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Don’t Analyze Trump Legal Filings Based on the Law, Analyze Them Based on Power

I think people are making a grave mistake of applying principles of law to Trump’s legal maneuvering.

Trump’s lawyers are not making arguments about law.

If there were lawyers concerned about principles of justice participating in his defense, they’d be stridently advising him to work on a plea deal admitting guilt to 18 USC 2071, removing government documents, maybe even agreeing to the probably unconstitutional part of the law that would prohibit him from running for President again, in exchange for removing the more serious 18 USC 793 and 1519 charges from consideration. Such a plea deal is never going to happen. Win or lose, Trump is pursuing power, not adjudication under the law, not even recognition of the law.

One way you can be certain about that is because Evan Corcoran, who got his and Steve Bannon’s asses handed to them in Carl Nichols’ courtroom making legally ridiculous arguments that treat Executive Privilege as a theory of impunity applicable to everyone who is loyal to Trump, has taken from that setback not that his claims about Executive Privilege are ignorant and wrong. Instead, he has doubled down on that approach with Eric Herschmann (and probably the Two Pats, Cipollone and Philbin), undoubtedly believing that so long as he can delay the time until Bannon reports to prison and Trump’s former White House Counsels testify about what really went down on January 6, his people can reclaim Executive authority and make all this go away.

He’s definitely not wrong that he can delay the time until Bannon is jailed, and he may not be wrong about the rest of it.

Four years ago last week, Paul Manafort entered into a plea agreement with Mueller’s team and then promptly started lying about matters to which he had already confessed to get the plea deal in the first place. Manafort managed to sustain the appearance of cooperation through the mid-term election, after which Trump took action that would have been politically problematic before it — firing Jeff Sessions and hiring Billy Barr. Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort had lied during his plea deal. But it didn’t matter. Trump and Barr spent the next two years erasing every legal judgment against him and the Trump flunkies that had remained loyal, erasing Manafort’s conviction and even his forfeiture. They erased a good deal of evidence that he conspired with Russia to get elected in the process. In the end, everyone who played a part in this process ended up better off — in significant part because the process, especially Barr’s part in it, has never been fully reported for what it was. Trump even used the ensuing process of discrediting the Russian investigation as a means to train Republicans — along with likely Fox viewers like Aileen Cannon — to believe he was mistreated in the Russian investigation, when the opposite is the case.

Along the way, Trump did grave damage to rule of law and undermined trust in US institutions. For him, that was a side benefit of the process, but a very important and lasting benefit, indeed.

He’s undoubtedly trying to play the same trick again: Stall the investigation past the election, and then (seemingly confident that Republicans will win at least one house of Congress, by democracy or by deceit) flip the entire investigation into yet another example where Trump has not flouted the law, but instead the law has failed to recognize Trump’s impunity from it.

Consider the analysis of Trump’s objections to Judge Raymond Dearie’s draft Special Master plan. As noted, Trump wailed about two things: that Dearie asked whether Judge Aileen Cannon’s inclusion of any Rule 41(g) claims (which is basically a legal way to demand property back before an indictment) in her order accorded with law and asked Trump to provide a list of the documents he claims to have declassified.

[W]e are concerned that it contemplates resolving issues that were not raised by Judge Cannon in her order, her order denying the stay, or oral argument. Specifically, Judge Cannon was aware of the likelihood of eventual Rule 41(g) litigation and established a process by which the Special Master would evaluate any such claims before reporting and recommending to the Court. While the Plaintiff is, of course, willing to brief anything ordered by the Court under the auspices of the Special Master, we are concerned that the Draft Plan directs the Plaintiff to address whether Rule 41(g) litigation should be litigated under Case No. 9:22-MJ-08332-BER. The Plaintiff respectfully sees no indication the District Court planned to carve out related litigation for a merits determination by the issuing magistrate for the warrant in question. Most importantly, none of the District Court’s Orders have ever indicated that this was even a consideration.

Similarly, the Draft Plan requires that the Plaintiff disclose specific information regarding declassification to the Court and to the Government. We respectfully submit that the time and place for affidavits or declarations would be in connection with a Rule 41 motion that specifically alleges declassification as a component of its argument for return of property. Otherwise, the Special Master process will have forced the Plaintiff to fully and specifically disclose a defense to the merits of any subsequent indictment without such a requirement being evident in the District Court’s order.

Virtually everyone has suggested that the reason that Trump is balking at the order to tell Dearie which documents he declassified is because his lawyers want to avoid lying and they know Trump hasn’t declassified any of these documents. Such observations apparently apply even to Evan Corcoran, who (according to the NYT) suckered Christina Bobb into signing a declaration he wrote about a search he had done that claimed a diligent search was done that has since been proven not to be a diligent search.

Suffice it to say I’m skeptical that these lawyers — at least some of them — would be averse to filing a declaration saying, “Our client tells us he declassified it all,” if it would serve Trump’s purposes. All the more so given that none of them were in a position to know whether Trump declassified them all or not, and Trump not only doesn’t care whether he lies to his lawyers, he’s probably constitutionally incapable of doing anything but.

That’s not the reason why they’re balking about Dearie’s request for a list of documents Trump declassified.

Consider the schedule Trump proposed.

This schedule ensures that key decisions come to a head in mid-November, after the election.

Trump’s goal here is not any final determinations from Dearie (absent a determination that the FBI was mean to Trump just like they were to Carter Page). Cannon’s order fairly obviously invites Trump to contest Dearie’s ultimate decisions so she can de novo decide the issues. Trump’s goal is undoubtedly (because it always is) to create conflict, to sow an invented narrative that DOJ is out to get him. And Trump’s optimal outcome is not necessarily even that Cannon will say Trump declassified all these documents, including some of the Intelligence Community’s crown jewels. Such a proposition might even piss off a few of the Republicans who’ve not entirely lost their mind, until such time as Trump convinces them through the process of repetition and demonization that the IC should never have been spying on (say) Russia in the first place.

Trump’s goal here is to sustain the conflict until such time as Jim Jordan can save him, and the two of them can resume their frontal assault on rule of law again.

All Cannon needs to do to serve that end is at some point, after the election, declare that Trump’s claims about classification, even if incorrect and foolish, are reasonable for a former President. That’s all it would take to make it prohibitively difficult for future prosecutors to indict the 793 charges. This is the same way Barr made it prohibitively difficult for prosecutors to charge outstanding Mueller charges, notwithstanding the number of self-imagined liberals who blame Merrick Garland for that damage.

A more obvious tell comes earlier in Trump’s proposed schedule.

He wants the classified documents shared with his team — none of whom currently has the requisite clearance — this week. Only after that does he want to create the privilege log for the 64 documents his lawyers have had for four days; he wants another two weeks (so 18 days out of a 75 day process, total) before he makes such privilege determinations.

To be fair, that may be what Judge Cannon intended, too. She, meanwhile, will have to review at least one protective order this week, and may use that as further opportunity to muck in the process, to reinforce her demand that DOJ start the process of sharing classified documents even before the 11th Circuit weighs in.

There are probably two very good reasons why Trump wants classified documents in hand before they make any privilege claim. First because (as I have repeatedly pointed out), Cannon used those potentially privileged documents as the harm she hung her authority to wade in on. If Dearie rules that — as DOJ has repeatedly claimed — these documents were pulled out not because they really are privileged, but only because they set the bar for potential privilege so low as to ensure nothing was reviewed, then it takes one of the three harms that Cannon has manufactured off the table. Every time a claimed harm is taken off the table, another basis for Cannon’s power grab, and another basis from which to claim conflict, is eliminated.

Trump needs to forestall that from happening until such time as he has created more conflict, more claimed injury.

The other reason, I suspect, that Trump wants the classified documents in hand before the potentially privileged documents is because he knows that some of the classified documents he stole involve either his White House Counsel (which would be the case if documents pertaining to his Perfect Phone Call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy were in the stash) or his Attorney General (which might be the case with the clemency for Roger Stone). DOJ has always limited its comments about attorney-client privilege to those involving Trump’s personal lawyers, and that approach has continued since then, even in their motion for a stay before the 11th Circuit. They’re not wrong on the law: classified documents involving White House or DOJ lawyers are obviously government documents. But that wouldn’t prevent Trump from claiming they are privileged (or Cannon agreeing with him on that point).

Thus the delay. Trump needs to delay the potentially privileged review until such time as he has those classified documents in hand and can claim that DOJ didn’t include all the potentially privileged ones because they assumed that government lawyers work for taxpayers, not for Trump.

It doesn’t have to be true or legally sound. It needs to be a conflict that can be sustained long enough to let Cannon decide, and decide in such a way that Trump keeps claiming he’s the victim.

Like I said, Corcoran may not be wrong that this will work. A lot depends on what the 11th Circuit decides. But a lot, too, depends on commentators continuing to treat this as a good faith legal dispute when instead it’s just more manufactured conflict.

Trump’s Timid (Non-Legal) Complaints about Attorney-Client Privilege

Yesterday, I observed that the FBI gave the former President two different receipts for the search on his golf resort.

There’s the one consisting of five boxes and a separate category, “Documents,” not associated with any boxes, signed by the Supervisory Special Agent. There are no classified documents described. I’ll refer to that as the SSA Receipt in this post.

Then there’s the one that consists of 27 items, mostly boxes, many with sub-items, which are often descriptions of the kinds of classified documents contained in the box or the leather case they were seized in. It was signed by a Special Agent. I’ll refer to that as the CLASS Receipt in this post.

I suggested that one explanation for providing Trump two separate receipts might be if the SSA receipt covered evidence showing Trump violated 18 USC 1519, destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations, and the CLASS receipt covered evidence showing Trump violated 18 USC 793, retaining national defense information under the Espionage Act. I argued the two receipts would cover evidence responsive to crimes that might be charged in different venues, DC for the obstruction charge and SDFL for the Espionage charge.

The third statute on Trump’s warrant, 18 USC 2071, removal of official records would cover everything covered by the Presidential Records Act and would generally backstop everything seized under the other two statutes. It covers both. Consider it an umbrella charge.

Today Trump, in the form of a post on Truth Social and related stories shared to Trump-friendly media, has confirmed I’m right that there’s significance to the two separate receipts.

Trump-friendly outlets have explained that “the former president’s team was informed” that the materials seized via what I’ve called the SSA receipt “contain information covered by attorney-client privilege” but that DOJ “opposed Trump lawyers’ request for the appointment of an independent, special master to review the records.”

The FBI seized boxes containing records covered by attorney-client privilege and potentially executive privilege during its raid of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, sources familiar with the investigation told Fox News, adding that the Justice Department opposed Trump lawyers’ request for the appointment of an independent, special master to review the records.

Sources familiar with the investigation told Fox News Saturday that the former president’s team was informed that boxes labeled A-14, A-26, A-43, A-13, A-33, and a set of documents—all seen on the final page of the FBI’s property receipt —contained information covered by attorney-client privilege.

