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The Unaddressed Counterintelligence Threat of Rudy Giuliani

The name “Giuliani” shows up, unredacted, just five times in the SSCI Russia Report:

  • A reference to a meeting that Rudy had with Paul Manafort and Trump at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2016, the last thing on Manafort’s calendar before he met with Konstantin Kilimnik to discuss how to win the Midwest, share campaign polling data, and carve up Ukraine.
  • A citation to a Rick Gates 302 that describes that Manafort was relying on Rudy, along with Jared Kushner, in his efforts to try to place people in the new Administration.
  • A footnote citing this story describing Rudy’s meetings with Andrii Telizhenko as part of his search for dirt in support of Trump’s 2020 re-election. The footnote is one of the few unredacted passages in an 8-page section that is part of a larger section describing Manafort’s follow-up on that August 2, 2016 meeting on Ukraine.
  • A footnote describing an email — involving Rudy, Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and Stephen Miller — used as an example of Trump’s team incorporating stolen information released by WikiLeaks into Trump’s tweets.
  • A footnote sourcing a rather incredible claim from Psy Group’s Joel Zamel that he first met Jared Kushner via an introduction, months after inauguration, from Rudy.

I raise this not because I think there’s any direct tie between Russia and the coup this week (though I find it interesting that of those scripting WikiLeaks information into Trump tweets, all but Hicks may be seeking a pardon). This coup was an all-American affair, with roots in racist extremism that goes back before the Civil War. Someday, six months from today, we can talk about how this attack was consistent with events started over four years ago, with all the same players in starring roles. But these are American fascists running the show, not Russians.

I raise it, instead, to point out that the single most sustained review of the danger that some of Trump’s closest advisors pose to his presidency almost entirely excluded  one who played the key role in the post-election period, the purported lawyer who — at every step of the way — encouraged the President to take more and more extreme measures to hold on his power.

This coup attempt happened, in significant part, because Rudy had almost unfettered access to the President, Rudy was one of few people who never lost his trust, and Rudy always encouraged the worst decisions from Trump.

The Three Types (Thus Far) of Trump Mueller Pardons

To date, Trump has pardoned five people who were prosecuted by Mueller. I’m seeing a good deal of misunderstanding about what those pardons mean for any legal proceedings going forward, so I’d like to address some of that.

First, a lot of people say that accepting a pardon is tantamount to accepting guilt, under Burdick v.United States. It’s not. It’s narrower, though importantly goes to questions about whether a witness who has been pardoned has to testify or not. It also says that someone who has been pardoned must inform the court of the fact for it to be valid in any legal proceeding before the court.

That said, claims that Trump flunkies who’ve been pardoned have to testify are also too broad. If the people have any remaining legal exposure (as I’ll explain, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort do), they can still invoke the Fifth. That’s also true if they have state exposure for something like fraud or tax evasion. But in cases where the pardoned crime is only federal, such as Papadopoulos’ lies, it would be easy for prosecutors to immunize him in case he invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges, effectively forcing him to testify on penalty of contempt.

Thus far, Trump has issued three kinds of pardons for people prosecuted by Mueller:

  • Pardons for people with no further known (Mueller) legal exposure
  • Pardons for people with potentially grave further legal exposure
  • Fruit of the poison tree pardon for anything Mueller touched

Alex Van der Zwaan and George Papadopoulos:

Both Van Der Zwaan and Papadopoulos were pardoned for the single False Statements charge against them. Neither is known to have committed another crime. In Papadopoulos’ case, however, things could get dicey on several points. Trump forgave his $9,500 fine, which was the amount Papadopoulos accepted from suspected Israeli spooks. If he asks for that back that may raise questions about his exposure on FARA grounds. In addition, Papadopoulos has already testified before Congress that he called Marc Kasowitz after he was first interviewed by the FBI. If there were a larger prosecution about Trump’s obstruction, he might have been able to plead the Fifth for making that call — except he has already testified to it.

Papadopoulos withheld documents from Congress. With a DOJ that can enforce subpoenas, he might be asked to share those documents, which may require him to testify contrary to his 2018 OGR/HJC testimony.

If DOJ decided to reopen the investigation into a suspected Egyptian bribe to Trump because serving a subpoena on Trump Organization would now be less controversial than it was last summer, then Papadopoulos might be a key witness in that investigation, though since that’s unrelated to his charged false statements, he could still invoke the Fifth if questioned about it.

