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Kash Patel’s Immunized Testimony Is about Premeditation, Not (Just) about Declassification

Thankfully, the NYT has written a second story reporting that DOJ is considering asking Beryl Howell to give Kash Patel use immunity in the Trump stolen document investigation, because I was about to go back and write about the first one.

Earlier this month, the prosecutors summoned Mr. Patel to testify before a grand jury in Washington hearing evidence about whether Mr. Trump had mishandled classified documents and obstructed justice when he refused to return the records to the government.

Mr. Patel repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In response, prosecutors asked a top federal judge in Washington to compel Mr. Patel to answer questions — a move Mr. Patel’s lawyers have strenuously opposed. The question now is whether the Justice Department will grant him immunity in order to secure his testimony.

The first was newsworthy — as I laid out in this thread and as Jay Kuo wrote up in this piece — for its silence about the fact that Stanley Woodward is the defense attorney for both people described in the story (the other was Walt Nauta, the valet who moved documents around before Evan Corcoran did a search of what was left).

Woodward represents a slew of key defendants who might serve as firewalls in a larger and much more damning crime: in addition to Patel and Nauta, Dan Scavino, Peter Navarro, Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs (who has ties to Roger Stone), and the guy who kicked off the entire riot, Ryan Samsel. Woodward’s a decent defense attorney (not least because, unlike many Trump attorneys, he is a defense attorney), but he’s got a conspiracy streak that should be accounted for when reporting on his representation of events.

Both NYT stories portray Patel’s unnamed attorneys as resisting the move to immunize him.

In response, prosecutors asked a top federal judge in Washington to force Mr. Patel to testify — a move fought by Mr. Patel’s lawyers, who are concerned the government wants to use Mr. Patel’s own statements to incriminate him. [first]

[snip]

The push for the testimony has also created friction between the Justice Department and Mr. Patel’s lawyers, who have argued that the department could use his statements against him if they build out a larger obstruction investigation. [second]

This is, frankly, silly reporting. Stanley Woodward doesn’t get a choice in whether Patel is immunized. That’s the point: You immunize a witness to compel his testimony. And defense attorneys and prosecutors are adversarial; there is supposed to be “friction” between them. That’s the nature of an adversarial system.

Including these claims in the story without explaining the import of compelled testimony does a disservice to readers and makes the story far more of vehicle for obstruction.

Best as I can tell (it’s hard to tell, because the part of the earlier story addressing immunity was so muddled), this version of the story adds no new news except for the self-congratulatory detail that Trump only learned that Kash took the Fifth from the earlier story.

Mr. Trump first learned that Mr. Patel had invoked the Fifth Amendment when The New York Times reported it on Monday, according to person briefed on the matter.

This is not actually interesting unless you’re a NYT reporter or someone like Stanley Woodward wanting to make clear he’s not directly consulting on these defense issues in advance with Trump himself, which is different than consulting with someone like Boris Epshteyn, who (unlike Woodward) is not a defense attorney but nevertheless is purportedly in charge of Trump’s defense. It just so happens that these anonymously sourced stories provide all the details that Trump would need and Woodward would want public to make sure he still got paid. (Not addressed, however, is a reference in the earlier story boasting about the treatment of the video surveillance that would have led to changed testimony from Nauta.)

Sadly, this story utterly misses several key points about the import of Kash Patel’s testimony.

First, consider Kash’s potential responses if Beryl Howell does grant him use immunity. Either he testifies truthfully, he lies, or he still refuses to testify and gets jailed for contempt. This is the real tension that Woodward is getting at — what should Kash do if he is immunized, as if the story is begging for directions from those paying the bills. While Trump was still President, the answer was easy: lie and await a pardon. It’s more complicated when you’re firewalling someone who may not return to the presidency anytime soon.

More importantly, consider possible reasons why Kash might have invoked the Fifth, if it was anything more than an attempt to avoid testifying in the absence of Executive Privilege claims.

NYT — which has spread the cover story that the only Russian documents Trump attempted to disseminate as he left office were the unclassified Strzok-Page texts (ABC had a detailed story about what really happened) — says that this is all about whether Kash’s claims that Trump declassified the documents he stole are true.

Federal prosecutors investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of national security documents want to question one of his confidants about a claim that Mr. Trump had declassified national security documents he took when he left the White House.

[snip]

But the Justice Department’s interest in questioning Mr. Patel about the claim shows that prosecutors see it as potentially relevant to their investigation into the handling of the documents and whether Mr. Trump or his aides obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them.

If all Kash was asked about was whether — at a time when he was supposed to be running the Pentagon but instead happened to be at the White House at the precise moment Trump waved a magic wand to mass declassify documents he intended to steal — Trump had really declassified those documents, there’d be little cause to invoke the Fifth and he would have invoked Executive Privilege instead. If Trump didn’t declassify the documents, Kash would be admitting to lying in Breitbart, which is not only not a crime, but it is generally assumed of columns that appear in Breitbart.

If Trump actually did declassify these documents with Kash as a witness, Kash has no legal exposure whatsoever.

So (again assuming Kash invoked the Fifth because he believed he had real exposure himself, which may not be the case), what might be those possible areas of exposure? Some possibilities include [these are hypotheticals]:

  • At some time before January 20, 2021, Kash and Trump coordinated to select a group of documents — including the Russian binder, but also (per the Breitbart piece quoted in the search affidavit) the Ukraine quid pro quo and other topics of national security import — that Trump would steal when he left; this is consistent with a great deal of what Kash has said publicly.
  • The Russian binder did circulate and because the declassification process was never finalized before Trump left office — and appears not to have been finalized at all — any classified documents in it would expose the person circulating the binder to Espionage Act charges himself. If an unredacted Carter Page application were included, it would expose the person to FISA violations as well, as I noted in August.
  • Trump and Kash both know that he never declassified the documents he stole, but leading up to May 5 — at a time when Trump was trying to stave off further investigation and even before FBI reviewed the boxes returned in January — they coordinated the false Breitbart column and the false claims about declassification since.
  • The decision to make Kash and John Solomon Trump’s representatives to the Archives was an effort to assess what was stolen.
  • Kash was in some way part of the curating process of choosing which stolen classified documents to retain after 2021, effectively a continuation of the role he started to play in 2017, for which he was rewarded handsomely.

Again, all of these are strictly hypothetical! But they more closely match the known facts than the cover story that Trump was only disseminating unclassified Strzok texts.

And for all the NYT’s focus on obstruction — goddamnit, Mike Schmidt, will you never tire of reporting that Trump is primarily exposed to obstruction?!?! — many of these actions would expose Patel not just to obstruction, but to charges under the Espionage Act himself (and, as I noted, potentially FISA).

I described on August 12 — four days after the search — that if Trump asked Kash or John Solomon to access the stolen classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, then it would expand Trump’s exposure under the Espionage Act.

If Trump and Kash worked together while still in the White House to select a bunch of classified documents to steal and further disseminate, it might expose one or both to 793d.

(d)Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it; or

If, before DOJ started making the more formalized requests for Trump to return the stolen documents (and so at a time when Trump might plausibly claim he was still sorting through his documents), Kash disseminated them forward from Mar-a-Lago, it might expose one or both to 793f.

(f)Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer—

If Kash coordinated with Trump to try to create post hoc justification to keep the stolen classified documents — including with the Breitbart column and his subsequent claims about declassification — it might expose both to 793g.

(g)If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions of this section, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.

Again, this post involves a lot of hypotheses (though with the advantage that, unlike the NYT, I’m not under the illusion that the only Russian documents Trump planned to disseminate were unclassified Strzok texts). But this is an absolutely critical thought experiment (especially when trying to assess venue, as Brandon Van Grack did here) because the question before DOJ is not, and never was, solely whether a former President refused to return documents he might implausibly claim to have declassified.

The question has always been about whether Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents, and what Trump did with the classified documents after he stole them. Every single one of Kash’s claims to be privy to a purported declassification are also claims about premeditation and dissemination to people not authorized to have classified documents.

And that’s why he’d have a credible Fifth Amendment claim.

It would be unprecedented to charge a former President with violating 18 USC 793e for refusing to return classified documents — though I think DOJ has a clear case (with the South Florida venue that Van Grack explains in his piece) for documents retained between June 3 and August 8.

But if DOJ had evidence that Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents and disseminate them to frothers — some with suspect associates — it would expand his exposure into crimes that are not close calls at all.

And that’s why the decision whether to immunize Kash is not the hard trade-off that people are making it out to be. DOJ may or may not be able to mount a case against Kash himself. But if he were a key witness in a 793g case, it would make the gravity of crimes charged under the Espionage Act far more clearcut, even if charged in Florida. It would make any case against Trump far easier to prove.

Kash Patel is not primarily a witness about whether Trump declassified the documents he stole. He’s a witness about whether Trump had a premeditated plan to steal classified documents and disseminate them to people not entitled to have them. And that’s why the serial reports about DOJ seeking to immunize Kash’s testimony are interesting.

