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Imagine If Maggie Had Reported that Vladimir Putin Dictated Trump’s June 9 Meeting Cover Story?

Imagine how much differently things might have worked out if, on July 19, 2017 Maggie Haberman had reported that Vladimir Putin had dictated the statement Trump had his failson release, excusing the meeting Don Jr had to collect Russian dirt in exchange for lifting the Magnitsky sanctions?

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.

I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.

As you contemplate that, consider how Trump’s various means of withholding the documents he stole serve as a metaphor for how he covers up his own criminal exposure.

At first, Trump stonewalled, refusing to cooperate at all. Then, he got some of his aides to privately tell lies on his behalf. But then, when that looked like it wouldn’t work any more, he  packed boxes himself, personally curating the first limited hangout for the Archives. In January, Trump delivered 15 boxes — nine fewer than NARA knew he had taken, but three more (Maggie is the only one who cares about this) than he had told NARA he’d deliver. When NARA opened the boxes that Trump had curated personally, they found some, but not all, of what they were expecting. Hidden amidst, “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles,” they also found “a lot of classified records.” This expert liar believed he could fool professional archivists by hiding the evidence of his crime behind a curtain of press clippings.

At this point, Trump started lying publicly, both by releasing statements designed to go viral on social media falsely claiming to have cooperated, and in the public claims that Kash Patel made that were broader than the set of Russian documents Trump did or attempted to steal, but which were primarily about that story.

Trump had to find new people to lie for him, which he did in the form of a far less qualified legal team. Trump had that less qualified legal team try to bully DOJ legally, claiming that he couldn’t be charged with the single crime he wanted applied to his criminal behavior. When all that failed to stave off DOJ, Trump curated another story, having boxes removed from the storage room, having one of the new, less-qualified lawyers search through what was left and discover another limited hangout of documents to return, and getting another of the less-qualified lawyers to certify that’s the end of the story, all without letting investigators actually check what actually lay behind that search.

This time it was DOJ that knew better than to believe the series of cover stories the reality TV show star kept telling, and so they quietly put together a search of the beach resort, seizing another 27 boxes of government records, yielding 18 more boxes than NARA even knew about. It’s not clear Trump would have revealed the search, at all, if Peter Schorsch — not one of the national journalists paid handsomely as a full time Trump-whisperer, but instead a local reporter — hadn’t revealed it. (There’s no evidence Trump ever told the Trump-whisperers about this investigation before the search, and most have not credited Schorsch’s role in the process, perhaps to obscure that there was news about Trump accessible without Trump offering it up.) Then, via a statement, via preferential leaks to journalists, via misleading legal filings, Trump repeated the process again, claiming different laws applied and distracting with details — like the fucking lock he claimed DOJ told him to put on his storage closet — largely irrelevant to the crimes actually at issue.

When Trump gets in trouble, the showman curates stories to distract from his real legal woes, obscuring the real legal jeopardy he faces, while distracting the crowd with a blizzard of stories serially revealing tidbits that are distractions from the real story.

That’s how it happens that, five months after Kash Patel publicly used the Russian investigation documents Trump tried to release in the last hours of his Administration as an alibi for stealing other documents, Maggie and Mike have gotten the chattering classes worked up over something related to that cover story that Trump did not do: offer the government to return documents unrelated to Russia if the government would let him burn more sources and methods relating to Russia.

Late last year, as the National Archives ratcheted up the pressure on former President Donald J. Trump to return boxes of records he had taken from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago club, he came up with an idea to resolve the looming showdown: cut a deal.

Mr. Trump, still determined to show he had been wronged by the F.B.I. investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia, was angry with the National Archives and Records Administration for its unwillingness to hand over a batch of sensitive documents that he thought proved his claims.

[snip]

It was around that same time that Mr. Trump floated the idea of offering the deal to return the boxes in exchange for documents he believed would expose the Russia investigation as a “hoax” cooked up by the F.B.I. Mr. Trump did not appear to know specifically what he thought the archives had — only that there were items he wanted.

Mr. Trump’s aides — recognizing that such a swap would be a non-starter since the government had a clear right to the material Mr. Trump had taken from the White House and the Russia-related documents held by the archives remained marked as classified — never acted on the idea.

Maggie and Mike published this story one day after ABC published a story describing the very specific set of documents Trump had spent his last days in office trying to publicly release. Even the ABC story, which reveals, “White House staffers produced multiple copies of documents from the binder,” misses key parts of the story — including why a document John Solomon claims to have obtained in June has a September 2021 creation date. But it nevertheless makes clear that the Russian documents are more central to the stolen document story than either of the two versions Maggie has told admit.

And yet that misleading Russia tidbit distracted from more important details. Buried in the story was the detail that Alex Cannon, a lawyer who negotiated with the Archives late last year, was worried that Trump was withholding documents responsive to subpoenas from the January 6 Committee. This was a detail Paul Sperry publicly floated on August 16. It comes in the wake of the filter inventory accidentally docketed that shows the FBI seized at least three items pertinent to the known January 6 investigations. In a piece reporting, possibly for the first time, that Trump may have withheld documents to obstruct other investigations, Maggie and Mike (purveyors of the false claim that Mueller primarily investigated Trump for obstruction) describe DOJ’s investigation into violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction this way, as if poor Donald Trump and those paid to lie for him were just innocent bystanders in all this.

In the process, some of his lawyers have increased their own legal exposure and had to hire lawyers themselves. Mr. Trump has ended up in the middle of an investigation into his handling of the documents that has led the Justice Department to seek evidence of obstruction.

The more important point is that rather than focusing on Cannon’s concerns that Trump was obstructing the January 6 investigation (or even that he suspected Trump was hoarding classified records but didn’t tell NARA that), Maggie and Mike focus on the deal that Trump never formally pitched, trading one set of classified documents for the classified documents describing sources and methods Trump wanted to burn.

This detail, in a story describing the lies Trump has told to cover up his stolen documents, is pure distraction, a side-show to the evidence of criminal behavior that matters. But nevertheless, the sheer audacity of it has gone viral, distracting from the real evidence of criminal intent or even the ABC report that at least substantiates the real ties between the Russian documents and the documents Trump was hoarding.

As noted in the ABC report, this is actually the second limited hangout about the Russian documents that Maggie spread. The first — part of her book campaign — is that Trump was sitting on copies of the Strzok and Page texts.

(In one of our earlier interviews, I had asked him separately about some of the texts between the FBI agent and the FBI official working on the Robert Mueller investigation whose affair prompted the agent’s removal from the case; we had learned the night before Biden’s inauguration that Trump was planning to make the texts public. He ultimately didn’t, but he told me that Meadows had the material in his possession and offered to connect me with him.)

This is the basis on which many people have claimed that Maggie withheld the story that Trump had stolen documents. But it’s actually not. It’s a limited hangout suggesting (John Solomon’s public statements that Trump would release everything notwithstanding) that Trump had only taken home the Strzok-Page texts, and not also a bunch of documents describing sensitive human sources and SIGINT collection points. Maggie has also claimed that Trump’s DOJ advised against releasing the texts because it would constitute another violation of the Privacy Act, without explaining why, then, Trump’s DOJ itself had done just that in September 2020.

Once again, it’s another less damning story rather than the more damning one for which there is just as much evidence. If Trump (or Mark Meadows) stole a copy of the Strzok and Page texts, it would be a violation of the Presidential Records Act and the Privacy Act, but not a violation of the Espionage Act or (if they stole a copy of the unredacted Carter Page application) FISA.

With Saturday’s story, which purports to share with readers how Trump “exhibited a pattern of dissembling,” Maggie and Mike either don’t understand this this story is just another press clipping that Trump is hiding the real criminal evidence behind, or are having a great big laugh at how stupid their readers are, making this non-story about something Trump didn’t do go viral whereas more factual details go unnoticed.

Which makes it very much like the story Maggie and Mike published, along with Peter Baker, on July 19, 2017. The story was based on an interview all three did that same day, one day after other journalists disclosed a second meeting between Putin and Trump, without a US translator, which lasted as long as an hour. The interview happened on the same day — the Mueller Report notes —  that Trump renewed his request to Corey Lewnadowski to order the Attorney General to limit the Russian investigation to prospective election tampering.

On July 19, 2017, the President again met with Lewandowski alone in the Oval Office.621 In the preceding days, as described in Volume II, Section II.G, infra, emails and other information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between several Russians and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had been publicly disclosed. In the July 19 meeting with Lewandowski, the President raised his previous request and asked if Lewandowski had talked to Sessions.622 Lewandowski told the President that the message would be delivered soon.623 Lewandowski recalled that the President told him that if Sessions did not meet with him, Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.624

[snip]

Within hours of the President’s meeting with Lewandowski on July 19, 2017, the President gave an unplanned interview to the New York Times in which he criticized Sessions’s decision to recuse from the Russia investigation.630 The President said that “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.”631 Sessions’s recusal, the President said, was “very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”632 Hicks, who was present for the interview, recalled trying to “throw [herself] between the reporters and [the President]” to stop parts of the interview, but the President “loved the interview.”633

Later that day, Lewandowski met with Hicks and they discussed the President’s New York Times interview.634 Lewandowski recalled telling Hicks about the President’s request that he meet with Sessions and joking with her about the idea of firing Sessions as a private citizen if Sessions would not meet with him.635 As Hicks remembered the conversation, Lewandowski told her the President had recently asked him to meet with Sessions and deliver a message that he needed to do the “right thing” and resign.636 While Hicks and Lewandowski were together, the President called Hicks and told her he was happy with how coverage of his New York Times interview criticizing Sessions was playing out.637

The NYT article that resulted from the interview with Trump reported the following, in order:

