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“The Goals That Are Being Scored” … the Carter Page Saga

In the middle of the Carter Page testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last week, Adam Schiff tried to get him to answer whether he spoke about buying a stake of Rosneft during his July 2016 trip to Moscow — a key claim from the Steele dossier. Page professed that it might be possible, but he couldn’t remember such a discussion because he was watching Ronaldo on TV at the time.

He may have briefly mentioned it when we were looking up from this Portugal — Ronaldo, whoever the — you know, the goals that are being scored. That may have come up. But I have no definitive recollection of that.

Page comes off, often, as someone utterly clueless about how both the Trump campaign officials and the Russians trying to use him were doing so.

It depends on the definition of meet

That said, the most interesting bits involve the things Page tried to hide or obfuscate, such as his claim he never met Trump even after having been in a lot of meetings with him.

Mr. Rooney: Did you ever meet Mr. Trump?

Mr. Page: I have never met him in my life. I’ve been in a lot of meetings with him, and I’ve learned a lot from him, but never actually met him face-to-face.

He does the same with Arkadiy Dvorkovich, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, when Adam Schiff tries to point out that meeting him in July 2016 would amount to meeting a senior official.

Mr. Schiff: And you don’t consider him to be a high-up official or someone in an official capacity?

Mr. Page: I — nothing I — it was — again, I did not meet with him. I greeted him briefly as he was walking off the stage after his speech.

Page even compares these two instances of not-meetings later in his testimony.

[I]t goes back to the point I mentioned with listening to speeches, listening to particularly Arkadiy Dvorkovich’s speech, right. Again, great insights just like I learned great insights — even though I’ve met — I’ve never met Donald J. Trump in my life, I’ve learned a lot from him.

Ultimately, even Trey Gowdy finds this obfuscation around the word “meet” to be too much.

Mr. Gowdy: All right. I’ve written down four different words. I didn’t think I’d ever be going through this with anyone, but we’ve got to, I guess. You seem to draw a distinction between a meeting, a greeting, a conversation, and you hearing a speech.

JD Gordon’s central role

I pointed out last week how JD Gordon was playing the press in the wake of the Papadopoulos plea agreement being unsealed. Page’s testimony may explain why: because Gordon was the key person coordinating Page’s activities.

Page at first tries to hide this, before he admits that JD Gordon was his supervisor on the campaign.

And J.D. Gordon was brought in, and he was sort of the de facto organizers [sic] for our group, although not — there was no official command structure, because, again, it was an informal quasi think tank, if you will.

Page later describes Gordon as the most formal of the foreign policy group.

[T]he thing with J.D. is that — again, we’re an informal group, right. He was probably the most formal. I believe he may have even had — if I’m not mistaken, he may have had a Trump campaign email address. I had spoken with him on that — a few occasions that are — you know, we’d get together for a dinner. I may have sent an email or two to him on that. And again, he never definitively answered one way or another.

And Page seems to have treated his conversations with Gordon with some sensitivity (though there’s any number of reasons why this might be true, including that they were running a cutthroat political campaign). Eric Swalwell walks Page through an email in which he warned Gordon, in advance of a call, that he’d be in the “Third World” Laguardia Sky Club so could only listen, not speak.

Mr. Swalwell: In a May 24th, 2016, email to J.D. Gordon, Bates stamped [redacted], you wrote: “FYI: At the Newark Sky Club, Delta has a private room when you can have a confidential conversation, but, unfortunately, no such luck at Third World LaGuardia. So I’ll mostly be on receive mode, since there are a significant number of people in the lounge.”

Later in testimony, Schiff describes an email Page sent two days later, telling Gordon, “I’m planning to speak alongside the chairman and CEO of Sberbank as we’ll both be giving commencement addresses as Mosscow’s New economic School on July 8” (in fact the meeting never happened; though that may be because Dvorkovich replaced him).

Perhaps most damning of all, when Page “mentioned to [Jeff Sessions] in passing” (yet another exchange that shows Sessions perjured himself before the Senate) that he was about to go to Moscow, Gordon and Papadopoulos were present as well.