Rule of Law: DOJ Obtained Trump’s Privilege-Waived Documents in May

Last December, when the DC Circuit ruled that the Archives should share Donald Trump’s materials relating to January 6 with the January 6 Committee, it emphasized the “rare and formidable alignment of factors supports the disclosure of the documents at issue.”

On this record, a rare and formidable alignment of factors supports the disclosure of the documents at issue. President Biden has made the considered determination that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States given the January 6th Committee’s compelling need to investigate and remediate an unprecedented and violent attack on Congress itself. Congress has established that the information sought is vital to its legislative interests and the protection of the Capitol and its grounds. And the Political Branches are engaged in an ongoing process of negotiation and accommodation over the document requests.

It likewise pointed to the careful attention (and month-long reviews) the Biden White House gave to each tranche of materials at issue.

Still, when the head of the Executive Branch lays out the type of thoroughgoing analysis provided by President Biden, the scales tilt even more firmly against the contrary views of the former President.

Judge Patricia Millet’s opinion even found that the due consideration Biden exercised was enough to reject Trump’s claim that the Presidential Records Act had given him “unfettered discretion to waive” his own Executive Privilege claim.

Lastly, former President Trump argues that, to the extent the Presidential Records Act is construed to give the incumbent President “unfettered discretion to waive former Presidents’ executive privilege,” it is unconstitutional. Appellant Opening Br. 47. There is nothing “unfettered” about President Biden’s calibrated judgment in this case.

Citing Mazars, the opinion also noted SCOTUS’ deference to information-sharing accommodations between the Political Branches, the Executive and Legislative Branches.

Weighing still more heavily against former President Trump’s claim of privilege is the fact that the judgment of the Political Branches is unified as to these particular documents. President Biden agrees with Congress that its need for the documents at issue is “compelling[,]” and that it has a “sufficient factual predicate” for requesting them. First Remus Ltr., J.A. 107; see also Third Remus Ltr., J.A. 173. As a result, blocking disclosure would derail an ongoing process of accommodation and negotiation between the President and Congress, and instigate an interbranch dispute.

The Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of courts deferring to information-sharing agreements wrestled over and worked out between Congress and the President. See Mazars, 140 S. Ct. at 2029, 2031.

In other words, the request of a coequal branch of government, made with the assent of the incumbent President, presented a very powerful legal case for sharing Trump’s January 6 records with Congress.

When the Supreme Court considered the question, only Ginni Thomas’ spouse disagreed (Brett Kavanaugh did attempt to limit the decision).

The courts may well have come to this same conclusion had Merrick Garland’s DOJ subpoenaed records from the Archives for its own investigation of Donald Trump directly. A “subpoena or other judicial process issued by a court of competent jurisdiction for the purposes of any civil or criminal investigation or proceeding” is one of the three exceptions the Presidential Records Act makes to the parts of the law that restrict access to the materials for a period after the President’s Administration.

But constitutionally, it would have been a very different legal and political question.

Importantly, the only way to obtain a privilege waiver from Biden in that situation would be to violate DOJ’s Contacts Policy that firewalls the White House from ongoing criminal investigations, and so the request would either have lacked that waiver from the incumbent President, or would risk politicizing the DOJ investigation.

The Biden White House’s strict adherence to that Contacts Policy is what allowed Karine Jean-Pierre to make a categorical denial of any advance warning of the search on Trump’s home and to use that as a reaffirmation of the rule of law last week.

She’ll probably get similar questions today, and make the same categorical denial of any White House knowledge.

All that is the predictable background to the NYT report that, after the January 6 Committee subpoenaed these records, and after the Archives gave both Presidents an opportunity to weigh in, and after the DC Circuit and Supreme Court ruled against Trump’s complaints, DOJ subpoenaed all the same material from the Archives themselves.

Federal prosecutors investigating the role that former President Donald J. Trump and his allies played in the events leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol have issued a grand jury subpoena to the National Archives for all the documents the agency provided to a parallel House select committee inquiry, according to a copy of the subpoena obtained by The New York Times.

The subpoena, issued to the National Archives in May, made a sweeping demand for “all materials, in whatever form” that the archives had given to the Jan. 6 House committee. Those materials included records from the files of Mr. Trump’s top aides, his daily schedule and phone logs and a draft text of the president’s speech that preceded the riot.

While the NYT doesn’t say it, it seems likely that the Archives gave these already privilege-reviewed documents to prosecutor Thomas Windom with nary a squeak, and we’re just learning about it — indeed Trump may have just learned about it, which is where the subpoena probably came from — four months later. We’re just learning about it, importantly, after the FBI seized another 27 boxes of documents that Trump had refused to turn over to the Archives, including records (if you can believe Paul Sperry) pertinent to January 6.

When I predicted this would happen in December, I went out of my way to ask constitutional lawyers if they had another solution to the puzzle of getting Trump’s documents without violating that Contacts Policy, and no one even engaged with a question — how to overcome Executive Privilege — that had been a real problem for Robert Mueller, when he was investigating Donald Trump.

People will wail about the timing of this request and others, including the NYT, will falsely claim this is proof that DOJ is following the January 6 Committee.

Asking the National Archives for any White House documents pertaining to the events surrounding Jan. 6 was one of the first major steps the House panel took in its investigation. And the grand jury subpoena suggests that the Justice Department has not only been following the committee’s lead in pursuing its inquiry, but also that prosecutors believe evidence of a crime may exist in the White House documents the archives turned over to the House panel.

There were covert steps taken before that, including the (admittedly belated) request for call records at least a month earlier.

In addition, Justice Department investigators in April received phone records of key officials and aides in the Trump administration, including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, according to two people familiar with the matter.

And we’ve already seen proof that the fake electors investigation, at least, has pursued leads that the Committee had not yet made public before DOJ was including them in subpoenas.

Furthermore, the subpoena was issued before the Committee started its public hearings on June 9.

There are a couple of other notable details about this timing.

First, in addition to coming after the SCOTUS decision, this subpoena came after Mark Meadows and Ivanka made efforts to comply with the Presidential Records Act by providing the Archives copies of official business they conducted on their own email and Signal accounts. It also came after any responsive documents from the 15 boxes of records that Trump did provide to the Archives earlier this year were identified. DOJ made its request at a time when the Archives were more complete than they had been when the Committee started identifying big gaps in the records.

The only thing we know remains missing from those Archives (aside from documents seized last week) is Peter Navarro’s ProtonMail account, which DOJ sued to obtain earlier this month.

The Archives’ request also came after Trump had largely given up the effort to fight individual releases.

As NYT correctly noted, DOJ only issued this subpoena at a time when it was issuing other subpoenas (the fact of, but not the substance, of Brandon Straka’s cooperation had been made public in January, and Ali Alexander’s excuses for his actions at the Capitol had already been debunked in January after Owen Shroyer, who was arrested a year ago, made the very same excuses).

The subpoena was issued to the National Archives around the same time that it became publicly known that the Justice Department was looking beyond the rioters who were present at the Capitol and trying to assess the culpability of people who had helped organize pro-Trump rallies in Washington on Jan. 6. In the spring, for instance, Mr. Windom issued a grand jury subpoena to Ali Alexander, a prominent organizer of “Stop the Steal” events who complied by submitting records to prosecutors and testifying before the grand jury.

We don’t know what steps DOJ took before May (aside from those that have shown in cases like Straka’s). We do know that at that point, DOJ started taking overt steps that would build on previous covert ones. We also know that we keep learning about steps that DOJ took months ago, when people were wailing that they would know if DOJ had taken such steps.

I can’t prove that this was always the plan from the time, 375 days ago, when I first observed how DOJ was getting privilege waivers from Biden without violating their new Contacts Policy. I can’t prove it was the plan when I wrote an entire post in December about the puzzle of Executive Privilege waivers. I had no idea that DOJ was issuing that subpoena when I stated that it was probably doing so in May, the month it occurred.

We should assume the same kind of [synthesis with a Congressional investigation as happened with Mueller] is happening here. All the more so given the really delicate privilege issues raised by this investigation, including Executive, Attorney-Client, and Speech and Debate. When all is said and done, I believe we will learn that Merrick Garland set things up in July such that the January 6 Committee could go pursue Trump documents at the Archives as a co-equal branch of government bolstered by Biden waivers that don’t require any visibility into DOJ’s investigation. Privilege reviews covering Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and John Eastman’s communications are also being done. That is, this time around, DOJ seems to have solved a problem that Mueller struggled with. And they did so with the unsolicited help of the January 6 Committee.

What I can say with no doubt, though, is that Merrick Garland’s DOJ solved one of the most challenging constitutional problems facing an investigation of a former President. And it solved that problem months ago.

