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In November, Emmet Sullivan Suggested He Might Not Be Done with DOJ and Mike Flynn

I’d like to return to Judge Emmet Sullivan’s opinion dismissing the Mike Flynn case. This post was written at the time of the opinion.

As I noted at the time, Sullivan did several things in conjunction with the opinion.

The first thing he did was to strike some documents which the government had not authenticated in response to his order that they do so. That may be mere housekeeping, but at a time when it was effectively too late for the government to try to withdraw any of the other documents, it left those exhibits it had authenticated — with at times dodgy claims of authentication and in one case no claim (some Lisa Page and Peter Strzok texts, a significant portion of which were entirely off-topic, which the government admitted it had submitted for shits and giggles) — in his docket.

Then, he issued his order. In it, he granted one of the government’s two requests, to dismiss the case as moot. But in the same order, he denied the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 48(a), denying it as moot.

This step may have more significance that most at first realized. That’s because by mooting DOJ’s effort to dismiss the prosecution pursuant to Rule 48(a), Sullivan refused to sanction the effort DOJ had been pursuing since May to undo the Flynn prosecution.

Once Sullivan issued the order mooting the case, DOJ was left with very little ground to further intervene, not least because they themselves declared the case moot.

Then Sullivan issued his opinion explaining how the case became moot. As I noted at the time, in the opinion he:

  • Affirmed the authority of a District Court to review whether a motion to dismiss serves the public good (but stopped short of doing so on mootness grounds)
  • Laid out evidence that the motion to dismiss was pretextual and corrupt (but stopped short of making that finding on mootness grounds)
  • Along the way, made judicial findings of fact regarding the propriety of the Mike Flynn investigation; effectively this was a ruling that the new reality Bill Barr attempted to create in Sullivan’s docket did not replace the prior reality DOJ had presented

I’ll elaborate on that below.

After having issued his opinion, Sullivan then denied as moot a number of other pending requests. With that order he mooted:

  • The government’s request that Flynn get a downward departure on sentencing
  • Flynn’s request to withdraw his guilty plea
  • Flynn’s request to dismiss the case based on a claim of prosecutorial misconduct
  • A Flynn request to force Covington & Burling to turn over an expansive set of documents, including their own internal discussions about ethics or about the case itself
  • A Flynn request to withdraw those three earlier requests
  • A really belated Flynn demand that Sullivan recuse from the case
  • Amicus John Gleeson’s request for clarification about what should happen given Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus
  • Flynn’s demand that Judge Sullivan strike the communications from Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe about the alterations made to their documents submitted in the docket

Mostly, this is housekeeping, the mooting of all pending issues in the case. Except it has the effect of removing any claim that Flynn might have an interest in Sullivan’s recusal. Indeed, that’s a step Sullivan noted explicitly in the opinion.

In that motion Mr. Flynn requested, among other things, that the Court grant the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 48(a) and that, upon dismissal of the case, the Court recuse itself from further proceedings. After the Court dismisses the case as moot pursuant to the presidential pardon, the Court will deny the motion for recusal as moot.

By mooting the motion to strike, Sullivan similarly moved any claim Flynn had in the Strzok and McCabe interventions going forward.

Of particular interest, that means that not only do DOJ’s dubiously authenticated documents remain before Sullivan, but so does the correspondence from Strzok and McCabe making it clear that their documents were altered (though their assertions that Jocelyn Ballantine lied to the court are not in the docket).

To sum up then: DOJ’s altered documents and evidence that they were altered remains before Sullivan, and any interest that DOJ or Flynn have in this docket — including a claim that Sullivan is biased and so must recuse — has been officially mooted.

With that background laid out, I want to look at a few more things that Sullivan did with his order.

  • Reaffirmed Flynn’s guilt as a legal question
  • Laid out the President’s interest in the pardon
  • Set the operative time of Flynn’s pardon
  • Did not address Flynn’s false statements before him
  • Observed the scope of the pardon but agreed that it covered Flynn’s false statements crime

Reaffirmed Flynn’s guilt as a legal question

First, Sullivan made it clear in several different ways that Flynn’s guilty verdict remains.

In the section laying out the posture of the case, Sullivan described how Flynn pled guilty twice.

Under oath and with the advice of counsel, Mr. Flynn pled guilty to the crime on December 1, 2017.

[snip]

On November 30, 2017, Mr. Flynn entered into a plea agreement with the government upon the advice of counsel. See Plea Agreement, ECF No. 3 at 10. Judge Rudolph Contreras accepted Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea on December 1, 2017, finding that Mr. Flynn entered the plea knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently with the advice of counsel.

[snip]

On December 18, 2018, this Court accepted Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea a second time. Sentencing Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 103 at 5, 16. During that hearing, the Court extended the plea colloquy in view of Mr. Flynn’s statements in his sentencing memorandum, which raised questions as to whether Mr. Flynn sought to challenge the conditions of the FBI interview. See generally Def.’s Mem. in Aid of Sentencing, ECF No. 50 at 6-18. Under oath, Mr. Flynn confirmed that his rights were not violated as a result of the circumstances of his January 24, 2017 FBI interview and the allegations of misconduct against FBI officials. Id. at 11-12. And Mr. Flynn declined the Court’s invitation for the appointment of independent counsel to advise him. Id. at 9-10.

He also noted that when Flynn moved to dismiss his guilty plea, DOJ never got as far as responding (he doesn’t note that, rather than doing so, they moved to dismiss the prosecution).

The government did not file a response to Mr. Flynn’s motions to withdraw his guilty pleas due to its incomplete review of Mr. Flynn’s former counsel’s productions relevant to Mr. Flynn’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, as well as a dispute between Mr. Flynn and his former counsel.

Then, in the section on the legal status of a pardon, Sullivan emphasized that accepting a pardon may be an admission of guilt. Note the emphasis is Judge Sullivan’s.

On the other hand, a pardon does not necessarily render “innocent” a defendant of any alleged violation of the law. Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that the acceptance of a pardon implies a “confession” of guilt. See Burdick, 236 U.S. at 94 (“[A pardon] carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it.”); see also United States v. Schaffer, 240 F.3d 35, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (“[A]cceptance of a pardon may imply a confession of guilt.” (citing In re North, 62 F.3d 1434, 1437 (D.C. Cir. 1994)). As Chief Justice Marshall wrote, “[a] pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power intrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed, from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.” United States v. Wilson, 32 U.S. 150, 150 (1833) (emphasis added). In other words, “a pardon does not blot out guilt or expunge a judgment of conviction.” In re North, 62 F.3d at 1437. Furthermore, a pardon cannot “erase a judgment of conviction, or its underlying legal and factual findings.” Arpaio, 2017 WL 4839072, at *1 (citing United States v. Crowell, 374 F.3d 790, 794 (9th Cir. 2004)); but see Schaffer, 240 F.3d at 38 (vacating “all opinions, judgments, and verdicts of this court and the District Court” where “[f]inality was never reached on the legal question of [the defendant’s] guilt” (emphasis added)).

After citing the Arpaio precedent, where the corrupt sheriff tried to expunge his guilty status, Sullivan then cited the Schaffer precedent in the DC Circuit treating the question of a defendant’s guilt as a legal question, not a political one. Sullivan added emphasis to four things in this opinion. Two of them, appearing in this passage, focus on two circumstances that mean Flynn is still guilty of his crimes. By giving Flynn a pardon, Trump excused the consequences for his crimes, but he didn’t change the legal fact that Flynn was guilty, and Flynn’s own acceptance of the pardon imputes that he committed the crime.

Note, I don’t think Sullivan was making a general comment about pardons generally (and I also think it a mistake to read his citation to Burdick as a general comment about accepting pardons amounting to an admission of guilty; he instead seems to be saying it might be). He was making a comment about this one, the legal question before him. Sullivan issued a ruling, then, that circuit and Supreme Court precedent mean that Flynn’s guilty verdict remains and that by accepting a pardon, he confessed to his guilt.

Laid out Trump’s interest in the pardon

Before the sections in which Sullivan analyzes why DOJ’s claims in moving to dismiss the prosecution are bunk, Sullivan first described how interested Trump was in Flynn’s prosecution. Along the way, he notes Sidney Powell’s admission at a September hearing that she had spoken with Trump and asked Trump not to pardon Flynn.

