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Mike Flynn’s “Wiped” Phone

Back in October, I noted that Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson had written a 285-page report complaining that the FBI had obtained records from the GSA as part of the Mueller investigation. I further pointed out that one of their central complaints, that the FBI hadn’t obtained a warrant, was almost certainly refuted by the public record.

[T]he craziest thing is how the report confesses that they are unaware of any legal process for these files.

Although the FBI’s August 30, 2017 cover email referenced applying for a search warrant, the Committees are aware of only one court-ordered disclosure of records, specifically, information related to the transition records of Lt. Gen. Flynn, K.T. McFarland, Michael Flynn’s son, and Daniel Gelbinovich.128

128 Order, In re Application of the U.S. for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) Directed at Google Related to [the transition email accounts for those four individuals], 1:17-mc-2005 (D.D.C. Aug. 18, 2017) [GSA004400- 4404] (ordering the disclosure of customer/subscriber information but not content).

At one level, they’re being coy in that they claim to be interested in court-ordered disclosure. A document recently released via the Jeffrey Jensen review reveals that in February 2017, star witness and pro-Trump FBI Agent was obtaining some of this information using NSLs. Another document explains why, too: because one of the first things FBI had to do to understand why Flynn had lied to them was to determine if he was coordinating his story with those at Mar-a-Lago.

The lie that he didn’t even know Obama had imposed sanctions was not one of Flynn’s charged lies, but it was his most damning. He lied to hide that he had consulted with Mar-a-Lago before picking up a phone and secretly undermining sanctions in “collusion” with Russia.

Crazier still, Chuck and Ron didn’t go to the first place one should go to understand how legal process worked, the publicly released Mueller warrants. The warrant to access the devices and email of at least the original nine (plus one other person) is right there in the docket.

GSA transferred the requested records to the FBI, but FBI didn’t access them until it had a warrant.

In other words, this 285-page report is effectively a confession from Chuck and Ron that two Committee Chairs and a whole slew of staffers can’t figure out how to read the public record.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the very same day Grassley and Johnson released their report, the government submitted its proposed redactions in the Mike Flynn warrants that Flynn’s attorneys had been stalling on. Those finally got released on November 10. Two of the warrants prove I was correct.

An August 25, 2017 warrant obtaining the GSA emails and device content of Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Daniel Gelbinovich explains,

As described below, each of the Target Email Accounts and Target Devices was provided by the General Services Administration (GSA) to one of three members of then-President Elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team after the 2016 presidential election: MICHAEL T. FLYNN, Kathleen T. McFarland, and [Gelbinovich]. At the FBI’s request, the GSA provided the Target Email Accounts and Target Devices to the FBI, which is maintaining them at the FBI’s Washington Field Office located at 601 4th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20535. While the FBI might already have all necessary authority to examine the property, I seek this additional warrant out of an abundance of caution to be certain that an examination of the property will comply with the Fourth Amendment and other laws.

Much later, the affidavit addresses another concern raised by the Senate report, that the devices had been preserved improperly. Not true.

Like Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s cell phones, they were wiped.

Information provided by the GSA indicates that the Target Devices were “wiped” after they were returned to GSA following the transition period.

They were wiped even though there was an active criminal investigation into Flynn.

A September 27, 2017 warrant for the emails and devices of Keith Kellogg, Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner explains further.

Based on information provided by the GSA, when email accounts and devices including the Transition Team Email Accounts and Subject Devices were issued to members of the Transition Team, recipients were required to certify that the “Government property” they had received was being provided “in connection with [their] role with the President-elect/Eligible Candidate Transition Team”; that it needed to be returned when they were no longer working for the Transition Team; and that they agreed to abide by the IT Acceptable Use Policy. In addition, the laptop computers issued by GSA to members of the Transition Team included a visible banner upon turning on the computers that stated: “This is a U.S. General Services Administration Federal Government computer system that is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY. By accessing and using this computer you are consenting to monitoring, recording, auditing and information retrieval for law enforcement and other purposes. Therefore, no expectation of privacy is to be assumed.” [emphasis added)

Curiously, this warrant reveals that not all of these phones were wiped.

Information provided by the GSA indicates that some of the Subject Devices were “wiped” after they were returned to the GSA following the transition period.

If Mike Flynn’s phone (along with KT McFarland’s) was wiped, but those of other senior officials were not, even though the White House had learned of a criminal investigation into Flynn in the earliest days of the Administration, it would suggest that the most damning phones may have been selectively wiped.

I’ll describe in a follow-up some of the damning details that wiping the phones might have attempted to hide.

The Logan Act Is Just the Cherry on Mike Flynn’s Foreign Agent Sundae

There’s an ironic line in Billy Barr’s CBS interview this week, where he acknowledges that prosecutors can become too wedded to a particular outcome.

These are very smart people who were working in the special counsel’s office, and in senior levels of the FBI. So what drove them here?

Well, I think one of the things you have to guard against, both as a prosecutor and I think as an investigator, is that if you get too wedded to a particular outcome and you’re pursuing a particular agenda, you close your eyes to anything that sort of doesn’t fit with your preconception. And I think that’s probably the phenomenon we’re looking at here.

That’s because Barr and Sidney Powell have the frothy right chasing the Logan Act like six year olds after a soccer ball as if that was the only basis to interview Mike Flynn on January 24, 2017. It’s unclear whether frothy commenters have been duped by Barr’s guile, or they just haven’t read the record.

The record is crystal clear, however: When the investigation into Mike Flynn was opened on August 16, 2016, he was being investigated as a witting or unwitting Agent of a Foreign Power (Barr’s DOJ — and DOJ IG — have both made the same error in suggesting this was just about FARA, but the investigation was also predicated under 18 USC 951). Timothy Shea conceded in his motion to dismiss the prosecution that that investigation was never closed. And evidence from three different contemporaneous witnesses — Jim Comey, Mary McCord, and Bill Priestap — say that’s why the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017.

Bill Priestap made clear that they did this interview to find out whether Flynn was acting as an agent for Russia.

The FBI’s provided rationale for doing the interview was that the existence of the investigation had already leaked, so Flynn was already aware that the information was being discussed publicly and there was no element of surprise. Priestap told the group the goal of the interview was whether to determine whether or not Flynn was in a clandestine relationship with the Russians.

That’s what Comey said, too.

MR. COMEY: To find out whether there was something we were missing about his relationship with the Russians and whether he would — because we had this disconnect publicly between what the Vice President was saying and what we knew. And so before we closed an investigation of Flynn, I wanted them to sit before him and say what is the deal?

The Priestap notes that the frothy right is pointing to as proof of abuse makes quite clear that the point of the interview was not to create a perjury trap, but to see whether Flynn would be honest about his relationship with the Russians.

Bob Litt, who (per these same records) was the first person to raise the Logan Act, analyzed the ways that Timothy Shea’s motion conflicts with the FBI’s DIOG. He described the interview to be, first and foremost, about counterintelligence.

The attorney general and his minions are making the astounding argument that when the FBI—aware of extensive Russian interference in U.S. politics in order to benefit the Trump campaign—learned that the incoming national security advisor requested that Russia not respond to the sanctions that were imposed in response to that interference and then lied to other government officials about that, it could not even “collect information or facts to determine” whether this created a counterintelligence threat. This cannot be right. Even if the prior investigation into Flynn had been closed, which it had not, these circumstances at a minimum justified an assessment under standard FBI policy.

In fact, the department’s motion virtually concedes the point. It dismisses Flynn’s lies to Pence and Spicer by saying that “[h]ad the FBI been deeply concerned about the disparities between what they knew had been said on the calls and the representations of Vice President Pence or Mr. Spicer, it would have sought to speak with them directly, but did not.” But that would be a kind of investigative activity, and under the DIOG, either the FBI has a basis to investigate or it doesn’t. If the facts justified talking to Pence about Flynn, they justified talking to Flynn.

Once you have a predicated investigation into 18 USC 951, adding another potential crime (the Logan Act) does not change that the investigation into 18 USC 951 remained, per Shea, ongoing.

In his interview, Barr misrepresents the record to claim what Flynn did — undermining the punishment imposed on a hostile foreign country after they attacked us — was “laudable.”

They did not have a basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage, based on a perfectly legitimate and appropriate call he made as a member of the transition. So.

[snip]

Let me say that, at that point, he was the designated national security adviser for President-Elect Trump, and was part of the transition, which is recognized by the government and funded by the government as an important function to bring in a new administration. And it is very typical, very common for the national security team of the incoming president to communicate with foreign leaders.

And that call, there was nothing wrong with it whatever. In fact, it was laudable. He– and it was nothing inconsistent with the Obama administration’s policies. And it was in U.S. interests. He was saying to the Russians, you know, “Don’t escalate.” And they asked him if he remembered saying that, and he said he didn’t remember that.

There are several problems with this claim.

For starters, at first, Mary McCord agreed with this take. She dismissed the call for the same reasons Barr still does — that this was just the typical communication between an incoming national security team and foreign leaders.

Two things changed her mind.

The first was the evidence that Flynn was lying about what he did to others in the incoming Administration.

It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners, so the Logan Act seemed like a stretch to her. She described the matter as “concerning” but with no particular urgency. In early January, McCord did not think people were considering briefing the incoming administration. However, that changed when Vice President Michael Pence went on Face the Nation and said things McCord knew to be untrue. Also, as time went on, and then-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer made comments about Flynn’s actions she knew to be false, the urgency grew.

It is normal for officials in incoming Administrations to reach out to foreign leaders. But it is not the norm for incoming officials to freelance, to set policy that no one else in the Administration knows about. And the public evidence at the time the FBI interviewed Flynn was that he had done this on his own and was actively hiding it form his colleagues (as indeed the current record says he was).