And no one knew about it.

emptywheel Trump Espionage coverage

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

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

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

Trump’s Stolen Documents

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

[from Peterr] Merrick Garland Preaches to an Overseas Audience

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

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

Merrick Garland Calls Trump’s Bluff

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

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

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

The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit

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

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

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

The ABCs (and Provisions e, f, and g) of the Espionage Act

Trump’s Latest Tirade Proves Any Temporary Restraining Order May Come Too Late

How Trump’s Search Worked, with Nifty Graphic

Pat Philbin Knows Why the Bodies Are Buried

Rule of Law: DOJ Obtained Trump’s Privilege-Waived Documents in May

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

From the start of the reporting on Trump’s theft of classified documents, commentators have suggested that Trump was only under investigation for violations of the Presidential Records Act or 18 USC 2071.

Reports that in June, one of the four people who met with Trump’s lawyers on this issue was Jay Bratt, head of Counterintelligence & Export Control Section at DOJ, which investigates Espionage, makes it highly unlikely that those are the only things under investigation.

In early June, a handful of investigators made a rare visit to the property seeking more information about potentially classified material from Trump’s time in the White House that had been taken to Florida. The four investigators, including Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department, sat down with two of Trump’s attorneys, Bobb and Evan Corcoran, according to a source present for the meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, Trump stopped by and greeted the investigators near a dining room. After he left, without answering any questions, the investigators asked the attorneys if they could see where Trump was storing the documents. The attorneys took the investigators to the basement room where the boxes of materials were being stored, and the investigators looked around the room before eventually leaving, according to the source.

Even 18 USC 1924, which prohibits unlawfully taking classified information, would involve complications if the person who stole the materials were the former President. Admittedly, the fact that DOJ had an in-person meeting with Trump before conducting a search might mitigate those complications; Trump may be refusing to return documents rather than just not turning them over.

Still, it’s possible — likely even — that there are exacerbating factors that led DOJ to search Mar-a-Lago rather than just (as they did with Peter Navarro) suing to get the documents back.

Remember, this process started when the Archives came looking for things they knew must exist. Since then, they’ve had cause to look for known or expected Trump records in (at least) the January 6 investigation, the Tom Barrack prosecution, and the Peter Strzok lawsuit. The investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s influence peddling is another that might obviously lead to a search of Trump’s presidential records, not least because the Archives would know to look for things pertaining to Trump’s impeachments.

With that as background, Trump would be apt to take classified documents pertaining to the following topics:

  • The transcript of the “perfect phone call” with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other documents pertaining to his first impeachment
  • Notes on his meetings with other foreign leaders, especially Vladimir Putin and Saudi royals, including Trump’s July 16, 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki
  • Information surrounding the Jamal Khashoggi execution (and other materials that make Jared Kushner’s current ties to Mohammed bin Salman suspect)
  • Policy discussions surrounding Qatar, which tie to other influence peddling investigations (for which Barrack asked specifically)
  • Intelligence reports on Russian influence operations
  • Details pertaining to security efforts in the lead-up to and during January 6
  • Intelligence reports adjacent to Trump’s false claims of election fraud (for example, pertaining to Venezuelan spying)
  • Highly sensitive NSA documents pertaining to a specific foreign country that Mike Ellis was trying to hoard as boxes were being packed in January 2021

For many if not most of these documents, if Trump were refusing to turn them over, it might amount to obstruction of known investigations or prosecutions — Barrack’s, Rudy’s, or Trump’s own, among others. Thus, refusing to turn them over, by itself, might constitute an additional crime, particularly if the stolen documents were particularly damning.

One more point about timing: An early CNN report on these stolen documents describes that a Deputy White House Counsel who had represented Trump in his first impeachment was liaising with the Archives on this point.

Longtime Archives lawyer Gary Stern first reached out to a person from the White House counsel’s office who had been designated as the President Records Act point of contact about the record-keeping issue, hoping to locate the missing items and initiate their swift transfer back to NARA, said multiple sources familiar with the matter. The person had served as one of Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys months earlier and, as deputy counsel, was among the White House officials typically involved in ensuring records were properly preserved during the transfer of power and Trump’s departure from office.

By description, this is likely either John Eisenberg (who hid the full transcript of the perfect phone call but who was not obviously involved in Trump’s first impeachment defense) or Pat Philbin (who was the titular Deputy White House Counsel and was overtly involved in that defense). If it’s the latter, then Philbin recently got a DOJ subpoena, albeit reportedly in conjunction with January 6. If so, DOJ might have recent testimony about documents that Trump was knowingly withholding from the Archives.

DOJ Is Suing Peter Navarro (But Not Ivanka or Mark Meadows)

Yesterday, DOJ filed suit against Peter Navarro for violating the Presidential Records Act by failing to provide the National Archives with the contents of his personal ProtonMail account on which he did official business.

It’s a nifty lawsuit. After laying out that he’s a Covered Person under the Presidential Records Act for the entirety of the Trump Administration, then laying out the requirement that copies of any presidential business conducted on non-official accounts be shared with the Archives, it then describes how Navarro didn’t comply with the PRA specifically as regards (at least) a ProtonMail account he used.

6. While serving in the White House, Mr. Navarro used at least one non-official email account—an account hosted by the non-official service ProtonMail—to send and receive messages constituting Presidential records.

7. Mr. Navarro did not copy each email or message constituting Presidential records that was sent or received on his non-official account or accounts to his official government email account.

8. Following the end of the Trump Administration, the Archivist, through the General Counsel of the NARA, attempted to contact Mr. Navarro to secure the Presidential records that Mr. Navarro had not copied to his government email account. Mr. Navarro did not respond to NARA’s communications.

9. Prior to filing this suit, in an effort to avoid litigation, Department of Justice counsel contacted Mr. Navarro by email and United States mail to secure the Presidential records that Mr. Navarro had not copied to his government email account. Discussions with Mr. Navarro’s counsel to secure the return of Presidential records ultimately proved unsuccessful. Mr. Navarro has refused to return any Presidential records that he retained absent a grant of immunity for the act of returning such documents.

DOJ is very coy about the timing of all this. Possibly, when they asked Navarro to comply, they didn’t know about the ProtonMail account. But since then — and since the time Navarro very loudly lawyered up after being charged in contempt — DOJ asked Navarro for the material he hadn’t shared.

And Navarro, now represented by counsel, responded that he wouldn’t share the emails unless DOJ immunized him for any criming he did on ProtonMail. In response to which, DOJ very politely informed Navarro that by law, those ProtonMails, including any evidence of criming he did on them, are the property of the Federal Government.

The PRA is notoriously toothless for forcing your Navarro or Ivanka or Jared or Meadows types who refuse to use official accounts for Federal business. (Though Andrew McCabe made sure to apply some teeth to the PRA with Jared and Dan Scavino within days after the Biden inauguration; records were not archived properly for others, including Kellyanne Conway and Kayleigh McEnany.) It is toothless, that is, until such time as the affirmative refusal to comply with it could be deemed obstruction of a criminal investigation, the kind of criminal investigation that Navarro may have specifically in mind when he demanded immunity for giving what DOJ maintains is Federal property to the people who own it.

Maybe Navarro, now represented by counsel, thinks that whatever criming he did on his ProtonMail account carries a greater criminal penalty than obstruction would.

This lawsuit is similar to a lawsuit against Steve Wynn to get him to register under FARA, but one on which the legal issues are likely to be much clearer. If and when DOJ wins the lawsuit, they can then charge the person with violating the underlying law, which in the Wynn case might have real teeth.

But they may not have to wait that long with Navarro. They’ve laid a case that Navarro is withholding materials in an effort to withhold evidence of criming from NARA. Who knows? Perhaps his new lawyer will rethink the wisdom of demanding immunity.

As interesting as the fact that DOJ sued Navarro is, it is just as interesting that they have not, yet, sued Ivanka and Mark Meadows, both of whom had similarly failed to turn over the contents of their personal accounts to NARA by the time the January 6 Committee came looking for them. Unlike Navarro, though, both showed signs of trying to comply last year.

The fact that DOJ hasn’t sued Ivanka and Meadows may suggest that a great deal of incriminating data for DOJ’s investigation of January 6 has now been delivered to NARA, where DOJ can obtain it with covert warrants that shield its investigation.

A Tale of Three January 6 Misdemeanors: Steve Bannon, Baked Alaska, and Hatchet Speed

After pundits have spent 18 months complaining (falsely) that DOJ was only pursuing misdemeanor cases against January 6 culprits, at least a dozen media outlets assigned reporters to cover the week-long misdemeanor contempt trial for Steve Bannon. The triumphal coverage of Bannon’s guilty verdict will, I fear, continue to misinform viewers about the impact of this guilty verdict.

Bannon’s was almost certainly not the most important development in a January 6 misdemeanor case last week.

