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Michael Sussmann Attempts to Bill [of Particulars] Durham for His Sloppy Indictment Language

“Without prejudice to any other pretrial motions”

Michael Sussmann’s lawyers reserve their right to challenge the Durham indictment of Sussmann via other pretrial motions in their motion for a Bill of Particulars six different times. The motion does so three different times when noting that Durham used squishy language to paraphrase Sussmann’s alleged lie and couldn’t seem to decide whether he affirmatively lied or lied by omission.

Mr. Sussmann is entitled to understand which particular crime he must defend himself against. Without prejudice to any other pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may bring on the matter, Mr. Sussmann is also entitled to additional particulars regarding the alleged omissions in the Indictment, including regarding the legal duty, if any, that required him to disclose the allegedly omitted information the Indictment suggests he should have disclosed.

[snip]

The Special Counsel should be required to clarify which crime he believes Mr. Sussmann committed and, to the extent the Special Counsel is proceeding on an omissions theory, he should be required to provide additional particulars (without prejudice to any motions Mr. Sussmann may make later).

[snip]

To the extent that the Special Counsel believes the Indictment is alleging a material omission under Section 1001(a)(1), and without prejudicing any other motions Mr. Sussmann may make on this issue, the Special Counsel should be required to clarify: (1) what specific information Mr. Sussmann failed to disclose; (2) to whom he failed to disclose it; (3) what legal duty required Mr. Sussmann to make the required disclosure; and (4) why the omission was material. See United States v. Safavian, 528 F.3d 957, 964 (D.C. Cir. 2008). [my emphasis]

It does so twice when asking that Durham address problems with his claims that Sussmann’s alleged lie was material.

The Indictment does make several allegations regarding materiality, and yet these allegations are vague, imprecise, and inconsistent. Suggesting the FBI might have asked more questions, taken other steps, or allocated resources differently, without specifying how or why it would have done so, leaves Mr. Sussmann having to guess about the meaning of the allegations that the Special Counsel has leveled against him. Accordingly, without prejudice to any pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may make regarding materiality, Mr. Sussmann requests that the Court order the Special Counsel to provide more detail about why the purported false statement was material.

[snip]

Accordingly, without prejudice to any pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may make regarding materiality, Mr. Sussmann requests that the Special Counsel be ordered to provide more detail about why the purported false statement was material. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). [my emphasis]

And the motion does so again when pointing out that Durham hasn’t included specifics about another alleged lie, to just two of an unidentified number of people who attended a meeting at CIA, which Sussmann elsewhere describes as improper inclusion of 404(b) material in an indictment.

Without prejudicing any other motions Mr. Sussmann may make on this issue, the Special Counsel should first be required to clarify the false statement alleged to have been made to the two anonymous Agency-2 employees, and any other individuals present at the meeting, in February 2017. [my emphasis]

A list of things John Durham didn’t provide in his Michael Sussmann indictment

It’s only after making it clear that this is just his opening move before filing a motion to dismiss and other legal challenges to the indictment…

The Indictment is seriously vulnerable to challenge as a matter of law, and Mr. Sussmann will make relevant pretrial motions at the appropriate time. For now, Mr. Sussmann moves for a bill of particulars.

…that Sussmann lays out a list of things he claims he can’t figure out from Durham’s sloppy indictment:

For the foregoing reasons, this Motion for a Bill of Particulars should be granted, and the Court should order the Special Counsel to promptly:

A. Provide particulars regarding the specific false statement the Special Counsel alleges Mr. Sussmann made to Mr. Baker, namely:

1. The exact words of Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement;

2. The specific context in which the statement was made so that the meaning of the words is clear;

3. What part of the statement is allegedly false, i.e., whether the statement was false because Mr. Sussmann allegedly stated he was not “acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning a Presidential Candidate” as alleged in Paragraph 46, or if he falsely stated that he was not doing any “work” on behalf of a client more generally, as alleged in Paragraphs 4, 27(a), 28;

4. What is meant by “his work,” as referenced in Paragraph 4;

5. What is meant by “acting [or acted] on behalf of any client” as alleged in Paragraphs 27(a) and 30; and

6. What “this” refers to in the Assistant Director’s notes referenced in Paragraph 28.

B. Provide particulars regarding the statutory violation charged and, if applicable any alleged omissions, namely:

1. Which crime the Special Counsel believes Mr. Sussmann has committed; and

2. To the extent the Special Counsel alleges that Mr. Sussmann made a material omission in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(1), as suggested by Paragraph 30 of the Indictment –

a. the specific information Mr. Sussmann allegedly failed to disclose;

b. to whom he allegedly failed to make that disclosure;

c. what legal duty required Mr. Sussmann to disclose such information; and

d. why the allegedly omitted information was material.

C. Provide particulars regarding how the alleged false statement to Mr. Baker was material, specifically:

1. The “other reasons” Mr. Sussmann’s false statement was material, as alleged in Paragraphs 5 and 32;

2. What “his work” refers to as referenced in Paragraph 5, what about such work was unknown to the FBI, and how the “political nature of his work” was material to the FBI’s investigation;

3. How Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement was material to the FBI’s ability to “assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis,” as alleged in Paragraph 5, when Mr. Sussmann disclosed the origins of the data and technical analysis;

4. How Mr. Sussmann’s role as a paid advocate was materially “relevant” to the FBI’s investigation, as alleged in Paragraph 32, given that the information itself raised serious national security concerns and the FBI otherwise enables civilians to provide anonymous tips; and

5. What potential questions, additional steps, resource allocations, or more complete information the FBI would have gathered absent Mr. Sussmann’s false statement, as alleged in Paragraph 32.

D. Provide particulars regarding the alleged false statement Mr. Sussmann made to all Agency-2 employees and representatives, as alleged in Paragraphs 39 and 42, namely:

1. The exact words of Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement;

2. The specific context in which the statement was made so that the meaning of the words is clear;

3. What portion of the statement is allegedly false;

4. The identities of all individuals to whom the statement was made, including:

a. both Employee-1 and Employee-2 as referenced in Paragraph 42; and

b. anyone else present who also heard the false statement.

E. Provide particulars regarding the identities of the “representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign” referenced in Paragraph 6.

Motions for a Bill of Particular rarely work

Make no mistake, most demands for a Bill of Particulars like this fail. The prosecution will argue that everything Sussmann needs is in the indictment and, if Judge Christopher Cooper agrees, Sussmann will just submit his motion to dismiss and other challenges like he’s clearly planning to do anyway.

That’s almost certainly what will happen for several of these requests, such as the names of Clinton Campaign personnel Durham accuses Sussmann of coordinating with on the Alfa Bank materials. But Sussmann likely doesn’t really need these names because he likely knows that Durham has nothing to substantiate this claim. If he did, Durham would have described such evidence in his speaking indictment. Sussmann may well know there are no names — of campaign personnel with whom he personally coordinated in advance of the James Baker meeting, at least — to give, because he didn’t coordinate with anyone from the campaign (Durham probably wants to substantiate this claim by charging Marc Elias in a conspiracy with Sussmann, but that all depends on being able to prove that anyone was lying about all this).

Similarly, Sussmann seems to know — and Durham may not — that there were more than just two people at a February 9, 2017 meeting at which Sussmann tried to bring new concerns to the attention of the government. This request seems to suggest there was at least one and possibly other witnesses who were at this meeting that Durham should know of who didn’t corroborate a claim that Sussmann lied, witnesses Durham didn’t mention in his indictment.

Likewise, Sussmann is unlikely to get very far asking for more details about Durham’s materiality claim, in particular, Durham’s repeated allegation that what he presented were just some, “among other reasons,” why Sussmann’s alleged lie was material. Prosecutors will argue that materiality is a matter for the jury to decide. But if Sussmann can force Durham to admit he has a theory of prosecution he hasn’t included in his indictment — that Durham believes that, rather than raising a real anomaly to the FBI’s attention because it was a real anomaly, lawyers who were paid by Hillary were trying to start a witch hunt against Donald Trump (never mind that the actual investigation that would prove at least three Trump officials, and probably Trump himself, got advance warning of a Russian attack on Hillary started three weeks before the meeting at which Sussmann is alleged to have lied) — then it will make it far easier for Sussmann to attack the indictment down the road.

What a false statement charge is supposed to look like

But Sussmann may succeed on his key complaint, that Durham has built a 27-page indictment around a false claim allegation without any means to clearly lay out what was the specific lie Sussmann told.