[snip]

Sources told Fox News that some records could be covered by executive privilege, which gives the president of the United States and other officials within the executive branch the authority to withhold certain sensitive forms of advice and consultation between the president and senior advisers.

I believe there must be some truth to this because if Trump were making completely unsubstantiated claims, he would have made it more generally, claiming that all the boxes must include attorney-client privileged material. Furthermore, Trump’s claims to have watched the search via CCTV notwithstanding, it is highly unlikely Trump has CCTV coverage of his own office, bedroom, and a random storage closet such that he would know what’s in box A-14 (and so on the SSA receipt) versus what’s in box A-15 (which was on the CLASS receipt). Someone who knows the outcome of the search told Trump that one set, but not the other, has materials that are attorney-client privileged. That has to come from the government.

That doesn’t mean my larger hypothesis — that one receipt covered violations of the Espionage Act and the other covered obstruction — has been vindicated. On the contrary, DOJ may simply have chosen to put all records that include an attorney-client claim on a separate receipt so that, if Trump obtains a competent lawyer and demands the Special Master review he’s making a half-hearted request for now, DOJ can move forward with all the other evidence without a 9-month delay like the Special Master review of Rudy Giuliani’s phones necessitated. It would be a clever way of dealing with a very sensitive legal issue.

But I don’t think it’s as simple as that either. Bizarrely, Trump knows something about those boxes such that he’s trying to claim Executive Privilege, in addition to attorney-client privilege.

It’s a nonsense claim, legally. Probably every single box seized last Monday has materials covered by Executive Privilege in them, because every single box would include communications directly with Trump. But there is absolutely no basis for any EP claim for a single thing seized from Mar-a-Lago because the Presidential Records Act underlying the seizure is designed, specifically and especially, to make sure all the EP materials are preserved for history. It’s one of the reasons his refusal to turn over the materials that the Archives were asking for specifically is so insanely stupid, because it gave FBI no choice but to come seize this stuff. Trump’s not making an EP claim to try to delay DOJ’s access to the 27 items, which are mostly boxes, on the CLASS receipt. So he must have learned something about the materials itemized in the SSA receipt to which, in a frantic and transparently silly effort, he’s trying to delay DOJ’s access.

Trump’s announcement that the material on the SSA receipt seems to rule out another possible explanation for the SSA receipt I had been pondering, that it covered the materials that were particularly sensitive from a national security perspective, such as the information on nuclear weapons.

And it doesn’t rule out my hypothesis that that material was seized in the obstruction investigation. Indeed, in two ways, it might corroborate my hypothesis.

There are two theories of the 1519 charge. One, which NYU’s Ryan Goodman is championing, suspects it is about the investigation into Mar-a-Lago, criminalizing the effort in June to withhold materials. If that were the significance of the 1519 charge, separating out the communications between lawyers and NARA and DOJ might make sense, since those would be communications into this investigation. That said, there’d be no basis for an EP claim for any of that, since it all post-dated Trump’s ouster. And as soon as DOJ confirmed that some classified material had been knowingly withheld in June when his lawyers told DOJ that it was all turned over, there’d be a crime-fraud exception for those materials.

My theory of the 1519 charge — that it arose out of NARA’s discovery that Trump had attempted to destroy materials subpoenaed in past and present investigations — would similarly be likely to have attorney-client privileged documents. Take a few examples:

  • One thing Trump is likely to have withheld is the Perfect Transcript between him and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which is something Congress was entitled to get during impeachment. That transcript was hidden from Congress by White House lawyer John Eisenberg, among other lawyers, thereby according the transcript a weak privilege claim, but one easily overcome by the obstructive nature of the choice to withhold it.
  • Another set of things we know were withheld from several investigations were documents showing sustained communications with Russia that should have been turned over by the Trump Organization. The most provable of those were the communications between Michael Cohen and Dmitri Peskov’s office in January 2016 (Mueller got his own copy via Microsoft). There’s probably correspondence regarding an invite Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko extended to Trump to attend Putin’s St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016. The Trump Organization did not produce to SSCI the copy of Paul Manafort’s Securing the Victory email he sent to Rhona Graff. The subpoena response on all these issues was handled by Trump’s corporate lawyers, Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten, and so would be privileged — but also crime-fraud excepted — evidence that Trump obstructed various Russian investigations.
  • While one draft of Trump’s termination letter to Jim Comey was ultimately turned over to Mueller (after reports that the only extant copy was one preserved by DOJ lawyers), the Mueller Report narrative surrounding it makes it clear that Trump and Stephen Miller worked over several drafts before the one shared with others. Those earlier drafts were likely not turned over, in part because White House Counsel lawyers advised Trump that these drafts should “[n]ot [see the] light of day.” Again, that’s legal advice, but also proof of documents that were illegally withheld from the Mueller investigation.
  • I don’t want to even imagine what advice from Rudy Giuliani that Trump has withheld from various investigations, particularly pertaining to January 6. Most of that would be (shitty) legal advice. If it was also withheld from proper investigations, though, it’d also be proof of obstruction under 18 USC 1519.

In other words, aside from the documents Trump tried to rip up or eat or flush, many of Trump’s known violations of 18 USC 1519 would involve lawyers directly. Virtually every investigation into Trump was stymied by improper decisions by lawyers. And those withheld documents would once have been privileged, but they’d also be solid proof of obstruction.

And if Trump had reason to believe that DOJ, after predicating an investigation on all the evidence Trump had tried to rip up or eat or flush evidence, had sought and seized all the attorney-client protected materials that had insulated Trump from consequences for his past actions, it might explain one of the biggest puzzles from the last week. For some reason, Trump has worked far harder to obscure that this obstruction investigation exists than that he’s under investigation for a crime with the word “Espionage” in the title. For some reason, Trump is more afraid of the obstruction investigation than the Espionage Act investigation.

One possible explanation for that is that he fears the other secrets he’s been keeping more than proof that he stole a bunch of otherwise innocuous Top Secret documents.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this latest complaint — first voiced on the 7th day after the search — is it shows that DOJ is in contact with someone presenting themself as Trump’s lawyer.

That’s not surprising. DOJ informed Trump of the search. Even for a simple criminal case into attempting to steal the election (assuming Trump could find someone who would confess to be his lawyer), DOJ would want to have discussions about how to proceed.

In this case, however, the crimes under investigation include, at a minimum, violations of the Espionage Act. DOJ always tries to find a way to resolve those from the get-go, because prosecutions about stolen classified information are always damaging to the equities you’re trying to protect. That’s all the more true in the unprecedented case where the suspect is the former President. At a minimum, DOJ likely has or will float Trump the offer of an offramp like an 18 USC 2701 guilty plea if he cooperates to tell the government about the whereabouts of all the classified documents he stole.

And if what Trump is trying to hide in the obstruction investigation is even more damning, as his behavior suggests it might be, DOJ might actually have enough leverage to make Donny to consider such an offer.

Still, the legal quiet has been making me nervous. I have been waiting all week for a docket to spring up with a Trump motion for a Temporary Restraining Order stalling any access to these files.

For comparison, the docket on a similar challenge from Michael Cohen in 2018 was created just 4 days after the search of his residences, and the discussions about the search began that same day.

On the same day as the seizures (April 9, 2018), the undersigned counsel requested in writing that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the SDNY return all of the seized property and allow Mr. Cohen and his attorneys the opportunity to screen the materials for privilege, produce any relevant, non-privileged documents to the government, and provide a log of any documents withheld on privilege grounds. Id., ¶ 32, Ex. A. On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, the government responded by letter, rejecting defense counsel’s proposal and informing defense counsel that the government would begin to review the materials at noon on Friday, April 13, 2018. Id. ¶ 33, Ex. B. Accordingly, Mr. Cohen hereby moves for immediate injunctive and equitable relief seeking the opportunity to have his counsel review the seized documents in the first instance, before any review by any law enforcement personnel, for privilege and responsiveness, and, if the Court believes it necessary, for the appointment of a Special Master to supervise that review process.

Trump moved to intervene that same day, April 13, just four days after the seizures.

In the case of the search on Rudy’s phones, SDNY itself asked for a Special Master the next day (though Trump never intervened).

There have to be similar discussions going on now. There just have to be. Trump’s paucity of lawyers — and the conflict posed by the possibility that Evan Corcoran, his most competent current defense attorney, may be conflicted out by dint of having signed an affirmation that Trump turned over all his classified documents in June — cannot explain a full week delay.

But thus far, in spite of every media outlet and their mother filing motions to unseal the search affidavit itself, no one has started pushing to unseal an inevitable fight over access to the seized material. (Again, by comparison, the NYT filed to intervene the day the Cohen warrant docket was made public.)

So for whatever reasons, a full week has elapsed since a lawful search executed on the golf resort of the former President and the first we’re learning about legal discussions — aside from NYT’s revelation that Trump made a veiled threat against Merrick Garland on Thursday — is Trump’s complaint covering just the documents that don’t seem to implicate the Espionage Act.

Something has caused that discussion to remain sealed. And that, by itself, is remarkable.

Update: As klynn reminds in comments, another document that the Trump White House altered was the MemCon of the meeting between Trump and Sergey Lavrov in which he gave the Russians highly sensitive intelligence. I laid out what we know of that alteration, the fall-out, and Mueller’s investigation into it here. If my theory about the SSA receipt is right, that any remaining unaltered record of the meeting found at MAL would be on the SSA receipt. Except the alterations, in this case, are not yet known to involve an attorney, so would not be attorney-client privileged.

emptywheel Trump Espionage coverage

Trump’s Timid (Non-Legal) Complaints about Attorney-Client Privilege

18 USC 793e in the Time of Shadow Brokers and Donald Trump

[from Rayne] Other Possible Classified Materials in Trump’s Safe

Trump’s Stolen Documents

John Solomon and Kash Patel May Be Implicated in the FBI’s Trump-Related Espionage Act Investigation

[from Peterr] Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

Three Ways Merrick Garland and DOJ Spoke of Trump as if He Might Be Indicted

The Legal and Political Significance of Nuclear Document[s] Trump Is Suspected to Have Stolen

Merrick Garland Calls Trump’s Bluff

Trump Keeps Using the Word “Cooperate.” I Do Not Think That Word Means What Trump Wants the Press To Think It Means

[from Rayne] Expected Response is Expected: Trump and Right-Wing DARVO

DOJ’s June Mar-a-Lago Trip Helps Prove 18 USC 793e

The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit

All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

FBI Executes a Search Warrant at 1100 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL 33480

Pat Cipollone Predicted the Obstruction and ConFraudUS Prosecutions

This morning, for the second time in two weeks, Liz Cheney called out former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, by name, to cooperate with the January 6 Committee.

Yesterday’s testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson revealed one reason why his testimony would be so important. He predicted — on January 3 or 4th — that Trump might be prosecuted under the very same crimes DOJ has been charging for well over a year: conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of the vote certification.

