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DOJ Decides Leaked, Inaccurate DOJ IG Materials Are Awful

The NYT has a story–on which Michael Shear, who is home in quarantine with his spouse after catching COVID in the White House’s superspreader cluster, has the lead byline–on DOJ’s complicit role in separating children from their parents.

It describes how five border-state US Attorneys tried to avoid imposing the draconian policies masterminded by Stephen Miller (who, like Shear, got infected in Trump’s super-spreader event). But those US Attorneys were overruled by Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein. Those findings appear in a draft DOJ IG Report, which has been sent to DOJ for comment, but not yet published.

The five U.S. attorneys along the border with Mexico, including three appointed by President Trump, recoiled in May 2018 against an order to prosecute all undocumented immigrants even if it meant separating children from their parents. They told top Justice Department officials they were “deeply concerned” about the children’s welfare.

But the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, made it clear what Mr. Trump wanted on a conference call later that afternoon, according to a two-year inquiry by the Justice Department’s inspector general into Mr. Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy.

“We need to take away children,” Mr. Sessions told the prosecutors, according to participants’ notes. One added in shorthand: “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”

Rod J. Rosenstein, then the deputy attorney general, went even further in a second call about a week later, telling the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.

Passages of the report citing John Bash, who recently resigned his position as US Attorney for WD TX only to be replaced by a Billy Barr flunky, are quoted twice.

“Those two cases should not have been declined,” John Bash, the departing U.S. attorney in western Texas, wrote to his staff immediately after the call. Mr. Bash had declined the cases, but Mr. Rosenstein “instructed that, per the A.G.’s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child.”

[snip]

In a briefing two days after Christmas in 2017, top Justice Department officials asked Mr. Bash for statistics from the pilot program, conducted by his predecessor, that could be used to develop “nationwide prosecution guidelines.” Mr. Bash, a former White House adviser, did not receive a follow-up request for the information. Thinking that the idea had been abandoned, he did not provide it.

And there’s at least one other prosecutor quoted — revealing that the no-tolerance policy targeting children let some far more serious criminals go free — who could be him.

Border Patrol officers missed serious felony cases because they were stretched too thin by the zero-tolerance policy requiring them to detain and prosecute all of the misdemeanor illegal entry cases. One Texas prosecutor warned top Justice Department officials in 2018 that “sex offenders were released” as a result.

The article itself is based off a draft copy of the report and interviews with three anonymous officials.

This article is based on a review of the 86-page draft report and interviews with three government officials who read it in recent months and described its conclusions and many of the details in it.

Bash should not have had access to this entire report to review his own role in it. Past practice would have suggested he get just those passages that pertain to him directly (though this report appears to cover his time both at Main DOJ and as a US Attorney). But he would have access to the passages that quote him directly.

The article is most amusing, however, for the response from DOJ, which complains about an inaccurate DOJ IG Report and improper leaks.

Alexa Vance, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, disputed the draft report and said the Homeland Security Department referred cases for prosecution.

“The draft report relied on for this article contains numerous factual errors and inaccuracies,” she said. “While D.O.J. is responsible for the prosecutions of defendants, it had no role in tracking or providing custodial care to the children of defendants. Finally, both the timing and misleading content of this leak raise troubling questions about the motivations of those responsible for it.”

As I have laid out, the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page has numerous factual errors, just some of which they’ve corrected. The central complaint in the parallel Lisa Page and Peter Strzok Privacy Act lawsuits about the release of their texts is that those were released improperly, both as to timing and legality, and led to misleading interpretations of what the texts mean. Both of those lawsuits implicate a sworn declaration made by Rod Rosenstein (who is badly implicated by this report and who issued a statement to the NYT, suggesting he could be one of the anonymous sources as well). The Rosenstein statement in the Page and Strzok lawsuits will test how credible his claims are about his own actions in response to illegal requests from the President.

In other words, the entire article is thick with irony and revenge. And it will surely focus more scrutiny on the denials that DOJ issues once it is released after the election.

But none of that helps the infants who got separated from their parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOJ Has Submitted Proof They Knew the January 5, 2017 Meeting Took Place on January 5, 2017

I’ve been harping on the process that facilitated Sidney Powell — and then President Trump — falsely blaming Joe Biden for raising the Logan Act in the context of the government’s response to Mike Flynn’s attempts to secretly undermine sanctions on Russia.

That process started on June 23, when prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent an undated copy of Peter Strzok’s notes to Sidney Powell, explaining that they had been found as part of Jeffrey Jensen’s review. Using the royal “we,” she professed uncertainty about when those notes were written.

The enclosed document was obtained and analyzed by USA EDMO during the course of its review. This page of notes was taken by former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok. While the page itself is undated; we believe that the notes were taken in early January 2017, possibly between January 3 and January 5.

Sidney Powell, referencing those notes, claimed they were believed to date from January 4 and asserted that they showed Joe Biden raising the Logan Act.

Strzok’s notes believed to be of January 4, 2017, reveal that former President Obama, James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and apparently Susan Rice discussed the transcripts of Flynn’s calls and how to proceed against him. Mr. Obama himself directed that “the right people” investigate General Flynn. This caused former FBI Director Comey to acknowledge the obvious: General Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak “appear legit.” According to Strzok’s notes, it appears that Vice President Biden personally raised the idea of the Logan Act.

Then, on September 23, Ballantine sent Powell a set of Strzok’s notes with a different Bates stamp than the first. When it was submitted — by Powell — to the docket, it had a date on it that did not appear on the earlier set: 1/4-5/17.

Then, five days after Powell (who has had multiple conversations with Trump’s campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, including about this case) loaded the now-dated notes onto the docket, President Trump publicly accused Joe Biden of giving “the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn” in their first debate.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

Thus it happened that an error introduced into the Flynn proceeding got turned into a campaign prop.

The thing is, DOJ has abundant proof that Jeffrey Jensen knew (or should have known) there was no uncertainty about the date when those notes were handed over to Powell. Indeed, if he did not know, then the entire premise of their motion to dismiss falls apart.

In Timothy Shea’s motion to dismiss, he obliquely attributed the radical change in DOJ’s view of Mike Flynn’s prosecution to Jeffrey Jensen’s review of the case, citing three dockets where Powell uploaded information that Ballantine had shared with the explanation (one, two) that the material came out of Jeffrey Jensen’s review.

After a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information appended to the defendant’s supplemental pleadings, ECF Nos. 181, 188-190,1 the Government has concluded that the interview of Mr. Flynn was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn—a no longer justifiably predicated investigation that the FBI had, in the Bureau’s own words, prepared to close because it had yielded an “absence of any derogatory information.”

1 This review not only included newly discovered and disclosed information, but also recently declassified information as well.

All the purportedly “newly discovered” information, then, comes from Jensen.

Bill Barr cited Jensen’s review even more explicitly in an interview with Catherine Herridge.

What action has the Justice Department taken today in the Michael Flynn case?

We dismissed or are moving to dismiss the charges against General Flynn. At any stage during a proceeding, even after indictment or a conviction or a guilty plea, the Department can move to dismiss the charges if we determine that our standards of prosecution have not been met.

As you recall, in January, General Flynn moved to withdraw his plea, and also alleged misconduct by the government. And at that time, I asked a very seasoned U.S. attorney, who had spent ten years as an FBI agent and ten years as a career prosecutor, Jeff Jensen, from St. Louis, to come in and take a fresh look at this whole case. And he found some additional material. And last week, he came in and briefed me and made a recommendation that we dismiss the case, which I fully agreed with, as did the U.S. attorney in D.C. So we’ve moved to dismiss the case.

So this decision to dismiss by the Justice Department, this all came together really within the last week, based on new evidence?

Right. Well U.S. Attorney Jensen since January has been investigating this. And he reported to me last week.

In other words, both Shea and Barr represented that the case laid out in the motion to dismiss is the case that Jensen made that persuaded Barr to drop the prosecution.

That means we should expect Jensen to have deep familiarity with all the documents that — the motion to dismiss claims — formed the basis of his review.

I put a list of those exhibits here (along with an explanation that virtually everything cited in it was already known when DOJ first charged Flynn, when Michael Horowitz concluded the investigation was properly predicated, and when Bill Barr’s DOJ called for prison time in January).

Among those documents that Timothy Shea — and before him, Jeffrey Jensen — relied on to claim that DOJ should drop Flynn’s prosecution is the 302 from Mary McCord’s July 17, 2017 interview with Mueller’s team. The motion to dismiss cites McCord at least 26 times, relying on her interview to understand details of what happened in early January 2017, after the government discovered Flynn’s calls that explained why Russia didn’t retaliate for sanctions. Of particular note, the motion to dismiss that arose from Jensen’s analysis cites McCord’s interview regarding the discussion about the Logan Act — including that the investigation remained a counterintelligence one after discussing the Kislyak description. McCord’s description of the Logan Acti discussion reveals precisely who first raised it: ODNI GC Bob Litt.

General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Bob Litt raised the issue of a possible Logan Act violation. McCord was not familiar with the Logan Act at the time and made a note to herself to look it up later.

DOJ should never have let Powell form the conclusion that Joe Biden first suggested the Logan Act, because they were relying on a document that made it clear that Litt had already raised it. That’s where Jim Comey got the idea, before he went into that January 5, 2017 meeting.

Another document Shea and Jensen relied on in arguing that DOJ should end the Flynn prosecution is the 302 from Sally Yates’ August 15, 2017 interview with Mueller’s team. Shea’s motion to dismiss — based off Jensen’s analysis — cites Yates’ 302 at least 20 times, including in its discussion of the Logan Act. What Shea didn’t cite, but what shows up in the first substantive paragraph of the 302, is a description of how Yates first learned of the Flynn-Kislyak calls at a meeting at the White House on January 5, 2017.

Yates first learned of the December 2016 calls between (LTG Michael) Flynn and (Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey) Kislyak on January 5, 2017, while in the Oval Office. Yates, along with then-FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, and the-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, were at the White House to brief members of the Obama Administration on the classified Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian Activities in Recent U.S. Elections. President Obama was joined by his National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, and others from the National Security Council. After the briefing, Obama dismissed the group but asked Yates and Comey to stay behind. Obama started by saying he had “learned of the information about Flynn” and his conversation with Kislyak about sanctions. Obama specified he did not want additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information. At that point, Yates had no idea what the President was talking about, but figured it out based on the conversation. Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act, but can’t recall if he specified there was an “investigation.” Comey did not talk about prosecution in the meeting. It was not clear to Yates from where the President first received the information. Yates did not recall Comey’s response to the President’s question about how to treat Flynn. She was so surprised by the information she was hearing that she was having a hard time processing it and listening to the conversation at the same time.

That long paragraph that very clearly describes the meeting at the White House captured in Peter Strzok’s notes directly precedes one that Shea (and so by association, Jensen) rely on heavily. According to Yates, Jim Comey was the one who raised the Logan Act in that meeting, not Joe Biden. And McCord, which they also rely on, makes it clear Comey got the idea from Litt.