To understand what Sussmann means when he says,

It is simply not enough for the Indictment to make allegations generally about the substance of the purported false statement. Rather, the law requires that the Special Counsel identify the specific false statement made, i.e., the precise words that were allegedly used.

We can look at the false statements that Trump’s associates made to cover up the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. For example, for each of six charged lies in the Roger Stone indictment, Mueller’s prosecutors quoted the precise questions he was asked as well as his response, then laid out specific evidence that each lie was a lie.

22. During his HPSCI testimony, STONE was asked, “So you have no emails to anyone concerning the allegations of hacked documents . . . or any discussions you have had with third parties about [the head of Organization 1]? You have no emails, no texts, no documents whatsoever, any kind of that nature?” STONE falsely and misleadingly answered, “That is correct. Not to my knowledge.”

23. In truth and in fact, STONE had sent and received numerous emails and text messages during the 2016 campaign in which he discussed Organization 1, its head, and its possession of hacked emails. At the time of his false testimony, STONE was still in possession of many of these emails and text messages, including:

a. The email from STONE to Person 1 on or about July 25, 2016 that read in part, “Get to [the head of Organization 1] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [Organization 1] emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.”;

b. The email from STONE to Person 1 on or about July 31, 2016 that said an associate of Person 1 “should see [the head of Organization 1].”;

c. The email from Person 1 to STONE on or about August 2, 2016 that stated in part, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”;

d. Dozens of text messages and emails, beginning on or about August 19, 2016 and continuing through the election, between STONE and Person 2 in which they discussed Organization 1 and the head of Organization 1;

e. The email from STONE on or about October 3, 2016 to the supporter involved with the Trump Campaign, which read in part, “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.”; and

f. The emails on or about October 4, 2016 between STONE and the high-ranking member of the Trump Campaign, including STONE’s statement that Organization 1 would release “a load every week going forward.”

For some of Stone’s charged lies, prosecutors even had communications with Jerome Corsi or Randy Credico or one of his lawyers showing Stone planned in advance to lie.

In George Papadopoulos’ statement of offense, for each of several lies outlined, prosecutors laid out specifically what he told the FBI and then laid out how Papadopoulos’ own communications records and his later testimony proved those statements to be false.

c. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS claimed he met a certain female Russian national before he joined the Campaign and that their communications consisted of emails such as, ‘”Hi , how are you?”‘ In truth and in fact, however, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the female Russian national on or about March 24, 2016, after he had become an adviser to the Campaign; he believed that she had connections to Russian government officials; and he sought to use her Russian connections over a period of months in an effort to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and Russian government officials.

The most recent Mueller backup liberated by Jason Leopold reveals that, in addition to Papaodpoulos’ communications and later testimony that prove this particular claim to be an intentional lie, Papadopoulos also emailed the FBI on January 27 after consulting his records, laying out his claim that he met Olga before he joined the Trump campaign and never met her after that.

As promised, wanted to send you the name of the individual that Joseph Mifsud introduced me to over lunch in February or early March (while I was working with the London Center of International Law Practice and did not even know at that time whether or not I would even have moved back to the U.S. or especially worked on another presidential campaign).

He introduced her as his student, but was looking to impress her by meeting with me fresh off my Ben Carson gig. That is all I know. Never met her again.

I could go on for each of the false statements charged against Trump’s flunkies (and also show how, when Andrew Weissmann fell short of this kind of evidence, Amy Berman Jackson ruled against prosecutors on two of five claimed lies alleged in Paul Manafort’s plea breach determination).

Even Mike Flynn’s statement of offense, substantiating a charge that Trump loyalists have spent years wailing about, laid out clearly the two charged lies.

During the interview, FLYNN falsely stated that he did not ask Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia. FLYNN also falsely stated that he did not remember a follow-up conversation in which the Russian Ambassador stated that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of FL YNN’s request.

[snip]

During the January 24 voluntary interview, FLYNN made additional false statements about calls he made to Russia and several other countries regarding a resolution submitted by Egypt to the United Nations Security Council on December 21, 2016. Specifically FLYNN falsely stated that he only asked the countries’ positions on the vote, and that he did not request that any of the countries take any particular action on the resolution. FLYNN also falsely stated that the Russian Ambassador never described to him Russia’s response to FL YNN’s request regarding the resolution.

Not only did prosecutors describe what a transcript of these calls said, but they also had testimony from both Flynn himself and KT McFarland substantiating that these were lies. They even had a text that Flynn sent McFarland, before any of these intercepts had leaked, that Flynn later admitted he had deliberately written to cover up the content of his calls with Sergey Kislyak.

Then, after Sidney Powell spent six months trying to claim that one of Flynn’s lies wasn’t clearly laid out in his original 302, Judge Emmet Sullivan meticulously pointed out that the notes of both FBI interviewers matched every iteration of Flynn’s 302.

Having carefully reviewed the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD302, and the statements contained therein, the Court agrees with the government that those documents are “consistent and clear that [Mr. Flynn] made multiple false statements to the [FBI] agents about his communications with the Russian Ambassador on January 24, 2017.” Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 4-5. The Court rejects Mr. Flynn’s request for additional information regarding the drafting process for the FD-302s and a search for the “original 302,” see Def.’s Sur-Surreply, ECF No. 135 at 8- 10, because the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD-302, and Mr. Flynn’s own admissions of his false statements make clear that Mr. Flynn made those false statements.

These are what false statements charges are supposed to look like. They’re backed by contemporaneous admissible evidence and laid out in specific detail in charging documents.

Trump and his supporters have wailed for years about these charges. Except prosecutors had evidence to substantiate them, the kind of evidence Durham makes no claim to have.

What few witnesses Durham has may not all agree on Sussmann’s alleged lies

Sussmann is more likely to succeed with his request to have his alleged false statement laid out in quote form and in context — and even if he doesn’t, he may back Durham into a corner he doesn’t want to be in — because Sussmann has presented several central questions about what the allegation really is. Is it that Sussmann didn’t offer up that he was working with (Sussmann claims) Rodney Joffe or  (Durham also alleges) Hillary on the Alfa Bank issues? Is it that Sussmann falsely claimed not to be billing the meeting with James Baker (evidence of which Durham has not presented)? Or does Durham have any shred of evidence that Baker affirmatively asked Sussmann, “are you sharing this on behalf of a client,” or even less supported in the indictment, “are you sharing this on behalf of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton”? Similarly, Durham doesn’t explain whether when he claims that Sussmann lied about “this,” or “his work,” he means about the meetings that were actually billed to Hillary’s campaign internally at Perkins Coie (even if Hillary paid no money specifically tied to those meetings), or that the meeting with Baker was billed to one or another client (no evidence of which Durham presents). Those details will all be necessary for Durham to prove his case and for Sussmann to rebut it. And Sussmann needs to know whether he should focus his time on the absence of billing records substantiating that he met with Baker and then billed it to Hillary (something implicated by the meaning of “this” and “his work”), or whether he needs to focus on showing whether Priestap distinguished these allegations from the other claims about a Russian information operation undeniably targeting Hillary (something implicating whether this is supposed to be a crime of commission or omission).

It’s quite possible that Durham has presented these allegations using such squishy language because what little evidence he has doesn’t actually agree on the claimed lies. That is, it may be that Baker believes Sussmann simply didn’t bother explaining which client he was working for, but Bill Priestap, the next in line in a game of telephone, differently understood from Baker’s report that Sussmann affirmatively failed to provide Baker information that (Priestap’s own notes prove) the FBI already had anyway, that he was working with Hillary Clinton.

If, having had these weaknesses laid out by Sussmann’s attorneys, Durham can show that all his evidence actually substantiates the same false claim, he could get a superseding indictment making that clear. But once he does that, it may tie his hands at trial.

But it’s distinctly possible that Durham can’t prove that what little evidence he has backs the same interpretation of Sussmann’s alleged lie. That is, there may be a reason — on top of the fact that he has no contemporaneous transcript from a witness — that he avoided being more specific in his indictment, and that’s because it was the only way he could cobble together enough evidence to get a grand jury to indict.

So while much of the rest of this motion of a Bill of Particulars may serve only to call attention to gaping holes in the rest of the indictment, the request for specifics about what, specifically, Sussmann is alleged to have said when he lied may succeed. And even if it doesn’t, it may force Durham to commit to an interpretation that not all of his thin evidence would ultimately support.