Cheney: We understand, Ms. Hutchinson, that you also spoke to Mr. Cipollone on the morning of the Sixth, as you were about to go to the rally on the Ellipse. And Mr. Cipollone said something to you like, “make sure the movement to the Capitol does not happen.” Is that correct?

Hutchinson: That’s correct. I saw Mr. Cipollone right before I walked out onto West Exec that morning and Mr. Cipollone said something to the effect of, “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.”

Cheney: And do you remember which crimes Mr. Cipollone was concerned with?

Hutchinson: In the days leading up to the sixth, we had conversations about obstructing justice of defrauding the electoral count.

Cheney: Let’s hear about some of those concerns that you mentioned earlier in one of your interviews with us.

{video clip}

Hutchinson: … having a private conversation with Pat on the after noon of third or fourth, um, that Pat was concerned it would look like we were obstructing justice, or obstructing the electoral college count. I apologize for probably not being very firm with my legal terms here.

Or rather, Cipollone didn’t predict Trump would be charged with ConFraudUS and obstruction. He predicted “we” would, presumably including himself and even Hutchinson.

Here I’ve thought I was ahead of the curve by predicting — last August — that if Trump were prosecuted, it would be for those crimes. It turns out that Trump’s White House Counsel was way ahead of me, predicting the same even before the insurrection!

Cipollone’s recognition of this legal exposure is important for a number of reasons. First, it validates DOJ’s approach — and does so in advance of the DC Circuit’s consideration of DOJ’s appeal of Carl Nichols’ outlier opinion rejecting such an application.

Those are also the crimes named in the warrant served on Jeffrey Clark last week.

But Cipollone’s awareness of this exposure also may explain why Cipollone has been reluctant to testify (though it’s possible he has testified with DOJ and simply doesn’t want that to be public). Hutchinson laid out a number of things that Cipollone did on January 6 that made it clear he was not willingly going along with Trump’s actions, most notably his efforts to get Trump to call off his mob before Trump re-ignited them with his 2:24 text attacking Mike Pence again. If there was a conspiracy to obstruct the vote certification, he took overt acts to leave that conspiracy before and during the conspiracy on January 6.

By that point, however, it may have been too late for Cipollone to avoid all exposure to Trump’s corrupt actions. That’s because Cipollone would have been involved in the pardons of those — Cheney focused on Roger Stone and Mike Flynn last night, but Bernie Kerik and Paul Manafort also got pardons — who would go on to play key roles in Trump’s insurrection. (I assume Cipollone was not involved in the Bannon pardon that came after the attack, and I noted in real time that Cipollone likely prevented a bunch of other pardons that would have made obstruction more likely.) That is, Cipollone might have exposure for obstruction for actions already taken by January 3 or 4 when he explained this legal exposure to Hutchinson.

Even Bill Barr said that rewarding false testimony with a pardon would be obstruction. And Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort all delivered on that quid pro quo.

For all Liz Cheney’s specific exhortations, Cipollone may know better than to testify to Congress. Because without testifying to DOJ, first, that may cause him more legal trouble than his current (presumed) silence.

Update: As a number of people in comments noted, the Committee has formally subpoenaed Cipollone.

January 6 Committee Details The Big Fraud Monetizing The Big Lie

The second hearing from the January 6 Committee was just as well choreographed as the first one, with an even greater reliance on Republican voices to make the case against Trump, including:

  • Bill Barr
  • Bill Stepien
  • Al Schmidt
  • Alex Cannon
  • Ivanka
  • Rudy Giuliani
  • Sidney Powell
  • Chris Stirewalt
  • Jason Miller
  • Ben Ginsberg

Here’s my live tweet of the hearing.

The presentation started by describing how Trump was told on election night that the news looked bad. The presentation ended by showing how those attacking the Capitol cited Trump’s lies to justify their actions.

Perhaps the most effective part of the hearing, however, was a video shown near the end that talked about how Trump monetized the Big Lie. He raised $250M telling lies about voter fraud.

Some of that money went to Mark Meadows’ “charity,” the Conservative Partnership Institute and even more went to Paul Manafort’s company, Event Strategies.

This is the kind of activity, fundraising making false claim, that got Steve Bannon charged with wire fraud and it’s the kind of scheme behind the investigation into Sidney Powell.

The Ongoing Investigation into Paul Manafort’s Handlers

In this post, I noted that 22 months after Andrew Weissmann’s team wrote a 37-page report, plus a classified supplement, describing what they had learned about Paul Manafort’s role in the 2016 election operation, SSCI dedicated 142 pages of their 966 page report on the counterintelligence threat posed by Trump’s former campaign manager. The latter report, which had fewer investigative tools and relied heavily on the earlier effort, just stuck classified information right into the text and then redacted great swaths of it.

Among the things known to but redacted by SSCI in 2020 but not included in the unclassified parts of the Team M Report in 2018 are:

In other words, by 2020, investigators working with derivative investigative tools found a great deal of evidence to suggest that Deripaska and Kilimnik were not only centrally involved in Russia’s intelligence operation targeting the US in 2016, but also a concerted plan to undermine in the investigation into it after the fact.

Around about the time SSCI finished their report, the FBI offered a $250,000 reward leading to Kilimnik’s arrest.

All that is why I’m interested that the Team M Report, released in 2022, after the statute of limitations has expired on most crimes tied to the 2016 election (though not a conspiracy that continued after it), was released with so many b7A redactions reflecting an ongoing investigation.

I’ve put a list of them all below.

There are three redactions I find particularly remarkable.

Pericles

The treatment of Pericles, the investment fund that Manafort set up and Deripaska funded in 2007, is uneven among the four stories that tell Manafort’s story (it is mentioned in passing in the breach litigation). A paragraph introducing it in the Mueller Report serves to set up Rick Gates’ explanation that Manafort’s outreach to Deripaska during the campaign was an effort to settle Deripaska’s lawsuit relating to the fund. There’s a bit more in the SSCI Report, including the detail that while Kilimnik initially served as Manafort’s point of contact for the deal, Manafort later tried to hide aspects of it from him so as to hide it from the other Oligarchs. There’s a redacted paragraph as well, perhaps tied to the funding.

Pericles may be the one topic which the Team M Report dedicates more space to than the SSCI Report. After introducing the fund, a heavily-redacted paragraph, including a b7A exemption, describes the dispute that arose between Manafort and Deripaska. Then two of the lettered footnotes the Team M Report used to describe context are also redacted under a b7A redaction. There’s also a paragraph redacted using only a b5 (deliberative process) exemption describing the dispute.

Remember: That dispute was a key part of Deripaska’s double game in 2016, a way to make Manafort more insecure even as squeezing him to get cooperation on the campaign. Christopher Steele played a (as far as is known, unwitting) role in that double game, so if Deripaska injected the dossier with disinformation, that’s likely how he did so. But it’s the 13-year old business arrangement itself, and not the 6-year old exploitation of it, that remains redacted in the Team M Report as part of an ongoing investigation.

The August 2 Meeting

Then consider how the passage on the August 2, 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik appears in the Team M Report (as released under FOIA).

The story of the Havana Bar meeting is one that got told in depth by the Breach Litigation, the Mueller Report, and the SSCI Report — indeed, it was a central focus of the Breach Litigation, one that particularly impressed Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The Mueller Report provided a 3-page description that is, with just two exceptions, redacted only with grand jury redactions. The Mueller Report version describes the three topics discussed at the meeting this way:

As to the contents of the meeting itself, the accounts of Manafort and Gates–who arrived late to the dinner–differ in certain respects. But their version of events, when assessed alongside available documentary evidence and what Kilimnik told business associate Sam Patten, indicate that at least three principal topics were discussed.

In addition to redacting, under a b7A redaction, what else, besides campaign headquarters, was across the street from the Havana Club (possibly in Trump Tower), the Team M Report redacts much of the discussion about the differences between the three stories. Even the description of the three versions are structured differently.

The bulk of Manafort’s story — four and a half pages — focuses on the plan to carve up Ukraine, including the follow-up efforts made over the following two years. There’s an explicit reference — the only unredacted such reference within the body of the report — to more of the story appearing in the classified appendix. And just a short paragraph, partially redacted under a b7A exemption, discusses Manafort explaining to Kilimnik how he planned to win swing states.

Gates’ version focuses more on Manafort’s attempts to get paid (which may not appear in Manafort’s version at all). Whatever discussion Gates provided of the Ukraine plan is redacted under b7A; the most recent release of Gates’ 302s also redacts a lot about the August 2 meeting, including the cover story he told before he started cooperating.

Patten’s version of the meeting — which reflects what Kilimnik told Patten after the fact — is even more redacted than the Gates version in the Team M report. Those redacted passages may redact discussions that appear redacted in the most recent release of Patten’s 302s but which were cited in unredacted form in the SSCI Report. According to that, Manafort told Kilimnik that the way to win was to focus on increasing Hillary’s negatives.

Patten’s debriefing with the SCO provides the most granular account of what information Kilimnik obtained at the August 2, 2016 meeting:

Kilimnik told Patten that at the New York cigar bar meeting, Manafort stated that they have a plan to beat Hillary Clinton which included Manafort bringing discipline and an organized strategy to the campaign. Moreover, because Clinton’s negatives were so low [sic]-if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio ‘s polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a ‘therm poll, ‘ were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win. 458

If that’s what does appear in the Team M Report, it remains redacted, in part under an ongoing investigation exemption. It focuses on the election, not the effort to carve up Ukraine.

Incidentally, the SSCI Report reveals one detail no other source I know did: Manafort met with Rudy and Trump before he went to meet Kilimnik. As the SSCI Report notes, this also happens to be the day before Stone started pitching Manafort on a way to save the candidate.

March, April, and May 2016

As noted above, the SSCI Report has heavily redacted passages discussing activities involving Kilimnik and Deripaska in March and April 2016. They don’t show up in the unclassified part of the Team M Report or the Mueller Report at all.

The May 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik does appear in the Mueller Report, though.

Manafort twice met with Kilimnik in person during the campaign period—once in May and again in August 2016. The first meeting took place on May 7, 2016, in New York City.905 In the days leading to the meeting, Kilimnik had been working to gather information about the political situation in Ukraine. That included information gleaned from a trip that former Party of Regions official Yuriy Boyko had recently taken to Moscow—a trip that likely included meetings between Boyko and high-ranking Russian officials.906 Kilimnik then traveled to Washington, D.C. on or about May 5, 2016; while in Washington, Kilimnik had pre-arranged meetings with State Department employees.907

Late on the evening of May 6, Gates arranged for Kilimnik to take a 3:00 a.m. train to meet Manafort in New York for breakfast on May 7.908 According to Manafort, during the meeting, he and Kilimnik talked about events in Ukraine, and Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the Trump Campaign, expecting Kilimnik to pass the information back to individuals in Ukraine and elsewhere.909 Manafort stated that Opposition Bloc members recognized Manafort’s position on the Campaign was an opportunity, but Kilimnik did not ask for anything.910 Kilimnik spoke about a plan of Boyko to boost election participation in the eastern zone of Ukraine, which was the base for the Opposition Bloc.911 Kilimnik returned to Washington, D.C. right after the meeting with Manafort.

