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Mueller Is Close to Done, But the Andrew Weissmann Departure Is Overblown

As my docket tracker of the Mueller and related investigations shows, around August 1, 2018, after finalizing the GRU indictment, Ryan Dickey returned to his duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Around October 1, 2018, after submitting a filing saying Mike Flynn was ready to be sentenced, Brandon Van Grack moved back to his duties elsewhere at DOJ (though he continues to be named in documents in the case, as he was Tuesday). He is now starting a prosecutorial focus on FARA.

Around October 15, 2018, Kyle Freeny, who had worked the money laundering angle on the GRU and Manafort cases, moved back to her duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Around December 31, 2018, after successfully defending the Mystery Appellant challenge in the DC Circuit, Scott Meisler moved back to his duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Today, after getting Paul Manafort sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, imposing a $24 million restitution payment, and an $11 million forfeiture (including of Manafort’s Trump Tower condo), multiple outlets are reporting that the guy in charge of prosecuting Manafort’s corruption, Andrew Weissmann, is moving to a job at NYU.

After each prosecutor has finished their work on the Mueller team, he or she has moved on. Weissmann’s departure is more final, since he’s leaving DOJ. But his departure continues a pattern that was set last summer. Finish your work, and move on.

Nevertheless, his departure is being taken as a surefire sign the Mueller investigation is closing up.

Let me be clear: I do agree Mueller is just about done with the investigation. He’s waiting on Mystery Appellant, possibly on Andrew Miller’s testimony; he may have been waiting on formal publication of Jerome Corsi’s book yesterday. Multiple other details suggest that Mueller expects to be able to share things in a month that he’s unable to share today.

None of that tells us what will happen in the next few weeks. There is abundant evidence that Trump entered into a quid pro quo conspiracy with Russia, trading dirt and dollars for sanctions relief and other policy considerations. But it’s unclear whether Mueller has certainty that he’d have an 85% chance of winning convictions, which is around what he’d need to convince DOJ to charge it. There is also abundant evidence that Trump and others obstructed the investigation, but charging Trump in that presents constitutional questions.

If Mueller does charge either of those things, I’d still expect him to resign and either retire or move back to WilmerHale and let other prosecutors prosecute it. That’s what Leon Jaworski did in Watergate.

The far more interesting detail from Carrie Johnson’s Weissmann report is that just some of Mueller’s team are returning to WilmerHale.

WilmerHale, the law firm that Mueller and several other prosecutors left to help create the special counsel team, is preparing for the return of some of its onetime law partners, three lawyers have told NPR in recent weeks.

I’m far more interested in the plans of James Quarles (who has been liaising with the White House and so presumably has a key part of the obstruction investigation) or Jeannie Rhee (who seems to have been overseeing the conspiracy investigation) than Mueller or his Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley. Their plans might tell us more about what to expect in the next month (though Rhee appeared in Roger Stone’s status hearing today, and may be sticking around for his prosecution, which just got scheduled for November 5).

In any case, though, we don’t have long to wait, so it’s not clear that misreading the departure of Weissmann — which is better understood as part of the normal pattern of Mueller’s prosecutors leaving when they’re done — tells us anything useful.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Government Claims George Papadopoulos Helped Joseph Mifsud Get Away

The government has released its sentencing memo for George Papadopoulos. They recommend he serve time somewhere between 0 and 6 months, with a fine of $9,500 (which is most but not all of the payment he got from a suspected Israeli spy). And given their description, he got off easy (though I do wonder whether he faces additional exposure in the conspiracy in chief).

While the most newsy bit of the memo is a footnote debunking a lot of what Simona has been telling the gullible Chuck Ross since May (which I’ll get to), the most interesting detail is that the government claims that Papadopoulos’ lies and obstruction helped Joseph Mifsud skip the country without being detained, as the government explains by way of describing the damage Papadopoulos did to the investigation.