For example, Mr. Flynn was serving as an adviser to President Trump’s transition team during the events that gave rise to the conviction here, and, as this case has progressed, President Trump has not hidden the extent of his interest in this case. According to Mr. Gleeson, between March 2017 and June 2020, President Trump tweeted or retweeted about Mr. Flynn “at least 100 times.” Amicus Br., ECF No. 225 at 66. This commentary has “made clear that the President has been closely following the proceedings, is personally invested in ensuring that [Mr.] Flynn’s prosecution ends, and has deep animosity toward those who investigated and prosecuted [Mr.] Flynn.” Id.

At the September 29, 2020 motion hearing, Mr. Flynn’s counsel, in response to the Court’s question, stated that she had, within weeks of the proceeding, provided the President with a brief update on the status of the litigation. Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 56:18-20. Counsel further stated that she requested that the President not issue a pardon. Id. at 56:23-24. However, the President has now pardoned Mr. Flynn for the actions that instigated this case, among other things. Ex. 1 to Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308-1 at 1. And simultaneous to the President’s “running commentary,” many of the President’s remarks have also been viewed as suggesting a breakdown in the “traditional independence of the Justice Department from the President.” See, e.g., Amicus Br., ECF No. 225 at 67-68; id. at 68 (quoting Excerpts from Trump’s Interview with the Times, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/us/politics/trumpinterview-excerpts.html) (reporting President Trump’s statement that he enjoys the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department”).

Given this context, the new legal positions the government took in its Rule 48(a) motion and at the motion hearing raise questions regarding its motives in moving to dismiss.

That is, it was in light of Trump’s claimed “absolute right to do what [he wants with DOJ],” that Sullivan reviewed DOJ’s claimed excuses for blowing up the prosecution and found them pretextual.

Set the operative time of Flynn’s pardon

Perhaps most curiously, Sullivan went to some lengths to mark the precise time of Flynn’s pardon: November 25, 2020, at 4:08PM ET.

Rather than treating the filing of the notice of appeal or the appeal itself (the time of which is suspect) as operative, Sullivan instead treated Trump’s tweet announcing the pardon as definitive, going so far as including a legal basis to depend on Trump’s Tweets as operative.

On November 25, 2020, President Trump granted Mr. Flynn a “full and unconditional pardon” for: (1) “the charge of making false statements to Federal investigators,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, as charged in the Information in this case; (2) “any and all possible offenses arising from the facts set forth in the Information and Statement of Offense” filed in this case “or that might arise, or be charged, claimed, or asserted, in connection with the proceedings” in this case; (3) “any and all possible offenses within the investigatory authority or jurisdiction of the Special Counsel appointed on May 17, 2017, including the initial Appointment Order No. 3915-2017 and subsequent memoranda regarding the Special Counsel’s investigatory authority”; and (4) “any and all possible offenses arising out of facts and circumstances known to, identified by, or in any manner related to the investigation of the Special Counsel, including, but not limited to, any grand jury proceedings” in this District or in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Ex. 1 to Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308-1 at 1; see also Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (Nov. 25, 2020, 4:08 PM), https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1331706255212228608.6

6 The Court takes judicial notice of President Trump’s tweet as the veracity of this statement “can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)(2); see Hawaii v. Trump, 859 F.3d 741, 773 n.14 (9th Cir. 2017), vacated on other grounds, 138 S. Ct. 377 (2017).

Only after pointing to Trump’s tweet of 4:08PM on November 25, 2020 as the operative moment of Trump’s pardon of Flynn did Sullivan mention the filings in his docket as basis for the proof that Flynn had accepted the pardon.

Mr. Flynn accepted the pardon, and Mr. Flynn and the government subsequently moved to dismiss this case as moot. See Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308 at 2.

I don’t know why Sullivan did this. But he did. He set a time — 4:08 PM ET on November 25, 2020 — when Trump’s pardon of Flynn went into effect, based on the legal authority of Trump’s Tweet, and then made it clear that after the time of the pardon, Flynn accepted it.

Did not address Flynn’s false statements before him

Almost as interesting as the way Sullivan set the precise time when Trump issued a pardon for Flynn is what Sullivan did with the lies Flynn told in his own court. As a reminder, Flynn submitted a declaration that materially conflicted with sworn statements he had made before two judges and the grand jury. When he appointed John Gleeson, Judge Sullivan asked Gleeson to review whether he should consider holding Flynn in criminal contempt. When he reviewed that in his history of the case, Sullivan stated that Gleeson had convinced him that holding Flynn in contempt would be an atypical way of dealing with the issue.

On May 13, 2020, the Court appointed John Gleeson (“Mr. Gleeson”) as amicus curiae to present arguments in opposition to the government’s Rule 48(a) motion and to address whether Mr. Flynn should be held in criminal contempt for perjury pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 401; Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 42; the Court’s inherent authority; and any other applicable statutes, rules, or controlling law.3

3 The Court is persuaded by the arguments presented that issuing an Order to Show Cause would amount to an atypical action and so does not address this issue in this Memorandum Opinion.

Gleeson had favored taking Flynn’s further perjury into account at sentencing, but now Sullivan won’t be sentencing Flynn. DOJ had said that the proper way to deal with such perjury is to refer it to DOJ for prosecution.

Sullivan’s language here didn’t say he’s not going to deal with Flynn’s perjury; rather, he just said he’s not dealing with it in this particular opinion.

Observed the scope of the pardon but agreed that it covered the issues in this docket

That’s important for Sullivan’s discussion of the power of Trump’s pardon. Sullivan laid out the awesome scope of the pardon power. Before he did so, though, he first laid out the power of the courts to interpret the law, including the scope of the pardon power specifically, tying the pardon power to Marbury versus Madison.

Though the Constitution confers the pardoning power on the President generally, it is well-established that “the judiciary has served as the supreme interpreter of the scope of the constitutional powers since Marbury v. Madison.” See William F. Duker, The President’s Power to Pardon: A Constitutional History, 18 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 475, 506 (1977); see also Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177 (1803) (“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”).

[snip]

Thus, the Supreme Court in Marbury laid the foundation for the view that the President has a “general, unqualified grant of power to pardon offenses against the United States.” The Laura, 114 U.S. 411, 413 (1885).

Among the judgements he relies on showing the Supreme Court exercising judicial review and finding the pardon power unlimited, however, Sullivan cites language noting that pardons can only be issued after their commission.

In view of the principles set out in Marbury, the Supreme Court thereafter instructed that the President’s power to pardon is “granted without limit.” United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. 128, 147 (1871); see also Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. 333, 380 (1866) (“This power of the President is not subject to legislative control. Congress can neither limit the effect of his pardon, nor exclude from its exercise any class of offenders.”). The “executive can reprieve or pardon all offenses after their commission, either before trial, during trial or after trial, by individuals, or by classes, conditionally or absolutely, and this without modification or regulation by Congress.” Ex parte Grossman, 267 U.S. 87, 120 (1925) (emphasis added).

This was the third of four things to which Sullivan added emphasis in his opinion — that according to Supreme Court precedent, pardons can only issue after the offense has been committed.

And that’s interesting, in an opinion that marked the exact moment when this pardon was granted, in the language Sullivan used to apply the precedent he reviews on pardons to the pardon before him.

Sullivan observed that the pardon itself is very broad, observing as I did that the pardon “purports to apply to “any and all possible offenses” that he might be charged with in the future in relation to this case and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.” But then Sullivan said the only decision before him was just the crime Flynn twice pled guilty to.

Here, the scope of the pardon is extraordinarily broad – it applies not only to the false statements offense to which Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty in this case, but also purports to apply to “any and all possible offenses” that he might be charged with in the future in relation to this case and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. Ex. 1 to Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308-1 at 1. However, the Court need only consider the pardon insofar as it applies to the offense to which Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty in this case. Mr. Flynn has accepted President Trump’s “full and unconditional pardon.” See Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308 at 2. The history of the Constitution, its structure, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the pardon power make clear that President Trump’s decision to pardon Mr. Flynn is a political decision, not a legal one. Because the law recognizes the President’s political power to pardon, the appropriate course is to dismiss this case as moot. However, the pardon “does not, standing alone, render [Mr. Flynn] innocent of the alleged violation” of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). Schaffer, 240 F.3d at 38. Accordingly, in view of the Supreme Court’s expansive view of the presidential pardon power, the Court grants the consent motion to dismiss this case as moot. See, e.g., id. [my emphasis]

Of course, that’s not all that DOJ had asserted were before Sullivan. It had also included the Turkey FARA crimes (which were a benefit of Flynn’s guilty plea) and the lies Flynn told before Sullivan and the grand jury. This opinion is silent on the pardon’s applicability to them, even though both crimes were committed before the pardon.

