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The Predictable Result of Asymmetry in Terrorism Policing: Andrew McCabe’s Demise

I recently finished Andrew McCabe’s book.

It is very effective at what I imagine its intended purposes are. It provides some fascinating new details about the genesis of the Russian investigation. It offers a great introduction in how the FBI (at its best) can work. It gives a self-congratulatory version of McCabe’s career, including key events like the Najibullah Zazi and Boston Marathon investigations; even if McCabe had wanted to tell fully honest stories about those investigations, I’m sure the less flattering details wouldn’t have passed FBI’s publication review.

The book also says satisfyingly mean things about Trump, Jeff Sessions, and (more obliquely) Rod Rosenstein. (I think McCabe’s book release significantly explains the rumors reported as fact that Mueller’s report was imminent some weeks ago; that claim served, in part, to once again eliminate any pressure to fire Rosenstein immediately).

The latter of two, of course, implemented McCabe’s firing. McCabe’s excuse for lying to the Inspector General, which led to his firing, is one of the least convincing parts of the book (he admits he can’t say more because of his continued legal jeopardy, but he does raise it). That’s true, in part, because McCabe only deals with one of the conversations in question; there were a number of them. But he also excuses his chief lie because he was frazzled about learning of the Strzok-Page texts in the same conversation. I can understand that, but elsewhere, one of his digs against Rosenstein is how overwhelmed the Deputy Attorney General was in the wake of the Jim Comey firing. McCabe suggests, in that context, that because he had dealt with big stressful issues (like the Boston Marathon attack), he wasn’t similarly rattled. Which is why I find it disingenuous to use being frazzled for not being fully truthful to the Inspector General. Plus, virtually all defendants prosecuted for lying to the FBI (including George Papadopoulos, but not Mike Flynn, who is a very accomplished liar) are frazzled when they tell those lies; it’s a tactic the FBI uses to catch people unguarded.

I was most frustrated, however, by something that has become increasingly important in recent days: McCabe’s utter lack of awareness (at least in the book) of the import of the asymmetric focus on Islamic terrorism across his career.

After moving to counterterrorism in the mid-00s from working organized crime, McCabe became an utterly central player in the war on Islamic terror, founding the High Value Interrogation Group, and then leading the CT and National Security Divisions of FBI. He was a key player in investigations — like Zazi — that the FBI is rightly proud of.

But McCabe normalizes the choices made after 9/11 to pursue Islamic terrorism as a distinct danger. He (of course) whitewashes Jim Comey’s decision to retain the Internet dragnet in 2004 under an indefensible use of the PATRIOT Act. He argues that it is politically impossible to survive a failure to prevent an attack even though he managed the Boston Marathon attack, where FBI and NSA had some warning of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s danger, but nevertheless got very little criticism as a result. Most remarkably, McCabe talks about Kevin Harpham’s attempted attack on the Martin Luther King Day parade, mentions as an aside that this was (obviously) not an Islamic terror attack, but offers no reflection on how Harpham’s attack undermines much of what he presents, unquestioningly, as a greater risk from Islamic terrorism (here’s a story on how Barack Obama did not get briefed on Harpham, a decision that may well have involved McCabe).

Granted, McCabe’s blind spots (at least in the book) are typical of people who have spent their lives reinforcing this asymmetry. You see it, too, in this utterly nonsensical paragraph in a largely ridiculous piece from Joshua Geltzer, Mary McCord, and Nick Rasmussen — all likewise accomplished players in the War on Just One Kind of Terrorism — at Lawfare.

The phrases “international terrorism” (think of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda) and “domestic terrorism” (think of the Oklahoma City bombing and the October 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue) have often been a source of confusion to those not steeped in counterterrorism. The Islamic State has its roots internationally, but what makes it such a threat to Americans is, in part, its ability to influence domestic actors like Omar Mateen to kill Americans in domestic locations like Orlando, Florida. The group may be “international,” but its attackers and attacks can be, and have been, domestic—to tragic effect.

This paragraph, in a piece that admits the focus of their career has been wrong (and neglects to mention that Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant named Donald Trump, along with Anders Behring Breivik, as an inspiration), suggests that the reason international terrorism is “such a threat” is because it can inspire domestic actors. The logic inherent to that paragraph is that terrorism carried out by “domestic terrorists,” inspired by a domestic white supremacist ideology is any less dangerous than terrorism carried out by people inspired by what is treated as an international ideology. International terrorism is worse than domestic terrorism, these experts argue, because it can lead to domestic terrorism.

Dead is dead. And given the significant number of white supremacists who have had experience in the military and greater tolerance for their training, white supremacists have the potential of being far more effective, as individuals, at killing than US-based Islamic terrorists.

One thing the Lawfare piece studiously avoids acknowledging is that what it calls “domestic” terrorism (the racist ideology of which they never describe) is an ideology significantly exported by the United States. Even in a piece that rightly calls for an equal focus on both white supremacist terrorism and Islamic terrorism, it ducks labeling the ideology in question. And while this WaPo piece does label the ideology in question, it bizarrely calls an attack in New Zealand carried out by an Australian a “domestic” attack.

The WaPo piece describes one problem with the asymmetric treatment of different kinds of terrorism: that governments don’t share intelligence about international violent racist ideology. In fact, in the US, such intelligence gets treated differently, if the FBI’s failure to track the networks around Frazier Glenn Miller and Eric Rudolph is any indication.

Ironically, that’s one reason that McCabe’s failure to track white supremacist terrorism in the same way he tracked Islamic terrorism led to his demise. While the network behind the election year operation that helped elect Trump involves a lot of Russians, it also clearly involves a lot of white supremacists like Nigel Farage (and David Duke), a network Russia exploited. Additionally, as I have argued (and at least one study backs) white supremacist networks provided the real fire behind the attacks on Clinton; Russia’s information operations had the effect of throwing more fuel on a blazing bonfire.

The other problem with the US government’s asymmetric treatment of terrorism is legitimacy. Labeling Islamic terrorism “foreign” and pursuing material support cases based partly on speech has had the effect of criminalizing some speech that criticizes US foreign policy, even well-deserved criticism about the effect of US killing of Muslims. By contrast, white supremacist speech, even that which  more aggressively advocates violence is treated as speech. Yes, deplatforming has begun to change that.

But we’re still not at a place where those who incite white supremacist violence are held accountable for it.

That’s how it was possible for a man to kick off a campaign by inventing lies about Mexican immigrants and how the entire Republican party, up to and including the new supposedly sane Attorney General, are permitted to pursue counterproductive policies solely so they can appear to demonize brown people.

Irrespective of the merit or not in the finding that Andrew McCabe lacked candor with the IG, he got treated the way he did because a man whose entire political career is based off feeding white resentment needed to appear to be a victim of Andrew McCabe. That act, by itself, was not about Trump’s white supremacist ideology. But it is a structure of power that is white supremacist (exacerbated by Trump’s narcissism).

We have a President Trump in significant part because this country has tolerated and even rewarded white supremacist ideology, institutionally ignoring that it poses as much of a risk as violent Islamic ideology. It would be really useful if people like Andrew McCabe spend some time publicly accounting for that fact.

