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On the Grassley-Feinstein Dispute

In a podcast with Preet Bharara this week, Sheldon Whitehouse had the following exchange about whether he thought Carter Page should have been surveilled. (after 24:30)

Whitehouse: I’ve got to be a little bit careful because I’m one of the few Senators who have been given access to the underlying material.

Bharara: Meaning the affidavit in support of the FISA application.

Whitehouse And related documents, yes. The package.

Bharara: And you’ve gone to read them?

Whitehouse: I’ve gone to read them.

Bharara: You didn’t send Trey Gowdy?

Whitehouse: [Laughs] I did not send Trey Gowdy. I actually went through them. And, so I’ve got to be careful because some of this is still classified. But the conclusion that I’ve reached is that there was abundant evidence outside of the Steele dossier that would have provoked any responsible FBI with a counterintelligence concern to look at whether Carter Page was an undisclosed foreign agent. And to this day the FBI continues to assert that he was a undisclosed Russian foreign agent.

For the following discussion, then, keep in mind that a very sober former US Attorney has read the case against Carter Page and says that the FBI still — still, after Page is as far as we know no longer under a FISA order — asserts he “was” an undisclosed foreign agent (it’s not clear what that past tense “was” is doing, as it could mean he was a foreign agent until the attention on him got too intense or remains one; also, I believe John Ratcliffe, a Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and also a former US Attorney, has read the application too).

With that background, I’d like to turn to the substance of the dispute between Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein over the dossier, which has played out in the form of a referral of Christopher Steele to FBI for lying. In the wake of the Nunes memo theatrics, Grassley released first a heavily redacted version of the referral he and Lindsey Graham sent the FBI in early January, followed by a less-redacted version this week. The referral, even as a transparent political stunt, is nevertheless more substantive than Devin Nunes’ memo, leading some to take it more seriously.  Which may be why Feinstein released a rebuttal this week.

In case you’re wondering, I’m tracking footnote escalation in these documents. They line up this way:

  • 0: Nunes memo (0 footnotes over 4 pages, or 1 over 6 if you count Don McGahn’s cover letter)
  • 2.6: Grassley referral (26 footnotes over 10 pages)
  • 3.6: Schiff memo (36 footnotes, per HPSCI transcript, over 10 pages)
  • 5.4: Feinstein rebuttal (27 footnotes over 5 pages)

So let me answer a series of questions about the memo as a way of arguing that, while by all means the FBI’s use of consultants might bear more scrutiny, this is still a side-show.

Did Christopher Steele lie?

The Grassely-Graham referral says Steele may have lied, but doesn’t commit to whether classified documents obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee (presumably including the first two Page applications), a declaration Steele submitted in a British lawsuit, or Steele’s statements to the FBI include lies.

The FBI has since provided the Committee access to classified documents relevant to the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele and whether the FBI relied on his dossier work. As explained in greater detail below, when information in those classified documents is evaluated in light of sworn statements by Mr. Steele in British litigation, it appears that either Mr. Steele lied to the FBI or the British court, or that the classified documents reviewed by the Committee contain materially false statements.

On September 3, 2017 — a good three months before the Grassley-Graham referral — I pointed to a number of things in the Steele declaration, specifically pertaining to who got the dossier or heard about it when, that I deemed “improbable.”

That was the genius of the joint (!!) Russian-Republican campaign of lawfare against the dossier. As Steele and BuzzFeed and Fusion tried to avoid liability for false claims against Webzilla and Alfa Bank and their owners, they were backed into corners where they had to admit that Democrats funded the dossier and made claims that might crumble as Congress scrutinized the dossier.

So, yeah, I think it quite possible that Steele told some stretchers.

Did Christopher Steele lie to the FBI?

But that only matters if he lied to the FBI (and not really even there). The UK is not about to extradite one of its former spies because of lies told in the UK — they’re not even going to extradite alleged hacker Lauri Love, because we’re a barbaric country. And I assume the Brits give their spooks even more leeway to fib a little to courts than the US does.

The most critical passage of the referral on this point, which appears to make a claim about whether Steele told the FBI he had shared information with the press before they first used his dossier in a Page application, looks like this.

The footnote in the middle of that redacted passage goes to an unredacted footnote that says,

The FBI has failed to provide the Committee the 1023s documenting all of Mr. Steele’s statements to the FBI, so the Committee is relying on the accuracy of the FBI’s representation to the FISC regarding the statements.

1023s are Confidential Human Source reports.

I say that’s the most important passage because the referral goes on to admit that in subsequent FISA applications the FBI explained that the relationship with Steele had been terminated because of his obvious involvement in the October 31, 2016 David Corn story. Graham and Grassley complain that the FBI didn’t use Steele’s defiance of the FBI request not to share this information with anyone besides the FBI to downgrade his credibility rankings. Apparently FISC was less concerned about that than Graham and Grassley, which may say more about standards for informants in FISA applications than Steele or Carter Page.

The footnote, though, is the biggest tell. That’s because Feinstein’s rebuttal makes it quite clear that after Grassley and Graham made their referral, SJC received documents — which, given what we know has been given to HPSCI, surely include those 1023s — that would alter the claims made in the referral.

The Department of Justice has provided documents regarding its interactions with Mr. Steele to the Judiciary Committee both before and after the criminal referral was made. Despite this, the Majority did not modify the criminal referral and pressed forward with its original claims, which do not take into account the additional information provided after the initial January 4 referral.

Feinstein then goes on to state, several times and underlining almost everything for emphasis, that the referral provides no proof that Steele was ever asked if he had served as the source for Isikoff.

  • Importantly, the criminal referral fails to identify when, if ever, Mr. Steele was asked about and provided a materially false statement about his press contacts.
  • Tellingly, it also fails to explain any circumstances which would have required Mr. Steele to seek the FBI’s permission to speak to the press or to disclose if he had done so.

[snip]

But the criminal referral provides no evidence that Steele was ever asked about the Isikoff article, or if asked that he lied.

In other words, between the redacted claim about what Steele said and Feinstein’s repeated claims that the referral presents no evidence Steele was asked about his prior contacts with the press, the evidence seems to suggest that Steele was probably not asked. And once he was, after the Corn article, he clearly did admit to the FBI he had spoken with the press. So while it appears Steele blew off the FBI’s warnings not to leak to the press, the evidence that he lied to the FBI appears far weaker.

Does it harm the viability of the FISA application?

That should end the analysis, because the ostensible purpose of the referral is a criminal referral, not to make an argument about the FISA process.

But let’s assess the memo’s efforts to discredit the FISA application.

In two places, the referral suggests the dossier played a bigger role in the FISA application than, for example, Whitehouse suggests.

Indeed, the documents we have reviewed show that the FBI took important investigative steps largely based on Mr. Steele’s information–and relying heavily on his credibility.

[snip]

Mr. Steele’s information formed a significant portion of the FBI’s warrant application, and the FISA application relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims. Thus the basis for the warrant authorizing surveillance on a U.S. citizen rests largely on Mr. Steele’s credibility.

These claims would be more convincing, however, if they acknowledged that FBI had to have obtained valuable foreign intelligence off their Page wiretap over the course of the year they had him wiretapped to get three more applications approved.

