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Alex Cannon and the Missing Russian Binder

CNN reports that the classified version of the Russian binder Trump tried, but failed, to release before leaving office has not been found.

A binder containing highly classified information related to Russian election interference went missing at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, raising alarms among intelligence officials that some of the most closely guarded national security secrets from the US and its allies could be exposed, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

Its disappearance, which has not been previously reported, was so concerning that intelligence officials briefed Senate Intelligence Committee leaders last year about the missing materials and the government’s efforts to retrieve them, the sources said.

In the two-plus years since Trump left office, the missing intelligence does not appear to have been found. [my emphasis]

I would contest that the disappearance of the binder is entirely new. It is consistent with Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, on which this story explicitly relies.

What is new in this story is that “last year” (so, 2022) Intelligence Community leaders briefed SSCI; the story is silent about whether the spooks briefed HPSCI, whence much of the materials came.

What is also new is that, according to a single US official, which is a moniker often used to describe members of Congress or their staffers, the binder was not among the things found at Mar-a-Lago last year.

The binder was not among the classified items found in last year’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a US official familiar with the matter, who said the FBI was not looking specifically for intelligence related to Russia when it obtained a search warrant for the former president’s residence last year.

The Intelligence Committees got briefed on what was seized from MAL. It’s not entirely clear that they got briefed on what was returned in the first and second tranches.

That’s important because Alex Cannon — who was the key lawyer involved in the first set of boxes returned to NARA in 2022 — asked NARA for a copy of the declassified materials in 2021. In a response sent on September 27, 2021 (and later resent to John Solomon), NARA explained that NARA didn’t have the binder because when Meadows sent it to DOJ for the privacy review, it became a federal record, and what remained at the White House was not a binder but 2,700 disorganized pages the intended classification markings of which conflicted.

That’s because NARA General Counsel Gary Stern provided Kash and Solomon with the explanation of what happened with the attempted declassification over and over and over. First, Trump didn’t declassify the documents. He ordered the binder of Crossfire Hurricane documents be sent to the Attorney General, who would implement the final declassifications, then send the document back to the White House.

I have directed the Attorney General to implement the redactions proposed in the FBI’s January 17 submission and return to the White House an appropriately redacted copy.

Then the next day, January 20, 2021, Mark Meadows sent all that to the Attorney General to conduct a Privacy Act review before releasing anything.

As Stern explained to Kash and Solomon, what remained at the White House at that point was a collection of 2,700 “undifferentiated pages,” a cursory review of which revealed conflicting redactions and some documents lacking the requisite declassification stamp. The stuff that got sent to DOJ was a Federal Record, not a Presidential Record, and by the time Kash and Solomon started this process, it was already being processed as part of a Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit (the first two releases in which — onetwo — recently came out).

In other words, Trump and Mark Meadows fucked this up. NARA didn’t. Trump did.

Shortly after getting this response, Cannon oversaw the attempt to return Trump’s documents, with the now-indicted Walt Nauta and the now-cooperating Molly Michael juggling boxes back and forth from the storage room so Trump could hand-curate what would be returned.

After it became public that a bunch of those documents were classified, Kash invented the story that Trump had declassified everything, focusing on the Russian documents, though not exclusively.

Then, in the weeks after Trump returned a folder of documents on June 3, 2022, Kash Patel and John Solomon made a panicked effort to find out what was at NARA. Evan Corcoran, only recently brought in to serve as fall guy for the document handover, was closely involved in that process.

During that same period, Trump made several unexpected trips back to Mar-a-Lago.

And the government and Stan Woodward apparently agree that the government still doesn’t know where all the boxes hidden from Evan Corcoran’s search on June 2 ended up.

All of Trump’s stolen classified documents aren’t accounted for. And the Russian binder may be only part of what’s missing.

Update: I did a post on what was known to be in Trump’s “dumbass Russian binder.” It’s quite the cherry pick.

Judge Rules Trump Had the Purpose of Inciting Insurrection on January 6

Thus far, I haven’t engaged with the lawsuits attempting to keep Trump off the ballot under the Fourteenth Amendment. I think people absolutely have the right to make the case Trump’s actions on January 6 disqualify him from being President. But the only decisions that will matter on this front are what various Supreme Courts have to say and whether the Republican Party chooses to nominate Trump notwithstanding the risk he’ll be disqualified (to say nothing of whether Trump is disqualified in one of the six states that will really decide the election).

But Colorado Judge Sarah Wallace’s opinion finding that Trump did engage in incitement, but can’t be disqualified because the President is not clearly an “officer” under the Fourteenth Amendment, is worth reading.

The Court concludes, based on its findings of fact and the applicable law detailed above, that Trump incited an insurrection on January 6, 2021 and therefore “engaged” in insurrection within the meaning of Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment. First, the Court concludes that Trump acted with the specific intent to disrupt the Electoral College certification of President Biden’s electoral victory through unlawful means; specifically, by using unlawful force and violence. Next, the Court concludes that the language Trump employed was likely to produce such lawlessness.

[snip]

The Court concludes that Trump acted with the specific intent to incite political violence and direct it at the Capitol with the purpose of disrupting the electoral certification. Trump cultivated a culture that embraced political violence through his consistent endorsement of the same. He responded to growing threats of violence and intimidation in the lead-up to the certification by amplifying his false claims of election fraud. He convened a large crowd on the date of the certification in Washington, D.C., focused them on the certification process, told them their country was being stolen from them, called for strength and action, and directed them to the Capitol where the certification was about to take place.

[snip]

His inaction during the violence and his later endorsement of the violence corroborates the evidence that his intent was to incite violence on January 6, 2021 based on his conduct leading up to and on January 6, 2021. The Court therefore holds that the first Brandenburg factor has been established.

[snip]

The Court holds there is scant direct evidence regarding whether the Presidency is one of the positions subject to disqualification. The disqualified offices enumerated are presented in descending order starting with the highest levels of the federal government and descending downwards. It starts with “Senator or Representatives in Congress,” then lists “electors of President and Vice President,” and then ends with the catchall phrase of “any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State.” U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 3.

[snip]

As a result, the Court holds that Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply to Trump.

Wallace’s opinion is best understood as a punt to Colorado’s Supreme Court: a finding of facts which they will eventually decide how to apply. She says as much in a footnote: She made the finding of fact that Trump did engage in insurrection so the Colorado Supreme Court can resolve any appeal without coming back to her.

The Court is denying Petitioners the relief they request on legal grounds. Because of the Parties’ extraordinary efforts in this matter, the Court makes findings of facts and conclusions of law on all remaining issues before it. The Court does so because it is cognizant that to the extent the Colorado Supreme Court decides to review this matter, it may disagree with any number of the legal conclusions contained in this Order and the Orders that precede it. The Court has endeavored to give the Colorado Supreme Court all the information it needs to resolve this matter fully and finally without the delay of returning it to this Court.

But it’s also a preview of Trump’s January 6 trial.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Wallace’s ruling is that she found, over and over, that Trump’s side did not present evidence to fight the claim of insurrection. Trump’s legal expert, Robert Delahunty (who contributed to some of the most outrageous War on Terror OLC opinions), presented no definition of insurrection that wouldn’t include January 6. Kash Patel presented no evidence to back his claim that Trump intended to call out 10,000 members of the National Guard. Trump presented no evidence that criminal conviction was required before disqualification. There was no evidence presented that Trump did not support the mob’s purpose.

Once Wallace dismissed Kash (and Katrina Pierson’s) claims that Trump intended to call the National Guard, all Trump had left was Brandenburg: a claim that his speech did not count as incitement, the same claim Trump has made in his efforts to defeat gags, the same claim Trump attempted to use to get Judge Chutkan to throw out any reference of the mob in his January 6 indictment.

Wallace used three things to show that Trump did intend to incite the mob.

First, she relied heavily on the testimony of Chapman University (!!!) professor Peter Simi, who described how Trump used the coded language of the far right to endorse violence. She mapped out what Trump added into his January 6 speech. And she talked about how Trump’s later statements — about Pence, and telling the mob he loved them — ratified their violence (an argument Amit Mehta also made), which Wallace used to distinguish Trump from Charles Evers.

As I have shown, Trump has tried to simply wish away the role of the mob in his indictment, a wish that Tanya Chutkan already rejected. Judge Wallace’s opinion makes it clear that’s all Trump has.

Gary Shapley’s Handlers Revisit Past Leak Investigations into Chuck Grassley’s Staff

According to a press release on the website for Empower Oversight–the group handling Gary Shapley’s now-debunked media tour–Empower’s founder, Jason Foster, was the subject of an FBI subpoena to Google in 2017.

Google first alerted Foster to the September 12, 2017 subpoena on October 19, 2023. That’s one of the reasons I find this FOIA so interesting. The notice came more than six years after the subpoena, suggesting FBI likely continued to investigate someone tied to the investigation for at least a year longer than statutes of limitation would normally extend.

Empower seems to suggest there’s a tie between the subpoena and one served on Google pertaining to Kash Patel’s personal email two months later, on November 20, 2017, as does Margot “Federalist Faceplant” Cleveland in this propaganda piece reporting on the subpoenas. While Empower says that this subpoena asked for information on other staffers, it only cites Kash to substantiate its claim that other staffers had also gotten notice of a past subpoena (Cleveland does report that a HPSCI staffer was also included).

Empower Oversight has information indicating that the other accounts listed in the subpoena belonged to other staffers, both Republicans and Democrats, for U.S. House and Senate committees also engaged in oversight investigations of the Justice Department at the time pursuant to their authorities under the U.S. Constitution.

[snip]

Other former staffers have publicly referenced receiving similar notices, including former U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (“HPSCI”) staffer Kashyap Patel.

They’re from the same grand jury (16-3). But they not only have different file numbers, but the one on Kash’s subpoena — that is, the later subpoena, by two months — has a lower file number, 2017R01887, as compared to 2017R01896.

