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Mueller Just Guaranteed He Can Issue a Public Report

Back when Paul Manafort first entered a plea agreement, I argued the effects of it could not be pardoned away.

Here’s why this deal is pardon proof:

  1. Mueller spent the hour and a half delay in arraignment doing … something. It’s possible Manafort even presented the key parts of testimony Mueller needs from him to the grand jury this morning.
  2. The forfeiture in this plea is both criminal and civil, meaning DOJ will be able to get Manafort’s $46 million even with a pardon.
  3. Some of the dismissed charges are financial ones that can be charged in various states.

Since that time, Mueller has been busy finishing up the Roger Stone indictment, Trump has finally finished his open book test, and any owners of the property Manafort had to forfeit under the plea deal had their 30-day window to challenge the forfeiture (only the bank owning the loan on his Trump Tower condo is known to have contested the forfeiture, which means the government may already be irretrievably seizing $43 million of Manafort’s property).

Which brings us to the status report that Mueller’s team delayed long enough to get that open book test.

Paulie can’t help himself. According to Mueller’s team, he has kept lying and lying since entering the cooperation agreement.

After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement. The government will file a detailed sentencing submission to the Probation Department and the Court in advance of sentencing that sets forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement herein.

As the defendant has breached the plea agreement, there is no reason to delay his sentencing herein.

As I noted back in September, the standard the government has to prove to claim Manafort has breached his agreement is just “good faith,” as compared to preponderance of the evidence with Rick Gates.

With Gates, the standard the government has to prove to argue he has breached his agreement is preponderance of the evidence or, in case of committing a crime, probable cause. With Manafort, the government only has to prove “good faith.”

Now, it is true that Trump can pardon Manafort (though that probably won’t happen right away). That’s the only sane explanation for Manafort doing what he did, that he is still certain he’ll be pardoned. But many of these charges can still be charged in state court.

Just about the only explanation for Manafort’s actions are that — as I suggested — Trump was happy to have Manafort serve as a mole in Mueller’s investigation.

But Mueller’s team appears to have no doubt that Manafort was lying to them. That means they didn’t really need his testimony, at all. It also means they had no need to keep secrets — they could keep giving Manafort the impression that he was pulling a fast one over the prosecutors, all while reporting misleading information to Trump that he could use to fill out his open book test. Which increases the likelihood that Trump just submitted sworn answers to those questions full of lies.

And that “detailed sentencing submission … sett[ing] forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” that Mueller mentions in the report?

There’s your Mueller report, which will be provided in a form that Matt Whitaker won’t be able to suppress. (Reminder: Mueller included 38 pages of evidence along with Manafort’s plea agreement, which I argued showed how what Manafort and Trump did to Hillary was the same thing that Manafort had done to Yulia Tymoshenko.)

Update: I’ve tweaked this post since first posting it.

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

After 14 Years, Conspiracy Artist Jerome Corsi Continues to Successfully Yank the Media’s Chain

Before I address Jerome Corsi’s latest success at playing the media, let me review my theory of why Mueller’s team is so interested in Corsi with respect to Stone (which they’ve been pursuing since March).

Jerome Corsi probably knew not just that WikiLeaks would release Podesta emails, but also what they contained

On October 6, 2016, Jerome Corsi renewed an attack on John Podesta first floated in a Peter Schweitzer and Steve Bannon report released on August 1 (and funded by Rebekah Mercer).

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign manager, John Podesta, was on the executive board of a client of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which is at the heart of the the Panama Papers investigation into massive global offshore money-laundering.

The company for which Podesta served as a board member, Joule, also received $35 million from a Putin-connected Russian government fund at the same time then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spearheaded the transfer of U.S. advanced technology, some with military uses, as part of her “reset” strategy with Russia, according to a report titled “From Russia With Money,” released in August by the Government Accountability Institute. “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer is president of GAI, and Steve Bannon, the CEO of the Trump campaign, is a director.

The Russian entities that funneled money to Joule and its related companies, and ultimately to Podesta, include a controversial Russian investor with ties to the Russian government, Viktor Vekselberg, and his Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate with interests in oil, energy and telecommunication.

It was a remarkably prescient report! Just hours later, WikiLeaks would start releasing John Podesta’s emails, and would you know it?!?, starting on October 11, those emails included documents pertaining to Podesta’s efforts to unwind his relationship with Joule. He and Roger Stone both returned to that attack on October 13, after WikiLeaks had released those files. And on October 17, Corsi finally got around to a post linking the released files to (claim to) substantiate the attack.

While that’s in no way proof, it certainly seems to suggest that either Corsi or Stone not only had advanced warning that WikiLeaks would release Podesta emails, but knew that those emails would include documents pertaining to Joule.

As it happens, though, Corsi and Stone spoke about Joule back in August, probably on August 14, before Stone predicted that it’d soon be Podestas’ time in the barrel. Corsi explained that conversation in March 2017, at a time when Stone was pushing Randy Credico to back his explanations for the Podesta comment, this way:

On Aug. 14, 2016, the New York Times reported that a secret ledger in Ukraine listed cash payments for Paul Manafort, a consultant to the Ukraine’s former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

When this article was published, I suggested to Roger Stone that the attack over Manafort’s ties to Russia needed to be countered.

My plan was to publicize the Government Accountability Institute’s report, “From Russia With Money,” that documented how Putin paid substantial sums of money to both Hillary Clinton and John Podesta.

Putin must have wanted Hillary to win in 2016, if only because Russian under-the-table cash payments to the Clintons and to Podesta would have made blackmailing her as president easy.

On Aug. 14, 2016, I began researching for Roger Stone a memo that I entitled “Podesta.”

Stone has explained whatever digital tracks and the timing of that conversation slightly differently, claiming first that it pertained to a reference to a Schweitzer piece, but probably currently relying on this piece.

If Stone and Corsi plotted on August 14 to return to the Joule attack after WikiLeaks released files on it, then that conversation would have shortly follow the trip to Italy in late July and early August that, according to Corsi, Mueller appears to believe is where Corsi learned about the Podesta emails.

But Corsi says — in spite of apparent emails in Mueller’s possession proving otherwise — he figured out WikiLeaks would release Podesta’s emails just by “forensic analysis.”

“I connect the dots,” he said. “I didn’t need any source to tell me.”

