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Flynn Was Hiding that He Coordinated His Kislyak Call with Mar-A-Lago

One of the defenses the frothy right — from Billy Barr down to bots on Twitter — keeps making about Mike Flynn is that because he knew his calls with Sergey Kislyak would be recorded, he would know that the FBI knew what he had said during his January 24, 2017 interview, and so had no reason to lie.

Indeed, whereas DOJ reclassified stuff from an  Andrew McCabe memo that was made public last year (hiding McCabe’s concern about leaks), the only new line in McCabe’s memo they declassified served to substantiate Flynn’s acknowledgment that FBI knew what he had said to Kislyak.

Mr. Flynn, himself a former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, stated that he readily expected that the FBI already knew the contents of his conversations with the ambassador, stating: “you listen to everything they say.”

In their motion to dismiss the Flynn prosecution, DOJ used this quotation of Flynn to claim that because FBI already knew what he said with Kislyak, they had no need to interview Flynn.

In any event, there was no question at the FBI as to the content of the calls; the FBI had in its possession word-for-word transcripts of the actual communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13. at 3. With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said.

Except DOJ and all of Flynn’s frothers are missing (or suppressing) something so obvious I pointed it out when Flynn’s 302 was first released in heavily redacted form 18 months ago.

Flynn wasn’t lying to hide what he said to Kislyak.

He was lying to hide that he had coordinated with people at Mar-a-Lago before speaking with Kislyak.

In the 302 of his January 24, 2017 interview, for example, FBI agents described Flynn attributing the delay in returning Kislyak’s text on December 28 (and, we now know, the Russian Embassy’s call) to the shitty cell reception in Dominican Republic.

Shortly after Christmas, 2016, FLYNN took a vacation to the Dominican Republic with his wife. On December 28th, KISYLAK sent FLYNN a text stating, “Can you call me?” FLYNN noted cellular reception was poor and he was not checking his phone regularly, and consequently did not see the text until approximately 24 hours later. Upon seeing the text, FLYNN responded that he would call in 15-20 minutes, and he and KISLYAK subsequently spoke.

After Agents circled around to ask whether he had discussed the expulsions of diplomats (which, incidentally, I think is a fourth lie, one not charged, suggesting his comments on expulsions go beyond what appears in public reports), Flynn claimed he didn’t know that Obama had imposed the sanctions at all because he wasn’t watching the news and his government BlackBerry wasn’t working (thereby confirming he returned Kislyak’s call using a device the government couldn’t obtain without legal process).

The interviewing agents asked FLYNN if he recalled any conversation with KISLYAK surrounding the expulsion of Russian diplomats or closing of Russian properties in response to Russian hacking activities surrounding the election. FLYNN stated that he did not. FLYNN reiterated his conversation was about the PUTIN/TRUMP VTC and the “Astana thing” (the Kazakhstan conference described earlier). FLYNN noted he was not aware of the then-upcoming actions as he did not have access to television news in the Dominican Republic and his government BlackBerry was not working.

When cued with his specific “tit-for-tat” comment, Flynn again claimed not to have known about the sanctions before his call.

The interviewing agents asked FLYNN if he recalled any conversation with KISLYAK in which the expulsions were discussed, where FLYNN might have encouraged KISLYAK not to escalate the situation, to keep the Russian response reciprocal, or not to engage in a “tit-for-tat.” FLYNN responded, “Not really. I don’t remember. It wasn’t, ‘Don’t do anything.'” The U.S. Government’s response was a total surprise to FLYNN. FLYNN did not know about the Persona Non-Grata (PNG) action until it was in the media.

When asked one more time about his calls that day, he again pointed to Dominican Republic’s shitty cell service to claim ignorance of the sanctions.

FLYNN remembered making four to five calls that day about this issue, but that the Dominican Republic was a difficult place to make a call as he kept having connectivity issues. FLYNN reflected and stated he did not think he would have had a conversation with KISLYAK about the matter, as he did not know the expulsions were coming.

Three different times in this interview, Flynn claimed he did not know about the sanctions before speaking with Kislyak, and in a fourth response, he falsely attributed all the delay in returning Kislyak’s call exclusively to the shitty cell service. But according to the Mueller Report, he had found out about the sanctions from a text a KT McFarland assistant sent him, if not before.

Russia initiated the outreach to the Transition Team. On the evening of December 28, 2016, Kislyak texted Flynn, “can you kindly call me back at your convenience.”1229 Flynn did not respond to the text message that evening. Someone from the Russian Embassy also called Flynn the next morning, at 10:38 a.m., but they did not talk. 1230

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

In fact, Flynn’s specific testimony was not that he had waited to call Kislyak back because of connection issues (though that was probably part of it), but because he wanted to consult with McFarland and others first. He returned Kislyak’s call immediately after consulting with McFarland.

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

Not only did Flynn make efforts — by lying — to hide his consultation with Mar-a-Lago when he was interviewed on January 24, but after Kislyak relayed to Flynn that Putin had specifically taken Flynn’s call into account, Flynn took immediate efforts to hide that sanctions had come up by writing McFarland a cover email she could share with others that didn’t mention sanctions.

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.1267

Flynn knew the FBI had access to the Kislyak transcripts when they interviewed him. Kislyak was a foreign target and so fair game.

But Flynn believed the FBI might not access his communications with the rest of the team (indeed, once Trump’s people discovered Mueller had obtained the Transition communications from GSA in the wake of Flynn’s guilty plea, they threw an every-loving hissy fit). Not just Flynn, but everyone else, was trying to cover up those conversations in which they had strategized the call. Indeed, even after Flynn pled guilty, the White House scripted Bannon to deny them.

And the difference — the fact that Flynn wasn’t trying to hide his calls with Kislyak so much as he was trying to hide his consultations with the people at Trump’s resort — conclusively demonstrates why the lies were material. The FBI knew what Flynn had said to Kislyak, but on January 24, they FBI didn’t know how many calls Flynn had exchanged with others at Mar-a-Lago before calling Kislyak. The Mary McCord 302 reveals analysis of Flynn’s call records had not yet been done by February 16.

McCord’s notes (page 42) reflect that at that time, analysis of Flynn’s phone records was nearly done.

The FBI would have used those call records — of what Flynn made clear in his interview were for his personal, not his government issued (secure) phone — to identify whether it was true that Flynn had been cut off in Dominican Republic, and whether it was true that he really didn’t know about sanctions when he spoke to Kislyak.

Indeed, the FBI were still trying to understand all the details about the discussions at Mar-a-Lago until they obtained the Transition emails with a warrant, which probably happened on August 25, 2017. KT McFarland claimed not to remember the 20 minute call with Flynn in her second interview on September 14, 2017, something she would un-forget after Flynn pled guilty, though Barr’s DOJ is hiding the rest of the details about that call. And FBI didn’t get a full accounting of what happened between Flynn and Mar-a-Lago at least until McFarland started unforgetting on December 22, 2017 in the wake of Flynn’s plea.

In short, it took the FBI almost an entire year to get a general understanding of the events surrounding that call in significant part because of the lies Flynn told in the interview, lies about stuff that didn’t show up in the Kislyak transcript. For much of that time, FBI would have had reason to believe Flynn had acted on his own, giving FBI every reason to believe Flynn was secretly working with Russia (like they were coming to understand he had secretly been on the payroll of Turkey).

That’s the definition of materiality. And, as I’ve noted, Bill Barr’s DOJ is on the record agreeing, in the still-active sentencing memorandum for Mike Flynn submitted in January, that it was material precisely because FBI needed to understand who ordered him to make that call.

Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

[snip]

As the Court has already found, his false statements to the FBI were material, regardless of the FBI’s knowledge of the substance of any of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. See Mem. Opinion at 51-52. The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

Had Trump admitted, right from the start, that he ordered the Code Red, this wouldn’t have been material. Had Mike Flynn been honest that he had coordinated his response with advisors sitting at Mar-a-Lago with Trump, this might not have been material. Had KT McFarland admitted her side of the consultations when interviewed by the FBI in August and September 2017, it might change the materiality of Flynn’s lies.

But Donald Trump and Mike Flynn and KT McFarland treated this as something to hide for almost the entirety of a year. And that’s why the lies mattered.

Glenn Greenwald’s Invented Claims in Defense of Bill Barr and Mike Flynn

Last week, Glenn Greenwald did a podcast defending Bill Barr’s efforts to overturn the prosecution of Mike Flynn (here’s a transcript; the italicized language below is my correction of that transcript). A whole slew of people wrote me in alarm over some of the claims he made in it. After some reflection, I decided to do a post showing how the public record that Glenn claims to have consulted in his podcast at least undermines some of his claims, and in places utterly refutes it.

Two points about this. First, after I made it clear I was working on this in conversations with Glenn, he wrote this post, once again claiming to know details of what I shared with the FBI and what their response to that was, which I assume was an attempt to bully me into withholding this post. Ironically, The Intercept is fundraising off that post, celebrating a post that gets key details wrong. That is their prerogative. Glenn will apparently continue to make these claims; while there are baseless claims in it, I will continue to focus on correcting his baseless claims about other issues more central to current affairs.

Before Glenn posted that post, I asked if people would support this one by donating to my local food bank. This post took a great deal of work, at a time I’ve got far more important things to do from a reporting and personal perspective. If you recognize that work and if you can afford it at this time of crisis, please consider a donation to Feeding America West Michigan. Thanks!

False claim: Mueller acknowledged that the crime was not particularly serious by recommending that Flynn be sentenced to not a single day in prison

As “proof” that no one should be worried about DOJ’s actions with regards to Flynn, Glenn claims that prosecutors said Flynn’s crime was not serious and he should do no prison time.

These flamboyant warnings about the critical importance of the Flynn prosecution and the cataclysmic consequences of the Justice Department’s decision to request its dismissal are particularly odd since General Flynn was accused of a single crime lying to the FBI pled guilty to it. And then the prosecutor Robert Mueller and his prosecutorial team acknowledged that the crime was not particularly serious by recommending to the judge that General Flynn be sentenced to not a single day in prison, citing both the cooperation he gave to the prosecution as well as the nature of the crime. So even the prosecutors in this case, have said that the conviction that came from the plea bargain doesn’t warrant a second in prison time.

While Mueller’s team appeared amenable to probation in their first sentencing memo, they did not actually recommend probation, leaving it up to Judge Sullivan’s discretion. Moreover, they introduced their recommendation for a low end of guideline sentence by stating Flynn’s crime was serious.

The defendant’s offense is serious. As described in the Statement of Offense, the defendant made multiple false statements, to multiple Department of Justice (“DOJ”) entities, on multiple occasions.

[snip]

For the foregoing reasons, as well as those contained in the government’s Addendum and Motion for Downward Departure, the government submits that a sentence at the low end of the advisory guideline range is appropriate and warranted.

After Flynn tried to get cute in his own sentencing memo, the government reiterated the seriousness of Flynn’s crime.

The seriousness of the defendant’s offense cannot be called into question, and the Court should reject his attempt to minimize it. While the circumstances of the interview do not present mitigating considerations, assuming the defendant continues to accept responsibility for his actions, his cooperation and military service continue to justify a sentence at the low end of the guideline range.

When Judge Sullivan asked prosecutors about benefits Flynn had obtained from cooperating at the sentencing hearing, Brandon Van Grack indicated that Flynn had been exposed to conspiracy and Foreign Agent charges, which could amount to a ten or fifteen year sentence (which is what Flynn says Covington counseled him before he pled guilty).

THE COURT: I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. Your answer is he could have been charged in that [EDVA] indictment.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: And that would have been — what’s the exposure in that indictment if someone is found guilty?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I believe, if you’ll give me a moment, I believe it was a conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, which I believe is a five-year offense. It was a violation of 18 U.S.C. 951, which is either a five- or ten-year offense, and false statements — under those false statements, now that I think about it, Your Honor, pertain to Ekim Alptekin, and I don’t believe the defendant had exposure to the false statements of that individual.

THE COURT: Could the sentences have been run consecutive to one another?

MR. VAN GRACK: I believe so.

THE COURT: So the exposure would have been grave, then, would have been — it would have been — exposure to Mr. Flynn would have been significant had he been indicted?

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes. And, Your Honor, if I may just clarify. That’s similar to the exposure for pleading guilty to 18 U.S.C. 1001.

THE COURT: Right. Exactly. I’m not minimizing that at all. It’s a five-year felony.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Excuse me one second. (Brief pause in proceedings.)

THE COURT: Yes, Counsel.

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I’d clarify that the maximum penalty for 18 U.S.C. 951 is a ten-year felony and five years —

After Flynn blew up his plea deal, prosecutors got more explicit about the seriousness of Flynn’s crimes in their second sentencing memo, one that had to be delayed twice to get approvals from everyone in DOJ.

Given the serious nature of the defendant’s offense, his apparent failure to accept responsibility, his failure to complete his cooperation in – and his affirmative efforts to undermine – the prosecution of Bijan Rafiekian, and the need to promote respect for the law and adequately deter such criminal conduct, the government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

[snip]

The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct. Similarly situated defendants have received terms of imprisonment.

[snip]

The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it.

The only time any sentencing memo raised probation was the reply memo in January, which came after Barr started the process of reversing Flynn’s prosecution.

As set forth below, the government maintains that a sentence within the Guidelines range – to include a sentence of probation – would be appropriate and warranted in this case.

[snip]

Based on all of the relevant facts and for the foregoing reasons, the government submits that a sentence within the Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration is appropriate and warranted in this case, agrees with the defendant that a sentence of probation is a reasonable sentence and does not oppose the imposition of a sentence of probation.

Inapt comparison: Bill Barr’s orchestration of Cap Weinberger’s pardon is worse than Bill Barr doing the pardon here

In a crazy bit of straw man argument, Glenn claims (with no evidence) that those complaining about the Flynn matter don’t also care about past abuses of clemency and prosecutorial discretion.

And yet we’re hearing that the refusal to proceed with it is the end of American justice as we know. Apparently under this view, prior subversions of justice by the executive branch, such as the Act that I regard as the single most corrupt attack on basic justice in the United States, which is a decision by President Bush 41 to pardon numerous of his closest aides implicated in crimes relating to the IranContra scandal, including his defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger who had been charged with perjury crimes and trials that would have likely led to the investigation and probably the conviction of President Bush 41 himself.

The comparison is inapt for reasons that go to the core of how we hold the President accountable for abuse of his Article II authority.

Mueller has made it clear that if Trump weren’t the President, he would have been indicted for obstruction. One act of his obstruction involved firing Jim Comey in an attempt to end the investigation into Flynn. Another involved calling Flynn’s lawyer, Rob Kelner, and demanding that Kelner alert him if he was implicating the President. Which is to say, even before Barr’s actions here, Trump had taken steps Poppy Bush is not known to have done to try to prevent Flynn from implicating him in — among other things — working to undercut sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of the 2016 election.

The evidence strongly suggests that Flynn avoided implicating Trump in the strategy of the Kislyak call, in a way that matched Trump’s public denials. Here’s how the Mueller Report concluded it did not have sufficient evidence to conclude that Flynn lied to the FBI to protect Trump.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

This is a matter about which Trump tried to create a contemporaneous record, one John Eisenberg thwarted to avoid obstruction exposure.

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

It’s one of the topics the White House scripted Steve Bannon to give in his HPSCI testimony.

And it goes to a question Trump blew off entirely in his response to Mueller.

i. What consideration did you give to lifting sanctions and/or recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea if you were elected? Describe who you spoke with about this topic, when, the substance of the discussion(s).

That is, Flynn’s limited cooperation on the Russian investigation did not implicate Trump in ways that would have exposed him legally.

That’s the background to Bill Barr’s actions since January. The difference between this and the Weinberger pardon is precisely the point. If, when prosecutors explicitly called for prison time in January, Trump had simply pardoned Flynn, it would the equivalent of the Weinberger pardon. In addition, Trump would face the direct political consequences of doing so in November.

Instead, leading up to his motion to dismiss, Barr (the architect of the Weinberger pardon, but Glenn doesn’t mention that) removed a Senate-confirmed US Attorney, installed an unconfirmed flunky to oversee career prosecutors, and then got an outsider to go “find” documents that had already been reviewed by two outside oversight entities (DOJ IG and John Durham). Then Barr overrode the career prosecutors’ decision to move to dismiss the prosecution. He has subsequently replaced the past flunky at DC USAO with another one. That is, Barr is putting people in place solely to protect those who’ve refused to testify against Trump law, and doing it in a way that limits the political cost Poppy incurred with the Weinberger pardon. It also limits what Barr himself conceded might be further exposure for Trump for obstruction charges.

Misdirection: The FBI was corrupt during the 2016 election

Glenn complains that the entire Deep State (including the NSA, which is particularly crazy given that Mike Rogers was interviewing with Trump at a time he was at odds with his bosses) acted corruptly during the 2016, with the implication that this affected Trump.

There’s another reason it’s so important to understand what happened in this case, which is that it sheds light on and directly relates to very widespread corruption on the part of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the DOJ and other agencies within the US security state during the 2016 election. For overtly political ends we already know of several extremely shocking revelations demonstrating abuse of power on the part of those agencies as part of the 2016 election.

This feels like just word diarrhea, so maybe Glenn hasn’t thought through what he said. But Glenn seems to suggest any corruption at DOJ and CIA and FBI (and NSA?!?!) harmed Trump.

It’s true that the FBI opened an investigation into four people associated with Trump’s campaign based off a tip from Australia, one that John Durham has said should have been opened as a Preliminary Investigation rather than a Full one (which would have no affect on techniques used).

It’s true that the Carter Page FISA application — obtained close to the end of the election and in secret — had real problems, though DOJ IG did not conclude that those errors arose from political bias. With respect to Woods Procedure violations, Page’s applications were actually better than a bunch DOJ IG later reviewed. Moreover, the worst problems on the Page applications came later, on the last two applications, under the Trump Administration. While Trump’s DOJ withdrew the probable cause determination for the third and fourth Carter Page application, it has not done so for the two earlier ones.

