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Carter Page Believed James Wolfe Was Ellen Nakashima’s Source Disclosing His FISA Application Less than a Month After the Story

According to the Statement of Offense to which James Wolfe — the former Senate Intelligence Committee security official convicted of lying about his contacts with journalists — allocuted, Carter Page suspected Wolfe was the source for Ellen Nakashima’s story revealing Page had been targeted with a FISA order. When the former Trump campaign staffer wrote Nakashima to complain about the story less than four weeks after Washington Post published it, Page BCCed Wolfe. [Nakashima is Reporter #1 and Ali Watkins is Reporter #2.]

On May 8, 2017, MALE-1 emailed REPORTER #1 complaining about REPORTER #1’s reporting of him (MALE-1). According to the metadata recovered during the search of Wolfe’s email, Wolfe was blind-copied on that email by MALE-1.

That unexplained detail is important — albeit mystifying — background to two recent stories on leak investigations.

First, as reported last month, Nakashima was one of three journalists whose call records DOJ obtained last year.

The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.

In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.

The scope of the records obtained on the WaPo journalists last year started four days after the Page story, so while some May 11, 2017 emails between Nakashima and Wolfe would have been included in what got seized last year, any contacts prior to the FISA story would not have. And the public details on the prosecution of Wolfe show no sign that Nakashima’s records were obtained in that investigation (those of Ali Watkins, whom Wolfe was in a relationship, however, were). Indeed, the sentencing memo went out of its way to note that DOJ had not obtained deleted Signal texts from any journalists. “The government did not recover or otherwise obtain from any reporters’ communications devices or related records the content of any of these communications.”

That said, Nakashima’s reporting was targeted in two different leak investigations, covering sequential periods, three years apart.

It’s not clear how quickly the Page investigation focused on Wolfe. But it may have outside help. A CBP Agent unconnected to the FBI investigation grilled Watkins on her ties with Wolfe in June 2017.

The Sentencing Memorandum on Wolfe suggests the FBI came to focus on him — and excused their focus — after having learned of his affair with Watkins. They informed Richard Burr and Mark Warner, and obtained the first of several warrants to access his phone.

At the time the classified national security information about the FISA surveillance was published in the national media, defendant James A. Wolfe was the Director of Security for the SSCI. He was charged with safeguarding information furnished to the SSCI from throughout the United States Intelligence Community (“USIC”) to facilitate the SSCI’s critical oversight function. During the course of the investigation, the FBI learned that Wolfe had been involved in the logistical process for transporting the FISA materials from the Department of Justice for review at the SSCI. The FBI also discovered that Wolfe had been involved in a relationship with a reporter (referred to as REPORTER #2 in the Indictment and herein) that began as early as 2013, when REPORTER #2, then a college intern, published a series of articles containing highly sensitive U.S. government information. Between 2014 and 2017, Wolfe and REPORTER #2 exchanged tens of thousands of telephone calls and electronic messages. Also during this period, REPORTER #2 published dozens of news articles on national security matters that contained sensitive information related to the SSCI.

Upon realizing that Wolfe was engaged in conduct that appeared to the FBI to compromise his ability to fulfill his duties with respect to the handling of Executive Branch classified national security information as SSCI’s Director of Security, the FBI faced a dilemma. The FBI needed to conduct further investigation to determine whether Wolfe had disseminated classified information that had been entrusted to him over the past three decades in his role as SSCI Director of Security. To do that, the FBI would need more time to continue their investigation covertly. Typically, upon learning that an Executive Branch employee and Top Secret clearance holder had potentially been compromised in place – such as by engaging in a clandestine affair with a national security reporter – the FBI would routinely provide a “duty-to-warn” notification to the relevant USIC equity holder in order to allow the intelligence agencies to take mitigation measures to protect their national security equities. Here, given the sensitive separation of powers issue and the fact that the FISA was an FBI classified equity, the FBI determined that it would first conduct substantial additional investigation and monitoring of Wolfe’s activities. The FBI’s executive leadership also took the extraordinary mitigating step of limiting its initial notification of investigative findings to the ranking U.S. Senators who occupy the Chair and Vice Chair of the SSCI.2

The FBI obtained court authority to conduct a delayed-notice search warrant pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3103a(b), which allowed the FBI to image Wolfe’s smartphone in October 2017. This was conducted while Wolfe was in a meeting with the FBI in his role as SSCI Director of Security, ostensibly to discuss the FBI’s leak investigation of the classified FISA material that had been shared with the SSCI. That search uncovered additional evidence of Wolfe’s communications with REPORTER #2, but it did not yet reveal his encrypted communications with other reporters.

This process — as described by Jocelyn Ballantine and Tejpal Chawla, prosecutors involved in some of the other controversial subpoenas disclosed in the last month — is a useful lesson of how the government proceeded in a case that likely overlapped with the investigation into HPSCI that ended up seizing Swalwell and Schiff’s records. Given that Swalwell was targeted by a Chinese spy, it also suggests one excuse they may have used to obtain the records: by claiming it was a potential compromise.

Still, by the time FBI first informed Wolfe of the investigation, in October 2017, they had obtained his cell phone content showing that he was chatting up other journalists, in addition to Watkins — and indeed, he continued to share information on Page. By the time the FBI got Wolfe to perjure himself on a questionnaire about contacts with journalists in December 2017, they had presumably already searched Watkins’ emails going back years. Wolfe was removed from his position and stripped of clearance, making his indictment six months later only a matter of time.

All that said, the government never proved that Wolfe was the source for Nakashima. And Ballantine’s subpoena for HPSCI contacts, weeks later after FBI searched Wolfe’s phone, may have reflected a renewed attempt to pin the leak on someone, anyone (though it’s not clear whether investigators looked further than Congress, or even to Paul Ryan, who has been suspected of tipping Page off.

If the James Wolfe investigation reflects how they might have approached the HPSCI side, there’s one other alarming detail of this: The FBI alerted someone in Congress of the search, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee. But in HPSCI’s case, Schiff was the Ranking Member. Meaning it’s possible that, by targeting on Schiff, FBI gave itself a way to consult only with the Republican Chair of the Committee.

James Wolfe (and the investigation of Natalie Sours Edwards, who was sentenced to six months in prison last week) are an important lesson in leak investigations that serves as important background for Joe Biden’s promise that reporters won’t be targeted anymore. The way you conduct a leak investigation in this day and age is to seize the source’s phone, in part because that’s the only way to obtain Signal texts.

Timeline

March 2017: Exec Branch provides SSCI “the Classified Document,” which includes both Secret and Top Secret information, with details pertaining to Page classified as Secret.

March 2, 2017: James Comey briefs HPSCI on counterintelligence investigations, with a briefing to SSCI at almost the same time.

March 17, 2017: 82 text messages between Wolfe and Watkins.

April 3, 2017: Watkins confirms that Carter Page is Male-1.

April 11, 2017: WaPo reports FBI obtained FISA order on Carter Page.

June 2017: End date of five communications with Reporter #1 via Wolfe’s SSCI email.

June 2017: Using pretext of serving as a source, CBP agent Jeffrey Rambo grills Watkins about her travel with Wolfe.

October 2017: Wolfe offers up to be anonymous source for Reporter #4 on Signal.

October 16, 2017: Wolfe Signals Reporter #3 about Page’s subpoena.

October 17, 2017: NBC reports Carter Page subpoena.

October 24, 2017: Wolfe informs Reporter #3 of timing of Page’s testimony.

October 30, 2017: FBI informs James Wolfe of investigation.

November 15, 2017: 90 days before DOJ informs Ali Watkins they’ve seized her call records.

December 14, 2017: FBI approaches Watkins about Wolfe.

Prior to December 15, 2017 interview: Wolfe writes text message to Watkins about his support for her career.

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Wolfe.

January 11, 2018: Second interview with Wolfe, after which FBI executes a Rule 41 warrant on his phone, discovering deleted Signal texts with other journalists.

February 6, 2018: Subpoena targeting Adam Schiff and others.

February 13, 2018: DOJ informs Watkins they’ve seized her call records.

June 6, 2018: Senate votes to make official records available to DOJ.

That the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, acting jointly, are authorized to provide to the United States Department of Justice copies of Committee records sought in connection with a pending investigation arising out of allegations of the unauthorized disclosure of information, except concerning matters for which a privilege should be asserted.

June 7, 2018: Grand jury indicts Wolfe.

June 7, 2018: Richard Burr and Mark Warner release a statement:

We are troubled to hear of the charges filed against a former member of the Committee staff. While the charges do not appear to include anything related to the mishandling of classified information, the Committee takes this matter extremely seriously. We were made aware of the investigation late last year, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then. Working through Senate Legal Counsel, and as noted in a Senate Resolution, the Committee has made certain official records available to the Justice Department.

June 13, 2018: Wolfe arraigned in DC. His lawyers move to prohibit claims he leaked classified information.

Some Perspective on the Politicized Leak Investigation Targeting Adam Schiff

The NYT reported the other day that DOJ obtained phone records of Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and a bunch of House Intelligence Committee staffers in the guise of what it reports is a leak investigation (though given the specific form of Bill Barr’s prevarications about his knowledge, may have been repackaged as something else when the investigation was resuscitated in 2020).

Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.

All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.

The initial collection and especially the subsequent treatment were clearly politicized — and more importantly, stupid, from an investigative standpoint. But, especially because this involves Adam Schiff, some exactitude about what went on really is required.

This is not spying

First, this is not “spying.” If the use of informants to investigate members of the Trump campaign and Hillary Clinton’s Foundation during a political campaign is not spying, if the use of a lawful FISA to conduct both physical and electronic surveillance on recently departed campaign volunteer Carter Page is not spying — and Adam Schiff said they were not, and I agree — then neither is the use of a subpoena to collect the phone records of Democrats who had knowledge of information that subsequently leaked in a fully predicated (and very serious) leak investigation.