Mr. Schiff: Let me take you back to what we were discussing before our break, the meeting you had at the Republican National Headquarters I think is the building you’re referring to, if I understand correctly. What was the nature of the discussions at that meeting with Mr. Sessions, then-Senator Sessions — was J.D. Gordon present?

Mr. Page: I believe he was.

Mr. Schiff: And George Papadopoulos you believe was there?

Mr. Page: I believe, yes, to the best of my recollection.

This puts some of the key players together, discussing how Page’s trip to Moscow might benefit the campaign.

Finally, in spite of his efforts to downplay his exchange with Dvokovich, Page’s letter to Gordon boasting about it was a key focus.

Mr. Schiff: And in that [email], Dr. Page, didn’t you state, on Thursday and Friday, July 7 and 8, 2016: “Campaign Adviser Carter Page” — you’re referring to yourself in the third person — “presented before gatherings at the New Economic Schoo, NES, in Moscow, including their 2006 [sic] commencement ceremony. Russian Deputy Prime Minister and NES Board Member Arkadiy Dvorkovich also spoke before the event. In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems”?

The others

While less substantive than the focus on JD Gordon, it’s clear Democratic members were interested in the roles of others: Corey Lewandowski, who “hired” Page and okayed his trip to Russia, Hope Hicks, who was in the loop, Sam Clovis, who made him sign an NDA and had another meeting with him before he left for Russia, and Michael Cohen, who kept the NDA (and in fact didn’t provide Page his promised copy). Schiff also got the list of those responsible for changing the platform (which I think is overblown) into the record: in addition to Gordon, Joseph Schmitz, Bert Mizusawa, Chuck Kubic, Walid Phares, and Tera Dahl.

But the most interesting exchange came right at the end, when Schiff walked Page through a list of people he might have interacted when. When he asked about Eric Trump, Page admitted to sending his resignation to the son.

Mr. Schiff: Eric Trump.

Mr. Page: I — when I sent in my letter of — saying that I am taking a leave of absence from the campaign, I sent an email to him and a bunch of other individuals. So that was on — late Sunday night, after I sent the letter to James Comey. I sent a copy of that to them.

Mr. Schiff: So you sent a letter to Eric Trump, but you have had no other interaction with him apart from that?

Mr. Page: No. No.

Mueller probably interviewed Page during the Papadopoulos lag

Finally, there is perhaps the most important detail. Page admits he has spoken with the FBI this year 4-5 times (he appears to have been represented by a lawyer earlier this year, but he’s now draining his savings and representing himself). When asked if he has met with Mueller’s investigators, he notes what I did: his October 10 letter sort of pleading the Fifth was addressed, first and foremost, to Robert Mueller, which would put his testimony between the time George Papadopoulos pled guilty to false statements and the time it was unsealed — the time when Mueller was locking in the testimony of everyone implicated by Papadopoulos’ cooperation.

As I noted the other day, in the affidavit the FBI wrote explaining why they wanted to seal any notice of Papadopoulos’ plea deal, they described their plans to get the testimony of the people who had knowledge between Russians and the campaign.

The investigation is ongoing and includes pursuing leads from information provided by and related to the defendant regarding communications he had, inter alia, with certain other individuals associated with the campaign. The government will very shortly seek, among other investigative steps, to interview certain individuals who may have knowledge of contacts between Russian nationals (or Russia-connected foreign nationals) and the campaign, including the contacts between the defendant and foreign nationals set forth in the Statement of Offense incorporated into the defendants plea agreement.

All the people interviewed in what I’ll call the Papadopoulos lag — the time between when he pled guilty and the time they unsealed his plea — likely operated with the false confidence that the Mueller team would not know of conversations among campaign staffers. It appears that Page (like Sam Clovis, and, probably,JD Gordon) was interviewed in that period.

Jeff Sessions Unforgets the Discussions with Russians He Twice Swore He Didn’t Know About

In response to Monday’s server hiccups and in anticipation that Mueller is nowhere near done, we expanded our server capacity overnight. If you think you’ll rely on emptywheel reporting on the Mueller probe, please consider a donation to support the site

On Monday at the Intercept and yesterday on Democracy Now, I pointed out that the George Papadopoulos plea showed that Jeff Sessions continues to lie under oath about what he knows about Trump campaign surrogates interacting with Russians.