  • Trump’s claim he never would have hired Jeff Sessions if he knew he would recuse from an investigation Trump didn’t know about yet
  • Trump’s complaint that Sessions’ recusal led to Mueller’s hiring
  • Details about the interview
  • Trump’s false claims that Mueller had conflicts
  • The “red line” comment that Maggie and Mike would henceforward use to say Mueller could not investigate Trump’s finances
  • Trump’s claim that he was not under investigation even though there were public reports he was being investigated for obstruction
  • A description of Trump’s claim only to have spoken with Putin for 15 minutes, mostly about “pleasantries, but also “about adoption” [without explaining that “adoption” is code for Magnitsky sanctions]
  • Trump’s description that “his son, Donald Trump Jr., said that was the topic of a meeting he had” on June 9, 2016 (days earlier, Maggie and Peter had reported Trump had been involved in that statement)
  • Trump’s claim that he didn’t need the dirt on Hillary because he had other dirt
  • More discussion about the interview again
  • Descriptions of Trump’s “amiable side,” including his story of holding hands with Macron and — this was described as amiable! — his hopes for a military parade in DC
  • A description of Trump’s interactions with his then 6-year old grand-daughter
  • More about how angry he was with Sessions
  • Quotes from Trump attacking Sessions for recusing
  • Attacks on Sessions’ confirmation testimony about Sergey Kislyak
  • A no-comment from Sessions
  • A claim that Jim Comey had briefed the Steele dossier in an attempt to keep his job
  • Trump’s claim he dismissed the claims in the dossier
  • A no-comment from Comey
  • An explanation of why Trump’s briefers had briefed the dossier
  • Trump’s claim that Comey’s sworn testimony about the February 14 meeting was false
  • Trump’s boasts that he did the right thing by firing Comey
  • A return to his claims that Mueller had conflicts
  • Trump’s claim that he didn’t know that Deputy Attorney General he himself had appointed was from Baltimore
  • A claim Rosenstein had a conflict of interest with Mueller
  • A citation to a Fox interview where Rosenstein said Mueller could avoid conflicts
  • Trump’s claims that Andrew McCabe had conflicts because of the donation Terry McAuliffe gave to McCabe’s spouse
  • A return to the discussion with Putin, including quoting his comment about adoption
  • Trump’s claim that he did not know of the June 9 meeting in real time
  • Trump’s false claim he didn’t need (much less seek out) more dirt on Hillary because he had everything he could need

Most journalists would have taken that detail — that Trump and Putin had used an unmonitored face-to-face meeting to talk about the subject of a burgeoning scandal at the center of the investigation of Russian interference in the election — and dedicated an entire story to it. They likely would have included an explanation that “adoptions” was code for sanctions relief. They probably would have noted how Trump’s claims about the conversation differed from the public reports about it, particularly with regards the claimed length.

Journalists who — as Maggie and Baker had — reported, just days earlier, that Trump had “signed off on the statement,” might cycle back to sources for that story and lay out the possibility — confirmed by Mueller years later — that after Trump discussed adoptions with the President of Russia, he in fact dictated a misleading story about the things he had just discussed with Putin, over his son’s and Hope Hick’s wishes to get the entire story out.

Imagine how that story, that after discussing the topic with Putin, Trump dictated a misleading story, would have changed the direction of the Russian investigation.

But that’s not the story that Maggie and Mike and Peter told. On the contrary, they buried their lede — the smoking gun that Trump had “colluded” with the President of Russia on a cover story — and instead focused the story where Trump wanted it: on pressuring Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein for allowing the appointment of a Special Counsel, on ending the investigation in which they had just revealed a smoking gun. As Mueller explained,  Trump “was happy with how coverage of his New York Times interview criticizing Sessions was playing out.” It buried really damning half-admissions inside an article that primarily served his obstructive purpose (and disseminated a number of lies with limited push-back).

When Trump wanted to obstruct the Russian investigation on July 19, 2017, Maggie proved a more reliable partner than Corey Lewandowski.

That continued throughout the investigation, in which Maggie consistently misled her credulous readers that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction, neutralized one of the most damning revelations of the investigation providing Paul Manafort’s provided campaign strategy to Oleg Deripaska, ignored all the most damning details of her old friend Roger Stone, as well as the investigation into a suspected bribe via an Egyptian bank that kept Trump’s campaign afloat in September 2016.

A vast majority of the country believes that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction, and Maggie is a big reason why that’s true. And that mistaken belief is one of the reasons the aftermath of the Mueller investigation — with Bill Barr’s sabotage of multiple ongoing criminal investigation and the pardons for four of the five Trump aides who lied to cover up their ties with Russia — proceeded without bigger outcry.

And yet still, five years later, people don’t understand that Maggie successfully led them to believe a false, far less damning story of Trump’s exposure in the Russian investigation, that he was only investigated for the obstruction she was a part of, and not for doing things that led him to directly coordinate cover stories with Vladimir Putin before he dictated the story Putin wanted told.

The problem with Maggie’s memoir of her access to Donald Trump is not that she withheld details Trump told her as she pursued the least legally problematic part of the Russian document cover story for Trump’s stolen documents. It’s that people still think all of this is news, rather than a distraction from the real criminal exposure that — history proves — Trump’s transactional relationship with Maggie serves to cover-up.

When Trump attempts to cover up his crimes, he literally buries the evidence under stacks of press clippings. And those press clippings are, often as not, distractions he has fed (directly or indirectly) to Maggie to tell.

NARA May Have Pre-Existing Legal Obligations with Respect to Documents Covered by Aileen Cannon’s Order

On Monday, Aileen Cannon told the government that it can only access 11,282 documents legally owned by the National Archives and currently possessed by DOJ to do an assessment of the damage Trump did by storing those records in a poorly-secured storage closet and desk drawer.

We’ll learn more in coming days about how the government will respond to Cannon’s usurpation of the President’s authority over these documents.

But I want to note that there may be competing legal obligations, on NARA at least, that may affect the government’s response.

NARA has been responding to at least four pending legal obligations as the fight over Trump’s stolen documents has gone on:

  • A series of subpoenas from the January 6 Committee that the Supreme Court has already ruled has precedence over any claims of privilege made by Trump
  • Two subpoenas from DOJ’s team investigating January 6, one obtained in May, covering everything NARA has provided to the J6C, and a second one served on NARA on August 17; these subpoenas would also be covered under SCOTUS’ ruling rejecting Trump’s privilege claims
  • Discovery in Tom Barrack’s case, whose trial starts on September 19 (DOJ informed Barrack they had requested Trump White House materials from NARA on April 5)
  • A subpoena from Peter Strzok in his lawsuit over his firing and privacy act violations

For all of them, NARA has a legal obligation that precedes Judge Cannon’s order. So if any of the material owned by NARA that Cannon has enjoined for Trump’s benefit is covered by these subpoenas and the Barrack discovery request, it will give NARA an additional need to intervene, on top of the fact that Cannon has made decisions about property owned by NARA.

I don’t hold out hope that the August 8 seizure has much pertaining to either January 6 investigation. Given that none of the boxes include clippings that post-date November, its unlikely they include government documents from the same period.

 

Plus, given the timing, I suspect the more recent subpoena from Thomas Windom to NARA pertains to materials turned over to NARA by Mark Meadows after the Mar-a-Lago search. Because Meadows originally turned those communications over to J6C directly, they would not have been covered by the prior subpoena, which obtained everything NARA turned over to J6C, which wouldn’t have included Meadows’ texts.

Meadows’ submission to the Archives was part of a request for all electronic communications covered under the Presidential Records Act. The Archives had become aware earlier this year it did not have everything from Meadows after seeing what he had turned over to the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021. Details of Meadows’ submissions to the Archives and the engagement between the two sides have not been previously reported.

“It could be a coincidence, but within a week of the August 8 search on Mar-a-Lago, much more started coming in,” one source familiar with the discussions said.

The second subpoena would have been served days after Meadows started providing these texts.

The possibility that some of the documents seized on August 8 would be discoverable in Barrack’s case is likely higher, particularly given the news that Trump had hoarded at least one document about “a foreign government’s nuclear-defense readiness.” Barrack is accused of working to influence White House policy on issues pertaining to UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that might be implicated by classified documents. If the date of clippings in a particular box reflect the age of the government documents also found in that box, then about 18 boxes seized in August (those marked in purple, above) include records from the period covered by Barrack’s superseding indictment.

That said, whether any such materials would count as being in possession of DOJ is another issue. They are currently in possession of team at DOJ that significantly overlaps with the people prosecuting Barrack for serving as an Agent of the Emirates without telling the Attorney General.

Strzok’s subpoena may be the most likely to cover materials either turned over belatedly or seized on August 8 (though his subpoena was scoped, with DOJ involvement, at a time after the FBI was aware of Trump’s document theft). It asks for:

  1. Records concerning Sarah Isgur’s engagement with reporters from the Washington Post or New York Times about Peter Strzok and/or Lisa Page on or about December 1 and 2, 2017.
  2. Records dated July 1, 2017 through December 12, 2017 concerning or reflecting any communications with members of the press related to Peter Strzok and/or Lisa Page.
  3. Records dated July 1, 2017 through December 12, 2017 concerning or reflecting text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
  4. Records dated July 1, 2017 through August 9, 2018 concerning Peter Strzok’s employment at the FBI.

That materials covered by this subpoena made their way at some point to Mar-a-Lago is likely. That’s because of the obsession with records relating to Crossfire Hurricane in the days when Trump was stealing documents — virtually all of those would “concern” Strzok’s FBI employment.

In Mr. Trump’s last weeks in office, Mr. Meadows, with the president’s blessing, prodded federal law enforcement agencies to declassify a binder of Crossfire Hurricane materials that included unreleased information about the F.B.I.’s investigative steps and text messages between two former top F.B.I. officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who had sharply criticized Mr. Trump in their private communications during the 2016 election.

The F.B.I. worried that releasing more information could compromise the bureau, according to people familiar with the debate. Mr. Meadows dismissed those arguments, saying that Mr. Trump himself wanted the information declassified and disseminated, they said.

Just three days before Mr. Trump’s last day in office, the White House and the F.B.I. settled on a set of redactions, and Mr. Trump declassified the rest of the binder. Mr. Meadows intended to give the binder to at least one conservative journalist, according to multiple people familiar with his plan. But he reversed course after Justice Department officials pointed out that disseminating the messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page could run afoul of privacy law, opening officials up to suits.

None of those documents or any other materials pertaining to the Russia investigation were believed to be in the cache of documents recovered by the F.B.I. during the search of Mar-a-Lago, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Side note: NYT’s sources are blowing smoke when they suggest DOJ under Trump would avoid new Privacy Act violations against Strzok and Page; a set of texts DOJ released on September 24, 2020 as part of Jeffrey Jensen’s effort to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution had already constituted a new Privacy Act violation against them.

Notably, Strzok has been pursuing records about a January 22, 2018 meeting Jeff Sessions and Matt Whitaker attended at the White House.

Hours after that meeting (and a half hour call, from 3:20 to 3:50, between then Congressman Mark Meadows and the Attorney General), Jeff Sessions issued a press release about Strzok and Lisa Page.

Discovery has confirmed that the Attorney General released a press statement via email from Ms. Isgur to select reporters between 5:20 and 8:10 PM on January 22, roughly three hours after Attorney General Sessions returned from the White House. The statements promised, “If any wrongdoing were to be found to have caused this gap [in text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page], appropriate legal disciplinary action measure will be taken” and that the Department of Justice would “leave no stone unturned.” (See, e.g., Exhibit F). Based on Mr. Strzok’s review of the documents, it does not appear that this statement was planned prior to the January 22 White House meeting. It is not apparent from the documents produced in this action what deliberation lead to the issuance of that statement. For example, Mr. Strzok has not identified any drafts of the press release.

