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The Men Disputing Cassidy Hutchinson’s Retelling of Trump’s SUV Lunge Got Warnings about Plans to Flood the Capitol

Since Cassidy Hutchinson’s startling testimony on Tuesday, credulous journalists have reported anonymous sources pushing back against one of her most dramatic stories: that when told he was not going to the Capitol on January 6, Donald Trump lunged towards the steering wheel of the SUV taking him back to the White House and then went after the clavicle of the head of his detail, Bobby Engel.

On top of being anonymous, the pushback never disputed Hutchinson’s claim: that she was told this story by Tony Ornato, the Secret Service Officer that Trump elevated into an important political position at the White House, Deputy Chief of Staff, in front of Engel, who did not dispute the story. Plus, Alyssa Farrah has described that Ornato, in the past, has disputed things she said under oath (about Trump’s stunt in Lafayette Square), without himself going under oath.

Nevertheless, that anonymous pushback has distracted from a far more alarming detail in Tuesday’s testimony that Ornato and Engel have not disputed, neither on or off the record: that they got warnings about plans to occupy buildings in DC and, implicitly, warnings about Proud Boy involvement.

That revelation came just before Hutchinson affirmed a detail I’ve been almost alone in reporting for over a year: Not just Roger Stone, but also Rudy Giuliani, had links to the Proud Boys.

Cheney: US Secret Service was looking at similar information and watching the planned demonstrations. In fact, their Intelligence Division sent several emails to White House personnel, like Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato and the head of the President’s protective detail Robert Engel, including certain materials listing events like those on the screen.

Cheney: The White House continued to receive updates about planned demonstrations, including information regarding the Proud Boys organizing and planning to attend events on January 6. Although Ms. Hutchinson has no detailed knowledge of any planning involving the Proud Boys for January 6, she did note this:

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Hutchinson: I recall hearing the word[s], “Oath Keeper,” hearing the word[s], “Proud Boys,” closer to the planning of the January 6 rally when Mr. Giuliani would be around.

The reference to Ornato and Engel is among the first in Tuesday’s hearing: while Cheney had previewed Hutchinson’s interactions with Ornato and the Secret Service in her introduction, this reference was the first substantive description of Ornato’s activities. That description, as well as Hutchinson’s explanation of how she told Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien that Ornato had had a conversation with Mark Meadows about the warnings of violence, came even before Cheney cued Hutchinson to explain what an important role the Deputy Chief of Staff played.

Some time later, the hearing revealed texts between Hutchinson and Ornato reflecting the latter’s awareness that Trump’s supporters were trying to avoid the metal detectors.

Importantly, Cheney mentioned something about this text exchange that doesn’t appear in the texts shown on the screen: a discussion between the two of them — Hutchinson and Ornato — about an “OTR,” an “off the record” movement to get Trump to the Capitol. The Committee appears to be withholding precisely what those texts say — involving Trump personally, and so colorably covered under Executive Privilege.

That may not be the only thing the Committee withheld from its presentation: note in my transcription above that Cheney doesn’t say Ornato and Engel received the warnings that were flashed on the screen. She says they received, “certain materials listing events like those on the screen.” [my emphasis] Particularly given the reports that the Committee met in a secure facility in advance of this hearing, that phrasing could allow for other records, records too sensitive to show publicly, tying the Proud Boys to plans to occupy buildings on January 6.

The story of Trump lunging in the SUV is a distraction, and Ornato, a loyal Trumpster, is likely using his pushback to distract from far more damning details of Hutchinson’s testimony:

  • Both Engel and Ornato had warnings of plans to occupy buildings
  • Hutchinson linked Rudy Giuliani in advance of the attack to both militias that attacked the Capitol
  • Ornato discussed these warnings in advance with Mark Meadows, who pushed Hutchinson away twice during the early moments of the attack
  • In spite of foreknowledge of a plan to occupy buildings and the involvement of militias, Ornato nevertheless continued to plan to take Trump to the Capitol

Secret Service loyalists, for all their anonymous pushback, are denying none of these far more damning details, details that put them — and Meadows and Trump — in far more complicit position with respect to the attack.

Pat Cipollone Predicted the Obstruction and ConFraudUS Prosecutions

This morning, for the second time in two weeks, Liz Cheney called out former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, by name, to cooperate with the January 6 Committee.

Yesterday’s testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson revealed one reason why his testimony would be so important. He predicted — on January 3 or 4th — that Trump might be prosecuted under the very same crimes DOJ has been charging for well over a year: conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of the vote certification.

Cheney: We understand, Ms. Hutchinson, that you also spoke to Mr. Cipollone on the morning of the Sixth, as you were about to go to the rally on the Ellipse. And Mr. Cipollone said something to you like, “make sure the movement to the Capitol does not happen.” Is that correct?

Hutchinson: That’s correct. I saw Mr. Cipollone right before I walked out onto West Exec that morning and Mr. Cipollone said something to the effect of, “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”

Cheney: And do you remember which crimes Mr. Cipollone was concerned with?

Hutchinson: In the days leading up to the sixth, we had conversations about obstructing justice of defrauding the electoral count.

Cheney: Let’s hear about some of those concerns that you mentioned earlier in one of your interviews with us.

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Hutchinson: … having a private conversation with Pat on the after noon of third or fourth, um, that Pat was concerned it would look like we were obstructing justice, or obstructing the electoral college count. I apologize for probably not being very firm with my legal terms here.

Or rather, Cipollone didn’t predict Trump would be charged with ConFraudUS and obstruction. He predicted “we” would, presumably including himself and even Hutchinson.

Here I’ve thought I was ahead of the curve by predicting — last August — that if Trump were prosecuted, it would be for those crimes. It turns out that Trump’s White House Counsel was way ahead of me, predicting the same even before the insurrection!

Cipollone’s recognition of this legal exposure is important for a number of reasons. First, it validates DOJ’s approach — and does so in advance of the DC Circuit’s consideration of DOJ’s appeal of Carl Nichols’ outlier opinion rejecting such an application.

Those are also the crimes named in the warrant served on Jeffrey Clark last week.

But Cipollone’s awareness of this exposure also may explain why Cipollone has been reluctant to testify (though it’s possible he has testified with DOJ and simply doesn’t want that to be public). Hutchinson laid out a number of things that Cipollone did on January 6 that made it clear he was not willingly going along with Trump’s actions, most notably his efforts to get Trump to call off his mob before Trump re-ignited them with his 2:24 text attacking Mike Pence again. If there was a conspiracy to obstruct the vote certification, he took overt acts to leave that conspiracy before and during the conspiracy on January 6.

By that point, however, it may have been too late for Cipollone to avoid all exposure to Trump’s corrupt actions. That’s because Cipollone would have been involved in the pardons of those — Cheney focused on Roger Stone and Mike Flynn last night, but Bernie Kerik and Paul Manafort also got pardons — who would go on to play key roles in Trump’s insurrection. (I assume Cipollone was not involved in the Bannon pardon that came after the attack, and I noted in real time that Cipollone likely prevented a bunch of other pardons that would have made obstruction more likely.) That is, Cipollone might have exposure for obstruction for actions already taken by January 3 or 4 when he explained this legal exposure to Hutchinson.

Even Bill Barr said that rewarding false testimony with a pardon would be obstruction. And Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort all delivered on that quid pro quo.

For all Liz Cheney’s specific exhortations, Cipollone may know better than to testify to Congress. Because without testifying to DOJ, first, that may cause him more legal trouble than his current (presumed) silence.

Update: As a number of people in comments noted, the Committee has formally subpoenaed Cipollone.

