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Bill Barr Complains that His Special Counsel Was Unable to Match Robert Mueller’s Record of Success

Even before the Igor Danchenko trial, Billy Barr declared victory in defeat — arguing that if John Durham could just “fill in a lot of the blanks as to what was really happening,” the inevitable acquittal would still give Durham an opportunity to spin fairy tales about what Durham imagines happened.

“What these cases show is that these are difficult cases to win,” Barr said. “There’s a reason it takes so long, and you have to build up the evidence because at the end of the day, you’re going before these juries that aren’t going to be disposed to side with the people they view as supporting Trump.”

Danchenko is slated to go on trial next month on charges of lying to the FBI about the Steele dossier, for which he was the main source. The dossier claimed that Trump and members of his campaign and company had established extensive ties to the Russian government and had colluded during the 2016 election.

The trial is widely expected to be the final criminal prosecution from Durham’s investigation before he submits a report of his findings to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But despite Durham’s limited success in the courtroom, Barr defended the investigation he ordered, saying the courtroom was allowing Durham to establish a record of what had occurred with the so-called Russiagate investigation.

“I think Durham got out a lot of important facts that fill in a lot of the blanks as to what was really happening,” Barr said. “My expectation is … the Danchenko trial will also allow for a lot of this story to be told, whether or not he’s ultimately convicted. I hope he’s convicted, but if he isn’t, I still think it provides an avenue to tell the story of what happened.”

Like an obedient puppy, Durham did use the trial as an opportunity to get extraneous details into the public record. On top of the $1 million dollar offer that Brian Auten said, vaguely, Christopher Steele might have gotten if he had corroborated the dosser — which has been treated like an FBI attempt to bribe a source for dirt on Trump and as the most exonerating possible detail, rather than an effort to investigate a real threat to the country — Durham went out of his way to give the full names of people at various meetings so Carter Page and Donald Trump can add them to lawsuits.

Mind you, along the way, the trial also revealed the FBI’s own assessment of Danchenko’s cooperation, which contributed to 25 investigations and which Barr burned to a crisp by exposing him, with Lindsey Graham’s help, as a source in 2020.

Q. And you were concerned, in July of 2020, when you became aware that Attorney General Barr was going to release a redacted version of Mr. Danchenko’s interview in January of 2017?

A. Yes.

Q. You were upset about that?

A. I was.

Q. You found out about that during a telephone conference, right?

A. I did.

Q. And you disagreed with that decision?

A. I did.

Q. The OIG had already completed a report on that investigation, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And you thought that the release of that document was dangerous?

A. Yes.

Q. You even wrote up a memo of that phone call you were on in July of 2020 where you learned that they were going to publish a redacted version of his interview, correct?

A. I did.

[snip]

Q. And within an hour of Mr. Danchenko’s January interview being released to the senate judiciary committee, the senate judiciary committee, I won’t say who, released it to the public?

A. They did.

[snip]

Q. So, Agent Helson, you wrote in October of 2020 that from 2017 until present day, Mr. Danchenko had provided information on at least 25 FBI investigations assigned to at least six field offices?

A. Correct.

Q. In addition, he aided the United States Government by introducing the United States Government to a sub-source who had provided additional information separate to his report, correct?

A. Correct.

[snip]

Q. And it’s noted that he — his reporting contributed to at least 25 active FBI investigations.

[snip]

Q. In July of 2020 his identity became public after the release of the redacted version of his interview in January of 2017. Since that public disclosure, he has received threatening messages via social media and email. It’s resulted in significant damage to his reputation from false and baseless claims aimed to undermine his credibility. Those are your words, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. The Washington Field Office had assessed that this will have negative ramifications with respect to his ability to provide for his family via personal income for the foreseeable future, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And while the FBI cannot promise complete anonymity to anyone who provides information, his identity became public only after the decision was made to release the redacted version of his interview, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. As a result of that act, his ability to continue to provide information viable to the FBI is diminished as is his ability to provide financial support to his family.

After the trial, Barr has been spending time on Fox News declaring — as much of the frothy right has — that this record, of how he deliberately harmed national security for revenge, exposed the corruption of what Barr calls “Russiagate,” the moniker frothers use to distract from the real substance of the Russian investigation.

I was disappointed, obviously. I think they did a good job prosecuting the case. Their ability to put evidence on, in a very difficult case, was limited by some rulings, and they weren’t able to get access to some witnesses overseas. So it was a tough — it was a tough case, so this should show people that it’s hard to win these cases, and sometimes it takes time to … to achieve justice. But as people say — I think Andy McCarthy said — the real public interest being served here was exposing the full extent of the corruption that was involved in Russiagate [sic] and the abuse by the FBI in that whole episode. And I think Durham is going to get a report out that’s gonna lay out all the facts.

Barr and everyone else are pointing to the exposures they and Durham made to justify their actions because they didn’t have evidence to support their claims.

Barr is whining that getting false statements convictions is hard. But Robert Mueller was able to prove that:

  • Alex Van der Zwaan lied to cover up his efforts, in conjunction with Konstantin Kilimnik and Rick Gates, to cover up Manafort’s effort to spin Ukraine’s politicized Yulia Tymoshenko prosecution during the 2016 election
  • George Papadopoulos lied to cover up his advance knowledge of the Russian effort to help Trump
  • Mike Flynn lied to cover up his back channel calls with Sergei Kislyak to undermine Obama Administration policy (and also that he was a paid agent of Turkey during the campaign)
  • Michael Cohen lied to hide the secret negotiations he had directly with the Kremlin about an impossibly lucrative real estate deal
  • Paul Manafort conspired to cover up a front organization he set up with Konstantin Kilimnik and (at a preponderance of the evidence standard) lied to cover up his August 2016 meeting with Kilimnik
  • Roger Stone lied and intimidated Randy Credico to cover up his real back channel to the Russian operation

I mean, Robert Mueller had no problem getting convictions, whether from guilty pleas, jury verdicts, or (in the case of Manafort’s lies about the August 2, 2016 meeting) a judge’s ruling.

One reason he had no problem was that these defendants were generally guilty of a lot more than just lying. It’s a lot easier to get Flynn to admit he lied about his back channel discussions with the Russian Ambassador, after all, when he was also on the hook for secretly being an agent of Turkey. It’s lot easier to get Papadopoulos to admit he lied about his advance warning of the Russian operation when he’s trying to stave off foreign agent charges tied to Israel. It’s a lot easier to get a jury verdict against Stone when he spent months plotting out his lies with multiple people on emails.

Mueller wasn’t able to get false statement verdicts from everyone, mind you. For example, because Steve Bannon and Erik Prince deleted their texts from early January 2017, Mueller did not charge them for false statements made to cover up meetings to set up a back channel with UAE and Russia. That’s one lesson that Durham should have taken to heart: Absent the mobile app records from Sergei Millian and Igor Danchenko, he had no way of knowing whether Millian called Danchenko on July 26, 2016.

That’s not the only evidentiary complaint Barr makes here. He’s complaining that Durham was unable to get hearsay admitted against Danchenko. He’s angry that Durham was not permitted to introduce Millian’s wild Twitter boasts as evidence without requiring Millian to show up and make those claims under oath. And he’s complaining that Durham wasn’t able to introduce his pee tape conspiracies without charging it.

But the most alarming of the former Attorney General’s statements — before and after the trial — embrace the notion that it is a proper goal of failed prosecutions to expose information that does not rise to the level of criminality.

As I’ll show in a follow-up, the Durham fiasco is part of a piece of Barr’s larger actions, both his other failed prosecutions — most notably, that of Greg Craig — but also his efforts to undo the convictions for which there was no reasonable doubt of guilt.

It’s not enough to talk about Durham’s unprecedented failure … it’s not enough to note that Durham and his prosecutors repeatedly failed to take basic investigative steps before embracing and charging conspiracy theories that juries didn’t buy … it’s not enough to note how, in an attempt to prove those conspiracy theories, Durham and his prosecutors and abused the prosecutorial system.

Durham’s entire project is a continuation of Barr’s unprecedented politicization of DOJ, one that not only places Republicans attempting to secretly work for hostile nations above the law, but that has made the country far less safe in many other ways.

It’s not just Durham prosecuted two men without any real hope of winning conviction, all to expose things that aren’t crimes. It’s that Billy Barr hired him to do just that.

DOJ Has at Least One Card Left to Play: Congress’ Instinct for Self-Preservation

Last night, Trump and DOJ submitted their competing plans for a Special Master to Judge Aileen Cannon. As I laid out, Trump’s plan is a transparent effort to stall the entire investigation for at least three months, and after that to bottle up documents he stole — those with classified markings and those without — at NARA, where he’ll launch new legal fights in DC to prevent further access.

Judge Cannon has ordered Trump to weigh in on the government’s motion for a partial stay of her order, asking her to permit the investigative team access to any documents marked as classified, by 10AM on Monday. Trump will object for the same insane logic he gave in his Special Master proposal: That if he can get a private citizen Special Master to override the government’s classification determination, then he can declare the documents — even Agency documents that would be government, not Presidential Records — part of his own records at NARA.

Because Trump didn’t share his choices until after close of business day on Friday, both sides also have to inform her what they think of the other’s Special Master suggestions — Barbara Jones (who was Special Master for the review of both Rudy Giuliani’s and Michael Cohen’s devices) and retired George W. Bush appellate judge Thomas Griffith for the government, and retired EDNY and FISC judge Raymond Dearie and GOP partisan lawyer Paul Huck Jr for Trump — on Monday.

Then, if Cannon has not relented on the investigative side for documents marked as classified by Thursday, DOJ will ask for a stay of that part of her decision from the 11th Circuit, pending the rest of their appeal (the scope of which remains unknown and may depend on her other decisions this week).

Cannon’s decision on whether to permit investigators to access the documents marked as classified may provide the government leverage over the Special Master choice, which could create new bases for appeal. None of the choices for Special Master are known to be cleared, much less at the TS/SCI levels that would be needed to review the documents Trump stole, though Dearie, who was on FISC as recently as 2019, surely would be easily cleared as such.

That doesn’t matter for the government’s preferred approach. The Special Master won’t get any known classified document under their approach.

They would, however, under Trump’s approach (which more closely matches Cannon’s current order). And so DOJ will have to agree to give clearance to whatever person ends up as Special Master under the Trump plan.

The same Supreme Court precedent that undergirds all these arguments about classification authority, Navy v. Egan, is specifically a ruling about the Executive’s authority to grant or deny clearances. The government could deny any of the proposed Special Masters clearance — and might well do so, to deny Huck access. Likewise, the government might well deny Trump’s lawyers (at least Evan Corcoran, who is likely either a witness or subject of the obstruction side of the investigation) clearance for such a review as well.

So if Cannon doesn’t grant the government’s motion for a stay, then she effectively gives the government several more levers over her control of the Special Master process.

She probably doesn’t give a damn.

There are two other developments we might expect this week, though.

