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emptywheel’s Continuing Obsession with Sticky Notes, Michael Sussmann Trial Edition

Please donate to help defray the cost of trial transcripts. As most of you know, I now live in Ireland. I had considered traveling to DC to cover the Sussmann trial but have issues I need to deal with here. So I’m hoping to cover as much of it as I can (with an obvious delay) via trial transcripts. But they are expensive! So if you appreciate this coverage, please consider a one-time  or recurring donation to defray the cost of transcripts. Thanks!

Longtime readers of emptywheel are no doubt familiar with my obsession with the weird prevalence of sticky notes that appear on exhibits used by prosecutors Bill Barr appointed to launch politicized witch hunts. These posts provide a background, but the tl;dr is that I caught the Jeffrey Jensen crew adding dates on sticky notes, some inaccurate, to FBI notes as part of the effort to kill the Mike Flynn prosecution.

The Jeffrey Jensen “Investigation:” Post-It Notes and Other Irregularities (September 26, 2020)

Shorter DOJ: We Made Shit Up … Please Free Mike Flynn (October 27, 2020)

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket (December 3, 2020)

John Durham Is Hiding Evidence of Altered Notes (April 5, 2022)

As I noted here, there some reason to believe Durham’s evidence comes from the same collection of documents as Jeffrey Jensen’s.

Durham released the trial versions of Bill Priestap and Trisha Anderson’s notes yesterday. So without further commentary (for now), I’d like to post how these notes appeared in the filing he used to get the notes admitted in the first place with what the jury will see.

Priestap notes motion version

Priestap notes trial exhibit version

Anderson notes motion version

Anderson notes trial exhibit version

The Guy Investigating the Claimed Politicized Hiring of a Special Counsel Insists that the Hiring of a Special Counsel Cannot Be Political

On Monday, both John Durham and Michael Sussmann submitted their motions in limine, which are filings to argue about what can be admitted at trial. They address a range of issues that I’ll cover in several posts:

Sussmann:

Durham wants to:

  • Admit witnesses’ contemporaneous notes of conversations with the FBI General Counsel
  • Admit emails referenced in the Indictment and other, similar emails (see this post)
  • Admit certain acts and statements (including the defendant’s February 2017 meeting with a government agency, his December 2017 Congressional testimony, and his former employer’s October 2018 statements to the media) as direct evidence or, alternatively, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)
  • Exclude evidence and preclude argument concerning allegations of political bias on the part of the Special Counsel (addressed in this post)
  • Admit an October 31, 2016 tweet by the Clinton Campaign

I will link my discussions in serial fashion.


Here’s how John Durham moved to exclude any evidence that his team was ordered to produce results in time for the 2020 election, bullied witnesses, or treated Hillary Clinton as a more dangerous adversary than Russia.

The Government expects that defense counsel may seek to present evidence at trial and make arguments that depict the Special Counsel as politically motived or biased based on his appointment by the prior administration. Notwithstanding the patently untrue nature of those allegations, such matters are irrelevant to this case and would create a substantial danger of unfair prejudice, confusion, and delay. In particular, the government seeks to preclude the defendant from introducing any evidence or making any argument concerning the circumstances surrounding the appointment of the Special Counsel and alleged political bias on the part of the Special Counsel’s Office. Indeed, the defendant has foreshadowed some of these arguments in correspondence with the Special Counsel and others, and their assertions lack any valid basis.

Only relevant evidence is admissible at trial. Fed. R. Evid. 402. The definition of relevance is inclusive, see Fed. R. Evid. 401(a), but depends on the possibility of establishing a fact that “is of consequence in determining the action,” Fed. R. Evid. 401(b). Evidence is therefore relevant only if it logically relates to matters that are at issue in the case. E.g., United States v. O’Neal, 844 F. 3d 271, 278 (D.C. Cir. 2016); see Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 387 (2008). The party seeking to introduce evidence bears the burden of establishing relevancy. Dowling v. United States, 493 U.S. 342, 351 n.3 (1990).

Here, the defendant is charged with making a false statement to the FBI General Counsel in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. A jury will have to decide only whether the defendant knowingly and willfully made a materially false statement to the FBI General Counsel. Nothing more, nothing less. Baseless political allegations are irrelevant to the crime charged. See, e.g., United States v. Regan, 103 F. 3d 1072, 1082 (2d Cir. 1997) (claims of Government misconduct are “ultimately separate from the issue of [a defendant’s] factual guilt”); United States v. Washington, 705 F. 2d 489, 495 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (similar). Evidence or argument concerning these issues should therefore be excluded. See Fed. R. Evid. 402; see, e.g., O’Neal, 844 F,3d at 278; United States v. Stone, 19 CR 18 (D.D.C. Sept. 26, 2019) ECF Minute Order (granting the government’s motion in limine to exclude evidence or argument regarding alleged misconduct in the government’s investigation or prosecution of Roger Stone).

The only purpose in advancing these arguments would be to stir the pot of political polarization, garner public attention, and, most inappropriately, confuse jurors or encourage jury nullification. Put bluntly, the defense wishes to make the Special Counsel out to be a political actor when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.11 Injecting politics into the trial proceedings is in no way relevant and completely unjustified. See United States v. Gorham, 523 F. 2d 1088, 1097-1098 (D.C. Cir. 1975) (upholding trial court’s decision to preclude evidence relevant only to jury nullification); see also United States v. Rushin, 844 F. 3d 933, 942 (11th Cir. 2016) (same); United States v. Castro, 411 Fed. App’x 415, 420 (2d Cir. 2011) (same); United States v. Funches, 135 F.3d 1405, 1408-1409 (11th Cir. 1998) (same); United States v. Cropp, 127 F.3d 354, 358-359 (4th Cir. 1997). With respect to concerns about jury nullification, this Circuit has opined:

[Defendant’s] argument is tantamount to the assertion that traditional principles concerning the admissibility of evidence should be disregarded, and that extraneous factors should be introduced at trial to become part of the jury’s deliberations. Of course a jury can render a verdict at odds with the evidence and the law in a given case, but it undermines the very basis of our legal system when it does so. The right to equal justice under law inures to the public as well as to individual parties to specific litigation, and that right is debased when juries at their caprice ignore the dictates of established precedent and procedure.

Gorham, 523 F.2d at 1098. Even if evidence related to the defendant’s anticipated allegations had “marginal relevance” to this case (which it does not), the “likely (and presumably intended) effect” would be “to shift the focus away from the relevant evidence of [the defendant’s] wrongdoing” to matters that are, at most, “tangentially related.” United States v. Malpeso, 115 F. 3d 155, 163 (2d Cir. 1997) (upholding exclusion of evidence of alleged misconduct by FBI agent). For the foregoing reasons, the defendant should not be permitted to introduce evidence or make arguments to the jury about the circumstances surrounding the appointment of the Special Counsel and alleged political bias on the part of the Special Counsel.

11 By point of fact, the Special Counsel has been appointed by both Democratic and Republican appointed Attorneys General to conduct investigations of highly-sensitive matters, including Attorneys General Janet Reno, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Jeff Sessions and William Barr. [my emphasis]

Durham stuck the section between an extended section arguing that Judge Christopher Cooper should treat the interlinked investigations — by those working for the Hillary campaign and those, working independently of the campaign, who believed Donald Trump presented a grave risk to national security — into Trump’s ties to Russia as a unified conspiracy and another section asking that Clinton Campaign tweets magnifying the Alfa Bank allegations be admitted, even though the argument to include them is closely related.

Even ignoring how Durham pitches this issue, the placement of this argument — smack dab in the middle of an effort to treat protected political speech he admits is not criminal like a criminal conspiracy — seems like a deliberate joke. All the more so coming from prosecutors who, with their conflicts motion,

stir[red] the pot of political polarization, garner[ed] public attention, and, most inappropriately, confuse[d potential] jurors

It’s pure projection, presented in the middle of just that kind of deliberately polarizing argument. From the moment the Durham team — which relied heavily on an FBI Agent who reportedly sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI phone — tried to enhance Kevin Clinesmith’s punishment for altering documents because he sent anti-Trump texts on his FBI phone, Durham has criminalized opposition to Trump.

And Durham himself made his hiring an issue by claiming that the guy who misrepresented his conflicts motion by using it to suggest that Sussmann and Rodney Joffe should be executed, Donald Trump, is a mere third party and not the guy who made him a US Attorney.

But it’s also misleading, for multiple reasons.

The initial bias in question pertains to covering up for Russia, not helping Republicans

Sussmann’s likely complaints at trial have little to do with the fact that Durham was appointed by a Republican. Rather, a key complaint will likely have to do with the fact that Durham was appointed as part of a sustained campaign to misrepresent the entire set of events leading up to the appointment of his predecessor as Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, by a guy who auditioned for the job of Attorney General based on his claims — reflecting his warped Fox News understanding of the investigation — that the confirmed outcome of that investigation was false.

You cannot separate Durham’s appointment from Billy Barr’s primary goal in returning as Attorney General to undermine the evidence of improper Trump ties to Russia. You cannot separate Durham’s appointment, in the same days as Mueller acquired key evidence in two investigations (the Egyptian bank donation and Roger Stone) that Barr subsequently shut down, from Barr’s attempt to undermine the past and ongoing investigation. You cannot separate Durham’s appointment from what several other DC District judges (Reggie Walton, Emmet Sullivan, and Amy Berman Jacksonthe latter, twice) have said was Barr’s improper tampering in the Russian investigation.

That is, Durham was appointed to cover-up Trump’s confirmed relationship with Russia, not to attack Democrats. But in order to cover up for Russia, Durham will, and has, attacked the Democrats who were first victimized by Russia for viewing Russia as a threat (though I believe that Republicans were victimized, too).