Corsi said he determined in August that WikiLeaks head Julian Assange had obtained Podesta’s emails and was likely to release them in October — and he said several emails he sent in the summer of 2016 would confirm that fact. But he said his awareness was simply a logical deduction, not inside information from WikiLeaks.

[snip]

Corsi said that he had “sources” who had given him 1,000 pages of information over the summer of 2016 on how the Democratic Party’s computers worked. He said he did a “forensic analysis” of those emails to infer that Podesta’s were missing from the batch.

“Whoever was in that server, had to have seen Podesta’s emails,” he said. “It was a guess, but it was a conclusion that Assange had Podesta’s emails. … He was going to release them in October. Assange always releases things strategically.”

Which brings us to where we are today. After twice getting the media all worked up over claims about plea deals, Corsi now says he is rejecting a plea deal on one count of perjury.

Matt Whitaker May Determine What Happens Next

It’s not just that Corsi has succeeded in yanking the media’s chain, twice setting off press tizzies closely covering the claims of a man whose job is getting the press to embrace elaborate lies. It’s that Corsi’s chain-yanking have occurred at key times in the Matt Whitaker era. Consider this timeline:

November 7: Trump fires Jeff Sessions and replaces him by the end of day with designated hatchet man Matt Whitaker

November 8: In hearing in Andrew Miller subpoena challenge, Michael Dreeben lays out what Mueller can do with and without Attorney General appointment, noting that subpoenaing a journalist requires AG approval

November 8: On his podcast, Corsi suggests something big is going down with Mueller

November 9: Corsi appears before the grand jury and doesn’t give the answer — regarding how he learned that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails — that prosecutors expected; they told him they were going to charge him with perjury

November 12: On his podcast, Corsi says he expects to be indicted; a huge media frenzy follows

November 13: The media frenzy continues until (he claims), moments before starting an MSNBC interview, his lawyer tells him to call it off

November 15: Trump tweet apparently reflects Corsi’s claim of prosecutors yelling at him to give specific testimony they seek

November 19: In supplemental filing in Miller case, Mueller says he retains full authority of US Attorney until and uniless appointing regulations get changed

November 23: Corsi goes to the WaPo (off the record), AP, and MSNBC (the latter two both on the record) to tell them he is in plea negotiations

November 26: Corsi announces he has been offered, but will reject, a plea deal to one count of perjury, accuses Mueller of Gestapo tactics, and claims he will file a complaint with Whitaker

I’ve been wondering since November 9 whether Whitaker and Mueller had differences of opinion about what should happen with Jerome Corsi. We don’t actually know, yet, what kind of role Whitaker has played in overseeing Mueller’s investigation yet, partly because it’s not clear whether he’d be read in before the conclusion of an ethics review that it’s not at all clear he would pass (he can refuse to recuse anyway, but that will pose risks to his law license).

Still, it seems likely that, going forward, Whitaker will have an opportunity to weigh in on what happens to Corsi. If Mueller decides, once Corsi refuses a plea deal, to charge Corsi with that lie and perhaps others (or a role in a larger conspiracy), Whitaker may have an opportunity to veto it. And DOJ would presumably treat Corsi, a clear propagandist, but one with prior ties to the President, as a journalist.

To be clear, Corsi would be charged for lies to the grand jury. Even assuming he claimed he did so to protect a source, he’d be in a different position than (say) when James Risen refused to say anything about a source. He’d have already lied.

Still, by treating Corsi with heightened First Amendment privileges, Whitaker could add layers of review to any new charges (again, assuming anything Corsi says is true).

Meanwhile, Corsi has told multiple outlets that he wants to accuse Mueller of advising Corsi to lie to FINRA about pleading guilty.

Corsi has also added a new twist to the saga, claiming that he plans to file a complaint with Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker over Mueller’s team’s alleged recommendation that he keep his plea deal a secret from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

“FINRA requires by law that I immediately report anything that might affect my ability to hold securities licenses,” Corsi explained. “So I asked the special counsel’s team how they expected me to fulfill my legal obligation to FINRA if they want me to keep the plea deal a secret. And they said, ‘you don’t have to tell FINRA because this will all be under seal.’ So I told them I was going to file criminal charges against them with Whitaker, because they just advised me to commit a crime.” The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

By making claims that are probably bullshit and were probably made in front of his attorney, Corsi risks really screwing up his legal representation.

But all this is pretty obviously theater performed for two audience members: Donald Trump (who has already publicly responded) and Matt Whitaker (who believes in Bigfoot and time travel). So it may work!

Does Mueller need Corsi’s prosecution, or does he need his testimony?

Nevertheless, if Corsi serially lied to investigators, I would imagine Whitaker would eventually approve of charges against him.

But that may not be what Mueller wants (and Corsi may know that).

While it seems clear part of Corsi’s lies pertain to how he learned that WikiLeaks had and would release Podesta’s emails, Corsi told Nashsa Bertrand that the lie pertained to an email he sent to Roger Stone telling him to go see Assange.

Corsi told me that he emailed Stone in 2016 (he didn’t specify what month) telling him to “go see Assange”—an email that prosecutors showed him during an interview earlier this year that Corsi apparently had not voluntarily produced. “I couldn’t remember any of my 2016 emails,” Corsi said. “I hadn’t looked at them. So they let me amend my testimony, but now they want to charge me for the initial day [of my interview with prosecutors] when I said I didn’t remember that email. I won’t plead guilty to it.”

Corsi’s story doesn’t make sense — not least because if this really were about his original interview, it would be charged as False Statements, not Perjury — but if what Mueller needs is an account of Corsi’s August communications with Stone, then Corsi’s current stunt may actually achieve part of its objective.

Mueller probably doesn’t want to charge Corsi — and certainly not Corsi alone — because he’s such a gaslighter the trial will be a pain in the ass (and while he’s got a credible lawyer, he obviously doesn’t have any control over Corsi’s stunts). What Mueller probably wants is the testimony he needs to be able to charge Stone as part of a larger conspiracy.

The bigger question, though, is whether Mueller needs that testimony before he takes his next investigative steps.

Is Jerome Corsi Trying to Get Trump to Intervene (Again)?

When his former National Security Advisor was at risk for lying to the FBI and serving as an agent of a foreign government, Trump considered pardoning him to keep him from talking, but didn’t.