This is “just” metadata

According to all reports, the government obtained the iPhone metadata records of 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses. Apple suggests other tech companies probably got subpoenas, too, which means that some of those email addresses probably weren’t Apple emails.

But it was — as Adam Schiff said many times when defending a program that aspired to collect “all” the phone records in the United States — “just” metadata.

I don’t mean to belittle the impact of that. As I and others argued (against Schiff), metadata is actually profoundly revealing.

But if this is a problem (it is!), then people like Adam Schiff should lead a conversation about whether the standard on collection of metadata — currently, it only needs to be “relevant to” an investigation — is what it should be, as well as the rules imposed on future access to the data once collected prevent abuse.

Apple (and other tech companies) wouldn’t have known this was Adam Schiff

Even people who understand surveillance seem to believe that Apple would have known these requests targeted Adam Schiff in a leak investigation and therefore should have done more to fight it, as if the actual subpoena would be accompanied with an affidavit with shiny flags saying “HPSCI Ranking Member.”

They wouldn’t have. They would have gotten a list of selectors (some of which, by its description, it probably did not service), a description of the crime being investigated (a leak), and a gag order. The one thing that should have triggered closer review from Apple was the number of selectors. But apparently it did not, and once Apple complied, the data was swept up into the FBI’s servers where it presumably remains.

The subpoena was overly broad and not tailored to limit damage to Schiff

All that said, there were aspects of the subpoena that suggest it was written without any consideration for limiting the damage to Congressional equities or reasonable investigative targets. Focusing on these details are important because they distinguish what is really problematic about this (and who is to blame). According to reports, the subpoena:

  • Obtained information from a minor, who would have had no access to classified information
  • Included a series of year-long gags
  • Obtained all the toll records from date of creation
  • May have focused exclusively on Democratic members and staffers

It’s conceivable that, after years of investigation, DOJ would have reason to believe someone was laundering leaks through a child. But given how broad this subpoena is, it’s virtually impossible the affidavit included that kind of specific knowledge.

With journalists, DOJ is supposed to use shorter gags–three months. The series of year-long gags suggests that DOJ was trying to hide the existence of these subpoenas not just to hide an investigation, but to delay the political embarrassment of it.

There’s no reason to believe that Adam Schiff leaked a FISA application targeting Carter Page first obtained in 2016 in 2009 (or whenever the Californian lawmaker first set up his Apple account). It’s a physical impossibility. So it is completely unreasonable to imagine that years-old toll records would be “relevant to” a leak investigation predicated off a leak in 2017. Mind you, obtaining all records since the inception of the account is totally normal! It’s what DOJ did, for example, with Antionne Brodnax, a January 6 defendant who got notice of subpoenas served on him, but whose attempt to limit the subpoena failed because those whose records are subpoenaed have no authority to do that. There are two appropriate responses to the unreasonable breadth of this request: both a focus on the failure to use special caution with Congressional targets, but also some discussion about how such broad requests are unreasonable regardless of the target.

Given the number of these selectors, it seems unlikely DOJ did more than ID the people who had access to the leaked information in question. Except if they only obtained selectors for Democrats, it would suggest investigators went into the investigation with the assumption that the leak was political, and that such a political leak would necessarily be partisan. That’s simply not backed by exhibited reality, and if that’s what happened, it should force some scrutiny on who made those assumptions. That’s all the more true given hints that Republicans like Paul Ryan may have tipped Page off that he had been targeted.

These kinds of limiting factors are where the most good can come out of this shit-show, because they would have a real impact and if applied broadly would help not just Schiff.

Barr continued to appoint unqualified prosecutors to do his political dirty work

I think it would be useful to separate the initial records request — after all, the leak of a FISA intercept and the target of a FISA order are virtually unprecedented — from the continued use of the records in 2020, under Billy Barr.

The NYT explains that the initial investigators believed that charges were unlikely, but Barr redoubled efforts in 2020.

As the years wore on, some officials argued in meetings that charges were becoming less realistic, former Justice Department officials said: They lacked strong evidence, and a jury might not care about information reported years earlier.

[snip]

Mr. Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases. Some cases had nothing to do with leaks about Mr. Trump and involved sensitive national security information, one of the people said. But Mr. Barr’s overall view of leaks led some people in the department to eventually see the inquiries as politically motivated.

[snip]

After the records provided no proof of leaks, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington discussed ending that piece of their investigation. But Mr. Barr’s decision to bring in an outside prosecutor helped keep the case alive.

[snip]

In February 2020, Mr. Barr placed the prosecutor from New Jersey, Osmar Benvenuto, into the National Security Division. His background was in gang and health care fraud prosecutions.

Barr used this ploy — finding AUSAs who were unqualified to work on a case that others had found no merit to — on at least three different occasions. Every document John Durham’s team submitted in conjunction with the Kevin Clinesmith prosecution, for example, betrayed that investigators running it didn’t understand the scope of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation (and thereby also strongly suggested investigators had no business scrutinizing a counterintelligence investigation at all). The questions that Jeffrey Jensen’s team, appointed by Barr to review the DOJ IG investigation and the John Durham investigation to find conclusions they didn’t draw, asked Bill Barnett betrayed that the gun crimes prosecutors running it didn’t know fuckall about what they were doing (why Barnett answered as he did is another thing, one that DOJ IG should investigate). And now here, he appointed a health care fraud prosecutor to conduct a leak investigation after unbelievably aggressive leak investigators found nothing.

DOJ IG should include all of those investigations in its investigation, because they all reflect Barr’s efforts to force prosecutors to come to conclusions that the evidence did not merit (and because the Jensen investigation, at least, appears to have altered records intentionally).

FBI never deletes evidence

In an attempt to disclaim responsibility for yet more political abuse, Billy Barr issued a very interestingly worded disavowal.

Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He added that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on the Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of the former president’s push to unmask leakers of classified information.

There are two parts to this: One, that “while he was attorney general,” Congresspersons’ records were not sought, and two, sought in a leak case. The original subpoena for these records was in February 2018, so not during Barr’s tenure as Attorney General. He doesn’t deny asking for those previously-sought records to be reviewed anew while Attorney General.

But he also limits his disavowal to leak cases. Under Barr’s fervent imagination, however, these investigations may well have morphed into something else, what he may have imagined were political abuse or spying violation cases. DOJ can and often does obtain new legal process for already obtained records (which would be unnecessary anyway for toll records), so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Barr directed his unqualified prosecutor to use those already-seized records to snoop into some other question.

It’s a pity for Adam Schiff that no one in charge of surveillance in Congress imposed better trackability requirements on FBI’s access of its investigative collections.

Both an IG investigation and a Special Counsel are inadequate to this investigation

Lisa Monaco asked Michael Horowitz to investigate this investigation. And that’s fine: he can access the records of the investigation, and the affidavits. He can interview the line prosecutors who were tasked with this investigation.

But he can’t require Barr or Jeff Sessions or any of the other Trump appointees who ordered up this investigation to sit for an interview (he could move quickly and ask John Demers to sit for an interview).

Because of that, a lot of people are asking for a Special Counsel to be appointed. That would be nice, except thus far, there’s no evidence that a crime was committed, so there is no regulatory basis to appoint a Special Counsel. The standard for accessing records is very low, any special treatment accorded journalists or members of Congress are not written into law, and prosecutorial discretion at DOJ is nearly sacrosanct. The scandal is that this may all be entirely legal.

Mind you, there’s good reason to believe there was a crime committed in the Jeffrey Jensen investigation, the same crime (altering documents) that Barr used to predicate the Durham Special Counsel appointment. So maybe people should revisit that?

Luckily, Swalwell and Schiff know some members of Congress who can limit such abuses

If I learned that DOJ engaged in unreasonable surveillance on me [wink], I’d have no recourse, largely because of laws that Adam Schiff has championed for years.

But as it happens, Schiff and Swalwell both know some members of Congress who could pass some laws limiting the ability to do some of the things used against them that affect thousands of Americans investigated by the FBI.

Now that Adam Schiff has discovered, years after we tried to reason with him on this point, that “it’s just metadata” doesn’t fly in this day and age, maybe we can talk about how the FBI should be using metadata given how powerful it has become?

The renewed focus on Schiff’s metadata would have come after Schiff disclosed Nunes’ ties to Rudy Giuliani’s grift

Another factor of timing hasn’t gotten enough attention. In late December, Schiff released the Democrats’ impeachment report. Because Schiff obtained subpoenas (almost certainly targeting Lev Parnas and Rudy Giuliani), he included call records of calls implicating Devin Nunes and his staffer Derek

Over the course of the four days following the April 7 article, phone records show contacts between Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, Representative Devin Nunes, and Mr. Solomon. Specifically, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas were in contact with one another, as well as with Mr. Solomon.76 Phone records also show contacts on April 10 between Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Nunes, consisting of three short calls in rapid succession, followed by a text message, and ending with a nearly three minute call.77 Later that same day, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon had a four minute, 39 second call.78

[snip]

On the morning of May 8, Mr. Giuliani called the White House Switchboard and connected for six minutes and 26 seconds with someone at the White House.158 That same day, Mr. Giuliani also connected with Mr. Solomon for almost six minutes, with Mr. Parnas, and with Derek Harvey, a member of Representative Nunes’ staff on the Intelligence Committee.159

69 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI _20190930_00848-ATTHPSCI_20190930_00884. Mr. Parnas also had an aborted call that lasted 5 seconds on April 5, 2019 with an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes on the Intelligence Committee, Derek Harvey. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00876. Call records obtained by the Committees show that Mr. Parnas and Mr. Harvey had connected previously, including a four minute 42 second call on February 1, 2019, a one minute 7 second call on February 4, and a one minute 37 second call on February 7, 2019. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00617, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00630, ATTHPSCI_20190930_00641. As explained later in this Chapter, Rep. Nunes would connect separately by phone on April 10, 11, and 12 with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani. AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_00913- ATTHPSCI_20190930_00914; ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125.