Roger Stone and Paul Manafort:

Like Van der Zwaan and Papadopoulos, Stone and Manafort were just pardoned for the crimes that they were found or pled guilty to, the money laundering, tax evasion, and FARA crimes in Manafort’s case, and the cover-up crimes in Stone’s case. For both, however, that’s not the full extent of what they were investigated or might be witnesses for.

Before I get there, let me note that multiple sources are claiming that, because Trump included Manafort’s criminal forfeiture in the language of his pardon, he’ll get his ill-gotten gains back. I’m not an expert on this, but I do know that Manafort also civilly forfeited these goods in his plea agreement.

So to attempt to reverse this forfeiture, Manafort would have to spend a great deal of money litigating it, and it’s not at all clear it’d work.

Manafort was also referred for suspected FECA violations involving two PACs that, prosecutors suspected, he got paid through via a kickback system. These cases must be closed, because they were unsealed in the Mueller Report back in September. But Manafort may face more scrutiny on them if DOJ investigates Trump’s other corrupt PACs.

Unless he, too, is pardoned, Konstantin Kilimnik remains under investigation. That’s an area where things might get more interesting for Manafort, because during the period when he was purportedly cooperating, he lied about the fact that he had conspired with Kilimnik. In any case, until the Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska investigations are closed, Manafort has some exposure.

Things are more complicated still for Stone. There were at least two investigations into Stone — probably on conspiracy and foreign agent crimes — still active in April. If the redactions if Mueller 302s are any indication, Barr shut parts of that investigation down since, which will be of interest on its own right (Congress learned of these ongoing investigations when they got unsealed portions of the Mueller Report that have only recently been made public, and I know there is some interest in learning what those investigations were or are, and that was true even before any discussions about Trump’s abuse of pardons).

In any case, the investigation into a pardon for Julian Assange was active at least as recently as October. Stone has already called on Trump to pardon Assange since his own pardon, potentially a new overt act in a conspiracy. And Trump might well pardon Assange; even pardoning him for the crimes currently charged would be a new overt act in that conspiracy, which would implicate Stone. So even if Barr shut that investigation down, there is already reason to reopen it.

So while Barr may have tried to clean up the remaining criminal exposure against Stone, it’s not clear he could succeed at doing so, much less without creating problems for others going forward.

Mike Flynn:

As I have written, Mike Flynn’s pardon was constructed in a way that attempted to eliminate all criminal exposure that might arise from anything associated with the Mueller investigation for him. In addition to pardoning Flynn for the false statements charge he pled guilty to, it pardons him for lying about being an Agent of Turkey, for being an Agent of Turkey, and for lying to Judge Sullivan.

But it also attempts to pardon Flynn for any crime that might arise out of facts known to Mueller. While, generally, I think the pardon power is very broad, this effectively tried to pardon Flynn for an investigation, not for crimes. Plus, the broadness of the pardon may backfire, insofar as it would strip Flynn of the ability to plead the Fifth more broadly. Even just a retrial of Bijan Kian (unless Trump pardons him and Mike Jr) might force Flynn to commit new crimes, because both telling the truth and lying about his secret relationship with Turkey would be a new crime.

Given his seditious behavior, Flynn might have entirely new criminal exposure by the time Joe Biden is sworn in any case. But the attempt to be expansive with Flynn’s pardon might backfire for him.

Of the five Mueller criminals pardoned so far, only Van der Zwaan is clearly free of danger going forward.

And these five don’t even cover some of the most complex pardon recipients. Any Assange pardon may be the most obviously illegal for Trump (save a self-pardon), because it would involve a quid pro quo entered before he was elected. With Steve Bannon, Trump will need to pardon for another crime, fraud associated with Build the Wall, but if it covers Mueller, it may make it easier for Bannon to repeat what truths he already told to the grand jury. With Rudy Giuliani, Trump will need to pardon for unidentified crimes currently under investigation, but also Rudy’s efforts to broker pardons, which may make the pardon itself more dicey. With Trump’s children (including Jared Kushner), I assume he’ll offer a Nixon type pardon for all crimes committed before the day of pardon. But there may be ways to make them admit to these crimes.

