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The “Big Boss” Directing Tom Barrack’s Actions

There’s something almost entirely missing from the Tom Barrack indictment charging him with acting as an Emirate Agent. The money.

The indictment invokes forfeiture law, suggesting that someone profited from all of this or there’s some other loot the government wants to seize (but it lists none specifically; a memo requesting detention until a bail hearing requests that Barrack be made to identify all his financial assets to get bail).

But other than that, the sole mention of money describes that, on July 14, 2016 (months after this relationship started), Barrack pitched a “guidance board” that would tie UAE’s investments with strategic goals.

The presentation proposed the creation of a guidance board “through which all [UAE] investments are intertwined with the strategic vision of the country’s foreign and domestic policies as well as economic goals,” with the guidance board mandating “that all investments in operating companies use the resources at their disposal to influence [UAE’s interests] abroad … and partner with leading [UAE] friendly-influential figures to do so.” The presentation further proposed that the defendant THOMAS JOSEPH BARRACK work directly with Emirati Official 2 to execute the proposed strategy.

Then, months later on December 14, after Trump’s victory, this proposal assumed continued influence over Trump’s actions.

While the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also accomplish a secondary mandate to garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [Trump] … We will do so by sourcing investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [Trump] Presidency.”

This suggests that Barrack and Colony Capital would be expected to direct UAE’s Sovereign Funds in such a way as to implement their policy goals. A 2018 NYT story described how Barrack’s investment firm raised $7 billion in the time after Trump got the nomination, almost a quarter of it from Saudi and Emirate sources — but none of that appears in the indictment.

Mr. Barrack’s company, known as Colony NorthStar since a merger last year, has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia, according to an executive familiar with the figures.

These financial relationships will face a great deal of scrutiny as this case goes forward because a Foreign Agent cannot be someone “engaged in a legal commercial transaction.” One defense Barrack might try to make is that this was all about obtaining customers for his investment fund. But if no money changed hands, Barrack might suggest he sincerely believed in the import of fostering better ties between the Emirates and the US.

A Foreign Agent, not a lobbyist

Contrary to what you might have read, this is not a FARA case, which is generally treated as a regulation covering certain kinds of lobbying for foreign (including non-governmental, like the political party Paul Manafort hid his work for) entities. Barrack was charged under 18 USC 951, which is about working for a foreign government directly. The statute is sometimes referred to as Espionage Lite, and in this case, the government might believe at least some of the people involved — perhaps Al Malik, who fled the country days after the FBI interviewed him in April 2018 — are spies. By charging 951, though, the government only has to show that the team was ultimately working on orders from government officials without registering, not that someone was secretly reporting to another country’s spying agencies.

And this is pretty clearly about a relationship directly with UAE. In addition to Barrack and his employee Matthew Grimes, the indictment describes a chain of command in which several senior Emirati officials convey requests through Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi (referred to as Alshahhi in the indictment and as Al Malik here and elsewhere) to Barrack. On the Emirati side, Emirati Official 1 (EO1), is described as someone who, “held a high-ranking position in its armed forces,” but who, given events described in the indictment, must be Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed. Emirati Official 2 (EO2) is described as a “high-ranking official with responsibilities related to national security,” but appears to be National Security Advisor Tahnoun Bin Zayed. Emirati Official 3 (EO3) is described as a member of UAE’s National Security Council. Their orders often get delivered to Al Malik through Emirati Official 4 (EO4), who is described as a government official who reports to EO 2 and EO3. There’s also a diplomat, Emirati Official 5, who asked Barrack to provide insight into the top national security appointments Trump was planning. Basically, this amounts to MbZ tasking EO4 to instruct Al Malik to provide instructions in turn to Barrack. This structure is important, because it demonstrates that Barrack was being directed directly by the UAE government and, starting in October 2016, directly by MbZ himself.

A secret agent hiding the direct orders he was following

Aside from this reporting structure, two things will help the government make the case that Barrack was working as an Agent of UAE. Officials from the Emirates explicitly said that they wanted to use Barrack to represent their policy interests in the US rather than relying on their ambassador. For example, EO2 explains why he prefers to work through Barrack than UAE’s ambassador because he, “knows ambassadors can’t do much and they are limited even if they’re active.” After Barrack started doing TV appearances where he pitched the UAE, Al Malik told him that EO1 had said, “you are the new trusted friend!” And after Grimes submitted a Barrack op-ed for advance review by Emirate officials, Al Malik responded that, “Big boss loved it.” Then after the op-ed came out (having had a reference to dictatorships that the Emiratis found objectionable removed), Barrack asked through Al Malik “how Boss liked the article?” The indictment further describes how, in December, the Emirates directed Barrack and Grimes to put together a set of plans — “100 days/6 months/year/4 years” — of what they wanted to accomplish along with the Saudis; on that plan Barrack, Al Malik affirmed in Arabic, would “be with the Arabs.” Then, when Al Malik wrote Grimes and suggested the US should list the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Grimes responded, “At your direction.” This is the language of clear direction, channeled right from the top of the UAE government.

And while not required (remember that Maria Butina didn’t really hide what she was up to or even her ties to Aleksander Torshin), the indictment describes several ways that those involved tried to keep this relationship secret. As Barrack shared a Trump speech in advance, he described that it was “Totally Confidential.” In September, just as Barrack would start dealing directly with MbZ and two days before he’d call out MbZ in a Bloomberg interview, the go-betweens instructed Barrack to download the encrypted messaging app that MbZ uses. Barrack seems to have gotten a text directly from MbZ on September 29. And then in October, Grimes arranged to get both Barrack and himself dedicated phones to use to communicate with MbZ and others via the encrypted app.

While not included in the indictment, the detention memo also describes that Barrack downplayed his ties with Al Malik in a filing to the State Department.

Indeed, in June 2017, the defendant completed and submitted paperwork to the U.S. Department of State in connection with his efforts to secure an official position in the Administration. In his submissions, the defendant materially misrepresented his connection to Al Malik, falsely claiming to have had only infrequent contact with Al Malik and further claiming that he did not know Al Malik’s citizenship or whether Al Malik was affiliated with a foreign government, despite describing Al Malik in private communications as the UAE’s “secret weapon.” Further, in his submissions to the U.S. Department of State, the defendant was required to report any occasions when he had been asked to provide advice, serve as a consultant, even informally, or otherwise work on behalf of a foreign government. The defendant failed to disclose his extensive activities on behalf of the UAE.

It’s partly all this secrecy that will help the government prove their case.

But the way the government uses additional charges to show that Barrack tried to hide all this will help. In addition to 951 and Conspiracy to violate 951 charges (the latter of which was likely included because it’s easier to prove and to provide defendants, particularly Grimes, with a charge that has less onerous penalties to plead to), the government charged Barrack with obstruction of justice and four counts of false statements for attempting to lie about this. In a June 20, 2019 interview with the FBI, the indictment alleges that Barrack lied about whether:

  1. Al Malik asked Barrack to do things for UAE
  2. Barrack downloaded an encrypted app to use to communicate with MbZ and other Emirati officials
  3. Barrack set up a meeting between MbZ and Trump and, generally, whether he had a role in facilitating communications between them
  4. He had a role in prepping MbZ for a September 2017 meeting with Trump

Curiously, the detention memo mentions two more lies that aren’t included in the indictment:

(1) writing a draft of a speech to be delivered by the Candidate in May 2016; (2) reviewing a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to senior UAE officials on how to increase the UAE’s influence in the United States with his assistance;

In any case, this structure makes it easy to hold Barrack accountable at least via his lies to the FBI, and that he allegedly lied is powerful evidence that the full scope of the relationship was meant to be secret.

The key Trump world figures and the black box White House

Over coming days, we’ll learn who all the Trump officials named in the indictment are, but a key, unstated part of it all is Barrack’s success at placing Paul Manafort on Trump’s campaign. The indictment dates Barrack’s role as an “informal” advisor to Trump’s campaign to “approximately April 2016,” one month after Barrack had a key role in installing Manafort on Trump’s campaign.  It describes how Al Malik set up a meeting on April 24, in advance of which Barrack boasted that he had a 30-year relationship with Trump and had “staffed the Campaign.” After a meeting in the Emirates, EO 4 confirmed to Alshahhi that Barrack would be “the only channel” to Trump for UAE. Days later, Barrack sent Alshahhi a draft Trump energy speech and asked for feedback. Ultimately, Barrack succeeded in getting a promise to “work with our Gulf allies” into a May 26 Trump speech.

It’s not really clear with whom Barrack was working on the campaign. The indictment describes that “a senior member of the Campaign” emailed Barrack with a revision of the Energy speech, in response to which, Barrack instructed the “senior member” that they needed “one paragraph to balance foreign-policy concerns for energy dependent allies in the gulf.” ¶22 It’s likely that this is either Manafort himself (who had not yet fully pushed out Corey Lewandowski but was well on his way) or Rick Gates, the latter of whom played a similar role when Roger Stone wanted to script Trump’s foreign policy statements at that stage of the campaign.

Barrack’s role as Chair of Trump’s Inauguration Committee is minimal to the crimes in this indictment (meaning double jeopardy would not prevent him from being charged in that, too). But one paragraph does describe how Barrack agreed when Al Malik offered to “take care of ME side” of the the Inauguration. And the indictment describes that when Al Malik attended the Inauguration, he did so as Barrack’s personal guest.

Similarly, there’s no mention of December and January meetings involving Jared Kushner and others, even though the December 12, 2016 meeting happened right after Barrack was in UAE on December 2.

One thing the indictment may have tried to do is insulate the indictment from any Executive Privilege concerns. Its narrative stops at the White House door. The indictment describes Al Malik asking Grimes to get the Administration to list the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO and describes a public report shortly thereafter describing that it was under consideration, but it doesn’t describe who or even whether Barrack talked to to make that happen. It describes that Al Malik asked Grimes to set up a phone call between MbZ and Trump, describes Grimes observing that it got set up “right after I spoke to [Barrack] about it,” and quotes Grimes saying, “We can take credit for phone call.” But the overt acts of the indictment don’t actually say whether they deserved credit, or whether someone else had picked up the influence racket. The government must know he did, because they charge him for lying about setting up this meeting but it, by itself, is not an overt act. The day after MbZ met with Trump, Barrack wrote Al Malik describing that he had “lots of info on [the White House] meeting!” without describing Barrack’s source for that information. In an exception that proves the rule, the indictment describes how, as part of an effort to kill plans for a meeting at Camp David to mediate tensions in the Gulf, Barrack left a message with Trump’s Executive Assistant saying he had “something very important to share [using an ellipsis rather than naming Trump or anyone else] about the Middle East,” followed by Al Malik, two days later, offering “very special thanks and appreciations from the big guy.”