Meanwhile, two people have been fired for their actions in 2016. Both did things that did major damage to Hillary Clinton. Jim Comey was fired in part because repeatedly violated DOJ’s prohibitions about discussing declinations (and in part because he didn’t coordinate the declination statement with DOJ). And Andrew McCabe was fired because he confirmed the existence of an investigation into the Clinton Foundation and allegedly lied about doing so to DOJ’s IG. (Whether he actually did lie remains the subject of litigation; DOJ failed to get an indictment against McCabe and DOJ IG withheld the testimony of Michael Kortan from his report on it).

The investigation into the Clinton Foundation, unlike the investigation into Trump’s campaign, had been predicated off of GOP oppo research, Clinton Cash, and it was leaked before McCabe confirmed it.

In fact, the only evidence the DOJ IG Report provided of biased agents handling informants targeting a candidate involved that same Clinton Foundation investigation.

We reviewed the text and instant messages sent and received by the Handling Agent, the co-case Handling Agent, and the SSA for this CHS, which reflect their support for Trump in the 2016 elections. On November 9, the day after the election, the SSA contacted another FBI employee via an instant messaging program to discuss some recent CHS reporting regarding the Clinton Foundation and offered that “if you hear talk of a special prosecutor .. .I will volunteer to work [on] the Clinton Foundation.” The SSA’s November 9, 2016 instant messages also stated that he “was so elated with the election” and compared the election coverage to “watching a Superbowl comeback.” The SSA explained this comment to the OIG by saying that he “fully expected Hillary Clinton to walk away with the election. But as the returns [came] in … it was just energizing to me to see …. [because] I didn’t want a criminal to be in the White House.”

On November 9, 2016, the Handling Agent and co-case Handling Agent for this CHS also discussed the results of the election in an instant message exchange that reads:

Handling Agent: “Trump!”

Co-Case Handling Agent: “Hahaha. Shit just got real.”

Handling Agent: “Yes it did.”

Co-Case Handling Agent: “I saw a lot of scared MFers on … [my way to work] this morning. Start looking for new jobs fellas. Haha.”

Handling Agent: “LOL”

Co-Case Handling Agent: “Come January I’m going to just get a big bowl of popcorn and sit back and watch.”

Handling Agent: “That’s hilarious!” [my emphasis]

Perhaps Glenn meant to incorporate FBI’s failures involving Hillary investigations in his comments, but if so, he didn’t mention it.

False claims: The Mueller Report represented the completion of all Trump-related investigations and Mueller gave no “hint” of any leverage over Trump

Glenn continues to misrepresent what the Mueller Report was.

The Mueller investigation itself revealed that the two critical conspiracy theories that droveRussiagate” [sic] for three years number one that Donald Trump and the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election and that number two the Kremlin exerted all kinds of blackmail leverage over Donald Trump to effectively be able to rule the United States for the benefit of Moscow using not just compromising videotapes, but also financial leverage. We know that all of that turned out to be a myth, a conspiracy theory without basis. And we know that for all kinds of reasons, particularly the fact that the Mueller investigation, after 18 months of highly aggressive subpoena driven probes into every component of those conspiracy theories ended without indicting even a single American, not one single American indicted for the crime of conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election in the Muller report didn’t even hint that let alone give credibility to let alone prove that there was any leverage being exerted over Donald Trump or the Trump White House by the Kremlin when it comes to things like blackmail average or other financial leverage.

Congratulations to Glenn for, this time, not exaggerating how long Mueller worked (22 months) like he normally does.

But Glenn continues to misunderstand both the allegations and the evidence.

First, in addition to any compromise (primarily financial, not the pee tape) tied to the crimes Mueller investigated, there was also the issue of a quid pro quo, Trump trading policy considerations in exchange for Russia’s election help.

In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.

That’s precisely why Flynn’s actions on sanctions were so important (as the language from the second sentencing memo makes clear). Glenn pretends that wasn’t investigated.

As regards to any “hint” of evidence of a conspiracy, the report specifically says that, “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” And when Glenn says the Report did not hint at such a relation, he necessarily is ignoring:

  • The improbably lucrative real estate deal offered to Trump with the involvement of a former GRU officer
  • The meeting offering dirt where Don Jr said the campaign would revisit a request for sanctions relief if they won
  • Paul Manafort’s sharing of internal campaign information with a GRU-connected oligarch, including at a meeting where he also discussed carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking; Manafort continued to pursue the Ukraine effort until he was jailed
  • Roger Stone’s efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases which — recent releases make clear — the FBI believes or believed involved advance notice of the dcleaks and Guccifer personas, followed by Stone’s effort to pay off Assange with a pardon, starting seven days after the election

Glenn also misconstrues the scope of the investigation, which included the transition period but (probably for very important constitutional reasons), with respect to a quid pro quo or even Putin’s influence over Trump (but not obstruction), ended on Inauguration Day. Similarly, he misconstrues the scope of the Report, which explicitly said it did not include counterintelligence issues like blackmail (something I’ve tried to help Glenn correct his errors on before).

Most importantly, Glenn again claims, in spite of abundant public records to the contrary, that Mueller reported after finishing everything up. That ignores the twelve sealed referrals, of which just the George Nader prosecution has been disclosed (though one surely relates to Jerome Corsi and another probably pertains to Stone).

It ignores documented evidence of ongoing investigations (another thing I already laid out for Glenn’s benefit):

It is a fact, for example, that DOJ refused to release the details of Paul Manafort’s lies — covering the kickback system via which he got paid, his efforts to implement the Ukraine plan pitched in his August 2, 2016 meeting, and efforts by another Trump flunkie to save the election in the weeks before he resigned — because those investigations remained ongoing in March [2019]. There’s abundant reason to think that the investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and Rudy Giuliani, whether it was a referral from Mueller or not, is the continuation of the investigation into Manafort’s efforts to help Russia carve up Ukraine to its liking (indeed, the NYT has a piece on how Manafort played in Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to cultivate Trump today).

It is a fact that the investigation that we know of as the Mystery Appellant started in the DC US Attorney’s office and got moved back there (and as such might not even be counted as a referral). What we know of the challenge suggests a foreign country (not Russia) was using one of its corporations to pay off bribes of someone. [Note: I have reason to believe, given a redaction in the recently-released Rosenstein scope memo, that this investigation is ongoing.]

It is a fact that Robert Mueller testified under oath that the counterintelligence investigation into Mike Flynn was ongoing.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

That’s consistent with redaction decisions made both in the Mueller Report itself and as recently as last week.

And it ignores documents released in the last month that show that, in September 2018, the government took a number of steps in a Foreign Agent investigation that were deliberately hidden from Stone (and all the rest of us). The redactions in those filings indicate the investigation remains ongoing. In addition to Foreign Agent charges, it includes conspiracy among the crimes being investigated. The prosecution of Stone on False Statements charges was, in part, an effort to obtain Stone’s notes of his election-year meetings with Trump and his encrypted communications in support of this more serious investigation.

Based on very recent documents, DOJ continues to investigate Trump’s rat-fucker for conspiracy and Foreign Agent charges. The Mueller Report clearly does not reflect the end result of these investigations, including with regards to whether Mueller believed any of Trump’s aides had conspired with Russia or its surrogates.

False claim: FBI had no basis for believing Carter Page was an Agent of Russia

Glenn claims that the FBI had no reason to believe Carter Page was an Agent of Russia.

Perhaps the most egregious of it concerns the spying that was done by the FBI by the Justice Department on US citizen and former Trump advisor Trump campaign advisor Carter page. It was revealed throughout 2017 and into 2018 that the FBI had obtained FISA warrants to spy on the communications of Carter Page. spying on the email and telephone communications of a US citizen is one of the most draconian acts that the FBI and the US government can do. And yet they did it to Carter Page after shortly after he had served as an advisor to the Trump campaign yet while the presidential campaign was still underway, and for two years we heard Carter Page is clearly an agent of the Russian government. He was clearly a key cog in the conspiracy to conspire between Trump the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the election. We heard it vehemently denied that the Steele dossier, the unproven unvetted mountain of allegations served as a basis for the FISA allegation and yet, after a very comprehensive investigation, by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice in 2019, a comprehensive report was issued that concluded that not only was there no basis for believing that Carter Page was an agent of the Russian government, but the FBI lied to the FISA court, in order to obtain the warrants, to eavesdrop on him an incredibly serious scandal for the FBI to spy on somebody who had been associated with a rival campaign during a presidential election, when it turned out that not only was there no basis for doing so, but that they actually lied to the court in order to obtain those warrants, and it was the Mueller Report itself. That made clear that there was never any reason to believe, contrary to the definitive assertions of the media and political consensus that we heard for years, there was no reason to believe that Carter Page was ever an agent of the Russian government.

The actions of the FBI on the Carter Page FISA applications are inexcusable (note, Glenn gets the dates of the FISAs wrong, but that’s not important). It’s clear that Kevin Clinesmith, in June 2017, affirmatively misrepresented information key to the application. And after the FBI started learning of problems with the Steele dossier, largely in 2017, they did not incorporate that into their applications about Page. Nothing excuses that.

The FBI opened a counterespionage investigation into Carter Page on April 6, 2016, long before that application, based off actions that preceded his designation as a Trump advisor.

The IG Report explained why there was basis to investigate Page as a foreign agent: because he not only willingly shared non-public economic information with known Russian intelligence officers, extending beyond the time he was closed by the CIA as an approved contact (and CIA did not know all instances in which he had done so), but when his role in the Evgeny Buryakov prosecution became clear, Page seemed to affirmatively seek to resume contact with the Russians. In addition, it (and released 302s) made it clear that Page tried to deny doing so when asked by the FBI about this in a follow-up. The DOJ IG Report also laid out how Page believed he would cash in on his ties with Russia. And the 302s show that the FBI did get information from witnesses that seemed to corroborate some of the claims in the Steele dossier (or at least indicate that Steele was getting the same rumors that some of the people who set up Page’s trips to Russia got). The Mueller Report also shows that Page was representing himself as Trump advisor on Ukraine policy during his December 2016 trip to Moscow, actions that (if they weren’t sanctioned by Trump, as they appear not to have been) damaged the President-elect. The IG investigators did not review all the intelligence obtained via the FISA order.

Also of note, DOJ IG did not understand the predication of the investigation against Page until after the report was published, misunderstanding that 18 USC 951 is a different crime than FARA, and as a result conducted a First Amendment analysis that would have been passed based off the economic espionage actions with known Russian intelligence officers.

The Mueller Report that Glenn treats as the end all and be all of the matter makes it clear the government still had questions about what happened with Page in Russia (and released 302s make it clear the government wasn’t able to account for all of Page’s time in Moscow).

The Office was unable to obtain additional evidence or testimony about who Page may have met or communicated with in Moscow; thus, Page’s activities in Russia-as described in his emails with the Campaign-were not fully explained.

And a redacted passage in the declinations section of the report (page 183) clearly provides more context.

False claim: FBI planted Stefan Halper within the Trump campaign

After a long rant about what a terrible person Stefan Halper is (which is beyond my focus), Glenn claims that the FBI planted him “within” the Trump campaign.

And yet Halper pops up in the middle of the Russia gate investigation to serve as an informant on the part of the FBI essentially a spy planted within the circle of Trump campaign officials to approach George Papadopoulos and to approach Carter Page and report back what he was hearing and finding to the FBI. Exactly what has long been claimed that the FBI had essentially planted a spy, a former CIA operative with close ties to the Bush’s within the Trump campaign during the course of the presidential election.

The DOJ IG Report describes that when the FBI first reached out to Stefan Halper to serve as an informant in the investigation, they were focused exclusively on Papadopoulos. But then Halper revealed he had already met Carter Page in July, and Page had asked him to join the campaign; Halper was already expecting a call from someone senior (presumably Sam Clovis) about joining the campaign, but said he did not want to join the campaign.

Case Agent 1 told the OIG that the team asked Source 2 about Papadopoulos, but Source 2 said he had never heard of him. The EC documenting the meeting reflects that Source 2 agreed to work with the Crossfire Hurricane team by reaching out to Papadopoulos which would allow the Crossfire Hurricane team to collect assessment information on Papadopoulos and potentially conduct an operation.

Case Agent 1 told the OIG that Source 2 then asked whether the team had any interest in an individual named Carter Page. Case Agent 1 said that the members of the investigative team “didn’t react because at that point we didn’t know where we were going to go with it” but asked some questions about how Source 2 knew Carter Page. Source 2 explained that, in mid-July 2016, Carter Page attended a three-day conference, during which Page had approached Source 2 and asked Source 2 to be a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign. According to the EC summarizing the August 11, 2016 meeting, Source 2 said he/she had been “non-committal” about joining the campaign when discussing it with Carter Page in mid-July, but during the August 11, 2016 meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, Source 2 “stated that [he/she] had no intention of joining the campaign, but [Source 2] had not conveyed that to anyone related to the Trump campaign.” Source 2 further stated he/she “was willing to assist with the ongoing investigation and to not notify the Trump campaign about [Source 2’s] decision not to join.” Source 2 also told the Crossfire Hurricane team that Source 2 was expecting to be contacted in the near future by one of the senior leaders of the Trump campaign about joining the campaign.

Everyone on the team specifically said that if Halper did join the campaign they would not use him as an informant.

All of the FBI witnesses we interviewed said that they would not have used Source 2 for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation if Source 2 had actually wanted to join the Trump campaign. SSA 1 said he did not remember anyone on the Crossfire Hurricane team advocating for Source 2 to actually join the Trump campaign and told the OIG he was relieved that Source 2 did not want to join the campaign “at all.” Strzok told the OIG his reaction was “no, no, no, no, no, no…. [O]h god no. Absolutely not” when he learned that Source 2 had been invited to join the Trump campaign. Case Agent 1 told the OIG that if Source 2 had joined the campaign, the Crossfire Hurricane team would not have used Source 2 “because that’s not what we were after.”

It is true that Halper had taped interviews with Page (who had already reached out to Halper and who subsequently would invite Halper to join his Russian-funded think tank), Clovis, and Papadopoulos during the campaign. But the IG Report makes clear that these actions had the proper approvals and did not focus on campaign activities.

Unsubstantiated claim: Halper accused Svetlana Lokhova of being a honey pot entrapping Flynn

Meanwhile, Glenn suggests Halper accused Svetlana Lokhova honey trapped Flynn.

But also, it was the same Stephen Halper that first tried to raise concerns that General Flynn had should have his patriotism and his loyalties held under suspicion, because he claimed that General Flynn was speaking with and working with a Russian scholar, a woman named Svetlana Lokhova, who was at Oxford, and he was concerned Stephen Harper was he said that Svetlana Lokhova was basically a honeypot a sexpot, designed to entrap General Flynn to turn into a spy.

There are two aspects to this claim: that Halper’s allegations about Lokhova were part of the reason the FBI investigated Flynn and that Halper specifically accused Lokhova of being a honey pot.

The EC opening the investigation into Flynn shows that Lokhova was not included in the predication of the investigation against Flynn, which included his role on Trump’s campaign, his TS/SCI clearance, his acceptance of money from Russian state entities like RT, and his trip to Moscow in December 2015.

The draft closing document that Glenn himself thinks is a smoking gun only describes one stream of CHS reporting that came in on Flynn — which likely is that of Halper. That stream amounted to very little, was not reported before Halper was asked (contrary to claims Sidney Powell has made), and if this is Halper, the lead was chased down and dismissed.

That is, either FBI didn’t even consider Lokhova, or if they did, they didn’t give it any credence, the exact opposite of what Glenn claims happened.

Glenn also made an argument about Maria Butina in there, which I’ve dismantled when Matt Taibbi made it.

Claim without evidence: Barack Obama disliked Flynn

Amid a section laying out what a staunch critic of Obama Flynn was, Glenn also claims that Obama strongly disliked Flynn.

It’s really not an overstatement to say that President Obama after a very short period of time couldn’t stand Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn is exactly the kind of general and exactly the kind of official that President Obama strongly dislikes. And the feeling was very mutual.

[a very very long-winded presentation of how Flynn feels about Obama but not vice versa]

What was important and what is important for the subsequent events is the fact that President Obama seethes but seethes with contempt for General Flynn and the feeling was very mutual.

I know of no evidence to support this. Public reports show Flynn was fired for performance reasons, and most accounts say that James Clapper made the decision.

False claim: Flynn worked for “interests connected to the Turkish government”

In a passage on Flynn’s consulting work, Glenn misrepresents what Flynn himself has said about the work.

And they represented numerous clients as people who leave the military and intelligence world often do, including foreign governments, including interests connected to the Turkish government, and that consulting work that General Flynn did at times was not properly disclosed, as it is very common for consultants not to disclose their work. But that was the work that he was doing between 2014 when he left the Obama administration and 2016 in the middle of 2016 when he became an important surrogate for the Trump presidential campaign.

This passage suggests that Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government and did that work before he became a chief surrogate for Trump.

The record shows the engagement with Ekim Alptekin started in late July, after Flynn had already figured prominently in Trump’s convention. Just days before Flynn sat in on Trump’s first classified briefing, he responded to an email from Alptekin describing his meetings with two Turkish ministers on the project by saying, “Thank you Ekim for your kind update. This is an important engagement and we will give it priority on our side.” Alptekin responded by describing his meeting with the two Turkish ministers and stating, “I have a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget and the scope of the contract.”

Moreover, unless Flynn perjured himself before the grand jury, he was not just working for “interests connected with the Turkish government,” he was working for the Turkish government.

I think at the — from the beginning it was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government.

Of particular note, one of the lies Flynn told Covington as they prepared his FARA filings was that he wrote the November 8 op-ed published under his name as part of an effort to boost the Trump campaign’s war on terror cred. In reality, Flynn did not write the op-ed at all, he simply put his name to it.

Date and substance problems describing the sanctions

In a long passage in which Glenn suggests Russian interference isn’t proven, Glenn also muddles a lot of the facts regarding Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak.

