Barr Time 1: “Conjuring up criminal conspiracies about political opponents”

June 6 of last year was the official publication date for Bill Barr’s book. In it, he claimed — at least three different times — that under him, DOJ did not investigate Joe Biden’s role in pushing Petro Poroshenko to fire Viktor Shokin. “[T]he facts about this episode were out in the open and didn’t warrant a criminal investigation,” Barr said in one instance.

The day after release of a book making that assertion, on June 7, 2023, Bill Barr went on the record with Margot Cleveland insisting that investigation into an allegation that we now know came from Alexander Smirnov, claiming that Mykola Zlochevsky had bribed Joe Biden, not only hadn’t been shut down in August 2020, but had been sent to Delaware “for further investigation.”

“It’s not true. It wasn’t closed down,” William Barr told The Federalist on Tuesday in response to Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin’s claim that the former attorney general and his “handpicked prosecutor” had ended an investigation into a confidential human source’s allegation that Joe Biden had agreed to a $5 million bribe. “On the contrary,” Barr stressed, “it was sent to Delaware for further investigation.”

On June 6, Bill Barr claimed his DOJ didn’t investigate Biden’s ties to Burisma because all the facts were out in the open. On June 7, he insisted DOJ had sustained a secret investigation into an allegation that Burisma bribed Joe Biden.

Barr’s book mentions Ukraine almost 70 times. He mentions the Bidens, in an investigative context, over 56 times. Virtually everything he says on the topic conflicts as dramatically with known events as that claim on June 7 did.

It was always clear these claims were an attempt to spin the events, Barr’s CYA about fairly damning events in which he was involved. Given the subsequent disclosures of the the SDNY warrants, claims Lev Parnas’ has made since this book came out, Brady’s testimony about the side channel, and Smirnov’s indictment, I want to look at how Barr describes his involvement in efforts to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

At best, they show that Bill Barr was an easy mark for Russian disinformation.

Barr needed a bribery allegation and an informant fabricated it for him

Here’s how Barr describes the Brady side channel, which we now know resulted in an FBI informant with ties to Russian spies fabricating a claim about Joe Biden that right wingers successfully demanded be used to renege on a plea deal for Hunter Biden during the 2024 election season, a claim that — had Brady done the vetting he and Barr claimed he did — would have been identified as a fabrication in 2020.

With impeachment still pending, Giuliani embarked on yet another round of grandstanding. He went about claiming he had compiled significant evidence relating to the Bidens that he wanted to present to the Justice Department. While anyone is free to present evidence to the DOJ, the fact Giuliani was making such a public display obviously made his motives suspect. It looked to me that Rudy was trying to run the same play against Biden that I thought the Clinton campaign had tried to run against Trump in 2016: giving just enough evidence to law enforcement to have some allegation investigated, then claiming one’s adversary was “being investigated.” This presented a quandary. On the one hand, I wasn’t going to let the department be drawn into Giuliani’s game, and I wasn’t about to allow the work of other prosecutors on other, potentially related matters be tainted by commingling their evidence with whatever Giuliani had pulled together. On the other hand, the department has an obligation to be open to all comers who believe they possess relevant evidence; we could not merely dismiss his information out of hand without looking at it. Yet merely receiving information does not imply the department believes opening an investigation is warranted. My solution to Giuliani’s posturing was to create an intake system for evidence originating in Ukraine—including but not limited to Giuliani’s—that dispelled any suggestion that, by accepting the information, the department was signaling it considered the allegations credible.

I set up a screening process whereby an office outside of Washington—in this case, the US Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh— would vet the information provided by Giuliani, working with the FBI and intelligence experts on Ukraine. That office, which was run by a trusted US attorney, Scott Brady, who was well known to me and my staff, would not be responsible for deciding whether to open any investigation, just for assessing the credibility of the information. This would be an intermediary step before any information was forwarded to an office responsible for making any investigative determinations. Employing such a “taint team” is a well-established procedure within the department for screening potentially suspect evidence. These precautions were especially apt in the case of Giuliani, whose political passions and previous associations in Ukraine possibly affected his own critical faculties.

At an unrelated press conference in early February 2020, I made clear I was skeptical of information coming out of Ukraine. “We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine,” I said. “There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine, a lot of crosscurrents. And we can’t take anything we received from Ukraine at face value.” My usual critics on the Hill and in the media, as always getting the point exactly backward, screamed that I was giving Giuliani special access to the department. Wrong. It was an exercise in caution and an effort to protect other investigations that the DOJ had going on at the time.

While the effort to push the Ukrainians to investigate Biden was foolish, I do not believe it was criminal. Not all censurable conduct is criminal. The current tendency to conflate the foolish with the legally culpable causes more harm than good. Trying to apply the criminal law to diplomatic give-and-take is especially dangerous. A quid pro quo is inherent in almost all diplomacy, and Presidents frequently ask foreign countries to do things that are politically beneficial to the Presidents. A President might, for example, make a large, secret concession to a foreign country in order to expedite release of a hostage or win some other timely agreement the President expects will yield substantial political benefits prior to an election. The fact that the action sought from the foreign government will yield political benefit should not make the request criminal. It may have been in the national interest. Nor should it be criminal because the concession made by a President seems disproportionate or even reckless. Nor should it make a difference that the President was subjectively motivated by the expectation of political benefit.

The fact is that diplomatic transactions frequently involve “mixed motives.” The quo being sought will provide a political benefit and will likely satisfy a legitimate policy purpose of the government. In any particular case, the political motive may loom much larger than the governmental purpose, but as long as the latter is present, it would be hazardous to criminalize diplomacy by attempting to assess the balance of subjective motivations. Of course, if the quo being sought objectively has no governmental purpose at all and is purely a private benefit—say, a payment of cash for private use—then we are in the realm of bribery. But so long as the quo arguably advances a public policy objective, then policing the propriety of diplomatic transactions should be left to the political, not the criminal, realm.

To this extent, I viewed Vice President Biden’s pushing for Shokin’s termination as similar to President Trump’s pushing for an investigation of Biden’s role. The quo sought by Biden—the firing of Shokin—held a potential political benefit for Biden: avoiding the embarrassment of having his son’s company investigated for corruption. It also, ostensibly, had a legitimate public policy purpose: advancing the US anticorruption agenda. Similarly, Trump would benefit politically from an investigation into Shokin’s termination, but bringing transparency to that episode would also arguably advance America’s anticorruption agenda.

Biden supporters would say that, in his case, his policy purpose was overarching and supervened any possible political agenda. Trump supporters would say the same about his aims. My point is that the criminal justice process cannot legitimately be used to investigate politicians’ motivations when those politicians are asking for some rational and lawful policy concession. What Biden was demanding in Ukraine, quite apart from whether it would benefit his son, technically had a legitimate governmental purpose. And what Trump was demanding, quite apart from whether it would benefit his reelection, had the same. (309-312)

Regarding the side channel itself, Barr claims it was simply a taint team for information offered up by the public — by anyone — from Ukraine. That’s inconsistent with Brady’s still unexplained effort to go look for information on Hunter Biden and Burisma in the Burisma investigation that had just been shut down. It’s inconsistent with Brady’s concessions of all the things he didn’t consult — such as materials released as part of impeachment and contemporaneous reporting — before passing on tips.

And consider the euphemism Barr uses to describe Rudy’s motives. In addition to a specific concern about the “crosscurrents” in Ukraine, Barr cited Rudy’s “political passions and previous associations in Ukraine” to explain the need for such vetting.

There’s no mention of Russian spies.

There’s no mention of the fact that both the White House and DOJ recognized that Andrii Derkach was a Russian agent before Rudy boarded a plane to go solicit dirt from him.

There’s no mention of the fact that Barr set up a way for Rudy to share tips from known Russian agents.

And that’s one of several reasons why Barr’s complaint about the criticism he got — his claim that he was merely exercising caution — is bullshit. The side channel was one part of a larger scheme that had the effect of protecting Rudy (and therefore Trump) and framing Joe Biden. The scheme included:

  • Constraining the ongoing investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman in SDNY so it could not include Dmitry Firtash, much less Derkach
  • Moving the Derkach investigation to EDNY
  • Prohibiting anyone from opening an investigation into a Presidential candidate without his approval
  • Allowing Rudy to share information with Scott Brady
  • Permitting Brady to intervene in SDNY investigation (as well as that of Hunter Biden, Dmitry Firtash, and Ihor Kolomoyskyi)

These steps did more than vet Rudy’s tips. Taken together, they used the entire weight of DOJ to protect Rudy (and Trump) from any consequences for soliciting dirt from known Russian spies — a separate possible crime than merely sharing false information with the FBI.

Perhaps that’s why, having misrepresented the nature of the side channel, Barr opined that “I do not believe it was criminal” to solicit dirt on the Bidens from known Russian spies. Perhaps that’s why Barr followed that opinion with two paragraphs equating Joe Biden’s effort to rein in corruption in Ukraine with Rudy’s effort to solicit dirt from known Russian spies for Trump.

Barr’s explanation never made sense. The expectation was always that by firing Shokin, Burisma would get more scrutiny, not less. Barr’s explanation makes far less sense given that he launched this side channel just days after his DOJ shut down a four year investigation into Zlochevsky started while Biden was Vice President.

But his explanation does clarify something. The side channel assessment — based off material from Rudy, Chuck Grassley says — was a bribery assessment. It was started as a bribery assessment months before (if we can believe the indictment, which given the way it obfuscates other known details, we cannot) Smirnov first started pitching his false claims of bribery. It was started as a bribery assessment because that, in Barr’s mind, distinguished an inappropriate use of DOJ to investigate a politician’s motive and a fair use of DOJ’s authorities in an election year.

And in the year before an election last year, Barr doubled down on the bribery allegation allegedly fabricated by an informant with ties to Russian spies. In the process, Barr helped ensure that Joe Biden’s kid will face two trials and six felony charges as opposed to a settlement David Weiss had already offered.

An Attorney General dedicated to killing an investigation into Russian interference

That’s where Barr’s tenure as AG ended: setting up a side channel via which Joe Biden was framed by an informant with ties to Russian spies, which in turn led directly to felony charges against Biden’s kid.

That makes Barr’s single-minded focus on killing the Mueller investigation look quite different. Everything stemmed from that effort, according to Barr.

Russiagate dominated the first two years of President Trump’s term, looming over every aspect of the administration. I was on the outside as a private citizen during this time, and so my early reaction to the collusion claims was based on public reporting and my own informed speculation. Only in early 2019, when I joined the administration as Attorney General, did I begin to get a fuller picture of this manufactured scandal. From that time forward, it became increasingly clear to me that there were never any legitimate grounds for accusing Trump or his campaign of colluding with the Russians. This was not only my conclusion. Every investigation into the matter—including those of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate and House Intelligence Committees—also found no evidence of collusion.

