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“The Buck Stops at the Top:” In January, Bill Barr’s DOJ Decided the Correct Decision Was to Send Mike Flynn to Prison

I’d like to make one more point about Billy Barr’s rant last night. Over and over again, Barr suggested that line prosecutors have been making hyper-aggressive decisions that the Department of Justice cannot answer for and that his involvement simply amounts to ensuring that the decisions DOJ makes are ones he’s willing to take responsibility for.

Indeed, aside from the importance of not fully decoupling law enforcement from the constraining and moderating forces of politics, devolving all authority down to the most junior officials does not even make sense as a matter of basic management.  Name one successful organization where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct.  There aren’t any.  Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.  Good leaders at the Justice Department—as at any organization—need to trust and support their subordinates.  But that does not mean blindly deferring to whatever those subordinates want to do.

This is what Presidents, the Congress, and the public expect.  When something goes wrong at the Department of Justice, the buck stops at the top.  28 U.S.C. § 509 could not be plainer:  “All functions of other officers of the Department of Justice and all functions of agencies and employees of the Department of Justice are vested in the Attorney General.”

And because I am ultimately accountable for every decision the Department makes, I have an obligation to ensure we make the correct ones.  The Attorney General, the Assistant Attorneys General, and the U.S. Attorneys are not figureheads selected for their good looks and profound eloquence.

They are supervisors.  Their job is to supervise.   Anything less is an abdication.

To the extent Barr is talking about the Mueller investigation, every single prosecutorial decision was reviewed by Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. For those decisions, then, Barr’s not actually talking about decisions made by line prosecutors. He’s talking about decisions overseen by someone vested, like him, with all the authority of DOJ.

For precisely the reason Barr lays out — that DOJ must be able to answer for things DOJ does — it’s highly unusual for DOJ to flip-flop on prosecutorial decisions that past Attorneys General have approved.

But with one action in the Mike Flynn prosecution — possibly one he thought of when he invoked probation sentences in one of his last paragraphs — Barr’s interventions into the cases of Donald Trump’s flunkies is far worse than that.

In short, it is important for prosecutors at the Department of Justice to understand that their mission — above all others — is to do justice.  That means following the letter of the law, and the spirit of fairness.  Sometimes that will mean investing months or years in an investigation and then concluding it without criminal charges.  Other times it will mean aggressively prosecuting a person through trial and then recommending a lenient sentence, perhaps even one with no incarceration.

In moving to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution, Barr was overriding a decision he himself had approved of. In January, DOJ called for prison time for Flynn, citing the materiality of his lies and his abuse of trust.

The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct. Similarly situated defendants have received terms of imprisonment.

Public office is a public trust. The defendant made multiple, material and false statements and omissions, to several DOJ entities, while serving as the President’s National Security Advisor and a senior member of the Presidential Transition Team. As the government represented to the Court at the initial sentencing hearing, the defendant’s offense was serious. See Gov’t Sent’g Mem. at 2; 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 32 (the Court explaining that “[t]his crime is very serious”).

The integrity of our criminal justice depends on witnesses telling the truth. That is precisely why providing false statements to the government is a crime. As the Supreme Court has noted:

In this constitutional process of securing a witness’ testimony, perjury simply has no place whatsoever. Perjured testimony is an obvious and flagrant affront to the basic concepts of judicial proceedings. Effective restraints against this type of egregious offense are therefore imperative. The power of subpoena, broad as it is, and the power of contempt for refusing to answer, drastic as that is — and even the solemnity of the oath — cannot insure truthful answers. Hence, Congress has made the giving of false answers a criminal act punishable by severe penalties; in no other way can criminal conduct be flushed into the open where the law can deal with it.

United States v. Mandujano, 425 U.S. 564, 576 (1975); see also Nix v. Whiteside, 457 U.S. 157, 185 (1986) (“[t]his Court long ago noted: ‘All perjured relevant testimony is at war with justice, since it may produce a judgment not resting on truth.’”) (quoting In re Michael, 326 U.S. 224, 227 (1945)). All persons carry that solemn obligation to tell the truth, especially to the FBI.

The defendant’s repeated failure to fulfill his obligation to tell the truth merits a sentence within the applicable Guidelines range. As the Court has already found, his false statements to the FBI were material, regardless of the FBI’s knowledge of the substance of any of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. See Mem. Opinion at 51-52. The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. For similar reasons, the defendant’s false statements in his FARA filings were serious. His false statements and omissions deprived the public and the Trump Administration of the opportunity to learn about the Government of Turkey’s covert efforts to influence policy and opinion, including its efforts to remove a person legally residing in the United States.

The defendant’s conduct was more than just a series of lies; it was an abuse of trust. During the defendant’s pattern of criminal conduct, he was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General. He held a security clearance with access to the government’s most sensitive information. The only reason the Russian Ambassador contacted the defendant about the sanctions is because the defendant was the incoming National Security Advisor, and thus would soon wield influence and control over the United States’ foreign policy. That is the same reason the defendant’s fledgling company was paid over $500,000 to work on issues for Turkey. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it.

This was no decision made by rogue line prosecutors, Brandon Van Grack and Jocelyn Ballantine. In December, Jessie Liu signed a request for an extension so that the “multiple individuals and entities” that had to approve the new sentencing recommendation could do so.

There are multiple individuals and entities who must review and approve the government’s submission, including any changes from the government’s prior sentencing memorandum and its specific sentencing recommendations.

And then again in January, Jessie Liu got an extension so the “multiple individuals and entities” who had to review the sentencing memo could do so.

As the government represented in its initial motion, there are multiple individuals and entities who must review and approve the government’s submission, including any changes from the government’s prior sentencing memorandum and its specific sentencing recommendations. The government has worked assiduously over the holidays to complete this task, but we find that we require an additional 24 hours to do so.

Bill Barr says he is responsible for making the correct decision, and his DOJ reviewed the decision to imprison Mike Flynn at length. Taking him at his word, that means Bill Barr believed, in January, knowing all the details that were “new” to Timothy Shea when he wrote his motion to dismiss, but not new to Michael Horowitz and John Durham, who had already reviewed them, that the correct decision was to send Mike Flynn to prison.

It’s bad enough that Barr has repeatedly refused to stand by decisions made by others imbued with the authority of the entire DOJ under 28 U.S.C. § 509.

But Bill Barr won’t even stand by his past decisions.

Bill Barr’s Screed Is About Mike Flynn, Nora Dannehy, and Robert Mueller

Bill Barr delivered a remarkable screed last night at the radical right Hillsdale College. Numerous people have and will unpack both the glaring contradictions and the dangerous assertions in it.

But I want to point out that it is quite obviously about Barr’s attempts to overturn the prosecutions of Trump’s flunkies for covering up their efforts to help Russia interfere in the election.

A big part of it is targeted towards independent counsels (though, tellingly, Barr assails the independent counsel statute that used to be, not the one that left Robert Mueller closely supervised by Rod Rosenstein).

As Justice Scalia observed in perhaps his most admired judicial opinion, his dissent in Morrison v. Olson: “Almost all investigative and prosecutorial decisions—including the ultimate decision whether, after a technical violation of the law has been found, prosecution is warranted—involve the balancing of innumerable legal and practical considerations.”

And those considerations do need to be balanced in each and every case.  As Justice Scalia also pointed out, it is nice to say “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum. Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.”  But it does not comport with reality.  It would do far more harm than good to abandon all perspective and proportion in an attempt to ensure that every technical violation of criminal law by every person is tracked down, investigated, and prosecuted to the Nth degree.

[snip]

This was of course the central problem with the independent-counsel statute that Justice Scalia criticized in Morrison v. Olson.  Indeed, creating an unaccountable headhunter was not some unfortunate byproduct of that statute; it was the stated purpose of that statute.  That was what Justice Scalia meant by his famous line, “this wolf comes as a wolf.”  As he went on to explain:  “How frightening it must be to have your own independent counsel and staff appointed, with nothing else to do but to investigate you until investigation is no longer worthwhile—with whether it is worthwhile not depending upon what such judgments usually hinge on, competing responsibilities.  And to have that counsel and staff decide, with no basis for comparison, whether what you have done is bad enough, willful enough, and provable enough, to warrant an indictment.  How admirable the constitutional system that provides the means to avoid such a distortion.  And how unfortunate the judicial decision that has permitted it.”

Justice Jackson understood this too.  As he explained in his speech:  “If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted.”  Any erosion in prosecutorial detachment is extraordinarily perilous.  For, “it is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.”

And part of it is a restatement of the arguments Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall made before the DC Circuit, arguing that even bribery was not reason for a judge to override DOJ’s decisions on prosecutions.

I want to focus today on the power that the Constitution allocates to the Executive, particularly in the area of criminal justice.  The Supreme Court has correctly held that, under Article II of the Constitution, the Executive has virtually unchecked discretion to decide whether to prosecute individuals for suspected federal crimes.  The only significant limitation on that discretion comes from other provisions of the Constitution.  Thus, for example, a United States Attorney could not decide to prosecute only people of a particular race or religion.  But aside from that limitation — which thankfully has remained a true hypothetical at the Department of Justice — the Executive has broad discretion to decide whether to bring criminal prosecutions in particular cases.

And the rest suggests that career prosecutors have been putting targets on the heads of politically prominent people and pursuing them relentlessly.

Once the criminal process starts rolling, it is very difficult to slow it down or knock it off course.  And that means federal prosecutors possess tremendous power — power that is necessary to enforce our laws and punish wrongdoing, but power that, like any power, carries inherent potential for abuse or misuse.

[snip]

Line prosecutors, by contrast, are generally part of the permanent bureaucracy.  They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions.  Nor can the public and its representatives hold civil servants accountable in the same way as appointed officials.  Indeed, the public’s only tool to hold the government accountable is an election — and the bureaucracy is neither elected nor easily replaced by those who are.

[snip]

We want our prosecutors to be aggressive and tenacious in their pursuit of justice, but we also want to ensure that justice is ultimately administered dispassionately.

We are all human.  Like any person, a prosecutor can become overly invested in a particular goal.  Prosecutors who devote months or years of their lives to investigating a particular target may become deeply invested in their case and assured of the rightness of their cause.

When a prosecution becomes “your prosecution”—particularly if the investigation is highly public, or has been acrimonious, or if you are confident early on that the target committed serious crimes—there is always a temptation to will a prosecution into existence even when the facts, the law, or the fair-handed administration of justice do not support bringing charges.

[snip]

That is yet another reason that having layers of supervision is so important.  Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target.  Subjecting their decisions to review by detached supervisors ensures the involvement of dispassionate decision-makers in the process.

And it excuses, in one sentence, calling for probation even after a just prosecution.

Other times it will mean aggressively prosecuting a person through trial and then recommending a lenient sentence, perhaps even one with no incarceration.

Of course, none of this makes sense, and Barr’s own behavior — from removing Senate confirmed US Attorneys to put in people accountable only to him, from seeking prosecution of Democratic officials, and from launching the Durham investigation because he was just certain there was criminal wrong-doing in the Russian investigation — belies his words.

Perhaps it does so in the most basic way. If we hold our Attorney General politically accountable through elections, then we need to make sure elections are fair. We definitely need to make sure that elections are not influenced by hostile foreign powers cooperating with one candidate. The 2016 election wasn’t fair, and Bill Barr is doing his damndest to make sure the voters won’t be able to use the 2020 election to hold him politically accountable for interfering with the punishment of those who worked to cheat.

Because of Barr’s corrupt view on cheating at elections, he ensures that Vladimir Putin has more say over who gets prosecuted than experienced American prosecutors.

Judge Sullivan Amicus John Gleeson Lays Out How DOJ Is Arguing Against DOJ, then Invokes Barr’s Other Interference

When Judge Emmet Sullivan holds a hearing on DOJ’s motion to dismiss the Mike Flynn prosecution later this month, DOJ will likely refuse to answer any questions about why just Timothy Shea, Bill Barr’s lifelong flunky, signed the original motion to dismiss.

But even without raising that issue, retired Judge John Gleeson — acting as Sullivan’s amicus to oppose the motion — has amplified Shea’s role in his reply brief, submitted today.

He did so by noting that Shea’s argument is fundamentally incompatible with things DOJ claimed before Barr intervened (in filings arguing against Flynn’s Brady claims) and with things DOJ has claimed since (in a response brief signed by AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine).

Effectively, then, Gleeson has laid out that even DOJ believes DOJ lied in their motion to dismiss.

He does so, first of all, with materiality. Gleeson lays out that the government didn’t bother to defend the radical claims about materiality made in the Shea motion.

Although the Government attempts to respond to other arguments in my brief, it offers no response here. It does not claim I have misapprehended or misapplied the law. It never explains why one legal rule—the one set forth in its motion—applies to Flynn, while a different legal rule applies to everyone else. It never explains why its own lawyers erred so grievously in stating the law. It never explains why Flynn’s statements, in this setting, were not even capable of affecting the FBI’s general function. The Government’s silence on these crucial points is, by itself, sufficient to establish that its claims about materiality are pretextual.

Then, Gleeson argues that the government not only got the standard wrong, but misstated the evidence. To support it, he did what I’ve been clamoring for for months — he pointed to the government’s own claims about the materiality of Flynn’s lies (though he relies on a different and weaker filing than the government’s most aggressive statement on materiality, which had to he delayed twice to get senior DOJ review), noting that not that long ago the government argued aggressively that Flynn’s lies were material.

I have explained that the evidence demonstrating materiality here is so strong that the Government could satisfy an even tougher standard than the law requires—specifically, by demonstrating that Flynn’s statements had an actual effect on a specific FBI investigation. See ECF No. 225 at 41–42, 48–49. The Court need not take my word alone for this point. It can take the Government’s own word, as set forth in briefs submitted (unlike the Rule 48(a) motion) by the prosecutors who actually investigated this case, explaining that Flynn’s lies in fact affected the FBI’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government (a.k.a. “Crossfire Hurricane”). See ECF No. 132 at 10–11 (stating that Flynn’s “false statements to the FBI . . . were absolutely material”).

He also shows that the response brief — the one signed by Ballentine — offers no response on materiality itself but instead, “kick[s] up administrative dust.”

[T]he Government now abandons any discussion of the supposedly “critical”—but actually irrelevant—“predication threshold” that formed the backbone of its original motion. See ECF No. 198 at 16; see also id. at 2–5, 13–18. Instead, the Government refers vaguely to an irrelevant internal draft closing memorandum, “disagreement” about protocol, and other supposed “procedural irregularities,” ECF No. 227 at 2, 26–27, none of which is either particularly irregular or has any legal significance in proving materiality, see ECF No. 225 at 42–44. The Government seeks to conceal its retreat by kicking up administrative dust, but the bottom line is that it no longer stands by its own motion’s implausible reasoning.

