Posts

Jeffrey Rosen Separated the Investigation that Could Turn Rudy Into a Russian Agent from the Rudy Investigation

When Scott Stedman first reported that the FBI investigation into matters relating to Rudy Giuliani had expanded to include sanctioned Russian agent Andreii Derkach, he suggested it was tied to the SDNY seizure, just days earlier, of Rudy’s phones.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani has expanded to include Russia’s spy activities in the 2020 U.S. election, multiple sources tell Forensic News.

The criminal investigation, which led to a dramatic raid of Giuliani’s home and office this week, has for months included the activities of those who worked for or with Russian intelligence agent Andriy Derkach.

Derkach is a Ukrainian Member of Parliament who has been an “active Russian agent for over a decade,” according to the U.S. government.

Kenneth McCallion, an attorney who has represented multiple Ukrainian clients, said that prosecutors have been looking into the actions of Derkach in the 2020 election cycle as part of the Giuliani probe.

“I have been briefed that prosecutors are scrutinizing Derkach as part of the Giuliani probe,” McCallion told Forensic News. The inclusion of Derkach in the FBI’s probe suggests that the potential charges facing Giuliani might extend beyond just Foreign Agent Registration Act violations.

But the NYT last night reported (without crediting Stedman for the earlier report) that, instead, the Derkach part of the investigation is in EDNY, not SDNY, and in that investigation, Rudy is not a subject.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have been investigating whether several Ukrainian officials helped orchestrate a wide-ranging plan to meddle in the 2020 presidential campaign, including using Rudolph W. Giuliani to spread their misleading claims about President Biden and tilt the election in Donald J. Trump’s favor, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

[snip]

The investigation is unfolding separately from a long-running federal inquiry in Manhattan that is aimed at Mr. Giuliani. While the two investigations have a similar cast of characters and overlap in some ways, Mr. Giuliani is not a subject of the Brooklyn investigation, the people said.

Instead, the Brooklyn prosecutors, along with the F.B.I., are focused on current and former Ukrainian officials suspected of trying to influence the election by spreading unsubstantiated claims of corruption about Mr. Biden through a number of channels, including Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer at the time. It is unclear whether the Brooklyn prosecutors will ultimately charge any of the Ukrainians.

At one point in the investigation, the authorities examined a trip Mr. Giuliani took to Europe in December 2019, when he met with several Ukrainians, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing inquiry.

At least one of the current and former officials Mr. Giuliani met, a Ukrainian member of parliament named Andriy Derkach, is now a focus of the Brooklyn investigation, the people said. [my emphasis]

In a remarkably stupid comment, the NYT suggests that two investigations started under Trump pose a political problem for Merrick Garland (misstating, at the same time, what Garland promised).

Together, the Manhattan and Brooklyn investigations present a challenge for the Biden Justice Department, which has pledged to remain above the political fray even as it inherited a number of sensitive investigations linked to Ukraine and Russia.

The comment is especially stupid given the public record that suggests the most likely explanation for the two separate investigations is that Jeffrey Rosen took steps after Rudy became the focus of investigative attention in SDNY, to ensure that EDNY could stave off the most dangerous parts of the investigation.

I have pointed out repeatedly that had the Zelenskyy call whistleblower tip been treated like all other national security related tips in the post-9/11 world, investigators would have discovered that it pertained to an already open investigation in SDNY into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, an investigation that both Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen knew about. It appears that didn’t happen at first because the complaint was viewed exclusively as the transcript of President Trump’s call, and not the backup that tied the call to the influence peddling involving Rudy, Parnas, and Fruman that had been going on for some time.

But, probably with the public release of the whistleblower complaint, SDNY began to investigate how Rudy picked up the effort that Parnas and Fruman had already started in 2018, to get Marie Yovanovitch fired.

On November 4, 2019, SDNY executed searches — searches that Main Justice would have had to be informed about — on Rudy and Victoria Toensing’s cloud accounts. In subsequent months, SDNY would execute searches on Yuri Lutsenko and several other Ukrainians, but not Andrii Derkach, not even after Rudy flew to Ukraine to meet with Derkach personally on December 5, 2019.

In the wake of those searches, on January 17, 2020, Jeffrey Rosen issued a memo putting his trusted deputy, Richard Donoghue, in charge of all Ukraine-related investigations.

As has been publicly reported, there currently are several distinct open investigations being handled by different U.S. Attorney’s Offices and/or Department components that in some way potentially relate to Ukraine. In addition, new information potentially relating to Ukraine may be brought to the attention of the Department going forward. The Department has assigned Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), who currently is handling certain Ukraine-related matters, to coordinate existing matters and to assess, investigate, and address any other matters relating to Ukraine, including the opening of any new investigations or the expansion of existing ones.

[snip]

Any and all new matters relating to Ukraine shall be directed exclusively to EDNY for investigation and appropriate handling.

[snip]

Any widening or expansion of existing matters shall require prior consultation with and approval by my office and EDNY.

Now that we know about the Rudy search in November 2019, the effect of this memo is clear: it limited the SDNY investigation to the scope of the investigation as it existed at that time, into the Lutsenko attempt to fire Yovanovitch (which was included in the original Parnas indictment), but not Rudy’s meeting with a Russian agent to help Trump win re-election.

Instead, EDNY presided over all the Ukraine goings-on during the election, during which time they could have done something about ongoing tampering. Indeed, after Geoffrey Berman succeeded in ensuring that Audrey Strauss would replace him after Barr fired him to try to shut down ongoing investigations (including, undoubtedly, the one into Rudy and Barr’s friend Victoria Toensing), Barr and Rosen replaced Donoghue with another trusted flunky, Seth DuCharme. Under DuCharme, then, EDNY sat and watched while Derkach interfered in the election and did nothing until — per yesterday’s NYT story — “the final months of the Trump administration.” According to the public timeline, it appears that they just let a known Russian agent play around in our democracy.

There is plenty of risk for Rudy in the existing SDNY investigation. But what Rudy did in response to Lutsenko’s entreaties amounts to lobbying, and so is probably most likely be charged as a FARA case (though Foreign Agent charges are on the table).

With Derkach, however, Rudy was affirmatively attempting to launder Russian-backed disinformation to affect the election. There’s no way that can be charged as lobbying. Plus, the government understood Derkach to be a Russian agent when Rudy attended that meeting (though Rudy claims he was not warned in advance). If Derkach were part of the SDNY investigation, in which Rudy is a subject, then treating Rudy as the Russian agent he has served as in recent years would be on the table.

But in EDNY, per the NYT report, Rudy’s conduct is not at issue.

Vicky and Rudy: The Subjects of Delay

When I asked around last year what the net effect of Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen’s efforts to protect Rudy Giuliani would be, I learned that the net effect of refusing to approve searches on Rudy would only delay, but it would not change the outcome of, the investigation into the President’s lawyer.

That’s worth keeping in mind as you read SDNY’s response to Victoria Toensing and Rudy’s demand that they get to treat both the April warrants against them, as well as the 2019 warrants, like subpoenas. Effectively, SDNY seems to be saying, “let’s just get to the indictment and discovery phase, and then you can start challenging these searches.”

The filing several times speaks of charges hypothetically.

If Giuliani is charged with a crime, he will, like any other criminal defendant, be entitled to production of the search warrant affidavits in discovery, at which time he will be free to litigate any motions related to the warrants as governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12. Conversely, if the Government’s grand jury investigation concludes without criminal charges, then the sealing calculus may be different, and Giuliani may renew his motion.

[snip]

If there is a criminal proceeding, the Government will produce the affidavits, warrants, and materials seized pursuant to those warrants, and at that time, the warrants’ legality can be litigated.

[snip]

Finally, Toensing will have both a forum and an opportunity to litigate any privilege issues if there is a criminal proceeding. As the Second Circuit has noted, in affirming the denial of a return-of-property motion, “If [the grand jury’s] inquiry results in indictment, the lawfulness of the seizure will be fully considered upon a motion to suppress, and any ruling adverse to the defendant will be reviewable upon appeal from a final judgment; if the grand jury declines to indict the movant, or adjourns without indicting it, its property will most likely be returned, and if not, it can initiate an independent proceeding for its return.” [my emphasis]

But the filing repeatedly makes clear that not just Rudy, but also Toensing (whose lawyer made much of being informed that Toensing was not a target of the investigation), are subjects of this investigation.