That bias has exhibited in the following ways, among others:

  • Treating concern about Trump’s solicitation of further hacks by Russia and his confirmed ties to Russian money laundering as a partisan issue, and not a national security issue (something Durham continues with this filing)
  • Treatment, in the Danchenko case, of Charles Dolan’s involvement in the most accurate report in the Steele dossier as more damning that the likely involvement of Dmitri Peskov in the most inflammatory reports that paralleled the secret communications with Dmitry Peskov that Trump and Michael Cohen lied to cover up
  • Insinuations from Andrew DeFilippis to Manos Antonakakis that it was inappropriate for DARPA to ask researchers to investigate ongoing Russian hacks during an election
  • A prosecutorial decision that risks making sensitive FISA information available to Russia that will, at the same time, signal that the FBI won’t protect informants against Russia

There are other indications that Durham has taken probable Russian disinformation that implicates Roger Stone as instead reliable evidence against Hillary.

Durham’s investigation into an investigation during an election was a key prop during an investigation

Another thing Durham may be trying to stave off is Sussmann calling Nora Dannehy as a witness to explain why she quit the investigation just before the election. Even assuming Durham could spin concerns about pressure to bring charges before an election, that pressure again goes to Billy Barr’s project.

When Durham didn’t bring charges, some of the same documents Durham was reviewing got shared with Jeffrey Jensen, whose team then altered several of them, at least one of them misleadingly, to present a false narrative about Trump’s opponent’s role in the investigation. Suspected fraudster Sidney Powell seems to have shared that false narrative with Donald Trump, who then used it in a packaged attack in the first debate.

This is one of the reasons why Durham’s submission of Bill Priestap’s notes in such a way as to obscure whether those notes have some of the same indices of unreliability as the altered filings in the Mike Flynn case matters.

In other words, Durham is claiming that scrutinizing the same kind of questions that Durham himself has been scrutinizing for years is improper.

The bullying

I find it interesting that Durham claims that, “the defendant has foreshadowed some of these arguments in correspondence with the Special Counsel and others,” without citing any. That’s because the only thing in the record is that Sussmann asked for evidence of Durham bullying witnesses to alter their testimony — in response to which Durham provided communications with April Lorenzen’s attorneys.

On December 10, 2021, the defense requested, among other things, all of the prosecution team’s communications with counsel for witnesses or subjects in this investigation, including, “any records reflecting any consideration, concern, or threats from your office relating to those individuals’ or their counsels’ conduct. . . and all formal or informal complaints received by you or others” about the conduct of the Special Counsel’s Office.” Although communications with other counsel are rarely discoverable, especially this far in advance of trial, the Government expects to produce certain materials responsive to this request later this week. The Government notes that it is doing so despite the fact that certain counsel persistently have targeted prosecutors and investigators on the Special Counsel’s team with baseless and polemical attacks that unfairly malign and mischaracterize the conduct of this investigation. For example, certain counsel have falsely accused the Special Counsel’s Office of leaking information to the media and have mischaracterized efforts to warn witnesses of the consequences of false testimony or false statements as “threats” or “intimidation.”

And this set of filings reveals that Durham is still trying to force Rodney Joffe to testify against Sussmann, even though Joffe says his testimony will actually help Sussmann.

In other words, this may be a bid by Durham to prevent evidence of prosecutorial misconduct under the guise of maintaining a monopoly on the right to politicize the case.

Normally, arguments like this have great merit and are upheld.

But by making the argument, Durham is effectively arguing that the entire premise of his own investigation — an inquiry into imagined biases behind an investigation and later appointment of a Special Counsel — is illegitimate.

As we’ll see, what Judge Christopher Cooper is left with is nothing more than competing claims of conspiracy.

John Durham Is Hiding Evidence of Altered Notes

On Monday, both John Durham and Michael Sussmann submitted their motions in limine, which are filings to argue about what can be admitted at trial. They address a range of issues that I’ll cover in several posts:

Sussmann:

Durham wants to:

  • Admit witnesses’ contemporaneous notes of conversations with the FBI General Counsel
  • Admit emails referenced in the Indictment and other, similar emails (see this post)
  • Admit certain acts and statements (including the defendant’s February 2017 meeting with a government agency, his December 2017 Congressional testimony, and his former employer’s October 2018 statements to the media) as direct evidence or, alternatively, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)
  • Exclude evidence and preclude argument concerning allegations of political bias on the part of the Special Counsel (addressed in this post)
  • Admit an October 31, 2016 tweet by the Clinton Campaign

I will link my discussions in serial fashion.


In John Durham’s bid to introduce notes from Bill Priestap and Trisha Anderson, he presented a color scan of Anderson’s notes [red annotation added]:

But he presented a black and white scan of Priestap’s notes [red annotation added]:

That’s important for two reasons. First, because blue sticky tabs were implicated in altered documents submitted in the Mike Flynn case. There was a blue sticky tab on another page of Priestap notes submitted in Flynn’s case.

There were what appear to be blue and red stickies visible on the original version of some Peter Strzok notes submitted in that case.

When the government ultimately confessed to adding dates (affirmatively misleading, in at least one case) to both that set of Strzok notes

And some Andrew McCabe notes

… The government claimed that the date added to some Andrew McCabe notes was added via a blue sticky — what sounds like the same sticky we saw in the Priestap notes.

In response to the Court and counsel’s questions, the government has learned that, during the review of the Strzok notes, FBI agents assigned to the EDMO review placed a single yellow sticky note on each page of the Strzok notes with estimated dates (the notes themselves are undated). Those two sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. The government has also confirmed with Mr. Goelman and can represent that the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

Similarly, the government has learned that, at some point during the review of the McCabe notes, someone placed a blue “flag” with clear adhesive to the McCabe notes with an estimated date (the notes themselves are also undated). Again, the flag was inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. Again, the content of the notes was not otherwise altered. [my emphasis]

If that’s right, then whoever altered the McCabe notes altered them with the same kind of blue sticky note that appears on the Priestap notes that Durham wants to submit at trial.

Whether that date was added via blue sticky note has never been publicly tested. Rather than submitting unaltered versions of McCabe’s notes in the Flynn docket, DOJ — metadata suggests that Jocelyn Ballantine did this — simply digitally removed the date and a footer, effectively submitting a realtered exhibit in place of an altered one. So one cannot rule out that that date was written right onto the notes themselves. McCabe was being specifically prevented by DOJ from reviewing his original notes in the period, not even to prepare for Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, so he hasn’t been able to test that either.

That, by itself, suggests some of the alterations that were an issue in the Flynn docket were altered before they were shared with Jeffrey Jensen.

But that’s all the more interesting given a detail that Michael Sussmann included in his bid to exclude these notes. In Priestap’s grand jury testimony in this case, he testified he didn’t know why he wrote the “no specific client” comment on a slant, or why those notes were, “perhaps darker or thicker than some of the other notes.”

The Indictment characterizes the Priestap Notes as a contemporaneous record of Mr. Priestap’s conversation with Mr. Baker. See id. But beyond offering that they “looked like his writing and organizational style,” Mem. of Special Counsel’s June 2, 2021 Interview of E.W. Priestap, SCO-3500U-018701, at -01, Mr. Priestap said he “[doesn’t] remember why [he] wrote them down and who gave [him] the information,” E.W. Priestap’s June 3, 2021 Grand Jury Test., SCO-3500U-018746, at -98. Not only that, but Mr. Priestap “[does] not recall actually writing these notes,” id. at SCO-3500U-018815, nor can he confirm that the notes actually reflect any conversation he had with Mr. Baker, as opposed to a conversation he had with someone else, id. Indeed, Mr. Priestap “advised he did not remember Baker conveying to him the information about Sussmann,” Mem. of Special Counsel’s June 2, 2021 Interview of E.W. Priestap at SCO-3500U 018702, and was “not certain whether th[e] conversation reflected in the notes . . . was with Mr. Baker or maybe with someone else,” E.W. Priestap’s June 3, 2021 Grand Jury Test. at SCO3500U-018815. Mr. Priestap also has “[n]o idea” why the phrase “said not doing this for any client”—written diagonally to the side of the main body of the notes—was written at all, and could offer no explanation for why those words were “perhaps darker or thicker than some of the other notes.” Id. at SCO-3500U-018816.

The date in the January 24, 2017 Priestap notes is even more irregular — at cross-direction from his other notes on the page, and with uneven ink — and I have always wondered whether that date was added too.

And lo and behold, the Anderson notes also appear to have a sticky note right by the date (as annotated), albeit apparently a red one, though some of the tags on the Strzok notes were of a similar color. She also found aspects of her notes surprising.

Ms. Anderson’s notes (the “Anderson Notes”) include, on top, “Deputies Mtg. 9/19/16,” and then, after a redaction and under a second heading reading “9/19[/]16,” go on to state: “Sussman[n] Mtg w/ Baker” and “No specific client but group of cyber academics talked w/ him abt research,” followed by the phrase, “article this Friday – NYT/WaPo/WSJ.” Anderson Notes at SCO-3500U-000018. The relevant sentence fragment contains no subject revealing who had “[n]o specific client,” nor any other context for that phrase. Ms. Anderson, who was first asked about these notes by the Special Counsel over five years after they were written, has no meaningful memory of the notes or their context: she has only a “vague recollection” of discussing this topic with Mr. Baker and cannot “recall specifics.” Mem. of Special Counsel’s Jan. 5, 2022 Interview of T. Anderson, SCO-3500U-000087, at -88, -96. When shown the notes, Ms. Anderson stated that she had been “surprised” to learn about the “no specific client” phrase, and she “d[id] not now recall hearing from Baker his use” of that phrase; she could only assume that she got that phrase from Mr. Baker “because her notes reflect[ed] it.” Id. at -88.

