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Emmet Sullivan Invites Mike Flynn to Lie Under Oath One More Time

Yesterday, Mike Flynn asked for a delay in the deadline for his real motion to withdraw his guilty plea(s), pointing to recently obtained 302s of his so-called cooperation with the government to explain why the seven months since they first made it clear they were going to do this wasn’t enough time to make a coherent argument.

Judge Emmet Sullivan granted Flynn precisely the deadlines he wanted.

But along with the delay, Sullivan ordered Flynn to brief the standards for withdrawing a plea in the DC Circuit and the need to have witnesses testify under oath to support that standard.

MINUTE ORDER as to MICHAEL T. FLYNN granting [157] Defendant’s Second Motion to Continue Briefing Deadlines. The parties shall adhere to the following modified briefing schedule: (1) Mr. Flynn shall file his “Supplemental Motion to Withdraw for alternative additional reasons” by no later than 12:00 PM on January 29, 2020; (2) the government shall file its response to Mr. Flynn’s motion and supplemental motion by no later than 12:00 PM on February 12, 2020; and (3) Mr. Flynn shall file his reply brief by no later than 12:00 PM on February 18, 2020. Mr. Flynn’s supplemental motion and the government’s response shall address the following: (1) the standard in this Circuit for a defendant seeking to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing; and (2) the need for an evidentiary hearing where the parties would present all testimony and evidence concerning the issue of whether Mr. Flynn can show that there is good cause to set aside his guilty pleas, see United States v. Cray, 47 F.3d 1203, 1206 (D.C. Cir. 1995), including testimony from Mr. Flynn and other witnesses under oath, subject to cross-examination, to show any “fair and just reason” for this Court to grant his motion to withdraw, Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d). Signed by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on 1/24/2020.

Flynn is fucked.

That’s true, because the precedent Sullivan pointed to is a case very similar to Flynn’s. A defendant pointed to a comment he had made to his probation officer, claiming he was not guilty of all the things he was pleading to, but the District Court found that the claim not only didn’t address what he had pled guilty to, but also did not offer enough to rebut his original guilty plea.

Cray points to a conversation with his probation officer, which was reflected in his presentence investigation report as follows:  “[Cray] advised that while he is guilty of some of the offense behavior, he is not guilty of all he is charged with.”   In response to questions from the court, Cray acknowledged that he had made this statement with reference to the original 11-count indictment, not to the two-count superseding information to which he ultimately pled guilty.   Even if we take the statement as an assertion of his innocence of the charges to which he ultimately pled guilty, however, it comes up short.   A defendant appealing the denial of his motion to withdraw a guilty plea, unlike a defendant who has not first pled guilty, must do more than make a general denial in order to put the Government to its proof;  he must affirmatively advance an objectively reasonable argument that he is innocent, see Barker, 514 F.2d at 226 n. 17, for he has waived his right simply to try his luck before a jury.   Cray’s claim falls far short of what we require before finding that a district court that committed no error under Rule 11 nevertheless abused its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

As it is, the claims Flynn is making about not being guilty of making false statements under FARA conflict with his sworn grand jury testimony, the testimony of Rob Kelner, and the notes of what he told Covington. So if he — and Kelner — were put under oath, the evidence would show that the reason he is offering is bullshit.

More importantly, Flynn has made no claim that he didn’t lie to the FBI in his January 24, 2017 interview. In his filing the other day, he simply renewed claims he made in December 2018 that he already disavowed, under oath, before Judge Sullivan. So, like Lyman Cray, he’s trying to withdraw his guilty plea by claiming he’s innocent of just some of the things he pled guilty to.

Finally, Flynn will need to prove three things to withdraw his plea. One of those things is that he must show a substantial reason why the judge who originally accepted his plea committed an error.

Read together, Barker and Rule 32 set out three factors to consider in order to establish whether the district court abused its discretion when it refused to allow the defendant to withdraw his plea of guilty.   First, a defendant generally must make out a legally cognizable defense to the charge against him.   Second, and most important, the defendant must show either an error in the taking of his plea or some “more substantial” reason he failed to press his case rather than plead guilty.   Finally, if those two factors warrant, the court may then inquire whether the Government would have been substantially prejudiced by the delay in going to trial.

In this case, of course, Sullivan put Flynn under oath for his second guilty plea, and made him state that he didn’t think his complaints about his original FBI interview in any way negated his guilt.

In short, Sullivan is setting up this plea withdraw such that Flynn may be arguing he lied under oath twice: once in his grand jury appearance and once in his guilty plea in 2018.

It’s probably not a good way to get out of a charge of false statements, by claiming under oath that you lied under oath twice.

Sidney Powell Wants to Have Mike Flynn’s Acceptance of Responsibility and Claims of Innocence Too

Eight days ago, in a filing moving to withdraw Mike Flynn’s plea deal, Sidney Powell said this:

Michael T. Flynn is innocent.

Today, in her sentencing memo, Sidney Powell makes no such claim. Instead, she claims that since November 2017 — 8 months after the second of two lies he pled guilty to, under oath, twice — he has mostly told the truth (a claim that is probably not true).

Since November 2017 (and before), Mr. Flynn told the government the truth about every question it asked him, including what he knows concerning the Flynn Intel Group’s (“FIG”) involvement with Inovo BV, Ekim Altepkin, and the Government of Turkey.

Her only mentions of the primary crime to which Mike Flynn pled guilty are — first — to nod to a brief that backfired when it was filed the first time and which Flynn disavowed under oath before Judge Emmet Sullivan.

Mr. Flynn previously briefed the unique circumstances of the January 24, 2017 FBI “interview” at issue. ECF No. 50 at 7-9.

And, then, to call his out and out lies to the FBI about what he said to the Russian Ambassador an “alleged false statement.”

Admittedly, Mr. Flynn was a high-ranking government official, as was Mr. Wolfe who was charged with a § 1001 violation. That is the only similarity. Mr. Flynn did not participate in any “repeated” conduct. He did not use his position to participate in illegal conduct. Additionally, Mr. Flynn’s alleged false statement did not result in the “significant disruption of an important governmental function” nor did it “significantly impact national security.”

The rest of her sentencing memo, aside from competent arguments about base level sentences and reminding over and over that Flynn served in the military for a long time (which backfired when Rob Kelner raised it in December 2018), consists of the same arguments she made in her motion to withdraw his plea, arguments that conflict in key ways with his sworn grand jury testimony and blame everyone else for false claims that not only reflect what he told his lawyersbut which he signed his name to, repeatedly.

The government also continues its campaign to hold Mr. Flynn responsible for false statements in a FARA filing. It ignores the facts in its possession as well as the decision of another court. Any misstatements in the March 2017 FARA filing at issue were not the fault of Mr. Flynn. He gave his lawyers complete and accurate documents and information. Moreover, he did his part to make sure any FARA filing was accurate. The FARA statements listed in the Statement of Offense (ECF No. 4) are either not false or not attributable to Mr. Flynn.

To counter these claims, government can and will lay out:

  • How the Covington notes and lawyers’ 302s show Flynn lied to his lawyers, which led directly to false statements in his FARA filing
  • Show how Flynn’s sworn grand jury testimony (which she doesn’t mention) undermines her claims that the EDVA prosecutors tried to get Flynn to lie last year
  • Lay out how Powell is making utterly misleading claims about what the government said about Flynn’s exposure to false statements and conspiracy charges
  • Explain that the reason Judge Anthony Trenga ruled there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict against Bijan Kian was precisely because Flynn reneged on the testimony laid out in his sworn grand jury transcript

That will leave Flynn with his motion to withdraw his guilty plea in tatters, and any claim he is taking responsibility for his crimes shot to hell.

Trump Flunkies Trading Legal Relief for Campaign Dirt: Julian Assange and Dmitro Firtash

When we discuss Trump’s abuse of pardon authority, we generally talk about how he has used it to persuade close associates to refuse to cooperate or affirmatively obstruct investigations into him. If you believe Michael Cohen, Jay Sekulow floated group pardons early in the Mueller investigation before he realized it would backfire, but he did suggest Trump would take care of Cohen in summer 2017; Rudy Giuliani reportedly repeated those assurances after Cohen got raided in April 2018. Trump has repeatedly assailed the prosecutions of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and suggested they might be rewarded with pardons for their loyalty. Trump has even suggested Mike Flynn might receive a pardon, which is good because his current attorney seems intent on blowing up his plea deal.

Even within the Mueller Report, however, there was a hint of a different kind of abuse of pardons. Trump was asked if he had discussed a pardon for Assange prior to inauguration day.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

Trump gave a typically non-responsive answer, claiming to not recall any such discussions rather than denying them outright, and limiting his answer to the campaign period, and not the transition period.

By the time Mueller asked the question, there was already abundant public evidence of a year-long effort on behalf of Trump’s flunkies to get Assange a pardon in exchange for mainstreaming his alternative version of how he obtained the emails he published in 2016. In the Stone trial, Randy Credico described how Stone reached out to Margaret Kunstler to initiate such discussions; that happened in late 2016.

At the very least, that suggests Trump’s flunkies were trying to reward Julian Assange for providing them dirt during the election. Sure, we don’t know whether those flunkies ran such proposals by Trump; we certainly don’t have the details about how Trump responded. But someone in Trump’s immediate orbit, Stone, moved to reward Assange’s actions by trying to get him immunized from any legal problems he had with the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With that in mind, consider these documents that Lev Parnas provided to HPSCI. Part of a set of notes that Parnas took last June while on a call from Rudy, it lays out what plan Parnas was supposed to present to Dmitro Firtash.

The idea was that Parnas would find a way to get rid of Lanny Davis as Firtash’s US lawyer on extradition, to be replaced by Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing. Meanwhile, Rudy would be in “DC” with a “package” that would allow him to work his “magic” to cut a “deal.” The package, it seems would involve relief from Firtash’s legal woes — an indictment for bribery in Chicago — plus some PR to make it possible for Firtash (whom just three months earlier Rudy was loudly accusing of having ties to the Russian mob) to do business in the US again. In exchange for totally perverting the US justice system so that a corrupt businessman could access the US market again, Rudy would get … bogus dirt about Joe Biden and a claim that somehow Ukraine’s publication of details on Paul Manafort’s corruption that Manafort knew about two months in advance improperly affected the 2016 election. Possibly, given other things Parnas said, it would also include a claim that Andrew Weissmann was asking Firtash for information on Manafort.

Remember: another of the oligarchs whom Manafort had crossed in the past, Oleg Deripaska, spent most of 2016 trying to feed up information to the FBI to get him indicted, even while tightening the screws on Manafort to get information about the Trump campaign. But Rudy Giuliani wants to suggest that asking Manafort’s former business partners for details of their work would be proof that Democrats cheated in 2016.

Regardless, these notes, if authentic, show that Rudy Giuliani believed he could make Firtash’s legal problems go away.

And all he would ask in exchange — besides a million dollars for his friends and another $200,000  for Parnas, chump change for Firtash — would be transparently shoddy propaganda to use to discredit the prosecution of Paul Manafort and hurt the reputation of Joe Biden.

Dirt for legal relief. A quid pro quo of a different sort.

Once again, there’s not yet any evidence that Trump’s flunkie — his ostensible defense attorney this time, not his rat-fucker — had looped Trump into this plot. Here, the legal relief would come via connections with Bill Barr (possibly with a nudge from the President), not Trump’s executive authority alone.

But in both cases, Trump’s closest associates appear to believe that the proper currency with which to obtain shoddy campaign dirt is legal relief.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation.

The Procedural Weakness of Sidney Powell’s Attempt to Blow Up Mike Flynn’s Plea Deal

As I noted earlier this week, after six months of threatening to do so, Mike Flynn has formally moved to blow up his plea deal. His initial motion to justify doing so was all but silent about the main crime he pled guilty to — lying about his phone calls with Sergei Kislyak — and instead presented a bunch of block quotes purporting to show Brandon Van Grack pushed him to lie, but often in fact laying out proof that Flynn lied — to the FBI, to his own lawyers, even to Judge Emmet Sullivan himself.

So the bid to gain any advantage beyond delay until such time as Trump can pardon Flynn isn’t going so well, as a matter of legal argument.

But a recent docket gaffe demonstrates the degree to which this effort is a procedural shitshow, too.

The parties were supposed to be operating under Emmet Sullivan’s order, dated December 16, to provide supplements to the sentencing memos they submitted back in 2018, which — after several government continuances — meant the government’s supplement sentencing memo was due January 7 and Flynn’s was due January 22. The government met that deadline.

Sometime after the government submission, Flynn’s lawyers asked the government for a continuance based on the government’s changed recommendations, which the government alerted Flynn to last September. The government agreed to a delay — for sentencing. But then at the last minute, after planning to do so for six months, Flynn’s team pulled a head fake, and informed the government they really wanted a delay so they could figure out some basis on which to withdraw his plea.

Mr. Flynn also requests a continuance of the sentencing date set for January 28, 2020, for thirty days or until February 27, 2020, or such other subsequent day that is convenient to the Court and counsel, and a corresponding extension of time to file any supplemental sentencing memorandum (from January 22, 2020, to February 21, 2020). The continuance is requested to allow time for the government to respond to the most recent aspects of this Motion and for Mr. Flynn to provide the additional briefing he needs to protect the record and his constitutional rights in light of significant developments in the last thirty days.

In response, Sullivan deferred on Flynn’s motion to withdraw his plea, and set the following new deadlines in response to the request for continuance:

  • January 22: Supplemental motion to withdraw
  • February 5: Government response to motion to withdraw
  • February 12: Flynn reply on motion to withdraw

There was no explicit new deadline in there for a new sentencing memo from Flynn, meaning it would be due on January 22.

In response, Flynn asked for two more days, allowing it time to respond on sentencing and bumping the withdraw 2 days out on the first two deadlines, or 5 on the reply. Flynn also asked for 5PM deadlines even though Sullivan has been insisting on noon deadlines for months.

