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Putin’s Playmates Trump and Tucker Remind Trumpsters They’ve Been Trained to Love Putin

As I’ve been watching Putin expand his war in Ukraine, I’ve been thinking a lot about his timing. Why launch it now rather than two years ago, when Trump would have facilitated it, or another year from now, when Republicans are expected to control at least one house of Congress?

I suspect there are a lot of things that dictate the timing. Any invasion was going to come in winter. It’s easier for heavy tanks to move, but more importantly, winter temperatures make it easier to use gas prices to impose a cost on Europe.

I think it happened this year, under Biden’s first full winter rather than 2021 or even 2020 because, up until Biden’s inauguration, Putin’s investment in Trump might still have paid off by allowing Putin to achieve his objectives without launching a war. He almost did, in the insurrection, which was undoubtedly led by MAGAts but which included the participation of some key Russian projects (such as Patrick Byrne).

To be sure, there are European reasons, even beyond the gas squeeze. Boris Johnson is fighting to keep power. Angela Merkel’s retirement surely led Putin to hope that the EU would be left without a strong leader (or that he could more easily manipulate Emmanuel Macron, especially in an election year).

But I believe this invasion represents the culmination of a plan not just to reassert what he imagines is Russian greatness, but also to end US hegemony, which Putin has pursued for a decade.

Ukraine has been a part of that and starting in 2010, Paul Manafort was useful to giving his puppets the patina of legitimacy. After Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine was useful as a testing ground for various kinds of hybrid warfare, most spectacularly with the NotPetya attack in 2018.

Ukraine — the partnership of Konstantin Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska, along with their leverage over Paul Manafort — was also whence Russian launched its 2016 attack (I need to find the reference, but they knew they could place Manafort as campaign manager before the end of 2015). As I have written (in a piece on my understanding of the role of using the Steele dossier as a vehicle for disinformation), Russia’s interference in 2016 is best understood as a win-win. If Hillary won, Roger Stone would have rolled out the same Stop the Steal plan that was used in 2020 back in 2016 to destabilize the US in 2017 rather than 2021, as happened.

Trump’s win was an unexpected bonus.

As part of the 2016 operation, Russia also did unprecedented damage to the NSA (through the Shadow Brokers operation) and the CIA (in the way that WikiLeaks rolled out the Vault 7 release).

The failure of Russia’s attempt to blame its 2016 interference on a false flag thwarted Russia’s best laid plans — which would have involved Kilimnik calling in the quid pro quo made with Manafort on August 2, 2016 and getting Trump to help carve up Ukraine in the same way Russia is currently doing with tanks.

Even still, the Russian investigation paid huge dividends and, given Putin’s long game, to date has surely been more than worth it. That’s because the FBI-led investigation into Trump’s cooperation with Russia, over time, came to train Republicans to trust Putin more than they trust Democrats.

Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that the FBI deliberately attempted to take Trump out (entirely memory holing Jim Comey’s role in getting Trump elected, much less that the FBI Agents running informants on the Clinton Foundation during the election were explicitly anti-Hillary). The dossier disinformation project proved so wildly successful that most Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that there wasn’t abundant proof of cooperation between Trump and Russia, including communications directly with the Kremlin during the election that Michael Cohen lied to hide. Republican members of Congress genuinely came to believe — because they had to! — that criticism of Trump’s refusal to spend the money in support of Ukraine they had appropriated was just another Democratic attack on Trump and not an attempt to save the integrity of American democracy. All this culminated in Stop the Steal 2.0, a literal attack on American democracy; Republican fealty to Trump forced them — more reluctantly at first and driven in large part by real terror — to defend an assault on Congress.

By February 13, 2021, the date the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an attack on Congress, Republicans had put loyalty to Donald Trump over defense of the country and the Capitol in which they worked.

Sure, Putin didn’t get Trump to carve up Ukraine as President. But he got so much more from Trump’s presidency.

Putin did get Trump to do real damage to NATO. He got Trump to largely abandon Syria. Trump made a humiliating deal with the Taliban that would result in the US withdrawing its military from Russia’s back door. After years of Russia having to work hard to highlight American hypocrisy on human rights, Trump did things like pardon war criminals, forever tainting America’s claim to be exceptional.

And through it all, Trump created his own authoritarian-supporting militias, heavily armed troops inspired by resentment who have the ability to make the United States ungovernable. Trumpist Republicans are making localized efforts to dismantle democracy. Trump’s Supreme Court nominees have abandoned legal precedent.

Which brings us to this moment.

I think Putin faced a moment of diminishing returns. Republicans are finally beginning to wake up from their Trump cult. If COVID subsides and the US economy takes off, Democrats might surprise at midterms. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if Russia expected some details of what it has done over the last decade — involving Julian Assange, involving 2016 (with the prosecution of Vladislav Klyushin), possibly even involving Trump — to become public in the near future. And so Putin chose this moment to launch a war to try to solidify the efforts he has made over the last decade.

Thus far, however, things haven’t gone Putin’s way.

I believe that Putin thought he could demonstrate Five Eyes fragility by conducting war games off the Irish coast without inciting the nationalism of a bunch of Irish fisherman. I believe Putin expected the US and/or Europe would fail to fully incorporate Ukraine in its planning, thereby discrediting Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I believe that Putin expected he would be able to peel away France and Germany (after Olaf Scholz’s initial announcement that it is halting Nord Stream 2, there seems to be some hesitation). I believe Putin expected his false flags would work. I believe Putin believed he’d be able to blame someone else for this invasion. I agree with Dan Drezner, thus far Biden has done just about everything right.

I believe that Putin believed his invasion would split NATO, the EU, and the US. Thus far it has had the opposite effect.

Which brings us to the weird pivot that Trump and his top Fox associates: white nationalist Tucker Carlson, Chief of Staff Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.

Yesterday, Trump hailed Putin’s actions as genius.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump told conservative podcaster Buck Sexton.

I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right,” Trump continued. “Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Last night, Tucker did a chilling monologue, suggesting that Americans have been trained to hate Vladimir Putin.

Tucker suggested that Putin’s invasion is just a border dispute. He’s suggesting that Biden is doing this to pay off imagined debts to Ukrainian Oligarchs. Tucker laid out Putin’s plan for costs to impose on Americans, in terms of energy costs. Tucker included every single false claim about Ukraine that Russia has been planting since 2016. Every single one.

This is the monologue you’d expect of a man who believes there are two years of records showing Russian and Hungarian sources trying to set up one meeting between him and Putin.

To win this war, Putin needs to achieve both goals at once: splitting the US so that he can take Ukraine. One goal serves the other.

And in days ahead, Putin undoubtedly plans to take great risks to impose some costs on European and American voters. In gas prices, sure, but probably also with some ambitious cyberattacks and efforts to support another insurrection. Those costs, I imagine Putin plans, will lead American and European voters to lose patience with support for Ukraine, to forget that this is about the ability to enjoy real democracy.

But to get away with that, Putin has to ensure that it won’t backfire by overcoming the polarization he has invested great effort to encourage in the last five years.

Via whatever means last night, Putin’s two biggest assets in the US (speaking in terms of advantages, not recruited assets, but I don’t rule it out) went out and reminded Trump supporters that they’ve been trained to like Putin more than they like their own country.

Update: Philip Bump notes that Republicans like Putin more than Biden.

Durham Says It’s Not His Fault His Former Boss Called for the Death of His Defendant

John Durham didn’t have much to say after being called out for making baseless accusations that their source Kash Patel lied about, leading the former President to suggest Michael Sussmann should be killed.

They’re not responsible for the death threats, the attorney who filed a notice of appearance in the wake of Friday’s stunt, Brittain Shaw, insists.

If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government’s Motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the Government’s inclusion of this information.

She said this even while acknowledging it might be prudent to take measures against death threats in the future.

That said, to the extent the Government’s future filings contain information that legitimately gives rise to privacy issues or other concerns that might overcome the presumption of public access to judicial documents – such as the disclosure of witness identities, the safety of individuals, or ongoing law enforcement or national security concerns – the Government will make such filings under seal. United States v. Hubbard, 650 F. 2d 293, 317-323 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (setting forth factors for considering whether the presumption of public access is overridden, including (1) the need for public access to the documents at issue; (2) the extent of previous public access to the documents; (3) the fact that someone has objected to disclosure, and the identity of that person; (4) the strength of any property and privacy interests asserted; (5) the possibility of prejudice to those opposing disclosure; and (6) the purposes for which the documents were introduced during the judicial proceedings.) The Government respectfully submits that no such issues or concerns are implicated here. [my emphasis]

The former President implied the defendant and a witness should be killed. But it’s not Durham’s fault and so he doesn’t have to deal with the fact that it happened!!

This is factually specious. Kash Patel, who was among the first to make egregiously false claims, is not a “third party.” He is the originator of this inquiry, and he knew well his statements to be false. Donald Trump, who suggested Sussmann and others should be killed, is not a “third party.” He was Durham’s boss and his demands for prosecutions are what led to Durham being appointed Special Counsel in the first place.

Plus, Durham’s team have already made the identities of some grand jury witnesses public in discovery filings.

