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Maybe Merrick Garland Already Made Some of the Decisions Everyone Thinks Are Pending?

Jack Goldsmith has weighed in on the debate over whether and if so how Trump should be charged in the NYT. He tries to capture three things that Merrick Garland might consider before charging Trump, which include:

  • Whether charging Trump would require a Special Counsel to avoid any conflict of interest stemming from Garland’s appointment by Joe Biden
  • Whether there’s enough evidence to convict the former President
  • Whether the national interest is served by such a prosecution

It’s a worthwhile piece that has, at least, generated some substantive discussion.

Garland might face a prosecutorial decision on something other than obstruction

But I wanted to throw out some things that might change the calculus on these three questions. First, Goldsmith’s column is premised on prosecuting Trump for crimes relating to January 6, focusing on 18 USC 1512(c)(2) and 18 USC 371.

The two most frequently mentioned crimes Mr. Trump may have committed are the corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding (the Jan. 6 vote count) and conspiracy to defraud the United States (in working to overturn election results). Many have noted that Mr. Trump can plausibly defend these charges by arguing that he lacked criminal intent because he truly believed that massive voter fraud had taken place.

Mr. Trump would also claim that key elements of his supposedly criminal actions — his interpretations of the law, his pressure on Mr. Pence, his delay in responding to the Capitol breach and more — were exercises of his constitutional prerogatives as chief executive. Mr. Garland would need to assess how these legally powerful claims inform the applicability of criminal laws to Mr. Trump’s actions in what would be the first criminal trial of a president. He would also consider the adverse implications of a Trump prosecution for more virtuous future presidents.

I think it’s not necessarily the case that the first prosecutorial decision Garland would face for Trump would be for one of these January 6 crimes, nor is it certain that these would be the January 6 charges he would be considering.

For example, Trump has potential criminal exposure that dates to before and after his time in the Presidency, which for various reasons might be easier to charge sooner. Trump has criminal exposure in Georgia for trying to cheat; if he were charged there, it might make it easier to charge him federally with an associated crime (including 18 USC 371). Similarly, other charges in relation to January 6 might be easier to charge, including aiding and abetting the violence, conspiring in violation of 18 USC 372 to intimidate Pence out of certifying the vote, or wire fraud in conjunction with the way he monetized the Big Lie.

It’d be one thing, after all, to charge Trump for pressuring Pence and another thing to charge him for trying to get Pence killed. The mens rea requirements for other charges would not give Trump the same invitation to pretend he really believed he had won. And with regards to Trump’s grift, even Laura Ingraham reacted negatively to the evidence of his Big Grift (though that may only because Republicans are seeking a way to clear the decks for Ron DeSantis).

So the prosecutorial decision that Garland might face would differ considerably based on what crime line prosecutors and US Attorneys were asking for approval to charge.

DOJ has already put in place measures to guard the independence of the investigation

Second, my impression is that Garland would view appointing a Special Counsel not only as unnecessary, but also counterproductive.

I wrote about why it would be counterproductive here. The short version of that is that if Trump committed a crime in conjunction with January 6, he did so in part by conspiring some subset of the 1,000 people who have already been charged or are being investigated now, in an investigation that upwards of 140 prosecutors have worked.

In Merrick Garland’s recent speech, he revealed there are 140 prosecutors working on this investigation, half normally assigned to the DC US Attorney’s office (that is, people who now report to Graves), and the other half coming from other units. Some of those units are functional, with the most notable being National Security’s Terrorism prosecutors, but also Public Corruption. Far more of them are detailees assigned from different US Attorneys offices. Some of these detailees, working on the simpler cases, are doing 6 month stints, then handing off their cases. Others, including key prosecutors involved in the Proud Boys investigation, appear to be seeing the investigation through. Just as one example, there are three prosecutors on the case against the five Florida men who traveled with Joe Biggs the day of the attack; they are located in Chicago, Brooklyn, and Seattle. Just accounting for the number of prosecutors involved, this investigation is larger than most US Attorneys Offices in this country, and far too large for a Special Counsel to handle.

Then there’s this magical notion about convening a grand jury. The existing January 6 investigation is already using somewhere between four and six. Public Corruption prosecutions, like that of Steve Bannon, are using the same grand juries that the militias are being prosecuted through.

If Trump were to be charged with conspiring with any number of those 1,000 people, then you’d want to use one of the grand juries that has already reviewed big chunks of this investigation. In my opinion, you’d want to make sure that Trump’s prosecution was charged via the same process that the thousand other alleged criminals involved that day were, in part to make it clear that his was the crime of a violent mob, not a backoffice presidential decision.

And even as it would be counterproductive to appoint a Special Counsel in this investigation, I think Garland has already taken steps to ensure the independence of the investigation. For starters, while Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s office has kept a very close watch on the investigation (many would say too close a watch), the prosecutorial decisions are being made out of DC US Attorney’s Office. And while Garland was confirmed with broad approval, Matthew Graves had no recorded opposition at his confirmation (though Ron Johnson held up the confirmation). No Special Counsel will have any more recorded buy-in from Republicans than the existing team does.

Meanwhile, among the things Garland’s DOJ did, at a moment when prosecutors may have realized a Trump prosecution was possible, was to set up a framework under which prosecutors could obtain sensitive information on Trump’s role in January 6 without any involvement from Joe Biden. The most important of those is the privilege review for January 6-related materials the January 6 Committee deems material to their investigation. It has gone like this:

  • Jan 6 Committee makes requests
  • The Archives identifies materials responsive to those requests
  • Biden reviews those materials and either waives privilege or withholds the information
  • Trump sues to withhold the materials but the Supreme Court denies his lawsuit
  • The Committee receives the materials

Once materials have been through that process, DOJ could simply serve a warrant on the Archives to obtain the same materials. Neither Trump nor Biden nor any of the rest of us would know (and this is consistent with things past investigations into Presidents have done, including the Mueller investigation). This process would bypass one of the problems Mueller had investigating Trump, in which Trump waived privilege for the investigation but not for any further use of it.

But DOJ would have various other means to obtain pertinent potentially privileged information, including:

  • Using a January 6-specific warrant to obtain materials seized from Rudy Giuliani in response to a warrant approved on Lisa Monaco’s first day in office; as I laid out here, the privilege review of those materials included all materials through the date of seizure
  • Obtain a warrant to Chapman University for all John Eastman emails that Judge David Carter approved to be turned over to the January 6 Committee
  • Review for an obstruction determination all the emails and texts sent over personal accounts that Mark Meadows had originally withheld from the Archives in violation of the Presidential Records Act
  • Review the already identified materials tied to the referral for stealing classified information from NARA
  • Obtain a January 6-specific warrant for materials already obtained from Sidney Powell in the fraud-related investigation into her grift

I wrote more about some of these methods here.

Obtaining sensitive information like this doesn’t eliminate the political sensitivities of an Attorney General appointed by Joe Biden making a prosecutorial decision regarding Trump. But it ensures that DOJ can entirely shield the investigation from any Biden involvement.

None of these things make the question easier. But they do suggest that Garland may have already put into place ways of addressing them.

On Enrique Tarrio’s Complex Password and Other Reasons the January 6 Investigation Can Now Move to Organizer-Inciters

A Wednesday filing in the Proud Boy leadership conspiracy revealed that, between cracking his password and conducting a filter review, DOJ had not been able to access Enrique Tarrio’s phone — which was seized even before the riot he allegedly had a central role in planning — until mid-January.

On January 4, 2021, Tarrio was arrested in Washington, D.C., and charged with destruction of property for his December 12, 2020, burning of a #BLACKLIVESMATTER banner and possession of two large capacity magazines. At the time of his arrest, Tarrio’s phone was seized by law enforcement. The government promptly sought a search warrant for that device in this investigation. Despite diligence, the government was not able to obtain access to Tarrio’s phone until December 2021. Thereafter, a filter team was utilized to ensure that only non-privileged materials were provided to the investigative team. The investigative team did not gain access to the materials on the phone until mid-January 2022, and it has worked expeditiously since that time to review these materials.

I can think of just a few other phones that have been this difficult for FBI to access (those of Zachary Alam and Brandon Fellows are others). The delay means that the very first phone DOJ seized pertaining to the January 6 investigation was one that, to date, has taken the longest to access.

This is the kind of delay — presumably due to the physics involved in cracking a complex password and the due process of a privilege review — that is unavoidable. Yet it stalled DOJ’s efforts in the most pivotal conspiracy case as it tries to move from rioters at the Capitol through organizer-inciters to Trump himself.

The delay in accessing Tarrio’s phone is one thing to keep in mind as you read the multiple reports that DOJ has sent out subpoenas to people who organized the rallies. WaPo reported that these subpoenas first started going out two months ago — so late January, shortly after the time DOJ accessed Tarrio’s phone content. NYT reported that the subpoenas focus on the rallies and the fake electors.

One of the subpoenas, which was reviewed by The New York Times, sought information about people “classified as VIP attendees” at Mr. Trump’s Jan. 6 rally.

It also sought information about members of the executive and legislative branches who had been involved in the “planning or execution of any rally or any attempt to obstruct, influence, impede or delay” the certification of the 2020 election.

And it asked about the effort by Trump supporters to put forward alternate slates of electors as Mr. Trump and his allies were seeking to challenge the certification of the Electoral College outcome by Congress on Jan. 6.

Another person briefed on the grand jury investigation said at least one person involved in the logistics of the Jan. 6 rally had been asked to appear.

None of this is a surprise or unexpected. Dana Nessel formally referred Michigan’s fake electors to DOJ for investigation (the kind of referral that may have been important to DOJ assuming jurisdiction in state elections) on January 18, and Lisa Monaco confirmed DOJ was investigating the fake electors on January 25.

As to the organizers, on December 16, I wrote a piece describing that DOJ would need to turn to “organizer-inciters” next — people like Alex Jones, who had a central role in turning rally-goers who imagined themselves to be peaceful protestors into an occupying force. We know of several other pieces of evidence that would have been important, if not necessary, to lock down before DOJ moved to those organizer-inciters.

For example, DOJ likely first obtained direct information about tensions involving VIPs in Brandon Straka’s first and second FBI interviews in February and March of last year, information that the government claimed during his sentencing provided valuable new leads. Straka was one of those VIPs who expected to have a speaking slot on January 6 only to discover all he was getting was a seat at the front, next to Mike Flynn. Access to his phone would have provided the government comms depicting growing tensions tied to the extremism of Nick Fuentes and Ali Alexander described in this ProPublica article.

“Is Nick Fuentes now a prominent figure in Stop the Steal?” asked Brandon Straka, an openly gay conservative activist, in a November text message, obtained exclusively by ProPublica. “I find him disgusting,” Straka said, pointing to Fuentes’ vehemently anti-LGBT views.

Alexander saw more people and more power. He wrote that Fuentes was “very valuable” at “putting bodies in places,” and that both Jones and Fuentes were “willing to push bodies … where we point.”

Straka, Fuentes and Jones did not respond to requests for comment.

Straka was part of a Stop the Steal listserv on which Michael Courdrey and Alexander were on the day of the riot.

The Stop the Steal group chat shows a reckoning with these events in real time.

“They stormed the capital,” wrote Stop the Steal national coordinator Michael Coudrey in a text message at 2:33 p.m. “Our event is on delay.”

“I’m at the Capitol and just joined the breach!!!” texted Straka, who months earlier had raised concerns about allying with white nationalists. “I just got gassed! Never felt so fucking alive in my life!!!”

Alexander and Coudrey advised the group to leave.

“Everyone get out of there,” Alexander wrote. “The FBI is coming hunting.”

The government described learning new information about Straka as recently as December 8 followed up in a January 2022 interview. Some of this appears to have been a late discovery of his own grift and, possibly, his role in inciting a riot at the TCF center in Michigan. But at sentencing, prosecutors reaffirmed that the sealed contents of his cooperation remained valuable.

Some other existing defendants whose phone and/or cooperation could provide such insight are Simone Gold (who pled guilty in early March but who had not yet done her FBI interview) and Alan Hostetter and Russell Taylor; prosecutors described still providing primary discovery in the latter case the other day, meaning they’re still getting phone contents there, too.

Tarrio’s phone would include comms with many of the people DOJ has turned its focus to; he had known communications with Alex Jones, Ali Alexander, and Cindy Chafian, to say nothing of his close ties to Roger Stone.

In addition to Tarrio’s phone, exploiting that of Stewart Rhodes — seized in May — took some time because he had so many Signal texts that it was an extended process sorting through the inculpatory and exculpatory ones.

The hold up on Rhodes’ phone is one of the things that held up his own arrest and charges for Seditious Conspiracy. In that superseding indictment, DOJ completely hid what new information they had learned about the Oath Keeper ties with the Willard planners.  But the seditious conspiracy charge (along with the cooperation of Mark Grods) appears to have persuaded Joshua James to flip. James’ cooperation would provide lots of new testimony about what Stone and other VIPs were doing on January 5 and 6, including an explanation as to why James felt he needed to call into Mike Simmons to report on what is almost certainly Stone’s anger about the sidelining of his extremist group at the main rally, something clearly at issue in these recent subpoenas.