Significantly, he mocks what is, in Billy Barr’s little mind, the real reason Flynn’s case should be dismissed: that many of the people who prosecuted Flynn have since been hounded out of government and are suing. Gleeson points out not just that two of them (Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page) are not witnesses to Flynn’s lies, but that in other places the government celebrates the experience of Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka (and had disclosed Strzok’s damning texts before Flynn pled guilty both times).

[T]he Government trots out a new explanation for its materiality rationale. The Government previously claimed to believe that the available evidence, taken at face value, showed Flynn’s statements to be immaterial. But it now says it has a different concern: that the witnesses it would rely upon to introduce the evidence might lack credibility with a jury. ECF No. 227 at 27–28. As this Court well knows, shifting explanations are classic red flags of pretext. See, e.g., Foster, 136 S. Ct. at 1751; Geleta v. Gray, 645 F.3d 408, 413 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

In any event, this claim makes no sense. The Government asserts without explanation that it “would need to prove its case” by calling as witnesses individuals from the FBI whose credibility could be impeached. ECF No. 227 at 27. But two of these “witnesses” were not present for Flynn’s false statements, so it is entirely unclear why their testimony would be required or even permitted (under evidentiary rules) in the Government’s case-in-chief. And more generally the Government’s professed credibility concerns are not plausible. They center on professed evidence of political bias by an interviewing agent that both the Government and Flynn have known about from the start of the case, see ECF No. 122 at 8–9; ECF No. 144 at 25– 34 (this Court discussing, at length, the history of the referenced text messages and why they do not cast doubt on Flynn’s guilty plea), and two pages after assailing the agents’ credibility, the Government does a back-flip to proclaim the very same agents “highly experienced investigators” whose assessment of the interview should be credited, see ECF No. 227 at 30. As I previously explained—without response from the Government—“[n]o competent lawyer thinks this way.” ECF No. 225 at 55.

To defeat the government’s claims that it would have a hard time proving Flynn’s lies were false, Gleeson points out a key disagreement Flynn has with the government. The government (in the form of prosecutor Ballantine, but others signed the brief too) maintains prosecutors did not commit any abuses.

[T]he Government affirmatively rejects Flynn’s own principal account of why his prior admissions of falsity should not be credited: namely, that prosecutors had threatened him with charges against his son. Compare ECF No. 160-23 at 8 ¶ 34 (Flynn Declaration describing “intense pressure,” including “a threat to indict my son Michael”), and id. at 11 ¶ 46 (“I allowed myself to succumb to the threats from the government to save my family . . . .”), with ECF No. 227 at 28 n.1 (“[T]he [G]overnment’s motion is not based on defendant Flynn’s broad allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. Flynn’s allegations are unfounded . . .”).

Given that Flynn repeatedly admitted to lying—and given that the Government is unwilling to accept Flynn’s claims about why those admissions were untrue—the Government struggles to offer a coherent account of why it doubts its ability to prove falsity.

Even Billy Barr, in sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, said there were no Brady violations here (though he lied, under oath, about whether files had been withheld from Judge Sullivan).

Having shown how DOJ disagreed with itself on materiality and falsity, Gleeson then notes how DOJ invented a completely new reason — interests of justice — to dismiss the case.

The Government’s Rule 48(a) motion stated that “continued prosecution of Mr. Flynn would not serve the interests of justice.” ECF No. 198 at 12. It then elaborated on the reason: “the Government does not have a substantial federal interest in penalizing a defendant for a crime that it is not satisfied occurred and that it does not believe it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. The Government thus asserted that the “interests of justice” would not be served by pursuing a case in which the Government doubts it could prove materiality or falsity. See id. at 12–20. No free-standing “interest of justice” policy reason is apparent in the Government’s motion.

But the Government now insists otherwise, asserting that it has always advanced a third “separate” and “alternative” reason for dismissal wholly unrelated to the difficulty of proving the elements of its case. ECF No. 227 at 23, 25–26. While this conclusion would come as a surprise to any careful reader of the Government’s motion, it would not surprise anyone familiar with doctrines designed to uncover pretext. See Foster, 136 S. Ct. at 1751 (where a party’s “principal reasons” have “shifted over time,” it can be inferred “that those reasons may be pretextual”).

And what exactly is the Government’s non-merits reason for dismissal? The answer is unclear, since the Government never quite explains its newly minted rationale in the sole paragraph devoted to it. See ECF No. 227 at 25–26. It gestures vaguely at “enforcement priorities” and “policy assessments,” id. at 24, then rattles off a disjointed string of allegations regarding “circumstances surrounding the interview,” id. at 25. But these are just the same facts that are legally irrelevant to its materiality and falsity assertions. The Government does not explain what additional supposed significance it has suddenly “assess[ed]” those facts to have, or why Flynn’s conviction disserves the “interests of justice,” see id. at 23, given that his guilt is both conceded and readily provable. While the Government conveniently asserts that these “policy assessments” are “quintessentially unreviewable,” id. at 24, it never actually explains what the policy is, what judgment it made, or why the conduct of the FBI agents in question would warrant dismissal of this case given Flynn’s demonstrable and confessed guilt. See id. at 23–26.

Having shown that DOJ (in Ballantine’s reply) already showed that DOJ (in Shea’s motion to dismiss) was wrong, Gleeson notes that DOJ hasn’t even mentioned his arguments showing that there’s a more logical explanation for all this–that Trump demanded it.

As detailed in my opening brief, Flynn is a close ally of President Trump, who personally pressured the FBI director to “let this go” within weeks of Flynn’s crime, who has since repeatedly made clear his desire for Flynn to avoid criminal liability, see ECF No. 225 at 17, 56– 59, and who has expressed a desire to re-hire Flynn within his administration, see Max Cohen, Trump Says He Would Welcome Michael Flynn Back to His Administration, POLITICO (July 15, 2020, 11:08 AM), https://perma.cc/5EG4-CLTQ. Allowing dismissal for these “irregular” reasons would necessarily “implicate this Court” in denigrating “settled, foundational norms of prosecutorial independence.” ECF No. 225 at 59.

The Government does not disagree with any of this—presumably because it cannot. Indeed, the Government nowhere even mentions the President’s personal lobbying, let alone his virulent attacks on those previously involved in this prosecution. Based entirely on evidence already in the public view, the only coherent explanation for the Government’s exceedingly irregular motion—as well as its demonstrable pretexts—is that the Justice Department has yielded to a pressure campaign led by the President for his political associate. This Court need not “exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free” by pretending otherwise. United States v. Stanchich, 550 F.2d 1294, 1300 (2d Cir. 1977). It should instead deny the Government’s request for leave under Rule 48(a) and proceed to sentencing.

Gleeson is exploiting DOJ’s failures to address his claims. But he’s probably right.

Gleeson expands the record to include solid evidence of prosecutorial abuse

Sullivan did not and will not order further discovery in this case. But Gleeson got three key pieces of additional information into his brief. He cited the SSCI Report describing why Flynn’s lies were material.

In its bipartisan report assessing Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee similarly concluded that the “series of communications between Flynn and Kislyak” on sanctions was relevant to assessing “what Moscow sought to gain and the counterintelligence vulnerabilities associated with the Transition.” REPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE UNITED STATES SENATE ON RUSSIAN ACTIVE MEASURES CAMPAIGNS AND INTERFERENCE IN THE 2016 U.S. ELECTION, VOLUME 5: COUNTERINTELLIGENCE THREATS AND VULNERABILITIES, S. Doc. No. 116-XX, at 702 (1st Session 2020).

He pointed to Aaron Zelinsky’s testimony describing how Billy Barr personally intervened to sabotage the Roger Stone prosecution.

Most notably, there is now concrete evidence of another prosecutorial decision infected by “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice . . . based on political considerations.” See Oversight of the Department of Justice: Political Interference and Threats to Prosecutorial Independence: Hearing Before the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong. 2 (2020) (statement of Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, Assistant U.S. Att’y), https://perma.cc/48ZV-23EK. This prosecutorial decision concerned the Government’s sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, another well-connected political ally of the President who committed serious crimes. There, as here, the President publicly assailed the Department of Justice for pursuing the prosecution. And there, as here, the Department of Justice succumbed to that corrupt pressure— though only after all four career prosecutors resigned from the case. As one of those career prosecutors later testified, senior officials at the Department of Justice exerted “significant pressure” to go easy on Stone, against the record of the case, customary prosecutorial practice, and departmental policy. Id. at 2. This occurred “because of [Stone’s] relationship to the President,” id., and “because the U.S. Attorney”—who also signed the Rule 48(a) motion in these proceedings—“was ‘afraid of the President,’” id. at 10.11

And he used that to invoke the case of Geoffrey Berman.

11 Perhaps those officials had reason to worry: the President recently fired a prominent and wellrespected U.S. Attorney who was investigating his associates. See Paul Le Blanc et al., White House Admits Trump Was Involved in Firing of Top US Attorney After Trump Claimed He Wasn’t, CNN (June 22, 2020), https://perma.cc/TPB5-ZXGQ.

Had he waited a few hours, he could have cited how John Durham’s deputy, Nora Dannehy, just resigned in part because of political pressure.

While Gleeson has not had the opportunity to develop a record about why this particular Barr intervention is thoroughly corrupt, he manages to show that Billy Barr here argues against Billy Barr, and in similar cases, did have a political purpose.

At the very least, he has succeeded in establishing a record that Billy Barr’s own DOJ disagrees with him.

Jeff Wall: It Would Cause Attorney General Barr Irreparable Harm If He Had to Reveal His Secret Reason He Moved to Dismiss Flynn’s Prosecution

Before I explain the most important takeaway from the Mike Flynn hearing, let me note two points.

First, the Department of Justice is quite clear that none of the materials turned over recently to Mike Flynn were Brady material showing exculpatory evidence. DOJ has disclaimed any prosecutorial misconduct in Judge Sullivan’s courtroom. Bill Barr even said as much, under oath, before the House Judiciary Committee. DOJ has falsely claimed they were “new,” but some of the actual details weren’t even new to Flynn, much less new to DOJ, even if some of the documents were. That’s important because a number of the judges today seem to believe that DOJ wants to dismiss this case because they believe there was misconduct.

Nope.

The government disclosed approximately 25 pages of documents in April and May 2020 as the result of an independent review of this case by the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. While those documents, along with other recently available information, see, e.g., Doc. 198-6, are relevant to the government’s discretionary decision to dismiss this case, the government’s motion is not based on defendant Flynn’s broad allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. Flynn’s allegations are unfounded and provide no basis for impugning the prosecutors from the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office.

They want to dismiss the case because they don’t believe calling up the country that just attacked us and secretly undermining the punishment on them, then lying about it, is any big thing.

Second, in the second-to-last release to Flynn of materials that aren’t new but that Billy Barr used to invent a reason to dismiss the prosecution, DOJ either betrayed breathtaking ignorance of the investigation into Flynn, or they lied. In turning over notes from Peter Strzok that clearly memorialize a January 5, 2017 meeting that has been the subject of public disclosure going back years (well before Flynn reallocuted his plea deal), DOJ claimed not to know their date.

The enclosed document was obtained and analyzed by USA EDMO during the course of its review. This page of notes was taken by former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok. While the page itself is undated; we believe that the notes were taken in early January 2017, possibly between January 3 and January 5.

That professed uncertainty led the frothy right to claim that Joe Biden suggested Flynn be prosecuted for the Logan Act, which led to FBI reopening the investigation, which led to his prosecution. It was obvious the notes were from January 5, and I’ve since confirmed that. That DOJ claimed not to know the date of these notes is either evidence that they’re using this process to invent campaign dirt, or evidence that all the people reviewing this material have no grasp on the facts.

Which is to say, the judges have the very mistaken impression that DOJ withheld material they should have turned over, and that DOJ itself has suggested (in the less damning reading of their actions) to have no grasp of basic facts about the investigation into Flynn or even basic physics about time. No. Both claims are, at best, reason to further scrutinize this case.

Even ignoring the fact that DOJ has presented two different explanations for why they want to dismiss a case that they, months earlier, argued merited prison time, taking just the original motion to dismiss on its face value (ignoring the obvious lies in it), three months later, no one understands why DOJ moved to dismiss the case.

That’s important, because Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall claims it would cause irreparable harm to the Executive Branch if DOJ had to answer any questions about why they dismissed the case.

That matters for two reasons. First, as the attorney representing Judge Emmet Sullivan, Beth Wilkinson, pointed out, what distinguishes this case from a Dick Cheney case that SCOTUS has said threatened the prerogatives of the Executive branch, DOJ has already proven willing to offer up reasons for their motion to dismiss, even if they are, partly, transparently false. DOJ is not claiming that they can’t respond to these questions, they’re offering up explanations unasked, and then objecting aggressively when asked question about those claims.

Indeed, Wall offered up a crazy new detail in this hearing: He implied that, in addition to believing that material lies are not the same for Flynn as other people and that secretly calling up the country that just attacked us to say, “no big deal,” is not alarming, there is also non-public information from other investigations that led Billy Barr to tank the Flynn prosecution.

The Attorney General sees this in a context of non-public information from other investigations.

[snip]

I just want to make clear that it may be possible that the Attorney General had before him that he was not able to share with the court and so what we put in front of the court were the reasons that we could, but it may not be the whole picture available to the Executive Branch.

[snip]

It’s just we gave three reasons; one of them was that the interests of justice were not longer served, in the Attorney General’s judgment, by the prosecution. The Attorney General made that decision, or that judgment, on the basis of lots of information, some of it is public and fleshed out in the motion, some of it is not.

[snip]

If all we had to do was show up and stand on our motion, no, we’ve already said that to the District Court.

Billy Barr has a secret. And that, Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall suggested, is why a mere hearing on this motion to dismiss would irreparably harm DOJ (even while Wall alluded to the information without being asked).

Wow.

The revised explanation why DOJ can’t prosecute Flynn that Flynn prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine has offered (one in which the Solicitor General’s Office has also participated) is that DOJ can’t “prosecute” Mike Flynn because DOJ has collected so much impeaching evidence against those who investigated Flynn that they can’t prove the case he has twice pled guilty to even though witnesses like KT McFarland and Mike Pence support their case.

