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DOJ’s Ukraine Fire Sale: The Jerry Nadler Questions Bill Barr Didn’t Answer

Yesterday, Natasha Bertrand posted a January 17, 2020 memo issued by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, which was cited in a response DOJ sent to a letter Jerry Nadler sent on February 10. In it, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Stephen Boyd explained that — in addition to asking Scott Brady to manage intake of any disinformation Rudy Giuliani provides DOJ, Rosen “assigned Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to assist in coordinating … several open matters being handled by different U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department components that in some way potentially relate to Ukraine.”

Add Donoghue to the list of US Attorneys that Attorney General Barr has deployed in his effort to politicize the Department.

Because the Donoghue Ukraine news (and the suggestion that Donoghue may be overseeing an investigation into the Bidens) got so much attention, there has been little attention to the questions Nadler originally asked, most of which Boyd did not answer.

But those questions are perhaps more telling.

For starters, Bill Barr did not answer whether he intends to recuse himself from the Ukrainian grifter case.

In light of the allegations by Mr. Parnas against the Department and you personally, do you intend to recuse yourself from any and all communications relating to Ukraine? Have you done so already?

In addition, Barr did not answer several questions about communications between DOJ, Rudy, and the White House:

(8) Please state the dates of any communications between the Department and Mr. Giuliani regarding information relating to Ukraine or investigations of the Bidens. Please state who else, if anyone, participated in those communications.

(9) Has the Department shared any information it has received from Mr. Giuliani with President Trump or any other White House official? If so, please state the dates of any such communications, the participants in any such communications, and the nature of the information conveyed to the White House.

(10) Have you discussed the intake process with President Trump or any other White House official? If so, please state the dates of any such communications, the participants in any such communications, and the nature of the discussion.

The only answer Boyd gives to any of these questions effectively repeats DOJ’s September 25, 2019 press answer.

Finally, your letter poses questions regarding a September 25, 2019 press statement by the Department. That statement remains accurate. As Attorney General Barr has repeatedly affirmed, he has not discussed matters relating to Ukraine with Rudolph Giuliani.

In short, Bill Barr refused to answer a specific question about whether he should recuse from an investigation into which he has been personally implicated. And DOJ refused to explain precisely what kind of communications there have been between Rudy, DOJ, and the White House.

Bill Barr Commits the Bruce Ohr “Crime”

Far be it for me to ever underestimate the possibility of Bill Barr nefariousness (and I’ll almost certainly have to eat these words), but I’m far less concerned about what Barr said the other day about a process to ingest Ukrainian bullshit from Rudy Giuliani than virtually everyone else. That’s because in his comments from the other day, he emphasized the import of vetting information from Ukraine, whether it comes from Rudy Giuliani or anyone else.

We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the [sic] Ukraine. There are a lot of agendas in the [sic] Ukraine, there are a lot of cross-currents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the [sic] Ukraine at face value. And for that reason we had established an intake process in the field so that any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners so that we could assess its provenance and its credibility. That is true for all information that comes to the Department relating to the [sic] Ukraine including anything Mr. Giuliani might provide.

This sounds like the kind of thing you’d do to placate your boss even while ensuring DOJ doesn’t accept a bunch of disinformation manufactured by mobbed up oligarchs to mess with America.

The WaPo’s report that Barr is sending all this to the US Attorney in Pittsburgh suggests Barr neither wants this stuff in Main DOJ but also is not sending it to either of the two places — John Durham’s inquiry or the SDNY prosecution of the Ukrainian grifters — where it might be used in an ongoing investigation.

A Justice Department official said Giuliani had “recently” shared information with federal law enforcement officials through the process described by Barr. Two people familiar with the matter said the information is being routed to the U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh.

[snip]

It is not clear whether Scott W. Brady, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, will play a similar role, or why his office was chosen. A spokeswoman for Brady’s office declined to comment.

So while I hope (again, probably over-optimistically) that this is just a convenient way to deal with a difficult boss and his criminal subject attorney, I also worry that it’s not being shared with the people investigating such information sharing as illegal foreign influence peddling.

Plus, it strikes me as a unbelievably hypocritical for Bill Barr to continue to ingest dodgy information probably sourced to corrupt oligarchs after the entire frothy right has demonized Bruce Ohr for continuing to accept information — some but not all of it sourced to Oleg Deripaska — from Christopher Steele.

Admittedly, no one can complain about the basis for which DOJ’s Inspector General relied on to make a completely irresponsible attack on Ohr — that he didn’t inform his superiors (even though they had, in fact, been informed). Barr is the boss! He has chosen who should deal with this information, in a way that Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein did not.