James would have proffered before he pled guilty (meaning prosecutors would have know what he would say if he did plead), but they would hold off on using his testimony for legal process until he testified before a grand jury in conjunction with his plea on March 2.

Public reporting has revealed that both the January 6 and DOJ investigations have obtained at least some of the documentary footage implicating Tarrio and Stone from the day of the riot.

And if the January 6 committee works like the SSCI investigation into Russia, it could share transcripts from obviously problematic testimony with DOJ. Ali Alexander spent most of day telling a story to the committee that had already been debunked by DOJ.

On the anniversary of January 6, Merrick Garland explained that all of the arrests from the first year had laid the foundation for more complex cases.

We build investigations by laying a foundation. We resolve more straightforward cases first because they provide the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases.

Investigating the more overt crimes generates linkages to less overt ones. Overt actors and the evidence they provide can lead us to others who may also have been involved. And that evidence can serve as the foundation for further investigative leads and techniques.

In circumstances like those of January 6th, a full accounting does not suddenly materialize. To ensure that all those criminally responsible are held accountable, we must collect the evidence.

We follow the physical evidence. We follow the digital evidence. We follow the money.

This is the kind of thing he was talking about: working your way up through Mark Grods to Joshua James to Stewart Rhodes to Roger Stone, taking the time to crack and exploit Tarrio’s phone, exploiting early access to Straka’s comms to get to the organizers. The investigation “aperture” hasn’t changed; what has changed is DOJ has acquired information it needed before it could take the next step.

Whinger Verbs: To Investigate … To Prosecute … To Indict

Because Alvin Bragg chose not to prosecute Donald Trump, the whingers are out again complaining about Merrick Garland, who last I checked was an entirely different person.

I’ve copied the “Key January 6 posts” from my post showing what reporting on the January 6 investigation — rather than simply fear-mongering to rile up CNN viewers or your Patreon readers — really looks like below.

But for now I’d like to talk about the language the whingers — those complaining that Merrick Garland hasn’t shown people who aren’t looking what DOJ is doing. It’s telling.

Take this post from David Atkins that opines, accurately, that “Refusing to Prosecute Trump Is a Political Act,” but which stumbles in its sub-head — “The evidence is clear. It’s time to prosecute the former president, and Merrick Garland shouldn’t wait.” — and then completely collapses when it asserts that there are just two possible reasons why Merrick Garland has not “prosecuted” Trump.

But there is a deeper question as to why Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ have not prosecuted Trump. No one at the department is talking on the record, but there are only two possible answers—neither of which is satisfactory.

It is possible that prosecutors do not believe there is enough evidence against Trump to convince a jury of his guilt. I’m not a lawyer, but this seems somewhat difficult to believe.

[snip]

The second possibility is that the Department of Justice hasn’t prosecuted Trump because of political pressure. Again, this is speculation. But if Garland is succumbing to either internal or external pressure to avoid charging Trump out of fears of civil conflict, or the appearance of political motivation, that would be a grave error—not prosecutorial discretion but prosecutorial dereliction. Allowing fears of violent reprisals to derail a prosecution would be a grave injustice.

Atkins is wrong about the reasons. I wrote here about why the ten acts of obstruction Mueller identified are almost universally misrepresented by whingers, in part because Billy Barr did real damage to those charges (as he did to other ongoing investigations), and in part because the ten acts that existed in March 2019 are not the acts of obstruction that exist today.

We know part of why Trump hasn’t been charged for political crimes: because Trump ensured the FEC remained dysfunctional and Republicans have voted not to pursue them (something that whingers might more productively spend their time pursuing).

It seems nutty to suggest that Trump should be “prosecuted” already for taking classified documents to Mar-a-Lago when that was referred just weeks ago. It’s also worth considering whether it would be easier to prosecute Trump for obstruction for these actions, tied to one of his other malfeasance, and then consider where investigations related to that malfeasance already exist.

Bizarrely, Atkins doesn’t consider it a possibility that it would take Merrick Garland’s DOJ more than 380 days to prosecute the former President. It took months to just wade through Stewart Rhodes’ Signal texts. It has taken 11 months, so far, to conduct a privilege review of Rudy’s phones (for which DOJ obtained a warrant on Lisa Monaco’s first day on the job). DOJ has six known cooperators in the Oath Keeper case (at least four with direct ties to Roger Stone) and one known cooperator in the Proud Boys case (and likely a bunch more we don’t know about). Particularly in the Oath Keeper investigation, DOJ has been rolling people up serially. But that process has taken longer because of COVID, discovery challenges, and the novelty of the crime.

But that goes to Atkins’ curious choice of the word “prosecute” here. I generally use the verb to refer to what happens after an indictment — the years long process of rebuffing frivolous legal challenges, but for an organized crime network, “prosecute” might also mean working your way up from people like militia members guarding your rat-fucker to the militia leaders planning with your rat-fucker to the rat-fucker to the crime boss.

I think what Atkins actually means, though, is “indict,” or “charge.” But his entire post betrays a fantasy where one can simply arrest a white collar criminal in the act after he has committed the act.

What whingers often say, though, is they want Garland to “investigate” Trump. Then they list a bunch of things — like cooperating witnesses or grand jury leaks or raids or indictments — that we’ve already seen, and insist we would see those things if there were an investigation but take from that that there’s not an investigation even though we see the things that they say we would see if there were an investigation.

Whinger brain confuses me sometimes.

The point, though, is that the language whingers use to describe what they imagine is Garland’s inaction or cowardice (none of these people have done the work to figure out whether that’s really the case), is designed to be impossible. That makes it necessarily an expression of helplessness, because their demand is actually that Trump be disappeared from the political scene tomorrow, and that’s hasn’t happened with multiple investigations implicating him, it sure as hell won’t happen if and when he is indicted, and it wouldn’t happen during a hypothetical extended period during which Trump is prosecuted.

Indeed, I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me Bannon hasn’t been indicted, even though Bannon has been indicted. It’s just that he’s entitled to due process and in many ways being indicted provides him a way to play the victim.

There are multiple investigations implicating close Trump associates and the January 6 investigation is absolutely designed to incorporate Trump, if DOJ manages to continue building from the crime scene backwards. But that’s not actually what people want. None of these verbs — to investigate, to indict, to prosecute — are the ones that whingers are really hoping to see.

And the verbs they’re hoping to see — perhaps “neutralize” or “disappear” — are not ones that happen as part of due process.

And none of the due process verbs — “investigate,” “indict,” “prosecute” — are likely to work unless people at the same time think of things like “discredit.”


Key January 6 posts

The Structure of the January 6 Assault: “I will settle with seeing [normies] smash some pigs to dust”

DOJ Is Treating January 6 as an Act of Terrorism, But Not All January 6 Defendants Are Terrorists

While TV Lawyers Wailed Impotently, DOJ Was Acquiring the Communications of Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and (Probably) Mark Meadows

Why to Delay a Mark Meadows Indictment: Bannon Is Using His Contempt Prosecution to Monitor the Ongoing January 6 Investigation

The Eight Trump Associates Whom DOJ Is Investigating

January 6 Is Unknowable

“I’m Just There to Open the Envelopes:” The Select Committee and DOJ Investigations Converge at Mike Pence

Why It Would Be Counterproductive To Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate January 6

DOJ’s Approximate January 6 Conspiracies

Easy Cases: Why Austin Sarat’s Argument That Trump Should Not Be Prosecuted Is Wrong

How a Trump Prosecution for January 6 Would Work

Judge Mehta’s Ruling that Donald Trump May Have Aided and Abetted Assaults on Cops Is More Important Than His Conspiracy Decision

“Fill the Silence:” On Obstruction, Listen to DOJ and Merrick Garland

Jeffrey Rosen Targeted Project Veritas’ Office Manager Long before Merrick Garland Targeted James O’Keefe

According to a recent NYT story, Project Veritas paid $50,000 to a former Mike Pence lawyer and House staffer, Mark Paoletta, to get members of Congress to push back against the criminal investigation into the rat-fucking organization.

After the criminal investigation into Project Veritas became public last fall, a prominent Republican lawyer who was lobbying on behalf of the organization and Mr. O’Keefe briefed a group of congressional Republicans on the case, to urge them to try to persuade the Justice Department to back off the investigation because the group did nothing wrong, according to a person briefed on the matter.

[snip]

Lobbying filings show that Mr. Paoletta was paid $50,000 during the last two months of last year to inform members of Congress about the F.B.I. raid on Mr. O’Keefe.

That’s really telling. After Project Veritas won a fight to get a Special Master appointed to review records seized in a raid on James O’Keefe and others last year, they balked at DOJ’s effort to make them foot the entire bill, telling a tale about their gritty “upstart journalism.”

The government argues that an upstart journalism organization with a current annual budget that recently hovers around $22 million is better suited to fund Special Master proceedings than a goliath arm of the U.S. government featuring a long-standing bloated budget, currently at $31.1 billion.2 The government’s demand that a press entity bear considerable financial burdens to defend against the government’s unconstitutional attack on a free press is corrosive to the First Amendment. The exercise of First Amendment rights is a guaranteed right, not a luxury subject to taxation at the government’s whim. Imposing daunting costs during the pendency of an investigation meant to resolve important First Amendment questions inflicts its own kind of abridgement. When exorbitant costs may be levied against the media simply for acting in accord with settled First Amendment precedent, the process becomes the punishment.

[snip]

For Project Veritas, an upstart journalism organization, each dollar spent on Special Master fees and expenses is a dollar not spent publishing news stories or investigating leads.

They won that fight and thus far, Special Master Barbara Jones has billed almost $40,000, which will be split 50-50.

It turns out, though, that PV’s claim that they would spend every cent saved on Special Master fees on what they euphemistically call “news stories,” was false. Instead, they were spending it to get Chuck Grassley (whose former top staffer Barbara Ledeen used to have close ties to PV), Jim Jordan, and other of the most corrupt Republicans to write letters to Merrick Garland complaining about “brazen and inconsistent standards” and “partisan or other improper motive.” (As we’ll see, it turns out they should have been complaining to Jeffrey Rosen.)

What’s interesting is those letters that Barbara Ledeen’s former boss and Jim Jordan and Ron Johnson signed all suggest they took their understanding of PV’s actions entirely from the public record. They cite news articles.

Congress was told that Don Jr was involved before the stupidest Republicans wrote to complain

Not so, as reported by the NYT. Paoletta apparently knew — and shared — details that had not yet been reported by the press. Paoletta knew of a September 6, 2020 fundraiser held by Elizabeth Fago and attended by Don Jr where Ashley Biden’s diary — allegedly stolen — was passed around.

In August, Ms. Harris reached out to Robert Kurlander, a friend who had been sentenced to 40 months in prison in the 1990s on a federal fraud charge and had expressed anti-Biden sentiments online, to say she had found the diary. The two believed they could sell it, allowing Ms. Harris to help pay for the lawyers representing her in the custody dispute.

New details from interviews and documents have further fleshed out what happened next. Mr. Kurlander contacted Elizabeth Fago, the Trump donor who would host the fund-raiser attended by Donald Trump Jr. When first told of the diary, Ms. Fago said she thought it would help Mr. Trump’s chances of winning the election, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Richard G. Lubin, a lawyer for Ms. Fago, declined to comment.

On Sept. 3, Ms. Fago’s daughter alerted Project Veritas about the diary through its tip line.

Three days later, Ms. Harris and Mr. Kurlander — with the diary in hand — attended the fund-raiser attended by Donald Trump Jr. at Ms. Fago’s house in Jupiter, Fla., to see whether the president’s re-election campaign might be interested in it. While there, Mr. Kurlander showed others the diary. It is unclear who saw it.

It appears that Paoletta had originally been told — and told members of Congress — that Don Jr advocated calling the FBI, only to follow up to express uncertainty about that point.

The lawyer, Mark Paoletta, said that upon learning about the diary at the fund-raiser, Donald Trump Jr. showed no interest in it and said that whoever was in possession of it should report it to the F.B.I. But shortly thereafter Mr. Paoletta, who had served as Vice President Mike Pence’s top lawyer in the White House, called back the congressional Republicans to say he was unsure whether the account about Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction was accurate.

We know from past history, Don Jr doesn’t call the FBI when offered dirt on an opponent. Instead, he says “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially closer to the election.”

Project Veritas was willing to pay $50,000 to tell members of Congress that this crime might impact powerful fundraisers (Fago was named on the PV warrants) and the former President’s son, but didn’t want to foot the full bill for a Special Master.

SDNY always gets emails before they do an overt search

The fact that PV told members of Congress that this involved the former President’s son explains why PV is so pissed upon discovering what has been obvious to me from the start: That before obtaining warrants to seize James O’Keefe’s phones, DOJ had first obtained emails that provided the evidence to get the warrants for his phones.

The Government disclosed many of its covert investigative steps in the ex parte context of the Affidavit, including each email search warrant it had obtained pursuant to the SCA in this investigation.

This is precisely what SDNY did with Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani, and it’s what Magistrate Judge Sarah Cave was talking about when she referred to the “considerable detail” in the affidavit.