The record that Barr distorted in this interview shows that FBI was in a holding pattern until there was public evidence that Flynn had lied to others in the Administration, which not only changed the calculus about warning the Administration, but created urgency to take an investigative step FBI might not otherwise have done.

The other thing that changed McCord’s mind about whether this was the normal pre-inauguration outreach was reading the transcript.

After reading them, she felt they were “worse” than she initially thought; she noted that her recollection of them is that Flynn proactively raised the issue of sanctions, and she feels it is hard to believe he would forget talking about something he raised himself.

Sally Yates described Flynn make a series of asks, some of which remain classified.

And McCord wasn’t the only one who responded that way. Once Mike Pence and Reince Priebus read the transcripts, Flynn was out the door the next day.

Notably, even though Ric Grenell is in the middle of a declassification spree, neither he nor Barr have chosen to declassify the actual transcripts here, even though Flynn has requested them repeatedly. Barr’s DOJ is also withholding other details that would describe the reaction of Administration officials to reading the transcript in the Buzzfeed FOIA. So it’s easy for Barr to claim this was normal, but a career prosecutor who read the transcripts said they weren’t, and Barr is deliberately withholding information that would let us test that claim.

This is why DOJ’s materiality argument fails, too. Had Flynn told the truth, the FBI might have had reason to treat this as the normal pre-inauguration contact. But once he lied, the FBI had more reason to continue investigating, to try to figure out why he lied. All the more so given that Flynn was hiding his other Foreign Agent relationship with Turkey at the time.

If Flynn’s behavior were, as Barr claims, “laudable,” then he would have simply admitted it. Once he lied about it, the FBI had more reason to suspect he had been freelancing, deliberately undermining American policy without the sanction and knowledge of others in the Trump Administration.

Only one thing explains Barr’s view, and it is damning. The FBI had reason to investigate anyway, and as Litt correctly lays out, these actions were solidly within the guidelines laid out in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. But the only way to conclude, as Barr has, that Flynn’s actions — calling up the Russian Ambassador and telling him not to worry about the sanctions imposed for helping Trump get elected — are not clear cut evidence that he was clandestinely operating as an Agent of Russia is if Trump told him to do it.

That doesn’t make it laudable. But it is as close as we’ve ever come to an admission that Flynn did this not just with the knowledge of, but on orders from, Trump. That’s probably why Trump is boasting about learning from Nixon right now: Because unlike Nixon, he got away with cheating to win an election.

At First, KT McFarland Told a Similarly Misleading Version of the Story Mike Flynn Will Be Pardoned For

In his abundant free time, the President tweeted about pardoning Mike Flynn on Sunday.

According to Matt Gertz, this was a response to a Lou Dobbs segment with John Solomon where Dobbs said there are 302s that “can’t be found.” Per transcripts Gertz shared, this is a reference to Sidney Powell’s claim — repeated with Dobbs the day before — that the first draft of Flynn’s 302 is missing (she also complained that Flynn never received a January 2017 memo stating that DOJ did not believe Flynn was an agent of Russia, which is unrelated to whether he was an agent of Turkey or lied to the FBI about his interactions with Russia).

Emmet Sullivan has already judged Trump’s complaint to be baseless

In December, Emmet Sullivan already judged this complaint to be baseless because the notes written before any “original 302” and all the 302s already provided Flynn track each other and the 302s consistently capture Flynn’s lies.

Mr. Flynn speculates that the government is suppressing the “original 302” of the January 24, 2017 interview, Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 28; he claims that the lead prosecutor “made it sound like there was only one 302,” id. at 29; and he makes a separate request for the FBI to search for the “original 302” in one of the FBI’s databases, id. at 28-30. In Mr. Flynn’s view, the “original 302”—if it exists—may reveal that the interviewing FBI agents wrote in the report “their impressions that [Mr.] Flynn was being truthful.” Id. at 28. Mr. Flynn claims that the FBI destroyed the “original 302” to the extent that it was stored in the FBI’s files. Id. at 30. Comparing draft FD-302s of Mr. Flynn’s January 24, 2017 interview to the final version, Mr. Flynn claims that the FBI manipulated the FD-302 because “substantive changes” were made after reports that Mr. Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian Ambassador “contrary to what Vice President Pence had said on television previously.” Id. at 14-15. Mr. Flynn points to the Strzok-Page text messages the night of February 10, 2017 and Ms. Page’s edits to certain portions of the draft FD-302 that were “material.” Def.’s SurSurreply, ECF No. 135 at 8-9.

To the extent Mr. Flynn has not already been provided with the requested information and to the extent the information exists, the Court is not persuaded that Mr. Flynn’s arguments demonstrate that he is entitled to the requested information. For starters, the Court agrees with the government that there were no material changes in the interview reports, and that those reports track the interviewing FBI agents’ notes.

[snip]

Having carefully reviewed the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD302, and the statements contained therein, the Court agrees with the government that those documents are “consistent and clear that [Mr. Flynn] made multiple false statements to the [FBI] agents about his communications with the Russian Ambassador on January 24, 2017.” Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 4-5. The Court rejects Mr. Flynn’s request for additional information regarding the drafting process for the FD-302s and a search for the “original 302,” see Def.’s Sur-Surreply, ECF No. 135 at 8- 10, because the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD-302, and Mr. Flynn’s own admissions of his false statements make clear that Mr. Flynn made those false statements.

Even though a judge has already ruled that this complaint is baseless, Trump took a break from mismanaging a pandemic to inch closer to a Flynn pardon based on it.

Given the increasing likelihood Trump will use the cover of the epidemic to pardon Flynn, it’s worth pointing to another set of evidence that Flynn’s prosecution for lying was sound: he’s not the only one who tried to cover up the Trump Transition’s efforts to undercut President Obama’s sanctions on Russia.

Like Flynn, KT McFarland hid Trump Transition efforts to undercut sanctions at first

In FBI interview reports (302s) released in the BuzzFeed/CNN FOIAs, some details of KT McFarland’s interviews prior to his guilty plea have been released. McFarland was interviewed four times before Flynn’s plea deal became public: August 29 (this 302 has not yet been released), September 14, October 17, and October 19, 2017.  Those 302s show that, at first, KT McFarland downplayed the Trump Transition efforts to undermine Obama’s sanctions on Russia that Mike Flynn got fired and prosecuted for (as well as tried to protect Jared Kushner in his role trying to undercut Obama policies on Israeli settlements).

McFarland’s first interview, on August 29, came in the wake of Mueller’s team acquiring Transition emails from the General Services Administration without notice to the campaign, followed by a warrant to read them. It’s likely her (still unreleased) initial interview and the beginning of her second one were based off a presumption that some emails making it clear the Transition had discussed sanctions would not get shared with Mueller’s team. When she got showed them, she claimed not to remember all details about them.

Her initial interview, as noted, has not been released. The unredacted passages from her second one (she did all pre-Flynn interviews without a lawyer, but in the presence of her spouse, who is a lawyer) show she shaded the truth about things she should have known the FBI had counter-evidence to. (In what follows, I’m bolding things she said in early interviews that her later testimony contradicts.)

For example, in that second interview, McFarland professed to not recall who attended a Presidential Daily Brief on December 28, 2016 where sanctions were discussed.

McFarland was shown a calendar entry for December 28, 2016 and confirmed the entry would have represented a PDB. She sat in the briefing, but did not recall who was there besides [Deputy Director of National Intelligence Edward] Gistaro. It was a small number of people and it took place in a basement studio apartment in the hotel.

Note: Gistaro had already testified at least once before this interview, on June 14, but that was likely focused on Trump’s demand that Dan Coats “help with the [Russian] investigation.” But it’s certainly possible his is one of the interviews in the interim that remain undisclosed.

In addition to her vague memories about meetings at Mar-a-Lago, McFarland also claimed she “did not recall any conversations she may have had with Flynn the day sanctions were announced.” While her description of what Flynn told her about his call with Sergey Kislyak is largely redacted, it’s clear she told the FBI it pertained to “Russian President Putin’s desire for a contemporary video conference after the inauguration.” This is the cover story Flynn asked her to tell the press in January 2017, and it’s part of what Flynn got fired for. Yet she was still relying on it in an interview with the FBI seven months later.

In her third interview, McFarland admitted that sanctions may have come up, but claimed again not to have specific knowledge of it.

News that the Obama Administration planned to impose sanctions on Russia started to come out on December 28, 2016, but they had not been officially announced and specifics were unknown. Sanctions were just one of “several and many things” going on at that time. McFarland, who was in Mar-a-Lago with the President-elect, did not recall what specific conversations she had at which times or to whom she spoke, but sanctions were in the news so it would make sense to her they were among the topics discussed.

In this interview report, McFarland’s explanation for an email involving Tom Bossert discussing sanctions is redacted, but the unredacted parts claim,

McFarland never discussed the specific terms of the sanctions with anyone. She would have told Michael Flynn about how the session with the President-elect went during one of their phone calls.

This claim would have been especially sketchy to the FBI since Flynn had already told the FBI, in January, that he only learned about sanctions from those at Mar-a-Lago.

McFarland also claimed not to remember what she discussed with Flynn when.

She did not have specific recollections about the times of the calls with Flynn or what was discussed in which call. Flynn mentioned several times several issues he intended to discuss with the Russians, and McFarland believed she would have given her theories about the sanctions.

McFarland’s memory started to grow clearer after outlines of Flynn’s testimony were released when he pled guilty on December 1, 2017.

McFarland’s post-Flynn plea memories grow significantly clearer

As the Mike Flynn cooperation addendum laid out, one reason Flynn’s reluctant cooperation was useful is it led others — including, but not limited to, McFarland — to unforget the truth.