The white supremacy that brought us the Trump presidency would not be possible if we had treated violent white supremacist terror as terror for the last twenty years.

About the Two Investigations into Donald Trump

I’m still pretty cranky about the timing and form of Andrew McCabe’s publicity tour.

But since it’s out there, I’d like to comment on three details, two of which have gotten significant comment elsewhere.

Trump wanted Rod Rosenstein to include Russia in the reasons he should fire Comey

The first is that Trump specifically asked Rosenstein to include Russia — McCabe doesn’t further specify what he meant — in the letter recommending he fire Jim Comey.

McCabe says that the basis for both investigations was in Mr. Trump’s own statements. First, Mr. Trump had asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.  Then, to justify firing Comey, Mr. Trump asked his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to write a memo listing the reasons Comey had to go. And according to McCabe, Mr. Trump made a request for that memo that came as a surprise.

Andrew McCabe: Rod was concerned by his interactions with the president, who seemed to be very focused on firing the director and saying things like, “Make sure you put Russia in your memo.” That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.

If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein listed the Russia investigation in his memo to the White House, it could look like he was obstructing the Russia probe by suggesting Comey’s firing. And by implication, it would give the president cover.

Scott Pelley: He didn’t wanna put Russia in his memo.

Andrew McCabe: He did not. He explained to the president that he did not need Russia in his memo. And the president responded, “I understand that, I am asking you to put Russia in the memo anyway.”

When the memo justifying Comey’s firing was made public, Russia was not in it. But, Mr. Trump made the connection anyway, telling NBC, then, Russian diplomats that the Russian investigation was among the reasons he fired Comey.

The most obvious explanation for this is that Trump wanted to box DOJ in, to prevent them from expanding their investigative focus from one campaign foreign policy advisor, a second campaign foreign policy advisor, his former campaign manager, his National Security Advisor, and his lifelong political advisor to the one thing those five men had in common, Trump.

But it’s also possible that Trump wanted Rosenstein to do what Don McGahn had narrowly prevented Trump from doing, effectively shifting the obstruction to Rosenstein. That seems like what Rosenstein was worried about, an impression he may have gotten from his instructions from McGahn, laying out the case that investigating Russia would get you fired.

It’s possible, too, that Trump was particularly interested in the public statement for the benefit of the Russians, a view supported by the fact that Trump made sure he fired Comey before his meeting with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, and then stated that he had more freedom with Comey gone. That is, it’s possible he needed to prove to the Russians that he could control his own DOJ.

The order to Rosenstein was one of the predications for the investigation into Trump

McCabe elaborates on a story told at least partly by the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts: that the day after Trump fired Comey, FBI moved to open two investigations into Trump. A number of people have suggested McCabe just vaguely pointed to Trump’s statements, but he’s more specific than that. One of the statements was that order to Rosenstein to include Russia in the firing memo.

Scott Pelley: How long was it after that that you decided to start the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president?

Andrew McCabe: I think the next day, I met with the team investigating the Russia cases. And I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward. I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.

[snip]

Andrew McCabe: There were a number of things that caused us to believe that we had adequate predication or adequate reason and facts, to open the investigation. The president had been speaking in a derogatory way about our investigative efforts for weeks, describing it as a witch hunt…

President Trump on Feb. 16, 2017: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years.

Andrew McCabe: …publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president’s mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you’ve referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

As McCabe describes it, the other things are obstruction-related: Trump’s attacks on the Russian investigation.

But remember, McCabe had heard the substance of Mike Flynn’s comments to Sergei Kislyak. The rest of us have seen just outlines of it. In some way, Mike Flynn convinced Sergei Kislyak on December 29, 2016, that Russia had Trump’s assurances on sanctions relief. Trump may well have come up specifically. In any case, the FBI would have had good reason — from Flynn’s lies, and his call records showing his consultations before he lied — to suspect Trump had ordered Flynn’s statements to Kislyak.

McCabe describes the genesis of the obstruction and the counterintelligence investigation

Finally, McCabe provides additional details to the dual investigation into Trump: the obstruction one arising out of Trump’s efforts to kill the Russian investigation, and the counterintelligence one into whether Trump was doing that at Russia’s behest (which goes back to my initial point, that Trump may have wanted Russia included in the firing memos as a signal to Russia he could kill the investigation).

Andrew McCabe: …publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president’s mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you’ve referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

Scott Pelley: What was it specifically that caused you to launch the counterintelligence investigation?

Andrew McCabe: It’s many of those same concerns that cause us to be concerned about a national security threat. And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, “Why would a president of the United States do that?” So all those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?

Scott Pelley: Are you saying that the president is in league with the Russians?

Andrew McCabe: I’m saying that the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn’t mean someone is guilty. I would say, Scott, if we failed to open an investigation under those circumstances, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.

With that laid out, I’d like to look at Rod Rosenstein’s August 2 memo laying out precisely what Mueller was — and had, from the start — been authorized to investigate, which both Paul Manafort and the President’s flunkies in Congress spent a great deal of effort trying to unseal. Knowing as we now do that the redacted passages include at least one and probably two bullet points relating to Trump himself, it seems more clear than every that once you lay out the investigations into Trump’s flunkies known to have been predicated at the time, that’s all that would have been included in the memo:

  • Obstruction investigation into Trump
  • Counterintelligence investigation into Trump
  • Election conspiracy investigation into Manafort
  • Ukrainian influence peddling investigation into Manafort
  • Transition conspiracy investigation into Flynn
  • Turkish influence peddling investigation into Flynn
  • Counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page
  • Election conspiracy investigation into George Papadopoulos
  • Election conspiracy investigation into Roger Stone

At that point, there wouldn’t have been space for at least two of the three bullets that now exist on a scope memo, as laid out by Jerome Corsi’s draft plea (though “c” may have been there in conjunction with Stone).

At the time of the interview, the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including:

a. the theft of campaign-related emails and other documents by the Russian government’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (“GRU”);

b. the GRU’s provision of certain of those documents to an organization (“Organization 1”) for public release in order to expand the GRU’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign; and

c. the nature of any connections between individuals associated with the U.S. presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and the Russian government or Organization 1.

That’s another to believe — as I have long argued — that bullets a and b got moved under Mueller at a later time, probably around November 2017. After Flynn flipped, the Middle Eastern pass-through corruption would likely have been added, and inauguration graft probably got added after Rick Gates flipped (before the non-Russian parts of both got spun off).

One thing that means, if I’m correct, is that at the time Mueller was hired, the investigation consisted of predicated investigations into probably six individuals. While there would have been a counterintelligence and criminal aspect to both, there was a criminal aspect to each of the investigations, with specific possible crimes envisioned. If that’s right, it means a lot of hot air about Mueller’s appointment simply misunderstood what part of Comey’s confirmed investigation got put under Mueller at first.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

In any case, the certainty that there are at least one and probably two bullets pertaining to Trump in that August 2 memo is interesting for a few more reasons.

It makes it far more likely that the Strzok 302 — based on a July 19, 2017 interview, drafted the following day, and finalized August 22 — was an effort to formalize Mueller’s authorization to investigate the President. The part of the 302 that pertains to Mike Flynn’s interview takes up the middle third of the report. The rest must lay out the larger investigations, how the FBI found the intercepts between Flynn and Kislyak, and what the response to the interview was at DOJ.

