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The Kinds and Significance of Russian Interference — 2016 and 2020

Trump’s meltdown last week — in which he purged top staffers at the Director of National Intelligence after a briefing on Russian interference in the 2020 election, followed by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien making shit up on Meet the Press — has created a firestorm about Russian interference in the 2020 election. That firestorm, however, has spun free of what ways Russia interfered in 2016 and what effect it had.

Five ways Russia interfered in 2016

First, remember that there were at least five ways Russia interfered in 2016:

  • Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt
  • Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary
  • Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation
  • Tampering with the voting infrastructure
  • Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt

The most obvious way Russia interfered in 2016 was by hacking the DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta (it also hacked some Republicans it did not like). It released both the DNC and Podesta data in such a way as to exaggerate any derogatory information in the releases, successfully distracting the press for much of the campaign and focusing attention on Hillary rather than Trump. It released DCCC information that was of some use for Republican candidates.

Roger Stone took steps — not all of which are public yet — to optimize this effort. In the wake of Stone’s efforts, he moved to pay off one participant in this effort by trying to get a pardon for Julian Assange.

Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary

In addition to creating a messaging problem, the hack-and-leak campaign created ongoing security challenges for Hillary. Someone who played a key role in InfoSec on the campaign has described the Russian effort as a series of waves of attacks. The GRU indictment describes one of those waves — the efforts to hack Hillary’s personal server — which came in seeming response to Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. An attack that is often forgotten, and from a data perspective was likely one of the most dangerous, involved a month-long effort to obtain Hillary’s analytics from the campaign’s AWS server.

Whatever happened with this data, the persistence of these attacks created additional problems for Hillary, as her staff had to spend time playing whack-a-mole with Russian hackers rather than optimizing their campaign efforts.

Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation

Putin’s “chef,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin, also had staffers from his troll factory in St. Petersburg shift an ongoing campaign that attempted to sow division in the US to adopt a specific campaign focus, pushing Trump and attacking Hillary. Importantly, Prigozhin’s US-based troll effort was part of a larger multinational effort. And it was in no way the only disinformation and trolling entity involved in the election. Both parties did some of this, other countries did some, and mercenaries trying to exploit social media algorithms for profit did some as well.

Tampering with the voting infrastructure

Russia also tampered with US voting infrastructure. In 2016, this consisted of probing most states and accessing voter rolls in at least two, though there’s no evidence that Russian hackers made any changes. In addition, Russian hackers targeted a vendor that provided polling books, with uncertain results. The most substantive evidence of possible success affecting the vote in 2016 involved failures of polling books in Durham County, NC, which created a real slowdown in voting in one of the state’s most Democratic areas.

In recent days, there have been reports of a ransomware attack hitting Palm Beach County in September 2016, but it is unclear whether this was part of the Russian effort.

Because there’s no certainty whether the Russian hack of VR Systems was behind the Durham County problems, there’s no proof that any of these efforts affected the outcome. But they point to the easiest way to use hacking to do so: by making it harder for voters in particular areas to vote and harder for specific localities to count the vote.

Some of what Russia did in 2016 — such as probes of a particularly conservative county in FL — may have been part of Russia’s effort to discredit the outcome. They didn’t fully deploy this effort because Trump won.

Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Finally, Russia accompanied its other efforts with various kinds of influence peddling targeting Trump’s aides. It was not the only country that did so: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, and Israel were some of the others. Foreign countries were similarly trying to target Hillary’s campaign — and the UAE effort, at least, targeted both campaigns at once, through George Nader.

Importantly, however, these efforts intersected with Russia’s other efforts to interfere in the election in ways that tied specific policy outcomes to Russia’s interference:

  • An unrealistically lucrative Trump Tower deal involved a former GRU officer and sanctioned banks
  • At a meeting convened to offer Trump dirt about Hillary, Don Jr agreed in principle to revisit ending Magnitsky sanctions if Trump won
  • George Papadopoulos pitched ending sanctions to Joseph Mifsud, who had alerted him that Russia had emails they intended to drop to help Trump
  • Paul Manafort had a meeting that tied winning the Rust Belt, carving up Ukraine, and getting paid personally together; the meeting took place against the background of sharing internal polling data throughout the campaign

As I’ll note in a follow-up, information coming out in FOIAed 302s makes it clear that Mike Flynn’s effort to undercut Obama’s December 2016 sanctions was more systematic than the Mueller Report concludes. So not only did Russia make it clear it wanted sanctions relief, Trump moved to give it to them even before he got elected (and his Administration found a way to exempt Oleg Deripaska from some of these sanctions).

Manafort continued to pursue efforts to carve up Ukraine until he went to jail. In addition, Trump continues to take actions that undercut Ukraine’s efforts to fight Russia and corruption. Neither of these have been tied to a specific quid pro quo (though the investigation into Manafort’s actions, especially, remained inconclusive at the time of the Mueller Report).

So while none of these was charged as a quid pro quo or a conspiracy (and the reasons why they weren’t vary; Manafort lied about what he was doing, and why, whereas Mueller couldn’t prove Don Jr had the mens rea of entering into a quid pro quo), Russia tied certain policy outcomes to its interference.

Trump’s narcissism and legal exposure exacerbated the effects

The Russian attack was more effective than it otherwise would have been for two reasons. First, because he’s a narcissist and because Russia built in plausible deniability, Trump refused to admit that Russia did try to help him. Indeed, he clings more and more to Russian disinformation about what happened, leading the IC to refuse to brief him on the threat, leading to last week’s meltdown.

In addition, rather than let FBI investigate the people who had entered into discussions of a quid pro quo, Trump obstructed the investigation. Trump has spent years now attacking the rule of law and institutions of government rather than admit what DOJ IG found — there was reason to open the investigation, or admit what DOJ found — there was reason to prosecute six of his aides for lying about what happened.

The Russian effort was just one of the reasons Hillary lost

It’s also important to remember that Russia’s interference was just one of the many things that contributed to Hillary’s loss.

Other aspects were probably more important. For example, Republican voter suppression, particularly in Wisconsin and North Carolina, was far more important than any effect the VR Systems hack may have had in Durham County. Jim Comey’s public statements about the email investigation had at least as much effect as the Russian hack-and-leak campaign did on press focus. Hillary made some boneheaded choices — like barely campaigning in WI and MI; while I had worried that she made those choices because Russia tampered with her analytics (with the AWS hack), that doesn’t seem to have happened. Disinformation sent by the Trump campaign and associates was more significant than Russian disinformation. It didn’t help that the Obama Administration announced a sharp spike in ObamaCare prices right before the election.

The response matters

As noted, Trump’s narcissism dramatically increased the effect of the Russian efforts in 2016, because he has always refused to admit it happened.

Compare that to Bernie’s response to learning that Russia was trying to help his campaign, which accepted that it is happening and rejected the help.

“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”

This was not perfect — Bernie could have revealed this briefing himself weeks ago, Bernie blamed the WaPo for reporting it when it seems like the story was seeded by O’Brien. But it was very good, in that it highlighted the point of Russian interference — sowing divisions — and it reaffirmed the import of Americans selecting who wins. Plus, contrary to Trump, there’s no reason to believe Bernie would pursue policies that specifically advantaged Russia.

Other factors remain more important than Russian interference

There’s very serious reason to be concerned that Russia will hack the outcome of 2020. After all, it would need only to affect the outcome in a small number of precincts to tip the result, and the prospect of power outages or ransomware doing so in urgent fashion have grown since 2016.

That said, as with 2016, there are far more urgent concerns, and those concerns are entirely American.

Republicans continue to seek out new ways to suppress the vote, including by throwing large swaths of voters off the rolls without adequate vetting. There are real concerns about voting machines, particularly in Georgia (and there are credible concerns about the reliability of GA’s tally in past elections). Republicans have continued to make polling locations less accessible in Democratic precincts than in Republican ones.

Facebook refuses to police the accuracy of political ads, and Trump has flooded Facebook with disinformation.

And Bloomberg’s efforts this year — which include a good deal of trolling and disinformation — are unprecedented in recent memory. His ad spending has undercut the ability to weigh candidates. And his personnel spending is increasing the costs for other candidates.

Russian efforts to sway the vote are real. Denying them — as some of Bernie’s supporters are doing in ways that hurt the candidate — does not help. But, assuming DHS continues to work with localities to ensure the integrity of voting infrastructure, neither does overplaying them. Between now and November there’s far more reason to be concerned about American-funded disinformation and American money distorting our democratic process.

The Stakes and Misinformation about the Andrew McCabe Declination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Size of Bill Barr’s Cover-Up Hints at the Magnitude of What He’s Covering Up

After the Tuesday Afternoon Massacre — where four prosecutors withdrew from the Roger Stone case rather than be party to Bill Barr interfering in the prosecution of Trump’s rat-fucker — we learned on Friday that Bill Barr had deployed a third US Attorney — Saint Louis’ Jeffrey Jensen — to the DC US Attorney’s office as part of an elaborate cover-up for Trump’s crimes. I’m going to attempt to lay out the full scope of Barr’s attempted cover-up. This post will serve as an overview and I will update it with links to the known or suspected evidence and crimes that Barr is covering up. I’m not including efforts to launch or sustain investigations into those Trump perceives to be his enemies.

The cover-up has the following aspects:

Interim US Attorneys oversee investigations implicating Trump’s actions

Geoffrey Berman, Southern District of New York: For the most part, Berman seems to have operated independently after his appointment as US Attorney for SDNY, but there are recent concerns that investigations implicating Trump have been stymied:

  • Hush payments: After getting Michael Cohen to plead guilty to covering up Trump’s past sex partners during the election and obtaining testimony from National Enquirer, the investigation closed with no further charges on or before July 17, 2019.
  • Ukrainian grifters: There are conflicting stories about the scope of the investigation into Ukrainian grifters Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, particularly with regards to how seriously SDNY is considering charges against Rudy Giuliani. WaPo reported steps taken implicating Rudy’s activities on February 14, 2020. But Parnas has insinuated that his sudden arrest on October 9 was an attempt to keep him silent; Barr visited SDNY that day and subsequently visited Rupert Murdoch at his home. SDNY showed unusual concern for the privacy of third parties as Parnas tried to share more information with the House Intelligence Committee. And Bill Barr has not recused in spite of a clear conflict and a request from Parnas.
  • Halkbank: Barr tried to pre-empt an indictment of Turkey’s Halkbank with a settlement.

Timothy Shea, District of Columbia: While Berman worked for several years without any show of corruption, that’s not true of Timothy Shea, a trusted Barr aide. The very first day he started work — having been installed by Barr with just a day’s notice — he started questioning the guidelines sentence of Roger Stone, who has promised to remain silent about details of Trump’s involvement in his efforts to optimize the release of emails stolen by Russian. Then, Shea worked with Bill Barr to reverse the guidelines sentence recommended by career prosecutors. In addition, Shea’s appointment coincided with the start of a “review” of other prosecutions and investigations of Trump associates in DC including, but not limited to, Mike Flynn and Erik Prince.

Confirmed US Attorneys “review” investigations into Trump and his associates

John Durham, Connecticut: In May 2019, Barr ordered John Durham to conduct an investigation into the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation of Trump associates’ ties to Russia. He predicated the investigation, explicitly, on the absence of evidence. In clear contrast to the Mueller investigation, DOJ has produced no documentation regarding the scope of the investigation (including whether Durham could pursue crimes by Trump’s associates or even Barr himself if he found evidence of a crime), and Barr has remained personally involved, completely negating the entire point of appointing a US Attorney to conduct the investigation. Republicans have described the point of this investigation as an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation. It has included the following:

  • Bill Barr’s worldwide tour chasing the hoaxes rolled out through George Papadopoulos via the right wing echo chamber
  • Some disinformation likely fed via Rudy
  • The legitimate criminal investigation of FBI Attorney Kevin Clinesmith, the actual venue for which should be Washington DC
  • CIA’s 2016 determination — confirmed by more recent intelligence collection and reviewed approvingly by the Senate Intelligence Committee — that Russia not only wanted to hurt Hillary, but help Trump in the 2016 election
  • Communications between John Brennan and Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe

Jeffrey Jensen, Eastern District of Missouri: The “review” Jeffrey Jensen is conducting of DC US Attorney cases seems to couple with Durham’s investigation. It reportedly is second-guessing decisions made by prosecutors on the Mike Flynn and Erik Prince investigation, as well as other non-public investigations. The review is almost certainly assessing rumors started by known propagandists that have already been investigated three times, including by FBI’s Inspection Division, rumors already reviewed and dismissed in a meticulous 92-page opinion from Emmet Sullivan. This “review” seems to have been part of the installment of Shea at DC and may amount to an attempt to thwart investigations that Jessie Liu let proceed without political interference.

DOJ diverts disinformation from Rudy Giuliani to another confirmed US Attorneys

In recent weeks, Barr has appointed Scott Brady, US Attorney for Western District of Pennsylvania, to vet incoming information from Rudy’s foreign influence peddling in Ukraine. It’s unclear whether Barr did this to try to make something out of that disinformation, or to prevent evidence that might support foreign influence peddling charges against Rudy from getting to prosecutors in SDNY.

Richard Donoghue, Eastern District of New York: Donoghue is apparently “handling certain Ukraine-related matters.” In connection to that, Jeffrey Rosen put Donoghue in charge of coordinating all investigations that pertain to Ukraine,

to avoid duplication of efforts across Offices and components, to obviate the need for deconfliction at a later stage of potentially overlapping investigations, and to efficiently marshal the resources of the Department to address the appropriate handling of potentially relevant new information.

That in and of itself is not problematic. But by putting Jensen in charge of intake, presumably before it gets to Donoghue, Rosen has ensured that information that — because it is disinformation — would be incriminating to Rudy, not Joe Biden (or anyone else).