[T]he defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate. In some instances, individuals whom the SCO interviewed before the defendant’s guilty plea provided additional, relevant details about their knowledge of key events after his cooperation became publicly.

Days after Flynn’s guilty plea, on December 5, she must have realized that he had given testimony that contradicted hers and informed FBI agents she was in the process of lawyering up. McFarland asked one of the FBI Agents she had been interacting with for the Tom Bossert and Mike Flynn emails she had already testified about, which were included in a December 2 NYT story on Flynn’s plea.

McFarland asked whether SSA [redacted] could provide two emails which he and SA [redacted] had shown to her in her interviews. She did not have the emails, but they were now apparently widely held, including by the New York Times, which published, but grossly misrepresented them. The emails were one from her dated December 29, 2016 in which she discussed President Obama’s three political objectives in imposing sanctions and mentioned Flynn’s scheduled call with the Russian ambassador that evening; and an email from Flynn to her the next day, December 30, 2017, in which Flynn reported on his conversation with the ambassador. McFarland felt she was at a a disadvantage since “everyone in the world” had copies of the emails except for her.

McFarland’s fourth 302 — which the Mueller Report heavily relies on — is heavily redacted. But what’s not redacted shows McFarland remembering details about conversations she had had about sanctions that she had professed not to remember in her earlier interviews.

McFarland and Bannon met on December 29. [redacted] but they also talked about sanctions. [redacted] Bannon told McFarland the sanctions would hurt their ability to have good relations with Russia. [redacted] Bannon thought a Russian escalation would make things more difficult. McFarland thought she told him Flynn was scheduled to talk to the Russian ambassador later that night. [redacted]

McFarland stated that she may have run into Priebus and given him a short version of her conversation with Bannon about the sanctions. [redacted] She may have told Priebus that Flynn was scheduled to talk to the Russian ambassador that night, but was not sure.

[redacted]

McFarland and Flynn spoke on the telephone at around 4:00 pm on December 29.

[redactions and snip]

McFarland knew before the [sic] Flynn’s call that Flynn was going to feel out the Russian ambassador on the overall relationship, knowing that the sanctions would influence it.

There’s a heavily redacted section that nevertheless shows that McFarland provided significant details about the meeting with Trump on December 29 (including that Trump “said he had reason to doubt it was the Russians” who had hacked the DNC). Even with the redactions, it’s clear she discussed what might happen with the sanctions at that meeting. And she admitted that “someone may have mentioned Flynn’s scheduled call with Kislyak as they were ending the meeting.”

Additionally, McFarland laid out all the details of conversations with Flynn she had previously claimed not to remember, both before and after his calls with Kislyak.

[Flynn] told McFarland the Russian response was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the Trump administration.

[snip]

When Flynn and McFarland spoke on December 31, Flynn told McFarland he talked to the Russian ambassador again. He said something to the effect of “Well, they want a better relationship. The relationship is back on track.” Flynn said it was a good call and he thought his own call had made a difference but not the only difference. [redacted] McFarland congratulated Flynn for his work.

In short, contrary to what she claimed in her earlier interviews, McFarland proved she had memories of:

  • Discussions she had with at least Steve Bannon about sanctions before Flynn’s call with Sergey Kislyak, and possibly Reince Priebus
  • The specific times of at least some of her calls with Flynn
  • Details of the meeting at which sanctions were discussed with Trump
  • Specific details of calls between her and Flynn, both before and after his calls with Kislyak

McFarland is not the only one whose memory grew clearer after it became clear Mueller had heard at least one truthful version of what had transpired in late December 2017; the story Bannon initially told, even after Flynn’s plea, almost certainly evolved as well (his later interviews have been withheld thus far, but we know his memories about the WikiLeaks releases got clearer over time). Reince Priebus’ first interview, on October 13, 2017, has not yet been released. The tiny unredacted bits of Priebus’ Janaury 18, 2018 interview, conducted in the wake of Flynn’s plea, showed that he hedged but did admit they may have discussed Flynn’s call in advance.

The consistency with which those who were present at Mar-a-Lago on December 29, 2017 tried not to remember discussing sanctions in advance of General Flynn’s calls, much less what might have gone down with Trump, suggests this is not a matter of Flynn being a rogue liar. Rather, it suggests a concerted effort to downplay what happened and to minimize any involvement Trump had in it, one that was undercut by Flynn’s plea deal.

One story downplaying efforts to undermine sanctions is a lie; multiple stories is a cover-up

That’s why no one should credit Trump’s claims to believe that Flynn was mistreated in his prosecution. Not only has Judge Sullivan ruled that it’s not true, but the available evidence — even with proof that Bill Barr’s DOJ is abusing the FOIA response process to hide the true extent of all this — shows that multiple people with consistent memories of what happened at Mar-a-Lago on December 29, 2017 initially professed not to remember what happened that day.

That’s not Flynn being ambushed and improperly prosecuted. That’s Flynn — who up until he decided to plead guilty was part of the Joint Defense Agreement with the President and others — being the first break in an effort to cover-up what really went down.

And the public record has one more highly damning detail that shows Flynn knew from the start that this was a cover-up.

In the section of the Mueller Report incorporating details Flynn and McFarland unforgot in November and December 2017, it reveals that Flynn intentionally excluded the details about the Kislyak follow-up call about sanctions when he sent McFarland a text message reporting on the call.

The next day, December 30, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov remarked that Russia would respond in kind to the sanctions. 1262 Putin superseded that comment two hours later, releasing a statement that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions at that time. 1263 Hours later President-Elect Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin).” 1264 Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267

[snip]

According to McFarland, Flynn remarked that the Russians wanted a better relationship and that the relationship was back on track. 1270 Flynn also told McFarland that he believed his phone call had made a difference. 1271 McFarland recalled congratulating Flynn in response. 1272 [my emphasis]

In her second interview, months before she unforgot that they had had a self-congratulatory conversation about Flynn’s success in undermining Obama’s efforts to punish Russian for interfering in the election, McFarland also claimed not to be concerned that Flynn hadn’t mentioned sanctions in a text he sent her after the call. “She did not recall being concerned that Flynn did not mention sanctions in this email.”

Except that it would not be a matter of concern. It would be a matter of knowing that Flynn had created a false record of what happened. And months later, she would admit that she did know that was a false record. This appears to be the text (which she forwarded as an email) that she tried to obtain from the FBI once she realized that Flynn had flipped.

None of this will prevent Trump from pardoning Flynn. But it does provide reason why Judge Reggie Walton should review the 302s of those involved in the December 2017 events even as he reviews the full Mueller Report, which almost certainly includes an explanation of why Mueller did not charge McFarland for her initial misleading comments. The public deserves to have all the evidence that, in pardoning Flynn, Trump won’t be pardoning someone he believes to have been ambushed and who as a result told a misleading story. He’ll be pardoning the one person who paid a price for covering up the Trump Transition’s efforts to undercut sanctions imposed to punish Russia for tampering in the 2016 election.

DOJ Is Withholding the Mike Flynn 302 Describing How the Campaign Considered Reaching Out to Julian Assange after the Podesta Leaks

As DOJ continues to respond to the BuzzFeed/CNN Mueller FOIAs by releasing big swaths of 302s (FBI interview reports) almost entirely redacted under b5 (deliberative) exemptions, there are a number of issues on which it is withholding information that are utterly critical to current debates.

For example, Trump renewed his claim the other day that Robert Mueller had interviewed for the FBI job before being named Special Counsel, which he claims presented a conflict. According to the Mueller Report, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn, and Reince Priebus all rebutted that claim, either on the facts or whether it presented a conflict. But Bill Barr’s DOJ has withheld all of McGahn’s 302s, as well as the Bannon one (from October 26, 2018) cited in the Mueller Report on this topic. And DOJ redacted all the substantial discussion of what Reince Priebus told the President about this purported conflict in his.

Plus there’s substantially redacted material in the Rod Rosenstein 302 that pertains to this topic (and possibly also in Jody Hunt’s 302). Which is to say that DOJ is letting the President make repeated assertions about this topic, while withholding the counter-evidence under claims of privilege.

A more glaring example, however, involves Mike Flynn. In response to the FOIA, DOJ has only released the same January 24, 2017 302 that got released as part of Flynn’s sentencing. Even as Barr has planted outside reviewers in the DC US Attorney’s office to second-guess Flynn’s prosecution, DOJ is withholding 302s that — the government has suggested — show that Flynn wasn’t even all that forthcoming after he was purportedly cooperating with Mueller.

Based on filings and assertions made by the defendant’s new counsel, the government anticipates that the defendant’s cooperation and candor with the government will be contested issues for the Court to consider at sentencing. Accordingly, the government will provide the defendant with the reports of his post-January 24, 2017 interviews. The government notes that the defendant had counsel present at all such interviews.

Even Flynn himself released a sworn declaration revealing that his Covington lawyers told him his first interview with Mueller, on November 16, 2017, “did not go well.”

More urgent, given today’s news that Julian Assange’s lawyers will claim that when Dana Rohrabacher met with Assange in August 2017 about trading a pardon for disinformation about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 operation, DOJ is withholding details about conversations Flynn participated in during the campaign about WikiLeaks, including a possible effort to reach out to them after the John Podesta release.

The defendant also provided useful information concerning discussions within the campaign about WikiLeaks’ release of emails. WikiLeaks is an important subject of the SCO’s investigation because a Russian intelligence service used WikiLeaks to release emails the intelligence service stole during the 2016 presidential campaign. On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Beginning on October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The defendant relayed to the government statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks to which only a select few people were privy. For example, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta emails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed.

Assange has created a firestorm with the mere allegation — one already reported in great depth in real time — that Trump was involved in the 2017 Rohrabacher effort.

Except Mike Flynn’s 302s report something potentially more inflammatory: that the campaign started pursuing this effort in October 2016.

