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Bill Barr Deems 13 Months to Charge False Statements, “the Proper Pace”

Last night, in response to Sean Hannity pressuring Billy Barr to be (as Trump stated earlier), a “the greatest of all time” with respect to the John Durham investigation, Barr violated DOJ guidelines to reveal there would be a development today (and further developments before the election) in the John Durham investigation.

Perhaps in an attempt to shut down Hannity’s time pressure, Barr said whatever that development was, “the proper pace, as dictated by the facts in this investigation.”

HANNITY: The president said today that he hopes that the Durham report and that you, as attorney general, won’t be politically correct.

I hope that too. Mr. Attorney General, I have spent three years unpeeling the layers of an onion, in terms of premeditated fraud on a FISA court. You have deleted subpoenaed e-mails. You have knowledge we know that they were warned in August of 2016 not to trust that dossier, which was the bulk of information for the FISA warrants.

The sub source in January 2017 confirms, none of that was true, and it was bar talk.

I guess, just as the wheels of justice turn slowly, I feel impatience over it. Can you give us any update?

BARR: Yes, Sean.

Well, first, as to the political correctness, if I was worried about being politically correct, I wouldn’t have joined this administration. As I made clear…

HANNITY: That’s actually a good line, too. OK.

BARR: Yes.

Well, as I made clear, I’m going to call them as I see them. And that’s why I came in. I thought I’m in a — I think I’m in a position to do that.

There are two different things going on, Sean. One, I have said that the American people need to know what actually happened. We need to get the story of what happened in 2016 and ’17 now out. That will be done.

The second aspect of this is, if people cross the line, if people involved in that activity violated the criminal law, they will be charged.

And John Durham is an independent man, highly experienced. And his investigation is pursuing apace. There was some delay because of COVID. But I’m satisfied with the progress.

And I have said there are going to be developments, significant developments, before the election. But we’re not doing this on the election schedule. We’re aware of the election. We’re not going to do anything inappropriate before the election.

But we’re not being dictated to by this schedule. What’s dictating the timing of this are developments in the case. And there will be developments. Tomorrow, there will be a development in the case.

You know, it’s not an earth-shattering development, but it is an indication that things are moving along at the proper pace, as dictated by the facts in this investigation.

That development happened to be the charge of a single False Statements charge against Kevin Clinesmith, the lawyer who altered an email — he said, “to clarify facts for a colleague” — in the Carter Page investigation.

There’s an aspect of the Criminal Information I’ll return to.

But for the moment, consider that Billy Barr has said this Criminal Information, for one count of False Statements, was “moving along at the proper pace.” Per the DOJ IG Report, Clinesmith’s actions were referred to DOJ and FBI in June 2018. That means it has taken DOJ at least 13 months to charge a fairly clearcut false statements case.

George Papadopoulos was charged, in an investigation that Barr’s boss Donald Trump said was far too long, just over eight months after he lied to the FBI.

Mike Flynn was charged, in an investigation that Trump claims was far too long, just over ten months after he lied to the FBI.

Even in the Roger Stone case, the longest lasting of the investigations into Trump’s flunkies, Mueller charged obstruction just over eight months after Mueller’s team discovered how Stone was threatening Randy Credico and other witnesses.

In short, Billy Barr has now said that the pace Mueller worked at was better than what he thinks is proper.

Billy Barr probably didn’t realize it, but the only thing is politicized Durham investigation has to show thus far is that Trump is wrong when he assails Mueller for the length of his investigation.

Full DC Circuit Shifts Mike Flynn Analysis Back to What It Should Be: Unusual Remedy

The full DC Circuit just announced it will rehear Mike Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus on August 11.

That they’re doing so is no surprise. Neomi Rao’s opinion threatened to overturn not only precedent on mandamus, but also on false statements cases. The decision was all the more radical insofar as it granted relief to DOJ, which had not asked for it.

What’s notable is that the Circuit is shifting the analysis back to where it should have been in the first place.

When the panel of Karen Henderson, Neomi Rao, and Robert Wilkins first invited briefing on this issue, they focused on whether US v. Fokker required Judge Sullivan to dismiss the case, as the government moved.

Today’s order instructed the parties to be prepared to address whether there are not other adequate means to attain the relief desired, which goes to the core of writs of mandamus (which are only supposed to be available if something like an appeal is unavailable).

Even Karen Henderson suggested in the last hearing that Flynn did have other means of relief — an appeal of any decision that Sullivan actually makes (it has yet to be determined whether, by delaying the decision on whether to dismiss the case, Sullivan has taken an action at all).

Flynn will have a much harder time making this argument, as he can appeal whatever decision Sullivan makes. The government, however, will be in a much more awkward place, because they’re arguing — having not filed for a writ — that they’ll face irreparable harm if they have to show up for a hearing before Judge Sullivan, a ridiculous claim yet nevertheless one Rao seized on to be able to rule for Flynn. It’s unclear whether this new frame — which is what the court should have reviewed in the first place — will even leave space for the government to make that argument.

Which might mean Billy Barr will have to explain why DOJ flip-flopped even though nothing had changed from the time his own DOJ called for prison time for Mike Flynn.

Billy Barr Admits, for the Third and Fourth Time, that He Intervenes without Knowing the Facts

Billy Barr’s statement for his testimony today is here. It is as cynical and dishonest as you might imagine.