Durham has only provided a partial scan of theses notes, hiding that the date, 9/19/16, appears earlier on the page, describing a different kind of meeting. That’s consistent with what the added date and the redaction on the McCabe notes did: It served to suggest that McCabe briefed the Flynn case to SSCI the day after Jim Comey was fired. Here, the September 19 date that appears next to the sticky is necessary for Durham’s case to claim that Anderson took these notes the same day of the meeting and not some time after that.

But why would Anderson date her notes twice?

According to a discovery filing in this case, Sussmann has reviewed redacted versions of the originals of the Priestap notes, which were still in the notebook Priestap took them in.

On October 13, 2021, the defense requested, among other things, to inspect the original notes that a former FBI Assistant Director of Counterintelligence took reflecting the defendant’s alleged false statement. The original notes were contained in a hard-bound notebook located at FBI Headquarters and contained extremely sensitive and highly classified information on a variety of topics and unrelated investigative matters. The Government immediately agreed to make the original notebook available to the defense in redacted form, and the defense conducted its review of the notebook on October 20, 2021.

But to test why all these notes have post-it notes on them and why the dates are so unreliable (and affirmatively misleading, in the case of the alteration in the January 5, 2017 Strzok notes), Sussmann would need to review all the notes together, probably with the assistance of the original authors.

It’s still not clear who altered the notes submitted in the Flynn docket, the extent of those alterations, or why the government is submitting exhibits with investigative stickies on them as evidence at trial. DOJ’s filing in the Flynn case blamed the misleading date on the Strzok notes on an FBI agent associated with the Jeffrey Jensen investigation (which would suggest that alteration post-dated Durham’s access to it), but it did not say who altered the McCabe notes.

But by showing that the blue sticky notes existed in Durham’s copy of the exhibits, Durham makes it clear some of the alterations exhibited in the Flynn docket happened before he shared the documents with Jensen’s investigation, if that’s how the notes got shared around.

The misleading date added to the Strzok notes ultimately was part of a packaged Trump attack on Joe Biden at the first debate, one that Sidney Powell, who has since been sanctioned for making fraudulent claims in an attempt to keep Trump in office, appears to have had a part in.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

Given that even Chuck Grassley recognized the alteration added to the Strzok notes was incorrect, it’s hard to believe that was an innocent mistake.

And yet, 18 months later, DOJ is still trying to submit notes with all these investigative sticky notes as exhibits, without explaining why or how they appeared there.

And Durham’s choice to present the Priestap notes — with what appear to be the same blue sticky as appeared on his earlier notes, as well was the the blue sticky described to have been used to alter the McCabe notes — in black-and-white suggests he may know that’s a problem.

On Unrealistic Expectations for Mueller Report Obstruction Charges

Among those whinging that Merrick Garland hasn’t imprisoned Donald Trump yet, there is an apparent belief that the Mueller Report left obstruction charges all wrapped up in a bow, as if the next Administration could come in, break open the Report, and roll out fully-formed charges.

Even among those with a more realistic understanding of the Mueller Report, people continue to call for some public resolution of the obstruction charges, as Randall Eliason did here and Quinta Jurecic did here. Jurecic even updated her awesome heat map of the obstruction charges, with the date the statute of limitations (if an individual act of obstruction were charged outside a continuing conspiracy) would expire for each.

None of that is realistic, for a whole range of reasons.

The obstruction-in-a-box belief is based on a misunderstanding of the Mueller Report

First, the belief that Merrick Garland could have come into office 11 months ago and rolled out obstruction charges misunderstands the Mueller Report. Many if not most people believe the report includes the entirety of what Mueller found, describes declination decisions on every crime considered, and also includes a volume entirely dedicated to Trump’s criminal obstruction, a charging decision for which Mueller could not reach on account of the OLC memo prohibiting it. None of that is true.

As I laid out in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon series, the Mueller Report is only a description of charging decisions that the team made. My comparison of the stories told in the Report with those told in the Stone warrant affidavits, Stone’s trial, and the SSCI Report show that Mueller left out a great deal of damning details about Stone, including that he seemed to have advance notice of what the Guccifer 2.0 persona was doing and that Stone was scripting pro-Russian tweets for Trump in the same period when Trump asked Russia, “if you’re listening — I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

And, as DOJ disclosed hours before the 2020 election, Mueller didn’t make a final decision about whether Stone could be charged in a hack-and-leak conspiracy. Instead, he referred that question to DC USAO for further investigation. In fact the declinations in the Mueller Report avoid addressing any declination decision for Stone on conspiring with Russia. The declination in the report addresses contacts with WikiLeaks (but not Guccifer 2.0) and addresses campaign finance crimes. The section declining to charge any Trumpsters with conspiracy declines to charge the events described in Volume I Section II (the Troll operation) and Volume I Section IV (contacts with Russians), in which there is no Stone discussion. Everything Stone related — even his contacts with Henry Greenberg, which is effectively another outreach from a Russian — appears in Section III, not Section IV. The conspiracy declinations section doesn’t mention Volume I Section III (the hack-and-leak operation) at all and (as noted) in the section that specifically addresses hack-and-leak decisions, a footnote states that, “Some of the factual uncertainties [about Stone] are the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office.” This ongoing investigation would have been especially sensitive in March 2019, because prosecutors knew that Stone kept a notebook recording all his conversations with Trump during the campaign, many of which (they did have proof) pertained to advance notice of upcoming releases. That is, the ongoing investigation into Stone was also an ongoing investigation into Trump, which is consistent with what Mueller told Trump’s lawyers in summer 2018.

That’s not the only investigation into Trump that remained ongoing at the time Mueller closed up shop. The investigation into a suspected infusion of millions from an Egyptian bank during September 2016 continued (per CNN’s reporting) until July 2020, which is why reference to it is redacted in the June 2020 Mueller Report but not the September 2020 one. I noted both these ongoing investigations in real time.

The Mueller Report also doesn’t address the pardon discussions with Julian Assange, even though that was included among Mueller’s questions to Trump.

So contrary to popular belief, Volume II does not address the totality of Trump’s criminal exposure.

That ought to change how people understand the obstruction discussion in Volume II. For all the show of whether or not Mueller could make a charging decision about Trump, the discussion provably did not include the totality of crimes Mueller considered with Trump.

All the more so given the kinds of obstructive acts described in Volume II. The biggest tip-off that this volume was about something other than criminal obstruction charges, in my opinion, is the discussion of Trump’s lies about the June 9 meeting in Trump Tower. As Jurecic’s heat map, her extended analysis, and my own analysis at the time show, the case that this was obstruction was weak. “Mueller spent over eight pages laying out whether Trump’s role in crafting a deceitful statement about the June 9 meeting was obstruction of justice when, according to the report’s analysis of obstruction of justice, it was not even a close call.” At the time, I suggested Mueller included it because it explained what Trump was trying to cover up with his other obstructive actions during the same months. But I think the centrality of Vladimir Putin involvement in Trump’s deceitful statement — which gets no mention in the Report, even though the Report elsewhere cites the NYT interview where that was first revealed — suggests something else about this incident. Because of how our Constitution gives primacy in foreign affairs to the President, DOJ would have a very hard time charging the President for conversations he had with a foreign leader (Trump’s Ukraine extortion was slightly different because Trump refused to inform Congress of his decision to blow off their appropriation instructions). But Congress would (in a normal time, should) have no difficulty holding the President accountable for colluding with a foreign leader to invent a lie to wield during a criminal investigation. Trump’s June 9 meeting lie is impeachable; it is not prosecutable.

Similarly, several of the other obstructive acts — asking Comey to confirm there was no investigation into him, firing Comey, and threatening to fire Mueller — would likewise be far easier for Congress to punish than for DOJ to, because of how expansively we define the President’s authority.

That is, these ten obstructive acts are best understood, in my opinion, as charges for Congress to impeach, not for DOJ to prosecute. The obstruction section — packaged up separately from discussion of the other criminal investigations into Trump — was an impeachment referral, not a criminal referral. I think Mueller may have had a naive belief that Congress would be permitted to consider those charges for impeachment, such an effort would succeed, and that would leave DOJ free to continue the other more serious criminal investigation into Trump.

It didn’t happen.

But that doesn’t change that a number of these obstructive acts are more appropriate for Congress to punish than for DOJ to.

Bill Barr did irreparable damage to half of these obstruction charges

Bill Barr, of course, had other things in mind.

Those wailing that Garland is doing nothing in the face of imminently expiring obstruction statutes of limitation appear to have completely forgotten all the things Billy Barr did to make sure those obstruction charges could not be prosecuted as they existed when Mueller released his report.

That effort started with Barr’s declination of the obstruction charges.

Last year, Amy Berman Jackson forced DOJ to release part of the memo Barr’s flunkies wrote up the weekend they received the Mueller Report. The unsealed portions show that Rod Rosenstein, Ed O’Callaghan, and Steven Engel signed off on the conclusion that,

For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the evidence described in Volume II of the Report is not, in our judgment, sufficient to support a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that the President violated the obstruction-of-justice statutes. In addition, we believe that certain of the conduct examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances. Accordingly, were there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend, under the Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.

