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Judge Sullivan Uses Mike Flynn Dismissal to Emphasize His Own Authority

Judge Emmet Sullivan just dismissed, as moot, the prosecution of Mike Flynn (he did not dismiss the case with prejudice, as DOJ had asked, but that likely does not matter). He did three things, which I’ll take in turn in a series of posts.

First, he asserted the ability to deny DOJ’s motion to dismiss — while stopping short of doing so — in a way that DOJ might otherwise appeal if this were not mooted.

As a reminder, when Bill Barr interfered in this prosecution in May, he ceded that Judge Sullivan had some say over the dismissal. But along the way DOJ repeatedly argued that Sullivan couldn’t actually examine the circumstances of the dismissal. In this opinion, Sullivan asserted the ability to weigh just that. He made it clear that the Supreme Court intended courts to have a say.

Despite the Supreme Court’s concerns, the Advisory Committee’s final draft of Rule 48(a) again required only that prosecutors submit a statement of reasons for dismissal. See Frampton, Why Do Rule 48(a) Dismissals Require “Leave of Court”?, supra, at 36-37. However, in promulgating the rule, the Supreme Court deleted this requirement and added the requirement that the prosecutor obtain leave of court. Id. at 37; see also Ammidown, 497 F.2d at 620. In so doing, the Court made it “manifestly clear that [it] intended to clothe the federal courts with a discretion broad enough to protect the public interest in the fair administration of criminal justice.” Cowan, 524 F.2d at 512.

He then invokes Ammidown for the principle that the court can weigh whether these actions are in the public interest.

This Circuit’s precedent is consistent with this history. For example, in Ammidown, the D.C. Circuit acknowledged that Rule 48(a) “gives the court a role” when “the defendant concurs in the dismissal but the court is concerned whether the action sufficiently protects the public.” 497 F.2d at 620. The D.C. Circuit explained that courts carry out this role in such a situation “to prevent abuse of the uncontrolled power of dismissal previously enjoyed by prosecutors.” Id. (citation omitted).

He then addresses DOJ’s argument that Fokker only gives District courts the ability to protect a defendant, not to protect public interest, arguing that it is not on point here, because this involved a guilty plea.

Despite this language in Ammidown, however, the government relies on United States v. Fokker Services B.V., 818 F.3d 733 (D.C. Cir. 2016), to argue that judicial intervention is warranted only when the defendant objects to dismissal because “the ‘principal object of the leave of court requirement’ has been understood to be a narrow one—‘to protect a defendant against prosecutorial harassment.’” Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 20-21 (quoting Fokker, 818 F.3d at 742).

But Fokker does not address the Court’s authority to consider an unopposed Rule 48(a) motion; it involved a deferred prosecution agreement rather than a guilty plea. Fokker, 818 F.3d at 737. Fokker also does not suggest that courts may only review opposed Rule 48(a) motions for prosecutorial harassment— the case simply quotes language from Rinaldi, stating that preventing harassment is the principal object of the rule. Id. at 742 (quoting Rinaldi, 434 U.S. at 29 n.15).

Importantly, Sullivan addressed a claim DOJ made that is not based on precedent — that the District does not have to operate as a rubber stamp, but his only role is to determine whether the entire Executive Branch supported an outcome. Sullivan made the case that a District court can still make a decision about the public interest, not just what the Executive wanted.

At the September 29, 2020 motion hearing, the government emphasized a different aspect of its argument. It conceded that the Court should not act as a rubber stamp and that it has a role to play when presented with an unopposed Rule 48(a) motion. Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 40:9-12. But, in the government’s view, this role is limited to determining whether “the decision to dismiss is the considered view, the authoritative view of the Executive Branch as a whole,” id.; rather than being the “rogue” decision of an individual prosecutor, id. at 99:16-23.7 The government argued that this standard appropriately reconciles the concerns about favoritism and pretext that led to the “leave of court” language in the Rule with the separation of powers principal that “the Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case.” United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 693 (1974) (citation omitted); see also Fokker, 818 F.3d at 742 (“[D]ecisions to dismiss pending charges . . . lie squarely within the ken of prosecutorial discretion.”). The Court is not persuaded by the government’s argument, however, because it fails to acknowledge the possibility that the “considered view of the Executive Branch as a whole” could be contrary to the public interest.

In so doing, Sullivan makes the case that Districts can also review a case for prosecutorial abuse.

The court’s role is not “to serve merely as a rubber stamp for the prosecutor’s decision,” even when “the defendant concurs in the dismissal.” Ammidown, 497 F.2d at 620, 622. Rather, it is the court’s “duty to exercise a discretion for the protection of the public interest.” Cowan, 524 F.2d at 511. The trial court therefore conducts an “examination of the record” to ensure that the government’s “efforts to terminate the prosecution [are not] tainted with impropriety.” Rinaldi, 434 U.S. at 30.

Later in the opinion, Sullivan noted that because the government had chosen to give more than conclusory statements about why they wanted to dismiss the prosecution, he could weight those more substantive reasons.

The majority of the cases finding denial of leave appropriate based on “conclusory statements” most often involve motions providing only one or two sentences referring generally to the “public interest.” See, e.g., Derr, 726 F.2d at 619 (affirming denial of leave to dismiss when the government offered no reasons for dismissal other than that it would “best meet the ends of justice”). Here, on the other hand, the government has sought to justify its decision to seek dismissal by providing several reasons and facts underlying its decision. See id.

However, while not conclusory, many of the government’s reasons for why it has decided to reverse course and seek dismissal in this case appear pretextual, particularly in view of the surrounding circumstances.