In his first paragraph, he pays tribute to John Lewis, without mentioning the ways he personally is trying to roll back the ability for every citizen to vote (most notably, of late, by falsely suggesting that the only safe way to vote during a pandemic is susceptible to fraud).

In his second paragraph, he suggests only politicians are political, and then suggests “mobs” are among those pressuring DOJ to take political decisions.

We are in a time when the political discourse in Washington often reflects the politically divided nation in which we live, and too often drives that divide even deeper. Political rhetoric is inherent in our democratic system, and politics is to be expected by politicians, especially in an election year. While that may be appropriate here on Capitol Hill or on cable news, it is not acceptable at the Department of Justice. At the Department, decisions must be made with no regard to political pressure—pressure from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, or from the media or mobs.

Then he spends five paragraphs addressing what he calls “Russiagate,” a term used exclusively by those who like to diminish the seriousness of an attack on our country.

Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus “Russiagate” scandal, many of the Democrats on this Committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions. Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today.

Four paragraphs later, Billy Barr admits that the sole reason he returned to government was to avenge what he believed — as an admitted outsider!! — to be two systems of justice.

But as an outsider I became deeply troubled by what I perceived as the increasing use of the criminal justice process as a political weapon and the emergence of two separate standards of justice. The Department had been drawn into the political maelstrom and was being buffeted on all sides. When asked to consider returning, I did so because I revere the Department and believed my independence would allow me to help steer her back to her core mission of applying one standard of justice for everyone and enforcing the law even-handedly, without partisan considerations. Since returning to the Department, I have done precisely that. My decisions on criminal matters before the Department have been my own, and they have been made because I believed they were right under the law and principles of justice.

Remember: Billy Barr has repeatedly stated that the investigation into Trump’s associates (not Trump himself) was unprecedented, proving he’s either unaware of or uninterested in the two investigations into Hillary, both of which involved abuses (the ostensible reason for the firing of both Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe) and leaks. The only evidence that a biased FBI Agent was running an informant on a candidate during the election involved the Clinton Foundation investigation which — unlike the Russian investigation — is understood to be entirely predicated on dodgy opposition research. Clinton did sit for an interview in the investigation into her actions; Trump refused.

In other words, every complaint floated about the Russian investigation actually applies more readily to the two Clinton ones, the treatment of investigations which had some effect, however unmeasured, on the election.

Yet the Attorney General of the United States has now admitted that he came into office planning to avenge what he sees as the opposite. Importantly, he admits he formed this conclusion an outsider! That means he formed the conclusion in spite of — by his own repeated admission — not knowing the facts of the investigation. “I realize I am in the dark about many facts,” he admitted in his memo on what he believed Mueller was doing on obstruction. As part of his confirmation process, he told both Dianne Feinstein and the Senate Judiciary that, “As I explained in a recent letter to Ranking Member Feinstein, my memo was narrow in scope, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the Special Counsel might be considering.”

Billy Barr decided to become Attorney General based off what he admitted then and has proven since to be badly mistaken understanding of what the Russian investigation entailed. That’s it. That’s why he agreed to become Attorney General.

Barr may think he’s working from an independent standpoint (a laughable claim in any case given his outspoken hatred for anything progressive), but he keeps admitting that he’s doing something worse, working from an understanding based off media portrayals rather than an understanding based off the public, much less the investigative, record.

No wonder Reggie Walton ruled that Attorney General Barr had spun the real outcome of the investigation. Barr, by his own admission, formed conclusions when he was “in the dark about many facts.” There’s no evidence he has revisited those conclusions since.

Billy Barr performs his own toxic bias in numerous other ways in his opening statement, for example by focusing on Antifa’s potential threat to law enforcement rather than Boogaloo’s much greater threat.

Most cynical, though, is the way he explains the storm troopers in Portland as an effort to defend not just Federal property (which it is, if counterproductively heavy-handed), but Article III judges.

Inside the courthouse are a relatively small number of federal law enforcement personnel charged with a defensive mission: to protect the courthouse, home to Article III federal judges, from being overrun and destroyed.

Barr has demonstrated his disdain for Article III judges over and over: by overriding the decisions of Emmet Sullivan on the Mike Flynn case, by lying to courts on census cases, by ignoring Supreme Court orders on DACA.

Most importantly, however, on issues pertaining to Trump’s flunkies — even the Roger Stone case that he has twice said was righteous — Barr completely dismissed the seriousness of an actual threat to a Federal judge. As I have noted, contrary to Barr’s repeated claims that Amy Berman Jackson agreed with the sentencing recommendation DOJ made after he made an unprecedented intervention to override a guidelines sentencing recommendation, she did not agree that his revised sentencing included the appropriate enhancements. Not only did Barr dismiss the seriousness of making a violent threat against a witness, but Barr’s revised sentencing memo eliminated the sentencing enhancement for threatening a judge, opining (as Barr has a habit of doing) that DOJ wasn’t sure whether Stone’s actions had obstructed his prosecution and trial under ABJ.

Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.

This is why we have judges: to decide matters like this! Indeed, that’s the justification for recommending guidelines sentences in the first place — so the actual judge who presided over the case, rather than an Attorney General who has admitted to repeatedly forming opinions without consulting the actual record, makes the decisions based off the broadest understanding of the record. Even in this, his most egregious action, Billy Barr’s DOJ weighed in while admitting it didn’t have the knowledge to do so. And did so in such a way that minimized the danger of threats against Article III judges.

