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Hope Hicks Had More Awareness of the Flynn-Kislyak Aftermath Than the Mueller Report Discloses

As I noted in this post, even though the reporting on Hope Hicks’ testimony last week focused on the White House’s efforts to prevent her from fully testifying, she clearly did what she could to protect Trump even regarding his actions during the election and transition.

Which is why I want to look at two of her comments on matters more central to Mueller’s investigation — in this post, her elaboration of some comments she made about Mike Flynn.

Norm Eisen walked Hicks through something that shows up in this footnote of the Mueller Report:

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10.

As I pointed out earlier, Eisen was hired to make sure questioning of witnesses is conducted professionally. It’s also worth noting that some House Judiciary Committee members and staffers have seen backup documents on the Mueller Report and the Hicks’ 302s were among the documents requested; both of these exchanges seem to reflect non-public information.

Eisen has Hicks describe how, even before the FBI interviewed Flynn, Trump had some concerns about him. At first, Hicks tries to spin Trump’s response to President Obama’s counterintelligence warning about Flynn as a reaction about the importance Obama assigned the warning, rather than anything having to do with Flynn himself.

Q Okay. Who was Michael Flynn?

A Michael Flynn was somebody that supported Mr. Trump. He was at one point in time considered a possible Vice Presidential candidate. And he became somebody who frequently traveled with the candidate and introduced him at rallies.

Q And are you aware that President Obama made comments about Mr. Flynn to the —

A Yes.

Q — the President-elect?

A Yes.

Q And how did the President-elect receive those comments?

Mr. Purpura. You can answer.

Ms. Hicks. I think he was a bit bewildered that, you know, of all the things that the two of them could have been discussing, that that was something that came up.

Mr. Eisen. And did you feel that President Obama’s comments sat with the President-elect more than you expected?

Ms. Hicks. I did, yes.

Mr. Eisen. Can you — go ahead. Sorry. I cut you off.

Ms. Hicks. That’s okay. I feel like it maybe tainted his view of General Flynn just a little bit.

Mr. Eisen. Did there come a time when the President formed the opinion — during the transition; I’m asking now about the transition — that Flynn had bad judgment?

White House lawyer Pat Philbin interrupts here to invite Hicks to read the footnote. (Note, I find it weird that Philbin did this, and not Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout.)

Mr. Philbin. Could you give us a moment there?

[Discussion off the record.]

Mr. Eisen. Can you read the question back, please? Okay. I’ve asked the court reporter to read the question back. [The reporter read back the record as requested.]

Ms. Hicks. Yes.

Mr. Eisen. Tell me about that.

Having just reviewed the footnote, Hicks nevertheless tries to minimize Trump’s concerns. So Philbin asks her to read the footnote again, which leads her to blame all this on Flynn’s spawn setting off a media frenzy that came to incorporate Flynn himself.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t think this was an overall characterization. I think that this was something where he felt like there were a few things that maybe caused him to think that he was capable of being a person who exercised bad judgment.

Mr. Eisen. What were those things?

Mr. Philbin. I’m sorry. Can I again suggest that, since the  question seemed to be based on footnote 155, page 32, Ms. Hicks have a chance to review that footnote?

Ms. Hicks. Yeah. I mean, primarily the comment by President Obama and the incident with General Flynn’s son concerning a fake news story and some of the tweets that were posted surrounding that.

BY MR. EISEN: Q Posted by?

A I believe they were posted by his son, and then it led to reporters also looking back at tweets that General Flynn had posted.

From here, Eisen moves on to the response to David Ignatius’ revelation that the Obama Administration had identified Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak. He establishes that Hicks was on the email thread discussing the response, though she claims she wasn’t involved in the messaging surrounding it.

Q Do you recall David Ignatius writing a column about a Michael Flynn phone conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the transition?

A Yes.

Q And what do you remember about that?

A I don’t remember much about the substance of the column, to be honest, but I remember several email exchanges between the National Security Advisor, General Flynn at the time, and some of his national security staffers, a desire to perhaps have David Ignatius clarify some things in that column, and a failure to do so.

Q Were you involved in the clarification efforts?

A I was on the email thread, so I was following the discussion that ensued, but I was not involved in any kind of message development or outreach to Mr. Ignatius.

