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Three Things: Oracle’s 299, Flashback, Longreads and 4/20

Day Zero — the day after federal income tax filings were due — came and went, with zero Trump tax returns disclosed to the public. While Trump’s positions on many issues flip-flop and confuse the world, on transparency, ethics, and his tax returns he has been utterly consistent: opaque and unethical.

Fortunately today is 4/20. Do with that what you will. Do you smell brownies?

Speaking of 4/20, did you know that states where marijuana legalization appeared on the 2016 ballot, those initiatives outperformed one or more of the two main presidential candidates? What a candidate or political party might do with that knowledge…anyhow, on with three things.

Unprophetic Oracle
There’s still some fallout after The Shadow Brokers (TSB) release last week of NSA Tailored Access Operations’ (TAO) toolkit. Software vendor Oracle announced a patch for 299 vulnerabilities revealed by the TSB.

Wrap your head around that: 299 fixes.

Bigger than the whopping 276 fixes Oracle issued last summer in one fell swoop.

Now wrap your head around the fact this mega-patch covers a range of corporate enterprise software used for nearly every aspect of business operations, from human resource management to service or manufacturing resource planning.

If the NSA isn’t conducting economic espionage Oracle seems like an odd target to saturate so wide and deeply.

Still haven’t decided what to think of Oracle’s ability to push out this many patches inside a week. Were they tipped off, or were these vulnerabilities so obvious they should have been fixed ages ago? Or maybe this is what happens when a business like Oracle takes its eyes off the ball and focuses on the wrong things like a protracted lawsuit against Google?

Memories, jogged
When I saw this table fragment on Twitter, listing a few exploits revealed by TSB, I had a flashback to the Bush administration.

Gee, I wonder how much of the NSA TAO-Equation Group toolkit could explain the White House’s missing emails post-Plame outing?

Longreads: Economics, Liberalism, Google’s first moonshot
These are worth your time yet this week or weekend.

The Liberal Order Is Rigged by Jeff D. Colgan and Robert O. Keohane in Foreign Affairs (registration required) — An examination of liberalism’s failure and how the failure led to anti-democratic populism. In my opinion, this assessment is good but simplistic; the knee-jerk reaction many will have to the word ‘liberalism’ alone indicates there is far more at work than liberalism failing to deliver on its merits. It’s still worth a read; we must begin to pick out and save the liberal from neoliberal if we are to save democracy. Must say I’m surprised at Foreign Affairs’ steady shift away from rigid conservatism as well as neoliberalism.

The moral burden on economists — Darryl Hamilton’s 2017 presidential address to the National Economic Association warns against treating economics as a morally neutral ‘science’. How much of the failure of liberalism is really due to immoral/non-neutral application of economics?

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria by James Somers for The Atlantic — This tagline is quite the hook: “Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.” Heartbreaking to think there hasn’t been a middle ground to free these books to the public. In my opinion, Google is out the money on the scanning process. What would happen if they spun off this effort as a nonprofit digital Library of Alexandria? Could the funds from books approaching out-of-copyright date pay for the upkeep and digitization of new works?

Chaffetz out?
I don’t even know what to think of the rumors that Rep. Jason Chaffetz may leave Congress before his term ends December 2017. Some speculate his role in cutting funding directly related to security for diplomats plays a role; others speculate the decision is based on a more personal driver. I hope he can live with what he’s done and what he may yet choose to do. I’d hate to have to explain myself to my kids if I’d made some of his decisions to date.

There’s your three things and a lagniappe. À bientôt!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Anthony Weiner Creates a Virgin Birth for Evidence the Clinton Foundation Investigators Want

WSJ’s Devlin Barrett has a long story he describes as laying bare “tensions that have built for months inside the bureau and the Justice Department over how to investigate someone who could soon be elected president.” It might just as well be described as a catalogue of the ways FBI has gotten out of control.

To show the important background to the decision to get a warrant to access Huma Abedin’s email, I’m going to switch the order of the story from that Barrett uses. Looked at in this way, it becomes clear that by accessing Huma’s email, the FBI may not just have renewed the probably fruitless investigation into Hillary’s email server, but also found a way to access Huma’s emails for use in an investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

FBI ignores Public Integrity orders not to escalate the investigation of the Clinton Foundation

After laying out the recent decision to access Huma Abedin’s email (which I deal with below), Barrett confirms what Comey made obvious with a “neither confirm nor deny” response at his July testimony before the House Oversight Committee (though a flood of leaks had long claimed such an investigation existed).

The FBI has been investigating the Clinton Foundation for over a year.

As Barrett describes it, the case arose because Agents were seeing if a crime was committed, not because they had found evidence that it had:

Early this year, four FBI field offices—New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Little Rock, Ark.—were collecting information about the Clinton Foundation to see if there was evidence of financial crimes or influence-peddling, according to people familiar with the matter.

He describes that in February, when Andrew McCabe got promoted to Deputy Director, he took over oversight of this investigation. (In an earlier article Barrett insinuated that an earlier Terry McAuliffe donation to McCabe’s wife’s state senate campaign presented a conflict, but in this article Barrett provides McAuliffe’s explanation for the donation.) Also in February — Barrett doesn’t say whether McCabe was involved — investigative teams located in Los Angeles, DC, Little Rock, and New York (he doesn’t say whether they were in EDNY or SDNY or both, which is relevant to a later development in the story) presented their case to DOJ’s Public Integrity (PIN) section.

Here’s how Barrett describes that meeting:

Some said that is because the FBI didn’t present compelling evidence to justify more aggressive pursuit of the Clinton Foundation, and that the career anticorruption prosecutors in the room simply believed it wasn’t a very strong case. Others said that from the start, the Justice Department officials were stern, icy and dismissive of the case.

“That was one of the weirdest meetings I’ve ever been to,” one participant told others afterward, according to people familiar with the matter.

Anticorruption prosecutors at the Justice Department told the FBI at the meeting they wouldn’t authorize more aggressive investigative techniques, such as subpoenas, formal witness interviews, or grand-jury activity. But the FBI officials believed they were well within their authority to pursue the leads and methods already under way, these people said.

Mind you, seven paragraphs before describing PIN telling the FBI it would not authorize subpoenas, Barrett described the Los Angeles team having “issued some subpoenas for bank records related to the foundation.” So when he says FBI officials believed they could pursue leads and methods already under way, it may mean they decided they could use the fruit of subpoenas PIN subsequently judged weren’t merited by the evidence.

In July, after DOJ decided not to prosecute anyone on the email server and Comey started blabbing (including his non-denial of the existence of this investigation), FBI “sought to refocus the Clinton Foundation probe,” which sounds a lot like redoubling efforts to find something to investigate Hillary for. (Note, this entire article makes no mention of the June Supreme Court decision throwing out much of former VA governor Bob McDonnell’s conviction, which would have significantly raised the bar for any prosecution of the Clinton Foundation.) McCabe bracketed the DC work focusing on Terry McAuliffe, from which he was recused, and put NY in charge of the rest.