The 302 is sandwiched between two events. First, it follows by just a few weeks the release of the June 9 meeting emails. Indeed, the interview itself took place on the day the NYT published the interview where Trump admits he and Putin spoke about adoptions — effectively making it clear that Putin, not Trump, drafted a statement downplaying that the meeting had established a dirt-for-sanctions relief quid pro quo.

The 302 was also drafted the day before Mueller started pursuing the transition emails and other comms from GSA that would have made it clear that Trump ordered Flynn’s statements and key members of the transition team knew that.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

It also happens to precede, by days, when Michael Horowitz would inform Christopher Wray and then Mueller about the Page-Strzok texts, though that is almost certainly an almost unbelievable coincidence.

In any case, as I’ve noted, unsealing that August 2 memo has been like a crown jewel for the obstructionists, as if they knew that it laid out the investigation into Donald Trump. That effort has been part of a strategy to suggest any investigation into Trump had to be improper, even one investigating whether he engaged in a quid pro quo even before the General Election started, trading US policy considerations — starting with, but not limited to, sanctions relief — in exchange for help getting elected.

The obstructionists want to claim that an investigation that started with George Papadopoulos and then Carter Page and then Mike Flynn (the obstructionists always seem to be silent about Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, as if they knew who engaged in substantive conspiracy with the Russians) should not end up with Donald Trump. And they do so, I think, to suggest that at the moment it discovered that quid pro quo in July 2017, it was already illegitimate.

But as McCabe said, “the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn’t mean someone is guilty. I would say, Scott, if we failed to open an investigation under those circumstances, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.”

It just turned out that Trump was guilty.

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

After Replacing FBI Devices Two Times, the Bureau Still Fails to Collect 10% of Agent Text Messages

Today, DOJ’s Inspector General released its report on the efforts it made to restore all of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s text messages. The report is actually better used to illustrate how, three years into beginning to respond to its failures to collect all of the texts sent or received using FBI issued phones, and after twice upgrading the phones Agents get issued, it still fails to retain 10% of texts that Agents send and receive.

With regards to Strzok and Page, the report describes the efforts it made to obtain all their texts, which includes:

  • Obtaining both the Samsung (Galaxy 5, then Galaxy 7) phones they used during this period, as well the iPhones issued for their brief stint in Mueller’s office, the latter of which neither appears to have used
  • Using the existing collection tool, which included big gaps for key periods of interest
  • Asking DOD’s Computer Forensic Lab for help
  • Searching the Enterprise database, which found a bunch more texts, for reasons no one could explain
  • Hiring an outside Android consultant, who found 62 additional text messages

The upshot is, FBI doesn’t know whether they recovered all Strzok and Page’s texts, and doesn’t know why they didn’t, if in fact they didn’t.

And we’re only learning this because the two of them decided to conduct an extramarital affair on their FBI-issued devices while serving on the two most high profile investigations in recent FBI history.

Which raises the question: is this also true for Agents investigating defendants without the clout of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? If necessary, would the FBI be able to find their texts?

The answer is, maybe not.

Here’s what this report says about FBI’s retention rules, generally.

First, important texts are retained by policy, not (technologically-assisted) procedure. So the country’s premier law enforcement agency ensures that important law enforcement related texts are retained by saying anything covering these topics must be retained.

  • Factual information about investigative activity
  • Factual information obtained during interviews or interactions with witnesses (including victims), potential witnesses, experts, informants, or cooperators
  • Factual discussions related to the merits of evidence
  • Factual information or opinions relating to the credibility or bias of witnesses, informants and potential witnesses; and
  • Other factual information that is potentially discoverable under Brady, Giglio, Rule 16 or Rule 26.2 (Jencks Act)

But it’s up to the Agents to do that. And if they don’t for some reason, they’re instructed to ask the Enterprise Security Operations Center if they retained them. But the ESOC is not mandated to retain texts. They happen to, but it’s not tied to any mandate to retain substantive communications required to be saved by policy.

The ESOC has a tool, by a vendor whose name may not even appear in redacted form in this report, that “wirelessly collect[s] text messages sent to or from FBI-issued mobile devices.”

As the FBI’s response to this report reveals, the Bureau has known for some time that that tool didn’t collect everything, because they’ve told the OIG that on two prior occasions.

Prior to the OIG’s investigation into the FBI’s actions in advance of the 2016 election, during at least two unrelated investigations, one of which dates back to 2015, the FBI made the OIG aware of gaps in FBI text message collection capabilities.

As DOJ IG was trying to puzzle through why they couldn’t find all of Strzok and Page’s texts, the unnamed vendor got squirrelly when asked how the retention tool interacts with administrative privileges.

Upon OIG’s request, ESOC Information Technology Specialist [redacted] consulted with the FBl’s collection tool vendor, who informed the FBI that the collection application does not write to enterprise.db. [Redacted] further stated that ESOC’s mobile device team and the vendor believed enterprise.db is intended to track applications with administrative privileges and may have been collecting the logs from the collection tool or another source such as the Short Message Service (SMS) texting application. The collection tool vendor preferred not to share specific details regarding where it saves collected data, maintaining that such information was proprietary; however, [redacted] represented that he could revisit the issue with the vendor if deemed necessary.

Maybe it’s me, but I find it pretty sketchy that this unnamed collection tool vendor doesn’t want to tell the FBI precisely what they’re doing with all these FBI Agents’ texts. “Proprietary” doesn’t cut it, in my opinion.

In any case, the FBI started trying to fix the problem, starting in 2016. At the time they started, they were losing 20% of the texts sent and received. After two upgrades of Samsung phones and a fix to a “bug” later, they’re still not collecting 10%.

During calendar year 2017, the FBI phased out use of the Samsung Galaxy S5 devices by its employees and replaced them with Samsung Galaxy S7 devices because of software and other issues that prevented the data collection tool from reliably capturing text messages sent and received via FBI issued Samsung Galaxy SS mobile devices. According to FBl’s Information and Technology Branch, as of November 15, 2018, the data collection tool utilized by FBI was still not reliably collecting text messages from approximately IO percent of FBI issued mobile devices, which included Samsung S7s and subsequently issued S9s. By comparison, the estimated failure rate of the collection tool was 20 percent for the Samsung S5s.

The FBI’s tech folks provided these explanations for why the tool by the unnamed vendor still doesn’t work.

  • In calendar year 2016 the collection application vendor reported a “bug” in a version of the collection tool which caused the application to stop collecting text message or log data- This application version was replaced by a newer version that corrected the issue in March 2017.
  • Errors during the initial installation of the collection application, such as misconfiguration during setup.
  • Errors in the collection application’s ability to send text message data caused by software updates or operating system updates on the mobile device itself.
  • Hardware errors, such as the device not being powered on, being located in a poor cellular signal area, or being located in an area with no cellular service.