In other words, even though two of the charged lies pertain to Barrack’s role in shaping US policy in events that directly involved Trump, and even though comments suggest Barrack successfully interceded, the White House is treated as a black box; no discussions within the White House or between Barrack and Trump appear in the indictment, but they are implied in many places.

Where this came from where it will go

This investigation started well before 2018, because that’s when Al Malik fled the country just days after an FBI interview. That means it could have been a referral from the Mueller investigation (though given that Barrack lives in Los Angeles, it’s not clear why Mueller would have referred it to EDNY rather than CDCA). DOJ conducted other investigations into UAE’s foreign influence peddling there (as well as some investigations into Jared), so it’s possible this arose out of those investigations.

One thing that’s curiously missing from this indictment, though (along with references to the December 2016 or January 2017 meetings) is any reference to George Nader, who also was operating on instructions direct from MbZ and who provided extensive grand jury testimony as part of that investigation. When Nader tried to obtain a copy of his grand jury transcript as part of his defense in other influence peddling crimes in November 2019, it was revealed there were still multiple ongoing investigations referenced in it. There’s good reason to believe that Nader was not entirely forthcoming with Mueller though, in which case DOJ may not want to invoke him at all.

It’s equally interesting where this might go, which is part of the reason I find the different treatment of Candidate Trump from President Trump in the indictment really notable. This is an investigation that Billy Barr didn’t kill and that survived any pardon attempt, which suggests that Barr and Trump didn’t entirely kill all investigations implicating Trump (though the Rudy Giuliani investigation already showed that). But there are a number of things — most notably, the Inauguration — that might be implicated here but really isn’t part of the indictment.

Merrick Garland’s DOJ is not shying away from crimes that directly implicate Donald Trump. But the way they treated the White House as a black box in this indictment suggests significant deference to things Trump did while President.

Update: This Intercept story from June 2019 strongly suggests that this Barrack investigation arose out of the Mueller investigation.

Al-Malik’s name later surfaced in connection with a federal probe into potential illegal donations to Trump’s inaugural fund and a pro-Trump Super PAC by Middle Eastern donors. Al-Malik was interviewed by members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and was “cooperating” with prosecutors, his lawyer told The Intercept last year. The New York Times recently reported that investigators are looking into “whether Mr. al-Malik was part of an illegal influence scheme,” although no details of that potential scheme have been made public.

In fact, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that al-Malik served as a paid intelligence source for the UAE throughout 2017, The Intercept has learned.

[snip]

After he was interviewed as part of the Mueller investigation, al-Malik left Los Angeles, where he’d been based for several years, and went back to the UAE.

And the story describes Al Malik’s handler as the Director of UAE’s National Intelligence Service, Ali al-Shamsi.

Among the Emirati government officials overseeing al-Malik was Ali al-Shamsi, director of the Emirati National Intelligence Service, according to The Intercept’s sources. A source who knows al-Shamsi described him as “more than just a spy. He’s also a discreet messenger” for Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, and his brother Tahnoun bin Zayed, the UAE’s national security adviser.

This description is perfectly consistent with the description of EO 4 from the indictment.

Rudy Giuliani’s Support Role in the Mueller Report

As I showed in the Rat-Fucker Rashomon series, it can be tremendously useful to compare how different inquiries into Russian interference in 2016 tell that story. That’s true not just of Roger Stone; it’s also true of Rudy Giuliani.

By the time SSCI finished its Russia Report, the shape of the 2020 Russian influence campaign was evident, and it shows up, in redacted form, in the final report. As part of that discussion, the SSCI Report deals with Rudy at least once in almost entirely redacted passages about the ongoing influence campaign involving Russian assets in Ukraine. That is, it clearly suggests the trajectory led to the influence campaigns that were still active in 2020.

Perhaps because SSCI had the advantage of seeing where Rudy would end up, it also included a few more details about Rudy from earlier on of interest. For example, before Paul Manafort discussed how to win Pennsylvania and how to carve up Ukraine on August 2, 2016, he met with Trump and Rudy Giuliani in Trump Tower.

Among the details SSCI shows of the Trump campaign exploiting documents leaked to WikiLeaks is a citation to an email, dated October 11, 2016, showing Rudy was in that loop.

When Rick Gates was asked what kind of contact Paul Manafort retained with Trump after he was ousted from the campaign, Gates revealed that Manafort told Gates that Rudy Giuliani was helping him place people in Administration positions.

And PsyGroup’s Joel Zamel claimed that Rudy introduced him to Jared Kushner some months after the inauguration; Kushner and Zamel had a meeting at the White House to discuss “human rights issues in the Middle East, Iran, and ‘counter-extremism’.”

Aside from the detail that Manafort was using Rudy as a side channel to influence the White House, those aren’t necessarily momentous details.

Still, those details show that Rudy was a participant in these events during 2016. And yet, Rudy doesn’t show up as such in discussions about 2016 in the Mueller Report. Rather, Rudy shows up exclusively as Trump’s lawyer, floating the pardons in an attempt to get witnesses to lie to cover up what really happened in 2016.

Rudy — who was not yet formally Trump’s personal counsel — and his current defense attorney, Robert Costello, didn’t succeed in getting Michael Cohen to shield Trump.

On or about April 17, 2018, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

The New York Times and a third rate reporter . . . are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip. ‘ They use nonexistent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media! 1025

In an email that day to Cohen, Costello wrote that he had spoken with Giuliani. 1026 Costello told Cohen the conversation was “Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner … . Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”1027

But Rudy, acting as part of Joint Defense Agreement in the role of Trump’s personal counsel, did succeed in getting Paul Manafort to lie about what happened on August 2 and efforts to carve up Ukraine in the aftermath.

Immediately following the revocation of Manafort’s bail, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, gave a series of interviews in which he raised the possibility of a pardon for Manafort. Giuliani told the New York Daily News that “[w]hen the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” 856 Giuliani also said in an interview that, although the President should not pardon anyone while the Special Counsel’s investigation was ongoing, “when the investigation is concluded, he’s kind of on his own, right?”857 In a CNN interview two days later, Giuliani said, ” I guess I should clarify this once and for all. . . . The president has issued no pardons in this investigation. The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation …. When it’s over, hey, he’s the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him.”858 Giuliani rejected the suggestion that his and the President’s comments could signal to defendants that they should not cooperate in a criminal prosecution because a pardon might follow, saying the comments were “certainly not intended that way.”859 Giuliani said the comments only acknowledged that an individual involved in the investigation would not be “excluded from [ a pardon], if in fact the president and his advisors .. . come to the conclusion that you have been treated unfairly.”860 Giuliani observed that pardons were not unusual in political investigations but said, “That doesn’t mean they’re going to happen here. Doesn’t mean that anybody should rely on it. … Big signal is, nobody has been pardoned yet.” 561

[snip]

The President said that flipping was “not fair” and “almost ought to be outlawed.”880 ln response to a question about whether he was considering a pardon for Manafort, the President said, “T have great respect for what he’s done, in terms of what he’s gone through …. He worked for many, many people many, many years, and T would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.”881 Giuliani told journalists that the President “really thinks Manafort has been horribly treated” and that he and the President had discussed the political fallout if the President pardoned Manafort.882 The next day, Giuliani told the Washington Post that the President had asked his lawyers for advice on the possibility of a pardon for Manafort and other aides, and had been counseled against considering a pardon until the investigation concluded.883

On September 14, 2018, Manafort pleaded guilty to charges in the District of Columbia and signed a plea agreement that required him to cooperate with investigators.884 Giuliani was reported to have publicly said that Manafort remained in a joint defense agreement with the President following Manafort’s guilty plea and agreement to cooperate, and that Manafort’s attorneys regularly briefed the President’s lawyers on the topics discussed and the information Manafort had provided in interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office.885 On November 26, 2018, the Special Counsel’s Office disclosed in a public court filing that Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying about multiple subjects.886 The next day, Giuliani said that the President had been “upset for weeks” about what he considered to be “the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort.”887

Also, for whatever reason — probably because he had word diarrhea — Rudy provided the best evidence that Trump knowingly lied on his written answers to Mueller when he claimed not to remember the Trump Tower Moscow dangles during the election.

Also in January 2019, Giuliani gave press interviews that appeared to confirm Cohen’s account that the Trump Organization pursued the Trump Tower Moscow project well past January 2016. Giuliani stated that ” it’s our understanding that [discussions about the Trump Moscow project] went on throughout 2016. Weren’t a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can’t be sure of the exact date. But the president can remember having conversations with him about it. The president also remembers-yeah, probably up-could be up to as far as October, November.” 1069

Rudy was treated so persistently as a lawyer in the Mueller Report, but not a participant, that he didn’t even make the Glossary of Referenced Persons.

That’s true even though Rudy did show up in interviews as a topic of interest.

For example, when Mike Flynn was asked on April 25, 2018, just days after Rudy officially became Trump’s defense attorney, who else besides he and Bannon were hunting for Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails, the former Director of Defense Intelligence named Rudy, because he was “a big cyber guy.”

When question[ed] who else might have information about on the email messages, FLYNN mentioned Rudy GIULIANI. GIULIANI was “a big cyber guy” who have a speech on the topic in Tel Aviv. GIULIANI had a ton of contacts and traveled quite a bit with TRUMP (FLYNN surmised approximately half of the time). GIULIANI had a certainty that the emails were out there and available. GIULIANI would have said this directly to TRUMP. The natural response from TRUMP was “why the hell could they not find them?”

After two more questions (about Barbara Ledeen’s efforts), Mueller’s team returned to Rudy. This time, former Director of Defense Intelligence explained that if Rudy said something, you could be sure it was factual.

GIULIANI had contacts at the FBI, though he was pretty “close hold” on who he spoke with there. If GIULIANI said something, you could take it to the bank as factual, FLYNN believed that GIULIANI acted in a manner which indicated had specific knowledge related to the emails. FLYNN reviewed GIULIANI’s speech for Tel Aviv, made some comments, and gave it back to GIULIANI. GIULIANI did not name drop. GIULIANI popped in throughout the campaign to help with certain events. FLYNN did not know if GIULIANI knew Russia hacked the DNC.