The language at the end here may become important in the future. As noted above, DOJ had asked Sullivan both to dismiss the prosecution and to moot it. Sullivan did only the latter, asserting that the pardon only extends to political questions, not legal ones. Even as he made that distinction, he reemphasized that Flynn was guilty of the crime he was being pardoned for.

Whatever else he did, Sullivan made it clear that, under pressure from the President, DOJ went to some lengths to try to exonerate a guilty man.

Update, January 21: In a media lawsuit asking for the declassification of documents pertaining to Flynn’s sentencing as well as the one for his warrants, Judge Sullivan issued an order on Tuesday (the day before inauguration), for a status update on remaining sealed language to be submitted on January 26. I don’t expect much new to be declassified. There’s one passage about Flynn’s cooperation that DOJ might be able to unseal; given the focus of questions in Flynn’s early interviews, I wonder if it pertained to Flynn’s involvement in the fall 2016 Egyptian discussions that Mueller suspected ended up in a $10 million bribe, an investigation that was closed by Bill Barr since the last unsealing. But I do expect it will reveal whether Jocelyn Ballantine under whose discretion altered documents were submitted to the main Flynn docket, remains the AUSA in control of this case.

Update: This post seems rather quaint given how Mike Flynn called for martial law twice in the lead up to his QAnon followers attacking the Capitol. And as WaPo reported last night, Mike Flynn’s brother, Lieutenant General Charles Flynn, was part of the DOD call that responded slowly to deploying the National Guard as the insurgents overran the Capitol.

The Price of “Freedom”: What Mike Flynn Squandered in the Two Years He Would Have Served Probation

Two years ago today, Mike Flynn went before Judge Emmet Sullivan to be sentenced. Had things gone as planned, he may well have been sentenced to two years of probation, meaning that — today — he would be a free man, a felon (though a felon still in the queue for a Trump pardon), but nevertheless a man who had paid his debt to society.

Things didn’t go as planned.

In the days before his sentencing, Flynn got cute by introducing details about the circumstances of his interview, details which he had known about when he pled guilty just a year before and certainly knew when he pled guilty again two years ago. Judge Sullivan may well have sentenced Flynn to a short sentence in any case — no more than a month, or more realistically the two weeks Papadopoulos got without any cooperation (in which case Flynn would still likely have been done with probation by inauguration). But he would likely have given great deference to the government support for a probation sentence had Flynn not complained about the way he was treated.

But having complained, Judge Sullivan required that DOJ share the documents Flynn had relied on, including Andrew McCabe’s notes setting up the interview, the 302 from his original interview, and a 302 of an interview from Peter Strzok (over time, DOJ would release serially less redacted copies, with further damaging details); together, those documents started to make it clear the degree to which Flynn was protecting Trump.

Sullivan put Flynn back under oath and made him swear that he knew it was a crime to lie but did it anyway.

And he expressed disgust for what Flynn had done.

You know, I’m going to take into consideration the 33 years of military service and sacrifice, and I’m going to take into consideration the substantial assistance of several ongoing — several ongoing investigations, but I’m going to also take into consideration the aggravating circumstances, and the aggravating circumstances are serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI, but you lied to senior officials in the Trump Transition Team and Administration. Those lies caused the then-Vice President-Elect, incoming Chief of Staff, and then-Press Secretary to lie to the American people. Moreover, you lied to the FBI about three different topics, and you made those false statements while you were serving as the National Security Advisor, the President of the United States’ most senior national security aid. I can’t minimize that.

[snip]

I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense.

When Flynn got cute, I warned, “be careful of what you ask for.” I had no idea at the time how right I was. 

Consider what Flynn has lost in the two years he might have been serving probation, all in an attempt to avoid accountability for lying to protect Trump. He:

  • Replaced competent lawyers with incompetent TV grifters
  • Released evidence he lied to his lawyers doing the FARA filing
  • Consented to waive privilege so DOJ could find more proof he lied
  • Debunked a slew of conspiracy theories
  • Got really damning transcripts released
  • Served 708 days of supervised release
  • Joined a gang
  • Got one of his gang members prosecuted for death threats against Judge Sullivan
  • Got a ruling — and, later, a clear statement from DOJ — that no abuse occurred
  • Exposed his son to further prosecution
  • Exposed DOJ to further scrutiny
  • Proved Judge Sullivan’s point about selling the country out

Replaced competent lawyers with incompetent TV grifters

In June, Rob Kelner made official something that Sidney Powell has more recently revealed had happened earlier: Flynn replaced the very competent Covington & Burling (who, records would later show, had written off millions of dollars of work they did as the FARA investigation turned into a prosecution) for Sidney Powell.

This was a mistake.

Along the way, Powell made several errors of procedure which would have been important if she had a case. For example, Powell introduced a motion to dismiss in her purported Brady claim, somewhat mooting the claim for when she raised it again the next year. Powell did not object to Judge Sullivan’s response to the motion to dismiss in timely fashion. Powell never moved to recuse Sullivan until September 2020, effectively waiving accusations she floated throughout the process. These were all procedural issues that, even if her argument were sound, she’d also have to get correct, which she did not.

She also did a number of things that Sullivan found to be unethical, including misciting things and the initial letter to Barr (though he did not sanction her).

Most insanely, Powell had Flynn submit a sworn declaration that materially conflicted with his two earlier guilty allocutions as well as his EDVA grand jury testimony. Effectively, to beat a false statements charge he might have gotten probation for, Powell had Flynn perjure himself.

As this post makes clear, Powell got Flynn less than nothing for his troubles. In early January, after twice delaying to get the requisite approvals from Bill Barr’s DOJ, prosecutors called for prison time, noting that Flynn had disclaimed his guilty plea and blown up his cooperation.

Worse, after the way Powell went nuclear on Covington, accusing them of incompetence and ethical failures, no sane attorneys would represent Flynn going forward. If he gets back into legal trouble, he’ll be stuck with someone whose approach to lawyering amounts to propaganda rather than sound legal advice. Without the bailout of a pardon, then, things could work out far worse going forward.

Released evidence he lied to his lawyers doing the FARA filing

Immediately after replacing Kelner, Flynn’s lawyers tried to use Judge Anthony Trenga’s rulings from EDVA (which were premised on moves DOJ had to take after Flynn reneged on his prior testimony) to suggest the whole thing was a set-up. Even in her first submission, Sidney Powell was making demonstrably misleading claims. Importantly, some of the evidence she submitted — particularly with respect to the purpose of an election day op-ed Flynn published under his own name — proved that Flynn lied to his lawyers. For example, Powell submitted evidence to both dockets showing Flynn had claimed, to his Covington lawyers, to have written the op-ed published on election day to help Trump, when in fact he had instead pasted his name on it to serve the government of Turkey.

Consented to waive privilege so DOJ could find more proof he lied

Starting in fall 2019 and then doubling down after DOJ called for prison time, Powell started accusing Covington & Burling of having an unwaivable conflict. DOJ provided documentation that Flynn had been alerted to the possible conflict, but waived it. Flynn provided more evidence that DOJ had gotten that waiver. Flynn provided evidence that Covington not only told him, repeatedly, about the potential conflict, but arranged to have another lawyer he could consult about it. But still Powell persisted in accusing Covington of setting Mike Flynn up for a fall.

In response, DOJ requested and got Flynn to waive attorney-client privilege so DOJ could show more evidence than they already had that Flynn lied to his lawyers in preparation of the FARA filing. DOJ was about to submit their first collection of this proof to the docket when Barr moved to dismiss the prosecution.

But that evidence remains at DOJ and the limits on the waiver — basically prohibiting its use against Flynn — don’t cover its use for a retrial of Bijan Kian (possibly with Flynn’s son added). Indeed, Judge Trenga already approved a limited waiver of privilege for the first trial. While DOJ would have to request to use this information in such a trial, it has possession of it and knows what it includes.

