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Jeff Sessions HAD Shut Down the Investigation into Russian Interference

The most alarming exchange in the Mueller Report described how, on June 19, 2017, President Trump dictated a message that Corey Lewandowski should take to Jeff Sessions, telling Sessions (in part) to meet with Mueller and limit his jurisdiction to investigating only “election meddling for future elections,” not the one that got him elected.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608

The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

The President said that if Sessions delivered that statement he would be the “most popular guy in the country.”611

Lewandowski told the President he understood what the President wanted Sessions to do.6 12 Lewandowski wanted to pass the message to Sessions in person rather than over the phone.613 He did not want to meet at the Department of Justice because he did not want a public log of his visit and did not want Sessions to have an advantage over him by meeting on what Lewandowski described as Sessions’s turf. 614 Lewandowski called Sessions and arranged a meeting for the following evening at Lewandowski’s office, but Sessions had to cancel due to a last minute conflict.6 15 Shortly thereafter, Lewandowski left Washington, D.C., without having had an opportunity to meet with Sessions to convey the President’s message.6 16 Lewandowski stored the notes in a safe at his home, which he stated was his standard procedure with sensitive items.617

When the Mueller Report came out, this seemed distinct from all other attempts to fire Mueller, because it attempted to shut down not just the investigation into Trump, but even the investigation into Russia’s interference in 2016 altogether.

But a passage from Andrew Weissmann’s book makes this passage even more alarming. He describes how, “a few weeks after he arrived” (and so around the same time as Trump’s dictation to Lewandowski), after Jeannie Rhee got her own briefing on the ongoing investigation into Russian interference, Weissmann asked for the same briefing. He discovered that no one was really investigating it.

As soon as the Special Counsel’s Office opened up shop, Team R inherited work produced by other government investigations that had been launched before ours: These included the Papadopoulos lead, the National Security Division’s investigation into Russian hacking, and the Intelligence Community’s written assessment on Russian interference.

Ingesting this information was the domain of Team R, and Jeannie had quickly gotten to work untangling and synthesizing the facts. A few weeks after I arrived, I asked attorneys in the National Security Division of the Department of Justice to give me the same briefing they had given Jeannie, so I could familiarize myself with the investigation they’d been conducting into Russian hacking.

The meeting was in a SCIF at Justice’s imposing art deco headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.

[snip]

Because my debriefing with the National Security Division involved classified information, I cannot discuss its content substantively here. It took a couple of hours, as a team of NSD lawyers graciously walked me through what they had been up to and answered all my questions. As soon as I got back to our offices, however, I made a beeline to Jeannie’s office and immediately asked her: “What the fuck?”

“I know,” she said. She didn’t need me to finish my thought.

We had both been shocked by something we’d heard in our briefings—but it was less the substance of the Justice Department’s investigation than its approach. Jeannie knew that she was going to inherit some evidence that Russia had hacked the DNC and DCCC emails, but she was astonished that the National Security Division was not examining what the Russians had done with the emails and other documents they’d stolen from those servers—how the release of that information was weaponized by targeted release, and whether the Russians had any American accomplices. More alarmingly, the Department was not apparently looking beyond the hacking at all, to examine whether there had been other Russian efforts to disrupt the election. It was staggering to us that the Justice Department’s investigation was so narrowly circumscribed. Election interference by a foreign power was, inarguably, a national security issue; we expected the National Security Division to undertake a comprehensive investigation. Once again, Jeannie and I were left to speculate as to whether this lapse was the result of incompetence, political interference, fear of turning up answers that the Department’s political leaders would not like, or all of the above. The Intelligence Community’s investigation had assessed that Russia was behind the hacking, but remained seemingly incurious as to everything else. “The rest is going to be up to us,” Jeannie explained. [my emphasis]

As Weissmann describes, Aaron Zebley narrowly focused the Mueller investigation, at first, to leave out any investigation into how Russia had weaponized the releases against Hillary.

But Mueller’s deputy, Aaron Zebley, argued that it was not actually within our remit to look at Russian interference. This defied all logic; the special counsel’s appointment order, signed by Rod Rosenstein, had made clear that we had the authority to investigate these matters. Indeed, it was the first responsibility the order assigned us: “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” But Aaron insisted it was out of bounds and instructed Jeannie to focus Team R’s investigatory energy only on the question of whether there were “links and coordination” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign—the other central duty spelled out in our appointment order.

[snip]

Mueller, meanwhile, signed off on Aaron’s directive for his own set of reasons. Even if Aaron’s logic did not make sense, walling our office off from that larger inquiry into Russian interference spoke to Mueller’s perpetual concern about spreading our resources too thin and his impulse to keep the overall investigation moving quickly. Mueller felt we had too much else to do.

Jeannie was convinced this was wrongheaded: The issue was too important not to undertake ourselves and too central to our remit. She knew that the Department, left to its own devices, was not going to get the job done—with the president publicly expressing antipathy toward substantiating Russian election interference, investigators were not going to get the support for this endeavor—nor would they view digging into this issue as a career enhancer. Mueller and Aaron conceded that if we found Russian links to the campaign, then perhaps Team R could begin to branch out and examine the wider Russian interference effort. Otherwise, Big Bu—the FBI—could handle the interference investigation for now, and simply keep us updated.

Mueller’s thinking had logical force only if you believed the Department would run with the ball—something Jeannie, Omer, and I knew was not going to happen. It was hard to think otherwise: The very reason for appointing a special counsel was because of the conflict the Department of Justice had—it was headed by people selected by the White House and had a conflict in investigating whether the White House coordinated with Russians in the 2016 election. That did not mean there was also a conflict in the Justice Department’s investigating whether and how Russia interfered with the 2016 election, as that investigation should in normal times be a bipartisan effort. One would think any administration would be incentivized to investigate foreign election interference. Except, it turned out, this one. Jeannie knew that if her team did not do it, it was simply not going to happen.

Nevertheless, Aaron told Jeannie to find an appropriate team at the FBI and ship off this part of the investigation. Though Jeannie and her team of attorneys and agents disagreed, they followed orders. She spent the next six weeks, in the late summer and early fall of 2017, trying to interest various squads at the Bureau in taking up the task. No one there wanted to touch it; it was too hot politically, with zero margin for error. Plus, it would be an arduous investigation, requiring a team with both criminal and cyber expertise to roll up its sleeves. (“No cases, no problems,” Omer and I thought.)

In the meantime, she and Lawrence Rush Atkinson, an intrepid young colleague of mine from the Fraud Section who now worked on Team R, and who had cyber expertise, worked late at night, after their other work was done, to keep this part of the investigation moving forward as Jeannie shopped the investigation to people at the Big Bu. She hoped to put herself in a position to reargue Team R’s case to Mueller as more facts emerged.

The book would go on to explain that Facebook’s briefing on the Internet Research Agency trolls gave Rhee the opening to incorporate the Russian interference into the investigation.

As the Mueller Report tells it, Lewandowski never delivered his message to Jeff Sessions.

But as the public record appears, the message got delivered.

Sidney Powell Switches Her FARA Villain Mid-Stream

In a still pending motion to withdraw Mike Flynn’s guilty plea submitted in January, Sidney Powell told this story about how the baddies in DOJ’s FARA unit — led by David Laufman — entrapped the General in lies.

I’ve linked to the exhibits where Powell claims her arguments are supported, though in places, they show the opposite — for example, Flynn lying to his lawyers claiming that he came up with the idea to write the op-ed himself — and in at least one case, the page Powell cites doesn’t exist.

The next day—Mr. Flynn’s first day out of the White House, with media camped around his house 24/7—Rob Kelner and Brian Smith of Covington, and Kristen Verderame, called Mr. Flynn to give him a status update on the FARA issues. Mr. Flynn accepted their recommendation that it was better to file, and he instructed the lawyers to “be precise.”11

On February 21, 2017, David Laufman, Heather Hunt, Tim Pugh, and multiple others from the FARA Unit telephone-conferenced with Covington. Ex. 8. Laufman directed the content, scope, and duration of the call. In this lengthy conversation, Kelner exacerbated his prior mistake, stating that “Flynn wrote [the op-ed],” and that Mr. Rafiekian, Mr. Flynn’s former business partner, provided “input.” Ex. 8 at 2. Kelner apparently misremembered or misspoke, but the SCO parlayed the description in the FARA form into a felony attributable to Mr. Flynn. Meanwhile, Covington—instead of owning any error and correcting it—began a campaign of obfuscation that deepened the conflicts, created Mr. Flynn’s criminal exposure, and led to repeated instances of ineffective assistance of counsel.12

That evening, Heather Hunt requested a meeting the next day at Covington’s offices to review the draft FARA filing in person. She and several others from the FARA unit, arrived and reviewed the FARA draft and discussed logistics. Mr. Smith made notes of matters to include in the filing, such as the New York meeting with Turkish officials, payments to Inovo, specifics of the Sphere contract, and Sphere’s budget (if established). The team noted that if Turkey was involved, it must be listed on the filing, and they created various reminders. Finally, Ms. Hunt reminded the Covington team to file by email and send a check to cover filing fees by a courier. 13 Ex. 9.

Covington filed the forms on March 7, 2017. Hunt acknowledged receipt at 10:50 p.m., prompting Smith to remark to his colleagues, “They are working late at the FARA Unit.” Ex.12.

Hardly had the FARA registration been uploaded on the FARA website when the onslaught of subpoenas began.14 On May 17, 2017, Special Counsel was appointed, and the much-massaged “final” Flynn 302 was reentered for use by the SCO. Soon thereafter, the SCO issued a search warrant for all Flynn’s electronic devices. Meanwhile, Covington’s August 14, 2017, invoice alone was $726,000, having written off 10% of its actual time. Ex. 13 at 3.

11 Ex. 7: Smith Notes of 2/14/17 call.

12 Covington lawyer Brian Smith’s notes of January 2, 2017, and reconfirmed in his 302 of June 21, 2018, show that Mr. Flynn stated Rafiekian wrote the first draft. ECF No. 151-12 at 17. ECF No. 150-5 at 7. Rafiekian told Covington this also, and the emails confirmed it. Ex. 10.

13 On March 3, 2017, Kelner emailed Hunt to tell her “we are not quite ready to file, but close.” Hunt wanted more detail and demanded to know, “close as in later today, or close as in next week?” Kelner responded, Tuesday, March 7, 2017. Ex. 11.