First, last Wednesday, DOJ asked and Chief Judge Beryl Howell granted permission to unseal the parts of the search warrant affidavit mentioning the same two grand jury subpoenas that she unsealed for mention in DOJ’s response to Trump’s Special Master motion. (I’m looking for the person I owe a hat-tip to this for.) Since receiving that permission, DOJ has not yet gone back to Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to request further unsealing of the affidavit; there’s not even the tell-tale sealed filings in the docket that ended up being prior such requests.

If and when DOJ does ask for further unsealing, it might reveal more information about Trump’s actions — and, importantly for the question of who can be cleared for the Special Master review, Evan Corcoran’s. There are several entirely redacted paragraphs that likely tell what happened in response to the May 11 subpoena. There’s also a likely detailed discussion of the probable cause that Trump — and others — obstructed the investigation, some of which could be unsealed with mention of the surveillance video.

The government response before Cannon didn’t address the evidence of obstruction (or the June 24 subpoena) in much detail. Simply unsealing references of that subpoena in the affidavit might provide more damning information about Trump’s efforts to hide classified documents from DOJ.

More importantly, on Tuesday, the House returns from August recess. It’ll be the first time since the search that both houses of Congress are in town. And in their Motion for a Stay, the government noted (and Judge Cannon did not object) that it did not understand Cannon’s order to prohibit a briefing to “Congressional leaders with intelligence oversight responsibilities.”

5 The government also does not understand the Court’s Order to bar DOJ, FBI, and ODNI from briefing Congressional leaders with intelligence oversight responsibilities regarding the classified records that were recovered. The government similarly does not understand the Order to restrict senior DOJ and FBI officials, who have supervisory responsibilities regarding the criminal investigation, from reviewing those records in preparation for such a briefing.

This seems to telegraph that DOJ plans to brief the Gang of Eight — which includes Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Turner, Chuck Schumer, Mark Warner, Mitch McConnell, and Marco Rubio — about what documents Trump stole, possibly this week. Turner and to a lesser degree Rubio have been demanding such a briefing.

And at a minimum, after such a briefing you’d see everyone run to the press and express their opinions about the gravity of Trump’s actions. Because neither DOJ nor Aileen Cannon can prevent these members of Congress from sharing details about these briefings (especially if they’re not classified), you should be unsurprised everyone to provide details of what Trump stole.

That might devolve into a matter of partisan bickering. But two things might moderate such bickering. First, Marco Rubio is on the ballot in November, and Val Demings has already criticized his knee-jerk defense of Trump.

Just as importantly, Mitch McConnell, who badly would like to prevent Democrats from expanding their majority in the Senate and just as badly would like the MAGA Republicans to go away, really doesn’t want to spend the next two months dodging questions about Trump’s crimes.

If not for Trump’s demand for a Special Master, DOJ likely would have put its head down and mentioned nothing of this investigation until after the election. But by demanding one — and by making such unreasonable requests — Trump has ensured that the investigation into his suspected violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction will dominate the news for at least a few more weeks.

Even if DOJ doesn’t brief the Gang of Eight, even if that doesn’t lead to damning new details and recriminations from being made public, the public nature of the Special Master fight will suck all the oxygen out of the next few weeks of campaign season, at least, just as it contributed to Joe Biden enjoying one of the most positive mid-term Augusts for any President in the last half-century.

But if new specifics about Trump’s negligence and efforts to obstruct the investigation are made public, then November’s election will be precisely what Republicans are trying to avoid it being: not just a response to the Dobbs ruling overturning protection for abortion access, but a referendum on the way Republicans have sacrificed American security in their fealty to Donald Trump.

Aileen Cannon Calls an Investigation into “What’s Literally a Stolen Diary” … “Politicized”

This is a minor point, but one that deserves more attention. Plus, I plan to use it in future posts about the unlawful assault on property rights that Judge Aileen Cannon has mounted in her opinion appointing a Special Master to stall the investigation into Donald Trump’s suspected theft of classified documents.

In a footnote of her opinion, Judge Cannon pointed to the Special Master appointed in the Project Veritas case as a precedent of a judge (Analisa Torres, in this case), appointing a Special Master “in politicized circumstances.”

Moreover, at least one other court has authorized additional independent review for attorney-client privilege outside of the law firm context, in politicized circumstances. See In re Search Warrant dated November 5, 2021, No. 21-Misc-813, 2021 WL 5845146, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2021) (appointing a special master to conduct review of materials seized from the homes of employees of Project Veritas for potentially attorney-client privileged materials).

To be fair, I kept waiting for Trump’s lawyers to raise this precedent (though not for the principle Cannon did).

But they didn’t.

Not in the original complaint (in which they relied heavily on the Lynne Stewart and Michael Cohen precedent). Not in their supplement (in which they added the Rudy precedent to those they relied on). Similarly, it didn’t come up in the hearing (in which Rudy featured prominently).

This was Judge Cannon going out of her way to find what she believed was a precedent on her own, one that she said supported an, “independent review for attorney-client privilege outside of the law firm context, in politicized circumstances.” But the opinion isn’t about attorney-client privilege. It was, explicitly, about press privileges.

In light of the potential First Amendment concerns that may be implicated by the review of the materials seized from Petitioners, the Court finds that the appointment of a special master will “help[] to protect the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.”

The opinion further holds there is no basis of law to do what Cannon did–intervene because of leaks (more on the leaks Cannon made up later).

Project Veritas and O’Keefe request that the Court order the Government to conduct a search for alleged leaks related to the Government’s investigation. O’Keefe Mot. II at 1. Petitioners do not provide a legal basis for their request or allege that the Government violated any specific rule, law, or policy

Crazier still, there’s no mention in the opinion, at all, about politics.

Nor should there be. This is a case about theft. We know it’s about theft because the two people who’ve already pled guilty in the case acknowledged it in real time (and pled guilty to transporting stolen goods across state lines).

They are in a sketchy business and here they are taking what’s literally a stolen diary and info . . . and trying to make a story that will ruin [the Victim’s] life and try and effect the election. [The Victim] can easily be thinking all her stuff is there and not concerned about it. .  . we have to tread even more carefully and that stuff needs to be gone through by us and if anything worthwhile it needs to be turned over and MUST be out of that house.

We know, too, that it’s not just about a stolen diary. In addition to the diary (which by the way included Ms. Biden’s extensive accounts of her own addiction treatment, the most personal kind of medical record), the thieves stole,

tax records, a digital camera, a digital storage card containing private family photographs, a cellphone, books, clothing, and luggage.

Aileen Cannon believes that the investigation of this theft — the culprits have admitted it!! — is politicized.

Presumably Aileen Cannon believes an investigation into stolen property must be about politics because she believes James O’Keefe’s claim that this was an investigation started under Joe Biden. Had she done as much work to fact-check O’Keefe as she did to find precedents for Trump, though, she would know that this investigation was not started under Joe Biden.

It was started under Donald Trump.

The first call records in this investigation were obtained in November 2020, while Bill Barr was Attorney General (under Merrick Garland, such a step might have required the AG’s approval, but Barr was less interested in such protections). The first warrant targeting people purporting to play the role of journalists was obtained on January 14, 2021. That one, I imagine, did require Main DOJ approval, hopefully even from then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Aileen Cannon argues that the investigation started under Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen into the theft — this is not contested! — of things including medical and tax records is politicized, mostly because the victim is the current President’s daughter.

Effectively, then, Judge Cannon is arguing that private citizen Ashley Biden can have no recourse for when someone literally steals her medical and tax records, but Trump must have special judicial interference to prevent the FBI taking medical and tax records in the process of investigating 11,000 stolen records.

Trump’s Timid (Non-Legal) Complaints about Attorney-Client Privilege

Yesterday, I observed that the FBI gave the former President two different receipts for the search on his golf resort.

There’s the one consisting of five boxes and a separate category, “Documents,” not associated with any boxes, signed by the Supervisory Special Agent. There are no classified documents described. I’ll refer to that as the SSA Receipt in this post.

Then there’s the one that consists of 27 items, mostly boxes, many with sub-items, which are often descriptions of the kinds of classified documents contained in the box or the leather case they were seized in. It was signed by a Special Agent. I’ll refer to that as the CLASS Receipt in this post.

I suggested that one explanation for providing Trump two separate receipts might be if the SSA receipt covered evidence showing Trump violated 18 USC 1519, destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations, and the CLASS receipt covered evidence showing Trump violated 18 USC 793, retaining national defense information under the Espionage Act. I argued the two receipts would cover evidence responsive to crimes that might be charged in different venues, DC for the obstruction charge and SDFL for the Espionage charge.

The third statute on Trump’s warrant, 18 USC 2071, removal of official records would cover everything covered by the Presidential Records Act and would generally backstop everything seized under the other two statutes. It covers both. Consider it an umbrella charge.

Today Trump, in the form of a post on Truth Social and related stories shared to Trump-friendly media, has confirmed I’m right that there’s significance to the two separate receipts.

Trump-friendly outlets have explained that “the former president’s team was informed” that the materials seized via what I’ve called the SSA receipt “contain information covered by attorney-client privilege” but that DOJ “opposed Trump lawyers’ request for the appointment of an independent, special master to review the records.”

The FBI seized boxes containing records covered by attorney-client privilege and potentially executive privilege during its raid of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, sources familiar with the investigation told Fox News, adding that the Justice Department opposed Trump lawyers’ request for the appointment of an independent, special master to review the records.

Sources familiar with the investigation told Fox News Saturday that the former president’s team was informed that boxes labeled A-14, A-26, A-43, A-13, A-33, and a set of documents—all seen on the final page of the FBI’s property receipt —contained information covered by attorney-client privilege.

[snip]

Sources told Fox News that some records could be covered by executive privilege, which gives the president of the United States and other officials within the executive branch the authority to withhold certain sensitive forms of advice and consultation between the president and senior advisers.

I believe there must be some truth to this because if Trump were making completely unsubstantiated claims, he would have made it more generally, claiming that all the boxes must include attorney-client privileged material. Furthermore, Trump’s claims to have watched the search via CCTV notwithstanding, it is highly unlikely Trump has CCTV coverage of his own office, bedroom, and a random storage closet such that he would know what’s in box A-14 (and so on the SSA receipt) versus what’s in box A-15 (which was on the CLASS receipt). Someone who knows the outcome of the search told Trump that one set, but not the other, has materials that are attorney-client privileged. That has to come from the government.

That doesn’t mean my larger hypothesis — that one receipt covered violations of the Espionage Act and the other covered obstruction — has been vindicated. On the contrary, DOJ may simply have chosen to put all records that include an attorney-client claim on a separate receipt so that, if Trump obtains a competent lawyer and demands the Special Master review he’s making a half-hearted request for now, DOJ can move forward with all the other evidence without a 9-month delay like the Special Master review of Rudy Giuliani’s phones necessitated. It would be a clever way of dealing with a very sensitive legal issue.

But I don’t think it’s as simple as that either. Bizarrely, Trump knows something about those boxes such that he’s trying to claim Executive Privilege, in addition to attorney-client privilege.