Billy Barr is the best cover-up artist in the history of DOJ. But Trump is attempting to pardon himself out of a dicier situation than Poppy Bush was in Iran-Contra. Plus, even assuming Mueller’s team left everything available for Barr’s discovery, Barr may be hamstrung by the fact that he doesn’t believe in most of the crimes Trump committed, something that could become especially problematic as the full extent of Trump’s dalliance with Russia becomes known going forward. Barr didn’t support some of these pardons, like a hypothetical Assange one. And now, in his absence, Trump has grown increasingly paranoid about Pat Cipollone, who will have to shepherd the rest.

The pardon power is awesome and fairly unlimited. But it’s not yet clear the Mueller pardons will do what Trump hopes they will. With virtually all of them, there are loose strings that, if they get pulled, may undo the immunity Trump has tried to offer.

On Bill Barr’s Last Day, Trump Commits the Crime Barr Affirmed in His Confirmation Hearing

In Bill Barr’s confirmation hearing, he affirmed on three different occasions (each time with lessening force) that it would be a crime to offer a pardon for false testimony.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

In Bill Barr’s resignation letter, he explained he would “spend the next week wrapping up a few remaining matters important to the Administration and depart on December 23rd.” Barr stopped off at the White House yesterday for a short visit. He and his spox wrote his good-byes during the day and then left DOJ in charge of Jeffrey Rosen.

And then after all that, Trump pardoned Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. The Manafort and Stone pardons — for which the paperwork must have been done ahead of time but held until Barr was no longer Attorney General — only cover the crimes for which they’ve been found guilty. That means both men would ostensibly remain under investigation for their coordination with Russian Agents during the election (and both men assuredly did coordinate with Russian Agents during the election.

If Bill Barr didn’t find a way to permanently end that investigation.

The question now is whether Bill Barr, cover-up artist, managed to cover his tracks this time as well as he did in Iran-Contra.

Organized Crime

Know what you call a crowd that requires 25 pardons to cover their illegal activities of the last 5 years?

As it happens, Trump is mulling the pardons at a juncture when loyalty appears his principal concern, complaining repeatedly over the past weeks that Republicans are deserting him when he needed them to help overturn the election results.

He has largely frozen out those advisers and associates who do not seem on the same page. One person who used to speak to Trump regularly, but who delicately encouraged him to soften his post-election stance, no longer has his calls returned and hasn’t heard from Trump in weeks.

In all, the President is considering pardons for more than two dozen people in his orbit whom he believes were targeted — or could be targeted in the future — for political ends. That’s in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have approached the White House directly, and tens of thousands more whose petitions are pending at the Justice Department.

Organized crime.

A Modest Proposal: Include Lindsey Graham’s Threats against Brad Raffensperger in any Special Counsel Mandate

Lindsey Graham has endorsed the idea of appointing a Special Counsel to investigate Hunter Biden.

Graham on a special counsel for Hunter Biden: I think it’s a good idea..if you believe a special counsel was needed to look at the Trump world regarding Russia. How can you say there’s no need for special counsel regarding Hunter Biden?”

Apparently, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn’t see the difference between appointing a Special Counsel after the President has fired the FBI Director to stop an investigation into himself and a Special Counsel to investigate the President-Elect’s son two years into an investigation that has (thus far) found nothing. Graham doesn’t even seem to realize that various parts of the Trump DOJ have investigated — at a minimum — Trump’s son-in-law (as part of a referral from the Mueller investigation, though the topic is unknown), Trump’s personal lawyer, and any number of his corrupt former campaign managers, without needing a Special Counsel to protect the independence of the investigation, not even after the confirmed interference by the Attorney General.

The call for a Special Counsel to continue an investigation that has already lasted two years (that is, longer than the entire Mueller investigation and twice as long as it took to indict Manafort on 44 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, money laundering, and unregistered influence-peddling) without finding anything comes along with President Trump’s call for another Special Counsel investigating purported voter fraud.

As I said in my post noting that John Durham has unaltered originals of documents that — under Billy Barr’s micromanagement — got altered and submitted to a judge, followed by a lie to the same judge, one way to deal with the Durham Special Counsel designation is to have him investigate crimes that Barr’s associates may have committed in their efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. John Durham will control the day-to-day conduct of this investigation, but he doesn’t — cannot legally, under current precedent — control the scope.