Then, buried on page 25, Sullivan argues that District courts can rule against DOJ in these narrow circumstances to protect the public interest and reiterates the authority of courts to rule against the government in case of corruption.

With the above principles in mind, in response to the government’s motion to dismiss under Rule 48(a), the Court holds that a judge may deny an unopposed Rule 48(a) motion if, after an examination of the record, (1) she is not “satisfied that the reasons advanced for the proposed dismissal are substantial”; or (2) she finds that the prosecutor has otherwise “abused his discretion.” Ammidown, 497 F.2d at 620-22.

[snip]

In addition, as indicated by the history of Rule 48(a), the corrupt dismissal of politically well-connected individuals would also constitute an abuse of discretion. See Woody, 2 F.2d at 262.

So at a key level, the opinion lays out the principle that DOJ fought hard to deny — that judges have their own authority and they serve the public.

Since this case has been mooted, DOJ will have a very difficult time challenging this language (other DC District judges could rely on it going forward, but it is not a precedent). Sullivan, knowing that DOJ also had no more authority to challenge his order, asserted his authority.

This language, while not circuit precedent, may be cited going forward.

20 Months: A Comparison of the Mueller and Durham Investigations

Because Jonathan Turley and John Cornyn are being stupid on the Internet, I did a Twitter thread comparing the relative output of the Mueller and Durham investigations in their first 18 months. Actually, Durham has been investigating the Russian investigation for 20 months already.

So I did a comparison of the Mueller and Durham investigations over their first 20 months. Here’s what that comparison looks like.

So, in 20 months, Durham went on a boondoggle trip to Italy with Bill Barr to chase conspiracy theories, charged one person, and had his top investigator quit due to political pressure.

In the Mueller investigation’s first 20 months, his prosecutors had charged 33 people and 3 corporations (just Roger Stone was charged after that) and, with Manafort’s forfeiture, paid for much of their investigation.

Update: I’ve corrected the Manafort forfeiture claim. While I haven’t checked precisely how much the US Treasury pocketed by selling Manafort’s properties, I think the declining value of Trump Tower condos means that Manafort’s forfeiture didn’t quite pay for the entire investigation. I’ve also corrected in which month Manafort was found guilty in EDVA.

Update: In response to the Durham appointment, American Oversight reposted the travel records from the Italy boondoggle, which was actually in September, not October (Barr also made a trip to Italy in August 2019 for the same stated purpose, so I wonder if there were two boondoggles). I’ve corrected the timeline accordingly.

John Durham and the First Fight over a Doctored MemCon of Trump’s Meetings with Russia

A year ago, John Durham was investigating who leaked the fact that Mike Flynn had secretly worked with Russia to undermine sanctions that served, in part, to punish Russia for helping Trump get elected. Mike Flynn and KT McFarland had been claiming that David Ignatius forced them to lie about conversations that they made active efforts to cover-up even when they were secret, an obviously bullshit claim, but one that DOJ adopted as credible nevertheless.

The problem with that prong of the investigation (even beyond the fact that Flynn and McFarland were already covering Flynn’s calls before they had been made public) — as I pointed out when it was reported — that the most likely sources of the news that Flynn had been having secret conversations with the Ambassador were several groups that could leak this information legally: Original Classification Authorities, outgoing or not, or members of Congress. For the record, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appear to have assumed the leak came from Congress. But if James Clapper or Jim Comey or another OCA leaked it as part of a counterintelligence inquiry into why Flynn did that, it would be entirely legal. All the more so given that Trump was not yet in office.

Given the new details we have on the Durham investigation — including yet more proof he and his investigators grossly misunderstand counterintelligence — I’d like to return to another leak: that Trump shared highly classified Israeli intelligence with Sergey Lavrov in their meeting on May 10, 2017. Given recent events, I think there is a decent chance that Durham investigated and may still be investigating this one, too.

As I noted, among the last Mueller 302s released to BuzzFeed were three or four that dealt with this leak, a coincidence in timing that is among the reasons I suspect Durham may have reviewed these 302s. They first described how after a meeting around the time Jim Comey was fired, an FBI counterintelligence detailee to the White House got called into Acting Homeland Security Advisor John Daly’s office after a meeting and grilled in a way that the detailee seemed to find inappropriate. Among other things, Daly asked the detailee what he thought of Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

A second interview with the detailee conducted on the same day appears to describe the aftermath of the meeting on May 10, 2017, at which Trump shared this intelligence. It appears the detailee read the MemCom of the meeting and realized what Trump had done. He appears to have first alerted his boss of what happened (it’s unclear whether that boss was at the White House or FBI), and then escalated it. He tried to tell Tom Bossert, but instead told Daly, which led to the grilling by Daly laid out in the first interview. After that meeting, the detailee told Bossert what happened. The detailee’s notice to Bossert led him to take measures to minimize the damage, as described by the original report on the meeting.

Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout. Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.

One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.

Over two years before similar events would lead to impeachment, Trump’s aides were trying to doctor the record of his calls with Russia to hide how he had damaged our allies.

According to the 302, Bossert applauded the detailee for alerting him of the problem. “Thank god you came to us.”

But then after the story leaked to the WaPo and NYT, the detailee was summoned to Bossert’s office, only to be grilled by both Bossert and Daly. After the detailee was grilled for 20-30 minutes, someone else was, as well. Almost immediately after his grilling, the detailee saw HR McMaster give a press conference at which, per the detailee, McMaster “gave a misleading account of what happened during TRUMP’s meeting with LAVROV.” Like Flynn had earlier that year, McMaster was lying publicly about something the Russians knew was a lie.

After he was grilled, the detailee appears to have informed FBI chain of command, including Bill Priestap.

