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Julian Assange’s First Witness, Journalism Professor Mark Feldstein, Professes to Be Unfamiliar with the Public Record on Assange

The first day of the Julian Assange extradition hearing was a predictable circus.

Assange’s lawyers tried two legal tactics.

First, they tried to get parts of the second superseding indictment excluded from the proceedings. They claimed they hadn’t had time to review it with Assange. While I’m sympathetic to the difficulties imposed by Assange’s imprisonment amid COVID measures, WikiLeaks supporters have at the same time been (correctly) complaining that the documents on which the new allegations are based have been public for some time.

In any case, it didn’t work. Judge Vanessa Baraister said that she had offered Assange the opportunity to raise this complaint in the last hearing.

Judge Baraister similarly rejected a bid to delay the hearing until January (not incidentally the period when, if a Trump pardon for Assange would be forthcoming, it would take place), on largely the same basis.

Next, Professor Mark Feldstein — a journalism professor at University of Maryland — tried to present his testimony. Technical problems forced Baraister to delay proceedings until tomorrow.

That has left the public with copies of Feldstein’s prepared testimony and a supplement before he has the opportunity to present it and lawyers for the US to grill him in response. That may be unfortunate, because Feldstein’s original testimony has some key errors and omissions, and in his supplement he professes a lack of familiarity with the public record in this case.

Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly agree with large swaths of Professor Feldstein’s testimony. Donald Trump has waged unprecedented attacks on members of the news media, both verbally and through policy. I agree, too, that the First Amendment is not limited to journalists, and that political advocacy like Assange’s has a storied place in the history of journalism. I agree that some of the stories based off Chelsea Manning’s leaks were blockbusters (Feldstein predictably starts by listing Collateral Murder, which is not charged, and his effort to include all the files that were charged strays much further from the ones that have been most important.) His history of classified leaks is useful, though in some places he seems to misunderstand what was new and what wasn’t revealed until the release of declassified documents. His statement speaks at length about the dire problem with overclassification (though in one case, he cites a John McCain accusation about Obama’s motive for leaking as fact, a claim that hasn’t held up to subsequent events; he later cites McCain as a classification villain). I even agree with some, though not all, of his analysis of how the charges against WikiLeaks threaten normal journalistic activities like soliciting, receiving, and publishing documents, and protecting confidential sources. (Feldstein never goes so far as to defend helping a source hack something.) His testimony is valuable for the background on journalism it offers.

But Feldstein’s account of how the Assange prosecution arose out of Donald Trump’s election — which occurred with Assange’s help!!! — not only invents claims he doesn’t support, but makes several telling errors in citation.

Donald Trump’s election changed the calculus. The month after his inauguration, the president met with FBI director James Comey and brought up the issue of plugging leaks. Comey suggested “putting a head on a pike as a message” and Trump recommended “putting reporters in jail.”83 Three days later, he instructed his attorney general to investigate “criminal leaks” of “fake” news reports that had embarrassed the White House.84 According to press accounts, the new administration soon “unleashed an aggressive campaign” against Assange. CIA director Mike Pompeo publicly attacked WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service” that uses the First Amendment to “shield” himself from “justice.” In private, he briefed members of Congress on a bold counterintelligence operation the agency was conducting that included the possible use of informants, penetrating overseas computers, and even trying to directly “disrupt” WiliLeaks, a move that made some lawmakers uncomfortable.85 A week later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference that journalists “cannot place lives at risk with impunity,” that prosecuting Assange was a “priority” for the new administration, and that if “a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” 86 The new leaders at the Justice Department dismissed their predecessors’ interpretation that Assange was legally indistinguishable from a journalist and reportedly began “pressuring” their prosecutors to outline an array of potential criminal charges against him, including espionage. Once again, career professionals were said to be “skeptical” because of the First Amendment issues involved and a “vigorous debate” ensued. 87 Two prosecutors involved in the case, James Trump and Daniel Grooms, reportedly argued against charging Assange.88 But in April of 2019, Assange was arrested in London—even though “the Justice Department did not have significant evidence or facts beyond what the Obama-era officials had when they reviewed the case.”89

83 Abramson, “Comey’s wish for a leaker’s ‘head on a pike.’”

84 “Remarks by President Trump in Press Conference,” WH.gov (Feb. 16, 2017); Charlie Savage and Eric Lichtblau, “Trump Directs Justice Department to Investigate ‘Criminal Leaks,’” New York Times (Feb. 16, 2017); Barnes, et al, “How the Trump Administration Stepped up Pursuit of WikiLeaks’ Assange.”

85 CIA, “Director Pompeo Delivers Remarks at CSIS” (April 13, 2017): www.cia.gov/news-information/speechestestimony/2017-speeches-testimony/pompeo-delivers-remarks-at-csis.html.

86 “Sessions Delivers Remarks,” Justice.gov. [sic]

87 Matt Zapotosky and Ellen Nakashima, “Justice Department debating charges against WikiLeaks members,” Washington Post (April 20, 2017); Adam Goldman, “Justice Department Weighs Charges Against Julian Assange,” New York Times (April 20, 2017).

88 Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Rachel Weiner, “Some federal prosecutors disagreed with decision to charge Assange under Espionage Act,” Washington Post (May 24, 2019). 89 Barrett, et al, “Prosecutors Disagreed.”

The first citation (83) is to a 2018 story on Jim Comey’s memos memorializing conversations about leaks damaging to Trump, not WikiLeaks. The second (84) refers to an effort to go after those who damaged Trump. The next three sentences are attributed to Mike Pompeo’s designation of WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile actor in April 2017 (85), in the wake of the Vault 7 leaks, but two of those sentences (bolded) are not actually sourced to Pompeo’s comments, but instead to news accounts not specified in the relevant footnote. The next sentence combines what Jeff Sessions said on April 20, 2017 and what he said on August 4, 2017; perhaps Feldstein aims to cover that up by not including a date or a citation in the remarks in question (see footnote 86; Sessions’ April 20 comments don’t appear to be on the DOJ website), but suggesting Sessions’ August comments were about Assange is a move that WikiLeaks has made elsewhere. Importantly, Feldstein does not footnote one of the most widely cited reports of that April 20 speech, a CNN report that describes what changed, already in 2017, since DOJ had earlier decided not to prosecute Assange.

The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

[snip]

US intelligence agencies have also determined that Russian intelligence used WikiLeaks to publish emails aimed at undermining the campaign of Hillary Clinton, as part of a broader operation to meddle in the US 2016 presidential election. Hackers working for Russian intelligence agencies stole thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and officials in the Clinton campaign and used intermediaries to pass along the documents to WikiLeaks, according to a public assessment by US intelligence agencies.

That is, if Feldstein had reviewed the press coverage more broadly, he would have a ready explanation for why DOJ began to rethink its earlier decision not to charge Assange.

Assange’s own filing may attempt to cover for Feldstein’s citation inaccuracy, claiming that Feldstein cited that April WaPo story rather than ““Sessions Delivers Remarks,” Justice.gov”.

Then came the political statement of Attorney General Sessions on 20 April 2017 that the arrest of Julian Assange was now a priority and that ‘if a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail’ [Feldstein quoting Washington Post article of Ellen Nakashima, tab 18, p.19].

But even that April 20, 2017 WaPo article he claims to rely on doesn’t help him. In fact, it disputes Feldstein’s account of Trump’s animus towards WikiLeaks.

Trump has had a fluid relationship with WikiLeaks, depending largely on how the group’s actions benefited or harmed him. On the campaign trail, when WikiLeaks released Podesta’s hacked emails, Trump told a crowd in Pennsylvania, “I love WikiLeaks!” But when it came to the release of the CIA tools, he did not seem so pleased.

“In one case, you’re talking about highly classified information,” Trump said at a news conference earlier this year. “In the other case, you’re talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss.”

The actual words cited in part to the WaPo in Feldstein’s testimony (naming Ellen Nakashima, not Matt Zapotosky) don’t appear in the April story but in the NYT story cited. The rest relies on a [Devlin Barret and] Zapotosky story fairly obviously sourced to prosecutor James Trump, whom Zapotosky covered in the Jeffrey Sterling case and other EDVA cases but who — the story admits — wasn’t on the team anymore even when Assange was originally charged (presumably meaning December 2017 on just a CFAA charge that would accord with AUSA Trump’s concerns about an Espionage charge), and who would therefore have no visibility into what went into the May 2018 superseding indictment of Assange, much less the one on the table now.

In short, a key paragraph in Feldstein’s testimony, which is cited repeatedly in both Assange’s briefs on the case (one, two), is a scholarly shit-show.

And that’s before you consider the chronology of it, omitting as it does the Vault 7 leak which all the Assange-specific comments were responding to, which started on March 7, 2017.

That’s not the only problem with Feldstein’s citations. Feldstein also footnotes a claim that Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s National Security Division John Demers, “declared that ‘Julian Assange is no journalist’ and thus not protected under the free press clause of the US Constitution’s First Amendment” with a citation to news reports on the indictment, rather than the remarks as prepared rolling out the indictment. While the story from Charlie Savage that Feldstein cites responsibly quotes Demers in context, the full statement makes it clear that it’s not only not a comment directly about the First Amendment, but that Demers never mentions the First Amendment.

The Department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the Department’s policy to target them for their reporting.

Julian Assange is no journalist. This made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment—i.e., his conspiring with and assisting a security clearance holder to acquire classified information, and his publishing the names of human sources.

Indeed, no responsible actor—journalist or otherwise—would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in war zones, exposing them to the gravest of dangers.

This continues WikiLeaks’ longstanding effort to suggest the government has made First Amendment claims about Assange that obscure what they have actually said. (AUSA Gordon Kromberg does appear to have addressed the First Amendment in ways WikiLeaks has claimed that others have, but his affidavit is not yet public.)

While Kromberg’s testimony is not yet public, in one of the government’s filings made public today, the government hints at what Kromberg may have said at more length, noting that Feldstein only cites part of — but not the entirety — of a news report on Assange.

The principal evidence upon which the defence relies to demonstrate the existence of a such a decision is a newspaper article dated 25 November 2013 [Sari Horowitz, “Julian Assange is unlikely to face US Charges over publishing classified documents”, Washington Post]; Cited by Professor Feldstein at §9 page 18. 39.

Professor Feldstein omits important sections of the report upon which he relies to demonstrate a “decision” not to prosecute:

“The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top-secret military and diplomatic documents.

And:

“WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said last week that the anti-secrecy organization is skeptical “short of an open, official, formal confirmation that the U.S. government is not going to prosecute WikiLeaks.” Justice Department officials said it is unclear whether there will be a formal announcement should the grand jury investigation be formally closed”.

So, in response to Kromberg, Feldstein dug himself a very much deeper hole.

In a supplemental filing, Assange expert witness Mark Feldstein claimed and exhibited that he’s not familiar with the public record (though he cleaned up some of his prior citation errors). In it, he claimed the only way to know the truth about the Assange prosecution would be from leaks of grand jury or White House documents. “[T]he reporting I cited by the New York Times and Washington Post is to date the only public source of information about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to prosecute Assange,” he claimed in a filing submitted on July 5, 2020.

The government insists that the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange is not politically motivated. It dismisses my contrary conclusion—and that of other expert witnesses—by saying that we “primarily rely on a select number of news articles…and the hearsay within them.”

Indeed, my declaration relied on news accounts that the Obama administration decided not to prosecute Assange because of concerns that doing so would violate the First Amendment. 2 In particular, I cited comments that Matthew Miller, the former spokesman for the Obama Justice Department, made in an interview with the Washington Post: “The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists. And if you’re not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.” The Post reported that prosecutors called this the “New York Times problem”—that if they indicted Assange for publishing the documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, then they would also have to also indict the New York Times for doing the same.3

I also noted that the Trump administration decide to reject this interpretation and cited a New York Times report that its new appointees running the Justice Department began “pressuring” prosecutors to indict Assange, although two career prosecutors argued against doing so on First Amendment grounds. I also cited the article’s finding that “the Justice Department did not have significant evidence or facts beyond what the Obama-era officials had when they reviewed the case”4 and concluded that the decision to indict Assange was not an evidentiary decision but a political one.5

As the government knows, internal prosecutorial deliberations are not a matter of public record. White House and Justice Department documents that would shed further light on the political dimensions of the case—emails, internal memos, grand jury transcripts, and other records—are kept secret by the government. Thus, the reporting I cited by the New York Times and Washington Post is to date the only public source of information about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to prosecute Assange.

Like so much other questionable conduct by the Trump administration, revelations about the unorthodox nature of this prosecution came to light only because of the vigilance of a free and vigorous press.

1 Gordon D. Kromberg, “Declaration in Support of Assange Extradition,” US v. Assange (Jan. 17, 2020), ¶18-19, pp. 8- 9.

You have got to be fucking kidding me!!

I invite Professor Feldstein to assign his undergraduate journalism students with the task of trying to discover any Trump, White House, and National Security views about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange that might explain why DOJ decided not to prosecute in 2013 but did prosecute in 2017, 2019, and 2020.

His first year undergraduate students might note the proximity between the April 2017 Assange-related announcements (the Jeff Sessions of which he obscures with his dodgy citation) and the release of the Vault 7 files in March 2017, which burned the CIA hacking ability to the ground.

They also might point to Trump’s tweets celebrating WikiLeaks to suggest that while Trump might hate the traditional press, he spent most of the 2016 campaign celebrating WikiLeaks.

Feldstein’s second year undergraduate students might look to the obvious places — like the Mueller Report — for some views about how Trump ordered campaign staff to go chase down WikiLeaks’ releases. Not only do the descriptions completely undermine Feldstein’s claim that Trump treats WikiLeaks like he does traditional media outlets, but it shows that the Department of Justice conducted an extensive investigation implicating WikiLeaks after the 2013 Matthew Miller quote he relies on. Indeed, exceptional sophomores might note that a redaction error in the Mueller Report makes it clear that a Mueller prosecutorial decision about foreign donations pertains to WikiLeaks, a detail released in 2019 that James Trump would not have been privy to.

Junior year journalism students might refer to the Stone trial testimony to see what it said about Trump’s relationship with WikiLeaks. Really astute journalism students would note that Randy Credico testified that Donald Trump’s rat-fucker Roger Stone actually reached out to Randy Credico in an effort to broker a pardon for Assange.

Q. Had you put Mr. Stone directly in touch with Ms. Kunstler after the election?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And why had you done that?

A. Well, sometime after the election, he wanted me to contact Mrs. Kunstler. He called me up and said that he had spoken to Judge Napolitano about getting Julian Assange a pardon and needed to talk to Mrs. Kunstler about it. So I said, Okay. And I sat on it. And I told her–I told her–she didn’t act on it. And then, eventually, she did, and they had a conversation.

The same astute budding journalists might look at the trial record and discover how long those pardon discussions lasted — continuing well past the time Mike Pompeo and Jeff Sessions were discussing prosecuting journalists and/or Assange.

Senior journalism students might even tie that testimony to a question Robert Mueller asked — but didn’t really get an answer about — regarding whether Trump had considered an Assange pardon.

Donald Trump refused to answer a question under oath about whether he considered pardoning Julian Assange during the transition period between when WikiLeaks releases helped get him elected and his inauguration, something that makes it pretty clear the President treats WikiLeaks and Assange, which helped him get elected, differently than he does journalists who did not.

Professor Feldstein says he’d need a leak to discover that.

There’s a slew more that graduate students might discover but that Feldstein professed to be helpless to discover himself, such as the warrant that makes it clear Stone reached out to WikiLeaks lawyer Margaret Kunstler — to discuss an Assange pardon, WikiLeaks supporter Randy Credico testified to under oath — seven days after Trump got elected.

Or the other Stone warrant making it clear that after several of the media reports Feldstein relies on, Mueller’s team was just beginning to obtain warrants implicating Assange, in part for election-related crimes that have nothing to do with the Espionage Act. Or yet another that suggests DOJ was investigating WikiLeaks, in part, for conspiracy and Foreign Agent charges in August 2018.

Diligent journalism students — budding journalists not intimidated by redaction marks — might even look to the multiple SSCI Reports that address the government’s evolving understanding of WikiLeaks, particularly those that show how the many conflicting views in 2016 came to change to believe that WikiLeaks had been coopted by Russia.