But the Government specifically chose not to proceed by subpoena in this case, for good reason, and there is no precedent for permitting the subjects of an investigation to override the Government’s choice in this regard.

None of the cases cited by Giuliani or Toensing supports their proposed approach. Toensing principally relies on United States v. Stewart, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2002 WL 1300059, at *4-8 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2002), 4 but that case is readily distinguishable because it involved the seizure of documents from several criminal defense attorneys who were not subjects of the Government’s investigation and had many cases before the same prosecuting office

[snip]

Such concerns merely serve to highlight the many countervailing problems with Giuliani and Toensing’s proposal: under their approach, the subjects of a criminal investigation would have the authority to make unilateral determinations not only of what is privileged, but also of what is responsive to a warrant.

[snip]

Nevertheless, Giuliani argues that, quite unlike other subjects of criminal investigations, he is entitled to review the affidavits supporting the warrants, which would effectively give him the extraordinary benefit of knowing the Government’s evidence before even being charged with a crime.

[snip]

Her request is contrary to law and would effectively deprive the Government of its right to evidence in the midst of a grand jury investigation so that she, the subject of that investigation, may decide what is privileged and what is responsive in those materials.

[snip]

In other words, accepting Giuliani and Toensing’s argument about the impropriety of using a filter team to review covert search warrant returns would entitle subjects of a criminal investigation to notice of that investigation any time a warrant were executed that related to them, no matter if the investigation were otherwise covert and no matter if the approving Court had signed a non-disclosure order consistent with the law. [my emphasis]

SDNY correctly treats Rudy and Toensing’s demands to review this material before SDNY can obtain it as a delay tactic.

Giuliani and Toensing’s proposal to allow their own counsel to conduct the initial review of materials seized pursuant to lawfully executed search warrants, including making determinations of what materials are responsive to the warrants, on their own timeline is without any precedent or legal basis. The Government is aware of no precedent for such a practice, which has the effect of converting judicially authorized search warrants into subpoenas.

Indeed, their discussion of the Lynn Stewart precedent emphasizes their goal of obtaining this material expeditiously.

None of the cases cited by Giuliani or Toensing supports their proposed approach. Toensing principally relies on United States v. Stewart, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2002 WL 1300059, at *4-8 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2002), 4 but that case is readily distinguishable because it involved the seizure of documents from several criminal defense attorneys who were not subjects of the Government’s investigation and had many cases before the same prosecuting office. (See infra at pp. 33-34). In any event, the Court appointed a special master in Stewart, as the Government seeks here. And the procedures adopted in Stewart illustrate why the Government’s proposed approach is preferable. In Stewart, the presiding judge initially believed that the special master’s review could be conducted expeditiously because the defendant’s counsel could quickly produce a privilege log (as Toensing seeks to do here). Id. at *8. But 15 months later, the judge lamented that the special master still had not produced a report on the seized materials. United States v. Sattar, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2003 WL 22137012, at *22 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2003), aff’d sub nom. United States v. Stewart, 590 F.3d 93 (2d Cir. 2009). That cumbersome process stands in stark contrast to that adopted by Judge Wood in Cohen, wherein the special master completed her review on an expedited basis in parallel to Cohen’s counsel, and set deadlines for Cohen’s counsel to object to any of her designations. (Cohen, Dkt. 39 at 1-2). In Cohen, the special master was appointed in April 2018, and her review was complete by August 2018. The Cohen search involved approximately the same number of electronic devices seized here, but also included significant quantities of hard copy documents, which are not at issue here. In sum, the Court should follow the model set forth in Cohen, which resulted in an efficient and effective privilege review. [my emphasis]

Likewise, the government also offered to pay the costs of the Special Master, so long as the Special Master follows the expeditious procedure conducted with Michael Cohen’s content.

This Court should not permit Giuliani and Toensing to stall the investigation of their conduct in this manner, particularly where the Government’s proposal will allow them to conduct the same review in parallel with a special master. The Government’s proposal to appoint a special master to review the seized materials is the only proposal that is fair to all parties, respects the unique privilege issues that the 2021 Warrants may implicate, and will ensure that Government’s investigation proceeds without undue delay.6

6 In the Cohen matter before Judge Wood, the Government and Cohen split the costs associated with the special master’s privilege review. Here, because the Government made the initial request of the Court and considers the appointment of a special master appropriate in this matter, the Government is willing to bear the costs of the review insofar as the special master follows the procedures adopted by Judge Wood in the Cohen matter, namely to review the seized materials for potential privilege in parallel with counsel for Giuliani and Toensing. To the extent the Court adopts the proposals advanced by Giuliani and Toensing, including that the special master also conduct a responsiveness review of those same materials—which the Government strongly opposes for the reasons set forth above—Giuliani and Toensing should solely bear any costs associated with a responsiveness review, any review beyond the initial privilege review, or any cost-enhancing measures traceable to Giuliani and Toensing. [my emphasis]

I’m mindful, as I review the schedule laid out above, that Cohen was charged almost immediately after the Special Master review was completed, in August 2018. In addressing the partial overlap between the 2019 searches and the April ones, the government notes that, “the Government expects that some, but not all, of the materials present on the electronic devices seized pursuant to the Warrants could be duplicative of the materials seized and reviewed pursuant to the prior warrants.”

The government already knows what they’re getting with these warrants (and if they don’t get it, they’re likely to be able to charge obstruction because it has been deleted). They’re calling for a Special Master not because it provides any more fairness than their prior filter review (indeed, they speak repeatedly of the “perception of fairness”), especially since investigators are about to obtain the materials from the 2019 search, but because it ensures they can get this material in timely fashion, especially since, as it stands now, they’re going to have to crack the passwords on seven of the devices seized from Rudy.

The remaining seven devices belonging to Giuliani and his business cannot be fully accessed without a passcode, and as such the Government has advised Giuliani’s counsel that the devices can be returned expeditiously if Giuliani were to provide the passcode; otherwise, the Government does not have a timeline for when those devices may be returned because the FBI will be attempting to access those devices without a passcode, which may take time.

Yes, Rudy and Toensing are trying to get an advance look at how bad the case against them is. But they’re also hoping to delay, possibly long enough to allow a Republican to take over again and pardon away their criminal exposure.

Which suggests that all the hypotheticals about Rudy and Toensing being able to challenge these searches if they are indicted are not all that hypothetical. SDNY is just trying to get to the place where they can indict.

Rudy’s Lawyers Destroy His Reputation in an Attempt to Save It

Just before a long tirade about how, if DOJ had just asked Rudy Giuliani for help proving he’s not a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians while he was busy at State and WDPA acting as a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, he could have avoided a covert search to find out whether he’s a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, his lawyers say, in a now-public letter, that it’ll badly damage Rudy’s reputation if it becomes public that DOJ believed he might delete evidence or intimidate witnesses.

In addition, in the original warrant for the iCloud account, there is a nondisclosure order based upon an allegation made to the issuing Court, that if Giuliani were informed of the existence of the warrant, he might destroy evidence or intimidate witnesses. Such an allegation, on its face, strains credulity. It is not only false, but extremely damaging to Giuliani’s reputation. It is not supported by any credible facts and is contradicted by Giuliani’s efforts to provide information to the Government. We should be allowed to question the Government as to what basis it had, if any, to make that assertion. Accordingly, we request the information that was presented in the iCloud warrant to justify the NonNotification Order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 2705 (b) that “there is reason to believe that notification of the existence of this warrant will result in destruction of or tampering with evidence, and/or tamping (sic) with potential witnesses, or otherwise will seriously jeopardize an ongoing investigation.” We also request access to the application for any extension of the non-disclosure provision which originally lasted for a year.

