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Mick Mulvaney Confesses OMB and DOD Are Withholding Evidence of a Crime from Congress

Amid the tsunami of alarming news Mick Mulvaney made at today’s press conference (Trump is holding the G-7 at Doral next year, he likely will invite Putin, Trump did engage in a quid pro quo with Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25 call), one of the more important admissions got missed.

Mick Mulvaney admitted that the White House would have been breaking the law by withholding Ukrainian security funds because it did not have a “really really good reason not to do it.”

By the way, there was a report that we were worried that the money, that if we didn’t pay out the money it would be illegal. It would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it, that makes it look a lot worse than it really is. We were concerned about — over at OMB, about an impoundment. And I know I’ve just put half you folks to bed, but there’s a, the Budget Control Act, Impound — the Budget Control Impoundment Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money you have to spend it. At least, that’s how it’s interpreted by some folks. And we knew that that money either had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue.

He’s referring, presumably, to a WSJ report that OMB — the agency Mulvaney is still officially in charge of — put a political appointee in charge of withholding duly appropriated security funds for Ukraine so that President Trump could extort concessions from Ukraine.

The White House gave a politically appointed official the authority to keep aid to Ukraine on hold after career budget staff members questioned the legality of delaying the funds, according to people familiar with the matter, a shift that House Democrats are probing in their impeachment inquiry.

President Trump’s order to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in mid-July is at the center of House Democratic efforts to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump used U.S. foreign policy powers to benefit himself politically.

[snip]

The president has the authority to delay the release of money in certain instances, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research agency, including if there has been an unexpected change in circumstances for the program. But without being provided explanation or justification about why the administration was delaying the aid, some career officials at the Office of Management and Budget became worried they didn’t have the legal authority to hold up the funds, according to the people familiar.

While career civil servants put an initial hold on the aid, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs in OMB, was given the authority for continuing to keep the aid on hold after the career staff began raising their concerns to political officials at OMB, according to the people familiar with the matter. Mr. Duffey also began overseeing the process for approving and releasing funds, called apportionment, for other foreign aid and defense accounts, according to a public document indicating the change.

As noted by Mulvaney today, a law passed in the wake of Richard Nixon playing games with appropriations requires that if you withhold duly appropriated funds, you explain to Congress why you’re doing so, a decision that Congress then gets to veto simply by refusing to approve of the decision. The law makes it clear that the President can’t simply ignore the will of Congress on appropriations.

And yet, that’s what Trump did for the entirety of the summer.

Worse, in his press conference today, Mulvaney admitted that Trump didn’t have a “really really good reason not to” release the funds. Rather, he had a really bad reason: he was trying to extort a quid pro quo.

And that’s why the decision — reported in ho hum fashion on Tuesday as if it were just another case of the Administration refusing Congressional subpoenas — that OMB and DOD would not respond to subpoenas is actually really important.

The subpoena to those agencies lays out some of the evidence that Trump withheld the funds after DOD cleared them. Then it lays out the evidence that Trump was defying bipartisan Congressional will in doing so.

As you are aware, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 authorizes the President to withhold the obligation of funds only “(1) to provide for contingencies; (2) to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or (3) as specifically provided by law.” The President is required to submit a special message to Congress with information about the proposed deferral of funds.

On August 30, 2019, Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of the House Committee on Armed Services wrote a letter to Mr. Mulvaney requesting information why military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld and when it would be released. They wrote: “This funding is critical to the accomplishment of U.S. national security objectives in Europe.”

On September 3, 2019, a bipartisan group of Senators–including Rob Portman, Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, and Ron Johnson–wore a letter requesting that OMB release the military assistance to Ukraine that the Trump Administration was withholding:

The funds designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative are vital to the viability of the Ukrainian military. It has helped Ukraine develop the independent military capabilities and skills necessary to fend off the Kremlin’s continued onslaughts within its territory. In fact, Ukraine continues to fight daily on its eastern border against Russia-backed separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and over 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in this war. U.S.-funded security assistance has already helped turn the tide in this conflict, and it is necessary to ensure the protection of the sovereign territory of this young country, going forward.

On September 5, 2019, Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to OMB urging the Trump Administration to lift its hold on security funds to support Ukraine, writing: “These funds, which were appropriated by Congress as Foreign Military Financing and as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and signed into law by the President, are essential to advancing U.S. national security interests.”

On September 9, 2019, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine.” The White House never responded to this request. However, two days later, on September 11, 2019, the White House released its hold on the military assistance to Ukraine.

On September 24, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that, although he was “very actively involved in advocating the aid,” he “was not given an explanation” about why it was being withheld, even though he talked to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. He stated: “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the Committees to examine the sequences of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression.

That’s the subpoena that Mulvaney’s agency and DOD (the latter, after initially saying it would cooperate) are defying. It’s a subpoena that goes to the zenith of Congress’ authority, whether it is issued within or outside of an impeachment inquiry. But within an impeachment inquiry, it illustrates that on one issue of fact at the core of the investigation, there is bipartisan agreement that the White House was in the wrong.

And today, Mulvaney admitted that the White House did not have a very very good reason to withhold those funds, even while confirming that Trump was withholding the funds, in part, to extort a quid pro quo.

Even if the White House had a very very good reason, the law obliges the White House to explain to Congress why it blew off Congress’ power of the purse. The White House didn’t do it in real time — not even to Mitch McConnell. And the White House is refusing to do it now.

Update: Jack Goldsmith did a review of this issue in Lawfare today, but before the Mulvaney comments.

Update: Lisa Murkowski complained about this issue to Tim Mak today.

Trump’s 200 Million Inauguration Visitors and $15 Million Net Worth: The Scale of His Border Lies

Tonight, Trump will take over the airwaves to lie about the southern border in what will either be a last ditch effort to persuade Senate Republicans to stay the course supporting his temper tantrum, or will include a declaration of emergency that would pave the way to reopen government while saving face, all while creating an unbelievably dangerous precedent in the process.

