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More Irregularities with the Andrew McCabe Notes: Bleg for Graphic Design Analysis

The Andrew McCabe notes just certified on Monday as a regular FBI document have at least four and, I think, more irregularities. This kind of graphic analysis is not my forté, so I’m going to just post what I think the irregularities are, and invite some people who are better at this to test my hypotheses.

Here’s an annotated version of the McCabe notes (here’s the original). Below, I’ll describe what I think I’m seeing.

A: The left-hand rule of the notebook at the top of the page appears not to line up with the left-hand rule at the bottom of the page. To be sure, I’ve just sketched this up, and it’s the observation I’m the least confident in, so please check my work. [Note: This may arise from copying the notebook.] Update: a reader has convinced me I’m wrong about this — see below.

B: There’s a non-horizontal line drawn to the margin to the left of where the first big redaction begins. Below it, the horizontal page rules don’t appear for about nine lines.

C: As noted here, the footer reading, “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER,” has been redacted. It would be restored in the re-altered version authenticated on Monday.

D: As DOJ has now admitted, someone — and DOJ has not told Judge Emmet Sullivan what government agent it was — added a date. DOJ claimed this was done with a clear sticky with a blue tab, but there’s no sign of the blue tab. Moreover, when the document was re-altered to remove the date, that was accomplished by digitally whiting it out (not the technical term!), leaving a clean white rectangle with no rules.

E: This document has no declassification stamp. The larger redaction here, by topic, must hide notes from a prep session for the World Wide Global Threats hearing that would be held on May 11, 2017. It is, by definition, classified (indeed, that’s presumably the claimed reason for the redaction). And yet there is no declassification stamp for the document. The Peter Strzok notes released in the same batch have declassification stamps dated September 17 and 21.

This document got released after a dispute between McCabe and the FBI about whether he can access his own notes. After the Senate Judiciary Committee promised Andrew McCabe he could review his notes before testifying before the committee in early September, and after McCabe’s lawyer Michael Bromwich engaged in what he believed to be a good faith discussion about obtaining those documents on September 15, on September 16, FBI told the Committee that the request was “unmanageably voluminous;” the Committee passed that determination onto McCabe’s team. On September 18, McCabe’s lawyers worked with FBI’s OGC to narrow the request. One thing FBI lawyers were balking at, categorically, was providing McCabe’s calendars. In addition, they complained that if McCabe reviewed his own notes, he would have access to material beyond Crossfire Hurricane materials (as this page has). On September 23 — the day this document was provided to Flynn’s lawyers by DOJ, according to discovery correspondence — FBI for the first time raised a categorical objection, stating that, the FBI “has a policy of generally not providing documents to former employees and does not see a basis to make an exception to that policy under these circumstances.”

If McCabe had access to his own notes and calendar, he would be able to tell whether this document has been altered beyond the date addition. On the day DOJ sent it out, they decided that McCabe could not be provided access to any of his own notes or calendars so he could provide accurate testimony to Congress.

Update: I have a request for comment from FBI’s press office regarding the lack of a declassification stamp.

Update: FBI referred me to DOJ to ask them why FBI’s EAD certified a declassified document that lacked a declassification stamp.

Update: I have asked the Senate Judiciary Committee (which was supposed to have had McCabe testify earlier this month) for their copy of this set of McCabe notes, to see if we can make sense of the document. I am awaiting a response.

Update: A reader with expertise in the area provides these notes anonymously:

A. yes, the tilt with the line (to the left) at top left, normally would be compensated for with less visible binder rings at bottom right. (to which there is more showing) so its backwards.

B. Yes, agree. The line looks like it was hand drawn. And if you zoom in at 400% in the middle of the red box B) you can see an additional line, very faint. Whited out some way.

C. if you zoom in at 400% at the redaction box, it may have been redacted twice. There are two corners at top left, that are not lined up and same issue at lower right. If they were, it would look like one, clean cornered box.

D. the lines on each side of the date are fainter and in the same distance from each other implying that there was some kind of clear sticker put on top with a handwritten date in the center. When scanning light bounces off the sides of any clear plastic tab, mylar etc. and reflects and fades out whatever is next to it.