But Barr is, nevertheless, doing what the frothy right complains that Ohr did: continue to accept problematic information — deemed partisan (inaccurately in the case of Ohr, because his information sharing with Steele long preceded the DNC project and much of what he shared during and after that involved entirely unrelated topics) — after it had been discredited.

Perhaps, along with issuing orders that suggest Trump can commit any crime he wants between now and November 2020, Barr should issue an order explaining how DOJ should accept such information — including manufactured dirt from Steve Bannon — as a rule, so we can stop working under different rules for different parties.

The Very Limited Republican Concern about FISA

There are a number of FISA submissions made by the Trump Administration that the FISA Court has found problematic. They include:

March 24-27, 2017: FBI conducts queries on FISA data using identifiers for over 70,000 facilities associated with persons with access to FBI facilities and systems (noticed to the court on November 22, 2017)

April 7, 2017: Reauthorization of Carter Page FISA, signed by Jim Comey and Dana Boente, at a time when probable cause was thin and contrary evidence mounting

June 29, 2017: Reauthorization of Carter Page FISA, signed by Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein, at a time when few believed the order was producing valuable intelligence and abundant contrary evidence was known

October 11, 2017: FBI conducts queries to identify cleared personnel on whom to serve process (noticed to the court on February 21, 2018)

November 22, 2017: FBI takes 8 months before notifying FISC of the March 2017 queries

December 1, 2017: FBI conducts over 6,800 queries using a group of social security numbers (noticed to the court on April 27, 2018)

December 7-11, 2017: FBI conducts queries on the identifiers of 1,600 people (noticed to the court on April 12, 2018)

Unknown date: FBI conducts queries of 57,000 identifiers (or individuals) that may not have been designed to return foreign intelligence information (noticed to the court on April 13, 2018)

February 5 and 23, 2018: FBI conducts 30 queries on potential sources (noticed to the court on June 7, 2018)

February 21, 2018: FBI conducts 45 queries on persons being considered as sources (noticed to the court on May 21, 2018)

March 27, 2018: Submission of FBI 702 querying procedures, accompanying an application that included a declaration from Christopher Wray, that fell far short of what Congress recently required

September 18, 2018: Submission of FBI 702 querying procedures that still fall short of standards mandated by Congress, including a supplemental declaration from Wray that relies, in part, on FBI’s “strong culture that places great emphasis on personnel consistently conveying true and accurate information”

Not only did both the Carter Page applications from which DOJ withdrew its probable cause claim come under the Trump Administration, but a slew of fairly alarming uses of FISA data happened under Trump as well. A bunch of them occurred under Chris Wray. Indeed, Chris Wray submitted a declaration to the FISC in September 2018 — long after there were questions about the Carter Page FISAs — suggesting the FBI shouldn’t have to write stuff down as it queries 702 data, in spite of what Congress required by law.

The Director anticipates that approach would divert resources from investigative work, delay assessment of threat information, and discourage its personnel from querying unminimized FISA information, to the detriment of public safety. Id. at 9-12. He also describes an alternative approach whereby personnel would be allowed to forgo such research and rely solely on their “personal knowledge” in making those assessments. Id. at 12. The Director expects that practice would “result in inconsistent and unreliable information in FBI systems,” id., thereby complicating other aspects of the FBI’s work – e.g., implementing its Section 702 targeting procedures. Id. at 13-14. The Director also expresses concern that such an approach would be inconsistent with the FBJ’s “strong culture that places great emphasis on personnel consistently conveying true and accurate information.” Id. at 14.

[snip]

The government further objects that requiring a written justification to examine the contents provided in response to U.S.-person queries of Section 702 information “would substantially hinder the FBI’s ability to investigate and protect against threats to national security.” Supplemental FBI Declaration at 17. Different fo1ms of hindrance are claimed.

[snip]

[At the heart of the government’s objections to the documentation requirement proposed by amici is an understandable desire to ensure that FBI personnel can] perform their work with the utmost efficiency and “connect dots” in an effort to protect the national security. Given the lessons learned following 9/11 and the Fort Hood shooting, as well as the FBI’s significant reliance on queries to effectively and efficiently identify threat streams in its holdings, the FBI is extremely concerned about anything that would impede, delay, or create a disincentive to querying FBI databases. Supplemental FBI Declaration at 7 (emphasis added).

Yet in spite of the fact that Chris Wray, himself, participated in a 18-month effort to ignore the will of Congress with respect to 702 queries, no one raised that in yesterday’s oversight hearing. Not to mention the GOP got plenty of facts wrong, such as treating FISA as a terrorism thing, and not, increasingly, the very same counterintelligence purpose used with Page.

