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Why Did DOJ Delay Seven Months before Letting Jeffrey Rosen Testify?

On January 22 — after Jeffrey Rosen was no longer Acting Attorney General but before Trump’s second impeachment trial — Katie Benner published a story describing Trump’s efforts to get Jeffrey Bossert Clark to undermine those at DOJ, including Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, who refused to endorse Trump’s lies about the election.

As I noted the other day, that story included all the details that have been dribbling out from the House Oversight Committee in recent weeks: Trump’s efforts to get DOJ to intervene in Georgia, Rosen and Donoghue’s refusal, followed by Trump’s effort to put Clark in charge at DOJ on January 3. Benner had all that nailed in January.

The day after Benner’s January 22 story, the holdover members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to DOJ citing the story and asking for documents behind it.

On January 22, The New York Times reported astonishing details about an alleged plot between then-President Donald Trump and then-Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division Jeffrey Bossert Clark to use the Department of Justice to further Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election.[1]  These efforts culminated on January 6, when Trump incited a violent mob that attacked Congress as it counted the electoral votes and prepared to affirm President Biden’s victory.  The information revealed by this story raises deeply troubling questions regarding the Justice Department’s role in Trump’s scheme to overturn the election.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct vigorous oversight of these matters.  As a first step, we seek your immediate assurance that the Department will preserve all relevant materials in its possession, custody, or control.  Please also produce the following materials as soon as possible, but no later than February 8, 2021:

  • All documents and communications, including emails, text messages, and calendar entries, referring or related to the reported December 15 meeting between then-President Trump and then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and reported follow-up calls and meetings between President Trump and Mr. Rosen;
  • All documents and communications, including emails, text messages, and calendar entries, referring or related to reported complaints President Trump made to Justice Department leaders regarding then-U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak prior to Pak’s resignation;
  • All documents and communications, including emails, text messages, and calendar entries, regarding a reported draft letter that Mr. Clark prepared and requested be sent to Georgia state legislators; and
  • All documents and communications, including emails, text messages, and calendar entries, involving the reported January 3 White House meeting involving Mr. Clark and Mr. Rosen.

That letter set a deadline of February 8, over a month before Merrick Garland was confirmed and over 70 days before Lisa Monaco was confirmed.

In May, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney sent Rosen a request (which hasn’t been made public) for a transcribed interview.

Seemingly in response to that — though the letter cites both the January request and the May one — DOJ (in the guise of Bradley Weinsheimer, who was elevated from NSD to DOJ’s institutional accountability role at Associate Deputy Attorney General by Jeff Sessions, and so was a colleague of those DOJ officials), wrote Rosen and five other former top DOJ officials permitting them to testify about a carefully defined set of events. The testimony is basically limited to, “any efforts by President Trump or any DOJ officials to advance unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, challenge the 2020 election results, stop Congress’s count of the Electoral College vote, or overturn President Biden’s certified victory.” It is limited to events that happened after Attorney General Barr resigned on December 14. The letter specifically prohibits discussing any prosecutorial decisions the men made, or discussing investigations that were ongoing when they left.

Discussion of any pending criminal cases and possible charges also could violate court rules and potentially implicate rules of professional conduct governing extra-judicial statements.

But within that scope, the letter permits these former DOJ officials to answer questions that would otherwise be covered by executive privilege.

[T]he Department authorizes you to provide unrestricted testimony to the Committees, irrespective of potential privilege, so long as the testimony is confined to the scope of the interviews as set forth by the Committees and as limited in the penultimate paragraph below.

Of particular note, DOJ asked President Biden — via the White House Counsel — whether he wanted to invoke privilege; he chose not to.

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

As Benner wrote in a story offering details of Jeffrey Rosen’s testimony, Rosen has been trying to get permission to testify for “much of the year.” As soon as DOJ gave it, he rushed to testify before Trump could intervene.

Mr. Rosen has spent much of the year in discussions with the Justice Department over what information he could provide to investigators, given that decision-making conversations between administration officials are usually kept confidential.

Douglas A. Collins, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said last week that the former president would not seek to bar former Justice Department officials from speaking with investigators. But Mr. Collins said he might take some undisclosed legal action if congressional investigators sought “privileged information.”

Mr. Rosen quickly scheduled interviews with congressional investigators to get as much of his version of events on the record before any players could ask the courts to block the proceedings, according to two people familiar with those discussions who are not authorized to speak about continuing investigations.

He also reached out directly to Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, and pledged to cooperate with his investigation, according to a person briefed on those talks.

The question is why. After all, these events were knowable to DOJ since they happened, and for the entirety of that time, DOJ has been conducting an investigation into efforts to obstruct the vote count. For some of that period, in fact, Rosen himself was in ultimate charge of the investigation, and he could have ordered or authorized himself to testify.

Benner didn’t specify whether Rosen might have been interviewed by the FBI, though the implication is he has not been asked.

Similarly, DOJ IG has been investigating related issues since then as part of a specific investigation into the BJ Pak firing and a general investigation into January 6. While Michael Horowitz could not subpoena Rosen, he could simply have asked Rosen to provide testimony. But Benner is quite clear that Rosen has not yet testified even to Horowitz.

During that period, too, there was an instance where DOJ IG asked someone for an interview, but the person quit to avoid the testimony.

During the course of an ongoing administrative misconduct investigation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) informed a then senior DOJ official, who was a non-career member of the Senior Executive Service, that the senior DOJ official was a subject in the investigation and that the OIG sought to interview the senior DOJ official in connection with the investigation. After several unsuccessful attempts to schedule a voluntary interview with the senior DOJ official, the OIG instructed the senior DOJ official to appear for a compelled interview and informed the senior DOJ official that neither the answers the senior DOJ official provided nor any evidence gained by reason of those answers could be used against the senior DOJ official in a criminal proceeding. The senior DOJ official failed to appear for the compelled interview and resigned from Department employment shortly thereafter.

The OIG concluded that the senior DOJ official violated both federal regulations and DOJ policy by failing to appear for a compelled OIG interview while still a DOJ employee. The OIG offered the senior DOJ official the opportunity to cure that violation by participating in a voluntary interview after leaving the Department, but the senior DOJ official, through counsel, declined to do so. The OIG has the authority to compel testimony from current Department employees upon informing them that their statements will not be used to incriminate them in a criminal proceeding. The OIG does not have the authority to compel or subpoena testimony from former Department employees, including those who retire or resign during the course of an OIG investigation.

Those events were reported on April 19.

There are two more dates of interest. First, DOJ only released its new contact policy — under which the request for a privilege determination may have been passed — on July 21. I’m curious whether the request for a  waiver of executive privilege waiver came after that. Executive privilege considerations were a key limitation on the Mueller investigation overseen in its final days partly by Rosen himself.

At least as interesting, however, is that DOJ sent the letter just one day before DOJ submitted a court filing in the Eric Swalwell lawsuit — speaking of members of Congress but using more generalized language — arguing that no federal officials can campaign in their official capacity and further noting that attacking one’s employer is not within the scope of someone’s job description.

The record indicates that the January 6 rally was an electioneering or campaign activity that Brooks would ordinarily be presumed to have undertaken in an unofficial capacity. Activities specifically directed toward the success of a candidate for a partisan political office in a campaign context—electioneering or campaign activities—are not within the scope of the office or employment of a Member of the House of Representatives. Like other elected officials, Members run for reelection themselves and routinely campaign for other political candidates. But they do so in their private, rather than official, capacities.

This understanding that the scope of federal office excludes campaign activity is broadly reflected in numerous authorities. This Court, for example, emphasized “the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection” in holding that House or Senate mailings aimed at that purpose are “unofficial communication[s].” Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982) (upholding statute that provided franking privileges for official communications but not unofficial communications).

[snip]

Second, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in a conspiracy and incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6. That alleged conduct plainly would not qualify as within the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States, because attacking one’s employer is different in kind from any authorized conduct and not “actuated . . . by a purpose to serve” the employer. Id. § 228(1)(c). Brooks does not argue otherwise. Instead, he denies the Complaint’s allegations of conspiracy and incitement. The Department does not address that issue here because the campaign-related nature of the rally independently warrants denial of certification, and because the Department is engaged in ongoing investigations into the events of January 6 more generally. But if the Court were to reject our argument that the campaign nature of the January 6 rally resolves the certification question, the Court should not certify that Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment unless it concludes that Brooks did not engage in the sort of conduct alleged in the Complaint. [my emphasis]

It’s possible that this seven month delay is inexcusable.