E. No opinion.

Other observations:

If you zoom in at 400% in between each of the 3 lines at the lower left (just above the redaction box) there are other faint lines, which make no sense.

At the 3 lines above the handwritten text “possible”, it looks like there was some handwritten text there before, the dot patterns resemble writing that was there once upon a time. Can’t prove it. I don’t have iText redaction software to see if that would show editing (it may be capable or may not), but the scanner would also have to have extra dirt on that area, and doesn’t have the same intensity of dot/dirt scatter as the rest of the white spaces on the rest of the page. Same issue under the 3-6 lines under the text “not the strongest”.

Update: A different reader, who also asks to remain anonymous, sends this screencap of the document pulled into Photoshop and darkened, which (the person explains) can show things that aren’t otherwise readily apparent. The person added a ruler which, I think, shows I’m wrong about the left margin. I’ve crossed out that observation above accordingly.

DOJ Falsely Claimed that McCabe and Strzok Confirmed that the Content of Their Notes Was Not Altered

I wrote a really long post cataloging all the problems with DOJ’s declaration of authenticity in the Mike Flynn case.

But the most important paragraph in the declaration has an astounding claim: that DOJ — in a declaration signed by Jocelyn Ballantine — affirmed that lawyers for both Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had confirmed that their clients’ notes were not altered. [Emphasis original]

The government acknowledges its obligation to produce true and accurate copies of documents. The government has fully admitted its administrative error with respect to the failure to remove three reviewer sticky notes containing estimated date notations affixed to three pages of undated notes (two belonging to former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and one page belonging to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) prior to their disclosure. These dates were derived from surrounding pages’ dates in order to aid secondary reviewers. These three sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the relevant documents were scanned by the FBI for production in discovery. See ECF 259. The government reiterates, however, that the content of those exhibits was not altered in any way, as confirmed by attorneys for both former FBI employees.

But the declaration and related filings only reflects communication from Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer.

Indeed, in the letter that McCabe’s lawyer sent to the court on October 2, he pointedly said that DOJ had not asked him to confirm the accuracy of its claims about the notes before filing them.

So I asked Michael Bromwich, McCabe’s lawyer, if he agrees with the assertion Ballantine made in yesterday’s filing. He told me he spoke with Ballantine a few weeks ago and doesn’t recall any such discussion.

But when he got an email from her on Sunday at 4PM, asking for him to let her know by 2PM Monday if her transcription was inaccurate, he pointedly declined to do so.

I have spoken with Mr. McCabe and he declines to provide you with any information in response to your request.

He believes DOJ’s conduct in this case is a shocking betrayal of the traditions of the Department of the Justice and undermines the rule of law that he spent his career defending and upholding. If you share with the Court our decision not to provide you with assistance, we ask that you share the reason.

We would of course respond to any request that comes directly from the Court.

That is, Ballantine claimed that Bromwich had affirmatively confirmed this content.

But Bromwich very pointedly refused to do so.

For what it’s worth, I think the content has not been altered, but the redactions do misrepresent the notes. But according to Bromwich, Ballantine made that claim even though he had pointedly refused to confirm the accuracy of the notes or transcription.

Update: And now Strzok says that they didn’t confirm the content either.

That’s more problematic in his case, because there are so many more transcripts.

Update: The same thing happened with Strzok (though his lawyer did alert Ballantine to her docket/exhibit problems I noted in this post).

Ballantine emailed Goelman at 4:05 on Sunday with the same request. He responded at 3:38 PM on Monday, telling her they could not confirm authenticity of these notes without the originals. He also noted that Ken Kohl misrepresented the meaning of one of Strzok’s texts in the hearing before Judge Sullivan.

Sorry not to get back to you until now.  We have looked at the attachments to the email you sent yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  We are unable to certify the authenticity of all of the attachments or the accuracy of the transcriptions.  To do so, we would need both more time and access to the original notes, particularly given that U.S. Attorney Jensen’s team has already been caught altering Pete’s notes in two instances.  However, we do want to call your attention to the fact that Exhibit 198-11 is mislabeled, and that these notes are not the notes of Pete “and another agent” taken during the Flynn interview.