Billy Barr thinks the moms defending protestors in Portland are a threat to judges. But his repeated, acknowledged intervention on matters he knows fuckall about is a bigger threat to the rule of law, up to and including when that record includes threats against judges.

HJC Should Ask Bill Barr Why It Would Do Irreparable Harm if He Had to Explain His Actions in the Flynn Case

Unless he comes up with some new excuse, tomorrow Billy Barr will finally show up for an oversight hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

There are a number of sets of questions that commentators have suggested for the hearing (a strategic set of four topics that will show how Barr is hurting the US, an updated set from JustSecurity, some questions about Geoffrey Berman’s firing).

I could come up with similar lists. They’d be long and — by the time anyone executed them competently on the Democratic side — the big media outlets would have already filed their story on the hearing.

One thing that should be included, however, is the letter that Sidney Powell sent Barr and Jeffrey Rosen in June 2019 and Bill Barr’s actions to deliver on her demands in the subsequent year, actions that DOJ itself admits would do irreparable harm if DOJ had to explain.

The letter was effectively a road map of demands, many of them based off hoaxes, almost all of them unrelated to Flynn’s prosecution or false. It later became the Brady demand that Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected in a meticulous opinion last December. In it, Powell demanded that DOJ conduct a review of the prosecution and then dismiss the prosecution.

At the end of this internal review, we believe there will be ample justification for the Department to follow the precedent of the Ted Stevens case and move to dismiss the prosecution in the interest of justice — whether it be we ink a simple joint motion or sua sponte by the Department.

NYT wrote about this letter in June, calling it “little noticed” but predictably not crediting me, who did noticed it and wrote about it repeatedly.

HJC should raise this letter with Billy Barr for several reasons. First, little in the letter turned out to be true. Indeed, DOJ has asserted in court filings that even where documents Powell asked for existed, none of it was Brady material (and in fact, in spite of Timothy Shea’s claim that these materials were new, that was false, meaning DOJ has no justification for flip-flopping on its call for prison time for Flynn from earlier this year). Powell should have gotten none of it, and yet Barr invented an unprecedented process to give it to her and then use it to self-sabotage the case.

More importantly, the way in which Barr has rolled out the release of these documents has served, in part, to hide the shoddiness of Timothy Shea’s motion to dismiss. Based off a misrepresentation of Bill Priestap’s notes, Shea pretended that the interview with Flynn focused exclusively on the Logan Act. That wasn’t even an accurate reading of Priestap’s own notes. Since then, DOJ has released several more documents that make it clear FBI’s focus was on whether Flynn was a foreign agent (and also provide more evidence that the Flynn 302s track the Agents’ description of the interview), documents that undermine their own motion to dismiss. They’ve either withheld a Bill Priestap 302 explaining what happened or Powell has decided it doesn’t help her. And there are more records that they are sitting on that undermine the claims in their motion to dismiss.

Importantly, while DOJ was making claims that Flynn’s lies were not material, John Ratcliffe was releasing documents that explained why they were.  Of particular note, on February 14, 2017 — weeks after all the meetings DOJ has been focused on, Peter Strzok, in an annotation that made it clear he did not have it in for Trump or his flunkies, also made it clear that FBI didn’t have any phone records yet.

We have very few call logs. NSLs have been issued for Manafort, Page, and Flynn, many of which have not yet been returned.

On February 25, notes from Tashina Gauhar make clear, Strzok and Joe Pientka believed Flynn didn’t believe he had been lying. They also judged — not having phone records or much else yet — that they did not think he was an agent, but they needed to verify that.

That got translated into a later draft summary into a conclusion that Flynn wasn’t a foreign agent.

But as FBI would get first call logs (which would reveal Flynn had also lied about being in contact with Mar-a-Lag0) and then his texts (which would make it clear Flynn knew well about the sanctions Obama had imposed), that would dramatically change the import of his lies. By the time he started cooperating, Flynn made it clear that he and KT McFarland had immediately set about trying to cover up the response Sergey Kislyak gave to Flynn’s request.

After the briefing, Flynn and McFarland spoke over the phone. 1258 Flynn reported on the substance of his call with Kislyak, including their discussion of the sanctions. 1259 According to McFarland, Flynn mentioned that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration.1260 McFarland also gave Flynn a summary of her recent briefing with President-Elect Trump. 1261

The next day, December 30, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov remarked that Russia would respond in kind to the sanctions. 1262 Putin superseded that comment two hours later, releasing a statement that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions at that time. 1263 Hours later President-Elect Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin).” 1264 Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267 [my emphasis]

KT McFarland’s 302s would show she told the same untruths that Flynn had told, even after he got fired for telling them. More recently, it became clear that the White House scripted Bannon to deny discussing sanctions as well.

Meanwhile, the government is still withholding the first (known) post-election transcript between Flynn and Kislyak, where he first started this game of deal-making with the country that just attacked us.

All these details may not amount to Flynn acting as an Agent of Russia.

Rather, they amount to a concerted cover-up of the White House role in this sanction discussion. That’s a topic that a sentencing memorandum approved by top people in Bill Barr’s DOJ argued was significant and material, because a concerted effort to undermine sanctions on Russia, “could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.”

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.

The concerted effort to hide the extensive coordination on sanctions — involving at least Flynn, McFarland, and Bannon — was designed hide whether the Trump response to Obama’s sanctions amounted to the kind of quid pro quo Mueller was appointed to investigate. A question on sanctions relief is the single one that Trump totally blew off in his responses to Mueller.