Kash is suing roughly the same people over his subpoena as Empower is FOIAing: Empower is asking about former DC US Attorney Jessie Liu, Rod Rosenstein, his one-time Principal Associate Robert Hur (currently the Special Counsel investigating Joe Biden’s classified documents), and Ed O’Callaghan, who replaced Hur, along with then DOJ Spox Sarah Isgur. Kash is suing Liu, Rosenstein, Hur, and O’Callahan, plus FBI Director Chris Wray and the two AUSAs behind the subpoena.

There are problems with both of their target sets. For example, Liu wasn’t even sworn in as US Attorney until September 25, 2017 — after the Foster subpoena (though before the Kash one). So Empower’s suggestion that Liu had some influence on the subpoena on him is nonsense. Rosenstein wasn’t sworn in until April 26, 2017, almost five months after the request for conversations with the press starts.

Similarly, Ed O’Callaghan, whom Kash describes as, “the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General for Mr. Rosenstein at the time in question,” didn’t move from the National Security Division to Rosenstein’s office until April 2018, after Hur was confirmed as US Attorney for Maryland and long after both the subpoena implicating Kash and his blow-up with Rosenstein. Though if these were really sensitive leak investigations, NSD may have had a role in them. (Empower includes NSD within its FOIA.)

Those details don’t seem to matter for their projects: both men appear to be using the subpoenas as an excuse to settle scores.

Kash, ever the conspiracy theorist, brought a Bivens claim insinuating that Rosenstein and others violated Kash’s Fourth Amendment rights because DOJ served a subpoena — something not requiring probable cause under the Fourth Amendment — to obtain the subscriber information for a list of around 14 identifiers, of which his personal email was just one. There’s nothing on the face of the subpoena to suggest that DOJ knew his email was tied to someone who was a Congressional staffer at the time of the subpoena (though again, Federalist Faceplant seems to know at least one other person listed was a staffer). In fact, the subpoena asked for contact information going back to April 2016, a year before Kash moved from DOJ to HPSCI, so it could have pertained to a leak internal to DOJ.

Nevertheless, Kash spins a tale where the November 2017 subpoena is in some way connected with what he claims is Rosenstein’s threat, over a month later, to subpoena HPSCI staffers.

5. The illegitimate grounds for the subpoena were made clear when, shortly after the FBI and DOJ previewed what would become the “Nunes Memo,” which outlined significant issues with FBI’s and the DOJ’s manner of opening and conducting the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (“DAG Rosenstein”) threatened to subpoena the records of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee staff, including Mr. Patel, during a closed-door meeting about producing documents requested by the Committee for their investigation into DOJ’s and the FBI’s, its subagency, conduct in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

6. The Department of Justice attempted to defend against the allegation of this threat to Legislative Branch employees, but admitted, at a minimum, that DAG Rosenstein did threaten to subpoena records of Congressional staff in contempt proceedings over the DOJ’s noncompliance with multiple subpoenas. Regardless, this characterization was disputed by multiple Committee staffers, and the matter was referred to the House General Counsel and Speaker of the House as a threat to subpoena records of staffers to halt their investigation.

7. DAG Rosenstein made this threat in January of 2018, approximately one month after his Department of Justice had already subpoenaed Mr. Patel’s email records from Google. This confrontation establishes that DAG Rosenstein and other Defendants were searching for a reason to subpoena Mr. Patel’s official accounts as well as the personal ones that DOJ was already improperly pursuing.

Contrary to Kash’s claim, DOJ didn’t concede Rosenstein threatened to subpoena the HPSCI records. According to a Fox News article Kash himself cites in his suit, DOJ said that Rosenstein was advising staffers to retain their emails so he could use them to defend against any accusation of contempt. Though Rosenstein did threaten to ask the House General Counsel to investigate Kash and whoever else was involved.

A DOJ official told Fox News that Rosenstein “never threatened anyone in the room with a criminal investigation.” The official said the department and bureau officials in the room “are all quite clear that the characterization of events laid out here is false,” adding that Rosenstein was responding to a threat of contempt.

“The Deputy Attorney General was making the point—after being threatened with contempt — that as an American citizen charged with the offense of contempt of Congress, he would have the right to defend himself, including requesting production of relevant emails and text messages and calling them as witnesses to demonstrate that their allegations are false,” the official said. “That is why he put them on notice to retain relevant emails and text messages, and he hopes they did so. (We have no process to obtain such records without congressional approval.)”

Further, the official said that when Rosenstein returns to the United States from a work trip, “he will request that the House General counsel conduct an internal investigation of these Congressional staffers’ conduct.”

This all seems like a retroactive attempt to politicize the investigation into some contact Kash had, potentially even before he joined HPSCI with a lawsuit claiming a violation of the Fourth Amendment under Bivens for a subpoena for toll records that a former DOJ prosecutor, especially, should know are not entitled to any expectation of privacy.

Foster’s claim, which is only a FOIA, not a lawsuit, is a bit less ridiculous (so long as you ignore his demand for communications involving Liu before she started as US Attorney and Rosenstein before he was DAG).

He seems certain that the subpoena for his phone (which he says was used by his spouse) pertained to a leak investigation. He’s filing it to find out if Rosenstein’s office ever got the same scrutiny in leak investigations that (he seems sure) some Congressional staffers got in 2017.

It begs the question of whether DOJ was equally zealous in seeking the communication records of its own employees with access to any leaked information.

[snip]

(5) All communications exchanged between members of the press and DAG Rosenstein, Robert Hur, Edward O’Callaghan, Sarah Isgur, aka Sarah Isgur Flores, and/or Jessie Liu for the period from December 1, 2016 to September 26, 2017, regarding (a) communications between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, (b) Carter Page, (c) Joe Pientka, (d) Bill Priestap, (e) congressional oversight requests, (f) Senator Charles Grassley, (g) Jason Foster, and/or (h) the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

(6)All grand jury subpoenas issued for personal communications of DAG Rosenstein, Robert Hur, Edward O’Callaghan, and/or Jessie Liu between May 1, 2017 and May 1, 2018.

(7) All communications exchanged between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the National Security Division, the Deputy Attorney General’s Office and/or the FBI and Verizon between March 15, 2016, and the present regarding obtaining communications data associated with devices that Verizon serviced for U.S. House Representatives or U.S. Senate. [my emphasis]

The time range of the Foster subpoena, December 1, 2016 to May 1, 2017, covers the period of the known leaks about Mike Flynn and Carter Page — the former, especially, one of the leaks Republicans have never stopped bitching because it wasn’t charged. Yet here, a key Republican is complaining there was “no legitimate predicate” in investigating people who were briefed on information that subsequently got leaked.

There appears to have been an extensive and far-reaching effort to use grand jury subpoenas and perhaps other means to gather the personal communications records of innocent congressional staffers and their families with little or no legitimate predicate.

Empower’s mention of Carter Page also situates the subpoena temporally. The subpoena that included a number associated with Foster was served in precisely the same time period that — the Statement of the Offense and sentencing memo for James Wolfe case show — FBI was investigating the leak of the Carter Page FISA. DOJ opened that investigation in April 2017. They had shown enough probable cause against Wolfe to obtain a warrant to covertly image his cell phone by October 2017. No one complained that Wolfe was prosecuted for his presumed role in leaking some of these stories, and his prosecution alone shows that the subpoena had predicate.

Foster may have other specific stories in mind too: In addition to the leaked stories about Flynn undermining US foreign policy with the Russian Ambassador, the FOIA asks about other Russian investigation stories, including Joe Pientka, whose role in briefing Mike Flynn Grassley made into a personal crusade.

Curiously, the Steele dossier is not on here, even though that was another personal crusade of Chuck Grassley.

All that said, the timeline included in the FOIA is broader than that. Here’s how the various timelines overlap, or don’t:

  • Scope of Foster subpoena: December 1, 2016 through May 1, 2017
  • Rosenstein sworn in as DAG: April 26, 2017
  • Date of Foster subpoena: September 12, 2017
  • Jessie Liu sworn in as US Attorney: September 25, 2017
  • Scope of Foster’s FOIA for DAG communications with the press: December 1, 2016 through September 26, 2017
  • Date of Kash subpoena: November 20, 2017
  • Scope of Kash subpoena: May 1, 2016 through November 20, 2017
  • Scope of Foster’s FOIA for grand jury subpoenas targeting DAG: May 1, 2017 through May 1, 2018
  • Scope of Foster’s FOIA for Verizon records of Congressional staffers March 15, 2016 through October 24, 2023

Foster is FOIAing Rosenstein’s office, first, for conversations with the press — including about him — starting on December 1, 2016, before Trump was inaugurated and months before Rosenstein was sworn in on April 26, 2017. He is FOIAing conversations with the press that continue through the day after Liu was sworn in September 2017, still months before O’Callaghan was part of DAG.

Then he’s asking for any grand jury subpoenas (which he knows would be protected under grand jury secrecy rules and so won’t get) from the end date of the subpoena targeting him, after which point both the Flynn and Page investigations were underway, until May 1, 2018 — still four months before Legistorm shows Foster leaving his SJC job on September 4, 2018, but perhaps not coincidentally ending before the time when the Mueller investigation started to more closely probe fellow SJC staffer Barbara Ledeen’s role in Mike Flynn’s 2016 rat-fucking and two weeks shy of an interview when Mueller asked Flynn about Ledeen’s investigation of the investigation. A September 17, 2018 interview asked very specific questions about people leaking claimed details of the investigation to Flynn, as well as Flynn’s contacts with unidentified Congressional staffers.

Again, this request is a test about whether Rosenstein’s office was targeted for leaks, but the leaks that Foster suggest this subpoena pertains to — Mike Flynn’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak and Carter Page’s FISA — happened before any of these people were in DAG. Foster seems interested in leaks about leak investigations, not the leaks themselves.