Barrett spends a paragraph airing both sides of a dispute about whether that was the right decision, then describes a (male, and therefore someone besides Loretta Lynch or Sally Yates) senior DOJ official bitching out McCabe for continuing to pursue the Clinton Foundation investigation, especially during the election.

According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn’t use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals.

The Justice Department official was “very pissed off,” according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant.

Barrett spends several paragraphs airing both sides of what happened next, whether FBI agents were ordered to stand down entirely or whether McCabe said they could continue to investigate within the existing guidelines.

FBI attempts to venue shop to get at Clinton server emails

Even after that order, the Clinton Foundation investigators tried to get more — specifically, all the emails turned over in the email server investigation. When EDNY (as a reminder, that’s where Loretta Lynch was until last year US Attorney) refused, the investigators asked to go get them in SDNY.

In September, agents on the foundation case asked to see the emails contained on nongovernment laptops that had been searched as part of the Clinton email case, but that request was rejected by prosecutors at the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn. Those emails were given to the FBI based on grants of partial immunity and limited-use agreements, meaning agents could only use them for the purpose of investigating possible mishandling of classified information.

Some FBI agents were dissatisfied with that answer, and asked for permission to make a similar request to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. McCabe, these people said, told them no and added that they couldn’t “go prosecutor-shopping.”

Several comments on this: First, McCabe did the right thing here in refusing to let his agents venue shop until they got their way. I hope he would do the same in a less visible investigation where senior DOJ officials were chewing him out for conducting the investigation in the first place.

Second, consider how the timing of this coincides with both leaks about the immunity agreements, Jason Chaffetz’ inquiry into the same, and two sets of email server related materials. As one key example, on October 5, just weeks after McCabe told his Agents they couldn’t go “prosecutor-shopping” to get to the emails released in the email server probe, Republicans were releasing details of their in camera review of the terms of the immunity agreements used to deny the Clinton Foundation investigations access to the emails. We should assume that some entities within the FBI are using all angles, using Chaffetz’ investigations to publicize decisions that have thwarted their investigation.

Did FBI Agents review the content of Huma Abedin’s email without a warrant?

So sometime in September, the Clinton foundation team was told they couldn’t have emails associated with the server investigation that were tied to immunity agreements. On October 3 (per the NYT), FBI agents seized a number of devices, including a laptop used jointly by Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin with a warrant permitting just the investigation of Weiner’s alleged sexting of an underaged woman (curiously, Barrett says they were permitted to look for child porn). Shortly thereafter, they found found emails from accounts, plural, of Huma Abedin on the laptop. Multiple reports suggest those emails may be duplicative of the ones that FBI had just been told they couldn’t access because of the immunity agreements tied to other devices.

There’s no reason to believe FBI found those potentially duplicative emails because they were prohibited from accessing the ones turned over voluntarily as part of the email server probe (in any case, they are presented as different investigative teams, although the description of this sprawling Clinton Foundation investigation may explain why earlier leaks said 147 people were part of the Clinton investigation); it’s just one of those coinkydinks that seem to plague the Clintons.

At that point, per Barrett, “Senior FBI officials decided to let the Weiner investigators proceed with a closer examination of the metadata on the computer, and report back to them.” Early last week (so two or three weeks later), some asked how that weeks-long review of the Huma emails (allegedly just the metadata) was going.

“At that point, officials realized that no one had acted to obtain a warrant, these people said.”

In other words, for several weeks, FBI has been nosing around those emails without court authorization to do so in conjunction with the email server investigation (which may or may not have been formally closed). If they really stuck to metadata, that’s no big deal under Third Party rules. If they did peek — even at subject lines — then that may be a bigger problem.

Only then did the Weiner investigators compare notes with the Hillary investigators and decide the emails were relevant. Barrett doesn’t answer the obvious question: how did the Weiner investigators determine these emails might be relevant and did they really just review only metadata? Given all the stories to FBI friendly sources claiming Comey — and implying no one — has seen the content of the email, I suspect the answer is Weiner investigators went beyond metadata.

The background Barrett provides gives more significance to FBI’s decision to (perhaps belatedly) obtain a warrant to get Huma’s email and to Comey’s highly inappropriate magnification of it. Not only have they reopened (or renewed — reports on this are still all over the map on this point) the email investigation, but they’ve also created a virgin birth for emails that the Clinton foundation investigators tried — and were willing to venue shop — but failed to get.

FBI leaking has neutralized DOJ’s control over the Bureau

This story shows that FBI has tried a number of methods to defy PIN advice to drop the investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

I don’t know whether the investigation into the Clinton Foundation has merit or not (though given Barrett’s explanation, it does seem that some in FBI were looking for a crime rather than looking to solve one).

But I do know that if FBI agents operate outside of bounds on their power, they constitute a grave threat to the rule of law.

And Barrett’s article suggests at least three ways they appear to have done just that:

  • Fiddling with investigative guidelines of the DIOG (by using subpoenas without the appropriate level of investigation and authority)
  • Attempting to venue shop to get permission to access evidence they were told they couldn’t have
  • Leaking promiscuously, in clear violation of the rules, to bring political pressure including on Comey to conduct an investigation their supervisors had told them to either limit or halt

That promiscuous leaking, of course, includes this article, which relied on a great number of sources, almost none of whom should be speaking about this investigation. Don’t get me wrong — it’s great reporting on Barrett’s part. But it also serves the purpose of airing the claim that McCabe, PIN, and DOJ generally have thwarted an investigation into the Clinton Foundation that some at FBI believe has merit.

In addition, I’ve got questions about whether they read Huma’s email when they were supposed to just be looking at metadata.

Whatever else Comey’s totally inappropriate behavior reflects, his justification for doing so because it otherwise might leak suggests he doesn’t have control over his agency. Though given his coy response to Chaffetz in July, I do wonder whether he isn’t rooting for the Clinton foundation investigation to proceed; whatever else he is, Comey is a master of using the press to win political fights.

And remember, the FBI (under Comey) has undermined one of the few irreproachable entities that might fix this sorry state of affairs. It has refused, now backed by an OLC opinion, to give DOJ’s Inspector General the unfettered right to investigate things like grand jury proceedings (though given that no grand jury was used in these cases, it might be harder to keep them out here). So if Patrick Leahy were to ask Michael Horowitz to investigate whether FBI acted inappropriately in these related investigations — and he should! — FBI might be able to withhold information from the IG.

A bunch of people who have unquestioned faith in the goodness of DOJ — now including Eric Holder, the guy who couldn’t prosecute a single criminal bank — have been, rightly, scolding Comey for his actions. But they have largely remained utterly silent about the runaway agents at the FBI, both about their obvious leaking and now about their efforts to sustain this investigation in defiance of at least some of the chain of command, including career prosecutors who should be fairly insulated from any political influence that someone like Lynch might respond to.

As I said, I’m agnostic about the investigation of the Clinton Foundation. I’m not agnostic on the importance of keeping FBI firmly within the bureaucratic bounds that prevents them from acting as an abusive force.