It’s also possible that it reflects the time DOJ took to come to other determinations about whether privileged information could be used to investigate a former President and if so how to obtain it.

Update: On both June 24,

I assure the American people that the Department of Justice will continue to follow the facts in this case and charge what the evidence supports to hold all January 6th perpetrators accountable.

And July 6,

The Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General encouraged the team to continue to follow the facts in this case and charge what the evidence supports to hold all January 6th perpetrators accountable.

Garland made statements reiterating his commitment to charge all perpetrators against whom the evidence supported charges.

On the Missing Inspector General Report[s] about Wilbur Ross’ Lies

There was a big news blitz yesterday on the news that the Commerce Department’s Inspector General had concluded Wilbur Ross twice misled Congress about the rationale for including a citizenship question in last year’s census.

The claim was based off a letter from Inspector General Peggy Gustafsonwho was nominated under President Obama — explaining what had become of a 2019 request to investigate whether Ross had lied. In her letter, which was publicly released, Gustafson revealed the outcome of her investigation.

Our investigation established that the then-Secretary misrepresented the full rationale for the reinstatement of the citizenship question during his March 20, 2018, testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations and again in his March 22, 2018, testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means. During Congressional testimony, the then-Secretary stated his decision to reinstate the citizenship question was based solely on a DOJ request. That request memorandum was signed by the DOJ on December 12, 2017. However, evidence shows there were significant communications related to the citizenship question among the then-Secretary, his staff, and other government officials between March 2017 and September 2017, which was well before the DOJ request memorandum. Evidence also suggests the Department requested and played a part in drafting the DOJ memorandum. Further, the then-Secretary sent a memorandum to the Department on June 21, 2018, clarifying his deliberations regarding adding a citizenship question to the Decennial Census. In this memorandum, the then-Secretary stated he began considering the content of the 2020 Census, to include reinstating the citizenship question, soon after his appointment to Secretary.

This investigation was presented to and declined for prosecution by the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ’s Criminal Division.

She sent the report to Congress along with her letter. But the report itself has not been released publicly or, best as I can tell, even leaked with those who wrote stories on the letter.

Reports on DOJ’s declination created a great deal of outrage that Merrick Garland had declined to prosecute the case. Only, as an AP correction revealed, Garland’s DOJ hadn’t declined prosecution. Barr’s DOJ did.

This story has been corrected to reflect that the decision not to prosecute Ross was made by the Department of Justice during the Trump administration, not the Biden administration.

But corners of the media blitz left out a lot more details about the context of the original request. It came after a Republican strategist, Thomas Hofeller, died, leaving his Democratic daughter to go through his papers, only to discover he, and very racist plans for gerrymandering, were behind the census question. After that smoking gun was discovered, House Oversight (starting under Elijah Cummings before he died) did more investigation and then a bunch of Senators asked for an investigation.

And after DOJ kept appealing a District Court ruling on the question in NY, even the Supreme Court found that Commerce had misrepresented the reason for the question.

Finally, we have recognized a narrow exception to the general rule against inquiring into “the mental processes of administrative decision-makers.” Overton Park, 401 U. S., at 420.

On a “strong showing of bad faith or improper behavior,” such an inquiry may be warranted and may justify extra-record discovery. Ibid. The District Court invoked that exception in ordering extra-record discovery here. Although that order was premature, we think it was ultimately justified in light of the expanded administrative record. Recall that shortly after this litigation began, the Secretary, prodded by DOJ, filed a supplemental memo that added new, pertinent information to the administrative record. The memo disclosed that the Secretary had been considering the citizenship question for some time and that Commerce had inquired whether DOJ would formally request reinstatement of the question. That supplemental memo prompted respondents to move for both completion of the administrative record and extra-record discovery. The District Court granted both requests at the same hearing, agreeing with respondents that the Government had submitted an incomplete administrative record and that the existing evidence supported a prima facie showing that the VRA rationale was pretextual.

[snip]

That evidence showed that the Secretary was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process. In the District Court’s view, this evidence established that the Secretary had made up his mind to reinstate a citizenship question “well before” receiving DOJ’s request, and did so for reasons unknown but unrelated to the VRA. 351 F. Supp. 3d, at 660.

John Roberts laid out the evidence that Commerce’s IG must also have relied on.

[I]t was not until the Secretary contacted the Attorney General directly that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division expressed interest in acquiring census-based citizenship data to better enforce the VRA. And even then, the record suggests that DOJ’s interest was directed more to helping the Commerce Department than to securing the data. The December 2017 letter from DOJ drew heavily on contributions from Commerce staff and advisors. Their influence may explain why the letter went beyond a simple entreaty for better citizenship data—what one might expect of a typical request from another agency—to a specific request that Commerce collect the data by means of reinstating a citizenship question on the census. Finally, after sending the letter, DOJ declined the Census Bureau’s offer to discuss alternative ways to meet DOJ’s stated need for improved citizenship data, further suggesting a lack of interest on DOJ’s part.

Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency). And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.

After SCOTUS ruled Commerce could not include a citizenship question in the census, the plaintiffs asked the judge to sanction DOJ and Commerce officials who made misrepresentations to the court. Judge Jesse Furman made the government pay fees but did not further sanction the government witnesses in question.

That is, the underlying record has been known for some time. The only thing new in the record, as far as we know, is that — after a bunch of Senators asked for an investigation into this — the Commerce IG agreed with John Roberts and referred Ross for prosecution, only to have Barr’s hyper-politicized DOJ — a DOJ that was itself caught making untrue statements to the District Judge in the NY case — decline prosecution.

Which makes it all the more curious that Commerce didn’t publicly release the report along with the letter. The report is done. Why not release it publicly, as past derogatory reports about Ross were released?

One more detail that may explain DOJ’s silence in response to this news. The original letter from a bunch of Senators requesting the investigation wasn’t addressed just to Commerce. It was also addressed to Michael Horowitz, DOJ’s Inspector General. There’s no sign of such an investigation on their site (and I have thus far gotten no response to a question about this from them) — but they don’t include all their investigations.

But these stories are only about what the result of the Commerce Inspector General investigation was, and how Bill Barr’s DOJ responded. They’re not about whether there was an investigation at DOJ, and what happened if that investigation ended under Merrick Garland. They’re not about what a DOJ that has put great emphasis on voting rights has done with all this.

PCLOB: The Essential Oversight Link Designed to Be Inadequate

Last year, there were a couple of measures that purported to respond to the problems with the Carter Page FISA application but which would not have helped him at all. In February, House Judiciary Committee rolled out a bill to replace the now-lapsed Section 215 of FISA that included a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board review of the impact that tradition FISA had on First Amendment Activities.

SEC. 303. REPORT ON USE OF FISA AUTHORITIES REGARDING PROTECTED ACTIVITIES AND PROTECTED CLASSES.

(a) REPORT.—Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board shall make publicly available, to the extent practicable, a report on—

(1) the extent to which the activities and protected classes described in subsection (b) are used to support targeting decisions in the use of authorities pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.); and

(2) the impact of the use of such authorities on such activities and protected classes.

As I noted at the time, because PCLOB’s mandate is limited to counterterrorism, it would not be able to look at counterintelligence targeting. This is not the first time that PCLOB’s mandate made its work less useful than it could be. Because its Section 702 report was necessarily limited to the counterterrorism uses of the law, PCLOB’s report did not address problems with the cybersecurity and counterproliferation uses of Section 702, both of which have far more unexpected impact on US person’s privacy than the counterterrorism use.

Then, in May, PCLOB’s Chair, Adam Klein, announced PCLOB was going to review traditional FISAs.

Adam I. Klein, the chairman of the privacy board, said that the issues Horowitz surfaced were precisely those that the board was established to examine.

“This is at the heartland of our jurisdiction,” said Klein, a lawyer and prominent researcher of FISA and other national security laws. “The IG found systemic compliance problems. At a minimum, we have a duty to inform ourselves.”

I again noted that PCLOB’s mandate would limit the value of such a review, and indeed, would prevent PCLOB from even reviewing the precipitating application, Page’s counterintelligence application.

Last week, Klein released the results of that review, billed and released not as a PCLOB report, but as a Chairperson’s White Paper (Klein has said he’d step down once Joe Biden replaced him). He makes clear,

I provide several observations and recommendations based on this review. These views are provided in my individual capacity as Chairman and should not be attributed to the Board as a whole or to other members of the Board.

