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John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs

Last Thursday, John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, the Perkins Coie lawyer who advised the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign about cybersecurity in 2016 as they struggled to deal with a hostile nation-state attack aiming — in part — to help elect their opponent. The indictment accuses Sussmann of lying to FBI General Counsel James Baker at a September 19, 2016 meeting at which Sussmann shared information about the curious DNS traffic between a server used by a Trump marketing contractor and Alfa Bank.

emptywheel’s long history of debunking the Alfa Bank story

Before I unpack the indictment, let me remind readers that when this story first publicly broke, I explained why the Spectrum Health (aka my boob hospital at the time) aspect of the allegations made no sense, criticized Hillary’s team (including Jake Sullivan) for jumping on the story, and echoed Rob Graham’s criticism of the researchers who accessed DNS data to conduct this research.

In addition to his technical debunking, Robert Graham made an equally important point: researchers shouldn’t be accessing this data for ad-lib investigations into presidential candidates, and it’s not even clear who would have access to it all except the NSA.

The big story isn’t the conspiracy theory about Trump, but that these malware researchers exploited their privileged access for some purpose other than malware research.

[snip]

In short, of all the sources of “DNS malware information” I’ve heard about, none of it would deliver the information these researchers claim to have (well, except the NSA with their transatlantic undersea taps, of course).

[snip]

[B]efore Tea Leaves started pushing this story to the press, the FBI had been investigating it for two months.

Which, to my mind, raises even more questions about the anonymous researchers’ identities, because (small world and all) the FBI likely knows them, in which case they may have known that the FBI wasn’t jumping on the story by the time they started pitching it.

Or the FBI doesn’t know them, which raises still more questions about the provenance of these files.

Ah well, if President Hillary starts a war with Russia based off Iraq-War style dodgy documents, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing my boob clinic is right there on the front lines.

In March 2017, I observed that the weird Alfa Bank entry in the Steele dossier suggested a feedback loop between the Alfa Bank server story and the dossier project. Then days after that, I noted all the ways that the packaging of this story made it more suspect.

In 2018, I complained about the way Dexter Filkins had strained to sustain the story, while noting that people ought to look more closely at why Alfa Bank might be the focus here; the Mueller Report since confirmed that within weeks after the story broke publicly, Vladimir Putin pushed Oligarchs from Alfa Bank to fight harder against western sanctions, something that the alleged source for the Alfa Bank entry in the dossier seemed to parrot.

In short, I not only have consistently criticized this story, but done so in ways that anticipate the most justifiable parts of the indictment. It’s only the last bit — how the Alfa narrative echoes Putin’s interests — that this indictment doesn’t incorporate.

I guess with five more years Durham might get there…

So in unpacking this indictment, I’m in no way defending the Alfa Bank – Trump Tower story. It was a sketchy allegation, the packaging of it was suspect, and those who conducted the research arguably violated ethical guidelines.

I got to where Durham got in this indictment years and years ago. But that doesn’t make it a crime.

John Durham’s “narrative”

Moreover, that doesn’t mean Durham should tell as strained a “narrative” as those who packaged up this story. Central to Durham’s indictment is an assumption that if a victim of a crime who believed at the time that the crime had a — since confirmed — political goal reports suspicious, potentially related details, the victim must be motivated exclusively out of self-interest, not good citizenship or a concern about national security. That is, this entire indictment assumes that when Russia attacks a Presidential candidate, that is not itself a national security concern, but instead nothing more than a political dispute.

Effectively, John Durham has made it a crime for someone victimized by a Russian influence operation to try to chase down Russian influence operations.

Tech Executive-1 and Clinton both had retained Perkins Coie long before this, with Sussmann getting involved specifically for cybersecurity help in the wake of the Russian hack

The indictment, perhaps deliberately, obscures the timeline and facts leading up to the charged lie. But here’s the story it tells. First, all of Durham’s subjects established contracts with each other, even though all of those contracts (including Fusion GPS’) had scopes far larger than oppo research on Trump’s relationship with Russia.

  • In February 2015, Tech Executive-1 (whom I’ll call TE-1 for brevity) retained Sussmann to deal with a US government agency [Durham does not say whether this matter was resolved or continued in this period in 2016, which is central to the question of what kind of client of Sussmann’s TE-1 was].
  • In April 2015, the Clinton Campaign retained Perkins Coie and made Marc Elias the Campaign’s General Counsel.
  • In April 2016, the victim of a Russian government election-related attack, the DNC, retained Sussmann to help it deal with aftermath, which included meeting with the FBI. As the indictment describes this was not just legal support but cybersecurity.
  • [After a Republican retained them first and on a date that Durham doesn’t reveal,] Perkins Coie retained Fusion GPS to conduct oppo research on Trump pertaining to Russia [and other topics, though Durham doesn’t mention those other topics].

Durham only mentions in passing, later, that the researchers involved here similarly knew each other through relationships that focused on cybersecurity and predated these events.

Via means and on specific dates that Durham doesn’t always provide, Tea Leaves, TE-1, Sussmann, and two Researchers got the DNS data showing an anomaly

There are two sets of research here: that done in a university setting and that done at companies associated with TE-1, though TE-1 is the pivot to both. As depicted, Durham suggests the former are more legally exposed than the latter.

  • By some time in late July 2016 [the exact date Durham doesn’t provide], a guy who always operated under the pseudonym Tea Leaves but whom Durham heavy-handedly calls “Originator-1” instead had assembled “purported DNS data” reflecting apparent DNS lookups between Alfa Bank and “mail1.trump-email.com” that spanned from May 4 through July 29.
  • Tea Leaves was a business associate of TE-1 and via means Durham doesn’t describe, the data Tea Leaves gathered was shared with TE-1.
  • “In or about July 2016” [at a time that, because of the laws of physics, must post-date the late July date when Tea Leaves collected this data and the date when he shared them with TE-1], TE-1 alerted Sussmann to the data.
  • On July 31, Sussmann billed the Clinton Campaign for 24 minutes with the billing description, “communications with Marc Elias regarding server issue.”
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t provide even a month, but by context it was at least as early as July 2016 and could have been far, far earlier], TE-1’s company provided a university with data for a government contract ultimately not contracted until November 2016, including the DNS data from an Executive Branch office of the US government that Tech Exec-1’s company had gotten as a sub-contractor to the US government. [This date of this is critical because it would be the trigger for a Conspiracy to Defraud charge, if Durham goes there.]
  • In or about August 2016 [Durham doesn’t provide a date], a federal government was finalizing but had not yet signed a cybersecurity research contract with [presumably] that same university to receive and analyze large quantities of public and non-public data “to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security.” Tea Leaves was the founder of a company that the university was considering [Durham doesn’t provide the date of consideration, but generally these things precede finalization] for a subcontract with the government contract.

TE-1 directs employees of companies under his control to research this issue

Though Durham’s indictment is somewhat vague, at least one piece of research from companies associated with TE-1 was shared with the FBI; it appears that other threads of research were not shared.

  • In or about early August 2016 [the dates of which Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 directed personnel at two companies in which he had an ownership interest to search for what the indictment calls, “any Internet data reflecting potential connections or communications between Trump or his associates and Russia,” which Durham describes to be “derogatory information on Trump.” In connection with this tasking, TE-1 later stated [on a date Durham doesn’t describe] he was working with someone who had close ties to the Democratic Party.
  • At some point, an individual tasked with this work described being “uncomfortable regarding this tasking,” [Durham doesn’t describe when he learned this or whether there is any contemporaneous proof].
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t describe the date], TE-1 provided one of his companies with personal (but publicly available) data from six Trump associates and one purported US-based lobbyist for Alfa Bank and directed these individuals should be the focus of that company’s data queries and analysis [Durham doesn’t say whether these six associates overlapped with the people Fusion had been tasked to research, nor does he allege they got included in the eventual reports to the FBI; both details are needed to assess his case].
  • On August 12, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 met in Elias’ office; Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton Campaign describing, “confidential meetings with Elias, others.”
  • On August 15, employees at one of the companies queried their holdings against a set of addresses that referred to Trump and/or Alfa Bank.
  • During the same time period [Durham doesn’t specify when], employees at Internet Company-3 drafted a written paper that included technical observations that Sussmann would later convey to the FBI.

Around the time this started, Sussmann met Fusion and a bunch of meetings happened that were billed to Hillary

  • On July 29, Sussmann and Marc Elias met with Fusion GPS [Durham doesn’t affirmatively claim this data pertained to the server issue], and Sussmann billed his time to the Hillary Campaign under “General Political Advice,” a different description than all the other Fusion meetings that Durham more credibly claims relate to the Alfa Bank allegation.
  • Around “the same [August] time period” [Durham doesn’t provide the date], Sussmann, Elias, and Fusion personnel began exchanging emails with the subject line, “Connecting you all by email;” [Durham doesn’t say who initiated the email, but it suggests that before this period, Sussmann and Fusion did not have direct contact].
  • On August 17, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 conducted an additional conference call, for which Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton campaign, noting “telephone conference with” TE-1 and Elias.
  • On August 19, 2016, Sussman and Elias had another in-person meeting that Sussmann described as a meeting with TE-1, which was billed as a “confidential meeting with Elias, others.”

Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves worked with TE-1 on a “storyline” and “narrative” with varying degrees of skepticism expressed

This is the stuff Durham–with some justification–will and has used to taint all this as a political project.

  • On July 29, Researcher-2 emailed Researcher-1 the data compiled by Tea Leaves [Durham provides no evidence that TE-1 was involved in this exchange].
  • On August 19, Researcher-1 queried Internet data maintained by TE-1’s company [it is not clear but this suggests it was not the data turned over to the University] for the aforementioned mail1.trump-email.com domain. Researcher-1 then emailed TE-1 with the list of domains that had communicated with it, saying the list, “does not make much sense with the storyline you have.”
  • On August 20, Tea Leaves emailed Tech Exec-1, Researcher-1, and Researcher 2, stating that, “even if we found what [TE-1] asks us to find in DNS, we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying, ‘send money here’.” Tea Leaves then explained that one could fill out sales forms and cause them, “to appear to communicate with each other in DNS.” Tea Leaves then noted that “it’s just not the case that you can rest assured that Hillary’s opposition research and whatever professional gov and investigative journalists are also digging come up with the same things.”
  • On August 20, TE-1 clarified that the task was “indeed broad,” and that,
    • Being able to provide evidence of *anything* that shows an attempt to behave badly in relation to this [Durham doesn’t describe what the antecedent of “this” is], the VIPs would be happy. They’re looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination.
  • Still on August 20, seemingly distinguishing between that task and the Alfa Bank allegations, TE-1 said, “the prior hypothesis was all that they needed: mailserver dedicated or related to trump … and with traffic almost exclusively with Alfa was sufficient to do the job. … Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.” [Ellipses original]
  • On August 21, TE-1 emailed the recipients [but not, apparently, Sussmann], urging them to do further research on Trump which would “given the base of a very useful narrative.” He added that he didn’t believe the trump-email.com domain was a secret communications channel but a “red herring,” because the host was “a legitimate valid company,” stating they could “ignore it, together with others that seem to be part of the marketing world.”
  • On August 22, Researcher-1 raised doubts about whether, using only the tools they were currently using, they could prove their hypothesis. Among the concerns raised is that they couldn’t prove that “this is not spoofed [] traffic.” [brackets original; bolded in the original]
  • Later in or about August 2016 [on dates Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 exchanged emails with personnel from Fusion.

Sussmann drafts a white paper and (via unstated means) TE-1 gets Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves to review it

  • Between September 5 and September 14, Sussmann drafted a white paper, generally billing his time to the Clinton Campaign, but on September 14, billing time to both Clinton and TE-1.
  • On September 14, TE-1 [not Sussmann] sent the white paper he had drafted to Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves to ask them if a review of less than an hour would show this to be plausible. Though some of them noted how limited the standard of “plausibility” was, they agreed it was plausible, and Researcher 2 said [Durham does not quote the specific language here] “the paper should be shared with government officials.”

Sussmann shares this and other information with James Baker and–Durham claims–affirmatively lies about whether he is representing someone

  • Both before the September 19 meeting and after it (notably in a September 12 meeting involving the NYTimes, in which Marc Elias also participated), Sussmann spoke to the press about what Durham credibly suggests was the Alfa Bank white paper. Sussmann billed this to Clinton.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with Baker and provided him with three white papers and a thumb drive with data. Durham doesn’t actually make clear where all three of these came from.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with James Baker. Durham claims that “he stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client” [which Durham cannot quote because there’s no contemporaneous record], that he had been approached by multiple cyber experts [Durham doesn’t say whether the three he named were Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves or other people, as seems to be the case], three white papers [which I may return to because this is another problematic spot in his story], and some of the data, which Durham calls “purported.”
  • Immediately after the September 19 meeting, Baker met with Bill Priestap whose notes read:
    • Michael Sussman[n] — Atty: Perkins Coie — said not doing this for any client
      • Represents DNC, Clinton Foundation, etc. []
      • Been approached by Prominent Cyber People (Academic or Corp. POCs), People like: [three names redacted]
  • Durham substantiates a claim that Sussmann billed the meeting itself to Hillary to a description, “work and communications regarding confidential project,” that does not, at least as he quotes it, mention a meeting with the FBI General Counsel at all.