When his former Campaign Manager was at risk for serving as an agent of a foreign government (and, probably, a whole lot else), Trump considered pardoning him to keep him from talking, but didn’t.

I wonder if Jerome Corsi thinks his luck would be any better.

According to the conspiracy theorist’s own telling, he has been in discussions with Mueller’s investigators since late August. The following has happened recently:

November 8: On his podcast, Corsi suggests something big is going down with Mueller

November 9: Corsi appears before the grand jury and doesn’t give the answer — regarding how he learned that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails — that prosecutors expected; they told him they were going to charge him with perjury

November 12: On his podcast, Corsi says he expects to be indicted; a huge media frenzy follows

November 13: The media frenzy continues until (he claims), moments before starting an MSNBC interview, his lawyer tells him to call it off

November 23: Corsi goes to the WaPo (off the record), AP, and MSNBC (the latter two both on the record) to tell them he is in plea negotiations

The last time Corsi yanked the media chain, here’s what happened:

The reference to screaming and shouting appears to be based off Corsi’s claims of what went on in the grand jury.

So perhaps Corsi believes if he creates another media frenzy, Trump will take action.

Is it possible that whatever Corsi would tell investigators is more damning than what Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort have presumably already said? Recall that Roger Stone, in several of his many efforts to deflect any attention on his own actions, has suggested that Corsi had his own relationship with Trump (perhaps trying to suggest that if anything Corsi learned made its way to Trump, it would have been directly).

Stone suggested that the special counsel may actually be interested in Corsi’s relationship with Trump.

Corsi was a leading proponent of birtherism, the false conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In 2011, he wrote the book “Where’s the Birth Certificate?: The Case That Barack Obama is Not Eligible to be President.”

Around that time, Trump took up the conspiracy theory, questioning Obama’s citizenship and demanding that he release his birth certificate.

Stone said that during a conversation with Trump in 2011, “he said to me, ‘Who is this guy, Jerome Corsi?’” Stone recalled.

Stone said he asked Trump why he was inquiring about Corsi.

“I’ve been talking to him,” Stone recalled Trump saying.

Stone said that Corsi also met with Trump during the 2016 campaign.

And Corsi’s own lawyer has suggested Corsi declined to take part in criminal activity that Stone may have invited him to be a part of.

Gray said he was confident that Corsi has done nothing wrong. “Jerry Corsi made decisions that he would not take actions that would give him criminal liability,” he added, declining to elaborate.

Asked if Corsi had opportunities to take such actions, Gray said, “I wouldn’t say he was offered those opportunities. I would say he had communications with Roger Stone. We’ll supply those communications and be cooperative. My client didn’t act further that would give rise to any criminal liability.”

Of course, Corsi may not need a pardon to get himself out of the legal pickle he’s in. He may be counting on Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to bail him out. Whitaker was appointed the day before Corsi’s attempts to work the media; when firing Jeff Sessions, John Kelly made it clear Whitaker needed to be in place that day. And the same day that Corsi started this blitz, November 8, Michael Dreeben suggested both that Mueller could do all the things that prosecutors do without pre-approval — seeking immunity, making plea agreements, and bringing indictments — but also noted that subpoenaing a journalist is one of the things that requires Attorney General approval.

Prosecutors do this all the time. They seek immunity. They make plea agreements,. They bring indictments.

[snip]

If we want to subpoena a member of the media, or if we want to immunize a witness, we’re encouraged if we’re not sure what the policy or practice is, to consult with the relevant officials in the Department of Justice. If we wanted to appeal an adverse decision, we would have to get approval of the Solicitor General of the United States. So we’re operating within that sort of supervisory framework.

Given the other things Mueller’s team has said — notably, that any subpoenas they issued before Whitaker was appointed remain valid — it’s not clear Corsi even could roll back any cooperation he offered before Whitaker came in. But that doesn’t mean Corsi might not try, especially if past efforts proved to have some effect.

At the very least, Corsi may be trying to give Trump more basis to bitch about witch hunts.

Big Dick Toilets and Sasquatch Dolls: Matt Whitaker’s Qualifications To Be Dog-Catcher

I’ve followed the burgeoning scandal that the guy Trump appointed to play hatchet man to Mueller’s investigation is totally unqualified to be Acting Attorney General. But I’ve already lost track of all the reasons why. So I’m going to try to keep a running list here.

This will be updated as new issues are identified.

Legal problems with the appointment

While Steve Vladeck says it’s legal, and Marty Lederman and Walter Dellinger find OLC’s analysis, concluding that Matt Whitaker’s appointment is legal, to be plausible, a number of commentators disagree. Those include:

These arguments include a mix of constitutional (Appointments Clause) and legal (Vacancies Reform Act and the purpose of DOJ).

Numerous people are already challenging his appointment, including the state of Maryland, three Democratic Senators, and a number of criminal defendants. Quinta Jurecic is collecting all the litigation documents for those challenges here.

Other legal problems

In addition to the Constitutional and legal problems he raises, Neal Katyal also argues that Whitaker cannot legally supervise Mueller’s investigation.

David Kris points out that because of the legal questions surrounding Whitaker’s appointment and the certainty that defendants will challenge it, his appointment will create a whole bunch of downstream problems for DOJ.

A company for which Whitaker served on the board is under investigation by the FBI and FTC. Though Whitaker was subpoenaed by the FTC, he blew off that subpoena. FOIAed records show that Whitaker kept pitching the company even after receiving complaints.

One report on Trump’s efforts to get DOJ to prosecute Hillary Clinton and Jim Comey describes Whitaker prepping discussions about what it was doing in response; he reportedly “did not seem to cross any line,” but it remains to be seen whether that’s true.

Whitaker got four donations amounting to $8,800 to his 2014 Senate run in 2018, after he had started as Sessions’ Chief of Staff, which may amount to a violation of the Hatch Act. Following a complaint from watchdog group American Oversight, the Office of Special Counsel (the DOJ office in charge of reviewing such violations, among other things) opened an investigation into this.

Bureaucratic problems

There may be problems with the way that Whitaker was appointed.