Bill Barr’s Attempt to Corrupt EDNY May Have Saved the Republic

Almost all of the witnesses the January 6 Committee has relied on are deeply conflicted people. The same Trump attorney, Justin Clark, who allegedly coached Steve Bannon to withhold information from the Committee about communications with Rudy Giuliani and Mike Flynn appeared on video claiming to have qualms about using fake electors in states where the campaign did not have an active legal challenge. Ivanka claimed to believe Bill Barr’s claims that voter fraud couldn’t change the election, but the Committee just obtained video of her saying otherwise. And Bill Barr himself has gotten credit for fighting Trump’s false claims of voter fraud even though he spent months laying the groundwork for those claims by attacking mail-in ballots.

But yesterday’s hearing was something else.

After Liz Cheney invited watchers to imagine what it would be like to have a DOJ that required loyalty oaths from lawyers who work there — a policy that Alberto Gonzales had started to implement in the Bush-Cheney Administration — Adam Kinzinger led former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue through a narrative about the Republican Party and the Department of Justice they might like to belong to.

The whole thing was a flashback. In May 2007, I was tipped off to cover Jim Comey’s dramatic retelling of the first DOJ effort to push back on Presidential — and Vice Presidential, from Liz Cheney’s father — pressure by threatening to quit. Only years later, I learned how little the 2004 Hospital Hero stand-off really achieved. So I’m skeptical of yesterday’s tales of heroism from the likes of Jeff Rosen and Steve Engel.

But that’s also because their record conflicts with some of the things they said.

For example, check out what Engel — someone who played an absolutely central role in Bill Barr’s corruption of the Mueller investigation, and who wrote memos that killed the hush payment investigation into Trump and attempted to kill the whistleblower complaint about Volodymyr Zelenskyy — had to say about politicization of investigations.

Kinzinger: Mr. Engel, from your perspective, why is it important to have a [White House contact] policy like Mr. Rosen just discussed?

Engel: Well, it’s critical that the Department of Justice conducts its criminal investigations free from either the reality or any appearance of political interference. And so, people can get in trouble if people at the White House are speaking with people at the Department and that’s why, the purpose of these policies, is to keep these communications as infrequent and at the highest levels as possible just to make sure that people who are less careful about it, who don’t really understand these implications, such as Mr. Clark, don’t run afoul of those contact policies.

Or consider how Special Counsels were described, as Kinzinger got the witnesses to discuss how wildly inappropriate it would have been to appoint Sidney Powell to investigate vote fraud. Here’s how Engel explained the limited times there’d be a basis to appoint one:

Kinzinger: So during your time at the Department, was there ever any basis to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate President Trump’s election fraud claims?

Engel: Well, Attorney General Barr and [inaudible] Jeffrey Rosen did appoint a Special Counsel. You would appoint a Special Counsel when the Department — when there’s a basis for an investigation, and the Department, essentially, has a conflict of interest.

Engel is presumably referring to John Durham with that initial comment. But Durham fails both of those tests: there was never a basis for an investigation, and for most of the time Durham has been Special Counsel, he’s been investigating people outside the Department that present absolutely no conflict for the Department. [Note: it’s not clear I transcribed this properly. The point remains: Rosen and Barr appointed a Special Counsel that violated this standard.]

In other words, so much of what Engel and Rosen were describing were abuses they themselves were all too happy to engage in, up until the post-election period.

Which is why I’m so interested in the role of Richard Donoghue, who moved from EDNY to Main Justice in July 2020, to be replaced by trusted Bill Barr flunkie Seth DuCharme. It happened at a time when prosecutors were prepared to indict Tom Barrack, charges that didn’t end up getting filed until a year later, after Merrick Garland and Lisa Monaco had been confirmed. The 2020 move by Barr looked just like other efforts — with Jessie Liu in DC and Geoffrey Berman in SDNY — to kill investigations by replacing the US Attorney.

That is, by all appearances, Donoghue was only the one involved in all these events in 2020 and 2021 because Barr was politicizing prosecutions, precisely what Engel claimed that DOJ, during his tenure, attempted to avoid.

That’s interesting for several reasons. First, in the context of explaining the January 3 stand-off in the White House, Donoghue described why environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark was unqualified to be Attorney General.

Donoghue: Mr. President, you’re talking about putting a man in that seat who has never tried a criminal case. Who has never conducted a criminal investigation.

Well, neither had regulatory lawyer Jeffrey Rosen (or, for that matter, Billy Barr). That is, in explaining why Clark should not be Attorney General,  Donoghue expressed what many lawyers have likewise said about Barr, most notably during Barr’s efforts to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution (the tail end of which Donoghue would have been part of, though DuCharme was likely a far more central player in that).

In the collective description of the showdown at the White House on January 3, it sounds like before that point, Donoghue was the first one who succeeded in beginning to talk Trump out of replacing Rosen, because it was not in Trump’s, or the country’s, interest.

Mr. President, you have a great deal to lose. And I began to explain to him what he had to lose. And what the country had to lose, and what the Department had to lose. And this was not in anyone’s best interest. That conversation went on for some time.

Donoghue also seems to have been the one to explain the impact of resignations in response to a Clark appointment.

Mr. President within 24, 48, 72 hours, you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations of the leadership of your entire Justice Department because of your actions. What’s that going to say about you?

To be clear: Rosen would have pushed back in any case. As he described,

On the one hand, I wasn’t going to accept being fired by my subordinate, so I wanted to talk to the President directly. With regard to the reason for that, I wanted to try to convince the President not to go down the wrong path that Mr. Clark seemed to be advocating. And it wasn’t about me. There was only 17 days left in the Administration at that point. I would have been perfectly content to have either of the gentlemen on my left or right to replace me if anybody wanted to do that. But I did not want for the Department of Justice to be put in a posture where it would be doing things that were not consistent with the truth, were not consistent with its own appropriate role, or were not consistent with the Constitution.

But Rosen had already presided over capitulations to Trump in the past, including events relating to the first impeachment and setting up a system whereby Rudy Giuliani could introduce Russian-brokered disinformation targeting Joe Biden into DOJ, without exposing Rudy himself to Russian Agent charges. Repeatedly in yesterday’s hearing, I kept asking whether the outcome would have been the same if Donoghue hadn’t been there.

Plus, by all appearances, Donoghue was the one providing critical leadership in the period, including going to the Capitol to ensure it was secured.

Kinzinger: Mr. Donoghue, we know from Mr. Rosen that you helped to reconvene the Joint Session, is that correct?

Donoghue: Yes sir.

Kinzinger: We see here in a video that we’re going to play now you arriving with your security detail, to help secure the Capitol. Mr. Donoghue, thirty minutes after you arrived at the Capitol, did you lead a briefing for the Vice President?

Donoghue: I’m not sure exactly what the time frame was, but I did participate in a call and participate in a briefing with the Vice President as well as the Congressional leadership that night. Yes.

Kinzinger: Where’d you conduct that call at?

Donoghue: I was in an office, I’m not entirely sure where it was. My detail found it, because of the acoustics in the Rotunda were such that it wasn’t really conductive to having a call so they found an office, we went to that office, and I believe I participated in two phone calls, one at 1800 and one at 1900 that night, from that office.

Kinzinger: What time did you actually end up leaving the Capitol?

Donoghue: I waited until the Senate was back in session which I believe they were gaveled in a few minutes after 8PM. And once they were back in session and we were confident that the entire facility was secured and cleared — that there were no individuals hiding in closets, or under desks, that there were no IEDs or other suspicious devices left behind — I left minutes later. I was probably gone by 8:30.