There are two passages that reference the May meeting in the Team M Report, albeit in less detail than appears in the Mueller Report (notably leaving out Yuriy Boyko’s trip to Moscow, as well as Gates’ arrangements for the trip).

During the late spring of 2016, Kilimnik continued to collect information on the political situation in Ukraine.

[4 line b5 redaction]

Kilimnik further explained that he planned to be in Washington, D.C., between May 5 and May 8, 2016.8

[snip]

On May 7, 2016, Kilimnik met with Manafort in New York City.97 Gates arranged the meeting and purchased Kilimnik’s Amtrak tickets from Washington, D.C. to New York.98 According to Manafort, he briefed Kilimnik on the Trump campaign, expecting Kilimnik to pass the information back to individuals in Ukraine and elsewhere.99 Manafort stated that Kilimnik did not ask for anything based upon Manafort’s position with the campaign.100 Kilimnik spoke about Boyko’s plan for election participation in the occupied zone of Ukraine.

But this discussion has some big b7A redactions, including some redacting personal information and others redacting law enforcement techniques. In other words, whereas Mueller was able to include at least some discussion of the May meeting in the report, parts of it remain sensitive, three years later, even as Russia attempts to implement a plan to carve up Ukraine, now using force, pitched to Manafort at that Havana Bar meeting.

There seems to be increased investigative interest in those spring 2016 events as time has passed, so much so that DOJ may be sharing less than Mueller did in his initial release.

To be clear: none of these redactions mean that Manafort is at legal risk from these ongoing investigations. As noted, the statutes of limitation have expired for most criminal exposure (unless as part of a continuing conspiracy). More likely, all these b7A redactions indicate counterintelligence investigations, not criminal ones.

But what’s interesting about the release of this report, 40 months after it was written, is that it hasn’t gotten any less sensitive over time.

b7A redactions

  • Possible reference to Rick Gates’ role on the Inauguration Committee
  • Manafort’s consulting work for Deripaska
  • Pericles fund
  • Kilimnik’s ties to Russian intelligence services and IRI
  • Jonathan Hawker and Alex Van der Zwaan on Kilimnik’s ties to RIS
  • Kilimnik’s ties to Viktor Boyarkin
  • Kilimnik’s May 2016 trip to the US
  • The August 2 meeting with Kilimnik in the Havana Club
  • A reference to Kilimnik’s reference to black caviar
  • The plan to carve up Ukraine
  • Manafort’s plan to win the election
  • Gates’ version of the August 2 meeting
  • Sam Patten’s version of the August 2 meeting
  • Manafort’s sharing of polling data
  • The purpose behind Manafort’s trip to Spain
  • The second meeting in Spain

Four Stories about Paul Manafort from Andrew Weissmann’s Team M

The NYT recently liberated via FOIA the alternative report written by Andrew Weissmann’s Team M, focused on Manafort, as part of the Mueller investigation. As Josh Gerstein described when he wrote up the report, it is heavily redacted and as such includes virtually no new factual details from what has already been made public. But that doesn’t mean the report is uninteresting.

After all, even presenting exactly the same allegations that we’ve seen elsewhere as it does, the report tells us certain things about the investigation.

Before I lay out what the report shows, I want to review the four times this story has been told:

As I laid out in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon series on Roger Stone, by comparing the various stories and understanding how each meets the particular genre and purpose of the document, we can better identify the gaps and inclusions of each.

(Another place to find more of the investigation into Manafort is in interview 302s; I’ve pulled together all the 302s for Sam Patten and Rick Gates; many of the most recent versions of the Manafort 302s appear in this FOIA release.)

The four stories, read together, reveal that there was a great deal of evidence that Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik leveraged Manafort as part of their very active role in the 2016 operation, as well as follow-up efforts to undermine the investigation into the 2016 operation. The SSCI Report even suggests Kilimnik had a role in the hack-and-leak campaign. Yet none of that showed up in unclassified parts of the Mueller Report and related documents. That’s partly true because all three of those documents — the unclassified part of the Team M Report, the Breach Determination, and the Mueller Report itself — played specific legal functions.

As with the ongoing investigation into Roger Stone that continued past the conclusion of the Mueller Report, those specific legal roles do not entail laying out where an ongoing investigation is headed. That’s why one of the most informative parts of the Team M Report, as released 40 months after it was written, are the number of sections that remain redacted under a b7A ongoing investigation redaction.

N0vember 18, 2018: Team M Report

In the days after the mid-term election in 2018, Trump fired Jeff Sessions, foreboding a different approach to Mueller’s supervision. Whether or not Mueller might otherwise have continued the investigation, with Sessions’ firing, investigators moved to conclude their work and write up a report of prosecutions and declinations. Team M wrote this report with an eye to documenting all their work. As Weissmann explained in his book, this report arose out of frustration with the decisions that Mueller’s Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley had made, both in limiting the scope of the investigation (which significantly excluded a review of Trump’s finances), and by obscuring gaps in the conclusions.

Teams M and R had many back-and-forths with Aaron with respect to this problem while drafting the report. Aaron was adamant that our report be conclusive, making only definitive conclusions, while the teams on the ground pushed back, noting the many gray areas and gaps in our evidence and the realms we decided not to examine, including the president’s financial ties to Russia; our failure to obtain the truthful cooperation of witnesses who’d been influenced by the president’s conduct in dangling the prospect of a pardon; what questions remained outstanding; what evidence we could not obtain; and our inability to interview certain other witnesses at all, up to and including the president. Only some of these limitations made it into the final report, as Team M and Team R did not have the pen—that is, the final say. To remedy this, at least for posterity, I had all the members of Team M write up an internal report memorializing everything we found, our conclusions, and the limitations on the investigation, and provided it to the other team leaders as well as had it maintained in our files.

We should have been more transparent. We knew our report would be made public and, while our superiors at the Justice Department understood the ultimate parameters of our investigation, the American people did not and cannot be expected to glean them all from our report.

In the end, the wrongdoing we found in the areas in which we chose to look, particularly in the one Russian financial deal we examined as a result of Cohen’s cooperation, left me with a deeply unsatisfying feeling about what else was out there that we did not examine. One of my strengths—and simultaneously one of my flaws—as an investigator is the desire to turn over every rock, go down every rabbit hole, try to master every detail. In this investigation, that tenacity was as much an asset as a curse: The inability to chase down all financial leads, or to examine all crimes, gnawed at me, and still does.

This report, then, was an attempt to capture significant findings that would not make it into the ultimate report.

The Team M Report is structured this way:

The Manafort Investigation — Overview

  • Manafort’s Background
  • Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik’s Criminal Prosecutions
  • Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
    • Deripaska Consulting Work
      • The Pericles Fund
    • Ukraine Political Consulting Work
    • Kilimnik
    • Manafort’s Work on the Trump Campaign (March–August 2016)
    • Russia & Ukraine Communications 2016-2018
      • Communications in March 2016
      • Communications in Spring/Summer 2016
      • The August 2, 2016 Meeting
        • [Manafort’s Account]
        • Gates’ Account
        • Patten’s Account
      • Manafort’s Sharing Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik
      • Post-Election Meetings and Contacts

In addition to that overview, the report includes three things:

  • Lettered footnotes: These seem to explain the context and gaps that Weissmann complained were not making it into the final report.
  • Numbered footnotes: These provide the sources and map directly onto the publicly identified sources in the Mueller Report itself.
  • “A supplemental submission which is classified:” We can identify some of what might appear in this supplemental submission from the SSCI Report.

December 7, 2018 through March 2, 2019: Breach Litigation

The Team M Report is dated just three days after a joint request to delay a status report in Manafort’s case and eight days before the delayed joint status report reported that Manafort had breached his plea agreement. So it was written at a time when the Weissmann team understood that Manafort had strung them out through the election and had presumably decided to hold him in breach of his plea agreement. But the Team M Report does not correlate, in structure or content, to the list of topics that Weissmann’s team asserted (successfully in three of five areas) that Manafort had been lying about.

The primary representations from Weissmann’s team in the breach litigation were:

In those documents and the hearing, Weissmann’s team laid out their case that Manafort had lied about:

Payment to Wilmer Hale: Manafort engaged in some kind of dodgy accounting — perhaps some kind of kickback involving two of Manafort’s firms — to get money to pay his lawyers at Wilmer Hale, who represented Manafort until August 2017.

Manafort’s efforts to protect Konstantin Kilimnik in the witness tampering conspiracy: In 2018, Kilimnik and Manafort were charged for conspiring to hide aspects of their Hapsburg Project, a front NGO used to hide lobbying for Ukraine behind high ranking former European officials. ABJ ruled that the government had not proven that Manafort lied about this topic, because Manafort quickly flip-flopped on his efforts to deny that Kilimnik had conspired with him to hide details of the front.

Interactions with Kilimnik: ABJ did rule that Manafort had lied to cover up details of his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, starting during the election and continuing through 2018. This accused lie covers much of the material presented in the Team M Report, but covers (at least in unclassified form, though the classified supplement to the Team M Report must include later communications) a broader time period.

Another DOJ investigation: ABJ judged that Weissmann’s team proved that Manafort lied to cover up details pertinent to another investigation. Given the timing of the allegations and a footnote that must modify the overview section links to Michael Cohen’s Criminal Information, the other investigation is likely the investigation into hush payments to Karen McDougal. The government’s initial submission describes that the information implicated Senior Administration Officials, which must implicate Trump himself and, likely, Kushner. In addition to Cohen and Don Jr., some parts of this lie also appear to implicate Roger Stone.

Manafort’s Contact with the Administration: The government tried, but failed, to prove that Manafort was hiding his ongoing contacts with the Trump Administration, including lobbying others were doing targeting the Department of Labor pertaining to ERISA. Significantly, prosecutors did not include ongoing communication conducted via lawyers.

March 22, 2019: Mueller Report

While Manafort shows up throughout the Mueller Report, the discussion of his case appears in four key areas:

All these prosecution, declination, and referral decisions — save the obstruction discussion pertaining to Trump himself — appear in a series of footnotes in Team M (curiously, Alex Van der Zwaan only appears in the Mueller Report in the “Referenced Persons” section, even though he is not referenced in the report itself). That reflects the stated difference in the documents. The legal purpose of the Mueller Report, as I’ve repeatedly reminded, was to lay out such prosecutorial decisions. Everything in the report should serve to explain those prosecutorial decisions and — at least in the Stone case — prosecutorial decisions that had not yet been reached don’t show up in the body of the Report.

