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Don McGahn Is Not the Most Critical Witness on Impeachment

In the last several days, Jerry Nadler has stated more and more clearly that his committee is conducting an inquiry on whether to file articles of impeachment. Six months after gaining the majority, this feels like a slow walk perhaps intended to time any impeachment vote based on how it will impact the election.

In its press release and complaint seeking to enforce its subpoena against Don McGahn last week, the House Judiciary Committee made an alarming claim: that Don McGahn was the most important witness in its consideration of whether to file for impeachment.

McGahn is the Judiciary Committee’s most important fact witness in its consideration of whether to recommend articles of impeachment and its related investigation of misconduct by the President, including acts of obstruction of justice described in the Special Counsel’s Report.

That claim suggests that the House Judiciary Committee has a very limited conceptualization of its own inquiry and perhaps an overestimation of how good a witness McGahn will be.

McGahn’s probably not as credible as HJC Dems think

I say the latter for two reasons. First, in the early days of the Russian investigation, McGahn overstepped the role of a White House Counsel. For example, even after his office recognized they could not talk to Jeff Sessions about the Russian investigation or risk obstruction, McGahn followed Trump’s orders to pressure Dana Boente on the investigation.

At the President’s urging, McGahn contacted Boente several times on March 21, 2017, to seek Boente’s assistance in having Corney or the Department of Justice correct the misperception that the President was under investigation.326

Curiously, McGahn and Boente’s versions of what happened are among the most divergent in the entire Mueller Report, which might suggest McGahn was less than forthright in testimony that, per footnotes, came in one of his earlier interviews.

Plus, as the Mueller Report acknowledges, the NYT story that triggered one of the key events in the report — where Trump asked McGahn to publicly rebut a claim that he had asked McGahn to fire Mueller, which led him to threaten to resign — was inaccurate in its claim that McGahn had functionally threatened to resign (which was clear in real time). 

On January 26, 2018, the President’s personal counsel called McGahn ‘s attorney and said that the President wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the Special Counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest.784 McGahn’s attorney spoke with McGahn about that request and then called the President’s personal counsel to relay that McGahn would not make a statement.785 McGahn ‘s attorney informed the President’s personal counsel that the Times story was accurate in reporting that the President wanted the Special Counsel removed.786 Accordingly, McGahn’s attorney said, although the article was inaccurate in some other respects, McGahn could not comply with the President’s request to dispute the story.787

Put McGahn under oath, and Republicans will ask if he was a source for that story, and if he was, why he oversold what he did. At the very least they’ll beat him up for letting the “#FakeNews NYT” spread lies.

There are far better (tactically and Constitutionally) reasons to impeach

More troubling still, asserting that McGahn is the most important witness — and stating that he’d be a witness in “criminal obstruction” — you prioritize that cause for impeachment over others, causes that might elicit some Republican support or at the very least mobilize the Democratic base.

To my mind, the best cause for impeachment — in terms of cornering Republicans and mobilizing the Democratic base — pertains to Trump’s repurposing of otherwise allocated funding for his Wall. This was an issue about which Republicans themselves had problems. It highlights Trump’s impotence to deliver on his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for his wall. It goes to issues of efficacy on national security issues. And it highlights how Trump has abused authority — authority which goes to the core of separation of powers — to facilitate his attacks on Latino immigrants. Plus, depending on when impeachment was triggered, having focused on the power of the purse would provide a tool to rein Trump in if he survived the election.

Democrats should also focus on Trump’s abuse of the Vacancy Reform Act in his appointments to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Board, DOJ, DOD, and ODNI. Violating the spirit of Consumer Financial Protection Board gave Trump a way to gut an entity meant to protect consumers, something that Elizabeth Warren will be able to magnify better than anyone (all the more so if and when the economy starts to turn south). Appointing Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker to fire Jeff Sessions provides a different way to get to the Russian investigation, and may (if BDTS prevented Mueller from naming Trump in the Roger Stone indictment) focus more attention on the resolution of that case (which has the potential of being both a really damaging trial or a pre-trial pardon). The appointment of Patrick Shanahan as Acting Secretary of Defense provides a way to focus on ethics complaints about his tenure, to say nothing about Trump’s tolerance for familial abuse. And Trump must be held accountable for whatever predictable problems selecting a loyalist over Sue Gordon as Acting DNI will cause — and some of the predictable problems, which might involve North Korea, Iran, or cybersecurity, could be quite damning.

Another impeachment cause that would invoke some of the same issues as the Russian investigation, but in a way that would be more awkward for the President, is Trump’s abuse of security clearances, starting with, but not limited to, Kushner’s (this is an issue where the Oversight Committee has done great work). An inquiry into why Trump gave Kushner clearance would provide a way to get to Kushner’s awkward role in foreign policy, particularly the possibility that he shared US classified information with Gulf oligarchs. If Kushner is found to have shared intelligence allowing Mohammed bin Salman to target Al-Waleed bin Talal or Jamal Khashoggi, it will invoke a slew of issues that will put Republicans in an awkward position (and have the salutary effect of focusing attention on Trump’s refusal to keep the Saudis honest).

Democrats would be idiots if they didn’t make an issue of Trump’s self-dealing, including but not limited to emoluments. It’s likely Republicans would defend the President on this point, but if they do, it can form the basis for legislation to more clearly prohibit such self-dealing going forward if Democrats do well in 2020. In addition, it goes to an issue that was absolutely key to Trump’s supporters, #DrainTheSwamp, but on which he has been (predictably) an utter failure.

Finally, Democrats should include Trump’s refusal to respond to violations of the Presidential Records Act in any impeachment inquiry. It is true that most Administrations have had problems adhering to PRA going back to Poppy Bush (Obama is to a large extent an exception, but Hillary’s avoidance of the Federal Records Act undermines that good record). But when pressed, most prior Administrations have been forced to admit the details of their failures to fulfill the law. Here, Trump has simply refused to respond to all questions about PRA violations. Some of these violations involve key players in the Russian investigation: Jared, KT McFarland, and Bannon. But these same people were involved in other scandals, such as the willingness to sacrifice US standards on nuclear security so that a bunch of Republicans can make $1 million per reactor (again, this would incorporate great work done by OGR).

This is a non-exclusive list. The point is, however, that HJC should frame their impeachment inquiry broadly, partly because some of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors have pissed off Republicans in the past, and partly because a failed impeachment trial can still frame Republican obstruction in a way that voters will care about.

Obviously, I think Trump’s conduct during the Russian investigation is important, and it’s all packaged up with a bow. But it’s not even just obstruction. Trump lied under oath in his written responses to Mueller. And Trump cheated to win an election. So even while pursuing impeachment on Russia, it needs to be more broadly conceived than the issues that Don McGahn can address. 

Other witnesses have more to offer than Don McGahn

So even in the emphasis on the Russia investigation, I think there is at least one better witness: Jay Sekulow. Sekulow has done a number of things that don’t qualify for attorney client privilege, such as his conversations directly with Michael Cohen to write a false statement hiding the President’s ties to Russia. That goes directly to Trump’s sworn lies.

Then there’s John Kelly. He was at DHS for the beginning of Trump’s abusive immigration policies. He knows details of Trump’s security clearance abuses (and might actually give a damn about them). He should know details of the PRA violations (and if not, should be accountable for why not). And he knows details of Kushner’s privatized foreign policy (and probably tried to control it). Kelly was a minor witness for Robert Mueller, but should be a key witness to any impeachment inquiry.

Finally, there’s the role of the Office of Legal Counsel and its head Steve Engel in all this. Some of OLC’s opinions enabling Trump’s abusive acts have been every bit as dodgy as John Yoo’s ones. It is the place of DOJ’s oversight committee to review the circumstances of those shitty opinions. While the government would likely fight this testimony particularly aggressively based on deliberative and attorney-client privileges, both John Yoo and Steven Bradbury have testified before, Yoo on an issue (torture) pertaining to abuse. Engel would still be able to testify about patterns of communication and the degree to which Trump dictated outcomes.

I’ll grant you, there are good reasons why McGahn may be a good tactical witness. I suspect that, by the time he testified, McGahn might be prepared to Bigfoot his testimony, not least in an attempt to cleanse himself of the Trump taint. So at that level, he may be a willing, damning witness.

So calling McGahn the most important witness might just be a legal tactic, a means to tie HJC’s obstruction inquiry with witnesses who have been blocked from testifying. And the White House Counsel position (to say nothing of the former White House Counsel position) is one for which there is precedent (under Clinton and Bush) for coerced testimony.

But I hope to hell HJC doesn’t really believe he’s the most important witness.

What I Would Do with the Mueller Report If I Were Reggie Walton

According to Politico, a hearing in the EPIC/BuzzFeed effort to liberate the Mueller Report went unexpectedly well today. It seems that Bill Barr’s propaganda effort to spin the results of the Mueller Report got Walton’s hackles up, leading him to believe that Barr’s effort covered up the degree to which Trump “colluded” with Russia.

Walton said he had “some concerns” about trying to reconcile public statements Trump and Attorney General William Barr have made about the report with the content of the report itself.

The judge pointed to Trump’s claims that Mueller found “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia and the president’s insistence that he had been exonerated from a possible obstruction of justice charge. These comments, Walton said, appeared bolstered by Barr’s description of Mueller’s findings during a DOJ news conference — before the public and media could read the document for themselves.

“It’d seem to be inconsistent with what the report itself said,” Walton said. The judge also cited a letter Mueller’s office sent to Barr questioning the attorney general’s decision to release a four-page summary of the investigation’s conclusions that “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the report.

Separately on Monday, Walton raised questions about a DOJ submission defending the agency’s decision to black out large portions of the Mueller report.

“I also worked for the department,” Walton said. “Sometimes the body does what the head wants.”

I thought I’d lay out what I would do if I were Judge Walton. I’d make different decisions if I were a judge, but having covered some of his biggest confrontations with an expansive Executive, I’m pretending I can imagine how he’d think.

I’m doing this not because I think he’ll follow my guidance, but to establish what I think might be reasonable things to imagine he’ll review for unsealing.

Unseal the discussions of how Donald Trump père and fils avoided testifying to the grand jury

As I have noted, there are two passages apiece that describe how Donald Trump Sr and Donald Trump Jr avoided testifying to the grand jury. While they might discuss the grand jury’s interest in subpoenaing the men, and while they might (both!) say that the men would invoke the Fifth if forced to show up and invoke it, those passages likely don’t describe that the men did so.

Particularly given Jr’s willingness to testify to Congressional committees that likely don’t have all the documents from Trump Organization that Mueller had, those passages should be unsealed unless they involve real grand jury decisions.

Unseal the names of Trump flunkies against whom investigations were opened in October 2017

The most obviously dishonest thing Bill Barr did in releasing the Mueller Report is claim that those against whom prosecutions were declined were peripheral people. At least one person (and up to three people) in this passage is not: Don Jr. Walton should unseal these names, especially given that Barr lied about how peripheral, at least, the President’s son is.

Review the longer descriptions of those who lied but weren’t charged

There are up to three people that Mueller appears to have considered for perjury charges (page 194 and two people on page 199) and at least one more whom he considered charging for false statements. Some of the discussion of the people in the former category include non grand jury material as well.

If I were Walton, I’d review this entire section and (treating Roger Stone separately) would unseal at least the names of the senior Trump officials not charged (one is KT McFarland). Given the treatment of Jeff Sessions — whose prosecution declination was not sealed — DOJ has already treated people inconsistently in this section.

Review the declinations starting on page 176, page 179, and page 188 for possible unsealing

There are three declinations that are candidates for unsealing. The most important — which describes the office’s consideration of charging WikiLeaks’ releases of stolen emails as an illegal campaign donation — is the last one. It raises real campaign finance questions and would feed right into impeachment.