Despite Moscow’s history of leaking politically damaging information, and the increasingly significant publication of illicitly obtained information by coopted third parties, such as WikiLeaks, which historically had published information harmful to the United States. previous use of weaponized information alone was not sufficient for the administration to take immediate action on the DNC breach. The administration was not fully engaged until some key intelligence insights were provided by the IC, which shifted how the administration viewed the issue.

Here, in public view, is indication that not just DOJ but the entire Intelligence Community came to shift their view of WikiLeaks and Assange as they investigated how Russia had attacked US democracy in 2016. But Mark Feldstein testified in his supplemental testimony that he could only discover that if someone leaked it to him.

Finally, Feldstein’s students might seek to understand the workings of a grand jury from the same place journalists always have, from those called to testify before them. Had they done so, they would at a minimum discover the Jeremy Hammond description of how he refused to testify for what would be the last superseding indictment against Assange, in which he described prosecutors twice claiming (without evidence) that Assange is “a Russian spy.”

“What could the United States government do that could get you to change your mind and obey the law here? Cause you know” — he basically says — “I know you think you’re doing the honorable thing here, you’re very smart, but Julian Assange, he’s not worth it for you, he’s not worth your sacrifice, you know he’s a Russian spy, you know.”

[snip]

He implied that all options are on the table, they could press for — he didn’t say it directly, but he said they could press for criminal contempt. … Then he implies that you could still look like you disobeyed but we could keep it a secret — “nobody has to know I just want to know about Julian Assange … I don’t know why you’re defending this guy, he’s a Russian spy. He fucking helped Trump win the election.”

The claims of a prosecutor as he’s trying to coerce testimony don’t affirm the veracity of the claim. Hammond’s claims in no way prove that Assange is a Russian spy or even that DOJ believes he is. But it does indicate what DOJ’s then-current claims were, in March 2020, before the most recent superseding indictment against Assange. They would indicate that the prosecutors asking for the extradition of Julian Assange claim to believe he is a Russian spy.

There is an embarrassment of public documents describing how the US government’s view of Assange changed between 2013 and 2020, as well as plenty that show DOJ was obtaining new legal process well after DOJ decided not to prosecute Assange. That doesn’t mean their view is correct or that it in any way mitigates the risk to journalism. But it does mean their view is discoverable by anyone who wants to check the public record.

And yet journalism Professor Mark Feldstein professes to be helpless to explain why DOJ charged Assange in 2017 and 2019 and 2020 but not in 2013, not unless someone leaks to him what DOJ and Trump and the rest of the US government were really thinking. And so instead, he offered a paragraph that falls apart completely if you simply read his source material, to say nothing of the public record.

Feldstein gives himself a bit of an excuse by claiming that his scholarly statement doesn’t address what happened after 2011 (a focus that may come from WikiLeaks’ lawyers — recall that someone close to Assange scolded me for reporting accurately on what WikiLeaks had done in 2016 and afterwards).

It should be noted that this report addresses only WikiLeaks disclosures in 2010-2011, the time period when Assange is accused of violating the Espionage Act; it does not discuss the website’s previous or subsequent document releases.

But you can’t claim to provide expert testimony about what DOJ was doing in 2017 without considering what WikiLeaks had done in the interim, and how that might change investigative tactics and conclusions (and did, in fact, lead DOJ to reconsider the evidence they had).

The record shows that — far from treating Assange with the disdain Trump harbored towards traditional journalists — Trump’s close associates entertained numerous discussions about pardons, and Trump himself refused to deny that under oath to Mueller. It further shows that the targeting of Wikileaks immediately followed the Vault 7 leaks burned the CIA’s hacking capacity to the ground (a prosecution that Trump himself almost blew up hours before the FBI confiscated Schulte’s passports). Finally, there is an abundance of evidence discoverable in the public record by any diligent journalism student that the understanding of WikiLeaks significantly evolved after the decisions not to charge Assange in 2013, in part because a national security investigation sought to figure out how badly Russians had tampered in our election, and in part because Trump got all kinds of help in the election from foreigners (including Assange).

Mark Feldstein claims in his expert testimony that what is happening to Julian Assange is just part of Trump’s larger assault on the press.

Seen in this light, the administration’s prosecution of Julian Assange is part and parcel of its campaign against the news media as a whole. Indeed, Assange’s criminal indictment under the US Espionage Act is arguably its most important action yet against the press, with potentially the most far-reaching consequences.

But he makes that claim while also admitting zero familiarity about the public record concerning Assange which shows the opposite.

The Julian Assange prosecution presents serious risks to journalism. But none of those excuse shoddy journalism — a failure to even consult the public, official record — in support of his case. That’s what Assange’s first witness is planning to do.

Update: Cleaned up the post and fixed a date.

The Latest Stinky 702 Opinion Bodes Poorly for the Next One

Last night, I Con the Record released last year’s 702 opinion, approved by current presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg. It’s stinky. It shows continued violations of querying procedures (which I’ll describe below), as well as on new troubling issue at NSA (which I hope to describe in a follow-up).

Worse still, the opinion, the timing, and recent Bill Barr actions suggest we’ll see an even stinkier opinion in maybe another year.

The opinion we’re getting on September 3, 2020, was released by FISC on December 6, 2019. Not only has it taken nine months to release this opinion, but ODNI sat on it in anticipation of and in the aftermath of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page, which was publicly released December 9, 2019. That means that the delay in releasing this led to a disproportionate focus on events that happened three or four years ago, but not on events that have persisted under Billy Barr.

But the timing is important for several other reasons: the government has to be preparing its next reapproval package now (assuming the 2019 certificates are good until December 5, it would need to submit a new package by November 5). That’s significant for several reasons. First, as laid out by the timeline below, while the FBI waited for a FISCR review of an October 2018 Boasberg decision that its querying procedures didn’t comply with a new requirement passed by Congress, there were ongoing querying problems of the same type, including both the deliberate querying of 702 information to vet sources (and cops), but also at least one mass query that ended up finding seven leads out of 16,000 Americans. There was a significant delay in reporting some of these:

  • Querying violations found in June reported September 18, 2019
  • Querying violations found in July reported September 6, 2019
  • August querying violation involved 16,000 people reported November 25, 2019

In addition, there were several more reports on querying violations, one on September 17, and another on September 20.

That is, the reports on some of these were delayed until after FISCR ruled (on July 12), and for many of them, there was a delay until around the same time as the government submitted their new reauthorization packet on September 17, 2019 (which is the package that led to this December 6 opinion).

Then, after submitting the reauthorization package, starting on October 4, 2019, the FBI asked to be excused from two reporting requirements imposed in 2018.

In one case — requiring that FBI has retained 702 information in some archival systems — the FBI waited to comply with a change in reporting requirements made in October 2018 until it was prepping the 2019 certificates, and then asked for a weaker reporting requirement (and got it, prospectively).

It must be noted, however, that the government has unjustifiably disregarded the current reporting requirement. Instead of taking concrete steps to comply even partially with the Court’s directive (or timely seeking relief from it), it chose to wait while the FBI reportedly worked on guidance to instruct its personnel on how to handle unminimized Section 702 information on these archival systems. See Letter Regarding the FBI’s Steps to Implement an Aspect of the Court’s 2018 Section 702 Opinion and Order, Sept. 27, 2019, at 3. In fact, it has taken so long to prepare this guidance that, instead of using it to instruct personnel on the October 2018 reporting requirement, which the government reports was the original plan, the FBI now intends to address only the narrower reporting requirement incorporated into the FBI’s proposed minimization procedures. See Letter Regarding the FBI’s Steps taken by the FBI to implement an aspect of the Comt’s 2018 Section 702 Opinion and Order, Nov. 20, 2019, at 4.

It should be unnecessary to state that government officials are not free to decide for themselves whether or to what extent they should comply with Court orders. The government has not sought retrospective relief from the reporting requirement imposed by the Court on October 18, 2018. Although the AG and DNI have amended the prior Section 702 certifications to authorize the FBI to apply its proposed minimization procedures to information acquired under prior certifications, that authorization only becomes “effective on October 17, 2019, or on the date upon which [this Court] issues an order concerning [the] amendments pursuant to subsection 702(j)(3) of the Act, whichever is later.”[redacted] The Court’s approval of those amendments does not have any nunc pro tune effect, nor does it excuse the government from reporting instances of retention that it is already obligated to report. With respect to those instances of retention, the October 2018 reporting requirement remains in effect.

In another — far more important — case, the FBI asked for the reporting requirement (on when an Agent conducts a criminal search and finds 702 information) to be eliminated entirely, again, after the reauthorization package was completed. This reporting requirement was designed to test the FBI’s now provably false claim that agents would never find 702 information when conducting criminal searches. It goes to the heart of concerns about Fourth Amendment violations.

Boasberg relaxed, though did not eliminate, that reporting requirement.

The government has not reported such instances in timely fashion. Rather, they have been reported to the Court belatedly, usually after they were uncovered during oversight reviews. The government now seeks relief from this reporting requirement “because the requirements in Section 702(f)(2) are a sufficient mechanism for the Court to assess the risk that the results of a query designed to elicit evidence of crimes unrelated to foreign intelligence will be viewed or otherwise used in connection with an investigation that is unrelated to national security.” October 4, 2019, Request at 8. But it would be premature to regard the government’s implementation of Section 702(f)(2) as a sufficient source of information. As discussed above, the FBI has repeatedly accessed Section 702-acquired contents under circumstances requiring a FISC order under Section 702(£)(2), but has never applied for such an order.

Closer to the mark is the government’s contention that implementing both Section 702(f)(2) and the November 2015 reporting requirement could complicate training and systems design. See October 4, 2019, Request at 8-9. For example, Section 702(f)(2) looks to whether a query involves a U.S.-person query term, while the applicability of the November 2015 reporting requirement depends on whether U.S.-person information is retrieved. And Section 702(f)(2) is implicated only when contents are accessed, while the November 2015 reporting requirement · does not distinguish between contents and non-contents information.

The Court has decided to retain a reporting requirement separate from Section 702(f)(2) because the obligation to get a FISC order under that section is limited to queries conducted in the context of a predicated criminal investigation. The FBI conducts numerous queries of Section 702 information at earlier investigative stages. See October 18, 2018, Opinion at 75. Reports about queries at those stages remain relevant to the Court’s interest in receiving information about the extent to which U.S.-person privacy interests are implicated by queries that are not designed to find and extract foreign-intelligence information. The Court has concluded, however, that it is appropriate to modify the prior reporting requirement so that it will focus on the use of U.S.-person query terms, rather than on whether U.S.-person information is accessed as a result of a query, and will be triggered only when contents information is accessed. Such modifications should make it considerably simpler for the government to implement the requirement in combination with Section 702(f)(2), while still requiring reporting in situations where Fourth Amendment concerns are likely to be implicated. See October 18, 2018, Opinion at 93 (queries that use U.S.-person query terms and result in review of contents are “the subset of queries that are particularly likely to result in significant intrusion into U.S. persons’ privacy”).

Ultimately, Boasberg approved the certifications, effectively arguing that FBI just needed time to be trained on them.

The Court has previously assessed that requiring FBI personnel to document why a query involving a U.S.-person query term is reasonably likely to have returned foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime before examining contents returned by the query should “help ensure that FBI personnel … have thought about the querying standard and articulated why they believe it has been met” and prompt them “to recall and apply the guidance and training they have received on the querying standard.” See id. at 93; see also In re DNI/AG Certifications at 41 (that requirement may “motivate FBI personnel to carefully consider … whether a query satisfies” the standard). The recently reported querying violations suggest that some FBI personnel still need such help. That is not altogether surprising. As discussed above, the FBI is really just sta11ing to implement that documentation requirement on a comprehensive basis. For that reason, the improper queries described above do not undermine the Court’s prior determination that, with that requirement, the FBI’s querying and minimization procedures meet statutory and Fourth Amendment requirements.

I suggested when the 2018 package was released last year, we’d start learning details of back door searches that had been implicit since 2007.

Nevertheless, 12 years after this system was first moved under FISA (notably, two key Trump players, White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg and National Security Division AAG John Demers were involved in the original passage), we’re only now going to start getting real information about the impact on Americans, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. For the first time,

  • We will learn how many queries are done (the FISC opinion revealed that just one FBI system handles 3.1 million queries a year, though that covers both US and non US person queries)
  • We will learn that there are more hits on US persons than previously portrayed, which leads to those US persons to being investigated for national security or — worse — coerced to become national security informants
  • We will learn (even more than we already learned from the two reported queries that this pertained to vetting informants) the degree to which back door searches serve not to find people who are implicated in national security crimes, but instead, people who might be coerced to help the FBI find people who are involved in national security crimes
  • We will learn that the oversight has been inadequate
  • We will finally be able to measure disproportionate impact on Chinese-American, Arab, Iranian, South Asian, and Muslim communities
  • DOJ will be forced to give far more defendants 702 notice

The thing is, 11 months after the release of that opinion, we’re still not seeing results — in the form of declassified opinions — of what FBI’s querying really looks like, once they’re forced to actually track it. The entirely of this 2019 opinion still shows what Boasberg considers the pre-implementation period for this reporting regime.

And the FBI has been trying to weaken it for two years now!

There’s one more indication that we may see troubling details once we get the next 702 opinion in a year’s time, if we do get it.

Less than a week ago, Billy Barr issued a memo imposing a new national security auditing function on the FBI.

To enhance the FBI’s existing compliance efforts, the Director of the FBI is taking steps to build a more robust and exacting internal audit capability, including the creation of an office focused on auditing the FBI’s national security activities. To support that effort, I hereby authorize the Director of the FBI to commence the process of establishing, consistent with law and policy, the Office ofInternal Auditing (“OIA”). A separate office devoted to internal auditing and headed by a senior FBI official will ensure that ri gorous and robust auditing, which is an essential ingredient to an effective compliance regime, is canied out. The FBI shall work with the Justice Management Division to make the required reorganization notifications regarding this new office. Once established, OJA shall be led by an Assistant Director who shall have the same reporting chain as the Assistant Director for OIC and the Assistant Director for INSD. The Director of the FBI shall appoint the Assistant Directors for OIC, INSD, and OIA, with the approval of the Deputy Attorney General.

OIC, INSD, and OIA shall be responsible for carrying out the internal compliance functions of the FBI as assigned by the Director of the FBI, who shall ensure that each office does not duplicate responsibilities and is adequately staffed to perform its assigned functions. The Deputy Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General for Administration shall coordinate with the Director to ensure that those functions are resourced and funded appropriately.

Even though Barr says the newly created OIA won’t overlap with the compliance and inspection functions at FBI, it’s not clear why not. Further, Barr’s memo does not explicitly say why FBI needed a new compliance review for national security cases rather than the existing legal reviews that had conducted such review.

Don’t get me wrong, done correctly, this could be a long-needed reform. It’s not clear it is being done correctly. It seems partly timed to the elections (with a report on implementation due just before then). And DOJ IG — which has, historically, found abundant problems with the functions enumerated here — will not review the efficacy of this until around May 2022.

The Department ofJustice Inspector General has agreed to assess the implementation of this memorandum (“initial assessment”) no sooner than 18 months after the establishment of OIA and to report such assessment, consistent with the Inspector General Act, to the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Director of the FBI, and Assistant Attorney General for National Security. The Inspector General has furt her agreed to conduct a subsequent assessment no later than five years after the initial assessment, and periodically thereafter as determined by the Inspector General, and to report such assessments, consistent with the Inspector General Act, to the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Director of the FBI, and Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

Within 60 days of the date of the Inspector General’s initial assessment, the Director of the FBI shall provide the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General an assessment of the implementation of this memorandum, including an assessment of the effectiveness of the FBI’s compliance structure and whether compliance functions should be consolidated under an Executive Assistant Director.

Which is to say, this initiative, while it may be long overdue, feels like Barr trying to get ahead of something or somethings.

Billy Barr is an authoritarian. He doesn’t care about surveillance (indeed, he’s the grandfather of the dragnets that Edward Snowden revealed).

But something must have led him to take action to make it look like he cares.

Timeline

March 24-27, 2017: The querying of 70K facilities “associated with” persons who had access to the FBI’s facilities and systems. FBI General Counsel (then run by Jim Baker, who had had these fights in the past) warned against the query, but FBI did it anyway, though did not access the communications. This was likely either a leak or a counterintelligence investigation and appears to have been discovered in a review of existing Insider Threat queries.

December 1, 2017: FBI conducted queries on 6,800 social security numbers.

December 7-11, 2017, the same entity at FBI also queried 1,600 queries on certain identifiers, though claimed they didn’t mean to access raw data.