Sessions has repeatedly testified to the Senate that he knows nothing about any collusion with the Russians. (Though in his most recent appearance, he categorized that narrowly by saying he did not “conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”)

But the Papadopoulos plea shows that Sessions — then acting as Trump’s top foreign policy adviser — was in a March 31, 2016, meeting with Trump, at which Papadopoulos explained “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”

[snip]

Sessions’s claims about such meetings came in sworn testimony to the Senate. During his confirmation process, Sessions was asked a key question by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

“Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

The question, however, was about Sessions’s knowledge of such communications, and we now know he was in a meeting in which they were discussed.

More recently, on October 18, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Sessions a series of questions about his knowledge of interactions with Russians, including whether he had discussed emails with Russian officials since the campaign. To that question, Sessions said he “did not recall.”

Franken then asked, in an attempt to clarify the confirmation questions, “You don’t believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians?”

“I did not — and I’m not aware of anyone else that did. I don’t believe that it happened,” said the attorney general whose own department had, two weeks earlier, already gotten a guilty plea from a campaign surrogate describing such discussions with Russians.

Now that other media outlets have caught up with the significance of the March 31 meeting, there have been a number of stories that make it clear Jeff Sessions has now unforgotten the outreach to Russia he twice swore he didn’t remember.

In this telling, Sessions was the hero of the moment, insisting that the campaign not pursue a meeting with Putin, while Trump was more ambivalent.

Candidate Donald Trump did not dismiss the idea of arranging a meeting with Russia’s president when it was suggested in a meeting with his campaign foreign policy advisers last year, according to a person in the room.

The idea was raised by George Papadopoulos as he introduced himself at a March 2016 meeting of the Republican candidate’s foreign policy advisers, according to a court filing.
“He didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no,” the official said, declining to be more specific about Trump’s response to Papadopoulos.
But the chairman of Trump’s national security team, then Alabama senator and now attorney general Jeff Sessions, shut down the idea of a Putin meeting at the March 31, 2016, gathering, according to the source. His reaction was confirmed with another source who had discussed Session’s role.

If the first sourcing here — one of the nine men in the room — didn’t indicate these leaks came from Sessions’ orbit, the second one — a source who discussed Sessions’ role — makes it clear.

Let’s pretend for the moment that this telling is accurate, and that then Senator Sessions recognized the legal and political risk of cozying up to Vladimir Putin (and not just another attempt to telegraph what someone has testified or plans to testify to the grand jury).

If that’s correct, that means Sessions has twice lied under oath about knowing about efforts to reach out to the Russians. And he did so knowing that the President was sort of cool with the idea.

That is, it would suggest Sessions’ lies, given under oath, were designed to protect the President.

Cambridge Analytica and the Hillary Emails

Update: I made an error in this post: WSJ has made it clear the emails in question were the DNC emails, not the Hillary ones. I’ve deleted the parts that are inaccurate accordingly.

For some time, I have been interested in the many pieces of evidence that, partly as a result of late GOP ratfucker Peter Smith’s efforts, Julian Assange ended up with something approximating Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. We know Smith alleged Mike Flynn was involved in the effort. Weev and Chuck Johnson were involved. There are reasons to believe Roger Stone was involved in the effort. And there are reasons to believe Guccifer 2.0 was involved in the effort.

Plus, everyone from Stone to Attorney General Sessions (who “did not recall” whether he had spoken to Russians about email in his SJC testimony) seems to be ignoring that part of the scandal in their denials of colluding with Russians.

And now, Cambridge Analytica — the data firm paid for by far right wing oligarch Bob Mercer that played a big role in getting Trump elected — is involved in it.

The DailyBeast reports that Congressional investigators have found an email from CA head Alexander Nix to some unnamed person (Trump’s digital director Brad Parscale was interviewed by HPSCI yesterday) saying he offered to help Assange with the project.

Nix, who heads Cambridge Analytica, told a third party that he reached out to Assange about his firm somehow helping the WikiLeaks editor release Clinton’s missing emails, according to two sources familiar with a congressional investigation into interactions between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Those sources also relayed that, according to Nix’s email, Assange told the Cambridge Analytica CEO that he didn’t want his help, and preferred to do the work on his own.