  • January 24, 5:00PM: Supplemental motion to withdraw
  • February 7, 5:00PM: Government response to motion to withdraw
  • February 17, 5:00PM: Flynn reply on motion to withdraw

Sullivan, today, responded to that request by granting the initial deadlines but shortening the last and insisting on his noon deadlines.

  • January 24, 12:00PM: Supplemental motion to withdraw
  • February 7, 12:00PM: Government response to motion to withdraw
  • February 13, 12:00PM: Flynn reply on motion to withdraw

All that’s fairly uncontroversial, just a dance over how much time Sullivan is willing to bump a sentencing after trying to get it done so that Flynn can lay what will amount to a basis for appeal on a risky scheme to blow up his plea.

But that left Flynn with two sets of documents: the sentencing memo, due January 22, which will be critical if they lose the request to withdraw, which is likely, and the supplemental motion to withdraw, due January 24, which must meet a very high legal bar and lay the groundwork for appeal, which is probably where this is going.

And then Flynn just spluttered out something called a supplemental brief to withdraw. The brief was just six pages, didn’t advance any new legal arguments, and repeated many of the same arguments (and one of the same exhibits) submitted last week. Effectively, that amounted to legally shooting their wad on an argument totally insufficient to an attempt to take back two guilty pleas, without ever addressing the crime to which Flynn actually pled guilty, lying about his Kislyak conversations.

Again, Flynn’s team has known they were going to make this argument since June, and they spluttered out their argument just like that.

They must have realized that they, formally at least, had fucked up, because they resubmitted the same thing but with a footnote:

This is not Mr. Flynn’s “Supplemental Motion to Withdraw for Alternative Additional Reasons” currently due to be filed on January 22, 2020, for which we have requested two additional days to complete and file.

This is just an honest fuckup by people who are playing a really high stakes game of poker and really frazzled about it, even if they’ve been planning on all this since June.

But it appears Flynn really hasn’t thought up a good reason to argue why he has to withdraw even from his plea agreement, much less the underlying lies about Kislyak.

Which is a pretty lousy position to be in when you’re playing such a high stakes gambit.

In a Filing Claiming He’s Innocent, Mike Flynn’s Lawyers Accuse Mike Flynn of Lying Under Oath

Seven months after hiring Sidney Powell to blow up his plea deal, Mike Flynn has formally moved to do just that. The filing claims he is doing so because the government was mean — or more formally, “bad faith, vindictiveness, and breach of the plea agreement.”

Flynn claims being asked to testify in accordance with his grand jury testimony required him to lie

The core of Flynn’s argument is that the government newly asked him to testify that he knowingly lied in his FARA filing last summer, which led him to refuse, which led the government to decide not to use him as a witness and instead attempt (unsuccessfully) to name Flynn as a co-conspirator to access what his testimony would have otherwise given, which led them to have Judge Anthony Trenga throw out their convictions post-trial.

It’s the same argument that Flynn made last summer, even before the trial — which I showed at the time to misrepresent:

  • The point of the FARA filing (to change it from a commercial agreement to one focusing on Turkey)
  • The Covington & Burling notes
  • The statements prosecutors had made in court about whether Flynn was a co-conspirator with Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin

Flynn bolsters that shoddy argument with citations from the Bijan Kian trial that he claims show that the judge in that case, Anthony Trenga, agrees with him about his company’s underlying tie to Turkey, but in fact only shows that after Flynn blew up his plea deal, it fucked the government’s case against Kian.

They add just one substantive piece of evidence to all that: that the government took out a line saying “FLYNN then and there knew the following” in his statement of offense.

But even as that redline makes clear, the underlying lies (save the one about Alptekin’s cut-out deal) were all laid out before that language. Moreover, Flynn testified to all those things laid out there in his grand jury testimony, under oath.

Q: From the beginning of the project what was your understanding about on whose behalf the work was going to be performed?

A: I think at the — from the beginning it was always on behalf of elements of the Turkish government.

Q: Would it [sic] fair to say that the project was going to be principally for the benefit of the government of Turkey or high-ranking Turkish officials?

A: Yes, yeah.

[snip]

Q: What was the principle focus of the work product that FIG did produce on the project?

A: The eventual work product or products that we had come up with was really focusing on Gulen.

Q: Was any work done on researching the state of the business climate in Turkey?

A: Not that I’m aware of or none that I recall.

[snip]

Q: Is it fair to say that Mr. Alptekin acted as a go-between between FIG and Turkish government officials?

A: Yes.

[snip]

Q: What work product do you know of that was not about Gulen?

A: I don’t think there was anything that we had done that had anything to do with, you know, anything else like business climates or stuff like that.

[snip]

Q: Do you see the byline of the article? [referring to Flynn’s November 8, 2016 op-ed]

A: Yep, I do, yeah.

[snip]

Q: Whose name is listed as the author of the op-ed?

A: My name.

Q: How did you first find out that this op-ed was in the works?

A: Bijan sent me a draft of it a copy of days prior, maybe about a week prior.

[snip]

Q: Did you sketch out specific ideas for this particular op-ed with him before you saw the draft?

A: No.

As noted, these sworn statements conflict in key ways with the notes of what Flynn told Covington (meaning he lied to the lawyers drawing up his FARA filing).

And they conflict with the evidence that Flynn’s own filing says is proof that he was honest with Covington, because Flynn offered the false “commercial activity” and “radical Islam” comments he disavowed in his grand jury.

12 ECF No. 150-4 and 6; ECF No. 98-3 at Ex. 7 (Entitled Statement of the Problem: How do we restore confidence in the government of the Republic of Turkey and expose the Fethullah Gulen cult in the United States”); ECF No. 98-3 at Ex. 8 and 8-A (Covington Feb. 22, 2017 Notes: Commercial ActivityàCrystalized à Gulen); ECF No. 150-5 at 4; 150-6 at 2.

13 ECF No. 150-5, FBI 302 of Brian Smith on June 21, 2018, never produced by the government to Mr. Flynn (yet clear Brady evidence long exonerating Mr. Flynn of one of the prosecution’s most ridiculous allegations regarding the “initiation” of the only op-ed written and published in connection with the project). Even the recently filed, never produced FBI 302s prove that the FBI and prosecutors knew in mid-2018 from Covington lawyer Brian Smith that he: “was aware of the September 2016 meeting in New York City (NYC) where FLYNN and RAFIEKIAN met with Turkish government officials.” ECF No.150-5 at 5. “The meeting primarily focused on radical Islam. Briefly during the meeting, FIG described their business for ALPTEKIN/INOVO.” Id. “The topic of GULEN was brought up by Turkish officials at the meeting.” Id.

Effectively, then, Powell provides evidence that her client lied, either to the lawyers doing the FARA filing and/or in the grand jury, to say nothing of his two guilty pleas under oath.

Flynn’s lawyers also provide claims that are entirely irrelevant to the charges against Flynn.

Former FBI official Brian McCauley attended the New York meeting with the Turks. As McCauley testified in Rafiekian, the Turks gave no one instructions in that meeting, and Alptekin was not happy with any of FIG’s work. McCauley slapped down most of his ideas. See Ex. 10.

Significantly, Flynn also told Covington in their first meeting, that he briefed DIA before meeting the Turks in New York in September 2016.

And she makes much of the fact that Flynn didn’t review his FARA filing with Kian — which is irrelevant to whether he signed his name to filings that made claims that contradict with his sworn testimony in the grand jury.

On June 25, 2018, while represented by Covington—months before the government filed its sentencing motion and bragged about Mr. Flynn’s full cooperation and special assistance at his scheduled sentencing in December 2018—Mr. Flynn specifically told them:

I told this to you the other day, I don’t go over the FARA filing with Bijan [Rafiekian] at all. I don’t know if that makes any different to you all. But it wasn’t . . . learn a lot of things in hindsight. Would it have adjusted what I, how I stated, how I filled out, can’t say that it may have adjusted what I filled out; can’t say it would or would not have.1

It’s genuinely unclear whether Flynn’s lawyers are simply unclear on the concept, or whether they are just gleefully gaslighting Judge Emmet Sullivan with the expectation that won’t piss him off.

Flynn’s lawyers repeat the claim that Rob Kelner was conflicted that Judge Sullivan already rejected

In addition to having to claim that Flynn didn’t refuse to provide testimony in accord with his grand jury testimony, Flynn’s team also must sustain a claim that Rob Kelner was conflicted when he advised Flynn to take a plea deal that — had he not run his mouth, he would have already served his probation and been done.

They don’t actually argue that. Instead, they argue that after Flynn blew up his plea deal, the government obtained testimony from Kelner that — they believed — might sustain the prosecution. Flynn’s team claims that the prosecutor asked tricky questions of his fellow lawyer.

The prosecutors told the new defense lawyers that they would question Mr. Kelner in his July 3, 2019, interview about the Covington notes new counsel had just provided to the government—showing that Mr. Flynn had been fulsome with his counsel—but Mr. Turgeon did not do so. Instead, Mr. Turgeon carefully worded his questions to elicit responses from former counsel that were misleading at best, if not directly contradicted by the notes by Covington’s notetaker and partner Brian Smith. See, United States v. Rafiekian, Case No. 1:18-cr-457, ECF No. 270.

Within minutes of concluding the interview of Mr. Kelner, AUSA James Gillis called defense counsel only to notify us that he would not be calling Mr. Flynn as a witness, and that counsel would be receiving a gag order that prohibited counsel from disclosing that fact.

The actual 302 in question shows Kelner laying out evidence that Kian had lied about the role of Turkey in the project, and Flynn had either not informed or lied to Kelner about key issues relating to the filing. And just as Kelner laid out some of the most damning details, Powell complained that Kelner was being asked about the filing.

(U//FOUO) FLYNN did not inform KELNER that Fethullah GULEN was a focus of the FIG/INOVO project. FLYNN did not inform KELNER that ALPTEKIN was a conduit or go-between for FIG and Turkish officials during the project. FLYNN did not inform KELNER that ALPTEKIN talked to Turkish government officials about the FIG/INOVO project. FLYNN described the FIG/INOVO project as dealing with improving the economic relations between Turkey and the United States. FLYNN never provided inconsistences to KELNER on the work FIG provided to INOVO.

(U//FOUO) {Note: at approximately 4pm (approximately two hours into the interview of KELNER), Sidney Powell asked Turgeon why KELNER was being asked questions about FLYNN considering RAFIEKIAN was the defendant. Turgeon explained to Powell that KELNER could expect these types of questions during his cross examination by defense attorneys.}

(U//FOUO) KELNER did not recall having asked FLYNN about what/if any work product was completed by FIG for INOVO which pertained to Gulen. KELNER understood from FLYNN that FIG’s work for INOVO focused on the business environment in Turkey.

(U//FOUO) KELNER was informed by FLYNN the published 11/8/2016 Op-Ed article in The Hill was something he, FLYNN, had wanted to do out of his own interest. FLYNN wanted to show how Russia was attempting to create a wedge between Turkey and the United States. FLYNN informed KELNER the Op-Ed was not on behalf of FIG’s project with INOVO.

Worse, Judge Sullivan already ruled against Flynn, finding his waiver of conflict with Kelner both permissible and voluntary.

Rule 1.7(a)’s “absolute prohibition” on conflicting representations in the same matter is “inapplicable” where “the adverse positions to be taken relate to different matters.” D.C. Rules Prof’l Conduct R. 1.7(a) cmt. 3. Here, Mr. Flynn does not argue that his former counsel advanced adverse positions in this criminal matter. See Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 21; see also Def.’s Surreply, ECF No. 135 at 16. Instead, Mr. Flynn contends that his former counsel was an adverse witness in the case in the Eastern District of Virginia—a different jurisdiction and a different matter involving a different defendant. Furthermore, the government did not bring criminal charges based on the FARA filings against Mr. Flynn in this case or in the separate case in the Eastern District of Virginia. Thus, the Court will assume that Mr. Flynn relies on Rule 1.7(b) because he cites to Rule 1.7(c)(2), Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 21 n.14, and “FIG and [Mr.] Flynn subsequently retained Covington to represent them in connection with any potential FARA filing,” Rafiekian, 2019 WL 4647254, at *5.

[snip]

Here, it is undisputed that this Court did not have the opportunity to address the conflict-of-interest issue, determine whether an actual conflict existed at the time, or decide whether Mr. Flynn’s waiver of the potential conflict of interest was knowing and voluntary. Cf. Iacangelo v. Georgetown Univ., 710 F. Supp. 2d 83, 94 (D.D.C. 2010) (scheduling a hearing to determine whether a client gave his “informed consent” to determine whether a law firm had a waivable conflict of interest). Mr. Flynn cites no controlling precedent to support the proposition that the government was required to bring the conflict-of-interest issue to the Court’s attention. See Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 22. And Mr. Flynn does not ask this Court to find—and the Court cannot find—that his waiver was neither knowing nor voluntary.

Admittedly, Powell has to repeat “unconflicted” over and over again, otherwise this attempt is even more foolish than the record laying out Flynn’s lies demonstrate. But she’s making claims that are likely to only infuriate Sullivan.

Flynn throws balls at the wall in a furious hope one will stick

Powell then lists three things that have happened recently to justify needing a continuance to blow up a plea deal she has obviously been planning on blowing up since June:

  • The DOJ IG report that says almost nothing about Flynn
  • The government’s provision — after just two months — of a bunch of 302s showing Flynn’s cooperation, but making no complaint about it
  • Sullivan’s own opinion that, Powell complains, doesn’t address the IG Report that neither side briefed to him

Except for a later reference, in a footnote, to the fact that a Supervisory Special Agent on his investigative team provided Trump the briefing that Flynn attended as his top National Security advisor (this is the single thing in the IG Report that really impacted Flynn), Flynn’s filing doesn’t explain why any of these things requires a delay.