The President’s Conspiracy Theories Get More Whacko than George Papadopoulos’

Perhaps because the entire legal establishment is pushing back against Bill Barr’s wholesale politicization of DOJ, the President is disturbed on Twitter. After launching a 3-tweet tirade against juror Tameka Hart and Judge Amy Berman Jackson based off a Judge Andrew Napolitano appearance on Fox on Friends (that perhaps unsurprisingly neglects to remind his followers that Napolitano made a case in favor of Trump’s removal by the Senate). he then launched a 3-tweet tirade against the Stone prosecution more generally.

I’m interested in it because of the way Trump attempts to deploy all the other conspiracy theories he has against the Russian investigation to the Stone prosecution, to which they simply don’t apply.

Start with the way Trump claims that 1) the Mueller investigation was “illegally set up” based on the Steele dossier and 2) “forging documents to the FISA Court.”

This is a conceit that has worked well since Paul Manafort, fresh off a meeting with an Oleg Deripaska deputy, suggested Trump could use attacks on the dossier to attack the Mueller Report.

Except one glaring fault of the dossier is that Roger Stone, who had already made comments that suggested he had a direct role in the operation by the time FBI opened investigations on the four initial subjects of it, doesn’t appear in the Steele dossier.

Moreover, whatever else the DOJ IG Report on the Carter Page FISA applications showed, it also showed that the predication of the investigation had nothing to do with the Steele dossier; in fact, Steele’s reports didn’t make it to the investigative team until about six weeks after opening the investigation.

Further, the suggestion that Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email in June 2017 to claim that Page was “not a source” for CIA had anything to do with Roger Stone’s investigation falls flat given that Mueller’s team obtained the first warrant targeting Roger Stone on August 4, 2017, and there’s no insinuation anywhere that Stone ever spoke with Carter Page. (Indeed, in spring 2016, Stone was bitching to Rick Gates that he was not in the loop of foreign policy discussions.) In fact, had Roger Stone been more closely associated with Trump’s freebie foreign policy team, than both Page and George Papadopoulos’ claims to know nothing of campaign efforts to optimize WikiLeaks’ releases would be anything but exculpatory, as DOJ IG treated them, since Stone was doing just that in the time period when they were asked by informants.

Plus, Robert Mueller testified under oath that his team didn’t have anything to do with the Carter Page FISA order. And the investigative record shows that the investigation into Page was largely done by the time Mueller took over.

There’s simply no tie between either the Steele dossier or the Page FISA warrants and Roger Stone’s prosecution.

Trump continues to claim that Mueller interviewed to be FBI Director, even after evidence showing that Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Don McGahn debunked this in real time, not to mention Rod Rosenstein’s 302 that shows that Mueller specifically said he did not want to be interviewed before he met with Trump about Jim Comey’s replacement. That is, a bunch of witnesses — all Republicans — say Trump is wrong.

The most interesting accusation is that the prosecutors who won a conviction against Stone “were Mueller prosecutors.”

Two were: Aaron Zelinsky and Adam Jed.

But two weren’t. Jonathan Kravis (the sole prosecutor who quit DOJ entirely) and Michael Marando were career DC prosecutors brought in to prosecute the case after Mueller shut down. These were, pointedly, not Mueller prosecutors, and the case still went off without a hitch.

In fact, in his interview the other day, Bill Barr made quite clear that this prosecution happened on his watch, and he believes it’s a righteous prosecution.

BARR: Well, as you know, the Stone case was prosecuted while I was attorney general. And I supported it. I think it was established, he was convicted of obstructing Congress and witness tampering. And I thought that was a righteous prosecution. And I was happy that he was convicted.

If Trump has a problem with the guy who prosecuted the case against Roger Stone, he has a problem with his Attorney General Bill Barr.

Which may be why Trump — who shouldn’t be affected by mere lies by Roger Stone to Congress — is threatening to “sue everyone all over the place.” Of course, he is affected by Stone — Stone is going to prison to protect the President, to avoid describing the multiple conversations they had about optimizing the WikiLeaks releases. And suing (whom?!?!) won’t help Trump suppress that.

The President sounds crazier than George Papadopoulos in this rant, and his conspiracy theories are just as unhinged. Which is, I guess, what happens when all the conspiracy theories you’ve been using to undermine the prosecution implicating you turn out to be utterly irrelevant to the most important firewall to protect.

Trump “Cares” about Corruption in Ukraine because It Ensures Paul Manafort Will Keep His Secrets

On August 2, 2016, Donald Trump’s campaign manager took a break from his campaign work for a secret meeting with his former employee, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik first pitched the meeting on 10:51AM on July 29 after meeting in person in Moscow with Viktor Yanukovych, explaining that, “It has to do about the future of [Yanukovych’s] country, and is quite interesting.” Paul Manafort accepted the meeting that same day, saying Tuesday was the best day for it. After Kilimnik returned to Ukraine on July 31, he told Manafort he needed two hours for the meeting and would arrive at JFK at 7:30 PM on August 2 for the meeting.

At the meeting, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed three things. First, they discussed a plan to make “peace” in Ukraine by creating an autonomous region in Donbas and getting Yanukovych “elected” to head it. Manafort later told Mueller’s team that he cut the meeting short before Kilimnik asked him to get Trump to come out for the peace plan, though Mueller’s team argued and Amy Berman Jackson agreed that Manafort was lying about what happened at the meeting.

After Rick Gates showed up (he came late), Manafort laid out for Kilimnik how the campaign planned to win Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.

Finally, Kilimnik told Manafort how he could get back on the gravy train of Oleg Deripaska and the Party of Regions. Specifically, Kilimnik explained what Manafort would have to do to get Ukrainian oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov and Serhiy Lyovochkin to pay him money that Manafort claimed they owed him from past work. Eight days later, on August 10, Manafort — who was badly underwater and working for Trump for “free” — would tell his accountant to book $2.4M in income from those oligarchs, to be paid in November.

This recognition of payment from Yanukovych’s allies just a week after meeting to talk about a way to help Yanukovych do Russia’s bidding is the only known instance of Ukraine interfering with people working directly for one of the candidates running for President. It is the only known instance of Ukrainian interference in 2016.

In early January, Manafort would meet with a senior Deripaska associate in a meeting set up by another Deripaska associate sanctioned along with a bunch of GRU officers to “recreat[e] old friendship” between Deripaska and Manafort.

Shortly thereafter (possibly the day he returned, on January 12), Manafort reportedly told Reince Priebus to undercut claims that Trump had close ties to Russia by debunking the Steele dossier, a strategy that — because the dossier turned out to be largely shit and possible disinformation — turned out to be wildly successful. As the DOJ IG Report describes in new detail, Christopher Steele had been working for Deripaska in an effort to help the oligarch settle his score with Manafort during the period he was working on the dossier.

From that point forward, Manafort would continue to pursue a “peace” plan in Ukraine that would give Russia what it wanted up until shortly before he was jailed in June 2018.

These are the events that about which Paul Manafort lied to prevent Mueller from fully understanding. To give Manafort an incentive to lie, John Dowd started telling him he would be “taken care of” in early 2018. Then, around the time he faced jail, Trump started making those pardon offers more explicit.

On June 15, 2018, the day the judge presiding over Manafort’s D.C. case was considering whether to revoke his bail, the President said that he “felt badly” for Manafort and stated, “I think a lot of it is very unfair.” And when asked about a pardon for Manafort, the President said, “I do want to see people treated fairly. That’s what it’s all about.” Later that day, after Manafort’s bail was revoked, t.he President called it a ” tough sentence” that was “Very unfair!” Two days later, the President’s personal counsel stated that individuals involved in the Special Counsel’s investigation could receive a pardon ” if in fact the [P]resident and his advisors .. . come to the conclusion that you have been treated unfairly”-using language that paralleled how the President had already described the treatment of Manafort.

These details — about what really happened in that meeting on August 2, 2016 and what Manafort did afterwards — are some of the things that Trump successfully obstructed the Mueller investigation in an effort to cover up.

And around the time Mueller publicly announced that Manafort had breached his plea deal by lying about all these things, Rudy Giuliani launched the campaign that would ultimately lead to getting the anti-corruption Ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, fired, then would subsequently lead Trump to demand (in the same call while attacking Mueller) that the newly elected anti-corruption President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, gin up investigations into his opponents Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Rudy conducted that campaign, significantly, while consulting Manafort in prison, and the effort is, at least in part, an effort to give Trump an excuse to pardon Manafort so Manafort will continue to remain silent about what really happened.

The Republican Party spent the entire day yesterday claiming that Donald Trump demanded those investigations out of concern for corruption in Ukraine. The Republican Party claimed, with a straight face, that the man who obstructed an investigation into what his own campaign manager did to get the pro-corruption pro-Russian party in Ukraine to pay him $2.4 million while he worked for Trump for “free,” opposed corruption in Ukraine.

This is the story the Democrats need to lay out over the next several weeks. The Republicans don’t much care that their arguments are transparently ridiculous. They care about defending a process that, at least in part, is an effort to make sure Paul Manafort never tells the truth about what happened in 2016.

Hope Hicks Had More Awareness of the Flynn-Kislyak Aftermath Than the Mueller Report Discloses

As I noted in this post, even though the reporting on Hope Hicks’ testimony last week focused on the White House’s efforts to prevent her from fully testifying, she clearly did what she could to protect Trump even regarding his actions during the election and transition.

Which is why I want to look at two of her comments on matters more central to Mueller’s investigation — in this post, her elaboration of some comments she made about Mike Flynn.

Norm Eisen walked Hicks through something that shows up in this footnote of the Mueller Report:

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10.