Kinzinger: And Mr. Donoghue, did you ever hear from President Trump that day?

Donoghue: No. Like the AAG, the acting AG, I spoke to Pat Cipollone and Mark Meadows and the Vice President and the Congressional leadership but I never spoke to the President that day.

So it seems possible, certainly, that one of the few things that held DOJ together in this period is Donoghue, seemingly installed there as part of yet another Bill Barr plot to corrupt DOJ.

Congresswoman Cheney, who in her opening statement talked about how outrageous it was for Trump to demand that DOJ make an announcement about an investigation into voter fraud (but who voted against the first impeachment for extorting Volodymyr Zelenskyy for exactly such an announcement), ended the hearing by inviting those who had put their trust into Donald Trump to understand that he had abused that trust.

Rudy Giuliani Launched a Lynch Mob over a Ginger Mint

I find it harder to describe the details of yesterday’s January 6 Committee hearing, covering pressure Trump put on states to alter the vote, than the earlier hearings. That’s because the testimony about Trump’s bullying of those who upheld democracy — particularly election worker Shaye Moss and Arizona Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers — elicited so much emotion. This is what Trump has turned great swaths of the Republican Party into: bullies attacking those who defend democracy.

Trump’s bullies attacking anyone defending democracy

Bowers described how a mob, including an armed man wearing a 3%er militia patch, came to his house as his daughter fought a terminal illness.

Moss described how a mob descended on her granny’s house, hunting for her and her mother, Ruby Freeman. At least one member of the mob targeting those two Black women who chose to work elections betrayed self-awareness off their regressive stance: Moss testified that one of the threats targeted at her said, “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”

And Adam Schiff got Moss to explain a detail that formed the core of a video Rudy Giuliani used to summon his mob. Rudy had claimed that when Ms. Freeman passed Shaye something, it was a thumb drive to replace votes.

It was actually a ginger mint.

Schiff: In one of the videos we just watched, Mr. Giuliani accused you and your mother of passing some sort of USB drive to each other. What was your mom actually handing you on that video?

Moss: A ginger mint.

Moss testified that none of the people who had been working with her full time on elections in Fulton County, Georgia are still doing that work. They’ve all been bullied out of working to uphold democracy.

Tying the state violence to the January 6 violence

Early in the hearing, Schiff tied these threats of violence to Stop the Steal, the organization behind the purported speakers that formed the excuse to bring mobs to the January 6 attack. He explained, “As we will show, the President’s supporters heard the former President’s claims of fraud and the false allegations he made against state and local officials as a call to action.” Shortly thereafter, investigative counsel Josh Roselman showed a video from Ali Alexander predicting at a protest in November 2020, “we’ll light the whole shit on fire.”

Much later in the hearing, Schiff tied the takeover of state capitals to the January 6 riot with a picture of Jacob Chansley invading Capitols in both AZ and DC.

Chansley already pled guilty to attempting to obstruct the vote certification, and one of the overt acts he took was to leave Mike Pence this threatening note on the dais.

So one thing the hearing yesterday did was to tie the threats of violence in the states to the expressions of violence on January 6.

Showing obstruction of the vote certification, including documents

A second video described the fake electors scheme, developing several pieces of evidence that may help DOJ tie all this together in conspiracy charges.

The video included testimony from Ronna McDaniel acknowledging the RNC’s involvement. (Remember that McDaniel joined in the effort to censure Liz Cheney when she learned the committee had subpoenaed Kathy Berden, the lead Michigander on that fake certificate; Berden has close ties to McDaniel.)

Essentially he turned the call over to Mr. Eastman who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any of the states. I think more just helping them reach out and assemble them. But the — my understanding is the campaign did take the lead and we just were … helping them in that role.

The video also cited Trump’s own campaign lawyers (including Justin Clark, who represented Trump in conjunction with Steve Bannon’s refusal to testify) describing that they didn’t believe the fake electors scheme was prudent if the campaign no longer had legal challenges in a given state.

In a videotaped deposition, former campaign staffer Robert Sinners described himself and other workers as, “useful idiots or rubes at that point.” When ask how he felt upon learning that Clark and Matt Morgan and other lawyers had concerns about the fake electors, Sinners explained, “I’m angry because I think in a sense, no one really cared if … if people were potentially putting themselves in jeopardy.” He went on, “I absolutely would not have” continued to participate, “had I known that the three main lawyers for the campaign that I’ve spoken to in the past and leading up were not on board.”

And electors in individual states claimed to have been duped into participating, too. Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Andrew Hitt described that, “I was told that these would only count if a court ruled in our favor.” So using them as an excuse to make challenges on January 6, “would have been using our electors, well, it would have been using our electors in ways that we weren’t told about and we wouldn’t have supported.”

In the wake of yesterday’s hearing, one of MI’s fake electors, Michele Lundgren, texted reporters to claim that they had not been permitted to read the first page of the form they signed, which made the false claims.

As the video showed the fake certificates next to the real ones, Investigative Counsel Casey Lucier explained that,

At the request of the Trump campaign, the electors from these battleground states signed documents falsely asserting that they were the duly elected electors from their state, and submitted them to the National Archives and to Vice President Pence in his capacity as President of the Senate.

[snip]

But these ballots had no legal effect. In an email produced to the Select Committee, Dr. Eastman told a Trump campaign representative [Boris Epshteyn] that it did not matter that the electors had not been approved by a state authority. Quote, the fact that we have multiple slates of electors demonstrates the uncertainty of either. That should be enough. He urged that Pence act boldly and be challenged.

Documents produced to the Select Committee show that the Trump campaign took steps to ensure that the physical copies of the fake electors’ electoral votes from two states were delivered to Washington for January 6. Text messages exchanged between Republican Party officials in Wisconsin show that on January 4, the Trump campaign asked for someone to fly their fake electors documents to Washington.

A staffer for Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson texted a staffer for Vice President Pence just minutes before the beginning of the Joint Session. This staffer stated that Senator Johnson wished to hand deliver to the Vice President the fake electors votes from Michigan and Wisconsin. The Vice President’s aide unambiguously instructed them not to deliver the fake votes to the Vice President.

Lucier made it clear, though, that these fake electors were delivered to both Congress (Johnson) and the Executive Branch (the Archives).

This video lays out critical steps in a conspiracy to obstruct the vote certification, one that — because it involves a corrupt act with respect to fraudulent documents — would even meet Judge Carl Nichols’ standard for obstruction under 18 USC 1512(c)(2).

The Court therefore concludes that § 1512(c)(2) must be interpreted as limited by subsection (c)(1), and thus requires that the defendant have taken some action with respect to a document, record, or other object in order to corruptly obstruct, impede or influence an official proceeding.

Understand, many of these people are awful and complicit (and bmaz will surely be by shortly to talk about what an asshole Rusty Bowers is). But with respect to the fake electors scheme, the Committee has teed up a parade of witnesses who recognize their own criminal exposure, and who are, as a result, already rushing to blame Trump for all of it. We know DOJ has been subpoenaing them for evidence about the lawyers involved — not just Rudy and Eastman, but also Justin Clark.

DOJ has also been asking about Boris Epshteyn. He showed up as the recipient of an email from Eastman explaining that it didn’t matter that the electors had no legal legitimacy.

As Kyle Cheney noted, the Committee released that email last month, albeit with Epshteyn’s name redacted.

The Republican Party has not just an incentive, but a existential need at this point, to blame Trump’s people for all of this, and it may do wonders not just for obtaining cooperative and cooperating witnesses, but also to change how Republicans view the January 6 investigation.