Debunked a slew of conspiracy theories

The first thing Sidney Powell did after she fully took over the case was, in the guise of accusing DOJ of failing to comply with Judge Sullivan’s standing Brady order, accuse DOJ of withholding material information. The vast majority of these claims were conspiracy theories with no more basis than Powell’s bullshit claims that dead Hugo Chavez stole the election for Joe Biden. They include claims that:

  • A meeting between Bruce Ohr and Andrew Weissmann harmed her client, who was investigated by none of them
  • Nellie Ohr had any role in Flynn’s prosecution
  • Reporting from Stefan Halper was key to the predication of an investigation into Flynn, including that an allegation Svetlana Lokhova honey trapped him
  • A claim that Joseph Mifsud was at the RT Gala Flynn was paid to attend
  • Section 704b spying that Mike Flynn supervised briefly had instead been focused on him
  • A claim, repeatedly reported in frothy right propaganda, that McCabe had said, “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump”
  • A claim there was an original 302 that didn’t match every other document in the case

This might be thought of as a reverse subpoena to DOJ — and it matched a letter Powell sent Bill Barr, which prosecutors shared with Sullivan in their response (and which he’d return to after Barr attempted to blow up the prosecution altogether). Much of the material has been released in the last year. It doesn’t say what she imagined it would say, and much of it directly debunked her conspiracy theories.

Along with these conspiracy theories, Powell made false claims about the proceedings before Sullivan, claiming Brandon Van Grack never provided the damning texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, that summaries Judge Sullivan had approved were inadequate,

Both DOJ and Sullivan himself mapped out each alleged lie and showed where it appeared in the 302s. DOJ also submitted all the 302s, to show they never wavered in their content. Much later, DOJ submitted notes from a meeting shortly after the interview, showing Strzok described the interview just as it appeared in notes and all copies of the 302.

Of particular import, between Flynn’s team and DOJ, they released various filings showing how diligently DOJ had investigated the “Fuck Flynn, fuck Trump” allegation, including a statement from Strzok and a 302 from Lisa Page, as well as allegations that McCabe pressured agents to alter the 302 (with a 302, presumably of Pientka, debunking that claim). Flynn even produced evidence that Flynn knew of the allegation almost a year before he waived any concerns with it.

With regards to the Halper claim, DOJ submitted the opening EC into Flynn, showing that Lokhova was not mentioned at all. Flynn ultimately submitted the draft closing communication from the file which showed Bill Barnett — a pro-Trump agent who was skeptical of many parts of the investigation into Flynn — only got the Lokhova allegation later in 2016, and he dismissed it without much investigation.

Got really damning transcripts released

At several different points in the process, the government released transcripts it otherwise might not have. In the wake of the Mueller Report release, for example, Judge Sullivan ordered the government to release a transcript and audio of John Dowd calling Rob Kelner to pressure him to keep providing information regarding the Flynn interviews.

With their revised sentencing memo, prosecutors submitted Flynn’s grand jury testimony from EDVA (along with supporting exhibits), where he testified under oath that he always knew the Turkish government was his client.

Separate from this docket, but part of the same effort to discredit the Mike Flynn prosecution, the government released the transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak. They’re damning. They show Flynn kept making asks of Kislyak (including in response to sanctions), was easily manipulated by the Russian Ambassador, and tacitly agreed that Russia and the Trump Administration were on the same side against the US government. Importantly, the transcripts also show that Trump knew of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak (and subsequently released documents show that Flynn was with Trump for the one transcript DOJ has not yet released. These would never in a million years have been released normally.

Now, they may be a means of holding Trump accountable in the future. These transcripts now become admissible. The Mueller Report conclusion that there was some evidence Trump knew of Flynn’s calls but not enough to charge was probably based on the reality that DOJ would never submit such transcripts at trial (and indeed DOJ refused to share them with Judge Sullivan when he first asked). But now that they’re public, they would be fully available in any proceeding against Trump or Flynn going forward.

Served 708 days of supervised release

Had Flynn been sentenced to two years of probation, as was a real possibility, he would have served 731 of supervised release. As it was, Flynn served 708 days under release conditions, conditions Sullivan made stricter after the aborted sentencing hearing once he realized Flynn had gotten special treatment (though he relaxed those conditions after some months). The better part of this delay in Flynn’s period of supervised released was caused by Flynn himself. 

So effectively, Flynn served most of the sentence he would have served had he not blown up his cooperation deal, with nothing to gain from it besides a pardon of desperation he might have gotten anyway.

Joined a gang

Over the 18 months Flynn was represented by Sidney Powell, conspiracy theorists fed his ego and he fed their conspiracies. QAnon increasingly fed support for Flynn and at one point Powell even lifted claims directly from QAnon Twitter to submit in a filing.

On the Fourth of July of this year, Flynn formally pledged allegiance to QAnon.

In May — that is, before Flynn formally pledged allegiance to QAnon — the FBI released a bulletin warning that QAnon, along other conspiracy peddlers, had become a domestic terrorist threat.

Got one of his gang members prosecuted for death threats against a judge

Before Flynn joined that gang, but significantly as a result of his fostering it, a member of QAnon took action on Flynn’s behalf, calling in death threats against Judge Sullivan and his staffers.

We are professionals. We are trained military people. We will be on rooftops. You will not be safe. A hot piece of lead will cut through your skull. You bastard. You will be killed, and I don’t give a fuck who you are. Back out of this bullshit before it’s too late, or we’ll start cutting down your staff. This is not a threat. This is a promise

Frank Caporusso was charged in August. In October he was ordered held without bail. He appears set to plead guilty on January 19.

Got a ruling — and, later, a clear statement from DOJ — that no abuse occurred

And with his two years of effort, Mike Flynn has gotten none of the exoneration he was seeking.

In a 92-page opinion last year, Judge Sullivan affirmed that Flynn’s lies were material and that, “Mr. Flynn has failed to establish a single Brady violation.”

A sentencing memo approved by all levels of Bill Barr’s DOJ also ruled that Flynn’s lies were material.

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]

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.

In a filing in June, Jocelyn Ballantine laid out that Flynn had gotten the discovery required, and stated clearly that his claims of prosecutorial misconduct were unfounded.

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]

An interview report DOJ submitted actually hid material evidence that the pro-Trump agent who pushed back against the investigation of Flynn for his Russian ties worked well with Brandon Van Grack, but effectively, even Bill Barr’s star witness refuted Sidney Powell’s claims of misconduct.

Finally, in Judge Sullivan’s order dismissing Flynn’s prosecution as moot, he made a number of findings of fact, effectively finding that nothing DOJ has been throwing at the wall since May changes Mike Flynn’s guilt.

  1. The government’s assertion that there was confusion surrounding Mike Flynn’s interview does not change that his lies were material.
  2. DOJ’s [draft] conclusion that Flynn was not an agent of Russia does not change that his lies were material.
  3. The evidence impeaching Peter Strzok and others does not change that Flynn’s lies were material (and, as Sullivan notes, even the government agreed before Flynn pled guilty).
  4. Nothing in the public record substantiates that the 302 of January 24, 2017 Flynn’s interview does not accurately reflect what happened in the interview.
  5. Flynn’s claims to be forgetful are not consistent with the fact that, as the incoming National Security Advisor, he personally asked Sergey Kislyak to undermine President Obama’s policy before Trump took office.
  6. Nothing in Bill Priestap’s notes call into question the legitimacy of the Mike Flynn interview.
  7. The government could have relied on Mike Flynn’s admissions at trial.

Mike Flynn has spent two years trying to deny that he was guilty of lying to obstruct an investigation. The record remains that he did.

Exposed his son to further prosecution

As part of his claim to have been railroaded, Flynn accused Robert Mueller’s prosecutors of threatening his son. Documents that would have otherwise eventually been released (the warrants targeting Flynn) made it clear that his son was the first to claim legal exposure, threatening to plead the Fifth in July 2017 to avoid testifying about his work with his dad. Documents that Flynn submitted to the docket show that Mueller had an understanding, but pointedly avoided promising not to prosecute Jr.

Now that Flynn’s plea has been voided, Jr could hypothetically be added as a co-conspirator in any retrial of Bijan Kian, with Flynn Sr — who is immune from legal jeopardy — possibly forced to testify against his son.

