The Testimony Jack Smith Gets This Week Builds on Work from Over a Year Ago

Starting on Tuesday, Jack Smith’s prosecutors started getting return grand jury appearances for a set of key Trump aides who had invoked Executive Privilege in earlier appearances. In the days ahead, that same January 6 grand jury will get the testimony of Dan Scavino, Stephen Miller, Mark Meadows and — unless Trump succeeds with some kind of last minute challenge — Mike Pence.

Starting tomorrow, Secret Service agents will testify in the stolen documents case. That comes after (according to CNN), witnesses who gave voluntary testimony last summer have made subsequent appearances before the grand jury and Evan Corcoran provided crime-fraud excepted documents and testimony to the same grand jury. Multiple other lawyers already testified before the grand jury.

While there are a few outstanding items, such as the exploitation of Scott Perry’s phone, the DC Circuit decision on the application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to January 6, finding a way to obtain any remaining classified documents Trump has been hoarding, a verdict in the Proud Boys trial (which may dictate charging decisions for others) — all of which efforts have been pending for over six months, before Smith was appointed — the twin investigations headed by Jack Smith appear to be headed to imminent resolutions.

In recent weeks, the same TV lawyers who were wailing last summer about the January 6 investigation into Trump (the stolen documents investigation, while already laying the groundwork for charging a former President under the Espionage Act, still remained entirely unknown), have suggested that Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump might, “might light a fire under other prosecutors and advance the proposition that even ex-presidents must follow the law.”

It’s an obscene suggestion, that Jack Smith or his AUSAs or Merrick Garland needed some push to pursue the investigation into Donald Trump, when instead the TV lawyers simply needed a push to review what steps the investigation was actually pursuing. That’s because all of the recent developments in the Jack Smith case — the crime-fraud ruling, the Executive Privilege waiver, the testimony of Mike Pence — very obviously build on work done last year, well before Garland appointed Jack Smith. Some of those steps were even public at the time last summer when the very same TV lawyers were wailing. All of the climactic steps occurring in recent weeks were easily foreseeable by August.

Prosecutors have been building to this moment for a long time.

As I noted here, investigations in the era of cloud computing usually follow a clear logic:

  • Use subpoenas to obtain metadata to identify key subjects
  • Use metadata to obtain cloud warrants of subjects
  • Use cloud warrants to obtain warrants for phones (a necessary step if encrypted apps were used in furtherance of a crime, as was the case in the lead-up to January 6)
  • Use overt subpoenas for other witnesses to obtain evidence
  • Obtain grand jury testimony from witnesses

By the time the first overt subpoenas and warrants go out — which in the January 6 case was May 2022, though in the case of Sidney Powell was September 2021 — DOJ will already have obtained metadata and cloud content from key subjects of the investigation. Only after DOJ works through that covertly obtained evidence does it start doing the things that alert subjects to the scope of the investigation by subpoenaing other witnesses or seizing phones.

Even in a garden variety investigation, it can take six months from the date of seizure of a subject’s phone until an arrest. This was true even in the militia conspiracy cases, where arrests were an attempt to stave off further violence, in part because FBI was exploiting so many phones.

In the case of sensitive witnesses like lawyers, presidential advisors, and members of Congress, it takes a number of extra steps to get grand jury testimony or access content.

In Rudy Giuliani’s case, a privilege review of his phone content took nine months (though that review incorporated content relating to January 6, so it has been done since January 2022). In Enrique Tarrio’s case (largely due the security he used on his phone), it took over a year to access the content on his phone. In Scott Perry’s case, prosecutors are still working on it seven months later. In James O’Keefe’s unrelated case, Project Veritas still has one more chance to prevent prosecutors from getting evidence the FBI seized in November 2021, almost 17 months ago. You can’t skip privilege reviews, because if you do, key evidence will get thrown out during prosecution, rendering any downstream evidence useless as well.

In cases of privilege, DOJ first gets grand jury testimony where the witness invokes privilege, and then afterwards makes a case that the needs of the investigation overcome any privilege claim. DOJ first started pursuing privileged testimony regarding events involving Mike Pence with grand jury testimony from Pence aides Greg Jacob and Marc Short last July, then with testimony from the two Pats, Cipollone and Philbin, in August. It got privilege-waived testimony from Pence’s aides in October and from the two Pats on December 2. That process undoubtedly laid the groundwork for this week’s DC Circuit ruling that people like Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino must likewise testify to the grand jury.