Assange, who insists he never says anything to compromise sources, released his own statement saying he rejected the help.

After publication, Assange provided this statement to The Daily Beast: ”We can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”

Remember, Stone told the Russian hackers he was soliciting that, allegedly because he couldn’t verify the authenticity of any emails obtained from hackers, they should turn them over to Assange. And both the Nix email and the Assange denial seem to admit that WikiLeaks did, indeed, receive at least one set of those emails. Which would explain why Roger Stone was so certain WikiLeaks was going to drop Clinton Foundation emails — not the Podesta ones that Stone showed no interest in — in October of last year. And it would seem to explain why Guccifer 2.0 had the same belief.

That is, there are a whole bunch of dots suggesting WikiLeaks got something approximating Clinton’s emails, and either because they couldn’t be verified, or because his source was too obviously Russian, or some other unknown reason, he decided not to publish.

If that’s right, all these non-denial denials about the operation seem to point to a confluence of interest around this effort that touched pretty much everyone. And involved Russians, their agents, and GOP ratfuckers willfully working together.

Update: The Trump campaign just did some amazing bus under-throwing of CA. Compare that to this November 10 piece attributing their win to CA.

Jeff Sessions Can’t Remember Whether He Was Involved in Firing All the US Attorneys

One of the things that came out of Jeff Sessions’ testimony last Thursday was the news — elicited by Richard Blumenthal — that President Trump had personally interviewed candidates for two US Attorney positions, those in SDNY and EDNY, which was taken as a sign Trump wanted to install cronies in the districts that oversee most of his (and his family’s) activities.

But there was a counterpart exchange at the hearing that was, particularly because of Sessions’ inability to answer it, just as stunning.

After Mazie Hirono handed Sessions his ass for attacking a judge in HI for issuing a nationwide injunction, she then asked him who was involved in the decision to fire all the US Attorneys all at once.

Hirono: Who was involved in the decision to dismiss all of the US Attorneys without any warning. And why was it done when it was done?

At first Sessions just filibustered — Clinton Clinton Clinton.

Sessions: [stumped] We had gone for a number of months, about half of the United States Attorneys had already resigned, it’s traditional that they’re replaced by the next Administration, and President [pause] I believe President Clinton did the same, issued a single order, precedent, there’s precedent for it to complete the process of changeover.

So then Hirono asked what I imagine is the point: whether Trump made the decision entirely on his own.

Hirono: So it was totally President Trump who made that decision? You were not involved in that decision?

Sessions: I, I believe the responsibility is the President’s.

Hirono: You were not involved in that decision to fire them all?

But then when she double checks whether that’s true, he realizes he’s about to get his boss in a whole heap of trouble, and — literally mid-question!! — turns to ask a staffer what the correct answer is.

Sessions: Actually, actually, I think the Att —

[Sessions stops mid-sentence to talk to a staffer behind him]

Only after consulting the staffer did Sessions “remember” being involved in the decision.

Sessions: I can’t re — I can’t believe I can’t remember that. But it was an important issue. The President appoints United States Attorneys, and it was appropriate, I thought at that time to make the change.

Hirono: So you were involved?

Sessions: Yes, I was involved.

Thus far, the exchange is remarkable enough.

All the more so when you look back at the reporting from when it occurred, in early March. As NYT reported, it was a surprise to all the US Attorneys asked to leave.

The Trump administration moved on Friday to sweep away most of the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.

But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter.

And it was an apparent reversal from an earlier plan.

The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once,” she said. “Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case. I’m very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

A statement from DOJ spox Sarah Isgur Flores does attribute the decision to Sessions.

“The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”

But Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (one of just two to keep his job right away), not Sessions, made the calls to the US Attorneys.

In other words, it seems possible that Sessions really wasn’t involved, but he has to pretend to be, so that the decision to fire (especially) Preet Bharara doesn’t appear to be something Trump did on his own, partly in response to badgering from Sean Hannity.

In other words, this later exchange from the same hearing suggests that Trump first unilaterally fired all the US Attorneys, which even at the time was interpreted as an effort to fire one in particular, and now is exercising more control over his replacement than any President ever has before. Only, Sessions managed to remember being involved just in time to make that clear.