14 Covington received multiple subpoenas from the DOJ FARA unit, as well as subpoenas from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and then Special Counsel Office. In response to these subpoenas, Covington provided many thousands of documents in sixteen productions from April 2017 through October 2017 alone, and Mr. Flynn’s legal fees exceeded two million dollars.

Powell is shading here, covering up the fact that Flynn told Covington & Burling he was writing his Fethullah Gulen op-ed to benefit the Trump campaign rather than entirely for the benefit of clients he knew to be Turkish government ministers. The claim by itself demonstrates how Powell provides evidence that her client lied, even while wailing about unfair prosecution.

But for my purposes, I’m primarily interested in the villains of this story: Flynn’s Covington lawyers who repeated Flynn’s lies, FARA Unit lawyer Heather Hunt who promptly confirmed receipt of a filing, and David Laufman.

Laufman, then Chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at DOJ, was an early villain in the evolving conspiracies about the investigation into Trump and his flunkies, even while he is the hero of the Trump flunky’s complaints that Jim Comey didn’t let Julian Assange extort the US government with Vault 7 files.

I raise all this because I’m trying to determine whether the other two documents that Jeffrey Jensen’s team decided to date (notes from an ODAG meeting that Jensen purports took place on March 6, 2017 and notes from a meeting involving Bruce Swartz that Jensen purports took place on March 28, 2017) have affirmatively incorrect dates. Here are the notes “inadvertently” dated March 28:

In her filing accompanying the latter, Powell ignores that the notes show that Jeff Sessions asked two Turkish ministers what Flynn had been doing for them in an engagement that — Flynn’s official filing submitted on March 7, 2017 claimed — he wasn’t actually sure whether he had been working for Turkey. Rather than puzzling through why the Turkish foreign ministers would know the answer to that if Flynn was instead working for Ekim Alptekin, Powell instead complains that on March 28, 2017, Swartz “decided” to subpoena Flynn’s company even though (she claims) he had just been told that Flynn had satisfied the registration obligation.

Newly produced notes of Peter Strzok show: Strzok met with Bruce Schwartz, Lisa, and George at DOJ on March 28, 2017, where he noted Flynn Intel Group “satisfied the registration obligation” and “no evidence of any willfulness.” Nonetheless, “Bruce” decided to issue subpoenas to Flynn Intel Group “and more.” Exhibits C, D.

Whereas Laufman had been her villain, now Bruce Swartz is.

The thing is, that claim seems to be inconsistent with what her star witness, pro-Trump FBI Agent Bill Barnett, had to say in his interview with Jensen’s team (though since they’ve redacted Brandon Van Grack’s name it’s hard to tell). He seems to have said the Turkish case “was far stronger than the [Russian] investigation, in that there was specific information that could be investigated. BARNETT was working closely with [Van Grack]. BARNETT had worked with VAN GRACK on other matters.

In any case, the actual subpoena shows that it didn’t happen in March (as the purported date might suggest) but instead on April 5, a week later. And it wasn’t Swartz who filed it, nor even Van Grack, but EDVA AUSA William Sloan.

That doesn’t mean the date that Jensen’s team “inadvertently” applied to Strzok’s notes is wrong. It certainly may have taken a week to put together the subpoena.

But it does show that Powell’s current story doesn’t cohere with her past (still-pending) one.

DOJ Decides Leaked, Inaccurate DOJ IG Materials Are Awful

The NYT has a story–on which Michael Shear, who is home in quarantine with his spouse after catching COVID in the White House’s superspreader cluster, has the lead byline–on DOJ’s complicit role in separating children from their parents.

It describes how five border-state US Attorneys tried to avoid imposing the draconian policies masterminded by Stephen Miller (who, like Shear, got infected in Trump’s super-spreader event). But those US Attorneys were overruled by Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein. Those findings appear in a draft DOJ IG Report, which has been sent to DOJ for comment, but not yet published.

The five U.S. attorneys along the border with Mexico, including three appointed by President Trump, recoiled in May 2018 against an order to prosecute all undocumented immigrants even if it meant separating children from their parents. They told top Justice Department officials they were “deeply concerned” about the children’s welfare.

But the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, made it clear what Mr. Trump wanted on a conference call later that afternoon, according to a two-year inquiry by the Justice Department’s inspector general into Mr. Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy.

“We need to take away children,” Mr. Sessions told the prosecutors, according to participants’ notes. One added in shorthand: “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”

Rod J. Rosenstein, then the deputy attorney general, went even further in a second call about a week later, telling the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.

Passages of the report citing John Bash, who recently resigned his position as US Attorney for WD TX only to be replaced by a Billy Barr flunky, are quoted twice.

“Those two cases should not have been declined,” John Bash, the departing U.S. attorney in western Texas, wrote to his staff immediately after the call. Mr. Bash had declined the cases, but Mr. Rosenstein “instructed that, per the A.G.’s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child.”

[snip]

In a briefing two days after Christmas in 2017, top Justice Department officials asked Mr. Bash for statistics from the pilot program, conducted by his predecessor, that could be used to develop “nationwide prosecution guidelines.” Mr. Bash, a former White House adviser, did not receive a follow-up request for the information. Thinking that the idea had been abandoned, he did not provide it.

And there’s at least one other prosecutor quoted — revealing that the no-tolerance policy targeting children let some far more serious criminals go free — who could be him.

Border Patrol officers missed serious felony cases because they were stretched too thin by the zero-tolerance policy requiring them to detain and prosecute all of the misdemeanor illegal entry cases. One Texas prosecutor warned top Justice Department officials in 2018 that “sex offenders were released” as a result.

The article itself is based off a draft copy of the report and interviews with three anonymous officials.

This article is based on a review of the 86-page draft report and interviews with three government officials who read it in recent months and described its conclusions and many of the details in it.

Bash should not have had access to this entire report to review his own role in it. Past practice would have suggested he get just those passages that pertain to him directly (though this report appears to cover his time both at Main DOJ and as a US Attorney). But he would have access to the passages that quote him directly.

The article is most amusing, however, for the response from DOJ, which complains about an inaccurate DOJ IG Report and improper leaks.

Alexa Vance, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, disputed the draft report and said the Homeland Security Department referred cases for prosecution.

“The draft report relied on for this article contains numerous factual errors and inaccuracies,” she said. “While D.O.J. is responsible for the prosecutions of defendants, it had no role in tracking or providing custodial care to the children of defendants. Finally, both the timing and misleading content of this leak raise troubling questions about the motivations of those responsible for it.”

As I have laid out, the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page has numerous factual errors, just some of which they’ve corrected. The central complaint in the parallel Lisa Page and Peter Strzok Privacy Act lawsuits about the release of their texts is that those were released improperly, both as to timing and legality, and led to misleading interpretations of what the texts mean. Both of those lawsuits implicate a sworn declaration made by Rod Rosenstein (who is badly implicated by this report and who issued a statement to the NYT, suggesting he could be one of the anonymous sources as well). The Rosenstein statement in the Page and Strzok lawsuits will test how credible his claims are about his own actions in response to illegal requests from the President.

In other words, the entire article is thick with irony and revenge. And it will surely focus more scrutiny on the denials that DOJ issues once it is released after the election.

But none of that helps the infants who got separated from their parents.

Sidney Powell Accuses William Barnett of Committing “Outrageous, Deliberate Misconduct” and Kenneth Kohl Hides Evidence that Brandon Van Grack Did Not

I want to pause for a moment and look at the maneuvers that Billy Barr pulled last night to try to substantiate a reason to blow up the Mike Flynn case.

First, on Wednesday, the less crazy attorneys on Mike Flynn’s team, William Hodes and Lindsay McKesson, moved to withdraw. It’s an awfully weird time for lawyers to withdraw from a case, unless they’re trying to leave town before the shit starts hitting the fan.

Unless I’m missing something, Sullivan has not approved their motion.

Then, last night, Sidney Powell submitted a memo with a bunch of exhibits, every single one of which have Bates stamps reflecting these are SCO documents:

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

Exhibit D:

Exhibit E:

That means that Mueller team members involved in Flynn’s case would have had access to these documents.

In her memo, Powell argues that the exhibits “establish[] misconduct” and are proof of Brady violations. She emphasizes that these documents were “long concealed by the Special Counsel and FBI.”

On May 7, 2020, the Government moved to dismiss with prejudice the prosecution of General Flynn. ECF No. 198. Until this case is dismissed with prejudice, the Government has a continuing obligation to provide to the defense all evidence that is exculpatory of General Flynn, establishes misconduct by the Government in its many capacities that contributed to this wrongful prosecution, or otherwise is favorable to the defense. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The defense has a continuing obligation to make a record that mandates this dismissal— especially in view of this court’s unprecedented procedures and position.

[snip]

These documents provide information long known to the agents and others at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI; information long concealed by the Special Counsel and FBI. This evidence shows outrageous, deliberate misconduct by FBI and DOJ—playing games with the life of a national hero.

Then, later in the night, DOJ released a 302 memorializing a recent interview with William Barnett which I showed  was a self-contradictory shitshow. In the accompanying memo, Kenneth Kohl, Acting Principal Assistant US Attorney in DC, noted that Barnett, “handled the counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Flynn, and was thereafter assigned to the Special Counsel’s Office.”

Pursuant to that continuing review, an interview was recently conducted of the former case agent, SA William Barnett, who handled the counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Flynn, and was thereafter assigned to the Special Counsel’s Office investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Which is to say that yesterday, Sidney Powell submitted a brief arguing that William Barnett — her new star witness — engaged in “outrageous, deliberate misconduct,” and then later in the day, DOJ submitted a contradiction-riddled interview with that Agent that Powell had earlier accused of engaging in “outrageous, deliberate misconduct.”

Things get stranger.

In her filing, Powell claims that she has included Exhibits D and C as proof that Flynn satisfied the registration obligation.

Newly produced notes of Peter Strzok show: Strzok met with Bruce Schwartz, Lisa, and George at DOJ on March 28, 2017, where he noted Flynn Intel Group “satisfied the registration obligation” and “no evidence of any willfulness.” Nonetheless, “Bruce” decided to issue subpoenas to Flynn Intel Group “and more.” Exhibits C, D.