76 Specifically, between April 8 and April 11, phone records show the following phone contacts:

  • six calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas (longest duration approximately five minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115-ATTHPSCI_20190930-02131;
  • four calls between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Solomon (all on April 8, longest duration approximately one minute, 30 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02114- ATTHPSCI_20190930-02115;
  • nine calls between Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon (longest duration four minutes, 39 seconds) AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00906; and
  • three calls between Mr. Parnas and Ms. Toensing (longest duration approximately six minutes), AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00885- ATTHPSCI_20190930- 00905.

77 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-02125, ATTHPSCI_20190930-03236.

78 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930-00902.

[snip]

158 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02313.

159 AT&T Document Production, Bates ATTHPSCI_20190930_02314; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02316; ATTHPSCI_20190930_02318; ATTHPSCI 20190930 01000.

Because Nunes doesn’t understand how phone records work, he — and most other Republicans in Congress — accused Schiff of subpoenaing the record of his colleagues. That’s not what happened. Instead, Nunes and a key staffer got involved in with Rudy’s efforts to solicit dirt from Russian assets and as a result they showed up in Rudy’s phone records.

But it’s the kind of thing that might lead Barr to intensify his focus on Schiff.

The last section of this was an update.

A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Stefan Halper Conspiracy Theory

For some time, I’ve been agnostic about whether Chuck Ross’ series on Stefan Halper derived from his own discussions with George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Sam Clovis, or whether he relied on leaks from HPSCI.

Today, he gave one of the leading comments he often does, about Paul Ryan’s claimed concern about “FISA abuse.” (Ryan, remember, pushed through 702 reauthorization this year without reforming a single one of the abuses laid out in this report, but apparently Chuck’s gonna play along with the notion that Ryan gives a shit about FISA.)

That mirrors Ross’ own logically nonsensical focus on the dossier as a source for the Carter Page FISA order in conjunction with Halper. Which, especially since other journalists are making it clear the Halper focus is coming from Hill Republicans, suggests Ross was getting leaks from Republicans.

That’s even more true of this interview with Sam Clovis. In it, Clovis makes it very clear the meeting did not stick out in his memory.

It was an academic meeting. It was not anything other than him talking about the research that he had done on China.

[snip]

No indication or inclination that this was anything other than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it.

After describing how he hadn’t opened up attachments Halper sent later in the month, he said, “that is how little this registered with me.”

And yet, somehow, by March, someone had told Ross about this meeting.

Halper also requested and attended a one-on-one meeting with another senior campaign official, TheDCNF learned. That meeting was held a day or two before Halper reached out to Papadopoulos. Halper offered to help the campaign but did not bring up Papadopoulos, even though he would reach out to the campaign aide a day or two later.

Clovis seems to derive his memory of the meeting, in significant part, from the documentation he does (four emails setting the meeting up) and doesn’t (any notes) have about it.

There’s a record of the exchange of emails that we had, four emails to set the appointment.

[snip]

I had my notebook. Always take notes and always keep track of what’s going on. And there wasn’t anything — I didn’t have any notes on the meeting cause there must not have been anything substantive that took place.

That suggests someone knew to go back to look for communications involving Halper. Now, if HPSCI requested all the comms campaign aides had with investigative target Carter Page, then Clovis would have turned over these emails (which mentioned Page but probably discussed China, not Russia), and HPSCI staffers could have found the tie. If HPSCI only asked for Russia-related comms involving Page, then someone got Toensing or Clovis to search for Halper emails themselves.

Clovis explains that he’s bothered, now, about the meeting because he thinks he was used as an excuse to reach out to George Papadopoulos.

He had met with Carter Page. He had used that to get the bona fides to get an appointment with me.

[snip]

Then I think he used my meeting as bona fides to get a meeting with George Papadopoulos.

Remember, one of the inane complaints in the Nunes memo is that the Carter Page FISA application mentioned Papadopoulos.

The Schiff memo explains that Papadopoulos got mentioned because, after Alexander Downer told the FBI that Papadopoulos had told him the Russians were going to release Hillary emails to help Trump, they opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.

In other words, the frothy right likely believes, like Clovis, that Halper was networking as a way to get to Papadopoulos, and that in some way ties to the FISA application against Page.

And he may well have done so! As TPM clarifies some confusion created by WaPo, both Page, Clovis, and Clovis lawyer Victoria Toensing agree that Halper mentioned Page when he reached out to Clovis.

Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, previously said, according to the Washington Post that the informant had not mentioned his other Trump contacts when reaching out to Clovis. Clovis said he wasn’t sure “where she got that information,”since she had access to the emails setting up the September 2016 meeting.

Toensing, in an phone interview Tuesday with TPM, backed up Clovis’ account. She told TPM that the informant had said in an email to Clovis that Page had recommended that they meet. She also claimed that the informant had told Page when they met at the conference that he was a big fan of Clovis’. Page confirmed Toensing’s account in an email to TPM.

Halper met with Clovis on September 1 and then reached out to Papadopoulos the next day.

Though note: Page says Halper raised Clovis at the July conference where they met, a meeting that occurred before dossier reports started getting back to FBI (particularly to the people investigating the hack-and-leak) and before the Papadopoulos report. That either suggests the FBI already had concerns about Clovis by then, or Halper was more generally networking with Page along with checking out someone who had been a live counterintelligence concern in his own right since March and for years beforehand.

Here’s where things start to go off the rails for this whole conspiracy theory, though. Clovis (who, remember, testified to Mueller’s team in the days before Papadopoulos’ cooperation agreement was unsealed, and who therefore may have his own false statements to worry about) believes that the FBI had no business trying to ask Papadopoulos about his April knowledge of Russians dealing Clinton emails in a way that would not arouse Papadopoulos’ suspicion.

What unsettled me … is what he tried to do with George Papadopoulos and that was to establish an audit trail from the campaign or somebody associated with the campaign back to those Clinton emails, whether or not they existed we don’t know.

Clovis believes, as does the entire frothy right, that the FBI had no reason to check out leads from someone who predicted the Russians would leak dirt from Hillary to help Trump a month before it became publicly known.

What were they investigating? To be investigating, there has to be some indication of a crime. And there does not appear to have been any indication for a crime. And by the way the Fourth Amendment protects you in your place and your person from investigation without a clear indication of what, uh, probable cause.

Somehow, Clovis conveniently forgets that stealing emails is a crime. And the FBI had been investigating that crime since June 2016, a month before learning that Papadopoulos might have known about the stolen emails before the FBI itself did.

In other words, at the core of this entire conspiracy theory (on top of pretending that Carter Page wasn’t already a counterintelligence concern in March, as all the designated GOP stenographers do) is the GOP fantasy that the FBI had no business trying to chase down why Papadopoulos knew of the theft before the DNC itself did.

And they’re making an enormous case out of the fact that FBI used Halper — a lifelong Republican to whom Papadopoulos could and did lie to without legal jeopardy — to interview someone Clovis claims was “ancillary” to the campaign at the time.

It’s also clear to me that they misread George’s relationship with the campaign entirely, so, because he was not, he was ancillary at best at that point.

So that appears to be where this is heading: an attempt to criminalize a Republican networking with a goal of learning whether George Papadopoulos, and through him, Sam Clovis and the rest of the campaign, committed what Papadopoulos himself has said (though this is legally incorrect) might amount to treason.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: the GOP doesn’t think Russian theft of Democratic emails was a crime and therefore doesn’t think FBI had reason to investigate Papadopoulos’ apparent foreknowledge of that crime.

Stefan Halper Wasn’t Downstream from the Steele Dossier

As you’ve no doubt heard, Devin Nunes and Paul Ryan continue to extort DOJ, ostensibly to find evidence of FISA abuse, but by all appearances, to review intelligence on behest of Trump, delegitimize the Mueller investigation, and create some excuse to start impeaching the people overseeing it.

A Chuck Ross article on the latest effort ends with a reference to Stefan Halper, a dual US-UK citizen who was a Cambridge professor in 2016.

House Republicans are again battling with the Justice Department over information related to the Russia investigation, this time over documents the intelligence community said involves a top-secret source who has provided information to the CIA and FBI.

The mysterious source has also gathered information that was given to Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to The Washington Post.

WaPo reported Justice Department and intelligence community officials issued a stark warning to the White House on May 2 against a request from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. Nunes had submitted a subpoena to the Justice Department on April 24 for records related to the Russia probe.

Justice Department and intelligence community officials argued to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that complying with the subpoena would reveal the identity of a top-secret source and would undermine protocol regarding intelligence sources, according to WaPo.

WaPo provided one small clue about the source: he or she is American.

[snip]

TheDCNF reported that in Sept. 2016, he was approached out of the blue by Stefan Halper, a University of Cambridge professor and former U.S. government official.

Other right wing sites appear sure that Halper is the source in question.

In 2016, Halper resigned from the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar along with Richard Dearlove (Christopher Steele’s old boss) out of concerns Russia had started funding it, which is to say he has close ties with a lot of the spooks that the Republicans are obsessed by. Halper would fit as an American. And as someone at the overlap between MI6, the FBI, and CIA, any information he discovered would ultimately get shared with Mueller.

When Ross first broke the story of weird meetings between Halper and Trump aides in March (a month before Nunes made the mysterious request), he provided very specific descriptions of when Halper spoke with each of three campaign officials (though he kept the identity of the third secret).

Halper first met Carter Page at conference on July 11 and 12 in London (the meeting would have been on the way back from his trip to Moscow), then remained in contact thereafter.