Yesterday, NBC reported just how enormous are the lies the Trump Administration is telling about the southern border.

It describes that while the Administration claims to have stopped 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year, in reality, CBP stopped just six.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

That number six is itself an exaggeration. In a piece predicting that, “the Intelligence Community is almost certainly not able to stand publicly behind what the White House and DHS are saying,” former National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen explains what (he correctly suspected) that number represents: visa denials based on a possible link to terrorism.

[T]hose visa denials or SIA encounters hardly equates to disruption of a terrorist plot or the “capture” of a known terrorist. Our watchlisting system is predicated on a carefully calibrated risk management approach. When the intelligence community acquires information that points to a potential link to terrorist activity, individuals are not permitted to travel to the United States. But it should not be assumed that every individual who was denied the opportunity to enter the U.S. because was in fact a would-be terrorist intent on doing us harm.

Plus, the 4,000 number equates to all such stops, not just those on the southern border.

In other words, the White House has been telling an unbelievable exaggeration to attempt to ratchet up fear to justify Trump’s tantrum.

It is, even among Trump’s fantastic lies, remarkable. Trump used a number, 4,000, that is actually 666 times higher than even a conservatively high number, 6.

To show just how big a lie it is, I calculated what two of Trump’s other most famous lies, exaggerated on such a scale, would be.

In an effort to avoid looking inadequate as compared to President Obama, whose inauguration had record crowds (much to the chagrin of those us of caught in the Purple Tunnel of Doom), Trump claimed more people attended his inauguration than ever before, meaning more than the 1.8 million who attended Obama’s first inauguration. In reality, the number was likely between 300,000 and 600,000. Take the smaller of those two numbers, exaggerate by as much as Trump is exaggerating the threat of terrorist infiltration on the southern border, and he’d have to claim 200 million people would have attended his inauguration, many more times the crowd Obama got.

Or take his net worth, another of his most epic lies.

Trump has claimed his net worth is $10 billion; the company, too, claims to make that much in a given year. Last year Forbes calculated Trump’s net worth was actually closer to $3 billion.

But if we take Trump’s exaggerated claim of $10 billion, and assumed he is exaggerating by the scale that he’s exaggerating the threat at the southern border, and it’d say his real net worth was just $15 million.

I mean, that’d make Mitt Romney far richer than Trump. Richard Blumenthal, too, would be worth more than the President. The Senate might not even let a pauper like that join their club! According to some calculations, Nancy Pelosi would even be worth more — in monetary, and not just human, worth — than Trump if he exaggerated this much.

The point is this lie is not just egregious and fact-free. It is, even among Trump’s lies, a whopper.

And Trump will go on teevee tonight to try to spread lies on an epic scale.

The Record Supports Christine Blasey Ford

This may sound counterintuitive. But the Republican-led whitewash hearing into allegations that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford actually ended up supporting her case, not Kavanaugh’s.

Ford withstood Rachel Mitchell’s interrogation

As bmaz noted, the Republicans hired a skirt: Maricopa sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell.

Mitchell conducted all of the questioning — save one impetuous outburst from Lindsey Graham — of Ford. And Mitchell tried diligently to challenge Ford’s account. She started by asking Ford to review all her statements and correct and inconsistencies in her past statements, something she did not do thoroughly with Kavanaugh. She then challenged Ford’s story in a few places, first by shadowing the Ed Whelan theory that the house in question must belong to the parents of Kavanaugh’s doppelganger, Chris Garrett (later testimony would make clear Garrett was how Ford first got introduced to the Kavanaugh crowd); Ford dismissed that by answering that the house in question might be in a broader area. Mitchell tried to suggest that Ford’s symptoms — including PTSD and anxiety — might come from other reasons; but because this is Ford’s academic expertise, Ford swatted those away with science. Mitchell made much of the fact that Ford declined to travel to DC in spite of her dislike of air travel, even though she travels for a yearly family visit and vacations. Mitchell also tried to insinuate that some political actors either coached her or paid for Ford’s polygraph, but Ford’s lawyers pointed out they had paid for it, as is the norm. And Ford’s own timeline simply didn’t support the claim she was politically coached. Mitchell invented a claim, out of an indistinct claim by Ford, that she had wanted to keep her testimony confidential up until the original hearing. In the end, Mitchell got Ford to admit — relying on her expertise — that five minute sessions like this hearing weren’t the best way to get the truth from victims of trauma, which would seem to support a longer investigation, not the kind of hearing Mitchell had been paid to star in.

Ford withstood all those questions with grace (and the timely intervention of her attorneys).

Kavanaugh spent 45 minutes ranting like a belligerent drunk

Chuck Grassley unwisely let each witness take as much time as they wanted for opening statements.

After Ford took a normal amount of time, Kavanaugh, bidding for Trump’s support, took a full 45 minutes for his statement.

His statement was delivered shrilly, with an angry red face, just short of screaming. Coming after hours of testimony he was sometimes a violent drunk, Kavanaugh looked during his statement like the drunk you avoid in the parking lot of a bar, because it’s just not worthwhile human interaction. I don’t rule out him drinking while watching Ford’s testimony, nor did others.

In short, Kavanaugh looked like a guy who could not manage rage, just as numerous witnesses had described him being as as a drunk.

The Mark Judge Safeway timing suggests a late June/early July assault

One reason Ford repeatedly said she’d like an FBI interview is because she assumed that if she could date an exchange she had with Mark Judge after her assault, she might be able to narrow down when the actual event occurred. Republicans want to avoid having Judge’s public comments about drunken debauchery in the time period reviewed by any credible questioner.

Judge has written about that in his book, describing working at the local Safeway for a few weeks to pay for Football camp.

According to Kavanaugh’s calendar, football camp started on August 23 that year.