February 5 and 23, 2018: FBI did approximately 30 queries of potential sources.

February 21, 2018: FBI did 45 queries on people being vetted as sources.

March 27, 2018: Initial 2018 package submitted.

April 5, 2018: Extension order.

Before April 13, 2018: an unspecified FBI unit queried FISA acquired metadata using 57,000 identifiers of people who work in some place.

October 17, 2018: Order finding FBI querying procedures do not comply with FISA.

February 21, 2019: NSA submits notice of Upstream violations.

February 26, 2019: Date after which NSA fixes Upstream violations.

June 2019: Oversight review finds violations of querying rules, including to vet a source, a candidate to be a local cop, and to find information about a planned visit by foreign officials.

June 26, 2019: Notice that CIA assistance to NCTC does not comply with rules.

July 2019: Oversight review finds violations of querying rules, including of college students in a “Collegiate Academy” and individuals who visited an FBI office. 

July 12, 2019: FISCR opinion finding that FBI querying procedures do not comply with FISA.

August 2019: Query of 16,000 persons identifies seven leads. 

August 12, 2019: FBI submits new querying procedures.

August 23, 2019: NSA complains about post-tasking for some collections.

September 4, 2019: Approval of amended FBI querying procedures.

September 6, 2019: Report of July 2019 query violations.

September 13, 2019: Notice regarding 702 query response showing 100 characters of text surrounding search term.

September 17, 2019: Application submitted, including proposed improvements on targeting procedures.

September 17, 2019: Notice of at least four querying violations involving taking steps to access 702 products without getting a warrant.

September 18, 2019: Report on June 2019 query violations.

September 20, 2019: Reports of other FBI querying violations, including to vet sources, to search on complainants, and to vet potential cops.

September 26, 2019: 45-day report on fulfilling FBI query rules.

October 1, 2019: Review period extended to December 16, 2019 (because of NSA and NCTC compliance issues, not FBI ones).

October 3, 2019: FISC orders further information.

October 4, 2019: FBI requests relief from requirement to report 702 access in response to criminal search.

October 10, 2019: Notice of overly attenuated NSA queries, including content searches using 23 US person identifiers.

October 11, 2019: Notice on FBI violations tied to not opting out of including FISA in searches.

November 4, November 13, 2019: Government provides additional information.

November 8, 2019: 45-day report on fulfilling FBI query rules.

November 14, 2019: Notice on violations tied to not opting out of including FISA in searches.

November 20, 2019: Government tells FISC that they never tried to comply with reporting requirement imposed in October 2018, are instead training their new proposed compliance method.

November 25, 2019: Notice regarding August 2019 mass query.

mid-December 2019: Date FBI promised to impose new record-keeping on FBI’s queries.

January 2020: Date NSA promised to have purged improperly acquired communications.

Horowitz

DOJ’s Accounting of Its FISA Errors Cannot Be Compared to the Carter Page Report

Last year, Bill Barr adopted the stance that Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s assessment of FISA — in the report on the Carter Page FISA applications — wasn’t strict enough, because it found no evidence that the errors in the applications arose from political bias. Last week, Bill Barr’s DOJ adopted the opposite stance, that DOJ IG was too critical of FISA, finding errors in the FBI process where there were none.

It did so in the second of two filings reviewing the errors that DOJ IG had found in 29 other FISA applications. When DOJ IG released an interim report (MAM) describing those errors in March, it appeared to suggest that the level of error in the Carter Page applications — at least with respect to the Woods Files — was actually lower than what DOJ IG had found in the 25 applications.

Now, DOJ appears to be trying to claim — without basis — that that’s not the case.

Ahead of the release of the actual filing, DOJ and FBI orchestrated a press release last week, announcing that they would tell the court none of the errors identified by DOJ IG invalidated the probable cause finding for the 29 files. Predictably, both the responsible press and the frothy right (in stories that misunderstood the findings of either DOJ IG report and at times made errors about the FISA process), concluded that this review shows that Page’s application was uniquely bad.

Only after the press had jumped on that conclusion did DOJ release the filing (here’s the earlier one and here’s AAG John Demers’ statement in conjunction with last week’s release).

The filing makes it clear that it is impossible to draw any comparison between these findings about the earlier Carter Page ones (or even to declare — as many in the press have — that this filing proves DOJ’s FISA problems aren’t as bad as DOJ IG suggested).

That’s true for three reasons:

  • DOJ IG has not finished the kind of review on any of the 29 files it did for Page, and DOJ is not claiming it did either
  • DOJ used a dramatically different methodology for this Woods review than DOJ IG did for the Page review
  • DOJ effectively disagreed with DOJ IG’s findings for roughly 46% of the errors DOJ IG identified — and it’s not clear they explained to the FISA Court why they did so

Before I explain these, there’s a more important takeaway.

In giving itself a clean bill of health, DOJ judged that it doesn’t matter that a 2016 FISA application claimed that one of their sources accused a person of sympathizing with a particular terrorist organization when in fact the source said the person had become sympathetic to radical Muslim causes. For the purposes of FISA, this is a huge distinction, because a terrorist organization counts as a foreign power for the sake of FISA, but radical Muslim causes do not. It’s the difference between targeting someone as a suspected agent of a foreign power and targeting them for First Amendment protected activities. DOJ said this error didn’t matter because there was so much other derogatory information against the target; whether that’s true or not, it remains the case that DOJ’s self-congratulation nevertheless admits to a key First Amendment problem in one of the applications.

Woods violations are different from significant inaccuracies are different from material inaccuracies are different from probable cause

As I explained in this post, the IG Report on Carter Page found two types of problems: 17 “significant inaccuracies” that were mostly errors of omission (see PDF 12 and 14-15 for a list), and Woods file errors (PDF 460ff) for which an assertion made in the application did not have or match the back-up in the accuracy file that is supposed to prove it. The “significant inaccuracies” are the more serious of the two, but a number of those were overblown and in a few cases, dubious, in the DOJ IG Report.

Both of those categories are different from material misstatements, of which DOJ admitted to a number by the time they withdrew the probable cause claim from the third and fourth, but not the first two, Page applications. Before the conclusion of the DOJ IG Report they had told the court of the following material misstatements:

  • July 12, 2018: Cover stories Papadopoulos gave to informants that FBI accurately assessed in real time as false, statements Bruce Ohr made that (in the slightly misrepresented form included in the DOJ IG Report) call into question Christopher Steele’s motives, admissions that Steele himself had spoken to the press
  • October 25, 2019 and November 27, 2019: Details about the actions of Kevin Clinesmith — first not disclosing and then altering a document to hide Page’s relationship with the CIA that covered some but not all of his willful sharing of non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers

It’s not clear the government specified which aspects of the DOJ IG Report it submitted to Rosemary Collyer in December 2019 it deemed material, but she focused on:

  • Statements made by Steele’s primary sub-source that undermined key claims about Page
  • Page’s denials (some proven true, some of still undetermined veracity) of details in the Steele dossier
  • Steele’s derogatory comments about Sergei Millian

On the scale of severity, the material misstatements are the ones that matter, because they’re the ones that will affect whether someone gets wiretapped or not. But the Woods file errors in the Carter Page report identified by DOJ IG describe just four (arguably, three) details even related to things ultimately deemed material which, in turn, led to the withdrawal of two of the applications. None directly described the core issues that led to the withdrawal of the two applications (though the Page denials in conjunction with the sub-source comments did).

Indeed, one key conclusion of this entire process — one that DOJ, DOJ IG, and FISC have all agreed with — is that the Woods files process is not very useful at finding the more important errors of omission of the kind that were the most serious problems in the Page application.

And that’s important because all three of these reports — the March DOJ IG MAM and the June and July responses to FISA — stem from, and only explicitly claim to address, Woods file errors. In its MAM, DOJ IG described what it called its “initial” review this way:

During this initial review, we have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

For its part, DOJ calls DOJ IG’s report “preliminary” (seemingly ignoring that the IG claimed in that MAM and claims on its website to be continuing this part of what it calls a preliminary part of a larger review of FISA). DOJ’s Office of Intelligence did do materiality reviews of both the errors DOJ IG found and some that it found in the process of compiling these reports (in addition to the CT material misstatement described above, it found what sounds like the omission of exculpatory statements in a CI case).

But all this amounts to the more basic of the two kinds of reviews that DOJ IG did in the Carter Page case.

For these reports, DOJ continued to use the accuracy review methodology it now agrees is inadequate

As noted, all parties now agree that the Woods procedure wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. One reason it wasn’t is because the FBI has always given agents a few weeks notice before they review one of their Woods files, allowing them to scramble to fill out the accuracy file.

But DOJ IG (perfectly reasonably) didn’t give the Crossfire Hurricane team or any of the people involved in the 29 FISA applications it reviewed here that same notice. It conducted its Woods file assessment on what was actually in the accuracy file. In the case of the Carter Page review, they found a placeholder for a 302 that said exactly what DOJ IG faulted FBI for not having evidence for, an observation about how much Stefan Halper has been paid, and publicly available details about Gazprombank, among other true claims that were nevertheless not backed up in the Woods file. It would have been child’s play — but take some work — to get proof of those and most other claims in the file. The Woods file review that DOJ IG did in the Page case — and almost certainly, the review of the 29 files — tested whether the Woods procedures were being adhered to at all, not whether the Woods procedure effectively ensured only documented claims made it into a FISA application.

If you’re going to rely on the Woods procedure as an accuracy tool, that’s what reviews need to do, because otherwise they’re doing nothing to test the accuracy of the reports.

And DOJ now agrees. In its June filing, DOJ committed to changing how it does accuracy reviews starting in September (maybe). Starting then, agents will get no notice of a review before it happens, and the accuracy rate of that no-notice review will be tracked along with the accuracy once an agent is given time to chase down the documentation he didn’t include the first time.

NSD has determined that commencing with accuracy reviews starting after September 30, 2020, it will not inform the FBI field offices undergoing NSD oversight reviews which applications will be subjected to accuracy reviews in advance of those reviews. This date is subject to current operational limitations the coronavirus outbreak is imposing. NSD would not apply this change in practice to accuracy reviews conducted in response to a request to use FISA information in a criminal proceeding, given the need to identify particular information from particular collections that is subject to use. NSD also would not apply this change in practice to completeness reviews ( discussed further below); because of the pre-review coordination that is contemplated for those reviews.

NSD will expect that the relevant FBI field offices have ready, upon NSD’s arrival, the accuracy sub-files for the most recent applications for all FISAs seeking electronic surveillance or physical search. NSD will then, on its arrival, inform the FBI field office of the application(s) that will be subject to an accuracy review. If the case will also be subject to a completeness review, pre-coordination, as detailed below, will be necessary. The Government assesses that implementing this change in practice will encourage case agents in all FISA matters to be more vigilant about applying the accuracy procedures in their day-to-day work.

In addition, although NSD’s accuracy reviews allow NSD to assess individual compliance with the accuracy procedures, NSD’s historical practice has been to allow agents to obtain documentation during a review that may be missing from the accuracy sub-file. NSD only assesses the errors or omissions identified once the agent has been given the opportunity to gather any additional required documentation. While the Government believes that, in order to appropriately assess the accuracy of an application’s content, it should continue to allow agents to gather additional documentation during the accuracy review, it assesses that this historical practice has not allowed for the evaluation of how effective agents have been at complying with the requirement to maintain an accuracy sub-file, complete with all required documentation.

As a result, NSD will tally and report as a part of its accuracy review process all facts for which any documentation, or appropriate documentation, was not a part of the accuracy sub-file at the time the accuracy review commenced.

That said, that’s not how DOJ did these reviews. In fact, John Demers emphasized this fact in his statement claiming victory over these reviews.

In addition, when the OIG found a fact unsupported by a document in the Woods file, the OIG did not give the FBI the opportunity to locate a supporting document for the fact outside the file.

Indeed, that’s not the only thing that DOJ did to help DOJ clean up DOJ’s shitty performance on DOJ IG’s review of their work. After FBI Field Office lawyers got the DOJ IG assessment, they pulled together the existing documentation, then DOJ’s OI worked with agents to fill in what wasn’t there. In fact, DOJ even got an extension on the second report because DOJ and FBI agents were still working through the files, suggesting it took up to three months of work to get the files to where DOJ was willing to tell FISC about them.

In other words, whereas the Crossfire Hurricane team got judged — by Bill Barr’s DOJ — on what was in the Woods file when DOJ IG found it, Bill Barr’s DOJ is judging Bill Barr’s DOJ on what might be in a Woods file after agents have up to three months to look for paperwork to support claims they made as long as six years ago.

DOJ disagreed with DOJ IG’s finding of error about 46% of the time

Finally, DOJ and DOJ IG did not use the same categories of information to track errors on the Woods file reviews, and one of the most common ways they dismissed the import of an error was by saying that DOJ IG was wrong.

The MAM divides the errors it found into three categories: claims not supported by any documentation, claims not corroborated by the supposed back-up, and claims that were inconsistent with the supporting documentation.

[W]e identified facts stated in the FISA application that were: (a) not supported by any documentation in the Woods File, (b) not clearly corroborated by the supporting documentation in the Woods File, or (c) inconsistent with the supporting documentation in the Woods File.

In addition to the two material errors they found, DOJ claims the errors they found fall into five categories (described starting on page 10):

  • Non-material date errors
  • Non-material typographical errors
  • Non-material deviations from the source documentation
  • Non-material misidentified sources of information
  • Non-material facts lacking supporting documentation

But to get to that number, DOJ also weeded out a number of other problems identified by DOJ IG via three other categories of determination reflected in the up to three month back and forth with OI:

  • Claims made that were substantiated by documents added to the file after DOJ IG’s review
  • Claims that, after reviewing additional information, OI “determined that the application accurately stated or described the supporting documentation, or accurately summarized other assertions in the application that were supported by the accuracy subfile”
  • Claims not backed by any document, but for which “the supporting documentation taken as a whole provided support for the fact in the application”

DOJ doesn’t count those instances in its overview — as distinct from individual narratives — of the report (indeed, the scope of added documentation is not qualified at all). And while the DOJ fillings say FBI described that it added documentation to the file in the redacted FBI declaration for FISC, it’s not clear whether it told FISC what it added and how much and where and when it came from (FBI has been known to write 302s long after the fact to document events not otherwise documented in real time).

Here’s what all this looks like in one table (FBI did what is probably a similar table, but it’s classified). Note that DOJ IG used still different categories for the Carter Page review: “Supporting document does not state this fact,” which is probably the same as their “not clearly corroborated” category. In my table, I’ve counted that as a “lacking documentation error.”

There are several takeaways from this table.

First, the numerical discrepancy provides some idea of how many errors DOJ IG found that DOJ made go away either by finding documentation for them, or by deciding that DOJ IG was wrong. DOJ IG said it found an average of 20 errors in the 25 applications it was able to review, or 500 total. DOJ says it found 63 errors in the June report and 138 errors in the July Report, over a total of 29 applications (they did a review of the four files for which DOJ IG was provided with no Woods file, so had 4 more files than DOJ IG).

My numbers are off by 3 from theirs, which might be partly accounted for recurrent errors in a reauthorized application or lack of clarity on DOJ’s narrative. Or maybe like DOJ, I subtracted 48 from 138 and got 91.

Approximately 48 of these 138 non-material errors reflect typographical errors or date discrepancies between an assertion in an application and a source document. Of the remaining 91 non-material errors or unsupported facts, four involve nonmaterial factual assertions that may be accurate, but for which a supporting document could not be located in the FBI’s files; 73 involve non-material deviations between a source document and an application; and 13 involve errors in which the source of an otherwise accurate factual assertion was misidentified.

But my count shows that DOJ simply declared DOJ IG to be wrong 151 times in its assessment that something was an error, with an amazing 35 examples of that in one application, and of which 14 across all applications were instances where DOJ couldn’t find a document to support a claim (not even with three months to look), but instead said the totality of the application supported a claim.

Claiming that the totality of an application supports a claim, while being unable to find documentation for a discrete fact, sure sounds like confirmation bias.

And in the up to three months of review, FBI found documentation to support upwards of 130 claims that originally were not supported in the Woods file. In other words, these weren’t errors of fact — they were just instances of FBI not following the Woods procedure.

