“Stand Back and Stand By:” Jack Smith’s Hidden Cards

Two years ago, I wrote a January 6 post describing how the vastness of the attack makes it unknowable, even for someone who had been tracking it full time.

I have spent the better part of the year working full time, with few days off, trying to understand (and help others understand) January 6. I’ve got a clear (though undoubtedly partial) vision of how it all works — how the tactical developments in the assault on the Capitol connect directly back to actions Donald Trump took. Zoe Tillman, one of a handful of other journalists who is attempting to track all these cases (while parenting a toddler and covering other major judicial developments) has a piece attempting to do so with a summary of the numbers. But both those methods are inadequate to the task.

But thus far, that clear vision remains largely unknowable via the normal ways the general public learns. That’s why, I think, people like Lawrence Tribe are so panicked: because even beginning to understand this thing is, quite literally, a full time job, even for those of us with the luxury of living an ocean away. In Tribe’s case, he has manufactured neglect out of what he hasn’t done the work to know. To have something that poses such an obvious risk to American democracy remain so unknowable, so mysterious — to not be able to make sense of the mob that threatens democracy — makes it far more terrifying.

I know a whole lot about what is knowable about the January 6 investigation. But one thing I keep realizing is that it remains unknowable.

I wrote the post, in part, hoping to allay the fear many people seemed to have because they couldn’t understand the investigation and therefore were sure that DOJ was only investigating MAGA tourists, who at that point made up most of the prosecutions. Since that time, hundreds of assault convictions and three seditious conspiracy trials later, we’ve learned that DOJ was already investigating three of Trump’s co-conspirators, it’s just that those investigations didn’t look like what people were looking for.

I’d like to reprise the theme, again to reassure people.

Two years later, 500 and the all important One defendants later, the investigation remains unknowable.

Specifically, while it seems that my assumption from last summer — that Jack Smith chose to charge just Trump first, presumably in a bid to get to trial before the election — was correct, we have no idea what he plans from here forward. A filing in December even revealed that there are others, besides the six identified in the Trump indictment, that the government plans to treat as unindicted co-conspirators at Trump’s eventual trial. Given the prosecution’s plan to introduce Trump’s shout out — “stand back and stay by” — to the Proud Boys, that suggests DOJ might even treat the seditious militia as Trump’s co-conspirators.

We don’t know what Jack Smith planned to do with all the other co-conspirators last summer. We don’t know what he plans to do with them now.

Unlike the Mueller investigation, we don’t even know all the prosecutors Jack Smith has working for him. We didn’t even hear that Michael Dreeben had returned to government to work for him until his name appeared on an appellate brief. There are at least four AUSAs who have not shown up, not recently anyway, in public filings. I’m quite certain they haven’t been twiddling their thumbs in the last year.

What we do know, however, is that Jack Smith team members JP Cooney and Molly Gaston both survived the aftermath of the Mueller investigation, the former in dealing with the aftermath of the Roger Stone resignations, and the latter in the aftermath of the Paul Manafort prosecution. They know how Trump pardoned his way out of a Russian conspiracy charge in 2020. They likely have some ideas about how to avoid that this time around (which may be why Smith hasn’t indicted any of Trump’s co-conspirators yet).

Since Judge Chutkan stayed proceedings for Trump’s immunity appeal, Jack Smith’s team has continued submitting filings — including the 404(b) notice warning prosecutors would raise Trump’s support for the Proud Boys at trial. And it’s driving Trump nuts; he even asked Judge Chutkan to hold Jack Smith in contempt for continuing to meet deadlines that she has stayed (issuing a filing complaining that they’re issuing filings!). One way to create the opportunity to tell more of the story of January 6, as Trump attempts to keep it out of the news through the primaries, is to indict more people, possibly sub-conspiracies tied to each of Trump’s identified co-conspirators.

Jack Smith made a choice last summer to only indict Trump at that time. But if the DC Circuit creates further delays in prosecuting Trump, Smith can make a different choice now.

We don’t know what his team has been doing while Gaston and Thomas Windom have been the primary faces of the prosecution. But he has cards left to play.

WaPo’s First Amendment Blindness: When Exploiting a Media Figure’s Phone Gets Reported as “Cautious”

Ponder this: The Washington Post deems an investigation that fully exploited a high profile media figure’s phone as overly cautious.

To be sure, when WaPo wrote 8,000 words about the January 6 investigation, they exhibited not a shred of awareness that had happened.

But according to an exchange in a June 23, 2022 status hearing in Owen Shroyer’s prosecution, FBI case agents had just obtained the content of Shroyer’s phone and were just beginning to scope it (that is, post-privilege review, to isolate any content that complied with whatever warrant was used to access the phone). Within days after that, Alex Jones lawyer Norm Pattis joined Joe Biggs’ defense team.

As a reminder, in August 2021, DOJ used a pre-existing Deferred Prosecution Agreement with Jones’ sidekick as means to bypass any First Amendment concerns behind arresting Shroyer.