DOJ prevents full investigation of Ukraine complaint

Barr and his DOJ engaged in multiple acts of obstruction of the Ukraine complaint. First, Barr did not recuse from a complaint mentioning him by name. Then (knowing that Barr was personally implicated), DOJ did not conduct a full assessment of the whistleblower complaint, which would have identified a tie to the SDNY investigation of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Then OLC invented an excuse not to share whistleblower complaint with Congress, which resulted in a significant delay and almost led Ukraine to make concessions to obtain aid. Then, DOJ did not share whistleblower complaint with FEC as required by Memorandum of Notification. Finally, DOJ made a comment claiming Trump was exonerated, precisely the abuse — speaking about ongoing investigations — that Jim Comey got fired for.

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

As I said in my summary post, the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page shows there were three problems with the Carter Page FISA application:

  • It did not reveal that the first of several attempted recruitments of Page by Russia happened when he was approved for contact by the CIA
  • It failed to update the application as questions about the Steele dossier’s reliability became known over time
  • It did not include exculpatory evidence (though the report overstates whether information related to George Papadopoulos was exculpatory or the opposite)

On that level, the report is an important portrayal of the FISA application process.

But, as I hope to show generally in a follow-up, the report commits precisely the kinds of errors that it takes the FBI to task for. And in the case of its treatment of Bruce Ohr, the report not only commits those types of errors, but does so in a way that risks harming national security. The Report basically suggests Ohr should be punished for doing what DOJ has spent the last 17 years demanding everyone do: share information related to national security.

Since 9/11, DOJ has emphasized sharing information relating to national security

Ever since 9/11, all parts of the government — especially DOJ and FBI — have concluded over and over again that they have to find ways to better share information relating to national security. 9/11 happened, in part, because CIA didn’t tell FBI that suspected al Qaeda figures had entered the US and, in part, because FBI’s Minnesota field office didn’t tell others about a suspect trying to learn to take off but not land planes. We went to war in Iraq on a mistaken premise because information got stovepiped, rather than shared with people who could appropriately vet it. Nidal Hassan was permitted to remain in the military and so kill 13 people because the FBI’s surveillance systems did not flag his prior contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to board a plane and try to blow it up because a warning his father had given US authorities didn’t get entered into the flight screener. The FBI missed an opportunity to prevent the Boston Marathon bombing because warnings from Russia and Tamerlan’s travels didn’t get triggered for full investigation.

The emphasis on information sharing is not limited to terrorism. The government’s approach to cybersecurity, too, has focused on better sharing information among different parts of government and with the private sector. Indeed, in this case, the Democrats (not entirely credibly) claimed the FBI didn’t warn them aggressively enough of ongoing hacks and states (far more credibly) complained they didn’t get notice that Russia was targeting voting infrastructure.

DOJ’s Inspector General has repeatedly emphasized information sharing. Just during 2019, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office has released a number of reports calling for more information sharing. On December 20, multiple relevant Inspectors General submitted an assessment mandated by Congress on whether agencies are sharing cybersecurity threat information among themselves and with the private sector; it described continued barriers to sharing such information. On August 1, DOJ IG issued a report calling, in part, for better information sharing between the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations on the border with Mexico. On April 1, DOJ IG issued a report describing some of the impediments to informing victims when they’ve been targeted in a cyberattack, which may delay the victim’s ability to respond. On March 21, DOJ IG issued a report concluding, in part, that FBI Agents conducting assessments about whether terrorists might exploit maritime facilities need to gather better data.

Some of the key reports Horowitz has overseen historically also criticized inadequate information sharing. In March 2018, DOJ IG explained that the FBI gave Congress misleading information about Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone because people weren’t communicating internally about resources available to the Bureau. A September 2017 Report on whether there were known or suspected terrorists in FBI’s witness protection program complained that earlier information sharing recommendations had not yet been implemented. A March 2014 report on DOJ’s efforts to combat mortgage fraud found serious data integrity and collection issues. An October 2013 review of FBI’s responses to being badly burned by Chinese double agent Katrina Leung found the FBI needed to do better tracking and sharing of derogatory information from confidential human sources, a finding pertinent to this report. The September 2012 Fast and Furious report (largely completed prior to Horowitz’s arrival, but released just after he started) emphasized ATF’s inadequate information sharing with DEA and ICE.

None of these conclusions say, “share information, but only after it’s vetted.” DOJ’s Inspector General generally only complains about Department employees sharing information if it involves the sharing of investigative, classified, or sensitive information to unauthorized recipients (including but not limited to the media) or the improper use of whistleblower complaints to retaliate against them.

Ohr did neither of those things.

Indeed, this report is largely about FBI’s failure to share information. There’s even a complaint in there about the over two months it took for Christopher Steele’s first reports to get shared with FBI HQ.

FBI officials we interviewed told us that the length of time it took for Steele’s election reporting to reach FBI Headquarters was excessive and that the reports should have been sent promptly after their receipt by the Legat. Members of the Crossfire Hurricane team told us that their assessment of the Steele election reporting could have started much earlier if the reporting had been made available to them.

One of the three main complaints about FBI’s actions involves their failure to vet the dossier and share the results of that vetting in timely fashion. Along with State Department’s Kathleen Kavalec (whose feedback FBI failed to obtain for over a month), Ohr provided the best timely and accurate details about how the dossier fit into Fusion GPS’s election year process. But one of just nine recommendations DOJ’s IG made in this report is that DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility and DOJ’s Criminal Division review his actions.

The Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility should review our findings related to the conduct of Department attorney Bruce Ohr for any action it deems appropriate. Ohr’s current supervisors in CRM should also review our findings related to Ohr’s performance for any action they deem appropriate.

In short, DOJ’s IG has spent years saying “share more information, share more information, share more information.” Bruce Ohr did just that. In response, DOJ IG insinuated he should be fired for it.

Not only does this response undercut every single exhortation to share national security information since 9/11, but it bears similarities to other efforts by DOJ IG to help President Trump retaliate against his critics.

The IG Report misrepresents the nature of Bruce Ohr’s information sharing

The DOJ IG manages to attack a guy for doing what DOJ IG has repeatedly said people should do, share information, by obscuring the nature of his sharing.

While the IG Office declined to provide an on the record answer to a question not answered in the IG Report itself — why Ohr even came to be the subject of this investigation — the answer is clear: When Congress started nagging Rod Rosenstein about their conspiracy theories about Ohr, claiming that Ohr kept injecting the dossier back into the FBI to sustain an investigation into Trump, Rosenstein got the IG to expand the inquiry to include Ohr. The IG Report’s presentation of Ohr’s actions must be taken against the backdrop of what started it: Rosenstein’s capitulation to politicized claims that someone in his office was responsible for pushing the Steele dossier and therefore the investigation into Trump.

The IG Report never does for Ohr’s conversations what it does with Operation Crossfire as a whole (though the facts it presents merit it) — debunk the conspiracy theory about the role of the dossier in predicating the investigation. It leaves out or downplays some key facts. And its narrative does not fit the actual facts it presents about Ohr’s actions.

The facts it does present show:

  • Ohr and Steele had been sharing information of mutual interest for years as part of Ohr’s efforts to bring an information-sharing approach to combatting organized crime, including Russian organized crime
  • They were sharing information unrelated to the dossier specifically or Trump generally prior to and during their July 30, 2016 meeting
  • The report includes no evidence Ohr shared two allegations from the dossier learned at a July 30 meeting with anyone involved in opening Crossfire Hurricane before the investigation got opened
  • Steele continued to share information with Ohr that did not appear in the dossier (but that, because it involved credulity about Oleg Deripaska’s willingness to help the US government, was problematic for entirely different reasons)
  • Some information Ohr shared from Glenn Simpson was information the FBI otherwise pursued on its own
  • During the weeks after FBI closed Steele as a source, Ohr provided some of the most useful information to vet the dossier and the FBI regarded that information as part of the vetting process
  • The only time Ohr shared reports from the dossier directly with the Crossfire Hurricane team came during and was regarded as useful because it was part of this vetting process
  • The IG Report provides no evidence that Ohr pushed Steele’s Trump-related intelligence in 2017 (even though Steele was working with Dan Jones to continue to collect it)
  • The 2017 conversations Ohr had with Steele about the Trump investigation pertained either to protecting sources — something DOJ treated as a priority even in this Report — or to Steele’s concerns about the consequences of the various ongoing investigations on him and his sources
  • As he had for years, including in 2016, Steele shared information about other topics with Ohr in 2017, proving that this was not an exclusively Trump-focused effort
  • The complaints that Ohr didn’t inform his superiors about this sharing, while justified, are overstated

As noted, there are still problems with what Ohr did in 2016-2017, largely because he and Steele were being used by someone who — lots of evidence suggests — had a role in the 2016 operation, Oleg Deripaska. I plan to do a separate post on what the IG Report says about Deripaska, but the short version is Ohr and Steele’s coziness with him posed real counterintelligence risks. With a few exceptions, it appears that FBI limited the impact of those risks. And that counterintelligence risk is part of the downside of a call to share information widely, but not something unique to Ohr’s actions.

Steele and Ohr had been sharing information as part of their common pursuit against Russian organized crime for years

The IG Report splits up its introduction to how Steele came to work with FBI from its introduction of Ohr’s relationship with him. That means key details about Ohr’s career appear almost 200 pages after the IG Report’s first explanation of how Ohr introduced Steele to his handling agent, Mike Gaeta, described as Handling Agent 1.

In the later section, the IG Report explains Ohr’s background in prosecuting organized crime — including Russian organized crime — and how he moved into more of a policy role on the topic, including leading an Obama initiative to pursue transnational organized crime using an intelligence-based approach similar to the one used to fight terrorism (that is, one based on information sharing). That initiative included a focus on Russian organized crime from the start, and Ohr continued to share information on the topic.

Ohr told the OIG that as Chief of OCRS, he tried to develop the Department’s capacity for fighting transnational organized crime and that this was when he began tracking Russian organized crime.

[snip]

He stated that he was often the Department’s “public face” at conferences and was sometimes approached by individuals who provided information about transnational organized crime.

[snip]

Ohr told us that when he became the OCDETF Director, then DAG Jim Cole expressed his desire for Ohr to expand OCDETF’s mission to include transnational organized crime matters. He said that, as a result, he continued working on transnational organized crime policy and, in order to maintain awareness, tracked Russian organized crime issues.

That later section also describes how Ohr, who had been passing on information from Steele already, came to encourage FBI to open a direct channel with the former MI6 officer for investigative purposes while he continued to accept information from Steele for his own policy purposes.

Ohr said he introduced Steele to Handling Agent 1 so that Steele could provide information directly to the FBI in approximately spring 2010. 407 He told us that he “pushed” to make Steele an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS) because Steele’s information was valuable. Ohr also said that it was “not efficient” for him to pass Steele’s information to the FBI and he preferred having Steele work directly with an FBI agent. According to Steele, Ohr and Handling Agent 1 coordinated over a period of time with Steele to set up his relationship with the FBI.

Ohr’s contact with Steele did not end after Steele formalized his relationship with Handling Agent 1 and the FBI.408 Ohr met or talked with Steele multiple times from 2014 through fall 2016, and on occasion those in-person meetings or video calls included Handling Agent 1. Ohr told us that he viewed meeting with Steele as part of his job because he needed to maintain awareness of Russian organized crime activities and Steele knew Russian organized crime trends better than anyone else. He said he knew Steele was also speaking to Handling Agent 1 at this time because Steele would say that he provided the same information to Handling Agent 1. Handling Agent 1 told us that he knew Steele and Ohr were in contact and talked about issues “at a higher policy level,” but stated that he did not know anything further regarding their interactions.

Here’s how the more general introduction of Ohr’s introduction of Steele to Gaeta appears without that context, almost 200 pages earlier:

Steele’s introduction in 2010 to the FBI agent who later became Steele’s primary handling agent (Handling Agent 1) was facilitated by Department attorney Bruce Ohr, who was then Chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section in the Department’s Criminal Division in Washington, D.C. Ohr told the OIG that he first met Steele in 2007 when he attended a meeting hosted by a foreign government during which Steele addressed the threat posed by Russian organized crime. Ohr said that, after this first meeting with Steele, he probably met with him less than once a year, and after Steele opened his consulting firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, he furnished Ohr with reports produced by Orbis for its commercial clients that he thought may be of interest to the U.S. government. Ohr said that he eventually put Steele in contact with Handling Agent 1, with whom Ohr had previously worked.

By splitting these two discussions, the IG Report also splits the discussion of the centrality of Steele’s intelligence on Russian oligarchs from the discussion of Ohr’s conversations with Steele in 2016. For example, the FBI formally entered into a source relationship with Steele in 2013 after he shared a report on a fugitive Russian oligarch that proved really valuable.

For example, we learned that, in October 2013, Steele provided lengthy and detailed reports to the FBI on three Russian oligarchs, one of whom was among the FBI’s most wanted fugitives. According to an FBI document, an analyst who reviewed Steele’s reporting on this fugitive found the reporting “extremely valuable and informative” and determined it was corroborated by other information that the FBI had obtained.

The earlier discussion explains how Ohr remained personally involved with Steele in this period, including meeting with Oleg Deripaska (described as Russian Oligarch 1).

Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that Steele facilitated meetings in a European city that included Handling Agent 1, Ohr, an attorney of Russian Oligarch 1, and a representative of another Russian oligarch. 209 Russian Oligarch 1 subsequently met with Ohr as well as other representatives of the U.S. government at a different location. Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch 1’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210

Note, the IG Report rather dishonestly either redacts or does not include the dates of these interactions involving Deripaska. Those interactions continued into 2016, and indeed, are — for better and worse — inseparable from any conversations they had about Steele’s work for Fusion.

In addition to providing information on Russian oligarchs that FBI found valuable, Steele also provided information on other topics, including on hacking and Russia’s sports doping.

Steele’s prior reporting to the FBI addressed issues other than Russian oligarchs. For example, we reviewed FBI records reflecting that he provided information on the hack of computer systems of an international corporation, and corruption involving former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In addition, Steele told us he introduced Handling Agent 1 to sources with knowledge of Russian athletic doping and obtained samples of material for the FBI to analyze.