Flynn claims to be surprised the government changed its sentencing recommendation that they said they were going to do in September

Again, Flynn has been planning to blow up this plea deal since last summer. Powell hasn’t hidden that fact. She has no real reason to blow it up, though. So, first, she cites a SCOTUS precedent that — aside from making it clear that if she wants to complain she has to do so now — otherwise works against every claim she makes (insofar as it said the government can show how a defendants subsequent conduct may reflect failure to accept responsibility).

This about-face places the government in breach of the plea agreement and triggers application of the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision in Puckett, 556 U.S. 129. Puckett requires any competent defense counsel in these circumstances to move to withdraw Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea for this reason alone. Id

Puckett is a Supreme Court decision that primarily had to do with when a defendant complained about the government changing its stance in a plea (which supports the timing of Flynn doing so here), but which Powell seems to include because it included language saying that such change violated his rights. Except Puckett also didn’t include a cooperation agreement — the part of Flynn’s plea that’s in most dispute — and ultimately SCOTUS held that Puckett’s sentence would have been fair in any case (not least because the government could have shown the defendant withdrew his acceptance of responsibility, as they are also doing here).

When a defendant agrees to a plea bargain, the Government takes on certain obligations. If those obligations are not met, the defendant is entitled to seek a remedy, which might in some cases be rescission of the agreement, allowing him to take back the consideration he has furnished, i.e., to withdraw his plea. But rescission is not the only possible remedy; in Santobello we allowed for a resentencing at which the Government would fully comply with the agreement—in effect, specific performance of the contract. 404 U. S., at 263. In any case, it is entirely clear that a breach does not cause the guilty plea, when entered, to have been unknowing or involuntary. It is precisely because the plea was knowing and voluntary (and hence valid) that the Government is obligated to uphold its side of the bargain.

In short, the only precedent Flynn relies on to justify blowing up this plea deal actually supports the government, not him.

The government is still mean

Which brings us to the most remarkable paragraph in this filing.

Mr. Flynn has instructed counsel to file this Motion to withdraw his plea now. The defense must file a Supplemental Motion to Withdraw for alternative additional reasons as soon as possible. Mr. Flynn will not plead guilty. Furthermore, he will not accede to the government’s demand that he “disavow” any statements made in his filings since he obtained new, unconflicted counsel. Michael T. Flynn is innocent. Mr. Flynn has cooperated with the government in good faith for two years. He gave the prosecution his full cooperation. “He held nothing back.” He endured massive, unnecessary, and frankly counterproductive demands on his time, his family, his scarce resources, and his life. The same cannot be said for the prosecution which has operated in bad faith from the inception of the “investigation” and continues relentlessly through this specious prosecution.

First, Powell says she “must” file a supplemental motion to withdraw the plea “as soon as possible.” Having not provided any real reason to do so here — aside from the government being mean — Sullivan is in no way obliged to let her file that follow-up motion. Powell says “Flynn will not plead guilty.” But he has already done so, twice, under oath! She says he will not disavow any statements, except that either he has to disavow his sworn grand jury testimony, or his subsequent statements, because they are fundamentally inconsistent (but they are consistent with his sworn guilty pleas). Perhaps most amazingly, in a filing where Powell never once claims that the primary crime to which Flynn pled, lying about Russia, was not a lie. He’s just innocent because committing a crime, for him, cannot be a crime, I guess. She ignores that Flynn reneged on his testimony so as to be able to claim he cooperated in good faith. She includes a quote — “He held nothing back,” — without citing it (it’s a comment Brandon Van Grack made in December 2018, before Flynn blew up the plea deal). She bitches about how much time it takes to cooperate (cooperation that he has blown up, requiring him to spend far more time blowing up his plea deal).

And then she says the government is mean again.

Flynn tricked the government into agreeing to a one month continuance

Curiously, it appears Flynn tricked the government into agreeing to a one month continuance, one Powell will presumably use to invent a real reason to withdraw his plea or hope that John Durham will find a Sparkle Pony.

Immediately after the government submitted its sentencing memo, Flynn’s lawyers started asking the government to agree to this continuance. They agreed to do so, but for the purpose of giving Flynn’s lawyers time to do a new sentencing memo.

We write to provide a response to your request for our position regarding your suggested amended sentencing dates in this case. In short, we do not oppose a continuance of the due date for your supplemental sentencing memorandum and the date of sentencing. In light of your request, we also ask that the Court schedule a due date for a government reply memorandum one week after the date upon which your supplemental sentencing memorandum is due.

But this was for sentencing, not for giving Powell time to come up with some reason why Flynn should not be charged with perjury for his sworn statements — before two judges and in the grand jury — that are inconsistent with his request to withdraw this plea.

Only after the defense got the agreement to continue sentencing did they inform the government that they were going to, instead, use the time blowing up the plea deal.

Defense counsel contacted the government shortly before filing this Motion to Withdraw the Plea. The government had not replied at the time of filing.

Thus far, neither the government nor Sullivan have responded to this filing. But both would be well within their rights to tell Flynn to fuck off, and prepare for sentencing in a week, as originally scheduled.

The Bigger Threat for Flynn than Six Months in Prison: the Counterintelligence Language

As I laid out in this post on the government sentencing memo for Mike Flynn, they basically gave Judge Emmet Sullivan all the justification he’d need to throw the book at Mike Flynn, certainly a few months in prison and maybe more.

But that may not be the most worrisome stuff in this memo, particularly given Robert Mueller’s statement, in July, that the FBI continued to investigate aspects of Flynn’s false statements about Russia.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

The Flynn sentencing memo, for lying about whether he had discussed sanctions with Russia, speaks over and over again about the questions I laid out here: why Flynn lied and whether he did it on Trump’s orders, questions rather conspicuously not answered in the Mueller Report.

On top of repeatedly referring to the “FBI counterintelligence” investigation, for example, for the first time I remember, the government discusses the scope of the inquiry to include whether any Trump associates took actions that would benefit Russia (the Mueller Report did say that it did not establish “coordination” trading Russian assistance during the election for favorable treatment in the future, though there were temporal limits on the scope of that part of the investigation, not including the transition).

The inquiry included examining relationships between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government, as well as identifying actions of such individuals that would have benefited the Russian government.

Much later, the memo describes undermining sanctions — what Flynn did, then lied about — as possible evidence of that kind of benefit to Russia.

The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

The sentencing memo even raises the import of who directed that Flynn ask Russian to hold off on retaliating on sanctions — again, something very pointedly not answered in the Mueller Report, but the answer to which might either be “because Trump ordered him to” or “because then counterintelligence suspect Mike Flynn was acting as an Agent of Russia.”

Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

After raising the import of benefits to Russia like undermining sanctions, the sentencing memo also focuses on why Flynn lied, something else that has not been fully explained.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

The sentencing memo describes how the Intelligence Community Assessment raised the stakes on Russia’s actions in the immediate wake of his sanctions call with Sergey Kislyak and how Flynn started lying shortly thereafter and just kept on lying. But that doesn’t explain why he lied in the first place — or why he and KT McFarland created a false paper trail immediately after Kislyak informed Flynn they would not respond.

In one of the memo’s most scathing passages, however, it ties Flynn’s lies — about both Turkey and Russia — to monetizing his influence and power.

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

This may just be shorthand or an attempt to spin both Flynn’s charged lies in most damning light (though this filing has been reviewed with such attention that the government had to get two extensions for the necessary review). But the passage suggests he was engaged in sleazy influence peddling both when he secretly acted as an agent of Turkey while serving as Trump’s top national security campaign advisor, and when he took a call during the Transition and worked to undermine President Obama’s sanctions on Russia. The first is obviously influence peddling, and its import for national security is also fairly clear.

It’s also obvious how the second — Flynn’s attempts to undermine sanctions — compromised national security. The effort basically attempted to eliminate any punishment for Russia’s attempt to pick our President.

What’s not clear, however, is whether (and if so, why) the government includes his calls to Sergey Kislyak in a passage describing him “monetizing his power and influence.”

And Flynn should have known better, the memo implies. Among the reasons why Flynn’s extensive government service is so important, the government explains, is that he should have known the counterintelligence danger from Russia.

The defendant’s extensive military record, as described in his prior sentencing submission, presents a clear factor in mitigation. See Def. Sent’g Mem. at 7-12. However, that extensive record and government service, at the highest levels of the national security apparatus, and his “many years” of working with the FBI, should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false statements to the government. See id. at 13. That work also exposed him to the threat posed by foreign governments, in particular Russia, seeking to covertly influence our government and democracy.

The sentencing memo gives Emmet Sullivan lots of reason to want to punish Flynn more aggressively than any of the other liars busted by Mueller. In does so, in part, by laying out the stakes of his sleazy influence peddling, describing how it made the country less safe.

And then, the memo notes the Russian government continues its attempts to interfere in “our democratic process,” something that is broader than elections.

The sentence should also to deter others from lying to the government. The FBI protects our homeland from terrorism, espionage, cyber-based attacks, and all other manner of threats. Lying to the FBI, in any context, cannot be tolerated. That is particularly true in a counterintelligence investigation targeting efforts by a foreign government to interfere in our democratic process—a threat that continues to this day.

The sentencing memo argues that Flynn’s lies made it harder for the FBI to protect the country from Russia’s efforts to undermine our democracy and speaks obliquely in terms of benefit and monetization. These oblique references to the counterintelligence investigation ought to be of far more concern to Flynn than the prospect of six months in prison.

Prosecutors Invite Emmet Sullivan to Throw the Book at Mike Flynn

Technically, the scathing sentencing memo for Mike Flynn the government just submitted calls for the same sentence they called for in December 2018, when he was first set to be sentenced, something they note explicitly: a guidelines sentence of 0-6 months in prison.

[T]he government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

[snip]

The government notes its decision to withdraw its motion for substantial assistance has no impact on the applicable Guidelines range, which will remain 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

But in their sentencing disparity section, they argue Flynn’s actions are worse than those of George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan (because of his position of trust and security clearance) and Rick Gates and James Wolfe (because they accepted responsibility), all of whom served prison time.

Along the way, they give Judge Emmet Sullivan all the ammunition he needs and write the memo in such a way as to invite him to, at least, sentence Flynn at the top of a guidelines sentence, 6 months of prison.

Before Flynn fired the very competent Rob Kelner and hired Fox News firebreather Sidney Powell and then blew up his cooperation deal, the government had argued he should be sentenced at the low end of that range, meaning probation. They justify implying he should get a real prison sentence now because of the way he undermined the prosecution of his former partner, Bijan Kian, and reneged on his acceptance of responsibility.

Given the serious nature of the defendant’s offense, his apparent failure to accept responsibility, his failure to complete his cooperation in – and his affirmative efforts to undermine – the prosecution of Bijan Rafiekian, and the need to promote respect for the law and adequately deter such criminal conduct, the government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

The government lays out two ways Flynn undermined the Bijan Kian prosecution

Flynn’s reversal on the Kian case is important because — according to the cooperation addendum submitted in 2018 — that’s the one investigation in which he provided “substantial cooperation.

Notably, only the assistance he had provided in the Rafiekian case was deemed “substantial.”

Over the last six months, Flynn has negated all that cooperation.

In light of the complete record, including actions subsequent to December 18, 2018, that negate the benefits of much of the defendant’s earlier cooperation, the government no longer deems the defendant’s assistance “substantial.”

The government substantiates that Flynn changed his testimony by including Kian trial exhibits, Flynn’s grand jury testimony, a Flynn 302, two Rob Kelner 302s (two), and the 302 from another of the lawyers who helped submit his FARA filing. After having substantiated that Flynn reneged on his cooperation, the government then lays out another way Flynn undermined Kian’s prosecution — by contesting that he was Kian’s co-conspirator.

Remarkably, the defendant, through his counsel, then affirmatively intervened in the Rafiekian case and filed a memorandum opposing the government’s theory of admissibility on the grounds that the defendant was not charged or alleged as a coconspirator. See Flynn Memorandum Opposing Designation, United States v. Bijan Rafiekian, No. 18-cr-457 (E.D. Va July 8, 2019) (Doc. 270). This action was wholly inconsistent with the defendant assisting (let alone substantially assisting) or cooperating with the government in that case.12 Accordingly, while the defendant initially helped the prosecutors in EDVA bring the Rafiekian case, he ultimately hindered their prosecution of it.

The government then rebuts first one counterargument Flynn might make — that he should get credit for cooperating anyway since he waived privilege so his Covington lawyers could testify.

12 Any claim by the defendant that the Rafiekian prosecution was aided by his agreement to waive the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product doctrine regarding his attorneys’ preparation and filing of the FARA documents would be unfounded. The defendant explicitly did not waive any privileges or protections with respect to the preparation and filing of the FARA documents. No waiver occurred because the government (and the defendant’s attorneys) did not believe a waiver for such information was necessary—information provided to a lawyer for the purposes of a public filing is not privileged. The district judge in Rafiekian agreed with that conclusion, and permitted the defendant’s attorneys to testify about what the defendant and Rafiekian told them because those statements were not privileged or protected as opinion work product. See United States v. Rafiekian, No. 18-cr-457, 2019 WL 3021769, at *2, 17-19 (E.D. Va. July 9, 2019).

And they obliquely rebut an argument that Powell has already made — that EDVA prosecutors chose not to call Flynn only to retaliate against him.

13 The government does not believe it is prudent or necessary to relitigate before this Court every factual dispute between the defendant and the Rafiekian prosecutors. The above explanation of the decision not to call the defendant as a witness in the Rafiekian trial is provided as background for the Court to understand the basis for the government’s decision to exercise its discretion to determine that the defendant has not provided substantial assistance to the government. The government is not asking this Court to make factual determinations concerning the defendant’s interactions with the Rafiekian prosecutors, other than the undisputed fact that the defendant affirmatively litigated against the admission of evidence by the government in that case.