Something similar could be done with both of the Special Counsel investigations Trump wants to push. Rudy Giuliani will no doubt be pardoned in the next 35 days. And the next day, Rudy will wake up and continue pursuing the same disinformation, largely about Hunter Biden, from Russian-tied mobbed up oligarchs. So Sally Yates or Doug Jones or whoever Biden makes Attorney General can very easily ask a Special Counsel to include Rudy’s potential crimes among those the Special Counsel investigates. The Special Counsel doesn’t even have a reporting mechanism to complain about scope (which John Durham might have used when Barr was flying him around the world chasing George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories). If the Special Counsel complained about the scope, she could quit and be replaced by someone Biden’s AG believed appropriate. If the Special Counsel leaked anything, Biden’s AG would have the Comey precedent to justify firing the Special Counsel.

So, too, could a Special Counsel appointed by Trump to investigate voting irregularities be scoped to investigate the more credible allegations of crimes committed during the election, most notably threats and other coercive means used against those (including Republicans) trying to conduct free and fair elections. Among others whose conduct could be investigated are government employees who also served as counsel on Trump-backed lawsuits challenging the election. A Special Counsel investigating allegations of crime during the election could review fraudulent claims alleging fraud in sworn declarations submitted in these frivolous lawsuits; such an investigation could consider whether there was an organized effort to collect such perjurious statements, and if so, who funded it all. Such a Special Counsel could investigate whether then-President Trump’s multiple calls haranguing GOP officials constituted a threat or some kind of bribe. A Special Counsel could and should review the range of violent threats against participants on both sides of the election.

Among the most alarming potential crimes alleged during the post-election period, as it happens, involves Lindsey Graham himself. He called up Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, and — while witnesses were listening — pushed Raffensperger to disqualify legal votes.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that he has come under increasing pressure in recent days from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who he said questioned the validity of legally cast absentee ballots, in an effort to reverse President Trump’s narrow loss in the state.

[snip]

In the interview, Raffensperger also said he spoke on Friday to Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has echoed Trump’s unfounded claims about voting irregularities.

In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested because counties administer elections in Georgia.

“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger said.

It’s unclear whether Lindsey’s actions constitute a crime or not. But that’s why it would be a reasonable thing for a Special Counsel, one not directly controlled by Biden’s AG, to review: to ensure it receives a fair review without political influence.

Lindsey Graham seems to believe that Trump’s calls for Special Counsels are merited.

Very well then.

Republicans Push to Punish Eric Swalwell because He Didn’t Sell Out the Country Like They Did

I’d like to tell a story about how six different men responded when law enforcement approached them about possible compromise by foreign spies.

Carter Page knowingly shares non-public information with known Russian spies

When Carter Page learned that he had been named in an indictment of Russian spies, he called up a Russian minister at the UN to tell him, in the spirit of openness, he was the guy identified as the recruiting target in the indictment. When the FBI interviewed him about his relationships with those foreign spies, Page admitted he had called the Russian minister, but explained that his relationship with the Russian intelligence officer was positive for him. He later explained that sharing non-public information with people he knew to be foreign spies helped both the US and Russia. Page enthusiastically took a trip to Moscow to give two speeches that — witnesses observed — normally featured far more prominent speakers than Page. Page came back from that trip bragging about the “open checkbook” he had been offered to start a pro-Russian think tank. When Page was asked a year later whether he could see why people thought he was being recruited, he disagreed and — according to an FBI 302 — backed off his prior admission to the FBI that he had reached out to the Russian minister.

For three years, the GOP has claimed that Carter Page is a maligned victim of FBI overreach.

George Papadopoulos refuses to explain the back channel meeting with Putin he tried to schedule

When the FBI first interviewed George Papadopoulos about the suspicious job offers Sergei Millian offered him — an offer to pay him so long as he also worked at the White House, asked how he learned in advance that the Russians had dirt on Hillary that they planned to release to help Trump get elected, and told him they thought he was being recruited, he lied. Among other things, Papadopoulos hid his entire relationship with one Russian national, Ivan Timofeev, whom he had interacted with. After the interview, Papadopoulos called Trump’s personal lawyer and told him of the interview. As others did, Papadopoulos crafted a false statement to share with Congress. In subsequent interviews, even after he agreed to cooperate, Papadopoulos hid the existence of a phone he used to interact with Joseph Mifsud. When asked about notes planning a back channel meeting with Putin’s people in London in September that ultimately didn’t happen, Papadopoulos claimed he couldn’t read his notes to explain the plans.