It’s a nonsense claim, legally. Probably every single box seized last Monday has materials covered by Executive Privilege in them, because every single box would include communications directly with Trump. But there is absolutely no basis for any EP claim for a single thing seized from Mar-a-Lago because the Presidential Records Act underlying the seizure is designed, specifically and especially, to make sure all the EP materials are preserved for history. It’s one of the reasons his refusal to turn over the materials that the Archives were asking for specifically is so insanely stupid, because it gave FBI no choice but to come seize this stuff. Trump’s not making an EP claim to try to delay DOJ’s access to the 27 items, which are mostly boxes, on the CLASS receipt. So he must have learned something about the materials itemized in the SSA receipt to which, in a frantic and transparently silly effort, he’s trying to delay DOJ’s access.

Trump’s announcement that the material on the SSA receipt seems to rule out another possible explanation for the SSA receipt I had been pondering, that it covered the materials that were particularly sensitive from a national security perspective, such as the information on nuclear weapons.

And it doesn’t rule out my hypothesis that that material was seized in the obstruction investigation. Indeed, in two ways, it might corroborate my hypothesis.

There are two theories of the 1519 charge. One, which NYU’s Ryan Goodman is championing, suspects it is about the investigation into Mar-a-Lago, criminalizing the effort in June to withhold materials. If that were the significance of the 1519 charge, separating out the communications between lawyers and NARA and DOJ might make sense, since those would be communications into this investigation. That said, there’d be no basis for an EP claim for any of that, since it all post-dated Trump’s ouster. And as soon as DOJ confirmed that some classified material had been knowingly withheld in June when his lawyers told DOJ that it was all turned over, there’d be a crime-fraud exception for those materials.

My theory of the 1519 charge — that it arose out of NARA’s discovery that Trump had attempted to destroy materials subpoenaed in past and present investigations — would similarly be likely to have attorney-client privileged documents. Take a few examples:

  • One thing Trump is likely to have withheld is the Perfect Transcript between him and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which is something Congress was entitled to get during impeachment. That transcript was hidden from Congress by White House lawyer John Eisenberg, among other lawyers, thereby according the transcript a weak privilege claim, but one easily overcome by the obstructive nature of the choice to withhold it.
  • Another set of things we know were withheld from several investigations were documents showing sustained communications with Russia that should have been turned over by the Trump Organization. The most provable of those were the communications between Michael Cohen and Dmitri Peskov’s office in January 2016 (Mueller got his own copy via Microsoft). There’s probably correspondence regarding an invite Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko extended to Trump to attend Putin’s St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016. The Trump Organization did not produce to SSCI the copy of Paul Manafort’s Securing the Victory email he sent to Rhona Graff. The subpoena response on all these issues was handled by Trump’s corporate lawyers, Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten, and so would be privileged — but also crime-fraud excepted — evidence that Trump obstructed various Russian investigations.
  • While one draft of Trump’s termination letter to Jim Comey was ultimately turned over to Mueller (after reports that the only extant copy was one preserved by DOJ lawyers), the Mueller Report narrative surrounding it makes it clear that Trump and Stephen Miller worked over several drafts before the one shared with others. Those earlier drafts were likely not turned over, in part because White House Counsel lawyers advised Trump that these drafts should “[n]ot [see the] light of day.” Again, that’s legal advice, but also proof of documents that were illegally withheld from the Mueller investigation.
  • I don’t want to even imagine what advice from Rudy Giuliani that Trump has withheld from various investigations, particularly pertaining to January 6. Most of that would be (shitty) legal advice. If it was also withheld from proper investigations, though, it’d also be proof of obstruction under 18 USC 1519.

In other words, aside from the documents Trump tried to rip up or eat or flush, many of Trump’s known violations of 18 USC 1519 would involve lawyers directly. Virtually every investigation into Trump was stymied by improper decisions by lawyers. And those withheld documents would once have been privileged, but they’d also be solid proof of obstruction.

And if Trump had reason to believe that DOJ, after predicating an investigation on all the evidence Trump had tried to rip up or eat or flush evidence, had sought and seized all the attorney-client protected materials that had insulated Trump from consequences for his past actions, it might explain one of the biggest puzzles from the last week. For some reason, Trump has worked far harder to obscure that this obstruction investigation exists than that he’s under investigation for a crime with the word “Espionage” in the title. For some reason, Trump is more afraid of the obstruction investigation than the Espionage Act investigation.

One possible explanation for that is that he fears the other secrets he’s been keeping more than proof that he stole a bunch of otherwise innocuous Top Secret documents.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this latest complaint — first voiced on the 7th day after the search — is it shows that DOJ is in contact with someone presenting themself as Trump’s lawyer.

That’s not surprising. DOJ informed Trump of the search. Even for a simple criminal case into attempting to steal the election (assuming Trump could find someone who would confess to be his lawyer), DOJ would want to have discussions about how to proceed.

In this case, however, the crimes under investigation include, at a minimum, violations of the Espionage Act. DOJ always tries to find a way to resolve those from the get-go, because prosecutions about stolen classified information are always damaging to the equities you’re trying to protect. That’s all the more true in the unprecedented case where the suspect is the former President. At a minimum, DOJ likely has or will float Trump the offer of an offramp like an 18 USC 2701 guilty plea if he cooperates to tell the government about the whereabouts of all the classified documents he stole.

And if what Trump is trying to hide in the obstruction investigation is even more damning, as his behavior suggests it might be, DOJ might actually have enough leverage to make Donny to consider such an offer.

Still, the legal quiet has been making me nervous. I have been waiting all week for a docket to spring up with a Trump motion for a Temporary Restraining Order stalling any access to these files.

For comparison, the docket on a similar challenge from Michael Cohen in 2018 was created just 4 days after the search of his residences, and the discussions about the search began that same day.

On the same day as the seizures (April 9, 2018), the undersigned counsel requested in writing that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the SDNY return all of the seized property and allow Mr. Cohen and his attorneys the opportunity to screen the materials for privilege, produce any relevant, non-privileged documents to the government, and provide a log of any documents withheld on privilege grounds. Id., ¶ 32, Ex. A. On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, the government responded by letter, rejecting defense counsel’s proposal and informing defense counsel that the government would begin to review the materials at noon on Friday, April 13, 2018. Id. ¶ 33, Ex. B. Accordingly, Mr. Cohen hereby moves for immediate injunctive and equitable relief seeking the opportunity to have his counsel review the seized documents in the first instance, before any review by any law enforcement personnel, for privilege and responsiveness, and, if the Court believes it necessary, for the appointment of a Special Master to supervise that review process.

Trump moved to intervene that same day, April 13, just four days after the seizures.

In the case of the search on Rudy’s phones, SDNY itself asked for a Special Master the next day (though Trump never intervened).

There have to be similar discussions going on now. There just have to be. Trump’s paucity of lawyers — and the conflict posed by the possibility that Evan Corcoran, his most competent current defense attorney, may be conflicted out by dint of having signed an affirmation that Trump turned over all his classified documents in June — cannot explain a full week delay.

But thus far, in spite of every media outlet and their mother filing motions to unseal the search affidavit itself, no one has started pushing to unseal an inevitable fight over access to the seized material. (Again, by comparison, the NYT filed to intervene the day the Cohen warrant docket was made public.)

So for whatever reasons, a full week has elapsed since a lawful search executed on the golf resort of the former President and the first we’re learning about legal discussions — aside from NYT’s revelation that Trump made a veiled threat against Merrick Garland on Thursday — is Trump’s complaint covering just the documents that don’t seem to implicate the Espionage Act.

Something has caused that discussion to remain sealed. And that, by itself, is remarkable.

Update: As klynn reminds in comments, another document that the Trump White House altered was the MemCon of the meeting between Trump and Sergey Lavrov in which he gave the Russians highly sensitive intelligence. I laid out what we know of that alteration, the fall-out, and Mueller’s investigation into it here. If my theory about the SSA receipt is right, that any remaining unaltered record of the meeting found at MAL would be on the SSA receipt. Except the alterations, in this case, are not yet known to involve an attorney, so would not be attorney-client privileged.

emptywheel Trump Espionage coverage

Trump’s Timid (Non-Legal) Complaints about Attorney-Client Privilege

18 USC 793e in the Time of Shadow Brokers and Donald Trump

[from Rayne] Other Possible Classified Materials in Trump’s Safe

Trump’s Stolen Documents

John Solomon and Kash Patel May Be Implicated in the FBI’s Trump-Related Espionage Act Investigation

[from Peterr] Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

Three Ways Merrick Garland and DOJ Spoke of Trump as if He Might Be Indicted

The Legal and Political Significance of Nuclear Document[s] Trump Is Suspected to Have Stolen

Merrick Garland Calls Trump’s Bluff

Trump Keeps Using the Word “Cooperate.” I Do Not Think That Word Means What Trump Wants the Press To Think It Means

[from Rayne] Expected Response is Expected: Trump and Right-Wing DARVO

DOJ’s June Mar-a-Lago Trip Helps Prove 18 USC 793e

The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit

All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

FBI Executes a Search Warrant at 1100 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL 33480

How Adam Schiff Proves that Adam Schiff Is Lying that It Is “Unprecedented” for Congress to Be Ahead of DOJ

I had imagined I would write a post today introducing Andrew Weissmann — who like a lot of other TV lawyers has decided to weigh in on the January 6 investigation without first doing the least little bit of homework — to the multiple prongs of the DOJ investigation that he complains is not investigating multiple spokes at once.

Department of Justice January 6 investigations interview with Andrew Weissmann and Rep. Adam Schiff from R G on Vimeo.

But as I was prepping for that, I watched another of the Ari Melber pieces where he replicates this false claim.

Let me correct that. Melber actually doesn’t present Weissmann’s argument that the multiple pronged DOJ investigation should have multiple prongs, perhaps because since Weissmann first made it, it became clear he missed the Sidney Powell investigation entirely, the status of the investigations into Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani, the influencers that DOJ has already prosecuted as part of the investigation into the crime scene, and that DOJ actually started the fake electors investigation months before it was previously known.

Rather, Melber presents Adam Schiff’s claim that it is “unprecedented” for a congressional committee to be “so far out ahead” of DOJ.

Melber: We haven’t seen this kind of — he called it a breakdown, you might put it differently, but whatever it is, between the Justice Department and the Committee, but it also reflects that you’ve gotten some witnesses first. Do you share Mr. Weissmann’s concern? Could the DOJ be doing more quickly?

Schiff: I very much share his concern and have been expressing a very similar concern really for months no. It is so unprecedented — and I’ve been a part of many Congressional investigations that have been contemporaneous with Justice Department investigations — but it is unprecedented for Congress to be so far out ahead of the Justice Department in a complex investigation because as he was saying, as Andrew was saying, they’ve got potent tools to get information. They can enforce their own subpoenas in a way we can’t.

Let me introduce Adam Schiff to the House Intelligence Committee investigation into the 2016 Russian attack, on which a guy named Adam Schiff was first Ranking Member, then Chair, and the Mueller investigation into the same, on which Andrew Weissmann was a senior prosecutor.

Donald Trump Jr.