They seem to have surpassed those bounds.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Saturday: Hey! It’s Apple Picking Season

jchaffetz_bizcard_28oct2016

Ran across this purported image of Rep. Jason Chaffetz’ business card in my Twitter timeline. Huh…has the GOP-led Congress cut funding to Congress’ information technology so tightly that they’ve outsourced email services to Google and didn’t even buy a domain which might appear to be something other than Gmail?

It’s apple picking season here, though after our first frost and snow this week in my neighborhood I’ll be doing less picking than buying. I’m going to make some baked apples, apple crisp, and the Impossible French Apple Pie recipe below. What about you — do you harvest anything special like apples or other autumn fruits and vegetables of the season?

Impossible French Apple Pie
Serves 6

Ingredients:

Pie filling:
3-4 cups sliced peeled apples (3-4 large)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup biscuit/baking mix
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 TBSP butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Streusel:
1/2 cup biscuit/baking mix
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cold

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325ºF.
Grease well a 9-inch glass pie plate.
In medium bowl, mix apples, cinnamon and nutmeg; place in pie plate.
In medium bowl, stir remaining filling ingredients until well blended.
Pour over apple mixture in pie plate.
In small bowl, mix all streusel ingredients with pastry cutter or fork and knife until crumbly; sprinkle over filling.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Store in refrigerator.

Cook’s notes:
— Firm, tart apples give the best results. Not so much Macintosh or Jonamacs which tend to be soft.
— I use half-and-half white and brown sugar instead of all white. The result is moister and more flavorful.
— I prefer chopped walnuts, but use any you’d prefer, or omit altogether.
— Try substituting an equal measure of pumpkin pie spice instead of cinnamon and nutmeg for a slightly different twist.
— Butter is best versus margarine; if you must use margarine, use one with higher oil content for best results.
— VANILLA. The real thing is best here. May be omitted.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Consent of the Governed

usdecindependence_header_wikipediaThe last time a man touched me inappropriately at work, he tried to massage my shoulders while looking down my blouse. I had only been on my new job a few days at that time; I later found out this same man did this (and worse) with nearly every female co-worker younger than him. He had access to them all as their IT representative. They avoided asking for IT help unless they were desperate.

When I told the division president — our mutual boss at a Fortune 100 company — that every woman had a sexual harassment problem with the IT guy, the president asked me what he was supposed to do about it.

The last time I ever talked with my father about women in the workplace we had been discussing the Anita Hill hearing. “Why didn’t she tell somebody sooner?” my dad asked. “Why report it only after Clarence Thomas’ nomination? It just looks suspicious.” My father had been a supervisor to both men and women for nearly two decades at this point. His naivete and blame-the-victim mentality shocked and disappointed me so badly I couldn’t talk about this topic with him ever again.

I can’t think of any women I know who’ve worked in mixed gender environments who don’t have stories about sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace. Even my daughter, so new to the workforce, now has her own stories to tell. And this is just the workplace — these are not the stories women have to tell about harassment, abuse, assault outside of work. They often have worse stories to tell, though even the ones on the job can be harrowing.

Like my friend who was slapped in an elevator by a male foreign national co-worker who called her all manner of awful things. She was so rattled she called me immediately afterward; she asked if she should report it as sexual harassment. I told her that it was assault and battery. But she was so worried about keeping her job she only reported it to her boss and human resources. The batterer, when confronted by management, said it was perfectly normal to treat women this way where he came from. So they sent him back to work overseas without further repercussions.

When Donald Trump’s victims say he acted inappropriately — touching them sexually without permission, taking advantage of their vulnerability as teenagers in dressing rooms, or worse — I believe them. I feel their deep discomfort. I know why they didn’t come forward sooner.

Because even their own kin may shame them or not believe them. Because the problem and the blame will be put on their shoulders and not on the perpetrators or on the authorities responsible for protection. Because the victimization doesn’t end with the revelation of the harassment or abuse.

Because their agency and power to consent will be violated again by a misogynist culture. The only exercise of autonomy they have is suppression of the facts to prevent re-victimization. They have emerged now because the stakes are incredibly high, just as they were in Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court, and because there is limited safety in numbers.

+ + +

Conservative men denouncing Trump after the “grab pussy” video emerged recently revealed something about them. They weren’t upset by Trump’s overt racism against Mexicans or xenophobic rants against Muslims. They only drew the line when Trump appeared to be a threat to their (white) women — “as a husband, as a father of daughters,” they prefaced their rejections of Trump’s behavior.

It’s no surprise they objectify women as things belonging to them. Women are just chattel to be controlled according to their ideology; female votes are to be corralled by cultural subjugation. Conservatives weren’t worried about their women’s votes.

But touching their property without permission is beyond the pale. It is not to be borne. This is the heart of the matter, why Trump’s support is weakening among conservatives. Trump threatens their exercise of control when he takes without their consent.

And while they can’t articulate this very well, it’s the nebulous threat Trump poses to the concept of consent of the governed which now bothers them. If he’ll grab their (wife’s/daughter’s) pussy without their consent (never mind women’s/girls’ consent), what else might this man grab non-consensually?

+ + +

I’m taking a risk here and making a statement which the rest of the emptywheel contributors may or may not agree with.

Apart from our posts on sports and the arts, this site is about consent. For example, we’ve written about:

— the march toward and conduct of an illegal war, illegal primarily because it was authorized without fully informed consent and the means by which the authorization was obtained was hidden even as it was investigated;
— the collapse of the economy in 2008, after the machinations of investment banks hid the perils of fraudulent subprime mortgages inside unregulated financial vehicles, in a manner to which the public could not fully consent;
— the ramp up to the Affordable Care Act, when single payer as an alternative was never fully considered, thwarting our true, mutual consent; when key representatives were shut out and suppressed, like Planned Parenthood for women’s reproductive health;
— the implementation of pervasive surveillance on U.S. citizens in ways which prevented our representatives from truly understanding the nature and scope of monitoring;
— the rise of technology foisted on consumers without public consent by way of adequate government oversight to ensure its safety and security.

It is this common theme, the consent of the governed and non-consensual acts of bad faith, which moves us to research and write.

Some argue that consent of the governed is rare or untenable. Obtaining unanimous consent is nearly impossible in complex societies. This is a key reason why representative democracy is necessary. We’ve constructed a framework over the last 240 years, though not perfect, operating at the consent of the governed. Government acts without consent — outside of the social contract we’ve built as constitution and law — are illegitimate and deserve vigorous pushback.

The threat to this one concept — our consent to be governed — about which conservatives have finally become concerned with Donald Trump’s candidacy for office. His personal behavior shows gross disregard for both personal and collective consent.

+ + +

It’s puzzling that so many conservative voters ignore the baggage Trump brings with him. It says something about the depth of their desperation to change the status quo that they would support someone with such an egregiously tainted background. Granted, the rest of the field competing for the GOP’s presidential nomination was pretty lackluster when not flawed. None of them possessed adequate charisma to overcome their individual problems.