As a result, FBI paid Steele $64,000 in 2014 and 2015 and — it doesn’t say this explicitly but the math suggests — $31,000 for information in 2016, none of it for information related to the dossier.

As a result, in 2014 and 2015, the FBI made five payments to Steele totaling $64,000. By the time the FBI closed Steele in November 2016, his cumulative compensation totaled $95,000, including reimbursement for expenses.

All of these topics, of course — Russian oligarchs, Russian doping, and Russian hacking — are an integral part of Russian organized crime. All were part of Bruce Ohr’s job in 2016. That’s the kind of information sharing that the IG Report, with its rebuke of Ohr, is saying DOJ shouldn’t do, contrary to what both the IG and DOJ as a whole have been saying for decades.

By suggesting that sharing this kind of information with other experts on the topic merits discipline or firing, as the IG Report does, DOJ IG risks making us less safe.

The IG Report largely ignores Ohr and Steele’s discussions from the first half of 2016

The IG Report then examines what it claims to be Steele and Ohr’s “2016 contacts … regarding Russian issues.” It starts this story with a meeting the two had on July 30, 2016.

Suggesting that Ohr’s July 30, 2016 meeting with Steele is the beginning of the story of contacts they had in 2016 “regarding Russian issues” is profoundly dishonest — the kind of failure to disclose relevant information that the IG Report as a whole condemns the FBI for with regards to Carter Page’s FISA application.

A Judicial Watch FOIA for Ohr’s communications with Steele between January 1, 2015 and December 12, 2017 shows they spoke in March 2016.

In the Judicial Watch FOIA, DOJ redacted the dates on all their other emails in part because of ongoing investigations (suggesting they still had investigative sensitivity at the time DOJ responded to JW’s FOIA), but leaks from Congress to the frothy right made it clear that they also communicated in January, February, and earlier in July. As coverage of those leaks makes clear, the vast majority of their conversations earlier that year include discussion about Deripaska.

The emails, given to Congress by the Justice Department, began on Jan . 12, 2016, when Steele sent Ohr a New Year’s greeting. Steele brought up the case of Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska (referred to in various emails as both OD and OVD), who was at the time seeking a visa to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the United States. Years earlier, the U.S. revoked Deripaska’s visa, reportedly on the basis of suspected involvement with Russian organized crime. Deripaska was close to Paul Manafort, the short-term Trump campaign chairman now on trial for financial crimes, and this year was sanctioned in the wake of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

“I heard from Adam WALDMAN [a Deripaska lawyer/lobbyist] yesterday that OD is applying for another official US visa ice [sic] APEC business at the end of February,” Steele wrote in the Jan . 12 email. Steele said Deripaska was being “encouraged by the Agency guys who told Adam that the USG [United States Government] stance on [Deripaska] is softening.” Steele concluded: “A positive development it seems.”

Steele also asked Ohr when he might be coming to London, or somewhere in Europe, “as I would be keen to meet up here and talk business.” Ohr replied warmly the same day and said he would likely travel to Europe, but not the U .K ., at least twice in February.

An early July exchange includes the reference to a “favorite business tycoon” that the frothy right would — falsely — spin up into an early reference to Trump (it was another reference to Deripaska).

Then, on July 1, came the first apparent reference to Donald Trump, then preparing to accept the Republican nomination for president. “I am seeing [redacted] in London next week to discuss ongoing business,” Steele wrote to Ohr, “but there is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele said he had planned to come to the U.S. soon, but now it looked like it would not be until August. He needed to talk in the next few days, he said, and suggested getting together by Skype before he left on holiday. Ohr suggested talking on July 7. Steele agreed.

Both of these passages, even with the error imagining a Deripaska reference invokes Trump, include discussion (bolded in both) about what appears to be other business. Yes, the reference in the IG Report explaining that Ohr thought Steele might be working for Deripaska, appearing 180 pages earlier, probably incorporates these references. But their earlier 2016 contacts — both about Deripaska (and therefore Russia) and other business — provide important context for the discussion of the July 30 meeting, which IG Report falsely suggests is the beginning of the discussions about Russia they had been happening since the beginning of the year. Not least, because those earlier contacts not only make it clear that their relationship did not shift radically when Steele started working on the dossier, but they also make it clear that Steele and Ohr’s contacts about Deripaska — however problematic — would not appear to be a break from their previous three year focus on Deripaska and other oligarchs.

Having ignored earlier conversations about other topics in 2016, the Report then provides this description of the first meeting where they did speak about Trump.

On Saturday, July 30, 2016, at Steele’s invitation, Ohr and Nellie Ohr had breakfast with Steele and an associate in Washington, D.C. Nellie Ohr told us she initially thought it was going to be a social brunch, but came to understand that Steele wanted to share his current Russia reporting with Ohr. According to Steele, he intended the gathering to be a social brunch, but Ohr asked him what he was working on. Steele told us that he told Ohr about his work related to Russian interference with the election. Ohr told us that, among other things, Steele discussed Carter Page’s travel to Russia and interactions with Russian officials. He also said that Steele told Ohr that Russian Oligarch 1 ‘s attorney was gathering evidence that Paul Manafort stole money from Russian Oligarch 1. Ohr also stated that Steele told him that Russian officials were claiming to have Trump “over a barrel.” According to Ohr, Steele mentioned that he provided two reports concerning these topics to Handling Agent 1 and that Simpson, who owned Fusion GPS, had all of Steele’s reports relating to the election. Steele did not provide Ohr with copies of any of these reports at this time. Later that evening, Steele wrote to Ohr asking to “keep in touch on the substantive issues” and advised Ohr that Simpson was available to speak with him. [my emphasis]

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that on July 30, 2016, Christopher Steele lured Bruce Ohr to brunch to push his dossier and only his dossier.

Except … that would be wrong.

Even leaving out the context of the years during with Steele and Ohr had discussed matters of Russian oligarchs generally and Deripaska specifically, as the IG Report does, Deripaska’s feud with Paul Manafort — while likely crucial background to the dossier — cannot be described as content from the dossier. The only possible reference to the feud in the dossier is a report, dated October 19, referring to “scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine.” If the Deripaska feud were to be treated as part of the dossier, then so should be Deripaska’s outreach to Manafort on August 2, 2016, one of the most suspect unexplained events from 2016 (as I’ll show in a follow-up, this is a critical overlap, but one that points to other problems the IG Report barely mentions).

Plus, this passage appears to deliberately obscure behind the phrase “among other things,” the full range of what got discussed. As it appears, the phrase suggests Ohr and Steele discussed, among other things, Carter Page’s alleged trip to Moscow, with the other things being Deripaska’s feud with Manafort and Russia’s claim to have Trump “over a barrel.” This passage suggests those are the only three topics discussed.

But that’s false. As Ohr’s own notes and testimony make clear, in between the time he discussed Page and Russia having Trump over a barrel and Manafort’s dispute with Deripaska and when he told Ohr that Steele’s handling agent, Mike Gaeta, had two reports on this and Glenn Simpson had four, Steele discussed something about Russian doping.

Q Were there any other topics that were discussed during your July 30, 2016, meeting?

A Yes, there were. Based on my sketchy notes from the time, I think there was some information relating to the Russian doping scandal, but I don’t recall the substance of that. And based on my notes, it indicated that Chris Steele had provided some reports to the FBI, I think two, but that Glenn Simpson had more.

In other words, in addition to information about the Deripaska feud that doesn’t appear in the dossier, Steele also shared information on Russian doping, information on Russia that had nothing to do with Trump.

In other words, what appears to have happened is that Steele and Ohr had a meeting that, in significant part, reflected a continuation of their past discussions, especially regarding Deripaska, but also Russian doping, both key parts of Ohr’s work on organized crime. Along with that, Steele shared two details that showed up in some form in dossier reports. And Ohr seems to have treated that the way he treated other information he got from Steele. He shared it with Gaeta (who already had received the dossier-related information) and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs Bruce Swartz (who had been concerned about Manafort’s corruption for several years). DOJ IG found no evidence he shared it with the people who opened Crossfire Hurricane and therefore no evidence that the dossier was part of the reason they opened the investigation.

Then, Ohr spoke with or met Steele or Glenn Simpson four more times before the election. According to the IG Report’s own descriptions, those four additional times Ohr shared information related to Steele before the election, it was often tangential to matters in the dossier, rather than the key allegations in it.

On August 22, for example, Ohr met with Glenn Simpson, who shared the names of three people who he thought might be intermediaries between Trump and Russia. The two of those that are public — Sergei Millian and (by description) probably Sergey Yatsenko — were of interest in the Mueller Report. In fact, Millian was already on the FBI’s radar, and in October 2016, FBI would open a counterintelligence investigation into him. According to the IG Report, Ohr probably shared that information with Gaeta and maybe with FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime people.

Then, on September 23, Ohr met Steele. They discussed who was funding Fusion GPS’s opposition research, allegations about the Alfa Bank/Trump Tower server, including a claim that Millian also used the Alfa Bank server, and that an individual working with Carter Page was a Russian intelligence officer. None of these topics show up in Steele’s publicly released dossier reports, though FBI obtained three reports that are not public. Steele would explain to DOJ IG that Orbis was not responsible for the Alfa Bank allegations, though would do a report on the relationship Alfa’s founders had with Putin from years earlier. According to the IG Report, Ohr probably shared this information with Bruce Swartz and possibly Gaeta.

On October 13, FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime-East people told Ohr (probably in response to a question from him) that counterintelligence agents had spoken with Gaeta; Ohr told them he had the names of three possible intermediaries, one of whom (Millian) FBI had either just or was about to open an investigation into. The IG Report is inconclusive about whether this conversation went any further.

Early on October 18, Steele contacted Ohr about Oleg Deripaska’s company, Rusal, being sanctioned (probably in Ukraine). Shortly thereafter, Ohr scheduled a meeting to discuss Steele’s information with Andrew McCabe, with whom he had worked on organized crime in the past. According to Lisa Page’s notes from the meeting, they discussed Steele’s background, Nellie Ohr’s by then past relationship with Fusion (her last day was September 24), and the three intermediaries Simpson was concerned about. They also talked about Deripaska.

Lisa Page’s notes from the meeting show that Ohr discussed Steele, provided Steele’s previous employment background, talked about issues concerning Russian Oligarch 1, and indicated that Simpson provided Ohr with names of intermediaries between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Lisa Page also wrote that Ohr met with Russian Oligarch 1 the previous year and “Need report?”

DOJ IG was clearly skeptical of Ohr’s decision to set up this meeting after having been told, five days earlier, that counterintelligence agents were meeting with Gaeta. But there’s an explanation that would be bloody obvious if the Report hadn’t downplayed the continuity in Ohr and Steele’s discussions about Deripaska but instead treated all the information coming in from Steele as dossier-related information. This was, according to the description in the IG Report, a meeting significantly focused on Deripaska (which makes sense, given that’s what Steele called Ohr that morning about).

Deripaska was treated at the time less as a counterintelligence issue and more as a witness to Manafort’s corruption. Probably, this was Deripaska’s effort to work both sides, offering to provide dirt on Manafort in exchange for some protection against US sanctions (which makes the reference to “scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine” in a Steele report the next day all the more provocative). Again, Ohr’s involvement in a Deripaska channel deserves far more attention, but of the kind that the IG Report only gives a passing mention to. But it’s an obvious explanation for why Ohr would schedule this meeting in the wake of discussing increasing pressure on Deripaska’s company.

In any case, at the meeting, per both McCabe and Ohr, Ohr provided information that was treated as derogatory information against Steele: that Nellie had worked with Simpson, that he was sharing his information with a number of others, and that he was collecting the information as opposition research. This is the kind of information the IG Report, generally, complains wasn’t shared widely enough. And yet it faults Ohr for sharing it.

Immediately after Mother Jones published an article demonstrably based on Steele’s reporting, the FBI closed him as a source. Up until that point, Ohr had shared:

  • The Carter Page allegation and a general allegation about Trump that might reflect the pee tape report
  • Information (however problematic from a counterintelligence standpoint) about Oleg Deripaska that showed up in the dossier in passing if at all
  • Information about another Russia-related topic, doping
  • Three names that Glenn Simpson thought might be intermediaries between Trump and Russia, two of whom FBI agreed were suspect
  • Allegations about Alfa Bank that Steele claims did not come from Orbis
  • What the IG Report treats as the kind of derogatory information it wishes FBI had obtained earlier

In short, the IG Report does not support two key conspiracy theories about Ohr’s role — that he introduced the Crossfire Hurricane team to the dossier before they opened the investigation into Trump, and that his information sharing amounted to an effort to push the dossier to the FBI (though he definitely believed Trump’s close ties to Russia merited scrutiny, and kept pushing the names of intermediaries the FBI seems to have considered concerning themselves). Nevertheless, the IG Report seems to treat Ohr’s information sharing as if those conspiracy theories were true.

The IG Report demands that FBI treat information from Ohr as vetting information but doesn’t give Ohr credit for helping FBI to vet the dossier

During the month from November 21 to December 20, Ohr had a series of meetings with the Crossfire Hurricane team or a Supervisory Agent from it (SSA 1) in which he provided extensive information about Steele, the dossier, Glenn Simpson, and his wife Nellie’s work for Simpson (most of which, by time and apparent volume, was paid for by right wing billionaire Paul Singer).

The IG Report makes it clear that the Crossfire Hurricane team treated the first of these meetings, on November 21, as part of their vetting process

Strzok, the OGC Unit Chief, SSA 1, and the Intel Section Chief told us the purpose of the meeting was to better understand Steele’s background and reliability as a source and to identify his source network.

Members of the team believed some of what Ohr shared in the following weeks might be helpful in the vetting process, too. Bill Priestap, FBI’s Counterintelligence Assistant Director, who was overseeing the investigation, described Ohr’s ties with Steele as potentially useful as a way to better understand the dossier.

Priestap stated that the FBI’s engagement with Ohr to learn what Steele had shared with Ohr was potentially useful in understanding Steele and verifying his reporting.