To be sure, aside from some comments acknowledging that IG Report, Democrats weren’t raising any questions about FISA (though Jerry Nadler did thank Jim Sensenbrenner for agreeing to delay consideration of Section 215 reauthorization to allow for consideration of the IG Report).

Here’s the thing, though: The FISA Court has complained about FBI surveillance practices all occurring under Trump affecting up to 135,476 Americans.

And Republicans claiming to give a goddamn about FISA are really just concerned about one of those Americans.

Which is a pretty good indication they’re not really concerned about the surveillance at all.

A Diverse America Votes to Uphold the Constitution; A Largely Male White America Votes to Abrogate It

The House Judiciary Committee just voted to send two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump to the full House.

The entire vote took just minutes. But it said so much about the state of America today.

It will forever be portrayed as a party line vote, with 23 Democrats in favor, and 17 Republicans against. But it was also a tribute to the degree to which polarization in America today pivots on issues of diversity.

The Democrats who voted in favor included 11 women, and 13 Latinx and people of color (Ted Lieu missed the vote recovering from a heart procedure). Three (plus Lieu) are immigrants. One is gay. These Democrats voted to uphold the Constitution a bunch of white men, several of them owners of African-American slaves, wrote hundreds of years ago.

The Republicans who voted against were all white. Just two were women.  These Republicans voted to permit a racist white male President to cheat to get reelected in violation of the rule of law.

This is about a clash between the rising America and the past. And it’s unclear who will win this battle for America. But the stakes are clear.

 

Will Rogers Was Right About The Democrats

Here are a couple of quotes from the inestimable Will Rogers. They were made so long ago, and are still so spot on correct:

“I’m not a member of any organized political party…. I’m a Democrat.”

“Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans.”

Both are still so evidently true. Watching this morning’s “impeachment hearing” makes me want to puke. It is one of the most incompetent shit shows in history. The House Democrats, as led by Nancy Pelosi, and in this case Jerry Nadler too, could not legally litigate or argue their way out of a thin and wet paper sack. It is seriously pathetic and embarrassing.

Daniel Goldman is a tad better than Nadler and Barry Berke were, but the format is still ludicrous.

Probably we should talk about Hunter Biden more. Because members of corporate boards are NEVER hired for their names as opposed to expertise. Maybe cross-reference Theranos, but whatever.

Pelosi and Nadler have turned impeachment into such a craven shit and clown show that it is unbearable.

Speaker Pelosi Goes from Slow-Walking to Sprinting

This morning, Nancy Pelosi announced she’s asking Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff to draw up articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.

Both reports on scheduling from members of HJC and Congress generally as well as reporting from CNN suggest Pelosi intends a very quick schedule for this process: articles drawn up this weekend, a vote in HJC next week, then a full vote before Christmas.

This is a mistake, in my opinion. I think Pelosi should bump this schedule out to early February. I say this not out of any fondness for delay, but because several things will or are likely to happen in the interim that would make impeachment more thorough.

The first is a ruling on Don McGahn’s testimony. I think the case on impeaching Trump for obstructing the Mueller investigation should most importantly focus on his abuse of the pardon power, not least because preventing a Trump pardon may give Paul Manafort and Roger Stone reason to grow more chatty. But McGahn’s testimony, describing how Trump asked him to falsify a record to cover up the fact that the President asked him to get Mueller fired in summer 2017, would be important for other reasons. Jonathan Turley cited McGahn’s testimony, for example, as the clearest case in the Mueller Report supporting impeachment (though of course he claims it doesn’t reach the level of abuse that Turley claimed lying about a consensual blowjob did back when Clinton did it). It would also be powerful to have a key player in Republican politics — they guy helped Trump stack the courts — play a key role in his impeachment.

While there’s little hope the Democrats could force the testimony of the key witnesses in the Ukraine investigation (including McGahn’s one-time deputy, John Eisenberg) without long delay, they’re more likely to get a ruling requiring McGahn’s testimony.

Then there’s the high likelihood of a superseding indictment in the Lev Parnas case. At a hearing Monday, prosecutors made it clear they’re very likely to supersede the current indictment against Rudy Giuliani’s grifters, possibly including other targets of the probe.

Prosecutor Zolkind signaled that a grand jury would probably level more charges.

“We think a superseding indictment is likely, but no decision has been made, certainly,” Zolkind said.

Repeatedly emphasizing that the government’s investigation is ongoing, the prosecutor referred obliquely to possible other targets by explaining that redactions on search warrants do not relate to the charged case. Zolkind also explained that disclosing witness statements prematurely could risk compromising the probe.