I think Trump will do something to make sure this is unlikely. But the risk is out there that, after purportedly pleading guilty to save his son, Flynn will have made his son’s jeopardy worse.

Exposed DOJ to further scrutiny

DOJ’s excuses for trying to blow up Flynn’s prosecution were transparently bogus — and conflicted with each other. That, in and of itself, suggested DOJ was not entitled to the presumption of regularity.

But along the way, DOJ submitted a package of altered documents to the docket. That led Sullivan to require DOJ to certify everything they submitted — and then to insist after DOJ tried to dodge the order. DOJ stopped well short of certifying everything, and lied in the filing doing so. All those issues remain unresolved in Sullivan’s docket.

Proved Judge Sullivan’s point about selling his country out

Two years ago today, at the aborted sentencing hearing, Judge Sullivan observed (misstating when Flynn’s secret relationship with Turkey ended) that Flynn had “arguably” sold out the flag.

I mean, arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for (indicating). Arguably, you sold your country out. The Court’s going to consider all of that.

In the three weeks since Flynn was pardoned, he has done just that, twice called on Trump to use the military to rerun a vote that might keep Trump in power.

Four Things Judge Emmet Sullivan Should Do in the Wake of Flynn’s Pardon

As I noted, Trump attempted to be expansive with his pardon of Mike Flynn. He failed. I think the chances that Flynn does prison time are almost as high today as they were last week.

And while I think there is absolutely nothing defective in the pardon that Trump signed and while I’m certain that Judge Sullivan will honor that pardon (though DOJ is asking him to dismiss the charges with prejudice; Sullivan should dismiss them without prejudice), there are four things that Sullivan has the means of doing to raise the cost of Trump’s pardon. Those are:

  • Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes
  • Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon
  • Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents
  • Identify who wrote the pardon

Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes

While whoever wrote this pardon tried (but failed) to make it comprehensive, it only names one of Flynn’s crimes: false statements (indeed, that’s the only crime that DOJ lists for the pardon on its website).

But by moving to withdraw his plea, Flynn put his other crimes before Judge Sullivan. So Sullivan has every right to inquire whether this pardon includes all of Flynn’s crimes. He could issue an order for Trump to come before him to answer whether the pardon forgives Flynn for:

  • His lies about what he said to Sergey Kislyak during the transition
  • Serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Lying about serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Conspiring with others to hide that he was an undisclosed Foreign Agent of Turkey
  • Lying about his own guilt and the circumstances surrounding his guilty pleas
  • Lying about lying to Flynn’s Covington lawyers

The answer to all those questions is yes. Trump does mean to pardon Mike Flynn for secretly working for Turkey while getting classified briefings. Trump does mean to pardon Flynn for lying to Sullivan (and he does know that Flynn did lie to Sullivan). Sullivan has a need to know that explicitly and he should get Trump on the record.

Trump won’t show, of course.

Until he is made to, after January 20th.

Note, I’d also make Trump state, under oath, when he signed the pardon. It is dated with Wednesday’s date, but I highly doubt that DOJ had it written by then. If Trump signed it after having lunch with Mike Pence yesterday, it’s possible that Trump didn’t write it this broadly until broaching a pardon for himself with Pence.

Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon

Judge Sullivan also has reason to want to know if someone offered Trump something of value for this pardon. He has evidence they did — in the altered documents designed to serve as a campaign attack on Joe Biden. And the news is full of evidence that Sidney Powell may have offered further benefit, in her efforts to challenge Trump’s election loss.

Sullivan should put both Flynn and Powell under oath and require that they confirm or deny whether they have offered favors to Trump for the pardon.

They won’t show, of course.

Until they are made to, after January 20th.

None of this would invalidate the pardon, of course. But if Trump got some other benefit from Flynn’s lies that went into this pardon, especially efforts to undermine a legal election, then the Attorneys General in those states that already investigating Trump’s efforts to steal the election would have reason to want to know that, and Sullivan has the means to get them under oath to do that.

Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents

People at both FBI and DOJ altered documents submitted in Sullivan’s court, the FBI by adding false dates to exhibits and DOJ by redacting footers indicating that the documents were covered by the protective order. Sullivan has reason to ask how that happened and who was involved in the effort.

Even if Trump pardoned everyone involved, there would still be a means for Sullivan to punish most of those involved, because most of those involved have law licenses and can be disbarred.

Sullivan should schedule a hearing — no need to rush, he might as well schedule it for January 26, after everyone involved gets a COVID shot — to ask the following people if they had a role in altering the documents (or eliciting a corrupt interview with Bill Barnett):

  • AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine
  • AUSA Sayler Fleming
  • AUSA Ken Kohl
  • US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen
  • FBI Executive Assistant Director John Brown
  • FBI Agent Keith Kohne
  • Acting DEA Administrator Timothy Shea
  • AG Bill Barr
  • DAG Jeffrey Rosen

Again, most of these people have law licenses that Sullivan could put at issue, and he has good reason to want to hold someone accountable for altering documents in his court.

These people won’t want to show. But after January 20th, they may have no way of avoiding it.

Identify who wrote the pardon

In his confirmation hearing, Bill Barr said that pardoning someone for giving false testimony would be a crime. Trump just committed that crime. Whatever lawyer wrote up the pardon language — whether it’s Barr or White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — just conspired to commit a crime.

Judge Sullivan should identify everyone who had a role.

[Fourth item added after the original post.]

Mike Flynn’s “Wiped” Phone

Back in October, I noted that Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson had written a 285-page report complaining that the FBI had obtained records from the GSA as part of the Mueller investigation. I further pointed out that one of their central complaints, that the FBI hadn’t obtained a warrant, was almost certainly refuted by the public record.

[T]he craziest thing is how the report confesses that they are unaware of any legal process for these files.

Although the FBI’s August 30, 2017 cover email referenced applying for a search warrant, the Committees are aware of only one court-ordered disclosure of records, specifically, information related to the transition records of Lt. Gen. Flynn, K.T. McFarland, Michael Flynn’s son, and Daniel Gelbinovich.128

128 Order, In re Application of the U.S. for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) Directed at Google Related to [the transition email accounts for those four individuals], 1:17-mc-2005 (D.D.C. Aug. 18, 2017) [GSA004400- 4404] (ordering the disclosure of customer/subscriber information but not content).

At one level, they’re being coy in that they claim to be interested in court-ordered disclosure. A document recently released via the Jeffrey Jensen review reveals that in February 2017, star witness and pro-Trump FBI Agent was obtaining some of this information using NSLs. Another document explains why, too: because one of the first things FBI had to do to understand why Flynn had lied to them was to determine if he was coordinating his story with those at Mar-a-Lago.

The lie that he didn’t even know Obama had imposed sanctions was not one of Flynn’s charged lies, but it was his most damning. He lied to hide that he had consulted with Mar-a-Lago before picking up a phone and secretly undermining sanctions in “collusion” with Russia.

Crazier still, Chuck and Ron didn’t go to the first place one should go to understand how legal process worked, the publicly released Mueller warrants. The warrant to access the devices and email of at least the original nine (plus one other person) is right there in the docket.

GSA transferred the requested records to the FBI, but FBI didn’t access them until it had a warrant.

In other words, this 285-page report is effectively a confession from Chuck and Ron that two Committee Chairs and a whole slew of staffers can’t figure out how to read the public record.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the very same day Grassley and Johnson released their report, the government submitted its proposed redactions in the Mike Flynn warrants that Flynn’s attorneys had been stalling on. Those finally got released on November 10. Two of the warrants prove I was correct.

An August 25, 2017 warrant obtaining the GSA emails and device content of Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Daniel Gelbinovich explains,

As described below, each of the Target Email Accounts and Target Devices was provided by the General Services Administration (GSA) to one of three members of then-President Elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team after the 2016 presidential election: MICHAEL T. FLYNN, Kathleen T. McFarland, and [Gelbinovich]. At the FBI’s request, the GSA provided the Target Email Accounts and Target Devices to the FBI, which is maintaining them at the FBI’s Washington Field Office located at 601 4th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20535. While the FBI might already have all necessary authority to examine the property, I seek this additional warrant out of an abundance of caution to be certain that an examination of the property will comply with the Fourth Amendment and other laws.

