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While Lindsey Graham Was Stalling Merrick Garland’s Confirmation He Was Hoping for Imminent Hunter Biden and John Durham News

One of the very last things Lindsey Graham did as Senate Judiciary Chair was to send a letter to Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson urging him not to do anything about two investigations that — according to his addled little brain — “Democrats would rather go away.” In addition to the Delaware investigation of Hunter Biden, Lindsey included the John Durham investigation in that.

I was even the primary sponsor of bipartisan legislation, favorably reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to protect Special Counsel Mueller’s probe from being terminated. Special Counsel Mueller of course found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but it was important for public trust that the probe be completed without interference.

We now find the shoe on the other foot. We have two properly predicated, ongoing investigations Democrats would rather go away: Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and the investigation by the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office into Hunter Biden. Special Counsel Durham’s probe has already yielded a felony conviction.

I am writing to respectfully request that you refrain from interfering in any way with either investigation while the Senate processes the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the position of Attorney General. The American public deserve the truth and must know that these investigations will continue without political interference.

There’s a lot that’s ridiculous about this letter. It is laughably false to claim that Mueller “found no evidence of ‘collusion,'” — that would be a false claim even if Lindsey had used the legally relevant term of “conspiracy.”

The shoe is not on the other foot. In contradistinction to Trump’s incessant focus on the Russian investigation, there has been no peep about these investigations from the Biden White House. Instead, Hunter Biden rolled out a book deal the other day, which led his father to focus on the import of recovery from addiction, not legal risk.

Lindsey waves Durham’s single felony conviction around — as compared to Mueller’s much more productive investigation and based on evidence entirely derived from Michael Horowitz’ investigation — even after presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg concluded that Kevin Clinesmith did not commit that crime out of any ill-will and sentenced him to a year of probation.

It’s just such a pathetic effort to sustain conspiracy theories Trump chased, and in spite of the Fox News piece on this letter quoting someone that sounds remarkably like Lindsey Graham talking about an ongoing investigation he shouldn’t know about off the record, it’s not actually clear that either of these will result in a showy prosecution. Hell, for all we know, Durham has shifted his focus to what the FBI Agents who were sending pro-Trump tweets on their phones did during the investigation or why Bill Barr’s DOJ submitted altered documents to a criminal docket, precisely the crime Clinesmith pled guilty to.

To repeat, Graham wrote this to urge Wilkinson, who remains in charge of DOJ and oversees the Durham investigation (Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin probably oversees the Hunter Biden one) because Merrick Garland remains the most senior Cabinet official who hasn’t been confirmed yet. This was one of his last acts as Chair of SJC.

But the other major final stunt before handing his gavel over to Dick Durbin was precisely that delay. In spite of Garland’s bipartisan support and in spite of Durbin’s exhortations to stop delaying, Lindsey simply didn’t take up Garland’s nomination when he counterparts were doing so. And so DOJ may not get a confirmed Attorney General until late February or early March.

Probably, Lindsey primarily stalled this confirmation just to impose a price on Democrats for impeaching the former President.

But I had been wondering whether Lindsey didn’t have more in mind, perhaps the delay of charges that DOJ would not unseal without Garland’s sanction. And that may be the case.

But along with that delay, Lindsey has also delayed his opportunity to obtain assurances from Garland that he’ll leave these two investigations Lindsey is obsessed about untouched.

Kevin Clinesmith Sentenced to a Year of Probation

Judge James Boasberg just sentenced Kevin Clinesmith to a year of probation for altering a CIA email describing Carter Page’s prior relationship with the CIA.

Carter Page spoke at some length in his typical rambling style. Notably, he did not call for a harsh sentence for Clinesmith. And much of what he said was irrelevant to the sentencing (he seemed to be pitching to be a FISC amicus, as if the ties between him and Russian intelligence weren’t real concerns).

Anthony Scarpelli, arguing for the government, did not repeat a claim made in their sentencing memorandum, that Clinesmith may have made this alteration for political reasons. Judge Boasberg noted that the DOJ IG Report had found no evidence of such.

The government did suggest that Clinesmith had altered the email for more than just to avoid the work of correcting it. Boasberg didn’t see it that way. He found the argument of Clinesmith’s lawyer, Justin Shur, compelling that there was no personal benefit to Clinesmith because he wasn’t on the hook for the earlier mistakes in the application.

Boasberg also made a quip that, unlike certain politicians, Clinesmith had not chosen to be in the public limelight.

The hearing was perhaps most interesting for Boasberg’s comments, as the presiding FISA judge presiding over a criminal case pertaining to FISA, about the import of the FISA court’s role in checking Executive authority. I’ll return to those comments when a transcript is available.

Ultimately, then, this closes the most productive aspect of the Durham investigation, which has gone on almost as long as the investigation it is supposed to investigate.

Billy Barr Makes Excuses for His C- Durham Investigation Report Card

Either Billy Barr didn’t believe his bullshit would withstand even the obsequious questioning of Pierre Thomas or Pete Williams, or he felt the need to re-set the expectations for the Durham investigation that he set sky high when it started, because one of his first exit interviews was with WSJ’s propagandist Kim Strassel.

There’s the typical propaganda in here: Strassel’s attempt to claim all the politicized decisions he made were instead brave tough choices and she reports Barr’s admission that he came in to end the Russian investigation without noting that, in the past, he admitted when he came in he didn’t know anything about.

But there’s an interesting framing that suggests Barr knows he badly oversold his claims about the Mueller investigation and the FBI investigation that led to it, and oversold his Durham investigation even more.

Of the Russian investigation, Barr first claims, as fact, that a small group of people used the Russian investigation to topple the Trump “administration,” ignoring the illogic of that claim, since had they really wanted to thwart Trump, they would have done so during the election.

He reminds me why he took the job in the first place: “The Department of Justice was being used as a political weapon” by a “willful if small group of people,” who used the claim of collusion with Russia in an attempt to “topple an administration,” he says. “Someone had to make sure that the power of the department stopped being abused and that there was accountability for what had happened.” Mr. Barr largely succeeded, in the process filling a vacuum of political oversight, reimposing norms, and resisting partisan critics on both sides.

A paragraph later, Barr says that Mueller should have done the work he claims Durham is doing, by refusing to take in garbage (we’ve already seen abundant evidence that Mueller chased down disinformation, including the Steele dossier, as disinformation).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s appointment should not have been necessary. Mr. Mueller’s investigation should have exposed FBI malfeasance. Instead, “the Mueller team seems to have been ready to blindly accept anything fed to it by the system,” Mr. Barr says, adding that this “is exactly what DOJ should not be.”

In-between the two, Barr reiterated his bullshit claim that there was no evidence of “collusion.”

Mr. Barr describes an overarching objective of ensuring that there is “one standard of justice.” That, he says, is why he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the FBI’s 2016 Crossfire Hurricane probe. “Of course the Russians did bad things in the election,” he says. “But the idea that this was done with the collusion of the Trump campaign—there was never any evidence. It was entirely made up.” The country deserved to know how the world’s premier law-enforcement agency came to target and spy on a presidential campaign.

Ignore for a second that a passage of the Mueller Report that Barr stalled to declassify until the height of the election showed that Mueller referred the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia to the DC US Attorney, ignore that Paul Manafort lied about what he and his partner the Russian spy were doing, ignore that Barr and Trump will attempt to make both of those ongoing investigations go away with pardons issued in minutes or days.

Barr suggests that Mueller’s conclusion that he didn’t have enough evidence to charge a conspiracy equates to claims of “collusion” being “entirely made up.” That is, if there’s not enough evidence to charge a crime, then even the lower level non-crime of “arglebargle” didn’t happen, even though SSCI staffers said it did.

So, for the Mueller investigation, Barr suggests no garbage should come in, and if no indictments (aside from the 30 or so that did) come out, then there was nothing to see there.

From there, Barr proceeds to make two paragraphs of excuses as to why Durham has found nothing in the same 20 months that Mueller indicted over 30 people, 3 corporations, and paid for much of the investigation.

Mr. Durham hasn’t finished his work, to the disappointment of many Republicans, including the president, who were hoping for a resolution—perhaps including indictments—before the election. Mr. Barr notes that Mr. Durham had to wait until the end of 2019 for Inspector General Michael Horowitz to complete his own investigation into the FBI’s surveillance. Then came the Covid lockdowns, which suspended federal grand juries for six months. Mr. Durham could no longer threaten to subpoena uncooperative witnesses.

“I understand people’s frustration over the timing, and there are prosecutors who break more china, so to speak,” Mr. Barr says. “But they don’t necessarily get the results.” Mr. Durham will, and is making “significant progress,” says Mr. Barr, who disclosed this month that he had prior to the election designated Mr. Durham a special counsel, to provide assurance that his team would be able to finish its work. The new designation also assures that Mr. Durham will produce a report to the attorney general. Mr. Barr believes “the force of circumstances will ensure it goes public” even under the new administration.

Again, Durham has brought one indictment in the time that Mueller had indicted 33 people (and even the least-politicized investigation into Hunter Biden has gone on longer than the entire Mueller investigation). Which maybe explains why Barr offers up excuses why Durham hasn’t found anything except what Michael Horowitz found for him, the Kevin Clinesmith document alteration.

He offers more, later, but not before he uses a different tack to explain away the futility of his examination. He explains, in passing, that the scope has gotten smaller. He doesn’t mention something he has already admitted in the past — that Durham spent a lot of time (on boondoggle trips to Europe, Barr doesn’t say) chasing down and disproving George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories. He does, however, confess that Durham determined before October that the CIA didn’t just make shit up.