Ford testified that her exchange with Judge took place 6 to 8 weeks after the incident.

Ford: We had always been friendly with one another. I wouldn’t characterize him as not friendly. He looked ill. Says it happened 6-8 weeks after the incident.

If Judge was working for the few weeks prior to Football camp to pay for it and his and Kavanaugh’s exchange with Ford happened 6 to 8  weeks earlier, that would put the assault in early July.

That would mean this entry, for an event on Thursday, July 1, 1982, in Kavanaugh’s calendar would be solidly within that range.

The Republicans fire their prosecutor after she corroborates Ford’s story

And Kavanaugh’s testimony actually supports Ford.

Start with the claim, in his opening rant, that he usually only drank on weekends. That makes no sense because Judge’s book about the period describes being dysfunctionally hungover routinely while he worked at the Potomac Safeway to earn money for Football camp.

Kavanaugh claims this had to be a weekend bc they all worked. But Judge said he routinely went to work badly hungover.

Then Mitchell started questioning Kavanaugh. She started by asking him to review the definition of sexual assault, as she asked Ford to do. Kavanaugh got a weird set to his lips.

Shortly thereafter, she turned to his calendar, getting him to confirm that he wrote everything in there. In her next round, Mitchell’s first questions were about the July 1 entry. After filibustering about the earlier workout session (about which he wasn’t asked), Kavanaugh admitted that the entry showed he got together at Tim Gaudet’s —  with Mark Judge and PJ Smith — and Chris Garrett, whose nickname is Squi.

In other words, Kavanaugh confirmed he was at a small gathering with the boys Ford said were there, as well as the guy who had introduced her to these boys.

Durbin’s questioning followed, after which Lindsey Graham took over questioning from Mitchell and went on a tear, calling it an unethical sham. Having gotten Kavanaugh to identify a get-together that matched Ford’s description, Mitchell was done questioning for the day.

Effectively, the GOP hired a prosecutor to question a victim, but decided the alleged perpetrator could not withstand the same prosecutor’s questions as soon as she had him identify a get-together that resembled the one described by Ford.

Kavanaugh thrice stopped short of denying being a blackout drunk

One problem with Kavanaugh’s testimony is that he and his alleged accomplice, Mark Judge, are reported to be blackout drunks. Judge even wrote a book admitting to the fact. So Kavanaugh went to some lengths trying to avoid admitting that he had ever blacked out, even while he admitted, “I like beer,” over and over.

The first came, in her first round, when Mitchell asked Kavanaugh what he considered too many beers.

Mitchell: What do you consider to be too many beers?

Kav: I don’t know, whatever the chart says.

[snip]

Mitchell: Have you ever passed out from drinking?

Kav: Passed out would be no, but I’ve gone to sleep. I’ve never blacked out. That’s the allegation, and that’s wrong.

That’s when Republican Senators started to look worried. They gave Kavanaugh one of his three lifeline breaks.

Kavanaugh repeatedly dismissed his freshman roommate’s claim that he was a shy man who became belligerent after drinking by pointing to the squabble that one freshman roommate had with another, as if the normal animus between freshman roommates makes the observation of one invalid.

Finally, Blumenthal raised an incident from college that Kavanaugh had admitted he didn’t recall, only to have Kavanaugh insist he remembered all of it.

Let me ask you this. In a speech that you gave, you described, quote, falling out of the bus onto the front steps of the Yale Law School, at 4:45 AM.

Kavanaugh interrupted to try to prevent Blumenthal from finishing the quote.

The quote ends that you tried to piece things back together, end quote, to recall what happened that night. Meaning?

I know what happened. I know what happened that night.

The appellate court judge actually didn’t claim that he remembered it, just that he knows what happened.

Kavanaugh refuses to call Mark Judge

As a reminder, Ford alleges that Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her in the presence of admitted dead drunk Mark Judge. Republicans refused to call Judge over and over.

Then Kavanaugh refused to answer questions about Judge’s own accounts of the period. In response to a question from Patrick Leahy about whether he was the drunk described as Bart O’Kavanaugh in Judge’s book, Kavanaugh refused to answer.

3rd Q: Are you Bart O’Kavanaugh.

Kav: not answering.

Kav finally says, “you’d have to ask him.” Which is the point.

Blumenthal noted to Kavanaugh that Judge’s statement was just six cursory and conclusory sentences signed by Judge’s lawyer, not a sworn statement.

So here’s what we saw yesterday: Christine Blasey Ford was unflappable and consistent. By comparison, Kavanaugh — at least in his statement — appeared to be precisely what he denied he was. His denials that he was a blackout drunk (and therefore that he assaulted Ford but didn’t remember it) were not credible and stopped well short of supporting his claim. And his own calendar, and the Republicans own prosecutor, identified a get-together that matches the time and attendees identified by Ford.

The GOP tried to set up a whitewash of this evidence. But instead, it failed, and they were left with screaming men.

And that won’t stop them from voting out his nomination.

The Sekulow Questions, Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

In this series, I have been showing a framework for the investigation that the Mueller questions, as imagined by Jay Sekulow, maps out. Thus far I have shown:

  • Russians, led by the Aras Agalarov and his son, cultivated Trump for years by dangling two things: real estate deals and close ties with Vladimir Putin.
  • During the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo agreement, with the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for a commitment to sanctions relief, with some policy considerations thrown in.
  • During the transition period, Trump’s team took a series of actions that moved towards consummating the deal they had made with Russia, both in terms of policy concessions, particularly sanctions relief, and funding from Russian sources that could only be tapped if sanctions were lifted. The Trump team took measures to keep those actions secret.
  • Starting in January 2017, Trump came to learn that FBI was investigating Mike Flynn. His real reasons for firing Flynn remain unreported, but it appears he had some concerns that the investigation into Flynn would expose him.