The defendant’s lies to the FBI in January 2017 impeded the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Most immediately, those statements substantially hindered investigators’ ability to effectively question the Professor when the FBI located him in Washington, D.C. approximately two weeks after the defendant’s January 27, 2017 interview. The defendant’s lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the Professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States. The government understands that the Professor left the United States on February 11, 2017 and he has not returned to the United States since then.

This claim is overly dramatic, but it makes the frothy right’s conspiracy about Mifsud being an FBI plant all the more interesting — if he’s an FBI plant, then why did Papadopoulos cover for him while he was in the US? (Yeah, I know the premise is insane but that’s what conspiracy theories do to sanity.)

And, as the government’s debunking footnote makes clear, either because George lied to her or because she’s lying, Simona hasn’t been telling the gullible Chuck Ross the truth about Papadopoulos offering up Mifsud’s name.

In several recent media appearances, the defendant’s spouse has claimed that the defendant “voluntarily reported” to the FBI the Professor’s conversation with him about the “dirt” on Clinton. See CNN, Papadopoulos’ Wife Asks Trump to Pardon Him, Says He’s ‘Loyal to the Truth,’ June 6, 2018 (claiming at approximately 4:08 that the defendant “actually volunteered – he reported to the FBI about this meeting”); Fox News, Rethinking ‘Collusion’ and the George Papadopoulos Case, June 4, 2018, (claiming at approximately 2:11 that the defendant “voluntarily reported to the FBI at the time of their interview”); Chuck Ross, Papadopoulos’ Wife: Trump Aide Was ‘Absolutely Not’ Involved in Russian Collusion, June 4, 2018, available at http://dailycaller.com/2018/06/04/mangiante-papadopoulos-collusion/ (stating that it was the “defendant who brought up” the matter).

To the contrary, the defendant identified the Professor only after being prompted by a series of specific questions about when the defendant first learned about Russia’s disclosure of information related to the campaign and whether the defendant had ever “received any information or anything like that from a [] Russian government official.” In response, while denying he received any information from a Russian government official, the defendant identified the Professor by name – while also falsely claiming he interacted with the Professor “before I was with Trump though.” Over the next several minutes in the interview, the defendant repeatedly and falsely claimed that his interactions with the Professor occurred before he was working for the Trump campaign, and he did not mention his discussion with the Professor about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Clinton. That fact only came up after additional specific questioning from the agents. The agents asked the defendant: “going back to the WikiLeaks and maybe the Russian hacking and all that, were you ever made aware that the Russians had intent to disclose information [] ahead of time? So before it became public? Did anyone ever tell you that the Russian government plans to release some information[,]
like tell the Trump team ahead of time[,] that that was going to happen?” The defendant responded, “No.” The agents then skeptically asked, “No?” The defendant responded: “No, not on, no not the Trump [campaign], but I will tell you something and – and this is . . . actually very good that we’re, that you just brought this up because I wasn’t working with Trump at the time[.] I was working in London . . . with that guy [the Professor].” Only then, after acknowledging that the agents had “brought this up” and lying about when he received the information, did the defendant admit that the Professor had told him “the Russians had emails of Clinton.”

Interestingly, the government suggests that Papadopoulos may have lied because he was still trying to get a job in the Trump administration — a job, we’ve since learned, that might have also come with a payoff from Sergei Millian.

But the record shows that at the time of the interview, the defendant was attempting to secure a job with the Trump Administration and had an incentive to protect the Administration and minimize his own role as a witness. (PSR ¶ 50). In January 2017, the defendant had several communications with officials of the incoming Administration in an effort to obtain a high-level position with the National Security Council, the State Department, or the Energy Department. On January 27, 2017, in the hours after being interviewed by the FBI, the defendant submitted his biography and a description of work he did on the campaign in an effort to obtain a position as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Energy Department. (PSR ¶ 50).

And Papadopoulos didn’t provide much assistance at all — significantly, hiding a phone he used in the campaign until the last proffer session (at which point the government had probably identified it by correlating his identities).