It’s the final bullet I find the most interesting though. None of the subpoenas he raises in his FOIA — not the subpoena of Kash’s personal email, not the subpoena of his own Google voice phone, and not the subpoena to Apple targeting HPSCI members — target official phone records. But Foster FOIAs for official records as well: All communications between DC USAO, NSD, DAG, and FBI with Verizon — communications that might be something other than a grand jury subpoena — about obtaining phone records for the Congressional devices serviced by Verizon. He’s asking for a much broader period of time, too: March 15, 2016 — early enough to include the start date of Kash’s subpoena, but also to include some of Barbara Ledeen’s rat-fucking with Mike Flynn — through the present, late enough to include any contacts in which Chuck Grassley staffers used their official devices to share information about the Hunter Biden investigation with the press.

This last request is not about Rosenstein; Rosenstein was only DAG for two of the seven and a half years covered by this part of the FOIA.

This FOIA is, on its face, totally uncontroversial (though it attempts to do with a FOIA what DOJ IG is already doing, which it notes). It purports to test whether Rod Rosenstein exempted his own top deputies from the kind of investigative scrutiny to which Rosenstein — always a leak hawk — subjected Congressional staffers. Hell, I’m fairly certain Rosenstein and his top deputies were key undisclosed sources for a bunch of bullshit comments (though most of them were false, and therefore not criminal leaks). Some of those anonymous comments were to the same stable of journalists who also happen to serve as mouthpieces for Chuck Grassley propaganda (and as such, Foster may have specific reason to believe that Rosenstein teed up journalists’ questions to or about him).

And the FOIA for contacts with Verizon gets at important separation of powers issues: under what terms the Executive Branch can investigate the official business of the Legislative Branch, including times when the Legislative Branch is screaming for investigations into leaks that probably (and provably, in the case of Carter Page) include Legislative Branch staffers.

But it also serves as a fishing expedition, by the entity that championed the now debunked claims of Gary Shapley, into potential investigations into transparent ongoing efforts by Chuck Grassley to release details of criminal investigations in the guise of oversight.

In a meeting agenda sent September 3, 2020, Joseph Ziegler included the Senate investigation led by Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson among topics for discussion.

No later than December 2020, a document shared by Empower Oversight client Gary Shapley reveals, the IRS agents running this investigation cared more about catering to demands from Congress, including from Chuck Grassley, than preserving the investigation.

The USAO and FBI received congressional inquiries concerning this investigation and have repeatedly ignored their requests, openly mocking the members of congress who made the request.

Another document shared by Empower Oversight client Gary Shapley shows that, in May 2021, the IRS agents running the investigation continued to be aware of — and interested in catering to — requests from Congress.

The USAO and FBI received congressional inquiries concerning this investigation and it’s believed they have ignored their requests.

A document released by Empower Oversight client Gary Shapley reflecting a January 6, 2023 call with IRS’ Deputy Field Officer Michael Batdorf alerting him — among other things — that he expected the Delaware US Attorney to make “nefarious” allegations against him, also recorded that by the time, two days after he notified IRS and DOJ IG Inspectors General he was seeking formal whistleblower status which happens to have happened on the day the GOP took the House, his attorney had already, “participated in calls and/or meetings” with “the Congressional Judiciary committees.”

DFO asked about the process and Shapley responded that the Congressional Judiciary committees, OSC, IRS OGC and TIGTA have been notified and have participated in calls and/or meetings with my counsel.

Yet when one of Shapley’s attorneys, Mark Lytle, formally contacted the Chairs and Ranking Members of those same “Congressional Judiciary committees,” the Chairs and Ranking Members of the relevant finance committees, along with Chuck Grassley on April 19, 2023, he did not treat those contacts with the judiciary committees as protected disclosures. The letter mentions that Grassley is a member of the Finance Committee, but doesn’t mention that Grassley is a member and former Chair of the Judiciary Committee.

That was the first moment, publicly at least, that Empower Oversight client Gary Shapley sought protection to share IRS protected information with Congress. That is, even according to Lytle, if Shapley shared any IRS protected information — to say nothing of grand jury protected information — prior to that, by the plain terms of his letter it was not under a grant of protection.

A month after Gary Shapley’s claims — facilitated by Empower Oversight — were soundly debunked by his own documentation and his colleagues, Empower Oversight filed a FOIA that would, among other things, attempt to learn whether the FBI was conducting any investigation of leaks to the press from Chuck Grassley’s staffers, covering the period in 2016 when a Chuck Grassley staffer attempted to reach out to hostile intelligence services to find dirt on Hillary Clinton, the period when a Grassley staffer was seeding press stories — some that were fabrications — about the Russian investigation, and the period of time when those investigating Hunter Biden were more solicitous of requests from members of Congress like Chuck Grassley than they were in protecting the ongoing investigation.

The Espionage Act Evidence WaPo Spins as Obstruction Evidence

The WaPo, with Devlin Barrett as lead byline and Mar-a-Lago Trump-whisperer Josh Dawsey next, has a report describing either new evidence or more evidence of obstruction in the stolen documents case.

Some of it, such as that investigators “now suspect that boxes including classified material were moved from Mar-a-Lago storage area after the subpoena was served,” is not new — not to investigators and not to the public. The version of the search affidavit released on September 14 showed that on June 24 investigators subpoenaed the surveillance footage for the storage room and at least one other, still-redacted location, going back to January 10, 2022, long before subpoena for documents with classification marks was served on May 11. So unless Trump withheld surveillance footage, then DOJ has known since early July 2022 on what specific dates boxes were moved. And a redacted part of the affidavit explains the probable cause the FBI had in August that there might be classified documents in Trump’s residential suite.

In other words, much of what WaPo describes is that DOJ has obtained substantial evidence since August to prove the probable cause suspicions already laid out in their August warrant affidavit. You don’t search the former President’s beach resort without awfully good probable cause, and they were able to show substantial reason to believe that Trump had boxes moved to his residence after he received the May 11 subpoena, where he sorted out some he wanted to keep, eight months ago.

They’ve just gotten a whole lot more proof that they were right, since.

Other parts of the story do describe previously unknown (to us, at least) details, and those may be significantly more important for Trump’s fate. The most intriguing, to me, is that witnesses are being asked about Trump’s obsession with Mark Milley.

Investigators have also asked witnesses if Trump showed a particular interest in material relating to Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, people familiar with those interviews said. Milley was appointed by Trump but drew scorn and criticism from Trump and his supporters after a series of revelations in books about Milley’s efforts to rein in Trump toward the end of his term. In 2021, Trump repeatedly complained publicly about Milley, calling him an “idiot.”

The people did not say whether investigators specified what material related to Milley they were focused on. The Post could not determine what has led prosecutors to press some witnesses on those specific points or how relevant they may be to the overall picture that Smith’s team is trying to build of Trump’s actions and intent.

Remember that reports on investigations, especially ones that include Mar-a-Lago court reporters, often amount to witnesses attempting to share questions they’ve been asked with other witnesses or lawyers. Trump’s team has no idea what kinds of classified items were seized. This detail suggests that among the classified documents seized are a document or documents pertaining to Milley.

According to Bobs Woodward and Costa in Peril, Milley called China twice in the last months of the Trump administration to reassure his counterpart that the US was not going to attack China without some build-up first.

On Friday, October 30, four days before the election, Chairman Milley examined the latest sensitive intelligence. What he read was alarming: The Chinese believed the United States was going to attack them.

Milley knew it was untrue. But the Chinese were on high alert, and whenever a superpower is on high alert, the risk of war escalates. Asian media reports were filled with rumors and talk of tensions between the two countries over the Freedom of Navigation exercises in the South China Sea, where the U.S. Navy routinely sails ships in areas to challenge maritime claims by the Chinese and promote freedom of the seas.

There were suggestions that Trump might want to manufacture a “Wag the Dog” war before the election so he could rally the voters and beat Biden.

[snip]

This was such a moment. While he often put a hold on or stopped various tactical and routine U.S. military exercises that could look provocative to the other side or be misinterpreted, this was not a time for just a hold. He arranged a call with General Li.

Trump was attacking China on the campaign trail at every turn, blaming them for the coronavirus. “I beat this crazy, horrible China virus,” he told Fox News on October 11. Milley knew the Chinese might not know where the politics ended and possible action began.

To give the call with Li a more routine flavor, Milley first raised mundane issues like the staff-to-staff communications and methods for making sure they could always rapidly reach each other.

Finally, getting to the point, Milley said, “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay. We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.

“General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise. It’s not going to be a bolt out of the blue.

The two Bobs also described how, in the days after January 6, Milley reviewed nuclear launch procedures with senior officers of the National Mission Command Center to make sure he would be in the loop if Trump ordered the use of nukes.

Without providing a reason, Milley said he wanted to go over the procedures and process for launching nuclear weapons.

Only the president could give the order, he said. But then he made clear that he, the chairman of the JCS, must be directly involved. Under current procedure, there was supposed to be a voice conference call on a secure network that would include the secretary of defense, the JCS chairman and lawyers.

“If you get calls,” Milley said, “no matter who they’re from, there’s a process here, there’s a procedure. No matter what you’re told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure. You’ve got to make sure that the right people are on the net.”

If there was any doubt what he was emphasizing, he added, “You just make sure that I’m on this net. “Don’t forget. Just don’t forget.”

He said that his statements applied to any order for military action, not just the use of nuclear weapons. He had to be in the loop.

Since these details about Milley came out, Trump and his frothers have claimed Milley committed treason, in concert with Nancy Pelosi (who had expressed concerns to Milley about the safety of America’s nuclear arsenal).

The attack on Milley is the same kind of manufactured grievance — often cultivated by investigation witness Kash Patel (who was DOD Chief of Staff during the transition) — as the Russian investigation. That other inflated grievance led Trump to compile a dumbass binder of sensitive documents that didn’t substantiate his grievances. If Trump did the same with Milley, either before or after he left office, those documents might include highly sensitive documents, including SIGINT reports about China’s response to Milley’s contacts.

