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The Republican Closing Argument against Impeachment Is Personally Implicated in the Scandal

I’m waiting on the procedural votes to authorize the House impeachment inquiry. There were some nice speeches, with Speaker Pelosi lecturing the Republicans about American history, Republicans repeating the same quote from Alexander Hamilton over and over, Steve Scalise posing next to an image of the Kremlin [Correction: This is St. Basil’s Cathedral], and Eric Swalwell accusing the President of using taxpayer dollars to lead an “an extortion shakedown scheme.”

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the debate is that the Republican closing argument — yet another recital of that same Hamilton quote — came from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy is implicated in the scandal he doesn’t want investigated.

McCarthy received money both personally and in the guise of his Protect the House PAC from Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, the grifters at the core of the influence operation that led to Trump’s quid pro quo conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky. He also keynoted an event with the grifters. While he has said he’d donate the money to charity (though has not yet, as far as I know, shown that he did that), there is no way to unring the bell of their support. He became Majority Leader with the support of men who have since been indicted for that support.

That is the face that is leading opposition to impeachment.

Update: Here’s the roll call.

  • Impeachment curious Republicans Will Hurd and Francis Rooney both voted against the inquiry
  • Democrats Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew also voted against
  • Justin Amash voted for the inquiry
  • Republicans Jody Hice, John Rose, and William Timmons, and Democrat Donald McEachin did not vote

So 98.5% of the Republican caucus voted to do nothing after another branch of government usurped Congress’ power of the purse.

GOP Republicans Stage Brooks Brothers Riot 2.0 to Emasculate Their Own Power of the Purse

Twenty-some Republican Congressmen (and a few women) are staging a repeat Brooks Brother riot to stall the ongoing impeachment proceeding. I’ll post a picture if I find an open source one, but the riot is being led by Matt Gaetz and includes, among others:

  • Minority Whip Steve Scalise
  • Steve King
  • Louie Gohmert
  • Andy Biggs
  • Bradley Byrne
  • Mark Walker
  • Mo Brooks
  • Debbie Lesko
  • Alex Mooney
  • Michael Waltz

Some of the members stormed into the House SCIF with their cell phones, which is a violation of strict rules and may degrade the effectiveness of the SCIF. Reportedly, Republican Mike Conaway of Texas has started collecting the electronics of his colleagues.

The riot has delayed the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper.

That’s significant–symbolic even. That’s because Cooper is expected to testify on DOD’s response to Trump’s illegal refusal to withhold funds duly appropriated by Congress.

House panels leading the impeachment inquiry are set to hear Wednesday from a Pentagon official responsible for policy toward Ukraine, who is expected to testify about the delay in nearly $400 million in security assistance to the country.

Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, will be the first Defense Department official to testify before investigators, who have largely heard from State Department officials so far in the investigation. Ms. Cooper arrived at the Capitol on Wednesday morning.

The hold on the aid to Ukraine is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump conditioned the funding for Ukraine on his request to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The White House’s hold on military aid to Ukraine this summer set off alarms at the Pentagon, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Cooper’s exact role in the Defense Department’s effort to push back on the hold on the money, which was ultimately released in mid-September, isn’t known.

After the White House communicated the hold to the Defense and State Departments in July, the Pentagon conducted an internal review of the legality of the hold, according to three people familiar with the matter. Pentagon officials argued that the administration couldn’t block money approved by Congress, delivering their analysis to career White House budget office officials at a July meeting, according to two of the people and another person familiar with the matter.

In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason that they share with Congress.

As I’ve said, even these people’s former colleague, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, has admitted this is a crime.

I know this entire inquiry has stirred up a lot of partisan bickering. But it is stunning that Republicans in Congress, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are so desperate to protect Trump that they are trying to prevent Congress from asserting its power of the purse.

There could be no more symbolic self-emasculation than this faux riot. And yet, these members of Congress apparently are willing to trade away their own power like this.

Update: According to a press release released yesterday, here’s who was part of the Brooks Brothers The Farce. Those marked with asterisks are on committees conducting the inquiry, so they’re basically complaining about a process they’re a part of. Those marked with checks were around in 2017 and voted for a rule holding that such protests on the House floor (to say nothing of inside HPSCI’s SCIF) were a violation of House Rules.