Third, the Court has reviewed the Materials in camera and observes that they contain considerable detail about individuals who may have already provided information to the Government—voluntarily or involuntarily—such that unsealing of the Materials “could subject [them] to witness tampering, harassment, or retaliation.”

PV revealed that in a motion asking Judge Analisa Torres to claw back this information.

The government apparently disdains the free press, and candor to the Court and opposing counsel. In light of the government’s violations of Project Veritas’s First Amendment, journalistic, and attorney-client privileges, as well as the government’s attendant failure to disclose these matters before or during the litigation of our motion for appointment of a Special Master, Project Veritas requests that this Court, pursuant to its supervisory powers, inherent authority, and Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(g), enter an Order requiring the government to:

(1) immediately halt access, review, and investigative use of Project Veritas materials that the government obtained from Microsoft (cf. November 12, 2021 Order acknowledging pause in government extraction and review of James O’Keefe’s mobile devices);

(2) inform this Court and counsel whether the government used a filter team to conduct a review of the data it seized from Microsoft on the basis of both attorney-client and journalistic privileges;

(3) inform this Court and counsel of the identities of any prosecutors, agents, or other members of the investigative team who have reviewed any data seized from Microsoft, what data they reviewed, and when they reviewed it; and

(4) disclose to the Court and counsel the identity of any other third party to which the government issued demands for Project Veritas data under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) with or without a non-disclosure order.

This interim relief is necessary to avoid compounding the harm to Project Veritas caused by the government’s violations of law and principles of candor and to enable Project Veritas to seek appropriate further relief.

I’ve put the dates of these warrants below; those dates and targets totally undermine everything PV has been complaining about.

PV has been complaining about “journalists” when DOJ first found evidence of a crime from their office manager

That’s because the first person targeted at PV was their “human resources” manager; that may be a reference to Jennifer Kiyak, who is named in the warrant targeting O’Keefe but listed on Project Veritas Exposed as PV’s Office Manager.

An office manager would have been the one to arrange payment of $40,000, and by getting her emails and — given that the FBI first targeted her in a subscriber record, may have been traced backwards from contacts with Ms. Biden — DOJ probably obtained plenty of evidence that the “journalists” had done far more than journalism.

Moreover, the first warrant to get “journalists'” emails was obtained while Jeffrey Rosen was Acting Attorney General, and all but one of these warrants for email (the one against O’Keefe) were obtained before Merrick Garland was confirmed. All of these email warrants were obtained before Garland imposed his new media guidelines, guidelines that Billy Barr’s DOJ never adhered to.

In other words, PV has been complaining for months that Merrick Garland targeted “journalists” when in fact they should be complaining that Jeffrey Rosen targeted someone who would, in no way, under any administration, be covered by media guidelines.

DOJ tells PV to hold their complaints until they are indicted

DOJ’s response to PV’s wails (which I wrote up in more detail here) is genuinely hysterical. They say, over and over, that PV can wait until they’re indicted to challenge these warrants.

Movants can raise these issues if there is an indictment filed charging them in connection with the investigation,

[snip]

The materials referenced by the Movants were obtained pursuant to duly authorized legal process that are not subject to challenge by the Movants in this pre-indictment stage.

[snip]

Second, the Movants seek pre-indictment discovery regarding the process used to review the materials referenced by the Movants, the identities of those who participated in that process, and the identities of third parties on which other legal process may have been served in the course of the investigation.

[snip]

To the extent the Movants may potentially be entitled at some point to the disclosures that they seek, any such entitlement would only be triggered, if at all, by the filing of an indictment charging them in connection with the investigation, and not before.2 In the event of a criminal proceeding, as Judge Oetken noted, they would have the opportunity to litigate any privilege or suppression issues, but they cannot do so during the pre-indictment phase of an ongoing grand jury investigation.

They acknowledge that PV would love to know who or what else has been investigated.

Of course, the Movants, like any subjects of a federal grand jury investigation, would like to know about every investigative step the Government is taking during the course of a criminal investigation, but that is not the law, for good reason.

No doubt so would Don Jr.

It also suggested there are other aspects of this investigation that DOJ is keeping secret.

The Government refrained from publicly disclosing details of the investigation, and continues to do so, for the same reasons that this Court denied production to the Movants of the affidavit (the “Affidavit”) submitted in support of the issuance of the search warrant dated November 5, 2021 that is the focus of this Part I matter and that Judge Cave ruled should remain sealed: to protect the ongoing grand jury investigation.

Keep in mind, there are necessarily other warrants out there that list other crimes, such as ones involving Harris and Kurlander that would name theft itself. In fact, the first order targeting PV mentions 18 USC 873 — blackmail.

Which means we can’t rule out that the nomination of Fago to the National Cancer Advisory Board a month after the election might be under investigation too.

These events are covered by three SDNY dockets: 21-mc-813 for James O’Keefe21-mc-819 for Eric Cochran, and 21-mc-825 for Spencer Meads.

2020

June: Ashley Biden moves to Philadelphia.

July: Aimee Harris moves into space formerly occupied by Ms. Biden.

August: Harris reaches out to fraudster Robert Kurlander, who contacts Elizabeth Fago.

September 3: Stephanie Walczak offers diary to PV.

September 6: Diary is shared at a fundraiser attended by Jr.

Mid-September: Kurlander and Harris fly to NY with the diary.  Spencer Meads travels to Florida and Harris shows more of Ms. Biden’s belongings.

Early October: A PV operative calls Ms. Biden and claims he wants to return the diary; PV takes her agreement as confirmation the diary is hers.

October 12: O’Keefe sends email, not mentioning Ms. Biden by name (but clearly referring to her) explaining his decision not to publish “Sting Ray” Story.

October 16: PV calls Joe Biden to extort an interview.

Late October: PV pays $40,000 for the diary.

October 25: National File publishes pages from Ashely Biden’s diary, linking parallel New York Post campaign targeting Hunter. It explains the provenance of the diary this way:

National File also knows the reported precise location of the physical diary, and has been told by a whistleblower that there exists an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting this is her diary.

[snip]

National File obtained this document from a whistleblower who was concerned the media organization that employs him would not publish this potential critical story in the final 10 days before the 2020 presidential election. National File’s whistleblower also has a recording of Ashley Biden admitting the diary is hers, and employed a handwriting expert who verified the pages were all written by Ashley. National File has in its posession a recording of this whistleblower detailing the work his media outlet did in preparation of releasing these documents. In the recording, the whistleblower explains that the media organization he works for chose not to release the documents after receiving pressure from a competing media organization.

November 3: PV provides the diary to local law enforcement in FL.

November 22: DOJ uses subpoena for subscriber information of PV’s Human Resources Manager.

November 24: DOJ obtains 2703(d) order for HR manager’s email headers from 9/1/2020 to present.

December 8: Fago appointed to National Cancer Advisory Board.

2021

January 14: DOJ obtains warrant for emails of Eric Cochran, Spencer Meads, and HR manager from 1/1/20 through present.

January 26: DOJ obtains warrant for emails from another PV “journalist” from 1/1/20 through present.

March 5: DOJ obtains warrant for emails of three other PV “journalists” from 1/1/20 through 12/1/20.

March 9: DOJ obtains email headers for additional PV “journalist” from 9/1/20 through 12/1/20.

April 9: DOJ obtains warrant for O’Keefe’s emails from 9/1/20 through 12/1/20.

October 26: Paul Calli call DOJ, asks for AUSA Mitzi Steiner, and asked to speak about the PV investigation; Steiner asked how Calli had obtained her name, what else he had obtained, and declined to speak with Calli.

October 27: Lawyers for Project Veritas inform the DOJ that they will accept service for a subpoena relating to the investigation

November 3, 3:49 PM: Search warrants for Eric Cochran and Spencer Meads approved.

November 4, AM: FBI executes search warrants on former PV employees, Cochran and Spencer Meads.

November 4: PV lawyers accept service of subpoena.

November 4, one hour after the search: Mike Schmidt reaches out to Cochran and O’Keefe for comment about the investigation.

November 5, 11:18 AM: Warrant for O’Keefe authorized

November 5: NYT publishes story on investigation including language that PV would later baseless claim had to have come from the FBI.

November 6: FBI executes a search warrant on James O’Keefe

November 6: Schmidt contacts O’Keefe for comment.

November 6: Lawyers for Project Veritas ask the FBI to sequester material from the phone.

November 7: DOJ declines PV’s request and states the FBI has complied with all media guidelines.

November 8, 6:11PM: DOJ emails PV and tells them the extraction may start as soon as the next day.

November 8: After PV says it’ll file a legal challenge, FBI says it’ll only stop extraction after PV files such a challenge.

November 10: On behalf of PV, Calli Law moves to appoint a Special Master.

November 11, 12:51-12:53AM: Calli asks for confirmation that DOJ stopped extraction and review on O’Keefe’s phone on November 8.

November 11, 7:57AM: DOJ responds that the substantive review of O’Keefe’s phone was paused upon filing of motion on November 10.

November 11; 2:13PM: Judge Analisa Torres sets initial briefing schedule; in response to Torres order, DOJ stops extraction of O’Keefe phone.

November 12: In response to DOJ request, Torres extends briefing schedule.

November 12: Greenberg Traurig lawyer Adam Hoffinger, representing Eric Cochran, asks for Special Master to apply to materials seized from him, as well.

November 12: Letter signed by FL attorney Brian Dickerson but apparently docketed by NY lawyer Eric Franz asks for Special Master to apply to Spencer Meads

November 12, 3:49PM: Calli asks for clarification on review and extraction.

November 12, 3:59PM: DOJ responds that, “upon the filing of your motion, the Government paused the review of all material obtained from the search of your  client’s residence.”

November 14: Calli submits clarification letter regarding extraction and review.

November 15: Torres sets schedule in Cochran docket.

November 15: DOJ requests permission to reply to PV on November 19.

November 15: Calli requests inquiry into government leaks to NYT.

November 16: Torres grants permission to respond on November 19.

November 16: Ian H. Marcus Amelkin asks to delete initials of PV source, A.H., from docket.

November 17: Torres denies Amelkin request without prejudice.

November 17: Cochran motion to appoint Special Master.

November 18: For Meads, Dickerson formally moves for Special Master (and also complains that FBI seized dated devices).

November 19: Calli requests extension on response deadline for PV subpoena.

November 19: Government files opposition to request for Special Master and inquiry into purported leaks.

November 19: DOJ requests permission to respond to motion for extension on subpoena. Torres grants request.

November 21: DOJ opposition to extend subpoena deadline.

November 21: Government motion to oppose unsealing affidavits.

November 22: Torres denies motion for extension on subpoena.

November 22: PV reply to government opposition to Special Master.

November 23: Torres denies motion (including from RCFP) to unseal affidavits.

November 23: Cochran reply to government opposition to unseal affidavits.

November 24: Meads reply to refusal to unseal affidavits, including letters from House and Senate complaining to DOJ.

“Fill the Silence:” On Obstruction, Listen to DOJ and Merrick Garland

Happy Valentines Day, the day on which TV lawyers proclaim that DOJ has let the statutes of limitation on Trump crimes expire, in this case, Trump’s request of Jim Comey that he let the Mike Flynn investigation go.

As I noted in a relevant post last week, Randall Eliason wrote a column last week demanding that the “Biden Justice Department [] issue a report on the Mueller report.”

Today, Ben Wittes and Quinta Juercic wrote a worthwhile piece positing five different possibilities for how Garland dealt with the Mueller Report. Those five are:

  1. “Garland considers the matter closed as a result of Barr’s having closed it.”
  2. DOJ “review[ed] Barr’s judgment but agrees with him on any of a number of legal positions that would make a prosecution of the former president nearly impossible.”
  3. DOJ “quietly reopened the matter, at least for paper review—that is, not for investigation but to review the conclusions based on the collected evidence—and agreed with Barr’s judgments on the facts.”
  4. DOJ “quietly began reviewing Barr’s judgment and is letting certain statutes of limitations lapse because it considers the later fact patterns more plausible criminal cases than the earlier ones.”
  5. “The Garland-run Justice Department never even considered the question of whether to, well, consider the question.”

It’s a worthwhile piece because it gets inside the brain of a DOJ institutionalist and attempts to game out how they might think.

But their discussion is absolutely silent about several pieces of public evidence showing Garland’s DOJ taking action, even while demanding that Garland, himself, “fill the silence.”

That is, they make the mistake of claiming DOJ has been entirely silent. It has not been. They simply haven’t listened to what DOJ has already said.

“The matter” was not closed as of November 2020

Jurecic and Wittes treat “this matter” as a self-evident whole, without defining what they mean by it. I assume when they use the term, “this matter,” they’re referring to Trump’s obstructive actions described in the second Volume of the Mueller Report.

Such shorthand is why, in my own post, I pointed out that most people engaging in this discussion (and I include Jurecic and Wittes in this group), account for the fact not all of Trump’s criminal exposure was in the second Volume. Materials unsealed in September 2020, for example, confirm that DOJ continued to investigate Trump for a big infusion of cash from an Egyptian bank in September 2016 until that summer (CNN’s reporting on it confirmed that timing).