Exhibit D seems to show something dramatically different. It seems to show that the AG (that is, Jeff Sessions) met with Turkish Ministers and tried to vouch for Flynn about the secret work that Turkey was doing.

It seems odd to go to the guys who were hoping to keep their relationship with Flynn secret to ask them whether it was secret. Moreover, if they’re the ones vouching for it — and not Flynn’s cut-out, Ekim Alptekin — it would seem to suggest Flynn was working for Turkey, which is what he testified to under oath but not what he wrote on his delayed FARA filing. If so, this doesn’t help Flynn at all. It only serves to hurt him.

Things get stranger still.

Contrary to Powell’s claim, Exhibit C has nothing to do with Turkey. Instead, it’s a set of Peter Strzok’s notes from Jim Comey’s debrief of a meeting at the White House on January 5, 2017.

 

We’ve seen these notes before. They are a copy of notes submitted in June (which also have a — different — SCO Bates stamp on them, indicating that Barnett, the man Powell has accused of “outrageous, deliberate misconduct,” had access to those too).

 

The primary difference, aside from DOJ’s decision to newly release notes indicating that President Obama said to put the right people on this, is that the version submitted last night, the version that Powell claims to be about a March 28, 2017 meeting on Turkey is dated, “1/4-5/17.”

When Powell submitted the notes in June, she said they were proof that Vice President Biden “personally raised the idea of the Logan Act.”

Strzok’s notes believed to be of January 4, 2017, reveal that former President Obama, James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and apparently Susan Rice discussed the transcripts of Flynn’s calls and how to proceed against him. Mr. Obama himself directed that “the right people” investigate General Flynn. This caused former FBI Director Comey to acknowledge the obvious: General Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak “appear legit.” According to Strzok’s notes, it appears that Vice President Biden personally raised the idea of the Logan Act.

I noted then that there was no question about date the notes were written, because they obviously describe a meeting that multiple documents (including one that has been public since February 2018, long before Flynn allocuted his guilt a second time) make clear happened on January 5, 2017. Nevertheless, Powell claimed (and set off a predictable resulting frenzy, which was probably the point) that they were proof that Biden had it in for Mike Flynn.

Now, normally, when you make an accusation to a court that later gets debunked, you make a filing with the court admitting you were wrong. In this case, Powell would have also had to admit that anyone who believed these notes were from January 3 — as Jeffrey Jensen had suggested they might be — provably knew fuckall about what he was looking at.

But if Powell were to do that, she’d be admitting that Jensen doesn’t know fuckall about what he is investigating on the same day she accused Barnett to have engaged in “outrageous, deliberate misconduct.” So instead, Powell just slipped the exhibit in with her filing without calling attention to her prior false claims.

But wait. Things get still stranger.

Finally, Kohl submitted the 302 with redactions of the name of an “SCO Atty 1.” Now, it has been the standing rule in DOJ that the AUSAs who worked for Mueller are public. That way Trump can rant about their political leanings at rallies.

Last night, for the first time ever, DOJ has decided that these attorneys are not senior enough to have their names released.

Several of those redactions of “SCO Atty 1’s” name, however, make it clear that the person has a two part last name, one that wraps at the end of a line.

Just one of Mueller’s attorneys has such a name (Adam Jed is the only one whose last name is short enough to fit in the first part of those redactions). That attorney is Brandon Van Grack. Indeed, the 302 from an interview that Barnett discussed in his interview makes it clear that Van Grack was the one Barnett is working with. So along with submitting proof that Barnett engaged in “outrageous, deliberate misconduct” as well as providing proof that Jensen led others to make a material misrepresentation to Emmet Sullivan, Kohl just submitted proof that Van Grack routinely took the side of Barnett. And that he, Kohl, was hiding that.

Call me crazy, but John Gleeson can just look at yesterday’s filings to show that Sidney Powell and Kenneth Kohl are accusing each other and Jeffrey Jensen of misconduct, at the same time that they’re hiding evidence that Van Grack did not engage in misconduct. That’s the the kind of misconduct that Emmet Sullivan might use to justify refusing to dismiss the prosecution.

Update: It’s not really clear whether the Bates reflects documents obtained by SCO or those investigating SCO. If it’s the latter, it raises real questions about whether Strzok’s notes are one or two copies.

The Minh Quang Pham Precedent to the Julian Assange Extradition

WikiLeaks supporters say that extradition of Julian Assange to the United States threatens journalism. That is true.

They also say that his extradition would be unprecedented. I believe that’s true too, with respect to the Espionage Act.

But it’s not entirely without precedent. I believe the case of Minh Quang Pham, who was extradited to the US in 2015 for activities related to AQAP — the most substantive of which involve providing his graphic design expertise for two releases of AQAP’s magazine, Inspire — provides a precedent that might crystalize some of the legal issues at play.

The Minh Quang Pham case

Minh Quang Pham was born in 1983 in Vietnam. He and his parents emigrated to the UK in 1989 and got asylum. In 1995, he got UK citizenship. He partied a lot, at a young age, until his conversion to Islam in 2004, after which he was drawn to further Islamic study and ultimately to Anwar al-Awlaki’s propaganda. Pham was married in 2010 but then, at the end of that year, traveled to Yemen. After some delays, he connected with AQAP and swore bayat in early 2011. While he claimed not to engage in serious training, testimony from high level AQAP/al-Shabaab operative Ahmed Warsame, who — after a two month interrogation by non-law enforcement personnel on a ship — got witness protection for himself and his family in exchange for cooperation, described seeing Pham holding a gun, forming one basis for his firearms and terrorist training charges (though the government also relied on a photo taken with Pham’s own camera).

On my arrival, Amin had a Kalashnikov with him and a pouch of ammunition. I am not certain if he had purchased the gun himself but he did say he had been trained by Abu Anais TAIS on how to use it, I can say from my knowledge of firearms that this weapon was capable of automatic and single fire.

Warsame’s role as informant not only raised questions about the proportionality of US treatment (he was a leader of al-Shabaab, and yet may get witness protection), but also whether his 2-month floating interrogation met European human rights standards for interrogation.

Pham reportedly sucked at anything military, and by all descriptions, the bulk of what Pham did in Yemen involved helping Samir Khan produce Inspire. After some time and a falling out with Khan — and after telling Anwar al-Awlaki he would accept a mission to bomb Heathrow — he returned to the UK. He was interrogated in Bahrain and at the airport on return, and again on arrival back home, then lived in London for six months before his arrest. At first, then-Home Secretary Theresa May tried to strip him of his UK citizenship in a secret proceeding so he could be deported (and possibly drone killed like other UK immigrants), but since — as a refugee — he no longer had Vietnamese citizenship, her first attempt failed.

The moment it became clear the British effort to strip him of citizenship would fail, the US indicted Pham in SDNY on Material Support (covering the graphic design work), training with a foreign terrorist organization, and carrying a firearm. Even before he ultimately did get stripped of his citizenship, he was flown to the US, in February 2015. The FBI questioned him, with no lawyer, during four days of interviews that were not recorded (in spite of a recently instituted FBI requirement that all custodial interviews be recorded). On day four, he admitted that Anwar al-Awlaki had ordered him to conduct an attack on Heathrow (which made the 302), but claimed he had made it clear he only did so as an excuse to be able to leave and return to the UK (a claim that didn’t make the 302; here’s Pham’s own statement which claims he didn’t want to carry out an attack). While Pham willingly pled guilty to the training and arms charges, at sentencing, the government and defense disputed whether Pham really planned to conduct a terrorist attack in the UK, or whether he had — as he claimed — renounced AQAP and resumed normal life with his wife. He failed to convince the judge and got a 40 year sentence.

The question of whether Pham really did plan to attack Heathrow may all be aired publicly given that — after Pham tried to get a recent SCOTUS case on weapon possession enhancements applied to his case — the government has stated that it wants to try Pham on the original charges along with one for the terrorist attack they claim Pham planned based on subsequently collected evidence.

The parallels between the Assange and Pham cases

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that Assange is a terrorist (though if the US government tries him, they will write at length describing about the damage he did, and it’ll amount to more than Pham did). I’m arguing, however, that the US has already gotten extradition of someone who, at the time of his extradition, claimed to have injured the US primarily through his media skills (and claimed to have subsequently recanted his commitment to AQAP).

Consider the similarities:

  • Both legal accusations involve suspect informants (Ahmad Warsame in Pham’s case, and Siggi and Sabu in Assange’s)
  • Both Pham and Assange were charged for speech — publishing Inspire and publishing the names of US and Coalition informants — that is more explicitly prohibited in the UK than the US
  • Both got charged with a substantive crime — terrorism training and possession of a gun in the case of Pham, and hacking in the case of Assange — in addition to speech-based crimes, charges that would (and did, in Pham’s case) greatly enhance any sentence on the speech-related charges
  • Pham got sentenced and Assange faces a sentence and imprisonment in SuperMax in the US that is far more draconian than a sentence for the same crimes would be in the UK, which is probably a big part of the shared Anglo-American interest in extraditing them from the UK
  • Whatever you think about the irregularity and undue secrecy of the Assange extradition, Pham’s extradition was far worse, particularly considering the way Theresa May was treating his UK citizenship

Unlike the Pham charges — all premised on Pham’s willing ties to a Foreign Terrorist Organization, AQAP — the US government has not included allegations that it believes Julian Assange conspired with Russia, though prosecutors involved in his case trying unsuccessfully to coerce Jeremy Hammond’s testimony reportedly told Hammond they believe him to be a Russian spy, and multiple other reports describe that the government changed its understanding of WikiLeaks as it investigated the 2016 election interference (and, probably, the Vault 7 release). Even if it’s true and even if they plan to air the basis for their belief, that’s a claimed intelligence tie, not a terrorism one.

This distinction is important. Holder v. Humanitarian Law clearly criminalizes First Amendment protected activity if done in service of a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, so Pham’s graphic design by itself made him fair game for charges under US precedent.

The government may be moving to make a similar exception for foreign intelligence assets. As the Congressional Research Service notes, if the government believes Assange to be a Foreign Agent of Russia, it may mean the Attorney General (Jeff Sessions for the original charge, and Bill Barr for all the indictments) deemed guidelines prohibiting the arrest of members of the media not to apply.