Note that the Mueller Report does not mention Hicks at all in its discussion of the Flynn-Kislyak response. In addition to KT McFarland (who called Ignatius to push back), it cites just Reince Priebus and Stephen Miller.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127 Flynn directed McFarland to call the Washington Post columnist and inform him that no discussion of sanctions had occurred. 128 McFarland recalled that Flynn said words to the effect of, “I want to kill the story.” 129 McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a “Trump official” had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions. 130

When Priebus and other incoming Administration officials questioned Flynn internally about the Washington Post column, Flynn maintained that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.131 Flynn repeated that claim to Vice President-Elect Michael Pence and to incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. 132 In subsequent media interviews in mid-January, Pence, Priebus, and Spicer denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions, basing those denials on their conversations with Flynn. 133

13 1 Flynn 11117/17 302, at I, 8; Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 7; Priebus 10/13/17 302, at 7-8; S. Miller 8/3 I /17 3 02, at 8-1 I.

And that’s interesting because — as Eisen goes on to establish — Hope Hicks learned about the Flynn-Kislyak call at a minimum just days afterwards and (per her initial response) possibly the day it was made.

Q Did you have any advance knowledge of a phone call between Mr. Flynn and the Russian Ambassador that was the subject of this Ignatius reporting?

A I believe I was aware of it the day that it took place. I don’t know if it was before or after. But I recall being at Mar-a-Lago, and Flynn, I think — sorry. Off the record.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. I think it was afterwards. Perhaps even several days afterwards.

Again, the Mueller Report describes a conversation Flynn had with Steve Bannon in the aftermath of the call, but not Hicks. The Report also mentions a discussion between Flynn and Trump, but Flynn doesn’t “have a specific recollection” of telling Trump about the call.

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 10° Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101 On January 3, 2017, Flynn saw the President-Elect in person and thought they discussed the Russian reaction to the sanctions, but Flynn did not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect about the substance of his calls with Kislyak. 102

And that’s important because, even before Eisen started pursuing these questions, Congressman Steve Cohen had gotten Hicks to admit (after first denying it) that she had knowledge of Russian sanctions that apparently included Trump.

Mr. Cohen. All right. So with all those caveats, before January 20, 2017, did you have any knowledge of any discussions of Russian sanctions?

Ms. Hicks. No.

Mr. Cohen. There was no discussions at all with Mr. Trump and you weren’t privy to them about Russian sanctions that we had issued? You’re sure of that? Think about it.

Ms. Hicks. I am thinking. Thank you. You know, there was — there was a phone call obviously between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador. There was news reports after that where it was unclear what was discussed, but that would have been the only context in which Russian sanctions were brought up in my capacity as communications adviser. [my emphasis]

When Eisen followed up about when Hicks learned that Flynn had lied about sanctions, Hicks claimed to have no recollection of learning that during the transition.

Mr. Eisen. When did you first learn that there was an issue about — if you learned — actually, let me rephrase that question. Did Mr. Flynn talk to you after the column was published about the column?

Mr. Philbin. And we’re still asking —

Mr. Eisen. We’re asking transition. We’re about to come to the post-transition period.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall any direct conversations with him, only the email thread that I described.

Mr. Eisen. During the transition, did you develop any additional information about the truth or falsity of anything in the Ignatius column?

Ms. Hicks. Not to my recollection.

Predictably, when Eisen asks about how Hicks came to learn more about this after the Transition, Philbin objected.

Mr. Eisen. What about after the transition?

Mr. Philbin. Objection.

Let me be clear: even with this questioning, the record on what Hicks knew when is inconclusive (and she appears to want to keep it that way). Which may be one reason why Hicks doesn’t appear in any of the discussions in the Mueller Report about this incident, because even Mueller doesn’t find her answers completely credible. As far as is known, she was first interviewed in December 2017, after Flynn’s guilty plea would have made it clear he had relayed some of this, though some FBI interviews that happened the summer before don’t appear in the Mueller Report. So at least given the public record, Hicks would have been able to temper her answers based off what Flynn was known to have admitted in his plea.

The public record certainly sustains a version akin to the public version about Priebus: that he knew about the call to Kislyak in real time, but only came to learn that they talked about sanctions after the FBI interview.