The charging decision on page 179 may explain why Don Jr wasn’t charged for sharing a link to a non-public site releasing stolen emails (but it could also pertain to someone no one knows who tried to hack Guccifer 2.0). If it’s the former, if I were Walton, I might consider unsealing that.

The most interesting charging decision, starting on page 176, may explain why WikiLeaks wasn’t charged, why Stone wasn’t or why others were not. If it’s WikiLeaks, it’s the kind of decision already made public in the recent SDNY decision and could be released. In any case, that’s a redaction that likely would be worth Walton’s judicial consideration.

Order that Roger Stone sections be unsealed if there’s a substantive change in his gag order

A huge chunk of the remaining redactions pertain to Roger Stone or his trial. They also are among the most damning to Trump, as they implicate him personally in trying to make the most of Russia’s effort to help him. I, as Marcy Wheeler, would love to see them, today.

But Reggie Walton, who presumably eats lunch with Amy Berman Jackson in the DC District Judges cafeteria, will also recognize the difficulties she faces in seating a jury for the trial of the President’s rat-fucker in November. So unless something changes to the status quo — in which ABJ has imposed a strict gag on Stone — then I suspect he’ll cede to her judgment.

And, frankly, anyone who’d like to see Stone face some kind of repercussions for his rat-fuckery should also support him getting a fair trial, meaning they should support the continued sealing.

That doesn’t stop Walton from ordering that if something changes — if Stone wins an appeal he announced today to get his gag overturned, if Trump pardons Stone, or if Stone pleads — then the sections will automatically become unsealed. One of the biggest ways Trump can avoid all repercussion for his efforts to optimize the release of stolen information is to have Stone avoid trial (either by pleading or being pardoned) but preventing a reconsideration of redactions done to protect his right to a fair trial.

Leave national security sections sealed because I’m Reggie Walton

I and many others would love to see more of the IRA and GRU sections (though there’s a gag in the IRA case now too), especially those sections about how GRU passed on materials to WikiLeaks.

But I’m not Reggie Walton. While he’s very happy to take on an expansive Executive, he generally shows significant deference for claims of national security. Thus, I expect he’ll likely leave this stuff sealed.

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. 

Hope Hicks Had More Awareness of the Flynn-Kislyak Aftermath Than the Mueller Report Discloses

As I noted in this post, even though the reporting on Hope Hicks’ testimony last week focused on the White House’s efforts to prevent her from fully testifying, she clearly did what she could to protect Trump even regarding his actions during the election and transition.

Which is why I want to look at two of her comments on matters more central to Mueller’s investigation — in this post, her elaboration of some comments she made about Mike Flynn.

Norm Eisen walked Hicks through something that shows up in this footnote of the Mueller Report:

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10.

As I pointed out earlier, Eisen was hired to make sure questioning of witnesses is conducted professionally. It’s also worth noting that some House Judiciary Committee members and staffers have seen backup documents on the Mueller Report and the Hicks’ 302s were among the documents requested; both of these exchanges seem to reflect non-public information.

Eisen has Hicks describe how, even before the FBI interviewed Flynn, Trump had some concerns about him. At first, Hicks tries to spin Trump’s response to President Obama’s counterintelligence warning about Flynn as a reaction about the importance Obama assigned the warning, rather than anything having to do with Flynn himself.

Q Okay. Who was Michael Flynn?

A Michael Flynn was somebody that supported Mr. Trump. He was at one point in time considered a possible Vice Presidential candidate. And he became somebody who frequently traveled with the candidate and introduced him at rallies.

Q And are you aware that President Obama made comments about Mr. Flynn to the —

A Yes.

Q — the President-elect?

A Yes.

Q And how did the President-elect receive those comments?

Mr. Purpura. You can answer.

Ms. Hicks. I think he was a bit bewildered that, you know, of all the things that the two of them could have been discussing, that that was something that came up.

Mr. Eisen. And did you feel that President Obama’s comments sat with the President-elect more than you expected?

Ms. Hicks. I did, yes.

Mr. Eisen. Can you — go ahead. Sorry. I cut you off.

Ms. Hicks. That’s okay. I feel like it maybe tainted his view of General Flynn just a little bit.

Mr. Eisen. Did there come a time when the President formed the opinion — during the transition; I’m asking now about the transition — that Flynn had bad judgment?

White House lawyer Pat Philbin interrupts here to invite Hicks to read the footnote. (Note, I find it weird that Philbin did this, and not Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout.)

Mr. Philbin. Could you give us a moment there?

[Discussion off the record.]

Mr. Eisen. Can you read the question back, please? Okay. I’ve asked the court reporter to read the question back. [The reporter read back the record as requested.]

Ms. Hicks. Yes.

Mr. Eisen. Tell me about that.

Having just reviewed the footnote, Hicks nevertheless tries to minimize Trump’s concerns. So Philbin asks her to read the footnote again, which leads her to blame all this on Flynn’s spawn setting off a media frenzy that came to incorporate Flynn himself.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t think this was an overall characterization. I think that this was something where he felt like there were a few things that maybe caused him to think that he was capable of being a person who exercised bad judgment.

Mr. Eisen. What were those things?

Mr. Philbin. I’m sorry. Can I again suggest that, since the  question seemed to be based on footnote 155, page 32, Ms. Hicks have a chance to review that footnote?

Ms. Hicks. Yeah. I mean, primarily the comment by President Obama and the incident with General Flynn’s son concerning a fake news story and some of the tweets that were posted surrounding that.

BY MR. EISEN: Q Posted by?

A I believe they were posted by his son, and then it led to reporters also looking back at tweets that General Flynn had posted.

From here, Eisen moves on to the response to David Ignatius’ revelation that the Obama Administration had identified Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak. He establishes that Hicks was on the email thread discussing the response, though she claims she wasn’t involved in the messaging surrounding it.

Q Do you recall David Ignatius writing a column about a Michael Flynn phone conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the transition?

A Yes.

Q And what do you remember about that?

A I don’t remember much about the substance of the column, to be honest, but I remember several email exchanges between the National Security Advisor, General Flynn at the time, and some of his national security staffers, a desire to perhaps have David Ignatius clarify some things in that column, and a failure to do so.

Q Were you involved in the clarification efforts?

A I was on the email thread, so I was following the discussion that ensued, but I was not involved in any kind of message development or outreach to Mr. Ignatius.

Note that the Mueller Report does not mention Hicks at all in its discussion of the Flynn-Kislyak response. In addition to KT McFarland (who called Ignatius to push back), it cites just Reince Priebus and Stephen Miller.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127 Flynn directed McFarland to call the Washington Post columnist and inform him that no discussion of sanctions had occurred. 128 McFarland recalled that Flynn said words to the effect of, “I want to kill the story.” 129 McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a “Trump official” had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions. 130

When Priebus and other incoming Administration officials questioned Flynn internally about the Washington Post column, Flynn maintained that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.131 Flynn repeated that claim to Vice President-Elect Michael Pence and to incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. 132 In subsequent media interviews in mid-January, Pence, Priebus, and Spicer denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions, basing those denials on their conversations with Flynn. 133

13 1 Flynn 11117/17 302, at I, 8; Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 7; Priebus 10/13/17 302, at 7-8; S. Miller 8/3 I /17 3 02, at 8-1 I.

And that’s interesting because — as Eisen goes on to establish — Hope Hicks learned about the Flynn-Kislyak call at a minimum just days afterwards and (per her initial response) possibly the day it was made.

Q Did you have any advance knowledge of a phone call between Mr. Flynn and the Russian Ambassador that was the subject of this Ignatius reporting?

A I believe I was aware of it the day that it took place. I don’t know if it was before or after. But I recall being at Mar-a-Lago, and Flynn, I think — sorry. Off the record.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. I think it was afterwards. Perhaps even several days afterwards.

Again, the Mueller Report describes a conversation Flynn had with Steve Bannon in the aftermath of the call, but not Hicks. The Report also mentions a discussion between Flynn and Trump, but Flynn doesn’t “have a specific recollection” of telling Trump about the call.

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 10° Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101 On January 3, 2017, Flynn saw the President-Elect in person and thought they discussed the Russian reaction to the sanctions, but Flynn did not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect about the substance of his calls with Kislyak. 102

And that’s important because, even before Eisen started pursuing these questions, Congressman Steve Cohen had gotten Hicks to admit (after first denying it) that she had knowledge of Russian sanctions that apparently included Trump.

Mr. Cohen. All right. So with all those caveats, before January 20, 2017, did you have any knowledge of any discussions of Russian sanctions?

Ms. Hicks. No.

Mr. Cohen. There was no discussions at all with Mr. Trump and you weren’t privy to them about Russian sanctions that we had issued? You’re sure of that? Think about it.

Ms. Hicks. I am thinking. Thank you. You know, there was — there was a phone call obviously between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador. There was news reports after that where it was unclear what was discussed, but that would have been the only context in which Russian sanctions were brought up in my capacity as communications adviser. [my emphasis]

When Eisen followed up about when Hicks learned that Flynn had lied about sanctions, Hicks claimed to have no recollection of learning that during the transition.

Mr. Eisen. When did you first learn that there was an issue about — if you learned — actually, let me rephrase that question. Did Mr. Flynn talk to you after the column was published about the column?

Mr. Philbin. And we’re still asking —

Mr. Eisen. We’re asking transition. We’re about to come to the post-transition period.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall any direct conversations with him, only the email thread that I described.

Mr. Eisen. During the transition, did you develop any additional information about the truth or falsity of anything in the Ignatius column?

Ms. Hicks. Not to my recollection.

Predictably, when Eisen asks about how Hicks came to learn more about this after the Transition, Philbin objected.

Mr. Eisen. What about after the transition?

Mr. Philbin. Objection.

Let me be clear: even with this questioning, the record on what Hicks knew when is inconclusive (and she appears to want to keep it that way). Which may be one reason why Hicks doesn’t appear in any of the discussions in the Mueller Report about this incident, because even Mueller doesn’t find her answers completely credible. As far as is known, she was first interviewed in December 2017, after Flynn’s guilty plea would have made it clear he had relayed some of this, though some FBI interviews that happened the summer before don’t appear in the Mueller Report. So at least given the public record, Hicks would have been able to temper her answers based off what Flynn was known to have admitted in his plea.

The public record certainly sustains a version akin to the public version about Priebus: that he knew about the call to Kislyak in real time, but only came to learn that they talked about sanctions after the FBI interview.

But Hicks’ answers and evasions — and her constant access to Trump — leave open another possibility.

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. 

The Mueller Report Redactions and the Claims about “Collusion”

On Volume II page 121 of the Mueller Report, a partial transcript of the call Trump’s lawyer (WaPo says this is John Dowd) placed to Mike Flynn’s lawyer on November 22, 2017 appears, along with even more damning details about a follow-up call from the following day.