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans Have No Excuse for Not Doing Something about White Supremacist Violence

Last I checked, the following Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have criticized white supremacists, violence, and/or Trump’s appeasement of the former in Charlotteville.

Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair:

What ” WhiteNatjonalist” are doing in Charlottesville is homegrown terrorism that can’t be tolerated anymore that what Any extremist does

Orrin Hatch, President pro tempore:

We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home

Their tiki torches may be fueled by citronella but their ideas are fueled by hate, & have no place in civil society.

Lindsey Graham, Chair of Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism:

The South Carolina Republican called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go to Virginia and “personally handle domestic terrorism investigations” and alleged civil rights abuses by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis “who took this young woman’s life.”

Graham was referring to Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed when a car ran into a group of counter-protesters Saturday in Charlottesville where white supremacists and neo-Nazis were holding a “Unite the Right” rally. Many more were injured.

Graham additionally proposed the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security form a task force on the threat of white supremacist groups and report back to Congress with potential solutions for cracking down on them.

“This is an opportunity for the Trump administration to come down like a hammer on white supremacists,” Graham said during a news conference in his Columbia office. “And I hope they do.”

John Cornyn, Chair of Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration and Senate Majority Whip:

No place for the bigotry & hate-filled violence in . These actions should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

And (update, from August 17):

We’ve all been shocked that the unhealed wounds of the nation’s racial divide flared up in such a surprising and disturbing way,” Cornyn said in a Chronicle interview. “I think the president had an opportunity to send a message that would unite America behind our common resolve to heal those wounds and unite our country, and unfortunately I don’t think he did that.”

Ted Cruz, Chair of Subcommittee on the Constitution, who while Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, had a hearing on the importance of naming Islamic terrorism Islamic terrorism:

It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed. Heidi’s and my prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured in the ongoing violence in Charlottesville. The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably, but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society.

The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.

These bigots want to tear our country apart, but they will fail. America is far better than this. Our Nation was built on fundamental truths, none more central than the proposition ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’

But,

“One of the things we’re seeing going on is the media and the Democrats are, to the surprise of no one, demagoguing this issue and using it for political advantage,” Cruz said. “So, in the media’s telling, they want to tar and feather any Republican, any conservative, and paint us all as these crazy racist nutbags.”

Jeff Flake, Chair of Subcommittee Privacy, Technology, and the Law):

We can’t accept excuses for white supremacy & acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn. Period.

Flake, more generally:

Under our Constitution, there simply are not that many people who are in a position to do something about an executive branch in chaos. As the first branch of government (Article I), the Congress was designed expressly to assert itself at just such moments. It is what we talk about when we talk about “checks and balances.” Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, “Someone should do something!” without seeming to realize that that someone is us. And so, that unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility.

Ben Sasse, Chair of Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts:

“I refuse to accept that mankind is tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism… Unconditional love will have the final word” -MLK

“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” -Abraham Lincoln

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator with…unalienable Rights”

These people are utterly revolting–and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects “blood & soil” nationalism.

John Kennedy:

Violence and hatred are never the answer.

There are 20 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Of the Republicans, eight have made statements at least condemning the violence in Charlottesville, even if Cornyn and Kennedy, among others, are obviously issuing empty condemnations.

If even two of the Republicans who’ve made statements condemning the right wing violence in Charlottesville are serious — or more specifically serious about actions that DOJ must take, as in comments that both Lindsey and Cruz made — then they’ve got the numbers to make it happen.

They’ve got the numbers to force DOJ to refund the Life After Hate program, which white supremacist Seb Gorka’s wife Katherine defunded. They’ve got the numbers to ask Jefferson Beauregard Sessions whether his DOJ will treat this act of terrorism as terrorism. They’ve got the numbers to ask whether FBI ignored warnings of surging white supremacism.

Republicans often complain that there’s nothing they can do about their unmanageable President. This is one case where that’s patently false.

Former Senators Sessions and Coats Likely Just Set Off a Conflict with Congress

I’ll have more to say about Jeff Sessions’ new witch hunt on leaks later. But for now I want to look at what former Assistant Director Ron Hosko had to say to Daily Beast.