Much later, the affidavit addresses another concern raised by the Senate report, that the devices had been preserved improperly. Not true.

Like Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s cell phones, they were wiped.

Information provided by the GSA indicates that the Target Devices were “wiped” after they were returned to GSA following the transition period.

They were wiped even though there was an active criminal investigation into Flynn.

A September 27, 2017 warrant for the emails and devices of Keith Kellogg, Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner explains further.

Based on information provided by the GSA, when email accounts and devices including the Transition Team Email Accounts and Subject Devices were issued to members of the Transition Team, recipients were required to certify that the “Government property” they had received was being provided “in connection with [their] role with the President-elect/Eligible Candidate Transition Team”; that it needed to be returned when they were no longer working for the Transition Team; and that they agreed to abide by the IT Acceptable Use Policy. In addition, the laptop computers issued by GSA to members of the Transition Team included a visible banner upon turning on the computers that stated: “This is a U.S. General Services Administration Federal Government computer system that is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY. By accessing and using this computer you are consenting to monitoring, recording, auditing and information retrieval for law enforcement and other purposes. Therefore, no expectation of privacy is to be assumed.” [emphasis added)

Curiously, this warrant reveals that not all of these phones were wiped.

Information provided by the GSA indicates that some of the Subject Devices were “wiped” after they were returned to the GSA following the transition period.

If Mike Flynn’s phone (along with KT McFarland’s) was wiped, but those of other senior officials were not, even though the White House had learned of a criminal investigation into Flynn in the earliest days of the Administration, it would suggest that the most damning phones may have been selectively wiped.

I’ll describe in a follow-up some of the damning details that wiping the phones might have attempted to hide.

Ockham’s Cut: How the Andrew McCabe Notes Were Doctored

Some weeks ago, I asked for help understanding the irregularities of the Andrew McCabe notes. Among other observations, two people showed that the notes had been created in layers, with the redaction of the protective order footnote seemingly added twice. Since then, longtime friend of the site “William Ockham” has done more analysis (he was the tech expert identified in the second post), and determined that the file must have been made as part of a multi-step process. I share his analysis here. The italics, including the bracket, are mine, the bold is his.

Here’s what I can say about the McCabe notes. The easiest way to explain this is to think about the ancestral tree of the images that are embedded in the documents we have. It all starts with the original page from McCabe’s notes (Generation 0).

Someone scanned that page to create an unredacted image file (Gen 1).

That image was printed (Gen 2). {From a technical point of view, this is what happens when a page is copied on a modern copy machine. Based on the evidence I have, I’m fairly sure that a digital image of the original page must exist. If not, it sucks to be the FBI.)

An analog redaction (probably with a black Sharpie or similar instrument) was applied. I strongly suspect that the date was added to the same physical page before it was rescanned. It’s possible, although I consider it very unlikely, that the date was added after the physical page was rescanned. These original redactions aren’t totally black the way they would be if done with the DoJ’s redaction software. In any event, this rescanned image is Gen 3.

That physical page with the date was scanned to an image file (Gen 4).

At this point, a PDF file  that will become 170510-mccabe-notes-jensen-200924.pdf is created by embedding the Gen 4 image and saving the file as a PDF. Then, a separate process adds the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” and “DOJSCO – 700023502” to the metadata inside the file and draws the words in a font called “Arial Black” at the bottom of that page and the file is saved again. ***I am 100% certain that a PDF was created exactly like I describe here***

Update from Ockham to describe how the redaction shows up in the DOJ footnote:

A PDF file is really a software program that has instructions for rendering one or more pages. An image similar to the one above [Gen 4] was turned into a PDF file which contained one set of instructions:

  1. Store about 1 megabyte of compressed data.
  2. Take that data and render an image by interpreting the data as an 8bit per pixel grayscale image 1710 pixels wide by 2196 pixels high (at normal 96 pixels per inch, 17.81 in by 22.87 in, so obviously scanned at a much higher resolution)
  3. Scale that image so it takes up an entire 8 ½ by 11 page
  4. Render the image

Then, an automated process adds the footer. The part of the instructions for rendering the Bates number are still in the document and look like this:

Operation Description Operands
Dictionary E.g.: /Name << … >> /Artifact<</Contents (DOJSCO – 700023502)/Subtype /BatesN /Type /Pagination >>
BDC (PDF 1.2) Begin marked-content sequence with property list
q Save graphics state
cm Concatenate matrix to current transformation matrix 1001458.234985434.7999268
gs (PDF 1.2) Set parameters from graphics state parameter dictionary /GS0
Tr Set text rendering mode 0
Tf Set text font and size /T1_031.5 [This is a pointer to a font name and size, Arial Black – 18PT]
Do Invoke named XObject /Fm0 [This is a pointer to the actual text and location to render it
Q Restore graphics state
EMC (PDF 1.2) End marked-content sequence

Originally, there would have been a similar set of instructions for the “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” part as well. They would have looked almost the same except for the “Artifact” operands, the actual text, and the positioning instruction.

Now, here’s the really important part. The DoJ redaction software presents the rendered PDF file to the end user. However, it operates on the actual PDF by rewriting the instructions. When the user drew the rectangle around the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER”, the redaction software has to find every instruction in the PDF that made changes to the pixels within the coordinates of the rectangle. The redaction software sees two “layers” of instructions that affect the rectangle, the text writing instructions and the image itself. The redaction software removes all the instructions for writing the text and replaces those instructions with instructions to draw a black box in the same place. Then, it also blacks out the pixels in the image itself. It has to do both of those things to ensure that it has removed all of the redacted information, even though in this case it didn’t really need to do both.

Then someone at the DoJ opens the PDF and redacts the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” from the page. The redaction does all of the following things:

  • It removes the metadata entry with the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER”,
  • It removes the commands that draw the words.
  • It replaces those commands with commands that draw a black rectangle the same size as the rendered words.
  • It replaces the pixels in the Gen 4 image that correspond to the area of the image that the words were drawn on top of with solid black pixels.

Those last two steps create two very slightly offset redaction boxes. The slight offset is caused by errors caused by using floating point math to draw the same shape in two different coordinate systems. Step 4 creates an image which I’ll call Gen 5 which can be extracted from 170510-mccabe-notes-jensen-200924.pdf.

When someone notices that this file and the Strzok notes have been altered, Judge Sullivan asks for the unaltered versions.  Jocelyn Ballantine has a problem. There’s no redacted version of McCabe’s notes without the added date. She can’t use the DoJ’s redaction software because that would look even worse (a big black rectangle where the date was added).  What’s a stressed out assistant US Attorney to do? Here’s what she did. She took the unredacted PDF file I mentioned above and converted it to an image. Then she used image editing software to remove the date, which made that rectangle of white pixels. She fires up Microsoft Word on her DoJ work computer and starts creating a new document (likely from a template designed creating exhibit files). The first page just says Exhibit A and on the second page (which has all margins set to 0) she pastes in the image she just created, scaled to fit exactly on the page. Without saving the Word file, she prints the document (using the Adobe Distiller print driver) to PDF and submits the printed file as the supposedly unaltered McCabe notes. [Gen 6]

It seems like these steps look like this:

Gen 0: FBI had or has McCabe’s original notes presumably stored with his other documents.

Gen 1:  Someone took the notes from there and scanned them, presumably to share with other investigators.

Gen 2: Someone printed out Gen 1 and made notes and otherwise altered them. This is the stage at which the government claims someone put a sticky note with a date on the notes, but it appears they just wrote the date on the notes themselves. If everything had been operating normally, however, when Judge Sullivan asked for unaltered copies of the documents, they could have used the Gen 1 copy to resubmit. They didn’t do so, which suggests the chain of custody may have already been suspect. Some possible explanations for that are that Jeffrey Jensen’s team received the document from either DOJ IG or John Durham’s investigation, not directly from the FBI files. That wouldn’t be suspect from the standpoint of DOJ internal workings, but it would be proof that DOJ knew the documents they relied on in their motion to dismiss had already been reviewed by Michael Horowitz or Durham’s teams, and found not to sustain the conspiracies that Billy Barr needed them to sustain to throw out Flynn’s prosecution (or that DOJ claimed they sustained in the motion to dismiss).