But Hicks’ answers and evasions — and her constant access to Trump — leave open another possibility.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

OLC Lowers Its Standards for Retroactive Legal Reviews

There’s an interesting passage in the DOJ IG discussion of Jack Goldsmith’s efforts to rewrite the Stellar Wind OLC memos (PDF 456).

The first passage describes Jim Comey permitting a lower standard of review to apply for activities already in process.

In explaining the rationale for the revise opinion, Comey described to the OIG his view of two approaches or standards that could be used to undertake legal analysis of government action. If the government is contemplating taking a particular action, OLC’s legal analysis will be based on a “best view of the law” standard. However, if the government already is taking the action, the analysis should instead focus on whether reasonable legal arguments can be made to support the continuation of the conduct.137

137 Goldsmith emphasized to us that this second situation almost never presents itself, and that OLC rarely is asked to furnish legal advise on an ongoing program because the pressure “to say ‘yes’ to the President” invariably would result in applying a lower standard of review. Goldsmith stated that OLC’s involvement in Stellar Wind was “unprecedented” because OLC is always asked to review the facts and formulate its advice “up front.”

If it was unprecedented on March 1, 2004, it quickly became common.

After all, Goldsmith was asked to consider how the Geneva Convention applied to various types of detainees in Iraq, after the Administration had already been and continued to render people out of that occupied country. And he was also in the midst of a review of the torture program.

Indeed, Daniel Levin, who would go on to reconsider torture approvals until Cheney booted him out of the way to have Steven Bradbury rubberstamp things, would have been a part of those discussions.

So when, in fall 2004, he was asked to reconsider torture, that lower standard of review would have been in his mind.

You could even say that this standard of review gave CIA an incentive to start and continue torturing Janat Gul, on whom they pinned their need to resume torture, even after they accepted he was not, as a fabricator had claimed, planning election year plots in the US. So long as they tortured Gul, Levin would be permitted to apply a lower standard to that torture.

In any case, if this was unprecedented then, I suspect it’s not anymore. After all, by the time David Barron first considered the drone killing memo for Anwar al-Awlaki, the Administration had apparently already tried to kill him once. And the Libyan war had already started when OLC started reviewing it (though they made a heroic effort to rule it illegal, which is a testament to just how illegal it was).

With regards to the Stellar Wind OLC, the discussion of what Goldsmith found so problematic is mostly redacted. Which is why I’m interested in his opinion that “‘we can get there’ as to [redacted] albeit by using an aggressive legal analysis.” That says that one of the things his opinion would approve — either the content collection of one-end foreign communications or the dragnet collection of telephone metadata — involved “aggressive legal analysis” even to meet this lower standard.

It’d sure be nice to know which practice was considered so marginally legal.

John Yoo Approved the Stellar Wind Authorization that First Covered Iraq

As I noted, one interesting aspect of reading the Stellar Wind IG Reports is tracking the things that show up in the Snowden-leaked draft IG Report that are completely redacted in the DOJ-released report.

One thing that is completely redacted is that Stellar Wind was used to spy on Iraqi targets (or US targets alleged to be Iraqi targets during the war?), as explained here.

(TS//SI//NF) Iraqi Intelligence Service. For a limited period of time surrounding the 2003 invasion oflraq, the President authorized the use of PSP authority against the Iraqi Intelligence Service. On 28 March 2003, the DCI determined that, based on then current intelligence, the Iraqi Intelligence service was engaged in terrorist activities and presented a threat to U.S. interests in the United States and abroad. Through the Deputy DCI, Mr. Tenet received the President’s concurrence that PSP authorities could be used against the Iraqi Intelligence Service. NSA ceased using the Authority for this purpose in March 2004.

Given the timing, this almost certainly is one of the things Jack Goldsmith shut down in the first set of modifications in March 2004 (there appears to have been a parallel effort in 2004 to stop treating Iraqi prisoners as terrorists who could be tortured).

And while the officially released IG Reports hide all mention of this, there is one detail that says volumes. Amid the section describing all the things Patrick Philbin found to be problematic in Yoo’s OLC memos authorizing the program, this footnote appears (at PDF 442).

See Presidential Authorization of April 22, 2003 at para. 4(b)(i) & (ii). The April 22, 2003, Authorization was the only Authorization personally approved as to form and legality by Yoo. He approved the Authorization on April 18, 2003; five days before the date of his talking points memorandum.