Interviewed by HPSCI on December 6, 2017

Never interviewed by Mueller’s team

Roger Stone

Interviewed by HPSCI on September 26, 2017

Never interviewed by Mueller’s team

Jared Kushner

First interviewed by HPSCI on July 25, 2017

First interviewed by DOJ on November 1, 2017

Steve Bannon

First interviewed by HPSCI on January 16, 2018

First interviewed by Mueller on February 12, 2018

John Podesta

Interviewed by HPSCI in June and December, 2017

Interviewed by Mueller in May 2018

Jeff Sessions

Interviewed by HPSCI on November 30, 2017

Interviewed by Mueller on January 17, 2018

JD Gordon

Interviewed by HPSCI on July 26, 2017

First interviewed by Mueller on August 29, 2017

Michael Caputo

Interviewed by HPSCI on July 14, 2017

Interviewed by Mueller on May 2, 2018

Michael Cohen

Interviewed by HPSCI on October 24, 2017

First interviewed by Mueller on August 7, 2018

Now, Schiff, who claimed it was unprecedented for a congressional investigation to precede a DOJ one, might say that the HPSCI investigation into Russia doesn’t count as a clear precedent because it wasn’t all that rigorous because it was led by Devin Nunes (that’s partly right, but there were plenty of Democratic staffers doing real work on that investigation too). But even on the January 6 Committee, there are already multiple instances where the Committee has interviewed witnesses before DOJ has (or interviewed witnesses that DOJ never will, before charging them), but gotten less valuable testimony than if they had waited.

One example, Ali Alexander, is instructive. He at least claimed he was going to tell the January 6 Committee a story that had already been debunked by DOJ. But before DOJ interviewed Alexander, at least two people with related information had gotten cooperation recognition in plea agreements, and several direct associates — most notably Owen Shroyer — had had their phones fully exploited.

Weissmann would likely point to good reasons why Mueller took more time, too: because later interviews with people like Michael Caputo or Jared Kushner required a lot more work on content acquired with covert warrants first, or because with people like Michael Cohen there was an entire financial investigation that preceded the first interview, or because DOJ was just a lot more careful to lay the groundwork with subjects of the investigation.

But the same is true here. DOJ will likely never interview Rudy on this investigation. But Lisa Monaco took steps on her first day in office that ensured that at whatever time DOJ obtained probable cause against Rudy, they had the content already privilege-reviewed. And DOJ did a lot of investigation into Sidney Powell before they started subpoenaing witnesses.

Many of the other witnesses that HPSCI interviewed long (or even just shortly) before DOJ did on Russia lied to HPSCI.

As both these men know, and know well, it is simply false that Congress never gets ahead of DOJ. But there are good reasons for that, and one of those reasons is precisely the one that Weissmann claims should lead DOJ to go more quickly: that it has far more tools to use to ensure that interviews that happen will more robustly support prosecutions.

Robert Costello Reveals He Was Working for Steve Bannon a Year before He Was Publicly Hired

After belatedly joining Steve Bannon’s defense team as DOJ was collecting evidence about whether his claims matched the available evidence, Robert Costello is now asking to withdraw, citing a concern — one DOJ raised in a phone call on December 2, the same day he filed his notice of appearance — that he might have to serve as a witness.

The decision to withdraw just days before trial is interesting in any case.

All the more so given Costello’s claim that he has represented Bannon for the past three years.

Maybe he has … maybe he has!

Curiously, though, that conflicts with the known timeline of how his relationship with Bannon came about. You’ll recall that until November 6, 2020, Bannon was ably represented — through a serially evolving story in the Mueller investigation — by Bill Burck. But then, on November 5, 2020, Bannon threatened to behead the FBI Director and the COVID Czar.

So Burck essentially fired Bannon. According to Burck’s court filing, Bannon was, at that point, hiring new counsel.

A month later, on December 11, 2020, at a time when according to public reports, Trump was offering pardons to those, like Bannon, implicated in the Build the Wall fraud, in exchange to those who helped his coup attempt, Costello filed his notice of appearance for Bannon — at least by context, he was the new counsel.

Maybe my math is off, but December 11, 2020 is less than three years ago — less than two, even!!

All that said, Costello — who was implicated in the Mueller investigation for attempting to broker a pardon to keep Michael Cohen silent — was being hired by someone roughly three years ago, though it wasn’t Bannon. It was this guy, Rudy Giuliani, the guy through whom Costello had previously attempted to broker a pardon.

The legal representation of Trumpsters is always so incestuous it’s hard to tell where representation for one person begins and the other ends (as a reminder, Bannon’s other two lawyers either used to — David Schoen — or reportedly still do — Evan Corcoran — also represent Trump). But at least according to Costello’s filing, he’s been representing both Bannon and Rudy all this time.

Jeffrey Clark: Physics Takes Over the Investigation Now

Last Thursday was an exciting day for those who have doubted Merrick Garland’s DOJ was really investigating top officials for matters pertaining to January 6.

Not only did multiple outlets describe Republicans involved in the fake elector scheme receiving subpoenas or even, in at least three cases, search warrants for their devices, but Jeffrey Clark’s home in Virginia was also searched on Wednesday. As part of that, according to the hysterical account Clark gave on Tucker Carlson, whatever agency did the search used an electronics sniffing dog and seized all the electronics in the house.

And that makes it a really good time to talk some more about how investigations work in the era of encrypted applications. It’s likely to be months — likely at least six months — until anything comes out of last week’s seizures.

The reason has to do with physics (and law).

We can be fairly certain that Clark — and probably some of the fake electors on whom warrants were served — used Signal or other encrypted apps. That’s because Mark Meadows and Scott Perry were conducting some of this conspiracy over Signal too, as was made clear in a slide in Thursday’s hearing.

Indeed, one reason Clark may have been raided is because he makes an easier target, for now, than Meadows or the Members of Congress who were involved. All of Clark’s communications directly with then President Trump bypassed DOJ’s contact guidelines and most can be shown to be part of a plot to overturn the election, whereas many of Meadows’ communications will be protected by Executive Privilege and Perry’s by Speech and Debate (though as I keep repeating, DOJ will be able to piggyback off the privilege review that the January 6 Committee has done).

To obtain Signal conversations that haven’t been saved to the cloud, one needs at least one of the phones that was involved in the conversation. That assumes the texts were not deleted. In the James Wolfe investigation, the FBI demonstrated some ability to recover deleted Signal texts, but in the Oath Keeper investigation, their Signal deletions forced investigators to seize a whole bunch of phones to reconstruct all parts of the communications.

By law, the government should have some of these Signal texts accessible. Under the Presidential Records Act, Mark Meadows had a legal obligation to share any such texts with the Archives. But because he replaced his phone in the months after the insurrection, at a time he knew of the criminal investigation, he may not have been able to comply. If DOJ can prove that he deleted Signal texts, he might be on the hook for obstructing the DOJ investigation.

So one thing DOJ may have been trying to do, by seizing the phones of at least four players in the fake electors plot on the same day, was to obtain phones sufficient to reconstruct any Signal threads about the plot. Those served subpoenas, both in this and an earlier round of subpoenas, will have to turn over Signal texts too, if they meet the terms of the subpoena. If DOJ were trying to reach the far higher bar of obtaining a warrant against someone protected by Speech and Debate or other privileges — like Perry — they likely would need to use such threads to meet that higher bar.

So back to the physics.

The table below shows how the investigations into a number of high profile investigative subjects have proceeded. While there are exceptions (investigations where the FBI has some excuse or urgency to conduct an interview, as with Mike Flynn and George Papadopoulos, are different), investigators often first obtain readily accessible cloud content with a gag order, then use the information from a person’s cloud content to obtain probable cause for a warrant to seize phones. Under that pattern, the phone seizure will alert a subject of an investigation to that investigation. In most cases (the first round of January 6 arrests and Roger Stone are exceptions, each for different reasons), the search of phones precedes any arrest by months if not years.

Whereas, during the Mueller investigation, the FBI could exploit phones in four months time, of late, it has been taking closer to six months to exploit cell phones, even without any kind of special review. Part of this delay is physics: if a person uses any kind of secure password, it takes the FBI time to crack that password (and still more time if someone uses additional security features, as Enrique Tarrio did). In many cases, the DOJ will have to use a filter team to exclude data that is somehow privileged; in all cases, DOJ will then do a scope review, ensuring that the investigative team only gets material responsive to the warrant. When a special review is required, such as the attorney-client privilege review for Rudy or the “journalistic” review for Project Veritas, that process can take much longer. Because DOJ will have to conduct a fairly exhaustive filter review for an attorney like Clark, it might take closer to nine months to exploit the devices seized last week.

This pattern suggests several things about the investigation into Jeffrey Clark (and the fake electors). First, DOJ likely obtained their first probable cause warrants against Clark and the fake electors months ago, probably pretty close to the time (though hopefully before) Lisa Monaco confirmed the investigation into the fake electors in January. In Clark’s case, an investigation may have come from a referral from DOJ IG. So contrary to what many outlets have reported, such as this example from James Risen at the Intercept, the searches of Clark and others are not proof that an investigation is beginning or that DOJ only recently established probable cause. Rather, they suggest DOJ has been investigating covertly for months, at least long enough to obtain probable cause that even more evidence exists on these phones.

But it’s also likely that it will take DOJ some months — until Christmas at least — to exploit Clark’s phone. This investigation will not move as quickly as you might think or hope that this point, and that’s partly dictated by the constraints of cracking a password — math and physics.

All that said, several prongs of an investigation that could implicate Trump may be much further on. As I’ll show in a follow-up (and as I’ve mentioned in the past), the investigation into Stop the Steal is undoubtedly much further on than people assume given Ali Alexander’s grand jury appearance last week. And the FBI has ways of getting content via the Archives, much as they obtained content from Trump’s transition from GSA, that bypass pattern laid out above.

What the government had to have been able to prove before it searched Clark and others last week was not just that that had probable cause against those subjects, but that the cloud content otherwise available to them showed that aspects of the crime were committed using materials only available on people’s phones, likely encrypted messaging apps.

Update: Several people have asked why there would be a privilege review for Clark’s phone, since he would have been a government attorney through January 6. I’m not certain there would be, but if a warrant covered the time since January 6 (which I think likely given what DOJ has done with warrants elsewhere), then any lawyering he has done since he left would be privileged.

Update: As noted in comments, also on Wednesday, the FBI seized John Eastman’s phone. The warrant is from DOJ IG, not DC USAO and bears a 2022 case number. DOJ IG opened an investigation into Clark in 2021, but perhaps something they saw in the Jan6 Committee hearings led to a new prong of the investigation, leading to this search? Given the squirreliness regarding what agency did the search of Eastman, I wonder if both these investigative steps were DOJ IG.

Background material

This annotated file shows the unsealed Mueller warrants, with labels for those warrants that have been identified.

This post shows how the Michael Cohen investigation started with Russian-related warrants in the Mueller investigation then moved to SDNY, including a crucial detail about preservation orders for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails served on Microsoft.

This post shows how the investigation into George Papadopoulos developed; his is the outlier here, in that overt actions took place closer to the beginning of the investigation — but in his case, DOJ used a series of informants against him to obtain information.