Shortly thereafter, it appears that the detailee learned from Bossert that he was not getting a job he expected. The detailee asked when that decision was made, Bossert appears to have lied either about the job offer or about the decision to alter the MemCon in real time.

Not long after, the detailee left the NSC. Before he did, he put copies of emails recording all this as well as the partially redacted MemCon he had seen in a safe. The 302 suggests that the White House fired all the other people who had seen the MemCon.

Among the other 302s released last week include a record of FBI obtaining copies of Bill Priestap’s discussions with Ezra Cohen-Watnick and what appears to be the detailee at the time, which almost certainly includes notes relaying the events surrounding the MemCon. There’s also an almost entirely redacted 302 from Ted Gistaro, which was at least his second interview. Gistaro was Trump’s briefer both at Mar-a-Lago during the Transition period when Flynn was secretly calling Sergey Kislyak and probably still during the May 2017 period. Another 302 might be the FBI picking up the documents that the detailee had left behind.

All that is to say that among the very last documents that Bill Barr’s DOJ cleared for public release deal with a very complex set of problems central to questions of Trump’s relationship with Russia during the days that FBI would expand its counterintelligence investigation to incorporate Trump, as well. There’s the matter of the leak, which has never been charged. The original WaPo, which appears to have relied on more sources, cites both current and former officials, including at least one who remained close to Trump officials.

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

[snip]

“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”

[snip]

“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”

Given that Bossert called NSA and CIA to alert them, there would be many candidates for this, including the OCAs for the intelligence and the partnership with our ally. Indeed, the journalists on the original story cover CIA and the Pentagon, not FBI. But the grilling of the detailee suggests that the White House suspected him.

Then there’s the matter of what the FBI should do with this information — and it seems fairly clear that the detailee was one if not the primary source of the information for the people overseeing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. It is absolutely within Trump’s right to give our enemies classified information. It also undoubtedly damages the US (as the Trump-friendly source[s] for the story seem to agree).

If Andrew McCabe included this exchange among the things he considered before opening a counterintelligence investigation into Trump, I can see how Durham — who has exhibited over and over that he doesn’t understand counterintelligence — would deem it inappropriate, particularly if egged on by Bill Barr. If an FBI counterintelligence detailee at the White House had a role in its dissemination, all the more so.

But I can also see how, from a counterintelligence investigation, McMaster’s lies about this (on behalf of Trump) would raise concerns about Trump’s compromise. As with Flynn before him, the Russians would know that Trump was lying about his coziness with Russia.

Barr has set Durham up such that he can issue a report that the Attorney General — whoever it is — will be expected to make public (though if the report violates the rules that got Jim Comey fired, there would be a good excuse not to). If this is part of Durham’s investigation, Barr may be trying to suggest that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump was wholly inappropriate.

There’s a problem with that, of course. Trump had already probably committed a crime in working on a pardon for Julian Assange, well before he was even elected. That is, neither the leak to Ignatius (by whomever) nor the leak about the Russian meeting (by whomever) can be said to have inappropriately kicked off the counterintelligence investigation into Trump. His actions in October 2016 had already done that.

But, even if Durham showed any inkling of understanding of the counterintelligence matters he is investigating,  there’s no reason to believe he would know that there are seemingly ongoing matters that implicate Trump even before he was elected.

And if this is Barr’s play, of course, it may be undercut once Trump leaves office. Already, HR McMaster has, years later, criticized Trump’s efforts to coddle Russia. If asked to do so under oath in the next Congress, he may have far more to say about the damage Trump did to the country because he was so insecure about Russia’s help in the election.

Update: Bill Leonard, the former head of ISOO (and as such the guy who was in charge of the entire US classification system during the W administration), has corrected me on my assertion that Trump could legally share this information. He could under US law, but doing so violated international law. He explains:

Based upon reporting, the information Trump compromised was provided to the U.S. by an intelligence partner pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  Under international law, this bilateral executive agreement obligated the U.S. to protect the information.  Within the U.S., we have elected to utilize the classification system to protect such shared information.
While as President, Trump is free to abrogate the bilateral agreement, there is no indication that this was his intent.  Thus, pursuant to International law, he was obligated to protect it which he clearly failed to do.
Reverse the situation.  Foreign leaders do not have the right to unilaterally disclose U.S. classified information that has been shared with their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  The same restrictions pertain to a U.S. president.
Classification is but one of the many authorities this president has abused.  It needs to be called out as such.

Failsons and Kraken Conspiracies: Three Mike Flynn Hypotheticals Trump May Have Tried to Preemptively Pardon

In a hearing in the BuzzFeed FOIA case today, Judge Reggie Walton (who always likes to chat about his conversations with his colleagues in the Prettyman judge’s dining room), said the Flynn pardon might be too broad.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said at a hearing Friday that he doesn’t think U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, his colleague presiding over the Flynn case, “has a lot of options in reference to what he does” after the pardon was granted, “unless he takes the position that the wording of the pardon is too broad, in that it provides protections beyond the date of the pardon.”

“I don’t know what impact that would have, what decision he would make, if he makes that determination that the pardon of Mr. Flynn is for a period that the law does not permit. I don’t know if that’s correct or not,” the judge continued. “Theoretically, the decision could be reached because the wording in the pardon seems to be very, very broad. It could be construed, I think, as extending protections against criminal prosecutions after the date the pardon was issued.”

“I don’t know if Judge Sullivan will make that determination or not,” Walton added.

Walton seemed to be suggesting that Sullivan might have a way to hold Flynn accountable in the future, unless the pardon as written is too broad.

That has set off a debate among Legal Twitter arguing what the pardon should mean, not what it does say.