I would soon make the difficult decision to go back into government in large part because I saw the way the President’s adversaries had enmeshed the Department of Justice in this phony scandal and were using it to hobble his administration. Once in office, it occupied much of my time for the first six months of my tenure. It was at the heart of my most controversial decisions. Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal. At the end of my first year in office, the President was impeached over a harebrained effort, involving Rudy Giuliani, to push back on the Russia collusion canard by digging up an alleged counter-scandal in Ukraine implicating the Clinton campaign or Vice President Biden and his son Hunter.

The fallout from Russiagate continued during my last year in office. My relationship with the President frayed as he became frustrated by my failure to bring charges against those who had ginned up Russiagate and the failure of Durham’s investigation to produce more rapid results. (180-181)

Of course Barr’s “Russiagate” claims are riddled with lies. We’re used to that.

The HPSCI investigation did ask every Trump-friendly witness if they had evidence of “collusion,” and they all said no (though it’s clear that Devin Nunes worked directly with the White House to craft at least one of these scripts). Senators split on partisan lines regarding whether the SSCI investigation showed “collusion.” The Mueller investigation did not make a conclusion about “collusion.” And not only did the report itself imply there was evidence of conspiracy — just not enough to charge — but a footnote Barr hid until right before the 2020 election revealed that an investigation into whether Trump’s rat-fucker joined a CFAA conspiracy with Russia continued after Mueller finished. Perhaps because of that, the declinations section on conspiracy actually didn’t make a conclusion, one way or another, about whether Trump’s people conspired with Russia on the hack-and-leak itself; that section addresses Section II and IV of the first volume, but not Section III, where the hack-and-leak was described.

Like I said, we’re used to those lies. I’m interested in this passage, which repeats Barr’s tired old lies about the Russian investigation, because of the relationship Barr sets up between those lies and what came before and after. Barr admits that he made a conclusion about the merit of “Russiagate” based on “public reporting” (presumably of the kind a right winger would see) and what Barr describes as his “own informed speculation.” Based on that conclusion, he decided to return to government to kill the investigation.

Barr built his justification to investigate Democrats from there.

Barr’s description of the Durham investigation — something he “had” to launch and something that he expected, in 2020 and presumably even in 2023 (his book came out just weeks after Durham gave up the ghost), would have “results” in the form of prosecutions — ties directly to his false claims (which may or may not be beliefs) about the Russian investigation. The Durham investigation had to produce results because Barr needed it to be true that the Russian investigation had no merit.

That imperative may explain Barr’s inconsistent claims. On page 180, describing that he had to open the Durham investigation, Barr made clear he believed an imagined Hillary effort to set up an investigation against Trump was criminal. On page 310, Barr explained that he didn’t believe an effort to push Ukraine [including known Russian assets, but Barr doesn’t mention that part] to investigate the Bidens was criminal. Rudy’s effort to solicit dirt from known Russian spies was not criminal, but Russian injection of disinformation into Hillary’s oppo research was.

It’s in that framework where Barr describes his personal involvement in Ukraine dirt — which the available record shows started no later than August 2019 and continued through at least October 2020, which an unreliable Parnas claims started far earlier, and which in paragraphs following Barr’s description of the side channel he improbably claims he first learned from a warning John Bolton gave him in early August. Rather than an impeachment focused on Trump, it focused on Rudy, and rather than an attempt to cheat in an election, it was an attempt to create a “counter-scandal.” In this passage, it is all portrayed as a ham-handed but, in Barr’s mind, justified effort to respond to the Russian investigation. In this passage, there’s no mention of Barr’s involvement in it at all. Only later would Barr refashion it (in the side channel passage above) as an effort to get transparency about Biden’s role in firing Shokin, transparency that multiple direct witnesses had already provided as part of the impeachment.

But in this passage, everything — the Durham investigation, the Ukraine response, and a bunch of things Barr conflates with the two, including the Brady side channel — arise out of Barr’s imperative to kill the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. That’s what justifies it all. Barr’s attempt to sustain false claims about the Russian investigation. Barr turned those false claims into license to retaliate.

That’s the before (the need to investigate Hillary as part of the imperative to kill the Russian investigation) and after (the side channel that protected Rudy from consequences for soliciting dirt from Russian spies and had the result of framing Joe Biden).

The AG doth protest too much, methinks

With those in mind, consider how Barr denials about the Durham investigation serve as a way to disclaim any involvement with Ukraine, where [3], “Conjuring up criminal conspiracies about political opponents had been honed into a fine art form.” This long passage, full of prevarications and word games, denies Trump asked him to open the kind of Biden investigation Barr opened up with the side channel.

As I was launching John Durham’s investigation in the spring of 2019, I was aware of the claims that the Ukrainians had interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Clinton. Because these allegations were relevant to the origins of the Russia collusion narrative, they legitimately fell within the ambit of Durham’s inquiry. I put little stock in them and suggested to Durham that he defer any Ukraine-related work, and so these claims weren’t being pursued actively at that point. I was dubious of the idea that the Ukrainians, not the Russians, had been responsible for hacking into the DNC. [1] It had the hallmarks of Russian disinformation and seemed contrary to the evidence developed by the intelligence community and by Mueller’s investigation. Moreover, contrary to the President’s claims, CrowdStrike did not appear to be controlled by Ukrainians and seemed to be a reputable company. I doubted the firm had any reason to fabricate its analysis of the hack. In any event, I wanted Durham to hold back from engaging with Ukraine because I considered it [2] a land of smoke and mirrors, where disinformation was everywhere and reliable evidence extremely difficult to find. There were so many different actors with varying agendas—pro-Western politicians, pro-Russian politicians, countless oligarchs, each with his own aim—that it was hard to determine the provenance and motivations behind any information collected there. [3] Conjuring up criminal conspiracies about political opponents had been honed into a fine art form. I was especially concerned that Ukrainian actors could act as channels for Russian disinformation. I didn’t want Durham to get bogged down in that morass.

Consequently, in the spring and early summer of 2019, when John [Durham] and I discussed the international dimensions of his work, [4] we agreed to engage with the three countries we felt would be most helpful to the investigation: the United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy. I started by making contact with the ambassadors of these countries, and later had discussions with senior officials in each. I traveled to both Italy and the UK to explain Durham’s investigation and ask for any assistance or information they could provide. I alerted the President that we would be making these contacts and asked him to mention Durham’s investigation to the prime ministers of the three countries, stressing the importance of their help. In contrast, [5] I never talked with the Ukrainians or asked President Trump to talk to the Ukrainians. The President never asked me to talk to the Ukrainians. Nor had I talked with Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine. I was also not aware of anyone at the department requesting the Ukrainians to open up an investigation. As far as I was concerned, if Durham ever found a reason to look into Ukrainian activities, he would do the investigation, not leave it to the Ukrainians.

What really fueled the impeachment drive was the attempt to sic the Ukrainians on allegations about Vice President Biden. It was one thing to argue, as the President’s private defense attorneys did, that Ukrainians had interfered with the 2016 election. That would have had a bearing on collusion allegations against the President. It was something else to argue, as the President’s defense also did, that Joe Biden’s son Hunter had traded on his surname and engaged in un- ethical deal making in Ukraine. That looked less like defensive work and more like an offensive thrust against President Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 election. Moreover, although the Department of Justice was investigating election interference, [6] DOJ was not investigating Joe Biden, and I didn’t think there was a legitimate basis to do so. The conflict-of-interest laws do not apply to the President or Vice President.

The key facts regarding Biden’s role in the ouster of the Ukrainian anticorruption prosecutor were largely a matter of public record. In 2014 the Vice President’s son Hunter, with virtually no relevant experience, had received a lucrative position on the board of Burisma at a time when the Vice President had the “lead” in the Obama administration’s push to get Ukraine to step up anticorruption efforts. In late 2015 Vice President Biden, by his own account, used the threat of withholding loan guarantees to pressure the Ukrainian government to fire Viktor Shokin, the lead Ukrainian anticorruption prosecutor. The public record is fairly clear that there was frustration in US and European policy circles with Shokin’s failure to pursue corruption cases aggressively, and his removal was widely favored by key US figures. It also appears he was not actively pursuing Burisma at the time of his dismissal, although he claimed later that he was planning to investigate the company. In my view, while the whole situation was [7] shameful and unethical, the facts did not provide a basis for criminally investigating Vice President Biden.

[8] By the spring of 2019, I had noticed news stories stating that Giuliani was pushing the Ukrainians to investigate Biden’s role in Shokin’s dismissal. But other than what I glimpsed in the media, I had no knowledge of the former mayor’s activities. During the spring, I expressed my concern about Giuliani with the President. As I was leaving an Oval Office meeting on another topic, I paused briefly to raise the matter.

“Mr. President,” I said, “I don’t think you are being well served by Giuliani at this point. Mueller is over, and Russiagate is dying. Why is Giuliani thrashing about in Ukraine? It is going to blow up—”
“Yeah,” the President said, cutting me off. “I told him not to go over there. It was a trap.” President Trump gave the impression Giuliani had a degree of independence and was going to pull back. I did not press the point.

Unfortunately, the President’s careless statement to Zelensky erroneously implied some connection between me and Giuliani. Early in the conversation, the President asked Zelensky to “get to the bottom” of CrowdStrike and the server allegations, and said he was going to have the Attorney General talk to him about this. If the President had stopped there, I wouldn’t have been especially upset, because at least these particular allegations were within Durham’s purview, albeit on the back burner. However, later in the conversation, the President asked Zelensky to investigate Biden’s role in Shokin’s removal and said he should work with the Attorney General and Giuliani. When I read this, I hit the ceiling. When the transcript was released, I had the department put out a categorical statement:

[9] The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine—on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine—on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.

Although this seemed to be largely accepted by journalists covering the department, some commentators still speculated that the President might have been pressing me to have the DOJ investigate Biden’s role.

This didn’t happen. The President had not asked that the Justice Department investigate the former Vice President, and it would not have made a difference if he had. [10] As far as I was concerned, the facts about this episode were out in the open and didn’t warrant a criminal investigation. Although Hunter Biden’s position was obviously a sordid instance of monetizing his father’s office, the Vice President did not violate the law because federal conflict-of-interest laws do not apply to Vice Presidents. Moreover, given the evidence that Biden was acting in line with US policy, and the absence of good evidence that Shokin was actively pursuing Burisma and that his removal would inhibit future action against the company, it would be impossible to prove that the Vice President acted with corrupt intent in pressing the Ukrainians to dismiss Shokin. And if there ever were a reason to pursue the matter, we would do it ourselves and certainly not pressure the Ukrainians to do it. (annotated numbering my own) (300 -304)

Three times, here, Barr claims he didn’t think the facts behind the Burisma allegations merited the kind of criminal investigation he would later set up.

[6] DOJ was not investigating Joe Biden, and I didn’t think there was a legitimate basis to do so.

the whole situation was [7] shameful and unethical, the facts did not provide a basis for criminally investigating Vice President Biden.

[10] As far as I was concerned, the facts about this episode were out in the open and didn’t warrant a criminal investigation.

He does so in a passage that claims to have avoided Ukrainian dirt because of the very same “smoke and mirrors” [2] Barr used to justify the side channel in January 2020. Those smoke and mirrors and Ukraine’s fine art form of conjuring up criminal conspiracies were the reason (Barr claims) he kept Durham out of Ukraine; but those very same smoke and mirrors are what Barr used to rationalize a side channel assessing dirt from known Russian spies that conjured up a criminal conspiracy against Joe Biden!