By the time DOJ first overtly subpoenaed material in the fake electors plot last May, it had done the work to obtain cloud content from John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark. If DOJ had obtained warrants for the already seized phone content from Rudy — which is likely given the prominence of Victoria Toensing from the start of the fake elector subpoenas — then it would have built on content it obtained a year earlier in another investigation.

Some of this undoubtedly benefitted from the January 6 Committee’s work. I would be shocked, for example, if DOJ didn’t piggyback on Judge David Carter’s March 28, 2022 decision ruling some of John Eastman’s communications to be crime-fraud excepted. As NYT reported in August, in May 2022, DOJ similarly piggybacked on J6C’s earlier subpoenas to the National Archives (and in so doing avoided any need to alert Joe Biden to the criminal, as opposed to congressional, investigation); this is consistent with some of what Mueller did in the Russian investigation. Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, obtained via trust earned by Liz Cheney, has undoubtedly been critical. But the January 6 Committee also likely created recent delays in the January 6 and Georgia investigation, thanks to the delayed release of transcripts showing potentially exculpatory testimony.

But much of it preceded the January 6 Committee. I’ve shown, for example, that DOJ had a focus on Epshteyn before J6C first publicly mentioned his role in the fake electors plot. Toensing’s involvement came entirely via the DOJ track.

The path that brought us here went from the covert steps in advance of the May 2022 Clark and Eastman warrants (possibly including Rudy Giuliani warrants), to testimony from Trump’s aides, to testimony from White House Counsels, to Meadows and Pence and the rest of them.

There’s not a shred of evidence that DOJ’s prosecutors or Garland were afraid of taking these steps (FBI might be another issue). Instead, there’s a clear timeline of public steps DOJ has taken to get us to this point, which necessarily built on non-public things DOJ did to get to the point of obtaining warrants for the email accounts of several lawyers (and whatever covert steps it took with non-lawyers that won’t be public for years).

A timeline of the stolen document investigation is here.

Some key dates in the January 6 investigation are:

January 4, 2021: DC authorities seize Enrique Tarrio’s phone

January 25, 2021: Stop the Steal VIP Brandon Straka arrested; DOJ IG opens probe into Jeff Clark and others

February 17, 2021: First allegedly cooperative interview with Straka

March 17, 2021: DOJ makes first tie between Oath Keepers investigation and Roger Stone

March 25, 2021: Second allegedly cooperative interview with Straka

April 21, 2021 (Lisa Monaco’s first day on the job): DOJ obtains warrant targeting Rudy Giuliani’s cell phones in Ukraine investigation

June 23, 2021: First Oath Keeper who interacted with Stone enters into cooperation agreement

August 19, 2021: Alex Jones sidekick Owen Shroyer, who participated in Friends of Stone list and served as a communication hub between Proud Boys and others, arrested

September 2021: DOJ subpoenas records from Sidney Powell grift

September 3, 2021: SDNY makes an ultimately successful bid to review all content on Rudy’s devices for privilege (making such content available if and when DOJ obtains January 6 warrant targeting Rudy)

Fall 2021: Thomas Windom appointed to form fake elector team

October 28, 2021: Merrick Garland tells Sheldon Whitehouse DOJ is following the money of January 6

November 2, 2021: Special Master Barbara Jones releases first tranche of materials from Rudy’s phones, including content through seizure

November 22, 2021: Trump appointee Carl Nichols asks James Pearce whether 18 USC 1512(c)(2) might be applied to someone like Trump (he would go on to issue an outlier opinion rejecting the application)

By December 2021: JP Cooney starts long-invisible investigation into financial side of January 6

December 2021: NARA and Mark Meadows begin process of completing his record of PRA-covered communications

December 10, 2021: Judge Dabney Friedrich (a Trump appointee) upholds application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to January 6

January 5, 2022: Merrick Garland reiterates that DOJ is investigating the financial side of January 6