John Yoo, not Attorney General Ashcroft, signed the Authorization that went into effect on April 22, 2003.

This Authorization was the first issued after Tenet declared Iraq terrorists on March 28, 2003 (I’ve added the Authorization dates here).

As it happens, that Authorization was also the last or second-to-last one signed while Yoo remained at DOJ. He left in June 2003 because Ashcroft had refused to let him assume the OLC AAG position after Jay Bybee moved onto his sinecure on the 9th Circuit.

That’s not the last crazy thing Yoo did while at OLC: at roughly the same time he was free-lancing “Legal Principles” documents pretend-authorizing torture techniques that the original Bybee memo had not approved.

But I find it interesting that one of the last things Yoo did was sign an authorization to use a program purportedly focused on terrorists to surveil targets (who must in some part be in the US) related to a war of choice.

How David Addington Hid the Document Implicating George Bush in Illegal Wiretapping

On December 16 and December 20, 2005, respectively — just days after the NYT revealed its existence — EPIC and ACLU FOIAed DOJ for documents relating to George Bush’s (really, Dick Cheney’s) illegal wiretap program (National Security Archive also FOIAed, though more narrowly). Among other documents, they requested, “any presidential order(s) authorizing the NSA to engage in warrantless electronic surveillance.” Yet in spite of the fact that the ACLU was eventually able to get DOJ to cough up some of the OLC memos that provided a legal rationale for the program, no presidential order was ever turned over. I don’t believe (though could be mistaken) it was even disclosed in declarations submitted by Steven Bradbury in the suit.

There’s a very good (and, sadly, legal) reason for that. According to the 2009 NSC draft IG report the Guardian released yesterday, it’s not clear DOJ ever had the Authorization. The White House is exempt from FOIA, and it’s likely that NSA could have withheld the contents of the Director’s safe from any FOIA, which is where the hard copy of the Authorization was kept.

It’s worth looking more closely at how David Addington guarded the Authorization, because it provides a lesson in how a President can evade all accountability for unleashing vast powers against Americans, and how the National Security establishment will willingly participate in such a scheme without ensuring what they’re doing is really legal.

The IG report describes the initial Authorization this way:

On 4 October 2001, President George W. Bush issued a memorandum entitled “AUTHORIZATION FOR SPECIFIED ELECTRONIC ACTIVITIES DURING A LIMITED PERIOD TO DETECT AND PREVENT ACTS OF TERRORISM WITHIN THE UNITED STATES.” The memorandum was based on the President’s determination that after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, an extraordinary emergency existed for national defense purposes.

[snip]

The authorization specified that the NSA could acquire the content and associated metadata of telephony and Internet communications for which there was probable cause to believe that one of the communicants was in Afghanistan or that one communicant was engaged in or preparing for acts of international terrorism. In addition, NSA was authorized to acquire telephone and Internet metadata for communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States. NSA was allowed to retain, process, analyze and disseminate intelligence from the communications acquired under the authority.

And while the NSA IG report doesn’t say it, the Joint IG Report on the program (into which this NSA report was integrated) reveals these details:

Each of the Presidential Authorizations included a finding to the effect that an extraordinary emergency continued to exist, and that the circumstances “constitute an urgent and compelling governmental interest” justifying the activities being authorized without a court order.

Each Presidential authorization also included a requirement to maintain the secrecy of the activities carried out under the program.

David Addington’s illegal program

While the Joint report obscures all these details, the NSA IG report makes clear that Dick Cheney and David Addington were the braintrust behind the program.

The Counsel to the Vice President used [a description of SIGINT collection gaps provided by Michael Hayden] to draft the Presidential authorization that established the PSP.

Neither President Bush nor White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote this Authorization. David Addington did. Read more

Yoo’s Supervisors Didn’t Know about the July 13, 2002 Fax

As I pointed out in my last post, when Jonathan Fredman wrote the Abu Zubaydah torture team in Thailand to tell them they had gotten the green light to torture, he cited not the Bybee One memo which had just been signed, but a July 13, 2002 Yoo fax, for his discussion of intent.

This is significant not just because the language on intent in the fax lacks some of the caveats in the Bybee One Memo. But also because it appears Yoo was freelancing when he wrote the July 13 fax.