The biggest news from Mr. Durham’s probe is what he has ruled out. Mr. Barr was initially suspicious that agents had been spying on the Trump campaign before the official July 2016 start date of Crossfire Hurricane, and that the Central Intelligence Agency or foreign intelligence had played a role. But even prior to naming Mr. Durham special counsel, Mr. Barr had come to the conclusion that he didn’t “see any sign of improper CIA activity” or “foreign government activity before July 2016,” he says. “The CIA stayed in its lane.”

Let me interrupt and observe that Barr bitched that Mueller “blindly accept[ed] anything fed to it by the system,” but here admits that two things he personally fed to Durham — Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and politicized claims that the CIA had it in for Trump — were garbage. Barr has just confessed he did what he accuses Mueller (with no evidence) of doing.

Several paragraphs later, Barr asserts, as fact, that the politicized Jeffrey Jensen investigation he ordered up (again, garbage in) concluded that Flynn’s prosecution was “entirely bogus.”

Also outrageous, in Mr. Barr’s view, was the abuse of power by both the FBI and the Mueller team toward Mr. Trump’s associates, especially Mr. Flynn. The FBI, as a review by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen found, pulled Mr. Flynn into an interview that had “no legitimate investigative basis.” The Mueller team then denied Mr. Flynn’s legal defense exculpatory information and pressured Mr. Flynn into pleading guilty to lying.

Mr. Barr didn’t order a review of the case until Mr. Flynn petitioned to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2020. Mr. Jensen’s review then made clear that the case “was entirely bogus,” Mr. Barr says. “It was analogous right now to DOJ prosecuting the person Biden named as his national security adviser for communication with a foreign government.” The Justice Department agreed to drop the charges in May, although Judge Emmet Sullivan spent months contesting the move until Mr. Trump finally pardoned Mr. Flynn. Mr. Barr declines to comment on Judge Sullivan’s maneuvering.

Except, of course, “Sullivan’s maneuvering,” (AKA, being a judge) rejected that claim, and pointedly found the claims Barr invented were unpersuasive given the claims that Bill Barr’s own DOJ had already made in his court. The legally valid conclusion is that Barr’s talking shite here, to say nothing of whatever Strassel is doing.

Then, going back a bit, Barr describes Durham’s narrowly circumscribed scope (assuming Biden’s AG doesn’t expand it to look at how Barr and others undermined the Russian investigation, including by committing the same crime Kevin Clinesmith pled guilty to). We’re down to a dead-ender investigation into the FBI agents (presumably, unless Biden’s AG expands the scope, excluding Bill Barnett, whose Jensen interview report conflicts with his own actions on the Flynn case).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s probe is now tightly focused on “the conduct of Crossfire Hurricane, the small group at the FBI that was most involved in that,” as well as “the activities of certain private actors.” (Mr. Barr doesn’t elaborate.) Mr. Durham has publicly stated he’s not convinced the FBI team had an adequate “predicate” to launch an investigation. In September, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a document showing that the FBI was warned in 2016 that the Hillary Clinton campaign might be behind the “collusion” claims.

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham is also looking at the January 2017 intelligence-community “assessment” that claimed Russia had “developed a clear preference” for Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. He confirms that most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.

SSCI has already judged Barr is wrong about the latter point. So Barr is basically left with the Steele dossier and those who used it as they would any other informant report, especially an informant report from a former intelligence partner.

Barr is, you’ll be unsurprised to know, lying when he claims, “most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.” More on that in time for January 21, I hope.

So thus far, Barr offers the following excuses, after narrowing the scope to eliminate all the worse-than-Steele dossier bullshit he introduced.

  • Had to wait for Horowitz to find the only crime
  • Too careful
  • Too much sickness
  • Too many conspiracy theories (all included by Barr) to debunk
  • [Unstated: Too many boondoggles]
  • A prosecutor whose team altered documents (like Clinesmith) made a claim a judge shot down

Having done all that, Barr then resorts to the inverse of the attack he makes on the 34-indictment Mueller investigation:

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”

The American system is “designed to find people innocent,” Mr. Barr notes. “It has a high bar.” One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar. The FBI’s use “of confidential human sources and wiretapping to investigate people connected to a campaign was outrageous,” Mr. Barr says—whether or not it leads to criminal charges.

Never mind that Barr claims the FBI used wiretapping to investigate “people connected to a campaign,” which is false (the use of informants is true, except Barr is not here complaining that the FBI counts the use of informants against everyone else as one of the most unintrusive means of investigation, which would be the proper conclusion Barr should take from his discomfort at how they were used here).

Barr’s final excuse for the fact that he’s been making grand claims of abuse for years but found nothing is that no one has been put into an orange jumpsuit yet. “The American system is “designed to find people innocent,'” Billy Barr told WSJ’s propagandist. And so people shouldn’t assume that his two year witch hunt has come up dry.

The issue — says the guy turning a no conspiracy charge into a no collusion claim — is that the American system is, “designed to find people innocent.”

Bill Barr claims he believes in, “one standard of justice,” even while making wild accusations for years that have turned out (his narrow scope implicitly admits) to be false. But he apparently believes in two standards of performance. John Durham’s single prosecution over 20 months, on a charge gift-wrapped for him by Michael Horowitz — that’s smoking gun proof of abuse. But Mueller’s 37 indictments, including obstruction-related charges for Trump’s campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, lawyer, rat-fucker, National Security Advisor, and coffee boy, along with an ongoing investigation into the rat-fucker for conspiring with Russia. That’s nothing, “entirely made up.”

There’s still room for abuse and it’s clear Durham doesn’t understand what he’s looking at. But in the end, Barr’s micromanaged witch hunt couldn’t match what Robert Mueller did. And Barr is probably feeling pretty insecure about that on the way out.

The Mistaken Presumptions of Virtually All Discussions of a Future Trump Prosecution

Jack Goldsmith has written a piece arguing against a Trump prosecution under the Biden Administration. He’s wrong on a key point that many other people engaging in this discussion also are. He’s wrong about what crime might be prosecuted and whose DOJ investigated it.

Before I get to that, though, I want to critique two smaller issues in his post.

First, he links to the DOJ IG investigation on Carter Page, apparently suggesting it supports a claim that that report found there were inappropriate parts of the investigation into Donald Trump.

The first in this line was the investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and presidential transition by the FBI and the Obama Justice Department, which continued with the Mueller investigation. Some elements of this investigation were clearly legitimate and some, clearly not.

Except that’s not what that report shows (even ignoring the report’s own problems). It shows that FBI followed the rules on informants and even on including an investigative agent in Trump’s first security briefing (after which Flynn promptly moved to cover up his secret relationship with Turkey). It shows that there were problems with the Carter Page FISA application. But the single solitary thing in the report that would not survive a Franks review is Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email. Every single other thing would meet the Good Faith standard used in Fourth Amendment review. And all that’s separate from the question of whether Carter Page was a legitimate target for investigation, which the bipartisan SSCI investigation has said he was.

I also disagree with Goldsmith’s concerns about the status of the Durham investigation going forward.

But though Durham started out as a credible figure, the review was damaged from the beginning due to Trump’s and Barr’s ceaseless public prejudging of the case (and, for some, Durham’s response to one of Horowitz’s reports). And all of that was before Barr expanded the investigation into a criminal one and then later appointed Durham as a special counsel to ensure that his criminal investigation could continue into the Biden administration. Once again, the nation is divided on the legitimacy of all of this.

The third challenge, exacerbating the first two, is that these investigations—the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and transition, the Durham investigation, and the Hunter Biden investigation—extended (or will extend) into an administration of a different party. That means that what began as a cross-party investigation where the worry was bias against political opponents will transform, in the middle of the investigation, into an intraparty investigation, where the worry will shift to one party’s desire for self-protection.

I think the Durham investigation is misunderstood by all sides. Even according to Billy Barr, Durham has debunked some conspiracy theories Republicans have floated and he appears to have moved beyond the question of whether the CIA wrongly concluded that Putin wanted to elect Trump. That means if he were to write a report, it would substantially consist of telling the frothy right that their conspiracy theories were just that, and that George Papadopoulos really did entertain recruitment by at least one Russian agent.

That said, the Durham investigation has, unfortunately, been hopelessly biased by Billy Barr’s work in at least two ways. Durham apparently believes that the treatment of partisan bias at DOJ has been equally applied, which is demonstrably false (which also means he’s relying on witnesses who have themselves committed the sins he has used to predicate his own investigation, using FBI devices to speak for or against a political candidate). More troublingly, every single legal document his prosecutors have filed thus far have betrayed that they don’t understand the most basic things about the counterintelligence investigations they’re focusing on. But because of that ignorance, I’m fairly confident that if Durham tried to prosecute people for the theories that Bill Barr has been pushing while micromanaging this, Durham’s prosecutors would get their ass handed to them. Plus, even without Biden’s AG doing anything, I think there’s a possibility that Durham’s independence can be put to good use to investigate the crimes that Barr’s DOJ may have committed in pushing these theories. And there’s an easy way to solve the political nastiness of Barr’s special counsel appointment: by swapping Durham for Nora Dannehy. In short, freed from the micromanaging and mistaken beliefs of Bill Barr, Durham may evolve into a totally useful entity, one that will debunk a lot of the bullshit that the frothy right has been spewing for years.

In any case, the only reason it would be perceived as a cross-party investigation was the micromanagement of Barr. The FBI is not a member of either party, and if Durham finds real crimes — like that of Clinesmith — by all means he should prosecute. Once he is freed of Barr’s micromanagement, though, he may discover that he was given a very partial view of the evidence he was looking at.