On Friday, Shroyer entered into the standard plea agreement for the more serious of two misdemeanors, requiring that he share his social media activity but not requiring an interview (though sometimes silence about an interview in these standard pleas reflects a prior interview), much less real cooperation. Particularly because of two 2011 DWI-related charges, Shroyer might face a sentence of some weeks or months of jail time, which if he did, would be a sentence imposed by Trump appointee Tim Kelly. While Shroyer’s Statement of Offense mentions Jones as Person One (which DOJ already had in November 2021), it is coy about any knowledge on Shroyer’s part that he and Jones were asked to lead Trump’s mob to the Capitol.

On January 6, 2021, the defendant attended the speeches at the Ellipse in downtown Washington, D.C., as part of the Stop the Steal rally. Early that afternoon, crowds of people began to gather and head towards the Capitol perimeter. The defendant took to a megaphone in front of one of those crowds on Pennsylvania Avenue:

In 1776, the American patriots sent a loud messages to the entire world: Tyranny will not exist in the West. And so now the Democrats are posing as communists, but we know what they really are: they’re just tyrants, they’re tyrants. And so today, January 6, we declare death to tyranny! Death to tyrants! Death to tyrants! Death to tyrants!

En route to the U.S. Capitol, the defendant continued shouting to the crowd walking behind and around him through his megaphone.

Even a declaration Shroyer submitted a year ago said more about his expectations that Trump would lead the march to the Capitol.

Nor does the Statement of Offense say anything about the texts Shroyer exchanged with the Proud Boys in the days and minutes before the attack on the Capitol.

Records for Enrique Tarrio’s phone show that while the attack on the Capitol was ongoing, he texted with Jones three times and Shroyer five times.124 Ethan Nordean’s phone records reflect that he exchanged 23 text messages with Shroyer between January 4th and 5th, and that he had one call with him on each of those days.125 Records of Joseph Biggs’s communications show that he texted with Shroyer eight times on January 4th and called him at approximately 11:15 a.m. on January 6th, while Biggs and his fellow Proud Boys were marching at and around the Capitol.126

Shroyer’s plea agreement was initialed by someone other than Jocelyn Ballantine, the AUSA overseeing complex conspiracy prosecutions.

Shroyer’s treatment, like Brandon Straka’s, may be a sign that DOJ continues to shy away from obstruction charges with the people who, like other rioters, broke the law and exhibited premeditation to obstruct the vote certification, but who might raise more vigorous defenses against obstruction charges.

But whatever else Shroyer’s prosecution represents, it is an instance where DOJ used the arrest of someone who fits solidly within DOJ’s media guidelines to obtain and exploit his phone. All with nary a peep from other journalists.

WaPo’s cavalier attitude towards the First Amendment considerations in this investigation extends into the details that they do provide. Consider how it presents a key showdown in late February 2021. As WaPo describes, JP Cooney pitched a plan to take investigative steps against Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and Ali Alexander directly — precisely the people whose activities might have been captured on Shroyer’s phone.

But a group of prosecutors led by J.P. Cooney, the head of the fraud and public corruption section at the U.S. attorney’s office, argued that the existing structure of the probe overlooked a key investigative angle. They sought to open a new front, based partly on publicly available evidence, including from social media, that linked some extremists involved in the riot to people in Trump’s orbit — including Roger Stone, Trump’s longest-serving political adviser; Ali Alexander, an organizer of the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the riot; and Alex Jones, the Infowars host.


In February 2021, Cooney took his proposal to investigate the ties with people in Trump’s orbit directly to a group of senior agents in the FBI’s public corruption division, a group he’d worked with over the years and who were enmeshed in some of the most sensitive Jan. 6 cases underway.

According to three people who either viewed or were briefed on Cooney’s plan, it called for a task force to embark on a wide-ranging effort, including seeking phone records for Stone, as well as Alexander. Cooney wanted investigators to follow the money — to trace who had financed the false claims of a stolen election and paid for the travel of rallygoers-turned-rioters. He was urging investigators to probe the connection between Stone and members of the Oath Keepers, who were photographed together outside the Willard hotel in downtown Washington on the morning of Jan. 6. [my emphasis]

This entire section seems reliant on three people familiar with this discussion; there’s no claim it relies on people who actually participated in it (though Michael Sherwin and either Steve D’Antuono directly or via his HJC transcript appear to be key sources for this story).

The description of the plan seems muddled.

JP Cooney, who would have known of Roger Stone’s past incitement of violence with the Proud Boys, couldn’t possibly have focused exclusively on Stone’s ties to the Oath Keepers to the exclusion of the Proud Boys, could he?

Plus, much of the rest of the discussion seems to ignore parts of this plan — such as following the money — that did go forward in 2021, in however curtailed a way. Indeed, in one place WaPo suggests that Garland, in a speech in which he said they were “follow[ing] the money,” had chosen to “start[] with ‘the people on the ground’ and work[] up,” a description that ignores the investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting that was overt by September 2021. So it’s not clear whether Axelrod vetoed the entire plan, or just those two parts of it.