This was unbelievably corrupt. There are a slew of reasons — from Barr’s audition memo to the way these officials include no review of the specific allegations to the fact that some of these crimes were crimes in progress — why this decision is inadequate. But none of those reasons can make the memo go away. So unless DOJ were to formally disavow this decision after laying out the reasons why the process was corrupt (preferably via analysis done by a quasi-independent reviewer like the Inspector General), any prosecution of the obstruction crimes laid out in the Mueller Report would be virtually impossible, because the very first thing Trump would do would be to cite the memo and call these three men as witnesses that the case should be dismissed.

But Barr’s sabotage of these charges didn’t end there. At his presser releasing the heavily-redacted report, Barr excused Trump’s obstruction because (Barr claimed) Trump was very frustrated he didn’t get away with cheating with Russia unimpeded, thereby deeming his motives to be pure.

In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context.  President Trump faced an unprecedented situation.  As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates.  At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability.  Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion.  And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.  Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.  And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.

These claims were, all of them, factually false, as I laid out at the time. But because he was the Attorney General when he made them, they carry a great deal of weight, legally, in establishing that Trump had no corrupt motive for obstructing the investigation into his ties to Russia.

And after that point, Barr made considerable effort to manufacture facts to support his bullshit claims. Most obviously, he sicced one after another after another investigator on the Russian investigation to try to substantiate his own bullshit claims. In the case of Barr’s efforts to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution — which investigation lies behind four of the obstruction charges laid out in the Mueller Report — the Jeffrey Jensen team literally altered documents to misrepresent the case against Flynn. Similarly, a Barr-picked prosecutor installed to replace everyone who was fired or quit in the DC US Attorney’s Office, Ken Kohl, stood before Judge Sullivan and claimed (falsely) that everyone involved with the Flynn prosecution had no credibility.

If we move forward in this case, we would be put in a position of presenting the testimony of Andy McCabe, a person who our office charged and did not prosecute for the same offense that he’s being — that we would be proceeding to trial against with respect to Mr. Flynn.

So all of our evidence, all of our witnesses in this case as to what Mr. Flynn did or didn’t do have been — have had specific findings by the Office of Inspector General. Lying under oath, misleading the Court, acting with political motivation. Never in my career, Your Honor, have I had a case with witnesses, all of whom have had specific credibility findings and then been pressed to go forward with the prosecution. We’re never expected to do so.

Again, so long as this testimony remains credible, you can’t pursue obstruction charges remotely pertaining to Flynn, meaning four of the obstruction charges are off the table.

Barr also chipped away at the other charges underlying the obstruction charges, intervening to make it less likely that Roger Stone or Paul Manafort would flip on Trump and help DOJ substantiate that, yes, Trump really did cheat with Russia to get elected. Barr also got OLC to undercut the analysis behind charging Michael Cohen for the hush payments (which may have made it impossible for SDNY to charge Trump with the same charges).

Meanwhile, John Durham toils away, trying to build conspiracy charges to substantiate the rest of Barr’s conspiracy theories. Along the way, Durham seems to be tainting other evidence that would be central to any obstruction charges against Trump. For example, in the most recent BuzzFeed FOIA release, all parts of Jim Comey’s memos substantiating Trump’s obstruction that mentioned the Steele dossier were protected under a b7(A) exemption, which is almost certainly due to Durham’s pursuit of a theory that Trump’s actions with Comey were merely a response to the Steele dossier, not an attempt to hide his Flynn’s very damning conversations with the Russian Ambassador during the transition. That is, Durham is as we speak making evidence unavailable in his efforts to invent facts to back Barr’s claims about Trump’s pure intent in obstructing the Mueller investigation.

As noted, all of these efforts are fairly self-obviously corrupt, and most don’t withstand close scrutiny (as the altered documents did not when I pointed them out). But before DOJ could pursue the obstruction charges as they existed in the Mueller Report, they would first have to disavow all of this.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz was reportedly investigating at least some of this starting in 2020. And I trust his investigators would be able to see through much of what Barr did. But even assuming Horowitz was investigating the full scope of all of them, because of the pace of DOJ IG investigations, the basis to disavow Barr’s efforts would not and will not come in time to charge those obstruction counts before the statutes of limitation expires.

The continuing obstruction statutes have barely started

In addition to obstructing the punishment of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and undermining the theory behind the Michael Cohen hush payment charges, Bill Barr also worked relentlessly to undermine the prosecution of Rudy Giuliani.

There were undoubtedly a lot of reasons Barr needed to do that. If he didn’t, he might have to treat Trump’s extortion of Ukraine (which was the follow-up to Manafort’s Ukraine ties in 2016). Rudy was central to Trump’s own obstruction of the Mueller investigation. And if Rudy were shown to be an Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, it would raise significant questions about Trump’s larger defense (questions for which there is substantiation in Mueller’s 302s).

I understand there was a sense, in the middle of Barr’s efforts, that prosecutors believed they could just wait those efforts out.

And then, literally on Lisa Monaco’s first day on the job, DOJ obtained warrants to seize 16 devices from Rudy. During all the months that people have been wailing for Garland to act, Barbara Jones has been wading through Rudy’s phones to separate out anything privileged (and, importantly, to push back on efforts to protect crime-fraud excepted communications). Almost the first thing Lisa Monaco did was approve an effort to go after the key witness to the worst of Trump’s corruption.

There are many reasons I keep coming back to that seizure to demonstrate that Garland’s DOJ (in reality, Monaco would be the one making authorizations day-to-day) will not back off aggressive investigations of Trump. Even if DOJ only had warrants for the Ukraine investigation, it would still get to larger issues of obstruction, because of how it relates to impeachment. But even if it were true those were the only warrants when DOJ raided Rudy, there’s abundant reason to believe that’s no longer true. If DOJ got warrants covering the earlier obstruction or Rudy’s role in the attempted coup, no one outside that process would know about it.

Then, in recent days, DOJ made another audacious seizure of a lawyer’s communications, a seizure that only makes sense in the context of a larger obstruction investigation, this time of the January 6 investigation, yet more evidence that DOJ it not shying away from investigating Trump’s crimes.

Indeed, DOJ currently has investigations into all the nodes of the pardon dangles, too: Sidney Powell’s work for Trump on a thing of value (the Big Lie) while waiting for a Mike Flynn pardon; Roger Stone’s coordination with militias before and after he got his own pardon; promises to the Build the Wall crowd — promises kept only for Bannon — tied to efforts to help steal the election; and Rudy’s role at the center of all this.

There would be no reason to charge the pardon dangles from 2019 (the balance of the obstruction charges that Barr didn’t hopelessly sabotage) when DOJ has more evidence about pardon bribes from 2020, including the devices of the guy at the center of those efforts, and the direct tie to the January 6 coup attempt to tie it to. Indeed, attempting to charge the earlier dangles without implicating everything Trump got out of the pardons in his attempted coup would likely negatively impact an investigation into the more recent actions.

Even assuming Mueller packaged obstruction charges for DOJ to indict, rather than Congress to impeach, the deliberate sabotage Barr did in the interim makes most of those charges impossible. The exceptions — the pardon dangles — all have additional overt acts to include that sets aside Barr’s past declination.

DOJ cannot charge the Mueller obstruction charges. But they also cannot explain why not, partly because of the institutional necessity to move beyond Barr’s damage, but partly because doing so would damage the possibility of charging the continuation of that very same obstruction.

One obstruction crime is actually a conspiracy crime

I forgot one more detail that’s really important: One of the listed acts of obstruction, Trump’s efforts to have Jeff Sessions shut down the investigation, appears to be a Stone-related conspiracy crime. As I noted, that effort started nine days after Roger Stone told Julian Assange, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government.”

Especially given that it is among the weaker obstruction crimes, this is one that would be better pursued as a conspiracy crime (though it would be tangled up in the Assange extradition).

Update: As Jackson noted on Twitter, DC Circuit should soon weigh in on ABJ’s efforts to liberate more of Barr’s declination memo.

The John Durham Investigation Turns 1,000 Days Old Today

By my math, today marks the 1,000th day after Bill Barr first appointed John Durham to undermine the Russian investigation on May 13, 2019. Today marks a major new milestone in Durham’s effort to substantiate the conspiracy theories Barr sent him off chasing years ago.

The Durham investigation has now lasted 326 days longer than the Mueller investigation, not quite half again as long. But I’m sure Durham will last the 11 days required to hit that milestone, too.

At this stage in the aftermath of the Mueller investigation, Billy Barr had started his campaign to undo all punishment arising from it. January 2020 was the month when Barr took the first steps to protect Flynn from the new crimes he had committed in his effort to blow up his past prosecution by appointing Jeffrey Jensen to review the Flynn prosecution — an effort that would end with DOJ admitting that they had altered some notes.

Durham, by contrast, has had a productive last month. Four months after indicting Michael Sussmann, he learned that Sussmann had provided at least one other anonymous tip on behalf of Rodney Joffe, in addition to the one Durham has labeled a crime. Durham also discovered two phones used by James Baker, which he had never before bothered to look for in DOJ IG custody, precisely where he had been told one of them was years earlier.

At the rate Durham is discovering basic things he should have learned years before indicting Sussmann (and, probably, Igor Danchenko), he might be prepared to make a responsible prosecutorial decision about whether to charge these cases in another two years or so.

Update: Typo in table fixed.

Some Perspective on the Politicized Leak Investigation Targeting Adam Schiff

The NYT reported the other day that DOJ obtained phone records of Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and a bunch of House Intelligence Committee staffers in the guise of what it reports is a leak investigation (though given the specific form of Bill Barr’s prevarications about his knowledge, may have been repackaged as something else when the investigation was resuscitated in 2020).

Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.

The initial collection and especially the subsequent treatment were clearly politicized — and more importantly, stupid, from an investigative standpoint. But, especially because this involves Adam Schiff, some exactitude about what went on really is required.