The Manafort section is similar to, but does not quite map to, the structure of the Team M Report:

Overview

  • Paul Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
    • Oleg Deripaska Consulting Work
    • Political Consulting Work
    • Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Contacts during Paul Manafort’s Time with the Trump Campaign
    • Paul Manafort Joins the Campaign
    • Paul Manafort’s Campaign-Period Contacts
    • Paul Manafort’s Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States
    • Post-Resignation Activities

For reasons I’ll lay out below, I’m most interested that the Team M Report — which has a classified supplement — has a heading for “Communications in Spring/Summer 2016” and “The August 2, 2016 Meeting,” whereas the Mueller Report splits this into “Campaign-Period Contacts” and “Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States.”

August 18, 2000: SSCI Report

Finally, there is the substantial section — 142 pages of the 966 page report — of the SSCI Report dedicated to explaining why Paul Manafort was a counterintelligence threat to Donald Trump. This section treats Manafort as a threat because of his close ties to Deripaska and Kilimnik, and as such, SSCI’s discussions of those men’s roles in the 2016 operation appear in the Manafort section.

As I observed when conducting a similar comparison for Stone, both because the SSCI Report came later and because it is the only report that attempted to be comprehensive, it included things that weren’t included in the earlier reports.

Importantly, for our purpose, the SSCI Report’s approach to secrets was different. Whereas the Team M Report included a classified supplement, the SSCI Report included such material in the body of the report. Large swaths of this section were deemed classified when the SSCI Report was released in 2020 and, in spite of the fact that Avril Haines promised a review of these classification decisions, nothing new has been released since.

Here’s how the Manafort section of the SSCI Report is organized:

  • Introduction and Findings (included three entirely classified bullets on Kilimnik’s role in the hack-and-leak)
  • Limitations on the Committee’s Investigation
  • Background on Manafort’s Foreign Activities
    • Manafort’s Work with Oleg Deripaska
      • Manafort’s Influence Operations in Ukraine
      • Manafort’s Global Influence Operations for Deripaska
      • Konstantin Kilimnik
      • Pericles
    • Manafort’s Work in Ukraine for the Party of Regions (PoR)
  • Manafort’s Activities from 2014 until Joining the Trump Campaign
    • Former-PoR Associates in Ukraine
    • Deripaska and Pericles Lawsuit
  • Manafort’s Activities While Serving on the Trump Campaign
    • Manafort’s Entry into the Trump Campaign
    • Kilimnik’s Awareness of Manafort’s Hiring Before the Public Announcement [including redacted section that, by context, must describe a March 2016 Kilimnik trip to the US]
    • Manafort Announces His Position on the Trump Campaign; Extends Private Offers to Russian and Ukrainian Oligarchs
    • [Heavily redacted section on] Kilimnik and Deripaska’s Activities in April
    • Manafort and Kilimnik Meet in New York City; Discuss Ukraine, Trump Campaign Strategy; Sharing of Internal Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik Begins
    • Manafort Offers to Brief Deripaska Through Kilimnik and Boyarkin; Kilimnik Appears to Have Insider Knowledge of Trump Campaign; [redacted] and Kilimnik Coordinate on [redacted] [includes redacted sections addressing Steele Report]
    • Manafort Meets with Kilimnik at the Grand Havana Room in New York City; They Discuss Polling Data, Ukraine Plan, and Debts
      • Internal Polling Information and Trump Campaign Strategy
      • Ukraine Peace Plan
    • [Heavily redacted section on] Possible Connections to GRU Hack-and-Leak Operation
    • The “Ledger” and Manafort’s Resignation
  • Manafort’s Activities For the Remainder of the Campaign
    • Manafort’s Continued Contact with the Trump Campaign; Kilimnik’s awareness of these contacts
    • Manafort’s Involvement in Ukrainian Government Outreach to the Campaign
  • Manafort’s Activities After the Election
    • [Redacted] Kilimnik Seeks to Leverage His Relationship with Manafort; Coordinates [redacted]
    • Manafort and Kilimnik Communicate with Yanukovych in Russia Related to Ukraine Plan; Attempt Communications Countermeasures
    • [Redacted] Kilimnik and Boyarkin Arrange Meeting for Manafort in Madrid; Manafort [redacted]
    • Kilimnik and Lyovochkin Travel to Washington D.C. for Inauguration, Meet with Manafort and Discuss Ukraine
    • Kilimnik and Manafort Meet in Madrid; Discuss Counter-Narratives and Ukraine
    • [Significantly Redacted] Russian Influence Operations to Undermine Investigations into Russian Interference [includes developments through late 2019, including Rudy Giuliani-related activities of John Solomon]
    • Manafort’s Continued Efforts with Kilimnik on Ukraine; Kilimnik’s Own Continued Activities [includes 8 mostly-redacted pages going through 2020]
    • Manafort and Gates Communications Regarding Investigations
  • Manafort’s Associates Ties to Russian Intelligence Services [Heavily redacted]
    • Oleg Deripaska and His Aides
      • Deripaska’s Kremlin Ties
      • Deripaska’s “Chief of Staff”: Viktor Boyarkin
      • Deripaska’s Strategic Advisor: Georgy Oganov
      • Deripaska’s Role in Russian Active Measures in Montenegro
      • Deripaska’s Involvement in Other Russian Active Measures
      • Deripaska’s Connections to Hacking Operations
    • Konstantin Kilimnik

The section of the Manafort materials dedicated to limitations on SSCI’s investigation makes it clear that it relies, in significant part, on the Mueller Report, with all the limitations on that given Manafort’s obstruction. That said, the SSCI Report scope goes through 2019, so obviously also includes later intelligence reporting for many of the mostly redacted later passages. Yet the SSCI Report includes great swaths of material that appear nowhere in the public Mueller materials — save, perhaps, in the classified supplement referenced in the Team M Report. That includes March 2016 visits — seemingly by both Kilimnik and Deripaska — to the US, as well as something that happened in April 2016 more closely linked to Trump’s campaign.

These vast redactions — going to core issues of the Mueller investigation, such as whether Trump’s own campaign manager and the campaign manager’s life-long rat-fucker friend had a direct role in the hack-and-leak campaign and disinformation injected through the Steele dossier — likely reflect both the redacted sections in the earlier reporting and, more importantly, the classified supplement of the Team M Report.

That all means it was likely that, when Trump fired Jeff Sessions in November 2018, the Mueller team had evidence directly linking Manafort, through Kilimnik and through him to Deripaska, to the hack-and-leak operation.

That may explain why Weissmann wanted to ensure his team captured their findings in the Team M Report.

There Was No Crime Predicating the Durham Investigation

Deep in a NYT piece that suggests but does not conclude that John Durham’s purpose is to feed conspiracy theories, Charlie Savage writes,

Mr. Barr’s mandate to Mr. Durham appears to have been to investigate a series of conspiracy theories.

That’s as close as any traditional media outlet has come to looking at the flimsy predication for Durham’s initial appointment.

Billy Barr, however, has never hidden his goal. In his memoir, he describes returning to government — with an understanding about the Russian investigation gleaned from the propaganda bubble of Fox News, not any firsthand access to the evidence — with a primary purpose of undermining the Russian investigation. He describes having to appoint Durham to investigate what he believed, again based off Fox propaganda, to be a bogus scandal.

I would soon make the difficult decision to go back into government in large part because I saw the way the President’s adversaries had enmeshed the Department of Justice in this phony scandal and were using it to hobble his administration. Once in office, it occupied much of my time for the first six months of my tenure. It was at the heart of my most controversial decisions. Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal.

In his shameless excuses for bypassing MLAT to grill foreigners about their role in the investigation, Barr describes “ha[ving] to run down” whether there was anything nefarious about the intelligence allies shared with the US — a rather glorified description for “chasing George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories around the globe.”

Durham’s investigation was up and running by the late spring. Pending IG Horowitz’s completion of his review of Crossfire Hurricane, I asked Durham to focus initially on any relevant activities by the CIA, NSA, or friendly foreign intelligence services. One of the more asinine aspects of media coverage about Durham’s investigation was all the heavy breathing during the summer as news seeped out that I had contacts with foreign governments on Durham’s behalf. Various journalists and commentators claimed this indicated that I was personally conducting the investigation and suggested there was something nefarious about my communicating with allied governments about Russiagate. [sic] This coverage was a good example of the kind of partisan nonsense that passes as journalism these days.

One of the questions that had to be run down was whether allied intelligence services had any role in Russiagate [sic] or had any relevant information. One question was whether US officials had asked foreign intelligence services to spy on Americans. Various theories of potential involvement by British, Australian, or Italian intelligence agencies had been raised over the preceding two years. Talking to our allies about these matters was an essential part of the investigation. It should not surprise anyone that a prosecutor cannot just show up on the door- step of a foreign intelligence agency and start asking questions. An introduction and explanation at more senior levels is required. So— gasp!—I contacted the relevant foreign ambassadors, who in turn put me in touch with an appropriate senior official in their country with authority to deal with such matters. These officials quite naturally wanted to hear from me directly about the contours of the investigation and how their information would be protected.

Much later, when Barr claimed that Durham would not lower DOJ standards just to obtain results, Barr again described an investigation launched to “try to get to the bottom of what happened” rather than investigate a potential crime.

I acknowledged that what had happened to President Trump in 2016 was abhorrent and should not happen again. I said that the Durham investigation was trying to get to the bottom of what happened but “cannot be, and it will not be, a tit-for-tat exercise.” I pledged that Durham would adhere to the department’s standards and would not lower them just to get results. I then added a point, meant to temper any expectation that the investigation would necessarily produce any further indictments:

[W]e have to bear in mind [what] the Supreme Court recently re- minded [us] in the “Bridgegate” case—there is a difference between an abuse of power and a federal crime. Not every abuse of power, no matter how outrageous, is necessarily a federal crime.

And then Durham lowered DOJ standards and charged two false statement cases for which he had (and has, in the case of Igor Danchenko) flimsy proof and for which, in the case of Michael Sussmann, he had not tested the defendant’s sworn explanation before charging. Durham further lowered DOJ standards by turning false statement cases into uncharged conspiracies he used to make wild unsubstantiated allegations about a broad network of others.

This entire three year process was launched with no evidence that a crime was committed, and it seems likely that only the Kevin Clinesmith prosecution, which DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz handed Durham months after he was appointed as a fait accompli and which could easily have been prosecuted by the DC US Attorney’s Office, provided an excuse to convene a grand jury to start digging in the coffers of Fusion GPS and Perkins Coie.

There was no crime. Durham was never investigating a suspected crime and then, as statutes of limitation started expiring, he hung a conspiracy theory on a claimed false statement for which he had no solid proof. Eight months into Durham repeating those conspiracy theories at every turn — conspiracy theories that Durham admitted would not amount to a crime in any case! — a jury told Durham he had inadequate proof a crime was committed and that the entire thing had been a waste of time and resources.