In any case, FBI agents balked and got two men with clear conflicts in the investigation, D’Antuono and Sherwin, to review and elevate concerns about Cooney’s plans.

Inside the FBI’s Washington Field Office, agents recognized Cooney’s presentation for the major course change that it presented. Investigators were already looking for evidence that might bubble up from rioter cases to implicate Stone and others. Cooney’s plan would have started agents looking from the top down as well, including directly investigating a senior Trump ally. They alerted D’Antuono to their concerns, according to people familiar with the discussions.

D’Antuono called Sherwin. The two agreed Cooney did not provide evidence that Stone had likely committed a crime — the standard they considered appropriate for looking at a political figure. Investigating Stone simply because he spent time with Oath Keepers could expose the department to accusations that it had politicized the probe, they told colleagues.

D’Antuono took the matter to Abbate, Wray’s newly named deputy director. Abbate agreed the plan was premature.

Sherwin similarly went up his chain of command, alerting Matt Axelrod, one of the senior-most officials Biden installed on his landing team at “Main Justice,” as the DOJ headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW is known. Axelrod, a top Justice Department official during the Obama administration, had been tapped by Biden’s transition committee to help run the department day-to-day until Garland and Monaco could be confirmed.

This led to a meeting among top people, not all of whom are named. As described, Obama DOJ veteran Matt Axelrod objected primarily to two parts of the plan: to obtain membership rolls for the Oath Keepers (again, this story is silent about the Proud Boys) and information on permits for rallies.

Axelrod called a meeting for the last week of February with Sherwin, D’Antuono, Abbate and other top deputies. Cooney wasn’t there to defend his plan, according to three people familiar with the discussion, but Axelrod and Abbate reacted allergically to one aspect of it: Cooney wanted membership rolls for Oath Keepers as well as groups that had obtained permits for rallies on Jan. 6, looking for possible links and witnesses. The two saw those steps as treading on First Amendment-protected activities, the people said.

Axelrod saw an uncomfortable analogy to Black Lives Matter protests that had ended in vandalism in D.C. and elsewhere a year earlier. “Imagine if we had requested membership lists for BLM” in the middle of the George Floyd protests, he would say later, people said. [my emphasis]

It’s not even clear that obtaining the membership lists would be constitutional under NAACP v. Alabama. Plus, given the in-fighting within the Oath Keepers (and the Proud Boys) it’s also not clear it would be that useful. Ultimately, prosecutors worked from the content seized from arrestees’ phones and other evidence of ties between actual co-conspirators. That caused a significant part of the delay before charging both Stewart Rhodes and Enrique Tarrio, but in the latter’s case, that was a year-long delay to access evidence seized before January 6!

In both militia leader prosecutions, only content that would have been viewed by charged co-conspirators came in as evidence — but even there, defendants in both trials argued this exceeded the First Amendment.

Which is to say that Axelrod’s concerns about membership lists were not only right from a legal and civil liberties perspective, but possibly even from an efficacy one as well.

That’s far less clear with regards to information on people who had permits for rallies on January 6. That’s especially true given WaPo’s silence about Brandon Straka’s so-called cooperation, without consideration of which this story is incomplete.

Brandon Straka, recall, is one of the key “influencers” behind Stop the Steal; he played a key role in the TCF protest in Michigan. He attended the January 6 rally as a VIP, sitting right next to Mike Flynn. He stopped at the Willard between the time he left the rally and took the Metro to the Capitol, expecting to speak. He was initially charged with civil disorder and — based on the standards applied to other rioters — could easily have been charged with obstruction. Instead, he was given credit for cooperating in two early FBI interviews, and ultimately pled only to the less serious trespassing charge, to be sentenced to three years of probation.

According to his cooperation memo, Straka provided information on Alexander, Cindy Chafian, and the Kremers (as well as the Stop the Steal DM list) starting on February 11, in advance of the late February meeting discussing Cooney’s plan. That makes it likely that Cooney’s plan was partly a response to Straka’s first interview. My view — and that of everyone I know who has followed Straka’s prosecution closely — is that FBI agents who interviewed Straka were wildly credulous about his answers. FBI investigators bought stories that January 6 Committee investigators later poked big holes in. And neither the FBI nor the DOJ adequately investigated Straka’s role in inciting violence earlier, though DOJ may have revisited it after Probation discovered how he profited off his false claims.

If Cooney’s plan was an attempt to capitalize on Straka’s so-called cooperation, the failure started with the FBI agents getting bulldozed by Straka’s claims, not more senior decision-makers (though by all reports, D’Antuono would certainly have protected such investigative ineptitude).

Whatever the merit of Axelrod’s decision, WaPo describes it to be a decision about the First Amendment, not one about politics.

It then uses a decision it describes to arise from First Amendment concerns, describes that “some” of the half dozen or so present — at least two of whom had clear conflicts — also had political concerns.