If DOJ were ever to charge Trump for refusing to give back classified documents under 18 USC 793(e), DOJ would select a subset of the documents to charge, probably from among those seized in August. They would pick those that, if declassified for trial, would not do new damage to national security, documents that would allow prosecutors to tell a compelling story at trial. And given WaPo’s report, there’s good reason to think there’s a story they think they could tell about documents that may be part of Trump’s grievance campaign against Milley.

WaPo also described that witnesses are being asked whether Trump shared documents, including a map, with donors.

As investigators piece together what happened in May and June of last year, they have been asking witnesses if Trump showed classified documents, including maps, to political donors, people familiar with those conversations said.

According to the story, communications from Trump’s former Executive Assistant, Molly Michael, have been key for investigators.

[A]uthorities have another category of evidence that they consider particularly helpful as they reconstruct events from last spring: emails and texts of Molly Michael, an assistant to the former president who followed him from the White House to Florida before she eventually left that job last year. Michael’s written communications have provided investigators with a detailed understanding of the day-to-day activity at Mar-a-Lago at critical moments, these people said.

Michael is likely the person in whose desk drawer at least two of the classified documents seized in August were found: the two “compiled” with messages from a pollster, a faith leader, and a book author, the kind of document you would show to donors. That document, which combines two classified documents obtained before Trump left the White House with messages from after he left, is the kind of smoking gun that shows Trump didn’t just hoard documents because of ego (as Barrett reported even after the existence of this document was made public), but because he was putting classified documents to his own personal use. We learned back in November that there was evidence that Trump had used two classified documents in what sounds like a campaign document. Perhaps one of those classified documents was a map (of Israel? of Ukraine?).

Whatever it is, this is the kind of story prosecutors might like to tell at stolen classified document trials, not just because it would show Trump putting the nation’s secrets to his own personal gain and sharing classified documents with people who never had clearance, but because it would be proof that people on Trump’s team knew of and accessed documents after they lost their need to access such documents. This document would go a long way to proving that Trump didn’t just hoard classified documents out of negligence (which is currently the explanation why both Joe Biden and Mike Pence did), but because he wanted to make use of what he took.

Molly Michael is also the person who ordered a more junior aide to make a digital copy of Trump’s schedules from when he was President, an order that led to documents with classification markings being loaded to a laptop and likely to the cloud. That’s another example of the kind of exploitation of classified documents that would make a good story at trial.

It’s also the kind of story that could expose Michael herself to Espionage Act charges, such that she might work hard to minimize her own exposure. And yes, because she was Trump’s Executive Assistant, both at the White House and after he moved back to Mar-a-Lago, she likely can explain a lot about how Trump used documents he took from the White House and brought to Mar-a-Lago, including documents used as part of his political campaigning afterwards.

Without conceding it was incorrect, WaPo notes that in November, after it was already public that Trump had self-interested reason to refuse to return documents, it reported it was all just ego (it now attributes that conclusion entirely to what Trump told his aides, not — as claimed in the first line of last fall’s story — what “Federal agents and prosecutors have come to believe”).

Such alleged conduct could demonstrate Trump’s habits when it came to classified documents, and what may have motivated him to want to keep the papers. The Post has previously reported that Trump told aides he did not want to return documents and other items from his presidency — which by law are supposed to remain in government custody — because he believed they belonged to him.

Even in a story describing prosecutors collecting evidence about at least two stories about classified records that they might tell at a trial, the WaPo remarkably suggests to readers that obstruction is the primary crime being investigated here.

The application for court approval for that search said agents were pursuing evidence of violations of statutes including 18 USC 1519, which makes it a crime to alter, destroy, mutilate or conceal a document or tangible object “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency.”

A key element in most obstruction cases is intent, because to bring such a charge, prosecutors have to be able to show that whatever actions were taken were done to try to hinder or block an investigation. In the Trump case, prosecutors and federal agents are trying to gather any evidence pointing to the motivation for Trump’s actions.

[snip]

Investigators have also amassed evidence indicating that Trump told others to mislead government officials in early 2022, before the subpoena, when the National Archives and Records Administration was working with the Justice Department to try to recover a wide range of papers, many of them not classified, from Trump’s time as president, the people familiar with the investigation said. While such alleged conduct may not constitute a crime, it could serve as evidence of the former president’s intent.

By treating this as only an obstruction investigation, WaPo incorrectly claims that lying to NARA (as opposed to the FBI) could not be part of a crime.

Here’s my attempt to lay out the elements of offense of both crimes — what prosecutors would have to prove at trial (I wrote more about the elements of an 18 USC 793e charge here and here).

To prove obstruction, DOJ would focus on the things of which — WaPo describes — Jack Smith’s team has developed substantial proof. Most conservatively, they would pertain to a grand jury investigation, because that application would be uncontroversial. After DOJ sent Trump a grand jury subpoena (which would be presented at trial as proof that Trump had notice of the grand jury investigation, his knowledge of which Evan Corcoran’s recent testimony would further corroborate), Trump took steps to hide documents and thereby prevent full compliance with that subpoena, and so thwarted a grand jury investigation. That’s your obstruction charge.

DOJ could charge a second act of obstruction tied to NARA’s effort to recover documents as part of its proper administration of the Presidential Records Act. But such an application would be guaranteed to be appealed. So the safer route would be to charge behavior that post-dates Trump’s knowledge of the grand jury investigation (and indeed, WaPo describes a close focus on events that took place starting last May).

But Trump’s longer effort to deceive the government in order to hoard documents is proof of 18 USC 793(e). To prove that, DOJ would need to prove that the government, whether NARA or FBI, told Trump he was not authorized to have documents covered by the Presidential Records Act, a subset of which would include documents with classification marks. They would need to show that Trump had been told about why he needed to protect classified records, which Trump’s former White House counsels and Staff Secretary have described (and documented) doing. For good measure they would show that Jay Bratt affirmatively told Trump that he had been (and, the August search would prove, was still) storing classified documents in places not authorized for such storage.

To prove 18 USC 793(e) at trial, you would need to describe specific documents Trump refused to give back and explain to a jury why they fit the definition of National Defense Information, material that remained closely held that, if released, could do damage to the US. That may be why they’re asking questions about Trump’s obsession with Milley or sharing maps with donors: because it’s part of the story that prosecutors would tell at trial, if they were to charge 18 USC 793.

All of which is to say that WaPo not only reported that DOJ has collected more evidence to prove what DOJ already suspected when they did the search on August 8, but they’ve been collecting information that would go beyond that, to a hypothetical Espionage Act charge.

Charging a former President with violating the Espionage Act is still an awfully big lift, and in the same way that charging obstruction for impeding NARA’s proper administration of the Presidential Records Act would invite an appeal, charging 18 USC 793(e) in DC would invite a challenge on venue (and charging it in Florida would risk spending the next three years fighting Aileen Cannon). But in addition to developing more evidence to prove the suspicions that they already substantiated in August, WaPo describes Jack Smith’s team asking the kinds of questions — about specific documents that might be charged as individual violations of the Espionage Act — that you’d ask before charging it.

Asking whether Trump (or Molly Michael or anyone else from Trump’s PAC) showed donors a classified map in a package also showing polling and a faith leader’s support for Trump’s policy in an attempt to raise money doesn’t get you evidence of obstruction. If the map is classified, though, it gets you proof that Trump not only knew he had classified documents, but had turned to profiting off of them.

That’s not a guarantee they’re going to charge 18 USC 793e. It’s a pretty good sign they’re collecting evidence that might support that charge.

Update: CNN has a much more measured story, describing how Jack Smith’s team is locking in the voluntary testimony they got last summer.

The new details come amid signs the Justice Department is taking steps typical of near the end of an investigation.

The recent investigative activity before a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, also includes subpoenaing witnesses in March and April who had previously spoken to investigators, the sources said. While the FBI interviewed many aides and workers at Mar-a-Lago nearly a year ago voluntarily, grand jury appearances are transcribed and under-oath – an indication the prosecutors are locking in witness testimony.

[snip]

The grand jury activity – expected to continue to occur at a frequent clip in the coming weeks – builds upon several known reactions Trump and others around him had to the DOJ’s attempt to reclaim classified records last year, and which prompted the FBI to obtain a judge’s approval to search Mar-a-Lago in August for classified records.

Some of the evidence the DOJ has used to persuade a judge to allow that search is still under seal.

It also notes that Smith is still pursuing how a box including documents with classification marks came to be brought back to Mar-a-Lago after the search.

Since then, the Justice Department has pushed for answers around how a box with classified records ended up in Trump’s office after the FBI search took place.

Donald Trump’s Dumbass Russia Binder

There is some tie between Donald Trump’s effort — as one of his last acts as President — to declassify a binder of materials from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and his hoarding of still-classified documents that could get him charged under the Espionage Act.

It’s not yet clear what that tie is, though.

On May 5 of last year, Kash Patel offered the declassification effort as an alibi, claiming Trump had declassified a bunch of materials, including not just the Crossfire Hurricane materials, but everything else discovered in boxes returned to NARA in January 2022. Kash’s claim would be included in the search affidavit for Mar-a-Lago and ultimately lead to his compelled testimony in the investigation.

Last fall, at a time when Alex Cannon and Eric Herschmann would have been under some scrutiny for their role in Stefan Passantino’s dubious legal advice to Cassidy Hutchinson, Maggie Haberman told a story in which the Trump lawyers heroically warned Trump about the risks of holding classified documents. That story claimed Trump had offered to swap the documents he did have for the Russian-related documents the former President believed NARA had.

It was around that same time that Mr. Trump floated the idea of offering the deal to return the boxes in exchange for documents he believed would expose the Russia investigation as a “hoax” cooked up by the F.B.I. Mr. Trump did not appear to know specifically what he thought the archives had — only that there were items he wanted.

Mr. Trump’s aides — recognizing that such a swap would be a non-starter since the government had a clear right to the material Mr. Trump had taken from the White House and the Russia-related documents held by the archives remained marked as classified — never acted on the idea.