While the judge in the case, Paul Oetken, signaled his willingness to share information from this probe with impeachment investigators, and Parnas and his lawyers indicated that they’d like to comply with HPSCI’s subpoena (probably in an attempt to leverage immunity), that may take some time, perhaps two months. But I think any evidence from this case will be stronger if it comes with a grand jury indictment alleging that more of the underlying activities in this grift were probably a crime.

The next hearing in this case is February 3. That’s why I think Pelosi should hold off on until February.

Those are just two of the reasons I think Pelosi should slow things down a bit — at least on the vote in the entire House — to allow other pieces to fall into place.

The Trump-Mueller Answer the Stone Trial Really Implicates: Pardoning Assange

A bunch of media outlets responded to Rick Gates’ testimony in the Roger Stone trial — describing how Donald Trump got off a call with Roger Stone on August 31, 2016 and told him WikiLeaks would release more emails — by arguing that Gates’ testimony is proof that Trump lied to Robert Mueller about the subject.

I recall that in the months leading up to the election there was considerable media reporting about the possible hacking and release of campaign-related information and there was a lot of talk about this matter. At the time, I was generally aware of these media reports and may have discussed these issues with my campaign staff or others, but at this point in time – more than two years later – I have no recollection of any particular conversation, when it occurred, or who the participants were.

I do not recall being aware during the campaign of any communications between the individuals named in Question II (c) [Roger Stone, Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates] and anyone I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks or any of the other individuals or entities referred to in the question.

[snip]

I was in Trump Tower in New York City on October 7, 2016. I have no recollection of being told that WikiLeaks possessed or might possess emails related to John Podesta before the release of Mr. Podesta’s emails was reported by the media. Likewise, I have no recollection of being told that Roger Stone, anyone acting as an intermediary for Roger Stone, or anyone associated with my campaign had communicated with WikiLeaks on October 7, 2016.

I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign had discussions with any of the entities named in the question regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails.

I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.

But these are very carefully crafted answers, as they disclaim any memory of the requested details rather than — ever — claiming they didn’t happen. Unlike Trump’s answers on Trump Tower Moscow, he did not subsequently make clear he has distinct memories of Roger Stone’s boasts about having advance knowledge of WikiLeaks releases, both publicly and in private calls with Trump.

So I don’t really think that’s the most important Trump response given evidence presented at the Stone trial. Rather, a more potentially damning one pertains to the way a shared support for Julian Assange lurks behind the relationship between Randy Credico, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, and Roger Stone.

Credico wanted — and still wants — to rebut any “collusion” claims

Credico had long been hostile to any investigation of Stone’s ties to Assange. When Jerry Nadler started asking questions (of Jim Comey) about Stone’s ties to Assange in September 2016, Credico accused Nadler of McCarthyism.

In early January, 2018, Credico texted to Stone that he would do an interview with Michael Isikoff to make it clear that Assange was “not colluding.”

Much later — indeed, to this day — Credico would go to great lengths to try to rebut claims that Assange was “colluding.”

Credico’s WikiLeaks focus in responding to the subpoena

When HPSCI asked for first voluntary then compelled testimony. Credico responded by sharing the subpoena with a network of people — including Craig Murray, Ray McGovern, Jess Radack, Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Stefania Maurizi, Colleen Rowley, and Noam Chomsky — with an affinity and in many cases close ties to WikiLeaks. Stone was, at that point, just one of 18 people Credico thought to alert, and the defense made much of the other recipients of Credico’s email releasing the subpoena.

Credico would go on to do as Stone had requested in response to the subpoena, plead the Fifth to avoid testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. On the stand at trial, Credico explained that a “lot of people” had a role in that decision, “amongst them, Mr. Stone.”

The defense, however, tried to suggest that Kunstler (who testified she represented WikiLeaks as an organization and had represented Sarah Harrison for four years) had a role in this decision. They got Credico to admit that Kunstler gave him legal advice, but was not his lawyer. And they got Kunstler to admit that she said she was at a meeting with several lawyers when Credico got a subpoena. That falls far short of saying she advised him to dodge the subpoena, but that’s certainly what the defense tried to insinuate.

Even if she had suggested that Credico, who is a friend of hers, should avoid testifying, none of that is untoward (it’d be the equivalent of bmaz telling me to shut the fuck up about any of my own legal issues, which he does constantly). It just suggests that Credico’s immediate focus in 2017 was on protecting Assange, not necessarily protecting Stone.

The shared interest in pardoning Assange

But this whole relationship was intertwined with an apparent shared interest in pardoning Assange. Right in the middle of Credico’s claims about what WikiLeaks was up to in early October 2016, for example, on October 3, he pushed Stone to get Trump to back asylum for Assange.

Then there are the exchanges on the topic that MoJo reported on a year ago from early January 2018.