The GOP not only claimed that Papadopoulos was a maligned hero, the Attorney General of the United States assigned a US Attorney, in part, to fly around the world chasing Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories in an attempt to substantiate his denials that these were Russian assets trying to cultivate Papadopoulos.

Mike Flynn gets a defensive briefing then hides his Turkish clients

Shortly after the FBI sat down with Donald Trump and Mike Flynn to warn them, generally, about how foreign intelligence services would increase their focus on the two and those around them, Mike Flynn went back to his business partner and the go-between with his Turkish clients, and adopted a new name for the project for Turkey — Confidence rather than Truth — and a payment vehicle that would hide the true client, attempting to sever the prior discussions directly with Turkey’s ministers from the half-million dollar deal that resulted.

Trump just pardoned Flynn for his efforts to hide those ties.

Rather than cooperating with the FBI about Flynn’s suspect Russian calls, Trump fires them

When DOJ came to the White House on January 26, 2017 and told White House counsel Don McGahn that Mike Flynn — seemingly without any approval from Donald Trump himself and clearly without notifying the Vice President — had called up the Ambassador from Russia and, in a conversation where the Ambassador was addressing other issues, raised sanctions imposed to punish Russia and asked the Ambassador not to respond in kind, and then lied about that publicly, McGahn assigned lawyer John Eisenberg to figure out whether Flynn could be prosecuted. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus tried to find out what kind of surveillance Flynn had been and was under. Trump first asked the head of the FBI for loyalty, then asked him to let the investigation of Flynn go, and then fired him to end the investigation.

Trump just pardoned Mike Flynn claiming that it was wrong for the FBI to try to figure out why Flynn had secretly undermined sanctions and then lied about it.

Trump calls Paul Manafort “very brave” for hiding details about his Russian intelligence officer partner

When the government entered into a cooperation agreement with Paul Manafort in 2018, in part to learn what Manafort knew about his business partner Konstantin Kilimnik’s ties to Russian intelligence, and particularly to learn why Manafort had swapped campaign polling data and the campaign’s strategy to win swing states with a discussion of carving up Ukraine and payoffs from Ukranian and Russian oligarchs, the President’s defense attorney remained in regular contact with Manafort’s lawyer to learn about the interrogations. After prosecutors told Judge Amy Berman Jackson on November 26 that Manafort had been lying rather than cooperating — in significant part, it would become clear, to protect his Russian spy business partner — Rudy complained on the President’s behalf about “the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort.” Not long later, Trump would call Manafort “very brave” for (among other things) lying to prosecutors to protect his Russian spy business partner.

Eric Swalwell cooperates with the FBI and cuts off the Chinese intelligence officer trying to recruit him

According to a recent Axios piece witten without context, when the FBI approach Eric Swalwell and told him a woman volunteering with his campaign was a Chinese spy, he cooperated with the FBI and cut off all contact with her.

A statement from Swalwell’s office provided to Axios said: “Rep. Swalwell, long ago, provided information about this person — whom he met more than eight years ago, and whom he hasn’t seen in nearly six years — to the FBI. To protect information that might be classified, he will not participate in your story.”

What happened: Amid a widening counterintelligence probe, federal investigators became so alarmed by Fang’s behavior and activities that around 2015 they alerted Swalwell to their concerns — giving him what is known as a defensive briefing.

Swalwell immediately cut off all ties to Fang, according to a current U.S. intelligence official, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

For this, GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others argue, Swalwell should be kicked off the House Intelligence Committee.

McCarthy, however, is demanding answers from Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of that committee, after Swalwell said they knew about the report.

“This is a national security threat,” McCarthy said. “Now we have Eric Swalwell, who’s been swindled by the Chinese, but what’s even more interesting here is why did he attack the American Director of Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s report talking about the expansion of China spying throughout … just last week. He attacked … Ratcliffe defending China.”

“This man should not be in the intel committee. He’s jeopardizing national security,” he doubled down, adding, “When did Nancy Pelosi know of this and why did she maintain him on the committee? Adam Schiff, who has spent four years as chair worried about the foreign intervention into our country, knowingly keep an individual on the committee, if he knew, as Swalwell says, that he was with a Chinese individual who was a spy, who helped him run for Congress?”

