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The Mistaken Presumptions of Virtually All Discussions of a Future Trump Prosecution

Jack Goldsmith has written a piece arguing against a Trump prosecution under the Biden Administration. He’s wrong on a key point that many other people engaging in this discussion also are. He’s wrong about what crime might be prosecuted and whose DOJ investigated it.

Before I get to that, though, I want to critique two smaller issues in his post.

First, he links to the DOJ IG investigation on Carter Page, apparently suggesting it supports a claim that that report found there were inappropriate parts of the investigation into Donald Trump.

The first in this line was the investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and presidential transition by the FBI and the Obama Justice Department, which continued with the Mueller investigation. Some elements of this investigation were clearly legitimate and some, clearly not.

Except that’s not what that report shows (even ignoring the report’s own problems). It shows that FBI followed the rules on informants and even on including an investigative agent in Trump’s first security briefing (after which Flynn promptly moved to cover up his secret relationship with Turkey). It shows that there were problems with the Carter Page FISA application. But the single solitary thing in the report that would not survive a Franks review is Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email. Every single other thing would meet the Good Faith standard used in Fourth Amendment review. And all that’s separate from the question of whether Carter Page was a legitimate target for investigation, which the bipartisan SSCI investigation has said he was.

I also disagree with Goldsmith’s concerns about the status of the Durham investigation going forward.

But though Durham started out as a credible figure, the review was damaged from the beginning due to Trump’s and Barr’s ceaseless public prejudging of the case (and, for some, Durham’s response to one of Horowitz’s reports). And all of that was before Barr expanded the investigation into a criminal one and then later appointed Durham as a special counsel to ensure that his criminal investigation could continue into the Biden administration. Once again, the nation is divided on the legitimacy of all of this.

The third challenge, exacerbating the first two, is that these investigations—the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and transition, the Durham investigation, and the Hunter Biden investigation—extended (or will extend) into an administration of a different party. That means that what began as a cross-party investigation where the worry was bias against political opponents will transform, in the middle of the investigation, into an intraparty investigation, where the worry will shift to one party’s desire for self-protection.

I think the Durham investigation is misunderstood by all sides. Even according to Billy Barr, Durham has debunked some conspiracy theories Republicans have floated and he appears to have moved beyond the question of whether the CIA wrongly concluded that Putin wanted to elect Trump. That means if he were to write a report, it would substantially consist of telling the frothy right that their conspiracy theories were just that, and that George Papadopoulos really did entertain recruitment by at least one Russian agent.

That said, the Durham investigation has, unfortunately, been hopelessly biased by Billy Barr’s work in at least two ways. Durham apparently believes that the treatment of partisan bias at DOJ has been equally applied, which is demonstrably false (which also means he’s relying on witnesses who have themselves committed the sins he has used to predicate his own investigation, using FBI devices to speak for or against a political candidate). More troublingly, every single legal document his prosecutors have filed thus far have betrayed that they don’t understand the most basic things about the counterintelligence investigations they’re focusing on. But because of that ignorance, I’m fairly confident that if Durham tried to prosecute people for the theories that Bill Barr has been pushing while micromanaging this, Durham’s prosecutors would get their ass handed to them. Plus, even without Biden’s AG doing anything, I think there’s a possibility that Durham’s independence can be put to good use to investigate the crimes that Barr’s DOJ may have committed in pushing these theories. And there’s an easy way to solve the political nastiness of Barr’s special counsel appointment: by swapping Durham for Nora Dannehy. In short, freed from the micromanaging and mistaken beliefs of Bill Barr, Durham may evolve into a totally useful entity, one that will debunk a lot of the bullshit that the frothy right has been spewing for years.

In any case, the only reason it would be perceived as a cross-party investigation was the micromanagement of Barr. The FBI is not a member of either party, and if Durham finds real crimes — like that of Clinesmith — by all means he should prosecute. Once he is freed of Barr’s micromanagement, though, he may discover that he was given a very partial view of the evidence he was looking at.

Which brings me to Goldsmith’s treatment of whether or not Trump should be prosecuted. Before giving three reasons why one shouldn’t investigate Trump, he lays out what he sees as the potential crime this way:

Many people have argued that the Biden Justice Department should continue this pattern by examining the criminal acts Trump might have committed while in office—some arguing for a full-blown broad investigation, others (like my co-author, Bob Bauer, in “After Trump”) for a measured, narrowly tailored one. I don’t think this is a good idea. I doubt Trump has committed prosecutable crimes in office (I am confident that obstruction of justice prosecution would fail), I doubt he will ever go to jail if he did commit criminal acts in office (which would make the effort worse than useless), Trump will thrive off the attention of such an investigation, and the Biden administration will be damaged in pursuing other elements of its agenda (including restoration of the appearance of apolitical law enforcement). But the main reason I am skeptical is that such an investigation would, in the prevailing tit-for-tat culture, cement the inchoate norm of one administration as a matter of course criminally investigating the prior one—to the enormous detriment of the nation. (I do not believe that federal investigations for Trump’s pre-presidential actions raise the same risk.

There are two problems inherent with Goldsmith’s logic here, problems that virtually all the other people who engage in this debate also make.

First, he assumes that any prosecution of Trump would have to engage in further investigation. Here’s just one of several places where he makes that assumption clear.

The investigation by one administration of the predecessor president for acts committed in office would be a politically cataclysmic event.