As I pointed out earlier, Eisen was hired to make sure questioning of witnesses is conducted professionally. It’s also worth noting that some House Judiciary Committee members and staffers have seen backup documents on the Mueller Report and the Hicks’ 302s were among the documents requested; both of these exchanges seem to reflect non-public information.

Eisen has Hicks describe how, even before the FBI interviewed Flynn, Trump had some concerns about him. At first, Hicks tries to spin Trump’s response to President Obama’s counterintelligence warning about Flynn as a reaction about the importance Obama assigned the warning, rather than anything having to do with Flynn himself.

Q Okay. Who was Michael Flynn?

A Michael Flynn was somebody that supported Mr. Trump. He was at one point in time considered a possible Vice Presidential candidate. And he became somebody who frequently traveled with the candidate and introduced him at rallies.

Q And are you aware that President Obama made comments about Mr. Flynn to the —

A Yes.

Q — the President-elect?

A Yes.

Q And how did the President-elect receive those comments?

Mr. Purpura. You can answer.

Ms. Hicks. I think he was a bit bewildered that, you know, of all the things that the two of them could have been discussing, that that was something that came up.

Mr. Eisen. And did you feel that President Obama’s comments sat with the President-elect more than you expected?

Ms. Hicks. I did, yes.

Mr. Eisen. Can you — go ahead. Sorry. I cut you off.

Ms. Hicks. That’s okay. I feel like it maybe tainted his view of General Flynn just a little bit.

Mr. Eisen. Did there come a time when the President formed the opinion — during the transition; I’m asking now about the transition — that Flynn had bad judgment?

White House lawyer Pat Philbin interrupts here to invite Hicks to read the footnote. (Note, I find it weird that Philbin did this, and not Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout.)

Mr. Philbin. Could you give us a moment there?

[Discussion off the record.]

Mr. Eisen. Can you read the question back, please? Okay. I’ve asked the court reporter to read the question back. [The reporter read back the record as requested.]

Ms. Hicks. Yes.

Mr. Eisen. Tell me about that.

Having just reviewed the footnote, Hicks nevertheless tries to minimize Trump’s concerns. So Philbin asks her to read the footnote again, which leads her to blame all this on Flynn’s spawn setting off a media frenzy that came to incorporate Flynn himself.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t think this was an overall characterization. I think that this was something where he felt like there were a few things that maybe caused him to think that he was capable of being a person who exercised bad judgment.

Mr. Eisen. What were those things?

Mr. Philbin. I’m sorry. Can I again suggest that, since the  question seemed to be based on footnote 155, page 32, Ms. Hicks have a chance to review that footnote?

Ms. Hicks. Yeah. I mean, primarily the comment by President Obama and the incident with General Flynn’s son concerning a fake news story and some of the tweets that were posted surrounding that.

BY MR. EISEN: Q Posted by?

A I believe they were posted by his son, and then it led to reporters also looking back at tweets that General Flynn had posted.

From here, Eisen moves on to the response to David Ignatius’ revelation that the Obama Administration had identified Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak. He establishes that Hicks was on the email thread discussing the response, though she claims she wasn’t involved in the messaging surrounding it.

Q Do you recall David Ignatius writing a column about a Michael Flynn phone conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the transition?

A Yes.

Q And what do you remember about that?

A I don’t remember much about the substance of the column, to be honest, but I remember several email exchanges between the National Security Advisor, General Flynn at the time, and some of his national security staffers, a desire to perhaps have David Ignatius clarify some things in that column, and a failure to do so.

Q Were you involved in the clarification efforts?

A I was on the email thread, so I was following the discussion that ensued, but I was not involved in any kind of message development or outreach to Mr. Ignatius.

Note that the Mueller Report does not mention Hicks at all in its discussion of the Flynn-Kislyak response. In addition to KT McFarland (who called Ignatius to push back), it cites just Reince Priebus and Stephen Miller.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127 Flynn directed McFarland to call the Washington Post columnist and inform him that no discussion of sanctions had occurred. 128 McFarland recalled that Flynn said words to the effect of, “I want to kill the story.” 129 McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a “Trump official” had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions. 130

When Priebus and other incoming Administration officials questioned Flynn internally about the Washington Post column, Flynn maintained that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.131 Flynn repeated that claim to Vice President-Elect Michael Pence and to incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. 132 In subsequent media interviews in mid-January, Pence, Priebus, and Spicer denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions, basing those denials on their conversations with Flynn. 133

13 1 Flynn 11117/17 302, at I, 8; Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 7; Priebus 10/13/17 302, at 7-8; S. Miller 8/3 I /17 3 02, at 8-1 I.

And that’s interesting because — as Eisen goes on to establish — Hope Hicks learned about the Flynn-Kislyak call at a minimum just days afterwards and (per her initial response) possibly the day it was made.

Q Did you have any advance knowledge of a phone call between Mr. Flynn and the Russian Ambassador that was the subject of this Ignatius reporting?

A I believe I was aware of it the day that it took place. I don’t know if it was before or after. But I recall being at Mar-a-Lago, and Flynn, I think — sorry. Off the record.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. I think it was afterwards. Perhaps even several days afterwards.

Again, the Mueller Report describes a conversation Flynn had with Steve Bannon in the aftermath of the call, but not Hicks. The Report also mentions a discussion between Flynn and Trump, but Flynn doesn’t “have a specific recollection” of telling Trump about the call.

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 10° Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101 On January 3, 2017, Flynn saw the President-Elect in person and thought they discussed the Russian reaction to the sanctions, but Flynn did not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect about the substance of his calls with Kislyak. 102

And that’s important because, even before Eisen started pursuing these questions, Congressman Steve Cohen had gotten Hicks to admit (after first denying it) that she had knowledge of Russian sanctions that apparently included Trump.

Mr. Cohen. All right. So with all those caveats, before January 20, 2017, did you have any knowledge of any discussions of Russian sanctions?

Ms. Hicks. No.

Mr. Cohen. There was no discussions at all with Mr. Trump and you weren’t privy to them about Russian sanctions that we had issued? You’re sure of that? Think about it.

Ms. Hicks. I am thinking. Thank you. You know, there was — there was a phone call obviously between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador. There was news reports after that where it was unclear what was discussed, but that would have been the only context in which Russian sanctions were brought up in my capacity as communications adviser. [my emphasis]

When Eisen followed up about when Hicks learned that Flynn had lied about sanctions, Hicks claimed to have no recollection of learning that during the transition.

Mr. Eisen. When did you first learn that there was an issue about — if you learned — actually, let me rephrase that question. Did Mr. Flynn talk to you after the column was published about the column?

Mr. Philbin. And we’re still asking —

Mr. Eisen. We’re asking transition. We’re about to come to the post-transition period.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall any direct conversations with him, only the email thread that I described.

Mr. Eisen. During the transition, did you develop any additional information about the truth or falsity of anything in the Ignatius column?

Ms. Hicks. Not to my recollection.

Predictably, when Eisen asks about how Hicks came to learn more about this after the Transition, Philbin objected.

Mr. Eisen. What about after the transition?

Mr. Philbin. Objection.

Let me be clear: even with this questioning, the record on what Hicks knew when is inconclusive (and she appears to want to keep it that way). Which may be one reason why Hicks doesn’t appear in any of the discussions in the Mueller Report about this incident, because even Mueller doesn’t find her answers completely credible. As far as is known, she was first interviewed in December 2017, after Flynn’s guilty plea would have made it clear he had relayed some of this, though some FBI interviews that happened the summer before don’t appear in the Mueller Report. So at least given the public record, Hicks would have been able to temper her answers based off what Flynn was known to have admitted in his plea.

The public record certainly sustains a version akin to the public version about Priebus: that he knew about the call to Kislyak in real time, but only came to learn that they talked about sanctions after the FBI interview.

But Hicks’ answers and evasions — and her constant access to Trump — leave open another possibility.

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. 

Why Didn’t Mueller Hold Counterintelligence Suspect Mike Flynn Responsible for Sanctions Call?

There’s a problem with the way the Mueller Report describes events pertaining to Mike Flynn.

It describes how someone under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia and already on thin ice with the President-Elect got on the phone and, through the Russian Ambassador, persuaded Vladimir Putin to hold off on retaliating for US sanctions. It describes how Flynn avoided leaving a paper trail of that call. Ultimately, the report remains inconclusive about whether Flynn made that call on his own initiative — which would seem to bolster the case he had suspect loyalties with the Russians — or at the direction of the President — in which case his actions would be appropriate from a constitutional standpoint (because this is the kind of thing the President can choose to do), but not a legal one (because he was purposely hiding it from the Obama Administration). One or the other would seem to be a necessary conclusion, but the Mueller Report reaches neither one.

In part, that’s because both Flynn and KT McFarland seem to have protected President Trump’s plausible deniability even after both got caught lying about these events. But it also appears that Mueller is more certain about the answer than he lets on in the public report.

This is the subject that, in my post noting that the Mueller Report has huge gaps precisely where the most acute counterintelligence concerns about Trump’s relationship with Putin are, I suggested created a logical problem for the report as a whole.

If it is the case that Flynn did what he did on Trump’s orders — which seems the only possible conclusion given Mueller’s favorable treatment of Flynn — then it changes the meaning of all of Trump’s actions with regard to the Russian investigation, but also suggests that that conclusion remains a counterintelligence one, not a criminal one.

Mike Flynn was under active counterintelligence investigation but he’s not an Agent of Russia

According to the Mueller Report, the first Rosenstein memo laying out the detailed scope of the investigation, dated August 2, 2017, included “four sets of allegations involving Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump.” Two of those four must be his unregistered sleazy influence peddling for Turkey (which he got to plead off of as part of his plea agreement) and the Peter Smith operation to obtain Hillary’s deleted emails (about which his testimony is reflected in the Mueller Report).