We know that if the Crossfire Hurricane team had been measured by the standard DOJ did in these filings, it would have done better than most of these applications (again, only with respect to the Woods file). That’s because, aside from the four claims that rely on intercepted information (which is not public), there is public documentation to support every claim deemed unsupported in the report but three: the one claiming that James Clapper had said that Russia was providing money in addition to the disinformation to help Trump.

The DNI commented that this influence included providing money to particular candidates or providing disinformation.

And the two claiming that Christopher Steele’s reporting had been corroborated, something the DOJ IG Report lays out at length was not true in the terms FBI normally measured. Except, even there, Steele handler Mike Gaeta’s sworn testimony actually said it had been. He described jumping when Steele told him he had information because he was a professional,

And at that time there were a number of instances when his information had borne out, had been corroborated by other sources.

He also provided a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Steele’s reporting was not corroborated in the way DOJ IG measured it in the report: because you could never put Steele on a stand, so his testimony would never be used to prosecute people.

From a criminal perspective and a criminal investigative kind of framework, you know, Christopher Steele and [redacted] were never individuals who were going to be on a witness stand.

In other words, while it appears that DOJ cleaned up many of the errors identified by DOJ IG by finding the documentation to back it over the course of months, the public record makes it clear that Crossfire Hurricane would have been able to clear up even more of the Page Woods file.

The exceptions prove the rule. There are, as my table notes, two or three claims that do not accurately describe what the underlying document says, claiming:

  • That Page never refuted the claims against him (he had, and in many cases, was telling the truth in his refutations)
  • That Steele told the FBI he never shared information with anyone outside his “business associate” [Fusion] and the FBI (he also shared it with State, as other parts of FBI had been told)
  • That in his first FBI interviews Papadopoulos admitted he had met with Australian officials but not that he discussed Russia during those meetings (it’s unclear how accurate this claim is)

Assume the last bullet (used just once) reflects the redacted parts of Papadopoulos’ 302s even though it does match his current statements, that nevertheless leaves you with an error rate on arguably the worst category — misrepresenting your evidence — of 2 or 3 per application. The first two of these are the Woods file errors that turned out to have a tie (a significant one in the first bullet) with the material reasons why some of the files were withdrawn. They’re the two errors in the Woods file that most directly tied to omitted evidence in the application that would lead to their withdrawal.

Of the 29 applications reviewed by DOJ, 12 of them have 3 or more “deviations from the source” material. One has 14 and another has 15.

So on the worst measure that this review actually did measure, the one that on Page’s application tied most directly to reasons to withdraw the application, Page’s application actually was within the norm.

It may well be that when all the reviews are done, DOJ will have proof that Carter Page’s application was an exceptionally bad application. Certainly, the material misstatements may end up being worse.

But the only thing this apples to oranges comparison of the Page methodology and the traditional DOJ methodology has proven is that — as a matter of the Woods file reviews — Bill Barr has used a different standard for Bill Barr’s DOJ than he has with Crossfire Hurricane. And that if the Page file had been treated as all the others were, from a Woods file perspective, it actually wouldn’t look that bad.

It also shows that when Bill Barr’s DOJ wants to continue spying on Americans who don’t happen to be associated with Donald Trump, he’s happy to argue that Michael Horowitz’s very legalistic reviews of the sort that did Andrew McCabe in are wrong.

Updated for clarity.

Cross Filings: NSD Figures Out How Woods Procedures Are Supposed to Work

JustSecurity has an odd panel on FISA yesterday reviewing the DOJ IG Memo showing that Carter Page’s FISA applications were actually better than average with respect to compliance with Woods Procedures. It includes Andrew McCabe (who signed the last, most problematic, Carter Page application) and Mary McCord (who was involved in the review process for three of the applications, and even told McCabe they needed more information on Christopher Steele before the first one), but it doesn’t disclose their roles in the process. It also doesn’t include defense attorneys among its experts, who might provide more context about problems identified with FISA long before the Page investigation.

I’m particularly interested in McCord’s comments. She likens this to what happened in the wake of Brady v Maryland, and then again in the wake of Ted Stevens’ trial, as prosecutors came to a more proactive view on discovery (she doesn’t explain how prosecutors fucked up so badly on the Stevens case if any cultural change had really happened).

While I applaud McCord for taking a more skeptical view of the Page surveillance at several points (as described in the DOJ IG Report), her focus on Brady and her confidence in cultural change is misplaced, in my opinion.

As bmaz would and has been screaming, Brady isn’t actually the standard here. Franks is. He has argued that the affidavits targeting Page would never have reached the standard under Franks, and thus if Page were treated like any other defendant (of course, he was never charged), these affidavits would have passed muster.

I would respond to bmaz that you’d never even get to a Franks hearing because no defendant has ever gotten review of their application. Now that Ric Grenell has declassified the bulk of Carter Page’s applications, it should be far easier to declassify applications going forward. Liza Goitein included providing review to defendants among her recommendations for reforms next month, but none of the other panelists did.

But all the panelists seem to have missed something that happened at the same time as the memo was released. As I noted in my own review of the MAM, NSD (which McCord led for a key period during which Page was surveilled) has been doing their reviews in such a way as to make the Woods Procedures useless. They were giving FBI Agents four weeks advance notice before conducting a review, which meant they never did what DOJ IG did — see whether the FISA file had the paperwork that under the Woods Procedure it should have.

Before any of these reviews happen, the field offices are told which applications will be reviewed, which gives the case agents a chance to pull together the documentary support for the application.

Thus, prior to the FBI CDC or NSD OI review, field offices are given advance notification of which FISA application(s) will be reviewed and are expected to compile documentary evidence to support the relevant FISA.

If the Woods Procedures were being followed, it should never be the case that the FBI needs to compile documentary evidence before the review; the entire point of it is it ensure the documentary evidence is in the file before any application gets submitted. Once you discover that all the FBI and OI reviews get advance notice, you’re not really reviewing Woods Procedures, it seems to me, you’re reviewing paperwork accuracy.

[snip]

To check the accuracy of the Woods Files, they should with no notice obtain a subset of them, as DOJ IG just did, and see whether the claims in the report are documented in the Woods File, and only after that do their onsite reviews (with notice, to see if there was documentation somewhere that had not been included in the file). That might actually be a better way of identifying where there might be other kinds of problems with the application.

It turns out, on the same day that DOJ IG released their MAM, NSD submitted a FISA filing updating James Boasberg on what they’re doing with reviews.

The panel deals with the DOJ IG Management Advisory Memorandum showing that Carter Page’s applications were in no way unique, with regards to Woods Procedure violations; in fact, his application had fewer Woods Procedure violations, on average, than the 29 applications DOJ IG reviewed. Much of the discussion focuses on

The results (rightly) look really stinky for the FBI. But in fact, the MAM revealed that NSD — McCord’s old department, which thus far had (possibly for jurisdictional reasons) avoided most criticism for FISA — was conducting reviews that made the Woods Files largely useless as an oversight tool (and therefore as a guarantee of accuracy). That’s because Office of Intelligence has been giving FBI Field Offices four weeks advance warning about which files they’re going to review.

DOJ IG describes its finding that these results aren’t being used in better fashion.

(4) FBI and NSD officials we interviewed indicated to us that there were no efforts by the FBI to use existing FBI and NSD oversight mechanisms to perform comprehensive, strategic assessments of the efficacy of the Woods Procedures or FISA accuracy, to include identifying the need for enhancements to training and improvements in the process, or increased accountability measures.

At least given their description, however, I think they’ve found something else. They’ve confirmed that — contrary to DOJ’s description to FISC that,

OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application.

OI is actually only doing the latter part, measuring the accuracy of the facts in an applicable FISA application. To check the accuracy of the Woods Files, they should with no notice obtain a subset of them, as DOJ IG just did, and see whether the claims in the report are documented in the Woods File, and only after that do their onsite reviews (with notice, to see if there was documentation somewhere that had not been included in the file).

As I lay out in a timeline below, DOJ was submitting a response to the FISA Court on April 3, even as DOJ IG was releasing its MAM. In that response (therefore three days before my post), they said they’d stop giving advance notice for the accuracy reviews, which will make Woods Procedures newly useful.

NSD has determined that commencing with accuracy reviews starting after September 30, 2020, it will not inform the FBI field offices undergoing NSD oversight reviews which applications will be subjected to accuracy reviews in advance of those reviews. This date is subject to current operational limitations the coronavirus outbreak is imposing. NSD would not apply this change in practice to accuracy reviews conducted in response to a request to use FISA information in a criminal proceeding, given the need to identify particular information from particular collections that is subject to use. NSD also would not apply this change in practice to completeness reviews ( discussed further below); because of the pre-review coordination that is contemplated for those reviews.

NSD will expect that the relevant FBI field offices have ready, upon NSD’s arrival, the accuracy sub-files for the most recent applications for all FISAs seeking electronic surveillance or physical search. NSD will then, on its arrival, inform the FBI field office of the application(s) that will be subject to an accuracy review. If the case will also be subject to a completeness review, pre-coordination, as detailed below, will be necessary. The Government assesses that implementing this change in practice will encourage case agents in all FISA matters to be more vigilant about applying the accuracy procedures in their day-to-day work.

In addition, although NSD’s accuracy reviews allow NSD to assess individual compliance with the accuracy procedures, NSD’s historical practice has been to allow agents to obtain documentation during a review that may be missing from the accuracy sub-file. NSD only assesses the errors or omissions identified once the agent has been given the opportunity to gather any additional required documentation. While the Government believes that, in order to appropriately assess the accuracy of an application’s content, it should continue to allow agents to gather additional documentation during the accuracy review, it assesses that this historical practice has not allowed for the evaluation of how effective agents have been at complying with the requirement to maintain an accuracy sub-file, complete with all required documentation.

As a result, NSD will tally and report as a part of its accuracy review process all facts for which any documentation, or appropriate documentation, was not a part of the accuracy sub-file at the time the accuracy review commenced. Agents will still be given the opportunity to gather such documentation during or after the accuracy review, so that NSD can assess if the application contains any inaccuracies with respect to the application’s content. NSD will include these additional findings in its summaries of accuracy reviews (discussed herein) and also will include such findings in its biannual reports to the Court regarding its accuracy and completeness review findings. NSD assesses that by implementing this additional metric, it will encourage case agents to be more vigilant about adhering to the FBI’s accuracy· procedures.

It’s rare that a bureaucracy of any sort — much less government, much less part of government that pertains to national security — recognizes that its paperwork isn’t serving the function it is supposed to. But here, even though DOJ IG didn’t make this observation, NSD figured it out and committed to change their processes.

There are more comments about NSD’s review processes that deserve more attention. For example, I said that NSD should start reporting the results of its accuracy (and the new completeness) reviews in its Semiannual FISA Reports (which currently focus only on 702). As part of a seeming effort to rebut Amicus David Kris’ comment that DOJ has the resources to do oversight right, the filing suggested that other oversight obligations take up too much time to dedicate more time to traditional FISA reviews (though NSD did increase attorney resources in OI’s oversight section by 50%).

(U) OI’s Oversight Section, which is responsible for oversight and compliance relating to the IC’s implementation of FISA authorities, currently has approximately 20 attorneys and must rely on assistance from the Operations Section of OI to staff the existing accuracy reviews. Moreover, OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight of other FISA authorities, including at other IC agencies, and conducts oversight of FBI’s implementation of its Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. The latter involves conducting onsite National Security Reviews at approximately 15 FBI field offices annually. In addition, OI’s oversight and compliance responsibilities with respect to the IC’s implementation of Section 702 consumes substantial OI resources. 14 Furthermore, the Oversight Section fulfills statutorily-required reporting obligations to Congress on behalf of the Department. These reports, which describe, in detail, the Government’s use of FISA authorities and all identified compliance incidents, run hundreds of pages in the aggregate and most must be completed twice a year. As the Court is aware, the Oversight Section also investigates and reports to the Court all FISA compliance incidents involving IC agencies. Additionally, among other responsibilities, the Oversight Section prepares quarterly reports for the Court to inform the Court about certain Section 702 compliance incidents and provide updates on previously reported Section 702 compliance incidents. The Oversight Section also conducts onsite reviews at multiple IC agencies.

It seems like this process could be more streamlined, though. It also seems like you don’t need attorneys to do all these reviews. Accuracy and completeness are not legal issues, they’re reading issues.

Ultimately, the way to ensure that smart changes by NSD actually have the desired effect is to give any defendant against whom FISA information is used in prosecution review of his or her FISA file. But it remarkable to see that McCord’s successor, John Demers, is actually making the kinds of changes that could make the Woods Files function the way they’ve been supposed to for two decades.

Timeline

  • March 23: FBI Associate Deputy Director of FBI reponds to draft MAM
  • March 27: Associate Deputy Attorney General Brad Weinsheimer responds to draft MAM
  • March 30: DOJ IG completes a Management Advisory Memorandum on it efforts to clean up FISA
  • March 31: DOJ IG publicly releases the MAM
  • April 3: James Boasberg orders the government to report whether errors found in the 29 applications that DOJ IG reviewed are material
  • April 3: DOJ National Security Division submits Response to March 5 order incorporating changes to Woods Procedure reviews
  • April 6: I point out that NSD should change how they do Woods Procedure reviews

The Scope of DOJ IG’s FISA Review

A seeming millennium ago, last Tuesday, DOJ’s Inspector General released a Management Advisory Memo describing the interim results of its effort to assess whether problems identified in Carter Page’s FISA application were unique, or reflected a more general problem with FISA. Based on the results from two prongs of DOJ IG’s ongoing investigation, DOJ IG believed they needed to alert FBI right away of their preliminary results in hopes they would inform FBI’s efforts to fix this and to offer two additional recommendations on top of the ones they made in December.

Unsurprisingly, a bunch of mostly right wingers have misrepresented the MAM. I wanted to use this post to explore what the MAM shows about the two prongs of investigation, the significance of the results, and the review of FISA generally. As a bonus track, I’ll talk about what role Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who was fired on Friday, did not have in the FISA application reviews discussed in the MAM, contrary to what a bunch of wingnuts are claiming to justify his firing.

The universe of FISA

Before getting into what the review showed, some background on the universe of FISA may be helpful.

Both prongs of DOJ IG’s investigation examine probable cause FISA applications from 8 FBI offices submitted over the 5 year period ending last September (the end of Fiscal Year 2019).

The last three years’ transparency reports from the Office of Director of National Intelligence have broken down how many of the probable cause FISA applications were known to target US persons. While there’s been some flux in the number of total probable cause applications, the ones targeting US persons have been going down (perhaps not coincidentally, as scrutiny of the process has increased), from 336 in CY 2016 to 232 in CY 2018.

Using 300 applications targeting US persons as an estimate, that says for the 5-year period DOJ IG is examining, there would have been roughly 1,500 that targeted US persons. The MAM says that the 8 offices included in the review thus far submitted more than 700 FISA applications “relating to U.S. Persons.”

The FBI has 56 field offices. Some states (CA, TX, FL, NY, PA) have multiple FBI offices. Some offices cover multiple states.

In any given year, National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence only does FISA reviews in a fraction of the FBI offices — 25-30, per a recent court filing (FISA 702 reviews covered a smaller number of offices during the early years of the 5-year period, but it’s unclear whether NSD does the reviews at the same time). A James Boasberg opinion on 702 reauthorization from last year confirmed that, “OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently.”  That would presumably include DC, NY, and LA (all of which are big enough to be led by an Assistant Director). Cities with large numbers of Chinese-Americans (like SF) or Muslims (like Minneapolis and Detroit) likely do disproportionately more FISA than other large city offices, and I assume offices in TX and FL do a lot as well.

Prong One: Reviewing Woods Files

DOJ IG described that one prong of their review — their own review of Woods Files — involved visiting those 8 field offices “of varying sizes” and reviewing “judgmentally selected sample” of 29 applications to review.

over the past 2 months, we visited 8 FBI field offices of varying sizes and reviewed a judgmentally selected sample of 29 applications relating to U.S. Persons and involving both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. This sample was selected from a dataset provided by the FBI that contained more than 700 applications relating to U.S. Persons submitted by those 8 field offices over a 5-year period.

Between them, those 8 field offices submitted 700 applications in the 5-year period studied, which says that even with some smaller offices included, the field offices still submitted almost half of the US person applications in the period (meaning DOJ IG likely included at least a few of the biggest offices).

This review is ongoing. But thus far, assuming my 1,500 estimate is fair, DOJ IG reviewed around 2% of the applications submitted by the FBI, or 4% of those submitted by these offices. By definition, those 29 files could not have included an application from each office for each year.

