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Horowitz

Michael Horowitz’s Credibility Is at Risk

I’m generally a fan of Michael Horowitz, DOJ’s Inspector General.

For example, unlike many people, I think the Inspector General report on Andrew McCabe makes a credible case that the Deputy Director got caught being less than fully forthcoming with the IG — though I also think McCabe’s lawsuit has merit and expect his claim that the report itself was not completed in proper fashion may prove key to that inquiry.

But yesterday’s Comey report — and the office’s continued failure to release a report on the non-Comey leaking that hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election — threatens to do grave damage to his credibility.

As I laid out in this piece at The New Republic, I think the IG Report captures the way Comey didn’t meet the standards he set for whistleblowers and Hillary Clinton over his career. I get the feeling IG staffers find Comey just as insufferable as I do!

But that’s a problem, because the case they make that Jim Comey violated FBI rules in retaining memos documenting the highly inappropriate behavior of the President is shoddy, largely because the factual findings laid out make the claim he mishandled classified information dubious and the assessment of whether he released non-public investigative material and whether his memos recorded official acts in no way supports the claims made. The IG probably could have made a solid case on the latter issue; they just didn’t.

For example, there’s the conclusion that Comey improperly disclosed Trump’s request that he drop the investigation into Michael Flynn (i.e. “I hope you can let this go”) to his friend Daniel Richman, who then told the New York Times. For the first time, the report in the second section cites Comey’s colleagues’ response to his action. “Members of Comey’s senior leadership team used the adjectives ‘surprised,’ ‘stunned,’ ‘shocked,’ and ‘disappointment’ to describe their reactions to learning that Comey acted on his own to provide the contents of Memo 4, through Richman, to a reporter.”

The report later also claims there is “no doubt” that his colleagues used those words because he violated the FBI duty to safeguard investigative matters. But if there were truly no doubt, then the report could have shown that by citing those witnesses stating that themselves. Since the report relies on this language in its analysis of two different findings, those reactions should be included, with full context, in the factual findings section.

Then there’s the report’s claim that, in releasing that same memo, Comey had revealed non-public investigative information. To back this up, the report includes two lengthy footnotes on former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates’s extensive testimony to Congress about her discussion with White House Counsel Don McGahn about Flynn—testimony that revealed a great deal about the status of the FBI’s Flynn investigation as it existed on the day she got fired. These footnotes attempt to argue that Yates’s disclosures were less substantive than Comey’s repeated references to Trump describing the calls Flynn had made to Russia’s ambassador (calls that were publicly disclosed) and insisting that Flynn had done nothing wrong. The second footnote describes that information by asserting, “Comey’s disclosure of Memo 4 provided the public with details relevant to the Flynn investigation.”

But what Yates’s testimony demonstrates is that Yates had, without objection from the Justice Department, introduced a great deal of information about the investigation into Flynn into the public record before Comey’s disclosure. Furthermore, the report cannot claim that he revealed details about the investigation itself. The actual new information that the memo disclosed was a description of how the president had, in highly unusual fashion, tried to end the investigation into Michael Flynn. The memo could only have disclosed investigative information if the president himself was being investigated—and he wasn’t yet.

The inspector general might have argued that fielding a request from the president to end an ongoing investigation is part of that investigation itself. But it tellingly does not lay out that case, instead merely claiming that such a request is “relevant” to the investigation.

Perhaps most problematically, the report provides abundant evidence of how unusual were Trump’s efforts to intervene in ongoing investigations, how his efforts broke all sorts of DOJ rules designed to protect investigative independence.

More generally, the report does not discuss whether presidential efforts to intervene in investigations, in violation of department rules about proper communication channels and chain of command, constitute the official business of the FBI director. The report does, however, lay out abundant evidence that such efforts are not normal. It quotes former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker stating that any one-on-one meetings are “quite outside the norm of interactions between the FBI Director and a President of the United States.” It describes Baker and Comey’s repeated efforts to address Trump’s direct communications: After Trump asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, the report quotes Comey as saying he “took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened—him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind—was inappropriate and should never happen.”

After Trump called Comey directly about an intelligence investigation on March 9, 2017, Comey called then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions immediately, “to keep the Attorney General in the chain of command between [Comey] and the President.” The last memo records Comey reviewing again the proper channels for the president to intervene in investigations; the report’s discussion of it notes that Comey’s chief of staff shared the details in real time with the proper chain of command.

Is this what constitutes official business? This is what the inspect general’s report would have you believe: that the president asking Comey to do things that break the FBI’s rules is part of the FBI director’s job—and hence, Comey is at fault for airing that official business to his associates and ultimately the press. The report treats a memo recording the president demanding that he “‘lift the cloud’ created by the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election” as official business, implying that Comey should have done what the president asked of him.

As the report reveals, a whistleblower provided a full copy of Comey’s memos to the IG Department. At that point, then, the IG had solid documentation of all the ways Jeff Sessions and others had failed to protect the independence of the Department.

There’s no sign the IG investigated that problem, which remains ongoing.

Instead, after months of pressure from Trump, it instead made a weak case that Comey broke the rules, without assessing all the other urgent problems revealed by the memos.

I actually don’t think the IG produced this report in response to pressure from Trump. The facts they do lay out — to the extent they lay out the facts — aren’t that supportive of Trump.

But I do think the IG presents abundant evidence of other problems at DOJ that remain pressing. And instead of focusing on those, they instead made a weak case against Jim Comey.

I don’t like Jim Comey’s sanctimony either. But given the way the IG focuses on Comey to the detriment of the other violations of DOJ process, it suggests this investigation was affected by more personal animus than anything Peter Strzok did.

Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson Waste Taxpayer Dollars Looking for Foreign Hackers the One Place They Aren’t

Last Wednesday, majority staffers for the Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees wrote Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson a memo that purports to update those Committee chairs of the status of an investigation into —  well, the purpose of the investigation is actually not clear, but ultimately it’s an investigation designed to keep hopes of finding some smoking gun in Hillary’s servers that several other investigations haven’t found, an investigation that Grassley has been pursuing for four years.

As the memo describes, the most recent steps in this “investigation” involve some interviews that were completed and all related backup documentation obtained in April, four months ago.

We pursued this issue by requesting interviews with the two ICIG officials. On December 4, 2018, your staff, along with staff from Senators Feinstein and McCaskill, interviewed ICIG employees Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian. On December 20, 2018, you transmitted a copy of an interview summary of the Majority’s questions and the witness’s answers to the ICIG for a classification review. On January 30, 2019, the ICIG provided classified and unclassified versions of the interview summary, and the Office of Senate Security redacted the classified information. On February 28, 2019, the ICIG provided documentary evidence including copies of emails and notes from meetings. On April 9, 2019, the DOJ IG and ICIG provided a summary of their findings related to these Chinese hacking allegations.

The staffers use these investigative steps, completed four months ago, to make two insinuations: that State tried to classify Hillary’s emails as deliberative rather than classified (something long known, and easily explained by the known debate over retroactive classification for the emails).

In addition, the staffers report that one but not a second Intelligence Committee Inspector General employee remarked that FBI Agents seemed non-plussed by their concerns that China had hacked Hillary. The description of that claim in the topline of the memo drops Peter Strzok’s name as its hook.

[A]ccording to one ICIG official, some members of the FBI investigative team seemed indifferent to evidence of a possible intrusion by a foreign adversary into Secretary Clinton’s non-government server. The interview summary makes clear exactly what information Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian knew regarding the alleged hack of the Clinton server, as well as the information they shared with the FBI team, including Peter Strzok, the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in charge of the Clinton investigation.

Wow, that Peter Strzok is some devious asshole, showing no concern about Hillary being hacked by a foreign government, huh? Presumably, that’s the headline the taxpayer funded staffers wanted: BREAKING Peter Strzok doesn’t care about foreign hacking or State trying to protect Hillary.

To the credit of press outlets that did cover this report, they did get what the more relevant conclusion to these documents is: After spending a year double-checking the work of the FBI, these Senate staffers found that the FBI was right when it said it had found no evidence Hillary’s server had been hacked.

What the backup actually shows is that an ICIG Inspector, Phil Rucker, found an “anomaly” while reviewing Hillary Clinton’s emails, an unknown Gmail for a company called Carter Heavy Industries in her email headers, which he thought could have been used to steal her emails as sent. At a meeting largely designed to explain the ICIG efforts to review Hillary’s email for classified information to Strzok, who had just been promoted to the DAD position at FBI a week earlier, Rucker shared what he found with Strzok and the FBI agent he had already been liaising with, Dean Chappell. The FBI already knew of it, and that same day would confirm the explanation: that tech contractor Paul Combetta had used a dummy email to copy over Hillary’s emails as he migrated Hillary’s email onto a Platte River server.

When interviewed about all this three years later, after Peter Strzok had become the villain in Donald Trump’s Deep State coup conspiracy, Rucker accused Strzok of being “aloof and dismissive” of his concerns.

Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Chappell was normal and professional as he had come to know him to be, but that he didn’t know anything about Mr. Strzok prior to the meeting. Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Strzok seemed to be “aloof and dismissive.” He said it was as if Mr. Strzok felt dismissive of the relationship between the FBI and ICIG and he was not very warm. He said that Mr. Strzok didn’t ask many questions including any about SAP related issues. He said the meeting lasted approximately 30 to 60 minutes and that only people from the FBI attended; there were no employees from DOJ. Mr. Rucker said that he knows that an FBI attorney was present, but he cannot remember the person’s name or even whether it was a man or a woman.

[snip]

Mr. Rucker said that he discussed SAP with the FBI. He said he discussed another of Secretary Clinton’s emails that they were never able to quite figure out. He said he verbally presented this information to Mr. Strzok which lasted only for a minute or so. He said that he doesn’t think he mentioned Carter Heavy Industries by name, but only the appearance of a Gmail address that seemed odd. He said that Mr. Strzok seemed “nonplused” by the info, and that he didn’t ask any follow-up questions. He said that Mr. Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery and he felt like Mr. Chappell was walling Mr. Rucker off intentionally as an investigator would, to protect the investigation.

That last detail — that Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery — is key. In fact, the emails sent in advance of the February 18, 2016 meeting reveal that several weeks earlier, Rucker had already shared this anomaly with Chappell, and Chappell had told him then that he already knew about it.

Along with making accusations about Strzok, Rucker changed his story about how strongly he believed that he had found something significant. The day before Chappell told him the FBI was already aware of the email, Rucker had emailed him that the anomaly was probably nothing.

