Posts

How Richard Barnett Could Delay Resourcing of the Trump Investigation

In the rush to have something to say about what Special Counsel Jack Smith will do going forward, the chattering class has glommed onto this letter, signed by US Attorney for Southern Florida Juan Gonzalez under Jack Smith’s name, responding to a letter Jim Trusty sent to the 11th Circuit a day earlier. Trusty had claimed that the Special Master appointed to review the contents of Rudy Giuliani’s phones was a precedent for an instance where a judge used equitable jurisdiction to enjoin an investigation pending review by a Special Master.

The question raised was whether a court has previously asserted equitable jurisdiction to enjoin the government from using seized materials in an investigation pending review by a special master. The answer is yes. The United States agreed to this approach – and the existence of jurisdiction – in In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 28, 2021, No. 21-MC-425-JPO (S.D.N.Y.) (involving property seized from Hon. Rudolph W. Giuliani) – and, under mutual agreement of the parties, no materials were utilized in the investigation until the special master process was completed. 1 See, e.g., Exhibit A. The process worked. On November 14, 2022, the United States filed a letter brief notifying the District Court that criminal charges were not forthcoming and requested the termination of the appointment of the special master. See Exhibit B. On November 16, 2022, the matter was closed. See Exhibit C.

As the government noted, none of what Trusty claimed was true: the government itself had sought a Special Master in Rudy’s case and Judge Paul Oetken had long been assigned the criminal case.

That is incorrect. As plaintiff recognizes, the court did not “enjoin the government,” id.; instead, the government itself volunteered that approach. Moreover, the records there were seized from an attorney’s office, the review was conducted on a rolling basis, and the case did not involve a separate civil proceeding invoking a district court’s anomalous jurisdiction. Cf. In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 9, 2018, No. 18-mj-3161 (S.D.N.Y.) (involving similar circumstances). None of those is true here.

The government could have gone further than it did. The big difference between the Special Master appointed for Rudy and this one is that Aileen Cannon interfered in an ongoing investigation even though there was no cause shown even for a Special Master review, and indeed all the things that would normally be covered by such a review (the attorney-client privileged documents) were handled in the way the government was planning to handle them in the first place.

Josh Gerstein had first pointed to the letter to note that both Gonzalez, the US Attorney, and Smith, the Special Counsel, had submitted a document on Thanksgiving. The claim made by others that this letter showed particular toughness — or that that toughness was a sign of Smith’s approach — was pure silliness. DOJ has been debunking false claims made about the Special Master reviews of Trump’s lawyers since August. That they continue to do so is a continuation of what has gone before, not any new direction from Smith. Indeed, the most interesting thing about the letter, in my opinion, is that a US Attorney signed a letter under the authority of a Special Counsel, the equivalent of a US Attorney in seniority. If anything, it’s a testament that DOJ has not yet decided where such a case would be prosecuted, which would leave the decision to Smith.

A more useful place to look for tea leaves for Jack Smith’s approach going forward is in Mary Dohrmann’s workload — and overnight decisions about it.

Thomas Windom is the prosecutor usually cited when tracking the multiple strands of investigation into Trump’s culpability for January 6. But at least since the John Eastman warrant in August, Dohrmann has also been overtly involved. She’s been involved even as she continued to work on a bunch of other cases.

With two other prosecutors, for example, she tried Michael Riley, the Capitol Police cop convicted on one count of obstructing the investigation into January 6. In addition to Jacob Hiles (the January 6 defendant tied to Riley’s case), she has prosecuted a range of other January 6 defendants, ranging in apparent levels of import:

She has also been involved in several non-January 6 prosecutions:

In other words, on the day Smith was appointed, Dorhman was prosecuting several January 6 defendants for trespassing, several for assault, and a cop convicted of obstructing the investigation, even as she was investigating the former President. Though she hasn’t been involved in any of the conspiracy cases, Dohrmann’s view of January 6 must look dramatically different than what you’ll see reported on cable news.

As laid out above, Dorhmann has been juggling cases since January 6; this is typical of the resource allocation that DOJ has had to do on virtually all January 6 cases. That makes it hard to tell when she started handing off cases to free up time for the Trump investigation. That said, there have been more signs she’s handing off cases — both the Vaughn Gordon and Sean McHugh cases — in the days since Smith was named.

But something that happened in the Richard Barnett case revealed how her reassignments on account of Smith’s appointment have been going day-to-day.

Back on November 21 — three days after Garland appointed Jack Smith — Richard Barnett’s attorneys filed a motion asking to delay his trial, currently scheduled for December 12. Their reasons were largely specious. They want to delay until after the DC Circuit decides whether to reverse Carl Nichols’ outlier decision that threw out obstruction charges in the context of January 6; even Nichols hasn’t allowed defendants awaiting that decision to entirely delay their prosecution. They also want to delay in hopes the conspiracy theories that the incoming Republican House majority will chase provide some basis to challenge Barnett’s prosecution.

On November 4, 2022, a Congressional report from members of the House Judiciary Committee released a one thousand page report based on whistleblowers documenting the politicization and anti-conservative bias in the FBI and the Department of Justice. This historic report will no doubt serve as a road map for probes of the agencies now that the Republicans have gained control of the House of Representatives. Included among the many allegations is the recent revelation that the FBI fabricated schemes to entrap American citizens as false flag operations for political purposes. This devastating report was compounded ten days later on November 14, 2022, by revelations that the FBI was involved in infiltrating other groups of January 6th defendants.

As a third reason, Barrnett’s team noted that one of his lawyers, Joseph McBride (who famously said he didn’t “give a shit about being wrong” when floating conspiracy theories about January 6) had to reschedule a medical procedure for the day of the pretrial conference.

Mr. Barnett’s attorney, Mr. Joseph McBride, was scheduled to have a necessary medical procedure on November 17, 2022, but due to unforeseen complication, the procedure could not be performed and must be rescheduled for December 9, 2022, the day of the pretrial conference and a few days before trial.

Per Barnett’s filing, the government objected to the delay.

Counsel for the Government stated that they will oppose this motion, however, they agreed to stay the deadline for Exhibits, due Monday November 21, 2022, until this motion is resolved. The Government also requested that a status conference be scheduled for that purpose.

According to the government response, Barnett’s attorneys first requested this delay on November 17, the day before Smith was appointed. That’s the day Barnett’s team asked the government whether they objected to a delay.

The government has diligently been preparing for trial. Under the Court’s Amended Pretrial Order, the parties were due to exchange exhibit lists on November 21, 2022. ECF No. 63. On November 17, 2022, however, defense counsel Gross contacted the government to state that the defense again wanted to continue the trial. Defense counsel also indicated that the defense was not prepared to exchange exhibit lists on November 21.

By the time the government filed their response on November 22, four days after Smiths’ appointment, DOJ had changed its mind. DOJ still thinks Barnett’s reasons for delay are bullshit (and they are). But the government cited an imminent change in the prosecution team and suggested a trial a month or so out.

As reflected in the Defendant’s motion, the government initially opposed the Defendant’s request for a continuance. Def.’s Mot. at 1. As discussed below, the government maintains that certain of the Defendant’s proffered reasons do not support a continuance of the trial. Nevertheless, the government has considered all the attendant circumstances and no longer opposes the motion. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, the government submits that the Defendant’s motion should be granted without a hearing, the trial date vacated, and a status hearing set to discuss new trial dates.

[snip]

Finally, the government notes that while it is diligently preparing for trial, an imminent change in government counsel is anticipated. Thus, given the government’s strong interest in ensuring continuity in its trial team, coupled with the defendant’s lack of readiness, the government, in good faith, will not oppose the defendant’s continuance. Under such unique time constraints, the government therefore requests that the Court vacate the trial date, without need for a hearing, and set a new trial date and extend the remaining pretrial deadlines by 30 to 45 days. [my emphasis]

The judge in the case, Christopher Cooper, ruled on Wednesday that he will only delay the trial if both sides can fit in his schedule. In his order, he mostly trashed the defense excuses. But he noted that the government, too, should have planned prosecutorial changes accordingly.

The Court will reserve judgment on the Defendant’s 88 Motion to Continue the December 12, 2022 trial date pending receipt of a joint notice, to be filed by November 28, 2022, indicating specific dates on which the parties would be available for trial following a brief continuance. If the parties cannot offer a date that also conforms with the Court’s schedule, the Court will deny the motion and proceed with the scheduled trial. The Court finds that none of the reasons advanced in the Defendant’s motion are grounds for a continuance. This case was charged nearly two years ago, one trial date has already been vacated at the defense’s request, and the present date was set over four months ago. Defense counsel, which now number at least three, have had more than ample time to prepare for trial. The defense has not identified any material evidence that it is lacking, either from the government’s voluminous production of both case-specific and global discovery, or from other public sources. Nor is the pendency of the appeal in U.S. v. Miller an impediment to trial. This and other courts have proceeded with numerous January 6th trials involving the charge at issue in Miller. If the Circuit decides the issue in the defense’s favor, then Mr. Barnett will receive the benefit of that ruling. There is no good reason to halt the trial in the meantime. As for any anticipated change in government trial counsel, the government has been aware of the current trial date for months and should have planned accordingly. That said, the Court would be willing to exercise its discretion and grant a brief continuance should a mutually agreeable date be available. The Court notes, however, that it has a busy docket of both January 6th cases and other matters and therefore may not be able to accommodate the parties’ request. [my emphasis]

Unless and until Dorhmann spins off all her other cases, it won’t be clear whether a change in Barnett’s case indicated she expected to focus more time on Trump or that DOJ wanted to create single reporting lines through Smith (or even whether the change in prosecutorial team involved one of several other prosecutors assigned to the case).

Lisa Monaco has been micro-managing the approach to January 6 from the moment she was confirmed in April 2021. Sure, it’s certainly possible that DOJ didn’t make the final decision on whether to appoint a Special Counsel, and if so, whom, until after Trump announced he was running or until after the GOP won the House. Maybe they delayed any resource discussions until after finalizing a pick.

But depending on the reasons why DOJ changed its mind on Barnett’s case, it’s possible that his still-scheduled December 12 trial could delay the time until Smith has his team in place, by several weeks. It’s also possible DOJ will just go to trial, a high profile one that poses some evidentiary complexities, with the two other prosecutors.

As I’ve suggested above, managing the workload created by the January 6 attack has been unbelievably complex, with rolling reassignments among virtually all prosecution teams from the start. Dohrmann’s caseload is of interest only because the mix of cases she has carried range from trespassers to the former President.

But at this moment, as Smith decides how he’ll staff the investigation he is now overseeing, that caseload may create some avoidable complexities and potentially even a short delay, one that could have been avoided.

Update: In a filing not signed by Mary Dohrmann, the two sides offered January 9 as a possible trial date.

Merrick Garland Hasn’t Done the Specific Thing You Want because DOJ Has Been Busy Doing Things They Have to Do First

The passage of the election has set off the Merrick Garland whingers again, people who like displaying their ignorance by claiming there has been no sign of progress on the investigations into Trump when (often as not) there were signs of progress that the whingers are ignoring in the last few days.