The defendant did not provide “substantial assistance,” and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants
and subpoenas well after the defendant’s FBI interview as the government continued its investigation. The defendant also did not notify the government about a cellular phone he used in London during the course of the campaign – that had on it substantial communications between the defendant and the Professor – until his fourth and final proffer session. This cell phone was not among the devices seized at the airport because it was already in the defendant’s family home in Chicago. Upon request, the defendant provided that phone to the government and consented to the search of that device.

And he didn’t provide much help thereafter.

Following the proffer sessions in August and September 2017, the government arranged to meet again with the defendant to ask further questions in late December 2017. However, upon learning that the defendant had participated in a media interview with a national publication concerning his case, the government canceled that meeting.

All of which leaves you with the sense that Papadopoulos would have happily served as a spy, had the FBI not come knocking on his door at precisely the same time as the White House was first dealing with the Mike Flynn investigation.

Again, the government is letting Papadopoulos off easy. Which makes me wonder whether he’s still exposed in the case in chief.

What Roger Stone’s Latest Lies Tell Us about Mueller’s Investigation into Him

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

After a puff piece in the NYT over the weekend, Roger Stone took to the Daily Caller to attack Mueller’s case against him. As bad as the Daily Caller is, it actually ends up being far more informative than the NYT because Stone is so bad at telling lies they’re informative for what they mirror.

So assuming, for the moment, that Stone’s piece reflects some kind of half-accurate reflection of what witnesses have said they were questioned about him, here’s what we learn.

Mueller is examining conduct that goes back 10 years

Obviously, statutes of limitation have probably tolled on any crimes Stone committed more than five years ago, but this suggests witnesses are being asked about conduct that goes back further, ten years.

Mueller is running a criminally abusive, constitutionally -unaccountable, professionally and politically incestuous conspiracy of ethically conflicted cronies colluding to violate my Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights and those of almost everyone who had any sort of political or personal association with me in the last 10 years.

Given the involvement of Peter Jensen and Kristin Davis in Stone’s recent rat-fucking, perhaps as an explanation of more recent rat-fucking we’ll finally get an accounting of Stone’s role in taking out Eliot Spitzer ten years ago. (h/t Andrew Prokop for Jensen tie to Spitzer op)

Mueller is considering charging Stone with ConFraudUs

I assume this reference to ConFraudUs comes from a friendly witness passing on what a subpoena described were the crimes being investigated.

Mueller and his hit-men seek to frame some ludicrous charge of “defrauding the United States.”

This is, of course, based on a false and unproven assumption that Assange is a Russian agent and Wikileaks is a Russian front — neither of which has been proven in a court of law. Interestingly Assange himself has said, “Roger Stone has never said or tweeted anything we at Wikileaks had not already said publicly.”

As described, it looks like how I envisioned Stone might be charged with ConFraudUs back in June.

As Mueller’s team has itself pointed out, for heavily regulated areas like elections, ConFraudUs indictments don’t need to prove intent for the underlying crimes. They just need to prove,

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Let’s see how evidence Mueller has recently shown might apply in the case of Roger Stone, Trump’s lifelong political advisor.

[snip]

Stone repeatedly entertained offers from foreigners illegally offering dirt that would benefit the Trump campaign — Greenberg, Guccifer 2.0, possibly Peter Smith’s Dark Web hackers. He may even have exhibited a belief that Australian Julian Assange had and could release the latter dirt, possibly with the knowledge they came from Russians.

So we’ve got Stone meeting with other people, repeatedly agreeing to bypass US election law to obtain a benefit for Trump, evidence (notwithstanding Stone’s post-hoc attempts to deny a Russian connection with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks) that Stone had the intent of obtaining that benefit, and tons of overt acts committed in furtherance of the scheme.

Stone appears to address just one conspiracy with a foreigner — Julian Assange — to obtain something of value, by insisting (though less strongly than he has in the past!) that Assange is not a Russian asset. Except, foreign is foreign, whether Australian or Russian, so making a weak case that Assange is not Russian won’t get you off on ConFraudUs.