The news media policy also provides that it does not apply when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is a foreign power, agent of a foreign power, or is aiding, abetting, or conspiring in illegal activities with a foreign power or its agent. The U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russian state-controlled actors coordinated with Wikileaks in 2016 may have implicated this exclusion and other portions of the news media policy, although that conduct occurred years after the events for which Assange was indicted. The fact that Ecuador conferred diplomatic status on Assange, and that this diplomatic status was in place at the time DOJ filed its criminal complaint, may also have been relevant. Finally, even if the Attorney General concluded that the news media policy applied to Assange, the Attorney General may have decided that intervening events since the end of the Obama Administration shifted the balance of interests to favor prosecution. Whether the Attorney General or DOJ will publicly describe the impact of the news media policy is unclear.

There’s a filing from the prosecutor in the case, Gordon Kromberg, that seems to address the First Amendment in more aggressive terms than Mike Pompeo’s previous statement on the topic.But it may rely, as the terrorism precedent does, on a national security exception (one even more dangerous given the absence of any State Department FTO list, but that hardly makes a difference for a foreigner like Pham).

Ultimately, though, the Assange extradition, like the Pham prosecution, is an instance where the UK is willing to let the US serve as its willing life imprisoner to take immigrants to the UK off its hands. Assange’s extradition builds off past practice, and Pham’s case is a directly relevant precedent.

The human rights case for Julian Assange comes at an awkward time

While human rights lawyers fought hard, at times under a strict gag, on Pham’s immigration case, Assange’s extradition has focused more public attention to UK’s willingness to serve up people to America’s draconian judicial system.

Last Thursday, Paul Arnell wrote a thoughtful piece about the challenge Assange will face to beat this extradition request, concluding that Assange’s extradition might (or might have, in different times) demonstrate that UK extradition law has traded subverted cooperation to a defendant’s protection too far.

We need to reappraise the balance between the conflicting functions of UK extradition law.

Among the UK’s most powerful weapons are its adherence to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Assange’s extradition arguably challenges those fundamental principles. His case could well add to the evidence that the co-operative versus protective pendulum has swung too far.

He describes how legal challenges probably won’t work, but an appeal to human rights might.

British extradition law presumptively favours rendition. Extradition treaties are concluded to address transnational criminality. They provide that transfer will occur unless certain requirements are met. The co-operative purpose of extradition more often than not trumps the protection of the requested person.

The protective purpose of extradition is served by grounds that bar a request if they are satisfied. Those particularly applicable in Assange’s case are double criminality, human rights and oppression.

There are several offenses within the Official Secrets Acts 1911/1989 and the Computer Misuse Act 1990 that seemingly correspond to those in the US request. However, human rights arguments offer Assange hope.

Three are relevant: to be free from inhuman and degrading punishment, fair trial rights and freedom of expression. Previous decisions have held that life-terms in supermaximum-security prisons do not contravene the “punishment” provision, while the right to freedom of expression as a bar to extradition is untested.

Assange’s best prospect is possibly the oppression bar. Under it, a request can be refused on grounds of mental or physical health and the passage of time. To be satisfied, however, grievous ill health or an extraordinary delay are required.

It’s a good point, and maybe should have been raised after some of the terrorism extraditions, like Pham’s. But it may be outdated.

As I noted, Arnell’s column, titled, “Assange’s extradition would undermine the rule of law,” came out on Thursday. Throughout the same week that he made those very thoughtful points, of course, the UK publicly disavowed the rule of law generally and international law specifically in Boris Johnson’s latest effort to find a way to implement Brexit with no limits on how the UK deals with Northern Ireland.

The highlight – something so extraordinary and constitutionally spectacular that its implications are still sinking in – was a cabinet minister telling the House of Commons that the government of the United Kingdom was deliberately intending to break the law.

This was not a slip of the tongue.

Nor was it a rattle of a sabre, some insincere appeal to some political or media constituency.

No: law-breaking was now a considered government policy.

[snip]

[T]he government published a Bill which explicitly provides for a power for ministers to make regulations that would breach international and domestic law.

[snip]

Draft legislation also does not appear from nowhere, and a published Bill is itself the result of a detailed and lengthy internal process, before it is ever presented to Parliament.

This proposal has been a long time in the making.

We all only got to know about it this week.

[snip]

No other country will take the United Kingdom seriously in any international agreements again.

No other country will care if the United Kingdom ever avers that international laws are breached.

One of the new disclosures in a bunch of Roger Stone warrants released earlier this year is that, in one of the first Dms between the persona Guccifer 2.0, the WikiLeaks Twitter account explained, “we’ve been busy celebrating Brexit.” That same Brexit makes any bid for a human rights argument agains extradition outdated.

Julian Assange’s First Witness, Journalism Professor Mark Feldstein, Professes to Be Unfamiliar with the Public Record on Assange

The first day of the Julian Assange extradition hearing was a predictable circus.

Assange’s lawyers tried two legal tactics.

First, they tried to get parts of the second superseding indictment excluded from the proceedings. They claimed they hadn’t had time to review it with Assange. While I’m sympathetic to the difficulties imposed by Assange’s imprisonment amid COVID measures, WikiLeaks supporters have at the same time been (correctly) complaining that the documents on which the new allegations are based have been public for some time.

In any case, it didn’t work. Judge Vanessa Baraister said that she had offered Assange the opportunity to raise this complaint in the last hearing.

Judge Baraister similarly rejected a bid to delay the hearing until January (not incidentally the period when, if a Trump pardon for Assange would be forthcoming, it would take place), on largely the same basis.

Next, Professor Mark Feldstein — a journalism professor at University of Maryland — tried to present his testimony. Technical problems forced Baraister to delay proceedings until tomorrow.

That has left the public with copies of Feldstein’s prepared testimony and a supplement before he has the opportunity to present it and lawyers for the US to grill him in response. That may be unfortunate, because Feldstein’s original testimony has some key errors and omissions, and in his supplement he professes a lack of familiarity with the public record in this case.

Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly agree with large swaths of Professor Feldstein’s testimony. Donald Trump has waged unprecedented attacks on members of the news media, both verbally and through policy. I agree, too, that the First Amendment is not limited to journalists, and that political advocacy like Assange’s has a storied place in the history of journalism. I agree that some of the stories based off Chelsea Manning’s leaks were blockbusters (Feldstein predictably starts by listing Collateral Murder, which is not charged, and his effort to include all the files that were charged strays much further from the ones that have been most important.) His history of classified leaks is useful, though in some places he seems to misunderstand what was new and what wasn’t revealed until the release of declassified documents. His statement speaks at length about the dire problem with overclassification (though in one case, he cites a John McCain accusation about Obama’s motive for leaking as fact, a claim that hasn’t held up to subsequent events; he later cites McCain as a classification villain). I even agree with some, though not all, of his analysis of how the charges against WikiLeaks threaten normal journalistic activities like soliciting, receiving, and publishing documents, and protecting confidential sources. (Feldstein never goes so far as to defend helping a source hack something.) His testimony is valuable for the background on journalism it offers.

But Feldstein’s account of how the Assange prosecution arose out of Donald Trump’s election — which occurred with Assange’s help!!! — not only invents claims he doesn’t support, but makes several telling errors in citation.

Donald Trump’s election changed the calculus. The month after his inauguration, the president met with FBI director James Comey and brought up the issue of plugging leaks. Comey suggested “putting a head on a pike as a message” and Trump recommended “putting reporters in jail.”83 Three days later, he instructed his attorney general to investigate “criminal leaks” of “fake” news reports that had embarrassed the White House.84 According to press accounts, the new administration soon “unleashed an aggressive campaign” against Assange. CIA director Mike Pompeo publicly attacked WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service” that uses the First Amendment to “shield” himself from “justice.” In private, he briefed members of Congress on a bold counterintelligence operation the agency was conducting that included the possible use of informants, penetrating overseas computers, and even trying to directly “disrupt” WiliLeaks, a move that made some lawmakers uncomfortable.85 A week later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference that journalists “cannot place lives at risk with impunity,” that prosecuting Assange was a “priority” for the new administration, and that if “a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” 86 The new leaders at the Justice Department dismissed their predecessors’ interpretation that Assange was legally indistinguishable from a journalist and reportedly began “pressuring” their prosecutors to outline an array of potential criminal charges against him, including espionage. Once again, career professionals were said to be “skeptical” because of the First Amendment issues involved and a “vigorous debate” ensued. 87 Two prosecutors involved in the case, James Trump and Daniel Grooms, reportedly argued against charging Assange.88 But in April of 2019, Assange was arrested in London—even though “the Justice Department did not have significant evidence or facts beyond what the Obama-era officials had when they reviewed the case.”89

83 Abramson, “Comey’s wish for a leaker’s ‘head on a pike.’”

84 “Remarks by President Trump in Press Conference,” WH.gov (Feb. 16, 2017); Charlie Savage and Eric Lichtblau, “Trump Directs Justice Department to Investigate ‘Criminal Leaks,’” New York Times (Feb. 16, 2017); Barnes, et al, “How the Trump Administration Stepped up Pursuit of WikiLeaks’ Assange.”

85 CIA, “Director Pompeo Delivers Remarks at CSIS” (April 13, 2017): www.cia.gov/news-information/speechestestimony/2017-speeches-testimony/pompeo-delivers-remarks-at-csis.html.

86 “Sessions Delivers Remarks,” Justice.gov. [sic]

87 Matt Zapotosky and Ellen Nakashima, “Justice Department debating charges against WikiLeaks members,” Washington Post (April 20, 2017); Adam Goldman, “Justice Department Weighs Charges Against Julian Assange,” New York Times (April 20, 2017).

88 Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Rachel Weiner, “Some federal prosecutors disagreed with decision to charge Assange under Espionage Act,” Washington Post (May 24, 2019). 89 Barrett, et al, “Prosecutors Disagreed.”