Exposing Pat Cipollone’s exceptional unwillingness to testify

Liz Cheney continued to use the hearings to shame those who aren’t cooperating with the Committee. In her opening statement, she played the video of Gabriel Sterling warning of violence, where he said, “All of you who have not said a damn word [about the threats and false claims] are complicit in this.”

Then after Schiff talked about the threat to democracy in his closing statement …

We have been blessed beyond measure to live in the world’s greatest democracy. That is a legacy to be proud of and to cherish. But it is not one to be taken for granted. That we have lived in a democracy for more than 200 years does not mean we shall do so tomorrow. We must reject violence. We must embrace our Constitution with the reverence it deserves, take our oath of office and duties as citizens seriously, informed by the knowledge of right and wrong and armed with no more than the power of our ideas and the truth, carry on this venerable experiment in self-governance.

Cheney focused on the important part played by witnesses who did what they needed to guard the Constitution, twice invoking God.

We’ve been reminded that we’re a nation of laws and we’ve been reminded by you and by Speaker Bowers and Secretary of State Raffensperger, Mr. Sterling, that our institutions don’t defend themselves. Individuals do that. And we’ve [been] reminded that it takes public servants. It takes people who have made a commitment to our system to defend our system. We have also been reminded what it means to take an oath, under God, to the Constitution. What it means to defend the Constitution. And we were reminded by Speaker Bowers that our Constitution is indeed a divinely inspired document.

That set up a marked contrast with the list of scofflaws who’ve obstructed the Committee.

To date more than 30 witnesses called before this Committee have not done what you’ve done but have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Roger Stone took the Fifth. General Michael Flynn took the Fifth. John Eastman took the Fifth. Others like Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro simply refused to comply with lawful subpoenas. And they have been indicted. Mark Meadows has hidden behind President Trump’s claims of Executive Privilege and immunity from subpoena. We’re engaged now in litigation with Mr. Meadows.

Having set up that contrast, Congresswoman Cheney then spent the entire rest of her closing statement shaming Pat Cipollone for refusing thus far to testify.

The American people in our hearings have heard from Bill Barr, Jeff Rosen, Richard Donoghue, and many others who stood up and did what is right. And they will hear more of that testimony soon.

But the American people have not yet heard from Mr. Trump’s former White House counsel, Pat Cipollone. Our Committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Mr. Cipollone to testify here. Indeed, our evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right. They tried to stop a number of President Trump’s plans for January 6.

Today and in our coming hearings, you will hear testimony from other Trump White House staff explaining what Mr. Cipollone said and did, including on January 6.

But we think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally. He should appear before this Committee. And we are working to secure his testimony.

In the wake of this, someone “close to Cipollone” ran to Maggie Haberman and sold her a bullshit story, which she dutifully parroted uncritically.

Cheney had just laid out that the “institutional concerns” had been waived by other lawyers (and were, legally, in the case of Bill Clinton). And any privilege issue went out the window when Sean Hannity learned of the White House Counsel complaints. Plus, White House Counsel lawyer Eric Herschmann has testified at length, including about matters — such as the call Trump made to Vice President Pence shortly before the riot — involving Trump personally.

Given Cheney’s invocation of those who pled the Fifth, I wonder she suspects that Cipollone’s reluctance has less to do with his claimed excuses, and more to do with a concern that he has personal exposure.

He may! After all, he presided over Trump’s use of pardons to pay off several key players in the insurrection, including three of the people Cheney invoked to set up this contrast: Flynn, Stone, and Bannon (though I suspect Cipollone had checked out before the last of them). And these pardons — and the role of pardons in the planning for January 6 more broadly — may expose those involved, potentially including Cipollone, in the conspiracy.

Whether or not Cheney shames Cipollone into testifying, including with her appeal to religion, he may not have the same luxury of refusing when DOJ comes calling.

The January 6 Militia Witnesses Are Cooperating with DOJ, Probably Not the January 6 Committee

Liz Cheney made a comment in Thursday’s public hearing that has attracted some attention. As part of her explanation that the January 6 investigation is ongoing, she said,

As we present these initial findings, keep two points in mind. First, our investigation is still ongoing. So what we make public here will not be the complete set of information we will ultimately disclose. And second, the Department of Justice is currently working with cooperating witnesses and has disclosed to date only some of the information it has identified from encrypted communications and other sources.

Some have wondered whether this reflects some kind of insight into where the DOJ investigation is headed.

I doubt that Cheney’s comment reflects any greater insight into where DOJ is headed than I’ve gotten from tracking DOJ’s investigation closely, though as I’ll explain below, the Committee undoubtedly has non-public insight into how the militias coordinated with those close to Trump. (One possible — and important — exception to this assumption might be Joshua James, the Oath Keeper who is known to have testified in an NYPD inquiry targeting Roger Stone associate Sal Greco.)

While the Committee showed clips of depositions it had with Stewart Rhodes (pleading the Fifth in response to a question about arming members), Enrique Tarrio (expressing regret he didn’t monetize the Stand Back and Stand By comment), and Jeremy Bertino (who is Person-1 in the sedition indictment charging the Proud Boy leaders and who told the Committee that membership tripled in response to Trump’s comment), the more substantive claims about the militias on Thursday always cited the indictments against them, not evidence independently gathered by the Committee.

For example, Cheney described how Trump’s December 19, 2020 tweet, “initiated a chain of events. The tweet led to the planning for what occurred on January 6, including by the Proud Boys, who ultimately led the invasion of the Capitol and the violence on that day.” In his questioning of documentarian Nick Quested, Bennie Thompson likewise cited the indictment against the Proud Boys for claims about the lead-up to the attack.

To be sure, Thompson laid out details of the attack that are not generally known, but which are public: the Proud Boys skipped Trump’s speech and kicked off their attack to coincide with the Joint Session, not Trump’s speech; the Proud Boys first attacked at the site where the mob soon to be led by Alex Jones would arrive. I’ve laid out some of these dynamics in this post, and the Sedition Hunters have developed two detailed timelines that show how this worked, one describing the phases of the attack, and another capturing key communications of those implicated in it.

I’ve likewise noted what Cheney has: The Proud Boys — and virtually everyone else who organized in advance — responded to Trump’s tweet as if it was an order. I’ve also described — in a post called, “Back Was Stood, And By Was Stood: The Passive Voice Behind the Top Down Structure of the Charles Donohoe Statement of Offense” — how in cooperating witness Charles Donohoe’s Statement of Offense, DOJ for the first time used the passive voice to describe how the riot was announced.

[T]he foundation of that hierarchy that is so remarkable.

On December 19, 2020, plans were announced for a protest event in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, which protest would coincide with Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

On or before December 20, 2020, Tarrio approached Donohoe and solicited his interest in joining the leadership of a new chapter of the Proud Boys, called the Ministry of Self Defense (“MOSD”). Donohoe understood from Tarrio that the new chapter would be focused on the planning and execution of national rallies and would consist of hand-selected “rally” boys. Donohoe felt privileged to be included and agreed to participate.

Close to every other filing in the January 6 case that mentions the announcement of these plans actually cites what was taken as the formal announcement: Trump’s tweet, in response to which hundreds if not thousands of rioters began to make plans to come to DC.

Peter Navarro releases 36-page report alleging election fraud ‘more than sufficient’ to swing victory to Trump https://t.co/D8KrMHnFdK . A great report by Peter. Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!

The import of that December 19 tweet was clear even in real time; the NYT and WaPo recently returned to the central role it plays in a great number of January 6 cases.