The story doesn’t mention Cannon’s role in a fall 2021 inquiry to NARA about the Russian documents. Nor does it say that National Archives General Counsel Gary Stern told Cannon and Justin Clark that NARA had 2,700 undifferentiated documents, but that the binder Trump wanted declassified had been rendered a Federal Record when it got sent back to DOJ.

That’s what NARA told John Solomon on June 23, 2022 — that Trump’s lawyers had requested the binder in fall 2021 — in Stern’s first explanation for why NARA didn’t have the binder.

John, fyi, last fall Justin Clark, another PRA representative of President Trump, also asked us for a copy of this declassified binder. Upon conducting a search, we learned that the binder had been returned to the Department of Justice on January 20, 2021, per the attached memo from Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to the Attorney General, titled “Privacy Act Review of Certain Declassified Materials Related to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation.”

Accordingly, we do not have the binder containing the declassified records. As we explained to Justin, what we were able to locate is a box that contains roughly 2700 undifferentiated pages of documents with varying types of classification and declassification markings, but we could not be certain of the classification status of any of the information in the box. We are therefore obligated under Executive Order 13526 to treat the contents of the box as classified at the TS/SCI level.

Then on August 9 and again on August 10 last year, immediately following the search on Mar-a-Lago, Solomon asked for all correspondence between Cannon and NARA up until days before the search.

Gary, John: My research indicates there may be a new wrinkle to the Russian declassified documents. As part of my authorized access, I would like to see all correspondence between NARA and attorney Alex Cannon between December 2020 and July 31, 2022. I think the information will have significant value to the public regarding current events. Can that be arranged?

[snip]

Checking back on this. It’s time sensitive from a news perspective. Can you accommodate?

Stern, no dummy, likely recognized that this information would not just have news value, but would also have value to those under criminal investigation; he responded with lawyerly caution. As NARA representative for Trump, he explained, Solomon was only entitled to access Presidential records — those that predate January 20, 2021 — and communications between Cannon and NARA post-dated all that. But, Stern helpfully noted, Cannon was cc’ed on the request for the Russian binder.

It’s important to clarify that, as a designated PRA representative of President Trump, you may receive access to the Presidential records of the Trump Administration that have been transferred to NARA, which date from January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021.

Alex Cannon has represented President Trump on PRA matters (along with Justin Clark) only since the summer of 2021, principally with respect to the notification and review process in response to special access requests. Accordingly, there would not be any Trump Presidential records between NARA and Alex Cannon.

FYI, in my June 23 email to you (which is below within this email thread), I noted that “last fall Justin Clark, another PRA representative of President Trump, also asked us for a copy of this declassified binder.” Alex Cannon was cc’d on Justin’s request and our response. I am not aware of any other communications that would exist between NARA and Alex about this matter. [my emphasis]

That would be the only communications “about this matter,” seemingly distinguishing the Russian binder from the missing Presidential records.

At the time Maggie was distracting the chattering classes with the swap story, ABC had a very thorough story that revealed some of what Stern had explained to Solomon last year. That story suggests the month-long focus on the Russian binder had led overall compliance with the Presidential Records Act to be lacking. As Hutchinson tells it, it was worse, with 10 to 15 NSC staffers madly copying classified documents in the last days Trump was in office, with two sets of four copies — one still classified, one less sensitive — circulating to who knows where.

The tie between the Russian documents and the documents Trump stole may be no more than the alibi Kash tried to use them as, an attempt to claim that the limited declassification was instead a blanket effort. Perhaps it was also a failed effort to use Kash and Solomon as moles to figure out what NARA got back. Or perhaps some of these materials madly copied at the last moment were among the classified documents Trump took with him. Perhaps some of those materials were among the still-classified documents Trump took and hoarded in a storage closet with a shitty lock.

But that tie is one of the reasons I read the version of the binder released earlier this year in response to a Judicial Watch FOIA closely (release 1, release 2).

That is one dumbass binder. If you’re going to expose yourself and your assistants to Espionage Act prosecution, this is one dumbass document to do so over.

Having reviewed it — even with great familiarity with the unending ability of certain frothers to get ginned up over these things — I cannot believe how many people remain obsessed about this document.

The document, as released to Judicial Watch, is little more than a re-release of a bunch of files that have already been released. Perhaps the only released documents I hadn’t read closely before were memorializations that Andy McCabe wrote of conversations he had in the wake of Jim Comey’s firing with and about Trump, including the one that described Rod Rosenstein offering to wear a wire to meetings at the White House.

And because DOJ subjected the documents to a real Privacy Act review, unlike declassifications effectuated by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe when Kash babysat him as his Chief of Staff, a number of the documents actually are more redacted than previous versions, something that will no doubt be a topic of exciting litigation going forward.

Mark Meadows ordered DOJ to do a Privacy Act review and as a result great swaths of documents were withheld, page after page of b6/b7C exemptions as well as b7D ones to shield confidential information.

Here’s what got released to Judicial Watch, along with links to the previous releases of the documents:

The Bruce Ohr 302s are the only documents that include much newly released materials, mostly reflecting Igor Danchenko’s subsequent public identification. Both the candidate briefing and the Carter Page FISA application include significantly more redaction (and those are not the only interesting new redactions); given the redactions, it doesn’t look like Trump contemplated disseminating any Page material that was sequestered by the FISA Court, which would have been legally problematic no matter what Trump ordered, but references to the sequestration were all redacted.

As noted above as Requests 1, 5, 6, 14, and 17, there were five things Trump asked for that were still pending at DOJ when Trump left office. Two of those are identified: A request for materials on Perkins Coie lawyers, which (DOJ informed Trump) had no tie to Crossfire Hurricane, and a request for details on an August 2016 meeting involving Bruce Ohr, Andrew Weissmann, and one other person “concerning Russia or Trump.”

There were a number of communications between Ohr, Weissmann, and others later in 2016, including communications potentially relating to an effort to flip Dmitry Firtash, as well as October 2016 communications between Ohr and McCabe. But the jumbled timeline of Ohr’s communications has often been used to insinuate that the Crossfire Hurricane team learned of the Steele allegations earlier in the investigation than the September 19 that DOJ IG reflects. In any case, some of these meetings likely touched on Oleg Deripaska and some might touch on the suspected Egyptian donation Trump used to stay in the race past September 2016, not the dossier.

Between other then-pending requests and big chunks of withheld information (I’ve noted the biggest chunks above, but it would be around 300 pages total), there are things I would have expected to see in this binder that are not there. For example, almost none of the material released as part of DOJ’s attempt to undermine the Flynn investigation (links to which are in this post) is included here. Most of that stuff constitutes information that would never normally be released. It was egregiously misrepresented by Barr’s DOJ. Some of the files were altered. If these were requested, I can think of a number of reasons it would take DOJ a while to provide the materials. Even still, though, the materials didn’t persuade Emmet Sullivan to overturn Flynn’s prosecution, and documents left out of this bunch — such as Flynn’s later 302s, including some where he obviously told the same lies he had told in January 2017, would easily rebut any claims Trump might offer with the Flynn documents.

The documentation showing Strzok learning of a Russian intelligence product claiming not very damning things about Hillary is not in here. That, too, is something that would never have been released with a normal DNI not being led around by Kash Patel and it’s one that would take DOJ a good deal of time to clear. But as I laid out here, the report came after Trump had already demonstrably started pursuing files stolen by Russia. By the time Hillary purportedly decided to call out Trump for encouraging the Russian hack, Trump was encouraging the Russian hack.

Given that Mike Rogers’ 302 from the Mueller investigation is included here, you’d expect those of Trump’s other top intelligence officials to be included as well. Dan Coats and Mike Pompeo were interviewed in the weeks after Rogers. Coats’ aide Mike Dempsey and NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett were also interviewed about Trump’s March 2017 effort to get the IC to deny he had a role in Russian interference, as was Trump’s one-time briefer Edward Gistaro (Gistaro was interviewed a second time in 2018, in an interview treated as TS/SCI, which likely pertained to his involvement in briefing at Mar-a-Lago during the transition). Details of these interviews show up in the Mueller Report, and his request only helps to make Trump look more guilty.

It doesn’t include materials released as part of the failed Sussmann and Danchenko prosecutions. But like Barr’s effort to overturn the Flynn prosecution, none of that evidence sustained Trump’s conspiracy theories either. Indeed, during a bench conference in the Danchenko trial, Durham fought hard to keep the substance of the discussions — ostensibly about energy investments — between Sergei Millian and George Papadopoulos starting in July 2016 out of the trial because, “it certainly sounds creepy.” The Sussmann trial showed how justified people were in wondering about Trump’s Russia ties in the wake of his “Russia are you listening” comment. It provided a glimpse of how time-consuming being a victim of a nation-state hack had been for Hillary in 2016. Durham even demonstrated that FBI badly screwed up the Alfa Bank investigation. When subjected to the rules of evidence, none of Trump’s hoax claims hold up.

The point is, nothing in this binder — particularly as released — supports Trump’s claims that the investigation into him wasn’t independently predicated and didn’t lead to really damning information implicating at least five of his top aides and his own son.

Trump keeps trying to collect some set of evidence that will make go away the far more damning ties to Russia that his National Security Advisor, his Coffee Boy, his personal lawyer, his campaign manager, and his rat-fucker all lied to hide. And in this case, it may have led Trump to do something far dumber, to defy a subpoena and hoard highly classified documents.

Which possibility only makes the dumbass Russia binder even more of a dumbass Russian binder.

Kash’s Castles of Scatter and Evan Corcoran’s BCC

More than seven months after seemingly threatening to sue the National Archives because Mark Meadows and Donald Trump fucked up their effort to declassify the Russian investigation documents, John Solomon finally did sue on March 21, represented by the America First Legal Foundation — Stephen Miller’s gig.