Trump, in contrast, has more than a decade of constructed persona at his disposal. His name is a brand polished by highly produced television content aimed at both lower and middle-class Americans, from World Wrestling Federation appearances, to NBC’s reality TV show The Apprentice, to Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants. The banality of these appearances during prime time built an expectation among the broadcast TV viewing audience that Trump was benign. Safe, even, afforded repeated access to American homes through their televisions every week.

Their political consent was constructed without their full consciousness.

The public had already become inured to the idea of a broadcast entertainment personality becoming a politician, especially conservatives. Their favorite president, Ronald Reagan, had successfully made the transition from film and TV to the presidency. Many other politicians have since spent a considerable amount of time moving between broadcast entertainment and politics. It’s become normative to expect the thinnest of separations between these roles, to the point that Americans can’t see the production process between the human as a politician and the produced personality as branded content. They haven’t realized they are being sold a product which they buy with attention.

And they bought Donald Trump — hook, line, and sinker.

+ + +

Conservatives shot themselves in the foot, aided and abetted by Bill Clinton’s administration (oh, the irony). The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine prevented exposure to alternative views over broadcast networks, relying wholly on licensees to operate for the greater public welfare under the terms of their Federal Communications Commission license. The increasing consolidation of broadcast networks under a smaller number of media companies — coincidentally owned or controlled by conservatives as major shareholders or as editors — assured a consistency of content across the entire country. Large swaths of rural America had few if any alternatives to networks carrying conservative content.

Over time, internet access improved to rural America offering access to other alternative media, but not before the same regions with limited media had been fully indoctrinated in either conservative perspectives via talk radio or a narrow world view acquired from a small number of TV broadcasters. When they took to the internet, the indoctrinated sought the same perspectives.

In short, conservatives built their version of Radio Rwanda.

Decades of the Overton Window applied to conservatives’ ideology — gradually promoting the unthinkable and unacceptable to popular and policy — both assured conservatives with an authoritarian bent would remain corralled under the Republican Party, to serve the corporate interests of those who funded the party. But assuring these voters were captive and clearly separate from liberal ideology also assured another corporatist wolf was allowed in with their sheep.

Trump was on TV, and nobody on talk radio was bashing him. He must be safe, especially since he looks and sounds like everything conservatives promote as positive: anti-tax millionaire with family. America’s Radio Rwanda propelled Trump-as-construct everywhere.

+ + +

And now we know the rest of the story — or most of it. Conservatives brought a viper to their breast after making a pet of it, and now their political party is dying from its bite.

Like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, now voting for Trump, though only weeks ago he said Trump’s “locker room talk” was offensive; only months ago Chaffetz railed against the poisoning of Flint. Does Chaffetz really believe that Trump as president would do anything to support Flint let alone prevent other similar crises from happening? Does Chaffetz really believe Trump will protect the women of his family, let alone halt his locker room talk about women? What is it that Chaffetz as a conservative is really conserving, along with the rest of his House cohort? What is it his political party really stands for?

Ditto for Senator Mitch McConnell, who can’t be bothered to do anything more than laugh off Trump as his party’s leader.

Conservatives and the GOP manipulated consent, systematically removing opportunities for the public to make fully informed decisions.

And now they find they have been assaulted; their party has been taken from them.

Do they muddle along with and enable the abuser, trying not to make waves until they are rid of him, a la Paul Ryan?

Do they openly reject him and fight back when Trump turns on them, hoping like hell he is not elected and won’t raze them to the ground afterward?

Do they tack back and forth during these last two weeks of the election season, risking the displeasure of Trump’s supporters while trying to retain their position?

They could ask any woman who’s been sexually harassed or assaulted how they lived with their situation. They understand only too well what it’s like to suffer the loss of their agency and autonomy without their active, informed consent. Especially when no one else believes in them.

The rest of us will have to fight like hell to make sure this serial abuser doesn’t grab our country along with our pussies.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Trump Is Who He’s Always Been, And Trump Is the Epitome of the GOP; They Have To Own Him

The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has come up with another scoop. While scraping for video clips does not seem to be Fahrenthold’s strength, like the KFile boys who bolted Buzzfeed in the middle of the night for the apparently greener pastures of CNN, this clip posted by the Washington Post is bigger than anything that has come before. It doesn’t matter if it is by weight, timing, or the clear combination of the two, it is simply huge. Game changing.

The most striking thing, however, is not that this video exists, nor that it has emerged to public view, it is that the Republican party worthies and press seem to think it is shocking. Seriously, this information, and the Donald Trump it reflects, is exactly who Donald Trump is, and has been, for decades.

Donald Trump is a once and forever informationally ignorant, self serving jackass extreme narcissist. But he has been that for decades to anybody paying attention. Trump was the leader from the start in the Republican primary, and was the easy winner of their nomination. Why? Because the votes on the ground count, much to the consternation of supposed “sane party elders”, and the votes on the ground made Trump an easy winner. He is exactly what the current Republican GOP party embodies at its heart.

Watching holier than though instant moral compasses (well oiled craven weathervanes?) like Jason Chaffetz, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch and Paul Ryan squirm and proclaim their shock, like grubby kids with their hand stuck in the cookie jar, is hilarious. What convenient souls they are to suddenly have the inclination of what they have all sowed and reaped for years. They doth protest too much; Trump is them, and they are Trump.

I came home late, but still managed to hear at least two tellings of the story of how John Rhodes, Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott went down the Hill and gave the hook to Nixon when it was time, with the ideation that such a similar scene could end the Trump moment now. Those are the crazy fever dreams of people like Chris Matthews, David Gergen, Mark Halperin and the rest of the Beltway cocktail weiner gobblers.

Not gonna happen. Rhodes, Goldwater and Scott were men of a different time and more stout character. There are no analogues today. Jason Chaffetz and Mike Lee can conveniently preen and bluster all they want. It is bullshit, as it is with almost all of the rest of today’s Republican party. They do NOT get to suddenly walk away from the monster their party has spent decades creating. They own Trump, Hannity, Roger Ailes, Fox News, Breitbart and Limbaugh. It is who they are, and nobody should forget it.

The Republican party of today has relentlessly stood against women’s rights and ability to control their own bodies, equal rights and protections for LGBT citizens, fair treatment for minorities and immigrants, and the right to vote for anybody other than middle aged fat white men. The current Republican party think that they are the only “suspect class” due “equal protection”, and not the minorities, races, genders, sexual identities and other endangered classes the civil rights laws were designed to protect.

This is exactly what makes the instant kvetching in the GOP aisle over Trump last night so fatuous. It is a boatload of opportunistic self serving fraud. Not for one second should anybody accept that Trump is the sudden exception, he is unequivocally what the GOP has been growing into for years. The modern Republican party has long championed racism, bigotry and misogyny; Donald Trump is just the point of their spear. To the extent there are any “honest brokers” left in the GOP, they are still guilty of benign neglect that allowed the ugliness that is the Trumpian GOP to fester.