Any back-up to the White House side of that meeting — whether it has made its way back to NARA or not — would be included within the scope of Strzok’s subpoena. And even if NYT’s sources are correct that no Crossfire Hurricane documents were included among those seized in August (an uncertain claim given how much lying to the press Trump’s people have been doing), records covering Strzok’s firing would be broader than that.

The red rectangles, above, show the 17 documents seized in August for which the clippings would be in the temporal scope of Strzok’s subpoena.

I have no idea what happens if some of the boxes seized on August 8 include material responsive to these legal demands on NARA.

But if those boxes do include such materials, then it presents a competing — and pre-exisitng — legal obligation on the lawful owner of these records.

Update: Viget alerted me that I had not put an “X” by the leatherbound box reflecting its classified contents. I’ve fixed that!

“Something Like This Has 0 Repercussions if You Mess Up:” John Durham Debunked the Alfa Bank Debunkery

As you know, John Durham failed spectacularly in trying to use a false statement charge against Michael Sussmann to cement a wild conspiracy theory against the Democrats.

But Durham did succeed in one thing (though you wouldn’t know it from some of the reporting from the trial): He utterly discredited the FBI investigation into the Alfa Bank allegations. Lead prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis even conceded as much in his closing argument.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, you have heard testimony about how the FBI handled this investigation. And, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve seen that the FBI didn’t necessarily do everything right here. They missed opportunities. They made mistakes. They even kept information from themselves.

That’s a fairly stunning concession from DeFilippis. After all, DeFilippis asked the guy who was responsible for some of the worst failures in the investigation, Scott Hellman, to be his expert witness, even though Hellman, by his own admission, only “kn[e]w the basics” of the DNS look-ups at the heart of the investigation. Along with Nate Batty, Hellman wrote an analysis of the Alfa Bank white paper in less than a day that:

  • Misstated the methodology behind the white paper
  • Blew off a reference to “global nonpublic DNS activity” that should have been a tip-off about the kinds of people behind the white paper
  • Falsely claimed that the anomaly had only started three weeks before the white paper when in fact it went back months
  • Asserted that there was no evidence of a hack even though a hack is one of the hypotheses presented in the white paper for the anomaly at Spectrum Health (Spectrum itself said the look-ups were the result of a misconfigured application)

Later testimony showed that, after speaking to Hellman and before even checking whois records, the Chicago-based agent who had a lead role in the investigation told a supervisor that “we’re leaning towards this being a false server.”

Within hours, Miami-based agents had confirmed with Cendyn that was false.

In spite of being so egregiously misled from the start by the guys in Cyber, agent Curtis Heide testified in cross-examination by Sussman’s attorney, Sean Berkowitz, that Hellman’s analysis was one of the four things that he believed supported a finding that the anomaly was not substantiated.

Q. Okay. I think near the end of your examination by Mr. Algor he questioned you about your basis for concluding that there was — that the allegations were unsubstantiated. And I think you gave four reasons. I’m going to run through them. If there’s more, that’s okay. Number one, you said the assessment done by Agents Hellman and Batty. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Two, the review of the logs. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Three, the Mandiant conclusion. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And four, the discussions with Spectrum Health about the TOR node. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Anything else that you can recall, sir, as to why it was that your investigation, or rather the investigation that you oversaw, suggested that the allegations were unsubstantiated?

A. The only other thing I can think of would be my training and experience with — relating to Russia and cyber investigations.

Q. And is there anything in particular about that that you recall today?

A. With respect to the white paper, it didn’t — when I read through it initially, I had several questions, and it didn’t appear to be consistent with Russian TTPs.

Another thing Heide relied on was the analysis from Mandiant, which Alfa Bank hired to investigate after NYT reached out. According to Franklin Foer’s story, Lichtblau reached out to Alfa on September 21, after Sussmann had given the FBI a heads up but before the FBI asked Lichtblau to hold the story on September 26, so in the window when the FBI had a chance — but failed — to protect the investigation.

One of the truly insane parts of this investigation, by the way — which was conducted entirely during the pre-election window when overt actions were prohibited — was that FBI big-footed to Cendyn and Listrak before sending NSLs to them. And by that point, Alfa Bank was calling the FBI.

A report that was not explained amid the primary resources from the investigation, but which was concluded by October 3, reveals that Chicago’s conclusion was almost entirely based on what Alfa told the FBI and Mandiant.

There was nothing in the case documentation until a 302 for a March 27, 2017 interview done in association with Alfa’s 2017 claims of spoofed DNS traffic (the interview may have been done with Kirkland and Ellis) that documented that, when Mandiant arrived the previous year to investigate, there were no logs to investigate.

Indeed, Heide testified on cross-examination that he had never learned of that fact. At all.

Q. And were you aware, while you were doing the investigation, that Mandiant, when it went to talk to AlfaBank to look into these allegations, did not have any historical data, that Alfa-Bank did not provide any historical data to Mandiant? Did you know that?

A. No

We now know that at a time when “Executives at the highest level of ALFA BANK leadership” had been hoping to “exonerate them[selves]” in 2017, Petr Aven had already started acting on specific directives from Vladimir Putin, including trying to open a back channel to Trump.

Plus, at least as far as Listrak could determine, while the marketing server had sent materials to Spectrum, it had never sent anything to Alfa Bank. The stated explanation that this was spam, then, conflicts with what FBI was seeing in the logs.

As for Spectrum — another of the reasons Heide pointed to — there’s no evidence of anyone reaching out to them (as compared to interactions with agents in Philadelphia and Miami who reached out to Listrak and Cendyn, respectively).

It’s true that the anomaly at Spectrum was not a Tor node (something that researchers came to understand themselves around the time Sussmann shared the allegations with the FBI). But it’s also true that, per Cendyn (which only looked back a month), the identified IP address at Spectrum was reaching out to the Trump server.

The IP address in question showed up in traffic that may be associated with Chinese hacking.

This then might have corroborated the hypothesis, from the white paper, of a hack of Spectrum, but by this point, Hellman had long before decided there was no evidence of a hack and this was, “just garbage.”

That leaves the logs, Heide’s fourth reason for believing FBI had debunked the Alfa Bank allegations. As far as the logs in question, former agent Allison Sands (who was assigned the investigation as a brand new case agent) told one of the tech people on September 26 that, “the end user [possibly Cendyn] is willing to provide logs but they dont have what we need.” Cendyn did share details of their own spam filter, which wouldn’t address the DNS look-ups themselves.

Then, on October 12, Sands told Heide that,

the ‘logs’ we got from Listrak were not network logs

they basically just confirm that trump org is one of their email clients, but they dont show destination email addresses or IPs or anything that we can use to[ ]determine any communications

[snip]

it was two excel spreadsheets

that was all we got

The FBI did get something. Sands testified that the FBI obtained upwards of 600,000 records (she described obtaining records from Cendyn, Listrak, and GoDaddy, but not Spectrum or Alfa Bank). But it’s not clear how useful those records really were. There’s a reference to the “take” elsewhere (see below), and redacted entries that look like intelligence targeting, plus a reference to an OGA partner reporting “no attempts.” (Here’s a reference to the OGA analysis that is redacted in other versions of the same email chain.) So it seems any useful logs came from another agency. But if that’s right, it would be targeted overseas.

In trial testimony, Sands described that her task was to prove that the allegation wasn’t true, not to explain what the anomaly was.

I knew still I had to rebuild from scratch and prove that this allegation wasn’t true.

In real time, too, she saw her task as disproving that emails had been shared, not even disproving that covert communication had occurred.

I have a few more logs to definitely prove there are no emails, and then Im putting it to bed

That’s a particularly problematic description given that the FBI had been told via other channels that there was some activity reflecting more than DNS look-ups.

That leaves, according to Heide’s judgement, just the observation that the DNS traffic was not consistent with known Russian techniques. Newbie agent Sands said something similar to Chris Trifiletti, Joffe’s handler and apparently sensitive for some other reasons. In response, he mused about whether Russia was “trying other things now that look more non traditional.”

We don’t know the answer to that, because the FBI didn’t try to figure it out.

Scott Hellman, the cyber agent who insisted at every opportunity he got that this was garbage was wrong about how long the anomaly had lasted, but he was right about one thing. On October 4, he advised newbie agent Sands that,

any chance you get to work something like this that truly has 0 repercussions if you mess it up ….take those opportunities

He did mess it up. It wasn’t just his own analysis; his repeated insistence that this was “garbage” appears to have made all the other investigators less careful, too. Six years later, we’re still no closer to understanding what happened.

Hellman was right about facing “zero repercussions if you mess it up.” By all appearances, he’s one of the few people who escaped any consequences for trying to investigate Russia in 2016. We know that several people — including Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Bruce Ohr — were fired for their efforts to investigate Russia. We learned at the trial that Ryan Gaynor was threatened with criminal investigation for not answering questions the way Andrew DeFilippis wanted. Curtis Heide remains under FBI Inspection Division investigation for things he did in 2016. Rodney Joffe was discontinued as an FBI informant, according to him, at least, because he refused to cooperate with Durham’s investigation. Everyone who actually tried to investigate Russia in 2016 has faced adverse consequences.

But Hellman appears to have suffered none of those adverse consequences for fucking up an investigation into a still unexplained anomaly. On the contrary, he’s been promoted; he’s now a Supervisory Special Agent, leading a team of people who will, presumably, similarly blow off anomalies that might be politically inconvenient to investigate.

That’s the lesson of the Sussmann trial then: The only people who face zero consequences are the ones who fuck up.

Update: Corrected spelling of Hellman’s last name. Added Comey and McCabe to the list of those fired for investigating Russia. Removed Lisa Page–she quit before she was fired. In this podcast, Peter Strzok said that all FBI agents named in the DOJ IG Report are still under investigation.

Update: All the links to exhibits should be live now.

Update: Added detail that Listrak says Trump never sent marketing mail to Alfa Bank.

Timeline

I’ve put (what I believe are) all the exhibits about the FBI investigation below.

These times are surely not all correct. Durham consistently shared evidence without marking what time zone the evidence reflected. Importantly, some, but probably not all of the FBI Lync messages reflect UTC time; where I was fairly certain, I tried to reflect the time in ET, but in others, the timeline below doesn’t make sense (I’ll keep tweaking it). Some of the emails reflect the Chicago time zone.