That’s true, first of all, because Bannon won’t go to prison anytime soon. After Judge Carl Nichols excluded most defenses Bannon would pursue, Bannon’s attorneys spent their time laying a record on issues they’ll raise in an appeal. Some are frivolous — about the make-up of the committee, about whether Bennie Thompson signed Bannon’s subpoena, about Bannon’s last-minute stunt to pretend he was cooperating. But one of the grounds on which Bannon will appeal, on whether he could rely on his attorney’s advice in blowing off the subpoena, is one about which Nichols agrees with Bannon — indeed, Nichols stated that he agreed over and over, as Josh Gerstein laid out.

Perhaps the most central figure in Bannon’s conviction Friday and the key to his potential victory in any appeal is a long-dead Detroit mobster and bootlegger, Peter “Horseface” Licavoli.

Licavoli died almost four decades ago and spent time in federal prison on a colorful variety of charges, including tax evasion, bribery and trafficking in stolen art. However, it was his refusal to testify to Sen. Estes Kefauver’s 1951 hearings on organized crime that produced a legal precedent central to Bannon’s case.

A decade later, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a contempt-of-Congress conviction against Licavoli, ruling that he could not rely on his lawyer’s legal advice as a defense.

While the precedent was set 61 years ago, U.S. District Court Carl Nichols concluded it is still good law and, as a result, Bannon could not use the advice-of-counsel defense. The ruling also undercut Bannon’s ability to argue that executive privilege excused him from showing up in response to the subpoena.

However, Nichols said on several occasions before and during the trial that he thinks the Licavoli case may well be wrong under modern legal standards, but he was compelled to apply it anyway.

“I was bound by D.C. Circuit precedent that I’m not even sure is right,” the Trump-appointed judge said Thursday.

Now, Bannon’s lawyers will face the task of trying to get the decision overturned or deemed irrelevant, something that may require getting Bannon’s case in front of the full bench of the appeals court or even taking it to the Supreme Court.

In reality, Bannon’s attorney told him — BEWARE — that his failure to comply would get him referred for prosecution. Bannon was warned he’d go to jail for blowing off this subpoena.

But the facts of whether Bannon really relied on his attorney’s advice would not get adjudicated until after the DC Circuit — and after it, SCOTUS — have a chance to review the precedent. And since Nichols agrees with Bannon that the precedent stinks (and since Bannon is a white collar criminal), he’s virtually certain to let Bannon stay out of jail for his appeal.

So Bannon is probably not going to jail for at least a year. And the precedent of this conviction — showing that the legal system allows a well-lawyered defendant all sorts of ways to stall a misdemeanor sentence — is not one that’s likely to persuade the few remaining people whom it would cover, most notably Peter Navarro and Ginni Thomas, to plead out or cooperate (members of Congress defying subpoenas will have entirely different reasons to challenge one, and people like Tony Ornato have already cooperated, in limited form, with the January 6 Committee).

Meanwhile, there were two other misdemeanor cases of probable greater significance to holding the perpetrators of January 6 accountable.

The first is Friday’s guilty plea of Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet for the standard parading charge most other misdemeanants plead to.

Gionet won’t be going to jail anytime soon, either: his sentencing is set for January 12. Though, given Gionet’s difficulties of late staying out of legal trouble, it is noteworthy that his plea includes the standard condition that committing a crime while his sentencing is pending could void the entire plea.

As noted, Gionet’s plea is just the standard misdemeanor plea that hundreds of other January 6 rioters have already pled to. But both Gionet’s public claims that the government was threatening Gionet with an obstruction charge if he did not cooperate, and the discussion at his aborted plea hearing in May, make it clear that this was one of the misdemeanor pleas in which the government obtains limited cooperation on the front end, in Gionet’s case, probably in the form of sharing communications that would otherwise require decryption (Brandon Straka, whose sentencing memo included reference to a sealed cooperation description, is the most notable of these pleas, but Proud Boy Jeff Finley also seems to have gotten one; a continuation in Finley’s sentencing “to fully evaluate the nature and seriousness of the defendant’s misconduct” suggests he may not be as cooperative as the government expected). Gionet’s plea was originally offered in December with a deadline of January 7, 2022. It seems to have taken some months to fulfill the terms of the deal. Gionet got cute at his first change of plea hearing in May, and proclaimed his own innocence, which almost got him in a place where the government could use the information he proffered in his own felony charges. Publicly, then, Gionet’s plea only means we’re deprived of the amusement of watching him continue to fuck himself, as he did in May; but behind the scenes, DOJ seems to believe he helped the overall investigation, likely by providing evidence against other movement extremists who made the attack on the Capitol successful but who did not enter it.

These misdemeanor plea deals offer less public hint at what the government got in exchange (which may be one reason DOJ likes them). Gionet’s statement of offense focuses mostly on the abundant evidence to prove that he knew he shouldn’t be in the Capitol, as well as the evidence DOJ would have used to prove an obstruction charge against him (which they would now have sworn allocution to if Gionet tries to renege again).

Unsurprisingly for an asshole like Gionet, it is full of the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has really offended Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over Gionet’s case, when sentencing other January 6 trespassers. Among other things, Gionet admitted to saying:

  • “Let’s go, 1776”
  • “We are the Kraken, unleash the Kraken … trust the fucking plan, let’s go.”
  • “This was a fraudulent election, we’re standing up for the truth, God’s truth.”
  • [Speaking through a broken window to other rioters] “Come in, let’s go, come on in, make yourselves at home.”
  • [Speaking into the phone in a Senator’s office] “We need to get our boy, Donald J. Trump, into office. … America First is inevitable, let’s go, fuck globalists, let’s go.”
  • [In another Senator’s office, probably Jeff Merkley’s] “Occupy the Capitol, let’s go, we ain’t leaving this bitch.”
  • [To the cops telling him to leave] “You’re a fucking oathbreaker, you piece of shit, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you piece of shit, you broke your oath to the Constitution, fuck you.”

With both Gionet and Straka before him, DOJ seemed to have abundant evidence to prove an obstruction case, and the pundits complaining about the misdemeanor pleas might be better served asking whether DOJ is getting enough value from these misdemeanor pleas to justify not charging someone as toxic as Gionet with a felony.

I wrote more about the various ways DOJ is using misdemeanor pleas to advance the investigation here.

But we won’t be able to weigh that soon, if ever. For now, though, DOJ seems to believe they got enough cooperation from a key influencer to let him avoid a felony conviction (though I would be shocked if Sullivan let him avoid prison altogether).

The way DOJ has been using misdemeanor prosecutions to advance the overall investigation is important background to something that happened in the case of Hatchet Speed last week. Until his arrest, Speed was a Naval petty officer and cleared defense contractor for National Reconnaissance Office.

The investigative steps described in Speed’s arrest affidavit suggest that after FBI identified him via the Google GeoFence (he was usually masked when in the Capitol), they used an undercover FBI officer to meet with him, during which meetings he provided contradictory but damning explanations for his actions on January 6, including that he went to insurrection with some Proud Boys.

During this meeting, SPEED admitted that he entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and that he “made it to the Rotunda down below.” SPEED told UCE-1 that going to the Capitol on January 6 “was always the plan.” He explained, “We would listen to Donald Trump then all of us would go to the Capitol. Now the reason we were going to the Capitol was to protest what was going on in the Capitol… what they were doing was counting the ballots.”

On March 22, 2022, SPEED met with UCE-1 again. During that meeting, SPEED provided further details about his activities at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. SPEED stated that he went to the Capitol on January 6 with friends who were members of the Proud Boys, with whom he keeps in contact. 1 SPEED blamed “Antifa” for breaking windows and entering off-limit areas of the Capitol, and he blamed the police for using tear gas in a manner to force the crowd into the off-limit areas.

SPEED also blamed Antifa for knocking down fencing around the Capitol. He described walking over fencing and worrying about tripping, but not knowing that he was trespassing at the time.

SPEED claimed that he and the others initially did not intend to enter the Capitol. He said that his plan was to be outside the Capitol and listen to speeches “for the 12 hours it would take to do the 2-hour rebuttal for each of the 6 contested states.” However, SPEED explained, “what the FBI did in advance is they arrested or threatened all the people they knew were going to be the speakers so that there would be no leadership. They wanted to make sure there was no one there…they wanted to maximize the possibility of violence.”

[snip]

SPEED further told UCE-1 that “there was this staircase leading up to the Senate side, where like we knew it was ‘off limits’ because that was, also the staircase was covered by the structure they’d set up the inauguration…and so, we were like we don’t need to go up there. We’re not here to go in the building. We’re just here to make a statement ‘we are here and we are paying attention’…but, the ANTIFA kept sending people up the staircase and trying to get people to come and we’re all like ‘no, we’re not going to follow you’…”

SPEED decided to go up the staircase because he was “tired of getting tear gassed.” Once up the staircase, SPEED claimed he intended to stay outside the Capitol Building at “this huge portico porch thing which can hold a couple thousand people.” However, SPEED said, he got tear gassed again. He also heard that Vice President Mike Pence had “validated” certain ballots they considered “invalid.”