Additionally, he wanted me to run something that I found in my research of the email metadata past you or someone on the team. It’s probably nothing, but we would rather be safe than sorry.

But when interviewed last year by Senate staffers seeking more evidence against Strzok, Rucker claimed that until a news report explained the anomaly in 2018, he had 90% confidence he had found evidence that China had hacked Hillary’s home server, and still had 80% confidence after learning the FBI had explained it.

Rucker: Mr. Rucker said that he didn’t find any evidence in the remainder of the email review they conducted, but that based on the subpoena issued by the FBI in June 2016 which he learned about this year through a news article, it decreased his confidence level from 90% to 80%.

Meanwhile, the one other ICIG employee interviewed last year, Jeanette McMillan, described what Rucker claimed was dismissiveness as adopting a poker face.

[T]hey provided the information to Mr. Strzok who found it strange. Even before their meeting with Mr. Strzok, Dean Chappell of the FBI informed them that he was aware of the Carter Heavy Industries email address. She said that she doesn’t know whether Mr. Chappell knew before they dropped off the original packet in January 2016, or if he learned of it afterward. News of this email address being found on Secretary Clinton’s emails wasn’t shocking to them, she said, but they took It seriously.

[snip]

[T]he FBI employees in attendance were “poker faced.”

In other words, what the backup released last week actually shows is a tremendous waste of time trying to second guess what the FBI learned with the backing of subpoenas and other investigative tools. To cover over this waste of time, Grassley and Johnson instead pitch this as a shift in their investigation, this time to examine claims that Strzok wasn’t concerned about State arguing that emails weren’t classified (and probably an attempt to examine the document, believed to be a fake, suggesting Loretta Lynch would take care of the Hillary Clinton investigation).

Staff from the Intelligence Community Inspector General’s office (ICIG) witnessed efforts by senior Obama State Department officials to downplay the volume of classified emails that transited former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized server, according to a summary of a bipartisan interview with Senate investigators.

In fact, in the “summary” released, McMillan told Senate investigators that, “If anything, there were problems at State with upgrading of information,” exactly the opposite of what Grassley and Johnson claim in their press release.

And that word — summary — should raise a lot of questions. It’s not a transcript; in most cases, the report is a paraphrase of what the witnesses said. Moreover, it’s only a “summary” of what Majority staffers asked. Minority staff questions were not included at all, as best demonstrated by this nearly hour-long gap in the “summary.”

Because of the way Grassley brought this “investigation” with him when he assumed the Chairmanship of the Finance Committee, this release — from Chuck Grassley as Finance Committee Chair and Ron Johnson as Homeland Security Chair — effectively did not involve the Ranking members of the committees that did the work — Dianne Feinstein as Judiciary Ranking member and Claire McCaskill as HSGAC Ranking member.

To put what a colossal misuse of taxpayer funds this is, consider, first of all, that Grassley has been pursuing this for over four years.

Last fall, Majority staffers actually asked Rucker how ICIG came to be involved in the Hillary investigation.

How did ICIG come to be involved with the Secretary Clinton email investigation?

Rucker: – Mr. Rucker said ·that on March 12, 2015, the Senate sent a letter to ICIG requesting assistance regarding a Russian hacker who allegedly broken into Sidney Blumenthal’s email account. He said that the Sidney Blumenthal emails looked legitimate and were not at the SSRP level. He said that [redacted], a former CIA employee who worked with Blumenthal, was the author of most of the material. That was determined in part, he said, based on his writing style. Shortly after wards, he said, ICIG received another Senate request for assistance, this timein relation to the email practices of several former Secretaries of State including Secretary Clinton. He said that through ICIG, he was brought in to assist State in reviewing the email information in June 2015.

But they knew the answer to that. As their own staffers tacitly reminded Grassley and Johnson, Grassley has been pursuing this since 2015.

Your investigation began in March 2015 with an initial focus on whether State Department officials were aware of Secretary Clinton’s private server and the associated national security risks, as well as whether State Department officials attempted to downgrade classified material within emails found on that server. For example, in August 2015, Senator Grassley wrote to the State Department about reports that State Department FOIA specialists believed some of Secretary Clinton’s emails should be subject to the (b)(1), “Classified Information” exemption whereas attorneys within the Office of the Legal Advisor preferred to use the (b)(5), “Deliberative Process” exemption. Whistleblower career employees within the State Department also reportedly notified the Intelligence Community that others at State involved in the review process deliberately changed classification determinations to protect Secretary Clinton.1 Your inquiry later extended to how the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) managed their investigation of the mishandling of classified information.

That means that this effort — to misrepresent an interview conducted in December as a way to introduce new (and obviously bogus) allegations against Strzok — is a continuation of Barbara Ledeen’s efforts to prove some foreign government had hacked Hillary’s home server, as laid out in the Mueller Report.

Ledeen began her efforts to obtain the Clinton emails before Flynn’s request, as early as December 2015.268 On December 3, 2015, she emailed Smith a proposal to obtain the emails, stating, “Here is the proposal I briefly mentioned to you. The person I described to you would be happy to talk with you either in person or over the phone. The person can get the emails which 1. Were classified and 2. Were purloined by our enemies. That would demonstrate what needs to be demonstrated.”269

Attached to the email was a 25-page proposal stating that the “Clinton email server was, in all likelihood, breached long ago,” and that the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian intelligence services could “re-assemble the server’s email content.”270 The proposal called for a three-phase approach. The first two phases consisted of open-source analysis. The third phase consisted of checking with certain intelligence sources “that have access through liaison work with various foreign services” to determine if any of those services had gotten to the server. The proposal noted, “Even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign[.]” Smith forwarded the email to two colleagues and wrote, “we can discuss to whom it should be referred.”271 On December 16, 2015, Smith informed Ledeen that he declined to participate in her “initiative.” According to one of Smith’s business associates, Smith believed Ledeen’s initiative was not viable at that time.272

[snip]

In September 2016, Smith and Ledeen got back in touch with each other about their respective efforts. Ledeen wrote to Smith, “wondering if you had some more detailed reports or memos or other data you could share because we have come a long way in our efforts since we last visited … . We would need as much technical discussion as possible so we could marry it against the new data we have found and then could share it back to you ‘your eyes only.'”282

Ledeen claimed to have obtained a trove of emails (from what she described as the “dark web”) that purported to be the deleted Clinton emails. Ledeen wanted to authenticate the emails and solicited contributions to fund that effort. Erik Prince provided funding to hire a tech advisor to ascertain the authenticity of the emails. According to Prince, the tech advisor determined that the emails were not authentic.283

Remember, Ledeen was willing to reach out to hostile foreign intelligence services to find out if they had hacked Hillary, and she joined an effort that was trawling the Dark Web to find stolen emails. She did that not while employed in an oppo research firm like Fusion GPS, funded indirectly by a political campaign, but while being paid by US taxpayers.

Chuck Grassley is now Chair of the Finance Committee, the Committee that should pursue new transparency rules to make it easier to track foreign interference via campaign donations. Ron Johnson is and has been Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, from which legislation to protect elections from foreign hackers should arise.

Rather than responding to the real hacks launched by adversaries against our democracy, they’re still trying to find evidence of a hack where there appears to have been none, four years later.

Update: For some reason I counted 2015-2019 as five years originally. That has been fixed.

On Same Day Peter Strzok Sues for His Termination, Judicial Watch Releases Mostly Redacted List of FBI Leakers

Peter Strzok is suing the Attorney General, FBI Director, and DOJ for his termination, arguing two key things. First, the government overrode the decision of OPR Assistant Director Candice Will, who should have been the “deciding official.” He’a also arguing that the decision came as a result of relentless pressure from the President and with evidence of bias.

To demonstrate bias, Strzok notes that Trump has not responded even when people — he points to Kellyanne Conway but notes she’s just one of numerous examples — who has been found to violate the Hatch Act.

The Trump Administration has consistently tolerated and even encouraged partisan political speech by federal employees, as long as this speech praises President Trump and attacks his political adversaries. For example, President Trump rejected the recommendation of his own Office of Special Counsel that advisor Kellyanne Conway be removed from her job for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act by attacking former Vice President Biden and publicly advocating for and against various U.S. Senate candidates. When asked about the OSC’s recommendation, Mrs. Conway responded “blah, blah, blah…If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

But he also claims that “no actions have been taken” against the FBI Agents who showed bias against Hillary Clinton during the election, not even those who leaked negative information about her.

During the Trump Administration this viewpoint discrimination has infected the FBI as well. While Special Agent Strzok and others who expressed negative opinions of President Trump have been subject to administrative punishments of various degrees of severity, no actions have been taken against agents who expressed harsh criticism of Secretary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, or those in the New York Field Office who leaked negative information about Secretary Clinton to the Trump campaign in the weeks before the election.

I’ve long noted that if Democrats asked DOJ Inspector General for an investigation specifically focused on bias against Hillary Clinton, it would elicit a specific report, which would make it very clear Trump was — if anything — treated better by the FBI than Hillary was.

That’s a failure of the Democrats in Congress.

That said, today Judicial Watch released the results of a FOIA (they often sit on releasing FOIAs for political gain) into the results of FBI OPR investigations of Agents who leak information, hoping to focus attention on Andrew McCabe’s termination.

The FOIA makes it clear that Jeff Sessions made the decision to fire McCabe. (Strzok’s suit notes that Deputy Director David Bowdich — McCabe’s replacement — made the decision to fire Strzok.)

The FOIA shows there were just 14 referrals to OPR for leaking, a number of which would be too early for anything coming out of an investigation into NY Field Office leaking. Those referrals include the leaking of Grand Jury, law enforcement sensitive, or classified information (4.9) and leaking of sensitive information, which is what McCabe got fired for (4.10).

The only other people who were fired like McCabe were also referred for lack of candor, not under oath and/or under oath.

That says, even if any of the behavior parallel to Strzok’s did get referred, no one was fired unless they lied (and he did not lie).

At the very least, Strzok’s claim that no one from NY Field Office has been similarly treated as he has may get him to discovery. And that may, in turn, do what the Democrats have not done: show that there was far more bias and leaking against Hillary, but that none of those people have been chased out of the FBI.

Questions for Robert Mueller (and His Prosecutors) that Go Beyond the Show

I generally loathe the questions that people are drafting for Robert Mueller’s July 17 testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, largely because those questions are designed for a circus and not to learn information that’s useful for understanding the Mueller investigation. Here are the questions I’d ask instead (I’ll update these before Mueller testifies).