Some of this — the reference to crafting a narrative and a storyline — is damning and validates my discomfort with the political nature of this project five years ago. Other parts of this emphasize the researchers’ insistence on truth from at least parts of this effort. Still others (such as the recognition that this could be spoofed data) will almost certainly end up being presented as exculpatory if this ever goes to trial, but Durham seems to think is inculpatory.

In one place, Durham describes “aforementioned views,” plural, that the Alfa Bank data was a “red herring,” something only attributed to TE-1 in the indictment, seemingly presenting TE-1’s stated view on August 21 to everyone involved, including Sussmann, who does not appear to have been on that email chain. He claims Sussmann, Researcher 1 and 2, TE-1, and Tea Leaves drafted the white paper(s) shared with the FBI, but all he substantiates is a less than one hour review by everyone but Sussmann. He leaves out a great deal of detail about what Jean Camp and someone using the moniker Tea Leaves did and said, publicly, after the FBI meeting, which may totally undercut Durham’s “narrative.”

But other parts, even of the story that Durham tells, are problematic for his narrative. First, there is not (yet) the least hint that Tea Leaves — whom he calls “The Originator” — fabricated this data (or even packaged it up misleadingly, though I think there is evidence he did). Nor is there the least hint that TE-1 asked Tea Leaves to come up with the data. That part of the story is fundamentally important and Durham simply ignores it with that legally unnecessary — particularly given that Durham clearly labels this person as Tea Leaves — moniker “Originator,” giving the anomalous forensic data a kind of virgin birth. And while two of the four tech experts described herein (there appear to be at least three others not described) expressed some doubt about the meaning of it, none of them seems to have doubted that there was an anomaly in the Trump marketing server and Alfa Bank.

Based on this story, though, Durham insinuates Sussmann fed information that he, Sussmann, knew to be bullshit to the FBI on behalf of both Hillary and TE-1, and in so doing affirmatively hid that the bullshit “storyline” was designed to help Hillary which (he claims) would have led the FBI to treat it differently.

In spite of a lot of thus far extraneous details, that’s the only crime he has alleged.

The existing case is remarkably weak

As a number of people have noted, as charged this is a remarkably weak case. Ben Wittes dedicates a section of his post on this indictment to those weaknesses. They are, succinctly:

  • The evidence regarding the core allegation in the indictment pits Sussmann’s word against James Baker’s; there are no other witnesses.
  • After the meeting with Baker, Sussmann repeatedly admitted under oath he was representing a client, a detail which could be exculpatory or inculpatory.
  • Baker testified to Congress he did believe Sussmann was representing a client (meaning Baker will be used to discredit Baker, the one witness to Sussmann’s alleged lie).
  • Even in Bill Priestap’s nearly-contemporaneous notes which are the only documentation of Sussmann’s comments, he describes Sussmann as Hillary’s lawyer (including for the Clinton Foundation, which may be incorrect), so FBI knew full well that Sussmann represented Hillary.
  • Priestap’s notes may be inadmissible hearsay at trial.

The NYT article predicting these charges also claim Durham is conflating Sussmann’s tracking of his hourly work with the actual money charged to the Hillary campaign.

Moreover, internal billing records Mr. Durham is said to have obtained from Perkins Coie are said to show that when Mr. Sussmann logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter — though not the meeting with Mr. Baker — he billed the time to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

[snip]

They are also said to have argued that the billing records are misleading because Mr. Sussmann was not charging his client for work on the Alfa Bank matter, but needed to show internally that he was working on something. He was discussing the matter with Mr. Elias and the campaign paid a flat monthly retainer to the firm, so Mr. Sussmann’s hours did not result in any additional charges, they said.

There are a number of other ways that Sussmann’s presumably well-funded defense will combat these charges. But as to the allegation buried amid all these details, Durham’s evidence is weak.

Durham’s materiality broadcasts his bid for a ConFraudUS conspiracy

But that’s not what this is about.

Durham is not just alleging that Sussmann was hiding that he was working for Hillary. He is also claiming that Sussmann was at the same time representing TE-1 at that meeting. In the indictment, I think that’s based on a single data point — that Sussmann billed TE-1’s company for “communications regarding confidential project” on September 14. I’m not sure whether that makes the false statements case still weaker or stronger.

But it’s a key part of where Durham obviously wants to go.

Not only are many of the details Durham included in the indictment irrelevant to the false statements charge, but if they were crimes by themselves, they would have been tolled under any five year statute of limitations already. There are only two conceivable purposes for including them in this indictment. First, to give the Alfa Bank Oligarchs more cause to sue more people, effectively a US prosecutor assisting Russians in cynical lawfare. Durham’s investigation incorporates stuff the Oligarchs have already liberated, so is itself derivative of Russian lawfare. Effectively, that means that a prosecutor working for Bill Barr’s DOJ pursued a prosecution that was complementary to an intelligence-related effort by foreigners who pay Kirkland & Ellis a lot of money. Sussmann will have real cause to question whether Brian Benczkowski (who recused from matters involving this aspect of Alfa Bank) or any other Kirkland & Ellis lawyer had a role in this strand of the investigation.

Then there’s the most obvious way to extend the statute of limitations on the events that happened in July and August 2016: to include them in a conspiracy that continued after those dates (and indeed, Durham refers to Elias, Researcher 1 and 2, and Tea Leaves in the way DOJ often uses to refer to charged or uncharged co-conspirators).

Given the extended statement Durham includes to explain why Sussmann’s alleged lie is material under the charged statute, that’s undoubtedly where Durham wants to head with his investigation.

SUSSMANN’s lie was material because, among other reasons, SUSSMANN’s false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of SUSSMANN’s clients.

Had the FBI uncovered the origins of the relevant data and analysis and as alleged below, it might have learned, among other things that (i) in compiling and analyzing the Russian Bank-1 allegations, Tech Executive-1 had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump; (ii) in furtherance of these efforts, Tech Executive-1 had enlisted, and was continuing to enlist, the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract; and (iii) SUSSMAN, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.

Don’t get me wrong. This will clearly pass the incredibly low standard for materiality under existing precedent. Though Sussmann will surely make much of citing the invented standard Billy Barr used to try to dismiss the Mike Flynn prosecution, which first requires the investigation in question to be legitimate.

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

[snip]

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

If DOJ had no interest in figuring out whether Trump was undermining sanctions to pay off a quid pro quo, they sure as hell have no interest in launching a 3-year investigation to figure out the tie between these allegations and Hillary that was obvious to Priestap in real time, particularly given how quickly the FBI dismissed the allegations in 2017 and given that the allegations are not publicly known to have had a tie to their larger Russian investigation.

Still, while Durham will have no trouble proving Sussmann’s claimed lie meets the standards of materiality, Durham’s claims for it are ridiculous.

It’s a load of horseshit that FBI would have treated this tip any differently — which amounted to investigating it, alerting the press there was nothing to it, then dismissing it pretty quickly, as far as is public — if they knew that Sussmann was formally being paid at that meeting by Hillary, if he in fact was. Priestap knew Sussmann was representing Hillary and said as much in the best evidence Durham has! In fact, FBI’s warning to the NYT about this story in October could be presented as evidence that FBI already incorporated an assumption this came from Hillary.

Likewise, it’s a load of horseshit that FBI couldn’t know that the Bureau needed to ID the researchers behind the project. If I was able to figure that was important out before the 2016 election, and I did, then the experts at the FBI surely figured that out.

But what Durham’s materiality statement emphasizes — what Durham claims Sussmann intended to hide with his claimed lie — is that, “researchers at a U.S.-based university … were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract.” That’s the significance of ¶¶23a through e of the indictment, which describe how TE-1 provided data that included some from an Executive Branch office of the U.S. government, which his company had obtained “as a sub-contractor in a sensitive relationship between the U.S. government and another company,” to the university at which Researcher 1 and 2 were working, and both with his university researcher allies and employees of his own company, he tasked people to research Donald Trump. Durham is suggesting that subset of data taints the whole pool that TE-1 shared, making it a Federal interest.

It’s not just that Durham is working on a theory that Sussmann deliberately dealt garbage to the FBI (which GOP sources also did on the Clinton Foundation) while trying to hide that fact. It’s that data originally sourced from the government was used in doing that research.

It’s actually the kind of argument that DOJ prosecutors typically succeed with. Except it’s all premised on proving that Sussman was trying to hide all this in his meeting with Baker. Even if the evidence surrounding the meeting weren’t so flimsy, this is another degree of motive that Durham is straining mightily to make.

Durham needs Sussmann to have lied, because a deliberate attempt to obscure the rest is necessary for his “storyline.” His evidence that Sussmann lied — much less, deliberately — is shoddy. But if he can’t get that, then his hopes for a larger “narrative” collapse.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

That becomes more clear when you consider some details that Durham doesn’t include in his indictment.

Two details that were public to everyone involved make it clear why Durham’s silence about the exact dates in July when this operation started is so corrupt.

On July 22, WikiLeaks published emails that were at the time believed and since have been confirmed by the FBI to have been hacked by Russia. Durham hides the dates in July when many of these events transpired, but everything he includes suggests this activity post-dated the time when WikiLeaks published stolen emails and the entire security community in the US, surely including every researcher mentioned in this story, coalesced on the belief that Russia was the culprit. Durham refers to Russia’s attack on Hillary (and therefore on the US) inaccurately as, “the hacking of its email servers by the Russian government” and “a hack” (the hack went well beyond just email and continued through the period of Sussmann’s meeting with Baker). But, amazingly, Durham’s “narrative” doesn’t account for the fact that Hillary was targeted not just with an attack but with an information operation. And the timeline he presents here affirmatively hides that these events took place after the entire security community understood that there was an information operation aspect to the attack.

Then, on July 27, Trump gave a press conference in Florida where he said numerous things that make all the actions of Sussmann and others justifiable on national security grounds. First, Trump raised doubts about the Russian attribution of the DNC hack that, by that point in July, was the consensus among national security experts, undoubtedly including every tech expert mentioned in this indictment.

I watched this guy Mook and he talked about we think it was Russia that hacked. Now, first of all was what was said on those that’s so bad but he said I watched it. I think he was live. But he said we think it was Russia that hacked.

And then he said — and this is in person sitting and watching television as I’ve been doing — and then he said could be Trump, yeah, yeah. Trump, Trump, oh yeah, Trump. He reminded me of John Lovitz for “Saturday Night Live” in the liar (ph) where he’d go yes, yes, I went to Harvard, Harvard, yes, yes. This is the guy, you have to see it. Yes, it could be Trump, yes, yes. So it is so farfetched. It’s so ridiculous. Honestly I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power but Russia has no respect for our country.

And that’s why — if it is Russia, nobody even knows this, it’s probably China, or it could be somebody sitting in his bed. But it shows how weak we are, it shows how disrespected we are. Total — assuming it’s Russia or China or one of the major countries and competitors, it’s a total sign of disrespect for our country. Putin and the leaders throughout the world have no respect for our country anymore and they certainly have no respect for our leader. So I know nothing about it.

Trump then offered his bullshit explanation for why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, framing it in terms of whether he had business ties to Russia.

TRUMP: Because it’s under order. And I’ll release them when the audits completed. Nobody would release when it’s under — I’ve had audits for 15 or 16 years. Every year I have a routine audit. I’m under audit, when the audits complete I’ll release them. But zero, I mean I will tell you right now, zero, I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?

Trump then said the nation-state hack of his opponent wasn’t the important thing, the content of the emails that were released was, thereby encouraging the press to participate in the information operation aspect of this attack.

He already did something today where he said don’t blame them, essentially, for your incompetence. Let me tell you, it’s not even about Russia or China or whoever it is that’s doing the hacking. It was about the things that were said in those e-mails. They were terrible things, talking about Jewish, talking about race, talking about atheist, trying to pin labels on people — what was said was a disgrace, and it was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and believe me, as sure as you’re sitting there, Hillary Clinton knew about it. She knew everything.

Trump then asked Russia to further hack his opponent.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

Trump then doubled down on the comment he made about his taxes, assuring the press that he had “zero” business ties with Russia.

TRUMP: No, I have nothing to do with Russia, John (ph). How many times do I have say that? Are you a smart man? I have nothing to with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia.

And even — for anything. What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I told it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago. I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, OK?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course I can. I told you, other than normal stuff — I buy a house if I sold it to a Russian. I have nothing to do with Russia. I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course not. I own the Trump organization. Zero, zero. Go ahead.

Trump then reiterated his claim that no one could attribute the DNC hack to Russia.

TRUMP: No, but they seem to be, if it’s Russians. I have no idea. It’s probably not Russia. Nobody knows if it’s Russia. You know the sad thing is? That with the technology and the genius we have in this country, not in government unfortunately, but with the genius we have in government, we don’t even know who took the Democratic National Committee e-mails. We don’t even know who it is.