The agent he had follow-up meetings with found Ohr’s background helpful and though Ohr might be able to help him identify Steele’s source network (how the FBI succeeded in identifying Steele’s source network remains unexplained in the IG Report).

SSA 1 stated that he was in “receive mode” with respect to Ohr’s information and was trying to glean from it as much as he could about Steele’s source network. He also said that Ohr was well-versed in Russian organized crime and that, in SSA 1’s view, Ohr’s motives for coming to the FBI were “pure.”

The Supervisory Analyst involved with the investigation told the IG that “the Simpson thumb drive containing some of Steele’s reports the FBI did not already possess [was] an example of useful information from Ohr.”

There’s no evidence in the IG Report that Ohr attempted to protect Steele during this vetting process. Indeed, the IG Report focuses on a number of the potentially derogatory things Ohr says about Steele’s actions or his reporting.

  • Because of the impact of the dossier-based David Corn article, Ohr apologized to Gaeta for even introducing him to Steele
  • Ohr told Kathleen Kavalec (before or after a meeting on how to respond to Russian efforts to influence foreign elections) that Steele’s information was “kind of crazy”
  • Ohr warned the Crossfire Hurricane team that reporting of Kremlin activities “may be exaggerated or conspiracy theory talk,” so Steele cannot know whether all the reporting is true
  • Ohr revealed that Steele was “desperate” that Trump not be elected, but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad”(while notes from the meeting made it clear Ohr described this as ideological, the 302 of that meeting did not reflect that, which has formed a key sound bite to undermine Steele)

And in fact, a failure to integrate Ohr’s candid comments about Steele and the Fusion project — starting at least in October — make up two of the IG Report’s 17 complaints about the FBI’s actions.

11. Omitted information obtained from Ohr about Steele and his election reporting, including that (1) Steele’s reporting was going to Clinton’s presidential campaign and others, (2) Simpson was paying Steele to discuss his reporting with the media, and (3) Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President”

12. Failed to update the description of Steele after information became known to the Crossfire Hurricane team, from Ohr and others, that provided greater clarity on the political origins and connections of Steele’s reporting, including that Simpson was hired by someone associated with the Democratic Party and/or the DNC;

Yet, even though the IG Report makes it clear the team treated these discussions as useful for vetting, and even though the IG Report criticizes the FBI for not including derogatory information Ohr provided in the Carter Page FISA applications, the IG Report does not treat these exchanges (or comments from State Department’s Kathleen Kavalec) as part of the vetting process, which it covered 80 pages earlier in the IG Report.

Effectively, then, DOJ IG advocates punishing Ohr for the most timely vetting of the dossier, including the details about Steele’s efforts to share it with the press.

DOJ IG protects sources while complaining that Steele attempted to protect his sources

The final period of Ohr’s communications with Steele covered by the IG Report spans from January 25 through November 2017. As I lay out in this post based on the underlying notes and FBI 302s, those communications largely consist of Steele panicking about the possibility his source will become exposed and require help, followed by Steele’s concern about the impact of ongoing investigations on him or his sources. There’s no mention — in the 302s, the IG Report, or the underlying notes — of Steele sharing any details of his ongoing intelligence collection into Trump, though there continue to be references to Deripaska.

Given that even Bill Barr’s DOJ kept all Steele’s identified sources (even Oleg Deripaska and Sergei Millian) anonymous and the earlier release of the 302s and his notes use the FOIA exemption designated for source protection, DOJ clearly agrees with the import of protecting his sources, so it’s hard to understand how this could be an improper conversation (even if you can be exasperated with Steele’s panic given that he himself was sharing his own raw intelligence with the press).

Moreover, as the IG Report admits far more forthrightly for this period than it did their earlier conversations, to the extent that Steele was sharing his intelligence reporting in 2017, it didn’t have to do with Trump.

In addition to the information summarized in this section, Ohr also provided information to the FBI from Steele and other individuals on unrelated matters.

[snip]

On February 14, 2017, Ohr shared with SSA 3 and Case Agent 8 information on topics Steele was working on for different clients, unrelated to Russia or Crossfire Hurricane.

[snip]

SSA 3 also told us that Ohr forwarded other information to the team regarding Russian oligarchs and other issues unrelated to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

Some of these conversations were ill-considered (such as the Deripaska ones, as well as an effort by the lawyer that represented both Julian Assange and Deripaska to trade Assange immunity for advance notice of the Vault 7 files). But the IG Report provides no indication that they were outside the norm for Ohr or detrimental to Trump.

The IG Report also makes it clear that, even though Steele was likely trying to get Ohr to help his clients, it never found evidence he did so. DOJ didn’t find any instance of it.

Ohr said that he understood Steele was “angling” for Ohr to assist him with his clients’ issues. For example, Ohr stated that Steele was hoping that Ohr would intercede on his behalf with the Department attorney handling a matter involving a European company. Ohr denied providing any assistance to Steele in this regard, and we found no evidence that he did.

Nor did the FBI.

The FBI personnel we interviewed generally told us that Ohr did not make any requests of the FBI, nor did he inquire about any ongoing cases or make any recommendations about potential investigative steps.

DOJ IG’s analysis of Ohr’s actions strains to reach a negative conclusion

Which brings us to the basis of the IG’s complaint about Ohr’s information sharing. The complaint is twofold. First, some people claimed that Ohr was doing stuff that was not part of his job. The most credible of those complaints came from the Transnational Organized Crime-East Section Chief, who complained Ohr should have just handed off Steele entirely to the FBI (though Ohr’s direct meeting with Oleg Deripaska happened with an FBI Agent).

The TOC-East Section Chief noted that while it was odd to have a high-level Department official in contact with Russian oligarchs, it did not surprise him that Ohr would be approached by individuals, such as Steele, who wanted to talk to the U.S. government. The TOC-East Section Chief said that it would be “outside [of Ohr’s] lane” to continue the relationship with these potential sources after their introduction to the FBI.

Steele’s handler, Mike Gaeta, knew that Ohr continued his contacts with Steele, even if he didn’t know the substance of them. And one of the Steele emails to Ohr the IG Report does not include in the report shows that Steele also knew his intelligence had to go through Gaeta.

Steele said he would send the reporting to a name that is redacted in the email, “as he has asked, for legal reasons I understand, for all such reporting be filtered through him (to you at DoJ and others).”

That’s consistent with the fact that Steele did not provide any of his reports directly to Ohr; only Simpson did that, during the period the FBI was vetting the dossier.

Meanwhile, contrary to the claims that Ohr was working outside his lane, the State Department believed he was an appropriate attendee for a meeting focusing on Russia’s interference in other countries’ elections.

On the morning of November 21, 2016, at the State Department’s request, Ohr met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Kavalec and several other senior State Department officials regarding State Department efforts to investigate Russian influence in foreign elections and how the Department of Justice might assist those efforts.

Perhaps the most telling complaint that Ohr was doing something that was not his job came from Sally Yates, in whose office he worked during the most substantive conversations he had with Steele. She was “stunned,” she told the IG investigators, by press reports describing Ohr communicating to Steele about stuff that “involved the Russia investigation.”

Former DAG Yates told the OIG that she was “stunned” to learn through media reports in late 2017 that Ohr had engaged in these activities without telling her, and that she would have expected Ohr to inform her about his communications with Steele because they were outside of his area of responsibility and involved the Russia investigation. Yates added that she “would have hoped that [Ohr and the FBI] would have both told me” of Ohr’s meetings with Steele and the FBI. She further stated that Ohr’s activities needed to be coordinated with the overall Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which included ensuring that the chain of command at both the Department and FBI were jointly deciding what actions, if any, Ohr might take relating to the Russian interference investigation.

The thing is, Yates’ response is clearly a response to the press reporting, which claimed that every communication they had pertained to the Steele dossier and Trump, not the substance of what Ohr was doing — which included communications about Deripaska and Russian doping. This passage suggests that the IG didn’t inform her the depictions of what Ohr was doing in the press were significantly debunked by what IG investigators found. Yates also complained that Ohr should not have had the October 18 meeting with someone as senior as Andrew McCabe without informing her, which is a far more substantial complaint, except one that is inconsistent with her suggestion that Ohr communicated with the Crossfire Hurricane team without coordinating with FBI’s chain of command.

The person leading the Deputy Attorney General’s office (and therefore the Russian investigation once Jeff Sessions recused) after Yates got fired was Dana Boente. The IG Report shows that Boente — along with the entire rest of the chain of command, including Scott Schools, who would later demote Ohr — at least got briefed of his relationship with Steele in the context of the Russian investigation.

As described in Chapter Nine, handwritten notes of an FBI briefing Boente received in February 2017 indicate that the FBI advised Boente and others at that time-including [Stu] Evans, then Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord, then Deputy Assistant Attorney General George Toscas from NSD, ADAG Tashina Gauhar, ADAG Scott Schools, and Principal ADAG James Crowell-that Ohr knew Steele for several years and remained in contact with him, and that Ohr’s wife worked for Simpson as a Russian linguist. However, none of these handwritten notes-which include separate notes taken by Boente, Schools, and Gauhar-stated that the FBI had interviewed Ohr or that Ohr had provided the FBI with information regarding Steele’s election reporting or Steele’s feelings toward candidate Trump. Schools told us that he recalled a meeting in which the OGC Unit Chief referenced Ohr having contact with Simpson, but Schools was not sure if it was during this February 2017 briefing or another briefing. Further, he said that it was a “passing reference,” and he never would have imagined that Ohr was having regular contact with the Crossfire Hurricane team and providing the information that appeared in the FD-302s. Boente and the other attendees of the February 2017 briefing told the OIG that they did not recall the FBI mentioning Ohr at any time during the investigation, and that they did not know about the FBI’s interviews with Ohr at the time of the FISA applications. According to Gauhar, she was surprised to find a reference to Ohr in her notes, and, regardless, she “would never have dreamt” back then what she knows now concerning the extent of Ohr’s interactions with Steele, Simpson, and the FBI on Steele’s election reporting.

The IG Report seems to complain that the FBI did not offer up Ohr’s role robustly enough. But it seems to hold Jim Comey responsible for having received the same level of briefing about Ohr’s actions (which question, in addition, seems to be premised on the public conspiracies about Ohr which may explain why he didn’t believe he had heard about them).

Comey told us he had no knowledge of Ohr’s communications with members of the Crossfire Hurricane investigative team and only discovered Ohr’s association with Steele and the Crossfire Hurricane investigation when the media reported on it. However, notes taken by Strzok during a November 23, 2016 Crossfire Hurricane update meeting attended by Comey, McCabe, Baker, Lisa Page, Anderson, the OGC Unit Chief, the FBI Chief of Staff, and Priestap, reference a discussion at the meeting concerning “strategy for engagement [with Handling Agent 1] and Ohr” regarding Steele’s reporting. Strzok stated that, based on his notes, he believed he informed FBI leadership that Ohr approached the FBI concerning his relationship with Steele and that Ohr relayed Steele’s information regarding Russia to the team. Although the OGC Unit Chief could not recall when it occurred, she recalled discussing with executive leadership that the FBI should not use Ohr to direct Steele’s actions. Because Strzok’s notes of the meeting were classified at the time we interviewed Comey, and Comey chose not to have his security clearances reinstated for his OIG interview, we were unable to show him the notes and ask about the reference in them to Steele and Ohr. [my emphasis]

That’s especially true given that no one was using Ohr to direct Steele’s actions, which seems to suggest that these questions were based, as many of the ones about Ohr, on a false premise arising from the conspiracy theories that the IG Report does not support.

If you ask top managers whether they knew of Ohr’s actions that exist only in conspiracy theories but not in reality, there may be a ready explanation for why they didn’t know about it: because (as the evidence presented in the IG Report makes clear) the conspiracy theories imagined things had happened that had not.

In any case, DOJ IG seems to hold the FBI to a much higher standard for asking questions at briefings, and so doesn’t treat a briefing where the entire chain of command at ODAG and NSD was informed Ohr had a role as informing them he had a role. Scott Schools, who was in that FBI briefing with NSD and was the one who demoted Ohr, complains that FBI didn’t fully report Ohr’s involvement to NSD.

Then Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools, who was the highest-ranking career official in the Department, and ODAG’s ethics advisor, stated that the FBI had a responsibility to fully report Ohr’s involvement to the Department’s National Security Division (NSD) and that Ohr had a duty to report his involvement to ODAG’s managers.

But he also describes a conversation with Ohr where Ohr asked about ethics.

Schools recalled that Ohr, at some point, “stuck his head in the door and said, hey I just wanted to make sure there’s nothing I need to do. My wife works at Fusion GPS. I don’t know if there’s anything, like, a recusal, or anything I need to deal with.” Schools stated that he responded to Ohr by saying that “you don’t have anything to do with that case. We don’t typically in the Department recuse individuals who aren’t responsible for the matter giving rise to a potential conflict.” Schools believed this conversation occurred a couple months before Ohr’s conduct became public and may have coincided with Ohr’s October 2017 conversation with Rosenstein.

If this conversation really did not take place until October 2017, as Schools says, then his understanding of it is inaccurate, as by that point Nellie Ohr had not worked for Fusion for over a year and Ohr had had no role in sharing substantive information about the Russian investigation for ten months. If Ohr really did raise the issue of a conflict because of Nellie’s work, however, it’s much more likely it happened a year earlier, when he was providing the same warnings to FBI.

In any case, Ohr’s question to Schools, whenever it occurred, raises real questions about why DOJ IG included analysis finding that Ohr “displayed a lapse in judgment” for not choosing to use a process that, guidelines say, should not be characterized as a lapse.