To be sure, the first part of the Flynn pardon is undeniably valid. It pardons Flynn [I’ve added the numbers; which are different from the less helpful ones DOJ uses in their motion],

(1) for the charge of making false statements to Federal investigators, in violation of Section 1001, Title 18, United States Code, as charged in the information filed under docket number 1:17-CR-00232-EGS in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia; (2) for any and all possible offenses set forth in the Information and Statement of Offense filed under that docket number (3) or that might arise, or be charged, claimed, or asserted, in connection with the proceedings under that docket number

This is already too broad, for one reason I’ll get into. But on its face, that language pardons:

  1. The false statements as laid out in the criminal information
  2. The crime of being an undisclosed foreign agent for Turkey, lying to DOJ about it, and conspiring to lie about it
  3. The lies Flynn told Judge Emmet Sullivan in a bid to get out of his prior guilty allocutions

Those are, incidentally, the crimes laid out in the government’s motion to dismiss the case as moot.

The pardon not only encompasses the Section 1001 charge that is the subject of the government’s pending motion to dismiss (Doc. 198), but also any possible future perjury or contempt charge in connection with General Flynn’s sworn statements and any other possible future charge that this Court or the court-appointed amicus has suggested might somehow keep this criminal case alive over the government’s objection (e.g., a charge under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Section 618(a), Title 22, United States Code, arising out of the facts set forth in the Statement of Offense).

There is nothing controversial about this part of the pardon (aside from the rank corruption of it). It is clear that the pardon is intended to and does cover those crimes that Flynn committed.

But the pardon goes beyond pardoning Flynn for those crimes. It also pardons Flynn for,

any and all possible offenses within the investigatory authority or jurisdiction of the Special Counsel appointed on May 17, 2017, including the initial Appointment Order No. 3915-2017 and subsequent memoranda regarding the Special Counsel’s investigatory authority; and any and all possible offenses arising out of facts and circumstances known to, identified by, or in any manner related to the investigation of the Special Counsel, including, but not limited to, any grand jury proceedings in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

As I noted, it purports to pardon Flynn for any crime that arises out of “facts … known to … the investigation of the Special Counsel,” any crime related to it, or anything arising from the grand juries (not time denominated or named) that investigated Flynn.

I think that is an attempt to stave off any crimes based off information collected as part of this investigation, even if the crime happens in the future. Here are three not-at-all unlikely scenarios:

Flynn reneges on his sworn testimony in a retrial against Bijan Kian in which Mike Flynn Jr also gets charged

Flynn’s partner, Bijan Kian, was found guilty of conspiring to lie about working for Turkey with Flynn in 2016. But then the judge in the case, Anthony Trenga, overturned that verdict. The government is appealing his order. One possible outcome of that appeal is that the government will retry Kian. With Flynn’s plea deal off the table, the government would be free to include Flynn Jr in any potential retrial.

Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, under oath, that he knew that he (and so by association, his son and Kian) were secretly working for the government of Turkey in 2016. Prosecutors made a last-ditch attempt to make Flynn a co-conspirator in Kian’s last trial. In a superseding indictment they could make him an unindicted co-conspirator (which would make his communications admissible without his testimony). But it would be very useful to have his testimony as well.

Normally, prosecutors could force a witness to hew to his grand jury testimony on penalty of perjury. In this case, however, Trump has purported to pardon Flynn for anything pertaining to that grand jury. If Flynn lied at trial, could he be charged?

The government discovers further evidence of Flynn’s work as a foreign agent by tying Mueller evidence to evidence withheld

In both the case of Trump outreach to Russia and the case of Flynn’s work with Ekim Alptekin, there’s reason to believe that Flynn and — in the former case — the Trump campaign succeeded in withholding information for the entirety of the Mueller investigation but which DOJ discovered afterwards (I won’t get into the details of what that is here — again, I’ll say more in January).

Flynn’s lies about this information to Mueller or EDVA prosecutors clearly are covered by the pardon.

But if the information reflected an ongoing relationship — existing even now! — with either Russia or Turkey, it would impose registration requirements on Flynn. The government might argue, however, that because these relationships began prior to the period of the Mueller investigation and might never have been discovered if not for the warrants and subpoenas used in the Mueller or EDVA investigations, they are therefore related and Flynn’s prospective failure to register is covered by his pardon. I’m suggesting that the government seems to want to set up a claim that anything that stems from the Mueller investigation would be fruit of a poisonous tree and immune from prosecution.

An ongoing Kraken conspiracy to pay off the pardon

Sometime in the summer, Sidney Powell told Trump not to pardon Flynn, something she entered into the docket before Sullivan by admitting it in the September hearing. She also admitted to Sullivan she had talked repeatedly to Trump’s campaign “lawyer” Jenna Ellis about Flynn’s case. In the following weeks after she spoke with Trump and Ellis, prosecutors fed her information from Jeffrey Jensen’s investigation — some of it altered — that ultimately served as part of a Trump attack on Joe Biden.

Then, after the election, Powell — at first claiming to be representing Trump — took a lead role in undermining the legal outcome of the election in multiple states. Almost immediately, purportedly because Trump believed that Sidney Powell made him look bad in a way that Rudy and Jenna Ellis and Joe DiGenova did not, Trump made clear to distance himself from Powell. The next day he pardoned Flynn. Days later, Flynn called for a coup to overturn the election.

Powell’s use of evidence in Flynn’s case to support false campaign attacks on Joe Biden is already irretrievably tied to Sullivan’s docket. Indeed, he now has real reason to question why Powell was talking with Ellis about this case, why (before the document alteration was discovered) she affirmatively asked Trump to hold off on the pardon only to embrace it later, and what tie there is between the altered documents and the attack Trump launched in the first debate against Biden. Judge Sullivan has reason to ask whether the fraud on the court in this docket is tied to some benefit for Trump, and whether that benefit in some way is tied to the pardon.