Then there’s the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn. We’ve known that the FBI had a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn since before HPSCI released its Russian Report, and a later release of that report described that the investigation was still active when the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017.

A key focus of that investigation —  one reflected in Flynn’s January 24, 2017 302 — was his paid attendance at a December 10, 2015 RT event in Moscow in December 2015, where he sat with Putin. The Mueller Report makes just one reference to that event, and only as a way of describing the public reporting on Trump flunkies’ ties to Russia during the campaign.

Beginning in February 2016 and continuing through the summer, the media reported that several Trump campaign advisors appeared to have ties to Russia. For example, the press reported that campaign advisor Michael Flynn was seated next to Vladimir Putin at an RT gala in Moscow in December 2015 and that Flynn had appeared regularly on RT as an analyst.15

15 See, e.g., Mark Hosenball & Steve Holland, Trump being advised by ex-US. Lieutenant General who favors closer Russia ties, Reuters (Feb. 26, 2016); Tom Hamburger et al., Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin, Washington Post (June 17, 2016). Certain matters pertaining to Flynn are described in Volume I, Section TV.B.7, supra.

However, in addition to that trip, the FBI must have been scrutinizing earlier Kislyak contacts that don’t show up in the Report at all:

  • A meeting on December 2, 2015 (described in the HPSCI report) that Kislyak that Flynn and his failson attended in advance of the RT trip at the Russian Embassy
  • A call to Kislyak sometime after GRU head Igor Sergun’s death in Lebanon on January 6, 2016; in his interview with the FBI; Flynn said he called to offer condolences, though he used that excuse for other calls that involved substantive policy discussions; he also claimed, not entirely credibly, not to be associated with the Trump campaign yet
  • Other conversations during the campaign that Flynn revealed to friends that otherwise don’t show up in public documents

In one of the only (unredacted) references to the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, the Mueller Report describes that Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key focus of that investigation.

Previously, the FBI had opened an investigation of Flynn based on his relationship with the Russian government.105 Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key component of that investigation.10

But that passage doesn’t reveal the scope of those contacts and, in spite of detailed analysis of other people’s contacts with Kislyak (including an invite to JD Gordan to his residence that appears similar to the December 2015 one Kislyak extended to Flynn and his son), the Report doesn’t mention those earlier contacts.

Perhaps far more interesting, in the report’s analysis of whether any Trump aide was an agent of Russia, it does not include Flynn in the paragraph explaining why Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page were not charged as such. Instead, his foreign influence peddling is treated in a separate paragraph discussing just Turkey.

In addition, the investigation produced evidence of FARA violations involving Michael Flynn. Those potential violations, however, concerned a country other than Russia (i.e., Turkey) and were resolved when Flynn admitted to the underlying facts in the Statement of Offense that accompanied his guilty plea to a false-statements charge. Statement of Offense, United States v. Michael T Flynn, No. l:17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017), Doc. 4 (“Flynn Statement of Offense”). 1281

The footnote to that paragraph, which given the admission elsewhere that a separate counterintelligence investigation into Flynn focused on Russia, likely deals with Russia, is entirely redacted for Harm to Ongoing Matters reasons.

While we can’t be sure (hell, we can’t even be totally sure this does relate to Russia!), this seems to suggest that the investigation into Russian efforts to cultivate Flynn is ongoing, but he has been absolved of any responsibility for — as an intelligence officer with 30 years of counterintelligence training — nevertheless falling prey to such efforts.

All of which is to say that, along with the descriptions of Trump’s most alarming interactions with Russians including Vladimir Putin, many of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak and other Russians (including not just Putin but the guy who headed GRU until just before the election hacking started in earnest in January 2016) appear to be treated as counterintelligence information not suitable for public sharing.

The Mueller Report deliberately obscures key details of the timeline on the sanctions call

That’s important to note, because the counterintelligence conclusion on Flynn has to be utterly central to the analysis of Trump’s attempt to obstruct the investigation into Flynn.

The two discussions in the Mueller Report (Volume I pages 168 to 173 and Volume II pages 24 to 48) of Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Sergey Kislyak are totally unsatisfying, probably in part because two key witnesses (Flynn and KT McFarland, and possibly others including Steve Bannon) lied when the FBI first interviewed them about the calls; they had also created a deliberately misleading paper trail for the events.

In both places, the Report provides times for some events on December 29, but obscures the most critical part of the timeline. I’ve put the Volume I language at the end of this post. It provides the following timeline for December 29, 2016:

1:53PM: McFarland and other Transition Team members and advisors (including Flynn, via email) discuss sanctions.

2:07PM: [Transition Team Member] Flaherty, an aide to McFarland, texts Flynn a link to a NYT article about the sanctions.

2:29PM: McFarland calls Flynn, but they don’t talk.

Shortly after 2:29PM: McFarland and Bannon discuss sanctions; according to McFarland’s clean-up interview, she may have told Bannon that Flynn would speak to Kislyak that night.

3:14PM: Flynn texts Flaherty and asks “time for a call??,” meaning McFarland. Flaherty responds that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert. Flynn informs Flaherty in writing that he had a call with Kislyak coming up, using the language, “tit for tat,” that McFarland used on emails with others and that Flynn himself would use with Kislyak later that day.

Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.

Sometime in here but the Report doesn’t tell us precisely when: Flynn talks to Michael Ledeen, KT McFarland, and then Kislyak. [my emphasis]

4:43PM: McFarland emails other transition team members saying that,  “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.”

Before 5:45PM: McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and others on the sanctions. McFarland remembers that someone at the briefing may have mentioned the upcoming Kislyak call.

After the briefing: McFarland and Flynn speak by phone. Flynn tells McFarland, “that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration,” and McFarland tells Flynn about the briefing with Trump.

The next day, December 30, 2016 — after Putin announced they would not retaliate to Obama’s sanctions — Flynn sent a text message to McFarland that very deliberately did not reflect the true content of his communication with Kislyak, reportedly because he wanted to hide that from the Obama Administration (the Trump team had falsely told Obama they would not fuck with their existing policy initiatives).

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

On December 31, after Kislyak called again to tell Flynn that Putin had decided not to retaliate because of the Trump Administration request not to, he and McFarland communicated again about their attempts to convince Russia not to respond to sanctions. Flynn spoke with others that day but “does not recall” whether they discussed the sanctions, though he remembers (but Bannon does not) that Bannon seemed to know about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak.

The narrative for the same events in the obstruction section has less detail, but infuriatingly, similarly manages to leave out all the details (in bold above) about when Flynn spoke to McFarland and when he called Kisylak.

The thing is, Mueller knows precisely when those Flynn calls happened. The Volume I version of events make it clear they have the call records of Flynn, Michael Ledeen, and McFarland that would provide a precise timeline.

They just refuse to provide those times and the times of key emails, which would add to the clarity about whether Trump learned of Flynn’s plans before he contacted Kislyak.

In the “Intent” discussion regarding obstruction, however, the report suggests that the Trump briefing, where sanctions did come up, preceded the first Flynn call to Kislyak (even though the timeline here suggests it did not).

In advance of Flynn’s initial call with Kislyak, the President attended a meeting where the sanctions were discussed and an advisor may have mentioned that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak.

That’s particularly interesting given that the Volume II discussion of events describes how, after Trump fired Flynn, he also fired KT McFarland but offered her a position as Ambassador to Singapore. There’s very little discussion of the explanation for her firing, but they do describe how Trump tried to make McFarland write a memo — very similar to the false one he tried to make Don McGahn write denying that Trump had ordered him to have Rod Rosenstein removed — denying that he had any role in Flynn’s discussion with Kislyak about sanctions. McFarland did not write the memo, as she explained in a Memo for the Record, because she did not know whether Trump had spoken with Flynn or with Russia directly.

The next day, the President asked Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email that would confirm that the President did not direct Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador about sanctions.253 Priebus said he told the President he would only direct McFarland to write such a letter if she were comfortable with it.254 Priebus called McFarland into his office to convey the President’s request that she memorialize in writing that the President did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak.255 McFarland told Priebus she did not know whether the President had directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions, and she declined to say yes or no to the request.256

256 KTMF _00000047 (McFarland 2/26/ 17 Memorandum_ for the Record) (“I said I did not know whether he did or didn’t, but was in Maralago the week between Christmas and New Year’s (while Flynn was on vacation in Carribean) and I was not aware of any Flynn-Trump, or Trump-Russian phone calls”); McFarland 12/22/ 17 302, at 17.

Again, at a minimum, Mueller knows if Trump called Flynn, and may know if Trump called Kislyak or — more likely — Putin. But he’s not telling.

Trump was already pissy with Flynn, so why didn’t he blame him for the sanctions calls?

There’s one more contradictory detail about Trump’s behavior in this narrative.

According to enough witnesses to make it a reliable claim, Trump had already soured on Flynn in December 2016, before all this blew up (but not before Obama warned Trump and Elijah Cummings warned Mike Pence about Flynn’s suspect loyalties).

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10

As I’ve noted before, Trump made the same complaint to Jim Comey in their “loyalty demand” dinner on January 27, 2017 — but he did so in the context of Flynn not informing him that Vladimir Putin had beaten Theresa May to congratulating him about his inauguration.

All these details — including that Flynn publicly informed Trump of Putin’s call — should make Flynn a bigger counterintelligence concern, not one that could be dismissed more easily than Page and Manafort and Papadopoulos.

Unless Mueller had more certainty that Trump was in the loop of these sanctions discussions — either through Flynn or directly with Putin — than he lets on in the public report.