Gen 3: I think Ockham is viewing the creation of the image file in two steps. First, a scan of the file with the note written on it is made, which is Gen 3.

Gen 4: Then, probably before the file is handed off to Jocelyn Ballantine to “share” with Mike Flynn’s team (I’m scare-quoting because I suspect there may have been a back channel as well), the redaction is created for where the protective order stamp would go. Here’s what Gen 4 would have looked like:

Gen 5: Gen 4 is then prepared as an exhibit would normally be, by putting it into a PDF and adding the Bates number and protective order stamp, then redacted the latter. Reminder: The protective order footer was also redacted from (at least) the two altered Strzok notes, as I show here.

Gen 6: When Peter Strzok and McCabe tell Sullivan that their notes have had dates added, DOJ re-releases the notes such that the notes are no longer added but the redacted footnote is. As Ockham notes (and as I think everyone who looked closely at this agrees) the date is not removed by taking off a post-it. Instead, it is whited out digitally, leaving a clear mark in the exhibit.

One reason this is so interesting — besides providing more proof that DOJ went to some lengths to make sure a version of these notes did not include the protective order, freeing Sidney Powell to share it with Jenna Ellis and whomever else she wanted, so they could prepare campaign attacks from it — is that DOJ refused to say who added the date to McCabe’s notes. As I noted in my own discussion here, one possible explanation why DOJ kept redacting stuff rather than going back to the original (other than having to submit the file for formal declassification and the post-it hiding other parts of the document) is because the chain of custody itself would undermine the claims DOJ has made in the motion to dismiss, by making it clear that someone had already reviewed this document and found no criminal intent in the document.

The other problem with this multi-generation alteration of Andrew McCabe’s notes is, if anyone asks, it is going to be very difficult for anyone involved to disclaim knowledge that these documents were altered. Mind you, Ballantine already has problems on that front: I emailed her to note that the FBI version of Bill Barnett’s “302” she shared redacted information that was material to Judge Sullivan’s analysis, the positive comments that Barnett had for Brandon Van Grack. So if and when Sullivan asks her why DOJ hid that material information from him, she will not be able to claim she didn’t know. Then there’s her false claim — which both Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers have already disproved — that the lawyers affirmed that no other changes had been made to the notes.

But if this file was prepared as Ockham describes, then both DOJ and FBI will have a tough time claiming they didn’t know they were materially altering documents before submitting them to Judge Sullivan’s court.

Updated with some corrections from Ockham.

The Last Time Billy Barr Ordered a Politicized Investigation, DOJ Altered Documents for Public Consumption

It is a fact that someone (or someones) who were part of the Jeffrey Jensen review of the Mike Flynn prosecution altered documents for public consumption. That is not speculation. It is not hyperbole. It is a fact, one that other outlets had better start replicating and enhancing if they want to prevent Barr’s green light on investigations into election irregularities, announced last night, from doing the same.

At a minimum, DOJ removed protective order footers from a set of documents shared with Sidney Powell on September 23, in advance of the first debate.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, altered to suggest a January 5, 2017 meeting might have happened on January 4, 2017, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe notes, altered to include a date, with the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

The two other documents released that day, a newly repackaged set of Page-Strzok texts (with newly released personal information that constitutes a new violation of the Privacy Act) that DOJ now claims not to have had a purpose to release and a set of FBI analyst texts the identities of which DOJ seems very concerned about hiding, also lacked protective order footnotes.

The three documents (above) subsequently released with the protective order replaced all had dates added to the initially altered document, a misleading date in at least the case of Peter Strzok’s January 5, 2017 notes and misleading redactions used to suggest something false about the date added to the McCabe notes. DOJ claims those added dates were inadvertent, but the fact they happened with documents that had otherwise been altered (and on a document, the Strzok January 5, 2017 notes, that had already been released once without the date) makes that claim highly unlikely. When prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine submitted a filing admitting that the dates had been altered, she falsely claimed that Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers had confirmed nothing else was altered.

There are several other problems with the altered set of Andrew McCabe notes (including that notes about prep for the Global Threats Hearing got released with no declassification stamp), problems that merit more attention from experts.

But those aren’t the only pieces of evidence that the Jeffrey Jensen investigation evolved from inventing an excuse to blow up the Flynn prosecution into an opportunity to set up campaign attacks for the President. Pro-Trump FBI Agent Bill Barnett gave an interview that was materially inconsistent with his actions during the Flynn investigation (and that claimed to be unaware of key pieces of evidence against Flynn). When DOJ released it, they redacted it in such a way as to hide complimentary comments from Barnett about Brandon Van Grack that would have completely undermined DOJ’s claimed reasons to throw out Flynn’s prosecution.

There are more signs of irregularities with this “investigation.” But this list by itself proves that DOJ, in an investigation personally ordered up by Billy Barr, used the “investigation” to package up propaganda to help Donald Trump. The package even seems to have served to tee up an attack Trump made on Joe Biden in the first debate.

As noted, last night Barr authorized what had previously been forbidden for over forty years, DOJ’s conduct of investigations into claims of irregularities ginned up by the very same lawyers — Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — who invented the complaints about the Flynn prosecution. One of Barr’s investigations has already altered official documents to sustain false claims. That means there’s reason to believe he would do it again, to serve the same cause. Indeed, Trump’s election loss gives Barr’s a greater incentive to repeat the process, to ensure he is not replaced by someone who would treat these alterations as a crime.

A Bill Barr politicized investigation altered documents to serve propaganda in the past. We should assume it will happen again.

Lindsey Graham Responds to News of Potential Ongoing Crime by Promising to Ignore It

As I have been laying out, there is growing evidence that when DOJ added dates (a misleadingly incorrect one in at least one case) to Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe notes, they altered the documents in some other ways. At the very least, they redacted protection order footers in the first documents shared with Sidney Powell, but there appear to be other irregularities in the McCabe notes, irregularities that may be far more serious.

And that’s before you get to DOJ’s claims that:

  • They didn’t know the date of the January 5, 2017 meeting (even though documents in the docket make that date clear)
  • The Bill Barnett “report” was a 302
  • Lawyers for Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had affirmed there were no (other) alterations to their clients’ notes

Those are all false, and the last one is fairly demonstrably maliciously false.

I’ve been trying to chase down places where original versions of the Andrew McCabe notes might exist, to compare with what got released in the docket. In addition to DOJ IG (which might have the notes in investigative files relating to the Carter Page investigation), I figured the Senate Judiciary Committee should have a copy.

After all, McCabe had been scheduled to testify on October 6, before he canceled on account of the GOP COVID cluster.

So I called the committee spox, Taylor Reidy, asking if they had copies of McCabe’s notes, since I wanted to use them to see whether FBI had committed a crime. She (credibly) claimed not to know about DOJ altering official documents, given the mad rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett. So I sent her information to help her out.

Thanks for seeing if you can chase down the copies of these documents the Committee has received.

Basically, in some documents shared with Sidney Powell and then loaded to the docket in the Mike Flynn case, FBI had added (incorrect, in at least one case) dates to some Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe notes, which they subsequently admitted to the court, stating that the alteration was unintentional.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/07/doj-altered-flynn-document-427280

But it’s now clear that the FBI also removed the “protection order” footers in those documents as well (and have restored them in the re-altered documents).

There are a number of other irregularities with the McCabe notes, including that it doesn’t have a declassification stamp, even though the notes talk about Worldwide Threats hearing prep.

So I’m wondering if SJC could release the version of the notes the Committee received so we can understand what those notes originally looked like.

As I know from following the Crossfire Hurricane investigation closely, I’m know the Committee takes alterations of official documents very seriously.

I appreciate any help you can offer to clarify why these documents were altered.

I got no answer yesterday. I pinged her again today, mentioning that I thought Lindsey Graham’s disinterest in what might be a crime in progress newsworthy:

I’m circling back for comment on this.

I’m considering a post reporting on Chairman Graham’s disinterest in evidence that FBI has tampered with evidence to help Mike Flynn and would post it later today.

Thanks in advance.

Reidy responded to my question about DOJ’s current actions by stating that her boss is totally committed to continuing to review events that happened four years ago.

Thanks for your patience, Marcy.

The matter relates to pending litigation and is not something the committee would have access to.

Graham continues to pursue oversight related to the FBI’s handling of Crossfire Hurricane.