The federal ethics rules further provide in Section 502(a)(2) that an employee “who is concerned that circumstances other than those specifically described in this section would raise a question regarding his impartiality should use the process described in this section [namely, to consult with Department ethics officials] to determine whether he should or should not participate in a particular matter.” However, while OGE has made clear that employees are “encouraged” to use this process, it also has stated that “[t]he election not to use that process should not be characterized … as an ‘ethical lapse.”‘ OGE 94 x 10(1), Letter to a Department Acting Secretary, March 30, 1994; see also, OGE 01 x 8 Letter to a Designated Agency Ethics Official, August 23, 2001. While OGE guidance establishes that Ohr did not commit a formal ethical violation, we nevertheless concluded that Ohr, an experienced Department attorney and a member of the SES, should have been more cognizant of the appearance concerns created by Nellie Ohr’s employment with Fusion GPS and availed himself of the process described in Section 502(a). We found that his failure to take this step displayed a lapse in judgment. [my emphasis]

The first step of using the process, it seems, is asking the department ethics advisor if he needed to use the process.

All of which brings us to Rod Rosenstein’s claimed surprise of hearing about Bruce Ohr’s relationship with Steele. Ohr warned Rosenstein that his role in introducing Steele to the FBI when he learned it might become public. Rosenstein didn’t pursue it until Congress started sowing conspiracy theories about it.

He complains, fairly, about the fact that he did not know Ohr had an operational role in the investigation (note, as with all of this, it’s unclear whether Rosenstein knew the actual details of what Ohr had done when, or whether he understood Ohr to have tried to sustain the Steele dossier, as the GOP was alleging).

Ohr told the OIG that in October 2017, Nellie Ohr received a call from someone at Fusion GPS who told her that the company was providing documents to Congress that identified her as a Fusion GPS contractor and that he realized that then DAG Rosenstein may need to know about this, so he asked to speak with him. He stated that he informed Rosenstein that his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, and that it may become public that Ohr knew Steele and introduced him to the FBI. Ohr told the OIG that he was “prepared to go into more detail [with Rosenstein], but there really wasn’t time.” Rosenstein recalled having this conversation in Ohr’s office and told us he remembered Ohr stating he knew Steele and that Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion GPS. Rosenstein told us that during this conversation, Ohr may have also said that he introduced Steele to the FBI and that all this information may become public. Rosenstein described the meeting with Ohr as casual and noted that he was in Ohr’s office for another reason, which indicated to him that Ohr did not make a special effort to notify him. Rosenstein stated that he left the conversation under the impression that it was only a “strange coincidence” that Ohr knew Steele.

[snip]

Ohr told us that a few weeks after his first conversation with Rosenstein on this issue, he spoke with Rosenstein again and told him that he still talked to Steele from time to time and provided information to the FBI when Steele called him. Rosenstein told us that he recalled a second conversation with Ohr concerning Steele, which he believed occurred in early December 2017. According to Rosenstein, Ohr told him that he delivered a thumb drive containing Steele’s election reports to the FBI. Rosenstein said this information changed his perspective of the situation. Rosenstein told us the fact that Ohr

knew Steele was kind of just an unusual coincidence, but the idea that he had actually had some role in this Russia investigation was shocking to me…. [W]e had been fending off these Congressional inquiries. And they were asking for all sorts of stuff, [FD-]302s and things, and .. .l had no idea that somebody on my staff had actually been involved in … an operational way in the investigation.

[snip]

Rosenstein told us Crowell and Schools reported back to him with their findings, and at that point, he realized Congress likely knew more about Ohr’s activities with Steele and the FBI than anyone in ODAG did. Rosenstein told us:
[It] was really disappointing to me that he had made the decision originally not to brief anybody [on] our staff and then even after it was clear it was going to be … of national interest…he chose not to disclose, at least to [Schools], that he had actually had an active role …. I felt like, if you’re in the DAG’s office, and the DAG is getting criticized by Congress for the handling of the Russia investigation, you ought to tell him that you had some role in it.

Again, this is fair enough, though Rosenstein seems to be interpreting Ohr’s effort to inform him in the light that best serves himself.

The truly crazy take from Rosenstein’s office, however, came from Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General James Crowell, who complained about how bad it would be to have a “potential fact witness” on Rosenstein’s staff when he supervised the Russia investigation.

Crowell stated that he was “flabbergasted” when he learned about Ohr’s involvement with Steele and the FBI. He stated that Ohr should have informed ODAG officials of his relationships with Steele and Simpson and his provision of information from them to the FBI, especially when Rosenstein appointed the Special Counsel and began supervising the investigation, because “a potential fact witness” was on Rosenstein’s staff.

Rosenstein’s staff was worried about Ohr because it meant that “a potential fact witness” was on Rosenstein’s staff.

Bruce Ohr’s name shows up once in the Mueller Report, in a quoted August 2018 tweet from Trump, perhaps not unsurprisingly given that he dossier was not central to the Mueller investigation. Rosenstein’s name shows up 78 times.

If Rosenstein and his deputies were worried about potential fact witnesses working in his office while he supervised the investigation, he should have recused himself.

By all means, Ohr should have revealed his role earlier. Most of all, he should have done so to avoid being criticized for things he did not do — like sustaining the dossier with FBI — so we could instead have a conversation about what point sharing information moves from vetting and becomes a counterintelligence risk.

In a follow-up, I hope to compare what DOJ IG did with Ohr and what Andrew McCabe has substantiated in a recent court filing.

But the bigger concern, to me, is that because Rod Rosenstein was embarrassed by conspiracy theories that this IG Report rebuts, DOJ’s Inspector General wrote up a report that villainizes one of the few people in this Report that was doing what DOJ has spent almost two decades trying to get people to do: sharing information on national security in timely fashion. The facts presented in the report don’t support such a stance, and the facts left out of the report even further undermine the case.

Update: Added the weird ethics language.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

Horowitz

With Release of DOJ IG FISA Report, Democrats Should Pause on Impeachment

Democrats are going to roll out at least two articles of impeachment today.

But I think, in the wake of the release of the DOJ IG FISA Report, they should take a brief pause.

Don’t get me wrong. I think impeachment is necessary and urgent. I can see why Democrats might want to impeach even as Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov — particularly given Trump’s assault on Chris Wray for making some honest comments about the IG Report yesterday.

But I’ve gotten far enough into the IG Report to believe that it merits a pause for both sides to consider what it says. That’s because it basically says both parties were right. Democrats were right to think the investigation into Trump was fair and legitimately predicated. The Mueller Report has provided abundant evidence not only that Paul Manafort and Roger Stone (at a minimum) were willing to “collude” in the Russian hack-and-leak, but that they both took affirmative efforts to prevent Mueller from finding out whether they succeeded in doing so. Trump was a key player in that effort to obstruct the investigation. So the investigation was warranted, fairly predicated, and produced results that confirmed Trump’s people wanted to conspire with the Russian operation, whether or not they succeeded.

Republicans, however, were right that the Steele dossier was not adequately vetted by the FBI, and the FISA on Carter Page may not have been adequately substantiated (and the vetting on the follow-ups was even worse). That doesn’t mean Page shouldn’t have been investigated; he was already being investigated in April 2016, and things he did through December 2016 provided more cause for concern.

But neither of those things — the dossier’s shoddy vetting or the Page FISA — were key to the more substantive investigation into Trump. Indeed, Stone wasn’t even a subject in this early process; the first big investigative steps on him took place in August 2017, under Mueller.

I’ve got some quibbles with the report (mostly about how it treats exonerating information and Bruce Ohr and information sharing).

That said, the report should be an opportunity to step back and reflect on how the key issue — that Russia aggressively interfered in the US and a number of Americans embraced that effort — has gotten lost. That focus might make a few people, including Republicans who otherwise would not support impeachment but are appalled by the way Rudy has doubled down on his Ukrainian escapades, even meeting with KGB trained thugs, rethink the investigation into Trump.

Plus, the FISA Report provides one basis for bipartisan work in the near term.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act was due to get reauthorized on December 15. That got extended 3 months in the continuing resolution, but it will need reauthorized at that point. Meanwhile, over the past year, evidence that FBI misused FISA under both Jim Comey (with this IG Report) and Chris Wray (with the earlier report on problems with 702).

I’ve been arguing since at least February — and more aggressively since September, when I got the first concrete descriptions of how much this report would focus on process issues at FBI — that this IG Report would present an opportunity to call more substantive review of FISA. I got pushback among allies, because Carter Page is such an unsympathetic person to Democrats. But I think the report really demonstrates that, no matter how unsympathetic he is, no matter how warranted the investigation into him, the FISA process used against him was appalling.

So the surveillance community, which previously was able to unite Jim Jordan and the most Progressive Dems, really ought to take a step back and propose a three-part fix for FISA, one that could guide the further audit of FISA Michael Horowitz announced and one that might implement immediate legislative fixes to known FISA problems. At least beginning those conversation would provide some of the people yelling most loudly at each other a chance to talk about something they claim to agree on.

Let me be clear: I’m just arguing for a pause — maybe a week. Trump has violated every word of his oath of office and he threatens to undo our Constitution. But let’s take a few days and reflect on the way that the events of 2016 have sown division without getting us to do the things to prevent further Russian aggression. It won’t happen, but it’s what I think should happen.

Did Mike Flynn Gamble and Lose on Bill Barr and Michael Horowitz?

Since the beginning of Mike Flynn’s attempt to blow up his plea deal, he has been investing his hopes on two things: first, that Bill Barr’s efforts to discredit the investigation into Flynn and other Trump flunkies will find something of merit, and that Michael Horowitz’s Inspector General Report into the origins of the Russian investigation will likewise substantiate Flynn’s claims the investigation into him was a witch hunt.

Even before Covington & Burling had withdrawn from representing Flynn, Sidney Powell wrote Barr and Jeffrey Rosen making wild claims that Flynn had been illegally targeted. Both that letter and Flynn’s motion for what he purported was Brady material asked for FISA materials that actually related to FISA orders on Carter Page, as well as any Brady or Giglio material found in Barr and Horowitz’s investigations.

His reply tied the FISA Report directly to its claim that the government can’t be trusted to comply with Brady.

The Mueller Report established that there was no conspiracy between anyone in the Trump campaign and Russia. It is also apparent now, or will be upon the release of the FISA report of the Inspector General, that the FBI and DOJ had no legal basis to obtain a FISA warrant against Carter Page or to investigate Mr. Flynn. 13 Yet, the government wants us to accept its word that the defense has everything to which it is entitled. Fortunately Brady exists to protect the accused “from the prosecutor’s private deliberations, as the chosen forum for ascertaining the truth about criminal accusations.”

The entire effort to blow up his plea deal was a risky bet that either Barr and/or Horowitz would deliver some basis for Emmet Sullivan to throw out his prosecution.

Thus far, the only thing Barr’s worldwide wild goose chase has turned up are two phones once owned by Joseph Mifsud that the government quickly pointed out are totally unrelated to Flynn.

Yesterday, the government and Flynn asked Judge Sullivan to delay the briefing schedule that would have led up to a December 18 sentencing, a request Sullivan granted today. The request noted that both sides expect the IG Report to relate to Flynn’s case, even while DOJ pretends not to have inside information about when the report will be released.

Additionally, the parties note that the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is conducting an Examination of the Department’s and the FBI’s Compliance with Legal Requirements and Policies in Applications Filed with the US. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Relating to a certain US. Person. The parties expect that the report of this investigation will examine topics related to several matters raised by the defendant. As widely reported by the media, that report is expected to issue in the next several weeks.

Thus far, however, the public reporting on the IG Report suggests the report will not only not corroborate the claims Flynn wants it to, but affirmatively undermine some of his claims. For example, the NYT describes that the report attributes blame to low-level employees but not the senior figures — Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok — that Flynn’s entire challenge focuses on.

A highly anticipated report by the Justice Department’s inspector general is expected to sharply criticize lower-level F.B.I. officials as well as bureau leaders involved in the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation, but to absolve the top ranks of abusing their powers out of bias against President Trump, according to people briefed on a draft.

[snip]

In particular, while Mr. Horowitz criticizes F.B.I. leadership for its handling of the highly fraught Russia investigation in some ways, he made no finding of politically biased actions by top officials Mr. Trump has vilified like the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey; Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy who temporarily ran the bureau after the president fired Mr. Comey in 2017; and Peter Strzok, a former top counterintelligence agent.

And Horowitz’s reported finding that DOJ and FBI did not coordinate very well (something backed by materials Flynn already has in his possession) undermines Flynn’s allegations that everyone who works at both FBI and DOJ was in cahoots against Trump and therefore Flynn.

[T]he bureau and the Justice Department displayed poor coordination during the investigation, they said.

Finally, the adverse findings Horowitz will lay out largely relate to the Carter Page FISA, which had very little bearing on Flynn.

Investigators for the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, uncovered errors and omissions in documents related to the wiretapping of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page — including that a low-level lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, altered an email that officials used to prepare to seek court approval to renew the wiretap, the people said.

[snip]

Mr. Horowitz’s investigators have suggested that he is likely to conclude that the filings exaggerated Mr. Steele’s track record in terms of the amount of value that the F.B.I. derived from information he supplied in previous investigations. The court filings in the Page wiretap application said his material was “used in criminal proceedings,” but it was never part of an affidavit, search warrant or courtroom evidence.

(Note, I believe the IG is wrong to base the value of Steele’s information on what shows up in affidavits, because this is precisely the kind of thing that would be parallel constructed out of affidavits, by design.)

And the report will specifically deny a key claim Flynn has made, that the investigation into him derives from Steele or the CIA.

None of the evidence used to open the investigation came from the C.I.A. or from a notorious dossier of claims about Trump-Russia ties compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent whose research was funded by Democrats, the report concludes, according to the people briefed on it.

In short, the report will be damning on some fronts. But not damning in a way that will be very useful for Flynn.

Which leaves him well over his skis at a time when Sullivan may be conducting a close review of how flimsy Powell’s claims really are.

Update: And even as I was posting this, the NYT reported that the report will also confirm that the FBI was not spying on Trump’s campaign.

How Sidney Powell Misrepresents Her Evidence in Her Fake Brady Motion

In this post, I laid out how Sidney Powell used what should have been a reply in her effort to obtain what she called Brady information to instead lay out, for the first time, her argument about how Flynn was abusively caught in his own acts by mean FBI Agents out to get him, and so should have the two guilty pleas he made under oath thrown out. Powell also complains about a slew of things that happen in most FBI investigations, and pretends they’re specifically abusive when they happen with her client.