Axelrod later told colleagues that he knew Jan. 6 was an unprecedented attack, but he feared deviating from the standard investigative playbook — doing so had landed the DOJ in hot water before. Former FBI director James B. Comey’s controversial decision to break protocol — by publicly announcing he was reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails days before the 2016 presidential election — was widely viewed as swinging the contest in Trump’s favor.

Some in the group also acknowledged the political risks during the meeting or in subsequent conversations, according to people familiar with the discussions. Seeking the communications of a high-profile Trump ally such as Stone could trigger a social media post from Trump decrying yet another FBI investigation as a “witch hunt.” And what if the probe turned up nothing? Some were mindful, too, that investigating public figures demanded a high degree of confidence, because even a probe that finds no crime can unfairly impugn them.

All who assembled for the late February meeting were in agreement, with Axelrod making the final call: Cooney’s plan would not go forward.

Aspects of the proposal were reported in 2021 by The Post and the New York Times. But the identity of the prosecutor who pushed for the plan, several of its details and the full story of how it galvanized the Justice Department’s approach to the Jan. 6 investigation have not been previously revealed.

Inside the FBI’s Washington Field Office, buzz about who might join the task force to investigate those around Trump dissipated as word spread that plans for the team had been shelved. In the U.S. attorney’s office, budding investigative work around the finances of Trump backers was halted, an internal record shows, including into Jones, who had boasted of paying a half-million dollars for the president’s Jan. 6 rally and claimed the White House had asked him to lead the march to the Capitol. [my emphasis]

WaPo then appears to apply the political squeamishness it attributes to just “some” participants in a meeting attended mostly by people who’ve moved on, to all of DOJ’s subsequent decisions, dropping consideration of the very real First Amendment concerns that have been an issue at virtually every prosecution to date to say nothing of evidentiary concerns that the Rhodes prosecution bore out.

A Washington Post investigation found that more than a year would pass before prosecutors and FBI agents jointly embarked on a formal probe of actions directed from the White House to try to steal the election. Even then, the FBI stopped short of identifying the former president as a focus of that investigation.

A wariness about appearing partisan, institutional caution, and clashes over how much evidence was sufficient to investigate the actions of Trump and those around him all contributed to the slow pace. Garland and the deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, charted a cautious course aimed at restoring public trust in the department while some prosecutors below them chafed, feeling top officials were shying away from looking at evidence of potential crimes by Trump and those close to him, The Post found.


The Justice Department’s painstaking approach to investigating Trump can be traced to Garland’s desire to turn the page from missteps, bruising attacks and allegations of partisanship in the department’s recent investigations of both Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Inside Justice, however, some lawyers have complained that the attorney general’s determination to steer clear of any claims of political motive has chilled efforts to investigate the former president. “You couldn’t use the T word,” said one former Justice official briefed on prosecutors’ discussions. [my emphasis]

Within two months after DOJ, prior to Garland’s confirmation, halted the investigation into Jones, FBI arrested his videographer Sam Montoya, followed four months later by the Shroyer arrest. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui was so skeptical that Shroyer’s arrest met DOJ’s own media guidelines that he demanded additional briefing before approving the arrest warrant; and in approving it, he suggested that Shroyer had the intent of obstructing the vote certification.

Shroyer’s arrest, in particular, was an opportunistic step, one that used his prior DPA to take a step that otherwise would have — and did, from Faruqui — elicit objections, in order to pursue evidence that might have (and still might!) substantiate the ties between Jones and the assault on the Capitol.

That makes his treatment similar to the treatment DOJ used with Rudy Giuliani — another investigative angle about which WaPo was not just unaware but affirmatively mistaken.

Approving the seizure of Rudy Giuliani’s phones on her first day on the job and taking subsequent steps to ensure all the content on them, including the January 6 content, got a privilege review from the start was not cautious. Using Shroyer’s prior DPA as a means to arrest a key pivot between the crime scene and the Willard was not cautious.

They were steps designed to obtain key evidence without attracting undue attention. And the steps themselves, at least, succeeded so well, the WaPo wrote an 8,000 word story purporting to describe the investigation, yet missed both of them.

Steve Bannon’s “Alleged” Non-Contemptuous Behavior

On Friday, the two sides in the Steve Bannon contempt prosecution filed a bunch of motions about the scope of the case. They are:

Office of Legal Counsel memos

The fight over OLC memos is likely to get the bulk of attention, possibly even from Judge Carl Nichols (who relied on one of the OLC memos at issue in the Harriet Miers case). While there’s no telling what a Clarence Thomas clerk might do, I view this fight as mostly tactical. One way for Bannon’s attempt to fail (Nichols improbably ruling that OLC memos cannot be relied on in court) would upend the entire way DOJ treats OLC memos. That might have salutary benefits in the long term, but in the short term it would expose anyone, like Vice President Dick Cheney, who had relied on OLC memos in the past to protect themselves from torture and illegal wiretapping exposure themselves.

In my opinion this challenge is, in part, a threat to Liz Cheney.