Among the other excuses FBI offers for implementing a fix to a 20% failure with one that still results in a 10% failure is to say, “complete collection of text messages is neither required nor necessary to meet the FBI’s legal preservation obligations” (which goes back to how they’re requiring retention via policy, but not technologically-assisted procedure). The FBI also says that it “is not aware of any solution that closes the collection gap entirely on its current mobile device platforms,” which makes me wonder why they keep buying new Samsungs if the Samsungs aren’t serving their needs? Aside from the question of why we’d ask FBI Agents to use less secure Korean phones rather than more secure American ones (note, Mueller’s team is using iPhones)?

This story, like so many with the hoaxes that Republicans have ginned up to try to delegitimize the Mueller investigation, seems to be the big story, not what Strzok and Page sent themselves two years ago (the IG Report concluded the non-discoverable texts did not cover one subject area, so weren’t by themselves suspect, and doubted either Strzok or Page had the technical capability to selectively destroy only incriminating texts).

The FBI is an agency that routinely demands that people respond to subpoenas by pulling all the relevant texts on a given subject. If you were to fail, they would be at least consider whether your failure to do so amounted to obstruction. But they don’t guarantee they would be able to meet that same standard — they’re happy with their 10% failure rate, apparently.

And while it is an interesting topic for Strzok and Page and Donald Trump’s attempts to claim Witch hunt! it’s the instances where criminal defendants are asking the FBI to search for relevant texts among agents (in just one example, MalwareTech asked the FBI for texts between Agents surveilling and then arresting him in Las Vegas, but got nothing) that I care about. Because if you only aspire to 90% retention, and if you attribute any failure to do better to an individual Agent’s failure to meet a policy (but how would you prove it, if the point is that a given text no longer exists to be discovered?), then you’re pretty much ensuring that you can’t fully comply with discovery requests from defendants.

Apparently, the FBI seems okay with that.

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

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

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

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

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

Now consider how this fits with regards to timing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Frothy Right Is Furious that Peter Strzok Pursued the Guy Leaking about Carter Page

Close to midnight on June 3, 2017, Lisa Page texted Peter Strzok to let him know that Reality Winner was in custody. Page used the same shorthand she and Strzok (and presumably, those around them) consistently use to describe leak investigations, ML, media leaks.

They used the term elsewhere, as when Strzok said “media leaks and what I do for a living” when responding to the first reports that Mueller was investigating Trump (and hypothesizing about who the WaPo’s likely sources were).

Significantly, they used the term on April 10, 2017, when trying to figure out how to respond to DOJ’s effort to increasingly politicize leak investigations.

Indeed, Strzok’s lawyer has issued a statement confirming this is how Strzok and Page used the term.

The term ‘media leak strategy’ in Mr. Strzok’s text refers to a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media. The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People.

In spite of all that context, Mark Meadows has the entire frothy right, from Sara Carter to Fox News to Don Jr to his dad, worked up about two newly produced texts, based on this letter to Rod Rosenstein, which gets just about every thing wrong.

Before I explain how wrong Mark Meadows’ letter is, let me point out two things.

Michael Horowitz has already investigated a media leak text and found no misconduct

First, Michael Horowitz is (with the possible exception of DOD’s Glenn Fine) the best Inspector General in government. His office spent over a year investigating the work of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page; he wrote a 500-page report on it. And when he found evidence that even looked like impropriety, acted on it immediately and then formally, leading to Strzok’s firing. He has also spent a year investigating whatever calls went between FBI lines and reporters covering Hillary or Trump. He even drew pretty pictures showing each one of concern.

As part of both investigations, he examined a text in the series Meadows is concerned about (the April 10 one, above). And in spite of examining Page and Strzok, including a relevant text, at such length, Horowitz found no impropriety with the discussions about how to investigate leaks to the media.

We know the likely culprit for the leak the frothy right is blaming on Page and Strzok

The punchline of Meadows’ letter — as fed via the always-wrong Sara Carter — is a claim that Strzok and Page were the source for the WaPo story revealing that FBI obtained a FISA order on Carter Page.

The review of the documents suggests that the FBI and DOJ coordinated efforts to get information to the press that would potentially be “harmful to President Trump’s administration.” Those leaks pertained to information regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant used to spy on short-term campaign volunteer Carter Page.

Aside from how fucking stupid you’d have to be to believe that Strzok would go to great lengths to get a FISA order on Page and then tell the entire world about it, there’s another reason that the frothy right should know this is wrong: because we know the likely culprit for it.

As I noted in my first post on the James Wolfe indictment, that investigation appears to have started to (and focused on) finding the source for the WaPo story the frothy right now blames on Strzok and Page.

The government lays out clear proof Wolfe lied about conversations with three reporters. With Watkins and another, they point to stories about Carter Page to do so. The Watkins story is this one, confirming he is the person identified in the Evgeny Buryakov indictment. Another must be one of two stories revealing Page was subpoenaed for testimony by the Senate Intelligence Committee — either this one or this one.

I’m most interested, however, in this reference to a story the FBI raised with Wolfe in its interview, a story for which (unlike the others) the indictment never confirms whether Wolfe is the source.

During the interview, FBI agents showed WOLFE a copy of a news article authored by three reporters, including REPORTER #1, about an individual (referred to herein as “MALE-l), that contained classified information that had been provided to the SSCI by the Executive Branch for official purposes

The story suggests they don’t have content for the communications between Wolfe and Reporter #1, and the call records they’re interested in ended last June (meaning the story must precede it).

For example, between in or around December 2015 and in or around June 2017, WOLFE and REPORTER #1 communicated at least five times using his SSCI email account.

For that reason, I suspect this is the story they asked about — whether Wolfe is a source for the original credible story on Carter Page’s FISA order. The focus on Page generally in the indictment suggests this investigation started as an investigation into who leaked the fact that Page had been targeted under FISA, and continued to look at the stories that revealed classified details about the investigative focus on him (stories which he rightly complained to SSCI about).

The government didn’t charge Wolfe for that story — they just (appear to have) included his lies about whether he knew the reporters behind it among the lies they charged him for. But that’s a common strategy for FBI when dealing with a leak investigation the direct prosecution of which would require declassifying information, particularly with someone like Wolfe who could easily graymail the government. Moreover, the docket in his case has the look of one where the defense is considering a plea to avoid more serious charges.

Now consider how they got Wolfe. Not only did the government go after a trusted employee, not only did they very publicly access his Signal and WhatsApp texts, not only did they get Congress to waive speech and debate (which very rarely happens), but they also obtained years of Ali Watkins’ call records, both directly and via Temple University.

In other words, the prosecution of James Wolfe pushed prior protocols on leak investigations on a number of fronts: going after favored insiders, going after encrypted comms, going after employees of Congress, and going far more aggressively after a journalist and a college student than would seem necessary. That’s precisely the kind of thing that FBI and DOJ would debate as part of revising their strategy to more aggressively pursue media leaks.

So the James Wolfe case not only provides a likely culprit for the leak, but probably even evidence that shifts in the media leak strategy did happen, shifts resulting in far more aggressive pursuit of leaks than happened at the end of the Obama Administration.

Mark Meadows dangerously wrong

Which brings us, finally, to the many errors of Mark Meadows’ letter to Rosenstein. Once again, the premise of the letter is that two next texts (one of which obviously relates the one I posted above) create grave new concerns.