The claim that the architects of this mob are neutral “third parties” is all the more pathetic given the excuse Shaw provides for including the false insinuation that Rodney Joffe spied on Trump’s White House rather than tried to keep the White House safe from hackers at the time it happened to be occupied by Barack Obama.

The reason they mentioned the White House, you see (Shaw claims), is because of one of the conflicts they raised.

The Government included two paragraphs of limited additional factual detail in its Motion for valid and straightforward reasons. First, those paragraphs reflect conduct that is intertwined with, and part of, events that are central to proving the defendant’s alleged criminal conduct. Second, the Government included these paragraphs to apprise the Court of the factual basis for one of the potential conflicts described in the Government’s Motion, namely, that a member of the defense team was working for the Executive Office of the President of the United States (“EOP”) during relevant events that involved the EOP. [my emphasis]

Shaw here argues that events in February 2017 are “intertwined” with an alleged crime that took place five months earlier.

She also suggests that the reason they raised the White House is because one of Sussmann’s team members worked there (Charlie Savage has now IDed the lawyer as Michael Bosworth).

I mean, so did Kash Patel, a central player in the false claims that led to the former President calling for death.

Here’s what the actual conflict memo said about that purported conflict.

Based on its review of documents in its investigation and other information, the Special Counsel’s Office also has learned that one of the members of the defendant’s current defense team (“Defense Team Member-1”) previously worked as Special Counsel to the then-FBI Director from 2013 to 2014. In connection with that work, Defense Team Member-1 developed professional and/or personal relationships with several individuals who later were involved with and/or knowledgeable of the FBI’s investigation of the Russian Bank-1 allegations. For example, Defense Team Member-1 appears to have developed a professional relationship with the former FBI General Counsel to whom the defendant made his alleged false statement and who will likely be a central witness at trial.4 While it is unlikely that these past interactions and activities will give rise to an actual conflict of interest, the Government respectfully requests in an abundance of caution that the Court inquire with the defense concerning whether Defense Team Member-1’s relationships with persons and entities who might be witnesses in this case could give rise to a potential conflict or appearance issue and, if so, whether the defendant waives any such conflict.

4 Following his employment at the FBI, Defense Team Member-1 worked from 2014 to early 2017 as an attorney in the EOP which, as noted above, was involved in certain factual issues that the Government expects will be relevant at trial and any sentencing proceedings. Latham has represented to the Government that while employed at the EOP, Defense Team Member-1 had no role in the aforementioned events or arrangements involving Tech Executive-1, Internet Company1, and/or allegations involving the purported use of Russian-made phones. The Government similarly has not seen evidence to suggest that Defense Team Member-1 had any role in, or direct knowledge of, the Russian Bank-1 allegations or the FBI’s ensuing investigation. [my emphasis]

It’s the tie to Jim Comey and through him to James Baker, not the subsequent job at the White House, that Durham’s team presented as a potential conflict — and even then, Durham’s team admits this is not likely a conflict. By this standard, several members of the prosecutorial team, not to mention the guy from whom this allegation came from, Kash Patel, have a conflict. John Durham was hired by Donald Trump; that’s a more serious conflict than anything his team spins up as one.

The White House will not be called to the stand at Sussmann’s trial. None of this is actually about the White House. As Andrew DeFilippis noted in his filing making wild claims of conflict, the White House job was not one of those conflicts. Indeed, this is yet another marker of Durham’s dishonesty. This team member, as described, was a victim of Rodney Joffe’s purportedly vicious efforts to make sure the Obama White House was not hacked. The team member only has an adversarial relationship if one believes that protecting against hacks is an adversarial stance. But that’s not how they describe the purported conflict which even they admit is not one.

Which is a pretty big hint their understanding of conflicts here is whacked beyond all reason.

Even in a terse four page motion (which I guess is one way she’s an improvement over DeFilippis), Shaw still had room for bullshit.

Having given a transparently bogus excuse for raising the White House, she then says that raising it in a conflict memo is cool because Durham plans to later raise these issues in a motion in limine (pre-trial motions about what can and cannot be presented during the trial).

In light of the above, there is no basis to strike any portion of the Government’s Motion. Indeed, the Government intends to file motions in limine in which it will further discuss these and other pertinent facts to explain why they constitute relevant and admissible evidence at trial. Pursuant to caselaw and common practice in this and other districts, the filing of documents containing reference to such evidence on the public docket is appropriate and proper, even in highprofile cases where the potential exists that such facts could garner media attention. See, e.g., United States v. Stone, 19 Cr. 18 (D.D.C. October 21, 2019) (ABJ), Minute Order (addressing the Government’s publicly-filed motion in limine seeking to admit video clip from the movie “Godfather II” that defendant sent to an associate and permitting admission of a transcript of the video); United States v. Craig, 19 Cr. 125 (D.D.C. July 10, 2019) (ABJ), Minute Order (addressing Government’s publicly-filed Rule 404(b) motion to offer evidence of defendant’s efforts to assist Paul Manafort’s relative in obtaining employment); United States v. Martoma, S1 12 Cr. 973, 2014 WL 164181 (S.D.N.Y. January 9, 2014) (denying defendant’s motion for sealing and courtroom closure relating to motions in limine concerning evidence of defendant’s expulsion from law school and forgery of law school transcript);1 see also Johnson v. Greater SE Cmty. Hosp. Corp., 951 F. 2d 1268, 1277 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (holding that there is a “strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial proceedings”). Moreover, any potential prejudice or jury taint arising from such media attention can effectively and appropriately be addressed through the voir dire process during jury selection.

1 The publicly-filed evidentiary motions and judicial rulings in each of the above-cited cases received significant media attention. See, e.g., Prosecutors Can’t Show Godfather II Clip at Roger Stone Trial, Judge Rules, CNN, October 21, 2019 (https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/politics/godfather-ii-roger-stone/index.html; Greg Craig Pushed to Hire Manfort’s Relative at Skadden, Prosecutors Say, POLITICO, May 10, 2019 (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/10/greg-craig-hire-manaforts-relative-1317600); SAC’s Martoma Tried to Cover Up Fraud at Harvard, Documents Show, REUTERS, January 9, 2014 (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sac-martoma-harvard/sacs-martoma-tried-to-cover-up-fraudat-harvard-documents-show-idUSBREA081C720140109).

Roger Stone Roger Stone Roger Stone and Mueller, she throws in for good measure.

This is a fairly bald admission that the time to raise these issues, pretending they were relevant, would be the later 404(b) fight (over whether evidence of related conduct can be admitted at trial to help prove the case), not now, on a totally separate issue. That this might be a relevant issue later (which is itself admission that these topics are not direct evidence about Sussmann’s alleged lie and must first demonstrate relevance to even be admitted at trial) is not an excuse to use them in untimely and off-purpose fashion.

And yet that’s Durham’s excuse for saying a bunch of things that predictably led to calls for death.

According to John Durham’s logic of conflicts, he is the one with an unwaivable conflict. The guy who hired him to this job is the same guy suggesting, based off Durham’s filing, that the guy he is prosecuting should be executed.

Updated for clarity.

Update: Corrected Bosworth’s last name.

“Fill the Silence:” On Obstruction, Listen to DOJ and Merrick Garland

Happy Valentines Day, the day on which TV lawyers proclaim that DOJ has let the statutes of limitation on Trump crimes expire, in this case, Trump’s request of Jim Comey that he let the Mike Flynn investigation go.

As I noted in a relevant post last week, Randall Eliason wrote a column last week demanding that the “Biden Justice Department [] issue a report on the Mueller report.”

Today, Ben Wittes and Quinta Juercic wrote a worthwhile piece positing five different possibilities for how Garland dealt with the Mueller Report. Those five are:

  1. “Garland considers the matter closed as a result of Barr’s having closed it.”
  2. DOJ “review[ed] Barr’s judgment but agrees with him on any of a number of legal positions that would make a prosecution of the former president nearly impossible.”
  3. DOJ “quietly reopened the matter, at least for paper review—that is, not for investigation but to review the conclusions based on the collected evidence—and agreed with Barr’s judgments on the facts.”
  4. DOJ “quietly began reviewing Barr’s judgment and is letting certain statutes of limitations lapse because it considers the later fact patterns more plausible criminal cases than the earlier ones.”
  5. “The Garland-run Justice Department never even considered the question of whether to, well, consider the question.”

It’s a worthwhile piece because it gets inside the brain of a DOJ institutionalist and attempts to game out how they might think.

But their discussion is absolutely silent about several pieces of public evidence showing Garland’s DOJ taking action, even while demanding that Garland, himself, “fill the silence.”

That is, they make the mistake of claiming DOJ has been entirely silent. It has not been. They simply haven’t listened to what DOJ has already said.

“The matter” was not closed as of November 2020

Jurecic and Wittes treat “this matter” as a self-evident whole, without defining what they mean by it. I assume when they use the term, “this matter,” they’re referring to Trump’s obstructive actions described in the second Volume of the Mueller Report.

Such shorthand is why, in my own post, I pointed out that most people engaging in this discussion (and I include Jurecic and Wittes in this group), account for the fact not all of Trump’s criminal exposure was in the second Volume. Materials unsealed in September 2020, for example, confirm that DOJ continued to investigate Trump for a big infusion of cash from an Egyptian bank in September 2016 until that summer (CNN’s reporting on it confirmed that timing).