And while I followed up to clarify the seemingly shocking detail — that SJC intended to call McCabe as a witness without obtaining any of his records! — it appears to be the case that DOJ didn’t even share those documents with SJC.

I tried again, noting that she hadn’t answered the question I asked.

To clarify, even though you had prepared to have Andrew McCabe testify this month, you intended to do so without his records?

Also, would you like to issue a statement about FBI’s altering documents in the month of September 2020, which is entirely unrelated to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and what I asked about? Or does Chairman Graham not intend to exercise oversight over ongoing misconduct happening right now? To clarify, because this will be clear in any post, I’m asking whether Chairman Graham, having been informed of a potential crime happening as we speak on a matter that he has direct oversight over, is going to do anything about it?

I’ve had no response, from which I guess it is fair to conclude that former JAG Officer Lindsey Graham is going to do nothing about what might be a crime in progress.

FBI, for what it’s worth, yesterday referred my questions about why Executive Assistant Director John Brown certified what was almost certainly a classified document for release that lacked any declassification stamp as authentic to DC’s US Attorney’s Office.

I asked again if FBI had comment about the further alterations exhibited in the McCabe document, but got no answer there, either (I’m wondering what will happen if I report that FBI is doctoring documents to the FBI tip line).

It’s really weird that all these people who are supposed to guard the rule of law in this country are so disinterested in what might be a crime in progress.

Update: After I posted, the FBI reiterated that they still want me to ask DOJ why their EAD certified what appears to be a formerly classified document that lacks a declassification stamp.

We are still referring you to DOJ since this pertains to ongoing litigation.

I’m asking again for reference to what policies in question EAD Brown just certified to.

More Reason to Question the Government’s Treatment of Andrew McCabe’s Notes

In this post, I noted that the three sets of Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe notes to which FBI added dates (in at least one case, inaccurate dates) had had their Protective Order footers redacted, suggesting someone packaged them up for circulation (probably with two other documents shared that same day, one of which was a frivolous repackaging of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page).

In this post, I pointed out several other irregularities with McCabe’s notes: that there’s an artifact in the left margin by one of the redactions (multiple people have said this is one or two post-it notes which left a shadow and covered up the margin) and there’s no declassification stamp.

Two more readers of the site have provided further reason to question FBI’s treatment of Andrew McCabe’s notes.

First, a tech expert separated out the objects in the PDF with the altered date, which shows what the original scan of McCabe’s notes looks like. It looks like this:

That is, the redaction that covered up where the footer would say, “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER,” was in the first scan of the document, even though the footer would be applied later (the Bates stamp and the Protective Order footer show up as metadata in the PDF).

Meanwhile, Cannonfire did some more toying with the document in PhotoShop, and shows that the Bates stamp footer and the redaction are of a different quality than everything else on the page.

It makes sense that the Bates stamp footer is–those are added at a later stage to the document along with the Protective Order stamp.

But for this document to have been produced in this way, the Protective Order stamp would have had to have been redacted out at a later date.

Both of those details suggest that the footer was redacted at a later date.

The Altered Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok Documents Were Packaged for Circulation

On September 23, 2020, prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent five documents to Sidney Powell:

  • The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes
  • The second set of altered Strzok notes
  • The altered Andrew McCabe notes
  • Texts between FBI analysts
  • A new set of Strzok-Page texts, which included new Privacy Act violations

The letter Ballantine sent accompanying those documents is dated September 23, but it wasn’t loaded to the docket until September 28. Like all her discovery letters, the version of the letter uploaded to the docket informs Powell that, “These materials are covered by the Protective Order entered by the Court on February 21, 2018.”

In her letter providing realtered sets of the notes, the only change Ballantine described to the documents pertained to the removal of the sticky notes — which weren’t actually removed, but instead whited out electronically (and probably weren’t sticky notes in McCabe’s case at all).

But there was another change made to all of them: the “subject to protective order” footnote was restored to the documents.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe notes, with the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

Notably, there’s no declassification stamp on McCabe’s notes.

The Page-Strzok notes don’t have a protective order footer. Nor do the FBI analyst texts.

So all the documents sent to Sidney Powell on September 23 had no protective order stamp, and in the case of McCabe’s notes, they had the protective order stamp covered over.

The altered notes have all since been realtered, and rather than trying to certify the Strzok-Page texts, in today’s declaration, Ballantine just told Judge Emmet Sullivan DOJ wasn’t relying on them — no blood no foul. Presumably, there’s something fishy with the FBI analyst texts, because there’s something fishy with all of these documents.

But given the fact that the protective order footer was redacted in the McCabe notes, it cannot be accidental. These documents — the documents with the “inadvertent” alterations — also were all packaged up such that if Sidney Powell shared them (say, with the President’s campaign lawyer), Powell could claim these were somehow exempt.

DOJ Falsely Claimed that McCabe and Strzok Confirmed that the Content of Their Notes Was Not Altered

I wrote a really long post cataloging all the problems with DOJ’s declaration of authenticity in the Mike Flynn case.

But the most important paragraph in the declaration has an astounding claim: that DOJ — in a declaration signed by Jocelyn Ballantine — affirmed that lawyers for both Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had confirmed that their clients’ notes were not altered. [Emphasis original]

The government acknowledges its obligation to produce true and accurate copies of documents. The government has fully admitted its administrative error with respect to the failure to remove three reviewer sticky notes containing estimated date notations affixed to three pages of undated notes (two belonging to former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and one page belonging to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) prior to their disclosure. These dates were derived from surrounding pages’ dates in order to aid secondary reviewers. These three sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the relevant documents were scanned by the FBI for production in discovery. See ECF 259. The government reiterates, however, that the content of those exhibits was not altered in any way, as confirmed by attorneys for both former FBI employees.

But the declaration and related filings only reflects communication from Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer.

Indeed, in the letter that McCabe’s lawyer sent to the court on October 2, he pointedly said that DOJ had not asked him to confirm the accuracy of its claims about the notes before filing them.

So I asked Michael Bromwich, McCabe’s lawyer, if he agrees with the assertion Ballantine made in yesterday’s filing. He told me he spoke with Ballantine a few weeks ago and doesn’t recall any such discussion.

But when he got an email from her on Sunday at 4PM, asking for him to let her know by 2PM Monday if her transcription was inaccurate, he pointedly declined to do so.

I have spoken with Mr. McCabe and he declines to provide you with any information in response to your request.

He believes DOJ’s conduct in this case is a shocking betrayal of the traditions of the Department of the Justice and undermines the rule of law that he spent his career defending and upholding. If you share with the Court our decision not to provide you with assistance, we ask that you share the reason.

We would of course respond to any request that comes directly from the Court.

That is, Ballantine claimed that Bromwich had affirmatively confirmed this content.

But Bromwich very pointedly refused to do so.

For what it’s worth, I think the content has not been altered, but the redactions do misrepresent the notes. But according to Bromwich, Ballantine made that claim even though he had pointedly refused to confirm the accuracy of the notes or transcription.

Update: And now Strzok says that they didn’t confirm the content either.

That’s more problematic in his case, because there are so many more transcripts.

Update: The same thing happened with Strzok (though his lawyer did alert Ballantine to her docket/exhibit problems I noted in this post).

Ballantine emailed Goelman at 4:05 on Sunday with the same request. He responded at 3:38 PM on Monday, telling her they could not confirm authenticity of these notes without the originals. He also noted that Ken Kohl misrepresented the meaning of one of Strzok’s texts in the hearing before Judge Sullivan.

Sorry not to get back to you until now.  We have looked at the attachments to the email you sent yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  We are unable to certify the authenticity of all of the attachments or the accuracy of the transcriptions.  To do so, we would need both more time and access to the original notes, particularly given that U.S. Attorney Jensen’s team has already been caught altering Pete’s notes in two instances.  However, we do want to call your attention to the fact that Exhibit 198-11 is mislabeled, and that these notes are not the notes of Pete “and another agent” taken during the Flynn interview.

Additionally, we want to register our objection to AUSA Ken Kohl’s material misstatements to Judge Sullivan during the September 29, 2020, 2020, telephonic hearing, during which Mr. Kohl inaccurately represented that Pete viewed himself as an “insurance policy” against President Trump’s election.

So basically both of them refused to affirm that the notes were authentic. But she made the claim anyway.