As the single exhibit to prove that Rudy had reached out to DOJ to provide help, his attorneys included a picture of a TV screen with his attorney making that claim (I’m not sure whether this claim is November 25, 2019, or in the wake of the most recent searches) when it might have avoided the search. But then they include all this verbiage which sure seems to describe Rudy acting as an Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians who just didn’t give a shit about registering as such because why do that if the President can bail you out?

It was premature and unwarranted for the Government to seize Giuliani’s ESI because Giuliani had already cooperated with the U S State Department (“State”) through Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, in March 2019 concerning Ukraine. He also cooperated again in July and August of 2019 at the request of the State Department in assisting them with regard to Ukraine. In fact, there has never been an occasion where Mr. Giuliani has refused to cooperate with, or give assistance, to his government. This was as true during the Clinton administration as it was during the Bush administration.

[snip]

As a reminder, this same attorney had cooperated with the State Department and offered, for a year and a half, to answer any questions from the SDNY about any subject or crime, with no limitations except for privileged matters. During that same time period, Giuliani did in fact cooperate with Main Justice, through their designee in Pittsburgh on the subject of the Ukraine. Amazingly, the SDNY continually turned down the offer by stating that while they would be happy to hear anything Mayor Giuliani’s counsel had to say, they refused to identify the subject, although those subjects were disclosed to the media.

Plus, Rudy’s lawyers note — as if it helps him — that they only reached out to offer to help on November 4, 2019, the very same day the warrant was obtained (as if maybe a birdie warned him?), which means he didn’t offer to help for the entire month after the indictment against his business partners Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was unsealed.

But Rudy’s letter and a similar one from Victoria Toensing’s lawyers lay out certain details of the investigations into the two of them.

There are two sets of warrants. With Rudy, SDNY obtained a sealed warrant for his iCloud account on November 4, 2019 and then the overt one for a shit-ton of devices on April 21, 2021. With Toensing, SDNY obtained a sealed warrant for her iCloud account on November 4, 2019 and another for her Google account on December 13, 2019; they obtained a warrant for a single phone on April 28, 2021.

Rudy says that the earlier warrants showed listed FARA, unregistered Foreign Agent, abetting, and conspiracy as the crimes under investigation.

In essence, the Government was looking for evidence that Giuliani was acting as an agent, unregistered agent or lobbyist of a Ukrainian national, government official, corporation or political party or in violation of the foreign agent registration and lobbying laws or making contributions on behalf of a foreign principal (see attachments to search warrant also citing 22 USC §§612 and 618, 18 USC §951, 18 USC §2, and 18 USC §371).

It’s not entirely clear whether the later warrants against Rudy are the same. He doesn’t say. Plus, he says the later search was only “nearly identical,” as compared to Toensing’s claim that the searches were “virtually” identical. (The content, of course, wouldn’t be identical.)

For her part, Toensing is quite worried that DOJ seized information about a client, who sure seems like Dmitro Firtash.

Rudy’s letter mentions “President President President President” over and over. But in this challenge, unlike the one Michael Cohen made, the President has not filed as an interested party, meaning Rudy’s on his own. Probably, he’s too cheap to pay his share of the presumed Special Master fees.

Rudy also argues, falsely, that the search of the President’s lawyer’s cloud content without the use of a Special Master is unprecedented and especially egregious given that this search came in the wake of the search of Michael Cohen’s devices, which used a Special Master.

Moreover, in the Fall of 2019, during an intense debate over the impeachment and the campaign for the upcoming Presidential Election, with Giuliani publicly acting as President Trump’s personal attorney, the Government decided to take the unprecedented step of seeking a search warrant for Giuliani’s iCloud account. In these circumstances, on the heels of the precautions instilled by Judge Wood in a nearly identical situation, the use of a one-sided “filter” team was highly inappropriate and inadequate to identify privileged materials and thereby protect Giuliani and his clients ’attorney-client privilege, and highly indicative of the appearance of impropriety. Had this been done overtly, or through the Government’s less onerous subpoena powers, we would have requested that a Special Master to be appointed at the time. Instead, the Government has had these private, confidential, and privileged materials in their possession for over eighteen months, and established a Taint Team who acted as prosecutor, defense lawyer, Special Master and Judge entirely in secret, knowing full well this contravened the protocol established in the Cohen case.

Except it’s not remotely unprecedented. That is, literally, the same thing that happened to Cohen. Indeed, his Trump Organization emails were preserved (at Microsoft) and searched by Mueller’s team, then shared with SDNY under a new warrant. And those emails actually did pertain to the President — though from the campaign period, not the period when he was trying to coerce campaign assistance from a foreign government.

Ultimately, a big story here is that someone high up in Billy Barr’s DOJ authorized the sealed searches in November and December 2019, making Rudy’s wails far less convincing. My guess is that after Rudy made Brian Benczkowski look corrupt for taking a related meeting on a bribery case (of the Venezuelan bankrolling the Ukrainian grift) at a time when Rudy was being criminally investigated, Benczkowski wasn’t all that interested in going out on a limb to protect Rudy, especially as it would focus attention on the earlier corrupt review of the whistleblower complaint. My further guess is that after Benczkowski resigned, effective July 3, and after Billy Barr failed to replace Geoffrey Berman with a loyal flunky during precisely the same weeks in June 2020, Barr and Jeffrey Rosen went to epic lengths to prevent this warrant from being approved, with Rosen going so far as to require that a specific person in the Deputy Attorney General’s office be required to sign off on such a warrant on December 30, weeks before the second effort. Whatever the case, Trump’s DOJ approved the covert warrants, the one both lawyers are wailing the most loudly about.

If, as the lawyers wail, SDNY has been sifting through their cloud content, then this warrant shouldn’t hurt them all that much more than their earlier searches (unless Parnas revealed that they weren’t backing up their encrypted apps to the cloud).

Except — particularly given the confirmation that Lev Parnas unsuccessfully deleted his own iCloud account — Rudy’s insistence that he doesn’t have a guilty conscience and wouldn’t have deleted anything rings false.

Despite these two warnings that the SDNY was seeking permission to apply for a search warrant for his electronic devices and because he had no guilty conscience, Giuliani took no steps to destroy evidence or wipe the electronic devices clean. Since Giuliani was not under subpoena, he had no legal obligation to preserve that evidence, but he did so because he is an innocent man who did nothing wrong.

At about this stage in the Michael Cohen litigation, we learned that he, too, had deleted some information.

Not only has SDNY been sorting through these files for 18 months, they had Parnas and Fruman’s content for far longer, and since then Parnas has been trying hard to take Rudy down. So I would imagine SDNY had good reason to believe that Rudy may have destroyed evidence.

Key related posts

October 14, 2019: The Criminal Investigation into Paul Manafort Was (and May Still be) Ongoing–and Likely Pertains to Trump’s Ukraine Extortion

The Parnas and Fruman grift was, in many ways, the direct continuation of Manafort’s efforts to cash in on Trump’s win. You’d think that would raise the stakes of Rudy’s privilege claims — but Trump doesn’t appear to care.

October 16, 2019: On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

I argued that doubts that Rudy could be prosecuted for FARA were not only too pat, but ignored his other criminal exposure for precisely the crimes that would be named in his warrant weeks later.

October 22, 2019: How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

I laid out that Criminal Division didn’t do any of the things they’re supposed to do with the whistleblower complaint. That may have forced their hand to approve of the initial warrants against Rudy and VicToe.

October 25, 2019: Main Justice Now Looking for the Evidence in Plain Sight They Ignored in August

Just before the sealed warrants were obtained, Main Justice got more involved in the SDNY investigation.

November 4, 2019: When Your Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob Blows Up in Your Face

I’ve written several posts about the ridiculous claims John Dowd made to try to cover this up in a network of privilege claims. The original is linked in the linked post. But I’m linking this one because I posted it on the same day DOJ got a warrant for Rudy’s iCloud.

November 23, 2019: Timeline: How Rudy Made It Hard for Mike Pompeo to Show Any Leadership

This post includes all the foreign influence peddling that Rudy was doing during the period covered by his warrant.