A footnote unsealed (and therefore buried and still all-but unreported) the day before the 2020 election revealed that the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia continued after Mueller shut down. Redactions that (in an earlier release) were identified as relating to the Stone matter treated that matter as an ongoing investigation in November 2020.

Similarly, in October 2020, DOJ treated the investigation into a pardon dangle for Julian Assange as an ongoing investigation. In fact, one of the issues that Lawfare treats as exclusively a matter of obstruction –Trump’s direction to Corey Lewandowski to order Jeff Sessions to shut down the entire Russian investigation — likely relates closely to the pardon dangle to Assange, because it came days after Stone told Assange he was intervening with the highest level of government to alleviate Assange’s woes.

We don’t know how many of the ten referrals still redacted in November 2020 remain ongoing; when DOJ released information to Jason Leopold last week, they just chose to release the four pages covered by a DC Circuit order and not a full reissued report. But we do know that “the matter” of the Mueller investigation was not closed as recently as November 2020.

DOJ IG was investigating follow-on obstruction

Both before Trump was ousted by voters and since, reports confirmed that DOJ’s Inspector General was investigating things that should be treated as follow-on obstruction, most explicitly Billy Barr’s efforts to undercut the Roger Stone prosecution but also Barr’s preferential treatment of Paul Manafort as compared to Michael Cohen (the latter will be part of Michael Horowitz’s review of BOP COVID response). Given DOJ IG’s past work, it’s not clear that this will be very critical of Barr’s own role.

One way or another, though, we have weeks-old confirmation that some of it remains under review. Depending on what DOJ IG finds, it’s possible (though unlikely) that might provide predicate to reopen past decisions.

But such a review also means that, because DOJ IG reviews add years to any investigative process, there will be a significant delay before we hear about such matters.

Merrick Garland has told you what he thinks about the OLC memo on prosecuting a President (and, to a lesser extent, OLC memos generally)

Two of Lawfare’s possibilities, especially the second, rely on a deference to OLC, including the declination memo that Amy Berman Jackson partially unsealed (and about which further unsealing the DC Circuit is currently considering).

We know that Garland’s DOJ will defer to most previous OLC memos, in part because his DOJ did so in fighting further unsealing of this memo. But we know even more about what Garland thinks of the memo prohibiting charging a president from an exchange on the topic Garland had with Eric Swalwell in October.

Garland: Well, Office of Legal Counsel memoranda, particularly when they’ve been reviewed and affirmed by Attorneys General and Assistant Attorneys General of both parties, it’s extremely rare to reverse them, and we have the same kind of respect for our precedents as the courts do. I think it’s also would not normally be under consideration unless there was an actual issue arising and I’m not aware of that issue arising now. So I don’t want to make a commitment on this question.

Swalwell: I don’t want to talk about any specific case but, just, in general, should a former President’s suspected crimes, once they’re out of office, be investigated by the Department of Justice?

Garland: Again, without, I don’t want to make any discussion about any particular former President or anything else. The memorandum that you’re talking about is limited to acts while the person was in office, and that’s all I can say.

Swalwell: And should that decision be made only after an investigation takes place before deciding beforehand a general principle of we’re not going to investigate a former President at all? Would you agree that if there are facts, those should be looked at?

Garland: Again, you’re pushing me very close to a line that I do not intend to cross. We always look at the facts and we always look at the law in any matter before making a determination.

In the exchange, Garland makes quite clear that, “it’s extremely rare to reverse” OLC memos because, “we have the same kind of respect for our precedents as the courts do.” Garland also explained that memo and any others (including Barr’s declination memo), “would not normally be under consideration unless there was an actual issue arising and I’m not aware of that issue arising now.”

One reason the memo is not at issue right now is because, “The memorandum that you’re talking about is limited to acts while the person was in office.” But as has often been ignored (though I pointed it out last month), the most recent known version of an OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president is significantly premised on the constitutionality of a President being prosecuted after he leaves office even if he was acquitted by the Senate for the same conduct in an impeachment trial.

Randolph Moss, serving as Assistant Attorney General for OLC in 2000, famously wrote the following:

Our view remains that a sitting President is constitutionally immune from indictment and criminal prosecution.

Less famously, however, the first 11 pages of that more famous memo rely on this earlier OLC memo from Moss:

We conclude that the Constitution permits a former President to be criminally prosecuted for the same offenses for which he was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate while in office.

By stating that those odious OLC memos remain valid — that is, by deferring to OLC precedent — Garland was in the same breath saying that a former President can be indicted, including for things he was acquitted of in the Senate.

Obviously, Mueller’s findings never made it to the Senate. But Trump’s attempt to coerce Ukraine did and Trump’s attempted coup did.

There are four relevant investigations that tell you how Garland’s DOJ has approached this

In their piece and podcast, Jurecic and Wittes speak as if what Garland would do is entirely hypothetical, as if we don’t know what DOJ would consider palatable regarding earlier criminal exposure.

Except we do know, a bit, because four of the eight investigations into Trump flunkies that have been publicly confirmed provide some insight. For example:

  • Tom Barrack: Barrack confirmed in a recent filing what prior reporting had laid out: this investigation arose out of the Mueller investigation. “As early as December 2017, Mr. Barrack voluntarily produced documents and met with prosecutors in the Special Counsel’s Office investigation, which was led by Robert Mueller and included prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York.” It’s possible it was the first of those ten referrals that remained sealed in November 2020. If it was, it is an indication DOJ would pursue a prosecution arising out of the Mueller investigation that was substantially complete before Trump left, though even in that case it took four months after Garland was sworn in.
  • Erik Prince: It’s not clear whether the investigation into Erik Prince that Billy Barr shut down in 2019-2020 arose out of the Mueller investigation (though it is clear that any Mueller investigation into Prince had been closed by September 2020). I first alluded to a renewed investigation into Prince in this post, and NYT has since publicly confirmed it. I’m no more certain about the scope of the renewed investigation than the NYT, but I do know it is in a different District and it does overlap with the prior investigation, at least somewhat. That doesn’t tell you what DOJ would require to reopen a closed Mueller investigation, but it does show that Lisa Monaco would permit a prior, closed investigation to be reopened, perhaps with a new hook or newly acquired evidence.
  • Rudy Giuliani: The confirmed investigation into Rudy pertains to his Ukraine influence-peddling with a scope from May 2018 through November 2019. As such, except insofar as those actions were a continuation of efforts Paul Manafort had started in 2016, they say nothing about how Garland would treat a continuing Mueller investigation. But we do know one utterly critical fact and another key detail: First, the warrants to seize Rudy’s phones were approved on Monaco’s first day in office. That’s a pretty compelling piece of proof that Garland’s DOJ is not going to shy away from Trump’s closest flunkies. Significantly, SDNY successfully fought to get a privilege waiver spanning from January 1, 2018 (so before Rudy started Trump obstruct the Mueller investigation) through the date of seizure, April 28, 2021 (so through the attempted coup). This tells you that Garland’s DOJ could investigate Rudy for any of his suspected criminal actions, and no one would know about it.
  • Robert Costello: Costello is the lawyer through whom, the Mueller Report describes, Rudy was dangling a pardon for Michael Cohen for back in April 2018 (so within the scope of the privilege review). Currently, he is both Rudy’s lawyer overseeing that privilege review and Steve Bannon’s lawyer. After getting Bannon out of his Build the Wall fraud indictment with a pardon (sound familiar?), Costello helped Bannon walk into a contempt indictment based off non-cooperation with the January 6 investigation. All that background establishes that Costello is just tangential to the Mueller Report (though where he appears, he appears as part of the efforts to obstruct the investigation). But the details of DOJ’s seizure of Costello’s toll records after he made some contradictory claims in FBI interviews on the Bannon contempt case are worth examining closely. That’s because DOJ’s interest in the toll records cannot pertain solely to the January 6 subpoena to Bannon; the scope of the seizure not only predates the subpoena, but predates the establishment of the committee entirely (and happens to cover the entirety of the privilege review Costello oversaw). It’s tough to know what to make of this, but it is indication, like the approval of warrants targeting Rudy, that Garland’s DOJ will take fairly aggressive action pursuing obstruction and other crimes.

Trump is likely on the hook for other obstructive actions

The Lawfare piece claims that, aside from the pardons of Manafort, Stone, and Flynn, there’s no new evidence pertaining to Mueller-related obstruction (and other crimes).

And it’s not like new evidence has emerged since Mueller issued his reports—save the 2020 pardons of Manafort, Stone and Flynn.

But that’s not true. On top of whatever evidence DC USAO obtained on Stone after Mueller shut down (one of which was Andrew Miller’s long-awaited testimony), the government appears to have obtained more evidence on the other example of direct conspiracy with Russia. In the years since Mueller finished, the government has apparently developed new certainty about two details Mueller expressed uncertainty about: Konstantin Kilimnik is a “known Russian Intelligence Services agent,” and he, “provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” in 2016. That suggests DOJ obtained new evidence (and may be why FBI put a $250,000 reward out for Kilimnik’s arrest in summer 2020). Whatever new details are behind this increased certainty, it could change DOJ’s understanding of Manafort’s actions as well. Add in the fact that Treasury accuses Kilimnik of continuing such information operations into the 2020 election — when Rudy was the pivot point — and Trump’s three big scandals may be converging.