The GOP cannot run from Donald Trump, he is who they are now. The last minute panicked contrition of the very women blaming and shaming, racists, bigots and oligarchs that claim to speak for the GOP cannot shed the snake skin of who they are, and what they have created.

Oh, and by the way, the fever dreams of the Chris Matthews and Mark Halperins of the pearl clutching Beltway set are not going to get their wish. It is too late for Trump to be replaced on the ballot by the grand poohbahs of the GOP. As election litigator extraordinaire Marc Elias points out, the ballots for the military and overseas voters have already been sent out pursuant to the UOCAVA, i.e. the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Locally, the Arizona ballots are putatively at the printers and being mailed out within five days. Many other states are either on that timetable or ahead of it. In short, the voting has begun. The die is cast.

Also, via Philip Bump and Dave Weigel of the Washington Post:

More than 34,000 Republican voters have already cast their ballots for the 2016 general election according to the U.S. Election Project, 8,000 of them in the battleground state of North Carolina and another 5,000 in Florida. Not all of those ballots were cast for Donald Trump, it’s safe to assume, but it’s more than likely that most of them were. And that, in a nutshell, is why it’s far too late for the Republican Party to dump Donald Trump from their ticket.

More from Bump, Weigel and the WaPo:

Josh Putnam, a University of Georgia lecturer and expert on the machinations of the parties, told me at the time that the rule at issue was Rule 9. Rule 9 reads:

The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.

Death, declination or otherwise. No “because we want to” clause.

“Let’s be clear here: The rule is intended to fill vacancies, not to lay the groundwork for a replacement,” Putnam said. “Some have speculated that ‘otherwise’ is ambiguous. Taken out of context it is. However, under the provisions for filling vacancies, it clearly fills in any gap between death and declination (i.e.: an incapacitating illness, but one that leaves the nominee neither dead nor able to decline to run further). And that was the intention.”

Weigel and Bump are superb reporters, and put up a compelling article on a short deadline. But, when it comes to election law, there is nobody better than Rick Hasen. Rick actually contemplated this scenario back in August, over two months ago, when the switch would have been far easier than it is now with ballots already outstanding. His conclusion was that it would be beyond difficult. And that was then, much less now.

But what if the ballots stood as is, could the GOP “electors” find the unanimity to cast enough electoral votes for some person other than Trump? Hasen, at his excellent “Election Law Blog” linked to some thoughts on that effectively imaginary scenario by Ned Foley:

As I write this on Friday night October 7, there is renewed talk of GOP leadership disavowing Trump. True, Trump will still be on the ballot that we citizens cast. But suppose the GOP leadership publicly announces that it will ask GOP electors, when they meet and vote on 12/19, to cast their presidential vote for Pence. Then some GOP-leaning superPACs spend a lot money before 11/8 informing voters of this plan.

Suppose this plan is successful, insofar as it causes on Election Night, 11/8, the media to announce that GOP electors were chosen in enough states to amount to 270 Electoral College votes. Then on 12/19, the GOP electors all do as intended according to this plan: they cast their official Electoral College votes for Pence, not Trump. Pursuant to 3 U.S.C. 9-11, these electors all sign their certificates showing Pence as their choice and send the certificates to Joe Biden, as President of the Senate.

Now, someone might claim that some of these electors violated a previous pledge they made to cast their Electoral College votes for Trump. Maybe this claimant even arranges to send to Biden a separate set of Electoral College votes cast by replacement electors who were substituted because the faithless electors violated their pledge. (This move would be reminiscent of 1876.) We can assume that the claimant wouldn’t send to Biden 270+ Electoral College votes for Trump, but some number short of 270 in the hope of depriving Pence of the presidency.

What would happen when Biden receives two conflicting sets of Electoral College votes from some states, one set for Pence, and the second set for Trump?…

Long story short: There is no way out from Trump for the GOP. They are stuck, and they got there the old fashioned way: they earned it. The Republican Party cannot hide form this event or pretend it is a mistake. It is the culmination of where the Republicans have been headed since the days of Nixon and Lee Atwater. The GOP has tried to mask it with duplicitous bleating about social conservancy and family values, but the truth is out now. It is all about preservation of white bigotry and privilege, and shifting of income and wealth to oligarchs and corporations. When Trump feigned to support that, and the maintenance of women in second class subservient status, the Republican party was willing to ride that horse. Now they want off. Don’t let them.

It is time for change, and that will not, and cannot, be furthered by letting the party of bigotry, hate, misogyny and income inequality off the hook because their avatar has been exposed.. Make them own what they built and earned.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

The Misunderstandings of the Anti-Transparency Hillary-Exonerating Left

It wasn’t enough for Matt Yglesias to write a widely mocked piece calling for less transparency, now Kevin Drum has too. It all makes you wonder whether there’s some LISTERV somewhere — the successor to JOURNOLIST, from which leaked emails revealed embarrassing discussions of putting politics above principle, perhaps — where a bunch of center-left men are plotting about how to finally end the email scandal that Hillary herself instigated with a stupid decision to host her own email. Especially given this eye-popping paragraph in Drum’s piece:

Part of the reason is that Hillary Clinton is a real object lesson in how FOIA can go wrong when it’s weaponized. Another part is that liberals are the biggest fans of transparency, and seeing one of their own pilloried by it might make them take a second look at whether it’s gone off the rails. What we’ve seen with Hillary Clinton is not that she’s done anything especially wrong, but that a story can last forever if there’s a constant stream of new revelations. That’s what’s happened over the past four years. Between Benghazi committees and Judicial Watch’s anti-Hillary jihad, Clinton’s emails have been steadily dripped out practically monthly, even though there’s never been any compelling reason for it. It’s been done solely to keep her alleged corruption in the public eye.

Even setting aside that his piece generally ignores (perhaps, betrays no knowledge of) the widely-abused b5 exemption that already lets people withhold precisely the kinds of deliberations that Drum wants to kill FOIA over (and is used to withhold a lot more than that), this paragraph betrays stunning misunderstanding about the Clinton email scandal. Not least, the degree to which many of the delays have arisen from Clinton’s own actions.

It led me to go back to read this post, which engages in some cute spin and selective editing, but really gives up the game in this passage.

Oddly, the FBI never really addresses the issue of whether Hillary violated federal record retention rules. They obviously believe that she should have used a State email account for work-related business, but that’s about it. I suppose they decided it was a non-issue because Hillary did, in fact, retain all her emails and did, in fact, turn them over quickly when State requested them.

There’s also virtually no discussion of FOIA. What little there is suggests that Hillary’s only concern was that her personal emails not be subjected to FOIA simply because they were held on the same server as her work emails.

Of course the FBI never really addresses how Hillary violated the Federal Records Act. Of course the FBI never really addresses how Hillary tried to avoid FOIA. (Note too that Drum ignores that some of those “personal” emails have been found to be subject to FOIA and FRA and Congressional requests; they weren’t actually personal.)