But this statement of offense instead presents what was viewed as an order from Trump in the passive voice: “Plans were announced.” Trump announced those plans, as every other charging document makes clear.

And the next day, in response to that announcement, Tarrio started building that top-down hierarchical structure that would go on to intentionally assault the Capitol and cops.

There are many things this statement of offense does with that masterful use of the passive voice. It implicates, without mentioning, people like Peter Navarro and Ali Alexander, the former because he was mentioned in the tweet and the latter because he was organizing it. The statement of offense makes clear that Tarrio told Donohoe and other Ministry of Self Defense leaders about what their plan was, but doesn’t reveal what he has shared, particularly what he shared about direct planning with people close to Trump. Indeed, the language of the statement of offense leaves open the possibility that Tarrio was moving on this even before the public launch of the riot by Trump.

But most importantly, without naming him, this structure puts Trump at the head of that hierarchy that bears top-down responsibility for the intentional violence and damage in the service of obstructing the vote certification.

The implication from the Statement of Offense is that Donohoe learned certain things starting on December 20 that he has shared with prosecutors. One reason I’m pretty sure that prosecutors haven’t shared it with the Committee, yet, is because Donohoe’s cooperation does not show up in the discovery index provided to the defendants themselves on May 12, over a month after Donohoe flipped, which prosecutors filed publicly last week. Similarly, prosecutors have not yet explicitly told defense attorneys the person who shared a plan with Tarrio talking about occupying the Capitol, though they have the returns for Tarrio’s phone that should help defense attorneys learn that person’s identity.

(I do wonder whether a challenge to a very recent call records subpoena from the Committee by Russian-American Kristina Malimon, discovered by Kyle Cheney, not to mention the high profile former Trump impeachment lawyers representing her, means the Committee thinks they’ve figured out the person’s identity, though.)

The schedule of upcoming January 6 hearings explains one reason why Cheney referenced the ongoing investigation when citing DOJ’s cooperating witnesses:

  • June 13: The Big Lie
  • June 15: Decapitate DOJ
  • June 16: Pressuring Pence
  • June 21: Pressuring the States
  • Hearing 6: Trump Assembles a Mob and Sics it on Congress
  • Hearing 7: Trump Does Nothing as Capitol Is Attacked

The dates for the last two hearings, hearings that will include details about how the Proud Boys paused their attack to await reinforcements brought by Alex Jones, opened a second front in seeming coordination with the Oath Keepers and Jones, and considered a second assault until learning the National Guard had finally been deployed, are not known yet. Whenever they are, though, they’ll come after June 21, and therefore after the June 17 discovery deadline in the Proud Boy Leaders case. DOJ has said they won’t supersede the Leaders indictment beyond what it currently is (meaning no more co-conspirators will be added to it). But the fates of Persons-1 (Bertino), -2, and -3 are up in the air right now, as well as a number of charged Proud Boys (like Ron Loehrke), who played key roles in the tactical success of the attack but who have not yet been indicted. Similarly, the fates of those known to coordinate most closely with the militias — Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and Ali Alexander — remain uncertain.

Who knows? Their fates may be less uncertain between now and the last Committee hearing!

To be clear: as Chairman Thompson told Jake Tapper this week, the Committee does know of some of the coordination. I’ve heard of a communication implicating Stone that I believe the Committee has. Alex Jones complained about how many communications the Committee — specifically those of Cindy Chafian and Caroline Wren — had obtained, and one or both of them also communicated with Tarrio. A key focus of the testimony of Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence — and surely, Katrina Pierson, whom Stone and his associates have tried to blame for the attack — described their panic after Trump told his mob to walk to the Capitol. That testimony must explain why Pierson fought so hard to keep Wren’s chosen speakers, including Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Brandon Straka, and others, off the stage. This fight also shows up in Mark Meadows’ texts. And Ali Alexander testified for eight hours; we’ll see how successfully the Committee debunked his already-debunked cover story, but Alexander lost his shit during the hearing on Thursday. The role of the Stop the Steal effort in delivering bodies to the right places at the Capitol is the most important known coordination from the day of the attack.

Rudy Giuliani also had communications with Proud Boy associate James Sullivan, Mike Flynn had some ties to militias (especially the First Amendment Praetorians), and Sidney Powell was paying for the defense of a number of militia members.

The Committee knows a great deal about how Trump’s mob got directed to the Capitol. But I suspect they’re still waiting to learn all the details that cooperating witnesses have provided.


Known cooperating witnesses

Oath Keepers

Jon Schaffer: The substance of Schaffer’s cooperation against the Oath Keepers is still not clear (and could well extend beyond them).

Graydon Young: Young interacted with Roger Stone in the weeks leading up to the attack, may know details of the alliance struck between Proud Boys and Florida Oath Keepers, and was part of the First Stack to bust into the Capitol; he also implicated his sister.

Mark Grods: Grods was the first Oath Keeper who was present at the Willard the day of the attack to flip, and likely provided details of the QRF and implicated Joshua James.

Caleb Berry: Berry would provide more details of Oath Keeper activities, potentially implicating Stone, in Florida, and also was witness to the attempt to hunt down Nancy Pelosi.

Jason Dolan: Dolan would explain why he and Kenneth Harrelson were waiting at the top of the East Stairs when the First Stack, Joe Biggs and his co-travelers, and Alex Jones and Ali Alexander converged there before the door was opened from the inside.

Joshua James: James called in reports from someone who is almost certainly Stone the day of the attack, participated in key discussions with Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, and Mike Simpson during the attack, and was closely involved in Rhodes’ continued efforts after January 6.

Brian Ulrich: Ulrich would provide details of planning specific to Georgia Oath Keepers and the advance planning in December.

Todd Wilson:  Wilson would explain the mobilization of the North Carolina Oath Keepers; he also witnessed a call Rhodes made to someone close to Trump after the riot.

Proud Boys

Matthew Greene: Greene will explain details of the communications involved the day of the attack and the specific goal to pressure Mike Pence.

Charles Donohoe: Donohoe will provide prosecutors an inside understanding of how the leadership of the Proud Boys worked, including with whom Tarrio may have been working starting in December and details about Tarrio’s arrest, which led Donohoe to try to fill in.

Louis Colon: A Kansas City Proud Boy who received perhaps the most favorable deal will undoubtedly implicate his co-conspirators and describe how the cell structure of the Proud Boys worked on January 6; he may also provide important debunking of someone who had been an FBI informant the day of the attac.

Others

Gina Bisignano: Bisignano cooperated against her fellow SoCal anti-maskers, but in the light of Carl Nichols’ rejection of DOJ’s application of obstruction, is attempting to withdraw her guilty plea. A hearing on her attempt to withdraw her plea will be held on June 22. She has not withdrawn her stated intent, one directly influenced by Trump’s speech, to pressure Mike Pence.

Josiah Colt: Colt cooperated against his co-conspirators, Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave, describing how they armed themselves and helped open both the East Door and the Senate Gallery.

Klete Keller: The substance of Keller’s cooperation is not known.

Jacob Fracker: Fracker testified against fellow VA cop Thomas Robertson.

Robert Lyon: Lyon testified against his co-defendant, Dustin Thompson.

Misdemeanor cooperators

Virtually all plea deals require the defendant to share their social media and sit for an interview with the FBI. A handful of defendants are known to have convinced prosecutors to drop or hold off felony charges by providing limited cooperation (including sharing encrypted communications) in advance. They are believed to include:

Jeff Finley: Finley was a co-traveler of Proud Boy Zach Rehl on January 6.

Brandon Straka: Straka who was among those excluded from speaking on January 6,  was on Ali Alexander’s Stop the Steal listserv, and spent time with Mike Flynn before heading to the Capitol.

Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet: Baked Alaska could share communications involving white nationalists like Nick Fuentes. But Gionet fucked up his plea colloquy, so prosecutors can charge him with a felony incorporating his cooperation if he doesn’t plead by July 10 (not like I’m counting days but that’s less than a month away).

Jacob Hiles: Hiles cooperated against Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley and his buddy James Horning.

Father and son Proud Boy pair Jeffrey and Jeremy Grace likely also avoided felony exposure by cooperating (though Jeffrey’s plea just got pushed back two weeks); they spent much of January 6 with Ron Loehrke.

The Peaceful Transfer of Power: What President Reagan Called, “Nothing Less than a Miracle”

I’ve caught up to all of you in the States watching the first January 6 Committee hearing (my Twitter commentary while watching the video is here).

I think the hearing was an effective scene-setter, laying out information in a coherent narrative.

Perhaps the most striking part of the hearing was the degree to which, aside from the two live witnesses, Capitol Police Officer Carolyn Edwards and Nick Quested, the hearing relied exclusively on Republicans to make their case, with clips from:

  • Jason Miller
  • Alex Cannon
  • Matt Morgan
  • Bill Barr
  • Ivanka
  • Mike Pence (from a video appearance at the Federalist Society)
  • Greg Jacob
  • Steve Bannon
  • General Mark Milley
  • Sean Hannity and Kayleigh McEnany
  • Jared
  • Jeremy Bertino
  • Enrique Tarrio
  • Stewart Rhodes
  • A number of Jan 6 defendants, including Eric Barber

If I’m not mistaken, Thomas Jefferson was the only Democratic President named, but a slew of Republican Presidents were named (George W Bush was not, but Gerald Ford was).

There was plenty of shaming, including calling out Jeffrey Clark and Scott Perry for refusing to cooperate and noting that Kevin McCarthy was scared.

The clip of Jared accusing Pat Cipollone of “whining” when he threatened to quit may make it more likely to get the former White House Counsel’s testimony.

In short, this was directed at Republicans and relied on Republicans to make the case for democracy.

In that frame, I found the closing words of Liz Cheney’s opening statement to be the most effective messaging.

I ask you to think of the scene in our Capitol Rotunda on the night of January 6. There in a sacred space in our Constitutional Republic. The place where our Presidents lie in state. Watched over by statues of Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant, Eisenhower, Ford, and Reagan. Against every wall that night encircling the room, there were SWAT teams. Men and women in tactical gear, with long guns, deployed inside our Capitol building. There in the Rotunda these brave men and women rested beneath paintings depicting the earliest scenes of our Republic, including one painted in 1824, depicting George Washington resigning his commission, voluntarily relinquishing power, handing control of the Continental Army back to Congress. With this noble act Washington set the indispensable example of the peaceful transfer of power, what President Reagan called, nothing less than a miracle. The sacred obligation to defend the peaceful transfer of power has been honored by every American President, except one. As Americans, we all have a duty to ensure that what happened on January 6 never happens again. To set aside partisan battles. To stand together, to perpetuate and preserve our great Republic.

With this speech (and the imagery), Cheney attempted to invoke the mantle of Reagan, her party’s (and our shared generation’s) political icon. In doing so, she attempted to make democracy a religion again, something worth defending.

At the very least, she provided some mythology on which she will rebuild her party.

Members of Congress Subpoena Members of Congress

The January 6 Committee just issued subpoenas to five of their colleagues.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was in communication with President Trump before, during, and after the attack on January 6th. Mr. McCarthy was also in communication with other members of the White House staff during the attack and in the days before and after January 6th concerning the events at the Capitol. Mr. McCarthy also claimed to have had a discussion with the President in the immediate aftermath of the attack during which President Trump admitted some culpability for the attack.

Representative Scott Perry was directly involved with efforts to corrupt the Department of Justice and install Jeffrey Clark as acting Attorney General. In addition, Mr. Perry had various communications with the White House about a number of matters relevant to the Select Committee’s investigation, including allegations that Dominion voting machines had been corrupted.

Representative Jim Jordan was in communication with President Trump on January 6th and participated in meetings and discussions throughout late 2020 and early 2021 about strategies for overturning the 2020 election.

Representative Andy Biggs participated in meetings to plan various aspects of January 6th and was involved with plans to bring protestors to Washington for the counting of Electoral College votes. Mr. Biggs was involved in efforts to persuade state officials that the 2020 was stolen. Additionally, former White House personnel identified Mr. Biggs as potentially being involved in an effort to seek a presidential pardon for activities connected with the former President’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Representative Mo Brooks spoke at the rally on January 6th, encouraging rioters to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” In addition, Mr. Brooks has publicly described conversations in which the former President urged him to work to “rescind the election of 2020” and reinstall Mr. Trump as President. The Select Committee also has evidence that Mr. Brooks’s staff met with members of Vice President Pence’s staff before January 6th and conveyed the view that the Vice President does not have authority to unilaterally refuse to count certified electoral votes.

I suspect such a subpoena only conceivably has a chance in hell of working with Kevin McCarthy (or possibly Mo Brooks if he can do it quietly, given how Trump has targeted him). The rest of genuine criminal liability they’d like to use Speech and Debate to dodge.

But this provides a way for the January 6 Committee to package up what evidence they have against these five in such a way as to feed it to DOJ.

Steve Bannon’s “Alleged” Non-Contemptuous Behavior

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

Office of Legal Counsel memos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I expect Judge Nichols will agree.

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge David Carter Confirms Trump Could Be Prosecuted for [A Lower Standard of] Obstruction

As you’ve no doubt heard, Judge David Carter issued an order releasing 91 documents from the days before and the day of the insurrection to the January 6 Committee. Chapman University professor John Eastman had attempted to withhold them from the 6 Committee under privilege claims. Judge Carter allowed Eastman to withhold just ten documents, most pertaining to then-ongoing lawsuits.

The headline finding from his opinion is that Judge Carter found it more likely than not that Trump committed the crime hundreds of other insurrectionists have been charged with — obstruction of an official proceeding — and Eastman and Trump (and others) entered into a conspiracy to do so.

On August 19, I laid out that if Trump were to be prosecuted, it would be for conspiring to obstruct the vote count. At the the time, TV lawyers ignored me, thinking they knew better. In December, after Liz Cheney argued that Trump had obstructed an official proceeding, those same TV lawyers started adopting the theory as if they had come up with it. Now a judge has agreed that it is likely that Trump did commit that crime that I laid out back in August.

Sometimes I hate to say I told the TV lawyers so. This is not one of those times.

Especially since, of the three kinds of overt acts that Carter cites to substantiate his decision, two — Trump’s pressure on Mike Pence and his mobilization of his mob to march on the Capitol — are Trump actions about which DOJ has been accumulating piles of evidence. In my opinion, by including the mobilization of the mob in his opinion, Carter showed a better understanding of Trump’s legal exposure than the Committee.

There are five elements Carter needed to establish to make his finding. First, to find Trump may have obstructed a vote count, Carter pointed to:

  • Proof the vote certification was an official proceeding
  • The actions Trump took to obstruct that official proceeding
  • Proof of Trump’s corrupt intent

Then, to show that Trump and Eastman (and others) entered into a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, he pointed to:

  • An agreement to defraud the US
  • Eastman’s own dishonest actions

Carter didn’t spend much time on the official proceeding prong. Instead he relied on the ten existing DC rulings on the issue finding the vote certification was an official proceeding cited in the committee brief (there are now at least 13 opinions finding it to be an official proceeding, though Carter did not address the issue on which Judge Carl Nichols had differed from his colleagues, whether obstruction required destroying of documents).