  1. Matt Gaetz√
  2. Steve Scalise√
  3. Brian Babin√
  4. Andy Biggs√
  5. Mo Brooks√
  6. Ken Buck√*
  7. Bradley Byrne
  8. Buddy Carter√
  9. Ben Cline
  10. Jeff Duncan√
  11. Drew Ferguson√
  12. Russ Fulcher
  13. Louie Gohmert√
  14. Paul Gosar√*
  15. Mark Green*
  16. Vicky Hartzler√
  17. Kevin Hern
  18. Jody Hice√*
  19. Duncan Hunter√
  20. Bill Johnson√
  21. Jim Jordan√*
  22. Fred Keller*
  23. Steve King√
  24. Debbie Lesko
  25. Carol Miller*
  26. Alex Mooney√
  27. Markwayne Mullin√
  28. Ralph Norman*
  29. Mark Walker√
  30. Mark Meadows√*
  31. Greg Murphy
  32. Peter Olson√
  33. Gary Palmer√
  34. Scott Perry√*
  35. David Rouzer√
  36. Ross Spano
  37. Michael Waltz
  38. Steve Watkins
  39. Randy Weber√
  40. Ron Wright*
  41. Lee Zeldin√*

Also note that the rules Adam Schiff is using for this inquiry are similar to the rules that Mark Meadows used for the investigation of the Russian investigation that he, Gaetz,  Jordan, and Gowdy did last year.

Update: Fixed the gender references as there are a few women who participated.

Did Some Republican in Congress Leak Details of the Mueller Report to Roger Stone?

There’s a passage from a recent Roger Stone filing I’ve been puzzling over. In a motion asking for discovery on selective prosecution — an effort that started out by arguing no one else had been prosecuted for false statements to Congress before that became ridiculous — Stone claims that

Yet, he was ruled out as a conspirator with the Russian state and WikiLeaks before his transcript from HPSCI was transmitted.

This effort parallels an effort to get the whole Mueller Report and this motion asks for all the declination memos on top of that.

Prosecuting Stone because of his arbitrary classification requires discovery, including the declination memos sent to the Attorney General, so that it may be determined who the government thinks lied to Congress or the Special Counsel, but were not prosecuted.

The claim that Stone was ruled out as a co-conspirator with Russia or WikiLeaks is probably true (though not necessarily all that helpful for his case). I’m just trying to figure out how he knows that, if he does. It seems there are four possibilities:

  1. His lawyers, who are fairly careless and who have made false claims in other briefs, are just making this up
  2. He got something in discovery that makes this clear
  3. He’s basing this off Jerome Corsi’s public claims
  4. Someone who has seen an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report (which currently includes the White House and at least 7 of the 8 Republicans who had been given an opportunity to read it before yesterday) told him what those passages of the report say
  5. He learned of this decision in real time, via reporting to the White House and then some channel from the White House

As noted, his lawyers have not been above making shit up, so it’s possible this is what this claim is. But it feels too specific for that.

It’s also possible he got something in discovery to support this claim, except the prosecutors are fighting to provide precisely this kind of information to him in their fight against releasing the Mueller Report.

Such an assertion could be intuited from Jerome Corsi’s crazed rants. Corsi has said that he believes the true source of his/their knowledge that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails was the cornerstone to Mueller’s “collusion” case (though of course he was assessing conspiracy, as Stone correctly notes here.

It’s certainly possible this is reflected in the less redacted Mueller Report, which would explaining the timing of this claim, which by my reading is new in this filing. Republicans in Congress have tampered with the criminal cases against Trump’s people on at least two occasions (when Richard Burr told the White House who had been targeted, and whoever reached out to Mike Flynn to discourage his cooperation). Given DOJ’s warnings about how sensitive the report is, it would be fairly damning if one of just 5 Republicans who had seen it already ran to Stone to tell him what’s in it. (Those 5 are: Mitch McConnell, Richard Burr, Lindsey Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and Doug Collins; it’s not clear whether Devin Nunes has reviewed the report yet.)