In this post, I’d like to unpack what Powell does with her so-called evidence, 16 exhibits purportedly included to support her case, but also largely provided to rile up the frothy right.

Virtually everything she claims — with the possible exception that Flynn’s 302 says he acknowledged calling Sergey Kislyak 4-5 times on December 29, 2016, but actually said he didn’t remember that– is not backed by her evidence. In several cases, she presents evidence that undermines her own claims. She supports her most central claim — that the FBI Agents introduced a claim about Flynn getting a response on UN sanctions — by arbitrarily cutting up notes and hiding the continuity of notes that in fact back the Agents.

Exhibit 1: A timeline

Exhibit 1 is a timeline that purports to show how the Deep State was out to get Flynn and how all the people involved in Flynn’s prosecution allegedly involved in abuse. Powell uses the timeline to suggest all the events that happened at DOJ and FBI over a two year was a focused effort to get her client and his boss.

The real evidence the government had long suppressed caused a cavalcade of major events—many within mere days of Mr. Flynn’s plea—and all unknown to him before it. Lisa Page, Special Counsel to Deputy Director McCabe, resigned; she had edited Mr. Flynn’s 302 and was part of the small, high-level group that strategically planned his ambush. Lead Agent Peter Strzok was demoted from the Mueller investigation and ultimately fired. Strzok, who had met extensively with McCabe and the high-level, small group, was primarily responsible for creating the only basis for the charge alleged against Flynn. [emphasis original]

But the timeline is not “evidence” at all. For example, she includes a slew of events that we know don’t relate to her narrative, but which she claims do, including:

  • Andrew McCabe’s firing for (allegedly) lying to the Inspector General about leaking information that confirmed a criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation during the campaign
  • Lisa Page’s departure from Mueller’s team, which texts to Strzok that Powell chooses not to include makes clear was planned from the time she joined Mueller’s team
  • Rachel Brand’s resignation (as well as the career moves of a bunch of other people that likely don’t relate to Flynn, but are probably best explained by Christopher Wray bringing in his own team)

The timeline includes notable gaps including:

  • President Obama’s warning to Trump not to hire Mike Flynn, based off issues that did not relate to Trump
  • Elijah Cummings’ letter to Mike Pence about Flynn’s problematic meetings with Turkey, which explains the urgency behind DOJ’s FARA questions
  • Mention of the December 23 and 31, 2016 calls from Kislyak to Flynn, which he also lied about; the December 23 call is utterly central to one of Powell’s key claims against the FBI Agents
  • Details around White House requests in early 2017 to see the information on Flynn, which explains some of the texts (indicating what a challenge it was to investigate Flynn and concerns about documenting his interview before he left) Powell elsewhere says are damning
  • The John Dowd call to Rob Kelner pressuring him not to cooperate

The timeline includes evidence that conflicts with Sidney Powell’s argument, including:

  • A quote from Strzok making it clear that in an unfiltered text to Page, he believed Flynn had lied
  • A description of how Rudolph Contreras recused from the Flynn case as soon as it would have become clear to him that Strzok was involved
  • A 302 from Lisa Page undermining her claim that there were “many” meetings to strategize on Flynn’s interview

Exhibit 2: Cherry-picked Strzok-Page texts

Exhibit 2 is a cherry-picked selection of texts from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

For example, Powell claims,

The belatedly-disclosed Strzok-Page texts make clear that the agents left the interview with a firm conviction Mr. Flynn was being honest, and they maintained that conviction despite strong expressions of disbelief and cries of “bullshit” from their colleagues.

But one of the texts she includes quotes Strzok describing his, “excitement knowing we had just heard him denying it all, knowing we’d have to pivot into asking.” That comment actually confirms that even in an unguarded moment, there was no doubt in Strzok’s mind that Flynn had lied about the events.

She claims that a text that very obviously pertains to Strzok’s ongoing efforts to pursue leakers — including leakers who harm Trump associates — and suggests it has something to do with animus against Flynn.

April 20, 2017, Strzok texts Page: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.” Ex. 2.

This text is instead proof that, rather than being part of a plot to leak information to harm Trump associates, Strzok and Page continued to pursue all leakers, including those damaging Trump associates.

Significantly, Powell does not submit a single text that shows animus towards Flynn personally, as opposed to Trump. Indeed, she includes a text discussing this article on how Trump picked Pence as a running mate; it mentions Flynn, but neither Page nor Strzok mention that (or any concern that he might have picked someone who was already regarded a counterintelligence concern).

Exhibit 3: Cherry-picked Comey memos

Exhibit 3 are two of Comey’s memos. I don’t think Powell ever gets around to using Comey’s first memo as proof FBI was using the briefing about the dossier to see how Trump would react (though the rest of her brief is consistent with that). Instead, she cites to the memos for two purposes, neither of which it supports. First, she uses it to make much of the fact that Comey briefed Trump on the dossier the day after he met with Obama’s National Security advisors.

Then Director Comey had briefed the President-Elect about these “salacious and unverified” allegations on January 6, 2017, a day after meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Susan Rice, James Clapper, and John Brennan. Ex. 3.

But of course, the timing has nothing to do with the dossier and everything to do with the fact that Comey, Clapper, and Brennan were briefing Trump on the same thing they briefed Obama on the day before: the preliminary results of the Intelligence Community Assessment. It’s evidence they were treating Trump as they should the incoming president, something that’s backed by other evidence.

She then uses the Comey memos (plus two Strzok 302s below) to support a footnote where Powell deliberately conflates what it takes to open a counterintelligence investigation (which, even ignoring how Powell claims one can only open an investigation if one has proof beyond a reasonable doubt about someone, can also be opened if someone is being targeted by foreign intelligence services) and what it takes to charge someone.

Under federal law, to establish that an American is acting as an agent of a foreign power, the government must show that the American is purposefully engaging in clandestine activities on behalf of a foreign power, and that it is probable that these activities violate federal criminal law. See FISA, Title 50, U.S. Code, Section 1801(b)(2). Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe publicly admitted that in the summer of 2016, they took it upon themselves to single out four individuals associated with the Trump campaign for investigation. Admittedly, the FBI had no evidence that any of the four had committed a crime—much less that they “knowingly engage[d] in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power.” Id; see Ex. 3.

The memo in no way supports the passage.

Powell unsurprisingly doesn’t include the two Comey memos that hurt her client’s claim. The January 27 memo describes Trump telling the FBI Director that, “he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgement,” which would seem to support FBI’s decisions to treat the Flynn matter seriously. In the February 8 one, Comey describes Reince Priebus asking if FBI has a FISA order targeting Flynn, something that would totally justify the FBI’s concerns about how they were dealing with and documenting an investigation of the National Security Advisor that Powell makes much of.

Exhibit 4: CNN article

Exhibit 4 is a CNN article quoting Strzok-Page texts where Page says the release of the Steele dossier may provide pretext to interview people, which is a clear reference to George Papadopoulos (everything in Steele about Flynn is OSINT). It also describes Strzok to be obviously aggravated by all the leaking going on, as well as discussions about how FBI tried to walk back a problematic NYT article that doesn’t mention Flynn, but instead focused on Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

Exhibit 5: Peter Strzok’s 302 about Sara Carter and John Solomon’s propaganda

Exhibit 5 is a Peter Strzok 302 that Powell purports to include for what she claims is a quote from it.

In the next two weeks, there were “many meetings” between Strzok and McCabe to discuss “whether to interview [] National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and if so, what interview strategies to use.” Ex. 5.

Except that’s an egregious misquote of what the 302 actually says, which is,

I have attended many meetings with DD McCabe regarding Russian influence investigations, including meetings which discussed whether to interview former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and if so, what interview strategies to use.

The “many” here refers to meetings about Russian influence generally, just a subset of those many meetings relate to Flynn. Nor does the 302 reflect that all those meetings happened in the two weeks before Flynn’s interview.

Powell also uses this 302 to claim that “they all knew” they had no basis to open the CI exhibit, as noted above. The only way this could be used to support the case is to take allegations included in a Sara Carter/John Solomon report claiming bias which (per the government’s last filing) was repeatedly debunked after this time, as truthful, even though Strzok says repeatedly in the 302 they’re not.

Exhibit 6: Peter’s Strzok’s 302 on his own role in the investigation

Exhibit 6 is the 302 recording a July 19, 2017 interview of Strzok describing his role in starting the investigation. Powell uses it, rather than “a seven-line summary of Ms. Yates statement,” they received in discovery, to support a claim about why Sally Yates was angry that the FBI interviewed Flynn.

Comey and McCabe were executing their own agenda—not investigating a crime. This is why, in Brady evidence still suppressed, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates candidly opined that the interview “was problematic” and “it was not always clear what the FBI was doing to investigate Flynn.”8 This is also why Strzok admitted that Yates “was not happy” to learn of the interview and PDAG Axelrod argued with FBI General Counsel James Baker about the FBI’s unilateral decision to interview Flynn. Ex. 6.

To prove she needed the full Yates interview, Powell would need to describe what’s inadequate in the Yates summary, but she chooses not to.

Powell also uses this 302 to support the claim that “they all knew” they had no basis for a counterintelligence investigation, which it doesn’t support.

The other things that Powell uses this exhibit to prove is that the FBI — as it does for all witnesses!!!! — tried to stage the interview to be as useful as possible.

They purposely did not tell him they were investigating him and strategized at length to avoid raising any concerns. Ex. 6 (“Flynn was unguarded and clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”).

[snip]

The agents did three briefings the day of the interview. They reported he had a sure demeanor, and he was telling the truth or believed he was—even though he did not remember it all. Ex. 6.

[snip]

” They purposely did not tell him they were investigating him and strategized at length to avoid raising any concerns. Ex. 6 (“Flynn was unguarded and clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”).

Powell slightly misrepresents this, describing the FBI agents as believing that Flynn was telling the truth instead of saying, “both had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying,” and she leaves out key parts of the rest of the description, including that he “did not give any indicators of deception,” which changes the meaning somewhat. In general, however, the description of how FBI planned the interview doesn’t prove bias at all on the part of the FBI; it proves they treated Flynn like they treat everyone.

Exhibit 7: Two pages of the Steele dossier

Exhibit 7 is the two pages of the Steele dossier which include the sole reference in it to Flynn.

Kremlin engaging with several high profile US players, including STEIN, PAGE, and (former DIA Director Michael Flynn), and funding their recent visits to Moscow.

[snip]

Speaking separately, also in early August 2016, a Kremlin official involved in US relations commented on aspects of the Russian operation to date. Its goals had been threefold — asking sympathetic US actors how Moscow could help them; gathering relevant intelligence; and creating and disseminating compromising information (“kompromat”). This had involved the Kremlin supporting various US political figures, including funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow. S/he named a delegation from Lyndon LAROUCHE; presidential candidate JILL STEIN of the Green Party; TRUMP foreign policy adviser Carter PAGE; and former DIA Director Michael Flynn, in this regard and as successful in terms of perceived outcomes.

According to Powell’s own theory, the RT event took place long after the US government came to be concerned about Flynn as a CI threat, and according to her own claims, Flynn was already on Trump’s campaign at this time, so the FBI would have been reviewing these publicly known facts in real time. And while the Kremlin only indirectly funded these trips, both the Page and the Stein/Flynn trips were paid for, albeit by cut-outs. This is actually an instance where the Steele dossier only repeats generally true, OSINT facts.

Nevertheless, Powell uses it to misrepresent both the timing of Nellie Ohr’s research on Flynn (most of her research was done in 2015 and early 2016, and so was funded by Paul Singer) and why her spouse shared it with the FBI (to help them vet the dossier).

It was only much later the defense learned what the FBI already knew: This document had been bought and paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Both the FBI and Fusion GPS hired former British spy Christopher Steele. Fusion GPS was on the Clinton payroll, and it also hired Nellie Ohr—a Russia specialist with CIA ties whose husband Bruce was the fourth highestranking official in DOJ. Ms. Ohr was researching Mr. Flynn also, and his name appears twice in the “Steele dossier.” Ms. Ohr and Steele funneled their “work” through Bruce Ohr in a backchannel to the FBI, long after the FBI fired Steele for lying. Ex. 7;

Powell also uses it to demand a letter from MI6 on Steele that the NYT recently reported said that Steele was honest, but displayed questionable judgement (of the sort that might lead him to trust Oleg Deripaska).

Mr. Horowitz has asked witnesses about an assessment of Mr. Steele that MI6, the British spy agency, provided to the F.B.I. after bureau officials received his dossier on Mr. Trump in September 2016. MI6 officials said Mr. Steele, a Russia expert, was honest and persistent but sometimes showed questionable judgment in pursuing targets that others viewed as a waste of time, two people familiar with the assessment said.

Whatever Carter Page’s possible beef with the dossier, all the dossier does on Flynn is report what the FBI was (even according to Powell’s claims) already reviewing with Flynn. And a letter saying that MI6 thought Steele was honest is not going to change that.

Exhibit 8: Not-Comey’s description of Comey’s action

Exhibit 8 is Josh Campbell’s description of how Comey decided to send FBI Agents to interview Flynn without going through the White House Counsel (which Andrew McCabe nevertheless gave Flynn the opportunity to ask to do).

The government did not disclose this to Mr. Flynn until after Mr. Comey bragged about his breach on national television—not because Mr. Van Grack was complying with this Court’s order. This short video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxNhjFrjXqI) reveals Mr. Comey’s deliberate disregard for DOJ and FBI rules. In fact, Mr. Van Grack only disclosed a bland summary four days after Comey gloated about it on national television to a laughing audience— four days before Mr. Flynn’s scheduled sentencing, and because this Court entered its minute order of December 12, 2017. Dkt. 10. Mr. Flynn seeks disclosure of the full report of Mr. Comey’s conduct, any memos, notes, and 302s documenting his decision, which was admittedly the subject of “many intensive discussions” within the FBI. There must be at least notes of several others, including Comey’s Special Assistant Mr. Campbell, that document the efforts directed against Mr. Flynn. Ex. 8;

Powell uses Campbell’s description, which includes the line “screw it,” rather than a transcript of Comey’s statements that she links, which are far less inflammatory, presumably to assume that Campbell must have taken official notes of the many conversations he claims happened.