As numerous people have noted, Jeff Sessions did not date his resignation, raising questions about when his authority really passed to Whitaker. (OLC says Sessions resigned on November 7.) Democrats in the House are also suggesting they believe Sessions’ forced resignation counts as a firing, which changes the options Trump would have to replace him under the Vacancies Reform Act.

Chris Geidner has reported that the White House won’t say when Whitaker was formally appointed.

Because Mueller has sought an interview with John Kelly (indeed, he’s a leading candidate to be the Mystery Appellant challenging a subpoena or something else from Mueller), it may be problematic that he played a key role in firing Jeff Sessions.

Conflict problems

Whitaker has a potential conflict with regards to the Mueller investigation tied to his relationship with Sam Clovis, who was in charge of crafting Trump’s outreach to Russia. Whitaker served as Clovis’ campaign manager in 2014.

Then, in a series of appearances Whitaker used to draw Trump’s attention, he commented on the Mueller investigation or the underlying conflict.

In a USAT column on July 5, 2016 and then multiple appearances on July 6, Whitaker suggested Hillary should have been prosecuted, partly by criticizing Jim Comey for making the decision.

On September 30, 2016, Whitaker suggested that if Trump won, he should restart the investigation into Hillary.

On May 19, 2017, Whitaker dismissed the possibility that Trump had committed obstruction of justice by firing Comey.

In July 2017, Whitaker interviewed with Don McGahn to take on the role of legal attack dog discrediting the Mueller investigation.

On July 13, 2017, Whitaker defended Donald Trump Jr taking the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

In a CNN interview on July 26, 2017, Whitaker described how you could defund the Special Counsel and thereby end his work.

I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.

On July 27, 2017, Whitaker said it would be a mistake to provide Mueller any further protection.

On August 4, 2017, Whitaker recommended an article that describes, “with a little planning he could install a true believer to a political position at DOJ—as a sleeper agent—and then (after easing out Sessions) elevate him or her to attorney general.”

On August 6, 2017, Whitaker used the Red Line comment Maggie and Mike teed up to describe Mueller pursuing Trump’s finances as improper.

On August 11, 2017, Whitaker suggested the investigation into Paul Manafort was outside the scope of Mueller’s appointment. In that same appearance, he suggested Mueller had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct.

On August 15, 2017, Whitaker said Mueller’s appointment was a little fishy.

On August 25, 2017, Whitaker suggested searching Manafort’s condo with a dozen agents was designed to intimidate him.

On August 30, 2017, Whitaker suggested Mueller’s investigation was politically motivated and was misusing resources that should be used elsewhere.

In spite of the fact that many of these would seem to pose conflicts that DOJ normally concludes would ethically prohibit Whitaker’s involvement in the Mueller investigation, both Trump and Whitaker appear to have known he would not recuse from the Mueller investigation even before he was appointed, though Trump has claimed (evidence to the contrary) that he didn’t talk to Whitaker about such things before he appointed him.

Financial problems

As noted by CREW when they released Whitaker’s financial disclosures, his disclosures got doctored (or “Kushnered,” as I’m now referring to serial attempts to belatedly fix glaring problems in official disclosures) four times after the time he was appointed AAG.

CREW has already filed a FOIA for those revisions.

What the records show is just as alarming.

The non-profit Whitaker worked at to, first, beat up Hillary Clinton and then audition to kill the Mueller investigation, Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, has obscure funding and genesis. It keeps changing its name. Whitaker’s salary, which went from $63,000 for part time work to $660,000 a year, made up most of its expenditures in the period before he became Sessions’ Chief of Staff. One of the guys listed as a director, James Crumley, claimed not to remember its existence. Another, Noah Wall, didn’t know he was listed as Director. While claiming to be non-partisan, it overwhelmingly attacked Democrats (and Hillary specifically), a possible violation of IRS regulations. As OpenSecrets notes, its funding comes from a black hole pass through, but the organization seems to have ties to other judiciary-related dark money groups.

The 14 companies in Iowa Whitaker worked for (reportedly, past tense) have never filed paperwork noting that, so on paper he still works for them.

In 2016, Whitaker abandoned a taxpayer-funded apartment rehabilitation project, defaulting on loans and hiding from creditors.

World Patent Marketing — the company the FBI is investigating — was totally fraudulent, pretending to help review patents without doing so. Among those the company defrauded are veterans. Among the things it marketed were Big Dick Toilets, Sasquatch dolls, and time travel.

Abuse as (or invoking past history as) US Attorney

Whitaker has already abused his position as a government prosecutor, both while serving and since.

In 2006, he prosecuted a Democratic politico, Matt McCoy and even paid an informant to incriminate him. The jury acquitted McCoy after deliberating for just 25 minutes.

Then, when serving on the advisory board for a World Patent Marketing, he threatened people who complained, including threatening them with legal retribution.

Temperament

Both on his legal views and his other beliefs, Whitaker has a temperament far outside the mainstream.

When running for Senate, Whitaker argued that judges should have a biblical view and said that Marbury v. Madison — the foundation of judicial review in this country — was among the worst Supreme Court decisions.

He was among the US Attorneys who imposed the harshest sentences in drug prosecutions.

Update: Since it has attracted a lot of attention, I owe this title in part to HowdyQuicksell, but the Dog Catcher accusation (which will probably ensure no DOJ spox will ever again return my calls) is my own.

Trump Refuses to Answer Why He Ordered Mike Flynn to Placate the Russians on Sanctions

As I have repeatedly argued, a key detail of the Russian investigation that has never been adequately explained is the firing of Mike Flynn. Contrary to what Trump’s propaganda in early January 2017 suggested, it was no secret within the White House that Flynn had discussed delaying any response to Obama’s sanctions with Sergei Kislyak. Indeed, it is virtually certain Flynn did so on the Trump’s orders, conveyed via KT McFarland, and many of the people involved in creating Trump’s public explanations knew that.

Which is why it’s so interesting that Trump has refused to answer questions about the transition (in addition to questions about after inauguration).

But after months of negotiations with Mueller’s team, Trump’s lawyers have refused to answer any questions about his time as president-elect or president, arguing that the special counsel is not legally entitled to details about executive decision-making.

If, as I’ve posited, sanctions relief was one of the payoffs in a quid pro quo for election assistance, then by refusing to answer questions about the transition, Trump would effectively be refusing to go on the record about why he chose to undermine Obama’s policy (on this, and on assistance to Israel, probably among other things).