I’m most interested whether Stone learned in real time — perhaps last fall — that Mueller had decided not to charge him in a conspiracy with WikiLeaks and Russia. That would be particularly interesting given that Paul Manafort actually told what resembles the truth about the campaign’s outreach, through Stone, to WikiLeaks.

Amy Berman Jackson currently has unredacted parts of the Mueller Report pertaining to Stone, so if this information does come from leaks about the Mueller Report, she may recognize that.

As I said, even if Mueller decided not to charge Stone in a conspiracy because, with the witness tampering charges, he may face the same kind of sentence without some of the evidentiary hurdles, it doesn’t amount to selective prosecution.

But Stone sure seems to have a specific idea of what he’s looking for, even if it only helps his (and Trump’s) political case, not his criminal one.

Update: Corrected the number of Republicans known to have reviewed the report to 5.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Surveillance Whack-a-Mole, Section 215 to Section 702 Edition

As it happens, I and others covered the report that NSA purportedly has not restarted its use of the Section 215 CDR program in the wake of finding serious over-collection on the same day that I Con the Record released another Semiannual report on 702, the one completed in October 2018, which covers December 2016 to May 2017.

In my post on the Section 215 CDR claim, I suggested that function probably hasn’t shut down, but likely moved instead to a different authority, probably EO 12333.

The NSA almost never gives up a function they like. Instead, they make sure they don’t have any adverse court rulings telling them they’ve broken the law, and move the function some place else. Given that the government withdrew several applications last year after FISC threatened to appoint an amicus, and given that the government now has broadened 12333 sharing, they may have just moved something legally problematic somewhere else.

In Ellen Nakashima’s report on the 215 CDR shutdown, she suggested that NSA may not longer need the 215 CDR function because “terrorists” (this program was never just about terrorists) increasingly use secure apps which “don’t always create metadata.”

But these days, terrorists generally are not coordinating via phone calls or standard text messages, but communicate by using secure apps that don’t always create metadata trails, analysts said.

That is, the suggestion is that because “terrorists” are using encrypted apps like Signal and WhatsApp rather than AT&T or Verizon’s own SMS apps, getting the latter via the CDR program is not as useful.

But perhaps that explains the over-collection issue behind all this.

From the start of the USA Freedom Act debate, I have noted that the definition used in the law — session identifier — did not match the intent of most members of Congress: that is, to track telephony contacts. Telephony contacts are just an increasingly minimal subset of the session identifiers than any mobile phone user will generate. And in the age of super-cookies, providers increasingly track these other session identifiers. If providers collect it, spooks and law enforcement will try to use it, and the expanded universe of session identifiers is no exception.

One of several likely explanations for the over-collection that led the government to destroy all its records last year is that the FISA Court wrote something that distinguished between the two (basically, establishing a precedent that made fudging the issue legally problematic), leading NSA to “discover” the over-collection and quickly start deleting records before any overseer found the proof that it was no accident.

At least, that same pattern has happened numerous times before.

Anyway, back to surveillance whack-a-mole.

When this has happened in the past, the NSA didn’t actually shut down the function. It instead moved it to another authority, preferably one with less court oversight. Of particular note, when NSA shut down the PRTT dragnet in 2011, it moved some of that function to EO 12333 (NSA had resumed a practice shut down during the Stellar Wind shutdown allowing the agency to chain on Americans) and Section 702.

That’s why I want to point to something in the most recent Section 702 Semiannual Report (which, remember, reflects really dated reviews of Section 702 use. On top of being really dated, the report is, as all of these are, heavily redacted and largely boilerplate. Nevertheless, a close read of it (I do think I’m the only one who actually reads these!) can point to trends that can sometimes help identify problems on the same timeline that NSA’s Inspector General does.

And this most recent Semiannual report, from the period mid-way into implementation of the new USAF CDR function, has this passage (which — I believe — includes a typo).

This passage is not reporting a decrease, as the last clause of the paragraph claims; it is reporting an increase in the number of times Section 702 data appears in serialized (that is, finished) reports. The typo appears to be the result of retaining the claim that this is “the first and only decrease of for these ten reporting periods” from the prior report.