I heard this morning, one report said they don’t think it’s Russia, they think it might be China. Another report said it might be just a hacker, some guy with a 200 I.Q. that can’t get up in the morning, OK? Nobody knows. Honestly they have no idea if it’s Russia. Might be Russia. But if it’s any foreign country, it shows how little respect they have for the United States. Yes, ma’am.

Finally, Trump also stated that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia.

QUESTION: I would like to know if you became president, would you recognize (inaudible) Crimea as Russian territory? And also if the U.S. would lift sanctions that are (inaudible)?

TRUMP: We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.

Each of these comments, individually, would have raised eyebrows. The same comments, made by an American citizen, would equally have raised alarms among those committed to cybersecurity.

But for a presidential candidate to encourage the hostile nation-state information operation targeting his opponent, then ask the hostile nation-state to further target her, in conjunction with the repeated denials of any business ties to Russia raised real, legitimate questions about whether Trump was putting his own interests above the national security of the country.

You might excuse Durham for excluding this from his indictment because after all he was busy indicting a ham sandwich based on hearsay evidence he might be able to exclude these facts at trial. Except that an August 20 comment from TE-1 that Durham quotes in his indictment may be a direct reference to (and at the least incorporates knowledge of) this press conference.

Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.

That is, Durham included what appears to be a reference to the July 27 press conference. It appears (though Durham obscures this point) that all the actions laid out in this indictment post-date the press conference. Virtually everyone in the US committed to ensuring America’s national security was alarmed by Trump’s comments in this press conference. Yet Durham doesn’t acknowledge that all these actions took place in the wake of public comments that made it reasonable for those committed to cybersecurity to treat Donald Trump as a national security threat, irrespective of partisan affiliation.

Durham will work hard to exclude detail of Trump’s press conference from trial. But I assume that if any of the named subjects of this investigation were to take the stand at trial, they would point out that it was objectively reasonable after July 27 to have national security concerns based on Trump’s encouragement of Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton and his defensive denials of any business ties. Any of the named subjects of the indictment would be able to make a strong case that there was reason to want to, as a matter of national security, test Trump’s claim to have no financial ties to Russia. Indeed, the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded that Trump posed multiple counterintelligence concerns, and therefore has concluded that Durham’s portrayal of politics as the only potential motive here to be false.

Central to Durham’s theory of prosecution is that there was no sound national security basis to respond to anomalous forensic data suggesting a possible financial tie between Trump and Russia. Except that, after that July 27 speech — and all of these events appear to post-date it — that theory is unsustainable.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

And not only was it objectively reasonable to test whether Trump’s claims to have “zero” business ties to Russia were false, but those suspecting that Trump was hiding such ties were, in fact, correct.

According to Michael Cohen, when Trump walked off the stage from that July 27 press conference, Cohen asked Trump why he had claimed that he had zero business ties with Russia when he had in fact been pursuing an impossibly lucrative deal to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow. And we now know that within hours of Trump’s request, GRU hackers made a renewed assault on Hillary’s own servers. By the time security researchers pursued anomalous data suggesting covert communications with a Russian bank, Cohen had already participated in discussions about working with two sanctioned Russian banks to fund the Trump Tower deal, had agreed to work with a former GRU officer to broker it, had spoken to an aide of Dmitry Peskov, and had been told that Putin was personally involved in making the deal happen. Just on the Trump Tower basis alone, Trump had publicly lied in such a way that posed a counterintelligence risk to America.

But that was not the only thing that Trump had done by the date when a bunch of security researchers responded to anomalous forensic data to test whether Trump was hiding further ties to Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton.

In March, Trump hired Paul Manafort, a financially desperate political operative with close ties to a Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, who (SSCI provided three redacted examples of) may have been involved in the hack-and-leak operation. In April, Manafort started leveraging his relationship with Trump to try to make money. In May, Manafort started regularly sending Kilimnik the campaign’s internal polling data. All that happened before researchers started testing Trump’s claims to have had no tie to Russia. On July 28, Kilimnik emailed Manafort to set up a meeting to talk about the future of Ukraine. Just days after the researchers started the inquiry, on August 2, Manafort met with Kilimnik to discuss carving up Ukraine in the same meeting where he described his strategy to win the election.

In April, an academic with close ties to Russia, Joseph Mifsud, told an unqualified braggart whom Trump had added to his team to pretend he had a foreign policy plan, George Papadopoulos, that Russia had thousands of Hillary’s emails that they intended to release to help Trump.

In May, according to Rick Gates’ testimony, Roger Stone started claiming he had advance knowledge of what would become the WikiLeaks releases. On or about June 15, per Gates, Stone told him that “he had contact with Guccifer 2.” According to a warrant affidavit targeting Stone, he searched Google on “Guccifer” before the Guccifer website went up that day. On June 23, Manafort called Stone and then the two old friends met for 30 minutes in the Trump cafeteria. On June 30, Stone spoke to Trump. According to multiple sources (including Michael Cohen), Stone knew of the DNC drop before it happened.

In June, Don Jr accepted a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya at which he believed he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the meeting, Veselnitskaya asked Don Jr to end sanctions on Russia, and the candidate’s son said his dad would reconsider it if he won.

In short, the researchers who, in the wake of Trump’s damning comments, were testing whether Trump had lied about having ties to Russia, not only had objectively reasonable reasons to do that research. But their suspicions were proven correct, over and over again.

Durham describes the outcome of the FBI investigation into the allegations this way:

The FBI’s investigation of these allegations nevertheless concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel with Russian Bank-1. In particular, and among other things, the FBI’s investigation revealed that the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather, had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients.

Nothing here suggests the FBI disproved that this was an anomaly.

And there’s one more detail that Durham didn’t include in the Sussmann indictment: on July 26, Australia first shared their report about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer in May. The next day, July 27, the FBI Legat in the UK got the tip. On July 31 — before the substantive research into the Alfa Bank allegation began — the FBI opened an UNSUB investigation into who got advance warning about the Russian operation and shared it with George Papadopoulos. In other words, by hiding the dates when Tea Leaves first discovered the anomalous data, Durham is hiding not just the damning things that publicly happened before the Alfa Bank operation got started, but probably details about the tip that turned into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

In the wake of the Sussmann indictment, the usual Russian denialists have claimed that this proves that what they call “Russiagate” was all a fraud.

Such claims defy the rules of physics, suggesting that events that happened after the FBI opened an investigation to learn how and why the Trump campaign (via three channels, as it turns out) learned of the Russian attack in advance were in fact the cause of it.

It is likely that Durham will be able to exclude all these details from a Michael Sussmann trial, at least if it remains just a false statements case. He will be able to convince Judge Christopher Cooper, who is presiding over the case, that this information — that the researchers not only had reason to believe Trump presented a cybersecurity risk to the country, but that the researchers turned out to be right, and that FBI had itself determined there was reason to carry out the same kinds of investigations that the researchers did, possibly before any one of them took a single step — is irrelevant to the case against Sussmann. But if Durham charges ConFraudUS based on a claim that it was illegitimate to look into why Donald Trump was inviting Russia to hack his opponent, it will become centrally important that, before these researchers started conducting their investigation, the FBI had likewise decided such an investigation had merit.

The Alfa Bank story was sleazy and unethical. But it was still, nevertheless, an instance where someone representing the victim of a nation-state attack attempted to chase down information that may have pertained to that nation-state attack.

John Durham will go down in history as the guy who decided that torturing detainees, even in excess of legal guidance, was not a crime, but a victim sharing concerns about nation-state hacking is.

Update: It’s likely that Richard Burt was one of the people investigated as part of this effort. Per the Mueller Report, he was the person Petr Aven asked to establish a tie with Trump’s transition in 2016.

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, A ven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. A ven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

While at a L1 board meeting held in Luxembourg in late December 2016, Aven pulled Burt aside and told him that he had spoken to someone high in the Russian government who expressed interest in establishing a communications channel between the Kremlin and the Trump Transition Team. 1171 Aven asked for Burt’s help in contacting members of the Transition Team. 1172 Although Burt had been responsible for helping Aven build connections in the past, Burt viewed Aven’s request as unusual and outside the normal realm of his dealings with Aven. 1173

Burt, who is a member of the board of CNI (discussed at Volume I, Section IV.A.4, supra), 1174 decided to approach CNI president Dimitri Simes for help facilitating A ven’ s request, recalling that Simes had some relationship with Kushner. 1175 At the time, Simes was lobbying the Trump Transition Team, on Burt’s behalf, to appoint Burt U.S. ambassador to Russia.1176

Burt contacted Simes by telephone and asked if he could arrange a meeting with Kushner to discuss setting up a high-level communications channel between Putin and the incoming Administration. 1177 Simes told the Office that he declined and stated to Burt that setting up such a channel was not a good idea in light of the media attention surrounding Russian influence in the U.S. presidential election. 1178 According to Simes, he understood that Burt was seeking a secret channel, and Simes did not want CNI to be seen as an intermediary between the Russian government and the incoming Administration. 1179 Based on what Simes had read in the media, he stated that he already had concerns that Trump’s business connections could be exploited by Russia, and Simes said that he did not want CNI to have any involvement or apparent involvement in facilitating any connection. 118

Update: Corrected scope of Benczkowski’s recusal. His should cover the server issue (and Alfa Bank issues for the first two years he was CRM).

Update: Brian Krebs wrote a post laying out all the people who still believe there’s something going on technically. I don’t think that’s inconsistent, at all, with this one. As noted, everyone who looked at this believes it’s an anomaly. What I keep pointing to is the aftermath of that anomaly got Alfa Bank to act in a certain way that is consistent with Putin’s interests. Krebs notes that it has also led to a lot of scrutiny of security researchers in the US, not unlike the way the aftermath of the Steele dossier discredited most top Russian experts in the US government.

Update: This transcript of Preet Bharara and Joyce Vance discussing the many weaknesses of the Durham indictment largely replicates what I’ve laid out here but is worth a review.

DOJ Treated Jerome Corsi as News Media but Not Roger Stone or Randy Credico (or Julian Assange)

Yesterday, DOJ released both an updated list of times when its media guidelines came into play (here are the 2016, 2017, and 2018 reports), as well as a summary of DOJ’s attempts to get records related to CNN, NYT, and WaPo reporting.

The former has raised some questions about how Mueller’s investigation applied these rules (as a reminder, my interview with the FBI was not with Mueller, though based on a month-long approval process I know to have occurred, I believe there is an entry in the 2017 report that pertains to me).

They’re easier to understand if you work through the second one, for legal process in 2019, first.

In the prosecution of an individual charged with obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, a United States Attorney authorized the issuance of a subpoena to a member of the news media for testimony. The member of the news media expressly agreed to testify pursuant to the subpoena. Because the member of the news media expressly agreed to testify, Attorney General authorization was not required. See 28 C.F.R. § 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A). The prosecution team did not call the member of the news media at trial.

There was just one trial of anyone for obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in 2016. George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Richard Pinedo never went to trial (nor did Alex Van der Zwaan, though his obstruction covered earlier events). Paul Manafort did go to trial for his tax cheating, but not for interfering with the Russian investigation (his plea breach hearing, which did pertain to lies he told to cover up his role in the Russian interference, was not a trial).

That means this has to be a reference to Roger Stone’s trial.

Two witnesses are known to have been subpoenaed, but not called to testify: Andrew Miller and Jerome Corsi. Randy Credico, a radio personality, testified at great length, including about how he booked Julian Assange and Roger Stone to appear on his radio show.

That’s not enough to prove that the reference is to Corsi (in part because there could have been other witnesses who were subpoenaed but not called to testify that we don’t know about). But now consider the second reference to the Mueller investigation, for something that happened in 2018.

In connection with an investigation into an alleged conspiracy involving persons or entities associated with a foreign government hacking the computers of a United States political party’s central organization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, authorized the issuance of a grand jury subpoena duces tecum for the production of toll records from a cellular service provider for a telephone used by a member of the news media suspected of participating the conspiracy, as well as an application for a search warrant to search the member of the news media’s internet cloud and email accounts. Following the initial authorization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, later authorized a voluntary interview of, and the issuance of a testimonial grand jury subpoena to, the member of the news media. All of this information was necessary to further the investigation of whether the member of the news media was involved in the conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and utilize the information from the hacked political party or other victims.

This is a description of someone investigated as a suspect.

While Mueller reviewed whether Don Jr violated the CFAA for accessing a non-public website he got sent a password to, the investigation into whether someone was part of the hack-and-leak conspiracy focused on Roger Stone (and Julian Assange, who does not obviously show up anywhere in this report, even though Mueller obtained a warrant targeting him as well). Two people were known to have been investigated as fellow suspects of Stone: Corsi and Ted Malloch. Mueller’s team obtained warrants and subpoenas targeting both. In Malloch’s case, however, the government is only known to have obtained his phone and his Gmail.

In Corsi’s case, however, Mueller targeted his Apple accounts, as well as email accounts held at CSC Holdings, and Windstream.

Mueller is not, however, known to have obtained a warrant targeting Credico.