Finally, they quote a Kian filing saying for them what they therefore don’t have to say in such an inflammatory way: Flynn tried to game the Kian prosecution in such a way that he got to benefit from the plea deal without admitting his guilt.

Rafiekian’s counsel characterized the “new Flynn version of events” as “an unbelievable explanation, intended to make Flynn look less culpable than his signed December 1, 2017 Statement of Offense and consistent with his position at his sentencing hearing. In short, Flynn wants to benefit off his plea agreement without actually being guilty of anything.” See Defendant’s Memorandum Regarding Correction at 5, United States v. Bijan Rafiekian, No. 18- cr-457 (E.D. Va. July 5, 2019) (Doc. 262).

The government asks Judge Sullivan to allocute Flynn again

Which may be why the government twice asks Judge Sullivan to force Flynn to admit his guilt again if he wants credit for it in sentencing.

Indeed, the government has reason to believe, through representations by the defendant’s counsel, that the defendant has retreated from his acceptance of responsibility in this case regarding his lies to the FBI. For that reason, the government asks this Court to inquire of the defendant as to whether he maintains those apparent statements of innocence or whether he disavows them and fully accepts responsibility for his criminal conduct.

[snip]

Based on statements made in recent defense filings, the defendant has not accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct, and therefore is not entitled to any such credit unless he clearly and credibly disavows those statements in a colloquy with the Court.

The government lays out evidence of Flynn’s perjury before Emmet Sullivan

But there may be another reason the government invites Sullivan to allocute Flynn again. In an extended passage, the government basically lays out evidence that — given his statements made in the last six months — Flynn perjured himself before Judge Sullivan on December 18, 2018, when the judge had the prescience to put Flynn under oath.

During the hearing, the Court engaged in a dialogue with the defendant concerning arguments in his sentencing memorandum that appeared to challenge the circumstances of the January 24 interview. See 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 6-7. However, when questioned by the Court, the defendant declined to challenge the circumstances of that interview. Id. at 8. When pressed by the Court about whether he wanted to proceed with his guilty plea “[b]ecause you are guilty of this offense,” the defendant unequivocally responded, “Yes, Your Honor.” Id. at 16. And when the Court asked whether he was “continuing to accept responsibility for [his] false statements,” the defendant replied, “I am, Your Honor.” Id. at 10. The defendant’s recent conduct and statements dramatically differ from those representations to the Court, which he made under oath.

Six months later, in June 2019, the defendant began retracting those admissions and denying responsibility for his criminal conduct. Far from accepting the consequences of his unlawful actions, he has sought to blame almost every other person and entity involved in his case, including his former counsel. Most blatantly, the defendant now professes his innocence. See, e.g., Reply in Support of His Motion to Compel Production of Brady Material and to Hold the Prosecutors in Contempt at 2, 6, United States v. Flynn, 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Oct. 22, 2019) (Doc. 129-2) (“Reply”) (“When the Director of the FBI, and a group of his close associates, plot to set up an innocent man and create a crime . . . ;” alleging that text messages provided by the government “go to the core of Mr. Flynn’s . . . innocence”). With respect to his false statements to the FBI, he now asserts that he “was honest with the agents [on January 24, 2017] to the best of his recollection at the time.” Reply at 23. Such a claim is far from accepting responsibility for his actions. As the defendant admitted in his plea agreement and before this Court, during the January 24 interview the defendant knew he was lying to the FBI, just as he knew he was lying to the Vice President of the United States.

The defendant has also chosen to reverse course and challenge the elements and circumstances of his false statements to the FBI. See, e.g., June 6, 2019 Sidney Powell Letter to the Attorney General (Doc. 122-2) (“Powell Letter to AG”). The defendant now claims that his false statements were not material, see Reply at 27-28, and that the FBI conducted an “ambush interview” to trap him into making false statements, see Reply at 1. The Circuit Court recently stated in United States v. Leyva, 916 F.3d 14 (D.C. Cir. 2019), cert. denied, No. 19-5796, 2019 WL 5150737 (U.S. Oct. 15, 2019), that “[i]t is not error for a district court to ‘require an acceptance of responsibility that extended beyond the narrow elements of the offense’ to ‘all of the circumstances’ surrounding the defendant’s offense.” Id. at 28 (citing United States v. Taylor, 937 F.2d 676, 680-81 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). A defendant cannot “accept responsibility for his conduct and simultaneously contest the sufficiency of the evidence that he engaged in that conduct.” Id. at 29. Any notion of the defendant “clearly” accepted responsibility is further undermined by the defendant’s efforts over the last four months to have the Court dismiss the case. See Reply at 32.7

This effectively lays out a catch-22 for Flynn: either he makes a bid, still, for the acceptance of responsibility he has reneged on, or Sidney Powell instead argues that he perjured himself. One way or another (or in both cases) Flynn lied. Repeatedly.

Notably, the government introduces its discussion of why Flynn’s past lies — which were false statements, not formally perjury — were so important using a SCOTUS discussion of perjury, something they didn’t do in his prior sentencing memo.

That is precisely why providing false statements to the government is a crime. As the Supreme Court has noted:

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

Sidney Powell may be too rash to notice this (as she has missed or not given a shit about other similar warnings in the past). But the government is laying out a case to go after Flynn for perjury if he decides to get cute again.

The government recalls Judge Sullivan’s past disgust with Flynn

Having laid out two reasons why the outcome should be significantly different this time around than the outcome the government argued for in December 2018, they then remind Judge Sullivan how pissed off he was at that hearing (where he asked whether treason had been considered for Flynn), where it seemed clear he was already ready to send Flynn to prison.

The government reminds Judge Sullivan that he himself decided to let Flynn’s “cooperation” play out to see the true nature of it.

At the initial sentencing hearing in December 2018, the Court raised concerns about proceeding to sentencing without “fully understanding the true extent and nature” of the defendant’s assistance.

[snip]

Although the government noted that “some of th[e] benefit” of the defendant’s assistance “may not be fully realized at th[at] time,” it proceeded to sentencing because it believed the defendant’s anticipated testimony in the Rafiekian case had been secured through his grand jury testimony and the Statement of Offense.8 The Court, however, expressed that “courts are reluctant to proceed to sentencing unless and until cooperation has been completed . . . [b]ecause the Court wants to be in a position to fully evaluate someone’s efforts to assist the government.” 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 26. The Court’s concern that the parties had prematurely proceeded to sentencing was prescient.

It then reminds Judge Sullivan that he asked — and the government affirmed — that Flynn could have been charged in a conspiracy to act as an Agent of Turkey, one of the things that Sullivan found so disgusting in the last sentencing hearing.

The Court inquired whether the defendant could have been charged as a co-defendant in the Rafiekian case, and the government affirmed that the defendant could have been charged with various offenses in connection with his false statements in his FARA filings, consistent with his Statement of Offense.

The government next reminds Sullivan that Flynn’s actions were an abuse of public trust, another of the things that really pissed him off in the last sentencing hearing.

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

The government returns to those themes to argue — factually but aggressively — that Flynn compromised national security.

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

Having laid out the reasons why Sullivan was ready to send Flynn to prison before he started all the Sidney Powell shenanigans, the government then repeats his past judgment that this is a unique case, and Flynn’s case is worse than all the directly relevant precedents, Papadopoulos, van der Zwaan, and, since the last sentencing hearing, Wolfe and Gates, who were sentenced to a range between two weeks and two months.

It goes without saying that this case is unique. See 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 43 (Court noting that “[t]his case is in a category by itself”). Few courts have sentenced a high-ranking government official and former military general for making false statements. And the government is not aware of any case where such a high-ranking official failed to accept responsibility for his conduct, continued to lie to the government, and took steps to impair a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, while Section 3553(a)(6) requires the court to consider “the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct,” there are no similarly situated defendants.

Although other persons investigated by the SCO pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and were sentenced to varying terms of incarceration, those individuals and their conduct are easily distinguishable. See id. at 42-43 (“The Court’s of the opinion that those two cases aren’t really analogous to this case. I mean, neither one of those individuals was a high-ranking government official who committed a crime while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House.”). Alex van der Zwaan lied to the SCO, pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and was sentenced to 30 days incarceration and a fine of $20,000. See United States v. van der Zwaan, No. 18-cr-31 (ABJ). George Papadopoulos likewise lied to the SCO, pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and was sentenced to serve 14 days incarceration, to perform 200 hours of community service, and pay a fine of $9,500. See United States v. Papadopoulos, No. 17-cr-182 (RDM). Neither defendant was a high-ranking government official, held a position of trust vis-à-vis the United States, held a security clearance, had a special understanding of the impact of providing misleading information to investigators, or denied responsibility for his unlawful conduct.

[snip]

The Court granted the government’s motion for a significant downward departure pursuant to Section 5K1.1 for providing substantial assistance, gave Gates credit for accepting responsibility, and still sentenced him to 45 days of confinement.

Effectively, then, the government uses Sullivan’s own past judgments, giving him all the reasons he would need to sentence Flynn, at least, near the top of guidelines range six months.

Subtly, the government twice invokes “aggravating factors” (once citing the Wolfe case, which I predicted would happen).

The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct.

[snip]

The court concluded that Wolfe’s position—which was far less significant than the defendant’s position as National Security Advisor—was an aggravating factor to consider at sentencing, and one that distinguished his case from those of Papadopoulos and van der Zwaan. Moreover, in that case, the defendant received credit for accepting responsibility.

The government doesn’t ask Sullivan to go beyond a guidelines sentence of six months (though even six months would be almost unheard of), though the comparison to Wolfe makes it clear they think Flynn should serve more than two months in prison. But they give him all the ammunition he’d need if he wanted to go there on his own.

Ultimately, as the government notes, the guidelines range is the same. But the facts of the case are now very different.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Before and continuing into the holiday break, I wrote a slew of posts on the DOJ IG Carter Page Report. Those are:

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

The IG Report made nine recommendations, which FBI largely accepted with implementing plans. Those recommendations focus on the paperwork side of FISA applications and the protections against purported politicization. Most of those recommendations (save, especially, the one suggesting Bruce Ohr be punished for sharing national security threat information) are worthwhile. But they are inadequate to ensuring similar problems don’t recur. Moreover, there are questions that should be asked even before we get to “fixing” FISA.

This post attempts to ask some of those questions.

What should FBI have done when faced with a credible allegation Trump’s associates had advance knowledge of a hostile attack on our elections?

This is a question I’ve asked over and over of Republicans, but I’ve never got an answer.

Three of four people who were original subjects of this investigation covered up their actions. There are outstanding questions about all four and there were ongoing investigations into at least Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn when Mueller closed up shop. And a fifth Trump associate — Roger Stone — was found guilty of hiding details of how he tried to optimize the fruits of the Russian attack, without yet revealing what it is that he was hiding. So there’s no question the investigation was merited.

So what should the FBI have done when it got the tip from Australia? The IG Report raises questions about whether FBI should provide defensive briefings in this situation, but not how to conduct an investigation at a time when our country and elections are under active threat.

In retrospect, was the decision not to use other legal process the best one?

Peter Strzok famously lost a fight to investigate more aggressively, the true meaning of his “insurance file” comment. As a result, the FBI did not use any overt methods during the election.

Significantly, that means they didn’t get call records that would have provided a ready explanation for how Papadopoulos had learned Russia wanted to dump emails (particularly in conjunction with what he told CHS 3 about Mifsud). Doing so might have confirmed Carter Page’s claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails. And it would have identified that Konstantin Kilimnik (who could be targeted under 702) had a suspicious record of communications with Manafort.

Rather unbelievably, FBI may not have asked Apple or Google for Carter Page’s app download history, which is how they usually find out if someone is using encrypted messaging apps (they did not learn what he was using until April 2017).

Particularly given all the chatter about the subjects of investigation, and given that three of them — Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos — were “fired” from their free campaign jobs because of their ties to Russia, was that really the right decision? And given how successful FBI is at obtaining gags on legal process, was using FISA with Page really that much less invasive or was FISA used simply because his sustained ties to Russian intelligence officers meant FISA was the appropriate framework?

Why did FBI forgo a Section 215 order on Page?

Nothing in the public record suggests FBI got a Section 215 order before they obtained traditional FISA (including physical search) against Page. That’s true, even though the predication for 215 is lower (just talking to an agent of a foreign power, which Page had long been doing, is enough). This would have been a way to obtain the call records and download history that might have indicated that Papadopoulos was a more urgent target than Page, lessening the urgency to get a FISA targeting Page. If FBI in fact did not obtain that 215 order before the content order (once he was approved for the content order, the 215 order would have been presumptively approved), why not, and should they have? Past IG Reports have said the process of applying for a 215 is onerous enough that Agents often forgo it; is that what happened here?

Does the public agree with the FBI about the intrusiveness of informants?

One of the disconcerting aspects of the IG Report is its treatment of informants (Confidential Human Sources, or CHS, in the report). It spends a long time assessing whether the use of informants against Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos had the requisite oversight, ultimately concluding FBI followed the rules but the rules for politically exposed people should be more stringent.

Along the way, it revealed that the FBI:

  • Happened to have an informant on the books (Stefan Halper) with existing ties to three of the subjects of the investigation
  • Managed to convince someone Papadopoulos trusted (CHS 3) to report on him and used an accelerated process to open him or her as an informant, and tried but failed to get at least two other people to report on him
  • Had five other people in Trump’s orbit who were informants (Felix Sater might be one of these)
  • Accepted information obtained voluntarily from one of those informants
  • Had used informants to targeted the Clinton Foundation during the election period and at least some of those informants were handled by an Agent who wanted her to lose

That’s probably on top of Patrick Byrne, if indeed his claims to have been tasked against Clinton and Maria Butina in 2016 are true.