A footnote unsealed (and therefore buried and still all-but unreported) the day before the 2020 election revealed that the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia continued after Mueller shut down. Redactions that (in an earlier release) were identified as relating to the Stone matter treated that matter as an ongoing investigation in November 2020.

Similarly, in October 2020, DOJ treated the investigation into a pardon dangle for Julian Assange as an ongoing investigation. In fact, one of the issues that Lawfare treats as exclusively a matter of obstruction –Trump’s direction to Corey Lewandowski to order Jeff Sessions to shut down the entire Russian investigation — likely relates closely to the pardon dangle to Assange, because it came days after Stone told Assange he was intervening with the highest level of government to alleviate Assange’s woes.

We don’t know how many of the ten referrals still redacted in November 2020 remain ongoing; when DOJ released information to Jason Leopold last week, they just chose to release the four pages covered by a DC Circuit order and not a full reissued report. But we do know that “the matter” of the Mueller investigation was not closed as recently as November 2020.

DOJ IG was investigating follow-on obstruction

Both before Trump was ousted by voters and since, reports confirmed that DOJ’s Inspector General was investigating things that should be treated as follow-on obstruction, most explicitly Billy Barr’s efforts to undercut the Roger Stone prosecution but also Barr’s preferential treatment of Paul Manafort as compared to Michael Cohen (the latter will be part of Michael Horowitz’s review of BOP COVID response). Given DOJ IG’s past work, it’s not clear that this will be very critical of Barr’s own role.

One way or another, though, we have weeks-old confirmation that some of it remains under review. Depending on what DOJ IG finds, it’s possible (though unlikely) that might provide predicate to reopen past decisions.

But such a review also means that, because DOJ IG reviews add years to any investigative process, there will be a significant delay before we hear about such matters.

Merrick Garland has told you what he thinks about the OLC memo on prosecuting a President (and, to a lesser extent, OLC memos generally)

Two of Lawfare’s possibilities, especially the second, rely on a deference to OLC, including the declination memo that Amy Berman Jackson partially unsealed (and about which further unsealing the DC Circuit is currently considering).

We know that Garland’s DOJ will defer to most previous OLC memos, in part because his DOJ did so in fighting further unsealing of this memo. But we know even more about what Garland thinks of the memo prohibiting charging a president from an exchange on the topic Garland had with Eric Swalwell in October.

Garland: Well, Office of Legal Counsel memoranda, particularly when they’ve been reviewed and affirmed by Attorneys General and Assistant Attorneys General of both parties, it’s extremely rare to reverse them, and we have the same kind of respect for our precedents as the courts do. I think it’s also would not normally be under consideration unless there was an actual issue arising and I’m not aware of that issue arising now. So I don’t want to make a commitment on this question.

Swalwell: I don’t want to talk about any specific case but, just, in general, should a former President’s suspected crimes, once they’re out of office, be investigated by the Department of Justice?

Garland: Again, without, I don’t want to make any discussion about any particular former President or anything else. The memorandum that you’re talking about is limited to acts while the person was in office, and that’s all I can say.

Swalwell: And should that decision be made only after an investigation takes place before deciding beforehand a general principle of we’re not going to investigate a former President at all? Would you agree that if there are facts, those should be looked at?

Garland: Again, you’re pushing me very close to a line that I do not intend to cross. We always look at the facts and we always look at the law in any matter before making a determination.

In the exchange, Garland makes quite clear that, “it’s extremely rare to reverse” OLC memos because, “we have the same kind of respect for our precedents as the courts do.” Garland also explained that memo and any others (including Barr’s declination memo), “would not normally be under consideration unless there was an actual issue arising and I’m not aware of that issue arising now.”

One reason the memo is not at issue right now is because, “The memorandum that you’re talking about is limited to acts while the person was in office.” But as has often been ignored (though I pointed it out last month), the most recent known version of an OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president is significantly premised on the constitutionality of a President being prosecuted after he leaves office even if he was acquitted by the Senate for the same conduct in an impeachment trial.

Randolph Moss, serving as Assistant Attorney General for OLC in 2000, famously wrote the following:

Our view remains that a sitting President is constitutionally immune from indictment and criminal prosecution.

Less famously, however, the first 11 pages of that more famous memo rely on this earlier OLC memo from Moss:

We conclude that the Constitution permits a former President to be criminally prosecuted for the same offenses for which he was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate while in office.

By stating that those odious OLC memos remain valid — that is, by deferring to OLC precedent — Garland was in the same breath saying that a former President can be indicted, including for things he was acquitted of in the Senate.

Obviously, Mueller’s findings never made it to the Senate. But Trump’s attempt to coerce Ukraine did and Trump’s attempted coup did.

There are four relevant investigations that tell you how Garland’s DOJ has approached this

In their piece and podcast, Jurecic and Wittes speak as if what Garland would do is entirely hypothetical, as if we don’t know what DOJ would consider palatable regarding earlier criminal exposure.

Except we do know, a bit, because four of the eight investigations into Trump flunkies that have been publicly confirmed provide some insight. For example:

  • Tom Barrack: Barrack confirmed in a recent filing what prior reporting had laid out: this investigation arose out of the Mueller investigation. “As early as December 2017, Mr. Barrack voluntarily produced documents and met with prosecutors in the Special Counsel’s Office investigation, which was led by Robert Mueller and included prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York.” It’s possible it was the first of those ten referrals that remained sealed in November 2020. If it was, it is an indication DOJ would pursue a prosecution arising out of the Mueller investigation that was substantially complete before Trump left, though even in that case it took four months after Garland was sworn in.
  • Erik Prince: It’s not clear whether the investigation into Erik Prince that Billy Barr shut down in 2019-2020 arose out of the Mueller investigation (though it is clear that any Mueller investigation into Prince had been closed by September 2020). I first alluded to a renewed investigation into Prince in this post, and NYT has since publicly confirmed it. I’m no more certain about the scope of the renewed investigation than the NYT, but I do know it is in a different District and it does overlap with the prior investigation, at least somewhat. That doesn’t tell you what DOJ would require to reopen a closed Mueller investigation, but it does show that Lisa Monaco would permit a prior, closed investigation to be reopened, perhaps with a new hook or newly acquired evidence.
  • Rudy Giuliani: The confirmed investigation into Rudy pertains to his Ukraine influence-peddling with a scope from May 2018 through November 2019. As such, except insofar as those actions were a continuation of efforts Paul Manafort had started in 2016, they say nothing about how Garland would treat a continuing Mueller investigation. But we do know one utterly critical fact and another key detail: First, the warrants to seize Rudy’s phones were approved on Monaco’s first day in office. That’s a pretty compelling piece of proof that Garland’s DOJ is not going to shy away from Trump’s closest flunkies. Significantly, SDNY successfully fought to get a privilege waiver spanning from January 1, 2018 (so before Rudy started Trump obstruct the Mueller investigation) through the date of seizure, April 28, 2021 (so through the attempted coup). This tells you that Garland’s DOJ could investigate Rudy for any of his suspected criminal actions, and no one would know about it.
  • Robert Costello: Costello is the lawyer through whom, the Mueller Report describes, Rudy was dangling a pardon for Michael Cohen for back in April 2018 (so within the scope of the privilege review). Currently, he is both Rudy’s lawyer overseeing that privilege review and Steve Bannon’s lawyer. After getting Bannon out of his Build the Wall fraud indictment with a pardon (sound familiar?), Costello helped Bannon walk into a contempt indictment based off non-cooperation with the January 6 investigation. All that background establishes that Costello is just tangential to the Mueller Report (though where he appears, he appears as part of the efforts to obstruct the investigation). But the details of DOJ’s seizure of Costello’s toll records after he made some contradictory claims in FBI interviews on the Bannon contempt case are worth examining closely. That’s because DOJ’s interest in the toll records cannot pertain solely to the January 6 subpoena to Bannon; the scope of the seizure not only predates the subpoena, but predates the establishment of the committee entirely (and happens to cover the entirety of the privilege review Costello oversaw). It’s tough to know what to make of this, but it is indication, like the approval of warrants targeting Rudy, that Garland’s DOJ will take fairly aggressive action pursuing obstruction and other crimes.

Trump is likely on the hook for other obstructive actions

The Lawfare piece claims that, aside from the pardons of Manafort, Stone, and Flynn, there’s no new evidence pertaining to Mueller-related obstruction (and other crimes).

And it’s not like new evidence has emerged since Mueller issued his reports—save the 2020 pardons of Manafort, Stone and Flynn.

But that’s not true. On top of whatever evidence DC USAO obtained on Stone after Mueller shut down (one of which was Andrew Miller’s long-awaited testimony), the government appears to have obtained more evidence on the other example of direct conspiracy with Russia. In the years since Mueller finished, the government has apparently developed new certainty about two details Mueller expressed uncertainty about: Konstantin Kilimnik is a “known Russian Intelligence Services agent,” and he, “provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” in 2016. That suggests DOJ obtained new evidence (and may be why FBI put a $250,000 reward out for Kilimnik’s arrest in summer 2020). Whatever new details are behind this increased certainty, it could change DOJ’s understanding of Manafort’s actions as well. Add in the fact that Treasury accuses Kilimnik of continuing such information operations into the 2020 election — when Rudy was the pivot point — and Trump’s three big scandals may be converging.

But there may well be other obstructive acts, pertaining to the Mueller crimes, as well. Amid all the discussion of Trump’s destruction or removal of classified Presidential Records when he left the White House, for example, there has been little consideration about whether any of those documents pertain to Mueller or the other two investigations Trump obstructed. The January 6 Commission has already confirmed, for example, that some of the Trump documents they obtained were ripped up, and since the investigation into January 6 started immediately, it is highly likely the attempted document destruction happened while the investigation was pending. CNN’s most recent update on Trump’s stand-off with the Archives (in which someone who sounds like Impeachment One Defense Attorney Pat Philbin refused to turn over a document NARA knew to come looking for) is consistent with obstruction, possibly tied to the original Perfect Transcript.

None of this is proof of discrete new evidence on obstruction. Rather, it looks more like the never-ending wave of obstruction all runs together, with the pardons for Stone and Flynn (either, like Stone, known to be under investigation or closely tied to someone, Sidney Powell, known to be)  linking the obstruction of Mueller with the implementation of the coup attempt.

I can’t explain what, precisely, Garland’s DOJ is doing with the Mueller Report (besides prosecuting Trump’s top donor as a foreign agent on a referral from it). But it is simply false that DOJ has been silent about it.

Where DOJ has been speaking, however, is in active dockets and not in a three year old report.

John Durham Suggests April Lorenzen Thinks He Bullied Her

In a truly hysterical self-own, the Federalist’s Margot Cleveland read this John Durham filing and (in addition to claiming that Marc Elias’ grand jury appearance must mean he testified to crime-fraud excepted matters even though he previously testified publicly about this matter without any such exception) predicted that the “corrupt media” would soon quote “false charges” of threats and intimidation “by this weekend.”

Then she quoted precisely those charges.

In addition to detailing all of the information the special counsel’s office had already provided Sussmann or would shortly, in requesting an extension to finish discovery, Durham’s team stressed the breadth of Sussmann’s discovery demands and the transparency with which those demands were met.

For instance, Sussmann’s attorneys requested “all of the prosecution team’s communications with counsel for witnesses or subjects in this investigation, including, ‘any records reflecting any consideration, concern, or threats from your office relating to those individuals’ or their counsels’ conduct…and all formal or informal complaints received by you or others’ about the conduct of the Special Counsel’s office.”

After noting that “communications with other counsel are rarely discoverable,” the government said it expects to produce responsive documents later this week. But the special counsel office added, “it is doing so despite the fact that certain counsel persistently have targeted prosecutors and investigators on the Special Counsel’s team with baseless and polemical attacks that unfairly malign and mischaracterize the conduct of this investigation.”

For instance, “certain counsel have falsely accused the Special Counsel’s Office of leaking information to the media and have mischaracterized efforts to warn witnesses of the consequences of false testimony or false statements as ‘threats’ or ‘intimidation,’” Durham explained to the court.

In other words, with Sussmann’s lawyers soon to receive this cache of complaints against Durham’s team, watch for the corrupt media to be quoting those false charges by this weekend, spinning a narrative of a corrupt special counsel’s office.

Cleveland was, as far as I saw, the first to quote those charges and one of the only ones to do so before the weekend. But given that, in the past, she has presented evidence that undermined Durham’s conspiracy theories without admitting that they did, I’d say she qualifies for her own designation as corrupt. A self-fulfilling prediction!

That said, I suspect that Durham is trying to get ahead of something potentially more problematic.

In the Sussmann indictment, Durham needlessly referred to April Lorenzen — who had used the pseudonym “Tea Leaves” to speak of the Alfa Bank allegations in 2016 and who could have been referred to by that same pseudonym here — by the moniker “Originator-1.” That introduced additional confusion and with it implied, without charging Lorenzen, that she had made up the anomalous data at the core of the allegation. It’s sort of like referring to someone by the pseudonym “Forger-1” or “Lady-with-the-Knife-1” in an indictment; it respects DOJ’s rules against naming uncharged individuals, but does so in such a way that insinuates wrong-doing.