  1. Can you describe how you chose which “links between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” to focus your investigation on?
  2. The warrants released in Michael Cohen’s case and other public materials show that your grand jury conducted investigations of people before Rod Rosenstein formally expanded the scope to include them in October 2017. Can you explain the relationship between investigative steps and the Rosenstein scope memos?
  3. Lisa Page has explained that in its initial phase, the investigation into Trump’s aides was separate from the larger investigation(s) into Russian interference. But ultimately, your office indicted Russians in both the trolling and the hack-and-leak conspiracies. How and when did those parts of DOJ’s investigation get integrated under SCO?
  4. An FD-302 memorializing a July 19, 2017 interview with Peter Strzok was released as part of Mike Flynn’s sentencing. Can you describe what the purpose of this interview was? How did the disclosure of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page affect the recording (or perceived credibility) of this interview? Strzok was interviewed before that disclosure, but the 302 was not finalized until he had been removed from your team. Did his removal cause any delay in finalizing this 302?
  5. At the beginning of the investigation, your team investigated the criminal conduct of subjects unrelated to ties with Russia (for example, Paul Manafort’s ties with Ukraine, Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey). Did the approach of the investigation change later in the process to immediately refer such issues to other offices (for example, Michael Cohen’s hush payments and graft)? If the approach changed, did your team or Rod Rosenstein drive this change? Is the Mystery Appellant related to a country other than Russia?
  6. Did your integration of other prosecutors (generally from DC USAO) into your prosecution teams stem from a resourcing issue or a desire to ensure continuity? What was the role of the three prosecutors who were just detailees to your team?
  7. Your report describes how FBI personnel shared foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information with the rest of FBI. For more than a year, FBI agents were embedded with your team for this purpose. Were these agents focused just on Russian activities, or did their focus include the actions of other countries and Americans? If their focus included Americans, did it include Trump associates? Did it include Trump himself?
  8. Can you describe the relationship between your GRU indictment and the WDPA one focused on the WADA hacks, and the relationship between your IRA indictment and the complaint against a Yevgeniy Prigozhin employee in EDVA? Can you describe the relationship between the Maria Butina prosecution and your investigation?
  9. Do you regret charging Concord Management in the IRA indictment? Do you have any insight on how indictments against Russian and other state targets should best be used?
  10. In discussions of Paul Manafort’s plea deal that took place as part of his breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann revealed that prosecutors didn’t vet his testimony as they would other cooperators. What led to this lack of vetting? Did the timing of the election and the potential impact Manafort’s DC trial might have play into the decision?
  11. What communication did you receive from whom in response to the BuzzFeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s false testimony? How big an impact did that communication have on the decision to issue a correction?
  12. Did Matt Whitaker prevent you from describing Donald Trump specifically in Roger Stone’s indictment? Did you receive any feedback — from Whitaker or anyone else — for including a description of Trump in the Michael Cohen plea?
  13. Did Whitaker, Bill Barr, or Rosenstein weigh in on whether Trump should or could be subpoenaed? If so what did they say? Did any of the three impose time constraints that would have prevented you from subpoenaing the President?
  14. Multiple public reports describe Trump allies (possibly including Mike Flynn or his son) expressing certainty that Barr would shut down your investigation once he was confirmed. Did this happen? Can you describe what happened at the March 5, 2019 meeting where Barr was first briefed? Was that meeting really the first time you informed Rosenstein you would not make a determination on obstruction?
  15. You “ended” your investigation on March 22, at a time when at least two subpoena fights (Andrew Miller and Mystery Appellant) were ongoing. You finally resigned just minutes before Andrew Miller agreed to cooperate on May 29. Were these subpoenas for information critical to your investigation?
  16. If Don Jr told you he would invoke the Fifth if subpoenaed by the grand jury, would that fact be protected by grand jury secrecy? Are you aware of evidence you received involving the President’s son that would lead him to be less willing to testify to your prosecutors than to congressional committees? Can congressional committees obtain that information?
  17. Emin Agalarov canceled a concert tour to avoid subpoena in your investigation. Can you explain efforts to obtain testimony from this key player in the June 9 meeting? What other people did you try to obtain testimony from regarding the June 9 meeting?
  18. Did your investigation consider policy actions taken while Trump was President, such as Trump’s efforts to overturn Russian sanctions or his half-hearted efforts to comply with Congressional mandates to impose new ones?
  19. Can you describe how you treated actions authorized by Article II authority — such as the conduct of foreign policy, including sanctions, and the awarding of pardons — in your considerations of any criminal actions by the President?
  20. The President did not answer any questions about sanctions, even the one regarding discussions during the period of the election. Do you have unanswered questions about the role of sanctions relief and the Russian interference effort?
  21. Your report doesn’t include several of the most alarming interactions between Trump and Russia. It mentions how he told Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak he had fired Comey because of the Russian investigation, but did not mention that he shared classified Israeli intelligence at the meeting. Your report doesn’t mention the conversations Trump had with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Hamburg, including one pertaining to “adoptions,” while he was working on the June 9 meeting. The report doesn’t mention the Helsinki meeting. Did your investigation consider these interactions with Russia? If not, are you aware of another part of the government that did scrutinize these events?
  22. Why did you include Trump’s efforts to mislead the public about the June 9 meeting when it didn’t fit your team’s own terms for obstructive acts?
  23. You generally do not name the Trump lawyers who had discussions, including about pardons, with subjects of the investigation. How many different lawyers are described in your report to have had such discussions?
  24. You asked — but the President provided only a partial answer — whether he had considered issuing a pardon for Julian Assange prior to the inauguration. Did you investigate the public efforts — including by Roger Stone — to pardon Assange during Trump’s Administration?
  25. The cooperation addendum in Mike Flynn’s case reveals that he participated in discussions about reaching out to WikiLeaks in the wake of the October 7 Podesta releases. But that does not appear in the unredacted parts of your report. Is the entire scope of the campaign’s interactions with WikiLeaks covered in the Roger Stone indictment?
  26. Hope Hicks has claimed to be unaware of a strategy to coordinate the WikiLeaks releases, yet even the unredacted parts of the report make it clear there was a concerted effort to optimize the releases. Is this a difference in vocabulary? Does it reflect unreliability on the part of Hicks’ testimony? Or did discussions of WikiLeaks remain partially segregated from the communications staff of the campaign?
  27. How many witnesses confirmed knowing of conversations between Roger Stone and Donald Trump about WikiLeaks’ upcoming releases?
  28. The President’s answers regarding the Trump Tower Moscow match the false story for which Michael Cohen pled guilty, meaning the President, in his sworn answers, provided responses you have determined was a false story. After Cohen pled guilty, the President and his lawyer made public claims that are wholly inconsistent with his sworn written answer to you. You offered him an opportunity to clean up his sworn answer, but he did not. Do you consider the President’s current answer on this topic to be a lie?
  29. Did Trump Organization provide all the emails pertaining to the Trump Tower Moscow deal before you subpoenaed the organization in early 2018? Did they provide those emails in response to that subpoena?
  30. In his answers to your questions, President Trump claimed that you received “an email from a Sergei Prikhodko, who identified himself as Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation … inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.” But the footnotes to your discussion of that exchange describe no email. Did your team receive any email? Does the public record — showing that Trump never signed the declination letter to that investigation — show that Trump did not decline that invitation?

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Mike Flynn Assumed the FBI Agents Interviewing Him Would Be Trump Supporters

Several times in the interview recounting the early aspects of the Russia investigation, Peter Strzok made it clear that Flynn felt comfortable with FBI Agents. Strzok said Flynn was “unguarded” and “relaxed and jocular.” He “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.” That’s consistent with a guy who — according to his own sentence memo — “had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security.”

But there’s a part of the newly unsealed 302 that makes clear an assumption Flynn clearly had. In describing what he should be pretty ashamed being caught in — clandestine meetings with foreign leaders — he explains why he and Jared Kushner had a meeting at which Kushner asked for a back channel to the Russians.

Flynn explained that other meetings between the TRUMP team and various foreign leaders took place prior to the inauguration, and were sensitive inasmuch as many countries did not want the then-current administration to know about them. There were no personal relationship between the leaders of many countries and the prior administration. FLYNN stated that he and personnel from the incoming administration met with many countries “to set expectations for them, and the expectations were set very high.”

This is a campaign speech, not an interview with the FBI. In it, he implicitly badmouths the guy whom he had worked for for six years (though who,  of course, fired Flynn).

More tellingly though, he assumed he could give this campaign speech to FBI Agents who were interviewing him about being caught undercutting the prior Administration’s efforts to hold an adversarial government accountable. He appears to have assumed they’d be cool with that.

In short, Flynn assumed he was being interviewed by partisan Republicans.

That’s telling, not just because the current Attorney General is certain that any bias in 2016 went against Trump (when there’s abundant evidence that FBI agents, including those investigating Hillary, were none too fond of her). It’s ironic because it means Mike Flynn regarded Peter Strzok — accused endlessly of anti-Trump bias — of someone who’d sympathize with his snide comments about the Obama Administration.

Update: Finally fixed the prior/incoming problem in my transcription. Thanks for your patience!

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

If FBI Had Spied on Trump’s Campaign As Alleged, They’d Have Known Why Manafort Traded Michigan for Ukraine

If the FBI had spied on Trump’s campaign as aggressively as alleged by Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, then Robert Mueller would have been able to determine why Trump’s campaign manager had a meeting on August 2, 2016 to discuss how to get paid (or have debt forgiven) by Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs while discussing how to win Midwestern swing states and how to carve up Ukraine. In fact, the public record suggests that the FBI did not start obtaining criminal warrants on Manafort’s election year activities until the July 25, 2017 warrant authorizing the search of Manafort’s condo, which was the first known warrant obtained on Manafort that mentioned the June 9 meeting. A mid-August warrant authorizing a search of the business email via which Manafort often communicated with Konstantin Kilimnik is probably the first one investigating that August 2 meeting (as distinct from his years of undisclosed Ukrainian foreign influence peddling).

In other words, it took a full year after the Steele dossier first alleged that Paul Manafort was coordinating on the Russian election interference operation, and over a year after he offered Oleg Deripaska private briefings on the Trump campaign, before the FBI obtained a criminal warrant investigating the several known instances where Trump’s campaign manager did discuss campaign details with Russians.

While there are definitely signs that the government has parallel constructed the communications between Kilimnik and Manafort that covered the period during which he was on the campaign (meaning, they’ve obtained communications via both SIGINT collection and criminal process to hide the collection of the former), it seems highly unlikely they would have obtained campaign period communications in real time, given the FBI’s slow discovery and still incomplete understanding of Manafort’s campaign period activities. And the public record offers little certainty about when if ever Manafort — as opposed to Kilimnik who, as a foreigner overseas, was a legitimate target for EO 12333 collection, and would have been first targeted in the existing Ukraine-related investigation — was targeted under FISA directly.