But this exhibit, like all the others on how FBI tried to optimize this interview, only shows that the FBI treated Flynn like they’d treat anyone.

Exhibits 9 and 10: Joseph Pientka and Strzok’s notes

Exhibits 9 and 10 are the notes that Joe Pientka and Strzok made, respectively, about the Flynn interview. This is the core of any legitimate argument Powell has, though here, as elsewhere, part of what she’s complaining about is normal FBI process where two Agents do an interview and then write up a 302.

Only the junior agent was taking notes during the interview. Strzok’s 302 of July 2017 says that he was handling the interview and his partner was taking notes. A 302 is to be written into Sentinel within five days. Notes are to be signed and dated by the notetaker. Inexplicably, we have two sets of notes with significant redactions—neither of which is signed and dated as required. Exs. 9, 10. Agent Strzok’s notes are far more detailed, lengthy, and written in a way that would not appear to be physically possible to write in a contemporaneous, casual setting. Ex. 10.

Powell’s claims that these notes weren’t dated or signed might have merit, though given that virtually all of her claims misrepresent key details, it’s hard to tell, especially with the way she presents the notes in screen caps followed by transcriptions.

She makes two other substantive claims about the notes. First, she claims that the notes (plus a copy showing changes made on February 10, which is Exhibit 11) falsely claim that Flynn stated that he did not ask for any specific action regarding the UN vote on Egypt’s resolution on illegal Israeli settlements.

Overnight, the most important substantive changes were made to the Flynn 302. Those changes added an unequivocal statement that “FLYNN stated he did not”—in response to whether Mr. Flynn had asked Kislyak to vote in a certain manner or slow down the UN vote. This is a deceptive manipulation because, as the notes of the agents show, Mr. Flynn was not even sure he had spoken to Russia/Kislyak on this issue. He had talked to dozens of countries. Exs. 9, 10, 11.

[snip]

Whatever Mr. Flynn said to anyone regarding the UN issues had nothing to do with the FBI’s alleged “investigation” about the 2016 election and could not be the basis for false statements “material” to that issue. According to the notes, he was not even sure he had spoken to Kislyak on that issue. Exs. 9, 10.

Perhaps Sidney Powell is this dumb, or perhaps she just thinks Emmet Sullivan is, but this is thoroughly dishonest. What Pientka’s notes show is that when Flynn was asked to offer up what contacts he had had with Kislyak, he described the following ones post-election:

  • A condolence call after Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey was killed on December 19, which Flynn described as happening “before Xmas, Mid-December day after assassination”
  • A condolence call after Russia’s military band crashed in Syria on Christmas Day
  • A single call on December 29

Then, when the Agents cue him again, he admits to:

  • The in-person Trump Tower meeting about setting up a back channel around December 1

Then, when asked about the UN vote, Flynn starts by saying, “that’s a good reminder,” then admits to calls with others, makes representations generally about all his calls regarding the UN vote where he claims he only asked about people’s positions, not to abstain, then ends by saying “Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo.” In context, that probably records — and at the very least is consistent with — an admission he spoke with Russia among his UN calls. And given his description of it occurring “Maybe Thurs-Fri prior to Xmas,” he dates it to December 22 or 23, when he claims his call was offering condolences for the assassination. (Powell splits these two up in Pientka’s notes, as she also does with the same exchange in Strzok’s notes, but the flow is clear; this is clearer in the full version of Strzok’s notes submitted with Exhibit 16)

Furthermore, Powell claims that “he talked to dozens of countries,” which she pulls from his comment about his general interactions with other countries. The notes make clear that he instead said he “talked to a bunch” of countries. It’s clear that Powell’s claim he spoke to “dozens” is false in any case, because Flynn was talking about the UNSC, on which there are just 15 members, and Flynn described how those numbers worked out — and the need to get just 5 to abstain — for the Agents.

In other words, what the notes actually show is Flynn lying about his reason for the call, being given an opportunity to fix the lie about the subject of the call, then making claims that would apply to all his UN calls (including the Russian one) that were themselves false.

In short, the notes actually appear to back the Agents.

Exhibit 11: Redline of 302

Exhibit 11 is a redline of Flynn’s 302 which, in Powell’s theory, was changed on February 10, after the press reported that Flynn didn’t speak about sanctions (as if the FBI would respond to press reports on something they already knew to be a lie), to make it more damning.

She’s concerned about two changes made in this section pertaining to the UN vote.

This section is the basis of the most inflammatory claim Powell made.

Those changes added an unequivocal statement that “FLYNN stated he did not”—in response to whether Mr. Flynn had asked Kislyak to vote in a certain manner or slow down the UN vote. This is a deceptive manipulation because, as the notes of the agents show, Mr. Flynn was not even sure he had spoken to Russia/Kislyak on this issue. He had talked to dozens of countries. Exs. 9, 10, 11.

Second, they added: “or if KISLYAK described any Russian response to a request by FLYNN.” That question and answer do not appear in the notes, yet it was made into a criminal offense. The typed version of the highly unusual “deliberative” 302 by that date already included an entire section from whole cloth that also serves as a criminal charge in the Information and purported factual basis regarding “Russia’s response” to any request by Flynn. The draft also shows that the agents moved a sentence to make it seem to be an answer to a question it was not. Exs. 9, 10, 11

As shown above, because Flynn’s comments about his asks regarding the UN vote apply to all the countries in question, it would apply to the Russian one as well.

But as shown, the only way Powell can sustain this claim is to separate Flynn saying three things that are clearly all about the same topic into three different sections of her transcription:

  • That’s a great reminder
  • No hey if you do this
  • Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo

The “Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo” certainly is consistent with the December 23 call Kislyak made to say they weren’t going to abstain, because Flynn talks about it happening the Thurs-Fri before Xmas, which would be consistent with the ask on Thursday, December 22 and the response on Friday, December 23.

Note, too, that the charge that Flynn lied about getting a response from Russia would also apply to whether Flynn acknowledged getting a response back from Kislyak after the December 29 call. As she did with the UN notes, she splits these up too, so separates where Pientka notes “no recollection of that” from where he records Flynn saying, “Nothing long drawn out don’t do something.” Her transcription of “RePP?” and “I don’t, the conversation was on” doesn’t account for the possibility that this is a question — with question mark included — about Russia’s response.

Powell makes a more credible argument about the Agents recording that Flynn affirmatively stated he made 4-5 calls to Kislyak on December 29

Notes by both agents state that Mr. Flynn does not remember making four to five calls to Ambassador Kislyak from the Dominican Republic, where he was on vacation, but that if he did so, it was because phone service was poor and he kept getting dropped. “I don’t remember making 4-5 calls. If I did lousy place to call.” The final 302 states the opposite: “Flynn remembered making four to five calls that day about this issue, but that the Dominican Republic was a difficult place to make a call as he kept having connectivity issues.” Ex. 11. This dramatically demonstrates the wrongheadedness of allowing a 302 to create a federal felony.

But this issue is not an editing one, as the draft doesn’t change on this point.

More importantly, it’s not — as the UN question is — a charged lie.

Powell is right that the problem with charging false statements off a 302 is that the editing process is human, but that doesn’t change that the notes clearly back that Flynn told numerous material lies in his interview, and she doesn’t actually claim he didn’t.

Exhibit 12: Lisa Page rebuts Powell’s claim of “many” meetings to strategize Flynn’s interview

Exhibit 12 is a 302 with Lisa Page that, among other things, proves that contrary to claims the frothy right has made about Mueller’s team not checking about Strzok bias affecting the impact of the Flynn interview, Mueller’s team instead interviewed Page to check just that.

The 302 also disproves Powell’s claim that Strzok claimed he had attended “many” meetings about how to handle the Flynn interview. As reflected in Page’s telling, there was a meeting the night before, and one after the interview.

Powell doesn’t reveal that this 302 damages her story in key ways. Instead, she seems to include it to substantiate this claim:

Lisa Page, Special Counsel to Deputy Director McCabe, resigned; she had edited Mr. Flynn’s 302 and was part of the small, high-level group that strategically planned his ambush.

But she doesn’t actually cite the exhibit here. Nor does she in a later reference to Page editing the 302.

And for his third production, it gave the defense two pages on October 4, 2018. These go precisely to the issue of McCabe’s Special Counsel Lisa Page editing the Flynn 302. Ex. 2.

But in the second instance, the 302 actually shows that Brandon Van Grack provided Flynn texts reflecting Page editing Flynn’s 302 even before they had interviewed her (on October 25) to understand what they meant. That is, this detail shows how responsive Van Grack was, not that he was slow in turning things over.

In short, there’s no basis to believe Page altered the 302. Her edits, if they were actually incorporated, went through Bill Priestap, not Strzok. And she told the FBI that she would often edit things he wrote for grammar.

But unlike the frothy right, which has been harping on this point all weekend, Sullivan may never refer to that 302, because Powell didn’t appear to cite it.

Exhibit 13: WaPo reports on the Strzok-Page texts

Exhibit 13 is a WaPo report describing that Mueller reassigned Strzok in the wake of the discovery of his texts with Page. Powell provides this to substantiate a theory that Mueller’s prosecutors were pressuring Flynn to plead guilty knowing this would come out.

Not only did Mr. Van Grack not disclose a single text message before Mr. Flynn agreed to plead guilty, but Special Counsel apparently managed to control the press on the issue until the plea was entered on December 1, 2017, in Judge Contreras’s court. It defies credulity to suggest that it was only unlucky for Mr. Flynn that the story broke the very next day. Part of the evidence we request includes communications between the press and SCO, which will likely establish that Special Counsel intensified pressure on Mr. Flynn to plead immediately while it was pressuring the press not to explode the truth that destroyed the entire case. Karoun Demirjian, Top FBI official assigned to Mueller’s Russia probe said to have been removed after sending anti-Trump texts, THE WASH. POST (Dec. 2, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/two-senior-fbiofficials-on-clinton-trump-probes-exchanged-politically-charged-texts-disparagingtrump/2017/12/02/9846421c-d707-11e7-a986-d0a9770d9a3e_story.html; MTC 11; Ex. 13.

Unfortunately for Powell, that doesn’t change the fact that according to her own timeline, Van Grack had already disclosed this three days earlier, and that the reason the texts came out is because Rod Rosenstein okayed their release in probable violation of the Privacy Act, something that Mueller’s team probably had no way of anticipating.

Exhibit 14: The InfoWars event Flynn co-headlined with Ray McGovern and Julian Assange

Exhibit 14 consists of materials from Flynn’s speaker’s bureau, which Powell submits to show that those events were solidly in the mainstream (which is absolutely true of the Kaspersky event).

Mr. McCabe pointed to Mr. Flynn’s “very public interactions with Vladimir Putin and other Russians.” These “interactions” seem to have arisen from the work of CIA/FBI operatives Stefan Halper and Joseph Mifsud, and bookings made by Mr. Flynn’s American speakers’ bureau, Leading Authorities (which books engagements for countless former government officials and prominent people). Leading Authorities booked him for three events with “Russian connections”: one in Moscow for RT and two in Washington. All were well attended by prominent persons from around the world because of the important issues discussed and the presence of other recognized experts on the programs. See Ex. 14; MTC 4, 16.

Yet among the other things these materials reveal are that the RT event featured Oliver Stone and Max Blumenthal on InfoWars (at a time when Russia had already kicked off its 2016 InfoWar against Putin).

It also featured Julian Assange and Ray McGovern on a panel about security and surveillance.

His talk to Volga-Dnepr Airlines was not recorded or open to the media.

The RT materials, while already broadly public, are especially damning, as they effectively show that Russia orchestrated his appearance, right alongside Putin, at the same event which a bunch of people who would later be part of the effort to deny Russia’s role in this infowar. A number of these people have been friends of mine (though they’re also among the people who’ve attacked me most baselessly once I started saying publicly that Russia did the hack), but they’re in no way the best experts to talk about infowars or how to balance privacy and counterterrorism.

Exhibit 15: Proof that Mueller’s team provided discovery before Flynn pled guilty a second time before Sullivan

Exhibit 15 is another timeline, this one providing the dates — but not the substance — of what Mueller provided in discovery in response to Emmet Sullivan’s order (note: it also gets at least some of the dates wrong, even as compared to her other timeline).

Powell claims in her brief that Flynn didn’t get all this material before he pled guilty the first time.

Neither Mr. Flynn nor his former counsel had any of these documents or knowledge of the plethora of information discussed above when Mr. Flynn entered his plea.

But Powell’s own timeline shows that every installment of the government’s production save one preceded the date last year when Flynn pled guilty again to Emmet Sullivan.

The exception is material handed over on August 16 of this year that relates to Flynn’s time at DIA which (given that it dates to at least two years before he committed the crimes in question) cannot be relevant to his crimes. Indeed, the government says that some of it is inculpatory.

Request #15: The government is not aware of any information in possession of the Defense Intelligence Agency that is favorable and material to sentencing, including the information that the government provided on August 16, 2019. Specifically, the information of which the government is aware, including that August 16 production, is either inculpatory or has no relevance to the defendant’s false statements to the FBI on January 24, 2017, or to the FARA Unit.

In short, Powell’s own timeline shows that the government complied with Sullivan’s standing order before Flynn pled guilty before Sullivan.

Exhibit 16: The handwriting analysis that doesn’t even try to disprove Strzok

Finally, there is Exhibit 16, a declaration from a handwriting analyst. Powell includes it to substantiate a demand for Strzok’s original notes of his interview with Flynn to investigate an “anomaly” that she doesn’t describe (making this request moot from a Brady standpoint).