As you may know, we recently received a new production of documents from the Department providing greater insight into FBI and DOJ activity during the 2016 election and the early stages of the Trump administration. Our review of these new documents raises grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ related to ongoing investigations.

Review of these new documents suggests a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration. For example, the following text exchange should lead a reasonable person to question whether there was a since desire to investigate wrongdoing or to place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe.

April 10, 2017: Peter Strozk [sic] contacts Lisa Page to discuss a “media leak strategy.” Specifically, the text says: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.”

April 12, 2017: Peter Strozk [sic] congratulates Lisa Page on a job well done while referring to two derogatory articles about Carter Page. In the text, Strzok warns Page two articles are coming out, one which his “worse” than the other about Lisa’s “namesake.” [see update below] Strzok added: “Well done, Page.”

Meadows goes on to cite the WaPo story revealing Page’s FISA order and Andrew Weissman’s meeting with the AP (in which, per court testimony from the Manafort trial, the AP provided information useful to the investigation into Manafort, but which — significantly — led to the warrant on Manafort’s condo which may have led to the discovery of information that implicates Trump).

Meadows is just wrong. Both texts he already has and the Wolfe case “should lead a reasonable person” to understand that the same people who had long pursued leak investigations still were doing so, doing so in an increasingly politicized environment, but doing so with results that would employ more aggressive techniques and would find the likely culprit behind the WaPo story in question (not to mention send Reality Winner to prison for five years).

But all that’s just a premise to claim that because he imagines, fancifully, that Page and Strzok were leaking about ongoing investigations to the press (when in fact they were investigating such leaks), he should be able to get the FBI to talk about ongoing investigations.

During our interviews with Peter Strozk [sic] and Lisa Page, FBI attorneys consistently suggested witnesses could not answer questions due to the US Attorneys’ Manual’s policy for ongoing investigations. However, documents strongly suggest that these same witnesses discussed the ongoing investigations multiple times with individuals outside of the investigative team on a regular basis.

Not only is Meadows almost certainly wrong in his accusations against Strzok and Page, but he’s also ignoring that there are two ongoing investigations being protected here — both the general Russian investigation, but also the prosecution of Wolfe for behavior that likely includes the story he’s bitching about.

Meadows then uses what he even seems to admit are authorized media contacts as a transition paragraph.

Our task force continues to receive troubling evidence that the practice of coordinated media interactions continues to exist within the DOJ and FBI. While this activity may be authorized and not part of the inappropriate behavior highlighted above, it fails to advance the private march to justice, and as such, warrants your attention to end this practice.

The transition paragraph — which I’ll return to — leads to the whole point of the letter, Meadows’ demand that, because he has trumped up a false accusation against Strzok and Page, he should be able to interview FBI agents he believes will undermine the investigation into Donald Trump.

In light of the new information, our task force is requesting to review text messages, emails, and written communication from FBI and DOJ officials Stu Evans, Mike Kortan, and Joe Pientka between June 2016 to June 2017. To be clear, we are not suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Evans, Kortan, and Pientka–and, in fact, previously reviewed documents suggest that some of these individuals may share the committees’ same concerns. However, these additional documents, with an emphasis on communications between the aforementioned individuals and Peter Strozk [sic], Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr and Andrew Weissman, would provide critical insight into the backdrop of the Russian investigation.

Meadows is looking, among other things, testimony that says Pientka didn’t believe Mike Flynn lied when he interviewed Trump’s National Security Advisor with Strzok. But he’s doing so specifically for a time period that ends before the evidence showing that Flynn did lie came into FBI (in part, when Mueller obtained Transition emails showing Trump closely directed Flynn’s conversations with Sergei Kislyak.

Now back to authorized media interactions. I happen to know something about how they work. I had a conversation with the FBI that pertained, in part, to whether there was a tie between Russian criminals and the President, one that also pertained to my perception of possible threats. Apparently Meadows thinks that such a conversation “fails to advance the private march to justice,” though it’s not clear what he means by that.  I mean, thus far, I have been very circumspect about the content of such conversations; is Meadows really asking me to air details before the midterms? I have thus far hesitated to share suspicions I had, believing it would be inappropriate for anyone besides Mueller and the FBI to air such things publicly, until they had corroborated my suspicions. But Meadows apparently believes it important to air investigative details before the election.

The better option — one that would put the rule of law and the security of the nation ahead of partisan obstruction — would be for Meadows to stop inciting hoaxes among the frothy right. Or maybe, at least, the frothy right can recognize that Meadows has serially embarrassed them as they credulously repeat whatever hoax he floats?

Update: After Jerrold Nadler and Elijah Cummings released a response noting some of Meadows’ errors, he fixed just one of the errors in his letter, admitting that the “well done, Page” language was actually from an April 22, 2017 text that reads, “article is out! Well done, Page,” and which obviously refers to this story on Jim Comey.

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

Would Rod Rosenstein Object to a Mueller Action before Brett Kavanaugh Is Confirmed?

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not DOJ’s traditional prohibition on major prosecutorial actions limits Robert Mueller. As I have explained, I personally think the terms of it don’t apply, with the possible exception of Dana Rohrabacher, because no other conceivable subject of Mueller’s investigation is conceivably on the ballot. Quinta Jurecic has a good piece explaining that it is a general practice, not a rule.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz spelled out exactly why it’s wrong in three short pages of his recent report on the FBI’s conduct in the Clinton email investigation.

Two years ago, Jane Chong dove deep into the supposed 60-day rule in a Lawfare post on FBI Director James Comey’s October 2016 letter on new developments in the Clinton investigation. As she wrote then, there is no formal rule barring Justice Department action in the days immediately before an election. Rather, the “rule” is more of a soft norm based on what former Attorney General Eric Holder himself described as “long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition.” In a guidanceHolder issued in 2012, the attorney general wrote that, “Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party”—which, Chong noted, leaves a wide loophole for actions taken near an election without the purpose of affecting that election. In 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a similar memorandum with the same language, as the inspector general report lays out.

Chong’s post was, in fact, cited by the inspector general report in the office’s own analysis of whether Comey had violated the supposed 60-day rule. “The 60-Day Rule is not written or described in any Department policy or regulation,” the report says. Investigators canvassed a range of “high-ranking [Justice] Department and FBI officials” on their own understandings of the guideline, which the report describes as “a general practice that informs Department decisions.”

This short section of the 500-plus-page report shows broad agreement among the current and former Justice Department officials interviewed that there is some kind of principle against taking action in such a way as to potentially influence an election, though the interviewees do not precisely agree on the contours of that principle. Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara stated, investigators write, that “there is generalized, unwritten guidance that prosecutors do not indict political candidates or use overt investigative methods in the weeks before an election.” Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates located the cutoff more precisely at the 90-day instead of the 60-day mark.

The inspector general’s office also interviewed Ray Hulser, the former deputy assistant attorney general for the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department, who was involved in the drafting of Lynch’s 2016 election integrity. Interestingly, Hulser told investigators that the Public Integrity Section had actually considered codifying the 60-day rule in the Lynch memo, but had decided not to because such a policy would be “unworkable.”

