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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.