This post lays out the questions on obstruction that lead up to Comey’s firing on May 9, 2017.

February 14, 2017: What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?

On February 13, Trump fired Mike Flynn. The explanation he gave was one of the concerns Sally Yates had given to Don McGahn when she told him about the interview, that Flynn had lied to Mike Pence about having discussed sanctions relief with Sergey Kislyak on December 29, 2016. Except, coming from Trump, that excuse makes no sense, both because he had already shown he didn’t care about the counterintelligence implications of that lie by including Flynn in the January 28 phone call with Putin and other sensitive meetings. But also because at least seven people in the White House knew what occurred in Flynn’s calls, and Pence probably did too.

Against that backdrop, the next day, Trump had Jim Comey stay late after an oval office meeting so he could ask him to drop the investigation into Flynn. Leading up to this meeting, Trump had already:

  • Asked Comey to investigate the pee tape allegations so he could exonerate the President
  • Asked if FBI leaks
  • Asked if Comey was loyal shortly after asking him, for the third time, if he wanted to keep his job
  • Claimed he distrusted Flynn’s judgment because he had delayed telling Trump about a congratulatory call from Putin

After Trump asked everyone in the meeting to leave him and Comey alone, both Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner lingered.

While the description of this meeting usually focuses on the Flynn discussion, according to Comey’s discussion, it also focused closely on leaks, which shows how Trump linked the two in his mind.

Here’s what Comey claims Trump said about Flynn:

He began by saying he wanted to “talk about Mike Flynn.” He then said that, although Flynn “hadn’t done anything wrong” in his call with the Russians (a point he made at least two more times in the conversation), he had to let him go because he misled the Vice President, whom he described as “a good guy.” He explained that he just couldn’t have Flynn misleading the vice President and, in any event, he had other concerns about Flynn, and had a great guy coming in, so he had to let Flynn go.

[a discussion of Sean Spicer’s presser explaining the firing and another about the leaks of his calls to Mexican and Australian leaders]

He then referred at length to the leaks relating to Mike Flynn’s call with the Russians, which he stressed was not wrong in any way (“he made lots of calls”), but that the leaks were terrible.

[Comey’s agreement with Trump about the problem with leaks, but also his explanation that the leaks may not have been FBI; Reince Priebus tries to interrupt but Trump sends him away for a minute or two]

He then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying that Flynn is a good guy, and has been through a lot. He misled the Vice President but he didn’t do anything wrong on the call. He said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied by saying, “I agree he is a good guy,” but said no more.

In addition to providing Trump an opportunity to rebut Comey, asking this question might aim to understand the real reason Trump fired Flynn.

March 2, 2017: What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?  What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind? Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?

On March 2, citing consultations with senior department officials, Sessions recused himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States,” while noting that, “This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.” At that point, Dana Boente became Acting Attorney General for the investigation.

Note that this question isn’t just about Trump’s response to Sessions’ recusal — it’s also about what he did in advance of it. That’s likely because even before Sessions recused, Trump got Don McGahn to try to pressure the Attorney General not to do so. He also called Comey the night before and “talked about Sessions a bit.” When Sessions ultimately did recuse, Trump had a blow-up in which he expressed a belief that Attorneys General should protect their president.

[T]he president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump then asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”

In the days after the Sessions recusal, Trump also kicked off the year-long panic about being wiretapped.

On Thursday, Jeff Sessions recused from the election-related parts of this investigation. In response, Trump went on a rant (inside the White House) reported to be as angry as any since he became President. The next morning, Trump responded to a Breitbart article alleging a coup by making accusations that suggest any wiretaps involved in this investigation would be improper. Having reframed wiretaps that would be targeted at Russian spies as illegitimate, Trump then invited Nunes to explore any surveillance of campaign officials, even that not directly tied to Trump himself.

And Nunes obliged.

Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions, among others, have already provided their side of this story to Mueller’s team.

March 2 to March 20, 2017: What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?

As Sekulow has recorded Mueller’s question, the special counsel wants to know what Trump already knew of the investigation into Mike Flynn before Comey publicly confirmed it in Congressional testimony. This may be a baseline question, to measure how much of Trump’s response was a reaction to the investigation becoming public.

But there are other things that went down in the weeks leading up to Comey’s testimony. Devin Nunes had already made considerable efforts to undermine the investigation; he would have been briefed on the investigation on March 2 (see footnote 75), the same day as Sessions recused.Trump went into a panic on March 4, just days after Sessions recusal, about being wiretapped; I’m wondering if there’s any evidence that Trump or Steven Bannon seeded the Breitbart story that kicked off the claim of a coup against Trump. Also of note is Don McGahn’s delay in conveying the records retention request about the investigation to the White House, even as Sean Spicer conducted a device search to learn who was using encrypted messengers.

March 20, 2017: What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.

On March 20, in testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Comey publicly confirmed the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign.

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

In addition to questions about the investigation (including the revelation that FBI had not briefed the Gang of Eight on it until recently; we now know the briefing took place the day Jeff Sessions recused which suggests FBI avoided letting both Flynn and Sessions know details of it), Republicans used the hearing to delegitimize unmasking and the IC conclusion that Putin had affirmatively supported Trump.

Sekulow’s questions (or NYT’s rendition of them) lump the hearing, at which Admiral Mike Rogers also testified, in with Trump’s pressure on his spooks to issue a statement that he wasn’t under investigation. Two days after the hearing, Trump pressured Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats to intervene with Comey to stop the investigation.

It’s possible that the term “intelligence officials” includes HPSCI Chair Devin Nunes. On March 21, Nunes made his nighttime trip to the White House to accelerate the unmasking panic. Significantly, the panic didn’t just pertain to Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak; it also focused on the revelation of Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan’s secret trip to New York and probably other conversations with the Middle Eastern partners that have become part of this scandal.