“The government had the job of proving beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said, declining to give her name. “We broke it down…as a jury. It didn’t pan out in the government’s favor.”

Asked if she thought the prosecution was worthwhile, the foreperson said: “Personally, I don’t think it should have been prosecuted because I think we have better time or resources to use or spend to other things that affect the nation as a whole than a possible lie to the FBI. We could spend that time more wisely.”

Compare that to the Russian investigation, which was started to figure out which Trump associate had advance knowledge of Russia’s criminal hack-and-leak operation and whether they had any criminal exposure in it. Here’s how Peter Strzok described it in his book:

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

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

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

[snip]

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

The answer, by the way, was that at least two Trump associates had advance knowledge, George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone, and Stone shared his advance knowledge with Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump, among others. By all appearances, DOJ was still investigating whether Stone had criminal exposure tied to his advance knowledge when Barr interfered in that investigation in February 2020, a fact that Barr hid until the day before the 2020 election.

With the Russian investigation, there was a crime: a hack by a hostile nation-state of a Presidential candidate, along with evidence that her opponent at least knew about the related leak campaign in advance. With the Durham investigation, there were only Fox News conspiracy theories and the certainty that Donald Trump shouldn’t be held accountable for encouraging Russia to hack his opponent.

The fact that this entire three year wild goose hunt was started without any predicating crime is all the more ridiculous given Durham’s repeated focus both on the predication of Crossfire Hurricane (in criticizing Horowitz’s report on Carter Page) and the Alfa Bank inquiry (during the Sussmann trial). John Durham, appointed to investigate conspiracy theories, deigns to lecture others about appropriate predication.

And that’s undoubtedly why, in the face of this humiliating result for Durham, Billy Barr is outright lying about what Durham’s uncharged conspiracy theories revealed about the predication of the Russian investigation.

He and his team did an exceptionally able job, both digging out very important facts and presenting a compelling case to the jury. And the fact that he … well, he did not succeed in getting a conviction from the DC jury, I think he accomplished something far more important, which is he brought out the truth in two important areas. First, I think he crystalized the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching — as a dirty trick — the whole RussiaGate [sic] collusion [sic] narrative and fanning the flames of it, and second, I think, he exposed really dreadful behavior by the supervisors in the FBI, the senior ranks of the FBI, who knowingly used this information to start an investigation of Trump and then duped their own agents by lying to them and refusing to tell them what the real source of that information was.

That’s not what the trial showed, of course. Every witness who was asked about the centrality of the Alfa Bank allegations responded that there were so many other ties between Trump and Russia that the Alfa Bank allegations didn’t much stick out. Here’s how Robby Mook described it in questioning by Michael Bosworth.

[I]t was one of many pieces of information we had. And, in fact, every day, you know, Donald Trump was saying things about Putin and saying things about Russia. So this was a constituent piece of information among many pieces of information, and I don’t think we saw it as this silver bullet that was going to conclude the campaign and, you know, determine the outcome, no.

Q. There were a lot of Trump/Russia issues you were focused on?

A. Correct.

Q. And this was one of many?

A. Correct.

In response to questioning by Sean Berkowitz, Marc Elias traced the increased focus on Russia to Trump’s own request for Russia to hack Hillary.

Q. Let’s take a look — let me ask a different question. At some point in the summer of 2016, did Candidate Trump make any statements publicly about the hack?

A. Yes.

Q. What do you recall him saying and when?

A. There was a publication of emails, of DNC emails, in the days leading up to the Democratic National Convention. And it was in my opinion at the time clearly an effort by Russia to ruin what is the one clean shot that candidates get to talk to the American public. Right? The networks give you free coverage for your convention. And in the days before the convention, there was a major leak. And rather than doing what any decent human being might do and condemn it, Donald Trump said: I hope Russia is listening and, if so, will find the 30,000 Hillary Clinton emails that he believed existed and release them. That’s what I remember.

Q. Did you feel the campaign was under attack, sir?

A. We absolutely were under attack.

Q. And in connection with that, were there suggestions or possibilities at least in your mind and in the campaign’s mind that there could be a connection between Russia and Trump?

A. Again, this is, you know — this was public — Donald Trump — you know, the Republican Party historically has been very anti-Russia. Ronald Reagan was like the most anti-communist, the most anti-Soviet Union president.

And all of a sudden you had this guy who becomes the nominee; and they change the Russian National Committee platform to become pro-Russian and he has all these kind things to say about Putin. And then he makes this statement.

And in the meantime, he has hired, you know, Paul Manafort, who is, you know, I think had some ties to — I don’t recall anymore, but it was some pro-Russia thing in Ukraine.

So yeah. I thought that there were — I thought it was plausible. I didn’t know, but I thought it was an unusual set of circumstances and I thought it was plausible that Donald Trump had relations with — through his company with Russia.

Democrats didn’t gin up the focus on Trump’s ties to Russia, Trump’s own begging for more hacking did.

The trial also showed that this wasn’t an investigation into Trump. Rather, it was opened as an investigation into Kirkland & Ellis client Alfa Bank, which FBI believed had ties to Russian intelligence.

The investigation even considered whether Alfa Bank was victimizing Trump Organization.

Barr is similarly lying about whether supervisors revealed the source(s) of this information and what it was.

The source for the allegations was not Hillary, but researchers. And the trial presented repeated testimony that David Dagon’s role as one source of the allegations being shared with investigative agents. That detail was not hidden, but agents nevertheless never interviewed Dagon.

And even the purported tie to the Democrats was not well hidden. Indeed, the trial evidence shows that the FBI believed the DNC to be the source of the allegations, and that detail leaked down to various agents — including the two cyber agents, Nate Batty and Scott Hellman, whose shoddy analysis encouraged all other agents to dismiss the allegations — via various means.

Andrew DeFilippis made great efforts (efforts that lowered DOJ standards) to claim differently, but the evidence that key investigators assumed this was a DNC tip was fairly strong.

Three years after launching an investigation into conspiracy theories, Barr is left lying, claiming he found the result he set out to find three years ago. But the evidence — and the jury’s verdict — proves him wrong.

For years, Durham has been seeking proof that the predication of the Russian investigation was faulty. The only crime he has proven in the interim is that his own investigation was predicated on Fox News conspiracy theories.

EDNY Accuses Tom Barrack of “Harvesting Assets” by Crafting Policy to Help UAE in a Trump Presidency

DOJ has superseded Tom Barrack’s indictment. It did not charge any of his not-yet charged co-conspirators, though it added language pertaining to Paul Manafort’s role, making him US Person 1 and demoting Steve Bannon to US Person 2. Two new paragraphs about Manafort’s role describe him crafting Trump’s platform to take out a promise to release 28 pages of the 9/11 Report implicating the Saudis.

The big addition to the indictment, however, focuses on Barrack’s payoff: investment by UAE’s Sovereign Wealth Fund in Colony Capital (remember, Colony is paying for Barrack’s defense). In the two years after Barrack helped UAE craft Trump’s policies, Colony got commitments for $374 million in investments from the SWF.

According to records maintained by Company A, Company A raised no new capital from United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth funds between 2009 and 2016. However, in2017 and 2018, in part as a result of the efforts of the defendants THOMAS JOSEPH BARRACK and MATTHEW GRIMES and the assistance of the defendant RASHID SULTAN RASHID AL MALIK ALSHAHHI and United Arab Emirates officials, Company A raised approximately $374 million in capital commitments from United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth funds.

The superseding indictment describes how Colony set up a fund with the intent of “harvesting assets” that will benefit from a Trump presidency, garnering political credibility by contributing to Trump’s policies.

On or about December 13,2016, the defendant MATTHEW GRIMES emailed himself a document summarizing the structure of the proposed investment fund, which stated in relevant part that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the [investment fund] [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also accomplish a secondary mandate to garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [the President-Elect]. . . . We will do so by sourcing investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in . . . those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.” [my emphasis]

There are no charges tied to “harvesting” the Trump policies that Barrack would push (though it makes the forfeiture allegations far meatier). It does, however, make it clear that’s what the Trump presidency was about: selling policy to rich autocrats around the world.

And particularly given the way Barrack ensured that Mohammed bin Salman would be treated as if he were already Crown Prince by the Trump administration, it makes Jared Kushner’s similar “harvesting” of Trump policies look all the more suspect.

Confirmed: John Durham Has Withheld Discovery That DOJ Already Disproved His Claims of Political Malice

In his reply filing in the fight over what evidence will be submitted at his trial, Michael Sussmann confirmed something I’ve long suspected: John Durham has not provided Sussmann with the discovery Durham would need to have provided to present his own conspiracy theories at trial without risking a major discovery violation.

Were the Special Counsel to try to suggest that Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Steele engaged in a common course of conduct, that would open the door to an irrelevant mini-trial about the accuracy of Mr. Steele’s allegations about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia—something that, like the Alfa Bank allegations, many experts continue to believe in, and about which the Special Counsel has tellingly failed to produce any significant discovery.

Sussmann dropped this in the filing without fanfare. But it is clear notice that if Durham continues down the path he is headed, he may face discovery sanctions down the road.

I explained why that’s true in these two posts. A core tenet of Durham’s conspiracy theories is that the only reason one would use proven cybersecurity methods to test certain hypotheses about Donald Trump would be for malicious political reasons. Here’s how Durham argued that in his own reply.

As the Government will demonstrate at trial, it was also the politically-laden and ethically-fraught nature of this project that gave Tech Executive-1 and the defendant a strong motive to conceal the origins of the Russian Bank-1 allegations and falsely portray them as the organic discoveries of concerned computer scientists.

There’s no external measure for what makes one thing political and makes another thing national security. But if this issue were contested, I assume that Sussmann would point, first, to truth as a standard. And as he could point out, many of the hypotheses April Lorenzen tested, which Durham points to as proof the project was malicious and political, turned out to be true. They were proven to be true by DOJ. Some of those true allegations involved guilty pleas to crimes, including FARA, explicitly designed to protect national security; another involved Roger Stone’s guilty verdict on charges related to his cover-up of his potential involvement in a CFAA hacking case.

DOJ (under the direction of Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who in those very same years was Durham’s direct supervisor) has already decided that John Durham is wrong about these allegations being political. Sussmann has both truth and DOJ’s backing on his side that these suspicions, if proven true (as they were), would be a threat to national security. Yet Durham persists in claiming to the contrary.

Here’s the evidence proving these hypotheses true that Durham has withheld in discovery:

The researchers were testing whether Richard Burt was a back channel to the Trump campaign. And while Burt’s more substantive role as such a (Putin-ordered) attempt to establish a back channel came during the transition, it is a fact that Burt was involved in several events earlier in the campaign at which pro-Russian entities tried to cultivate the campaign, including Trump’s first foreign policy speech. Neither Burt nor anyone else was charged with any crime, but Mueller’s 302s involving the Center for National Interest — most notably two very long interviews with Dmitri Simes (one, updated, two, updated), which were still under investigation in March 2020 — reflect a great deal of counterintelligence interest in the organization.