DOJ wants to claim that Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak were totally normal. But not only are they still hiding at least one of them, but they were utterly material to the Mueller investigation.

But then there’s the final reason why HJC should question Barr about the letter from Sidney Powell that he apparently delivered on a year after she demanded: DOJ itself admitted that explaining DOJ’s actions here would do irreparable harm.

The more interesting argument came from Wall. He argued, repeatedly, that DOJ will be irreparably harmed if Sullivan is permitted to hold a hearing on DOJ’s motion to dismiss. In particular, he seemed horrified that Sullivan might require sworn declarations of affidavits.

As Beth Wilkinson, arguing for Sullivan, mentioned, neither Sullivan nor Amicus John Gleeson has called for such a thing. Both are simply moving towards a hearing scheduled for July 16. Wilkinson also noted that District courts hold such hearings all the time. (And they predictably will have to in another case where DOJ has moved to end a prosecution recently, in which — unlike this case — there appears to have been prosecutorial misconduct, Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, which I’ll return to).

Wall is literally arguing that DOJ will be permanently damaged if it has to show up and answer for its actions in this case (in particular, to explain why the prosecutors in this case didn’t sign the motion to dismiss).

That Wall argued so forcibly as to the injury that DOJ would suffer if it had to show up and defend its motion to dismiss is all the crazier given that they didn’t file the petition. The only harm that matters here procedurally is any harm to Flynn, not DOJ, and Powell really made no such case.

Indeed, that’s the reason why the DC Circuit granted mandamus in the Flynn case — not because of any injury that Flynn might face from having Sullivan scrutinize the case, but because having to answer for what Barr did here would — simply having to show up to the kind of hearing that DOJ shows up to every day and answer questions under oath — would do grave damage to DOJ.

HJC should take DOJ at its word. DOJ has confessed their actions can’t withstand the least amount of scrutiny. HJC should demand to know why.

Joe Pientka Warned Trump to Be Worried about People on His Periphery While Flynn Was Signing a Deal with Turkey

Donald Trump continues to use the Office of Director of National Intelligence role to declassify information to feed to frothy journalists so they can misrepresent the investigation into his campaign. Yesterday, John Ratcliffe released the FBI part of the classified briefing given to Trump, Chris Christie, and Mike Flynn on August 17, 2016. Among the things Ratcliffe disclosed is the FBI case files for both Crossfire Hurricane and the Flynn investigation, the paltry content of defensive briefings for a Presidential candidate, and that the FBI believed there were more Russian spies working under official cover in 2016 than Chinese spies.

They just don’t give a fuck anymore. They will compromise whatever they need to to try to spin the investigation into Trump, even if most of what they release doesn’t back their story.

The briefing also demonstrates that Trump had no concept of how spies work. He asked a childish question about whether — because they have more spies under official cover — whether they are bad.

Trump asked the following question,”Joe, are the Russians bad because they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?” Writer responded by saying both countries are bad. The numbers of IOs present in the U.S. is not an indicator of the severity of the threat. Writer reminded Trump the Chinese asymmetrical presence in the U.S. [redacted]. In addition, the OCONUS cyber threat posed by []PLA would have to be considered when making comparisons.

Having just been briefed that the Russians use official cover while the Chinese use non-official cover, Trump then collapsed that very basic concept to address just diplomatic cover.

The only interesting comment from Trump or Flynn, from an investigative standpoint, was that Trump seemed to suggest that Russia could match the US counterterrorism resources, an inaccurate belief the genesis of which is actually really interesting.

Meanwhile, Flynn asked Joe Pientka something totally off topic — how many FBI Agents they had as compared to counterterrorism cases. Flynn also, later, bragged about having done SIGINT (he seems to have wanted to prove his expertise).

Nothing in this briefing — not even the role of Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok in approving an anodyne report — supports the frenzied response to it, and most commentators are totally misrepresenting what the briefing as a whole was (the first intelligence briefing, as reflected by redacted references to who gave those briefings), and what the nature of the defensive briefing that Pientka gave.

The far more interesting details is that Pientka warned Trump (accurately, as it turned out) about Russia and others trying to get to Trump through peripheral people and businessmen,

In the classical sense, an IO will attempt to recruit an individual to tell him or her the things he or she wants to know. This is known as HUMINT. It is highly unlikely a Foreign Intelligence Service will attempt to recruit you, however you need to be mindful of the people on your periphery: your staff , domestic help, business associates, friends, etc. Those individuals may present more vulnerabilities or be more susceptible to an approach. Those individuals will also be targeted for recruitment due to their access to you. That does not mean IOs will not make a run at you . They will send their IOs in diplomatic cover, businessperson NOCs, as well as sources they have developed around you to elicit information and gain assessment on you.

At the time Pientka gave this briefing, Flynn was finalizing the details of a deal with Turkey, using a businessman the government has credibly accused of being an agent of Turkey to cover up the Turkish government’s direct role in the deal. In his grand jury testimony, Flynn described knowing almost nothing of Ekim Alptekin when he pursued this deal.

So even as the FBI was trying to explain to Trump that people like his coffee boy and his rat-fucker would be used to assess his intentions, the guy sitting in the room was pursuing a big payday with a frenemy government seeking to do just that.