This post describes how Trump’s team only discovered Mueller had obtained transition devices three months after Mueller obtained them, via Mike Flynn’s statement of offense.

This post shows that the seizure of Roger Stone’s phones with his January 2019 arrest was just one step in an ongoing investigation.

This post uses the Michael Cohen example to explain how the Rudy investigation might work.

This post shows how the investigation into Project Veritas developed.

This post shows how it took almost an entire year to crack Enrique Tarrio’s password, with a filter team delaying access for another month.

This post describes how the sheer volume of Stewart Rhodes’ Signal texts delayed his arrest.

John Durham’s Igor Danchenko Case May Be More Problematic than His Michael Sussmann Case

Legal commentators who ignored the run-up to the Michael Sussmann trial and still have not reported on the evidence of abuse and incompetence are writing posts claiming it was always clear that the jury in that case would return an acquittal. The same people, however, are suggesting there might be more to the Igor Danchenko charges.

I wrote a whole series of posts laying out why that’s wrong — the last one, with links to the others, is here. In addition, I’ve been tracking Durham’s difficulties obtaining classified discovery from other parts of DOJ here. This post pulls together the problems Durham faces in his second trial, which is currently scheduled to start on October 11.

As a reminder, the Danchenko indictment charges the former Christopher Steele source with telling five lies to the FBI in interviews in which they tried to vet the Steele dossier:

  • One alleged lie on June 15, 2017  about whether he had spoken with Chuck Dolan “about any material contained in the” dossier.
  • Four alleged lies, told in interviews on March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017, that he spoke to Sergei Millian in late July 2016 when Danchenko knew (variably in 2016 or in the interviews in 2017) that he had never spoken with him; one charged lie accuses Danchenko of wittingly lying about speaking to Millian more than once.

Durham will have to prove that these five statements were intentional lies and that they were material to the FBI’s operations.

Danchenko could get his former lawyer to testify

Before looking at the problems with each of those claimed lies and their materiality, consider that shortly after being charged, Danchenko replaced Mark Schamel, who represented Danchenko in his 2017 interviews with the FBI, with a team led by Lowenstein Sandler’s Stuart Sears. This makes it possible for Danchenko to do something risky but in this case potentially warranted: have his former attorney testify.

The interview report from his initial series of interviews in January 2017 shows that Danchenko was uncertain about the answer to some questions, but over the course of three days, checked his own records and corrected himself when he realized he had made an error in answering an affirmative question from the FBI. In at least one case, Danchenko also provided proof to back one of his claims. Schamel could explain how diligently he and Danchenko prepared for these interviews, how Danchenko corrected himself when he realized he was wrong, and the perceived focus — by all appearances, on Danchenko’s Russian sources — of the FBI interviews.

In short, Schamel’s testimony could go a long way to demonstrating that where Danchenko made an error, it was not willful.

The FBI didn’t ask the question about Chuck Dolan that Durham claims they did

Then there are the charges themselves. There are two potentially fatal problems with the single charge built around Chuck Dolan, which Durham has used to insinuate, with no evidence, that the minor Hillary supporter was the source of the pee tape allegation. The alleged lie Durham has accused Danchenko of, though, pertains to a more general question: whether Danchenko had “denied … that he had spoken to [Dolan] about any material” in the dossier.

Except, as happened repeatedly in his indictment of Danchenko, that’s neither what Danchenko was asked nor what he answered.

As I laid out in this post, it appears that Danchenko was asked whether Dolan was a source for Steele, not whether he was a source for Danchenko.

FBI AGENT-1: Um, because obviously I don’t think you’re the only …

DANCHENKO: Mm-hmm.

FBI AGENT-1: Person that has been contributing. You may have said one – and this is the other thing we are trying to figure out.

[ … ]

FBI AGENT-1: Do you know a [PR Executive-1]?

DANCHENKO: Do I know [PR Executive-1]? Yeah.

FBI AGENT-1: How long have you known him? [laughing] [pause]

DANCHENKO: I’ve known [PR-Executive-1] for [pause] I don’t know, a couple years maybe.

FBI AGENT-1: Couple years?

DANCHENKO: But but but but but but but I’ve known of him for like 12 years.

[ … ]

DANCHENKO: Yeah. Yeah he likes Russia. I don’t think he is, uh, – would be any way be involved. But-but-uh-b-but he’s uh [UI] what I would think would be easily played. Maybe. Uh, he’s a bit naive in his, um liking of Russia. [emphasis Durham’s]

The question was premised on Steele having other primary subsources other than Danchenko and his response was a denial of the possibility that Dolan was one of them. All of Danchenko’s responses could be framed with that understanding of the question.

Durham’s alleged false statement appears to stem from a follow-up question. But there, Durham has completely misrepresented Danchenko’s answer.

FBI AGENT-1: Okay, so you’ve had … was there any … but you had never talked to [PR Executive-1] about anything that showed up in the dossier [Company Reports] right?

DANCHENKO: No.

FBI AGENT-1: You don’t think so?

DANCHENKO: No. We talked about, you know, related issues perhaps but no, no, no, nothing specific. [emphasis Durham’s]

Danchenko explicitly told the FBI that he talked to Dolan about “related issues.” Particularly as regards the pee tape, Danchenko might consider using information from Dolan for further investigation a “related issue” but not the core issue that the FBI was interested in.

As to the report for which Durham presents compelling evidence that Dolan was the source, Durham presents no evidence of specific questioning about it, and there’s abundant evidence that Danchenko was never sure which reports came from him and which (he assumed) came from others.

Durham did not present any evidence that Danchenko denied, in response to specific questions about whether Dolan was involved in identified reports, that Dolan played a role in the dossier. He has evidence that Danchenko answered a question about something else, and then, in a follow-up, gave a much more equivocal response than Durham claims he gave.

Another Durham materiality claim fizzles after he actually investigates

Plus, it is virtually certain that Danchenko will be able to prove that his equivocal response could not have been material.

That’s because — as a declassified footnote of the DOJ IG Report makes clear — the reason the FBI asked these questions about Dolan on June 15, 2017 was because FBI had recently obtained Section 702 material showing conversations between Danchenko’s source, Olga Galkina, and Dolan.

The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source. [my emphasis]

That is, the reason the FBI was asking these questions in the first place is because they were trying to understand the communications they had just discovered between Dolan and Danchenko.

As the indictment lays out, Danchenko didn’t hide the key details about Dolan — that he was doing business in Russia, had ties with Dmitry Peskov, and had developed a business relationship with Galkina.

In a later part of the conversation, DANCHENKO stated, in substance and in part, that PR Executive-1 had traveled on the October “delegation” to Moscow; that PR Executive-1 conducted business with Business-1 and Russian Sub-source-1; and that PR Executive-1 had a professional relationship with Russian Press Secretary-1.

Durham claimed that Danchenko’s imagined lie was material because it deprived the FBI from obtaining information on Dolan.

DANCHENKO’s lies denying PR Executive-1 ‘s role in specific information referenced in the Company Reports were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, they deprived FBI agents and analysts of probative information concerning PR Executive-1 that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Company Reports, including DANCHENKO’s sub-sources.

We now know that, at the time Durham made this claim, he had barely begun the process of obtaining relevant evidence from DOJ IG. Even in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham first made a formal discovery request of Michael Horowitz’s office on October 13, 2021, almost a month after charging Sussmann (and just three weeks before indicting Danchenko). Durham didn’t receive materials that completely undermined his case against Sussmann until March.

From that, it’s fairly safe to assume that Durham (again) didn’t bother to test whether there was any basis for his materiality claims before building a long speaking indictment around them.

The FBI didn’t need Danchenko to tell them about Dolan’s Russian ties. They had discovered that already from 702 collection targeting Galkina. That’s precisely why they asked Danchenko whether Dolan could be another Steele source. And when asked for more details, Dahchenko offered up the details that FBI would have been looking for.

Durham’s due diligence problems on the Sergei Millian charges

There are several kinds of problems with the remaining four counts. As noted, four of the charges against Danchenko accuse him of hiding what Durham claims is affirmative knowledge (arguably in real time) that Sergei Millian never called him in late July 2016.

As a threshold matter, there’s no language in the Danchenko indictment suggesting Durham has affirmative proof that such a call didn’t happen — whether from Millian or anyone else. In his FBI interview, Danchenko suggested the call may have happened on a secure app and he said he had replaced the phone he used at the time. So it’s not clear that Durham can rule out a call on Signal or similar encrypted app. When Durham first rolled out this indictment, I thought such a claim would be reckless, but we now know Durham built his entire Sussmann indictment around billing records even though Durham had affirmative proof (in his taxi reimbursement) that Sussmann did not bill Hillary for his meeting with the FBI.

Worse still, even in the transcripts that Durham miscites in the indictment, Danchenko included a bunch of caveats that Durham does not include in his charging language: “I don’t know,” “at the time I was under the impression it was him,” “at least someone I thought was him.”

That creates a temporal problem with the way Durham has charged this. Even if Danchenko came to believe later in 2016 or in 2017 that he never spoke with Millian, in his interviews, Danchenko was answering about what he believed to be the case in July 2016, when he shared this report with Christopher Steele. All Danchenko was claiming was that he talked to some journalists at a Russian outlet, someone called Danchenko shortly thereafter (at a time, it should be said, when Oleg Deripaska likely already knew of the dossier project), and Danchenko assumed it was Millian because it was the most logical explanation. From the start, Danchenko always admitted his uncertainty about that call.

Durham is relying on a Twitter feed he has already said makes false claims about the Durham investigation

Then there’s the fact that Durham is relying on Sergei Millian as a witness against Danchenko.

As I noted last year, in his indictment, Durham claimed to prove that such a call had not happened based on Millian’s say-so. But not actual testimony. Rather, at that point, Durham was relying on Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed.

Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

That was batshit insane then, not least because over the years journalists and others have raised real questions about the authenticity of Millian’s Twitter account. And since charging Danchenko, Millian has repeatedly made claims on Twitter that utterly demolishes the credibility of Millian’s Twitter feed.

Millian has played a key role in the “sleuths corner” that has ginned up all sorts of false claims about Durham’s investigation.

This explicit affiliation will entitle Danchenko to subpoena the activity of the group, and even if Millian were entirely credible, there are a number of people associated with the corner who are not.

Then, as part of his role in generating froth about the Durham investigation, Millian played a central role in misrepresenting a claim Durham had made in a filing in the Sussmann case, suggesting that Durham had proven that researchers had spied on the Trump White House.

This led Durham to formally state that those who made such claims were “misrepresent[ing] facts contained in the Government’s Motion.” So Durham has publicly accused his star witness — Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed — of making false claims about matters pertaining to Durham’s investigation.

Worse still, in the same time period, Millian claimed that he had called the White House and told them “who was working against them.”

That reflects the kind of knowledge that could only come from a concerted effort, in real time (seemingly in 2016), to fuck with the Fusion investigation, followed by a subsequent effort (at such time when Trump was in the White House), to exact a cost for the investigation. Effectively, with this tweet, Millian confessed to being part of the effort to undermine the Russian investigation. That makes Millian’s contact with Deripaska in 2016 all the more problematic, since Deripaska has seemingly carried out a sustained campaign to attack the Russian investigation. But it also suggests that Millian’s claims to have entirely blown off Danchenko’s quetions were false.