Indeed, had Grassley and Graham commented on the addition of new information in each application, their more justifiable complaint that the FBI did not alert FISC to the UK filings in which Steele admitted more contact with the press than (they claim) show up in the applications would be more compelling. If you’re going to bitch about newly learned information not showing up in subsequent applications, then admit that newly acquired information showed up.

Likewise, I’m very sympathetic with the substance of the Grassley-Graham complaint that Steele’s discussions with the press made it more likely that disinformation got inserted into the dossier (see my most recently post on that topic), but I think the Grassley-Graham complaint undermines itself in several ways.

Simply put, the more people who contemporaneously knew that Mr. Steele was compiling his dossier, the more likely it was vulnerable to manipulation. In fact, the British litigation, which involves a post-election dossier memorandum, Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it unsolicited–and unverified–allegations. That filing implies that implies that he similar received unsolicited intelligence on these matters prior to the election as well, stating that Mr. Steele “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election.” [my underline]

The passage is followed by an entirely redacted paragraph that likely talks about disinformation.

This is actually an important claim, not just because it raises the possibility that Page might be unfairly surveilled as part of a Russian effort to distract attention from others (though its use in a secret application wouldn’t have sown the discord it has had it not leaked), but also because we can check whether their claims hold up against the Steele declaration. It’s one place we can check the referral to see whether their arguments accurately reflect the underlying evidence.

Importantly, to support a claim the potential for disinformation in the Steele dossier show up in the form of unsolicited information earlier than they otherwise substantiate, they claim a statement in Steele’s earlier declaration pertains to pre-election memos. Here’s what it looks like in that declaration:

That is, Steele didn’t say he was getting unsolicited information prior to the election; this was, in both declarations, a reference to the single December report.

Moreover, while I absolutely agree that the last report is the most likely to be disinformation, the referral is actually not clear whether that December 13 report ever actually got included in a FISA application. There’s no reason it would have been. While the last report mentions Page, the mention is only a referral back to earlier claims that Trump’s camp was trying to clean up after reports of Page’s involvement with the Russians got made public. So the risk that the December memorandum consisted partially or wholly of disinformation is likely utterly irrelevant to the validity of the three later FISA orders targeting Page.

Which is to say that, while I think worries about disinformation are real (particularly given their reference to Rinat Akhmetshin allegedly learning about the dossier during the summer, which I wrote about here), the case Grassley and Graham make on that point both miscites Steele’s own declaration and overstates the impact of their argued case on a Page application.

What about the Michael Isikoff reference?

Perhaps the most interesting detail in the Grassley-Graham referral pertains to their obsession with the applications’ references to the September 23 Michael Isikoff article based off Steele’s early discussions with the press. Grassley-Graham claim there’s no information corroborating the dossier (there’s a redacted Comey quote that likely says something similar). In that context, they point to the reference to Isikoff without explaining what it was doing there.

The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page, although it does cite to a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier as well.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen people suggest the reference to Isikoff may have justified the need for secrecy or something, rater than as corroboration. But neither the referral nor Feinstein’s rebuttal explains what the reference is doing.

In this passage, Grassley and Graham not only focus on Isikoff, but they ascribe certain motives to the way FBI referred to it, suggesting the claim that they did not believe Steele was a source for Isikoff was an attempt to “shield Mr. Steele’s credibility.”

There’s absolutely no reason the FBI would have seen the need to shield Steele’s credibility in October. He was credible. More troubling is that the FBI said much the same thing in January.

In the January reapplication, the FBI stated in a footnote that, “it did not believe that Steele gave information to Yahoo News that ‘published the September 23 News Article.”

Let’s do some math.

If I’m doing my math correctly, if the FISA reapplications happened at a regular 90 day interval, they’d look like this.

That’d be consistent with what the Nunes memo said about who signed what, and would fit the firing dates of January 30 for Yates and May 9 for Comey, as well as the start date for Rosenstein of April 26 (Chris Wray started on August 1).

If that’s right, then Isikoff wrote his second article on the Steele dossier, one that made it clear via a link his earlier piece had been based off Steele, before the second application was submitted (though the application would have been finished and submitted in preliminary form a week earlier, meaning FBI would have had to note the Isikoff piece immediately to get it into the application, but the topic of the Isikoff piece — that Steele was an FBI asset — might have attracted their attention).

But that’s probably not right because the Grassley-Graham referral describes a June, not July, reapplication, meaning the application would have been no later than the last week of June. That makes the reauthorization dates look more like this, distributing the extra days roughly proportionately:

That would put the second footnote claiming the FBI had no reason to believe the September Isikoff piece was based on Steele before the time when the second Isikoff piece made it clear.

I’m doing this for a second reason, however. It’s possible (particularly given Whitehouse’s comments) Carter Page remains under surveillance, but for some reason it’s no longer contentious.

That might be the case if the reapplications no longer rely on the dossier.

And I’m interested in that timing because, on September 9, I made what was implicit clear: That pointing to the September Isikoff piece to claim the Steele dossier had been corroborated was self-referential. I’m not positive I was the first, but by that point, the Isikoff thing would have been made explicit.

Does this matter at all to the Mueller inquiry?

Ultimately, though, particularly given the Nunes memo confirmation that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s people all stems from the George Papadopoulos tip, and not Page (particularly given the evidence that the FBI was very conservative in their investigation of him) there’s not enough in even the Grassley-Graham referral to raise questions about the Mueller investigation, especially given a point I made out in the Politico last week.

According to a mid-January status report in the case against Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, the government has turned over “more than 590,000 items” to his defense team, “including (but not limited to) financial records, records from vendors identified in the indictment, email communications involving the defendants, and corporate records.” He and Gates have received imaged copies of 87 laptops, phones and thumb drives, and copies off 19 search-warrant applications. He has not received, however, a FISA notice, which the government would be required to provide if they planned to use anything acquired using evidence obtained using the reported FISA warrant against Manafort. That’s evidence of just how much of a distraction Manafort’s strategy [of using the Steele dossier to discredit the Mueller investigation] is, of turning the dossier into a surrogate for the far more substantive case against him and others.

And it’s not just Manafort. Not a single thing in the George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn guilty pleas—for lying to the FBI—stems from any recognizable mention in the dossier, either. Even if the Steele dossier were a poisoned fruit, rather than the kind of routine oppo research that Republicans themselves had pushed to the FBI to support investigations, Mueller has planted an entirely new tree blooming with incriminating details.

Thus the point of my graphic above. The Steele dossier evidence used in the Carter Page FISA application to support an investigation into Cater Page, no matter what else it says about the FISA application process or FBI candor, is just a small corner of the investigation into Trump’s people.

 

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Ruin a Movie with a Name: Get Carter (Page)

[Get Carter by MGM c. 1971]

[NB: As always, check the byline before reading. ~Rayne]

After all the Nunes memo hubbub and the impending Democratic counterpart, erstwhile Trump campaign adviser Carter Page looks sketchier than ever after TIME reported this past Saturday that Page characterized himself as an “informal advisor to the Kremlin” back in 2013.

The FBI warned Page that same year that he was being recruited by spies; Page blew them off. During the following year the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page.

