia Forum New York in April 2016 and suggesting that if his “busy schedule will not permit your attending our forum, perhaps you can suggest one of your children . . . who have followed in your footsteps.” The draft invitation included BRANSON’s name and contact information in the signature block. There is no indication that the now-former President or his children attended the referenced meeting.

Branson’s complaint describes what would be a second attempt to get Trump to attend the Chess Championship, in addition to Kirill’s attempt to extend an invite through George Nader. Branson sent her invite to an unnamed Trump Advisor.

BRANSON also attempted to arrange meetings for Russian officials at the 2016 World Chess Championship, which was held in Manhattan, New York:

1. On or about November 9, 2016, CC-6 emailed BRANSON with the subject line “Chess business.” CC-6 wrote to BRANSON, in part, “as discussed we will try to get Kirsan online after tomorrow’s official press-conference is over around noon at Fulton Street Market Building, South Street Seaport NY[.]”20 On or about that same day, BRANSON responded to CC-6 and wrote “[CC-6], good evening! I can bring the ipad for a Skype session. I will contact the media. Need them at noon?”

2. On or about November 10, 2016, BRANSON emailed an advisor to the now-former President of the United States (“Advisor-1”), expressing congratulations for their victory in the presidential election and attaching an invitation to the World Chess Championship addressed to the then-President- elect. The invitation was signed by “President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE-FIDE).” There is no indication that the now-former President attended the referenced event.

3. On or about November 11, 2016, BRANSON was photographed at the World Chess Championship with CC-6 and a second individual who I recognize, based on my review of publicly available photographs, to be the current Press Secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

20 Based on my training and experience, including my review of publicly available material, I have learned that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is the former President of the Republic of Kalmykia in the Russian Federation and the former president of FIDE, the International Chess Federation. I have further learned that, on or about November 25, 2015, the United States Department of the Treasury designated Ilyumzhinov as a Specially Designated National for his involvement with the Government of Syria and related entities.

Here, the complaint reiterates the Mueller conclusion: there’s no evidence Trump attended the event. But it does raise questions about the completeness of the response Trump offered to Mueller’s questions, pertaining to whether Trump was asked to attend.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Response to Question V, Part (a)

I do not remember having been asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala, and I did not attend the event. During the course of preparing to respond to these questions, I have become aware of documents indicating that in March of 2016, the president of the World Chess Federation invited the Trump Organization to host, at Trump Tower, the 2016 World Chess Championship Match to be held in New York in November 2016. I have also become aware that in November 2016, there were press inquiries to my staff regarding whether I had plans to attend the tournament, which was not being held at Trump Tower. I understand these documents have already been provided to you.

Trump describes a March 2016 discussion about hosting the event and November press inquiries about whether he would attend it. But there’s no mention of a November 2016 invitation asking him to attend.

Yet the Branson complaint suggests there would have been an invitation to Trump, signed by the sanctioned Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, sent through an unnamed advisor. His response reflects only earlier (in March) communications about the chess championship, not anything sent on November 10 bearing Ilyumzhinov’s signature.

This is a signaling complaint, one that likely won’t lead to anyone’s arrest. But it should raise more questions about Donald Trump’s candor with Mueller back in 2018.

And we should expect more of the same. On Twitter, Brandon Van Grack, who would have been involved in Branson’s investigation when he ran the National Security Division’s FARA office and likely knows what else might be in the pipeline, suggested there’s probably more of the same to come.

Tom Barrack Suggests He Can’t Be Prosecuted Because It Didn’t Happen Early Enough To Be Obstructed

Tom Barrack has filed a previously scheduled motion to dismiss his prosecution.

It consists of challenges to the Foreign Agent — 18 USC 951 — charge against him that rely heavily on the Bijan Kian case, which is in a different circuit and very much in flux. Though as always disputes about this Foreign Agent application are of interest.

It includes a typical challenge based on FBI’s practice of writing up reports of interviews rather than recording them. This challenge might or might not include more valid complaints about the 302 than similar challenges that have failed in the past (we’ll find out at the end of February when the government files its response).

Moreover, the sole record the government chose to create are the handwritten notes of a single case agent that reflect little more than the agent’s subjective commingling of the questions and answers into shorthand assertions, wholly devoid of the actual questions asked and answers given.