But if there is a tie, Sullivan (and Joe Biden’s DOJ) may have reason to ask whether this is a continuing conspiracy, whether Powell and Flynn’s actions after the pardon are part of delivering on a corrupt agreement made before the pardon. It is easy to see how the fraud on the court that remains before Sullivan could be tied to ongoing actions.

DOJ would seem to suggest that those actions, too, are covered by Trump’s pardon.

Again, all three of these scenarios are easily foreseeable. They are the actual fact patterns before Judge Sullivan and a potential Biden Administration.

The Clinesmith Sentencing Memos: Politically Biased Data In, Politically Biased Data Out

The government and Kevin Clinesmith — the FBI lawyer who altered a document relating to the Carter Page FISA application — submitted their sentencing memos in his case yesterday. The sentencing guidelines call for 0 to 6 months of prison time (as they did for the now pardoned Mike Flynn). Clinesmith asked for probation. The government asked for a sentence in the middle to top of that range — effectively calling for 3 to 6 months of prison time.

I think the government has the better argument on a key point, for reasons that I expect will be very persuasive to the judge in the case, James Boasberg, who is also the presiding FISA judge. The government argues that Clinesmith’s actions undermined the integrity of the FISA process.

The defendant’s conduct also undermined the integrity of the FISA process and struck at the very core of what the FISC fundamentally relies on in reviewing FISA applications: the government’s duty of candor. The FISC serves as a “check on executive branch decisions to conduct surveillance in order to protect the fourth amendment rights of U.S. persons[,]” but it can “serve those purposes effectively only if the applicant agency fully and accurately provides information in its possession that is material to whether probable cases exists.” Order, In Re Accuracy Concerns Regarding FBI Matters Submitted to the FISC, Docket No. Misc. 19-02, at 2 (FISA Ct. Dec. 17, 2019) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Accordingly, and particularly because FISA applications involve ex parte proceedings with no adverse party on the other side to challenge the facts, the government “has a heightened duty of candor to the [FISC].” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). In other words, “[c]andor is fundamental to [the FISC’s] effective operation[.]” Id. (citation omitted).

While I think the government’s case on Clinesmith’s understanding of the term “source” is not persuasive, this language is. It matters that Clinesmith did this within the context of the FISA process. Boasberg has a real incentive to ensure that those preparing FISA applications do think of Clinesmith as an object lesson about the duty of candor. I expect he’ll agree with the government and impose some prison term.

That said, the government sentencing memo goes off the rails on another point, one that badly discredits the John Durham investigation.

Both the government and Clinesmith provide the same explanation for why he did what he did: it was a shortcut to avoid filing a footnote with the FISA court.

Clinesmith explains it this way:

Kevin, however, reviewed the OGA email and realized that it did not specifically address the issue of whether Individual #1 had been a source. In a misguided attempt to save himself time and the embarrassment of having to backtrack on his assurance he had it in writing, Kevin forwarded the OGA’s response to the SSA (including the list of OGA reports) immediately after telling the SSA he would do so, but Kevin added the phrase notated in bold to reflect his understanding of Individual #1’s status:

[The OGA uses] the [digraph] to show that the encrypted individual . . . is a [U.S. person]. We encrypt the [U.S. persons] when they provide reporting to us. My recollection is that [Individual #1] was or is . . . [digraph] and not a “source” but the [documents] will explain the details.

OIG Report at 254-55.

And the government endorses that explanation in its sentencing memo (in language that further reinforces why Clinesmith should be treated sternly to preserve the integrity of the FISA process).

By his own words, however, it appears that the defendant falsified the email in order to conceal Individual #1’s former status as a source and to avoid making an embarrassing disclosure to the FISC. Such a disclosure would have likely drawn a strong and hostile response from the FISC for not disclosing it sooner since the FBI had the information in its possession before the first FISA application was filed. Indeed, in the June 19, 2017 instant message conversation with the SSA, the defendant wrote “at least we don’t have to have a terrible footnote” explaining that Individual #1 was a source. OIG Report at 253. While the defendant told OIG he was referring to how “laborious” it would be to draft a footnote explaining that Individual #1 had been an OGA source, see id., that reading is self-serving and absurd. Moreover, as a practical matter, how laborious would it have been to draft a single footnote to explain to the FISC that Individual #1 had been a source for the OGA. The SSA involved in the application understood the defendant to be referring to the terrible optic of just now, in the fourth application, disclosing to the Court that Individual #1 had been a source for another agency after failing to do so in all of the prior applications. See id. Such a disclosure would have undermined the probable cause in the FISA application and the overall investigation of Individual #1, which the defendant was able to avoid by altering the email.

That’s it. At that point, both sides have explained what happened as the kind of bureaucratic sloppiness that can be particularly dangerous where there’s no transparency. Case closed. Clinesmith may not have meant this maliciously but because it happened as part of the FISA process it was very problematic.

Except the government continues by suggesting, without evidence, that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias.