John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs

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

emptywheel’s long history of debunking the Alfa Bank story

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess with five more years Durham might get there…

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

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

John Durham’s “narrative”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The existing case is remarkably weak

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

Durham’s materiality broadcasts his bid for a ConFraudUS conspiracy

But that’s not what this is about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump then asked Russia to further hack his opponent.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

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

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOJ Put Someone Who Enabled Sidney Powell’s Lies — Jocelyn Ballantine — in Charge of Prosecuting the Proud Boys

Because of Joe Biggs’ role at the nexus between the mob that attacked Congress and those that orchestrated the mob, his prosecution is the most important case in the entire January 6 investigation. If you prosecute him and his alleged co-conspirators successfully, you might also succeed in holding those who incited the attack on the Capitol accountable. If you botch the Biggs prosecution, then all the most important people will go free.

Which is why it is so unbelievable that DOJ put someone who enabled Sidney Powell’s election season lies about the Mike Flynn prosecution, Jocelyn Ballantine, on that prosecution team.

Yesterday, at the beginning of the Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs hearing, prosecutor Jason McCullough told the court that in addition to him and Luke Jones, Ballantine was present at the hearing for the prosecution. He may have said that she was “overseeing” this prosecution. (I’ve got a request for clarification in with the US Attorney’s office.)

Ballantine has not filed a notice of appearance in the case (nor does she show on the minute notice for yesterday’s hearing). In the one other January 6 case where she has been noticeably involved — electronically signing the indictment for Nick Kennedy — she likewise has not filed a notice of appearance.

Less than a year ago when she assisted in DOJ’s attempts to overturn the Mike Flynn prosecution, Ballantine did three things that should disqualify her from any DOJ prosecution team, much less serving on the most important prosecution in the entire January 6 investigation:

  • On September 23, she provided three documents that were altered to Sidney Powell, one of which Trump used six days later in a packaged debate attack on Joe Biden
  • On September 24, she submitted an FBI interview report that redacted information — references to Brandon Van Grack — that was material to the proceedings before Judge Emmet Sullivan
  • On October 26, she claimed that lawyers for Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had checked their clients’ notes to confirm there were no other alterations to documents submitted to the docket; both lawyers refused to review the documents

After doing these things in support of Bill Barr’s effort to undermine the Flynn prosecution (and within days of the Flynn pardon), Ballantine was given a confidential temporary duty assignment (it may have been a CIA assignment). Apparently she’s back at DC USAO now.

Three documents got altered and another violated Strzok and Page’s privacy

As a reminder, after DOJ moved to hold Mike Flynn accountable for reneging on his plea agreement, Billy Barr put the St. Louis US Attorney, Jeffrey Jensen, in charge of a “review” of the case, which DOJ would later offer as its excuse for attempting to overturn the prosecution.

On September 23, Ballantine provided Powell with five documents, purportedly from Jensen’s investigation into the Flynn prosecution:

I outlined the added date on the first set of Strzok notes here:

There was never any question that the notes could have been taken no earlier than January 5, because they memorialized Jim Comey’s retelling of a meeting that other documentation, including documents submitted in the Flynn docket, shows took place on January 5. Even Chuck Grassley knows what date the meeting took place.

But DOJ, while using the notes as a central part of their excuse for trying to overturn the Flynn prosecution, nevertheless repeatedly suggested that there was uncertainty about the date of the notes, claiming they might have been taken days earlier. And then, relying on DOJ’s false representations about the date, Sidney Powell claimed they they showed that Joe Biden — and not, as documented in Mary McCord’s 302, Bob Litt — was the one who first raised the possibility that Flynn may have violated 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.

During the day on September 29, Powell disclosed to Judge Sullivan that she had spoken to Trump (as well as Jenna Ellis) about the case. Then, later that night, Trump delivered a prepared attack on Biden that replicated Powell’s false claim that Biden was behind the renewed investigation into Flynn.

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.

In a matter of days, then, what DOJ would claim was an inadvertent error got turned into a campaign attack from the President.

When DOJ first confessed to altering these notes, they claimed all the changes were inadvertent.

In response to the Court and counsel’s questions, the government has learned that, during the review of the Strzok notes, FBI agents assigned to the EDMO review placed a single yellow sticky note on each page of the Strzok notes with estimated dates (the notes themselves are undated). Those two sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. The government has also confirmed with Mr. Goelman and can represent that the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

Similarly, the government has learned that, at some point during the review of the McCabe notes, someone placed a blue “flag” with clear adhesive to the McCabe notes with an estimated date (the notes themselves are also undated). Again, the flag was inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. Again, the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

There are multiple reasons to believe this is false. For example, when DOJ submitted notes that Jim Crowell took, they added a date in a redaction, something that could in no way be inadvertent. And as noted, the January 5 notes had already been submitted, without the date change (though then, too, DOJ claimed not to know the date of the document).

But the most important tell is that, when Ballantine sent Powell the three documents altered to add dates, the protective order footer on the documents had been removed in all three, in the case of McCabe’s notes, actually redacted. When she released the re-altered documents (someone digitally removed the date in the McCabe notes rather than providing a new scan), the footer had been added back in. This can easily be seen by comparing the altered documents with the re-altered documents.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe noteswith the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

This is something that had to have happened at DOJ (see William Ockham’s comments below and this post for proof in the metadata that these changes had to have been done by Ballantine). The redaction of the footers strongly suggests that they were provided to Powell with the intention of facilitating their further circulation (the other two documents she shared with Powell that day had no protective order footer). In addition, each of these documents should have a new Bates stamp.

DOJ redacted Brandon Van Grack’s non-misconduct

On September 24, DOJ submitted a report of an FBI interview Jeffrey Jensen’s team did with an Agent who sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI-issued phone, Bill Barnett. In the interview, Barnett made claims that conflicted with actions he had taken on the case. He claimed to be unaware of evidence central to the case against Flynn (for example, that Flynn told Sergey Kislyak that Trump knew of something said on one of their calls). He seemed unaware of the difference between a counterintelligence investigation and a criminal one. And he made claims about Mueller prosecutors — Jeannie Rhee and Andrew Weissmann — with whom he didn’t work directly. In short, the interview was obviously designed to tell a politically convenient story, not the truth.

Even worse than the politicized claims that Barnett made, the FBI or DOJ redacted the interview report such that all reference to Brandon Van Grack was redacted, substituting instead with the label, “SCO Atty 1.” (References to Jeannie Rhee, Andrew Weissmann, and Andrew Goldstein were not redacted; there are probable references to Adam Jed and Zainab Ahmad that are not labeled at all.)

The result of redacting Van Grack’s name is that it hid from Judge Sullivan many complimentary things that Barnett had to say about Van Grack:

Van Grack’s conduct was central to DOJ’s excuse for throwing out the Flynn prosecution. Powell repeatedly accused Van Grack, by name, of engaging in gross prosecutorial misconduct. Yet the report was submitted to Judge Sullivan in such a way as to hide that Barnett had no apparent complaints about Van Grack’s actions on the Flynn case.

I have no reason to believe that Ballantine made those redactions. But according to the discovery letter she sent to Powell, she sent an unredacted copy to Flynn’s team, while acknowledging that the one she was submitting to the docket was redacted. Thus, she had to have known she was hiding material information from the Court when she submitted the interview report.

Ballantine falsely claimed Strzok and McCabe validated their notes

After some of these alterations were made public, Judge Sullivan ordered DOJ to authenticate all the documents they had submitted as part of their effort to overturn the Flynn prosecution. The filing submitted in response was a masterpiece of obfuscation, with three different people making claims while dodging full authentication for some of the most problematic documents. In the filing that Ballantine submitted, she claimed that Michael Bromwich and Aitan Goelman, lawyers for McCabe and Strzok, “confirmed” that no content was altered in the notes.

The government acknowledges its obligation to produce true and accurate copies of documents. The government has fully admitted its administrative error with respect to the failure to remove three reviewer sticky notes containing estimated date notations affixed to three pages of undated notes (two belonging to former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and one page belonging to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) prior to their disclosure. These dates were derived from surrounding pages’ dates in order to aid secondary reviewers. These three sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the relevant documents were scanned by the FBI for production in discovery. See ECF 259. The government reiterates, however, that the content of those exhibits was not altered in any way, as confirmed by attorneys for both former FBI employees. [underline original]

According to an email Bromwich sent Ballantine, when Ballantine asked for help validating the transcripts DOJ did of McCabe’s notes, McCabe declined to do so.

I have spoken with Mr. McCabe and he declines to provide you with any information in response to your request.

He believes DOJ’s conduct in this case is a shocking betrayal of the traditions of the Department of the Justice and undermines the rule of law that he spent his career defending and upholding. If you share with the Court our decision not to provide you with assistance, we ask that you share the reason.

We would of course respond to any request that comes directly from the Court.