Mid-January 2022: DOJ finally obtains contents of Tarrio’s phone

January 19, 2022: Jones releases remaining content from Rudy’s phones; SCOTUS declines to review DC Circuit rejection of Trump’s Executive Privilege claims with respect to January 6 subpoenas

January 5, 2022: Lisa Monaco confirms DOJ is investigating fake electors plot

February 18, 2022: In civil cases, Judge Amit Mehta rules it plausible that Trump and militias conspired to obstruct vote certification, as well that he aided and abetted assaults

March 2, 2022: Oath Keeper in charge of Stone security on January 6, Joshua James, enters into cooperation agreement

March 28, 2022: Judge David Carter issues crime-fraud ruling covering John Eastman’s communications with and on behalf of Trump

May 2022: DOJ subpoenas all NARA records provided to J6C

May 26, 2022: Subpoenas for fake electors plot including Rudy, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn, Bernie Kerik, and Jenna Ellis, among others; warrants for email accounts of Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Ken Klukowski, and one non-lawyer

June 6, 2022: DOJ charges Proud Boy leaders with seditious conspiracy

June 21, 2022: Second set of fake electors subpoenas, adding Mike Roman and others, warrants for NV GOP officials and GA official

June 22, 2022: DOJ searches Jeffrey Clark’s home and seizes his phone

June 28, 2022: DOJ seizes John Eastman’s phone

June 23, 2022: DOJ completes exploitation (but not scoping) of Shroyer’s phone

June 24, 2022: Ali Alexander grand jury appearance

June 27, 2022: Then Chief Judge Beryl Howell permits prosecutors to obtain emails between Scott Perry and Clark and Eastman

July 22, 2022: Marc Short appears before grand jury

August 9, 2022: Scott Perry’s phone seized

August 2022: Mark Meadows provides previously withheld PRA covered materials to NARA

Early September, 2022: Pre-election legal process includes seizure of Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman’s phones, subpoenas to key aides including Dan Scavino, Bernie Kerik, Stephen Miller, Mark Meadows, subpoenas pertaining to Trump’s PAC spending,

October 13, 2022: Marc Short and Greg Jacob make second, privilege-waived grand jury appearance

November 18, 2022: Merrick Garland appoints Jack Smith

December 2, 2022: Pats Cipollone and Philbin make second, privilege-waived grand jury appearance

December 2022: Rudy Giuliani subpoena asks for information on his payment

February 9, 2023: Mike Pence subpoenaed

February 23, 2023: DC Circuit hears Scott Perry’s challenge to order providing access to his phone content

March 9, 2023: Judge Kollar-Kotelly orders Peter Navarro to turn over PRA-covered contents from Proton Mail account

March 28, 2023: Chief Judge Jeb Boasberg rules Mike Pence must testify (though protects some areas on Speech and Debate grounds)

April 4, 2023: DC Circuit declines to stay Beryl Howell ruling ordering testimony from Mark Meadows and others

Beryl Howell’s Biggest Secret: Whether Bill Barr Killed the Egyptian Bank Investigation

As I noted, Judge Beryl Howell ended her tenure as DC’s Chief Judge yesterday decisively, ruling that Evan Corcoran must testify about topics she has found to be crime-fraud excepted.

By dint of age and tenure, Howell was appointed Chief Judge just in time to preside over the most remarkable set of investigations against a sitting and former President: the Mueller investigation and certain follow-on investigations, the January 6 investigation, and the stolen documents investigation.

And now Jeb Boasberg gets to pick up her work. Like Howell, he’s an Obama appointee; he already did a stint presiding over the FISA Court.

Howell’s decision requiring Corcoran to testify elicited all sorts of superlative language about the import of the decision. I’ll return to the number of other Trump lawyers against whom Howell has already approved legal process. The Corcoran decision really is not that unusual in the twin Jack Smith investigations. Or even in the other grand juries over which Howell has presided.

Indeed, the fruits of a warrant Howell approved on August 1, 2017 as part of an investigation into suspicious payments (especially those from Viktor Vekelselberg) to Michael Cohen’s Essential Consultants’ bank account, will likely yield Donald Trump’s first criminal indictment next week. Referrals of part of the resulting investigation to SDNY led to Cohen’s 2018 prosecution, including on the hush payments scheme. NYC has started making security preparations for Trump’s arrest on the same campaign finance scheme next week.