The first citation (83) is to a 2018 story on Jim Comey’s memos memorializing conversations about leaks damaging to Trump, not WikiLeaks. The second (84) refers to an effort to go after those who damaged Trump. The next three sentences are attributed to Mike Pompeo’s designation of WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile actor in April 2017 (85), in the wake of the Vault 7 leaks, but two of those sentences (bolded) are not actually sourced to Pompeo’s comments, but instead to news accounts not specified in the relevant footnote. The next sentence combines what Jeff Sessions said on April 20, 2017 and what he said on August 4, 2017; perhaps Feldstein aims to cover that up by not including a date or a citation in the remarks in question (see footnote 86; Sessions’ April 20 comments don’t appear to be on the DOJ website), but suggesting Sessions’ August comments were about Assange is a move that WikiLeaks has made elsewhere. Importantly, Feldstein does not footnote one of the most widely cited reports of that April 20 speech, a CNN report that describes what changed, already in 2017, since DOJ had earlier decided not to prosecute Assange.

The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

[snip]

US intelligence agencies have also determined that Russian intelligence used WikiLeaks to publish emails aimed at undermining the campaign of Hillary Clinton, as part of a broader operation to meddle in the US 2016 presidential election. Hackers working for Russian intelligence agencies stole thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and officials in the Clinton campaign and used intermediaries to pass along the documents to WikiLeaks, according to a public assessment by US intelligence agencies.

That is, if Feldstein had reviewed the press coverage more broadly, he would have a ready explanation for why DOJ began to rethink its earlier decision not to charge Assange.

Assange’s own filing may attempt to cover for Feldstein’s citation inaccuracy, claiming that Feldstein cited that April WaPo story rather than ““Sessions Delivers Remarks,” Justice.gov”.

Then came the political statement of Attorney General Sessions on 20 April 2017 that the arrest of Julian Assange was now a priority and that ‘if a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail’ [Feldstein quoting Washington Post article of Ellen Nakashima, tab 18, p.19].

But even that April 20, 2017 WaPo article he claims to rely on doesn’t help him. In fact, it disputes Feldstein’s account of Trump’s animus towards WikiLeaks.

Trump has had a fluid relationship with WikiLeaks, depending largely on how the group’s actions benefited or harmed him. On the campaign trail, when WikiLeaks released Podesta’s hacked emails, Trump told a crowd in Pennsylvania, “I love WikiLeaks!” But when it came to the release of the CIA tools, he did not seem so pleased.

“In one case, you’re talking about highly classified information,” Trump said at a news conference earlier this year. “In the other case, you’re talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss.”

The actual words cited in part to the WaPo in Feldstein’s testimony (naming Ellen Nakashima, not Matt Zapotosky) don’t appear in the April story but in the NYT story cited. The rest relies on a [Devlin Barret and] Zapotosky story fairly obviously sourced to prosecutor James Trump, whom Zapotosky covered in the Jeffrey Sterling case and other EDVA cases but who — the story admits — wasn’t on the team anymore even when Assange was originally charged (presumably meaning December 2017 on just a CFAA charge that would accord with AUSA Trump’s concerns about an Espionage charge), and who would therefore have no visibility into what went into the May 2018 superseding indictment of Assange, much less the one on the table now.

In short, a key paragraph in Feldstein’s testimony, which is cited repeatedly in both Assange’s briefs on the case (one, two), is a scholarly shit-show.

And that’s before you consider the chronology of it, omitting as it does the Vault 7 leak which all the Assange-specific comments were responding to, which started on March 7, 2017.

That’s not the only problem with Feldstein’s citations. Feldstein also footnotes a claim that Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s National Security Division John Demers, “declared that ‘Julian Assange is no journalist’ and thus not protected under the free press clause of the US Constitution’s First Amendment” with a citation to news reports on the indictment, rather than the remarks as prepared rolling out the indictment. While the story from Charlie Savage that Feldstein cites responsibly quotes Demers in context, the full statement makes it clear that it’s not only not a comment directly about the First Amendment, but that Demers never mentions the First Amendment.

The Department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the Department’s policy to target them for their reporting.

Julian Assange is no journalist. This made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment—i.e., his conspiring with and assisting a security clearance holder to acquire classified information, and his publishing the names of human sources.

Indeed, no responsible actor—journalist or otherwise—would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in war zones, exposing them to the gravest of dangers.

This continues WikiLeaks’ longstanding effort to suggest the government has made First Amendment claims about Assange that obscure what they have actually said. (AUSA Gordon Kromberg does appear to have addressed the First Amendment in ways WikiLeaks has claimed that others have, but his affidavit is not yet public.)

While Kromberg’s testimony is not yet public, in one of the government’s filings made public today, the government hints at what Kromberg may have said at more length, noting that Feldstein only cites part of — but not the entirety — of a news report on Assange.

The principal evidence upon which the defence relies to demonstrate the existence of a such a decision is a newspaper article dated 25 November 2013 [Sari Horowitz, “Julian Assange is unlikely to face US Charges over publishing classified documents”, Washington Post]; Cited by Professor Feldstein at §9 page 18. 39.

Professor Feldstein omits important sections of the report upon which he relies to demonstrate a “decision” not to prosecute:

“The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top-secret military and diplomatic documents.

And:

“WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said last week that the anti-secrecy organization is skeptical “short of an open, official, formal confirmation that the U.S. government is not going to prosecute WikiLeaks.” Justice Department officials said it is unclear whether there will be a formal announcement should the grand jury investigation be formally closed”.

So, in response to Kromberg, Feldstein dug himself a very much deeper hole.

In a supplemental filing, Assange expert witness Mark Feldstein claimed and exhibited that he’s not familiar with the public record (though he cleaned up some of his prior citation errors). In it, he claimed the only way to know the truth about the Assange prosecution would be from leaks of grand jury or White House documents. “[T]he reporting I cited by the New York Times and Washington Post is to date the only public source of information about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to prosecute Assange,” he claimed in a filing submitted on July 5, 2020.

The government insists that the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange is not politically motivated. It dismisses my contrary conclusion—and that of other expert witnesses—by saying that we “primarily rely on a select number of news articles…and the hearsay within them.”

Indeed, my declaration relied on news accounts that the Obama administration decided not to prosecute Assange because of concerns that doing so would violate the First Amendment. 2 In particular, I cited comments that Matthew Miller, the former spokesman for the Obama Justice Department, made in an interview with the Washington Post: “The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists. And if you’re not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.” The Post reported that prosecutors called this the “New York Times problem”—that if they indicted Assange for publishing the documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, then they would also have to also indict the New York Times for doing the same.3

I also noted that the Trump administration decide to reject this interpretation and cited a New York Times report that its new appointees running the Justice Department began “pressuring” prosecutors to indict Assange, although two career prosecutors argued against doing so on First Amendment grounds. I also cited the article’s finding that “the Justice Department did not have significant evidence or facts beyond what the Obama-era officials had when they reviewed the case”4 and concluded that the decision to indict Assange was not an evidentiary decision but a political one.5

As the government knows, internal prosecutorial deliberations are not a matter of public record. White House and Justice Department documents that would shed further light on the political dimensions of the case—emails, internal memos, grand jury transcripts, and other records—are kept secret by the government. Thus, the reporting I cited by the New York Times and Washington Post is to date the only public source of information about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to prosecute Assange.

Like so much other questionable conduct by the Trump administration, revelations about the unorthodox nature of this prosecution came to light only because of the vigilance of a free and vigorous press.

1 Gordon D. Kromberg, “Declaration in Support of Assange Extradition,” US v. Assange (Jan. 17, 2020), ¶18-19, pp. 8- 9.

You have got to be fucking kidding me!!

I invite Professor Feldstein to assign his undergraduate journalism students with the task of trying to discover any Trump, White House, and National Security views about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange that might explain why DOJ decided not to prosecute in 2013 but did prosecute in 2017, 2019, and 2020.

His first year undergraduate students might note the proximity between the April 2017 Assange-related announcements (the Jeff Sessions of which he obscures with his dodgy citation) and the release of the Vault 7 files in March 2017, which burned the CIA hacking ability to the ground.

They also might point to Trump’s tweets celebrating WikiLeaks to suggest that while Trump might hate the traditional press, he spent most of the 2016 campaign celebrating WikiLeaks.

Feldstein’s second year undergraduate students might look to the obvious places — like the Mueller Report — for some views about how Trump ordered campaign staff to go chase down WikiLeaks’ releases. Not only do the descriptions completely undermine Feldstein’s claim that Trump treats WikiLeaks like he does traditional media outlets, but it shows that the Department of Justice conducted an extensive investigation implicating WikiLeaks after the 2013 Matthew Miller quote he relies on. Indeed, exceptional sophomores might note that a redaction error in the Mueller Report makes it clear that a Mueller prosecutorial decision about foreign donations pertains to WikiLeaks, a detail released in 2019 that James Trump would not have been privy to.

Junior year journalism students might refer to the Stone trial testimony to see what it said about Trump’s relationship with WikiLeaks. Really astute journalism students would note that Randy Credico testified that Donald Trump’s rat-fucker Roger Stone actually reached out to Randy Credico in an effort to broker a pardon for Assange.

Q. Had you put Mr. Stone directly in touch with Ms. Kunstler after the election?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And why had you done that?

A. Well, sometime after the election, he wanted me to contact Mrs. Kunstler. He called me up and said that he had spoken to Judge Napolitano about getting Julian Assange a pardon and needed to talk to Mrs. Kunstler about it. So I said, Okay. And I sat on it. And I told her–I told her–she didn’t act on it. And then, eventually, she did, and they had a conversation.

The same astute budding journalists might look at the trial record and discover how long those pardon discussions lasted — continuing well past the time Mike Pompeo and Jeff Sessions were discussing prosecuting journalists and/or Assange.

Senior journalism students might even tie that testimony to a question Robert Mueller asked — but didn’t really get an answer about — regarding whether Trump had considered an Assange pardon.

Donald Trump refused to answer a question under oath about whether he considered pardoning Julian Assange during the transition period between when WikiLeaks releases helped get him elected and his inauguration, something that makes it pretty clear the President treats WikiLeaks and Assange, which helped him get elected, differently than he does journalists who did not.

Professor Feldstein says he’d need a leak to discover that.

There’s a slew more that graduate students might discover but that Feldstein professed to be helpless to discover himself, such as the warrant that makes it clear Stone reached out to WikiLeaks lawyer Margaret Kunstler — to discuss an Assange pardon, WikiLeaks supporter Randy Credico testified to under oath — seven days after Trump got elected.