Two more questions later, in response to a question about whether Jeff Sessions attempted to find the emails, Flynn brought up Rudy again.

FLYNN was asked whether SESSIONS or CHRISTIE made any efforts to find an answer based on their law enforcement backgrounds. SESSIONS did not make any effort at all. GIULIANI had deeper discussion on the issue with the campaign. CHRISTIE was somewhere between the two in regards to effort. CHRISTIE always seemed to “puff” about what he could do. FLYNN observed that GIULIANI and CHRISTIE had extensive connections and contact in New York. They constantly brought information back to the campaign. They did not do a lot of name dropping but there was a certainty to their information. FLYNN did not remember either of them saying they had contact with WikiLeaks.

Several more questions later, Flynn raised Rudy again in a discussion of whether anyone reached out to other countries for the emails.

Flynn opined that if Russia had them, then China, Iran, and North Korea also had them. Those countries had the cyber capabilities to get them and CLINTON was the Secretary of State. FLYNN also thought hactivist groups operating in the [sic] Ukraine could have them. It was also likely Israel had them. FLYNN did not recall specific discussions on reaching out to these countries to find out what they had. GIULIANI could have reached out to Israel but FLYNN did not know.

In an interview six days later, Mueller’s team asked Flynn more about the role of the guy who had just become Trump’s defense attorney.

FLYNN did not recall Rudy GIULIANI saying specifically what he was doing to learn more about the missing email messages. GIULIANI seemed insightful to FLYNN on knowing when news would break. GIULIANI was working on cyber policy for TRUMP. FLYNN was not sure if GIULIANI got his information from the news or from actual contacts. FLYNN attended a couple of meetings at Trump Tower where GIULIANI was present. GIULIANIs conversations were always that Wikileaks would release the missing email messages, not Russia. FLYNN thought Russia would wait to see who won the election. If CLINTON won, Russia could then use them for leverage over her. Wikileaks claimed to have the desire to put information out in the public to damage CLINTON.

FLYNN did not participate in any conversations with GIULIANI that indicated GIULIANI “cast his net” with his contacts. GIULIANI was one of a number of people around TRUMP’s inner circle. GIULIANI agreed on who was behind the hack but was not really certain. GIULIANI was a close hold guy but might share what he was hearing. FLYNN recently saw a clip that during the campaign, GIULIANI said during an interview that there were more leaks to come. FLYNN recalled that was the kind of thing GIULIANI would say with certainty related to cyber. FLYNN listened to GIULIANI who came across as a judge and made remarks as though they were facts.

I have not done a systematic review of all this (and earlier releases are too redacted to be of much use on such issues). But it’s not just Flynn who had something interesting to say about Rudy. When discussing the Transition (and egregiously downplaying his own role in foreign policy), for example, Steve Bannon described the tension during the Transition because both Jeff Sessions and Rudy wanted to be Secretary of State. “Bannon thought Giuliani would have issues in his confirmation if he was nominated as Secretary of State, however, because of some of his companies and foreign contacts,” Bannon explained, acknowledging even then that Rudy was a foreign influence peddling risk.

Perhaps it’s because, when Rudy became Trump’s defense attorney, it made any inquiry into his role in 2016 awkward. But even though Rudy was a participant in all this, and even though Mike Flynn thought he might be the most likely person to “cast his net” for ways to pursue stolen emails, it’s not clear how aggressively the Mueller team considered what role Rudy had.

Peter Strzok Subpoenas Trump’s Soccer Ball from Putin

On December 11, Peter Strzok served a subpoena on the Trump for President with a deadline of December 30. Trump blew it off. Yesterday, Strzok filed a motion to show cause, arguing that Trump should be held in contempt for blowing off the subpoena and asking for a preservation order.

None of that is surprising.

What I’m a bit more intrigued by is one paragraph of the subpoena.

The subpoena asks for some things closely related to Strzok’s lawsuit, which argues DOJ released his text messages to Lisa Page in violation of his First Amendment rights and the Privacy Act, which in turn led to his termination. For example, it asks for all communications about those texts. It asks for all communications pertaining to Trump’s wish to have Strzok fired. It even asks for all documents,

concerning any wishes, desires, contemplations, plans, or efforts by Donald Trump, members of the Trump administration, or You to discredit the FBI, Mr. Strzok, Ms. Page, or the Mueller investigation.

If that request is broadly interpreted (and, again, Trump blew off his opportunity to object to the scope of the request), it’ll cover Trump actions right through the last moments of his Administration, when Trump attempted to declassify sensitive documents pertaining to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

But the request I’m most interested in asks for all documents “concerning links” between Trump, Putin, Russian oligarchs or banks, as well as any fear that such links might be discovered.

All documents concerning links between (a) Donald Trump, any immediate family member of Donald Trump, The Trump Organization, Jared Kushner, or You and (b) Vladimir Putin, agents of the Moscow Kremlin, Russian oligarchs, or any Russian banks or business enterprises; or document concerning fear that such connections would be uncovered by the Mueller investigation, the FBI, or any other agency or apparatus of the United States government.

While I was being somewhat facetious in this post’s headline about the subpoena including the soccer ball Putin gave Trump on July 16, 2018 — the soccer ball is not known to be a document, even as described broadly by the subpoena, though even Lindsey Graham suggested it might be more than a soccer ball — the request could be read to include a number of other things Trump has tried to suppress. Several examples include:

  • Any documented discussion that ties Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns to Russian funding
  • Any notes held by Trump Organization (as opposed to the Office of the President) recording discussions with Putin
  • The two gifts Aras Agalarov sent during the campaign, a $100,000 triptych painting and a book, both of which purportedly arrived on the same day as stolen emails were released; the communications around these gifts emphasize Agalarov’s concern with the timing of their delivery and in the second case make policy proposals
  • A January 2017 memo from Robert Foresman adapted from one an unnamed oligarch did, laying out Russia’s plans for better relations with Trump; Trump’s White House had tried to claim Executive Privilege over this document in document productions to SSCI
  • Emails from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Prikhodko, inviting Trump to the June 2016 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum; there’s no formal record that Trump ever declined the invite and Foresman followed up on the invitation shortly thereafter

Strzok could make ample use of earlier documentation of Trump’s efforts to withhold documents from investigators to prove Trump for President is withholding responsive documents.

When Peter Strzok appeared on Meet the Press to pitch his book, Compromised, Todd asked him an uncharacteristically pointed question.

Todd: Given what happened to you, in this episode, um, do you look at what happened and say to yourself, I put myself in a compromising position, I shouldn’t have done that. And that’s on me. Or do you believe you were unfairly singled out?

Strzok: Well, Chuck, I understand that people would ask that question. I certainly regret sending the text messages that were absolutely weaponized and used to bludgeon the work of the FBI, the work of the Special Counsel. I’ll always regret that. But at the same time, the way that those were weaponized was unprecedented. And it is certainly part of a pattern of activity where this Administration has gone to lengths that no other Administration has ever done — that anybody who dares speak the truth or speak out, whether it is in the impeachment hearings with regard to Ukraine, the whistleblower, or anybody in any number of government agencies, if somebody dares speak the truth about this Administration, this Administration has shown no boundaries in going after people in ways that, frankly, is shocking, shocking and inappropriate.

Todd: Well,  and are you still confident the FBI’s immune from this? That you’re not used as this, okay, we sent the message, back off.

Strzok: I think the women and men that I know in the FBI, they’re brave and they’re fearless and they’re dedicated to doing the job and getting to the bottom of whatever lies in front of them. I can’t help though, but think that under an Attorney General who is sitting there day after day saying that there was no basis to launch these investigations in 2016, which is clearly, demonstrably ludicrous. There’s no way that doesn’t have a chilling effect on, not only the FBI, but all the branches and departments of the govern–the Executive Branch of the government. I think the FBI, the people that I know and knew, are holding. I am deeply concerned though what another four years of President Trump will to destroy the traditional independence and objectivity of our government.

Todd asked Strzok whether his texts with Page had been precisely what he warned against for so many years in government, saying or doing anything to make himself and — in this case — the FBI more vulnerable to being coerced into taking actions, or not, that undermined the good of the institution.

Strzok filibustered rather than admit it. But of course the texts did. And as Strzok suggested, it was just the first of many steps Trump took that affirmatively made the US less safe against Russian aggression, which all led up to the SolarWinds hack.

While it’s unclear whether Strzok will succeed in this effort, what he appears to be doing with his lawsuit is more than just obtaining recourse for the damage to his career and his reputation done by Trump’s attention. Rather, he seems intent on unpacking how and why Trump used his texts to compromise the US government.

Update: Corrected to note that this subpoena was served on Trump for President, not Trump Organization.

DOJ submitted a filing noting that while they had no objection to the filing of this motion they,

do not endorse the arguments made in support of Plaintiff’s motion regarding alleged motivations behind Plaintiff’s removal or the disclosure of text messages, or otherwise share in Plaintiff’s theory as to the relevance of the subpoenaed materials to Plaintiff’s case.

Productive Ways to Hold Trump Accountable

On Friday, Jonathan Rauch published a god-awful argument for pardoning Trump. Today, Quinta Jurecic published a much better argument that a Truth Commission would be the ideal way to hold Trump accountable, but because that probably won’t work, we need to pursue other alternatives, including prosecution.

I’ve already laid out one reason why I think we need to prosecute Trump for his role in the insurrection: because if we don’t, it’ll hamper the ability to hold dangerous people accountable. Another reason is that so many defendants are excusing their actions because the then-President ordered them to storm the Capitol (indeed, that’s one reason, according to a new WaPo report, why DOJ might not charge some of the insurrectionists), the government must make it clear that order was illegal.

Still, I think there are solutions to the problem that both Rauch and Jurecic want to resolve: how to find accountability without derailing President Biden’s Administration.

Jurecic acknowledges that Republican resistance to accountability measures will exacerbate current political divisions.

[A] post-Trump investigation pursued along partisan lines could be doomed from the start. This is the irony: The exact conditions that led to and sustained the Trump era—white grievance, a polluted media ecosystem, and political polarization—are the same conditions that will likely prevent a truth commission from succeeding.