Pientka’s briefing lasted 13 minutes out of a total of at least 1 hour 55 minutes, though it looks like Trump left the briefing before they had presented everything, to catch a plane.

Lindsey Graham Provides Yet More Proof that Peter Strzok Didn’t Have It In for Trump

Lindsey Graham just released two more documents that don’t show what [his personally implicated staffer Barbara Ledeen] claims they show.

The more important is the Electronic Communication memorializing FBI’s 3-day interview with Christopher Steele’s primary subsource for the dossier. It’ll take me much of tomorrow to write it up, but suffice it to say that, as an utterly committed Steele skeptic, the EC is actually far more supportive of the dossier than I thought it’d be or than the DOJ IG Report claimed it was. Though it also provides tons of details of how it might have gone haywire, if it did.

More briefly, Lindsey also released an annotation Peter Strzok did (probably as part of his job hunting down leaks) of the February 14, 2017 NYT story alleging Trump’s flunkies had close ties with Russian intelligence.

The annotation shows that Strozk found multiple problems with the NYT story. Strozk’s corrections explain that,

  • None of Trump’s flunkies were known to have ties directly with Russian intelligence but:
    • While Carter Page had extensive ties with SVR, that wasn’t during his time on the campaign
    • At least one of Paul Manafort’s contacts had contact with Russian intelligence
    • Sergey Kislyak had contact with three people — Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions, and one other person (probably JD Gordon)
  • The FBI didn’t have intercepts on people; while it had given names — that explicitly include Manafort’s Ukrainian colleagues — to CIA and NSA, but did not ask for close scrutiny of them
  • The counterintelligence case in which Manafort was a subject was not opened until 2016, although FBI may have had an earlier kleptocracy investigation earlier
  • In February 2017, the FBI did not have an investigation into Roger Stone
  • While Christopher Steele might have credibility, he didn’t have much insight into the reliability of his subsources

Strzok also inadvertently revealed (by debunking claims in the story) that by February 2017, the FBI had sent out call log and credit report NSLs on Manafort, Page, and Flynn, but hadn’t gotten many of those back, and had not gotten detailed banking records. The investigation was barely begun in February 2017.

To be fair, these details were largely known, though the specificity about the NSLs is not only welcome, but unprecedented and unnecessary.

Ultimately, though, this is yet another piece of evidence — like Strzok’s observations that Flynn didn’t betray he was lying and his judgment that the Russian investigation would amount to little — that Strzok didn’t have it in for Trump or his flunkies, but instead assessed the case in real time.

Nevertheless, Strzok remains the big villain in this story.

Update: I inadvertently left off the Steele judgment above.

Update: Strzok’s Steele judgment actually shows up in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

Following the January interview with the Primary Sub-source, on February 15, 2017, Strzok forwarded by email to Priestap and others a news article referencing the Steele election reporting; Strzok commented that “recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal [Steele] may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub-source network.”

The IG did not, however, note that this is one of several moments where Strzok clearly expressed skepticism, no matter his views about Trump, nor did it describe the other critiques he made.

“Hinky:” NPR Permitted Billy Barr to Lie More than Once

The other day, NPR’s public editor did a piece exploring how the NPR allowed itself to spread Billy Barr’s lies about vote by mail uncontested. It reviews the exchange, noting where Steve Inskeep did not ask obvious follow-ups.

Inskeep had 20 minutes to do the Barr interview, which was conducted at the Justice Department. In the portion of the interview on election security, Inskeep sounds, to my ear, off his game. His follow-up questions don’t reflect the facts that NPR had already reported, and are therefore ineffective at holding Barr accountable for his statements.

The transcript is available here. When Barr conflates the broad issue of foreign interference with the specific claim of ballot tampering, Inskeep does not call him out.

[snip]

When Barr compares the ballots to paper money, to suggest they can be easily duplicated, Inskeep asks: “Do they not also go through procedures like that with mail-in ballots?” Barr answers: “You’ve seen them. They’re pretty primitive.”

A journalist specializing in election security would have pressed Barr more firmly, by asking again whether intelligence of ballot tampering exists, and getting him to explain exactly how he imagines outsiders would attempt to circumvent the numerous safeguards in place, including barcodes, enumerated ballots, duplicating the specific paper stock and printing methods and signature verifications. Suggested question: How would a ballot counterfeiting scheme work at scale, to get around the well-established and tested controls, including the individual codes on each ballot and the signature comparisons?

It talks about the decision to include Barr’s lies (about vote-by-mail) rather than take more time and edit them out.

Inskeep worked with a show editor and producer to prepare the package. Together, they chose to air the bulk of Barr’s claims rather than truncate the statements to air only those not widely disputed as false. He could have decided to delay the air date of that particular segment in order to do more reporting and bring additional voices into the conversation, an internal or external expert to say that Barr is making a false statement.

Running an extensive portion of the exchange could only be a good option if Inskeep was willing to add more context, as you are about to see below.

And it described how NPR could have made it far clearer that Billy Barr lied to NPR.

There are many techniques to prepare listeners to hear false information. You can straight-up tell the audience the upcoming statements are inaccurate — while also explaining that part of our job is to sometimes allow public officials to make such statements so that the listener can hear it for herself. Stewart said he was grateful Inskeep got Barr on tape falsely claiming mail-in ballots will jeopardize the election. “This looks like pure, unadulterated Barr,” he said. “And I’m really glad the country got to hear that.”