I’d be shocked if the lawsuit went anywhere.

That’s because NARA General Counsel Gary Stern provided Kash and Solomon with the explanation of what happened with the attempted declassification over and over and over. First, Trump didn’t declassify the documents. He ordered the binder of Crossfire Hurricane documents be sent to the Attorney General, who would implement the final declassifications, then send the document back to the White House.

I have directed the Attorney General to implement the redactions proposed in the FBI’s January 17 submission and return to the White House an appropriately redacted copy.

Then the next day, January 20, 2021, Mark Meadows sent all that to the Attorney General to conduct a Privacy Act review before releasing anything.

As Stern explained to Kash and Solomon, what remained at the White House at that point was a collection of 2,700 “undifferentiated pages,” a cursory review of which revealed conflicting redactions and some documents lacking the requisite declassification stamp. The stuff that got sent to DOJ was a Federal Record, not a Presidential Record, and by the time Kash and Solomon started this process, it was already being processed as part of a Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit (the first two releases in which — one, two — recently came out).

In other words, Trump and Mark Meadows fucked this up. NARA didn’t. Trump did.

The likely futility of the lawsuit notwithstanding, the lawsuit and its timing may have more to do with publicly sharing the correspondence Solomon and Kash Patel had with NARA last year, between the time Trump would have realized he had a legal problem with this stolen classified documents, and the immediate wake of the search that made that legal problem a far bigger problem.

As the correspondence Solomon released with the lawsuit reveals, Evan Corcoran initiated this process, on June 17, 2022, informing Stern that “because of his schedule” on June 17 and 18, he would sign a letter designating Kash and Solomon NARA representatives on June 19, after which the two wanted to immediately (Solomon explained in reply) get access to the Russian documents.

Because of his schedule today and tomorrow, former President Donald J. Trump will sign a letter on Sunday afternoon, June 19, 2022, informing the Acting Archivist of the United States that he has designated Kash Patel and John Solomon (copied) to be his NARA representatives.

I will transmit that letter to the Archivist and you (and John Laster) via email when I receive it.

Kash and John would like to begin work reviewing documents at the Archives on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

I will leave it to the three of you to work out logistics (and feel free to move me to bcc)

Think about that! By April 29, Corcoran was the guy with whom Stern was coordinating on the FBI request for access to the documents Trump belatedly returned in January 2022. On May 5, Corcoran asked to access what had been returned and on the very same day — the search affidavit notes — Kash claimed that not just the Russian documents had been declassified, but a bunch of other documents had too. On May 11, FBI subpoenaed Trump for remaining classified documents. On June 3, Corcoran provided just a subset of the remaining documents.

And then, two weeks after participating in a shell game to facilitate withholding classified documents, Corcoran contacted Stern to arrange fairly urgent access for Kash and Solomon to the materials he had first asked to access in May.

The guy in charge of staving off criminal exposure for hoarding classified documents is the guy who arranged to have Kash and Solomon made NARA representatives!

And then, Stern noted, he moved Corcoran to “bcc.” That means it’s not clear whether Corcoran remained on bcc or not. We don’t know whether Corcoran, as was his intent, remained part of the rest of this exchange. Which makes the timing of this probably futile lawsuit — the second business day after Beryl Howell ruled that Corcoran must testify and the day before Corcoran was initially due to comply — all the more interesting.

There are other interesting tidbits of the correspondence Solomon includes — most notably Kash’s increasing frustration because he couldn’t name via what agency he retained clearance.

On July 18, for example, Kash wrote an email riddled with typos bitching because Stern did not take, from the letter Patel’s one-time contractor employer sent, as approval to access classified records at NARA.

Actually, that’s only part of the communications your security team and you received. The rest states:

they (NARA) could look up your clearance in DISS or Scattered Castles and your need to know came from working directly for President Trump. Per policy- In order to access anything – you would need a clearance and a need to know. You have both of these based on your position with President Trump.

If you are going to provide a correspondence on this matter and directly site a communication, please do not cut out the important, substantive portion that resolves the matter. As you can see, you can validate my clearance and my need to know is satisfied. The only question that remains is why I am getting poor/incorrect information, and why you haven’t used the data bases to verify my clearance, when that is clearly within your agencies ability (its literally how every agency in government validates said clearances). Again, I expect to be reviewing these records tomorrow since the data bases search to validate my clearance is instantaneous. Direct your security office accordingly and stop blocking my access. Thanks much

Kash

[my emphasis]

Much of this section of the exchange reads like a sloppy attempt to social engineer access. Which makes Kash’s claim that the NSC was a more recent employer of his than ODNI of particular interest.

Thanks for the update, please go to DoD and the NSC at the White House, those being my last employers in govt, they would be best suited to verify my clearance (they would not be held at ODNI) but anyone with access to Scattered Castles can easily verify the clearance and who holds it. Thanks much Kash

It’s not clear how this part of the exchange was resolved. The whole exchange led me to wonder whether Kash had a clearance during his time running DOD at all. But none of this would have amounted to a need to know in any case, notwithstanding what a former employer had said.

There was great urgency in this period to get into the archives, to see what Trump had actually turned over in January 2021. Then the correspondence ended — at least as Solomon has it — on August 17.

Incidentally, the correspondence provides at least some corroboration for my speculation that Kash was disseminating parts of the Carter Page FISA applications that had been sequestered under an order from the FISA court — sequestered, as it happens, by an order from Jeb Boasberg, who just took over as DC’s Chief Judge. It also may explain some curious metadata in the copy of the Mark Meadows order that John Solomon released on July 20, 2022. Solomon’s copy of Meadow’s order showed a creation date of September 27, 2021, but a modification date of June 23, 2022.

June 23 is the first of two times that Stern sent Solomon and Kash a copy of the memo. The modification date likely reflects NARA resending the document.

The September 27, 2021 creation date likely reflects the time when, in fall 2021, NARA first discovered the memo after Justin Clark and Alex Cannon came looking for it.

There’s one more reason this is significant. After receiving (or being described) that Mark Meadows’ memo last fall, Cannon — the guy who repeatedly advised Trump to return the classified documents — would have known the Russian documents were not declassified. But if those got returned as a result, it would mean that any other copies out there, including copies shared with Solomon, would be illegally disseminated classified records.

Update: I’ve updated my stolen documents resource page with some of the dates from Solomon’s lawsuit and caught up to my past posts.

Update: This led me to go back and review the stories John Solomon wrote in the aftermath of the search, which unsurprisingly include numerous bullshit claims.

August 11, 2022: Solomon regurgitates story describing “cooperation” in June, including Secret Service involvement in June 3 meeting and aftermath.

August 22, 2022: JustTheNews posts the text of letter from Debra Steidal Wall to Trump.

Update: Corrected which year Trump returned some documents.

 

Two of Jim Jordan’s So-Called Whistleblowers Are Under Investigation for Improper Treatment of FBI Files

As a number of outlets have covered (Rolling Stone did a particularly good story), Democrats on the Insurrection Protection Committee released a report on the only three witnesses — whom Jim Jordan dubiously claims are whistleblowers — who have yet to be formally deposed by the committee. Not only does the report seriously question their claims to be whistleblowers (in part because they have little, if any, firsthand knowledge of the issues about which they claim to be reporting), but the report shows that all three are pro-insurrection conspiracy theorists.

I’ve already written about one, Stephen Friend, who balked that some Three Percenters with ties to the Oath Keepers and Kremers were being treated as a domestic terror threat.

The other two are George Hill, a recently retired Supervisory Intelligence Analyst whose embrace of false flag theories around January 6 should invite defendants in the Boston area to ask for discovery on his potential involvement in any cases, and Garret O’Boyle, an anti-vaxer who refused to take an investigative step against two apparent January 6 leads but suffered no consequences as a result.

I’d like to point out two functional details of the report: as the report describes, two witnesses are under investigation for mishandling FBI files, and those same two witnesses received payments from Trump-related funds, funds that are likely part of the larger January 6 investigation.

Jim Jordan’s witnesses are alleged to be accessing or sharing information not necessary for their job

First, the substance of this testimony involves records that were either improperly accessed or outside the witnesses’ job description.

Friend, for example, admitted that he was suspended, in part, for improperly removing parts of the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide and other internal documents from the FBI system.

Friend has publicly stated that his security clearance was suspended because he improperly accessed material on FBI computer systems, 220 and during his testimony, he admitted that while a Special Agent at the Daytona Beach Resident Agency, he accessed and removed documents marked “For Official Use Only” from a classified FBI system.221 Specifically, he admitted that in September 2022, he accessed the classified system to get “information about the employee handbook and disciplinary processes,” “a flow chart of the way the Inspection Division works and the OPR [Office of Professional Responsibility] process works,” and “copies of the last five OPR quarterlies as a go by for precedent for punishment for my situation.”222 He also accessed and removed elements of the then-current version of the FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.223

Remember that Intercept source Terry Albury did prison time, in part, for taking and leaking the DIOG; so any complaint that Friend is disciplined for this amounts to a complaint that he’s being subjected to the same standard as Albury was.

Similarly, O’Boyle was suspended  last year based on allegations he was leaking to the press.

He applied for and was accepted to a new unit in Virginia and was scheduled to begin work there on September 26, 2022.90 His security clearance was suspended that day.91

O’Boyle told the Committee that his suspension notice stated that “an unidentified person … made an allegation that [he] had been making unprotected disclosures to the media,” and that because of this he was “no longer deemed fit to hold a security clearance.”92 He denied having made such disclosures, and he explained that instead he believed that he had been retaliated against because he “had been coming to Congress… for nearly a year.”93 He described this as being a “weaponization of the [security] clearance” process.94 He has appealed that suspension and, to his knowledge, the appeal process is still ongoing.95

[snip]

O’Boyle did confirm that he corresponded with staff of both Rep. Ron Estes and then-Ranking Member Jim Jordan probably “more than 20” times in 2022 and produced “maybe around” 50 documents to them.104 O’Boyle’s attorney advised him “not to talk about specifics of any of his disclosures to Congress … because those are confidential” and in fact prohibited him from describing the substance of any of his communications with the offices of Rep. Estes or then-Ranking Member Jordan.105

O’Boyle has some unspecified role in material that got forwarded from an eGuardian tip, possibly via Jim Jordan, to Project Veritas. PV’s coverage falsely claimed that the FBI had labeled a group called American Contingency a Domestic Violent Extremism group. In reality, the FBI investigated the group’s founder, Mike Glover, and concluded he did not present a threat.