Goldsmith doesn’t consider the possibility that such an investigation was begun under Mueller and continued under Bill Barr, waiting for such time as Trump can be charged under DOJ guidelines. It’s odd that he doesn’t consider that possibility, because Mueller laid that possibility out clearly in the report, describing leaving grand jury evidence banked for such time as Trump could be charged (indeed, it’s fairly clear a January 2019 Steve Bannon grand jury appearance included such evidence). If Bill Barr’s DOJ conducted an investigation that shows Trump committed a crime, it would break out of the tit-for-tat that Goldsmith complains about.

Goldsmith also appears to believe, even in spite of Trump’s transactionalism, that any crime Trump committed in office would have begun and ended during his term of office.

Part of these two errors appear to stem from another one. Goldsmith clearly believes the only crime for which Mueller investigated Trump is obstruction and he dismisses the possibility that an obstruction prosecution would stick. I’m agnostic about whether that view of obstruction is true or not. Even just reviewing how the Mueller Report treated the Roger Stone investigation, though, I’m certain there are places where the Mueller Report protected investigative equities. That may be true of the obstruction case as well. If so, then it would suggest the obstruction case might be far stronger than we know.

But it is false that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction. That’s because Trump may have entered into a conspiracy with his rat-fucker. In addition to investigating Roger Stone for covering up who his tie to Wikileaks was, Mueller also investigated Roger Stone for entering the CFAA conspiracy with Russia, a part of the investigation that recently declassified information as well as the warrants in the case make clear continued after the close of the Mueller investigation. Not only did Mueller ask Trump about his contacts with Stone on the specific issue for which the rat-fucker remained under investigation after Mueller closed up shop, but Mueller’s last warrants listed Stone’s written record of his communications with Trump during the campaign among the items to be seized in the search of Stone’s homes. If Stone entered into the CFAA conspiracy with Russia and those contacts show that Trump entered into an agreement with Stone on his part of the conspiracy, then Mueller was investigating Trump himself in the conspiracy. There is no way you target Stone’s records of communications with Trump unless Trump, too, was under investigation for joining that conspiracy.

I know I’m the only one saying this, but that’s in significant part because — as far as I know — I’m the single solitary journalist who has read these documents (plus, the unsealed language showing the investigation into Stone on the CFAA charges got buried in the election). But the record makes this quite clear: by investigating Roger Stone, Mueller also investigated Donald Trump for joining the CFAA conspiracy with Russia that helped him get elected. And because Mueller did not complete the investigation into Roger Stone before he closed up shop, he did not complete the investigation into Donald Trump.

And while I’m less certain, abundant evidence tells us what Stone and Trump’s role in the conspiracy may have been: to enter into a quid pro quo trading advance access to select John Podesta files (and, possibly, optimizing their release to cover up the DHS/ODNI Russian attribution statement) for a pardon for Julian Assange.

Stone did something in August 2016 to obtain advance copies of the Podesta files that the frothy right believed would be particularly beneficial in attacking Podesta and Hillary. Days before the Podesta file release in October 2016, Stone and Credico appear to have started talking about a pardon for Julian Assange. After the release of the Podesta files, Trump discussed reaching out to Assange with more people, including Mike Flynn. And no later than 7 days after the election — and given Credico’s refusal to give a straight answer about this, probably before — Stone set out on an extended effort to deliver on that pardon. And Trump took an overt act, as President, to try to deliver on that quid pro quo when he ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to shut down any investigation into the hack-and-leak (which would have shut down the investigation into Assange’s role in it).

I have no idea whether DOJ obtained enough evidence to charge a former president in conspiring with a hostile foreign power to get elected. The investigation into Stone’s role in the conspiracy may have shut down when Barr’s intervention in Stone’s sentencing led all four prosecutors to drop from the case, so it’s possible that a Biden DOJ would need to resume that investigation (and finish it up before statutes of limitation tolled). Still, as of October 1, when DOJ withheld almost the entirety of two interviews with Margaret Kunstler to protect an ongoing investigation, that part of the investigation was ongoing. So if you want to consider the possible universe of Trump charges, this is the possibility you’d need to consider: that after Mueller shut down but before the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ acquired enough evidence to prosecute Donald Trump once he becomes available to prosecute under DOJ rules.

I think there are other instances where Trump cheated to win in criminal fashion (even ignoring the hush payments for which he got named in Cohen’s charging documents). For example, Barr very obviously violated DOJ guidelines in his treatment of the whistleblower complaint about the Volodymyr Zelenskyy call, and with the evidence that OMB, State, and DOD withheld from the impeachment inquiry and witnesses subject to subpoena (indeed, at least some of whom will likely have no Fifth Amendment privileges after a pardon), the impeachment case is likely far stronger than Goldsmith imagines. Plus, there is an obvious tie to the SDNY investigation into Lev Parnas (where the whistleblower complaint would have been referred had Barr not violated DOJ guidelines). So on that case, it might be a question of Biden shutting down an ongoing investigation, not one of starting a new investigation.

Perhaps the most difficult and controversial decision for a Biden AG will be whether to reopen the investigation into the Egyptian payment Trump may have gotten in 2016 that kept his campaign afloat, one that SCOTUS reviewed (for the Mystery Appellant challenge) and sustained a subpoena for. Per CNN, DOJ doesn’t yet have enough to prosecute that, but that’s because DOJ chose not to subpoena Trump Organization for documents. And a Biden Administration could sanction the Egyptian bank to require it to cooperate in a way they refused to do under Mueller.