Yes. It has been almost a week since the close of polls last Tuesday. No. Merrick Garland has not carted Trump away in a paddy wagon yet (nor would the FBI, if and when they ever did arrest him).

Yes. We actually know why Garland hasn’t done so — and it’s not for want of actions that might lead there.

There are still known steps that have to or probably will happen before Trump would be indicted in any of the known criminal investigations into him. For those demanding proof of life from the DOJ investigations into Trump, you need look no further than the public record to find that proof of life. The public record easily explains both what DOJ has been doing in the Trump investigations, and why there is likely to be at least a several month delay before any charges can be brought.

The reason is that DOJ is still pursuing the evidence they would need before charging a former President.

Here’s an update on the various investigations into Trump (I’ve bolded the two appellate deadlines below).

Stolen documents

The reason I’m particularly crabby about the Merrick Garland whinging is because people were accusing DOJ of inaction hours after DOJ’s most recent step in the investigation into Trump’s stolen documents. On November 3, for example, DOJ compelled Kash Patel to testify before a grand jury under grant of use immunity, testimony that would be necessary, one way or another, before charging Trump, because DOJ would need to rule out or at least account for any claim that Trump mass-declassified the documents he stole.

DOJ continues to fight to ensure it can keep the documents it seized on August 8, and to be permitted to use the unclassified documents it seized in the investigation. The most recent filings in that fight, as I wrote up here, were filings about the disputes Trump and DOJ have about the seized documents, which Special Master Raymond Dearie will use to rule on those designations by December 16. After Dearie does that, Trump will dispute some of Dearie’s decisions, and Judge Aileen Cannon will make her own decision de novo. She has not set her own deadline for how long that decision would take. But if the Special Master process is the means by which DOJ guarantees its access to the evidence against Trump, it won’t be resolved until after the New Year, even assuming DOJ won’t have to appeal some ridiculous Cannon ruling.

Short of doing a search on another Trump property, preferably in Virginia but possibly in New Jersey or New York, this case cannot be charged until DOJ can present documents the custody of which it has guaranteed to a grand jury. DOJ has to make sure they have the evidence they would use to charge Trump (though adjudicating these disputes now might make any prosecution quicker on the back end).

That said, DOJ may guarantee custody of the documents it seized in August more quickly, via its challenge to Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master in the first place, in the 11th Circuit. Trump’s response to that appeal, which he submitted on November 10, seemed desultory, as if Chris Kice knows they will lose this appeal (indeed, that seems likely given that both the 11th Circuit and SCOTUS have already declined to see the case in the way Trump would prefer). DOJ’s response is due on November 17. Because of the way the 11th Circuit has scheduled this appeal, the panel reviewing it will be prepared for oral argument on rather quick turnaround. Even so, DOJ is not likely to guarantee access to these documents via any favorable 11th Circuit decision (which Trump will undoubtedly appeal) before December 1, and it would take about a week to present any case to the grand jury. So the very earliest that DOJ could indict this case would be early- to mid- December.

Update: In a filing submitted on November 8 but only unsealed today, DOJ asked Raymond Dearie to recommend that Judge Cannon lift the injunction on the 2,794 out of 2,916 documents over which Trump is making no privilege claim.

Update: The 11th Circuit has set a hearing for November 22, so DOJ may actually have access to those files sooner than December 1, though not all that sooner.

January 6 investigation(s)

There are at least four ways that Trump might be charged in conjunction with January 6:

  • For asking Mike Pence to illegally overturn legal votes and then threatening him, including with violence, when he refused
  • For setting up fake electors to contest the election
  • For fundraising off false claims of voter fraud and using the money to benefit those who helped the attack
  • Via people like Roger Stone, in a networked conspiracy with those who attacked the Capitol

DOJ sent out subpoenas in the first three prongs of this just before the pre-election pause. This post summarizes who was included.

These are all (and have been) intersecting conspiracies (this CNN story describes how many areas the subpoenas cover). For example, since January, it has been clear that the top-down investigation most visible in the January 6 Committee work and the crime-scene investigation visible in ongoing prosecutions had converged on the pressure both Trump and the mob focused on Mike Pence. It’s unclear how DOJ will treat the intersection of these investigations, and whether DOJ will wait for all prongs to converge before charging.

The Mike Pence prong is where DOJ made its most obvious progress during the pre-election pause. On October 6, Mike Pence Counsel Greg Jacob testified before a grand jury. October 14, Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short testified. Also in October, DOJ asked Beryl Howell to compel Trump’s White House Counsels Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin as well. I’m not aware of the status of appeals on that (or whether Judge Howell compelled testimony from the two Pats in the meantime). We know that all four men would describe the debates over the extent of Pence’s authority to reject lawful electors, including the recognition from people like John Eastman that their legal theories were unsupported by law. The two Pats would also testify about Trump’s reaction to the mob, as he watched the attack on the Capitol from inside the White House dining room, including the tweet that specifically targeted Pence. These are all very credible first-hand witnesses to Trump’s words and actions both in advance of and during the attack. Obtaining their testimony would be necessary before charging a former President. But DOJ’s efforts (and success) at obtaining their testimony reflects the seriousness of the investigation.

The publication of Pence’s book, which relays his version about exchanges with Trump, would seem to invite a demand from DOJ that he testify about the same topics to the grand jury as well, particularly given the way he spun the story in ways that might help Trump. If I were a prosecutor contemplating charging the former President, I would want that potentially exculpatory (to Trump) locked in under oath. And any claim from Pence that he can’t share these details because of Executive Privilege seem ridiculous in the face of a book tour. But if DOJ decided they needed Pence’s testimony it might result in delay.

It’s unclear how much progress DOJ has made on the subpoenas issued before the pause. None of those subpoenaed have been spotted at grand jury appearances at Prettyman (though that may change this week). In particular, there are a bunch of senior Republicans involved in the fake elector plots from whom I expect DOJ to try to lock in testimony.

But two things may cause delay in any case. First, as I wrote here, subpoenas (generally served on people who might be expected to comply) are easy, because they require the person who received the subpoena to do the search for the subpoenaed materials. But it takes time to exploit phones, all the more so if the phone was seized without some way to open it. Here’s how long the communications of various high profile people have taken to exploit:

This is not indolence. It is physics and due process: it just takes time to crack phones, to filter the content, and to scope what is responsive to a warrant.

Among the steps taken before the pause, in early September, DOJ seized the phones of Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman. While it’s possible DOJ will be able to accelerate the process of exploiting these phones (they have done so with Oath Keeper lawyer Kellye SoRelle’s phone, as last week DOJ submitted material that had gone through a filter review from the phone seized from her in early September in the sedition case), you should not assume they can fully exploit these phones (with whatever Signal content is on them) in less than six months, so March. In Epshteyn’s case, his claims to be playing a legal role in the stolen document case may cause further delays because of a filter review.

As someone involved in vote fraud efforts, Latinos for Trump, and the Oath Keepers, SoRelle is one of the pivots from the White House and Willard focused activities to the crime scene. DOJ seems closer to moving against others at that pivot point. Roger Stone, for example, has been mentioned over and over in the Oath Keeper trial. But that’s probably several months off. Alex Jones sidekick Owen Shroyer has been given until the end of the month to decide whether he wants to plead or take his chances on further charges. And I expect DOJ will wait until the verdict at least in the Oath Keeper case (they might not even get through all the defense witnesses this week), and possibly in the more complex Proud Boy case (which would be February barring likely unforeseen changes), before going too much further.

There’s one more thing that may delay any more spectacular charges in January 6. The oral argument for DOJ’s appeal of Carl Nichols’ outlier decision on the application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to the insurrection won’t happen until December 12. It drew a pretty unfavorable panel for that hearing (listed as Joseph Fischer here): Trump appointees Greg Katsas (like Nichols, a former Clarence Thomas clerk, who also worked as Deputy White House Counsel in 2017) and Justin Walker (who is close to Mitch McConnell), and Biden appointee Florence Pan (who presided over January 6 cases before being promoted to the Circuit Court). It’s possible, but by no means certain, that the Trump appointees will do something nutty, in which case, DOJ would surely appeal first to the full DC Circuit panel; if they overturn Nichols, Garret Miller and the other January 6 defendants who got their obstruction charges thrown out will presumably appeal to SCOTUS.

Nichols’ decision, which ruled that January 6 did count as an official proceeding but ruled that any obstruction had to involve some kind of documents, probably wouldn’t stall any charges relating to the fake electors, which were after all about using fraudulent documents to overturn the vote certification. But it might lead DOJ to pause for other charges until the legal application is unquestioned. 18 USC 1512 is the charge on which DOJ has built its set of interlocking conspiracy charges, and so this decision is pretty important going forward.

Unlike the stolen document case, I can’t give you a date that would be the soonest possible date to expect indictments. But for a variety of reasons laid out here, unless DOJ were to indict on charges specifically focused on Mike Pence (with the possibility of superseding later), it probably would not be until March or April at the earliest.

Georgia investigation

The Georgia investigation, like the Federal one, was paused for a period leading up to the election (it’s unclear whether the run-off between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will further delay things). But during the pre-election period, DA Fani Willis won decisions for testimony from Lindsey Graham and Newt Gingrich. Those grand jury appearances were scheduled for the end of this month (though may be pushed back). In any case, Willis has indicated that any charges from this investigation may come before the end of the year.

To be clear, none of this is a guarantee that DOJ (or Willis) will indict Trump and/or his closest aides. It is, however, a summary of the reasons that are public that all these investigations have been taking steps that would have to happen before they could charge Trump, and that most have additional steps that would have to happen before prosecutors could even make a prosecutorial decision.

After a Year of Executive Privilege Fights, Mike Pence Just Tweeted It Out

The WSJ has published an excerpt — the parts relating to January 6 — from the Mike Pence book coming out next week. It includes descriptions of the following conversations with the then-President, at least some of which Pence was the only witness:

  1. Lunch on November 16, 2020, at which Trump said, “2024 is so far off.”
  2. A call on December 5, on which Trump raised the possibility of challenging the vote.
  3. A December cabinet meeting.
  4. A December 19 conversation in which Trump mentioned plans for the January 6 rally (which Pence claims to have thought was a “useful” idea).
  5. A January 1, 2021 phone call in which Pence told Trump he opposed Louie Gohmert’s lawsuit arguing that Pence had discretion to decide which votes to count. Trump accused his Vice President of being “too honest” and informed him that, “People are gonna think you’re stupid,” for choosing not to claim the power to throw out votes.
  6. A call on January 2 on which Trump said that if Pence, “wimp[ed] out,” he would be “just another somebody.”
  7. A meeting involving John Eastman and others on January 4.
  8. A meeting involving John Eastman in the Oval Office on January 5.
  9. The call Trump made to Pence on January 6 where he again called Pence a wimp.
  10. A meeting on January 11, where in response to Trump’s question whether he was scared on January 6, Pence said he was angry, purportedly just about the people “tearing up the Capitol.”
  11. An exchange inside the Oval Office during which Trump told Pence “Don’t bother” to pray for him.