To be sure, the evidence that Yoo was freelancing when he wrote this fax is not as clear cut as it was for the Legal Principles/Bullet Point documents. Unlike the Legal Principles documents, this fax is on OLC stationary and signed by Yoo, making it appear, at least, like a formal OLC opinion.

But Yoo’s superiors at DOJ claim to have known nothing about it.

In response to July 2008 questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jay Bybee said in October 2008 that he did not recall any written guidance to CIA before the August 1 memo.

Judge Bybee said that he did not recall “any written advice provided to any governmental agency prior to August 1, 2002, on the meaning of the standards of conduct required for interrogation under the federal anti-torture statute or on specific interrogation methods,”

Similarly, when asked in July 2008 whether anyone from his department had authorized torture before August 1, 2002, John Ashcroft claimed he “didn’t know.”

Mr. NADLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Attorney General Ashcroft, in your testimony you mentioned Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in March 2002. The Inspector General report on the FBI’s role in interrogation makes clear that he was interrogated beginning in March of that year. The Yoo-Bybee legal memo was not issued until August 2002. So was the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah before August 2002 done without DOJ legal approval?

Mr. ASHCROFT. I don’t know.

Mr. NADLER. Well, did you offer legal approval of interrogation methods used at that time?

Mr. ASHCROFT. At what time, sir?

Mr. NADLER. Prior to August of 2002, March 2002.

Mr. ASHCROFT. I have no recollection of doing that at all.

Mr. NADLER. And you don’t know if anyone else from the Department of Justice did?

Mr. ASHCROFT. I don’t know.

[snip]

Mr. WEXLER. So from March to August, did you offer any legal approval of the interrogation methods used at that time?

Mr. ASHCROFT. I don’t have any recollection of doing so.

Mr. WEXLER. And did anyone else at the Department of Justice?

Mr. ASHCROFT. I don’t know. I don’t know.

And there is evidence that Jack Goldsmith didn’t learn about it until just before he left DOJ.

Read more

Did DOD Have ANY Authorization for Torture after 2004?

There are a couple of things that have been bugging me about the authorizations DOD got for interrogations.  It’s not clear what kind of authorization DOD used to justify detainee interrogations after the Yoo memo was withdrawn in 2003-2004–they had no overall interrogation approval from OLC. While it’s possible they were just relying on already-existing DOD documents, there are hints that DOD was either relying exclusively on the CIA’s more expansive authorizations (that included waterboarding), or they had some alternative approval that may not have involved OLC at all.

As I’ve shown (here and here), in March 2004, DOD requested approval to use–at the least–extended isolation with detainees. In response, Jack Goldsmith and Steven Bradbury started trying to replace the 2003 Yoo memo.

At precisely the same time, Goldsmith was working through the mess created by the Legal Principles document. As you recall, faced with clearly illegal conduct and with the opportunity to investigate that conduct themselves in 2003, CIA worked back channel with Jennifer Koester and John Yoo to summarize the legal advice given on torture, going so far as to claim certain techniques (like abdominal slap and diapers) had been approved when they hadn’t been. During that period, Koester and Yoo gave CIA an opportunity to review and provide input on the 2003 Yoo memo. Then, Koester and Yoo relied on the Yoo memo for several of the claims they made in the Legal Principles. That raises the possibility that one reason the Yoo memo was so bad (it was even more permissive than the Bybee One memo) was to help CIA avoid criminal liability for crimes already committed.

At the very least, this is proof that CIA and DOD were both relying on advice given to the other agency to justify their own agency’s actions. We know DOD used the Bybee memos (and oral authorization from Yoo based on that analysis) to authorize its treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani in 2002-2003. And the Legal Principles show CIA was using the Yoo memo, written for DOD, to authorize its treatment of multiple detainees in anticipation of the CIA IG Report. In other words, though DOJ liked to maintain the fiction that the approval tracks for CIA and DOD were separate, they weren’t, at least not when John Yoo was involved.

And that was becoming crystal clear in spring of 2004. (In the same phone conversation in which Goldsmith confirmed that the Legal Principles weren’t an official OLC document, he also asked Yoo for details of his verbal authorizations to Jim Haynes leading up to the al-Qahtani torture, so he clearly pursued these issues in tandem.)

Yet after that, CIA’s memos got withdrawn and replaced. DOD’s Yoo memo reportedly was withdrawn. But no formal guidance from OLC ever replaced it.