[snip]

Similarly, Count 6 alleges that Mr. Barrack “falsely stated [that he) had no role in facilitating communications between the President-Elect and officials from the United Arab Emirates[.]” Indictment ,r 105. The indictment alleges that this statement was false because Mr. Barrack supposedly “arrang[ed) one or more telephone calls between the President-Elect and Emirati Official 1 and Emirati Official 2” and because he “provid[ ed) contact information” for Emirati officials to the President-Elect’s assistant. As with Count 4, however, the record does not reflect whether the ambiguous term “facilitating communications” was used by the government in its question or instead whether those were words used by Mr. Barrack in his response.

But the bulk of this motion to dismiss consists of an insinuation that this prosecution should have been successfully obstructed by Donald Trump.

Barrack doesn’t say that outright. Instead, he raises the fact that he was charged two years after his interview. He says that over and over. He even asks for discovery as to why it happened that way.

After that June 2019 interview, Mr. Barrack heard nothing more from the prosecutors. They did not contact him or his counsel to express any concerns about the information he provided or to discuss potential charges or a pre-indictment presentation. Meanwhile, Mr. Barrack continued working as Executive Chairman of his company and in that role made dozens of trips overseas, including to the Middle East. He also continued to act as an informal advisor to the Administration on foreign and economic policy with no indication by the government that he was supposedly an undisclosed foreign agent or national security threat.

On July 20, 2021, after two years of silence, more than a dozen armed FBI agents burst into a Los Angeles office where Mr. Barrack was attending a business meeting and took him into custody. He was incarcerated in a California general population prison for four days until he was released under extremely harsh and virtually unprecedented bail conditions.

Third, the government waited two years long after memories of the precise language used during the interview would have faded to charge Mr. Barrack with multiple felony counts premised on allegedly false statements

[snip]

The government appears to have taken few investigative steps following Mr. Barrack’s June 2019 interview, waiting for two years before bringing charges. This delay is even more inexplicable given that the government’s actions since Mr. Barrack’s interview do not reflect any apparent concern that he was a foreign agent or national security threat, even though he traveled overseas more than a dozen times and continued to have access to senior White House personnel and the President. The Due Process Clause protects defendants against such prejudicial, unjustified pre-indictment delay. See United States v. Lovasco, 431 U.S. 783, 789 (1977); United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 324 (1971); see also Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 48(b) (allowing dismissal of indictment for pre-indictment delay). To establish such a due process violation, a defendant must show both that he was prejudiced by the delay and that the government acted with an impermissible mens rea in delaying the indictment. Because both are present here, the indictment must be dismissed in full. Or, at the very least, the Court should allow discovery into the reasons for the government’s extended delay.

[snip]

Finally, the government’s unjustified two-year delay in charging Mr. Barrack also warrants dismissal of the indictment. The government had all the evidence on which the indictment was based in 2019. The indictment pleads the conspiracy terminated in April 2018, and the alleged false statements occurred in June 2019. Why the government waited more than two years, and until after a change in administration, is a question only it can answer, but it should answer it especially given the paramount First Amendment interests at stake. Had the government brought this case when its investigation was complete in 2019, recollections regarding Mr. Barrack’s June 2019 interview would have been fresh and the harm from the government’s failure to make a contemporaneous record might have been mitigated. The lengthy delay has also prejudiced Mr. Barrack’s ability to identify, preserve, and secure documentary evidence and obtain evidence from witnesses whose memories have faded. The government has provided no explanation for its delay, and the specter that the government intentionally delayed bringing this case for political reasons or tactical advantage hangs heavily over this case. Because Mr. Barrack has been deprived of a fair opportunity to defend himself, the indictment should be dismissed. [my emphasis]

Barrack’s suggestion — probably correct — that any charges under Donald Trump wouldn’t have survived Billy Barr’s meddling and Donald Trump’s pardons are all the more curious given his suggestion that the White House and intelligence agencies deleted records involving his actions.

To that point, the government has not produced, or perhaps not even searched for, internal memoranda or communications in government offices such as the White House or the intelligence agencies that were in the possession of key individuals in the campaign and Administration with whom Mr. Barrack was in communication about the matters alleged in the indictment. Moreover, it is doubtful that texts and emails once in the possession of such witnesses can now be reasonably obtained, especially with the change of administration.

While an intriguing insinuation, this seems to say more about the way that Jared Kushner and Trump were protected by this investigation than anything else; Barrack does not, here, make a claim that this should have been turned over in discovery. (I suspect the charges were scoped the way they were to implicate Trump and Kushner as little as possible, which I noted here.)

Unless the 302 problems are unique — and nothing here suggests they are — the way in which DOJ backstopped this with the false statements charges will make this indictment less susceptible to challenge on the face of the law.

But before it gets there, this challenge will be a test of DOJ’s ability to wait out an obstructionist President and Attorney General to prosecute an alleged criminal.