Now consider how this fits with regards to timing.

The WaPo reports that Trump was going to return his open book test to Mueller last Thursday, but balked, claiming they had questions about the legitimacy of the investigation.

Trump’s lawyers originally planned to submit the answers to Mueller last Thursday, but put on the brakes.

Giuliani said there were “more questions raised about the legitimacy of the investigation that we had to discuss and look into,” declining to elaborate.

That makes it more likely that the 10-day delay in a status report on Paul Manafort’s cooperation — from last Friday to next Monday — reflects Mueller’s effort to delay releasing that report until after he had received Trump’s responses (which, remember, he once said he’d return a day or so after returning from Paris).

It’s also possible that Trump got his first report on the status of the investigation from Whitaker last Thursday, one day after OLC released its memo deeming Whitaker’s appointment legal. Today, Chuck Schumer sent DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz a letter asking for an investigation into Whitaker’s communications with the White House, but I read it to relate exclusively to activity prior to his appointment as Acting Attorney General.

Or, less controversially, he may have gotten assurances from Whitaker that he, as Acting AG slash hatchetman, would deem transition period activities as protected by Executive Privilege.

And since we’re reading tea leaves, consider the additional motion Mueller submitted in the Mystery Appellant case.

Particularly given the motion Mueller submitted yesterday — which argued that any subpoena the Special Counsel issued before Whitaker’s appointment remains valid — I wonder whether the recent activity reflects Whitaker’s tampering as well, perhaps reflecting notice, after the OLC memo, that Whitaker does not agree with the subpoena. Today’s sealed motion is around 25% longer than yesterday’s brief, so it may be notice of that argument.

(I think the new motion raises the chances, slightly, that the Mystery Appellant is Trump, but if it were someone — like John Kelly — making an Executive Privilege claim, Whitaker’s intervention may rely on the same justification Trump might have made last week about withholding transition materials.)

In other words, not only is Trump trying to avoid providing sworn testimony about one key event in this investigation — his order to placate the Russians on sanctions — but there are other hints that Whitaker has started his work to undermine the Mueller investigation.

Still, it may be too little too late. Mike Flynn’s sentencing continues as scheduled, with his probation officer submitting his presentencing report today. The government will have to submit a report on his cooperation on December 4, in advance of his December 18 sentencing. So Mueller must feel confident he knows all the circumstances of those conversations with Kislyak regardless of Trump’s willingness to talk about it.

Leo’s Lane: Balls and Strikes versus Checks and Balances

Last week, a group of Federalist Society members kicked off the annual meeting by announcing a new group, calling itself Checks and Balances, led by Kellyanne Conway’s spouse, George.

On its face, it’s not clear what function the group will have, aside from focusing even more attention on George and Kellyanne’s differing views on the President. I assume, however, the statement the 14 lawyers signed is meant to embarrass other conservative lawyers into remembering the principles they lay out in their statement.

We believe in the rule of law, the power of truth, the independence of the criminal justice system, the imperative of individual rights, and the necessity of civil discourse. We believe these principles apply regardless of the part of persons in power. We believe in a “a government of laws, not of men.”

We believe in the Constitution. We believe in free speech, a free press, separation of powers, and limited government. We have faith in the resiliency of the American experiment.

That said, I want to look at a few details of timing and intent.

The WaPo has an article that describes why some of the signers joined the group. Attacks on DOJ, Trump’s cultivation of racists, and attacks on the free press.

As to Conway, though, it focuses on the appointment of Matt Whitaker (though also includes Trump’s claim to want to end birthright citizenship).

Other members have pointed to Trump’s ouster of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and installation of Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general.

Conway, the group organizer, said, “There wasn’t any one thing; it’s a long series of events that made me think that a group like this could do some good.”

Conway has authored a series of articles attacking Trump’s politics, most recently an opinion piece in the New York Times that called Whitaker’s appointment unconstitutional.

“It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid,” Conway wrote. He similarly called the president’s plan to end birthright citizenship unconstitutional.

That’s interesting given the role multiple NYT stories have described Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo had in the hiring of Whitaker. After the NYT almost got Rod Rosenstein fired (probably relying at least in part on Whitaker as a source), it described Leo recommending Whitaker to be Sessions’ Chief of Staff back in 2017.

Leonard Leo, the influential head of the conservative legal organization the Federalist Society who has taken leaves from the role to periodically advise the president since the transition, recommended Mr. Whitaker for his job with Mr. Sessions, according to a person briefed on the job search.

[snip]

“He has the trust and confidence of any number of people within the Justice Department and within the law enforcement community, but also the White House,” Mr. Leo said of Mr. Whitaker.

Installing Whitaker as Chief of Staff last year is one of the reasons Whitaker’s appointment would be legal under the Vacancies Reform Act (though the appointment’s legality is still very much under debate), because it meant he had been in a senior position at DOJ long enough to qualify. And hyping Whitaker at that moment was a key step in prepping his installation after Sessions’ eventual firing.

NYT emphasized again, once Whitaker had been installed, Leo’s role in his installation.

At this point, let me take a detour. Most of the lawyers who signed onto Checks and Balances are thrilled with the way Trump has been packing the court with conservative judges. Which would mean, by extension, they’re thrilled with Leo’s role in the Administration (indeed, in all recent Republican administrations) for the way he has provided the Executive branch a steady supply of vetted conservatives to get approved for lifetime appointments. Conway himself has said Trump “deserves a tremendous amount of credit for that. I’ll be the first to clap my hands for it.”

Yet, in the NYT story on the group, Conway suggested that Republicans were so happy with Trump’s success in packing the courts that they overlooked other things like rule of law.

Mr. Conway, who has long been a member of and contributor to the Federalist Society, said he had nothing but admiration for its work. But he added that some conservative lawyers, pleased with Mr. Trump’s record on judicial nominations and deregulation, have been wary of criticizing him in other areas, as when he attacks the Justice Department and the news media.

“There’s a perception out there that conservative lawyers have essentially sold their souls for judges and regulatory reform,” Mr. Conway said. “We just want to be a voice speaking out, and to encourage others to speak out.”

In championing Whitaker, Leo has stepped beyond his traditional role — vetting and supporting judicial candidates — into a different one, which might either be judged as interfering in DOJ’s operations or, more alarmingly and accurately, helping the President (who has succeeded so well at packing the courts) undermine a criminal investigation into his own conduct.