Finally, the Shea motion to dismiss based on Jensen’s analysis relies on Jim Comey’s HPSCI testimony — one of just two documents that DOJ may not already have reviewed before Mike Flynn’s guilty plea. It cites the Comey transcript 16 times, including for a paragraph on the Logan Act.

As Sally Yates did, Comey described that the meeting at the White House involving the two of them took place on January 5.

I had not briefed the Department of Justice about this, and found myself at the Oval Office on the 5th of January to brief the President on the separate effort that you all are aware of by the Intelligence Community to report on what the Russians had done during the election. And in the course of that conversation, the President mentioned this [redacted] And that was the first time the Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, had heard about it.

In no place does the Timothy Shea motion to dismiss, based off Jeffrey Jensen’s analysis, raise any questions about the veracity of these witnesses. Indeed, the motion relies on those documents as reliable descriptions of what happened in January 2017.

That means that either the DC US Attorney’s Office and Jeffrey Jensen are very familiar with the documents they rely on heavily to argue that Judge Sullivan must dismiss Flynn’s prosecution, in which case they affirmatively misled the court when they claimed to have no idea on what date the meeting described by both Yates and Comey occurred. That would mean, though, that Jensen affirmatively misled the court about a detail three months before the President used that error to make a campaign attack. And somehow an exhibit got altered to match that affirmative misinformation.

Alternately, none of the people claiming that these documents justify dismissing Flynn’s prosecution really know what these documents say.

Certainly, all parties should be on the hook for an exhibit that got altered to suggest the meeting could have taken place on January 4.

Billy Barr Releases 302 that Proves View of Pro Mike Flynn Agent Held Sway in Mueller Report Conclusions

Before I do a deep dive of the 302 that Billy Barr had released in yet another attempt to blow up the Mike Flynn prosecution, let me review the conclusion of the Mueller Report was with regards to whether President Trump even knew about Mike Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak, much less ordered them.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

The conclusion is central to the finding that there was no proof of a quid pro quo. If Trump had ordered Flynn to undermine sanctions — as a sentencing memo approved by Main DOJ explained — it would have been proof of coordination.

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

That means the conclusion adopted by the Mueller Report is precisely the one that the FBI Agent who investigated Flynn, William Barnett, held, as described repeatedly in the interview done by Jeffrey Jensen in an attempt to undermine the Mueller prosecution.

With respect to FLYNN’s [redacted] with the Russian Ambassador in December 2016, BARNETT did not believe FLYNN was being directed by TRUMP.

The Mueller Report reached that conclusion in spite of the fact that — as Barnett describes it — in his second interview, Flynn said that Trump was aware of the calls between him and the Russian Ambassador.

During one interview of FLYNN, possibly the second interview, one of the interviewers asked a series of questions including one which FLYNN’s answer seemed to indicate TRUMP was aware of [redacted] between FLYNN and the Russian Ambassador. BARNETT believed FLYNN’s answer was an effort to tell the interviewers what they wanted to hear. BARNETT had to ask the clarifying question of FLYNN who then said clearly that TRUMP was not aware of [redacted]

Barnett then goes on a paragraph long rant claiming there was no evidence that Trump was aware.

BARNETT said numerous attempts were made to obtain evidence that TRUMP directed FLYNN concerning [redacted] with no such evidence being obtained. BARNETT said it was just an assumption, just “astro projection,” and the “ground just kept being retreaded.”

The claim that there was no evidence that Trump directed Flynn to undermine sanctions is false. I say that because Flynn himself told Kislyak that Trump was aware of his conversations with Kislyak on December 31, 2016, when Kislyak called up to let Flynn know that Putin had changed his mind on retaliation based on his call.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

Flynn literally told the Russian Ambassador that Trump was aware of the discussions, but Barnett claims there was no evidence.

Now is probably a good time to note that, months ago, I learned that  Barnett sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI phone, the mirror image of Peter Strzok sending anti-Trump texts.

So Billy Barr has released a 302 completed just a week ago, without yet releasing the Bill Priestap 302 debunking some of the earlier claims released by Billy Barr in an attempt to justify blowing up the Flynn prosecution, much less the 302s that show that Flynn appeared to lie in his first interview with Mueller’s investigators (as well as 302s showing that KT McFarland coordinated the same story).

And the 302 is an ever-loving shit show. Besides the key evidence — that his claim that investigators didn’t listen to him even though the conclusion of the Mueller Report is the one that he says only he had — Barnett disproves his claims over and over in this interview.

Barnett’s testimony substantially shows five things:

  • He thought there was no merit to any suspicions that Flynn might have ties to Russia
  • He nevertheless provided abundant testimony that some of the claims about the investigation (specifically that Peter Strzok and probably Brandon Van Grack had it in for Flynn) are false
  • Barnett buries key evidence: he mentions neither that Flynn was publicly lying about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak (which every other witness said was driving the investigation), and he did not mention that once FBI obtained call records, they showed that Flynn had lied to hide that he had consulted with Mar-a-Lago before he called Sergey Kislyak
  • Jensen didn’t ask some of the most basic questions, such as whether Barnett thought he had to investigate further after finding the Kislyak call or who the multiple people Barnett claimed joked about wiping their phone were
  • Barnett believes that Mueller’s lawyers (particularly Jeannie Rhee and Andrew Weissmann) were biased and pushing for a conclusion that the Mueller Report shows they didn’t conclude, but he didn’t work primarily with either one of them and his proffered evidence against Rhee actually shows the opposite

According to the org charts included in the Carter Page IG Report (PDF 116), it appears that Barnett would have been on a combined Crossfire Hurricane team from July 31 to December 2016; the report says he was working on the Manafort case.

Then, he took over the Flynn case. He would have reported up through someone else who also oversaw the George Papadopoulos investigation, but he would not be part of that investigation.

Even after a subsequent reorganization, that would have remained true until the Mueller investigation, when — by his own description — Barnett remained on the Flynn team.

Early in his 302, Barnett described that he thought the investigation was “supposition on supposition,” which he initially attributed to not knowing details of the case. Much later in the interview, he said he, “believed there were grounds to investigate the other three subjects in Crossfire Hurricane; however, he thought FLYNN was the ‘outlier.'” which conflicts with his earlier claim.

By his own repeated description, Barnett did not open the Flynn case and did not understand why it had been opened (he doesn’t explain that this was an UNSUB investigation, which undermines much of what he says). Moreover, his complaints about the flimsy basis for the Flynn investigation conflict with what Barnett said in the draft closing memo for the investigation, which explained that the investigation was opened,

on an articulable factual basis that CROSSFIRE RAZOR (CR) may wittingly or unwittingly be involved in activity on behalf of the Russian Federation which may constitute a federal crime or threat to the national security.

[snip]

The goal of the investigation was to determine whether the captioned subject, associated with the Trump campaign, was directed and controlled by and/or coordinated activities with the Russian Federation in a manner which is a threat to the national security and/or possibly a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 18 U.S.C. section 951 et seq, or other related statutes.

A key detail here is that Barnett himself said part of this was an attempt to figure out whether Flynn may have unwittingly been targeted by Russia, which makes his focus on crime in the Jensen interview totally contradictory.

Barnett did explain that NSLs were written up in December but pulled back (these were also released last night, though not with the detail that they were withdrawn). He claimed not to know why the NSLs were withdrawn.

A National Security Letter (NSL) had been prepared to obtain “toll records” for a phone belonging to FLYNN. The request was “pulled back” prior to the records being obtained. Peter Strzok (STRZOK) was the individual who ordered the NSL be pulled back. BARNETT was not told why the NSL was pulled back.

In the draft closing that Barnett himself wrote, he explained that because Flynn was not at that point named as a possible agent of a foreign power, that limited the investigative techniques they might use.

The writer notes that since CROSSFIRE RAZOR was not specifically named as an agent of a foreign power by the original CROSSFIRE HURRICANE predicated reporting, the absence of any derogatory information or lead information from these logical source reduced the number of investigative avenues and techniques to pursue.

That’s also another reason (not noted by Barnett in this interview) why he didn’t get a 215 order.

BARNETT chose not to obtain records through FISA Business Records because he advised this process is comparatively onerous.

Note that Strzok’s order to withdraw the NSL is yet more proof that Strzok was not out to get Flynn.

Barnett also confirmed something else that Strzok has long said — that they chose not to use any overt methods during the election (unlike the Hillary investigation).

BARNETT was told to keep low-key, looking at publicly available information.

Again, this adds to the evidence that no one was out to get Trump.

Barnett also explains how Stefan Halper shared information about Flynn, and he — a pro-Trump agent skeptical of the investigation — decided to chase down the Svetlana Lokhova allegation.

The source reported that during an event [redacted] 2014 FLYNN unexpectedly left the event [redacted] The source alleged FLYNN was not accompanied by anyone other [redacted] BARNETT believed the information concerning [redacted] potentially significant and something that could be investigated. However, Intelligence Analysts did not locate information to corroborate this reporting concerning redacted] FLYNN, including inquiries with other foreign intelligence agencies. BARNETT found the idea FLYNN could leave an event, either by himself or [redacted] without the matter being noted was not plausible. With nothing to corroborate the story, BARNETT thought he information was not accurate.

Later on, Barnett seems to make an effort to spin his inclusion of the Lokhova information in the closing memo as an attempt to help Flynn, describing,

BARNETT wanted to include information obtained during the investigation, including non-derogatory information. BARNETT wanted to include [redacted] specifically [redacted] FLYNN. The [redacted] and FLYNN were only in the same country, [redacted], the same time on one occasion and at that time they were visiting different cities.

That is, something in the closing memo that has been spun as an attack on Flynn he here spins as an attempt to include non-derogatory information, to help Flynn.

I find it curious that the main reason Barnett dismissed this allegation is because he found it implausible that a 30-year intelligence officer would know how to leave a meeting unnoticed. But let it be noted that for over a year, Sidney Powell has suggested that chasing down this tip was malicious targeting of Flynn, and it turns out a pro-Trump agent is the one who chased it down.

In many places, Barnett’s narrative is a muddle. For example, early in his interview, he said that he worked closely with Analyst 1 and Analyst 2. Analyst 2 worked on the Manafort investigation. Barnett had to get the Flynn files from Analyst 1, suggesting Analyst 1 had a key role in that investigation. But then later in the interview, after explaining that Analyst 1, “believed the investigation was an exercise in futility,” Barnett then said that Analyst 3 “was the lead analyst on RAZOR.” Barnett described that Analyst 3 was “‘a believer’ due to his conviction FLYNN was involved in illegal activity,” but also described that Analyst 3 was the one who didn’t want to interview Flynn. But then Barnett explains several other people who did not want to interview Flynn, in part because the pretense Barnett wanted to use (that it was part of a security clearance) was transparently false.