Furthermore, since the time of the plea, extensive impeaching materials had emerged about key witnesses the government would need to prove its case. Strzok was fired from the FBI, in part because his text messages with Page revealed political bias against the current administration and “implie[d] a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election xii (December 2018). The second interviewing agent has been accused of acting improperly in connection with the broader investigation. McCabe, who authorized Flynn’s interview without notifying either the Department of Justice or the White House Counsel, was fired for conduct that included lying to the FBI and lying under oath. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, A Report of Investigation of Certain Allegations Relating to Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe 2 (February 2018). In addition, significant witnesses have pending investigations or lawsuits against the Department of Justice, which could create further questions about their testimony at trial. See Strzok v. Barr, Civ. No. 19-2367 (D.D.C. Aug. 6, 2019); McCabe v. Barr, Civ. No. 19-2399 (D.D.C. Aug. 8, 2019); Page v. Dep’t of Justice, Civ. No. 19-3675 (D.D.C. Dec. 10, 2019). Those developments further support the government’s assessment about the difficulty it would have in proving its case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

That is, Ballantine says DOJ can’t sentence Flynn for his admitted crimes because they’ve also laid out how DOJ has trumped up investigations against all the people who investigated Flynn, and at least three of those people have credible legal claims against DOJ for those trumped up investigations.

That suggests one of several things.

It’s possible the secret Billy Barr doesn’t want to reveal deals with how 30-year intelligence veteran Mike Flynn sold his services to the government of Turkey while working for Trump, while trying to hide that fact, all without knowing why that’d be a problem. DOJ has not yet backed off the facts Flynn gave the grand jury (another basis for perjury charges against him, in addition to his plea allocutions, which the Circuit judges appeared to miss), and indeed has doubled down on the Bijan Kian investigation. So maybe DOJ is claiming that poor Mike Flynn was compromised by his non-professional partner out of naiveté?

Another possibility is that there are other secret investigations ongoing, whereby poor 30-year defense intelligence veteran General Flynn was targeted by Russian intelligence but was helpless to rebuff their entreaties and so must be forgiven for lying about all that.

A third possibility is that DOJ has been ordered by the President to make sure none of the people who protected him do prison time. Secret reason. Can’t be shared with judges. Checks out!

The most likely secret information Billy Barr is hiding — particularly given Wall’s reference to other investigations — is the Durham investigation, the possibility that John Durham will find something in his investigation into  Trump’s people where DOJ IG found nothing. That means either that Billy Barr took actions in May that John Durham has not charged in the interim three months. Or, that Billy Barr is trying to pre-empt Flynn’s prosecution believing — or expecting — that an investigation that has not yet completed will end up in criminal charges.

If that’s what’s happening, it would suggest that Barr has already decided what the outcome of the Durham investigation will be, prejudging its outcome and effectively neutering Durham, making his prosecutorial decision an afterthought.

Which is why I focused on DOJ’s false claim — possibly attributed to Jeffrey Jensen, the US Attorney Billy Barr directed to find reasons to blow up the Flynn prosecution while Durham continued to work — that Joe Biden raised the Logan Act before the FBI (and ODNI) raised it themselves. In that case, at least, Barr’s selected flunkies have proven themselves to either be willing to misrepresent evidence or to be painfully stupid about it. In that case, a US Attorney deputized into Billy Barr’s projects has admitted to either knowing fuckall or inventing facts for political purpose. That, by itself, raises questions about the presumption of regularity that Barr might otherwise be afforded.

DOJ claims they’ve given abundant reason why they wanted to dismiss the prosecution against Flynn, even though their reasons conflict with all precedent and the record that Bill Barr’s DOJ has established in this case.

But today we learned there’s another, secret, reason why Billy Barr wanted to dismiss the case against Flynn. Even while DOJ has made it clear they are either misrepresenting the record or unfamiliar with it.

Which is all the more reason why Judge Sullivan should have a hearing, and which likely explains why DOJ has claimed, multiple times now, that that would do irreparable harm to DOJ.

Sidney Powell’s Great Time Machine of Electoral Gaslighting

On January 4, 2017 at 9:43 AM, FBI lawyer Lisa Page emailed her boss, FBI General Counsel James Baker a citation for the Logan Act, referencing some prior discussion in the subject line: “Code section at question.”

Shortly thereafter, Peter Strzok emailed Page the text of the law, as well as a link to a Congressional Research Service report on the Logan Act. In it, he noted that the legislative history of the Logan Act did not deal with incoming officials (which might suggest that, contrary to all reporting, he was skeptical about its application). Page thanked Strzok, and then she sent the text of the law, but not the other discussion, to someone else.

Later that afternoon, Strzok started messaging FBI agents involved in the Flynn prosecution, asking them to hold open the Flynn investigation, noting that, “7th floor involved.”

The next day, representatives from the Intelligence Community briefed Obama on the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian hacking. After the briefing, several people stayed behind to discuss the Flynn conversations with Sergey Kislyak. National Security Advisor Susan Rice described the meeting this way in a February 2018 letter sent to SJC.

… an important national security discussion between President Obama and the FBI Director and the Deputy Attorney General. President Obama and his national security team were justifiably concerned about potential risks to the Nation’s security from sharing highly classified information about Russia with certain members of the Trump transition team, particularly Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

In light of concerning communications between members of the Trump team and Russian officials, before and after the election, President Obama, on behalf of his national security team, appropriately sought the FBI and the Department of Justice’s guidance on this subject.

Rice’s memo to the file, written before FBI had interviewed Mike Flynn about his calls with Sergey Kislyak, described that President Obama, Jim Comey, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and herself attended the meeting. She recorded that Obama first instructed FBI (as he apparently already had) to do things normally.

President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities “by the book”. The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.

Rice describes how Obama then asked whether there was any reason not to share information with Trump’s incoming team.

From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.

Jim Comey responded with an ambivalent answer, stating that the FBI had not yet found Flynn to be sharing classified information, but observing that the sheer number of contacts between Kislyak and Flynn was abnormal. Comey stated that “potentially,” NSC should not share classified information with Flynn.

Director Comey affirmed that he is proceeding “by the book” as it relates to law enforcement. From a national security perspective, Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Comey said that it could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information. President Obama asked if Comey was saying that the NSC should not pass sensitive information related to Russia to Flynn. Comey replied, “potentially.” He added he that he has not indication thus far that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that “the level of communication is unusual.”

On June 23, Mike Flynn prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent Sidney Powell a “page of notes [] taken by former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.” She described that the page was undated, but that “we believe that the notes were taken in early January 2017, possibly between January 3 and January 5.”

The notes record a meeting that — like the meeting Rice described — was attended by Obama, Jim Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and Susan Rice.

At the meeting, Obama told Comey to, “Make sure you [look at?] things — have the right people on it,” an instruction telling the FBI to conduct the investigation normally. Then, Obama asked, “Is there anything I shouldn’t be telling transition team?” Comey responded, though his response is unclear: “Flynn > Kislyak calls but appear legit.” Certainly, however, Comey’s response involves some kind of comment on Flynn’s calls with Kislyak. Parts of the discussion before and after this exchange are redacted, with no redaction marks explaining the basis for doing so (though a Bates stamp makes it clear that Mueller’s team had this document, so it is in no way “new” to DOJ).

When Sidney Powell released the notes, she asserted that the notes were, “believed to be of January 4,” which is not what DOJ told her (they said the notes could be January 3, 4, or 5).

Strzok’s notes believed to be of January 4, 2017, reveal that former President Obama, James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and apparently Susan Rice discussed the transcripts of Flynn’s calls and how to proceed against him.

Powell presents this meeting as new news, even though we’ve known about the meeting since Chuck Grassley made a stink about it to help her client in early 2018 (ten months before her client reallocuted his guilty plea). She did so, in part, to call attention to the comment from Joe Biden apparently raising the Logan Act, then repeated, falsely, that the investigation that had been since August 2016, was then in early January, and would be during his January 24, 2017 interview significantly focused on 18 USC 951, was only investigating the Logan Act.

According to Strzok’s notes, it appears that Vice President Biden personally raised the idea of the Logan Act. That became an admitted pretext to investigate General Flynn

According to Powell’s narrative, then, Biden mentioned the Logan Act on January 4, which led the FBI to start investigating it the next morning. According to Powell’s narrative, then, Biden is responsible for what she falsely claims was the pretext under which her client was interviewed.

To believe that, however, you’d have to believe there were two meetings, both with the same attendees, in both of which Obama first directed the FBI Director to conduct the Flynn investigation normally, and then asked whether he should be cautious about sharing sensitive information with the Trump team. In both meetings, you’d have to believe, Comey provided an ambivalent answer. You’d have to further believe that such an exchange was so concerning to Susan Rice that she would document it on her last day in office, but document only the second instance of such an exchange, not the first one.

Now, perhaps there’s some reason Jeffrey Jensen and Jocelyn Ballantine profess uncertainty about when Strzok took these notes. Or perhaps DOJ, which has politicized this process so much already, would like to claim uncertainty so as to suggest that Joe Biden raised the Logan Act before the FBI did, while they’re also falsely claiming that Flynn was interviewed only for the Logan Act.

But the simplest explanation for these notes is that the guy who played a key role in investigating the Russian side of the operation seconded Comey for the ICA briefing (he had done at least one earlier briefing at the White House, in September 2016), and then, when everyone stayed behind to address Flynn — an investigation Strzok was in the management chain on — he remained as Comey’s second and took notes of the same exchange that Susan Rice memorialized 15 days later. [See below: Strzok was not at the meeting in question, which would suggest these notes came even longer after the Logan Act had been raised at FBI.]

Which would likewise mean that DOJ, on the eve of a hearing on how DOJ is politicizing everything, fed Sidney Powell with a document she could misrepresent (as she has virtually everything that DOJ has fed her), and have numerous Republicans HJC members similarly misrepresent, all to turn this into a campaign issue.

Ah, well. Now that DOJ has declassified comments (almost certainly covered by Executive Privilege) in which Biden said he had seen nothing like what Flynn had done in the 10 years he was on the Senate Intelligence Committee (Biden was on the Committee during Reagan’s crimes), reporters can ask him how unprecedented it is for the incoming National Security Advisor to be wooed by a hostile power’s Ambassador during the transition.

Update: Glenn Kessler says Strzok’s lawyer says Stzrok wasn’t at this meeting, which makes the conspiracy around it even crazier.

Mike Flynn Prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine Tries to Square DOJ’s Crooked Circle

DOJ and Mike Flynn responded to Amicus John Gleeson’s filing arguing that Judge Emmet Sullivan should reject DOJ’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution today.

Sidney Powell claims Bill Priestap’s attempt to shield Flynn is misconduct

Sidney Powell’s brief was like all her other ones, legally a shit-show, at times making false claims, at others rolling out a word salad designed to impress the frothy right. It did not substantively address Gleeson’s filing but instead mostly repeated the arguments made in support of the petition for mandamus.

Two details are important, however. First, Powell repeatedly argued that both the FBI and DOJ’s prosecutors engaged in misconduct, in the latter case arguing the prosecutors withheld information covered by Brady.

Given the substantial briefing and documentation by the Justice Department of the reasons for dismissal here, based primarily on the Government’s proper recognition that it should correct its own misconduct which included suppression of extraordinary exculpatory evidence, this court has no further role to play than to grant dismissal forthwith. Smith, 55 F.3d at 159; United States v. Hamm, 659 F.2d 624, 631 (5th Cir. 1981).

[snip]

In its ninety-two-page decision denying General Flynn all exculpatory Brady material he requested, the court distinguished this case from United States v. Stevens, Criminal Action No. 08-231 (EGS) (D.D.C Apr. 1, 2009), because in Stevens, the government moved to dismiss the case upon admitting misconduct in the suppression of Brady evidence. ECF No. 144 at 91. That distinction is eviscerated with the Government’s Motion to Dismiss here. Moreover, in Stevens, the government filed a mere two-page motion to dismiss. Ex. 4. Here, the Government has moved to dismiss in a hundred-page submission that includes 86 pages of new documentation that completely destroys the premise for any criminal charges. This evidence was long sought by General Flynn but withheld by the prior prosecution team and its investigators and wrongly denied to him by this court.

[snip]

Amicus elides the reality of the egregious government misconduct of the FBI Agents—particularly that of Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Pientka, Priestap and others who met repeatedly to pursue the targeted “take-out” of General Flynn for their political reasons and those of the “entirety lame duck usic.”

That last reference to the “entirely lame duck usic” refers to some text messages involving Strzok which, she claims, “the defense recently found that were never produced to it by the Government,” which given how the government provided the text messages probably means only that she didn’t look before. The text messages show Strzok describing a conversation with Bill Priestap about withholding the full transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak from the Obama White House to avoid having Obama dead-enders politicizing them — precisely the opposite of what her entire argument is premised on!!!.

So Powell’s new smoking gun–the thing she’s using to rile up the frothers–is proof that Strzok tried really hard to protect Flynn from precisely what she claims did him in, a politicized prosecution led by Obama people. In doing so, she presents evidence (and not for the first time) that Strzok tried really hard to protect Flynn.

Jocelyn Ballantine invents entirely new reasons why DOJ is moving to dismiss

The government’s response is the least-shitty argument DOJ has made in defense of abandoning Flynn’s prosecution, yet it still presents new problems for their case.

The government response was signed by a different team of people than have signed anything submitted thus far. Whereas only Timothy Shea — since promoted to be acting DEA Administrator — signed the initial motion to dismiss, and a team including five people from the Solicitor General’s office, including outgoing Solicitor General Noel Francisco himself, outgoing Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski, in addition to people from the DC US Attorney’s office and career National Security Division prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine signed the response on the DC Circuit petition for mandamus, this filing includes only the the latter three:

Whereas the Circuit filing necessarily argued a constitutional issue — the limits of a judge’s authority to deny a motion to dismiss the prosecution, this one argued an admittedly overlapping criminal one, one that makes the third different argument justifying the motion to dismiss. Significantly, this is a defense of the motion to dismiss that (unlike the original one) Jocelyn Ballantine, one of the two prosecutors on the case, was willing to sign.

Along the way, Ballantine presents new reasons to substantiate the claim that DOJ couldn’t convince a jury Flynn was guilty, including describing two things that she now claims weren’t in the notes but were in Flynn’s final 302.

According to the final FD-302, when the agents asked Flynn whether he recalled any conversation with Kislyak in which he encouraged Kislyak not to “escalate the situation” in response to the sanctions, Flynn responded, “Not really. I don’t remember. It wasn’t, ‘Don’t do anything.’” Doc. 198-7, at 6. According to the FD-302, the agents asked Flynn whether he recalled a conversation in which Kislyak stated that Russia had taken the incoming administration’s position into account when responding to the sanctions; Flynn stated that he did not recall such a conversation. Id. The agents’ handwritten notes do not reflect that question being asked or Flynn’s response. See Doc. 198-13, at 2-8.