Indeed, in the indictment, Durham repeatedly called the anomalous data “purported,” barely hiding that he believes Lorenzen manufactured the data, even though a shit-ton of evidence from later in 2016 makes it clear Lorenzen believed the anomaly was real and important.

Durham’s treatment of Lorenzen is all the more problematic given that she was among those that, this NYT story credibly argued, Durham had cited out of context in the indictment.

The indictment quotes August emails from Ms. Lorenzen and Mr. Antonakakis worrying that they might not know if someone had faked the DNS data. But people familiar with the matter said the indictment omitted later discussion of reasons to doubt any attempt to spoof the overall pattern could go undetected.

[snip]

The indictment suggested Ms. Lorenzen’s reaction to the paper was guarded, describing an email from her as “stating, in part, that it was ‘plausible’ in the ‘narrow scope’ defined by” Mr. Joffe. But the text of her email displays enthusiasm.

“In the narrow scope of what you have defined above, I agree wholeheartedly that it is plausible,” she wrote, adding: “If the white paper intends to say that there are communications between at least Alfa and Trump, which are being intentionally hidden by Alfa and Trump I absolutely believe that is the case,” her email said.

So Lorenzen has good cause to be miffed with Durham’s insinuations in the indictment.

Which brings us to the passage that Cleveland face-planted on.

Durham brags that he has been so kind as to respond to Sussmann’s request for records suggesting that Durham’s team might be bullying or bribing witnesses.

On December 10, 2021, the defense requested, among other things, all of the prosecution team’s communications with counsel for witnesses or subjects in this investigation, including, “any records reflecting any consideration, concern, or threats from your office relating to those individuals’ or their counsels’ conduct. . . and all formal or informal complaints received by you or others” about the conduct of the Special Counsel’s Office.” Although communications with other counsel are rarely discoverable, especially this far in advance of trial, the Government expects to produce certain materials responsive to this request later this week. The Government notes that it is doing so despite the fact that certain counsel persistently have targeted prosecutors and investigators on the Special Counsel’s team with baseless and polemical attacks that unfairly malign and mischaracterize the conduct of this investigation. For example, certain counsel have falsely accused the Special Counsel’s Office of leaking information to the media and have mischaracterized efforts to warn witnesses of the consequences of false testimony or false statements as “threats” or “intimidation.” Despite the inflammatory and unfounded nature of these accusations, the Special Counsel’s Office intends to produce these materials to the defense to avoid any suggestion that it seeks to conceal these communications for some bad purpose.

Sussmann made this request after having been shown — months after he was indicted — James Baker’s interview reports with Durham’s team, which Sussmann’s lawyers noted at a December 8 status hearing had radically changed from his past sworn statements. Sussmann’s lawyers made it clear they may argue at trial that Baker’s testimony changed because Durham threatened to charge the former FBI lawyer if he didn’t change his story. And that’s clearly why, just days after seeing how dramatically Baker’s sworn testimony did change, Sussmann made this discovery request. Sussmann wants to test whether Durham has been pressuring witnesses — Baker, as well as others — to back Durham’s baseless conspiracy theories.

Durham is turning over this material not, as he suggests, out of the spirit of generosity. Rather, he’s turning it over because, to survive as Special Counsel long enough to write his report, he needs to avoid giving Merrick Garland cause to fire him. Sussmann has effectively put Durham on notice that he’s going to ask every witness whether they were bullied to tell a false story. And if Durham were to sit on records even hinting at such bullying, withholding them in discovery when the complaint is bound to come out at trial would provide Garland that cause for firing.

Which makes it all the more interesting that Durham stated he had included reports of calls with Lorenzen’s lawyer specifically.

numerous reports of phone calls between the Special Counsel team and counsel for several witnesses or subjects in this investigation, including counsel for the individual referred to in the Indictment as “Originator-1;”

Complaints from Lorenzen would be neither Jencks — the requirement to provide the interview reports and grand jury testimony from witnesses the prosecution plans to call at trial — nor Giglio — the requirement to tell defendants about any benefits witnesses received for their testimony. That’s because Durham is treating Lorenzen as a subject of the investigation, not a witness. Like all Fusion employees, Rodney Joffe, and all but one employee of the Clinton Campaign, she is not listed as having been interviewed. That suggests either that Durham still wants to charge Lorenzen as part of his conspiracy charge or that he tried to subpoena her and she told him she’d invoke the Fifth. (According to an earlier Sussmann filing, Durham has immunized at least one witness and he could do so with Lorenzen as well if he really wanted her testimony.)

Of course Lorenzen has a complaint. While I don’t think Durham leaked her identity (he doesn’t need to because there’s a whole slew of researchers, including suspected Russian agents, who guarantee anything he says will soon be attached to a name), he improperly included insinuations about Lorenzen not backed by any evidence as part of his grand conspiracy theory about why Sussmann lied. He has done real reputational damage to Lorenzen without presenting any evidence to back such damage.

Durham provided Sussmann whatever complaints she made about the reputational harm he had done to cover his ass — to ensure it doesn’t get him fired — because Sussmann has the ability to obtain (and may have already obtained) such records from Lorenzen directly.

For now, then, Durham has protected himself.

But if it were to come out, as I think is likely, that DOJ has in its possession information about someone who claimed to have brokered one of the more incendiary parts of the Alfa Bank story, someone who fabricated other Internet routing data in May 2016 (the month that, Alfa Bank claims, its own data started getting spoofed), it might make any bullying Durham has done of Lorenzen the kind of thing that would be actionable against Durham. All the more so if Durham had not provided such information in discovery to Sussmann (which would be shocking, but I’m getting used to being shocked by Durham’s incompetence).

Durham has covered his ass, for now. But if it came out that Durham insinuated Lorenzen had fabricated this data even though DOJ knows of a more likely candidate to have done so, that would cause all sorts of new problems for him.

Why It Would Be Counterproductive To Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate January 6

I continue to get people asserting as fact that the investigation into Trump’s role in January 6 would be going better if Merrick Garland had appointed a Special Counsel.

I have yet to see calls for a Special Counsel that are not, themselves, just an extended admission that the people calling for one don’t understand the investigation. For example, in a widely shared Asha Rangappa thread in October, she claimed to present Pros and Cons like this:

Pro:

  1. It’s warranted” (she didn’t say what “it” was)
  2. It would signal that getting to the bottom of this is a priority for the Justice Department” (she didn’t say what “this” was)
  3. It could provide for a more efficient investigation … An SC would be able to have FBI agents and prosecutors detailed to focus on this one matter”
  4. It would insulate Garland from political blowback; “Garland would be right to be concerned with the *appearance* of a politically motivated investigation under his direct watch”
  5. “The Special Counsel regulations have important formal mechanisms for reporting prosecutorial decisions (including declinations to prosecute)”

Cons:

  1. It gives people who may be subjects of an investigation a ‘heads up'”
  2. It creates a new space for politicization, as we saw with Mueller:”

More recently, a non-public non-expert suggested that because Merrick Garland hadn’t appointed a Special Counsel when he came in, Congress was doing the investigation that a Special Counsel was not.

I want to start from that claim — that Congress is investigating stuff that DOJ is not. It reflects a belief that even DOJ reporters have, such as in this shitty WaPo piece revealing in ¶30 that DOJ is investigating Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani for their militia ties but then reporting as fact that DOJ “has yet to turn its attention directly to Trump and his close allies.” The things WaPo turns to before examining how — and ignoring that — DOJ is investigating Trump’s one-degree ties to the militias who managed the attack on the Capitol are:

  • Whether DOJ is investigating the war room at the Willard Hotel (never mind that WaPo missed one overt way DOJ is investigating the war room)
  • Whether DOJ is investigating Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger
  • Whether DOJ is investigating Trump’s threats to install Jeffrey Clark to get an Acting Attorney General more amenable to claiming voter fraud occurred

Of those, only the call to Raffensperger (which is being investigated by Fulton County’s DA) is clearly illegal.

Special Counsels can only investigate crimes, not potential crimes not pursued

It is not clearly illegal, for example, for John Eastman to write a letter calling on Trump to pressure Mike Pence to reject the vote totals or for Peter Navarro to set up a propaganda campaign that members of Congress will point to to justify corrupt action (indeed, the latter is how lobbyists made DC run). It may not be illegal for a President to install someone who has been Senate confirmed as Acting Attorney General who will pursue his policy goals, no matter how corrupt they are; it’s not even illegal for a President to ask a Cabinet Member to lie to the public (and Cabinet Members lie a lot, sometimes for good reasons). It’s even less illegal to consider doing so but deciding not to because of the political cost of doing so, as happened with Clark. It is not even illegal to receive a plan to have the military seize voting machines, especially if you don’t pursue that plan (which Trump did not).

These things only become illegal when they are shown to be part of plan to commit a crime.

There’s the first problem with calls to appoint a Special Counsel. Much of what people want to investigate (again, Raffensperger and the fraudulent certificates are an exception) is not clearly a crime.

I have talked about how the Select Committee is investigating from the top down and DOJ is investigating from the crime scene up (in addition to investigating Sidney Powell’s potential Big Lie fraud). I’ve talked about how, as a separate co-equal branch of government, the Select Committee can more easily do things like get Executive Privilege waivers or waive Speech and Debate protections, the former of which was a challenge for Mueller’s investigation. I’ve laid out how the two investigations have already converged, first with the focus on the targeting of Mike Pence and more recently on the role of Trump’s directions serving as the motivating instruction for three different armed conspiracies, including the sedition one.

But it’s equally important to recognize that the Select Committee is also conducting the important work of investigating things that weren’t crimes, like considering but not acting on a suggestion to seize the voting machines and considering but not acting on a plan to make Jeffrey Clark Acting Attorney General (both issues Bennie Thompson addressed on the Sunday shows this morning).

A Special Counsel can’t be appointed to investigate something that is not a crime.

I realize that people have argued, starting on January 6, that Trump incited the insurrection and that’s the crime that could have predicated the Special Counsel. Bracket that idea. I’ll come back to it.

No Republican Senator is on the record opposing DC US Attorney Matthew Graves leading this investigation

As it happens, Rangappa wrote her thread on October 25, three days before US Attorney for DC Matthew Graves was confirmed on a voice vote. While Ron Johnson held up the vote for other reasons, no Republican Senator thought it important enough to register opposition to Graves to call for a recorded vote.

That means, going forward, the US Attorney overseeing the January 6 investigation can claim the support of the entire Senate. No Republican recorded their opposition to Matthew Graves overseeing the investigation into January 6.

Those asking for a Special Counsel are, in effect, saying that there would be less political blowback if Merrick Garland chose, on his own, to appoint someone to lead an investigation than if a US Attorney against whom not a single Republican recorded opposition led the investigation.

The January 6 investigation is far too large for a Special Counsel

Now consider the claim that a Special Counsel investigation would be more efficient because the Special Counsel would have a dedicated team of prosecutors and FBI agents and a dedicated grand jury. Such claims are astounding for how little awareness of the actual investigation they show.

In Merrick Garland’s recent speech, he revealed there are 140 prosecutors working on this investigation, half normally assigned to the DC US Attorney’s office (that is, people who now report to Graves), and the other half coming from other units. Some of those units are functional, with the most notable being National Security’s Terrorism prosecutors, but also Public Corruption. Far more of them are detailees assigned from different US Attorneys offices. Some of these detailees, working on the simpler cases, are doing 6 month stints, then handing off their cases. Others, including key prosecutors involved in the Proud Boys investigation, appear to be seeing the investigation through. Just as one example, there are three prosecutors on the case against the five Florida men who traveled with Joe Biggs the day of the attack; they are located in Chicago, Brooklyn, and Seattle. Just accounting for the number of prosecutors involved, this investigation is larger than most US Attorneys Offices in this country, and far too large for a Special Counsel to handle.

Then there’s this magical notion about convening a grand jury. The existing January 6 investigation is already using somewhere between four and six. Public Corruption prosecutions, like that of Steve Bannon, are using the same grand juries that the militias are being prosecuted through. Given COVID, keeping these grand juries up and running has been a real bottleneck on the investigation (something else Garland alluded to). For one conspiracy indictment I followed, it took five months — from April until September — from the time DOJ stated it would charge it as a conspiracy and the time the FBI Agent could sit with the grand jury safely to get that indictment. So you’re better off having several to juggle than relying on one. “When will Garland get a grand jury for this investigation,” people keep asking, and the answer is that was done already, in January 2021 before Garland was confirmed, in May, in August, and in November. Over a hundred Americans have already been serving, in secret, during a pandemic, on these grand juries that people are wailing must be appointed some time in the future.

Then there are other things about the investigation that have required massive and immediate resource allocations. Most notably, DOJ had to appoint a team (led by a prosecutor named Emily Miller) to create an entirely new discovery system, which has involved throwing large amounts of money at both Deloitte and the Federal Public Defenders office. Special Counsels need to budget ahead, and because this investigation is so large, it would not be possible given the budgetary requirements of the Special Counsel regulation.

We know similar resource allocations are going on at a whole-DOJ level with respect to the FBI (including a reliance on Joint Task Forces for more localized investigations); those decisions are just less visible.