But as DOJ (I think correctly) argues, none of this should matter. That’s because — as they show with two exhibits — none of the OLC memos apply to Bannon, and not just because he was not a government employee when he was plotting a coup.

On October 6, 2021, Trump attorney Justin Clark wrote to Bannon attorney Robert Costello (citing no prior contact with Costello), instructing him not to comply to the extent permitted by law:

Therefore, to the fullest extent permitted by law, President Trump instructs Mr. Bannon to: (a) where appropriate, invoke any immunities and privileges he may have from compelled testimony in response to the Subpoena; (b) not produce any documents concerning privileged material in response to the Subpoena; and (c) not provide any testimony concerning privileged material in response to the Subpoena.

But on October 14, Clark wrote and corrected Costello about claims he had made in a letter to Benny Thompson.

Bob–I just read your letter dated October 13, 2021 to Congressman Benny Thompson. In that letter you stated that “[a]s recently as today, counsel for President Trump, Justin Clark Esq., informed us that President Trump is exercising his executive privilege; therefore he has directed Mr. Bannon not to produce documents or testify until the issue of executive privilege is resolved.”

To be clear, in our conversation yesterday I simply reiterated the instruction from my letter to you dated October 6, 2021, and attached below.

Then again on October 16, Clark wrote Costello stating clearly that Bannon did not have immunity from testimony.

Bob–In light of press reports regarding your client I wanted to reach out. Just to reiterate, our letter referenced below didn’t indicate that we believe there is immunity from testimony for your client. As I indicated to you the other day, we don’t believe there is. Now, you may have made a different determination. That is entirely your call. But as I also indicated the other day other avenues to invoke the privilege — if you believe it to be appropriate — exist and are your responsibility.

In other words, before Bannon completely blew off the Committee, Trump’s lawyer had told him not to do it on Trump’s account. (See this post which captures how Robert Costello had tried to bullshit his way through this.) That, by itself, should kill any claim that he was relying on an OLC memo.

Bannon’s prior (alleged) non-contemptuous past behavior

For different reasons, I’m a bit more interested in DOJ’s attempt to prevent Bannon from talking about what a good, subpoena-obeying citizen he has been in the past. Costello had made this argument to DOJ in an interview Bannon is trying to get excluded.

DOJ argues, uncontroversially, that because Bannon’s character is not an element of the offense, such evidence of prior compliance with a subpoena would be irrelevant.

Just as the fact that a person did not rob a bank on one day is irrelevant to determining whether he robbed a bank on another, whether the Defendant complied with other subpoenas or requests for testimony—even those involving communications with the former President—is irrelevant to determining whether he unlawfully refused to comply with the Committee’s subpoena here.

I expect Judge Nichols will agree.

What I’m interested in, though, is the way the filing refers to Bannon’s past compliance with subpoenas as “alleged.” It does so nine times:

The Defendant has suggested that, because he (allegedly) was not contemptuous in the past, he is not a contemptuous person and was not, therefore, contemptuous here.


Mr. Costello advised that the Defendant had testified once before the Special Counsel’s Office of Robert S. Mueller, III (the “SCO”), although Mr. Costello did not specify whether the pertinent appearance was before the grand jury or in some other context; once before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; and twice before the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. See id. Although, in his letter to the Committee and his interview, Mr. Costello said nothing about whether the Defendant was subpoenaed for documents by those authorities and whether the Defendant did produce any, and he did not say whether those other subpoenas or requests were limited to communications with the former President or involved other topics as well, the Defendant and Mr. Costello have asserted, essentially, that the Defendant’s alleged prior compliance demonstrates that he understands the process of navigating executive privilege, illustrates his willingness to comply with subpoenas involving communications with the former President, and rebuts evidence that his total noncompliance with the Committee’s subpoena was willful.


The Defendant cannot defend the charges in this case by offering evidence of his experience with and alleged prior compliance with requests or subpoenas for information issued by Congress and the SCO.


The Defendant’s alleged prior compliance with subpoenas or requests for information is of no consequence in determining whether he was contemptuous here.


Specifically, the Defendant’s alleged compliance with other demands for testimony is not probative of his state of mind in failing to respond to the Committee’s subpoena, and his alleged non-contemptuous character is not an element of the contempt offenses charged in this case.


1 1 To the extent the Defendant seeks to introduce evidence of his general character for law-abidingness, see In re Sealed Case, 352 F.3d 409, 412 (D.C. Cir. 2003), he cannot use evidence of his alleged prior subpoena compliance to do so. Evidence of “pertinent traits,” such as law-abidingness, only can be introduced through reputation or opinion testimony, not by evidence of specific acts. See Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(2)(A); Fed. R. Evid. 405(a); Washington, 106 F.3d at 999.


Second, whatever probative value the Defendant’s alleged prior compliance in other circumstances might serve, that value is substantially outweighed by the trial-within-a-trial it will prompt and the confusion it will inevitably cause the jury.