[snip]

In the short run, any of these measures could risk making the country’s social and political divisions worse.

Rauch argues that prosecutions will derail the Biden Administration.

If we want Biden’s presidency to succeed, accountability to be restored and democracy to be strengthened, then a pardon would likely do more good than harm.

Consider, first, Biden’s presidency.

Biden has made clear in every way he can that he does not want or intend to be President Not Trump. He has his own agenda and has been impressively disciplined about not being defined by opposition to Trump. He knows Trump will try to monopolize the news and public discourse for the next four years, and he needs Trump instead to lose the oxygen of constant public attention.

Legal proceedings against Trump, or even the shadow of legal proceedings, would only keep Trump in the headlines.

Rauch also argues (fancifully, for precisely the reasons Jurecic gives that a Truth Commission would be undermined by polarization) that a non-criminal counterintelligence investigation will succeed in a way criminal investigations won’t.

It is important, then, that Trump’s presidency be subjected to a full-scale, post hoc counterintelligence scrub. There should be a public element, modeled on the 9/11 commission, and also a nonpublic, classified element. Both elements could be complicated and hindered by the criminal investigation of Trump. The criminal and counterterrorism investigations would need to be continually deconflicted; Congress would be asked to back away from inquiries and witnesses that step on prosecutors’ toes; Trump himself could plead the Fifth Amendment—an avenue not open to him were he to accept a pardon.

Ignoring for the moment the necessity of including Trump in an investigation into January 6, I agree that, to the extent possible, there needs to be some kind of accounting of what happened during the Trump Administration without turning it into partisan warfare.

Here are some ways to contribute to doing that.

Drain the swamp

Investigations into Trump for things that either are already (Russia or Ukraine) or can be (the election) turned into a tribal issue will absolutely exacerbate political division.

But there are some topics where former Trump supporters can quickly be shown how he hurt them.

For example, an inquiry into Trump’s trade war, especially into the harm done to farmers, will provide a way to show that Trump really devastated a lot of the rural voters who, for tribal reasons, nevertheless support him.

Or Trump’s grifting. In the wake of the Steve Bannon pardon, a number of Trump supporters were furious that Bannon was pardoned for cheating them, even while rioters or other more favored pardon candidates were not. Bannon’s not the only Trump grifter whose corruption demonstrably hurt Trump voters. There’s Brad Parscale’s grifting. There’s Jared Kushner’s favoritism in COVID contracting, which made the country less safe. There’s PPP abuse by big corporations at the expense of small businesses. None of this has to be explicitly about Trump; it can instead be an effort to crack down on corruption generally which by its very nature will affect Trump’s flunkies.

Have Trump dead-enders approve charges

With the exception of some egregious US Attorneys, Biden has asked the remaining US Attorneys to stay on for the moment. That defers any political blowback in the case of John Durham (who in addition to being CT US Attorney is also investigating the Russian investigation) and David Weiss (who is investigating Hunter Biden).

But it also allows people who are nominally Trump appointees to preside over at least the charging of existing investigations targeting Trump or his flunkies. The one place this is known to be true is in Southern District of New York (where Rudy is being investigated). It might be true in DC US Attorney’s office (though Billy Barr shut a lot of investigations, including into Roger Stone and Erik Prince, down). There’s Texas, where Ken Paxton is under investigation.There were hints of investigations into Jared in Eastern District of New York and, possibly, New Jersey.

If Trump US Attorneys aren’t replaced before they charge Trump or his allies, then the act of prosecution will be one approved by a Trump appointee.

Give Republicans what they think they want

Because they’re gullible, Republicans believe that the record of the Russian investigation shows corruption. What is in fact the case is that a cherry-picked and selectively-redacted set of records from the Russian investigation can be gaslit to claim corruption.

But since they’ve been clambering for Trump to declassify it all (even while both John Ratcliffe and Andrew McCabe have suggested that might not show what Republicans expect), it gives Biden’s Administration a way to declassify more. For example, there’s at least one Flynn-Kislyak transcript (from December 22, 2016) that Trump’s Administration chose not to release, one with closer Trump involvement then the others. There are materials on Alex Jones’ interactions with Guccifer 2.0. There are Peter Strzok notes showing him exhibiting no ill-will to Mike Flynn. There are records regarding Paul Manafort’s interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik on April 2016. That’s just the tip of an iceberg of very damning Russian-related records that Trump chose not to release, but which GOP demands for more can be used to justify.

Fully empower Inspectors General

One particularly absurd part of Rauch’s piece is his claim that we know all of Trump’s criminal exposure.

If he committed crimes that we don’t already know about, they are probably not of a new kind or magnitude.

As for what we do know about, it seems clear that he committed criminal obstruction of justice, for example by ordering his White House counsel to falsify federal records. But his obstruction was a process crime, already aired, of limited concern to the public and hard to get a conviction on as a stand-alone charge. There might be more to the Ukraine scandal than we know, but that matter, too, has been aired extensively, may not have been a legal violation and was appropriately (if disappointingly) handled by impeachment. Trump might have committed some form of sedition when he summoned his supporters to the streets to overturn the election, but he would have a colorable First Amendment defense, and sedition is a complicated and controversial charge that would open a legal can of worms. The real problem with Trump is not that we do not know his misdeeds but that we know so much about them, and yet he remained in office for a full term.

One piece of evidence Rauch is mistaken is his certainty that Trump’s only exposure in the Russian investigation is regarding obstruction, when (just as one example) there’s an ongoing investigation into an Assange pardon that appears to be closer to a quid pro quo; or the closed investigation into a potential bribe from Egypt. Democrats were denied a slew of documents pertaining to the Ukraine scandal, especially from the State Department. Democrats were similarly denied records on Trump’s abuse of clearance and non-official records.

One way to deal with the outstanding questions from the Trump Administration is simply to fully staff and empower the Inspectors General who have been undermined for four years. If, for example, State’s IG were to refer charges against Mike Pompeo or DOD’s IG were to refer charges pertaining to Kash Patel’s tenure, it wouldn’t be Democrats targeting them for investigation, it would be independent Inspectors General.

DOJ must be a key part of this. DOJ’s IG has already said it is investigating BJ Pak’s forced resignation. Democrats should insist this is expanded to review all of Barr’s politicized firings of US Attorneys.

As part of an effort to make sure Inspectors General do the work they should have done in real time, Biden should support the end of the OPR/IG split in DOJ, which means that the decisions of lawyers at DOJ (including those pertaining to the Ukraine scandal) are only reviewed by inspectors directly reporting to the Attorney General.

Respect FOIA

Joe Biden might not want to focus on Trump. But the press will continue to do so.

And if Biden orders agencies to treat FOIA like it is supposed to be treated, rather than forcing the press to sue if they want anything particularly interest, the press will do a lot of the accountability that courts otherwise might (and might provide reason for prosecutions). The press already has FOIAs in that have been undermined by improper exemption claims. For example, Jason Leopold has an existing FOIA into Bill Barr’s interference into the Roger Stone and Mike Flynn prosecutions. American Oversight has a FOIA into why Paul Manafort was sprung from jail when more vulnerable prisoners were not. FOIA into Trump’s separation policies have been key at reuniting families.

If such FOIAs obtained more visibility than they currently do, it would provide the visibility into some of the issues that people would love criminal investigations into.

One of the biggest scandals of the Trump Administration is how he undermined normal institutions of good governance, especially Inspectors General. If those institutions are restored and empowered, it will likely do a surprising amount of the accountability work that is so badly needed.

The Three Types (Thus Far) of Trump Mueller Pardons

To date, Trump has pardoned five people who were prosecuted by Mueller. I’m seeing a good deal of misunderstanding about what those pardons mean for any legal proceedings going forward, so I’d like to address some of that.

First, a lot of people say that accepting a pardon is tantamount to accepting guilt, under Burdick v.United States. It’s not. It’s narrower, though importantly goes to questions about whether a witness who has been pardoned has to testify or not. It also says that someone who has been pardoned must inform the court of the fact for it to be valid in any legal proceeding before the court.

That said, claims that Trump flunkies who’ve been pardoned have to testify are also too broad. If the people have any remaining legal exposure (as I’ll explain, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort do), they can still invoke the Fifth. That’s also true if they have state exposure for something like fraud or tax evasion. But in cases where the pardoned crime is only federal, such as Papadopoulos’ lies, it would be easy for prosecutors to immunize him in case he invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges, effectively forcing him to testify on penalty of contempt.

Thus far, Trump has issued three kinds of pardons for people prosecuted by Mueller:

  • Pardons for people with no further known (Mueller) legal exposure
  • Pardons for people with potentially grave further legal exposure
  • Fruit of the poison tree pardon for anything Mueller touched

Alex Van der Zwaan and George Papadopoulos:

Both Van Der Zwaan and Papadopoulos were pardoned for the single False Statements charge against them. Neither is known to have committed another crime. In Papadopoulos’ case, however, things could get dicey on several points. Trump forgave his $9,500 fine, which was the amount Papadopoulos accepted from suspected Israeli spooks. If he asks for that back that may raise questions about his exposure on FARA grounds. In addition, Papadopoulos has already testified before Congress that he called Marc Kasowitz after he was first interviewed by the FBI. If there were a larger prosecution about Trump’s obstruction, he might have been able to plead the Fifth for making that call — except he has already testified to it.

Papadopoulos withheld documents from Congress. With a DOJ that can enforce subpoenas, he might be asked to share those documents, which may require him to testify contrary to his 2018 OGR/HJC testimony.

If DOJ decided to reopen the investigation into a suspected Egyptian bribe to Trump because serving a subpoena on Trump Organization would now be less controversial than it was last summer, then Papadopoulos might be a key witness in that investigation, though since that’s unrelated to his charged false statements, he could still invoke the Fifth if questioned about it.

Roger Stone and Paul Manafort:

Like Van der Zwaan and Papadopoulos, Stone and Manafort were just pardoned for the crimes that they were found or pled guilty to, the money laundering, tax evasion, and FARA crimes in Manafort’s case, and the cover-up crimes in Stone’s case. For both, however, that’s not the full extent of what they were investigated or might be witnesses for.

Before I get there, let me note that multiple sources are claiming that, because Trump included Manafort’s criminal forfeiture in the language of his pardon, he’ll get his ill-gotten gains back. I’m not an expert on this, but I do know that Manafort also civilly forfeited these goods in his plea agreement.