And according to an email Goelman sent to Ballantine, they said they could not check transcriptions without the original copies of documents.

Sorry not to get back to you until now.  We have looked at the attachments to the email you sent yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  We are unable to certify the authenticity of all of the attachments or the accuracy of the transcriptions.  To do so, we would need both more time and access to the original notes, particularly given that U.S. Attorney Jensen’s team has already been caught altering Pete’s notes in two instances.  However, we do want to call your attention to the fact that Exhibit 198-11 is mislabeled, and that these notes are not the notes of Pete “and another agent” taken during the Flynn interview.

Additionally, we want to register our objection to AUSA Ken Kohl’s material misstatements to Judge Sullivan during the September 29, 2020, 2020, [sic] telephonic hearing, during which Mr. Kohl inaccurately represented that Pete viewed himself as an “insurance policy” against President Trump’s election.

I have no reason to believe the content was altered, though I suspect other things were done to McCabe’s notes to misrepresent the context of a reference in his notes to Flynn. But not only had McCabe and Strzok not validated their notes, but they had both pointedly refused to. Indeed, during this same time period, DOJ was refusing to let McCabe see his own notes to prepare for testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nevertheless, Ballantine represented to Judge Sullivan that they had.

It baffles me why DOJ would put Ballantine on the most important January 6 case. Among other things, the conduct I’ve laid out here will make it easy for the defendants to accuse DOJ of similar misconduct on the Proud Boys case — and doing just that happens to be Nordean’s primary defense strategy.

But I’m mindful that there are people in DC’s US Attorney’s Office (not Ballantine) who took actions in the past that may have made the January 6 attack more likely. In a sentencing memo done on Barr’s orders, prosecutors attempting to minimize the potential sentence against Roger Stone suggested that a threat four Proud Boys helped Roger Stone make against Amy Berman Jackson was no big deal, unworthy of a sentencing enhancement.

Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.

Judge Jackson disagreed with this assessment. In applying the enhancement, she presciently described how dangerous Stone and the Proud Boys could be if they incited others.

Here, the defendant willfully engaged in behavior that a rational person would find to be inherently obstructive. It’s important to note that he didn’t just fire off a few intemperate emails. He used the tools of social media to achieve the broadest dissemination possible. It wasn’t accidental. He had a staff that helped him do it.

As the defendant emphasized in emails introduced into evidence in this case, using the new social media is his “sweet spot.” It’s his area of expertise. And even the letters submitted on his behalf by his friends emphasized that incendiary activity is precisely what he is specifically known for. He knew exactly what he was doing. And by choosing Instagram and Twitter as his platforms, he understood that he was multiplying the number of people who would hear his message.

By deliberately stoking public opinion against prosecution and the Court in this matter, he willfully increased the risk that someone else, with even poorer judgment than he has, would act on his behalf. This is intolerable to the administration of justice, and the Court cannot sit idly by, shrug its shoulder and say: Oh, that’s just Roger being Roger, or it wouldn’t have grounds to act the next time someone tries it.

The behavior was designed to disrupt and divert the proceedings, and the impact was compounded by the defendant’s disingenuousness.

The people at DOJ who claimed that this toxic team was not dangerous in the past may want to downplay the critical role that Stone and the Proud Boys played — using the same kind of incendiary behavior — in the January 6 assault.

Whatever the reason, though, it is inexcusable that DOJ would put someone like Ballantine on this case. Given Ballantine’s past actions, it risks sabotaging the entire January 6 investigation.

DOJ quite literally put someone who, less than a year ago, facilitated Sidney Powell’s lies onto a prosecution team investigating the aftermath of further Sidney Powell lies.

Update: DC USAO’s media person refused to clarify what Ballantine’s role is, even though it was publicly acknowledged in court.

We are not commenting on cases beyond what is stated or submitted to the Court. We have no comment in response to your question.

Update: Added links to William Ockham’s proof that Ballantine made the realteration of the McCabe notes.

Update: One more point on this. I am not claiming here that anyone at DOJ is deliberately trying to sabotage the January 6 investigation, just that putting someone who, less than a year ago, made multiple representations to a judge that could call into question her candor going forward could discredit the Proud Boys investigation. I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO put her on the team because they urgently need resources and she was available (possibly newly so after the end of her TDY). I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO who are also implicated in Barr’s politicization, perhaps more closely tied to the intervention in the Stone case, put her there with corrupt intent.

But it’s also important to understand that up until February 2020, she was viewed as a diligent, ruthless prosecutor. I presume she buckled under a great deal of pressure after that and found herself in a place where competing demands — her duty of candor to the Court and orders from superiors all the way up to the Attorney General — became increasingly impossible to square.

Importantly, Lisa Monaco’s chief deputy John Carlin, and probably Monaco herself, would know Ballantine from their past tenure in the National Security Division as that heretofore ruthless national security prosecutor. The only mainstream outlet that covered anything other than DOJ’s admission they had added post-its to the notes was Politico. And the instinct not to punish career employees like Ballantine would mean what she would have avoided any scrutiny with the transition. So her assignment to the case is not itself evidence of an attempt to sabotage the prosecution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a description of someone investigated as a suspect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian “Scoop” Would Shift the Timeline and Bureaucracy of the Known 2016 Russian Operation

Luke Harding has a story based on alleged Russian documents that show that Vladimir Putin personally approved of the 2016 Russian operation on January 22, 2016.

In advance of a known meeting — which Russia claimed at the time was convened to talk about Moldova — the Guardian claims Putin was presented with a plan on how an influence operation might work. Putin purportedly approved the operation at the publicly announced meeting. And then all three intelligence agencies implemented it.

The author appears to be Vladimir Symonenko, the senior official in charge of the Kremlin’s expert department – which provides Putin with analytical material and reports, some of them based on foreign intelligence.

The papers indicate that on 14 January 2016 Symonenko circulated a three-page executive summary of his team’s conclusions and recommendations.

In a signed order two days later, Putin instructed the then chief of his foreign policy directorate, Alexander Manzhosin, to convene a closed briefing of the national security council.

Its purpose was to further study the document, the order says. Manzhosin was given a deadline of five days to make arrangements.

What was said inside the second-floor Kremlin senate building room is unknown. But the president and his intelligence officials appear to have signed off on a multi-agency plan to interfere in US democracy, framed in terms of justified self-defence.

[snip]

After the meeting, according to a separate leaked document, Putin issued a decree setting up a new and secret interdepartmental commission. Its urgent task was to realise the goals set out in the “special part” of document No 32-04 \ vd.

Members of the new working body were stated to include Shoigu, Fradkov and Bortnikov. Shoigu was named commission chair. The decree – ukaz in Russian – said the group should take practical steps against the US as soon as possible. These were justified on national security grounds and in accordance with a 2010 federal law, 390-FZ, which allows the council to formulate state policy on security matters.

According to the document, each spy agency was given a role. The defence minister was instructed to coordinate the work of subdivisions and services. Shoigu was also responsible for collecting and systematising necessary information and for “preparing measures to act on the information environment of the object” – a command, it seems, to hack sensitive American cyber-targets identified by the SVR.

The SVR was told to gather additional information to support the commission’s activities. The FSB was assigned counter-intelligence. Putin approved the apparent document, dated 22 January 2016, which his chancellery stamped.

Because the analysis presented in this story says things that many people now believe — that Trump was unstable, that he harmed the US, that Russia’s operation sowed division in the US — it had been uncritically embraced by many.

But experts are raising some cautions. Thomas Rid raises cautions here (not all of which I agree with). Matt Tait raises more cautions here (not all of which I agree with). Craig Unger quotes more experts raising questions about the document.

What few are doing, however, is comparing the claims in the Guardian document to what we (think we) know about the 2016 operation, which not only is a good way to test their accuracy but also might answer the question Douglas London raised with Unger: “‘Coincidence and convenience are red flags in espionage,’ he told SpyTalk. ‘So why now?'”

If these documents are disinformation, they would change the known story in at least two ways. The resulting story would sustain a claim that both key events and key players in the 2016 Russian operation weren’t really part of that operation. That is, if this is disinformation, it likely was told to try to obscure who were the most important players in the 2016 operation and what events were part of it.

A January 22 approval would suggest presumed parts of the 2016 operation weren’t actually part of it

If the Russian operation weren’t approved until January 22, then events believed to be part of the operation that happened before that might be dissociated from it.

Perhaps the most important temporal conflict these documents would introduce would be the Trump Tower Moscow dangle. That effort — floated by Felix Sater and relying on a former GRU officer as a broker — started in fall 2015 and ratcheted up in December 2015. Importantly, a key call Michael Cohen had with Dmitri Peskov’s assistant took place before Putin allegedly approved the operation, on January 20.