Additionally, we want to register our objection to AUSA Ken Kohl’s material misstatements to Judge Sullivan during the September 29, 2020, 2020, telephonic hearing, during which Mr. Kohl inaccurately represented that Pete viewed himself as an “insurance policy” against President Trump’s election.

So basically both of them refused to affirm that the notes were authentic. But she made the claim anyway.

McCabe Casts Doubt on the Date Added to His Notes, Too

In my coverage of the way DOJ has added dates to undated notes, I’ve always said that I have no reason to believe that the date DOJ added to Andrew McCabe’s notes was erroneous.

Now I do.

In a letter that McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich sent to Judge Sullivan last week, he explains why the May 10, 2017 date added to McCabe’s notes couldn’t be remotely credible. That’s because he was busy cleaning up the Jim Comey firing.

The date “5/10/17” that appears on Exhibit B is not in Mr. McCabe’s handwriting and he did not enter the date that now appears there. Further, contrary to counsel’s claim, Mr. McCabe did not brief the Senate Intelligence Committee on anything on May 10. That was the day after President Trump had fired FBI Director Comey and Mr. McCabe was consumed with various other responsibilities. Mr. McCabe did participate in a public Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing and closed briefing on worldwide threats, along with other intelligence community officials, on May 11. Neither the public hearing nor the secret briefing had anything to do with Mr. Flynn. Counsel did not seek to confirm the accuracy of its claims with Mr. McCabe or us about Mr. McCabe’s notes before filing the Third Supplement.

Update: Bromwich is not saying that the date is not correct. He’s saying that the implication, created by the redaction, that McCabe briefed Flynn to SSCI on May 10, 2017 is incorrect.

These appear to be notes tracking McCabe’s day. The top half, redacted save the time and description, explains that at 5:15 PM on whatever day this was, McCabe was doing World Wide Threat hearing prep.

Then, on the same day but in no way related to it, he reviewed the Flynn case in some way or another.

The redaction also almost certainly splits the Flynn related information in half (note the bracket starting at “closed” and extending well into the redaction).

In any case, nothing in these notes suggest this happened after Comey’s firing, which is the point they’re trying to make of it.

Update: According to McCabe’s book, nothing happened after he attended a WWT prep session on May 10, because that took several hours, he had already been in two draining meetings at the White House that day, and he was pooped.

As the president requested, I went back to the White House that afternoon. When I arrived, at 2 P.M., the bodyguard Keith Schiller came down again and greeted me like I was his buddy, like someone he sees every day—Hey, what’s going on?

[snip]

When I left the Oval Office, I went straight to a prep session at the Bureau. Jim Comey had been preparing for two weeks to testify at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Worldwide Threats Hearing—an annual event where the director of national intelligence and the heads of the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency share their assessments of the most urgent threats to U.S. national security and answer questions from senators about those threats. Preparation for the hearing typically involves a number of lengthy background sessions with staff and a review of hundreds of pages of briefing material; it also requires drafting an official statement for the record.

[snip]

So when I left the Oval Office, I went straight back to a prep session that night. I had been to a lot of these meetings for Comey and Mueller—when I was involved in the prepping. Usually I had been the guy sitting at the right hand of the director, listening to everyone else’s contributions and trying to distill it all into better formulations.

Chiming in when you have a shapely little idea, I quickly discovered, is very different from sitting at the head of the table while a dozen people to your right and left argue the pros and cons of issue after issue, firing ideas and comments at you nonstop—all of which you have to take in while also assessing how those answers will be interpreted and processed by members of Congress, the president, and the media. I had never fully appreciated the complexity of that task. After two and a half hours of this, my tank was full. I had to get some sleep.

The passage makes clear that he had been a part of Comey’s prep before Comey was fired, and that prep had been going on for two weeks. Which suggests that McCabe could have attended a WWT hearing any time in the previous two weeks.

That’s not definitive, of course (though it was almost certainly written with the benefit of McCabe’s notes). But this passage suggests the date is wrong, and the Flynn briefing took place before Comey’s firing.