Every one of these conversations are ones that would traditionally have been covered by Executive Privilege. Trump claimed such exchanges were covered by Executive Privilege starting over a year ago. Both Pence’s top aides — Greg Jacob and Marc Short — and three White House Counsels claimed such exchanges were covered by Executive Privilege this summer, and only in recent weeks did Beryl Howell override the claims of Pence’s people.

And yet, all the while, this book was in the works, including just on this topic, eleven conversations directly with the former President, many of them conversations to which Pence was the only witness.

Much of this description is self-serving (as most autobiographies are), an attempt to craft his support for challenging the election but not rioting. The excerpt, at least, does not disclose the advice that led him to reject Trump’s demand that he throw out votes.

This passage, in particular, seems to project any testimony that Eastman knew the request of Pence was illegal onto Greg Jacob, not himself.

On Jan. 4, the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, summoned me to the Oval Office for a meeting with a long list of attendees, including the legal scholar John Eastman. I listened respectfully as Mr. Eastman argued that I should modify the proceedings, which require that electoral votes be opened and counted in alphabetical order, by saving the five disputed states until the end. Mr. Eastman claimed I had the authority to return the votes to the states until each legislature certified which of the competing slate of electors for the state was correct. I had already confirmed that there were no competing electors.

Mr. Eastman repeatedly qualified his argument, saying it was only a legal theory. I asked, “Do you think I have the authority to reject or return votes?”

He stammered, “Well, it’s never been tested in the courts, so I think it is an open question.”

At that I turned to the president, who was distracted, and said, “Mr. President, did you hear that? Even your lawyer doesn’t think I have the authority to return electoral votes.” The president nodded. As Mr. Eastman struggled to explain, the president replied, “I like the other thing better,” presumably meaning that I could simply reject electoral votes.

On Jan. 5, I got an urgent call that the president was asking to see me in the Oval Office. The president’s lawyers, including Mr. Eastman, were now requesting that I simply reject the electors. I later learned that Mr. Eastman had conceded to my general counsel that rejecting electoral votes was a bad idea and any attempt to do so would be quickly overturned by a unanimous Supreme Court. This guy didn’t even believe what he was telling the president.

By context, Pence asked Eastman whether Eastman thought Pence had “the authority to reject or return votes.” Eastman’s response, without qualification that he was addressing just one of those two items, was that, “it’s never been tested in the courts.” Then, by Pence’s telling, he directly told the then-President that Eastman had only said that returning votes to the states would be illegal. But that’s not what Eastman responded to! He responded to both, and did so in front of Trump.

By stating that Eastman later told his general counsel, Greg Jacob, that the Supreme Court would overturn any effort to reject the votes, rather than just return them, Pence is making Jacob the key witness, and he’s telling the story in such a way that Trump was not directly a witness to the conversation.

Maybe it really happened like Pence tells it. Maybe not. There were other attendees (including, probably, Jacob), and some of them have likely already described what they saw to the grand jury.

But this protective telling of the story is particularly interesting given this description of how, on January 1, Pence told Trump he didn’t have the authority to decide which votes to count.

Early on New Year’s Day, the phone rang. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and other Republicans had filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to declare that I had “exclusive authority and sole discretion” to decide which electoral votes should count. “I don’t want to see ‘Pence Opposes Gohmert Suit’ as a headline this morning,” the president said. I told him I did oppose it. “If it gives you the power,” he asked, “why would you oppose it?” I told him, as I had many times, that I didn’t believe I possessed that power under the Constitution.

This is the first, in the excerpt, that he describes telling this to Trump. But he also says he had already told him the same, “many times.” The circumstances of those conversations would be really critical for pinpointing the timeline of Trump’s machinations and the extent that Pence warned him they were illegal.

For months, the press has been squawking about how unprecedented it would be to subpoena the former Vice President. But he just made the case for doing so, right here.

As Pre-Election Pause Comes to an End, Look First to Arizona (and Nevada and Georgia)

Three times — with the Russian investigation, the Ukraine impeachment, and the January 6 insurrection — the GOP had a ready-made opportunity to distance the party from Donald Trump’s corruption. Each time, they not only declined to take that opportunity, but instead consolidated as a party behind Trump.

Given the swirl of investigations around Trump, Republicans will likely will have a fourth opportunity, this time at a moment when Ron DeSantis’ fortunes look more promising than Trump’s own.

That doesn’t mean Republicans will take it. Indeed, there are some Republicans — people like Jim Jordan — whose electoral future remains yoked to Trump’s. There are a even few members of Congress — Scott Perry, above all — whose legal future may lie with Trump.

But the possibility that yesterday’s results will change the Republican commitment to defending Trump at all cost will be an important dynamic in the face of any prosecutorial steps that DOJ takes now that the pre-election pause on such steps is over.

An indictment of Trump is not going to happen today. In the stolen document case, that’s likely true because DOJ will first want to ensure access to the unclassified documents seized in August, something that won’t happen until either the 11th Circuit decision reverses Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master (that will be ripe for a hearing after November 17) or after a judgement from Special Master Raymond Dearie on December 16 that Cannon chooses to affirm. It’s not impossible, however, that DOJ will take significant actions before then — perhaps by arresting one or more of Trump’s suspected co-conspirators in hoarding the documents, or by executing warrants at other Trump properties to find the documents still believed to be missing.

In the January 6 case, DOJ’s unlikely to take action against Trump himself anytime soon because — by my read at least — there’s still a layer of charges DOJ would have to solidify before charging Trump, both in the prong working up from the crime scene (Roger Stone’s name continues to come up regularly in both the Oath Keeper and Proud Boys cases), and in the fake elector plot. With the testimony of Pence’s key aides secured before the election, Trump’s targeting of his Vice President may be the part of the investigation closest to fruition. There are probably phones — like those of Boris Epshteyn and John Eastman — that DOJ has not finished exploiting, which would have to happen before any charges.

Remember that the phone of Scott Perry — one member of that closely divided House — is among those being exploited right now.

In fact, particularly given the outstanding vote, a more interesting step DOJ might soon take would affect Arizona, even as the close election is settling out. There were several states where DOJ subpoenaed the bulk of those involved in the fake elector plot (here are two summary posts — one, two — of the most recent overt investigative steps). There’s one state, and I think it is Arizona (I’m still looking for the report), where everyone blew off these subpoenas. Mark Finchem is one of the people named on the subpoenas (though he appears to have clearly lost his bid to become Secretary of State).

In other words, in several states (NV, GA, and PA are others), DOJ was preparing the work to unpack the role of key Republicans in both states. Unpacking that role almost necessarily precedes a Trump indictment. But it will also significantly affect the electoral aftermath of these close states.

And all that’s before you consider that Fani Willis’ own pre-election pause will also end. Indeed, Newt Gingrich lost a bid to kill a subpoena in that investigation today.

As noted, the GOP calculus on how to respond to these investigations could change now that Trump has proven a loser once again (or maybe not!). But it’s worth remembering that top Republicans in at least four swing states — swing states that are still counting votes — are implicated in that investigation.

John Eastman Emails Show Trump Knowingly Lied in Georgia Lawsuit

The January 6 Committee and John Eastman continue to fight over how many of his emails he can withhold from the Committee under a claim of attorney-client (and related) privilege.

Judge David Carter just ruled on what may be the last 500-so emails.

He ordered Eastman to turn over eight additional emails under a crime-fraud exception.

The more interesting set of four involve discussions about whether Trump should fix numbers he knew to be false before he filed a Federal lawsuit in Georgia.

Four emails demonstrate an effort by President Trump and his attorneys to press false claims in federal court for the purpose of delaying the January 6 vote. The evidence confirms that this effort was undertaken in at least one lawsuit filed in Georgia.

On December 4, 2020, President Trump and his attorneys alleged in a Georgia state court action that Fulton County improperly counted a number of votes including 10,315 deceased people, 2,560 felons, and 2,423 unregistered voters.69 President Trump and his attorneys then decided to contest the state court proceeding in federal court, 70 and discussed incorporating by reference the voter fraud numbers alleged in the state petition. On December 30, 2020, Dr. Eastman relayed “concerns” from President Trump’s team “about including specific numbers in the paragraph dealing with felons, deceased, moved, etc.”71 The attorneys continued to discuss the President’s resistance to signing “when specific numbers were included.”72 As Dr. Eastman explained the next day:

Although the President signed a verification for [the state court filing] back on Dec. 1, he has since been made aware that some of the allegations (and evidence proffered by the experts) has been inaccurate. For him to sign a new verification with that knowledge (and incorporation by reference) would not be accurate.73

President Trump and his attorneys ultimately filed the complaint with the same inaccurate numbers without rectifying, clarifying, or otherwise changing them. 74 President Trump, moreover, signed a verification swearing under oath that the incorporated, inaccurate numbers “are true and correct” or “believed to be true and correct” to the best of his knowledge and belief.75

The emails show that President Trump knew that the specific numbers of voter fraud were wrong but continued to tout those numbers, both in court and to the public. The Court finds that these emails are sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States. Accordingly, the Court ORDERS Dr. Eastman to disclose these four communications to the Select Committee.76

69 As discussed in the previous orders, President Trump’s own U.S. Attorney General said that his investigators found no evidence of fraud on a scale that would have changed the outcome of the election, but President Trump and his attorneys continued to file dozens of lawsuits in states he lost, seeking to overturn the results. First Order at 5. By early January, more than sixty court cases alleging fraud had been dismissed for lack of evidence or lack of standing. Id. at 6. See also J. M. Luttig et al., Lost, Not Stolen: The Conservative Case that Trump Lost and Biden Won the 2020 Presidential Election (July 2022) (examining every count of every case of election irregularities brought by President Trump’s team in six battleground states and concluding that “Donald Trump and his supporters had their day in court and failed to produce substantive evidence to make their case”), https://perma.cc/MKC4-BV3Q.

70 See Trump v. Kemp, 511 F. Supp. 3d 1325, 1330 (N.D. Ga. 2021) (“Plaintiff’s motion for expedited declaratory and injunctive relief asks this Court to take the unprecedented action of decertifying the results of the presidential election in Georgia and directing the Georgia General Assembly to appoint presidential electors.”)

71 59643.

72 59390.

73 60742.

74 See generally Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 3.3 cmt. 5 (Am. Bar Ass’n 1983) (noting that the duty requiring “that the lawyer refuse to offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false, regardless of the client’s wishes” is “premised on the lawyer’s obligation as an officer of the court to prevent the trier of fact from being misled by false evidence”), https://perma.cc/3PB5-CGRM; see also Christensen, 828 F.3d at 805 (“[C]onduct by an attorney that is merely unethical, as opposed to illegal, may be enough to vitiate the work product doctrine.”).

75 In an attempt to disclaim his responsibility over the misleading allegations, President Trump’s attorneys remove the numbers from the body of complaint (but nonetheless incorporate them by reference) and add a footnote that states President Trump is only relying on information that was provided to him. See 61108. But, by his attorneys’ own admissions, the information provided to him was that the alleged voter fraud numbers were inaccurate. See 60742.