I can only assume that McCarthy thinks that Swalwell cooperated too much with the FBI and should have lied or fired people instead.

 

20 Months: A Comparison of the Mueller and Durham Investigations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinesmith explains it this way:

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

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

OIG Report at 254-55.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rudy the Dripper: The Vicious Cycle of Dead-Ender Propagandists Feeding Bullshit to Tribalist Republicans

Not long after the former US Attorney of the Southern District of New York headlined a press conference where he and other lawyers presented insane conspiracy theories to claim that Donald Trump had been robbed of his victory, CNN reported that the FBI continues to investigate Rudy Giuliani for his ties to Russian Agents.

Complicating matters is that Giuliani’s post-election swirl of activity comes as federal investigators renewed their investigative interest into his work that is already the subject of a New York-based investigation.

In recent weeks, FBI agents in New York contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence, according to a person briefed on the matter. The FBI investigators, who have spoken to at least one witness previously months ago, came back to ask new questions recently about possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden that appear similar to those that the New York Post reported that Giuliani and others helped provide. CNN has previously reported that the ongoing probe is examining whether Giuliani is wittingly or unwittingly part of a Russian influence operation, according to people briefed on the matter.

But questions about that probe have been out of the spotlight as Giuliani stepped into focus as the campaign’s chief post-election lawyer. One source close to the Trump campaign countered that Giuliani is an overzealous defender of the president.

Meanwhile, the same propagandists who’ve helped Trump survive in recent years — on the left and the right — are claiming that because Democrats and others backed the investigation of Russian efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 (an investigation that attempted to understand why Trump fired Jim Comey, the person most Democrats chiefly blame for Hillary’s loss), it is precedent for Trump’s efforts to disclaim Joe Biden’s resounding win.

This exemplifies the vicious cycle we’ve been on since since August 2016, when Donald Trump authorized his rat-fucker to take desperate measures to find bullshit stories to tell to try to win an election.

After WikiLeaks released the first set of files Russia had stolen as part of its plot to help Trump get elected in July 2016 and someone — it’s not clear who — released damning information about Paul Manafort’s corrupt ties with Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs, Donald Trump doubled down. Rat-fucker Roger Stone, desperate to save Trump’s campaign and maybe even the job of his lifetime buddy, made a Faustian bargain for advance access to fairly innocuous John Podesta emails that Stone believed would provide the smoking gun for a conspiracy his allies had been chasing since March. The Faustian deal, by itself, exposed Stone as a co-conspirator in a hack-and-leak operation led by a hostile foreign agency. But the deal also brought ongoing exposure: at least as soon as he was elected, Trump’s rat-fucker (and maybe his eldest son!) started pursuing an effort to pay off Julian Assange with a pardon or some other way out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby implicating Trump in a quid pro quo. After Trump assumed the Presidency, his own exposure through Stone gave him reason to want to shut down the investigation, even the investigation into the hack-and-leak itself. As a result, from very early in his presidency, Trump had obstructed justice to hide the quid pro quo and conspiracy his rat-fucker (and possibly he and his son) had joined to help him get there.

Meanwhile, early on in the investigation, acting on advice that Paul Manafort gave after returning from a meeting with one of Oleg Deripaska’s key deputies, the Republicans defended their President by attacking the credibility of the Steele dossier — one that Deripaska himself likely ensured was filled with disinformation — as a stand-in for the larger investigation itself. Deripaska even has apparent sway at one of the outlets that most relentlessly pursued that synecdoche, the dossier as the Russian investigation. Former hawks on Russia, like Trey Gowdy, were lured into fiercely defending Trump even in the face of overwhelming proof of his compromise by the able gate-keeping of Kash Patel and the discovery of how the use of informants can implicate members of your own tribe, as it did with Carter Page. By the time Billy Barr deceived the nation with his roll-out of a very damning Mueller Report, almost every single Republican member of Congress was susceptible to ignoring damning evidence that their President treated both the pursuit of the presidency and his office as a means for self-benefit, no matter what that did to US interests.