Ron Hosko, former deputy director of the FBI, said these changes could result in prosecution of members of Congress and Hill staffers. In the past, he said the FBI identified members of Congress who leaked classified information, who the Justice Department then declined to prosecute. Agents were often frustrated by this, Hosko added. Given the attorney general’s announcement, he said, members of Congress and Hill staffers may be more likely to face prosecution.

As I was listening to the press presentation (I won’t call it a conference because Sessions and Coats ran away without answering questions), I couldn’t help but thinking what a shitshow these two former Senators were likely setting off.

That’s because the universe of potential leakers is fraught for DOJ especially.

There are the various White House leakers (not including the President, who will escape notice even though he is one of the most prolific and dangerous leakers). Prosecuting them will be difficult politically in this contentious Administration.

There are the IC leakers. While some will likely be charged, a good many will be — like David Petraeus — too dangerous to aggressively prosecute, because they know where the truly interesting secrets are.

Most of all, though, there are the current and former members of Congress and their staffers, who have clearly been a central source of leaks embarrassing the White House.

Hosko is right that FBI has bumped up against limits in prosecuting Congress before. In the Jeffrey Sterling case, for example, SSCI staff director Bill Duhnke was FBI’s first and primary suspect (and a far more likely source for James Risen’s 2003 story than Sterling, not least because the final form of that story included a seeming reference to Iraq that Sterling wouldn’t have known). But SSCI refused to cooperate with the FBI investigation for years, and Duhnke reportedly never did. Duhnke remains in the Senate, working as the Rules Staff Director.

There’s nothing the Sessions hearing today included that would change the circumstances of Congress’ non-participation in the prosecution of Duhnke going forward (except perhaps the threat to jail journalists, but that’s still not likely to be enough to get past Congressional Speech and Debate privilege.

Moreover, if the FBI pushes too hard, Congress will just legislate itself — and reporters — protections (as Congress has been threatening to do for some time).

Given the Fourth Circuit precedents tied to the Sterling case, I think it will be easier for FBI to go after low level IC staffers. But I’m fairly confident if it gets close to Congress there will be a significant backlash that will make former Senators Sessions and Coats regret they didn’t account for their former colleagues’ equities before rolling out a witch hunt.

Meditations: What Is this Thing? Examining Trump-Russia

“This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature (or form)? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VIII, sect. X

When writing about the Trump-Russia investigations, there’s invariably push back questioning the legitimacy of inquiry or the sanity of those who seek answers.

One of the most persistent demands is for unassailable proof the Russians were responsible for hacking the US, whether the DNC or other systems, and any inability to provide such unquestionable evidence invalidates investigations for those who insist on proof.

But such demands may never be met in a way satisfying these demands. Some of these demands are made knowing with certainty that full disclosure of evidence would reveal sources and methods and therefore cannot be made in public.

It’s the specificity of these demands which redirects the attention away from what the investigations may find. Rather than allow ourselves to be derailed by what we aren’t able to answer, we should rely on first principles and examine what is directly in front of us.

What is this thing?

Pull together what are known facts and look at them. Here are a few; what are they, at face value?

• Then-president Obama warned Trump against Michael Flynn as national security adviser. (10-NOV-2017)

• Trump hired Flynn anyhow, against his predecessor’s recommendation. (18-NOV-2017)

• Flynn had a history of breaking rules, including the secret installation of an internet connection in his Pentagon office.

• Flynn had dialogue with foreign agents without disclosing truthfully the nature of his discussions. (29-DEC-2016; possibly more and other contacts earlier)

• Trump kept Flynn on as national security adviser after deputy attorney general Sally Yates warned White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn could be blackmailed. (26/27-JAN-2017)

• Yates was fired the same day she was to provide White House counsel with more information about Flynn, after she announced the DOJ would not enforce the executive order signed 27-JAN-2017 banning Muslim travelers; the president wrote she was “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.” (30-JAN-2017)

• Flynn denied talking with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in December 2016 about U.S. sanctions on Russia. (08-FEB-2017)

• The Washington Post reported Flynn had spoken with Kislyak about the sanctions according to officials from both Obama and Trump administration with access to reports about Flynn’s communications. (09-FEB-2017)

• Flynn resigned as national security adviser.