Or the other Stone warrant making it clear that after several of the media reports Feldstein relies on, Mueller’s team was just beginning to obtain warrants implicating Assange, in part for election-related crimes that have nothing to do with the Espionage Act. Or yet another that suggests DOJ was investigating WikiLeaks, in part, for conspiracy and Foreign Agent charges in August 2018.

Diligent journalism students — budding journalists not intimidated by redaction marks — might even look to the multiple SSCI Reports that address the government’s evolving understanding of WikiLeaks, particularly those that show how the many conflicting views in 2016 came to change to believe that WikiLeaks had been coopted by Russia.

Despite Moscow’s history of leaking politically damaging information, and the increasingly significant publication of illicitly obtained information by coopted third parties, such as WikiLeaks, which historically had published information harmful to the United States. previous use of weaponized information alone was not sufficient for the administration to take immediate action on the DNC breach. The administration was not fully engaged until some key intelligence insights were provided by the IC, which shifted how the administration viewed the issue.

Here, in public view, is indication that not just DOJ but the entire Intelligence Community came to shift their view of WikiLeaks and Assange as they investigated how Russia had attacked US democracy in 2016. But Mark Feldstein testified in his supplemental testimony that he could only discover that if someone leaked it to him.

Finally, Feldstein’s students might seek to understand the workings of a grand jury from the same place journalists always have, from those called to testify before them. Had they done so, they would at a minimum discover the Jeremy Hammond description of how he refused to testify for what would be the last superseding indictment against Assange, in which he described prosecutors twice claiming (without evidence) that Assange is “a Russian spy.”

“What could the United States government do that could get you to change your mind and obey the law here? Cause you know” — he basically says — “I know you think you’re doing the honorable thing here, you’re very smart, but Julian Assange, he’s not worth it for you, he’s not worth your sacrifice, you know he’s a Russian spy, you know.”

[snip]

He implied that all options are on the table, they could press for — he didn’t say it directly, but he said they could press for criminal contempt. … Then he implies that you could still look like you disobeyed but we could keep it a secret — “nobody has to know I just want to know about Julian Assange … I don’t know why you’re defending this guy, he’s a Russian spy. He fucking helped Trump win the election.”

The claims of a prosecutor as he’s trying to coerce testimony don’t affirm the veracity of the claim. Hammond’s claims in no way prove that Assange is a Russian spy or even that DOJ believes he is. But it does indicate what DOJ’s then-current claims were, in March 2020, before the most recent superseding indictment against Assange. They would indicate that the prosecutors asking for the extradition of Julian Assange claim to believe he is a Russian spy.

There is an embarrassment of public documents describing how the US government’s view of Assange changed between 2013 and 2020, as well as plenty that show DOJ was obtaining new legal process well after DOJ decided not to prosecute Assange. That doesn’t mean their view is correct or that it in any way mitigates the risk to journalism. But it does mean their view is discoverable by anyone who wants to check the public record.

And yet journalism Professor Mark Feldstein professes to be helpless to explain why DOJ charged Assange in 2017 and 2019 and 2020 but not in 2013, not unless someone leaks to him what DOJ and Trump and the rest of the US government were really thinking. And so instead, he offered a paragraph that falls apart completely if you simply read his source material, to say nothing of the public record.

Feldstein gives himself a bit of an excuse by claiming that his scholarly statement doesn’t address what happened after 2011 (a focus that may come from WikiLeaks’ lawyers — recall that someone close to Assange scolded me for reporting accurately on what WikiLeaks had done in 2016 and afterwards).

It should be noted that this report addresses only WikiLeaks disclosures in 2010-2011, the time period when Assange is accused of violating the Espionage Act; it does not discuss the website’s previous or subsequent document releases.

But you can’t claim to provide expert testimony about what DOJ was doing in 2017 without considering what WikiLeaks had done in the interim, and how that might change investigative tactics and conclusions (and did, in fact, lead DOJ to reconsider the evidence they had).

The record shows that — far from treating Assange with the disdain Trump harbored towards traditional journalists — Trump’s close associates entertained numerous discussions about pardons, and Trump himself refused to deny that under oath to Mueller. It further shows that the targeting of Wikileaks immediately followed the Vault 7 leaks burned the CIA’s hacking capacity to the ground (a prosecution that Trump himself almost blew up hours before the FBI confiscated Schulte’s passports). Finally, there is an abundance of evidence discoverable in the public record by any diligent journalism student that the understanding of WikiLeaks significantly evolved after the decisions not to charge Assange in 2013, in part because a national security investigation sought to figure out how badly Russians had tampered in our election, and in part because Trump got all kinds of help in the election from foreigners (including Assange).

Mark Feldstein claims in his expert testimony that what is happening to Julian Assange is just part of Trump’s larger assault on the press.

Seen in this light, the administration’s prosecution of Julian Assange is part and parcel of its campaign against the news media as a whole. Indeed, Assange’s criminal indictment under the US Espionage Act is arguably its most important action yet against the press, with potentially the most far-reaching consequences.

But he makes that claim while also admitting zero familiarity about the public record concerning Assange which shows the opposite.

The Julian Assange prosecution presents serious risks to journalism. But none of those excuse shoddy journalism — a failure to even consult the public, official record — in support of his case. That’s what Assange’s first witness is planning to do.

Update: Cleaned up the post and fixed a date.

Treasury Threatens to Prosecute Reporters Trying to Reveal What Rod Rosenstein and Richard Burr Would Not

WikiLeaks supporters like to claim the May 2019 superseding indictment against Assange uniquely threatens journalism by treating routine journalistic activities — such as requesting sensitive information — as part of a conspiracy to leak.* That’s not entirely true.

As I’ve noted, well before Assange’s superseding indictment, in October 2018, DOJ charged Natalie Sours Edwards — one of several presumed sources for a series of BuzzFeed stories on Suspicious Activities Reports pertaining to those investigated for their ties to Russia — in such a way to treat Jason Leopold as a co-conspirator. Both the complaint justifying her arrest and the indictment include a conspiracy charge that describes how Edwards (and another unindicted co-conspirator) worked with Reporter-1, including one request pertaining to Prevezon captured on Signal.

c. As noted above, the October 2018 Article regarded, among other things, Prevezon and the Investment Company. As recently as September 2018, EDWARDS and Reporter-1 engaged in the following conversation, via the Encrypted Application, in relevant part:

EDWARDS: I am not getting any hits on [the CEO of the Investment Company] do you have any idea what the association is if I had more information i could search in different areas

Reporter-1: If not on his name it would be [the Investment Company]. That’s the only other one [The CEO] is associated with Prevezon Well not associated His company is [the Investment Company]

On January 13, Edwards pled guilty to one charge, the conspiracy one, though without any sign of cooperation.

In fact, Edwards is not the only case charged like this. While he was charged after Assange’s superseding indictment, Henry Frese, a DIA analyst who leaked reports on China to some NBC reporters, was not just charged in a similar conspiracy charge, but was wiretapped to collect evidence implicating the reporters. Because he cooperated, there’s little to prevent Trump’s DOJ from charging the journalists after the election except Trump’s well-established support for an adversarial press.

The way in which DOJ charged Edwards has become newly critical given an announcement Treasury made yesterday, in the wake of reports about how Donald Trump was never investigated for his financial vulnerability to Russia. The unit of Treasury that collects and analyzes Suspicious Activity Reports released a statement threatening “various media outlets” who were planning to publish stories on SARs.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is aware that various media outlets intend to publish a series of articles based on unlawfully disclosed Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), as well as other sensitive government documents, from several years ago.  As FinCEN has stated previously, the unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States, compromise law enforcement investigations, and threaten the safety and security of the institutions and individuals who file such reports.  FinCEN has referred this matter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General.

BuzzFeed has always treated their source for the Treasury story as a whistleblower, reporting not just a dispute over access to reports for intelligence reports, but also on the damning Russian information that got ignored.

As Edwards has moved closer to sentencing, she developed irreconcilable differences with her original attorneys over what she called a coerced guilty plea. And documents filed in the case provide some explanation why.

While the substance of her appeal is not entirely clear, it’s clear that she claimed legal access to certain documents — presumably SARs — as a whistleblower.

In the appellants “official capacity” as a government employee from 2015-Jan 2020 and as a whistleblower from 2015 to current, the specific documents were used during the Congressional Request Inquires & Letters from 2015-2018, the Office of Special Counsel’s investigations from 2017-2020 and the appellants legal access to the exculpatory material from 2018 to current per 31 C.F.R. § 103 “official disclosures responsive to a request from an appropriate Congressional committee or subcommittees; and prosecutorial disclosures mandated by statute or the Constitution, in connection with the statement of a government witness to be called at trial, the impeachment of a government witness, or as material exculpatory of a criminal defendant.1

As a government employee I could disclose any information in a SAR (including information in supporting documentation) to anyone, up to and including the person who is the subject of the SAR, so long as the disclosure was “necessary to fulfill the official duties of such officer or employee”2 which I did as a whistleblower and as an employee; however, once I medically resigned, 31 C.F.R. § 103 provided the legal exculpatory material as a whistleblower, administrative appellate and criminal defendant to disclose the information in court proceedings. Furthermore, the appellant was adhering to the courts upholding that disclosures must be specific and detailed, not vague allegations of wrongdoing regarding broad or imprecise matters. Linder v. Department of Justice, 122 M.S.P.R. 14, 14 (2014); Keefer v. Department of Agriculture, 82 M.S.P.R. 687, 10 (1999); Padilla v. Department of the Air Force, 55 M.S.P.R. 540, 543– 44 (1992).

After she tried to use the documents in her appeal of a whistleblower complaint, the Treasury Department Inspector General shared them with the prosecutors in her case, who in turn cited them in her presentencing report.

The agency has argued throughout the appellant no longer is an employee of the agency, the pro se appellant agrees. The agency Inspector General should not have been notified of the administrative proceedings of the court because the appellant is not an employee of the agency. There is no statue or policy that gives the agency the right to notify the agency IG of the “procedural motion” prior “to notify the other party”. Regulation 5 C.F.R. § 1201.55(a) does not state “notify Inspector General” rather it does state “to notify the other party”. The pro se appellant argues notifying the Inspector General prior to “the other party” is a violation of the pro se appellants fifth amendment.