This is not spying

First, this is not “spying.” If the use of informants to investigate members of the Trump campaign and Hillary Clinton’s Foundation during a political campaign is not spying, if the use of a lawful FISA to conduct both physical and electronic surveillance on recently departed campaign volunteer Carter Page is not spying — and Adam Schiff said they were not, and I agree — then neither is the use of a subpoena to collect the phone records of Democrats who had knowledge of information that subsequently leaked in a fully predicated (and very serious) leak investigation.

This is “just” metadata

According to all reports, the government obtained the iPhone metadata records of 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses. Apple suggests other tech companies probably got subpoenas, too, which means that some of those email addresses probably weren’t Apple emails.

But it was — as Adam Schiff said many times when defending a program that aspired to collect “all” the phone records in the United States — “just” metadata.

I don’t mean to belittle the impact of that. As I and others argued (against Schiff), metadata is actually profoundly revealing.

But if this is a problem (it is!), then people like Adam Schiff should lead a conversation about whether the standard on collection of metadata — currently, it only needs to be “relevant to” an investigation — is what it should be, as well as the rules imposed on future access to the data once collected prevent abuse.

Apple (and other tech companies) wouldn’t have known this was Adam Schiff

Even people who understand surveillance seem to believe that Apple would have known these requests targeted Adam Schiff in a leak investigation and therefore should have done more to fight it, as if the actual subpoena would be accompanied with an affidavit with shiny flags saying “HPSCI Ranking Member.”

They wouldn’t have. They would have gotten a list of selectors (some of which, by its description, it probably did not service), a description of the crime being investigated (a leak), and a gag order. The one thing that should have triggered closer review from Apple was the number of selectors. But apparently it did not, and once Apple complied, the data was swept up into the FBI’s servers where it presumably remains.

The subpoena was overly broad and not tailored to limit damage to Schiff

All that said, there were aspects of the subpoena that suggest it was written without any consideration for limiting the damage to Congressional equities or reasonable investigative targets. Focusing on these details are important because they distinguish what is really problematic about this (and who is to blame). According to reports, the subpoena:

  • Obtained information from a minor, who would have had no access to classified information
  • Included a series of year-long gags
  • Obtained all the toll records from date of creation
  • May have focused exclusively on Democratic members and staffers

It’s conceivable that, after years of investigation, DOJ would have reason to believe someone was laundering leaks through a child. But given how broad this subpoena is, it’s virtually impossible the affidavit included that kind of specific knowledge.

With journalists, DOJ is supposed to use shorter gags–three months. The series of year-long gags suggests that DOJ was trying to hide the existence of these subpoenas not just to hide an investigation, but to delay the political embarrassment of it.

There’s no reason to believe that Adam Schiff leaked a FISA application targeting Carter Page first obtained in 2016 in 2009 (or whenever the Californian lawmaker first set up his Apple account). It’s a physical impossibility. So it is completely unreasonable to imagine that years-old toll records would be “relevant to” a leak investigation predicated off a leak in 2017. Mind you, obtaining all records since the inception of the account is totally normal! It’s what DOJ did, for example, with Antionne Brodnax, a January 6 defendant who got notice of subpoenas served on him, but whose attempt to limit the subpoena failed because those whose records are subpoenaed have no authority to do that. There are two appropriate responses to the unreasonable breadth of this request: both a focus on the failure to use special caution with Congressional targets, but also some discussion about how such broad requests are unreasonable regardless of the target.

Given the number of these selectors, it seems unlikely DOJ did more than ID the people who had access to the leaked information in question. Except if they only obtained selectors for Democrats, it would suggest investigators went into the investigation with the assumption that the leak was political, and that such a political leak would necessarily be partisan. That’s simply not backed by exhibited reality, and if that’s what happened, it should force some scrutiny on who made those assumptions. That’s all the more true given hints that Republicans like Paul Ryan may have tipped Page off that he had been targeted.

These kinds of limiting factors are where the most good can come out of this shit-show, because they would have a real impact and if applied broadly would help not just Schiff.

Barr continued to appoint unqualified prosecutors to do his political dirty work

I think it would be useful to separate the initial records request — after all, the leak of a FISA intercept and the target of a FISA order are virtually unprecedented — from the continued use of the records in 2020, under Billy Barr.

The NYT explains that the initial investigators believed that charges were unlikely, but Barr redoubled efforts in 2020.

As the years wore on, some officials argued in meetings that charges were becoming less realistic, former Justice Department officials said: They lacked strong evidence, and a jury might not care about information reported years earlier.

[snip]

Mr. Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases. Some cases had nothing to do with leaks about Mr. Trump and involved sensitive national security information, one of the people said. But Mr. Barr’s overall view of leaks led some people in the department to eventually see the inquiries as politically motivated.

[snip]

After the records provided no proof of leaks, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington discussed ending that piece of their investigation. But Mr. Barr’s decision to bring in an outside prosecutor helped keep the case alive.

[snip]

In February 2020, Mr. Barr placed the prosecutor from New Jersey, Osmar Benvenuto, into the National Security Division. His background was in gang and health care fraud prosecutions.

Barr used this ploy — finding AUSAs who were unqualified to work on a case that others had found no merit to — on at least three different occasions. Every document John Durham’s team submitted in conjunction with the Kevin Clinesmith prosecution, for example, betrayed that investigators running it didn’t understand the scope of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation (and thereby also strongly suggested investigators had no business scrutinizing a counterintelligence investigation at all). The questions that Jeffrey Jensen’s team, appointed by Barr to review the DOJ IG investigation and the John Durham investigation to find conclusions they didn’t draw, asked Bill Barnett betrayed that the gun crimes prosecutors running it didn’t know fuckall about what they were doing (why Barnett answered as he did is another thing, one that DOJ IG should investigate). And now here, he appointed a health care fraud prosecutor to conduct a leak investigation after unbelievably aggressive leak investigators found nothing.

DOJ IG should include all of those investigations in its investigation, because they all reflect Barr’s efforts to force prosecutors to come to conclusions that the evidence did not merit (and because the Jensen investigation, at least, appears to have altered records intentionally).

FBI never deletes evidence

In an attempt to disclaim responsibility for yet more political abuse, Billy Barr issued a very interestingly worded disavowal.

Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He added that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on the Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of the former president’s push to unmask leakers of classified information.

There are two parts to this: One, that “while he was attorney general,” Congresspersons’ records were not sought, and two, sought in a leak case. The original subpoena for these records was in February 2018, so not during Barr’s tenure as Attorney General. He doesn’t deny asking for those previously-sought records to be reviewed anew while Attorney General.

But he also limits his disavowal to leak cases. Under Barr’s fervent imagination, however, these investigations may well have morphed into something else, what he may have imagined were political abuse or spying violation cases. DOJ can and often does obtain new legal process for already obtained records (which would be unnecessary anyway for toll records), so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Barr directed his unqualified prosecutor to use those already-seized records to snoop into some other question.

It’s a pity for Adam Schiff that no one in charge of surveillance in Congress imposed better trackability requirements on FBI’s access of its investigative collections.

Both an IG investigation and a Special Counsel are inadequate to this investigation

Lisa Monaco asked Michael Horowitz to investigate this investigation. And that’s fine: he can access the records of the investigation, and the affidavits. He can interview the line prosecutors who were tasked with this investigation.

But he can’t require Barr or Jeff Sessions or any of the other Trump appointees who ordered up this investigation to sit for an interview (he could move quickly and ask John Demers to sit for an interview).

Because of that, a lot of people are asking for a Special Counsel to be appointed. That would be nice, except thus far, there’s no evidence that a crime was committed, so there is no regulatory basis to appoint a Special Counsel. The standard for accessing records is very low, any special treatment accorded journalists or members of Congress are not written into law, and prosecutorial discretion at DOJ is nearly sacrosanct. The scandal is that this may all be entirely legal.

Mind you, there’s good reason to believe there was a crime committed in the Jeffrey Jensen investigation, the same crime (altering documents) that Barr used to predicate the Durham Special Counsel appointment. So maybe people should revisit that?

Luckily, Swalwell and Schiff know some members of Congress who can limit such abuses

If I learned that DOJ engaged in unreasonable surveillance on me [wink], I’d have no recourse, largely because of laws that Adam Schiff has championed for years.

But as it happens, Schiff and Swalwell both know some members of Congress who could pass some laws limiting the ability to do some of the things used against them that affect thousands of Americans investigated by the FBI.

Now that Adam Schiff has discovered, years after we tried to reason with him on this point, that “it’s just metadata” doesn’t fly in this day and age, maybe we can talk about how the FBI should be using metadata given how powerful it has become?

The renewed focus on Schiff’s metadata would have come after Schiff disclosed Nunes’ ties to Rudy Giuliani’s grift

Another factor of timing hasn’t gotten enough attention. In late December, Schiff released the Democrats’ impeachment report. Because Schiff obtained subpoenas (almost certainly targeting Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani), he included call records of calls implicating Devin Nunes and his staffer Derek

Over the course of the four days following the April 7 article, phone records show contacts between Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, Representative Devin Nunes, and Mr. Solomon. Specifically, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas were in contact with one another, as well as with Mr. Solomon.76 Phone records also show contacts on April 10 between Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Nunes, consisting of three short calls in rapid succession, followed by a text message, and ending with a nearly three minute call.77 Later that same day, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon had a four minute, 39 second call.78

[snip]

On the morning of May 8, Mr. Giuliani called the White House Switchboard and connected for six minutes and 26 seconds with someone at the White House.158 That same day, Mr. Giuliani also connected with Mr. Solomon for almost six minutes, with Mr. Parnas, and with Derek Harvey, a member of Representative Nunes’ staff on the Intelligence Committee.159

69 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI _20190930_00848-ATTHPSCI_20190930_00884. Mr. Parnas also had an aborted call that lasted 5 seconds on April 5, 2019 with an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes on the Intelligence Committee, Derek Harvey. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00876. Call records obtained by the Committees show that Mr. Parnas and Mr. Harvey had connected previously, including a four minute 42 second call on February 1, 2019, a one minute 7 second call on February 4, and a one minute 37 second call on February 7, 2019. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00617, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00630, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00641. As explained later in this Chapter, Rep. Nunes would connect separately by phone on April 10, 11, and 12 with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00913- ATTHPSCI_20190930_00914; ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125.