The day after Nunes’ nighttime trip, Trump called Coats and Rogers (and probably Pompeo) and asked them to publicly deny any evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia; NSA documented the call to Rogers.

It’s now clear that the calls Nunes complained about being unmasked actually are evidence of a conspiracy (and as such, they probably provided an easy roadmap for Mueller to find the non-Russian conversations).

March 30, 2017: What was the purpose of your call to Mr. Comey on March 30?

On March 30, Trump called Comey on official phone lines and asked him to exonerate him on the Russia investigation. According to Comey, the conversation included the following:

He then said he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult. He said he thinks he would have won the health care vote but for the cloud. He then went on at great length, explaining that he has nothing to do with Russia (has a letter from the largest law firm in DC saying he has gotten no income from Russia). was not involved with hookers in Russia (can you imagine me, hookers? I have a beautiful wife, and it has been very painful). is bringing a personal lawsuit against Christopher Steele, always advised people to assume they were being recorded in Russia. has accounts now from those who travelled with him to Miss Universe pageant that he didn’t do anything, etc.

He asked what he could do to lift the cloud. I explained that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work. He agreed, but then returned to the problems this was causing him, went on at great length about how bad he was for Russia because of his commitment to more oil and more nukes (ours are 40 years old).

He said something about the hearing last week. I responded by telling him I wasn’t there as a volunteer and he asked who was driving that, was it Nunes who wanted it? I said all the leadership wanted to know what was going on and mentioned that Grassley had even held up the DAG nominee to demand information. I said we had briefed the leadership on exactly what we were doing and who we were investigating.

I reminded him that I had told him we weren’t investigating him and that I had told the Congressional leadership the same thing. He said it would be great if that could get out and several times asked me to find a way to get that out.

He talked about the guy he read about in the Washington Post today (NOTE: I think he meant Sergei Millian) and said he didn’t know him at all. He said that if there was “some satellite” (NOTE: I took this to mean some associate of his or his campaign) that did something, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything and hoped I would find a way to get out that we weren’t investigating him.

Trump also raised “McCabe thing,” yet another apparent attempt to tie the retention of McCabe to public exoneration from Comey.

Given the news that Sergei Millian had been pitching George Papadopoulos on a Trump Tower deal in the post-election period, I wonder whether Trump’s invocation of him in conjunction with “some satellite” is a reference to Papadopoulos, who had already been interviewed twice by this time. Nunes would have learned of his inclusion in the investigation in the March 2 CI briefing.

On top of the clear evidence that this call represented a (well-documented, including a contemporaneous call to Dana Boente) effort to quash the investigation and get public exoneration, the conversation as presented by Comey also includes several bogus statements designed to exonerate him. For example, Millian had actually worked with Trump in past years selling condos to rich Russians. Trump never did sue Steele (Michael Cohen sued BuzzFeed and Fusion early this year, but he dropped it in the wake of the FBI raid on him). And the March 8 letter from Morgan Lewis certifying he didn’t get income from Russia is unrelated to whether he has been utterly reliant on investment from Russia (to say nothing of the huge sums raised from Russian oligarchs for his inauguration). In other words, like the earlier false claim that Trump hadn’t stayed overnight in Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant and therefore couldn’t have been compromised, even at this point, Trump’s attempts to persuade the FBI he was innocent were based off false claims.

March 30, 2017: Flynn asks for immunity

Mike Flynn first asked Congress for immunity on March 30, 2017, with Trump backing the effort in a tweet.

A later question deals with this topic — and suggests Trump may have contacted Flynn directly about immunity at this time, but that contact is not public, if it occurred.

April 11, 2017: What was the purpose of your call to Mr. Comey on April 11, 2017?

At 8:26AM on April 11, Comey returned a call to Trump. Trump asked again for Comey to lift the cloud on him.

He said he was following up to see if I did what he had asked last time–getting out that he personally is not under investigation. I relied that I had passed the request to the Acting AG and had not heard back from him. He spoke for a bit about why it was so important. He is trying to do work for the country, visit with foreign leaders, and any cloud, even a little cloud gets in the way of that. They keep bringing up the Russia thing as an excuse for losing the election.

[snip]

He then added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing, you know.”

[snip]

He then said that I was doing a great job and wished me well.

April 11, 2017: What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?

On April 12, Fox Business News broadcast an interview with Maria Bartiromo (Mueller must know it was recorded on April 11, so presumably after the call with Comey). There are three key aspects of the interview. First, in the context of Trump’s failures to staff his agencies, Bartiromo asks why Comey is still around [note, I bet in Hope Hicks’ several days of interviews, they asked her if these questions were planted]. Given public reports, Trump may have already been thinking about firing Comey, though Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Don McGahn staved off the firing for weeks.

TRUMP:  I wish it would be explained better, the obstructionist nature, though, because a lot of times I’ll say why doesn’t so and so have people under him or her?

The reason is because we can’t get them approved.

BARTIROMO:  Well, people are still wondering, though, they’re scratching their heads, right, so many Obama-era staffers are still here.

For example, was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the outset of your presidency?

Is it too late now to ask him to step down?

TRUMP:  No, it’s not too late, but, you know, I have confidence in him.  We’ll see what happens.  You know, it’s going to be interesting.

On the same day he had asked Comey to publicly state he wasn’t being interviewed, Trump said he still had confidence in Comey, even while suggesting a lot of other people were angling for the job (something he had also said in an earlier exchange with Comey).  Trump immediately pivoted to claiming Comey had kept Hillary from being charged.

TRUMP: But, you know, we have to just — look, I have so many people that want to come into this administration.  They’re so excited about this administration and what’s happening — bankers, law enforcement — everybody wants to come into this administration.  Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton.  People don’t realize that.  He saved her life, because — I call it Comey [one].  And I joke about it a little bit.

When he was reading those charges, she was guilty on every charge.  And then he said, she was essentially OK.  But he — she wasn’t OK, because she was guilty on every charge.