The final FD-302 also reports that Flynn incorrectly stated that, in earlier calls with Kislyak, Flynn had not made any request about voting on a UN Resolution in a certain manner or slowing down the vote. Doc. 198-7, at 5. Flynn indicated that the conversation, which took place on a day when he was calling many other countries, was “along the lines of where do you stand[ ] and what’s your position.” Id. The final FD-302 also states that Flynn was asked whether Kislyak described any Russian response to his request and said that Kislyak had not, id., although the agents’ handwritten notes do not reflect Flynn being asked that question or giving that response, see Doc. 198-13, at 2-8.

[snip]

The interview was not recorded and the final FD-302 includes two instances where the agents did not record a critical question and answer in their handwritten notes: (1) that agents asked Flynn whether he recalled a conversation in which Kislyak stated that Russia had taken the incoming administration’s position into account when responding to the sanctions, and Flynn stated that he did not recall such a conversation; and (2) that the agents asked whether Kislyak described any Russian response to his request, and Flynn said that Kislyak had not.

This is actually a claim Sidney Powell has made in the past, though I found notes consistent with those questions here, explicitly so with respect to the sanctions conversation:

[Update: Note that, as I first pointed out, the notes here are reversed; Strzok’s are the ones on the left, Pientka’s are the ones on the right.]

Ballantine herself was on a filing stating that, “The final interview report, just like the agent’s handwritten notes, reflect all of the above material false statements” (though that filing did not address whether Flynn was asked about Russia taking Trump’s stance into account; see especially page 5 for the extended discussion that lacks that). And Judge Sullivan agreed, ruling in December that,

Having carefully reviewed the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD302, and the statements contained therein, the Court agrees with the government that those documents are “consistent and clear that [Mr. Flynn] made multiple false statements to the [FBI] agents about his communications with the Russian Ambassador on January 24, 2017.”

Ballantine–consistent with her past signed filing–does not contest that some of Flynn’s lies are clearly included in the notes, and so doesn’t contest that the notes clearly show Flynn lying at least twice to prosecutors.

Ballantine also further develops the “new thing” that the motion to dismiss relied on to justify flip-flopping on past DOJ stances (though it is the same “new thing” presented in the Circuit filing): the new developments involving essential participants in Flynn’s prosecution:

Furthermore, since the time of the plea, extensive impeaching materials had emerged about key witnesses the government would need to prove its case. Strzok was fired from the FBI, in part because his text messages with Page revealed political bias against the current administration and “implie[d] a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election xii (December 2018). The second interviewing agent has been accused of acting improperly in connection with the broader investigation. McCabe, who authorized Flynn’s interview without notifying either the Department of Justice or the White House Counsel, was fired for conduct that included lying to the FBI and lying under oath. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, A Report of Investigation of Certain Allegations Relating to Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe 2 (February 2018). In addition, significant witnesses have pending investigations or lawsuits against the Department of Justice, which could create further questions about their testimony at trial. See Strzok v. Barr, Civ. No. 19-2367 (D.D.C. Aug. 6, 2019); McCabe v. Barr, Civ. No. 19-2399 (D.D.C. Aug. 8, 2019); Page v. Dep’t of Justice, Civ. No. 19-3675 (D.D.C. Dec. 10, 2019). Those developments further support the government’s assessment about the difficulty it would have in proving its case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

While this information would definitely make it harder (but in no way impossible, not least because there are witnesses like Mike Pence and KT McFarland to Flynn’s lies) to prove DOJ’s case, as Gleeson pointed out in his brief, DOJ didn’t have to do that — they already have two allocutions of guilt, including one that affirmed Flynn could never again raise such issues! Moreover, all but one of these new “new things” happened before Flynn reallocuted his guilty plea, meaning Ballantine is in no position to argue they justify abandoning the prosecution. Plus, they conflict with the “new things” cited in the Shea motion to dismiss explaining the DOJ flip-flop.

Ballantine creates a case and controversy over whether prosecutorial misconduct occurred

Ballantine presents some things she’s willing to buy off on to argue why DOJ was right to dismiss the prosecution.

But along the way, she contested the central point in Flynn’s argument, that any of this amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.

1 Before Flynn’s 2017 guilty plea, the government provided Flynn with (1) the FBI report for Flynn’s January 24 interview; (2) notification that the DOJ Inspector General, in reviewing allegations regarding actions by the DOJ and FBI in advance of the 2016 election, had identified electronic communications between Strzok and Page that showed political bias that might constitute misconduct; (3) information that Flynn had a sure demeanor and did not give any indicators of deception during the January 24 interview; and (4) information that both of the interviewing agents had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying.

The government subsequently provided over 25,000 pages of additional materials pursuant to this Court’s broad Standing Order, which it issues in every criminal case, requiring the government to produce “any evidence in its possession that is favorable to [the] defendant and material either to [his] guilt or punishment.” Doc. 20, at 2. The majority of those materials, over 21,000 pages of the government’s production, pertain to Flynn’s statements in his March 7, 2017 FARA filing, for which the government agreed not to prosecute him as part of the plea agreement. The remainder are disclosures related to Flynn’s January 24, 2017, statements to the FBI, and his many debriefings with the SCO.

The government disclosed approximately 25 pages of documents in April and May 2020 as the result of an independent review of this case by the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. While those documents, along with other recently available information, see, e.g., Doc. 198-6, are relevant to the government’s discretionary decision to dismiss this case, the government’s motion is not based on defendant Flynn’s broad allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. Flynn’s allegations are unfounded and provide no basis for impugning the prosecutors from the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office. [my emphasis]

Ballantine directly contradicts the suggestion made in the Shea motion to dismiss, that any of the documents turned over were new or Brady material; they’ve been demoted to “relevant to.” More importantly, she says that Flynn is wrong to claim either that DOJ said there was misconduct (it did not) or that any misconduct occurred.

Now there’s a case and controversy between DOJ and Flynn. DOJ says no DOJ abuse occurred, in this filing quite explicitly. Flynn says it’s why his prosecution must be dismissed.

While it’s not central to the issue before John Gleeson, it is something he can exploit.

Ballantine dances around DOJ’s shitty materiality claims

Particularly given how Ballantine dances around the main reason DOJ claims it moved to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution, because his lies weren’t material.

This motion was better argued all around than the Main DOJ ones, including the one bearing the Solicitor General’s name. And in numerous places, it presents actual nuance and complexity. One key place it does so is where it admits that DOJ has some motions still pending before Sullivan.

Flynn subsequently retained new counsel. Doc. 88, at 2. He then filed a Brady motion, which the Court denied. Doc. 144, at 2-3. In January 2020, Flynn moved to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting ineffective assistance of prior counsel. Docs. 151, 154, 160. The government has not yet responded to this motion. Flynn also filed a motion to dismiss the case for government misconduct. Doc. 162. In February 2020, the government opposed Flynn’s motion to dismiss. Doc. 169. Flynn repeatedly supplemented the motion after receiving the government’s response, Docs. 181, 188, 189; the government has not submitted a further filing responding to the additional allegations.

On May 7, 2020, while those motions remained pending, the government moved to dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a). The government first explained a court’s “narrow” role in addressing a Rule 48(a) motion. Doc. 198, at 10 (quoting United States v. Fokker Servs. B.V., 818 F.3d 733, 742 (D.C. Cir. 2016)). The government then set out its reasons for the dismissal, explaining why it had concluded that continued prosecution was not warranted. Id. at 12-20; see pp. 25-32, infra. Flynn consented to the motion. Doc. 202. [my emphasis]

Already this passage presents problems, because Ballantine doesn’t explain why DOJ opposed Flynn’s motion to dismiss in February but does not now, even though none of her “new things” were new in February.

But she doesn’t mention the still-pending DOJ sentencing memorandum, submitted after all the “new things” that Ballantine laid out were already known. That sentencing memorandum not only suggested Flynn should do prison time, but it also argued not only that Flynn’s lies were material, but that Judge Sullivan should consider Flynn’s material FARA lies in his sentencing.

On December 1, 2017, the defendant entered a plea of guilty to a single count of “willfully and knowingly” making material false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) regarding his contacts with the Government of Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) during an interview with the FBI on January 24, 2017 (“January 24 interview”), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). See Information, United States v. Flynn, No. 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Nov. 30, 2017) (Doc. 1); Statement of Offense at ¶¶ 3-4, United States v. Flynn, No. 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017) (Doc. 4) (“SOF”). In addition, at the time of his plea, the defendant admitted making other material false statements and omissions in multiple documents that he filed on March 7, 2017, with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), which pertained to his work for the principal benefit of the Government of Turkey. See SOF at ¶ 5. These additional material false statements are relevant conduct that the Court can and should consider in determining where within the Guidelines range to sentence the defendant.

[snip]

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

[snip]

The defendant now claims that his false statements were not material, see Reply at 27-28, and that the FBI conducted an “ambush-interview” to trap him into making false statements, see Reply at 1. The Circuit Court recently stated in United States v. Leyva, 916 F.3d 14 (D.C. Cir. 2019), cert. denied, No. 19-5796, 2019 WL 5150737 (U.S. Oct. 15, 2019), that “[i]t is not error for a district court to ‘require an acceptance of responsibility that extended beyond the narrow elements of the offense’ to ‘all of the circumstances’ surrounding the defendant’s offense.” Id. at 28 (citing United States v. Taylor, 937 F.2d 676, 680-81 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). A defendant cannot “accept responsibility for his conduct and simultaneously contest the sufficiency of the evidence that he engaged in that conduct.” Id. at 29. Any notion of the defendant “clearly” accepted responsibility is further undermined by the defendant’s efforts over the last four months to have the Court dismiss the case. See Reply at 32.

[snip]

Public office is a public trust. The defendant made multiple, material and false statements and omissions, to several DOJ entities, while serving as the President’s National Security Advisor and a senior member of the Presidential Transition Team. As the government represented to the Court at the initial sentencing hearing, the defendant’s offense was serious. See Gov’t Sent’g Mem. at 2; 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 32 (the Court explaining that “[t]his crime is very serious”).

The integrity of our criminal justice depends on witnesses telling the truth. That is precisely why providing false statements to the government is a crime.

[snip]

As the Court has already found, his false statements to the FBI were material, regardless of the FBI’s knowledge of the substance of any of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. See Mem. Opinion at 51-52. The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. For similar reasons, the defendant’s false statements in his FARA filings were serious. His false statements and omissions deprived the public and the Trump Administration of the opportunity to learn about the Government of Turkey’s covert efforts to influence policy and opinion, including its efforts to remove a person legally residing in the United States.

After the most recent “new thing” Ballantine cited (the DOJ IG Report), in a motion that is still pending before Sullivan, she argued that these lies were material. She doesn’t admit it’s still pending or in any other way deal with it. But Ballantine is making an argument here that conflicts with an argument she signed off on (and spent a great deal of time getting approved by all levels of DOJ) in January.

That presents problems for her claim that the motion to dismiss is the “authoritative position of the Executive.”

The Rule 48(a) motion here represents the authoritative position of the Executive Branch,

A still-pending sentencing memo she signed says Flynn’s lies were material, which conflicts with the pending motion to dismiss. Both are the still-authoritative position of the Executive.

She makes things worse by adopting only one part of Shea’s argument about materiality (though this is consistent with the DC Circuit brief). Shea argued the lies were not material, at all.

The Government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue.

[snip]

The particular circumstances of this case militate in favor of terminating the proceedings: Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements that were not “material” to any investigation. Because the Government does not have a substantial federal interest in penalizing a defendant for a crime that it is not satisfied occurred and that it does not believe it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the Government now moves to dismiss the criminal information under Rule 48(a).

[snip]

In the case of Mr. Flynn, the evidence shows his statements were not “material” to any viable counterintelligence investigation—or any investigation for that matter—initiated by the FBI.

[snip]

In light of the fact that the FBI already had these transcripts in its possessions, Mr. Flynn’s answers would have shed no light on whether and what he communicated with Mr. Kislyak.—and those issues were immaterial to the no longer justifiably predicated counterintelligence investigation. Similarly, whether Mr. Flynn did or “did not recall” (ECF No. 1) communications already known by the FBI was assuredly not material.

[snip]

Even if he told the truth, Mr. Flynn’s statements could not have conceivably “influenced” an investigation that had neither a legitimate counterintelligence nor criminal purpose. See United States v. Mancuso, 485 F.2d 275, 281 (2d Cir. 1973) (“Neither the answer he in fact gave nor the truth he allegedly concealed could have impeded or furthered the investigation.”); cf. United States v. Hansen, 772 F.2d 940, 949 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (noting that a lie can be material absent an existing investigation so long as it might “influenc[e] the possibility that an investigation might commence.”). Accordingly, a review of the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information, indicates that Mr. Flynn’s statements were never “material” to any FBI investigation.6

6 The statements by Mr. Flynn also were not material to the umbrella investigation of Crossfire Hurricane, which focused on the Trump campaign and its possible coordination with Russian officials to interfere with the 2016 presidential election back prior to November 2016. See Ex. 1 at 3; Ex. 2 at 1-2. Mr. Flynn had never been identified by that investigation and had been deemed “no longer” a viable candidate for it. Most importantly, his interview had nothing to do with this subject matter and nothing in FBI materials suggest any relationship between the interview and the umbrella investigation. Rather, throughout the period before the interview, the FBI consistently justified the interview of Flynn based on its no longer justifiably predicated counterintelligence investigation of him alone.

Shea further argued that Sullivan’s past judgment that these lies were material came before DOJ’s view on the case changed.

7 The Government appreciates that the Court previously deemed Mr. Flynn’s statements sufficiently “material” to the investigation. United States v. Flynn, 411 F. Supp. 3d 15, 41-42 (D.D.C. 2019). It did so, however, based on the Government’s prior understanding of the nature of the investigation, before new disclosures crystallized the lack of a legitimate investigative basis for the interview of Mr. Flynn, and in the context of a decision on multiple defense Brady motions independent of the Government’s assessment of its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ballatine does parrot Shea’s claim that “additional information” has emerged since Sullivan ruled.

In any event, additional information that was not before the Court emerged in the months since the decision that significantly alters the analysis.

The problem, here, is that in her filing, that’s as much a false claim as Shea’s claim to have found “new things” were. Ballantine’s “new things” was all known to the government well before Sullivan ruled.

As to materiality itself, the only part of Shea’s argument about materiality that Ballantine adopts pertains to whether she could prove it.

The government expressed concern specifically about its ability to prove materiality.

[snip]

The government’s Rule 48(a) motion accordingly explained that it doubted whether, in light of those aspects of the record, it should attempt to prove to a jury that the information was objectively material.