Leonard Leo has stepped outside his lane. And George Conway, at least, is pushing back.

And that’s why I find Leo’s response to the group so interesting. He gave Axios a screed of bullet points talking about how offended he is by the move.

  • “I find the underlying premise of the group rather offensive,” Leo told me. “The idea that somehow they need to have this voice because conservatives are somehow afraid to talk about the rule of law during the Trump administration.”
  • “And my response to that is, no, people aren’t afraid, many people just don’t agree that there’s a constitutional crisis and don’t agree with the people who have signed up with this group.”

Several of those bullet point screeds focused on the Jeff Sessions’ firing.

  • “I measure a president’s sensitivity to the rule of law by his actions, not his off-the-cuff comments, tweets or statements. And the president has obviously had lots of criticisms about former Attorney General Sessions and about the department, but at the end of the day, he hasn’t acted upon those criticisms.
  • “He’s allowed the department to have an awful lot of freedom and independence. … He can say what he wants to say, but at the end of the day, words don’t threaten the rule of law, actions do. I’ve been to 48 countries around the world. I know a constitutional crisis, and I know what a rule of law crisis is. Lots of countries have them. This country doesn’t right now.”

Leo seems to be having fun playing DOJ kingmaker, on top of the great success he has had playing judicial kingmaker under Trump. But it seems at least some conservatives don’t believe that’s his role to play.

Update: I asked Conway about this and got a response after the post was published. He says this is not about Leo at all.

It’s a response to Trump and the need for conservative lawyers generally to say something about him. It’s got nothing to do with Leonard.

Mueller Says He Still Exercises the Full Authority of a US Attorney

Mueller’s team has submitted the supplemental brief Judge Henderson ordered the day after Matt Whitaker was appointed, explaining whether his appointment affects Andrew Miller’s challenge to a subpoena he got back in June.

As to the issue at hand (whether his subpoena of Miller is legal), Mueller says Whitaker’s appointment changes nothing, because everything being challenged pertains to his May 17, 2017 appointment, not anything that happened since.

The President’s designation of Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker on November 7, 2108, has no effect on this case.

[snip]

All of those arguments turn on the May 17, 2017 appointment of the Special Counsel and the legal and regulatory frameworks that existed at the time of appointment. None of those arguments is affected by the change in the identity of the Acting Attorney General while this case is on appeal.

But the brief is interesting because it is the first opportunity Mueller has had to lay out how he understands what happened and how Whitaker’s appointment affects his authority.

As to what happened, Mueller makes no contest that Jeff Sessions resigned.

On November 7, 2018, Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions resigned from office

Democrats in the House are contesting that, but Mueller is not.

Nor does Mueller question the validity of the OLC conclusion that Whitaker’s appointment is legal.

The Office of Legal Counsel has determined that the designation of the Acting Attorney General is valid as a statutory and constitutional matter. See Office of Legal Counsel, Designating an Acting Attorney General (Nov. 14, 2018), https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/1112251/download. I

None of that is surprising. He works for DOJ and it’s not his place to challenge what DOJ says about DOJ.

What’s more interesting (though not at all controversial) is that Mueller maintains he still has the full authority of a US Attorney.

Similarly, by regulation, the Special Counsel has and continues to “exercise, within the scope of his or her jurisdiction, the full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States Attorney.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.6; see United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 695 (1974) (“So long as [a] regulation is extant it has the force of law.”).

He relies on US v. Nixon to lay out what it will take to withdraw that authority: changing the regulations he operates under.

Perhaps most important, though, is that Mueller argues that Whitaker’s appointment cannot change the validity of the subpoena (and, one would assume by extension, anything else) that occurred before Whitaker’s appointment.

Because the subpoenas here issued under the signature of the Special Counsel’s Office long before the change in the identity of the Acting Attorney General, that change cannot affect the validity of the subpoenas. And the designation of a different Acting Attorney General while the case is on appeal cannot vitiate the district court’s order holding Miller in contempt.

This would seem to suggest that if Mueller has anything banked — sealed indictments or complaints — then he holds that nothing changes their validity or the DC District’s authority to preside over them.

He also maintains that he retains the authority to appear before the Court.

Second, the change in identity of the Acting Attorney General has no effect on the Special Counsel’s authority to appear in this case. The Special Counsel continues to hold his office despite the change in the identity of the Acting Attorney General.

This would be what he would need to unseal any existing indictments.

None of that is that controversial. But it does make it clear that he views his authority to continue unchecked even with Trump’s hatchet man in place.

After a Year of Page Views for Credulous Reports Trump Wanted to Do Mueller Interview, NYT Gets Page Views Admitting He Won’t

President Trump told a lot of lies in his interview with Chris Wallace yesterday. He lied when he claimed he didn’t know Matt Whitaker opposed the Mueller investigation when Trump hired him (he even suggested there was some ambiguity in Whitaker’s attacks on Mueller). He lied when he claimed Georgia’s gubernatorial race was stacked against Brian Kemp, who cheated to win it. He lied when he claimed no one believes in the First Amendment more than he does. He lied when he claimed no one had done more for the military than he has (after saying “I really probably assumed [skipping an appearance at Arlington on Veterans Day] was fine”).

In other words, that interview was just like every other interview Trump does, an opportunity to float lies and have them treated seriously.

Which is why I’m amused by the headline takeaway NYT Maggie gave the story, treating Trump’s assertion that he won’t sit for an interview with Mueller’s team as a reversal.

President Trump said in an interview aired Sunday that he most likely would not sit for an interview with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, asserting that “we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is, probably, we’re finished.”

[snip]

His comments on the Mueller investigation marked an apparent reversal from a year of claiming that he was willing and eager to be interviewed by the special counsel, who is investigating possible collusion between the president’s campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 election. Mr. Trump’s legal team has blanched at the idea, fearing that the president might lie under oath, and has steadily narrowed the path for such an interview.

Of course, it’s not a reversal at all. Since at least March (when Mueller indicated to Jay Sekulow his questions would reflect real knowledge of Trump’s awareness of a conspiracy with the Russians), Trump and his advisors have been involved in a game whereby they used the press — starting with Maggie — to sustain a claim of cooperation when in fact they were really stalling.