On December 29, President Obama, the Obama administration announced a new series of sanctions, as well as the expulsion of various diplomats aimed at Russia in order to punish Russia for what the Obama administration said was Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. It was Obama’s last one of his last acts on the way out the door was to give Democrats what they wanted by sanctioning Russia, imposing imposing new sanctions on Russia and expelling Russian diplomat as retaliation or punishment for what they claim was Russian interference in the 2016 election. [my emphasis]

Both the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee and the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee have issued reports confirming the Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the election. And yet Glenn here suggests this was just an empty Obama Administration claim.

Moreover, Glenn misrepresents the full basis for the sanctions, which also retaliated for escalating Russian harassment of US diplomats in Russia.

And while it’s a minor issue, Glenn gets the date of the sanctions wrong. They were first reported on December 28, which is important because Kislyak reached out to Flynn on that day, not the other way around (the timing of this is central to problems with the story Flynn told, which was designed to hide his consultations with people at Mar-a-Lago), as did someone from the Russian Embassy.

Elaboration: Claims about the conversation

In his description of the actual calls between Flynn and Kislyak, Glenn elaborates on the public record, suggesting Flynn talked about what might happen after Inauguration with regards to sanctions (rather than just setting up a call and attending a conference in Astana).

Once the Obama administration announced the sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats, General Flynn, ready to take office as National Security Adviser, called the Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak on two separate occasions on that day, December 29. When these new reprisals were announced, essentially to tell him Look, there’s no reason for you to overreact. There’s no reason for you to retaliate. We’re about to take office in three weeks, we’re going to improve relations with you, we’re going to have a whole new relationship, so there’s no reason for you to do anything now that will force us in turn to retaliate. He was essentially trying to tamp down tensions to lay the groundwork for one of President Trump’s President Elect Trump’s campaign promises and foreign policy objectives which was to improve relations with Russia,

While it’s possible this is the way the call occurred, it’s not supported by the public record. The Mueller Report describes the conversation this way:

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

The detail that Flynn suggested Russia respond “in reciprocal manner” is important because Russia did even less than that.

While Glenn says there were two calls between Flynn and Kislyak, he doesn’t describe the second one from these days, which is critical background to why the FBI focused on Flynn because of the calls. The Mueller Report describes it this way:

On December 31, 2016, Kislyak called Flynn and told him the request had been received at the highest levels and that Russia had chosen not to retaliate to the sanctions in response to the request. 1268

The transcripts themselves remain classified, as do Sally Yates’ descriptions of what was most alarming about these transcripts.

So we don’t yet know why reading the transcripts rather than hearing about the call elicited strong reactions from those who did read them, but they did, including not just people in the Deep State, but also Reince Priebus and Mike Pence.

Misrepresentation: It is normal for incoming National Security Advisors to reach out to their counterparts

Glenn correctly claims that it is normal for incoming national security officials to reach out to their counterparts. It is! He doesn’t say what made Flynn’s actions unusual, which is what increased the urgency about them: the lies he told to others within the Administration about the calls.

It is extremely common for transition teams and for national security officials who are incoming and an administration to reach out to their counterparts to try and create a new positive relationship. And that’s what General Flynn did by twice calling Ambassador Kislyak, whom he had known from his experience working as director of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency on December 29. Now those two conversations that General Flynn had with Ambassador Kislyak were being monitored and recorded by the National Security Agency something that is extremely common is standard practice, as General Flynn knows and knew, because the NSA monitors and records the calls of as many officials as they possibly can, particularly in governments they consider to be adversarial such as Russia.

For some reason (perhaps so Glenn can liken surveilling US-based foreign officials with surveilling allies overseas) Glenn claims NSA picked up this intercept. FBI did.

But his silence about what makes Flynn’s actions here is utterly inexcusable: Flynn lied about what he had done to Mike Pence and others, which raised real questions at FBI about whether he was freelancing when he made the call (which might rightly be regarded as damage to Trump). As Mary McCord testified, that’s what made these calls different.

It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners, so the Logan Act seemed like a stretch to her. She described the matter as “concerning” but with no particular urgency. In early January, McCord did not think people were considering briefing the incoming administration. However, that changed when Vice President Michael Pence went on Face the Nation and said things McCord knew to be untrue. Also, as time went on, and then-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer made comments about Flynn’s actions she knew to be false, the urgency grew.

Note, too, some other small details here. Flynn knew Kislyak from paying a call before his RT gala trip; he denied any memory of meeting him in connection with his trip to Russia sponsored by the GRU. But he also made calls to Kislyak during the election that he attributed to condolence calls, which is the same excuse he used to claim his December calls weren’t about undermining US policy. It’s not public whether those other calls match Flynn’s claimed explanations for them.

False claims: Strzok and Page talked about needing to impede Trump and “discovered” these transcripts

Glenn next tells a story of the discovery of the Flynn-Kislyak transcript where the villains of his story play the central role, actually trolling through the FBI collections and discovering the conversations.

The NSA was spying on so General Flynn obviously knew and he later told the FBI that he knew that those conversations were being monitored or recorded, but they were being monitored and recorded because the NSA had successfully obtained access to Ambassador Kislyak’s communications knowledge of those two telephone calls that Michael Flynn had with Ambassador Kislyak made its way to two particular officials with the FBI, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Paige, who became very controversial later on both because they were having an affair with one another, an extramarital affair, but more importantly, because there were all kinds of email exchanges between the two throughout the 2016 presidential election as they were participating in the investigation of the Trump campaign, where they were explicitly talking about the need to make certain that Donald Trump lost and then the need once he won to impede him to damage him and to try and undermine him anyway that they can. So it was these two FBI officials who discovered these conversations that General Flynn had with Ambassador Kislyak.

There are a lot of small details here that Glenn gets wrong.

As noted, the calls were monitored by FBI, not NSA (which is not a significant difference but notable since Glenn and Snowden conflate foreign intelligence and domestic law enforcement).

The FBI discovered the calls because the IC was trying to figure out why Putin didn’t respond as expected.

And so the last couple days of December and the first couple days of January, all the Intelligence Community was trying to figure out, so what is going on here? Why is this — why have the Russians reacted the way they did, which confused us? And so we were all tasked to find out, do you have anything that might reflect on this? That turned up these calls at the end of December, beginning of January.

There’s not a shred of reason to believe that Strzok or Page “discovered” these conversations (Comey says analysts did).

I assume Glenn’s descriptions of the emails about “making certain Trump lost” are some text, not email, exchanges explained at length in the Midyear Exam IG Report. The most damning text dates to August 8, 2016, shortly after Crossfire Hurricane was opened.

“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responded, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”203

Another damning text dates to August 15, 2016, recounting a dispute in Andy McCabe’s office about how aggressively to conduct the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….”

Importantly, Strzok lost his bid to investigate more aggressively during the election, just like he lost his bid to investigate Hillary as aggressively as possible. While these are utterly damning (even with Strzok’s explanations of them), as the later IG Report made clear, the report concluded — having read all the Page and Strzok texts — neither Strzok nor Page were in a position to unilaterally make decisions.

The only known text that might remotely suggest either was trying to “impede him to damage him” pertains to a discussion about whether Strzok should join the Mueller investigation. In it, he said he didn’t think there was much there.

“For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business. I unleashed it with MYE. Now I need to fix it and finish it.” Later in the same exchange, Strzok, apparently while weighing his career options, made this comparison: “Who gives a f*ck, one more A[ssistant] D[irector]…[versus] [a]n investigation leading to impeachment?”204 Later in this exchange, Strzok stated, “you and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.”

If Glenn is relying on this (he didn’t cite anything), Glenn claims that a text showing that the guy whose goal (he says) was to impede Trump didn’t think there was much implicating Trump, and he uses that as proof he was out to sabotage Trump. It seems, instead, to be proof that Strzok didn’t let his view of Trump cloud his assessment of the evidence, a conclusion backed by other known details of the investigation.

False claim: Lisa Page and Peter Strzok decided to keep the investigation into Flynn open

Glenn’s interpretation of the texts showing Strzok’s actions, especially, claims both that Comey didn’t want to investigate Flynn and did want to. At first, for example, Glenn suggests that Comey had ordered — rather than authorized — the closure of the investigation. It suggests some “snafu” rather than bureaucratic lassitude delayed the closure. And it suggests the Page and Strzok led this decision-making.

James Comey and the leadership of the FBI had decided to close the only pending investigation that the FBI had into General Flynn, which was part of the Operation Hurricane investigation, the investigation about improper ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government James Comey and the FBI leadership concluded there was no evidence to believe that General Flynn had any improper contacts or connections with let alone had conspired with the Russian government during the election and as ordered that investigation closed and filed the paperwork in early January. But when Peter Strzok and Lisa Page got hold of these conversations that Ambassador Kislyak had had with General Flynn and decided they wanted to investigate him for it and use it against him, they discovered in early January that the order that James Comey and FBI leadership had given to close the investigation against Michael Flynn never was finalized because of a bureaucratic snafu. That investigation contrary to the decision that the FBI had remained open and what the newly discovered documents reveal, among other things, is that Peter struck and Lisa page celebrated. The bureaucratic snafu was good luck because it meant that there was now a still a pending investigation that was supposed to have been closed into General Flynn, who they could latch on to and hook on to in order to try and investigate him. Now because of these new conversations that he had with Ambassador Kislyak.

Comey testified that he authorized — not ordered — the investigation to be closed.

At that point, we had an open counterintelligence investigation on Mr. Flynn, and it had been open since the summertime, and we were very close to closing it. In fact, I had — I think I had authorized it to be closed at the end of January, beginning — excuse me, end of December, beginning of January. And we kept it open once we became aware of these communications. And there were additional steps the investigators wanted to consider, and if we were to give a heads-up to anybody at the White House, it might step on our ability to take those steps.

[snip]

MR. COMEY: To find out whether there was something we were missing about his relationship with the Russians and whether he would — because we had this disconnect publicly between what the Vice President was saying and what we knew. And so before we closed an investigation of Flynn, I wanted them to sit before him and say what is the deal?

The part of the texts that Glenn relies on to say Page and Strzok celebrated the case hadn’t been closed makes it clear that incompetence, not any snafu, had delayed the closure. It also makes clear that these decisions were coming from the 7th floor (that is, McCabe or Comey).

Other critics of these actions rely on that 7th floor detail to substantiate their claim of a great plot, but even imagining there was one, it would mean Page and Strzok don’t have the decisive role Glenn says they did.

Misrepresentation: Jim Comey wanted to investigate a person rather than a call

Both in the above passage and a following one, Glenn suggests that the existence of these calls was used as excuse to investigate Flynn, rather than the existence of transcripts showing the incoming NSA altering Putin’s behavior would always be reason to investigate.

James Comey wanted to investigate General Flynn. He wanted to do what he could use these newly discovered calls Against General Flynn, but the Justice Department then led by acting director, acting Attorney General Sally Yates, believe that it was improper to investigate what was about to be a high level White House official without notifying the Trump transition team and then the Trump White House that the FBI was investigating what was seemed to become a very high level official, and they thought about it and they thought about it until James Comey without notifying the attorney general or the Justice Department officials who were opposed to it sent FBI agents to general Flynn’s office with the intention of questioning him about the telephone calls that he had with the Russian ambassador,

As the texts above make clear, at first no one knew what to do about these calls.

Once again, Glenn doesn’t mention the role of Flynn’s lies to Mike Pence in leading everyone, including DOJ, to treat the transcripts differently.

MR. COMEY: To find out whether there was something we were missing about his relationship with the Russians and whether he would — because we had this disconnect publicly between what the Vice President was saying and what we knew. And so before we closed an investigation of Flynn, I wanted them to sit before him and say what is the deal?

As Yates described it, things heated up after it became clear Flynn had lied.

In early January, DOJ began to “ramp up” their discussions regarding Flynn, in reaction to a David Ignatius column describing the phone calls in early January 2017, followed by a statement where Sean Spicer around January 13, in which Spicer denied there was sanctions talk on the calls and stated that the Flynn calls were logistical. The false statement by Spicer, which Yates assessed to be the White House “trying to tamp down” the attention, caused DOJ to really start to wonder what they should do.

On January 13, 2017, things “really got hot.” On that day, Vice President Pence was on Face the Nation and stated publicly he’d spoken to Flynn and had been told there had been no discussion of sanctions with Kislyak. Yates recalled she was in New York City that weekend, and received a call from McCord notifying her of the statements. Prior to this, there had been some discussion about notifying the White House, but nothing had been decided. Until the Vice President made the statement on TV, there was a sense that they may not need to notify the White House, because others at the White House may already be aware of the calls.

There are redactions in Yates’ testimony that likely hide critical details. But Yates did concede that,

Generally, when the Intelligence Community learns of a “criminal investigation,” their reaction is to back off and defer to the FBI; [redacted] Yates did not herself believe the investigation would be negatively impacted, but Brennan and Clapper backed off after their talk with Comey.

False claim: The FBI made Flynn tell lies he wasn’t already telling

Glenn then turned to Bill Priestap’s notes, quoting from the part that reflects a rethinking about whether they should share Flynn’s own words with him, rather than the part that lays out the overall goal of the interview. 

The day that FBI agents including Peter Strzok were sent to General Flynn to interrogate him about the calls that he had with General Kys — Ambassador Kislyak, and those handwritten notes made clear that the FBI was overtly flirting with an entertaining if not outright, executing an interrogation with corrupt and improper motives specifically to purposely induce General Flynn to lie to them so that they could use those lies to then punish him or turn him into a criminal to handwritten notes from the FBI official Bill Priestap specifically explicitly state quote, what’s our goal truth slash admission or to get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired? This is revealing that the FBI had no real interest in interviewing General Flynn about what he said to Ambassador Kislyak because they already knew what he said since they had the transcripts of those conversations the result of the surveillance that was done on those calls, the only conceivable objective to go and interview him was to purposely induce him to lie not show him those transcripts, asked him what he talked about in that conversation that he had almost a month earlier, and the hope of getting him to lie so that they could get him fired. Not exactly a legitimate FBI objective, or turn him into a criminal create a new crime by using their power of interrogation to induce him to lie and then charged him with lying to the FBI. Whatever the ultimate motive was, these notes are highly incriminating about what the FBI’s real intentions were.

Again, Glenn said nothing about Flynn’s lies to Pence, which undermines the claims Glenn makes here. The public record at the time supported a suspicion that Flynn had gone rogue in his call to Kislyak, and was hiding what he had done with the Administration. Indeed, the public record still claims that Trump did not instruct Flynn to take these actions (though he applauded them after the fact).

That background is particularly important because the notes are consistent with several other contemporary pieces of documentation, including what Bill Priestap told Mary McCord contemporaneously and what Comey said a few months later. which show the purpose of the interview was to see whether Flynn would be honest about his conversations with Russia, particularly in light of Flynn’s apparent lies to Mike Pence and Sean Spicer.

That’s the very same purpose for the interview laid out in the second sentencing memorandum approved by Bill Barr’s DOJ just months ago.

And Glenn ignores how those notes also show that FBI backed off its initial plan not to share any details from the transcripts, but instead to quote his words back to him, effectively sharing the content of it. The 302 shows that the FBI Agents did that. In one instance, Flynn even thanked the FBI Agents for their reminder.

The interviewing agents asked FLYNN if he recalled. any discussions with KISLYAK about a United Nations (UN) vote surrounding the issue of Israeli settlements. FLYNN quickly responded, “Yes, good reminder.” On the 22nd of December, FLYNN. called a litany of countries to include Israel, the UK, Senegal, Egypt, maybe France and maybe Russia/KISLYAK.

But each time they did so with respect to Russia, the 302 shows, Flynn lied.

The interviewing agents asked FLYNN if he recalled any conversation with KISLYAK in which the expulsions were discussed, where FLYNN might have encouraged KISLYAK not to escalate the situation, to keep the Russian response reciprocal, or not to engage in a “tit-for-tat.” FLYNN responded, “Not really. I don’t remember. It wasn’t, ‘Don’t do anything.'” The U.S. Government’s response was a total surprise to FLYNN.

Glenn also utterly and hilariously misrepresents what happened between that initial interview, the investigations that revealed conversations with Mar-a-Lago that Flynn had lied about in the interview, and when Flynn accepted a plea deal in November 2017 because he faced up to 15 years on the Foreign Agent charges.

Conflation of the leak that the Steele dossier had been briefed and the sharing of the Steele dossier

Glenn then moves onto the Steele dossier, suggesting that the person who leaked a detail from Trump’s briefing had the intent of leading BuzzFeed to publish it, and conflating the public reporting on Trump with the FBI’s investigation of him.

CNN and CNN on January 10, reported that the director of the FBI had gone and briefed President Elect Trump to inform him of highly compromising information in the hands of the Kremlin. But this but CNN said that they weren’t going to describe the nature of that compromising information because they hadn’t been able to vet it or determine whether or not it was really true. But that was a limitation that BuzzFeed quickly decided that they were not going to be constrained by him so very predictably, and almost certainly intentionally from the perspective of whoever leaked this briefing. BuzzFeed then published what is now called the Steele dossier. And that forever altered the course ofRussiagate” [sic]those allegations those scurrilous and ultimately unproven allegations in the Steele dossier. About the Kremlin holding blackmail information over Trump about the sexual and the financial nature and all of the other highly inflammatory inflammatory material ended up shaping what becameRussiagate” [sic] and at least the first two to three years of the Trump presidency leaked by the very, very same people who were in the process of now exploiting the failure to close the Flynn investigation to also investigate.

Glenn seems to insinuate here that FBI leaked the Steele dossier to Buzzfeed. David Kramer did (and in fact, FBI didn’t have one of reports in the dossier that got leaked yet, so they couldn’t have leaked it).

His claim that the Steele dossier changed the Russian investigation is precisely the claim Paul Manafort started pushing after meeting a top Deripaska aide in Europe in early 2017, suggesting that was the point if the dossier was Russian disinformation. But there’s a difference between saying that the dossier was the basis of public reporting on Trump — in the same way that Clinton Cash was the basis of public reporting on the Clinton Foundation — and saying it drove the FBI’s work in the wake of its leak.