SPEED described Pence’s act as a betrayal. SPEED stated that, at that point, he “was like, ‘I’m going in there. Like I have no respect for people in this building. They have no respect for me. I have no respect for them.’” SPEED stated, “[S]o we all went in and we took control. Like, when you have that many thousands of people, like there’s nothing the cops can do…it’s impressive.” [my emphasis]

The visual confirmation of Speed’s presence in the Capitol — from a moment when he let down the mask he had gotten on Amazon on December 3 — relies on video that Gionet took (though that’s fairly common).

This is the kind of guy — a cleared defense contractor who went to the insurrection with some Proud Boys “with whom he keeps in contact” — whose cooperation DOJ has used fruitfully in the past. He’s also the kind of guy who presents the ongoing urgent concern about our Deep State being riddled with militia sympathizers.

Perhaps because of the ambivalence of Speed’s comments to the undercover officer, though, he was charged just with trespassing. His case was assigned to Trevor McFadden, the Trump appointed judge who has long suggested, evidence to the contrary, that DOJ was treating January 6 rioters unfairly as compared to lefty protestors.

McFadden has long criticized DOJ’s continued charging of misdemeanor cases, partly because he thinks it treats January 6 trespassers unfairly, partly because it means he has to work hard. Presumably in response and possibly in an attempt to force DOJ to stop, McFadden issued a standing order for misdemeanor cases before him that requires — on threat of sanctions — an immediate plea offer and all defendant-specific discovery within a week of the initial status hearing.

The Government is required to provide all “defendant-specific” discovery information to the Defense by the Initial Status Conference or within one week of the Defense request for reciprocal discovery under Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(b)(1), whichever is later. Regardless of any Defense request, the deadline for disclosure of any information covered by LCrR 5.1 is the Initial Status Conference. 1 Failure to strictly follow these timelines may result in sanctions, including likely Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute. The Government is also expected to provide any plea offer that it intends to make no later than the Initial Status Conference.

This makes it impossible for DOJ to use misdemeanor charges as an investigative tool. And the deadlines McFadden imposes, plus his explicit statements making it clear he will let misdemeanants off easy, makes it virtually impossible to use misdemeanors to obtain cooperation, too.

In a hearing on Thursday, McFadden made it clear that he does intend to impose sanctions if DOJ fails to meet the discovery deadline, even in spite of two specific characteristics of this case: that it involves classified discovery (which is not surprising given that Hatchet had clearance) and that DOJ seized 22 devices when they arrested Hatchet, some of which are encrypted. To add to the near impossibility that DOJ can comply with McFadden’s orders, the AUSA in this case, Alexis Loeb (who is prosecuting a number of Proud Boy and Proud Boy adjacent cases) is in San Francisco, so it’s not like she can go sit in Quantico to speed up the exploitation of Hatchet’s devices.

There’s a bit of a loophole here, in that even the standard misdemeanor pleas require sharing ones devices with the FBI, so to take advantage of what would surely be a punishment free plea deal, Hatchet might be required to open his devices for the FBI.

McFadden has, in the past, rewarded a January 6 defendant for espousing civil war. Here, he seems set to ensure that a Naval petty officer with ties to the militia that led the attack on the Capitol likewise escapes accountability.

If that happens, it may lead DOJ to rethink its charging patterns accordingly.

Update: Corrected Speed’s rank.

Amid Claims of Witness Tampering, Revisiting Peter Navarro’s Alleged Contempt

Last week, Steve Bannon engaged in a stunt, claiming that a Carl Nichols order requiring DOJ to provide official documents on things like executive privilege and testimonial immunity must cover DOJ’s declination decision with respect to Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino.

The stunt itself isn’t all that interesting.

Bannon claimed that he refused to testify in part on the same basis that Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino did, and so understanding how DOJ had distinguished them (whose prosecution DOJ declined) from him (who got charged) would reflect official policy.

The letters Trump lawyer Justin Clark sent to Meadows and Scavino made one difference clear, however (which the Bannon filing obliquely acknowledges). In instructing Meadows and Scavino to refuse to testify to the January 6 Committee as much as possible, Clark included language invoking testimonial immunity, on top of Executive Privilege.

Furthermore, President Trump believes that Mr. Meadows is immune from compelled congressional testimony on matters related to his official responsibilities. See Testimonial Immunity Before Congress of the Former Counsel to the President, [citing the Don McGahn OLC opinion]

The letter that Clark sent Bannon on the same day, October 6, had no such language on testimony immunity.

Indeed, after Robert Costello kept making claims about Trump instructing Bannon not to testify, Clark emailed him twice more, the first time to resend the same letter, and the second time to explicitly say that they didn’t think Bannon had testimonial immunity.

In light of press reports regarding your client I wanted to reach out. Just to reiterate, our letter referenced below didn’t indicate that we believe there is immunity from testimony for your client. As I indicated to you the other day, we don’t believe there is. Now, you may have made a different determination. That is entirely your call. But as I also indicated the other day other avenues to invoke the privilege — if you believe it to be appropriate — exist and are your responsibility.

Effectively, Trump’s team told Bannon to stall, but gave him no legal tools to do so. Bannon didn’t entirely ignore testimonial immunity. In a footnote, he accused Carl Nichols of misapplying the law with respect to immunity and privilege.

Finally, on this question, the Court’s oral Order of June 15, 2022, appears to indicate a view by the Court that Justin Clark’s view on the question of “immunity” is either relevant or somehow undercuts the invocation of executive privilege. It certainly is not relevant – immunity, unlike, executive privilege is not a legal concept for the President to invoke or confer and his view on “immunity” is of no consequence at all on the question of whether executive privilege was invoked. It was.

But he said the common invocation of Executive Privilege was itself enough to merit a more formal comparison (ignoring, of course, that Meadows provided some materials to the Committee that did not involve the President, whereas Bannon withheld even his public podcasts).

Though some of the news reports he cites name Peter Navarro, Bannon doesn’t invoke his case. In Navarro’s now-withdrawn lawsuit against the Committee, he invoked both testimonial immunity and Executive Privilege. But he cites no letter from Trump; instead, he relies on the same Don McGahn OLC opinion Bannon invoked in his filing. Of course, by the time Navarro was subpoenaed — February 9, as compared to the September 23 subpoenas for Bannon, Meadows, and Scavino (as well as Kash Patel) — SCOTUS had already ruled against Trump’s privilege claim.

So it may be that DOJ’s decision tree regarding charges looks like this:

Bannon’s filing may be a stunt, but he may be right that DOJ didn’t charge Meadows and Scavino because they could claim to have been covered by both Executive Privilege and testimonial immunity (and in Meadows’ case, even attempted to comply with non-privileged materials).

Given the evidence in Tuesday’s hearing that Trump and his associates continued to try to influence Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony at least through March 7, I want to return to something I noted before: because Navarro didn’t lawyer up, whatever communications he exchanged with Trump’s lawyers would not be privileged.

After Bannon got indicted for contempt, DOJ obtained the call records for his lawyer, Robert Costello’s, communications going all the way back to when Costello’s previous representation of Bannon ended. If they did that with Navarro, they could get more than the call records, though.

Whatever else DOJ did with their charging decision, they also allowed themselves the greatest visibility into ongoing obstruction, while sustaining the case in chief.

Peter Navarro Thinks He’s Better than the 800 Other January 6 Defendants

An hour ago, Peter Navarro had his first appearance before a very patient Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui, represented for the hearing by Public Defender Ubong Akpan.

Here’s  of my live thread the hilarity that occurred.

I’ll spare you the “legal analysis.”

The key details that he blurted out which will (predictably) hurt his case are that he claims DOJ charged him to preempt his civil suit. Then he admitted talking to one of the FBI Agents who arrested him, last week, before he filed his civil suit. Basically, he admitted what he accused the government of.

He claims he’s representing himself, but he is outraged that the government didn’t call some lawyer before they arrested him.

He’s outraged that he was arrested at an airplane gate rather than quietly at his home which–he says–is right next door to the FBI.

The most offensive part of it all, though, is that Peter Navarro thinks he should be treated better than the 800-plus other January 6 defendants, the plurality of whom, like him, face only misdemeanor charges because of who he is. He thinks standard release conditions should be waived (and indeed, the passport surrender was waived) because he worked in the White House.

Peter Navarro thinks he’s better than the 800 other people who helped to rile up. Peter Navarro thinks he should get special treatment because he did the riling up rather than responding to it.

Peter Navarro demands better treatment because he is, according to him, better, more important, more innocent, than those 800 other January 6 defendants.

Back Was Stood, And By Was Stood: The Passive Voice Behind the Top Down Structure of the Charles Donohoe Statement of Offense

As I’ve been expecting for some time, Proud Boy Charles Donohoe pled guilty today — to one count of 18 USC 1512(k) (the obstruction conspiracy statute) and one count of assault.