Nevertheless, Jordan cited PV’s coverage in a complaint to Christopher Wray.

O’Boyle admitted that, even though he had no role in this investigation, he was involved somehow in the dissemination of information about it.

Q Did you know anything about the investigation or what has been described as an investigation into him [Mike Glover] prior to having this letter put in front of you today?

A I did.

Q And what did you know?

A Pretty much mostly what’s in here.

Q And that – how did you learn that information?

BINNALL: Prior to our previous instructions, you can answer to the extent it’s appropriate.

A This is one of the protected disclosures that I made.

Q Okay. And it involves Mr. Glover?

A Uh-huh.

Q But you … were not personally involved in any matters involving Mr. Glover in your capacity as an FBI employee?

A Right. I never investigated him.

Q Okay. And what about American Contingency?

A Correct. No.

Q Okay. So you don’t have firsthand knowledge of anything that the FBI may have – may or may not have done?

BINNALL: You can answer to the extent that it doesn’t violate my previous instructions.

A I mean, I guess, in accordance with my work and my protected disclosure, I had some knowledge of what the FBI had done.

BINNALL: And don’t go any further than that.135

It’s unclear whether this is the leak investigation that led him to lose his security clearance. When asked about it, O’Boyle claimed he was set up by someone irked that he was feeding information to Congress for the prior year, but he did not take that complaint through proper channels, to the DOJ IG or Inspection Division. He refused to tell Democrats on the committee what the allegations about leaking pertain to.

Instead, he went to Donald Trump’s lawyer, Jesse Binnell.

Among the claimed whistleblower complaints O’Boyle shared (the other involves vaccine denialism) is that a WFO Special Agent sent him two leads, one based on an anonymous tip, apparently of January 6 suspects.

But I received a lead about someone based on an anonymous tip, and in law enforcement anonymous tips don’t hold very much weight, especially without evidence that you can corroborate pretty easily.

I wasn’t able to corroborate anything they said, even after speaking with the person they alleged potential criminal behavior of.

While I’m trying to figure all that out, I get another lead from the same agent who sent me that lead.108

He explained that he decided to call the agent who had sent him the lead:

Q [A]fter talking to her, my mind was blown that she was still trying to get me to do some legal process on the guy that I got the anonymous tip on. … And so I ended up writing that all up and denying it. …

When we got off the phone, I was like, “I’m just going to close this.” She still wanted me to do what she wanted me to do in the lead, and I was like, no. I can’t…

Q So, to your knowledge, that case was closed?

A To my knowledge, yeah.109

To suggest that anonymous tips related to January 6 were particular unreliable does not hold up against the record of the investigation. This exchange makes him sound just like Friend — someone who refused to investigate suspected perpetrators of January 6, and is trying to launch a career as a far right celebrity as a result.

Finally, there’s Hill, the retired Supervisory Intelligence Analyst who adheres to conspiracy theories about Ray Epps. He reported to the committee on matters he was not personally involved — what sounds like a tip or Suspicious Activity Report from a financial institution pertaining to January 6.

Hill claimed that a financial institution provided a self-generated customer list to the FBI of its own volition, that the Boston Field Office had been asked to conduct seven preliminary investigations based on that list, and that FBI field offices around the country were also asked to open preliminary investigations—according to Hill, the “least-intrusive method” of investigation—based on that list. 32

As noted, Hill explained that he himself did not handle any cases, so his knowledge of the investigations was limited by his role. Moreover, he revealed that he had no information about the origins of the list, he did not recall which entity uploaded the list to the FBI’s system, and, while he viewed an electronic communication referencing the list in the FBI’s case management system, he never opened or viewed the actual list itself. 33

To the committee, attempting to weigh whether there’s merit to Hill’s allegations, this simply reeks of someone reporting on an investigation he was not part of. But it raises real questions why he was monitoring an investigation he was not part of.

In all three cases, people tangentially involved with the January 6 investigation balked at pretty minor investigative steps. And all three at least accessed information outside their job to do so — and in two cases, there are allegations of improper access.

Trump-related organizations paid two of these witnesses

The allegations that at least some of these men may have improperly accessed investigative information to which they were not privy is all the more alarming given the detail that two of them — Friend and O’Boyle, the two under more formal investigation by the FBI — have received financial benefits from Trump-related organizations.

Witnesses Garret O’Boyle and Stephen Friend both testified that they have received financial support from Patel, with Friend explaining that Patel sent him $5,000 almost immediately after they connected in November 2022. Patel has also promoted Friend’s forthcoming book on social media.

But Patel’s assistance has not just been financial. He arranged for attorney Jesse Binnall, who served as Donald Trump’s “top election-fraud lawyer” when Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen, to serve as counsel for Garret O’Boyle. When Committee Democrats asked O’Boyle about this financial connection, Binnall appeared to surprise his client with an announcement that he was now representing O’Boyle pro bono. Committee Democrats infer that Binnall hoped to distance his connection to Patel and others.

Patel also found Friend his next job. Friend now works as a fellow on domestic intelligence and security services with the Center for Renewing America, which is run by former Trump official Russell Vought and is largely funded by the Conservative Partnership Institute, which itself is run by former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Senator Jim DeMint.

This is where the Insurrection Protection Committee more directly ties into Trump’s own defense against charges for his coup attempt.

Jesse Binnall is Trump’s lawyer; he was even interviewed as part of obstruction inquiry related to the stolen document investigation. His firm has been receiving hundreds of thousands in payments from Trump’s two PACs, over $130,000 in both November and December. This is some of the spending that Jack Smith is reportedly investigating for misuse of campaign funds. So there’s the real prospect that O’Boyle, under investigation for leaking details of FBI investigations against January 6 and other right wing figures, is being paid from funds raised by lying about voter fraud.

Similarly, Trump’s Save America PAC gave $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute. Again, that payment is almost certainly part of the Jack Smith investigation. As the Democratic report notes, Vought’s organization has been focusing on precisely this false weaponization claim.

CRA’s President, former Trump administration official Russ Vought, has embraced many of the themes laid out by the witnesses George Hill, Garret O’Boyle, and Stephen Friend, and Vought reportedly pushed Republican leadership to establish the Weaponization Subcommittee at the start of the 118th Congress.397 In the forward to CRA’s 2023 budget proposal for the federal government, entitled “A Commitment to End Woke and Weaponized Government,” Vought wrote,

On the heels of this wrenching national experience is the growing awareness that the national security apparatus itself is arrayed against that half of the country not willing to bend the knee to the people, institutions, and elite worldview that make up the current governing regime. Instead of fulfilling their intended purpose of keeping the American people safe, they are hard-wired now to keep the regime in power. And that includes the emergence of political prisoners, a weaponized, SWAT-swaggering FBI, the charges of “domestic terrorism” and “disinformation” in relation to adversaries’ exercise of free speech, and the reality that the NSA is running a surveillance state behind the protective curtain of “national security.” The immediate threat facing the nation is the fact that the people no longer govern the country; instead, the government itself is increasingly weaponized against the people it is meant to serve.398

Committee Democrats find the connections between Patel, CRA, and CPI deeply concerning. Evidence suggests that these entities were not just a driving force for creating the Weaponization Subcommittee, but are actively propelling its efforts to advance baseless, biased claims for political purposes. This evidence seriously discredits the work done by Committee Republicans and casts further doubt on the reliability of the witnesses they have put forth.

That suggests the prospect that Trump-related figures are violation campaign finance law to fund an NGO to, in turn, pay for FBI agents under investigation for improperly accessing FBI files to spread conspiracy theories about the investigation into Trump and his supporters.

Jordan’s imaginary friends

The combination of alleged leaks with payments from funds raised using false claims of vote fraud makes me even more worried about the witnesses that Jordan won’t let be questioned by the Democrats on the committee.

As the Democratic report notes, Jordan says he has spoken to — and received materials from — dozens of other people claiming tobe whistleblowers.

This partisan investigation, such as it is, rests in large part on what Chairman Jordan has described as “dozens and dozens of whistleblowers… coming to us, talking about what is going on, the political nature at the Justice Department.”1 To date, the House Judiciary Committee has held transcribed interviews with three of these individuals. Chairman Jordan has, of course, refused to name any of the other “dozens and dozens” who may have spoken with him. He has also refused to share any of the documents which these individuals may have provided to the Committee.

Jordan recently sent Christopher Wray a list of 16 Special Agents he demands to interview.

Our need to obtain testimony from FBI employees is vital for carrying out our oversight and for informing potential legislative reforms to the operations and activities of the FBI. From the documentary and testimonial information that we have obtained to date, we have identified several FBI employees who we believe possess information that is necessary for our oversight. Accordingly, we ask that you initially make the following FBI employees available for transcribed interviews with the Committee in the near future:

[16 names redacted]

We anticipate that we may require testimony from additional FBI employees as our oversight continues, and we expect your cooperation in facilitating these future interviews as well.

We are aware that the Justice Department has preemptively indicated that it intends to limit the scope and nature of information available to the Committee as part of our oversight.3
You should know, however, that despite the Department’s assertions to the contrary, congressional committees have regularly received testimony from non-Senate-confirmed and line-level Justice Department employees, including FBI employes [sic], in the past. We expect this past precedent to apply to our oversight as well.