What is likely true of this passage, however, is that it is reporting a new trend: “expanded use of Section 702” for some function.

There are several likely candidates for the time period (early 2017). The increasing use of the 2014 exception, the ongoing shift of the old PRTT function (obtaining email metadata) are two.

But another would be to use 702 — such that it is technically feasible — to obtain what metadata exists for encrypted apps. Notably, during precisely this period, Facebook was moving to more closely integrate WhatsApp with its platform generally. And this would give it access (but not content) of chats. Since then, it has probably become easier for Verizon and AT&T to identify who is using Signal by matching the individual keys generated for each contact (just as an example, you can set Verizon to show this or not, meaning they’ve got visibility onto it one way or another). Using 702 to get encrypted app metadata would only give you one degree of separation from a foreign target. But you’d get it with far less oversight than NSA undergoes with Section 215.

Here’s the dirty secret about FISA. It is far easier for NSA to use Section 702 to get content and metadata than it is for NSA to use Section 215 to get just session identifiers.

Section 702 couldn’t replace all of what Section 215 — if it were collecting on the session identifiers associated with encrypted chat apps — gets. But what it could get might be far more voluminous than the 500 million session identifiers collected in 2017.

Update: Bobby Chesney — who seems to know more than he’s letting on — weighs in on the news here.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Lawfare “Breaks” News: NSA Hasn’t Restarted the Section 215 CDR Function

Last week, Lawfare’s podcast had on Luke Murry, National Security Advisor to Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Daniel Silverberg, National Security Advisor to Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

At 5:10, in response to a question from Margaret Taylor about what kind of oversight Congress will exercise in this Congress, one of them says,

I think my mind goes to the must-pass things. Let’s use that as lowest common denominator. One which may be must-pass, may actually not be must-pass, is Section 215 of USA Freedom Act, where you have this bulk collection of, basically metadata on telephone conversations — not the actual content of the conversations but we’re talking about length of call, time of call, who’s calling — and that expires at the end of this year. But the Administration actually hasn’t been using it for the past six months because of problems with the way in which that information was collected, and possibly collecting on US citizens, in the way it was transferred from private companies to the Administration after they got FISA court approval. So, if the Administration does ask on that, that’s inherently a very sensitive subject. And we’ve seen that sensitivity be true in other areas of USA Freedom Act so I think that’s going to be a real challenge for Congress. But I’m not actually certain that the Administration will want to start that back up given where they’ve been in the last six months.

The staffer seems a bit confused by what he’s talking about.

By description — the description of this being metadata turned over by providers — this must be the Call Detail Record of USA Freedom Act, not all of Section 215. It appears to be public confirmation that the government never resumed the CDR program after it announced that it had destroyed all its records last June (though that works out to be 8 months, not just 6).

That, in turn, suggests that the problem with the records may not be the volume or the content turned over, but some problem created either by the specific language of the law or (more likely) the House Report on it or by the Carpenter decision. Carpenter came out on June 22, so technically after the NSA claims to have started deleting records on May 23. It also may be that the the NSA realized something was non-compliant with its collection just as it was submitting the 6th set of 180-day applications, and didn’t want to admit to the FISC that it had been breaking the law (which is precisely what happened in 2011 when the government deleted all its PRTT records).

Just as an example, I long worried that the government would ask providers to use location data to match phones. Under the law, so long as the government just got the phone number of a new phone that had been geolocated, it might qualify as a CDR under the law, but would absolutely be a violation of the intent of the law. Such an application — which is something that AT&T has long offered law enforcement — might explain what we’ve seen since.

One other thing, though: The NSA almost never gives up a function they like. Instead, they make sure they don’t have any adverse court rulings telling them they’ve broken the law, and move the function some place else. Given that the government withdrew several applications last year after FISC threatened to appoint an amicus, and given that the government now has broadened 12333 sharing, they may have just moved something legally problematic somewhere else.

In any case, there’s no follow-up on the podcast, which might at least clarify the obvious parts of this revelation, to say nothing of asking for the underlying detail. So it will take some work to figure out what really happened.