76 Specifically, between April 8 and April 11, phone records show the following phone contacts:

  • six calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas (longest duration approximately five minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115-ATTHPSCI_20190930-02131;
  • four calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Solomon (all on April 8, longest duration approximately one minute, 30 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02114- ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115;
  • nine calls between Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon (longest duration four minutes, 39 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00906; and
  • three calls between Mr. Parnas and Ms. Toensing (longest duration approximately six minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00905.

77 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125, ATTHPSCI_20190930-03236.

78 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00902.

[snip]

158 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02313.

159 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02314; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02316; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02318; ATTHPSCI 20190930 01000.

Because Nunes doesn’t understand how phone records work, he — and most other Republicans in Congress — accused Schiff of subpoenaing the record of his colleagues. That’s not what happened. Instead, Nunes and a key staffer got involved in with Rudy’s efforts to solicit dirt from Russian assets and as a result they showed up in Rudy’s phone records.

But it’s the kind of thing that might lead Barr to intensify his focus on Schiff.

The last section of this was an update.

Billy Barr Makes Excuses for His C- Durham Investigation Report Card

Either Billy Barr didn’t believe his bullshit would withstand even the obsequious questioning of Pierre Thomas or Pete Williams, or he felt the need to re-set the expectations for the Durham investigation that he set sky high when it started, because one of his first exit interviews was with WSJ’s propagandist Kim Strassel.

There’s the typical propaganda in here: Strassel’s attempt to claim all the politicized decisions he made were instead brave tough choices and she reports Barr’s admission that he came in to end the Russian investigation without noting that, in the past, he admitted when he came in he didn’t know anything about.

But there’s an interesting framing that suggests Barr knows he badly oversold his claims about the Mueller investigation and the FBI investigation that led to it, and oversold his Durham investigation even more.

Of the Russian investigation, Barr first claims, as fact, that a small group of people used the Russian investigation to topple the Trump “administration,” ignoring the illogic of that claim, since had they really wanted to thwart Trump, they would have done so during the election.

He reminds me why he took the job in the first place: “The Department of Justice was being used as a political weapon” by a “willful if small group of people,” who used the claim of collusion with Russia in an attempt to “topple an administration,” he says. “Someone had to make sure that the power of the department stopped being abused and that there was accountability for what had happened.” Mr. Barr largely succeeded, in the process filling a vacuum of political oversight, reimposing norms, and resisting partisan critics on both sides.

A paragraph later, Barr says that Mueller should have done the work he claims Durham is doing, by refusing to take in garbage (we’ve already seen abundant evidence that Mueller chased down disinformation, including the Steele dossier, as disinformation).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s appointment should not have been necessary. Mr. Mueller’s investigation should have exposed FBI malfeasance. Instead, “the Mueller team seems to have been ready to blindly accept anything fed to it by the system,” Mr. Barr says, adding that this “is exactly what DOJ should not be.”

In-between the two, Barr reiterated his bullshit claim that there was no evidence of “collusion.”

Mr. Barr describes an overarching objective of ensuring that there is “one standard of justice.” That, he says, is why he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the FBI’s 2016 Crossfire Hurricane probe. “Of course the Russians did bad things in the election,” he says. “But the idea that this was done with the collusion of the Trump campaign—there was never any evidence. It was entirely made up.” The country deserved to know how the world’s premier law-enforcement agency came to target and spy on a presidential campaign.

Ignore for a second that a passage of the Mueller Report that Barr stalled to declassify until the height of the election showed that Mueller referred the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia to the DC US Attorney, ignore that Paul Manafort lied about what he and his partner the Russian spy were doing, ignore that Barr and Trump will attempt to make both of those ongoing investigations go away with pardons issued in minutes or days.

Barr suggests that Mueller’s conclusion that he didn’t have enough evidence to charge a conspiracy equates to claims of “collusion” being “entirely made up.” That is, if there’s not enough evidence to charge a crime, then even the lower level non-crime of “arglebargle” didn’t happen, even though SSCI staffers said it did.

So, for the Mueller investigation, Barr suggests no garbage should come in, and if no indictments (aside from the 30 or so that did) come out, then there was nothing to see there.

From there, Barr proceeds to make two paragraphs of excuses as to why Durham has found nothing in the same 20 months that Mueller indicted over 30 people, 3 corporations, and paid for much of the investigation.

Mr. Durham hasn’t finished his work, to the disappointment of many Republicans, including the president, who were hoping for a resolution—perhaps including indictments—before the election. Mr. Barr notes that Mr. Durham had to wait until the end of 2019 for Inspector General Michael Horowitz to complete his own investigation into the FBI’s surveillance. Then came the Covid lockdowns, which suspended federal grand juries for six months. Mr. Durham could no longer threaten to subpoena uncooperative witnesses.

“I understand people’s frustration over the timing, and there are prosecutors who break more china, so to speak,” Mr. Barr says. “But they don’t necessarily get the results.” Mr. Durham will, and is making “significant progress,” says Mr. Barr, who disclosed this month that he had prior to the election designated Mr. Durham a special counsel, to provide assurance that his team would be able to finish its work. The new designation also assures that Mr. Durham will produce a report to the attorney general. Mr. Barr believes “the force of circumstances will ensure it goes public” even under the new administration.

Again, Durham has brought one indictment in the time that Mueller had indicted 33 people (and even the least-politicized investigation into Hunter Biden has gone on longer than the entire Mueller investigation). Which maybe explains why Barr offers up excuses why Durham hasn’t found anything except what Michael Horowitz found for him, the Kevin Clinesmith document alteration.

He offers more, later, but not before he uses a different tack to explain away the futility of his examination. He explains, in passing, that the scope has gotten smaller. He doesn’t mention something he has already admitted in the past — that Durham spent a lot of time (on boondoggle trips to Europe, Barr doesn’t say) chasing down and disproving George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories. He does, however, confess that Durham determined before October that the CIA didn’t just make shit up.

The biggest news from Mr. Durham’s probe is what he has ruled out. Mr. Barr was initially suspicious that agents had been spying on the Trump campaign before the official July 2016 start date of Crossfire Hurricane, and that the Central Intelligence Agency or foreign intelligence had played a role. But even prior to naming Mr. Durham special counsel, Mr. Barr had come to the conclusion that he didn’t “see any sign of improper CIA activity” or “foreign government activity before July 2016,” he says. “The CIA stayed in its lane.”

Let me interrupt and observe that Barr bitched that Mueller “blindly accept[ed] anything fed to it by the system,” but here admits that two things he personally fed to Durham — Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and politicized claims that the CIA had it in for Trump — were garbage. Barr has just confessed he did what he accuses Mueller (with no evidence) of doing.

Several paragraphs later, Barr asserts, as fact, that the politicized Jeffrey Jensen investigation he ordered up (again, garbage in) concluded that Flynn’s prosecution was “entirely bogus.”

Also outrageous, in Mr. Barr’s view, was the abuse of power by both the FBI and the Mueller team toward Mr. Trump’s associates, especially Mr. Flynn. The FBI, as a review by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen found, pulled Mr. Flynn into an interview that had “no legitimate investigative basis.” The Mueller team then denied Mr. Flynn’s legal defense exculpatory information and pressured Mr. Flynn into pleading guilty to lying.

Mr. Barr didn’t order a review of the case until Mr. Flynn petitioned to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2020. Mr. Jensen’s review then made clear that the case “was entirely bogus,” Mr. Barr says. “It was analogous right now to DOJ prosecuting the person Biden named as his national security adviser for communication with a foreign government.” The Justice Department agreed to drop the charges in May, although Judge Emmet Sullivan spent months contesting the move until Mr. Trump finally pardoned Mr. Flynn. Mr. Barr declines to comment on Judge Sullivan’s maneuvering.

Except, of course, “Sullivan’s maneuvering,” (AKA, being a judge) rejected that claim, and pointedly found the claims Barr invented were unpersuasive given the claims that Bill Barr’s own DOJ had already made in his court. The legally valid conclusion is that Barr’s talking shite here, to say nothing of whatever Strassel is doing.

Then, going back a bit, Barr describes Durham’s narrowly circumscribed scope (assuming Biden’s AG doesn’t expand it to look at how Barr and others undermined the Russian investigation, including by committing the same crime Kevin Clinesmith pled guilty to). We’re down to a dead-ender investigation into the FBI agents (presumably, unless Biden’s AG expands the scope, excluding Bill Barnett, whose Jensen interview report conflicts with his own actions on the Flynn case).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s probe is now tightly focused on “the conduct of Crossfire Hurricane, the small group at the FBI that was most involved in that,” as well as “the activities of certain private actors.” (Mr. Barr doesn’t elaborate.) Mr. Durham has publicly stated he’s not convinced the FBI team had an adequate “predicate” to launch an investigation. In September, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a document showing that the FBI was warned in 2016 that the Hillary Clinton campaign might be behind the “collusion” claims.