Jordan’s list includes 17 names, including Jack Smith. Eleven of those — including Lisa Page — appear to be related to Mark Meadows’ own investigation of the Russian investigation. Jordan is effectively saying he has the right to interview line agents because Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr let him do so, to undermine the last investigation into Donald Trump.

Jordan provides no basis for needing to interview these people. He doesn’t provide any explanation about how they might provide evidence of improper FBI activity.

According to Breitbart, which claimed to have seen transcripts of the Jordan witnesses interviews, said the 16 people “had been named by the three witnesses in the closed-door interviews.” In other words, three disgruntled FBI agents, two under investigation for wrong-doing, are leading Jim Jordan by the nose to make life hell for their former colleagues.

But those two other details make this different.

These people are being given financial benefits from Trump-related sources, financial benefits that may themselves be part of the crime under investigation.

And at least two of these people — the same two on the grift train — are under investigation for inappropriately removing or leaking sensitive FBI documents.

Kash Patel Wants the Insurrection Protection Committee to Investigate Why Robert Hur Tried to Protect Past Ongoing Investigations

Matt Taibbi (aka MattyDickPics) and Kash Patel are whining about the Nunes Memo again.

As you’ll recall, in the first year of the Trump Administration, Patel wrote a misleading memo for Devin Nunes purporting that the entire Russian investigation stemmed from the Steele dossier.  When the Carter Page IG Report and FISA applications were released, it became clear how Patel spun the facts. In this post I cataloged what both Nunes and Adam Schiff, in his counterpart to the Nunes memo, got wrong.

But it’s not the Nunes Memo itself that Taibbi and Patel are whining about. They’re complaining about the circumstances of its release five years ago.

Taibbi made it the subject of his latest Twitter Files propaganda thread and related Substack — the latter of which, astoundingly, says the public has to rely on the attributions of cloud companies, something Taibbi has always refused to do when discussing the GRU attribution of the 2016 hacks targeting Democratic targets. “It’s over, you nitwits. It’s time to stow the Mueller votive candles, cop to the coverage pileup created by years of errors, and start the reconciliation process,” Taibbi says, in appealing to precisely the kind of evidence he himself has refused to credit for more than six years. I dealt with both in this thread, but the important takeaway is that Taibbi doesn’t even manage to get facts that both the Daily Beast and I were able to cover in real time, including the fact that Republicans, too, were making unsupported claims based on the Dashboard’s reporting and Russian trolls were part of — just not the biggest part — of the campaign.

[A] knowledgeable source says that Twitter’s internal analysis has thus far found that authentic American accounts, and not Russian imposters or automated bots, are driving #ReleaseTheMemo. There are no preliminary indications that the Twitter activity either driving the hashtag or engaging with it is either predominantly Russian.

In short, according to this source, who would not speak to The Daily Beast for attribution, the retweets are coming from inside the country.

The source pointed to influential American users on the right, including Donald Trump Jr., with his 2.49 million followers, pushing the hashtag forward. It’s become a favorite of far-right Republican congressmen, including Steve King, who claimed the still-secret memo shows the FBI was behaving “worse than Watergate” in one viral tweet. Mark Meadows called it an “absolutely shocking” display of “FISA abuses,” referring to a counterintelligence process.

Rules of Engagement

There are reasons for skepticism about both the source’s claim and Alliance for Securing Democracy’s contrary findings.

Russian influence accounts did, in fact, send an outsize number of tweets about #ReleaseTheMemo—simply not enough for those accounts to reach the top of Twitter’s internal analysis.

Meanwhile, Kash Patel is outraged that Merrick Garland picked Robert Hur as Special Counsel to investigate Biden’s mishandling of classified documents because, when and after serving as a top aide to Rod Rosenstein in the early days of the Russian investigation, he opposed release of the memo.

This guy Hur needs to be the first one subpoenaed by the new Special Select Committee under Jim Jordan’s authority on the weaponization of government and do you want to know why? Because Hur — we have the receipts, Steve, and we’re going to release them later — was sending communications to the Justice Department and Rod Rosenstein’s crew arguing against the release of the Nunes memo. Saying that it would bastardize and destroy the United States national security apparatus. This guy is a swamp monster of the Tier One level, he’s a government gangster, he’s now in charge of the continued crime scene cover-up, which is why the first congressional subpoena that has to go out for the weaponization of government subcommittee is against Hur.

Remember, this committee was modified during the period when key insurrectionists were refusing to vote for Kevin McCarthy to include language authorizing the committee to investigate why the Executive Branch is permitted to conduct criminal investigations of US citizens.

the expansive role of article II authority vested in the executive branch to collect information on or otherwise investigate citizens of the United States, including ongoing criminal investigations;

It may be the intent to interfere in ongoing investigations into people like Scott Perry and Paul Gosar (who changed their votes on McCarthy later in the week, as these changes were being made) and Jordan (who will have great leeway to direct the direction of this committee). But Jordan may be surprised when he discovers that Merrick Garland will enforce the long-standing DOJ policies about providing Congress access to ongoing investigations that Jeff Sessions and Matt Whitaker and Bill Barr did not. Indeed, some precedents from the Russia investigation legally prohibit the sharing of this information with Congress.

But Kash’s complaint (back atcha with the rap gangsta alliteration, Kash!) is a bellybutton moment in which he attempts to villainize Hur’s past commitment to those long-standing DOJ (and intelligence community, including the NSA that conduct much FISA surveillance) policies. Consider the things the memo revealed, many of which had never before been released publicly.

  • Details about the dates and approvals for four FISA orders
  • Financial details involving private individuals, including US citizens
  • Contents of the FISA memo (but not their true context)
  • A reference to a Mike Isikoff article that appeared in the Carter Page applications; Kash was outraged when his own public article was included in the warrant affidavit targeting Trump
  • Details from a Confidential Human Source file
  • Misrepresentations about both Bruce Ohr and his spouse, the latter of whom was a private citizen whose work was shared with the FBI as part of the effort to vet the dossier
  • Direct communications with the President-elect the likes of which Trump claimed were covered by Executive Privilege in the Mueller investigation
  • False claims about the texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that are currently the subject of two Privacy Act lawsuits; even aside from the privacy implications, at the time it was virtually unprecedented for texts between FBI officials to be released, even in criminal discovery (and many of these released, including some misrepresented in the memo, pertained to work matters unrelated to the Russian investigation)

In other words, Kash Patel wants to investigate Hur’s comments, made either at the time he was the key overseer of the Mueller investigation or during a transition period as he awaited confirmation to be US Attorney, advocating that DOJ protect informants, FISA materials, details about private citizens, and work texts between FBI officials.

The very first thing Kash wants the Insurrection Protection Committee to investigate is why, five years ago, a senior DOJ official advocated following long-standing DOJ policy.

The Rules Against Keeping Classified Documents in an Unsecure RV Parked alongside Jeremy Brown’s Home

Several days into the trial of Oath Keeper Jeremy Brown, it continues to provide useful lessons for the case of that other disgruntled former Federal employee who took classified documents home to Florida with him.

In a motion in limine submitted yesterday, the government sought to preclude Brown from taking the stand and explaining why he took one of the classified documents he is accused of storing in his RV.

Count 10 charges the Defendant with violating 18 U.S.C. § 793(e) in connection with his willful retention of the Classified Trip Report. The parties have agreed that in order to prove the Defendant guilty of this offense, the government must establish that (1) the Defendant possessed the Classified Trip Report without authorization, (2) the Classified Trip Report relates to the national defense, and (3) the Defendant willfully retained the Classified Trip Report and failed to deliver it to an officer of the United States entitled to receive it. See Dkt. 230-1 at 19 (joint jury instruction setting forth elements of 18 U.S.C. § 793(e)).

Notably absent from these elements is any requirement that the Defendant intended to harm the United States. Nor does the government need to prove that the Defendant even knew or had reason to know that his conduct would harm the United States. Consequently, evidence of the Defendant’s motive, rationale, or justification for possessing the Classified Trip Report is irrelevant to the elements of this offense—unless he is contending that he was authorized to possess the Report (which he has never and cannot credibly argue).

Such evidence is also not relevant to establishing that the Defendant “willfully” retained the Classified Trip Report. The Defendant either acted willfully—i.e., he knew that his conduct was generally unlawful—or he did not. His reasons or motive for so acting are irrelevant. Here, the Defendant knew that the Trip Report was classified and he knew that it was against the rules to keep classified [sic] in an unsecure RV parked alongside his home. Indeed, he placed the classified markings on the document himself, and chose to include particularly sensitive information in the Report that could jeopardize U.S. national security. The Defendant’s subjective preference that some of the information in the document should have been at a different classification level – as pointed out to the jury during cross-examination of Special Agent Koundarakis – is similarly irrelevant. On these facts, the Defendant acted willfully. The Defendant’s subjective belief that he had good intentions, or his preferred classification level for the information in the document, is entirely immaterial to that analysis.

This is the kind of motive argument that many people accused of 18 USC 793(e) want to argue. Trump (or Kash Patel) himself has argued a form of it by arguing that he should have been able to take the documents about the Russian investigation to prove he was unfairly targeted.

In this case, the government is arguing that doing so (Brown already did so in opening arguments) amounts to jury nullification.

“[T]he potential for jury nullification is no basis for admitting otherwise irrelevant evidence.” Funchesi, 135 F.3d at 1409. The defendant does not have a due process right to present evidence “the only relevance of which is to inspire a jury to exercise its power of nullification.” Id. at 1408. Rather, “[j]ury nullification verdicts are lawless, a denial of due process and constitute an exercise of erroneously seized power.” Id. at 1409.

If and when Brown’s fellow Floridian is ever charged with 793(e), I expect to see a much more extended version of this argument: That’s it’s okay to bring home classified documents and store them in your RV or leatherbound box of trophies because you had a good motive.

But there will be a whole bunch of precedent ruling such arguments about — possibly even from Brown’s own case! And since the 11th Circuit ruled that Trump isn’t special, I don’t expect any attempt to argue motive will work

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.