Halper met campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page at a July 2016 symposium held at Cambridge regarding the upcoming election, Page told TheDCNF. The pair remained in contact for several months.

Halper met with the third, unnamed campaign advisor on August 31 or September 1, though did not mention Papadopoulos at the meeting.

Halper also requested and attended a one-on-one meeting with another senior campaign official, TheDCNF learned. That meeting was held a day or two before Halper reached out to Papadopoulos. Halper offered to help the campaign but did not bring up Papadopoulos, even though he would reach out to the campaign aide a day or two later.

Halper first reached out to George Papadopoulos on September 2, then met with him over several days in London in mid-September.

Halper first contacted Papadopoulos by email. In a Sept. 2, 2016, message sent to Papadopoulos’s personal email account, he offered the Trump aide $3,000 to write a policy paper on issues related to Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and the Leviathan natural gas field. Halper also offered to pay for Papadopoulos’s flight and a three-night stay in London.

[snip]

Papadopoulos and Halper met several times during the London trip, including at the Connaught Hotel and the Travellers Club — a classic 19th century club foreign diplomats and politicians frequent. Halper’s research assistant — a Turkish woman named Azra Turk — also met with Papadopoulos. The Connaught Hotel meeting was scheduled for Sept. 13, 2016, and the Travellers Club conclave was two days later.

While discussing the policy paper Papadopoulos was to write, Halper made an out-of-left-field reference to Russians and hacked emails, according to a source with direct knowledge of Papadopoulos’s version of events.

From these meetings and ties to Dearlove, Republicans have gotten themselves worked up to believing that Halper was working off the Steele dossier, perhaps because Ross ties Halper to people in terms of the dossier [see below for explanation that he did not intend to suggest this tie]:

Halper is a close associate of Sir Richard Dearlove — the former MI6 chief.

In December 2016, Halper, Dearlove and espionage historian Peter Morland made international news when they announced they were leaving an organization called the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar due to concerns Russian operatives had infiltrated the group.

Months earlier, in early fall 2016, Dearlove reportedly met with dossier author Steele. Steele sought out Dearlove’s advice on how to proceed with information he gathered on Trump’s ties to Russia, The Washington Post reported. Former MI6 Moscow station chief Steele had been told Trump campaign members were colluding with Kremlin operatives to release emails stolen from the DNC.

Steele’s dossier does not mention Papadopoulos, though the former spy was made aware of the Trump campaign aide while he was working on his anti-Trump document. FBI agents asked Steele during an October 2016 meeting in Rome if he was aware of Papadopoulos. Steele did not have information on Papadopoulos, the former spy said.

But Papadopoulos does have at least one possible connection to the dossier. During the campaign, Sergei Millian approached him. Millian is a Belarus-born businessman who was allegedly an unwitting source for some of the most salacious claims in the dossier.

While it’s possible Halper got wind of the counterintelligence concerns via intelligence sources in London, it doesn’t make sense that his information came via the dossier.

The first dated report on Page is in a report submitted July 19, after Page had already made his trip to Russia (and stopped by London where he met Halper). Both of the sources on the report are Russian, not American or British, so not Halper himself. And the report was reported contemporaneously, meaning Halper wouldn’t have been the only outside source that could have told Steele about the trip, nor would Halper have needed Steele’s sources to learn about it.

So if Halper sought out Page out of counterintelligence concerns, it likely had as much to do with the concerns FBI had in March 2016 (the ones that never appeared in the dossier) as it does July trip, much less any discussions between Steele and Halper about that trip. And if Halper is as spooked up as Republicans want to suggest, by the time of his subsequent communications with Page, he would have known of both those concerns.

Similarly, the timing on the ties between Sergei Millian and Papadopoulos wouldn’t support a tie between Halper’s interest in him and the dossier. The Steele reports believed to tie to Millian date to June (including, possibly, the pee tape) and July. But July is around when Papadopoulos and Millian first met (I suspect, on July 22). So to the extent Millian really was a source for Steele, it would have largely preceded the time he met, much less became close with, Papadopoulos.

But all that happened around the time the Australians informed the US of Papadopoulos’ drunken May ramblings.

So by the time Halper met with Papadopoulos (and met the other aide, possibly as background to the Papadopoulos meeting), the US would have already had official notice of Papadopoulos via the Australians.

If anything, it’d be far more likely that Halper gave the US soft notice of the Downer meeting before the Australians did so formally than that Halper learned of Papadopoulos via some Steele channel.

Admittedly, some nut jobs are wailing about Halper totally independent of the Steele dossier, because they’re outraged, apparently, that the the US sought to chase down whether the unvetted people with troubling ties to suspected Russian spies working for Trump for free were real concerns or not. I’ll return to that in a follow-up. But as background to laying out precisely how ridiculous the Republicans are getting here, understand that it is unlikely whatever investigation, if any, Halper was conducting was based off the Steele dossier.

Update: Ross has taken issue with my claim that he ties Halper to the dossier. I base that claim not just on Twitter exchanges with his readers who make the allegation but on these details (for example, this one that claims Papadopoulos was a source for Millian before they met and that May and September are the same time). Ross introduces the dossier by claiming Page was a central figure in HPSCI’s investigation because of allegations made against him in the dossier, though the reality is that it’s because the dossier was included in his FISA applications.

Page is also a prominent figure in the investigation due to allegations made against him in the infamous Steele dossier. Page’s trip to Moscow in early July 2016 is a central piece of the dossier. Christopher Steele, the author of the Democrat-funded report, alleges Page met secretly with two Kremlin insiders as part of the Trump campaign’s collusion effort.

Page attended the Cambridge event Halper set up, four days after that trip to Moscow.

Then there’s the insinuation, in the passage cited above, that because Halper took an anti-Russian stance with Dearlove in December and Dearlove had a tie to the Steele dossier in September, there must be some continuity between the two events.

Halper is a close associate of Sir Richard Dearlove — the former MI6 chief.

In December 2016, Halper, Dearlove and espionage historian Peter Morland made international news when they announced they were leaving an organization called the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar due to concerns Russian operatives had infiltrated the group.

Months earlier, in early fall 2016, Dearlove reportedly met with dossier author Steele. Steele sought out Dearlove’s advice on how to proceed with information he gathered on Trump’s ties to Russia, The Washington Post reported. Former MI6 Moscow station chief Steele had been told Trump campaign members were colluding with Kremlin operatives to release emails stolen from the DNC.

Ross could have avoided any mention of the dossier by simply saying that Halper and Dearlove took that anti-Russian stance together, but he didn’t.

Finally, there’s the bizarre effort (noted above) to tie Papadopoulos to the dossier via Millian.

I’m glad Ross has now made clear he did not intend to suggest a tie between Halper and the dossier, because (as I think I show here) they make no sense. I do hope his readers who do suggest there’s a tie understand he has disavowed any such suggestion.

My goal with this post (as I suggest above) is to lay groundwork showing that the GOP basis for delegitimizing the investigation — that it purportedly started from oppo research paid for by Democrats — does not have a tie to the next stage, Halper. It seems whatever Ross wrote months ago, he and I are now in agreement that it does not have such a tie.

Update: Ross is still cranky that I suggested his six references to the dossier in a story that’s not about the dossier hasn’t led anyone to imagine a connection. Yesterday morning, Jack Posobiec, with his 300,000 followers, was already suggesting a tie based on a link to Ross’ more recent report.

How Yevgeniy Nikulin Might Play into the Mueller Investigation

For three reasons, Yevgeniy Nikulin, the Russian hacker alleged to be behind massive breaches of the LinkedIn and MySpace hacks, is in the news of late.

  • The report that Michael Cohen was tracked traveling from Germany to Czech Republic in 2016 has raised questions about whether both Cohen and Nikulin were in Prague at the same time, Mohammed Atta-like
  • Nikulin was suddenly extradited from Prague some weeks ago
  • His (Russian-provided) lawyer says he’ll entertain a plea deal

All of which provides a good opportunity to lay out what role he may have (or may be said to have) played in the DNC hack-and-leak.

The Michael Cohen in Prague story

The McClatchy report describing Robert Mueller receiving evidence of Cohen traveling from Germany to Czech Republic and some unknown date in 2016 seems to derive from outside investigators who have shared information with Mueller, not from Mueller’s team itself (which is consistent with his locked down shop). As such, it falls far short of being a confirmation of a meeting, or even validation that Mueller has confirmed any intelligence shared with his investigators. Moreover, the report has little detail as to timing, either of the visit or when Mueller actually got this intelligence.

And while it took a bit of time (Cohen can be forgiven for the delay because he apparently has very urgent business hanging with his homies smoking cigars), he did deny this report, offering the same partial story he offered last year.

That said, given the claimed timing, any coincidental presence in Prague by both Cohen and Nikulin is unlikely. Cohen’s presence in Prague is said to have roughly aligned with that reported in the dossier, so August or September. According to the FBI’s arrest affidavit for Nikulin he passed from Belarus into Poland on October 1, 2016, and probably was still there when posting from Warsaw on October 3; Nikulin was arrested in Prague on October 5. So unless Cohen went to Prague during his known October 2016 trip to England (definitely a possibility, but inconsistent with the dossier reporting), then they would no more have met in Prague (or planned to) than Mohammed Atta and Iraq’s Ahmad Samir al-Ani did.

The sudden Nikulin extradition

That said, I do think the sudden Nikulin extradition, even as pro-Russian Czech President Milos Zeman fought with Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikan over it — even to the point of threatening to replace him — is worth noting. That’s true, first of all, because it appears Paul Ryan — purportedly on vacation with his family, but making appearances with everyone but Zeman — had a hand in it.

During a visit to the Czech Republic, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on March 27 that “we have every reason to believe and expect that Mr. Nikulin will be extradited to America.”