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham is also looking at the January 2017 intelligence-community “assessment” that claimed Russia had “developed a clear preference” for Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. He confirms that most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.

SSCI has already judged Barr is wrong about the latter point. So Barr is basically left with the Steele dossier and those who used it as they would any other informant report, especially an informant report from a former intelligence partner.

Barr is, you’ll be unsurprised to know, lying when he claims, “most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.” More on that in time for January 21, I hope.

So thus far, Barr offers the following excuses, after narrowing the scope to eliminate all the worse-than-Steele dossier bullshit he introduced.

  • Had to wait for Horowitz to find the only crime
  • Too careful
  • Too much sickness
  • Too many conspiracy theories (all included by Barr) to debunk
  • [Unstated: Too many boondoggles]
  • A prosecutor whose team altered documents (like Clinesmith) made a claim a judge shot down

Having done all that, Barr then resorts to the inverse of the attack he makes on the 34-indictment Mueller investigation:

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”

The American system is “designed to find people innocent,” Mr. Barr notes. “It has a high bar.” One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar. The FBI’s use “of confidential human sources and wiretapping to investigate people connected to a campaign was outrageous,” Mr. Barr says—whether or not it leads to criminal charges.

Never mind that Barr claims the FBI used wiretapping to investigate “people connected to a campaign,” which is false (the use of informants is true, except Barr is not here complaining that the FBI counts the use of informants against everyone else as one of the most unintrusive means of investigation, which would be the proper conclusion Barr should take from his discomfort at how they were used here).

Barr’s final excuse for the fact that he’s been making grand claims of abuse for years but found nothing is that no one has been put into an orange jumpsuit yet. “The American system is “designed to find people innocent,'” Billy Barr told WSJ’s propagandist. And so people shouldn’t assume that his two year witch hunt has come up dry.

The issue — says the guy turning a no conspiracy charge into a no collusion claim — is that the American system is, “designed to find people innocent.”

Bill Barr claims he believes in, “one standard of justice,” even while making wild accusations for years that have turned out (his narrow scope implicitly admits) to be false. But he apparently believes in two standards of performance. John Durham’s single prosecution over 20 months, on a charge gift-wrapped for him by Michael Horowitz — that’s smoking gun proof of abuse. But Mueller’s 37 indictments, including obstruction-related charges for Trump’s campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, lawyer, rat-fucker, National Security Advisor, and coffee boy, along with an ongoing investigation into the rat-fucker for conspiring with Russia. That’s nothing, “entirely made up.”

There’s still room for abuse and it’s clear Durham doesn’t understand what he’s looking at. But in the end, Barr’s micromanaged witch hunt couldn’t match what Robert Mueller did. And Barr is probably feeling pretty insecure about that on the way out.

Ron Johnson Grasping at Chum

Russian disinformation purveyor Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley continue to serially demand and release documents from FBI in hopes of sustaining a buzz suggesting that Hillary was treated better than Donald Trump.

The latest batch is a hodgepodge. It purports to be,

messages from former FBI agent Peter Strzok related to Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign and administration officials, and the FBI’s “Midyear Exam” investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

But it is actually a hodgepodge, including texts pertaining to Guccifer 1.0, the ongoing hacks of the DNC, and other investigations pertaining to Russia, including the beginnings of a focus on Russia’s 2016 social media campaign. Some of the texts, such as one from October 21, 2016 about leaked Podesta emails involving Obama, don’t obviously involve Strzok at all.

There is no possible set of search terms that would return these texts. But they’re useful to compare with another more motivated set of texts released by the Jeffrey Jensen investigation that overlap with this one. Here’s a set of texts packaged up to justify blowing up the Flynn prosecution.

As a later filing to Judge Sullivan admitted, they were actually repackaged from the FBI original, and in the process an error was introduced into the document (adding the wrong time for the “Will do” text).

The set released to Johnson includes just a few of those texts, completely out of context.

But those texts reveal one reason why the Jensen texts were packaged up: to alter the UTC times to Eastern time, the kind of thing that, for trial exhibits, needs to be formally noticed. It’s the kind of thing Sullivan wouldn’t need to assess the evidence, but that would make the connections Jensen was trying to feed the public (some false) easier to put together.

Neither the Senators, their staff, nor the frothy right seem to have cared that these texts reflect a random grab bag to keep them occupied. Chuck Ross got himself in a tizzy, for example, because Strzok read the Michael Isikoff article reflecting information from Steele and determined that the Steele reports were “intended to influence as well as inform.”

In his rendition of the text, Ross claims that this means Strzok knew “Steele was a source” for the story. Of course, it means no such thing (and Ross had to mis-cite it to make the claim). It actually reflects that Strzok knew Steele’s reports were a source for the story, which was noticed to the FISA Court from the very first application, and so nothing we didn’t already know.

Then there’s the Federalist, which claims that this text proves the FBI was wiretapping calls between Fox News and George Papadopoulos.

The text is a copy of a text sent by someone else (that is, forwarded to the person who forwarded this to Strzok). It appears to come from Chicago (CG). Chicago was running an informant on Papadopoulos, who spoke quite a lot to him while being monitored. The most likely explanation for this is that after news about Sergei Millian was breaking (whose name is redacted in all these texts), Papadopoulos told the informant that Fox had reached out to him. In the same way Papadopoulos bragged falsely about meeting Russia’s ambassador and Putin’s niece, he may well have exaggerated the seniority of the person he spoke with.

Meanwhile, some of the texts provide needed content.

One text explains part of why Joe Pientka wrote up the briefing he gave Mike Flynn, Chris Christie, and Trump in August 2016: to capture what was said in case anyone leaked it.

He was wise to do so! Both Flynn and Trump would go on to make claims about what went on in the briefing, with Flynn falsely claiming that briefers said they disagreed with President Obama’s policies, claims that do not accord with the record — thus far — we’ve gotten of it.

And in January, amid a recurring discussion about how to organize the investigations — and exhibiting a concern that the multiple (Egypt, Flynn on Turkey, Papadopoulos and Israel) different CI concerns would turn into a Trump focused investigation rather than one focused on multiple legitimate concerns run by people with specific expertise to them — Strzok raised the risk of Flynn leaking. Flynn had a history of sharing classified information inappropriately. In one of the calls with Kislyak, Flynn offered up what kind of calls the Transition had been making (which might have been classified if it happened after inauguration).

Flynn: Yeah, there … there, I can tell you that there’s, uh, you know, a litany of countries that are … that we’re talking … I’m … I’m talking directly to. And … and that …

Kislyak: I see.

Flynn: Basically, just as I asked you.

With this disclosure, Flynn basically admitted to the Russians that Trump’s people were conducting a systematic effort to undermine Obama’s policy. And Kislyak just took at all in, letting Flynn run his mouth.

“I see.”

So at a time he would have been reviewing these transcripts and seeing how little filter Flynn had with a hostile country, Stzrok noted that the conversations with Kislyak or others could easily turn into an Espionage investigation, file code 65, if Flynn shared classified information.

There’s more, reflecting a real concern about the leaks that also (rightly) pissed off Trump, along with real efforts to chase them down.

But for now, DOJ and FBI appear to be throwing random shit Ron Johnson’s way to get through the end of the term, when he’ll no longer Chair HGSAC.

The Claim that Billy Barr Didn’t Release Any Investigative Information During the Election Is False

Even before Billy Barr’s obsequious resignation, he and his handlers had been working the press to boost his tainted reputation. Consider not one (dated December 10) but two (dated December 14) WSJ stories boasting about how Barr kept the Hunter Biden investigations from going public. The WSJ lauds Barr for doing things that he pushed to have Peter Strzok and others prosecuted for also doing in the Russian investigation (one theory that John Durham and Jeffrey Jensen pursued is that because Strzok didn’t approve NSLs against Mike Flynn in November 2016 he had no basis to do so in February and March 2017).

Mr. Barr took more steps than previously reported to insulate the investigations, despite calls from President Trump and Republican allies to announce a probe involving President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Mr. Barr and senior department officials relayed the instructions in conversations with prosecutors, questioning whether their staff members could be trusted and warning against issuing subpoenas or taking other steps that might become public, some of the people familiar with the matter said.

It’s full of fawning praise that accepts as true that Barr would never reveal information from an ongoing probe.

As the election drew nearer, calls from Mr. Trump and some Republican allies for the investigations rose in urgency. Mr. Barr and other top Justice Department officials resisted inquiries from several Republican lawmakers and their staffs for information on whether investigators were examining Hunter Biden, two people familiar with the matter said.

“It’s not even debatable that it is wrong for anyone in the chain of command at DOJ, especially the top law enforcement person in the country, to reveal an ongoing confidential criminal investigation. And Bill Barr was not going to do that,” said Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney and longtime friend of the attorney general.

The WSJ even points to the Scott Brady investigation, without noting what happened to it during the investigation.

After the acquittal, Mr. Barr announced that the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, Scott Brady, would receive and review information related to Hunter Biden and Ukraine from Mr. Giuliani.

As the NYT reported, Brady was pushing the FBI to do stuff they deemed inappropriate, particularly during an election year. It sounds like, to the degree that these investigations remained secret, that was due more to the FBI than to Barr or his hand-selected partisan US Attorney.

The steps were outside “normal investigative procedures,” one former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the events said, particularly in an election year; Justice Department policy typically forbids investigators from making aggressive moves before elections that could affect the outcome of the vote if they become public.

The Pittsburgh F.B.I. office refused to comply without the approval of David L. Bowdich, the F.B.I.’s deputy director, the former official said.