But there may well be other obstructive acts, pertaining to the Mueller crimes, as well. Amid all the discussion of Trump’s destruction or removal of classified Presidential Records when he left the White House, for example, there has been little consideration about whether any of those documents pertain to Mueller or the other two investigations Trump obstructed. The January 6 Commission has already confirmed, for example, that some of the Trump documents they obtained were ripped up, and since the investigation into January 6 started immediately, it is highly likely the attempted document destruction happened while the investigation was pending. CNN’s most recent update on Trump’s stand-off with the Archives (in which someone who sounds like Impeachment One Defense Attorney Pat Philbin refused to turn over a document NARA knew to come looking for) is consistent with obstruction, possibly tied to the original Perfect Transcript.

None of this is proof of discrete new evidence on obstruction. Rather, it looks more like the never-ending wave of obstruction all runs together, with the pardons for Stone and Flynn (either, like Stone, known to be under investigation or closely tied to someone, Sidney Powell, known to be)  linking the obstruction of Mueller with the implementation of the coup attempt.

I can’t explain what, precisely, Garland’s DOJ is doing with the Mueller Report (besides prosecuting Trump’s top donor as a foreign agent on a referral from it). But it is simply false that DOJ has been silent about it.

Where DOJ has been speaking, however, is in active dockets and not in a three year old report.

Donald Trump Wanted Jim Comey Prosecuted for Bringing Government Documents Home

In the wake of news that Trump:

  • Ripped up documents
  • Flushed documents
  • Took classified documents home

A number of people are making the obvious comparison between his attacks on Hillary, especially his ceaseless efforts to increase her legal jeopardy, and his own criminal exposure. Those comparisons are most important to raise, in my opinion, with the journalists who chased that story relentlessly at Trump’s behest in 2016 but who have already dismissed the interest of this.

Some have made the comparison with attacks on Speaker Pelosi for tearing up one of Trump’s State of the Union speeches.

But there’s a third comparison to keep in mind: the DOJ Inspector General investigation of Jim Comey for taking home his memos documenting Trump’s corruption.

As CNN describes it, some of the most obvious immediate exposure Trump would have would be under 18 USC 2071 (which, auspiciously, prohibits someone from holding office).

Legal experts tell CNN that any unauthorized retention or destruction of White House documents raises a red flag under a criminal law that prohibits the removal or destruction of official government records.

But for a charge like this to fly, prosecutors would need to show that Trump had “willfully” violated the law — a high bar, though one that prosecutors could potentially meet given the frequent efforts within the White House to try to preserve records Trump would habitually mutilate.

Furthermore, other criminal laws could come into play as well, if an investigation by the Justice Department progresses.

“If the intent was ‘Let me get these documents taken out of the way because they could look bad, they could be damning for me in an investigation, in a lawsuit,’ then you’re talking about potential obstruction of justice. So the devil will be in the details here,” said CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.

Though for once I agree with TV Lawyer Elie Honig that, depending on what Trump took and why, it could be a basis for obstruction charges.

But Trump has done more than make his willfulness obvious with his habit of ripping up Presidential Records.

He also wanted Jim Comey to be prosecuted for doing just what he did.

An investigation into Comey’s treatment of the memos he wrote documenting Trump’s efforts to halt the Russian investigation concluded that Comey had violated his employment agreement by bringing the memos home.

Comey’s actions with respect to the Memos violated Department and FBI policies concerning the retention, handling, and dissemination of FBI records and information, and violated the requirements of Comey’s FBI Employment Agreement. Below, we discuss these violations.

1. Comey Failed to Return Memos 2, 4, 6, and 7 after Being Removed as FBI Director

Comey violated Department and FBI policies, and the terms of his FBI Employment Agreement, by retaining copies of Memos 2, 4, 6, and 7 after he was removed as Director, regardless of each Memo’s classification level. As a departing FBI employee, Comey was required to relinquish any official documents in his possession and to seek specific authorization from the FBI in order to personally retain any FBI documents. Comey failed to comply with these requirements.

Under Department of Justice Policy Statement 0801.02, Removal of and Access to Department of Justice Information, the Department “owns the records and information…captured, created, or received during the conduct of official business.”87 Likewise, the FBI designates all official records and material as “property of the United States” and requires departing employees to “surrender all materials in their possession that contain FBI information…upon separation from the FBI.”88 This policy is reiterated in Comey’s FBI Employment Agreement, which specifically states that he was required to surrender, upon termination of his employment, any materials in his possession “containing FBI information.”

A Department employee who wants to retain Department records or information after their employment ends must make a written request, receive approval from the appropriate official, and execute a nondisclosure agreement.89 As the FBI Director and Head of a Department Component, Comey was required to apply for and obtain authorization from the Assistant Attorney General for Administration to retain any FBI records after his removal. 90

Comey violated these Department and FBI policies by failing to surrender his copies of Memos 2, 4, 6, and 7 upon being removed as FBI Director and by failing to seek authorization to retain them. Comey’s explanation for his conduct was that he considered the Memos to be personal records, but for the reasons previously described, this assertion is without any legal basis. In view of the clarity of relevant provisions of law, policies, and Comey’s Employment Agreement, the assertion that the Memos were personal records was not reasonable. We found it particularly concerning that Comey did not tell anyone from the FBI that he had retained copies of the Memos in his personal safe at home, even when his Chief of Staff, the FBI’s Associate Deputy Director, and three SSAs came to Comey’s house on May 12, 2017, to inventory and remove all FBI property.

87 DOJ Policy Statement 0801.02, § I. The only items that departing employees may remove without Department permission are “[p]ersonal materials or information, in any format, that is not related to the business of the Department”; copies of any unclassified information that has officially been made public; and a copy of the employee’s email contacts. Id. Comey’s Memos were not within any of these categories.

88 Prepublication Review PG, § 1.1.

89 DOJ Policy Statement 0801.02, § II.A.

90 DOJ Policy Statement 0801.02, § III.B.

It further faulted Comey for not informing the Bureau that he had shared the memos with his attorneys after they informed him they had retroactively classified the memos.

On June 7, 2017, Comey learned of the FBI’s classification decision regarding Memo 2 when the FBI allowed him to review copies of all seven Memos, with classification banners and markings, in preparation for his June 8, 2017 congressional testimony. Once he knew that the FBI had classified portions of Memo 2, Comey failed to immediately notify the FBI that he had previously given Memo 2 to his attorneys.101

The FBI’s Safeguarding Classified National Security Information Policy Guide clearly states that “[a]ny person who has knowledge that classified information has been or may have been lost, compromised, or disclosed to an unauthorized person must immediately report the circumstances to his or her security office.” 102 Comey violated this requirement by failing to immediately inform the FBI that he provided Memo 2 to his attorneys.

Comey was referred to the FBI (which is standard).

The OIG has provided this report to the FBI and to the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility for action they deem appropriate.

And predictably, Trump complained that Comey would not be prosecuted as a result.

The fact that James Comey was not prosecuted for the absolutely horrible things he did just shows how fair and reasonable Attorney General Bill Barr is. So many people and experts that I have watched and read would have taken an entirely different course. Comey got Lucky!

Bryan Dean Wright, former CIA Officer(Dem): “In 2016 we had a Coup. We have to take Comey and others to task. Makes no sense not to prosecute him. Comey got a book deal. I fear for my Country. He tried to kneecap our duly elected president, and there are no consequences.” @fox&amp,Fs

“They could have charged Comey with theft of government documents, 641 of the Criminal Code, because the IG found these were not his personal documents, these were government documents.” @GreggJarrett “Comey’s claim that these were just his own personal recollections would not..

“The IG found that James Comey leaked Classified Documents to his attorneys, which can be (is) a violation of the Espionage Act. This is consistent with all the lies that Comey has been spreading. @GreggJarrett @ByronYork @LouDobbs

So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come. Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr &amp, Nellie, Steele &amp, all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie?….

To be fair, Comey also shared one of his memos with Daniel Richman (though that one did not include classified information), which was also included in the report’s findings.

Still, Trump endorsed the idea that Comey be prosecuted for theft of government documents or even the Espionage Act.

And then, having done that, Trump took a number of Top Secret documents with him when he left.

This is, at one level, just more Trump hypocrisy.

But it is also proof he was aware of — and claimed to adhere to — the rules prohibiting taking documents home.

On Unrealistic Expectations for Mueller Report Obstruction Charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t happen.

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

Bill Barr did irreparable damage to half of these obstruction charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The continuing obstruction statutes have barely started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One obstruction crime is actually a conspiracy crime

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

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

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

John Durham Won’t Charge Any of Trump’s Favorite Villains

On Friday, WSJ had an article that might have been titled, “John Durham won’t charge any of Donald Trump’s favorite villains.” It reported that Durham is still considering charges against people outside of government and “lower-level FBI employees.”

Mr. Durham has been examining potential criminal charges against several lower-level Federal Bureau of Investigation employees, and people who aren’t in government, according to people familiar with the matter.