In other words, this disavowal of Ukranian involvement as part of the Durham investigation — which is transparently misleading in any case — serves as a proxy denial of the Ukrainian involvement we know Barr undertook elsewhere.

Barr’s discussion of the Durham investigation attempts to disclaim chasing Ukrainian dirt in three different ways.

First, he claims he didn’t know about any of Rudy’s efforts until … he doesn’t say precisely when. Barr claims at [8] that, “other than what I glimpsed in the media, I had no knowledge of the former mayor’s activities.” He situates the claim, vaguely, in “the spring of 2019,” far earlier than the warning he describes that Bolton gave him in early August pages later.

Parnas claims that Barr knew of their scheme from the start, from February, which would also be Barr first started getting briefings on the SDNY investigation, though Parnas didn’t say whether Barr learned of the scheme via SDNY briefings or separately, from Rudy’s effort to broker meetings with Barr. It might be true that the briefings Barr was getting on the Parnas investigation didn’t emphasize the tie to Rudy by whenever in spring Barr means. The first warrant against Rudy’s grifters had just a passing mention of Rudy; Kevin McCarthy, Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis, and Trump himself were all a more central focus of that warrant. The second, dated May 16, which focused directly on Marie Yovanovitch (and Pete Sessions’ role in her ouster), took out a reference to Rudy. SDNY obtained that warrant days after one possible date for Barr’s expressed concern to Trump that Rudy was “thrashing about in Ukraine.” Ken Vogel reported on May 9 that Rudy would head to Ukraine for election year dirt, only to report two days later that Rudy was canceling the trip after Adam Schiff and others made a stink; both reports postdated Trump’s comments to Hannity that Barr would investigate all this. That probably would be around the time when, according to Barr, he knew and warned Trump about “Giuliani thrashing about in Ukraine,” but claimed only to know that from press coverage.

By making the timing of this so vague, Barr makes it impossible to tell whether this conversation happened before or after the decision — made as part of, “inter‐department discussions well above” Joseph Ziegler’s second-order supervisor and originally attributed by Ziegler to Barr himself — to put the Hunter Biden investigation in Delaware, which made no sense if Hunter were the target but made perfect sense if Joe were. (Elsewhere in the book, Barr boasts that the investigation preceded his tenure, which it did, but the grand jury investigation did not, and — as noted — Ziegler originally said Barr personally made choices about the grand jury investigation.)

In any case, it would have happened long before the Perfect Phone call in July and meetings with Victoria Toensing — allegedly witnessed by Lev Parnas — regarding Dmitry Firtash. Barr is not denying getting involved in all this. He’s saying that he didn’t know what he was in for until sometime in later spring or summer 2019. By August, in any case, briefings on the Parnas investigation would have made SDNY’s increased focus on Rudy’s search for dirt on Hunter Biden clear. Barr knew what Rudy was up to well before DOJ chose to review only the transcript of Trump’s call for possible crimes, rather than the full whistleblower complaint that invoked Parnas and Fruman. Barr knew that if DOJ reviewed the entire whistleblower complaint, it would tie Trump’s call to an ongoing criminal investigation into unlawful influence peddling.

In short, even if Barr is telling the truth, even if he and Trump hadn’t spoken about Rudy’s efforts by the time Trump told Hannity they had, Barr had internal knowledge of both the SDNY investigation and Trump’s enthusiasm for Rudy’s efforts well before DOJ ensured the full whistleblower complaint would not be reviewed.

Having fiddled with the timing but not denied he was involved in Rudy’s efforts before the Perfect Phone Call, Barr then made much of what he claims was an affirmative choice not to pursue Ukrainian leads. He claims  [1] that he didn’t send Durham to chase (what were, but which he didn’t identify as) Konstantin Kilimnik’s claims of Ukrainian tampering in the 2016 investigation because it felt like disinformation.

Remember: the foundational theory of the Durham investigation — what Durham imagined was a fully-blown “Clinton Plan” — was based on possible Russian disinformation, and from there Durham (and Barr) fabricated more. Durham’s pursuit of a conspiracy theory that Hillary made a plan to fabricate information implicating Trump in Russia’s attack was not only based on files that the intelligence community always warned might be Russian disinformation, but Durham — almost certainly with Barr’s help — fabricated an additional element to it: that Hillary would invent false evidence, rather than simply point to true evidence of Trump’s affinity for Russia.

That’s not the only disinformation Barr chased. He and Durham went on junkets around Europe chasing the ginned up conspiracy theories of George Papadopoulos, including at least one fostered by Joseph Mifsud’s attorney.

Which brings us to Barr’s claim at [4] that he and Durham, “agreed to engage with the three countries we felt would be most helpful to the investigation: the United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy,” Barr is referring, in the last case, to chasing the Coffee Boy’s Mifsud conspiracies, every bit as obvious disinformation as Kilimnik’s Ukraine conspiracies. And when Barr explains at [5] that “I never talked with the Ukrainians or asked President Trump to talk to the Ukrainians,” he’s limiting his comments to official contacts.

Barr is attempting to distinguish, “ask[ing Trump] to mention Durham’s investigation to the prime ministers of [the UK, Australia, and Italy], stressing the importance of their help,” from Trump’s mention of Barr’s efforts to Zelenskyy, in which he stressed the import of Ukraine’s help.

That’s why it’s so interesting what a big deal Barr makes of the statement at [9], what he describes as a categorical denial of Trump’s mention to Volodymyr Zelenskyy that he’d have Barr reach out.

Barr doesn’t include another part of the statement that DOJ put out (or a follow-up sent out the same day), which described, “certain Ukrainians … volunteer[ing] information to Mr. 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.

Nor does he mention a statement he referred to over and over in the weeks that followed, one he sent on his personal cell phone.

Barr did have contacts with Ukrainians; he even discussed how Durham could get information confidentially from him.

They just were not members of government, Barr claimed.

To this day, we don’t know who those Ukrainians are (and all this would be in addition to discussions with Victoria Toensing about Dmitry Firtash, discussions that Parnas claims involved a quid pro quo for a Hunter Biden laptop).

But as I laid out here (and as I’ll return to), there’s good reason to suspect they include one or more of the Derkach associates Treasury sanctioned in January 2021.

Bill Barr told on himself the day after his book came out: He did investigate Joe Biden. Worse, he set up a system via which an informant responded to Andrii Derkach’s election interference by framing Biden.

Bill Barr walked into the AG job determined to kill an investigation into Russian interference. Before he walked out, he set up a system that protected election interference from Russian agents in Ukraine, election interference that resulted in Joe Biden being framed.

As I said above, a comparison of Barr’s claims with everything we’ve learned in the year since then shows that, at a minimum, Bill Barr was an easy mark for Russian disinformation.

Michael Bromwich Warns of Robert Hur Report Ahead of Release

Merrick Garland has informed Congress that Robert Hur, the Special Counsel who spent an entire year confirming that when Joe Biden discovered classified information, he returned it, has finished his investigation and will release it pending a privilege review.

ABC’s report on the release raises cause for concern. Former Inspector General Michael Bromwich, who represented twenty witnesses in the inquiry (and who also has represented Andrew McCabe in avenging his firing), cautions that Hur is refusing to ensure he has the proper context for the interviews he did.

According to attorney Michael Bromwich, for the past month he has repeatedly suggested to Hur’s team that — without such a review — Hur might miss “proper factual context” for the information that each of his clients provided.

But, as Bromwich described it, Hur’s office repeatedly told him that none of the witnesses in the probe would be able to see the report before it became public.

“It’s a huge process foul, and not in the public interest,” Bromwich told ABC News.

An attorney representing other witnesses agreed, saying that his clients should be able to review a draft of Hur’s report before its release.

The ongoing dispute underscores a growing concern among Biden’s closest aides — and the attorneys representing them — that Hur’s report could be substantially critical of Biden, even if it doesn’t recommend charges against him.

ABC News previously reported that Hur’s team had apparently uncovered instances of carelessness related to Biden.

Speaking to ABC News on Wednesday, Bromwich said he expects anecdotes and information provided by many of his clients — ranging from junior staffers to senior advisers — to be included in Hur’s report, but he declined to offer any specifics.

However, Bromwich noted that Hur’s investigation has been so far-reaching that investigators even interviewed waitstaff who had worked an event at Biden’s home in recent years to determine if they might have been exposed to classified documents.

Hur is absolutely right that other Special Counsels have not offered witnesses the ability to review a report before its release.

But his immediate comparison is a tell.

Hur, a close associate of Rod Rosenstein who served as his Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General during (and therefore supervised) the Mueller investigation in its earliest, productive phase, may be thinking of the Mueller Report. In its first 200 pages it laid out how Trump’s willingness to welcome Russian help during an assault on democracy showed evidence for, but not enough to charge, a conspiracy (though the investigation into Roger Stone for such a conspiracy remained ongoing). All of it, though, was tied to a series of prosecutorial decisions. In its second 200 pages, it described obstructive conduct as President that could not be charged.

Rosenstein, after barely keeping his job in the wake of disclosures that he had considered wiretapping the President, participated in a corrupt declination for those actions.

There are key differences between the Mueller Report and what we should expect the scope to be for this report — notably, that much of the conduct pertains to what happened between the time Joe Biden left the Naval Observatory and when he moved into the White House.

And, more importantly, Bromwich advised people to cooperate. And such cooperation no doubt freed Hur to search and search and search in a way that was not possible when key witnesses were lying to obstruct the investigation, as happened with Mueller.

That’s how you spend over a year confirming what was known from the start.

But Hur’s stance also comes in the wake of the Durham Report, which because of a supine press, has never been exposed as the propaganda hit job it is. It is provable that Durham:

  • Was appointed without evidence any potential crime had been committed
  • Engaged in a review of other investigations taken during an election (and lied about the results), something that is not remotely a prosecutorial function and does not remotely belong in a SCO report
  • Fabricated a key claim against Hillary Clinton, one which he pursued for years
  • Renewed allegations against defendants who were acquitted at trial
  • Made claims about witness cooperation that at least one has disputed publicly
  • Failed to make prosecutorial decisions for one crime he investigated (the Italian referral) and the statement for which there was most proof it was a deliberate lie
  • Engaged in selective editing to substantiate false claims

Only the last of those — selective editing — was a claim that was credibly made about Mueller (in his editing of an obstructive voice mail John Dowd left for Mike Flynn’s attorney).

And it comes in the wake of David Weiss’ decision — taken in tandem with long-time associates of Rosenstein and Hur, Leo Wise and Derek Hines, and in the wake of pressure from Baltimore-based IRS Agent Gary Shapley — to ask for Special Counsel status because he wants to write a report. (As I have noted, I think that may be one point of Abbe Lowell’s SCO challenge to Weiss’ appointment; to attempt to enjoin a report that is not legally justified.)