In late November 2017, Flynn began to cooperate with this Office. On November 22, 2017, Flynn withdrew from a joint defense agreement he had with the President.833 Flynn’s counsel told the President’s personal counsel and counsel for the White House that Flynn could no longer have confidential communications with the White House or the President.834 Later that night, the President’s personal counsel left a voicemail for Flynn’s counsel that said:

I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. . . . [I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with … the government. … [I]f . .. there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, . . . so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests ifwe can …. [R]emember what we’ve always said about the ‘ President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains …. 835

On November 23, 2017, Flynn’s attorneys returned the call from the President’s personal counsel to acknowledge receipt of the voicemail.836 Flynn ‘s attorneys reiterated that they were no longer in a position to share information under any sort of privilege.837 According to Flynn’s attorneys, the President’s personal counsel was indignant and vocal in his disagreement.838 The President’s personal counsel said that he interpreted what they said to him as a reflection of Flynn’s hostility towards the President and that he planned to inform his client of that interpretation.839 Flynn’s attorneys understood that statement to be an attempt to make them reconsider their position because the President’s personal counsel believed that Flynn would be disturbed to know that such a message would be conveyed to the President.840

This is, of course, the call referenced in Flynn’s less redacted cooperation addendum released last week. A whole slew of reporters who have claimed to have read the Mueller Report over the last month claimed that this passage had been redacted in the report, which is something that Quinta Jurecic and I had a bit of a laugh about on Chris Hayes’ show Friday night.

In fact, there’s likely to be very little of great interest submitted when the government complies with Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to submit an unclassified version of the Flynn passages of the report by May 31.

The revelation in Flynn’s cooperation addendum that he provided information on close-hold discussions about WikiLeaks means some of those conversations may be unsealed in that production. But aside from that, this redaction on Volume I page 183 — footnoting a discussion of the consideration of whether Flynn was a foreign agent and probably discussing an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into Russians, not Flynn — is the one of the only Flynn-related passages that might be of any interest that is not otherwise grand jury material.

With just a few notable exceptions, the redactions aren’t that nefarious.

Using Grand Jury redactions to protect the President from political pressure

I’ve noted two exceptions to that. One is the way DOJ used grand jury redactions to hide the details of how both Donald Trumps refused to testify (even while Jr continues to be willing to testify before congressional committees that don’t have all the evidence against him).

There are two redactions hiding details of what happened when Jr was subpoenaed.

Volume I page 117 on the June 9 meeting:

Volume II page 105 on President Trump’s involvement in writing the June 9 statement.

And there are two redactions hiding the discussion of subpoenaing Trump.

Volume II page 12 introducing the obstruction of justice analysis.

Appendix C introducing Trump’s non-responsive answers.

These redactions are all ones that Congress should ask more about. If Don Jr told Mueller he would invoke the Fifth, we deserve to know that (particularly given his willingness to appear with less informed committees). More importantly, the role of Trump’s refusal to answer questions (as well as any concerns he had about Don Jr’s jeopardy) are necessary parts to any discussion of obstruction of justice.

Plus, the President of the United States should not be able to hide his unwillingness to cooperate with an investigation into his own wrong-doing by claiming it’s grand jury material.

The use of “Personal Privacy” to hide central players

In his description of the four types of redactions in the report, Bill Barr described the fourth — “personal privacy” — as relating to “peripheral third parties.”

As I explained in my letter of April 18, 2019, the redactions in the public report fall into four categories: (1) grand-jury information, the disclosure of which is prohibited by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); (2) investigative techniques, which reflect material identified by the intelligence and law enforcement communities as potentially compromising sensitive sources, methods, or techniques, as well as information that could harm ongoing intelligence or law enforcement activities; (3) information that, if released, could harm ongoing law enforcement matters, including charged cases where court rules and orders bar public disclosure by the parties of case information; and (4) information that would unduly infringe upon the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties, which includes deliberation about decisions not to recommend prosecution of such parties.

Some of the PP redactions do pertain to genuinely peripheral players.

For example, sometimes they hide the random people with whom Russian trolls communicated.

In others, they hide the names of other victims of GRU hacking (including Colin Powell, who is not a private person but is peripheral to this discussion).

In other places, they hide the names of genuinely unrelated people or businesses.

But as I have noted, Mueller treated this category as a declinations decision, not a privacy one.

I previously sent you a letter dated March 25, 2019, that enclosed the introduction and executive summary for each volume of the Special Counsel’s report marked with redactions to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case. [my emphasis]

Among the people Barr claims are “peripheral” players who have been investigated but not charged are Don Jr in the second redaction in this passage:

Carter Page on page 183.

And KT McFarland and several other key players on page 199.

Don’t get me wrong: I think these redactions are absolutely proper. The description of them, however, is not. Barr is pretending these people are “peripheral” to avoid having to admit, “in addition to Trump’s Campaign Manager, Deputy Campaign Manager, Personal Lawyer, Life-Long Rat-Fucker, National Security Advisor, and Foreign Policy Advisor who have either pled guilty to, been found by a judge to have, or been indicted for lying in an official proceeding, Mueller seriously considered charging at least three other Trump associates with lying.”

The expansive redactions pertaining to WikiLeaks and Roger Stone

So aside from the grand jury redactions hiding how Trump Sr and Jr dodged testifying and the way Barr describes the declinations redactions, I think the redactions are generally pretty judicious. I’m less certain, though, about the redactions pertaining to Roger Stone, the bulk of which appear in Volume I pages 51 to 59, 188 to 191, 196 to 197. and Volume II, pages 17 to 18 and 128 to 130.

There are two reasons to redact this information: most importantly, to comply with the gag order imposed by Amy Berman Jackson that prohibits lawyers on either side from making statements that “pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice” to Stone’s case, or to hide information from Stone that he doesn’t otherwise know.

Except that we know he has already gotten the latter category of information in discovery. In a filing opposing Stone’s bid to get an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report, prosecutors noted that “disclosable information that may have been redacted from the public version of the Special Counsel’s report to the Attorney General is already being provided to the defendant in discovery.”

And it seems highly likely that some of the information in these redacted passages is stuff that would only prejudice Stone’s case by raising the import of it to Trump.

Consider, for starters, that (unless I’m mistaken) not a word from Stone’s indictment appears in this Report. For example, the descriptions of how Stone asked Jerome Corsi to ask Ted Malloch to find out what WikiLeaks had coming and a follow-up email reflecting knowledge that John Podesta would be targeted must be reflected on pages 55 and 56.

On or about July 25, 2016, STONE sent an email to Person 1 with the subject line, “Get to [the head of Organization 1].” The body of the message read, “Get to [the head of Organization 1] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [Organization 1] emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.” On or about the same day, Person 1 forwarded STONE’s email to an associate who lived in the United Kingdom and was a supporter of the Trump Campaign.

On or about July 31, 2016, STONE emailed Person 1 with the subject line, “Call me MON.” The body of the email read in part that Person 1’s associate in the United Kingdom “should see [the head of Organization 1].”

On or about August 2, 2016, Person 1 emailed STONE. Person 1 wrote that he was currently in Europe and planned to return in or around mid-August. Person 1 stated in part, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.” The phrase “friend in embassy” referred to the head of Organization 1. Person 1 added in the same email, “Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed wenemy if they are not ready to drop HRC. That appears to be the game hackers are now about. Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke – neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation debacle.”

Page 56 actually includes new proof that Stone and Corsi had confirmed that Podesta’s emails were coming. Malloch describes Corsi telling him about Podesta’s emails, not vice versa.

Malloch stated to investigators that beginnin in or about Au ust 2016, he and Corsi had multiple Face Time discussions about WikiLeaks [redacted] had made a connection to Assange and that the hacked emails of John Podesta would be released prior to Election Day and would be helpful to the Trump Campaign. In one conversation in or around August or September 2016, Corsi told Malloch that the release of the Podesta emails was coming, after which “we” were going to be in the driver’s seat.221

Likewise, the indictment makes it clear that Stone was talking to the campaign about WikiLeaks releases.

ROGER JASON STONE, JR. was a political consultant who worked for decades in U.S. politics and on U.S. political campaigns. STONE was an official on the U.S. presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) until in or around August 2015, and maintained regular contact with and publicly supported the Trump Campaign through the 2016 election.

During the summer of 2016, STONE spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. STONE was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1.

[snip]

By in or around June and July 2016, STONE informed senior Trump Campaign officials that he had information indicating Organization 1 had documents whose release would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. The head of Organization 1 was located at all relevant times at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.

We see outlines of precisely who those references are to in the report.

Most notably, after describing Trump’s enthusiasm after Stone told Trump while Michael Cohen was listening on the speaker phone that the DNC emails would drop in a few days just before they did (which Cohen described in his testimony to Oversight), these two paragraphs, appear to to describe Manafort and Trump’s enthusiasm after the DNC release, with Manafort telling both Stone directly and Gates that he wanted to be kept informed via Stone of what was coming. And having gotten some indication of what was coming, the campaign started making plans to optimize those releases. It appears that Gates, like Cohen before him, witnessed a Stone-Trump call where the rat-fucker told the candidate what was coming.

These pages also have more background about how important all this was to Trump, who was frustrated that Hillary’s deleted emails hadn’t been found (something also told, in Flynn’s voice, in the Peter Smith section).

The references to Stone in these passages may well be appropriately redacted. But the descriptions of conversations between Trump and Manafort or Gates should not impact Stone’s defense — unless you want to argue that Trump’s personal involvement in Stone’s rat-fucking might change the deliberations for a jury. They don’t serve to hide Stone’s actions. They hide Trump’s enthusiasm for using materials stolen by Russia to win.

This affects the “collusion” discussion

All of this has particular import given the basis on which Attorney General Bill Barr tried to exonerate the President for obstruction. In Barr’s 4-page summary of the report, Barr emphasized that Trump did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government, even going so far as to suggest that no Trump associate “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government on these efforts,” efforts which in context include, “publicly disseminat[ing hacked] materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks.”

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

[snip]

In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated” with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined “coordinated” as an “agreement–tacit or express–between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

[snip]

The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

Of course, that leaves off coordinating with WikiLeaks because WikiLeaks is not the Russian government, even while in context it would be included.

Similarly, in Barr’s “no collusion” press conference, he again emphasized that Trump’s people were not involved in the hacking. Then he made a remarkable rhetorical move [I’ve numbered the key sentences].

But again, the Special Counsel’s report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations.  In other words, there was no evidence of Trump campaign “collusion” with the Russian government’s hacking.

The Special Counsel’s investigation also examined Russian efforts to publish stolen emails and documents on the internet.  The Special Counsel found that, after the GRU disseminated some of the stolen materials through its own controlled entities, DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, the GRU transferred some of the stolen materials to Wikileaks for publication.  Wikileaks then made a series of document dumps.  [1] The Special Counsel also investigated whether any member or affiliate of the Trump campaign encouraged or otherwise played a role in these dissemination efforts.  [2] Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.  [3] Here too, the Special Counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials.

Given what we know to be in the report, those three sentences look like this:

  1. Mueller asked, did any Trump affiliate encourage or otherwise play a role in WikiLeaks’ dissemination?
  2. By the way, if a Trump affiliate had played a role in the dissemination it wouldn’t be illegal unless the Trump affiliate had also helped Russia do the hacking.
  3. After finding that a Trump affiliate had played a role in the dissemination, Mueller then determined that that role was not illegal.

Again, “collusion” is not a legal term. It describes coordination — legal or not — in sordid activities. What these three sentences would say, if Barr had been honest, is that Mueller did find coordination, but because Stone (via yet unidentified means) coordinated with WikiLeaks, not Russia itself, Mueller didn’t find that the coordination was illegal.

Note that even Bill Barr, who’s a pretty shameless hack, still qualified the “no collusion” judgment on which he presents his obstruction analysis as pertaining to Russia.

After finding no underlying collusion with Russia, the Special Counsel’s report goes on to consider whether certain actions of the President could amount to obstruction of the Special Counsel’s investigation.  As I addressed in my March 24th letter, the Special Counsel did not make a traditional prosecutorial judgment regarding this allegation.  Instead, the report recounts ten episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.

After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers, the Deputy Attorney General and I concluded that the evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

Barr bases his obstruction analysis on “collusion,” not conspiracy. But his 1-2-3 gimmick above lays out that non-criminal “collusion” did happen, only that it happened with WikiLeaks.