But those two instances can’t be shown via the public evidence. The overt act that Trump took in response to Roger Stone’s request — one Stone documented in a DM to Julian Assange — is public. Importantly, this would be a conspiracy that started before Trump got elected and extended into his presidency.

If you want to imagine whether Biden would prosecute Trump, you have to consider the possibility that he would prosecute Trump for crimes Bill Barr investigated.

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 Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket

Bill Barr could come to regret his neat effort to place a ticking time bomb inside the Joe Biden DOJ, because John Durham has evidence in hand that Bill Barr’s DOJ tampered with documents.

I’ve been thinking … There’s something that doesn’t make sense about Bill Barr’s roll-out of the order making John Durham a Special Counsel. For the better part of a year, Barr has been saying that Durham could roll out actual indictments before the election, since none of the people he would indict were candidates. Yet Barr claimed, in his order, that he decided (not Durham) that, “legitimate investigative and privacy concerns warrant confidentiality” until after the election. And then he waited almost an entire month before he revealed the order. He did so in spite of adopting 28 CFR 600.9, which otherwise requires notice to Congress, to govern this appointment.

Let me interject and say that while Barr’s appointment of a DOJ employee, US Attorney John Durham, violates the Special Counsel statutes, that’s not the authority under which Barr appointed Durham. He did so under 28 USC 509, 510, 515, which is what Mueller was technically appointed under. Thanks to the Mueller investigation and some well-funded Russian troll lawyers, there’s a whole bunch of appellate language authorizing the appointment of someone under 28 USC 515 but governed under 28 CFR 600.9. The unusual nature of the appointment would provide President Biden’s Attorney General an easy way to swap Durham for Nora Dannehy (who as a non-departmental employee would qualify under the Special Counsel guidelines), and given her past involvement in the investigation, it should suffer no loss of institutional credibility or knowledge. But it doesn’t damage Durham’s legal authority in the meantime.

Barr probably lied about the significant reasons to delay notice to Congress. According to the AP, Durham is no longer focused on most of the scope he had been investigating, to include George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and GOP claims that the CIA violated analytic tradecraft in concluding that Vladimir Putin affirmatively wanted Trump elected. He is, according to someone in the immediate vicinity of Barr, focused just on the conduct of FBI Agents before Mueller’s appointment, even though the language of this appointment approves far more.

The current investigation, a criminal probe, had begun very broadly but has since “narrowed considerably” and now “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI,” Barr said. He said he expects Durham would detail whether any additional prosecutions will be brought and make public a report of the investigation’s findings.

[snip]

A senior Justice Department official told the AP that although the order details that it is “including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” the Durham probe has not expanded. The official said that line specifically relates to FBI personnel who worked on the Russia investigation before the May 2017 appointment of Mueller, a critical area of scrutiny for both Durham and for the Justice Department inspector general, which identified a series of errors and omissions in surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign associate.

The focus on the FBI, rather than the CIA and the intelligence community, suggests that Durham may have moved past some of the more incendiary claims that Trump supporters had hoped would yield allegations of misconduct, or even crimes — namely, the question of how intelligence agencies reached their conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

We know from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation and documents Barr otherwise released where Barr thought John Durham was heading. There are questions about who knew about credibility problems of Christopher Steele’s primary source Igor Danchenko (though the GOP has vastly overstated what his interview said, ignoring how much of the dossier it actually corroborated, Danchenko’s later interviews, and FBI’s later interviews of one of his own sources). There are some analysts who questioned the viability of the investigation into Flynn; it appears they asked to be removed from the team.

And Jensen, at least, seemed to want to claim that Peter Strzok got NSLs targeting Flynn in February and March 2017 that he had previously refused to approve. Someone seems to have convinced Flynn investigative agent Bill Barnett that those NSLs, which were lawyered by Kevin Clinesmith, were illegal, but given the predication needed for NSLs that seems a wild stretch. Plus, it would be unlikely (though not impossible) for Durham to indict Clinesmith without a Durham-specific cooperation agreement before if he believed Clinesmith had committed other crimes. I mean, it’s possible that Clinesmith, under threat of further prosecution, is claiming that mere NSLs are illegal, but I’d be surprised. Not least because after these NSLs, Strzok worked hard to put a pro-Trump FBI Agent in charge of the Flynn investigation.

Occam’s razor suggests that Durham asked for the special counsel designation because he wants to be permitted to work through these last bits and finish up the investigation, along with the prior authority (which Mueller did not have) to publish his findings.

Occam’s razor also suggests that the reason Barr didn’t reveal this change of status until this week has everything to do with pressure from Trump and nothing to do with investigative equities and everything to do with using this investigation like he has all of his US Attorney led investigations, as a way to placate Trump. Trump has reportedly been complaining that Barr didn’t do more to undermine the election, and so he rolled this out as a way to buy space and time.

Axios reports that it may not work. Trump might fire Barr and replace him with someone who would order that Durham report right away.

Behind the scenes: Within Trump’s orbit, sources told Axios, Tuesday’s revelation was seen as a smokescreen to forestall the release of the so-called Durham report, which senior administration officials believe is already complete — and which Barr had ruled out issuing before the election.