Because of the aforementioned supine press, because there is no accountability structure in place for Special Counsels, and because as prosecutors they enjoy broad immunity (though Durham tellingly backed off false claims he made in his report when he testified to Congress), the Special Counsel process was exploited by Bill Barr in retaliation for Rosenstein’s appropriate decision to appoint one.

I don’t expect Hur’s report to be as corrupt as Durham’s. I expect it to overcompensate for claims that Trump was treated differently for intentionally stealing 300 classified records (and hiding still more) than Joe Biden was for negligently taking some home and then giving them back.

John Durham Feigns Totally Dumb about Russian “Collusion”

The day the entire GOP refuses to pursue really draconian immigration legislation because Donald Trump has demanded they not do so — and especially not pass any more funding for Ukraine — seems like a good day to resume my effort to roll out a Ball of Thread in advance of explaining how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law.

This post is very simple. Under grilling from Adam Schiff during his House Judiciary Committee testimony last summer, John Durham played dumb — really, really dumb — about what Trump actually did in 2016 (there were a few more examples during the hearing, usually in exchange with Schiff).

It’s not surprising. But it is very similar to the way Scott Brady played dumb when quizzed (in a deposition, by House Judiciary Committee staffers) about what really happened in 2016. Again, not surprising. Just another example where key sycophants who played a central role in this process rigidly parroted the false cover story even when confronted with the truth.


Mr. Schiff. I thank you for yielding. One of my colleagues in the Republican side of the aisle took issue with my saying that the Trump Campaign invited Russian help, received Russian help, made use of it, and then lied about it. So, let’s break this down.

Let’s go to invited Russian help. Mr. Durham, you’re aware of Donald Trump’s public statements along the lines of, hey, Russia, if you’re listening, hack Hillary’s emails. You’ll be richly awarded by the press. Are you aware of that?

Mr. Durham. I’m aware of that.

Mr. Schiff. You’re aware that Mueller found that hours after he made that plea for Russian help, the Russians, in fact, tried to hack one of the email servers affiliated with the Clinton Campaign or family.

Mr. Durham. If that happened, I’m not aware of that.

Mr. Schiff. You’re not–

Mr. Durham. It could very well. I just don’t know.

Mr. Schiff. –aware of that in the Mueller Report? When you’re saying you’re not aware of evidence of collusion in the Mueller Report, it’s because apparently you haven’t read the Mueller Report every well if you’re not aware of that fact. Let me ask you about something else.

Mr. Durham. Sure.

Mr. Schiff. Don Jr. when offered dirt as part of what was described as Russian government effort to help the Trump Campaign said, “if it’s what you say, I love it;” Would you call that an invitation to get Russian help with dirt on Hillary Clinton?

Mr. Durham. The words speak for themselves, I supposed.

Mr. Schiff. I think they do. In fact, he said, especially late in summer. Late in summer was around when the Russians started to dump the stolen emails, wasn’t it?

Mr. Durham. Late in the summer, there was information that was disclosed by WikiLeaks in mid to late July. I think there had been some in June, and then there was maybe some later in October was it, I think. Don’t hold me to those dates.

Mr. Schiff. This gets to the receipt of help, second thing I mentioned, receiving Russian help. The dumping of those emails by the way just as forecast by what Papadopoulos told
the Australian diplomat. That is that the Russians would help by leaking dirt anonymously through cutouts like WikiLeaks and DCLeaks.

Mr. Durham. I don’t think that’s exactly what he told the Australians.

Mr. Schiff. Well, he said that he was informed that the Russians could anonymously release this information, right?

Mr. Durham. Release what?

Mr. Schiff. By anonymously releasing information damaging to Hillary Clinton, right?

Mr. Durham. I think if you read what’s in the cable and what’s in the report as to what the diplomats reported there was a suggestion of a suggestion that the Russians could help. They have damaging information as to Ms. Clinton.

Mr. Schiff. By releasing it anonymously, right? That’s exactly what happened, isn’t it?

Mr. Durham. I don’t–

Mr. Schiff. You really don’t know?

Mr. Durham. I’m not sure–when you say exactly what happened–

Mr. Schiff. Well, the Russians released stolen emails through cutouts, did they not?

Mr. Durham. There were emails that were released by WikiLeaks.

Mr. Schiff. It’s a very simple question. Did they release information, stolen information, through cutouts, yes or no?

Mr. Durham. I’m not sure that–

Mr. Schiff. You really don’t know the answer to that? The answer is yes, they did. Through DCLeaks–

Mr. Durham. In your mind, it’s yes.

Mr. Schiff. Well, Mueller’s answer is yes. More important than mine, Mueller’s answer was yes. Now, that information, of course, was helpful to the Trump Campaign, wasn’t it?

Mr. Durham. I don’t think there’s any question that Russians intruded into hacked into the systems.

Mr. Schiff. Well, I just want to get–

Mr. Durham. They released information.

Mr. Schiff. That was helpful to Trump Campaign, right?

Mr. Durham. The conclusion in the ICA and in the Mueller investigation was that the Russians intended to assist–

Mr. Schiff. Can you answer my question, Mr. Durham? That was helpful to Trump Campaign, right?


Mr. Schiff. Trump made use of that, as I said, didn’t he, by touting those stolen documents on the campaign trail over 100 times?
Mr. Durham. Like I said, I don’t really read the newspapers or listen to the news.

Mr. Schiff. You were totally–

Mr. Durham. I don’t find them reliable, so I don’t know that.

Mr. Schiff. Mr. Durham, you were totally oblivious to Donald Trump’s use of the stolen emails on the campaign trail more than 100 times?

Mr. Durham. I’m not aware of that.

Mr. Schiff. Did that escape your attention?

Mr. Durham. I am not aware of that.

Mr. Schiff. Are you aware of the final prong that I mentioned, that he lied about it, that the Trump Campaign covered it up? It’s the whole second volume of the Mueller Report. I hope you’re familiar with that.

Mr. Durham. Yes, that’s a section of the report, the second volume relating to their obstruction of justice.

Mr. Schiff. Well, thank you for confirming what my Republican colleague attacked me about. He also criticized the use of the word collusion. Apparently giving private polling data to the Russians while the Russians are helping your campaign, they don’t want to call it collusion.

Maybe there’s a better name for it. Maybe they would prefer we just call it good old fashioned GOP cheating with the enemy. Maybe that would be a little bit more accurate description.

Mr. Durham. Yes.

The Seth DuCharme Confession in the Charles McGonigal Sentencing Memo

In his sentencing memo for Charles McGonigal’s DC case, former Bill Barr flunky Seth DuCharme twice misstated the nature of the false statement for which Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced.

In a passage comparing other government officials who had omitted information from government filings, as McGonigal pled he had, DuCharme asserted that Clinesmith was prosecuted for making “false statements,” plural, “in application for” FISA warrant.

United States v. Clinesmith, No. 1:20-cr-165 (D.D.C. 2020) (imposing probation against FBI attorney for false statements in application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) warrant); [my emphasis]

Even before that, in arguing that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly should not apply a sentencing enhancement, he turned to Clinesmith. This time, he accused Clinesmith of causing false information to be submitted to FISC.

Mr. McGonigal disagrees with the application of the cross reference in Section 2B1.1(c)(3), which would increase his base offense level to 14, as inconsistent with case precedent. In United States v. Clinesmith, No. 1:20-cr-165 (D.D.C. 2020), the government did not seek and the sentencing court did not independently apply the cross reference to the obstruction Guideline at the sentencing of an FBI attorney who caused false information to be submitted to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”) in an application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) warrant sought in connection with an active FBI investigation. The government’s position that false statements to the FISC during an active investigation does not warrant application of the cross reference while Mr. McGonigal’s conduct does is perplexing. While Mr. McGonigal concedes that this Court in United States v. Hawkins, 185 F. Supp. 3d 114 (D.D.C. 2016) held that it may consider conduct in the statement of the offense, and the court in United States v. Saffarinia, 424 F. Supp. 3d 46 (D.D.C. 2020) held that at the motion to dismiss phase Section 1519 is broad enough to cover false statements on OGE-278 forms, it is difficult to reconcile these cases with the Clinesmith court’s more recent analysis. In Clinesmith, the District Court declined to apply the obstruction cross reference in determining the applicable Guidelines range, and we respectfully request that this Court similarly decline to apply the cross reference to the facts at issue here. [my emphasis]

Kevin Clinesmith altered an email and with it, misled a colleague, thereby preventing the FBI from fully informing the FISA Court on something material to the application. In that, he “caused” information not to be shared with the FISC. He did not make false statements in the application (and in any case, the original decision not to notify the court that Page had years earlier shared information with the CIA about Russian spies, which Clinesmith had no part of, had in significant part to do the the fact that Page had not been an approved contact of the CIA for several years before 2016, when he went out of his way to contact the Russians about his role in a counterintelligence investigation). Nor did Clinesmith cause affirmative false statements to be made.

His was a crime of omission, not commission, as DuCharme claimed. I emailed DuCharme about the basis for these claims but got no response.

More importantly, whether you agree with him or not, Judge James Boasberg explained why he sentenced Clinesmith to probation: because he didn’t think Clinesmith believed he was lying and the former FBI lawyer got no benefit from his false claim.

First, he obtained no real personal benefit from his actions and he had no active intent to harm.

Although the government has contested this, my view of the evidence is that Mr. Clinesmith likely believed that what he said about Dr. Page was true, namely that he was a subsource but not a source of the Other Government Agency. By altering the e-mail, he was saving himself some work and taking an inappropriate shortcut. But I do not believe that he was attempting to achieve an end he knew was wrong.

I’m on the record saying Clinesmith should have gotten some jail time, even in spite of the wildly unsubstantiated claims Durham’s team made about politicization. I think DuCharme is totally right to compare how lenient courts have been with government officials who fail to disclose things, including by invoking the Clinesmith sentence. That’s all sound lawyering.

But his sloppy treatment of Clinesmith — the appointment of John Durham to prosecute for which DuCharme played a central role — comes off as petulant and partisan. Indeed, Barr’s office took personal interest in this prosecution all the way through the time DuCharme swapped back to EDNY, as revealed by a text exchange Barr had with his Chief of Staff, probably complaining that Boasberg remained on this case, after the plea deal.

There are few factual similarities to the two cases, and by focusing so much on him, DuCharme seems to be saying, “if Kevin Clinesmith didn’t have to go to jail based on our conspiracy theories about him, my guy shouldn’t have to either.”

All the more so given another enhancement argument DuCharme made. He argues that a 3-level enhancement should not be applied because McGonigal trumped up a FARA investigation into the rival of the Albanian paying him to travel around Europe, the thing he failed to disclose.