It is clear that the FBI used the Steele dossier to establish probable cause in the Carter Page applications even after it learned information that should have led it to stop. The FBI also used the publication of the dossier as an excuse to interview George Papadopoulos. But there’s no basis to believe it impacted the others, including Flynn. For example, the draft closing document on Flynn only made one reference to a CHS (which is how FBI treated Steele) and it clearly wasn’t a reference to Steele. And the predication of the investigation into Michael Cohen made no mention of the dossier, even though the most inflammatory claims in the dossier were about him.

So while the dossier may have mattered to Glenn and other people not actually following the evidence closely, aside from the very notable example of the Carter Page FISA application, the FBI primarily used it as an excuse to interview George Papadopoulos. For everyone else, there’s no evidence it played a big role.

Claim without evidence: David Ignatius should go to prison for his Kislyak leak

In his treatment of the inexcusable leak to David Ignatius, Glenn suggests that leak was more criminal than anything else (even though Glenn himself has published such information), claiming that someone leaked “NSA intercepts.”

The Washington Post David Ignatius, who has built a career, receiving leaks from the CIA and publishing what the CIA wants him to publish published a column in which he revealed for the first time that the NSA had monitored the conversations between General Flynn on the one hand and Ambassador Kislyak on the other and after that, the contents of the communications between General Flynn Ambassador Kislyak were elite to both the Washington Post and the New York Times, which published in detail what those communications were. Now the reason that’s so striking is because under the law, it is a crime, obviously, to leak classified information of any kind, any information that’s classified, if somebody inside the government leaks it to a journalist, that’s a crime. But there’s only a narrow number of types of information that can become a crime for the journalists to actually publish it. The most serious kind of information is not only a crime for that leaker to leak to the journalists, but for the journalists to publish it. And one of those types of information is exactly the type that people inside the intelligence community leaked in order to destroy the reputation of General Flynn, namely intercepts by the NSA, of the communications of foreign officials. And the reason that the intelligence community in the law regards leaks of that type. So grave is such a grave offense is obvious because it has the potential to ruin the ability of the NSA to continue to monitor that information by alerting the adversary that they have access to that communication. If you look at the relevant law, which is title 18 of the US Code Section 798 that specifies when it’s a crime not just to leak classified information, but for a journalist to publish it. It specifies exactly the kind of information that people inside the government are leaking against General Flynn that’s how far they were willing to go that law reads quote, whoever knowingly and willfully communicates or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person or publishes any class government shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both. Now, you can see it explicitly provides that the crime is not just leaking. But publishing it’s one of the few types of leaks where you can actually criminalize the journalist now I’m against this law.

As noted above, these were FBI intercepts (though that likely doesn’t change the Espionage Act analysis).

I don’t defend the leak to Ignatius (and raised questions about it contemporaneously). But it’s important to note several things: it is sourced in a way — senior US government official — that could be second-hand (which is what Comey seemed to believe), could be an Original Classification Authority (Flynn’s team has accused James Clapper of the leak), which would not actually be a leak or illegal — it would be directly equivalent to many of the releases Ric Grenell has recently made — or could be a member of Congress. Glenn accused a vague “they” of leaking it with no evidence that the FBI did it.

Indeed, one thing Barr’s DOJ reclassified in the motion to dismiss is a detail from McCabe’s notes of his call with Flynn reflecting real concern about the leaks.

This was first shared with Judge Sullivan in unredacted form when he took Flynn’s plea in December 2018. This version is, in some respects, more classified than a version released last May. For example, last May DOJ revealed that McCabe agreed with Flynn that leaks were a problem.

Today’s version redacts that line as classified.

Similarly, the frothy right has totally misrepresented Strzok and Page’s concerns about the leak of Carter Page’s FISA order.

Also, there’s nothing in the Ignatius column that necessarily proves he got the content of the call, which is a closer case than Glenn makes out here under 18 USC 798.

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Glenn has published a great deal of information that would violate this law, claiming it served the public interest. He is here substituting his judgment for Ignatius and the leaker in the same way others have questioned his and Snowden’s judgment.

Schrodinger’s Materiality: Bill Barr’s DOJ Has an Active Filing Arguing Flynn’s Lies Were Material

Bill Barr’s DOJ has this to say about whether Mike Flynn’s lies to the FBI on January 24, 2017 were material.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

[snip]

As the Court has already found, his false statements to the FBI were material, regardless of the FBI’s knowledge of the substance of any of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. See Mem. Opinion at 51-52. The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

You might be forgiven for believing that Bill Barr’s DOJ didn’t made a vigorous argument to Judge Emmet Sullivan that Flynn’s lies were material, one that remains active before Sullivan, because almost no coverage of recent events concerning Flynn accounts for the posture of the case, in which there are at least four pending decisions before Sullivan. Several of those active representations argue Flynn’s lies were material.

Instead, coverage claims that Bill Barr’s DOJ believes that Flynn’s lies were in no way material. It is true that, in a motion to dismiss the case submitted last week, Bill Barr’s DOJ argued the lies weren’t material.

The Government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue. Moreover, we not believe that the Government can prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.

[snip]

In any event, there was no question at the FBI as to the content of the calls; the FBI had in its possession word-for-word transcripts of the actual communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13. at 3. With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said. Whatever gaps in his memory Mr. Flynn might or might not reveal upon an interview regurgitating the content of those calls would not have implicated legitimate counterintelligence interests or somehow exposed Mr. Flynn as beholden to Russia.

I know journalists are used to covering the Trump administration as a series of independent outrages, each one drowning out a prior newly inoperative one. But in courts, statements from a given party are presumed to have continuity, at least until those statements are resolved legally.

DOJ, generally, is assumed to have continuity in any proceeding, even between Administrations, and generally only changes position when the law or an interpretation of it changes, and as such would apply to all affected parties.

That’s all the more true within the span of one Administration. And in this case, Trump’s Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein agreed Flynn’s lies were material when he approved false statement charges against Flynn in December 2017, Trump’s Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker’s DOJ argued Flynn’s lies were material when DOJ moved to sentencing in December 2018, Bill Barr’s DOJ argued “the FBI was engaged in a legitimate and significant investigation,” when it successfully defeated a request to dismiss the prosecution last fall, and Barr’s DOJ argued Flynn’s lies were material in January.

It is true that Barr’s DOJ has provided a claimed basis for changing its mind about the legitimacy of the investigation into Flynn and the materiality of the lies he told. It cites “newly discovered and disclosed information” as well as “recently declassified information.”

After a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information appended to the defendant’s supplemental pleadings, ECF Nos. 181, 188-190,1 the Government has concluded that the interview of Mr. Flynn was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn—a no longer justifiably predicated investigation that the FBI had, in the Bureau’s own words, prepared to close because it had yielded an “absence of any derogatory information.”

1 This review not only included newly discovered and disclosed information, but also recently declassified information as well.

Not only is the reference to “newly declassified information” a tell that this information is claimed only to be new to Flynn, the motion to dismiss does none of the things legal filings are supposed to do to substantiate claims like this. There’s no declaration from Jeffrey Jensen describing the reasons for his review and explaining how, over three years into this investigation, he came to discover “new” information that hadn’t been considered by Rod Rosenstein and Matt Whitaker and Bill Barr or Robert Mueller and Jessie Liu when DOJ had previously argued this was a legitimate investigation. There’s no declaration from a Records Officer explaining how it is that the two files claimed to be new evaded anyone’s attention all these years and proving these documents hadn’t been reviewed by DOJ before. There’s not even a description in the filing specifying what it is that DOJ is claiming to be new, there’s just a citation to docket entries of stuff that was newly turned over to Flynn.

Plus, all of the facts on which this motion to dismiss relies — that the FBI hadn’t found anything in its counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, but decided to keep it open in early January 2017 when they discovered the Kislyak transcripts, and that people in DOJ and FBI had conflicting understandings of the status of the investigation leading up to the interview — has not only been known to DOJ but has been public since March 22, 2018, when Republicans released it in their Russian Report.

Director Comey testified that he authorized the closure of the CI investigation into General Flynn by late December 2016; however, the investigation was kept open due to the public discrepancy surrounding General Flynn’s communications with Ambassador Kislyak. [redacted] Deputy Director McCabe stated that, “we really had not substantiated anything particularly significant against General Flynn,” but did not recall that a closure was imminent.

[snip]

The Committee received conflicting testimony from Deputy Attorney General  (DAG) Yates, Director Comey, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General McCord, and Deputy Director McCabe about whether the primary purpose of the interview was investigating potentially misleading statements to the Vice President, which the Vice President echoed publicly about the content of those calls; a possible violation of the Logan Act; or a desire to obtain more information as part of the counterintelligence investigation into General Flynn.

Sullivan knows well that DOJ knew of this information, because he litigated a long dispute over this information starting in August and wrote an opinion on it in December. He even reviewed two of the 302s the government relies heavily on — those of Mary McCord and Sally Yates — to make sure the summaries DOJ gave to Flynn were sufficient, which is pretty good proof that DOJ knew about them and their representations about the almost-closed investigation and the discussions about the multiple things FBI was investigating. Billy Barr claimed in his interview that this was new to him — something he has not done in a representation to the court — but then described just what appears in the passage from the HPSCI Report, something which was public (and circumstances to which he alluded in his confirmation hearing). In fact, FBI has gone on the record to say that these records had already been shared with DOJ IG (which completed a report in December that didn’t treat them as unusual) and the John Durham inquiry (which began a year ago).

With regard to certain documents in the Michael Flynn matter from the 2016-2017 time period that are now the subject of reporting by the press, the FBI previously produced those materials to the Inspector General and U.S. Attorney Durham,” the FBI said.

So these documents aren’t even new to oversight elements in DOJ outside of the prosecutorial team that argued for the materiality of this case. Because the documents are not new to DOJ, DOJ has offered no valid reason to flip-flop about its view on the legitimacy of the investigation and the materiality of Flynn’s lies.

All the more so given one more detail about this case. Before prosecutors submitted the sentencing memo in January that made an aggressive case for the legitimacy of the prosecution and the materiality of Flynn’s lies, they had to get two extensions to secure the necessary approvals. In December, prosecutors got a week extension for their sentencing memo to get approval from the “multiple individuals and entities” who would need to approve it.

There are multiple individuals and entities who must review and approve the government’s submission, including any changes from the government’s prior sentencing memorandum and its specific sentencing recommendations.

Then, on January 6, the government asked for and got one more day.

As the government represented in its initial motion, there are multiple individuals and entities who must review and approve the government’s submission, including any changes from the government’s prior sentencing memorandum and its specific sentencing recommendations. The government has worked assiduously over the holidays to complete this task, but we find that we require an additional 24 hours to do so. The government respectfully requests that this Court extend the government’s deadline to provide its supplemental sentencing memorandum to Tuesday, January 7, 2020, at 12:00 p.m.

Having twice granted extensions so prosecutors could be sure they got all the approvals they needed for their sentencing memorandum, and absent any claim since they didn’t secure those approvals, Judge Sullivan would be well-justified in treating that sentencing memorandum arguing forcefully for the legitimacy of the investigation into Flynn as the view of the entire DOJ, up to and including the Attorney General.

And since DOJ’s claims to have discovered “new” information since then are not supported by any proof and are in fact refuted by the public record, he has good reason to treat the earlier representations from Bill Barr’s DOJ as the operative one.

In Judge Sullivan’s court, Bill Barr’s DOJ’s claim that Flynn’s lies are material remains an active legal claim in support of sentencing, even while Bill Barr’s DOJ claims something entirely different in opposition to continuing the prosecution. Even Bill Barr has conceded that Judge Sullivan gets to decide whether to accept the motion to dismiss. If Sullivan rejects it, he can move immediately to sentencing, relying on Bill Barr’s DOJ’s argument that Flynn’s lies were material. Bill Barr is arguing with himself here.

Flynn’s supporters have started to argue that Sullivan’s appointment of John Gleeson conflicts with the recent SCOTUS decision in Sineneng-Smith which prohibits courts from seeking out opinions from parties not before the court to present issues that haven’t otherwise been presented.

One week ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 9-0 decision, authored by Justice Ginsburg, that took judges to task for similar amicus antics. Her opinion for the Court in U.S. v. Sineneng-Smith upbraided the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for violating a basic aspect of legal proceedings called the “party presentation principle.” In a nutshell, this concept dictates that judges must decide the case as presented by the parties before them. They are not to go out questing for dragons to slay (or issues to tackle) that the parties have not brought before them. As J. Ginsburg put it: “[C]ourts are essentially passive instruments of government … They ‘do not, or should not, sally forth each day looking for wrongs to right. [They] wait for cases to come to [them], and when [cases arise, courts] normally decide only questions presented by the parties.”

That’s not what’s happening here. Judge Sullivan is asking Gleeson to argue the view of a party that remains before the court: that of DOJ, which argued in December 2017 and in December 2018 and in November 2019 and in January 2020 that Flynn’s lies are material and the prosecution just. The issues of materiality have been before the court since 2017, and DOJ has argued for the materiality of Flynn’s lies vigorously. I have no idea what Sullivan plans to do with respect to additional testimony. But even based on the public record as it exists today (not least because the motion to dismiss egregiously misrepresents the exhibits it relies on and in them, presented evidence that the purpose of the Flynn interview was clear), Gleeson could easily substantiate DOJ’s still active representation before Judge Sullivan’s court (in their still-pending sentencing memorandum) that Flynn was rightly prosecuted for material lies to the FBI.

Unlike Trump, Bill Barr doesn’t get to just ignore claims his own DOJ has made in the past. He can claim he has reason to reverse those claims, but there, too, Sullivan has discretion. DOJ would have to ask leave to modify its sentencing recommendation, and provide proof lacking here they have reason to do so. As it stands, however, DOJ has not asked to modify the sentencing recommendation, and thus their claims about materiality remain before Sullivan unchanged, sitting there in the docket right next to Bill Barr’s DOJ’s radically different claims.

There has been some shitty commentary presenting Bill Barr’s motion to withdraw as a Both-Sides issue, but totally misconstruing which are the two sides, claiming it pits DOJ against critics.

The Justice Department argues that the FBI shouldn’t have conducted its Jan. 24, 2017, interview of Flynn, because the bureau was already aware through phone intercepts of what he had discussed with the Russian ambassador and there wasn’t proper justification for continuing the investigation of Flynn. That request to dismiss, put forward by Attorney General William Barr, has been criticized by nearly 2,000 former Justice Department officials and hailed by Trump and his supporters.

But it totally misconstrues the two sides here. They are Bill Barr’s DOJ versus Bill Barr’s DOJ.

This is the rare opportunity where the kind of Both-Sides journalism the Beltway press loves to practice has merit. On one side, there’s Bill Barr’s DOJ, which has a currently active argument that Mike Flynn’s lies were material to a legitimate investigation. On the other side, there’s Bill Barr’s DOJ, which has a different argument (one that conflicts with the exhibits presented with it) that because there was no legitimate investigation at the time, Mike Flynn’s lies were not material.

The Public Record Claims that Flynn Had No Permission from Trump to Undermine US Policy in Calling Kislyak

In the last several days, part time Director of National Intelligence and full time Twitter troll Ric Grennell declassified the names of people who unmasked Mike Flynn’s name in call transcripts with Sergey Kislyak. The public record already shows the FBI did so after they discovered his calls explained why Russia had not responded as expected after Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia on December 28, 2016.

The press has, predictably, chased this issue as a matter of partisan game, demonstrating utter disinterest in how obviously they are being chumps in a political ploy.

Release of the list, which would be an unprecedented move, is likely to resurrect a partisan debate over an episode that had roiled the early days of Mr. Trump’s presidency and has taken on renewed urgency after the Justice Department moved to drop a criminal case against Mr. Flynn last week.

It takes enormous leaps of willful ignorance of the facts to treat this as the partisan spat that Trump wants it to be.

That’s true, for two reasons:

  • The public record shows that the Obama Administration did need to know Flynn’s identity to understand the Kislyak intercept and accorded Flynn deference as a result until such time that it appeared Flynn had acted without official sanction
  • The public record, over three years after the call, remains consistent with Mike Flynn making that call to Sergey Kislyak without permission from Trump himself, meaning the public record is consistent with Flynn acting on his own

Under FISA, the Executive Branch may not disseminate an American’s identity obtained from a FISA intercept, “unless such person’s identity is necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance.” But if the Executive Branch needs that person’s identity to understand foreign intelligence, they can unmask the identity.

It matters that this call was made by the incoming National Security Advisor. At first, Flynn’s identity made the call look less suspicious. But within days of its discovery, Flynn’s own actions had created reason for far greater concern that the incoming NSA had made this call.

At first, the Flynn unmasking led to deference to him, albeit with concerns about sharing intelligence with (just) him

When Russia did not respond to the December 2016 sanctions, per Jim Comey’s testimony, the Intelligence Community tasked its members to learn why not.

And so the last couple days of December and the first couple days of January, all the Intelligence Community was trying to figure out, so what is going on here? Why is this — why have the Russians reacted the way they did, which confused us? And so we were all tasked to find out, do you have anything [redacted] that might reflect on this? That turned up these calls at the end of December, beginning of January.

Some days later, the FBI provided an answer: because someone had called up Russia and asked them not to escalate, and days later Russia had called up and told the same person that Vladimir Putin had not responded because of his call. Imagine the possible implications of this call without the identity. The call could reflect an amazingly powerful private individual who for some reason had the ability to make Vladimir Putin to take action against his stated interests. Or it could reflect something fairly routine. You had to know who made the call to figure out which it was.

In his testimony, Comey made it clear that, 1) they did unmask Flynn’s name but 2) the FBI issued no finalized report on this, meaning they were protecting the discovery from wider dissemination.

We did not disseminate this [redacted] in any finished intelligence, although our people judged was appropriate, for reasons that I hope are obvious, to have Mr. Flynn’s name unmasked. We kept this very close hold, and it was shared just as I described.

Sally Yates’ 302 describes how Obama responded. He stated specifically that he wanted no more follow-up information, but he did want advice on whether his White House should treat Flynn differently as a result.