If the government treated Corsi as a member of the news media in 2018, when they obtained warrants targeting him as a suspected co-conspirator of Roger Stone, then they likely treated him as a member of the news media in 2019, when they subpoenaed him — but did not call him — as a witness in Stone’s trial. That is, the available evidence strongly suggests that Corsi is the person described in both Mueller entries.

Which, in turn, suggests that DOJ treated Corsi — but not Stone or Credico — as members of the news media.

For what it’s worth, I’m virtually certain that there’s still a Mueller entry missing, pertaining to a member of the news media who asked for a subpoena before he would share materials relating to his work. That person has never been publicly referenced in Mueller-related investigative materials since released, but I believe 302s from the investigation reflect FBI having obtained the materials they were asking for from that member of the news media. But that incident would have fit under 28 CFR 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A), when a member of the news media agrees to provide information so long as he gets a subpoena, which under the media guidelines does not require Attorney General approval.

Update: There’s an important point that has been forgotten by these debates but which is implied in Merrick Garland’s statements about the media policy. There are other means to obtain records on people playing a journalistic function: under FISA, by providing probable cause that they are an agent of a foreign power.

Why Would Allen Weisselberg Tolerate Having to Cheat on His Taxes Rather than Getting a Raise?

I want to pull several salient facts out of the indictment against Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and Trump Organization rolled out yesterday. The indictment alleges that the Trump Organization paid Weisselberg and other Trump Org executives off the books in such a way that allowed them to underpay their taxes.

The purpose of the scheme was to compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives in a manner that was “off the books”: the beneficiaries of the scheme received substantial portions of their income through indirect and disguised means, with compensation that was unreported or misreported by the Trump Corporation or Trump Payroll Corp. to the tax authorities. The scheme was intended to allow certain employees to substantially understate their compensation from the Trump Organization, so that they could and did pay federal, state, and local taxes in amounts that were significantly less than the amounts that should have been paid. The scheme also enabled Weisselberg to obtain tax refunds of amounts previously withheld.

It goes through one after another way that Weisselberg was paid in this way:

  • A lease on a Riverside apartment that was Weisselberg’s full time residence (which, scandalously, was not owned by Trump)
  • For some years in which he lived in the Riverside apartment, the ability to claim he was not a resident of New York City and so avoid taxes there
  • Private school tuition payments for his grand-kids
  • Use of two Mercedes
  • Cash to pay his holiday gratuities
  • Some compensation paid by the Mar-a-Lago Club and Wollman Rink Operations LLC as non-employee compensation that he dumped into a Keogh plan (this appears to be the same scheme that the NYT described Ivanka being paid as a consultant under)

It makes it clear he was in charge of this system — the entire system, just not the part that benefitted him, but also the parts that benefitted his own kid and Donald Trump’s kids.

At all relevant times, Weisselberg had authority over the Trump Organization’s accounting functions, including its payroll administration procedures. He supervised the Comptroller of the Trump Organization, who managed the day-to-day affairs of the accounting department, including payroll administration, and who reported to Weisselberg. At all relevant times, Weisselberg was authorized to act on behalf of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corp, to formulate corporate policy, and to supervise subordinate employees in a managerial capacity.

Thus far I get how this is supposed to work: Weisselberg has thus far been charged only for the tax fraud that benefitted him. If he doesn’t cooperate, his kid will be charged for the tax fraud that benefitted him, and Weisselberg will also be charged for the tax fraud that didn’t benefit him but over which he was in charge anyway.

What I don’t understand is this. Before the indictment was revealed, some well-informed people had assumed that all the fringe benefits — the free tuition, the free car, the free apartment, the free tips — were on top of Weisselberg’s compensation. But they weren’t. The indictment reveals that from 2011 to 2018, Weisselberg’s compensation remained fixed at $940,000, with $540,000 in base and $400,000 in bonuses that could be paid via one or another of these slushy tax dodges.

For example, from 2011 through 2018, his compensation was fixed at $940,000, to be comprised of $540,000 in base salary and $400,000 in end-of-year bonus. However, at Weisselberg’s direction, the Trump Organization excluded from his reported gross income the amounts that were paid to him indirectly in the form of rent paid on his New York City apartment, tuition paid on his behalf to his family members” private school, the automobile expenses paid in connection with his and his wife’s personal cars, and the other items described above. Weisselberg, received the benefit of these payments, and the Trump Organization internally tracked and treated ‘many of them as part of his authorized annual compensation, ensuring that he was not paid more than his pre-authorized, fixed amount of gross compensation. However, the corporate defendants falsified other compensation records so that the indirect compensation payments were not reflected in Weisselberg’s reported gross income. Therefore, the W-2 forms and other compensation records reported to federal, state, and local tax authorities fraudulently understated the income that the ‘Trump Organization had paid Weisselberg. Weisselberg included the falsified information set forth on his W-2 forms when he filed his personal income tax returns.

So while the benefit to Weisselberg of all this alleged tax cheating was $1.76 million, he really wasn’t pocketing all that as a result (probably no more than $100,000 benefit per year). Effectively, the Federal Government, New York State and New York City were paying Weisselberg’s raises every year rather than Donald Trump — with one notable exception, explained below.

Here’s how it looks with each benefit over the years that Weisselberg received that benefit.

The table suggests two things (though someone smarter than me would have to do the math to prove it). First, starting in 2013, after he sold his house on Long Island, Weisselberg lost a significant tax dodge, the ability to claim he didn’t live in NYC, so at that point, his compensation would have effectively been cut $23,000 in the yearly tax dodge not paying NYC taxes had given him to that point. Then, in the period when Donald Trump was too cheap (or, importantly, too broke) to just give Weisselberg a raise like normal people, Weisselberg was just adding on the tax dodges: first, the paltry holiday gratuities, then the 1099 payments and the tuition payments.

In that period — which stretched roughly from the period when Trump first entertained running for President through his first year as president — Weisselberg was doing more and more tax cheating just to get paid the same (or adding roughly $100,000 a year income in the best scenario, but again, someone smarter than me needs to do that math).

And for at least two years, Trump didn’t even benefit from this scheme. For the first two years Trump Organization was paying Weisselberg’s grand-kids’ tuition, he was paying it out of his own pocket.

Beginning in 2012, one of Weisselberg’s family members began attending a private school in Manhattan. Beginning in 2014, second Weisselberg family member began attending the same private school. From 2012 through 2017, and as part of the scheme to defraud, Trump Corporation personnel, including Weisselberg, arranged for tuition expenses for Weisselberg’s family members to be paid by personal checks drawn on the account of and signed by Donald J. ‘Trump, and later drawn on the account of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust dated April 7, 2014.

As far as we know, Donald Trump has only made this kind of payment out of his own pocket when trying to buy off former sex partners. But for two years, he was paying part of Weisselberg’s compensation — the tuition of one grand-kid — out of his own pocket.

What I don’t understand is why — aside from loyalty — Weisselberg was allegedly willing to commit new kinds of tax fraud just to retain the same salary. Michael Cohen went along with these kinds of games, but when it came time, he tried (unsuccessfully) to cash in on all his years of being a loyal Trump crook. Did Weisselberg take on all this legal exposure out of loyalty?

Or was there something about Trump’s business that required them to squeeze more and more out of unpaid taxes just to stay afloat?

Update: This piece from Jennifer Taub is one of the most helpful pieces I’ve seen on why this was valuable for Trump.

It’s easy to see what was in it for Weisselberg and the employees getting the equivalent of tax-free income. But how would Trump and his businesses benefit from these give-a-ways? It’s a way to give employees higher pay at a lower cost to the company. Here’s a simple, but not precise example for a New York employee. If the company pays an extra $100,000 in cash compensation the net pay for that extra is around $72,000 after withholding and payroll taxes. Then the employee can use that money to pay expenses like private school tuition or car leases. But, if instead, the company directly pays $72,000 worth of the employee’s school and car expenses off-the-books, and the employee and company hide that, it only costs the company the $72,000 (which it can still finagle a deduction as some kind of business expense).

By hiding that fringe benefit income, by pretending that he was not a New York City resident, and by claiming tax refunds to which he was not entitled, as the indictment alleges, he deprived city, state, and federal tax authorities of approximately $1,034,236 all together. A large sum, to be sure, but one that’s probably already been or soon will be dwarfed by Weisselberg’s legal bills. Weisselberg allegedly owes more than half of that cool million in federal taxes.

She also notes that Trump knew about the apartment.

There is a section of the indictment accusing Trump Corporation, Trump Payroll Corp., and Weisselberg with conspiracy in the fourth degree. Allegedly they agreed with “Unindicted Co-conspirator #1” (who appears to be someone who works for Weisselberg (so it’s not The Donald) to implement the off-the-books compensation scheme. This part of the indictment goes on to enumerate twelve separate overt acts that were carried out by the conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy.

[snip]

The very first overt act that seems to indicate the ex-president’s involvement was Donald Trump on behalf of the corporation entering into a lease around March 31, 2005 for an apartment in Manhattan on Riverside Boulevard (the Trump Place building). That lease had a rider that permitted only Allen Weisselberg and his wife to occupy the apartment and to use it as their primary residence.

Why is this lease rider important? Well, it communicates that the grand jury knows that Donald Trump knew Weisselberg was living in the apartment on the company’s dime. It also means that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance does not yet have enough evidence to bring to the grand jury to show probable cause that Trump was part of the underlying agreement that formed the conspiracy.

How Don McGahn Distracted the NYTimes from the Subpoenas Known To Be Problematic

The NYT just published a story that buried incredibly important details about the HPSCI subpoena in paragraphs 18 and 19.

In that case, the leak investigation appeared to have been primarily focused on Michael Bahar, then a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee. People close to Jeff Sessions and Rod J. Rosenstein, the top two Justice Department officials at the time, have said that neither knew that prosecutors had sought data about the accounts of lawmakers for that investigation.

It remains murky whether agents were pursuing a theory that Mr. Bahar had leaked on his own or whether they suspected him of talking to reporters with the approval of the lawmakers. Either way, it appears they were unable to prove their suspicions that he was the source of any unauthorized disclosures; the case has been closed and no charges were brought.

The details back a hypothesis that I and others have raised about the 2018 subpoena that obtained Adam Schiff’s call records: that Schiff wasn’t targeted at all, but instead someone else — here, Michael Bahar — was the target.

That means that the initial subpoena may have been more stupid — not adequately targeted given the scope of the investigation — than scandalous. It also means that the focus should remain on Bill Barr’s renewed focus on those records in 2020, particularly whether or not he used Schiff records that should have been sealed to investigate a key member of Congress.

But that’s not how the NYT is spending its time. Instead, they are spending 17 paragraphs admitting that they have no idea whether a subpoena obtained by an EDVA grand jury for Don McGahn’s records on February 23, 2018 is newsworthy or not.

They report that Apple got the subpoena for McGahn, implying but not reporting clearly that all Apple provided was subscriber information.

Apple told Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel to former President Donald J. Trump, last month that the Justice Department had subpoenaed information about an account that belonged to him in February 2018, and that the government barred the company from telling him at the time, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Mr. McGahn’s wife received a similar notice from Apple, said one of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

It is not clear what F.B.I. agents were scrutinizing, nor whether Mr. McGahn was their specific focus. In investigations, agents sometimes compile a large list of phone numbers and email addresses that were in contact with a subject, and seek to identify all those people by using subpoenas to communications companies for any account information like names, computer addresses and credit card numbers associated with them.

They assume, with no evidence, that the subpoena was obtained because McGahn was Trump’s White House counsel.

Still, the disclosure that agents secretly collected data of a sitting White House counsel is striking as it comes amid a political backlash to revelations about Trump-era seizures of data of reporters and Democrats in Congress for leak investigations. The president’s top lawyer is also a chief point of contact between the White House and the Justice Department.

They then go tick off one after another possible explanation:

  • The Manafort tax investigation, which was conducted in DC, and was completed in, and therefore would have been disclosed in, 2018
  • A tirade Trump launched about McGahn involving a potential leak that would have been investigated in DC
  • The totally unrelated HPSCI subpoena, which also was investigated in DC

They don’t consider a much more likely explanation, especially since Mueller is known to have identified at least three SuperPACs that were coordinating with the Trump campaign, including at least two that were headquartered in VA, but did not pursue charges relating to potential illegal coordination himself. That possibility is that prosecutors were appropriately investigating why the former FEC chairman was letting Trump’s 2016 campaign coordinate with so many supposedly independent PACs, particularly given his knowledge that Trump and Michael Cohen had been investigated for campaign finance laws in 2011, before then FEC Chair Don McGahn bailed them out for it. There’s no evidence Mueller’s investigators asked McGahn about this, even though Roger Stone’s coordination with Steve Bannon and Rick Gates was a subject of considerable interest to Mueller (in part because it implicated the Mercers).

That’s just one possible explanation, but unlike all the speculation included in the NYT story not focusing on Barr’s resuscitation of the HPSCI leak, might actually involve a grand jury in VA.

Until there’s some sense of what this subpoena was, there’s zero reason to assume it’s newsworthy or in any way focused on something McGahn had done as White House Counsel.