To repeat: a fairly uncontroversial decision Howell made six years ago — to approve the first of a series of warrants targeting Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen — will have played a part if and when Alvin Bragg indicts Trump next week.

Howell’s colleagues razzed her yesterday about all the secrets she may keep from the past seven years.

Howell seemed to freeze in her seat as the most senior jurist on the court, Judge Paul Friedman, publicly described her still-secret rulings in grand jury-related matters, pointing to press accounts of Howell ruling in favor of Trump in a contempt dispute over his office’s response to a grand jury subpoena for classified records and against Trump on an effort to assert attorney-client privilege in the same probe.

“What fascinating issues!” Friedman declared wryly as Howell remained stone-faced on the dais. “We’d all love to read her opinions, but we can’t,” he said to laughter.

Friedman did note, however, that Howell had issued 100 secret grand jury opinions during her seven-year term.

Another colleague, Judge Tanya Chutkan, also alluded to Howell’s work resolving disputes related to the court’s grand juries over the past seven years.

“There’s so much work Chief Judge Howell has done that we may never know about,” Chutkan said.

In an interview with Zoe Tillman, though, Howell suggested she expects some of it will be unsealed.

Howell said she was still processing the past seven years.

“A lot of my work in the grand jury arena remains under seal, so it is going to be very hard to say what my legacy will be until after some of that work gets unsealed and people are able to evaluate it,” she said.

I expect a good deal of her recent work will be unsealed, in fairly short order.

It bears reminding, though, that Judge Howell attempted to share information about what she had been overseeing in a grand jury with the House Judiciary Committee in 2019. In a 75-page opinion invoking the Federalist papers and defending separation of powers, Howell issued a ruling that should have been uncontroversial: that the House could have grand jury materials in contemplation of impeachment.

In her opinion, Howell cited a number of the things the House might get with grand jury testimony. They included Paul Manafort’s description of how Trump ordered him to chase the documents stolen from Hillary.

Again, the Mueller Report recounts an incident when then-candidate Trump spoke to associates indicating that he may have had advance knowledge of damaging leaks of documents illegally obtained through hacks by the Russians, stating “shortly after WikiLeaks’s July 22, 2016 release of hacked documents, [Manafort] spoke to Trump [redacted]; Manafort recalled that Trump responded that Manafort should [redacted] keep Trump updated. Deputy campaign manager Rick Gates said that . . . Manafort instructed Gates [redacted] status updates on upcoming releases. Around the same time, Gates was with Trump on a trip to an airport [redacted], and shortly after the call ended, Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming.” Id. at II-18 (footnotes omitted) (redactions in original, with citation in footnote 27 redacted due to grand jury secrecy).

They included Don Jr’s refusal to testify to the grand jury about the June 9 meeting.

[A] discussion related to the Trump Tower Meeting contains two grand jury redactions: “On July 12, 2017, the Special Counsel’s Office [redacted] Trump Jr. [redacted] related to the June 9 meeting and those who attended the June 9 meeting.” Id. at II-105 (redactions in original).

They included Manafort’s details of his discussions with Konstantin Kilimnik.

The Mueller Report further recounts evidence suggesting that then-candidate Trump may have received advance information about Russia’s interference activities, stating:

Manafort, for his part, told the Office that, shortly after WikiLeaks’s July 22 release, Manafort also spoke with candidate Trump [redacted]. Manafort also [redacted] wanted to be kept apprised of any developments with WikiLeaks and separately told Gates to keep in touch [redacted] about future WikiLeaks releases. According to Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks. [Redacted] while Trump and Gates were driving to LaGuardia Airport. [Redacted], shortly after the call candidate Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming.

Id. at I-53–54 (footnotes omitted) (redactions in original, with citation in referenced footnote 206 redacted due to grand jury secrecy).

But Bill Barr’s DOJ, after having challenged the uncontroversial notion that the House should be permitted to receive what was obviously an impeachment referral, appealed to the DC Circuit, lost, and then stalled long enough to outlast Congress. Bill Barr effectively refused to let Congress receive and act on an impeachment referral. But Howell did her constitutionally mandated part.