The point being that this investigation is so large it requires the DOJ, as a whole, to manage the resources for it. It’s far too large for a Special Counsel. And nothing about putting someone without those resources who has to budget in advance would make this investigation more nimble.

Calls for a Special Counsel internalize a belief that Trump was further from the mob than he was

So let’s go back. The crime invoked by those calling now or in the past for a Special Counsel as the predicating crime for the investigation is incitement. There are problems with that. Trump’s defense attorneys rightly pointed out during his second impeachment trial that the riot had already started — by the militia that Trump had called out on September 29 — before he incited the mob at his rally. Trump’s relationship with the mob is far more complex — and frankly, damning, than that.

But the other problem with that is if you want to prove that Trump incited the crowd, you need to get proof that those who went on to riot were responding to Trump’s speech.

That’s actually one thing DOJ has been doing for the last year; I would guesstimate that about a third of the 200 or so people who’ve pled guilty have said things in their statements of offense to support an incitement charge against the former President. But they’ve also provided DOJ more specific details about their expectations for what would happen at the Capitol (most notably that Trump would speak again) and how those expectations were manipulated to get them to do things like climb to the top of the East steps just before it was breached. The way in which Trump (and close associates like Alex Jones) manipulated attendees was actually more malicious than simple incitement.

So even (perhaps especially) for the crime that everyone is sure Trump committed, incitement, you need to do some of the work everyone points to in claiming that DOJ is investigating the wrong people, just the pawns and not the generals. One thing DOJ has done in the last year is collect evidence that large numbers of those who, without planning to do so in advance, nevertheless played a key role in occupying the Capitol, did so not just because of Trump’s violent imagery, but also because of the expectations he set among rally goers.

More importantly, what DOJ has spent the last year doing is understanding what those who kicked off the riot while Trump was speaking did, and how those who brought mobs to the Capitol manipulated them to make them more effective. And what they’ve discovered — what WaPo thought worth burying in ¶30 — is they were working with Trump’s closest associates, if not responding to orders from Trump himself.

DOJ already is investigating what happened at the Willard Hotel (and has been since last summer). But they’re investigating it not because a bunch of the people there considered ideas — like seizing the voting machines — that weren’t adopted. They’re investigating it because there are tangible ties between what happened at the Willard and what happened on Capitol Hill.

Consider the centrality of efforts to pressure Mike Pence to reject the legal results of the election. After efforts to overturn the election with legal challenges based on the Big Lie (for which Sidney Powell is already being investigated by prosecutors also investigating other aspects of January 6) failed, Mike Pence became a necessary player in the plots to steal the election. And the effort to pressure Pence is continuous from Donald Trump to his allies to people at the mob.

Trump’s Tweets and speech had the direct and desired effect. When Trump called out, “I hope Pence is going to do the right thing,” Gina Bisignano responded, “I hope so. He’s a deep state.” When she set off to the Capitol, Bisignano explained, “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence.” After declaring, “I’m going to break into Congress,” Bisignano rallied some of the mobsters by talking about “what Pence has done.” She cheered through a blowhorn as mobsters made a renewed assault on the Capitol. “Break the window! she cheered, as she ultimately helped another break a window, an act amounting to a team act of terrorism.

Josiah Colt and his co-conspirators learned that Pence would not prevent the vote certification as Trump demanded. In response, they aimed to “breach the building.” Colt set out to where Pence was presiding. “We’re making it to the main room. The Senate room.” Where they’re meeting.” His co-conspirators Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave are accused of assaulting a cop to get into the Senate.

Jacob Chansley mounted the dais where Pence should have been overseeing the vote count and declared, “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor,” and left him a note, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

Matthew Greene never went to listen to Trump speak. Instead, he was following orders from top Proud Boys, a bit player in an orchestrated attack to surround and breach the Capitol. His goal in doing so was to pressure Pence.

Greene’s intent in conspiring with others to unlawfully enter the restricted area of the Capitol grounds was to send a message to legislators and Vice President Pence. Greene knew he lawmakers and the Vice President were inside the Capitol building conducting the certification of the Electoral College Vote at the time the riot occurred. Green hoped that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral Vote than they would have otherwise. Greene believed that by unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds, he and other rioters outside the building would send a stronger message to lawmakers and the Vice President inside the building, than if Green and others had stayed outside the restricted area.

There is a direct line of corrupt intent from the moment where Trump asked Pence, “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to [exercise it]?” and efforts that his mobsters — both those who planned this in advance and those who reacted to Trump’s incitement — made at the Capitol. Some of the most central players in the attack on the Capitol have testified under oath that they understood their goal to be pressuring Mike Pence. In pursuit of that, they broke into the Capitol, they assaulted cops, they occupied the Mike Pence’s seat.

There are things that Trump did that are independently illegal, including giving Mike Pence an illegal order. But their illegality becomes much more salient in the context of the organized effort to pressure Mike Pence, threaten his life, and prevent the vote certification from taking place.

And DOJ has already acquired evidence that the people at the Capitol who were most deliberately implementing that plan have direct ties to Trump’s closest associates.

Bizarrely, the foundational assumption of those demanding a Special Counsel is that Trump didn’t have any tie to the riot — it has to be!! The foundational assumption of those demanding a Special Counsel is that the investigation of the insurrection won’t get to the former President unless it convenes a separate investigation into him, even though the investigation working up from the mob has already found at least three one-degree links between those mobilizing the bodies at the Capitol and Trump’s close associates (and the grand jury investigation that already charged sedition has at least three cooperating witnesses with ties to Roger Stone).

No one has to ask Merrick Garland to open an investigation that might prosecute Trump. It has been open since long before Garland was confirmed. No one has to ask Merrick Garland to get a prosecutor to convene a grand jury that will investigate Trump’s actions; grand juries have already indicted at least four violent conspiracies that were mobilized by Trump’s calls to violence, including one that has been working since two days after the attack.

If you believe that Trump’s actions played a central role in the insurrection — if you believe that the violent mob mobilized on January 6 was an important part of plans hatched at the Willard Hotel — then creating a separate investigation to investigate Trump does nothing but remove him from his liability in crimes already charged as sedition. That’s why calls to appoint a Special Counsel are so stupid. They treat Trump’s crimes as separate and distinct from those of the mob that he mobilized. There’s no reason, at this point, to do that (if Democrats were to lose in 2024, there might be).

People have been wailing for a year that DOJ needs to open an investigation into Donald Trump and all the while an investigation has been open and has been working towards Trump.

January 6 Deconfliction: “This Is Part of a Much Bigger Conspiracy”

In a Detroit Free Press article on the forged electoral certificate presented from Michigan, the state’s awesome Attorney General Dana Nessel explained why, after investigating for almost a year, she is now referring the matter to the Grand Rapids US Attorney’s Office.

Nessel told Maddow that her office has been evaluating charges for almost a year but decided Thursday to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan.

“We think this is a matter that is best investigated and potentially prosecuted by the feds,” Nessel said.

The signatories of the failed attempt to award Michigan’s Electoral College votes to Trump include Michigan GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock, national Republican committeewoman Kathy Berden and Michigan GOP grassroots vice chair Marian Sheridan, among other pro-Trump activists in the party.

The decision does not preclude possible charges against the Republicans who falsely claimed that they cast Michigan’s Electoral College votes for Trump, Nessel said. And her office might still bring charges, she added.

“Under state law, I think clearly you have forgery of a public record, which is a 14-year offense and election law forgery, which is a five-year offense,” Nessel said.

“But, obviously, this is part of a much bigger conspiracy and our hope is that the federal authorities and the Department of Justice and United States Attorney General Merrick Garland will take this in coordination with all the other information they’ve received and make an evaluation as to what charges these individuals might (face),” she said.

Consider what happened to lead to this federal criminal referral. After electors sent fake certifications to the National Archives, NARA then sent them to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Vice President Mike Pence the winners of both Michigan and Arizona and their electors after the 2020 election. Public records requests show the secretaries of state for those states sent those certificates to the Jan. 6 panel, along with correspondence between the National Archives and state officials about the documents.

Spokespeople for the Michigan and Arizona secretaries of state declined to comment on the documents. The offices confirmed that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, both Democrats, and their staff met with the panel in November.

“They mostly discussed election administration in Arizona, the 2020 elections, threats/harassment directed toward the office, and the Cyber Ninja’s partisan ballot review,” said Hobbs’ spokesperson C. Murphy Hebert.

Benson and her staff took questions from the committee on the 2020 election and events leading up to the Jan. 6 riot, according to Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Benson.

The National Archives sent emails to the Arizona secretary of state on Dec. 11, 2020, passing along the forged certificates “for your awareness” and informing the state officials the Archives would not accept them.

Arizona then took legal action against at least one of the groups who sent in the fake documents, sending a cease and desist letter to a pro-Trump “sovereign citizen” group telling them to stop using the state seal and referring the matter to the state attorney general.

“By affixing the state seal to documents containing false and misleading information about the results of Arizona’s November 3, 2020 General Election, you undermine the confidence in our democratic institutions,” Hobbs wrote to one of the pro-Trump groups.

Arizona took immediate action; given Nessel’s comments, Benson appears to have referred the matter to Nessel. Some of these details were made public last March after American Oversight obtained them. But after the January 6 Committee put them all in context and focused renewed attention to how the fake certificates fit into a larger effort, it led Nessel to hold off on pursuing potential 14-year charges against some of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and instead to formally refer the investigation to the Feds, based on the logic that the obviously coordinated effort to forge fake electoral certificates is part of a larger whole.

This is not dissimilar from how legal action from Florida’s charity regulator led to state action as well as a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting.

For months, a federal investigation running out of Washington, D.C., has been demanding documents and asking potential witnesses questions about Powell, according to three people familiar with the matter. Similarly, a separate investigation into Powell’s anti-democratic activities took place in the Sunshine State earlier this year—and has already produced results, and punished Powell and her far-right group.

The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, is examining the finances of Defending the Republic, an organization founded by Powell to fund her “Kraken” lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, the sources said.According to two of the people familiar with the matter, a grand jury was empaneled, and subpoenas and documents requests have gone out to multiple individuals as recently as September.

Defending the Republic’s finances have already prompted an investigation and a settlement with Florida’s charity regulator. The group paid a $10,000 fine in September as part of a settlement agreement related to its solicitation of contributions and failure to register as a charitable organization in the state.

[snip]

Defending the Republic’s finances first attracted the scrutiny of regulators in Florida shortly after Powell founded the group in November 2020 when authorities received a complaint and subsequently issued a subpoena to internet hosting service GoDaddy for information about the group’s website.

In a June press conference, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Defending the Republic was “found to be soliciting contributions from the State of Florida or from persons within the State of Florida” on the internet “without having filed in the State of Florida” as a charitable organization.”

On Aug. 24, Defending the Republic paid a $10,000 fine as part of a settlement agreement with Florida authorities over its fundraising.

As part of that agreement, Powell’s group agreed to register as a charity in Florida and submitted a projected budget of over $7 million. The settlement agreement also required Defending the Republic to submit an audited financial statement for the group’s operations between December 2020 and July 2021 by Nov. 30, including a balance sheet and a list of expenses and revenue.

Meanwhile, Fulton County’s DA, Fani Willis, has been investigating Trump’s call to pressure Brad Raffensperger to cheat and will reportedly make a prosecutorial decision in the months ahead.

The prosecutor weighing whether Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory said a decision on whether to bring charges could come as early as the first half of this year.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that her team is making solid progress, and she’s leaning toward asking for a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid the investigation.

“I believe in 2022 a decision will be made in that case,” Willis said. “I certainly think that in the first half of the year that decisions will be made.”

[snip]

Willis declined to speak about the specifics, but she confirmed that the investigation’s scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.

Regardless of what Willis decides, she can also refer actions to the Feds because it, like the forged electoral certifications, “is part of a much bigger conspiracy.”

The point is (besides that we should be grateful that Democrats elected a lot of smart, fearless women in recent years) that there are lots of moving parts to this “much bigger conspiracy.” And all those moving parts have, as an option, referring their investigative findings to DOJ to drop it into the “much bigger conspiracy.”

So during the year when DOJ has been laying what Merrick Garland called “the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases,” states and local authorities have been conducting investigations that can be joined to that evidentiary foundation.

These are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy.

All these moving parts require coordination, however, or “deconfliction,” both in an effort to maximize cross-fertilization between the investigations and to ensure no investigation screws up the criminal investigations that might lead to real consequences. While there has been no reporting on how this is being done at DOJ, we can be sure it is, not least because DOJ and the Committee are muddling through the Executive Privilege questions in tandem.

Robert Mueller, for example, had his own congressional liaison, and referrals from the Senate Intelligence Committee led directly to plea deals with Sam Patten and Michael Cohen that, in turn, led to information both (and in the latter case, Trump’s lawyers) had shielded from the Committees.

Adam Schiff, now a member on the Select Committee, knows well that Mueller also used a House Intelligence Committee interview with Roger Stone as a basis for an obstruction prosecution against Trump’s rat-fucker. While the details are less clear, I also suspect that Steve Bannon’s interviews with HPSCI served to tee up the fruitful grand jury appearance for him in January 2019 about which Stone is still furious.