Millian has since claimed that Durham’s office was trying to keep him off Twitter, but that he refused because he wants to attack his enemies.

This is all just stuff that Millian has done since the indictment, and to the extent earlier Millian tweets are preserved showing professed knowledge of the 2016 Russian operation (as some are), Danchenko would be able to use those at trial as well.

Which may be why — at least according to Millian’s unreliable Twitter feed — Durham is now trying to get Millian to come testify at trial. But Millian suggests that testifying under oath to the claims he has been making on Twitter for years would amount to “using him.”

Durham’s star witness refuses to return to the US without some kind of “gentleman’s agreement” regarding his “safe return.” That’s not going to be a very credible witness on the stand, if he even shows up to testify.

The counterintelligence investigation against Millian was real in 2016 and may be realer now

Which leads us, again, to Durham’s failures to do basic investigation before charging these indictments.

We know Durham didn’t reach out to Michael Horowitz until weeks before charging Danchenko. The Sussmann case made it clear Durham had not received centrally relevant evidence in the Sussmann case until March.

That means Durham may not have been aware of the public evidence — in both the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes — describing the counterintelligence investigation opened on Millian in October 2016, which was opened in NY (where Millian lived at the time), not DC (where Fusion and others were also raising concerns).

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

We know Durham has little familiarity with the Mueller Report, much less the underlying investigation. Which means he similarly may not have considered the evidence that Millian was cultivating George Papadopoulos during precisely the same weeks when Danchenko was contacting Millian for information on Trump.

Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via LinkedIn on July 15, 2016, shortly after Papadopoulos had attended the TAG Summit with Clovis.500 Millian, an American citizen who is a native of Belarus, introduced himself “as president of [the] New York-based Russian American Chamber of Commerce,” and claimed that through that position he had “insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.”501 Papadopoulos asked Timofeev whether he had heard of Millian.502 Although Timofeev said no,503 Papadopoulos met Millian in New York City.504 The meetings took place on July 30 and August 1, 2016.505 Afterwards, Millian invited Papadopoulos to attend-and potentially speak at-two international energy conferences, including one that was to be held in Moscow in September 2016.506 Papadopoulos ultimately did not attend either conference.

On July 31 , 2016, following his first in-person meeting with Millian, Papadopoulos emailed Trump Campaign official Bo Denysyk to say that he had been contacted “by some leaders of Russian-American voters here in the US about their interest in voting for Mr. Trump,” and to ask whether he should “put you in touch with their group (US-Russia chamber of commerce).”507 Denysyk thanked Papadopoulos “for taking the initiative,” but asked him to “hold off with outreach to Russian-Americans” because “too many articles” had already portrayed the Campaign, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and candidate Trump as “being pro-Russian.”508

On August 23, 2016, Millian sent a Facebook message to Papadopoulos promising that he would ” share with you a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”509 Papadopoulos claimed to have no recollection of this matter.510

On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election, Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”511 The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago.512 According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private-sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration.5 13 The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. 514 The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C. bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.515

More recently, as part of charges against a different Russian-American who fled because of a counterintelligence investigation, DOJ made clear that Millian’s organization knew at least by 2013 they should have registered as agents of Russia.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

All of which to say that Durham likely cannot make any “gentleman’s agreement” on DOJ’s behalf with Millian about coming to the US to testify against Danchenko, because other parts of DOJ have equities that significantly precede Durham’s, equities that pertain more directly to harm to the United States and current national security priorities.

Plus, even if Durham did succeed in bringing his star witness against Danchenko to EDVA to testify against him, even if Millian weren’t arrested on sealed charges when he landed, the trial would end up being a circus in which the evidence against Millian and the false claims Millian has made about the Durham investigation playing a more central role than the evidence against Danchenko.

There are few things Durham could do that would make it more clear how his witch hunt has served Russia’s interests, and not those of the US.

I mean, I’m all for it. But at some point Durham may come to recognize that’s not a winning case.

There is affirmative evidence that any alleged lies Danchenko told were not material

It’s not clear whether Sussmann jurors ever got as far as considering the materiality problems in the case against Sussmann. But, even on top of the specific problem arising from the Section 702 directive targeting Galkina, described above, Durham may have bigger materiality problems with Danchenko.

That’s because — as explained in the DOJ IG Report Durham didn’t read closely — FBI repeatedly made decisions that affirmatively reflect finding claims in the dossier and Danchenko’s interviews were not material to their decision to keep surveilling Carter Page.

That’s true, first of all, because the initial FISA targeting Page obtained useful information. Notes from Tashina Gaushar that Durham belatedly discovered in the Sussmann case described the FISAs against Page this way:

So before the FBI ever spoke to Danchenko, they had independent reason (on top of the counterintelligence concerns NYFO had used in March 2016 to open an investigation on Page) to target Page.

Moreover, the FBI started identifying problems with the Millian allegations before the first FISA, but never integrated those or Danchenko’s own interviews into their FISA applications.

Regarding the information in the first bullet above, in early October 2016, the FBI learned the true name of Person 1 (described in Report 95 as “Source E”). As described in Chapter Six, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that he/she had one 10- to 15-minute telephone call with someone he/she believed to be Person 1, but who did not identify him/herself on the call. We found that, during his/her interview with the FBI, the Primary Sub-source did not describe a “conspiracy” between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign or state that Carter Page served as an “intermediary” between Manafort and the Russian government. In addition, the FBl’s summary of the Primary Sub-source’s interview did not describe any discussions between the parties concerning the disclosure of DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for a campaign platform change on the Ukrainian issue. To the contrary, according to the interview summary, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that Person 1 told him/her that there was “nothing bad” about the communications between the Kremlin and Trump, and that he/she did not recall any mention of Wikileaks. Further, although Steele informed the FBI that he had received all of the information in Report 95 from the Primary Sub-source, and Steele told the OIG the same thing when we interviewed him, the Primary Subsource told the FBI that he/she did not know where some of the information attributed to Source E in Report 95 came from. 388 Despite the inconsistencies between Steele’s reporting and the information his Primary Sub-source provided to the FBI, the subsequent FISA renewal applications continued to rely on the Steele information, without any revisions or notice to the court that the Primary Sub-source had contradicted the Steele reporting on key issues described in the renewal applications. Instead, as described previously, FISA Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 advised the court:

In an effort to further corroborate [Steele’s] reporting, the FBI has met with [Steele’s] [redacted] sub-source [Primary Sub-source] described immediately above. During these interviews, the FBI found the [redacted] subsource to be truthful and cooperative [redacted]. The FBI is undertaking additional investigative steps to further corroborate the information provide [sic] by [Steele] and [redacted]

It cannot be the case that FBI at once ignored everything Danchenko said that should have raised concerns, but also that Danchenko’s repetition of the things he said in his first interview would be material to later parts of the investigation. There’s a 478-page report laying out why that’s not the case.

As to the Dolan tie, the FBI obtained intelligence that the reports that most mattered to the ongoing Russian investigation — the sketchy Cohen-in-Prague stories sourced to Olga Galkina, stories that may well have arisen because Dolan vouched for Galkina with Peskov — were disinformation a week before first speaking to Danchenko.

A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful.

As I have shown, Mueller did not use the Cohen reports at all in predicating the investigation against Trump’s lawyer.

Finally, the DOJ IG Report strongly suggests that the FBI was not going to get a fourth FISA targeting Page until they discovered two new facilities — probably one or more encrypted app and some financial accounts — they thought might answer some of their outstanding questions about Page.

[A]vailable documents indicate that one of the focuses of the Carter Page investigation at this time was obtaining his financial records. NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone. Documents reflect that agents also conducted multiple interviews of individuals associated with Carter Page.

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30. Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information. Cast Agent 6 said [redacted]

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal. Specifically, SSA 5 and Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that [redacted] they decided to seek a third renewal. [redacted]

This is yet another reason why nothing Danchenko could have said in his interviews would have changed the FBI’s actions.

That leaves the purported lies — the same alleged lies about Millian — told in October and November 2017 that Durham claims Danchenko had been telling all along. By that point, though, Mueller already had George Papadopoulos refusing to provide details pertaining to Millian that would have raised further questions about Millian’s activities in 2016.

Honestly, this post barely scratches the surface of problems with Durham’s Igor Danchenko case. Things get worse when you consider Oleg Deripaska’s role in the dossier and the very active investigation into him and more recent sanctions into Dmitry Peskov.

And, this time, Durham may realize that. Just weeks before the Sussmann trial, Durham made a frenzied effort to include details about the dossier and Millian in Sussmann’s case. For example, he got approved as exhibits and “accidentally” released Fusion GPS files entirely unrelated to the Sussmann case. He attempted, but failed, to make Christopher Steele a central issue at the Sussmann trial. And during the testimony of Jared Novick, he attempted to introduce the names of dossier subjects that were unrelated to the core Sussmann charge. That is, Durham expanded the scope of his already unhinged conspiracy theory to incorporate topics — most notably, the dossier — that he might otherwise present at the Danchenko trial.

In the next two weeks, Durham will — after over ten weeks of delay — have to face the challenges of obtaining the classified discovery that Danchenko can demand to prove this is the case. In light of those challenges, we’ll see whether Durham wants to barrel forward towards yet another humiliating loss at trial.

Like the January 6 Investigation, the Mueller Investigation Was Boosted by Congressional Investigations

Midway through an article on which Glenn Thrush — who as far as I recall never covered the Russian investigation and has not yet covered the January 6 investigation — has the lead byline, the NYT claims that it is unusual for a congressional committee to receive testimony before a grand jury investigation does.

The Justice Department has asked the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack for transcripts of interviews it is conducting behind closed doors, including some with associates of former President Donald J. Trump, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The move is further evidence of the wide-ranging nature of the department’s criminal inquiry into the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol and the role played by Mr. Trump and his allies as they sought to keep him in office after his defeat in the 2020 election.

[snip]

The Justice Department’s request for transcripts underscores how much ground the House committee has covered, and the unusual nature of a situation where a well-staffed congressional investigation has obtained testimony from key witnesses before a grand jury investigation. [my emphasis]

That’s simply false. This is precisely what happened with the Mueller investigation, and there’s good reason to believe that DOJ made a decision to facilitate doing the same back in July, in part to avoid some evidentiary challenges that Mueller had difficulties with, most notably Executive Privilege challenges.

First, let’s look at how Mueller used the two Congressional investigations.

At the start, he asked witnesses to provide him the same materials they were providing to Congress. I believe that in numerous cases, the process of complying with subpoenas led witnesses to believe such subpoenas were the only way Mueller was obtaining information. Trump Organization, especially, withheld a number of documents from Mueller and Congress, including direct contacts with Russian officials and a Steve Bannon email referencing Russian involvement in the election. By obtaining a warrant for Trump Transition materials held by GSA and the Trump Organization emails of Michael Cohen hosted by Microsoft, Mueller got records the subjects of the investigation were otherwise hiding. Steve Bannon, too, falsely told Mueller he didn’t use his personal accounts for campaign business, only to discover Mueller had obtained those records by the time of his October 2018 interview. Surprising witnesses with documents they had been hiding appears to have been one of the ways Mueller slowly coaxed Bannon and Cohen closer to the truth.