September 19, 2:00PM: Sussmann Meeting

September 19: Priestap notes

September 19: Anderson notes

September 19, 3:00PM: Strzok accepts materials

September 19, 4:31PM: Gessford to Pientka: Moffa with info dropped off to Baker

September 19, 5:00PM: Sporre accepts materials

September 20, 9:30AM: Nate Batty to Jordan Smith: A/AD has two thumb drives.

September 20, 12:29PM: Batty accepts materials

September 20, 4:54PM: Batty and Hellman re analysis

September 21, 8:48AM: Batty to Hellman: at least look at the thumb drives [Batty Lync]

September 21, 4:25PM: Pientka Lync to Heide: People on 7th floor fired up about this server

September 21, 4:46PM: Batty to Heide and others: initial assessment

September 21, 1:10PM [time uncertain] Sands to Pape: Director level interest

September 21, 4:57PM: Norwat to Todd: Not a cyber matter

September 21, 5:06PM: Todd to Heide, cc Pientka

September 21, 5:52PM: Pientka to Heide: Nat [sic] Batty ha the thumb drives

September 22, 4:58AM: Hubiak to Heide: Let me know if you need anything from PH

September 22, 8:09AM: Todd to Marasco [noting thumb drives came from DNC, suggesting tie to debate]

September 22, 8:33AM: Pientka to Heide: Less than 24 hours to investigate, determine nexus, before losing traffic, watched by Comey

September 22, 9:30AM: Pientka to Moffa: Cyber, ugh. Read first email.

September 22, 9:59PM: Hellman to Heide: can you talk on link

September 22, 10:23AM: Marasco to Pientka: FYI

September 22, 11:13AM: Sands to Hubiak: Suspect email domain hosted on Listrak server — if you can help out with a knock and talk it would be great.

September 22, 11:14AM: Baker to Comey and others: Reporter is Lichtblau

September22, 11:34AM: Hubiak to Sands: Will start working on this now

September 22, 12:02PM: Batty to Wierzbicki: We think it’s a setup

September 22, 12:10PM: Heide to Pientka: We’re leaning to this being a false server.

September 22, 2:00PM: Pientka to Hubiak: Thanks for all your efforts. The CROSSFIRE HURRICANE Team greatly appreciates you running this to ground.

September 22, 4:22PM: Sands to all: open full investigation, summary of Hellman’s conclusions [OGA partner targeting Alfa?]

September 22, 5:33PM: Heide to Pientka: it’s a legit domain

September 22, 4:53PM: Sands to all: Cendyn agrees to cooperate, legit mail server

September 23, 8:26AM: Sands to Hubiak: Cendyn willing to cooperate and provide logs

September 23, 1:09PM: Heide to Sands: once we get that case opened, let’s cut a lead to the MM division requesting assisting with the interview, etc.

September 23, 1:53PM: Sands to others: Cendyn, as of this morning no longer resolves, picture of Barracuda spam filter

September 23, 4:04PM: Heide to Gaynor: Cyber’s review

September 23: EC Opening Memo [without backup]

September 26: Gaynor notes

September 26: Intelligence Memo

September 26, 8:02AM: Lichtblau to Kortan: You know what time we’re meeting?

September 26, 9:29AM: Kortan to Lichtblau: Baker’s tied up until later this afternoon.

September 26, 10:02AM: Lichtblau to Kortan: planning to bring Steve Myers

September 26, 10:15: Heide to Pientka: We want to interview the source of the whitepaper?

September 26, 12:09: Kortan to Baker and Priestap: some kind of recap later today?

September 26, 12:29: Sands to Hubiak: I’m writing a justification for an NSL to GoDaddy

September 26, 4:19PM: Heide to Shaw: apparently it’s going to hit the times?

September 26, 4:55PM: Heide to Hellman: We think it’s a bunk report still…

September 26, 5:02PM: Soo to Sands: searching current and historical lists of Tor exit nodes

September 26, 6:20PM: Sands to all, cc Heide: Spectrum hit at Cendyn, NSLs for Listrak, GoDaddy, redacted, Tor results

October 2, 12:02PM: Grasso to Wierzbicki: Two IP addresses

October 2, 7:02PM: Heide to Hellman: Check this out….

October 3: Tactical Product

October 3: Communications Exploitation

October 3, 1:48PM: Gaynor to Heide: Did white paper start with person of interest?

October 3, 2:49PM: Heide to Gaynor and Sands: Interview source

October 3, 3:00PM: Wierzbicki to Gaynor, cc Moffa: I agree with Heide, interview source

October 4: Kyle Steere to Wierzbicki and Sands: Documenting contents of thumb drive

October 4, 8:26AM: Sands to Hellman: 2 random IP addresses we got from tom grasso

October 4, 8:28AM: Sands to Hellman: we got a report on the Alfa Bank side that they also think this is nothing

October 4, 8:43AM: Hellman to Sands: any chance you get to work something like this that truly has 0 repercussions if you mess it up ….take those opportunities [alt version]

October 4, 10:00AM: Gaynor to Wierzbicki et al, cc Moffa: We need to know what we can learn from the logs [CT version]

October 4, 9:50PM: Grasso to Sands: SME who can help give context to the data we discussed

October 4, 11:08PM: Sands to Grasso: Sounds great.

October 5, 1:20PM: Trifiletti to Sands: i reminded him once more that he has never proceeded with anything when he wasnt absolutely sure

October 5, 1:33PM: Hosenball request for comment

October 5, 3:02PM: Strzok to Gaynor, forwarding Hosenball with Mediafire package

October 5, 4:08PM: Sands to Trifiletti: We need to speak to Dave dagon now too

October 5, 5:07PM: Sands to all: Update on CHS conversation — redacted explanation for why Alfa changed

October 5, 6:58PM: Grasso to Sands: I told Dagon that you would be able to protect his identity so that his name is not made public

October 6: Gaynor notes and drawing [alt version, more redacted]

October 6, 4:20PM: Materials to storage

October 6, 4:28PM: Christopher Trifiletti: CHS report (Spectrum: misconfigured server)

October 6, 4:54PM: Trifiletti to Sands: Actual text of 1023 submitted

October 6, 6:21PM: Wierzbicki to Gaynor: CHS debrief

October 7, 8:59AM: Sands to Trifiletti

October 12, 8:01AM: Sands to Heide: the “logs” we got from listrak were not network logs

October 13, 5:45PM: Gaynor to Wierzbicki: Mediafire (includes link)

October 19, 8:05AM: Sands to Heide: we spoke to mandiant and that we are talkingt o [sic] the tech people at the ISP today

October 19, 10:15AM: Gaynor to Wierzbicki: 2 IP addresses, Mediafire, Dagon author?

November 1, 3:09PM: Sands to Trifiletti: I have a few more logs to definitely prove there are no emails, and then Im putting it to bed

November 14, 2:52PM: Steere to Sands: [report on September 30 receipt of logs from Cendyn]

January 18, 2017: Closing Memo

March 27, 2017: Sands 302 with Alfa reports that Mandiant reported no historic data

July 24, 2017: Moffa to Priestap: Includes several other reports

July 24, 2017, 3:10PM: Sands accepts custody

There Was No Crime Predicating the Durham Investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. Correct.

Q. And this was one of many?

A. Correct.

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

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

A. Yes.

Q. What do you recall him saying and when?

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

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

A. We absolutely were under attack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

emptywheel’s Continuing Obsession with Sticky Notes, Michael Sussmann Trial Edition

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

Longtime readers of emptywheel are no doubt familiar with my obsession with the weird prevalence of sticky notes that appear on exhibits used by prosecutors Bill Barr appointed to launch politicized witch hunts. These posts provide a background, but the tl;dr is that I caught the Jeffrey Jensen crew adding dates on sticky notes, some inaccurate, to FBI notes as part of the effort to kill the Mike Flynn prosecution.

The Jeffrey Jensen “Investigation:” Post-It Notes and Other Irregularities (September 26, 2020)

Shorter DOJ: We Made Shit Up … Please Free Mike Flynn (October 27, 2020)

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket (December 3, 2020)

John Durham Is Hiding Evidence of Altered Notes (April 5, 2022)

As I noted here, there some reason to believe Durham’s evidence comes from the same collection of documents as Jeffrey Jensen’s.

Durham released the trial versions of Bill Priestap and Trisha Anderson’s notes yesterday. So without further commentary (for now), I’d like to post how these notes appeared in the filing he used to get the notes admitted in the first place with what the jury will see.

Priestap notes motion version

Priestap notes trial exhibit version

Anderson notes motion version

Anderson notes trial exhibit version

Thirty Months after Disputing Michael Horowitz, Durham’s Team Suggests They’ve Never Looked at the Evidence

In Michael Sussmann’s filing explaining that he couldn’t include highly exculpatory notes — written by Tashina GausharMary McCord, and Scott Schools — from a March 6, 2017 meeting in his motion in limine because John Durham had provided them to him too late to include, Sussmann claimed that the files were not among those for which Durham had gotten permission to provide late.

The Special Counsel neglects to mention that these handwritten notes were buried in nearly 22,000 pages of discovery that the Special Counsel produced approximately two weeks before motions in limine were due. Specifically, the Special Counsel produced the March 2017 Notes as part of a March 18, 2022 production. The Special Counsel included the March 2017 Notes in a sub-folder generically labeled “FBI declassified” and similarly labeled them only as “FBI/DOJ Declassified Documents” in his cover letter. See Letter from J. Durham to M. Bosworth and S. Berkowitz (Mar. 18, 2022). And although the Special Counsel indicated on a phone call of March 18, 2022 that some of the 22,000 pages were documents that made references to “client,” he did not specifically identify the March 2017 Notes or otherwise call to attention to this powerful exculpatory material in the way that Brady and its progeny requires.

[snip]

[T]he Special Counsel has also failed to explain why this powerful Brady material was produced years into their investigation, six months after Mr. Sussmann was indicted, and only weeks before trial.3

Sussmann was wrong.

When Durham got an extension to his discovery deadlines, he got special permission to turn over (among other things) materials from DOJ IG at a later date.

DOJ Office of Inspector General Materials. On October 7, 2021, at the initiative of the Special Counsel’s Office, the prosecution team met with the DOJ Inspector General and other OIG personnel to discuss discoverable materials that may be in the OIG’s possession. The Special Counsel’s office subsequently submitted a formal written discovery request to the OIG on October 13, 2021, which requested, among other things, all documents, records, and information in the OIG’s possession regarding the defendant and/or the Russian Bank-1 allegations.