I wish Inskeep would have spent a little air time making clear in the set-up that state election officials use several well-tested methods to ensure the integrity and security of mail-in ballots, and that transparency of those checks and balances is baked into the system.

Given that Barr primarily does interview with old friends from the Poppy Administration or propaganda outlet, I’m grateful that NPR reviewed this interview and laid out how Barr has successfully, relentlessly lied to the American people.

But they should have gone one step further, and noted all the other times Barr lied to Inskeep. And even before he lied about vote-by-mail, he falsely claimed that his interventions in both the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone case was proper. In the Stone case, for example, he explained his intervention in the sentencing recommendation because there was a dispute.

I was the decision maker in that case because there was a dispute. And usually what happens is, disputes, especially in high profile cases, come up to the attorney general.

To the extent there was a dispute, it was only because he had removed the Senate confirmed US Attorney and put in someone he told to dispute the sentencing guidelines. NPR also let Barr claim that his recommendation is what Amy Berman Jackson adopted, which is not at all true (she adopted most of the prosecutors’ guidelines sentence but gave Stone a lenient sentence on her own).

Worse still, NPR let Barr claim as fact that there was a lot hinky with Flynn’s case.

There was a lot of hinky stuff in the Flynn case. Everyone knew that. Everyone was wondering why was this case ever brought?

That’s not only false, but both DOJ Inspector General and Judge Emmet Sullivan had reviewed it and found nothing “hinky.” Effectively, Barr put in a flunkie to override the judgement of those people who are supposed to assess whether something is hinky.

Importantly, only people who haven’t consulted the public record believe that — which is why it is so dangerous for NPR to let the claim go unchallenged. So here, as with the vote-by-mail, Inskeep simply gave Barr the opportunity to provide false excuses for unprecedented abuse of power.

And the public editor should note that.

Trump Prepares to Do Something Even Billy Barr Has Said Might Be Obstruction

Update: Trump did, indeed, commute Stone’s sentence. Kayleigh McEnany put out a ridiculous press release here.

According to just about every major outlet (here’s Fox’s story), Trump will use his clemency power — possibly tonight — to keep Roger Stone out of prison, preventing him from spending even one day in prison for lying to Congress about how he tried to optimize the release of emails stolen by Russia and intimidating witnesses (most notably, but not only, Randy Credico) to adhere to Stone’s false cover story.

That Trump was willing to let Paulie Manafort do time, but not Stone, is a testament to how much more damning Stone’s honest testimony against Trump would be.

Trump will presumably commute Stone’s sentence, rather than pardon him, so Stone doesn’t lose his Fifth Amendment privileges that will allow him to avoid testifying about his calls with Trump. Trump is a dummy on most things, but not bribing people to cover up for his own crimes. Plus, he is personally familiar with how George Bush bought Scooter Libby’s silence with a commutation, given that Trump finally got around to pardoning Libby.

While every outlet is reporting on this imminent (presumed) commutation, virtually none are reporting that it will be an act of obstruction, Trump’s payoff for Stone’s lies about what he did.

Stone invented an elaborate story, post-dating the time when he made efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases by months, and attributing those efforts to someone he knew had no ties with Julian Assange or anyone else involved in the hack-and-leak. Stone threatened Randy Credico to adhere to that story, his thuggish friends gave Credico real reason to worry about his safety (concerns that continue today), and even hired a PI to find out where Credico moved after he went underground to continue the pressure.

The government has alleged that Stone knew and was coordinating what was coming even before the leak was publicly announced (their public evidence for that is sketchy, however). The government has further pointed to something for which there is abundant evidence: that in return for optimized publication, Assange was promised a pardon, a pardon that Stone tried to deliver from days after the election until early 2018, well after the Vault 7 releases made such a pardon untenable.

Plus, we know that Trump’s personal involvement in the optimization of the WikiLeaks releases is one topic that Trump lied to Mueller about (though not as brazenly as he lied about the Russian Trump Tower deal).

No lesser authority than Billy Barr has said that this kind of clemency might be obstruction of justice. He said as much three times during his confirmation hearing.

Patrick Leahy, specifically invoking Barr’s sanction of the Caspar Weinberger pardon that squelched the Iran-Contra investigation, asked Barr about pardons.

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

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Then, in this exchange from Amy Klobuchar, it appeared to take Barr several questions before he realized she knew more about the evidence than he did, and started couching his answers.

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

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

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

Barr: Yes.

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

Barr: Yes.

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

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

Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page one that if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. So what if a President drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

Barr: Again, I’d have to know the specifics.

Shortly after that exchange, Lindsey Graham tried to clarify the issue, asking the pardon question at a more basic level, coaching another not to testify, as Trump has done on Twitter repeatedly.

Lindsey: So if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes, under that, under an obstruction statute, yes.

Lindsey: So if there’s some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence? That would be obstruction of justice, potentially?

Barr: [nods]

Admittedly, by the third exchange, both Lindsey and Barr were hedging far more carefully about the set of facts.

But on three different occasions during his confirmation hearing, Barr made some kind of statement that said floating pardons for false testimony would be a crime.

And unlike Barr’s effort to erase Mike Flynn’s serial betrayal of the country, the Attorney General has admitted that Roger Stone’s was a “righteous” prosecution, even if only to prevent a rebellion on the part of DC federal prosecutors. Barr at least publicly disputes Trump’s claim that this was a witch hunt.