All the while Manafort was on a crime spree, engaging in a quid pro quo with banker Steve Calk to get million dollar loans to ride out his debt crisis and lying to the government in an attempt to hide the extent of his ties with Viktor Yanukovych’s party.

Similarly, by all appearances the FBI remained ignorant of one of George Papadopoulos’ dodgy Russian interlocutors until after his second interview on February 16, 2017, suggesting they not only hadn’t obtained a FISA order covering him, but they hadn’t even done basic criminal process to collect the Facebook call records that would have identified Ivan Timofeev. Papadopoulos told Congress that when the FBI first interviewed him in January 2017, they knew of his extensive Israeli ties, but the asymmetry in the FBI’s understanding of Papadopoulos’ ties suggests it may have come from spying on the Israelis rather than targeting Papadopoulos himself.

Those are a few of the details illustrated by a detailed timeline of the known investigative steps taken against Trump’s associates. The details comport with a claim from Peter Strzok that he lost an argument on August 15, 2016, about whether they should pursue counterintelligence investigations of Trump Associates as aggressively as they normally would. The overt details of the investigation, at least, are consistent with Attorney General William Barr’s May 1, 2019 observation that the investigation into Trump’s associates was “anemic” at first.

The timeline does suggest that one of Trump’s associates may have been investigated more aggressively than he otherwise might have been, given the known facts. That person was Michael Cohen, whom the dossier alleged had played a central role in negotiations with Russia and even — the last, most suspect dossier report claimed — had paid hackers.

Cohen, of course, was never formally part of the campaign.

But even there, Cohen was not under investigation yet at the time Richard Burr shared the targets of the investigation with the White House on March 16, 2017 (at that point, only Roger Stone had been added to Carter Page, Papadopoulos, Manafort, and Mike Flynn, who are believed to be the four initial subjects).

In the days after Robert Mueller was appointed on May 17, 2017, the investigation might still not have amounted to anything, even in spite of Trump’s reaction, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’ m fucked.” The next day, after all, Peter Strzok (who had been involved in the investigation from the start) said, “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.” And less than a month later, Lisa Page appears to have suggested to Strzok that the FBI hadn’t decided whether Agents on Mueller’s team would be able to use 702 data — something that, in normal national security investigations, Agents can access at the assessment level.

But by June 21, Mueller was investigating Cohen’s Essential Consulting bank account — the one from which he paid hush payments to Stormy Daniels — because it appeared he was accepting big payments from Viktor Vekselberg, perhaps in conjunction with a plan Felix Sater pitched him on Ukranian peace. At first, Mueller got a preservation order on his Trump Organization emails. But then on July 18 — shortly after Mueller got a preservation order for all of Trump Organization emails in the wake of the June 9 meeting disclosure — Mueller got a warrant for Cohen’s emails, which set off an investigation into whether Cohen had been an unregistered foreign agent for any of a number of countries.

The investigation into the Essential Consulting account would lead the SDNY to charge him in the hush payments. And the collection on Cohen’s Trump Organization emails — collected directly from Microsoft instead of obtained via voluntary production — that would disclose the Trump Tower Moscow plan that Trump lied and lied and lied about.

Only after Mueller started ratcheting up the investigation against Cohen did Mueller first get a warrant on Roger Stone, in August 2017. That’s one of the two investigations (the other being Manafort) that remains ongoing.

Meanwhile, every one of these targets continued to engage in suspect if not criminal behavior. Manafort went on a crime spree to hide his paymasters, stay afloat long enough to re-engage them, and in January 2017 even tried to “recreate [his] old friendship” with Oleg Deripaska. Carter Page went to Moscow in December 2016 and claimed to be speaking on behalf of Trump with regards to Ukrainian deals. Papadopoulos considered a deal with Sergei Millian worth $30,000 a month while working at the White House, starting the day after the election, something even he thought might be illegal (but about which he didn’t call the FBI). Mike Flynn continued to try to implicate Hillary Clinton in his efforts to get Fethullah Gulen arrested on behalf of his secret foreign paymasters, all while getting intelligence briefings. And Cohen moved to collect on reimbursements for the illegal campaign donations he made to silence some of Trump’s former sex partners.

This is just the public record, presented in warrant applications being progressively unsealed by media outlets in court dockets. There may be an entirely asynchronistic counterintelligence investigation conducted using intelligence authorities. Though given the FBI’s actions, it seems highly unlikely, given their apparent ignorance of key details, that’s the case.

Which is to say that the public record supports Peter Strzok’s claims that the investigation lagged what a normal counterintelligence investigation might have. And all the while the investigation slowly moved to uncover the secrets that George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn and Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort and (allegedly) Roger Stone lied to cover up, those men continued to engage in sketchy behavior, adding more reason to pursue the investigation.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Timeline

March 2016: Start date on spreadsheet of communications between Konstantin Kilimnik and Paul Manafort (possible parallel construction, though available portions of chart do not show whether contacts include phone calls).

April 26, 2016: Joseph Mifsud tells George Papadopoulos the Russians have Hillary emails that will be damaging to her that they plan to release to help Trump.

May 6, 2016: Papadopoulos speaks to Downer aide Erica Thompson; this is the day the Mueller Report says Papadopoulos first shared news that the Russians had emails.

May 10, 2016: Papadopoulos tells Alexander Downer some of what Mifsud told him.

June 14, 2016: DNC announces Russia has hacked them.

June 15, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 claims credit for the DNC hack.

June – July 2016: Facebook provides FBI two warnings about GRU using social media to conduct an espionage operation.

July 1, 2016: Christoper Steele writes Bruce Ohr email about “our favorite business tycoon,” referring to Oleg Deripaska, part of an effort to pitch Deripaska as a source to the US.

July 7, 2016: Via email, Paul Manafort offers private briefings on the campaign for Oleg Deripaska.

July 19, 2016: Steele dossier allegations about Carter Page trip to Moscow

July 25, 2016: Stone gets BCCed on an email from Charles Ortel that shows James Rosen reporting “a massive dump of HRC emails relating to the CF in September;” Stone now claims this explains his reference to a journalist go-between. Stone emails Jerome Corsi and tells him, “Get to [Assange]. At Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending Wikileaks emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.” Corsi forwards that email to Ted Malloch.

July 27: Paul Manafort struggles while denying ties to Russia, instead pointing to Hillary’s home server.

July 27, 2016: In a press conference, candidate Trump:

  • Asks Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails
  • Lies about having ongoing business discussions with Russia
  • Suggests he may have ordered someone to reach out to foreign countries (which he seems to have done with Flynn)
  • Suggests he’s considering recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea

Both before and after this press conference, Trump asked aides — including Flynn and Gates, and probably Stone to go find the emails.

July 28, 2016: Paul Manafort gets a refinance in exchange for a campaign position for Steve Calk; this has led to a criminal conviction for Manafort and a bribery charge for Calk.

July 30, August 1, 2016: Papadopoulos and Sergei Millian meet in NYC; Millian invites Papadopoulos to two energy conferences.

Before July 30, 2016: First Steele dossier allegation that Manafort managed cooperation with Russia.

July 30: Bruce and Nellie Ohr meet with Christopher Steele; they talk about two claims from dossier, that “a former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, had stated to someone…that they had Donald Trump over a barrel,” and that Carter Page had met with high level Russians while in Moscow. They also discuss Oleg Deripaska’s efforts to get evidence Manafort owes him money (though not, according to Ohr’s notes, the claim that Manafort was coordinating an election-year operation with Russia) and Russian doping. Ohr passes the information on to Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page.

July 31, 2016: FBI opens investigation into Papadopoulos and others based on Australian tip.

July 31, 2016: GAI report on From Russia with Money claiming Viktor Vekselberg’s Skolkovo reflects untoward ties; it hints that a greater John Podesta role would be revealed in her deleted emails and claims he did  not properly disclose role on Joule board when joining Obama Administration. Stone emails Corsi, “Call me MON,” and tells him to send Malloch to see Assange.

August 1, 2016: Steve Bannon and Peter Schweitzer publish a Breitbart version of the GAI report.

August 2, 2016: Paul Manafort meets with Konstantin Kilimnik to talk 1) how the campaign plans to win MI, WI, PA, and MN 2) how to carve up Ukraine 3) how to get paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. Corsi writes Stone, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”

August 4, 2016: Stone flip-flops on whether the Russians or a 400 pound hacker are behind the DNC hack and also tells Sam Nunberg he dined with Julian Assange.

August 5, 2016: Manafort puts Calk on an advisory committee. Stone column in Breitbart claiming Guccifer 2.0 is individual hacker. Page texts Strzok that, “the White House is running this,” which is a reference to the larger Russian active measures investigation.

August 7, 2016: Stone starts complaining about a “rigged” election, claims that Nigel Farage had told him Brexit had been similarly rigged.

August 8, 2016: CrowdStrike report on hack of Democrats (referred to here).

August 10, 2016: Steele dossier reports on Mike Flynn RT meeting that had already been publicly reported.

August 12, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 publicly tweets Stone.

August 10, 2016: Manafort tells his tax preparer that he would get $2.4 million in earned income collectable from work in Ukraine in November.

August 14, 2016: NYT publishes story on secret ledgers. Corsi would later claim (falsely) to have started research in response to NYT story.

August 15, 2016: Papadopoulos follows up with Sam Clovis about a September 2016 meeting with Russia. Manafort and Gates lie to the AP about their undisclosed lobbying, locking in claims they would make under oath later that fall. In response to NYT story on Manafort’s graft, Stone tweets, “@JohnPodesta makes @PaulManafort look like St. Thomas Aquinas Where is the @NewYorkTimes?” Strzok loses an argument with McCabe and Page about aggressively investigating the Trump leads; afterwards he texts Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….”

August 17, 2016: Trump’s first intelligence briefing. While working as an unregistered agent of Turkey, Mike Flynn accompanies Trump to his intelligence briefing.

August 17, 2016: AP publishes story on Manafort’s unreported Ukraine lobbying, describing Podesta Group’s role at length.

August 19, 2016: Paul Manafort resigns from campaign in part because he was not forthright about his ties to Russia/Ukraine.

August 21, 2016: Roger Stone tweets, it will soon be Podestas’ time in the barrel.

August 23, 2016: Sergei Millian offers Papadopoulos “a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”

August 24, 2016: CrowdStrike report on hack of Democrats (referred to here).