January 28, 2020: SDNY Prosecutors Protect Trump’s Privacy to Enter into a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

There were a bunch of discovery issues in the case in January 2020, including the revelation that Lev Parnas had deleted iCloud data and an affirmative assertion that Parnas could not waive attorney-client privilege for Dmitro Firtash.

May 7, 2021: Four Ways Billy Barr Obstructed the Investigation into Rudy Giuliani

Barr was working hard to kill the Ukraine investigation during the period through which Rudy’s subpoena extends.

Four Ways Billy Barr Obstructed the Investigation into Rudy Giuliani

Eventually, I want to do a post quantifying all the damage to national security Billy Barr did by thwarting an influence-peddling investigation into Rudy Giuliani in 2019. But first, I want to quantify four ways that Barr is known to have obstructed the investigation into Rudy, effectively stalling the investigation for over 500 days.

The effort is helped by Rudy lawyer Robert Costello’s public claim that DOJ obtained a search warrant on Rudy’s iCloud account sometime in late 2019. That indicates that the investigation into Rudy’s ties to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (whether Rudy was the primary target or their business, Fraud Guarantee) already showed probable cause that a crime had been committed before Barr took repeated steps to undermine the investigation.

Fail to recuse from an investigation implicating Barr personally

The MEMCON of Donald Trump’s call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy invoked Barr personally, twice, including in the very same response where the President said that Marie Yovanovich would “go through some things.”

Well, she’s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have.Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.

According to a September 2019 NYT article, National Security Division head John Demers (who remains at DOJ and who oversees the FARA unit that would have a role in this prosecution), Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, and Brian Benczkowski learned about the concerns about the call, including that it named Barr, even before the formal whistleblower complaint came in. Barr learned about it via some unexplained means.

It’s not clear what happened in that first round of review, but ultimately prosecutors reviewed it once the formal whistleblower complaint was referred by Joseph Maguire later in August and “declined to open an investigation.”

Mr. Eisenberg and Ms. Elwood both spoke on Aug. 14 to John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, according to three people familiar with the discussion. Ms. Elwood did not pass on the name of the C.I.A. officer, which she did not know because his concerns were submitted anonymously.

The next day, Mr. Demers went to the White House to read the transcript of the call and assess whether to alert other senior law enforcement officials. The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, were soon looped in, according to two administration officials.

Department officials began to discuss the accusations and whether and how to follow up, and Attorney General William P. Barr learned of the allegations around that time, according to a person familiar with the matter. Although Mr. Barr was briefed, he did not oversee the discussions about how to proceed, the person said.

[snip]

At the end of August, the office of the director of national intelligence referred the allegations to the Justice Department as a possible criminal matter. Law enforcement officials ultimately declined to open an investigation.

While it’s true that Barr outsourced some actions — such as determining what to do with the first report and the White House request that DOJ publicly exonerate him — there’s no indication Barr recused from the investigation and indeed he remained in the loop with the White House about it. His failure to recuse is particularly important because, as the table above notes, he got briefed on the investigation into Parnas and Fruman not long after he was confirmed in February 2019. For most of August and September 2019, Barr and Jeffrey Rosen would have been two of the only people at DOJ who would recognize the danger the whistleblower complaint posed to Rudy and, through him, to Trump himself.

Ensure Public Integrity reviews only the Trump transcript, not the entire whistleblower complaint

Mind you, Barr didn’t conduct the investigation of the whistleblower complaint. Public Integrity prosecutors in the Criminal Division did, overseen by Brian Benczkowski.

According to an October 2019 report, Benczkowski still did not know of the investigation into Parnas and Fruman when he took a meeting with Rudy in the fall to discuss a bribery case implicating the Venezuelan who was paying for some of the Ukraine dirt-digging.

Several weeks ago, Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and lawyers from the division’s Fraud Section met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss a bribery case in which he and other attorneys were representing the defendants.

That meeting took place before the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan publicly charged the two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with breaking campaign finance laws and trying to unlawfully influence politicians, including former Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman were part of Mr. Giuliani’s effort to push Ukraine for an inquiry into Democrats.

“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

[snip]

Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William P. Barr about the investigation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official. They were required to do so under the department’s rule that requires prosecutors to notify the attorney general of any cases that could generate national news media or congressional attention.

When Mr. Giuliani and other lawyers requested the meeting with the Justice Department to discuss a foreign bribery case, Mr. Benczkowski and the lawyers in the Fraud Section had not been informed of the Manhattan case and agreed to meet.

That exonerates him for being stupid enough to take the meeting, but it reveals something about the review of the complaint: it could not have adhered to the most basic rules of “connect-the-dots” investigations put in place after 9/11 to protect national security.

That’s because the first thing you’re supposed to do when you get a tip that implicates national security is to search DOJ’s holdings to see if the tip connects with any known suspects or investigations. Had this tip been treated like DOJ had been drilling for almost 17 years by the time the tip was received, then investigators would have searched on the OCCRP profile of Parnas and Fruman cited repeatedly in the full complaint.

Had that happened, then the implications of it would have been clear, it would have been referred to SDNY, Benczkowski would have learned about it, and DOJ wouldn’t have been making public exonerations of Trump.

Get OLC to overclassify the Barr connection and delay informing Congress

One likely way DOJ managed to avoid connecting Trump’s quid pro quo with the existing investigation of Parnas and Fruman is by treating the call with Zelenskyy, falsely, as the entirety of the whistleblower complaint. There’s no reference to Parnas and Fruman in the call, and so searching on it would not ID the tie to the SDNY investigation.

That’s one of several things that Steve Engel’s OLC did to attempt to avoid — and succeed in delaying — informing Congress about the complaint.

Engel’s OLC memo (a reprise of the memo that Amy Berman Jackson ruled was just a PR stunt to justify lying to Congress) claimed that the whistleblower complaint pertained exclusively to the conduct of the President and as such did not pertain to the Intelligence Community and so didn’t need to be shared with Congress. The only way to reach this decision would be to ignore the parts of the whistleblower complaint that deal with abuse of classification and the withholding of funds.

The other thing OLC did was to — at first– treat mentions of Barr and Rudy, as well as Ukraine and Zelenskyy, as Top Secret, even though the White House had only deemed those references to be Secret.

This effort, both to avoid informing the Intelligence Committees and, once he did, to hide key details from them, ultimately failed. But it did delay the discovery of the call from August to September 2019.

Warn Rupert Murdoch

Bill Barr had a meeting at SDNY the day before Parnas and Fruman were arrested on October 9. He went from there to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch, at Murdoch’s home.

It’s unclear what happened at that meeting, but Sean Hannity didn’t get on his flight to Vienna to meet with Dmitro Firtash, thereby avoiding even closer legal involvement in yet another Trump scandal.

There’s no evidence I know of that Barr similarly warned Rudy — Rudy canceled his trip, too, but it probably only took the arrest of Parnas and Fruman to persuade him of the wisdom of doing that. So I don’t consider this an act of obstruction protecting Rudy — just an act of obstruction protecting Sean Hannity.

Parnas has alleged that he was only arrested as a way to keep him silent about all this. While there’s a lot of reason to believe that’s possible, I’m not aware of proof that it did. It is, notably, one thing he was dangling his cooperation on with SDNY before he got remarkably quiet as the investigation into Rudy kicked into active mode.

Attempt to replace Geoffrey Berman with a Barr flunky

As noted, if we can believe Costello, then at some point SDNY did manage to conduct a search on Rudy’s iCloud. One possibility is that DOJ justified a search on Rudy after learning that Parnas had deleted his own iCloud account.

We may get more details of how that occurred with the Special Master argument.

For a time, the impeachment investigation presumably stalled any investigation into Rudy.

But last summer, at a time between the time when Rudy would have been implicated in the President’s Ukraine-related impeachment but before the time Rudy was attempting to undermine the election in explicit service of the President, Barr fired Geoffrey Berman. As Berman described, Barr attempted to bypass succession rules to temporarily put his own flunky in charge of the office, much as he had put Timothy Shea in at DC USA to kill investigations into Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, and (probably) Erik Prince.