The researchers were also testing whether people close to Trump were laundering money from Putin-linked Oligarchs through Cyprus. That guy’s name is Paul Manafort, with the assistance of Rick Gates. Indeed, Manafort was ousted from the campaign during the period researchers were working on the data in part to distance the campaign from that stench (though it didn’t stop Trump from pardoning Manafort).

A more conspiratorial Lorenzen hypothesis (at least on its face) was that one of the family members of an Alfa Bank oligarch might be involved — maybe a son- or daughter-in-law. And in fact, German Khan’s son-in-law Alex van der Zwaan was working with Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik in precisely that time period to cover up Manafort’s ties to those Russian-backed oligarchs.

Then there was the suspicion — no doubt driven, on the Democrats’ part, by the correlation between Trump’s request to Russia for more hacking and the renewed wave of attacks that started hours later — that Trump had some back channel to Russia.

It turns out there were several. There was the aforementioned Manafort, who in the precise period when Rodney Joffe started more formally looking to see if there was a back channel, was secretly meeting at a cigar bar with alleged Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik discussing millions of dollars in payments involving Russian-backed oligarchs, Manafort’s plan to win the swing states, and an effort to carve up Ukraine that leads directly to Russia’s current invasion.

That’s the kind of back channel researchers were using proven cybersecurity techniques to look for. They didn’t confirm that one — but their suspicion that such a back channel existed proved absolutely correct.

Then there’s the Roger Stone back channel with Guccifer 2.0. Again, in this precise period, Stone was DMing with the persona. But the FBI obtained at least probable cause that Stone’s knowledge of the persona went back much further, back to even before the persona went public in June 2016. That’s a back channel that remained under investigation, predicated off of national security crimes CFAA, FARA, and 18 USC 951, at least until April 2020 and one that, because of the way Stone was scripting pro-Russian statements for Trump, might explain Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. DOJ was still investigating Stone’s possible back channel as a national security concern well after Durham was appointed to undermine that national security investigation by deeming it political.

Finally, perhaps the most important back channel — for Durham’s purposes — was Michael Cohen. That’s true, in part, because the comms that Cohen kept lying to hide were directly with the Kremlin, with Dmitri Peskov. That’s also true because on his call to a Peskov assistant, Cohen laid out his — and candidate Donald Trump’s — interest in a Trump Tower Moscow deal that was impossibly lucrative, but which also assumed the involvement of one or another sanctioned bank as well as a former GRU officer. That is, not only did Cohen have a back channel directly with the Kremlin he was trying to hide,  but it involved Russian banks that were far more controversial than the Alfa Bank ties that the researchers were pursuing, because the banks had been deemed to have taken actions that threatened America’s security.

This back channel is particularly important, though, because in the same presser where Trump invited Russia to hack his opponent more, he falsely claimed he had decided against pursuing any Trump Organization developments in Russia.

Russia that wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia. And they wanted us to do it. But it never worked out.

Frankly I didn’t want to do it for a couple of different reasons. But we had a major developer, particular, but numerous developers that wanted to develop property in Moscow and other places. But we decided not to do it.

The researchers were explicitly trying to disprove Trump’s false claim that there were no ongoing business interests he was still pursuing with Russia. And this is a claim that Michael Cohen not only admitted was false and described recognizing was false when Trump made this public claim, but described persistent efforts on Trump’s part to cover up his lie, continuing well into his presidency.

For almost two years of Trump’s Administration, Trump was lying to cover up his efforts to pursue an impossibly lucrative real estate deal that would have required violating or eliminating US sanctions on Russia. That entire time, Russia knew Trump was lying to cover up those back channel communications with the Kremlin. That’s the kind of leverage over a President that all Americans should hope to avoid, if they care about national security. That’s precisely the kind of leverage that Sally Yates raised when she raised concerns about Mike Flynn’s public lies about his own back channel with Russia. Russia had that leverage over Trump long past the time Trump limped out of a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, to which Trump had brought none of the aides who would normally sit in on a presidential meeting, looking like a beaten puppy.

Durham’s failures to provide discovery on this issue are all the more inexcusable given the fights over privilege that will be litigated this week.

As part of the Democrats’ nesting privilege claims objecting to Durham’s motion to compel privileged documents, Marc Elias submitted a declaration describing how, given his past knowledge and involvement defending against conspiracy theory attacks on past Democratic presidential candidates launched by Jerome Corsi and Donald Trump, and given Trump’s famously litigious nature, he believed he needed expertise on Trump’s international business ties to be able to advise Democrats on how to avoid eliciting such a lawsuit from Trump. (Note, tellingly, Durham’s motion to compel doesn’t mention a great deal of accurate Russian-language research by Fusion — to which Nellie Ohr was just one of a number of contributors — that was never publicly shared nor debunked as to quality.)

There are four redacted passages that describe the advice he provided; he is providing these descriptions ex parte for Judge Cooper to use to assess the Democrats’ privilege claims. Two short ones probably pertain to the scope of Perkins Coie’s relationship with the Democratic committees. Another short one likely describes Elias’ relationship, and through him, Fusion’s, with the oppo research staff on the campaign. But the longest redaction describing Elias’ legal advice, one that extends more than five paragraphs and over a page and a half, starts this way:

That is, the introduction to Elias’ description of the privilege claims tied to the Sussmann trial starts from Trump’s request of Russia to hack Hillary. Part of that sentence and the balance of the paragraph is redacted — it might describe that immediately after Trump made that request, the Russians fulfilled his request — but the redacted paragraph and the balance of the declaration presumably describes what legal advice he gave Hillary as she faced a new onslaught of Russian hacking attempts that seemingly responded to her opponent’s request for such hacking.

Given what Elias described about his decision to hire Fusion, part of that discussion surely explains his effort to assess an anomaly identified independently by researchers that reflected unexplained traffic between a Trump marketing server and a Russian bank. Elias probably described why it was important for the Hillary campaign to assess whether this forensic data explained why Russian hackers immediately responded to Trump’s request to hack her.

As I have noted, in past filings Durham didn’t even consider the possibility that Elias might discuss the renewed wave of hacking that Hillary’s security personnel IDed in real time with Sussmann, Perkins Coie’s cybersecurity expert.

It’s a testament to how deep John Durham is in his conspiracy-driven rabbit hole that he assumes a 24-minute meeting between Marc Elias and Michael Sussmann on July 31, 2016 to discuss the “server issue” pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. Just days earlier, after all, Donald Trump had asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton, and within hours, Russian hackers obliged by targeting, for the first time, Hillary’s home office. Someone who worked in security for Hillary’s campaign told me that from his perspective, the Russian attacks on Hillary seemed like a series of increasing waves of attacks, and the response to Trump’s comments was one of those waves (this former staffer documented such waves of attack in real time). The Hillary campaign didn’t need Robert Mueller to tell them that Russia seemed to respond to Trump’s request by ratcheting up their attacks, and Russia’s response to Trump would have been an urgent issue for the lawyer in charge of their cybersecurity response.

It’s certainly possible this reference to the “server” issue pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. But Durham probably doesn’t know; nor do I. None of the other billing references Durham suggests pertain to the Alfa Bank issue reference a server.

Durham took a reference that might pertain to a discussion of a correlation between Trump’s ask and a renewed wave of Russian attacks on Hillary (or might pertain to the Alfa Bank anomaly), and assumed instead it was proof that Hillary was manufacturing unsubstantiated dirt on her opponent. He never even considered the legal challenges someone victimized by a nation-state attack, goaded by her opponent, might face.

And yet, given the structure of that redaction from Elias, that event is the cornerstone of the privilege claims surrounding the Alfa Bank allegations.

Because of all the things I laid out in this post, Judge Cooper may never have to evaluate these privilege claims at all. To introduce privileged evidence, Durham has to first withstand:

  • Denial because his 404(b) notice asking to present it was late, and therefore forfeited
  • Denial because Durham’s motion to compel violated local rules and grand jury process, in some ways egregiously
  • Rejection because most of the communications over which the Democrats have invoked privilege are inadmissible hearsay
  • The inclusion or exclusion of the testimony of Rodney Joffe, whose privilege claims are the most suspect of the lot, but whose testimony would make the communications Durham deems to be most important admissible

Cooper could defer any assessment of these privilege claims until he decides these other issues and, for one or several procedural reasons, simply punt the decision entirely based on Durham’s serial failures to follow the rules.

Only after that, then, would Cooper assess a Durham conspiracy theory for which Durham himself admits he doesn’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As part of his bid to submit redacted and/or hearsay documents as exhibits under a claim that this all amounted to a conspiracy (albeit one he doesn’t claim was illegal), Durham argues that unless he can submit hearsay and privileged documents, he wouldn’t otherwise have enough evidence to prove his conspiracy theory.

Nor is evidence of this joint venture gratuitous or cumulative of other evidence. Indeed, the Government possesses only a handful of redacted emails between the defendant and Tech Executive-1 on these issues. And the defendant’s billing records pertaining to the Clinton Campaign, while incriminating, do not always specify the precise nature of the defendant’s work.

Accordingly, presenting communications between the defendant’s alleged clients and third parties regarding the aforementioned political research would hardly amount to a “mini-trial.” (Def. Mot. at 20). Rather, these communications are among the most probative and revealing evidence that the Government will present to the jury. Other than the contents of privileged communications themselves (which are of course not accessible to the Government or the jury), such communications will offer some of the most direct evidence on the ultimate question of whether the defendant lied in stating that he was not acting for any other clients.

In short, because the Government here must prove the existence of client relationships that are themselves privileged, it is the surrounding events and communications involving these clients that offer the best proof of those relationships.

Moreover, even if the Court were to find that no joint venture existed, all of the proffered communications are still admissible because, as set forth in the Government’s motions, they are not being offered to prove the truth of specific assertions. Rather, they are being offered to prove the existence of activities and relationships that led to, and culminated in, the defendant’s meeting with the FBI. Even more critically, the very existence of these written records – which laid bare the political nature of the exercise and the numerous doubts that the researchers had about the soundness of their conclusions – gave the defendant and his clients a compelling motive, separate and apart from the truth or falsity of the emails themselves, to conceal the identities of such clients and origins of the joint venture. Accordingly, they are not being offered for their truth and are not hearsay.

This passage (which leads up to a citation from one of the Georgia Tech researchers to which Sussmann was not privy that the frothers have spent the weekend drooling over) is both a confession and a cry for help.

In it, Durham admits he doesn’t actually have proof that the conspiracy he is alleging is the motive behind Michael Sussmann’s alleged lie.

He’s making this admission, of course, while hiding the abundant evidence — evidence he didn’t bother obtaining before charging Sussmann — that Sussmann and Joffe acceded to the FBI request to help kill the NYT story, which substantiates Sussmann’s stated motive.