That’s a lot of informants situated to report on very powerful people.

Trump’s supporters have declared all this proof that they were “spied” on (ignoring the targeting against Hillary). Meanwhile, the FBI has pointed out that they more than complied with FBI’s rules on using informants, though there was less discussion in the IG Report about the fact that per its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, FBI could have used these informants at lower levels of predication. Before the IG Report recommended rules about heightened review (much of which would have been satisfied in this case anyway), we might ask whether we, as the public, agree that the use of informants is really as unintrusive as FBI thinks. And does it involve tradeoffs as compared to other methods? For example, which would have been preferable, getting Papadopoulos’ call records (which would have shown his ties to Mifsud), or throwing a series of informants at him?

Is the consideration of least intrusive means adequately reviewed?

The DIOG requires that FBI agents at least consider whether the “least intrusive” means of investigation will be an appropriate investigative step. The IG Report reviews this requirement, which is meant to ensure FBI agents balance privacy considerations with the import of the investigation, but never comments on whether the review here was correct. Moreover, it seems that there’s a rule that lowers this consideration significantly when a matter is deemed to pertain to national security (as this would have been).

I’ve long wondered whether FISA process in general gets adequate review on whether it’s really the correct least intrusive means judgment.

Is the FBI Director declaration regarding other investigative techniques adequately reviewed?

FISA requires that the FBI Director or his designee certify that the information the FISA application wants to obtain, “cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques.” The IG Report notes this, largely because that’s what Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe reviewed the Page applications for, not probable cause. But it did not discuss how this determination is made, and I would bet a lot of money that this is an area where FISA could use more review.

Particularly given the use of gags in so much criminal process and the widespread availability of fairly exotic surveillance techniques, what is the measure for this declaration?

Does FBI conduct certain investigative techniques using FISA to keep them secret?

I noted that the FBI was close to concluding they didn’t need another FISA on Carter Page, but then learned he had used some encrypted app, and so got another FISA. This supports my suspicion that the FBI will use certain surveillance techniques under cover of FISA they otherwise would eschew just to keep it secret. There may be good reason for that (indeed, it might ensure that the most exotic surveillance only gets used with much closer District Court judge review than magistrates normally give warrant applications), but it would also skew the incentives for using FISA. While policy makers may not need to know what those techniques are, they deserve to know if FISA makes certain otherwise unavailable techniques available.

Why do we need FISA?

I don’t mean to be glib. Since the IG Report came out, a lot of people who’ve used it have said we need to preserve this ability. But they’re not explaining why. That’s a two-fold question. First, why does FBI need a different probable cause standard for foreign intelligence (the likely and noncontroversial answer is, spying on a lot of people, including diplomats, who haven’t committed an obvious crime). But the other question is, why can’t that level of secrecy and court review be accomplished at normal district courts? In the wake of 9/11, most courts (especially most courts that will regularly have FISA cases, like DC, NY, VA, and CA) have sophisticated court security procedures that would seem to accomplish much of what FISA was originally intended for. Having normal district judges — even if only a subset of them — review FISA applications might inject more viewpoints onto the Fourth Amendment review. Furthermore, it would ensure that more judges reviewing such applications are also seeing the kinds of criminal cases that might arise from them (something that I’ve argued was useful with Michael Mosman, who ironically was the judge that approved Page’s second FISA application).

In recent years, the FBI has devolved its FISA process to its field offices; why can’t that happen in the courts, as well?

Is relationship between lawyers and FBI agents on FISA too attenuated?

The explanation the IG Report used for blaming the FBI agents for all the missing information in FISA applications stems from the more attenuated involvement of National Security Division lawyers (Office of Intelligence, or OI here) in warrant applications than happens in traditional criminal investigations.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if 01 received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

From that the IG Report decides that the problems in the Page applications arose through sloppiness or worse from the agents. But perhaps this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Perhaps, instead, the problems arose from OI lawyers having less ownership of what happens downstream from a FISA application than normal prosecutors would have, meaning they’re outsourcing more decision-making about relevance to agents whose motivations are at odds with that kind of decision-making. In other words, the remedy for this may not be instituting more checklists (which is what DOJ IG recommended and FBI has committed to), but changing the relationship between OI lawyers and the FBI agents applying for FISA?

Is there any legitimate reason to withhold review from defendants?

When Congress passed FISA, it envisioned that at least some defendants would review their FISA applications, but that hasn’t happened, at all. In the interim, the “wall” between FISA and criminal prosecutions has come down, making it more likely that FISA collection will end up as part of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, former NSD AAG David Kris suggests defendants should get review, which would mean that agents would know that any given FISA application might get shared with a defendant if it turned into a criminal case. At the very least, it seems that FBI and NSD should explain to Congress why they shouldn’t be asked to do this.

One of the problems may be with the definition of “aggrieved” under FISA. That includes both the target and those subject to collection under a FISA order. For example, Carter Page would have been aggrieved in Victor Podobnyy’s FISA order (which is probably where the reports that he had been collected under FISA in the past came from), and Mike Flynn would have been aggrieved under a FISA application targeted at Sergey Kislyak. Normally, only the target of a criminal warrant would get to challenge it. Effectively, one way the government is likely using FISA is to find out what Americans are talking to suspected spies, so the FBI would not want to reveal that use. (Though one of the problems likely arises from how the government defines “facilities” that can be targeted, because they don’t have to be owned by the person being targeted.)

Perhaps, then, one way to extend review to the actual defendants who were the targets of FISA surveillance would be to change the definition of aggrieved party, but along the way to change how searches on already collected FISA data are conducted.

What are the boundaries between FISA’s agent of a foreign power, 18 USC 951’s Agent of a Foreign Power, and FARA?

As I noted, the entire DOJ IG Report may suffer from a misunderstanding about what crime(s) FBI was targeting. Until 11 days after the report was released, it appeared to believe that Trump’s aides were only being investigated for FARA, which is basically unregistered political influence peddling. That appears to have been true, but it’s almost certainly not true of Page, against whom there was already an investigation into his willingness to share non-public economic information Russia’s spies ask for. If that’s true that the entirety of the First Amendment analysis in the report is superfluous, because Page — the only Trump aide targeted under FISA — had already met the standards for targeting under the First Amendment before FBI turned to his political speech in August 2016. That is, because Page was already being investigated for sharing non-political stuff with Russian spies , there should never have been a First Amendment question.

Particularly given the different status of FARA in 1978 when FISA was passed, its virtual lapse for years, followed by a recent focus on it in recent years (at a time when there are fewer protections against foreign influence peddling). it seems vitally important for Congress to demand an understanding of how these three statutory regimes intersect, and — hopefully — provide some clarity on it for everyone else.

Update: Added the question about various Foreign Agent designations.

Horowitz

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

Update, January 6: After much haranguing from bmaz, I’m updating this post with a new section discussing whether any of the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application would have mattered, had be been criminally charged. I argue that, given precedents about reviewing FISA applications and suppressing warrants, none of the problems with Page’s FISA application would have mattered were it used in a criminal prosecution. As the IG carries out further review of FBI’s FISA work — and as policy makers decide how to integrate the lessons of this IG Report — that reality needs to be part of the consideration, and, in part because Horowitz dodged the issue of these precedents, that’s missing from this discussion.

I’ve spent the last week doing a really deep dive into the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and am finally ready to start explaining what it shows (and what it does not show or where it demonstrably commits the same kinds of errors it accuses the Crossfire Hurricane team of). This post will be a summary of what the IG Report shows about the Carter Page FISA process (with some comment on the FISA process generally).

I will do follow-up posts on — at a minimum — how the report treats “exculpatory” information and the biases of this report, what the report says about Bruce Ohr (where I think this report fails, badly), the details the Report offers on the Steele reports, and what it implies about Oleg Deripaska. I’ll probably do one more demonstrating how this IG Report radically deviates from past history on similar reports in ways that are remarkable and troubling. Eventually I’ll do some posts on what should be done to fix FISA.

This post will address the following topics:

  • The predication of the investigation
  • The errors impacting Carter Page
  • The details about whether Carter Page should have been targeted
  • Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants had he been charged

The predication of the investigation

The Report is quite clear: “Crossfire Hurricane,” as the investigation was called (henceforth, CH), started in response to the tip Australia provided in the wake of the release of the DNC emails on WikiLeaks.

The FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane in July 2016 following the receipt of ·certain information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG). According to the information provided by the FFG, in May 2016, a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign had received “some kind of suggestion” from Russia that it could assist with the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton (Trump’s opponent in the presidential election) and President Barack Obama. At the time the FBI received the FFG information, the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), which includes the FBI, was aware of Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, including efforts to infiltrate servers and steal emails belongfng to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The FFG shared this information with the State Department on July 26, 2016, after the internet site Wikileaks began releasing emails hacked from computers belonging to the DNC and Clinton’s campaign manager.

The WikiLeaks release made Papadopoulos’ comments to Alexander Downer (and, probably, his aide Erica Thompson, who had an earlier meeting with him in May 2016 before one she attended with Downer) look like the campaign had advance knowledge from the Russians about that release. That it did has since been confirmed with respect to Papadopoulos and — evidence in Roger Stone’s trial suggests — possibly Stone, too.

Australia provided the tip first to the US embassy in London (which may or may not have involved the CIA), which then passed it on to the Philadelphia Field Office, which passed it to the Section Chief of Cyber Counterintelligence Coordination at FBI HQ, where it arrived on July 28. People at HQ, including Peter Strzok, spent the next three days discussing what to do, after which Bill Priestap opened a full investigation to determine whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with the government of Russia.

On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a full counterintelligence investigation under the code name Crossfire Hurricane “to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.”

A big part of that was trying to figure out how Papadopoulos might have gotten advance notice of the email dump, which is why, over the next 16 days, the FBI opened counterintelligence investigations into the four most likely sources of that information: Papadopoulos himself, Carter Page (who was already the subject of a counterintelligence investigation opened in April 2016), Paul Manafort (who was already the subject of a money laundering investigation opened in January 2016), and Mike Flynn (who had met with Putin the previous December and had ongoing communications with the GRU).

Of the four, Page is the only one not charged with or judged to have lied to obstruct the investigation (though the FBI believed he was not telling the full truth in his March 2017 interviews). The government still has questions about what Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos did during the campaign period. And a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn remained ongoing as of May. In other words, not only was the investigation justified, but it still is, because questions about everyone originally included remain.

The IG found no bias in the opening of the investigation, and everyone asked said the FBI would have been derelict had they not done so.

That’s worth keeping in mind as Bill Barr lies about the reasons for and results of this investigation, not least because had FBI made different decisions early in the investigation, it might have had more success in figuring out what (especially) Paul Manafort was up to.

The errors impacting Carter Page

In part because the FBI already had substantiated concerns about Page’s willingness to work with known Russian intelligence officers, it moved immediately to get a FISA order on him in August 2016. Lawyers deemed it premature. Then, days after the CH belatedly got the first Christopher Steele reports (which had been churning around FBI for two months), they moved to get a FISA order on him. By the time they applied for the order, they had additional damning information about his July 2016 trip to Russia (that he believed he had been offered an “open checkbook” to form a pro-Russian think tank in the US), but it is true that the dossier was the precipitating event that led the CH team to start the FISA process.

The decision to get a FISA order relying on an unverified tip from an existing “Confidential Human Source” was, per the report, no unusual. Not only does that happen, but Steele is a more credible informant than lots of sources for intelligence targeting. Moreover, by the time of the application, FBI had laid out who his assumed sub-sources were (including Sergei Millian, whom they knew to be interacting closely with Papadopoulos by the time the order was approved).

That said there were clear errors with Page’s applications. Those fall into three areas:

  • The FBI did not tell FISC that Page had been an approved contact for CIA until 2013
  • The FBI did not describe Steele accurately and failed to update the application as it discovered problems with the dossier
  • The FBI did not include information that the IG deemed exculpatory to either Page (correctly) or Papadopoulos (less convincingly)

Notice about Page’s past CIA contacts

Before the FBI first applied for a FISA targeting Page, and again in June 2017, it learned that Page had been approved for “operational contact” from 2008 until 2013. Per a footnote, an operational contact is someone the CIA can talk to about information he has, but not someone they can task to collect information.

According to the other U.S. government agency, “operational contact,” as that term is used in the memorandum about Page, provides “Contact Approval,” which allows the other agency to contact and discuss sensitive information with a U.S. person and to collect information from that person via “passive debriefing,” or debriefing a person of information that is within the knowledge of an individual and has been acquired through the normal course of that individual’s activities. According to the U.S. government agency, a “Contact Approval” does not allow for operational use of a U.S. person or tasking of that person.

While the details are not entirely clear, Page appears to have told CIA honestly about his contacts with the first Russian intelligence officer who recruited him after he returned to the US from Russia, but not another (probably Victor Podobnyy). His last contact with CIA was in July 2011, which seems to suggest he did not reveal his ongoing ties to Russian intelligence officers to CIA. Moreover, the FBI would come to have concerns about his earlier ties with Russian spies that would not be excused by this CIA designation, not least because after Podobnyy and his fellow Russian intelligence officers were indicted, Page told a Russian stationed at the UN and some others that he knew he was the person described in the indictment, which they discovered when preparing for trial in 2016. The FBI would come to believe Page was less than honest about Page’s comments about showing up in the indictment in 2017.

The FBI did not provide notice of the CIA designation, at all, to FISC. That’s a big problem because the FBI had included both Russian recruitment attempts in its application without explaining that Page had been candid about the first one with the CIA. Worse still, in advance of the last reauthorization in June 2017, FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith — who is one of the people who had sent anti-Trump texts using his FBI phone — altered an email to hide the relationship.