We should assume for key figures in the vicinity of Ali Alexander and John Eastman, the same is happening with the January 6 investigation: the very people who’ve been squealing about complying with subpoenas or call records served on their providers are likely ones DOJ obtained covert warrants for.

Then there are the prosecutions that arose entirely out of Congressional interviews. There were three Mueller prosecutions that arose out of Committee investigations.

Perhaps the most interesting was that of Sam Patten — whose interview materials are here. He had an interview with SSCI on January 5, 2018, where he appears to have lied about using a straw donor to buy Inauguration tickets for Konstantin Kilimnik. By March 20, the FBI attempted their first interview of Patten, after which Patten deleted some emails about Cambridge Analytica. And when Mueller did interview Patten on May 22, they already had the makings of a cooperation deal. After getting Patten to admit to the straw purchase and also to violating FARA — the latter of which he would plead guilty months later, on August 31 — Patten then provided a ton of information about how Kilimnik worked and what he had shared with Patten about his role in the 2016 operation, much of which still remained sealed as part of an ongoing investigation in August 2021. Patten had two more interviews in May then appeared before the grand jury, at which he shared more information about how Kilimnik was trying to monitor the investigation. He had two more interviews before pleading guilty, then at least two more after that.

Not only did Patten share information that likely served as part of a baseline for an understanding about Russia’s use of Ukraine to interfere in US politics and provided investigators with an understanding of what the mirror image to Paul Manafort looked like, but this remained secret from much of the public for three months.

It’s less clear precisely when SSCI shared Cohen’s lies with Mueller. But in the same period, both Mueller and SDNY were developing parallel investigations of him. But by the time Cohen pled guilty in SDNY (also in August 2018), Mueller had the evidence to spend almost three months obtaining information from Cohen as well before he entered into a separate plea agreement with Mueller in which he admitted to the secret communications with the Kremlin that he and Trump lied to hide.

Meanwhile, HPSCI’s much more hapless investigation proved a way to get a limited hangout prosecution of Roger Stone. By May 2018, when Mueller developed evidence showing not just ways that Stone was obstructing his own investigation but also how Stone attempted to craft lies to tell to the Committee — coordinated with Jerome Corsi and reliant on threats to Randy Credico — it provided a way to prosecute Stone while protecting Mueller’s ongoing investigation into whether Stone conspired with Russia.

And by all public appearances at the time, it appeared that Congress was acting while Mueller was not. But that was false (and is probably false now). The entire time during which SSCI and HPSCI were taking steps with Cohen and Stone that would late become really useful to the criminal investigation, Mueller was taking active, albeit covert, steps in his own investigations of the two men (whether he was investigating Patten personally or just Kilimnik is uncertain). Mueller obtained his first warrants against Cohen and Stone in July and August, respectively. But no one knew that until the following spring. That is, Cohen and Stone and everyone else focused on Congress while Mueller got to investigate covertly for another nine months.

We should assume the same kind of thing is happening here. All the more so given the really delicate privilege issues raised by this investigation, including Executive, Attorney-Client, and Speech and Debate. When all is said and done, I believe we will learn that Merrick Garland set things up in July such that the January 6 Committee could go pursue Trump documents at the Archives as a co-equal branch of government bolstered by Biden waivers that don’t require any visibility into DOJ’s investigation. Privilege reviews covering Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and John Eastman’s communications are also being done. That is, this time around, DOJ seems to have solved a problem that Mueller struggled with. And they did so with the unsolicited help of the January 6 Committee.

Even those of us who’ve been covering DOJ’s January 6 prosecution day-to-day (unlike Thrush) have no way of saying what DOJ has been doing covertly in the last year — though it is public that they’ve been investigating Alex Jones, the purported new thrust of this investigation, since August.

What we know from recent history, however, is that DOJ’s use of Congress’ work in no way suggests DOJ hasn’t been doing its own.

Confirmed: John Durham Has Withheld Discovery That DOJ Already Disproved His Claims of Political Malice

In his reply filing in the fight over what evidence will be submitted at his trial, Michael Sussmann confirmed something I’ve long suspected: John Durham has not provided Sussmann with the discovery Durham would need to have provided to present his own conspiracy theories at trial without risking a major discovery violation.

Were the Special Counsel to try to suggest that Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Steele engaged in a common course of conduct, that would open the door to an irrelevant mini-trial about the accuracy of Mr. Steele’s allegations about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia—something that, like the Alfa Bank allegations, many experts continue to believe in, and about which the Special Counsel has tellingly failed to produce any significant discovery.

Sussmann dropped this in the filing without fanfare. But it is clear notice that if Durham continues down the path he is headed, he may face discovery sanctions down the road.

I explained why that’s true in these two posts. A core tenet of Durham’s conspiracy theories is that the only reason one would use proven cybersecurity methods to test certain hypotheses about Donald Trump would be for malicious political reasons. Here’s how Durham argued that in his own reply.

As the Government will demonstrate at trial, it was also the politically-laden and ethically-fraught nature of this project that gave Tech Executive-1 and the defendant a strong motive to conceal the origins of the Russian Bank-1 allegations and falsely portray them as the organic discoveries of concerned computer scientists.

There’s no external measure for what makes one thing political and makes another thing national security. But if this issue were contested, I assume that Sussmann would point, first, to truth as a standard. And as he could point out, many of the hypotheses April Lorenzen tested, which Durham points to as proof the project was malicious and political, turned out to be true. They were proven to be true by DOJ. Some of those true allegations involved guilty pleas to crimes, including FARA, explicitly designed to protect national security; another involved Roger Stone’s guilty verdict on charges related to his cover-up of his potential involvement in a CFAA hacking case.

DOJ (under the direction of Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who in those very same years was Durham’s direct supervisor) has already decided that John Durham is wrong about these allegations being political. Sussmann has both truth and DOJ’s backing on his side that these suspicions, if proven true (as they were), would be a threat to national security. Yet Durham persists in claiming to the contrary.

Here’s the evidence proving these hypotheses true that Durham has withheld in discovery:

The researchers were testing whether Richard Burt was a back channel to the Trump campaign. And while Burt’s more substantive role as such a (Putin-ordered) attempt to establish a back channel came during the transition, it is a fact that Burt was involved in several events earlier in the campaign at which pro-Russian entities tried to cultivate the campaign, including Trump’s first foreign policy speech. Neither Burt nor anyone else was charged with any crime, but Mueller’s 302s involving the Center for National Interest — most notably two very long interviews with Dmitri Simes (one, updated, two, updated), which were still under investigation in March 2020 — reflect a great deal of counterintelligence interest in the organization.

The researchers were also testing whether people close to Trump were laundering money from Putin-linked Oligarchs through Cyprus. That guy’s name is Paul Manafort, with the assistance of Rick Gates. Indeed, Manafort was ousted from the campaign during the period researchers were working on the data in part to distance the campaign from that stench (though it didn’t stop Trump from pardoning Manafort).

A more conspiratorial Lorenzen hypothesis (at least on its face) was that one of the family members of an Alfa Bank oligarch might be involved — maybe a son- or daughter-in-law. And in fact, German Khan’s son-in-law Alex van der Zwaan was working with Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik in precisely that time period to cover up Manafort’s ties to those Russian-backed oligarchs.

Then there was the suspicion — no doubt driven, on the Democrats’ part, by the correlation between Trump’s request to Russia for more hacking and the renewed wave of attacks that started hours later — that Trump had some back channel to Russia.

It turns out there were several. There was the aforementioned Manafort, who in the precise period when Rodney Joffe started more formally looking to see if there was a back channel, was secretly meeting at a cigar bar with alleged Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik discussing millions of dollars in payments involving Russian-backed oligarchs, Manafort’s plan to win the swing states, and an effort to carve up Ukraine that leads directly to Russia’s current invasion.

That’s the kind of back channel researchers were using proven cybersecurity techniques to look for. They didn’t confirm that one — but their suspicion that such a back channel existed proved absolutely correct.

Then there’s the Roger Stone back channel with Guccifer 2.0. Again, in this precise period, Stone was DMing with the persona. But the FBI obtained at least probable cause that Stone’s knowledge of the persona went back much further, back to even before the persona went public in June 2016. That’s a back channel that remained under investigation, predicated off of national security crimes CFAA, FARA, and 18 USC 951, at least until April 2020 and one that, because of the way Stone was scripting pro-Russian statements for Trump, might explain Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. DOJ was still investigating Stone’s possible back channel as a national security concern well after Durham was appointed to undermine that national security investigation by deeming it political.

Finally, perhaps the most important back channel — for Durham’s purposes — was Michael Cohen. That’s true, in part, because the comms that Cohen kept lying to hide were directly with the Kremlin, with Dmitri Peskov. That’s also true because on his call to a Peskov assistant, Cohen laid out his — and candidate Donald Trump’s — interest in a Trump Tower Moscow deal that was impossibly lucrative, but which also assumed the involvement of one or another sanctioned bank as well as a former GRU officer. That is, not only did Cohen have a back channel directly with the Kremlin he was trying to hide,  but it involved Russian banks that were far more controversial than the Alfa Bank ties that the researchers were pursuing, because the banks had been deemed to have taken actions that threatened America’s security.

This back channel is particularly important, though, because in the same presser where Trump invited Russia to hack his opponent more, he falsely claimed he had decided against pursuing any Trump Organization developments in Russia.

Russia that wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia. And they wanted us to do it. But it never worked out.

Frankly I didn’t want to do it for a couple of different reasons. But we had a major developer, particular, but numerous developers that wanted to develop property in Moscow and other places. But we decided not to do it.

The researchers were explicitly trying to disprove Trump’s false claim that there were no ongoing business interests he was still pursuing with Russia. And this is a claim that Michael Cohen not only admitted was false and described recognizing was false when Trump made this public claim, but described persistent efforts on Trump’s part to cover up his lie, continuing well into his presidency.

For almost two years of Trump’s Administration, Trump was lying to cover up his efforts to pursue an impossibly lucrative real estate deal that would have required violating or eliminating US sanctions on Russia. That entire time, Russia knew Trump was lying to cover up those back channel communications with the Kremlin. That’s the kind of leverage over a President that all Americans should hope to avoid, if they care about national security. That’s precisely the kind of leverage that Sally Yates raised when she raised concerns about Mike Flynn’s public lies about his own back channel with Russia. Russia had that leverage over Trump long past the time Trump limped out of a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, to which Trump had brought none of the aides who would normally sit in on a presidential meeting, looking like a beaten puppy.

Durham’s failures to provide discovery on this issue are all the more inexcusable given the fights over privilege that will be litigated this week.