So to attempt to reverse this forfeiture, Manafort would have to spend a great deal of money litigating it, and it’s not at all clear it’d work.

Manafort was also referred for suspected FECA violations involving two PACs that, prosecutors suspected, he got paid through via a kickback system. These cases must be closed, because they were unsealed in the Mueller Report back in September. But Manafort may face more scrutiny on them if DOJ investigates Trump’s other corrupt PACs.

Unless he, too, is pardoned, Konstantin Kilimnik remains under investigation. That’s an area where things might get more interesting for Manafort, because during the period when he was purportedly cooperating, he lied about the fact that he had conspired with Kilimnik. In any case, until the Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska investigations are closed, Manafort has some exposure.

Things are more complicated still for Stone. There were at least two investigations into Stone — probably on conspiracy and foreign agent crimes — still active in April. If the redactions if Mueller 302s are any indication, Barr shut parts of that investigation down since, which will be of interest on its own right (Congress learned of these ongoing investigations when they got unsealed portions of the Mueller Report that have only recently been made public, and I know there is some interest in learning what those investigations were or are, and that was true even before any discussions about Trump’s abuse of pardons).

In any case, the investigation into a pardon for Julian Assange was active at least as recently as October. Stone has already called on Trump to pardon Assange since his own pardon, potentially a new overt act in a conspiracy. And Trump might well pardon Assange; even pardoning him for the crimes currently charged would be a new overt act in that conspiracy, which would implicate Stone. So even if Barr shut that investigation down, there is already reason to reopen it.

So while Barr may have tried to clean up the remaining criminal exposure against Stone, it’s not clear he could succeed at doing so, much less without creating problems for others going forward.

Mike Flynn:

As I have written, Mike Flynn’s pardon was constructed in a way that attempted to eliminate all criminal exposure that might arise from anything associated with the Mueller investigation for him. In addition to pardoning Flynn for the false statements charge he pled guilty to, it pardons him for lying about being an Agent of Turkey, for being an Agent of Turkey, and for lying to Judge Sullivan.

But it also attempts to pardon Flynn for any crime that might arise out of facts known to Mueller. While, generally, I think the pardon power is very broad, this effectively tried to pardon Flynn for an investigation, not for crimes. Plus, the broadness of the pardon may backfire, insofar as it would strip Flynn of the ability to plead the Fifth more broadly. Even just a retrial of Bijan Kian (unless Trump pardons him and Mike Jr) might force Flynn to commit new crimes, because both telling the truth and lying about his secret relationship with Turkey would be a new crime.

Given his seditious behavior, Flynn might have entirely new criminal exposure by the time Joe Biden is sworn in any case. But the attempt to be expansive with Flynn’s pardon might backfire for him.

Of the five Mueller criminals pardoned so far, only Van der Zwaan is clearly free of danger going forward.

And these five don’t even cover some of the most complex pardon recipients. Any Assange pardon may be the most obviously illegal for Trump (save a self-pardon), because it would involve a quid pro quo entered before he was elected. With Steve Bannon, Trump will need to pardon for another crime, fraud associated with Build the Wall, but if it covers Mueller, it may make it easier for Bannon to repeat what truths he already told to the grand jury. With Rudy Giuliani, Trump will need to pardon for unidentified crimes currently under investigation, but also Rudy’s efforts to broker pardons, which may make the pardon itself more dicey. With Trump’s children (including Jared Kushner), I assume he’ll offer a Nixon type pardon for all crimes committed before the day of pardon. But there may be ways to make them admit to these crimes.

Billy Barr is the best cover-up artist in the history of DOJ. But Trump is attempting to pardon himself out of a dicier situation than Poppy Bush was in Iran-Contra. Plus, even assuming Mueller’s team left everything available for Barr’s discovery, Barr may be hamstrung by the fact that he doesn’t believe in most of the crimes Trump committed, something that could become especially problematic as the full extent of Trump’s dalliance with Russia becomes known going forward. Barr didn’t support some of these pardons, like a hypothetical Assange one. And now, in his absence, Trump has grown increasingly paranoid about Pat Cipollone, who will have to shepherd the rest.

The pardon power is awesome and fairly unlimited. But it’s not yet clear the Mueller pardons will do what Trump hopes they will. With virtually all of them, there are loose strings that, if they get pulled, may undo the immunity Trump has tried to offer.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Steve Bannon?

Axios reported that PardonPalooza would accelerate yesterday. But it didn’t happen. Not yet, at least.

I wonder if that’s because Trump got new visibility on his own lingering jeopardy from the Mueller investigation.

There’s a section of the Mueller Report that got declassified in the last batch which may explain why Jerome Corsi wasn’t charged. In advance of three people whose prosecution was declined — which definitely includes KT McFarland, along with two others (Erik Prince or Sam Clovis may be one, George Nader may be the other) — the report explains,

We also considered three other individuals interviews–redacted–but do not address them here because they are involved in aspects of ongoing investigations or active prosecutions to which their statements to this office may be relevant.

Corsi obviously lied to Mueller, but his lies served, in part, to support the head fake the Mueller Report used to address how Roger Stone optimized the Podesta files.

Another of those liars could be Paul Manafort.

But the third may be Steve Bannon, who told a rolling series of lies that over time approached the truth, at least about some issues. Bannon even tried to lie again to back off his grand jury testimony in advance of the Roger Stone trial.

Bannon would be interesting for several reasons. Bannon knew about Stone’s interactions with “WikiLeaks” even before he formally joined the campaign. Bannon was a key player in setting up the fall 2016 meeting with Egypt, which preceded what the government thinks could have been a foreign bribe that kept the campaign afloat (indeed, one thing Bannon seems to have always lied about was his work with George Papadopoulos on that).

But most of all, Bannon was the fourth witness — with the others being Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Jared Kushner — to Trump’s interactions with Russia during the Transition four years ago. He was, with Jared, the person who most consistently used his personal email to conduct discussions of back channels with Russia (though all four took measures to keep their actions hidden from the Obama Administration and other Transition team members).

And Bannon was, for testimony before HPSCI the transcript of which got shared with Mueller’s team shortly before they closed up shop, scripted to deny any discussion of sanctions (among other things). You could get a clear understanding of what the White House was trying to deny by the wording of the questions.

Mueller’s team would have had this script in time for Bannon’s grand jury appearance in January 2019. We know one thing that Bannon was asked about, and begrudgingly told the truth about, pertained to the campaign’s enthusiasm about WikiLeaks (something about which he had lied in the past and tried to again). But we don’t know what else he got asked; Stone’s prosecutors got just the part pertaining to the Stone prosecution unsealed.

At the time of his grand jury testimony and until quite recently, Bannon was represented by Bill Burck. At least with Don McGahn, whom Burck also represented, Burck did not share details of his testimony with Trump’s lawyers. We know that because Trump was blind-sided when he learned about the extent of McGahn’s testimony. If that’s true of Bannon as well, then it would mean that grand jury appearance has been a blind spot for Trump and his lawyers.

Until now. After Bannon threatened Chris Wray and Anthony Fauci with execution, Burck fired Bannon as a client. Bannon recently hired Robert Costello to represent him in his Build the Wall fraud case. On top of being the guy who brokered a pardon to Michael Cohen in an attempt to silence him, Costello’s also Rudy’s personal lawyer. So Costello now has privilege with both Bannon and Rudy, and Rudy has privilege (by dint of being Trump’s defense attorney) with Trump.

The old gang’s back together.

Thing is, if Bannon told the truth about sanctions in that grand jury appearance, it’ll make it a lot easier to unwind a bunch of expected pardons, because Bannon’s testimony could be used to push Flynn, McFarland, Jared, and Trump himself to tell the truth about what they tried with Russia four years ago, exposing each to a fresh perjury charge they would no longer be pardoned for. Even if Biden’s Attorney General was disinterested in that, I expect there to be more transparency about these issues going forward.

That makes Bannon one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting, pardon candidates, because he knows where all the bodies are buried, but he also told the truth, once.

Organized Crime

Know what you call a crowd that requires 25 pardons to cover their illegal activities of the last 5 years?

As it happens, Trump is mulling the pardons at a juncture when loyalty appears his principal concern, complaining repeatedly over the past weeks that Republicans are deserting him when he needed them to help overturn the election results.

He has largely frozen out those advisers and associates who do not seem on the same page. One person who used to speak to Trump regularly, but who delicately encouraged him to soften his post-election stance, no longer has his calls returned and hasn’t heard from Trump in weeks.

In all, the President is considering pardons for more than two dozen people in his orbit whom he believes were targeted — or could be targeted in the future — for political ends. That’s in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have approached the White House directly, and tens of thousands more whose petitions are pending at the Justice Department.

Organized crime.

The Forgotten Coffee Boy Errands

Among the things Steve Bannon has lied about most assiduously was the role George Papadopoulos played in setting up a fall 2016 meeting with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The first time he was asked about the Egypt meeting in a February 2018 interview with Mueller, he gave Jared Kushner credit. Later in the same interview, Bannon claimed he,

would generally blow off Papadopoulos and thought to himself “I don’t need this guy.” Flynn would be on the hook for the meetings Papadopoulos was suggesting, and Bannon didn’t need Papadopoulos.

Bannon transitioned immediately from that claim to disavowing advance knowledge of the emails Russia had.

Papadopoulos never told Bannon about the Russians having dirt on Clinton, and Bannon never heard Papadopoulos tell anyone in the campaign, such as Sam Clovis, that the Russians had dirt on Clinton.

Of course, by the time Bannon joined the campaign proper, he was already talking to Roger Stone about Russia dealing emails.

In an interview with SSCI, Bannon told even more ridiculous lies about Papadopoulos’ role in the el-Sisi meeting. When asked about a sustained thread between him and the Coffee Boy around the meeting, Bannon claimed he had accidentally emailed Papadopoulos about the meeting when he intended to email someone else.