Its recommendations are not obviously supported by the described scope of the review. His White Paper generally argues for more efficiency, a recommendation that conflicts with virtually all other conclusions that came out of the Carter Page review (though some of his recommendations to achieve efficiency, such as making the authorization period for non-US person FISA applications one year, make sense). He makes two recommendations (that the Woods file not require repeated documentation for repeated facts and that DOJ distinguish between information known at the time and information learned subsequent to an initial application) that would undercut some of the results of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

Klein’s White Paper does recommend that a summary memo submitted with the application which highlights novel privacy, legal, or technological issues. If the FBI Director or his delegate were required to sign off on that summary as well as the current certification (that doesn’t address the probable cause content of the application in the least), it might provide a level of accountability that (Congress doesn’t yet understand) FISA currently lacks. Other than that, Klein’s White Paper reads as much like a valedictory trying to guide future PCLOB plans as it does a report to improve FISA. Almost two pages of the 26-page report constitutes a recommendation to reauthorize Section 215 of FISA.

But, as predicted, the review did not consider anything remotely pertinent to what happened to Carter Page.

To conduct its review of applications themselves, PCLOB asked for and received the subset of the 29 FISA files that DOJ IG is conducting a review of that pertain to counterterrorism as well as the backup exchange between FBI and DOJ regarding those applications. That included:

  • 19 total applications (out of 29 reviewed by DOJ IG)
  • All counterterrorism targets
  • Most located in United States at time of targeting

These details help us understand the two reports DOJ IG wrote about the full set of 29 files, which I wrote about here. Of the 29, ten must be counterintelligence files like Carter Page’s.

Because PCLOB did not review the counterintelligence applications, it only reviewed one of the two for which DOJ IG found a material error.  The second was a CI application that showed a worse error rate than the Carter Page file (which was measured using a different methodology than the Carter Page one).

It also didn’t review any Sensitive Investigative Matters — applications which, like Carter Page’s, involve someone who is a political, journalistic, or religious figure whose targeting should get extra scrutiny. That seems to suggest that DOJ IG did not include any counterterrorism applications targeting SIMs in its review (it would seem SIMs would be more likely to be targeted on the counterintelligence side, but we know of religious and political figures targeted under counterterrorism FISA applications). These would be the applications that pose the greatest privacy and civil liberties concern.

In lieu of that, FBI Office of General Counsel provided PCLOB with,

The number of “sensitive investigative matters” pertaining to U.S. persons in which FBI sought a FISA probable cause order in each year between 2015 and 2019, a summary of each matter (including the type of investigation and the features resulting in its classification as a “sensitive investigative matter”), and whether each request was granted.

That’s presumably how PCLOB learned that there aren’t all that many SIMs targeted under FISA.

[I]nformation received by the Board indicates that relatively few FISA applications are obtained each year in SIMs.

Still, this is the core of what you’d need to review to serve the function of PCLOB. Klein even appears not to have reviewed Page’s significantly declassified public applications, which would have been simple to do, would have provided him something to compare the counterterrorism applications he reviewed with, but which would have been outside the scope of PCLOB’s mandate.

This matters because PCLOB has been reasonably effective. Indeed, in a book published in April in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Pentagon Papers, Lisa Monaco (in a contribution submitted before she became Deputy Attorney General) pointed to PCLOB’s contributions after the Snowden releases as an important way forward to balance security and secrecy in the age of mass leaks. Monaco even recommended that PCLOB consult with the Director of National Intelligence prior to the implementation of certain policies. (Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines also contributed a chapter to the book, which was far more intriguing that Monaco’s.)

Another would be to institute a practice of DNI consultation with the PCLOB before the adoption of certain collection programs. The PCLOB served an important function after disclosures precisely because it is charged with considering privacy and civil liberties implications as well as the national security implications of counter-terrorism programs.82 It could be a valuable addition to the consideration and review of some intelligence programs for a standing body with the infrastructure to handle classified information to work with privacy officers in each agency to assess privacy concerns and conduct privacy impact assessments that are reported to the DNI.

But as noted above, even PCLOB’s Section 702 review suffered because it couldn’t look at several of the applications of 702, applications implicated by the Snowden releases.

Last year, I was told that efforts to expand the jurisdiction of PCLOB would be a poison pill to any bill to which they were attached. I can only assume that means the Executive doesn’t want to expose to scrutiny they kinds of practices that were central to the Carter Page application.

But if Lisa Monaco believes PCLOB has a role to play in balancing national security and secrecy, she should ensure its mandate is sufficiently broad to do that job.

Some Perspective on the Politicized Leak Investigation Targeting Adam Schiff

The NYT reported the other day that DOJ obtained phone records of Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and a bunch of House Intelligence Committee staffers in the guise of what it reports is a leak investigation (though given the specific form of Bill Barr’s prevarications about his knowledge, may have been repackaged as something else when the investigation was resuscitated in 2020).

Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.

The initial collection and especially the subsequent treatment were clearly politicized — and more importantly, stupid, from an investigative standpoint. But, especially because this involves Adam Schiff, some exactitude about what went on really is required.

This is not spying

First, this is not “spying.” If the use of informants to investigate members of the Trump campaign and Hillary Clinton’s Foundation during a political campaign is not spying, if the use of a lawful FISA to conduct both physical and electronic surveillance on recently departed campaign volunteer Carter Page is not spying — and Adam Schiff said they were not, and I agree — then neither is the use of a subpoena to collect the phone records of Democrats who had knowledge of information that subsequently leaked in a fully predicated (and very serious) leak investigation.

This is “just” metadata

According to all reports, the government obtained the iPhone metadata records of 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses. Apple suggests other tech companies probably got subpoenas, too, which means that some of those email addresses probably weren’t Apple emails.

But it was — as Adam Schiff said many times when defending a program that aspired to collect “all” the phone records in the United States — “just” metadata.

I don’t mean to belittle the impact of that. As I and others argued (against Schiff), metadata is actually profoundly revealing.

But if this is a problem (it is!), then people like Adam Schiff should lead a conversation about whether the standard on collection of metadata — currently, it only needs to be “relevant to” an investigation — is what it should be, as well as the rules imposed on future access to the data once collected prevent abuse.

Apple (and other tech companies) wouldn’t have known this was Adam Schiff

Even people who understand surveillance seem to believe that Apple would have known these requests targeted Adam Schiff in a leak investigation and therefore should have done more to fight it, as if the actual subpoena would be accompanied with an affidavit with shiny flags saying “HPSCI Ranking Member.”

They wouldn’t have. They would have gotten a list of selectors (some of which, by its description, it probably did not service), a description of the crime being investigated (a leak), and a gag order. The one thing that should have triggered closer review from Apple was the number of selectors. But apparently it did not, and once Apple complied, the data was swept up into the FBI’s servers where it presumably remains.

The subpoena was overly broad and not tailored to limit damage to Schiff

All that said, there were aspects of the subpoena that suggest it was written without any consideration for limiting the damage to Congressional equities or reasonable investigative targets. Focusing on these details are important because they distinguish what is really problematic about this (and who is to blame). According to reports, the subpoena:

  • Obtained information from a minor, who would have had no access to classified information
  • Included a series of year-long gags
  • Obtained all the toll records from date of creation
  • May have focused exclusively on Democratic members and staffers

It’s conceivable that, after years of investigation, DOJ would have reason to believe someone was laundering leaks through a child. But given how broad this subpoena is, it’s virtually impossible the affidavit included that kind of specific knowledge.

With journalists, DOJ is supposed to use shorter gags–three months. The series of year-long gags suggests that DOJ was trying to hide the existence of these subpoenas not just to hide an investigation, but to delay the political embarrassment of it.

There’s no reason to believe that Adam Schiff leaked a FISA application targeting Carter Page first obtained in 2016 in 2009 (or whenever the Californian lawmaker first set up his Apple account). It’s a physical impossibility. So it is completely unreasonable to imagine that years-old toll records would be “relevant to” a leak investigation predicated off a leak in 2017. Mind you, obtaining all records since the inception of the account is totally normal! It’s what DOJ did, for example, with Antionne Brodnax, a January 6 defendant who got notice of subpoenas served on him, but whose attempt to limit the subpoena failed because those whose records are subpoenaed have no authority to do that. There are two appropriate responses to the unreasonable breadth of this request: both a focus on the failure to use special caution with Congressional targets, but also some discussion about how such broad requests are unreasonable regardless of the target.