Page thought the FBI had retaliated against him — he knew his blow-off was pretty arrogant — but as much as he asked for trouble by saying they should focus on the Boston bombing, then as now, the body of his actions asked for more scrutiny.

Let’s take a step or two back and take a look at the bigger picture surrounding Page; the timeline here is a work in process and will be updated.


2010 — In New York City, Russian spies Igor Sporyshev, Victor Podobnyy, and Evgeny Buryakov began work on several economics-related objectives on behalf of Russia’s SVR ‘Directorate ER’; their efforts started shortly after guilty pleas by members of Russian ‘Illegals’ spy ring and their expulsion.

14 DEC 2012 — Bipartisan Magnitsky Act (Pub.L. 112–208) passed and signed into law.

XX JAN 2013Carter Page met Podobnyy in New York City at an Asia Society meeting where the topic was China and Chinese energy development. (specific date TBD).

2013 — Podobnyy and Sporyshev attempted to recruit Page. Special agents with the FBI’s New York Field Office Counterintelligence Division surveilled and investigated spies and Page.

XX JUN 2013 — FBI interviewed Page about his contacts with Russians and cautioned him he was being recruited (specific date TBD).

25 AUG 2013 — In a letter this date sent to an academic press, Page refers to himself as “an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.”

13 APR 2013 — In response to the Magnitsky Act, Russian lawmakers banned 18 Americans from entering Russian Federation, including Preet Bharara, a judge and 12 other DOJ/DEA personnel from the Southern District of New York. Russia also barred adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens.

2014 — FBI obtains a FISA warrant to monitor Page‘s communications (specific date TBD).

26 JAN 2015 — Russian spy Buryakov arrested; he had non-official cover as an employee of Vnesheconombank. Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy had already left the country; both had diplomatic immunity. Case was under U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office for Southern District of New York. Page‘s identity was masked and appeared in the complaint against the spies as “MALE-1.” (See Buryakov, et al complaint (pdf))

DEC 2015 — George Papadopoulos began work for Ben Carson’s presidential campaign as a foreign policy advisor.

Late 2015 — New York’s GOP chair Ed Cox was in contact with Page. It is not clear from Page‘s testimony how this contact occurred; Page uses the word volunteered more than once.

JAN 2016 — Page had at least one meeting with campaign officials based on his contact with Ed Cox; in his HPSCI testimony he said he met Corey Lewandowski. Page was an unpaid adviser. Unclear from testimony if Sam Clovis had Page sign an NDA now or later in the campaign, before the July trip to Moscow.

FEB 2016 — Papadopoulos left Carson’s campaign.

Early MAR 2016 — Sam Clovis recruited Papadopoulos to work for Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy advisor.

06 MAR 2016 — Clovis relayed to Papadopoulos that “a principal foreign policy focus of the campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia,” according to court records related to Papadopoulos’ eventual indictment. Clovis later denied saying this.

14-21 MAR 2016 — Prof. Joseph Mifsud met twice with Papadopoulos; Mifsud brought to the second meeting “Olga” who posed as Putin’s niece.

XX MAR 2016 — Page had breakfast in “March-ish” timeframe with Sam Clovis in Falls Church, VA to discuss NDA and “general foreign policy topics.”

21 MAR 2016Page joined Trump campaign as one of five foreign policy advisors, including George Papadopoulos.

MAR-APR 2016 — Dialog continued between Papadopoulos, Mifsud, Olga Vinogradova (referred to as Olga Poloskaya in some earlier reports). [link, link]

24 MAR 2016 — Papadopoulos sends an email copying campaign foreign policy advisers and Sam Clovis, offering to set up “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump.”

28 MAR 2016 — Article: Donald Trump Hires Paul Manafort to Lead Delegate Effort

26 APR 2016 — Papadopoulos learned the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton consisting of “thousands of emails.”

05 MAY 2016 — Trump is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Page emailed fellow foreign policy adviser Walid Phares and J.D. Gordon, asking them to contact him via cell phone or iMessage, adding “P.S. I forgot to mention that I also have the Middle East staple of [redacted]* as well. So that’s another global connectivity alternative if you want to get in touch there.” (* Believed to be the name of a regionalized communications system. See testimony transcript (pdf).)

16 MAY 2016Page sent an email to Walid Phares and J.D. Gordon, suggesting that Trump visit Russia  (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

24 MAY 2016Page emailed J.D. Gordon: “FYI: At the Newark Sky Club, Delta has a private room when you can have a confidential conversation, but, unfortunately, no such luck at Third-World LaGuardia. So I’ll mostly be on the receive mode, since there are a significant number of people in the lounge. Rather than saying too much, I’ll just refer to the seven points on my list which I sent last night.” (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

26 MAY 2016 — Page emailed J.D. Gordon and another foreign policy team member, Bernadette Kilroy, letting them know he will be speaking at the New Economic School’s commencement alongside Russia’s Sberbank’s chair and CEO  (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

27 MAY 2016Page may have met Paul Manafort associate Rick Gates at Trump’s North Dakota speech event (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

Early JUN 2016Page called Putin “stronger and more reliable than President Obama” and “touted the positive effect a Trump presidency would have on U.S.-Russia relations” according to attendees of a meeting of campaign foreign policy team members with India’s Prime Minister Modi. Modi’s trip was five days long, beginning June 8.

09 JUN 2016 — Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya et al., ostensibly about Russian adoptions.

XX JUN 2016 — After back-and-forth and an initial refusal with Corey Lewandowski, J.D. Gordon, and Hope Hicks, Page finally  obtains approval from Lewandowski to travel to Russia as a campaign team member (specific date TBD). In HPSCI testimony there is an exchange about an email he sent asking for feedback about the speech he was going to give in Moscow; same email mentions Russia’s Minister of Economics and Trade Herman Gref was expected to speak at the same event.

30 JUN 2016 — On the Thursday before his Moscow trip Page attended a dinner meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in DC at which both Sen. Jeff Sessions and George Papadopoulos were present and seated next to each other. Page testified to HPSCI this is the last time he saw Papadopoulos, and that he (Page) wasn’t going to Russia as part of the campaign team.

05 JUL 2016Page‘s trip to Russia. (05-09 JUL 2016; in his HPSCI testimony he said he left Sunday night, which would have been July 3.)

06 JUL 2016 — In his HPSCI testimony Page admits to meeting Rosneft’s Directer of Investor Relations Andrey Baranov at a Morgan Stanley-hosted Europa football event as well as [redacted] Nagovitsyn* of Gazprom; he also admitted to having a 10-second exchange with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich as well as meeting members of the Duma. (* This may be Oleg Nagovitsyn who in 2014 had been CEO of Gazprom Investproekt, a subsidiary entity; Nagovitsyn has been elevated to General Director of Gazprom if this is the same Oleg.)

07 JUL 2016Page gave a speech at New Economic School; his speech is critical of U.S. foreign policy. He testified that the school paid for his expenses. (video)

08 JUL 2016Page attended and gave commencement speech at New Economic School graduation.  (videoPage avoided answering journalists’ questions both days regarding officials Page may have/will meet with in Russia. Page emailed campaign advisers Tera Dahl and J.D. Gordon, telling them he would send them “a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

14 JUL 2016 — Page praises fellow foreign policy advisers and campaign team members J.D. Gordon, Walid Phares, Joseph Schmitz, Bert Mizusawa, Chuck Kubic, and Tera Dahl for their work changing the GOP platform on Ukraine.

18-21 JUL 2016Page spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak during the Global Partners in Diplomacy event  associated with the RNC Convention in Cleveland (specific date TBD).

19 JUL 2016 — Former MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele wrote a memo about Page‘s July trip to Moscow. Steele’s intelligence said Page met with Rosneft’s Igor Sechin and Russian Internal Affairs minister Igor Diveykin.

U.S. received intelligence that Page met with Igor Sechin, Putin associate, former Russian deputy prime minister, and executive chairman of Rosneft, but it isn’t clear whether this intelligence is based on Steele’s dossier alone and/or if disinformation involved.

After 22 JUL 2016 — Australia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey disclosed to the FBI that diplomat Alexander Downer learned from George Papadopoulos the Trump campaign had “dirt” on HRC in the form of emails.

XX JUL 2016Page had dinner alone with Sam Clovis some time after the July trip to Moscow.

05 AUG 2016 — Article: Trump adviser’s public comments, ties to Moscow stir unease in both parties; includes a profile of Page. Hope Hicks characterized Page as “informal policy adviser.”

19 AUG 2016 — Paul Manafort resigns from the campaign two days after Trump’s first security briefing. Steve Bannon assumes Manafort’s role for the campaign.

26 AUG 2016 — Sen. Harry Reid sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey asking for the investigation of Russian hacking and influence on the 2016 election with publication of findings. Reid cited the example of an unnamed Trump adviser “who has been highly critical of U.S. and European economic sanctions on Russia, and who has conflicts of interest due to investments in Russian energy conglomerate Gazprom, met with high-ranking sanctioned individuals while in Moscow in July 2016…” (link)

XX AUG 2016 — Page said he sold his ADR shares in Gazprom this month, approximately five months after joining the campaign; it’s not clear whether this sale happened before or after Sen. Reid’s letter (see written testimony (pdf)).

XX AUG 2016 — Page traveled to Hungary and met with the ambassador to the US; the ambassador had already met Page at the RNC convention. They discussed U.S.-Russia policy as it affected Hungary — “in general,” according to Page‘s testimony.

23 SEP 2016 — Article: U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin.

25 SEP 2016Page wrote to Comey and asked him to end the investigation into his trip to Russia (see written testimony).

26 SEP 2016Page left Trump campaign.

Mid to Late SEP 2016 — After discussing the matter with Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson, Christopher Steele metwith the FBI in Rome to share what he had learned about the Trump campaign and related Russian efforts. Steele was concerned there was a crime in progress; some of his research shared included information about Page‘s interactions with key Russians during his July trip.

21 OCT 2016 — FISA warrant on Page obtained.

24-OCT-2016 — Page did an interview with Russian media outlet RT on its Going Underground program. Program host and Page characterized Page‘s status as “on leave” from the campaign. Page‘s written testimony shared that Wikileaks and leaked emails “tangentially came up.” (video, uploaded to YouTube on 29-OCT-2016.)

08 NOV 2016 — Election Day.

08 DEC 2016 — Page took another trip to Russia; Arkady Dvorkovich stopped by a dinner Page attended and said hello according to Page‘s testimony (specific date TBD). Page also met Shlomo Weber again; he had lunch with Andrey Baranov, a bank analyst with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, and a third person whose names were redacted at Page‘s request. He had a laptop with him at the lunch which he said he used to share his speech and slides for another academic presentation. The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, said there were no plans to contact Page yet managed to see Page just before a television interview.

XX DEC 2016 — On the return leg to the U.S., Page stopped in London to attend an energy conference. While in London he met with a Russian national, Sergey Yatsenko, in London on return from Moscow; they talked about opportunities in Kazahkstan related to the country’s privatization process and the sovereign wealth fund, Samruk Kazyna. They were joined by the Kazahk ambassador to the U.K. and an aide.

10 JAN 2017 — BuzzFeed published 35 pages of the dossier Steele prepared for Orbis under contract to Fusion GPS.

Mid JAN 2017 — Jones Day LLP, White House counsel Don McGahn’s former law firm, communicated with Page, instructing him not to depict himself as a representative of the campaign. Steve Bannon conveyed a similar message by text to Page.

XX JAN 2017 — In an interview with ABC News, Page said he didn’t meet with any Russian officials on behalf of Trump campaign or with Igor Sechin (specific date not clear in ABC’s report).

18 JAN 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (before inauguration).

19 JAN 2017 — Article: Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates; Page along with Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have become subjects of an investigation.

20 JAN 2017 — Inauguration Day.

31 JAN 2017 — Trump nominated Maryland’s U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein as Deputy Attorney General.

31 JAN 2017 — Page told ABC News’ Brian Ross he never talked to anyone in the Kremlin about the campaign during his July trip, “not one word.”

15 FEB 2017 — Interview: Former Trump adviser says he had no Russian meetings in the last year

JUDY WOODRUFF:
Did you have any meetings — I will ask again — did you have any meetings last year with Russian officials in Russia, outside Russia, anywhere?

CARTER PAGE:
I had no meetings, no meetings.

I might have said hello to a few people as they were walking by me at my graduation — the graduation speech that I gave in July, but no meetings.

02 MAR 2017 — Interview: Page: ‘I don’t deny’ meeting with Russian amb.; Page admitted meeting Russia’s Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign.

04 MAR 2017 — Corey Lewandowski told Fox News, “I never met Carter Page.”

11 MAR 2017 — Preet Bharara fired by USAG Jeff Sessions.

11 MAR 2017Page sent a letter to the HPSCI asking to be interviewed in a public hearing. His letter coincided with letters from Paul Manafort and Roger Stone who both volunteered to be interviewed.

03 APR 2017 — ABC News and BuzzFeed contacted Page about his role as MALE-1 in Buryakov et al spy ring case ((see written testimony (pdf))

13 APR 2017Page told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he “said hello briefly to one individual, who was aboard member of the New Economic School where I gave my speech” during his July 2016 to Moscow. He also hedged as to whether he had any discussion of sanctions while in Russia.

05 APR 2017 — Evgeny Buryakov was released from prison on March 31 and expelled from the U.S. days later; he had been credited with time served while in custody against his 2.5 year sentence. His deportation shortened his sentence by a couple of months.

~19 APR 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (specific date TBD).

25 APR 2017 — Rod Rosenstein confirmed by Senate as Deputy Attorney General.

28 APR 2017 — Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Page along with Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone asking for records related to the campaign, including a “list of all meetings between you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015, and Jan. 20, 2017.”

05 MAY 2017 — Senate Intelligence Committee chair and vice chair sent a joint statement to Page to insist on his cooperation with their investigation.

09 MAY 2017 — FBI Director James Comey fired.

21 MAY 2017—Page requested appealed to the DOJ, FBI, NSA for disclosure of “information, applications and other materials related to my illegitimate FISA warrant” (see written testimony (pdf)).

~18 JUL 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (specific date TBD).

04 OCT 2017 — HPSCI issued a subpoena to Page.

10 OCT 2017Page informed the Senate Intelligence Committee he would plead the Fifth Amendment and not testify in front of the SIC.

30 OCT 2017 — Excerpt from interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes suggests Page expected House Speaker Paul Ryan to release the FISA warrant documentation (video, about 06:57):

HAYES: Did you bring an attorney to you when you spent five hours before the Senate?

PAGE: Nope. Nope. I’m very, very open and happy to give all the information I can. In the interest of really getting the truth out there, because I think when the truth comes out, when Speaker Paul Ryan says the FISA warrant or the details about the dodgy dossier and what happened and all this documents around that is going to be released, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I think the truth will set a lot of people free.

02 NOV 2017 — In testimony submitted to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Page said he briefly met Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during his July trip. Page pleaded the Fifth Amendment on some of the materials responsive to the HPSCI’s subpoena.

14 NOV 2017 — Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee; he said he did not remember seeing Page at the June 30, 2016 dinner with campaign team members, nor did he recall any communications about Page‘s trip to Moscow.


Again, this is not a complete timeline of Trump-Russia events, let alone a complete timeline of everything Carter Page. It captures some key points from just before the FBI became aware of Carter Page through the release of the Nunes’ memo Friday last week.

From a comprehensive meta level, the push operation to release the Nunes memo — driven in part with help from Russian bots promoting #ReleaseTheMemo, complementing Page’s request for the FISA warrant documentation — looks less like an effort to remove Robert Mueller as special counsel or Rod Rosenstein as U.S. Deputy AG.

As others have suggested, Page looks like an expendable mule and/or a decoy — a perfect fit for a perfect useful idiot.

The entire picture reflects a more comprehensive effort to attack the USDOJ apart from Jeff Sessions, and to undermine or obscure the opposition research process which included the Steele dossier.

And it looks more like Devin Nunes aided Putin’s continued attack against the U.S.’ Magnitsky Act, attempting to undermine law enforcement charged with executing this public law.

For all the concern that Page and other campaign team members might have talked about the sanctions with Russia, the Magnitsky Act is lost in the media buzz.

There are quite a few oddities about Page which should cause the average Joe to take pause. Why did Page join the campaign in March 2016 when Trump wasn’t the presumptive nominee until the first week of May after the Indiana primary? Did he just show up at the campaign’s doorstep via Ed Cox on his own or was he recruited/encouraged? Why wasn’t Page vetted more thoroughly by the campaign?

And why when he joined the campaign was he not expected to have already eliminated any conflicts of interest like his Gazprom ADRs? The financial conflict made Page an easily compromised mark even though both campaign and administration didn’t and don’t give a fig about ethics. It’s not clear how Page earns his keep; he testified he was living off his savings. Did he sell his ADRs only because he was low on cash? In other words, was he at risk for financial compromise?

(An aside: with Page’s relationships to Russian oil and gas community members, did Page buy or sell his ADRs on what might have been insider information? He didn’t do well if he sold in August 2016 but it’s not clear when and at what price he bought the ADRs to begin with.)

How did a guy with such thin credentials — he was awarded his doctorate in 2012 after his thesis was twice rejected — end up speaking not just once at the New Economic School but twice, giving the commencement speech? Not to mention his flaky personal style spies Podobnyy and Sporyshev noted years earlier. What was in his speeches that students, faculty, and distinguished guests alike needed to hear? Did someone at the New Economic School ‘review’ an electronic or hardcopy version of the speeches in advance? This is a question the HPSCI attempted to ask but didn’t receive a clear answer. Did a member of Russia’s government ‘review’ the speeches?

Why was there such a lag between Page’s trip to Russia and the FISA warrant given Page’s history?

Some pieces in this puzzle hint at other possible connections. Recall that Rosenstein — who has been involved in the FISA warrants since Comey was fired — was the US Attorney for Maryland. Pioneer Point, one of Russia’s compounds confiscated December 29, 2016 under sanctions related to hacking the DNC, is located on the water in Maryland.

Maryland was also home to a Manafort-related business SCG raided on May 11 last year. Has Rosenstein been kept preoccupied so that he would not be involved in anything related to either Pioneer Point or SCG? Who (if anyone) was nominated to replace Rosenstein in Maryland? Has the pressure on Rosenstein been two-fold — not just to discourage another extension of the FISA warrant on Page, but to keep him from looking too closely in what was once his backyard?

Key events from George Papadopoulos’ tenure with the campaign were included in the timeline for comparison between two foreign policy advisers working for the same campaign. What marching orders did these two receive from Clovis or other senior campaign team members? They’re off doing their own things but both generating trouble at the same time. Page’s open activities drew media attention; Papadopoulos’ efforts were not as visible to the public. Was this intentional? Why did the campaign need not one but two foreign policy advisers with fossil fuel-based energy backgrounds mingling with Russians? Were they both proof-of-concepts establishing back channel communications, testing approaches to see which would be more successful? Were there any other attempts at back channels via campaign team members?

And while we’ve been focused on these two advisers, at least three others continued their work for the campaign and possibly into the transition. What were they doing?

It’s worth reading the HPSCI transcript of Page’s oral and written testimony. He’s a lousy writer; his work borders on irrational. His oral responses during the HPSCI hearing are as bad if not worse. Of particular concern is his repetitive use of certain arguments and phrases which have been use at times by online provocateurs.

Other persons and issues aside, consider this particular excerpt in a report published about a month before the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page:

Page came to the attention of officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow several years ago when he showed up in the Russian capital during several business trips and made provocative public comments critical of U.S. policy and sympathetic to Putin. “He was pretty much a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did,” said one U.S. official who served in Russia at the time.

How could the FBI not have requested a FISA warrant given what we the public already knew about Carter Page once he left for Moscow last July?

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

On the Breadcrumbs Suggesting Feds Flipped Reza Zarrab

In response to last week’s WSJ story on Mike Flynn’s sustained discussions about helping Turkey kidnap Fethullah Gulen, I suggested the far more interesting detail was his involvement in brokering a deal for Reza Zarrab, a Turk accused of laundering gold to benefit Iran. That’s because, in addition to any taint of a quid pro quo, it also implicated Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara.

Mostly, the focus has been on the kidnapping part of the story (perhaps, in part, because Republicans tried to attack James Woolsey for his involvement in it a few weeks back). But, because of the timeline, I think the far more interesting side of it is the inclusion of a deal on the Reza Zarrab prosecution — because that implicates Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara, substantiating a parallel case to his firing of Jim Comey.

[snip]

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

November 30: Trump tells Preet he can stay

Mid-December: Flynn has meeting discussing $15 million payoff for doing Turkey’s bidding

March 7: Flynn submits delated FARA registration ending in November

March 11: Trump fires Preet

Given Sessions’ confusion about whether he was really involved in that decision, I would bet there’s a paper trail showing he provided, as he did for the Comey firing, cover for a decision that had already been made.

Today, the Daily Beast has a piece suggesting (albeit backed by a long series of no comments from lawyers) that the Feds may have flipped Zarrab.

Mueller is reportedly looking at a December meeting blocks from Trump Tower where Michael Flynn—shortly before Trump became president and named him national security adviser—was reportedly offered upward of $15 million if he could help Turkey win the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gülen as well as the release of gold trader Reza Zarrab.

Now it appears Zarrab, whose trial for allegedly cheating U.S. sanctions by facilitating gold-for-gas deals between Turkey and Iran is scheduled to begin in just days, may be working with federal prosecutors.

Last month, lawyers for his co-defendant, bank manager Mehmet Atilla, remarked sardonically in court filings that Zarrab, the man at the root of the charges facing their client, had all but vanished, and it seemed “likely that Mr. Atilla will be the only defendant appearing at trial.”

It’s a reasonable suggestion. And one other bread crumb might support it: the tidbit that Mueller’s team added a prosecutor last week, who remains unnamed.

Mueller’s work isn’t just confined to his team of prosecutors, which special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said grew last week to 17 with the addition of an unnamed lawyer.

Zarrab was removed from BOP custody on Wednesday November 8, so the same week that this unnamed additional prosecutor was added to the team.

Mind you, it’s not clear how much Zarrab — who was in jail for the period of the alleged meetings — would know about Flynn’s involvement in any proposed deals. He would, however, know what his lawyers Rudy 9/11 and Michael Mukasey had claimed about such deals.

Of course, it’s also possible he was flipped on someone else, like other officials in the Turkish government, or that something else explains the move.

That said, the prosecutors from SDNY would surely be quite interested in exacting some kind of price for Preet’s abrupt removal, and Zarrab might provide the way to do that.

Update: There has always been confusion about whether Michael (the former AG) or Marc (his son) was the lawyer who weighed in for Zarrab, which continues (as Jim notes). It was Michael, not Marc. I’ve corrected this post accordingly.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Flynn-Turkey Deal Raises the Obstruction Stakes for the Preet Bharara Firing

Twitter is abuzz this morning with the WSJ story (this is the NBC version of it; here’s a paywall free link) that Mike Flynn and his spawn hoped to make up to $15 million for kidnapping Fethullah Gulen and delivering him to Turkey.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.

Mueller’s investigation into Flynn’s potential deal with Turkey was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.

The story has already been told; what’s new about this iteration of it is the eye-popping pay-off, as well as more details about the timing and location of a second meeting.

The meeting allegedly took place at the upscale 21 Club restaurant in New York, just blocks always from Trump Tower where Flynn was serving on the presidential transition team. Flynn was offered upwards of $15 million, to be paid directly or indirectly, if he could complete the deal, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

Mostly, the focus has been on the kidnapping part of the story (perhaps, in part, because Republicans tried to attack James Woolsey for his involvement in it a few weeks back). But, because of the timeline, I think the far more interesting side of it is the inclusion of a deal on the Reza Zarrab prosecution — because that implicates Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara, substantiating a parallel case to his firing of Jim Comey.

As noted, SDNY is prosecuting Zarrab for laundering Turkish gold into Iranian coffers. Rudy Giuliani and Michael Mukasey are representing Zarrab, with Giuliani going so far as brokering a deal that would trade foreign policy cooperation for Zarrab’s release even while defying pressure from DOJ about explaining his role in it. Because the case implicates Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally, the impending trial has led to increasing diplomatic tensions with Turkey.

By November 30, Trump assured Preet, as he did Comey, that he would stay on in the Trump Administration. But that changed when, in March, Trump unexpectedly asked for the resignation of almost all US Attorneys. Preet forced the issue and made Trump fire him; early reports suggested Marc Mukasey might replace Preet. Since then, Jeff Sessions has struggled to explain his own role in the firing, which could be an important element to proving the reasons behind it. In the same hearing, it came out that Trump has personally interviewed potential successors for Preet.

In the wake of the Preet firing, those watching closely honed in on the connection between increasing scrutiny on Flynn’s ties with Turkey and the firing.

There’s another reason we should all be alarmed by the unceremonious firing of Preet Bharara, outgoing U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Bharara is presently involved in a case against Reza Zarrab, a dual Iranian-Turkish national accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Investigators initially focused on Zarrab’s sanctions evasion. They then discovered that Zarrab was in close contact with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, who used Illicit funds to provide weapons, financing and logistics for jihadi groups in Syria including ISIS.

Bharara has a reputation as a non-partisan professional. He is known for independence and resisting direction, which led to tensions with the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of State.

As it happens, Bharara’s dismissal occurred the same day [actually Flynn filed his FARA registration on March 7] former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn admitted to obscuring ties with Turkish interests in violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Bharara’s dismissal also occurred in the wake of recent contact between Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, and Jared Kushner.

What this story provides is — like the Comey firing and not coincidentally also tied to Mike Flynn’s actions — important timing. In November, Trump promised to keep Preet. In December, Flynn continued his discussions with the Turks. In March, just after DOJ started forcing Flynn to reveal details about his work for Turkey, Trump reneged on his promise to Preet and — in the guise of firing everyone — fired Preet.

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

November 30: Trump tells Preet he can stay

Mid-December: Flynn has meeting discussing $15 million payoff for doing Turkey’s bidding

March 7: Flynn submits delated FARA registration ending in November

March 11: Trump fires Preet

Given Sessions’ confusion about whether he was really involved in that decision, I would bet there’s a paper trail showing he provided, as he did for the Comey firing, cover for a decision that had already been made.

The one other important detail of this story, which follows on stories from yesterday, is that Mueller has implicated Flynn Jr in this deal. That reportedly is already making Flynn Sr consider pleading, to protect his son.

But if he does that, he may be forced to disclose how closely Trump was involved in these discussions to sell US policy to Turkey to enrich a staffer.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Jeff Sessions Can’t Remember Whether He Was Involved in Firing All the US Attorneys

One of the things that came out of Jeff Sessions’ testimony last Thursday was the news — elicited by Richard Blumenthal — that President Trump had personally interviewed candidates for two US Attorney positions, those in SDNY and EDNY, which was taken as a sign Trump wanted to install cronies in the districts that oversee most of his (and his family’s) activities.

But there was a counterpart exchange at the hearing that was, particularly because of Sessions’ inability to answer it, just as stunning.

After Mazie Hirono handed Sessions his ass for attacking a judge in HI for issuing a nationwide injunction, she then asked him who was involved in the decision to fire all the US Attorneys all at once.

Hirono: Who was involved in the decision to dismiss all of the US Attorneys without any warning. And why was it done when it was done?

At first Sessions just filibustered — Clinton Clinton Clinton.

Sessions: [stumped] We had gone for a number of months, about half of the United States Attorneys had already resigned, it’s traditional that they’re replaced by the next Administration, and President [pause] I believe President Clinton did the same, issued a single order, precedent, there’s precedent for it to complete the process of changeover.

So then Hirono asked what I imagine is the point: whether Trump made the decision entirely on his own.

Hirono: So it was totally President Trump who made that decision? You were not involved in that decision?

Sessions: I, I believe the responsibility is the President’s.

Hirono: You were not involved in that decision to fire them all?

But then when she double checks whether that’s true, he realizes he’s about to get his boss in a whole heap of trouble, and — literally mid-question!! — turns to ask a staffer what the correct answer is.

Sessions: Actually, actually, I think the Att —

[Sessions stops mid-sentence to talk to a staffer behind him]

Only after consulting the staffer did Sessions “remember” being involved in the decision.

Sessions: I can’t re — I can’t believe I can’t remember that. But it was an important issue. The President appoints United States Attorneys, and it was appropriate, I thought at that time to make the change.

Hirono: So you were involved?

Sessions: Yes, I was involved.

Thus far, the exchange is remarkable enough.

All the more so when you look back at the reporting from when it occurred, in early March. As NYT reported, it was a surprise to all the US Attorneys asked to leave.

The Trump administration moved on Friday to sweep away most of the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.

But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter.

And it was an apparent reversal from an earlier plan.

The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once,” she said. “Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case. I’m very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

A statement from DOJ spox Sarah Isgur Flores does attribute the decision to Sessions.

“The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”

But Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (one of just two to keep his job right away), not Sessions, made the calls to the US Attorneys.

In other words, it seems possible that Sessions really wasn’t involved, but he has to pretend to be, so that the decision to fire (especially) Preet Bharara doesn’t appear to be something Trump did on his own, partly in response to badgering from Sean Hannity.

In other words, this later exchange from the same hearing suggests that Trump first unilaterally fired all the US Attorneys, which even at the time was interpreted as an effort to fire one in particular, and now is exercising more control over his replacement than any President ever has before. Only, Sessions managed to remember being involved just in time to make that clear.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Loretta Lynch Is A Dubious Nominee For Attorney General

CryingJusticeLoretta Lynch is an excellent nominee for Attorney General, and her prior actions in whitewashing the blatant and rampant criminality of HSBC should not be held against her, because she didn’t know that at the time she last whitewashed that criminal enterprise, right?

No. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a cop out by Lynch’s advocates. Lynch either knew, or damn well should have known. She signed off on the HSBC Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), if she was less than fully informed, that is on her. That is what signing legal documents stands for….responsibility. Banks like HSBC, Credit Suisse, ING etc were, and still are, a cesspool of criminal activity and avoidance schemes. Willful blindness to the same old bankster crimes by Lynch doesn’t cut it (great piece by David Dayen by the way).

But, all the above ignores the Swiss Alps sized mountains of evidence that we know Lynch was aware of and blithely swept under the rug by her HSBC DPA. So, we are basically left to decide whether Lynch is a bankster loving toady that is her own woman and cravenly whitewashed this all on her own, or whether she is a clueless stooge taking orders to whitewash it by DOJ Main. Both views are terminally unattractive and emblematic of the oblivious, turn the other cheek to protect the monied class, rot that infects the Department of Justice on the crimes of the century to date.

And that is only scratching the real surface of my objections to Lynch. There are many other areas where Lynch has proven herself to be a dedicated, dyed in the wool “law and order adherent” and, as Marcy Wheeler artfully coined, “executive maximalist”. Lynch’s ridiculous contortion, and expansion, of extraterritorial jurisdiction to suit the convenient whims of the Obama Administration’s unparalleled assault on the Rule of Law in the war on terror is incredibly troubling. Though, to be fair, EDNY is the landing point of JFK International and a frequent jurisdiction by designation. Some of these same questions could have been asked of Preet Bharara (see, e.g. U.S. v. Warsame) Loretta Lynch has every bit the same, if not indeed more, skin in the game as Bharara, whether by choice or chance.

Lynch has never uttered a word in dissent from this ridiculous expansion of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Lynch’s record in this regard is crystal clear from cases like US v. Ahmed, Yousef, et. al. where even Lynch and her office acknowledged that their targets could not have “posed a specific threat to the United States” much less have committed specific acts against the US.

This unconscionable expansion is clearly all good by Lynch, and the ends justify the means because there might be “scary terrists” out there. That is just dandy by American “executive maximalists”, but it is toxic to the Rule of Law, both domestically and internationally (See, supra). If the US, and its putative Attorney General, are to set precedents in jurisdictional reach on common alleged terroristic support, then they ought live by them on seminal concerns like torture and war crimes under international legal norms. Loretta Lynch has demonstrated a proclivity for the convenience of the former and a toady like disdain for the latter.

And the same willingness to go along to get along with contortion of the Rule of Law in that regard seems beyond certain to extend to her treatment of surveillance issues and warrant applications, state secrets, over-classification, attack on the press and, critically, separation of powers issues. Those types of concerns, along with how the Civil Rights Division is utilized to rein in out of control militarized cops and voting rights issues, how the OLC stands up to Executive overreach, whether OPR is allowed to continue to shield disgraceful and unethical AUSAs, and whether she has the balls to stand up to the infamously insulated inner Obama circle in the White House. Do you really think Loretta Lynch would have backed up Carolyn Krass and OLC in telling Obama no on the Libyan War Powers Resolution issue?

For my part, I don’t think there is a chance in hell Lynch would have stood up to Obama on a war powers, nor any other critical issue, and that is a huge problem. Krass and Holder may have lost the Libyan WPR battle, but at least they had the guts to stand up and say no, and leave a record of the same for posterity.

That is what really counts, not the tripe being discussed in the press, and the typically preening clown show “hearing” in front of SJC. That is where the rubber meets the road for an AG nominee, not that she simply put away some mobsters and did not disgrace herself – well, beyond the above, anyway (which she absolutely did) – during her time as US Attorney in EDNY. If you are a participant in, or interested observer of, the criminal justice system as I am, we should aspire to something better than Eric Holder. Holder may not have been everything hoped for from an Obama AG when the Administration took office in January of 2009, but he was a breath of fresh air coming off the AG line of the Bush/Cheney regime. Loretta Lynch is not better, and is not forward progress from Holder, indeed she is several steps down in the wrong direction. That is not the way to go.

The fact that Loretta Lynch is celebrated as a great nominee by not just Democrats in general, but the so called progressives in specific, is embarrassing. She is absolutely horrible. If Bush had put her up for nomination, people of the progressive ilk, far and wide, would be screaming bloody murder. Well, she is the same person, and she is a terrible nominee. And that does not bode well for the Rule of Law over the remainder of the Obama Administration.

And this post has not even touched on more mundane, day to day, criminal law and procedure issues on which Lynch is terrible. And horrible regression from Eric Holder. Say for instance pot. Decriminalization, indeed legalization, of marijuana is one of the backbone elements of reducing both the jail and prison incarceration rate, especially in relation to minorities. Loretta Lynch is unconscionably against that (See, e.g., p. 49 (of pdf) et. seq.). Lynch appears no more enlightened on other sentencing and prison reform, indeed, she seems to be of a standard hard core prosecutorial wind up law and order lock em up mentality. Lynch’s positions on relentless Brady violations by the DOJ were equally milquetoast, if not pathetic (See, e.g. p. 203 (of pdf) et. seq.). This discussion could go on and on, but Loretta Lynch will never come out to be a better nominee for Attorney General.

Observers ought stop and think about the legal quality, or lack thereof, of the nominee they are blindly endorsing. If you want more enlightened criminal justice policy, to really combat the prison state and war on drugs, and to rein in the out of control security state and war on terror apparatus, Loretta Lynch is a patently terrible choice; we can, and should, do better.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Eric Holder Resigns, Will Likely Go Back to Representing Banks at Covington and Burling

As we speak, Chuck Schumer is probably yelling into a phone trying to get President Obama to nominate Wall Street’s US Attorney Preet Bharara to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General. “Barahck,” Schumer is probably yelling, “I can get Mitch to agree to push Preet through in the Lame Duck.”