Liz Cheney brings a different knowledge base to the challenge of deconfliction. Her dad played a central role in screwing up the Special Prosecutor investigation into Iran-Contra by offering key witnesses immunity. He’s one reason why congressional committees hoping to preserve criminal investigations tread carefully. Hopefully, Congresswoman Cheney can apply lessons learned from her evil genius father to the forces of good on the Select Committee. She has the most to lose if this Committee doesn’t succeed.

As noted above, the most visible sign of this deconfliction has come on privilege reviews. In July, at the same time that DOJ established their contact policy fire-walling President Biden from learning about any ongoing investigations, DOJ got privilege waivers for former DOJ personnel to appear before Congress. After that, when the Select Committee, as an independent branch of government that is also fire-walled from the criminal investigation, asked for investigative materials from the Archives, Biden conducted privilege reviews of that material and waived privilege over much, but not all, of it. If and when that material is released, however, it would be available to anyone with a need, including DOJ.

In fact, the back and forth between the Committee and DOJ has likely already made investigative materials available to DOJ. That’s because, after the Select Committee made it clear Mark Meadows had violated the Presidential Records Act with regards to some of the materials he shared with the committee, Meadows undertook efforts to fix that. To the extent he is able to provide his personal emails and Signal texts to NARA (some of the latter are likely are unavailable), that material would become available to DOJ without subpoenaing Meadows. And to the extent this process reveals that materials of investigative interest to a grand jury were deleted when Meadows obtained a new phone, it will give DOJ reason to use legal process to either hold Meadows accountable for obstruction, or reason to get it from others, like Jim Jordan. To say nothing of the fact that Meadows can’t prevent DOJ from subpoenaing the call records that led him to renege on efforts to cooperate with the January 6 Committee. That’s why I doubt DOJ will hold Meadows in criminal contempt, because they would be better served to get that information — and coerce cooperation, if he chooses that route — via their own legal process. Effectively, then, Bennie Thompson wrote a rough draft of a warrant affidavit for the FBI.

It’s in the subpoenas for witnesses, however, that I’m most curious about with regards to deconfliction between the DOJ and Select Committee investigation. Consider: There are two Trump associates who were key in sowing the Big Lie, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who are known to be under criminal investigation right now. That’s a topic the Select Committee is focusing closely on. But in spite of the fact that Bennie Thompson has expressed an interest in interviewing Rudy, thus far Thompson remains coy about how he’ll reach out to get Rudy’s testimony. There has been no public mention of getting Powell’s testimony or, for that matter, Lin Wood or Patrick Byrne, who — based on public reports — are part of that grifting investigation as well (and Byrne would be interesting of his own accord because he was honey-potted by a Russian spy). And for that matter, at least by the time he sued the committee, Mike Flynn’s call records hadn’t been subpoenaed either.

I’m equally interested in the timing of the Stewart Rhodes subpoena: November 23. That was after DOJ obtained an arrest warrant for James Beeks, the last member of The Stack, on November 18, but the day before they arrested him. By that point (probably long before), DOJ had to have known they were going to pursue sedition charges against him. But for some reason, they held off on the sedition charges when they superseded the Oath Keepers indictment on December 1 (before they otherwise would have needed to charge Beeks) to include him and tweak the Civil Disorder language in the indictment. There may be very good reasons they needed to wait: They needed to find Rhodes; they needed to finish exploiting his phone; they needed to resolve how they were going to treat the field commander, Mike Simmons, whose status in the investigation changed pretty dramatically between the December indictment and the Sedition one. But in that period while they held off, the Select Committee tested whether Rhodes wanted to go lie under oath to Congress. He declined.

It was worth a shot!

I find it equally curious that the Select Committee chose to target colleagues who played a more ambivalent role in the insurrection on January 6, rather than people like Paul Gosar or Mo Brooks, who have clear ties to organizers and other insurrectionists.

Similarly, I share Justin Hendrix’s curiosity why — especially in the wake of his article showing that The Donald isn’t being used in FBI affidavits — the Select Committee isn’t pursuing the role of the post-Reddit social media site in the insurrection, even while they expand their prior requests on more traditional social media.

In short, DOJ and the Select Committee are necessarily deconflicting their efforts, even if the Committee remains fire-walled from what DOJ has planned in the weeks ahead. But understanding that raises interesting questions about the Select Committee choices.

These pieces are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy. And until we see all those pieces we won’t see how they all work together.

But there are increasing signs that others are putting those pieces together.

Update: On January 18, the committee subpoenaed Rudy, Sidney Powell, and two others.

Update: On January 28, J6 subpoenaed the fake electors.

Select Committee Witness Requests

The Executive Privilege Puzzle: The Co-Equal Branch of Government

As I noted during the summer, DOJ did two things in close succession.

On July 21, it rolled out the contacts policy that codifies that, “the Justice Department will not advise the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal or civil law enforcement investigations or cases unless doing so is important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.” At least from that point forward, Joe Biden would learn no details of the investigation into his predecessor unless absolutely necessary.

On July 26, DOJ wrote Jeffrey Rosen and several other former senior DOJ officials — including Jeffrey Clark —  informing them that DOJ was waiving privilege for interviews the House and Senate wanted to conduct on, “any efforts by President Trump or any DOJ officials to advance unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, challenge the 2020 election results, stop Congress’s count of the Electoral College vote, or overturn President Biden’s certified victory.” As the letter from Bradley Weinsheimer laid out, this permission arose from a balancing of Legislative and Executive branch interests and determining that the Legislative interest was so significant as to warrant the waiver.

After balancing the Legislative and Executive Branch interests, as required under the accommodation process, it is the Executive Branch’s view that this presents an exceptional situation in which the congressional need for information outweighs the Executive Branch’s interest in maintaining confidentiality.

The letter continues by explaining that DOJ consulted with the White House Counsel’s Office to get their approval for waiving Executive Privilege.

Because of the nature of the privilege, the Department has consulted with the White House Counsel’s Office in considering whether to authorize you to provide information that may implicate the presidential communications privilege. The Counsel’s Office conveyed to the Department that President Biden has decided that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege with respect to communications with former President Trump and his advisors and staff on matters related to the scope of the Committees’ proposed interviews, notwithstanding the view of former President Trump’s counsel that executive privilege should be asserted to prevent testimony regarding these communications. See Nixon v. Administrator of General Servs., 433 U.S. 425, 449 (1977) (“[I]t must be presumed that the incumbent President is vitally concerned with and in the best position to assess the present and future needs of the Executive Branch, and to support invocation of the privilege accordingly.” see also id. (explaining that the presidential communications privilege “is not for the benefit of the President as an individual, but for the benefit of the Republic”) (internal citation omitted).

These events seems to have set up the series of developments — including Trump’s lawsuit to attempt to prevent the Archives from turning over documents to Congress, and aborted attempts by Jeffrey Clark, Steve Bannon, and Mark Meadows, among others, to shield their own testimony by invoking Executive Privilege.

As was laid out in the DC Circuit hearing the other day, this put the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch in agreement that the documents Congress requested from the Archives should be released.

You’ve got Biden insulated from investigative details, making decisions about Executive Privilege for an investigation being conducted by a coequal branch of government.

Which is one of the reasons why I find Adam Schiff’s comments from the other day so interesting. When asked if he wanted DOJ to be more aggressive, Schiff did not assent. Instead, he said that “it is certainly possible” Congress’ effort to “expose the malefactors” “will inform the Justice Department of other facts that they may not yet be aware of yet.”

We are now trying to expose the full facts of the former President’s misconduct, as well as those around him. It is certainly possible that what we reveal in our investigation will inform the Justice Department of other facts that they may not yet be aware of yet. And so we will pursue our role in this, which is to expose the malefactors, to bring about legislation as a result of our investigation, to protect the country. But we will count on the Justice Department to play its role.

There’s a high likelihood the January 6 Commission will discover things DOJ has not found on its own. After all, Biden is waiving privilege for their inquiry, not for DOJ’s criminal investigation. So the Jan 6 is (or soon will be) examining a set of materials that are — as far as we know — otherwise inaccessible to DOJ. But, Schiff assures us, if they find something that DOJ doesn’t know about, they’ll inform DOJ.

As I’ve noted and as Schiff knows well, Mueller relied on the Intelligence Committee investigations for key evidence in his investigation. But here, it seems like the dual investigations provides a way to free up otherwise privileged materials involving Trump without having Biden violate contact rules prohibiting him learning about the ongoing criminal investigation.

Ten Things TV Lawyers Can Do Rather than Whinging about Merrick Garland

I continue to have little patience for the people–many of them paid to expound as lawyers on TV–who spend their time whinging that Merrick Garland is not moving quickly enough to hold Trump accountable rather than spending their time doing other more productive things to protect democracy.

I’m not aware that any of these people has tracked the January 6 investigation closely enough to name those one or two degrees away from the former President who have been charged or are clearly subjects of investigation. Similarly, I’ve seen none do reporting on the current status of Rudy Giuliani’s phones, which after a Special Master review will release a bunch of information to prosecutors to use under any warrant that DOJ might have. Indeed, many of the same people complain that Trump has not been accountable for his Ukraine extortion, without recognizing that any Ukraine charges for Trump would almost certainly have to go through that Rudy investigation. The approval for the search on Rudy’s phones may have been among the first decisions Lisa Monaco made as Deputy Attorney General.

It’s not so much that I’m certain DOJ would prosecute Trump for his serial attempts to overthrow democracy. There are tea leaves that DOJ could get there via a combination of working up from pawns who stormed the Capitol and down from rooks referred from the January 6 Commission. But I’m more exasperated with the claims that there were crimes wrapped with a bow (such as Trump’s extortion of Ukraine) that Garland’s DOJ could have charged on March 11, when he was sworn in. Even the Tom Barrack prosecution, a Mueller referral which reportedly was all set to indict in July 2020, took six months after Biden’s inauguration before it was indicted. The January 6 investigation started less than eleven months ago; eleven months into the Russian investigation, Coffee Boy George Papadopoulos had not yet been arrested and he was still months away from pleading guilty, on a simple false statements charge. We have no idea how much deliberate damage Billy Barr did to other ongoing investigations arising out of the Mueller investigation, but his public actions in the Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort cases suggests it is likely considerable. As for the January 6 investigation, as I’ve noted, it took nine months from the time FBI learned that a Capitol Police Officer had warned Jacob Hiles to delete his Facebook posts until the time DOJ indicted Michael Riley on two counts of obstruction. To imagine that DOJ would have already indicted Trump on anything he might be hypothetically under investigation at this point, particularly relating to January 6, is just denial about how long investigations take, even assuming the subject were not the former President with abundant access to free or RNC-provided legal representation.

It’s not that I don’t understand the gravity of the threat. I absolutely share the panic of those who believe that if something doesn’t happen by midterms, Republicans will take over the House and shut every last bit of accountability down. I agree the threat to democracy is grave.

But there is no rule that permits DOJ to skip investigative steps and due process simply because people have invested in DOJ as the last bulwark of democracy, or because the target is the greatest threat to democracy America has faced since the Civil War. DOJ investigations take time. And that is one reason why, if people are hoping some damning indictment will save our democracy, they’re investing their hopes in the wrong place, because an investigation into Trump simply will not be rolled out that quickly. Even if Trump were indicted by mid-terms, the Republicans have invested so much energy into delegitimizing rule of law it’s not clear it would sway Fox viewers or even independent voters.

I can’t tell you whether DOJ will indict Trump. I can tell you that if they do, it will not come in time to be the one thing that saves democracy.

And so, because I believe the panicked hand-wringing is about the least productive way to save democracy, I made a list. Here are ten way that TV lawyers could better spend their time than whinging that Merrick Garland hasn’t indicted Donald Trump yet:

  1. Counter the propaganda effort to treat the Jan 6 defendants as martyrs.
  2. Explain how brown and black defendants actually faced worse conditions in the DC jail — and have complained with no results for years.
  3. Explain how DOJ has lost cases against white terrorists (including on sedition charges) in the past.
  4. Describe what really goes into an indictment, what kind of evidence is required, how long it takes, and the approvals that are needed to help people understand what to really expect.
  5. Emphasize the prosecutions/charges/investigations that have or are occurring.
  6. Describe the damage done by Trump’s pardons.
  7. Describe the way that even loyal Trumpsters will be and have been harmed as he corrupts the rule of law.
  8. Focus on the efforts of Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson to undercut the investigation into Project Veritas’ suspected theft of Ashely Biden’s diary
  9. Explain how shoddy John Durham’s indictments are.
  10. Focus on the legal threats to democracy in the states.