The public record also reflects that political or personal bias may have motivated or contributed to his offense conduct. As noted in the OIG Report and PSR, the defendant was previously investigated, and ultimately suspended, for sending improper political messages to other FBI employees. See OIG Report at 256 n.400. For example, on the day after the 2016 presidential election, the defendant wrote “I am so stressed about what I could have done differently.” Id. When another FBI colleague asked the defendant “[i]s it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration[,]” the defendant replied, “Hell no,” and then added “Viva le resistance.” Id. The defendant was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation for these and other related messages, and in July 2018 he was suspended, without pay, for 14 days. The defendant’s prior disciplinary infraction for expressing his political views in a work setting is a relevant aspect of his background. Indeed, it is plausible that his strong political views and/or personal dislike of the current President made him more willing to engage in the fraudulent and unethical conduct to which he has pled guilty. While it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct, the defendant plainly has shown that he did not discharge his important responsibilities at the FBI with the professionalism, integrity, and objectivity required of such a sensitive job position. [my emphasis]

There are several reasons why this argument is not only problematic, but betrays an unbelievable stupidity about the investigation before Durham.

First, as prosecutors admit, they have no evidence that Clinesmith’s claimed bias influenced his actions. The bias “may have motivated” him, “it is plausible” that it did, “it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct.” This kind of language has no place in a sentencing memo. They’re effectively admitting they have no evidence, but relying on their lack of evidence anyway. It’s the kind of shoddy unethical work they’re trying to send Clinesmith to prison for.

Worse still, as Lawfare has shown, the data the government is relying on here comes from a politically biased application of discipline within DOJ. Since 2011, the only cases of people being disciplined for expressing political views on their government devices involved people opposing Trump.

Five employees, the documents show, have been disciplined for private communications using government devices in which they have criticized President Trump. But none, at least not since 2011, has been disciplined for similar conduct with respect to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, or President Barack Obama—or for praising Trump.

[snip]

The verdict is now in, at least for the past four major-party presidential candidates, one of whom served as president of the United States for eight full years. FBI employees who voiced political sentiments in favor of or opposed to Clinton, Obama and Romney did not face consequences—nor did those who praised Trump. Those who criticize the current president appear to be the only people subject to discipline.

Lawfare raises the example of an FBI agent who — unlike Clinesmith, Lisa Page, or Peter Strzok — was running informants targeting Hillary in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign who expressed clear bias. That person — clearly identified as biased by the same Inspector General who identified Clinesmith’s bias — wasn’t disciplined. And there are reports that a key witness in the Durham probe, Bill Barnett, similarly expressed pro-Trump bias on his devices. No one has done an IG Report into whether Barnett’s self-described role in single-handedly preventing the Mueller team from concluding that Mike Flynn lied to protect President Trump reflected improper political bias, much less sent him home for two weeks without pay. You can’t treat OPR’s treatment of biased FBI employees as valid for sentencing because it has already been demonstrated to be itself biased in the same way it treats as discipline-worthy.

Most importantly, you’d have to be fucking stupid to believe that supporting the FISA application of Carter Page in June 2017 would inherently reflect any anti-Trump bias. Even on the first application, the claim that targeting Page would be a way to hurt Trump was a bit of a stretch. At that point, the Trump campaign had very publicly distanced themselves from him because of his embarrassing ties to Russia. Thus, if the FBI treated Trump’s public statements with any weight, then they would be right to view Trump as victimized by Page, someone pushing his pro-Russian views far beyond what the candidate supported, someone removed from the campaign for precisely that reason. That’s one of the potential problems arising from a suspected foreign agent working on a campaign, that the person will make policy commitments that the candidate doesn’t support on behalf of the foreign country in question. Still, you might argue (and Bill Barr has argued) that the FBI targeted Page as a way to collect campaign emails, so one might make some claim to support the case that by targeting Page the FBI was targeting Trump with the October 2016 application.

But Clinesmith wasn’t in the loop on the non-disclosure of Page’s ties with CIA on that first application.

Kevin was not aware of that information, however. When he assisted the FBI’s efforts to obtain the initial FISA warrant, Kevin knew of no prior relationship between Individual #1 and the OGA. And he was not involved in any discussions—including the one discussed above between the case agent and DOJ attorney—concerning whether or not to include information about that relationship in the FISA application. As was typical, the DOJ attorney worked primarily with the case agent to collect and develop information for the FISA application. The first time Kevin was asked to inquire into whether, and to what extent, Individual #1 had a relationship with the OGA was in connection with the fourth and final application.

To suggest that someone would target Page in June 2017 because of anti-Trump bias, though, takes gigantic flights of fancy. Already in October 2016, it was clear that Page (like every other person originally targeted under Crossfire Hurricane) was using Trump, attempting to monetize his access to Trump to get a plush deal to start a think tank that, in his case, would have been funded by the Russian government. Page boasted to Stefan Halper the Russians had offered him an “open checkbook.”

But even before the first renewal in January 2017, Page had victimized Trump in the way that is dangerous for counterintelligence cases. When he was in Russia in December 2016 — at a time when he was still hoping to get a think tank funded by the Russian government — Page claimed to speak on behalf of Trump with respect to Ukraine policy.

According to Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort’s associate, Page also gave some individuals in Russia the impression that he had maintained his connections to President-Elect Trump. In a December 8, 2016 email intended for Manafort, Kilimnik wrote, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DJT on a range of issues of mutual interest including Ukraine.”

There’s no record that Page made those representations with the approval of Trump. As such, Page’s representations risked undermining Trump’s ability to set his own foreign policy, whatever it was.

By June, moreover, Page had been totally marginalized by Trump’s people. The fourth warrant served significantly to obtain encrypted content from a phone Page had destroyed when he came under investigation. Tactically, there’s almost no way that that application would have generated new content involving Trump’s people because they were no longer talking to Page. So there’d be no political advantage to targeting him, neither based on the potential content the FBI might collect nor on any political taint from a guy the campaign had loudly dissociated from nine months earlier. Indeed, if your goal was to paint Trump as a pro-Russian asset, focusing on Page — the guy Trump himself had distanced himself from — is the last thing you’d do in June 2017. It’s just a profoundly stupid attack from Durham’s prosecutors, one with no basis in logic or (as the prosecutors admit) evidence.