Between September 16, 2016, and September 18, 2016, Papadopoulos and Bannon exchanged dozens.of messages relating to a potential engagement between President El~Sisi of Egypt and Trump, ultimately confirming a dinner meeting at 9:00 p.m. on Monday, September, 19, 2016. During this email exchange, Bannon asked Papadopoulos to email a briefing in advance of the meeting with President El-Sisi, which Papadopoulos sent noting that “while in Athens over dinner with Greek defense minister last May, he personally introduced me to the Egyptian defense minister and the rest became monthly consultations with the Egyptians in DC.” There are an additional two email messages related to this conversation that were redacted when produced to the Committee. Bannon told the Committee that he mistook Papadopoulos for a separate Campaign staffer and never meant to engage with Papadopoulos on this issue. Bannon Tr., pp. 95-98.

At the time then, Papadopoulos told Bannon that his ties with Egypt started back in May, when he was in Greece the same day as Putin and when he bragged to Greece’s Foreign Minister that the Russians had Hillary’s emails.

These same ties were key to the role that Papadopoulos played during the Transition, when he was hoping Flynn would hire him for a key NSC job on energy (hopes for that job is the excuse he later used for lying to the FBI). He had at least two more substantive discussions with Bannon in this period, one on and following December 9, and another on and following January 4.

Papadopoulos, however, was about to travel to Greece, and was keeping senior members of the Trump Transition Team apprised of his engagements. On December 9, 2016, Papadopoulos passed on a purported request from the Prime Minister of Greece to meet with President-Elect Trump in early January 2017 to Bannon.3415 In an email the following day, December 10, 2016, Papadopoulos further stated that he “[s]poke with the Greek defense minister.3416 They want to sign a government to government agreement with the USA for all rights to all energy fields offshore. Strategic foothold in the Mediterranean and Balkans.”3417 Bannon replied to the note, adding Michael Flynn and Kathleen Troia (K.T.) McFarland to the communication, both of who were-senior national security officials on the Transition Team.3418 Papadopoulos then wrote to the group on December 10, 2016, that the Greek defense minister had “earmarked the island of [K]arpathos for a potential listening post and air base for the US” and further stated “A base on [K]arpathos is key to controlling sea lines of communication in the Aegean/plan b should Incirlik once again become unusable.”3419 The following day, December 11, 2016, Papadopoulos wrote to Flynn’s Transition Team email address, passing along the phone number for Kammenos, the Greek Defense Minister, noting that the “[l]ine is not secure, however. He can pass along a secure number when you both find the time to discuss.”3420

Papadopoulos again reached out to Bannon on January 4, 2017, relaying a request from the Greek Foreign Minister for a phone call with Trump. 3421 Bannon responded, adding Flynn, which Papadopoulos used to also request a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador .. 3422

3415 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, December 9, 2016 (B&P GP F:ile 2018 000609).

3416 (U) According to Greek press reporting, Papadopoulos and Kammenos had lunch in Piraeus on Saturday, December 10, 2016, where Papadopoulos described himself as a “representative of Trump.” Kourdistoportocali.com, “World Exclusive: George Papadopoulos. and Panos Kammenos in ‘Dourabei, ‘” December 10, 2016.

3417 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, December 10; 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000609).

3418 (U) Email, Bannon to Papadopoulos, Flynn, McFarland, December 10, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000609).

3419 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn, Bannon, McFarland, and Kellogg, December 10, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000610).

3420 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn, December 11, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000610).

3421 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, January 4, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635).

3422 (U) Email, Bannon to Papadopoulos and Flynn, January 4, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635); Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn and Bannon, January 6, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635). [my emphasis]

The latter one, in which Papadopoulos wrote Bannon about Greece and Bannon then looped in Flynn, in response to which Papadopoulos also passed on a request from Egypt’s Ambassador, appears to be the email mentioned in an October 2016 warrant application targeting Mike Flynn.

Emails obtained pursuant to a judicially-authorized search warrant show that one or about January 6, 2017, a member of the Trump campaign team on foreign policy issues e-mailed [Flynn] and advised that a foreign government official had been asking to meet with FLYNN. Later that day, FLYNN responded to the Trump campaign member: “We’ll reach out and try to meet this coming week.” FLYNN’s response was also sent to [KT McFarland] and [Flynn’s scheduler Daniel Gelbinovich].

When Papadopoulos testified about this to the House, he left out the Egyptian part of things.

A So I never spoke about Russia at all with Michael Flynn, K.T. McFarland during the transition. It was about an energy project that the Greek Government wanted to discuss with the incoming administration, and that’s why I was put in touch — that’s my understanding of why I was put in touch with Michael Flynn during the transition over email to discuss this deal that, I guess, the Greek Government wanted to discuss with the higher-ups in the incoming administration about, I don’t know, giving U.S. companies rights to their energy reserves, something along those lines.

[snip]

Q Okay. So you never had a conversation or were aware of conversations with Michael Flynn relating to Saudi Arabia?

A To my recollection, the only interactions I had with Michael Flynn were regarding this Greek energy deal, and I think that’s documented in emails.

Even when asked specifically about who else he spoke with in the Transition, Papadopoulos left Egypt off, then claimed not to remember whether he had any meetings with Egyptian officials.

Q Okay. So you never had a conversation or were aware of conversations with Michael Flynn relating to Saudi Arabia?

A To my recollection, the only interactions I had with Michael Flynn were regarding this Greek energy deal, and I think that’s documented in emails.

[snip]

Q Any meetings with Egyptian officials?

A During the transition? I can’t remember, but it’s possible, because I had a very close network with them. But I can’t remember about Egypt in particular.

Given that an Egyptian bank may have given Trump a big infusion of cash after the first meeting, I can understand why everyone would be so forgetful about this meeting.

But given the likelihood all these people will lose their Fifth Amendment privilege after they get pardoned in the next few weeks, perhaps they can be asked to refresh their memory about why the Egypt operation was so closely tied to the Russian one.

The Trump Team Covered Up Flynn’s Calls in Real Time

I’ve been asked to write a summary of the Mike Flynn case. This will be a series covering the following topics:

  • Proof that Flynn and others were trying to hide his calls in real time
  • The basis for the investigation into Flynn
  • Known details of the investigation
  • Bill Barr’s efforts to dismantle the Flynn prosecution

Jared Kushner and KT McFarland lie in real time about Flynn’s calls

To understand the circumstances behind the Mike Flynn investigation, prosecution, Barr interference, then pardon, it helps to understand that Flynn and others built cover stories, in real time, both of the times that their efforts to get Russia to help them undermine President Obama’s policies succeeded.

For example, on December 22, after receiving a tip from a Senate staffer, Jared Kushner called Flynn and “directed [him] to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood” on an Egyptian resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements, asking that they delay the vote or condemn the resolution. At about the same time, Trump tweeted a statement calling for a veto of the measure. Shortly after Jared’s call and Trump’s tweet, Flynn called Sergey Kislyak, then called an Egyptian contact, then spoke to Kislyak, then called the Egyptian contact several more times. After those calls, Trump and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi spoke, after which el-Sisi released a statement withdrawing the UN motion, describing a call with Trump in which, “They have agreed to lay the groundwork for the new administration to drive the establishment of a true peace between the Arabs and the Israelis.” After that statement, Jared pushed to release a statement falsely claiming the Egyptians initiated the calls.

Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact patter and better for this to be out there.

The Transition spokesperson ultimately did release a statement falsely claiming that, “Mr. Sisi initiated the call.”

Jared hid the real sequence of their intercession in real time.

The Trump Administration continues to hide the substance of Flynn’s call with Russia that day. Although Ric Grenell had most of the transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak released, he had his December 22 call transcript withheld. The transcript from a call that Kislyak initiated the following day, however, shows that after consulting with “the highest level in Russia,” Kislyak conveyed to Flynn that Russia would push for more consultations that would delay the vote.

Kislyak: Uh, I just wanted as a follow up to share with you several points. One, that, uh, your previous, uh, uh, telephone call, I reported to Moscow and it was considered at the highest level in Russia. Secondly, uh, uh, here were are pointing, uh, taking into account, uh, entirely your, uh arguments.

Flynn: Yes.

Kislyak: To raise a proposal or an idea of continued consultations in New York. We will do it.

Notably, at the end of December 22, KT McFarland was happy to claim credit privately for Flynn’s success at delaying a vote, noting that he, “worked it all day with trump from Mara lago,” suggesting that Trump was closely coordinating with Flynn — and possibly even listened in on — his call with the Russian Ambassador. That’s one of the calls that Flynn would lie about months later when questioned by the FBI. McFarland would even go on to liken this effort to Richard Nixon’s effort to undermine Vietnamese peace talks and Ronald Reagan’s efforts to delay the release of Iranian hostages.

The other call Flynn lied about months later served to hide coordination at Mar-a-Lago, too. On that call, Sergey Kislyak reached out to Flynn after President Obama announced sanctions; he had a list of three non-sanctions issues he used to explain his call, issues that would have all been appropriate to discuss as part of Transition. After the third, Flynn broke in and asked Kislyak to convey a request that Russia not box “us” in, a request that, given Kislyak’s response, Flynn must have already made once.

Flynn: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I understand. Okay, um, okay. Listen, uh, a couple of things. Number one, what I would ask you guys to do — and make sure you, make sure that you convey this, okay? — do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

Kislyak: We have conveyed it. And–

Then Flynn — not Kislyak — raised Obama’s sanctions, reflecting knowledge that they included expulsions.

Flynn: Yeah.

Kislyak: It’s, uh, it’s uh, very very specifically and transparently, openly.

Flynn: So, you know, depending on, depending on what uh, actions they take over this current issue of the cyber stuff, you know, where they’re looking like they’re gonna, they’re gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country, I understand all that and I understand that, that, you know, the information. that they have and all that, but what I would ask Russia to do is to not — is — is — if anything — because I know you have to have some sort of action — to, to only make it reciprocal. Make it reciprocal. Don’t — don’t make it — don’t go any further than you have to. Because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat. You follow me, Ambassador?

Flynn was on vacation in Dominican Republic when he made this call. He would later claim — an uncharged lie — that he “was not aware of the then-upcoming actions [against Russia] as he did not have access to television news in the Dominican Republic and his government BlackBerry was not working … he did not know the expulsions were coming.” As noted, that was a lie. He did know. We know several of the ways he learned about the sanctions. McFarland’s assistant, Sarah Flaherty, sent Flynn a NYT article on the sanctions. Flynn and McFarland spoke about how to respond to sanctions at least once before Flynn’s call. Most remarkably, after McFarland learned that Flynn would be speaking with the Russian Ambassador, McFarland spoke to Trump’s soon-to-be Homeland Security Czar Tom Bossert, he went to speak with his counterpart Lisa Monaco, and then Bossert emailed out some feedback he had learned from Monaco, including that the Russians were threatening to retaliate for the expulsions. So Flynn not only knew of Obama’s planned sanctions, he even knew part of what the Obama Administration knew about the Russian response to sanctions when be broached the subject with Russia.