In the wake of Stone’s successful effort to get Credico to plead the Fifth, the President’s rat-fucker suggested that if Credico publicly revealed that he couldn’t be Stone’s back channel, it might screw up efforts he claimed he was making to get Assange a pardon.

They resumed the discussion about a pardon several days later, when Stone sent Credico Jerome Corsi’s story on Ecuador’s grant of a diplomatic passport to Assange.

Remarkably, given what has transpired since, Credico informed Stone that the British government was not honoring the diplomatic passport, observed that “Infowars ” — which in this case would be Corsi — “doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” then taunted, ‘Maybe your back Channel knows more than I do.”

The current operative story, of course, is that Corsi was the backchannel, though Credico wouldn’t have known that at the time.

It’s certainly possible that Stone was blowing smoke, raising something he knew Credico cared deeply about, pardoning Assange, to get him to toe the line. It’s likely, too, he was just taking reporting on efforts made in late 2017 to liberate Assange and claiming credit for it.

But at the very least, it shows that Stone used a pardon for Assange — something Credico still spends a lot of time pushing — as leverage to try to get Credico to sustain his cover story.

Kunstler was a key point of pressure for Stone

Which is one of the reasons I find the new details about how Stone’s threatened Kunstler to be interesting.

Per evidence submitted at trial, Stone used several different tactics to pressure Credico to testify (or not) in certain ways, including:

  • Telling him to take the Fifth
  • Telling him to pull a Frank Pentangeli (meaning, to testify falsely)
  • Offering to pay for his lawyer in late 2017
  • Sending him some work in early 2018
  • Threatening Bianca (a threat Credico said he didn’t take very seriously)
  • Making threats of violence of exposure
  • Threatening Margaret Kunstler

Ultimately, per his testimony, Credico changed his stance on testifying so as not to be Stone’s fall-guy (and because he didn’t want to be blamed for Trump’s election). But according to (live texts of) his testimony, a really big part of that change was that Stone threatened Kunstler. Credico testified he, “didn’t want to drag her name though this.”

On March 10, 2018, Stone responded to Credico alerting him that he was going to go on Chris Hayes’ show by forwarding the September 2016 email chain in which Credico feigned helping Stone figure out if WikiLeaks had certain Libya-related emails and threatening, “If you go on with Chris Hayes be sure to mention this,” which would have exposed that Credico did at least appear to respond to Stone’s request for help. On May 21, 2018, Stone responded to a Credico email saying “you should have just been honest with the house intel committee” by threatening, “Keep running your mouth and I’ll file a bar complaint against your friend Margaret.”

Mostly, raising Kunstler would invoke two details Stone knew about. First, some time on or before August 25, 2016, Kunstler passed on Credico’s request to have Assange on his drive time show. She was the person who got WikiLeaks to consider the August 25, 2016 interview that lay a the core of Credico and Stone’s wavering claims that Credico might have inside knowledge. On the stand, Kunstler said that was the first and only time she passed on a request to WikiLeaks on Credico’s behalf.

Then, after some badgering from Stone, on September 2016, Credico sent her the package of information Stone had shared on what he claims was an effort by Hillary to prevent Moammar Qaddafi from stepping down to avoid the Libyan war, BCCing Stone. Significantly, Stone’s lawyers made a point of getting Kunstler to clarify that she did not learn that email had been BCCed with Stone until prosecutors showed it to her in an interview. And it’s true that nothing about the package would have identified it as a Roger Stone smear.

Kunstler testified that she ignored the email and got pretty pissed about it, because that’s not the kind of thing she would do with clients.

Those two details made it clear that Kunstler was Credico’s link to Assange, that she had succeeded in sharing a request from Credico when it served Assange’s interest, but that she wouldn’t consider serving as a source of information about Assange and upcoming leaks.

But in a little noticed response, Credico revealed that he put Stone in touch with Kunstler after the election to talk about a pardon for Julian Assange. I double checked. That happened in late 2016.

Again, there’s absolutely nothing untoward about this. Kunstler represented WikiLeaks and any smart lawyer would push for a pardon for her client. Credico’s relationship with Stone was already public (though it’s unclear whether Kunstler knew of the whole back channel stuff yet, given that she may not  have known the Libya request came from Stone). But it adds an important wrinkle to the year-long Trump flunkie effort to get Assange a pardon.

We know that sometime after the October 2016 WikiLeaks dump, Mike Flynn was part of a conversation where Trump’s team discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks (something that didn’t get mentioned at all at Stone’s trial). Credico’s introduction of Kunstler to Stone would have come around the same time that Assange himself DMed Don Jr asking to become an Ambassador of sorts.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Assange renewed that request as part of his Vault 8-based extortion in November 2017.