Which brings me to Goldsmith’s treatment of whether or not Trump should be prosecuted. Before giving three reasons why one shouldn’t investigate Trump, he lays out what he sees as the potential crime this way:

Many people have argued that the Biden Justice Department should continue this pattern by examining the criminal acts Trump might have committed while in office—some arguing for a full-blown broad investigation, others (like my co-author, Bob Bauer, in “After Trump”) for a measured, narrowly tailored one. I don’t think this is a good idea. I doubt Trump has committed prosecutable crimes in office (I am confident that obstruction of justice prosecution would fail), I doubt he will ever go to jail if he did commit criminal acts in office (which would make the effort worse than useless), Trump will thrive off the attention of such an investigation, and the Biden administration will be damaged in pursuing other elements of its agenda (including restoration of the appearance of apolitical law enforcement). But the main reason I am skeptical is that such an investigation would, in the prevailing tit-for-tat culture, cement the inchoate norm of one administration as a matter of course criminally investigating the prior one—to the enormous detriment of the nation. (I do not believe that federal investigations for Trump’s pre-presidential actions raise the same risk.

There are two problems inherent with Goldsmith’s logic here, problems that virtually all the other people who engage in this debate also make.

First, he assumes that any prosecution of Trump would have to engage in further investigation. Here’s just one of several places where he makes that assumption clear.

The investigation by one administration of the predecessor president for acts committed in office would be a politically cataclysmic event.

Goldsmith doesn’t consider the possibility that such an investigation was begun under Mueller and continued under Bill Barr, waiting for such time as Trump can be charged under DOJ guidelines. It’s odd that he doesn’t consider that possibility, because Mueller laid that possibility out clearly in the report, describing leaving grand jury evidence banked for such time as Trump could be charged (indeed, it’s fairly clear a January 2019 Steve Bannon grand jury appearance included such evidence). If Bill Barr’s DOJ conducted an investigation that shows Trump committed a crime, it would break out of the tit-for-tat that Goldsmith complains about.

Goldsmith also appears to believe, even in spite of Trump’s transactionalism, that any crime Trump committed in office would have begun and ended during his term of office.

Part of these two errors appear to stem from another one. Goldsmith clearly believes the only crime for which Mueller investigated Trump is obstruction and he dismisses the possibility that an obstruction prosecution would stick. I’m agnostic about whether that view of obstruction is true or not. Even just reviewing how the Mueller Report treated the Roger Stone investigation, though, I’m certain there are places where the Mueller Report protected investigative equities. That may be true of the obstruction case as well. If so, then it would suggest the obstruction case might be far stronger than we know.

But it is false that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction. That’s because Trump may have entered into a conspiracy with his rat-fucker. In addition to investigating Roger Stone for covering up who his tie to Wikileaks was, Mueller also investigated Roger Stone for entering the CFAA conspiracy with Russia, a part of the investigation that recently declassified information as well as the warrants in the case make clear continued after the close of the Mueller investigation. Not only did Mueller ask Trump about his contacts with Stone on the specific issue for which the rat-fucker remained under investigation after Mueller closed up shop, but Mueller’s last warrants listed Stone’s written record of his communications with Trump during the campaign among the items to be seized in the search of Stone’s homes. If Stone entered into the CFAA conspiracy with Russia and those contacts show that Trump entered into an agreement with Stone on his part of the conspiracy, then Mueller was investigating Trump himself in the conspiracy. There is no way you target Stone’s records of communications with Trump unless Trump, too, was under investigation for joining that conspiracy.

I know I’m the only one saying this, but that’s in significant part because — as far as I know — I’m the single solitary journalist who has read these documents (plus, the unsealed language showing the investigation into Stone on the CFAA charges got buried in the election). But the record makes this quite clear: by investigating Roger Stone, Mueller also investigated Donald Trump for joining the CFAA conspiracy with Russia that helped him get elected. And because Mueller did not complete the investigation into Roger Stone before he closed up shop, he did not complete the investigation into Donald Trump.

And while I’m less certain, abundant evidence tells us what Stone and Trump’s role in the conspiracy may have been: to enter into a quid pro quo trading advance access to select John Podesta files (and, possibly, optimizing their release to cover up the DHS/ODNI Russian attribution statement) for a pardon for Julian Assange.

Stone did something in August 2016 to obtain advance copies of the Podesta files that the frothy right believed would be particularly beneficial in attacking Podesta and Hillary. Days before the Podesta file release in October 2016, Stone and Credico appear to have started talking about a pardon for Julian Assange. After the release of the Podesta files, Trump discussed reaching out to Assange with more people, including Mike Flynn. And no later than 7 days after the election — and given Credico’s refusal to give a straight answer about this, probably before — Stone set out on an extended effort to deliver on that pardon. And Trump took an overt act, as President, to try to deliver on that quid pro quo when he ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to shut down any investigation into the hack-and-leak (which would have shut down the investigation into Assange’s role in it).

I have no idea whether DOJ obtained enough evidence to charge a former president in conspiring with a hostile foreign power to get elected. The investigation into Stone’s role in the conspiracy may have shut down when Barr’s intervention in Stone’s sentencing led all four prosecutors to drop from the case, so it’s possible that a Biden DOJ would need to resume that investigation (and finish it up before statutes of limitation tolled). Still, as of October 1, when DOJ withheld almost the entirety of two interviews with Margaret Kunstler to protect an ongoing investigation, that part of the investigation was ongoing. So if you want to consider the possible universe of Trump charges, this is the possibility you’d need to consider: that after Mueller shut down but before the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ acquired enough evidence to prosecute Donald Trump once he becomes available to prosecute under DOJ rules.

I think there are other instances where Trump cheated to win in criminal fashion (even ignoring the hush payments for which he got named in Cohen’s charging documents). For example, Barr very obviously violated DOJ guidelines in his treatment of the whistleblower complaint about the Volodymyr Zelenskyy call, and with the evidence that OMB, State, and DOD withheld from the impeachment inquiry and witnesses subject to subpoena (indeed, at least some of whom will likely have no Fifth Amendment privileges after a pardon), the impeachment case is likely far stronger than Goldsmith imagines. Plus, there is an obvious tie to the SDNY investigation into Lev Parnas (where the whistleblower complaint would have been referred had Barr not violated DOJ guidelines). So on that case, it might be a question of Biden shutting down an ongoing investigation, not one of starting a new investigation.

Perhaps the most difficult and controversial decision for a Biden AG will be whether to reopen the investigation into the Egyptian payment Trump may have gotten in 2016 that kept his campaign afloat, one that SCOTUS reviewed (for the Mystery Appellant challenge) and sustained a subpoena for. Per CNN, DOJ doesn’t yet have enough to prosecute that, but that’s because DOJ chose not to subpoena Trump Organization for documents. And a Biden Administration could sanction the Egyptian bank to require it to cooperate in a way they refused to do under Mueller.

But those two instances can’t be shown via the public evidence. The overt act that Trump took in response to Roger Stone’s request — one Stone documented in a DM to Julian Assange — is public. Importantly, this would be a conspiracy that started before Trump got elected and extended into his presidency.

If you want to imagine whether Biden would prosecute Trump, you have to consider the possibility that he would prosecute Trump for crimes Bill Barr investigated.

20 Months: A Comparison of the Mueller and Durham Investigations

Because Jonathan Turley and John Cornyn are being stupid on the Internet, I did a Twitter thread comparing the relative output of the Mueller and Durham investigations in their first 18 months. Actually, Durham has been investigating the Russian investigation for 20 months already.

So I did a comparison of the Mueller and Durham investigations over their first 20 months. Here’s what that comparison looks like.

So, in 20 months, Durham went on a boondoggle trip to Italy with Bill Barr to chase conspiracy theories, charged one person, and had his top investigator quit due to political pressure.

In the Mueller investigation’s first 20 months, his prosecutors had charged 33 people and 3 corporations (just Roger Stone was charged after that) and, with Manafort’s forfeiture, paid for much of their investigation.

Update: I’ve corrected the Manafort forfeiture claim. While I haven’t checked precisely how much the US Treasury pocketed by selling Manafort’s properties, I think the declining value of Trump Tower condos means that Manafort’s forfeiture didn’t quite pay for the entire investigation. I’ve also corrected in which month Manafort was found guilty in EDVA.

Update: In response to the Durham appointment, American Oversight reposted the travel records from the Italy boondoggle, which was actually in September, not October (Barr also made a trip to Italy in August 2019 for the same stated purpose, so I wonder if there were two boondoggles). I’ve corrected the timeline accordingly.

The Clinesmith Sentencing Memos: Politically Biased Data In, Politically Biased Data Out

The government and Kevin Clinesmith — the FBI lawyer who altered a document relating to the Carter Page FISA application — submitted their sentencing memos in his case yesterday. The sentencing guidelines call for 0 to 6 months of prison time (as they did for the now pardoned Mike Flynn). Clinesmith asked for probation. The government asked for a sentence in the middle to top of that range — effectively calling for 3 to 6 months of prison time.

I think the government has the better argument on a key point, for reasons that I expect will be very persuasive to the judge in the case, James Boasberg, who is also the presiding FISA judge. The government argues that Clinesmith’s actions undermined the integrity of the FISA process.