By refusing to go along with Barr’s false claims that he had quit, however, Berman succeeded in ensuring that Audry Strauss, his then-Deputy, would replace him, where she remains today.

In all of Berman’s communications about why he dug in, he emphasized that there were investigations he wanted to see to completion, presumably including but not limited to this Rudy investigation.

Again, this effort failed. But, given what happened in DC, it is almost certain that this was an attempt to protect Rudy (and Steve Bannon).

DOJ used the election to refuse to approve a warrant on Rudy. And (while I’m having difficulty finding it) they imposed a policy requiring higher approvals for obtaining warrants on attorney content.

Effectively, that provided a way to stall the search into Rudy until April 20, 2021, when Lisa Monaco was approved.

Bill Barr tried, repeatedly, to entirely kill the investigation into Rudy, like he killed prosecutions of Stone and Flynn. But ultimately, one after another DOJ professional thwarted his attempts, and his abundant efforts to protect Rudy only managed to delay the investigation from October 2019 to April 2021.

Update: William Ockham notes that the change in policy was imposed on December 30, 2020, after Barr had resigned and at a time when Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen knew that Joe Biden would take over DOJ. The new policy required consultation with a designated attorney in Office of Deputy Attorney General.

Within OEO, the Policy and Statutory Enforcement Unit (PSEU) is the section that provides this consultation. See Office ofthe Deputy Attorney General Guidance on AttorneyClient Privilege andAttorney Work Product Filter Protocols/or Search Warrants (July 2020). In many cases – particularly those involving significant investigations and high-profile matters – proposed searches are separately reported in urgent reports to the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. To ensure mo!”e uniform notification procedures going forward, PSEU should notify the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) of proposed searches involving subject attorneys. ODAG will assign an attorney to handle this responsibility who has the requisite knowledge and experience to provide meaningful input to PSEU. That attorney will provide updates to the Deputy Attorney General as necessary. Absent exigent circumstances, the OEO/PSEU consultation in Section 9-13.420 shall not be concluded until after ODAG has been notified and provided with an opportunity to provide input.

While probably not the sole intent, this may be why the search on Rudy was not approved until Lisa Monaco was confirmed on April 20.

Politico Claims It Embarrasses Joe Biden that Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Merits Little or No Jail Time

Last week, Politico reported as news that non-violent January 6 trespassers might get little to no jail time which — it further claimed — might embarrass the Biden Administration.

Many Capitol rioters unlikely to serve jail time

The cases could embarrass the Biden administration, which has portrayed the Jan. 6 siege as a dire threat to democracy.

I have tremendous respect for the reporters involved, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney. Yet the fact that experienced DOJ beat reporters could claim, as news, that non-violent civil disobedience might get no jail time made me really rethink the reporting on January 6, including my own. It’s crazier still that reporters might claim — generally, or in this situation — that a Democratic President might be embarrassed by DOJ treating civil disobedience as a misdemeanor offense.

In fact, Gerstein and Cheney are reporting on a subset of all the January 6 defendants, fewer than 60 of the 230 who had been formally charged by the time they wrote this, which they nevertheless describe as “many” of them.

A POLITICO analysis of the Capitol riot-related cases shows that almost a quarter of the more than 230 defendants formally and publicly charged so far face only misdemeanors. Dozens of those arrested are awaiting formal charges, even as new cases are being unsealed nearly every day.

Then, four paragraphs later, Politico explains why (they say) this might embarrass the Biden Administration: because both Biden himself and Merrick Garland called the larger event — in which 1,000 people, including 200 for assault and 100 for roles in a militia conspiracy, many still at large, must now be suspects — as a heinous attack.

The prospect of dozens of Jan. 6 rioters cutting deals for minor sentences could be hard to explain for the Biden administration, which has characterized the Capitol Hill mob as a uniquely dangerous threat. Before assuming office, Biden said the rioters’ attempt to overturn the election results by force “borders on sedition”; Attorney General Merrick Garland has called the prosecutions his top early priority, describing the storming of Congress as “a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”

Nowhere in the article do they provide any evidence that the assault on the Capitol wasn’t a heinous attack.

They base their claim that Biden might be embarrassed on expectations that DOJ prosecutors set, without noting that the first charges were filed before Biden was inaugurated and long before Garland was confirmed.

Justice Department prosecutors sent expectations sky-high in early statements and court filings, describing elaborate plots to murder lawmakers — descriptions prosecutors have tempered as new details emerged.

Jacob “QAnon Shaman” Chansley was arrested on January 8 and indicted on January 11. Eric “Zip Tie Guy” Munchel was arrested on January 10 and indicted, with his mother, on February 12. Thomas Caldwell was arrested on January 19 and indicted along with Oath Keepers Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl on January 27. They (including Caldwell but not Watkins and Crowl) are the main defendants, of more than 350, about whom prosecutors can fairly be said to have tempered “sky-high” expectations. Their arrests and that expectation-setting happened under Jeffrey Rosen and Michael Sherwin, not under Biden and definitely not under Merrick Garland (under whom DOJ referred Sherwin to OPR for investigation after he did some expectation-setting on 60 Minutes). Even still, for all four (as well as other edge cases about whom the press set high expectations, like Riley June Williams), the investigation remains ongoing and there are reasons, including ties to the militia conspiracies, to believe there was some basis for the original suspicions about these people.

Likewise, the decision to arrest first and investigate later, a decision that led to the flood of arrests before prosecutors really knew who had done the most egregious things during the attack, also occurred under the prior Administration.

Indeed, under Garland (though not necessarily because of Garland or the departure of Sherwin), DOJ seems to have focused more of their ongoing misdemeanor arrests on suspects who might have video footage of interest to prosecutors or defense attorneys, with far more of a focus in recent weeks on arresting assault and militia suspects. And one of the reasons for the delays described in the story is that after Garland came in, DOJ asked for 60 days to catch up on discovery. We may yet learn that he and his subordinates decided to change the “arrest first, investigate later” approach adopted before he came in.

Sure, the press has claimed that the government has backed off some of its claims in the militia conspiracies. They did so, for example, when prosecutors backed off certain claims solely for the purpose of an Ethan Nordean detention hearing that, filings submitted weeks later suggested, may have been an effort to protect a pending conspiracy indictment and, probably, a cooperating witness. They’ve done so with the Oath Keepers, even though recent developments suggest even Jessica Watkins’ lawyer may now understand her role in what appears to be a larger conspiracy coordinated in Signal leadership chats is more damning than Watkins originally claimed. If anything, the Oath Keeper and Proud Boy conspiracies may be more sophisticated tactically than originally claimed, and that’s before any explanation about things like who paid for vans of Proud Boys to travel from FL and what happened at twin events in DC and Florida in December, in which conspirators (and key Trump figures) played central roles. That’s also while the person who laid a pipe bomb the night before the the attack remains at large.

To further back its claim that Biden might be embarrassed, Politico implies that all the plea deals expected in weeks ahead will be misdemeanor pleas without jail time, which will be “awkward” for DOJ to defend.

Prosecutors have signaled that plea offers for some defendants will be coming within days and have readily acknowledged that some of the cases are less complicated to resolve than others.

“I think we can work out a non-trial disposition in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Cole told Judge Dabney Friedrich last week in the case of Kevin Loftus, who was charged with unlawful presence and disrupting official business at the Capitol, among other offenses that have become the boilerplate set lodged against anyone who walked into the building that day without authorization.