For his part, Mueller points to those same passages that get redacted in the first discussion in his background discussion for the obstruction volume.

Importantly, the redaction in this footnote makes it clear that the campaign was relying on what they were learning from Stone to plan their communication strategy for upcoming releases.

Remember, in his charging decisions on campaign finance, Mueller didn’t actually say no crime had been committed. He said the evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction.

The Office similarly determined that the contacts between Campaign officials and Russia-linked individuals either did not involve the commission of a federal crime or, in the case of campaign-finance offenses, that our evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction.

There are multiple places where the report makes it clear that, in addition to the June 9 meeting, the campaign finance crimes reviewed included the WikiLeaks releases, including the Table of Contents.

Indeed, the paragraph describing why Trump may have wanted to fire Jim Comey focuses closely on the campaign’s response to the WikiLeaks releases.

In addition, the President had a motive to put the FBI’s Russia investigation behind him. The evidence does not establish that the termination of Comey was designed to cover up a conspiracy between the Trump Campaign and Russia: As described in Volume I, the evidence uncovered in the investigation did not establish that the President or those close to him were involved in the charged Russian computer-hacking or active-measure conspiracies, or that the President otherwise had an unlawful relationship with any Russian official. But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns. Although the President publicly stated during and after the election that he had no connection to Russia, the Trump Organization, through Michael Cohen, was pursuing the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project through June 2016 and candidate Trump was repeatedly briefed on the progress of those efforts.498 In addition, some witnesses said that Trump was aware that [redacted] at a time when public reports stated that Russian intelligence officials were behind the hacks, and that Trump privately sought information about future WikiLeaks releases.499 More broadly, multiple witnesses described the President’s preoccupation with press coverage of the Russia investigation and his persistent concern that it raised questions about the legitimacy of his election.500 [my emphasis]

And a more general discussion of Trump’s motives later in the obstruction discussion raises it — and the possibility that it would be judged to be criminal — explicitly.

In this investigation, the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. But the evidence does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the President’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events–such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’s release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians–could be seen as criminal activity by the President, his campaign, or his family. [my emphasis]

The most damning revelations about the President’s own actions during the campaign in this report pertain to his exploitation of the WikiLeaks releases. They go directly to the question of criminal liability (which Mueller says he couldn’t charge for evidentiary reasons, not because he didn’t think it was a crime), and if you want to talk “collusion” as opposed to “conspiracy” — as the President does — it goes to “collusion.”

And in the guise of protecting Roger Stone’s right to a fair trial — and possibly with an eye towards preserving the President’s ability to pardon Stone before a trial reveals even more of these details — DOJ used a heavy hand on the redactions pertaining to Trump’s own personal involvement in exploiting the benefit his campaign received from WikiLeaks releasing emails that Russia stole from Hillary. These details are the bulk of what DOJ is hiding by offering just a small number of members of Congress to review the less-redacted version of the report.

Perhaps Mueller agreed with all these redactions; it’s a question I hope he gets asked when he finally testifies. But the redactions serve to hide what was clearly a close call on prosecution and one of the most damning explanations for Trump’s obstruction, an explanation that involved his own actions on the campaign.

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. 

The Scope and Results of the Mueller Report

There’s a Twitter account, TrumpHop, that tweets out Donald Trump’s tweets from years earlier, which is a really disorienting way to remind yourself how crazy he’s been since he’s been on Twitter. This morning, it recalled that two years ago today, Trump was inventing excuses for having shared highly classified Israeli intelligence at the same meeting where he boasted to Sergei Lavrov that he fired Jim Comey a week earlier because of the Russian investigation.

Two years ago, Rod Rosenstein — the same guy who stood, mostly stoically, as a prop for Bill Barr’s deceitful press conference spinning the Mueller Report one last time before releasing it — was in a panic, trying to decide what to do about a President who had fired the FBI Director to end an investigation into what might be real counterintelligence compromise on his part by a hostile foreign country and then went on to share intelligence with that same hostile foreign country. Tomorrow is the two year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment.

As I noted days after the Mueller Report was released, it is utterly silent on that sharing of information and two of the other most alarming incidents between Trump and Russia (though that may be for sound constitutional, rather than scope reasons) — Trump’s conversation with Putin about the subject of his own June 9 false statement even as he was drafting that statement, and the Helsinki meeting. That said, it cannot be true that Mueller didn’t consider those counterintelligence issues, because his treatment of Mike Flynn would have been far different if he didn’t have good reason to be sure — even if he deliberately obscures the reasons why he’s sure in the report — that Flynn, at the time under active counterintelligence investigation for his suspect ties to Russia, wasn’t entirely freelancing when he undermined US policy to offer sanctions considerations to Russia on December 29, 2016.

Nevertheless, a rising cry of people are suggesting that because we weren’t told the results of the counterintelligence investigation (whether it included the President or, because of constitutional reasons, did not), Mueller did not conduct a counterintelligence investigation. He (and, especially, FBI Agents working alongside him) did. Here’s what the report says, specifically, about the FBI writing up CI and Foreign Intelligence reports to share with the rest of FBI.

From its inception, the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission. FBI personnel who assisted the Office established procedures to identify and convey such information to the FBI. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division met with the Office regularly for that purpose for most of the Office’s tenure. For more than the past year, the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send-in writing-summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices. Those communications and other correspondence between the Office and the FBI contain information derived from the investigation, not all of which is contained in this Volume. This Volume is a summary. It contains, in the Office’s judgment, that information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results.

Mueller didn’t report on it, as he states explicitly, because that’s outside the scope of what he was required and permitted to report under the regulations governing his appointment, which call for a prosecutions and declinations report.

That’s just one of the misconceptions of the scope, intent, and results of the Mueller Report that persists (and not just among the denialist crowd), almost a month after its release.

The Mueller Report does not purport to tell us what happened — that would be a violation of the regulations establishing the Special Counsel. It only describes the prosecutorial and declination decisions. The scope of those decisions includes:

  • Who criminally conspired in two Russian election interference efforts (just one American was charged, but he did not know he was helping Russians troll the US)
  • Whether Trump’s associates were agents of a foreign power in violation of FARA or 18 USC 951, including whether they were agents of Ukraine (as Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were before the election), Israel (as lots of evidence suggested George Papadopoulos might have been), Turkey (as Mike Flynn admitted he had been during and for a short while after the election), as well as Russia
  • Whether Trump’s associates conspired with Russia in some way; Mueller’s review included a quid pro quo, but his prosecutorial decisions did not include things unrelated to Russia’s election interference (which might, for example, include pure graft, including during the Transition period or related to the inauguration)
  • Which of Trump’s associates got charged with lying (Flynn, Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone), were ruled by a judge to have lied (Paul Manafort), and which lied but were not charged (at least three others, including KT McFarland) in an effort to obstruct the investigation
  • Whether accepting a meeting offering dirt as part of the Russian government’s assistance to Trump or optimizing WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by Russia to help Trump’s campaign amount to accepting illegal donations from foreigners
  • Whether Trump’s numerous efforts to undermine the investigation amount to obstruction

Two facts necessarily follow from Mueller’s limit in his report to prosecutorial decisions rather than describing what happened, both of which are explained on page 2 of the report (though even the Attorney General, to say nothing of the denialist crowd, appears not to have read that far). First, Mueller did not weigh whether Trump “colluded” with Russia, because that’s not a crime that could be prosecuted or declined.

In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of “collusion.” In so doing, the Office recognized that the word “collud[e]” was used in communications with the Acting Attorney General confirming certain aspects of the investigation’s scope and that the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation. But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.

Because “collusion” is not a crime, Mueller could not weigh in one way or another without being in violation of the regulations underlying his appointment. Mind you, Bill Barr could have changed these reporting requirements if he wanted and asked Mueller to comment on “collusion.” He did not.

In addition, Mueller’s measure was always whether his investigation “established” one or another crime. But stating that he did not establish a crime is not the same as saying there was no evidence of that crime.

A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.

Mueller describes in very general way that he didn’t get all the information he’d have liked to weigh whether or not conspiracy was committed.

The investigation did not always yield admissible information or testimony, or a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and were not, in the Office’s judgment, appropriate candidates for grants of immunity. The Office limited its pursuit of other witnesses and information–such as information known to attorneys or individuals claiming to be members of the media–in light of internal Department of Justice policies. See, e.g. , Justice Manual §§ 9-13.400, 13.410. Some of the information obtained via court process, moreover, was presumptively covered by legal privilege and was screened from investigators by a filter (or “taint”) team. Even when individuals testified or agreed to be interviewed, they sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete, leading to some of the false-statements charges described above. And the Office faced practical limits on its ability to access relevant evidence as well-numerous witnesses and subjects lived abroad, and documents were held outside the United States.

Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated–including some associated with the Trump Campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.

More specifically, we know this language covers at least the following limits on the investigation:

  • Encryption or evidence destruction prevented Mueller from clarifying details of the handoff to WikiLeaks, Gates’ sharing (on Manafort’s orders) of polling data with Russia, Manafort’s communications with various people, and Erik Prince and Steve Bannon’s communications about the Seychelles meeting with Kirill Dmitriev
  • Mueller did not pursue the role of Trump and other associates’ lawyers’ substantial, known role in obstruction
  • Mueller likely did not pursue an interview with Julian Assange (and other media figures), because that would violate US Attorney Handbook warnings against compelling the sharing of journalism work product to investigate a crime related to that work product
  • Some foreigners avoided cooperating with the investigation by staying out of the country; Emin Agalarov canceled an entire US tour to avoid testifying about what kind of dirt he offered Don Jr
  • Both Donald Trumps refused to be interviewed
  • President Trump refused to answer all questions pertaining to his actions after inauguration, all but one question about the Transition, and all questions about sanctions; his other answers were largely contemptuous and in a number of cases conflict with his own public statements or the testimony of his associates

Finally a more subtle point about the results, which will set up my next post. Mueller clearly states that he did not establish a conspiracy between Trump’s people and the Russian government on election interference. By definition, that excludes whatever coordination Roger Stone had with WikiLeaks (and even with the extensive redactions, it’s clear Mueller had real First Amendment concerns with charging that coordination). But whereas Mueller said that the contacts between Trump’s associates and Russians did not amount to a crime, he suggested that the two campaign finance issues he explored — the June 9 meeting and the release of stolen emails — were crimes but not ones he could sustain a conviction for.

The Office similarly determined that the contacts between Campaign officials and Russia-linked individuals either did not involve the commission of a federal crime or, in the case of campaign-finance offenses, that our evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction.

The gaps in evidence that Mueller was able to collect strongly impact this last judgment: as he laid out, he needed to know what Don Jr understood when he accepted the June 9 meeting, and without interviewing either Emin Agalarov and/or Jr, he couldn’t get at Jr’s understanding of the dirt offered.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, it is absolutely false to claim –as Attorney General Barr did — that Mueller’s report says there was no underlying crime to cover up with Trump’s obstruction. Mueller specifically mentions SDNY’s prosecution of Trump’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, a crime which was charged, and which was one of the explicit purposes behind the raid on Cohen’s home and office. And as such, that crime is pertinent to the pardon dangle for Cohen.

In January 2018, the media reported that Cohen had arranged a $130,000 payment during the campaign to prevent a woman from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter she had with the President before he ran for office.1007 This Office did not investigate Cohen’s campaign period payments to women. 1008 However, those events, as described here, are potentially relevant to the President’s and his personal counsel’s interactions with Cohen as a witness who later began to cooperate with the government.

But with regards to the Russian-related campaign finance investigation, Mueller describes that Trump may have believed those would be criminal.