But it doesn’t note that, even if Durham does charge those involved in the dossier, it will still mean that many of Trump’s claims about the Russian investigation were investigated for longer than Mueller took, only to fall short of the crimes Trump claimed had happened.

Jim Comey was the FBI Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s effort to prove that Comey leaked details of Trump’s efforts to protect Mike Flynn to get a Special Counsel appointed, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Comey broke the law.

Andrew McCabe was the FBI Deputy Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s apparent effort to insinuate that McCabe micromanaged the Russian investigation, pushing investigative steps FBI Agents didn’t support, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that McCabe broke the law.

Bill Priestap was the Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s effort to interpret Priestap’s notes as proof that the FBI set up Mike Flynn, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Priestap broke the law.

Peter Strzok was the Deputy Assistant Director when he opened Crossfire Hurricane, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s extended efforts to suggest that Strzok sustained an investigation into Donald Trump out of some kind of animus or perhaps compensation for his role in Hillary Clinton’s defeat, in spite of Durham’s seeming efforts to suggest that Strzok pushed others to obtain legal process he refused to approve earlier in the investigation, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Strzok broke the law.

Lisa Page was the Counselor to the Deputy Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s efforts to suggest Page had some role in the investigation that DOJ IG already said she didn’t, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Lisa Page broke the law.

Durham has interviewed few if any of these senior people, who’ve been targeted for years. Without even hearing their side, apparently, Durham has decided they’re not the villains Trump made them out to be.

But Trump’s chief villains aren’t the only targets that — if this report is correct — will not be charged.

The WSJ notes that Durham won’t charge anyone for concluding that Russia not only wanted to defeat Hillary, but affirmatively wanted Trump in power.

Beyond the role of outside tipsters, Mr. Durham’s investigation examined how the FBI first came to open the investigation, as well as a separate 2017 U.S. intelligence report that concluded Moscow interfered in the presidential election in part to help then-candidate Trump.

Mr. Durham’s team isn’t expected to bring any criminal charges in connection with that intelligence assessment, some of the people said.

So John Brennan won’t be getting charged either, in spite of calls for that to happen.

Then there are all the other hoaxes Republicans invented: Durham will not charge anyone for spying on Trump before the opening of the investigation, because it didn’t happen. Durham will not charge the FBI or CIA for setting Joseph Mifsud up to entrap George Papadopoulos, because it didn’t happen.

In spite of the seeming confirmation that four years of insinuations about these people were wrong, the right wing has responded to the seeming news that Peter Strzok won’t be charged with delight.

High Gaslighter Catherine Herridge posted the same partially unsealed footnote (footnote 350 discussed in this post) twice as well as a passage about what the FBI had learned by September 2017, three months after the last FISA order targeting Carter Page.

Jonathan Turley (who ignores the WSJ description that any FBI targets are low-level) claims that Durham’s current focus could “implicate some of the most powerful figures in politics” in his final report, while getting a slew of details (about Bruce and Nellie Ohr, especially) wrong.

The report in The Wall Street Journal said Durham is presenting evidence against FBI agents and possibly others in the use of false information or tips at the start of the Russia investigation in 2016. Those “others” could include a virtual who’s who of Washington politics, and even if they are not indicted, Durham could implicate some of the most powerful figures in politics in his final report, expected in the coming months.

[snip]

This cross-pollination between the campaign and the Justice Department was evident in the strange role of Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice official who was later demoted for concealing his meetings with people pushing the Steele dossier; his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS as a researcher on Trump’s purported connections to Russia. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz subsequently found that Bruce Ohr acted improperly and committed “consequential errors in judgment.”

[snip]

Durham also is reportedly looking into information concerning Alfa Bank, a privately owned commercial bank in Russia. That information led to possible access to the Trump campaign server. The Alfa Bank controversy is likely to make a number of powerful people particularly uneasy. Clinton campaign-linked figures such as Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson allegedly pushed the debunked claim that the Trump campaign had a server linked directly to the bank, which in turn was linked to Vladimir Putin and his cronies. The Alfa Bank conspiracy reportedly was pitched to the Justice Department, including in contacts with Bruce Ohr.

Glenn Greenwald, after spending years mocking the prosecutions of Trump’s Campaign and Deputy Campaign Manager, his personal lawyer, his National Security Advisor, a foreign policy advisor, and his rat-fucker — four for covering up what happened in 2016 — and after pushing the Hunter Biden laptop allegedly funneled to a different Trump personal lawyer who is currently being investigated for influence peddling with Russian assets — speaks gleefully of “already one guilty plea: seems like more criminal charges are coming.”

The pseudonymous TechnoFog[gy] highlights the claims of a Russian, Olga Galkina, who — if the dossier was indeed filled with disinformation (and I believe it was) — was the source for much of it, while complaining, in the same breath as they magnify Galkina’s claims, that Igor Danchenko might not be aware that those like Galkina who fed him garbage were doing so for Russian intelligence.

More and more, Durham appears to be chasing what an elaborate lawfare effort from the Alfa Bank oligarchs are throwing out. The effort, like the dossier itself, is transparently problematic, particularly given that FBI debunked it early. The dossier had little to do with the investigation of anyone but Carter Page; the Alfa Bank allegations were entirely a distraction from the investigation. If Durham wants to stake his report on that, it has the potential of making it an easily discredited piece of Russian propaganda.

A focus on the disinformation in the dossier and the way that some ways the Alfa Bank claim was packaged up has a real potential to backfire for Durham, because it can only shine a light on how Russia obfuscated its efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 with disinformation about efforts to get Trump elected.

DOJ’s Failures to Follow Media Guidelines on the WaPo Seizure

I wanted to add a few data points regarding the report that DOJ subpoenaed records from three WaPo journalists.

This post is premised on three pieces of well-justified speculation: that John Durham, after having been appointed Special Counsel, obtained these records, that Microsoft challenged a gag, and that Microsoft’s challenge was upheld in some way. I’m doing this post to lay out some questions that others should be asking about what happened.

An enterprise host (probably Microsoft) likely challenged a gag order

The report notes that DOJ did obtain the reporters’ phone records, and tried, but did not succeed, in obtaining their email records.

The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.

In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.

[snip]

The letters to the three reporters also noted that prosecutors got a court order to obtain “non content communication records” for the reporters’ work email accounts, but did not obtain such records. The email records sought would have indicated who emailed whom and when, but would not have included the contents of the emails. [my emphasis]

What likely happened is that DOJ tried to obtain a subpoena on Microsoft or Google (almost certainly the former, because the latter doesn’t care about privacy) as the enterprise host for the newspaper’s email service, and someone challenged or refused a request for a gag, which led DOJ to withdraw the request.

There’s important background to this.

Up until October 2017, when the government served a subpoena on a cloud company that hosts records for another, the cloud company was often gagged indefinitely from telling the companies whose email (or files) it hosted. By going to a cloud company, the government was effectively taking away businesses’ ability to challenge subpoenas themselves, which posed a problem for Microsoft’s ability to convince businesses to move everything to their cloud.

That’s actually how Robert Mueller obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization emails — by first preserving, then obtaining them from Microsoft rather than asking Trump Organization (which was, at the same time, withholding the most damning materials when asked for the same materials by Congress). Given what we know about Trump Organization’s incomplete response to Congress, we can be certain that had Mueller gone to Trump Organization, he might never have learned about the Trump Tower Moscow deal.

In October 2017, in conjunction with a lawsuit settlement, Microsoft forced DOJ to adopt a new policy that gave it the right to inform customers when DOJ came to them for emails unless DOJ had a really good reason to prevent Microsoft from telling their enterprise customer.

Today marks another important step in ensuring that people’s privacy rights are protected when they store their personal information in the cloud. In response to concerns that Microsoft raised in a lawsuit we brought against the U.S. government in April 2016, and after months advocating for the United States Department of Justice to change its practices, the Department of Justice (DOJ) today established a new policy to address these issues. This new policy limits the overused practice of requiring providers to stay silent when the government accesses personal data stored in the cloud. It helps ensure that secrecy orders are used only when necessary and for defined periods of time. This is an important step for both privacy and free expression. It is an unequivocal win for our customers, and we’re pleased the DOJ has taken these steps to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.

Until now, the government routinely sought and obtained orders requiring email providers to not tell our customers when the government takes their personal email or records. Sometimes these orders don’t include a fixed end date, effectively prohibiting us forever from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data.

[snip]

Until today, vague legal standards have allowed the government to get indefinite secrecy orders routinely, regardless of whether they were even based on the specifics of the investigation at hand. That will no longer be true. The binding policy issued today by the Deputy U.S. Attorney General should diminish the number of orders that have a secrecy order attached, end the practice of indefinite secrecy orders, and make sure that every application for a secrecy order is carefully and specifically tailored to the facts in the case.

Rod Rosenstein, then overseeing the Mueller investigation, approved the new policy on October 19, 2017.

The effect was clear. When various entities at DOJ wanted records from Trump Organization after that, DOJ did not approve the equivalent request approved just months earlier.

If DOJ withdrew a subpoena rather than have it disclosed, it was probably inconsistent with media guidelines

If I’m right that DOJ asked Microsoft for the reporters’ email records, but then withdrew the request rather than have Microsoft disclose the subpoena to WaPo, then the request itself likely violated DOJ’s media guidelines — at least as they were rewritten in 2015 after a series of similar incidents, including DOJ’s request for the phone records of 20 AP journalists in 2013.