  • Another senior administration official disputed that assessment, saying: “The reason the Attorney General appointed John Durham as Special Counsel is because he’s not finished with his investigation,” and that Barr “wanted to ensure that John Durham would be able to continue his work independently and unimpeded.”
  • Trump has been ranting about the delay behind the scenes and mused privately about replacing Barr with somebody who will expedite the process. But it’s unclear whether he will follow through with that, per sources familiar with the conversations.
  • Barr met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other officials in the West Wing Tuesday afternoon.

Except that doesn’t work. If Trump were to name John Ratcliffe Acting Attorney General (he’d be the perfect flunky for the job), he would be powerless to force Durham to report more quickly. Sure, he could fire Durham, but he’d have to provide notice to Congress, and there’s virtually no remedy Congress would or could offer in the next 48 days. Ratcliffe can’t write a report himself. And the people doing the work for Durham aren’t DOJ employees, so firing them would do nothing to get a report. For better and worse, Barr has ensured that Ratcliffe or whatever other flunky were appointed could not do that, at least not in the 48 days before such person would be fired by President Biden.

Again, Ockham’s Razor suggests that Durham will finish his work and write a public report debunking the Papadopoulos conspiracies, confirming that CIA’s analytic work was not improper, and otherwise concluding that Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of documents was the only crime that occurred.

More importantly, there’s a problem with Axios’ report, that “Barr had ruled out issuing a report before the election,” and that’s what makes this special counsel appointment more interesting. Barr tried to force Durham to issue a report before the election. That led Durham’s trusted aide Nora Dannehy to quit before September 11, thereby seemingly creating the need for a special counsel designation at that point.

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned from the U.S. Justice Department probe – at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

[snip]

Colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr – who appointed Durham to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resignation for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.

[snip]

The thinking of the associates, all Durham allies, is that the Russia investigation group will be disbanded and its work lost if Trump loses.

And Barr himself had, for months, been saying that he would shut down Durham if Trump lost. Yet here we are, after the election, learning that Barr has provided Durham additional protections.

That’s all the more interesting given what Barr did after Dannehy quit in the face of pressure to issue some kind of report before the election. First, he gave a screed at Hillsdale College that pretty clearly targeted Dannehy, among others. Then, Barr attempted to let Jeffrey Jensen release an interim Durham report himself.

Less than a week after Dannehy quit, Jensen’s team interviewed Bill Barnett, someone who would be a key witness for any real Durham investigation of early actions by the FBI. The interview was clearly a political hack job, leaving key details (such as the role of Flynn’s public lies about his calls with Sergey Kislyak in the investigation) unasked. Barnett’s answers materially conflict with his own actions on the case. He was invited to make comments about the politicization of lawyers — notably Andrew Weissmann and Jeannie Rhee — he didn’t work with on the Mueller team. And he claimed to be unaware of central pieces of evidence in the case.

It took just a week for the FBI to write up and release the report from that interview, even while DOJ still hasn’t released a Bill Priestap interview 302 that debunked a central claim made in the Flynn motion to dismiss. And the interview was released in a form that hid material information about Brandon Van Grack’s actions from Judge Sullivan and the public.

But that’s not all. A day earlier prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent five documents to Sidney Powell:

  • The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes
  • The second set of altered Strzok notes
  • The altered Andrew McCabe notes
  • Texts between FBI analysts
  • A new set of Strzok-Page texts, which included new Privacy Act violations

All were packaged up for public dissemination, with their protective order footers redacted. There were dates added to all the handwritten notes, at least one of which was misleading. The Strzok-Page texts were irrelevant and included new privacy violations; when later asked to validate them, DOJ claimed they weren’t relying on them (which raises more questions about the circumstances of their release). There’s good reason to believe there’s something funky about the FBI analyst texts released (indeed, as politicized as his interview was, Barnett dismissed the mistaken interpretation DOJ adopted of their meaning, that the analysts were getting insurance solely because of the Russian investigation); DOJ made sure that the identities of these analysts was not made public, avoiding any possibility that the analysts might weigh in like Strzok and McCabe did when they realized their notes had been altered.

One of those alterations would come to serve as a scripted Trump attack on Joe Biden in their first debate. In a September 29 hearing, Sidney Powell admitted meeting regularly with Trump campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, and asking Trump to hold off on a Flynn pardon, making it clear that this docket gamesmanship was the entire point.

And then, on October 19, Durham got Barr to give him the special counsel designation that would give him independence he had not had during 18 months of Barr micromanagement and also ensure that he could remain on past the time when Barr would be his boss.

Days later, on October 22, DOJ wrote Sidney Powell telling her they were going to stop feeding her with documents she would use to make politicized attacks.

Let’s assume for a minute that Durham was, in good faith, pursuing what the FBI was doing in the spring of 2017, an inquiry for which Barnett was a key — and at that point, credible — witness. That investigation was effectively destroyed with the release of the politicized Barnett interview report. Any defense attorney would make mincemeat of him as a witness.

Which is to say that Barr’s effort to let Jensen release the things that Durham refused to before the election damaged any good faith investigation that Durham might have been pursuing. And that’s before DOJ got caught altering documents, documents for which Durham has original copies. It’s not clear whether Durham is watching this docket that closely, but if he is, he knows precisely what, how, and to what extent these documents have been altered. And he probably has a good sense of why they were released in the way they were.