[snip]

[T]he agency/agency IG notified the appellants criminal prosecutors of the disclosures in the IRA case. As explained above, the disclosures are permissible per 31 C.F.R. § 103. Due to the agency/agency IG notification to the government prosecutors, the prosecution requested increased sentencing in the sentencing report for the appellant/defendant thus violating the defendants fifth amendment in the criminal proceeding.

Edwards further claimed that the government withheld her original complaint to coerce her to plead guilty.

The Federal Judge found merit and significant concerns in the “letter and substantial documentation” the whistleblower defendant/appellant provided to the court concerning violation of fifth amendment, conflict of interests pertaining to the prosecution/counsel, coercion of the plea deal, criminal referral submitted against agency IG, the letter defendant sent to Attorney General Sessions and Special Counsel Mueller, etc., all elements withheld from the Federal court by both the prosecution and defense counsel.

Edwards has been assigned a new attorney (who may have convinced her not to submit this complaint as part of sentencing), and her sentencing has been pushed out to October.

There’s no way to assess the validity of her complaint or even her representation of what happened with the judge in her case, Gregory Woods. What her complaint shows, however, is that there’s a packet of information she sent to Mueller and Sessions (possibly implicating and/or also sent to Congress), summarizing some reports she believes got ignored.

If those reports show what Rod Rosenstein and Richard Burr worked so hard not to investigate, it might explain why Treasury is threatening legal consequences for reporting on them. And given how DOJ already structured this prosecution, they might well be threatening to treat reporting on the President’s vulnerabilities as a conspiracy to leak SARs protected by statute.


*WikiLeaks supporters also cite the risk of Assange being subjected to US Espionage Act prosecution. While that risk is real, in his case, the most dangerous charges (for leaking the names of US and Coalition informants) would likely be far easier to prosecute under the UK’s Official Secrets Act, which still could happen if he’s not extradited. The actions described in his indictment are arguably more explicitly criminalized in the UK than the US, even if their sentences are not as draconian.

Hot and Cold Running Mike Pompeo and Other Ridiculous WikiLeaks Defense Claims

Today is the first day of Julian Assange’s fight to avoid extradition. In addition to legitimate First Amendment concerns about extraditing Assange on the charges as written, Assange is challenging the extradition with some very selective story-telling to pretend that he’s being prosecuted for political reasons.

For example, WikiLeaks is pointing to the Dana Rohrabacher pardon discussion in August 2017 to suggest that Trump was extorting Assange, demanding he provide certain details about the 2016 hack (details that are consistent with the lies that Assange told consistently about Russia’s role in the hack-and-leak) or else he would prosecute him. Unsurprisingly, WikiLeaks did not mention that discussions of a pardon started at least as early as December 2016 as payback for his role in the election, and continued in February 2017 as Assange tried to use the Vault 7 files to extort a pardon. If you can believe Roger Stone, pardon discussions continued even after DOJ first charged Assange in December 2017until early January 2018 (though that may have been an attempt to silence Randy Credico and thereby keep details of what really happened in 2016 secret).

WikiLeaks is also misrepresenting the timing of the increased surveillance by UC Global in December 2017 to suggest Assange was always being surveilled that heavily.

I will pass over the intervening period during which Julian Assange continued to have his conversations with his lawyers and family constantly monitored and recorded by a private agency acting on the instructions of US intelligence and for their benefit.

As slides from Andrew Müller-Maguhn make clear, the surveillance only began to really ratchet up in December 2017, after Assange had helped Joshua Schulte burn CIA to the ground (and at a time when WikiLeaks remained in communication with Schulte).

Assange’s team then mis-states when Trump’s war on journalists began, suggesting it preceded the April 2017 targeting of Assange, rather than came in August 2017.

That temporal slight is necessary because Assange’s team is claiming that Mike Pompeo decided to attack WikiLeaks in April 2017 out of the blue, out of some kind of retaliation.

That is why the prosecution of Mr. Assange, based on no new evidence, was now pursued and advocated by the Trump administration, led by spokesman such as Mike Pompeo of the CIA and Attorney General Sessions. They began by denouncing him in April 2017. I refer you to the following:

i. Firstly, the statements of Mr. Pompeo, as director of the CIA, on 13 April 2017, denouncing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence agency“. [Feldstein, tab 18, p19 and K10] On the same occasion, Pompeo also stated that Julian Assange as a foreigner had no First Amendment rights (See Guardian article, bundle K)

ii. Then there was the political statement of Attorney General Sessions on 20 April 2017 that the arrest of Julian Assange was now a priority and that ‘if a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail‘ [Feldstein quoting Washington Post article of Ellen Nakashima, tab 18, at page 19]

That’s thoroughly absurd. Pompeo’s speech was entirely about CIA’s response to have been burned to the ground by WikiLeaks. This passage makes clear that, in his prepared speech at least, Pompeo’s comments about the First Amendment don’t pertain to him being a foreigner at all (I’m going to pull the video).

No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.

[snip]

Third, we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.

Here’s what he said in questions:

DIRECTOR POMPEO: Yeah, First Amendment freedoms. What I was speaking to there was, as – was a little less constitutional law and a lot more of a philosophical understanding. Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an embassy in London. He’s not a U.S. citizen. So I wasn’t speaking to our Constitution.

What I was speaking to is an understanding that these are not reporters don’t good work to try to keep you – the American government honest. These are people who are actively recruiting agents to steal American secrets with the sole intent of destroying the American way of life. That is fundamentally different than a First Amendment activity, as I understand them, and I think as most Americans understand them. So that’s what I was really getting to.

We’ve had administrations before that have been squeamish about going after these folks under some concept of this right-to-publish. No one has the right to actively engage in the threat of secrets from America with the intent to do harm to it.

Mike Pompeo is and always will be a problematic figure to make this argument.

But all the evidence shows that Assange’s surveillance and prosecution arose in response to the Vault 7 leaks, not Trump innate hatred for journalists.

Update: Here are the Prosecution’s Opening Statement and Skeleton Argument.

The Stakes and Misinformation about the Andrew McCabe Declination

Amid the other crazy events of the week, DOJ informed Andrew McCabe he would not be prosecuted as a result of the criminal referral arising from DOJ IG’s finding that he lacked candor when asked about an October 30, 2016 Devlin Barrett story.

While it’s possible the Tuesday Afternoon Massacre and Jessie Liu’s removal had some role in the timing of this notice, one thing is clear: McCabe got notice primarily because Judge Reggie Walton had imposed a deadline in a CREW FOIA to release some transcripts about the stalled decision-making process. Probably, DOJ made the decision last fall after a grand jury refused to charge McCabe, but stalled on giving McCabe notice because DOJ knew it would piss off Trump. But since the court transcripts would reveal some of that, the FOIA deadline finally forced DOJ’s hand.

In the aftermath of the McCabe news, a bunch of frothy Republicans, including Chuck Grassley, have analogized the investigation into McCabe with the investigations into Roger Stone (for conducting a two year cover-up, including making threats against a witness and a judge) and Mike Flynn (for lying multiple times to the FBI, continuing to fudge the truth in the ongoing investigation, and lying to hide that he was on Turkey’s payroll at a time when he was Trump’s top national security advisor). Even taken on their face, that’s a ridiculous comparison, one that dismisses the import of threatening judges and secretly serving as agents for frenemy governments while receiving intelligence briefings. The accusations against the men are different, with a lack of candor allegation against McCabe versus lying against the others, and egregious mitigating factors implicating national security with the others. Whereas grand jury reportedly refused to even charge McCabe, a jury found Stone guilty of every count with which he was charged.

More importantly, the comparison has treated the allegation against McCabe with a seriousness that the underlying record — as laid out in McCabe’s lawsuit against DOJ — does not merit.

And McCabe’s lawsuit may provide a partial explanation for why DOJ stalled so long before declining to prosecute the case. That’s because a key part of DOJ’s defense against McCabe’s lawsuit is that they could or even had to move so quickly to fire McCabe because there was reasonable reason to believe that McCabe had committed a crime for which he could be imprisoned.

Mr. McCabe was given seven days to provide oral and written responses to the notice of proposed removal to ADAG Schools. That response period was a departure from the 30-day response period more frequently provided for a proposed removal. But FBI policy governing the removal of Senior Executive Service (SES) employees provides that “if there is reasonable cause to believe the employee has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment can be imposed, the advance notice may be curtailed to as little as seven days.” FBI SES Policy at 16 (attached as Ex. 2). Given the Inspector General’s findings that Mr. McCabe lacked candor under oath, findings which Assistant Director Will seconded after her independent assessment, there was reasonable cause to believe that Mr. McCabe had committed a crime for which a sentence could be imposed—and, therefore, a sound basis for affording Mr. McCabe seven days to respond.

DOJ has excused their rush to fire McCabe based on having reasonable grounds to believe he could be prosecuted for lies, but the rush to fire McCabe resulted in DOJ ignoring clear evidence that the IG Report was fundamentally flawed in a way that easily explains why a grand jury would refuse to indict. So the lawsuit, if McCabe gets discovery, is likely to show that he was rushed out the door to prevent him from building the case that he was being rushed out the door based on a case riddled with problems.

When the IG Report came out, I found it pretty compelling and therefore the criminal referral understandable (though I did not believe criminal charges would be upheld), even while noting the big push to make that happen before McCabe retired delegitimized it. But now it’s clear that the report didn’t get the normal level of pre- and post-publication review, McCabe’s OPR process was rushed to beat his retirement deadline, and had either of those processes been conducted in the normal fashion, they would have likely caught significant problems with the report.

Indeed, McCabe presented compelling evidence — even in a very rushed written response submitted to OPR hours before Jeff Sessions fired him — that he had at least colorable explanations to rebut the IG Report allegations.

As laid out, the IG Report accused McCabe of lacking candor about two kinds of things: first, whether he had told Comey he was a source for the WSJ story, and what role he and Lisa Page had in the story. Both the middle meetings — May 9, 2017, hours before Comey’s firing and his ascension to Acting Director, and July 28, 2017, in the context of a meeting about the discovery of the Page-Strzok texts — were on two of the most momentous days of McCabe’s career. The other two pertain to whether or not McCabe told Comey about his involvement in the WSJ story, which the IG Report portrayed as a difference of opinion about a casual meeting the two had, about which the IG sided with Comey’s version.