So what happened after that point?

The Daniel Levin Memo

My concerns about DOD’s later authorizations stem partly from a memo Daniel Levin wrote John Ashcroft and Jim Comey in September 2004 to summarize all the advice OLC had given on torture. Read more

The Request for Reaffirmation of Torture

This is going to be another weedy post…

I wanted to put two totally bureaucratic pages (PDF 23-24) from the recent FOIA dump into the context of the other known documents in the chronology. The first page is an “Executive Correspondence Routing Sheet,” sent from CIA General Counsel Scott Muller around top CIA management for approval. It reads:

This memo follows General Counsel discussion with the DCI and agreement on the need to seek reaffirmation from the NSC.

And the memo in question (the following page) appears to be a very short memo with the subject, “Review of CIA Interrogation Program,” from John Rizzo circulated to the lawyers involved with the torture program and the top CIA executives on the Executive Correspondence Routing Sheet. The Rizzo memo is dated May 24, 2004; the last signature–that of George Tenet–is dated June 4, 2004.

The routing sheet is interesting not just because Tenet signed it the day after he resigned.

It also shows a glimpse of the bridge by which CIA responded to the CIA IG Report but also (probably) Jack Goldsmith’s unwillingness to reaffirm opinions that OLC had never made by asking the White House for some kind of written re-endorsement of the torture program.

As I’ve shown here and here, when the CIA Inspector General began its review of the torture program in response to the Salt Pit death and abuses of al-Nashiri, CIA and Jennifer Koester and John Yoo (though he denies involvement) worked back channel to develop a set of “Legal Principles” (elsewhere called “Bullet Points”) that would expand the legal authorization DOJ had given CIA’s torture program in such a way as to legally excuse the crimes the IG was inspecting. Significantly, the Legal Principles document expanded the already farcical analysis of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture that Yoo had done in the Bybee One memo.

CIA twice tried to present these Legal Principles to OLC as a fait accompli, first in June 2003, when Patrick Philbin took over many of John Yoo’s duties, and then again in March 2004, in conjunction with the finalization of the IG Report and at a time when Goldsmith headed the OLC. Both Philbin and Goldsmith refused to accept the Legal Principles as OLC sanctioned documents.

Now, significantly, the March 2, 2004 set of Legal Principles was itself a request for “reaffirmation” of the torture program’s legality. Scott Muller emphasized CIA needed that reauthorization, among other reasons, because they had incorporated new torture techniques based on the OLC “guidance.”

For example, using the applicable law and relying on OLC’s guidance, we concluded that the abdominal slap previously discussed with OLC (and mentioned in the June 2003 summary points) is a permissible interrogation technique.

Of note, Goldsmith appears to have taken special note of the description of water PFT, which (Muller’s note said explicitly) was “intended to … humiliate” detainees. Given that the IG Report concluded that the torture program probably violated Article 16, this language seemed to flout the prohibitions against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Between March 2 and May 24 (when Rizzo wrote his memo), Goldsmith did not reauthorize the Legal Principles. Nevertheless, CIA incorporated the Legal Principles into the final draft of the IG Report. Goldsmith got a copy of that document some time before May 25 and presumably spoke to Muller about the inclusion of the Legal Principles in it, because on that day, he wrote CIA’s IG noting that he had received it and asking for time to review the depiction of OLC’s legal advice in the IG Report before it got sent to Congress.

In other words, Goldsmith’s continued objection to the inclusion of the Legal Principles in the IG Report is probably what prompted John Rizzo to send out a memo referencing the IG Report (which the CIA called the “Review of the CIA Interrogation Program,” the subject of his memo) that appears to have recommended asking NSC for reaffirmation of the torture program.

So faced with Goldsmith’s refusal to reaffirm something OLC had never affirmed in the first place, CIA decided to go to the White House and get them to approve of the program in writing. Read more

A Catalog of the Destroyed Torture Evidence

I just re-read Philippe Sands’ Torture Team and, given the news of disappearing emails and documents, this passage struck me anew:

[Mike Dunlavey, who was in charge of Gitmo as they put together the torture plan for Mohammed al-Qahtani] would have liked to have gone back to the daily diaries and schedules that were kept on the computer system, together with reports that were sent out on a daily basis, and details of the videoconferences that had taken place with the Pentagon. “I need to see that stuff,” he mused, “how am I going to get it?” It seemed doubtful that he would. “They were backed up at SOUTHCOM,” he explained, but “a couple of months after I left there was a SNAFU and all was lost.”