[I]n January 2022, the OIG informed the Special Counsel’s Office for the first time that it would be extremely burdensome, if not impossible, for the OIG to apply the search terms contained in the prosecution team’s October 13, 2021 discovery request to certain of the OIG’s holdings – namely, emails and other documents collected as part of the OIG’s investigation. The OIG therefore requested that the Special Counsel’s Office assist in searching these materials. The Government is attempting to resolve this technical issue as quickly as possible and will keep the defense (and the Court as appropriate) updated regarding its status.

In the pre-trial hearing on Monday, Andrew DeFilippis explained that the files came from DOJ IG (and therefore were subject to that later discovery deadline).

We located those statements in the notes in February or early March, when we received a huge production from the DOJ Inspector General’s office. As soon as we noticed that in the notes, we put them on very rapid declassification at the FBI and turned them over to the defense about a week later.

DeFilippis offered an unconvincing excuse for burying belatedly provided Brady material two layers deep in file folders without specific notice. He described the decision to flag the materials as an internal Government decision, which is an odd description unless Michael Horowitz’s office — or those involved in declassifying the records — forced the decision:

We then, speaking internally as the Government, decided it would be important to flag those notes for the defense. And so the day that we produced them, we got on a call. We wanted to be in a position to flag it in a way that we didn’t just put it in the end of a paragraph of a discovery letter. We flagged for the defense that we were going to be producing notes and that that included notes in which the word “client” appeared. And we told them that we thought that would be relevant to them.

[snip]

Let me just say that there was absolutely no effort by the Government to delay here or to hide these in a large production. That is precisely why we got on a phone call and flagged it for the defense.

It’s almost like DeFilippis was hoping this would get no notice.

I can understand why. I’ve described how astounding it was that Durham did not go looking for evidence from DOJ IG until — by Durham’s own telling — October 7, more than two weeks after indicting Sussmann (and likely not long enough before indicting Igor Danchenko to learn key details that undermine at least one charge against him).

But this late provision of exculpatory evidence means one of two things:

  • Durham has always had the files, but did such a poor job of looking for it in discovery he didn’t find it in his own files even as he started hunting Michael Sussmann
  • Durham never had these files

The latter is the more likely possibility, which, as a threshold matter, would mean Durham never reviewed key files that DOJ IG had used in high level witness interviews before disputing Michael Horowitz’ conclusion that the investigation was predicated appropriately. Durham is, literally, only reviewing key files three years into his investigation.

Along the way, he’s learning that conspiracy theories he has been chasing for months and years are false.

The revelation that Durham is discovering exculpatory information in DOJ IG’s files is as important to the efforts to blow up the Mike Flynn prosecution two years ago as it is to the Sussmann prosecution. That’s because the Jeffrey Jensen review of the Flynn prosecution and the Durham investigation were believed to be closely aligned. Indeed, I have shown that the handwritten notes from the FBI that Durham will rely on at trial show the same markers of unreliability that documents that were altered in the Flynn case had.

As I explained in this post, Jensen’s documents started with the Bates stamp used throughout the Flynn prosecution.

But after a period of time, they used a Bates stamp with a different typeface, albeit continuing the same series, suggesting someone else was doing the document sharing.

But if they’re drawing on the same source documents, Durham should at least know notes of that meeting exists. Jeffrey Jensen received and relied on at least one set of notes — Jim Crowell’s notes — from the March 6, 2017 meeting. Those notes, along with Tashina Gauhar’s notes of an earlier briefing and all those that got altered, also have the fat typeface.

The Tashina Gauhar notes turned over to Sussmann (and the others turned over) not only are based off a scan of her original notes and have no post-it notes on them, but they bear both Durham’s Bates stamp (SCO-074095), but also one that likely comes from DOJ IG (SCO-FBIPROD_021529).

All of which seems to suggest there was the same cherry-picking that went into the Durham investigation and the Jensen “review.” Neither reviewed — neither could have!! — what really happened. They reviewed selected records and then (in the Jensen review) altered those records to make false claims that the former President used in a debate attack.

I’ll come back to the issue of what appears in the notes Sussmann released that conflicts with the Flynn releases.

But I’m also interested that Durham is stalling on providing other notes from the meeting.

2 The defense has requested that the Special Counsel search for any additional records that may shed further light on the meeting and certain of those requests remain outstanding. To date, the Special Counsel has represented that the only additional notes from attendees at the meeting that he has identified do not reference whether or not Mr. Sussmann was acting on behalf of a client. The absence in those notes of any reference to whether Mr. Sussmann was acting on behalf of a client also raises questions regarding materiality of the charged conduct: if the on behalf of information were truly material to the FBI’s investigation, presumably all note takers would have written it down. [my emphasis]

Durham can’t be withholding notes because they don’t mention Sussmann having a client. That’s because Scott Schools’ notes mention that the Alfa Bank tip came from an attorney, but don’t mention that he was there on behalf of a client (Schools’ notes may have been included because they are the only ones of the three provided that attributed this discussion to Andy McCabe).

There are at least two other sets of notes from this meeting that are known or presumed to exist:

And there were at least three other people present at the meeting known to take notes:

  • Bill Priestap
  • Andy McCabe
  • Dana Boente

Importantly, in Durham’s objection to admitting these notes as evidence, he makes it clear that James Baker (inexcusably as a lawyer) did not take notes of this or any other meeting, but he does not say whether Priestap (or Trisha Anderson) took notes.

Moreover, the DOJ personnel who took the notes that the defendant may seek to offer were not present for the defendant’s 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel. And while the FBI General Counsel was present for the March 6, 2017 meeting, the Government has not located any notes that he took there.

If Priestap took notes, one copy should be in Durham’s possession, in the notebook of Priestap’s notes already on Durham’s exhibit list.

DOJ has been trying to prevent anyone from looking at Andy McCabe’s notes for some time.

But one thing that turning over the DOJ IG retained notes for the others will show is whether alterations in the Strzok, Priestap, and McCabe notes were made.

It’ll also make it easy to test why Jensen’s review redacted a date and added one — albeit the correct one — in the Jim Crowell notes.

 

That is, I wonder if Durhams’ reluctance to turn over those materials stems not from any facts about his own investigation, but from an awareness of the cherry-picking — and possibly worse — that having turned over the past one reveals.

Three posts on the altered documents from the Mike Flynn case

The Jeffrey Jensen “Investigation:” Post-It Notes and Other Irregularities (September 26, 2020)

Shorter DOJ: We Made Shit Up … Please Free Mike Flynn (October 27, 2020)

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket (December 3, 2020)

The March 6, 2017 Notes: Proof about Materiality

Update: Read this post on the March 6, 2017 notes before this one.

I want to return to John Durham’s objection to Michael Sussmann’s plan to offer notes from an FBI Agent and notes from a March 6, 2017 meeting as evidence.

The defense also may seek to offer (i) multiple pages of handwritten notes taken by an FBI Headquarters Special Agent concerning his work on the investigation of the Russian Bank-1 allegations, (including notes reflecting information he received from the FBI Chicago case team), and (ii) notes taken by multiple DOJ personnel at a March 6, 2017 briefing by the FBI for the then-Acting Attorney General on various Trump-related investigations, including the Russian Bank-1 allegations. See, e.g., Defense Ex. 353, 370, 410. The notes of two DOJ participants at the March 6, 2017 meeting reflect the use of the word “client” in connection with the Russian Bank-1 allegations.1 The defendant did not include reference to any of these notes – which were taken nearly six months after the defendant’s alleged false statement – in its motions in limine. Moreover, the DOJ personnel who took the notes that the defendant may seek to offer were not present for the defendant’s 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel. And while the FBI General Counsel was present for the March 6, 2017 meeting, the Government has not located any notes that he took there.

The Government respectfully submits that the Court should require the defense to proffer a non-hearsay basis for each portion of the aforementioned notes that they intend to offer at trial. The defendant has objected to the Government’s admission of certain notes taken by FBI officials following the defendant’s September 19, 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel, and the Government has explained in detail its bases for admitting such notes. Accordingly, the defendant should similarly proffer a legal basis to admit the notes he seeks to offer at trial. Fed. R. Evid. 801(c).

1. The notes of the March 6, 2017 briefing do not appear on the defendant’s Exhibit List, but the Government understands from its recent communications with counsel that they may intend to offer the notes at trial.

As I noted here, attempting to introduce the notes achieves some tactical purpose for Sussmann: presumably, the rules Judge Christopher Cooper adopted in his motions in limine order will apply to these two potential exhibits. So putting these exhibits out there provide a way to hem Durham in on that front.

But they may be more central to Sussmann’s defense. Sussmann may be preparing these exhibits (and one or more witnesses to introduce them) to prove that his alleged lie was not material.

We know a bit about the meeting in question and the potential note-takers.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page explains that, after Dana Boente became acting Attorney General after Sally Yates’ firing, he asked for regular briefings because he believed that, “the investigation had not been moving with a sense of urgency,” and that, “it was extraordinarily important to the Department and its reputation that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections were investigated.” DOJ IG may have muddled the scope of these meetings (as they did the scope of Bruce Ohr’s actions), because Boente was obviously talking about all the Russian interference allegations, and Alfa Bank was, as far as we know, always separate from Crossfire Hurricane (and in any case never became part of the Mueller investigation).

On January 30, 2017, Boente became the Acting Attorney General after Yates was removed, and ten days later became the Acting DAG after Jefferson Sessions was confirmed and sworn in as Attorney General. Boente simultaneously served as the Acting Attorney General on the FBI’s Russia related investigations after Sessions recused himself from overseeing matters “arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.” Boente told the OIG that after reading the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) report on Russia’s election influence efforts (described in Chapter Six), he requested a briefing on Crossfire Hurricane. That briefing took place on February 16, and Boente said that he sought regular briefings on the case thereafter because he believed that it was extraordinarily important to the Department and its reputation that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections were investigated. Boente told us that he also was concerned that the investigation lacked cohesion because the individual Crossfire Hurricane cases had been assigned to multiple field offices. In addition, he said that he had the impression that the investigation had not been moving with a sense of urgency-an impression that was based, at least in part, on “not a lot” of criminal legal process being used. To gain more visibility into Crossfire Hurricane, improve coordination, and speed up the investigation, Boente directed ODAG staff to attend weekly or bi-weekly meetings with NSD for Crossfire Hurricane case updates.

Boente’s calendar entries and handwritten notes reflect multiple briefings in March and April 2017. Boente’s handwritten notes of the March meetings reflect that he was briefed on the predication for opening Crossfire Hurricane, the four individual cases, and the status of certain aspects of the Flynn case. [my emphasis]

As noted, these meetings focused on ways to “reenergize” the Russian investigations, including the one into Paul Manafort’s corruption.