Mr. McGonigal further disagrees with the application of Section 2J1.2(b)(2) resulting in a three-level enhancement for “substantial interference” with the administration of justice. According to the PSR, the enhancement is applied to Mr. McGonigal because he admitted to “speaking with a foreign official about a matter in which Person A had a financial interest, and opening a criminal investigation based on information provided to him by Person A.” PSR ¶ 57. While the enhancement is appropriately applied to the “premature or improper termination of a felony investigation,” we are aware of no authority supporting its application to the opening of a felony investigation, as is the case here. 7 As Special Agent in Charge (“SAC”) of Counterintelligence for the New York Field Office, it was Mr. McGonigal’s job to pass along information he received that could be indicative of criminal activity. Had Mr. McGonigal taken the alternative route and concealed or withheld the information he received from Person A concerning potential criminal activity in the United States, that would be troubling. Instead, he passed the tip and lead to the FBI, to be appropriately vetted by the Bureau and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Accordingly, the application of Section 2J1.2(b)(2) is unwarranted.

7 U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2 (“Substantial interference with the administration of justice” means “a premature or improper termination of a felony investigation; an indictment, verdict, or any judicial determination based upon perjury, false testimony, or other false evidence; or the unnecessary expenditure of substantial governmental or court resources.”); see e.g., United States v. Baker, 82 F.3d 273 (8th Cir 1996) (applying enhancement to police officer who improperly terminated a felony investigation). [my bold, italics original]

The technical issue — whether this enhancement can be used because someone initiated an improper investigation rather than improperly ending one — will make an interesting appeal if Kollar-Kotelly applies the enhancement and and sentences McGonigal to serve his sentence concurrent to the 50-month sentence Judge Jennifer Rearden gave McGonigal for trying to trump up sanctions against an Oleg Deripaska rival in SDNY, something DOJ is not requesting. But it’s likely that would be unsuccessful: As the government notes in its sentencing memo and even the footnote here makes clear, after the termination language DuCharme focuses on, the guideline continues, “or the unnecessary expenditure of substantial governmental or court resources.” And McGonigal’s opening an investigation against his business partner’s rival used counterintelligence resources that should have been spent on more serious threats.

FBI officials even questioned the propriety of opening up the criminal investigation at the time it was initiated, but cited the defendant’s directive. See Ex. 1 at 1.


Here, initiating the investigation based on Person A’s information was particularly egregious given its lack of substantiation, which is why it was promptly closed following the defendant’s retirement.

DOJ provided records showing that one of McGonigal’s colleagues was genuinely troubled about the propriety of opening a FARA case against someone who had already registered under FARA regarding a country, Albania, that isn’t among the countries of priority for such things. By opening an investigation into a lobbyist for an Albanian political party (reportedly former Ted Cruz Chief of Staff Nicholas Muzin), McGonigal was drawing resources away from more pressing threats.

So my question is with all the talk of shortage of resources and most field offices having difficulty covering Band 3 and 4 threats, and FARA cases from banded threat countries rarely prosecuted by DOJ, why is NY requesting a SIM FAR investigation be opened on Albania for an improper FARA registration as a threat to national security?

I of course will fully support anything NY wants to do in their AOR, but once the paperwork to restrict the case gets reported up my chain of command, I would like to be able to explain to them why we are working an Albanian SIM/FARA case when every day I am in there fighting for resources on some national security matters pertaining to banded countries such as [redacted]. I am assuming since this directive is coming from SAC McGonigal there is more to this story?

Per those records, McGonigal appears to have caused a politically connected Republican to have nine of his bank accounts scrutinized before the investigation got closed. The Albanian section of Oversight Democrats’ report on Trump’s acceptance of emoluments provides more background on the political wranglings involved; Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and two aides spent almost $3,500 at Trump’s hotel on a trip when they met with McGonigal.

Notably, the investigation against this lobbyist, like Crossfire Hurricane, was opened as a Full investigation from the start.

And after the FBI discovered that McGonigal had opened up an investigation to help his business partner, the FBI has had to review all the other cases he was working on to make sure he hadn’t similarly used criminal investigations for self-interested purposes.

Moreover, given the defendant’s senior and sensitive role in the organization, the FBI has been forced to undertake substantial reviews of numerous other investigations to insure that none were compromised during the defendant’s tenure as an FBI special agent and supervisory special agent. The defendant worked on some of the most sensitive and significant matters handled by the FBI. PSR ¶¶ 98-101. His lack of credibility, as revealed by his conduct underlying his offense of conviction, could jeopardize them all. The resulting internal review has been a large undertaking, requiring an unnecessary expenditure of substantial governmental resources.

The misrepresentation of the Clinesmith plea might be reasonable coming from someone else. Like all criminal defendants, McGonigal deserves zealous advocacy.

But this argument came from Seth DuCharme.

It came from someone who opened a four year follow-on investigation in which the only crime ever identified was that Clinesmith alteration — and that crime was discovered by someone else, and could easily have been, and should have been, prosecuted by the very same prosecutors who did prosecute it, only instead reporting to the Trump appointed US Attorney in DC rather than Durham. And among the prosecutions pursued as part of that four year investigation that Seth DuCharme opened was a false statements case against Michael Sussmann based off logic directly contrary to what DuCharme argues here, that McGonigal would have failed to do his duty if he hadn’t opened the investigation into his business partner’s rival. That logic, applied to the Durham investigation, says it would have been remiss not to investigate the Alfa Bank allegations that Sussmann shared with Jim Baker — which is exactly what Sussmann said from the start.

Worse still, that argument DuCharme makes, that, “it was Mr. McGonigal’s job to pass along information he received that could be indicative of criminal activity,” is precisely the argument that Bill Barr made to explain a similar laundering of self-interested information that Seth DuCharme effected: the channeling of information from Rudy Giuliani to the Hunter Biden investigation.

The DOJ has the obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant.

That is, the dishonest argument that Seth DuCharme is making, trying to dismiss the seriousness of Charles McGonigal’s use of FBI resources to conduct an investigation in which he had an undisclosed personal interest? It’s an argument that might also exonerate his own twin efforts to launch massive investigations into Donald Trump’s political rivals.

In fact, in McGonigal’s Deripaska-related sentencing hearing, DuCharme said something shocking. In that case, he said that McGonigal’s enthusiasm for working with someone whom the former FBI agent himself had identified as a Russian spy was only a problem because he was no longer covered by public authority defense. “[O]ne of the critical mistakes he makes in embracing this is that he no longer has the public authority that he had as an FBI agent.” That is, Seth DuCharme, who did set up a way to use dirt from a known Russian spy for a politicized investigation, argued that’s all cool if you’ve got the legal cover of official employ.

By all means, lawyers for Charles McGonigal should point out that DC judges rarely punish government officials who lie by omission that harshly. But in attempting to do that, Seth DuCharme said as much about his own ethics and actions than he did about his client’s crimes.



Ball of Thread: Introduction

In my post on Elise Stefanik’s decline into fascism, I described that I’ve been meaning to lay out how Trump used his legal cases to train Republicans to hate rule of law, which has been a key part of how the Republican party has come to embrace fascism. I’ve been dreading and therefore putting off writing that, in large part because it’ll involve rehashing the Russian investigation, and the counter-propaganda to the Russian investigation has been so effective that even addressing the reality of the Russian investigation at this point is always a real chore.

One other reason I’ve been putting it off is because there are a lot of things I want to have in the background — what I’ll call a Ball of Thread. These are not so much related points. Rather, they’re just things that I want to have in the background so I can pull on one or another thread without distracting from the main argument.

So I’m going to first try to write those up fairly quickly, so they’re out there, my Ball of Thread. Some of these posts will be more observation than detailed collection of facts. Others will not show my proof to the extent I normally do. Some will update things I’ve already said. Still others would not normally merit their own post, but I want to have it out there, as part of my Ball of Thread.

Plus, I’m going to try to do this while continuing to cover two Trump prosecutions, multiple Hunter Biden dick pic sniffing campaigns, 1,200 January 6 cases, and some other things that will come up. You know? My day job. All while learning to walk again, after foot surgery.

Happy New Year!

As of now, I anticipate that my Ball of Thread will include:

These will hopefully be quick; they may be sloppy; they likely will not be in this order. But hopefully I can spin my Ball of Thread then move onto the larger task.

Update: Updated the “flipping focus” bullet since I decided it was a misnomer.

On the image: The featured image for this post comes from the Library of Congress’ Farm Services Administration set. 

In His House Judiciary Committee Testimony, John Durham Confessed that Michael Horowitz Was Right

Given all the discussion of Trump ordering prosecutors to go after his political enemies, I want to go back — way back — to comment on something John Durham said at his House Judiciary Committee testimony in June.

Adam Schiff observed that Durham violated DOJ policy when, in December 2019, he publicly disagreed with the conclusion DOJ’s Inspector General had made in the Carter Page investigation.

Schiff: Mr. Durham, DOJ policy provides that you don’t speak about a pending investigation, and yet you did, didn’t you?

Durham: Um, I’m not exactly sure what–

Schiff: When the Inspector General issued a report saying that the investigation was properly predicated, you spoke out, in violation of Department of Justice, Department of Justice policy, to criticze the Inspector General’s conclusions, didn’t you?

Durham: I issued a public statement. I didn’t do it anonymously, I didn’t do it through third persons, there were —

Schiff: Nonetheless, you violated Department policy by issuing a statement while your investigation was ongoing, didn’t you?

Durham: I don’t know that. If I did, then I did. But I was not aware that I was violating some policy.

Schiff: And you also sought to get the Inspector General to change his conclusion, did you not, when he was concluding that the investigation was properly predicated. Did you privately seek to intervene to change that conclusion?

Durham: This is outside the scope of the report but if you want to go there, we asked the Inspector General to take a look at the intelligence that’s included in the classified appendix that you looked at, and said that that ought to affect portions of his report.

The classified appendix, recall, pertained to what Durham called the “Clinton Plan,” details Dutch intelligence found in purportedly hacked materials at GRU. That included documents purportedly stolen from a top Hillary Foreign Policy Advisor, on which a Russian intelligence product based a claim that,

Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

From that allegation, Durham appears to have simply made up out of thin air a claim that Hillary planned to fabricate things to tie Trump to Russia, rather than just point to him begging Russia to hack the United States.

First, the Clinton Plan intelligence itself and on its face arguably suggested that private actors affiliated with the Clinton campaign were seeking in 2016 to promote a false or exaggerated narrative to the public and to U.S. government agencies about Trump’s possible ties to Russia. [my emphasis]

In another exchange with Schiff at the hearing, Durham professed to be utterly ignorant of all the things confirmed in the Mueller investigation that provided abundant reason to tie Trump to Russia. There was no need to invent anything.

In any case, what Durham revealed in his testimony is that he shared this information with Michael Horowitz, expecting it would change his mind about the predication of Crossfire Hurricane.

That’s not all that surprising. After all, Durham described as the first mandate of his investigation to determine whether any personnel at the FBI violated federal law by not fully considering potential Russian disinformation before opening an investigation into Trump.

[D]id the FBI properly consider other highly significant intelligence it received at virtually the same time as that used to predicate Crossfire Hurricane, but which related not to the Trump campaign, but rather to a purported Clinton campaign plan “to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services,” which might have shed light on some of the Russia information the FBI was receiving from third parties, including the Steele Dossier, the Alfa Bank allegations and confidential human source (“CHS”) reporting? If not, were any provable federal crimes committed in failing to do so?