“The United States has the case to prevail on having him extradited, whether it’s the severity of the crime, which is clearly on the side of U.S., or the timing of the request for the extradition,” he told reporters.

In an interview with RFE/RL in Prague on March 26, Ryan said that the “case for extraditing [Nikulin] to America versus Russia is extremely clear.”

Ryan, who met with Prime Minister Andrej Babis and other Czech officials during his visit, told RFE/RL that he would raise the issue in those talks.

“He did violate our laws, he did hack these companies…. So the extradition claim is very legitimate,” he said. “And I just expect that the Czech system will go through its process, and at the end of that process, I am hopeful and expecting that he’ll be extradited.”

Nikulin was extradited just days later, even as the decision looked like it would be reviewed.

Zeman has since made very bizarre comments criticizing Ryan for his involvement.

Zeman said he had a different view of the Nikulin case than Justice Minister Robert Pelikan (ANO), who had given consent to the extradition of this Russian citizen to the USA, but that he fully respected the minister’s right to decide on this matter.

Apart from the United States, Russia was seeking Nikulin’s extradition, too, based on a suspected online theft.

“When Donald Trump was elected American president, (U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul) Ryan wore a black tie. The same Mr Ryan arrived in the Czech Republic (last week). He publicly stated that he had arrived basically in order to get Mr Nikulin to the United States, in which he succeeded. Well, one of the versions is that Mr Nikulin may in some way serve as a tool of the internal American political fight – to which the black tie served as well,” Zeman said.

“I do not consider this a very good solution if Czechs were to meddle in the American political situation,” Zeman added.

Ryan, who appreciated the Czech government for the extradition of Nikulin, did not meet Zeman during his recent visit to Prague without citing the reasons.

It may be that Ryan was doing the bidding of Trump. Or, more likely, Ryan may have made the move in what appears to be fairly unified NATO response to the attempted Sergei Skripal assassination.

Nikulin’s Russian-provided lawyer makes it clear they will negotiate

That said, I find it very interesting that Nikulin’s lawyer, whom the Russians asked to get involved, is explicitly already talking about a plea deal.

The legal team for Yevgeniy Nikulin, the Russian hacker accused of stealing data from LinkedIn and other American tech firms, will explore a plea deal with the U.S. government, according to Nikulin’s lawyer, Arkady Bukh.

“The likelihood of a trial is not very high,” Bukh said. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where Nikulin’s trial would occur, “has over a 99 percent conviction rate. We are not throwing clients under the bus,” Bukh said.

[snip]

Bukh was first contacted by the Russian consulate and asked to help on the case. He  was approved on Wednesday to act as a lawyer for Nikulin by the court. Although Bukh has been in regular and sustained contact with both Nikulin’s family and the Russian consulate, he had yet to speak with his client as of Wednesday night.

The Russian consulate has expressed concerns about Nikulin’s mental condition, and Bukh said he “appears to be depressed.”

Perhaps Bukh is taking this route because the Feds have Nikulin dead to rights and a plea is the most logical approach. Perhaps Russia has learned its lesson from Roman Seleznev, the son of a prominent Duma member, who has been shipped around to different jurisdictions to have additional onerous sentences added to his prison term; I’m fairly certain there are other sealed indictments against Nikulin besides the one he was charged under that DOJ could use similarly.

Or perhaps Russia has reason to want to bury any public airing of evidence regarding what Nikulin has done or could be said to have done.

How Nikulin might be involved in the 2016 operation

I’ve long suggested that Nikulin may have had a facilitating role in the 2016 operation. That’s because credentials from his LinkedIn hack were publicly sold for a ridiculously small amount just before May 18, 2016, rather inexplicably making them available outside the tight-knit group of Russians who had been using the stolen credentials up to that point.

Almost all of the people whose email boxes were sent to Wikileaks were affected by the LinkedIn (and/or MySpace) breach, meaning passwords and emails they had used became publicly available in the middle of the Russian operation. And those emails were exfiltrated in the days immediately following, probably May 19-25, the public release of those credentials.

In other words, it is possible that stolen credentials, and not GRU hacks, obtained the emails that were shared with WikiLeaks.

None of that is to say that Russia didn’t steal the emails shared with Wikileaks or arrange that handoff.

Rather, it’s to say that there is a counter-narrative that would provide convenient plausible deniability to both the Russians and Wikileaks that may or may not actually be how those emails were obtained, but also may be all wrapped up ready to offer as a narrative to undercut the claim that GRU itself handed off the emails.

Note, too, how that timing coincides with the public claims Konstantin Kozlovsky made last year, which I laid out here.

April 28, 2015: FSB accesses Lurk servers with Kaspersky’s help.

May 18, 2016: LinkedIn credentials allegedly stolen by Yevgeniy Nikulin made widely available.

May 18, 2016: Kozlovsky arrest.

May 19-25, 2016: DNC emails shared with WikiLeaks likely exfiltrated.

October 5, 2016: Yevgeniy Nikulin arrest in Prague.

October 20, 2016: Nikulin indictment.

November 1, 2016: Date of Kozlovsky confession.

December 5, 2016: Arrest, for treason, of FSB officers Dmitry Dokuchaev and Sergey Mikhailov.

February 28, 2017: Indictment (under seal) of FSB officers, including Dmitry Dokuchaev, Alexey Belan, and Karim Bartov for Yahoo hack.

March 15, 2017: Yahoo indictment unsealed.

August 14, 2017: Kozlovsky posts November 1 confession of hacking DNC on Facebook.

November 28, 2017: Karim Baratov (co-defendant of FSB handlers) plea agreement.

December 2, 2017: Kozlovsky’s claims posted on his Facebook page.

March 30, 2018: Extradition of Nikulin.

April 2, 2018: Report that Dokuchaev accepted a plea deal.

April 17, 2018: Scheduled court appearance for Nikulin.

With each new hacker delivered into US custody, something happens in Russia that may provide an alternate narrative.

And consider that in the wake of Nikulin’s extradition, Dmitry Dokuchaev and another of the people accused of treason in Russia have made a partial confession that will, like any Nikulin plea, serve to bury much of the claimed evidence against them.

Two of the four suspects in a Russian treason case, including a former agent in the FSB’s Information Security Center, have reportedly signed plea bargains where they confess to transferring data to foreign intelligence agencies. Three sources have confirmed to the magazine RBC that former FSB agent Dmitry Dokuchaev and entrepreneur Georgy Fomchenkov reached deals with prosecutors.

One of RBC’s sources says the two suspects claim to have shared information with foreign intelligence agencies “informally,” denying that there was anything criminal about the exchange. Dokuchaev and Fomchenkov say they were only trying to help punish cyber-criminals operating outside Russia and therefore outside their jurisdiction. Lawyers for the two suspects refused to comment on the story.

As a result of the plea bargains, the two men’s trials will be fast-tracked in a special procedure where the evidence collected against them isn’t reviewed. Dokuchaev and Fomchenkov will also face lighter sentences — no more than two-thirds of Russia’s maximum 20-year sentence for treason, says one of RBC’s sources.

The other two suspects in the treason case, former FSB Information Security Center agent Sergey Mikhailov and former Kaspersky Lab computer incidents investigations head Ruslan Stoyanov, have reportedly turned down plea bargains, insisting on their innocence.

All of which is to say that Nikulin offers at least a plausible counter-explanation for the DNC hack-and-leak, one that might shift blame for the operation to non-state actors rather than GRU, which is something Vladimir Putin has been doing since Nikulin’s extradition first became likely, even if he has changed his mind about whether such non-state Russians will be celebrated or demonized upon their roll-out.

Rolling out plea deals here and in Russia may be an effort to try to sell that counter-narrative, before Robert Mueller rolls out whatever he will about the hack-and-leak in coming days.

Update: A reader notes correctly that all the dossier’s reporting on Cohen, especially that describing a meeting in Prague, post-dates the Nikulin arrest. See this post for more on the timing of the Cohen reporting, piggy-backing off of PiNC’s analysis.

With the Corey Lewandowski Interview, Devin Nunes Confirms He’s No More Than Trump’s Mole

In the wake of Michael Wolff’s publication of Steve Bannon’s insistence that Donald Trump met with the attendees at the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, we got word that Bannon — who claims never to have interviewed with Robert Mueller’s team — has hired the same lawyer representing Reince Priebus and Don McGahn for an interview this week with the House Intelligence Committee.

Two sources tell us Burck is helping Bannon prepare for an interview with the House intelligence committee, which is currently scheduled for next week. Sources also said Bannon plans to “fully cooperate” with investigators.

Burck also represents White House Counsel Don McGahn and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for the purposes of the Russia probe, as Law360 reported last September.

It is not unheard of for one attorney to represent more than one client on the same matter. But the fact that several key players with Trump administration ties have the same lawyer could irk investigators.

Then, yesterday, news broke that Corey Lewandowski will interview with HPSCI this week. He, too, claims he has never interviewed with Mueller’s team.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says that he has yet to be contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of the ongoing Russia investigation.

Lewandowski, who was interviewed by WABC’s Rita Cosby on Sunday, also confirmed reports that he will be interviewed on either Wednesday or Thursday by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia probe.

“I have nothing to hide. I didn’t collude or cooperate or coordinate with any Russian, Russian agency, Russian government or anybody else, to try and impact this election,” Lewandowski says he plans to tell the House panel.

Daily Caller is right — it’s odd that Mueller hasn’t interviewed Lewandowski, given that he had these critically timed interactions with George Papadopoulos.