One of the only pieces of genuine “news” that came out of McGahn’s testimony the other day is he confessed to being a source for a story that was obviously sourced to someone close to him that nevertheless claimed he, personally, had not responded to requests for comment. “McGahn did not respond to requests for comment.” The man knows how to make journalists run around like puppies chasing his shiny objects.

And what the NYT just did was take their focus away from subpoenas there’s good reason to believe are newsworthy to instead speculate wildly about one that may not be.

Merrick Garland Agreed He Would Go after January 6 Kingpins, if Evidence Merits

There continue to be questions about how we’ll ever get accountability for January 6 without a January 6 commission to do that work.

In an exchange yesterday, for example, Bart Gellman asked what questions we’d most want a January 6 commission to answer, and I responded, “Why there’s such a broad belief that a criminal investigation won’t answer those questions.” In response, NYT’s Alan Feuer speculated that,

DOJ’s 500ish criminal cases will not ultimately touch the potential liability in 1/6 of political figures including but not restricted to the former president.

This prosecution writ large is (speculation alert) likely to be restricted to verifiable perpetrators, not possible instigators. The range of crimes (s.a.) are likely to include the known ambit: obstruction, assault, civil disorder, trespass etc. Sedition may not be charged.

Things can change. Evidence can emerge. But after five months, it seems unlikely (speculation alert) that DOJ is assuming the responsibility for searching out root causes as opposed to building demonstrably provable cases.

I think Feuer’s is a fair observation, though I disagree that holding “instigators” accountable is at all the same as “searching out root causes.”

In my opinion, it is way too premature to judge where a complex investigation will lead after only five months, which is an infancy in terms of such things (it took almost exactly a year from the time that FBI got the tip about George Papadopoulos until he was arrested, the first arrest of the Mueller investigation, which itself was lightning fast). And while it is true that the current universe of charges includes those crimes Feuer lays out — obstruction, assault, civil disorder, trespass — even that list leaves out conspiracy. The boilerplate description DOJ uses to describe the complexity of the investigation notes that such a list (which includes conspiracy) is non-exclusive.

The spectrum of crimes charged and under investigation in connection with the Capitol Attack includes (but is not limited to) trespass, engaging in disruptive or violent conduct in the Capitol or on Capitol grounds, destruction of government property, theft of government property, assaults on federal and local police officers, firearms offenses, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, possession and use of destructive devices, and conspiracy.

Importantly, if we believe Merrick Garland’s response to a Sheldon Whitehouse question in his confirmation hearing, the Attorney General is committed to let the investigation proceed wherever the evidence leads, specifically to include “funders, organizers, ring leaders” and even any kingpins to this insurrection.

Whitehouse: With respect to January 6, I’d like to make sure that you are willing to look upstream from the actual occupants who assaulted the building, in the same way that in a drug case, you would look upstream from the street dealers to try to find the kingpins, and that you will not rule out investigation of funders, organizers, ring leaders, or aiders and abettors who were not present in the Capitol on January 6. Fair question?

Garland: Fair question. And again, your law enforcement experience is the same as mine, investigations — investigations, you know, I began as a line Assistant US Attorney and was a supervisor, we begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who were involved and further involved. And we will pursue these leads wherever they take us. That’s the job of a prosecution.

That’s why I wrote these three posts:

Together, those posts argue that if any kingpins will be held accountable, it will be through a conspiracy prosecution. I note that one of the conspiracies has already reached back to the Willard Hotel, where Roger Stone was staying and where the call patterns suggest possible consultation with people present at the hotel. And I suggest that not only will there will be further conspiracies (I’m pretty confident about that prediction) but there may be more complex prosecutions tied to people who were involved in the rallies rather than the riot or who were discussed explicitly with Rudy Giuliani (I’m far less confident about that possibility).

That doesn’t mean Donald Trump, or even Roger Stone or Rudy Giuliani, are going to prison. It’s not clear what kind of evidence is out there. It’s not clear how loyal these famously paranoid people will be without the constant dangle of pardons that Trump used to buy silence during the Mueller investigation.

But even in what we’ve seen, we’ve seen a focus on who paid for things (such as the payment to Joshua James’ wife tied to “protecting” Roger Stone), who organized buses (there are at least four defendants involved with such things) or otherwise funded transportation, as well as media promotion both before and media communications while at the insurrection worked. Thus far, Charles Donohoe is the primary person who was charged in an organizational role but who didn’t enter the Capitol, but the Proud Boys and Oath Keeper conspiracies seem pretty focused on Enrique Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes (I’m not sure how useful Rhodes would be to map out the larger conspiracy).

And that’s just what we’ve seen. We recently learned that the President’s own lawyer still doesn’t know that the investigation of Michael Cohen had started eight months before he got involved in an effort to dangle pardons, long after Mueller had already obtained Cohen’s Trump organization emails. We have no idea whose lives the FBI are unpacking with warrants that are not showing up in arrest affidavits. Certainly, the FBI and DOJ are getting far more thoughtful about what gets shared publicly when.

My point is assuredly not to promise that Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani will go to prison. But the question of the possible scope of the January 6 investigation, as distinct from the likely one, is dictated primarily by the structure of the conspiracy uniting people who legitimately entered into an agreement with each other to achieve the goal that every currently charged conspiracy shares: to obstruct the certification of the vote count on January 6. If Trump’s associates entered into an agreement with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, if there’s evidence of them doing so, and if marginally credible witnesses are willing to trade cooperation for less time in prison, then some kind of accountability is possible, albeit still highly unlikely.

That probably does rule out some accountability, even assuming a best case scenario. For example, with a few possible exceptions, I see no way that the conduct of members of Congress would get beyond Speech and Debate protections. Similarly, I don’t see how any conspiracy investigation would work its way up from the crimes at the Capitol to incorporate anyone at DOD stalling the National Guard response.

But as I noted to Gellman, I want to know the basis for certainty about what the investigation might discover. Because the investigation is already just two degrees of separation from Donald Trump via both Rudy and Stone, and that’s just what we can see looking at what prosecutors have been willing to share.

Barbara Jones’ Special Mastery of Releasing Donald Trump’s Lawyers’ Crime-Fraud Excepted Communications

I knew Rudy Giuliani was in trouble when I read him — along with his lawyer Robert Costello, who allegedly tried to bribe Michael Cohen with a pardon in the wake of an SDNY seizure of his phones — claim that SDNY had first accessed Michael Cohen’s communications after SDNY seized Cohen’s phones in a search of his house and office.

In April 2018, the Government was in this exact same position it is in now in dealing with seizures made from the personal attorney to the President. This is now the second dawn raid of the office and home of an attorney for then President Trump. A year before they searched Giuliani’s iCloud account in November 2019, they were dealing with the raid of Michael Cohen’s home and law office. In Cohen v. United States, 18-mj-3161 (KMW), after conducting a search of President Trump’s personal lawyer’s home and law office, the Government opposed the appointment of a Special Master in a letter to the Court dated April 18, 2018. Counsel for Michael Cohen and intervening counsel for President Trump both requested that a Special Master be appointed and that the Special Master review the evidence, but only after counsel for the respective parties had reviewed the evidence and made their own claims of privilege. On the day of a scheduled conference to decide the issue, the Government, in a letter to Judge Wood, withdrew their opposition to the Special Master, but requested that the Special Master, and not defense counsel, review all the evidence and make the initial determinations of privilege. Judge Wood adopted the compromise and appointed a Special Master to review all materials. One of the Government’s counsel that signed that letter is counsel on this matter as well.

As a result, the Government was well aware that it had agreed to a Special Master in a case involving claims of attorney-client and executive privilege regarding the search and seizure of an attorney’s home and office when that attorney was the personal attorney for the President of the United States. Here, when faced with the exact same situation in November 2019, the Government decided on its own, to use its own Taint Team to sift through all of the evidence gathered and decide what materials were privileged. To make matters worse, not only was Giuliani not informed about this practice, but the Government also continued to keep him, the President and his counsel in the dark for 18 months while Giuliani cooperated with another office of the United States Attorney. Based on its experience in the Cohen case, the Government knew better, or should have known better, that it should not make unilateral, uninformed secret decisions about privilege, but clearly threw caution to the wind in its attempt in this investigation in search of a crime.

Was it really possible, I asked myself, that the President’s own lawyer, as well as the President’s lawyer’s lawyer, had no idea that Mueller’s team had obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization emails from Microsoft with an August 1, 2017 warrant, content which they later shared with SDNY?  Was it really possible, I wondered, that Rudy and Costello didn’t know that Mueller also obtained Cohen’s Google and iCloud content, obtained a non-disclosure order for it, and then later passed it on to SDNY, which obtained a separate warrant to access it? Did they not know that that process started 8 months before SDNY raided Cohen’s home and office and took his devices, which then led to the appointment of Special Master Barbara Jones? Did they really not know that SDNY first obtained Cohen’s content with some covert warrants, reviewed that information with the use of a filter team, and only after that got some of the very same information by seizing Cohen’s phones, only with the later seizure, used a Special Master to sort out what was privileged and what was not?

After the government’s reply, I thought for sure they’d start to cop on. I figured Rudy and Costello — who collectively, allegedly tried to bribe Cohen’s silence about the crimes he had committed while purportedly providing legal representation for Donald Trump — would understand the significance of this passage of the government reply:

Giuliani also analogizes this case to Cohen, suggesting that the Government should have known to use a special master because it had just agreed to use one in that case. (Giuliani Ltr. at 11). But Cohen favors an opposite conclusion: there, as here, the Government first obtained covert search warrants for accounts belonging to the subject. The returns of those covert warrants were reviewed by a filter team—a process which was not challenged. Although Judge Wood ultimately appointed a special master in Cohen, she repeatedly made clear her view that the use of a filter team was acceptable and was consistent with the substantial body of law in this Circuit. (See, e.g., Cohen, Dkt. 38 at 8). However, based on the unique circumstances of the case—Cohen’s principal and perhaps only client was then the President, and the case was subject to significant public attention—Judge Wood believed, and the Government agreed, that the use of a special master was needed for the “perception of fairness, not fairness itself.” (Cohen, Dkt. 104 at 88). But even after appointing a special master, Judge Wood continued to recognize the appropriateness of the use of a filter team: at the end of the special master’s review, there was one cellphone that had not been decrypted, and Judge Wood ordered that the if the cellphone was ultimately extracted, the privilege review could be conducted by the Government’s filter team. (Cohen, Dkt. 103 at 6). Thus, following Cohen, it was entirely appropriate for the Government to use a filter team during the covert phase of its investigation, but in light of the intense public interest in this matter following the overt execution of the 2021 Warrants, the Government agrees that while the appointment of a special master is not necessary for fairness, it is in the interest of ensuring that the privilege review process is perceived as fair.

But I didn’t write up the implications of that yet, because I figured there was still something that might save Rudy and Victoria Toensing. Maybe they’d pick a Special Master who would apply dramatically different rules than Special Master Barbara Jones had with Cohen, particularly an approach that said Cohen and Trump could claim privilege and hide the content, but any legal argument about that privilege had to be public. Surely they would be smart enough not to pick Jones, right? Surely, I thought, Rudy and Costello wouldn’t be dumb enough to be lulled into agreeing to appoint Jones herself, perhaps based on a false sense of confidence that since she works at Rudy’s former firm, she’ll go easy on the Mayor?

And yet, yesterday the government wrote to inform Judge Paul Oetken that the parties had agreed on a single choice to serve as Special Master: Barbara Jones.

The Government writes on behalf of the parties to propose the appointment of the Honorable Barbara S. Jones, a retired federal judge with the law firm of Bracewell LLP, to serve as the court-appointed special master for this matter.

They further asked that Oetken write up an order applying the same approach as Jones used with Cohen with Rudy.

The Government respectfully requests that the Court appoint Judge Jones to serve as the special master in this matter because her background and the resources available to her at her law firm will allow her to complete a privilege review in a fair and efficient manner. Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Toensing, through counsel, have both agreed to the appointment of Judge Jones. The Government has conferred with Judge Jones and she is available to accept this appointment. The Government respectfully suggests that the Court issue an Order of Appointment similar to the one issued by Judge Wood in the Cohen matter, setting forth the duties of the special master, the reporting and judicial review requirements, terms of compensation, terms of engagement of other professionals, and other relevant provisions. Cohen, No. 18 Misc. 3161 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 27, 2018) (Dkt. 30). Judge Jones is available to speak with the Court directly should the Court have any questions about her potential appointment.

Understand, the government has now gotten Rudy on the record begging that he get the same treatment as Michael Cohen. It has gotten Rudy on the record saying he prefers to have a Special Master rifle through his potentially privileged communications than a filter team.

Had this been done overtly, or through the Government’s less onerous subpoena powers, we would have requested that a Special Master to be appointed at the time.

It has also gotten Victoria Toensing to agree on the value of a Special Master (even though she requested she get first shot at reviewing her content).

Appoint a Special Master from the list of candidates proposed by the parties or another suitable candidate identified by the Court to oversee the process and resolve any disputes that may arise;

When former SDNY US Attorney Rudy Giuliani and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Victoria Toensing made those comments, though, they probably didn’t think through the implication of filter team protocols that both presumably know or once knew, but which the government was kind enough to spell out in their reply to the lawyers’ letters:

As is its practice, the filter team did not release any potentially privileged materials based on the possible application of waiver or crime fraud principles, even if the applicability of those exceptions was apparent on the face of the document.