Flynn’s lying about his foreknowledge of the sanctions (and therefore his coordination with Mar-a-Lago) would come later. But establishing a cover story came the next day, after Russia announced it would take no retaliatory action. Flynn had told McFarland the previous evening about his call with Kislyak, including that he had raised sanctions. But after Putin announced he would not retaliate (and Trump tweeted out his approval), McFarland forwarded a Flynn text to key transition staffers with a summary of Flynn’s call that made no mention of sanctions. Significantly, she sent it exclusively to official Transition email accounts, including those of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, even though a key warrant application shows that Bannon and Kushner generally appear not to have used their Transition email accounts for foreign policy discussions. Flynn would eventually tell Mueller’s team that he purposely did not include sanctions in the text McFarland forwarded to others because, “it would be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.” Given the way McFarland selectively chose to include all foreign policy advisors on some emails and just Kushner and Bannon on others, and given an earlier disagreement between Transition team members about whether it was even proper to conduct such outreach with Russia, such selective reporting on Flynn’s calls may have had an additional goal, beyond just creating an affirmatively false record in case Obama’s team ever saw the emails. The email may have served to keep some Transition team members in the dark — as even Vice President Mike Pence remained in the dark weeks later.

However broad the intent, there is documentary evidence that for both calls about which Flynn would later lie to the FBI, Transition team members who also knew of the calls helped to cover them up in real time. Weeks before the FBI ever came calling, then, Flynn and others were already lying about these calls.

How Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell Have Made It Easier to Prosecute Donald Trump for Conspiring with Russia

In a Mike Flynn sentencing memo submitted in January delayed twice to secure all necessary approvals, Bill Barr’s DOJ asserted that Flynn’s lies were material because they hid, in part, who directed that he call up the Russian Ambassador and undermine sanctions.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

That makes sense. After all, Don Jr took a meeting in June with envoys for Aras Agalarov and — at a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — said his father would reconsider Magnitsky sanctions after the election. Both after that meeting and on October 7 — two of three days that stolen emails were released — Aras Agalarov provided elaborate gifts to Trump, the latter one personally couriered from Russia by Ike Kaveladze. When Agalarov didn’t succeed in revisiting his conversations about sanctions directly after the election, Jared Kushner sought out a back channel. Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak arose directly out of the meeting at which Kushner made that request, and Kushner ordered Flynn to pursue the discussions with Kislyak. Flynn, Kushner, and KT McFarland made efforts to keep those conversations secret, even from other members of the Administration. At the same time, Flynn and McFarland were explicitly talking about sending secret messages between Putin and Trump.

So it would make sense that Flynn’s effort to undermine sanctions might be proof that Trump had entered into a quid pro quo back in June, rewarding Russia’s help for getting elected with sanctions relief.

But the Mueller Report did not find adequate proof that Trump directed this effort to charge it.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

The Report relies on some, but not the most damning, of the exchanges back and forth between Flynn, McFarland and others released in an affidavit targeting them in 2017, as well as Flynn and McFarland’s testimony.

Since that time, several other pieces of evidence have become available — thanks to the interventions of former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell and Flynn (and recently fired Trump) attorney Sidney Powell, among others — that might tip the balance on this evidentiary question.

Bill Barnett’s interview report claims he pursued a desired outcome in the interviews of Flynn and KT McFarland

One of those things is the testimony of Bill Barnett, one of the key FBI agents who investigated Flynn. Barnett was interviewed by Jeffrey Jensen in the review of Flynn’s prosecution that Sidney Powell demanded in June 2019 and Bill Barr gave Powell in January 2020, just after DOJ filed a sentencing memo calling for prison time.

Barnett’s testimony is, by itself, remarkable for all the ways it materially conflicts with the actions he took in the case. Effectively, he claims to have treated the investigation as a criminal investigation when documents he drafted clearly treat it as a counterintelligence investigation (thereby undermining all the claims that this was just about the Logan Act).

Barnett also claims that, after expressing disinterest in conducting this investigation four different times but ultimately relenting only so he could serve as a counter-weight to other investigators on the team, he single-handedly prevented the Mueller team from concluding that KT McFarland was lying when she told a story about coordinating with Mar-A-Lago that exactly paralleled the lies that Flynn originally told.

Barnett describes that he was the only one who believed that KT McFarland was telling the truth when she said that she did not remember Trump directing Flynn’s efforts to undermine sanctions. Significantly, he describes this question as — in Mueller’s view — “key to everything.”

Many at the SCO had the opinion that MCFARLAND had knowledge TRUMP was directing [sanction discussions] between FLYNN and the Russian Ambassador. When MCFARLAND did not provide the information sought, it was assumed she was lying. When BARNETT suggested it was very possible MCFARLAND was providing truthful information, one of the SCO attorneys participating in the interview said BARNETT was the only person who believed MCFARLAND was not holding back the information about TRUMP’s knowledge of [the sanction discussions]. MUELLER described MCFARLAND as the “key to everything” because MCFARLAND was the link between TRUMP, who was at Mar-a-Lago with MCFARLAND, and FLYNN, who was in the Dominican Republic on vacation, when [the calls] were made.

Again, it is stunning that Barnett was permitted to give this answer without being asked about the call records, which showed Flynn lied about consulting with Mar-a-Lago, to say nothing about the way that McFarland’s forgetfulness matched Flynn’s and then her unforgetting similarly matched Flynn’s. It’s not a credible answer, but Jeffrey Jensen doesn’t need credible answers.

Then, having made it clear that he believed that Mueller treated McFarland as the “key to everything,” BARNETT described how he single-handedly managed to prevent the entire team from concluding that Trump was in the loop.

BARNETT was told at one point he was being taken off the MCFARLAND proffer interview because SCO attorneys thought would be easier for MCFARLAND to talk without BARNETT there, due to her attitude toward BARNETT during past interviews.

McFarland has complained publicly about being caught in a perjury trap by the FBI agents who first interviewed her (and the 302s show a continuity among the FBI agents), so Fox viewers have actually seen evidence that McFarland had a gripe with Barnett.

BARNETT insisted he be on the interview. When BARNETT was told he would not be allowed on the interview, BARNETT suggested he might take the matter to the Inspectors General or to “11.” BARNETT believed some at SCO were trying to get MCFARLAND to change her story to fit the TRUMP collusion [sic] theory. [Probably Van Grack] later contacted BARNETT and said BARNETT would be part of the MCFARLAND interview.

During the proffer interview with MCFARLAND, the “obstruction team” was leading the interview. BARNETT described the “obstruction team’s” questions as general. They did not ask follow-up or clarifying questions. BARNETT was perplexed by their lack of asking follow-up questions. BARNETT began asking MCFARLAND follow-up questions and direct questions. BARNETT was trying to “cut to the chase” and obtain the facts. BARNETT asked questions such as “Do you know that as a fact or are you speculating?” and “Did you pass information from TRUMP to FLYNN?” Andrew Goldstein (GOLDSTEIN), a SCO Attorney, called “time-out” and cautioned BARNETT by saying, “If you keep asking these questions, we will be here all day.”

It’s unclear whether Barnett’s depiction is correct or not. The 302 of that interview is heavily redacted, but doesn’t show a “time out” in it. What matters for the purposes of this post is that Barnett is claiming he singlehandedly prevented McFarland from implicating the President.

You would never get this kind of admission from an FBI Agent, that he single-handedly undermined the questioning of a witness to get an outcome he believed in, all the while undermining his previously untainted credibility. But Sidney Powell’s demands led to DOJ producing it, nevertheless.

And that’s before any further scrutiny of Barnett’s role and the material inconsistencies here. Such scrutiny might come from the Strzok and Page lawsuits, which would have reason to use his pro-Trump tweets as proof that they were selectively disciplined for expressing political views on FBI-issued devices. Or, particularly given his efforts to blame investigative decisions on Andrew McCabe in ways that conflict with the public record, the McCabe lawsuit might have cause to inquire whether he was the agent who sourced a false story that Sara Carter published, alleging that McCabe said, “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump,” which ended up leading to the investigation into McCabe itself and ultimately to his firing. Or, DOJ IG might have cause to investigate the Jensen investigation itself, given how it submitted altered documents packaged up for publication, and the circumstances of the Barnett interview in particular, given how DOJ withheld material information from Judge Emmet Sullivan by redacting references to Brandon Van Grack in the interview report.

Interviewing Barnett in such an obviously biased way provides an easy hook for more scrutiny.

For the first time in history we can compare NSLs to warrants obtained

Then there’s another unprecedented thing that Powell’s demands produced: A report of (some of) the NSL’s that DOJ used against Flynn in early 2017. In an effort — almost certainly deliberately misleading — to suggest that McCabe and Strzok inappropriately got NSLs targeting Flynn in 2017 that they chose not to get in 2016 (there’s reason to believe they did get NSLs, only financial rather than communication ones), the government summarized what NSLs FBI obtained in February and March 2017. Those were:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present.

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.”

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn.

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017.

The government has only recently permitted NSL recipients to inform targets, but just targets, and only after a significant delay. Here, however, you have the government listing out the seven different communication records publicly, in a case where there was already a pending request and precedent to release the warrant applications publicly.

That not only allows us (again, for the first time I know of) to see how the FBI launders information learned in an NSL for use in a potential criminal prosecution, but it also tells us something about the communications devices the government had reason to find relevant when it did obtain warrants.

Warrant applications for Flynn’s iPhone 6 and a computer (first filed on July 7, 2017, then refiled on July 27, 2017) rely on toll records obtained in June 2017 and “other materials in the government’s possession” (which surely include those NSLs) to determine that Flynn had used the same phone from March 2015 until at least June 8, 2017. That said, Flynn changed the number three times, including after he learned he was under criminal investigation in January 2017. After Flynn refused to turn the phone over in response to a subpoena, the government obtained a warrant that would have permitted it to search Covington & Burling, where Flynn was storing it, if they didn’t otherwise produce the phone.