Andrew McCabe Delays Testimony to SJC, Calling In-Person Testimony a “Grave Safety Risk”

Virtually every book about the FBI or the Mueller investigation that has come out in recent years has described that Andrew McCabe is a superb briefer — meaning, in part, he can present complex issues to a hostile audience clearly. That’s why the reason his attorney, Michael Bromwich, gave for delaying testimony that was scheduled makes a lot of sense.

As a letter Bromwich sent to Lindsey Graham laid out, McCabe agreed to a voluntary interview in September, provided a series of conditions were met. One — that McCabe have access to his unclassified calendars and notes — has already been thwarted by DOJ, which refused to turn them over (as Bromwich laid out in a letter to Michael Horowitz last week, after inventing reasons not to share the materials that might make McCabe’s testimony more useful, FBI admitted they wouldn’t turn them over because of McCabe’s lawsuit against the Bureau).

But another of the conditions was that the testimony be in person. Bromwich noted that Republicans spoke over both Sally Yates and Jim Comey when they earlier testified remotely. “[A] witness answering questions remotely via videoconference is at a distinct disadvantage in answering those questions,” Bromwich wrote. “A fair and appropriate hearing of this kind – which is complex and contentious – simply cannot be conducted other than in person.”

But the COVID outbreak among those who attended the Federalist Society super-spreader event last weekend has made such in-person testimony too dangerous.

Mr. McCabe was still prepared to testify voluntarily and in person on October 6 as recently as the latter part of this past week. However, since that time, it has been reported that at least two members of your Committee – Senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis – have tested positive for Covid-19, and it may well be that other members of the Committee and staff who plan to attend the hearing will test positive between now and then, or may have been exposed to the virus and may be a carrier. Under these circumstances, an in-person hearing carries grave safety risks to Mr. McCabe, me, and senators and staff who would attend.

McCabe is not wrong. There’s abundant reason to distrust Lindsey Graham’s claimed negative test. Mike Lee was haranguing publicly at several public events last week before he was diagnosed. And Chuck Grassley (who has far more mask discipline than his colleagues, but who was unmasked for part of the Comey hearing last week) refuses to be tested.

Still, it’s crazy that SJC has become too dangerous for a regular oversight hearing, but Lindsey still plans to push on with the Supreme Court confirmation process that caused that COVID outbreak.

The Stakes and Misinformation about the Andrew McCabe Declination

Amid the other crazy events of the week, DOJ informed Andrew McCabe he would not be prosecuted as a result of the criminal referral arising from DOJ IG’s finding that he lacked candor when asked about an October 30, 2016 Devlin Barrett story.

While it’s possible the Tuesday Afternoon Massacre and Jessie Liu’s removal had some role in the timing of this notice, one thing is clear: McCabe got notice primarily because Judge Reggie Walton had imposed a deadline in a CREW FOIA to release some transcripts about the stalled decision-making process. Probably, DOJ made the decision last fall after a grand jury refused to charge McCabe, but stalled on giving McCabe notice because DOJ knew it would piss off Trump. But since the court transcripts would reveal some of that, the FOIA deadline finally forced DOJ’s hand.

In the aftermath of the McCabe news, a bunch of frothy Republicans, including Chuck Grassley, have analogized the investigation into McCabe with the investigations into Roger Stone (for conducting a two year cover-up, including making threats against a witness and a judge) and Mike Flynn (for lying multiple times to the FBI, continuing to fudge the truth in the ongoing investigation, and lying to hide that he was on Turkey’s payroll at a time when he was Trump’s top national security advisor). Even taken on their face, that’s a ridiculous comparison, one that dismisses the import of threatening judges and secretly serving as agents for frenemy governments while receiving intelligence briefings. The accusations against the men are different, with a lack of candor allegation against McCabe versus lying against the others, and egregious mitigating factors implicating national security with the others. Whereas grand jury reportedly refused to even charge McCabe, a jury found Stone guilty of every count with which he was charged.

More importantly, the comparison has treated the allegation against McCabe with a seriousness that the underlying record — as laid out in McCabe’s lawsuit against DOJ — does not merit.

And McCabe’s lawsuit may provide a partial explanation for why DOJ stalled so long before declining to prosecute the case. That’s because a key part of DOJ’s defense against McCabe’s lawsuit is that they could or even had to move so quickly to fire McCabe because there was reasonable reason to believe that McCabe had committed a crime for which he could be imprisoned.