As part of the Democrats’ nesting privilege claims objecting to Durham’s motion to compel privileged documents, Marc Elias submitted a declaration describing how, given his past knowledge and involvement defending against conspiracy theory attacks on past Democratic presidential candidates launched by Jerome Corsi and Donald Trump, and given Trump’s famously litigious nature, he believed he needed expertise on Trump’s international business ties to be able to advise Democrats on how to avoid eliciting such a lawsuit from Trump. (Note, tellingly, Durham’s motion to compel doesn’t mention a great deal of accurate Russian-language research by Fusion — to which Nellie Ohr was just one of a number of contributors — that was never publicly shared nor debunked as to quality.)

There are four redacted passages that describe the advice he provided; he is providing these descriptions ex parte for Judge Cooper to use to assess the Democrats’ privilege claims. Two short ones probably pertain to the scope of Perkins Coie’s relationship with the Democratic committees. Another short one likely describes Elias’ relationship, and through him, Fusion’s, with the oppo research staff on the campaign. But the longest redaction describing Elias’ legal advice, one that extends more than five paragraphs and over a page and a half, starts this way:

That is, the introduction to Elias’ description of the privilege claims tied to the Sussmann trial starts from Trump’s request of Russia to hack Hillary. Part of that sentence and the balance of the paragraph is redacted — it might describe that immediately after Trump made that request, the Russians fulfilled his request — but the redacted paragraph and the balance of the declaration presumably describes what legal advice he gave Hillary as she faced a new onslaught of Russian hacking attempts that seemingly responded to her opponent’s request for such hacking.

Given what Elias described about his decision to hire Fusion, part of that discussion surely explains his effort to assess an anomaly identified independently by researchers that reflected unexplained traffic between a Trump marketing server and a Russian bank. Elias probably described why it was important for the Hillary campaign to assess whether this forensic data explained why Russian hackers immediately responded to Trump’s request to hack her.

As I have noted, in past filings Durham didn’t even consider the possibility that Elias might discuss the renewed wave of hacking that Hillary’s security personnel IDed in real time with Sussmann, Perkins Coie’s cybersecurity expert.

It’s a testament to how deep John Durham is in his conspiracy-driven rabbit hole that he assumes a 24-minute meeting between Marc Elias and Michael Sussmann on July 31, 2016 to discuss the “server issue” pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. Just days earlier, after all, Donald Trump had asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton, and within hours, Russian hackers obliged by targeting, for the first time, Hillary’s home office. Someone who worked in security for Hillary’s campaign told me that from his perspective, the Russian attacks on Hillary seemed like a series of increasing waves of attacks, and the response to Trump’s comments was one of those waves (this former staffer documented such waves of attack in real time). The Hillary campaign didn’t need Robert Mueller to tell them that Russia seemed to respond to Trump’s request by ratcheting up their attacks, and Russia’s response to Trump would have been an urgent issue for the lawyer in charge of their cybersecurity response.

It’s certainly possible this reference to the “server” issue pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. But Durham probably doesn’t know; nor do I. None of the other billing references Durham suggests pertain to the Alfa Bank issue reference a server.

Durham took a reference that might pertain to a discussion of a correlation between Trump’s ask and a renewed wave of Russian attacks on Hillary (or might pertain to the Alfa Bank anomaly), and assumed instead it was proof that Hillary was manufacturing unsubstantiated dirt on her opponent. He never even considered the legal challenges someone victimized by a nation-state attack, goaded by her opponent, might face.

And yet, given the structure of that redaction from Elias, that event is the cornerstone of the privilege claims surrounding the Alfa Bank allegations.

Because of all the things I laid out in this post, Judge Cooper may never have to evaluate these privilege claims at all. To introduce privileged evidence, Durham has to first withstand:

  • Denial because his 404(b) notice asking to present it was late, and therefore forfeited
  • Denial because Durham’s motion to compel violated local rules and grand jury process, in some ways egregiously
  • Rejection because most of the communications over which the Democrats have invoked privilege are inadmissible hearsay
  • The inclusion or exclusion of the testimony of Rodney Joffe, whose privilege claims are the most suspect of the lot, but whose testimony would make the communications Durham deems to be most important admissible

Cooper could defer any assessment of these privilege claims until he decides these other issues and, for one or several procedural reasons, simply punt the decision entirely based on Durham’s serial failures to follow the rules.

Only after that, then, would Cooper assess a Durham conspiracy theory for which Durham himself admits he doesn’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As part of his bid to submit redacted and/or hearsay documents as exhibits under a claim that this all amounted to a conspiracy (albeit one he doesn’t claim was illegal), Durham argues that unless he can submit hearsay and privileged documents, he wouldn’t otherwise have enough evidence to prove his conspiracy theory.

Nor is evidence of this joint venture gratuitous or cumulative of other evidence. Indeed, the Government possesses only a handful of redacted emails between the defendant and Tech Executive-1 on these issues. And the defendant’s billing records pertaining to the Clinton Campaign, while incriminating, do not always specify the precise nature of the defendant’s work.

Accordingly, presenting communications between the defendant’s alleged clients and third parties regarding the aforementioned political research would hardly amount to a “mini-trial.” (Def. Mot. at 20). Rather, these communications are among the most probative and revealing evidence that the Government will present to the jury. Other than the contents of privileged communications themselves (which are of course not accessible to the Government or the jury), such communications will offer some of the most direct evidence on the ultimate question of whether the defendant lied in stating that he was not acting for any other clients.

In short, because the Government here must prove the existence of client relationships that are themselves privileged, it is the surrounding events and communications involving these clients that offer the best proof of those relationships.

Moreover, even if the Court were to find that no joint venture existed, all of the proffered communications are still admissible because, as set forth in the Government’s motions, they are not being offered to prove the truth of specific assertions. Rather, they are being offered to prove the existence of activities and relationships that led to, and culminated in, the defendant’s meeting with the FBI. Even more critically, the very existence of these written records – which laid bare the political nature of the exercise and the numerous doubts that the researchers had about the soundness of their conclusions – gave the defendant and his clients a compelling motive, separate and apart from the truth or falsity of the emails themselves, to conceal the identities of such clients and origins of the joint venture. Accordingly, they are not being offered for their truth and are not hearsay.

This passage (which leads up to a citation from one of the Georgia Tech researchers to which Sussmann was not privy that the frothers have spent the weekend drooling over) is both a confession and a cry for help.

In it, Durham admits he doesn’t actually have proof that the conspiracy he is alleging is the motive behind Michael Sussmann’s alleged lie.

He’s making this admission, of course, while hiding the abundant evidence — evidence he didn’t bother obtaining before charging Sussmann — that Sussmann and Joffe acceded to the FBI request to help kill the NYT story, which substantiates Sussmann’s stated motive.

And then, in the same passage, Durham is pointing to that absence of evidence to justify using that same claimed conspiracy for which he doesn’t have evidence to pierce privilege claims to obtain the evidence he doesn’t have. It’s a circular argument and an admission that all the claims he has been making since September are based off his beliefs about what must be there, not what he has evidence for.

Thus far the researchers’ beliefs about what kind of back channels they might find between Trump and Russia have far more proof than Durham’s absence of evidence.

Again, Durham doesn’t even claim that such a conspiracy would be illegal (much less chargeable under the statute of limitations), which is why he didn’t do what he could have had he been able to show probable cause that a crime had been committed: obtaining the communications with a warrant and using a filter team. Bill Barr’s memoir made it quite clear that he appointed Durham not because a crime had been committed, but because he wanted to know how a “bogus scandal” in which DOJ found multiple national security crimes started. ”Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal.” In his filing, Durham confesses to doing the same, three years later: using his feelings about a “bogus scandal” to claim a non-criminal conspiracy that he hopes might provide some motive other than the one — national security — that DOJ has already confirmed.

An absolutely central part of Durham’s strategy to win this trial is to present his conspiracy theories, whether by belatedly piercing privilege claims he should have addressed before charging Sussmann (even assuming he’ll find what he admits he doesn’t have proof is there), or by presenting his absence of evidence and claiming it is evidence. He will only be permitted to do if Judge Cooper ignores all his rule violations and grants him a hearsay exception.

But if he manages to present his conspiracy theories, Sussmann can immediately pivot and point out all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that proves not just that the suspicions Durham insists must be malicious and political in fact proved to be true, but also that DOJ — his former boss! — already deemed these suspicions national security concerns that in some cases amounted to crimes.

John Durham’s entire trial strategy consists of claiming that it was obviously political to investigate a real forensic anomaly to see whether it explained why Russia responded to Trump’s call for more hacks by renewing their attack on Hillary. He’s doing so while withholding abundant material evidence that DOJ already decided he’s wrong.

So even if he succeeds, even if Cooper grants him permission to float his conspiracy theories and even if they were to succeed at trial, Sussmann would have immediate recourse to ask for sanctions, pointing to all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that Durham’s claims of malice were wrong.

Update: The bad news I’m still working through my typos, with your help, including getting the name of Dmitri Simes’ organization wrong. The good news is the typos are probably due to being rushed out to cycle in the sun, so I have a good excuse.

Update: Judge Cooper has issued an initial ruling on Durham’s expert witness. It limits what Durham presents to the FBI investigation (excluding much of the CIA investigation he has recently been floating), and does not permit the expert to address whether the data actually did represent communications between Trump and Alfa Bank unless Sussmann either affirmatively claims it did or unless Durham introduced proof that Sussmann knew the data was dodgy.

Finally, the Court takes a moment to explain what could open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI. As the defense concedes, such evidence might be relevant if the government could separately establish “what Mr. Sussmann knew” about the data’s accuracy. Data Mot. at 3. If Sussmann knew the data was suspect, evidence about faults in the data could possibly speak to “his state of mind” at the time of his meeting with Mr. Baker, id., including his motive to conceal the origins of the data. By contrast, Sussmann would not open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data simply by seeking to establish that he reasonably believed the data were accurate and relied on his associates’ representations that they were. Such a defense theory could allow the government to introduce evidence tending to show that his belief was not reasonable—for instance, facially obvious shortcomings in the data, or information received by Sussmann indicating relevant deficiencies.

Ultimately, Cooper is treating this (as appropriate given the precedents in DC) as a question of Sussmann’s state of mind.

Importantly, this is what Cooper says about Durham blowing his deadline (which in this case was a deadline of comity, not trial schedule): he’s going to let it slide, in part because Sussmann does not object to the narrowed scope of what the expert will present.

Mr. Sussmann also urges the Court to exclude the expert testimony on the ground that the government’s notice was untimely and insufficiently specific. See Expert Mot. at 6–10; Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(G). Because the Court will limit Special Agent Martin’s testimony largely to general explanations of the type of technical data that has always been part of the core of this case—much of which Mr. Sussmann does not object to—any allegedly insufficient or belated notice did not prejudice him. See United States v. Mohammed, No. 06-cr-357, 2008 WL 5552330, at *3 (D.D.C. May 6, 2008) (finding that disclosure nine days before trial did not prejudice defendant in part because its subject was “hardly a surprise”) (citing United States v. Martinez, 476 F.3d 961, 967 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

This suggests Cooper may be less willing to let other deadlines slide, such as the all-important 404(b) one.