Given the number of these selectors, it seems unlikely DOJ did more than ID the people who had access to the leaked information in question. Except if they only obtained selectors for Democrats, it would suggest investigators went into the investigation with the assumption that the leak was political, and that such a political leak would necessarily be partisan. That’s simply not backed by exhibited reality, and if that’s what happened, it should force some scrutiny on who made those assumptions. That’s all the more true given hints that Republicans like Paul Ryan may have tipped Page off that he had been targeted.

These kinds of limiting factors are where the most good can come out of this shit-show, because they would have a real impact and if applied broadly would help not just Schiff.

Barr continued to appoint unqualified prosecutors to do his political dirty work

I think it would be useful to separate the initial records request — after all, the leak of a FISA intercept and the target of a FISA order are virtually unprecedented — from the continued use of the records in 2020, under Billy Barr.

The NYT explains that the initial investigators believed that charges were unlikely, but Barr redoubled efforts in 2020.

As the years wore on, some officials argued in meetings that charges were becoming less realistic, former Justice Department officials said: They lacked strong evidence, and a jury might not care about information reported years earlier.

[snip]

Mr. Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases. Some cases had nothing to do with leaks about Mr. Trump and involved sensitive national security information, one of the people said. But Mr. Barr’s overall view of leaks led some people in the department to eventually see the inquiries as politically motivated.

[snip]

After the records provided no proof of leaks, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington discussed ending that piece of their investigation. But Mr. Barr’s decision to bring in an outside prosecutor helped keep the case alive.

[snip]

In February 2020, Mr. Barr placed the prosecutor from New Jersey, Osmar Benvenuto, into the National Security Division. His background was in gang and health care fraud prosecutions.

Barr used this ploy — finding AUSAs who were unqualified to work on a case that others had found no merit to — on at least three different occasions. Every document John Durham’s team submitted in conjunction with the Kevin Clinesmith prosecution, for example, betrayed that investigators running it didn’t understand the scope of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation (and thereby also strongly suggested investigators had no business scrutinizing a counterintelligence investigation at all). The questions that Jeffrey Jensen’s team, appointed by Barr to review the DOJ IG investigation and the John Durham investigation to find conclusions they didn’t draw, asked Bill Barnett betrayed that the gun crimes prosecutors running it didn’t know fuckall about what they were doing (why Barnett answered as he did is another thing, one that DOJ IG should investigate). And now here, he appointed a health care fraud prosecutor to conduct a leak investigation after unbelievably aggressive leak investigators found nothing.

DOJ IG should include all of those investigations in its investigation, because they all reflect Barr’s efforts to force prosecutors to come to conclusions that the evidence did not merit (and because the Jensen investigation, at least, appears to have altered records intentionally).

FBI never deletes evidence

In an attempt to disclaim responsibility for yet more political abuse, Billy Barr issued a very interestingly worded disavowal.

Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He added that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on the Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of the former president’s push to unmask leakers of classified information.

There are two parts to this: One, that “while he was attorney general,” Congresspersons’ records were not sought, and two, sought in a leak case. The original subpoena for these records was in February 2018, so not during Barr’s tenure as Attorney General. He doesn’t deny asking for those previously-sought records to be reviewed anew while Attorney General.

But he also limits his disavowal to leak cases. Under Barr’s fervent imagination, however, these investigations may well have morphed into something else, what he may have imagined were political abuse or spying violation cases. DOJ can and often does obtain new legal process for already obtained records (which would be unnecessary anyway for toll records), so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Barr directed his unqualified prosecutor to use those already-seized records to snoop into some other question.

It’s a pity for Adam Schiff that no one in charge of surveillance in Congress imposed better trackability requirements on FBI’s access of its investigative collections.

Both an IG investigation and a Special Counsel are inadequate to this investigation

Lisa Monaco asked Michael Horowitz to investigate this investigation. And that’s fine: he can access the records of the investigation, and the affidavits. He can interview the line prosecutors who were tasked with this investigation.

But he can’t require Barr or Jeff Sessions or any of the other Trump appointees who ordered up this investigation to sit for an interview (he could move quickly and ask John Demers to sit for an interview).

Because of that, a lot of people are asking for a Special Counsel to be appointed. That would be nice, except thus far, there’s no evidence that a crime was committed, so there is no regulatory basis to appoint a Special Counsel. The standard for accessing records is very low, any special treatment accorded journalists or members of Congress are not written into law, and prosecutorial discretion at DOJ is nearly sacrosanct. The scandal is that this may all be entirely legal.

Mind you, there’s good reason to believe there was a crime committed in the Jeffrey Jensen investigation, the same crime (altering documents) that Barr used to predicate the Durham Special Counsel appointment. So maybe people should revisit that?

Luckily, Swalwell and Schiff know some members of Congress who can limit such abuses

If I learned that DOJ engaged in unreasonable surveillance on me [wink], I’d have no recourse, largely because of laws that Adam Schiff has championed for years.

But as it happens, Schiff and Swalwell both know some members of Congress who could pass some laws limiting the ability to do some of the things used against them that affect thousands of Americans investigated by the FBI.

Now that Adam Schiff has discovered, years after we tried to reason with him on this point, that “it’s just metadata” doesn’t fly in this day and age, maybe we can talk about how the FBI should be using metadata given how powerful it has become?

The renewed focus on Schiff’s metadata would have come after Schiff disclosed Nunes’ ties to Rudy Giuliani’s grift

Another factor of timing hasn’t gotten enough attention. In late December, Schiff released the Democrats’ impeachment report. Because Schiff obtained subpoenas (almost certainly targeting Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani), he included call records of calls implicating Devin Nunes and his staffer Derek

Over the course of the four days following the April 7 article, phone records show contacts between Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, Representative Devin Nunes, and Mr. Solomon. Specifically, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas were in contact with one another, as well as with Mr. Solomon.76 Phone records also show contacts on April 10 between Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Nunes, consisting of three short calls in rapid succession, followed by a text message, and ending with a nearly three minute call.77 Later that same day, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon had a four minute, 39 second call.78

[snip]

On the morning of May 8, Mr. Giuliani called the White House Switchboard and connected for six minutes and 26 seconds with someone at the White House.158 That same day, Mr. Giuliani also connected with Mr. Solomon for almost six minutes, with Mr. Parnas, and with Derek Harvey, a member of Representative Nunes’ staff on the Intelligence Committee.159

69 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI _20190930_00848-ATTHPSCI_20190930_00884. Mr. Parnas also had an aborted call that lasted 5 seconds on April 5, 2019 with an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes on the Intelligence Committee, Derek Harvey. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00876. Call records obtained by the Committees show that Mr. Parnas and Mr. Harvey had connected previously, including a four minute 42 second call on February 1, 2019, a one minute 7 second call on February 4, and a one minute 37 second call on February 7, 2019. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00617, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00630, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00641. As explained later in this Chapter, Rep. Nunes would connect separately by phone on April 10, 11, and 12 with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00913- ATTHPSCI_20190930_00914; ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125.

76 Specifically, between April 8 and April 11, phone records show the following phone contacts:

  • six calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas (longest duration approximately five minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115-ATTHPSCI_20190930-02131;
  • four calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Solomon (all on April 8, longest duration approximately one minute, 30 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02114- ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115;
  • nine calls between Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon (longest duration four minutes, 39 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00906; and
  • three calls between Mr. Parnas and Ms. Toensing (longest duration approximately six minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00905.

77 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125, ATTHPSCI_20190930-03236.

78 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00902.

[snip]

158 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02313.

159 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02314; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02316; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02318; ATTHPSCI 20190930 01000.

Because Nunes doesn’t understand how phone records work, he — and most other Republicans in Congress — accused Schiff of subpoenaing the record of his colleagues. That’s not what happened. Instead, Nunes and a key staffer got involved in with Rudy’s efforts to solicit dirt from Russian assets and as a result they showed up in Rudy’s phone records.

But it’s the kind of thing that might lead Barr to intensify his focus on Schiff.

The last section of this was an update.

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.

675 Days In, the Durham Investigation Has Lasted Longer than the Mueller Investigation

Today marks the 675th day of the Durham investigation into the origins and conduct of the investigation that became the Mueller investigation. That means Durham’s investigation has lasted one day longer than the entire Mueller investigation, which Republicans complained lasted far too long.