76 59643; 59390; 60742; 61108. For document 59643, only the first page (Chapman059643) requires disclosure. For document 60742, Dr. Eastman may redact emails sent before Thursday, December 31, 2020 12:00 PM MST. For document 61108, Dr. Eastman may redact emails sent before Thursday, December 31, 2020 7:43 AM.

These emails are going to have all sorts of ramifications — in Fani Willis’ investigation and the DOJ investigation. And they’ll likely make it easier for both Willis and Thomas Windom (who is leading the Trump fraud investigation) to obtain related emails that were seized from Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s Shaky Privilege to Hide His Pence Pressure

CNN, NYT, and WaPo have now reported on why Evan Corcoran, John Rowley, and Tim Parlatore were at Prettyman Courthouse on Thursday afternoon. They were trying to support Trump’s invocation of Executive Privilege to limit testimony about his own actions and words.

CNN first confirmed the reason.

Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys are fighting a secret court battle to block a federal grand jury from gathering information from an expanding circle of close Trump aides about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, people briefed on the matter told CNN.

The high-stakes legal dispute – which included the appearance of three attorneys representing Trump at the Washington, DC, federal courthouse on Thursday afternoon – is the most aggressive step taken by the former President to assert executive and attorney-client privileges in order to prevent some witnesses from sharing information in the criminal investigation events surrounding January 6, 2021.

The court fight over privilege, which has not been previously reported and is under seal, is a turning point for Trump’s post-presidency legal woes.

WaPo suggests this is primarily and NYT reports it is at least in part about getting Marc Short and Greg Jacob’s testimony.

One person familiar with the matter said that the dispute concerned the testimony of two top aides to former vice president Mike Pence — his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and former counsel, Greg Jacob. The men appeared before the grand jury in July and answered some, but not all, questions, based on Trump’s assertion of privilege, people familiar with the matter said.

But for the five people known to be involved — Short and Jacob, plus former White House Counsels Pat Cipollone, Patrick Philbin, and Eric Herschmann — the privilege claims would be closely related. Short and Jacob have refused to disclose conversations they witnessed between Trump and Mike Pence. The Two Pats and (to a lesser extent) Herschmann have refused to tell what they said to or witnessed Trump say directly.

Based on their January 6 Committee testimony, we know some very specific details about what the men have hid via privilege claims:

  • Greg Jacob declined to describe precisely how, in an in-person meeting on January 4 including John Eastman, Pence rejected Trump’s pressure to refuse to certify the vote certification
  • Pence’s aides had stepped out of the room when Pence spoke to Trump by phone on the morning of January 6; numerous people witnessed (and told the Committee) about the Trump side of it, but no one is known to have shared Pence’s side of it
  • Cipollone refused to describe how he or the other White House Counsels advised Trump to make a statement asking the rioters to leave the Capitol
  • None of the White House Counsels described precisely what they said to Trump about his Tweet focusing on Pence
  • Cipollone wouldn’t describe the conversations he had with Trump about rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence”
  • Cipollone refused to say that Trump was among the people at the White House who didn’t want rioters to leave the Capitol

There are surely other conversations of interest. If Cipollone shared directly with Trump some version of his advice that, as Cassidy Hutchinson described, if Trump went to the Capitol, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” including obstruction of the vote certification and incitement, it would be crucial evidence in any obstruction charge against Trump. I’m hoping, too, that the White House Counsels get asked about Trump’s offers of pardons to those who participated in his coup attempt.

Parlatore’s involvement in the Prettyman event may reflect more junior staffers who invoked privilege too.

The three outlets vary about how clearly they describe something that is obvious: If DOJ is moving to overcome privilege claims invoked to protect what specific advice Trump got about the legality or illegality of his actions leading up to and on January 6, they’re doing so with an eye towards charging Trump, not because they want to see whether Pat Cipollone was sufficiently alarmed about the implications of an attack on the Capitol. And just WaPo notes that this privilege claim — in the context of a criminal investigation and made within the Executive Branch, rather than (as with the January 6 Committee) between two branches of government — should be an easier question for SCOTUS than the decision authorizing the Archives to share Trump’s communications with the Committee.

Three more dynamics deserve mention. First, Marc Short, the one non-counsel known to be affected by this privilege fight, is represented by Emmet Flood, perhaps the lawyer who has best protected the prerogatives of the Presidency ever since he helped Bill Clinton avoid conviction with impeachment and helped George W Bush (and Dick Cheney) close out their Administration without bigger legal consequences. Flood may not even care about Trump at this point, but he cares about protecting the Presidency.

But the shenanigans Trump engaged in — instructing witnesses to invoke Executive Privilege without formally invoking it — may shift the posture of any dispute. DOJ was always going to come back and push for more testimony. But after much haranguing, Herschmann seems to have forced Trump to do what he had not before: put something in writing. That may either force Trump to go back and do so for the others, or may allow DOJ to get a privilege waiver for Herschmann that would implicate the others. That’s important because Herschmann might not wait around for any appeals of privilege waivers. All this is largely happening behind closed doors, but it may matter that at the end of this process, Herschmann forced Trump’s hand and that may give DOJ something more tangible to challenge before Chief Judge Beryl Howell. I sort of suspect that may have been the point.

Finally, if and when DOJ wins this fight (it should not be a close contest, and won’t be at least for Howell), it gets DOJ one step closer to considering whether they need Pence himself to testify.

DOJ is making an effort to get what — we know from public privilege invocations — includes a lot of damning evidence against Trump involving Pence. And has been clear since at least January, Trump’s pressure on Pence and his efforts to get the mob to pressure Pence tie the coup attempt and the attack on the Capitol together.

DOJ Prepares to Pull Multiple January 6 Threads Together

After Steve Bannon got indicted for defrauding thousands of Trump supporters, he complained to Charlie Kirk that 35 Trump associates had been raided the day before.

Bannon, unsurprisingly, was calling a legal request to provide information and testify truthfully, a raid.

But he appears to be right about the numbers. Over the last five days, multiple outlets have cobbled together the numbers that Bannon had ready at hand. Here are key reports:

  • NYT1, first reporting the focus on Trump’s PAC
  • NYT2, reporting 40 subpoenas and warrants for Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman’s phones
  • CNN, reporting 30 subpoenas
  • CNN, story on scope of subpoenas
  • CNN, story on Mark Meadows
  • CBS, reporting 30 subpoenas
  • ABC, reporting 40 subpoenas

Between those reports, they describe the following having received legal process:

  • Boris Epshteyn, a key Willard participant (the NYT claims he served as an attorney)
  • Mike Roman, who played a key role in ferrying fake elector materials
  • William B. Harrison, an aide to Mr. Trump in the White House and after his presidency
  • William S. Russell, who served in the West Wing and now works for Mr. Trump’s personal office
  • Julie Radford, Ivanka’s Chief of Staff
  • Nick Luna, Trump’s body man
  • Sean Dollman, who was chief financial officer of Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign
  • Dan Scavino, Trump’s online brain
  • Bernie Kerik, who worked closely with Rudy on coup plans
  • Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager
  • Brian Jack, WH political director
  • Amy Kremer, head of Women for America First
  • Kylie Kremer, in charge of the Ellipse rally
  • Stephen Miller, Trump’s fearmongerer around race
  • Mark Meadows
  • Ben Williamson, Meadows’ aide
  • Poll watchers

In a potentially related development, the government moved to be able to share Brandon Straka’s sentencing papers with him and his lawyers. He avoided jail time by providing leads about some of the people subpoenaed, but likely wasn’t forthcoming about pre-January activities and aimed to limit visibility into his own finances, which (according to CNN) are included in the scope of this latest round of subpoenas.

There are several important takeaways from this news.

First, DOJ’s scope is broader than the fake electors, broader even then the financing of the coup attempt (which, remember, Merrick Garland said was under investigation as early as January 5). As CBS describes, some of these subpoenas cover events that have long been part of the investigation for rioters: how they networked at state riots and earlier MAGA rallies, and how they responded to Trump’s call for Stop the Steal in December 2020. Only, this time it asks for evidence about those who organized those events.

Virginia-based attorney David A. Warrington, who said he represents approximately a dozen clients who have been issued subpoenas, said the FBI was “very professional” when serving his clients. He added that the subpoenas his clients received are nearly identical, describing them as lengthy documents divided into sections and subsections. They cover issues related to “alternate” electors and election certification deadlines on December 14 and January 6, fundraising by the Save America PAC and the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally — but not the ensuing riot.

The subpoenas require individuals provide documents and any communication between themselves and Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell and Bernie Kerik, Warrington said. The subpoenas also demand recipients to provide any communication with dozens of individuals who appeared on slates of fake electors.

At least some of the subpoenas compel recipients to appear before a grand jury on September 23 at the Washington, D.C., district courthouse, Warrington said.

Mother and daughter Amy and Kylie Kremer were served subpoenas last week, according to Warrington. They are listed as “host(s)” on the National Park Service permit for the Ellipse rally on January 6, 2021.

As NYT describes, they also focused on speakers and security for the Ellipse rally and members of the legislative branch who were part of the planning.

According to one subpoena obtained by The New York Times, they asked for any records or communications from people who organized, spoke at or provided security for Mr. Trump’s rally at the Ellipse. They also requested information about any members of the executive and legislative branches who may have taken part in planning or executing the rally, or tried to “obstruct, influence, impede or delay” the certification of the presidential election.

As CNN notes, it also covers compensation and communications with DOJ.

Some of the subpoenas, including one reviewed by CNN, were broad in scope, seeking information on a range of issues, including the fake elector scheme, Trump’s primary fundraising and political vehicle, Save America PAC, the organizing of the Trump rally on January 6, and any communications with a broad list of people who worked to overturn the 2020 election results.

The subpoena reviewed by CNN seeks records related to compensation provided to or received from a list of people that included Trump lawyers and campaign staffers through January 20, 2021.

It also asks for communications with anyone in the Justice Department.

Many of these people have communications with members of Congress and as such will prepare DOJ to surpass Speech and Debate protections for relevant figures.

But there are ways that last week’s actions are still broader.

I assume that the probable cause that DOJ showed to seize Epshteyn and Roman’s phones tied to the fake elector plot. Ephsteyn was the focus of DOJ’s activities for some time and Roman played a key role ferrying materials between the players.

But it has become clear that DOJ is what I’ll call sheep-dipping phones: seizing them for one purpose and then getting separate warrants to obtain the same content for other investigations. That fairly clearly is what happened with John Eastman and Scott Perry, where DOJ IG seized their phones but (in Eastman’s case) Thomas Windom quickly got involved. The late date and the sustained focus on Victoria Toensing, whom Congress has never mentioned, suggests I was right when I argued that DOJ could use the seized material from Rudy’s phones for the January 6 investigation.

And in Epshteyn’s case, he has been centrally involved in another of Trump’s schemes for which DOJ has already shown probable cause: He has been centrally involved in Trump’s response to the investigation into stolen classified documents.