In short, not only does the gratuitous, evidence-free insinuation that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias misrepresent the biased quality of the targeting of those OPR investigations, but it fundamentally misunderstands why the FBI would investigate the infiltration of a campaign by a suspected foreign agent. Someone infiltrating Trump’s campaign on behalf of Russia could and — in Page’s misrepresentations in Moscow in December 2016 — did harm Trump. That’s a harm the FBI is paid to try to prevent. Here, prosecutors are trying to criminalize Clinesmith’s efforts to protect Trump from that kind of damage.

After making it clear in his first official filings that Durham’s team didn’t understand the investigation they were investigating, in this one, his prosecutors make it crystal clear they don’t understand how, if an agent of a foreign power were to hypothetically infiltrate a political campaign (which is what the FBI had good reason to believe in October 2016 and more evidence to believe by December 2016), it could be damaging to the campaign and to the President and to the country. That’s not just dangerous malpractice given their involvement in this case, but it betrays a really basic level of stupidity about how the world works.

The government is right that Clinesmith’s alteration of a document should be treated aggressively given that it occurred as part of the FISA process. But oh my goodness has the government discredited both this sentencing filing and the larger Durham investigation by betraying continued ignorance about the investigation, the politicized nature of the evidence they’re getting, and basic facts about counterintelligence investigations.

The Facts “Known to” the Mueller Investigation: Judge Sullivan Should Demand the December 22, 2016 Flynn Transcript

I wrote up four things that, if I were Judge Emmet Sullivan presiding over the Mike Flynn case, I would do:

  • Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes
  • Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon
  • Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents
  • Identify who wrote the pardon

I’ve been thinking especially about what may be unconstitutional vagueness in Trump’s pardon, which purports to pardon Flynn for any facts “known to” the Mueller investigation. How do you circumscribe facts “known to” an investigation? After all, the entire Justice Manual and a lot of US code was “known to” those who conducted the investigation. Much of Flynn’s biography became “known to” investigators. Is Flynn pardoned for anything pertaining to that? That would be prospective immunity that goes well beyond the President’s pardon power. And how can Trump pardon crimes “related” to the investigation that have not yet been committed (if, for example, Flynn were to become a lobbyist for Russia based on the warm relationship he established by lying to protect them and chose not to register as a foreign agent for them)?

And so in addition to forcing Trump to name the crimes for which he is pardoning Flynn (at least with respect to all those before Sullivan, which include his charged false statements, the selling out to Turkey related crimes that were part of the plea, and crimes committed in Sullivan’s court room and the EDVA grand jury), it seems Sullivan may have the ability to lay out what is included in that “known to” language.

As part of that, Sullivan may have the authority to demand that DOJ file all of Flynn’s 302s as well as the transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak (Sullivan might also ask DOJ to lodge the grand jury testimony implicating Flynn, because that, too, defines the scope of the pardon).

I’m certain that DOJ is trying to hide those 302s, but I also don’t think there’s anything all that surprising in there (indeed, I think we’d find that Flynn was knowingly shading testimony). But I still think it legally sustainable, not least because there’s reason to believe Flynn committed a crime with respect to a fact that I suspect was not known to Mueller, because it may have been deliberately withheld (again, I’ll explain more in January). That probably won’t send Flynn to prison, but it should be recorded.

The transcripts, however, are more interesting. Bizarrely, DOJ never submitted the transcripts in this docket. Sullivan asked for them after the Mueller Report came out, but DOJ refused based on their true contention that nothing in Flynn’s case relied on the transcripts. But the Motion to Dismiss absolutely did rely on the transcripts, because it was premised on the claim that Flynn did nothing wrong on the calls. Ken Kohl even invoked them in the September hearing before Sullivan. But in spite of the fact that a selection of those transcripts were released, they were never submitted in this docket. Sullivan may be able to demand them, if only to avoid the problem of Constitutional vagueness pertaining to the scope of Flynn’s pardon, particularly with regards to what facts were known to Mueller.

That’s where things get interesting. Because DOJ made claims before Sullivan — that Flynn did nothing wrong on his calls to Kislyak — relying on the transcripts, but it specifically withheld the transcript of a call that was included in the criminal information: the December 22, 2016 call.

As I’ve noted, when ODNI released these transcripts, they didn’t even release the summary of the December 22, 2016 call included in Flynn’s charges, much the transcript.

I believe one of the facts “known to” Mueller’s investigators, but not known to us, is that Trump was present for that call, possibly even listening in. As such, it’s certainly within the scope of things for which Trump intends to pardon Flynn. But to avoid any confusion going forward that it is included, it needs to be known to us, or at least knowable to a future DOJ.

DOJ would squawk (they’ll squawk anyway, but that’s their own damn fault for writing a pardon that suffers from vagueness).

Again, I’m not saying that this provides Sullivan a way to dismiss the charges (though I see no reason why he can’t dismiss without prejudice). It doesn’t. What it does do is make a record of the true scope of the pardon.

The Investigations into the Russian Investigation Have Lasted 69% Longer than the Russian Investigation Itself

The AP just broke the news that Bill Barr made John Durham a Special Counsel back in October so Durham can continue to investigate the Russian investigation after Joe Biden becomes President. Given the indications that Billy Barr had closed down the remaining aspects of the Russian investigation by September 18, and that Jeffrey Jensen closed his investigation by October 22, here are the presumed dates of the Russian investigation and some of the known investigations into the Russian investigation.