A more honest headline might read, “Trump confirms we got taken as chumps.” Instead, the NYT will get some more page views without admitting that they’ve been getting page views for most of a year on reports that were not credible.

And that stalling is one of the aspects of the Mueller part of Wallace’s interview that is interesting. While Trump initially adopts the present progressive that Wallace uses to ask a question about Trump’s open book test, elsewhere he describes having completed the questions. He even asserts he’ll be handing them over “very soon.”

WALLACE: Your team is preparing written answers to questions about–

TRUMP: No, no, no, not my team. I’m preparing written answers. My — I — I’m the one that does the answering. Yes, are they writing them out?

WALLACE: Yes.

TRUMP: Yeah. They’re writing what I tell them to write.

WALLACE: Are they going to be submitted?

TRUMP: At some point very soon, yes. I’ve completed them.

WALLACE: So you’re — you are submitting—

TRUMP: And it wasn’t a big deal. By the way, it wasn’t a big deal. The answers — the questions were asked and answered. It wasn’t a big deal. You know, they make it like I had meetings for many, many hours — I got the questions, I responded, we wrote them out, I read them once, I read them a second time, we made some changes, that’s it. They’re very simple.

WALLACE: OK.

TRUMP: You know why? I did nothing wrong.

WALLACE: Here’s my question, though. You are submitting written answers–

TRUMP: Yes.

WALLACE: –to the special counsel about the issue of collusion but not on obstruction of justice?

TRUMP: Well there was no obstruction of justice.

WALLACE: I — I’m — let me — if i might, sir, just ask–

TRUMP: I think they’d probably agree with me.

WALLACE: If I may ask the question–

TRUMP: And all you have to do is look at Article II.

WALLACE: Is that your final position, that there’s going to be no sit-down interview and nothing written or in person on obstruction?

TRUMP: I would say probably. Probably. I mean, I can change my mind, but probably. I think we’ve–

WALLACE: No interview?

TRUMP: I think we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is probably, we’re finished.

WALLACE: What are the odds? One in a hundred? What–What?

Trump has been stalling on answering these questions for weeks, first by failing to complete them before the election, then further stalling until Matt Whitaker got OLC’s approval to serve as Attorney General. At least from what he said to Wallace, he is now ready to hand them in, perhaps in a belief that Whitaker has a plan to kill the investigation once that happens (which might be why he said “we’re finished”).

I’ve said from the start that these questions may be the last step Mueller has before rolling out what he has been working on.

[T]his agreement may have as much to do with preparation for the post-election period in which Mueller can roll out any indictments he has been working on and Trump can start firing people. That is, before he makes any big moves in the case in chief, he has to get Trump on the record in some form or other. Better to get him on the record in sworn written statements than launch a subpoena fight that will last past that post-election period.

And one possible explanation for the fairly odd delay in submitting a status report in Paul Manafort’s case is that Mueller doesn’t want to say anything about Manafort’s cooperation until after he has Trump’s sworn answers.

So while Trump didn’t say precisely when he was going to turn in his overdue open book test, he at least asserted that he will do so.

The NYT headline probably should have read, “The 11-month NYT-assisted stall will soon be over.”

Update: As linked above, in a post trying to lay out the possible reasons why Mueller would delay a status report on Manafort until November 26 is that he wanted to get Trump’s answers before releasing the status report.

Politico reports that Trump may turn in his open book test tomorrow, before he heads to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving.

Trump’s lawyers set an informal Thanksgiving deadline for the president to finalize his responses on topics surrounding the Russian hacking of the 2016 election, and he’s almost ready to submit them, according to two sources familiar with the conversations.

The president’s written answers — which carry the same legal burden for truthfulness as an in-person interview — are likely to be submitted as Trump settles into his Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday. Trump is scheduled to depart Washington, D.C., on Tuesday afternoon.

The Invisible Game of Chicken: The Things the People Claiming to Understand the Manafort Extension Don’t Know (Nor Do I)

There’s a lot of tea reading around the fact that the parties asked for a 10-day extension in the first status report on how well Paul Manafort has been cooperating. Originally the report (set two months ago when he flipped) was set for tomorrow, which is . the last Friday before Thanksgiving. The motion asks for an extension to November 26, which is the first Monday after Thanksgiving.

Some people have suggested that means the key issue on which Manafort is cooperating is close to done, but not done, and from that promised indictments tomorrow (since what grand jury in its right constitution-saving mind would work the day after Thanksgiving).

That may be right, but there are a lot more pieces in play than just that, including:

Trump’s open book test

Sometime in October, Mueller gave Trump his open book test of questions to answer. It already seemed like Trump was stalling until he tried his Matt Whitaker ploy. And this week, Trump’s lawyers have continued to dick around about whether they’re even going to answer all the questions.

There’s good reason not to reveal publicly whether Manafort is cooperating fully until you’ve gotten whatever answers you’re going to get or given up waiting. If you reveal in a status report that Mueller’s team thinks Manafort hasn’t been cooperating, then Trump would feel more free to lie. If you reveal Manafort has been cooperating fully, including about Trump’s actions (in contradiction to some reports that he hasn’t been), then Trump will be more likely to avoid answering.

So there’s good reason to wait until after Trump has turned in his open book test or gotten a D on the exam.

Whitaker’s ethics review and first briefing

While Matt Whitaker has blessing from the Office of Legal Counsel to oversee Mueller, there’s no indication he has undergone his ethics review on whether he can supervise Mueller. Indeed, contrary to much panic that I think stemmed from Jerome Corsi’s specific comments about how mean prosecutors are, I’m not at all convinced Whitaker has even been read into the Mueller investigation yet (this report seems to suggest he has not).

There are lots of reason to delay action — on both voting up indictments and revealing details about Manafort’s cooperation — until there’s more clarity on Whitaker’s role. Indeed, if Mueller has truly shocking things, things that even Whitaker would be unwilling to veto, it might serve him well to hold them, and make Whitaker buy off on them.

And that uncertainty might lead to a Manafort delay.

The Maryland challenge to Whitaker’s authority

Tuesday Maryland’s Attorney General, Brian Frosh, submitted his promised challenge to Whitaker’s appointment. This challenge — and others we should expect — won’t be decided anytime soon, but they may lead Mueller to delay until, at least, he knows he can continue to ensure the legality of his actions by reporting them through Rosenstein.