As a number of outlets have noted, this subpoena bonanza took place just before the 60-day period when DOJ will have to avoid any big public steps in its investigations. But they’ve just arranged to obtain plenty to keep them busy — and quite possibly, enough to emerge on the other side with the ability to start putting all these parts together: a scheme to attack our democracy and get rich while doing it.

Update: In a second CNN story on the subpoena bonanza, they describe that those who blew off the January 6 Committee are being instructed to turn over what the committee asked for.

The subpoenas also ask for the recipients to identify all methods of communication they’ve used since fall 2020 and to turn over to DOJ anything the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, has demanded – whether they cooperated with the House panel or not.

I’ve been anticipating that (and DOJ will have seized the phone records people sued to keep away from J6C long ago).

Update: Added a third CNN story.

One Big Potentially Pending Question: What Happens to Trump’s Impeachment 1.0 Papers?

There’s a comment in DOJ’s response to Judge Aileen Cannon’s order to file an update by tomorrow that caught my attention. DOJ suggests there may be no dispute about whether the stuff it has been pursuing a review of is really privileged.

Although the government will provide the Court more detail in its forthcoming supplemental filing, the government notes that, before the Court issued its Preliminary Order, and in accordance with the judicially authorized search warrant’s provisions, the Privilege Review Team (as described in paragraphs 81-84 of the search warrant affidavit) identified a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information, completed its review of those materials, and is in the process of following the procedures set forth in paragraph 84 of the search warrant affidavit to address potential privilege disputes, if any.

As I laid out here (and as virtually all journalists are still getting wrong), DOJ used a privilege team for the search on August 8. At least according to Fox News, all the potentially privileged material was inventoried on what I call the SSA receipt (because it was signed by the Supervisory Special Agent, rather than the Special Agent).

I surmised and DOJ has now confirmed that DOJ has been “in the process of following the procedures set forth in paragraph 84 of the search warrant affidavit to address potential privilege disputes, if any.” That means DOJ is using one of these methods:

84. If the Privilege Review Team determines that documents are potentially attorney-client privileged or merit further consideration in that regard, a Privilege Review Team attorney may do any of the following: (a) apply ex parte to the court for a determination whether or not the documents contain attorney-client privileged material; (b) defer seeking court intervention and continue to keep the documents inaccessible to law-enforcement personnel assigned to the investigation; or (c) disclose the documents to the potential privilege holder, request the privilege holder to state whether the potential privilege holder asserts attorney-client privilege as to any documents, including requesting a particularized privilege log, and seek a ruling from the court regarding any attorney-client privilege claims as to which the Privilege Review Team and the privilege-holder cannot reach agreement.

Option c is effectively to invite Trump to provide feedback on the privilege issues, an option that Evan Corcoran has told us DOJ specifically rejected  back on august 11.

Option b is to simply not access the materials; since FBI seized it, it’s likely they saw something on August 8 that made them want to access the materials.

So we can be fairly sure that DOJ is pursuing Option a to get this material, an ex parte review by a judge — the implication is Bruce Reinhart, but it’s possible they’ve involved someone who’s more senior, such as DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell (who is presiding over the grand jury conducting this investigation) or SDFL Chief Judge Cecilia Altonaga — to see whether it is attorney-client privileged.

I want to talk about three categories of documents that might appear to be covered by attorney-client privilege that a judge might otherwise decide are not. DOJ’s suggestion that there may not be a dispute reminds me of how, during the privilege review of Michael Cohen’s phones in 2018, as soon as Judge Kimba Woods ruled that any fight over privilege would have to be public, Trump slithered away and stopped fighting to keep the recordings about hush payments that Cohen kept on his phone away from prosecutors.

In other words, particularly since DOJ completely bypassed any involvement from Trump, I suspect DOJ believes that the materials currently under ex parte review by Reinhart or some other judge may be crime-fraud excepted.

Consider the kinds of materials that, under the warrant, could be seized:

  • Any Presidential or government record created during Trump’s term, which would include most if not all of the subcategory of documents bearing classification marks
  • Documents stored along with (that is, perhaps in the same storage closet) documents bearing classification marks
  • Evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of government and/or Presidential records — basically, of obstruction

If it remains true that all documents with potentially privileged materials are on the SSA receipt, it is likely that there were a chunk of documents — labeled just “documents” seized from his office (where the privilege team did all the initial search) — as well as five boxes that by description were stored with documents bearing classified markings, probably found in the storage room and handed off to the filter team for some reason.

The most obvious set of materials that would appear privileged but might be deemed by a judge to be crime-fraud excepted would pertain to obstruction: Materials that post-date Trump’s Presidency involving lawyers (either the former White House counsels who attempted to get him to return the documents) or his current attorneys, especially including the effort to refuse NARA and DOJ’s requests and/or to provide bullshit information in response to one or more subpoenas. That’s what those documents seized from Trump’s office might consist of.

Another category of documents might include materials involving non-governmental lawyers — Rudy Giuliani or John Eastman are likely possibilities — that appeared on official government records. These materials might pertain to January 6. Particularly given that SCOTUS approved the waived privilege claims over Trump’s governmental files, those seem like an easy decision.

A third category of information pertains to advice White House counsel lawyers gave Trump while still in office outside the context of a legal proceeding (different from the advice the same former White House counsels gave during the extended fight with NARA) that he wants to keep from DOJ. The Bill Clinton precedent would say that NARA at least gets this information, and if there is a legal basis for the FBI to obtain it (such as that it includes classified information, as the White House counsel response to the Zelenskyy-Trump call would be), then it would seem FBI would be able to obtain it. Given Trump’s bid to claim Executive Privilege over certain information, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a heated issue.

The one set of documents that I think does raise real concerns, though, is Trump’s defense during Impeachment 1.0. At least three members of the White House Counsel staff were part of Trump’s defense team: Pat Cipollone, Patrick Philbin, and Michael Purpua. Taxpayers paid their salaries during the period when they were defending Trump, and so under the Clinton precedent, any files involving them would seem to be government documents covered by the Presidential Records Act. But Trump also had some talking heads — like Alan Dershowitz and Pam Bondi — and one of the real private attorneys who represented him in the Russian investigation, Jane Raskin. Trump’s communications with the later two groups should be privileged.

I’ve asked experts on Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton what happened with their impeachment records. Best as I can tell, many of those records are in the Archives. But I’m still not sure how the special case of Trump’s impeachment defense would be treated.

Update: Removed Eric Herschmann from the list of WH Counsels who represented Trump in impeachment. He was still in private practice then.

The Evidentiary Hole in the Middle of Ari Melber’s “Not anything but evidence”

Fresh off giving Andrew Weissmann a platform to complain that DOJ’s multi-spoked investigation into January 6 should be multi-spoked, fresh off giving Adam Schiff an opportunity to make the (still-uncorrected) false claim that Congress never gets ahead of DOJ on parts of investigations they’re conducting in parallel, Ari Melber rolled out a schema (one, two) about his understanding of Trump’s corrupt acts that others have found really helpful.

It came with a nifty, mostly-accurate graphic that shows how multiple attempts to stay in power worked in parallel.

That graphic is helpful for those trying to keep track of all the efforts Trump pursued.

But Ari’s “special report,” which he claims is “built on evidence, not anything but evidence,” is most useful for demonstrating the evidentiary hole in the middle of his understanding of events leading up to January 6. And not just his understanding: also my own, and (at least based off their hearings) even the January 6 Committee’s. Neither Ari, the Committee, nor I, nor anyone I know to be investigating — save possibly DOJ and one or two really well sourced journalists — knows for certain what happened between the end of the December 18, 2020 meeting where Sidney Powell pitched Trump on a plan to seize voting machines and Trump’s December 19 tweet that led Stop the Steal plotters to start taking steps that led to a violent attack on the Capitol.

Before I lay out how well Ari illustrates that evidentiary hole, there are multiple things that Ari gets wrong (I’ve put my transcription of the most important parts of his presentation below). Most have to do with Ari’s apparent misunderstanding of how the blue collar violent attack on the Capitol related to the white collar parts of the coup attempt he has familiarity with.

For example, he claims, without evidence, that Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, and John Eastman wanted pardons, “totally separate from the January 6 violence.” But according to Cassidy Hutchinson, both Rudy and Meadows knew by January 2 that Trump planned to go to the Capitol and it might get “real, real bad.”

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: As Mr. Giuliani and I were walking to his vehicles that evening, he looked at me and said something to the effect of, Cass, are you excited for the 6th? It’s going to be a great day. I remember looking at him saying, Rudy, could you explain what’s happening on the 6th? He had responded something to the effect of, we’re going to the Capitol.

It’s going to be great. The President’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful. He’s — he’s going to be with the members. He’s going to be with the Senators. Talk to the chief about it, talk to the chief about it. He knows about it.

LIZ CHENEY: And did you go back then up to the West Wing and tell Mr. Meadows about your conversation with Mr. Giuliani?

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: I did. After Mr. Giuliani had left the campus that evening, I went back up to our office and I found Mr. Meadows in his office on the couch. He was scrolling through his phone. I remember leaning against the doorway and saying, I just had an interesting conversation with Rudy, Mark. It sounds like we’re going to go to the Capitol.

He didn’t look up from his phone and said something to the effect of, there’s a lot going on, Cass, but I don’t know. Things might get real, real bad on January 6th.

Hutchinson also tied White House awareness of the militias now charged with seditious conspiracy with Rudy’s presence.

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: I recall hearing the word Oath Keeper and hearing the word Proud Boys closer to the planning of the January 6th rally when Mr. Giuliani would be around.

As for Eastman, Mike Pence’s Counsel, Greg Jacob, accused Eastman in real time, as his family was worried whether Jacob would get out alive, of causing the “siege” on the Capitol by “whipping large numbers of people into a frenzy over something with no chance of ever attaining legal force through actual process of law.”

[T]hanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.

[snip]

[I]t was gravely, gravely irresponsible of you to entice the President of with an academic theory that had no legal viability, and that you well know we would lose before any judge who heard and decided the case. And if the courts declined to hear it, I suppose it could only be decided in the streets. The knowing amplification of that theory through numerous surrogates, whipping large numbers of people into a frenzy over something with no chance of ever attaining legal force through actual process of law, has led us to where we are.

Judge David Carter’s opinion finding it likely Eastman and Trump conspired to obstruct the vote count included Trump’s effort to send the mob, which we now know he knew to be armed, to the Capitol.

President Trump ended his speech by galvanizing the crowd to join him in enacting the plan: “[L]et’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to give Vice President Pence and Congress “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”218

So all of these three men, per key witnesses and one judge, have legal exposure that is directly tied to the violence at the Capitol. Maybe they only wanted pardons for their white collar crimes, but — according to the evidence — all are implicated in the blue collar crimes.

Ari also treats the consideration of a plan to have DOD seize the voting machines as “the military plot,” one that ended on December 18. There are two problems with this. First, Ari ignores that this plan was revised to put DHS in charge of seizing the machines, which is how the plan resurfaced on December 31, when Trump serially tried to get DOJ and DHS to seize the machines.

ADAM KINZINGER: Mr. Rosen, the President asked you to seize voting machines from state governments. What was your response to that request?