The defendant’s conduct also undermined the integrity of the FISA process and struck at the very core of what the FISC fundamentally relies on in reviewing FISA applications: the government’s duty of candor. The FISC serves as a “check on executive branch decisions to conduct surveillance in order to protect the fourth amendment rights of U.S. persons[,]” but it can “serve those purposes effectively only if the applicant agency fully and accurately provides information in its possession that is material to whether probable cases exists.” Order, In Re Accuracy Concerns Regarding FBI Matters Submitted to the FISC, Docket No. Misc. 19-02, at 2 (FISA Ct. Dec. 17, 2019) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Accordingly, and particularly because FISA applications involve ex parte proceedings with no adverse party on the other side to challenge the facts, the government “has a heightened duty of candor to the [FISC].” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). In other words, “[c]andor is fundamental to [the FISC’s] effective operation[.]” Id. (citation omitted).

While I think the government’s case on Clinesmith’s understanding of the term “source” is not persuasive, this language is. It matters that Clinesmith did this within the context of the FISA process. Boasberg has a real incentive to ensure that those preparing FISA applications do think of Clinesmith as an object lesson about the duty of candor. I expect he’ll agree with the government and impose some prison term.

That said, the government sentencing memo goes off the rails on another point, one that badly discredits the John Durham investigation.

Both the government and Clinesmith provide the same explanation for why he did what he did: it was a shortcut to avoid filing a footnote with the FISA court.

Clinesmith explains it this way:

Kevin, however, reviewed the OGA email and realized that it did not specifically address the issue of whether Individual #1 had been a source. In a misguided attempt to save himself time and the embarrassment of having to backtrack on his assurance he had it in writing, Kevin forwarded the OGA’s response to the SSA (including the list of OGA reports) immediately after telling the SSA he would do so, but Kevin added the phrase notated in bold to reflect his understanding of Individual #1’s status:

[The OGA uses] the [digraph] to show that the encrypted individual . . . is a [U.S. person]. We encrypt the [U.S. persons] when they provide reporting to us. My recollection is that [Individual #1] was or is . . . [digraph] and not a “source” but the [documents] will explain the details.

OIG Report at 254-55.

And the government endorses that explanation in its sentencing memo (in language that further reinforces why Clinesmith should be treated sternly to preserve the integrity of the FISA process).

By his own words, however, it appears that the defendant falsified the email in order to conceal Individual #1’s former status as a source and to avoid making an embarrassing disclosure to the FISC. Such a disclosure would have likely drawn a strong and hostile response from the FISC for not disclosing it sooner since the FBI had the information in its possession before the first FISA application was filed. Indeed, in the June 19, 2017 instant message conversation with the SSA, the defendant wrote “at least we don’t have to have a terrible footnote” explaining that Individual #1 was a source. OIG Report at 253. While the defendant told OIG he was referring to how “laborious” it would be to draft a footnote explaining that Individual #1 had been an OGA source, see id., that reading is self-serving and absurd. Moreover, as a practical matter, how laborious would it have been to draft a single footnote to explain to the FISC that Individual #1 had been a source for the OGA. The SSA involved in the application understood the defendant to be referring to the terrible optic of just now, in the fourth application, disclosing to the Court that Individual #1 had been a source for another agency after failing to do so in all of the prior applications. See id. Such a disclosure would have undermined the probable cause in the FISA application and the overall investigation of Individual #1, which the defendant was able to avoid by altering the email.

That’s it. At that point, both sides have explained what happened as the kind of bureaucratic sloppiness that can be particularly dangerous where there’s no transparency. Case closed. Clinesmith may not have meant this maliciously but because it happened as part of the FISA process it was very problematic.

Except the government continues by suggesting, without evidence, that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias.

The public record also reflects that political or personal bias may have motivated or contributed to his offense conduct. As noted in the OIG Report and PSR, the defendant was previously investigated, and ultimately suspended, for sending improper political messages to other FBI employees. See OIG Report at 256 n.400. For example, on the day after the 2016 presidential election, the defendant wrote “I am so stressed about what I could have done differently.” Id. When another FBI colleague asked the defendant “[i]s it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration[,]” the defendant replied, “Hell no,” and then added “Viva le resistance.” Id. The defendant was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation for these and other related messages, and in July 2018 he was suspended, without pay, for 14 days. The defendant’s prior disciplinary infraction for expressing his political views in a work setting is a relevant aspect of his background. Indeed, it is plausible that his strong political views and/or personal dislike of the current President made him more willing to engage in the fraudulent and unethical conduct to which he has pled guilty. While it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct, the defendant plainly has shown that he did not discharge his important responsibilities at the FBI with the professionalism, integrity, and objectivity required of such a sensitive job position. [my emphasis]

There are several reasons why this argument is not only problematic, but betrays an unbelievable stupidity about the investigation before Durham.

First, as prosecutors admit, they have no evidence that Clinesmith’s claimed bias influenced his actions. The bias “may have motivated” him, “it is plausible” that it did, “it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct.” This kind of language has no place in a sentencing memo. They’re effectively admitting they have no evidence, but relying on their lack of evidence anyway. It’s the kind of shoddy unethical work they’re trying to send Clinesmith to prison for.

Worse still, as Lawfare has shown, the data the government is relying on here comes from a politically biased application of discipline within DOJ. Since 2011, the only cases of people being disciplined for expressing political views on their government devices involved people opposing Trump.

Five employees, the documents show, have been disciplined for private communications using government devices in which they have criticized President Trump. But none, at least not since 2011, has been disciplined for similar conduct with respect to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, or President Barack Obama—or for praising Trump.

[snip]

The verdict is now in, at least for the past four major-party presidential candidates, one of whom served as president of the United States for eight full years. FBI employees who voiced political sentiments in favor of or opposed to Clinton, Obama and Romney did not face consequences—nor did those who praised Trump. Those who criticize the current president appear to be the only people subject to discipline.

Lawfare raises the example of an FBI agent who — unlike Clinesmith, Lisa Page, or Peter Strzok — was running informants targeting Hillary in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign who expressed clear bias. That person — clearly identified as biased by the same Inspector General who identified Clinesmith’s bias — wasn’t disciplined. And there are reports that a key witness in the Durham probe, Bill Barnett, similarly expressed pro-Trump bias on his devices. No one has done an IG Report into whether Barnett’s self-described role in single-handedly preventing the Mueller team from concluding that Mike Flynn lied to protect President Trump reflected improper political bias, much less sent him home for two weeks without pay. You can’t treat OPR’s treatment of biased FBI employees as valid for sentencing because it has already been demonstrated to be itself biased in the same way it treats as discipline-worthy.

Most importantly, you’d have to be fucking stupid to believe that supporting the FISA application of Carter Page in June 2017 would inherently reflect any anti-Trump bias. Even on the first application, the claim that targeting Page would be a way to hurt Trump was a bit of a stretch. At that point, the Trump campaign had very publicly distanced themselves from him because of his embarrassing ties to Russia. Thus, if the FBI treated Trump’s public statements with any weight, then they would be right to view Trump as victimized by Page, someone pushing his pro-Russian views far beyond what the candidate supported, someone removed from the campaign for precisely that reason. That’s one of the potential problems arising from a suspected foreign agent working on a campaign, that the person will make policy commitments that the candidate doesn’t support on behalf of the foreign country in question. Still, you might argue (and Bill Barr has argued) that the FBI targeted Page as a way to collect campaign emails, so one might make some claim to support the case that by targeting Page the FBI was targeting Trump with the October 2016 application.

But Clinesmith wasn’t in the loop on the non-disclosure of Page’s ties with CIA on that first application.

Kevin was not aware of that information, however. When he assisted the FBI’s efforts to obtain the initial FISA warrant, Kevin knew of no prior relationship between Individual #1 and the OGA. And he was not involved in any discussions—including the one discussed above between the case agent and DOJ attorney—concerning whether or not to include information about that relationship in the FISA application. As was typical, the DOJ attorney worked primarily with the case agent to collect and develop information for the FISA application. The first time Kevin was asked to inquire into whether, and to what extent, Individual #1 had a relationship with the OGA was in connection with the fourth and final application.

To suggest that someone would target Page in June 2017 because of anti-Trump bias, though, takes gigantic flights of fancy. Already in October 2016, it was clear that Page (like every other person originally targeted under Crossfire Hurricane) was using Trump, attempting to monetize his access to Trump to get a plush deal to start a think tank that, in his case, would have been funded by the Russian government. Page boasted to Stefan Halper the Russians had offered him an “open checkbook.”

But even before the first renewal in January 2017, Page had victimized Trump in the way that is dangerous for counterintelligence cases. When he was in Russia in December 2016 — at a time when he was still hoping to get a think tank funded by the Russian government — Page claimed to speak on behalf of Trump with respect to Ukraine policy.

According to Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort’s associate, Page also gave some individuals in Russia the impression that he had maintained his connections to President-Elect Trump. In a December 8, 2016 email intended for Manafort, Kilimnik wrote, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DJT on a range of issues of mutual interest including Ukraine.”

There’s no record that Page made those representations with the approval of Trump. As such, Page’s representations risked undermining Trump’s ability to set his own foreign policy, whatever it was.

By June, moreover, Page had been totally marginalized by Trump’s people. The fourth warrant served significantly to obtain encrypted content from a phone Page had destroyed when he came under investigation. Tactically, there’s almost no way that that application would have generated new content involving Trump’s people because they were no longer talking to Page. So there’d be no political advantage to targeting him, neither based on the potential content the FBI might collect nor on any political taint from a guy the campaign had loudly dissociated from nine months earlier. Indeed, if your goal was to paint Trump as a pro-Russian asset, focusing on Page — the guy Trump himself had distanced himself from — is the last thing you’d do in June 2017. It’s just a profoundly stupid attack from Durham’s prosecutors, one with no basis in logic or (as the prosecutors admit) evidence.