Agent Strzok’s notes are far more detailed, lengthy, and written in a way that would not appear to be physically possible to write in a contemporaneous, casual setting. Ex. 10. The defense requests production of the actual, original notes, and handwriting samples of Strzok of contemporaneous and non-contemporaneous notes to evaluate another anomaly that further calls into question the entire effort by the FBI to manipulate and set up Mr. Flynn, and its report of that interview. Ex. 16.

But as her expert lays out, getting Strzok’s original notes would not be enough, because he would also need a baseline of how Strzok takes notes.

If additional comparable6 notations of Agent Strzok written under similar conditions could be obtained and submitted for analysis, it may be possible to determine whether the (Q-1) notations were prepared as purported. In consideration of both the observations made, as well as limitations present, further analysis of the original evidence would likely be necessary to support any definitive conclusions in this matter.

Ultimately, her expert says he can’t make any conclusions about whether the notes were “written during the course of the January 24th interview, or prepared at a subsequent time period.”

Based upon the inherent limitations arising from the examination of non-original evidence, compounded with the lack of any known comparison handwritten notations of Agent Peter Strzok (i.e., other non-contested handwritten notations prepared under like conditions), it has been determined that no conclusion can be rendered as to whether the submitted (Q-1) notations were written during the course of the January 24th interview, or prepared at a subsequent time period.

But as Powell makes clear in the very same paragraph where she makes this demand, no one claimed that Strzok wrote these notes during the interview. Only Pientka’s notes were taken during the interview (which is, again, one of those potentially bad things that is normal for FBI interviews that Powell thinks shouldn’t happen with her client).

Only the junior agent was taking notes during the interview. Strzok’s 302 of July 2017 says that he was handling the interview and his partner was taking notes.

So Powell uses this expert to claim she needs the original of Strzok’s notes to prove that he wrote them at a time he didn’t write them.

Which sounds like the definition of sanctionably frivolous behavior.

The Intelligence Issues the House Intelligence Committee Largely Ignored

I watched or listened to most of the House Intelligence Committee hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire this morning. And because both sides (with the very limited exception of Will Hurd) failed to raise the issues regarding the whistleblower complaint that go to the core of Maguire’s own equities, he was largely able to dodge the difficult issues.

Maguire’s own actions implicate whether IC whistleblowers will believe credible complaints will be treated appropriately. As Democrats noted, his first actions when he received a complaint implicating the President and the Attorney General were to refer to lawyers reporting directly to the President and the Attorney General. Maguire even pretended that Bill Barr’s role in this was not a significant part of the complaint to dismiss the worthlessness of referring this complaint to Bill Barr to investigate.

But there were three other key issues Maguire should not have been able to dodge.

First is the allegation that Trump moved the summary of this call to the covert communications system to hide the improper nature of the call. The whistleblower complaint said that this is not the first time the White House has done so. This is a clear abuse of the legal status of covert operations dictated by the National Security Act, something for which Maguire has direct responsibility. Covert operations must be communicated, by law, to at least the Gang of Eight in Congress. That Trump has politicized and misused this system discredits a core means of accountability for the White House, on Maguire’s job directly oversees. And yet he wasn’t asked how Trump’s actions undermine the legally mandated system of covert communications.

Then there’s the fact that Trump is premising policy decisions not on the best intelligence, but instead on how he can derive personal benefit from them. His doing so is a core abuse of presidential power. But — as I noted this morning — it also robs American citizens of the benefits the entire intelligence system is supposed to ensure. Maguire admittedly cannot force the President to make the right decisions. But the repercussions of premising policy decisions on personal gain for the national security of the US should be a concern of Maguire’s. That wasn’t mentioned either.

Finally, there’s the allegation that someone without clearance and entirely outside of the intelligence community was being asked to share and act on classified information derived from the intelligence community. Maguire at one point claimed that Trump can do whatever he wants with his personal lawyer and that such discussions would be privileged (after, at another point, dodging a question because he’s not a lawyer). That’s the height of absurdity. Rudy’s pursuit of policy actions has nothing to do with his role as Trump’s personal lawyer. And as the DOJ IG complaint against Jim Comey makes clear, sharing even retroactively confidential information with your personal lawyers — as Comey was scolded for doing — is not permissible. Yes, it’s true that as President Trump can declassify anything he wants (though Comey was original classification authority for the information he shared with his own lawyers), but others in the IC cannot share information with an uncleared person without formal declassification, or they risk their own legal troubles.

None of this came up in substantive fashion in today’s hearing by the people who are supposed to oversee the intelligence community.

The Definition of “Collusion” as Impeachment Proceeds: the Risk Trump Poses to All Americans

It’s a testament to how crazy things have been this week that this memo — Andrew McCabe’s memorialization of opening the investigation into Donald Trump on May 16, 2017 — only got covered by obsequious propagandists on the frothy right. Judicial Watch liberated it via FOIA and actually had to focus on something else — Rod Rosenstein’s offer to wear a wire — to drive interest.

I suspect that’s because the memo paints McCabe’s own actions in favorable light (and Rosenstein in a damning light, both as regards his own integrity and his purported loyalty to Trump). Consider this paragraph:

I began by telling [Rosenstein] that today I approved the opening of an investigation of President Donald Trump. I explained that the purpose of the investigation was to investigate allegations of possible collusion between the president and the Russian Government, possible obstruction of justice related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and possible conspiracy to obstruct justice. The DAG questioned what I meant by collusion and I explained that I was referring to the investigation of any potential links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. I explained that the counterintelligence investigations of this sort were meant to uncover any [sic] the existence of any threat to national security as well as whether or not criminal conduct had occurred. Regarding the obstruction issues, I made clear that our predication was based not only on the president’s comments last week to reporter Lester Holt (that he connected the firing of the director to the FBI’s Russia investigation), but also on the several concerning comments the president made to Director Comey over the last few months. These comments included the President’s requests for assurances of loyalty, statements about the Russia investigation and the investigation of General Michael Flynn. I also informed the DAG that Director Comey preserved his recollection of these interactions in a series of contemporaneously drafted memos. Finally, I informed the DAG that as a result of his role in the matter, I thought he would be a witness in the case. [my emphasis]

The substance of this paragraph has been told before, albeit by certain NYT reporters who have consistently misunderstood the substance of Trump’s ties to Russia. Those tellings have always left out that McCabe also predicated a conspiracy to obstruct justice investigation (meaning, among other things, that Rosenstein himself was on the line for his actions to create an excuse for firing Comey). The emphasis, here, is also not focused exclusively on Mike Flynn but on the Russian investigation generally; as I’ve been meaning to show, Trump faced at least as much direct exposure given the investigation into Roger Stone, and his actions after he learned Stone was a target in March 2017 reflect that more than commonly understood.

By far, the most important detail in this paragraph, however, is McCabe’s definition of “collusion,” as he explained it the day before Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to investigate what he would later call collusion. Collusion, for McCabe, is just “potential links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” not necessarily any criminal ties. McCabe made this statement at a time when FBI knew about neither the June 9 meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton nor Trump’s sustained effort to pursue an improbably lucrative Trump Tower deal, to say nothing of the fact that Trump’s campaign manager was sharing campaign strategy while discussing how to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking. That is, according to the definition McCabe used, the investigation did find “collusion.” Period, end of sentence.

Importantly, the first thing McCabe raised when discussing such — at that point hypothetical — links was national security, not criminal campaign finance or bribery exposure. That is, McCabe opened the “collusion” investigation to find out whether Trump’s — at that point hypothetical — links to the Russian government were making the US less secure. The answer to that question was not included in the Mueller Report; indeed, the most glaring evidence that those links did make the US less secure were very pointedly not included in the report.

This is an important lesson as the Ukraine investigation — which cannot and should not be separated from the Russian investigation — proceeds, one that has thus far been deemphasized again. Trump’s continued efforts to pursue policies — foreign and domestic — that personally benefit him don’t just amount to breathtaking corruption. They provide foreign countries more and more leverage to use against Trump to limit his policy options. Every time Trump does something scandalous with a foreign leader — and he does it all … the … time — it means those foreign leaders can hold that over Trump going forward and in so doing, limit his negotiating position. So not only do Americans lose out on having a President who makes decisions based on how they benefit the country rather than himself personally, but they also get a far weaker President in the bargain, someone who — if he ever decided to prioritize American interests over his own — would have already traded away his bargaining chips to do so.

Through his actions thus far as President, Trump has guaranteed he cannot pursue policies that would benefit average Americans, and he has done so not just with Russia and Ukraine, and not just because of his executive incompetence.

There is an impact that Trump’s “collusion” and corruption have on everyday Americans, whether they wear pussy hats or MAGA caps, an impact that Democrats have permitted Republicans to obscure. Trump’s actions effectively rob Americans of the powerful executive on foreign policy issues that our Constitution very imperfectly sought to ensure, without stripping the weakened Trump of the tools he can wield to punish those who call him on his weakness.

Because he always self-deals, Trump has made himself an intolerably weak President, one who makes the US less secure at every step. Republicans defending him need to be held accountable for weakening the US.

What we know of Bill Barr’s treatment of the ICIG referral on the Ukrainian whistleblower suggests he only reviewed it, cursorily, for criminal campaign finance violations — possibly not even the obvious presidential bribery prohibited explicitly by our Constitution it exhibits. Bill Barr did not, with the Russian investigation and has not with the Ukrainian referral, consider how by protecting Trump’s actions, he robs every American of what the Constitution guarantees: a President, not a man shopping for revenge and phallic symbols in foreign capitals. That’s why Barr had to totally distort the conclusions of the Mueller report on collusion: to hide what it is really about and to hide how enabling such activity by Trump hurts Americans.

Yet from the start, from the moment when McCabe opened an investigation into Trump, that’s what it was supposed to be about.

The Giglio Brady Head Fake in Sidney Powell’s Latest

I’d like to congratulate Sidney Powell, whose motion to show cause is less batshit than the Brady motion I unpacked here (note, these motions work together, but we only got this most recent one today because it had been submitted under seal under the protective order until the government redacted the names of some FBI Agents).

Powell fancies both motions as demands for Brady material she claims has been withheld in violation of Emmet Sullivan’s standing order that the government produce Brady material even to defendants that, like Flynn, plead guilty. But the key to understanding the motion, in my opinion, comes in the middle of a list of things she demands. She asks not just for Brady material (that is, evidence that is exculpatory to the charges Flynn pled guilty to), but also for any new Giglio information discovered by the government in the last two years.

Brady or Giglio material newly discovered by the government (and by the Inspector General in his separate investigations) in the last two years.

Giglio material is information that would impeach potential witnesses.

To understand the distinction, consider Powell’s complaints about recent discovery she got, which is batshit insane on its face.

To substantiate her claim that the government has violated its Brady obligations, she points to materials Brandon Van Grack had just provided the week before this motion.

In fact, just last week, Mr. Van Grack produced an additional 330 pages that included information that any reasonable attorney would understand as Brady evidence in light of Special Counsel’s investigation and assertions that Mr. Flynn was an undisclosed “agent of Russia” or an “agent of Turkey.”2 That production also shows that Mr. Flynn passed his polygraph test in 2016 and his security clearance was renewed. This was at the same time the FBI seems to have been investigating him under the pretext that he was an “agent of Russia” and/or of Turkey. Interestingly, the new production also shows that James Clapper refused to assist in the investigation for Mr. Flynn’s security clearance, which Mr. Flynn received after a full investigation despite Mr. Clapper’s actions.

She makes several crazy ass claims in this passage. First, she boasts that Flynn was able to pass a polygraph in April 2016 at a time, she claims, that he was under investigation for being an agent of whatever country was offering the highest bid. It’s unclear when the investigation into whether he was a Russian agent started. But the investigation into whether he was a Turkish agent hadn’t started yet because the underlying conduct hadn’t started yet! Moreover, Flynn didn’t plead to being a Russian agent (indeed, the investigation into whether he was compromised by Russia may have been reopened and remain open), so whether that poly reflected about him being so is irrelevant to the charges (and therefore not Brady).

In other words, Powell is claiming that a successful April 2016 polygraph is proof of innocence for lies Flynn told in January 2017 about contacts with Sergey Kislyak in November and December 2016, and lies he told in March 2017 about a relationship with Turkey that began in July 2016 and he was actively hiding in August through November 2016, when he was getting Top Secret briefings with candidate Trump. On its face, it’s a batshit insane claim (which is probably why Sara Carter is running with it).

Oh, and remember, the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn were pretty impressed with his ability to appear convincing while telling what they knew were outright lies. Flynn is (unsurprisingly, for a lifetime intelligence officer) good at lying.

But that’s almost certainly not why Powell is interested in this polygraph (it’s also almost certainly not why she got it, either, but I’ll reserve that explanation for a later time). She’s interested in the poly because it shows that Mike Flynn was able to renew his clearance even though James Clapper, who had fired him, would not recommend he have it renewed. That is, she wants to highlight this as part of an argument that the investigation into Flynn and everyone else was part of a Deep State coup against Trump and his flunkies.

In fact, most of her non-crazy requests (and there are a number of them) fit that narrative too. It’s not about any exculpatory evidence against Flynn — he already got that. It’s about allegedly damning details about the people who investigated him, to include Peter Strzok and James Clapper and Jim Comey and a slew of other people. But that’s Giglio, material that might make these people look bad if they ever had to testify against Flynn, not Brady (and with the exception of Strzok, none would have testified against him, and FBI could have avoided having Strzok testify too).

It actually is an interesting question about the scope of Sullivan’s standing order (though as Van Grack made clear in yesterday’s hearing, Flynn actually got a lot of stuff Powell claims he should have gotten before he pled guilty before he did plead guilty first once and then a second time). And Sullivan may well rule that Flynn should get some of it. But none of that will change that he lied over and over about his behavior while in the employ of Donald Trump.

That’s not the only thing Flynn is doing with this motion (he also seems to be fishing for evidence of selective prosecution based on KT McFarland’s ability to clean up her testimony after Flynn flipped). But it is the central one.