That’s because this wasn’t an investigation into violating the Federal Records Act. As I wrote in this post summarizing Jim Comey’s testimony to Oversight and Government Reform:

The FBI investigation that ended yesterday only pertained to that referral about classified information. Indeed, over the course of the hearing, Comey revealed that it was narrowly focused, examining the behavior of only Clinton and four or five of her close aides. And it only pertained to that question about mishandling classified information. That’s what the declination was based on: Comey and others’ determination that when Hillary set up her home-brew server, she did not intend to mishandle classified information.

This caused some consternation, early on in the hearing, because Republicans familiar with Clinton aides’ sworn testimony to the committee investigating the email server and Benghazi were confused how Comey could say that Hillary was not cleared to have her own server, but aides had testified to the contrary. But Comey explained it very clearly, and repeatedly. While FBI considered the statements of Clinton aides, they did not review their sworn statements to Congress for truth.

That’s important because the committee was largely asking a different question: whether Clinton used her server to avoid oversight, Federal Record Act requirements, the Benghazi investigation, and FOIA. That’s a question the FBI did not review at all. This all became crystal clear in the last minutes of the Comey testimony.

Chaffetz: Was there any evidence of Hillary Clinton attempting to avoid compliance with the Freedom of Information Act?

Comey: That was not the subject of our criminal investigation so I can’t answer that sitting here.

Chaffetz: It’s a violation of law, is it not?

Comey: Yes, my understanding is there are civil statutes that apply to that. I don’t know of a crimin–

Chaffetz: Let’s put some boundaries on this a little bit — what you didn’t look at. You didn’t look at whether or not there was an intention or reality of non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

Comey: Correct.

Having started down this path, Chaffetz basically confirms what Comey had said a number of times throughout the hearing, that FBI didn’t scrutinize the veracity of testimony to the committee because the committee did not make a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: You did not look at testimony that Hillary Clinton gave in the United States Congress, both the House and the Senate?

Comey: To see whether it was perjurious in some respect?

Chaffetz: Yes.

Comey: No we did not.

[snip]

Comey: Again, I can confirm this but I don’t think we got a referral from Congressional committees, a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: No. It was the Inspector General that initiated this.

Now, let me jump to the punch and predict that OGR will refer at least Hillary’s aides, and maybe Hillary herself, to FBI for lying to Congress. They might even have merit in doing so, as Comey has already said her public claims about being permitted to have her own email (which she repeated to the committee) were not true. Plus, there’s further evidence that Hillary used her own server precisely to maintain control over them (that is, to avoid FOIA).

As I said in my earlier post, I’m loathe to admit this, because I’d really like to be done with this scandal (I’d like, even more, to come up with sensible policy proposals like fixing email and text archiving to prevent this from happening in every presidential administration). All the questions about whether Hillary chose to keep her own server to avoid oversight (or, as Chaffetz asked today, to obstruct OGR’s investigation) has never been investigated by FBI. Those requests even have more merit than Democrats are making out — in part for precisely this reason, FBI has never considered at least some evidence to support the case Hillary deliberately avoided FRA, including a string of really suspicious timing. As I wrote in my other post, I also think they won’t amount to anything, in part because these laws (including laws prohibiting lying to Congress) are so toothless. But they are a fair question.

All that said, it is incorrect to take a report showing the FBI not charging Hillary for intentionally mishandling classified information and conclude from that that hers is an example of FRA and FOIA gone amuck. On the contrary. Hillary has never been exonerated for trying to avoid FOIA and FRA. The evidence suggests it would be hard to do that.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Jim Comey, Poker Face, and the Scope of the Clinton Investigation(s)

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 10.11.04 PMI write this post reluctantly, because I really wish the Hillary investigations would be good and over. But I don’t think they are.

After having watched five and a half hours of the Clinton investigation hearing today, I’ve got new clarity about what the FBI has been doing for the last year. That leads me to believe that this week’s announcement that DOJ will not charge Clinton is simply a pause in the Clinton investigation(s). I believe an investigation will resume shortly (if one is not already ongoing), though that resumed investigation will also end with no charges — for different reasons than this week’s declination.

First, understand how this all came about. After the existence of Hillary’s server became known, State’s IG Steve Linick started an investigation into it, largely focused on whether Hillary (and other Secretaries of State) complied with Federal Records Act obligations. In parallel, as intelligence agencies came to complain about State’s redactions of emails released in FOIA response, the Intelligence Committee Inspector General Charles McCullough intervened in the redaction process and referred Clinton to the FBI regarding whether any classified information had been improperly handed. As reported, State will now resume investigating the classification habits of Hillary and her aides, which will likely lead to several of them losing clearance.

The FBI investigation that ended yesterday only pertained to that referral about classified information. Indeed, over the course of the hearing, Comey revealed that it was narrowly focused, examining the behavior of only Clinton and four or five of her close aides. And it only pertained to that question about mishandling classified information. That’s what the declination was based on: Comey and others’ determination that when Hillary set up her home-brew server, she did not intend to mishandle classified information.

This caused some consternation, early on in the hearing, because Republicans familiar with Clinton aides’ sworn testimony to the committee investigating the email server and Benghazi were confused how Comey could say that Hillary was not cleared to have her own server, but aides had testified to the contrary. But Comey explained it very clearly, and repeatedly. While FBI considered the statements of Clinton aides, they did not review their sworn statements to Congress for truth.

That’s important because the committee was largely asking a different question: whether Clinton used her server to avoid oversight, Federal Record Act requirements, the Benghazi investigation, and FOIA. That’s a question the FBI did not review at all. This all became crystal clear in the last minutes of the Comey testimony.

Chaffetz: Was there any evidence of Hillary Clinton attempting to avoid compliance with the Freedom of Information Act?

Comey: That was not the subject of our criminal investigation so I can’t answer that sitting here.

Chaffetz: It’s a violation of law, is it not?

Comey: Yes, my understanding is there are civil statutes that apply to that. I don’t know of a crimin–

Chaffetz: Let’s put some boundaries on this a little bit — what you didn’t look at. You didn’t look at whether or not there was an intention or reality of non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

Comey: Correct.

Having started down this path, Chaffetz basically confirms what Comey had said a number of times throughout the hearing, that FBI didn’t scrutinize the veracity of testimony to the committee because the committee did not make a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: You did not look at testimony that Hillary Clinton gave in the United States Congress, both the House and the Senate?

Comey: To see whether it was perjurious in some respect?

Chaffetz: Yes.

Comey: No we did not.

[snip]

Comey: Again, I can confirm this but I don’t think we got a referral from Congressional committees, a perjury referral.

Chaffetz: No. It was the Inspector General that initiated this.

Now, let me jump to the punch and predict that OGR will refer at least Hillary’s aides, and maybe Hillary herself, to FBI for lying to Congress. They might even have merit in doing so, as Comey has already said her public claims about being permitted to have her own email (which she repeated to the committee) were not true. Plus, there’s further evidence that Hillary used her own server precisely to maintain control over them (that is, to avoid FOIA).