JEFFREY A. ROSEN: That we had — we had seen nothing improper with regard to the voting machines. And I told him that the — the real experts that had been at DHS and they had briefed us, that they had looked at it and that there was nothing wrong with the — the voting machines. And so that was not something that was appropriate to do.

ADAM KINZINGER: There would be no factual basis to seize machines. Mr. Donoghue —

JEFFREY A. ROSEN: — I — I don’t think there was legal authority either.

ADAM KINZINGER: Yeah. Mr. Donohue can you explain what the President did after he was told that the Justice Department would not seize voting machines?

RICHARD DONOGHUE: The President was very agitated by the Acting Attorney General’s response. And to the extent that machines and — and the technology was being discussed, the Acting Attorney General said that the DHS, Department of Homeland Security, has expertise in machines and certifying them and making sure that the states are operating them properly.

And since DHS had been mentioned, the President yelled out to his Secretary get Ken Cuccinelli on the phone. And she did in very short order. Mr. Cuccinelli was on the phone. He was the number two at DHS at the time. It was on the speakerphone, and the President essentially said, Ken, I’m sitting here with the Acting Attorney General.

He just told me it’s your job to seize machines and you’re not doing your job. And Mr. Cuccinelli responded.

More importantly, Ari ignores that both militias charged with sedition and a goodly number of other armed rioters believed that larger scale violence would break out (possibly via clashes with counter-protestors, possibly in response to the GOP attempt to steal votes at the Capitol) on January 6, which would create the excuse for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to accord legal authority to the mob to act on his behalf. That will literally be Stewart Rhodes’ defense against a sedition charge, that he expected his attack on the US to come with Trump’s legal sanction.

And the plan may have gone further than that. To the extent that Trump asked the National Guard to be prepared for January 6, it was to protect his supporters, not to protect the Capitol.

Mr. Meadows sent an email to an individual about the events on January 6 and said that the National Guard would be present to ‘‘protect pro Trump people’’ and that many more would be available on standby.

When reports that the Guard would deploy first started to come out on January 6, Proud Boy Charles Donohoe [now a cooperating witness] reacted with surprise that the Guard would attack, rather than protect, Trump supporters.

That is, the actual plans for a military coup, rather than a Sidney Powell plan that Trump rejected then revisited, envisioned having armed Trump supporters and the National Guard holding the Capitol together. It was a plan that multiple militia members — most notably Rhodes, which forms a key part of the sedition evidence against him — but even joined by some members of Congress continued to pursue after January 6. There was a military plot that was far worse than the one that Ari labels as “that very bad red illegal plan,” but to understand it, you need to understand what happened at the Capitol, and what plans continued for weeks — still continue!! — after, per Ari, the violence “ended within one day.”

On top of a lack of understanding of what actually happened at the Capitol, Ari’s scheme includes conflicting claims. Ari claims that after Trump chose not to pursue Sidney Powell’s plan on December 18, he turned to “muscle.” “So that’s when I bring muscle to January 6.” His nifty graphic shows the plans to “sabotage Jan. 6” (adopting an utterly bizarre word, “sabotage,” which whitewashes both the violence planned and the legal crime, obstruction, committed) started right then, on December 19. But then, after claiming that Trump turned to “muscle” starting on December 19, Ari suggests that Trump’s only agency in the violence that ensued was the speech he gave on January 6. “The law makes it hard to pin an insurrection on one speech.”

In his presentation, at least, Ari ignores that “muscle” had been a part of the plan from the start, with operatives forming mobs at counting locations in the swing states that in turn created the cover for the fake electors plot and elicited threats against election officials, and it continued through to January 6 and beyond.

This may stem from an unfortunate unevenness on the part of the January 6 Committee.

The seventh hearing — the one purportedly focused on the rioters — depicted the actions of Ali Alexander and Alex Jones as an organic response to Trump’s December 19 tweet.

Donald Trump issued a tweet that would galvanize his followers, unleash a political firestorm, and change the course of our history as a country. Trump’s purpose was to mobilize a crowd. And how do you mobilize a crowd in 2020? With millions of followers on Twitter, President Trump knew exactly how to do it. At 1:42 AM on December 19, 2020, shortly after the last participants left the unhinged meeting, Trump sent out the tweet with his explosive invitation.

Trump repeated his big lie and claimed it was “statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 election” before calling for a big protest in DC on January 6th, be there, will be wild. Trump supporters responded immediately. Women for America First, a pro-Trump organizing group, had previously applied for a rally permit for January 22nd and 23rd in Washington, DC, several days after Joe Biden was to be inaugurated.

But in the hours after the tweet, they moved their permit to January 6th, two weeks before. This rescheduling created the rally where Trump would eventually speak. The next day, Ali Alexander, leader of the Stop the Steal organization and a key mobilizer of Trump supporters, registered Wildprotest.com, named after Trump’s tweet.

Wildprotest.com provided comprehensive information about numerous newly organized protest events in Washington. It included event times, places, speakers, and details on transportation to Washington DC. Meanwhile, other key Trump supporters, including far right media personalities, began promoting the wild protest on January 6th. [Begin videotape]

ALEX JONES: It’s Saturday, December 19th. The year is 2020, and one of the most historic events in American history has just taken place. President Trump, in the early morning hours today, tweeted that he wants the American people to march on Washington DC on January 6th, 2021.

That hearing similarly implied that Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs’ efforts to set up an alliance between the militias, which undoubtedly started at least days earlier, was a response to Trump’s tweet.

On December 19th at 10:22 a.m., just hours after President Trump’s tweet, Kelly Meggs, the head of the Florida Oath Keepers, declared an alliance among the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Florida Three Percenters, another militia group.

He wrote, we have decided to work together and shut this shit down. Phone records obtained by the Select Committee show that later that afternoon, Mr. Meggs called Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, and they spoke for several minutes. The very next day, the Proud Boys got to work. The Proud Boys launched an encrypted chat called the Ministry of Self-defense.

That is, in places, the Committee encouraged this notion that everything pivoted on December 19 after that tweet.

But elsewhere, the Committee made it clear that the “muscle” and the militia were part of the plan from the start. Its fourth hearing on the Big Lie, for example, made clear that the earlier mobs were led by the very same people who seemingly sprung to action in response to Trump’s December 19 tweet.

[Ali Alexander]:

Let us in. Let us in. Let us in. Special session. Special session. Special session. We’ll light the whole shit on fire.

NICK FUENTES:

What are we going to do? What can you and I do to a state legislator besides kill him? Although, we should not do that. I’m not advising that, but I mean what else can you do? Right?

UNKNOWN:

The punishment for treason is death.

[End Videotape]

ADAM SCHIFF:

The state pressure campaign and the danger it posed to state officials and to State Capitols around the nation was a dangerous precursor to the violence we saw on January 6th at the US Capitol.

[snip]

The Select Committee has uncovered evidence in the course of our investigation that at stop the steal protests at state capitols across the country, there were individuals with ties to the groups or parties involved in the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. One of those incursions took place in the Arizona House of Representatives building, as you can see in this footage.

This is previously undisclosed video of protesters illegally entering and refusing to leave the building. One of the individuals prominently shown in this video is Jacob Chansley, perhaps better known as the QAnon Shaman. This rioter entered the Capitol on January 6th, was photographed leaving a threatening note on the dais in the US Senate chamber, and was ultimately sentenced to 41 months in prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding. Other protesters who occupied the Arizona House of Representatives building included — included Proud Boys, while men armed with rifles stood just outside the entrance.

And different parts of the seventh hearing showed that these ties are much better established, including through Roger Stone’s Friends of Stone listserv that started plotting immediately after the election.

Raskin: In the same time frame, Stone communicated with both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers regularly. The committee obtained encrypted content from a group – – from a group chat called Friends of Stone, FOS, which included Stone, Rhodes, Tarrio and Ali Alexander.

The chat focused on various pro-Trump events in November and December of 2020, as well as January 6th. As you can see here, Stewart Rhodes himself urged the Friends of Stone to have people go to their state capitols if they could not make it to Washington for the first million MAGA March on November 14th. These friends of Roger Stone had a significant presence at multiple pro-Trump events after the election, including in Washington on December the 12th. On that day, Stewart Rhodes called for Donald Trump to invoke martial law, promising bloodshed if he did not.

[snip]

JAMIE RASKIN: Encrypted chats obtained by the Select Committee show that Kelly Meggs, the indicted leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, spoke directly with Roger Stone about security on January 5th and 6th. In fact, on January 6th, Stone was guarded by two Oath Keepers who have since been criminally indicted for seditious conspiracy.

One of them later pleaded guilty and, according to the Department of Justice, admitted that the Oath Keepers were ready to use, quote, lethal force if necessary against anyone who tried to remove President Trump from the White House, including the National Guard. As we’ve seen, the Proud Boys were also part of the Friends of Stone Network.

Stone’s ties to the Proud Boys go back many years. He’s even taken their so-called fraternity creed required for the first level of initiation to the group.

[snip]

Katrina Pierson, one of the organizers of January 6th rally and a former campaign spokeswoman for President Trump, grew increasingly apprehensive after learning that multiple activists had been proposed as speakers for the January 6th rally. These included some of the people we discussed earlier in this hearing.

Roger Stone, a longtime outside advisor to President Trump; Alex Jones, the founder of the conspiracy theory website Infowars; and Ali Alexander, an activist known for his violent political rhetoric. On December 30th, Miss Pierson exchanged text messages with another key rally organizer about why people like Mr. Alexander and Mr. Jones were being suggested as speakers at the President’s rally on January 6th. Ms. Pierson’s explanation was POTUS, and she remarks that the President likes the crazies.

Remember that the Committee cut a good deal of their presentation focused on the militia in that seventh hearing to integrate more of Pat Cipollone’s testimony, which I think was one of the more unsuccessful planning decisions the Committee made.

Even still, taken as a whole, the Committee shows that the network around Roger Stone, which linked Ali Alexander, Alex Jones, and other movement activists to the militias (Jones had his own long-standing ties to the militias, including his former employee Joe Biggs), was riling up crowds starting immediately after the election, took concrete steps seemingly in response to Trump’s December 19 tweet, and continued to do so on January 6.

I mean, Roger Stone has been doing this since 2000.

In his most recent schema at least, Ari ignores all of that. Stone, Alexander, the militias, go unmentioned, and Trump’s role in the violence is limited to a single speech.

Which brings me back to the evidentiary gap that Ari and I share, seemingly in conjunction with the Committee.

In Ari’s telling, Donald Trump and Peter Navarro (with whom Ari has had a series of interviews) are the agents of this timeline. In his telling, Trump made an effort to “find a coup plotter” who would go further than his personal lawyer Rudy, who at least according to Hutchinson, had ties to the militias (though Powell is currently funding the legal defense of several Oath Keepers). Ari claimed that Powell was still on the campaign team, even though Rudy had explicitly and publicly stated she had no role on the campaign as early as November 22.

And Ari suggested that Trump adopted Powell’s plan, then either “back[ed] down” or “quit” it.