Mr. Brady’s demands soon prompted a tense confrontation with F.B.I. officials at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington. The meeting was mediated by Seth D. DuCharme, now the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and at the time a trusted aide and ally of Mr. Barr’s at the Justice Department in Washington.

[snip]

Still, Mr. Brady pressed the F.B.I. to do more, officials said. The agents found ways to ostensibly satisfy Mr. Brady without upending the election. It is not clear how they compromised, but agents could have investigated more discreetly, like questioning witnesses they were confident would keep quiet or checking databases.

WSJ addresses the Durham investigation this way in its last three paragraphs.

Mr. Barr soon after ordered an investigation into the origins of the FBI’s 2016 probe that had led to Mr. Mueller’s appointment. Mr. Barr openly contemplated releasing the results ahead of November’s election. He told The Wall Street Journal in August the department’s election-sensitivities policy did not apply because the previously announced inquiry did not “reach to Obama or Biden, and therefore the people under investigation are in fact not really political figures.”

Then, the federal prosecutor leading that review, John Durham, hadn’t completed his work in time. Mr. Durham’s deputy resigned in part over concerns that Mr. Barr would use the findings for political gain, the Journal previously reported. Mr. Trump and his allies said they hoped some findings would be released before the election. Mr. Durham hasn’t commented on his team’s work.

In October, Mr. Barr appointed Mr. Durham special counsel, meaning he can only be removed for cause and likely leaving the probe for his successor to address. He didn’t disclose that appointment until Dec. 1.

I’m not sure how a piece that describes Nora Dannehy’s resignation can claim — anywhere — that Barr worked hard to keep investigative information secret. He tried to do the opposite, and failed, at least with respect to the Durham investigation.

But what he did in response should disabuse any journalist of the claim that Barr tried to keep investigative information secret.

In the 60 days leading up to the election, the Jeffrey Jensen released an interview report — from a witness that John Durham surely also interviewed — that was so obviously intended for political effect that it left out key details and evidence from the investigation into Mike Flynn and invited a pro-Trump FBI Agent to make accusations about Mueller prosecutors he didn’t even work with. The report was also redacted so as to hide material, complimentary information about the Mueller investigation.

At the same time, the Jensen investigation released a package of exhibits also reviewed as part of the Durham investigation, at least three of which had been altered, including to have their protective order footers removed:

One of the alterations — a misleading date falsely suggesting Biden played a role in the Mike Flynn investigation that DOJ knew well Bob Litt actually played — was used by Trump to make an attack on Joe Biden.

It is simply false to say that Barr didn’t release investigative information affecting Joe Biden. Indeed, under his micromanagement, Jensen did far worse than Jim Comey did in 2016, because the information was packaged up

In His Mike Flynn Opinion, Emmet Sullivan Made a Finding of Fact Against Billy Barr’s New Reality

I’ve been unpacking the Judge Emmet Sullivan opinion dismissing Mike Flynn’s guilty verdicts.

This post lays out how Sullivan asserts authority to refuse the government’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution, but does not do so, because the question is moot.

This post shows that Sullivan laid out evidence that DOJ’s motion to dismiss was pretextual. He declined to rule that the motion itself was pretextual, because the question is moot. But he made it clear he thinks DOJ’s excuses for blowing up the Flynn prosecution are bullshit.

And this post notes that, before Sullivan started mooting the shit out of DOJ’s interest in his docket, he struck some documents that Sidney Powell had submitted to his docket because the government had not authenticated them, without at the same time striking another document that the government didn’t rely on but had not authenticated. It’s a tactical step, I think, that leaves everything else in his docket as authenticated, even though DOJ stopped short of standing by all those exhibits.

Before I get into what Sullivan says about Trump’s pardon power — which, make no mistake, Sullivan affirms as expansive — I’d like to lay out some findings of fact that Sullivan includes in this opinion. He includes a number of other findings of fact that are tangential to the question of a pardon but which Bill Barr and Donald Trump have staked a lot on. He does so, he explains, because the government has invited him to.

The Court is mindful that it is “particularly ill-suited” to reviewing the strength of the case. Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598, 607 (1985); see also In re United States, 345 F.3d 454, 455 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding that the trial court’s belief that “the evidence was strong and conviction extremely likely” was an inappropriate basis to deny leave). That said, the role of the Court is to conduct an “examination of the record” in order to ensure that the government’s “efforts to terminate the prosecution [are not] tainted with impropriety.” Rinaldi, 434 U.S. at 30. Moreover, the Court examines the factual basis underlying the government’s reasons because not doing so would amount to rubber stamping the government’s decision, contrary to the requirement of Rule 48(a). Here, the government has invited the Court’s examination of its evidence. See Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 42:22-43:1 (stating that “we’re completely unafraid here to address . . . the specifics as to why we thought we needed to dismiss this case. . . . we’d be happy to go through the evidence.”). Accordingly, the Court will briefly address some of the evidence the government points to as it is troubled by the apparently pretextual nature of certain aspects of the government’s ever-evolving justifications. See Foster v. Chatman, 136 S. Ct. 1737, 1751 (2016) (“[T]he prosecution’s principal reasons for the strike shifted over time, suggesting that those reasons may be pretextual.”).

The findings of fact Sullivan addresses primarily come in this paragraph on materiality… [my numbering throughout]

Several of the government’s arguments regarding materiality also appear to be irrelevant or to directly contradict previous statements the government has made in this case. For example, as Mr. Gleeson points out, many of the “bureaucratic formalities” [1] the government asserts reveal the “confusion and disagreement about the purpose and legitimacy of the interview and its investigative basis”—such as the drafting of the FBI’s Closing Communication or internal conversations between FBI and Department of Justice officials regarding whether to notify the Trump administration of Mr. Flynn’s false statements—are not relevant to proving materiality. See Amicus Reply Br., ECF No. 243 at 19. Nor is it [2] relevant whether Mr. Flynn was an “agent of Russia” or guilty of some other crime at the time he made the false statements. Furthermore, while the government argues that, “since the time of [Mr. Flynn’s guilty] plea, [3] extensive impeaching materials had emerged about key witnesses the government would need to prove its case,” Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 35; the government had been aware of much of this evidence since early on in the case, see, e.g., Gov’t’s Response Def.’s Mot. Compel, ECF No. 122 at 8-9.

And this passage assessing the evidence that Flynn’s lies were lies.

[4] With regard to the “inconsistent records” rationale, the government has not pointed to evidence in the record in this case that contradicts the FD-302 that memorialized the FBI agents’ interview with Mr. Flynn. Furthermore, the government’s reliance on Director Comey’s opinion about whether Mr. Flynn lied is suspect given that Director Comey was not present at the interview and that there are valid questions regarding the admissibility of his personal opinion.

With regard to Mr. Flynn’s alleged “faulty memory,” Mr. Flynn is not just anyone; he was the National Security Advisor to the President, clearly in a position of trust, [5] who claimed that he forgot, within less than a month, that he personally asked for a favor from the Russian Ambassador that undermined the policy of the sitting President prior to the President-Elect taking office. With regard to the government’s concerns about the Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence’s contemplating the goal of the interview, [6] an objective interpretation of the notes in their entirety does not call into question the legitimacy of the interview. Finally, and critically, under the terms of Mr. Flynn’s cooperation agreement, [7] the government could have used his admissions at trial, see Plea Agreement, ECF No. 3 at 8 ¶ 11; but the government ignores this powerful evidence.

In these passages, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan finds as fact that:

  1. The government’s assertion that there was confusion surrounding Mike Flynn’s interview does not change that his lies were material.
  2. DOJ’s [draft] conclusion that Flynn was not an agent of Russia does not change that his lies were material.
  3. The evidence impeaching Peter Strzok and others does not change that Flynn’s lies were material (and, as Sullivan notes, even the government agreed before Flynn pled guilty).
  4. Nothing in the public record substantiates that the 302 of Janaury 24, 2017 Flynn’s interview does not accurately reflect what happened in the interview.
  5. Flynn’s claims to be forgetful are not consistent with the fact that, as the incoming National Security Advisor, he personally asked Sergey Kislyak to undermine President Obama’s policy before Trump took office.
  6. Nothing in Bill Priestap’s notes call into question the legitimacy of the Mike Flynn interview.
  7. The government could have relied on Mike Flynn’s admissions at trial.

One way to think about this language is that Billy Barr attempted to create a new set of facts by submitting documents from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation to Sullivan’s docket and making false claims about them, thereby attempting to annul the set of facts that led DOJ (even DOJ under Bill Barr, repeatedly) to argue that Mike Flynn’s lies were serious. Judge Sullivan is having none of Billy Barr’s new reality, in significant part because DOJ has not explained what changed from its prior assertions of fact and partly because none of the claims it has made about the so-called new evidence refutes DOJ’s prior representations.

These findings of fact may have a more specific effect, though. Billy Barr has served up his different set of facts and based off those, John Durham is attempting to criminalize the decisions of the people that prosecuted Mike Flynn for telling the FBI material lies. DOJ generally has no basis to appeal Sullivan’s findings, because its position in the docket is (as Sullivan notes repeatedly) moot. But Durham has even less ability to contest Sullivan’s findings of fact; he has no standing.

So unless DOJ finds a way around the fact that they themselves have mooted any further involvement before Judge Sullivan, then, any further investigation into the circumstances of Flynn’s prosecution will have to contend with the fact that a judge has already found a number of key premises entertained by those pushing the investigation into the investigation to be false.

At least as of right now, it is not relevant to Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn. But one thing Sullivan did in his opinion was to reject Billy Barr’s new reality in a way that may be invoked for any related matters before DC District courts.