For each of these 29 applications, DOJ IG reviewed the Woods File associated with the application to see if there was, as intended, back-up for each of the factual claims in the application; that’s all they’ve done so far. This prong of the review was a strictly paperwork review: DOJ IG did not review whether the claims in the application could be backed up elsewhere, or if there were things in the case file targeting a person that should have been included in the application (which was actually the far bigger problem in the Carter Page applications).

[I]nitial review of these applications has consisted solely of determining whether the contents of the FBI’s Woods File supported statements of fact in the associated FISA application; our review did not seek to determine whether support existed elsewhere for the factual assertion in the FISA application (such as in the case file), or if relevant information had been omitted from the application.

But they didn’t have to keep reviewing to conclude that Woods Files are not functioning like they’re supposed to. Not only was there not a Woods File for 4 of the applications, but the remaining 25 all had problems.

(1) we could not review original Woods Files for 4 of the 29 selected FISA applications because the FBI has not been able to locate them and, in 3 of these instances, did not know if they ever existed; (2) our testing of FISA applications to the associated Woods Files identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed, and interviews to date with available agents or supervisors in field offices generally have confirmed the issues we identified;

[snip]

[F]or all 25 FISA applications with Woods Files that we have reviewed to date, we identified facts stated in the FISA application that were: (a) not supported by any documentation in the Woods File, (b) not clearly corroborated by the supporting documentation in the Woods File, or (c) inconsistent with the supporting documentation in the Woods File. While our review of these issues and follow-up with case agents is still ongoing—and we have not made materiality judgments for these or other errors or concerns we identified—at this time we have identified an average of about 20 issues per application reviewed, with a high of approximately 65 issues in one application and less than 5 issues in another application.

By comparison, DOJ IG found just 8 Woods File errors in the first Carter Page application and 16 in last two, most problematic, renewals (see PDF 460-465). So the applications DOJ IG reviewed were, on average, worse than the Page application with respect to the Woods compliance.

These applications also didn’t all have the required paperwork from an informant’s handling agent — though in some cases, the agent was the same.

About half of the applications we reviewed contained facts attributed to CHSs, and for many of them we found that the Woods File lacked documentation attesting to these two requirements. For some of these applications, the case agent preparing the FISA application was also the handling agent of the CHS referenced in the application, and therefore would have been familiar with the information in CHS files.

It’s actually somewhat notable that just half of this very small sample of applications included information from an informant. And only some of these files were lacking the required paperwork for informants. That suggests, to the degree that the FISA application might hide problems with informants that otherwise might have been found in a criminal warrant affidavit (though even there, FBI has a lot of ways to protect these details), that may not be as big of a problem as defense attorneys have suspected (though that’s an area where I’d expect bigger problems on the CT side than the CI one).

The findings on the third problem identified in the Carter Page applications — that the Woods File did not get a fresh review with each application — are less definitive.

based on the results of our review of two renewal files, as well as our discussions with FBI agents, it appears that the FBI is not consistently re-verifying the original statements of fact within renewal applications. In one instance, we observed that errors or unsupported information in the statements of fact that we identified in the initial application had been carried over to each of the renewal applications. In other instances, we were told by the case agents who prepared the renewal applications that they only verified newly added statements of fact in renewal applications because they had already verified the original statements of fact when submitting the initial application.

This could represent as few as 3 of the 25 files for which there were Woods Files.

In any case, the larger point seems to be the more important one: the FBI has not been using Woods Files like they’re supposed to, making sure that the paperwork to back up any claim made in a FISA application actually reflects the underlying documentation and thereby making sure the claims they make to the FISC are valid.

Presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg issued an order today, requiring the government to figure out whether any of the problems identified in this review were material, with an emphasis on the 4 applications for which there was no Woods File.

Reviewing Accuracy Reviews

As noted, the FBI has not been using Woods Files like they’re intended to be used. But neither is DOJ’s National Security Division.

The other part of DOJ IG’s audit involved reviewing the Accuracy Reviews done by the FBI and NSD as part of the existing FISA oversight process.

There are two kinds of Accuracy Reviews done as part of FISA oversight. First, the FBI requires that lawyers in its field offices review at least one application a year.

FBI requires its Chief Division Counsel (CDC) in each FBI field office to perform each year an accuracy review of at least one FISA application from that field office.

As noted below, these are sent to FBI OGC. NSD’s Office of Intelligence doesn’t get them.

In addition, NSD OI does their own reviews for a subset of offices.

Similarly, NSD’s Office of Intelligence (OI) conducts its own accuracy review each year of at least 1 FISA application originating from each of approximately 25 to 30 different FBI field offices.

Remember there are 56 field offices and roughly 300 US person applications. So in practice, IO could review as few as 8% of the applications in a given year (though it’s probably more than that).

Here’s how DOJ described the OI reviews to FISC in December.

OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight reviews at approximately 25-30 FBI field offices annually. During those reviews, OI assesses compliance with Court-approved minimization and querying procedures, as well as the Court orders. Pursuant to the 2009 Memorandum, OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application. 5 OI may conduct more than one accuracy review at a particular field office, depending on the number of FISA applications submitted by the office and factors such as whether there are identified cases where errors have previously been reported or where there is potential for use of FISA information in a criminal prosecution. OI has also, as a matter of general practice, conducted accuracy reviews of FISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use of FISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person. See 50U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1825(d).

(U) During these reviews, OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5 is supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document. With regard specifically to human source reporting included in an application, the 2009 Memorandum requires that the accuracy sub-file include the reporting that is referenced in the application and further requires that the FBI must provide the reviewing attorney with redacted documentation from the confidential human source sub-file substantiating all factual assertions regarding the source’s reliability and background. 6

5 (U) OI’s accuracy reviews cover four areas: (1) facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (2) the fact and manner of FBI’s verification that the target uses or is about to use each targeted facility and that property subject to search is or is about to be owned, used, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target; (3) the basis for the asserted U.S. person status of the target(s) and the means of verification; and (4) the factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case. See 2009 Memorandum at 3.

6 (U) If production of redacted documents from the confidential human source sub-file would be unduly burdensome, compromise the identity of the source, or otherwise violate the Attorney General Guidelines for Confidential Human Sources or the FBI’s Confidential Human Source Manual, FBI personnel may request that the attorney use a human source sub-file request form. Upon receipt of that form, the relevant FBI confidential human source coordinator will verify the accuracy of the source’s reliability and background that was used in the application, and transmit the results of that review to the reviewing or attorney.

So in December, DOJ claimed that these reviews served to “ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application.” They claimed that “OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5” — pertaining to 1) facts establishing probable cause 2) the target actually uses the targeted facilities 3) the target is a US person and 4) the criminal investigative techniques are accurately described —  are “supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document.” In theory, the easiest way to verify bullet point 1 (the case for probable cause) would be for the OI lawyers to check whether the Woods Files were complete.

Before I get into results, a word about the numbers.

Altogether, DOJ IG reviewed 34 FBI CDC and NSD OI reports and those reports covered 42 US person FISA applications.

Specifically, in addition to interviewing FBI and NSD officials, we reviewed 34 FBI and NSD accuracy review reports covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019—which originated from the 8 field offices we have visited to date and addressed a total of 42 U.S. Person FISA applications, only one of which was also included among the 29 FISA applications that we reviewed.

These numbers are bit confusing. For starters, the base number of accuracy reports, 34, is less than 40 (what it would be if there were a review for all 8 field offices for each of 5 years, which is supposed to be mandated for each FBI office). DOJ IG did not review one application per year per FBI office. I asked DOJ IG why that was; they said only “there may be many reasons why this is the case,” emphasizing multiple times that this audit is in its earliest phases (I’ve got requests for comment in with both NSD and FBI). Some of those many reasons might be:

  • Smaller offices reviewed don’t submit a FISA application every year, so for some offices there was none to review
  • OI doesn’t review most FBI offices every year, so for less frequently reviewed offices, there won’t be a review every year (but there should be an FBI one if the office did any FISA applications)
  • DOJ IG was only interested in US person FISA applications; some of the ones that FBI and OI reviewed would likely not target US persons
  • Only applications for which FISA coverage had ended were reviewed; for the later applications, FISA coverage might be ongoing and therefore excluded from the DOJ IG review
  • DOJ IG may not have finished its review of all these Accuracy Reviews reviews yet, so didn’t include them in the MAM

Additionally, the references to this part of review seems to suggest that the NSD reviews the same FISA application that each FBI field office reviews each year, as well as any problematic ones or ones being used in a prosecution, though that’s something I’m trying to get clarity on. Likewise, I’m trying to figure out whether FBI and OI similarly try to pick a “judgmentally selected sample” to ensure both the counterterrorism and counterintelligence functions are reviewed.

One detail makes this process a really bad measure of Woods File compliance (which is different from whether they measure the accuracy of the application effectively). Before any of these reviews happen, the field offices are told which applications will be reviewed, which gives the case agents a chance to pull together the documentary support for the application.

Thus, prior to the FBI CDC or NSD OI review, field offices are given advance notification of which FISA application(s) will be reviewed and are expected to compile documentary evidence to support the relevant FISA.

If the Woods Procedures were being followed, it should never be the case that the FBI needs to compile documentary evidence before the review; the entire point of it is it ensure the documentary evidence is in the file before any application gets submitted. Once you discover that all the FBI and OI reviews get advance notice, you’re not really reviewing Woods Procedures, it seems to me, you’re reviewing paperwork accuracy.

Nevertheless, even with the advance notice, the 93% of the 42 applications DOJ IG reviewed included problems.

[T]hese oversight mechanisms routinely identified deficiencies in documentation supporting FISA applications similar to those that, as described in more detail below, we have observed during our audit to date. Although reports related to 3 of the 42 FISA applications did not identify any deficiencies, the reports covering the remaining 39 applications identified a total of about 390 issues, including unverified, inaccurate, or inadequately supported facts, as well as typographical errors. At this stage in our audit, we have not yet reviewed these oversight reports in detail.

Keep in mind, OI is reviewing for four things — whether there’s paperwork present to support  that the application shows 1) facts establishing probable cause 2) the target actually uses the targeted facilities 3) the target is a US person (or, for applications targeting under the lower foreign power standard, that the target is not a US person, but that shouldn’t be relevant here) and 4) the criminal investigative techniques used already are accurately described. The second bullet point is actually at least as important as the probable cause, because if the wrong person is wiretapped, then a completely innocent person ends up compromised. That’s the kind of thing where typographical errors (say, transposing 2 digits in a phone number) have had serious ramifications in the past.

The lack of clarity regarding numbers makes one other point unclear. The memo setting up this process envisions NSD’s involvement in assessing whether problems with FISA applications are material. But in practice, the FBI doesn’t consult with them. And in the set of applications that DOJ IG Reviewed (again, it’s unclear whether OI reviewed all the FBI files, along with a select few more, or not), FBI found more problems than OI did, 250 as compared to 140 (for a total of 390 problems).

The 2009 joint FBI-NSD policy memorandum states that “OI determines, in consultation with the FBI, whether a misstatement or omission of fact identified during an accuracy review is material.” The 34 reports that we reviewed indicate that none of the approximately 390 identified issues were deemed to be material. However, we were told by NSD OI personnel that the FBI had not asked NSD OI to weigh in on materiality determinations nor had NSD OI formally received FBI CDC accuracy review results, which accounted for about 250 of the total issues in the reports we reviewed.

[snip]

FBI CDC and NSD OI accuracy review reports had not been used in a comprehensive, strategic fashion by FBI Headquarters to assess the performance of individuals involved in and accountable for FISA applications, to identify trends in results of the reviews, or to contribute to an evaluation of the efficacy of quality assurance mechanisms intended to ensure that FISA applications were “scrupulously accurate.” That is, the accuracy reviews were not being used by the FBI as a tool to help assess the FBI’s compliance with its Woods Procedures.

This is one of the complaints and recommendations in the MAM: it complains that the FBI reviews are basically going into a file somewhere, without a lessons learned process. It recommends that change. It also recommends that OSD get FBI’s reports, so they can integrate them into their own “trends reports” that they do based on their own reviews.

DOJ IG describes its finding that these results aren’t being used in better fashion.

(4) FBI and NSD officials we interviewed indicated to us that there were no efforts by the FBI to use existing FBI and NSD oversight mechanisms to perform comprehensive, strategic assessments of the efficacy of the Woods Procedures or FISA accuracy, to include identifying the need for enhancements to training and improvements in the process, or increased accountability measures.

At least given their description, however, I think they’ve found something else. They’ve confirmed that — contrary to DOJ’s description to FISC that,

OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application.

OI is actually only doing the latter part, measuring the accuracy of the facts in an applicable FISA application. To check the accuracy of the Woods Files, they should with no notice obtain a subset of them, as DOJ IG just did, and see whether the claims in the report are documented in the Woods File, and only after that do their onsite reviews (with notice, to see if there was documentation somewhere that had not been included in the file). That might actually be a better way of identifying where there might be other kinds of problems with the application.

With regards to the lessons learned problem, there seems like an obvious solution to this: Congress mandates that DOJ complete semiannual reviews of 702 practices (which includes reviews of NSA and CIA practices, as well as those of FBI), and they include precisely this kind of trend analysis. Even in spite of their heavy redaction in public form, I’ve even been able to identify problems with 702 and related authorities in the same time frame as NSA was doing so. There’s no reason that semiannual reports couldn’t be expanded (or replicated) to include probable cause targeting. At the very least it’d be a way to force OI and FBI to have this lessons learned discussion. Republican members of Congress have claimed that more oversight should be shifted to Congress (not a very good idea given that no one in Congress seemed to be conducting the close read that I had been), and this is an easy way to play a more active role.

DOJ IG has not reviewed the most important things yet

The MAM is explicit that it has not reviewed the import of the errors it found.

[W]e have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

Nor has it reviewed FBI’s own decisions regarding the 290 errors they found in their own reviews to determine if the FBI’s judgment that they were not material was valid. If it compared its results for the one application that FBI and/or OI also reviewed, it doesn’t say so explicitly (which would seem a really important measure about the integrity of the standard reviews).

And while it’s significant that there are so many errors, regardless of the review, it still doesn’t address what the Carter Page case said was the far more important issue: what got left out. Of the 8 to 18 Woods Files errors in the Carter Page investigation, for example, just one got to the core of the problem with the application, that Page was making denials, denials that — before later applications were submitted — the FBI had reason to know were correct (another of the Woods File errors might have raised questions about Steele, but did not go to the heart of the problems with his reporting). The other problems had to do with paperwork, not veracity. And none of the Woods File problems related to CIA’s contact approval of Page for some but not all of his willful sharing of non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers.

DOJ IG says it will conduct further analysis of the problems it has thus far found.

In connection with our ongoing audit, the OIG will conduct further analysis of the deficiencies identified in our work to date and of FBI FISA renewals. In addition, we are expanding the audit’s objective to also include FISA application accuracy efforts performed within NSD. Consistent with the OIG’s usual practices, we will keep the Department and the FBI appropriately apprised of the scope of our audit, and we will prepare a formal report at the conclusion of our work.

But it’s not yet clear that this will include picking a subset of the files already reviewed to do the kind of deep dive that was done with Carter Page.

Further, at this point, DOJ IG seems not to be seeing one of the more obvious conclusions. As explained above, it recommends that the FBI and NSD use their accuracy reviews better to better do lessons learned.

We recommend that the FBI institute a requirement that it, in coordination with NSD, systematically and regularly examine the results of past and future accuracy reviews to identify patterns or trends in identified errors so that the FBI can enhance training to improve agents’ performance in completing the Woods Procedures, or improve policies to help ensure the accuracy of FISA applications.

But it specifically speaks in terms of improving performance with the Woods Procedures.

If the Woods Procedures are meant to be a tool, it would be necessary to conduct no-notice reviews of the files. Otherwise, you’re not reviewing the Woods Procedures. That would need to be a recommendation.

But it seems to be possible if not likely that fixing the problems IDed back before 2000 with a paperwork requirement that doesn’t go to the core of the issue hasn’t worked (and, as described, has never been used as a key measure for the existing OI reviews), then it seems other solutions are necessary — including that criminal defendants get some kind of review. Though even that would be inadequate to the task, given that before DOJ makes the decision to permit FISA materials to be used in a prosecution, they review whether the files would sustain a judge’s review first.