But as the January 6 Committee described it, it’s not really clear what happened; Pat Cipollone couldn’t even say whether Powell was appointed Special Counsel.

PAT CIPOLLONE: I don’t know what her understanding of whether she had been appointed, what she had been appointed to, Ok? In my view, she hadn’t been appointed to anything and ultimately wasn’t appointed to anything, because there had to be other steps taken. And that was my view when I left the meeting. But she may have a different view, and others may have a different view, and — and the president may have a different view.

To make matters worse, there are few if any credible witnesses here. Sidney Powell and her entourage (including Patrick Byrne, Mike Flynn, and an unnamed attorney) are batshit insane. So is Rudy. Cipollone, who gets treated as a grown-up, seems to be protecting Trump with his privilege claims. Meadows showed up later, but he’s a liar. Cassidy Hutchinson was texting details about the screaming and took a picture of Meadows escorting Rudy from the premises, but she is not known to have been in the meeting.

What seems common to all descriptions is that the Powell entourage showed up without an appointment and were let in by (as Ari notes) Peter Navarro aide Garrett Ziegler, though Patrick Byrne’s account describes two others being involved in their unplanned entry as well. That’s not a plan, it’s a pitch.

During the course of the meeting, Trump entertained the Powell plan because, he complained, Rudy and others were offering him nothing better.

UNKNOWN: So one of the other things that’s been reported that was said during this meeting was that President Trump told White House lawyers Mr. Herschmann and Mr. Cipollone that they weren’t offering him any solutions, but Ms. Powell and others were. So why not try what Ms. Powell and others were proposing? Do you remember anything along those lines being said by President Trump?

DEREK LYONS: I do. That sounds right.

ERIC HERSCHMANN: I think that it got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there. I mean, you got people walk in, it was late at night, had been a long day. And what they were proposing I thought was nuts.

RUDY GIULIANI: I’m gonna — I’m gonna categorically describe it as you guys are not tough enough. Or maybe I put it another way. You’re a bunch of pussies. Excuse the expression, but that — that’s I — I’m almost certain the word was used.

But the impression given by virtually all versions of this story (key versions linked below) is that by the end of the night, the White House lawyers and Rudy had mostly convinced Trump not to adopt this plan.

If that’s the case (and several people have backed that story under oath), this will be exculpatory if and when Trump ever goes to trial, not inculpatory. Entertaining a suspect idea — even the arguably legal one of appointing Jeffrey Clark to more aggressively pursue voter fraud claims, and especially a plan to seize the poll machines — but rejecting it on the advice of lawyers, even if Trump was persuaded to do so largely out of self-interest, is evidence someone is trying to stay inside the law, not break it. To be sure, there’s plenty of other evidence that Trump knowingly broke the law, but some of the most contentious meetings will actually be used in his defense. That just means prosecutors will find their proof of motive in places more directly tied to the crimes.

But the meeting accounts showing lawyers at least stalling on any decision about seizing the machines is where the trail goes dark.

No one has yet explained what happened between the time everyone left and the moment Trump’s tweet went out, and the understanding with which key planners adjusted their own timelines. Instead, we get narratives like Ari’s, or Jamie Raskin’s, that present the timing as proof that Trump took a third alternative — a pretty strong inference, undoubtedly — without an explanation of how the tweet got sent out or whether those involved knew where things would lead or who pitched Trump.

Not long after Sidney Powell, General Flynn, and Rudy Giuliani — Giuliani left the White House in the early hours of the morning, President Trump turned away from both his outside advisers’ most outlandish and unworkable schemes and his White House counsel’s advice to swallow hard and accept the reality of his loss.

Instead, Donald Trump issued a tweet that would galvanize his followers, unleash a political firestorm, and change the course of our history as a country. Trump’s purpose was to mobilize a crowd. And how do you mobilize a crowd in 2020? With millions of followers on Twitter, President Trump knew exactly how to do it. At 1:42 AM on December 19, 2020, shortly after the last participants left the unhinged meeting, Trump sent out the tweet with his explosive invitation.

Trump repeated his big lie and claimed it was “statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 election” before calling for a big protest in DC on January 6th, be there, will be wild. Trump supporters responded immediately. Women for America First, a pro-Trump organizing group, had previously applied for a rally permit for January 22nd and 23rd in Washington, DC, several days after Joe Biden was to be inaugurated.

But in the hours after the tweet, they moved their permit to January 6th, two weeks before. This rescheduling created the rally where Trump would eventually speak. The next day, Ali Alexander, leader of the Stop the Steal organization and a key mobilizer of Trump supporters, registered Wildprotest.com, named after Trump’s tweet.

Wildprotest.com provided comprehensive information about numerous newly organized protest events in Washington. It included event times, places, speakers, and details on transportation to Washington DC. Meanwhile, other key Trump supporters, including far right media personalities, began promoting the wild protest on January 6th. [Begin videotape]

It appears that both Powell’s contingent and Rudy left after midnight, with Meadows and Rudy together alone as Rudy left. Less than two hours later, that tweet went out, a tweet that was demonstrably central to both the organized and disorganized mobilization of the mob, one that has long been a focus of DOJ’s prosecutions (proof, among other proof, that Ari’s claim that DOJ has only focused on January 6 and the days immediately before it is false).

It’s certainly possible that after everyone left Peter Navarro came in, or maybe just Ziegler, and presented an alternative plan, a mob, but Ari presents no evidence that happened and it’s unlikely either Ziegler or Navarro would have been silent about their role in it. It’s more likely that Rudy and Meadows agreed they had to offer Trump another alternative, and they settled on January 6 (certainly, Meadows had advanced knowledge of Rudy’s plans for January 6). It’s possible that Trump had a late night call with someone else — Roger Stone or Bannon, maybe — who operationalized what came next. Maybe the dim-witted Meadows came up with the plan by himself.

Meadows, who refused to cooperate with the Committee, surely knows. Dan Scavino, who refused to cooperate, spent four years knowing what led up to most every tweet that Trump sent out. He also must know.

And while Ari doesn’t appear to know and I don’t either and the Committee doesn’t explain it if they know the answer, the one other place one might learn the answer is from those who turned existing infrastructure — the Stop the Steal effort, the permits — towards planning for January 6 (both of which DOJ has issued grand jury subpoenas to learn).

DOJ has been a bit coy about whether they know. That’s why I pointed to the remarkable use of the passive voice in Donohoe’s statement of offense in April, which virtually alone among January 6 filings obscures Trump’s role in announcing the riot on December 19, then turns immediately to Enrique Tarrio’s very hierarchical plan to instill discipline in the Proud Boys that didn’t exist at the December 12 MAGA March (the same trip to DC where Tarrio visited the White House as part of a Latinos for Trump visit).

On December 19, 2020, plans were announced for a protest event in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, which protest would coincide with Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

On or before December 20, 2020, Tarrio approached Donohoe and solicited his interest in joining the leadership of a new chapter of the Proud Boys, called the Ministry of Self Defense (“MOSD”). Donohoe understood from Tarrio that the new chapter would be focused on the planning and execution of national rallies and would consist of hand-selected “rally” boys. Donohoe felt privileged to be included and agreed to participate.

That happened “on or before” December 20, allowing for the possibility that the Proud Boys started to plan before Trump publicly announced the rally. Among other communications that DOJ likely has that the Committee has more limited access to are at least three versions of the Friends of Stone listserv (from Tarrio, Rhodes, and Owen Shroyer’s phones).

My instinct — based on all the evidence that these same people had been the muscle going back to the election — is that that’s where one could find the answer: Meadows, Scavino, Trump, Rudy, but also those who directed existing infrastructure towards January 6. But that’s just instinct. We still really don’t know for sure.

Presidents often adopt the plans of the last person in the room, and that’s probably more true with Trump than many of his predecessors. We know — or believe — that Sidney Powell and Rudy both left. Which means we don’t know who pitched Trump on the plan he ultimately adopted, the one that led directly to an attack on the Capitol.

There absolutely is a slew of evidence that that tweet made the difference, not just with the militias, but with disorganized conspirators and individuals who took Trump’s tweet as an order to make travel plans. It is absolutely the case that after that meeting, Trump took a fateful step (though that has been clear for at least a year). We just don’t know what led him to post that tweet.


Many of those people [Rudy, Meadows, Eastman] wanted pardons totally separate from the January 6 violence and that is important as we look at a different plot Trump’s effort to find a coup plotter would who go farther than Giuliani, his lawyer, Sidney Powell. She would go even farther. So the plan was to take her off the campaign team and try to install her inside the government to get the military to seize voting machines.

[snip]

Trump did back down on that very bad red illegal plan. And by the way, quitting an illegal coup would be a good thing, but this was the military plot: another conspiracy’s prong that hits a dead end. And this is key, because facing that dead end, late that same night of December 18th, Trump turned to the other plot pushed by Eastman and Navarro, posting what is by now an infamous tweet that announces the January 6 rally, beginning, quote, Peter Navarro releases 36-page report alleging election fraud ‘more than sufficient’ to swing victory to Trump. That was the lie Trump needed to build on when he summons the people to DC for the first time. Quote, big protest in DC on January 6th. Will be wild. Now that’s the first time Trump ever told supporters there was a place to come join this fight. And none of this happened in isolation. The evidence of Trump’s criminal intent is worse when all the facts are shown about the plot. Trump began the public operation to sabotage January 6 as a certified vote which was criminal, only after hitting this dead end in the failed plot to have the military help a coup. Now his lawyers warned him of the criminal issues here. Of the criminal intent and actions of that military plot. And he still moved, continuously, from that conspiracy to this one. Now, that’s damning evidence if prosecutors are indicting a broader conspiracy. And the White House aide connecting both plots is Navarro whose aide helped sneak in the military plotters there, then, he’s part of Trump’s January 6th announcement.

[A quote about seizing machines, ignores DHS]

This is something that Rudy Giuliani said would land them all in prison. Rudy Giuliani. He’s already lost his law license. We’ll see what else happens to him. But that is the context as we showed tonight: That when that fails, is the same time, the same night, that Donald Trump comes in and says, alright, I can’t abuse military power. I’m even being told by my most aggressive, lawless lawyers — the kind that he apparently prefers — that that’s not gonna work. So that’s when I bring muscle to January 6. But we have had, in this country, in our minds and apparently at the Justice Department as we reported tonight, a fixation on only looking here [post December 19]. On basically the 6th, or the lead-up to the 6th, or a few days out. And that’s understandable, given what we lived through. We’re human beings and the 6th was one of the worst attacks and one of the worst national security crises America has ever faced, from a domestic threat, let alone an incumbent outgoing President. The point tonight, which we’ve built on evidence, not anything but evidence, is that when you actually go all the way back, when you actually understand how this started, and how many different plots were pursued, thwarted, warned about, and then desperately doubled down upon, that goes to the criminal intent. Let me put it simply. Taken separately, some of these plots can be viewed like a gray area, clumsy plans that didn’t occur or the insurrection that exploded but also ended within one day. I’ll tell you something. The law makes it hard to pin an insurrection on one speech. As it should. But taken together, you have the evidence of this wider criminal conspiracy with criminal intent running across weeks if not more. Remember, in court, prosecutors have to prove criminal intent in a moment, just that you meant to do it. This is weeks of that with lawyers warning these were crimes, especially after the legal door was closed in mid-December when the Electoral College voted — everything after that, when it comes to overturning votes and installing fraudulent electors, that’s that illegal red zone. That’s where you see the evidence of several crimes. And taken together? Well, this evidence suggests the question is no longer whether there are any indictable election offenses here, but how prosecutors would explain a failure to indict and enforce the law and how that does risk letting the close call of this documented and attempted multi-prong coup conspiracy turn into a training exercise that American democracy may not survive.