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.351 Cohen described to Poliakova his position at the Trump Organization and outlined the proposed Trump Moscow project, including information about the Russian counterparty with which the Trump Organization had partnered. Cohen requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the project and with financing. According to Cohen, Poliakova asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would need to follow up with others in Russia.352

The next day — so still one day before, according to the Guardian document, Putin approved the 2016 operation — Sater responded to Cohen claiming that Putin’s office had called.

However, the day after Cohen’s call with Poliakova, Sater texted Cohen, asking him to “[c]all me when you have a few minutes to chat .. . It’s about Putin they called today.”353 Sater then sent a draft invitation for Cohen to visit Moscow to discuss the Trump Moscow project, 354

If Putin didn’t approve the 2016 operation until January 22, Russia and Trump might claim, this effort wasn’t really an attempt to offer Trump financial salvation in exchange for policy considerations and other quid pro quo that became part of the operation, but instead was a viable (albeit ridiculously lucrative) real estate offer. Indeed, if Russia wanted to bail Trump out of the financial difficulties created by the prosecution of Trump Organization now, they might want to launder this earlier real estate dangle so as to dissociate it with any attempt to buy a president, or else any deals from this point forward might be deemed a continuation of an earlier conspiracy or even an effort to keep Trump afloat long enough to run again in 2024.

Similarly, also before the purported January 22 approval date, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko started a several month outreach to Trump, one that would be sustained through March.

Trump received and turned down an invitation to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. In late December 2015, Mira Duma-a contact oflvanka Trump’s from the fashion industry-first passed along invitations for Ivanka Trump and candidate Trump from Sergei Prikhodko, a Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.377 On January 14, 2016, Rhona Graff sent an email to Duma stating that Trump was “honored to be asked to participate in the highly prestigious” Forum event, but that he would “have to decline” the invitation given his “very grueling and full travel schedule” as a presidential candidate.378 Graff asked Duma whether she recommended that Graff “send a formal note to the Deputy Prime Minister” declining his invitation; Duma replied that a formal note would be “great.”379

It does not appear that Graff prepared that note immediately. According to written answers from President Trump,380 Graff received an email from Deputy Prime Minister Prikhodko on March 17, 2016, again inviting Trump to participate in the 2016 Forum in St. Petersburg.381 Two weeks later, on March 31, 2016, Graff prepared for Trump’s signature a two-paragraph letter declining the invitation.382 The letter stated that Trump’s “schedule has become extremely demanding” because of the presidential campaign, that he “already ha[ d] several commitments in the United States” for the time of the Forum, but that he otherwise “would have gladly given every consideration to attending such an important event.”383 Graff forwarded the letter to another executive assistant at the Trump Organization with instructions to print the document on letterhead for Trump to sign.384

We don’t know what this outreach might have entailed, but like the Trump Tower deal, Trump Organization appears to have withheld evidence about this outreach from one or another investigator, in this case any evidence that Trump declined Prikhodko’s invitation.

Finally there’s the weird way this fits Mike Flynn’s known timeline. To be clear, Flynn was not a full-time part of the Trump campaign when he and his son went to Moscow for the RT Gala in December 2015 and, before he went, he met with Sergei Kislyak in the US. While Flynn was sharing some advice with Trump (as well as some of the other Republican candidates), he would only join Trump’s campaign full time months later. But when Flynn visited Russia, he had prior ties with the GRU. He would later tell the FBI he believed then-GRU head Igor Sergun could work with the US. Days after Flynn’s visit, Sergun died unexpectedly in Syria, and Flynn called Kislyak on January 5 to offer his condolences, the first of Flynn’s 2016 calls with Kislyak picked up on FISA intercepts. Sergun’s death was only widely made public weeks later, after this purported meeting, and there were questions about the circumstances of the death. Those things are probably unrelated, but days after the head of GRU died seems curious timing to put GRU in charge of a risky operation.

The described organization shifts the existing understanding of the 2016 operation

The timing of this meeting, just days after the death of Sergun, is important to explain a claim made in it: that Sergei Shoigu was purportedly put in charge of the GRU part of the operation, its most important part. A January 22 meeting would take place before Sergun’s replacement, Igor Korobov, was appointed (and the suggestion of the story is that Shoigu remained in charge after the later appointment).

And under Shoigu, everything was all tidy and bureaucratic.

According to the document, each spy agency was given a role. The defence minister was instructed to coordinate the work of subdivisions and services. Shoigu was also responsible for collecting and systematising necessary information and for “preparing measures to act on the information environment of the object” – a command, it seems, to hack sensitive American cyber-targets identified by the SVR.

The SVR was told to gather additional information to support the commission’s activities. The FSB was assigned counter-intelligence.

For a lot of reasons I find the designation of FSB for counterintelligence weird, because that’s what they would always be doing and that effort would necessarily (and presumed aspects of which did) long precede any individual operation. Plus, by the end of the year, Putin had taken out two top FSB officers for treason, a prosecution that was later used to offer counter-narratives to the 2016 operation.

But it’s the rest of this narrative that would be intriguing, if true. It would seem to offer an explanation that has never publicly been answered by the US: what the relationship was between the DNC hack by the SVR that started in 2015 to the DNC hack by the GRU that started in 2016. That said, SVR is not known to have hacked several other targets of the 2016 operation: John Podesta individually, state election infrastructure, election vendors, and Hillary’s analytics hosted on an AWS server.

The narrative would be particularly interesting, if true, in the wake of the Solar Winds hack, because it might suggest there will be a GRU sabotage operation following on the entities targeted by SVR. Or maybe Russia wants the west to think that to be true.

That said, there’s a huge part of this neat bureaucratic description not mentioned: The central role of Oligarchs in the 2016 operation.

One might discount the need to include specific instructions for Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as his Internet Research Agency was already engaged in sowing division. But you’d think a description of the bureaucratic structure of the 2016 operation would at least note that a big part of the operation would be accomplished by a known private entity. Furthermore, there are redacted hints in public filings both that Prigozhin’s team interacted with GRU, and that he and Putin had specific conversations about the operation. None of that is accounted for (or arguably, even consistent with) this story.

And that’s the thing: if testimony that Alfa Bank’s Petr Aven gave to the Mueller team is accurate, his role in the 2016 operation got tasked both individually and more generally in quarterly Oligarch meetings with Putin, not through intelligence agencies.

Aven told the Office that he is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin in the Kremlin; these 50 men are often referred to as “oligarchs.”977 Aven told the Office that he met on a quarterly basis with Putin, including in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.978 Aven said that he took these meetings seriously and understood that any suggestions or critiques that Putin made during these meetings were implicit directives, and that there would be consequences for Aven if he did not follow through.979 As was typical, the 2016 Q4 meeting with Putin was preceded by a preparatory meeting with Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino.980

According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin,98 1 Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank.982 Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank.983 Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration.984 According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.985

Aras Agalarov played a partly successful role in the 2016 operation (in fact, Rob Goldstone offered Trump help from Vkontakte before the January 22 meeting, on January 18). Oleg Deripaska played a wildly successful role (a role that included manipulating Harding’s known source, Christopher Steele). A credible story that their roles got tasked through intelligence agencies and not via meetings directly with Putin might insulate them from responsibility, particularly as the US focuses more explicitly on Konstantin Kilimnik’s role, and particularly for things like sanctions adjudications. But it’s far more credible that something similar to what happened with Aven happened, and happened before the January 22 meeting in question.

Russian kompromat on Trump was never going to be a pee tape

In addition to shifting the timing and presumed bureaucratic structure of the 2016 operation, this story seems to reinflate the expectation of a goddamned pee tape.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

The paper refers to “certain events” that happened during Trump’s trips to Moscow. Security council members are invited to find details in appendix five, at paragraph five, the document states. It is unclear what the appendix contains.

The SSCI Report laid out three different rumors about sexual kompromat, on top of the Steele dossier. But every time someone focuses on a goddamn pee tape, they ignore several details. First, Per his own testimony, Cohen learned of such alleged kompromat shortly after 2013. Even if it existed, it would have far less impact than the many other allegations of sexual abuse that actually did come out in 2016, or the allegations that Trump was cheating on Melania shortly after she gave birth with high profile sex workers. Plus, such stories would have been easily accessible for anyone who wanted to outbid Trump for them.

A pee tape was never going to be the most effective kompromat on Trump, no matter how much people still wish to see humiliating pictures of Trump with sex workers. Financial ties would be.