DOJ’s media guidelines require the following:

  • Attorney General approval of any subpoena for call or email records
  • That the information be essential to the investigation
  • DOJ has taken reasonable attempts to obtain the information from alternate sources

Most importantly, DOJ’s media guidelines require notice and negotiation with the affected journalist, unless the Attorney General determines that doing so would “pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

after negotiations with the affected member of the news media have been pursued and appropriate notice to the affected member of the news media has been provided, unless the Attorney General determines that, for compelling reasons, such negotiations or notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.

But a judge can review the justifications for gags before issuing them (for all subpoenas, not just media ones).

Just as an example, the government obtained a gag on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google when obtaining Reality Winner’s cloud-based communications a week after they had arrested her (at a time when she was in no position to delete her own content). After a few weeks, Twitter challenged the gag. A judge gave DOJ 180 days to sustain the gag, but in August 2017, DOJ lifted it.

That was a case where DOJ obtained the communications of an accused leaker, with possible unknown co-conspirators, so the gag at least made some sense.

Here, by contrast, the government would have been asking for records from journalists who were not alleged to have committed any crime. The ultimate subject of the investigation would have no ability to destroy WaPo’s records. The records — and the investigation — were over three years old. Whatever justification DOJ gave was likely obviously bullshit.

Hypothetical scenario: DOJ obtains cell phone records only to have a judge rule a gag inappropriate

Let me lay out how this might have worked to show why this might mean DOJ violated the media guidelines. Here’s one possible scenario for what could have happened:

  • In the wake of the election, John Durham subpoenaed the WaPo cell providers and Microsoft, asking for a gag
  • The cell provider turned over the records with no questions — neither AT&T nor Verizon care about their clients’ privacy
  • Microsoft challenged the gag and in response, a judge ruled against DOJ’s gag, meaning Microsoft would have been able to inform WaPo

That would mean that after DOJ, internally — Billy Barr and John Durham, in this speculative scenario — decided that warning journalists would create the same media stink we’re seeing today and make the records request untenable, a judge ruled that that a media stink over an investigation into a 3-year old leak wasn’t a good enough reason for a gag. If this happened, it would mean some judge ruled that Barr and Durham (if Durham is the one who made the request) invented a grave risk to the integrity of their investigation that a judge subsequently found implausible.

It would mean the request itself was dubious, to say nothing of the gag.

Once again, DOJ failed to meet its own notice requirements

And with respect to the gag, this request broke another one of the rules on obtaining records from reporters: that they get notice no later than 90 days after the subpoena. The Justice Manual says this about journalists whose records are seized:

  • Except as provided in 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(1), when the Attorney General has authorized the use of a subpoena, court order, or warrant to obtain from a third party communications records or business records of a member of the news media, the affected member of the news media shall be given reasonable and timely notice of the Attorney General’s determination before the use of the subpoena, court order, or warrant, unless the Attorney General determines that, for compelling reasons, such notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(2). The mere possibility that notice to the affected member of the news media, and potential judicial review, might delay the investigation is not, on its own, a compelling reason to delay notice. Id.
  • When the Attorney General has authorized the use of a subpoena, court order, or warrant to obtain communications records or business records of a member of the news media, and the affected member of the news media has not been given notice, pursuant to 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(2), of the Attorney General’s determination before the use of the subpoena, court order, or warrant, the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General responsible for the matter shall provide to the affected member of the news media notice of the subpoena, court order, or warrant as soon as it is determined that such notice will no longer pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(3). In any event, such notice shall occur within 45 days of the government’s receipt of any return made pursuant to the subpoena, court order, or warrant, except that the Attorney General may authorize delay of notice for an additional 45 days if he or she determines that for compelling reasons, such notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. Id. No further delays may be sought beyond the 90‐day period. Id. [emphasis original]

Journalists are supposed to get notice if their records are seized. They’re supposed to get notice no later than 90 days after the records were obtained. AT&T and Verizon would have provided records almost immediately and this happened in 2020, meaning the notice should have come by the end of March. But WaPo didn’t get notice until after Lisa Monaco was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General and, even then, it took several weeks.

DOJ’s silence about an Office of Public Affairs review

While it’s not required by guidelines, in general DOJ has involved the Office of Public Affairs in such matters, so someone who has to deal with the press can tell the Attorney General and the prosecutor that their balance of journalist equities is out of whack. At the time, this would have been Kerri Kupec, who was always instrumental in Billy Barr’s obstruction and politicization.

But it’s not clear whether that happened. I asked Acting Director of OPA Marc Raimondi (the guy who has defended what happened in the press; he was in National Security Division at the time of the request), twice, whether someone from OPA was involved. Both times he ignored my question.

The history of Special Counsels accessing sensitive records and testimony

There’s a history of DOJ obtaining things under Special Counsels they might not have obtained without the Special Counsel:

  • Pat Fitzgerald coerced multiple reporters’ testimony, going so far as to jail Judy Miller, in 2004
  • Robert Mueller obtained Michael Cohen’s records from Microsoft rather than Trump Organization
  • This case probably represents John Durham, having been made Special Counsel, obtaining records that DOJ did not obtain in 2017

There’s an irony here: Durham has long sought ways to incriminate Jim Comey, who is represented by Pat Fitzgerald and others. In 2004, as Acting Attorney General, Comey approved the subpoenas for Miller and others. That said, given the time frame on the records request, it is highly unlikely that he’s the target of this request.

Whoever sought these records, it is virtually certain that the prosecutor only obtained them after making decisions that DOJ chose not to make when these leaks were first investigated in 2017, after Jeff Sessions announced a war on media leaks in the wake of having his hidden meeting with Sergey Kislyak exposed.

That suggests that DOJ decided these records, and the investigation itself, were more important in 2020 than Jeff Sessions had considered them in 2017, when his behavior was probably one of the things disclosed in the leak.

The dubious claim that these records could have been necessary or uniquely valuable

Finally, consider one more detail of DOJ’s decision to obtain these records: their claims, necessary under the media policy, that 3-year old phone and email records were necessary to a leak investigation.

When these leaks were first investigated in 2017, DOJ undoubtedly identified everyone who had access to the Kislyak intercepts and used available means — including reviewing the government call records of the potential sources — to try to find the leakers. If they had a solid lead on someone who might be the leaker, the government would have obtained the person’s private communication records as well, as DOJ did do during the contemporaneous investigation into the leak of the Carter Page FISA warrant that ultimately led to SSCI security official James Wolfe’s prosecution.

Jeff Sessions had literally declared war within days of one of the likely leaks under investigation here, and would approve a long-term records request from Ali Watkins in the Wolfe investigation and a WhatsApp Pen Register implicating Jason Leopold in the Natalie Edwards case. After Bill Barr came in, he approved the use of a Title III wiretap to record calls involving journalists in the Henry Frese case.

For the two and a half years between the time Sessions first declared war on leaks and the time DOJ decided these records were critical to an investigation, DOJ had not previously considered them necessary, even at a time when Sessions was approving pretty aggressive tactics against leaks.

Worse still, DOJ would have had to claim they might be useful. These records, unlike the coerced testimony of Judy Miller, would not have revealed an actual source for the stories. These records, unlike the Michael Cohen records obtained via Microsoft would not be direct evidence of a crime.

All they would be would be leads — a list of all the phone numbers and email addresses these journalists communicated with via WaPo email or telephony calls or texts — for the period in question. It might return records of people (such as Andy McCabe) who could be sources but also had legal authority to communicate with journalists. It would probably return a bunch of records of inquiries the journalists made that were never returned. It would undoubtedly return records of people who were sources for other stories.

But it would return nothing for other means of communication, such as Signal texts or calls.

In other words, the most likely outcome from this request is that it would have a grave impact on the reporting equities of the journalists involved, with no certainty it would help in the investigation (and an equally high likelihood of returning a false positive, someone who was contacted but didn’t return the call).

And if it was Durham who made the request, he would have done so after having chased a series of claims — many of them outright conspiracy theories — around the globe, only to have all of those theories to come up empty. Given that after years of investigation Durham has literally found nothing new, there’s no reason to believe he had any new basis to think he could solve this leak investigation after DOJ had tried but failed in 2017. Likely, what made the difference is that his previous efforts to substantiate something had failed, and Barr needed to empower him to keep looking to placate Trump, and so Durham got to seize WaPo’s records.

Billy Barr has been hiding other legal process against journalists

Given the disclosure that Barr approved a request targeting the WaPo about five months ago and that under Barr DOJ used a Title III wiretap in a leak investigation (albeit targeting the known leaker), it’s worth noting one other piece of oversight that has lapsed under Barr.

In the wake of Jeff Sessions declaring war on leaks in 2017 (and, probably, the leak in question here), Ron Wyden asked Jeff Sessions whether the war on leaks reflected a change in the new media guidelines adopted in 2015.