Trump is going to keep Roger Stone out of prison to ensure his silence.

That’s obstruction. And yet, almost no one is reporting on the crime in progress.

Sidney Powell Proves She (and Everyone Else, including Timothy Shea) Was Wrong about the Logan Act

Sidney Powell has released the next set of documents that Jeffrey Jensen has been serially feeding her and through her the frothy right.

They prove that the entire premise of DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss the Flynn prosecution — and everything Powell has been spewing for a year — is wrong.

That’s because the Timothy Shea Motion to Dismiss claims that FBI seized on the Logan Act as a reason — the sole reason — to extend the investigation into Mike Flynn.

The FBI had in their possession transcripts of the relevant calls. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13 at 3, FBI FD-302, Interview of Peter Strzok, July 19, 2017 (Date of Entry: Aug. 22, 2017). Believing that the counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Flynn was to be closed, FBI leadership (“the 7th Floor”) determined to continue its investigation of Mr. Flynn on the basis of these calls, and considered opening a new criminal investigation based solely on a potential violation of the Logan Act, 18 U.S.C. § 953. See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 7 at 1-2; Ex. 8 at 1-5, FBI Emails RE: Logan Act Jan. 4, 2017.

Indeed, Shea’s memo claimed there was no criminal purpose to interview Flynn.

Notably, at this time FBI did not open a criminal investigation based on Mr. Flynn’s calls with Mr. Kislyak predicated on the Logan Act. See Ex. 7 at 1-2.4 See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 4 at 1-2; Ex. 5 at 9. The FBI never attempted to open a new investigation of Mr. Flynn on these grounds. Mr. Flynn’s communications with the Russian ambassador implicated no crime. This is apparent from the FBI’s rush to revive its old investigation rather than open and justify a new one, see Ex. 7 at 1-2, as well as its ongoing inability to espouse a consistent justification for its probe in conversations with DOJ leadership, See Ex. 3 at 5. In fact, Deputy Attorney General Yates thought that the FBI leadership “morphed” between describing the investigation into Mr. Flynn as a “counterintelligence” or a “criminal” investigation. Id.

But notes from Tashina Gauhar recording a January 25 meeting on the interview confirm what I had laid out: the purpose of the interview was to assess whether Flynn had a clandestine or agency relationship with Russia — that is, whether he was an Agent of Russia, which is a crime under 18 USC 951, the crime the original investigation into Flynn was predicated on and the crime the investigation continued to be predicated on, even as other potential crimes — including but not limited to the Logan Act — got added.

Importantly, Gauhar recorded the conclusion of that meeting, which adds context to another of the claims Powell has made for the last year. She described how from a CI perspective, FBI “did not think [Flynn was an] Agent, but need to verify.” From a criminal perspective, FBI was “not willing to say at this point, now.” And from a view of compromise, FBI discussed defensive briefings (though it’s not sure whether for the White House or Flynn).

In a draft timeline, someone translated this into the conclusion that FBI “did not believe General Flynn was acting as an agent of Russia,” but without the clear caveat that Gaushar recorded, that the FBI needed to verify whether that initial conclusion was true.

Viewed in context, this conclusion only reinforces the clear evidence that the FBI was investigating whether Flynn was a foreign agent (for Russia, in addition to what would become clear included Turkey), because this was the initial conclusion the FBI offered in a meeting the day after the interview reporting on their findings. But the entire record also makes it clear that FBI would continue to investigate that claim, whereupon they found more damning information against Flynn.

You may now dismiss every single claim about the Logan Act’s import in the investigation into Mike Flynn, as that was (transparently) all just gaslighting.

Furthermore, you can dismiss the claims about doctored 302s, because Gauhar’s notes directly map the final 302s, including the assertion that Flynn denied the substance of his calls both on Israel and sanctions.

In her filing misrepresenting what the notes say, Powell complains that the agents claimed Flynn first denied than admitted the number of calls; Gauhar only records the former, though it’s not even clear what the context is (that is, whether the question was about the number of calls on December 29 and 31, or the frequency of calls over the course of the Transition). In any case, that wasn’t a charged lie.

Gauhar even succinctly described, in real time, what the FBI had concluded: Flynn’s answers were false, but he appeared to believe them.

The FBI would develop, over time, additional reasons to know that Flynn had deliberately lied, most notably proof that the Transition team had discussed sanctions with him before the Kislyak call, making it clear Flynn had lied when he claimed he didn’t know about the sanctions at the time of his calls with Kislyak. Worse still, Flynn would ultimately admit that he created a cover email to hide what he had discussed in real time.

On January 25, it was reasonable to take Flynn’s demeanor and conclude he didn’t think he was lying. But not after you came across the record showing that he planned to cover up the calls as soon as they were made, even before the leaks gave reason for him to lie publicly.

Finally, Sidney Powell’s own filing totally undermines the government motion to dismiss in one other way. Powell asserts that the documents newly disclosed to her were “known to at least ten people at the highest levels” of DOJ and FBI.

These documents both corroborate information provided by others previously and provide new information known to at least ten people at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI.

Shea’s Motion to Dismiss was premised on a false claim that these facts weren’t known to the highest levels of DOJ. That insinuation has always been obviously false. But now Powell has made it clear she agrees. Which, if the DC Circuit reviews the Mandamus petition en banc (as a filing today staying the order suggests they’re likely to do), may be an important detail if Judge Emmet Sullivan ever gets to review how DOJ came to flip-flop on prison time for Flynn if they had all this information when they recommended prison time.