The goal here is not to placate FISC, nor is it to check some boxes as part of the application process. It’s to ensure that absent the threat of review by a defense attorney, the benefits (which already have serious limits) of adversarial review are achieved via other means. And there’s good reason to believe that absent more significant changes in the oversight process, the Woods Procedures are never going to achieve that result.

The Michael Atkinson conspiracy theory

As I was already writing this, it became clear that the frothy right was using this report, released on Tuesday, to provide a non-corrupt excuse for Trump’s firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson late on Friday night.

The basis for such a claim is not entirely clear to me. Frothers in my Twitter timeline at first seemed to confuse Atkinson with DOJ’s IG, Michael Horowitz, or believed that the ICIG had a central role in FISA. Then they seized on the fact that, for the two years before he became ICIG, Atkinson was at National Security Division, which both oversees some cases likely to have a FISA component and oversees the submission of applications and then conducts the oversight reviews.

Atkinson’s confirmation materials provide some exactitude for what he did at DOJ when:

September 2002 to March 2006: Trial Attorney for DOJ’s Fraud Section

March 2006 to March 2016: AUSA in DC USAO working on Fraud (including in oversight positions)

March 2016 to June 2016: Acting DAAG, National Asset Protection at NSD

July 2016 to May 2018: Senior Counsel to AAG for NSD

There would be little imaginable reason for a fraud prosecutor, as Atkinson was for the majority of his DOJ career, to use FISA (two of the highest profile cases he worked on were the prosecution of Democratic Congressmen William Jefferson and Jesse Jackson Jr), though he said he worked on some espionage, sanctions, and FARA cases. As Acting DAAG, he worked in a different part of NSD than the unit that handles FISA applications and oversight.

As he described it in his confirmation materials, he would have been a consumer of FISA information, but not the person doing the reviews.

As Senior Counsel to the AAG (serving under John Carlin, Mary McCord, Dana Boente, and John Demers), he might have visibility into review processes on FISAs, though at that level, managers assumed the Woods Procedure worked as required (meaning, Atkinson would not have known of these problems).

In his confirmation materials, however, Atkinson suggested he spent far more time as Senior Counsel overseeing the response to unauthorized disclosures, which likely still included Snowden when he started in 2016, added Shadow Brokers that year, and would have focused closely on Vault 7 in 2017 and 2018.

My experience in helping to coordinate the responses to unauthorized disclosures while serving as the Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, National Security Division (NSD), should assist me in serving effectively as the IC IG. As part of this position, I have assisted in coordinating the Department’s efforts to investigate and prosecute unauthorized disclosures across the IC enterprise. This experience has reinforced for me the important role that fair, impartial, and effective whistleblower protection processes play in maximizing the IC’s effectiveness and minimizing the risks of unauthorized disclosures and harm to our national security. As part of this experience, I have also been a consumer and user of intelligence from multiple intelligence sources, and I have seen first-hand the benefits to our country when there is a unity of effort by the Intelligence Community to address national security needs.

For Vault 7, at least, the investigation into Joshua Schulte — who was always the prime suspect — used criminal process from the very start (though it’s possible that the increased surveillance of Julian Assange involved FISA). And while there are less spectacular cases of unauthorized disclosure that might involve some nexus with a foreign country, raising FISA issues, many of these leaks cases were criminal cases, seemingly not reliant on FISA. Which would mean some of the most sensitive cases Atkinson worked on didn’t involve FISA.

Though the frothy right may think Atkinson had a central role because the title of the person at FBI field offices who must conduct a review is “Chief [Division] Counsel,” and they confused both the agency and the location.

In any case, there’s one more piece missing from this: while I happen to think DOJ IG has not focused closely enough on what NSD should be doing in its oversight role, thus far, DOJ IG has not investigated it. And so there’s actually no allegation of wrong-doing from anyone at NSD in either of these two reports, not even the NSD people who actually work on FISA. On the contrary, DOJ IG simply describes OI doing reviews where they identified problems and wrote them up. Yes, OI likely should have been more involved in determining whether the errors FBI found were material. Given that Boasberg has mandated materiality reviews of the 29 files reviewed by DOJ IG, now would be a good time to implement that practice.

Still, compliance or not with Woods Files remains a distraction from a deeper review of whether these files included all pertinent information. And if FISA is going to remain viable, that’s the examination that needs to happen.

Does DOJ Plan to Get Henry Kyle Frese’s Cooperation to Prosecute Journalists?

Henry Kyle Frese, a DIA analyst charged with leaking classified information about China to two NBC journalists in October, pled guilty today. The guidelines laid out in his plea put him well above the 10 year maximum sentence he faces, meaning he may be the rare defendant facing the full prison term allowable. More interesting, his plea includes the possibility of a downward departure for cooperation (though it explicitly says he may get that even if no other charges are brought).

That’s interesting because the bulk of the details laid out in his Statement of Facts describes what he leaked to the two journalists (remember: in investigating this case, DOJ obtained a Title III warrant to eavesdrop on his calls with the journalists). It includes details about Frese accessing information — almost certainly the information relating to China — that was unrelated to his job as a counterterrorism analyst.

In relation to one of the twelve times the defendant orally transmitted TOP SECRET NDI to Journalist 1, in or about mid-April to early May 2018, the defendant accessed an intelligence report unrelated to his job duties on multiple occasions, which contained NDI classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI level (“Intelligence Report 1”).

[snip]

On at least 30 separate occasions in 2018, the defendant conducted searches on classified government systems for information regarding the classified topics he discussed with Joumalists 1 and 2.

The only other person mentioned in the Statement of Facts was an employee of an overseas counterterrorism consulting group.

Between early 2018 and October 2019, the defendant communicated with an employee of an overseas CT consulting group (“Consultant 1”) via social media. On at least two occasions, the defendant transmitted classified NDI related to CT topics to Consultant 1, using a social media site’s direct messaging feature

Consultant 1 was not authorized to receive classified NDI, and at all times during his communications with Consultant 1, the defendant knew that he was not authorized to transmit classified NDI to Consultant 1.

This, then, appears to be the scenario that would also set a precedent before Julian Assange is brought to the US for trial: that journalists asking someone with clearance for information get treated like spies.

The Revelations about FISA Bureaucracy in FBI’s FISA Fix Filing

The government submitted the filing ordered by now (thankfully) former FISA presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer on Friday, explaining how it’ll avoid the problems identified in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. As I’ll show in a follow-up, I believe the changes — with one possible exception — are worthwhile, if inadequate to the task.

In this post, however, I’d like to lay out what the filing reveals about two aspects of the FISA process that I did not know before.

Other agencies and state and local law enforcement can use FISA: While minimization procedures have revealed that FBI can share FISA information with other agencies, including state and local authorities, this filing reveals those other agencies can serve as the affiant for FISA applications.

Agents from other federal law enforcement agencies or state or local law enforcement officers serving on a Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI may, in some cases, act as the declarants for applications submitted by the FBI after reviewing receiving the necessary training. In the case of state or local law enforcement officers, such officers are deputized as Special Deputy United States Marshals for this purpose. (4)

I’ve never heard of this before and there are a whole lot of questions this raises, both about whether non-DOJ agencies are submitting FISA applications (CIA would be unsurprising, but ICE would be alarming and under this administration, not at all crazy), but also about the accountability for people who aren’t Federal employees. How many “Special Deputy United States Marshals” does SDNY have, for example, and was FISA used during the worst excesses of its intelligence program?

The timeline of updates to the Woods Procedures: The filing explains (I’m sure some of this is public, but it’s laid out here as well) that the Woods Procedures have been updated:

  • On February 2, 2006, FBI reminded its agents they need to,”create, maintain, and update a sub-file that contains all materials that document the support for each factual assertion contained in FISA applications.” Given the timing, this change may have been part of the effort to clean up Stellar Wind, which had been used to substantiate FISA applications without notice for the previous five years.
  • On March 24, 2006, DOJ’s OIPR advised the court about the sub-file requirement, though focused especially on ensuring that, “the federal official currently handling the source (or the federal official who is responsible for liaison to another entity who is handling the source) [confirms] that the source remains reliable, and that all material information regarding the reliability of the source is reported accurately in the FISA application.” This would have been the period when the FBI was cleaning up after Katrina Leung, one of the worst double agents in recent history, so may have pertained to her reporting.
  • In February 2009, NSD and FBI together required the FBI to remove any asserted fact for which there is no documentation, and do so retroactively. It also implemented quarterly accuracy reviews that have since been made semi-annual. The Section 215 disclosures in this same time period suggest Bush got sloppy in its last years, so this may have reflected a need to clean that up, too.
  • August 2016. There was an update to the Woods Procedure and 2009 Memorandum in 2016, but the filing doesn’t describe it (or why).

How OI’s accuracy reviews work:

As DOJ has revealed in the past, OI’s Oversight Section does FISA oversight reviews at 25-30  (of the 56) Field offices a year. They review the compliance with minimization and querying procedures, the latter of which only recently got imposed.

In addition, they do an accuracy review of a subset of FISA applications that reviews:

  • The facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or agent thereof
  • The verification process that the targeted facilities are used by, owned by, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target
  • The basis for the US person status of the target
  • The factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case

As the filing makes clear, “these accuracy reviews do not check for the completeness of the facts included in the application,” which is the real source of the problems identified in the Page application. Right now, OI is “considering” expanding a subset of reviews to check for completeness, but is not committing to doing so.

Two things are of interest here. The definition of FISA “facilities,” has long been of interest, not least because the government likes to pretend it consists mostly of phone numbers and email addresses. Indeed, 2007, FISC approved a broad definition of “facility” that can be used to target suspects of a terrorist group (and, presumably now, other clandestine networks), in large numbers. The language in this bullet all comes from statute, but the use of “about to be used,” would support the kind of monitoring of a new computer or phone we’ve heard of. This language also might support the monitoring of Amazon and bank accounts. The validation of facilities (both to be sure Page was still using them and to sustain FISA coverage to be able to get to new ones) was something important to the renewal process of Page’s FISAs.

The language on criminal matters reveals how the FBI deals with parallel investigations, such as the one that happened with Keith Gartenlaub (where they government used both criminal subpoenas and FISA searches, which ultimately led to a child porn prosecution unrelated to any FISA suspicion). I knew this section existed, but thought it did so just to comply with a statutory requirement, when targeting US persons, that their clandestine activities may involve violating criminal statute. But this language makes it clear that this part of the FISA application also serves to provide notice of such parallel proceedings. Given that the FBI has to declare that they can’t obtain information under FISA via other means, this raises more questions about the degree to which FISA can serve as an additive authority for certain kinds of investigations that will let the FBI use techniques they wouldn’t use otherwise.

The section on OI reviews also reveals that they review FISA applications before information from an application is used in a proceeding against someone picked up in it.

OI has also, as a matter of general practice, conducted accuracy reviews ofFISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use ofFISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person.

It’s hard to tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. That’s because it doesn’t necessarily help the defendant. After all, if the OI review discovers problems with FISA applications, then DOJ would be more likely to parallel construct the prosecution, thereby burying a problematic part of the investigation. And a review at the period when FBI is already considering using it in a proceeding is too late in the process to protect the civil liberties of the person who is aggrieved if there was a problem with the application.

The section describing these reviews also reveals that, “in enumerated exceptions,” the FBI doesn’t have to rely on “the most authoritative document that exists” in the Woods Procedure. A footnote makes clear that one of the areas where the application itself may not include everything in the underlying documentation is human sources, which permits the lawyer submitting the application to ask a human source coordinator to verify the application matches the underlying documentation. Remember that the language about Christopher Steele used in the Carter Page application didn’t come from his handling agent’s assessment, but it came from a serialized intelligence report based off his reporting. That’s not what this describes, but may be one of the reasons the FBI took that shortcut.

After Engaging in Multiple Overt Acts Benefitting a Conspiracy, Bill Barr Had Kerri Kupec Commit the Most Overt Act

Before I get into how gullible DOJ reporters continue to be in this WaPo story relaying how Bill Barr refused to publicly announce that the President broke no law in his July 25 phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, let me review a series of overt acts that might fairly be deemed part of what DOJ has already charged as a conspiracy.

DOJ fails to do the most basic “connect-the-dots” assessment implemented after 9/11

First, after John Demers went to the White House and discovered that his boss was implicated in a phone call that a whistleblower had complained about, when the Intelligence Community Inspector General sent a more formalized complaint to DOJ, DOJ limited the scope of their review of the complaint to one small part of it, just the TELCON, not the full complaint. This had the effect of preventing anyone from doing what the entire surveillance apparatus of FBI has been designed to do since 9/11, which is to search in their databases for all the people mentioned in a lead to find out if that lead connects to other known criminals. Here’s some of what DOJ knew when on the Ukraine investigation.

Had anyone followed the standard connect-the-dot rules in reviewing the whistleblower complaint, they would have searched on all the names in the references in the complaint, including those in this OCCRP piece, which was mentioned multiple times in the complaint.

That piece is a profile of Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.

So if any person reviewing the whistleblower complaint had followed the approach put into place to protect the nation after 9/11, that person would have discovered:

  • Fruman and Parnas were making big donations to Republicans tied to certain policy outcomes and paying for those donations through a shell company
  • Parnas was also involved in propaganda sent, on White House stationery, to State in support of the same policy outcomes
  • The money for the shell company came from a lawyer who specializes in laundering money through real estate for foreigners
  • One policy issue Fruman and Parnas were pushing with their donations was one of the policy outcomes described in the Trump-Zelensky call, the withdrawal of Marie Yovanovitch

In short, there is no way a competent investigator would have done a connect-the-dots assessment on the whistleblower complaint and not realized it was closely related to a Full Investigation bearing down on an indictment in SDNY.

Instead of doing that marginally competent assessment, DOJ instead gave the whistleblower complaint the all-clear, in part by severing the transcript (which was damning enough) from the backup (which described OMB withholding funds, which is a separate crime, but also included the reference to the profile on suspects against whom SDNY had a fully predicated investigation into related actions). The decision to consider only the transcript affirmatively prevented DOJ from doing the kind of dot-connecting everything since 9/11 has claimed to support.

Whoever made that decision — whether willfully or unknowingly — prevented DOJ from formally realizing that the President’s call was closely tied to behavior that DOJ would indict less than two months later.

DOJ fails to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC

At that point in late August, having decided that no crimes were committed, DOJ should have shared the whistleblower complaint — which even DOJ acknowledged raised possible election related crimes — with the Federal Election Commission under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding they have. As of October 18, according to a letter from Ellen Weintraub responding to questions from Amy Klobuchar, DOJ had not done so.

This is the second time that you, as Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections, have written to commissioners of the Federal Election Commission to get a simple Yes or No answer to the question: Did the Department of Justice (DOJ) notify the FEC about or refer to the FEC a campaign finance complaint regarding potential violations of the foreign national political-spending ban by the President? Your October 2 letter specifically referenced a New York Times op-ed referring to a complaint reportedly originating with the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.1 As noted in the Commission’s October 8 response, the FEC does not generally confirm or deny the agency’s receipt of notice or a referral from DOJ.2 However, you have asked me an important question in the exercise of your oversight authority, and commissioners should be responsive if it is legal for us to do so. It is.

For these reasons, I am answering your question: No. The FEC has not received a notification or referral from DOJ regarding the complaint you reference.

While DOJ is empowered to make any decisions about whether the call involved a crime, FEC is empowered to make decisions about whether it merits a civil penalty. And FEC might have connected the dots DOJ failed to. They would have seen that the phone call related to a campaign finance complaint plus follow-up it had already received on Parnas and Fruman, so it would have known almost as much as DOJ, had DOJ tried to connect the dots.

It turns out, it is a crime to prevent the FEC from learning information it needs to do its job. It’s not only the crime DOJ is about to charge the Russian Internet Research Agency trolls with a superseding indictment for, but it’s the crime that SDNY charged Parnas and Fruman with even before Weintraub sent her letter.

DOJ might have decided that they didn’t need to forward the complaint because Republican Matthew Petersen resigned from the FEC on the suspiciously timed August 26 and so ensured FEC couldn’t conduct any official business. But as the timing of the Parnas and Fruman indictment — which Bill Barr knew about — makes clear, DOJ still believes it can charge people for withholding information from FEC.

DOJ delays notifying Congress and hides Bill Barr’s involvement by overclassifying their OLC memo

Then, having prevented FEC from receiving information that would alert them that the President had a dodgy call that related to an existing campaign finance complaint, OLC tried to prevent Congress from learning of this — as required by whistleblower laws — by writing an OLC memo saying that this complaint did not amount to an official action.