SDNY filter teams will not pass on potentially privileged materials seized from an attorney even if there is an obvious crime-fraud exception. By description, SDNY suggests that “the applicability of [such] exceptions was apparent on the face of” some of the communications — new copies of which SDNY seized last month — SDNY’s filter team reviewed already. But they couldn’t pass them on because that’s not how SDNY filter team protocols work.

And yet, as a result of Barbara Jones’ review of material seized from Donald Trump’s attorney’s devices, SDNY obtained evidence — of Michael Cohen negotiating hush payments with two women — that might otherwise have been privileged, but that was clearly evidence of a crime. In fact, Trump thought about fighting the release, except after Judge Kimba Wood ruled that legal disputes have to be public, Trump decided not to challenge its release.

An SDNY filter team cannot share evidence that shows a lawyer breaking the law in the service of doing Donald Trump’s dirty work.

But Special Masters can. And Barbara Jones already has.

When I first read these filings — especially SDNY’s very generous offer to pick up the tab for a Special Master — I thought it was just about timeliness, about getting Rudy’s evidence in hand as quickly as possible. But it’s not. It’s the only way that they can obtain materials that they know exist that show Rudy committing a crime in the guise of serving as a lawyer. Admittedly, it might just be materials implicating Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. But, as happened to Cohen, it might also cover things Rudy did while allegedly doing lawyer stuff for Donald Trump.

Remember, this whole process started when John Dowd claimed that Parnas and Fruman helped Rudy represent Trump, Rudy represented Parnas and Fruman, and they also helped Toensing represent Dmitro Firtash.

Be advised  that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

John Dowd made an absurd claim that, even then, was a transparent attempt to hide real dirt behind attorney-client privilege. That’s precisely the material that SDNY is asking Barbara Jones to review to see whether it’s really privileged.

Update: Lev Parnas renewed his bid to force DOJ to go look for materials that help him at trial and support his selective prosecution claim. Along with describing some communications that he believes to exist that would be in Rudy’s files (such as proof of Rudy saying that one of their mutual Fraud Guarantee victims did no due diligence), Parnas outlines the evidence that he was prosecuted to shut him up. The Dowd actions are central to that.

The Government argues that, since Parnas was not yet attempting to cooperate with Congress at the time he was arrested, his selective prosecution claim is without merit. However, by the time of Parnas and Fruman’s arrest, Parnas had received a demand letter seeking evidence from the House Intelligence Committee, and been referred by Giuliani and Toensing to Attorney John Dowd—who had previously represented former President Trump. Attorney Dowd then secured a conflict waiver from Trump—who claimed not to know Parnas—by e-mail through the President’s chief impeachment counsel, Jay Sekulow. Next, Dowd met with Parnas and took custody of materials that he believed were responsive to Parnas’ demand letter. Then, Dowd informed the Intelligence Committee that Parnas would not be appearing as requested, and the evening before Parnas and Fruman were arrested wrote an e-mail to Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, Toensing, and others assuring that Parnas and Fruman would not be appearing to give a deposition or evidence against the former President. Giuliani then backed out of a planned trip to Vienna with Parnas and Fruman, and they were arrested as they boarded their flight. The following day, then-Attorney General William P. Barr made a “routine” visit to the SDNY, and, in the following months, sought the removal of SDNY U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman under still-undisclosed circumstances that may well have related to prosecutorial decisions made in Parnas and his co-defendants’ case.

Update: Oetken has indeed appointed Jones.

Rudy Giuliani’s Support Role in the Mueller Report

As I showed in the Rat-Fucker Rashomon series, it can be tremendously useful to compare how different inquiries into Russian interference in 2016 tell that story. That’s true not just of Roger Stone; it’s also true of Rudy Giuliani.

By the time SSCI finished its Russia Report, the shape of the 2020 Russian influence campaign was evident, and it shows up, in redacted form, in the final report. As part of that discussion, the SSCI Report deals with Rudy at least once in almost entirely redacted passages about the ongoing influence campaign involving Russian assets in Ukraine. That is, it clearly suggests the trajectory led to the influence campaigns that were still active in 2020.

Perhaps because SSCI had the advantage of seeing where Rudy would end up, it also included a few more details about Rudy from earlier on of interest. For example, before Paul Manafort discussed how to win Pennsylvania and how to carve up Ukraine on August 2, 2016, he met with Trump and Rudy Giuliani in Trump Tower.

Among the details SSCI shows of the Trump campaign exploiting documents leaked to WikiLeaks is a citation to an email, dated October 11, 2016, showing Rudy was in that loop.

When Rick Gates was asked what kind of contact Paul Manafort retained with Trump after he was ousted from the campaign, Gates revealed that Manafort told Gates that Rudy Giuliani was helping him place people in Administration positions.

And PsyGroup’s Joel Zamel claimed that Rudy introduced him to Jared Kushner some months after the inauguration; Kushner and Zamel had a meeting at the White House to discuss “human rights issues in the Middle East, Iran, and ‘counter-extremism’.”

Aside from the detail that Manafort was using Rudy as a side channel to influence the White House, those aren’t necessarily momentous details.

Still, those details show that Rudy was a participant in these events during 2016. And yet, Rudy doesn’t show up as such in discussions about 2016 in the Mueller Report. Rather, Rudy shows up exclusively as Trump’s lawyer, floating the pardons in an attempt to get witnesses to lie to cover up what really happened in 2016.

Rudy — who was not yet formally Trump’s personal counsel — and his current defense attorney, Robert Costello, didn’t succeed in getting Michael Cohen to shield Trump.

On or about April 17, 2018, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

The New York Times and a third rate reporter . . . are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip. ‘ They use nonexistent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media! 1025

In an email that day to Cohen, Costello wrote that he had spoken with Giuliani. 1026 Costello told Cohen the conversation was “Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner … . Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”1027

But Rudy, acting as part of Joint Defense Agreement in the role of Trump’s personal counsel, did succeed in getting Paul Manafort to lie about what happened on August 2 and efforts to carve up Ukraine in the aftermath.

Immediately following the revocation of Manafort’s bail, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, gave a series of interviews in which he raised the possibility of a pardon for Manafort. Giuliani told the New York Daily News that “[w]hen the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” 856 Giuliani also said in an interview that, although the President should not pardon anyone while the Special Counsel’s investigation was ongoing, “when the investigation is concluded, he’s kind of on his own, right?”857 In a CNN interview two days later, Giuliani said, ” I guess I should clarify this once and for all. . . . The president has issued no pardons in this investigation. The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation …. When it’s over, hey, he’s the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him.”858 Giuliani rejected the suggestion that his and the President’s comments could signal to defendants that they should not cooperate in a criminal prosecution because a pardon might follow, saying the comments were “certainly not intended that way.”859 Giuliani said the comments only acknowledged that an individual involved in the investigation would not be “excluded from [ a pardon], if in fact the president and his advisors .. . come to the conclusion that you have been treated unfairly.”860 Giuliani observed that pardons were not unusual in political investigations but said, “That doesn’t mean they’re going to happen here. Doesn’t mean that anybody should rely on it. … Big signal is, nobody has been pardoned yet.” 561

[snip]

The President said that flipping was “not fair” and “almost ought to be outlawed.”880 ln response to a question about whether he was considering a pardon for Manafort, the President said, “T have great respect for what he’s done, in terms of what he’s gone through …. He worked for many, many people many, many years, and T would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.”881 Giuliani told journalists that the President “really thinks Manafort has been horribly treated” and that he and the President had discussed the political fallout if the President pardoned Manafort.882 The next day, Giuliani told the Washington Post that the President had asked his lawyers for advice on the possibility of a pardon for Manafort and other aides, and had been counseled against considering a pardon until the investigation concluded.883

On September 14, 2018, Manafort pleaded guilty to charges in the District of Columbia and signed a plea agreement that required him to cooperate with investigators.884 Giuliani was reported to have publicly said that Manafort remained in a joint defense agreement with the President following Manafort’s guilty plea and agreement to cooperate, and that Manafort’s attorneys regularly briefed the President’s lawyers on the topics discussed and the information Manafort had provided in interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office.885 On November 26, 2018, the Special Counsel’s Office disclosed in a public court filing that Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying about multiple subjects.886 The next day, Giuliani said that the President had been “upset for weeks” about what he considered to be “the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort.”887

Also, for whatever reason — probably because he had word diarrhea — Rudy provided the best evidence that Trump knowingly lied on his written answers to Mueller when he claimed not to remember the Trump Tower Moscow dangles during the election.

Also in January 2019, Giuliani gave press interviews that appeared to confirm Cohen’s account that the Trump Organization pursued the Trump Tower Moscow project well past January 2016. Giuliani stated that ” it’s our understanding that [discussions about the Trump Moscow project] went on throughout 2016. Weren’t a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can’t be sure of the exact date. But the president can remember having conversations with him about it. The president also remembers-yeah, probably up-could be up to as far as October, November.” 1069

Rudy was treated so persistently as a lawyer in the Mueller Report, but not a participant, that he didn’t even make the Glossary of Referenced Persons.

That’s true even though Rudy did show up in interviews as a topic of interest.

For example, when Mike Flynn was asked on April 25, 2018, just days after Rudy officially became Trump’s defense attorney, who else besides he and Bannon were hunting for Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails, the former Director of Defense Intelligence named Rudy, because he was “a big cyber guy.”

When question[ed] who else might have information about on the email messages, FLYNN mentioned Rudy GIULIANI. GIULIANI was “a big cyber guy” who have a speech on the topic in Tel Aviv. GIULIANI had a ton of contacts and traveled quite a bit with TRUMP (FLYNN surmised approximately half of the time). GIULIANI had a certainty that the emails were out there and available. GIULIANI would have said this directly to TRUMP. The natural response from TRUMP was “why the hell could they not find them?”

After two more questions (about Barbara Ledeen’s efforts), Mueller’s team returned to Rudy. This time, former Director of Defense Intelligence explained that if Rudy said something, you could be sure it was factual.

GIULIANI had contacts at the FBI, though he was pretty “close hold” on who he spoke with there. If GIULIANI said something, you could take it to the bank as factual, FLYNN believed that GIULIANI acted in a manner which indicated had specific knowledge related to the emails. FLYNN reviewed GIULIANI’s speech for Tel Aviv, made some comments, and gave it back to GIULIANI. GIULIANI did not name drop. GIULIANI popped in throughout the campaign to help with certain events. FLYNN did not know if GIULIANI knew Russia hacked the DNC.

Two more questions later, in response to a question about whether Jeff Sessions attempted to find the emails, Flynn brought up Rudy again.

FLYNN was asked whether SESSIONS or CHRISTIE made any efforts to find an answer based on their law enforcement backgrounds. SESSIONS did not make any effort at all. GIULIANI had deeper discussion on the issue with the campaign. CHRISTIE was somewhere between the two in regards to effort. CHRISTIE always seemed to “puff” about what he could do. FLYNN observed that GIULIANI and CHRISTIE had extensive connections and contact in New York. They constantly brought information back to the campaign. They did not do a lot of name dropping but there was a certainty to their information. FLYNN did not remember either of them saying they had contact with WikiLeaks.

Several more questions later, Flynn raised Rudy again in a discussion of whether anyone reached out to other countries for the emails.

Flynn opined that if Russia had them, then China, Iran, and North Korea also had them. Those countries had the cyber capabilities to get them and CLINTON was the Secretary of State. FLYNN also thought hactivist groups operating in the [sic] Ukraine could have them. It was also likely Israel had them. FLYNN did not recall specific discussions on reaching out to these countries to find out what they had. GIULIANI could have reached out to Israel but FLYNN did not know.

In an interview six days later, Mueller’s team asked Flynn more about the role of the guy who had just become Trump’s defense attorney.

FLYNN did not recall Rudy GIULIANI saying specifically what he was doing to learn more about the missing email messages. GIULIANI seemed insightful to FLYNN on knowing when news would break. GIULIANI was working on cyber policy for TRUMP. FLYNN was not sure if GIULIANI got his information from the news or from actual contacts. FLYNN attended a couple of meetings at Trump Tower where GIULIANI was present. GIULIANIs conversations were always that Wikileaks would release the missing email messages, not Russia. FLYNN thought Russia would wait to see who won the election. If CLINTON won, Russia could then use them for leverage over her. Wikileaks claimed to have the desire to put information out in the public to damage CLINTON.

FLYNN did not participate in any conversations with GIULIANI that indicated GIULIANI “cast his net” with his contacts. GIULIANI was one of a number of people around TRUMP’s inner circle. GIULIANI agreed on who was behind the hack but was not really certain. GIULIANI was a close hold guy but might share what he was hearing. FLYNN recently saw a clip that during the campaign, GIULIANI said during an interview that there were more leaks to come. FLYNN recalled that was the kind of thing GIULIANI would say with certainty related to cyber. FLYNN listened to GIULIANI who came across as a judge and made remarks as though they were facts.