September 1, 2016: Stefan Halper meets with Sam Clovis.

September 2, 2016: Halper reaches out to Papadopoulos. Lisa Page texts Peter Strzok that “POTUS wants to know everything we are doing;” per her sworn testimony, the text is a reference to the larger Russian investigation.

September 12: Following further reporting in the Kyiv Post, Konstantin Kilimnik contacts Alex Van der Zwaan in attempt to hide money laundering to Skadden Arps.

September 13, 2016: DOJ starts inquiring about Manafort obligation to register under FARA.

September 13-15, 2016: Papadopoulos meets with Stefan Halper and Azra Turk in London. He believes Halper records his answer to the emails question, including his remark it would “treason.”

Mid-September: FBI has opened sub-inquiries into Page and (probably) three other people linked to Trump, including Papadopoulos and probably Manafort and Flynn.

September 19, 2016: As part of his work for Turkey, Flynn meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish Energy Minister (and Erdogan son-in-law) Berat Albayrak to discuss how to get Fethullah Gulen extradited. After meeting, James Woolsey informs Joe Biden.

September 24, 2016: Trump campaign severs all ties with Carter Page because of his suspect ties to Russia.

Early October 2016: Trump campaign dismisses Papadopoulos in response to Russian-friendly Interfax interview he did.

October 6, 2016: Corsi repeats the Joule/GAI claims.

October 7,  2016: Manafort gets Calk to increase the loan still further. WikiLeaks begins releasing Podesta emails right after Access Hollywood video drops. Steve Bannon associate tells Stone, “well done.”

October 11, 2016: Release of Podesta email allegedly backing Joule story (December 31, 2013 resignation letterJanuary 7, 2014 severance letters).

October 14, 2016: While working as unregistered agent of Turkey, Flynn plans to launch FBI investigation into Fethulah Gulen by alleging ties to Clinton Foundation and Campaign.

October 17, 2016: Michael Cohen forms Essential Consultants LLC.

October 18, 19, 20, 2016: Steele dossier reports on Michael Cohen role in operation.

October 21, 2016: DOJ applies for FISA order on Carter Page (Jim Comey and Sally Yates approve it). Manafort emails Kushner proposing to call Clinton “the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment” based on using WikiLeaks’ leaks. “Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way – by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members.”

October 26, 2016: Cohen opens bank account for Essential Consultants, claiming it will be for his consulting with domestic clients, uses it to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 to prevent her from sharing true information about Trump.

October 30, 2016: Giorgi Rtslchiladze texts Michael Cohen to tell him he has stopped the flow of some compromising tapes in Moscow.

November 5, 2016: Manafort predicted Hillary would respond to a loss by, “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”

November 8, 2016: Mike Flynn publishes op-ed for which Turkey paid almost $600,000, without disclosure, thereby serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign government; Steve Calk approves $9.5 million to Manafort he knew wasn’t backed by underwriting. Michael Cohen starts contacting Andrew Intrater regularly.

November 9, 2016: Papadopoulos arranges to meet Millian to discuss business opportunities with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”

November 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump against picking Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor; Mike Flynn gets his third payment for working as an unregistered agent of Turkey.

November 11, 2016: Calk asks his loan officer to call Manafort to find out if he’s under consideration for Secretary of Treasury.

November 14, 2016: Calk gives Manafort a list of potential roles in the Trump Administration; Manafort claims he is “involved directly” in the Transition; Papadopoulos and Millian meet in Chicago. Carter Page applies for a job in the Administration.

November 16, 2016: Calk’s bank closes on Manafort’s loan.

November 18, 2016: Elijah Cummings warns Mike Pence about Mike Flynn.

November 30, 2016: Manafort asks Jared Kushner to get Calk appointed Secretary of the Army, in response to which Kushner said he was “on it!”

December 8, 2016: Kilimnik raises plan to carve up Ukraine again in (probably foldered) email to Manafort; he also reports, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine.”

December 13, 2016: Steele dossier reports Michael Cohen contributed money for hackers.

December 15, 2016: Manafort arranges Calk interview for Under Secretary of the Army.

December 22, 2016: Calk directs his loan officer to approve a further $6.5 million loan to Manafort because he’s “influential.”

December 29, 2016: Flynn convinces Kislyak to hold off on retaliating for sanctions.

December 31, 2016: Kislyak tells Flynn they’ve held off because of Trump’s wishes.

January 3, 2017: Loretta Lynch approves procedures authorizing the sharing of NSA EO 12333 data with other intelligence agencies.

January 4, 2017: Manafort signs new $6.5 million loan.

January 5, 2017: IC briefs Obama on Russian investigation; possible unmasking of Flynn’s name in Sergei Kislyak transcripts in attempt to learn why Russians changed their response to sanctions.

January 6, 2017: Comey, James Clapper, John Brennan, and Mike Rogers brief Trump on Russian investigation.

January 10, 2017: Calk interviews for Under Secretary of the Army job. Intrater emails Cohen about the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, referencing Victor Vekselberg.

January 12, 2017: Manafort in Madrid at meeting set up by Kilimnik and Boyarkin to “recreate old friendship” with Deripaska; Manafort stated that “need this finished before Jan. 20.”

January 12, 2017: DOJ applies for FISA reauthorization on Carter Page (Jim Comey and Sally Yates approve it).

Before January 15, 2017: Steve Bannon would have been picked up on a FISA intercept targeting Carter Page telling him not to do an appearance on MSNBC.

January 19, 2017: In NYT report that Manafort investigation relies on foreign intercepts (without specifying whether he or others are targeted), he denies the kinds of meetings he had a week earlier. Stone has (probably erroneously) pointed to mention of his name in article to claim he was targeted under FISA.

January 20, 2017: In conjunction with inauguration, Manafort meets with Ukrainian oligarchs and Papadopoulos parties with Millian.

January 24, 2017: FBI interview of Mike Flynn.

January 27, 2017: FBI interview of George Papadopoulos.

Between January 27 and February 16, 2017: FBI asks if Papadopoulos is willing to wear a wire targeting Mifsud, suggesting they believed his comments in the first interview.

February 10, 2017: FBI interviews Mifsud in DC.

February 16, 2017: By his second FBI interview, FBI still has not subpoenaed logs from George Papadopoulos’ Skype and Facebook accounts (because they don’t know about Ivan Timofeev).

February 17, 2017: Papadopoulos attempts to delete his Facebook account.

February 23, 2017: Papadopoulos gets a new phone.

February 26, 2017: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in Madrid and again discuss Ukraine plan.

March 2017: Carter Page interviewed five times by FBI.

March 5, 2017: White House Counsel learns the FBI wants transition-period records relating to Flynn.

March 7, 2017: Flynn submits a factually false FARA registration.

March 10, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 16, 2017: Richard Burr tells White House Counsel FBI is investigating Flynn, Manafort (though not yet for his campaign activities), Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Roger Stone. FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 20, 2017: Jim Comey confirms investigation.

March 30, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 31, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

Early April 2017: DOJ obtains reauthorization for FISA order on Carter Page (Comey and Dana Boente approve it).

May 7, 2017: Cohen has meeting with Vekselberg at Renova.

May 9, 2017: Jim Comey fired, ostensibly for his treatment of Hillary Clinton investigation; within days Trump admits it was because of Russian investigation.

May 17, 2017: Appointment of Mueller; Rosenstein includes Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos along with Flynn in the list of Trump officials whose election year ties might be investigated.

May 18, 2017: Strzok texts Page that, “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there” in the Russian investigation.

May 27, 2017: Application for search of Manafort’s storage compartment does not mention June 9 meeting.

May 28, 2017: Lisa Page assigned to Mueller’s team.

Early June 2017: Peter Strzok assigned to Mueller’s team.

June 2017: Federal agents review Michael Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 6, 2017: Mueller team still not certain whether they would search on Section 702 materials.

June 16, 2017: Trump campaign tells Mueller GSA does not own Transition materials.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation order to Microsoft for Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization account.

June 29, 2017: DOJ obtains reauthorization for FISA order on Carter Page (Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein approve it).

July 7, 2017: First date for warrants from Mueller-specific grand jury. (D Orders, PRTT)

July 12, 2017: Mueller subpoenas people and documents pertaining to June 9 meeting.

July 14, 2017: FBI sends a preservation order to Microsoft for all Trump Organization accounts.

July 15, 2017: Lisa Page leaves Mueller team.

July 18, 2017: Application for search of Michael Cohen’s Gmail reflects suspicions that Essential Consulting account used for payments associated with unregistered lobbying for Ukraine “peace” deal (name of AUSA approving application redacted); warrant obtains email from January 1 through present.

July 19, 2017: Peter Strzok interviewed, apparently to capture events surrounding Flynn firing.

July 20 and 25, 2017: FBI sends grand jury subpoenas for call records related to Michael Cohen Trump Organization account.

July 25, 2017: Application for search of Manafort’s condo includes request for materials relating to June 9 meeting; does not mention election year meetings with Kilimnik.

July 27, 2017: Early morning search of Paul Manafort’s condo. Horowitz tells Mueller about Page-Strzok texts. George Papadopoulos arrested.

July 28, 2017: Strzok moved off Mueller team.

August 2017: First search warrant obtained against Roger Stone, focused on CFAA.

August 1, 2017: Application for search warrant for Cohen’s Trump Organization email account adds Bank Fraud to suspected crimes; Mueller signed the nondisclosure request.

August 2, 2017: Rosenstein memo codifies scope to include Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos already under investigation, adds the Manafort financial crimes, the allegations that Papadopoulos had acted as an unregistered agent of Israel, and four allegations against Michael Flynn.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains search warrant on Cohen’s Apple ID.

August 11, 2017: Strzok receives his exit clearance certificate from Mueller’s team.

August 17, 2017: Application for Manafort’s [email protected] email includes predication (probably Russian investigation related) unrelated to his financial crimes. (A warrant for Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik’s DMP emails submitted that day does not include predication outside of the lobbying.)

August 17, 2017: Andrew McCabe interviewed.

August 23, 2017: Mueller requests Transition emails and devices for nine Transition officials from GSA.

August 30, 2017: Mueller requests Transition emails and devices for an additional four Transition officials.

September 19, 2017: CNN reports that FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Paul Manafort (though claims that search of storage facility happened under FISA, not criminal, warrant).

October 20, 2017: Rosenstein expands scope to include Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, Don Jr, and at least one other person, plus Jeff Sessions’ lies to Congress.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 (prior warrants covered January 1, 2016 to present) and personal email hosted by 1&1.