Which, as Gleeson has pointed out, doesn’t matter given Flynn’s past guilty plea.

Perhaps because of that, Ballantine adopts a different approach than Shea did in arguing that Sullivan’s past ruling didn’t matter. She argues that only a jury can decide materiality.

But as the Supreme Court has held, determining whether information is material is an essential element of the crime that must be determined by a jury, and cannot be determined as a matter of law by a court. United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 511- 512, 522-523 (1995). Indeed, the materiality inquiry is “peculiarly one for the trier of fact” because it requires “delicate assessments of the inferences a reasonable decision-maker would draw from a given set of facts and the significance of those inferences to him.” Id. at 512 (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). For that reason, the Court’s determination could not resolve the government’s concerns about its materiality case at trial.

But then she imagines what the jury might think about the materiality of Flynn’s lies that — much of the subsequent developments make clear — actually did affect the investigation into him.

Amicus makes much of the fact that a defendant’s false statements can be material even when the investigators are not deceived by them, accusing the government of asking for “the suspension of settled law for this case, but not for any others.” Gleeson Br. 46-47 (citing United States v. Safavian, 649 F.3d 688, 691-692 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (per curiam)). Contrary to amicus’s assertion (at 46-47), however, that is entirely consistent with the government’s analysis. In Safavian, the D.C. Circuit rejected a defendant’s argument that his false statements were not material where the interviewing FBI agent “knew, based upon his knowledge of the case file, that the incriminating statements were false when [the defendant] uttered them.” 649 F.3d at 691. As the government recognized in its motion to dismiss, the fact that the FBI knew at the time it interviewed Flynn the actual contents of his conversations with Kislyak does not render them immaterial. See Doc. 198, at 17 (citing Safavian, 649 F.3d 688 at 691-692). Rather, the fact that the FBI knew the content of the conversations is relevant because it would allow a jury to assess the significance the FBI in fact attached to that truthful information when the FBI learned it; and, absent reason to think that the FBI’s reaction was objectively unreasonable, that would inform the jury’s assessment of the significance a reasonable decision-maker would attach to the information.

Shea’s argument was — as Gleeson made clear — legally indefensible. Ballantine’s is legally more defensible. Except that she has already argued more persuasively against herself, in a still-pending filing that is, like the motion to dismiss, the authoritative position of the Executive Branch.

Ballantine’s argument here is more persuasive then — though inconsistent with — Shea’s. Except that she’s arguing with a still more persuasive Ballantine memorandum that remains before Sullivan.

Not only is DOJ arguing with DOJ, but Jocelyn Ballantine is arguing with Jocelyn Ballantine

With DOJ’s motion to dismiss, Bill Barr’s DOJ argued against what Bill Barr’s DOJ argued in a still pending sentencing memo submitted in January. DOJ’s response in the DC Circuit mandamus petition argued against Bill Barr’s admission that Emmet Sullivan has a say in whether to dismiss the case or not. Now, Jocelyn Ballantine is arguing that DOJ’s past (but still-pending) statements about materiality conflict with its current statements.

The DC Circuit filing and this one conflict with Shea about what the “new things” are justifying such flip-flops.

But crazier still, Ballantine argues that these conflicting statements are the authoritative view, singular, of the Executive.

Ballantine has laid out a case and controversy with Sullivan here — whether her own conduct amounted to misconduct. Sullivan’s amicus, John Gleeson, may well be able to use that to argue that the many conflicting statements from DOJ make it clear there is no authoritative view from the Executive, because it can’t agree with itself — its prosecutor can’t even agree with herself — on a week to week basis.

And if there is no one authoritative authoritative view of the Executive, Sullivan will have a much easier time arguing all this overcomes any presumption of regularity.

In a Motion Claiming that Appointing an Amicus Is “Unprecedented,” Billy Barr Argues Against Billy Barr Twice More

DOJ has availed itself of the opportunity to provide a response to Mike Flynn’s petition for a write of mandamus at the DC Circuit.

As I’ll show, I think the reason they did so was to make yet another argument that Mike Flynn can lie wherever and about whatever, but those lies may never be deemed material to a proceeding, and therefore he must go scot-free. Along the way, however, DOJ argues that merely appointing an amicus is a totally unprecedented act. And to get there, DOJ twice argues against DOJ.

DOJ says only DOJ can determine if Flynn can lie and lie and lie

I’ve long believed that Sullivan’s order that amicus John Gleeson consider whether Flynn should be held in contempt for perjury made Flynn’s challenge more airtight. Indeed, the DC Circuit didn’t even include that among the things it asked to be briefed. Nevertheless, Sullivan included it, mostly to point out that even if the Circuit resolved the motion to dismiss, the question of whether Flynn should be held in contempt remains. Sullivan argues along the way that contempt is part of the court’s inherent authority.

Regardless how this Court resolves the Rule 48 issue, questions remain whether Mr. Flynn should be subject to any sanction pursuant to statute, the Federal Rules, and federal courts’ inherent authority to discipline those who fail to tell the truth under oath and obstruct justice in the courtroom. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 401–402; Fed. R. Crim. P. 42; Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 41–44 (1991) (upholding court’s inherent authority to punish “acts which degrade the judicial system, including … misleading and lying to the Court” (quotations omitted)). This factbound inquiry involves well-established Article III powers, and the district court should be permitted to address it in the first instance.

The contempt power is “settled law” that “is essential to the administration of justice.” Young v. U.S. ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., 481 U.S. 787, 795 (1987). It springs from the court’s Article III responsibility to protect its essential functions, including preserving the integrity of courts and the truthseeking process. See Int’l Union, United Mine Workers of Am. v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 831 (1994). Under this inherent power, “a court may issue orders, punish for contempt, vacate judgments obtained by fraud, conduct investigations as necessary to exercise the power, bar persons from the courtroom, assess attorney’s fees, and dismiss actions.” United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 461 (4th Cir. 1993).

To be clear, a contempt finding or sanction against Mr. Flynn may prove unwarranted. If the representations in his January 2020 declaration are true, they present attenuating circumstances for his prior, contrary statements. But the nature and extent of Mr. Flynn’s reversals under oath—from whether he lied to the government in January and March 2017, to whether he was coerced into pleading guilty, misled by his former attorneys, or improperly dissuaded from withdrawing his guilty plea in 2018 when Judge Sullivan offered that option—raise questions that any judge should take seriously. They thus provide a basis for invoking the district court’s authority to “conduct investigations as necessary.” Id.7

7 Contrary to Mr. Flynn’s suggestion (Pet. 11–17), Judge Sullivan’s appointment of an amicus to brief the contempt power is appropriate. Because contempt implicates core Article III powers, “Courts cannot be at the mercy of another Branch in deciding whether [contempt] proceedings should be initiated.” Young, 481 U.S. at 796. That is why the Federal Rules explicitly authorize the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate contempt. See id.; see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(a)(2). Judge Sullivan’s amicus order is more restrained: It does not appoint Judge Gleeson to prosecute any contempt charge, but merely to address whether initiating a contempt proceeding here would be appropriate, and gives Mr. Flynn the last word on the question

The government must have anticipated this, because it argues at length that Flynn’s lies didn’t obstruct anything, without ever explaining why not. Along the way, they bizarrely argue there’s no evidence of he lied out of contempt for the court, suggesting that this happens all the time.

Petitioner also cannot be prosecuted for contempt because there is no evidence of “contumacious intent.” Brown, 454 F.2d at 1007. Even assuming that petitioner had the intent to commit perjury, that would not establish that he had the “inten[t] to obstruct the administration of justice.” Sealed Case, 627 F.3d at 1238. There is no indication that petitioner pleaded guilty and then moved to withdraw his plea as “part of some greater design to interfere with judicial proceedings.” Dunnigan, 507 U.S. at 93. Rather, the record shows that petitioner—like other defendants who enter pleas they later seek to withdraw— pleaded guilty with the intent to resolve the allegations against him on the best terms he thought possible at the time. Doc. 160-23, at 8-9. Our adversarial system treats plea colloquies and later motions to withdraw as an accepted part of normal judicial proceedings. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b), (d). An intent to acquiesce in the prosecution’s charges, even falsely, is not an intent to interfere with judicial proceedings themselves for purposes of contempt under Section 401(1).

DOJ then argues that only DOJ could prosecute Flynn for perjury.

I have zero doubt that Neomi Rao will adopt this view, for present purposes, because she has never met a ridiculous argument she didn’t like. But it would be shameful for any self-respecting judge to do so, as it effectively eviscerates judicial authority.

Appointing an amicus is unprecedented

DOJ then argues that Judge Sullivan did something unprecedented, which is what they use to justify issuing a writ.

III. A Writ Of Mandamus Is Appropriate And Necessary Relief In Light Of The District Court’s Unprecedented Order

Several pages later, after laying out the very high bar for a writ of mandamus, the government describes what Sullivan has done: appoint an amicus.

For the same reasons that the mandamus factors were met in Fokker and In re United States, those factors are met here. The only distinction between the cases is that, in Fokker and In re United States, the district court had entered an order denying the motion, while here the district court has entered an order providing for further proceedings and contemplating additional, court-initiated criminal charges.

The government is basically arguing that even appointing an amicus amounts to deciding against Flynn. Nowhere does the government claim that Flynn would be injured by this amicus, and Flynn’s only claim to injury is the delay (he himself is responsible for over a year of delay on this case).

Billy Barr argues against Billy Barr

Appropriately, for a DOJ that has refuted its repeated claims that Flynn’s lies were material by arguing they weren’t material, Billy Barr once against argues against Billy Barr.

This brief does so in two ways.

As I’ve noted, DOJ needs some kind of explanation for what changed their opinion. In front of Sullivan, they argued they had gotten “new” information, none of which is new.

Jocelyn Ballantine is (inexplicably) on this brief. She cannot argue those other things are new, because she knew all of them when she argued, in the past, that Flynn’s lies were material.

So this brief, while presenting all that other not-new information (without making any of the arguments necessary to justify DOJ’s flip-flop), doesn’t argue that it is new.

Instead, this brief argues that the investigation into Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe is “new.”

Thereafter, new information emerged about essential participants in the investigation. Strzok was removed from the investigation due to apparent political bias and was later terminated from the FBI. The second interviewing agent was criticized by the Inspector General for his tactics in connection with the larger investigation. See Doc. 169, at 6-7. And McCabe was terminated after the Department of Justice determined that he lied under oath, including to FBI agents. Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, A Report of Investigation of Certain Allegations Relating to Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe 2 (Feb. 2018).

There are several problems with this.

First of all, DOJ never managed to indict McCabe for his alleged lies, and whether he lied is currently being litigated. Also, DOJ IG has reviewed Strzok’s conduct at great length — including the documents that at the District level DOJ claimed falsely were new — and it affirmatively stated that any bias Strzok have did not affect any decision reviewed.

But the most important reason this is outright absurd is that both of these things were public and known to Flynn on December 18, 2018 (indeed, the investigation into Strzok was known to Flynn when he pled the first time). As Beth Wilkinson noted in Sullivan’s response, Flynn disclaimed those things under oath!!!

After being placed under oath again, Mr. Flynn confirmed that (1) he did not wish to “challenge the circumstances” surrounding his FBI interview; (2) by pleading guilty he would be giving up “forever” his right to challenge that interview; (3) he knew at the time of his interview that lying to the FBI was a crime; and (4) he was “satisfied with the services provided by [his] attorneys.” Id. at 7–9. Mr. Flynn also disclaimed any reliance on revelations that certain FBI officials involved in the interview were being investigated for misconduct. Id. at 9.

We’re five months past the time Billy Barr appointed Jeffrey Jensen to go come up with some excuse to dismiss the Flynn prosecution, and DOJ still can’t decide (or find anything) what is new to justify the flip-flop.

But there is an even bigger Billy Barr belly flop in this response. As Wilkinson noted in the Sullivan response, in its motion to dismiss, DOJ acknowledged that it can only dismiss the prosecution with leave of the judge.

The government’s motion acknowledges that Rule 48 does not require Judge Sullivan to serve as a mere rubber stamp.

[snip]

First, the motion acknowledges that a Rule 48(a) dismissal requires leave of the court. Id. at 10. While the government argued that the court’s discretion was “narrow” and “circumscribed,” id., it did not argue that the court lacked discretion altogether.

Barr reiterated this point in his interview with Catherine Herridge.

Does Judge Sullivan have a say?

Yes. Under the rules, the case can be dismissed with leave of court. Generally, the courts have said that that provision is in there to protect defendants, to make sure the government doesn’t play games by bringing a charge and then dismissing it; bringing another charge, dismissing it. But he does have a say.

Now, after Bill Barr’s DOJ has twice said that the Judge has a say, Billy Barr’s DOJ argues that the District Court has no authority to reject it.

Simply put, the district court has no authority to reject the Executive’s conclusion that those reasons justify a dismissal of the charges.

Again, Neomi Rao will have no embarrassment in agreeing even with a seemingly schizophrenic argument that will help Trump out, and she may well bring Karen Henderson along.

But this is an embarrassment. Bill Barr keeps shredding the credibility of the Justice Department by arguing against past arguments he has personally approved, even very recent ones. There’s no longer any pretense they have to make and sustain an argument, only provide words on a page for captive judges to rubber stamp.

Billy Barr Put a Firearms Prosecutor in Charge of Reviewing a Counterintelligence Investigation

The NYT published a story yesterday that will be very handy for the amicus that Emmet Sullivan appointed in the Mike Flynn case, John Gleeson. It describes two pieces of evidence that St. Louis US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen (whom Barr ordered to conduct a review of Flynn’s prosecution) and Timothy Shea (whose name was on the motion to dismiss asking Sullivan to dismiss the case) failed to account for in their motion.

Most notably, prosecutors interviewed Bill Priestap two days before the motion to dismiss, on May 5. Priestap’s notes have been portrayed by Flynn’s team as proof that the FBI tried to entrap Flynn. In the interview, Priestap disputed the interpretation of the notes that had already been released a week earlier.

That interpretation was wrong, Mr. Priestap told the prosecutors reviewing the case. He said that F.B.I. officials were trying to do the right thing in questioning Mr. Flynn and that he knew of no effort to set him up. Media reports about his notes misconstrued them, he said, according to the people familiar with the investigation.

[snip]

Mr. Jensen and Ms. Ballantine, herself a veteran prosecutor, interviewed Mr. Priestap along with another prosecutor, Sayler Fleming, and an F.B.I. agent from St. Louis who was there to memorialize the encounter.