Barnett then explains that he did not change his opinion about whether Flynn was compromised based on reading the transcript (it’s unclear whether he read just one or all of them) of Flynn’s call with Kislyak. He explained that he “did not see a potential LOGAN ACT violation as a major issue concerning the RAZOR investigation.”

There are several points about this request. First, Jeffrey Jensen is taking a line agent’s opinion about a crime as pertinent here, after Billy Barr went on a rant the other day about how line agents and prosecutors don’t decide these things (showing the hypocrisy of this entire exercise). Barnett’s account undermines the disinformation spread before that the Logan Act claim came from Joe Biden, disinformation which Jensen himself wrongly fed.  Significantly, Barnett does not appear to have been asked whether he thought the transcripts meant he had to investigate further. 

Barnett says “in hindsight” he believes he was cut out of the interview of Flynn, based solely on the norm that normally “a line agent/case agent would do the interview with a senior FBI official present in cases concerning high ranking political officials.” He doesn’t consider the possibility that Joe Pientka did it because he had been in the counterintelligence briefing with Flynn the previous summer, which is what the DOJ IG Report said.

He then says “There was another reorganization of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation after the 1/24/17 interview of Flynn. This conflicts, somewhat, with both the org charts Michael Horowitz did, but also texts already released showing the reorg started in the first days of January (though the texts are consistent with the initial plan for Barnett and Andy McCabe to interview Flynn and I don’t necessarily trust the DOJ IG Report over Barnett), but that was before a lot else happened.

Only after describing a post-interview reorganization does Barnett raise something that all the public record says happened earlier, that, “The FBI was reacting to articles being reported in the news, most notably an article written by Ignatius concerning [redacted] involving FLYNN to a Russian Ambassador.” But even here, Barnett does not talk (nor does he appear to have been asked) about Flynn lying to the press about the intercepts. In other words, Jensen’s investigators simply didn’t address what every single witness says was the most important factor at play in the decision to interview Flynn, his public lies about the calls with Kislyak.

In one place, Barnett claims that “base-line NSLs” were filed “after the article by Ignatius,” which would put it in mid-January, before the interview. Later, he says that “In February 2017, NSLs were being drafted with [SA3] instructing BARNETT what needed to be done,” putting it after Flynn obviously lied in his interview. At best, that suggests Barnett is eliding the timeline in ways that (again) don’t deal with the risk of Flynn’s public lies about the Kislyak call.

Barnett then claims that McCabe was running this (in spite of the involvement of SA3 and his earlier report — and Horowitz’s org chart, not to mention other evidence documents already released — showing the continued involvement of Strzok). Barnett also backed getting NSLs in early 2017, and even insisted, again, that they should have been obtained earlier. Jensen appears to be making a big deal out of the fact that Kevin Clinesmith approved the NSLs against Flynn in 2017.

BARNETT said he sent an e-mail to CLINESMITH on 02/01/2017 asking CLINESMITH about whether the predication information was acceptable, as it was the same information provided on the original NSL request in 2016. CLINESMITH told BARNETT the information was acceptable and could be used for additional NSLs.

There’s a lot that’s suspect about this line of questioning, not least that the predicate for the investigation as a whole was different than the one for Flynn. But I’m sure we’ll hear more about it.

A Strzok annotation of a NYT article that Lindsey Graham released makes it clear that by February 14, 2017, the FBI still hadn’t obtained the returns from most of the NSLs.

Barnett seems to suggest that as new information came in “in BARNETT’s opinion, no evidence of criminal activity and no information that would start a new investigative direction.” If he’s referring to call records (which is what the NSLs would have obtained) that is, frankly, shocking, as the call records would have shown that Flynn also lied about being in touch with Mar-a-Lago before calling Kislyak. It’s what Flynn was trying to hide with his lies! And yet Barnett says that was not suspect.

Then Barnett moved onto the Mueller team. He starts his discussion with another self-contradictory paragraph.

BARNETT was told to give a brief on FLYNN to a group including SCO attorney Jean Rhee (RHEE), [four other people], and possibly [a fifth] BARNETT said he briefly went over the RAZOR investigation, including the assessment that there was no evidence of a crime, and then started to discuss [redacted — probably Manafort] which BARNETT thought was the more significant investigation. RHEE stopped BARNETT’s briefing [redacted] and asked questions concerning the RAZOR investigation. RHEE wanted to “drill down” on the fees FLYNN was paid for a speech FLYNN gave in Russia. BARNETT explained logical reasons for the amount of the fee, but RHEE seemed to dismiss BARNETT’s assessment. BARNETT thought RHEE was obsessed with FLYNN and Russia and she had an agenda. RHEE told BARNETT she was looking forward to working together. BARNETT told RHEE they would not be working together.

First, by his own description, Barnett was asked to brief on Flynn, not on Manafort (or anyone else); he was still working Flynn and not (if Horowitz’s org chart is to be trusted) involved anymore with Manafort at all. So if he deviated from that, he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do in the briefing, which might explain why people in the briefing asked him to return to the matter at hand, Flynn. Furthermore, in much of what comes later, Barnett claims the prosecutors overrode the agents (in spite of the fact that, as shown, the final conclusion of the report sided with Barnett). But Barnett here shows that from his very first meeting with Mueller prosecutors, he was the one being bossy, not the prosecutors.

Update: I’ve since learned that the redacted information pertains to the Flynn Turkey case. The point about Rhee still stands, however. Rhee was in charge of the Russian side of the investigation. She asked questions about the Russian side of the investigation. She was polite and professional. He responded by being an abusive dick. What this paragraph shows is that Barnett has a workplace behavior problem, and he used his own workplace behavior problem to try to attack the female colleague he was being an asshole to.

Barnett’s continued complaints about Rhee (and Weissmann) are nutty given that, as a Flynn agent, he wouldn’t have been working with them.

Barnett claims that,

In March or April 2017, Crossfire Hurricane went through another reorganization. All of the investigations were put together.

The timing coincides with, but the structure does not match, what appears in the Carter Page IG Report (though, again, I don’t necessarily assume DOJ IG got it right).

Then Barnett makes a claim that conflicts with a great deal of public facts:

On 05/09/2017, COMEY was fired which seemed to trigger a significant amount of activity regarding Crossfire Hurricane. Carter Page was interviewed three times and PAPADOPOULOS was also interviewed. Both investigations seemed to be nearing an end with nothing left to pursue. the MANAFORT case was moved from an investigative squad to a counter intelligence squad [redacted] The Crossfire Hurricane investigations seemed to be winding down.

The appointment of the SCO changed “everything.”

At least according to the Horowitz org chart, these weren’t his investigations. A list of interviews shows that FBI had not interviewed the witnesses to Carter Page’s trip before June 2017 (though it is true that the investigation into him was winding down). The details of the Papadopoulos investigation would have shown that it was after at least the first (and given the Strzok note about NSLs) after probably several more interviews before the FBI discovered that Papadopoulos tried to hide extensive contacts with Russians by deactivating his Facebook account. Mueller didn’t even obtain Papadopoulos’ Linked In account until July 7, 2017, and that was just the second warrant obtained by Mueller’s prosecutors, almost three months after he was appointed; that warrant would have disclosed Papadopoulos’ ties to Sergei Millian and further contacts with the Russians. Some of the earliest activity in the investigation pertain to Michael Cohen (in an investigation predicated off of SARs), with the Roger Stone investigation barely beginning in August, neither of which are included in Barnett’s comments. And Barnett makes no mention of the June 9 meeting, discovered only as a result of Congress’ investigations, which drove some of the early investigative steps.

Which is to say, the evidence seems to have changed everything. And yet he says it was Mueller.

And yes, Jim Comey’s firing is part of that. But as to that, Barnett has this ridiculous thing to say:

As another example [of a “get Trump” attitude] BARNETT said the firing of FBI Director COMEY was interpreted as obstruction when it could just as easily have been done because TRUMP did not like COMEY and wanted him replaced.

Well, sure, in the absence of the evidence that might be true. But not when you had Comey’s memos that described how, first of all, Trump had committed to keeping Comey on (meaning he didn’t not like Comey!) but afterwards had tried to intervene in an ongoing investigation. It’s possible Barnett did not know that in real time — it wasn’t his investigation — but it’s not a credible opinion given what is in the memos.

Barnett also claims, as part of his “proof” that people wanted to get Trump that,

Concerning FLYNN, some individuals in the SCO assumed FLYNN was lying to cover up collusion between the TRUMP campaign and Russia. BARNETT believed Flynn lied in the interview to save his job, as that was the most plausible explanation and there was no evidence to contradict it.

Yes. There is evidence. The evidence is that Flynn’s lies hid his consultations with Mar-a-Lago, about which he also lied.

In a passage similarly suggesting that KT McFarland told the same lies that Flynn did because she wanted to get the Singapore job, Barnett seems to refer to (and DOJ seems to have redacted) a reference to Brandon Van Grack (who is the only Mueller prosecutor whose name would span two lines).

If that is, indeed, a reference to Van Grack, then it means DOJ is hiding evidence that Van Grack (along with Strzok) was not biased against Flynn.

Note, too, that Barnett doesn’t reveal that McFarland only unforgot her conversations with Flynn after Flynn pled guilty, which has a significant bearing on how credible that un-forgetting was. Nor does he note that Mueller didn’t charge McFarland with lying. The Mueller Report almost certainly has a declination description for why they didn’t charge McFarland, which (if true), would make a second thing where Barnett’s minority opinion had been determinative for the actual report, in spite of his claim that the prosecutors were running everything.

Finally, the 302 notes that Barnett was asked about whether he “wiped” his own phone.

BARNETT had a cellular telephone issued by the SCO which he did not “wipe.” BARNETT did hear other agents “comically” talk about wiping cellular telephones, but was not aware of anyone “wiping” their issued cellular telephones. BARNETT said one agent had a telephone previously issued to STRZOK.

If this were even a half serious investigation, Barnett would have been asked to back that claim with names. He was not.

What Billy Barr and Jeffrey Jensen have done is show that the only witness they’ve found to corroborate their claims can’t keep his story straight from one paragraph to another, and claims to be ignorant of several central pieces of evidence against Flynn.

That’s all they have.


Given that this post takes such a harsh view on Barnett, reminder I went to the FBI in 2017 regarding someone with no ties to Trump but who sent me a text about (and denigrating) Flynn.

Why a Clinton Foundation/Crossfire Hurricane Comparison Might Backfire

Billy Barr has suggested a couple of times that if Trump wins, he’ll shut down the Durham inquiry.

A story from NYT may provide some insight as to why (and also might explain why Nora Dannehy resigned). John Durham is comparing the decisions made on the Clinton Foundation investigation with those made on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

Mr. Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut assigned by Mr. Barr to review the Russia inquiry, has sought documents and interviews about how federal law enforcement officials handled an investigation around the same time into allegations of political corruption at the Clinton Foundation, according to people familiar with the matter.