April 27: Papadopoulos to Corey Lewandowski

“to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

April 27: Papadopoulos authored speech that he tells Timofeev is “the signal to meet”

[snip]

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

[snip]

June 19: Papadopoulos to Lewandowski

“New message from Russia”: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”

The decision to call two key Trump people whom Mueller hasn’t met happens in the wake of events that haven’t gotten sufficient attention. On January 3, Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray met with Paul Ryan to request that he limit the documents Nunes had requested from FBI. Ryan backed Nunes, which led Rosenstein and Wray to agree to show a bunch of highly sensitive documents to HPSCI investigators, as well as agree to interviews with the FBI and DOJ people who had either touched the Steele dossier or been witnesses to Jim Comey’s claims that Trump demanded loyalty from him.

At Wednesday’s meeting — initiated at Rosenstein’s request — Rosenstein and Wray tried to gauge where they stood with the House speaker in light of the looming potential contempt of Congress showdown and Nunes’ outstanding subpoena demands, sources said. CNN is told the discussion did not involve details of the separate Russia investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

While Ryan had already been in contact with Rosenstein for months about the dispute over documents, Rosenstein and Wray wanted to make one last effort to persuade him to support their position. The documents in dispute were mostly FBI investigative documents that are considered law enforcement sensitive and are rarely released or shared outside the bureau.

During the meeting, however, it became clear that Ryan wasn’t moved and the officials wouldn’t have his support if they proceeded to resist Nunes’ remaining highly classified requests, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting.

Sources also told CNN that the Justice Department and the FBI also had learned recently that the White House wasn’t going to assert executive privilege or otherwise intervene to try to stop Nunes.

The focus on all the reporting has been on the dossier; indeed, one of CNN’s sources says Mueller’s investigation didn’t come up. It’s not clear that makes sense, given the implication that Trump might claim executive privilege over something being discussed, unless the privilege claim pertained to the two-page summary of the dossier given to him and Obama.

Moreover, the letter memorializing what Nunes forced Rosenstein and Wray to give up suggests the discussion involved all “investigative documents that relate to the Committee’s investigations into (a) Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential election,” as well as its efforts to find evidence of politicization at DOJ.

As agreed, designated Committee investigators and staff will be provided access to all remaining investigative documents, in unredacted form, for review at DOJ on Friday, January 5, 2018. The documents to be reviewed will include all FBI Form-1023s and all remaining FBI Form FD-302s responsive to the Committee’s August 24, 2017 subpoenas. The only agreed-upon exception pertains to a single FD-302, which, due to national security interests, will be shown separately by Director Wray to myself and my senior investigators during the week of January 8, 2018.

You further confirmed that there are no other extant investigative documents that relate to the Committee’s investigations into (a) Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential election or (b) other investigatory documents germane to the Committee’s investigations regardless of form and/or title. If, somehow, “new” or “other” responsive documents are discovered, as discussed, you will notify me immediately and allow my senior investigators to review them shortly thereafter.

[snip]

It was further agreed that all documents made available to the Committee will also be available for review by the minority Ranking Member and designated staff.

If that’s right — if the document requests pertain to both the Steele dossier and the Mueller investigation, then on January 5, HPSCI would have been able to determine everyone who had been interviewed and what they had said (which is a good way to ensure that witnesses not cooperate with Mueller). And last week, Nunes, would have been able to review a 302 (the forms FBI uses to report their interviews with witnesses) that, for some reason, was even more sensitive than the FISA orders and confidential human source reports they had reviewed the previous Friday. From his language, it’s not clear whether Adam Schiff would have been included in that review.

Last Wednesday, Wray and Rosenstein gave briefings to Adam Schiff, reportedly by himself, and Richard Burr and Mark Warner together. If Schiff wasn’t included in the review of that 302, then that may explain what the briefing pertained to.

Just last month, Nunes was digging in and refusing to let Democrats call obvious witnesses. So the news that HPSCI will interview two key Trump people with whom Mueller has not yet met makes it clear — if it wasn’t already — that Nunes is trying to identify everything that Mueller might learn, so that he can then give Trump a clean bill of health and insist the entire investigation was just a political stunt drummed up from the Steele dossier (which is what Paul Manafort seems to have recommended last year).

And as all these machinations have gone on, Trump has vacillated about whether or not he’ll submit to an interview with Mueller. Perhaps Nunes has told him that the one thing that might make Mueller’s case is either a confirmation or denial from the President whether he knew or attended that June 9 meeting?

Incidental Collection Under Section 702 Has Probably Contributed to Trump’s Downfall, Too

As you’ve no doubt heard, the House passed the bad reauthorization to Section 702 yesterday. The Senate will vote on cloture on Tuesday — though both Rand Paul and Ron Wyden have threatened to filibuster it — and will almost certainly be voted into law after that.

I’ll have comment later on the rising costs, for politicians, for mindlessly reauthorizing these bills in a follow-up post.

Paul Ryan told President Trump Section 702 hasn’t affected his people

But for the moment, I want to comment on the debate that took place in response to Trump’s two tweets. The first tweet, which was clearly a response to a Judge Napolitano piece on Fox News yesterday morning, complaining about FISA.

Then, after a half hour lesson from Paul Ryan on the different FISA regimes (note, for some reason Devin Nunes was conspicuously absent from much of this process yesterday, both the coddling of the President and managing debate on the bill), a follow-up tweet hailing Section 702’s utility for “foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land.”

In response to those tweets, many commenters stated, as a matter of fact, that Trump hasn’t been impacted by Section 702, that only traditional FISA intercepts drove key developments in the Russian investigation.

That’s unlikely to be true, and I suspect we already have evidence that that’s not the case.

It is true that incidental collection on a Title I got Mike Flynn in trouble

To defend the case that incidental collection off a traditional FISA order has impacted Trump’s administration, people point to the December 29, 2016 intercepts of communications between Sergey Kislyak and Mike Flynn which were cited in Flynn’s guilty plea. It is true that those intercepts were done under a traditional FISA order. Admiral Mike Rogers as much as confirmed that last March in his efforts to explain basic FISA law to the House Intelligence Committee Republicans who are supposed to oversee it.

Rogers: FISA collection on targets in the United States has nothing to do with 702, I just want to make sure we’re not confusing the two things here. 702 is collection overseas against non US persons.

And Speaker Ryan, fresh off his efforts to teach the President basic surveillance law, yesterday clarified — inaccurately — that,

Title 1 of the FISA law is what you see in the news that applies to U.S. citizens. That’s not what we’re talking about here. This is Title 7, Section 702. This is about foreign terrorists on foreign soil.

Whatever the facts about FISA orders targeting Carter Page and Paul Manafort, the intercepts that have done the most known damage to the Trump Administration so far targeted a foreigner on US soil, Sergey Kislyak, and Flynn just got picked up incidentally.

Papadopoulos’ affidavit and statement of offense make different claims about his false claims and obstruction

But as I said, I suspect it is highly likely the Trump Administration has also been brought down by an American being caught up incidentally in a Section 702 tasking. That’s because of several details pertaining to the George Papadopoulos plea which I nodded to here; they strongly suggest that Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Joseph Mifsud were first obtained by the FBI via Section 702, and only subsequently parallel constructed using a warrant. It’s further likely that the FBI obtained a preservation order on Papadopoulos’ Facebook account before he deleted it because of what they saw via Section 702. [Update: KC has alerted me that they may not have gotten a preservation order, but instead were able to access the Facebook account because that content doesn’t all go away when you deactivate an account, which is what the October 5 document describes as happening.]

Compare the two descriptions of how Papadopoulos obstructed justice. The July 28, 2017 affidavit supporting Papadopoulos’ arrest describes Papadopoulos destroying his Facebook account to hide conversations he had with Timofeev.

The next day, on or about February 17, 2017, however, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, the defendant, shut down his Facebook account, which he had maintained since approximately August 2005. Shortly after he shut down his account, PAPADOPOULOS created a new Facebook account.

The Facebook account that PAPADOPOULOS shut down the day after his interview with the FBI contained information about communications he had with Russian nationals and other foreign contacts during the Campaign, including communications that contradicted his statements to the FBI. More specifically, the following communications, among others, were contained in that Facebook account, which the FBI obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant.

The affidavit makes it clear that Papadopoulos attempted to hide “his interactions during the Campaign with foreign contacts, including Russian nationals.” The descriptions of the communications that Papadopoulos attempted to hide are described as “a Facebook account identified with Foreign Contact 2,” Timofeev.

The FBI recorded both interviews, suggesting they already by January 27 they had reason to worry that Papadopoulos might not tell the truth.

The October 5 statement of the offense describes one of Papadopoulos’ false statements this way:

PAPADOPOULOS failed to inform investigators that the Professor had introduced him to the Russian MFA Connection [Timofeev], despite being asked if he had met with Russian nationals or “[a]nyone with a Russian accent” during the Campaign. Indeed, while defendant PAPADOPOULOS told the FBI that he was involved in meetings and did “shuttle diplomacy” with officials from several other countries during the Campaign, he omitted the entire course of conduct with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection regarding his efforts to establish meetings between the Campaign and Russian government officials.

And it describes his obstruction this way:

The next day, on or about February 17, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS deactivated his Facebook account, which he had maintained since approximately August 2005 and which contained information about communications he had with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection. Shortly after he deactivated his account, PAPADOPOULOS created a new Facebook account that did not contain the communications with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection.

On or about February 23, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using a new number.

In neither document does FBI mention having the content of Papadopoulos’ April 2016 Skype calls with Timofeev and neither one cites data — such as texts — that might have been on his cell phone.

What FBI (probably) learned when

While we can’t be sure — after all, the government may simply be withholding more information from other suspects — the differences between the two legal filings and other public information suggest the following evolution in what the government knew of Papadopoulous’ communications with his interlocutors when. Most importantly, the FBI had learned of Papadopoulos’ communications with Joseph Mifsud and Olga Vinogradova before his two interviews, but they had not learned of his communications with Ivan Timofeev.