Counter the propaganda effort to treat the Jan 6 defendants as martyrs

Whether or not Trump is ever charged with crimes related to January 6, the right wing noise machine has already kicked into gear trying to make it harder to prosecute other culprits for the January 6 riot. They’ve done so by falsely claiming:

  • The event was just a protest like the protests of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, a claim DOJ already debunked, in part by showing that the Kavanaugh protestors who briefly halted his confirmation hearing had been legally admitted.
  • They’re being treated more harshly than those who used violence at BLM or Portland protests. DOJ has submitted multiple filings showing that such claims are based on cherry-picked data that ignore the state charges many of these defendants face, the better quality of evidence against Jan 6ers (in part because they bragged about their actions on social media), and the more heinous goal of the protest involved.
  • Large numbers of non-violent January 6 are being held in pretrial detention. In reality, the overwhelming majority of those detained were charged either in a militia conspiracy or for assaulting cops. The exceptions to this rule are generally people (like Brandon Fellows or Thomas Robertson) who violated pretrial release conditions. Additionally, a good number of those accused of assaulting cops have been released.
  • January 6 defendants are subjected to especially onerous treatment in jail. Many of the conditions they’re complaining about are COVID restrictions imposed on all detainees (though often more restrictive for those who, like a lot of January 6 defendants, choose not to get vaccinated). And in an inspection triggered by January 6 defendant Christopher Worrell’s complaints, the Marshals determined that the other part of the DC jail violated Federal standards, though the part in which the Jan 6ers are held did not.
  • January 6 defendants are just patriots trying to save the country. In reality, of course, these people were attempting to invalidate the legal votes of 81 million Americans.

Again, all these claims are easily shown to be false. But far too many people with a platform are allowing them to go unanswered, instead complaining that DOJ is not doing enough to defend the rule of law. This sustained effort to turn the Jan 6ers into martyrs will achieve real hold unless it is systematically countered.

Explain how brown and black defendants actually faced worse conditions in the DC jail — and have complained with no results for years

As noted above, after Proud Boy assault defendant Worrell complained about the treatment he received in DC jail, the Marshals conducted a snap inspection. They discovered that the older part of the DC jail, one housing other detainees but not Jan 6ers, did not meet Federal standards and have started transferring those detainees to a prison in Pennsylvania.

What has gotten far less attention is that problems with the DC jail have been known for decades. Even though the problems occasionally have gotten passing attention, in general it has been allowed to remain in the inadequate condition the Marshals purportedly discovered anew because a white person complained.

This is an example, then, when a white person has claimed himself to be the victim when, in fact, it’s yet another example of how brown and black people have less access to justice than similarly situated white people.

This development deserves focused attention, most of all because it is unjust. But such attention will flip the script that Jan 6ers are using in an attempt to get sympathy from those who don’t understand the truth.

Explain how DOJ has lost cases against white terrorists (including on sedition charges) in the past

There’s a lot of impatience that DOJ hasn’t simply charged January 6 defendants with sedition or insurrection.

Thus far, DOJ has chosen to use a less inflammatory and more flexible statute, obstruction, instead. Obstruction comes with enhancements — for threatening violence or especially obstructive behavior — that DOJ has used to tailor sentencing recommendations.

The wisdom of this approach will soon be tested, as several DC Judges weigh challenges to the application of the statute. If the application is overturned, it’s unclear whether DOJ will charge something else, like sedition, instead.

But DOJ probably chose their current approach for very good reason: because sedition is harder to prove than obstruction, and in the past, white terrorists have successfully beaten such charges. That’s true for a lot of reasons, partly because the absence of a material support statute makes association with a right wing terrorist group harder to prosecute.

A cable personality whom I have great respect for — NBC’s Barb McQuade — knows this as well as anyone, as she was US Attorney when a sedition conspiracy case against the Hutaree collapsed. In that case, DOJ had trouble proving that defendants wanted to overthrow the US government, the kind of evidentiary claim that DOJ will face in January 6 trials, even as currently charged.

There are real challenges to prosecuting white terrorism. Some education on this point would alleviate some of the impatience about the charging decisions DOJ has made.

Describe what really goes into an indictment, what kind of evidence is required, how long it takes, and the approvals that are needed to help people understand what to really expect

In the period between the time Steve Bannon was referred to DOJ for contempt and the time he was charged, a number of commentators used the delay to explain what it takes to get an indictment (against a high profile political figure) that stands a chance of work; one good example is this column by Joyce Vance.

There have been and are numerous examples of similar delays — the Tom Barrack indictment and the Rudy Giuliani Special Master review are two — that offer similar teaching opportunities about the process and protections involved in indicting someone.

Due process takes time. And yet in an era of instant gratification, few people understand why that’s the case. If we’re going to defend due process even while trying to defend our democracy, more education about what due process involves would temper some of the panic.

Emphasize the prosecutions/charges/investigations against Trump that have or are occurring

Given the din calling for prosecution of Donald Trump, you’d think none of his associates had been prosecuted. As Teri Kanefield noted the other day, it would be far better if, instead of saying Trump had suffered no consequences for his actions, there was some focus instead on where he had.

Trump’s business is currently under indictment with multiple investigations into it ongoing. His charity was shut down and fined for self-dealing. Trump’s Inauguration Committee will be civilly tried for paying above market rates to Trump Organization.

His Campaign Manager, his National Security Advisor, his Coffee Boy, his Rat-Fucker, and one of his personal lawyers were found guilty of lying to cover up what really happened with Russia in 2016. Several of these men (as well as a top RNC donor) also admitted they were secretly working for frenemy countries, including (in Mike Flynn’s case), while receiving classified briefings as Trump’s top national security aide. Trump’s biggest campaign donor, Tom Barrack, is being prosecuted for using the access he purchased to Trump to do the bidding of the Emirates. Another of Trump’s personal lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, is under investigation for the same crime, secretly working for another country while claiming to represent the interests of the President of the United States.

The sheer scale of this is especially breathtaking when you consider the projection the GOP has — successfully — focused on Hunter Biden for similar crimes. Even with years of effort and help from Russia, the GOP has not yet been able to prove that the President’s son’s influence peddling or potential tax accounting violated the law. Yet the GOP continues to focus on him relentlessly, even as the long list of Republicans who admit to the same crime continues to grow.

Trump has already proven to be the most corrupt president in some time, possibly ever. And instead of relentless messaging about that, Democrats are complaining about Merrick Garland.

Describe the damage done by Trump’s pardons

One reason why it’s hard to focus on all those criminal prosecutions is because Trump pardoned his way out of it. With the exception of Michael Cohen and Rick Gates, all the people who lied to cover up his Russian ties were pardoned, as was Steve Bannon and others who personally benefitted Trump.

Perhaps because these pardons happened in the wake of January 6, Trump avoided some of the shame he might otherwise have experienced for these pardons. But for several reasons, there should be renewed attention to them.

That’s true, for starters, because Trump’s pardons put the entire country at risk. By pardoning Eddie Gallagher for war crimes, for example, the US risks being treated as a human rights abuser by international bodies. The military faces additional disciplinary challenges. And those who cooperated against Gallagher effectively paid a real cost for cooperating against him only to see him escape consequences.

Paul Manafort’s pardon is another one that deserves renewed attention. That’s true not just because the pardon ended up halting the forfeiture that otherwise would have paid for the Mueller investigation, the cost of which right wingers claimed to care about. It’s true because Trump has basically dismissed the import of industrial scale tax cheating (even while right wingers insinuate that Hunter Biden might have made one error on his taxes). And finally, it’s true because Trump made an affirmative choice that a guy who facilitated Russia’s effort to undermine democracy in 2016, sharing information directly with someone deemed to be a Russian spy, should not be punished for his actions.

Finally, there should be renewed attention on what Trump got for his pardons. Did Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn pay central roles in January 6 in exchange for a pardon?

The US needs some means to prohibit such self-serving pardons like Trump pursued. But in the meantime, there needs to be some effort to shame Trump for relying on such bribes to stay out of prison himself.

Describe the way that even loyal Trumpsters will be and have been harmed as he corrupts the rule of law

Donald Trump pardoned Steve Bannon for defrauding a bunch of Trump loyalists. According to very recent reporting, Sidney Powell is under investigation (and being abandoned by her former allies) on suspicion she defrauded the thousands of Trump supporters who sent money to support her election conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party continues to dump money into protecting Trump for his own crimes, even as Republicans lose races that could have benefitted from the money.

However, some RNC members and donors accused the party of running afoul of its own neutrality rules and misplacing its priorities. Some of these same officials who spoke to CNN also questioned why the party would foot the legal bills of a self-professed billionaire who was sitting on a $102 million war chest as recently as July and has previously used his various political committees to cover legal costs. According to FEC filings from August, the former President’s Make America Great Again committee has paid Jones Day more than $37,000 since the beginning of the year, while his Make America Great

Again super PAC has paid a combined $7.8 million to attorneys handling his lawsuits related to the 2020 election.

“This is not normal. Nothing about this is normal, especially since he’s not only a former President but a billionaire,” said a former top RNC official.

“What does any of this have to do with assisting Republicans in 2022 or preparing for the 2024 primary?” the official added.

Bill Palatucci, a national committeeman from New Jersey, said the fact that the RNC made the payments to Trump’s attorneys in October was particularly frustrating given his own plea to party officials that same month for additional resources as the New Jersey GOP sought to push Republican Jack Ciattarelli over the finish line in his challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

“We sure as heck could have used $121,000,” Palatucci told CNN.

Loyal Trumpsters are the victim of one after another grift, and that should be emphasized to make it clear who is really taking advantage of them.

And one after another former Trump loyalist get themselves in their own legal trouble. One of the messages Michael Cohen tried to share in his testimony before going to prison was that “if [other Republicans] follow blindly, like I have,” they will end up like he did, going to prison. Hundreds of January 6 defendants — some of whom imagined they, too, might benefit from Trump’s clemency (they still might, but they’ll have to wait) — are learning Cohen’s lesson the hard way.

Kleptocracy only benefits those at the top. And yet Trump’s supporters continue to aggressively pursue policies that will make the US more of a kleptocracy.

It’s fairly easy to demonstrate the damage degrading rule of law in exchange for a kleptocracy is. Except average people aren’t going to understand that unless high profile experts make that case.

Focus on the efforts of Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson to undercut the investigation into Project Veritas’ suspected theft of Ashely Biden’s diary

The Project Veritas scandal remains obscure and may never amount to charges against PV itself. Yet even as it has become clear that DOJ is investigating theft, key Republicans Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson are trying to shut down the investigation into that theft. Chuck Grassley’s efforts to do so are particularly noxious given that a long-term staffer of his, Barbara Ledeen, is a sometime co-conspirator of Project Veritas.

Republicans have undermined legitimate investigations into Trump, over and over, with little pushback from the press. This is an example where it would seem especially easy to inflict a political cost (especially since Grassley is up for re-election next year).

It would be far more useful, in defending rule of law, to impose political costs on undermining the investigations that commentators are demanding from DOJ than it is to complain (incorrectly) that such investigations aren’t happening. Merrick Garland (however imperfect) is not the enemy of rule of law here, Jim Jordan is.

Explain how shoddy John Durham’s indictments are

One of the complaints that David Rothkopf made in the column that kicked off my latest bout of impatience with the hand-wringing about Garland complained that Garland “is letting” Durham charge those who raise concerns about Trump’s ties to Russia, even while (Rothkopf assumes) ignoring Trump’s own efforts to obstruct the investigation.

We have seen that Garland is letting the highly politicized investigation of special prosecutor John Durham into the conduct of the Trump-Russia investigation continue (by continuing its funding). We therefore have the real prospect that those who sought to look into the Trump-Russia ties that both Mueller and Congressional investigations have demonstrated were real, unprecedented and dangerous might be prosecuted while those who actively sought the help of a foreign enemy to win an election will not be.

As I have noted, both of Durham’s indictments have been shoddy work, hanging charges on Twitter rants and other hearsay evidence.

And while there was some worthwhile criticism of the Michael Sussmann indictment (perhaps because he’s well-connected in DC), Democrats seem to take Durham’s word that Igor Danchenko — and not Christopher Steele or Russian disinformation — is responsible for the flaws in the dossier. Perhaps as a result, the legal experts who could point out how ridiculous it is to rely on a Twitter feed for a key factual claim have remained silent.

With such silence, it is not (just) Garland who “is letting [Duram’s] highly politicized investigation” continue unchecked, but also the experts whose criticism could do something to rein him in.

If the investigation is politicized — and it is — then Durham is a far more appropriate target than Garland.

Focus on the legal threats to democracy in the states

There has, admittedly, been deserved focus on the ways Republicans are chipping away at democratic representation in the states.

But that is where the battle for democracy is being fought. And in most of the states where Trump attempted to undermine the 2020 election, there are follow-on legal issues, whether it’s the investigation into the suspected voting machine theft in Colorado (including into a former campaign manager for Lauren Boebert), a seemingly related investigation in Ohio, or the effort to criminalize efforts to ease voting by seniors during the pandemic in Wisconsin.

Republicans are trying to criminalize democracy. That makes it all the more important to ensure that the call for rule of law remains laser focused on the criminal efforts to cheat to win, if for no other reason than to shame those involved.

The threat to democracy is undoubtedly grave. Republicans are deploying their considerable propaganda effort into legitimizing that attack on democracy (even while suggesting Biden has committed the kind of graft that Trump engaged in non-stop, classic projection).

In the face of that unrelenting effort, expert commentators who support democracy have a choice: They can defend the rule of law and shame those who have denigrated it, or they can spend their time complaining about the guy trying, however imperfectly, to defend it himself. The latter will make Garland less able to do his job, the former will help him do whatever he is willing and able to do.

Update: Added “suspected” to the PV bullet.