As NYT explains it, the basis of comparison is that when FBI agents tried to use the Clinton Cash book to get a subpoena, they were shot down, whereas the FBI did use oppo research — the Steele dossier — to get the Carter Page FISA.

The allegations against Mrs. Clinton were advanced in the book “Clinton Cash,” by Peter Schweizer, a senior editor at large at Breitbart News, the right-wing outlet once controlled by Mr. Trump’s former top aide Stephen K. Bannon. The book contained multiple errors, and the foundation has dismissed its allegations.

But the book caught the attention of F.B.I. agents, who viewed some of its contents as additional justification to obtain a subpoena for foundation records.

Top Justice Department officials denied a request in 2016 from senior F.B.I. managers in Washington to secure a subpoena, determining that the bureau lacked a sufficient basis for it and that the book had a political agenda, former officials said. Some prosecutors at the time felt the book had been discredited.

The decision frustrated some agents who believed they had enough evidence beyond the book, including a discussion that touched on the foundation and was captured on a wiretap in an unrelated investigation. Other F.B.I. officials at the time believed the conversation’s relevance to the foundation case was tenuous at best.

The disagreement erupted anew later in the summer of 2016, when a top Justice Department official suspected that F.B.I. agents in New York were trying to persuade federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to authorize a subpoena after the department’s officials in Washington had declined such a request. By the time the F.B.I. officials revisited the issue, the Justice Department officials were also concerned that serving subpoenas would violate the practice of avoiding such investigative activity so close to an election.

One obvious conclusion from this might be that, had the FBI vetted the Steele dossier the way they did the Clinton Cash book, they would have discovered problems and not obtained the application. (Never mind that the FBI was targeting a guy who might have been and later on did victimize Trump by claiming he represented him on Ukrainian matters, rather than Trump himself.)

It’s a fair point, if you ignore that Christopher Steele was an established informant.

But the comparison could also backfire in spectacular fashion.

After all, after multiple Inspector General reviews, Michael Horowitz never found proof that any political bias from Peter Strzok or others influenced an investigative decision. He did, however, show that the FBI agent running an informant on the Clinton Foundation was biased.

We reviewed the text and instant messages sent and received by the Handling Agent, the co-case Handling Agent, and the SSA for this CHS, which reflect their support for Trump in the 2016 elections. On November 9, the day after the election, the SSA contacted another FBI employee via an instant messaging program to discuss some recent CHS reporting regarding the Clinton Foundation and offered that “if you hear talk of a special prosecutor .. .I will volunteer to work [on] the Clinton Foundation.” The SSA’s November 9, 2016 instant messages also stated that he “was so elated with the election” and compared the election coverage to “watching a Superbowl comeback.” The SSA explained this comment to the OIG by saying that he “fully expected Hillary Clinton to walk away with the election. But as the returns [came] in … it was just energizing to me to see …. [because] I didn’t want a criminal to be in the White House.”

On November 9, 2016, the Handling Agent and co-case Handling Agent for this CHS also discussed the results of the election in an instant message exchange that reads:

Handling Agent: “Trump!”

Co-Case Handling Agent: “Hahaha. Shit just got real.”

Handling Agent: “Yes it did.”

Co-Case Handling Agent: “I saw a lot of scared MFers on … [my way to work] this morning. Start looking for new jobs fellas. Haha.”

Handling Agent: “LOL”

Co-Case Handling Agent: “Come January I’m going to just get a big bowl of popcorn and sit back and watch.”

Handling Agent: “That’s hilarious!” [my emphasis]

And, as Peter Strzok has said repeatedly, had he really wanted to sabotage Trump’s election, he would have leaked details of the investigation, particularly after, in August 2016, he was shot down in his effort to investigate more aggressively by doing things like issue a subpoena.

In precisely the same situation, the Clinton Foundation Agents did leak details of the investigation, and in fact did have an effect on the election.

Hell, if Durham were allowed to continue down this path of comparison, we might finally figure out which New York Field Office were leaking rampantly during the election, leading to promises of indictments on Fox News.

“The Buck Stops at the Top:” In January, Bill Barr’s DOJ Decided the Correct Decision Was to Send Mike Flynn to Prison

I’d like to make one more point about Billy Barr’s rant last night. Over and over again, Barr suggested that line prosecutors have been making hyper-aggressive decisions that the Department of Justice cannot answer for and that his involvement simply amounts to ensuring that the decisions DOJ makes are ones he’s willing to take responsibility for.

Indeed, aside from the importance of not fully decoupling law enforcement from the constraining and moderating forces of politics, devolving all authority down to the most junior officials does not even make sense as a matter of basic management.  Name one successful organization where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct.  There aren’t any.  Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.  Good leaders at the Justice Department—as at any organization—need to trust and support their subordinates.  But that does not mean blindly deferring to whatever those subordinates want to do.

This is what Presidents, the Congress, and the public expect.  When something goes wrong at the Department of Justice, the buck stops at the top.  28 U.S.C. § 509 could not be plainer:  “All functions of other officers of the Department of Justice and all functions of agencies and employees of the Department of Justice are vested in the Attorney General.”

And because I am ultimately accountable for every decision the Department makes, I have an obligation to ensure we make the correct ones.  The Attorney General, the Assistant Attorneys General, and the U.S. Attorneys are not figureheads selected for their good looks and profound eloquence.

They are supervisors.  Their job is to supervise.   Anything less is an abdication.

To the extent Barr is talking about the Mueller investigation, every single prosecutorial decision was reviewed by Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. For those decisions, then, Barr’s not actually talking about decisions made by line prosecutors. He’s talking about decisions overseen by someone vested, like him, with all the authority of DOJ.

For precisely the reason Barr lays out — that DOJ must be able to answer for things DOJ does — it’s highly unusual for DOJ to flip-flop on prosecutorial decisions that past Attorneys General have approved.

But with one action in the Mike Flynn prosecution — possibly one he thought of when he invoked probation sentences in one of his last paragraphs — Barr’s interventions into the cases of Donald Trump’s flunkies is far worse than that.

In short, it is important for prosecutors at the Department of Justice to understand that their mission — above all others — is to do justice.  That means following the letter of the law, and the spirit of fairness.  Sometimes that will mean investing months or years in an investigation and then concluding it without criminal charges.  Other times it will mean aggressively prosecuting a person through trial and then recommending a lenient sentence, perhaps even one with no incarceration.

In moving to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution, Barr was overriding a decision he himself had approved of. In January, DOJ called for prison time for Flynn, citing the materiality of his lies and his abuse of trust.

The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct. Similarly situated defendants have received terms of imprisonment.

Public office is a public trust. The defendant made multiple, material and false statements and omissions, to several DOJ entities, while serving as the President’s National Security Advisor and a senior member of the Presidential Transition Team. As the government represented to the Court at the initial sentencing hearing, the defendant’s offense was serious. See Gov’t Sent’g Mem. at 2; 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 32 (the Court explaining that “[t]his crime is very serious”).

The integrity of our criminal justice depends on witnesses telling the truth. That is precisely why providing false statements to the government is a crime. As the Supreme Court has noted:

In this constitutional process of securing a witness’ testimony, perjury simply has no place whatsoever. Perjured testimony is an obvious and flagrant affront to the basic concepts of judicial proceedings. Effective restraints against this type of egregious offense are therefore imperative. The power of subpoena, broad as it is, and the power of contempt for refusing to answer, drastic as that is — and even the solemnity of the oath — cannot insure truthful answers. Hence, Congress has made the giving of false answers a criminal act punishable by severe penalties; in no other way can criminal conduct be flushed into the open where the law can deal with it.

United States v. Mandujano, 425 U.S. 564, 576 (1975); see also Nix v. Whiteside, 457 U.S. 157, 185 (1986) (“[t]his Court long ago noted: ‘All perjured relevant testimony is at war with justice, since it may produce a judgment not resting on truth.’”) (quoting In re Michael, 326 U.S. 224, 227 (1945)). All persons carry that solemn obligation to tell the truth, especially to the FBI.

The defendant’s repeated failure to fulfill his obligation to tell the truth merits a sentence within the applicable Guidelines range. As the Court has already found, his false statements to the FBI were material, regardless of the FBI’s knowledge of the substance of any of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. See Mem. Opinion at 51-52. The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. For similar reasons, the defendant’s false statements in his FARA filings were serious. His false statements and omissions deprived the public and the Trump Administration of the opportunity to learn about the Government of Turkey’s covert efforts to influence policy and opinion, including its efforts to remove a person legally residing in the United States.

The defendant’s conduct was more than just a series of lies; it was an abuse of trust. During the defendant’s pattern of criminal conduct, he was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General. He held a security clearance with access to the government’s most sensitive information. The only reason the Russian Ambassador contacted the defendant about the sanctions is because the defendant was the incoming National Security Advisor, and thus would soon wield influence and control over the United States’ foreign policy. That is the same reason the defendant’s fledgling company was paid over $500,000 to work on issues for Turkey. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it.

This was no decision made by rogue line prosecutors, Brandon Van Grack and Jocelyn Ballantine. In December, Jessie Liu signed a request for an extension so that the “multiple individuals and entities” that had to approve the new sentencing recommendation could do so.

There are multiple individuals and entities who must review and approve the government’s submission, including any changes from the government’s prior sentencing memorandum and its specific sentencing recommendations.

And then again in January, Jessie Liu got an extension so the “multiple individuals and entities” who had to review the sentencing memo could do so.

As the government represented in its initial motion, there are multiple individuals and entities who must review and approve the government’s submission, including any changes from the government’s prior sentencing memorandum and its specific sentencing recommendations. The government has worked assiduously over the holidays to complete this task, but we find that we require an additional 24 hours to do so.

Bill Barr says he is responsible for making the correct decision, and his DOJ reviewed the decision to imprison Mike Flynn at length. Taking him at his word, that means Bill Barr believed, in January, knowing all the details that were “new” to Timothy Shea when he wrote his motion to dismiss, but not new to Michael Horowitz and John Durham, who had already reviewed them, that the correct decision was to send Mike Flynn to prison.

It’s bad enough that Barr has repeatedly refused to stand by decisions made by others imbued with the authority of the entire DOJ under 28 U.S.C. § 509.

But Bill Barr won’t even stand by his past decisions.

Aaron Zelinsky

Beware DOJ Inspectors General Bearing Investigations, Aaron Zelinsky Edition

When DOJ IG got evidence, in the form of Jim Comey’s memos documenting that every safeguard against White House interference in DOJ and FBI investigations had broken down, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz instead investigated whether Comey had mishandled classified information, ultimately referring Comey for prosecution.

When FBI Inspection Division got evidence that someone kept leaking false information to Sara Carter claiming Andrew McCabe had promised to “fuck Trump,” it turned into a DOJ IG investigation into whether McCabe had lied. After withholding the evidence of a key witness, Michael Kortan, the IG Report was used to justify the firing of McCabe.