[T]he evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns.

The distinction about whether a crime was committed versus whether it was charged may be subtle. But it is an important one for the obstruction investigation. And as I’ll show, that may have interesting repercussions going forward.

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. 

Why Didn’t Mueller Hold Counterintelligence Suspect Mike Flynn Responsible for Sanctions Call?

There’s a problem with the way the Mueller Report describes events pertaining to Mike Flynn.

It describes how someone under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia and already on thin ice with the President-Elect got on the phone and, through the Russian Ambassador, persuaded Vladimir Putin to hold off on retaliating for US sanctions. It describes how Flynn avoided leaving a paper trail of that call. Ultimately, the report remains inconclusive about whether Flynn made that call on his own initiative — which would seem to bolster the case he had suspect loyalties with the Russians — or at the direction of the President — in which case his actions would be appropriate from a constitutional standpoint (because this is the kind of thing the President can choose to do), but not a legal one (because he was purposely hiding it from the Obama Administration). One or the other would seem to be a necessary conclusion, but the Mueller Report reaches neither one.

In part, that’s because both Flynn and KT McFarland seem to have protected President Trump’s plausible deniability even after both got caught lying about these events. But it also appears that Mueller is more certain about the answer than he lets on in the public report.

This is the subject that, in my post noting that the Mueller Report has huge gaps precisely where the most acute counterintelligence concerns about Trump’s relationship with Putin are, I suggested created a logical problem for the report as a whole.

If it is the case that Flynn did what he did on Trump’s orders — which seems the only possible conclusion given Mueller’s favorable treatment of Flynn — then it changes the meaning of all of Trump’s actions with regard to the Russian investigation, but also suggests that that conclusion remains a counterintelligence one, not a criminal one.

Mike Flynn was under active counterintelligence investigation but he’s not an Agent of Russia

According to the Mueller Report, the first Rosenstein memo laying out the detailed scope of the investigation, dated August 2, 2017, included “four sets of allegations involving Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump.” Two of those four must be his unregistered sleazy influence peddling for Turkey (which he got to plead off of as part of his plea agreement) and the Peter Smith operation to obtain Hillary’s deleted emails (about which his testimony is reflected in the Mueller Report).

Then there’s the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn. We’ve known that the FBI had a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn since before HPSCI released its Russian Report, and a later release of that report described that the investigation was still active when the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017.

A key focus of that investigation —  one reflected in Flynn’s January 24, 2017 302 — was his paid attendance at a December 10, 2015 RT event in Moscow in December 2015, where he sat with Putin. The Mueller Report makes just one reference to that event, and only as a way of describing the public reporting on Trump flunkies’ ties to Russia during the campaign.

Beginning in February 2016 and continuing through the summer, the media reported that several Trump campaign advisors appeared to have ties to Russia. For example, the press reported that campaign advisor Michael Flynn was seated next to Vladimir Putin at an RT gala in Moscow in December 2015 and that Flynn had appeared regularly on RT as an analyst.15

15 See, e.g., Mark Hosenball & Steve Holland, Trump being advised by ex-US. Lieutenant General who favors closer Russia ties, Reuters (Feb. 26, 2016); Tom Hamburger et al., Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin, Washington Post (June 17, 2016). Certain matters pertaining to Flynn are described in Volume I, Section TV.B.7, supra.

However, in addition to that trip, the FBI must have been scrutinizing earlier Kislyak contacts that don’t show up in the Report at all:

  • A meeting on December 2, 2015 (described in the HPSCI report) that Kislyak that Flynn and his failson attended in advance of the RT trip at the Russian Embassy
  • A call to Kislyak sometime after GRU head Igor Sergun’s death in Lebanon on January 6, 2016; in his interview with the FBI; Flynn said he called to offer condolences, though he used that excuse for other calls that involved substantive policy discussions; he also claimed, not entirely credibly, not to be associated with the Trump campaign yet
  • Other conversations during the campaign that Flynn revealed to friends that otherwise don’t show up in public documents

In one of the only (unredacted) references to the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, the Mueller Report describes that Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key focus of that investigation.

Previously, the FBI had opened an investigation of Flynn based on his relationship with the Russian government.105 Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key component of that investigation.10

But that passage doesn’t reveal the scope of those contacts and, in spite of detailed analysis of other people’s contacts with Kislyak (including an invite to JD Gordan to his residence that appears similar to the December 2015 one Kislyak extended to Flynn and his son), the Report doesn’t mention those earlier contacts.

Perhaps far more interesting, in the report’s analysis of whether any Trump aide was an agent of Russia, it does not include Flynn in the paragraph explaining why Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page were not charged as such. Instead, his foreign influence peddling is treated in a separate paragraph discussing just Turkey.

In addition, the investigation produced evidence of FARA violations involving Michael Flynn. Those potential violations, however, concerned a country other than Russia (i.e., Turkey) and were resolved when Flynn admitted to the underlying facts in the Statement of Offense that accompanied his guilty plea to a false-statements charge. Statement of Offense, United States v. Michael T Flynn, No. l:17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017), Doc. 4 (“Flynn Statement of Offense”). 1281

The footnote to that paragraph, which given the admission elsewhere that a separate counterintelligence investigation into Flynn focused on Russia, likely deals with Russia, is entirely redacted for Harm to Ongoing Matters reasons.

While we can’t be sure (hell, we can’t even be totally sure this does relate to Russia!), this seems to suggest that the investigation into Russian efforts to cultivate Flynn is ongoing, but he has been absolved of any responsibility for — as an intelligence officer with 30 years of counterintelligence training — nevertheless falling prey to such efforts.

All of which is to say that, along with the descriptions of Trump’s most alarming interactions with Russians including Vladimir Putin, many of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak and other Russians (including not just Putin but the guy who headed GRU until just before the election hacking started in earnest in January 2016) appear to be treated as counterintelligence information not suitable for public sharing.

The Mueller Report deliberately obscures key details of the timeline on the sanctions call

That’s important to note, because the counterintelligence conclusion on Flynn has to be utterly central to the analysis of Trump’s attempt to obstruct the investigation into Flynn.

The two discussions in the Mueller Report (Volume I pages 168 to 173 and Volume II pages 24 to 48) of Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Sergey Kislyak are totally unsatisfying, probably in part because two key witnesses (Flynn and KT McFarland, and possibly others including Steve Bannon) lied when the FBI first interviewed them about the calls; they had also created a deliberately misleading paper trail for the events.

In both places, the Report provides times for some events on December 29, but obscures the most critical part of the timeline. I’ve put the Volume I language at the end of this post. It provides the following timeline for December 29, 2016:

1:53PM: McFarland and other Transition Team members and advisors (including Flynn, via email) discuss sanctions.

2:07PM: [Transition Team Member] Flaherty, an aide to McFarland, texts Flynn a link to a NYT article about the sanctions.

2:29PM: McFarland calls Flynn, but they don’t talk.

Shortly after 2:29PM: McFarland and Bannon discuss sanctions; according to McFarland’s clean-up interview, she may have told Bannon that Flynn would speak to Kislyak that night.

3:14PM: Flynn texts Flaherty and asks “time for a call??,” meaning McFarland. Flaherty responds that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert. Flynn informs Flaherty in writing that he had a call with Kislyak coming up, using the language, “tit for tat,” that McFarland used on emails with others and that Flynn himself would use with Kislyak later that day.

Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.

Sometime in here but the Report doesn’t tell us precisely when: Flynn talks to Michael Ledeen, KT McFarland, and then Kislyak. [my emphasis]

4:43PM: McFarland emails other transition team members saying that,  “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.”

Before 5:45PM: McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and others on the sanctions. McFarland remembers that someone at the briefing may have mentioned the upcoming Kislyak call.

After the briefing: McFarland and Flynn speak by phone. Flynn tells McFarland, “that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration,” and McFarland tells Flynn about the briefing with Trump.

The next day, December 30, 2016 — after Putin announced they would not retaliate to Obama’s sanctions — Flynn sent a text message to McFarland that very deliberately did not reflect the true content of his communication with Kislyak, reportedly because he wanted to hide that from the Obama Administration (the Trump team had falsely told Obama they would not fuck with their existing policy initiatives).

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

On December 31, after Kislyak called again to tell Flynn that Putin had decided not to retaliate because of the Trump Administration request not to, he and McFarland communicated again about their attempts to convince Russia not to respond to sanctions. Flynn spoke with others that day but “does not recall” whether they discussed the sanctions, though he remembers (but Bannon does not) that Bannon seemed to know about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak.

The narrative for the same events in the obstruction section has less detail, but infuriatingly, similarly manages to leave out all the details (in bold above) about when Flynn spoke to McFarland and when he called Kisylak.

The thing is, Mueller knows precisely when those Flynn calls happened. The Volume I version of events make it clear they have the call records of Flynn, Michael Ledeen, and McFarland that would provide a precise timeline.

They just refuse to provide those times and the times of key emails, which would add to the clarity about whether Trump learned of Flynn’s plans before he contacted Kislyak.

In the “Intent” discussion regarding obstruction, however, the report suggests that the Trump briefing, where sanctions did come up, preceded the first Flynn call to Kislyak (even though the timeline here suggests it did not).

In advance of Flynn’s initial call with Kislyak, the President attended a meeting where the sanctions were discussed and an advisor may have mentioned that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak.

That’s particularly interesting given that the Volume II discussion of events describes how, after Trump fired Flynn, he also fired KT McFarland but offered her a position as Ambassador to Singapore. There’s very little discussion of the explanation for her firing, but they do describe how Trump tried to make McFarland write a memo — very similar to the false one he tried to make Don McGahn write denying that Trump had ordered him to have Rod Rosenstein removed — denying that he had any role in Flynn’s discussion with Kislyak about sanctions. McFarland did not write the memo, as she explained in a Memo for the Record, because she did not know whether Trump had spoken with Flynn or with Russia directly.

The next day, the President asked Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email that would confirm that the President did not direct Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador about sanctions.253 Priebus said he told the President he would only direct McFarland to write such a letter if she were comfortable with it.254 Priebus called McFarland into his office to convey the President’s request that she memorialize in writing that the President did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak.255 McFarland told Priebus she did not know whether the President had directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions, and she declined to say yes or no to the request.256

256 KTMF _00000047 (McFarland 2/26/ 17 Memorandum_ for the Record) (“I said I did not know whether he did or didn’t, but was in Maralago the week between Christmas and New Year’s (while Flynn was on vacation in Carribean) and I was not aware of any Flynn-Trump, or Trump-Russian phone calls”); McFarland 12/22/ 17 302, at 17.

Again, at a minimum, Mueller knows if Trump called Flynn, and may know if Trump called Kislyak or — more likely — Putin. But he’s not telling.

Trump was already pissy with Flynn, so why didn’t he blame him for the sanctions calls?

There’s one more contradictory detail about Trump’s behavior in this narrative.

According to enough witnesses to make it a reliable claim, Trump had already soured on Flynn in December 2016, before all this blew up (but not before Obama warned Trump and Elijah Cummings warned Mike Pence about Flynn’s suspect loyalties).

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10

As I’ve noted before, Trump made the same complaint to Jim Comey in their “loyalty demand” dinner on January 27, 2017 — but he did so in the context of Flynn not informing him that Vladimir Putin had beaten Theresa May to congratulating him about his inauguration.

All these details — including that Flynn publicly informed Trump of Putin’s call — should make Flynn a bigger counterintelligence concern, not one that could be dismissed more easily than Page and Manafort and Papadopoulos.

Unless Mueller had more certainty that Trump was in the loop of these sanctions discussions — either through Flynn or directly with Putin — than he lets on in the public report.