Thus, to a significant degree, the question of McCabe’s candor pivoted on whether he had really told Comey he was involved in the WSJ story.

And, as McCabe alerted OPR before he got fired, the IG Report included no mention of one of the most central players in the October 2016 WSJ story, FBI’s Assistant Director of Public Affairs Michael Kortan, with whom McCabe worked closely on the WSJ story. In other words, the IG Report suffers from the kind of egregious failure to include exculpatory information that it just took FBI to task about in the Carter Page IG Report (which also happens to be true of the Carter Page IG Report generally and its treatment of Bruce Ohr specifically). So when the IG Report sides with Comey’s version of the story because,

no other senior FBI official corroborated McCabe’s testimony that, among FBI executive leadership, “people knew generally” he had authorized the disclosure,

The Report can only make such a claim because it entirely left out the testimony of one of the most central players, Kortan. And as McCabe has made clear, in the OPR adjudication, his team did not get the exculpatory information involving Kortan until two days before the final decision.

Reports of why the grand jury refused to indict have pointed to Kortan’s testimony, and it’s clear why: because his testimony totally undermines the conclusions of the IG Report and therefore any basis to indict him.

Most importantly, McCabe submitted an email showing that he informed Comey (and some of the other senior FBI people whom the IG Report claimed didn’t know he was involved) that he was involved in the WSJ story.

With the declination of McCabe, DOJ has admitted that a key reason they claim to have relied on (a claim McCabe disputes) on rushing McCabe’s firing is false: he’s not likely to face prison time, because a grand jury won’t even indict him. And that may increase the chances that McCabe will get to prove precisely why he was rushed out the door with Trump screaming about him all the way.

The Slow Firing of Robert Mueller[‘s Replacement]

On December 5, I suggested that Speaker Pelosi delay the full House vote on impeachment until early February. I intimated there were public reasons — the possibility of a ruling on the Don McGahn subpoena and superseding charges for Lev Parnas — I thought so and private ones. One of the ones I did not share was the Stone sentencing, which at that point was scheduled for February 6. Had Pelosi listened to me (!!!) and had events proceeded as scheduled, Stone would have been sentenced before the final vote on Trump’s impeachment.

But things didn’t work out that way. Not only didn’t Pelosi heed my suggestion (unsurprisingly), but two things happened in the interim.

First, Stone invented a bullshit reason for delay on December 19, the day after the full House voted on impeachment. The prosecutors who all resigned from the case yesterday objected to the delay, to no avail, which is how sentencing got scheduled for February 20 rather than the day after the Senate voted to acquit.

Then, on January 6, Trump nominated Jessie Liu, then the US Attorney for DC, to be Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, basically the person who oversees the process of tracking criminal flows of finance. She won’t get that position — her nomination was pulled yesterday in advance of a Thursday confirmation hearing. But her nomination gave Barr the excuse to install a trusted aide, Timothy Shea, at US Attorney for DC last Thursday, the day after the impeachment vote and in advance of the now-delayed Stone sentencing.

Liu, who is very conservative and a true Trump supporter, had been nominated for a more obvious promotion before. On March 5, Trump nominated her to be Associate Attorney General, the number 3 ranking person at DOJ. But then she pulled her nomination on March 28 because Senators objected to her views on choice.

But let’s go back, to late August 2018. Michael Cohen and Sam Patten had just pled guilty, and Cohen was trying to find a way to sort of cooperate. Rudy Giuliani was talking about how Robert Mueller would need to shut down his investigation starting on September 1, because of the election. I wrote a post noting that, while Randy Credico’s imminent grand jury appearance suggested Mueller might be close to finishing an indictment of Stone, they still had to wait for Andrew Miller’s testimony.

Even as a I wrote it, Jay Sekulow was reaching out to Jerome Corsi to include him in the Joint Defense Agreement.

During the entire election season, both Paul Manafort and Jerome Corsi were stalling, lying to prosecutors while reporting back to Trump what they were doing.

Then, the day after the election, Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matt Whitaker. Whitaker, not Rosenstein, became the nominal supervisor of the Mueller investigation. Not long after, both Manafort and Corsi made their game clear. They hadn’t been cooperating, they had been stalling to get past the time when Trump could start the process of ending the Mueller investigation.

But Whitaker only reactively kept Mueller in check. After Michael Cohen’s December sentencing made it clear that Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to cheat to win, Whitaker started policing any statement that implicated Trump. By the time Roger Stone was indicted on January 24, 2019 — after Trump’s plan to replace Whitaker with the expert in cover ups, Bill Barr — Mueller no longer noted when Trump was personally involved, as he was in Stone’s efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases.

But then, when Barr came in, everything started to shut down. Mueller moved ongoing prosecutions to other offices, largely to DC, under Jessie Liu’s supervision. As Barr came to understand where the investigation might head, he tried to promote Liu out of that position, only to have GOP ideology prevent it.

Barr successfully dampened the impeach of the Mueller Report, pretending that it didn’t provide clear basis for impeaching the President. It was immediately clear, when he did that, that Barr was spinning the Stone charges to minimize the damage on Trump. But Barr did not remove Mueller right away, and the Special Counsel remained up until literally the moment when he secured Andrew Miller’s testimony on May 29.

The next day, I noted the import of raising the stakes for Trump on any Roger Stone pardon, because Stone implicated him personally. That was more important, I argued, than impeaching Trump for past actions to try to fire Mueller, which Democrats were focused on with their attempt to obtain Don McGahn’s testimony.

Still, those ongoing investigations continued under Jessie Liu, and Stone inched along towards trial, even as Trump leveraged taxpayer dollars to try to establish an excuse to pardon Manafort (and, possibly, to pay off the debts Manafort incurred during the 2016 election). As Stone’s trial laid out evidence that the President was personally involved in optimizing the release of emails Russia had stolen from Trump’s opponent, attention was instead focused on impeachment, his more recent effort to cheat.

In Stone’s trial, he invented a new lie: both Randy Credico and Jerome Corsi had falsely led him to believe they had a tie to WikiLeaks. That didn’t help Stone avoid conviction: Stone was found guilty on all counts. But it gave Stone yet another cover story to avoid revealing what his ties to WikiLeaks actually were and what he did — probably with Trump’s assent — to get it. For some reason, prosecutors decided not to reveal what they were otherwise prepared to: what Stone had really done.

Immediately after his conviction, Stone spent the weekend lobbying for a pardon. His wife appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show and someone got inside White House gates to make the case.

But, as impeachment proceeded, nothing happened, as the Probation Office started collecting information to argue that Stone should go to prison for a long while. The day Democrats finished their case against Donald Trump, though, Bill Barr made his move, replacing Liu before she was confirmed, removing a very conservative Senate confirmed US Attorney to install his flunkie, Timothy Shea. But even that wasn’t enough. Prosecutors successfully convinced Shea that they should stick to the probation office guidelines recommending a stiff sentence. When Timothy Shea didn’t do what Barr expected him to, Barr intervened and very publicly ordered up the cover up he had promised.

Effectively, Bill Barr is micro-managing the DC US Attorney’s office now, overseeing the sentencing of the man who could explain just how involved Trump was in the effort to maximize the advantage Trump got from Russia’s interference in 2016, as well as all the other prosecutions that we don’t know about.

Trump has, finally, succeeded in firing the person who oversaw the investigations into his role in the Russian operation in 2016. Just as Stone was about to have reason to explain what that role was.

Timeline

August 21, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty

August 31, 2018: Sam Patten pleads guilty

September 5, 2018: Jay Sekulow reaches out to Corsi lawyer to enter into Joint Defense Agreement

September 6, 2018: In first Mueller interview, Corsi lies

September 17, 2018: In second interview, Corsi invents story about how he learned of Podesta emails

September 21, 2018: In third interview, Corsi confesses to establishing a cover story about Podesta’s emails with Roger Stone starting on August 30, 2016; NYT publishes irresponsible story that almost leads to Rod Rosenstein’s firing

October 25, 2018: Rick Gates interviewed about the campaign knowledge of Podesta emails

October 26, 2018: Steve Bannon admits he spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks

October 31, 2018: Prosecutors probably show Corsi evidence proving he lied about source of knowledge on Podesta emails

November 1 and 2, 2018: Corsi continues to spew bullshit in interviews

November 6, 2018: Election day

November 7, 2018: Jeff Sessions is fired; Matt Whitaker named Acting Attorney General

November 9, 2018: Corsi appears before grand jury but gives a false story about how he learned of Podesta emails; Mueller threatens to charge him with perjury

November 15, 2018: Trump tweets bullshit about Corsi’s testimony being coerced

November 23, 2018: Corsi tells the world he is in plea negotiations

November 26, 2018: Corsi rejects plea

December 7, 2018: Trump nominates Bill Barr Attorney General

January 18, 2019: Steve Bannon testifies to the grand jury (and for the first time enters into a proffer)

January 24, 2019: Roger Stone indicted for covering up what really happened with WikiLeaks

February 14, 2019: Bill Barr confirmed as Attorney General

March 5, 2019: Jessie Liu nominated to AAG; Bill Barr briefed on Mueller investigation

March 22, 2019: Mueller announces the end of his investigation

March 24, 2019: Bill Barr releases totally misleading version of Mueller results, downplaying Stone role

March 28, 2019: Liu pulls her nomination from AAG

April 19, 2019: Mueller Report released with Stone details redacted

May 29, 2019: As Mueller gives final press conference, Andrew Miller testifies before grand jury

November 12, 2019: Prosecutors apparently change Stone trial strategy, withhold details of Stone’s actual back channel

November 15, 2019: Roger Stone convicted on all counts

January 6, 2020: Jessie Liu nominated to Treasury

January 16, 2020: Probation Office issues Presentence Report calling for 7-9 years

January 30, 2020: Bill Barr replaces Liu with Timothy Barr, effective February 3; DOJ submits objection to Presentence Report

February 3, 2020: Timothy Shea becomes acting US Attorney

February 5, 2020 : Senate votes to acquit Trump

February 6, 2020: Initial sentencing date for Roger Stone

February 10, 2020: Stone sentencing memoranda submitted

February 11, 2020: DOJ overrules DC on Stone sentencing memorandum, all four prosecutors resign from case

February 20, 2020: Current sentencing date for Roger Stone