OLC head Steve Engel wrote that memo on September 3, by which day DOJ should have alerted the Intelligence Committees of the complaint. That memo was used as an excuse to delay informing Congress. That delay included over a week during which the Administration continued to illegally withhold duly authorized security funding from Ukraine without explaining to Congress why it was doing so, a delay that Bill Taylor said (in his testimony to Congress) did real harm to Ukraine. All told, the OLC memo succeeded in delaying sharing the complaint with Congress for 23 days, something that DOJ’s own Inspector General noted (in a letter written on behalf of 70 Inspectors General) was a clear violation of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.

As Congress has done in every other whistleblower law passed since 1978, it entrusted IGs to play a central role in the evaluation of the information provided. Specifically, the ICWPA requires an IG to make within 14 days a factual determination as to whether an alleged urgent concern provided to the IG “appears credible.” If the IG determines that the allegation appears credible, which necessarily includes a determination by the IG that it involves an “urgent concern,” the IG is required to forward the allegation to the head of the agency and the agency head “shall” forward it to Congress within 7 days “with any comments.” The ICWPA’s use of the word “shall” makes it clear that the statute does not authorize the agency head, or any other party for that matter, to review or second-guess an IG’s good faith determination that a complaint meets the ICWPA’s statutory language.

Worse still, DOJ tried to delay informing Congress that Bill Barr was personally implicated by this call by overclassifying the OLC memo — in part by treating Barr’s implication in it, which the White House had deemed Secret, as Top Secret — and having done so, sharing a water-downed version of its own OLC memo with Congress on September 24 that hid Barr’s role and other key details.

Bill Barr continues to engage in overt acts in a conspiracy to provide John Durham propaganda to support an investigation into those who investigated Trump

And all this while — in the period while DOJ was scoping its own investigation to avoid connecting the dots and while DOJ was preventing FEC from learning of the whistleblower complaint and while DOJ was preventing Congress from receiving the complaint (the latter two acts in contravention of the law) — Bill Barr continued to engage in overt acts in the broader conspiracy to collect and provide to John Durham corroboration (no matter how sketchy or obviously coerced) that the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia was ginned up by the Deep State.

Mind you, Barr may have already committed an overt act in the Ukrainian side of this conspiracy. By September 25, according to a DOJ statement, individual Ukrainians had already “volunteered” information to Durham.

A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”

Barr is micromanaging Durham’s investigation, so there’s little chance that these “volunteers” got from Rudy Giuliani to Durham without Barr’s own involvement.

In addition, Barr took a meeting with Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova to talk about their client, the mobbed up Dmitry Firtash, which was something valuable the lawyers could offer to the Firtash in exchange for him funding the Parnas and Fruman influence operation. To be sure, the Supreme Court has determined that taking a meeting does not amount to a thing of value amounting to bribery. But their ability to get such a meeting was nevertheless one of the reasons Firtash replaced Lanny Davis with Toensing and DiGenova and, in exchange, helped them feed propaganda to the Durham investigation.

The head of the Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski, also took a meeting with Rudy in this time period (it’s unclear which client Rudy was pitching), but he claims to be unaware of the investigation into Rudy that was ongoing at SDNY, which may well be true but if so is tantamount to a confession that Benczkowski did not attempt to connect any dots on the whistleblower complaint.

But as to Barr, even as this story was breaking, Barr was in Italy pretending to be a Line FBI Agent, watching movies created by the Russian linked lawyer for Joseph Mifsud, in hopes of getting Italy to tell him and Durham that Mifsud was actually a Western intelligence asset and not the Russian one that Mueller (and abundant public evidence) suggested him to be.

In other words, by September 25, someone had already shared “evidence” with the Barr-micromanaged Durham investigation from the Ukrainian side of this information operation, and Barr was in Italy looking for more propaganda, to say nothing of how his meeting with Dmitry Firtash’s lawyers helped fund the information operation.

Barr did not publicly exonerate Trump personally — he had Kerri Kupec do it for him

I apologize for being long-winded. But all that is the necessary context that DOJ beat reporters should bring to a story on what Barr did in response to a request from Trump to make a public statement exonerating the President. Here’s the news in the WaPo piece, amid a bunch of Barr’s past PR and absent most of the details I’ve laid out above.

President Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said.

The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr’s declination to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say.

[snip]

The request for the news conference came sometime around Sept. 25, when the administration released a rough transcript of the president’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

[snip]

As the rough transcript was released, a Justice Department spokeswoman said officials had evaluated it and the whistleblower complaint to see whether campaign finance laws had been broken, determined that none had been and decided “no further action was warranted.”

It was not immediately clear why Barr would not go beyond that statement with a televised assertion that the president broke no laws, nor was it clear how forcefully the president’s desire was communicated. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. A senior administration official said, “The DOJ did in fact release a statement about the call, and the claim that it resulted in tension because it wasn’t a news conference is completely false.”

So, at a time after someone had already shared Ukrainian information with the Barr-micromanaged Durham investigation, after Barr had met with lawyers who were trading that access for propaganda to feed Durham, after Barr’s DOJ had scoped the whistleblower complaint to ensure it would not tie the complaint to the fully predicated criminal investigation in SDNY, after DOJ failed to turn over the complaint to FEC as required by a memorandum of understanding, after DOJ created an excuse to delay sharing the whistleblower complaint with Congress as mandated by law, after DOJ tried to hide Barr’s own involvement from Congress by overclassifying that fact … after all those overt acts that, depending on Barr’s understanding of what he got briefed way back in February and learned in multiple different ways since then, might amount to overt acts in the conspiracy SDNY has already charged Parnas and Fruman in, Barr declined to go out before cameras and comment on an ongoing investigation (which is, remember, what Jim Comey was ostensibly fired for) by publicly exonerating the President.

Instead, he had DOJ’s spox Kerri Kupec do so, in a statement that offered up excuses for why DOJ failed to connect the dots on a complaint that tied to a fully predicated investigation being conducted by SDNY.

Had Barr made that public comment, with his knowledge that the subject of the complaint connected to an ongoing investigation in SDNY into the underlying information operation that led up to the President’s call, his involvement in the Durham investigation that had already been fed by that information operation, and his meeting with lawyers that helped to provide a payoff for some of that information operation, it would have been an overt act that even Barr, with his abundant flair for PR (as witnessed by this WaPo article), could not deny was an overt act in a conspiracy being investigated by his subordinates.

So instead, he had a different subordinate (there is no evidence Kupec had any knowledge of these other acts) do that.

But that is not — as portrayed by the WaPo — evidence of distance between Barr and the White House. Rather, it’s evidence that Barr recognizes his own risk of becoming an active member of the conspiracy his DOJ went to great lengths to avoid investigating.

And all that’s before Barr slinked into a meeting with Rupert Murdoch as Sean Hannity was about to become part of the conspiracy.

How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

As the legal saga of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman plays out against the background of an impeachment inquiry launched when DOJ tried to bury a whistleblower complaint, DOJ has been forced to offer a series of increasingly inconsistent explanations about who at DOJ knew what when. I’ve been working on a timeline examining What Did Bill Barr Know and When Did He Know It (that work in progress appears below). While I’m not ready to answer that question, one thing is clear: the personnel under Brian Benczkowski who reviewed and dismissed the complaint in August could not have followed normal process on assessing a referral if NYT’s reporting and Benczkowski’s most recent claims are true.

Benczkowski tries to prevent Rudy Giuliani from implicating him in his crimes

I’m speaking of a comment that Benczkowski had released to NYT for an October 20 story explaining why Benczkowski and fraud investigators would be willing to hear Rudy Giuliani pitch a client’s case when he was under active investigation for influence peddling in SDNY himself.

“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

That comment was a response to this Rudy-sourced Ken Vogel story that revealed the meeting, though without any of the answers as to Who What When questions that normally appear in finished news stories. The story may have been Rudy’s attempt to do the same thing he did as his shenanigans at State became public, raise the costs of making him the sole scapegoat by making it clear that his activities had high level knowledge and approval by Trump officials at the agency in question. That is, Rudy may have been making sure that if he gets in trouble for influence peddling, Brian Benzckowski will be implicated as well.

Importantly, both NYT stories on the meeting say the meeting happened a few weeks before October 18, a timeline that DOJ sources may be walking back in time considerably to “earlier this summer” included in this CNN article. One of the only ways for all these descriptions of timing be true is if the meeting took place around September 20, which would make it highly likely it involved Victoria Toensing, since Rudy was pictured meeting her and Lev Parnas across the street from DOJ that same day. (h/t DK for that insight) If it did (or if the descriptions of the meeting taking place a few weeks before October 18 are correct), then it means the meeting happened after DOJ reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky in late August.

As I’ll show below, the Peter Carr quote to the NYT might be true. But if it is, it means that well-connected Republicans can get a meeting with the Assistant Attorney General with almost no due diligence.

But if the Carr quotation is true (and if the timing of the meeting described to NYT is correct), then it is an on-the-record admission on behalf of Benczkowski that investigators working underneath him who reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint did not follow procedures designed to keep our nation safe that have been codified since 9/11.

Benczkowski’s claim he didn’t know ignores what DOJ knew

Benczkowski’s explanation in the October 20 NYT story is based on a further one that suggests the only way he could have known about the criminal investigation into Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy is if a subordinate informed him directly.

While the Southern District of New York has been investigating Mr. Giuliani’s associates — an inquiry that may be tied to a broader investigation of Mr. Giuliani himself — prosecutors there had not told Mr. Benczkowski of the Criminal Division of the case, as he does not oversee or supervise their work. The United States attorney’s offices report to the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen.

Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William P. Barr about the investigation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official.

DOJ has locked into a statement that Bill Barr had been briefed on this investigation shortly after he was confirmed in February and repeatedly thereafter since the day the arrest of the Ukrainian grifters became public. But Benczkowski claims he didn’t know about it because he’s not in that chain of command. SDNY reports to the Deputy Attorney General, which would have been Rod Rosenstein when Barr was initially briefed, but would be Jeffrey Rosen in any of the briefings DOJ has admitted to since.

This table attempts to summarize what DOJ learned of Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy when. It’s incomplete in at least one important respect, as I’ll show. But it captures most of the ways DOJ and FBI would have been informed about parts of the Ukrainian grift.

Remarkably, we don’t yet know how the SDNY came to open the investigation. It could have been a Mueller referral, SDNY could have discovered the grift from something that happened in NYC (though the venue that ultimately got laid out in the indictment suggests the obvious signs of corruption took place in FL), or it could have stemmed from a Campaign Legal Center complaint filed with the FEC on July 25, 2018. But by the time Barr was briefed in February, we should assume that DOJ knew at least as much as CLC knew the summer before, which is that Parnas and Fruman had set up a shell company, Global Energy Producers, that they were using to make big donations to Republicans, including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC just days after Parnas and Fruman met with Trump at the White House. That’s what Barr would have learned when he got briefed shortly after he was confirmed on February 14: that these Ukrainian-Americans were giving straw donations to Republicans in apparent coordination with key meetings with the recipients.

Here’s where the gap in this table comes in. Someone trying to spin the CNN for its version of the Benczkowski quote claimed that Rudy was not yet a focus of the SDNY investigation at the time Barr was briefed (the claim is silent, however, about all the other times Barr was briefed, per an October 10 statement from DOJ). Nevertheless, as CNN lays out, that claim is probably not true, because a NY lawyer was already getting questions from FBI counterintelligence agents by that time.

A person familiar with the matter said that at the time, Giuliani wasn’t a central figure in the case as he is now. That emerged in recent weeks, the person said.

Still, New York federal prosecutors had their eyes set on Giuliani months ago. A New York lawyer told CNN that FBI counterintelligence agents asked him questions in February or March related to Giuliani and his associates.

The day after the Ukrainian grifters’ arrest became public, NYT reported that Rudy was under investigation for FARA (for activities that extend well beyond his Ukraine work). Particularly given that the National Security Division is setting up a unit to prosecute FARA violations, that, plus the involvement of CI agents, should involve NSD and therefore would suggest that NSD head John Demers would know of the focus on Rudy. That can’t be guaranteed, however, because SDNY often does its own thing. So that’s the gap: We don’t know when Demers would have first learned that Rudy’s under investigation for his sleazy influence peddling.

We do know, however, that sometime in May, State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick sent FBI (we don’t know which unit) the “Rudy Dossier,” the disinformation developed as part of his Ukraine work. Among the things that dossier includes is an email via which John Solomon sent a draft of this article to Rudy, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas. Whoever received that dossier should have immediately identified that Parnas and Rudy were under active criminal investigation in SDNY for influence peddling, a topic on which that email would be directly relevant. In addition to Victoria Toensing and Rudy, the packet would also directly implicate the White House and Mike Pompeo, because the packet was sent under White House imprimatur to the Secretary of State. So by May, that dossier should have been in Parnas and Rudy’s investigative file. Except that, when Linick asked FBI if they were cool with him sharing the dossier with Congress, they were, which suggests it may not have been added to the investigative file.

Assuming that the vaunted SDNY is at least as sharp as a small campaign finance NGO, then by the time CLC updated their SEC complaint on June 20, SDNY would have known what that GEP’s straw donations (including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC) came immediately after Parnas got a $1.2 million infusion from a lawyer who helps foreigners launder money through real estate, something that should have raised further counterintelligence and foreign campaign donation concerns.

After that, the whistleblower complaint comes into DOJ, in two different forms. The first time, it comes when CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood and White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg inform John Demers (who, remember, may or may not know about a FARA investigation into Rudy by this point). Demers went to the White House and reviews the transcript, which would have informed him that multiple people were concerned about the call, that Trump invoked both Rudy and Demers’ boss, Bill Barr, on the call, and that Trump was soliciting dirt related to both the investigation into the Russian operation in 2016 (ongoing parts of which Demers still oversees) and Trump’s imagined 2020 opponent, Joe Biden. If Demers did know that Rudy was under investigation for FARA at this time, Trump’s request that Ukraine share dirt with Rudy would have been directly relevant to that investigation, but in a way that implicated Demers’ boss as well. In any case, a simple database search would have revealed that, along with the $1.2 million cash transfer raising additional concerns about foreign money backing those campaign efforts.

Demers’ reported response to reading the transcript was to tell Brian Benczkowski (who claims not to have known about Parnas and Fruman, but whose Peter Carr quote was silent about whether he knew of any investigation into Rudy) and Jeffrey Rosen (who was probably confirmed after Barr’s first briefing on Parnas and Fruman, but who is currently Geoffrey Berman’s supervisor and so should be in the loop in the subsequent briefings that DOJ admitted Barr had after that initial briefing.

According to public reports, DOJ did nothing with this initial complaint.

DOJ avoids (admitting to) reviewing the full whistleblower complaint based off a false claim it doesn’t include direct knowledge

But then the whistleblower tried again, going to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and writing up his complaint, which then got referred to Brian Benczkowski and some public integrity investigators. According to Kerri Kupec, here’s what happened next.

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

In explaining how DOJ came to dismiss this complaint, Kupec cites not from the complaint itself, but from Michael Atkinson’s letter conveying the complaint. Kupec cites from the letter, which notes the whistleblower “was not a direct witness to the President’s telephone call,” and uses that to treat only the transcript of the call — not the broader whistleblower complaint itself, which does include firsthand knowledge — as the official record. And, having referred to just the call, DOJ viewed this as exclusively a campaign finance matter, and therefore dismissed it (DOJ ignores another crime laid out in Atkinson’s letter, a crime Mick Mulvaney has now confessed to, but I’ll come back to how they managed to ignore that).

In fact, parts of the whistleblower complaint make it clear that he was a direct witness to aspects of his complaint, and so DOJ should have treated the complaint itself as an official document (this is why the frothy right invested so much energy into the goddamned whistleblower form, to rationalize DOJ’s decision not to read the actual complaint).

Had DOJ read the complaint and done the most basic investigative work on the materials included in the complaint, they (including Benczkowski) would have known that Trump’s call related directly to matters under active investigation in SDNY.

While the whistleblower complaint does not mention Parnas and Fruman by name, it repeatedly invokes this OCCRP profile (see footnotes 4, 9, 10, 11), The profile would have made it crystal clear — if DOJ’s investigators couldn’t figure it out for themselves — how the evidence that SDNY was already reviewing (including the campaign finance stuff and the Rudy dossier) connected directly with the July 25 call.