Moreover, now that I’ve reviewed some dodginess about Stone’s PACs, I suspect there may be two levels of ConFraudUs, one pertaining to depriving the US government from excluding foreign influence on the election, and the other pertaining to depriving the US government of the ability to track how political activities are being funded.

That is, Mueller’s reported focus on Stone’s finances may well pertain to a second ConFraudUs prong, one based on campaign finance violations.

Stone thinks Mueller wants him to flip, rather than to punish him for the case in chief

In spite of the abundant evidence that Stone is a key target of this investigation, Stone appears to believe that Mueller only wants to charge him to get him to flip on Trump.

Mueller’s hit team is poking into every aspect of my personal, private, family, social, business and political life — presumably to conjure up some bogus charge or charges to use to pressure me to plead guilty to their Wikileaks fantasy and testify against Donald Trump who I have known intimately for almost 40 years.

Side note: I appreciate the way Stone — an unabashed swinger — worked that word “intimately” into his description of his relationship with Trump.

Which is one of the reasons I’m so interested in how he describes hiring a new lawyer, a nationally known one who used to work for Trump.

I have been ably served by two fine lawyers Grant Smith and Rob Buschel who won dismissal of a harassment lawsuit based on the same Wikileaks/Russian conspiracy theory by an Obama directed legal foundation in D.C. last month. No evidence to support this false narrative was produced in court other than a slew of fake news clippings from lefty media sites.

I have recently reached agreement to retain a highly respected and nationally known attorney who has represented Donald Trump to join my legal team and lead my defense.

Possibly this is just a hint that some operative like Victoria Toensing or Joseph DiGenova is going to take on Stone’s propaganda case. Possibly it reflects a recognition from Trump that Stone now presents as big a risk to him as Manafort does. Whichever it is, I look forward to learning how serious a lawyer Stone has and whether — Stone claims reports that he has $20 million are false, but if he has been engaging in epic campaign finance violations, who knows? — Trump is paying for his defense going forward.

Stone doesn’t understand how stored communications work

As I pointed out the last time Stone claimed he was targeted by a FISA order, what likely happened instead is Mueller obtained the contents of his phone along with four or nine others in a probable cause warrant on March 9. But that doesn’t stop Stone from claiming he was targeted under FISA again, explaining that his emails, text messages, and (this is less credible) phone calls have been seized going back to 2016.

Even more chilling is the fact that I have learned that — in this effort to destroy me — the government began reading my e-mails and text messages and monitoring my phone calls as early as 2016.

I believe that I, like Carter Page and Paul Manafort, was subject to an illegal FISA warrant in 2016, as the New York Times reported on January 20, 2017. The New York Times published this claim in a page-one story on the same day as President Trump’s inauguration ceremony.

A whistleblower has told my lawyers where my name and the fact that application had been made for a FISA warrant on me was redacted from the stunning Carter Page FISA warrant application released by the FBI last week with 300 of 400 pages blacked out.

What Stone’s dumbass “whistleblower” was pointing to instead was a passage describing the other people being investigated in October 2016, when Page was first targeted. But being investigated is not the same as being targeted under FISA, and what Stone is really trying to obscure here is that Mueller (probably) already showed a judge, back in March, he had probable cause that Rog committed some crimes back in 2016.

Another witness Stone would like to discredit by calling an informant

Back in June, Stone tried to spin the fact that he willingly accepted a meeting with yet another Russian offering dirt on Hillary by noting (correctly, it appears) that the Russian had served as a source for the FBI on Russian organized crime before — just like Felix Sater, whom the Trump folks are all still peachy with. In spite of the fact that it was so obviously bunk the last time, he’s trying again, hinting at a second informant working against him.

We also now know that at least one FBI informant in the United States on an informant’s visa approached me in May 2016 in an effort to entrap me and compromise Donald Trump. I declined his proposal to “buy dirt on Hillary.” There is now substantial evidence that a second FBI informant may have infiltrated my political operations in 2016. Stand by.