Additionally, notes from an FBI briefing for Boente on March 6, 2017, indicate that someone in the meeting stated that Ohr and Swartz had a “discussion of kleptocracy + Russian org. crime” in relation to the Manafort criminal case in an effort to “re-energize [the] CRM case.”

And we know who attended the March 6 meeting, because Jeffrey Jensen released highly redacted notes — with a date added — as part of his effort to blow up the Mike Flynn case.

Jim C[rowell, who took the notes]

FBI/McCabe/Baker/Rybicki/Pete/Toscas

Scott/Tash/McCord/Dana/

For the benefit of the frothers who are sure David Laufman was part of this: sorry, he was not.

Laufman did not attend the meetings in January, February, and March 2017 that were attended by Boente, McCord, and other senior Department officials.

The IG Report describes that in addition to Crowell, Boente, Tashina Gauhar, and Scott Schools took notes of these meetings. We also know Strzok was an assiduous note taker, so it’s likely he took notes as well. People like Crowell (who is now a Superior Court judge) or Boente would make powerful witnesses at trial.

And according to Durham’s objection, among the as many as five sets of notes from this meeting that James Baker attended, two say that the word “client” came up in conjunction with the Alfa Bank allegations.

Durham seems to suspect this is an attempt to bolster possible Baker testimony that, after the initial meeting between him and Sussmann, he came to know Sussmann had a client (which would be proof that Sussmann wasn’t hiding that). He did, and within days! That’s one important part of the communications during which Baker got Sussmann and Rodney Joffe’s help to kill the NYT story: as part of that exchange, he learned that Sussmann had to consult with someone before sharing which news outlet was about to publish the Alfa Bank story. For that purpose, according to the common sense rules just adopted by Cooper, one or some of the ten people at the meeting would need to remember Baker referring to a “client,” and one of the two people who noted that in real time has to remember doing so.

But there’s likely another reason Sussmann would want to introduce this information.

Not only did a contemporaneous record reflect that everyone involved learned if they did not already know that there was a client involved in this Alfa Bank allegation, but by then everyone involved also knew that Glenn Simpson worked first for a GOP and then a Democratic client.

Finally, handwritten notes and other documentation reflect that in February and March 2017 it was broadly known among FBI officials working on and supervising the investigation, and shared with senior NSD and ODAG officials, that Simpson (who hired Steele) was himself hired first by a candidate during the Republican primaries and then later by someone related to the Democratic Party.

The things that, Durham insists, would have led the FBI to shy away from this investigation were known by the time of this meeting.

And, I suspect, that’s why Sussmann wants to introduce the FBI Agent’s notes (and yes, it is possible they are Strzok’s). Because the actions taken in the wake of this meeting provide a way of assessing what the FBI would have done — and did do — after such time as they undeniably knew that Sussmann had a client.

Boente wanted more action taken. Ultimately, whatever action was taken led shortly thereafter to the closure of the investigation.

But Durham’s entire prosecution depends on proving that the FBI would have acted differently if they knew Sussmann had a client. So it is perfectly reasonable for Sussmann to introduce evidence about what the FBI said and did after such time as they provably did know that.

 

Hillary Clinton’s Devious Plot to Get Oleg Deripaska to Install Paul Manafort as Trump’s Campaign Manager

Out of curiosity and a good deal of masochism, I listened to the latest podcast of “The Corner,” the frothy right wingers who spend their time spinning conspiracy theories about the Durham investigation.

It was painful.

At every step, these men simply assert evidence must exist — like a Democratic order to bring dirt to the FBI — for which there’s no evidence. They ignore really basic facts, such as that Sussmann was necessarily working with the FBI because his client was being systematically hacked, and therefore it wasn’t just Christopher Steele who had ongoing ties to the Bureau. They make a huge deal about the fact that the US government’s Russian experts know each other, and that Christopher Steele persistently reported on topics — like Rosneft — that really were and are important to British and US national security and on which he had legitimate expertise.

They’re already starting to make excuses for Durham (such as that Durham chose not to obtain privileged emails the same way Mueller and SDNY did, without noting that Mueller had probable cause of a crime, which Durham admits he does not, much less that Mueller got them in a different way and a different time then they believe he did).

They keep making much of the coincidence of key dates in 2016 — “We continue to have a very, very tight timeline that that accelerates” — but never mention either the WikiLeaks dump of the DNC emails or Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary some more, a request that was followed closely by a new wave of attacks. Those two events in July 2016 explain most of the actions Democrats took in that period, and these men don’t even exhibit awareness (or perhaps the belief?) that the events happened.

Worse still, they are ignorant of, or misrepresent, key details.

For example, all but Hans Mahncke assert that John Brennan must have been acting on some kind of corrupt intelligence in July 2016, rather than real intelligence collected from real Russian sources. They do so even though Billy Barr described in his book bitching at Trump after Trump complained that Durham found that, “the CIA stayed in its lane in the run-up to the [2016] election.”

Emblematic of the fraying relationship between the President and me was a sharp exchange at the end of the summer in the Oval Office. To give the President credit, he never asked about the substance of the investigation but just asked pointedly when there might be some sign of progress. On this occasion, we had met on something else, but at the end he complained that the investigation had been dragging on a long time. I explained that Durham did not get the Horowitz report until the end of 2019, and up till then had been look- ing at questions, like any possible CIA role, that had to be run down but did not pan out.

“What do you mean, they didn’t pan out?” the President snapped.

“As far as we can tell, the CIA stayed in its lane in the run-up to the election,” I said.

The President bristled. “You buy that bullshit, Bill?” he snarled. “Everyone knows Brennan was right in the middle of this.”

I lost it and answered in a sarcastic tone. “Well, if you know what happened, Mr. President, I am all ears. Maybe we are wasting time do- ing an investigation. Maybe all the armchair quarterbacks telling you they have all the evidence can come in and enlighten us.”

Durham looked for this evidence for years. It’s not there (and therefore the intelligence Brennan viewed is something other than the dossier or even the Russian intelligence product that the frothers also spin conspiracies on).

All but Fool Nelson misrepresent a July 26, 2016 email from Peter Fritsch to WSJ reporter Jay Solomon, which says, “call adam schiff, or difi for that matter. i bet they are concerned about what page was doing other than giving a speech over 3 days in moscow,” suggesting that that must be proof the top Democrats on the Intelligence Committees had the Steele dossier, rather than proof that it was a concern to see an advisor to a Presidential campaign traveling to Russian and saying the things Page was saying. (Jeff Carlson makes the same complaint about former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s observations about something that all experienced Russia watchers believed was alarming in real time.)

They get the evidence against Carter Page wrong, among other ways by misstating that all his time in Moscow had been accounted for and that the rumor he met with Igor Sechin was ever entirely debunked. “Of course it’s impossible. He was chaperoned. He had a hotel. He had a driver. Without people noticing.” For example, the son of the guy who brought Page to Russia, Yuval Weber, told the FBI that they weren’t with Page 100% of the time and there was a rumor that he had met with Sechin.

In July, when Page had traveled to give the commencement speech at NES, Weber recalled that it was rumored in Moscow that Page met with Igor Sechin. Weber said that Moscow is filled with gossip and people in Moscow were interested in Page being there. It was known that a campaign official was there.

Page may have briefly met with Arkady Dvorkovich at the commencement speech, considering Dvorkovich was on the board at NES. But Weber was not aware of any special meeting.

[redacted] was not with Page 100% of the time, he met him for dinner, attended the first public presentation, but missed the commencement speech. They had a few other interactions. Page was very busy on this trip.

This testimony was consistent with Mueller’s conclusion about Page’s trip: given boasts he made to the campaign, “Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained.”

They badly misrepresent emails between a handful of journalists and Fusion GPS, spinning real skepticism exhibited by journalists as journalists somehow conspiring with Fusion. Indeed, they repeatedly point to an email from WaPo’s Tom Hamburger pushing back on the Sechin claim, “That Page met with Sechin or Ivanov. ‘Its bullshit. Impossible,’ said one of our Moscow sources.” They claim that Hamburger nevertheless reported the story after that. They’re probably thinking of this story, which reported Page’s 2014 pro-Sechin comments, not that he had met with the man in 2016.

After the Obama administration added Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin to its sanctions list in 2014, limiting Sechin’s ability to travel to the United States or do business with U.S. firms, Page praised the former deputy prime minister, considered one of Putin’s closest allies over the past 25 years. “Sechin has done more to advance U.S.-Russian relations than any individual in or out of government from either side of the Atlantic over the past decade,” Page wrote.

In other words, they’re claiming journalists doing actual journalism and not reporting what Fusion fed them is somehow corrupt, when it is instead an example, among many, of failed attempts by Fusion to get journalists to run with their tips.

They complain that Fusion was pointing journalists to Felix Sater, in spite of the fact that Sater really was central to tying Trump Organization to Russian funding and really did pitch an impossibly lucrative real estate deal in the year before the campaign that involved secret communications with the Kremlin and sanctioned banks and a former GRU officer, a deal that Michael Cohen and Trump affirmatively lied to cover up for years.

They grossly misrepresent a long text to Peter Strzok reflecting someone else’s early inquiries on the DNS allegation to Cendyn, imagining (the redaction notwithstanding) that it reflects the FBI concluding already at that point that there was nothing to the DNS allegations and not that the FBI inquiry instead explains why Trump changed its own DNS records shortly thereafter (addressing one but not both of the questions raised by NYT reporting).

Obviously, none of them seem interested in the nearly-contemporaneous text from Strzok noting that “Russians back on DNC,” presumably reflecting knowledge of the serial Russian effort to steal Hillary’s analytics stored on an AWS server, a hack that — because it involved an AWS server, not a DNC-owned one — not only defies all the favorite right wing claims about what went into the Russian attribution, but also explains why Sussmann would be so concerned about seeming evidence of ongoing covert communication between Trump and a Russian bank. The Russians kept hacking, both in response to Trump’s request in July, and in the days before and after Sussmann met with James Baker in September.

Crazier still, none of these men seem to have any understanding of two details of the back-and-forth between Sussmann, the FBI, and NYT, one that is utterly central to the case against Sussmann. They conflate a request FBI made to NYT days after Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI to kill the story — one made with the assent of Sussmann and Rodney Joffe — with later follow-up reporting by the NYT reporting that the FBI had not substantiated the DNS allegation. Those were at least two separate calls! Durham had chased down none of them before he indicted Sussmann. It wasn’t until almost six months after charging Sussmann that Durham corroborated Sussmann’s HPSCI testimony that Sussmann and Joffe agreed to help kill the initial NYT story, which provides a lot of weight to Sussmann’s explanation for his meeting with James Baker, that he wanted to give the FBI an opportunity to investigate the allegation before the press reported on it. As a result, Mahncke states as fact that Sussmann’s September 18 text telling Baker, “I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau,” (even ignoring the temporal problem it creates for Durham’s charge) proves Sussmann lied, when in fact, his and Joffe’s efforts to help the Bureau kill the story strongly supports Sussmann’s public story.