All of which is to say there’s one more instance where someone in Trump’s orbit discussed a pardon for Assange. Because it involved Kunstler, it tied the discussion even more closely to Stone’s claims to have optimized WikiLeaks’ releases.

That may be one explanation for Stone’s lawyers’ efforts to make it clear that Kunstler couldn’t have known that Stone had made a request that got presented to her, because that would make it look like a quid pro quo, a request for Stone to return the favor.

Trump may have told the truth — but that doesn’t rule out a quid pro quo with WikiLeaks

Which leads me to the Mueller question that I think most enticingly ties to details revealed at trial.

Trump was asked whether he had ever discussed a pardon for Julian Assange before his inauguration, and he offered the same kind of non-responsive answer he offered to all the other Mueller questions.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

Notably, however, because Trump adhered to a practice he inconsistently used (in answering questions only as they applied to the campaign, but not the transition), his answer doesn’t actually deny a key possibility: that he and Stone (and Don Jr) discussed a pardon for Assange during the transition period.

This doesn’t even have to be an instance where Trump did not recall something that happened during the election. If Trump entertained a Stone brokered pardon request in the months after Assange helped him win the election, it would be easily the most damning of Trump’s many abuses of clemency, because it would appear to be a clear quid pro quo for election assistance.

As I disclosed last year, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Problem with Letting the Client-in-Chief Rewrite Impeachment Strategy Mid-Week

Daily Beast confirms something I asserted in this post. Trump wrote the intemperate letter that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone signed his name to (with help from Rudy Giuliani, before Rudy started looking down the gun of indictment for conspiracy).

It was crafted, in large part, by President Donald Trump himself.

According to two people familiar with the process, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone had multiple meetings with President Trump in the days leading up to the issuance of the letter. During those meetings with Cipollone, the president would get especially animated when names such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee leading the probe into the whistleblower complaint, came up. The sources said that Trump enthusiastically suggested adding various jabs at Democratic lawmakers and would request that their “unfair” treatment of him be incorporated into the letter.

The result was what Bob Bauer, who served as President Obama’s White House counsel, called a “remarkable” and “extraordinarily political document.”

Trump had also privately consulted on the letter with Rudy Giuliani, his notably pugnacious personal lawyer who is at the center of the Ukraine and Biden-related scandal engulfing the administration. Trump talked to Giuliani about how he and the White House should proceed in fighting back and challenging the legitimacy of the impeachment probe, one of the sources noted.

The problem with this (well, one problem) is precisely the one I noted in my post.

The tell — for those teams of well-compensated journalists treating this as a factual document — might have been the addressees. While the letter got sent to Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, and Elijah Cummings, it did not get sent to Jerry Nadler, who has been pursuing an impeachment inquiry of sorts since the Mueller Report came out. The White House knows Nadler is also part of the impeachment inquiry, because even as the White House was finalizing the letter, Trump’s DOJ was in DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s courtroom fighting a House Judiciary request for materials for the impeachment inquiry.

While Trump had Cipollone address the letter to all the Democratic Chairs he was furious at, at that moment, he did not address it to Jerry Nadler, who also has been pursuing impeachment. There’s perhaps good reason why Cipollone didn’t send it to Nadler: because none of the claims made about the Adam Schiff-led Ukraine-related impeachment inquiry are true of the Nadler-led Russia and other corruption led impeachment inquiry, which has tried accommodation, has allowed lawyers to cite White House equities in interviews, and included public hearings.

Indeed, even as Trump was writing this letter and making Cipollone sign it, Trump’s DOJ was arguing an entirely different strategy before DC’s Chief Judge Beryl Howell, effectively arguing that because Nadler was being so accommodating, DOJ could not be forced to turn over grand jury testimony.

The result is a rather significant whiplash to DOJ’s legal strategy with HJC. On Tuesday, in an apparent effort to convince Judge Howell that DOJ was not obstructing HJC’s requests for FBI 302s, which don’t have the protections of the grand jury, they (apparently for the first time) suggested that HJC was going to get most of the 302s they were asking for, including the 302s for two of the guys defending against turning them over, DAAG James Burnham and AAG Jody Hunt, both of whose names are on these filings.

The Department currently anticipates making the remaining FBI-302’s available under the agreed upon terms as processing is completed, so long as they do not adversely impact ongoing investigations and cases and subject to redaction and potential withholding in order to protect Executive Branch confidentiality interests. These include, in alphabetical order (1) Stephen Bannon; (2) Dana Boente; (3) James Burnham; (4) James Comey; (5) Annie Donaldson; (6) John Eisenberg; (7) Michael Flynn; (8) Rick Gates; (9) Hope Hicks; (10) Jody Hunt; (11) Andrew McCabe; (12) Don McGahn; (13) Reince Priebus; (14) James Rybicki; (15) Jeff Sessions. In addition, the Committee requested the FBI-302 for the counsel to Michael Flynn, which also has not yet been processed.