Since early last year, the men have emerged from obscurity to become major donors to Republican campaigns in the United States. They have collectively contributed over half a million dollars to candidates and outside campaign groups, the lion’s share in a single transaction that an independent watchdog has flagged as a potential violation of electoral funding law.

The men appear to enjoy a measure of access to influential figures. They’ve dined with Trump, had a “power breakfast” with his son Donald Jr., met with U.S. congressmen, and mixed with Republican elites.

Months before their earliest known work with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman also lobbied at least one congressman — former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican — to call for the dismissal of the United States’ ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She stepped down a year later after allegations in the conservative media that she had been disloyal to Trump.

While setting up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials, the men also promoted a business plan of their own: Selling American liquefied natural gas to Ukraine to replace Russian imports disrupted by war.

Three days before the call itself, OCCRP and BuzzFeed had already laid out parts of the crime that SDNY has since indicted. And that profile was part of the whistleblower complaint provided to DOJ, in which DOJ claimed they could find no evidence of a crime.

FBI’s three investigative levels are Full Investigations (opened once FBI has evidence that a crime has occurred), Preliminary Investigations (opened once FBI has reason to believe a crime has been committed), and Assessments (the work FBI does to assess the credibility of tips). FBI Agents are expected — encouraged, explicitly, as a matter of national security — to do searches of FBI’s existing investigative databases at the Assessment level. They do this not just to make sure that suspected foreign agents like Parnas and Fruman aren’t allowed to insinuate themselves into top tiers of power unnoticed, but also for deconfliction, to make sure DOJ knows precisely which part of DOJ is investigating which people.

Had FBI followed its DIOG based on the information included in the whistleblower complaint, it would have been crystal clear that the July 25 call related to an ongoing Full Investigation, and the July 25 call — and the President’s extortion — would have been made part of that investigative record.

The Criminal Division Chief has confessed it did not follow protocols in reviewing this complaint

All of which brings me full cycle to DOJ’s efforts to pretend they didn’t know that Rudy was a suspected criminal when they met with him to discuss the accused criminals he represents.

Brian Benczkowski, the head of the Criminal Division (and yet, someone who has never prosecuted a case), claims that he had no way of knowing that Rudy Giuliani’s clients and co-conspirators were about to be indicted when he met with Rudy on some date no one wants to reveal. That may be true — though if it is, it means either his staffers did almost no due diligence before setting up that meeting, or the fact that Rudy, in addition to Parnas and Fruman, was under active investigation did not dissuade Benczkowski from taking the meeting.

But, if the meeting took place after the whistleblower review, as multiple reporters at NYT seem to believe it did, for him to claim that he didn’t know about Parnas and Fruman also amounts to an explicit confession that the investigators reviewing the whistleblower complaint did not follow FBI guidelines requiring them to look up all the names in a tip to see if the FBI already knows about them.

That is, Brian Benczkowski, in trying to claim ignorance of Rudy’s own legal problems in advance of that meeting, confessed that his division, hiding behind whatever false excuses, did not properly investigate the whistleblower complaint.


February 14: Barr sworn in.

February, undated: Barr and Public Integrity lawyers reporting to Brian Benczkowski briefed on investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, though NYT reported lawyer questioned about Rudy in that time period.

March 5: Barr briefed on Mueller investigation.

March 22: Mueller investigation concludes.

March 24: Barr releases misleading “summary” of Mueller Report.

March 26: John Solomon posts column first reviewed by Joe DiGenova, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas

April 19: DOJ releases redacted Mueller Report.

May, undated: State IG Steve Linick receives Rudy dossier, passes on to FBI.

May 31: Barr does interview explaining his Durham investigation without once explaining any irregularities to justify investigation.

June 20: Campaign Legal Center submits supplemental complaint to FEC.

July 18: OMB informs Departments that Trump has ordered suspension of all aide to Ukraine.

July 25: Trump-Zelensky phone call.

Week after call: Whistleblower informs CIA General counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood, who speaks several times to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

August 12: Date of whistleblower complaint.

August 14: Elwood and Eisenberg inform National Security Division head, John Demers.

August 15: Demers reads transcript of call. Senior DOJ officials, including Jeffrey Rosen, Brian Benczkowski, and Barr informed.

The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, were soon looped in, according to two administration officials.

Department officials began to discuss the accusations and whether and how to follow up, and Attorney General William P. Barr learned of the allegations around that time, according to a person familiar with the matter. Although Mr. Barr was briefed, he did not oversee the discussions about how to proceed, the person said.

August 26: IG Michael Atkinson hand delivers message on whistleblower complaint to Acting DNI Joseph Maguire.

September 3: Original classified OLC memo deeming the whistleblower complaint “not urgent,” treating Barr’s involvement as Top Secret.

September 20: Rudy, Parnas, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova lunch at Trump International across the street from DOJ. Rudy also attends State Dinner for Australia.

September 24: Declassification of Telcon. Version of OLC memo hiding Barr’s involvement as classified issue.

September 26: Release of TelCon and whistleblower complaint. Justice Department explains non-prosecution:

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

September 29: AP claims Barr was “surprised and angry” when he learned he had been lumped in with Rudy. His further denials include a lot of wiggle room (including unofficial contacts).

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

October 1: State IG Steve Linick briefs Congress on opposition packet routed to him from Pompeo. Preservation letters to Parnas and Fruman.

October 4: Initial rough date for Rudy meeting with Benczkowski.

October 9: Parnas and Fruman lunch with Rudy at Trump Hotel across from DOJ, later that eventing they are indicted and arrested.

October 10: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman arrest unsealed. Anonymous DOJ sources report that Barr was briefed in February and “in recent weeks.”

Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the case in February, shortly after he was confirmed. Barr has received additional briefings in recent weeks and fully supports the case.

October 11: NYT reports that Rudy under investigation for Ukraine work.

October 18: NYT reports that Rudy was lobbying Brian Benczkowski and lawyers from Fraud section “a few weeks ago” about a very sensitive bribery case.

October 20: NYT story with on-the-record quote from Peter Carr states Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers would not have met with Giuliani if they had known of the investigation of his associates; it describes the meeting as taking place “several weeks ago.”

October 21: CNN adds DOJ clarification that Rudy was not central to investigation briefed to Barr in February, even though CI Agents were questioning witnesses by March, and that Public Integrity lawyers (who report to Benczkowski) were briefed.

On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

Since the NYT revealed that SDNY is investigating Rudy Giuliani for what they call “lobbying” laws,

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

And since the WSJ reported that Pete Sessions — named as Congressman 1 in the Lev Parnas/Igor Fruman indictment — was cooperating with a grand jury subpoena targeting Rudy,

A grand jury has issued a subpoena related to Manhattan federal prosecutors’ investigation into Rudy Giuliani, seeking documents from former Rep. Pete Sessions about his dealings with President Trump’s personal lawyer and associates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The subpoena seeks documents related to Mr. Giuliani’s business dealings with Ukraine and his involvement in efforts to oust the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, as well as any interactions between Mr. Sessions, Mr. Giuliani and four men who were indicted last week on campaign-finance and conspiracy accounts, the people said.

Mr. Sessions’ knowledge of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings is a primary focus of the subpoena, the people said.

There has been a closer review of whether it would be possible to indict the President’s personal lawyer under foreign agent laws, with broad consensus that what Rudy is doing is actually covered by FARA — and not just his work for Ukraine, but also (among other places) for Turkey.

But there have been a number of claims that, I think, have been too pat about how easy or hard this is going to be.

Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Bijan Kian are not apt precedents

First, a number of people have looked at how SDNY considered — but did not charge — Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, and Vin Weber under FARA, suggesting the same considerations would hold true with Rudy. Others have looked at Greg Craig (who was prosecuted but acquitted in DC for FARA after SDNY decided not to charge it) and Bijan Kian (who was convicted but then had his conviction thrown out by Judge Anthony Trenga based on the legal theory DOJ used) to suggest these cases are too difficult to charge to get Rudy.

It is absolutely the case that when powerful men with skilled lawyers have been pursued under FARA in recent years, DOJ has succeeded not in trial, but instead has gotten either plea deals or failed at trial (and that may have been one of the facts behind Mueller’s decision to strike a plea deal with Paul Manafort). That is sound evidence that SDNY is no doubt aware of.

But several things distinguish Rudy.

Most notably, all of those earlier cases came before DOJ’s newfound commitment to prosecuting FARA, with Mike Flynn prosecutor Brandon Van Grack taking over where a woman named Heather Hunt had been in charge before. At a minimum, that means a process that originally took place with Craig, Podesta, Weber, and Kian under an assumption that FARA would be treated solely as a registration issue may now be taking place under an assumption that violations of FARA — presumably to include both a failure to register and (what most charges have been so far) false statements under registration — can be prosecuted. That assumption would dramatically change the attention with which DOJ would document their communications, so prosecutors would not now be stuck going to trial (as Craig’s prosecutors were) without having DOJ’s documentation of a key meeting.

Notably, the same thing that triggered the FARA prosecution of Mike Flynn — concerns raised by Congress — happened last year when seven Democratic Senators wrote National Security Division head John Demers asking for a review. So there may well be documentation of Rudy’s claims about whether he does or does not need to register that SDNY is building a prosecution around.

Plus, one thing clearly distinguishes Rudy from all these other men. Rudy is not taking this investigation seriously, and does not have a lawyer reviewing his exposure. From reports, he may not have the ready cash to pay the likes of Rob Kelner (Flynn’s original, very competent, lawyer) or Robert Trout (Kian’s excellent lawyer). So he may be doing things now (not least, running his mouth on TV and making public statements about who he works for and how it gets paid) that put him at greater exposure.

Rudy G’s efforts to implicate State and DOJ (and the President) in his work

That said, another thing distinguishes Rudy from these past cases. Since the whistleblower complaint got made public, he has spent most of his time insisting that everything he did, he did with the awareness and involvement of — at least — the State Department. And in Trump’s July 25 call to Volodymyr Zelensky, he invoked Bill Barr’s name right alongside his nominal defense attorney.

Both foreign agent statutes (FARA — the one being discussed for Rudy, and 18 USC 951 — another one, with more flexibility, that Kian was charged under) require registration with the Attorney General. And while telling foreigners you’re negotiating with that the Attorney General will be by soon to pick up the disinformation demanded does not fulfill the requirements for registry (in part, the point of registering is to provide a paper trail so the public can track who is paying for what), it does change things that Rudy is suggesting that his work has the imprimatur of official policy to it.

That said, the assumption that implicating powerful government figures will keep you safe is a dangerous proposition. If the easiest way to end the Ukraine inquiry is to blame Rudy for it all (and if that’s still possible after several weeks of damning testimony), that may well come to pass.

And if Bill Barr needs to greenlight a FARA prosecution of Rudy as a way to minimize the damage to the Administration, and to himself, he may well do that (yet another reason why he should have recused long ago).

That’s all the more true given that most of Trump’s aides seem to recognize how damaging Rudy is for Trump’s exposure. If Trump won’t separate himself from Rudy, his lackeys might one day decide, then separate Rudy from Trump by prosecuting him, the same way they separated Michael Cohen from Trump.

That said, with Trump, loyalty is always transactional. And if he believes Rudy has dirt that can bring him down — and given the likelihood some of what Rudy is doing is the continuation of what Paul Manafort had been doing since August 2, 2016, that may be true — then Trump will defend Rudy’s work even if it means claiming everything he did operated under Article II authority.

The additional factor: ConFraudUs

The discussions about Rudy’s exposure under FARA, however, seem not to have considered another factor: that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have already been charged with conspiracy in conjunction with actions Rudy had a key role in. The Ukrainian grifter indictment charges them with two counts of Conspiracy to Defraud the US for hiding what money was behind their influence campaign on Ukraine (count 1) and Nevada marijuana (count 4), as well as False Statements to the FEC (count 2) and falsification of records (count 3) tied to the Ukraine influence operation. Counts 1-3 all pertain to the Ukrainian grifters laundering of campaign funds through Global Energy Producers, a front that (SDNY alleges) they falsely claimed was “a real business enterprise funded with substantial bona fide capital investment,” the major purpose of which “is energy trading, not political activity.” Those funds went, among other places, to the Trump related Super PAC America First Action and to Congressman Sessions.

Rudy has equivocated about his relationship to the Ukrainian grifters (and claims it goes through Fraud Guarantee, not GEP). But John Dowd, writing as the grifters’ lawyer, already stated for the record that he does have ties and those ties relate to his representation of the President. That is, the grifters are working for him, even while he works for them.

That’s important because Sessions’ statements have denied any official action in response to meetings with the grifters, but he also had meetings with Rudy in the time period, official action in response to which he has not denied. In addition, Rudy (whom Sessions says he has been friends with for three decades) also headlined a fundraiser for Sessions. And on top of the straw donations the grifters gave Sessions directly, America First Action gave Sessions far more to him, $3 million, the indictment notes twice.

In other words, while Sessions has denied doing anything in response to the grifters’ meetings, he has not denied doing anything in response to Rudy’s communications with him. If he sent his letter calling for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch in response to a request from Rudy — whose finances are inextricably tied to the grifters — then it may be fairly easy to add him to the conspiracy the (successful) object of which was to get Yovanovitch fired. The propaganda Rudy sent (as laid out by NYT, and which the State IG already sent to the FBI earlier this year) would then simply be part of the conspiracy.

A few more points. There’s a passage of the indictment included to substantiate the allegation that the grifters were affirmatively trying to hide their purpose.

Indeed, when media reports about the GEP contributions first surfaced, an individual working with PARNAS remarked, “[t]his is what happens when you become visible … the buzzards descend,” to which PARNAS responded, “[t]hat’s why we need to stay under the radar…”

The indictment doesn’t disclose a number of details about this communication: who the interlocutor is, how it was collected, and whether it involved a mere warrant (for stored communications such as email or texts) or a wiretap. But particularly given the seeming overlap between these activities and those of people we know were surveilled during the period in question, it’s a pregnant inclusion in the indictment. It suggests the Feds may already be privy to far more about this scheme and the reasons the grifters might want it suppressed. Add that to the fact that, as WSJ reported, the Feds already have Rudy’s bank records, which will show whether he really worked for Fraud Guarantee or whether that, like GEP, is just a front.

Cui bono

Finally, consider this. The indictment says that the grifters were pushing to oust Yovanovitch to benefit  particular unnamed Ukrainians’ interests.

[T]hese contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.

[snip]

At and around the time PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raising those funds for [Sessions], PARNAS met with [SESSIONS] and sought [his] assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall [Yovanovitch]. PARNAS’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.

According to NBC, the Ukrainian in question was Yurii Lutsenko. But Lutsenko has since been ousted, and he has reneged on statements elicited by Rudy implicating the Bidens. More importantly, one of the promises Zelensky made in his July 25 call to Trump was to put in his own prosecutor who would pursue the two investigations — to trump up a claim Ukraine was behind the election tampering in 2016, and to invent evidence against Hunter Biden — that Trump wanted.

The President: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor bf New York Ci:ty, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The oteer thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son. that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand arid I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look. into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.

Which is what led to Lutsenko’s ouster.

Moreover, the prosecutor Biden shut down was not Lutsenko, but Viktor Shokin, who has written affidavits which then got fed to John Solomon on behalf of Dmitry Firtash, who is trying hard to avoid extradition (on bribery charges) to the US.

That — plus the financial and legal ties between Firtash and the grifters — suggests there may be other Ukrainians on whose behalf the grifters were working to get Yovanovitch withdrawn. Firtash is certainly one. A corrupt prosecutor with ties to Russian intelligence, Kostiantyn Kulyk, who had worked for all these guys — and who is behind a dossier on accusing Hunter Biden of corruption — may be another. That is, Yovanovitch may have been the impediment not to inventing dirt on the Bidens, which is a fairly easy ask, but instead on creating the pre-conditions for people like Firtash to go free (which would also explain the natural gas angle).

All of which is to say that it would be a fairly trivial matter to establish the evidence to charge Rudy in ConFraudUs along with the Ukrainian grifters, as SDNY already has a lot of the evidence it would need.

Yes, Rudy Giuliani is, by all appearances, in blatant violation of FARA. Yes, he may get away with that, in part because DOJ hasn’t yet figured out hard to charge it consistently (though knows what not to do given recent history), and in part because he has made sure to implicate Trump and his cabinet officials.

But there’s a larger question about whether those same financial ties expose Rudy for much uglier conspiracy charges.