January 19, 2018: Trump signs 702 reauthorization without any new protections on back door searches.

January 29, 2018: By this date, White House had turned over 20,000 pages of records to Mueller covering (see this post for more background):

  • White House response to DOJ concerns about Mike Flynn, his resignation, and White House comments about Jim Comey
  • White House communications about campaign and transition communications with Manafort, Gates, Gordon, Kellogg, Page, Papadopoulos, Phares, Clovis, and Schmitz
  • Records covering Flynn’s campaign and transition communications with Kislyak and other Russian officials, as well as the May 10, 2017 meeting
  • Records relating to the June 9 meeting
  • Records pertaining to Jim Comey’s firing

Between that date and June 5, 2018, the White House also turned over:

  • McGahn’s records pertaining to Flynn and Comey firings
  • White House Counsel documents pertaining to research on firing Comey before it happened
  • Details on the Bedminster meeting in advance of Comey’s firing
  • Details on McCabe’s communications with Trump right after he fired Comey
  • Details on the Trump’s actions during the summer of 2017 during events pertaining to obstruction

March 2018: Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization.

March 9, 2018: Application for search of five AT&T phones includes predication (and, apparently, phones) unrelated to Paul Manafort.

April 9, 2018: Michael Cohen raid.

June 5, 2018: White House turns over some visitor log information.

August 3, 2018: Three warrants against Stone in DC, focused on CFAA (per May 14, 2019 ABJ minute order).

August 8, 2018: Search warrant against Stone in DC, focused on CFAA (per May 14, 2019 ABJ minute order).

Around January 25, 2019: One SDNY, two SDFL, and one DC warrant against Stone focused on false statements.

January 25, 2019: Roger Stone raid and arrest.

February 2019: One DC warrant against Stone focused on CFAA.

William Barr Ratchets Up the “Witch Hunt” over an Investigation He Judges to be “Anemic” Given the Threat

Bill Barr hit the right wing news circuit today to make vague claims designed to feed the hoax about inappropriate spying on the Trump campaign. With both the WSJ and Fox, he obfuscated about what led him to ask John Durham to conduct what amounts to at least the third review of the origins of the Russia investigation.

“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Mr. Barr told The Wall Street Journal, in his first interview since taking office in February. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”

He added: “Just like we need to ensure that foreign actors don’t influence the outcome of our elections, we need to ensure that the government doesn’t use its powers to put a thumb on the scale.”

[snip]

In his Wednesday interview, he declined to elaborate or offer any details on what prompted his concerns about the genesis of the Russia probe.

[snip]

Mr. Barr wouldn’t specify what pre-election activities he found troubling, nor would he say what information he has reviewed thus far or what it has shown. He said he was surprised that officials have been so far unable to answer many of his questions.

“I have more questions now than when I came in,” he said, but declined to detail them.

Given his inability to point to a reason to start this (aside from Trump’s direct orders), it’s worth looking back at something Barr said in his May 1 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Mike Lee attempted to get the Attorney General to substantiate his claim — made on April 10 — that the Trump campaign had been inappropriately spied on. In response, Barr explained his spying comment by suggesting that if the “only intelligence collection that occurred” were the FISA warrant on Carter Page and the use of Stefan Halper to question George Papadopoulos, it would amount to an “anemic” effort given the counterintelligence threat posed.

One of the things I want to look — there are people — many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant. I’d like to find out whether that is, in fact, true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.

Over the course of this exchange, Barr admits he doesn’t know or remember what the Mueller Report says about Carter Page, and Lee displays that he’s unfamiliar with several points about Page in the Mueller Report:

  • The report shows that Page had had two earlier ties to Russian intelligence before joining the Trump campaign, not just the one in 2013
  • After Page’s conversations with Viktor Podobnyy were quoted in the latter’s criminal complaint, Page went to a Russian official at the UN General Assembly and told him he “didn’t do anything” with the FBI
  • Page defended sharing intelligence with people he knew were Russian spies by explaining, “the more immaterial non-public information I give them, the better for this country”
  • Dmitry Peskov was Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016 and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich spoke about working with Page in the future
  • Mueller ultimately concluded that “Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained”
  • According to Konstantin Kilimnik, on December 8, 2016 “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine”
  • The declinations discussion appears to say Page could have been charged as a foreign agent, but was not

Even with all the details about Page Lee appears to be unfamiliar with, there are more that he cannot know, because they’re protected as grand jury materials.

Which is to say neither of these men knew enough about the investigation on May 1 to be able to explain why Barr needed to do an investigation except that Barr thought not enough spying occurred so he was sure there must be more. Had Barr read the IG Report laying out some of these issues, he would know that the investigation was anemic, in part because on August 15, Peter Strzok lost an argument about how aggressively they should pursue the investigation.

In a text message exchange on August 15, 2016, Strzok told Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….” The “Andy” referred to in the text message appears to be FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe was not a party to this text message, and we did not find evidence that he received it.

In an interview with the OIG, McCabe was shown the text message and he told us that he did not know what Strzok was referring to in the message and recalled no such conversation. Page likewise told us she did not know what that text message meant, but that the team had discussions about whether the FBI would have the authority to continue the Russia investigation if Trump was elected. Page testified that she did not find a reference in her notes to a meeting in McCabe’s office at that time.

Strzok provided a lengthy explanation for this text message. In substance, Strzok told us that he did not remember the specific conversation, but that it likely was part of a discussion about how to handle a variety of allegations of “collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the government of Russia.” As part of this discussion, the team debated how aggressive to be and whether to use overt investigative methods. Given that Clinton was the “prohibitive favorite” to win,

Strzok said that they discussed whether it made sense to compromise sensitive sources and methods to “bring things to some sort of precipitative conclusion and understanding.” Strzok said the reference in his text message to an “insurance policy” reflected his conclusion that the FBI should investigate the allegations thoroughly right away, as if Trump were going to win. Strzok stated that Clinton’s position in the polls did not ultimately impact the investigative decisions that were made in the Russia matter.

So the investigation was anemic, and it was anemic because the guy Lee blames for unfairly targeting Trump wasn’t permitted to investigate as aggressively as he believed it should be investigated.

In the exchange, Barr also says he doesn’t want to get into the “FISA issue,” on account of the IG investigation into it — which would seem to leave just the Halper-Papadopoulos exchange to investigate.

DOJ’s IG has probably given the initial results of its investigation into FISA to FBI. I say that because of Chris Wray’s objection to the use of the word “spying” to describe predicated surveillance, Trump’s attack on Wray because of it, and the unsealing of the names of additional people at the FBI involved in interviewing Mike Flynn — Mike Steinbach, Bill Priestap, James Baker — as well as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Matt Axelrod in two of the documents tied to his sentencing released last night. That would suggest there’s nothing substantive there (which is not surprising, given how much more damning the information about Page is than we previously knew).

Which would mean the biggest reason Barr is starting this witch hunt is that the investigation was so anemic to begin with.

About the Two Investigations into Donald Trump

I’m still pretty cranky about the timing and form of Andrew McCabe’s publicity tour.

But since it’s out there, I’d like to comment on three details, two of which have gotten significant comment elsewhere.

Trump wanted Rod Rosenstein to include Russia in the reasons he should fire Comey

The first is that Trump specifically asked Rosenstein to include Russia — McCabe doesn’t further specify what he meant — in the letter recommending he fire Jim Comey.

McCabe says that the basis for both investigations was in Mr. Trump’s own statements. First, Mr. Trump had asked FBI Director Comey to drop the investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.  Then, to justify firing Comey, Mr. Trump asked his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to write a memo listing the reasons Comey had to go. And according to McCabe, Mr. Trump made a request for that memo that came as a surprise.

Andrew McCabe: Rod was concerned by his interactions with the president, who seemed to be very focused on firing the director and saying things like, “Make sure you put Russia in your memo.” That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.

If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein listed the Russia investigation in his memo to the White House, it could look like he was obstructing the Russia probe by suggesting Comey’s firing. And by implication, it would give the president cover.

Scott Pelley: He didn’t wanna put Russia in his memo.

Andrew McCabe: He did not. He explained to the president that he did not need Russia in his memo. And the president responded, “I understand that, I am asking you to put Russia in the memo anyway.”

When the memo justifying Comey’s firing was made public, Russia was not in it. But, Mr. Trump made the connection anyway, telling NBC, then, Russian diplomats that the Russian investigation was among the reasons he fired Comey.

The most obvious explanation for this is that Trump wanted to box DOJ in, to prevent them from expanding their investigative focus from one campaign foreign policy advisor, a second campaign foreign policy advisor, his former campaign manager, his National Security Advisor, and his lifelong political advisor to the one thing those five men had in common, Trump.

But it’s also possible that Trump wanted Rosenstein to do what Don McGahn had narrowly prevented Trump from doing, effectively shifting the obstruction to Rosenstein. That seems like what Rosenstein was worried about, an impression he may have gotten from his instructions from McGahn, laying out the case that investigating Russia would get you fired.

It’s possible, too, that Trump was particularly interested in the public statement for the benefit of the Russians, a view supported by the fact that Trump made sure he fired Comey before his meeting with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, and then stated that he had more freedom with Comey gone. That is, it’s possible he needed to prove to the Russians that he could control his own DOJ.

The order to Rosenstein was one of the predications for the investigation into Trump

McCabe elaborates on a story told at least partly by the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts: that the day after Trump fired Comey, FBI moved to open two investigations into Trump. A number of people have suggested McCabe just vaguely pointed to Trump’s statements, but he’s more specific than that. One of the statements was that order to Rosenstein to include Russia in the firing memo.

Scott Pelley: How long was it after that that you decided to start the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president?

Andrew McCabe: I think the next day, I met with the team investigating the Russia cases. And I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward. I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.

[snip]

Andrew McCabe: There were a number of things that caused us to believe that we had adequate predication or adequate reason and facts, to open the investigation. The president had been speaking in a derogatory way about our investigative efforts for weeks, describing it as a witch hunt…

President Trump on Feb. 16, 2017: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years.

Andrew McCabe: …publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president’s mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you’ve referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

As McCabe describes it, the other things are obstruction-related: Trump’s attacks on the Russian investigation.

But remember, McCabe had heard the substance of Mike Flynn’s comments to Sergei Kislyak. The rest of us have seen just outlines of it. In some way, Mike Flynn convinced Sergei Kislyak on December 29, 2016, that Russia had Trump’s assurances on sanctions relief. Trump may well have come up specifically. In any case, the FBI would have had good reason — from Flynn’s lies, and his call records showing his consultations before he lied — to suspect Trump had ordered Flynn’s statements to Kislyak.

McCabe describes the genesis of the obstruction and the counterintelligence investigation

Finally, McCabe provides additional details to the dual investigation into Trump: the obstruction one arising out of Trump’s efforts to kill the Russian investigation, and the counterintelligence one into whether Trump was doing that at Russia’s behest (which goes back to my initial point, that Trump may have wanted Russia included in the firing memos as a signal to Russia he could kill the investigation).

Andrew McCabe: …publicly undermining the effort of the investigation. The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The president, then, fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write the memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president’s mind. Then, the president made those public comments that you’ve referenced both on NBC and to the Russians which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulable facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

Scott Pelley: What was it specifically that caused you to launch the counterintelligence investigation?

Andrew McCabe: It’s many of those same concerns that cause us to be concerned about a national security threat. And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, “Why would a president of the United States do that?” So all those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?

Scott Pelley: Are you saying that the president is in league with the Russians?

Andrew McCabe: I’m saying that the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn’t mean someone is guilty. I would say, Scott, if we failed to open an investigation under those circumstances, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.

With that laid out, I’d like to look at Rod Rosenstein’s August 2 memo laying out precisely what Mueller was — and had, from the start — been authorized to investigate, which both Paul Manafort and the President’s flunkies in Congress spent a great deal of effort trying to unseal. Knowing as we now do that the redacted passages include at least one and probably two bullet points relating to Trump himself, it seems more clear than every that once you lay out the investigations into Trump’s flunkies known to have been predicated at the time, that’s all that would have been included in the memo:

  • Obstruction investigation into Trump
  • Counterintelligence investigation into Trump
  • Election conspiracy investigation into Manafort
  • Ukrainian influence peddling investigation into Manafort
  • Transition conspiracy investigation into Flynn
  • Turkish influence peddling investigation into Flynn
  • Counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page
  • Election conspiracy investigation into George Papadopoulos
  • Election conspiracy investigation into Roger Stone

At that point, there wouldn’t have been space for at least two of the three bullets that now exist on a scope memo, as laid out by Jerome Corsi’s draft plea (though “c” may have been there in conjunction with Stone).

At the time of the interview, the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including:

a. the theft of campaign-related emails and other documents by the Russian government’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (“GRU”);

b. the GRU’s provision of certain of those documents to an organization (“Organization 1”) for public release in order to expand the GRU’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign; and

c. the nature of any connections between individuals associated with the U.S. presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and the Russian government or Organization 1.

That’s another to believe — as I have long argued — that bullets a and b got moved under Mueller at a later time, probably around November 2017. After Flynn flipped, the Middle Eastern pass-through corruption would likely have been added, and inauguration graft probably got added after Rick Gates flipped (before the non-Russian parts of both got spun off).

One thing that means, if I’m correct, is that at the time Mueller was hired, the investigation consisted of predicated investigations into probably six individuals. While there would have been a counterintelligence and criminal aspect to both, there was a criminal aspect to each of the investigations, with specific possible crimes envisioned. If that’s right, it means a lot of hot air about Mueller’s appointment simply misunderstood what part of Comey’s confirmed investigation got put under Mueller at first.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

In any case, the certainty that there are at least one and probably two bullets pertaining to Trump in that August 2 memo is interesting for a few more reasons.

It makes it far more likely that the Strzok 302 — based on a July 19, 2017 interview, drafted the following day, and finalized August 22 — was an effort to formalize Mueller’s authorization to investigate the President. The part of the 302 that pertains to Mike Flynn’s interview takes up the middle third of the report. The rest must lay out the larger investigations, how the FBI found the intercepts between Flynn and Kislyak, and what the response to the interview was at DOJ.

The 302 is sandwiched between two events. First, it follows by just a few weeks the release of the June 9 meeting emails. Indeed, the interview itself took place on the day the NYT published the interview where Trump admits he and Putin spoke about adoptions — effectively making it clear that Putin, not Trump, drafted a statement downplaying that the meeting had established a dirt-for-sanctions relief quid pro quo.

The 302 was also drafted the day before Mueller started pursuing the transition emails and other comms from GSA that would have made it clear that Trump ordered Flynn’s statements and key members of the transition team knew that.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

It also happens to precede, by days, when Michael Horowitz would inform Christopher Wray and then Mueller about the Page-Strzok texts, though that is almost certainly an almost unbelievable coincidence.

In any case, as I’ve noted, unsealing that August 2 memo has been like a crown jewel for the obstructionists, as if they knew that it laid out the investigation into Donald Trump. That effort has been part of a strategy to suggest any investigation into Trump had to be improper, even one investigating whether he engaged in a quid pro quo even before the General Election started, trading US policy considerations — starting with, but not limited to, sanctions relief — in exchange for help getting elected.

The obstructionists want to claim that an investigation that started with George Papadopoulos and then Carter Page and then Mike Flynn (the obstructionists always seem to be silent about Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, as if they knew who engaged in substantive conspiracy with the Russians) should not end up with Donald Trump. And they do so, I think, to suggest that at the moment it discovered that quid pro quo in July 2017, it was already illegitimate.

But as McCabe said, “the FBI had reason to investigate that. Right, to investigate the existence of an investigation doesn’t mean someone is guilty. I would say, Scott, if we failed to open an investigation under those circumstances, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.”

It just turned out that Trump was guilty.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

FBI Finally Moves to Fix Its Text Retention Problem — and Mobile Phone Security

Back when DOJ IG released a report explaining its efforts to ensure it had reconstructed all of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s text messages, I pointed out that most people were missing the really important part of the story: FBI was making do with a vendor who — even after that scandal — still missed 10% of texts.

And in trying to invent an obstruction claim out of normal bureaucratic thriftiness, they are ignoring the really damning part of the IG Report. The government contractor whose “bug” was responsible for the text messages that weren’t originally archived (but which were later recovered) still can’t ensure more than 90% of FBI’s texts are recovered.

Among the other excuses FBI offers for implementing a fix to a 20% failure with one that still results in a 10% failure is to say, “complete collection of text messages is neither required nor necessary to meet the FBI’s legal preservation obligations” (which goes back to how they’re requiring retention via policy, but not technologically-assisted procedure). The FBI also says that it “is not aware of any solution that closes the collection gap entirely on its current mobile device platforms,” which makes me wonder why they keep buying new Samsungs if the Samsungs aren’t serving their needs? Aside from the question of why we’d ask FBI Agents to use less secure Korean phones rather than more secure American ones (note, Mueller’s team is using iPhones)?

This is a huge problem in discovery in criminal prosecutions. Just as an example, DOJ claims it didn’t have texts between the Agents who were officially staking MalwareTech out in Las Vegas before they arrested him in 2017 and … other Agents. But if FBI doesn’t actually competently archive those texts, how can they make that claim?

More troubling still, FBI didn’t have a handle on what privileges their unnamed and squirrely data retention vendor had onto FBI Agents’ phones.

As DOJ IG was trying to puzzle through why they couldn’t find all of Strzok and Page’s texts, the unnamed vendor got squirrelly when asked how the retention tool interacts with administrative privileges.

Upon OIG’s request, ESOC Information Technology Specialist [redacted] consulted with the FBl’s collection tool vendor, who informed the FBI that the collection application does not write to enterprise.db. [Redacted] further stated that ESOC’s mobile device team and the vendor believed enterprise.db is intended to track applications with administrative privileges and may have been collecting the logs from the collection tool or another source such as the Short Message Service (SMS) texting application. The collection tool vendor preferred not to share specific details regarding where it saves collected data, maintaining that such information was proprietary; however, [redacted] represented that he could revisit the issue with the vendor if deemed necessary.

Maybe it’s me, but I find it pretty sketchy that this unnamed collection tool vendor doesn’t want to tell the FBI precisely what they’re doing with all these FBI Agents’ texts. “Proprietary” doesn’t cut it, in my opinion.

DOJ IG has now done what I was hoping they would: use the Strzok-Page incident as an opportunity to identify recommendations to fix the problem more generally. Most alarmingly, it says that the Subject Matter Expert it consulted in this process identified security vulnerabilities in its collection process.

[D]uring the OIG’s forensic examination of FBI mobile devices that were used by the two employees, the OIG discovered a database on the mobile devices containing a plain text repository of a substantial number of text messages sent and received by those devices.

Neither ESOC nor the vendor of the application was aware of the existence, origin, or purpose of this database. OIG analysis of the text messages in the database compared to ESOC productions of text messages during the same time periods when the collection tool was functional identified a significant number of text messages found in the database that were missing from the ESOC production. Furthermore, the Subject Matter Expert with whom the OIG consulted in connection with its forensic analysis of the devices identified additional potential security vulnerabilities regarding the collection application. The OIG has provided these findings to the FBI.

Remember: these phones were used by people read into the most sensitive counterintelligence investigations. They weren’t texting a lot about those investigations on those phones, but they were texting unclassified information about the investigations.

So now, two years after these texts were identified, DOJ’s Inspector General is recommending that FBI fix what even I recognized was a security vulnerability — as well as the other, unnamed ones their SME identified.

Coordinate with the collection tool vendor to ensure that data collected by the tool and stored on the device is saved to a secure or encrypted location.

Verify and address the security vulnerabilities identified by the Subject Matter Expert with whom the OIG consulted, which have been provided to the FBI. Current and future mobile devices and data collection and preservation tools should be tested for security vulnerabilities in order to ensure the security of the devices and the safekeeping of the sensitive data therein.

Accused defendants should not have to guess whether or not the FBI Agents investigating them discussed their case via texts that have disappeared forever. And the country, generally, should not have to worry that the phone of its top counterintelligence Agent might be compromised because of a dodgy vendor FBI hired to collect (some of) his texts.

Sadly, DOJ IG doesn’t include another recommendation that seems like a no-brainer: that FBI switch to iPhones over the Samsungs they currently issue, both because iPhones have better security, but also because there is better visibility on the supply chain.

The William Barr Case for Impeaching Donald Trump: From Whom Did Trump Suborn False Statements?

Last month, I argued that a memo William Barr wrote that many say disqualifies him to be Attorney General in fact (or perhaps, “also”) should make him utterly toxic to Trump, because he (unknowingly) makes the case for impeaching Trump.

That’s because of the specific content of a William Barr memo sent to Rod Rosenstein, first reported by WSJ last night. While I’m certain Barr didn’t intend to do so, the memo makes a compelling case that Trump must be impeached.

The memo is long, lacks pagination, and presents an alarming view of unitary executive power. Barr also adopts the logically and ethically problematic stance of assuming, in a memo that states, “I realize I am in the dark about many facts” in the second sentence, that he knows what Mueller is up to, repeating over and over claims about what theory of obstruction he knows Mueller is pursuing.

Yet even before Barr finishes the first page, he states something that poses serious problems for the White House.

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.

Probably by the time Mueller’s office captured Peter Strzok’s testimony on July 19, 2017 — and almost certainly by the time they obtained Transition emails on August 23, 2017 (perhaps not coincidentally the day after Strzok’s 302 was formalized) showing Trump’s orchestration of Mike Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak — Mueller has almost certainly had evidence that Trump suborned false statements from Mike Flynn. So even before he finishes the first page, Trump’s hand-picked guy to be Attorney General has made the argument that Trump broke the law and Mueller’s obstruction investigation is appropriate.

Today, as part of a rebuttal to Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner’s comments about the memo, Jack Goldsmith reviews an OLC memo they rely on to back my argument.

Barr’s invocation and application of the presidential plain-statement rule, far from shocking, is quite ordinary. It is so ordinary, in fact, that I doubt Mueller is pursuing the theory that Barr worries about, even though press reports have sometimes suggested that he is. (For similar doubts, see the analyses of Mikhaila Fogel and Benjamin Wittes and of Marty Lederman.) Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein implied that Barr misunderstood Mueller’s theory when he stated that Barr did not have the “actual facts of the case.” One can read Rosenstein’s statement, as Marcy Wheeler does, to mean that Mueller possesses facts—including evidence that Trump suborned false statements from Flynn—to show that Trump has obstructed justice under Barr’s “evidence impairment” theory and that, under the Barr memorandum’s separate discussion of impeachment, Trump can be impeached.

If Wheeler is right, then the Barr memorandum is more likely to be cited in support of an article of impeachment of President Trump for obstruction of justice than it is to be cited, as Hemel and Posner suggest, to immunize Trump from obstruction. We will see if the Democrats presiding over Barr’s confirmation hearings are clever enough not to take Hemel and Posner’s suggestion that Barr’s memo is extreme, and instead use Barr’s memo, as Wheeler counsels, “to talk the incoming Attorney General into backing the logic of the Mueller probe and impeachment in a very public way.”

Given the stakes on all this, I wanted to focus on why I think the public record suggests strongly that Trump suborned perjury (actually, false statements), meaning that Barr has already made the case for impeachment.

Mike Flynn lied to hide consultations with the Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago

First, let’s consider what Mike Flynn lied about, which I lay out in detail here. In addition to lies about being a foreign agent for Turkey and trying to undercut an Obama foreign policy decision pertaining to Israeli settlements, Flynn admitted to lying about whether he discussed sanctions during a series of conversations with Sergey Kislyak. The focus in reporting has always been on the conversations with Kislyak, but as the statement of the offense makes clear, Flynn’s conversations with other Transition Team members — most notably his Deputy, KT McFarland — got almost as much emphasis.

On or about January 24, 2017, FLYNN agreed to be interviewed by agents from the FBI (“January 24 voluntary interview”). During the interview, FLYNN falsely stated that he did not ask Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia. FLYNN also falsely stated that he did not remember a follow-up conversation in which the Russian Ambassador stated that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of FL YNN’s request. In truth and in fact, however, FLYNN then and there knew that the following had occurred:

a. On or about December 28, 2016, then-President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13757, which was to take effect the following day. The executive order announced sanctions against Russia in response to that government’s actions intended to interfere with the 2016 presidential election (“U.S. Sanctions”).

b. On or about December 28, 2016, the Russian Ambassador contacted FLYNN.

c. On or about December 29, 2016, FLYNN called a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team (“PTT official”), who was with other senior ·members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian Ambassador about the U.S. Sanctions. On that call, FLYNN and the PTT official discussed the U.S. Sanctions, including the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy goals. The PIT official and FLYNN also discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

d. Immediately after his phone call with the PTT official, FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. Sanctions in a reciprocal manner.

e. Shortly after his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with the PTT official to report on the substance of his call with the Russian Ambassador, including their discussion of the U.S. Sanctions.

f. On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

g. On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

h. After his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with senior members of the Presidential Transition Team about FLYNN’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador regarding the U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s decision not to escalate the situation. [my emphasis]

And the 302 (302s are what the FBI calls interview reports) makes this even more clear: Flynn was not only lying about the content of his calls with Kislyak, he was lying about his consultations with McFarland, and through her, the rest of the Transition Team, almost certainly including Trump. Flynn was lying about using language, “tit-for-tat,” that came right out of those consultations.

He was lying to hide that his interactions with Kislyak reflect a deliberate Trump Transition policy choice, rather than his own choice to freelance foreign policy.

Flynn got other people to lie — to the public and to the FBI

But it’s not just Flynn’s lies. It’s also the lies others in the Administration told. According to the NYT story of the relevant emails, at a minimum both McFarland and Sean Spicer would have known that Flynn got instructions ahead of his call with Kislyak and reported positively afterwards.

Mr. Bossert forwarded Ms. McFarland’s Dec. 29 email exchange about the sanctions to six other Trump advisers, including Mr. Flynn; Reince Priebus, who had been named as chief of staff; Stephen K. Bannon, the senior strategist; and Sean Spicer, who would become the press secretary.

That’s important because both McFarland and Spicer lied to the press about the call in early 2017.

Early on the morning of Jan. 13, 2017, McFarland phoned one of the authors of this article to rebut a column in The Washington Post, which said Flynn and Kislyak had spoken “several times” on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced it was expelling 35 Russian officials and taking other punitive measures.

The column, by David Ignatius, questioned why Flynn was engaging in sensitive foreign policy discussions with Russia when Trump had yet to take office.

McFarland insisted in an on-the-record conversation that Flynn and Kislyak had never discussed sanctions and that they had actually spoken before the administration’s announcement on Dec. 29.

[snip]

McFarland’s earlier account from the on-the-record conversation also matches public statements from Sean Spicer, the transition team’s spokesman and future White House press secretary.

Spicer said that Flynn and Kislyak spoke Dec. 28, before the sanctions were announced, and that “the call centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in.”

“That was it, plain and simple,” he said.

Most of the focus on public statements about the Kislyak calls has been on Mike Pence, but there’s no public record that he was in the loop on discussions about the Kislyak call (nor is there a record of him being interviewed by either the FBI or Mueller, which is one of the reasons I keep saying there’s no public record of him doing anything for which he could or should be indicted).

With McFarland and Spicer, however, we can be sure they both knowingly lied when they told the press that sanctions had not come up.

That’s why I keep pointing to two passages from the addendum to Flynn’s sentencing memo describing the significance of his cooperation. This passage makes it clear there’s some significance to the fact that Transition Team people repeated Flynn’s lies.

This passage makes it clear that, in the wake of Flynn’s cooperation, several other people decided to cooperate.

We know that McFarland is included among the people who decided to be forthcoming with Mueller; Sean Spicer probably is too and others (like Reince Priebus) may be as well. Importantly, we know they decided to be forthcoming after not having been at first. McFarland, at a minimum, lied not just to the press, but also in her first interview with the FBI, after which she made a concerted effort to unforget what really transpired.

Note, too, that that redaction is the last line of the Flynn addendum. While we don’t know what it says, it’s likely that the addendum as a whole reflects something that Mueller seems to be doing with his cooperating witnesses: either finding ways to rehabilitate liars (as he did with Michael Cohen) or using their testimony to pressure others to tell the truth, resulting in witnesses who will be more credible on the stand (which is what I suspect he has done with a number of witnesses with Flynn).

Trump has changed stories about what his Administration knew about Flynn’s lies at least twice

The public record doesn’t actually say how it happened that McFarland and Spice lied about something they should have known to be false. As I’ve laid out, it’s clear that Flynn was not free-lancing when he discussed sanctions with Kislyak, but the record is still unclear about whether he was freelancing when he ordered others to lie about it or not.

But two things strongly suggest he was not.

First, nothing yet has come close to explaining Trump’s actions with Jim Comey, first asking for his loyalty, then, after firing Flynn, asking him to let Flynn’s lies go. That’s all the more true if, as is likely but not publicly proven yet, Pence also knew he was lying when he claimed sanctions didn’t come up in the Flynn-Kislyak call, because lying to Pence is the only explanation Trump has offered for firing Flynn.

It is virtually certain Flynn was following orders — Trump’s orders — when he engaged in discussions about sanctions with Kisylak. And so it is virtually certain that Trump knew, from before he was inaugurated, that his top aides were lying to the press. Yet Trump didn’t find those lies to be a fireable offense until it became clear the lies would lead to a sustained FBI investigation into why Flynn had Kislyak hold off on responding to sanctions.

And over the course of the Mueller investigation, Trump has struggled to come up with a credible explanation for why Flynn’s lies became a fireable offense only after the FBI started looking more closely at his plans for sanctions relief.

Don McGahn wrote a report inventing one explanation for the firing just after it happened (akin to the way he later orchestrated a paper trail justifying Comey’s firing). But even when he wrote the report, it was inconsistent with what Sally Yates told McGahn.

Then, after Flynn flipped and it became clear Comey also documented his side of events (and shared those events contemporaneously with others in DOJ and FBI), Trump’s lawyers tried to massage the story one more time.

Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, Sean Spicer, Don McGahn, and John Dowd (at a minimum — possibly Reince Priebus and others, too) have all had to revise the stories they told the press and even, for some, FBI or Mueller after the fact to try to come up with a non-incriminating explanation for why everyone lied, first to the press, and then to the government.

There’s really only one thing that might explain why at least five top Donald Trump aides or lawyers had to revise stories to try to come up with innocent explanations for non-credible stories they were willing to tell the government from the start. And that’s if Trump were involved in all these lies.

It may well be that Trump didn’t formally suborn false statements before Mike Flynn interviewed with the FBI on January 24, 2017. Perhaps he just instructed Flynn to lie to the press and Flynn sustained the story he had been ordered to tell when the FBI came calling (Trump may well be more involved in the lies that Michael Cohen told to Congress).

But there is little else that can explain why so many people were willing to tell bullshit stories about Flynn (both his conversation with Kislyak and his firing) except that Trump was involved in orchestrating those stories.

Mueller’s obstruction investigation was likely always premised on a theory of obstruction that Trump’s presumed Attorney General nominee William Barr has argued does merit investigation and impeachment: that Trump ordered his subordinates to lie to obstruct an investigation.

 As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.