Wyden asked Sessions to answer the following questions by November 10:

  1. For each of the past five years, how many times has DOJ used subpoenas, search warrants, national security letters, or any other form of legal process authorized by a court to target members of the news media in the United States and American journalists abroad to seek their (a) communications records, (b) geo-location information, or (c) the content of their communications? Please provide statistics for each form of legal process.
  2. Has DOJ revised the 2015 regulations, or made any other changes to internal procedures governing investigations of journalists since January 20, 2017? If yes, please provide me with a copy.

In response, DOJ started doing a summary of the use of legal process against journalists for each calendar year. For example, the 2016 report described the legal process used against Malheur propagandist Pete Santilli. The 2017 report shows that, in the year of my substantive interview with FBI, DOJ obtained approval for a voluntary interview with a journalist before the interview because they, “suspected the journalist may have committed an offense in the course of newsgathering activities” (while I have no idea if this is my interview, during the interview, the lead FBI agent also claimed to know the subject of a surveillance-related story I was working on that was unrelated to the subject of the interview, though neither he nor I disclosed what the story was about). The 2017 report also describes obtaining Ali Watkins’ phone records and DOJ’s belated notice to her. The 2018 report describes getting retroactive approval for the arrest of someone for harassing Ryan Zinke but who claimed to be media (I assume that precedent will be important for the many January 6 defendants who claimed to be media).

While I am virtually certain the reports — at least the 2018 one — are not comprehensive, the reports nevertheless are useful guidelines for the kinds of decision DOJ deems reasonable in a given year.

But as far as anyone knows, DOJ stopped issuing them under Barr. Indeed, when I asked Raimondi about them, he didn’t know they existed (he is checking if they were issued for 2019 and 2020).

So we don’t know what other investigative tactics Barr approved as Attorney General, even though we should.

A Modest Proposal: Include Lindsey Graham’s Threats against Brad Raffensperger in any Special Counsel Mandate

Lindsey Graham has endorsed the idea of appointing a Special Counsel to investigate Hunter Biden.

Graham on a special counsel for Hunter Biden: I think it’s a good idea..if you believe a special counsel was needed to look at the Trump world regarding Russia. How can you say there’s no need for special counsel regarding Hunter Biden?”

Apparently, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn’t see the difference between appointing a Special Counsel after the President has fired the FBI Director to stop an investigation into himself and a Special Counsel to investigate the President-Elect’s son two years into an investigation that has (thus far) found nothing. Graham doesn’t even seem to realize that various parts of the Trump DOJ have investigated — at a minimum — Trump’s son-in-law (as part of a referral from the Mueller investigation, though the topic is unknown), Trump’s personal lawyer, and any number of his corrupt former campaign managers, without needing a Special Counsel to protect the independence of the investigation, not even after the confirmed interference by the Attorney General.

The call for a Special Counsel to continue an investigation that has already lasted two years (that is, longer than the entire Mueller investigation and twice as long as it took to indict Manafort on 44 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, money laundering, and unregistered influence-peddling) without finding anything comes along with President Trump’s call for another Special Counsel investigating purported voter fraud.

As I said in my post noting that John Durham has unaltered originals of documents that — under Billy Barr’s micromanagement — got altered and submitted to a judge, followed by a lie to the same judge, one way to deal with the Durham Special Counsel designation is to have him investigate crimes that Barr’s associates may have committed in their efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. John Durham will control the day-to-day conduct of this investigation, but he doesn’t — cannot legally, under current precedent — control the scope.

Something similar could be done with both of the Special Counsel investigations Trump wants to push. Rudy Giuliani will no doubt be pardoned in the next 35 days. And the next day, Rudy will wake up and continue pursuing the same disinformation, largely about Hunter Biden, from Russian-tied mobbed up oligarchs. So Sally Yates or Doug Jones or whoever Biden makes Attorney General can very easily ask a Special Counsel to include Rudy’s potential crimes among those the Special Counsel investigates. The Special Counsel doesn’t even have a reporting mechanism to complain about scope (which John Durham might have used when Barr was flying him around the world chasing George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories). If the Special Counsel complained about the scope, she could quit and be replaced by someone Biden’s AG believed appropriate. If the Special Counsel leaked anything, Biden’s AG would have the Comey precedent to justify firing the Special Counsel.

So, too, could a Special Counsel appointed by Trump to investigate voting irregularities be scoped to investigate the more credible allegations of crimes committed during the election, most notably threats and other coercive means used against those (including Republicans) trying to conduct free and fair elections. Among others whose conduct could be investigated are government employees who also served as counsel on Trump-backed lawsuits challenging the election. A Special Counsel investigating allegations of crime during the election could review fraudulent claims alleging fraud in sworn declarations submitted in these frivolous lawsuits; such an investigation could consider whether there was an organized effort to collect such perjurious statements, and if so, who funded it all. Such a Special Counsel could investigate whether then-President Trump’s multiple calls haranguing GOP officials constituted a threat or some kind of bribe. A Special Counsel could and should review the range of violent threats against participants on both sides of the election.

Among the most alarming potential crimes alleged during the post-election period, as it happens, involves Lindsey Graham himself. He called up Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, and — while witnesses were listening — pushed Raffensperger to disqualify legal votes.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that he has come under increasing pressure in recent days from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who he said questioned the validity of legally cast absentee ballots, in an effort to reverse President Trump’s narrow loss in the state.

[snip]

In the interview, Raffensperger also said he spoke on Friday to Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has echoed Trump’s unfounded claims about voting irregularities.

In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested because counties administer elections in Georgia.

“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger said.

It’s unclear whether Lindsey’s actions constitute a crime or not. But that’s why it would be a reasonable thing for a Special Counsel, one not directly controlled by Biden’s AG, to review: to ensure it receives a fair review without political influence.

Lindsey Graham seems to believe that Trump’s calls for Special Counsels are merited.

Very well then.

After Trump Spent Four Years Inviting Russia to Hack the US, Russia Allegedly Did Just That

Yesterday, Reuters revealed that the same vulnerability used to steal FireEye’s Red Team tools was also used to spy on Treasury and Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the Internet. Then WaPo revealed that Russia’s APT 29 hacking group is believed to be behind the compromise. Multiple outlets — including FireEye itself — revealed that the hack had used a vulnerability in SolarWinds IT monitoring software identified in the spring. FireEye explains the hack has targeted, “government, consulting, technology, telecom and extractive entities in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East,” (presumably reflecting what they’ve seen in their clients as they respond to their own compromise). And CISA issued an emergency directive aiming to stem the damage in agencies beyond just Treasury and NTIA (among SolarWinds’ other US government clients are DOJ and two nuclear labs, as well as Booz Allen, which might as well be US government). Later today, Reuters confirmed that DHS had also been targeted. State, NIH, and parts of the Pentagon have also been targeted.

Let me make clear before I start that thus far, this is nation-state spying, without the kind of sabotage we’ve seen from Russia in the past (if it is indeed Russia). Russia would do what they did with this vulnerability with or without Trump in office (indeed, I have a suspicion their overt hacks of the US will go up under President Biden, mostly because Trump didn’t need any help damaging the US government). While the full scope of the victims is not yet known, it’s quite clear that hackers targeted a slew of entities, governmental and not, with this campaign. So having Trump in office in no way created this campaign nor chose the target.

Nevertheless, it is the case that the President of the United States, as a policy matter, has gone to great lengths to make it easier for Russia to minimize the costs of hacking the US.

Almost four years ago, Mike Flynn called up the Russian Ambassador and asked him not to box the Trump Administration in in the wake of President Obama’s effort to hold Russia accountable for interfering in our elections, in part by hacking multiple participants in it, from both parties. Vladimir Putin complied with Flynn’s request, taking no steps in response. Not only did Sergey Kislyak make sure Flynn knew that his request had played a key role in Putin’s decision, but he told Flynn that the Trump Administration and Russia were on the same side, targeted by sanctions aiming to incur a cost for Russia’s actions. “I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.”

Well before Kislyak had suggested to the 30-year intelligence veteran that Russia and Trump were on the same side against establishment America, Flynn had already taken steps to hide his actions, perhaps because some Transition members, like Marshall Billingslea, objected to the pre-inauguration outreach to Russia.

When the whole thing got leaked to the public, Flynn lied even to the Vice President-Elect about his outreach.

But Trump appears to have been in on the secret. “The boss is aware” of Kislyak’s earlier requests of the Administration, Flynn told Kislyak on December 31, 2016. Indeed, Flynn made the first call that he would later lie about from Mar-a-Lago, while Flynn, “worked all day with trump from Mara lago,” as KT McFarland bragged in real time.

When the FBI interviewed Flynn about those calls a month later, he lied about the requests he had made of Russia. But he appears to have told a remarkable truth about one thing. “With regard to the scope of the Russians who were expelled,” from the US in retaliation for interfering in a US election, the FBI agents who interviewed him wrote, “FLYNN said he did not understand it. FLYNN stated he could understand one [diplomat expelled as a persona non-grata], but not thirty-five.” General Flynn, a thirty year veteran, thought an appropriate response to a systematic assault on American democracy was to kick out one suspected spy.