In short, not only does the gratuitous, evidence-free insinuation that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias misrepresent the biased quality of the targeting of those OPR investigations, but it fundamentally misunderstands why the FBI would investigate the infiltration of a campaign by a suspected foreign agent. Someone infiltrating Trump’s campaign on behalf of Russia could and — in Page’s misrepresentations in Moscow in December 2016 — did harm Trump. That’s a harm the FBI is paid to try to prevent. Here, prosecutors are trying to criminalize Clinesmith’s efforts to protect Trump from that kind of damage.

After making it clear in his first official filings that Durham’s team didn’t understand the investigation they were investigating, in this one, his prosecutors make it crystal clear they don’t understand how, if an agent of a foreign power were to hypothetically infiltrate a political campaign (which is what the FBI had good reason to believe in October 2016 and more evidence to believe by December 2016), it could be damaging to the campaign and to the President and to the country. That’s not just dangerous malpractice given their involvement in this case, but it betrays a really basic level of stupidity about how the world works.

The government is right that Clinesmith’s alteration of a document should be treated aggressively given that it occurred as part of the FISA process. But oh my goodness has the government discredited both this sentencing filing and the larger Durham investigation by betraying continued ignorance about the investigation, the politicized nature of the evidence they’re getting, and basic facts about counterintelligence investigations.

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket

Bill Barr could come to regret his neat effort to place a ticking time bomb inside the Joe Biden DOJ, because John Durham has evidence in hand that Bill Barr’s DOJ tampered with documents.

I’ve been thinking … There’s something that doesn’t make sense about Bill Barr’s roll-out of the order making John Durham a Special Counsel. For the better part of a year, Barr has been saying that Durham could roll out actual indictments before the election, since none of the people he would indict were candidates. Yet Barr claimed, in his order, that he decided (not Durham) that, “legitimate investigative and privacy concerns warrant confidentiality” until after the election. And then he waited almost an entire month before he revealed the order. He did so in spite of adopting 28 CFR 600.9, which otherwise requires notice to Congress, to govern this appointment.

Let me interject and say that while Barr’s appointment of a DOJ employee, US Attorney John Durham, violates the Special Counsel statutes, that’s not the authority under which Barr appointed Durham. He did so under 28 USC 509, 510, 515, which is what Mueller was technically appointed under. Thanks to the Mueller investigation and some well-funded Russian troll lawyers, there’s a whole bunch of appellate language authorizing the appointment of someone under 28 USC 515 but governed under 28 CFR 600.9. The unusual nature of the appointment would provide President Biden’s Attorney General an easy way to swap Durham for Nora Dannehy (who as a non-departmental employee would qualify under the Special Counsel guidelines), and given her past involvement in the investigation, it should suffer no loss of institutional credibility or knowledge. But it doesn’t damage Durham’s legal authority in the meantime.

Barr probably lied about the significant reasons to delay notice to Congress. According to the AP, Durham is no longer focused on most of the scope he had been investigating, to include George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and GOP claims that the CIA violated analytic tradecraft in concluding that Vladimir Putin affirmatively wanted Trump elected. He is, according to someone in the immediate vicinity of Barr, focused just on the conduct of FBI Agents before Mueller’s appointment, even though the language of this appointment approves far more.

The current investigation, a criminal probe, had begun very broadly but has since “narrowed considerably” and now “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI,” Barr said. He said he expects Durham would detail whether any additional prosecutions will be brought and make public a report of the investigation’s findings.

[snip]

A senior Justice Department official told the AP that although the order details that it is “including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” the Durham probe has not expanded. The official said that line specifically relates to FBI personnel who worked on the Russia investigation before the May 2017 appointment of Mueller, a critical area of scrutiny for both Durham and for the Justice Department inspector general, which identified a series of errors and omissions in surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign associate.

The focus on the FBI, rather than the CIA and the intelligence community, suggests that Durham may have moved past some of the more incendiary claims that Trump supporters had hoped would yield allegations of misconduct, or even crimes — namely, the question of how intelligence agencies reached their conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

We know from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation and documents Barr otherwise released where Barr thought John Durham was heading. There are questions about who knew about credibility problems of Christopher Steele’s primary source Igor Danchenko (though the GOP has vastly overstated what his interview said, ignoring how much of the dossier it actually corroborated, Danchenko’s later interviews, and FBI’s later interviews of one of his own sources). There are some analysts who questioned the viability of the investigation into Flynn; it appears they asked to be removed from the team.

And Jensen, at least, seemed to want to claim that Peter Strzok got NSLs targeting Flynn in February and March 2017 that he had previously refused to approve. Someone seems to have convinced Flynn investigative agent Bill Barnett that those NSLs, which were lawyered by Kevin Clinesmith, were illegal, but given the predication needed for NSLs that seems a wild stretch. Plus, it would be unlikely (though not impossible) for Durham to indict Clinesmith without a Durham-specific cooperation agreement before if he believed Clinesmith had committed other crimes. I mean, it’s possible that Clinesmith, under threat of further prosecution, is claiming that mere NSLs are illegal, but I’d be surprised. Not least because after these NSLs, Strzok worked hard to put a pro-Trump FBI Agent in charge of the Flynn investigation.

Occam’s razor suggests that Durham asked for the special counsel designation because he wants to be permitted to work through these last bits and finish up the investigation, along with the prior authority (which Mueller did not have) to publish his findings.

Occam’s razor also suggests that the reason Barr didn’t reveal this change of status until this week has everything to do with pressure from Trump and nothing to do with investigative equities and everything to do with using this investigation like he has all of his US Attorney led investigations, as a way to placate Trump. Trump has reportedly been complaining that Barr didn’t do more to undermine the election, and so he rolled this out as a way to buy space and time.

Axios reports that it may not work. Trump might fire Barr and replace him with someone who would order that Durham report right away.

Behind the scenes: Within Trump’s orbit, sources told Axios, Tuesday’s revelation was seen as a smokescreen to forestall the release of the so-called Durham report, which senior administration officials believe is already complete — and which Barr had ruled out issuing before the election.

  • Another senior administration official disputed that assessment, saying: “The reason the Attorney General appointed John Durham as Special Counsel is because he’s not finished with his investigation,” and that Barr “wanted to ensure that John Durham would be able to continue his work independently and unimpeded.”
  • Trump has been ranting about the delay behind the scenes and mused privately about replacing Barr with somebody who will expedite the process. But it’s unclear whether he will follow through with that, per sources familiar with the conversations.
  • Barr met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other officials in the West Wing Tuesday afternoon.

Except that doesn’t work. If Trump were to name John Ratcliffe Acting Attorney General (he’d be the perfect flunky for the job), he would be powerless to force Durham to report more quickly. Sure, he could fire Durham, but he’d have to provide notice to Congress, and there’s virtually no remedy Congress would or could offer in the next 48 days. Ratcliffe can’t write a report himself. And the people doing the work for Durham aren’t DOJ employees, so firing them would do nothing to get a report. For better and worse, Barr has ensured that Ratcliffe or whatever other flunky were appointed could not do that, at least not in the 48 days before such person would be fired by President Biden.

Again, Ockham’s Razor suggests that Durham will finish his work and write a public report debunking the Papadopoulos conspiracies, confirming that CIA’s analytic work was not improper, and otherwise concluding that Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of documents was the only crime that occurred.

More importantly, there’s a problem with Axios’ report, that “Barr had ruled out issuing a report before the election,” and that’s what makes this special counsel appointment more interesting. Barr tried to force Durham to issue a report before the election. That led Durham’s trusted aide Nora Dannehy to quit before September 11, thereby seemingly creating the need for a special counsel designation at that point.

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned from the U.S. Justice Department probe – at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

[snip]

Colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr – who appointed Durham to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resignation for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.

[snip]

The thinking of the associates, all Durham allies, is that the Russia investigation group will be disbanded and its work lost if Trump loses.

And Barr himself had, for months, been saying that he would shut down Durham if Trump lost. Yet here we are, after the election, learning that Barr has provided Durham additional protections.

That’s all the more interesting given what Barr did after Dannehy quit in the face of pressure to issue some kind of report before the election. First, he gave a screed at Hillsdale College that pretty clearly targeted Dannehy, among others. Then, Barr attempted to let Jeffrey Jensen release an interim Durham report himself.

Less than a week after Dannehy quit, Jensen’s team interviewed Bill Barnett, someone who would be a key witness for any real Durham investigation of early actions by the FBI. The interview was clearly a political hack job, leaving key details (such as the role of Flynn’s public lies about his calls with Sergey Kislyak in the investigation) unasked. Barnett’s answers materially conflict with his own actions on the case. He was invited to make comments about the politicization of lawyers — notably Andrew Weissmann and Jeannie Rhee — he didn’t work with on the Mueller team. And he claimed to be unaware of central pieces of evidence in the case.

It took just a week for the FBI to write up and release the report from that interview, even while DOJ still hasn’t released a Bill Priestap interview 302 that debunked a central claim made in the Flynn motion to dismiss. And the interview was released in a form that hid material information about Brandon Van Grack’s actions from Judge Sullivan and the public.

But that’s not all. A day earlier prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent five documents to Sidney Powell:

  • The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes
  • The second set of altered Strzok notes
  • The altered Andrew McCabe notes
  • Texts between FBI analysts
  • A new set of Strzok-Page texts, which included new Privacy Act violations

All were packaged up for public dissemination, with their protective order footers redacted. There were dates added to all the handwritten notes, at least one of which was misleading. The Strzok-Page texts were irrelevant and included new privacy violations; when later asked to validate them, DOJ claimed they weren’t relying on them (which raises more questions about the circumstances of their release). There’s good reason to believe there’s something funky about the FBI analyst texts released (indeed, as politicized as his interview was, Barnett dismissed the mistaken interpretation DOJ adopted of their meaning, that the analysts were getting insurance solely because of the Russian investigation); DOJ made sure that the identities of these analysts was not made public, avoiding any possibility that the analysts might weigh in like Strzok and McCabe did when they realized their notes had been altered.