That said, there are two reasons why Hillary and her aides won’t be prosecuted for lying to Congress: James Clapper and Scott Bloch.

Clapper you all know about. The Director of National Intelligence — unlike Clinton — was not under oath when he spectacularly lied to Ron Wyden. Nor was he referred to DOJ for prosecution. But that recent lie will make FBI hesitate.

DOJ will hesitate even more given the history of Scott Bloch. bmaz has written a slew of posts about this but the short version is that the former Office of Special Counsel lied to this very committee and wiped his hard drive to obscure that fact. He ultimately pled guilty, but when the magistrate handling the case pointed out that the plea carried a minimum one month sentence, Bloch and DOJ went nuts and tried to withdraw his plea. bmaz and a bunch of whistleblowers who had been poorly treated by Bloch went nuts in turn. All to no avail. After DOJ claimed there were secret facts that no one understood, the court agreed to sentence Bloch to just one day in jail.

In other words, to keep one of their own out of jail, DOJ made expansive claims about how unimportant lying to Congress is. Even assuming DOJ would ignore their own recent historical claims about the frivolity of lying to Congress, Hillary’s lawyers could use that precedent to argue that lying to Congress has, effectively, been decriminalized (unilaterally by the Executive Branch!).

So FBI will investigate it. Comey might even refer, this time, for prosecution, because the evidence is actually far stronger that Hillary used her own server to avoid oversight (and that she was less than forthcoming about that to Congress). But that, too, won’t be prosecuted because you basically can’t prosecute lying to Congress after the Bloch case.

Which brings me to the funniest part of this exchange with Chaffetz (which, coming as it did in the last minutes of the hearing, has escaped most notice).

Chaffetz: Did you look at the Clinton Foundation?

Comey: I’m not going to comment on the existence or non-existence of any other investigation.

Chaffetz: Was the Clinton Foundation tied into this investigation?

Comey: I’m not going to answer that.

Understand: Comey had already commented on the existence or non-existence of other investigations, commenting at length on the non-investigation of questions pertaining to FOIA and FRA, even describing how many people (four to five) were subjects of this investigation. Comment on non-existence of investigation, comment on non-existence of investigation, comment on non-existence of investigation.

And for what it’s worth, the Clinton Foundation probably couldn’t have been part of the scope of this, given that this was only focused on four to five people (note, a Clinton Foundation investigation would better explain why FBI gave Brian Pagliano immunity, another topic on which Comey would not comment).

But when asked about the Clinton Foundation, he claimed he couldn’t say. All of a sudden, refusal to comment on existence or non-existence of investigation.

Now, I’m just going to say I don’t think anything will come of that, because I doubt FBI would clear Hillary on one issue but not the related one (plus, given SCOTUS’ ruling in the Bob McDonnell case, it probably became impossible to prosecute any Clinton Foundation violations). But Comey’s answer does make it clear that FBI considers questions about improperly handling classified information, avoiding FOIA and other oversight, lying about avoiding FOIA, and deals made with the Clinton Foundation to be different things.

I think that doesn’t change that Hillary won’t be indicted. But I do think she will continue to be investigated in conjunction with questions about what she did and said to avoid FOIA and other oversight.

Update: This post has been tweaked.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The CIA Is Preventing Congress from Learning that the Worst Allegations against Hillary Pertain to Drones

You probably heard that Jim Comey testified to the House Oversight Committee for over four hours today. You’ll see far less coverage of the second panel in that hearing, the testimony of Inspector Generals Steve Linick (from State) and Charles McCullough (from the IC).

In addition to OGR Chair Jason Chaffetz suggesting the committee convene a secrecy committee akin to the one Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan convened back in the 1990s (which would be very exciting), McCullough revealed something rather startling regarding a letter he sent to Congress back in January (this was first reported by Fox). The letter was his official notice to Congress that some of the information in Hillary’s emails was claimed by an agency he didn’t name to be Special Access.

To date, I have received two sworn declarations from one IC element. These declarations cover several dozen emails containing classified information determined by the IC element to be at the CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, and TOP SECRET/SAP levels. According to the declarant, these documents contain information derived from classified IC element sources. Due to the presence of TOP SECRET/SAP information, I provided these declarations under separate cover to the Intelligence oversight committees and the Senate and House leadership.

By sending the email, McCullough made the SAP information very public, without providing information about whether the claim was very credible.

Shortly after the Fox report, Politico reported that the emails pertained to CIA drone strikes and related fallout in Pakistan.

However, the emails now deemed to contain “top secret, special access program” information are in addition to the messages previously disputed between State and the Director of National Intelligence, according to a spokesperson for McCullough. The official said the intelligence community review group is wrapping up its look into the documents and is putting these documents in the SAP category.

The Central Intelligence Agency is the agency that provided the declarations about the classified programs, another U.S. official familiar with the situation told POLITICO Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some or all of the emails deemed to implicate “special access programs” related to U.S. drone strikes. Those who sent the emails were not involved in directing or approving the strikes, but responded to the fallout from them, the official said.

The information in the emails “was not obtained through a classified product, but is considered ‘per se’ classified” because it pertains to drones, the official added. The U.S. treats drone operations conducted by the CIA as classified, even though in a 2012 internet chat Presidential Barack Obama acknowledged U.S.-directed drone strikes in Pakistan.

WSJ reported last month that what are presumably the same emails included discussions among State Department officials about upcoming drone strikes.

The vaguely worded messages didn’t mention the “CIA,” “drones” or details about the militant targets, officials said.

The still-secret emails are a key part of the FBI investigation that has long dogged Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, these officials said.

They were written within the often-narrow time frame in which State Department officials had to decide whether or not to object to drone strikes before the CIA pulled the trigger, the officials said.

Law-enforcement and intelligence officials said State Department deliberations about the covert CIA drone program should have been conducted over a more secure government computer system designed to handle classified information.

State Department officials told FBI investigators they communicated via the less-secure system on a few instances, according to congressional and law-enforcement officials. It happened when decisions about imminent strikes had to be relayed fast and the U.S. diplomats in Pakistan or Washington didn’t have ready access to a more-secure system, either because it was night or they were traveling.

In other words, there has been a great deal of reporting on what are almost surely the emails in question, revealing that the key dispute pertains to an issue that CIA likes to pretend we don’t all know about, drone strikes in Pakistan.

In today’s hearing, McCullough reported that these emails — in addition to being a Special Access Program — are also classified Originator Controlled, ORCON, and the CIA (which he still didn’t name) has been refusing to distribute the emails or the statement beyond the original dissemination, the Intel committees and congressional leadership. So, in spite of the fact that numerous members of Congress have asked for more information (including, in today’s hearing, Chaffetz), they’ve been denied it. McCullough explained he had had to get his own staffers read into this, and he has gone back to the CIA (again, which he didn’t name) several times, only to have them refuse further distribution.

It may well be that the actual language used in the most sensitive emails revealed highly classified information — or it may be, as the WSJ reported, that State aides used a kind of code hiding the jist of their conversations.