The Justice Department will soon be in the awkward position of having to defend such deals, even as trials and lengthy sentences for those facing more serious charges could be a year or more away. [my emphasis]

Politico makes this claim even though at least some of the expected pleas may be cooperation agreements. For example, Ryan Samsel — who breached the west side of the Capitol in coordination with Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, knocking out a cop along the way — asked for a continuance to discuss a plea. One of the main Oath Keeper prosecutors, Ahmed Baset, asked for a continuance before indicting Oath Keeper associate Jon Schaffer, who was among the worst treated defendants and who agreed to the continuance in spite of remaining in pre-trial detention. Kash Kelly, currently charged with trespassing but also someone raised in discussions between Proud Boys affiliate James Sullivan and Rudy Giuliani, got a continuance to discuss a plea. Bryan Betancur, a Proud Boy who got jailed for a probation violation after he lied to his probation officer to attend the event, also got a continuance to discuss a plea to resolve his trespassing charges. The aforementioned Riley Williams, who was charged with obstructing the vote count and stealing a laptop from Nancy Pelosi, was filmed directing movement inside the Capitol, and has ties with Nick Fuentes, also got a continuance to discuss pleading before indictment. All five of these people likely have information that would be of use to prosecutors. All could limit their prison time (which would likely be significant for Samsel, who is accused of assault, played a key role in the insurrection, and has a criminal record) by cooperating with prosecutors. If any of these people sign plea deals — especially Samsel — it will likely provide new insight into how the conspiracy worked. Even with a plea deal, Samsel may still face a stiff sentence.

In other places, Politico conflates the discussions about the fate of misdemeanor defendants with discussions about detention (which prosecutors have only requested with a few accused trespassers), discussions about discovery, and Speedy Trial, all different things, many more urgent issues for misdemeanor defendants not included among those the story is purportedly about.

After I went on a rant about this story on Twitter, Gerstein defended the story by saying that people (none of whom were quoted in the story) seem to be surprised.

I agree with Gerstein that people have certain expectations. But that was clear before the end end of January. The record laid out here shows that such expectations did not come from Garland or Biden. Even Sherwin, with his totally inappropriate 60 Minutes interview, also explained from the start that DOJ was arresting the low hanging fruit at first while further investigating more serious suspects.

The fault, instead, lies with journalists, myself and these Politico journalists included, for not consistently and repeatedly explaining the various different roles people played on January 6, including that there were a number — though currently a shrinking fraction of the total set of defendants — who neither pre-meditated any effort to stop the vote count nor assaulted cops. I have tried to engage in this nuance (I included a list of such posts below), but given the sheer amount of court filings, much of the focus is currently on the militia conspiracies, suggesting a gravity that the MAGA tourists don’t merit. But in this article, rather than simply laying out the full range of defendants, describing how the MAGA Tourists played a key role in the success of the more serious conspirators (explicitly so for the Proud Boys, who talked about getting “normies” to do stuff they otherwise wouldn’t have done), describing how violence spread among participants and often as not among people who aren’t militia members, this Politico piece further distorts the record, not least by using this subset of “MAGA Tourists” — calling them “many” even though they represent just a quarter of defendants who have been formally charged — to stand in for the larger investigation, while minimizing the import of those charged with obstruction (likening that role to a CodePink interruption of a congressional hearing) because, evidence shows, they premeditated an attempt to undermine the election outcome.

So even while the piece describes how both judges and prosecutors understand that the mob as a whole posed a grave threat while some individual defendants did no more than provide cover for the more dangerous defendants (and many of the DC judges presiding over these cases have made such comments), Politico claims that there’s some embarrassment to this, including some kind of political risk for Biden.

Judges are also attempting to reckon with separating the individual actions of rioters from the collective threat of the mob, which they have noted helped inspire and provide cover for violent assaults, property destruction and increased the overall terror and danger of the assorted crimes committed.

That reckoning is coming sooner rather than later, lawyers say, putting prosecutors in the position of wrist-slapping many participants in the riot despite framing the crimes as part of an insurrection that presented a grave threat to American democracy.

If the MAGA tourists provided cover and helped overwhelm cops, thereby serving a useful role in the plans of those who had a more nefarious and organized purpose, then that’s the story that should be told, not some kind of both-sides political spin, particularly one that pits Biden’s claims about the seriousness of this on the footing as Trump’s outright lies about it. In spite of the overwhelming number of defendants, the record shows, DOJ is still assessing each one on the merits, which is what should happen. Declaring that politically embarrassing is an abdication of fair reporting on the legal system.

I believe DOJ has gotten it wrong, in both directions, in some cases. In addition to those listed above, I think DOJ has gone too harshly on some people who have openly supported far right, even Nazi views. But I also think DOJ has only considered whether militia members were members of premeditated conspiracies, focusing less on localized activist networks that have been implicated in violent (often anti-mask) pro-Trump actions in the past, taken on leadership roles at the riot, and engaged in ongoing communications about plans to shut down the vote, just like militias did. I think DOJ hasn’t come to grips with the organizational import of QAnon even while arguing that individual adherents of the cult must be jailed because they are delusional. And until DOJ decides how it will treat Trump’s actions and those of some close associates — something they likely cannot do without more investigation and cooperation deals from key participants — parts of this investigation will remain unsettled.

There are definitely things DOJ has reason to be embarrassed about: Gerstein has written more than any journalist about the unforgivable delays in moving defendants around the country and getting them arraigned. This piece also focuses on one of the handful of misdemeanor defendants who has been detained since being charged. While I understand the complexity of an investigation in which so much of the evidence — both exculpatory and inculpatory — remains in the hands of participants, defendants have a right to complain about the delay, especially those in detention. Defendants — particularly those in detention — are entitled to a Speedy Trial, even if DOJ moved too quickly to arrest them. While many of these things were exacerbated by COVID, they also largely arise from a decision to arrest first on those trespassing charges, and investigate later (which also has led to more defendants being charged with obstruction after the fact).

But none of those things have to do with Biden or Garland’s views about the investigation, or even the prosecutors who made decisions that created some of these problems in the first place (in part, probably, to avoid their own embarrassment at missing all warning signs, in part because they hadn’t investigated these threats aggressively enough and so had to make mass arrests to mitigate any immediate follow-on threats).

In short, this piece is an (uncharacteristic) mess, shoehorning complexity into a simplistic claim of political conflict, one inventing embarrassment out of thin air for Biden. If Politico has evidence that this wasn’t an unprecedented disruption to Congress, one that could have had a far worse outcome, including a threat to our democracy, or that this right wing violence is less of a threat than FBI says it is, by all means they should present that. At the same time, they can reveal the identity of the pipe bomber and the role (if any) that person played in the plot, without which no one can claim to actually know how serious this was.

Until then, they and all experienced DOJ beat reporters would be far better off by simply laying out a description of the different kinds of defendants we’re seeing, the different roles they played in disrupting the vote count and assaulting or undermining law enforcement, and explaining how those defendants are the same or different from defendants that have gone before them, on a spectrum of severity that stretches from CodePink to ISIS terrorists.

If people are going to be surprised when the subset of participants in January 6 who engaged in non-violent civil disobedience are treated as misdemeanor offenders, it’s not Joe Biden’s fault. It is a failure of journalism, my own included, for not making that more clear starting in January and reiterating it since then.

Update: Meanwhile, Jon Schaffer just agreed to two more weeks in jail.

Update: Corrected Munchel’s arrest date, which was January 10.

Update: Christopher Kelly (no relation to Kash) is another person with a consent continuance to discuss what would almost certainly be a cooperation agreement. He drove to and from the insurrection with some Proud Boys.


Posts attempting to contextualize the investigation

Here are some past attempts I’ve made at explaining how the parts of the January 6 investigation fit together:

A DOJ IG Investigation Is Insufficient to Investigate Trump’s Attempt to Get DOJ Help to Steal the Election

As many news outlets are reporting, DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz is opening an investigation into whether any former or current DOJ official helped Trump try to overturn an election.

The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating an investigation into whether any former or current DOJ official engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election.  The investigation will encompass all relevant allegations that may arise that are within the scope of the OIG’s jurisdiction.  The OIG has jurisdiction to investigate allegations concerning the conduct of former and current DOJ employees.  The OIG’s jurisdiction does not extend to allegations against other government officials.

The OIG is making this statement, consistent with DOJ policy, to reassure the public that an appropriate agency is investigating the allegations.  Consistent with OIG policy, we will not comment further on the investigation until it is completed.  When our investigation is concluded, we will proceed with our usual process for releasing our findings publicly in accordance with relevant laws, and DOJ and OIG policies.