Key to the process of co-opting virtually all Republican members of Congress was the process of villainizing the people who had tried to keep the country safe from Russian compromise, starting with Peter Strzok but also including Andy McCabe. That process easily exploited the same apparatus of Congress’ “oversight” powers — and the same susceptibility to heated rants over logic — that had been used to turn a tragic incident in Libya into a multi-year investigation of Hillary Clinton. Also key to that process were certain propagandists on Fox News, including three of the lawyers that stood with Rudy yesterday: DiGenova and Toensing and Sidney Powell.

The day after Mueller closed up shop, those same propagandists joined with Rudy to pursue a revenge plot for the investigation — they started pursuing a way to frame Joe Biden in anticipation of the 2020 election. Most Democrats didn’t believe that Hillary lost because of Russia, but Trump and his conspiratorially-minded advisors believed they did. And so Rudy, relying on advice Manafort offered from prison, used the same networks of influence to try to frame Biden in a Ukrainian plot that, at the same time, might provide an alternative explanation for the Russian crimes Trump was personally implicated in.

Once again, Trump got personally involved, extorting the Ukrainian president over a series of months, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s abuse of Congress’ power of the purse in an effort to extort a campaign benefit from a foreign country merited impeachment. There’s also no doubt that it served to heighten the tribalism — and ranting illogic — of Republican members of Congress.

Things snowballed further.

That tribalism, by itself, might have gotten Trump re-elected. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. Instead, the President prepared an attack on the integrity of the vote by dissuading his own supporters from using mail-in ballots, setting up the Equal Protection hoaxes that Rudy has pushed in recent days. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger claims that, by itself, the effort to discredit mail-in voting cost Trump the state of Georgia. But partisan attacks are what got Trump where he is, and partisan attacks are what he knows.

Trump also doubled down on what had gotten him elected in 2016: overblown attacks sourced to stolen emails, Hunter Biden’s laptop, in this case rolled out by one guy at legal risk for his ties to Fraud Guarantee, and another under indictment for exploiting the tribalism of Trump’s supporters to commit fraud. According to CNN, the FBI believes these emails may have been packaged up by the Russian agents that have been buying access through Rudy and DiGenova and Toensing.

Trump’s DOJ, working with Sidney Powell, even tried to invent an attack on Joe Biden by altering exhibits in a court proceeding. In that case, the overblown attack was sourced to real notes, albeit notes that actual law enforcement officials had packaged in such a way as to tell a false story. Yet again, however, this was a false story that scapegoated those who’ve protected the interests of the country — adding Joe Biden to the targets along with McCabe and Strzok — to try to cover-up unbelievably damning evidence about Trump’s coziness with Russia. The effort to deny that Mike Flynn was secretly working for Turkey while claiming to work for Trump and to deny that Mike Flynn repeatedly called up the country that had just attacked us to try to obtain further benefits turned into an attack on those who tried to keep the country safe from sell-outs like Mike Flynn.

It’s a false story. But Republicans in Congress believe it with all their being. And so it has succeeded in convincing those Republicans they need to redouble their efforts to defend Trump.

So, yesterday, Rudy and the other propagandists gave a press conference that was, for the first time, broadly labeled as a coup attempt and roundly mocked, even by otherwise true believers. Trump, Rudy, Republicans, they’re all victims of an international plot launched by George Soros, Cuba, China, Venezuela, according to Rudy and the lawyers who spun the last several conspiracy theories on Fox News.

And this propaganda, an attempt to set aside the clear will of the voters, derives its strength not from any basis in fact. Rather, it derives its power from the fact that Republicans have gotten so tribally defensive of Trump, they will set aside the clear good of the country to back him.

Donald Trump, if he leaves office, may face legal consequences for what he did in 2016 to get elected. If Trump leaves office, Rudy may face consequences for the things he has done since to keep Trump in office.

To save themselves, they’re pursuing the same strategy they’ve pursued since 2016: telling bullshit stories by waving documents around and lying about what they say, relying on tribalism and raw power rather than reason to persuade their fellow Republicans. It just so happens that several of these stories got told with the help of Russian foreign agents (though some got told with the help of a corrupted law enforcement). It just so happens that Trump and Rudy (and Stone’s) willingness to rely on Russian help to tell these stories has greatly exacerbated their legal risk, and therefore made the spewing of bullshit stories more urgent.

But the Russian role mostly serves to magnify the desperation of this gambit.