Or it may be that State discussed a particularly controversial drone strike, such as the time CIA launched a drone strike right after Ray Davis was freed from Pakistani custody, which Jim White wrote about in a longer post suggesting CIA used drone strikes to retaliate against Pakistani action we don’t like.

Drone strikes in Pakistan by the US have occasionally been interrupted by various diplomatic issues. For example, there was a lull of over a month at the height of negotiations over the release of Raymond Davis. One of the most notorious US drone strikes was on March 17, 2011, the day after Raymond Davis was released. This signature strike killed over 40, and despite US claims (was that you, John Brennan?), that those killed “weren’t gathering for a bake sale” it was later determined that the majority of those killed were indeed civilians at a jirga to discuss local mineral rights. Because it was so poorly targeted, this strike always stood out in my mind as the product of an attitude where high-level US personnel demanded a target, no matter how poorly developed, simply to have something to hit since drone strikes had been on hold over the Davis negotiations and there was a need to teach Pakistan a lesson.

One way or another, though, these are topics that Congress (especially the Foreign Affairs Committees, which almost certainly have been denied these details) should be able to review.

But CIA is — as is their wont — playing classification games to ensure that a broader cross-section of Congress can’t assess how egregious this particular classification violation was.

Which, given CIA’s history, tends to mean either it wasn’t — or CIA has something to hide.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Defining Stingray Emergencies … or Not

A couple of weeks ago, ACLU NoCal released more documents on the use of Stingray. While much of the attention focused on the admission that innocent people get sucked up in Stingray usage, I was at least as interested in the definition of an emergency during which a Stingray could be used with retroactive authorization:
Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.27.59 AM

I was interested both in the invocation of organized crime (which would implicate drug dealing), but also the suggestion the government would get a Stingray to pursue a hacker under the CFAA. Equally curiously, the definition here leaves out part of the definition of “protected computer” under CFAA, one used in interstate communication.

(2) the term “protected computer” means a computer—
(A) exclusively for the use of a financial institution or the United States Government, or, in the case of a computer not exclusively for such use, used by or for a financial institution or the United States Government and the conduct constituting the offense affects that use by or for the financial institution or the Government; or
(B) which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication, including a computer located outside the United States that is used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce or communication of the United States;

Does the existing definition of an emergency describe how DOJ has most often used Stingrays to pursue CFAA violations (which of course, as far as we know, have never been noticed to defendants).

Now compare the definition Jason Chaffetz used in his Stingray Privacy Act, a worthwhile bill limiting the use of Stingrays, though this emergency section is the one I and others have most concerns about. Chaffetz doesn’t have anything that explicitly invokes the CFAA definition, and collapses the “threat to national security” and, potentially, the CFAA one into “conspiratorial activities threatening the national security interest.”

(A) such governmental entity reasonably determines an emergency exists that—

(i) involves—

(I) immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person;

(II) conspiratorial activities threatening the national security interest; or

(III) conspiratorial activities characteristic of organized crime;

Presumably, requiring conspiratorial activities threatening the national security interest might raise the bar — but would still permit — the use of Stingrays against low level terrorism wannabes. Likewise, while it would likely permit the use of Stingrays against hackers (who are generally treated as counterinteligence threats among NatSec investigators), it might require some conspiracy between hackers.

All that said, there’s a whole lot of flux in what even someone who is often decent on civil liberties like Chaffetz considers a national security threat.

And, of course, in the FISA context, the notion of what might be regarded as an immediate danger of physical injury continues to grow.

These definitions are both far too broad, and far too vague.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Inspectors General Bring Out the Space Heroes to Defend Full Access

John GlennA few weeks back, I noted that Office of Legal Counsel had finally released its opinion on whether DOJ had to share everything its Inspector General requested, or could hold things (and investigations) up until the Deputy Attorney General decided such disclosure would be in the interest of DOJ.

OLC ruled against the Inspector General, finding that rules limiting dissemination of wiretap, grand jury, and financial data required DOJ’s preferred arrangement, even given Congress’ recent appropriations instructions to give Inspectors General what they need.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson and Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers expressed concern about the opinion when it was released. Grassley now has a hearing — titled “‘All’ Means All: The Justice Department’s Failure to Comply with Its Legal Obligation to Ensure Inspector General Access to All Records Needed for Independent Oversight” — tomorrow to address the issue.

In anticipation of that hearing, the Inspectors General have brought out the big guns.

First, retired Senator and space hero wrote a letter, reminding that the intent when he and others in Congress passed the Inspector General act in 1978, they intended IGs to get access to everything.

The success of the IG Act is rooted in the principles on which the Act is grounded–independence, direct reporting to Congress, dedicated staff and resources, unrestricted access to agency records, subpoena power, special protections for agency employees who cooperate with the IG, and the ability to refer criminal matters to the Department of Justice without clearing such referrals through the agency. We considered these safeguards to be vital when we developed the Act and they remain essential today.

In addition, yesterday the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency sent a letter to Ron Johnson, Tom Carper, Jason Chaffetz, and Elijah Cummings asking for immediate legislation to fix the problem created by the OLC memo. In addition to expressing concern about the impact of the memo for DOJ’s Inspector General (that IG, Michael Horowitz, is Chair of CIGIE, so that’s sort of him reiterating his concerns), the other agency IG’s worried that the memo might affect their ability to conduct their own work, as well.

The OLC opinion’s restrictive reading of the IG Act represents a potentially serious challenge to the authority of every Inspector General and our collective ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner. Our concern is that, as a result of the OLC opinion, agencies other than DOJ may likewise withhold crucial records from their Inspectors General, adversely impacting their work. Even absent this opinion, agencies such as the Peace Corps and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) have restricted or denied their OIGs access to agency records on claims of common law privileges or assertions that other laws prohibit access.

[snip]

Uncertainty about the legal authority of Inspectors General to access all information in an agency’s possession could also negatively affect interactions between the staffs of the Offices of Inspector General and the agencies they oversee. Prior to this opinion, agency personnel could be confident, given the clear language of Section 6(a) of the IG Act, that they were required to and should share information openly with Inspector General staff, and typically they did so without reservation or delay. This led to increased candor during interviews, greater efficiency of investigations and other reviews, and earlier and more effective detection and resolution of waste, fraud, and abuse within Federal agencies. We are concerned that witnesses and other agency personnel, faced with uncertainty regarding the applicability of the OLC opinion to other records and situations, may now be less forthcoming and fearful of being accused of improperly divulging information. Such a shift in mindset also could deter whistleblowers from directly providing information about waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement to Inspectors General because of concern that the agency may later claim that the disclosure was improper and use that decision to retaliate against the whistleblower.

Neither FBI Director Jim Comey nor Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates are appearing at tomorrow’s hearing. FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin Perkins and Associate Deputy Attorney General Carlos Uriarte have pulled the unpleasant duty of appearing on a panel with Horowitz. But I imagine Grassley intends tomorrow’s hearing to be rather aggressive.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.