Manafort’s forfeitures

On October 9, Mueller’s team started the process for seizing the $46 million of assets Manafort had taken in his plea deal. Others with an ownership stake in the assets have a month to contest the seizure. Just the bank holding the mortgage on his Trump Tower apartment challenged the seizure.

That means around about now, the rest of his assets (they won’t really be worth $46 million, but they’re worth a lot) will begin to be put beyond the reach of presidential pardon.

Monday’s briefing

Meanwhile, there are two things going on at the DC Circuit.

Yesterday, the Mystery Appellant challenging some action Mueller took submitted a reply brief to Mueller’s brief submitted (in the wake of the Whitaker appointment) last Thursday. Today a notice of some sort was filed.

This stuff may be relevant — we don’t know! But the developments in this appeal may affect Mueller’s willingness to show more cards (though it won’t be resolved until December at the earliest).

We do know, however, that Mueller has to turn in a briefing describing how Whitaker’s appointment affects his own authority. That may well be the first that we understand what he knows to have occurred since Whitaker’s appointment and how he sees it affecting his own authority — and whether he think he has mitigated any risk that his actions will be invalidated by reporting through Rosenstein.

Sure, the delay might be a handful of indictments to drop tomorrow or even next Friday. But right now all we can be sure of is that Mueller and Trump are playing either a secret game of Chicken — or Chess. And we’ve seen just a tiny fraction of the plays so far.

All that said, one thing that that çomes after this date is the next Trump Putin meeting — which will be in Argentina during the G-20, which starts November 30.

What OLC Says Happened with Matt Whitaker’s Appointment

DOJ has released the memo they say justifies the appointment of Matt Whitaker to be their boss. I’ll have some things to say about the legal arguments later (and smarter people who have JDs will surely weigh in as well).

I’d like to look at four things the OLC memo says about what happened with the Whitaker appointment, because they’re at least as important as the legal argument.

Never in the history of DOJ has someone attempted this stunt

Much of the memo reviews the history of appointments, purporting to find analogous appointments to this one. But it only cites one example where someone who wasn’t Senate confirmed served as Acting Attorney General.

While designations to the office of Attorney General were less frequent, we have identified at least one period in 1866 when a non-Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General served as Acting Attorney General.

The Department of Justice didn’t exist in 1866. It was only authorized — significantly, for the purpose of giving the Attorney General supervision over the US Attorneys — in 1870.

In 1861, Congress finally agreed that the Attorney General should have supervisory powers over the work of the United States Attorneys, although at first this role was shared with the Solicitor of the Treasury.

While there had been earlier calls for the creation of a separate legal department that would supervise the work of federal lawyers, it was not until after the end of the Civil War that Congress began to give serious consideration to the matter. In late 1867, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary asked Attorney General Henry Stanbery to respond to several questions concerning the efficiency of the government’s legal departments. Stanbery replied that a solicitor general was needed to argue the government’s cases before the Supreme Court, and that the centralization of the government’s legal business under one department would improve the quality of the work. In 1868, after the House Judiciary Committee asked Stanbery to respond to a similar inquiry, Representative Thomas Jenckes of Rhode Island introduced a bill to establish a department of justice. This bill was referred to the Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment, a committee impaneled to consider legislation to reduce the size and cost of government. In addition, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative William Lawrence of Ohio, introduced a similar bill which was referred to that committee.

As I’ll return to when I get to the legal issues, the distinction between this appointment, which gives Whitaker supervisory authority over SDNY and Mueller, and that one, may be very important.

But for now, suffice it to say that even OLC admits that this has almost never happened before.

The White House asked for this opinion

I’ve been harping on this line of the CNN report describing Jeff Sessions and those who would like to protect the Mueller investigation a lot.

At least one Justice official in the room mentioned that there would be legal questions about whether Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general is constitutional.

Steven Engel, the guy who signed this memo, was in that room, along with Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and Rosenstein’s deputy Ed O’Callaghan. The story suggests that Engel hadn’t considered the question yet, and I’ve been wondering since that report whether one of those men asked for the memo.

They didn’t — at least not according to this memo.

This Office had previously advised that the President could designate a senior Department of Justice official, such as Mr. Whitaker, as Acting Attorney General, and this memorandum explains the basis for that conclusion.

It is addressed to the “Counsel to the President,” which strongly implies that person asked for the memo. It doesn’t say, however, when the Counsel to the President asked for this memorandum.

Emmet Flood is the Counsel to the President who asked for this opinion

More specifically, the memo is addressed to Emmet T. Flood Counsel to the President.

Emmet Flood has two roles in the White House now. Until Pat Cipollone is installed as White House Counsel, Flood is Acting White House Counsel (or, as addressed here, Counsel to the President, which is how OLC addresses the White House Counsel).

But he’s also the lawyer in the White House Counsel’s office in charge of defending the President in investigations by (among others) Robert Mueller.

Legally, that’s interesting but (because the President can appoint whoever the fuck he wants as White House Counsel) not all that important. But it does answer the question I keep asking — given what a clusterfuck this appointment is, was Emmet Flood, who is eminently competent, involved? Yes — at least by the time the White House realized they needed some legal cover for it.

So maybe Flood really was hoping to create a legal morass.

Jeff Sessions resigned, probably

Finally, the memo answers a question that the House Judiciary Committee has already raised some doubt about: whether Sessions resigned, or was fired. The memo explains,

Attorney General Sessions submitted his resignation “[a]t [the President’s] request,” Letter for President Donald J. Trump, from Jefferson B. Sessions III, Attorney General, but that does not alter the fact that the Attorney General “resign[ed]” within the meaning of section 3345(a).

But it doesn’t seem so sure (or at least recognizes that someone, and probably not just HJC, will challenge this legally). It continues:

Even if the Attorney General had declined to resign and was removed by the President, he still would have been rendered “otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office” for purposes of section 3345(a).

As I’ll return to in the legal analysis, the remainder of the footnote, which claims the Vacancies Reform Act still would have permitted the appointment of Whitaker, is one of the most problematic parts of the memo.

Which is why it is notable that the memo dodges most analysis of whether a forced resignation really is legally a resignation.