[snip]

Those notes reflected Mr. Priestap’s own thoughts before meeting with F.B.I. leadership to discuss how to question Mr. Flynn, the people said. A footnote in Mr. Shea’s motion included a reference to Mr. Priestap’s ruminations. The motion described them as “talking points.”

The notes also showed that the F.B.I. softened its interview strategy with Mr. Flynn. Officials decided that agents would be allowed to read back portions of the highly classified phone call transcripts to refresh Mr. Flynn’s memory. F.B.I. investigators felt at the time it was important to figure out whether Mr. Flynn would tell the truth in an interview.

The article also reveals the existence of an FBI email, dated April 23, that reflects the Bureau’s view that Prietap’s notes were not Brady material, but gave them to Flynn’s team only because they were not sensitive.

Eventually the F.B.I. agreed to release the documents because they contained no classified or sensitive material, even though they believed they were not required to share them with the defense, according to an email from lawyers in Mr. Boente’s office on April 23.

Finally, the article describes that Jensen started drafting the motion to dismiss “by the beginning of May,” which would be before interviewing Priestap (the FBI’s drafting of the Hillary declination before her interview is regarded as a key sin among the frothy right).

By the beginning of May, Mr. Jensen recommended to Mr. Barr that the charge be dropped, and the team began to draft the motion to dismiss it.

[snip]

As the lawyers digested the interview with Mr. Priestap, some prosecutors expressed concern that they were moving too fast. But other officials pointed out that in less than a week the department was due to respond to Mr. Flynn’s motion to dismiss the case, and argued against proceeding in that matter if they were about to drop the entire case.

So Jensen’s crack review of the propriety of the Flynn prosecution first turned over the document to Flynn, then started drafting the motion to dismiss, and only then decided to ask Priestap about what the notes mean. It will be interesting to discover whether whoever drafted the motion to dismiss had decided the notes were “talking points” before the Priestap interview and just ignored the interview entrely.

The NYT story reveals another detail, however: who, from Jensen’s team, is conducting this review, a St. Louis prosecutor named Sayler Fleming. Fleming’s day job seems to be entirely focused on prosecuting felon possession of firearms cases, along with typical related crimes, car-jacking and drug trafficking. Because of recent Supreme Court decision, that means he or she has fielded a bunch of appeals in recent months.

But nothing in PACER suggests he or she has any experience with counterintelligence at all, or even national security cases.

And that may explain one of the more egregious errors in the motion to dismiss. The motion admits that the case against Flynn, which was never closed, was predicated on both 18 USC 951 and FARA, two different kinds of Foreign Agent laws. But its analysis of the investigative purpose of the January 24, 2017 interview, claims that the FBI was only investigating the Logan Act.

Believing that the counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Flynn was to be closed, FBI leadership (“the 7th Floor”) determined to continue its investigation of Mr. Flynn on the basis of these calls, and considered opening a new criminal investigation based solely on a potential violation of the Logan Act, 18 U.S.C. § 953. See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 7 at 1-2; Ex. 8 at 1-5, FBI Emails RE: Logan Act Jan. 4, 2017. Yet discussions with the Department of Justice resulted in the general view that the Logan Act would be difficult to prosecute. Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 4 at 1-2, FBI FD-302, Interview of Sally Yates, Aug. 15, 2017 (Sept. 7, 2017); Ex. 5 at 9. The FBI never opened an independent FBI criminal investigation.

The motion adopts expressive language to suggest the investigative team vacillated between whether there was a criminal investigation or not — in the process, falsely suggesting an interview would only be appropriate if there were a criminal investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Yates and another senior DOJ official became “frustrated” when Director Comey’s justifications for withholding the information from the Trump administration repeatedly “morphed,” vacillating from the potential compromise of a “counterintelligence” investigation to the protection of a purported “criminal” investigation. Ex. 3 at 5; compare Ex. 5 at 5 (“[W]e had an open counterintelligence investigation on Mr. Flynn”), with Ex. 4 at 4 (“Comey had said something to the effect of there being an ‘ongoing criminal investigation’”).

It then goes on to suggest that because records searches had yielded nothing in the 18 USC 951 investigation, a call showing Flynn intervened to undermine official US policy with no hint that he did so on Trump’s orders would not by itself be relevant to a Foreign Agent investigation.

In the case of Mr. Flynn, the evidence shows his statements were not “material” to any viable counterintelligence investigation—or any investigation for that matter—initiated by the FBI. Indeed, the FBI itself had recognized that it lacked sufficient basis to sustain its initial counterintelligence investigation by seeking to close that very investigation without even an interview of Mr. Flynn. See Ex. 1 at 4. Having repeatedly found “no derogatory information” on Mr. Flynn, id. at 2, the FBI’s draft “Closing Communication” made clear that the FBI had found no basis to “predicate further investigative efforts” into whether Mr. Flynn was being directed and controlled by a foreign power (Russia) in a manner that threatened U.S. national security or violated FARA or its related statutes, id. at 3.

With its counterintelligence investigation no longer justifiably predicated, the communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak—the FBI’s sole basis for resurrecting the investigation on January 4, 2017—did not warrant either continuing that existing counterintelligence investigation or opening a new criminal investigation. The calls were entirely appropriate on their face.

When the motion gets around to arguing — relying on the transcripts but not providing them — that Flynn’s call was totally cool, it assessed that question in terms of FARA (undisclosed lobbying) not 18 USC 951.

Nor was anything said on the calls themselves to indicate an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Flynn and a foreign power. Indeed, Mr. Flynn’s request that Russia avoid “escalating” tensions in response to U.S. sanctions in an effort to mollify geopolitical tensions was consistent with him advocating for, not against, the interests of the United States. At bottom, the arms-length communications gave no indication that Mr. Flynn was being “directed and controlled by … the Russian federation,” much less in a manner that “threat[ened] … national security.” Ex. 1 at 2, Ex. 2 at 2. They provided no factual basis for positing that Mr. Flynn had violated FARA.

The motion then imagines that counterintelligence investigators would only interview someone about a transcribed call to learn his recollection of what had been said, again suggesting the Logan Act would be the only reason to interview Flynn.

With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said. Whatever gaps in his memory Mr. Flynn might or might not reveal upon an interview regurgitating the content of those calls would not have implicated legitimate counterintelligence interests or somehow exposed Mr. Flynn as beholden to Russia.

Notably, at this time FBI did not open a criminal investigation based on Mr. Flynn’s calls with Mr. Kislyak predicated on the Logan Act. See Ex. 7 at 1-2.4 See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 4 at 1-2; Ex. 5 at 9. The FBI never attempted to open a new investigation of Mr. Flynn on these grounds. Mr. Flynn’s communications with the Russian ambassador implicated no crime.

These moves in the motion to dismiss were always obviously problematic. The exhibits submitted with the motion, including Priestap’s own notes, make it crystal clear that the purpose of the interview was not primarily to investigate the Logan Act, but to determine whether Flynn was hiding a clandestine relationship with Russia, a question primarily implicating 18 USC 951, and in no way limited to or even primarily about FARA, as one claim in this motion suggests.

As such, the claims made about the counterintelligence investigation affirmatively misrepresent even the exhibits submitted in support of the filing. Plus, as noted, the motion makes claims about the transcripts, doesn’t provide them, but the exhibits provide abundant evidence to suggest those claims are wrong (the op-ed Gleeson wrote last week laying out the addition steps Sullivan might take in response to the motion to dismiss specifically suggests Sullivan order the release of the transcripts). Nor does the motion account for the fact that to this day the public evidence claims (improbably) that Flynn was acting on his own when he made that call, which by itself would support a counterintelligence investigation.

In other words, the motion to dismiss makes obvious errors of fact and claims backed by no evidence (and refuted by the evidence present) pertaining to what FBI’s counterintelligence interests would be when the incoming National Security Advisor, seemingly freelancing, called up the country that just attacked us and undermined the official US policy.

One possible explanation for those errors and omissions is that the one career prosecutor Billy Barr put in place to conduct this review is perfectly suited to chasing down felons brandishing guns, but totally inappropriate to assess a counterintelligence investigation.

The Legal Posture of the Flynn Case: Emmet Sullivan Has Up to Six Pending Decisions, Not One

Partly as a public service (the vast majority of people who are commenting on DOJ’s actions seem to be unfamiliar with the docket) and partly to set up a post I will do attempting to explain why Billy Barr did something as aggressive as he did last week, I wanted to lay out where all the moving pieces in Mike Flynn’s case stand.

Flynn blows up a probation sentencing with mixed claims about his prosecution

Prosecutors first started moving towards sentencing Flynn in June 2018; it’s clear the investigation was still ongoing but they asked to have Flynn’s presentencing report filed so they could move quickly after that. We now know that this was days after Flynn testified to the grand jury in the Turkish influence peddling case. There were reports Flynn was anxious to be sentenced so he could start earning a living again and in this time period, he registered to start influence peddling again, before his lawyers got him to claim that was just a mistake. On September 17, 2018, prosecutors said they were ready to move towards sentencing and asked for a date starting in November, after the midterms. The hearing ultimately got scheduled for December 18, 2018, after Jeff Sessions had been fired and Trump had announced he would nominate Bill Barr to be Attorney General (he didn’t actually send the nomination to the Senate until January 3, 2019, for reasons that likely have to do with Matt Whitaker’s Vacancy Reform Act status).

At that point, prosecutors recommended a sentence within guidelines and a downward departure, which is consistent with probation. Had Flynn left well enough alone, he would have gotten a year of probation and he’d be free and clear of the justice system by now.

He didn’t leave well enough alone. He got cute, claiming to accept guilt but at the same time floating the first of his complaints about being perjury trapped by mean old FBI agents. In response, not only did Judge Emmet Sullivan release the documents that revealed Flynn lies were worse than known, but he put Flynn under oath, both to reallocute his guilty plea, but also to swear that he didn’t think the circumstances of his interview made him any less guilty. After Sullivan made it clear that if he sentenced Flynn that day, he’d give him prison time, Flynn decided to wait until he was done cooperating after testifying at his partner Bijan Kian’s trial.

On February 14, 2019, the day Billy Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent a tweet suggesting “the eagle had landed” to Matt Gaetz, whose assaults on the Mueller investigation he had previously cheered in 2018.

After Barr was confirmed, Mueller quickly moved to write up his report, which was completed on March 22 and released on April 19, 2019. Mueller did not close his office, however, until May 29, when he gave a hasty press conference even as the final outstanding piece of evidence — Roger Stone aide, Andrew Miller’s testimony — came in.

When Mueller testified before Congress two months later on July 24, the most newsworthy thing he said was that FBI was still investigating the counterintelligence impact of Mike Flynn’s lies.

[Congressman Raja] KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

Flynn replaces Covington for Powell and Blows Up the Bijan Kian Trial

Exactly a week later, Flynn replaced his competent attorney, Rob Kelner, with Fox News firebreather, Sidney Powell, who moved immediately to collaborate with Bill Barr to undermine his prosecution.

In late June, Flynn started reneging on the testimony he provided in the Kian trial. As a result, the government tried to change their plan for the prosecution, attempting to admit Flynn’s prior testimony as a co-conspriator of unregistered foreign agents (who were charged under 18 USC 951, not just as lobbyists). Flynn intervened to fight that (not least, because it would completely doom any effort to avoid prison), blaming Kelner for making him submit a false FARA declaration even while submitting evidence actually showing that Flynn misled Kelner during the filing process. The move predictably helped Kian, as those events were key in Judge Anthony Trenga’s decision to throw out his conviction (which is currently being appealed, but which I expect DOJ to try to blow up in a further attempt to protect Flynn), but it also started a series of claims from Flynn that directly conflicted with his past sworn statements.

Sullivan, noting what was happening over in EDVA, asked the sides to weigh in, which is how Flynn’s team first started making claims in Sullivan’s court that the government, not Flynn, had reneged, all while submitting evidence showing the contrary.

Which is to say, even before Powell took a single action in the Flynn case, Flynn had created further exposure for himself.

As part of a Brady motion, Flynn moves to dismiss the prosecution

The first legal step Sidney Powell took was to submit a motion to compel Brady material. The first filing, on August 30, made no specific request (though did demand more classified information on behalf of Flynn, who of course had confessed to secretly working for a foreign government during the campaign). Powell also asked for more time. Days after submitting that, however, Powell and her colleagues demanded security clearances. On September 11, a more detailed motion was unsealed. That motion included a long list of demands, many based on wild conspiracy theories; the list largely tracked the one Powell had sent to Barr three months earlier, though she generally moderated her language and added a number of requests pertaining to the Turkish investigation that weren’t included in her Barr letter.

Many of these items are among those the government relied on in its motion to dismiss last week, proving the documents were in no way “new.”

Almost two weeks later, Flynn cleaned up some problems in the original request.

On October 1, prosecutors provided a timeline showing they had already produced everything they believed Flynn was entitled to. The same day, they responded to the Brady motion with a detailed response to each of Flynn’s demands, as well as two exhibits showing that this was part of a larger effort to undermine the Mueller investigation (which I addressed here).

On October 15, Flynn demanded evidence from Joseph Mifsud’s phone — which further established Sidney Powell didn’t care about whether her demands related to her client, but also that she had an open channel of communication with Bill Barr about his Durham investigation.

In Powell’s reply to the government, she included a new demand: that Judge Sullivan dismiss the case for misconduct based on precisely the claims made by DOJ last week.

As new counsel has made clear from her first appearance, Mr. Flynn will ask this Court to dismiss the entire prosecution based on the outrageous and un-American conduct of law enforcement officials and the subsequent failure of the prosecution to disclose this evidence— which it had in its possession all along—either in a timely fashion or at all.

[snip]

The FBI had no factual or legal basis for a criminal investigation, nor did they have a valid basis for a counter-intelligence investigation against an American citizen, and they all knew it. 11 Exs. 5, 6. The evidence the defense requests will eviscerate any factual basis for the plea and reveal conduct so outrageous—if there is not enough already—to mandate dismissal of this prosecution for egregious government misconduct.

[snip]

In its relentless pursuit of Mr. Flynn, the government became the architect of an injustice so egregious it is “repugnant to the American criminal system.” Russell, 411 U.S. at 428 (citations omitted). For these reasons and those in our original Motion and Brief in Support, this Court should compel the government to produce the evidence the defense requests in its full, unredacted form. Given the clear and convincing evidence herein, this Court should issue an order to show cause why the prosecutors should not be held in contempt; and should dismiss the entire prosecution for outrageous government misconduct.

The government noted Powell’s new arguments and got permission to submit a surreply, in which they pointed out that Flynn was already in possession of the information he was using to argue for dismissal when he pled guilty the second time.