One of those alterations would come to serve as a scripted Trump attack on Joe Biden in their first debate. In a September 29 hearing, Sidney Powell admitted meeting regularly with Trump campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, and asking Trump to hold off on a Flynn pardon, making it clear that this docket gamesmanship was the entire point.

And then, on October 19, Durham got Barr to give him the special counsel designation that would give him independence he had not had during 18 months of Barr micromanagement and also ensure that he could remain on past the time when Barr would be his boss.

Days later, on October 22, DOJ wrote Sidney Powell telling her they were going to stop feeding her with documents she would use to make politicized attacks.

Let’s assume for a minute that Durham was, in good faith, pursuing what the FBI was doing in the spring of 2017, an inquiry for which Barnett was a key — and at that point, credible — witness. That investigation was effectively destroyed with the release of the politicized Barnett interview report. Any defense attorney would make mincemeat of him as a witness.

Which is to say that Barr’s effort to let Jensen release the things that Durham refused to before the election damaged any good faith investigation that Durham might have been pursuing. And that’s before DOJ got caught altering documents, documents for which Durham has original copies. It’s not clear whether Durham is watching this docket that closely, but if he is, he knows precisely what, how, and to what extent these documents have been altered. And he probably has a good sense of why they were released in the way they were.

Again, Ockham’s Razor says that Durham will just muddle along and after a delay release a report saying he found nothing — which itself will be incendiary enough to the frothy right.

But by incorporating 28 CFR 600.4 into the scope of his special counsel appointment clearly allows him to investigate any attempts to interfere with his investigation.

federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses;

It’s likely those pre-election antics did interfere with the investigation. And even if Durham hasn’t thought that through yet, it’s possible that Michael Horowitz will inform him of the details.

Shorter DOJ: We Made Shit Up … Please Free Mike Flynn

Congratulations to the lawyers who worked all weekend to meet Judge Emmet Sullivan’s deadline to certify all the documents (with just eight explicit caveats and then another slew built in) submitted in the Mike Flynn motion to dismiss proceeding. I doubted you could pull it off time-wise.

In your rush you seem to have provided Judge Sullivan even more evidence that nothing about this proceeding is normal. Indeed, some of this submission almost makes Sidney Powell’s submissions look tidy by comparison.

The slew of caveats

Effectively, the certification (signed by Jocelyn Ballantine, with individual declarations signed by three others, in part because there are things that Ballantine almost certainly knows are inaccurate or include material omissions), says there have been no material alterations to the documents submitted in the proceeding except for:

  1. Redactions done in the name of classification, law enforcement sensitive, or privacy that serve to hide material information pertaining to Brandon Van Grack, Bill Barnett, and the reason a third document was altered by adding a date (at a minimum)
  2. A set of texts where “irrelevant information and excess metadata” was excluded and an error introduced in the process of creating a table showing “corrected date, corrected time,” which raises far more questions about the provenance of the document
  3. The Bill Barnett interview report that DOJ had submitted to Sullivan as “a 302” is instead a “report” that is not being certified in normal fashion, in part, because DOJ is hiding redactions that withhold material information about Brandon Van Grack
  4. An NSL declaration done by Jocelyn Ballantine that may hide the existence of at least one earlier financial NSL served on Mike Flynn that WDMO didn’t ask her to summarize
  5. A new set of text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that DOJ admits they’re not relying on (but nevertheless committed an additional Privacy Act violation in releasing), which was not redacted to hide personal information
  6. Three documents submitted by Sidney Powell that DOJ won’t certify (two of which, however, are probably more accurate than what DOJ has submitted)
  7. “Unintelligible” markings in transcripts of notes where DOJ was unsuccessful at getting the author or their lawyer to conduct a last minute review over a matter of hours on a Sunday (DOJ does not specify how many of their transcripts this includes); some of these appear significant
  8. Inconsistencies on how redactions and unintelligible text were marked in transcriptions which, in some cases, is affirmatively misleading
  9. Lots of documents where the certification doesn’t list the Bates numbers, with some hilarious results
  10. Inconsistencies on whether DOJ certifies all copies of a particular document that got submitted multiple times, which in one case would raise questions about the production of these documents
  11. An admission that, for some reason, the motion to dismiss didn’t rely on the final 302 of Flynn’s January 24, 2017 interview
  12. A new inaccurate date, ironically describing a Kevin Clinesmith email
  13. A claim that both Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers have confirmed their clients’ notes were not altered, but only Strzok’s lawyer is quoted

For all of the exhibits that accompanied the motion to dismiss, DOJ uses the docket number, not the exhibit number, even though Sullivan is supposed to be ruling on that MTD that uses exhibit numbers. That’ll make it a lot harder for him to use the transcriptions, which otherwise would make it more obvious that DOJ misrepresented what some of these documents say, including their “smoking gun,” the Bill Priestap notes.

In addition, in a lot of the documents with problems (including all undated notes to which dates were added), DOJ doesn’t include Bates numbers in its certification, even though it does elsewhere. There’s good reason for this. In the case of the re-altered altered documents, those new exhibits should have new Bates stamps, but don’t. In other cases, DOJ submitted multiple versions of the same document with different Bates stamps, in others, when they resubmitted exhibits they retained the Bates stamp. That’s … not a legal process reflecting any regularity.

DOJ still pretends to have no fucking clue about documents they relied on in the motion to dismiss

Perhaps the most pathetic (and by that I mean, I would hate to be the lawyer banking my bar membership on this ploy) detail in this package is the way they try to deal with the fact they’ve made false misrepresentations about Strzok’s January 5, 2017 notes. In one place in the table of documents, they describe the date of the notes this way:

In another, they describe it — the very same notes, just repackaged so they could submit them with the wrong date — this way:

Above both transcriptions, DOJ includes the following note.

I understand why DOJ is still claiming to be unsure about the date. It’s an attempt to minimize the damage from previously providing false dates so as to avoid being punished for knowing misrepresentations in their alterations (they’re still at risk though, because they’re incorrect dates kept changing). But this will just make it very easy for Sullivan to point out that the people making this representation are therefore confessing to being completely unfamiliar with documents on which the MTD heavily relies, which means he shouldn’t take the MTD all that seriously.

The shell game behind the actual declarations

As noted, this declaration is a filing signed by Jocelyn Ballantine, submitting declarations from three other people:

  • Executive Assistant Director John Brown, whose job it is to submit declarations like this
  • EDMO AUSA Sayler Fleming, one of the AUSAs conducting this irregular investigation
  • Keith Kohne, one of the FBI Agents conducting the investigation

Brown starts by excluding three documents from his general certification (these are the ones that Fleming and Kohne will be on the hook for):

5. To the best of my knowledge, and based on the information provided to me, the Government Exhibits described in Exhibit A, 9 with the exception of ECF Nos. 198-8 and 249-1, are true and correct copies of documents and records, including copies of select pages of a larger record, maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy. See ECF Nos. 198-2, 198-3, 198-4, 198-5, 198-6, 198-7, 198-9, 198-10, 198-11, 198-12, 198-13, and 198-14 9 9

6 To the best of my knowledge, and based on the information provided to me, the Discovery Documents described in Exhibit B, with the exception of ECF Nos. 228-3, are true and correct copies of documents and records maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy. See ECF Nos. 231-1, 237-1. 251-1, 9 257-1. 259-1, 9 259-2, 259-3, and 264-1

Effectively, he is saying these documents are real and that Ballantine’s claims about the reasons for classification are valid.

He then says this about Ballantine’s own summary, which purports to be a summary of all the NSLs used against Mike Flynn, but which may not include one or more financial NSLs obtained in 2016.

One of the Discovery Documents is a summary substitution of classified materials that were provided to DC-USAO by the FBI. See ECF 257-2. This summary substitution was prepared by AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine, and was reviewed, approved, and declassified by the FBI To the best of my knowledge, and based on the information provided to me, the information contained therein truly and correctly summarizes the underlying classified information provided by the FBI and maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy.

He’s saying that her summary accurately summarizes what she says it does, but he’s not saying that her description of it is accurate (which it wouldn’t be if EDMO told her to leave out 2016 NSLs).

Then it’s Fleming’s turn. After reviewing her role in this shoddy review and asserting that she has no reason to believe that the documents she got from FBI were irregular, she then explains why she did a summary of the texts that Strzok and a bunch of other people sent in early 2017: Just to get rid of unnecessary metadata, she says.

3. Among the documents and records that I reviewed were spreadsheets of electronic messages exchanged between FBI personnel involved in the Michael T. Flynn investigation and prosecution. The spreadsheets produced to EDMO contained messages and metadata that were not relevant to my review.

4. I created Government Exhibit ECF 198-8 and Discovery Document ECF 228-3. These exhibits truly and correctly reflect excerpts from documents and record maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy that were provided to EDMO/DC-USAO for review.1

Then she admits someone — she doesn’t say who — made an error.

1 There is a single typographical error in these exhibits. A single message (“Will do.”) from DAD Peter Strzok, sent on 4-Jan-17, is incorrectly identified as having been sent at 2:17PM; the message was actually sent at 2:18PM.

What she doesn’t explain, though, is why her table has two headings that show she or someone else had to “correct” the dates and times in the spreadsheet (which may be where the typo got introduced, or retained).