After the briefing, Obama dismissed the group but asked Yates and Comey to stay behind. Obama started by saying he had “learned of the information about Flynn” and his conversation with Kislyak about sanctions. Obama specified he did not want any additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information.

[snip]

Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act, but can’t recall if he specified there was an “investigation.” Comey did not talk about prosecution in the meeting. It was not clear to Yates from where the President first received the information. Yates did not recall Comey’s response to the President’s question about how to treat Flynn.

A letter Congress sent to Susan Rice quoting from her own letter to the file makes it clear that Obama explicitly stated he wanted no involvement in any law enforcement matters. He just wanted to know whether the Administration should limit how they would share classified information with Flynn during the transition.

On January 5, following a briefing by IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election, President Obama had a brief follow-on conversation with FBI Director Jim Corney and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present.

President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities “by the book”. The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.

From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.

[redacted]

The President asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he would.

As to DOJ, at first Mary McCord treated this just as Republicans would want: by assuming this was just the normal pre-inauguration outreach one would expect from an incoming National Security Advisor.

It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners.

There are several takeaways from this record. We don’t know exactly what the transcripts say (and neither did some of the people involved), but this reaction is entirely inconsistent with Flynn saying anything to Kislyak to indicate he was operating on Trump’s orders. If he had, then Obama would not have had a concern about sharing information with Flynn and only Flynn. If it was clear Trump was involved, Obama’s concerns would be mitigated because Trump constitutionally would be entitled to this anyway. There’s no evidence Flynn made it clear he had Trump’s sanction to make these calls.

These actions also make it clear that, while the FBI responded to this as they would any counterintelligence investigation, both Obama and Rice were very careful about respecting the transition of power. The redacted passage in Rice’s letter is consistent with Obama adopting some caution, but deferring any more drastic measures unless, “anything changes in the next few weeks.”

From January 15, 2017 to the present, the public record has always been consistent with Flynn deciding to make the call on his own — and possibly acting rogue

Ten days after the Obama Administration adopted a cautious response to learning of Flynn’s calls, something did change.

The Vice President went on Face the Nation and told a journalist that he had asked Mike Flynn and Flynn denied speaking about sanctions at all.

MIKE PENCE: I talked to General Flynn about that conversation and actually was initiated on Christmas Day he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON: So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?

MIKE PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on–

JOHN DICKERSON: But what about after–

MIKE PENCE: –my conversation with General Flynn. Well, look. General Flynn has been in touch with diplomatic leaders, security leaders in some 30 countries. That’s exactly what the incoming national security advisor–

JOHN DICKERSON: Absolutely.

MIKE PENCE: –should do. But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

From that moment to this day, the record is consistent with Mike Flynn working without the knowledge of or prior sanction from Trump and Pence. I believe Flynn did have prior sanction from Trump, but I believe that only because I think Trump and Flynn have hidden that detail for years. But because Flynn and KT McFarland, at least, told Mueller’s prosecutors that they had no memory of consulting with Trump about what to say to Kislyak ahead of time and Trump has categorically denied it, the public record says that Flynn made the decision both to undermine the official policy of the United States and decide what policy to pursue after consulting with a few Transition aides, but not Trump himself, which was a key conclusion of this part of the Mueller Report.

Although transition officials at Mara-Lago had some concern about possible Russian reactions to the sanctions, the investigation did not identify evidence that the President-Elect asked Flynn to make any request to Kislyak.

To be clear, starting in November 2017 — ten months after Obama’s people got Flynn’s name unmasked — Flynn and KT McFarland for the first time started admitting that Flynn had consulted with Trump’s staff at Mar-a-Lago before calling Kislyak, after denying it for that time. (This passage is largely sourced to a November 17, 2017 Flynn interview and a December 22, 2017 McFarland interview.)

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

So Flynn had the input of Michael Ledeen, McFarland, and through McFarland, the input of Transition Team members at Mar-a-Lago.

But — as I lay out in this post — the timeline laid out in Mueller’s deliberately unclear account shows no consultation between Flynn and Trump, or even McFarland and Trump, before the call. Someone may have mentioned that Flynn was making the call in a briefing Trump attended, but there’s no evidence Trump provided input on what he should say. Moreover, by the time of that briefing, Flynn appears to have already made the first call. McFarland reported to Flynn on the briefing in the same call where he told her what had transpired on his call.

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.

Moreover, the record shows that, after Flynn reported back to McFarland after Kislyak told him Russia would not respond because of the call Flynn made, he sent an email specifically designed to cover up that Kislyak had said so.

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

Not only did Trump say, shortly after he fired Flynn, that he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak (though he said he would have directed him to do so if he wasn’t already doing it), but according to the public record, Flynn claims to have first told Trump he may have spoken about sanctions on February 6.

The week of February 6, Flynn had a one-on-one conversation with the President in the Oval Office about the negative media coverage of his contacts with Kislyak. 193 Flynn recalled that the President was upset and asked him for information on the conversations. 194 Flynn listed the specific dates on which he remembered speaking with Kislyak, but the President corrected one of the dates he listed. 195 The President asked Flynn what he and Kislyak discussed and Flynn responded that he might have talked about sanctions.196

The record also shows that, after Trump asked Reince Priebus to get KT McFarland to write a statement asserting that Trump had not spoken with Flynn before the call, she declined to do so because she didn’t know whether it had or not and John Eisenberg advised she not do so because it would make her Ambassadorial appointment look like a quid pro quo (which recently released 302s makes it look like).

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 P

255 KTMF _ 00000048 (McFarland 2/26/ 17 Memorandum for the Record); McFarland 12/22/ 17 302, at 17.

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.

In short, even today, there is no evidence that Flynn had any permission from Trump to make this call. For over three years, Flynn and Trump have insisted he did not, which makes the significance of the intercept very different.

The public record, over three years later, is that Mike Flynn called up the country that just attacked us and — with no permission from Trump to do so — undermined the foreign policy of the United States.

So two things happened with this intercept.

At first, the fact that it was made by the incoming National Security Advisor led top DOJ officials to treat it with deferral. That is, they decided the meaning and the context was that of an incoming NSA calling foreign countries, and therefore fairly routine.

But ten days later, the transcript would look like something entirely different, the incoming NSA — who had received direct payments from Russia in the years leading up to this action — acting on his own with the Russian Ambassador. The President specifically denied having any role in the calls and fired Flynn (though said he didn’t mind the call). He went to some lengths to create a record to substantiate that he had not spoken to Flynn about it.

It would take ten months before prosecutors would have testimony (they had call records reflecting calls by March and probably had emails by August 2017) reflecting any consultation on Flynn’s part with any of his colleagues. Until they got that testimony, Flynn would have looked like had gone rogue, and decided to not only undermine Obama’s policy, but to set Trump’s policy, all on his own.

Either of those situations would justify unmasking someone’s identity. In either one of those situations, the FBI and other national security officials would have an obligation to track who was undermining the punishment for an attack by a hostile government, whether they deferred to it (in the case for the period when it seemed routine outreach) or investigated it (once it became clear the official was lying about it).

To suggest or even parrot, as Trump’s lackeys are, that this was a partisan decision suggests the United States should ignore when top national security officials appear to go rogue, undermining the current Administration without any evidence of sanction from the incoming one.

Bill Barr Did Not Provide the Most Important Exhibit to His Mike Flynn Dismissal Motion: The Call Transcripts

There’s a giant hole in Bill Barr’s motion to dismiss the Mike Flynn prosecution: the call transcripts of the General’s calls with Sergey Kislyak.

The Timothy Shea-signed motion claimed that the transcripts showed “arms-length communications” which provided no suggestion that Flynn might be “directed and controlled” by Russia.

Nor was anything said on the calls themselves to indicate an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Flynn and a foreign power. Indeed, Mr. Flynn’s request that Russia avoid “escalating” tensions in response to U.S. sanctions in an effort to mollify geopolitical tensions was consistent with him advocating for, not against, the interests of the United States. At bottom, the arms-length communications gave no indication that Mr. Flynn was being “directed and controlled by … the Russian federation,” much less in a manner that “threat[ened] … national security.” Ex. 1 at 2, Ex. 2 at 2. They provided no factual basis for positing that Mr. Flynn had violated FARA. Nor did the calls remotely transform Mr. Flynn into a “viable candidate as part of the larger … umbrella case” into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Ex. 1 at 3.

Significantly, Shea doesn’t cite the transcripts here! He cites the Electronic Communication opening the investigation against Flynn and the draft EC closing the Flynn case written 20 days before the Flynn interview. Moreover, he mis-cites the opening EC so as to suggest (as he does elsewhere in the memo), falsely, that Flynn was only being investigated under FARA, which usually has a public component, and not 18 USC 951, which more often does not.

This, then, is an assertion for which Barr provides no evidentiary backup.

Barr makes the assertion in a filing that includes several pieces of evidence that directly conflict with this judgment.

As I’ve noted, Mary McCord thought the idea of a call between the incoming National Security Advisor and the Russian Ambassador was “logical” until she reviewed the transcripts of the calls. “After reading them, she felt they were ‘worse’ than she initially thought,” in part because, “Flynn proactively raised the issue of sanctions.”

The Sally Yates 302 seems to suggest that as soon as Andrew McCabe read the transcripts it was clear Flynn was lying because he didn’t really engage in the conversation until sanctions came up (a view that is entirely consistent with McCord’s view, though Barr did not provide McCabe’s 302 for us to compare more directly).

This passage may also suggest that Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka did not read the full transcripts of the calls before the interview, which would explain why they might have relied on whether Flynn gave indications he was lying. If that’s true, it would also undermine other key claims made in this motion, most notably that the agents knew everything the transcripts said.

As for Yates herself, she provided Don McGahn several reasons why she believed these transcripts were troubling. Part of that description, as well as two of the examples she provided to substantiate the description, are redacted.

But Yates is specific: the “back and forth” between Kislyak and Flynn was contrary to the descriptions Flynn had offered publicly about the calls. Importantly, Yates’ description rebuts the Shea motion’s claim that this was an “arms-length” conversation.

Which is to say, in a key passage dismissing the possibility that the call transcripts included evidence that Flynn might have a relationship with Russia that could damage national security, the motion provides no evidence and in fact mis-cites something inapt as proof. But elsewhere, the filing does provide evidence about the call transcripts, and that evidence directly refutes the claim. Moreover, the filing redacts a number of other passages that go directly to the claim.

Importantly, whether or not the transcripts showed some reason to think Flynn’s relationship with Russia might affect national security is not an issue that Barr can invoke exclusive Executive judgment on, something on which judges generally defer to the Executive. The record shows that two Acting Attorneys General — one (Rod Rosenstein) appointed by Trump — already deemed the transcripts to include such evidence. Here, Barr isn’t even on the record making the claim. Just an Acting US Attorney who has not been Senate confirmed is.

A year ago, Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the government to provide the transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak.

The government is hereby ORDERED to file on the public docket in this case the transcript of the “voicemail recording” referenced in the 75 Addendum to Government’s Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing and the transcripts of any other audio recordings of Mr. Flynn, including, but not limited to, audio recordings of Mr. Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials, by no later than May 31, 2019.

In response, the government obliquely said no, because they were not relying on those recordings for sentencing, effectively pointing out that no claims entered into evidence had relied on the transcripts (by the time Flynn pled guilty, he himself had provided evidence that he lied, and so they didn’t need to rely on the transcripts).

The government further represents that it is not relying on any other recordings, of any person, for purposes of establishing the defendant’s guilt or determining his sentence, nor are there any other recordings that are part of the sentencing record.

Now, however, the transcripts are utterly central to the claims the government is making. Indeed, the only evidence about the transcripts submitted with this motion rebuts the government’s claim.

Emmet Sullivan would be totally within his authority to require the government to provide the actual evidence on which they make at this point unsubstantiated claims in this filing.

Mike Flynn has been demanding these transcripts for quite some time. Given the declassification spree that Barr and Ric Grenell have been on, I would imagine they would have been made public if they helped Flynn at all. So I’m guessing Yates and McCord provided a more accurate description of these transcripts than Timothy Shea.

The Logan Act Is Just the Cherry on Mike Flynn’s Foreign Agent Sundae

There’s an ironic line in Billy Barr’s CBS interview this week, where he acknowledges that prosecutors can become too wedded to a particular outcome.

These are very smart people who were working in the special counsel’s office, and in senior levels of the FBI. So what drove them here?

Well, I think one of the things you have to guard against, both as a prosecutor and I think as an investigator, is that if you get too wedded to a particular outcome and you’re pursuing a particular agenda, you close your eyes to anything that sort of doesn’t fit with your preconception. And I think that’s probably the phenomenon we’re looking at here.

That’s because Barr and Sidney Powell have the frothy right chasing the Logan Act like six year olds after a soccer ball as if that was the only basis to interview Mike Flynn on January 24, 2017. It’s unclear whether frothy commenters have been duped by Barr’s guile, or they just haven’t read the record.

The record is crystal clear, however: When the investigation into Mike Flynn was opened on August 16, 2016, he was being investigated as a witting or unwitting Agent of a Foreign Power (Barr’s DOJ — and DOJ IG — have both made the same error in suggesting this was just about FARA, but the investigation was also predicated under 18 USC 951). Timothy Shea conceded in his motion to dismiss the prosecution that that investigation was never closed. And evidence from three different contemporaneous witnesses — Jim Comey, Mary McCord, and Bill Priestap — say that’s why the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017.

Bill Priestap made clear that they did this interview to find out whether Flynn was acting as an agent for Russia.

The FBI’s provided rationale for doing the interview was that the existence of the investigation had already leaked, so Flynn was already aware that the information was being discussed publicly and there was no element of surprise. Priestap told the group the goal of the interview was whether to determine whether or not Flynn was in a clandestine relationship with the Russians.

That’s what Comey said, too.

MR. COMEY: To find out whether there was something we were missing about his relationship with the Russians and whether he would — because we had this disconnect publicly between what the Vice President was saying and what we knew. And so before we closed an investigation of Flynn, I wanted them to sit before him and say what is the deal?

The Priestap notes that the frothy right is pointing to as proof of abuse makes quite clear that the point of the interview was not to create a perjury trap, but to see whether Flynn would be honest about his relationship with the Russians.

Bob Litt, who (per these same records) was the first person to raise the Logan Act, analyzed the ways that Timothy Shea’s motion conflicts with the FBI’s DIOG. He described the interview to be, first and foremost, about counterintelligence.

The attorney general and his minions are making the astounding argument that when the FBI—aware of extensive Russian interference in U.S. politics in order to benefit the Trump campaign—learned that the incoming national security advisor requested that Russia not respond to the sanctions that were imposed in response to that interference and then lied to other government officials about that, it could not even “collect information or facts to determine” whether this created a counterintelligence threat. This cannot be right. Even if the prior investigation into Flynn had been closed, which it had not, these circumstances at a minimum justified an assessment under standard FBI policy.

In fact, the department’s motion virtually concedes the point. It dismisses Flynn’s lies to Pence and Spicer by saying that “[h]ad the FBI been deeply concerned about the disparities between what they knew had been said on the calls and the representations of Vice President Pence or Mr. Spicer, it would have sought to speak with them directly, but did not.” But that would be a kind of investigative activity, and under the DIOG, either the FBI has a basis to investigate or it doesn’t. If the facts justified talking to Pence about Flynn, they justified talking to Flynn.

Once you have a predicated investigation into 18 USC 951, adding another potential crime (the Logan Act) does not change that the investigation into 18 USC 951 remained, per Shea, ongoing.

In his interview, Barr misrepresents the record to claim what Flynn did — undermining the punishment imposed on a hostile foreign country after they attacked us — was “laudable.”

They did not have a basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage, based on a perfectly legitimate and appropriate call he made as a member of the transition. So.

[snip]

Let me say that, at that point, he was the designated national security adviser for President-Elect Trump, and was part of the transition, which is recognized by the government and funded by the government as an important function to bring in a new administration. And it is very typical, very common for the national security team of the incoming president to communicate with foreign leaders.

And that call, there was nothing wrong with it whatever. In fact, it was laudable. He– and it was nothing inconsistent with the Obama administration’s policies. And it was in U.S. interests. He was saying to the Russians, you know, “Don’t escalate.” And they asked him if he remembered saying that, and he said he didn’t remember that.

There are several problems with this claim.

For starters, at first, Mary McCord agreed with this take. She dismissed the call for the same reasons Barr still does — that this was just the typical communication between an incoming national security team and foreign leaders.

Two things changed her mind.

The first was the evidence that Flynn was lying about what he did to others in the incoming Administration.

It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners, so the Logan Act seemed like a stretch to her. She described the matter as “concerning” but with no particular urgency. In early January, McCord did not think people were considering briefing the incoming administration. However, that changed when Vice President Michael Pence went on Face the Nation and said things McCord knew to be untrue. Also, as time went on, and then-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer made comments about Flynn’s actions she knew to be false, the urgency grew.

It is normal for officials in incoming Administrations to reach out to foreign leaders. But it is not the norm for incoming officials to freelance, to set policy that no one else in the Administration knows about. And the public evidence at the time the FBI interviewed Flynn was that he had done this on his own and was actively hiding it form his colleagues (as indeed the current record says he was).

The record that Barr distorted in this interview shows that FBI was in a holding pattern until there was public evidence that Flynn had lied to others in the Administration, which not only changed the calculus about warning the Administration, but created urgency to take an investigative step FBI might not otherwise have done.

The other thing that changed McCord’s mind about whether this was the normal pre-inauguration outreach was reading the transcript.

After reading them, she felt they were “worse” than she initially thought; she noted that her recollection of them is that Flynn proactively raised the issue of sanctions, and she feels it is hard to believe he would forget talking about something he raised himself.

Sally Yates described Flynn make a series of asks, some of which remain classified.

And McCord wasn’t the only one who responded that way. Once Mike Pence and Reince Priebus read the transcripts, Flynn was out the door the next day.