Mike Flynn’s Interviews with Prosecutors

To sum up, Mueller knows that someone already under investigation for his suspect calls to Russia and Sergey Kislyak got on the phone with Kislyak and undercut the Obama Administration’s attempt to punish Russia for its election interference. Flynn deliberately created a false record of that call, then lied about it when it became public the following month, and continued to lie about it when the FBI asked him about it.Trump allegedly got pissy that Flynn’s counterintelligence exposure had already been raised by Obama, but also got pissy that Flynn wasn’t being obsequious enough to Putin. But, when this all began to blow up in the press, rather than firing Flynn right away for being a counterintelligence problem — the outcome Sally Yates clearly expected would be the no-brainer result — Trump instead repeatedly tried to protect Flynn.

Which is why the likelihood that a key part of Flynn’s cooperation, that relating to the counterintelligence side of the equation, is so interesting.

As I noted when the addendum showing Flynn’s cooperation came out, it likely broke into the Turkish influence peddling [A], two (or maybe three?) topics relating to Trump [B], as well as more classified part of the investigation conducted under Mueller [C].

A Criminal Investigation:

11+ line paragraph

6.5 line paragraph

2 line paragraph

B Mueller investigation:

Introductory paragraph (9 lines)

i) Interactions between Transition Team and Russia (12 lines, just one or two sentences redacted)

ii) Topic two

10 line paragraph

9 line paragraph

C Entirely redacted investigation:

4.5 line paragraph

The footnotes from the Mueller Report describing what Flynn told prosecutors when seems to reinforce this.

  1. November 16, 2017: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call
  2. November 17, 2017: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you”
  3. November 19, 2017: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump
  4. November 20, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius
  5. November 21, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump
  6. November 29, 2017: Peter Smith
  7. January 11, 2018: November 30 meeting with Kislyak
  8. January 19, 2018: Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017
  9. April 25, 2018: Peter Smith
  10. May 1, 2018: Peter Smith
  11. September 26, 2018: Proffer response on meetings with Foresman

We know from court filings that Flynn had 19 interviews with prosecutors, of which four pertain to his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey. Here’s what that seems to suggest about his interviews (assuming, probably incorrectly, that they didn’t cover multiple topics at once):

  • Turkish influence peddling: 4 interviews, unknown dates
  • Transition events, 7 interviews: 11/16/17, 11/17/17, 11/19/17, 11/20/17, 11/21/17, 1/11/18, 1/19/18
  • Peter Smith, 3 interviews: 11/29/17, 4/25/18, 5/1/18
  • Counterintelligence: Remaining 5 interviews???, unknown dates

It’s possible, however, there’s a third “links” topic pertaining to Transition era graft, which for scope reasons would not appear in the Mueller Report.

The possibility that Flynn may have had five interviews dedicated to a counterintelligence investigation that implicated Trump would make this Brian Ross story far more interesting. As the Report lays out, when hints that Flynn flipped first came out on November 22, 2017, one of Trump’s lawyers (probably John Dowd) left a voice mail message (!!!) with one of Flynn’s lawyers (probably Rob Kelner). He specifically wanted a heads up about anything that “implicates the President” which would create a “national security issue.”

I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. . . . [I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with … the government. … [I]f . .. there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, . . . so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests ifwe can …. [R]emember what we’ve always said about the ‘ President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains ….

The following day, Trump’s lawyer told Flynn’s that cooperating would reflect hostility to the President.

A week later, once the plea was official on December 1, Flynn had the following leaked to ABC.

During the campaign, Trump asked Flynn to be one of a small group of close advisors charged with improving relations in Russia and other hot spots. The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

[snip]

“Flynn is very angry,” the confidant told ABC News Friday. “He will cooperate truthfully on any question they ask him.” [my emphasis]

Only, originally, the story read that Trump asked Flynn to reach out to Russia before the election. The story is often cited as one of the big gaffes of the Russian investigation, but Mother Jones has since corroborated the pre-election timeline with two Flynn associates.

For some reason, Mueller did not hold Mike Flynn responsible for — at a time when he was under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia — undercutting the official policy of the US on punishing Russia for its election year attack. I wonder whether the content of up to five counterintelligence interviews with Flynn may explain why.

As they are elsewhere, the Washington Post is trying to liberate the filings about Flynn’s cooperation that would explain all this. On Thursday, Emmet Sullivan — the same judge who, after seeing all the sealed filings in Flynn’s case, used some really inflammatory language about Flynn’s loyalty — set a briefing schedule for that effort. Then, acting on his own on Friday, Sullivan scheduled a hearing for June 24 (after the next status report in Flynn’s case but before he would be sentenced) to discuss liberating those filings.

So maybe we’ll find out from the WaPo’s efforts to liberate those documents.

Timeline of known Flynn investigation

November 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump that Mike Flynn’s name kept surfacing in concerns about Russia.

November 18, 2016: Trump names Flynn National Security Adviser.

November 18, 2016: Elijah Cummings warns Mike Pence of Flynn’s Turkish lobbying.

Shortly after inauguration: On “first” call with Kislyak, Flynn responds to Ambassador’s invitation to Russian Embassy that, “You keep telling me that,” alerting others to previous contacts between them.

January 24, 2017: In interview with FBI, Flynn lies about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak.

January 26 and 27, 2017: Sally Yates warns the White House about Flynn’s lies.

February 2, 2017: WHCO lawyer John Eisenberg reviews materials on Flynn’s interview.

February 13, 2017: Flynn fired.

July 19, 2017: Peter Strzok interviewed, in part, about Flynn interview, presumably as part of obstruction investigation.

November 16, 2017: Interview covers: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call.

November 17, 2017: Interview covers: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you.”

November 19, 2017: Interview covers: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump.

November 20, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius.

November 21, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump.

November 22, 2017: Flynn withdraws from Joint Defense Agreement; Trump’s lawyer leaves a message for Flynn’s lawyer stating, in part, “if… there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security
issue,…so, you know,…we need some kind of heads up.”

November 23, 2017: Flynn’s attorney returns Trump’s attorney’s call, the latter says cooperation would reflect hostility to the President.

November 29, 2017: Interview covers Peter Smith.

December 1, 2017: Flynn pleads guilty, has story leaked to Brian Ross that his cooperation covers Trump’s orders that he take “serve as point person on Russia,” originally stating that the order preceded the election; the story is corrected to say the order comes ” shortly after the election.” Two Flynn associates subsequently told Mother Jones the contacts did start before the election.

January 11, 2018: Interview covers November 30 meeting with Kislyak.

January 19, 2018: Interview covers Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017.

April 25, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

May 1, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

September 17, 2018: Status report asking for sentencing.

September 26, 2018: Flynn’s attorney offers proffer response on meetings with Bob Foresman.

December 18, 2018: After Judge Emmet Sullivan invokes treason and selling out his country, Flynn delays sentencing.


The Volume I Narrative about December 29, 2016

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

The sanctions were announced publicly on December 29, 2016. 1231 At 1 :53 p.m. that day, McFarland began exchanging emails with multiple Transition Team members and advisors about the impact the sanctions would have on the incoming Administration. 1232 At 2:07 p.m., a Transition Team member texted Flynn a link to a New York Times article about the sanctions. 1233 At 2:29 p.m., McFarland called Flynn, but they did not talk. 1234 Shortly thereafter, McFarland and Bannon discussed the sanctions. 1235 According to McFarland, Bannon remarked that the sanctions would hurt their ability to have good relations with Russia, and that Russian escalation would make things more difficult. 1236 McFarland believed she told Bannon that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak later that night. 1237 McFarland also believed she may have discussed the sanctions with Priebus, and likewise told him that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak that night. 1238 At 3: 14 p.m., Flynn texted a Transition Team member who was assisting McFarland, “Time for a call???”1239 The Transition Team member responded that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert, a Transition Team senior official, to which Flynn responded, “Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.” 1240

Flynn recalled that he chose not to communicate with Kislyak about the sanctions until he had heard from the team at Mar-a-Lago.1241 He first spoke with Michael Ledeen, 1242 a Transition Team member who advised on foreign policy and national security matters, for 20 minutes. 1243 Flynn then spoke with McFarland for almost 20 minutes to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to Kislyak about the sanctions. 1244 On that call, McFarland and Flynn discussed the sanctions, including their potential impact on the incoming Trump Administration’s foreign policy goals. 1245 McFarland and Flynn also discussed that Transition Team members in Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation. 1246 They both understood that Flynn would relay a message to Kislyak in hopes of making sure the situation would not get out of hand.1247

Immediately after speaking with McFarland, Flynn called and spoke with Kislyak. 1248 Flynn discussed multiple topics with Kislyak, including the sanctions, scheduling a video teleconference between President-Elect Trump and Putin, an upcoming terrorism conference, and Russia’s views about the Middle East. 1249 With respect to the sanctions, Flynn requested that Russia not escalate the situation, not get into a “tit for tat,” and only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner.1250

Multiple Transition Team members were aware that Flynn was speaking with Kislyak that day. In addition to her conversations with Bannon and Reince Priebus, at 4:43 p.m., McFarland sent an email to Transition Team members about the sanctions, informing the group that “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.” 1251 Less than an hour later, McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump. Bannon, Priebus, Sean Spicer, and other Transition Team members were present. 1252 During the briefing, President-Elect Trump asked McFarland if the Russians did “it,” meaning the intrusions intended to influence the presidential election. 1253 McFarland said yes, and President-Elect Trump expressed doubt that it was the Russians.1254 McFarland also discussed potential Russian responses to the sanctions, and said Russia’s response would be an indicator of what the Russians wanted going forward. 1255 President-Elect Trump opined that the sanctions provided him with leverage to use with the Russians. 1256 McFarland recalled that at the end of the meeting, someone may have mentioned to President-Elect Trump that Flynn was speaking to the Russian ambassador that evening. 1257

After the briefing, Flynn and McFarland spoke over the phone. 1258 Flynn reported on the substance of his call with Kislyak, including their discussion of the sanctions. 1259 According to McFarland, Flynn mentioned that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration.1260 McFarland also gave Flynn a summary of her recent briefing with President-Elect Trump. 1261

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. 