None of that changes that Carter Page, throughout this period, told anyone who asked that he thought it was okay to provide non-public information to people he knew to be Russian intelligence officers, nor that he enthusiastically considered taking money from Russia to set up a pro-Russian think tank. But it does raise real questions about whether Page was acting clandestinely, a key requirement for a FISA application.

Inaccurate descriptions of Steele

The IG Report also shows a number of problems with the way the FBI described Steele.

For the first application, that consisted of two problems. First, the FBI didn’t ask Steele’s handler, Mike Gaeta, for his description of Steele’s reliability. As a result, the description overstated how much of his past reporting to the FBI had been corroborated (some of it had been, but much of it was, like the Trump dossier, based on single sources in Russia who couldn’t easily be replicated), and falsely stated that his earlier reporting had been used in court cases, which would have signaled that prosecutors had found it reliable. His reporting had been key to starting the FIFA investigation, but mostly to start the investigation, not to substantiate evidence for trial. Unlike the non-notice about this CIA relationship, this is an error that would have been fixed had the FBI rigorously adhered to the Woods procedures (though the FBI Agent who did the application did have a document — an intelligence report on Steele — he relied on, just not the proper one).

The other initial problem is that the FBI claimed that Steele had not been behind a September 23 Michael Isikoff story relying on Steele’s reporting, something I’ve always found inexcusable. That said, the FBI did alert FISC to the article — they just ridiculously assumed that Glenn Simpson had been the source for the story, not Steele, and did so after initially stating that Steele was behind it. Had they attributed the story to Steele, they would have had to close him as a source weeks before they otherwise did, but it probably wouldn’t have affected the initial approval for the order.

The far more egregious error, however, came on reauthorizations (see this post for a timeline of the events laid out in the report). Starting immediately after they closed Steele as a source, the FBI started getting more details — initially from Bruce Ohr, then Steele’s former colleagues, then his primary sub-source — about his reporting. And most of the things they learned should have raised general concerns about Steele and serious concerns about the reliability of the dossier. Of the ten additional problems DOJ IG found with the applications on the renewals, six of them pertain to providing no notice of increasing reason to doubt the Steele dossier.

I’ll write about the Steele fiasco in a follow-up post. But one detail is worth noting here. There was disagreement between Steele and the FBI about his work dating back to 2013, with Steele understanding he was a contractor and the FBI treating him (partly for bureaucratic reasons) as a CHS. Then, in October 2016, when the CH team tried to task him to answer specific questions about the investigation — about the predicated subjects of the investigation, physical evidence, sub sources who might serve as cooperating witnesses — there was again a misunderstanding about whether Steele was working exclusively for the FBI or simply providing information he was providing to Fusion. As a result, Steele believed he could speak to the press about anything he wasn’t doing for FBI exclusively (which included the dossier), but the FBI considered that cause to stop using him altogether.

Failure to include exculpatory information

Finally, the FBI failed to include exculpatory information pertaining to denials from Page, Papadopoulos, and Joseph Mifsud, and reliability questions about Millian (who was himself the subject of a counterintelligence investigation).

The DOJ IG is absolutely right that FBI should have included Page’s denials in these applications, which include denials that he had ever spoken to Paul Manafort (as alleged in the dossier), had a role in the Republican platform on Ukraine (also alleged in the dossier), or had a role in the email release (the question they were supposed to be answering). All those denials are, as far as we know, absolutely correct. It also excluded his denials of meeting Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin (as alleged in the dossier), which is probably true, though FBI obtained RUMINT supporting a Sechin meeting.

I’ll address DOJ IG’s stance on the Papadopoulos and Mifsud denials later, both of which were (and were deemed to be by the FBI) at least partly false. But it raises a key problem with a FISA application that — unlike a criminal warrant affidavit — will never be shared with the target of it. Excluding this kind of stuff is generally deemed acceptable in a normal criminal warrant. It is not (and should not be) here, because there will never be discovery. But that raises real questions about what gets counted as exculpatory, which is a topic I’ll return to.

Ultimately, the IG Report judged it should all have been noticed to DOJ which, for the most part, it was not.

Note, Julian Sanchez argues — convincingly, I think — that many of these errors come not from malice or political bias, but from confirmation bias.

Whether Carter Page should have been targeted

The errors in the Page applications are inexcusable.

But they don’t address (and the IG Report pointedly avoids addressing) whether he should have been targeted, from a Fourth Amendment, prudential, or investigative focus standpoint.

Without the full application, it’s impossible to say with certainty whether it would meet probable cause had FBI addressed the problems laid out in the IG Report. But a summary of what the IG Report says appeared in the applications (which I’ve laid out here) suggests there probably was probable cause to support the first two applications. In the first one, the derogatory evidence against Steele’s reporting was not yet known to the agents submitting the application (more on that in a follow-up), so he would have been deemed a credible informant by any measure. And by the second one, the FBI had obtained enough information on Page’s trips to Moscow that likely would have supported a probable cause finding without the dossier — though that finding would have far less to do with whether the Trump campaign had foreknowledge of the email dump, which is unsurprising given that FBI already had an investigation into Page in April 2016. The third and fourth application, however, are much closer calls.

That’s a separate question from whether it was a good idea to get a FISA order on Page, something that multiple people at DOJ raised even before the first application, including Stu Evans (the same guy who ensured there’d be a footnote clarifying that Steele likely was working for a political candidate). As the IG Report describes, everyone at FBI responded by saying they could not pull their punches because of political risk.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly. He told the OIG that he thought there was no right or wrong answer to this question, which he characterized as a prudential question of risk vs. reward, but he wanted to make sure he raised the issue for the decision makers to consider. According to Evans, the reactions he received from the FBI to this prudential question were some variations of-we understand your concerns, those are valid points, but if you are telling us it’s legal, we cannot pull any punches just because there could be criticism afterward.

It’s easy to say Evans was right on this. But if you go there, it also raises the question that no Trump supporter ever wants to answer (when discussing this FISA or the use of CHSes): what should FBI have done when faced with evidence that Trump was amenable to the help from Russia and might be coordinating with them?

That’s a debate we really need to have but won’t because Barr is trying mightily to pretend the correct answer is “nothing.”

Which is a pity, because I suspect there are key policy issues that trying to answer the question would raise. For example:

  • Aside from the National Security Letters FBI had already served on Page’s providers in the spring, were there other less intrusive kinds of legal process that would have answered some of the questions about Page (and Papadopoulos) without obtaining content?
  • Given FBI’s success at gagging providers, why couldn’t it have used normal criminal process?
  • Are CHSes really as unintrusive as FBI claims, or should they be reserved for higher predication in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (though because CH was a full investigation, they would have achieved that level of predication anyway)
  • Why did FBI wait to obtain Page’s financial records — which, for someone working for “free” for the campaign didn’t implicate the campaign at all — until the spring?
  • If FBI believed — because this was clearly a counterintelligence investigation — it had to use FISA, did something prevent it from using Section 215 first to obtain more probable cause?
  • Was Page even the key person they should have been focusing on?

The last question gets into whether targeting Page with a FISA was the right question — both on the first application, and on the fourth — from an investigative standpoint.

In an effort to ensure the investigation would not leak, from its inception through December 2016, CH was done out of FBI Headquarters (for diagrams of the three different organizations used before Mueller took over, see PDF 117-119), meaning it didn’t have the investigative resources it would have had if it had left the investigations in the field offices. That may have necessitated some resource allocation questions.

Then, by the time of (at least) the second renewal, Page had not only been spun well free of the Trump Administration, but the FBI investigation into everyone but Papadopoulos had already become public.

Because it was not its job, DOJ IG only reported on questions about whether getting a FISA on Page was the right investigative choice — both focusing on him more aggressively than the others, and obtaining a FISA on him.

Start with the former question. By the time CH decided to obtain a FISA order on Page, Papadopoulos had given answers to Stefan Halper that Republicans like to claim were exculpatory but were in fact correctly identified as a cover story and — I think but am awaiting response from the IG’s office — actually could be provably shown to be a lie in real time. Had CH obtained the call records on Papadopoulos at that point rather than a full content warrant on Page, they would have identified Papadopoulos’ ties with Joseph Mifsud, someone already suspected of being a Russian asset. Papadopoulos then laid out the outlines of his interactions with Mifsud in an October conversation with an informant. Had FBI focused on this more closely, they would have known before they interviewed Papadopoulos in January that he had these ties and was lying about them, which might have led FBI to obtain enough information about Mifsud in time to detain him rather than just interview him in early 2017.

The same could be said of Paul Manafort. Had CH focused on him, they might have obtained call records reflecting his ongoing communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, who (as a foreigner overseas) could be targeted under Section 702 and EO 12333. That might have revealed Manafort’s ongoing coordination in real time, which he continues to lie about.

Perhaps they did some of this, or perhaps they could have done it all. But it’s worth asking whether, because the prior concerns about Page meant they could get a FISA on him, they chose that path rather than other less intrusive but potentially more productive approaches.

Then there’s the question of whether ongoing FISAs on Page had merit. The Report suggests the FBI believed the first and, probably, the second order were really productive (the IG only reviewed those comms that were pertinent to its study, but based on that partial review, seemed more skeptical).

But by the later applications, the FBI was not keeping up with the incoming FISA materials, something we’ve seen in FISA collections in the past. There ought to be a rule: if you can’t keep up with incoming surveillance collection, it probably means it’s not important enough to justify the impact on an American.

Although there were no recent relevant FISA collections the team found useful, we were told that the FBI was still reviewing FISA collections identified prior to Renewal Application No. 2.

Finally, by the last collections, the FBI admitted that it was no longer getting anything from the FISA (in part, they believed, because Page knew he was being surveilled).

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30.  Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information.

There’s an exchange in the Report that leads me to suspect they kept targeting Page not because he remained interesting, but because there were new facilities they had IDed in April 2017 that would be easier to target using FISA than criminal process, including encrypted communications. First, they describe finding out that he used an encrypted app.

NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone.

Then, the report describes “previously unknown locations” they could target, which led them to seek a renewal.

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal.

There’s very good reason to believe that the FBI either has techniques (probably including hacking phones to get encrypted chat texts) that are easier to conduct using FISA, or techniques they’d like to hide by using FISA.

That’s a policy question that needs to be answered. If FBI is choosing to use FISA to hide techniques, it changes the import and use of the law. But it seems clear: by the time of the fourth if not the third order on Page, they really should have stopped for investigative reasons, but may not have because it’s too easy to avoid the risk of detasking against someone who might be a risk.

Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants

Finally, there’s the question of whether, had Carter Page been prosecuted using information obtained under these FISA warrants, he would have gotten any of the information thrown out. As bmaz has been screaming since this IG Report became public, the standard for suppression would require Page to argue that this affidavit didn’t meet the probable cause he was an agent of a foreign power, that the FBI Agents who submitted the application knew or should have known there was a problem with the claims they made in the affidavit, and — because this was a FISA order — he’d have to get a judge to allow him to review the affidavit where no prior defendant has been able to. 

And that’s assuming Page even got notice. Often, the FBI will build criminal cases without relying on information obtained under FISA at all. In such cases (as seems to be the case with Lev Parnas and his co-defendants), the government doesn’t have to notice their use of FISA, meaning the defendant never gets the opportunity to try to challenge the FISA warrant. Given how high profile this case is, FBI likely would have tried to avoid giving notice.

Had Page gotten notice, I feel safe in saying he would not have gotten to review his FISA application, because that never has happened, not even in cases with more obviously problematic affidavits

The IG Report carefully avoids saying whether the applications against Carter Page met the threshold of probable cause, either with or without the errors it lays out. Generally, if a magistrate has found probable cause, defendants have a tough time getting those warrants suppressed; and here, four different District Court judges had approved his applications. 

In Page’s case, the way to do this would be to show that stuff in the applications was knowingly false or omitted. In this hypothetical prosecution, Page should have gotten the detail that he was an approved contact with the CIA until 2013, evidence to support his claim that he hadn’t done two of the things in the dossier (interact with Paul Manafort and change the platform), and possibly some of the evidence undermining the Steele dossier (though sometimes the FBI can withhold stuff pertaining to informants). 

As for the first, with his efforts to sustain contact with Russia after CIA’s approved contact lapsed and his interactions with a second Russian intelligence officer CIA didn’t know about, it’s not clear that’d be enough to convince a judge that the prior approvals were improper. 

As to information proving the dossier wrong, because FBI took such a conservative investigative approach prior to the election, it took some time before the FBI discovered it. The FBI first appears to have gotten evidence that would prove Carter Page wasn’t involved in changing the platform in March 2017, though it appears DOJ’s NSD had better information at the time than FBI. Had FBI taken a more aggressive approach prior to Mueller taking over, they might have developed call records to support Carter Page’s claim that Manafort never returned his emails, but it’s not sure that’s enough. The IG Report doesn’t focus as much on the Manafort exculpatory evidence, perhaps because the FBI plausibly believed Page could have been working with Manafort indirectly, as George Papadopoulos had suggested to Stefan Halper. And, as the IG Report notes but minimizes, one reason the FBI didn’t take details undermining the Steele dossier that seriously is because they believed Steele’s Sub-Informant was withholding information from them, which (given the political firestorm at the time and the claims that the Sub-Source might be in danger are quite likely, even ignoring the possibility the Sub-Source had been involved in disinformation).

Then there’s the standard that would apply to both Fourth Amendment and Franks challenges: whether the FBI affiant on the application knew or should have known their claims were wrong.

In this case, a supervisory special agent who wasn’t closely involved in the investigation was the affiant on the first application. He wouldn’t have known, personally, of any problems with the application. He said he relied on the case agent’s Woods review (though said he routinely does review Woods files). So in that first case, the FBI’s policy of having more senior FBI agents sign FISA applications actually make it harder to challenge the warrant, because it would be harder to claim he knew the application was deficient. 