Importantly, given the way this story would shift the operative start date after much of the discussion about the Trump Tower, Trump hid the Trump Tower Moscow dangle the way he would a pee tape, lying both in real time and to Mueller about it. That is, Trump treated the Trump Tower Moscow dangle as kompromat, which likely was part of the point.

Sure, it’s possible that these documents that magically appear are authentic. It’s also possible that Russia has reasons they want to tell a new story about the timing and key players in the known 2016 operation. Why they would want to do that may be the most interesting aspect of this story.

Charlie Savage Plays with His Magic Time Machine To Avoid Doing Journalism

Charlie Savage just did something astonishing in the name of press freedom. He said that the truth doesn’t matter now, in 2021, because he reported a different truth eleven years ago.

He took issue with my headline to this piece, noting that he was obfuscating the facts about the Julian Assange prosecution so as to shoehorn it into a story about actual journalists.

Charlie made several obfuscations or clear errors in that piece:

  • He didn’t explain (as he hasn’t, to misleading effect, in past stories on Assange) the nature of the 2nd superseding indictment and the way it added to the most problematic first superseding one
  • He said the 2019 superseding indictment (again, he was silent about the 2020 superseding indictment) raised the “specter of prosecuting reporters;” this line is how Charlie shoehorned Assange into a story about actual journalists
  • He claimed that the decision to charge Assange for “his journalistic-style acts” arose from the change in Administrations, Obama to Trump (and specifically to Bill Barr), not the evidence DOJ had obtained about Assange’s actions over time

Charlie presented all this as actual journalism about the Assange prosecution, but along the way, he made claims that were either inflammatory and inexact — a veritable specter haunting journalism — or, worse, what I believe to be false statements, false statements that parrot the propaganda that Wikileaks is spreading to obscure the facts.

The “specter” comment, I take to be a figure of speech, melodramatic and cynical, but mostly rhetorical.

The silence about the 2020 superseding indictment is a habit I have called Charlie on before, but one that is an error of omission, rather than of fact.

It’s this passage that I objected to at length:

But the specter of prosecuting reporters returned in 2019, when the department under Attorney General William P. Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes.

Obama-era officials had weighed charging Mr. Assange for publishing leaked military and diplomatic files, but worried about establishing a precedent that could damage mainstream news outlets that sometimes publish government secrets, like The Times. The Trump administration, however, was undeterred by that prospect.

As presented, this passage made several claims:

  1. “Obama-era officials” had considered charging Assange for publishing activities, but “Obama-era officials” did not do so because it might damage “mainstream news outlets” like the NYT
  2. The reason that the Trump administration was willing to charge Assange for publishing was because they were “undeterred” from the prospect of doing damage to the NYT
  3. DOJ under Billy Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy “to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes”

I believe the last claim is largely factual but misleading, as if the operative issue were Barr’s involvement or as if Barr deliberately treated Assange’s “journalistic-style acts” — as distinct from that of actual journalists — as a crime. There may be evidence that Barr specifically had it in for WikiLeaks or that Barr (as distinct from Trump’s other Attorneys General) treated Assange as he did out of the same contempt with which he treated actual journalists. There may be evidence that Barr — whose tenure as AG exhibited great respect for some of the journalists he had known since his first term as AG — was trying to burn down journalism, as an institution. But Charlie provides no evidence of that, nor has anyone else I know. (Indeed, Charlie’s larger argument presents evidence that Barr’s attacks on journalism, including subpoenas that may or may not have been obtained under Barr in defiance of guidelines adopted under Eric Holder, may only differ from Obama’s in their political tilt.)

Of course, one of the worst things that the Trump Administration did to a journalist, obtaining years of Ali Watkins’ email records, happened under Jeff Sessions, not Barr.

The first and second claims together set up a clear contrast. Obama-era officials — and by context, this means the entirety of the Obama Administration — did not prosecute Assange for publication because of what became known — based off a description that DOJ’s spox Matthew Miller gave publicly in 2013 — as the NYT problem, the risk that prosecuting WikiLeaks would endanger NYT. But the Trump Administration was willing to charge Assange for publication because they didn’t think the risk that such charges posed to the NYT were all that grave or damaging or important.

There’s no way to understand these two points except as a contrast of Administrations, to suggest that Obama’s Administration — which was epically shitty on leak investigations — wouldn’t do what the Trump Administration did do. It further involves treating the Department of Justice as an organization entirely subject to the whims of a President and an Attorney General, rather than as the enormous bureaucracy full of career professionals who guard their independence jealously, who even did so, with varying degrees of success, in the face of Barr’s unprecedented politicization of the department.

It’s certainly possible that’s true. It’s possible that Evan Perez and three other CNN journalists who reported in 2017 that what actually changed pertained to Snowden simply made that report up out of thin air. It’s certainly possible that under a President who attempted to shut down the Russian hacking investigation to protect Assange even after his CIA Director declared war on Assange, who almost blew up the investigation into Joshua Schulte, who entertained pardoning Assange in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2020, at the same time viewed the Assange prosecution as a unique opportunity to set up future prosecutions of journalists. It’s certainly possible that Billy Barr, who sabotaged the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone prosecutions to serve Trump’s interests, went rogue on the Assange case.

But given the abundant evidence that this prosecution happened in spite of Trump’s feelings about WikiLeaks rather than because of them, you would need to do actual reporting to make that claim.

And, as noted, I asked Charlie whether he had done the reporting to sustain that claim before I wrote the post…

… just as I — months earlier — asked Charlie why he was falsely claiming Assange was charged in 2018 rather than within a day of a Russian exfiltration attempt in 2017, something that probably has far more to do with why DOJ charged Assange when and how they did than who was Attorney General at the time.

After his bullshit attempt to explain that date error away, Charlie removed the date, though without notice of correction, must less credit to me for having to fact check the NYT.

Anyway, Charlie apparently didn’t read the post when I first wrote it, but instead only read it yesterday when I excused Icelandic journalists for making the same error — attributing the decision to prosecute Assange to Billy Barr’s animus rather than newly discovered evidence — that Charlie had earlier made. And Charlie went off on a typically thin-skinned tirade. He accused me (the person who keeps having to correct his errors) of being confused. He claimed that the thrust of my piece — that he was misrepresenting the facts about Assange — was “false.” He claimed the charges against and extradition of Assange was a precedent not already set by Minh Quang Pham’s extradition and prosecution. He accused me of not grasping that this was a First Amendment argument and not the journalism argument he had shoehorned it into. He suggested my insistence on accurate reporting about the CFAA overt acts against Assange (including the significance of Edward Snowden to them) was a “hobbyhorse,” and that I only insisted on accurate reporting on the topic in an effort to, “us[e] something [Charlie] said as a peg to artificially sex it up (dumb NYT!) even though it doesn’t actually fit.” He then made a comment that still treats the prosecution of Assange as binary — the original indictment on a single CFAA charge or the first superseding indictment that added the dangerous Espionage Act charges — rather than tertiary, the second superseding indictment that, at least per Vanessa Baraitser, clearly distinguished what Assange did from what journalists do.

That’s when things went absolutely haywire. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Charlie Savage said that his repeated claim that the charges against Assange arose from a change in Administration rather than a changed understanding of Assange did not rely on what Miller said, because he had “been writing since 2010 about deliberations inside DOJ re wanting to charge Assange/WL,” linking to this story.

 

That is, Charlie presented as a defense to my complaint that he was misrepresenting what happened in 2016 and 2017 by pointing to reporting he did in 2010, which — I pointed out — is actually before 2013 and so useless in offering a better reason to cling to that 2013 detail rather than rely on more recent reporting. Because DOJ did not have the same understanding of WikiLeaks in 2010 as they got after Julian Assange played a key role in a Russian intelligence operation against the United States, obtained files from a CIA SysAdmin after explicitly calling on CIA SysAdmins to steal such things (in a speech invoking Snowden), attempted to extort the US with those CIA files, and then implicitly threatened the President’s son with them, Charlie Savage says, it’s okay to misrepresent what happened in 2016 and 2017. Charlie’s reporting in 2010 excuses his refusal to do reporting in 2021.