Notably, even though Ric Grenell is in the middle of a declassification spree, neither he nor Barr have chosen to declassify the actual transcripts here, even though Flynn has requested them repeatedly. Barr’s DOJ is also withholding other details that would describe the reaction of Administration officials to reading the transcript in the Buzzfeed FOIA. So it’s easy for Barr to claim this was normal, but a career prosecutor who read the transcripts said they weren’t, and Barr is deliberately withholding information that would let us test that claim.

This is why DOJ’s materiality argument fails, too. Had Flynn told the truth, the FBI might have had reason to treat this as the normal pre-inauguration contact. But once he lied, the FBI had more reason to continue investigating, to try to figure out why he lied. All the more so given that Flynn was hiding his other Foreign Agent relationship with Turkey at the time.

If Flynn’s behavior were, as Barr claims, “laudable,” then he would have simply admitted it. Once he lied about it, the FBI had more reason to suspect he had been freelancing, deliberately undermining American policy without the sanction and knowledge of others in the Trump Administration.

Only one thing explains Barr’s view, and it is damning. The FBI had reason to investigate anyway, and as Litt correctly lays out, these actions were solidly within the guidelines laid out in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. But the only way to conclude, as Barr has, that Flynn’s actions — calling up the Russian Ambassador and telling him not to worry about the sanctions imposed for helping Trump get elected — are not clear cut evidence that he was clandestinely operating as an Agent of Russia is if Trump told him to do it.

That doesn’t make it laudable. But it is as close as we’ve ever come to an admission that Flynn did this not just with the knowledge of, but on orders from, Trump. That’s probably why Trump is boasting about learning from Nixon right now: Because unlike Nixon, he got away with cheating to win an election.

Damning New Details from Mary McCord and Sally Yates

I wanted to point to some details from documents — the Sally Yates and Mary McCord 302s — submitted by DOJ yesterday in their bid to get out of the Mike Flynn prosecution. DOJ presumably submitted them for the way they show Jim Comey acting like Jim Comey, taking actions without approval from political leadership at DOJ in a failed attempt to politicize something. That he had done so was known, these 302s provide DOJ’s side of that story.

The 302s provide a bit more detail about how alarming the Mike Flynn transcripts were, though. For example, before McCord saw the transcripts, she assumed Flynn’s calls were simply an incoming Administration reaching out to foreign counterparts.

It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners, so the Logan Act seemed like a stretch to her. She described the matter as “concerning” but with no particular urgency. In early January, McCord did not think people were considering briefing the incoming administration. However, that changed when Vice President Michael Pence went on Face the Nation and said things McCord knew to be untrue. Also, as time went on, and then-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer made comments about Flynn’s actions she knew to be false, the urgency grew.

But when she actually read them, she realized they were worse than that. Specifically, she was surprised that Flynn had raised sanctions himself; the discussion didn’t come from Sergey Kislyak.

McCord did not recall exactly when she saw the transcripts of the Flynn calls, but believed she asked to see them after Pence’s statements about Flynn on Face the Nation. [Agent note: Pence was on Face the Nation on January 15, 2017.] McCord believed she probably had the transcripts by January 19, 2017, possibly having come over SIPRnet from Strzok. After reading them, she felt they were “worse” than she initially thought; she noted that her recollection of them is that Flynn proactively raised the issue of sanctions, and she feels it is hard to believe he would forget talking about something he raised himself.

When Yates talked to Don McGahn about it, she described that one of the problems with the calls but that Flynn made specific requests of Kislyak. Given these redactions, they must include stuff beyond the two issues that appear in Flynn’s own 302: the sanctions and the UN request.

And it wasn’t just McCord who took this more seriously when she saw the transcripts themselves. Her 302 adds details (which were secondhand from McCabe) to this description from the Mueller Report:

Based on the evidence of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak, McGahn and Priebus concluded that Flynn could not have forgotten the details of the discussions of sanctions and had instead been lying about what he discussed with Kislyak.202 Flynn had also told White House officials that the FB[ had told him that the FBI was closing out its investigation of him,203 but Eisenberg did not believe him.204

McCord describes how Pence went and got the transcripts from his Face the Nation appearance to compare with the Flynn transcripts. And Reince Priebus walked out of the room.

Pence, while reviewing, directed his Chief of Staff to get the transcript of his (Pence’s) Face the Nation interview, which he then compared to [redacted] transcripts. At one point in the meeting, Priebus said he’d seen enough and left the room.

And there are two more details about the White House response of interest. McCord specifically said, “Neither McGahn or Burnham gave any indication they had talked to anyone about the information.” She described that they had seemed “dumbstruck” by the news the previously day. But the following day, according to Yates, there was a very different tone to the meeting.

The second meeting was a distinct “tenor change” from the first. While the first meeting didn’t feel adversarial, McGahn started the second meeting with something like, “What’s it to DOJ if one White House official lies to another?” Yates was a little taken aback by that and explained again the same reasons for their concern that she had the day before. She told McGahn that there was more to this than one official lying to another, and Flynn’s actions themselves were problematic, especially when followed by lies and the public getting a false statement.

Of course, McGahn had talked to other people about the warning. He had spoken with Trump.

Finally, the day after Yates and McCord spoke to Don McGahn about it the second time, John Eisenberg emailed McCord using Flynn’s phone.

On January 28, 2017, McCord received an email from Flynn’s email account, but signed by John Eisenberg, Deputy Counsel for the President for National Security Affairs. The email stated it was a follow-up to McCord’s interactions with McGahn, and asked for a time to have a secure call. Given that the email was from Flynn’s email account, McCord opted not to reply to the email directly.

[snip]

When McCord and Eisenberg connected on the telephone on January 29, 2017, Eisenberg told McCord he had been in Flynn’s office prior to his sending the email to McCord and an assistant had switched his and Flynn’s telephones when giving them back. He explained they had the same password, so Eisenberg accidentally sent the email to McCord from Flynn’s phone.

While the phone confusion is easily explained — Flynn’s office would be a SCIF, so phones would be left outside — the claim they shared passwords is inconceivable.

And, of course, it makes it clear that once Eisenberg got involved, he (the same guy who hid Trump’s Ukraine transcript) started working directly with Flynn on the pushback.

Cross Filings: NSD Figures Out How Woods Procedures Are Supposed to Work

JustSecurity has an odd panel on FISA yesterday reviewing the DOJ IG Memo showing that Carter Page’s FISA applications were actually better than average with respect to compliance with Woods Procedures. It includes Andrew McCabe (who signed the last, most problematic, Carter Page application) and Mary McCord (who was involved in the review process for three of the applications, and even told McCabe they needed more information on Christopher Steele before the first one), but it doesn’t disclose their roles in the process. It also doesn’t include defense attorneys among its experts, who might provide more context about problems identified with FISA long before the Page investigation.

I’m particularly interested in McCord’s comments. She likens this to what happened in the wake of Brady v Maryland, and then again in the wake of Ted Stevens’ trial, as prosecutors came to a more proactive view on discovery (she doesn’t explain how prosecutors fucked up so badly on the Stevens case if any cultural change had really happened).

While I applaud McCord for taking a more skeptical view of the Page surveillance at several points (as described in the DOJ IG Report), her focus on Brady and her confidence in cultural change is misplaced, in my opinion.

As bmaz would and has been screaming, Brady isn’t actually the standard here. Franks is. He has argued that the affidavits targeting Page would never have reached the standard under Franks, and thus if Page were treated like any other defendant (of course, he was never charged), these affidavits would have passed muster.

I would respond to bmaz that you’d never even get to a Franks hearing because no defendant has ever gotten review of their application. Now that Ric Grenell has declassified the bulk of Carter Page’s applications, it should be far easier to declassify applications going forward. Liza Goitein included providing review to defendants among her recommendations for reforms next month, but none of the other panelists did.

But all the panelists seem to have missed something that happened at the same time as the memo was released. As I noted in my own review of the MAM, NSD (which McCord led for a key period during which Page was surveilled) has been doing their reviews in such a way as to make the Woods Procedures useless. They were giving FBI Agents four weeks advance notice before conducting a review, which meant they never did what DOJ IG did — see whether the FISA file had the paperwork that under the Woods Procedure it should have.

Before any of these reviews happen, the field offices are told which applications will be reviewed, which gives the case agents a chance to pull together the documentary support for the application.

Thus, prior to the FBI CDC or NSD OI review, field offices are given advance notification of which FISA application(s) will be reviewed and are expected to compile documentary evidence to support the relevant FISA.

If the Woods Procedures were being followed, it should never be the case that the FBI needs to compile documentary evidence before the review; the entire point of it is it ensure the documentary evidence is in the file before any application gets submitted. Once you discover that all the FBI and OI reviews get advance notice, you’re not really reviewing Woods Procedures, it seems to me, you’re reviewing paperwork accuracy.

[snip]

To check the accuracy of the Woods Files, they should with no notice obtain a subset of them, as DOJ IG just did, and see whether the claims in the report are documented in the Woods File, and only after that do their onsite reviews (with notice, to see if there was documentation somewhere that had not been included in the file). That might actually be a better way of identifying where there might be other kinds of problems with the application.

It turns out, on the same day that DOJ IG released their MAM, NSD submitted a FISA filing updating James Boasberg on what they’re doing with reviews.

The panel deals with the DOJ IG Management Advisory Memorandum showing that Carter Page’s applications were in no way unique, with regards to Woods Procedure violations; in fact, his application had fewer Woods Procedure violations, on average, than the 29 applications DOJ IG reviewed. Much of the discussion focuses on

The results (rightly) look really stinky for the FBI. But in fact, the MAM revealed that NSD — McCord’s old department, which thus far had (possibly for jurisdictional reasons) avoided most criticism for FISA — was conducting reviews that made the Woods Files largely useless as an oversight tool (and therefore as a guarantee of accuracy). That’s because Office of Intelligence has been giving FBI Field Offices four weeks advance warning about which files they’re going to review.

DOJ IG describes its finding that these results aren’t being used in better fashion.

(4) FBI and NSD officials we interviewed indicated to us that there were no efforts by the FBI to use existing FBI and NSD oversight mechanisms to perform comprehensive, strategic assessments of the efficacy of the Woods Procedures or FISA accuracy, to include identifying the need for enhancements to training and improvements in the process, or increased accountability measures.

At least given their description, however, I think they’ve found something else. They’ve confirmed that — contrary to DOJ’s description to FISC that,

OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application.

OI is actually only doing the latter part, measuring the accuracy of the facts in an applicable FISA application. To check the accuracy of the Woods Files, they should with no notice obtain a subset of them, as DOJ IG just did, and see whether the claims in the report are documented in the Woods File, and only after that do their onsite reviews (with notice, to see if there was documentation somewhere that had not been included in the file).

As I lay out in a timeline below, DOJ was submitting a response to the FISA Court on April 3, even as DOJ IG was releasing its MAM. In that response (therefore three days before my post), they said they’d stop giving advance notice for the accuracy reviews, which will make Woods Procedures newly useful.

NSD has determined that commencing with accuracy reviews starting after September 30, 2020, it will not inform the FBI field offices undergoing NSD oversight reviews which applications will be subjected to accuracy reviews in advance of those reviews. This date is subject to current operational limitations the coronavirus outbreak is imposing. NSD would not apply this change in practice to accuracy reviews conducted in response to a request to use FISA information in a criminal proceeding, given the need to identify particular information from particular collections that is subject to use. NSD also would not apply this change in practice to completeness reviews ( discussed further below); because of the pre-review coordination that is contemplated for those reviews.

NSD will expect that the relevant FBI field offices have ready, upon NSD’s arrival, the accuracy sub-files for the most recent applications for all FISAs seeking electronic surveillance or physical search. NSD will then, on its arrival, inform the FBI field office of the application(s) that will be subject to an accuracy review. If the case will also be subject to a completeness review, pre-coordination, as detailed below, will be necessary. The Government assesses that implementing this change in practice will encourage case agents in all FISA matters to be more vigilant about applying the accuracy procedures in their day-to-day work.

In addition, although NSD’s accuracy reviews allow NSD to assess individual compliance with the accuracy procedures, NSD’s historical practice has been to allow agents to obtain documentation during a review that may be missing from the accuracy sub-file. NSD only assesses the errors or omissions identified once the agent has been given the opportunity to gather any additional required documentation. While the Government believes that, in order to appropriately assess the accuracy of an application’s content, it should continue to allow agents to gather additional documentation during the accuracy review, it assesses that this historical practice has not allowed for the evaluation of how effective agents have been at complying with the requirement to maintain an accuracy sub-file, complete with all required documentation.

As a result, NSD will tally and report as a part of its accuracy review process all facts for which any documentation, or appropriate documentation, was not a part of the accuracy sub-file at the time the accuracy review commenced. Agents will still be given the opportunity to gather such documentation during or after the accuracy review, so that NSD can assess if the application contains any inaccuracies with respect to the application’s content. NSD will include these additional findings in its summaries of accuracy reviews (discussed herein) and also will include such findings in its biannual reports to the Court regarding its accuracy and completeness review findings. NSD assesses that by implementing this additional metric, it will encourage case agents to be more vigilant about adhering to the FBI’s accuracy· procedures.

It’s rare that a bureaucracy of any sort — much less government, much less part of government that pertains to national security — recognizes that its paperwork isn’t serving the function it is supposed to. But here, even though DOJ IG didn’t make this observation, NSD figured it out and committed to change their processes.

There are more comments about NSD’s review processes that deserve more attention. For example, I said that NSD should start reporting the results of its accuracy (and the new completeness) reviews in its Semiannual FISA Reports (which currently focus only on 702). As part of a seeming effort to rebut Amicus David Kris’ comment that DOJ has the resources to do oversight right, the filing suggested that other oversight obligations take up too much time to dedicate more time to traditional FISA reviews (though NSD did increase attorney resources in OI’s oversight section by 50%).

(U) OI’s Oversight Section, which is responsible for oversight and compliance relating to the IC’s implementation of FISA authorities, currently has approximately 20 attorneys and must rely on assistance from the Operations Section of OI to staff the existing accuracy reviews. Moreover, OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight of other FISA authorities, including at other IC agencies, and conducts oversight of FBI’s implementation of its Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. The latter involves conducting onsite National Security Reviews at approximately 15 FBI field offices annually. In addition, OI’s oversight and compliance responsibilities with respect to the IC’s implementation of Section 702 consumes substantial OI resources. 14 Furthermore, the Oversight Section fulfills statutorily-required reporting obligations to Congress on behalf of the Department. These reports, which describe, in detail, the Government’s use of FISA authorities and all identified compliance incidents, run hundreds of pages in the aggregate and most must be completed twice a year. As the Court is aware, the Oversight Section also investigates and reports to the Court all FISA compliance incidents involving IC agencies. Additionally, among other responsibilities, the Oversight Section prepares quarterly reports for the Court to inform the Court about certain Section 702 compliance incidents and provide updates on previously reported Section 702 compliance incidents. The Oversight Section also conducts onsite reviews at multiple IC agencies.

It seems like this process could be more streamlined, though. It also seems like you don’t need attorneys to do all these reviews. Accuracy and completeness are not legal issues, they’re reading issues.

Ultimately, the way to ensure that smart changes by NSD actually have the desired effect is to give any defendant against whom FISA information is used in prosecution review of his or her FISA file. But it remarkable to see that McCord’s successor, John Demers, is actually making the kinds of changes that could make the Woods Files function the way they’ve been supposed to for two decades.

Timeline

  • March 23: FBI Associate Deputy Director of FBI reponds to draft MAM
  • March 27: Associate Deputy Attorney General Brad Weinsheimer responds to draft MAM
  • March 30: DOJ IG completes a Management Advisory Memorandum on it efforts to clean up FISA
  • March 31: DOJ IG publicly releases the MAM
  • April 3: James Boasberg orders the government to report whether errors found in the 29 applications that DOJ IG reviewed are material
  • April 3: DOJ National Security Division submits Response to March 5 order incorporating changes to Woods Procedure reviews
  • April 6: I point out that NSD should change how they do Woods Procedure reviews

The Scope of DOJ IG’s FISA Review

A seeming millennium ago, last Tuesday, DOJ’s Inspector General released a Management Advisory Memo describing the interim results of its effort to assess whether problems identified in Carter Page’s FISA application were unique, or reflected a more general problem with FISA. Based on the results from two prongs of DOJ IG’s ongoing investigation, DOJ IG believed they needed to alert FBI right away of their preliminary results in hopes they would inform FBI’s efforts to fix this and to offer two additional recommendations on top of the ones they made in December.

Unsurprisingly, a bunch of mostly right wingers have misrepresented the MAM. I wanted to use this post to explore what the MAM shows about the two prongs of investigation, the significance of the results, and the review of FISA generally. As a bonus track, I’ll talk about what role Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who was fired on Friday, did not have in the FISA application reviews discussed in the MAM, contrary to what a bunch of wingnuts are claiming to justify his firing.

The universe of FISA

Before getting into what the review showed, some background on the universe of FISA may be helpful.

Both prongs of DOJ IG’s investigation examine probable cause FISA applications from 8 FBI offices submitted over the 5 year period ending last September (the end of Fiscal Year 2019).

The last three years’ transparency reports from the Office of Director of National Intelligence have broken down how many of the probable cause FISA applications were known to target US persons. While there’s been some flux in the number of total probable cause applications, the ones targeting US persons have been going down (perhaps not coincidentally, as scrutiny of the process has increased), from 336 in CY 2016 to 232 in CY 2018.

Using 300 applications targeting US persons as an estimate, that says for the 5-year period DOJ IG is examining, there would have been roughly 1,500 that targeted US persons. The MAM says that the 8 offices included in the review thus far submitted more than 700 FISA applications “relating to U.S. Persons.”

The FBI has 56 field offices. Some states (CA, TX, FL, NY, PA) have multiple FBI offices. Some offices cover multiple states.