Again, Ockham’s Razor says that Durham will just muddle along and after a delay release a report saying he found nothing — which itself will be incendiary enough to the frothy right.

But by incorporating 28 CFR 600.4 into the scope of his special counsel appointment clearly allows him to investigate any attempts to interfere with his investigation.

federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses;

It’s likely those pre-election antics did interfere with the investigation. And even if Durham hasn’t thought that through yet, it’s possible that Michael Horowitz will inform him of the details.

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.

 

Why a Clinton Foundation/Crossfire Hurricane Comparison Might Backfire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the comparison could also backfire in spectacular fashion.

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

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

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

Handling Agent: “Trump!”

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

Handling Agent: “Yes it did.”

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

Handling Agent: “LOL”

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Barr’s Screed Is About Mike Flynn, Nora Dannehy, and Robert Mueller

Bill Barr delivered a remarkable screed last night at the radical right Hillsdale College. Numerous people have and will unpack both the glaring contradictions and the dangerous assertions in it.

But I want to point out that it is quite obviously about Barr’s attempts to overturn the prosecutions of Trump’s flunkies for covering up their efforts to help Russia interfere in the election.

A big part of it is targeted towards independent counsels (though, tellingly, Barr assails the independent counsel statute that used to be, not the one that left Robert Mueller closely supervised by Rod Rosenstein).

As Justice Scalia observed in perhaps his most admired judicial opinion, his dissent in Morrison v. Olson: “Almost all investigative and prosecutorial decisions—including the ultimate decision whether, after a technical violation of the law has been found, prosecution is warranted—involve the balancing of innumerable legal and practical considerations.”

And those considerations do need to be balanced in each and every case.  As Justice Scalia also pointed out, it is nice to say “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum. Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.”  But it does not comport with reality.  It would do far more harm than good to abandon all perspective and proportion in an attempt to ensure that every technical violation of criminal law by every person is tracked down, investigated, and prosecuted to the Nth degree.

[snip]

This was of course the central problem with the independent-counsel statute that Justice Scalia criticized in Morrison v. Olson.  Indeed, creating an unaccountable headhunter was not some unfortunate byproduct of that statute; it was the stated purpose of that statute.  That was what Justice Scalia meant by his famous line, “this wolf comes as a wolf.”  As he went on to explain:  “How frightening it must be to have your own independent counsel and staff appointed, with nothing else to do but to investigate you until investigation is no longer worthwhile—with whether it is worthwhile not depending upon what such judgments usually hinge on, competing responsibilities.  And to have that counsel and staff decide, with no basis for comparison, whether what you have done is bad enough, willful enough, and provable enough, to warrant an indictment.  How admirable the constitutional system that provides the means to avoid such a distortion.  And how unfortunate the judicial decision that has permitted it.”

Justice Jackson understood this too.  As he explained in his speech:  “If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted.”  Any erosion in prosecutorial detachment is extraordinarily perilous.  For, “it is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.”

And part of it is a restatement of the arguments Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall made before the DC Circuit, arguing that even bribery was not reason for a judge to override DOJ’s decisions on prosecutions.

I want to focus today on the power that the Constitution allocates to the Executive, particularly in the area of criminal justice.  The Supreme Court has correctly held that, under Article II of the Constitution, the Executive has virtually unchecked discretion to decide whether to prosecute individuals for suspected federal crimes.  The only significant limitation on that discretion comes from other provisions of the Constitution.  Thus, for example, a United States Attorney could not decide to prosecute only people of a particular race or religion.  But aside from that limitation — which thankfully has remained a true hypothetical at the Department of Justice — the Executive has broad discretion to decide whether to bring criminal prosecutions in particular cases.

And the rest suggests that career prosecutors have been putting targets on the heads of politically prominent people and pursuing them relentlessly.

Once the criminal process starts rolling, it is very difficult to slow it down or knock it off course.  And that means federal prosecutors possess tremendous power — power that is necessary to enforce our laws and punish wrongdoing, but power that, like any power, carries inherent potential for abuse or misuse.

[snip]

Line prosecutors, by contrast, are generally part of the permanent bureaucracy.  They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions.  Nor can the public and its representatives hold civil servants accountable in the same way as appointed officials.  Indeed, the public’s only tool to hold the government accountable is an election — and the bureaucracy is neither elected nor easily replaced by those who are.

[snip]

We want our prosecutors to be aggressive and tenacious in their pursuit of justice, but we also want to ensure that justice is ultimately administered dispassionately.

We are all human.  Like any person, a prosecutor can become overly invested in a particular goal.  Prosecutors who devote months or years of their lives to investigating a particular target may become deeply invested in their case and assured of the rightness of their cause.

When a prosecution becomes “your prosecution”—particularly if the investigation is highly public, or has been acrimonious, or if you are confident early on that the target committed serious crimes—there is always a temptation to will a prosecution into existence even when the facts, the law, or the fair-handed administration of justice do not support bringing charges.

[snip]

That is yet another reason that having layers of supervision is so important.  Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target.  Subjecting their decisions to review by detached supervisors ensures the involvement of dispassionate decision-makers in the process.

And it excuses, in one sentence, calling for probation even after a just prosecution.

Other times it will mean aggressively prosecuting a person through trial and then recommending a lenient sentence, perhaps even one with no incarceration.