The Defendant’s reliance on counsel and/or his alleged good faith in response to prior subpoenas is thus not pertinent to any available defense and is irrelevant to determining whether his failure to produce documents and appear for testimony in response to the Committee’s subpoena was willful. [my emphasis]

The reason DOJ always referred to Bannon’s past compliance with subpoenas as “alleged” is because calling the claim “bullshit” — which is what it is — would be unseemly in a DOJ filing.

As a reminder, here’s the history of Bannon’s “alleged” past compliance with subpoenas (it is unknown whether he was subpoenaed in the Build the Wall fraud investigation):

HPSCI: Bannon got subpoenaed after running his mouth off in the wake of the release of Fire and Fury (Republicans likely acceded to that so they could discipline Bannon for his brief and soon-aborted effort to distance himself from Trump). In his first appearance, Bannon refused to answer a bunch of questions. Then, in a second appearance and after the intervention of Devin Nunes, Bannon reeled off a bunch of “no” answers that had been scripted by Nunes and the White House, some of which amounted to misdirection and some of which probably were lies. Bannon also claimed that all relevant communications would have been turned over by the campaign, even though evidence submitted in the Roger Stone case showed that Bannon was hiding responsive — and very damning — communications on his personal email and devices.

SSCI: Bannon was referred in June 2019 by the Republican-led committee to DOJ for making false statements to the Committee.

According to the letter, the committee believed Bannon may have lied about his interactions with Erik Prince, a private security contractor; Rick Gerson, a hedge fund manager; and Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian sovereign fund.

All were involved in closely scrutinized meetings in the Seychelles before Trump’s inauguration.


No charges were filed in connection with the meetings. But investigators suspected that the men may have been seeking to arrange a clandestine back-channel between the incoming Trump administration and Moscow. It’s unclear from the committee’s letter what Bannon and Prince might have lied about, but he and Prince have told conflicting stories about the Seychelles meeting.

Prince said he returned to the United States and updated Bannon about his conversations; Bannon said that never happened, according to the special counsel’s office.

Mueller: Over the course of a year — starting in two long interviews in February 2018 where Bannon lied with abandon (including about whether any of his personal comms would contain relevant information), followed by an October 2018 interview where Bannon’s testimony came to more closely match the personal communications he had tried to hide, followed by a January 2019 interview prior to a grand jury appearance — Bannon slowly told Mueller a story that more closely approximated the truth — so much so that Roger Stone has been squealing about things Bannon told the grand jury (possibly including about a December 2016 meeting at which Stone appears to have tried to blackmail Trump) ever since. Here’s a post linking Bannon’s known interview records and some backup.

But then the DC US Attorney’s Office (in efforts likely overseen by people JP Cooney, who is an attorney of record on this case) subpoenaed Bannon in advance of the Stone trial, and in a preparatory interview, Bannon reneged on some of his testimony that had implicated Stone. At Stone’s trial, prosecutors used his grand jury transcript to force Bannon to adhere to his most truthful testimony, though he did so begrudgingly.

In other words, the record shows that Bannon has always been contemptuous, unless and until you gather so much evidence against him as to force him to blurt out some truths.

Which is why I find it curious that DOJ moved to exclude Bannon’s past contemptuousness, rather than moving to admit it as 404(b) evidence showing that, as a general rule, Bannon always acts contemptuously. His character, DOJ could have claimed, is one of deceit and contempt. The reason may be the same (that contempt is a one-time act in which only current state of mind matters).

But I’m also mindful of how the Mueller Report explained not prosecuting three people, one of whom is undoubtedly Bannon.

We also considered three other individuals interviewed — [redacted] — but do not address them here because they are involved in aspects of ongoing investigations or active prosecutions to which their statements to this Office may be relevant.

That is, one reason Bannon wasn’t prosecuted for lying to Mueller was because of his import in, at least, the ongoing Roger Stone prosecution. That explains why DOJ didn’t charge him in 2019, to retain the viability of his testimony against Stone. I’m interested in why they continue the same approach. It seems DOJ’s decision to treat Bannon’s past lies — even to SSCI! — as “alleged” rather than “criminally-referred” by SSCI, may also reflect ongoing equities in whatever Bannon told the the grand jury two years ago. One thing Bannon lied about at first, for example, was the back channel to Dubai that may get him named as a co-conspirator in the Tom Barrack prosecution.

But there were other truths that Bannon ultimately told that may make it worthwhile to avoid confirming that those truths only came after a whole bunch of lies.

Update: Thanks to Jason Kint for reminding me that Bannon refused to be served an FTC subpoena pertaining to Cambridge Analytica in 2019.

When Lawyers’ Lawyers Need Lawyers: The Import of Robert Costello’s Toll Records — for Bannon, for Rudy, and for Donald Trump

As I explained in this piece, the lawyer who represents both Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon — and who has been at the center of Trump’s pardon-dangling for almost three years — had two meetings with the Bannon prosecution team, where he made a number of claims that could not all be true. The first meeting Robert Costello had with DOJ was on November 3, with a follow-up on November 8, 2021.