Mike Flynn’s Interviews with Prosecutors

To sum up, Mueller knows that someone already under investigation for his suspect calls to Russia and Sergey Kislyak got on the phone with Kislyak and undercut the Obama Administration’s attempt to punish Russia for its election interference. Flynn deliberately created a false record of that call, then lied about it when it became public the following month, and continued to lie about it when the FBI asked him about it.Trump allegedly got pissy that Flynn’s counterintelligence exposure had already been raised by Obama, but also got pissy that Flynn wasn’t being obsequious enough to Putin. But, when this all began to blow up in the press, rather than firing Flynn right away for being a counterintelligence problem — the outcome Sally Yates clearly expected would be the no-brainer result — Trump instead repeatedly tried to protect Flynn.

Which is why the likelihood that a key part of Flynn’s cooperation, that relating to the counterintelligence side of the equation, is so interesting.

As I noted when the addendum showing Flynn’s cooperation came out, it likely broke into the Turkish influence peddling [A], two (or maybe three?) topics relating to Trump [B], as well as more classified part of the investigation conducted under Mueller [C].

A Criminal Investigation:

11+ line paragraph

6.5 line paragraph

2 line paragraph

B Mueller investigation:

Introductory paragraph (9 lines)

i) Interactions between Transition Team and Russia (12 lines, just one or two sentences redacted)

ii) Topic two

10 line paragraph

9 line paragraph

C Entirely redacted investigation:

4.5 line paragraph

The footnotes from the Mueller Report describing what Flynn told prosecutors when seems to reinforce this.

  1. November 16, 2017: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call
  2. November 17, 2017: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you”
  3. November 19, 2017: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump
  4. November 20, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius
  5. November 21, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump
  6. November 29, 2017: Peter Smith
  7. January 11, 2018: November 30 meeting with Kislyak
  8. January 19, 2018: Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017
  9. April 25, 2018: Peter Smith
  10. May 1, 2018: Peter Smith
  11. September 26, 2018: Proffer response on meetings with Foresman

We know from court filings that Flynn had 19 interviews with prosecutors, of which four pertain to his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey. Here’s what that seems to suggest about his interviews (assuming, probably incorrectly, that they didn’t cover multiple topics at once):

  • Turkish influence peddling: 4 interviews, unknown dates
  • Transition events, 7 interviews: 11/16/17, 11/17/17, 11/19/17, 11/20/17, 11/21/17, 1/11/18, 1/19/18
  • Peter Smith, 3 interviews: 11/29/17, 4/25/18, 5/1/18
  • Counterintelligence: Remaining 5 interviews???, unknown dates

It’s possible, however, there’s a third “links” topic pertaining to Transition era graft, which for scope reasons would not appear in the Mueller Report.

The possibility that Flynn may have had five interviews dedicated to a counterintelligence investigation that implicated Trump would make this Brian Ross story far more interesting. As the Report lays out, when hints that Flynn flipped first came out on November 22, 2017, one of Trump’s lawyers (probably John Dowd) left a voice mail message (!!!) with one of Flynn’s lawyers (probably Rob Kelner). He specifically wanted a heads up about anything that “implicates the President” which would create a “national security issue.”

I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. . . . [I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with … the government. … [I]f . .. there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, . . . so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests ifwe can …. [R]emember what we’ve always said about the ‘ President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains ….

The following day, Trump’s lawyer told Flynn’s that cooperating would reflect hostility to the President.

A week later, once the plea was official on December 1, Flynn had the following leaked to ABC.

During the campaign, Trump asked Flynn to be one of a small group of close advisors charged with improving relations in Russia and other hot spots. The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

[snip]

“Flynn is very angry,” the confidant told ABC News Friday. “He will cooperate truthfully on any question they ask him.” [my emphasis]

Only, originally, the story read that Trump asked Flynn to reach out to Russia before the election. The story is often cited as one of the big gaffes of the Russian investigation, but Mother Jones has since corroborated the pre-election timeline with two Flynn associates.

For some reason, Mueller did not hold Mike Flynn responsible for — at a time when he was under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia — undercutting the official policy of the US on punishing Russia for its election year attack. I wonder whether the content of up to five counterintelligence interviews with Flynn may explain why.

As they are elsewhere, the Washington Post is trying to liberate the filings about Flynn’s cooperation that would explain all this. On Thursday, Emmet Sullivan — the same judge who, after seeing all the sealed filings in Flynn’s case, used some really inflammatory language about Flynn’s loyalty — set a briefing schedule for that effort. Then, acting on his own on Friday, Sullivan scheduled a hearing for June 24 (after the next status report in Flynn’s case but before he would be sentenced) to discuss liberating those filings.

So maybe we’ll find out from the WaPo’s efforts to liberate those documents.

Timeline of known Flynn investigation

November 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump that Mike Flynn’s name kept surfacing in concerns about Russia.

November 18, 2016: Trump names Flynn National Security Adviser.

November 18, 2016: Elijah Cummings warns Mike Pence of Flynn’s Turkish lobbying.

Shortly after inauguration: On “first” call with Kislyak, Flynn responds to Ambassador’s invitation to Russian Embassy that, “You keep telling me that,” alerting others to previous contacts between them.

January 24, 2017: In interview with FBI, Flynn lies about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak.

January 26 and 27, 2017: Sally Yates warns the White House about Flynn’s lies.

February 2, 2017: WHCO lawyer John Eisenberg reviews materials on Flynn’s interview.

February 13, 2017: Flynn fired.

July 19, 2017: Peter Strzok interviewed, in part, about Flynn interview, presumably as part of obstruction investigation.

November 16, 2017: Interview covers: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call.

November 17, 2017: Interview covers: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you.”

November 19, 2017: Interview covers: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump.

November 20, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius.

November 21, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump.

November 22, 2017: Flynn withdraws from Joint Defense Agreement; Trump’s lawyer leaves a message for Flynn’s lawyer stating, in part, “if… there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security
issue,…so, you know,…we need some kind of heads up.”

November 23, 2017: Flynn’s attorney returns Trump’s attorney’s call, the latter says cooperation would reflect hostility to the President.

November 29, 2017: Interview covers Peter Smith.

December 1, 2017: Flynn pleads guilty, has story leaked to Brian Ross that his cooperation covers Trump’s orders that he take “serve as point person on Russia,” originally stating that the order preceded the election; the story is corrected to say the order comes ” shortly after the election.” Two Flynn associates subsequently told Mother Jones the contacts did start before the election.

January 11, 2018: Interview covers November 30 meeting with Kislyak.

January 19, 2018: Interview covers Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017.

April 25, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

May 1, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

September 17, 2018: Status report asking for sentencing.

September 26, 2018: Flynn’s attorney offers proffer response on meetings with Bob Foresman.

December 18, 2018: After Judge Emmet Sullivan invokes treason and selling out his country, Flynn delays sentencing.


The Volume I Narrative about December 29, 2016

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

The sanctions were announced publicly on December 29, 2016. 1231 At 1 :53 p.m. that day, McFarland began exchanging emails with multiple Transition Team members and advisors about the impact the sanctions would have on the incoming Administration. 1232 At 2:07 p.m., a Transition Team member texted Flynn a link to a New York Times article about the sanctions. 1233 At 2:29 p.m., McFarland called Flynn, but they did not talk. 1234 Shortly thereafter, McFarland and Bannon discussed the sanctions. 1235 According to McFarland, Bannon remarked that the sanctions would hurt their ability to have good relations with Russia, and that Russian escalation would make things more difficult. 1236 McFarland believed she told Bannon that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak later that night. 1237 McFarland also believed she may have discussed the sanctions with Priebus, and likewise told him that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak that night. 1238 At 3: 14 p.m., Flynn texted a Transition Team member who was assisting McFarland, “Time for a call???”1239 The Transition Team member responded that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert, a Transition Team senior official, to which Flynn responded, “Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.” 1240

Flynn recalled that he chose not to communicate with Kislyak about the sanctions until he had heard from the team at Mar-a-Lago.1241 He first spoke with Michael Ledeen, 1242 a Transition Team member who advised on foreign policy and national security matters, for 20 minutes. 1243 Flynn then spoke with McFarland for almost 20 minutes to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to Kislyak about the sanctions. 1244 On that call, McFarland and Flynn discussed the sanctions, including their potential impact on the incoming Trump Administration’s foreign policy goals. 1245 McFarland and Flynn also discussed that Transition Team members in Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation. 1246 They both understood that Flynn would relay a message to Kislyak in hopes of making sure the situation would not get out of hand.1247

Immediately after speaking with McFarland, Flynn called and spoke with Kislyak. 1248 Flynn discussed multiple topics with Kislyak, including the sanctions, scheduling a video teleconference between President-Elect Trump and Putin, an upcoming terrorism conference, and Russia’s views about the Middle East. 1249 With respect to the sanctions, Flynn requested that Russia not escalate the situation, not get into a “tit for tat,” and only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner.1250

Multiple Transition Team members were aware that Flynn was speaking with Kislyak that day. In addition to her conversations with Bannon and Reince Priebus, at 4:43 p.m., McFarland sent an email to Transition Team members about the sanctions, informing the group that “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.” 1251 Less than an hour later, McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump. Bannon, Priebus, Sean Spicer, and other Transition Team members were present. 1252 During the briefing, President-Elect Trump asked McFarland if the Russians did “it,” meaning the intrusions intended to influence the presidential election. 1253 McFarland said yes, and President-Elect Trump expressed doubt that it was the Russians.1254 McFarland also discussed potential Russian responses to the sanctions, and said Russia’s response would be an indicator of what the Russians wanted going forward. 1255 President-Elect Trump opined that the sanctions provided him with leverage to use with the Russians. 1256 McFarland recalled that at the end of the meeting, someone may have mentioned to President-Elect Trump that Flynn was speaking to the Russian ambassador that evening. 1257

After the briefing, Flynn and McFarland spoke over the phone. 1258 Flynn reported on the substance of his call with Kislyak, including their discussion of the sanctions. 1259 According to McFarland, Flynn mentioned that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration.1260 McFarland also gave Flynn a summary of her recent briefing with President-Elect Trump. 1261

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. 

One Man’s Declination Decision Is Another Man’s Criminal Suspect Failson

One thing Robert Mueller’s March 27 letter to Attorney General William Barr reveals — in addition to the fact that Mueller is as pissed as he has ever been in his career — is that the two men think very differently about the redactions in the now released report. DOJ has always said it redacted information for four reasons:

  • Grand jury material
  • Ongoing investigations
  • Investigative techniques (sources and methods)
  • Peripheral privacy

It was always clear the last category was — as described — abusively applied. That’s because a number of knowable PP details involve people who are not peripheral at all. For example, I suggested that the redacted description of someone who committed perjury on page 194 might be Carter Page (one other possibility, given the discrepancies between George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis’ testimony, is the latter figure). One of the people whose lies are detailed on page 199 must be KT McFarland, who managed to correct the lies she told when first interviewed by the FBI in the wake of Mike Flynn’s plea deal.

But the most obvious example of this comes in the scope paragraph on page 12:

While the first redaction is uncertain, the second redaction of the expanded scope — which came after the investigation started focusing on the June 9 meeting — has to be Don Jr given the spacing on the second line, which can only be a suffix.

KT McFarland is not a peripheral figure by any shade. But the President’s son is the definition of a central player. And yet Bill Barr would have you believe that redaction is some coffee boy hired on a whim.