Of course, none of this makes sense, and Barr’s own behavior — from removing Senate confirmed US Attorneys to put in people accountable only to him, from seeking prosecution of Democratic officials, and from launching the Durham investigation because he was just certain there was criminal wrong-doing in the Russian investigation — belies his words.

Perhaps it does so in the most basic way. If we hold our Attorney General politically accountable through elections, then we need to make sure elections are fair. We definitely need to make sure that elections are not influenced by hostile foreign powers cooperating with one candidate. The 2016 election wasn’t fair, and Bill Barr is doing his damndest to make sure the voters won’t be able to use the 2020 election to hold him politically accountable for interfering with the punishment of those who worked to cheat.

Because of Barr’s corrupt view on cheating at elections, he ensures that Vladimir Putin has more say over who gets prosecuted than experienced American prosecutors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strzok was not interviewed by HPSCI.

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strzok, UNSUB, and his packed bags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

When are we leaving? he asked me.

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

How long are we going for? he asked.

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s a compelling description.

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

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

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

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

Nora Dannehy Just Gave Emmet Sullivan the Evidence of Extreme Abuse to Sentence Mike Flynn

Though the full DC Circuit sent the Mike Flynn case back for Judge Emmet Sullivan to rule on DOJ’s motion to dismiss, at least some of the judges on the panel seemed to believe only something extraordinary — like the judge witnessing bribery in his courtroom — would merit refusing to grant the motion to dismiss.

Nora Dannehy, in resigning from the Durham investigation Thursday night, just gave Judge Sullivan that extraordinary reason.

The Hartford Courant story breaking the news provides a one detail explaining why.

First, perhaps to explain the non-political aspect of why Dannehy quit, the report describes that she was told the assignment would take six months to a year when she first came back in March 2019.

Dannehy was told to expect an assignment of from six months to a year when she agreed to join Durham’s team in Washington, colleagues said. The work has taken far longer than expected, in part because of complications caused by the corona virus pandemic. In the meantime, team members – some of whom are current or former federal investigators or prosecutors with homes in Connecticut – have been working long hours in Washington under pressure to produce results, associates said.

That would have put whatever pre-determined conclusion Billy Barr expected between September 2019 and March 2020. Barr presumed he’d get that outcome, then, by the time around February 1 when he appointed Jeffrey Jensen — to review the Flynn prosecution and come up with some excuse to dismiss it.

When Catherine Herridge interviewed Barr in the wake of the motion to dismiss, Barr specifically said that he appointed Jensen when he did even though John Durham was investigating the very same things. He had to appoint Jensen, Barr explained, because of some filings in the case meant “we had to sorta move more quickly on it.”

President Trump recently tweeted about the Flynn case. He said, “What happened to General Flynn should never be allowed to happen to a citizen of the United States again.” Were you influenced in any way by the president or his tweets?

No, not at all. And, you know, I made clear during my confirmation hearing that I was gonna look into what happened in 2016 and ’17. I made that crystal clear. I was very concerned about what happened. I was gonna get to the bottom of it. And that included the treatment of General Flynn.

And that is part of John Durham, U.S. Attorney John Durham’s portfolio. The reason we had to take this action now and why U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen came in was because it was prompted by the motions that were filed in that case. And so we had to sorta move more quickly on it. But John Durham is still looking at all of this.

This is one particular episode, but we view it as part of a number of related acts. And we’re looking at the whole pattern of conduct.

Jensen, who was a firearms prosecutor, with no experience in counterintelligence, did truly shoddy work. At one point, he handed over some notes from Peter Strzok, claiming not to know they had to have been written on January 5, which caused the usual frothers to invent a new conspiracy theory out of them. Either he knew the overcall so poorly not to know the context, or he was just feeding the trolls. You decide.

He also made his decision without waiting to learn from Bill Priestap that the purpose of the Mike Flynn interview is precisely what every single piece of evidence said it was, to see whether Flynn would tell the truth about his calls with Sergei Kislyak. Instead, the decision came just before Covington and Burling would have had an opportunity to describe all the times Flynn lied to his lawyers in the process of submitting a FARA filing that still hid that he knew he had been working for Turkey.

In the second hearing before the DC Circuit, Jeff Wall revealed that the reason a hearing into DOJ’s reason for the motion to dismiss would do irreparable harm was because Billy Barr had a secret reason for dismissing the case, one pertaining to “non-public information from other investigations.”

The Attorney General sees this in a context of non-public information from other investigations.

[snip]

I just want to make clear that it may be possible that the Attorney General had before him that he was not able to share with the court and so what we put in front of the court were the reasons that we could, but it may not be the whole picture available to the Executive Branch.

[snip]

It’s just we gave three reasons; one of them was that the interests of justice were not longer served, in the Attorney General’s judgment, by the prosecution. The Attorney General made that decision, or that judgment, on the basis of lots of information, some of it is public and fleshed out in the motion, some of it is not.

[snip]

If all we had to do was show up and stand on our motion, no, we’ve already said that to the District Court.

The revised explanation prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine offered for the motion to dismiss says that key witnesses, including Strzok, have been discredited (though as John Gleeson noted in his reply brief, her filing also relied on Strzok’s expertise).