When DOJ IG conducted an investigation into the leaks and conduct of various FBI Agents, it ended up being a report that exclusively reported on anti-Trump texts from Agents, and not pro-Trump leaks and texts — it even provided misleading graphics that falsely suggested only anti-Trump leaks happened. That led to the disclosure, during an investigation, of those texts, and ultimately to Peter Strzok’s firing.

That’s why I’m wary about the NBC report today that DOJ’s Inspector General is investigating the Roger Stone sentencing.

The Justice Department inspector general’s office has begun investigating the circumstances surrounding the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump’s, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The investigation is focused on events in February, according to the two sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Stone’s prosecutors have said that is when they were told to seek a lighter sentence than they had previously considered.

[snip]

A source familiar with the matter said comments Zelinsky made during his testimony triggered the inspector general’s office to open an investigation. It is not known how far the office has proceeded in its investigation, whom it has interviewed or whether it has found any evidence of wrongdoing.

That’s particularly true given Kerri Kupec’s confidence — in a statement to Politico’s Josh Gerstein — that Billy Barr’s DOJ welcomes this review.

A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed that the agency’s Office of Inspector General is looking into Barr’s move in February to seek a lighter sentence for Stone after rank-and-file prosecutors and an acting U.S. attorney hand-picked by Barr had already submitted a recommendation of seven to nine years in prison for the conservative provocateur, who has been a political sounding board for Trump for more than two decades.

“We welcome the review,” a department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said on Monday evening.

Gerstein further notes that this probe did not come with an announcement to HJC.

In the past, Horowitz has written to members of Congress to confirm that he has launched inquiries in high-profile cases in which lawmakers demanded a review. It was not immediately clear why Horowitz was being more tight-lipped about the investigation into the Stone sentencing decision.

Even aside from past history and the warning sign that Gerstein notes, there’s one more reason to believe that Horowitz’ IG Report will once against serve to damage — if not provide an excuse to fire — someone who investigated Trump.

DOJ IG cannot investigate the actions lawyers take as lawyers. And virtually everything Aaron Zelinsky testified to in the House Judiciary Committee hearing pertains to actions Barr flunky Timothy Shea and others took as lawyers. Moreover, during the hearing, Jim Jordan made a point to get Zelinsky to name precisely who he claimed had accused Barr of politicized decisions. By the end of the hearing, Republicans were claiming that those people had not said what Zelinsky claimed.

DOJ IG can’t investigate why Timothy Shea engaged in unprecedented interference in sentencing. It can, however, investigate whether Zelinsky’s testimony matches that of more complicit supervisors in the DC US Attorney Office. And that’s what’s likely to happen.

Catherine Herridge Attempts to Relaunch Bullshit Conspiracies Answered by Peter Strzok’s Book

I hope to write a post arguing that Peter Strzok’s book came out at least six months too late.

But for the moment, I want to float the possibility that Nora Dannehy — John Durham’s top aide — quit last Friday at least in part because she read parts of Strzok’s book and realized there were really compelling answers to questions that have been floating unasked — and so unanswered — for years.

High-gaslighter Catherine Herridge raises questions already answered about Crossfire Hurricane opening

Yesterday, the Trump Administration’s favorite mouthpiece for Russian investigation conspiracies, Catherine Herridge, got out her high-gaslighter to relaunch complaints about facts that have been public (and explained) for years.

Citing an unnamed “former senior FBI Agent” and repeating the acronym “DIOG” over and over to give her high-gaslighting the patina of news value, she pointed to the fact that Strzok both opened and signed off on the Electronic Communication opening Crossfire Hurricane, then suggested — falsely — that because Loretta Lynch was not briefed no one at DOJ was. It’s pure gaslighting, but useful because it offers a good read on which aspects of Russian investigation conspiracies those feeding the conspiracies feel need to be shored up.

Note, even considering just the ECs opening investigations, Herridge commits the same lapses that former senior FBI Agent Kevin Brock made in this piece. I previously showed how the EC for Mike Flynn addresses the claimed problems. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Herridge’s anonymous former senior FBI Agent is making the same errors I already corrected when former senior FBI Agent Kevin Brock made them in May.

All that said, I take from Herridge’s rant that her sources want to refocus attention on how Crossfire Hurricane was opened.

Peter Strzok never got asked (publicly) about how the investigation got opened

As it happens, that’s a question that Strzok had not publicly addressed in any of his prior testimony.

Strzok was not interviewed by HPSCI.

Strzok was interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on November 17, 2017. But they don’t appear to have asked Strzok about the investigation itself or much beyond the Steele dossier; all six references to his transcript describe how the FBI vetted the Steele dossier.

Deputy Assistant Director Pete Strzok, at that point the lead for FBI’ s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, told the Committee that his team became aware of the Steele information in September 2016. He said, “We were so compartmented in what we were doing, [the Steele reporting] kind of bounced around a little bit,” also, in part, because [redacted] and Steele did not normally report on counterintelligence matters. 5952 Strzok said that the information was “certainly very much in line with things we were looking at” and “added to the body of knowledge of what we were doing.”5953

Peter Strzok explained that generally the procedure for a “human validation review” is for FBI’ s Directorate of Intelligence to analyze an asset’s entire case file, looking at the reporting history, the circumstances of recruitment, their motivation, and their compensation history.6005 Strzok recalled that the result was “good to continue; that there were not significant concerns, certainly nothing that would indicate that he was compromised or feeding us disinformation or he was a bad asset.”6006 However, Strzok also said that after learning that reporters and Congress had Steele’s information:

[FBI] started looking into why he was assembling [the dossier], who his clients were, what the basis of their interest was, and how they might have used it, and who would know, it was apparent to us that this was not a piece of information simply provided to the FBI in the classic sense of a kind of a confidential source reporting relationship, but that it was all over the place. 6007

[snip]

Strzok said that, starting in September 2016, “there were people, agents and analysts, whose job specifically it was to figure this out and to do that with a sense of urgency.”6021

Strzok was also interviewed in both a closed hearing and an open hearing in the joint House Judiciary and House Oversight investigations into whatever Mark Meadows wanted investigated. The closed hearing addressed how the investigation got opened, but an FBI minder was there to limit how he answered those questions, citing the Mueller investigation. And even there, the questions largely focused on whether Strzok’s political bias drove the opening of the investigation.

Mr. Swalwell. Let me put it this way, Mr. Strzok: Is it fair to say that, aside from the opinions that you expressed to Ms. Page about Mr. Trump, there was a whole mountain of evidence independent of anything you had done that related to actions that were concerning about what the Russians and the Trump campaign were doing?

Ms. Besse. So, Congressman, that may go into sort of the — that will — for Mr. Strzok to answer that question, that goes into the special counsel’s investigation, so I don’t think he can answer that question.

Even more of the questions focused on the decision to reopen the Clinton investigation days before the election.

To the extent that the open hearing, which was a predictable circus, addressed the opening of Crossfire Hurricane at all (again, there was more focus on Clinton), it involved Republicans trying to invent feverish meaning in Strzok’s texts, not worthwhile oversight questions about the bureaucratic details surrounding the opening.

The DOJ IG Report backs the Full Investigation predication but doesn’t explain individual predication

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page does address how the investigation got opened. It includes a long narrative about the unanimity about the necessity of investigating the Australian tip (though in this section, it does not cite Strzok).

From July 28 to July 31, officials at FBI Headquarters discussed the FFG information and whether it warranted opening a counterintelligence investigation. The Assistant Director (AD) for CD, E.W. “Bill” Priestap, was a central figure in these discussions. According to Priestap, he discussed the matter with then Section Chief of CD’s Counterespionage Section Peter Strzok, as well as the Section Chief of CD’s Counterintelligence Analysis Section I (Intel Section Chief); and with representatives of the FBI’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC), including Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson and a unit chief (OGC Unit Chief) in OGC’s National Security and Cyber Law Branch (NSCLB). Priestap told us that he also discussed the matter with either then Deputy Director (DD) Andrew McCabe or then Executive Assistant Director (EAD) Michael Steinbach, but did not recall discussing the matter with then Director James Comey told the OIG that he did not recall being briefed on the FFG information until after the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was opened, and that he was not involved in the decision to open the case. McCabe said that although he did not specifically recall meeting with Comey immediately after the FFG information was received, it was “the kind of thing that would have been brought to Director Comey’s attention immediately.” McCabe’s contemporaneous notes reflect that the FFG information, Carter Page, and Manafort, were discussed on July 29, after a regularly scheduled morning meeting of senior FBI leadership with the Director. Although McCabe told us he did not have an independent recollection of this discussion, he told us that, based upon his notes, this discussion likely included the Director. McCabe’s notes reflect only the topic of the discussion and not the substance of what was discussed. McCabe told us that he recalled discussing the FFG information with Priestap, Strzok, then Special Counsel to the Deputy Director Lisa Page, and Comey, sometime before Crossfire Hurricane was opened, and he agreed with opening a counterintelligence investigation based on the FFG information. He told us the decision to open the case was unanimous.

McCabe said the FBI viewed the FFG information in the context of Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections in the years and months prior, as well as the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the DNC hack by a Russian Intelligence Service (RIS). He also said that when the FBI received the FFG information it was a “tipping point” in terms of opening a counterintelligence investigation regarding Russia’s attempts to influence and interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections because not only was there information that Russia was targeting U.S. political institutions, but now the FBI had received an allegation from a trusted partner that there had been some sort of contact between the Russians and the Trump campaign. McCabe said that he did not recall any discussion about whether the FFG information constituted sufficient predication for opening a Full Investigation, as opposed to a Preliminary Investigation, but said that his belief at the time, based on his experience, was that the FFG information was adequate predication. 167

According to Priestap, he authorized opening the Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016, based upon these discussions. He told us that the FFG information was provided by a trusted source-the FFG–and he therefore felt it “wise to open an investigation to look into” whether someone associated with the Trump campaign may have accepted the reported offer from the Russians. Priestap also told us that the combination of the FFG information and the FBI’s ongoing cyber intrusion investigation of the DNC hacks created a counterintelligence concern that the FBI was “obligated” to investigate. Priestap said that he did not recall any disagreement about the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane, and told us that he was not pressured to open the case.

It includes a discussion explaining why FBI decided against defensive briefings — a key complaint from Republicans. Here’s the explanation Bill Priestap gave.