Who knows whether this is another person — like the Russian dealing dirt on Hillary, “Henry Greenberg,” is just someone who has worked his way out of legal trouble by serving as an informant — or whether there’s some other reason Stone is calling him or her an informant. Most likely, Stone is trying to suggest a perfectly ordinary witness cooperating with the government against him is an informant, to inflame his people. Possibly, this is prepping a claim that Randy Credico set up Roger.

Jeannie Rhee is leading the questioning of Stone witnesses

In tandem with Trump’s attacks on Mueller prosecutors with Hillary ties, Stone states that Jeannie Rhee led the questioning of his witnesses, and claims it’s a conflict.

Incredibly, leading the questioning of witnesses before the Grand Jury about me is Jeannie Rhee, who in private practice represented the Clinton foundation in the Hillary e-mail scandal that is front and center in the special prosecutor’s investigation of me! Can you say conflict of interest?

Of course, he gets the attack wrong: Rhee represented the Foundation, not Hillary’s email defense, and she did so against a nutbag Republican challenge, not with DOJ.

But in telling us that Rhee is leading this inquiry, Stone is (helpfully) telling us that a person who has led the Russian side of the inquiry is leading the inquiry into … oh my! Roger Stone!

Even with all his prevarications, it turns out, a Stone column might be more informative than a NYT puff piece!

How the Mueller Team Thinks of ConFraudUs

I’ve written before how I think Conspiracy to Defraud the United States (ConFraudUs) provides Mueller a way to charge a variety of conduct with conspiracy charges that additional defendants can be dropped into, all of which might form an interlocking series of ConFraudUs indictments that map out the entire election crime. In this post, I observed how the charge worked in the Manafort and Internet Research Agency indictments. In this one, I described how it might work to charge Jared (and everyone else) for pretending to be serving US foreign policy interests while actually making bank.

In response to a challenge from Concord Consulting in the IRA indictment, the Mueller team has laid out how they think of ConFraudUs. The filing hints at how and why they may be using this as a backbone for their pursuit of the 2016 election tampering culprits.

In a blustery motion claiming that Mueller only charged Concord with ConFraudUs because he needed to charge some Russians, any Russians, to justify his appointment, Concord demanded access to the grand jury instructions on the ConFraudUs charge, claiming that the charge requires willfulness. (Click through to read the footnotes here, which include a gratuitous Casablanca reference and complaints about US tampering in elections.)

Now, some twenty years later, the Deputy Attorney General acting for the recused Attorney General has rejected the history and integrity of the DOJ, and instead licensed a Special Counsel who for all practical political purposes cannot be fired, to indict a case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian Government.2 The reason is obvious, and is political: to justify his own existence the Special Counsel has to indict a Russian – any Russian. 3 Different from any election case previously brought by the DOJ, the Special Counsel used the catch-all provision of the federal criminal code, the defraud prong of conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371, to allege that a foreign corporate defendant with no presence in the United States and having never entered the United States, engaged in the make-believe crime of conspiring to “interfere” in a United States election. Indictment, Dkt. 1, ¶ 2. Presumably to bolster these allegations (which have a strong odor of hypocrisy) 4 , the Special Counsel has pleaded around the knowledge requirements of all related substantive statutes and regulations by asserting that Concord conspired to obstruct the functions of the United States Departments of Justice (“DOJ”) and State (“DOS”), and the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”).5 But violations of the relevant federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration requirements administered by the DOJ and the FEC require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” a word that does not appear anywhere in Count One of the Indictment. See 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d) and 22 U.S.C. § 618(a).6

Violations of the federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration … require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” say the Russians who trolled our election.

That’s true, Mueller concedes.

Then points out they haven’t charged those underlying crimes. They’ve just charged ConFraudUs. And the standard for ConFraudUs is “intent to defraud the US;” there’s no “willfullness” standard required.