Given that heading, she has no business treating the data she got as reliable, because either she or someone upstream from her had to fix it.

Then Keith Kohne steps in, the guy who conducted an incompetent interview (and possibly one of the guys who altered dates on government exhibits). He doesn’t provide any explanation of why he’s making the declaration — not even the standard boilerplate you’d find in an affidavit. He says only,

 I, Keith Kohne, hereby declare, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746, that the document attached as Exhibit 1 to the Government’s Supplemental Filing in Support of Motion to Dismiss … is a true and correct copy of the report of the interview of William J. Barnett conducted on September 17, 2020.

Understand that this declaration lacks the certification afforded by the rules of FBI record-keeping. It lacks Brown’s certification that the data in was redacted properly (this was not). And it doesn’t explain why it wasn’t finalized as a 302 and submitted into FBI record-keeping systems.

Collectively, then, these declarations stop well short of certifying those texts, Ballantine’s summary, or the Barnett’s interview.

We already know that the Barnett interview is withholding material information. I guess we should assume there are problems with the other two documents as well.

Documents and comments

Here are the documents:

Draft closing communication (198-2) [Docket 2, Exhibit 1]

In the certification but not the exhibit referenced, DOJ redacts Bill Barnett’s name, who wrote the document, as well as that of Joe Pientka, who approved it. That serves to make it harder to figure out that the closing EC materially conflicts with unredacted claims Barnett made in his interview, particularly with regards to Barnett’s awareness that the investigation was a counterintelligence investigation considering 18 USC 951 charges.

It’s all the more problematic given that DOJ has submitted two versions of this document with the same Bates numbers; the earlier one does have the names redacted.

Opening Electronic Communication (198-3) [Docket 3, Exhibit 2]

This doesn’t include Bates numbers.

Mary McCord 302 (198-4) [Docket 4, Exhibit 3]

As with other documents, this one was specially declassified for this release. Another copy has been released under BuzzFeed’s FOIA.

Sally Yates 302 (198-5) [Docket 5, Exhibit 4]

Flynn got a summary of this before he allocuted his guilty plea before Sullivan.

170302 Jim Comey Transcript (198-6) [Docket 6, Exhibit 5]

As DOJ notes, HPSCI used a court reporter on this, so they didn’t have to certify it.

170214 Draft Flynn 302 (198-7) [Docket 7, Exhibit 6]

For some reason (I’ll return to this), DOJ submitted a draft version of the 302, rather than the final one (both have previously been submitted in this docket, and a less-redacted version of the 302 was released prior to this in BuzzFeed’s FOIA). Nowhere in the motion to dismiss does Timothy Shea acknowledge that he wasn’t relying on the final 302.

Text massages and electronic messages (198-8) [Docket 8, Exhibit 7]

The certification doesn’t include Bates stamps.

This is the document that has an admittedly minor error in one of the time stamps, saying that Strzok texted “Will do” at 2:18 instead of 2:17. But the error is interesting given that the table’s headings read, “Corrected Date, Corrected Time,” meaning these aren’t just copied, the times (and dates) were “corrected” (which is presumably where the error was introduced), raising questions about what they were corrected from. [My annotation.]

This is one of the documents that FBI EAD John Brown did not certify, which ought to raise questions about how these dates and times got “corrected.” Instead, the authentication reads:

Truly and correctly reflects information contained in documents and records maintained by the FBI, pursuant to the applicable records retention policy that were provided to EDMO.

Without an explanation of how why this data needed to be corrected, I think there are real questions whether this fulfills the requirement here.

Emails about the Logan Act (198-9) [Docket 9, Exhibit 8]

The certification doesn’t include Bates numbers.

170121-22 Emails about providing briefings (198-10) [Docket 10, Exhibit 9]

This certification doesn’t include Bates numbers.

170124 Emails of questions Flynn might ask (198-10) [Docket 10, Exhibit 9]

This certification doesn’t include Bates numbers. This matters both because they’re mixing docket number and exhibit number, but also because there are two copies of the identical document with a different Bates number in the docket.

Emails about 1001 warnings (198-10) [Docket 10, Exhibit 9]

This certification doesn’t include Bates numbers. This matters both because they’re mixing docket number and exhibit number, but also because there are two copies of the identical document with a different Bates number in the docket.

170124 Bill Priestap Notes (198-11) [Docket 11, Exhibit 10]

This certification doesn’t include Bates numbers. This matters both because they’re mixing docket number and exhibit number, but also because there are two copies of the same document with a different Bates number in the docket, yet both have the blue sticky that is hidden in later documents (raising questions about why there are two separate direct scans).

170124 Andrew McCabe write-up (198-12) [Docket 12, Exhibit 11]

This document doesn’t have a Bates stamp on it at all, which is especially problematic given that another less redacted version of the document is in this docket, with a Bates stamp of the same series as other documents submitted with the motion to dismiss.

The May version, with the Bates stamp, makes it clear that McCabe agreed with Flynn that leaks were a problem. [My annotations.]

The motion to dismiss version redacts that.

McCabe’s comment about leaks in no way qualifies under any claimed basis for redaction stated in certification.

It also appears to redact the prior declassification stamp.

One thing DOJ did by submitting this without a Bates stamp is avoided admitting that the document is not at all new, as the Motion to Dismiss suggested.

170124 Strzok and Pientka Notes of Flynn interview (198-13) [Docket 13, Exhibit 12]

These were released as the same exhibit, which given that they don’t use Bates numbers to identify which is which, effectively means they haven’t told Judge Sullivan which Agent’s notes are which, something that Sidney Powell wailed mightily about the last time it happened. They do, however, get it right in the transcript.

In the Pientka notes, however, there are numerous examples of things that are clear, at least from the context, that don’t get transcribed properly.

170822 Strzok 302 (198-14) [Docket 14, Exhibit 13]

This had already been produced in this docket.

200917 “Report” of Bill Barnett’s interview (249-1)

In the Government Supplemental Filing accompanying this interview, they claim that this is, “The FBI 302” of the Barnett interview. Here, they’re correctly noting that it’s not actually a 302, which makes it even more problematic than it already was.

The certification makes it clear that this “report” is maintained differently than normal 302s. Rather than certifying it as,

True and correct copy of a document or record maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy.

It is instead certified as,

True and correct copy of the report of that interview.

I’m not sure Sullivan is going to be that thrilled that FBI itself is not treating this interview with the regularity of other investigative documents.

This “report” is probably one of the reasons why DOJ included this language in the filing.

There have been no material alterations made to any of the 14 Government Exhibits filed in support of the motion to dismiss and the supplement to the motion to dismiss. Several of the documents contain routine redactions made by the FBI to protect classified information, and/or law enforcement sensitive information, and/or made to comply with the Local Rule to remove Privacy Act information.

As I have laid out, DOJ withheld material information — most notably, all the nice things Barnett said about Brandon Van Grack — by redacting information that would otherwise be unsealed.

This is one of the documents that EAD John Brown did not certify; instead, one of the agents who did the interview did, which suggests it could not be certified properly. It also suggests that Ballantine, who knows it is withholding material information, doesn’t want to be in a position where she can see it (even though she sent an unredacted copy to Flynn).

Text messages (228-3)

The certification notes these are identical to the 198-8 text messages, with the error under heading, “corrected time.” It’s unclear why, in this one case, DOJ admitted to the same exhibit being filed multiple times, since in other cases they don’t note it.

170105 Strzok Notes (231-1)

The transcription of these notes don’t note the redactions. That’s significant because the only difference between this set of notes and the later, altered ones, is that they declassified a bit more information in the latter case.

170125 Gauhar Notes (237-1)

The transcription is inconsistent about whether it treats cross-outs as unintelligible or not, in one place treating a heading “Intro” as intelligible, but not references to “Thanksgiving” and “He said.”

170125 Strzok Notes (237-1)

By labeling these notes as Strzok’s, DOJ makes it more clear that they redacted information that must match other sets of notes from the same meeting.

170130 [Draft] Executive Summary of Flynn investigation (237-1)

The certification doesn’t reveal that this is a draft document, not a finalized one.

170330 Dana Boente Notes (237-1)

Undated McCabe Notes (248-2/259-1)

The transcription doesn’t note that McCabe crossed off his notes on Flynn. Nor does it admit that it redacted what appears to be a continuation of the discussion of Flynn.

The authentication notes that it is,

True and correct copy of a document or record maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy (ECF 259-1)

That means they’re only certifying that this is something in FBI records (which it shouldn’t be, since it’s a re-altered altered document).

They also leave out Bates numbers, which is problematic because the re-altered document is technically a new document, but it retains the same Bates stamp.

170105 Strzok Notes (248-3/259-2)

The transcription reveals that two of the three new things revealed in the new copy were unintelligible to DOJ, which raises real questions about why they left it unredacted.

The authentication notes that it is,

True and correct copy of a document or record maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy (ECF 259-2)

That means they’re only certifying that this is something in FBI records (which it shouldn’t be, since it’s a re-altered altered document).

They also leave out Bates numbers, which is problematic because the re-altered document is technically a new document, but it retains the same Bates stamp.

Undated Strzok Notes (248-4/259-3)

As with some others, the transcription doesn’t note all the redactions, which in this case raises questions about why they included notes from the day before.

In addition, they leave out a scribble in front of the word “willfullness” meaning Strzok switched what they were measuring with regards to whether Flynn’s lies about Turkey were deliberate.

The authentication notes that it is,

True and correct copy of a document or record maintained by the FBI pursuant to the applicable records retention policy (ECF 259-3)

That means they’re only certifying that this is something in FBI records (which it shouldn’t be, since it’s a re-altered altered document).