Last night, however, they submitted filings that suggested that because Congress is pursuing impeachment their prior offer for accommodation may no longer be valid.

Finally, as explained in the Department’s filing of October 8, 2019, and its September 13, 2019 response to the Committee’s Application, in early June, the Department agreed to provide to the Committee access to certain FBI-302s in order to accommodate its oversight responsibilities following the Committee’s issuance of a subpoena in April and subsequent letter in May. As further noted in paragraph two of the Department’s Tuesday filing, that agreement includes confidentiality provisions that significantly limit the use and dissemination of information that the Committee accesses. The Department has consistently viewed this agreement as part of the accommodation process in connection with the Committee’s oversight activities. As the Court is aware, subsequent to the filing of this application regarding Rule 6(e) materials, the Speaker of the House stated publicly that, in her view, the House of Representatives has now commenced an impeachment inquiry (in addition to its regular oversight responsibilities). To the extent the Committee now believes future productions in this process are part of that impeachment inquiry, that implicates very different issues for the Executive Branch as a whole–as set forth by the White House in its letter of Tuesday, October 8, 2019, to the Speaker and Chairmen of three committees. The Department and the Committee have not yet discussed whether they may need to amend the current agreement to ensure appropriate handing by the Committee in order for the accommodation process to continue as anticipated. The Department will work diligently with the Committee to resolve this issue and to continue a productive accommodation process.

Effectively, on Tuesday morning DOJ argued that HJC was wrong, their request was not part of an impeachment inquiry, in part because it was so accommodating, so it couldn’t have any grand jury material. Two days later, however, DOJ is saying the very same cooperative process has become an impeachment inquiry that — in spite of Jerry Nadler being excluded from the recipients of Cipollone’s letter — DOJ now considers an impeachment inquiry, and so DOJ won’t comply because other parts of Congress are playing hardball.

Heads I win and you can’t have grand jury materials, tails you lose and you can’t have grand jury materials, is effectively the argument here.

That, and (as noted) DOJ is now claiming that US v Nixon is not binding precedent.

This is what happens when you let the Client-in-Chief do all the lawyering.

The Press Gets Utterly Snookered on the White House Rebranding of the Same Old Unrelenting Obstruction of Congressional Prerogatives

Yesterday, the White House sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and just some of the Committee Chairs conducting parts of an impeachment inquiry into the President, purporting to refuse to participate in that impeachment inquiry. Since then, there has been a lot of shocked coverage about how intemperate the letter is, with particular focus on the fact that White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, used to be considered a serious lawyer. There has been some attempt to analyze the letter as if it is a legal document and not instead the President’s rants packaged up in Times Roman and signed by one of his employees. A number of outlets have thrown entire reporting teams to do insipid horse race coverage of the letter, as if this is one giant game, maybe with nifty commercials on during halftime.

None I’ve seen have described the letter as what it is: an attempt to rebrand the same old outright obstruction that the White House has pursued since January.

The tell — for those teams of well-compensated journalists treating this as a factual document — might have been the addressees. While the letter got sent to Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, and Elijah Cummings, it did not get sent to Jerry Nadler, who has been pursuing an impeachment inquiry of sorts since the Mueller Report came out. The White House knows Nadler is also part of the impeachment inquiry, because even as the White House was finalizing the letter, Trump’s DOJ was in DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s courtroom fighting a House Judiciary request for materials for the impeachment inquiry. In the hearing, DOJ literally argued that the Supreme Court’s 8-0 US v. Nixon was wrongly decided.

Howell picked up on that point by pressing DOJ to say whether then-U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Sirica was wrong in 1974 to let Congress access a detailed “road map” of the Watergate grand jury materials as it considered President Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

Shapiro argued that if the same Watergate road map arose today, there’d be a “different result” because the law has changed since 1974. She said the judge wouldn’t be able to do the same thing absent changes to the grand jury rules and statutes.

Howell sounded skeptical. “Wow. OK,” she replied.

DOJ also argued that Congress would have to pass a law to enshrine the principle that this binding Supreme Court precedent already made the law of the land.

In the HJC branch of the impeachment inquiry, the few credible claims made in yesterday’s letter — such as that Congress is conducting the inquiry in secret without the ability to cross-examine witnesses or have Executive Branch lawyers present — are proven utterly false. And with the claims made in yesterday’s hearing, the Executive demonstrated that they will obstruct even measured requests and negotiations for testimony.