• Trump nominated Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

• During his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions said, “I didn’t have—did not have communications with the Russians” when asked if there was any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the campaign. (10-JAN-2017)

• In responses to written questions from Senate Judiciary Committee member Pat Leahy, Sessions denied he had been “in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election”. (17-JAN-2017)

• Reports emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Kislyak during the campaign season. (01-MAR-2017)

• In a statement later the same evening, Sessions said, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

• After calls by Democratic members of Congress for Sessions to resign, Sessions recused himself from any investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. (02-MAR-2017)

What is this, on the face of it, with regard to Flynn, Sessions and Trump-Russia? What was the nature of Flynn’s and Sessions’ contacts with Russian officials? What were these multiple undisclosed meetings and denials supposed to do, if left unquestioned and uninterrupted? Why would two key figures in the Trump campaign and administration both have contact with Russian officials either during the campaign season or after the election before inauguration, and then lie about the nature contacts?

Similarly, we can look at Donald Trump Jr.’s and Jared Kushner’s actions through the campaign and post-election and -inauguration. We see more undisclosed interactions, more denials and lies, more forced disclosure.

We can also look at Trump’s words and deeds: long sympathetic to Russia, he more than hints that Russia should hack his opponent’s emails during the campaign season. He is not forthcoming about his finances. He does not resolve conflicts of interest. He leans on FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn’s Russia-related activities, ultimately firing him. His attendance at the G20 meeting yielded private, unrecorded meetings with Russian president Putin. He’s harassed Sessions for having recused himself from the Russia investigations. He vacillated on whether he will or will not sign the latest sanctions on Russia which Congress passed last week.

And in the last 24 hours, after Russia demanded an end to specific sanctions on former U.S.-based Russian compounds, after Russia retaliated by ejecting U.S. diplomatic personnel, Trump does not offer any response, leaving VP Mike Pence to offer tepid supportive comments for NATO allies.

What is this thing?

The Long-Delayed Jeff Sessions Reveal

Today (or yesterday — I’ve lost track of time) the WaPo reported what has long been implied: there’s evidence that Jeff Sessions spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about campaign-related stuff, contrary to his repeated sworn comments.

At first, I thought this revelation might relate to Richard Burr’s assertion that Devin Nunes made up the scandal about which Obama officials had unmasked the identity of Trump officials who got sucked up in intercepts of Russians.

“The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes, and I’ll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened,” Burr said. “But clearly there were individuals unmasked. Some of that became public which it’s not supposed to, and our business is to understand that, and explain it.”

After all, one of the things the Senate Intelligence Committee would do to clear Rice is figure out who unmasked the identities of Trump people. And there’s at least circumstantial evidence to suggest that James Clapper unmasked Jeff Sessions’ identity, potentially on the last day of his tenure.

But Adam Entous, one of the three journalists on the story (and all the stories based on leaks of intercepts) reportedly said on the telly they’ve had the story since June.

Which instead suggests the WaPo published a story they’ve been sitting on since Sessions’ testimony.

The WaPo story cites the NYT interview in which Trump attacked Sessions for his poor answers about his interactions with Kislyak.

Trump, in an interview this week, expressed frustration with Sessions’s recusing himself from the Russia probe and indicated that he regretted his decision to make the lawmaker from Alabama the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Trump also faulted Sessions as giving “bad answers” during his confirmation hearing about his Russian contacts during the campaign.

Officials emphasized that the information contradicting Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak’s communications with the Kremlin, and acknowledged that the Russian ambassador could have mischaracterized or exaggerated the nature of his interactions.

Many people took this interview as an effort on Trump’s part to get Sessions to resign.

And the WaPo goes on to note that the disclosure — by these same journalists — of Mike Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak led to his resignation.

Kislyak was also a key figure in the departure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to leave that job after The Post revealed that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak even while telling others in the Trump administration that he had not done so.

And all of a sudden, we get this confirmation that Sessions has been lying all along.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d be happy to see Jeff Sessions forced to resign. But if he does, Trump will appoint someone more willing to help the cover up, someone who (because he wouldn’t have these prevarications about conversations with the Russian Ambassador and therefore won’t have to recuse) will assume supervision of Robert Mueller.