Although the defendant now complains about the pace of that discovery, before December 18, 2018, the defendant was in possession of all of the information on which he now bases his argument that the case should be dismissed due to government misconduct. See Reply at 1-2, 16, 26; Notice of Discovery Correspondence, United States v. Flynn, 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Oct. 1, 2019) (Doc. 123). Thereafter, on December 18, 2018, the defendant and his counsel affirmed for this Court that they had no concerns that potential Brady material or other relevant material had not been provided to the defendant. See Hearing Transcript at 8-10, United States v. Flynn, No. 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 18, 2018) (“12/18/2018 Hearing Tr.”). The defendant further affirmed, under oath, that he wished to proceed to sentencing because he was guilty of making false statements to the FBI. See id. at 16.

[snip]

Nor did law enforcement officials engage in “outrageous” conduct during the criminal investigation and prosecution of the defendant. On January 24, 2017, when the defendant lied in his interview, the FBI was engaged in a legitimate and significant investigation into whether individuals associated with the campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump were coordinating with the Russian government in its activities to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The defendant was not “ambushed” at the interview, and the interviewing agents certainly did not engage in “outrageous” conduct that undermines the fact that he lied. Reply at 1, 7. The documents produced by the government in discovery show that the FBI asked the defendant for permission to conduct the interview, informed the defendant that the questions would concern his “contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States,” interviewed the defendant in his own office, and afforded him multiple opportunities to correct his false statements by revisiting key questions. See, e.g., Memorandum of Andrew McCabe dated January 24, 2017 (Doc. 56-1) (“McCabe Memo”); Strzok 302.

[snip]

For all of the above reasons, it is no surprise that with the same set of facts, the defendant and his prior counsel previously represented to this Court that the circumstances of the interview had no impact on his guilt, or guilty plea. On December 18, 2018, when the Court asked the defendant if he wished to “challenge the circumstances on which you were interviewed by the FBI,” he responded, under oath, “No, Your Honor.” 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 8.10 The Court then asked the defendant if he understood that “by maintaining your guilty plea and continuing with sentencing, you will give up your right forever to challenge the circumstances under which you were interviewed,” to which the defendant answered, “Yes, Your Honor.” Id. And when the Court queried whether the defendant wanted an opportunity to withdraw his plea because one of the interviewing agents had been investigated for misconduct, the defendant stated “I do not, Your Honor.” Id. at 9. His counsel likewise represented to the Court that their client was not “entrapped by the FBI,” and that they did not contend “any misconduct by a member of the FBI raises any degree of doubt that Mr. Flynn intentionally lied to the FBI.” Id. at 11-12.

In a sur-surreply, Powell tried to back off having demanded that Sullivan dismiss the case, saying that her past arguments and the government’s response aren’t her real motion to dismiss.

In conclusion, yes, the government engaged in conduct so shocking to the conscience and so inimical to our system of justice that it requires the dismissal of the charges for outrageous government conduct. See United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 428 (1973). However, as fully briefed in our Motion to Compel and Reply, at this time, Mr. Flynn only requests an order compelling the government to produce the additional Brady evidence he has requested—in full and unredacted form—and an order to show cause why the government should not be held in contempt. At the appropriate time, Mr. Flynn will file a separate motion asking that the Court dismiss the prosecution for egregious government misconduct and in the interest of justice. Mr. Flynn is entitled to discovery of the materials he has requested in these motions and briefs that will help him support such a motion.

In Emmet Sullivan’s meticulous 92-page order issued in December denying Flynn’s Brady request, however, he addressed the request for dismissal, specifically distinguishing this case from that of Ted Stevens.

Mr. Flynn’s requested relief is dismissal of this case. See Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 36; see also Def.’s Sur-Surreply, ECF No. 135 at 17. He seeks dismissal of the charges against him and the entire prosecution for government misconduct. E.g., Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 7, 23 n.15, 36; Def.’s SurSurreply, ECF No. 135 at 17. The government disagrees. See Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 12-15. This case is not United States v. Theodore F. Stevens, Criminal Action No. 08–231(EGS), the case that Mr. Flynn relies on throughout his briefing. In that case, the Court granted the government’s motion to dismiss, and the government admitted that it had committed Brady violations and made misrepresentations to the Court. In re Special Proceedings, 825 F. Supp. 2d 203, 204 (D.D.C. 2011) (Sullivan, J.). Even if Mr. Flynn established a Brady violation in this case, dismissal would be unwarranted because “[t]he remedy for a Brady violation is retrial, not dismissal.” United States v. Borda, 941 F. Supp. 2d 16, 19 n.1 (D.D.C. 2013) (citing Pettiford, 627 F.3d at 1228). “[D]ismissal is appropriate only as a last resort, where no other remedy would cure prejudice against a defendant.” Pasha, 797 F.3d at 1139. [my emphasis]

As the government noted when they responded to Flynn’s request for dismissal, he already had all the evidence on which he premised that demand when he pled guilty a second time in December 2018.

In a sentencing memo, the government accounts for Flynn’s failed cooperation and refusal to admit guilt

In the wake of Sullivan’s order, the parties moved towards sentencing in January. The government got two continuances before submitting their revised motion, one in December and another in January, to get all required approvals for their sentencing memo. That means prosecutors on the case went to great lengths to approve their recommendation for prison time.

The factors enunciated in Section 3553(a) all favor the imposition of a sentence within the Guidelines range. The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct. Similarly situated defendants have received terms of imprisonment.

I’ll return to that memo, but the key point is that Judge Sullivan specifically gave Bill Barr’s DOJ time to ensure that the chain of command approved their supplemental sentencing memo.

Before Flynn responded to that revised recommendation, they asked for a continuance to allow them to withdraw Flynn’s guilty plea, specifically citing prosecutors’ recommendation for prison time.

Because Flynn submitted his supplemental sentencing memo after beginning the process to withdraw his guilty plea, they were stuck arguing in it both that Flynn should get credit for admitting guilty but also arguing that he was not guilty.

The government reply, submitted as Barr started the process to replace Jessie Liu, is the one that alerted everyone to the shenanigans that Barr was up to. Whereas the initial supplemental motion — which had been delayed twice to get approval — recommended prison time, this one reverted back to supporting probation, the position the government had adopted before Flynn had reneged on both his cooperation and his guilty.

Flynn blames his guilty pleas on his Covington lawyers

As noted, Flynn cited the recommendation for prison time in asking to withdraw his guilty plea(s). Flynn based his request to withdraw his guilty plea on a claim that his very competent Covington lawyers were both conflicted and incompetent. He then submitted what was originally called a supplement — which made no new arguments — which they subsequently corrected to note,

1 This is not Mr. Flynn’s “Supplemental Motion to Withdraw for Alternative Additional Reasons” currently due to be filed on January 22, 2020, for which we have requested two additional days to complete and file.

In response to a second request for more time on its filings, Judge Sullivan issued an order that reflects where he’ll likely go now: he raised the prospect of an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there is good cause to set aside his guilty plea.

Mr. Flynn’s supplemental motion and the government’s response shall address the following: (1) the standard in this Circuit for a defendant seeking to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing; and (2) the need for an evidentiary hearing where the parties would present all testimony and evidence concerning the issue of whether Mr. Flynn can show that there is good cause to set aside his guilty pleas, see United States v. Cray, 47 F.3d 1203, 1206 (D.C. Cir. 1995), including testimony from Mr. Flynn and other witnesses under oath, subject to cross-examination, to show any “fair and just reason” for this Court to grant his motion to withdraw, Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d).

From that moment forward, it became clear that Sullivan would put Flynn back under oath.

On February 9, prosecutors made things still worse, by asking Sullivan to waive Covington’s attorney-client privilege with respect to Flynn so they could assist prosecutors in rebutting his claims that they were incompetent. From that point forward, it became clear that not only Flynn, but his very credible former lawyers, would be testifying about the prosecution.

On January 29, just two days before Bill Barr would replace Jessie Liu with his flunky and around the same time he ordered Jeffrey Jensen to review the Flynn prosecution, Flynn submitted what he billed as his real supplemental motion to withdraw, doubling down on the claim that his former lawyers were responsible for his guilty pleas, he wasn’t.

As I noted at the time, the motions in conjunction created new risks for Flynn: in particular, his motion to withdraw included a sworn declaration that conflicted with three past sworn statements from him:

  • December 1, 2017: Mike Flynn pled guilty before Judge Rudolph Contreras to lying in a January 24, 2017 FBI interview. In his plea allocution, Flynn admitted:
    • He lied about several conversations with Sergey Kislyak about sanctions
    • He lied about several conversations with Kislyak about an attempt to undermine an Obama effort at the UN
    • He lied about whether his company knew that it was working for the government of Turkey and about whether senior officials from Turkey were overseeing that contract
    • He was satisfied with the services his attorneys had provided
    • No other threats or promises were made to him except what was in the plea agreement
  • December 18, 2018: Mike Flynn reallocuted his guilty plea before Judge Emmet Sullivan to lying in a January 24, 2017 FBI interview. In his plea allocution, Flynn admitted:
    • He lied about several conversations with Sergey Kislyak about sanctions
    • He lied about several conversations with Kislyak about an attempt to undermine an Obama effort at the UN
    • He lied about whether his company knew that it was working for the government of Turkey and about whether senior officials from Turkey were overseeing that contract
    • He was satisfied with the services his attorneys had provided
    • He did not want a Curcio counsel appointed to give him a second opinion on pleading guilty
    • He did not want to challenge the circumstances of his January 24, 2017 interview and understood by pleading guilty he was giving up his right to do so permanently
    • He did not want to withdraw his plea having learned that Peter Strzok and others were investigated for misconduct
    • During his interview with the FBI, he was aware that lying to the FBI was a federal crime
  • June 26, 2018: Mike Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, among other things, that “from the beginning,” his 2016 consulting project “was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government,” he and Bijan Kian would “always talk about Gulen as sort of a sharp point” in relations between Turkey and the US as part of the project (though there was some discussion about business climate), and he and his partner “didn’t have any conversations about” a November 8, 2016 op-ed published under his name until “Bijan [] sent me a draft of it a couple of days prior, maybe about a week prior.” The statements conflict with a FARA filing submitted under Flynn’s name.
  • January 29, 2020: Mike Flynn declared, under oath that, “in truth, I never lied.” Flynn claims he forgot about the substance of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, rather than lied about them.

To make things worse, as often happens with exhibits Sidney Powell introduces, the actual record undermined claims Flynn made. For example, Flynn included a document that showed Covington gave him more warnings about conflict than he admitted to in his declaration, thereby making it clear his sworn declaration didn’t match the record accompanying it.

Flynn repeats his claim he was railroaded

That same day Flynn submitted his most substantive motion to withdraw his guilty plea, January 29, he also submitted a motion to dismiss his prosecution. It was basically a repeat of the request made months earlier as part of the Brady request, pointing to irregularities in the Carter Page FISA application as the primary justification to make the motion anew.

On February 12, prosecutors responded to that motion pointing out there was nothing new here. Flynn’s response was repetitive and included a misleading timeline full of claims that contradict claims they’ve made elsewhere. The motion ignored that Flynn waived these complaints when he pled guilty the second time.

The government repeatedly claims that Mr. Flynn waived his right to constitutional protections when he pled guilty. ECF No. 169 at n.3. But, Mr. Flynn’s plea cannot stand, and the government cannot use it as both a shield for its misconduct and a sword to sentence Mr. Flynn. His plea was infected with constitutional error which rendered it neither knowing nor voluntary and in violation of Mr. Flynn’s Sixth Amendment rights. See ECF No. 162-2. As Mr. Flynn argued in his Motion to Withdraw Plea, ECF No. 151, even if it were a validly contracted plea, the government breached the contract the moment Mr. Van Grack filed the government’s supplemental sentencing memo which withdrew its motion for downward departure and its recommendation of probation. See ECF No. 150 at 3 (“In addition to asking the Court to credit the defendant with providing substantial assistance, the government recommended that the defendant receive credit for accepting responsibility. . . . [T]he government now withdraws both requests.”).

As prosecutors prepare their Covington argument, Bill Barr prepared his “new” information

As noted, on February 9, prosecutors took steps to be able to prove that Covington, in fact, gave Flynn exceptionally good advice. They asked for a series of delays while they did that. According to the schedule set by Judge Sullivan, prosecutors would have proposed a briefing schedule to lay all that out last Friday, possibly in a motion including some of the details from the 600 pages of evidence obtained from Covington that (the record already shows) would substantiate that Flynn gave them incorrect information for his FARA filing and repeatedly brushed off warnings about conflict.

During the delay, Covington did find 6,000 new records on top of the 600,000 documents they had already provided. Given the Bates numbers of documents filed last week, there’s no reason to believe those exhibits were included in these newly discovered documents.

As that was happening, prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine handed over, drip-by-drip, the documents that Jeffrey Jensen “analyzed.”

Beginning in January 2020, at the direction of Attorney General William P. Barr, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri (“USA EDMO”) has been conducting a review of the Michael T. Flynn investigation. The review by USA EDMO has involved the analysis of reports related to the investigation along with communications and notes by Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) personnel associated with the investigation.

The enclosed documents were obtained and analyzed by USA EDMO in March and April 2020 and are provided to you as a result of this ongoing review; additional documents may be forthcoming. These materials are covered by the Protective Order entered by the Court on February 21, 2018.

None of this discovery correspondence said the documents were new to prosecutors, only that Jensen had reviewed them. They were, nevertheless, the documents that Timothy Shea claimed were “new” as his basis for flip-flopping on DOJ’s position on the case.

Emmet Sullivan has six decisions to make, not just one

Many, perhaps most, people who’ve commented in the last week have noted that Emmet Sullivan has the prerogative whether to accept DOJ’s motion or not. It’s true he has that authority. But he actually has up to six different decisions pending, as follows:

  1. Whether to accept or reject DOJ’s motion to dismiss
  2. If Sullivan accepts DOJ’s motion to dismiss, whether he does so with or without prejudice
  3. Whether to accept or reject Flynn’s motion to withdraw his pending withdraw of guilty plea, motion to dismiss, and waiver of privilege for Covington (to which DOJ has consented)
  4. Whether to hold an evidentiary hearing or ask for briefing on Flynn’s motion to withdraw
  5. Whether to accept or reject Flynn’s motion to dismiss his prosecution
  6. Whether and if so how to sentence Flynn based on fully briefed sentencing memoranda

Sullivan would not get to most of these without, first, deciding what to do about DOJ’s motion to dismiss. And if he rejected DOJ’s motion to dismiss, he would obviously reject Flynn’s motion to dismiss, just like he already rejected that argument. Though if Sullivan does reject DOJ’s motion to dismiss, sentencing is fully briefed and he could move immediately to sentencing.