It’s an action DOJ took during precisely the period when Barr was stalling long enough to outlast Congress that, in my mind, is the biggest secret Howell takes from her tenure: What happened with an investigation into a suspected $10 million donation in September 2016 from an Egyptian-owned bank that allowed Trump to stay in the race when he was running out of funds. Though aspects of the investigation were dribbled out in grand jury unsealings from Howell along the way, CNN first confirmed the Egyptian bank angle in 2020.

For more than three years, federal prosecutors investigated whether money flowing through an Egyptian state-owned bank could have backed millions of dollars Donald Trump donated to his own campaign days before he won the 2016 election, multiple sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.

The investigation, which both predated and outlasted special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, examined whether there was an illegal foreign campaign contribution. It represents one of the most prolonged efforts by federal investigators to understand the President’s foreign financial ties, and became a significant but hidden part of the special counsel’s pursuits.

The investigation was kept so secret that at one point investigators locked down an entire floor of a federal courthouse in Washington, DC, so Mueller’s team could fight for the Egyptian bank’s records in closed-door court proceedings following a grand jury subpoena. The probe, which closed this summer with no charges filed, has never before been described publicly.

Prosecutors suspected there could be a link between the Egyptian bank and Trump’s campaign contribution, according to several of the sources, but they could never prove a connection.

Shortly after the investigation was killed, Barr went up to Hillsdale College and ranted about prosecuting corruption.

This criminalization of politics is not healthy. The criminal law is supposed to be reserved for the most egregious misconduct — conduct so bad that our society has decided it requires serious punishment, up to and including being locked away in a cage. These tools are not built to resolve political disputes and it would be a decidedly bad development for us to go the way of third world nations where new administrations routinely prosecute their predecessors for various ill-defined crimes against the state. The political winners ritually prosecuting the political losers is not the stuff of a mature democracy.

The Justice Department abets this culture of criminalization when we are not disciplined about what charges we will bring and what legal theories we will bless. Rather than root out true crimes — while leaving ethically dubious conduct to the voters — our prosecutors have all too often inserted themselves into the political process based on the flimsiest of legal theories. We have seen this time and again, with prosecutors bringing ill-conceived charges against prominent political figures, or launching debilitating investigations that thrust the Justice Department into the middle of the political process and preempt the ability of the people to decide.

This criminalization of politics will only worsen until we change the culture of concocting new legal theories to criminalize all manner of questionable conduct. Smart, ambitious lawyers have sought to amass glory by prosecuting prominent public figures since the Roman Republic. It is utterly unsurprising that prosecutors continue to do so today to the extent the Justice Department’s leaders will permit it.

Even at the time — with the Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort cases — it was clear that Barr was engaged in fairly unprecedented corruption of DOJ to protect Trump. Since then, we’ve learned of more. Most notably, as we await a potential Bragg indictment, Geoffrey Berman described how, after Cohen pled guilty in the hush payment case, Barr not only shut down any investigation of Trump on the charge, but attempted to reverse Cohen’s own prosecution.

While Cohen had pleaded guilty, our office continued to pursue investigations related to other possible campaign finance violations. When Barr took over in February 2019, he not only tried to kill the ongoing investigations but—incredibly—suggested that Cohen’s conviction on campaign finance charges be reversed.

Barr summoned Rob Khuzami in late February to challenge the basis of Cohen’s plea as well as the reasoning behind pursuing similar campaign finance charges against other individuals. Khuzami was told to cease all investigative work on the campaign finance allegations until the Office of Legal Counsel, an important part of Main Justice, determined there was a legal basis for the campaign finance charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty—and until Barr determined there was a sufficient federal interest in pursuing charges against others.

Barr even attempted to put supervision of the case in the hands of Richard Donoghue, as he did do with the Rudy Giuliani case.

Given that Barr didn’t think Trump should be prosecuted for the Cohen illegal contribution case, there’s no telling what he thought of the suspected Egyptian bank donation. Certainly, he was in complete control of DC USAO at the time, if he wanted to shut down an otherwise viable investigation.

We are, as Howell herself said, likely to know much of what she has been doing for the last two years. But her biggest secret is whether Bill Barr prevented DOJ from fully attempting to learn whether Donald Trump was beholden to Egypt or some other foreign country for the entirety of the time he served as President.