HJC Democrats Do Little to Limit Jim Jordan’s Assault on Public Health and Rule of Law

Jim Jordan, a self-purported libertarian, garnered the love of authoritarian Donald Trump by yelling. And yelling. And yelling.

But his normally obtuse manner of engagement didn’t undermine the dual threat he posed in today’s hearing on the ways Billy Barr is politicizing justice. Democrats failed to get him to abide by the committee rule that he wear a mask when not speaking (not even while sitting in close proximity to Jerry Nadler, whose wife is seriously ill). At one point, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell called him out on it. But Republicans on the committee thwarted the means by which Nadler was enforcing the rule — which was to not recognize anyone not wearing a mask — by yielding their time to Jordan.

Jordan used the time he got to attack the integrity of the witnesses unanswered, make repeated false claims about the conduct of the Russian investigation (both pre-Mueller and under him), and softball Barr’s own actions.

There were exceptions, mind you. Joe Neguse brilliantly got Michael Mukasey to talk about how normal it is — and was for him, when he had the job — for Attorneys General to show up for oversight hearings. Neguse then revealed that the last time an Attorney General had as systematically refused to appear for oversight hearings as Barr, it was Bill Barr, in his first tenure in the job. Val Demings got Mukasey to lay out that Barr himself has said the President was inappropriately interfering in investigations, but no one followed up on the significance of that admission. Likewise, after Demings got Mukasey to affirm a statement he made during confirmation to be Attorney General that he was never asked what his politics were, she didn’t follow up and ask whether it would have been appropriate for Mueller to ask prosecutors about their politics, or even for Republicans to ask Zelinsky about the partisan leanings of Mueller prosecutors in this hearing. No one used Jordan’s repeated questioning of Mukasey about the sheer number of unmaskings of Mike Flynn to ask Mukasey to lay out the real national security questions that might elicit such a concerted response to what was apparently one conversation, to say nothing of testing whether Mukasey actually understood what Jordan was misrepresenting to him.

Worse still, no Democrats asked Mukasey questions that would have laid out how complicit he is with some of Trump’s crimes, particularly the politicization of investigations into Turkey.

Then, long after Republicans sand-bagged anti-trust attorney whistleblower John Elias, presenting cherry-picked results of the whistleblower complaint he submitted, Mary Gay Scanlon circled back and laid out how he submitted the complaint, how it got forwarded, and laid out that Office of Professional Responsibility didn’t actually deal with the substance of his complaint, but instead said even if true, it wouldn’t affect the prerogatives of the department. Even there, neither she nor anyone laid out the significance of OPR (which reports to the Attorney General) reviewing the complaint, rather than DOJ IG, which has statutory independence. The way Elias got sandbagged should have become a focus of the hearing, but was not.

And no Democrats corrected the false claims Jordan made, particularly about the Flynn case, such as when he ignored how Bill Priestap got FBI to cue Flynn on what he had said to Sergey Kislyak or the date of notes released today that Sidney Powell had every Republican, including Mukasey, claim came one day before they had to have. No one even asked Mukasey why he was agreeing with Jordan about Obama’s pursuit of Mike Flynn when the prosecution happened under Trump (and recent documents have shown both Peter Strzok and Jim Comey working hard to protect Flynn). Mukasey would have made the perfect foil for such questions. He even could have been asked how often DOJ flip flops on its position from week to week, as Barr has in the Flynn case.

Even worse, no one circled back to get Aaron Zelinsky to correct the premise of Jordan’s questions about whether Amy Berman Jackson’s final sentence accorded with the initial sentencing memo or not, much less his cynical reading of one sentence out of context to falsely portray ABJ as agreeing with DOJ’s second memo.

Finally, Democrats did almost no fact-finding (indeed, it took Jordan to lay out the hierarchy of the politicization of the Stone sentencing). For example, while Eric Swalwell got Zelinsky to agree that the Mueller Report showed gaps in the investigations, he did not invite Zelinsky to describe what specific gaps he would be permitted to identify in the Stone investigation, such as that DOJ was not able to recover any of Stone’s texts from shortly after the election until a year later, in 2017. No one circled back to invite Zelinsky to explain that he had been able to describe Paul Manafort’s testimony implicating Trump directly in Stone’s work because descriptions of that testimony were hidden by DOJ and just got declassified — months after Stone’s sentencing. Hakeem Jeffries got Zelinsky to lay out one thing that prosecutors had been forced to leave out in the initial sentencing memo — Randy Credico’s testimony about how freaked out he was about Stone’s threats — but he left it there, without follow-up to learn if there had been anything more (like Stone’s discussions personally with Trump).

The testimony of the witnesses — especially Donald Ayer, who had to testify over Louie Gohmert’s tapping of a pencil to try to drown out his testimony — was scathing. But the Democratic members of the committee left them hanging out there, which is going to further disincent other witnesses from testifying. This hearing was far too important not to do better prep work to ensure the risks the witnesses took on will be worth it going forward.

Sometime today, Nadler said he’s reconsidering his earlier statement that the committee would not impeach Barr. But unless Democrats seriously up their game — both on preparation and on discipline — then any impeachment of Barr will be as ineffectual of the Ukraine impeachment, if not worse.