This is welcome news, but nowhere near as big a deal as people are making out. That’s true for several reasons. First, while DOJ IG will have access to internal DOJ communications, DOJ IG cannot compel testimony of former employees. So if Jeffrey Bossert Clark — or any of the sources leaking anonymously with no threat of legal consequences — don’t want to cooperate with this inquiry, they can avoid doing so.

More importantly, as Horowitz notes, his office’s jurisdiction, “does not extend to allegations against other government officials.” He can’t investigate Scott Perry, the GOP Congressperson who was reportedly involved in this, he can’t investigate Pat Cipollone, who reportedly sided with others at DOJ to undercut Trump’s efforts, and he can’t investigate Trump himself.

Still, it will serve one welcome purpose. As I noted in this post, one way to get investigations into Trump conduct started without appearing as if Joe Biden’s DOJ has it in for Trump is to start them with Inspectors General. A year from now, DOJ IG will likely produce a report showing improper behavior from Clark (probably because he went around his superiors, not for any good legal reason), while noting that he was unable to get further cooperation. That could provide predicate for opening an investigation into the Former President.

Bill Barr’s Entire DOJ Chased Trump Conspiracy Theories and Plotted Inappropriately

When Bill Barr resigned rather than do the President’s bidding to challenge elections that were perfectly fair, he could have revealed that fact publicly, okayed the indictment of one of the chief purveyors of election conspiracies, Rudy Giuliani, and admitted that the entire basis for undermining the prosecution of Mike Flynn — who had already called for martial law and an election do-over — was based on conspiracy theories spun by the same woman spinning the worst election hoaxes, Sidney Powell.

He didn’t do that.

Instead, he announced his resignation with a page of abject sycophancy that repeated the conspiracy theory that got Barr hired: that the Russian investigation was, “an effort to cripple, if not oust, your Administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia.”

Even before that, though, Barr launched his letter with an ambiguous statement about the election, one that might be read either as endorsing Trump’s conspiracy theories or debunking them:

I appreciate the opportunity to update you this afternoon on the Department’s review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election and how these allegations will continue to be pursued. At a time when the country is so deeply divided, it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome.

At a moment where he had maximal power to halt Trump’s efforts to overturn an election, then, Barr instead just cowered, resting on the one public statement that there was not sufficient fraud to overturn the election that had gotten him ousted.

Which is to say that to the end, Barr never foreswore the conspiracy theories he adopted in service to Donald Trump.

Now, however, others who also facilitated Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories for years until they, in the final days, didn’t, are seeding stories to suggest that Jeffrey Bossert Clark was in any way unique for doing so.

The story starts with a tale that suggests the top leaders in a DOJ that had broken all norms in service of Donald Trump weren’t, themselves, in the “Trumpist faction” of the Republican Party.

It was New Year’s Eve, but the Justice Department’s top leaders had little to celebrate as they admonished Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the civil division, for repeatedly pushing them to help President Donald J. Trump undo his electoral loss.

Huddled in the department’s headquarters, they rebuked him for secretly meeting with Mr. Trump, even as the department had rebuffed the president’s outlandish requests for court filings and special counsels, according to six people with knowledge of the meeting. No official would host a news conference to say that federal fraud investigations cast the results in doubt, they told him. No one would send a letter making such claims to Georgia lawmakers.

When the meeting ended not long before midnight, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen thought the matter had been settled, never suspecting that his subordinate would secretly discuss the plan for the letter with Mr. Trump, and very nearly take Mr. Rosen’s job, as part of a plot with the president to wield the department’s power to try to alter the Georgia election outcome.

It was clear that night, though, that Mr. Clark — with his willingness to entertain conspiracy theories about voting booth hacks and election fraud — was not the establishment lawyer they thought him to be. Some senior department leaders had considered him quiet, hard-working and detail-oriented. Others said they knew nothing about him, so low was his profile. He struck neither his fans in the department nor his detractors as being part of the Trumpist faction of the party, according to interviews.

The department’s senior leaders were shocked when Mr. Clark’s machinations came to light. They have spent recent weeks debating how he came to betray Mr. Rosen, his biggest champion at the department, and what blend of ambition and conviction led him to reject the results of the election and embrace Mr. Trump’s claims, despite all evidence to the contrary, including inside the department itself. [my emphasis]

You’ll note that the NYT didn’t explain why it granted six surely very powerful people, mostly lawyers, anonymity to spin this tale?

Buried much deeper in the story, however, after retelling all the ways Clark broke normal procedure while running the Environmental Division, the NYT then explains how he came to be Acting head of the Civil Department and in that role took a number of inexcusable steps that neither Bill Barr nor Jeffrey Rosen objected to (indeed, those may have been the steps that drove Jody Hunt away and won Clark the job).

While Mr. Clark oversaw environmental cases, sometimes working late into the night and personally reviewing briefs, the department’s civil division was in turmoil. Its leader, Jody Hunt, sometimes clashed with the White House Counsel’s Office and, later on, with Attorney General William P. Barr, over how best to defend the administration.

Mr. Hunt resigned with no warning in July, leaving his deputy to run the division while Mr. Barr and Mr. Rosen searched for an acting leader among the department’s thinned-out ranks. Mr. Clark wanted the job, which was a considerable step up in stature, and Mr. Rosen supported the idea even though he was already a division head, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

After he took the helm of the civil division in September, colleagues began seeing flashes of unusual behavior. Mr. Clark’s name appeared on eyebrow-raising briefs, including what would turn out to be an unsuccessful effort to inject the government into a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Trump by a woman who has said he raped her more than two decades ago. He also signed onto an attempt to use the Justice Department to sue a former friend of the first lady at the time, Melania Trump, for writing a tell-all memoir.

Remember: the currently operative story is that Clark didn’t know Trump until Congressman Scott Perry introduced them, presumably after the election.

It was Mr. Perry, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, who first made Mr. Trump aware that a relatively obscure Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, the acting chief of the civil division, was sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s view that the election had been stolen, according to former administration officials who spoke with Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump.

Mr. Perry introduced the president to Mr. Clark, whose openness to conspiracy theories about election fraud presented Mr. Trump with a welcome change from the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, who stood by the results of the election and had repeatedly resisted the president’s efforts to undo them.

He didn’t get the Civil job because Trump picked him or because he promised to turn DOJ into Trump’s own personal law firm. Someone else must have picked him. That means Clark’s other decisions — one of which he took the day after he was installed and which were “Trumpist” by any definition of the term — had the full approval of the people now suggesting he went rogue later in the year. Indeed, those interventions may have been the entire reason he got picked to run the Civil Division.

Sure, Jeffrey Bossert Clark should be shunned in the respectable legal profession for helping Trump attempt a coup. But so should the men who willfully let DOJ champion Trump’s conspiracy theories for the two years before that.

Now We Know Why Jeffrey Rosen Has Been Silent, How About Chris Wray?

Since the attempted coup, both Jeffrey Rosen and Chris Wray (and Wray’s then-Deputy David Bowdich) were almost silent about the attack. A week after the attack, Rosen  a video in the middle of the night, explaining what he had done during the coup.

The day after, Wray released a short statement. More than a week later, he spoke at a closed-press meeting on inauguration security. Neither provided the kind of daily updates one would expect after such an attack.

Last night (as Rayne laid out here), NYT reported on why Rosen was so silent: because he’s a witness in what should be a criminal investigation into how the attack relates to the effort to overturn the election.

As the NYT lays out, in the days leading up to the coup attempt, Trump already tried to replace Rosen with someone, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, who would be willing to take steps to overturn the vote.

The effort to force Rosen to use DOJ resources to undermine a democratic election started on December 15, the day after Bill Barr resigned.

When Mr. Trump said on Dec. 14 that Attorney General William P. Barr was leaving the department, some officials thought that he might allow Mr. Rosen a short reprieve before pressing him about voter fraud. After all, Mr. Barr would be around for another week.

Instead, Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Rosen to the Oval Office the next day. He wanted the Justice Department to file legal briefs supporting his allies’ lawsuits seeking to overturn his election loss. And he urged Mr. Rosen to appoint special counsels to investigate not only unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud, but also Dominion, the voting machines firm.