The single solitary prosecution Durham has obtained in that span of time in which Mueller prosecuted George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Richard Pinedo, Alex Van der Zwan, Michael Cohen (for his lies about Trump’s Trump Tower Moscow deal) was the guilty plea of Kevin Clinesmith, based on conduct discovered by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

In addition to those prosecutions, Mueller referred further Cohen charges to SDNY, Sam Patten for prosecution to DC, and Bijan Kian for prosecution in EDVA. Mueller charged Roger Stone and handed that prosecution off to DC. He further charged Konstantin Kilimnik, 12 IRA trolls, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and 12 GRU officers. He referred Paul Manafort’s influence peddling partners, Republican and Democratic alike, for further investigation, leading to the failed prosecution of Greg Craig. Mueller referred 12 other matters — most still sealed — for further investigation, along with the Egyptian bribery investigation originally started in DC.

Meanwhile, Durham has never released a public budget, though by regulation he had to submit a budget request to DOJ in December.

Say what you will about Mueller’s investigation. But it was an investigation that showed real results. Durham, meanwhile, has been churning over the work that DOJ IG already did for as long as Mueller’s entire investigation.

A DOJ IG Investigation Is Insufficient to Investigate Trump’s Attempt to Get DOJ Help to Steal the Election

As many news outlets are reporting, DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz is opening an investigation into whether any former or current DOJ official helped Trump try to overturn an election.

The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating an investigation into whether any former or current DOJ official engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election.  The investigation will encompass all relevant allegations that may arise that are within the scope of the OIG’s jurisdiction.  The OIG has jurisdiction to investigate allegations concerning the conduct of former and current DOJ employees.  The OIG’s jurisdiction does not extend to allegations against other government officials.

The OIG is making this statement, consistent with DOJ policy, to reassure the public that an appropriate agency is investigating the allegations.  Consistent with OIG policy, we will not comment further on the investigation until it is completed.  When our investigation is concluded, we will proceed with our usual process for releasing our findings publicly in accordance with relevant laws, and DOJ and OIG policies.

This is welcome news, but nowhere near as big a deal as people are making out. That’s true for several reasons. First, while DOJ IG will have access to internal DOJ communications, DOJ IG cannot compel testimony of former employees. So if Jeffrey Bossert Clark — or any of the sources leaking anonymously with no threat of legal consequences — don’t want to cooperate with this inquiry, they can avoid doing so.

More importantly, as Horowitz notes, his office’s jurisdiction, “does not extend to allegations against other government officials.” He can’t investigate Scott Perry, the GOP Congressperson who was reportedly involved in this, he can’t investigate Pat Cipollone, who reportedly sided with others at DOJ to undercut Trump’s efforts, and he can’t investigate Trump himself.

Still, it will serve one welcome purpose. As I noted in this post, one way to get investigations into Trump conduct started without appearing as if Joe Biden’s DOJ has it in for Trump is to start them with Inspectors General. A year from now, DOJ IG will likely produce a report showing improper behavior from Clark (probably because he went around his superiors, not for any good legal reason), while noting that he was unable to get further cooperation. That could provide predicate for opening an investigation into the Former President.

Productive Ways to Hold Trump Accountable

On Friday, Jonathan Rauch published a god-awful argument for pardoning Trump. Today, Quinta Jurecic published a much better argument that a Truth Commission would be the ideal way to hold Trump accountable, but because that probably won’t work, we need to pursue other alternatives, including prosecution.

I’ve already laid out one reason why I think we need to prosecute Trump for his role in the insurrection: because if we don’t, it’ll hamper the ability to hold dangerous people accountable. Another reason is that so many defendants are excusing their actions because the then-President ordered them to storm the Capitol (indeed, that’s one reason, according to a new WaPo report, why DOJ might not charge some of the insurrectionists), the government must make it clear that order was illegal.

Still, I think there are solutions to the problem that both Rauch and Jurecic want to resolve: how to find accountability without derailing President Biden’s Administration.

Jurecic acknowledges that Republican resistance to accountability measures will exacerbate current political divisions.

[A] post-Trump investigation pursued along partisan lines could be doomed from the start. This is the irony: The exact conditions that led to and sustained the Trump era—white grievance, a polluted media ecosystem, and political polarization—are the same conditions that will likely prevent a truth commission from succeeding.

[snip]

In the short run, any of these measures could risk making the country’s social and political divisions worse.

Rauch argues that prosecutions will derail the Biden Administration.

If we want Biden’s presidency to succeed, accountability to be restored and democracy to be strengthened, then a pardon would likely do more good than harm.

Consider, first, Biden’s presidency.

Biden has made clear in every way he can that he does not want or intend to be President Not Trump. He has his own agenda and has been impressively disciplined about not being defined by opposition to Trump. He knows Trump will try to monopolize the news and public discourse for the next four years, and he needs Trump instead to lose the oxygen of constant public attention.

Legal proceedings against Trump, or even the shadow of legal proceedings, would only keep Trump in the headlines.

Rauch also argues (fancifully, for precisely the reasons Jurecic gives that a Truth Commission would be undermined by polarization) that a non-criminal counterintelligence investigation will succeed in a way criminal investigations won’t.

It is important, then, that Trump’s presidency be subjected to a full-scale, post hoc counterintelligence scrub. There should be a public element, modeled on the 9/11 commission, and also a nonpublic, classified element. Both elements could be complicated and hindered by the criminal investigation of Trump. The criminal and counterterrorism investigations would need to be continually deconflicted; Congress would be asked to back away from inquiries and witnesses that step on prosecutors’ toes; Trump himself could plead the Fifth Amendment—an avenue not open to him were he to accept a pardon.

Ignoring for the moment the necessity of including Trump in an investigation into January 6, I agree that, to the extent possible, there needs to be some kind of accounting of what happened during the Trump Administration without turning it into partisan warfare.

Here are some ways to contribute to doing that.

Drain the swamp

Investigations into Trump for things that either are already (Russia or Ukraine) or can be (the election) turned into a tribal issue will absolutely exacerbate political division.

But there are some topics where former Trump supporters can quickly be shown how he hurt them.

For example, an inquiry into Trump’s trade war, especially into the harm done to farmers, will provide a way to show that Trump really devastated a lot of the rural voters who, for tribal reasons, nevertheless support him.

Or Trump’s grifting. In the wake of the Steve Bannon pardon, a number of Trump supporters were furious that Bannon was pardoned for cheating them, even while rioters or other more favored pardon candidates were not. Bannon’s not the only Trump grifter whose corruption demonstrably hurt Trump voters. There’s Brad Parscale’s grifting. There’s Jared Kushner’s favoritism in COVID contracting, which made the country less safe. There’s PPP abuse by big corporations at the expense of small businesses. None of this has to be explicitly about Trump; it can instead be an effort to crack down on corruption generally which by its very nature will affect Trump’s flunkies.

Have Trump dead-enders approve charges

With the exception of some egregious US Attorneys, Biden has asked the remaining US Attorneys to stay on for the moment. That defers any political blowback in the case of John Durham (who in addition to being CT US Attorney is also investigating the Russian investigation) and David Weiss (who is investigating Hunter Biden).

But it also allows people who are nominally Trump appointees to preside over at least the charging of existing investigations targeting Trump or his flunkies. The one place this is known to be true is in Southern District of New York (where Rudy is being investigated). It might be true in DC US Attorney’s office (though Billy Barr shut a lot of investigations, including into Roger Stone and Erik Prince, down). There’s Texas, where Ken Paxton is under investigation.There were hints of investigations into Jared in Eastern District of New York and, possibly, New Jersey.

If Trump US Attorneys aren’t replaced before they charge Trump or his allies, then the act of prosecution will be one approved by a Trump appointee.

Give Republicans what they think they want

Because they’re gullible, Republicans believe that the record of the Russian investigation shows corruption. What is in fact the case is that a cherry-picked and selectively-redacted set of records from the Russian investigation can be gaslit to claim corruption.

But since they’ve been clambering for Trump to declassify it all (even while both John Ratcliffe and Andrew McCabe have suggested that might not show what Republicans expect), it gives Biden’s Administration a way to declassify more. For example, there’s at least one Flynn-Kislyak transcript (from December 22, 2016) that Trump’s Administration chose not to release, one with closer Trump involvement then the others. There are materials on Alex Jones’ interactions with Guccifer 2.0. There are Peter Strzok notes showing him exhibiting no ill-will to Mike Flynn. There are records regarding Paul Manafort’s interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik on April 2016. That’s just the tip of an iceberg of very damning Russian-related records that Trump chose not to release, but which GOP demands for more can be used to justify.