In any given year, National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence only does FISA reviews in a fraction of the FBI offices — 25-30, per a recent court filing (FISA 702 reviews covered a smaller number of offices during the early years of the 5-year period, but it’s unclear whether NSD does the reviews at the same time). A James Boasberg opinion on 702 reauthorization from last year confirmed that, “OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently.”  That would presumably include DC, NY, and LA (all of which are big enough to be led by an Assistant Director). Cities with large numbers of Chinese-Americans (like SF) or Muslims (like Minneapolis and Detroit) likely do disproportionately more FISA than other large city offices, and I assume offices in TX and FL do a lot as well.

Prong One: Reviewing Woods Files

DOJ IG described that one prong of their review — their own review of Woods Files — involved visiting those 8 field offices “of varying sizes” and reviewing “judgmentally selected sample” of 29 applications to review.

over the past 2 months, we visited 8 FBI field offices of varying sizes and reviewed a judgmentally selected sample of 29 applications relating to U.S. Persons and involving both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. This sample was selected from a dataset provided by the FBI that contained more than 700 applications relating to U.S. Persons submitted by those 8 field offices over a 5-year period.

Between them, those 8 field offices submitted 700 applications in the 5-year period studied, which says that even with some smaller offices included, the field offices still submitted almost half of the US person applications in the period (meaning DOJ IG likely included at least a few of the biggest offices).

This review is ongoing. But thus far, assuming my 1,500 estimate is fair, DOJ IG reviewed around 2% of the applications submitted by the FBI, or 4% of those submitted by these offices. By definition, those 29 files could not have included an application from each office for each year.

For each of these 29 applications, DOJ IG reviewed the Woods File associated with the application to see if there was, as intended, back-up for each of the factual claims in the application; that’s all they’ve done so far. This prong of the review was a strictly paperwork review: DOJ IG did not review whether the claims in the application could be backed up elsewhere, or if there were things in the case file targeting a person that should have been included in the application (which was actually the far bigger problem in the Carter Page applications).

[I]nitial review of these applications has consisted solely of determining whether the contents of the FBI’s Woods File supported statements of fact in the associated FISA application; our review did not seek to determine whether support existed elsewhere for the factual assertion in the FISA application (such as in the case file), or if relevant information had been omitted from the application.

But they didn’t have to keep reviewing to conclude that Woods Files are not functioning like they’re supposed to. Not only was there not a Woods File for 4 of the applications, but the remaining 25 all had problems.

(1) we could not review original Woods Files for 4 of the 29 selected FISA applications because the FBI has not been able to locate them and, in 3 of these instances, did not know if they ever existed; (2) our testing of FISA applications to the associated Woods Files identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed, and interviews to date with available agents or supervisors in field offices generally have confirmed the issues we identified;

[snip]

[F]or all 25 FISA applications with Woods Files that we have reviewed to date, we identified facts stated in the FISA application that were: (a) not supported by any documentation in the Woods File, (b) not clearly corroborated by the supporting documentation in the Woods File, or (c) inconsistent with the supporting documentation in the Woods File. While our review of these issues and follow-up with case agents is still ongoing—and we have not made materiality judgments for these or other errors or concerns we identified—at this time we have identified an average of about 20 issues per application reviewed, with a high of approximately 65 issues in one application and less than 5 issues in another application.

By comparison, DOJ IG found just 8 Woods File errors in the first Carter Page application and 16 in last two, most problematic, renewals (see PDF 460-465). So the applications DOJ IG reviewed were, on average, worse than the Page application with respect to the Woods compliance.

These applications also didn’t all have the required paperwork from an informant’s handling agent — though in some cases, the agent was the same.

About half of the applications we reviewed contained facts attributed to CHSs, and for many of them we found that the Woods File lacked documentation attesting to these two requirements. For some of these applications, the case agent preparing the FISA application was also the handling agent of the CHS referenced in the application, and therefore would have been familiar with the information in CHS files.

It’s actually somewhat notable that just half of this very small sample of applications included information from an informant. And only some of these files were lacking the required paperwork for informants. That suggests, to the degree that the FISA application might hide problems with informants that otherwise might have been found in a criminal warrant affidavit (though even there, FBI has a lot of ways to protect these details), that may not be as big of a problem as defense attorneys have suspected (though that’s an area where I’d expect bigger problems on the CT side than the CI one).

The findings on the third problem identified in the Carter Page applications — that the Woods File did not get a fresh review with each application — are less definitive.

based on the results of our review of two renewal files, as well as our discussions with FBI agents, it appears that the FBI is not consistently re-verifying the original statements of fact within renewal applications. In one instance, we observed that errors or unsupported information in the statements of fact that we identified in the initial application had been carried over to each of the renewal applications. In other instances, we were told by the case agents who prepared the renewal applications that they only verified newly added statements of fact in renewal applications because they had already verified the original statements of fact when submitting the initial application.

This could represent as few as 3 of the 25 files for which there were Woods Files.

In any case, the larger point seems to be the more important one: the FBI has not been using Woods Files like they’re supposed to, making sure that the paperwork to back up any claim made in a FISA application actually reflects the underlying documentation and thereby making sure the claims they make to the FISC are valid.

Presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg issued an order today, requiring the government to figure out whether any of the problems identified in this review were material, with an emphasis on the 4 applications for which there was no Woods File.

Reviewing Accuracy Reviews

As noted, the FBI has not been using Woods Files like they’re intended to be used. But neither is DOJ’s National Security Division.

The other part of DOJ IG’s audit involved reviewing the Accuracy Reviews done by the FBI and NSD as part of the existing FISA oversight process.

There are two kinds of Accuracy Reviews done as part of FISA oversight. First, the FBI requires that lawyers in its field offices review at least one application a year.

FBI requires its Chief Division Counsel (CDC) in each FBI field office to perform each year an accuracy review of at least one FISA application from that field office.

As noted below, these are sent to FBI OGC. NSD’s Office of Intelligence doesn’t get them.

In addition, NSD OI does their own reviews for a subset of offices.

Similarly, NSD’s Office of Intelligence (OI) conducts its own accuracy review each year of at least 1 FISA application originating from each of approximately 25 to 30 different FBI field offices.

Remember there are 56 field offices and roughly 300 US person applications. So in practice, IO could review as few as 8% of the applications in a given year (though it’s probably more than that).

Here’s how DOJ described the OI reviews to FISC in December.

OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight reviews at approximately 25-30 FBI field offices annually. During those reviews, OI assesses compliance with Court-approved minimization and querying procedures, as well as the Court orders. Pursuant to the 2009 Memorandum, OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application. 5 OI may conduct more than one accuracy review at a particular field office, depending on the number of FISA applications submitted by the office and factors such as whether there are identified cases where errors have previously been reported or where there is potential for use of FISA information in a criminal prosecution. OI has also, as a matter of general practice, conducted accuracy reviews of FISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use of FISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person. See 50U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1825(d).

(U) During these reviews, OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5 is supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document. With regard specifically to human source reporting included in an application, the 2009 Memorandum requires that the accuracy sub-file include the reporting that is referenced in the application and further requires that the FBI must provide the reviewing attorney with redacted documentation from the confidential human source sub-file substantiating all factual assertions regarding the source’s reliability and background. 6

5 (U) OI’s accuracy reviews cover four areas: (1) facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (2) the fact and manner of FBI’s verification that the target uses or is about to use each targeted facility and that property subject to search is or is about to be owned, used, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target; (3) the basis for the asserted U.S. person status of the target(s) and the means of verification; and (4) the factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case. See 2009 Memorandum at 3.

6 (U) If production of redacted documents from the confidential human source sub-file would be unduly burdensome, compromise the identity of the source, or otherwise violate the Attorney General Guidelines for Confidential Human Sources or the FBI’s Confidential Human Source Manual, FBI personnel may request that the attorney use a human source sub-file request form. Upon receipt of that form, the relevant FBI confidential human source coordinator will verify the accuracy of the source’s reliability and background that was used in the application, and transmit the results of that review to the reviewing or attorney.

So in December, DOJ claimed that these reviews served to “ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application.” They claimed that “OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5” — pertaining to 1) facts establishing probable cause 2) the target actually uses the targeted facilities 3) the target is a US person and 4) the criminal investigative techniques are accurately described —  are “supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document.” In theory, the easiest way to verify bullet point 1 (the case for probable cause) would be for the OI lawyers to check whether the Woods Files were complete.

Before I get into results, a word about the numbers.

Altogether, DOJ IG reviewed 34 FBI CDC and NSD OI reports and those reports covered 42 US person FISA applications.

Specifically, in addition to interviewing FBI and NSD officials, we reviewed 34 FBI and NSD accuracy review reports covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019—which originated from the 8 field offices we have visited to date and addressed a total of 42 U.S. Person FISA applications, only one of which was also included among the 29 FISA applications that we reviewed.

These numbers are bit confusing. For starters, the base number of accuracy reports, 34, is less than 40 (what it would be if there were a review for all 8 field offices for each of 5 years, which is supposed to be mandated for each FBI office). DOJ IG did not review one application per year per FBI office. I asked DOJ IG why that was; they said only “there may be many reasons why this is the case,” emphasizing multiple times that this audit is in its earliest phases (I’ve got requests for comment in with both NSD and FBI). Some of those many reasons might be:

  • Smaller offices reviewed don’t submit a FISA application every year, so for some offices there was none to review
  • OI doesn’t review most FBI offices every year, so for less frequently reviewed offices, there won’t be a review every year (but there should be an FBI one if the office did any FISA applications)
  • DOJ IG was only interested in US person FISA applications; some of the ones that FBI and OI reviewed would likely not target US persons
  • Only applications for which FISA coverage had ended were reviewed; for the later applications, FISA coverage might be ongoing and therefore excluded from the DOJ IG review
  • DOJ IG may not have finished its review of all these Accuracy Reviews reviews yet, so didn’t include them in the MAM

Additionally, the references to this part of review seems to suggest that the NSD reviews the same FISA application that each FBI field office reviews each year, as well as any problematic ones or ones being used in a prosecution, though that’s something I’m trying to get clarity on. Likewise, I’m trying to figure out whether FBI and OI similarly try to pick a “judgmentally selected sample” to ensure both the counterterrorism and counterintelligence functions are reviewed.

One detail makes this process a really bad measure of Woods File compliance (which is different from whether they measure the accuracy of the application effectively). Before any of these reviews happen, the field offices are told which applications will be reviewed, which gives the case agents a chance to pull together the documentary support for the application.

Thus, prior to the FBI CDC or NSD OI review, field offices are given advance notification of which FISA application(s) will be reviewed and are expected to compile documentary evidence to support the relevant FISA.

If the Woods Procedures were being followed, it should never be the case that the FBI needs to compile documentary evidence before the review; the entire point of it is it ensure the documentary evidence is in the file before any application gets submitted. Once you discover that all the FBI and OI reviews get advance notice, you’re not really reviewing Woods Procedures, it seems to me, you’re reviewing paperwork accuracy.

Nevertheless, even with the advance notice, the 93% of the 42 applications DOJ IG reviewed included problems.

[T]hese oversight mechanisms routinely identified deficiencies in documentation supporting FISA applications similar to those that, as described in more detail below, we have observed during our audit to date. Although reports related to 3 of the 42 FISA applications did not identify any deficiencies, the reports covering the remaining 39 applications identified a total of about 390 issues, including unverified, inaccurate, or inadequately supported facts, as well as typographical errors. At this stage in our audit, we have not yet reviewed these oversight reports in detail.

Keep in mind, OI is reviewing for four things — whether there’s paperwork present to support  that the application shows 1) facts establishing probable cause 2) the target actually uses the targeted facilities 3) the target is a US person (or, for applications targeting under the lower foreign power standard, that the target is not a US person, but that shouldn’t be relevant here) and 4) the criminal investigative techniques used already are accurately described. The second bullet point is actually at least as important as the probable cause, because if the wrong person is wiretapped, then a completely innocent person ends up compromised. That’s the kind of thing where typographical errors (say, transposing 2 digits in a phone number) have had serious ramifications in the past.

The lack of clarity regarding numbers makes one other point unclear. The memo setting up this process envisions NSD’s involvement in assessing whether problems with FISA applications are material. But in practice, the FBI doesn’t consult with them. And in the set of applications that DOJ IG Reviewed (again, it’s unclear whether OI reviewed all the FBI files, along with a select few more, or not), FBI found more problems than OI did, 250 as compared to 140 (for a total of 390 problems).

The 2009 joint FBI-NSD policy memorandum states that “OI determines, in consultation with the FBI, whether a misstatement or omission of fact identified during an accuracy review is material.” The 34 reports that we reviewed indicate that none of the approximately 390 identified issues were deemed to be material. However, we were told by NSD OI personnel that the FBI had not asked NSD OI to weigh in on materiality determinations nor had NSD OI formally received FBI CDC accuracy review results, which accounted for about 250 of the total issues in the reports we reviewed.

[snip]

FBI CDC and NSD OI accuracy review reports had not been used in a comprehensive, strategic fashion by FBI Headquarters to assess the performance of individuals involved in and accountable for FISA applications, to identify trends in results of the reviews, or to contribute to an evaluation of the efficacy of quality assurance mechanisms intended to ensure that FISA applications were “scrupulously accurate.” That is, the accuracy reviews were not being used by the FBI as a tool to help assess the FBI’s compliance with its Woods Procedures.

This is one of the complaints and recommendations in the MAM: it complains that the FBI reviews are basically going into a file somewhere, without a lessons learned process. It recommends that change. It also recommends that OSD get FBI’s reports, so they can integrate them into their own “trends reports” that they do based on their own reviews.

DOJ IG describes its finding that these results aren’t being used in better fashion.

(4) FBI and NSD officials we interviewed indicated to us that there were no efforts by the FBI to use existing FBI and NSD oversight mechanisms to perform comprehensive, strategic assessments of the efficacy of the Woods Procedures or FISA accuracy, to include identifying the need for enhancements to training and improvements in the process, or increased accountability measures.

At least given their description, however, I think they’ve found something else. They’ve confirmed that — contrary to DOJ’s description to FISC that,

OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application.

OI is actually only doing the latter part, measuring the accuracy of the facts in an applicable FISA application. To check the accuracy of the Woods Files, they should with no notice obtain a subset of them, as DOJ IG just did, and see whether the claims in the report are documented in the Woods File, and only after that do their onsite reviews (with notice, to see if there was documentation somewhere that had not been included in the file). That might actually be a better way of identifying where there might be other kinds of problems with the application.

With regards to the lessons learned problem, there seems like an obvious solution to this: Congress mandates that DOJ complete semiannual reviews of 702 practices (which includes reviews of NSA and CIA practices, as well as those of FBI), and they include precisely this kind of trend analysis. Even in spite of their heavy redaction in public form, I’ve even been able to identify problems with 702 and related authorities in the same time frame as NSA was doing so. There’s no reason that semiannual reports couldn’t be expanded (or replicated) to include probable cause targeting. At the very least it’d be a way to force OI and FBI to have this lessons learned discussion. Republican members of Congress have claimed that more oversight should be shifted to Congress (not a very good idea given that no one in Congress seemed to be conducting the close read that I had been), and this is an easy way to play a more active role.

DOJ IG has not reviewed the most important things yet

The MAM is explicit that it has not reviewed the import of the errors it found.

[W]e have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

Nor has it reviewed FBI’s own decisions regarding the 290 errors they found in their own reviews to determine if the FBI’s judgment that they were not material was valid. If it compared its results for the one application that FBI and/or OI also reviewed, it doesn’t say so explicitly (which would seem a really important measure about the integrity of the standard reviews).

And while it’s significant that there are so many errors, regardless of the review, it still doesn’t address what the Carter Page case said was the far more important issue: what got left out. Of the 8 to 18 Woods Files errors in the Carter Page investigation, for example, just one got to the core of the problem with the application, that Page was making denials, denials that — before later applications were submitted — the FBI had reason to know were correct (another of the Woods File errors might have raised questions about Steele, but did not go to the heart of the problems with his reporting). The other problems had to do with paperwork, not veracity. And none of the Woods File problems related to CIA’s contact approval of Page for some but not all of his willful sharing of non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers.

DOJ IG says it will conduct further analysis of the problems it has thus far found.

In connection with our ongoing audit, the OIG will conduct further analysis of the deficiencies identified in our work to date and of FBI FISA renewals. In addition, we are expanding the audit’s objective to also include FISA application accuracy efforts performed within NSD. Consistent with the OIG’s usual practices, we will keep the Department and the FBI appropriately apprised of the scope of our audit, and we will prepare a formal report at the conclusion of our work.

But it’s not yet clear that this will include picking a subset of the files already reviewed to do the kind of deep dive that was done with Carter Page.

Further, at this point, DOJ IG seems not to be seeing one of the more obvious conclusions. As explained above, it recommends that the FBI and NSD use their accuracy reviews better to better do lessons learned.

We recommend that the FBI institute a requirement that it, in coordination with NSD, systematically and regularly examine the results of past and future accuracy reviews to identify patterns or trends in identified errors so that the FBI can enhance training to improve agents’ performance in completing the Woods Procedures, or improve policies to help ensure the accuracy of FISA applications.

But it specifically speaks in terms of improving performance with the Woods Procedures.

If the Woods Procedures are meant to be a tool, it would be necessary to conduct no-notice reviews of the files. Otherwise, you’re not reviewing the Woods Procedures. That would need to be a recommendation.

But it seems to be possible if not likely that fixing the problems IDed back before 2000 with a paperwork requirement that doesn’t go to the core of the issue hasn’t worked (and, as described, has never been used as a key measure for the existing OI reviews), then it seems other solutions are necessary — including that criminal defendants get some kind of review. Though even that would be inadequate to the task, given that before DOJ makes the decision to permit FISA materials to be used in a prosecution, they review whether the files would sustain a judge’s review first.

The goal here is not to placate FISC, nor is it to check some boxes as part of the application process. It’s to ensure that absent the threat of review by a defense attorney, the benefits (which already have serious limits) of adversarial review are achieved via other means. And there’s good reason to believe that absent more significant changes in the oversight process, the Woods Procedures are never going to achieve that result.

The Michael Atkinson conspiracy theory

As I was already writing this, it became clear that the frothy right was using this report, released on Tuesday, to provide a non-corrupt excuse for Trump’s firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson late on Friday night.