Late July 2016

In a drunken conversation in May 2016, Papadopoulos told the Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer that he had been told (by Joseph Mifsud, but it’s not clear Papadopoulos would have revealed that) the Russians had dirt on Hillary in the form of emails.

Before January 27, 2017

  • Papadopoulos might lie and so should be recorded
  • Papadopoulos had interesting communications with Joseph Mifsud and Olga Vinogradova
  • Since Timofeev did not come up in the interview, FBI appears not to have learned of those conversations yet

Before February 16, 2017

  • Papadopoulos’ Facebook was interesting enough to sustain a preservation request but (because FBI still didn’t know about Timofeev) FBI had not yet accessed its content via Papadopoulos [Though see update above]
  • FBI had not yet accessed Skype, which would have shown call records between Timofeev and Papadopoulos
  • FBI did not have a warrant on Papadopoulos’ phone and never obtained one before February 23

By July 28, 2017

  • FBI had obtained a warrant for Papadopoulos’ email
  • FBI had read the Facebook content Papadopoulos tried to delete, discovering the communications (and the relationship) with Timofeev
  • FBI had identified the Skype conversations that had taken place, but not in time to collect them using 702

By October 5, 2017

  • FBI had obtained far more email from the campaign side
  • FBI had discovered that, in addition to destroying his Facebook account, Papadopoulos had also gotten a new phone number (and, I suspect, a new phone), thereby destroying any stored texts on the phone

FBI probably tracked Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Mifsud before February 16

Again, this is just a guess, but given the evolution of FBI’s understanding about Papadopoulos laid out above, it seems highly likely that FBI had obtained some (but not all) of Mifsud’s communications before February 16, had submitted preservation requests to Papadopoulos’ providers, but had not yet obtained any legal process for content via Papadopoulos. Given that Papadopoulos’ Facebook content was preserved even in spite of his effort to destroy it, it seems clear the government had reason to know its content was of interest, but it did not yet know about his Facebook communications with Timofeev. This is how FBI routinely launders Section 702 information through criminal process, by getting a warrant for the very same content available at PRISM providers that they already obtained via PRISM. They key detail is that they appear to have known about the content of some but not all of Papadopoulos’ Facebook messages in time to preserve the account before February 16.

This strongly suggests the FBI had obtained Mifsud’s Facebook content, but not Papadopoulos’.

Once FBI opened a full investigation into the Russian ties — which we know they did in late July, in part because of that Papadopoulos conversation about the Mifsud comments — it could task and obtain a raw feed of any known PRISM account for any foreigner overseas associated with that investigation. Once it identified Mifsud as Papadopoulos’ interlocutor — and they would have been able to identify their common relationship from their common front organization, the London Centre of International Law Practice — they would have tasked Mifsud on any identifier they could collect.

And collecting on Facebook would be child’s play — just ask nicely. So it would be shocking if they hadn’t done it as soon as they identified that Mifsud was Papadopoulos’ interlocutor and that he had a Facebook account.

Incidental collection under 702 may have led to the preservation of evidence about the Timofeev relationship Papadopoulos tried to destroy

If all this is right — and it is admittedly just a string of well-educated guesses — then it means FBI’s ability to incidentally collect on Papapdopoulos by targeting Mifsud may have been what led them to take action to preserve Papadopoulos’ Facebook content, and with it evidence of ongoing communications with Timofeev that he had tried to hide.

And the fact that he did try to hide it is what led to Mueller flipping his first cooperating witness.

So if all this is right, then incidental collection on Papadopoulos under Section 702 may be every bit as central to Trump’s legal jeopardy right now as the incidental collection on Flynn under Title I. They’re both critical pieces in proving any hypothetical case that Trump traded policy considerations for the release of Hillary emails.

This is how Section 702 is supposed to work, and could be done under USA Rights

Let me be clear: I’m not saying the discovery of Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Mifsud and through them his Facebook communications with Timofeev is an abuse. On the contrary, this is how 702 is supposed to work.

If we’re going to have this program, it should be used to target suspect agents of a foreign power located overseas, as Mifsud clearly was. If he was targeted under 702, he was targeted appropriately.

But there is no reason to believe doing so required any of the more abusive uses of 702 that USA Rights would limit. Unless Mifsud was already tasked at FBI when they opened the investigation in July 2016, there’s no reason to believe this account could have been found off of a back door search at FBI. Mifsud may have been tasked at NSA or even CIA, but if he was, searching on Papadopoulos because the government suspected he was being recruited by a foreign power would fall under known justifications for back door searches at those foreign intelligence agencies (especially at CIA).

USA Rights would permit the use of this 702 information to support the criminal case against Papadopoulos, because it’s clearly a case of foreign government spying.

And no use of the Tor exception would be implicated with this search.

In other words, Section 702 as Ron Wyden and Rand Paul and Justin Amash and Zoe Lofgren would have it would still permit the use of Section 702 as a tool to — ultimately — lead FBI to figure out that Papadopoulos was hiding his contacts with Ivan Timofeev.

As it turns out, the kinds of people Trump’s foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos was chatting up on Facebook — Joseph Mifsud and Ivan Timofeev — are precisely the kind of people the FBI considers “foreign bad guys on foreign land” for the purposes of Section 702, meaning the Bureau could get their Facebook account quite easily.

And the incidental collection of Americans of such conversations can be — may well have been — as dangerous to Donald Trump as the incidental collection of Americans under Title I.

The Embarrass Mitch McConnell Provision of the Intel Authorization

I’ve got a piece coming out on all the Russian-related provisions in the Intelligence Authorization bill for next year, which are for the most part really laudable policy proposals. But I wanted to look more closely at this one.

SEC. 606. REPORT ON CYBER ATTACKS BY FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS AGAINST UNITED STATES ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE.
(a) Report Required.—Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis shall submit to congressional leadership and the congressional intelligence committees a report on cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks by foreign governments on United States election infrastructure in States and localities in connection with the 2016 presidential election in the United States and such cyber attacks or attempted cyber attacks as the Under Secretary anticipates against such infrastructure. Such report shall identify the States and localities affected and shall include cyber attacks and attempted cyber attacks against voter registration databases, voting machines, voting-related computer networks, and the networks of secretaries of State and other election officials.

(b) Form.—The report submitted under subsection (a) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.

(c) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP.—The term “congressional leadership” includes the following:

(A) The majority leader of the Senate.

(B) The minority leader of the Senate.

(C) The Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(D) The minority leader of the House of Representatives.

(2) STATE.—The term “State” means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and any territory or possession of the United States.

It requires the Department of Homeland Security to submit an unclassified report on all the hacking attempts on election infrastructure last year. It will involve declassifying information that Reality Winner is facing prison time for liberating, which seems like a concession that such information has public value. 

But I’m particularly interested in the emphasis on the distribution of this report: both to the intelligence committees and to Congressional leadership, spelled out by job title. Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan, and Nancy Pelosi.

That’s interesting because — as part of their investigation into last year’s hack — the Senate Intelligence Committee has already been briefed on this information. Indeed, the day after that testimony, Bloomberg reported — relying on three sources briefed on the investigation — that the hacks were much more severe than publicly known.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

So ultimately, if this bill becomes law, it will require an unclassified report on stuff SSCI has been getting briefing on to be submitted to both SSCI and Congressional leadership.

The move comes in the wake of complaints from Democrats that Mitch McConnell refused to back a stronger statement about such attempted attacks in fall 2016. Now, I think some of the complaints about McConnell’s inaction last year are overblown, a demand that McConnell get ahead of where the Intelligence Community was willing to go publicly. And I think they largely obscure the more pressing question of what Trump advisors Devin Nunes and Richard Burr did. 

But I am cognizant of the fact that in a matter of months, we may get a better sense of the kinds of threats to our voting system that McConnell fought against publicizing.

National Enquirer’s Serial Spy Novel: Featuring Hillary, Flynn, Assange, Pence, and Ryan

The claim that “Trump catches Russia’s White House spy” — clearly an attempt to smear Mike Flynn — actually got me to drop the $4.99 for a copy of the National Enquirer to read the hit job. And it’s actually more than a contrived effort to claim Flynn is a Russian spy: it’s a four-page spread, implicating Hillary and Mike Pence, too.

The story about Flynn is, instead, mostly a story about Jack Barsky, the former Russian spy who has gotten a lot of press of late tied to the release of his book. Just Thursday, CNN published an interview with him claiming, “What is clear is that email accounts of Democrat operatives were hacked and those hacks originated in Russia. Anything beyond that is pure speculation.” But amid a two-page story of Barsky’s life (as if the details of his life — and Barsky himself — were newly discovered), NE includes two quotes. A “national security intelligence source” warns of other Russian spies:

Jack Barsky is a Russian spy that was caught. But what is really frightening is that there are others out there like him embedded deep into Washington D.C. … Barsky being tracked down will greatly help the president smoke out other rats in his ranks.

And amid a four paragraph discussion of Mike Flynn, NE quotes an “administration source.”

The revelations [about Barsky] come as still-unfolding details continue to worm their way into the public eye about Trump’s own White House “turncoat” — now-ousted national security adviser and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Flynn was booted from Trump’s cabinet after intercepted phone calls exposed how he had colluded with Russian officials — and then had the chutzpah to lie about it when questioned by Vice President Mike Pence.

“He was, in essence, the Russian spy in Trump’s midst,” said an administration source who spoke to The ENQUIRER on the condition of anonymity. “Trump was lucky to root him out when he did.”

The unfolding Russian spy drama will overshadow the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing investigating alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin, source said.

Of course, Trump transition official Devin Nunes has already canceled the next hearing into ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin, but perhaps Trump plans on magnifying this hit job in upcoming days, replete with spooky language — “embedded,” “smoke out other rats,” “worm their way,” “turncoat,” “root him out,” — to shift the focus on disloyalty within the Trump Administration.