Carter pointed to three kinds of acts that amounted to Trump’s effort to obstruct the election: two meetings before January 6 where they discussed pressuring Pence, several appeals on the morning of January 6 to Pence (including on Twitter), and “galvanizing the crowed to join him in enacting the plan,” by walking to the Capitol.

President Trump facilitated two meetings in the days before January 6 that were explicitly tied to persuading Vice President Pence to disrupt the Joint Session of Congress. On January 4, President Trump and Dr. Eastman hosted a meeting in the Oval Office with Vice President Pence, the Vice President’s counsel Greg Jacob, and the Vice President’s Chief of Staff Marc Short.209 At that meeting, Dr. Eastman presented his plan to Vice President Pence, focusing on either rejecting electors or delaying the count.210 When Vice President Pence was unpersuaded, President Trump sent Dr. Eastman to review the plan in depth with the Vice President’s counsel on January 5.211 Vice President Pence’s counsel interpreted Dr. Eastman’s presentation as being on behalf of the President.212

On the morning of January 6, President Trump made several last-minute “revised appeal[s] to the Vice President” to pressure him into carrying out the plan.213 At 1:00 am, President Trump tweeted: “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency . . . Mike can send it back!”214 At 8:17 am, President Trump tweeted: “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”215 Shortly after, President Trump rang Vice President Pence and once again urged him “to make the call” and enact the plan.216 Just before the Joint Session of Congress began, President Trump gave a speech to a large crowd on the Ellipse in which he warned, “[a]nd Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now.”217 President Trump ended his speech by galvanizing the crowd to join him in enacting the plan: “[L]et’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to give Vice President Pence and Congress “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”218

Together, these actions more likely than not constitute attempts to obstruct an official proceeding. [my emphasis]

It is public that DOJ has spent months focusing on the second (pressure on Pence) and third (mobilizing his mob) actions. Indeed, as I have shown, DOJ has laid out proof that many of the conspiracies had the specific goal of pressuring Pence.

To show that this met obstruction’s requirement of corrupt intent, Carter relied on a Ninth Circuit precedent that, for where he is in California, adopts a lower threshold for corrupt intent than the one adopted by the DC District judges so far.

The Ninth Circuit has not defined “corruptly” for purposes of this statute.222 However, the court has made clear that the threshold for acting “corruptly” is lower than “consciousness of wrongdoing,”223 meaning a person does not need to know their actions are wrong to break the law. Because President Trump likely knew that the plan to disrupt the electoral count was wrongful, his mindset exceeds the threshold for acting “corruptly” under § 1512(c).

There is no such precedent in DC and, as I’ve argued, Judge Dabney Friedrich’s adopted standard is actually higher than this, finding corrupt intent in the commission of otherwise illegal actions. So Carter’s opinion, on top of meeting a lower standard than DOJ would need to charge, dodged two legal issues already before the DC District judges, whether obstruction required the destruction of evidence and whether it required otherwise illegal actions. It’s not clear that the actions that he lays out would, by themselves, meet Friedrich’s standard.

Carter pointed to two kinds of proof that Trump knew the plan to obstruct the vote count was wrong. He pointed to the 60 court losses as proof that their claims of voter fraud were false. He also pointed to Trump’s demand from Brad Raffensperger for exactly the number of votes he needed to win, which Carter presented as proof that Trump cared about winning, not voter fraud (As I have repeated over and over, this is one Trump action that is otherwise illegal).

President Trump and Dr. Eastman justified the plan with allegations of election fraud— but President Trump likely knew the justification was baseless, and therefore that the entire plan was unlawful. Although Dr. Eastman argues that President Trump was advised several state elections were fraudulent,224 the Select Committee points to numerous executive branch officials who publicly stated225 and privately stressed to President Trump226 that there was no evidence of fraud. By early January, more than sixty courts dismissed cases alleging fraud due to lack of standing or lack of evidence,227 noting that they made “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations”228 and that “there is no evidence to support accusations of voter fraud.”229 President Trump’s repeated pleas230 for Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger clearly demonstrate that his justification was not to investigate fraud, but to win the election: “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”231 Taken together, this evidence demonstrates that President Trump likely knew the electoral count plan had no factual justification.

Carter then points to the two meetings (bolded above) as the moment when Eastman and Trump — and others — entered into a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count. Notably, this may put everyone else who was in that meeting on the hook for the conspiracy as well, members of an enormous conspiracy already charged against sixty people, including some seditionists.

He then pointed to Eastman’s awareness that his theories were bullshit and Pence’s repetitive insistence they were to find Eastman acted dishonestly.

The plan not only lacked factual basis but also legal justification. Dr. Eastman’s memo noted that the plan was “BOLD, Certainly.”232 The memo declared Dr. Eastman’s intent to step outside the bounds of normal legal practice: “we’re no longer playing by Queensbury Rules.”233 In addition, Vice President Pence “very consistent[ly]” made clear to President Trump that the plan was unlawful, refusing “many times” to unilaterally reject electors or return them to the states.234

[snip]

The evidence shows that Dr. Eastman was aware that his plan violated the Electoral Count Act. Dr. Eastman likely acted deceitfully and dishonestly each time he pushed an outcome-driven plan that he knew was unsupported by the law.

So on top of getting some documents, this opinion lays out a framework that envisions Trump being charged for the same crimes that DOJ has been working towards charging him and others on for over a year.

In several ways, though (the standard of proof and two legal standards he adopted on obstruction), Carter has only found Trump may have obstructed the vote count at a much lower standard than DOJ would need.

The Error that Betrays Insufficient Attention to the Obstruction Standard in the January 6 Eastman Filing

There’s a telling error in the January 6 Committee’s filing aiming to overcome John Eastman’s claims his emails are covered by Attorney-Client privilege. In the section asserting that Trump had probably violated 118 USC 1512(c)(2) — the same obstruction statute used to charge over 200 of the other January 6 defendants — the filing asserts that six judges “to date” have “refused to dismiss charges against defendants under the section.”

That number is incorrect. As of March 2, at least ten judges had upheld DOJ’s application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2), and a few more have as much as said they would.

  1. Dabney Friedrich, December 10, 2021, Sandlin*
  2. Amit Mehta, December 20, 2021, Caldwell*
  3. James Boasberg, December 21, 2021, Mostofsky
  4. Tim Kelly, December 28, 2021, Nordean*
  5. Randolph Moss, December 28, 2021, Montgomery
  6. Beryl Howell, January 21, 2022, DeCarlo
  7. John Bates, February 1, 2022, McHugh
  8. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, February 9, 2022, Grider
  9. Richard Leon (by minute order), February 24, 2022, Costianes
  10. Christopher Cooper, February 25, 2022, Robertson

When I first made this observation, I thought I was being a bit churlish in making it. But on reflection (and after reading the quotes from lawyers in this Charlie Savage article), I think it’s an important point. All the more so given how TV lawyers have claimed that, because the January 6 Committee has claimed Trump could be charged with obstruction, then damnit DOJ should already have done so.

The fact that the Jan 6 Committee isn’t even aware of all the obstruction rulings suggests they’ve been insufficiently attentive to what the rulings actually say, aside from the baseline holding of all of them that the vote certification was an official proceeding.