I have not done a systematic review of all this (and earlier releases are too redacted to be of much use on such issues). But it’s not just Flynn who had something interesting to say about Rudy. When discussing the Transition (and egregiously downplaying his own role in foreign policy), for example, Steve Bannon described the tension during the Transition because both Jeff Sessions and Rudy wanted to be Secretary of State. “Bannon thought Giuliani would have issues in his confirmation if he was nominated as Secretary of State, however, because of some of his companies and foreign contacts,” Bannon explained, acknowledging even then that Rudy was a foreign influence peddling risk.

Perhaps it’s because, when Rudy became Trump’s defense attorney, it made any inquiry into his role in 2016 awkward. But even though Rudy was a participant in all this, and even though Mike Flynn thought he might be the most likely person to “cast his net” for ways to pursue stolen emails, it’s not clear how aggressively the Mueller team considered what role Rudy had.

The Manafort Unsealing and Konstantin Kilimnik

Earlier this week, the court unsealed the filings in Paul Manafort’s case pertaining to his breach determination. I’ve put most of the filings below.

Much of what has been unsealed is not new. Because Manafort’s attorneys failed to actually redact their first response, the five topics about which the government claimed he lied were clear from early on, which made sussing out the rest possible. As one example, here’s a post from close to the end of the process that laid out a lot of what we knew and did not know.

That said, in part because of some big gaps in the Manafort docket, and in part because of the government’s increasing outspokenness about Konstantin Kilimnik, I want to lay out what has been released in significant fashion and what hasn’t.

When the WaPo first asked for this material, the government said no because of “ongoing investigations” and the privacy of uncharged people. When the parties came up with proposed redactions in July 2020, per a subsequently filed ABJ order, the redactions served to hide grand jury information and uncharged individuals; that is, the ongoing investigations were done. Then the WaPo pointed out several things that might be grand jury information, but should be released anyway, including people who have since been charged, including Greg Craig and Roger Stone by name, and grand jury information made public by Mueller.

Petitioner recognizes that grand jury proceedings are confidential under Rule 6(e) but asserts that “at least some” of the grand jury material in this matter should be unsealed because it has become public. Supp. Mem. at 12–13 (noting particularly the inadvertent disclosure of allegations that the defendant transferred presidential campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik in the summer of 2016); see also Reply at 11 (noting certain information was made public in the March 2019 report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller). Petitioner also asserts that some of the individuals whose names and information were sealed in the court documents because they were not charged with any crimes had since been indicted. See Reply at 1 & n.2 (noting the indictments of Roger Stone and Gregory Craig).

Upon consideration of the parties’ arguments, the joint submission of the government and defendant Manafort, the applicable law, and the privacy interests of individuals who have not been charged, the Court finds that some of the information sought by petitioner may be unsealed but that some must remain sealed to protect grand jury materials and the identities or identifying information of uncharged individuals.

That’s what should be unsealed: people who have not been charged or stuff that’s not grand jury information.

As you can see below, virtually the only area where significantly new information was provided pertained to Manafort’s relationship with Kilimnik, starting with the August 2, 2016 meeting and extending for two years. That makes the delay in release (which admittedly could be COVID related) of particular interest: in that time, FBI released a wanted poster for Kilimnik with a $250,000 reward, and then Treasury stated as fact, just weeks before this release, that Kilimnik had, indeed, shared polling data and campaign strategy with Russian intelligence officers. In addition, as shown below, there are big unexplained gaps in the numbering of the docket, suggesting sealed filings (I had thought it related to the forfeiture, and it still might, but most of that was moved to a different docket).

FBI Agent Jeffrey Weiland’s declaration (here’s the original), laying out the five matters about which Manafort lied, is the best way to track what kinds of things have been unsealed or not. Here are the five topics about which Manafort lied, with a summary of what got newly unsealed in each:

Payment to Wilmer Hale: Manafort engaged in some kind of dodgy accounting to get money to pay his lawyers, who represented Manafort until August 2017. The investigation into this allegation was unsealed (along with other investigations that had been dropped) by September 2020. About the only thing that is newly released in all this is that Wilmer Hale was the firm in question, which would seem to be either an uncharged corporate entity or grand jury information that got publicly released.

Manafort’s efforts to protect Konstantin Kilimnik in the witness tampering conspiracy: In 2018, Kilimnik and Manafort were charged for conspiring to hide aspects of their Hapsburg project by trying to coach witnesses. The names of those former Hapsburg project associates, Alan Friedman and Eckart Sager, were redacted in the original and remain redacted.

Interactions with Kilimnik: In addition to trying to downplay Kilimnik’s role in the witness tampering conspiracy, Manafort was not forthcoming about the August 2, 2016 meeting with Kilimnik (though by the end of the breach agreement, Manafort had proven that prosecutors had misunderstood what happened with a printout of polling data that day), and he blatantly lied about their ongoing meetings about a Ukraine “peace” deal. This is where the most new material was released.

Some of this was already released in the Mueller Report. But there are passages that include information beyond the Mueller Report, both in Rick Gates filings (which also were released to BuzzFeed), or — for example — in this passage from a Manafort filing.

The OSC contends that Mr. Manafort lied about his meeting with Mr. Kilimnik and [redacted: probably Georgiy Oganov] January 2017. (Doc. 464 at 14-15, ¶33-35). In particular, the OSC alleges that in one interview Mr. Manafort stated [redacted] did not present a plan for peace at the meeting or ask Mr. Manafort for anything and, subsequently, Mr. Manafort said that he discussed a peace plan during the meeting. Contrary to the OSC’s allegations, these statements are not inconsistent. First, during the interview, Mr. Manafort noted that while [redacted] did not present a peace plan or ask for anything, they did discuss Ukraine, in general, and Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, in particular.

Kilimnik has been charged. But not — as far as is public — for this stuff.

Another DOJ investigation: Little new is unredacted in a passage that describes the investigation in another district that Manafort first told a damning story to, and then reneged on that story: but what is unredacted is actually key. First, a footnote that must modify the overview section links to Michael Cohen’s Criminal Information. Given the timing, the issue in question is probably the effort to buy off Karen McDougal. Another filing describes that the information implicated Senior Administration Officials, which would seem to rule out Don Jr or Cohen himself, so must implicate Trump himself and, likely, Kushner. (I’ll return to this, because other discussions of this implicate a Roger Stone email to Manafort.)

Manafort’s Contact with the Administration: This section also remains largely the same with one big exception: it describes that some lobbying he was helping people do targeted Department of Labor and pertained to ERISA. That contact has nothing to do with Igor Fruman (with whom Manafort does have ties) and Lev Parnas, who were beginning to sidle up to Trump in this period. ABJ ruled that the government hadn’t proven their case on this point, and the ERISA focus sure helps make that case.


Documents

Exhibit 1. Government’s Submission in Support of its Breach Determination: 461 (675)

Exhibit 2. Defendant Paul J. Manafort Jr.’s Response to the Special Counsel’s Submission in Support of its Breach Determination: 470 (676)

Exhibit 3. Weiland Declaration in Support of the Government’s Breach Determination and Sentencing: 477 (677)

Exhibit 4. Defendant Paul J. Manafort, Jr.’s Reply to the Special Counsel’s Declaration and Exhibits in Support of its Breach Determination: 481 (678)

Exhibit 5. Transcript of Sealed Hearing Hld before Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 2/4/2019

Exhibit 6. Defendant Paul J. Manafort, Jr.’s Post Hearing Memorandum: 502 (679)

Exhibit 7. Government’s Supplement to the Record in Response to Defendant Manafort’s Post Hearing Memorandum: 507 (680)

Exhibit 8. Transcript of Sealed Hearing Held Before Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 2/13/2019

Exhibit 9. Government’s Sentencing Memorandum: 528 (681)

Exhibit 10. Government’s Supplemental Memorandum with Respect to the Court’s February 13, 2019 Ruling: 533/537 (682)

Exhibit 11. Defendant Paul J. Manafort’s Reply and Motion to Reconsider Based on the Special Counsel’s Supplemental Memorandum With Respect to the Court’s February 13, 2019 Ruling: 538 (683)

Exhibit 12. Minute Order on March 1, 2019

The Manafort docket is here and the docket for the WaPo effort that liberated the files is here.


Timeline

March 7, 2019: WaPo moves to release the documents

March 13, 2019: Manafort sentencing

March 19, 2019: Michael Dreeben, still on the Mueller team, moves for a short extension until the release of the Mueller Report

March 25, 2019: Post-sentencing DC USAO replaces Mueller team with Deborah Curtis, Zia Faruqui, Jonathan Kravis

March 27, 2019: DC USAO, having inherited the case, moves for another short extension

April 15, 2019: Jonathan Kravis opposes an immediate unsealed, in part on account of “ongoing investigations,” and asks for an abeyance until October 15, 2019

December 6, 2020: ABJ orders Manafort and the government to see whether documents can be unsealed

January 5, 2020: Kravis asks for a 60-day deadline to review the documents

February 11, 2020: In response to Barr’s interference in Stone case, Kravis and all other Stone prosecutors quit

March 3, 2020: Molly Gaston takes over and submits a joint motion for a further 60 day delay

April 28, 2020: Citing COVID, parties submit joint motion for further 30 day delay

June 2, 202: Parties submit joint motion for further 30 day delay

June 23, 2020: FBI releases Wanted poster for Konstantin Kilimnik offering $250,000 for his arrest

July 20, 2020: Parties submit sealed redactions, asking to keep “information from grand jury proceedings protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) or [that is] is necessary to protect the privacy interests of certain individuals” sealed

August 19, 2020: FBI releases second package of Kilimnik wanted materials

October 13, 2020: DC USAO replaces Zia Faruqui after he becomes a magistrate judge, with Arvind Lal

April 15, 2021: Treasury states as fact that Kilimnik shared polling data and campaign strategy with Russian intelligence

May 21, 2021: ABJ orders release, protecting only grand jury information and identities that have not been charged

Bill Barr Issued Prosecution Declinations for Three Crimes in Progress

On March 24, 2019, by judging that there was not evidence in Volume II of the Mueller Report that Trump had obstructed justice, Billy Barr pre-authorized the obstruction of justice that would be completed with future pardons of Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. He did so before the sentencing of Flynn and before even the trial of Stone.

This is why Amy Berman Jackson should not stay her decision to release the Barr Memo. It’s why the question before her goes well beyond the question of whether the Barr memo presents privileged advice. What Barr did on March 24, 2019 was pre-authorize the commission of crimes that ended up being committed. No Attorney General has the authority to do that.

As the partially unsealed memo makes clear, Steve Engel (who, even per DOJ’s own filing asking for a stay, was not permitted to make prosecutorial decisions) and Ed O’Callaghan (who under the OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of the President, could not make prosecutorial decisions about the President) advised Bill Barr that he should, “examine the Report to determine whether prosecution would be appropriate given the evidence recounted in the Special Counsel’s Report, the underlying law, and traditional principles of federal prosecution.”

In her now-unsealed memo ordering the government to release the memo, ABJ argues, “the analysis set forth in the memo was expressly understood to be entirely hypothetical.”

It was worse than that.

It was, necessarily, an instance of “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses.” As the memo itself notes, the entire exercise was designed to avoid, “the unfairness of levying an accusation against the President without bringing criminal charges.” It did not envision the possibility that their analysis would determine that Trump might have committed obstruction of justice. So predictably, the result of the analysis was that Trump didn’t commit a crime. “[W]ere there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend, under Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.”

The government is now appealing ABJ’s decision to release the memo to hide the logic of how Engel and O’Callaghan got to that decision. And it’s possible they want to hide their analysis simply because they believe that, liberated from the entire “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses” premise of the memo, it becomes true deliberative advice (never mind that both Engel and O’Callaghan were playing roles that OLC prohibits them to play).

But somehow, in eight pages of secret analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan decide — invoking the entire Special Counsel’s Report by reference — that there’s not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump obstructed justice.

We can assume what some of these eight pages say. In the newly unsealed parts, Engel and O’Callaghan opine, “that certain of the conduct examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances.”

As Quinta Jurecic’s epic chart lays out, the potential instances of obstruction of justice before Engel and O’Callaghan included a number of things involving Presidential hiring and firing decisions — the stuff which the memo Bill Barr wrote as an audition for the job of Attorney General said could not be obstruction.

To address those instances of suspected obstruction, then, Engel and O’Callaghan might just say, “What you said, Boss, in the memo you used to audition to get this job.” That would be scandalous for a whole bunch of reasons — partly because Barr admitted he didn’t know anything about the investigation when he wrote the memo (even after the release of the report, Barr’s public statements made it clear he was grossly unfamiliar with the content of it) and partly because it would raise questions about whether by hiring Barr Trump obstructed justice.