If you don’t know that Sussmann and Joffe helped the FBI to kill what would have been a damning story about Trump, you’re not assessing the actual evidence against Sussmann as opposed to Durham’s conspiracy theories.

All that said, laying out all the ways the supposed experts on the frothy right prove they’re unfamiliar with the most basic details about events in 2016 and since is not why I wrote this post.

I wrote this post because of the way Fool attempted to explain away the inconvenience of Paul Manafort to his narrative. Fool went on at length showing how (a possible Russian fabrication claiming) Hillary’s plan to focus on Trump’s ties to Russia must have predicated an investigation that started before that point. He ignored, entirely, that an FBI investigation had already been opened on Page by then (and all four frothers ignore that Fusion started focusing on Page when Paul Singer was footing the bill). But Fool does acknowledge that the money laundering investigation into Manafort had already been opened before Crossfire Hurricane started. He treats Manafort’s very real corrupt ties to Putin-backed oligarchs as a lucky break for what he imagines to be Hillary’s concocted claims, and not a fact that Trump ignored when he hired the man to work for him “for free.” “Luckily, I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, Manafort joined the Trump campaign and that gave them a reason to look deeper.” In other words, Fool suggests Manafort’s hiring might be part of Hillary’s devious plot, and not the devious plot of Oleg Deripaska to get an entrée to Trump’s campaign or the devious alleged plot of Mohammed bin Zayed to direct Trump policy through Tom Barrack.

Because I expect the circumstances of Manafort’s hiring may become newsworthy again in the near future and because Deripaska was pushing an FBI investigation into Manafort before Hillary was, I wanted to correct this detail.

According to Gates, the effort to install Manafort as campaign manager started earlier than most people realize, in January 2016, not March.

In January 2016, Gates was working mostly on [redacted] film project. Gates was also doing some work on films with [redacted] looking for new DMP clients, and helping Manafort pull material together to pitch Donald Trump on becoming campaign manager. Roger Stone and Tom Barrack were acting as liaisons between Manafort and Trump in an effort to get Manafort hired by the campaign. Barrack had a good relationship with Ivanka Trump.

Tom Barrack described to Mueller how Manafort asked for his help getting hired on Trump’s campaign in that same month, January 2016.

But Manafort may have started on this plan even before January 2016. Sam Patten told SSCI Kilimnik knew of the plan in advance. Patten’s explanation of his involvement in the Mueller investigation describes Ukrainian Oligarch Serhiy Lyovochkin asking him about it in late 2015.

In late 2015, Lyovochkin asked me whether it was true that Trump was going to hire Manafort to run his campaign. Just as I told Pinchuk that Putin’s perception of America’s capabilities was ridiculous, I told Lyovochkin that was an absurd notion; that Trump would have to be nuts to do such a thing.

In any case, even before his hiring was public, on March 20, Manafort wrote his Ukrainian and Russian backers to let them know he had installed himself with the Trump campaign. He sent one of those letters to Oleg Deripaska, purportedly as a way to get the lawsuit Deripaska had filed against Manafort dropped.

Gates was shown an email between Gates and Kilimnik dated March 20, 2016 and four letters which were attached to this email. Gates stated he was the person who drafted the letters on Manafort’s behalf. Manafort reviewed and approved the letters.

Manafort wanted Gates to draft letters announcing he had joined the Trump Campaign. Manafort thought the letters would help DMP get paid by OB and possibly help confirm that Deripaska had dropped his lawsuit against Manafort. Manafort wanted Kilimnik to let Deripaska know he had been hired by Trump and he needed to make sure there were not lawsuits against him.

Gates was asked why Manafort could not have employed counsel to find out of the Deripaska lawsuit had been dropped. Gates stated Manafort wanted to send Deripaska a personal note and to get a direct answer from Deripaska. Gates also thought this letter was a bit of “bravado on Manafort’s part.”

Gates was asked if the purpose of the letter to Deripaska was to determine if the lawsuit had been dropped, why didn’t the letter mention the lawsuit. Gates stated that Manafort did not want to put anything about the lawsuit in writing.

This explanation, true or not (and it’s pretty clear the FBI didn’t believe it), is critical to the frothers because even before Christopher Steele started collecting information on Trump, he was collecting information on Manafort at the behest of Deripaska in conjunction with this lawsuit. And Steele was feeding DOJ tips about Deripaska’s lawsuit before he started feeding the FBI dirt paid for by Hillary’s campaign. The first meeting at which Steele shared dossier information with Bruce Ohr, for example, Steele also pushed the Deripaska lawsuit, and not for the first time.

Either the Deripaska lawsuit was a cover story Manafort used consistently for years (including through his “cooperation” with Mueller in 2018), or it was real. Whichever it was, it bespeaks some kind of involvement by Deripaska long before Hillary got involved. Viewed from that perspective, the dossier (and Deripaska’s presumed success at filling it with disinformation) was just part of a brutal double game that Deripaska was playing with Manafort, one that led Manafort to share campaign strategy and participate in carving up Ukraine, another event the frothers are trying to blame on the ever-devious Hillary. Whichever it is, the process by which a bunch of Putin allies in Ukraine knew Trump was going to hire Manafort before Trump did is a big part of the story.

But according to the frothers, Hillary Clinton is just that devious that she orchestrated all of this.

Where Was Doug Jensen Radicalized? Russia’s 2016 Election Tampering

Last May, I observed that QAnon had far more evident success in getting its adherents in places to obstruct the vote certification on January 6, 2021 than the organized militias did.

QAnon managed to get far more of their adherents to the Senate floor than either the Proud Boys (Joe Biggs and Arthur Jackman showed up after getting in with the help of people inside) or the Oath Keepers (Kelly Meggs and Joshua James showed up too late). QAnon held a prayer on the dais while the militias were still breaching doors.

While he didn’t make it to the Senate floor, that’s true, in part, because of the fervor with which QAnoner Doug Jensen sprinted up the stairs after Officer Eugene Goodman (though Jensen’s fervor was also one of the things that Goodman exploited to buy time to evacuate the Senate).

According to an FBI interview Jensen did just days after the insurrection (the transcript was released as part of a suppression motion that is unlikely to work), that was his stated intent.

He wanted QAnon to get credit for breaching the Capitol.

I wanted Q to get the attention.

Q. I see.

A. And that was my main intention basically —

Q. Um-hum.

A. — was to use my shirt. I basically intended on being the poster boy, and it really worked out.

The transcript is a tough read. It reveals (as the court filings associated with many of the January 6 defendants do) the urgency with which the US needs to address mental health treatment. It reveals how Trump’s propagandists won the allegiance of a blue collar union member who had previously voted Democratic.

But most vividly, it reveals how Jensen got radicalized into QAnon. And that started — as he repeatedly describes — from the files stolen from John Podesta released by WikiLeaks in advance of the 2016 election. He planned to vote for Hillary (!!!) until he came to believe the misrepresentations he read (pushed, in significant part, by accused Proud Boy leader Joe Biggs) of the Podesta files. When the flow of Podesta files ended, Jensen was left with a void, which Q drops filled shortly thereafter. After that, Jensen came to believe Trump’s lies that he had been shafted by the Deep State, by some guy (Peter Strzok) and his girlfriend whose name he couldn’t remember. Perhaps as a result, Jensen came to believe of Putin that, “this guy don’t seem so bad, you know.”

Also, Q said — Q has said things, okay, so like — and anonymous, okay. I follow that, Mayjan (ph.) and all that stuff, you know, because basically I was not into politics until the Wiki leaks dropped, and then when I realized about Haiti, and the Clinton Foundation, and the kidnappings all through the Clinton Foundation, and then I learned about Epstein Island and then I learned Mike Pence owns an island, right — or not Mike Pence, Joe Biden owns an island next door, and then I find that Hunter Biden and Bris Moldings (ph.) and all that, I knew about that a year or two ago.

[snip]

It all started with all the crap I found out about Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, you know, all of that stuff, and then so right before I was going to vote for Hillary, I was like, whoa, we’ve got to vote Trump in because we can’t have Hillary. And then I start finding things like we were supposed to be dead by now, and if Hillary would have won, we were going to be attacked by North Korea or Iran. We were going to go to war, and we would most likely — half of us wouldn’t be here right now if Trump wouldn’t have won that election is what I got from it.

[snip]

You guys have an FBI thing that you released all that Ben Swan who was on ABC years ago and he tried to expose pizza gate and he got fired that night from ABC, and he works for RT now.

[snip]

I am for America, and I feel like we are being taken over by communist China, you know, and the whole Russian collusion was fake. I don’t know what the deal with Russia is, but I don’t know, Vladimir Putin, he seems to be like a decent person, but I could be crazy, you know. But I think we were taught from a young age to hate Russia and all of this stuff. I’ve researched on Vladimir Putin. I was like this guy don’t seem so bad, you know, but I don’t know, you know.

[snip]

A. And all this information, and Trump’s taking down all these people, you know? And — well, firing them or whatever, you know? Like Brennan, Clapper, you know, that guy that I hate with his girlfriend, I can’t remember their names. Those texting back and forth. But they were all like top, you know, members, they’re high up and stuff.

Q. Yeah.

A. And you saw that they were out to destroy Trump, and they were members of our, you know, Central Intelligence or our FBI, you know?

[snip]

I did not preplan nothing. I am not a leader. I am just a hardcore patriot. I am a diehard — I believe all this stuff to be true, and I feel like Trump’s just got the absolute shaft from everything around, our own government, the media.

[snip]

So I voted both terms for Obama, and during the presidency, I thought he was a great president. The health thing. The health thing didn’t benefit me and my family because I had union health insurance. So I got no benefits from it, but I was happy that all those people got insurance, you know? And so I was happy with him. And then I was going to vote for Hillary because I’ve been a democrat my whole life.

Q. Yeah.

A. And then the WikiLeaks thing happened and I had to start questioning where I was getting my info from. And that’s when I realized, you know, holy cow, I can’t vote for this woman. And then it became — like I started telling everybody I know about WikiLeaks and everything else back then. And then that died off when Trump won. And then I didn’t really have anything. I was happy Trump won, you know? And then all of a sudden Q drops started. And it was just — that’s all I did —

Q. Yeah.

A. — was follow those Q drops. [my emphasis]

This is a narrative of how an information operation started by Russia six years ago continues to poison American politics, up to and including persuading Americans to affiliate with the architect of that information operation.