Fully empower Inspectors General

One particularly absurd part of Rauch’s piece is his claim that we know all of Trump’s criminal exposure.

If he committed crimes that we don’t already know about, they are probably not of a new kind or magnitude.

As for what we do know about, it seems clear that he committed criminal obstruction of justice, for example by ordering his White House counsel to falsify federal records. But his obstruction was a process crime, already aired, of limited concern to the public and hard to get a conviction on as a stand-alone charge. There might be more to the Ukraine scandal than we know, but that matter, too, has been aired extensively, may not have been a legal violation and was appropriately (if disappointingly) handled by impeachment. Trump might have committed some form of sedition when he summoned his supporters to the streets to overturn the election, but he would have a colorable First Amendment defense, and sedition is a complicated and controversial charge that would open a legal can of worms. The real problem with Trump is not that we do not know his misdeeds but that we know so much about them, and yet he remained in office for a full term.

One piece of evidence Rauch is mistaken is his certainty that Trump’s only exposure in the Russian investigation is regarding obstruction, when (just as one example) there’s an ongoing investigation into an Assange pardon that appears to be closer to a quid pro quo; or the closed investigation into a potential bribe from Egypt. Democrats were denied a slew of documents pertaining to the Ukraine scandal, especially from the State Department. Democrats were similarly denied records on Trump’s abuse of clearance and non-official records.

One way to deal with the outstanding questions from the Trump Administration is simply to fully staff and empower the Inspectors General who have been undermined for four years. If, for example, State’s IG were to refer charges against Mike Pompeo or DOD’s IG were to refer charges pertaining to Kash Patel’s tenure, it wouldn’t be Democrats targeting them for investigation, it would be independent Inspectors General.

DOJ must be a key part of this. DOJ’s IG has already said it is investigating BJ Pak’s forced resignation. Democrats should insist this is expanded to review all of Barr’s politicized firings of US Attorneys.

As part of an effort to make sure Inspectors General do the work they should have done in real time, Biden should support the end of the OPR/IG split in DOJ, which means that the decisions of lawyers at DOJ (including those pertaining to the Ukraine scandal) are only reviewed by inspectors directly reporting to the Attorney General.

Respect FOIA

Joe Biden might not want to focus on Trump. But the press will continue to do so.

And if Biden orders agencies to treat FOIA like it is supposed to be treated, rather than forcing the press to sue if they want anything particularly interest, the press will do a lot of the accountability that courts otherwise might (and might provide reason for prosecutions). The press already has FOIAs in that have been undermined by improper exemption claims. For example, Jason Leopold has an existing FOIA into Bill Barr’s interference into the Roger Stone and Mike Flynn prosecutions. American Oversight has a FOIA into why Paul Manafort was sprung from jail when more vulnerable prisoners were not. FOIA into Trump’s separation policies have been key at reuniting families.

If such FOIAs obtained more visibility than they currently do, it would provide the visibility into some of the issues that people would love criminal investigations into.

One of the biggest scandals of the Trump Administration is how he undermined normal institutions of good governance, especially Inspectors General. If those institutions are restored and empowered, it will likely do a surprising amount of the accountability work that is so badly needed.

Billy Barr Makes Excuses for His C- Durham Investigation Report Card

Either Billy Barr didn’t believe his bullshit would withstand even the obsequious questioning of Pierre Thomas or Pete Williams, or he felt the need to re-set the expectations for the Durham investigation that he set sky high when it started, because one of his first exit interviews was with WSJ’s propagandist Kim Strassel.

There’s the typical propaganda in here: Strassel’s attempt to claim all the politicized decisions he made were instead brave tough choices and she reports Barr’s admission that he came in to end the Russian investigation without noting that, in the past, he admitted when he came in he didn’t know anything about.

But there’s an interesting framing that suggests Barr knows he badly oversold his claims about the Mueller investigation and the FBI investigation that led to it, and oversold his Durham investigation even more.

Of the Russian investigation, Barr first claims, as fact, that a small group of people used the Russian investigation to topple the Trump “administration,” ignoring the illogic of that claim, since had they really wanted to thwart Trump, they would have done so during the election.

He reminds me why he took the job in the first place: “The Department of Justice was being used as a political weapon” by a “willful if small group of people,” who used the claim of collusion with Russia in an attempt to “topple an administration,” he says. “Someone had to make sure that the power of the department stopped being abused and that there was accountability for what had happened.” Mr. Barr largely succeeded, in the process filling a vacuum of political oversight, reimposing norms, and resisting partisan critics on both sides.

A paragraph later, Barr says that Mueller should have done the work he claims Durham is doing, by refusing to take in garbage (we’ve already seen abundant evidence that Mueller chased down disinformation, including the Steele dossier, as disinformation).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s appointment should not have been necessary. Mr. Mueller’s investigation should have exposed FBI malfeasance. Instead, “the Mueller team seems to have been ready to blindly accept anything fed to it by the system,” Mr. Barr says, adding that this “is exactly what DOJ should not be.”

In-between the two, Barr reiterated his bullshit claim that there was no evidence of “collusion.”

Mr. Barr describes an overarching objective of ensuring that there is “one standard of justice.” That, he says, is why he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the FBI’s 2016 Crossfire Hurricane probe. “Of course the Russians did bad things in the election,” he says. “But the idea that this was done with the collusion of the Trump campaign—there was never any evidence. It was entirely made up.” The country deserved to know how the world’s premier law-enforcement agency came to target and spy on a presidential campaign.

Ignore for a second that a passage of the Mueller Report that Barr stalled to declassify until the height of the election showed that Mueller referred the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia to the DC US Attorney, ignore that Paul Manafort lied about what he and his partner the Russian spy were doing, ignore that Barr and Trump will attempt to make both of those ongoing investigations go away with pardons issued in minutes or days.

Barr suggests that Mueller’s conclusion that he didn’t have enough evidence to charge a conspiracy equates to claims of “collusion” being “entirely made up.” That is, if there’s not enough evidence to charge a crime, then even the lower level non-crime of “arglebargle” didn’t happen, even though SSCI staffers said it did.

So, for the Mueller investigation, Barr suggests no garbage should come in, and if no indictments (aside from the 30 or so that did) come out, then there was nothing to see there.

From there, Barr proceeds to make two paragraphs of excuses as to why Durham has found nothing in the same 20 months that Mueller indicted over 30 people, 3 corporations, and paid for much of the investigation.

Mr. Durham hasn’t finished his work, to the disappointment of many Republicans, including the president, who were hoping for a resolution—perhaps including indictments—before the election. Mr. Barr notes that Mr. Durham had to wait until the end of 2019 for Inspector General Michael Horowitz to complete his own investigation into the FBI’s surveillance. Then came the Covid lockdowns, which suspended federal grand juries for six months. Mr. Durham could no longer threaten to subpoena uncooperative witnesses.

“I understand people’s frustration over the timing, and there are prosecutors who break more china, so to speak,” Mr. Barr says. “But they don’t necessarily get the results.” Mr. Durham will, and is making “significant progress,” says Mr. Barr, who disclosed this month that he had prior to the election designated Mr. Durham a special counsel, to provide assurance that his team would be able to finish its work. The new designation also assures that Mr. Durham will produce a report to the attorney general. Mr. Barr believes “the force of circumstances will ensure it goes public” even under the new administration.

Again, Durham has brought one indictment in the time that Mueller had indicted 33 people (and even the least-politicized investigation into Hunter Biden has gone on longer than the entire Mueller investigation). Which maybe explains why Barr offers up excuses why Durham hasn’t found anything except what Michael Horowitz found for him, the Kevin Clinesmith document alteration.

He offers more, later, but not before he uses a different tack to explain away the futility of his examination. He explains, in passing, that the scope has gotten smaller. He doesn’t mention something he has already admitted in the past — that Durham spent a lot of time (on boondoggle trips to Europe, Barr doesn’t say) chasing down and disproving George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories. He does, however, confess that Durham determined before October that the CIA didn’t just make shit up.