To put it bluntly, Bill Barr told John Durham to figure out whether he could charge Peter Strzok (and presumably, Jim Comey and Bill Priestap) for not letting a Russian intelligence report dictate American investigative decisions. And either in an attempt to preempt Horowitz’ conclusion that the investigation was legally predicated or in an attempt to stave off any determination on criminality, Durham pitched him on this theory before publicly attacking his conclusion.

And Durham did so even though — accepting all his conspiracy theories about inventing false claims about Trump were true — that theory never made sense. As Phil Bump (onetwo) and Dan Friedman showed when the report came out, Hillary’s concerns about Trump couldn’t have been the cause of the investigation into Trump. By the time (a Russian intelligence product claimed) that Hillary approved a plan to tie Trump to Russia on July 26, 2016, the events that would lead FBI to open an investigation were already in place. Here’s Friedman:

This isn’t just false. It would require time travel. Durham himself confirms that the FBI launched its investigation into Trump and Russia based on events that occurred months prior to Clinton’s alleged July 26 approval of the plan. In April 2016, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, met with a professor with Kremlin ties, who informed him that Russia “had obtained ‘dirt’ on…Clinton in the form of thousands of emails,” as Robert Mueller’s final report noted.  A week later, according to Mueller, Papadopoulos “suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release” of damaging material. When hacked Democratic emails were indeed published—by WikiLeaks on July 22—this foreign diplomat alerted US officials about what Papadopoulos had said. The FBI quickly launched an official investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties in response to that tip, Durham notes, while arguing they should have begun only a “preliminary investigation.”

It was the same Russian hack, not Hillary Clinton, that drove media attention, even before the documents were leaked to the public.

There’s another problem with telling Horowitz that his Clinton conspiracy theory should have changed Horowitz’ conclusions. At the earliest, analysts and Priestap only became aware of the intelligence (though probably without Durham’s spin on it) on September 2, well after the opening of Crossfire Hurricane.

When interviewed by the Office, Auten recalled that on September 2, 2016 – approximately ten days after Headquarters Analyst-2’s email – the official responsible for overseeing the Fusion Cell briefed Auten, Moffa, and other FBI personnel at FBI Headquarters regarding the Clinton Plan intelligence. 411 Auten did not recall any FBI “operational” personnel (i.e., Crossfire Hurricane Agents) being present at the meeting. 412 The official verbally briefed the individuals regarding information that the CIA planned to send to the FBI in a written investigative referral, including the Clinton Plan intelligence information. 413


Separate and apart from this meeting, FBI records reflect that by no later than that same date (September 2, 2016), then-FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Bill Priestap was also aware of the specifics of the Clinton Plan intelligence as evidenced by his hand-written notes from an early morning meeting with Moffa, DAD Dina Corsi and Acting AD for Cyber Eric Sporre. 415

And despite looking for four years, Durham never confirmed that CIA’s formal referral memo got shared with Peter Strzok, to whom it was addressed.

In spite of never acquiring such proof, not even after four years of searching, recently confirmed Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Nora Dannehy has confirmed that Barr pushed Durham to release an interim report on those claims. NYT described that plan this way:

By summer 2020, with Election Day approaching, Mr. Barr pressed Mr. Durham to draft a potential interim report centered on the Clinton campaign and F.B.I. gullibility or willful blindness.

On Sept. 10, 2020, Ms. Dannehy discovered that other members of the team had written a draft report that Mr. Durham had not told her about, according to people briefed on their ensuing argument.

Ms. Dannehy erupted, according to people familiar with the matter. She told Mr. Durham that no report should be issued before the investigation was complete and especially not just before an election — and denounced the draft for taking disputed information at face value. She sent colleagues a memo detailing those concerns and resigned.

By that point, Durham hadn’t yet interviewed Priestap and others who might inform him of what they actually learned.

From the start, Durham was pursuing this conspiracy theory. He tried to forestall the damning but inconvenient conclusions of the Horowitz report to sustain his conspiracy theory. And he tried to interfere with the 2020 election with his physics-defying conspiracy theory.

Bill Barr didn’t just order John Durham to investigate Hillary Clinton and all the FBI agents who had deigned to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. He did so based on a conspiracy theory rooted in Russian intelligence.

Trump’s Retribution Promises and Media Complicity

I have been critical of NYT’s serial effortnow joined by WaPo — to predict retribution in a second Trump term, without doing any recent reporting on how that represents a continuation of Trump’s first term, not anything new. Rather than assign three reporters (including reporters who played key roles enabling past retribution efforts) to treat this as a hypothetical future endeavor, why not assign one to report on newly disclosed details of how Bill Barr ordered Scott Brady to dig up more evidence against Joe Biden’s son?

The attention on the WaPo, especially, has sucked up attention that might otherwise be focused on an excerpt from Jonathan Karl’s new book. It’s about the same thing — retribution. But not about past retribution, nor future retribution, but the way that Trump is leveraging cultural cues about retribution, starting with the launch of his campaign from Waco, TX on the thirty year anniversary of the raid (connotations that were evident in advance).

Given the excerpt, I’m not entirely sure whether Karl thinks Trump is doing this out of a sense of weakness, or because he knows the cultural connotations retribution invokes will elicit a certain kind of response from his followers.

Karl describes how Trump turned to this theme after being rattled by his first indictment (and elsewhere describes Trump’s fury at Todd Blanche to agreeing to a trial data in the Alvin Bragg case prior to the end of the primaries).

The problem was that the indictment had rattled him. For all his bluster, Trump desperately wanted to stave off an arrest, and he was embarrassed he hadn’t been able to. When it came time to turn himself in, he slipped out of Trump Tower and got into a black SUV.


D.A. Bragg and Juan Merchan, the presiding judge, were met by a version of Donald Trump that was much quieter, more somber—more timid—than the man he appeared to be on television and social media. The night before, he had said that Bragg should “INDICT HIMSELF.” But finally given a chance to confront them face‐to‐face, Trump was mostly silent. During the 57‐minute proceeding, Trump said just 10 words—“not guilty,” “yes,” “okay, thank you,” “yes,” “I do,” “yes”—and spoke so quietly that reporters had to strain to hear him.

For the first time in years, Donald Trump was not the most powerful person in the room.

Karl also describes Steve Bannon revelling in the explicit Neo-Confederate iconography of the speech Trump gave at CPAC.

“The sinister forces trying to kill America have done everything they can to stop me, to silence you, and to turn this nation into a socialist dumping ground for criminals, junkies, Marxists, thugs, radicals, and dangerous refugees that no other country wants,” he said. The speech was ominous, but one rhetorical flourish stood out. “In 2016, I declared I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior; I am your justice,” Trump said. “And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” He repeated the last phrase—“I am your retribution”—and promptly the crowd started chanting: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

When I spoke with Bannon a few days later, he wouldn’t stop touting Trump’s performance, referring to it as his “Come Retribution” speech. What I didn’t realize was that “Come Retribution,” according to some Civil War historians, served as the code words for the Confederate Secret Service’s plot to take hostage—and eventually assassinate—President Abraham Lincoln.

Both can be true, of course. Faced with a kind of vulnerability he has never before faced and willing to burn everything down to find a way out, Trump is all too happy to mobilize far right extremists as his instrument (in his description of the Waco event, Karl describes Trump celebrating January 6).

To the extent that Trump’s campaign logic is retribution, then, the spate of stories — both the NYT one and the WaPo one featuring Trump-whisperers — simply reinforce Trump’s campaign message while downplaying the way Trump has always engaged in retribution, often backed by threats of violence.

Indeed, they help Trump provide assurances that in the future, he’ll find better prosecutors than John Durham, who was every bit as corrupt as the prospective stories predict Trump’s select prosecutors might be in the future, every bit as much about retribution, but who never found evidence that could sustain a conviction. He’ll find better prosecutors, more corrupt ones, Trump needs to tell his mob, because quite honestly, he made these very same promises in 2020 and failed to deliver, though did untold damage in the process.

And those failures weren’t for want of trying or any kind of ethical compunction on his part or the instruments of his retribution.

The reason I think Karl’s descriptive piece is more useful than the predictive pieces (aside from the way the predictive pieces totally whitewash Trump’s past unprecedented focus on retribution) is because he identifies the puzzle at the core of Trump’s success running on retribution: What’s in it for his mob? Why does this focus on retribution work?

“If they can do it to him they can do it to you,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. Noticeably absent from Trump’s obsession with his own victimization was any real focus on helping Americans who weren’t under criminal investigation, but his advisers were convinced that the ploy would work. “This week, Trump could lock down the nomination if he played his cards right,” Bannon told me as rumors began to swirl of Bragg’s indictment. “‘They’re crucifying me,’ you know, ‘I’m a martyr.’ All that. You get everybody so riled up that they just say, ‘Fuck it. I hate Trump, but we’ve got to stand up against this.’”


“The DOJ and FBI are destroying the lives of so many Great American Patriots, right before our very eyes,” Trump posted on Truth Social the day after four members of the Proud Boys militia were convicted of seditious conspiracy for their role in the storming of the Capitol. “GET SMART AMERICA, THEY ARE COMING AFTER YOU!!!”

But “they” weren’t coming after Trump’s law‐abiding supporters—they were coming after Trump. Decades earlier, the presidential candidate Bill Clinton told voters that he felt their pain. Trump was now doing the reverse, trying to persuade his supporters to feel his pain as if it were their own. [my emphasis]

The answer this question is both obvious, and urgent.

It’s obvious, because Trump really is keying into something that isn’t entirely about extremism. And/or Trump is in many cases the gateway drug to radical extremism, something that has shown up over and over in January 6 cases. People respond to something in Trump and then, because Trump’s networks include large numbers of right wing extremists, their ideology gains traction where they might otherwise not. And then the cultural coding of retribution starts to resonate.

It’s urgent, because whether or not Trump wins election, if he primes his mob to embrace political violence again, January 6 will look like elementary school recess. On January 6, many people were armed, but even the ones who brought guns — and plenty did — kept them holstered. That won’t be true the next time.

It is more urgent to show how Trump’s past obsession with retribution hurt people, from his targets, to American security, to the wives of Republican Congressmen, than it is to report that he’ll do more of the same, only earlier this time. It is more urgent to understand why Trump’s mob buys into his messiah syndrome and puncture its power.

I’m not suggesting we return to a moody contemplation of the Deplorables. Nor am I hoping NYT reverts from its prospective reporting on retribution to its past obsession with Trump supporters in diners.

I’m asking for a focus on the continuity of retribution in Trump’s power — past, present, and future — along with some soul-searching about the media’s cooperation in that retribution dynamic.

Of particular note: the media’s coverage of Trump’s legal woes has only helped him create this dynamic.

Take the coverage of Trump’s testimony in his fraud trial yesterday. The NYT was one of the rare outlets that got into something substantive — that Trump did have a role in the valuations that Judge Engoron has already ruled to be fraudulent — in a headline; and it reported on that substance after six paragraphs describing Trump’s stunts. Most of the rest, however, reported nothing but conflict, virtually all of it staged or baited by Trump. Trump succeeded in entirely flooding out any reporting on his fraud — something that goes to the core of his ability to govern, something that goes to his success at fooling supporters and lazy journalists — by distracting everyone with spectacle, a strategy Rolling Stone reported he would adopt a month ago. Rather than reporting on all the evidence — even presented yesterday, amid the circus stunts — that Trump is actually the guy sticking it to the little guys, not the one vindicating them, most outlets just printed one after another of Trump’s taunts.