While the Counterintelligence Division does regularly provide defensive briefings to U.S. government officials or possible soon to be officials, in my experience, we do this when there is no indication, whatsoever, that the person to whom we would brief could be working with the relevant foreign adversary. In other words, we provide defensive briefings when we obtain information indicating a foreign adversary is trying or will try to influence a specific U.S. person, and when there is no indication that the specific U.S. person could be working with the adversary. In regard to the information the [FFG] provided us, we had no indication as to which person in the Trump campaign allegedly received the offer from the Russians. There was no specific U.S. person identified. We also had no indication, whatsoever, that the person affiliated with the Trump campaign had rejected the alleged offer from the Russians. In fact, the information we received indicated that Papadopoulos told the [FFG] he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and Papadopoulos commented that the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign. While Papadopoulos didn’t say where the Trump team had received the “material,” one could reasonably infer that some of the material might have come from the Russians. Had we provided a defensive briefing to someone on the Trump campaign, we would have alerted the campaign to what we were looking into, and, if someone on the campaign was engaged with the Russians, he/she would very likely change his/her tactics and/or otherwise seek to cover-up his/her activities, thereby preventing us from finding the truth. On the other hand, if no one on the Trump campaign was working with the Russians, an investigation could prove that. Because the possibility existed that someone on the Trump campaign could have taken the Russians up on their offer, I thought it wise to open an investigation to look into the situation.

It even explained how, by its read, the investigation met the terms of the DIOG for a Full Investigation.

Under Section 11.B.3 of the AG Guidelines and Section 7 of the DIOG, the FBI may open a Full Investigation if there is an “articulable factual basis” that reasonably indicates one of the following circumstances exists:

  • An activity constituting a federal crime or a threat to the national security has or may have occurred, is or may be occurring, or will or may occur and the investigation may obtain information relating to the activity or the involvement or role of an individual, group, or organization in such activity;
  • An individual, group, organization, entity, information, property, or activity is or may be a target of attack, victimization, acquisition, infiltration, or recruitment in connection with criminal activity in violation of federal law or a threat to the national security and the investigation may obtain information that would help to protect against such activity or threat; or
  • The investigation may obtain foreign intelligence that is responsive to a requirement that the FBI collect positive foreign intelligence-i.e., information relating to the capabilities, intentions, or activities of foreign governments or elements thereof, foreign organizations or foreign persons, or international terrorists.

The DIOG provides examples of information that is sufficient to initiate a Full Investigation, including corroborated information from an intelligence agency stating that an individual is a member of a terrorist group, or a threat to a specific individual or group made on a blog combined with additional information connecting the blogger to a known terrorist group. 45 A Full Investigation may be opened if there is an “articulable factual basis” of possible criminal or national threat activity. When opening a Full Investigation, an FBI employee must certify that an authorized purpose and adequate predication exist; that the investigation is not based solely on the exercise of First Amendment rights or certain characteristics of the subject, such as race, religion, national origin, or ethnicity; and that the investigation is an appropriate use of personnel and financial resources. The factual predication must be documented in an electronic communication (EC) or other form, and the case initiation must be approved by the relevant FBI personnel, which, in most instances, can be a Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) in a field office or at Headquarters. As described in more detail below, if an investigation is designated as a Sensitive Investigative Matter, that designation must appear in the caption or heading of the opening EC, and special approval requirements apply.

Importantly, per Michael Horowitz’s own description of the dispute, this is the topic about which John Durham disagreed. Durham reportedly believed it should have been opened as a Preliminary Investigation — but that would not have changed the investigative techniques available (and there was already a Full Investigation into Carter Page and Paul Manafort).

After first making the same error that Durham did in the Kevin Clinesmith, eleven days after publishing the report, DOJ IG corrected it to note the full implication of Crossfire Hurricane being opened as a counterintelligence investigation, implicating both FARA and 18 USC 951 Foreign Agent charges.

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by CD and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), 22 U.S.C. § 611, et seq., and 18 U.S.C. § 951 (Agents of Foreign Governments). 170 As described in Chapter Two, the AG Guidelines recognize that activities subject to investigation as “threats to the national security” may also involve violations or potential violations of federal criminal laws, or may serve important purposes outside the ambit of normal criminal investigation and prosecution by informing national security decisions. Given such potential overlap in subject matter, neither the AG Guidelines nor the DIOG require the FBI to differently label its activities as criminal investigations, national security investigations, or foreign intelligence collections. Rather, the AG Guidelines state that, where an authorized purpose exists, all of the FBI’s legal authorities are available for deployment in all cases to which they apply.

And it provided this short description of why Strzok opened the investigation.

After Priestap authorized the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, Strzok, with input from the OGC Unit Chief, drafted and approved the opening EC. 175 Strzok told us that the case agent normally drafts the opening EC for an investigation, but that Strzok did so for Crossfire Hurricane because a case agent was not yet assigned and there was an immediate need to travel to the European city to interview the FFG officials who had met with Papadopoulos.

Finally, the IG Report provides a description of how the FBI came to open investigations against Trump’s four flunkies, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, and — after a few days — Mike Flynn (though in the process, repeats but did not correct the error of calling this a FARA case).

Strzok, the Intel Section Chief, the Supervisory Intelligence Analyst (Supervisory Intel Analyst), and Case Agent 2 told the OIG that, based on this information, the initial investigative objective of Crossfire Hurricane was to determine which individuals associated with the Trump campaign may have been in a position to have received the alleged offer of assistance from Russia.

After conducting preliminary open source and FBI database inquiries, intelligence analysts on the Crossfire Hurricane team identified three individuals–Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn–associated with the Trump campaign with either ties to Russia or a history of travel to Russia. On August 10, 2016, the team opened separate counterintelligence FARA cases on Carter Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos, under code names assigned by the FBI. On August 16, 2016, a counterintelligence FARA case was opened on Flynn under a code name assigned by the FBI. The opening ECs for all four investigations were drafted by either of the two Special Agents assigned to serve as the Case Agents for the investigation (Case Agent 1 or Case Agent 2) and were approved by Strzok, as required by the DIOG. 178 Each case was designated a SIM because the individual subjects were believed to be “prominent in a domestic political campaign. “179

Obviously, the extended account of how the umbrella investigation and individual targeted ones got opened accounts for Strzok’s testimony, but usually relies on someone else where available. That may be because Horowitz walked into this report with a key goal of assessing whether Strzok took any step arising from political bias, and while he concluded that Strzok could not have taken any act based on bias, he ultimately did not conclude one way or another whether he believed Strzok let his hatred for Trump bias his decisions.

But at first, the account made errors about what FBI was really investigating. And even in the longer discussions about how FBI came to predicate the four individual investigations (which follow the cited passage), it doesn’t really explain how FBI decided to go from the umbrella investigation to individualized targets.

Strzok, UNSUB, and his packed bags

So Strzok’s book, as delayed as I think the publication of it is, is in substantial part the first time he gets to explain these early activities.

In a long discussion about how the case got opened, Strzok talks about the difficulties of a counterintelligence investigation, particularly one where you don’t know whom your subject is, as was the case here.

Another reason for secrecy in the FBI’s counterintelligence work is the fundamentally clandestine nature of what it is investigating. Like my work on the illegals in Boston, counterintelligence work frequently has nothing to do with criminal behavior. An espionage investigation, as the Bureau defines it, involves an alleged violation of law. But pure counterintelligence work is often removed from proving that a crime took place and identifying the perpetrator. It’s gaining an understanding of what a foreign intelligence service is doing, who it targets, the methods it uses, and what the national security implications are.

Making those cases even more complicated, agents often don’t even know the subject of a counterintelligence investigation. They have a term for that: an unknown subject, or UNSUB, which they use when an activity is known but the specific person conducting that activity is not — for instance, when they are aware that Russia is working to undermine our electoral system in concert with a presidential campaign but don’t know exactly who at that campaign Russia might be coordinating with or how many people might be involved.

To understand the challenges of an UNSUB case, consider the following three hypothetical scenarios. In one, a Russian source tells his American handler that, while out drinking at an SVR reunion, he learned that a colleague had just been promoted after a breakthrough recruitment of an American intelligence officer in Bangkok. We don’t know the identity of the recruited American — he or she is an UNSUB. A second scenario: a man and a woman out for a morning run in Washington see a figure toss a package over the fence of the Russian embassy and speed off in a four-door maroon sedan. An UNSUB.

Or consider this third scenario: a young foreign policy adviser to an American presidential campaign boasts to one of our allies that the Russians have offered to help his candidate by releasing damaging information about that candidate’s chief political rival. Who actually received the offer of assistance from the Russians? An UNSUB.

The typical approach to investigating UNSUB cases is to open a case into the broad allegation, an umbrella investigation that encompasses everything the FBI knows. The key to UNSUB investigations is to first build a reliable matrix of every element known about the allegation and then identify the universe of individuals who could fit that matrix. That may sound cut-and-dried, but make no mistake: while the methodology is straightforward, it’s rarely easy to identify the UNSUB.

[snip]

The FFG information about Papadopoulos presented us with a text- book UNSUB case. Who received the alleged offer of assistance from the Russians? Was it Papadopoulos? Perhaps, but not necessarily. We didn’t know about his contacts with Mifsud at the time — all we knew was that he had told the allied government that the Russians had dirt on Clinton and Obama and that they wanted to release it in a way that would help Trump.

So how did we determine who else needed to go into our matrix? And what did we know about the various sources of the information? Papadopoulos had allegedly stated it, but it was relayed by a third party. What did we know about both of them: their motivations, for instance, or the quality of their memories? What were the other ways we could determine whether the allegation was true?

And if it was true, how did we get to the bottom of it?

Having laid out the challenge that lay behind the four predications, Strzok then described the circumstances of the trip (with a big gaping hole in the discussion of meeting with the Australians).

He describes how he went home over the weekend, not knowing whether they would leave immediately or after the weekend. That’s why, he explained, he wrote the EC himself, specifically to have one in place before they flew to London.

I quickly briefed him on the facts and asked him to get a bag ready to go to Europe to do some interviews.

When are we leaving? he asked me.

No idea, I told him. Probably not until Monday, but I want to be ready to go tomorrow.

How long are we going for? he asked.

I don’t know, I admitted. A few days at most. I wasn’t sure if we would get to yes with our counterparts, but our sitting there in Europe would make it harder for them to say no.

I had work to do before we could depart. When I left the office on Friday, I grabbed my assigned take-home laptop, configured to operate at a classified level on our secure network.

[snip]

Sitting in my home office, I opened the work laptop and powered it up. The laptops were balky and wildly overpriced, requiring an arcane multi-step process to connect. They constantly dropped their secure connections. Throughout the D.C. suburbs, FBI agents flew into rages when the laptops quit cold while they were trying to work at home. Chinese or Russian intelligence would have been hard-pressed to develop a more infuriating product. Nevertheless, they let you work away from the office.

After logging in, I pulled up a browser and launched Sentinel, our electronic case file system. Selecting the macro for opening an investigation, I filled in the various fields until I reached the blank box for the case name.

They didn’t leave over the weekend, but they did leave on Monday. When they came back, having heard Alexander Downer’s side of the story (probably along with his aide, with whom Papadopoulos met and drank more with on multiple occasions, but that’s not in the book), it seemed a more credible tip.

And in the interim, analysts had found four possible candidates to be the UNSUB.