Mostly, this is about weaponizing the tribalism of the Republican party that puts party loyalty over loyalty to the country or Constitution. And while there have been a few defectors from this dangerous tribalism in recent days, for the most part, Republicans in Congress don’t care that Trump is exploiting them like this or even — in some cases — don’t understand that this is all a shoddy set of lies.

“Looking Forward” Will Be Harder for President Biden than It Was for President Obama

NBC has a story that has caused a bit of panic, reporting that “Biden hopes to avoid divisive Trump investigations, preferring unity.”

The panic is overblown, given that the main point of the story is that Biden is hoping that DOJ will resume a more independent stance than that taken, especially, by Billy Barr.

Biden wants his Justice Department to function independently from the White House, aides said, and Biden isn’t going to tell federal law enforcement officials whom or what to investigate or not to investigate.

“His overarching view is that we need to move the country forward,” an adviser said. “But the most important thing on this is that he will not interfere with his Justice Department and not politicize his Justice Department.”

If there were to be investigations of Trump, everyone should want them to be completely insulated from the White House.

The story raises two more specific types of investigations which are both likely moot.

They said he has specifically told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his staff before he leaves office. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he “just wants to move on.”

Another Biden adviser said, “He’s going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.”

New York state already has a tax investigation into Trump, so a federal one would be duplicative. And the pardon power is absolute; there’s little likelihood DOJ could investigate the pardons that Trump grants, because doing so would be constitutionally suspect.

All that said, attempting to move forward may not be as easy for President Biden as it was for President Obama.

That’s because there are a number of investigations that implicate Trump that are either pending (as of right now, but I don’t rule out Trump trying to kill them in the interim) or were shut down corruptly, to say nothing of the obstruction charges Mueller effectively recommended (which aforementioned pardons would renew, even in spite of DOJ’s declination prior to pardons). At a minimum, those include:

  • The Build the Wall fraud case against Steve Bannon and others that might, eventually, implicate the failson or his close buddies
  • The Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas graft which clearly implicates Rudy Giuliani and by all rights should always have included Trump’s extortion of Volodymyr Zelensky; given the timing of David Correia’s plea, it’s likely there will be grand jury testimony from him banked
  • Other foreign agent charges against Rudy
  • The investigation into Erik Prince for selling his private mercenary services to China
  • False statements charges against Ryan Zinke that Jeffrey Rosen attempted to kill
  • Various campaign finance and grift charges implicating Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, to say nothing of the hush payments involving Trump personally
  • Possible hack-and-leak charges against Roger Stone from 2016, as well as the related pardon quid pro quo for Julian Assange implicating Trump himself
  • The possible aftermath of Judge Sullivan’s decisions in the Mike Flynn case, which could include perjury referrals or an invitation for DOJ to prosecute Flynn on the foreign agent charges he pled out of

All of these investigations still do or were known to exist, and if they no longer exist when Biden’s Attorney General arrives at DOJ, it will be because of improper interference from Barr.

The last of these might get particularly awkward given that multiple people at Billy Barr’s DOJ, possibly in conjunction with Sidney Powell and Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, altered documents to concoct a smear targeting Joe Biden in a false claim that he invented a rationale to investigate Flynn for undermining sanctions on Russia. You cannot have an independent DOJ if the people who weaponized it in such a way go unpunished. Except investigating such actions would immediately devolve into a partisan fight, particularly if Republicans retain control of the Senate. (This particular issue will most easily be addressed, and I suspect already is being addressed, via a DOJ IG investigation.)

Still, in the other cases, DOJ may need to decide what to do with investigations improperly closed by Barr, or what to do with investigations where just some of the defendants (such as Fruman and Bannon) get pardons.

And all this will undoubtedly play against the background of the confirmation battle for whomever Biden nominates. I would be shocked if Mitch McConnell (especially if he remains Majority Leader) didn’t demand certain promises before an Attorney General nominee got approved.

So none of this will be easy.

A far more interesting question will pertain to what President Biden does about the ICC investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan, crimes that occurred during both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Mike Pompeo launched an indefensible assault against the ICC in an attempt to block this investigation, sanctioning ICC officials leading the investigation. Biden’s Secretary of State will have to decide whether to reverse those sanctions, effectively making a decision about whether to look forward to ignore crimes committed (in part) under Barack Obama.