Yet, even though I don’t believe the 60-day “rule” does apply, my expectation is that Rod Rosenstein — who after is the one who will make any decisions about major Mueller actions — would nevertheless abide by it.

Still, that leaves three more days of this week, before the actual 60-day cut-off.

Which leaves me with another question: Would Rosenstein balk at a major action this week, before Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court?

After all, Rosenstein is close to Kavanaugh from when both served on a real witch hunt, the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton’s blowjob (indeed, Kavanaugh seemed to have gotten off on the most scandalous details about that blowjob). Rosenstein has gone to great lengths to make DOJ resources available in support of his confirmation. Rosenstein showed up for the start of today’s hearing.

For Rosenstein, Kavanaugh’s confirmation is personal.

Would he do anything this week to stave off new Mueller revelations, to ensure the Kavanaugh bullet train races forward?

Peter Strzok’s Out of Scope Polygraph

I watch shit-show hearings so you don’t need to.

And yesterday’s HJC hearing with Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray was one of the shitshowiest I’ve sat through. I hope to do a post mapping out the cynical theater the Republicans put on yesterday, and how they succeeded in manipulating the press. But first, I want to point to the one really good point Doug Collins sort of made at the hearing.

In January 2016, Peter Strzok had an out of scope polygraph. And yet, by all appearances, he remained working on a sensitive leak investigation, then moved onto an investigation into one of the most damaging spying operations targeting the United States since the Cold War.

Let’s go back to something I asked, you and I had a conversation about a few months ago. Mr. Strzok’s issue I asked at the time did he have a security clearance. You said you would check. Now it appears that security clearance has been revoked. The concern I have again is again, process, inside the Department of Justice on what happens when you have someone of his caliber, counterintelligence level, this is not a new recruit, this is somebody who’s been around has had sensitive information. And on January 13, 2016, an individual from FBI’s Washington Field Office emailed Mr. Strzok and other employees that their polygraphs were, I think it was, “out of scope.” I asked you about that. And asked you if he had been polygraphed. You didn’t know at the time. It said the polygraph raised flags. Now, my question about this would be you didn’t know about the polygraph at the time. We just assume now that it’s out there, you do. Would the topic of extramarital affair have come up in that polygraph or possibility of extramarital affair come up to to put it out of scope?

[snip]

Do you think it’s interesting you would continue to have someone in an investigation of such magnitude and sensitivity who basically had a failed polygraph or an out of scope polygraph test in which they had to then go back and re-answer or complete sensitive [sic] compartmentalized information request on this. Would they stay in that investigation? And if so were they treated differently because of his position or who he was?

[snip]

Does it not strike you as strange, Mr. Wray, and I was not going here but now you’ve led me here. Does it not strike you as strange  that someone who has had an issue with a polygraph, during the investigation in which you have, in which sensitive information were coming about, in which we’ve now seen the text and other things, what would be–could they just flunk a polygraph and you just keep them on, if they could flunk questions, you keep them on sensitive information simply because that — not speaking of Mr. Strzok here, I’m talking overall policy. Is your policy just to keep people around that lie?

I get that polygraphs come close to junk science and don’t measure what they claim to measure. I get that Collins is just trying to discredit the Mueller investigation.

But if you’re going to require that cleared employees — throughout the federal government — take and pass polygraphs, shouldn’t you act when someone has an adverse polygraph? Especially if you’re the FBI, the agency that investigates everyone else’s clearance?

It turns out, FBI already knows it had a problem on this front. In March of this year, DOJ’s Inspector General completed an investigation into how the FBI responded to adverse polygraphs. Based on a review of what happened with problematic polygraph results from 2014 to 2016 — so covering the period in which Strzok’s took place — DOJ IG found that the FBI was not following protocols. Two of its findings pertain directly to what appears to have happened with Strzok. First, the FBI wasn’t always pulling people off SCI information after someone had failed a poly.

Second, we found that the FBI did not always comply with its own policy governing employee access to Sensitive Compartmented Information, classified national intelligence information concerning or derived from sensitive intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes, which is to be handled exclusively within formal access control systems established by the Director of National Intelligence. The FBI’s policy generally prohibits access to Sensitive Compartmented Information for FBI employees who have not passed a polygraph examination within a specified period. We identified instances in which employees unable to pass multiple polygraph examinations were allowed to retain access to sensitive information, systems, and spaces for extended periods of time without required risk assessments — potentially posing a security risk to the FBI.

While it appears Strzok had just one problematic polygraph, not multiple ones, this appears to be what Collins is talking about: someone not being pulled off sensitive cases when a polygraph triggers a warning, presumably because the FBI considered them too valuable to deal with according to protocol.

In addition, when the FBI investigated failed polygraph, the IG found, the FBI’s investigators weren’t always accessing all materials available to them.

Third, we found that investigations of unresolved polygraph results did not always draw on all sources of FBI information. We identified communication issues between the FBI’s Analysis and Investigations Unit (AIU), which investigates and makes adjudicative recommendations on employee polygraph results, and other FBI personnel security stakeholders. We also had concerns about the AIU’s thoroughness in leveraging all relevant FBI information during its investigations. These issues prevent the AIU from consistently producing thorough and efficient investigations.

I’m not sure whether this would include reviewing an employee’s FBI communications or not, but it might (and probably should). If FBI had reviewed Strzok’s FBI texts in January 2016, they would have discovered he was conducting an undisclosed extramarital affair, the probable explanation of any finding of deception on his polygraph. They’d also have discovered that Strzok agreed with most of the country about what a buffoon Donald Trump was — which in his case would be problematic given that he was carrying out an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

In September, Michael Horowitz informed Christopher Wray of the problem, as he had immediately informed Wray of Strzok’s problematic texts.

Now, that Strzok had a bad polygraph may create problems for any affidavits that Strzok was an affiant for. If he was specifically asked about extramarital affairs in his interview, and lied about it, that lie will be used to challenge any investigative steps that he swore to. While Strzok’s not known to have been the affiant for key steps (such as the Paul Manafort warrants or the Carter Page FISA order), this could create problems for Mueller elsewhere (a point that Wray and Rosenstein admitted elsewhere).

But there’s the counterpart of this. Pulling Strzok off the Hillary investigation in January 2016 would have identified the source of his apparent deception, and led to minor disciplinary action, after which he would have been back on the beat hunting out foreign spies. Instead, his involvement in these two cases has unnecessarily discredited both of them, even though his investigative actions appear to have been defensible in both cases.

Two Details about DOJ IG’s Leak Investigations, Plural, Including the One into Rudy Giuliani’s Sources

Amid the discussions about the NY office’s rampant leaks to Rudy Giuliani back in 2016, HuffPo confirmed that he was interviewed by two FBI Agents who, he said, were investigating on behalf of the IG.

Giuliani told HuffPost that he spoke with [James] Kallstrom as well as one other former FBI official he would not identify.

But Giuliani said he told the FBI agents who interviewed him that he had neither inside knowledge of the Clinton probe’s status nor advance warning of Comey’s Oct. 28 announcement. He was merely speculating that FBI agents were so upset by Comey’s earlier decision not to charge the Democratic nominee with any crimes that they would “revolt,” either by leaking damaging information about her or by resigning en masse.