That’s because Holder has just announced his resignation, pending confirmation of his successor.

The three most interesting details in Carrie Johnson’s scoop on Holder’s resignation are that he is likely to return to Covington and Burling, where — like former Criminal Division Chief Lanny Breuer before him — he will represent banks as they craft sweetheart deals with DOJ.

Friends and former colleagues say Holder has made no decisions about his next professional perch, but they say it would be no surprise if he returned to the law firm Covington & Burling, where he spent years representing corporate clients.

Nice to know a guy can still profit off of 6 years of overlooking rampant bank crime.

Johnson also reported that Holder plans to push through racial profiling guidelines that will protect African Americans but not Muslims.

Long-awaited racial profiling guidelines for federal agents will be released soon, too. Those guidelines will make clear that sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion are not legitimate bases for law enforcement suspicion, but controversial mapping of certain communities — including Muslim Americans — would still be allowed for national security investigations, one of the sources said.

That will soil the one real bright spot of Holder’s tenure at DOJ, his fight for civil rights.

Finally, Johnson reported that Don Verrilli — the guy who seemed to, but did not quite — lose the ObamaCare fight is the leading candidate to replace Holder.

The sources say a leading candidate for that job is Solicitor General Don Verrilli, the administration’s top representative to the Supreme Court and a lawyer whose judgment and discretion are prized in both DOJ and the White House.

By “judgement and discretion,” I wonder whether Johnson’s sources are referring to Verrilli’s stubbornness in not correcting the lies he told SCOTUS (wittingly or unwittingly) about DOJ’s implementation of FISA Amendments Act in the Amnesty v. Clapper case. By claiming, falsely, that DOJ gives defendants notice that they’ve been caught using Section 702, Verrilli successfully beat back the Justices’ concerns that no one would ever have standing to challenge these laws.

For what it’s worth, I think people are vastly overestimating the time it will take to replace Holder. After all, Republicans are on the record that they believe Holder to be contemptuous of Congress. While the House GOP that is suing him don’t actually get a vote on his replacement, surely they’ll convince their proxy Ted Cruz to represent their contempt.

Thus, for the right candidate, I suspect confirmation will happen quickly, just as Caroline Krass got confirmed in a landslide when the costs of leaving Robert Eatinger — who referred CIA’s overseers to DOJ for investigation — in place as Acting CIA General Counsel became clear.

I’m just not convinced Verrilli is that guy. And while Preet did lead the investigation into Alberto Gonzales’ politicization of the US Attorneys when he worked for Schumer, surely the GOP cares more about his diligent efforts to not investigate the banks in the interim.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Remember How Angry Russia Is about Viktor Bout

As we await the next installment from Edward Snowden’s White Bronco chase around the globe, it’s worth remembering our attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and the Boston Marathon attack (and subsequent whitewashing about how closely Russia is cooperating) are not the only things underlying US-Russian relations.

Russia is still very angry about our assertion of jurisdiction to entrap Viktor Bout for selling arms to FARC.

Indeed, Preet Bharara is among the US officials that Russia sanctioned in retaliation for the Magnitsky list, along with such leading lights of American law as John Yoo and David Addington.

Jeralyn lays out Russian frustrations over our manufactured jurisdiction with two of their citizens here.

Bout’s story (background here)is even worse. He was the victim of a DEAsting in Thailand. The U.S. fought tooth and nail to extradite him and lost. The U.S. appealed (and likely pulled some strings, if the Wikileaks cables are any indication, and lo and behold, The higher court in Thailand approved his extradition. He spent a miserable two years at MCC in New York, was convicted and sentenced to 35 years which he is serving at theUSP in Marion, IL., one of our SuperMax prisons. The U.S. claims he’s a “Lord of War” and seller of arms. He never sold arms here. What’s it our business? Why have a prisoner transfer treaty if you aren’t going to use it? Did anyone ask the American taxpayers if they want to pay $40,000 a year times 30 years to warehouse Bout in a high security prison when Russia’s willing to take him?

You don’t have to like what Bout did (which is not much more destabilizing than what Erik Prince has done) to understand that when the US claims jurisdiction over anyone in the world, even if they do nothing to harm the US directly, is going to piss off other countries.

Eventually, those countries may have an opportunity to express their frustration about it.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

When the Preet Promotion Industry Speaks, the Nation Gets Nervous

In an article with the URL “when-preet-bharara-speaks-the-shady-get-nervous,” the WaPo repeats a now familiar formula for stories boosting US Attorney Preet Bharara’s fortune: lots of quotes from political powerful allies…

“If [Bharara] smells corruption, he’ll go after it and figure out a way to corral it,” [Chuck] Schumer said. “But he will not make up cases for the sake of making up cases.”

Lots of celebration of recent headlines (I mean, cmon, as I understand it, indicting corrupt NY officials has become the prosecutorial equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel)…

“For the second time in three days, we unseal criminal charges against a sitting member of our state legislature,” Bharara, 44, said during the Thursday afternoon news conference in downtown Manhattan. This time, the U.S. attorney accused a Bronx assemblyman of accepting bribes as part of a scheme to aid developers, which Bharara called “a fairly neat trick” that amounted to “a legislator selling legislation.”

And lots of hints that scream “Pick Preet! Promote Preet!”

It is now highly unlikely that the White House would forget about Bharara, as administration officials somehow did in 2009, when they failed to invite the Indian American powerhouse to the Indian state dinner.

[snip]

Such concerns are unlikely to slow down Bharara. Considered politically astute by observers in Washington and New York, Bharara made a point of not taking sides in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary that pitted then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. He has been rumored as a possible successor to his boss, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., either in the current administration or the next Democratic one.

But not one word about his failure to hold anyone accountable for the 2008 financial crash (aside from citing last year’s Time magazine story that falsely claimed “This Man Is Busting Wall Street”).

But Chuck Schumer and Preet’s other boosters appear to believe that’s the formula that will get Preet nominated to replace Eric Holder.

Sadly, they’re probably right.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Another Week, Another Bankster with Impunity

This week, the bankster who will avoid all legal accountability is MF Global and its CEO Jon Corzine. So says the NYT.

While I’m disgusted by that news, I’m not shocked. I’ve grown used to the guarantee that top banksters are immune from all laws.

What I’m interested in is how NYT conveys their news.

First, note what crime they claim MF Global might have committed: fraud. Not theft.

After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm’s demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case.

I guess if you said “theft” then you couldn’t suggest the money just disappeared–poof!–rather than got taken to pay off the company’s own obligations.

Plus it’d be a lot harder to accomplish the article’s other main objective, besides reporting yet another Get Out of Jail Free card. While the story seems to have been seeded by people in Preet Bharara’s neighborhood to set the expectation that he would once again fail to bring charges against a bankster, the NYT seems intent on rehabilitating Corzine’s reputation. Consider that they dedicate paragraphs 6 and 7 portraying the tragic plight of a multi-millionaire with a cloud hanging over him.

While the government’s findings would remove the darkest cloud looming over Mr. Corzine — the threat of criminal charges — the former Goldman Sachs chief is not yet in the clear. Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.