The basis for such a claim is not entirely clear to me. Frothers in my Twitter timeline at first seemed to confuse Atkinson with DOJ’s IG, Michael Horowitz, or believed that the ICIG had a central role in FISA. Then they seized on the fact that, for the two years before he became ICIG, Atkinson was at National Security Division, which both oversees some cases likely to have a FISA component and oversees the submission of applications and then conducts the oversight reviews.

Atkinson’s confirmation materials provide some exactitude for what he did at DOJ when:

September 2002 to March 2006: Trial Attorney for DOJ’s Fraud Section

March 2006 to March 2016: AUSA in DC USAO working on Fraud (including in oversight positions)

March 2016 to June 2016: Acting DAAG, National Asset Protection at NSD

July 2016 to May 2018: Senior Counsel to AAG for NSD

There would be little imaginable reason for a fraud prosecutor, as Atkinson was for the majority of his DOJ career, to use FISA (two of the highest profile cases he worked on were the prosecution of Democratic Congressmen William Jefferson and Jesse Jackson Jr), though he said he worked on some espionage, sanctions, and FARA cases. As Acting DAAG, he worked in a different part of NSD than the unit that handles FISA applications and oversight.

As he described it in his confirmation materials, he would have been a consumer of FISA information, but not the person doing the reviews.

As Senior Counsel to the AAG (serving under John Carlin, Mary McCord, Dana Boente, and John Demers), he might have visibility into review processes on FISAs, though at that level, managers assumed the Woods Procedure worked as required (meaning, Atkinson would not have known of these problems).

In his confirmation materials, however, Atkinson suggested he spent far more time as Senior Counsel overseeing the response to unauthorized disclosures, which likely still included Snowden when he started in 2016, added Shadow Brokers that year, and would have focused closely on Vault 7 in 2017 and 2018.

My experience in helping to coordinate the responses to unauthorized disclosures while serving as the Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, National Security Division (NSD), should assist me in serving effectively as the IC IG. As part of this position, I have assisted in coordinating the Department’s efforts to investigate and prosecute unauthorized disclosures across the IC enterprise. This experience has reinforced for me the important role that fair, impartial, and effective whistleblower protection processes play in maximizing the IC’s effectiveness and minimizing the risks of unauthorized disclosures and harm to our national security. As part of this experience, I have also been a consumer and user of intelligence from multiple intelligence sources, and I have seen first-hand the benefits to our country when there is a unity of effort by the Intelligence Community to address national security needs.

For Vault 7, at least, the investigation into Joshua Schulte — who was always the prime suspect — used criminal process from the very start (though it’s possible that the increased surveillance of Julian Assange involved FISA). And while there are less spectacular cases of unauthorized disclosure that might involve some nexus with a foreign country, raising FISA issues, many of these leaks cases were criminal cases, seemingly not reliant on FISA. Which would mean some of the most sensitive cases Atkinson worked on didn’t involve FISA.

Though the frothy right may think Atkinson had a central role because the title of the person at FBI field offices who must conduct a review is “Chief [Division] Counsel,” and they confused both the agency and the location.

In any case, there’s one more piece missing from this: while I happen to think DOJ IG has not focused closely enough on what NSD should be doing in its oversight role, thus far, DOJ IG has not investigated it. And so there’s actually no allegation of wrong-doing from anyone at NSD in either of these two reports, not even the NSD people who actually work on FISA. On the contrary, DOJ IG simply describes OI doing reviews where they identified problems and wrote them up. Yes, OI likely should have been more involved in determining whether the errors FBI found were material. Given that Boasberg has mandated materiality reviews of the 29 files reviewed by DOJ IG, now would be a good time to implement that practice.

Still, compliance or not with Woods Files remains a distraction from a deeper review of whether these files included all pertinent information. And if FISA is going to remain viable, that’s the examination that needs to happen.

Mueller’s 302s: The Apparent Referral of Rick Gerson’s 302s May Be as Interesting as Kushner’s

Last week, CNN explained why, even though DOJ had promised to release a certain set of FBI interview reports (302s) in the CNN/BuzzFeed FOIA for the underlying materials from the Mueller Report, Jared Kushner’s April 2018 interview report has not yet been released: An intelligence agency is reviewing the memo.

The Justice Department did not hand over the FBI’s summary of Jared Kushner’s interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller last week — despite a judge’s order to do so — because “a member of the intelligence community” needs to ensure the material has been properly redacted, a department attorney said Wednesday.

DOJ lawyer Courtney Enlow informed CNN as part of an ongoing lawsuit that Kushner’s memo, also known as a “302, will be released with the appropriate redactions” after the intelligence agency has finished its review.

Earlier this month, DOJ gave the plaintiffs in this FOIA suit a table that may provide useful background to it. Vast swaths of virtually all of these 302s have been withheld under a b5 exemption, which is broadly known as the deliberative privilege exemption. This table (“b5 table”) purports to explain which 302s have been withheld under which form of b5 exemption:

  • AWP: Attorney Work Product, basically a specious claim that because attorneys were present at an interview, the report produced by non-attorney FBI agents gets covered as a result
  • DPP: Deliberative Process Privilege, which is supposed to mean that the redacted material involves government officials trying to decide what to do about a policy or, in this case, prosecutorial decisions
  • PCP: Presidential Communications Privilege, meaning the redacted material includes discussions directly involving the President

The litigation over these b5 Exemptions was always going to be heated, given that DOJ is using them to hide details of what the President and his flunkies did in 2016. All the more so now that DOJ has adopted a broader invocation of b5 exemptions than they did earlier in this lawsuit, when they were limited to just discussions of law and charging decisions.

Still, the b5 table is useful in other ways.

Mary McCord interview purportedly includes Presidential Communications

For example, it shows that the government redacted parts of Acting NSD Director Mary McCord‘s interview report, which focused closely on her interactions with the White House Counsel about Mike Flynn’s lies to the FBI, as a Presidential Communication.

This claim  is probably fairly sketchy. She is not known, herself, to have spoken directly to Trump. And while much of her interview was withheld under b1 and b3 (at least partly on classification grounds pertaining to the FISA on which Flynn was captured, but also grand jury information with respect to the investigation into Mike Flynn) and b7E (law enforcement methods), the parts that were withheld under b5 appear to be her speaking to Don McGahn, including bringing information to him, rather than the reverse.

Crazier still, we’ve all been pretending that Flynn lied about his calls with Sergey Kislyak of his own accord; the Mueller Report remained pointedly non-committal on whether Flynn undercut Obama’s sanctions on Trump’s orders or not. Protecting these conversations as a Presidential Communication seems tacit admission that Don McGahn’s interactions with McCord were significantly about Trump, not Flynn.

Chris Ruddy’s interview unsurprisingly includes Presidential Communications

It is thoroughly unsurprising that DOJ is withholding parts of Chris Ruddy’s interview as Presidential Communications. After all, during the period about which the unredacted parts of the interview show he was interviewed (summer 2017), Ruddy served as Trump’s rational brain, so it would be unsurprising if Ruddy told Mueller’s team certain things he said to Trump.

Though even there, there are passages that seem like may be an improper assertion of Presidential Communications, such as what appears to be a meeting at the White House with Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon — neither of whom is the President — asking for his help to go make a public statement mind-melding him into not firing Mueller.

As the Mueller Report passages sourced to this interview make clear, this is a PR request, not a presidential communication.

On Monday, June 12, 2017, Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of the President’s, met at the White House with Priebus and Bannon.547 Ruddy recalled that they told him the President was strongly considering firing the Special Counsel and that he would do so precipitously, without vetting the decision through Administration officials.548 Ruddy asked Priebus if Ruddy could talk publicly about the discussion they had about the Special Counsel, and Priebus said he could.549 Priebus told Ruddy he hoped another blow up like the one that followed the termination of Comey did not happen.550 Later that day, Ruddy stated in a televised interview that the President was “considering perhaps terminating the Special Counsel” based on purported conflicts of interest.551 Ruddy later told another news outlet that “Trump is definitely considering” terminating the Special Counsel and “it’s not something that’s being dismissed.”552 Ruddy’s comments led to extensive coverage in the media that the President was considering firing the Special Counsel.553

White House officials were unhappy with that press coverage and Ruddy heard from friends that the President was upset with him.554

Still, the fact that DOJ maintains that some of this interview involves Presidential Communications is interesting because of the point I made in this post: Passages currently redacted for an ongoing criminal proceeding suggest Ruddy’s other communications, possibly with Manafort or his lawyer, are part of an ongoing criminal proceeding.

I’m interested in Ruddys’ 302 because four paragraphs that show a b7ABC redaction, which mostly has been used to hide stuff pertaining to Roger Stone.

I doubt this redaction pertains to Stone, though, at least not exclusively.

As I noted last June when Amy Berman Jackson liberated the Sean Hannity texts with Manafort, she withheld another set of communications (probably showing Kevin Downing reached out to the media, as he had done with Hannity, which is why they were submitted as part of Manafort’s sentencing). She withheld the other texts because of an ongoing proceeding.

At the time, I suggested that the other proceeding might pertain to Chris Ruddy because:

  • Ruddy was a key source for a key Howard Fineman story in the same time frame as Kevin Downing had reached out to Hannity
  • Prosecutors probably obtained all of Manafort’s WhatsApp texts after learning he had been witness tampering using that account
  • Ruddy testified to Mueller the day after they had extracted the Manafort-Hannity texts, suggesting he was a likely candidate to be the other person whose texts showed ongoing communication with the media

DOJ may be withholding discrete paragraphs in Ruddy’s interview both because they are a Presidential Communication and because they are part of an ongoing investigation. Which seems like something CNN and BuzzFeed might want to clarify.

Hiding the most damning Sater and Bannon and (possibly) KT McFarland interviews?

Then there are three interviews DOJ claims to have turned over for which the interviewee’s name has been withheld.

One of those, for an interview on August 15, 2017, happened on a day when Mueller’s team conducted five interviews (or, given the 1-page length of three of them, more likely phone calls setting up interviews). One of those is of Andrej Krickovic, a Carter Page associate who is not listed on the master list of interviews but whose name was identified in his 302. But the interview in question is being withheld under a Presidential Communications exemption, so surely is not Krickovic. There’s a 6-page interview from that date reflected in the DOJ list of all interviews (“Mueller interview list”) that is likely the one in question. And given that the earliest released interview of KT McFarland, dated September 14, 2017, describes her being “acquainted with the interviewing agents from a previous interview,” given reports that her first most egregious lies about Flynn’s calls to Kislyak came during the summer (before it was clear that Mueller’s team was going to obtain a warrant to get Transition emails from GSA), and given the September 302 reflects her attempt to clear up several existing untruths, I’m guessing that’s hers.

There’s more evidence regarding the subjects of two other 302s from which the names have purportedly been withheld. The b5 table includes a December 15, 2017 interview being withheld exclusively as Attorney Work Product. It seems likely that this is the December 15, 2017 Felix Sater interview reflected in the Mueller interview list. Immediately before the September 19, 2017 Sater interview are 7 pages that were entirely withheld (1394 through 1400) under b3 (grand jury or classification), b6 and b7C (collectively, privacy), b7E (law enforcement sources and methods), b7F (likely risk of death), and b5. Sater is one of — if not the only — person whose interviews have been protected under b7F (which makes sense, given that he was a high level informant for years).  Plus, there’s reason to believe that Sater’s story evolved after he was interviewed by HPSCI on December 14, 2017, and DOJ seems especially interested in hiding how some of these stories changed over time. In other words, DOJ seems to be hiding the entirety of a Sater interview the existence of which they already acknowledged under a whole slew of exemptions, including Attorney Work Privilege. That would be particularly egregious, given that Mueller relied on that interview to support the following details about Trump Tower:

Given the size of the Trump Moscow project, Sater and Cohen believed the project required approval (whether express or implicit) from the Russian national government, including from the Presidential Administration of Russia.330 Sater stated that he therefore began to contact the Presidential Administration through another Russian business contact.331

[snip]

The day after this exchange, Sater tied Cohen’s travel to Russia to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (“Forum”), an annual event attended by prominent Russian politicians and businessmen. Sater told the Office that he was informed by a business associate that Peskov wanted to invite Cohen to the Forum.367

In a follow-up, I’ll explain why DOJ’s attempt to withhold this interview by hiding the existence of it even though they’ve already acknowledged it is fairly damning.

In addition, the b5 table lists a January 18, 2019 interview withheld under Presidential Communication and Deliberative Process Privilege, but not Attorney Work Product (which might suggest it was an interview FBI agents conducted with no prosecutor present). While there was stuff pending in the Jerome Corsi investigation at the time (which might explain the lack of lawyers but probably not a Presidential Communication Privilege), the only interview on that date included in the Mueller interview list involves Steve Bannon. That’s interesting because while his proffer agreement (signed by Andrew Goldstein, so seemingly reflecting Goldstein’s presence at the interview of that date) shows in the batch of 302s in which this withheld one is supposed to have appeared, his interview of that date (which is 4 pages long) does not appear. There’s not an obvious set of withheld pages that might be that interview (there are 6-page withholdings that might include it). But Bannon’s January 18, 2019 was, given some comments at the Stone trial, particularly damning and conflicts with the one (of three) Bannon 302 that has been made public. Just one sentence of the Mueller Report — pertaining to the campaign’s discussions about upcoming WikiLeaks releases but still redacted for Stone’s trial — relies on this Bannon interview, but since it does, the interview itself should not be entirely redacted. (That said, the entirety of Bannon’s 16-page October 26, 2018 302 has also been hidden in plain sight in these releases.)

There is, admittedly, varying degrees of certainty about these hypotheses. But if they are correct, it would suggest that DOJ is systematically withholding 302s that would show significant changes in testimony among people who were not charged for lying in the earlier ones. Of particularly note, they may be hiding one each that BuzzFeed (which had the lead in reporting the Felix Sater story) and CNN (which was one of the few outlets that reported how KT McFarland had to clean up her testimony) have an institutional stake in.

Rick Gerson disappeared into the same Agency review as Jared Kushner?

Finally, the b5 table reveals DOJ has “released” the two interviews from Rick Gerson, even though we’ve seen no hint of them.

You might be forgiven for forgetting who Rick Gerson is — Steven Bannon even claimed to have in his first, least forthcoming interview. He’s a hedgie who is close to Jared Kushner who actually had a key role in setting US-Russian policy from the start of the Trump Administration. George Nader introduced him to the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, after which Gerson (who had no official role in the Transition or Administration so presumably had no security clearance) and Dmitriev put together a reconciliation plan between Russian and the US.

In addition, the UAE national security advisor introduced Dmitriev to a hedge fund manager and friend of Jared Kushner, Rick Gerson, in late November 2016. In December 2016 and January 2017, Dmitriev and Gerson worked on a proposal for reconciliation between the United States and Russia, which Dmitriev implied he cleared through Putin. Gerson provided that proposal to Kushner before the inauguration, and Kushner later gave copies to Bannon and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Gerson’s two interviews are cited 17 times in the Mueller Report and cover topics including:

  • Gerson’s ties to Jared and non-existent role on the campaign
  • Gerson’s role setting up meetings with Tony Blair and Mohammed bin Zayed
  • How Nader introduced him to Dmitriev
  • How Dmitriev pitched Gerson on a potential joint venture
  • How Gerson, having been promised a business deal, then worked to figure out from Jared and Mike Flynn who was running “reconciliation” on the Transition
  • What Dmitriev claimed his relationship to Putin was
  • How Gerson, “on his own initiative and as a private citizen,” worked with Dmitriev during December 2016 to craft this “reconciliation” plan
  • How Gerson got that plan into Kushner’s hands and it formed a key part of the discussion between Trump and Putin on their January 28, 2017 call
  • How Dmitriev seemed to lose interest in doing business with Gerson once he had finished using him

A key part of this discussion relies on both Gerson’s interviews and the Kushner one that is being reviewed by an Agency.

On January 16, 2017, Dmitriev consolidated the ideas for U.S.-Russia reconciliation that he and Gerson had been discussing into a two-page document that listed five main points: (1) jointly fighting terrorism; (2) jointly engaging in anti-weapons of mass destruction efforts; (3) developing “win-win” economic and investment initiatives; (4) maintaining an honest, open, and continual dialogue regarding issues of disagreement; and (5) ensuring proper communication and trust by “key people” from each country. 1111 On January 18, 2017, Gerson gave a copy of the document to Kushner. 1112 Kushner had not heard of Dmitriev at that time. 1113 Gerson explained that Dmitriev was the head of RDIF, and Gerson may have alluded to Dmitriev’s being well connected. 1114 Kushner placed the document in a file and said he would get it to the right people. 1115 Kushner ultimately gave one copy of the document to Bannon and another to Rex Tillerson; according to Kushner, neither of them followed up with Kushner about it. 1116 On January 19, 2017, Dmitriev sent Nader a copy of the two-page document, telling him that this was “a view from our side that I discussed in my meeting on the islands and with you and with our friends. Please share with them – we believe this is a good foundation to start from.” 1117

1111 1/16/17 Text Messages; Dmitriev & Gerson.

1112 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3; Gerson 6/15/18 302, at 2.

1113 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3.

1114 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3; Gerson 6/15/18.302, at 1-2; Kushner 4/11/ 18 302, at 22.

1115 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3.

1116 Kushner 4/11/18 302, at 32.

1117 1/19/17 Text Message, Dmitriev to Nader (11: 11 :56 a.m.).

There are roughly 62 pages referred to another agency in the January 2 release (which is understood to include Kushner’s April 11, 2018 interview) is an 11-page series (1216-1226), which might be Gerson’s two interviews. That suggests we can’t even get the 302s that show how Putin’s selected envoy to the US managed to plan out the first phone call between Putin and Trump with a hedgie who went to college with Kushner with not formal ties to the Transition or Administration and no security clearance because they’re so sensitive — more sensitive than KT McFarland’s discussion of Transition national security discussions, for example — that some Agency like the CIA has to give us permission first.