And then you had two and then you had three.

But Hillary Clinton won — or Comey won.  She was guilty on every charge.

BARTIROMO:  Yes.

TRUMP:  So Director Comey…

BARTIROMO:  Well, that’s (INAUDIBLE)…

TRUMP:  No, I’m just saying…

BARTIROMO:  (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP:  Well, because I want to give everybody a good, fair chance.  Director Comey was very, very good to Hillary Clinton, that I can tell you.  If he weren’t, she would be, right now, going to trial.

From there, Bartiromo asks Trump why President Obama had changed the rules on sharing EO 12333 data. Trump suggests it is so his administration could be spied on, using the Susan Rice unmasking pseudo scandal as shorthand for spying on his team.

BARTIROMO:  Mr. President, just a final question for you.

In the last weeks of the Obama presidency, he changed all the rules in terms of the intelligence agencies, allowing them to share raw data.

TRUMP:  Terrible.

BARTIROMO:  Why do you think he did this?

TRUMP:  Well, I’m going to let you figure that one out.  But it’s so obvious.  When you look at Susan Rice and what’s going on, and so many people are coming up to me and apologizing now.  They’re saying you know, you were right when you said that.

Perhaps I didn’t know how right I was, because nobody knew the extent of it.

Undoubtedly, Mueller wants to know whether these comments relate to his comments to Comey (and, as I suggested, Hope Hicks may have helped elucidate that). The invocation of Hillary sets up one rationale for firing Comey, but one that contradicts with the official reason.

But the conversation also reflects Trump’s consistent panic that his actions (and those of his aides) will be captured by wiretaps.

May 3, 2017: What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?

On May 3, Comey testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It covered leaks (including whether he had ever authorized any, a question implicated in the Andrew McCabe firing), and the hacked email raising questions about whether Lynch could investigate Hillary. Comey described his actions in the Hillary investigation at length. This testimony would be cited by Rod Rosenstein in his letter supporting the firing of Comey. In addition, there were a number of questions about the Russia investigation, including questions focused on Trump, that would have driven Trump nuts.

Along with getting a reaction to the differences between what Comey said in testimony and Trump’s own version (which by this point he had shared several times), Mueller likely wants to know what Trump thinks of Comey’s claim that FBI treated the Russian investigation just like the Hillary one.

With respect to the Russian investigation, we treated it like we did with the Clinton investigation. We didn’t say a word about it until months into it and then the only thing we’ve confirmed so far about this is the same thing with the Clinton investigation. That we are investigating. And I would expect, we’re not going to say another peep about it until we’re done. And I don’t know what will be said when we’re done, but that’s the way we handled the Clinton investigation as well.

In a series of questions that were likely developed in conjunction with Trump, Lindsey Graham asked whether Comey stood by his earlier claim that there was an active investigation.

GRAHAM: Did you ever talk to Sally Yates about her concerns about General Flynn being compromised?

COMEY: I did, I don’t whether I can talk about it in this forum. But the answer is yes.

GRAHAM: That she had concerns about General Flynn and she expressed those concerns to you?

COMEY: Correct.

GRAHAM: We’ll talk about that later. Do you stand by your house testimony of March 20 that there was no surveillance of the Trump campaign that you’re aware of?

COMEY: Correct.

GRAHAM: You would know about it if they were, is that correct?

COMEY: I think so, yes.

GRAHAM: OK, Carter Page; was there a FISA warrant issued regarding Carter Page’s activity with the Russians.

COMEY: I can’t answer that here.

GRAHAM: Did you consider Carter page a agent of the campaign?

COMEY: Same answer, I can’t answer that here.

GRAHAM: OK. Do you stand by your testimony that there is an active investigation counterintelligence investigation regarding Trump campaign individuals in the Russian government as to whether not to collaborate? You said that in March…

COMEY: To see if there was any coordination between the Russian effort and peoples…

GRAHAM: Is that still going on?

COMEY: Yes.

GRAHAM: OK. So nothing’s changed. You stand by those two statements?

Curiously (not least because of certain investigative dates), Sheldon Whitehouse asked some pointed questions about whether Comey could reveal if an investigation was being starved by inaction.

WHITEHOUSE: Let’s say you’ve got a hypothetically, a RICO investigation and it has to go through procedures within the department necessary to allow a RICO investigation proceed if none of those have ever been invoked or implicated that would send a signal that maybe not much effort has been dedicated to it.

Would that be a legitimate question to ask? Have these — again, you’d have to know that it was a RICO investigation. But assuming that we knew that that was the case with those staging elements as an investigation moves forward and the internal department approvals be appropriate for us to ask about and you to answer about?

COMEY: Yes, that’s a harder question. I’m not sure it would be appropriate to answer it because it would give away what we were looking at potentially.

WHITEHOUSE: Would it be appropriate to ask if — whether any — any witnesses have been interviewed or whether any documents have been obtained pursuant to the investigation?

Richard Blumenthal asked Comey whether he could rule Trump in or out as a target of the investigation and specifically within that context, suggested appointing a special counsel (Patrick Leahy had already made the suggestion for a special counsel).

BLUMENTHAL: Have you — have you ruled out the president of the United States?

COMEY: I don’t — I don’t want people to over interpret this answer, I’m not going to comment on anyone in particular, because that puts me down a slope of — because if I say no to that then I have to answer succeeding questions. So what we’ve done is brief the chair and ranking on who the U.S. persons are that we’ve opened investigations on. And that’s — that’s as far as we’re going to go, at this point.

BLUMENTHAL: But as a former prosecutor, you know that when there’s an investigation into several potentially culpable individuals, the evidence from those individuals and the investigation can lead to others, correct?

COMEY: Correct. We’re always open-minded about — and we follow the evidence wherever it takes us.