And in the process, just like any other staged wrestling match, spectators pick one or another side and root loudly, brainlessly. Even for those rooting for law and order, that’s unhealthy, because it invites hero worship and a false belief that prosecutions are easy and quick. It encourages people to outsource defense of democracy to prosecutors rather than do the hard work of organizing themselves. It invites people to engage in mockery rather than rational assessment of the legal case.

But for those who’ve been convinced by unrelentless propaganda about the Russian investigation — which showed that five top Trump aides lied to cover up Trump’s ties with Russian, for those who bought into Trump’s sustained attack on the legitimacy of democratic elections, for those who’ve been bombarded by non-stop coverage of Hunter Biden’s dick pics, the side they’ll pick is obvious. Adopt Trump’s conflict staging, and you will only ever heighten existing partisan divides.

Trump doesn’t care if a bunch of self-satisfied people mock him as a clown. Indeed, that’s what he wants. Because every time they do so publicly, it reaffirms that he’s the guy on the side of average people, fighting the pencil-headed assholes who frown at the little guy. Plus, if you mock something as serious as a lifetime of defrauding financial institutions as a circus, rather than explain how it allowed Trump to get something he hadn’t earned, it tells everyone that Trump’s adjudged fraud isn’t really serious. In your actions, you confirm the argument he is making.

And all the while, it prevents anyone from talking about how Trump has disavowed all the January 6ers who are facing the consequences of following Trump, claiming he has no role in their crimes. It prevents anyone from talking about why leaving nuclear documents in your bathroom requires spooks to shut down collection programs, leading directly to diminished US influence as war breaks out overseas. It prevents anyone from talking about how all of Trump’s brand has been built off lies claiming he, his net worth, his gaudy penthouse are much larger than they are.

Regular life may be screwing over the little guy (or, under Biden, regular life might have delivered financial gains and a resurgence of organized labor strength that never gets covered). But that’s a different thing than saying that “they” are coming for the little guy.

Yet Trump continues to convince people differently, in large part because the media plays along with Trump’s staged circus.

NYT Keeps Downplaying Trump’s Past Retribution Tour

Charlie Savage, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Swan keep teaming up to write the same story over and over: A second Trump term is going to be bad … really bad.

Just some of these stories, in reverse order from Tuesday’s latest installment, are:

There are several aspects to these stories: a bid to eliminate civil service protections, a personalization of power, and the elevation of people who proved willing to abuse power in his first term: Russel Vought (who helped obstruct the Ukraine investigation), Stephen Miller, and Johnny McEntee (who even before January 6 was making a willingness to invoke the Insurrection Act a litmus test for hiring at DOD), and Jeffrey Clark.

The series, thus far, skirts the language of authoritarianism and fascism.

At the core of the stories is that Trump is going to use a second term for retribution, to which the June 15 article is dedicated.

When Donald J. Trump responded to his latest indictment by promising to appoint a special prosecutor if he’s re-elected to “go after” President Biden and his family, he signaled that a second Trump term would fully jettison the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department independence.

“I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family,” Mr. Trump said at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., on Tuesday night after his arraignment earlier that day in Miami. “I will totally obliterate the Deep State.”

These stories admit that Trump did some of this in his first term. But they describe a process of retribution by the guy who got elected — with abundant assistance from Maggie Haberman — on a platform of “Lock her up!,” who breached the norm of judicial independence 24 days into office when he asked Jim Comey to “let this” Mike Flynn “thing go,” as something that took a while to “ramp up.”

In his first term, Mr. Trump gradually ramped up pressure on the Justice Department, eroding its traditional independence from White House political control. He is now unabashedly saying he will throw that effort into overdrive if he returns to power.

Mr. Trump’s promise fits into a larger movement on the right to gut the F.B.I., overhaul a Justice Department conservatives claim has been “weaponized” against them and abandon the norm — which many Republicans view as a facade — that the department should operate independently from the president.

Yet even though Savage did some important reporting on some of this (reporting that was counterbalanced by Maggie’s central role in helping Trump obstruct criminal investigations), these pieces always vastly understate how much politicization Trump pulled off in his first term, and never describe how that politicization continues at the hands of people like Jim Jordan.

In the spring of 2018, Mr. Trump told his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, that he wanted to order the Justice Department to investigate his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, and James B. Comey Jr., the former head of the F.B.I. Mr. McGahn rebuffed him, saying the president had no authority to order an investigation, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

Later in 2018, Mr. Trump publicly demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into officials involved in the Russia investigation. The following year, Attorney General William P. Barr indeed assigned a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, John Durham, to investigate the investigators — styling it as an administrative review because there was no factual predicate to open a formal criminal investigation.

Mr. Trump also said in 2018 and 2019 that John F. Kerry, the Obama-era secretary of state, should be prosecuted for illegally interfering with American diplomacy by seeking to preserve a nuclear accord with Iran. Geoffrey S. Berman, a former U.S. attorney in Manhattan whom Mr. Trump fired in 2020, later wrote in his memoir that the Trump Justice Department pressured him to find a way to charge Mr. Kerry, but he closed the investigation after about a year without bringing any charges.

And as the 2020 election neared, Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham to file charges against high-level former officials even though the prosecutor had not found a factual basis to justify any. In his own memoir, Mr. Barr wrote that the Durham investigation’s “failure to deliver scalps in time for the election” eroded their relationship even before Mr. Barr refused Mr. Trump’s baseless demand that he say the 2020 election had been corrupt.

Where Mr. Trump’s first-term efforts were scattered and haphazard, key allies — including Jeffrey B. Clark, a former Justice Department official who helped Mr. Trump try to overturn the 2020 election — have been developing a blueprint to make the department in any second Trump term more systematically subject to direct White House control.

This effort was in no way haphazard!!! Most FBI personnel involved in the Russian investigation, from Jim Comey down to line analysts, had their careers systematically ruined, with Peter Strzok (who, the actual record of the Russian investigation shows, repeatedly took steps to protect Trump and Mike Flynn, even if he disliked Trump) offered up as an example of what will happen to people who don’t meekly just accept their punishment or, better yet, retreat to the private sector. The exceptions were the cyber guys who completely bolloxed the Alfa Bank investigation and people like Bill Barnett, who misrepresented the steps he himself took to provide “proof” of corruption on the Mueller investigation. That precedent has been sustained as right wingers take out other FBI agents deemed insufficiently loyal, like Tim Thibault, who personally opened an investigation into the Clinton Foundation in 2016 but who was targeted last year because in 2020 he didn’t mainline disinformation about Hunter Biden.

Yes, Bill Barr ordered Geoffrey Berman to investigate John Kerry. But he also set up a complex, systematic structure to halt  any investigation into Rudy Giuliani so the President’s lawyer could get dirt from Russian spies, feed it to Scott Brady, who would then push that information into the investigations of Hunter Biden and others. When Berman and Jessie Liu refused to break (after a good deal of bending to Barr’s will), he fired them both.

Barr didn’t just pressure John Durham to prosecute high-level people: He skipped, hand-in-hand, with Durham as they used Russian intelligence to fabricate an attack on Hillary Clinton, the organizing logic of an investigation that swept up private sector people and who had the temerity to research Donald Trump or — worse!! — to help Hillary recover from a hack-and-leak. The effort even took out academic researchers who were simply trying to keep the US safe from Russian hacking. Trump did get DOJ to investigate Hillary, with investigations lasting the entirety of his presidency, and that investigation included precisely the kind of fabricated evidence and coached testimony that NYT imagines is a hypothetical left for Trump’s second term.

To the extent these stories talk about Trump’s pardons, they do so prospectively. There’s no discussion of how the pardons of Mike Flynn and Roger Stone rival any of the most corrupt in US history, but were necessary to prevent DOJ from developing proof that Trump conspired with Russia.

These articles don’t describe how Congress has served as a wing of this politicization, from the leaks to Mike Flynn in 2018 about how to undermine his own investigation to sham hearings — like the one with George Papadopoulos unencumbered by the documents that would have provide evidence of “collusion,” in which he spewed out conspiracy theories that Bill Barr and John Durham quickly got on a plane to chase. These articles don’t describe how the current unrelenting attempt to manufacture an impeachment out of the detritus of Hunter Biden’s life could not have happened if Bill Barr hadn’t made very systematic attempts to enable Trump’s retribution tour in 2020.

And these articles don’t describe the violent threats that have become routine for anyone deemed insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump. The threats Trump deployed against Lisa Page and Marie Yovanovitch — “she’s going to go through some things” — exist on an unrelenting continuum as the threats against Ruby Freeman and Lesley Wolf and Fani Willis and Don Bacon’s wife.

Yes, it’s important to warn about what Trump plans to do with a second term. But calling Trump’s past retribution “haphazard” is a journalistic cop-out, a way to avoid admitting that we don’t yet fully understand how systematic Trump’s past retribution was or — worse — don’t want to come to grips with our own central role in it.

For a warning to be effective, we have to show the human costs of all the past retribution — the thousands of Jan6ers who had their lives ruined, the significant degradation in US national security, the fear, especially the fear among Republicans — costs that no one, no matter how loyal, will ultimately escape.

Nora Dannehy Confirms that Bill Barr Attempted to Sway 2020 Election with Dubious Interim Report

As AP first reported, in response to several questions in a hearing on her nomination to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Nora Dannehy provided details about why she resigned from the Durham investigation. In response to the first, she described that Bill Barr seemed intent on issuing an interim report before the 2020 election, the conclusion with which she “strongly” disagreed.

In the spring and summer of 2020, I had growing concerns that this Russia investigation was not being conducted in that way [independent of political influence]. Attorney General Barr began to speak more publicly, and specifically, about the ongoing criminal investigation. I thought these public comments violated DOJ guidelines. In late summer 2020, just months before the 2020 Presidential election, he wanted a report written about our ongoing investigation. Publicly, he would not rule out releasing that report before the Presidential election. I had never been asked to write a report about an investigation that was not yet complete. I then saw a version of a draft report, the conclusions of which I strongly disagreed with. Writing a report — and particularly the draft I saw — violated long-standing principles of the Department of Justice. Furthermore, the Department of Justice has a long-standing policy of not taking any public actions in the time leading up to an election that might influence that election. I simply couldn’t be part of it, so I resigned.

It was the most difficult personal and professional decision I’ve had to make.

This tracks reporting from the NYT that describes Dannehy erupting on September 10, the day before she resigned, when she read the draft report that had been written (Charlie Savage linked this video testimony).

So does something Dannehy said later in the hearing.

What I was involved in involved classified — highly classified — information and I really can’t get into what happened when I was there because I likely would, or potentially could, get into an area that I can’t speak about.

NYT reported that the report came after Durham bypassed Beryl Howell to obtained records he used to attempt to corroborate potential disinformation associated with Guccifer 2.0.