“Did I get any leaks from the FBI? I said no,” Giuliani said, adding that the “surprise” that he promised in 2016 was a 20-minute national television ad he was urging Trump to buy to deliver a speech “hitting very hard on the Comey decision.”

[snip]

The agents did not record the interview and did not offer him the opportunity to review their report before they submitted it to their supervisor. One of Giuliani’s private security guards was also present, he said.

“They seemed like straight kids,” he said of the agents.

He added that he was unconcerned that his inquisitors were from the FBI, which conducts criminal investigations, rather than investigators from Horowitz’s office. “They definitely told me they were investigating for the IG,” Giuliani said. “I wasn’t surprised at all.”

I’d like to add two data points from Inspector General Horowitz’s testimony about leaks.

First, while it should have been obvious, this exchange with North Carolina Congressman Mark Walker (particularly Horowitz’ lovely agreement self-correction) made me realize that there are leak investigations, plural.

Horowitz: Looking at the charts here you can see that these are not, generally speaking, one call. So, I would leave it at that. We’re looking at the, that deeper question.

Walker: When you say you’re looking at it, does that mean there may be warrant–it may warrant more investigation for some of those who’ve been players in this situation?

Horowitz: There is — there are, there are active investigations ongoing by our office.

As I said, that should have been clear: the IG Report refers to them as investigations.

Chapter Twelve describes the text messages and instant messages expressing political views we obtained between certain FBI employees involved in the Midyear investigation and provides the employees’ explanations for those messages. It also briefly discusses the use of personal email by several FBI employees, and provides an update on the status of the OIG’s leak investigations.

[snip]

In addition to the significant number of communications between FBI employees and journalists, we identified social interactions between FBI employees and journalists that were, at a minimum, inconsistent with FBI policy and Department ethics rules. For example, we identified instances where FBI employees received tickets to sporting events from journalists, went on golfing outings with media representatives, were treated to drinks and meals after work by reporters, and were the guests of journalists at nonpublic social events. We will separately report on those leak investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General (IG) Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy. [my emphasis]

As a footnote notes, we learned of one result — the Andrew McCabe investigation — when it got referred for criminal investigation.

Between two hearings and three committees, not a single person asked about the methodology of the link clusters I complained about the other day, but I wonder whether they each represent a separate leak investigation?

The far more interesting exchange, however, came yesterday, between Horowitz and Dianne Feinstein. After she laid out Rudy’s claims back in 2016, she asked Horowitz if he was investigating. As he did repeatedly when asked about Rudy, he deferred. But after she asked if such leaks were lawful, and then followed up about whether the investigation was ongoing, he said something interesting.

Horowitz: I’m not in a position at this point to speak to any investigative outcomes.

Feinstein: Do you believe disclosures of this sort, especially during an election are appropriate, are they lawful?

Horowitz: I don’t believe disclosures of this sort are appropriate at any point in time in a criminal investigation. I was a former prosecutor. Worked extensively with FBI Agents, in my prior capacity, and all of us would have thought that was entirely inappropriate.

Feinstein: The report says that you, and I quote, will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded. Does this mean that this leak investigation is ongoing?

Horowitz: Our work remains ongoing and when we can do that consistent with the IG Act, the law, policy, we will do so.

Horowitz suggested that the reason they haven’t reported out the conclusions to these other leak investigations, plural, including the Rudy one is (in part) because it would be inconsistent with the IG Act.

There are specific restrictions on the DOJ IG in the IG Act, but the key one — which permits the Attorney General to halt an investigation for a variety of reasons — itself requires notice to the two committees that were in today’s hearing.

Which leaves the general restrictions on disclosing information in the IG Act. In both the specific DOJ IG language and here, the key restriction is on disclosing information that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

(1) Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize the public disclosure of information which is—
(A) specifically prohibited from disclosure by any other provision of law;
(B) specifically required by Executive order to be protected from disclosure in the interest of national defense or national security or in the conduct of foreign affairs; or
(C) a part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1)(C), any report under this section may be disclosed to the public in a form which includes information with respect to a part of an ongoing criminal investigation if such information has been included in a public record.

Which would say that, as with the firing of Comey (which Horowitz explained they’ve halted because an ongoing investigation is investigating it), DOJ IG might have been unable to further report the results of its leak investigations because it referred them, plural.

Mind you, that’s not what happened with Andrew McCabe. The DOJ IG completed its investigation, concluded McCabe lied, and then referred him. But it does seem likely that the hold-up on explaining all those link clusters has to do with criminal investigations.

Name the Social Media Author: Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Or Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz?

In Lindsey Graham’s questioning of DOJ IG Michale Horowitz in today’s hearing on the IG Report on the investigation of Hillary Clinton, he said, repeatedly, “none of this is normal.” By that, he meant the comments that Peter Strzok and Lisa Page had made about Trump back in 2016. (1:45)

Would you say that this investigation was done by the book?

[snip]

The whole idea that this is normal, folks, there’s nothing here normal. I don’t want you think the FBI does this day in and day out. This is not normal.

He then reviewed a couple of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s texts.

Trump’s not ever going to be come president right? right?

No, no he won’t. We’ll stop him.

[snip]

I want to believe the path you threw out in Andy’s office, that there’s no likelihood he’ll become President. It’s like an insurance policy.

[snip]

God Trump is a loathsome human.

Lindsey then repeated that such comments were not normal.

None of this is normal, folks.

Senator Graham, as a former longtime government lawyer as a JAG, should talk to Senator Graham how abnormal such thoughts about Donald Trump are.

“As early as March, these people hated Trump,” Graham said in the hearing, horrified by the thought that someone could come to such conclusions that early.

Former Texas Attorney General Ted Cruz was also alarmed about the mean things that Strzok and Page had said in their social media about Donald Trump. (3:04)

These are difficult days in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both the Department and the Bureau have long — decades long, in the Department’s case, century’s long traditions of fair and impartial administration of justice. There are thousands of honorable good men and women that work at the Bureau, that work at the Department of Justice, and yet their integrity has been called into question by misconduct and political bias at the highest level.

Cruz went on to quiz Horowitz about the things that Peter Strzok, as lead investigator, had said about Trump.

Is it true that during the period of the investigation in late 2015 and in 2016, when Mr. Strzok was in charge, he used an FBI device to call President [sic] Trump a quote Effing idiot, although I don’t believe he abbreviated it, a loathsome human, and a disaster?

Did he also say multiple times that, quote, Donald Trump cannot be President?

And on August 6, 2016, when FBI Counsel Lisa Page said to Strzok that, quote, maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from this menace, meaning President [sic] Trump. Did Mr. Strzok reply that, quote, I can protect our country at many levels?

[snip]

And is it true that there are many similar statements by Mr. Strzok in the report?

[snip]

Does any of that conduct give anyone confidence in the fairness in the enforcement of justice?

These are some of the thoughts that this self-imagined arbiter of integrity had to say about Donald Trump during the period he defined, 2015 to 2016.