There are few new details in his statement of offense. The most important ones are that:

  • Enrique Tarrio fast-tracked the membership of Dominic Pezzola, the Proud Boy who would be the first to break through a Capitol window with a stolen riot shield on January 6, into the Proud Boys, thereby putting Tarrio directly on the hook for Pezzola’s action
  • Donohoe originally didn’t intend to attend the riot, but did to fill in a leadership gap once he learned Tarrio would be arrested

Most of the rest of the statement of offense is designed to implicate the entire, strictly-enforced hierarchy of the Proud Boys in several kinds of criminal exposure.

First there’s the plan to use violence to obstruct the vote count — something that was planned before Tarrio was arrested, and so something in which he is clearly implicated.

At least as early as January 4, 2021, and prior to Donohoe’s decision to travel to D.C., Donohoe was aware that members of MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol. Donohoe believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group’s goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power. Donohoe understood that storming the Capitol would be illegal.

[snip]

Donohoe was not given details of the plan referred to by Biggs, but Donohoe understood from discussions among the MOSD and other Proud Boys that the objective in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, was to obstruct, impede, or interfere with the certification of the Electoral College vote. Donohoe understood from discussions that the group would pursue this through the use of force and violence, in order to show Congress that “we the people” were in charge.

[snip]

Within minutes of arriving, members of the crowd breached the barriers and advanced onto Capitol grounds. Donohoe saw Nordean and Biggs advance onto Capitol grounds and followed them. Donohoe believed these actions were intended to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote.

This implicates everyone in the chain of command in using violence to obstruct the vote certification.

Then there’s the damage to the Capitol that Pezzola did with that riot shield — and all the damage that followed.

Shortly after throwing the water bottles at officers, Donohoe encountered Pezzola. Donohoe recognized Pezzola as a Proud Boys member and confirmed that fact with another Proud Boys member. Donohoe then grabbed the riot shield that Pezzola was holding and led Pezzola to the rear of the West Plaza. After reaching the rear of the concrete area of the West Plaza, Donohoe posted a message to MOSD leaders at 1:37 p.m. that read, “Got a riot shield.” While standing at the rear of the plaza, Donohoe took a picture of Pezzola holding the riot shield and making a hand gesture associated with the Proud Boys.

Donohoe then advanced back toward the Capitol in an effort to locate other Proud Boys members. Upon arriving near the base of a set of concrete stairs, Donohoe recognized a Proud Boys member known as “Milkshake” at the front of the crowd standing opposite a line of officers. Donohoe heard shouting and other discussion among those surrounding him indicating that the crowd was preparing to push toward the Capitol. Donohoe recognized that the concrete stairs offered a path to advance further toward the Capitol. Donohoe and others in the crowd pushed up the stairs. It was reasonably foreseeable to Donohoe that the use of force to advance toward the Capitol would involve property destruction by members of the Proud Boys who had been led to the Capitol by Nordean and Biggs.

[snip]

The attack on the Capitol resulted in substantial damage, requiring the expenditure of more than $1.4 million dollars for repairs.

This is important because 18 USC 1361, willfully doing more than $1,000 of damage to a government building, can carry a terrorism enhancement if done to coerce the government, which (very loosely speaking) can add roughly 10 years to any sentence imposed. Donohoe’s statement of offense says that the foreseeable damage the Proud Boys did with the goal of obstructing the vote certification was $1.4 million.

Finally, there’s the violence that happened, starting with Donohoe’s own water bottles but including Milkshake’s assault on cops and all the other violence that was foreseeable.

Donohoe threw two water bottles at a line of law enforcement officers engaged in the lawful performance of their official duties who were attempting to prevent the mob’s advance in the West Plaza at the Capitol building. It was reasonably foreseeable to Donohoe that members of the Proud Boys who had been led to the Capitol by Nordean and Biggs would engage in assaults on law enforcement.

[snip]

Donohoe intended to use force and did, in fact, use force to obstruct, impede, or interfere with the certification of the Electoral College vote, and did forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with, officers or employees of the United States.

In taking such actions, Donohoe intended to influence or affect the conduct of the United States government. He accomplished this by intimidating and coercing government personnel who were participating in or supporting the Congressional proceeding, including Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and law enforcement officers with the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department.

This language — and Dan Scott’s more serious assault and by association all the assaults that happened that day — is important because the conspiracy tied to obstruction, 18 USC 1512(k), can carry enhancements for things like attempted murder and attempted kidnapping, making the maximum penalty 30 years instead of 20.

(3) The punishment for an offense under this subsection is—
(A) in the case of a killing, the punishment provided in sections 1111 and 1112;
(B) in the case of—
(i) an attempt to murder; or
(ii) the use or attempted use of physical force against any person;
imprisonment for not more than 30 years; and

Since this post is about the passive voice, let me note that murders were attempted on January 6.

As I said, what this statement of offense does is implicate the entire chain of a very hierarchical command in criminal exposure for the intentional use of violence and the foreseeable damage to the Capitol as part of a plan to coerce Congress to halt the vote certification. Everyone from Tarrio on down is implicated in this, and several specifics about Donohoe’s statement of offense will ensure that Tarrio can’t escape responsibility because he was absent and Donohoe filled in.

But it is the foundation of that hierarchy that is so remarkable.

On December 19, 2020, plans were announced for a protest event in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, which protest would coincide with Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

On or before December 20, 2020, Tarrio approached Donohoe and solicited his interest in joining the leadership of a new chapter of the Proud Boys, called the Ministry of Self Defense (“MOSD”). Donohoe understood from Tarrio that the new chapter would be focused on the planning and execution of national rallies and would consist of hand-selected “rally” boys. Donohoe felt privileged to be included and agreed to participate.

Close to every other filing in the January 6 case that mentions the announcement of these plans actually cites what was taken as the formal announcement: Trump’s tweet, in response to which hundreds if not thousands of rioters began to make plans to come to DC.

Peter Navarro releases 36-page report alleging election fraud ‘more than sufficient’ to swing victory to Trump https://t.co/D8KrMHnFdK . A great report by Peter. Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!

The import of that December 19 tweet was clear even in real time; the NYT and WaPo recently returned to the central role it plays in a great number of January 6 cases.

But this statement of offense instead presents what was viewed as an order from Trump in the passive voice: “Plans were announced.” Trump announced those plans, as every other charging document makes clear.

And the next day, in response to that announcement, Tarrio started building that top-down hierarchical structure that would go on to intentionally assault the Capitol and cops.

There are many things this statement of offense does with that masterful use of the passive voice. It implicates, without mentioning, people like Peter Navarro and Ali Alexander, the former because he was mentioned in the tweet and the latter because he was organizing it. The statement of offense makes clear that Tarrio told Donohoe and other Ministry of Self Defense leaders about what their plan was, but doesn’t reveal what he has shared, particularly what he shared about direct planning with people close to Trump. Indeed, the language of the statement of offense leaves open the possibility that Tarrio was moving on this even before the public launch of the riot by Trump.

But most importantly, without naming him, this structure puts Trump at the head of that hierarchy that bears top-down responsibility for the intentional violence and damage in the service of obstructing the vote certification.

This is like announcing a plan to “Stand back and stand by” using the passive voice.

Update: Yesterday, WV Proud Boy head Jeffrey Finley pled guilty in what appears to be one of the misdemeanor pleas tied to advance cooperation. His statement of the offense strongly implicates Zach Rehl, with whom he co-traveled for part of the day.

The Evidence Needed for a Trump Prosecution

It would be easier to prosecute Trump for January 6 than Peter Navarro. I say that (in advance of today’s debate about referring Navarro and Dan Scavino for contempt) because it is far easier to tie Trump’s actions directly to the successful obstruction of the vote certification on January 6 than it would Navarro’s, and Navarro’s actions are fairly tangential to the proof that Trump’s actions met the elements of obstruction of the vote certification.

Months ago, I laid out how to prosecute Trump using the framework that DOJ has already used with hundreds of January 6 defendants. But in this post, I will show how much evidence DOJ has already collected proving the case against Trump by using the framework for Trump’s criminal exposure laid out by Judges Amit Mehta and David Carter, incorporating a key point made by Judge Reggie Walton.

In his opinion upholding the lawsuits against Trump, Amit Mehta found that it was plausible Trump conspired with the militias and also that he bore aid-and-abet liability for assaults at the Capitol (see this post and this post). He found that:

  • Trump and the militias jointly pursued an effort to disrupt the vote certification
  • Trump planned the unpermitted march to the Capitol
  • Trump encouraged the use of force and threats to thwart the certification from proceeding
  • Trump knew supporters would respond to his calls to come to DC and march on the Capitol
  • Trump called for collective action
  • Trump intended his “fight like hell” comment to be taken literally and rioters did take it literally
  • Trump ratified the riot

In his opinion finding that one email from John Eastman must be turned over to the January 6 Committee on a crime-fraud exception (see this post), Carter laid out the following proof that Trump obstructed the vote certification:

  • Trump tried to persuade Pence to disrupt the vote certification
  • He publicly appealed to Pence to do so
  • He called on his followers to walk to Congress to pressure Pence and Congress

Carter laid out this evidence that Trump had corrupt intent:

  • Proof that he had been told the vote fraud claims were false and his own request of Brad Raffensperger showed he knew he had lost
  • Trump had been told the Eastman’s plan was not legal

Carter laid out this evidence he had entered into a conspiracy:

  • Trump held lots of meetings to talk about plans to obstruct the vote count
  • Trump ratified Eastman’s plan in his Ellipse speech

To those two frameworks finding that Trump probably conspired to obstruct the vote certification, Judge Walton held that you cannot point to back-room plotting to get to the intentions of the actual rioters; you can only look at what the rioters themselves accessed, Trump’s public speech and Tweets (see this post).