BLUMENTHAL: So potentially, the president of the United States could be a target of your ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russian interference in our election, correct?

COMEY: I just worry — I don’t want to answer that — that — that seems to be unfair speculation. We will follow the evidence, we’ll try and find as much as we can and we’ll follow the evidence wherever it leads.

BLUMENTHAL: Wouldn’t this situation be ideal for the appointment of a special prosecutor, an independent counsel, in light of the fact that the attorney general has recused himself and, so far as your answers indicate today, no one has been ruled out publicly in your ongoing investigation. I understand the reasons that you want to avoid ruling out anyone publicly. But for exactly that reason, because of the appearance of a potential conflict of interest, isn’t this situation absolutely crying out for a special prosecutor?

Chuck Grassley asked Comey the first questions about what would become the year-long focus on Christopher Steele’s involvement in the FISA application on Carter Page.

GRASSLEY: On — on March 6, I wrote to you asking about the FBI’s relationship with the author of the trip — Trump-Russia dossier Christopher Steele. Most of these questions have not been answered, so I’m going to ask them now. Prior to the bureau launching the investigation of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, did anyone from the FBI have interactions with Mr. Steele regarding the issue?

COMEY: That’s not a question that I can answer in this forum. As you know, I — I briefed you privately on this and if there’s more that’s necessary then I’d be happy to do it privately.

GRASSLEY: Have you ever represented to a judge that the FBI had interaction with Mr. Steele whether by name or not regarding alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia prior to the Bureau launching its investigation of the matter?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer Mr. Chairman.

In a second round, Whitehouse asked about a Trump tweet suggesting Comey had given Hillary a free pass.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you.

A couple of quick matters, for starters. Did you give Hillary Clinton quote, “a free pass for many bad deeds?” There was a tweet to that effect from the president.

COMEY: Oh, no, not — that was not my intention, certainly.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, did you give her a free pass for many bad deeds, whatever your intention may have been?

COMEY: We conducted a competent, honest and independent investigation, closed it while offering transparency to the American people. I believed what I said, there was not a prosecutable case, there.

Al Franken asked Comey whether the investigation might access Trump’s tax returns.

FRANKEN: I just want to clarify something — some of the answers that you gave me for example in response to director — I asked you would President Trump’s tax returns be material to the — such an investigation — the Russian investigation and does the investigation have access to President Trump’s tax returns and some other questions you answered I can’t say. And I’d like to get a clarification on that. Is it that you cant say or that you can’t say in this setting?

COMEY: That I won’t answer questions about the contours of the investigation. As I sit here I don’t know whether I would do it in a closed setting either. But for sure — I don’t want to begin answering questions about what we’re looking at and how.

Update: Contemporaneous reporting makes it clear that Trump was particularly irked by Comey’s admission that “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election,” as that diminished Trump’s win. (h/t TC)

May 9, 2017: Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?

The May 3 hearing is reportedly the precipitating event for Trump heading to Bedminster with Ivanka, Jared, and Stephen Miller on May 4 and deciding to fire Comey. Trump had Miller draft a letter explaining the firing, which Don McGahn would significantly edit when he saw it on May 8. McGahn also got Sessions and Rosenstein, who were peeved about different aspects of the hearing (those focused on Comey’s actions with regards to Hillary), to write letters supporting Comey’s firing.

Given that Mueller has the original draft of the firing letter and testimony from McGahn, Rosenstein, and Sessions, this question will largely allow Trump to refute evidence Mueller has already confirmed.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

Don Jr Does Not Recall Not Recalling Rinat Akhmetshin at the June 9 Meeting

Don Jr had himself a “Half Hillary” today, upwards of five hours of testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, after which the low-stamina 39 year old called it quits.

Already, Senators Blumenthal and Coons suggest there were gaps or clear lies in his testimony. And apparently after the testimony, Robert Mueller alerted the White House he’ll seek testimony from the people who helped Pops Trump write a misleading statement about the meeting.

The reason for that is obvious: in his statement, Jr changed his story from what the original White House statement was, to offer an explanation for how the Pop-crafted statement makes sense. He knew the meeting pertained to dirt on Hillary, but ultimately it was just about adoption.

In his email to me Rob suggested that someone had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia” and that the information would be “very useful” to the campaign. I was somewhat skeptical of his outreach, as I had only known Rob as Emin’s somewhat colorful music promoter who had worked with famous pop singers such as Michael Jackson. Since I had no additional information to validate what Rob was saying, I did not quite know what to make of his email. I had no way to gauge the reliability, credibility or accuracy of any of the things he was saying. As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified. The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented. The meeting was instead primarily focused on Russian adoptions, which is exactly what I said over a year later in my statement of July 8, 2017.

Of course, by crafting that nonsensical statement, Don Jr is making it clear a quid pro quo was discussed: Dirt, in exchange for movement on the Magnitsky sanctions.

I’m more interesting in the things the forgetful 39 year old could not recall. While his phone records show he spoke to Emin Agalarov, the rock star son of Aras Agalarov, who has been dangling real estate deals in Russia for the Trumps for some time, for example, he doesn’t recall what was discussed.

Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

This is important, because those conversations probably explained precisely what was going to happen at that meeting (and how it might benefit real estate developer Aras Agalarov), but Jr simply can’t recall even having a conversation (or how long those conversations were).

He also doesn’t recall whether he discussed the meeting, after the fact, with Jared, Manafort, or (the unspoken “anyone else” here is pregnant) Pops.

The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes and Rob, Emin and I never discussed the meeting again. I do not recall ever discussing it with Jared, Paul or anyone else. In short, I gave it no further thought

Once we find out he did discuss it with Pops and others, he can say he’s stupid and we’ll all believe him.

Most interesting, to me, is his claim to only recall seven participants in the meeting.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze. After a few minutes, Jared and Paul joined. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes.