All of which provides a good deal of evidence that Barr’s plan was to use Durham’s results to say that Mike Flynn shouldn’t be prosecuted (not even for selling out the country with Turkey). When those results didn’t come in on time, Barr told Jensen to go dig up evidence that had already been shared and reviewed by DOJ IG and the Durham inquiry, claim it was new (when much of it wasn’t even new to Judge Sullivan), and based on that, flip-flopped off of DOJ’s previous support for prison time.

Yesterday, Dannehy made it clear that the results of the Durham inquiry have also been pre-determined. (Though I half wonder whether the Durham team reviewed Peter Strzok’s book, found ready explanations to questions that neither HJC/OGR nor SSCI bothered to ask about the investigation — most likely about how the team chose four targets — and realized they were chasing hoaxes invented by Fox News.)

There’s is increasing evidence that Billy Barr moved to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution based of the results he is demanding Durham produce.

Barr may still get Durham to produce the results he has demanded. But that may not come before Judge Sullivan has an opportunity to ask about it.

Kevin Clinesmith Ordered to Cooperate with People Not on John Durham’s Team

According to multiple reports and live-tweeting from his plea hearing last week, John Durham is relying, in part, on former FBI Agents to conduct his investigation into an investigation he may not understand.

Mr. Durham is relying on a team of prosecutors, including Nora R. Dannehy and Neeraj Patel, from Connecticut, as well as former and current F.B.I. agents to complete his investigation. Anthony Scarpelli, a top prosecutor from the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, was detailed to the team along with a federal prosecutor from Manhattan, Andrew DeFilippis.

Two former F.B.I. agents, Timothy Fuhrman and Jack Eckenrode, are also assisting. An F.B.I. agent who oversaw public corruption in Chicago and served in Ukraine as an assistant legal attaché, Peter Angelini, has also joined Mr. Durham’s team.

That’s important because of a detail in the Kevin Clinesmith plea deal that the frothy right has totally misrepresented. The plea deal includes a paragraph — addressing the “use of self-incriminating information,” not cooperation — that requires Clinesmith’s cooperation with the FBI, not prosecutors.

10. Use of Self-Incriminating Information

As an express condition of this agreement, the defendant agrees to be personally debriefed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) regarding the FBI’s review of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) matters and any information he possesses, direct or indirect, that should be brought to the attention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”). The Government agrees pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 1B1.8(a), that information provided by your client pursuant to this Agreement or during the course of the aforementioned debriefing, and about which the Government had no prior knowledge or insufficient proof in the absence of the debriefing, will not be used at the time of sentencing for the purpose of determining the applicable guideline range. However, all information provided by the defendant may be used for the purposes and in accordance with the terms identified in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.8(b).

The paragraph even describes the topic of Clinesmith’s mandated cooperation: working with the FBI to figure out if there’s anything further he worked on that must be noticed to the FISA Court.

On December 5, then presiding FISA Judge Rosemary Collyer (she has been succeeded by James Boasberg, who also presides over Clinesmith’s prosecution) ordered the government to check every FISA application Clinesmith had been involved with to make sure he hadn’t done anything similar on other applications.

(1) Identify all other matters currently or previously before this Court that involved the participation of the FBI OGC attorney whose conduct was described in the Preliminary Letter and Supplement Letter;

(2) Describe any steps taken or to be taken by the Department of Justice or FBI to verify that the United States’ submissions in those matters completely and fully described the material facts and circumstances; and

(3) Advise whether the conduct of the FBI OGC attorney bas been referred to the I appropriate bar association(s) for investigation or possible disciplinary action.

Nothing in the public record indicates that FBI has completed this review. Which means the FBI still needs Clinesmith’s help to review the cases he worked on.

So the language here covers what happens if, in the course of this review, FBI finds other cases where he doctored the record or somehow lied to the FISA Court.

The emphasis on cooperating with the FBI (and Durham’s heavy reliance on retired FBI Agents) should have been hint enough that this is not some grand cooperation agreement that will land Jim Comey and John Brennan in prison. But there’s another clue. The plea deal specifically says the government will not file any downward departure for sentencing.

In addition, your client acknowledges that the Government is not obligated and does not intend to file any post-sentence downward departure motion in this case pursuant to Rule 35(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

There’s no cooperation agreement because there’s nothing on the table for Clinesmith to cooperate on, except to avoid further exposure.

And the plea agreement says there’s nothing more (some plea agreements have sealed addendums).

There’s no upside promised in this plea agreement. Which means Clinesmith has not promised to deliver any heads on a platter for the frothers.

Final Jeopardy Answer: Something That Doesn’t Obstruct or Impede Justice

Alex, I’m going with – “What is getting a prosecutor fired for not complying with your political agenda?”

The investigation (not of the U. S. Attorney firings despite misleading headlines) into the Iglesias firing is done. bmaz is ready to change his name to Carnac and Holder’s Department of Justice has shot off a letter-ary masterpiece to  the House Judiciary Committee (HJC).  As per Carnac’s bmaz’s predictions, no charges.

What bmaz could not have predicted, but did link to in his post, is the actual content of the letter sent to Conyers.  I don’t think anyone would have predicted the cavalier way in which Holder’s DOJ reaches its seemingly predetermined decision, while providing a roadmap to other legislators who’d also like to get a prosecutor fired for political convenience. Dannehy and Holder explain to Members of Congress – if a Federal prosecutor isn’t filing or refraining from filing the cases you want, feel free to covertly conspire to get him fired. As long as you don’t make any misguided attempt to “influence” him before you get him fired, you’re good to go. Oh, and btw, phone calls to him at home to fume over his handling – not to worry, those doesn’t count as an attempt to influence.

Stripped and shorn, Holder and Dannehy have said –

1. We aren’t gonna investigate anything but Iglesias and we aren’t saying why:  “The investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias.”

WHAT EVIDENCE? They freakin didn’t expand the scope of the investigation to see what evidence there was, then they decide, oh well, we don’t have any of the evidence we didn’t look for so we shouldn’t look for it since we don’t have it … whatever.

2. Hey, yeah, Domenici DID make a contact to smack on Iglesias about the handling of a matter currently in front of the USA’s office but:   “The evidence about the call developed in the course of Ms. Dannehy’s investigation, however, was insufficient to establish an attempt to pressure Mr. Iglesias to accelerate his charging decisions.”

So similar to the lack of intent to torture – I mean, if Domenici in good faith thought he was just gathering intel on the status of political prosecutions … um, let’s move on.

3. Instead of trying influence Iglesias, Holder and Dannehy think that Domenici *just* got Iglesias fired for not pursuing political bias in his prosecutions. “The weight of the evidence established not an attempt to influence but rather an attempt to remove David Iglesias from office, in other words, to eliminate the possibility of any future action or inaction by him.”

4. This, they say, is fine. Seriously. They say there’s nothing DOJ can do about it. It’s no problem for politicians to get DOJ lawyers fired for not being political lapdogs. But to be fair, they then finish up by saying both, “In closing, it is important to emphasize that Attorney General Holder is committed to ensuring that partisan political considerations play no role in the law enforcement decisions of the Department” and (bc that wasn’t really the closing after all) “The Attorney General remains deeply dismayed by the OIG/OPR findings related to politicization of the Department’s actions, and has taken steps to ensure those mistakes will not be repeated.”

HUH? They’ve just said it is perfectly legal for politicians to get USAs who won’t do their political bidding fired by covert contacts with the WH, but Holder is  “committed” to ensuring partisan political considerations play no role at DOJ? WTH?  I guess if you put those two concepts together and held them in your mind for long, you’d end up committed too.

5. Anyway, they pull all of this off by giving a Bybee-esque review of “18 U.S.C. § 1503 [that] punishes anyone [at least, anyone the DOJ selectively decides to prosecute] who ‘corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.” It’s a simple thing – according to Holder and Dannehy,  Domenici didn’t try to “influence” Iglesias, he just had Iglesias fired.   Which obviously isn’t an attempt to obstruct or impede.  I mean, there’s nothing that *doesn’t impede* a case like getting the prosecutor handling it fired.

They also explain to us that they can’t go after Domenici for trying to get, then getting, Iglesias fired – at least, not under 18 USC 1503, because that section “penalizes only forward-looking conduct.” So Domenici would have to be doing something that would involve forward-looking conduct. And after all, as they just said (see 3 above) Domenici wasn’t trying “in other words, to eliminate the possibility of any future action or inaction by [Iglesias].” Oh, except for, you know, they actually say in the letter that’s exactly what Domenici WAS doing. Trying to affect future action or inaction – in a forward-looking way with his forward-looking conduct.

This clarifies so many things.  Who knew, until now, that the only person who got things right during the Saturday Night Massacre was Robert Bork?

Nixon wrote the first act in DOJ’s current play (which is only fair, since he also wrote their anthem that it’s not illegal if the President does it) when he arranged for the firing of prosecutors who were bugging him, but in response to a livid Congressional response, using words like impeachment and obstruction, said:

“…[I]n all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life that I’ve welcomed this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President’s a crook. Well, I’m not a crook!”

And now Dannehy and Holder have made that chapter and verse – nothing wrong with firing some prosecutors if they aren’t playing politics.  Poor Karl Rove – so much trouble could have been avoided if he had just known that a Democratic administration’s DOJ would take the position that it would be perfectly ok for him to get Bush to fire Fitzgerald (something that apparently made even Buscho lawyers Gonzales and Miers flinch) – no obstruction, no impeding – as long as Rove never tried to “influence” the prosecutor first.

And now DOJ prosecutors now know exactly how things work. It’s been spelled out. No one will try to influence them. It’s just that if they aren’t making Obama’s favorite politicians and fundraisers happy, well – their career may have a little accident.

With AGeewhiz’s like Holder,  we can rest easy.  Gonzales may have been afraid to come out and state DOJ’s policy plainly. He never quite coughed out the admission that it is DOJ policy that Republican Senators who conspire with the Republican WH to get prosecutors fired for not carrying out the Republican Senator’s political agenda are acting well within their rights. Holder is not nearly so timid.  He’s spelled it out. Prosecutors are fair game for Congresspersons, at least those with the right WH ties.

I guess we should be grateful he hasn’t handed out paintball guns to Democratic legislators and encouraged them to mark the weak links in his legal herd – the ones that haven’t been compliant enough to keep their jobs.

At least, not yet.

And besides, haven’t we already learned what Holder just told Conyers in that letter?

Firing the Republicans in 2006 and 2008 didn’t impede or obstruct the attacks on the rule of law one little bit.

Update: On the good news front – Happy Day fatster!