I was surprised by the amount of information the analysts had already found. Usually, because initial briefings take place at the very beginning of an investigation, they are short on facts and long on conjecture about all the various avenues we might pursue for information. In this case there were already a lot of facts, and several individuals—not just one—had already cropped up in other cases, in other intelligence collection, in other surveillance activity.
Although I was just hours back from Europe, what I saw was deeply dis- concerting. Though we were in the earliest stages of the investigation, our first examination of intelligence had revealed a wide breadth and volume of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was as if we had gone to search for a few rocks only to find ourselves in a field of boulders.

Within a week the team had highlighted several people who stood out as potentially matching the UNSUB who had received the Russian offer of assistance. As we developed information, each person went into the UNSUB matrix, with tick marks next to the matching descriptors.

All this description is surely not going to satisfy Republicans. Nor was it under oath or to law enforcement officers, as Strzok’s other testimony was.

But it’s a compelling description.

It also adds perspective onto the treatment of Mike Flynn. Until they learned about Papadopoulos’ ties with Joseph Mifsud, they still had no clues about who got the tip. Mike Flynn had been eliminated for lack of evidence — but then he picked up a phone and provided the FBI a whole lot of evidence that he could be the guy.

And unless you believe that receiving a credible tip from a close ally that someone is tampering in an election still three months away doesn’t merit urgency, then the other steps all make sense.

I have no idea if that’s why Catherine Herridge got sent to whip out her high-gaslight again. I have no idea whether Nora Dannehy read these excerpts, and in the process realized both the significance of the error in treating this as a FARA investigation, but also how that changes predication into individual subjects.

But there have long been answers to some of the most basic questions that Republicans have returned to over and over again. It’s just that few of the interim investigations ever asked to get those answers. And the one that did — the DOJ IG Report — never even understood the crimes investigated until after the report got published.

Billy Barr Signs a Memo That Wouldn’t Have Helped Carter Page

For eight months, FBI and DOJ have been diligently making changes to the way they do FISA applications, with regular reports into the FISA Court. Whether or not those changes are adequate to fix the problems that beset the Carter Page application, they represent significant effort.

Curiously, a memo Billy Barr just released purporting to enhance compliance in FISA applications appears unaware of the filings at FISC, and instead cites only changes implemented in Christopher Wray’s response to the December 9, 2019 DOJ IG Report (see PDF 466 for his letter).

Therefore, in order to address concerns identified in the report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice entitled, “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI ‘s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” (December 2019), and to build on the important reforms described by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) in his December 6, 2019, response to the Inspector General’s report, I hereby direct that the following additional steps be taken:

Arguably (as I’ll show), at least one of the provisions in the memo is weaker than a change FISC mandated itself.

And while the memo claims to want to protect the rights of people like Carter Page, Barr’s memo would in no way apply to Page. That’s because the special protections tied to political campaigns only apply to those currently associated with campaigns.

With respect to applications for authorization to conduct electronic surveillance or physical searches pursuant to FISA targeting (i) a federal elected official or staff members of the elected official, or (ii) an individual who is a declared candidate for federal elected office or staff members or advisors of such candidate’s campaign (including any person who has been publicly announced by a campaign as a staff member or member of an official campaign advisory committee or group, or any person who is an informal advisor to the campaign),

By the time FBI applied for a FISA application targeting Page, several prominent members of the campaign had dissociated the campaign from him — for his controversial ties to Russia! — in no uncertain terms; those disavowals were included in the FISA application. Yes, Page had been announced as an informal advisor, but then the campaign made very clear he was no longer an informal advisor (and even claimed he never had been).

To be sure, some of the changes proposed — both those limited to those connected with a campaign and the more general ones — are improvements. For example:

  • ¶3(b) requires non-delegable sign-off by the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General) of any application targeting someone associated with a campaign; while requiring non-delegable sign-off may introduce some problems, this is the kind of certification recommended by the DOJ IG Report (though arguably is already incorporated in the December 6, 2019 letter Barr cited).
  • ¶3(d) and ¶3(e) institutes a shorter renewal deadline for these political FISAs, 60 days instead of 90, and requires monthly reports to FISC describing the results and affirming the continued need for such surveillance. These are arbitrary but perhaps useful improvements, not least because by increasing the paperwork required to surveil a political target, they make it more likely that such surveillance will actually be worth it (as the third and fourth applications targeting Page were not).
  • ¶3(f) requires that any political application describe whether less intrusive investigative procedures have been considered — something already required in all FISA applications — and an explanation why those procedures weren’t used. Such a requirement would have been useful in Page’s case (as I noted last year), because it would have emphasized the efforts FBI was making not to take public actions, but in practice this response would almost always point to DOJ guidelines on avoiding taking public actions that might affect an election and might actually encourage the increased reliance on informants, something Trump’s people claim equates to FISA surveillance. A requirement like this might be useful if it took place in the scope of a debate about what techniques were intrusive or not, but there’s zero evidence such a debate has happened.

The memo has two parts on defensive briefings, probably designed to placate Republicans, but which likely don’t do much in practice:

  • For political targets, ¶3(a) requires the FBI Director to consider a defensive briefing before targeting someone, and if no briefing is given, then the Director must document it in writing. FBI did consider defensive briefings for Trump’s people, but for various reasons decided not to do it, but in the case of Carter Page, he had long been wittingly sharing non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers and when FBI tried to explain why such dalliances were problematic in March 2017, he simply disagreed. A defensive briefing for Page would have been as useless as President Obama’s warnings to Trump that Mike Flynn was a problem.
  • For all counterintelligence concerns pertaining to election interference, ¶4 requires the FBI Director to “promulgate procedures, in consultation with the Deputy Attorney General, concerning defensive briefings.” Not only is this requirement utterly silent about what such procedures should do, not only did Wray commit to a similar recommendation in his December 2019 letter, but defensive briefings are precisely what Acting Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is currently politicizing.

As for key review processes mandated by the memo, some are just redundant at best or stupid at worst. For example:

  • ¶1 requires FBI personnel to review the accuracy sub-file before submitting a FISA application. That process is already in place. It’s called the Woods Procedure and it’s the procedure that failed to find errors in the Page application.
  • ¶2 requires someone — it doesn’t say whether FBI or NSD bears responsibility — to report any misstatement or omission to FISC. That’s already required. Plus, this requirement twice gives NSD the authority to determine whether something amounts to a reportable incident. The ongoing DOJ IG investigation into all the errors in FISA applications suggest NSD has deemed some omissions and errors not to be worthwhile of reporting (indeed, there were multiple instances in the Page applications where NSD did not include information they knew of, in at least one case information that FBI did not have). In short, this paragraph seems more focused on ensuring NSD — and not an outside entity, like DOJ IG or the FISC — retains the ability to determine what is and is not a reportable error.
  • ¶3(c) requires an FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge who is not involved in an investigation to review the FISA application of any defined political targets. The DOJ IG Report found that even NSD lawyers involved in an investigation don’t have enough insight into a case to identify omissions. While an ASAC might have access to case files that NSD lawyers do not, there’s zero reason to believe someone with even less insight into an investigation would better be able to spot omissions than an NSD lawyer with an ongoing role in the application. So this review is likely useless busywork.
  • ¶3(g) requires the Assistant Attorney General to review the case file of a political target within 60 days of its initial grant to make sure everything is kosher, including that the investigation was properly predicated. In conjunction with the shorter renewal timeframe of such applications (which would require DAG sign-off in any case), all this amounts to is a heightened review on first renewal (the memo does not say this is not delegable, so such a review will and probably should not be done by the AAG). But in Page’s case, it would have done nothing (indeed, at the time this would have been done for Page, he was in Russia meeting high level officials, falsely claiming to represent Trump’s interests).

In short, while some of these changes are salutary, a number are just show, and some are worthless busy work.

But my real concern about them — particularly given how Barr only invokes the first Christopher Wray letter to DOJ IG — is how they interact with other details of the FISA reform events that have transpired since last December.

For example, in the last month, the FBI and DOJ engaged in a big dog-and-pony show to claim that none of the errors DOJ IG had identified in 29 FISA applications they reviewed affected probable cause and just two were material. Effectively, that big press push amounted to having NSD pre-empt DOJ IG’s findings in an ongoing investigation, and the public details of NSD’s own review raise abundant reason to doubt the rigor of it. So Barr’s emphasis (in ¶2) on NSD’s role in deciding what is an error seems to be a reassertion of the status quo ante in the midst of an ongoing investigation that is still assessing whether NSD’s reviews are adequate. That makes this feel like another attempt to pre-empt an ongoing investigation.

Even more troubling, Barr’s memo seems unaware of — and in key respects, conflicts with — an order presiding FISA Judge James Boasberg issued in March. As I noted at the time, that order recognized something that was apparent from the DOJ IG Report but which the IG either missed, ignored, or was bureaucratically unable to address: it wasn’t just FBI that dropped the ball on the Page FISA application, NSD did so too.

According to the OIG Report, the DOJ attorney responsible for preparing the Page applications was aware that Page claimed to have had some type of reporting relationship with another government agency. See OIG Rpt. at 157. The DOJ attorney did not, however, follow up to confirm the nature of that relationship after the FBI case agent declared it “outside scope.” Id. at 157, 159. The DOJ attorney also received documents that contained materially adverse information, which DOJ advises should have been included in the application. Id. at 169-170. Greater diligence by the DOJ attorney in reviewing and probing the information provided by the FBI would likely have avoided those material omissions.

Because of that, Boasberg required that DOJ attorneys, too, sign off on all FISA applications, and suggested they get more involved earlier in the process.

As a result, reminders of DOJ’s obligation to meet the heightened duty of candor to the FISC appear warranted. The Court is therefore directing that any attorney submitting a FISA application make the following representation: “To the best of my knowledge, this application fairly reflects all information that might reasonably call into question the accuracy of the information or the reasonableness of any FBI assessments in the application, or otherwise raise doubts about the requested probable cause findings.”

DOJ should also consider whether its attorneys need more formalized guidance – e.g. , their own due-diligence checklists. Consideration should also be given to the potential benefits of DOJ attorney visits to field offices to meet with case agents and review investigative files themselves, at least in select cases – e.g. , initial applications for U.S.-person targets. Increased interaction between DOJ attorneys and FBI case agents during the preparatory process should not only improve accuracy in individual cases but also likely foster a common understanding of how to satisfy the government’s heightened duty of candor to the FISC.

There’s no mention of Boasberg’s order and suggestions in Barr’s memo, and it’s unclear whether that’s because he has no idea what has transpired with the FISC, whether he thinks he can ignore Boasberg’s order, or whether his memo is just for show. In any case, it’s notable that Barr’s memo doesn’t incorporate the key insight Boasberg made, that FISA requires increased diligence from NSD, too.

Similarly, because Boasberg deemed the role of FBI’s lawyers to be “perfunctory,” he asked for more details about their role.