Which brings us to the other main story in this four-page spread.

It describes how “Trump crushe[d] Clinton coup” designed to install Mike Pence, purportedly revealed by Julian Assange in these two tweets (and some follow-up):

It treats Assange’s claims about his arch enemy as credible because, as a “Beltway insider sniffed … Assange is plugged in and has deep connections to Russian intelligence, along with similar networks around the world.”

The story cites a “White House insider” describing Trump giving Pence a loyalty oath.

President Trump called Pence into the Oval Office and forced him to take a lie detecter test to prove his loyalty. Pence swore he had nothing to do with Hillary and was being moved around like a chess piece in evil Hillary’s game!

After alleging Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson might be a cut-out and/or love interest for Assange, the story then turns on Paul Ryan, citing a quote first published in October, the audio of which was released by Breitbart the same day as the Assange tweets, March 14. The NE claimed that Hillary leaked the call to sow dissent before the health care vote.

The timing of the leak is not a coincidence. The call took place in October and leaked now — just as Ryan and Trump are working to muster support for the health care bill to replace Obamacare. Hillary’s people leaked it to drive a wedge between Trump and Ryan, undermine their efforts to reform health care and destroy the president!

In short, the second article is even more fevered than the one implicating Flynn.

Finally, in addition to a short piece attacking Chris Matthews, the spread includes a non-denial denial of Christopher Steele’s dossier, claiming it showed “Trump orgies” and “graphic sex involving hookers,” which is not precisely what pee gate claimed. It then dismisses the claims because “Trump neither drinks nor uses drugs,” as if that would rule out orgies.

Undoubtedly, all this was placed with the cooperation of the White House, if not direct quotes from Trump (which is something he has a history of doing). While the Flynn story has been viewed — particularly alongside unsubstantiated claims that Flynn is cooperating with the FBI — as an attempt to damage him for snitching, it almost certainly dates to earlier than more recent attacks on Flynn, and in conjunction with stories of loyalty oaths from Pence appears tame by comparison.

Trump wants to justify a witch hunt among the National Enquirer set. And at least thus far, Flynn and warnings of replacement by Pence are no more than the excuse for launching it.

Trump Is Who He’s Always Been, And Trump Is the Epitome of the GOP; They Have To Own Him

The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has come up with another scoop. While scraping for video clips does not seem to be Fahrenthold’s strength, like the KFile boys who bolted Buzzfeed in the middle of the night for the apparently greener pastures of CNN, this clip posted by the Washington Post is bigger than anything that has come before. It doesn’t matter if it is by weight, timing, or the clear combination of the two, it is simply huge. Game changing.

The most striking thing, however, is not that this video exists, nor that it has emerged to public view, it is that the Republican party worthies and press seem to think it is shocking. Seriously, this information, and the Donald Trump it reflects, is exactly who Donald Trump is, and has been, for decades.

Donald Trump is a once and forever informationally ignorant, self serving jackass extreme narcissist. But he has been that for decades to anybody paying attention. Trump was the leader from the start in the Republican primary, and was the easy winner of their nomination. Why? Because the votes on the ground count, much to the consternation of supposed “sane party elders”, and the votes on the ground made Trump an easy winner. He is exactly what the current Republican GOP party embodies at its heart.

Watching holier than though instant moral compasses (well oiled craven weathervanes?) like Jason Chaffetz, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch and Paul Ryan squirm and proclaim their shock, like grubby kids with their hand stuck in the cookie jar, is hilarious. What convenient souls they are to suddenly have the inclination of what they have all sowed and reaped for years. They doth protest too much; Trump is them, and they are Trump.

I came home late, but still managed to hear at least two tellings of the story of how John Rhodes, Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott went down the Hill and gave the hook to Nixon when it was time, with the ideation that such a similar scene could end the Trump moment now. Those are the crazy fever dreams of people like Chris Matthews, David Gergen, Mark Halperin and the rest of the Beltway cocktail weiner gobblers.

Not gonna happen. Rhodes, Goldwater and Scott were men of a different time and more stout character. There are no analogues today. Jason Chaffetz and Mike Lee can conveniently preen and bluster all they want. It is bullshit, as it is with almost all of the rest of today’s Republican party. They do NOT get to suddenly walk away from the monster their party has spent decades creating. They own Trump, Hannity, Roger Ailes, Fox News, Breitbart and Limbaugh. It is who they are, and nobody should forget it.

The Republican party of today has relentlessly stood against women’s rights and ability to control their own bodies, equal rights and protections for LGBT citizens, fair treatment for minorities and immigrants, and the right to vote for anybody other than middle aged fat white men. The current Republican party think that they are the only “suspect class” due “equal protection”, and not the minorities, races, genders, sexual identities and other endangered classes the civil rights laws were designed to protect.

This is exactly what makes the instant kvetching in the GOP aisle over Trump last night so fatuous. It is a boatload of opportunistic self serving fraud. Not for one second should anybody accept that Trump is the sudden exception, he is unequivocally what the GOP has been growing into for years. The modern Republican party has long championed racism, bigotry and misogyny; Donald Trump is just the point of their spear. To the extent there are any “honest brokers” left in the GOP, they are still guilty of benign neglect that allowed the ugliness that is the Trumpian GOP to fester.

The GOP cannot run from Donald Trump, he is who they are now. The last minute panicked contrition of the very women blaming and shaming, racists, bigots and oligarchs that claim to speak for the GOP cannot shed the snake skin of who they are, and what they have created.

Oh, and by the way, the fever dreams of the Chris Matthews and Mark Halperins of the pearl clutching Beltway set are not going to get their wish. It is too late for Trump to be replaced on the ballot by the grand poohbahs of the GOP. As election litigator extraordinaire Marc Elias points out, the ballots for the military and overseas voters have already been sent out pursuant to the UOCAVA, i.e. the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Locally, the Arizona ballots are putatively at the printers and being mailed out within five days. Many other states are either on that timetable or ahead of it. In short, the voting has begun. The die is cast.

Also, via Philip Bump and Dave Weigel of the Washington Post:

More than 34,000 Republican voters have already cast their ballots for the 2016 general election according to the U.S. Election Project, 8,000 of them in the battleground state of North Carolina and another 5,000 in Florida. Not all of those ballots were cast for Donald Trump, it’s safe to assume, but it’s more than likely that most of them were. And that, in a nutshell, is why it’s far too late for the Republican Party to dump Donald Trump from their ticket.

More from Bump, Weigel and the WaPo:

Josh Putnam, a University of Georgia lecturer and expert on the machinations of the parties, told me at the time that the rule at issue was Rule 9. Rule 9 reads:

The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.

Death, declination or otherwise. No “because we want to” clause.

“Let’s be clear here: The rule is intended to fill vacancies, not to lay the groundwork for a replacement,” Putnam said. “Some have speculated that ‘otherwise’ is ambiguous. Taken out of context it is. However, under the provisions for filling vacancies, it clearly fills in any gap between death and declination (i.e.: an incapacitating illness, but one that leaves the nominee neither dead nor able to decline to run further). And that was the intention.”

Weigel and Bump are superb reporters, and put up a compelling article on a short deadline. But, when it comes to election law, there is nobody better than Rick Hasen. Rick actually contemplated this scenario back in August, over two months ago, when the switch would have been far easier than it is now with ballots already outstanding. His conclusion was that it would be beyond difficult. And that was then, much less now.

But what if the ballots stood as is, could the GOP “electors” find the unanimity to cast enough electoral votes for some person other than Trump? Hasen, at his excellent “Election Law Blog” linked to some thoughts on that effectively imaginary scenario by Ned Foley:

As I write this on Friday night October 7, there is renewed talk of GOP leadership disavowing Trump. True, Trump will still be on the ballot that we citizens cast. But suppose the GOP leadership publicly announces that it will ask GOP electors, when they meet and vote on 12/19, to cast their presidential vote for Pence. Then some GOP-leaning superPACs spend a lot money before 11/8 informing voters of this plan.

Suppose this plan is successful, insofar as it causes on Election Night, 11/8, the media to announce that GOP electors were chosen in enough states to amount to 270 Electoral College votes. Then on 12/19, the GOP electors all do as intended according to this plan: they cast their official Electoral College votes for Pence, not Trump. Pursuant to 3 U.S.C. 9-11, these electors all sign their certificates showing Pence as their choice and send the certificates to Joe Biden, as President of the Senate.

Now, someone might claim that some of these electors violated a previous pledge they made to cast their Electoral College votes for Trump. Maybe this claimant even arranges to send to Biden a separate set of Electoral College votes cast by replacement electors who were substituted because the faithless electors violated their pledge. (This move would be reminiscent of 1876.) We can assume that the claimant wouldn’t send to Biden 270+ Electoral College votes for Trump, but some number short of 270 in the hope of depriving Pence of the presidency.

What would happen when Biden receives two conflicting sets of Electoral College votes from some states, one set for Pence, and the second set for Trump?…

Long story short: There is no way out from Trump for the GOP. They are stuck, and they got there the old fashioned way: they earned it. The Republican Party cannot hide form this event or pretend it is a mistake. It is the culmination of where the Republicans have been headed since the days of Nixon and Lee Atwater. The GOP has tried to mask it with duplicitous bleating about social conservancy and family values, but the truth is out now. It is all about preservation of white bigotry and privilege, and shifting of income and wealth to oligarchs and corporations. When Trump feigned to support that, and the maintenance of women in second class subservient status, the Republican party was willing to ride that horse. Now they want off. Don’t let them.

It is time for change, and that will not, and cannot, be furthered by letting the party of bigotry, hate, misogyny and income inequality off the hook because their avatar has been exposed.. Make them own what they built and earned.