After that radicalization process — Jensen described to the FBI — he readily responded to the propagandists trying to help Trump steal an election: Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, and Rudy Giuliani, as well as the December 19, 2020 Trump tweet that arose out of their machinations. And so he drove all night from Iowa to answer Trump’s call.

Q. How’d you find out about the rally?

A. Well, I found out from the rally from all the different people I follow.

Q. I see.

A. Which — so like — I’m not saying it’s JFK, Jr., but one of the people I follow on Twitter, his name’s John F. Kennedy, Jr., and then Linwood. Linwood’s new. Like everything Linwood has dropped in the last couple weeks is old news, like that’s all old new to me, and so Linwood got me fired up, Sidney Powell got me fired up. Rudy Giuliani got me fired up, you know, and then I go to this Trump rally and I was just hoping it was show time basically, and then he gets done with this rally and I’m just kind of like — he’s like, oh, let’s all go march down peacefully, you know. He didn’t tell us to go storm the building, okay.

[snip]

A. Trump’s posts. Trump posted make sure you’re there, January 6 for the rally in Washington, D.C., I’ll have some great info, and so that to me was, oh, here it comes, because — and then, you know, all he said, well, where’s Hillary? Well, where? I already know that. Q said where’s Hillary four months ago, you know, so I was kind of like that’s all you got, where’s Hillary? You know, he — and then he got us all fired up to go to that White House, and then it just all happened so quick and I just wanted to make sure that I wanted to be in the front. Basically I wanted to get that Q shirt the attention —

Q. Right.

A. — is what my goal was. [my emphasis]

There are few better summaries of the damage done by the sustained information operations that both Russia and Trump pursued — with the Burisma attacks, at least, provably in coordination — over the last six years. The self-described poster boy for the insurrection got there as a result of a sustained series of information operations that started with Russia’s attempt to tamper in the 2016 election.

Only, Doug Jensen makes it clear: Russian didn’t just tamper in the election. It tampered with the American psyche.

John Durham Is Hiding Evidence of Altered Notes

On Monday, both John Durham and Michael Sussmann submitted their motions in limine, which are filings to argue about what can be admitted at trial. They address a range of issues that I’ll cover in several posts:

Sussmann:

Durham wants to:

  • Admit witnesses’ contemporaneous notes of conversations with the FBI General Counsel
  • Admit emails referenced in the Indictment and other, similar emails (see this post)
  • Admit certain acts and statements (including the defendant’s February 2017 meeting with a government agency, his December 2017 Congressional testimony, and his former employer’s October 2018 statements to the media) as direct evidence or, alternatively, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)
  • Exclude evidence and preclude argument concerning allegations of political bias on the part of the Special Counsel (addressed in this post)
  • Admit an October 31, 2016 tweet by the Clinton Campaign

I will link my discussions in serial fashion.


In John Durham’s bid to introduce notes from Bill Priestap and Trisha Anderson, he presented a color scan of Anderson’s notes [red annotation added]:

But he presented a black and white scan of Priestap’s notes [red annotation added]:

That’s important for two reasons. First, because blue sticky tabs were implicated in altered documents submitted in the Mike Flynn case. There was a blue sticky tab on another page of Priestap notes submitted in Flynn’s case.

There were what appear to be blue and red stickies visible on the original version of some Peter Strzok notes submitted in that case.

When the government ultimately confessed to adding dates (affirmatively misleading, in at least one case) to both that set of Strzok notes

And some Andrew McCabe notes

… The government claimed that the date added to some Andrew McCabe notes was added via a blue sticky — what sounds like the same sticky we saw in the Priestap notes.

In response to the Court and counsel’s questions, the government has learned that, during the review of the Strzok notes, FBI agents assigned to the EDMO review placed a single yellow sticky note on each page of the Strzok notes with estimated dates (the notes themselves are undated). Those two sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. The government has also confirmed with Mr. Goelman and can represent that the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

Similarly, the government has learned that, at some point during the review of the McCabe notes, someone placed a blue “flag” with clear adhesive to the McCabe notes with an estimated date (the notes themselves are also undated). Again, the flag was inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. Again, the content of the notes was not otherwise altered. [my emphasis]

If that’s right, then whoever altered the McCabe notes altered them with the same kind of blue sticky note that appears on the Priestap notes that Durham wants to submit at trial.

Whether that date was added via blue sticky note has never been publicly tested. Rather than submitting unaltered versions of McCabe’s notes in the Flynn docket, DOJ — metadata suggests that Jocelyn Ballantine did this — simply digitally removed the date and a footer, effectively submitting a realtered exhibit in place of an altered one. So one cannot rule out that that date was written right onto the notes themselves. McCabe was being specifically prevented by DOJ from reviewing his original notes in the period, not even to prepare for Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, so he hasn’t been able to test that either.

That, by itself, suggests some of the alterations that were an issue in the Flynn docket were altered before they were shared with Jeffrey Jensen.

But that’s all the more interesting given a detail that Michael Sussmann included in his bid to exclude these notes. In Priestap’s grand jury testimony in this case, he testified he didn’t know why he wrote the “no specific client” comment on a slant, or why those notes were, “perhaps darker or thicker than some of the other notes.”

The Indictment characterizes the Priestap Notes as a contemporaneous record of Mr. Priestap’s conversation with Mr. Baker. See id. But beyond offering that they “looked like his writing and organizational style,” Mem. of Special Counsel’s June 2, 2021 Interview of E.W. Priestap, SCO-3500U-018701, at -01, Mr. Priestap said he “[doesn’t] remember why [he] wrote them down and who gave [him] the information,” E.W. Priestap’s June 3, 2021 Grand Jury Test., SCO-3500U-018746, at -98. Not only that, but Mr. Priestap “[does] not recall actually writing these notes,” id. at SCO-3500U-018815, nor can he confirm that the notes actually reflect any conversation he had with Mr. Baker, as opposed to a conversation he had with someone else, id. Indeed, Mr. Priestap “advised he did not remember Baker conveying to him the information about Sussmann,” Mem. of Special Counsel’s June 2, 2021 Interview of E.W. Priestap at SCO-3500U 018702, and was “not certain whether th[e] conversation reflected in the notes . . . was with Mr. Baker or maybe with someone else,” E.W. Priestap’s June 3, 2021 Grand Jury Test. at SCO3500U-018815. Mr. Priestap also has “[n]o idea” why the phrase “said not doing this for any client”—written diagonally to the side of the main body of the notes—was written at all, and could offer no explanation for why those words were “perhaps darker or thicker than some of the other notes.” Id. at SCO-3500U-018816.

The date in the January 24, 2017 Priestap notes is even more irregular — at cross-direction from his other notes on the page, and with uneven ink — and I have always wondered whether that date was added too.

And lo and behold, the Anderson notes also appear to have a sticky note right by the date (as annotated), albeit apparently a red one, though some of the tags on the Strzok notes were of a similar color. She also found aspects of her notes surprising.

Ms. Anderson’s notes (the “Anderson Notes”) include, on top, “Deputies Mtg. 9/19/16,” and then, after a redaction and under a second heading reading “9/19[/]16,” go on to state: “Sussman[n] Mtg w/ Baker” and “No specific client but group of cyber academics talked w/ him abt research,” followed by the phrase, “article this Friday – NYT/WaPo/WSJ.” Anderson Notes at SCO-3500U-000018. The relevant sentence fragment contains no subject revealing who had “[n]o specific client,” nor any other context for that phrase. Ms. Anderson, who was first asked about these notes by the Special Counsel over five years after they were written, has no meaningful memory of the notes or their context: she has only a “vague recollection” of discussing this topic with Mr. Baker and cannot “recall specifics.” Mem. of Special Counsel’s Jan. 5, 2022 Interview of T. Anderson, SCO-3500U-000087, at -88, -96. When shown the notes, Ms. Anderson stated that she had been “surprised” to learn about the “no specific client” phrase, and she “d[id] not now recall hearing from Baker his use” of that phrase; she could only assume that she got that phrase from Mr. Baker “because her notes reflect[ed] it.” Id. at -88.

Durham has only provided a partial scan of theses notes, hiding that the date, 9/19/16, appears earlier on the page, describing a different kind of meeting. That’s consistent with what the added date and the redaction on the McCabe notes did: It served to suggest that McCabe briefed the Flynn case to SSCI the day after Jim Comey was fired. Here, the September 19 date that appears next to the sticky is necessary for Durham’s case to claim that Anderson took these notes the same day of the meeting and not some time after that.

But why would Anderson date her notes twice?

According to a discovery filing in this case, Sussmann has reviewed redacted versions of the originals of the Priestap notes, which were still in the notebook Priestap took them in.

On October 13, 2021, the defense requested, among other things, to inspect the original notes that a former FBI Assistant Director of Counterintelligence took reflecting the defendant’s alleged false statement. The original notes were contained in a hard-bound notebook located at FBI Headquarters and contained extremely sensitive and highly classified information on a variety of topics and unrelated investigative matters. The Government immediately agreed to make the original notebook available to the defense in redacted form, and the defense conducted its review of the notebook on October 20, 2021.

But to test why all these notes have post-it notes on them and why the dates are so unreliable (and affirmatively misleading, in the case of the alteration in the January 5, 2017 Strzok notes), Sussmann would need to review all the notes together, probably with the assistance of the original authors.

It’s still not clear who altered the notes submitted in the Flynn docket, the extent of those alterations, or why the government is submitting exhibits with investigative stickies on them as evidence at trial. DOJ’s filing in the Flynn case blamed the misleading date on the Strzok notes on an FBI agent associated with the Jeffrey Jensen investigation (which would suggest that alteration post-dated Durham’s access to it), but it did not say who altered the McCabe notes.

But by showing that the blue sticky notes existed in Durham’s copy of the exhibits, Durham makes it clear some of the alterations exhibited in the Flynn docket happened before he shared the documents with Jensen’s investigation, if that’s how the notes got shared around.

The misleading date added to the Strzok notes ultimately was part of a packaged Trump attack on Joe Biden at the first debate, one that Sidney Powell, who has since been sanctioned for making fraudulent claims in an attempt to keep Trump in office, appears to have had a part in.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

Given that even Chuck Grassley recognized the alteration added to the Strzok notes was incorrect, it’s hard to believe that was an innocent mistake.

And yet, 18 months later, DOJ is still trying to submit notes with all these investigative sticky notes as exhibits, without explaining why or how they appeared there.

And Durham’s choice to present the Priestap notes — with what appear to be the same blue sticky as appeared on his earlier notes, as well was the the blue sticky described to have been used to alter the McCabe notes — in black-and-white suggests he may know that’s a problem.