But that’s not actually the most scandalous bit about what must lie behind the remaining redactions. As Jurecic’s chart notes, beyond the hiring and firing obstruction, the Mueller Report laid out several instances of possible pardon dangles: to Mike Flynn, to Paul Manafort, to Roger Stone, and to Michael Cohen. These are all actions that, in his confirmation hearing, Barr admitted might be crimes.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Even Barr admits the question of pardon dangles requires specific analysis.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Yet somehow, in eight pages of analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan laid out “the specific facts” that undermined any case against Trump for those pardon dangles. I’d be surprised if they managed to do that convincingly in fewer than eight pages, particularly since they make clear that they simply assume you’ve read the Mueller Report (meaning, that analysis almost certainly doesn’t engage in the specific factual analysis that Bill Barr says you’d need to engage in).

The far, far more problematic aspect of this analysis, though, is that, of the four potential instances of pardon dangles included in the Mueller Report, three remained crimes-in-progress on March 24, 2019 when Barr issued a statement declining prosecution for them.

By then, Michael Cohen had already pled guilty and testified against Trump. But Paul Manafort had only just been sentenced after having reneged on a cooperation agreement by telling lies to hide what the government has now confirmed involved providing assistance (either knowing or unknowing) to the Russia election operation. Mike Flynn had not yet been sentenced — and in fact would go on to renege on his plea agreement and tell new lies about his conduct, including that when he testified to the FBI that he knew he discussed sanctions, he didn’t deliberately lie. And Roger Stone hadn’t even been tried yet when Barr said Stone’s lies to protect Trump weren’t a response to Trump’s pardon dangles. In fact, if you believe Roger Stone (and I don’t, in part because his dates don’t line up), after the date when Barr issued a declination statement covering Trump’s efforts to buy Stone’s silence, prosecutors told him,

that if I would really remember certain phone conversations I had with candidate trump, if I would come clean, if I would confess, that they might be willing to, you know, recommend leniency to the judge perhaps I wouldn’t even serve any jail time

If that’s remotely true, Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for the pardon dangles that led Stone to sustain an obviously false cover story through his trial itself contributed to the obstruction.

Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for obstruction crimes that were still in progress may explain his even more outrageous behavior after that. For each of these remaining crimes in progress, Barr took steps to make it less likely that Trump would issue a pardon. He used COVID as an excuse to spring Paul Manafort from prison to home confinement, even though there were no cases of COVID in Manafort’s prison at the time. He engaged in unprecedented interference in the sentencing process for Roger Stone, even going so far as claiming that threats of violence against (as it happens) Amy Berman Jackson were just a technicality not worthy of a sentencing enhancement. And Bill Barr’s DOJ literally altered documents in their effort to invent some reason to blow up the prosecution of Mike Flynn.

And Barr may have realized all this would be a problem.

On June 4, a status report explained that DOJ was in the process of releasing the initially heavily redacted version of this memo to CREW and expected that it would be able to do so by June 17, 2020, but that “unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control” might delay that.

However, OIP notes that processing of the referred record requires consultation with several offices within DOJ, and that unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control may occur in these offices that could delay OIP’s response. Accordingly, OIP respectfully submits that it cannot definitively guarantee that production will be completed by June 17, 2020. However, OIP will make its best efforts to provide CREW with a response regarding the referred record on or before June 17, 2020

This consultation would have occurred after Judge Emmet Sullivan balked at DOJ’s demand that he dismiss the Flynn prosecution, while the DC Circuit was reviewing the issue. And it occurred in the period when Stone was using increasingly explicit threats against Donald Trump to successfully win a commutation of his sentence from Trump (the commutation occurred weeks after DOJ gave CREW a version of the memo that hid the scheme Barr had engaged in). That is, DOJ was making decisions about this FOIA lawsuit even as Barr was taking more and more outrageous steps to try to minimize prison time — and therefore the likelihood of a Trump pardon — for these three. And Trump was completing the act of obstruction of justice that Barr long ago gave him immunity for by commuting Stone’s sentence.

Indeed, Trump would go on to complete the quid pro quo, a pardon in exchange for lies about Russia, for all three men. Trump would go on to commit a crime that Barr already declined prosecution for years earlier.

While Barr might believe that Trump’s pardon for Mike Flynn was righteous (even while it undermined any possibility of holding Flynn accountable for being a secret agent of Turkey), there is no rational argument you can make that Trump’s pardon of Manafort after he reneged on his plea deal and Trump’s pardon of Stone after explicit threats to cooperate with prosecutors weren’t obstruction of justice.

This may influence DOJ’s decision not to release this memo, and in ways that we can’t fathom. There are multiple possibilities. First, this may be an attempt to prevent DOJ’s Inspector General from seeing this memo. At least the Manafort prison assignment and the Stone prosecution were investigated and may still be under investigation by DOJ. If Michael Horowitz discovered that Barr took these actions after approving of a broad pre-declination for pardon-related obstruction, it could change the outcome of any ongoing investigation.

It may be an effort to stave off pressure to open a criminal investigation by DOJ into Barr’s own actions, a precedent no Attorney General wants to set.

Or, it may just be an effort to hide how many of DOJ’s own rules DOJ broke in this process.

But one thing is clear, and should be clearer to ABJ than it would be to any other judge: Bill Barr issued a prosecution declination for three crimes that were still in process. And that’s what DOJ is hiding.

Vicky and Rudy: The Subjects of Delay

When I asked around last year what the net effect of Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen’s efforts to protect Rudy Giuliani would be, I learned that the net effect of refusing to approve searches on Rudy would only delay, but it would not change the outcome of, the investigation into the President’s lawyer.

That’s worth keeping in mind as you read SDNY’s response to Victoria Toensing and Rudy’s demand that they get to treat both the April warrants against them, as well as the 2019 warrants, like subpoenas. Effectively, SDNY seems to be saying, “let’s just get to the indictment and discovery phase, and then you can start challenging these searches.”

The filing several times speaks of charges hypothetically.

If Giuliani is charged with a crime, he will, like any other criminal defendant, be entitled to production of the search warrant affidavits in discovery, at which time he will be free to litigate any motions related to the warrants as governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12. Conversely, if the Government’s grand jury investigation concludes without criminal charges, then the sealing calculus may be different, and Giuliani may renew his motion.

[snip]

If there is a criminal proceeding, the Government will produce the affidavits, warrants, and materials seized pursuant to those warrants, and at that time, the warrants’ legality can be litigated.

[snip]

Finally, Toensing will have both a forum and an opportunity to litigate any privilege issues if there is a criminal proceeding. As the Second Circuit has noted, in affirming the denial of a return-of-property motion, “If [the grand jury’s] inquiry results in indictment, the lawfulness of the seizure will be fully considered upon a motion to suppress, and any ruling adverse to the defendant will be reviewable upon appeal from a final judgment; if the grand jury declines to indict the movant, or adjourns without indicting it, its property will most likely be returned, and if not, it can initiate an independent proceeding for its return.” [my emphasis]

But the filing repeatedly makes clear that not just Rudy, but also Toensing (whose lawyer made much of being informed that Toensing was not a target of the investigation), are subjects of this investigation.

But the Government specifically chose not to proceed by subpoena in this case, for good reason, and there is no precedent for permitting the subjects of an investigation to override the Government’s choice in this regard.

None of the cases cited by Giuliani or Toensing supports their proposed approach. Toensing principally relies on United States v. Stewart, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2002 WL 1300059, at *4-8 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2002), 4 but that case is readily distinguishable because it involved the seizure of documents from several criminal defense attorneys who were not subjects of the Government’s investigation and had many cases before the same prosecuting office

[snip]

Such concerns merely serve to highlight the many countervailing problems with Giuliani and Toensing’s proposal: under their approach, the subjects of a criminal investigation would have the authority to make unilateral determinations not only of what is privileged, but also of what is responsive to a warrant.

[snip]

Nevertheless, Giuliani argues that, quite unlike other subjects of criminal investigations, he is entitled to review the affidavits supporting the warrants, which would effectively give him the extraordinary benefit of knowing the Government’s evidence before even being charged with a crime.

[snip]

Her request is contrary to law and would effectively deprive the Government of its right to evidence in the midst of a grand jury investigation so that she, the subject of that investigation, may decide what is privileged and what is responsive in those materials.

[snip]

In other words, accepting Giuliani and Toensing’s argument about the impropriety of using a filter team to review covert search warrant returns would entitle subjects of a criminal investigation to notice of that investigation any time a warrant were executed that related to them, no matter if the investigation were otherwise covert and no matter if the approving Court had signed a non-disclosure order consistent with the law. [my emphasis]

SDNY correctly treats Rudy and Toensing’s demands to review this material before SDNY can obtain it as a delay tactic.

Giuliani and Toensing’s proposal to allow their own counsel to conduct the initial review of materials seized pursuant to lawfully executed search warrants, including making determinations of what materials are responsive to the warrants, on their own timeline is without any precedent or legal basis. The Government is aware of no precedent for such a practice, which has the effect of converting judicially authorized search warrants into subpoenas.

Indeed, their discussion of the Lynn Stewart precedent emphasizes their goal of obtaining this material expeditiously.

None of the cases cited by Giuliani or Toensing supports their proposed approach. Toensing principally relies on United States v. Stewart, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2002 WL 1300059, at *4-8 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2002), 4 but that case is readily distinguishable because it involved the seizure of documents from several criminal defense attorneys who were not subjects of the Government’s investigation and had many cases before the same prosecuting office. (See infra at pp. 33-34). In any event, the Court appointed a special master in Stewart, as the Government seeks here. And the procedures adopted in Stewart illustrate why the Government’s proposed approach is preferable. In Stewart, the presiding judge initially believed that the special master’s review could be conducted expeditiously because the defendant’s counsel could quickly produce a privilege log (as Toensing seeks to do here). Id. at *8. But 15 months later, the judge lamented that the special master still had not produced a report on the seized materials. United States v. Sattar, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2003 WL 22137012, at *22 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2003), aff’d sub nom. United States v. Stewart, 590 F.3d 93 (2d Cir. 2009). That cumbersome process stands in stark contrast to that adopted by Judge Wood in Cohen, wherein the special master completed her review on an expedited basis in parallel to Cohen’s counsel, and set deadlines for Cohen’s counsel to object to any of her designations. (Cohen, Dkt. 39 at 1-2). In Cohen, the special master was appointed in April 2018, and her review was complete by August 2018. The Cohen search involved approximately the same number of electronic devices seized here, but also included significant quantities of hard copy documents, which are not at issue here. In sum, the Court should follow the model set forth in Cohen, which resulted in an efficient and effective privilege review. [my emphasis]

Likewise, the government also offered to pay the costs of the Special Master, so long as the Special Master follows the expeditious procedure conducted with Michael Cohen’s content.

This Court should not permit Giuliani and Toensing to stall the investigation of their conduct in this manner, particularly where the Government’s proposal will allow them to conduct the same review in parallel with a special master. The Government’s proposal to appoint a special master to review the seized materials is the only proposal that is fair to all parties, respects the unique privilege issues that the 2021 Warrants may implicate, and will ensure that Government’s investigation proceeds without undue delay.6

6 In the Cohen matter before Judge Wood, the Government and Cohen split the costs associated with the special master’s privilege review. Here, because the Government made the initial request of the Court and considers the appointment of a special master appropriate in this matter, the Government is willing to bear the costs of the review insofar as the special master follows the procedures adopted by Judge Wood in the Cohen matter, namely to review the seized materials for potential privilege in parallel with counsel for Giuliani and Toensing. To the extent the Court adopts the proposals advanced by Giuliani and Toensing, including that the special master also conduct a responsiveness review of those same materials—which the Government strongly opposes for the reasons set forth above—Giuliani and Toensing should solely bear any costs associated with a responsiveness review, any review beyond the initial privilege review, or any cost-enhancing measures traceable to Giuliani and Toensing. [my emphasis]

I’m mindful, as I review the schedule laid out above, that Cohen was charged almost immediately after the Special Master review was completed, in August 2018. In addressing the partial overlap between the 2019 searches and the April ones, the government notes that, “the Government expects that some, but not all, of the materials present on the electronic devices seized pursuant to the Warrants could be duplicative of the materials seized and reviewed pursuant to the prior warrants.”

The government already knows what they’re getting with these warrants (and if they don’t get it, they’re likely to be able to charge obstruction because it has been deleted). They’re calling for a Special Master not because it provides any more fairness than their prior filter review (indeed, they speak repeatedly of the “perception of fairness”), especially since investigators are about to obtain the materials from the 2019 search, but because it ensures they can get this material in timely fashion, especially since, as it stands now, they’re going to have to crack the passwords on seven of the devices seized from Rudy.

The remaining seven devices belonging to Giuliani and his business cannot be fully accessed without a passcode, and as such the Government has advised Giuliani’s counsel that the devices can be returned expeditiously if Giuliani were to provide the passcode; otherwise, the Government does not have a timeline for when those devices may be returned because the FBI will be attempting to access those devices without a passcode, which may take time.

Yes, Rudy and Toensing are trying to get an advance look at how bad the case against them is. But they’re also hoping to delay, possibly long enough to allow a Republican to take over again and pardon away their criminal exposure.

Which suggests that all the hypotheticals about Rudy and Toensing being able to challenge these searches if they are indicted are not all that hypothetical. SDNY is just trying to get to the place where they can indict.