The biggest news from Mr. Durham’s probe is what he has ruled out. Mr. Barr was initially suspicious that agents had been spying on the Trump campaign before the official July 2016 start date of Crossfire Hurricane, and that the Central Intelligence Agency or foreign intelligence had played a role. But even prior to naming Mr. Durham special counsel, Mr. Barr had come to the conclusion that he didn’t “see any sign of improper CIA activity” or “foreign government activity before July 2016,” he says. “The CIA stayed in its lane.”

Let me interrupt and observe that Barr bitched that Mueller “blindly accept[ed] anything fed to it by the system,” but here admits that two things he personally fed to Durham — Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and politicized claims that the CIA had it in for Trump — were garbage. Barr has just confessed he did what he accuses Mueller (with no evidence) of doing.

Several paragraphs later, Barr asserts, as fact, that the politicized Jeffrey Jensen investigation he ordered up (again, garbage in) concluded that Flynn’s prosecution was “entirely bogus.”

Also outrageous, in Mr. Barr’s view, was the abuse of power by both the FBI and the Mueller team toward Mr. Trump’s associates, especially Mr. Flynn. The FBI, as a review by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen found, pulled Mr. Flynn into an interview that had “no legitimate investigative basis.” The Mueller team then denied Mr. Flynn’s legal defense exculpatory information and pressured Mr. Flynn into pleading guilty to lying.

Mr. Barr didn’t order a review of the case until Mr. Flynn petitioned to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2020. Mr. Jensen’s review then made clear that the case “was entirely bogus,” Mr. Barr says. “It was analogous right now to DOJ prosecuting the person Biden named as his national security adviser for communication with a foreign government.” The Justice Department agreed to drop the charges in May, although Judge Emmet Sullivan spent months contesting the move until Mr. Trump finally pardoned Mr. Flynn. Mr. Barr declines to comment on Judge Sullivan’s maneuvering.

Except, of course, “Sullivan’s maneuvering,” (AKA, being a judge) rejected that claim, and pointedly found the claims Barr invented were unpersuasive given the claims that Bill Barr’s own DOJ had already made in his court. The legally valid conclusion is that Barr’s talking shite here, to say nothing of whatever Strassel is doing.

Then, going back a bit, Barr describes Durham’s narrowly circumscribed scope (assuming Biden’s AG doesn’t expand it to look at how Barr and others undermined the Russian investigation, including by committing the same crime Kevin Clinesmith pled guilty to). We’re down to a dead-ender investigation into the FBI agents (presumably, unless Biden’s AG expands the scope, excluding Bill Barnett, whose Jensen interview report conflicts with his own actions on the Flynn case).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s probe is now tightly focused on “the conduct of Crossfire Hurricane, the small group at the FBI that was most involved in that,” as well as “the activities of certain private actors.” (Mr. Barr doesn’t elaborate.) Mr. Durham has publicly stated he’s not convinced the FBI team had an adequate “predicate” to launch an investigation. In September, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a document showing that the FBI was warned in 2016 that the Hillary Clinton campaign might be behind the “collusion” claims.

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham is also looking at the January 2017 intelligence-community “assessment” that claimed Russia had “developed a clear preference” for Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. He confirms that most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.

SSCI has already judged Barr is wrong about the latter point. So Barr is basically left with the Steele dossier and those who used it as they would any other informant report, especially an informant report from a former intelligence partner.

Barr is, you’ll be unsurprised to know, lying when he claims, “most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.” More on that in time for January 21, I hope.

So thus far, Barr offers the following excuses, after narrowing the scope to eliminate all the worse-than-Steele dossier bullshit he introduced.

  • Had to wait for Horowitz to find the only crime
  • Too careful
  • Too much sickness
  • Too many conspiracy theories (all included by Barr) to debunk
  • [Unstated: Too many boondoggles]
  • A prosecutor whose team altered documents (like Clinesmith) made a claim a judge shot down

Having done all that, Barr then resorts to the inverse of the attack he makes on the 34-indictment Mueller investigation:

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”

The American system is “designed to find people innocent,” Mr. Barr notes. “It has a high bar.” One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar. The FBI’s use “of confidential human sources and wiretapping to investigate people connected to a campaign was outrageous,” Mr. Barr says—whether or not it leads to criminal charges.

Never mind that Barr claims the FBI used wiretapping to investigate “people connected to a campaign,” which is false (the use of informants is true, except Barr is not here complaining that the FBI counts the use of informants against everyone else as one of the most unintrusive means of investigation, which would be the proper conclusion Barr should take from his discomfort at how they were used here).

Barr’s final excuse for the fact that he’s been making grand claims of abuse for years but found nothing is that no one has been put into an orange jumpsuit yet. “The American system is “designed to find people innocent,'” Billy Barr told WSJ’s propagandist. And so people shouldn’t assume that his two year witch hunt has come up dry.

The issue — says the guy turning a no conspiracy charge into a no collusion claim — is that the American system is, “designed to find people innocent.”

Bill Barr claims he believes in, “one standard of justice,” even while making wild accusations for years that have turned out (his narrow scope implicitly admits) to be false. But he apparently believes in two standards of performance. John Durham’s single prosecution over 20 months, on a charge gift-wrapped for him by Michael Horowitz — that’s smoking gun proof of abuse. But Mueller’s 37 indictments, including obstruction-related charges for Trump’s campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, lawyer, rat-fucker, National Security Advisor, and coffee boy, along with an ongoing investigation into the rat-fucker for conspiring with Russia. That’s nothing, “entirely made up.”

There’s still room for abuse and it’s clear Durham doesn’t understand what he’s looking at. But in the end, Barr’s micromanaged witch hunt couldn’t match what Robert Mueller did. And Barr is probably feeling pretty insecure about that on the way out.

The Mistaken Presumptions of Virtually All Discussions of a Future Trump Prosecution

Jack Goldsmith has written a piece arguing against a Trump prosecution under the Biden Administration. He’s wrong on a key point that many other people engaging in this discussion also are. He’s wrong about what crime might be prosecuted and whose DOJ investigated it.

Before I get to that, though, I want to critique two smaller issues in his post.

First, he links to the DOJ IG investigation on Carter Page, apparently suggesting it supports a claim that that report found there were inappropriate parts of the investigation into Donald Trump.

The first in this line was the investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and presidential transition by the FBI and the Obama Justice Department, which continued with the Mueller investigation. Some elements of this investigation were clearly legitimate and some, clearly not.

Except that’s not what that report shows (even ignoring the report’s own problems). It shows that FBI followed the rules on informants and even on including an investigative agent in Trump’s first security briefing (after which Flynn promptly moved to cover up his secret relationship with Turkey). It shows that there were problems with the Carter Page FISA application. But the single solitary thing in the report that would not survive a Franks review is Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email. Every single other thing would meet the Good Faith standard used in Fourth Amendment review. And all that’s separate from the question of whether Carter Page was a legitimate target for investigation, which the bipartisan SSCI investigation has said he was.

I also disagree with Goldsmith’s concerns about the status of the Durham investigation going forward.

But though Durham started out as a credible figure, the review was damaged from the beginning due to Trump’s and Barr’s ceaseless public prejudging of the case (and, for some, Durham’s response to one of Horowitz’s reports). And all of that was before Barr expanded the investigation into a criminal one and then later appointed Durham as a special counsel to ensure that his criminal investigation could continue into the Biden administration. Once again, the nation is divided on the legitimacy of all of this.

The third challenge, exacerbating the first two, is that these investigations—the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and transition, the Durham investigation, and the Hunter Biden investigation—extended (or will extend) into an administration of a different party. That means that what began as a cross-party investigation where the worry was bias against political opponents will transform, in the middle of the investigation, into an intraparty investigation, where the worry will shift to one party’s desire for self-protection.

I think the Durham investigation is misunderstood by all sides. Even according to Billy Barr, Durham has debunked some conspiracy theories Republicans have floated and he appears to have moved beyond the question of whether the CIA wrongly concluded that Putin wanted to elect Trump. That means if he were to write a report, it would substantially consist of telling the frothy right that their conspiracy theories were just that, and that George Papadopoulos really did entertain recruitment by at least one Russian agent.