The warrant application and a parallel one targeting Flynn’s son* were focused on FIG, but written in a way such that any communications with foreign officials like Kislyak would still be responsive, and could be used in a False Statements or Foreign Agent prosecution.

By the time of the July 27 warrant that presumably successfully obtained Flynn’s phone, the government already had his Flynn Intelligence Group emails (there are two EDVA warrants that have not yet been unsealed, and some of those emails were turned over pursuant to a subpoena).

Also by that time, the government had confirmed that Flynn’s FIG email was provided by Google. This was the period prior to the time when DOJ agreed to let enterprise clients know when warrants were served on their facilities, meaning the government could have independently obtained FIG emails from Google, as they obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Org emails from Microsoft in the same period.

On August 25, 2017 — the same day that Mueller asked GSA to turn over related devices and email accounts — Mueller obtained a warrant for Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Flynn assistant Daniel Gelbinovich’s devices and emails. GSA had provided Flynn one email account, three phones, and three computers, which would be consistent with devices hardened to three levels of classification — unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret (Flynn had renewed his clearance earlier in 2016). The government had already used a d-order to obtain the header information for the email accounts and obtained toll records by undisclosed means (of which there would be several possible, but the NSLs would have provided that information as well). In addition to sender and recipient information, the header information would have shown what IP any emails were sent from, using what devices (this would have built on information obtained via NSL), which can help to identify the location of someone. The August 25 affidavit referenced FIG emails obtained via subpoena to demonstrate that the Russians contacted Flynn at his Transition account (as well as via Gelbinovich and, apparently, Flynn’s son); though because the Russian side of the conversation would have already been targeted under FISA, the FBI also would have had their side of the communication, which the Russians surely knew.

Then on September 27, 2017, Mueller obtained a warrant targeting the email accounts and devices of Keith Kellogg, McFarland assistant Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner. These two posts show how damning the content relayed in this warrant is. For the purposes of this post, however, the affidavit is useful because it identifies whether the emails Flynn and McFarland were using to communicate with the others were Transition accounts or not. While it appears Kellogg always used his Transition account, Flaherty, Spicer, and Priebus occasionally did, most of the rest did not, except in cases where they were writing cover emails. But her emails! (Numerous communications from Tom Bossert are included in this batch, as well, but that must come from an interview and subpoena he complied with.)

In addition, the affidavit explains that regarding the sanctions coordination, McFarland was consistently calling Flynn on his personal cell phone (the implication may be that earlier calls were on one of his GSA devices). He was responding to her and calling Kislyak from the hotel phone where he was staying in the Dominican Republic (the latter calls and their content, the FBI would know from FISA intercepts). The December 31 follow-up from Kislyak was placed to Flynn’s personal cell.  The affidavit does not, however, describe which phones Flynn used for other calls.

There are many details about these records that are interesting. Among the most interesting, however, is that the FBI would have known before they obtained the first warrants on Flynn’s devices and emails that almost none of the key calls with Russia, nor even the key calls coordinating the Russian sanctions call with McFarland and others, involved Flynn’s GSA devices. Additionally, there appear to be extra phones, not identified by the known warrants. These might be the possible targets of the NSLs:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present. [Flynn personal phone]

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.” [Flynn Intelligence Group email and another phone (possibly his son’s?)]

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn. [GSA accounts]

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017. [unidentified account]

At a minimum, the NSL report suggests that even though none of the calls identified in the warrants were to Flynn’s presumably more secure phones (indeed, only Spicer appears to have had a second phone at that point, probably in part because, of the others, only Kellogg and Flaherty had clearance), the government chose to obtain those phones as well. The government knew, when it obtained the August 2017 warrant, that there was something interesting on those second and third GSA lines Flynn was using.

If it weren’t for Sidney Powell’s attempts to frame Andy McCabe, these details would be totally classified. But because she demanded the “review,” it shows that there are parallel phone communications via which Flynn could have kept Trump in the loop on his calls to Russia (remember, translators believed the key December 29 one, which Flynn made from his hotel phone, sounded like he was using a speaker phone).

Ric Grenell releases really damning transcripts but withholds the potentially most damning one

Finally, in yet another unprecedented release, while he was Acting Director of National Intelligence, Twitter troll Ric Grenell prepared the release of the actual transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak, purportedly to show there was nothing untoward about the calls. (Current DNI John Ratcliffe approved the actual release as one of his first acts on the job.)

Even by itself, the transcripts were far more damning than the gaslighters suggested. Of particular note, on the December 31 call that Kislyak placed to tell Flynn that Putin had held off on retaliating because of his request, Flynn told the Russian Ambassador that Trump was aware of one thing — a proposed Syrian “peace” conference — that Kislyak had raised just two days before.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

This evidence would have been inadmissible without Grenell’s intervention. There would have literally no way in hell Mueller would have been permitted to rely on it, a raw transcript of a FISA intercept targeting a foreign power. With it, however, you have Flynn saying in real time that Trump was aware of these conversations with Russia, well before they were made public. That’s precisely what Mueller concluded they couldn’t prove.

The transcripts make evidence obtained using criminal process still more damning, too.

For example, the transcripts and the affidavits make it clear that Flynn, McFarland, and the Russians were explicitly messaging back and forth. First Flynn explicitly told Kislyak that if Russia did not escalate in response to Obama’s sanctions, “we,” which would have to include Trump, would recognize that as a message.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

When Putin announced he would not retaliate, KT McFarland sent two emails explicitly labeling the move as a signal.

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

[snip]

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

But then Trump thanked Putin for the move, suggesting he was in on the signaling.

After he did so, McFarland sent Flynn, Kellogg, Flaherty, Priebus, Kushner, and Bannon — the latter of whom almost never used their official accounts but did here — and laid out a cover story, describing Flynn’s call without mentioning that he had raised sanctions. She offered,

a summary of FLYNN’s conversation the day before with the Russian “AMBO,” which I believe to be shorthand for “Ambassador.” McFarland appears to recite a summary of information she received from FLYNN in this email; she provides a summary of FLYNN’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador, but does not indicate that they discussed the sanctions imposed against Russia that had been announced earlier that day.

Flynn would admit to Mueller’s team that he, and therefore McFarland, who knew the truth, deliberately hid his discussions of sanctions with Kislyak.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267

But the Russians — who may have monitored some of the traffic that went on between these unsecure personal accounts — made damn well sure that the US intelligence community had a record that all this signaling was intentional. Kislyak called Flynn on his unsecure personal cell phone and told him he had a message, too. The message was that Flynn’s request was the reason Putin had not acted. The message was also that Russia recognized (or claimed to, to play to the Americans’ paranoia) to be pitted against the same hostile entities together.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight.

This messaging all ended up with Russia and the incoming President aligned on the same side, against the US government.

Still, that’s not direct proof that Trump was involved in real time (though I suspect the government obtained that from its NSLs).

But that may be why Mueller charged Flynn’s lies about the UN vote. In that case (in part because McFarland wasn’t hiding her actions as much), it’s clear that Jared Kushner ordered the effort (and the Americans initiated the calls).

According to records obtained during the course of the investigation, at approximately 8:46 a.m. on December 22, 2016, FLYNN had a four-minute conversation with Jared Kushner. After that conversation concluded, at approximately 8:53 a.m., FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. FLYNN then called a representative of the Egyptian government and had a four-minute conversation with him. At approximately 8:59 a.m., FLYNN had a three-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Over the next few hours, FLYNN had several additional phone calls with the representative of the Egyptian government.

When the Trump crowd succeeded in delaying a vote, McFarland made it clear that Flynn was at Mar-a-Lago working directly with Trump on this effort.

At approximately 8:26 p.m. on December 22, 2016, K.T. McFarland emailed FLYNN and Sarah Flaherty and stated that FLYNN had “worked it all day with trump from mara lago.”

And in spite of the fact that he himself initiated the effort, Kushner sought to release a public cover story, to hide that he and his father-in-law initiated the effort.

Kushner replied all to that email [including Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, Kellogg, McFarland, Kushner, and one other person whose name is redacted] and wrote: “Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact pattern and better for this to be out there.”

This was a lie — a lie designed to cover up that he and Trump and Flynn had worked with Egypt (which had allegedly bribed Trump to get him through the election) and Russia (which had conducted an elaborate operation to help him) to thwart the vote and with it the official US policy not to protect Israel’s illegal settlements.

As it turns out, the transcript from Flynn’s call to Russia that day isn’t among those Grenell released because they were so helpful to Trump. Even the one-line summary of the call, released for all other substantive calls, remains redacted.

But there, too, Kislyak may have been performing for the FBI intercepts he knew would catch these calls.

First, on the December 23 call — the one after the call for which the transcript hasn’t been released — Kislyak assures Flynn that whatever happened on it was considered by Putin.

Kislyak: Uh, I just wanted as a follow up to share with you several points. One, that, uh, your previous, uh, uh, telephone call, I reported to Moscow and it was considered at the highest level in Russia.

Then on the December 29 call, when Flynn asks Kislyak that Russia not box in the new Administration, Kislyak says that message has already been conveyed.

FLYNN: do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

KISLYAK: We have conveyed it.

That request wasn’t in the December 23 call, so it must have been in one of the communications that preceded it, possibly even the face-to-face with Kushner in Trump Tower.

In his December 22 call — the one the content of which Grenell hid — Flynn made an ask of Russia, an ask that went beyond a vote at the UN. That was a call made from Mar-a-Lago, possibly even made with Trump on the call. That was a call that McFarland bragged Trump was involved with personally.

The Mueller Report, relying on evidence that would be admissible in court, said it was unclear how involved Trump was in any of this. But thanks to Ric Grenell, we now have solid evidence he was personally involved, if not on the phone for the call.

And even Bill Barr’s DOJ says that kind of personal involvement from Trump might amount to the kind of coordination that Bill Barr claimed didn’t exist.

When Mueller closed up shop, his team decided that they couldn’t make this case in court. Now, thanks to Sidney Powell and Ric Grenell, the Biden Administration may have a much easier time making that case.


*We know this warrant targeted Michael G. Flynn because it was sent to Barry Coburn, who represented the failson, because the warrant always refers to Flynn père as Michael T. Flynn (as an affidavit referencing both would necessitate), and the target of the third warrant tried to invoke the Fifth Amendment for questions about Flynn Sr.