Given his snotty condescension, it seems clear that Charlie hasn’t considered that, better than most journalists in the United States, I understand the grave risks of what DOJ did with Assange. I’ve thought about it in a visceral way that a recipient of official leaks backed by an entire legal department probably can’t even fathom. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to understand — and write accurately about — what DOJ claims to be doing with Assange. Indeed, as someone whose career has intersected with WikiLeaks far more closely than Charlie’s has and as someone who knows what people very close to Assange claim to believe, I feel I have an obligation to try to unpack what really happened and what the real legal implications of it are, not least because that’s the only way to assess where DOJ is telling the truth and whether they’re simply making shit up to take out Assange. DOJ is acting ruthlessly. But at the same time, at least one person very close to Assange told me explicitly she wanted me to misrepresent the truth in his defense, and WikiLeaks has been telling outrageous lies in Assange’s defense with little pushback by people like Charlie because, I guess, he thinks he’s defending journalism.

As I understand it, the entire point of journalism is to try to write the truth, rather than obfuscate it in an attempt to protect an institution called journalism. It does no good to the institution — either its integrity or the ability to demonstrate the risks of the Assange prosecution — to blame it all on Billy Barr rather than explore how and why DOJ’s institutional approach to Assange has changed over time.

Welcome to Lisa Monaco’s DOJ, E Jean Carroll Lawsuit Edition

During Lisa Monaco’s confirmation hearing, several people joked about how few questions she was getting. Because Vanita Gupta had been targeted by Republicans, Monaco was left for broad swaths of the hearing, a spectator to that effort.

There were some good exchanges. In addition to complaining about DOJ’s refusal to respond to questions from Democratic members of Congress, Sheldon Whitehouse asked about OLC, to which Monaco provided an anodyne answer that was enough for Whitehouse, who was going to vote for Monaco one way or another. Josh Hawley asked some legitimately good questions, including about end-to-end encryption. To those questions, Monaco hewed a middle ground and an adherence to the laws on the books. John Cornyn asked the same question Republicans harped on with Merrick Garland, whether she would let John Durham finish his work, to which she responded that her job is to make sure he has the resources to do so, which (while more nuanced that it sounded) shut down that line of questioning.

It was a testament to how shallowly Republican staffers interpreted Lisa Monaco’s long career that Chuck Grassley asked Monaco whether she had involvement in Crossfire Hurricane — the answer was obviously no, given her White House role at the time. But Grassley didn’t ask whether her position at the nexus of Mike Flynn’s efforts to obtain information from the Obama White House in advance of making calls with Sergey Kislyak that Flynn lied to hide would affect her view of the Russian investigation. Perhaps only Susan Rice was more personally betrayed by Mike Flynn’s outreach to Russia, and yet Republicans seemed to not even realize that Flynn and KT McFarland sent Tom Bossert to query Monaco in advance of Flynn’s covert call with Russia, making her the Obama person most directly victimized by Flynn’s underhandedness.

That blithe ignorance of how Monaco’s personal history might affect her tenure extended beyond the Senate Judiciary Committee. For example, while every Assange supporter has targeted Biden and Garland for their pleas to drop the Assange prosecution, none have thought about the fact that Monaco was in charge of the response to the 2016 Russian interference campaign that led even WikiLeaks sympathizers in the Obama Administration to completely reconsider Assange’s game and his longterm relationship with Russia (then again, Assange supporters, almost to a one, have convinced themselves to believe bullshit propaganda about that decision being made under Trump).

Most people have failed to ask these questions about Monaco’s career experiences, even though as Deputy Attorney General, Monaco runs DOJ on a day-to-day basis and makes a lot of these decisions and serves as a key advisor to Garland where she doesn’t.

As a result of the very surface approach to Monaco’s career, there were a whole slew of questions in her confirmation hearing that should have been asked (and should be asked before Monaco’s close associate Matt Olsen is confirmed as National Security Division head), but were not. When Lisa Monaco was Robert Mueller’s top advisor in 2006, for example, what role did she play legalizing the phone dragnet aspiring to collect the phone records of all Americans under FISA’s Section 215? Given her past failures to fulfill promises of transparency, specifically as it relates to FISA, what can she do to ensure she will deliver on such transparency as Deputy Attorney General? What was her role in the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, and what does that say about her willingness to support unfettered executive authority? With the value of hindsight, does Monaco believe that she was suckered into continuing John Brennan’s permissive approach to drone strikes as White House Homeland Security Advisor, and if so what would she do to give herself the leverage to actually change bad policies baked in by her predecessors?

Don’t get me wrong: Monaco has almost unparalleled qualifications to be Deputy Attorney General, she brings a lot of great qualities to the job, and I’m sure she’s a lovely person. But there was almost no consideration about what affect her long tenure at DOJ and in National Security roles would have on her view towards Presidential authority and DOJ institutional precedent before she was confirmed.

Indeed, in perhaps the question that got closest to asking how she would treat initiatives from career DOJ officials already in place, Monaco explained to Amy Klobuchar that she viewed her job as to empower the people at DOJ she believed operated from an inherently unpartisan stance.

Klobuchar: After the last four years where civil servants withstood political interference, what do you see your role is as restoring the trust in the Department of Justice?

Monaco: Well Senator, as I said in my opening remarks, I think that the career men and women of the Justice Department are its backbone. They’re the people that enforce the law independently, faithfully, fairly, impartially, without any consideration of improper motive. I think they simply want to do their job. They want to do their job with the resources and the tools to keep the American people safe, to prosecute violent crime, to administer justice with compassion, and with humility, as Judge Garland talked about before this committee. And they want to see equal justice under law, and they want to do the work that this Committee has done on a bipartisan basis to administer criminal justice reform. And so I think my role is to ensure that they’ve got the tools and resources to do their job and to protect them from improper influence, any partisan motive, because I think they just want to do their job.

This is the belief system that leads Monaco to respond to a question about career DOJ prosecutor John Durham’s clearly politicized investigation by saying that her job is to make sure he has the resources he wants to continue that investigation.

In her role at DOJ, Monaco has overseen some key wins: with the announcement yesterday that FBI had seized much of the ransomware payment that Colonial pipelines had paid Dark Side hackers, with her quiet presence on the public line listening as Paul Hodgkins made the first pure guilty plea of the January 6 investigation, with the decision — on her first full day in office — to let SDNY resume its investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s foreign influence peddling.

But also under her leadership, DOJ has delayed notice to NYT about an effort to get their Internet records in a clearly politicized investigation. DOJ has moved to hide the contents of a Bill Barr memo that clearly abused his authority and the role of OLC (and with that decision, protected career employees who were making similarly dubious claims when Monaco ran the National Security Division). DOJ has defended a lot of legal stances that were obviously political on their face, most recently and egregiously by sustaining DOJ support to give Trump immunity from suit in his attack on alleged rape survivor, E. Jean Carroll. That is, as she did before with Cheney’s Stellar Wind and Brennan’s drone program, Monaco seems to have chosen not to make a clean break from the horrible policies of her predecessors, choosing instead to ensure the continuity of the institution.

Again, Lisa Monaco oozes intelligence and competence; she’s undeniably qualified to be where she’s at. But she also got where she’s at by cleaning up the messes left by Stellar Wind, the torture program, and John Brennan’s drone program by improving those shitty policies without demanding any accountability for the abuse of DOJ and presidential authority they entailed. Plus, as a career DOJ official, she’s going to defend professionals who did stupid things on the orders of a deeply politicized boss.

Particularly in the wake of the decision to defend Trump against Carroll’s suit, people are wondering how Merrick Garland could make such a horrible decision. My suspicion is they would be better asking what Lisa Monaco’s role was in the decision.

Latex Gloves Hiding Evidence of Conspiracies: On the Unknown Adequacy of the January 6 Investigation

Since I’ve acquired new readers with my January 6 coverage and since the financial stress of COVID is abating for many, it seems like a good time to remind people this is not a hobby: it is my day job, and I’d be grateful if you support my work.

Update, 6/2: As this post lays out, Hodgkins’ plea was indeed just a garden variety plea. During the hearing he explained the latex gloves. He carries a First Aid kit around all the time and saw Joshua Black’s plastic bullet wound (though he didn’t know Black and didn’t name him in the hearing) and put gloves on in preparation to provide medical assistance. After Black declined his help, he took the latex gloves off.

On Wednesday, June 2, insurrectionist Paul Allard Hodgkins will plead guilty, becoming just the second of around 450 defendants to publicly plead guilty (particularly given the number of people involved, there may be — and I suspect there are — secret cooperation pleas we don’t know about).

NOTICE OF HEARING as to PAUL ALLARD HODGKINS: A Plea Agreement Hearing is set for 6/2/2021, at 11:00 AM, by video, before Judge Randolph D. Moss. The parties shall use the same link for connecting to the hearing.(kt)

This could be the first of what will be a sea of plea deals, people accepting some lesser prison time while avoiding trial by pleading out. But there’s one detail that suggests it could be more, that suggests Hodgkins might have knowledge that would be sufficiently valuable that the government would give him a cooperation deal, rather than just a plea to limit his prison time.