This table (which is still very much a work in progress) lays out what evidence would be needed to prosecute Trump. The horizontal Elements of 1512(c)(2)/Relevant to Motive and Co-Conspirators sections show what is necessary given the elements of the offense as laid out by the judges and in DOJ filings, versus what might provide evidence of a broader conspiracy. The Must Have/Nice to Have columns show that for each kind of proof, there’s what is necessary and what would be really useful before indicting a former President.

In other words, the things in the yellow boxes are the things that would be necessary to show that Trump obstructed the vote certification. They basically amount to proof that things that Trump did brought the rioters to DC and to the Capitol and that he had the corrupt mens rea to charge with obstruction. I include there proof that Trump conspired with the militias, which I consider necessary because the Proud Boys, especially, took the bodies that Trump sent them and made those bodies tactically effective.

While prosecutors are still working on tying Roger Stone to both militias and tying Alex Jones and Ali Alexander into the crimes at the Capitol, much of the rest of this evidence has already been collected and rolled out in charging papers. For example, I showed some of the proof that rioters responded to Trump’s attacks on Pence by targeting their own attacks on Pence. There are a number of Trump comments that directly led hundreds of rioters to start making plans to come to DC, including arming themselves; NYT recently laid out the most central communication, a Tweet on December 19, 2020, though not only is that focus not new, it’s the tweet and response to which Arieh Kovler predicted the attack on the Capitol in real time.

A number of the other things you’d want to have before you charged Trump are available to DOJ:

  • Details of how the march to the Capitol happened and why it — and Ali Alexander’s permitted rallies at the Capitol — made a riot more likely
  • Explanations why Ellipse rally organizers balked at including people like Ali Alexander and Roger Stone
  • Testimony from Pence’s aides about how Trump pressured his Vice President in private

It is true that the testimony of several people — those involved in selling the Big Lie and Scavino’s coordination of the riot (including a particular focus on The Donald) — would be really useful. But that testimony is as important to proving that they were part of the conspiracy along with Trump.

Pat Cipollone’s tesitmony would be incredibly useful to that case, too. Normally, he could invoke privilege, but Trump already waived some of that privilege by sharing details about his conversations with Cipollone with Sean Hannity. If Cipollone did cooperate with DOJ, I don’t think he would leak that.

Similarly, the Relevant to Motive and Co-Conspirators rows — showing Trump’s coordination with Congress or his prior planning of it — would be really useful to have in prosecuting Trump. But ultimately, as Judge Walton held, what Trump did in private could not have influenced most of the rioters, because they never knew those details. As such, some of that information — precisely the kinds of stuff that TV lawyers say would be the first overt signs that Trump was a subject of the investigation — is more useful for including others in the conspiracy.

The most important of this evidence — communications from the December 18 meeting and comms during the day of the riot — are already in DOJ’s possession from Rudy’s seized phones, whether or not they obtained a warrant for that content yet.

Update: I’ve tweaked the horizontal headings on the table to clarify that the top half of the table stems from the elements of offense for 1512(c)(2), whereas the bottom half is clearly related and may help prove mens rea or incorporate other co-conspirators, but is not necessary (in my opinion) to meeting the elements of obstruction.

Why It Would Be Counterproductive To Appoint a Special Counsel to Investigate January 6

I continue to get people asserting as fact that the investigation into Trump’s role in January 6 would be going better if Merrick Garland had appointed a Special Counsel.

I have yet to see calls for a Special Counsel that are not, themselves, just an extended admission that the people calling for one don’t understand the investigation. For example, in a widely shared Asha Rangappa thread in October, she claimed to present Pros and Cons like this:

Pro:

  1. It’s warranted” (she didn’t say what “it” was)
  2. It would signal that getting to the bottom of this is a priority for the Justice Department” (she didn’t say what “this” was)
  3. It could provide for a more efficient investigation … An SC would be able to have FBI agents and prosecutors detailed to focus on this one matter”
  4. It would insulate Garland from political blowback; “Garland would be right to be concerned with the *appearance* of a politically motivated investigation under his direct watch”
  5. “The Special Counsel regulations have important formal mechanisms for reporting prosecutorial decisions (including declinations to prosecute)”

Cons:

  1. It gives people who may be subjects of an investigation a ‘heads up'”
  2. It creates a new space for politicization, as we saw with Mueller:”

More recently, a non-public non-expert suggested that because Merrick Garland hadn’t appointed a Special Counsel when he came in, Congress was doing the investigation that a Special Counsel was not.

I want to start from that claim — that Congress is investigating stuff that DOJ is not. It reflects a belief that even DOJ reporters have, such as in this shitty WaPo piece revealing in ¶30 that DOJ is investigating Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani for their militia ties but then reporting as fact that DOJ “has yet to turn its attention directly to Trump and his close allies.” The things WaPo turns to before examining how — and ignoring that — DOJ is investigating Trump’s one-degree ties to the militias who managed the attack on the Capitol are:

  • Whether DOJ is investigating the war room at the Willard Hotel (never mind that WaPo missed one overt way DOJ is investigating the war room)
  • Whether DOJ is investigating Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger
  • Whether DOJ is investigating Trump’s threats to install Jeffrey Clark to get an Acting Attorney General more amenable to claiming voter fraud occurred

Of those, only the call to Raffensperger (which is being investigated by Fulton County’s DA) is clearly illegal.

Special Counsels can only investigate crimes, not potential crimes not pursued

It is not clearly illegal, for example, for John Eastman to write a letter calling on Trump to pressure Mike Pence to reject the vote totals or for Peter Navarro to set up a propaganda campaign that members of Congress will point to to justify corrupt action (indeed, the latter is how lobbyists made DC run). It may not be illegal for a President to install someone who has been Senate confirmed as Acting Attorney General who will pursue his policy goals, no matter how corrupt they are; it’s not even illegal for a President to ask a Cabinet Member to lie to the public (and Cabinet Members lie a lot, sometimes for good reasons). It’s even less illegal to consider doing so but deciding not to because of the political cost of doing so, as happened with Clark. It is not even illegal to receive a plan to have the military seize voting machines, especially if you don’t pursue that plan (which Trump did not).

These things only become illegal when they are shown to be part of plan to commit a crime.

There’s the first problem with calls to appoint a Special Counsel. Much of what people want to investigate (again, Raffensperger and the fraudulent certificates are an exception) is not clearly a crime.

I have talked about how the Select Committee is investigating from the top down and DOJ is investigating from the crime scene up (in addition to investigating Sidney Powell’s potential Big Lie fraud). I’ve talked about how, as a separate co-equal branch of government, the Select Committee can more easily do things like get Executive Privilege waivers or waive Speech and Debate protections, the former of which was a challenge for Mueller’s investigation. I’ve laid out how the two investigations have already converged, first with the focus on the targeting of Mike Pence and more recently on the role of Trump’s directions serving as the motivating instruction for three different armed conspiracies, including the sedition one.

But it’s equally important to recognize that the Select Committee is also conducting the important work of investigating things that weren’t crimes, like considering but not acting on a suggestion to seize the voting machines and considering but not acting on a plan to make Jeffrey Clark Acting Attorney General (both issues Bennie Thompson addressed on the Sunday shows this morning).

A Special Counsel can’t be appointed to investigate something that is not a crime.

I realize that people have argued, starting on January 6, that Trump incited the insurrection and that’s the crime that could have predicated the Special Counsel. Bracket that idea. I’ll come back to it.

No Republican Senator is on the record opposing DC US Attorney Matthew Graves leading this investigation

As it happens, Rangappa wrote her thread on October 25, three days before US Attorney for DC Matthew Graves was confirmed on a voice vote. While Ron Johnson held up the vote for other reasons, no Republican Senator thought it important enough to register opposition to Graves to call for a recorded vote.

That means, going forward, the US Attorney overseeing the January 6 investigation can claim the support of the entire Senate. No Republican recorded their opposition to Matthew Graves overseeing the investigation into January 6.

Those asking for a Special Counsel are, in effect, saying that there would be less political blowback if Merrick Garland chose, on his own, to appoint someone to lead an investigation than if a US Attorney against whom not a single Republican recorded opposition led the investigation.