The affiant on the other three applications, called SS2 in the IG Report, was more closely involved in the case. The IG Report provides two specific examples where he swore to something that the IG Report presents as knowably untrue. The first pertains to claims Steele’s Sub-Source made about Millian. But the IG Report said specifically that, “the investigators believed at the time that the Primary Sub-source was holding something back about his/her interaction with [Millian],” which actually accords with what Steele said. Which is to say, the FBI had reason (which may actually have been justified) to believe that the Sub-Source’s comments did not need to be added to the application. 

The other thing SS2 might have known by the last application is Page’s past relationship with the CIA; indeed, he made an effort to nail that down for that application. But Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of the email that thereby hid that Page had been an approved contact for the CIA specifically prevented SS2 from learning that information. So while Clinesmith can (and is in this case) be disciplined, that doesn’t change that the affiant specifically tried to clarify Page’s relationship with the CIA, but got bad information preventing him from being able to.

And it’s not just the two affiants (though they would be the ones at issue in a suppression motion of Franks hearing). The IG Report specifically says that the agents providing that information did not believe they were withholding relevant information.

In most instances, the agents and supervisors told us that they either did not know or recall why the information was not shared with OI, that the failure to do so may have been an oversight, that they did not recognize at the time the relevance of the information to the FISA application, or that they did not believe the missing information to be significant. 

The reality is it is usually enough, in criminal prosecutions, for FBI agents to attest to such belief in the case of suppression motions, and probably would be here too, even if Carter Page had succeeded in getting the first ever review of his FISA application.

Finally, there’s the standard for Franks challenges, the means by which, on very rare occasions, defendants argue that the law enforcement officers who obtained a warrant on them were so negligent or malicious in their application so as to merit the warrant and its fruit being thrown out.

Franks challenges require the defendant to prove that false statements in a warrant application are false, were knowing, intentional, or reckless false statements, and were necessary to the finding of probable cause (as this law review article explains at length).

Franks challenges involve heavy burdens for defendants to meet, even at the earliest stages. First, the defendant must make “a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit.”79 A defendant’s claim will fail if it only alleges innocent or negligent misrepresentation;80 it will similarly fail if the court determines that the evidence fails to demonstrate falsity.81 At this stage, the defendant must also show that “the allegedly false statement is necessary to the finding of probable cause.”82 Many Franks challenges fail at this stage because the court determines that the allegedly false statement is not important enough to affect the probable cause analysis.83 If the defendant’s “preliminary showing” clears all three of these hurdles (falsity, intent, and materiality), then the defendant is entitled to a hearing on the allegations.84 At the evidentiary hearing, the defendant has to establish by a preponderance of the evidence the same three things; only then will the evidence be suppressed “to the same extent as if probable cause was lacking on the face of the affidavit.”85 Reviewing courts presume the affidavit’s validity and require the defendant to provide specific allegations and an offer of proof.86

As noted, the IG Report itself notes that the agents believed they had submitted what was necessary for the application, so Page could not show they were knowing falsehoods, meaning he’d have to prove that such a belief was reckless, which — particularly for the matter of relying on Steele — would be hard to do, given that he’s a more credible informant than most FISA informants. 

Moreover, aside from Page’s alleged involvement in the platform, it’s not even clear Page could prove that some of the key allegations were false. The FBI did obtain evidence — weak, RUMINT, but nevertheless evidence — that Page may have met with Igor Sechin, and the fact that he met with related people would make disproving those details difficult. Ultimately, the FBI suspected Page was not entirely truthful in his March 2017 interactions with them, and Mueller found that, “Page’s activities in Russia-as described in his emails with the Campaign-were not fully explained.” 

Finally, in addition to the Trump-related allegations about Page in his application, the FBI showed that Page willingly remained a recruitment target of known Russian intelligence officers, shared non-public information (possibly deemed trade secrets) with them, and enthusiastically considered an offer of an “open checkbook” to start a pro-Russian think tank. That’s not enough to prove he was an agent under 18 USC 951, but it probably reaches probable cause in any case. 

I’m not saying any of this is the way it should be — for FISA warrants or traditional criminal warrants. But that’s the way it is. It is virtually guaranteed that if Carter Page had been prosecuted, he would never have been able to challenge his FISA applications and even if he had, he likely would not have succeeded with either a Franks challenge or a Fourth Amendment suppression motion. That suggests that the way FISA works right now raises the bar well further than it already is for criminal defendants to ensure that the searches against them were proper in the first place. 

Update: Corrected post to indicate last contact between Page and CIA was in July 2011.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

 

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

I’m still working through my deep dive of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page (see the list below for links to my prior posts). But to prep for a post showing that DOJ IG did not meet the standard it held the FBI to in its investigation, I want to first lay out what the IG Report shows about George Papadopoulos.

Why Papadopoulos matters in an IG Report on Carter Page

Papadopoulos is discussed in this IG Report for three reasons. First, the investigation into whether anyone on the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia, called Crossfire Hurricane, was opened after the Australian government passed on a report about what Papadopoulos said to their representative to the UK, Alexander Downer, over drinks in May 2016. The tip raised legitimate questions about whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia and if so via what channels, so FBI opened an investigation to find out. So Papadopoulos is in the IG Report because his big mouth predicated the investigation.

Papadopoulos is also included because after the GOP embraced conspiracy theories that FBI had “spied” on Trump’s campaign by introducing informants into it, the IG reviewed Papadopoulos’ interactions with two Confidential Human Sources (CHS; along with interactions Carter Page and Sam Clovis had with informants), ultimately showing that no CHSes were infiltrated into the campaign, but were instead used as what FBI believed was the most discrete but efficient way to investigate whether there was something behind Papadopoulos’ blather.

Finally, the review into the interactions between informants and Page and Papadopoulos led the IG to conclude that the FBI should have highlighted information from those interactions in Carter Page’s FISA applications. That judgment is undoubtedly true for Page’s meetings with informants, as he denied several of the specific allegations from the Steele dossier that made up a key prong in the probable cause against him.

But it’s a closer call with regards to Papadopoulos, even just based off the information included in the IG Report (and all the more so when matched up with information in other public documents). Two of the seventeen “significant inaccuracies and omissions” that the IG Report faults FBI for pertain to information on Papadopoulos, and a third pertains to Joseph Mifsud’s denials of telling Papadopoulos about the emails:

5. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in September 2016 denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of emails;

[snip]

15. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in late October 2016 (after the first application was filed) denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the circumstances of the DNC email hack;

16. Omitted Joseph Mifsud’s denials to the FBI that he supplied Papadopoulos with the information Papadopoulos shared with the FFG (suggesting that the campaign received an offer or suggestion of assistance from Russia); and

Given that FISA applications never get shared with defendants, this information should be shared, at least with DOJ’s Office of Information that does the applications. But all of these references were deemed to be — for good reason — cover stories. So I think they deserve more attention in any analysis of how to “fix” (or scrap) FISA moving forward, because they demonstrate one problem with warrant affidavits that will never see the light of day, what to consider exculpatory or not.

As background for that (and to rebut Papadopoulos’ claims that this Report backs any of the fevered claims he has made about the investigation into him), I want to lay out what the IG Report reveals about the investigation into Papadopoulos.

July 28 through August 10 2016: FBI receives the tip from Australia then opens the investigation

Days after WikiLeaks released the DNC emails, on July 26, Australia told someone in London (probably CIA, but the report describes the State Department being involved) about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer (and, probably, his aide Erica Thompson, who had an earlier meeting with Papadopoulos as well as the one she attended with Downer) in May 2016.

The Report does not include the full text of the Australian tip, which has led people from the Attorney General on down to diminish the import of it based off a partial quote. In addition, DOJ has — at its own discretion — kept a few words reflecting other details from the Australian tip that the FBI used to predicate the investigation classified.

What the IG Report does include from the Australian report explains that Papadopoulos had,

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process [damaging Hillary] with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

A later quote from Bill Priestap, the FBI Manager who opened the investigation, reveals part of what DOJ chose to exclude from Papadopoulos’ quote: before mentioning the detail about Russia to Downer, Papadopoulos had expressed confidence that Trump would win because there was so much dirt on Hillary.

In fact, the information we received indicated that Papadopoulos told the [FFG] he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and Papadopoulos commented that the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

So Papadopoulos said, in May 2016, that Trump would win by throwing a ton of dirt at Hillary, and then said that the Russians were going to anonymously release dirt of their own. Two and a half months later, material Russia stole got released via WikiLeaks, hiding the Russian role, seemingly (and, the evidence shows, in fact) confirming that Papadopoulos had had advance knowledge of the dump.

It took two days for this tip to make its way from the UK to FBI HQ, which means Australia would have shared it before but it would have arrived after Trump made his “Russia if you’re listening” comment on July 27 suggesting he’d be happy to get help from Russia.

FBI HQ then spent 3 days deciding what to do about the tip. On July 31, the FBI opened an investigation to try to figure out whether the Trump campaign had gotten advance notice of the email drop and if so via what channel.

The next day, August 1, Peter Strzok and a Supervisory Special Agent went to London to find out more from Australian officials, plural, which suggests Thompson was included in the interview. The interview gave the FBI no clarity about whom Russia may have told about the emails and it did not rule out Papadopoulos being told himself.

According to Strzok and SSA 1, during the interview they learned that Papadopoulos did not say that he had direct contact with the Russians; that while his statement did not include him, it did not exclude him either; and that Papadopoulos stated the Russians told “us.” Strzok and SSA 1 also said they learned that Papadopoulos did not specify any other individual who received the Russian suggestion

That information led the FBI to do some intelligence analysis using database and name searches to draw up possible candidates. As a result of that analysis, the FBI opened investigations into Papadopoulos himself, as well as Mike Flynn, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort, the latter three of of whom had known ties to Russia.

August 10 to November 8: FBI pursues no legal process to collect on Papadopoulos

The Report confirms, obliquely, something I have long noted: the FBI did not do basic things like getting call records on Papadopoulos or anyone else (though the NY Field Office had gotten two basic National Security Letters on Carter Page earlier in the year). The Report notes that FBI did not ask NSD to help it submit criminal legal process on anyone in conjunction with this investigation before the election.

the FBI did not ask CES to assist with criminal legal process at any time before the 2016 U.S. elections

This is an important issue for both the political and policy debate. The FBI actually might have discovered really damning details about both Papadopoulos (who was planning a back channel meeting with Putin when the investigation was opened) and Paul Manafort (who was sharing campaign strategy in a meeting discussing how to carve up Ukraine) had they chosen to investigate more aggressively. By waiting, the FBI gave both men an opportunity to cover these activities up. Even if they had just gotten call detail records — something not considered any more intrusive than using informants — they would have discovered Joseph Mifsud’s ongoing communications with Papadopoulos.  They chose not to take those steps, in part, to prevent any word of the investigation from leaking. But as a result, the FBI failed to collect details about suspicious behavior in real time, potentially forgoing the possibility of mitigating follow-on damage from the Russian attack.

And rather than reviewing a report about why the FBI failed to prevent these ongoing activities, we’re instead reading a 400-page report about why, in an attempt to avoid doing the kind of damage it had already done to Hillary’s campaign, it did the bare minimum.

August 20: Stefan Halper asks Page about Papadopoulos

So instead of collecting communications and other records (the FBI didn’t even obtain Page’s financial records until the following spring), the FBI instead used informants. As it happened, Stefan Halper, who was a lifelong Republican and had worked prior presidential campaigns, had met Carter Page and knew Manafort and Flynn. He was a perfectly situated informant. So FBI asked him to collect more information.

In an August 20 meeting with Halper, Carter Page issued some of the first denials that should have been included in the FISA applications. Halper also asked him about the other subjects of the investigation. Page didn’t have much to say about Papadopoulos, aside from giving a telling “no comment” in response to a Halper question about how easily Papadopoulos can be set off emotionally.

Page said that Papadopoulos was the youngest guy on the campaign, that he used to live in London, and that he had not been to the last campaign meeting. Page also said he had “no comment” on whether Papadopoulos was easily triggered emotionally.

September 1: Stefan Halper asks Sam Clovis about Papadopoulos

Next, using an introduction from Page, Halper reached out to Sam Clovis, who had been closely involved with managing both Page and Papadopoulos on the campaign. Clovis had warm things to say about Page (even while admitting he was hard to pin down). Clovis described Papadopoulos, by contrast, as overly ambitious, which made Clovis suspicious of him.

Source 2 also asked about George Papadopoulos, who the high-level Trump campaign official described as “very eager” and “a climber.” The high-level campaign official added that he was “always suspicious of people like that.”

September 15: Two interviews with Stefan Halper

Next, Halper invited Papadopoulos to London to discuss doing a paper on Mediterranean energy issues for him, a ploy designed (the FBI hoped) to recreate the kinds of circumstances that had led Papadopoulos to make the comments he did to Downer four months before. Halper and Papadopoulos (and an undercover FBI Agent using the name Azra Turk) actually had two meetings. At the first, Halper started by eliciting Papadopoulos’ thoughts on other subjects of the investigation, which led Papadopoulos to describe both Page and Flynn as interested in ties with Russia.

During the meeting, Source 2 told Papadopoulos that Carter Page “always says nice things about you.” Papadopoulos told Source 2 that although Carter Page was one of the campaign’s “Russian people,” Page “has never actually met Trump … [and] hasn’t actually advised him on Russia … [but] [h]e might be advising him indirectly through [another campaign official].” Papadopoulos also told Source 2 that General Flynn “does want to cooperate with the Russians and the Russians are willing to … embrace adult issues.”

Then Halper asked Papadopoulos about his own ties to Russia. According to the parts of the transcript excerpted in the IG Report, he admitted he had been invited to a “faith talk” (an invitation I haven’t heard of before), but said it was too sensitive to go, particularly given what “is going with Paul Manafort.” In response to an initial question, Papadopoulos suggested that Julian Assange had predicted an October Surprise but “no one knows” what that means.