By summer 2020, with Election Day approaching, Mr. Barr pressed Mr. Durham to draft a potential interim report centered on the Clinton campaign and F.B.I. gullibility or willful blindness.

On Sept. 10, 2020, Ms. Dannehy discovered that other members of the team had written a draft report that Mr. Durham had not told her about, according to people briefed on their ensuing argument.

The reference to the Clinton campaign appears to reference Durham’s conspiracy theories about a plan that Clinton planned to frame Donald Trump. But that Durham theory was based on his own fabrication about what the intelligence said, even assuming the intelligence was true and not itself disinformation.

This confirms that Durham twice doubled down on this conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton, first when he contested Michael Horowitz’s conclusion on the Carter Page investigation, and then when he endorsed this draft report. In the end, his report never substantiated his own conspiracy theory.

Dannehy assiduously avoids blaming her old friend John Durham for this corruption. But long after Barr left office, Durham pursued this conspiracy theory relentlessly, going so far as misrepresenting his own investigation to avoid admitting he proved himself wrong.

“Super:” The Day after IRS Got a Warrant for the Hunter Biden Laptop, DOJ Sent Bill Barr a Laptop

Thanks to Gary Shapley, we have notes from an October 22, 2020 meeting at which the Hunter Biden investigative team scrambled to make sure they had taken care on their handling of the two devices — a laptop that once belonged to Hunter Biden, and a hard drive containing the attempted recovery of the items on the laptop — turned over by John Paul Mac Isaac.

Among other things, Shapley’s notes reflect that on December 9, 2019, the FBI took possession of the laptop. Even before that, starting on December 3, IRS case agent Joseph Ziegler started drafting a warrant to access it.

On December 12, DOJ’s Office of Enforcement Operations authorized seeking a warrant for it. Then on December 13, Ziegler got a magistrate judge, probably in Delaware, to approve his warrant.

In advance of the October 22 meeting, on October 19, Shapley sent an email that has not been made public. In it, he expressed a belief that John Durham had a copy of the laptop.

On October 19th, 2020, I emailed Assistant United States Attorney Wolf: “We need to talk about the computer. It appears the FBI is making certain representations about the device, and the only reason we know what is on the device is because of the IRS CI affiant search warrant that allowed access to the documents. If Durham also executed a search warrant on a device, we need to know so that my leadership is informed. My management has to be looped into whatever the FBI is doing with the laptop. It is IRS CI’s responsibility to know what is happening. Let me know when I can be briefed on this issue.” [my emphasis]

That’s one of the reasons I find it acutely interesting that on December 14 — the day after a magistrate approved the first known warrant for the “Hunter Biden” “laptop,” Will Levi — who was heavily involved in Barr’s micromanagement of the Durham investigation (including in setting up meetings with the UK, Australia, and Italy) — texted his boss’ personal cell phone and told him a laptop was “on way to you.”

Leading up to December 14, Durham was in the thick of a Russian-Ukrainian disinformation operation. It is totally possible that he did get a copy of the laptop. That’s one reason I pointed to DOJ’s discussion of Patrick Byrne’s disinformation in August 2019. Bill Barr’s DOJ was willing to go anywhere to get information discrediting the Russian investigation into Trump, even Russian-backed sources.

Durham’s consideration of Ukrainian disinformation became a prominent issue during the impeachment investigation, the next month, September 2019.

In the FOIA releases showing Barr’s involvement in the Durham investigation released so far, it’s not clear when Durham met with the Ukrainians. It could be this exchange on August 31, 2019, in which Barr suggested Durham reach out to someone. After Durham responded, Barr commented, Having fun.

Levi sent Barr a text, which remained totally redacted on most recent release, the day after the whistleblower complaint went public.

That may not be related.

But by September 22, Barr was definitely in damage control mode, reaching out to Lindsey Graham.

On the morning of September 24, the day Nancy Pelosi would announce support for impeachment and the day the White House declassified “the perfect transcript” showing Trump instructed Volodymyr Zelenskyy, two months earlier, to coordinate with Barr on investigations of Biden, Barr texted Durham and told him to call ASAP.

That night, Barr texted Will Levi to call ASAP.

An hour and a half later, he texted what is probably Eric Herschmann — who at that point was still at Marc Kasowitz’s firm (though he would soon join Trump’s impeachment team) — and instructed him not to call.

Herschmann, of course, would attempt to pitch the laptop himself a year later, before Rudy blew its credibility.

Then later on the night of September 24, Durham texted Barr asking to talk, which may have been a second call that day.

The next day, September 25, DOJ issued a statement revealing that Durham had received information from several Ukrainians who weren’t part of government.

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.”

At 3:44 PM on September 26, the day the White House released the whistleblower complaint, someone from Durham’s team — probably Durham himself — participated in a chat with 8 people.

Less than an hour later, a bunch of people — including Will Levi, Seth DuCharme, and “John” — convened in a lobby bar together, waiting for Barr to arrive.

The following day, when Kurt Volker resigned, there was another group chat.

Barr was still focused on CYA regarding his own involvement. In advance of Lindsey Graham going on the Sunday shows, Barr made sure to get Lindsey his statement claiming not to have spoken to the Ukrainians personally.

On September 29, Michael Mukasey did a column in the WSJ where he pitched the value of speaking to Ukrainians. He suggested that Durham might find the Ukraine leads Trump was looking for.

That Justice Department statement makes explicit that the president never spoke with Attorney General William Barr “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son” or asked him to contact Ukraine “on this or any other matter,” and that the attorney general has not communicated at all with Ukraine. It also contains the following morsel: “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. 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.”

The definitive answer to the obvious question—what’s that about?—is known only to Mr. Durham and his colleagues. But publicly available reports, including by Andrew McCarthy in his new book, “Ball of Collusion,” suggest that during the 2016 campaign the Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to get evidence from Ukrainian government officials against Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to pressure him into cooperating against Mr. Trump. When you grope through the miasma of Slavic names and follow the daisy chain of related people and entities, it appears that Ukrainian officials who backed the Clinton campaign provided information that generated the investigation of Mr. Manafort—acts that one Ukrainian court has said violated Ukrainian law and “led to interference in the electoral processes of the United States in 2016 and harmed the interests of Ukraine as a state.”

I can fathom no way Mukasey would have written this without Barr’s support, and so Barr’s support for continued outreach with Durham.

Barr’s press secretary Kerri Kupec sent him the Mukasey column first thing the next day.

On September 30, Brian Rabbitt told Barr to contact Mick Mulvaney.

On October 2, Barr asked the same Eric — probably Herschman given the person’s contacts with Jared Kushner and Pat Cipollone — if he could call.


Later on October 2, Kerri Kupec apologized to Barr that “Sadie” hadn’t gotten editors to change a particular story, probably a reference to this WSJ story, which discusses Barr’s request that Trump give introductions to some foreign leaders.

On October 11, the day after Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas were arrested, Barr sent Eric a one word text — “Ok.”

On October 30, the day after the Democrats released the impeachment resolution, Kupec sent Barr the statement he had made about Ukraine back in September.

A minute later Barr sent that statement to Will Levi, with no further comment.

In spite of all this, DOJ still made little effort to convince Trump to stop Rudy Giuliani from flying to meet Andrii Derkach in December 2019, in precisely the same period Levi sent Barr a laptop. FBI prepared but did not give Rudy a defensive briefing.

Sometime shortly after this, in 2020, IRS Agent Joseph Ziegler got a new supervisor, Gary Shapley. Shapley replaced Matt Kutz, who had concerns about  — and documented — what are probably confrontation clause problems (meaning the investigation was relying on sources that Hunter Biden would never be able to cross-examine) and Trump’s push for this investigation.

Around the same time in 2019, I had emails being sent to me and the Hunter — and the prosecutors on the case, the Hunter Biden prosecutors, from my IRS supervisor. So this was Matt Kutz still. From what I was told by various people in my agency, my IRS supervisor, Matt Kutz, created memos which he put in the investigative files regarding the investigation potentially violating the subject’s Sixth Amendment rights. He also referred to Donald Trump’s tweets at the time.

I recall that at one point I had to go around my supervisor and ask his boss, ASAC George Murphy, to tell him to stop sending me and the Hunter Biden prosecution team these emails and that I was searching media articles on a weekly basis and was aware of everything being written in the media regarding the case.


A So it was actually Matthew Kutz. He was my supervisor at the time and from the articles that he was sending me, I would say he had more of a liberal view than I had and it was pretty obvious from the things he would send me and discuss. And that’s just me making an observation.

So I later found out about these memos that were put in the file regarding the issues that he saw with the investigation, the fact that we even had it opened. So I only learned about those after. And then it came to a point to where he’s sending us so many media articles about different issues that I had to tell him stop, please.

And I had to go around him. And that’s when I went to my ASAC at the time, George Murphy, who was above him.

Per Shapley’s testimony, he became the primary managerial liaison interacting directly with David Weiss’ office in October 2020, the same month as the laptop was made public.

By that point, someone else was in charge of ingesting Russian disinformation. Scott Brady’s assignment pushing Russian from Rudy may have simply represented a reassignment of the task, from Durham to Brady.

But Durham didn’t stop thinking about it. On January 11, Durham sent an aide the group chats that had occurred at the height of DOJ’s panic on September 26 and 27.

January 11 is the day Treasury sanctioned several more Ukrainians as part of Andrii Derkach’s 2020 influence operation.

Former Ukrainian Government officials Konstantin Kulyk, Oleksandr Onyshchenko, Andriy Telizhenko, and current Ukraine Member of Parliament Oleksandr Dubinsky have publicly appeared or affiliated themselves with Derkach through the coordinated dissemination and promotion of fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations involving a U.S. political candidate. They have made repeated public statements to advance disinformation narratives that U.S. government officials have engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine.

I don’t know whether Bill Barr got a copy of the laptop or not.

I know that years latter — at a time when he was selling a book that attempted to distance himself from all this criming — Barr was nevertheless joining in false claims about the laptop.

So when former staffer Larry Kudlow on Thursday interviewed former attorney general William P. Barr for his Fox Business show, the conversation operated from shared assumptions about Trump’s successes and the toxicity of the political left. The result was that Barr outlined a remarkable hierarchy of importance for actions that might have affected the results of a presidential contest.

Russian interference in 2016, he said, was just “some embarrassing emails about Hillary Clinton and Bernie.” The effort to “suppress” information about Hunter Biden’s laptop, meanwhile, was “probably even more outrageous” and “had much more effect on an election.”

And I know that when Hank Johnson mocked John Durham because he hadn’t indicted Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden — and “couldn’t even indict Hunter Biden” — Durham responded, “We didn’t investigate Mr. Hunter Biden.”

Obtaining a warrant for Hunter Biden’s laptop would surely qualify as investigating Mr. Hunter Biden.

In 2020, the right wing’s favorite so-called whistleblower believed that John Durham got a copy. And one day after the IRS first obtained a warrant for the laptop, DOJ sent the Attorney General, who was micromanaging the Durham witch hunt, a laptop.