The January 6 investigation is far too large for a Special Counsel

Now consider the claim that a Special Counsel investigation would be more efficient because the Special Counsel would have a dedicated team of prosecutors and FBI agents and a dedicated grand jury. Such claims are astounding for how little awareness of the actual investigation they show.

In Merrick Garland’s recent speech, he revealed there are 140 prosecutors working on this investigation, half normally assigned to the DC US Attorney’s office (that is, people who now report to Graves), and the other half coming from other units. Some of those units are functional, with the most notable being National Security’s Terrorism prosecutors, but also Public Corruption. Far more of them are detailees assigned from different US Attorneys offices. Some of these detailees, working on the simpler cases, are doing 6 month stints, then handing off their cases. Others, including key prosecutors involved in the Proud Boys investigation, appear to be seeing the investigation through. Just as one example, there are three prosecutors on the case against the five Florida men who traveled with Joe Biggs the day of the attack; they are located in Chicago, Brooklyn, and Seattle. Just accounting for the number of prosecutors involved, this investigation is larger than most US Attorneys Offices in this country, and far too large for a Special Counsel to handle.

Then there’s this magical notion about convening a grand jury. The existing January 6 investigation is already using somewhere between four and six. Public Corruption prosecutions, like that of Steve Bannon, are using the same grand juries that the militias are being prosecuted through. Given COVID, keeping these grand juries up and running has been a real bottleneck on the investigation (something else Garland alluded to). For one conspiracy indictment I followed, it took five months — from April until September — from the time DOJ stated it would charge it as a conspiracy and the time the FBI Agent could sit with the grand jury safely to get that indictment. So you’re better off having several to juggle than relying on one. “When will Garland get a grand jury for this investigation,” people keep asking, and the answer is that was done already, in January 2021 before Garland was confirmed, in May, in August, and in November. Over a hundred Americans have already been serving, in secret, during a pandemic, on these grand juries that people are wailing must be appointed some time in the future.

Then there are other things about the investigation that have required massive and immediate resource allocations. Most notably, DOJ had to appoint a team (led by a prosecutor named Emily Miller) to create an entirely new discovery system, which has involved throwing large amounts of money at both Deloitte and the Federal Public Defenders office. Special Counsels need to budget ahead, and because this investigation is so large, it would not be possible given the budgetary requirements of the Special Counsel regulation.

We know similar resource allocations are going on at a whole-DOJ level with respect to the FBI (including a reliance on Joint Task Forces for more localized investigations); those decisions are just less visible.

The point being that this investigation is so large it requires the DOJ, as a whole, to manage the resources for it. It’s far too large for a Special Counsel. And nothing about putting someone without those resources who has to budget in advance would make this investigation more nimble.

Calls for a Special Counsel internalize a belief that Trump was further from the mob than he was

So let’s go back. The crime invoked by those calling now or in the past for a Special Counsel as the predicating crime for the investigation is incitement. There are problems with that. Trump’s defense attorneys rightly pointed out during his second impeachment trial that the riot had already started — by the militia that Trump had called out on September 29 — before he incited the mob at his rally. Trump’s relationship with the mob is far more complex — and frankly, damning, than that.

But the other problem with that is if you want to prove that Trump incited the crowd, you need to get proof that those who went on to riot were responding to Trump’s speech.

That’s actually one thing DOJ has been doing for the last year; I would guesstimate that about a third of the 200 or so people who’ve pled guilty have said things in their statements of offense to support an incitement charge against the former President. But they’ve also provided DOJ more specific details about their expectations for what would happen at the Capitol (most notably that Trump would speak again) and how those expectations were manipulated to get them to do things like climb to the top of the East steps just before it was breached. The way in which Trump (and close associates like Alex Jones) manipulated attendees was actually more malicious than simple incitement.

So even (perhaps especially) for the crime that everyone is sure Trump committed, incitement, you need to do some of the work everyone points to in claiming that DOJ is investigating the wrong people, just the pawns and not the generals. One thing DOJ has done in the last year is collect evidence that large numbers of those who, without planning to do so in advance, nevertheless played a key role in occupying the Capitol, did so not just because of Trump’s violent imagery, but also because of the expectations he set among rally goers.

More importantly, what DOJ has spent the last year doing is understanding what those who kicked off the riot while Trump was speaking did, and how those who brought mobs to the Capitol manipulated them to make them more effective. And what they’ve discovered — what WaPo thought worth burying in ¶30 — is they were working with Trump’s closest associates, if not responding to orders from Trump himself.

DOJ already is investigating what happened at the Willard Hotel (and has been since last summer). But they’re investigating it not because a bunch of the people there considered ideas — like seizing the voting machines — that weren’t adopted. They’re investigating it because there are tangible ties between what happened at the Willard and what happened on Capitol Hill.

Consider the centrality of efforts to pressure Mike Pence to reject the legal results of the election. After efforts to overturn the election with legal challenges based on the Big Lie (for which Sidney Powell is already being investigated by prosecutors also investigating other aspects of January 6) failed, Mike Pence became a necessary player in the plots to steal the election. And the effort to pressure Pence is continuous from Donald Trump to his allies to people at the mob.

Trump’s Tweets and speech had the direct and desired effect. When Trump called out, “I hope Pence is going to do the right thing,” Gina Bisignano responded, “I hope so. He’s a deep state.” When she set off to the Capitol, Bisignano explained, “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence.” After declaring, “I’m going to break into Congress,” Bisignano rallied some of the mobsters by talking about “what Pence has done.” She cheered through a blowhorn as mobsters made a renewed assault on the Capitol. “Break the window! she cheered, as she ultimately helped another break a window, an act amounting to a team act of terrorism.

Josiah Colt and his co-conspirators learned that Pence would not prevent the vote certification as Trump demanded. In response, they aimed to “breach the building.” Colt set out to where Pence was presiding. “We’re making it to the main room. The Senate room.” Where they’re meeting.” His co-conspirators Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave are accused of assaulting a cop to get into the Senate.

Jacob Chansley mounted the dais where Pence should have been overseeing the vote count and declared, “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor,” and left him a note, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

Matthew Greene never went to listen to Trump speak. Instead, he was following orders from top Proud Boys, a bit player in an orchestrated attack to surround and breach the Capitol. His goal in doing so was to pressure Pence.

Greene’s intent in conspiring with others to unlawfully enter the restricted area of the Capitol grounds was to send a message to legislators and Vice President Pence. Greene knew he lawmakers and the Vice President were inside the Capitol building conducting the certification of the Electoral College Vote at the time the riot occurred. Green hoped that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral Vote than they would have otherwise. Greene believed that by unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds, he and other rioters outside the building would send a stronger message to lawmakers and the Vice President inside the building, than if Green and others had stayed outside the restricted area.

There is a direct line of corrupt intent from the moment where Trump asked Pence, “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to [exercise it]?” and efforts that his mobsters — both those who planned this in advance and those who reacted to Trump’s incitement — made at the Capitol. Some of the most central players in the attack on the Capitol have testified under oath that they understood their goal to be pressuring Mike Pence. In pursuit of that, they broke into the Capitol, they assaulted cops, they occupied the Mike Pence’s seat.

There are things that Trump did that are independently illegal, including giving Mike Pence an illegal order. But their illegality becomes much more salient in the context of the organized effort to pressure Mike Pence, threaten his life, and prevent the vote certification from taking place.

And DOJ has already acquired evidence that the people at the Capitol who were most deliberately implementing that plan have direct ties to Trump’s closest associates.

Bizarrely, the foundational assumption of those demanding a Special Counsel is that Trump didn’t have any tie to the riot — it has to be!! The foundational assumption of those demanding a Special Counsel is that the investigation of the insurrection won’t get to the former President unless it convenes a separate investigation into him, even though the investigation working up from the mob has already found at least three one-degree links between those mobilizing the bodies at the Capitol and Trump’s close associates (and the grand jury investigation that already charged sedition has at least three cooperating witnesses with ties to Roger Stone).

No one has to ask Merrick Garland to open an investigation that might prosecute Trump. It has been open since long before Garland was confirmed. No one has to ask Merrick Garland to get a prosecutor to convene a grand jury that will investigate Trump’s actions; grand juries have already indicted at least four violent conspiracies that were mobilized by Trump’s calls to violence, including one that has been working since two days after the attack.

If you believe that Trump’s actions played a central role in the insurrection — if you believe that the violent mob mobilized on January 6 was an important part of plans hatched at the Willard Hotel — then creating a separate investigation to investigate Trump does nothing but remove him from his liability in crimes already charged as sedition. That’s why calls to appoint a Special Counsel are so stupid. They treat Trump’s crimes as separate and distinct from those of the mob that he mobilized. There’s no reason, at this point, to do that (if Democrats were to lose in 2024, there might be).

People have been wailing for a year that DOJ needs to open an investigation into Donald Trump and all the while an investigation has been open and has been working towards Trump.