Just two of the sets of mutually contradictory claims Costello made in his first interview are:

COSTELLO had not had communication with attorneys for TRUMP prior to that date. [October 18, 2021, when Trump filed a lawsuit challenging Executive Privilege waivers for the January 6 Committee]


COSTELLO first had contact with [Attorney for Donald Trump Justin] CLARK on approximately October 4 or October 5, 2021.


COSTELLO did not discuss disposing of any documents requested in the Select Committee subpoena with any attorneys who represented former President TRUMP.


Even though MICHAEL FLYNN was not an attorney, he was present during attorney-client-protected discussions. Those particular attorneys represented former President TRUMP and CLARK informed COSTELLO not to respond to item 17.

I would imagine there’s no better way to get the FBI to start investigating you for false statements then by making a bunch of mutually contradictory claims in one interview.

There were certainly other claims Costello made which he should have known to be false. For example, given that his other client, Rudy Giuliani, put out a statement asserting that Sidney Powell did not work for Trump, Costello likely knows that Powell’s presence at a meeting, along with non-lawyer Mike Flynn, would not implicate Trump’s privilege, even if a meeting between Costello client Bannon and Costello client Rudy could itself be considered privileged, which is a fantastic stretch in any case. But that’s a claim, he told the FBI, that he advised Bannon to make in refusing to respond to the January 6 subpoena by invoking Executive Privilege.

Nevertheless, the FBI did not have to obtain the content of Costello’s communications to test whether he lied at that meeting on November 3, given that so many of his fact claims could be tested simply by obtaining his call and email records to see whether he was speaking with Trump lawyers (and those for Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel) and if so, when, about which Costello made affirmative denials in his meeting with DOJ. If he was discussing with other lawyers how to deal with the Select Committee investigation at a time he claimed he was not, the FBI would have deemed that a suspected lie worthy of more investigation.

And that’s what the FBI did, making eight requests for records (four for phone records, four for Internet records, apparently covering his work and personal emails and phones) resulting in 790 pages, total.

Given the abundant detail included in the Motion to Compel (undoubtedly included to provide hypothetical co-conspirators some idea of the extent of the record seizure, including that no content was obtained), Bannon’s claims seem to be predictably overblown. There appear to be three grand jury subpoenas and just one 2703(d) order (to an Internet provider, likely someone like Google). That is, some of the eight requests appear to be an effort to figure out which phones and email were of interest, in advance of obtaining toll record themselves. Indeed, Bannon makes much out of the fact that DOJ obtained payment method associated with Costello’s phone, available with a basic subscriber request. And unless Costello is a remarkably stingy user of SMS texting, the request for those toll records appears to be narrowly tailored either by time or interlocutor; there are just two pages of SMS text toll records.

Here’s a summary of what the government appears to have obtained:

Bates stamp range: US 001093-001883

US 001093: Grand jury subpoena

US 001145-001768: 623-page return from Internet provider showing IP activity, status (read or unread, inbox, etc.) and other details concerning emails and other activity offered by the carrier obtained with a Section 2703(d) Order on November 11, 2021 [US 001733] that includes a case number [US 001732-001735] and returned on December 7, 2021.  Returns include:

  • US 001151-001249: 98 pages showing IP activity for the email account sought from March 5, 2021 through November 12, 2021, as well as a report on what other services from the provider Costello uses
  • US 001733, 001735, 001740, and 001742: Several references to a 2703(d) order or equivalent
  • US 001765: Grand jury subpoena

US 001769-001789: Costello’s 302s

US 001834: Case number

US 001842: Case number

US 001863: Subscriber record showing payment method for Costello’s cell phone

US 001866: Costello’s data usage

US 001872; Grand jury subpoena

US 001874-001875:  SMS (text messaging) information, including the numbers to which texts were sent and from which they were received

The government doesn’t appear to be treating these records as evidence in their contempt case against Bannon. As the  Bannon filing notes, the government only turned them over on January 4, after stating (before they had obtained the bulk of these records) that the evidence in their case-in-chief against Bannon only consisted of 200 documents.

It is curious that Government counsel delayed producing these documents until January 4, 2022. On November 18, 2021, the parties appeared before this Court. At that proceeding, Government counsel insisted that the Government was ready for trial, that this is a simple and straightforward case, and that it was ready immediately to provide Mr. Bannon with the discovery in the case, which it described as “less than 200 documents,” with “most of” it purportedly comprised of “materials the defendant already has ….” [11/18/2021 Hearing Tr. at 3].

Costello first joined Bannon’s criminal defense team over two weeks after Bannon was indicted, and after DOJ pointed out that Costello’s representation would pose a problem for any Advice of Counsel defense. Given that DOJ obtained toll records from Costello’s firm, it’s possible they tipped him off and he joined the Bannon team to create this problem after that.

Bannon’s filing also notes that the government hasn’t provided the subpoenas obtaining this material, as they would have if the subpoenas targeted him, personally.