As an initial matter, the government agrees that the plain language of the statutory provisions Concord Management has identified in the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d), and the Foreign Agent Registration Act 22 U.S.C. § 618(a), set forth a “willfulness” standard with respect to knowledge. The government, however, did not charge Concord Management with substantive violations of FECA, FARA, or for that matter, visa fraud — an offense that requires only a “knowing” standard. See 18 U.S.C. § 1546. Concord Management is alleged to have conspired to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. As described in more detail below, the mens rea for that offense is intent to defraud the United States, not to willfully commit substantive offenses that are not charged in the Indictment

Which brings them to where they lay out precisely what ConFraudUs requires:

The essential elements of a conspiracy to defraud the United States consist of the following: (1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States; (2) the defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and (3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme. See United States v. Treadwell, 760 F.2d 327, 333 (D.C. Cir. 1985); United States v. Coplan, 703 F.3d 46, 61 (2d Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 571 U.S. 819 (2013). The agreement to defraud must be one to obstruct a lawful function of the Government or its agencies by deceitful or dishonest means. Coplan, 703 F.3d at 60–61; see United States v. Davis, 863 F.3d 894, 901 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (explaining that a charge under the defraud clause requires proof that a defendant “knowingly agreed with [the codefendant] (or another person) to defraud the federal government of money or to deceptively interfere with the lawful functions of” a particular government agency). The mens rea is a specific intent to defraud the United States, not willfulness. See United States v. Khalife, 106 F.3d 1300, 1303 (6th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1045 (1998); United States v. Jackson, 33 F.3d 866, 871–72 (7th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1005 (1995). The mens rea requirements of particular substantive crimes, in short, do not carry over to defraud-clause prosecutions. See, e.g., Jackson, 33 F.3d at 870–72 (government need not establish the level of willfulness required to prove a “structuring” offense when it charges the same behavior as a conspiracy to defraud); Khalife, 106 F.3d at 1303 (same).4

So,

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Basically, the Mueller team argues, Concord and all its trolls only have to agree to pull a fast one on the American electoral regulatory apparatus, with at least one overt act like … a trollish tweet. They don’t have to individually willfully violate the underlying law.

We’ll see what Judge Dabney Friedrich has to say about this argument (though as far as I understand it, the Mueller argument is not at all controversial). As a reminder, Rick Gates has already pled guilty to this charge.

However Friedrich rules, however, you can how this would apply to a number of other known actions. Did Don Jr conspire with Aras Agalarov and his surrogates to defraud the fair management of elections when he stated, in the context of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton, that he would revisit the Magnitsky Act sanctions when his father won the election (several witnesses gave sworn testimony that this happened)? Did Roger Stone conspire with Guccifer 2.0 when they (as reported but not yet substantiated with evidence) discussed how to find Russian hackers who had stolen Hillary’s emails? Did Brad Parscale conspire with Cambridge Analytica, not just to permit foreigners to illegally provide assistance to the Trump campaign, but also to use stolen models to heighten discontent among Democratic voters?

Importantly, Mueller would not have to prove that all participants in all these conspiracies had the mens rea required by the underlying charges. It’s enough that they’re trying to deceitfully thwart the lawful functioning of a government process.

Obviously, Mueller hasn’t yet charged any of these ConFraudUs conspiracies, if indeed they happened. But you can see why he might use ConFraudUs to do so.

How Does the Strzok Text Dump Differ from Jim Comey’s July 5, 2016 Speech?

I’m a bit bemused by the response to DOJ’s release of the texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. As Rod Rosenstein testified before HJC yesterday, the release came after notice to Strzok and Page through their lawyers. The release of the texts came with the approval of DOJ IG Michael Horowitz — who says the investigation into the underlying conduct may last through spring. And Rosenstein strongly implied he wanted them released, taking responsibility for it (while claiming not to know whether Jeff Sessions had a role in their release).

As he explained to Trey Gowdy — who, like a number of Republicans, claimed to be at a loss of what to say to constituents who asked “what in the hell is going on with DOJ and the FBI” — the release of the texts proves that any wrongdoing will be met with consequences.