But the role described in the revised Woods Form appears largely 10 perfunctory. To assess whether additional modifications to the Woods Form or related procedures may be warranted, the Court is directing the FBI to describe the current responsibilities FBI OGC lawyers have throughout the FISA process.

Here, Barr has added one more FBI person (an ASAC uninvolved in the case) to the process, whose review can only be perfunctory, rather than ensuring that those with more visibility on the process have a substantive role. Barr also doesn’t incorporate into his memo a change that came from Amicus David Kris after the Wray letter cited in Barr’s memo that case agents attest to the accuracy of FISA reviews, a recommendation FBI adopted, which might accomplish more than any review by an outside ASAC.

There’s one more reason this memo is concerning. ABC reported the other day that long-time Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy Brad Wiegmann was reassigned two weeks ago and replaced by a far less experienced political appointee, Kellen Dwyer (though I’ve seen people vouch for his integrity — he’s not a hack). Wiegmann would likely be part of discussions about how to meet FISC’s demands for further accountability.

Though a relatively small unit of fewer than two dozen attorneys, the Office of Law and Policy participates in almost every National Security Council meeting, works with congressional staff to draft new legislation, and conducts oversight of the FBI’s intelligence-gathering activities.

“[It] has been sort of the center of gravity for the Department of Justice on national security policy, and it’s a central role,” said Olsen, who at one point ran the department’s National Security Division and later advised Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Wiegmann has led the office since the Obama administration and for almost all of the Trump administration.

In particular, Wiegmann has long been involved in efforts to meet FISC’s demands regarding surveillance it authorizes. Here, just days after Wiegmann’s removal, Barr is issuing a memo that seems unaware of and in at least a few respects, potentially inconsistent with, explicit orders from the presiding FISA Judge.

There’s nothing obviously offensive about this memo. But it would do little to prevent a repeat of the Carter Page problems. And it’s not clear that it adds anything to the very real efforts to improve the FISA process at DOJ. Indeed, it may well be an effort to pre-empt more substantive concerns about the role of NSD (as opposed to FBI) in this process.

Barr released a second memo creating an audit mechanism for national security functions that feels like an effort to get ahead of ongoing DOJ IG investigation. I welcome additional oversight of FBI’s national security functions, though the timing of this and the timing of its implementation — with a report on its creation due just days before the election but all review of its functionality years down the road — feels like an attempt to stave off real legal oversight.

Page’s Intelligence Officers, Plural, Versus His Serial Willingness to Be Recruited

One last post on the John Durham Criminal Information charging Kevin Clinesmith with one count of false statements (for making and using a false document). It appears that John Durham, DOJ IG, and CIA are placing a different emphasis on Carter Page’s ties with the CIA than the FBI did, based on a differential focus on a number of contacts Page had versus Page’s willingness to be recruited.

The FISA applications for Carter Page refer to three different interactions with Russians to establish probable cause that Page was willing to be recruited by Russian intelligence officers:

  • A year long relationship with Aleksandr Bulatov (2007 to 2008), during which Bulatov used Page to network and in at least one case obtain non-public information
  • A longer relationship with Victor Podobnyy (lasting at least from January 2013 to April 2014), during which Page again provided information and networking leads
  • A 2015 exchange, after the complaint against Podobnyy was unsealed, during which Page told a Russian Minister he was the person referenced in the complaint, seeming to confirm that Page knew he was being recruited

On quick read, the DOJ IG Report and the Criminal Information seem to suggest that on August 17, 2016, CIA informed FBI that they knew of both these relationships with Page and were collecting information through him. That’s because DOJ IG Report and the Information say that the CIA informed FBI that Page had shared information about “certain Russian intelligence officers.”

Here’s how it appears in the Information.

On August 17, 2016, prior to the approval of FISA #1, the OGA provided certain members of the Crossfire Hurricane team a memorandum (“August 17 Memorandum”) indicating that Individual #1 had been approved as an “operational contact” for the OGA from 2008 to 2013 and detailing information that Individual #1 had provided to the OGA concerning Individual #1’s prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers. [my emphasis]

That’s nearly a direct quotation from the DOJ IG Report.

On or about August 17, 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team received a memorandum from the other U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Carter Page, including that Page had been approved as an operational contact for the other agency from 2008 to 2013 and information that Page had provided to the other agency concerning Page’s prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers.

In other words, a quick read of both would suggest that those plural Russian intelligence officers are Bulatov and Podobnyy.

Except that’s not right. Indeed, logically that means Page was providing information on more known or suspected Russian intelligence officers in the years immediately after he returned from Moscow. It’s also the case that Page has provided at least three different stories about Bulatov, and that he does not appear to have (indeed, arguably could not have) told CIA about Podobnyy.

Partly in an interest in challenging some of the misinformation on this point, I’ve put a timeline of Page’s known interactions with CIA, FBI, and Russian intelligence officers below. That shows, first of all, that while the CIA continued to treat Page as an approved “operational contact” until 2013, the last time CIA spoke to him was in July 2011.

That means Page couldn’t have told them about Podobnyy, because he didn’t meed Podobnyy until 2013.

Indeed, the DOJ IG twice says, subtly, that the CIA did not provide any evidence that they knew about Page’s tie with Podobnyy.

The other agency did not provide the FBI with information indicating it had knowledge of Page’s reported contacts with another particular intelligence officer. The FBI also relied on Page’s contacts with this intelligence officer in the FISA application.

[snip]

As further described in Chapter Five, the other agency’s memorandum did not provide the FBI with information indicating it had knowledge of Page’s reported contacts with another particular intelligence officer. The FBI also relied on Page’s contacts with this intelligence officer in the FISA application.

But that means there must be other suspected Russian spooks about whom Page provided information in that earlier period. Indeed, in one place the DOJ IG Report appears to confirm that, too.

Page had disclosed to the other agency contacts that he had with Intelligence Officer 1 and certain other individuals,

There’s a reference in one of Page’s FBI interviews to his NYU students, whom he likened to Podobnyy, so perhaps that’s related.

In any case, as I noted, Page told at least three different stories about Bulatov, the person about whom he shared information with both FBI and CIA. According to the DOJ IG Report, CIA only knew (so presumably got told) that his ties extended back only to 2008. The FBI maintains, however, that his relationship with Bulatov extends back to 2007. In a March 2017 interview, in addition to obfuscating about telling the Russian Minister he was Male-1, Page claimed to not even remember Bulatov, even when pushed, claimed he had only met Bulatov for lunch once, even though in one of his earlier interviews with the FBI, he said he had contact with Bulatov after he had returned to Moscow in 2008. A few weeks later, Page still affirmed that he thought “the more immaterial non-public information I give them, the better for this country,” even while resisting when an FBI agent observed that this basically was a source-handler relationship.

I don’t necessarily think Page was lying (though on his later FISA applications, FBI pointed to this discrepancy). By March 2017, Page had been driven mostly nuts by this process. I think it possible he really misremembered his earlier, acknowledged ties by then.

Still, even on the one topic that overlapped — Bulatov — Page’s stories appear inconsistent (or at least had become inconsistent after the pressure of 2017).

Ultimately, one thing that appears to have happened is CIA, DOJ IG, and Durham have focused on Page’s sharing of information about multiple people of interest to CIA in 2010 and earlier. Meanwhile, FBI focused on Page’s seeming willingness to be cultivated by known Russian spies.

Understanding that different focus helps to understand a lot of what has gone on since.

Timeline

2004-2007: Carter Page lives in Russia. [IG Report 157]

2007: Carter Page’s ties with Aleksandr Bulatov begin. [IG Report 158]

April 2008: Carter Page first meets with CIA. CIA assesses, in contradistinction to FBI’s belief, that Page’s ties to Bulatov began in 2008. [IG Report 156]

June 2008: Bulatov returns to Moscow. [June 2017 Application 14]

August 2008: Per Carter Page interview, his last contact with Bulatov (who returned to Moscow two months earlier). [June 2017 Application 14]

June 18, 2009: FBI interviews Carter Page about contact with Bulatov. Page says he has been in contact with CIA, but FBI doesn’t ask about that. [DOJ IG 61, 158]

October 2010: Page tells CIA he met with Bulatov four times and that Bulatov asked him for information about another American. [IG Report 158]

July 2011: Final meeting between Page and CIA. [IG Report 159]

December 2012: Podobnyy arrives at UN mission. [June 2017 Application 15]

2013: Intelligence Officer 1 hands off Page to Victor Podobnyy [DOJ IG 61 In a June 2013 interview, Page told the FBI he met Podobnyy at an energy conference, and had subsequently provided Podobnyy information about the energy business. [Complaint 13]

April 8, 2013: FBI intercepts conversation between Podobnyy and Sporyshev about recruiting Page. [Complaint 12]

June 13, 2013: FBI interviews Page about Podobnyy. After FBI suggests that Podobnyy is an intelligence officer, Page says his acquaintance with Podobnyy was positive for him. Page says he hadn’t spoken with CIA in “about a year or so” (it was July 2011). CIA did not provide evidence that Page told them about Podobnyy. [Buryakov Complaint 12-13, IG Report 156, 158]

August 2013: FBI interviews Page about Podobnyy, who admits he has met with Podobnyy since their interview in June. [IG Report 62]

September 2013: Podobnyy leaves UN mission. [June 2017 Application 15]

January 23, 2015: Buryakov, Prodobnyy, and Igor Sporyshev charged. The complaint refers to an informant, CS-1, who is not Page. It also includes the transcript of an intercepted conversations about how Podobnyy tried to recruit Male-1, Page. [Complaint]

February 19, 2015: Buryakov et all indicted.

March 2, 2016: FBI interviews Page in preparation for Victor Podonyy trial and learns he informed a Russian Minister and others at the UN he was identified in the indictment in “the spirit of openness.” [IG Report 62]

March 21, 2016: Trump formally names Page a foreign policy advisor.

April 1, 2016: Counterespionage Section advises NYFO to open an investigation on Page. [IG Report 62]

April 6, 2016: NYFO opens investigation into Page (note, one reference to this says the investigation was opened on April 4). [IG Report 63]

May 16, 2016: Page requests permission from campaign to make trip to Russia

July 3 to 9, 2016: Page in Moscow

July 11 or 12, 2016: Page first meets Stefan Halper at a conference in London, though DOJ IG says that was not part of an FBI tasking. Page recruits Halper to join Trump campaign.

July 31, 2016: FBI opens Crossfire Hurricane.

Previous posts

In this post, I explained how John Durham likely gets to intent with Clinesmith even though the former FBI lawyer claims he didn’t intend to mislead about Carter Page’s ties to CIA. In this post, I explained why Durham’s description of Crossfire Hurricane as a “FARA” investigation suggests he may misunderstand very basic aspects of his investigation. And in this post, I noted that Billy Barr’s approval of the timing of this guilty plea undermines Barr and Trump’s complaints about the swifter pace of the Mueller investigation.