Sands goes onto wonder whether there might be a connection to the destruction of the torture tapes. Dunlavey left Gitmo in November 2002, so those materials would have been lost in late 2002 or early 2003, when we now know people were panicking about what to do about the torture tapes. That was also between the time when–at the end of November 2002–a lawyer from CIA’s Office of General Counsel reviewed the tapes and claimed they matched the torture logs exactly, and the time when–in May 2003–CIA’s Inspector General discovered they weren’t an exact match. More importantly, CIA IG discovered there were 11 blank tapes, 2 broken ones, and 2 more mostly blank ones, suggesting that a first round of efforts to hide evidence on the torture tapes took place before CIA’s IG reviewed them.

In other words, this “SNAFU” happened around the same time as the first round of destruction of the torture tapes took place.

Since there are so many incidences of destroyed or disappearing torture evidence, I thought it time to start cataloging them, to keep them all straight.

  • Before May 2003: 15 of 92 torture tapes erased or damaged
  • Early 2003: Dunlavey’s paper trail “lost”
  • Before August 2004: John Yoo and Patrick Philbin’s torture memo emails deleted
  • June 2005: most copies of Philip Zelikow’s dissent to the May 2005 CAT memo destroyed
  • November 8-9, 2005: 92 torture tapes destroyed
  • July 2007 (probably): 10 documents from OLC SCIF disappear
  • December 19, 2007: Fire breaks out in Cheney’s office

(I put in the Cheney fire because it happened right after DOJ started investigating the torture tape destruction.)

There are two more evidence-related issues pertaining to the torture program.

First, recall that the government has refused to turn over all of Abu Zubaydah’s diaries to him [update: here’s a more updated description of the diaries status from Jason Leopold]. The status of both the diaries and the legal argument over them remains largely sealed, so we can’t know for sure whether all the diaries remain intact. I believe they are just being withheld and haven’t been destroyed, but we don’t know for sure.

Also, remember that Alberto Gonzales was wandering around DC with a briefcase full of CYA documents just after he became Attorney General. Among those documents were draft and final versions of OLC opinions relating to torture, and possibly memos describing some operational aspects of the program.

The classified materials that are the subject of this investigation consist of notes that Gonzales drafted to memorialize a classified briefing of congressional leaders about the NSA surveillance program when Gonzales was the White House Counsel; draft and final Office of Legal Counsel opinions about both the NSA surveillance program and a detainee interrogation program; correspondence from congressional leaders to the Director of Central Intelligence; and other memoranda describing legal and operational aspects of the two classified programs.

Since this briefcase appears to have been about CYA, it is unlikely Gonzales would have destroyed any of them. But we know only that they were not in secure custody for about two years.

In other words, at least five pieces of evidence on torture has disappeared or been destroyed. But it could well be more than that.

John Durham? For a guy investigating disappearing evidence, you’ve been awfully quiet…

Days after Taguba Reported Sadistic Criminal Abuse at Abu Ghraib, DOD Asked to Use More Torture

On March 13, 2004, according to the OPR Report, Jack Goldsmith and Patrick Philbin went to Jim Comey’s house on a Saturday to alert him of something. The military had contacted Goldsmith, wanting to use a more extreme form of torture against a detainee–something like isolation, waterboarding, water dousing, or death threats.* [Update: In this post I explain why I think DOD was requesting extended isolation.] But, as Goldsmith had told DOD General Counsel Jim Haynes the previous December, the March 2003 opinion Yoo wrote that authorized DOD’s use of such techniques was hopelessly flawed. Goldsmith wanted to explain the flaws of the memo to Comey to get his support for withdrawing the memo. Comey, who was then acting Attorney General (since John Ashcroft was in the ICU with pancreatitis), agreed with Goldsmith’s judgment and–the OPR Report explains–later got John Ashcroft to agree that “any problems with the analysis should be corrected.”

That meeting at Comey’s house took place just four days after Goldsmith and Comey refused to reauthorize the President’s illegal wiretapping program, just three days after Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card raced to the ICU to attempt to convince John Ashcroft to override Comey and reauthorize the program, just two days after Bush reauthorized the program without DOJ concurrence, and just one day after Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin threatened to quit if Bush didn’t make certain changes to the wiretap program.