And the thing is, these redactions are hiding not just innocent bystanders. Don Jr is someone whom Mueller believed broke the law — at least on campaign finance and maybe on CFAA when he accessed a non-public site using a password obtained from WikiLeaks (I had thought the redaction on page 179 was of some script kiddies investigated in Philadelphia, but now that I realize these PP redactions are not of peripheral people at all, I’m reconsidering) — but who couldn’t or shouldn’t be charged.

Compare his treatment with that of Jeff Sessions’ forgetfulness about meeting with Sergey Kislyak, which the report presents as a complete exoneration. The discussion of that exoneration is unredacted in both the investigative scope on page 12 and declinations section (197-198).

Mueller in his letter makes it clear he doesn’t consider that PP category peripheral people. Rather, he treats it as a declination decision.

I previously sent you a letter dated March 25, 2019, that enclosed the introduction and executive summary for each volume of the Special Counsel’s report marked with redactions to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case. [my emphasis]

The appropriateness of the redaction may be the same in both cases: clearly Mueller believes those not charged, even if it was a close call, should not be identified (with the notable exception of Jeff Sessions).

But Mueller is not pretending these are peripheral figures. The Attorney General is hiding the seriousness of potential criminal acts by at least five Trump flunkies — including Trump’s failson — by pretending these people are peripheral figures rather than central figures that, for whatever reason, the Special Counsel decided not to charge.

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. 

Rod Rosenstein’s Unfortunate Vocabulary: Defining a Criminal Investigation by “Links” and “Collusion”

Rod Rosenstein is the very unlikely hero of the Mueller investigation. “Rod is a survivor,” Jim Comey said after getting fired. “And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises.”

Yet here we are, 22 months after he appointed Robert Mueller to investigate an investigation Trump tried to kill by firing Comey, awaiting the results of that investigation.

At times, I think Rosenstein didn’t imagine (and doesn’t now acknowledge) the damage his bend-don’t-break has done along the way. While based off the very sound precedent that existed until Comey’s declination speech about Hillary, it seems ridiculous for him to claim that the full results of the Mueller investigation can’t be shared with Congress, as he’s now claiming, given how he has provided unprecedented disclosure to Congress about the investigation already, including the first ever unsealed probable cause FISA application.

It will take some years to measure whether Rosenstein chose the best or perhaps only the least worst approach to the last several years.

But there’s one thing he did that really makes me uncomfortable, today, as we all await the results of the Mueller report: his mandate to Mueller.

As has been noted countless times in the last 22 months, Rosenstein asked Mueller to investigate:

    • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
    • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation;
    • any other matters with the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
  • if the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.

We actually know the answer to the first bullet, in part: As I laid out here, during five key interactions pertaining to the question of a possible conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia, there was direct contact between someone the government has deemed an agent of Russia and the Trump campaign:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

That Peskov’s assistant (and whatever representative from Putin’s office that called Felix Sater the next day), Sergey Kislyak, and Kirill Dmitriev are agents of Russia is clear. With the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya in December, the government deemed her to be working as an agent of Russia during the same time period she pitched sanctions relief to Trump’s campaign. And while the government hasn’t proven it beyond quoting Rick Gates acknowledging he knew of Konstantin Kilimnik’s past with the GRU and FBI’s belief that he continues to have ties, the government certainly maintains that Kilimnik does have ties to Russian intelligence.

Those are links. It’d be useful to have an official report on them. But since Mueller hasn’t charged them as a conspiracy, we may only learn what we’ve seen in plea agreements or official testimony to Congress.

Likewise Rosenstein’s invocation of “collusion” in the unredacted parts of his memo describing the scope of the investigation as it existed in August 2017 (it expanded and contracted after that point, so there are like different memos).

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;

Here, unlike in the initial mandate, Rosenstein at least noted that Mueller was assessing whether crimes were committed in using that squishy language. But he used the word “collusion,” which started to be politicized by March 2017, when Comey tried to correct it once and for all.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

[snip]

Collusion is not a legal term. It is not one I have used today. I said we are investigating to see if there is any coordination between people associated with the campaign– [my emphasis]

Sure, “collusion” might be understood to incorporate a bunch of possible crimes, and so appropriately didn’t limit Mueller to one specific crime as he investigated Manafort (but then, so did the term, “coordination”). But I nevertheless think that using the word has confused the issue of what Rosenstein intended Mueller to be able to reveal, which would instead be conspiracy and a bunch of other crimes covering up evidence of coordination that Mueller has found necessary and appropriate to charge, and not whether there was “collusion.”

All the while, people on both sides of this debate have taken “collusion” to mean whatever minimalist or maximalist interpretation of wrong-doing that best serves their side.

There are two things at issue: whether Trump and his aides coordinated in a way that is criminal, which would be a conspiracy, and whether Trump has coordinated with Russia in a way that would be an abuse of power and/or puts the nation at risk.

Both are legitimate questions. And while Rosenstein says only crimes that are indicted are appropriate to reveal (and he may well be right about that, as a principle), he did ask Mueller to conduct an investigation of that other stuff, and Congress has deferred to Mueller even while that other stuff is squarely within their mandate.

Ideally, this weeks focus on Mueller’s discoveries would be on what the actual evidence showed, which we know to include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

Instead, however, we’re still arguing about a word — collusion — that was stripped of all meaning years ago, with the result that Mueller’s presumably very measured assessment of what happened cannot serve as the arbiter of truth we need.

Rosenstein may well be the unlikely hero of preserving some semblance of rule of law in this country. But along the way, his choice of language has unfortunately twice fostered the confusion about where the line between crime and misconduct is.

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. 

Trump’s “Official Acts” to Pay Off a Russian Bribe Should Make Impeachment a Legal Issue, Not Just a Political One

The pearl clutchers screamed about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying that we need to impeach the motherfucker, Donald Trump, demeaning the presidency.* While I’m glad that she has refused to back down from her beliefs in the face of the attacks, I think her more substantial argument about impeachment deserves further attention (which I hope to return to in a later post). More important, I think that the response to Tlaib’s comments has resulted in members of both parties retreating to a debate about Trump’s impeachment using the old formulation that it’s a political, not a legal question.

It is true that impeachment is political question insofar as, so long as there’s the political will, a president can be impeached for anything, even lying about a consensual blowjob immaterial to an investigation into financial scandal. But impeachment is also a legal question. Indeed, the Constitution mandates that the President be removed from office if he is impeached and convicted not just for the unenumerated grab bag of “high crimes and misdemeanors” — where Congress exercises the political will to decide whether a blowjob merits impeachment — but also the enumerated crimes of treason and bribery.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

In spite of Emmet Sullivan’s question — as one of the only people who has read sealed documents laying out what Trump’s transition team did — about whether Mueller’s investigators considered charging Mike Flynn with treason, there’s no chance that Trump will be named in a treason charge.

But there is very good chance he will be named in a conspiracy involving a quid pro quo trading dirt and real estate deals for sanctions relief and other policy considerations.

The other day, I realized something ironic: in precisely the same period Trump was entering in an apparent quid pro quo with Russians, John Roberts was authoring a unanimous Supreme Court decision that clarified the limits of quid pro quo bribery.

And while the Supreme Court believed that Governor Bob McDonnell had not accepted bribes for setting up meetings in exchange for gifts, the language Roberts wrote in the weeks after Trump’s son told some Russians they would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won does not so narrow the definition of bribery as to make Trump’s actions legally excusable.

Roberts described an official act this way:

In sum, an “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.” The “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on that “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,” or agree to do so.

Notably, the bribed public official doesn’t actually have to follow through on the official act he agreed to take, so it doesn’t help Trump that Congress has repeatedly prevented him from overturning sanctions on Russia.

Under this Court’s precedents, a public official is not required to actually make a decision or take an action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy”; it is enough that the official agree to do so.

And there are a number of data points in the public record that suggest Trump did believe he had made a deal with the Russians and that Russia had what it believed was a commitment from Trump. For example, four of the people who attended the June 9 meeting testified (most under oath) that Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions relief if he got elected.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

And Ike Kaveladze, in the call back to his boss to report on the meeting that witnesses observed, was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

It’s not just the Russians who seem to have acted on the meeting. Michael Cohen’s allocution seems to suggest that the meeting tied directly to the negotiations over a Trump Tower, because he took steps to travel to Russian on the day of the meeting.

From on or about June 9 to June 14, 2016, Individual 2 sent numerous messages to COHEN about the travel, including forms for COHEN to complete. However, on or about June 14 , 2016, COHEN met Individual 2 in the lobby of the Company’s headquarters to inform Individual 2 he would not be traveling at that time.

Remember: a “senior campaign official” was involved in discussions about trips to Russia. And had the President’s personal lawyer actually taken this trip to St. Petersburg, the plan was to meet Vladimir Putin (who did attend the forum that year).

While the dates provided in Cohen’s allocution also suggest the disclosure that Russia hacked the DNC halted Cohen’s plans “at that time,” we know that the plans did resume after that canceled trip into July.

The Russians certainly believed they had an agreement. They put in some effort to meet again after Trump won. While finding an appropriate communication channel failed for the Agalarovs, Flynn and Jared Kushner moved to establish a back channel via Sergey Kislyak. When Trump met with Preet Bharara and reportedly agreed to keep him on, Veselnitskaya panicked, and suggested Trump planned to keep him on so he could take him out.

In its indictment of Veselnitskaya, DOJ just established that she was actually working as part of the Russian government when she claimed to have fought to get an MLAT request in her Prevezon case. And Veselnitskaya believed that after Trump won the election, he would take out the prosecutor whom she was facing in court. Ultimately, Trump did take out Preet, firing all his US Attorneys in an effort to do so.

And details from Mike Flynn’s allocution provide one important piece of evidence that Russians believed they had received a commitment from Trump.

After Obama imposed sanctions on Russia partly in retaliation for the election year operation, Trump’s team panicked, both because they wanted to improve relations with Russia, but also because Russia’s role in his victory delegitimized the victory. That is, even those unlikely to be unaware of any quid pro quo recognized that the public accounting of Russia’s role in helping defeat Hillary would make it all the more difficult to deal with Russia.

Obama is doing three things politically:

  • discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference
  • lure trump into trap of saying something today that casts doubt on report on Russia’s culpability and then next week release report that catches Russia red handed
  • box trump in diplomatically with Russia. If there is a tit-for-tat escalation trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia which has just thrown USA election to him.

Trump’s response, however, was to reach out to Russia and assure them they didn’t need to worry about Obama’s new policy. In response, the Russians made it very clear that Putin had decided not to respond based on the assurances that Flynn gave Kislyak.

On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

Mueller, of course, has the full transcript of what Flynn said to Kislyak that successfully placated Putin. It is highly likely the transcript provides explicit evidence of an official act to pay off his side of the deal, sanctions relief.

All of which is to say that Mueller may well be finalizing a conspiracy indictment of Don Jr and Trump Org laying out a quid pro quo in which Trump agreed to provide sanctions relief (and some other stuff) in exchange for Russia’s help winning the election.

That Mueller might be able to show all this is bribery may not affect Republican willingness to take the action laid out in the Constitution, to convict Trump in an impeachment inquiry. But given that the Constitution specifically envisions impeaching a President who has accepted a bribe, commentators should stop treating impeachment exclusively as a political issue.

Update: I posted this before I had read this analysis from Jack Goldsmith raising concerns about investigating the President for foreign policy decisions. While I think Goldsmith raises key points, he focuses on actions Trump took as President. But that’s one reason I think the transition activities are so important. If I’m right that the calls to Kislyak amount to an official act, then Trump took it to undermine the official policy of the government, not set it as President. Further, The Trump team had been asked — and at least one person had agreed — to not undermine Obama’s policies during the transition. There were several efforts to hide that they were doing so: the indications they couldn’t reengage on Magnitsky sanctions using the same channels as they used during the election, the request for a back channel, and the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan that Susan Rice discovered by unmasking the identities of those who met with him.