Gowdy: What happens when people who are supposed to cure the conflict of interest have even greater conflicts of interests than those they replace? That’s not a rhetorical question. Neither you nor I nor anyone else would ever sit Peter Strzok on a jury, we wouldn’t have him objectively dispassionately investigate anything, knowing what we now know. Why didn’t we know it ahead of time, and my last question, my final question — and I appreciate the Chairman’s patience — how would you help me answer that question when I go back to South Carolina this weekend?

Rosenstein: Congressman, first of all, with regard to the Special Counsel, Mr. Strzok was already working on the investigation when the Special Counsel was appointed. The appointment I made was of Robert Mueller. So what I’d recommend you tell your constituents is that Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray are accountable and that we will ensure that no bias is reflected in any actions taken by the Special Counsel or any matter within the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. When we have evidence of any inappropriate conduct, we’re going to take action on it. And that’s what Mr. Mueller did here as soon as he learned about this issue — he took action — and that’s what I anticipate the rest of our prosecutors, the new group of US Attorneys, our Justice Department appointees. They understand the rules and they understand the responsibility to defend the integrity of the Department. If they find evidence of improper conduct, they’re going to take action.

So Congressman, that’s the best assurance I can give you. But actually, there’s one other point, which is you should tell your constituents that we exposed this issue because we’re ensuring that the Inspector General conducts a thorough and effective investigation, and if there is any evidence of impropriety, he’s going to surface it and report about it publicly.

I actually think Rosenstein did a much better job than others apparently do, yesterday, at distinguishing between the Strzok texts (which apparently were on DOJ issued cell phones and, in spite of having Hillary investigation subject lines may not have been logged into Sentinel) and the political views of Andrew Weissmann or the past representation of Jeannie Rhee. Furthermore, he repeatedly said he would only fire Mueller for cause, and made it clear there had been no cause. Several times he talked about how closely he has worked with Mueller, such as on the scope of what gets included in his investigation (even while defending the charges against Manafort as appropriately included).

That said, I wonder how Rosenstein distinguishes, in his own mind, what he did in approving the release of the texts from an ongoing investigation and what Jim Comey did on July 5, 2016, when he gave a press conference about why Hillary Clinton had not been charged. While Rosenstein’s biggest complaint in his letter supporting the firing of Comey was that he substituted his decision for that of prosecutors, he also argued that the Department shouldn’t release derogatory information gratuitously.

Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation. Derogatory information sometimes is disclosed in the course of criminal investigations and prosecutions, but we never release it gratuitously. The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.

In response to skeptical question at a congressional hearing, the Director defended his remarks by saying that his “goal was to say what is true. What did we do, what did we find, what do we think about it.” But the goal of a federal criminal investigation is not to announce our thoughts at a press conference. The goal is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a federal criminal prosecution, then allow a federal prosecutor who exercises authority delegated by the Attorney General to make a prosecutorial decision, and then – if prosecution is warranted – let the judge and jury determine the facts. We sometimes release information about closed investigations in appropriate ways, but the FBI does not do it sua sponte.

In some ways this is worse because of the off chance that Inspector General Michael Horowitz finds that these texts don’t merit some kind of response; the investigation is not finished yet.

That said, I actually do think there’s a difference: Strzok and Page are department employees, rather than subjects of an external investigation. DOJ exercises awesome power, and usually DOJ is releasing the texts of private citizens in this kind of embarrassing way.

Even former clearance holders seem surprised that these texts were discovered. It is unbelievable to me how few people understand the great liberty that counterintelligence investigators like Strzok can have in obtaining the communications of investigative targets like he has now become, particularly during leak or insider threat investigations. That may not be a good thing, but it is what other targets have been subjected to. So I think it reasonable to have FBI’s own subject to the same scrutiny, for better and worse.

I do think it worthwhile for DOJ to show that it will hold people accountable for improper actions.