These are, of course, different things. Cruz and Lindsey were publicly sharing their thoughts about how unfit Donald Trump was to be President, how outrageous his racism, how unhinged he was. Strzok and Page were engaging in what they foolishly treated as private conversations, but did so on government owned devices at a time when they were conducting politically charged investigations.

I don’t mean to defend the decisions of Strzok and Page with regards to how they shared their thoughts about the unacceptability of Donald Trump.

But I will defend the principle that it is solidly normal to say that Trump is unacceptable.

And there are no better witnesses to that than Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.

There’s one other lesson Lindsey teaches us. “I’m glad I don’t text and email,” he also said. If Graham and Cruz’ personal devices were investigated with the scrutiny that Strzok and Page’s were, Strzok and Page might look tame by comparison.

The Most Irresponsible Thing Michael Horowitz Has Done as DOJ IG

As you likely know, I’m a big fan of Michael Horowitz. I think he has routinely discovered key aspects of DOJ and FBI’s behavior that needs improvement. I think he has stood up to FBI pushback reasonably well, if not always successfully. That other professional IGs look to him as their leader reflects the great respect he has earned among his peers.

I’ve already mentioned, in passing, that I think Horowitz’ treatment of the NY field office leaks in the IG Report on the Hillary investigation to be really problematic. The report, and the Andrew McCabe report before it, makes it very clear the rampant leaking from NY motivated a lot of the defensive behavior at FBI and DOJ (not to mention the decision to take an overt act in advance of the election in violation of standing policy). Among other passages, the report cites this very long response (it starts on report page 385 if you want to read the whole thing) from Loretta Lynch, describing how much hatred towards Hillary there was in NY.

I said, but this has become a problem. And he said, and he said to me that it had become clear to him, he didn’t say over the course of what investigation or whatever, he said it’s clear to me that there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton. And he said it is, it is deep. It’s, and he said, he said it was surprising to him or stunning to him. You know, I didn’t get the impression he was agreeing with it at all, by the way. But he was saying it did exist, and it was hard to manage because these were agents that were very, very senior, or had even had timed out and were staying on, and therefore did not really feel under pressure from headquarters or anything to that effect. And I said, you know, I’m aware of that…. I said, I wasn’t aware it was to this level and this depth that you’re talking about, but I said I’m sad to say that that does not surprise me. And he made a comment about, you know, you understand that. A lot of people don’t understand that. You, you get that issue. I said, I get that issue. I said I’m, I’m just troubled that this issue, meaning the, the New York agent issue and leaks, I am just troubled that this issue has put us where we are today with respect to this laptop.

The report makes clear that the NY leaks played a key role in Comey’s disastrous decision to announce the reopening of the investigation into Hillary.

Comey denied that a fear of leaks influenced his decision to send the October 28 letter to Congress. However, other witnesses told us that a concern about leaks played a role in the decision. As Baker stated, “We were quite confident that…. [I]f we don’t put out a letter, somebody is going to leak it. That definitely was discussed….” Numerous witnesses connected this concern about leaks specifically to NYO and told us that FBI leadership suspected that FBI personnel in NYO were responsible for leaks of information in other matters. Even accepting Comey’s assertion that leaks played no role in his decision, we found that, at a minimum, a fear of leaks influenced the thinking of those who were advising him.

In spite of the magnitude that these leaks had, Horowitz did not seize the FBI phones of the presumed leakers to find out what kind of damning texts they sent among themselves. This is a point made by NYCSouthpaw in a thread the day the report came out. The asymmetric focus on bias against Trump and not against Hillary is a real problem with this report.

I’m sympathetic with the IG’s explanations for why it didn’t find the source of leaks and hopeful by its promise to follow up.

Against this backdrop, and as noted at the time the OIG announced this review, we examined allegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information. We focused, in particular, on the April/May and October 2016 time periods. We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review. Our ability to identify individuals who have improperly disclosed non-public information is often hampered by two significant factors. First, we frequently find that the universe of Department and FBI employees who had access to sensitive information that has been leaked is substantial, often involving dozens, and in some instances, more than 100 people. We recognize that this is a challenging issue, because keeping information too closely held can harm an investigation and the supervision of it. Nevertheless, we think the Department and the FBI need to consider whether there is a better way to appropriately control the dissemination of sensitive information.

Second, although FBI policy strictly limits the employees who are authorized to speak to the media, we found that this policy appeared to be widely ignored during the period we reviewed.221 We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters. The large number of FBI employees who were in contact with journalists during this time period impacted our ability to identify the sources of leaks. For example, during the periods we reviewed, we identified dozens of FBI employees that had contact with members of the media. Attached to this report as Attachments G and H are link charts that reflects the volume of communications that we identified between FBI employees and media representatives in April/May and October 2016.222

In addition to the significant number of communications between FBI employees and journalists, we identified social interactions between FBI employees and journalists that were, at a minimum, inconsistent with FBI policy and Department ethics rules. For example, we identified instances where FBI employees received tickets to sporting events from journalists, went on golfing outings with media representatives, were treated to drinks and meals after work by reporters, and were the guests of journalists at nonpublic social events. We will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General (IG) Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy. [my emphasis]

Though I would like more details about what the IG discovered when it tried to chase down FBI leaks. We know they grilled McCabe (and discovered the source of one leak that damaged Hillary). Who else did they grill, and how many were in NY?

But here’s the part I find totally irresponsible.

This is, of course, one of the totally decontextualized link analyses the IG includes in the report to substantiate its claim that the FBI leaks like a sieve. By context, this one (of two) probably reflects communications from October, a period we know (from the McCabe report) that DOJ investigated heavily, based in part off an effort to identify Devlin Barrett’s sources and those of other journalists who created a panic right before the election. The IG has gone through the effort to identify (between the two link analyses, assuming no overlap of journalists, though I suspect there may be some) the FBI sources for seven different journalists. At least the two or three journalists with more sources likely recognize they’ve been burned, as might their sources.

But the IG released these two link analyses without telling us information that it surely knows. That is: how many members of these clusters were sitting in NY, and how many in DC? Is the prolific one here Barrett (which is virtually the only way the IG would be able to claim there were too many calls to ID sources for a story we know they examined closely)? If so, then the IG already knows whether it’s true that NY started leaking about both the Weiner emails and the Clinton Foundation investigation with the purpose of pressuring DC to make certain decisions.

That is, having done this analysis, the IG knows the answer to a critical question: did leakers in NY have a significant role in forcing decisions that played a key role the outcome of the election?

If most of these leakers are in NY, then the answer is clear. But the IG didn’t tell us that information.

Worse still, by withholding this information, the IG allowed these two pages to be used (as released) out of context. They were waved around on TV all morning, with the clear suggestion that each of these leaks reflected someone trying to do in Trump. But the reality is possibly (likely even!) precisely the opposite — that a good chunk of these leakers were trying to help Trump.

And they may well have succeeded.

Michael Horowitz owes us at least that context. And I hope Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee demand that answer when Michael Horowitz shows up to testify.

Update: One more question I’ve got — how DOJ IG decided to stop the analysis at October, and not at the election. After all, the most damaging fake news story of the election, IMO, was the false leak to Bret Baier, attributed to “two sources inside the FBI,” that Hillary was going to be indicted.