Mr. McCabe was given seven days to provide oral and written responses to the notice of proposed removal to ADAG Schools. That response period was a departure from the 30-day response period more frequently provided for a proposed removal. But FBI policy governing the removal of Senior Executive Service (SES) employees provides that “if there is reasonable cause to believe the employee has committed a crime for which a sentence of imprisonment can be imposed, the advance notice may be curtailed to as little as seven days.” FBI SES Policy at 16 (attached as Ex. 2). Given the Inspector General’s findings that Mr. McCabe lacked candor under oath, findings which Assistant Director Will seconded after her independent assessment, there was reasonable cause to believe that Mr. McCabe had committed a crime for which a sentence could be imposed—and, therefore, a sound basis for affording Mr. McCabe seven days to respond.

DOJ has excused their rush to fire McCabe based on having reasonable grounds to believe he could be prosecuted for lies, but the rush to fire McCabe resulted in DOJ ignoring clear evidence that the IG Report was fundamentally flawed in a way that easily explains why a grand jury would refuse to indict. So the lawsuit, if McCabe gets discovery, is likely to show that he was rushed out the door to prevent him from building the case that he was being rushed out the door based on a case riddled with problems.

When the IG Report came out, I found it pretty compelling and therefore the criminal referral understandable (though I did not believe criminal charges would be upheld), even while noting the big push to make that happen before McCabe retired delegitimized it. But now it’s clear that the report didn’t get the normal level of pre- and post-publication review, McCabe’s OPR process was rushed to beat his retirement deadline, and had either of those processes been conducted in the normal fashion, they would have likely caught significant problems with the report.

Indeed, McCabe presented compelling evidence — even in a very rushed written response submitted to OPR hours before Jeff Sessions fired him — that he had at least colorable explanations to rebut the IG Report allegations.

As laid out, the IG Report accused McCabe of lacking candor about two kinds of things: first, whether he had told Comey he was a source for the WSJ story, and what role he and Lisa Page had in the story. Both the middle meetings — May 9, 2017, hours before Comey’s firing and his ascension to Acting Director, and July 28, 2017, in the context of a meeting about the discovery of the Page-Strzok texts — were on two of the most momentous days of McCabe’s career. The other two pertain to whether or not McCabe told Comey about his involvement in the WSJ story, which the IG Report portrayed as a difference of opinion about a casual meeting the two had, about which the IG sided with Comey’s version.

Thus, to a significant degree, the question of McCabe’s candor pivoted on whether he had really told Comey he was involved in the WSJ story.

And, as McCabe alerted OPR before he got fired, the IG Report included no mention of one of the most central players in the October 2016 WSJ story, FBI’s Assistant Director of Public Affairs Michael Kortan, with whom McCabe worked closely on the WSJ story. In other words, the IG Report suffers from the kind of egregious failure to include exculpatory information that it just took FBI to task about in the Carter Page IG Report (which also happens to be true of the Carter Page IG Report generally and its treatment of Bruce Ohr specifically). So when the IG Report sides with Comey’s version of the story because,

no other senior FBI official corroborated McCabe’s testimony that, among FBI executive leadership, “people knew generally” he had authorized the disclosure,

The Report can only make such a claim because it entirely left out the testimony of one of the most central players, Kortan. And as McCabe has made clear, in the OPR adjudication, his team did not get the exculpatory information involving Kortan until two days before the final decision.

Reports of why the grand jury refused to indict have pointed to Kortan’s testimony, and it’s clear why: because his testimony totally undermines the conclusions of the IG Report and therefore any basis to indict him.

Most importantly, McCabe submitted an email showing that he informed Comey (and some of the other senior FBI people whom the IG Report claimed didn’t know he was involved) that he was involved in the WSJ story.

With the declination of McCabe, DOJ has admitted that a key reason they claim to have relied on (a claim McCabe disputes) on rushing McCabe’s firing is false: he’s not likely to face prison time, because a grand jury won’t even indict him. And that may increase the chances that McCabe will get to prove precisely why he was rushed out the door with Trump screaming about him all the way.