As for Papadopoulos’s own connections with Russia, Papadopoulos told Source 2 he thought that “we have to be wary of the Russians” and mentioned that “they actually invited me to their .. .faith talk. I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos explained to Source 2 that he made the decision not to go because it is “just too sensitive … [as an] advisor on the campaign trail…especially with what is going [on] with Paul Manafort.” Source 2 also asked Papadopoulos about the possibility of the public release of additional information that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Papadopoulos responded that Julian Assange of Wikileaks had said in public statements to “get ready for October … [but] [w]hatever that means no one knows.”

Papadopoulos’ answer about an October Surprise was not that different than — but almost a month after — a similar response to Halper from Page, though that comment did not get added to his FISA applications until his last renewal. The IG Report does not talk about this similar answer, which is particularly interesting given details about the campaign’s knowledge of Roger Stone’s claimed ties to WikiLeaks.

Then there are questions about whether DOJ IG included all the parts of the transcript that would be relevant to this analysis. In Papadopoulos’ own depiction of these meetings with Halper, he claimed he pushed back by saying, “I really have nothing to do with Russia.” It’s possible that was a self-serving claim, or it’s possible that the transcript included here does not include it. I asked and did not receive an answer about about whether such a phrase appeared in the full transcript or how much of that full transcript they had excerpted. Whether it is or not is actually fairly significant for the DOJ IG case about what should have been included in Page’s FISA applications, but alas, it’s not available. It would also be useful to see whether these topics followed closely or not, but again, this is just a selection from the transcript that doesn’t even offer guidance about what the ellipses are.

Anyway, that’s what happened at a brunch meeting between Halper and Papadopoulos. After it, the FBI deemed the meeting sufficiently successful to try to push further in an evening meeting over drinks.

At that evening meeting, Papadopoulos questioned whether the Russians had really done the hack, and then said a bunch of things about Israel that would lead to FBI digging up significant details of Papadopoulos’ influence peddling with Israel that almost turned into a Foreign Agent charge.

When Source 2 initially asked about Wikileaks, Papadopoulos commented that with respect to Assange “no one knows what he’s going to release” and that he could release information on Trump as a “ploy to basically dismantle … [ or] undercut the … next President of the United States regardless of who it’s going to be.” Papadopoulos also stated that “no one has proven that the Russians actually did the hacking,” then continued to discuss hacking by pointing out that he had “actually had a few .. .Israelis trying to hack” his cell phone, which Papadopoulos said “shocked” him because he had “done some sensitive work for that government,” and he said the Israelis had “allowed [him] quite a high level of access.” Papadopoulos also stated that “no one else” did the work that he did for the Israelis, and that it had led “some folks [to] joke … [that Papadopoulos] should go into the CIA after this if [Trump] ends up losing.”

Then, Halper asked about WikiLeaks for what would be the third and fourth time that day, this time more directly. Papadopoulos gave the answer that the frothy right has claimed, bizarrely, was exculpatory. By the time he gave this answer, had had already admitted receiving a non-public invitation from Russia and offered two different responses about WikiLeaks, along with a claim doubting that Russia had done the hack. That’s particularly notable given that Papadopoulos’ claim that WikiLeaks would have an interest in undercutting whoever might be the next President makes no sense unless Russia were the source.

So having expressed meeting with Russia was “sensitive” in the wake of disclosures about Paul Manafort and given inconsistent answers about WikiLeaks already that day, in response to more direct questions, Papadopoulos angrily stated that optimizing the WikiLeaks releases — which Rick Gates and Stephen Miller had been preparing to do leading up to the DNC release, and which Roger Stone had made even more extensive efforts to do, though there’s no evidence Papadopoulos knew of either effort — would amount to treason. Both times he made this denial, Papadopoulos raised Trump’s “Russia if you’re listening” comment.

Later in the conversation, Source 2 asked Papadopoulos directly whether help “from a third party like Wikileaks for example or some other third party like the Russians, could be incredibly helpful” in securing a campaign victory. Papadopoulos responded:

Well as a campaign, of course, we don’t advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s, ah, illegal. First and foremost it compromises the US national security and third it sets a very bad precedence [sic] …. So the campaign does not advocate for this, does not support what is happening. The indirect consequences are out of our hands…. [F]or example, our campaign is not. .. engag[ing] or reaching out to wiki leaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that…. Unless there’s something going on that I don’t know which I don’t because I don’t think anybody would risk their, their life, ah, potentially going to prison over doing something like that. Um … because at the end of the day, you know, it’s an illegal, it’s an illegal activity. Espionage is, ah, treason. This is a form of treason …. I mean that’s why, you know, it became a very big issue when Mr. Trump said, “Russia if you’re listening …. ” Do you remember? … And you know we had to retract it because, of course, he didn’t mean for them to actively engage in espionage but the media then took and ran with it.

When Source 2 raised the issue again, Papadopoulos added:

to run a shop like that. .. of course it’s illegal. No one’s looking to … obviously get into trouble like that and, you know, as far as I understand that’s, no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way. But the media, of course, wants to take a statement that Trump made, an off-the-cuff statement, about [how] Russia helped find the 30,000 emails and use that as a tool to advance their [story]. .. that Trump is … a stooge and if he’s elected he’ll permit the Russians to have carte blanche throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East while the Americans sit back and twiddle their thumbs. And that’s not correct.

There are a lot of reasons why, in context, this denial not only is not credible, but should have raised alarms. All the more so given that, according to the FBI team, Papadopoulos demeanor changed when he made it.

Case Agent 1 added that at these points in the conversation, Papadopoulos “went from a free-flowing conversation with [Source 2] to almost a canned response. You could tell in the demeanor of how [Papadopoulos] changed his tone, and to [the Crossfire Hurricane team] it seemed almost rehearsed.” Case Agent 1 emailed SSA 1 and others to report that Papadopoulos “gave … a canned answer, which he was probably prepped to say when asked.” According to Case Agent 1, it remained a topic of conversation on the Crossfire Hurricane team for days afterward whether Papadopoulos had “been coached by a legal team to deny” any involvement because of the “noticeable change” in “the tenor of the conversation.”

Granted, it would take a fairly extensive discussion to lay out how Papadopoulos’ denial was inconsistent with his earlier comments. The FBI team did not do that and instead left it out, which is one of the things DOJ IG criticized them for.

Early October/a few days before Page FISA filed: FBI learns that Papadopoulos has a sustained relationship with Sergei Millian

Meanwhile, there was one other significant investigative development, one which gets uneven coverage in the IG Report: the FBI came to focus on Sergei Millian.

Millian appears in the IG Report largely because he was an identifiable source in the Steele dossier whom Steele’s Sub-Source disclaimed a direct relationship with. Along the way, however, the Report provides details of an investigation into Millian in his own right. For example, one passage describes him as someone, “previously known to the FBI.” Other passages (including a heavily redacted footnote 302 describing a document circulating in early October) reveal the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Millian in either early October or just days before the Page FISA application was approved on October 21. Not only did the FBI have an investigation into Millian, but they knew that he had been in close contact with Papadopoulos since at least August.

The Crossfire Hurricane team had information available to it by early October 2016 that the two reporting streams could have connectivity because they had learned that Person 1, an important Steele election reporting sub-source, had been engaging in “sustained” contact with Papadopoulos since at least August 2016.

The IG Report’s treatment of Millian is fairly confusing (partly, presumably, due to DOJ decisions). It deems his possible role as a Steele source to discredit the dossier but does not discuss the possibility he had a role in any disinformation in it (even while it does consider Oleg Deripaska’s role in seeding disinformation). It doesn’t reflect on what that means for Papadopoulos’ comments in fall 2016, including any denials of ongoing involvement in Russian matters. Additionally, whereas elsewhere, DOJ declassified the names of people discussed extensively in the Mueller Report, they don’t do that here.

The investigation into Millian would almost certainly be more aggressive than it was with Papadopoulos. So it’s possible DOJ accessed Papadopoulos’ comments to Millian — which were fairly damning, per the Mueller report — at a time when they were otherwise not collecting communications of anyone besides Page.

Third week of October: First interview with Source 3

DOJ’s odd treatment of Millian in the Report is notable for Papadopoulos’ comments to the one other informant used with him during the election.

FBI didn’t use Stefan Halper with Papadopoulos after September 15. They tried, but failed, to use several other informants with him. But with an informant the IG Report calls Source 3, they did succeed in getting meetings with Papadopoulos, just the pre-election ones which the IG Report describes.

Whoever Source 3 is, Papadopoulos appears to have trusted — and bragged to — him or her far more than he did Halper. In their first conversation, which took place in the week during which Page’s first FISA application was being finalized, Papadopoulos provided conflicting information about whether he really had left the Trump campaign in the wake of a very pro-Russian Intefax piece. He also refers to Millian as a friend and indicates a plan to travel to Russia the next summer.

In the first consensually monitored conversation, during the third week of October 2016, Papadopoulos described how he had worked for the presidential campaign of Ben Carson before joining the Trump campaign, and that when he was with the Trump campaign, he “set up a meeting with … [t]he President of Egypt and Trump.” Papadopoulos also told Source 3 that, since leaving the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos had “transitioned into like my own private brand.” Papadopoulos later stated he was “still with … the campaign indirectly” and that he had made “a lot of cool [connections] and I’m going to see what’s going to happen after the election.” He added that he had learned “[i]t’s all about connections now days, man.” Papadopoulos did not say much about Russia during the first conversation with Source 3, other than to mention a “friend Sergey … [who] lives in … Brooklyn,” and invite Source 3 to travel with Papadopoulos to Russia in the summertime.

Late October: Second interview with Source 3

Papadopoulos met — and continued to brag to — Source 3 once more before the election, just after the first Page FISA order. The IG Report focuses more on Papadopoulos unabashed plan to sell access. It focuses less on the fact that, before he issued denials that anyone in the campaign was involved with WikiLeaks, he basically laid out the outline of his interactions with Mifsud and claimed to have been invited to meet Putin. Papadopoulos then went on to admit that he told Halper what he did because he expected him to go tell the CIA unless he issued a full-throated denial.

In the second consensually monitored conversation, at the end of October 2016, Papadopoulos told Source 3 that Papadopoulos had been “on the front page of Russia’s biggest newspaper” for an interview he had given 2 to 3 weeks earlier. Papadopoulos said that he was asked “[w]hat’s Mr. Trump going to do about Russia if he wins, what are your thoughts on ISIS, what are your thoughts on this?” and stated that he did not “understand why the U.S. has such a problem with Russia.” Papadopoulos also said that he thinks Putin “exudes power, confidence.” When Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

Papadopoulos added that there are plenty of people who aren’t even smart who are cashing in, and asked Source 3 “Do you know how many Members of Congress I’ve met that know jack … about anything? Except what their advisors tell them? … They can barely put a sentence together …. I’m talking about Members of Congress dude.” In other portions of the conversation with Source 3, Papadopoulos repeated that what he really wanted to figure out was how to “monetize … [his] connections” because Papadopoulos felt like he knew “a lot of Ambassadors … [and] a lot of Presidents.” Papadopoulos said that once the election was over, Papadopoulos was going

to sit down and systematically write who I know, what they want, and how I can leverage that because if you know like government guys and ambassadors you should be making money, that’s all I know because there’s not one person I know who has those connections that isn’t making … money.

He observed that what he had to “sell is access,” and “[t]hat’s what people pay millions of dollars for every year. It’s the cleanest job.”

However, when Source 3 asked Papadopoulos whether Papadopoulos thought “Russia’s playing a big game in this election,” Papadopoulos said he believed “That’s all bull[].” Papadopoulos said “[n]o one knows who’s hacking [the DNC] …. Could be the Chinese, could be the Iranians, it could be some Bernie … supporters.” Papadopoulos added that arguments about the Russians are “all…conspiracy theories.” He said that he knew “for a fact” that no one from the Trump campaign had anything to do with releasing emails from the DNC, because Papadopoulos said he had “been working with them for the last nine months…. And all of this stuff has been happening, what, the last four months?” Papadopoulos added that he had been asked the same question by Source 2. Papadopoulos said he believed Source 2 was going to go

and tell the CIA or something if I’d have told him something else. I assume that’s why he was asking. And I told him, absolutely not …. it’s illegal, you know, to do that.. .. [my emphasis]

There’s more from that October 2016 interview that remains redacted, according to the discussion of the Rule 13 Letter informing the FISC of information that should have been included in the Page applications (as well as several other things).

Again, Papadopoulos’ comments, even just to Halper alone, are internally inconsistent particularly as it pertains to WikiLeaks. Depending on how much the FBI had learned about Papadopoulos’ communications with Millian by this point, the FBI made have had good reason to doubt some of the things he said (his ongoing ties with Millian, for example, would undermine his claim to have nothing to do with Russian, if in fact he made it). He made it clear to Source 3 that he said what he did to Halper because he believed saying anything else would alert law enforcement. And he made these denials to Source 3 while laying out a network of relationships that should have alerted the FBI that he had been in a situation to learn of the emails in advance.

That’s all aside from the comments Papadopoulos made about Page specifically, which should have been in the FISA applications.

The frothy right claims the September 15 Halper interviews included exculpatory information, not just for Page, but also for Papadopoulos, were ridiculous even without knowing that the FBI knew of Papadopoulos’ ties to Millian. That’s all the more true given the details about his demeanor changing and his admission to Source 3 he was worried that Halper would report him to the CIA.

But that’s the problem with FISA. Under a normal warrant situation, it’d be easy to exclude Papadopoulos’ dubious denials in a warrant application targeting Page. But because of the ex parte nature of FISA, those rules don’t apply.

Perhaps the more pertinent point — one not made here — is that Papadopoulos’ denials should have led the investigation to focus on him far earlier than it did.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID