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Putin’s Playmates Trump and Tucker Remind Trumpsters They’ve Been Trained to Love Putin

As I’ve been watching Putin expand his war in Ukraine, I’ve been thinking a lot about his timing. Why launch it now rather than two years ago, when Trump would have facilitated it, or another year from now, when Republicans are expected to control at least one house of Congress?

I suspect there are a lot of things that dictate the timing. Any invasion was going to come in winter. It’s easier for heavy tanks to move, but more importantly, winter temperatures make it easier to use gas prices to impose a cost on Europe.

I think it happened this year, under Biden’s first full winter rather than 2021 or even 2020 because, up until Biden’s inauguration, Putin’s investment in Trump might still have paid off by allowing Putin to achieve his objectives without launching a war. He almost did, in the insurrection, which was undoubtedly led by MAGAts but which included the participation of some key Russian projects (such as Patrick Byrne).

To be sure, there are European reasons, even beyond the gas squeeze. Boris Johnson is fighting to keep power. Angela Merkel’s retirement surely led Putin to hope that the EU would be left without a strong leader (or that he could more easily manipulate Emmanuel Macron, especially in an election year).

But I believe this invasion represents the culmination of a plan not just to reassert what he imagines is Russian greatness, but also to end US hegemony, which Putin has pursued for a decade.

Ukraine has been a part of that and starting in 2010, Paul Manafort was useful to giving his puppets the patina of legitimacy. After Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine was useful as a testing ground for various kinds of hybrid warfare, most spectacularly with the NotPetya attack in 2018.

Ukraine — the partnership of Konstantin Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska, along with their leverage over Paul Manafort — was also whence Russian launched its 2016 attack (I need to find the reference, but they knew they could place Manafort as campaign manager before the end of 2015). As I have written (in a piece on my understanding of the role of using the Steele dossier as a vehicle for disinformation), Russia’s interference in 2016 is best understood as a win-win. If Hillary won, Roger Stone would have rolled out the same Stop the Steal plan that was used in 2020 back in 2016 to destabilize the US in 2017 rather than 2021, as happened.

Trump’s win was an unexpected bonus.

As part of the 2016 operation, Russia also did unprecedented damage to the NSA (through the Shadow Brokers operation) and the CIA (in the way that WikiLeaks rolled out the Vault 7 release).

The failure of Russia’s attempt to blame its 2016 interference on a false flag thwarted Russia’s best laid plans — which would have involved Kilimnik calling in the quid pro quo made with Manafort on August 2, 2016 and getting Trump to help carve up Ukraine in the same way Russia is currently doing with tanks.

Even still, the Russian investigation paid huge dividends and, given Putin’s long game, to date has surely been more than worth it. That’s because the FBI-led investigation into Trump’s cooperation with Russia, over time, came to train Republicans to trust Putin more than they trust Democrats.

Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that the FBI deliberately attempted to take Trump out (entirely memory holing Jim Comey’s role in getting Trump elected, much less that the FBI Agents running informants on the Clinton Foundation during the election were explicitly anti-Hillary). The dossier disinformation project proved so wildly successful that most Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that there wasn’t abundant proof of cooperation between Trump and Russia, including communications directly with the Kremlin during the election that Michael Cohen lied to hide. Republican members of Congress genuinely came to believe — because they had to! — that criticism of Trump’s refusal to spend the money in support of Ukraine they had appropriated was just another Democratic attack on Trump and not an attempt to save the integrity of American democracy. All this culminated in Stop the Steal 2.0, a literal attack on American democracy; Republican fealty to Trump forced them — more reluctantly at first and driven in large part by real terror — to defend an assault on Congress.

By February 13, 2021, the date the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an attack on Congress, Republicans had put loyalty to Donald Trump over defense of the country and the Capitol in which they worked.

Sure, Putin didn’t get Trump to carve up Ukraine as President. But he got so much more from Trump’s presidency.

Putin did get Trump to do real damage to NATO. He got Trump to largely abandon Syria. Trump made a humiliating deal with the Taliban that would result in the US withdrawing its military from Russia’s back door. After years of Russia having to work hard to highlight American hypocrisy on human rights, Trump did things like pardon war criminals, forever tainting America’s claim to be exceptional.

And through it all, Trump created his own authoritarian-supporting militias, heavily armed troops inspired by resentment who have the ability to make the United States ungovernable. Trumpist Republicans are making localized efforts to dismantle democracy. Trump’s Supreme Court nominees have abandoned legal precedent.

Which brings us to this moment.

I think Putin faced a moment of diminishing returns. Republicans are finally beginning to wake up from their Trump cult. If COVID subsides and the US economy takes off, Democrats might surprise at midterms. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if Russia expected some details of what it has done over the last decade — involving Julian Assange, involving 2016 (with the prosecution of Vladislav Klyushin), possibly even involving Trump — to become public in the near future. And so Putin chose this moment to launch a war to try to solidify the efforts he has made over the last decade.

Thus far, however, things haven’t gone Putin’s way.

I believe that Putin thought he could demonstrate Five Eyes fragility by conducting war games off the Irish coast without inciting the nationalism of a bunch of Irish fisherman. I believe Putin expected the US and/or Europe would fail to fully incorporate Ukraine in its planning, thereby discrediting Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I believe that Putin expected he would be able to peel away France and Germany (after Olaf Scholz’s initial announcement that it is halting Nord Stream 2, there seems to be some hesitation). I believe Putin expected his false flags would work. I believe Putin believed he’d be able to blame someone else for this invasion. I agree with Dan Drezner, thus far Biden has done just about everything right.

I believe that Putin believed his invasion would split NATO, the EU, and the US. Thus far it has had the opposite effect.

Which brings us to the weird pivot that Trump and his top Fox associates: white nationalist Tucker Carlson, Chief of Staff Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.

Yesterday, Trump hailed Putin’s actions as genius.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump told conservative podcaster Buck Sexton.

I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right,” Trump continued. “Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Last night, Tucker did a chilling monologue, suggesting that Americans have been trained to hate Vladimir Putin.

Tucker suggested that Putin’s invasion is just a border dispute. He’s suggesting that Biden is doing this to pay off imagined debts to Ukrainian Oligarchs. Tucker laid out Putin’s plan for costs to impose on Americans, in terms of energy costs. Tucker included every single false claim about Ukraine that Russia has been planting since 2016. Every single one.

This is the monologue you’d expect of a man who believes there are two years of records showing Russian and Hungarian sources trying to set up one meeting between him and Putin.

To win this war, Putin needs to achieve both goals at once: splitting the US so that he can take Ukraine. One goal serves the other.

And in days ahead, Putin undoubtedly plans to take great risks to impose some costs on European and American voters. In gas prices, sure, but probably also with some ambitious cyberattacks and efforts to support another insurrection. Those costs, I imagine Putin plans, will lead American and European voters to lose patience with support for Ukraine, to forget that this is about the ability to enjoy real democracy.

But to get away with that, Putin has to ensure that it won’t backfire by overcoming the polarization he has invested great effort to encourage in the last five years.

Via whatever means last night, Putin’s two biggest assets in the US (speaking in terms of advantages, not recruited assets, but I don’t rule it out) went out and reminded Trump supporters that they’ve been trained to like Putin more than they like their own country.

Update: Philip Bump notes that Republicans like Putin more than Biden.

While TV Lawyers Wailed Impotently, DOJ Was Acquiring the Communications of Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and (Probably) Mark Meadows

Because TV lawyers continue to wail that DOJ isn’t doing enough to investigate Donald Trump, I want to dumb down this post.

While TV lawyers have been wailing impotently that DOJ has been doing nothing to investigate Donald Trump, DOJ and the National Archives have been acquiring the communications behind some of the most damning events leading up to January 6. DOJ has been doing so even as the TV lawyers guaranteed us they would know if DOJ were doing such things, yet insisting that DOJ was not.

Consider just the events leading up to the December 18, 2020 series of meetings at the White House, involving Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and Mark Meadows, which some of the same reporters that reported it in real time are reporting as if it were new news.

Sidney Powell

According to the WaPo story on the grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell, a subpoena in that investigation issued in September asked for “communications and other records related to fundraising and accounting” related to Powell’s grift.

Federal prosecutors have demanded the financial records of multiple fundraising organizations launched by attorney Sidney Powell after the 2020 election as part of a criminal investigation, according to a subpoena reviewed by The Washington Post.

The grand jury subpoena, issued in September by the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, sought communications and other records related to fundraising and accounting by groups including Defending the Republic, a Texas-based organization claiming 501(c) 4 nonprofit status, and a PAC by the same name, according to the documents and a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the probe.

As part of the investigation, which has not been previously reported, prosecutors are seeking records going back to Nov. 1, 2020.

The subpoena reviewed by The Post was signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston, who is also handling politically charged matters related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including contempt of Congress charges brought against former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon for refusing to testify in front of the House committee investigating the pro-Trump riot. [my emphasis]

While the predication of that investigation seems to be based on Powell’s fundraising — soliciting money from dupes who believe her false claims of a stolen election — because proving that she knew those claims were false would require collecting everything about her efforts to manufacture false claims, it would get the communications explaining how to exploit those false claims as well. Plus, this September subpoena reveals just what DOJ did after moving to an overt phase. Prior to that, DOJ presumably obtained — first — preservation orders and — then — warrants on the emails that, according to Patrick Byrne, Powell claims she sent Rudy about her schemes.

On January 21 (a week before Trump started dangling pardons again), Sidney Powell’s lawyer revealed she is “cooperating” in that investigation, though in contemplating “cooperation” with the January 6 committee, she is reserving privilege claims about “advice” to Donald Trump.

A lawyer for Sidney Powell, a well-known, Trump-connected attorney, acknowledged that her organization’s fundraising connected to the 2020 election is subject to an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Powell’s lawyer, Howard Kleinhendler, told CNN that his client “is cooperating” with the investigation into her organization, Defending the Republic, by the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia. That cooperation includes “rolling productions” of documents.

[snip]

Still, when the committee asks Powell about communications she had with Trump, that is “going to get a little hairy,” Kleinhendler told CNN.

He said Powell believes that the times Trump called her to ask for legal advice may be covered by attorney-client privilege — even if he never paid her to be his or his campaign’s lawyer. Powell never worked as a lawyer for the former President personally or for the Trump campaign, Kleinhendler said.

“We’ll have to deal with that, and we’ll have to try to discuss with the committee to see how” to handle privilege issues, Kleinhendler said.

Any emails obtained with a non-public warrant would be sent to a taint team that would review Sidney Powell’s privilege claims independently. Of particular interest, after Trump claimed Powell represented him on November 15, 2020, Rudy stated as clearly as he can manage on November 22 that, “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”

With that statement, Rudy effectively waived privilege for any communications implicating both of them from that date forward, long in advance of that December 18 meeting at which Powell purportedly told him about all the communications she sent him in the interim.

Similarly, most of these events post-date the time, November 25, when Powell can credibly claim to be representing Mike Flynn in an effort to nullify the consequences of his lies and foreign agent work, because that’s when Trump pardoned Flynn. So she may want to claim privilege, but after November 25, all visible basis for that claim was affirmatively gone, and for anything seized from her email provider, she’s likely not going to be involved in making that claim anyway.

As I previously noted, the prosecutor in charge of that investigation dropped off three other January 6 prosecutions by March 29 of last year (though there is at least one other investigation, the obstruction investigation into Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley, on which she was also working in the interim).

Gaston originally pulled three January 6 cases in the investigation’s early days, those of Robert Packer, Robert Gieswein, and Derrick Evans, just the latter of which, involving a then-West Virginia state politician, had any possible public corruption component. But, at a time of immense staffing shortages at DC’s US Attorney’s Office, she dropped off those cases on February 18 (in the case of Packer) and March 29 (in the case of Gieswein and Evans). I’ve long wondered what, in the weeks after Merrick Garland came in, became a higher priority for the DC US Attorney’s leading public corruption prosecutor. We now know one thing she picked up in the interim was the prosecution of Michael Riley, the Capitol Police Officer who advised rioter Jacob Hiles to delete Facebook posts about his role in the riot. And by September, Gaston’s grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grift had started taking overt steps like subpoenaing Powell’s nonprofit.

There continue to be some curious moves that suggest DOJ is shifting prosecutorial resources to unseen investigations in fairly urgent fashion.

Rudy Giuliani

Meanwhile, on January 21 (the same day that CNN reported that Powell was “cooperating” in the DOJ investigation, and so also a week before Trump started dangling pardons again), Special Master Barbara Jones reported on the progress of the privilege review of 16 devices seized from Rudy Giuliani on April 28, 2021.

Here’s a summary of what that review and the earlier known seizures of Rudy’s communications in the Ukraine-related investigation into Rudy:

Because of the temporal scope Judge Paul Oetken approved last year, Jones has completed a privilege review of all communications that date between January 1, 2018 through April 28, 2021 on 8 of the devices seized from Rudy (April 28 was the day the devices were seized). We can’t know what dates during which Rudy was using those 8 devices. It could well be that they were older phones with nothing recent.

But we know that of the communications on the phone with the most texts and chats — the phone designated 1B05 — the government received 99.8% of any communications dated between January 1, 2018 and April 28, 2021 and they received those communications no later than January 21.

Of particular note, Rudy at first tried to claim privilege over 56 items from phone 1B05. He thought better of those claims in 19 cases. And then, after Jones deemed 37 of them not to be privileged, he backed off that claim as well. During a period when Jones and Rudy’s team would have been discussing those 37 items, Judge Oetken issued a ruling saying that the basis for any privilege claims (but not the substance of the communications) would have to be public. After precisely the same kind of ruling in the Michael Cohen Special Master review, Trump backed off his claim of privilege for Cohen’s recording about the hush payments. That may be what persuaded Rudy to withdraw his claim of privilege over those materials here, as well.

And whether or not DOJ has already accessed the communications Rudy conducted during 2020 and 2021 on any of the 16 devices seized from him, we know all the phones Rudy was using in April 2021 are in DOJ’s possession and that Judge Oetken has already approved a privilege review to cover those communications.

Mark Meadows

On December 15, the House voted to send the Mark Meadows contempt referral to DOJ for prosecution. Much to the chagrin of the TV lawyers, DOJ has not taken overt action against Meadows on the criminal contempt of Congress referral.

But as I’ve repeatedly argued, that referral is better considered — and would be more useful to the pursuit of justice — as a referral of Mark Meadows for a violation of the Presidential Records Act and obstruction of the DOJ criminal investigation that he knew to be ongoing.

Among the things included in the referral are:

  • A link to this Politico report quoting “a source close to former President Donald Trump’s ex-chief of staff,” insisting that, “all necessary and appropriate steps either were or are being taken” to ensure that Meadows is not deemed to have violated the Presidential Records Act by failing to share Presidential communications he conducted on his personal email and phone
  • Repeated references to Jonathan Swan’s coverage of the December 18 meeting at which Powell and others discussed seizing the voting machines
  • Indication that Meadows received notice on his personal phone (and so among the records withheld in violation of the PRA) the rally might get violent
  • A citation of a message that Meadows turned over to the committee (but presumably not, originally, to the Archives) in which Alyssa Farah urged, “You guys have to say something. Even if the president’s not willing to put out a statement, you should go to the [cameras] and say, ‘We condemn this. Please stand down.’ If you don’t, people are going to die”
  • Citation of several communications Meadows had with state politicians involved in the fake elector scheme (which Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has confirmed they are investigating), including one where Meadows said, “I love it” and another where he said, “Have a team working on it;” Monaco’s confirmation puts Meadows on notice that his actions are the subject of a federal criminal investigation
  • A claim of election fraud sent to Meadows on his private email (and so among the materials he violated the PRA by withholding)
  • Citation of a tweet Meadows sent on December 21 reporting “‘Several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with President @realDonaldTrump, preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned”
  • Citation of this story describing that Meadows’ late December trip to Georgia to pressure election officials to find more votes could get him in legal trouble; when Fulton County DA Fannie Willis asked for increased protection in the wake of Trump’s calls for riots, she stated explicitly that she was criminally investigating, “former President Donald J. Trump and his associates,” putting Mark Meadows on notice that he’s under criminal investigation there, too

This entire process led Meadows and his attorney to make efforts to comply with the PRA, meaning they’ve been working to provide the communications cited here, as well as those Meadows intended to claim privilege over, to the Archives.

If they can’t comply — and some of the texts in question were sent via Signal, which is really hard to archive, and so may not have been preserved when Meadows sent his own phone back to his provider to be wiped and replaced — then Meadows will not just be in violation of the PRA (which is basically toothless) but also of obstructing the criminal investigation he knew was ongoing when he replaced his phone. Obstruction carries a far stiffer penalty than contempt of Congress does, and it serves as good evidence of involvement in a larger conspiracy.

As Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee presiding over the Steve Bannon criminal contempt case (and therefore likely to preside over one against Meadows if it were ever charged), criminal contempt is for someone from whom you’ve given up getting cooperation, not someone who still might offer useful cooperation.

Meanwhile if Meadows and his lawyer do belatedly comply with Meadows’ obligations under the PRA, it’s quite possible (particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling denying Trump’s attempt to override Joe Biden’s privilege waiver) that DOJ has to do no more to obtain these records than to send a warrant to the Archives. If not, Meadows is now on notice that he is the subject of several criminal investigations (the fake elector one and the Fulton County one), and he may think twice before trying to withhold communications that are already in possession of the Archives.

So whether or not DOJ has these documents in their possession right now, they have the means to get them very easily.

In other words, while TV lawyers have been wailing that DOJ has been doing nothing, DOJ has been acquiring the communications from at least two of the key participants in that December 18 meeting, and the Archives have been acquiring the communications of a third.

“I do share information[,] Rudy. You never read your emails, you never read your texts,” Sidney Powell purportedly said, while plotting a coup

In Patrick Byrne’s February 1, 2021 telling of a series of December 18, 2020 meetings that was just retold by the NYT, Sidney Powell — who is currently under grand jury investigation — told Rudy Giuliani — who is currently under grand jury investigation– that she hadn’t been leaving him out of the loop. On the contrary, Powell explained as she tried to convince Rudy and with him the former President to adopt the plan she and Mike Flynn concocted to seize the voting machines, Powell had sent Rudy this information via email and text.

Finally, Trump stopped and scanned the three of us, and asked simply. “So what are you saying?” Thinking of the difference between the highly organized and disciplined approach I had experienced with Flynn and Sidney, versus the college sophomore bull-session approach of the Campaign and Rudy-World, I spoke up again: “Mr. President, I think you should appoint Sidney Powell your Special Counsel on these election matters and make General Flynn your Field Marshall over the whole effort. I know Rudy’s your lawyer and friend, and he can have a great role in this. Rudy should be personally advising you, and we don’t want to do anything to embarrass him. But it needs to be Sidney taking point legally on this. And if you really want to win, make General Flynn here the Field Marshall. If you do I put your chances at around 50-75%. You should see how he well he has this planned, it would run like clockwork…”

The President shook me off, saying, “No no, it’s got to be Rudy.”

[snip]

The three male [White House Counsel] lawyers edged closer to the front, and then as though as some hidden signal, they all started being bitches.

First was some comment about it not being right to use the National Guard. “The optics are terrible, Mr. President,” said one. “It would have to be the DHS.” I liked the National Guard idea because we needed to reestablish trust of the American people in the electoral process, and the US institution with the most trust is the one where people dress in military uniforms. Yet the National Guard is local, they are all around us, our colleagues at work, our “Citizen Soldiers”. But perhaps in a sign of flexibility, Flynn and Sidney allowed as how one could use the DHS instead of the National Guard.

[snip]

I took another shot at it with the President. “Again Sir, I know that Rudy is a friend of yours, he’s wonderful. He’s America’s Mayor. I love Rudy, I don’t want to embarrass him. But you should see how what Mike and Sidney have got going. It is so organized, so well-planned-” Again he cut me off, saying, “No no, it’s got to be Rudy…” On the inside I slumped.

[snip]

Eventually President Trump said that we would all meet in 30 minutes in the living quarters, in the “Yellow Oval” (I believe the room is called). In the meantime, Rudy was coming in and we had to find a way to make things work between Rudy and Sidney. As we parted he said, “You know, in 200 years there probably has not been a meeting in this room like what just happened…”. As he was leaving he brushed past me, stopped, and speaking low and quiet, said something quite kind and meaningful, showing me that he knew a lot more about me than I had guessed.

A few minutes later Sidney, Mike, Alyssa, and I were in the Cabinet Room. waiting for Rudy. It was dark, and we had to find a couple lamps to turn on. Mike and I were intent on making sure the meeting went well between Sidney and Rudy, so everyone could work happily together.

After 10 minutes Rudy came in, tying his tie, and said in not too gruff a manner, but with perhaps the gruffness of a man disturbed from his evening meal, “You know Sidney, if we are going to work together you have to share information.” I did not take his tone as being too aggressive, but one of trying to turn over a new leaf in a relationship, perhaps.

Sidney immediately told him, “I do share information Rudy. You never read your emails, you never read your texts.”

“That’s not true Sidney! I just need you to stop keeping me in the dark-“

“”Rudy I don’t keepo [sic] you in the dark! You-”

“Sidney you have to stop keeping everything to yourself! I cannot work with you if you don’t share with me!”

Within moments the conversation had spiraled out of control. After a minute of squabbling I tried to interject something helpful. “Mr. Mayor, it is true that since I arrived, everything we ever brought Sidney, she always said, ‘Get this to Rudy right away.’ It’s true. Absolutely everything we turned up, she told us to share with you. She never asked us to keep you in the dark about anything.” [my emphasis]

As NYT tells this story, a bunch of subpoenas pertaining to Powell and seizure and privilege review of 16 Rudy devices later, Rudy “vehemently opposed” the idea of having the military seize the voting machines, acceded to asking DHS to do so, but — after all the other witnesses had left the room, according to the story — warned Trump that the plan would get him impeached.

Six weeks after Election Day, with his hold on power slipping, President Donald J. Trump directed his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to make a remarkable call. Mr. Trump wanted him to ask the Department of Homeland Security if it could legally take control of voting machines in key swing states, three people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Giuliani did so, calling the department’s acting deputy secretary, who said he lacked the authority to audit or impound the machines.

Mr. Trump pressed Mr. Giuliani to make that inquiry after rejecting a separate effort by his outside advisers to have the Pentagon take control of the machines. And the outreach to the Department of Homeland Security came not long after Mr. Trump, in an Oval Office meeting with Attorney General William P. Barr, raised the possibility of whether the Justice Department could seize the machines, a previously undisclosed suggestion that Mr. Barr immediately shot down.

[snip]

Mr. Giuliani was vehemently opposed to the idea of the military taking part in the seizure of machines, according to two people familiar with the matter. The conflict between him and his legal team, and Mr. Flynn, Ms. Powell and Mr. Byrne came to a dramatic head on Dec. 18, 2020, during a meeting with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office.

At the meeting, Mr. Flynn and Ms. Powell presented Mr. Trump with a copy of the draft executive order authorizing the military to oversee the seizure of machines. After reading it, Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Giuliani to the Oval Office, according to one person familiar with the matter. When Mr. Giuliani read the draft order, he told Mr. Trump that the military could be used only if there was clear-cut evidence of foreign interference in the election.

Ms. Powell, who had spent the past month filing lawsuits claiming that China and other countries had hacked into voting machines, said she had such evidence, the person said. But Mr. Giuliani was adamant that the military should not be mobilized, the person said, and Mr. Trump ultimately heeded his advice.

Shortly after the Oval Office meeting, Mr. Waldron amended the draft executive order, suggesting that if the Defense Department could not oversee the seizure of machines then the Department of Homeland Security could, the person said.

Around that time, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Giuliani to call Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, to ask about the viability of the proposal, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. Cuccinelli said that homeland security officials could not take part in the plan.

[snip]

Even Mr. Giuliani, who had spent weeks peddling some of the most outrageous claims about election fraud, felt that the idea of bringing in the military was beyond the pale.

After Mr. Flynn and Ms. Powell left the Oval Office, according to a person familiar with the matter, Mr. Giuliani predicted that the plans they were proposing were going to get Mr. Trump impeached. [my emphasis]

The CNN version of this story (which, like Maggie Haberman, first started reporting this story out in December 2020, even before January 6, and long before the overt seizures of materials from two of the lawyers involved) chose not to grant Robert Costello anonymity for a quote about Rudy being “vehemently” opposed to the plan to use the military to seize the voting machines.

Reached earlier this month, Cuccinelli said his discussion with Giuliani “never developed to the point of talking about an executive order including such action that I recall.”

When asked about the executive order involving the military, Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, said his client also shut that idea down when he became aware of it.

“As soon as he heard about this idea, he was vehemently against it, as was White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and then-President Trump,” Costello said.

But Giuliani and his team did continue to pursue other avenues for overturning the election based on the same conspiracies about election fraud cited in the draft executive order to justify the seizure of voting machines.

Trump also continued to entertain some of the same core elements of those executive orders, including the idea of installing a special counsel to investigate election fraud.

Nearly two weeks after White House aides pushed back on the suggestion of naming Powell to such a role, Trump raised the idea again during another Oval Office meeting, but this time floated Cuccinelli as a possible candidate, according to testimony provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee by former senior Justice Department officials who were present.

Meanwhile, Flynn remained adamant that election equipment was going to be seized and personally reached out to at least one senior defense official in mid-December attempting to enlist their help with his cause, according to a source familiar with the outreach. [my emphasis]

There’s really not all that much new in the story as laid out here, except that a bunch of people who know their communications are in the FBI’s hands (and, in the case of Costello, who has spent the last nine months reviewing the content of those communications, including those Byrne describes Powell claiming to have sent Rudy) providing updated versions of the least-damning story they can tell here.

Just one more key part of the story that has changed.

As CNN described it in the 2020 version of the story (but NYT did not), Mark Meadows was also involved.

White House aides who participated in the meeting, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and counsel Pat Cipollone, also pushed back intensely on the suggestion of naming Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations Trump’s own administration has dismissed (or, as seems more feasible, hiring her in the administration for some kind of investigatory role).

Meadows shows up in yesterday’s NYT story only as not being the one who let Powell and Flynn and Byrne in the White House.

When Mr. Flynn, Ms. Powell and Mr. Byrne arrived at the White House to discuss their plan to use the military to seize voting machines, they were not let into the Oval Office by a typical gatekeeper, like Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff. Rather, they were escorted in by Garrett Ziegler, a young aide to another Trump adviser, Peter Navarro, according to Mr. Ziegler’s account.

“I waved in General Flynn and Sidney Powell on the Friday night of the 18th — for which Mark Meadows’s office revoked my guest privileges,” Mr. Ziegler said on a podcast, adding that he had done so because he was “frustrated with the current counsel” Mr. Trump was getting.

That guy — the former Chief of Staff who also was getting and sending a bunch of texts on his phone — that guy has also spent some time recently reviewing his communications. Not only did he review — and withhold — a bunch of communications before sharing some with the Select Committee, but once the Select Committee figured out that Meadows had violated the Presidential Records Act by failing to turn over those communications he conducted on his personal — but his emails! — devices, Meadows has been spending time trying to find such communications so he can share them with the National Archives to uncommit some crimes.

NARA, of course, has been ordered by a court to share such communications, even the ones that Trump might otherwise have invoked Executive Privilege over, with the Committee.

We’re going to get a lot of revised least-damning versions of these stories as more and more people review the communications that will be handed over to investigative bodies.

It’s worth comparing, then, the versions we’re getting now with those people were telling when they thought none of the emails and texts Sidney Powell sent would come out.

Update: Harpie is right. The Jonathan Swan version of this exchange, published exactly a year ago, is worth reading as well.

January 6 Deconfliction: “This Is Part of a Much Bigger Conspiracy”

In a Detroit Free Press article on the forged electoral certificate presented from Michigan, the state’s awesome Attorney General Dana Nessel explained why, after investigating for almost a year, she is now referring the matter to the Grand Rapids US Attorney’s Office.

Nessel told Maddow that her office has been evaluating charges for almost a year but decided Thursday to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan.

“We think this is a matter that is best investigated and potentially prosecuted by the feds,” Nessel said.

The signatories of the failed attempt to award Michigan’s Electoral College votes to Trump include Michigan GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock, national Republican committeewoman Kathy Berden and Michigan GOP grassroots vice chair Marian Sheridan, among other pro-Trump activists in the party.

The decision does not preclude possible charges against the Republicans who falsely claimed that they cast Michigan’s Electoral College votes for Trump, Nessel said. And her office might still bring charges, she added.

“Under state law, I think clearly you have forgery of a public record, which is a 14-year offense and election law forgery, which is a five-year offense,” Nessel said.

“But, obviously, this is part of a much bigger conspiracy and our hope is that the federal authorities and the Department of Justice and United States Attorney General Merrick Garland will take this in coordination with all the other information they’ve received and make an evaluation as to what charges these individuals might (face),” she said.

Consider what happened to lead to this federal criminal referral. After electors sent fake certifications to the National Archives, NARA then sent them to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Vice President Mike Pence the winners of both Michigan and Arizona and their electors after the 2020 election. Public records requests show the secretaries of state for those states sent those certificates to the Jan. 6 panel, along with correspondence between the National Archives and state officials about the documents.

Spokespeople for the Michigan and Arizona secretaries of state declined to comment on the documents. The offices confirmed that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, both Democrats, and their staff met with the panel in November.

“They mostly discussed election administration in Arizona, the 2020 elections, threats/harassment directed toward the office, and the Cyber Ninja’s partisan ballot review,” said Hobbs’ spokesperson C. Murphy Hebert.

Benson and her staff took questions from the committee on the 2020 election and events leading up to the Jan. 6 riot, according to Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Benson.

The National Archives sent emails to the Arizona secretary of state on Dec. 11, 2020, passing along the forged certificates “for your awareness” and informing the state officials the Archives would not accept them.

Arizona then took legal action against at least one of the groups who sent in the fake documents, sending a cease and desist letter to a pro-Trump “sovereign citizen” group telling them to stop using the state seal and referring the matter to the state attorney general.

“By affixing the state seal to documents containing false and misleading information about the results of Arizona’s November 3, 2020 General Election, you undermine the confidence in our democratic institutions,” Hobbs wrote to one of the pro-Trump groups.

Arizona took immediate action; given Nessel’s comments, Benson appears to have referred the matter to Nessel. Some of these details were made public last March after American Oversight obtained them. But after the January 6 Committee put them all in context and focused renewed attention to how the fake certificates fit into a larger effort, it led Nessel to hold off on pursuing potential 14-year charges against some of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and instead to formally refer the investigation to the Feds, based on the logic that the obviously coordinated effort to forge fake electoral certificates is part of a larger whole.

This is not dissimilar from how legal action from Florida’s charity regulator led to state action as well as a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting.

For months, a federal investigation running out of Washington, D.C., has been demanding documents and asking potential witnesses questions about Powell, according to three people familiar with the matter. Similarly, a separate investigation into Powell’s anti-democratic activities took place in the Sunshine State earlier this year—and has already produced results, and punished Powell and her far-right group.

The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, is examining the finances of Defending the Republic, an organization founded by Powell to fund her “Kraken” lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, the sources said.According to two of the people familiar with the matter, a grand jury was empaneled, and subpoenas and documents requests have gone out to multiple individuals as recently as September.

Defending the Republic’s finances have already prompted an investigation and a settlement with Florida’s charity regulator. The group paid a $10,000 fine in September as part of a settlement agreement related to its solicitation of contributions and failure to register as a charitable organization in the state.

[snip]

Defending the Republic’s finances first attracted the scrutiny of regulators in Florida shortly after Powell founded the group in November 2020 when authorities received a complaint and subsequently issued a subpoena to internet hosting service GoDaddy for information about the group’s website.

In a June press conference, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Defending the Republic was “found to be soliciting contributions from the State of Florida or from persons within the State of Florida” on the internet “without having filed in the State of Florida” as a charitable organization.”

On Aug. 24, Defending the Republic paid a $10,000 fine as part of a settlement agreement with Florida authorities over its fundraising.

As part of that agreement, Powell’s group agreed to register as a charity in Florida and submitted a projected budget of over $7 million. The settlement agreement also required Defending the Republic to submit an audited financial statement for the group’s operations between December 2020 and July 2021 by Nov. 30, including a balance sheet and a list of expenses and revenue.

Meanwhile, Fulton County’s DA, Fani Willis, has been investigating Trump’s call to pressure Brad Raffensperger to cheat and will reportedly make a prosecutorial decision in the months ahead.

The prosecutor weighing whether Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory said a decision on whether to bring charges could come as early as the first half of this year.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that her team is making solid progress, and she’s leaning toward asking for a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid the investigation.

“I believe in 2022 a decision will be made in that case,” Willis said. “I certainly think that in the first half of the year that decisions will be made.”

[snip]

Willis declined to speak about the specifics, but she confirmed that the investigation’s scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.

Regardless of what Willis decides, she can also refer actions to the Feds because it, like the forged electoral certifications, “is part of a much bigger conspiracy.”

The point is (besides that we should be grateful that Democrats elected a lot of smart, fearless women in recent years) that there are lots of moving parts to this “much bigger conspiracy.” And all those moving parts have, as an option, referring their investigative findings to DOJ to drop it into the “much bigger conspiracy.”

So during the year when DOJ has been laying what Merrick Garland called “the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases,” states and local authorities have been conducting investigations that can be joined to that evidentiary foundation.

These are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy.

All these moving parts require coordination, however, or “deconfliction,” both in an effort to maximize cross-fertilization between the investigations and to ensure no investigation screws up the criminal investigations that might lead to real consequences. While there has been no reporting on how this is being done at DOJ, we can be sure it is, not least because DOJ and the Committee are muddling through the Executive Privilege questions in tandem.

Robert Mueller, for example, had his own congressional liaison, and referrals from the Senate Intelligence Committee led directly to plea deals with Sam Patten and Michael Cohen that, in turn, led to information both (and in the latter case, Trump’s lawyers) had shielded from the Committees.

Adam Schiff, now a member on the Select Committee, knows well that Mueller also used a House Intelligence Committee interview with Roger Stone as a basis for an obstruction prosecution against Trump’s rat-fucker. While the details are less clear, I also suspect that Steve Bannon’s interviews with HPSCI served to tee up the fruitful grand jury appearance for him in January 2019 about which Stone is still furious.

Liz Cheney brings a different knowledge base to the challenge of deconfliction. Her dad played a central role in screwing up the Special Prosecutor investigation into Iran-Contra by offering key witnesses immunity. He’s one reason why congressional committees hoping to preserve criminal investigations tread carefully. Hopefully, Congresswoman Cheney can apply lessons learned from her evil genius father to the forces of good on the Select Committee. She has the most to lose if this Committee doesn’t succeed.

As noted above, the most visible sign of this deconfliction has come on privilege reviews. In July, at the same time that DOJ established their contact policy fire-walling President Biden from learning about any ongoing investigations, DOJ got privilege waivers for former DOJ personnel to appear before Congress. After that, when the Select Committee, as an independent branch of government that is also fire-walled from the criminal investigation, asked for investigative materials from the Archives, Biden conducted privilege reviews of that material and waived privilege over much, but not all, of it. If and when that material is released, however, it would be available to anyone with a need, including DOJ.

In fact, the back and forth between the Committee and DOJ has likely already made investigative materials available to DOJ. That’s because, after the Select Committee made it clear Mark Meadows had violated the Presidential Records Act with regards to some of the materials he shared with the committee, Meadows undertook efforts to fix that. To the extent he is able to provide his personal emails and Signal texts to NARA (some of the latter are likely are unavailable), that material would become available to DOJ without subpoenaing Meadows. And to the extent this process reveals that materials of investigative interest to a grand jury were deleted when Meadows obtained a new phone, it will give DOJ reason to use legal process to either hold Meadows accountable for obstruction, or reason to get it from others, like Jim Jordan. To say nothing of the fact that Meadows can’t prevent DOJ from subpoenaing the call records that led him to renege on efforts to cooperate with the January 6 Committee. That’s why I doubt DOJ will hold Meadows in criminal contempt, because they would be better served to get that information — and coerce cooperation, if he chooses that route — via their own legal process. Effectively, then, Bennie Thompson wrote a rough draft of a warrant affidavit for the FBI.

It’s in the subpoenas for witnesses, however, that I’m most curious about with regards to deconfliction between the DOJ and Select Committee investigation. Consider: There are two Trump associates who were key in sowing the Big Lie, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who are known to be under criminal investigation right now. That’s a topic the Select Committee is focusing closely on. But in spite of the fact that Bennie Thompson has expressed an interest in interviewing Rudy, thus far Thompson remains coy about how he’ll reach out to get Rudy’s testimony. There has been no public mention of getting Powell’s testimony or, for that matter, Lin Wood or Patrick Byrne, who — based on public reports — are part of that grifting investigation as well (and Byrne would be interesting of his own accord because he was honey-potted by a Russian spy). And for that matter, at least by the time he sued the committee, Mike Flynn’s call records hadn’t been subpoenaed either.

I’m equally interested in the timing of the Stewart Rhodes subpoena: November 23. That was after DOJ obtained an arrest warrant for James Beeks, the last member of The Stack, on November 18, but the day before they arrested him. By that point (probably long before), DOJ had to have known they were going to pursue sedition charges against him. But for some reason, they held off on the sedition charges when they superseded the Oath Keepers indictment on December 1 (before they otherwise would have needed to charge Beeks) to include him and tweak the Civil Disorder language in the indictment. There may be very good reasons they needed to wait: They needed to find Rhodes; they needed to finish exploiting his phone; they needed to resolve how they were going to treat the field commander, Mike Simmons, whose status in the investigation changed pretty dramatically between the December indictment and the Sedition one. But in that period while they held off, the Select Committee tested whether Rhodes wanted to go lie under oath to Congress. He declined.

It was worth a shot!

I find it equally curious that the Select Committee chose to target colleagues who played a more ambivalent role in the insurrection on January 6, rather than people like Paul Gosar or Mo Brooks, who have clear ties to organizers and other insurrectionists.

Similarly, I share Justin Hendrix’s curiosity why — especially in the wake of his article showing that The Donald isn’t being used in FBI affidavits — the Select Committee isn’t pursuing the role of the post-Reddit social media site in the insurrection, even while they expand their prior requests on more traditional social media.

In short, DOJ and the Select Committee are necessarily deconflicting their efforts, even if the Committee remains fire-walled from what DOJ has planned in the weeks ahead. But understanding that raises interesting questions about the Select Committee choices.

These pieces are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy. And until we see all those pieces we won’t see how they all work together.

But there are increasing signs that others are putting those pieces together.

Update: On January 18, the committee subpoenaed Rudy, Sidney Powell, and two others.

Update: On January 28, J6 subpoenaed the fake electors.

Select Committee Witness Requests

Clue: It Was Sidney Powell with the Grifting, in Advance of the Pardon, on Lin Wood’s Plantation

In a post on the significance of the news that the DC US Attorney Office is investigating Sidney Powell’s grift, I noted that she started fundraising to perpetuate false claims about a stolen election — on November 23, 2020 — before she received a thing of value from Trump — a pardon for Mike Flynn — and before she had set up the legal vehicle to do that grifting.

I’m interested in it for a different reason: the way in which Trump named Powell as part of his team, then cut her off, and then pardoned her client and co-grifter, Mike Flynn. Only after that did she formally register the grift.

I wonder whether some smart lawyer grew concerned that Sidney Powell was claiming to represent the President even while she was representing someone asking for a pardon.

On November 15, Trump explicitly named Powell as part of his team. On November 20, Powell appeared at Rudy the Dripper’s press conference. On November 22, Rudy and Jenna Ellis made a show of cutting ties with her.

Sidney Powell is practice law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.

According to Maggie Haberman, either he didn’t like her appearance and/or advisors convinced Trump to separate himself from her nutjobbery. Three days later, November 25, Trump pardoned Powell’s client. The next day, after days of promising to Bring the Kraken, Powell finally started releasing her epically batshit suits. Trump has promoted them.

Powell

Indeed, it even appears some Administration lawyers are still associated with Powell’s efforts.

I’m not sure I understand whether there would be a conflict between Powell representing Trump (for free, inevitably, as all lawyers do), making desperate efforts to overturn the election at the same time she was trying to ensure her client did no prison time. If that’s a conflict, it may still exist anyway given Powell’s admission to Judge Sullivan that she had repeatedly discussed Flynn with Trump’s campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis. The fact that DOJ packaged up altered documents to support a Trump attack on Biden may make those ties more important anyway (or lead to more details about them becoming public).

But if Powell’s involvement made Pat Cipollone and/or Bill Barr — who presumably share the challenging task of helping Trump write pardons that don’t backfire — squeamish, it might explain the timing.

In other words, one of the things that may be of interest to this grand jury is why Sidney Powell started raising money before she had the legal vehicle to do so.

But that would also focus some attention on the fact that Sidney Powell started raising money to help sowing Trump’s conspiracy theories before Trump had pardoned her client (after she told Trump, in the summer, not to do so, yet, something she made clear in a hearing on September 29).

Sidney Powell started raising funds to support her efforts to undermine the election by November 23. On November 25, Trump gave her a thing of value — a pardon for her client. Only 5 days later did Powell make such fundraising legal.

This CNBC report adds a new wrinkle to this timeline: during this same period, Powell and Flynn and Patrick Byrne were at Lin Wood’s two plantations in South Carolina. They appear to have worked in Wood’s residence, Tomotley Plantation, and stayed in Cotton Hall, which he had just purchased.

Lin Wood, a conservative trial lawyer who led a failed legal challenge against the election results in Georgia, said in a lengthy interview that shortly after the 2020 contest last November, he hosted at his massive South Carolina properties fellow right-wing attorney Sidney Powell, former Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn, former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, and Doug Logan, the CEO of cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas.

Jim Penrose, who says on his LinkedIn profile that he used to work for the National Security Agency, and Seth Keshel, who promotes himself on his Twitter page as a former Army captain and who has spread falsities about the election, according to the Associated Press, also made appearances at Wood’s properties, the attorney said.

[snip]

“They set up in my living room and one of the sunrooms. They looked like election central. They had computers, whiteboards. They were working,” Wood said about Powell and her team’s prior work at his residence. Southern Living magazine describes the living room at Tomotley: “Custom built-ins and a working fireplace bring warmth to the spacious living room.”

[snip]

But many of Powell’s fellow election conspiracy theorists took up residence for days at Wood’s nearby property called Cotton Hall, the veteran attorney explained. It too is considered a historic plantation in South Carolina, and it encompasses over 700 acres. The South Carolina plantations history website says its primary crop in the 19th century was rice.

[snip]

Flynn, for instance, arrived at Tomotley with Byrne days after Powell arrived, Wood said. Though Byrne stayed at Cotton Hall for only a day, Flynn took up residence through Thanksgiving.

“Flynn was here on Thanksgiving because he carved the turkey when we ate over at Cotton Hall,” Wood said during the interview.

It’s unclear why Wood shared all these details. While this report cites the Daily Beast reporting that includes the news on the grand jury investigation, it presents that story instead in the context of the “feud” between Wood, Flynn, Byrne, and Powell. If they haven’t been already, those people would all be subpoenaed in the investigation, and so this might instead be an attempt to coordinate stories or convey what questions are being asked.

But what’s interesting about the timeline is that it seems to suggest that Trump or someone close to him would have called into the plotting on the plantation.

When you pardon someone, you call them or their representative to let them know. And while it’s not certain that Flynn had arrived at the plantation yet when he got the pardon on November 25, the day before he cut the turkey at Wood’s plantation on November 26, Powell had already been there some days before Flynn showed up, meaning — at least per this reporting — she was definitely at Lin Wood’s plantation plotting propaganda to help Trump stay in office on the day of the pardon.

This also adds the delicious detail that a guy who advertised that he had been honey-potted by a woman accused of spying for Russia may have been with Flynn when he received notice he was being rewarded for refusing to admit to Mueller’s team that Trump was involved in efforts to undercut sanctions on Russia in December 2016.

This all would read like a cheap spy novel if there weren’t an accused spy and a guy who admitted he had been secretly working for another frenemy state as well.

But even aside from Byrne’s presence, it sure adds interesting details to the circumstances of Flynn’s pardon that may be of interest to criminal investigators.

The Virgin Birth of Sidney Powell’s Fraud Fund

On the list of things those whinging about Merrick Garland seem to have missed is this Daily Beast story reporting that a grand jury is investigating Sidney Powell’s grift.

For months, a federal investigation running out of Washington, D.C., has been demanding documents and asking potential witnesses questions about Powell, according to three people familiar with the matter. Similarly, a separate investigation into Powell’s anti-democratic activities took place in the Sunshine State earlier this year—and has already produced results, and punished Powell and her far-right group.

The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, is examining the finances of Defending the Republic, an organization founded by Powell to fund her “Kraken” lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, the sources said. According to two of the people familiar with the matter, a grand jury was empaneled, and subpoenas and documents requests have gone out to multiple individuals as recently as September.

The story is most amusing because it airs the entertaining feud between Powell, Lin Wood, Patrick Byrne, and the Flynns. The story airs the claims of those feuding with Powell who say, at a time this is under criminal investigation, that they were uninvolved with the grift.

Powell created Defending the Republic with great fanfare in December 2020 and listed a who’s who of pro-Trump election conspiracy world on its incorporation paperwork. The group’s board originally included former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn, his brother Joe, and QAnon enthusiast Lin Wooda fellow Trump-connected lawyer who recently started feuding with Powell.Attorneys for Defending the Republic claim that Wood was mistakenly listedas a board member and subsequently removed from registration filings.

Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne, who briefly served as Defending the Republic’s CEO, says he had his own concerns about the group’s finances.

In a phone call with Wood that Wood surreptitiously recorded, Byrne claimed that Byrne, Michael Flynn, and Flynn’s brother Joseph Flynn quit the group in April after Powell refused to allow an audit of Defending the Republic’s accounts.

“I gave her a laundry list of things she had to clean up and told her she had to get an auditor,” Byrne told Wood on the call.

[snip]

While working as Defending the Republic’s CEO, Byrne said he became concerned that Powell was using the money for herself and may have potentially violated the law in the process. Byrne said he had determined that he faced no legal liability himself, but had been tempted to “drop a dime on” Powell and alert law enforcement.

“Sidney’s just running this as a scam,” Byrne told Wood.

The Daily Beast story on the criminal investigation into Powell then turns to some details laid out in the Dominion lawsuit against the Kraken lawyer. Powell had her Defending the Republic site up and running on November 23, before she incorporated it on December 1, 2020; and she advertised it falsely as a 501(c)(3), donations to which are tax deductible, rather than a 501(c)(4), which are not.

Defendant Defending the Republic, Inc. (“Powell’s fundraising website”) is the corporate form that was belatedly incorporated to solicit “millions of dollars” online at https://defendingtherepublic.org/, a website created shortly after the 2020 election. The separate corporate entity for Powell’s fundraising website was not created until December 1, 2020, after Powell had appeared on television to solicit donations to the website and after the website began representing to potential donors that it was a 501(c)(4) organization.8

18. On or before January 7, 2021, defendingtherepublic.org began representing to potential donors that it is a “501c3 (Status Pending) Non-Profit.”9

19. Unlike contributions to 501(c)(3) organizations, contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax deductible.

20. As of January 7, 2021, Defending the Republic, Inc. did not appear in a search of 501(c)(3) organizations or 501(c)(4) organizations on the IRS website.10

8 Sidney Powell talks about her allegations regarding the computerized voting systems on election night, Washington Examiner (Nov. 20, 2020), available at, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/videos/sidney-powell-talks-about-her-allegationsregarding-the-computerized-voting-systems-on-election-night (last visited Jan. 4, 2021) (Ex. 5); Sidney Powell on Lou Dobbs Tonight on 11/30/20, YouTube (Nov. 30, 2020), available at, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uMr-TRZNCw (last visited Jan. 4, 2021) (Ex. 6); Defending the Republic (Nov. 23, 2020), available at, https://web.archive.org/web/20201123034128/https://defendingtherepublic.org/ (Ex. 7).

9 Defending the Republic Contact Page, available at, https://defendingtherepublic.org/?page_id=15 (last visited Jan. 7, 2021).

10 Compare November 23, 2020 capture of https://defendingtherepublic.org/ (Ex. 7) with IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search, available at, https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/allSearch (Ex. 8).

Daily Beast presents this as further evidence supporting claims from Byrne (who should not be trusted either) that this money was going to support Powell, not sowing conspiracy theories.

But I’m interested in it for a different reason: the way in which Trump named Powell as part of his team, then cut her off, and then pardoned her client and co-grifter, Mike Flynn. Only after that did she formally register the grift.

I wonder whether some smart lawyer grew concerned that Sidney Powell was claiming to represent the President even while she was representing someone asking for a pardon.

On November 15, Trump explicitly named Powell as part of his team. On November 20, Powell appeared at Rudy the Dripper’s press conference. On November 22, Rudy and Jenna Ellis made a show of cutting ties with her.

Sidney Powell is practice law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.

According to Maggie Haberman, either he didn’t like her appearance and/or advisors convinced Trump to separate himself from her nutjobbery. Three days later, November 25, Trump pardoned Powell’s client. The next day, after days of promising to Bring the Kraken, Powell finally started releasing her epically batshit suits. Trump has promoted them.

Powell

Indeed, it even appears some Administration lawyers are still associated with Powell’s efforts.

I’m not sure I understand whether there would be a conflict between Powell representing Trump (for free, inevitably, as all lawyers do), making desperate efforts to overturn the election at the same time she was trying to ensure her client did no prison time. If that’s a conflict, it may still exist anyway given Powell’s admission to Judge Sullivan that she had repeatedly discussed Flynn with Trump’s campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis. The fact that DOJ packaged up altered documents to support a Trump attack on Biden may make those ties more important anyway (or lead to more details about them becoming public).

But if Powell’s involvement made Pat Cipollone and/or Bill Barr — who presumably share the challenging task of helping Trump write pardons that don’t backfire — squeamish, it might explain the timing.

In other words, one of the things that may be of interest to this grand jury is why Sidney Powell started raising money before she had the legal vehicle to do so.

But that would also focus some attention on the fact that Sidney Powell started raising money to help sowing Trump’s conspiracy theories before Trump had pardoned her client (after she told Trump, in the summer, not to do so, yet, something she made clear in a hearing on September 29).

Sidney Powell started raising funds to support her efforts to undermine the election by November 23. On November 25, Trump gave her a thing of value — a pardon for her client. Only 5 days later did Powell make such fundraising legal.

It was always the case that Flynn’s pardon was wrapped up in propaganda to get elected. As I’ve noted, Trump used the alteration Bill Barr’s DOJ made to Peter Strzok’s notes, along with Powell’s false claims about it, to launch a prepared debate attack on Joe Biden.

But now the details of how Powell took overt steps to help Trump try to overthrow the election before Trump gave her something in value are before a grand jury.

Matt Taibbi Attempts to Reinflate Patrick Byrne’s Maria Butina Story

The buzz around Patrick Byrne’s story about having an affair with Maria Butina has almost entirely subsided.

In spite of the fact that folks have moved on, Matt Taibbi, claiming that he’s writing now because Byrne “is taking a beating in the press,” has decided to write up the story.

The tale is now out, and Byrne, whom I’ve known and liked for almost a decade, is taking a beating in the press. It’s unfortunate, and the import of his story is going unnoticed because reporters are focusing instead on Byrne’s eccentricities.

Taibbi reveals that, “Byrne came to me months ago,” which would mean Taibbi was, like Sara Carter, one of the journalists Byrne told about this during the summer, which makes a second journalist who had not covered the Butina prosecution to whom Byrne chose to make claims about the Butina prosecution.

Taibbi explains that he didn’t tell Byrne’s story earlier because he couldn’t confirm it. “Unable to confirm enough of his story, I ended up hesitating.” He also admits that Byrne’s, “hyperbolic storytelling needs to be sorted with care.”

So let’s look at how Taibbi “sorts with care” this story.

He gets one of Byrne’s hyperbolic storytelling references wrong, claiming Byrne used “Men in Black” to refer to the “senior federal law enforcement officials, who encouraged him to pursue a relationship with the Russian.” While Byrne has always said his reasons for using this term would become clear, they never are, but he does explain that the “Men in Black” are actually the line agents who — he’s sure — felt horrible about making the request for him to reengage Butina in July 2016.

I wish to emphasize this: the Men In Black are honorable men and women, and they were extremely discomfited by this request. There was no leering. They felt horrible. I think they wanted me to refuse it. They insisted that in their careers they heard never heard of such a request.

And Taibbi continues to struggle when he discusses counterintelligence.

Taibbi misuses the term “agent” (which in spying lingo is the person recruited, not the one doing the recruiting), while making a big show of not using it to refer to Butina, even though that’s the legal charge she pled guilty to. “(I’m not using the words ‘Russian agent’ because the term is misleading: Butina was not convicted of espionage).” He then calls the 18 USC 951 charge — with which Anna Chapman and Carter Page recruiter Victor Podobnyy were also charged with — a technicality.

However, the government never made an espionage case, charging her with an obscure technicality: acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

While we were discussing this on Twitter, Taibbi made a technicality argument Butina’s lawyers tried but failed to make during the prosecution, that this was just like a FARA violation.

Then Taibbi argues that the real scandal about this is that DOJ took ‘no real action … for nearly a year.”

Byrne’s claims would be explosive if true in the smallest part. For instance, the government asserted in Butina’s sentencing memorandum that her “actions had the potential to damage the national security of the United States.”

If Byrne told authorities about Butina in July, 2015, and no real action was taken for nearly a year, that would fly in the face of the government’s assertions at sentencing about the threat she posed.

Aside from how difficult counterintelligence investigations are and all the reporting that shows Obama didn’t respond aggressively enough to Russian efforts, Taibbi’s story explains what happened. And that’s that she tried to get close to a presidential candidate’s son, and all of a sudden her aggressive effort to get close to politicians began to look different, which is when FBI reportedly came back to Byrne and asked him to help gather more information.

Then there’s the documentary sources Taibbi relied on to carefully sort Byrne’s “hyperbolic storytelling:”

  1. The CNN and Fox coverage of Byrne
  2. An ABC report on the initial filing that suggested Butina was engaged in a utilitarian relationship with Paul Erickson that addresses both the claim the defense refuted and the one that the defense offered a far less convincing rebuttal of; it does not link the filing
  3. The CNN report saying that Robert Mueller interviewed Butina about JD Gordon
  4. Byrne’s father’s NYT obituary
  5. An SI report on Bison Dele’s murder
  6. A WSJ report on changes to short selling after 2008
  7. A link to the main FreedomFest site
  8. A Business Insider account of Trump’s speech at FreedomFest
  9. A link to the website for Butina’s gun rights organization
  10. A link to Rolling Stone’s coverage of Russia, generally
  11. A link to a subpage on CFR’s website
  12. A link to a NYT story that includes the picture of her posing with Don Jr
  13. A KY story of Butina’s NRA appearance from after she was arrested
  14. The government’s sentencing memo in Butina’s case
  15. A preview of Peter Strzok’s public congressional testimony that Taibbi claims also featured Lisa Page (Page testified privately in July 2018, but those transcripts were not released until March of this year, so if they changed Byrne’s mind about the investigation it raises interesting questions about who told him about her testimony)
  16. A report of a NYT report on the filing where prosecutors retracted one, but not the second, claim to substantiate Butina’s relationship with Paul Erickson was overblown (neither the report itself nor the NYT story link to the filing)
  17. A WaPo report on Judge Chutkan’s admonishment of prosecutors in a hearing where she nevertheless granted their motion to deny Butina bail; the story also described Chutkan criticizing Butina’s lawyers’ public characterizations about evidence
  18. A CO report on the offer to give Butina her own reality TV show
  19. A Newsweek report about a NYT story on Butina’s effort to get a jet fuel deal with an NRA official’s wife; Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, presumably has access to the emails the NYT story is based on, but appears not to have shared them with Taibbi
  20. A NYT Report on John Durham’s appointment to review how the Russian investigation (which Taibbi of course calls “Russiagate”) got opened
  21. A Market Watch report deeming Byrne’s story “one of his most bizarre statements yet”

21 links. That’s a lot! Except just one of them is to a filing from the case, and the three stories most critical to Taibbi’s points about Butina’s treatment by the press don’t link to court filings themselves, which takes some doing.

That’s utterly crucial, because Taibbi misunderstands how the question of Butina’s possible use of sex came up in the case (indeed, he miscites what the WaPo report on Chutkan said). It was not a document about her tradecraft. Rather, it was part of what prosecutors used to argue that her relationship with Paul Erickson was utilitarian and therefore she should be denied bail.

During the course of this investigation, the FBI has determined that Butina gained access through U.S. Person 1 to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities in the United States. Butina, age 29, and U.S. Person 1, age 56, are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina’s activities in the United States. But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities. For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.

The second allegation in that paragraph — that she bitched to a friend about living with Erickson — was not credibly refuted by her lawyers. In the followup filing that Taibbi references in a link claiming that Chutkan “threw out the sex charge,” prosecutors note that,

Even granting that the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken, other communications and materials in the government’s possession (and produced to the defense) call into doubt the defendant’s claim that her relationship with U.S. Person 1 is a sufficiently strong tie to ensure her appearance in court to face the charges against her if she is released.

Given Byrne’s claims to have told the FBI about his relationship with her before all this, the reference to her using sex and prosecutors’ suggestion it may have happened more than once appears to be parallel construction to hide something the FBI otherwise believed (that she had initiated a sexual relationship with someone Torshin sent her to meet at a time she was supposedly romantically committed to Erickson), but the source of which they were trying to keep secret.

Especially if Byrne described that sexual relationship to the FBI like he described it in his own account, by loading his description of how they first slept together with insinuations about how spectacular she is.

A gentleman does not normally say, but it would be ridiculous to omit, given how germane it is: when I arrived, Maria made immediately clear that she had not been pretending. She had indeed watched my videos, and thought I was pretty cool. She, the Greater Moscow Powerlifting Champion (amateur) swept me and my liberalism off my feet. I was helpless, helpless I say….

Well, not really. About the “helpless” part, anyway. The rest is true. And I will say this: Maria is a spectacular woman. An unforgettable woman. So as to avoid returning to the subject, I will state once that every tryst with Maria she astonished me with her intellect, character, and intentions for the world. Great props to Mother Russia, for producing such a daughter.

To keep Church Ladies from hammering me on message boards, and because it is relevant: For Maria’s part, she sounded like there were some big-shot Republicans in her life in America she was seeing, she was back and forth to Russia, nothing was too serious, etc. I didn’t really pry.

Taibbi’s story replicates such insinuation, quoting Byrne describing Butina as having “one in a million” drive and ability in the same sentence addressing the two becoming intimate.

Later, Butina and Byrne made an arrangement to meet in New York. “We became intimate,” he says. Byrne says Butina impressed him as a being “one in a million” in terms of her drive and ability.

If you’re trying to convince people a woman is not a trained Red Sparrow, separate your comments about how spectacular she is from your descriptions of how she seduced you. And if you describe her this way, don’t be surprised if the government then goes on to make similar insinuations in court documents.

In other words, it may well be that the government made this claim because of what they knew about the timing and specifics of Byrne’s sexual relationship with Butina.

Taibbi seems to believe that people didn’t take this story more seriously because journalists covering it had to address Byrne’s eccentricities, just like he had to. What he utterly misunderstands — perhaps because he relied on thirdhand reports of the investigation rather than the source documents — is that Byrne’s story makes Butina’s far more damning.

I don’t doubt the main thrust of Byrne’s claim, that he had a serial affair with Butina and after it had ended the FBI asked him to resume contact. I do, however, know (because I did cover the Butina prosecution) that his story that Butina told him Aleksandr Torshin sent her to seek out Byrne confirms parts of the allegations against Butina. And Byrne’s story completely undermines two claims Butina made as part of her defense: that she had no idea she needed to register as a foreign agent (he warned her she did) and that she was truly in love with Paul Erickson.

There may be real questions about what Byrne’s relationship was and why the government didn’t disclose it to Butina’s lawyers. But any story about those questions should — as I do here — mention that Driscoll didn’t do two things (ask in writing and ask the government’s witness at sentencing, who likely also knew about Byrne) to pursue those questions either. It suggests he suspected he might not like the answers he would get.

Plus, there’s the question about why, if Byrne changed from believing there was a 2/3 chance she was a spy in July 2018 when she got arrested and referred in terms that may reflect what he told the FBI to believing she wasn’t, he didn’t do something about it then.

But Byrne’s story actually makes the government allegations against Butina stronger, not weaker and none of Taibbi’s “careful sorting” of Byrne’s “hyperbolic storytelling” changes that.

Maria Butina’s Lawyer Changes His Story about Her Romance with Paul Erickson

There are a number of inconsistencies and sketchy claims (about who he thinks was targeted by the FBI and the timing of his disclosures) in former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne’s claims (Sara Carter’s story, NYT story, Fox Interview, Seth Hettena Q&A, Chris Cuomo interview) that he had been a “non-standard” informant for the FBI about Maria Butina.

The short version is that she sought him out in July 2015, telling him Aleksandr Torshin had asked her to do so, then started a sexual relationship with him, then later turned her attention to networking with presidential campaigns. All along the way, Byrne claims, he kept the FBI informed and acted on their requests regarding his relationship with Butina. Then, 9 months after she was arrested, in April 2019 and at a period too late to help her sentencing, he reached out to the FBI and first without counsel (in spite of his claim to Fox that a big Republican lawyer told him he’d go to jail for the rest of his life over this) and then with a lawyer told the FBI what had happened. He attributes coming forward to a conversation with Warren Buffet, though Buffet claims not to know what he was involved with.

I may return to the oddities in Byrne’s story.

For now, however, I’d like to examine what her lawyer Robert Driscoll has claimed about Byrne.

In a letter to John Durham, DOJ’s IG, and OPR (shared with Carter), Driscoll  suggested that he should have been provided details of what Byrne shared with the FBI as Brady information.

By email, letter, phone, and in person, the defense repeatedly pressed the government for any Brady material and was not provided any. In particular, we suggested to the government a strong suspicion that counterintelligence or other FBI investigators used confidential informants (“CIs”) in their investigation of Maria, and that information provided by such witnesses to the government might be relevant to guilt or sentencing. Moreover, we suggested that the government had presented Maria with one or more “dangles” — that is, orchestrated opportunities to provide the government  information unwittingly while being observed.

In writing, the government denied the existence of any such Brady material. Orally, during debrief sessions with Maria, I directly told the government that I believed Patrick Byrne, Chief Executive of Overstock.com, who had a sporadic relationship with Maria over a period of years prior to her arrest, was a government informant. My speculation was flatly denied. My associate Alfred Carry made similar assertions in a separate debrief that he covered and was also rebuffed.

Mr. Byrne has now contacted me and has confirmed that he, indeed, had a “non-standard arrangement” with the FBI for many years, and that beginning in 2015 through Maria’s arrest, he communicated and assisted government agents with their investigation of Maria. During this time, he stated he acted at the direction of the government and federal agents by, at their instruction, kindling a manipulative romantic relationship with her. He also told me that some of the details he provided the government regarding Maria in response was exculpatory — that is, he reported to the government that Maria’s behavior with him was inconsistent with her being a foreign agent and more likely an idealist and age-appropriate peace activist.

[snip]

Byrne evidently informed the government of many meetings with political and other figures that Maria had mentioned to him, often in advance of the meetings themselves. The government did not try to intervene or try to stop any meetings, nor did they express any concern. (This undercuts the government’s position at sentencing that Maria’s activities involved collection of information that could be of “substantial intelligence value to the Russian government” or pose a “serious potential to harm U.S. foreign policy interests and national security” as those same activities were observed and permitted for years.)

At some point prior to the 2016 election, when Byrne’s contact with Maria diminished or ceased, the government asked and encouraged him to renew contact with her and he did so, continuing to inform the government of her activities. Byrne states he was informed by government agents that his pursuit and involvement with Maria (and concomitant surveillance of her) was requested and directed from the highest levels of the FBI and intelligence community.

As time passed, Byrne became more and more convinced that Maria was what she said she was–an inquisitive student in favor of better U.S.-Russian relations–and not an agent of the Russian government or someone involved in espionage or illegal activities. He states he conveyed these thoughts and the corroborating facts and observations to the government.

Now, I absolutely don’t rule out the government withholding information that would be helpful to the defense. They do that far too often, and there are good reasons to doubt the prosecutors in this case. But Driscoll’s claim that this might be a Brady violation is premised on two things: first, that the FBI really considered Byrne an informant — which is what they denied when asked directly — and that the FBI considered anything he gave them to be exculpatory.

In fact, the story Byrne told is actually quite damning to Butina. From the very start, according to what he told Sara Carter, Butina was pursuing him, not vice versa. She told him, from the very start, she had been sent by Torshin and explained (credibly, given Putin’s interests) they were interested in Byrne because of his involvement in blockchain technology. And her offer of a trip to Russia with networking there matched her M.O. in approaching the NRA.

Byrne revealed details about his intimate relationship with the Russian gun right’s activist Butina. Byrne was a keynote speaker on July, 8, 2015 at Freedom Fest, a yearly Libertarian gathering that hosts top speakers in Las Vegas. Shortly after his address, Butina approached him. She told him she was the leader of a gun right’s organization in Russia. He congratulated her, spoke to her shortly, but then “brushed her off.”

The young redheaded Russian graduate student then approached him again over the course of the conference and explained that she worked for the Vice Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia and sent by them to make contact with Byrne.

She also said “Did you know you’re a famous man in Russia in certain circles? We watch your Youtube videos, we know about your relationship with Milton Friedman.”

She said she was appointed to lead Russia’s gun right’s group by Lieutenant-General Mikhail Kalashnikov, who was a Russian general, most notably known for his AK-47 machine gun design. Byrne says he considered the designation by Kalashnikov a significant honor, a signal of a kind he knows some mythical figures make on their way out. Byrne then had an “extensive conversation about Russian history and political situation.  Butina told him that the purpose of her visit was primarily to extend an invitation to Byrne to come to Russia to speak at the Central Bank. After that, there would be a trip to a major resort to meet with various intellectuals and dignitaries from the Russian power structure. Butina told Byrne the event would offer him the opportunity to meet senior Russian officials and oligarchs. She wanted to see Byrne again to start preparing him for such a trip.

Even more significantly, as Byrne tells it, after Butina first suggested she was using a romantic relationship with him as cover to explain their communications, she’s the one who first pushed sex.

He rented a hotel room with two bedrooms because he was under the impression that the romantic texts were simply her way to cover for communicating with him. However, she arrived at the hotel beforehand, occupied the room before Byrne’s arrival, and when he arrived,  she made clear that her flirtatious texts were not simply a disguise.