 

If You Need to Panic about DOJ’s Investigation into January 6, Panic First about Doug Mastriano

Yesterday, Rachel Maddow reported the exciting news that Merrick Garland released the same memo that Attorneys General always do during election years.

“As in prior election cycles, I am issuing this memorandum to remind you of the Department’s existing policies with respect to political activities.” Rachel was really upset that Garland integrated the requirement for prior approval that was already the norm, but which Barr put into writing (which arose, in part, out of Michael Horowitz’s IG Report on Carter Page, which showed that not everyone had learned of the investigation into Trump’s flunkies in timely fashion). After months and months of inflammatory commentary suggesting that the decision on whether or not to investigate Trump rested exclusively with Garland (and not, as is the reality, a hierarchy of DOJ personnel, starting with a team of career AUSAs), Rachel wailed that the memo requires Garland to do what everyone has long assumed was true: that Garland would have to approve any investigation into Trump.

In response to her irresponsible sensationalism, people immediately concluded that by releasing the memo, Garland had nixed any further indictments before the election.

One reason I’m certain that’s not true is because after Garland released this memo, DOJ arrested declared candidate for Governor of Michigan, Ryan Kelley. Kelley never entered the Capitol on January 6. But in addition to charging him with entering restricted grounds (that is, entering inside the barricades set up around the Capitol), DOJ also charged him with vandalizing the scaffolding set up in advance of the Inauguration. The charging documents also cited some of his other efforts to undermine democracy in the lead-up and aftermath of the 2020 election.

In October of 2020, KELLEY attended the “American Patriot Council Nationwide Freedom March” in Allendale, Michigan. During that event, KELLEY wore a blue shirt, a black coat, a watch with a red watch band, and aviator sunglasses. Parts of this attire were also worn by KELLEY in photos and videos from the U.S. Capitol grounds on January 6, 2021. KELLEY appears at this event in the image below.

In November of 2020, KELLEY was a featured speaker and introduced by name at a “Stop the Steal” rally at the Michigan Capitol in Lansing. During that event, KELLEY indicated that those attending the rally should stand and fight, with the goal of preventing Democrats from stealing the election.

He gave a speech while wearing a name tag and stated “Covid-19 was made so that they can use the propaganda to control your minds so that you think, if you watch the media, that Joe Biden won this election. We’re not going to buy it. We’re going to stand and fight for America, for Donald Trump. We’re not going to let the Democrats steal this election”.

Kelley was arrested on June 9, technically within the 60 day window in advance of the August 2 primary. But DOJ did arrest the gubernatorial candidate in time for voters to learn of his actions during the insurrection (it even was an issue at a recent debate), without creating last minute news before an election like Jim Comey did against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Kelley’s not the only one against whom DOJ has taken overt investigative steps in the wake of the memo, either. DOJ seized the phones of a number of high ranking subjects in the fake electors plot, including the Chair of Nevada’s Republican Party, Michael McDonald. Indeed, the likelihood a number of subjects of the fake elector plot would be covered by the DOJ policy may be why the January 6 Committee is finally making an exception regarding their refusal to share interview transcripts for that part of DOJ’s investigation: while they’ve been refusing, the window on pre-election indictments for fake elector plotters is closing.

Besides, all this panic-mongering seems really, really badly targeted.

I’m impatient to have some accountability for Trump and his flunkies, just like everyone else (even if, because I’ve followed the investigation, I know that DOJ is investigating Trump’s flunkies). I think, for the reasons I laid out here, a hypothetical Trump indictment wouldn’t come for some time yet, but I’m also confident that if the investigation isn’t open now or soon, Trump’s campaign roll-out would do nothing to thwart opening an investigation. It would require the same Garland approval that would be obtained in any case. Trump wouldn’t even be affected by the DOJ policy on pre-election actions, because he’s not on the ballot this year.

But there is a key player in January 6, someone known to have been under investigation, for whom the window to prosecute is closing as the election draws near, someone who presents a far more immediate threat to democracy than Trump: Doug Mastriano, the GOP candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania.

Mastriano technically could be charged, just for his actions on January 6. Like some other political figures — in addition to Kelley, Couy Griffin, and key influencers like Owen Shroyer and Brandon Straka (though Straka’s original complaint included civil disorder) — Mastriano appears to have been at the Capitol, inside the barriers, but did not enter the building.

The images, shared with NBC News, appear to show Mastriano holding up his cellphone as rioters in the front of the mob face off with police at the Capitol steps. Reconstructed timelines and other videos filmed nearby show rioters would breach this police line within minutes, ripping away a crowd control rope line and rushing past officers up the stairs. The timelines and videos, including unedited versions, that show Mastriano in the crowd were reviewed by NBC News.

A man who appears to be Doug Mastriano takes photos or video with his cell phone on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
 A man who appears to be Doug Mastriano takes photos or video with his cellphone near the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.@MichaelCoudrey via Twitter

Online sleuths also identified a video posted by “Stop the Steal” organizer Mike Coudrey on Jan. 6 that appears to show Mastriano taking photos or video with his cellphone as rioters face off with police on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Coudrey’s tweet celebrated the mob, which he said “broke through 4 layers of security at the Capitol building.

Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment. Mastriano previously said that he “respected all police lines as I came upon them” and that he never stepped foot on the Capitol stairs. One of his campaign aides, Grant Clarkson, was near the front of the mob, NBC previously reported. There has been no evidence that Clarkson entered the Capitol that day and he has insisted he did not.

Mastriano has had ties with a number of the people charged for more serious roles in the insurrection, most notably Sam Lazar, who was arrested a year ago on charges of civil disorder and assaulting cops.

And perhaps to an even greater extent than some other influencers who were arrested for their presence inside the barricades at the Capitol, Mastriano spent the months leading up to the insurrection laying the foundation for it, actions that might make him susceptible to an obstruction charge. This article describes his key role in sowing The Big Lie, most notably arranging for the quasi-official hearing at which Rudy could spread false claims. Mastriano also spoke at the “Jericho March” on December 12, 2020, which was a key networking event in advance of the insurrection.

As laid out in the SJC Report on the topic, Mastriano also pressured DOJ to intervene to overturn the election. When Trump complained to DOJ that they were ignoring fraud claims on December 27, for example, Mastriano was — along with Jim Jordan and Scott Perry — one of the people whose complaints he directed Jeffrey Rosen to attend to.

Trump twice calls Rosen. During the second call, Rosen conferences in Donoghue, who takes extensive notes on Trump’s claims that the “election has been stolen out from under the American people” and that DOJ is failing to respond. Trump mentions efforts made by Pennsylvania Representative Scott Perry, Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, and Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano, and asks Rosen and Donoghue to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.” Trump also references Jeffrey Clark and potentially replacing DOJ’s leadership.

Mastriano also paid $3,000 to bus people into the event.

On paper, then, Mastriano is the kind of influencer-organizer that DOJ has been investigating for some time, but he has not yet been charged.

The FBI have carried out investigative steps with regards to Mastriano. A CNN report from last month says he was interviewed last summer (and sat for an interview with the January 6 Committee).

The FBI has been conducting an expansive investigation into the January 6 riot and questioned Mastriano last summer after photos emerged of him on Capitol grounds that day, according to the source familiar with the interview, which has not been previously reported.

Mastriano has not been accused of committing any crimes and cooperated fully with the FBI, according to the source. Asked about Mastriano’s interview, an FBI spokesperson told CNN that the bureau “cannot confirm the existence of an investigation or comment on details.”

The lapsed time since his FBI interview doesn’t mean he won’t be charged; such delays, even longer ones, are common for those arrested for January 6. Plus, Mastriano is someone whose communications, including with Rudy and probably John Eastman and Ali Alexander, have likely shown up in materials seized or subpoenaed by DOJ.

But if DOJ is going to charge Mastriano, they have slightly more than 50 days to do so in order to comply with the DOJ guidelines.

And when I say he poses a more urgent threat to democracy right now than Trump, that’s not just about the impending election. In addition to regressive policies that are typical of the GOP these days, such as a no-exception ban on abortion, he poses an immediate threat to democracy itself. He has publicly committed to attacking democracy itself.

Those concerns are made especially acute in Pennsylvania by the fact that the governor has the unusual authority to directly appoint the secretary of state, who serves as chief elections officer and must sign off on results. If he or she refuses, chaos could follow.

“The biggest risk is a secretary of state just saying, ‘I’m not going to certify the election, despite what the court says and despite what the evidence shows, because I’m concerned about suspicions,’” said Clifford Levine, a Democratic election lawyer in Pennsylvania. “You would start to have a breakdown in the legal system and the whole process.”

Mastriano’s backers appear well aware of the stakes. A video posted to Telegram by election denial activist Ivan Raiklin from Mastriano’s victory party on Tuesday showed the candidate smiling as Raiklin congratulated him on his win and added, with a thumb’s up, “20 electoral votes as well,” a reference to the state’s clout in the electoral college.

“Oh yeahhhh,” Mastriano responded.

Mastriano did not respond to a voice mail or an email sent to a campaign account for media.

But Mastriano told Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Trump who now hosts a podcast popular on the right, that he had already selected the person he would appoint as secretary of state if elected.

“As far as cleaning up the election, I mean, I’m in a good position as governor,” he said in the April 23 appearance on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “I have a voting-reform-minded individual who’s been traveling the nation and knows voting reform extremely well. That individual has agreed to be my secretary of state.”

Mastriano has been buying followers from the far-right social media site, Gab. And he has ties to Russian-backed far-right propagandists.

A number of people have said, with no exaggeration, that a Mastriano win would virtually guarantee no Democratic candidate could win the state’s presidential votes in 2024.

If DOJ is going to expand its prosecutions to those who laid the groundwork for January 6, they are going to be charging people like Doug Mastriano. There’s little doubt that Mastriano, as much as anyone who went inside the building on January 6, as much as Trump, was trying to prevent the lawful transfer of power.

Yet DOJ only has seven weeks left to charge Mastriano before DOJ’s election guidelines would prevent that from happening.

If you want to panic, panic first about Mastriano. Because the threat he poses to democracy is far more imminent than the very real threat Trump poses.

Update: Politico has a piece on Mastriano talking about how close it is in PA, and NYT has a piece using Mastriano as illustration of the increasing embrace of conspiracism on the far-right.

Update: This thread from an online researcher tracks Mastriano’s movements around the Capitol on January 6.