Months later (though this would not be revealed until years later), the newly installed President would make it clear he agreed with his short-lived National Security Advisor. In his first face-to-face meeting with representatives from Russia as President on May 10, 2017, President Trump told Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he was unconcerned about Russian interference in the election that had made him President, because the US had historically done the same in other countries. Trump’s officials would take efforts to hide the most embarrassing aspects of that meeting (including that Trump shared highly sensitive Israeli intelligence with the Russians), first by altering the MemCon of the meeting and then having Trump’s new National Security Advisor, HR McMaster, give, “a misleading account of what happened during TRUMP’s meeting with LAVROV.” And Russia would have known that Trump and McMaster were lying.

Before Trump would tell Russia, to their face, that he didn’t much mind that Russia had hacked American democracy, he started dismantling the United State’s ability to prevent further hacks. That started with an effort to prevent the FBI from investigating why Flynn had reached out to Russia to undermine sanctions and (as a sentencing memo approved by Bill Barr’s DOJ would later explain) who ordered him to do so. The day Trump learned the FBI had interviewed Flynn, he asked FBI Director James Comey for loyalty. Then, after Trump fired Flynn — ostensibly for lying to the Vice President — he then privately asked the FBI Director to, “let[] this thing go, to let[] Flynn go.” After Comey testified publicly to Congress about the investigation, Trump fired him.

A long line of people would follow Comey out the door, many of them experts on Russia or counterintelligence or cybersecurity. Trump invented reasons in most cases (reasons that, as with Comey, sharply conflicted with his own views about Hillary Clinton). The obvious real reason had to do with retaliation for investigating him. But in those firings and resignations, Trump got rid of numerous people who had long fought Russian organized crime (like Andrew McCabe and Bruce Ohr), and counterintelligence experts like Peter Strzok. Before and after his impeachment, he got rid of other Russian experts like Marie Yovanovitch and Alexander Vindman. Even those who left of their own accord, like Fiona Hill, were demonized for their true testimony under subpoena.

The most remarkable moment came in July 2018, shortly after the Mueller team indicted Russia’s hackers for their attack on our democracy, when Trump met Putin in Helsinki.

Days before the meeting — though possibly after he had been warned the indictment was coming — Trump announced that he and Putin were talking about cybersecurity cooperation.

Then at the actual summit, with Putin displaying Trump like a soggy trophy, Trump sided with Putin’s denials over the US intelligence community in part because of conspiracy theories about the DNC server.

My people came to me, Dan Coats, came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have confidence in both parties.

I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC?

Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.

I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer.

He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.

That is, after a lengthy meeting with Putin, Trump simply decided — perhaps because he had to decide — that Russia had not attacked the US at all. His solution, per Putin’s suggestion, was to send people who had been investigating Russian crimes to Russia, something that has gotten people killed in the past.

Meanwhile, Trump started dismantling the cybersecurity defenses built up during the Obama Administration. The first day John Bolton started as Trump’s third National Security Advisor, experienced cybersecurity guy Tom Bossert was fired as Homeland Security czar.

President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, was fired Tuesday as the president’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, consolidates power in the White House.

On Monday night, Bossert was socializing with current and former U.S. Intelligence officials at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia, and a source close to him told NBC News that the adviser was unaware of any intention at the White House to seek his resignation, and that he had no plans to quit.

“New team,” the source said, without further explanation.

Bossert was called in to Bolton’s office early Tuesday morning and told that he was being fired, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Trump’s associates may have figured out that Bossert had provided key details about the events at Mar a Lago in December 2016; he also appears to have provided emails to Mueller’s team that helped them to get those of others like Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.

Rob Joyce, a top NSA expert, was moved back to the Agency a few months after Bossert left. So even as Bolton was downgrading the pandemic expertise within NSC, he was also eliminating top cybersecurity talent.

That was done because Bolton is a power hungry asshole. But Trump continued eliminating cybersecurity expertise (even beyond that ensuring secure elections) in a fit of pique after the election. At a time when this hack would have already started, Trump fired the head of CISA, Chris Krebs, along with a deputy because they refused to back his conspiracy theories about the election. Politico reported that, in Krebs’ absence, “There is ‘massive frustration with CISA on a sluggish response to agency breaches.'”

Cybersecurity was one area where Trump’s team really was every bit the match of Obama’s — if not better. But Trump fired or removed key people one after another.

Similarly, also in a fit of pique, Trump put one after another unqualified flunky in charge of the entire Intelligence Community, first Twitter troll Ric Grenell and then resume fluffer John Ratcliffe. He did so, in substantial part, because they would ensure that Congress would not get briefed on threats from Russia. He also did so to ensure documents that purportedly undermined the case that he had been elected with Russian help would be released to the public. Under the two men, the government released documents that might have revealed key details about sources and methods to the Russians, both on how they collected on the Russian Embassy and on how quickly the CIA picked up certain pieces of intelligence in summer 2016.

Finally, things have come full circle. After Flynn blew up a perfectly good plea agreement (I’ll show in a few days he still would have been better off with that) largely in the service of making unsubstantiated claims of abuse refuted even by Barr’s DOJ along the way, Barr needed to help him out of the legal pickle and jail time his shitty defense attorney Sidney Powell got him into. As part of that effort, the Attorney General of the United States moved to dismiss the prosecution based off a claim (one that conflicted with a filing submitted by his own DOJ months earlier) that Flynn did nothing wrong by calling up Russia to undermine sanctions imposed, in part, to punish them for a hack. The case was so weak, the team trying to invent excuses for why Flynn shouldn’t be prosecuted for lying to hide his attempts to undermine sanctions on Russia altered documents. And that still didn’t work.

And so, along with a Thanksgiving turkey, Trump pardoned Mike Flynn, his first act of lame duck clemency, for Flynn’s service in protecting Trump from accountability for, himself, undermining those sanctions. Trump came into office telling Russia not to worry about hacking the United States. Trump told them explicitly, to their face, not to worry about hacking the United States. And in pardoning Mike Flynn, Trump made it clear that Russia should not worry — about Trump at least — about hacking the Untied States.

We will presumably get more certainty in days ahead about whether Russia did this hack, as well as the many key targets of it. The real question, however, will be whether Trump will be held accountable for inviting it to happen.

Update: The NYT describes analysis pointing out that Trump continues to sow conspiracy theories about voter fraud while remaining silent about getting pwned by his buddy Putin.

Analysts said it was hard to know which was worse: that the federal government was blindsided again by Russian intelligence agencies, or that when it was evident what was happening, White House officials said nothing.

But this much is clear: While President Trump was complaining about the hack that wasn’t — the supposed manipulation of votes in an election he had clearly and fairly lost — he was silent on the fact that Russians were hacking the building next door to him: the United States Treasury.

Updated with link to Politico and expanded list of targets.

Update: Richard Blumenthal, after attending a classified briefing on this compromise, has repeatedly attributed it to Russia.

Mike Pompeo has similarly stated, as fact, that Russia did it.

The Last Trickle of the Mueller 302s before the Biden Storm

Yesterday, DOJ turned over 46 pages of Mueller 302s to Jason Leopold, what it claims is the final installment in response to the BuzzFeed FOIA.It is no such thing. This list, which has almost all of the released 302s (it doesn’t have the 11th and 12th releases entirely indexed), shows that DOJ has entirely withheld a great many 302s.

Among those withheld are every single Mueller 302 for Mike Flynn. It may be that, by holding John Durham on, Bill Barr created an excuse to withhold the 302s until after Emmet Sullivan affirms Flynn’s pardon.

There is a bit of intrigue in this last bit.

Unless I’m missing it, there’s no 302 identified from Trump Homeland Security Czar Tom Bossert. That’s particularly interesting because this September 2017 Mike Flynn warrant strongly suggests the Mueller team already had Bossert’s Transition emails, which would mean he retained his emails and turned them over. For all the wailing about this warrant (which Mueller used to obtain the GSA devices and emails of people like Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner), Bossert pretty clearly had already cooperated by this point.

Remember: KT McFarland had Bossert go find out from Lisa Monaco what the Obama Administration knew about Russia’s response to Obama’s sanctions before Flynn returned Sergey Kislyak’s phone call and undermined the sanctions.

This new batch doesn’t have a Bossert 302. But it does have at least 3 302s pertaining to an FBI detailee to the National Security Council, reflecting two interviews on October 10, 2017 (one plus this missing page, two), and Bill Priestap’s notes from talking to what is probably the same detailee (and Ezra Cohen-Watnick), and possibly a fourth 302 reflecting someone turning over 3 documents.

These seem to pertain to what happened to the MemCon of Trump’s meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov right after firing Jim Comey, at which Trump shared highly classified information and boasted about firing Comey. It appears the detailee was grilled about what he thought of Comey’s firing. Then, after the NYT published news that Trump shared classified information, he was grilled again by John Daley and Bossert without his own boss being present.

When [redacted] learned that he had been summoned, he suspected that it might have to do with a news article published earlier that day, which reported that President TRUMP  had revealed highly sensitive information during the meeting with LAVROV.

At the meeting, Bossert appears to have claimed that he would not have approved certain treatment of the MemCon, only to have the detailee remind him that, yes, both Bossert and Daly had signed off on however the MemCon had been treated. The detailee seemed to suggest that those who had seen the MemCon had been fired from NSC.

It seems possible that deep inside the Mueller investigation was a leak investigation into how the MemCon of that meeting got liberated.