The Trump White House obstructed normal Congressional oversight by absolutely refusing to cooperate.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry focused on requests and voluntary participation.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry where subpoenas were filed.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry relying on whistleblowers who aren’t parties to the White House omertà.

The Trump White House obstructed what numerous judges have made clear are reasonable requests from a co-equal branch of government.

Nothing in the White House’s conduct changed yesterday. Not a single thing. And any journalist who treats this as a new development should trade in her notebooks or maybe move to covering football where such reporting is appropriate.

It is, however, a rebranding of the same old unrelenting obstruction, an effort to relaunch the same policy of unremitting obstruction under an even more intransigent and extreme marketing pitch.

And that — the need to rebrand the same old obstruction — might be worthy topic of news coverage. Why the White House feels the need to scream louder and pound the table more aggressively is a subject for reporting. But to cover it, you’d go to people like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who already seem to be preparing to explain votes against the President. You even go to people like Lindsey Graham, who is doing ridiculous things to sustain Rudy Giuliani’s hoaxes in the Senate Judiciary Committee — but who has condemned the principle of making the country dramatically less safe for whimsical personal benefit in Syria. Or you go to Richard Burr, who quietly released a report making it clear Russia took affirmative efforts to elect Trump in 2016.

This week, Trump looked at the first few Republicans getting weak in the knees and his response was to double down on the same old policies, while rolling out a campaign trying to persuade those weak-kneed members of Congress who are contemplating the import of our Constitution not to do so.

The President’s former lawyer testified earlier this year, under oath, that this has always been a branding opportunity to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the “greatest infomercial in political history.”

His latest attempt to cajole Republican loyalty is no different. It’s just a rebranding of the same intransigence. Treating it as anything but a rebranding is organized forgetting of what has taken place for the last nine months, and journalists should know better.

Failing to Damage Mueller, GOP Now Claiming Mueller Not Sufficiently Vigorous to Oversee Trump Investigation

Robert Mueller just finished the first of two hearings today.

At times he appeared like those of us who have covered him for years expected, feisty and sharp. Between his responses to Jerry Nadler and Ted Lieu, he made it clear he would have indicted if not for the OLC opinion prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president, even while he refused to say the word impeachment. He repeatedly said that a failure to succeed at obstructing justice is still a crime. He stated that the decision not to reach a prosecutorial decision arose because this investigation is unlike any other, in that Trump couldn’t be prosecuted. He stated that Trump could be charged after he left office.

He defended the integrity of his team and the fairness of his report. He backed his March 27 letter that complained about Attorney General Bill Barr’s misrepresentation of the report.

In short, Mueller made it clear that he believes Trump obstructed justice and Bill Barr lied to obscure that fact.

But at times, he seemed lost. He forgot that Ronald Reagan appointed him US Attorney, often searched to see who was asking questions, and forgot key details. It didn’t help, either, that he refused to read from the report (though that was a pre-arranged refusal to create soundbites at the behest of Democrats).

Having not damaged Mueller, then, the Republicans are already out suggesting that the Robert Mueller that appeared out of it today could not have been fully in charge of the investigation into Donald Trump.

Mueller’s performance raised questions that reached far beyond one appearance before one committee. It called into doubt the degree to which Mueller was in charge of the entire special counsel investigation.

“You wonder how much of this was affecting the investigation,” one Republican member of the House said as he watched Mueller’s testimony. “It sheds a lot of light on what happened the last two years. He wasn’t in charge.”

If Mueller was not fully in charge, that would direct attention to the staff he assembled for the investigation — staff that President Trump has often derided as “17 angry Democrats.” Some of Mueller’s aides were Democratic donors, and a key aide, Andrew Weissmann, famously attended Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election night event that was planned as a victory party. It seems likely that Republicans will direct new attention to them in light of Mueller’s appearance.

Except that representation misstates something that was litigated, all the way to the Supreme Court, in this case. Robert Mueller wasn’t in charge of this investigation. His supervisor — whether it be Rod Rosenstein, Matt Big Dick Toilet Salesman Whitaker, or Bill Barr — was ultimately in charge of the investigation.

And if it is true that Robert Mueller wasn’t all there when he was leading this investigation, it was up to his supervisor to do something about it.

Indeed, if you look at some of the big questions about Mueller’s prosecutorial decisions — most notably, not to demand an interview with the President, but also the decision to stop the investigation before even getting the Andrew Miller testimony or Mystery Appellant evidence  — you might wonder whether someone feistier would have fought for that testimony.

Republicans are, minutes after the conclusion of that hearing, complaining that Robert Mueller wasn’t forceful enough in his testimony. If that’s the question they want to raise, then they should also worry about whether Bill Barr, especially, manipulated Mueller.