And Byrne claims he grew quite alarmed by Butina’s interest in networking with political campaigns.

“Eventually, her conversations became less about philosophy and it became clear that she was doing things that made me quite uncomfortable,” stated Byrne. “She was basically schmoozing around with the political class and eventually she said to me at one point I want to meet anyone in the Hillary campaign, the Cruz, the Rubio campaigns.”

Butina had also told Byrne, that Torshin, the Russian politician who she had been assisting while she was in the U.S., had sent her to the United States to meet other libertarians and build relations with political figures.

Byrne also claims he told Butina she needed to disclose her activities to the government, something that directly contradicts what Butina claimed repeatedly during the sentencing process, that, “If I had known to register as a foreign agent, I would have done so without delay.”

Byrne said he warned Butina: “Maria the United States is not like Russia, and knowing powerful people ‘like oligarchs and politicians’ won’t help if the FBI believes a line has been crossed.” Byrne believed Butina was naive but not blameless. He said during the interview, “If you’re reporting to any Russian official  as you’re doing this stuff and not disclosing yourself here, there are these men in black here and they don’t really give a shit who you know here -that’s not going to save you.”

It is true that Butina repeatedly told him she wasn’t a spy and Byrne ultimately became convinced that was true. But even in his description of that, he told Carter that he believed Butina was being used by US and Russian intelligence, not that he believed she had no tie to intelligence.

Although Byrne was concerned about Butina’s possible motives, he eventually became convinced that she was an intellectual being used by both the Russians and American intelligence apparatus. She was stuck between two highly contentious and secretive governments, he claimed. He relayed those concerns to the FBI, he said.

If that’s what he told the FBI, it does nothing to make her any less of an unregistered agent of Russia.

Very significantly, though, Butina’s involvement with Byrne during the period she was supposedly in a meaningful romantic relationship with Paul Erickson refutes the claims her attorneys have made about that relationship.

As I have laid out, from the very start, Driscoll portrayed the government’s claim that she caught Paul Erickson in a honey pot as sexism, with mixed success.

Then there’s the specific government insinuation that Butina was engaged in a honey pot operation. It substantiates this two ways — first, by suggesting she’s not that into Erickson.

Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.

It also alleges she offered sex for favors.

For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.

Driscoll pretty convincingly argues the government misinterpreted this last bit.

The only evidence the government relied on for its explosive claim was an excerpt from an innocuous three-year-old text exchange (attached as Exhibit 3) sent in Russia between Ms. Butina and DK, her longtime friend, assistant, and public relations man for The Right to Bear Arms gun rights group that she founded.

DK, who often drove Ms. Butina’s car and thus was listed on the insurance, took the car for its annual government-required inspection and insurance renewal, and upon completion, texted (according to government translators), “I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the wringer.” Ms. Butina jokingly replied, “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.” DK responded: “Ugh . . . ( ”—that is, with a sad face emoticon.

Aside from the fact that Maria is friends with DK’s wife and child and treats DK like a brother, the reference to sex is clearly a joke.

We still haven’t seen the government response to this, but what Driscoll presents does support his claim this is a “sexist smear.”

But Driscoll’s dismissal of the other claim — that Butina disdained living with Erickson — is far less convincing.

[I]n response to her girlfriend’s own complaints about her boyfriend’s failure to call in three weeks (accompanied by an angry face emoji) that Maria responds that her own boyfriend (Mr. Erickson) has been “bugging the sh*t out of me with his mom” and that she has “a feeling that I am residing in a nursing home.” “Send a link to the dating app[,]”

Driscoll spins this as an attack on Erickson’s now late mother, but doesn’t address the central allegation that she likened living with her much older boyfriend to living in a nursing home. Nor that she started the exchange by saying “let’s go have some fun with guys!!!” because she was “Bored. So there.” Furthermore, Butina seemed concerned that her use of Tinder would become public because she logged in using Facebook.

Though he has been sharing schmaltzy videos of Butina and Erickson with ABC, Driscoll also doesn’t address the fact that as early as May, Butina was proffering to flip on Erickson in fraud charges in South Dakota, which would have the effect of putting her in a position to negotiate permanent visa status independent of him, while limiting her own legal exposure.

Even in her sentencing memo — long after he knew of her relationship with Byrne, according to his public statements — Driscoll claimed she moved to the US in 2016 so she could be in the same hemisphere as Erickson.

On a personal level, Erickson and Maria kept in touch after the 2013 meeting and she began a romantic relationship with him in the following year.

[snip]

She also wished to be in the same hemisphere as her romantic interest. So Maria and Erickson explored both educational and business opportunities for her. This is the genesis of the Description of the Diplomacy Project proposal referenced in the Statement of Offense.

Among the events Butina planned to attend as part of that Diplomacy Project was the July 8-11 Freedom Fest convention where she first sought out Byrne. And before she moved to the US, she was already involved sexually with Byrne, according to his claims.

The portrayal of Butina’s relationship with Erickson as true romance has long been suspect — not only did she offer to flip on him in May 2018 (in exchange for which she might have gotten a permanent visa), but she did flip on him months before her plea deal. But if Byrne’s claims are true, it suggests she was using sexual relationships to help network in the US, and it further suggests Driscoll knew that when making claims about the import of her relationship with Erickson. If the FBI did obtain information from Byrne they chose (justifiably or not) not to release to defense attorneys, it might explain why they believed she was operating as a honey pot: because that’s what Byrne told them happened to him.

In his public comments to the NYT, Driscoll explained that Butina didn’t want to settle down (the implication is, with Byrne; he has claimed she wanted to settle down with Erickson).

“I think she admired him, but I don’t think she was looking to settle down,” Mr. Driscoll said.

In his comments to Carter, he suggests that he suspects there were other sources for the FBI.

Driscoll said there was suspicion that the FBI did not disclose all the information it had on Butina and he stated that he believed “Patrick is not the only one” who was giving information to the FBI.

“We’ve thought of several possibilities and some we are more confidant than others. I’m firmly convinced,” said Driscoll, who shared numerous letters and emails with this reporter that he exchanged with the FBI.

A seemingly disturbed homeless man, Hamdy Alex Abouhussein, who has asked to submit an amicus brief in Butina’s appeal (the public defender whom Judge Tanya Chutkan appointed to make sure that Driscoll had no conflicts when she pled guilty, AJ Kramer, is representing her in her appeal) claimed (incorrectly) that he’s the reason Butina got thrown into solitary and that FBI used Butina as a dangle to entrap him. So he also claims to have tried to provide exculpatory information.

Plainly, one cannot tell exactly when, before accepting Butina’s guilty plea, did Judge Chutkan learn of the jail’s blocking of Abouhussein’s letters to Butina, including his pictures, or the FBI dangle operation. Moreover, as the plea hearing transcript shows, Butina responded to the Judge’s sequence of questions about effectiveness of each of her then-three attorneys3, including the just-appointed for the plea negotiations role, A.J. Kramer4, who was yet to meet Abouhussein (they met outside the courtroom after the plea hearing, see pre-plea email from Abouhussein to Kramer, exh 2). Upon information and belief, Butina approved her attorneys’ performance only because they, under DOJ’s duress and a gag order, never informed her of the FBI dangle operation and surrendered to the prosecutors’ intimidation by keeping the dangle operation out of the public eye and trial record5. Admittedly, choice was either a rock or a hard place.

However, Judge Chutkan did sentence Butina to 18 months in prison after the notice of Abouhussein’s Amicus Brief Docket No. 77 was entered, which means Judge Chutkan was t/me/y presented with the “FBI dangle” and “letters blocked by Butina’s jail” Brady issues. Per Rule 51, this Honorable Court now has a lawful duty to investigate the issue of the FBI’s dangle operation that intentionally built up an oligarch-connected naive student as a false spy before casting her sex lure to hook the homeless Abouhussein, who was attending a public event at the Heritage Foundation to eat the free lunch as usual. Had he swallowed the lure6, any Grand Jury would indict this HamdySandwitch of a spy couple with ties to Putin, which explains Prosecutors’ honeypot sex allegations tainting Butina upon her arrest. Only in America!

So, yeah, there are other allegations, but Driscoll is right to suggest Byrne is more credible than, at least, this one.

But if Byrne’s story is credible, then it’s not clear that it helps Butina, at all, because it undermines the story her defense has been telling for a year.

Given her repeated assertions she’s happy with Driscoll’s representation, it’s unclear the basis for Butina’s appeal. I think the government operated in bad faith when they asked for 18 months, but that’s not a basis for an appeal. I think Driscoll made a mistake both by not arguing more forcibly that given the most relevant comparable sentence on 18 USC 951 charges, that of Carter Page recruiter Evgeny Buryakov’s 30 month sentence, a 9 month sentence would have been proportionate for someone like Butina who was neither recruiting nor operating covertly.

I also think that if Driscoll really cared about the declaration from former Assistant Director of FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, Robert Anderson Jr at her sentencing, he should have questioned what documents Anderson relied upon to judge that Butina was a spotter for Russian intelligence instead of deciding that, “I’m happy to leave the record as it is.” But if Driscoll had reason to believe the FBI had really damning information from Byrne that undercut his claims about Butina’s romance with Erickson, it might explain why he didn’t ask those questions.

The other day, Butina’s lawyer for her appeal AJ Kramer asked for an extension on his deadline to submit Butina’s appeal, which could mean he wants to add claims of Brady violations in her appeal (though he says he needs more time to consult the public record, and Driscoll and his associate Alfred Carry, by Driscoll’s own admission, never put their request for information about Byrne in writing).

But given Byrne’s public claims, it’s not actually clear that will help her case, as it mostly provides an explanation for why the FBI was so insistent on some of the allegations it did make.