They also leave out Bates numbers, which is problematic because the re-altered document is technically a new document, but it retains the same Bates stamp.

170306 Jim Crowell Notes (251-1)

As expected, DOJ was thoroughly dishonest with this document. They don’t reveal that they’ve redacted something — either a date, or names — where they indicate that they’ve added a date. One way or another, this transcription is false.

Plus, if they’ve redacted the names of non-senior people in the meeting (which is the non-suspect excuse for the redaction), then they need to note that in the transcription. The alternative, of course, is worse, that they knowingly altered the date.

This is one instance where not revealing whether DOJ consulted with the author is especially problematic. But since Crowell is now a DC judge just next door to Sullivan’s courthouse, maybe he can just go ask.

170329 Gauhar Notes (251-1)

180119 Schools Notes (251-1)

161226 Clinesmith NSL Email (257-1)

The certification provides the wrong date for this email, labeling it 12/26/16. [My annotations.]

it was 12/23/16.

Unlike some of the other things here, I think this is just a sloppy error, not an affirmative misrepresentation. But it is ironic that they made the error with Clinesmith.

200924 Ballantine Summary Substitution of NSLs issued in Crossfire Razor (257-2)

In her notice of discovery correspondence accompanying this, Ballantine doesn’t note that she wrote this summary for EDMO to review for them to, in turn, give back to her to give to Flynn. That’s important, because it’s unclear whether the summary shows all NSLs, or only NSLs for the period in question. Both Barnett’s testimony and the Kevin Clinesmith email included suggest the latter.

170125 OGC Notes (264-1)

This doesn’t include Bates numbers, which is interesting because an older 2019 Bates stamp not seen elsewhere is included (possibly indicating that this was previously shared with DOJ IG).

McCabe Casts Doubt on the Date Added to His Notes, Too

In my coverage of the way DOJ has added dates to undated notes, I’ve always said that I have no reason to believe that the date DOJ added to Andrew McCabe’s notes was erroneous.

Now I do.

In a letter that McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich sent to Judge Sullivan last week, he explains why the May 10, 2017 date added to McCabe’s notes couldn’t be remotely credible. That’s because he was busy cleaning up the Jim Comey firing.

The date “5/10/17” that appears on Exhibit B is not in Mr. McCabe’s handwriting and he did not enter the date that now appears there. Further, contrary to counsel’s claim, Mr. McCabe did not brief the Senate Intelligence Committee on anything on May 10. That was the day after President Trump had fired FBI Director Comey and Mr. McCabe was consumed with various other responsibilities. Mr. McCabe did participate in a public Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing and closed briefing on worldwide threats, along with other intelligence community officials, on May 11. Neither the public hearing nor the secret briefing had anything to do with Mr. Flynn. Counsel did not seek to confirm the accuracy of its claims with Mr. McCabe or us about Mr. McCabe’s notes before filing the Third Supplement.

Update: Bromwich is not saying that the date is not correct. He’s saying that the implication, created by the redaction, that McCabe briefed Flynn to SSCI on May 10, 2017 is incorrect.

These appear to be notes tracking McCabe’s day. The top half, redacted save the time and description, explains that at 5:15 PM on whatever day this was, McCabe was doing World Wide Threat hearing prep.

Then, on the same day but in no way related to it, he reviewed the Flynn case in some way or another.

The redaction also almost certainly splits the Flynn related information in half (note the bracket starting at “closed” and extending well into the redaction).

In any case, nothing in these notes suggest this happened after Comey’s firing, which is the point they’re trying to make of it.

Update: According to McCabe’s book, nothing happened after he attended a WWT prep session on May 10, because that took several hours, he had already been in two draining meetings at the White House that day, and he was pooped.

As the president requested, I went back to the White House that afternoon. When I arrived, at 2 P.M., the bodyguard Keith Schiller came down again and greeted me like I was his buddy, like someone he sees every day—Hey, what’s going on?

[snip]

When I left the Oval Office, I went straight to a prep session at the Bureau. Jim Comey had been preparing for two weeks to testify at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Worldwide Threats Hearing—an annual event where the director of national intelligence and the heads of the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency share their assessments of the most urgent threats to U.S. national security and answer questions from senators about those threats. Preparation for the hearing typically involves a number of lengthy background sessions with staff and a review of hundreds of pages of briefing material; it also requires drafting an official statement for the record.

[snip]

So when I left the Oval Office, I went straight back to a prep session that night. I had been to a lot of these meetings for Comey and Mueller—when I was involved in the prepping. Usually I had been the guy sitting at the right hand of the director, listening to everyone else’s contributions and trying to distill it all into better formulations.

Chiming in when you have a shapely little idea, I quickly discovered, is very different from sitting at the head of the table while a dozen people to your right and left argue the pros and cons of issue after issue, firing ideas and comments at you nonstop—all of which you have to take in while also assessing how those answers will be interpreted and processed by members of Congress, the president, and the media. I had never fully appreciated the complexity of that task. After two and a half hours of this, my tank was full. I had to get some sleep.

The passage makes clear that he had been a part of Comey’s prep before Comey was fired, and that prep had been going on for two weeks. Which suggests that McCabe could have attended a WWT hearing any time in the previous two weeks.

That’s not definitive, of course (though it was almost certainly written with the benefit of McCabe’s notes). But this passage suggests the date is wrong, and the Flynn briefing took place before Comey’s firing.

In Letter Confirming DOJ Altered Peter Strzok’s Notes, His Lawyer Identifies Additional Privacy Act Violations

Among a slew of last minute documents submitted in advance of today’s hearing in the Mike Flynn case, Peter Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, confirmed what I laid out here and here: DOJ altered some of the exhibits submitted in their effort to blow up Flynn’s prosecution.

Some of Mr. Strzok’s notes included in this attachment appear to have been altered. On at least two occasions, there were handwritten additions, not written by Mr. Strzok, inserting dates, apparently designed to indicate the date or dates on which the notes were written. On at least one occasion, the date added is wrong and could be read to suggest that a meeting at the White House happened before it actually did.

Goelman included those both altered records pertaining to Strzok (there may be one related to Andrew McCabe as well), including the one that shows someone wanted to implicate Joe Biden in all this.

That may not be the most important thing Goelman established, however.

Among the things DOJ released the other night was yet another version of the Strzok and Lisa Page texts. When she sent them to Flynn’s lawyers, Jocelyn Ballantine admitted the relevant texts had been provided to Flynn in 2018, before he allocuted his guilty plea a second time.

We are also providing you with additional text messages between former DAD Strzok and Lisa Page (23516-23540). As you know, some of these messages were originally made available to Flynn’s former attorneys on March 13, 2018 through a publicly available link to a Senate webpage. On June 24, 2018, the government provided a link to a second website that contained additional text messages. In an abundance of caution, we are providing you additional text messages in this production; please note that purely personal messages have been deleted from this production.

DOJ seems to have re-released the texts in an effort knit together unrelated actions to suggest they all related to Mike Flynn. Among the texts included in this release, purportedly in support of blowing up Mike Flynn’s prosecution, I can identify texts pertaining to:

  • The investigation into Russia’s attack on the US
  • The Mid-Year Exam investigation into Hillary’s server
  • The general Crossfire Hurricane investigation
  • Extensive efforts to ensure the Crossfire Hurricane investigation remained secret
  • Efforts to ensure that Obama officials didn’t politicize the Mike Flynn intercepts
  • Specific Crossfire Hurricane sub-investigations, including substantial threads pertaining to Carter Page and George Papadopoulos
  • The opening of the Jeff Sessions false statements investigation
  • The bureaucratic set-up of the Mueller investigation
  • References to Kevin Clinesmith (and possibly some references to other Kevins)
  • Substantive critiques of Donald Trump (for example, pertaining to his desire to blow up NATO)
  • Discussions of Trump sharing highly classified Israeli intelligence with the Russians
  • Proactive ethical discussions about how to deal with the appointment of Rudolph Contreras, whom Strzok was friends with, to the FISA Court
  • Leak investigations, both into stories pertaining to Flynn or Trump and stories not related to Trump
  • Unrelated FISA applications
  • 702 reauthorization
  • Apparently unrelated cases, including things like CFIUS reviews

There are long swaths with half the side of the conversation left out, hiding what are clear changes of topic.

Then there are personal details, like talks about showers and anniversaries, as well as some emotional chatter and one declaration of love.

That makes Ballantine’s claim that, “purely personal messages have been deleted from this production,” utterly damning, particularly given the timing, September 23, and the fact that unlike past productions, this was not noticed to the docket in real time.

“Did your anniversary go ok? I don’t really want a lot of deta[]” is by any sane measure a purely personal message. It was not deleted or redacted from this production.

What DOJ decided to do, just days before a decision in the parallel lawsuits Strzok and Page have against DOJ alleging a violation of the Privacy Act for the release of personal information, was to release more personal information, information that had — in the past, under an earlier purported ethics review of what was releasable — been deemed personal information.

DOJ knit together a bunch of texts that DOJ admits were already public before Flynn allocuted his guilty plea a second time, but threw in yet more personal texts.

And then, on September 25, Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Page and Strzok should both get discovery to prove their Privacy Act (and in Strzok’s case, other claims) cases. That makes all of this — all the decisions that led up to to the release of these texts — discoverable in what I assume will be an expanded Privacy Act lawsuit.

It’s unclear what malicious thinking led DOJ to include more texts attempting to humiliate Strzok and Page (even while providing a slew of other information making it clear that Strzok did not have it in for Flynn). But they just likely made this entire process subject to discovery in a lawsuit overseen by Amy Berman Jackson.