Nowhere in the Government’s production was a copy of a court order authorizing the Government’s actions, nor was there a copy of any subpoena for the records, nor was there even any application for a court order or for authorization from the Department of Justice for subpoenas intended to obtain defense counsel’s personal and professional telephone and email records.

That makes sense: Bannon can’t be held responsible for the things his (and Rudy’s) lawyer says while sitting with the FBI. Costello is the one who made mutually contradictory claims, not Bannon.

But, at least as Bannon tells it, the team that seized these records appears to have taken little care to protect Costello’s other clients.

Furthermore, there was nothing in the production that indicated any effort to limit the access of the prosecutors assigned to this case to defense counsel’s personal and professional records, nor was there any indication of any filter in place to distinguish between attorney-client privileged or work-product privileged information that could be garnered from the records the Government obtained and non-privileged materials, nor was there any indication of any filter intended to protect confidential and privileged related to other clients of Mr. Costello and his law firm or intended to keep the prosecutors handling this case from access to any such privileged material.

Indeed, after wailing a bit about DOJ’s oblique response when asked about this seizure, the Bannon filing returned to Costello’s other clients and “witnesses” consulted in those representations.

Beyond all of the above, the Government’s response ignores the damage its actions risked causing for other clients of Mr. Costello and his law firm, for telephone calls and emails to and from other clients and witnesses consulted in relation to their cases would now be exposed by the Government’s efforts to obtain records for all of the attorney’s emails and telephone records.

And in fact, in a letter responding to Bannon’s questions about these records, DOJ made no representations about work product related to Costello’s other clients, even while emphasizing what the prosecution team (which is different from DOJ as a whole) has in its possession.

Aside from the information that Mr. Costello voluntarily disclosed on behalf of Mr. Bannon during the investigation of this matter, the Government has not taken any steps to obtain any attorney work product relating to any attorney’s representation of Mr. Bannon or to obtain any confidential communications between Mr. Bannon, Mr. Costello, and Mr. Katz, or between Mr. Bannon and any other attorneys.

We have provided all discoverable material in the prosecution team’s possession, custody, or control relating to Mr. Costello’s and Mr. Katz’s involvement in the conduct charged in the Indictment. The Government understands its discovery obligations under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16; the Jencks Act; and Brady, Giglio, and their progeny, and will continue to comply with them should additional discoverable material come into the prosecution team’s possession, custody, or control.

That’s significant because of the temporal scope of the email metadata obtained: from March 5 through November 12, 2021, basically the last event for which Costello was representing Bannon in the Build the Wall criminal prosecution and his indictment on these new charges (though, again, Costello didn’t join his defense team for over two weeks). These records don’t include any period when Costello was criminally representing Bannon.

But they do cover a far broader period than would be necessary to understand what communications Costello had with lawyers for Donald Trump after Bannon was subpoenaed by the January 6 committee on September 23. Indeed, they cover a broader period than the entire January 6 Committee, which was created by House Resolution 503 on June 30, 2021.

Presumably, DOJ saw something in the initial records they were seeking — or in records obtained by others, or in another unseen ongoing investigation — to scope the Internet request for the entirety of the period between Costello’s past and current criminal representation of Bannon. Or they were already interested in Costello (for whom there was a possible referral in the Mueller investigation), and his interview with the FBI extended that interest.

That suggests this really isn’t about Bannon.

But the seized records do include the entirety of the period when Costello was helping Rudy review the contents of 16 devices seized by SDNY. Of note, Trump could have, but chose not to participate in that Special Master process. Because he moved to intervene, Dmitry Firtash is permitted to review the records seized from Victoria Toensing to protect his own interests, but Trump’s lawyers should not be getting notice of what was seized from Rudy.

Indeed, the conversations of interest regarding the Bannon representation happen to have taken place during a period during which Costello had gotten an extension to review the contents of the first seven devices seized from Rudy.

On September 28, 2021, I directed that Mr. Giuliani complete his review of the data contained on seven of these devices by October 6, 2021, which was later extended to October 12, 2021. These seven devices contain 2,226 items in total dated on or after January 1, 2018. Mr. Giuliani designated 3 items as privileged, and I am reserving decision on those 3 items. The remaining 2,223 items have been released to the Government.

Costello told the FBI he had no conversations with any Trump lawyers for this period. Even if he had conversations with other Trump lawyers during this review problem, it would conflict with what he told the FBI in his Bannon-related meeting.

It’s certainly possible that the only warrants at issue in the Special Master review are the Ukraine-related ones overtly used to seize Rudy’s devices, and that the SDNY team is completely excluded from accessing these records; if that’s the case, it would suggest there’s no investigation into Rudy out of DC, particularly not one in which JP Cooney or Molly Gaston are participating, both senior prosecutors at DC USAO.

Or there’s something far more interesting going on.

Update: I realized after I posted this that Costello’s 302s were included in the 790 pages Bannon complained about, meaning he claimed things were call records when instead they were the obvious justification for the call records. I’ve added and bolded those pages above.