The actions Trump took that led to Flynn and Comey’s firings were part of an effort to hide these clandestine efforts during the transition. Yes, they were conducted while he was President. But they were conducted to cover up actions taken before he became President. This is why I keep harping on the remarkable lack of curiosity about why Trump really fired Flynn. The public story Trump is telling is assuredly false. The real reason almost certainly ties back to these transition period actions.

As I disclosed in 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. 

*Full disclosure: I donated to Tlaib’s campaign.

The William Barr Case for Impeaching Donald Trump: From Whom Did Trump Suborn False Statements?

Last month, I argued that a memo William Barr wrote that many say disqualifies him to be Attorney General in fact (or perhaps, “also”) should make him utterly toxic to Trump, because he (unknowingly) makes the case for impeaching Trump.

That’s because of the specific content of a William Barr memo sent to Rod Rosenstein, first reported by WSJ last night. While I’m certain Barr didn’t intend to do so, the memo makes a compelling case that Trump must be impeached.

The memo is long, lacks pagination, and presents an alarming view of unitary executive power. Barr also adopts the logically and ethically problematic stance of assuming, in a memo that states, “I realize I am in the dark about many facts” in the second sentence, that he knows what Mueller is up to, repeating over and over claims about what theory of obstruction he knows Mueller is pursuing.

Yet even before Barr finishes the first page, he states something that poses serious problems for the White House.

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.

Probably by the time Mueller’s office captured Peter Strzok’s testimony on July 19, 2017 — and almost certainly by the time they obtained Transition emails on August 23, 2017 (perhaps not coincidentally the day after Strzok’s 302 was formalized) showing Trump’s orchestration of Mike Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak — Mueller has almost certainly had evidence that Trump suborned false statements from Mike Flynn. So even before he finishes the first page, Trump’s hand-picked guy to be Attorney General has made the argument that Trump broke the law and Mueller’s obstruction investigation is appropriate.

Today, as part of a rebuttal to Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner’s comments about the memo, Jack Goldsmith reviews an OLC memo they rely on to back my argument.

Barr’s invocation and application of the presidential plain-statement rule, far from shocking, is quite ordinary. It is so ordinary, in fact, that I doubt Mueller is pursuing the theory that Barr worries about, even though press reports have sometimes suggested that he is. (For similar doubts, see the analyses of Mikhaila Fogel and Benjamin Wittes and of Marty Lederman.) Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein implied that Barr misunderstood Mueller’s theory when he stated that Barr did not have the “actual facts of the case.” One can read Rosenstein’s statement, as Marcy Wheeler does, to mean that Mueller possesses facts—including evidence that Trump suborned false statements from Flynn—to show that Trump has obstructed justice under Barr’s “evidence impairment” theory and that, under the Barr memorandum’s separate discussion of impeachment, Trump can be impeached.

If Wheeler is right, then the Barr memorandum is more likely to be cited in support of an article of impeachment of President Trump for obstruction of justice than it is to be cited, as Hemel and Posner suggest, to immunize Trump from obstruction. We will see if the Democrats presiding over Barr’s confirmation hearings are clever enough not to take Hemel and Posner’s suggestion that Barr’s memo is extreme, and instead use Barr’s memo, as Wheeler counsels, “to talk the incoming Attorney General into backing the logic of the Mueller probe and impeachment in a very public way.”

Given the stakes on all this, I wanted to focus on why I think the public record suggests strongly that Trump suborned perjury (actually, false statements), meaning that Barr has already made the case for impeachment.

Mike Flynn lied to hide consultations with the Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago

First, let’s consider what Mike Flynn lied about, which I lay out in detail here. In addition to lies about being a foreign agent for Turkey and trying to undercut an Obama foreign policy decision pertaining to Israeli settlements, Flynn admitted to lying about whether he discussed sanctions during a series of conversations with Sergey Kislyak. The focus in reporting has always been on the conversations with Kislyak, but as the statement of the offense makes clear, Flynn’s conversations with other Transition Team members — most notably his Deputy, KT McFarland — got almost as much emphasis.

On or about January 24, 2017, FLYNN agreed to be interviewed by agents from the FBI (“January 24 voluntary interview”). During the interview, FLYNN falsely stated that he did not ask Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia. FLYNN also falsely stated that he did not remember a follow-up conversation in which the Russian Ambassador stated that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of FL YNN’s request. In truth and in fact, however, FLYNN then and there knew that the following had occurred:

a. On or about December 28, 2016, then-President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13757, which was to take effect the following day. The executive order announced sanctions against Russia in response to that government’s actions intended to interfere with the 2016 presidential election (“U.S. Sanctions”).

b. On or about December 28, 2016, the Russian Ambassador contacted FLYNN.

c. On or about December 29, 2016, FLYNN called a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team (“PTT official”), who was with other senior ·members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian Ambassador about the U.S. Sanctions. On that call, FLYNN and the PTT official discussed the U.S. Sanctions, including the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy goals. The PIT official and FLYNN also discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

d. Immediately after his phone call with the PTT official, FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. Sanctions in a reciprocal manner.

e. Shortly after his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with the PTT official to report on the substance of his call with the Russian Ambassador, including their discussion of the U.S. Sanctions.

f. On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

g. On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

h. After his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with senior members of the Presidential Transition Team about FLYNN’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador regarding the U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s decision not to escalate the situation. [my emphasis]

And the 302 (302s are what the FBI calls interview reports) makes this even more clear: Flynn was not only lying about the content of his calls with Kislyak, he was lying about his consultations with McFarland, and through her, the rest of the Transition Team, almost certainly including Trump. Flynn was lying about using language, “tit-for-tat,” that came right out of those consultations.

He was lying to hide that his interactions with Kislyak reflect a deliberate Trump Transition policy choice, rather than his own choice to freelance foreign policy.

Flynn got other people to lie — to the public and to the FBI

But it’s not just Flynn’s lies. It’s also the lies others in the Administration told. According to the NYT story of the relevant emails, at a minimum both McFarland and Sean Spicer would have known that Flynn got instructions ahead of his call with Kislyak and reported positively afterwards.

Mr. Bossert forwarded Ms. McFarland’s Dec. 29 email exchange about the sanctions to six other Trump advisers, including Mr. Flynn; Reince Priebus, who had been named as chief of staff; Stephen K. Bannon, the senior strategist; and Sean Spicer, who would become the press secretary.

That’s important because both McFarland and Spicer lied to the press about the call in early 2017.

Early on the morning of Jan. 13, 2017, McFarland phoned one of the authors of this article to rebut a column in The Washington Post, which said Flynn and Kislyak had spoken “several times” on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced it was expelling 35 Russian officials and taking other punitive measures.

The column, by David Ignatius, questioned why Flynn was engaging in sensitive foreign policy discussions with Russia when Trump had yet to take office.

McFarland insisted in an on-the-record conversation that Flynn and Kislyak had never discussed sanctions and that they had actually spoken before the administration’s announcement on Dec. 29.

[snip]

McFarland’s earlier account from the on-the-record conversation also matches public statements from Sean Spicer, the transition team’s spokesman and future White House press secretary.

Spicer said that Flynn and Kislyak spoke Dec. 28, before the sanctions were announced, and that “the call centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in.”

“That was it, plain and simple,” he said.

Most of the focus on public statements about the Kislyak calls has been on Mike Pence, but there’s no public record that he was in the loop on discussions about the Kislyak call (nor is there a record of him being interviewed by either the FBI or Mueller, which is one of the reasons I keep saying there’s no public record of him doing anything for which he could or should be indicted).

With McFarland and Spicer, however, we can be sure they both knowingly lied when they told the press that sanctions had not come up.

That’s why I keep pointing to two passages from the addendum to Flynn’s sentencing memo describing the significance of his cooperation. This passage makes it clear there’s some significance to the fact that Transition Team people repeated Flynn’s lies.

This passage makes it clear that, in the wake of Flynn’s cooperation, several other people decided to cooperate.

We know that McFarland is included among the people who decided to be forthcoming with Mueller; Sean Spicer probably is too and others (like Reince Priebus) may be as well. Importantly, we know they decided to be forthcoming after not having been at first. McFarland, at a minimum, lied not just to the press, but also in her first interview with the FBI, after which she made a concerted effort to unforget what really transpired.

Note, too, that that redaction is the last line of the Flynn addendum. While we don’t know what it says, it’s likely that the addendum as a whole reflects something that Mueller seems to be doing with his cooperating witnesses: either finding ways to rehabilitate liars (as he did with Michael Cohen) or using their testimony to pressure others to tell the truth, resulting in witnesses who will be more credible on the stand (which is what I suspect he has done with a number of witnesses with Flynn).

Trump has changed stories about what his Administration knew about Flynn’s lies at least twice

The public record doesn’t actually say how it happened that McFarland and Spice lied about something they should have known to be false. As I’ve laid out, it’s clear that Flynn was not free-lancing when he discussed sanctions with Kislyak, but the record is still unclear about whether he was freelancing when he ordered others to lie about it or not.

But two things strongly suggest he was not.

First, nothing yet has come close to explaining Trump’s actions with Jim Comey, first asking for his loyalty, then, after firing Flynn, asking him to let Flynn’s lies go. That’s all the more true if, as is likely but not publicly proven yet, Pence also knew he was lying when he claimed sanctions didn’t come up in the Flynn-Kislyak call, because lying to Pence is the only explanation Trump has offered for firing Flynn.

It is virtually certain Flynn was following orders — Trump’s orders — when he engaged in discussions about sanctions with Kisylak. And so it is virtually certain that Trump knew, from before he was inaugurated, that his top aides were lying to the press. Yet Trump didn’t find those lies to be a fireable offense until it became clear the lies would lead to a sustained FBI investigation into why Flynn had Kislyak hold off on responding to sanctions.

And over the course of the Mueller investigation, Trump has struggled to come up with a credible explanation for why Flynn’s lies became a fireable offense only after the FBI started looking more closely at his plans for sanctions relief.

Don McGahn wrote a report inventing one explanation for the firing just after it happened (akin to the way he later orchestrated a paper trail justifying Comey’s firing). But even when he wrote the report, it was inconsistent with what Sally Yates told McGahn.

Then, after Flynn flipped and it became clear Comey also documented his side of events (and shared those events contemporaneously with others in DOJ and FBI), Trump’s lawyers tried to massage the story one more time.

Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, Sean Spicer, Don McGahn, and John Dowd (at a minimum — possibly Reince Priebus and others, too) have all had to revise the stories they told the press and even, for some, FBI or Mueller after the fact to try to come up with a non-incriminating explanation for why everyone lied, first to the press, and then to the government.

There’s really only one thing that might explain why at least five top Donald Trump aides or lawyers had to revise stories to try to come up with innocent explanations for non-credible stories they were willing to tell the government from the start. And that’s if Trump were involved in all these lies.

It may well be that Trump didn’t formally suborn false statements before Mike Flynn interviewed with the FBI on January 24, 2017. Perhaps he just instructed Flynn to lie to the press and Flynn sustained the story he had been ordered to tell when the FBI came calling (Trump may well be more involved in the lies that Michael Cohen told to Congress).

But there is little else that can explain why so many people were willing to tell bullshit stories about Flynn (both his conversation with Kislyak and his firing) except that Trump was involved in orchestrating those stories.

Mueller’s obstruction investigation was likely always premised on a theory of obstruction that Trump’s presumed Attorney General nominee William Barr has argued does merit investigation and impeachment: that Trump ordered his subordinates to lie to obstruct an investigation.

 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.