So while I’m happy for the confirmation that Sessions lied, I have real questions about why this is being published now.

Trumpnami: Good Luck Staying Ahead of That

That‘ — I can’t even come up with a family-friendly term for the tsunami of crap Trump set in motion this week.

The New York Times’ three-reporter interview with Trump had already generated heavy surf Wednesday and Thursday. The amount of insanity packed in one summary article and published excerpts, combined with problematic journalistic methodology, agitated a massive undertow.

Last evening, the Washington Post reported that Trump has asked his attorneys about the limits of presidential pardons while they look for ways to undermine the legitimacy of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

We also learned Mark Corallo left Team Trump.

Ditto attorney Marc Kasowitz, though depending on who you read, he’s either ‘left’ or taken a ‘lesser role’.

That’s just last night.

Sandwiched between NYT’s one-two punch and last night’s WaPo piece are pieces sure to increase pressure.

Like Bloomberg’s report that Mueller is looking into Trump’s business transactions.

(Side note: I have a problem with Bloomberg’s piece in particular as it claims the stock market responded negatively to the reporting about Trump. Really? There’s nothing else going on, like news about Apple, Netflix, Musk’s Boring, skittishness ahead of GE’s earnings, Carrier’s layoffs, so on, which might concern the market? Oh, Exxon‘s little hand slap…right. Nah.)

I don’t know how we stay ahead of this wave. But after learning

— Trump wouldn’t have nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions to attorney general if he’d known in advance Sessions would recuse himself;

— Trump thinks Mueller investigating his family’s finances is too far;

— Less than 179 days in office, Trump was already considering the use of presidential pardons for family;

it’s time to ask Congress to revisit the independence of special counsel under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to assure Mueller’s investigation is completely out of reach of the White House and its compromised attorney general. As the law addressing the special counsel currently exists, the role remains under the purview of the attorney general. This is increasingly problematic, given Trump’s statements about Sessions’ recusal, which may be construed as a form of intimidation.

Yeah, yeah, Scalia thought the independent counsel was an overreaching breach between the legislative and executive branches. But Scalia likely never foresaw this level of insanity, stupidity, and criminality in the White House, combined with an utterly flaccid majority party, either complicit or unwilling to perform oversight within its powers and purpose. In his dissent of Morrison v. Olson, Scalia wrote,

It is the proud boast of our democracy that we have “a government of laws and not of men.” …

What happens when the executive office ignores or violates laws, and Congress turns a blind eye? What backstop is there to assure the ‘government of laws’ continues to execute the law in spite of the failure of men charged with creating and upholding the laws?

Commenting on a tweet by former Eric Holder, former Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller tweeted last night,

“Yep. These leaks are partially intended to test the boundaries of what he can get away with. Like w/ Comey firing, silence is acquiescence.” [bold mine]

It’s not on Congress alone, though, to hold fast the boundaries on executive power. It’s on citizens to demand Congress demonstrate limits as representatives of the people.

By the way, to reach Congress call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121

As mentioned in the blurb, this is an open thread.

James Clapper Updated Rules on Congressional Notice the Day before He Retired

On his very last full day in office on January 19, in the middle of an investigation that included then Senator Jeff Sessions’ discussions with the Russian Ambassador, James Clapper updated the rules on dissemination of the identities of members or staffers of Congress in intelligence reports.

One minor change to the previous procedures involved adding the Director of National Intelligence to the list of people whose requests to identify a MoC’s identity in a report don’t have to go through the same approval process as other people (which, in any case, involves approval by the DNI).

Here’s what that provision looked like in 2013.

As I suggested after Clapper most recently testified, his answers about unmasking the identity of a member of Congress or a Trump associate logically suggest he may have unmasked the identity of Jeff Sessions (though this process would involve someone else sharing the name of a member of Congress with Clapper, not Clapper unmasking the name).

LINDSEY GRAHAM: You made a request for unmasking on a Trump associate and maybe a member of Congress? Is that right, Mr. Clapper?

CLAPPER: Yes.

As I noted, the DNI is the person who has to approve the most sensitive requests. So by adding himself, Clapper only closed a loop, giving himself (or his successor) permission to ask for and receive information he himself had the authority to ask and receive in any case.

But I find the timing of the change interesting.