And then, in the same passage, Durham is pointing to that absence of evidence to justify using that same claimed conspiracy for which he doesn’t have evidence to pierce privilege claims to obtain the evidence he doesn’t have. It’s a circular argument and an admission that all the claims he has been making since September are based off his beliefs about what must be there, not what he has evidence for.

Thus far the researchers’ beliefs about what kind of back channels they might find between Trump and Russia have far more proof than Durham’s absence of evidence.

Again, Durham doesn’t even claim that such a conspiracy would be illegal (much less chargeable under the statute of limitations), which is why he didn’t do what he could have had he been able to show probable cause that a crime had been committed: obtaining the communications with a warrant and using a filter team. Bill Barr’s memoir made it quite clear that he appointed Durham not because a crime had been committed, but because he wanted to know how a “bogus scandal” in which DOJ found multiple national security crimes started. ”Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal.” In his filing, Durham confesses to doing the same, three years later: using his feelings about a “bogus scandal” to claim a non-criminal conspiracy that he hopes might provide some motive other than the one — national security — that DOJ has already confirmed.

An absolutely central part of Durham’s strategy to win this trial is to present his conspiracy theories, whether by belatedly piercing privilege claims he should have addressed before charging Sussmann (even assuming he’ll find what he admits he doesn’t have proof is there), or by presenting his absence of evidence and claiming it is evidence. He will only be permitted to do if Judge Cooper ignores all his rule violations and grants him a hearsay exception.

But if he manages to present his conspiracy theories, Sussmann can immediately pivot and point out all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that proves not just that the suspicions Durham insists must be malicious and political in fact proved to be true, but also that DOJ — his former boss! — already deemed these suspicions national security concerns that in some cases amounted to crimes.

John Durham’s entire trial strategy consists of claiming that it was obviously political to investigate a real forensic anomaly to see whether it explained why Russia responded to Trump’s call for more hacks by renewing their attack on Hillary. He’s doing so while withholding abundant material evidence that DOJ already decided he’s wrong.

So even if he succeeds, even if Cooper grants him permission to float his conspiracy theories and even if they were to succeed at trial, Sussmann would have immediate recourse to ask for sanctions, pointing to all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that Durham’s claims of malice were wrong.

Update: The bad news I’m still working through my typos, with your help, including getting the name of Dmitri Simes’ organization wrong. The good news is the typos are probably due to being rushed out to cycle in the sun, so I have a good excuse.

Update: Judge Cooper has issued an initial ruling on Durham’s expert witness. It limits what Durham presents to the FBI investigation (excluding much of the CIA investigation he has recently been floating), and does not permit the expert to address whether the data actually did represent communications between Trump and Alfa Bank unless Sussmann either affirmatively claims it did or unless Durham introduced proof that Sussmann knew the data was dodgy.

Finally, the Court takes a moment to explain what could open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI. As the defense concedes, such evidence might be relevant if the government could separately establish “what Mr. Sussmann knew” about the data’s accuracy. Data Mot. at 3. If Sussmann knew the data was suspect, evidence about faults in the data could possibly speak to “his state of mind” at the time of his meeting with Mr. Baker, id., including his motive to conceal the origins of the data. By contrast, Sussmann would not open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data simply by seeking to establish that he reasonably believed the data were accurate and relied on his associates’ representations that they were. Such a defense theory could allow the government to introduce evidence tending to show that his belief was not reasonable—for instance, facially obvious shortcomings in the data, or information received by Sussmann indicating relevant deficiencies.

Ultimately, Cooper is treating this (as appropriate given the precedents in DC) as a question of Sussmann’s state of mind.

Importantly, this is what Cooper says about Durham blowing his deadline (which in this case was a deadline of comity, not trial schedule): he’s going to let it slide, in part because Sussmann does not object to the narrowed scope of what the expert will present.

Mr. Sussmann also urges the Court to exclude the expert testimony on the ground that the government’s notice was untimely and insufficiently specific. See Expert Mot. at 6–10; Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(G). Because the Court will limit Special Agent Martin’s testimony largely to general explanations of the type of technical data that has always been part of the core of this case—much of which Mr. Sussmann does not object to—any allegedly insufficient or belated notice did not prejudice him. See United States v. Mohammed, No. 06-cr-357, 2008 WL 5552330, at *3 (D.D.C. May 6, 2008) (finding that disclosure nine days before trial did not prejudice defendant in part because its subject was “hardly a surprise”) (citing United States v. Martinez, 476 F.3d 961, 967 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

This suggests Cooper may be less willing to let other deadlines slide, such as the all-important 404(b) one.

Tom Barrack Appears to Claim Trump Knew Barrack Was Catering US Foreign Policy to the Emirates

In this post, I described the import of the false statement and obstruction charges against Tom Barrack. While Barrack may have been honest about his ties to the Emirates in a 2017 interview with Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, he is accused of lying about those ties in 2019, which — if DOJ has the goods on those later lies — will make it clear he was affirmatively hiding his role at that point.

[A]ssuming the FBI didn’t charge a billionaire with false statements without having him dead to rights on the charges, by June 2019, the FBI foreclosed several of the defenses that Barrack might offer going forward: that he was doing all this as a legal commercial transaction (which is exempt from the foreign agent charges) or that he wasn’t really working for UAE, he just thought the alliance really served US interests and indulged the Emiratis by referring to MbZ as “boss.” By denying very basic things that the FBI appears to have records for, then, Barrack made it a lot harder to argue — in 2021 — that’s there’s an innocent explanation for all this.

[snip]

This case will sink or swim on the strength of the false statements charges, because if Barrack’s alleged lies in June 2019 were clearcut, when he presumably believed he would be protected by Barr and Trump, then it makes several likely defenses a lot harder to pull off now.

The government made the same argument in a filing last month responding to Barrack’s motion to dismiss: If Barrack did not know his back channel with the Emirates was a problem, why did he (allegedly) lie about it?

Although not dispositive to Barrack’s vagueness challenge, if Barrack actually believed that he had done nothing wrong, it is unclear why he allegedly lied to FBI special agents during his voluntary June 20, 2019 interview as set forth in Counts Three through Seven of the Indictment.

It’s now clear that Barrack’s alleged false statements are even more important than that.

That’s because Barrack is now arguing that, because the Trump Administration approved of how Barrack was peddling US policy to the Emirates, Barrack could not have been a secret foreign agent under 18 USC 951.

That revelation has slowly become clear over the course of a dispute over discovery (motion, response, reply) pertaining to Barrack’s demand, among other things, for, “all communications between Mr. Barrack and the Trump Campaign and Administration regarding the Middle East.”

In the government’s response, they note that 18 USC 951 requires notice to the Attorney General, not to members of a private political campaign.

The defendants argue that evidence of Barrack’s disclosure of his UAE connections to members of the Trump Campaign are exculpatory. But Section 951 requires notice to the Attorney General, not to private citizens affiliated with the Trump Campaign. See 18 U.S.C. § 951(a). This makes sense, since the Attorney General is the official charged with enforcing the law and the senior official in charge of the FBI, the agency responsible for investigating and responding to unlawful foreign government activity inside the United States. By contrast, members of the Trump Campaign have no such responsibilities with respect to the internal national security of the United States and had no authority to sanction or bless the defendants’ illegal conduct. They are not government officials, and even if they were, they are not the Attorney General or a representative thereof.

According to the indictment, Paul Manafort not only knew that Barrack was working for the Emirates, but was cooperating with Barrack’s efforts.

In Barrack’s reply, after a heavily redacted passage, he complains about DOJ’s claim — made in the press conference announcing his arrest — that he had deceived Trump about what he was doing.

The government’s position is particularly astonishing in light of its public claim at the time of Mr. Barrack’s arrest that he had deceived Mr. Trump and the administration. Specifically, the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division announced that the “conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President,” and that this indictment was needed to deter such “undisclosed foreign influence.” [citation removed] In that same press release, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI NY Field Office asserted that the indictment was about “secret attempts to influence our highest officials.” Id. When Mr. Barrack raised concerns with the government about these false statements in the press release, the government responded that these statements were a fair representation of the conduct alleged in the indictment. [citation removed] Thus, in one breath the government claims that Mr. Barrack deceived Mr. Trump and the administration and that such evidence is part of its case, but in the next breath contends that contrary evidence is neither relevant nor exculpatory and apparently withheld such discovery on that basis.

Barrack’s lawyers include the 2021 comments about whether Trump knew of all this as exhibits, but more recent correspondence about it remains sealed.

In other words, Barrack seems to be arguing, he didn’t betray Trump; Trump wanted him to cater American foreign policy to rich Gulf Arab nations.

Barrack spends four pages of his reply making the same kinds of complaints about the documentation of his 2019 FBI interview that Mike Flynn made in 2020, even complaining that the fact that the AUSAs prosecuting the case were in the room makes them conflicted on the case. It’s clear why he did so: because if Barrack did lie to an FBI run by Trump’s appointed FBI Director and ultimately overseen by Bill Barr in 2019, then he was continuing to hide his influence-peddling from the one person that mattered under the law, Bill Barr (though given what we know of Barr’s interference in Ukraine investigations, I would be unsurprised if Barr knew that Trump knew of Barrack’s ties to the Emirates, which would explain why he swapped out US Attorneys in EDNY at the time).

Remember: Barrack is alleged to have been pursuing policies pushed by Mohammed bin Zayed. But among the things he is accused of doing for the Emirates was to “force” the White House to elevate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (then just the Deputy Crown Prince) during a visit to DC in March 2017. At the time the FBI interviewed Barrack in June 2019, Trump was under significant pressure for his possible complicity in the Jamal Khashoggi assassination.

And now — at a time when EDNY is talking about indicting Barrack’s not-yet indicted co-conspirators — we learn that MbS invested $2 billion dollars in Jared Kushner’s brand new firm even in spite of all the reasons not to.

Six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince, a close ally during the Trump administration, despite objections from the fund’s advisers about the merits of the deal.

A panel that screens investments for the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund cited concerns about the proposed deal with Mr. Kushner’s newly formed private equity firm, Affinity Partners, previously undisclosed documents show.

Those objections included: “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management”;the possibility that the kingdom would be responsible for “the bulk of the investment and risk”; due diligence on the fledgling firm’s operations that found them “unsatisfactory in all aspects”; a proposed asset management fee that “seems excessive”; and “public relations risks” from Mr. Kushner’s prior role as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, according to minutes of the panel’s meeting last June 30.

But days later the full board of the $620 billion Public Investment Fund — led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and a beneficiary of Mr. Kushner’s support when he worked as a White House adviser — overruled the panel.

Barrack’s apparent claim that Trump knew exactly what he was doing does nothing to change his legal posture before Trump became President, and DOJ indicted this before the statute of limitation expired on that conduct.

But the apparent claim that Trump knew about this — and the possibility that Barr did too, at least after the fact — would change the kind of crime that happened in 2017, after Trump became President. And, possibly, the culprit.