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Self-Promoting Republican Lawyer Scorned

Yesterday, Jerry Nadler subpoenaed Don McGahn, both to appear and testify on May 21, but also to turn over a slew of documents pertaining to 36 topics, the two most interesting of which are:

23. President Trump’s exposure in the Special Counsel Investigation relating to “other contacts,” calls,” or “ask re Flynn” as mentioned in Volume II, page 82 of the Report.

[snip]

34.  Communications relating to United States imposed sanctions or potential sanctions against the Russian Federation from June 16, 2015 to October 18, 2018, including but not limited to the sanctions imposed pursuant to the Magnitsky Act.

I suspect this is a friendly subpoena — a subpoena giving the witness an excuse for testifying. I say that not just because McGahn is a self-promoter who likes to pretend he’s the hero of saving Trump from prison, but also because McGahn got noticeably more chatty with Mueller’s office as Trump grew more unmanageable and the risk to McGahn’s future increased. Indeed, because he leaked his heroic role to the press, he ended up getting called in for further interviews.

At least as described by its footnotes, the Mueller Report revealed that McGahn testified five times. The first three seem to be largely sequential interviews covering three big events:

  • November 30, 2017: Flynn’s firing
  • December 12, 2017: Sessions’ recusal and Comey’s firing
  • December 14, 2017: Mueller’s appointment and Trump’s efforts to fire him, both directly (through McGahn) and indirectly (by firing Sessions)

Then, after the NYT and WaPo reported two versions of the story, in January of last year, that Trump asked McGahn to fire Mueller, McGahn was interviewed at more length about that.

  • March 8, 2018: Trump’s order to fire Mueller and attempt to force McGahn to correct the NYT story

Then, this year, after he had been fired for cooperating with Mueller, he was interviewed again, apparently to clarify some timing related issues (the interview apparently focused on his private phone records), and to explain why he didn’t tell Anne Donaldson, Reince Priebus, and others about the order to fire Mueller.

  • February 28, 2019

There are signs that, during the first set of interviews, McGahn was shading the truth. As expected, his story about the Flynn firing (and the CYA memo he drafted the day after Flynn’s firing) is dodgy — some of which I’ll return to, For example, his CYA memo claimed that, “Yates was unwilling to confirm or deny that there was an ongoing investigation but did indicate that the Department of Justice would not object to the White House taking action against Flynn,” when in fact she had told him she alerted him to Flynn’s lies precisely so the White House could take action. At times, it was clear McGahn was trying to put a less damning spin on things, especially notes taken by Anne Donaldson or Sessions Chief of Staff Jody Hunt. For example, he claimed a note that said “No comms, / Serious concerns about obstruction” didn’t mean that his office had tried to set a rule not to speak to Sessions about the investigation, reflected instead a concern about the press spin; that spin might reflect his own concern about his efforts to convince Sessions not to recuse.

In those initial interviews, too, McGahn’s story about his effort to get DOJ to issue a statement claiming the President wasn’t being investigated differs significantly from Dana Boente’s, which is useful to his story as it provides an excuse for his orchestration of blaming the Jim Comey firing on Rod Rosenstein. Perhaps the most ridiculous claim, from the initial meetings, is that Trump insisted on emphasizing Comey’s refusal to say he wasn’t under investigation because he didn’t want everyone to know Comey was fired over the Russia investigation. “McGahn said he believed the President wanted the language included so that people would not think that the President had terminated Comey because the President was under investigation” — this, even in spite of the fact that Trump told McGahn that he had told Sergey Lavrov he fired Comey because of the Russian investigation to take the pressure off.

McGahn,  and to a lesser degree Donaldson, both invented a bullshit story for why they were asking Richard Burr which Trump aides were targeted by the investigation, which a footnote dismantles.

The week after Comey’s briefing, the White House Counsel’s Office was in contact with SSCI Chairman Senator Richard Burr about the Russia investigations and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.309

309 Donaldson 11/6/17 302, at 14-15. On March 16, 2017, the White House Counsel’s Office was briefed by Senator Burr on the existence of “4-5 targets.” Donaldson 11 /6/17 302, at 15. The “targets” were identified in notes taken by Donaldson as “Flynn (FBI was ~ooking for phone records”; “Comey~Manafort (Ukr + Russia, not campaign)”; [redacted] “Carter Page ($ game)”; and “Greek Guy” (potentially referring to George Papadopoulos, later charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 for lying to the FBI). SC_AD_00l98 (Donaldson 3/16/17 Notes). Donaldson and McGahn both said they believed these were targets ofSSCI. Donaldson 11/6/17 302, at 15; McGahn 12/ 12/17 302, at 4. But SSCI does not formally investigate individuals as “targets”; the notes on their face reference the FBI, the Department of Justice, and Corney; and the notes track the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to the Gang of8 on March 9. See SNS-Classified-0000140-44 (3/8/17 Email, Gauhar to Page et al.); see also Donaldson 11 /6/17 302, at 15 (Donaldson could not rule out that Burr had told McGahn those individuals were the FBI’s targets).

Perhaps most tellingly, the first time McGahn got asked about Trump’s efforts to fire Mueller, he was not all that forthcoming.

When this Office first interviewed McGahn about this topic, he was reluctant to share detailed information about what had occurred and only did so after continued questioning.

From the footnotes, it appears that Mueller’s office went back to Don McGahn in March 2018, after flattering stories about his heroic role showed up in NYT, WaPo, and CNN and got more clarification about how McGahn prevented Trump from firing Mueller (basically, by ignoring him). That interview, too, gathered information about how Trump tried to bully McGahn into correcting the NYT story, which falsely claimed that McGahn had told Trump he would quit. (Truthfully, McGahn’s threats to quit are as pathetic as I expected when the stories first came out, and the NYT story is as misleadingly flattering as I expected.)

It’s at that March 2018 meeting where McGahn admitted his real motivation: he envisioned himself as an esteemed judicial ideologue and not a historic hack.

McGahn also had made clear to the President that the White House Counsel’s Office should not be involved in any effort to press the issue of conflicts.578 McGahn was concerned about having any role in asking the Acting Attorney General to fire the Special Counsel because he had grown up in the Reagan era and wanted to be more like Judge Robert Bork and not ” Saturday Night Massacre Bork.”579

Finally, after being fired himself for cooperating with Mueller (and, probably, for seeding so many self-serving stories with the NYT), Mueller interviewed McGahn once more, this February, one of the very last interviews that appears in the report. It appears they were cleaning up two discrepancies: the dates of the calls (it appears McGahn may have said one happened later than it did to separate it from coverage that Trump was under investigation for obstruction), and to get McGahn to explain why he didn’t tell Donaldson or Priebus and Bannon that he had been ordered to get Rosenstein to fire Mueller.

Incidentally, while self-proclaimed Mueller investigation hero McGahn appears to have been happy to tell Mueller’s team that Trump’s claims that Mueller had a conflict, he never told the press, not even in any of those seeded stories to the NYT.

There’s one detail about the Mueller report of particular interest, however, given the subpoena to testify. That note Donaldson took, recording that “McGahn told the President that his ‘biggest exposure’ was not his act of firing Comey but his ‘other contacts’ and ‘calls,’ and his ‘ask re: Flynn”?

Nowhere is his explanation for that comment cited to an interview report from him.

Which brings us to the subpoena, which (as I said) I suspect is a friendly one.

McGahn is almost certainly one of the people who sourced stories (including with his favorite reporters at the NYT) saying they were worried about all the damning things they said exposed in the Mueller Report. In McGahn’s case, he was right to be worried. The other day, Politico revealed that Trump replaced Jones Day as his 2020 campaign firm, in a move that was attributed to cost-cutting but that Politico’s sources say is retaliation not just for McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller but also a story (written by McGahn’s favorite NYT journos the same day he last interviewed with Mueller) on Jared Kushner’s inappropriate security clearance.

[C]lose Trump advisers say the decision also stems from disappointment with the White House’s former top attorney and current Jones Day partner, Don McGahn, whose behavior has irked the president and some of his family members.

Taking business away from Jones Day is payback, these advisers say, for McGahn’s soured relationship with the Trump family and a handful articles in high-profile newspapers that the family blames, unfairly or not, on the former White House counsel.

“Why in the world would you want to put your enemy on the payroll?” said one adviser close to the White House. “They do not want to reward his firm. Trump arrived at that point long ago, but the security clearance memo stories put a fine point on it.”

One February 2019 story, in particular, caught the White House’s attention, when The New York Times reported that the president ordered John Kelly, his chief of staff at the time, to grant a security clearance to Jared Kushner. Kelly had written an internal memo on it, according to the Times. That fact was closely held inside the White House, and few officials other than Kelly and McGahn knew, say two close White House advisers — and the administration blamed McGahn for the leak.

One other thing HJC is asking for are “communications with the Executive Office of the President regarding your response to the March 4, 2019 document request” by HJC.

Which, I’m sure they have reason to know, reflect White House opposition to his public testimony.

Don McGahn apparently imagined working for a corrupt asshole like Trump would get him named to the Supreme Court.

Instead, his firm has a lost a very lucrative client. He appears to be upping the ante by further distancing himself from Trump’s corruption. That may get ugly, because Don McGahn knows where a whole lot of Donald Trump’s bodies are buried. And given that McGahn, not Trump, is the one who packed the courts, the Republicans may have really divided loyalties over this fight.

Update: The White House is fighting McGahn’s subpoena.

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.