Moreover, Flynn’s multiple conflicting sworn statements are before this court whether or not Sullivan rejects DOJ’s motion to dismiss. And he could reach that decision — or at least order briefing on the Covington evidence Flynn clearly wants to keep hidden — without (or before) weighing in on DOJ’s motion to dismiss.

Which is likely one of the reasons Sullivan is taking his time before he issues the next scheduling order.

Update: I should have put this quote on behalf of Chris Wray in several posts before this one. But basically, the FBI has already put it into the public record that the stuff DOJ claimed was “new” last week had already been reviewed by DOJ IG and John Durham’s inquiry.

With regard to certain documents in the Michael Flynn matter from the 2016-2017 time period that are now the subject of reporting by the press, the FBI previously produced those materials to the Inspector General and U.S. Attorney Durham,” the FBI said.

The Four Ways Trump Can Ensure Mike Flynn Avoids Accountability for His Lies

In this post, I suggested that Billy Barr and Sidney Powell have worked together to pursue about four different ways to ensure that Mike Flynn does no prison time (though, it’s worth remembering, that Robert Mueller recommended probation for Flynn, and it’s only Flynn’s own efforts to undermine Mueller’s authority that have exposed him to real prison time). I also said that most people engaged in the debate over Flynn’s status show little to no familiarity with the status of his case. I’d like to lay out that status here.

Flynn’s sworn statements

First, it’s important to know the substance of the various statements Mike Flynn has made and how they conflict, to understand how risky his current gambit would be if not for the personal efforts of the Attorney General. All these statements are at issue:

  • December 1, 2017: Mike Flynn pled guilty before Judge Rudolph Contreras to lying in a January 24, 2017 FBI interview. In his plea allocution, Flynn admitted:
    • He lied about several conversations with Sergey Kislyak about sanctions
    • He lied about several conversations with Kislyak about an attempt to undermine an Obama effort at the UN
    • He lied about whether his company knew that it was working for the government of Turkey and about whether senior officials from Turkey were overseeing that contract
    • He was satisfied with the services his attorneys had provided
    • No other threats or promises were made to him except what was in the plea agreement
  • December 18, 2018: Mike Flynn reallocuted his guilty plea before Judge Emmet Sullivan to lying in a January 24, 2017 FBI interview. In his plea allocution, Flynn admitted:
    • He lied about several conversations with Sergey Kislyak about sanctions
    • He lied about several conversations with Kislyak about an attempt to undermine an Obama effort at the UN
    • He lied about whether his company knew that it was working for the government of Turkey and about whether senior officials from Turkey were overseeing that contract
    • He was satisfied with the services his attorneys had provided
    • He did not want a Curcio counsel appointed to give him a second opinion on pleading guilty
    • He did not want to challenge the circumstances of his January 24, 2017 interview and understood by pleading guilty he was giving up his right to do so permanently
    • He did not want to withdraw his plea having learned that Peter Strzok and others were investigated for misconduct
    • During his interview with the FBI, he was aware that lying to the FBI was a federal crime
  • June 26, 2018: Mike Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, among other things, that “from the beginning,” his 2016 consulting project “was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government,” he and Bijan Kian would “always talk about Gulen as sort of a sharp point” in relations between Turkey and the US as part of the project (though there was some discussion about business climate), and he and his partner “didn’t have any conversations about” a November 8, 2016 op-ed published under his name until “Bijan [] sent me a draft of it a couple of days prior, maybe about a week prior.” The statements conflict with a FARA filing submitted under Flynn’s name.
  • January 29, 2020: Mike Flynn declared, under oath that, “in truth, I never lied.” Flynn claims he forgot about the substance of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, rather than lied about them.

The substance of these sworn statements are important for several reasons. First, it is virtually impossible to look at these four sworn statements and conclude that he did not lie in at least one of them. In the course of challenging his guilty pleas, he has made statements that may amount to perjury, perjury to judges rather than false statements to Peter Strzok.

In addition, these statements severely constrain both of Flynn’s current legal attempts to renege on his guilty pleas, because he has already sworn that the things he now is claiming were not true.

They also change the landscape of possibilities if one of them — a motion to withdraw his plea — were successful, because there are a number of witnesses who have already testified that his statements were false for some of the statements that he twice pled were false. For example, several of Trump’s aides told Mueller they recognized Flynn lied in his FBI interview. Others told Mueller he was lying to them. KT McFarland and Jared Kushner testified about the UN ploy. And a number of people changed their testimony after Flynn pled, making it more clear that they were all adhering to a cover story. In short, while many people believe that if DOJ had to prosecute Flynn for his original false statements, it would pit him (with little credibility) against Strzok (with severely damaged credibility), that doesn’t account for the other witnesses against him who, if they altered their testimony, would put themselves at risk for false statements charges.

The four efforts to reverse Flynn’s guilty pleas

By my read, there are four efforts underway to reverse Flynn’s guilty pleas. Few people realize that Flynn has two separate legal challenges going on.

Motion to withdraw his guilty plea

The first is a motion that argues that Covington & Burling, the white shoe law firm that (at least per public records) gave Flynn 30 months of representation they never got paid for, provided inadequate legal representation in at least three matters:

  • Covington wrote the FARA filing that posed the biggest legal risk for Flynn when he pled guilty in 2017, and so had an incentive to advise him to plead guilty so as to avoid any exposure themselves for presenting a deceitful filing to DOJ.
  • Covington did not provide Flynn adequate notice of the conflict this presented.
  • Covington also withheld information from Flynn — such as that the FBI Agents who interviewed him thought he was a convincing liar — that he now claims would have led him not to plead guilty had he known it.

Even in the public record, there’s evidence these claims are not true. For example, notes taken by Covington that Flynn himself released record him telling them things that made it into the FARA filing but which even his grand jury testimony he said were not true. In other words, both materials Flynn has himself released and his own sworn statement undermine this claim.

Furthermore, Flynn’s own filings show other holes in Flynn’s argument, such as at least one additional warning from Covington about any conflict, along with evidence Covington found an unconflicted attorney and suggested Flynn consult with that lawyer about their representation.

But since Flynn filed this motion, Covington has turned over 500 additional pages of evidence to prove their competence, as well as 100 pages of sworn declarations. Sidney Powell has made aggressive claims that damage Covington’s reputation, they appear to have gotten paid nothing for representing Flynn, and Judge Emmet Sullivan showed some interest in putting everyone under oath to fight this out. So it’s possible that this will lead to a spectacular hearing where very reputable Republican lawyers will have an opportunity to disclose how much Flynn lied to them.

That said, Sullivan seems to be getting justifiably cranky with Covington because they keep finding documents they didn’t turn over to Flynn last year. He ordered the firm to file a notice of compliance indicating they had researched all their files to make sure they had gotten everything, which is due at noon today.

If Flynn succeeded in withdrawing his guilty plea without incurring perjury charges for his two plea allocutions and his grand jury testimony, he still could be prosecuted. While it’s unlikely (unless this whole effort extends into a Joe Biden administration), that prosecution could include a Foreign Agent 951 claim on top of the FARA claim and it could include Flynn’s son.

On May 8, the government will provide a status update or proposed briefing schedule on Motion to Withdraw. Most likely, this will be an anodyne filing. But it’s possible we’ll get a summary of what Covington included in the 600 pages they turned over, which may be very damaging to Flynn’s case.

Motion to dismiss for prosecutorial misconduct

In addition to the motion to withdraw, Flynn also is asking Judge Sullivan to dismiss his case for prosecutorial misconduct. Effectively, Flynn is arguing that mean FBI agents had it in for Mike Flynn and so ambushed the 30 year intelligence veteran on January 24, 2017, and tricked him into lying so they could either get him fired or prosecute him.

Because Powell asked Sullivan to dismiss Flynn’s case in a motion that purported to be a Brady challenge last fall, Judge Sullivan has already written a meticulous 92-page opinion denying these arguments, explicitly distinguishing what happened to Flynn from what happened to Ted Stevens. Powell even had to and did say, in this motion to dismiss, something akin to, “no, even though I already asked you to dismiss this case, that wasn’t my motion, this is.” Flynn’s original motion submitted in January, however, added nothing new. Rather, it asked Sullivan to dismiss the case against Flynn because FBI’s FISA applications against Carter Page were problematic.

Since then, Flynn has used the serial receipt of documents turned over in conjunction with Jeffrey Jensen’s review of his case to claim new evidence of misconduct. Those documents include proof that, contrary to Flynn’s claims, the promise that by pleading guilty Flynn would spare his son criminal investigation was not a promise. It includes notes on how the FBI prepared for the interview with Flynn, notes that — because they reflect actions not taken — are probably not directly relevant to his case anyway. Nevertheless, those notes are what Flynn’s backers point to to claim that the FBI thought it would be obvious that someone who had secretly called up the country that just attacked America and convinced them not to worry about the punishment for the attack could not serve as National Security Advisor. Finally, those documents include proof that, after considering whether some things Flynn had done in the past meant he could be a Russian threat, the FBI concluded they did not, and only after that discovered the call transcripts with Sergey Kislyak showing something far more concerning. Powell released these filings with no substantive argument about how they prove her case, using them instead to fire up Flynn’s backers who show little understanding of the case.

It’s always a fool’s errand to predict how Judge Sullivan will feel about such things. But this last filing actually dramatically undercuts a claim that Powell has made from the start, that the effort to “get” her client arose out of personal animus, and continued in unrelenting fashion until the FBI trapped Flynn in a perjury trap. If the FBI were motived by animus, as alleged, then they would never have moved to close the case against him. The only reason they did not is because they found evidence he had secretly called up the country that just attacked us and told them not to worry about the punishment. That is, the FBI reviewed some allegations against Flynn, found them wanting (which is proof that they were basing their decisions on the evidence, not any negative views about Flynn), and only after that did he give them real reason to be concerned, something totally unrelated to many of the allegations Powell based her original complaints on, that they continued the prosecution. (Flynn’s backers often forget that the FARA investigation had already started by this point, which was an urgent concern of its own right.)

In any case, those serial releases had been serving to keep the frothy right chasing one after another shiny object. But last week Judge Sullivan called a halt to them, ordering Powell to hold all her new exhibits until the government is done turning them over.

On May 11, the government will file a response to whatever Flynn’s motion to dismiss consists of by that time, with Flynn’s reply due May 18.

The Jeffrey Jensen review of Flynn’s prosecution

Approximately the week before Flynn filed his motion to dismiss, Barr appointed the St. Louis US Attorney, Jeffrey Jensen, to review Flynn’s prosecution.

It’s hard to overstate how abusive this was, on Barr’s part. When Barr did this, Judge Sullivan had already ruled there was no reason to dismiss the prosecution, and ruled that the items now being produced were not discoverable under Brady. What the review has done, thus far, has been to provide Flynn with documents that someone — presumably Derek Harvey — had reviewed, so he can obtain stuff even Judge Sullivan ruled he was never entitled to receive.

Moreover, Barr did this even though he had already appointed John Durham to review what has come to incorporate Flynn’s prosecution under a criminal standard. Durham could obtain all this evidence himself as part of his investigation, but he can only do something with it if it is evidence of a crime. Effectively, Barr has asked two different prosecutors to review this prosecution, the latter effort of which came after a judge had already ruled against it.

That said, given the prospect that litigation over Covington’s supposed incompetence may be highly damning to Flynn’s reputation, the Jensen review provides Barr with another option. He can use it as an excuse to order prosecutors to withdraw their opposition to Flynn’s motion to dismiss. It’s unclear whether Jensen has found anything to merit that yet, and Jensen appears to be engaging in analysis that might undercut where Barr wants to go with this (though given how closely Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen’s office is involved in this, I doubt that will happen). That said, Barr’s treatment of the Mueller Report proves that he has no compunction about claiming that a prosecutor’s conclusions say one thing when in fact they say something very different. And so at any moment, Barr may order prosecutors to effectively wipe away the prosecution of General Flynn.

One tea leaf, at least thus far, is that Brandon Van Grack has not withdrawn from Flynn’s case. Had he been referred for misconduct, you would expect that to show up in the docket.

The inevitable pardon

These efforts — Flynn’s effort to withdraw his guilty plea, his effort to get his prosecution thrown out for misconduct, and DOJ’s effort to find some basis to dismiss it on their own — are all ways of eliminating the Flynn prosecution in ways that would help Trump’s claim of victimization. They would provide a way for Trump to pay back Flynn’s silence about his own role in the sanctions call with Kislyak without having to issue a pardon to do so.

But those efforts can only do so much by themselves, particularly given the number of conflicting sworn statements Flynn has made.

Assuming that Barr would eventually move to withdraw DOJ’s opposition to Flynn’s motion to dismiss, it might have the effect of mooting the motion to withdraw Flynn’s guilty plea as well, effectively wiping out the existing charges against Flynn. But only if Sullivan were to accept the dismissal of the two pleas; it would be at his discretion.

And Judge Sullivan could, on his own, deem that Flynn has lied to him (and Judge Rudolph Contreras) under oath. There is literally no way to reconcile the conflicts in Flynn’s sworn statements; some of them must be false. And Sullivan has the authority to — and the temperament to — appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Flynn for perjury. That’s effectively what Sullivan did in response to the misconduct against Ted Stevens.

As noted above: it’s a fool’s errand to try to predict how Judge Sullivan will respond to stuff like this. It’s unclear whether he will be impressed with the new evidence Powell is floating. But it is possible he remains as fed up as he clearly was in December, and as a judge he does have means of doing something about it.

But as President, Trump always has the power of pardon, and there is zero reason to believe he won’t be using it aggressively on November 4, regardless of the outcome. Indeed, if Trump were to pardon Flynn for perjuring himself before several judges, it would be the exact equivalent of what he did for Joe Arpaio, saving him from being subject to the authority of a judge. Trump can do that at any time — he just presumably wants to avoid doing so until after the election.

Ultimately, Trump has four possible ways to get Flynn out of his guilty verdict. And it is virtually guaranteed that one of them will work.

Update: Corrected how long Covington worked for Flynn.

Update: bmaz has convinced me that even if Barr forces DOJ to end its contest to the motion to dismiss, Sullivan would still have discretion to reject any motion to dismiss; I’ve updated the post accordingly.

Update: Corrected that it was Flynn, not the government, that submitted the exhibit showing that Covington gave Flynn more warning on conflict than he claims in his own declaration.

Update: Here’s Covington’s notice of compliance with Sullivan’s order to make sure they’ve handed everything over. Unsurprisingly, Sidney Powell is asking for stuff that goes well beyond the client file, perhaps as a stall.