Hodgkins is one of the people who made it to the Senate floor and started rifling through papers there, which by itself has been a locus of recent investigative interest. But he is an utterly generic rioter, wearing a Trump shirt and carrying a Trump flag. According to an uncontested claim in his arrest affidavit, he told the FBI he traveled to the insurrection from Florida alone, by bus. Because the only challenge he made to his release conditions — to his curfew — was oral, and because the prosecutor in his case hasn’t publicly filed any notice of discovery (which would disclose other kinds of evidence against him), there’s nothing more in his docket to explain who he is or what else he did that day, if anything.

But one thing sticks out about him: before he started rifling through papers in the Senate, he put on latex gloves.

It’s not surprising he had gloves. During the pandemic, after all, latex gloves have been readily available, and I’ve wandered around with gloves in my jacket pocket for weeks. But he did show the operational security to put them on, when all around him people were just digging in either bare-handed or wearing the winter or work gloves they had on because it was a pretty cold day.

There’s just one other instance I know of where someone at the insurrection showed that kind of operational security (though there is one person identified by online researchers by the blue latex gloves he wore while playing a clear organizational role outside the Capitol). When one of the guys that Riley June Williams was with started to steal Nancy Pelosi’s laptop, Williams admonished him, “dude, put on gloves” and threw black gloves (which may or may not be latex) onto the table for him to use.

There’s no reason to believe there’s a tie (as it happens, Williams had a status hearing last week where her conditions were loosened so she can look for work). There is a cybersecurity prosecutor, Mona Sedky, who is common to both cases, which sometimes indicates a tie, but she is also on cases against defendants who have no imaginable tie to Williams. But Hodgkins exhibited the kind of operational security that, otherwise, only other people who seemed to be operating from some kind of plan exhibited.

My point is not that there’s a tie, but that we don’t know whether there’s something more interesting about Hodgkins, and we might not even learn whether there is on Wednesday, in significant part because if there is one, prosecutors may not want to share that information publicly.

And I think, particularly in the wake of Republicans’ successful filibuster of a January 6 Commission and discussions of whether there will be any real accountability, that’s a useful illustration about the limits of our ability to measure the efficacy of the investigation right now. Paul Hodgkins could be (and probably is) just some Trump supporter who hopped on a bus, or his latex gloves could be the fingerprint of a connection to more organized forces.

With that said, I’d like to talk about what we can say about the investigation so far, and where it might go.

Last week, when I read this problematic and in several areas factually erroneous attempt to describe the attack in military terms, I realized that readers new to my work may not understand what I do.

I cover a range of things, but when I cover a legal case, I cover the legal case as a means to understand what prosecutors are seeing. That’s different than describing the alleged crime itself; particularly given the flood of defendants, I’m not, for example, reading through scraped social media accounts from before the attack to understand what was planned in the semi-open in advance. But reading the filings closely is one way to understand where the criminal investigation might go and the chances it will be successfully prosecuted and if so how broadly the prosecution will reach.

I’m not a lawyer, though I’ve got a pretty decent understanding of the law, especially the national security crimes I’ve covered for 17 years. But my background in corporate documentation consulting and comparative literature (plus the fact that I don’t have an editor demanding a certain genre of writing) means I approach legal cases differently than most other journalists. For the purposes of this post, for example, my academic expertise in narrative theory makes me attuned to how prosecutors are withholding information and focalizing their approach to preserve investigative equities (or, at times, hide real flaws in their cases). Prosecutors are just a special kind of story-teller, and like novelists and directors they package up their stories for specific effects, though criminal law, the genre dictated by court filings, and prohibitions on making accusations outside of criminal charges impose constraints on how they tell their stories.

One of the tools prosecutors use, both in a legal sense and a story-telling one, is conspiracy. The problematic military analysis, linked above, totally misunderstood that part of my work (as have certain Russian denialists looking for a way to attack that doesn’t involve grappling with evidence): when I map out the conspiracies we’re seeing in January 6, I’m not talking about the overarching conspiracy that made it successful, how the entire event was planned. Rather, I’m observing where prosecutors have chosen to use that tool — by charging four separate conspiracies against Proud Boys that prosecutors are sloppily treating as one, and charging (as of yesterday) sixteen members of the Oath Keepers in a single conspiracy — and where they haven’t, yet — for a set of guys who played key roles in breaching the East door and the Senate chamber who armed themselves and traveled together. As that set of guys shows, prosecutors aren’t limited to using conspiracy with organized militias, and I expect we’ll begin to see some other conspiracies charged against other networks of insurrectionists. It’s virtually certain, for example, that we’ll see some conspiracies charged against activists who first organized together in local Trump protests; I expect we’ll see conspiracies charged against other pre-existing networks (like America First or QAnon or even anti-vaxers who used those pre-existing networks to pre-plan their role in the insurrection).

Conspiracies are useful tools for prosecutors for several purposes. For example, a conspiracy charge can change what you need to prove: that the conspiracy was entered into and steps taken, some criminal, to achieve the conspiracy, rather than the underlying crime. It can used to coerce cooperation from co-conspirators and enter evidence at trial in easier fashion. And it’s the best way to hold organizers accountable for the crimes they recruit others to commit.

If Trump, or even his flunkies, are going to be held accountable for January 6, it will almost certainly be through conspiracy charges built up backwards from the activities at the Capitol. I am agnostic on whether they will be, but it’s not as far a reach as some might think. This handy guide to conspiracy law that Elizabeth de la Vega laid out during the Mueller investigation provides a sense of why that is.

Conspiracy Law – Eight Things You Need to Know.

One: Co-conspirators don’t have to explicitly agree to conspire & there doesn’t need to be a written agreement; in fact, they almost never explicitly agree to conspire & it would be nuts to have a written agreement!

Two: Conspiracies can have more than one object- i.e. conspiracy to defraud U.S. and to obstruct justice. The object is the goal. Members could have completely different reasons (motives) for wanting to achieve that goal.

Three: All co-conspirators have to agree on at least one object of the conspiracy.

Four: Co-conspirators can use multiple means to carry out the conspiracy, i.e., releasing stolen emails, collaborating on fraudulent social media ops, laundering campaign contributions.

Five: Co-conspirators don’t have to know precisely what the others are doing, and, in large conspiracies, they rarely do.

Six: Once someone is found to have knowingly joined a conspiracy, he/she is responsible for all acts of other co-conspirators.

Seven: Statements of any co-conspirator made to further the conspiracy may be introduced into evidence against any other co-conspirator.

Eight: Overt Acts taken in furtherance of a conspiracy need not be illegal. A POTUS’ public statement that “Russia is a hoax,” e.g., might not be illegal (or even make any sense), but it could be an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

We know that Trump and his flunkies shared the goal of the conspiracies that have already been charged: to prevent the certification of the vote. Trump (and some of his flunkies) played a key role in one of the manner and means charged in most of the conspiracies: To use social media to recruit as many people as possible to get to DC. Arguably, Mike Flynn played another role, in setting the expectation of insurrection.

What’s currently missing is proof (in court filings, as opposed to the public record) that people conspiring directly with Trump were also conspiring directly with those who stormed the Capitol. But we know the White House had contact with some of the conspirators. We know that organizers like Ali Alexander and Alex Jones likewise had ties to both conspirators and Trump’s flunkies (an Alex Jones producer has already been arrested). We know that Flynn had other ties to QAnon (which is why I’ll be interested if the government ever claims QAnon had some more focused direction with respect to January 6). Most of all, Roger Stone has abundant ties with people already charged in the militia conspiracies, and was at the same location as some of the Oath Keepers before they raced to the Capitol in golf carts to join the mob. If Trump or his flunkies are held accountable, I suspect it will go through conspiracies hatched in Florida, and the overlap right now between the Oath Keeper and Proud Boys conspiracies are in Floridians Kelly Meggs and Joe Biggs. But if they are held accountable, it will take time. It’s hard to remember given the daily flow of new defendants, but complex conspiracies don’t get charged in four months, and it will take some interim arrests and a number of cooperating witnesses to get to the top levels of the January 6 conspirators, if it ever happens.

This post, which is meant to be read in tandem with this one, assesses developments in the last week or so in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case.

Rudy Giuliani’s Support Role in the Mueller Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Barr Issued Prosecution Declinations for Three Crimes in Progress

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

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

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

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

It was worse than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

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

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

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

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

Barr: Yes.

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

Barr: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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