The investigations into the Russian investigation, combined, have lasted 2557 days. And this is not an inclusive list (for example, it doesn’t include John Bash’s investigation into the unmasking of Trump officials, which found no wrongdoing).

Even without all the investigations included, the investigations into the Russian investigation have, thus far, lasted 69% longer than the investigation itself.

And it’s still going.

 

Hours before Trump Pardoned Flynn, “Phil” Weighed in a Pardon

Update: This was not Phil. It was someone testing Phil’s identity. I’m removing the post (though I’m sure it’s archived).

Four Things Judge Emmet Sullivan Should Do in the Wake of Flynn’s Pardon

As I noted, Trump attempted to be expansive with his pardon of Mike Flynn. He failed. I think the chances that Flynn does prison time are almost as high today as they were last week.

And while I think there is absolutely nothing defective in the pardon that Trump signed and while I’m certain that Judge Sullivan will honor that pardon (though DOJ is asking him to dismiss the charges with prejudice; Sullivan should dismiss them without prejudice), there are four things that Sullivan has the means of doing to raise the cost of Trump’s pardon. Those are:

  • Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes
  • Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon
  • Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents
  • Identify who wrote the pardon

Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes

While whoever wrote this pardon tried (but failed) to make it comprehensive, it only names one of Flynn’s crimes: false statements (indeed, that’s the only crime that DOJ lists for the pardon on its website).

But by moving to withdraw his plea, Flynn put his other crimes before Judge Sullivan. So Sullivan has every right to inquire whether this pardon includes all of Flynn’s crimes. He could issue an order for Trump to come before him to answer whether the pardon forgives Flynn for:

  • His lies about what he said to Sergey Kislyak during the transition
  • Serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Lying about serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Conspiring with others to hide that he was an undisclosed Foreign Agent of Turkey
  • Lying about his own guilt and the circumstances surrounding his guilty pleas
  • Lying about lying to Flynn’s Covington lawyers

The answer to all those questions is yes. Trump does mean to pardon Mike Flynn for secretly working for Turkey while getting classified briefings. Trump does mean to pardon Flynn for lying to Sullivan (and he does know that Flynn did lie to Sullivan). Sullivan has a need to know that explicitly and he should get Trump on the record.

Trump won’t show, of course.

Until he is made to, after January 20th.

Note, I’d also make Trump state, under oath, when he signed the pardon. It is dated with Wednesday’s date, but I highly doubt that DOJ had it written by then. If Trump signed it after having lunch with Mike Pence yesterday, it’s possible that Trump didn’t write it this broadly until broaching a pardon for himself with Pence.

Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon

Judge Sullivan also has reason to want to know if someone offered Trump something of value for this pardon. He has evidence they did — in the altered documents designed to serve as a campaign attack on Joe Biden. And the news is full of evidence that Sidney Powell may have offered further benefit, in her efforts to challenge Trump’s election loss.

Sullivan should put both Flynn and Powell under oath and require that they confirm or deny whether they have offered favors to Trump for the pardon.

They won’t show, of course.

Until they are made to, after January 20th.

None of this would invalidate the pardon, of course. But if Trump got some other benefit from Flynn’s lies that went into this pardon, especially efforts to undermine a legal election, then the Attorneys General in those states that already investigating Trump’s efforts to steal the election would have reason to want to know that, and Sullivan has the means to get them under oath to do that.

Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents

People at both FBI and DOJ altered documents submitted in Sullivan’s court, the FBI by adding false dates to exhibits and DOJ by redacting footers indicating that the documents were covered by the protective order. Sullivan has reason to ask how that happened and who was involved in the effort.

Even if Trump pardoned everyone involved, there would still be a means for Sullivan to punish most of those involved, because most of those involved have law licenses and can be disbarred.

Sullivan should schedule a hearing — no need to rush, he might as well schedule it for January 26, after everyone involved gets a COVID shot — to ask the following people if they had a role in altering the documents (or eliciting a corrupt interview with Bill Barnett):

  • AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine
  • AUSA Sayler Fleming
  • AUSA Ken Kohl
  • US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen
  • FBI Executive Assistant Director John Brown
  • FBI Agent Keith Kohne
  • Acting DEA Administrator Timothy Shea
  • AG Bill Barr
  • DAG Jeffrey Rosen

Again, most of these people have law licenses that Sullivan could put at issue, and he has good reason to want to hold someone accountable for altering documents in his court.

These people won’t want to show. But after January 20th, they may have no way of avoiding it.

Identify who wrote the pardon

In his confirmation hearing, Bill Barr said that pardoning someone for giving false testimony would be a crime. Trump just committed that crime. Whatever lawyer wrote up the pardon language — whether it’s Barr or White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — just conspired to commit a crime.

Judge Sullivan should identify everyone who had a role.

[Fourth item added after the original post.]

Trump Attempts to Invalidate the Mueller Investigation

Overnight, DOJ submitted the pardon language for Mike Flynn in his docket. It covers:

  • The false statements as charged under the criminal information filed in the docket
  • All possible offenses arising from the facts set forth in that and the Statement of Offense
  • All offenses that might arise from the proceedings under that docket number
  • All offenses under the investigative authority of Robert Mueller
  • All charges identified under Mueller’s authority, including anything identified by the grand juries in DC or Virginia

It is a breathtaking attempt to invalidate the work of Robert Mueller and Flynn’s subsequent lies to get out out of his legal jeopardy. This kind of pardon might work for others.

But it does not, in fact, go far enough. It would be child’s play to charge and convict Mike Flynn without violating the scope of this pardon, even if it were to stand as written.

I’ll explain how on January 21.