That said, the Durham investigation has, unfortunately, been hopelessly biased by Billy Barr’s work in at least two ways. Durham apparently believes that the treatment of partisan bias at DOJ has been equally applied, which is demonstrably false (which also means he’s relying on witnesses who have themselves committed the sins he has used to predicate his own investigation, using FBI devices to speak for or against a political candidate). More troublingly, every single legal document his prosecutors have filed thus far have betrayed that they don’t understand the most basic things about the counterintelligence investigations they’re focusing on. But because of that ignorance, I’m fairly confident that if Durham tried to prosecute people for the theories that Bill Barr has been pushing while micromanaging this, Durham’s prosecutors would get their ass handed to them. Plus, even without Biden’s AG doing anything, I think there’s a possibility that Durham’s independence can be put to good use to investigate the crimes that Barr’s DOJ may have committed in pushing these theories. And there’s an easy way to solve the political nastiness of Barr’s special counsel appointment: by swapping Durham for Nora Dannehy. In short, freed from the micromanaging and mistaken beliefs of Bill Barr, Durham may evolve into a totally useful entity, one that will debunk a lot of the bullshit that the frothy right has been spewing for years.

In any case, the only reason it would be perceived as a cross-party investigation was the micromanagement of Barr. The FBI is not a member of either party, and if Durham finds real crimes — like that of Clinesmith — by all means he should prosecute. Once he is freed of Barr’s micromanagement, though, he may discover that he was given a very partial view of the evidence he was looking at.

Which brings me to Goldsmith’s treatment of whether or not Trump should be prosecuted. Before giving three reasons why one shouldn’t investigate Trump, he lays out what he sees as the potential crime this way:

Many people have argued that the Biden Justice Department should continue this pattern by examining the criminal acts Trump might have committed while in office—some arguing for a full-blown broad investigation, others (like my co-author, Bob Bauer, in “After Trump”) for a measured, narrowly tailored one. I don’t think this is a good idea. I doubt Trump has committed prosecutable crimes in office (I am confident that obstruction of justice prosecution would fail), I doubt he will ever go to jail if he did commit criminal acts in office (which would make the effort worse than useless), Trump will thrive off the attention of such an investigation, and the Biden administration will be damaged in pursuing other elements of its agenda (including restoration of the appearance of apolitical law enforcement). But the main reason I am skeptical is that such an investigation would, in the prevailing tit-for-tat culture, cement the inchoate norm of one administration as a matter of course criminally investigating the prior one—to the enormous detriment of the nation. (I do not believe that federal investigations for Trump’s pre-presidential actions raise the same risk.

There are two problems inherent with Goldsmith’s logic here, problems that virtually all the other people who engage in this debate also make.

First, he assumes that any prosecution of Trump would have to engage in further investigation. Here’s just one of several places where he makes that assumption clear.

The investigation by one administration of the predecessor president for acts committed in office would be a politically cataclysmic event.

Goldsmith doesn’t consider the possibility that such an investigation was begun under Mueller and continued under Bill Barr, waiting for such time as Trump can be charged under DOJ guidelines. It’s odd that he doesn’t consider that possibility, because Mueller laid that possibility out clearly in the report, describing leaving grand jury evidence banked for such time as Trump could be charged (indeed, it’s fairly clear a January 2019 Steve Bannon grand jury appearance included such evidence). If Bill Barr’s DOJ conducted an investigation that shows Trump committed a crime, it would break out of the tit-for-tat that Goldsmith complains about.

Goldsmith also appears to believe, even in spite of Trump’s transactionalism, that any crime Trump committed in office would have begun and ended during his term of office.

Part of these two errors appear to stem from another one. Goldsmith clearly believes the only crime for which Mueller investigated Trump is obstruction and he dismisses the possibility that an obstruction prosecution would stick. I’m agnostic about whether that view of obstruction is true or not. Even just reviewing how the Mueller Report treated the Roger Stone investigation, though, I’m certain there are places where the Mueller Report protected investigative equities. That may be true of the obstruction case as well. If so, then it would suggest the obstruction case might be far stronger than we know.

But it is false that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction. That’s because Trump may have entered into a conspiracy with his rat-fucker. In addition to investigating Roger Stone for covering up who his tie to Wikileaks was, Mueller also investigated Roger Stone for entering the CFAA conspiracy with Russia, a part of the investigation that recently declassified information as well as the warrants in the case make clear continued after the close of the Mueller investigation. Not only did Mueller ask Trump about his contacts with Stone on the specific issue for which the rat-fucker remained under investigation after Mueller closed up shop, but Mueller’s last warrants listed Stone’s written record of his communications with Trump during the campaign among the items to be seized in the search of Stone’s homes. If Stone entered into the CFAA conspiracy with Russia and those contacts show that Trump entered into an agreement with Stone on his part of the conspiracy, then Mueller was investigating Trump himself in the conspiracy. There is no way you target Stone’s records of communications with Trump unless Trump, too, was under investigation for joining that conspiracy.

I know I’m the only one saying this, but that’s in significant part because — as far as I know — I’m the single solitary journalist who has read these documents (plus, the unsealed language showing the investigation into Stone on the CFAA charges got buried in the election). But the record makes this quite clear: by investigating Roger Stone, Mueller also investigated Donald Trump for joining the CFAA conspiracy with Russia that helped him get elected. And because Mueller did not complete the investigation into Roger Stone before he closed up shop, he did not complete the investigation into Donald Trump.

And while I’m less certain, abundant evidence tells us what Stone and Trump’s role in the conspiracy may have been: to enter into a quid pro quo trading advance access to select John Podesta files (and, possibly, optimizing their release to cover up the DHS/ODNI Russian attribution statement) for a pardon for Julian Assange.

Stone did something in August 2016 to obtain advance copies of the Podesta files that the frothy right believed would be particularly beneficial in attacking Podesta and Hillary. Days before the Podesta file release in October 2016, Stone and Credico appear to have started talking about a pardon for Julian Assange. After the release of the Podesta files, Trump discussed reaching out to Assange with more people, including Mike Flynn. And no later than 7 days after the election — and given Credico’s refusal to give a straight answer about this, probably before — Stone set out on an extended effort to deliver on that pardon. And Trump took an overt act, as President, to try to deliver on that quid pro quo when he ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to shut down any investigation into the hack-and-leak (which would have shut down the investigation into Assange’s role in it).

I have no idea whether DOJ obtained enough evidence to charge a former president in conspiring with a hostile foreign power to get elected. The investigation into Stone’s role in the conspiracy may have shut down when Barr’s intervention in Stone’s sentencing led all four prosecutors to drop from the case, so it’s possible that a Biden DOJ would need to resume that investigation (and finish it up before statutes of limitation tolled). Still, as of October 1, when DOJ withheld almost the entirety of two interviews with Margaret Kunstler to protect an ongoing investigation, that part of the investigation was ongoing. So if you want to consider the possible universe of Trump charges, this is the possibility you’d need to consider: that after Mueller shut down but before the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ acquired enough evidence to prosecute Donald Trump once he becomes available to prosecute under DOJ rules.

I think there are other instances where Trump cheated to win in criminal fashion (even ignoring the hush payments for which he got named in Cohen’s charging documents). For example, Barr very obviously violated DOJ guidelines in his treatment of the whistleblower complaint about the Volodymyr Zelenskyy call, and with the evidence that OMB, State, and DOD withheld from the impeachment inquiry and witnesses subject to subpoena (indeed, at least some of whom will likely have no Fifth Amendment privileges after a pardon), the impeachment case is likely far stronger than Goldsmith imagines. Plus, there is an obvious tie to the SDNY investigation into Lev Parnas (where the whistleblower complaint would have been referred had Barr not violated DOJ guidelines). So on that case, it might be a question of Biden shutting down an ongoing investigation, not one of starting a new investigation.

Perhaps the most difficult and controversial decision for a Biden AG will be whether to reopen the investigation into the Egyptian payment Trump may have gotten in 2016 that kept his campaign afloat, one that SCOTUS reviewed (for the Mystery Appellant challenge) and sustained a subpoena for. Per CNN, DOJ doesn’t yet have enough to prosecute that, but that’s because DOJ chose not to subpoena Trump Organization for documents. And a Biden Administration could sanction the Egyptian bank to require it to cooperate in a way they refused to do under Mueller.

But those two instances can’t be shown via the public evidence. The overt act that Trump took in response to Roger Stone’s request — one Stone documented in a DM to Julian Assange — is public. Importantly, this would be a conspiracy that started before Trump got elected and extended into his presidency.

If you want to imagine whether Biden would prosecute Trump, you have to consider the possibility that he would prosecute Trump for crimes Bill Barr investigated.