The meeting also took place just four days after General Antonio Taguba issued a report finding that “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees” at Abu Ghraib. Significantly, two of the allegations made against Americans by detainees that Taguba found to be credible–threatening detainees with a loaded pistol and pouring cold water on them–were among the four restricted torture methods that Haynes asked Goldsmith for authorization to use. While it’s not clear how much Goldsmith knew of DOD’s simmering torture problems (in Terror Presidency he said he didn’t learn of Abu Ghraib until it broke in April 2004, though aspects of his book clearly gloss then-classified events), Jim Haynes must have known about them.

The OPR Report doesn’t tell us how this conflict worked out–whether, in response to Goldsmith’s objections, DOD backed off its plans to torture a detainee or whether the White House overruled Goldsmith (or whether, as happened with a number of detainees, they used the technique before they asked to use it).

But we do know this occurred at a point when the White House was rejecting DOJ criticism of its counterterrorism programs. On March 11, in the context of the illegal wiretap program, Alberto Gonzales told Goldsmith that the President “had made an interpretation of law concerning his authorities and that DOJ should not act in contradiction of the President’s determinations.” And on March 16, again in the context of the illegal wiretap program, Gonzales had said,

While the President was, and remains, interested in any thoughts the Department of Justice may have on alternative ways to achieve the goals of the activities authorized by the Presidential authorization of March 11, 2004, the President has addressed definitively for the Executive Branch in the Presidential authorization the interpretation of the law.

In other words, at precisely this moment, the White House was telling DOJ–and Goldsmith and Comey specifically–that what they thought about the law was interesting, but in no way binding on the President. Indeed, Gonzales was telling these two men they had best not act counter to the will of the White House.

I’ll explain more how I think this resolved in later posts. But for now, realize that one response DOD made to the Abu Ghraib scandal was to ask for more torture.


*There is some ambiguity in the unclassified OPR Report about what range of techniques DOD was trying to use. In a later post I’ll show why I think it was one of the latter three techniques listed here: waterboarding, water dousing, or death threats. [Note, I now think the request was for extended use of isolation, as I explain in this post.]

Clarence Thomas’ Revenge

Rosalind linked to this LAT article describing Clarence Thomas’ pro-abuse views.

According to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a prisoner who was slammed to a concrete floor and punched and kicked by a guard after asking for a grievance form — but suffered neither serious nor permanent harm — has no claim that his constitutional rights were violated.

Thomas objected when the high court, in a little-noted recent opinion, said this unprovoked and malicious assault by a North Carolina prison guard amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

[snip]

According to Thomas, this harsh treatment did not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. “Judges — not jailers — impose punishment,” he wrote.

[Thomas and Scalia] explained that the word “punishment” as it was used in the English Bill of Rights in 1689 referred to judges imposing punishment for a crime. Prison guards do not impose “punishment” even if they mete out cruelty, they said.

The entire article is worth reading not just because it reveals where Thomas will weigh in if torture ever gets to SCOTUS.

But it highlights a point I noted (as did Citizen92): the degree to which Clarence Thomas’ former and future clerks implemented our country’s torture regime.

Page 25 to 27 (PDF page 31 to 33) of the OPR Report includes a section on the background of the lawyers who had significant hand in writing the torture memos:

John Yoo. Clerk, Clarence Thomas,1994 to 1995

Patrick Philbin, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 1993 to 1994

Jennifer Koester, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 2004 to 2005

Steven Bradbury, Clerk, Clarence Thomas, 1992 to 1993

Of the list included on those pages, just Jack Goldsmith and Daniel Levin did not clerk for Thomas. And of course, the most egregious work came from lawyers–Yoo, Koester, and Bradbury–who were Thomas clerks.

This is one of the dangers of appointing a partisan hack like Thomas rather than radical, but intelligent, lawyers like Alito and Scalia. Because the partisan hack is going to launch a whole generation of lawyers (see also Citizen92’s focus on James Ho, who also went through OLC) who treat law like one big game of sophistry and human beings like objects into really prominent positions.

And I would bet that Clarence Thomas enjoys the little part he has had in shredding our country’s Constitution.