While ten judges have upheld the application, there are some differences between these opinions, particularly with regards to their formulation of the corrupt mens rea required by the statute. The most important differences from my review (but I’m not a constitutional lawyer and so I should not be the one doing this analysis!!!!!), are:

  • Whether “corrupt” intent requires otherwise illegal action
  • Whether such corruption would be transitive (an attempt to get someone else to act improperly) or intransitive (whether it would require only corruption of oneself)

Dabney Friedrich argued (and I laid out briefly here) — and has repeatedly warned in pretrial hearings for Guy Reffitt — that as she understand this application it must involve otherwise illegal actions. Amit Mehta ruled (as I wrote up here) that, at least for the Oath Keepers, this corruption may be just intransitive.

On both these issues, the Jan 6 Committee’s argument is a bit muddled. Here’s how they argue that Trump’s actions (and, less aggressively, Eastman’s) demonstrate that corrupt intent.

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 provides for objections by House and Senate members, and a process to resolve such objections through votes in each separate chamber. 3 U.S.C. §§ 5, 6, 15. Nothing in the Twelfth Amendment or the Electoral Count Act provides a basis for the presiding officer of the Senate to unilaterally refuse to count electoral votes — for any reason. Any such effort by the presiding officer would violate hte law. This is exactly what the Vice President’s counsel explained at length to Plaintiff and President Trump before January 6. Plaintiff acknowledge that the Supreme Court would reject such an effort 9-0. And the Vice President made this crystal clear in writing on January 6: [1] any attempt by the Vice President to take the course of action the President insisted he take would have been illegal

Nevertheless, pursuant to the Plaintiff’s plan, the President repeatedly asked the Vice President to exercise unilateral authority illegally, as presiding officer of the Joint Session of Congress, to refuse to count electoral votes. See supra at 11-13. In service of this effort, he and Plaintiff met with the Vice President and his staff several times to advocate that he universally reject and refuse to count or prevent the counting of certified electoral votes, and both also engaged in a public campaign to pressure the Vice President. See supra at 3-17.

The President and Plaintiff also took steps to alter the certification of electors from various states.

[snip]

The evidence supports an inference that President Trump and members of his campaign knew he had not won enough legitimate state electoral votes to be declared the winner of the 2020 Presidential election during the January 6 Joint Session of Congress, but [2] the President nevertheless sought to use the Vice President to manipulate the results in his favor.

[snip]

[T]he President and the Plaintiff engaged in an extensive public and private campaign to convince the Vice President to reject certain Biden electors or delay the proceedings, without basis, so that the President and his associates would have additional time to manipulate the results. [3] Had this effort succeeded, the electoral count would have been obstructed, impeded, influenced, and (at the very least) delayed, all without any genuine legal justification and based on the false pretense that the election had been stolen. There is no genuine question that the President and Plaintiff attempted to accomplish this specific illegal result. [numbering and bold mine]

As I said, I think this is a bit of a muddle. For starters, the Jan 6 Committee is not arguing that the delay actually caused by Trump’s mob amounted to obstruction. Rather, they’re arguing (at [3]) that had Eastman’s efforts to get Pence to himself impose a delay would be obstruction.

They make that argument even though they have evidence to more closely align their argument to the fact pattern ten judges have already approved. The emails included with this filing show Pence Counsel Greg Jacob twice accusing Eastman of convincing Trump of a theory that Trump then shared with his followers, which in turn caused the riot.

[T]hanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.

[snip]

[I]t was gravely, gravely irresponsible of you to entice the President of with an academic theory that had no legal viability, and that you well know we would lose before any judge who heard and decided the case. And if the courts declined to hear it, I suppose it could only be decided in the streets. The knowing amplification of that theory through numerous surrogates, whipping large numbers of people into a frenzy over something with no chance of ever attaining legal force through actual process of law, has led us to where we are.

That is, Jacob argued, in real time, that Eastman’s knowingly impossible theory, amplified by the President, caused the riot that ended up putting Pence’s life at risk and delaying the vote certification. But the Jan 6 Committee argues instead that the attempted persuasion of Pence the was the obstructive act.

Perhaps as a result, the agency (transitive versus intransitive) involved in this obstructive act is likewise muddled. In one place (at [1]), the Jan 6 Committee argues that the obstructive act was a failed attempt to persuade Pence to take an illegal action. I’m not sure any of the failed attempts to persuade people to do something illegal (to persuade Pence to do something he couldn’t do, to persuade members of Congress to challenge the vote with either good faith or cynical challenges, to persuade Jeffrey Clark to serve as Acting Attorney General) would sustain legal challenges.

If the Commander in Chief ordered his Vice President to take an illegal act, that would be a bit different, but that’s not what the Jan 6 Committee argues happened here.

Elsewhere, this filing (and other attempts to apply obstruction to Trump) point to Trump’s awareness (at [2]) that he lost the election, and so his attempts to win anyway exhibit an intransitive corrupt intent.

As Charlie Savage noted in his story and a thread on same, to some degree the Jan 6 Committee doesn’t need to do any better. They’re not indicting Trump, they’re just trying to get emails they will likely get via other means anyway (and as such, the inclusion of this argument is significantly PR).

But to the extent that this filing — and not, say, the opinion issued by Judge Mehta after he had approved obstruction, in which he both ruled it was plausible that Trump had conspired with two militias and, more importantly (and to me, at least, shockingly), said it was also plausible that Trump may be liable under an aid and abet standard — is being used as the model for applying obstruction to Trump, it is encouraging a lot of unicorn thinking and, more importantly, a lot of really sloppy thinking. There are so many ways to charge Trump with obstruction that don’t require an inquiry into his beliefs about losing the election, and those are the ones DOJ has laid a groundwork for.

Plus, there are a few more realities that TV lawyers who want to talk about obstruction should consider.

First, it is virtually guaranteed that Friedrich’s opinion — the one that holds that “corrupt” must involve otherwise illegal actions — will be the first one appealed. That’s because whatever happens with the Guy Reffitt trial this week and next, it’s likely it will be appealed. And Reffitt has been building in an appeal of Friedrich’s obstruction decision from the start. First trial, first appeal. So TV lawyers need to study up what she has said about otherwise illegal action and lay out some rebuttals if their theory of Trump’s liability involves mere persuasion.

Second, while ultimately all 22 judges are likely to weigh in on this obstruction application (and there are only two or three judges remaining who might conceivably rule differently than their colleagues), there are just a handful of judges who might face this obstruction application with Trump or a close associate like Roger Stone or Rudy Giuliani. Judge Mehta (by dint of presiding over the Oath Keeper cases) or Judge Kelly (by dint of ruling over the most important Proud Boy cases) might see charges against Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, or Alex Jones. Chief Judge Howell might take a higher profile case herself. Or she might give it to either Mehta (who is already presiding over closely related cases, including the January 6 lawsuits of Trump) or one of the two judges who has dealt with issues of Presidential accountability, either former OLC head Moss or Carl Nichols. Notably, Judge Nichols, who might also get related cases based on presiding over the Steve Bannon case, has not yet (as far as I’m aware) issued a ruling upholding 1512(c)(2); I imagine he would uphold it, but don’t know how his opinion might differ from his colleagues.

The application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to January 6 is not, as the TV lawyers only now discovering it, an abstract concept. It is something that has been heavily litigated already. There are eight substantive opinions out there, with some nuances between them. The universe of judges who might preside over a Trump case is likewise finite and with the notable exception of Judge Nichols, the two groups largely overlap.

So if TV lawyers with time on their hands want to understand how obstruction would apply to Trump, it’d do well — and it is long overdue — to look at what the judges have actually said and how those opinions differ from the theory of liability being thrown around on TV.

I’m convinced not just that Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction, but that DOJ has been working towards that for some time. But I’m not convinced the current January 6 Committee theory would survive.