Then, over the weekend in advance of the certification, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark told Rosen Trump was going to make him Attorney General so he could chase Rudy Giuliani’s conspiracy theories.

On New Year’s Eve, the trio met to discuss Mr. Clark’s refusal to hew to the department’s conclusion that the election results were valid. Mr. Donoghue flatly told Mr. Clark that what he was doing was wrong. The next day, Mr. Clark told Mr. Rosen — who had mentored him while they worked together at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis — that he was going to discuss his strategy to the president early the next week, just before Congress was set to certify Mr. Biden’s electoral victory.

Unbeknown to the acting attorney general, Mr. Clark’s timeline moved up. He met with Mr. Trump over the weekend, then informed Mr. Rosen midday on Sunday that the president intended to replace him with Mr. Clark, who could then try to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College results. He said that Mr. Rosen could stay on as his deputy attorney general, leaving Mr. Rosen speechless.

In a replay of the 2004 Hospital Hero moment, the others involved (including White House Counsel Pat Cipollone) agreed they’d resign en masse if Trump replaced Rosen, which led him to back off the plan.

NYT had four sources for this story, all of whom fear — even after Trump has been relegated to Florida — retaliation.

This account of the department’s final days under Mr. Trump’s leadership is based on interviews with four former Trump administration officials who asked not to be named because of fear of retaliation.

Clark claimed there were errors in this story, but ultimately he claimed Executive Privilege (his statement to WaPo on the topic, which I’ve used here, is more expansive).

In a statement that seemed to draw on language in the New York Times account, Clark said, “I categorically deny that I ‘devised a plan . . . to oust’ Jeff Rosen. . . . Nor did I formulate recommendations for action based on factual inaccuracies gleaned from the Internet.”

“My practice is to rely on sworn testimony to assess disputed factual claims,” Clark said. “There were no ‘maneuver[s].’ There was a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the President. It is unfortunate that those who were part of a privileged legal conversation would comment in public about such internal deliberations, while also distorting any discussions. . . . Observing legal privileges, which I will adhere to even if others will not, prevent me from divulging specifics regarding the conversation.”

The WaPo version of this story names all who were involved in the confrontation with Trump (though the sources for the story are likely, in part, their aides).

At the meeting were Trump, Clark and Rosen, along with Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general; Steven A. Engel, the head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, the people familiar with the matter said. The people said Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and Cipollone pushed against the idea of replacing Rosen, and warned of a mass resignation.

Clark says he will only respond to a sworn statement. By all means, the impeachment managers should demand sworn testimony, from all involved.

Of course, that would mean Pat Cipollone, who led the former President’s defense in his first impeachment trial, would be asked about the second time Trump tried to use government resources to cheat. Steve Engel, who authorized the withholding of a whistleblower complaint describing Trump’s earlier attempt, would also testify. Rosen, who participated in having DOJ chase Sidney Powell’s conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn, would be asked to testify about why the conspiracy theories about Dominion machines were any less credible than the Flynn ones. And Donoghue, who served as a filter for some of the conspiracy theories Rudy Giuliani had been fed by men who have since been named Russian agents, would be asked to testify about why Rudy wasn’t a credible source.

Rosen was silent in his final two weeks, presumably, for fear he might get fired and replaced by someone who would be more pliant to a coup attempt. But he — and the three others — are also witnesses to a larger plot that ended up in violence and death.

I wonder if Chris Wray has similar evidence he’ll be asked to share.

On Bill Barr’s Last Day, Trump Commits the Crime Barr Affirmed in His Confirmation Hearing

In Bill Barr’s confirmation hearing, he affirmed on three different occasions (each time with lessening force) that it would be a crime to offer a pardon for false testimony.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

In Bill Barr’s resignation letter, he explained he would “spend the next week wrapping up a few remaining matters important to the Administration and depart on December 23rd.” Barr stopped off at the White House yesterday for a short visit. He and his spox wrote his good-byes during the day and then left DOJ in charge of Jeffrey Rosen.

And then after all that, Trump pardoned Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. The Manafort and Stone pardons — for which the paperwork must have been done ahead of time but held until Barr was no longer Attorney General — only cover the crimes for which they’ve been found guilty. That means both men would ostensibly remain under investigation for their coordination with Russian Agents during the election (and both men assuredly did coordinate with Russian Agents during the election.

If Bill Barr didn’t find a way to permanently end that investigation.

The question now is whether Bill Barr, cover-up artist, managed to cover his tracks this time as well as he did in Iran-Contra.

Missing the National Security Crises for the Trump Temper Tantrums

Even after Republicans and Vladimir Putin have conceded that Donald Trump will no longer be President in 35 days, key parts of the press corps seem unable to look beyond Trump’s temper tantrums to the state of the country.

NBC,  for example, has a 17-paragraph story about Pat Cipollone’s efforts to persuade Trump not to fire Chris Wray and maybe Chad Wolf and maybe Gina Haspel and who knows maybe some more national security figures Trump is pissy about because they haven’t catered to his personal demands. The story doesn’t once mention that these same national security officials — especially Wray and Wolf — are neck deep in a crisis attempting to assess and respond to the SolarWinds compromise of multiple US agencies.

While Trump’s frustrations with Attorney General Bill Barr boiled over in recent days, and Barr resigned on Monday, the president’s advisers hope he’s been persuaded against ousting Wray. Multiple current and former senior administration officials said firing Wray does not appear imminent, but they also point out that the president could make such a decision on a whim at any time. Indeed officials said they are prepared for Trump to go on a firing spree before leaving office next month.

“I wouldn’t take anything off the table in coming weeks,” the senior administration official said of personnel changes, as well as presidential pardons. The official said to expect “some more fairly significant terminations in the national security or intelligence community.”

That this story could even be reported with an unrelenting focus on Trump’s revenge fantasies and not, instead, an extended discussion of the way these revenge fantasies have distracted the entire Administration from urgent crises which Trump’s past revenge fantasies have invited and made worse is an alarming failure of basic framing.

Similarly, in the middle of a 19-paragraph AP story on the transition at DOJ from Bill Barr to Jeffrey Rosen, it summarizes the main point of the story: the biggest issue before DOJ as it prepares for pardonpalooza, continues to cope with running prisons and fraud investigations during a pandemic, sues some of the world’s biggest tech companies, and deals with Mexico’s withdrawal from virtually all drug enforcement cooperation is whether or not the Attorney General, some Attorney General, any Attorney General appoints a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden.

As Barr exits, the biggest thing by far hanging over the Trump Justice Department is its investigation into Hunter Biden, which involves multiple U.S. attorney offices and FBI field offices.

The AP is so deep inside Trump’s manic delusions that it states, as fact, that appointing a special counsel would by itself make for a more complicated investigation, as if someone could just chase Rudy Giuliani conspiracies for four years without Biden’s Attorney General making a solid case the person should be fired.

Appointing a special counsel for the Hunter Biden probe would also signal a more prolonged and complicated investigation than the current inquiry, so far largely centered on his taxes.

DOJ has already spent something like 4 US Attorney years investigating Hunter Biden and has yet to charge him with a single crime; while it remains to be seen whether the tax charges are real, at some point an investigation will butt up against the reality that even the politicized Scott Brady one did: most of the allegations against Hunter Biden are the product of very frothy conspiracy theorizing and aggressive disinformation that straight reporters are not obliged to adopt.

It is useful — important even — to report on the Trump’s temper tantrums. But his tantrums, at this point, are most important for the way they’ve paralyzed and corrupted the entire government during a time it faces multiple urgent crises. Don’t let sources dodge how indulging the President’s childish whims means they, too, are failing to do their real job serving the country.

The country is burning. It is burning, in significant part, because the President has always prioritized his own personal vendettas over the good of the country.

If you need to report on how Trump has put his own revenge fantasies over all else during his Lame Duck, do so as a first step towards holding him accountable for the wreckage that has resulted, not to indulge those fantasies as if the rest of us should care about them anymore.