Plus, aside from one August comment — which we may obtain more context on when Horowitz does finish this investigation — about an “insurance” policy against Trump, the texts simply aren’t that damning (though they do raise questions about Strzok’s role in the investigation). Strzok agrees with Rex Tillerson, after all, that Trump is an idiot.

So as far as that goes, I’m actually okay with Rosenstein’s release of these texts.

Except I worry about something else.

I actually worry less about Mueller getting fired than just about every other Trump opponent on the planet. Rosenstein seems intent to let him do his work, and (notably at several times during the hearing) seems to agree with the gravity of the investigation. Trump can’t get to Mueller without taking out Rosenstein (and Rachel Brand). And I actually think Rosenstein has thus far balanced the position of a Republican protecting a Republican from Republican ire fairly well. I expect the next shoes Mueller drops — whenever that happens — will change the tone dramatically.

What bothers me most about the release of these texts, however, is that they are a response to the same pressure that Comey was responding to (and which he thought he was smart enough to manage, just as Rosenstein surely thinks he can handle it here).

They are a response — from the same people who ran the Benghazi investigation then ignored DOJ’s prosecution of the Benghazi mastermind — to a willingness to challenge the very core of DOJ functionality, all in a bid to politicize it.

Perhaps Rosenstein is right to bide his time — to create space for Mueller to drop the next few shoes — with the release of the Strzok texts.

But at some point, Republicans need to start calling out Republicans for the damage they’re doing to rule of law with this constant playing of the refs, this demand for proof that Democrats aren’t getting some advantage through the rule of law. If those next shoes don’t have the effect I imagine, it may be too late.

Mueller’s Watergate Prosecutor Is Liaising with the White House Lawyers, and Other Tidbits on Mueller’s Org Chart

Earlier this month, I explored what the organization exposed by the first court filings in the Mueller investigation showed. Politico has a version of the same analysis today that adds some more interesting details.

What ought to be the headline details is that the prosecutor on Mueller’s team who worked on Watergate, James Quarles, is the one liaising with White House lawyers.

Mueller’s liaison to the White House is James Quarles, a former Watergate prosecutor who has helped arrange an ongoing series of interviews with current and former Trump aides. Quarles was involved in the questioning of former press secretary Sean Spicer during a daylong interview last month, according to a person with knowledge of the interview, and he’s a primary point of contact for Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, as well as Ty Cobb, the lead White House lawyer handling the Russia investigation.

That seems like worthwhile symbolism.

The article describes who is leading the investigation into Mike Flynn.

And at the center of the investigation into Flynn is Jeannie Rhee, a former Obama-era deputy assistant attorney general who most recently worked with Mueller at the WilmerHale law firm — and whose name has so far appeared only on publicly available court documents relating to the guilty plea of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Assisting Rhee on the Flynn case is Zainab Ahmad, an assistant U.S. attorney from New York with a specialty in prosecuting and collecting evidence in international criminal and terrorism cases — and whose name hasn’t yet appeared in Russia-related court filings at all.

I find it curious that Rhee has been involved in the Papadopoulos plea, given that there’s no sign that links up to Flynn. And I’m just as curious that Ahmad (who, as I noted, is a specialist in trying foreigners brought into the US) is on that team. Are there more Turks that will be brought in on the Flynn investigation? This passage doesn’t mention Brandon Van Grack (it later describes Van Grack’s role in Papadopoulos’ arraignment back in July, without explaining that that’s pretty clearly because he’s used to the court house in Alexandria, where Papadopoulos was arraigned), though I assume he’s still on that team.

Finally, the piece notes that Mueller added another prosecutor (it says there are currently 17 prosecutors, which may mean he has added two). Though unlike with all the other prosecutors on the team, Mueller’s not telling who this one is.

Mueller’s work isn’t just confined to his team of prosecutors, which special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said grew last week to 17 with the addition of an unnamed lawyer.

That may mean some other case just got deemed related to Mueller’s, but it’s one that he doesn’t want to reveal has been connected yet.