The unstated subtext here is even more pregnant. Don Jr accounts for seven of the participants in this meeting:

(3) Himself, Paul Manafort, Jared Kusher

(4) Natalia Veselnitskaya, her translator, the Agalarov’s real estate invstment executive Irakli Kaveladze, and Rob Goldstone

So what he really means to say is he doesn’t recall the presence of Rinat Akhmetshin, who has ties to Russian intelligence and a history of fending off accusations of hacking.

I’d say those three gaps — what Agalarov told him to expect from the meeting in calls arranged beforehand, what he told Pop about the meeting, and that a suspected spook was there — are pretty interesting things for a young guy like Jr to forget.

[Photo: National Security Agency via Wikimedia]

If a Tech Amicus Falls in the Woods but Rosemary Collyer Ignores It, Would It Matter?

Six senators (Ron Wyden, Pat Leahy, Al Franken, Martin Heinrich, Richard Blumenthal, and Mike Lee) have just written presiding FISA Court judge Rosemary Collyer, urging her to add a tech amicus — or even better, a full time technical staffer — to the FISA Court.

The letter makes no mention of Collyer’s recent consideration of the 702 reauthorization certificates, nor even of any specific questions the tech amicus might consider.

That’s unfortunate. In my opinion, the letter entirely dodges the real underlying issue, at least as it pertains to Collyer, which is her unwillingness to adequately challenge or review Executive branch assertions.

In her opinion reauthorizing Section 702, Collyer apparently never once considered appointing an amicus, even a legal one (who, under the USA Freedom structure, could have suggested bringing in a technical expert). She refused to do so in a reconsideration process that — because of persistent problems arising from technical issues — stretched over seven months.

I argued then that that means Collyer broke the law, violating USA Freedom Act’s requirement that the FISC at least consider appointing an amicus on matters raising novel or significant issues and, if choosing not to do so, explain that decision.

In any case, this opinion makes clear that what should have happened, years ago, is a careful discussion of how packet sniffing works, and where a packet collected by a backbone provider stops being metadata and starts being content, and all the kinds of data NSA might want to and does collect via domestic packet sniffing. (They collect far more under EO 12333.) As mentioned, some of that discussion may have taken place in advance of the 2004 and 2010 opinions approving upstream collection of Internet metadata (though, again, I’m now convinced NSA was always lying about what it would take to process that data). But there’s no evidence the discussion has ever happened when discussing the collection of upstream content. As a result, judges are still using made up terms like MCTs, rather than adopting terms that have real technical meaning.

For that reason, it’s particularly troubling Collyer didn’t use — didn’t even consider using, according to the available documentation — an amicus. As Collyer herself notes, upstream surveillance “has represented more than its share of the challenges in implementing Section 702” (and, I’d add, Internet metadata collection).

At a minimum, when NSA was pitching fixes to this, she should have stopped and said, “this sounds like a significant decision” and brought in amicus Amy Jeffress or Marc Zwillinger to help her think through whether this solution really fixes the problem. Even better, she should have brought in a technical expert who, at a minimum, could have explained to her that SCTs pose as big a problem as MCTs; Steve Bellovin — one of the authors of this paper that explores the content versus metadata issue in depth — was already cleared to serve as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s technical expert, so presumably could easily have been brought into consult here.

That didn’t happen. And while the decision whether or not to appoint an amicus is at the court’s discretion, Collyer is obligated to explain why she didn’t choose to appoint one for anything that presents a significant interpretation of the law.

A court established under subsection (a) or (b), consistent with the requirement of subsection (c) and any other statutory requirement that the court act expeditiously or within a stated time–

(A) shall appoint an individual who has been designated under paragraph (1) to serve as amicus curiae to assist such court in the consideration of any application for an order or review that, in the opinion of the court, presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law, unless the court issues a finding that such appointment is not appropriate;

For what it’s worth, my guess is that Collyer didn’t want to extend the 2015 certificates (as it was, she didn’t extend them as long as NSA had asked in January), so figured there wasn’t time. There are other aspects of this opinion that make it seem like she just gave up at the end. But that still doesn’t excuse her from explaining why she didn’t appoint one.

Instead, she wrote a shitty opinion that doesn’t appear to fully understand the issue and that defers, once again, the issue of what counts as content in a packet.

Without even considering an amicus, Collyer for the first time affirmatively approved the back door searches of content she knows will include entirely domestic communications, effectively affirmatively permitting the NSA to conduct warrantless searches of entirely domestic communications, and with those searches to use FISA for domestic surveillance. In approving those back door searches, Collyer did not conduct her own Fourth Amendment review of the practice.

Moreover, she adopted a claimed fix to a persistent problem — the collection of domestic communications via packet sniffing — without showing any inkling of testing whether the fix accomplished what it needed to. Significantly, in spite of 13 years of problems with packet sniffing collection under FISA, the court still has no public definition about where in a packet metadata ends and content begins, making her “abouts” fix — a fix that prohibits content sniffing without defining content — problematic at best.

I absolutely agree with these senators that the FISC should have its own technical experts.

But in Collyer’s case, the problem is larger than that. Collyer simply blew off USA Freedom Act’s obligation to consider an amicus entirely. Had she appointed Marc Zwillinger, I’m confident he would have raised concerns about the definition of content (as he did when he served as amicus on a PRTT application), whether or not he persuaded her to bring in a technical expert to further lay out the problems.

Collyer never availed herself of the expertise of Zwillinger or any other independent entity, though. And she did so in defiance of the intent of Congress, that she at least explain why she felt she didn’t need such outside expertise.

And she did so in an opinion that made it all too clear she really, really needed that help.

In my opinion, Collyer badly screwed up this year’s reauthorization certificates, kicking the problems created by upstream collection down the road, to remain a persistent FISA problem for years to come. But she did so by blowing off the clear requirement of law, not because she didn’t have technical expertise to rely on (though the technical expertise is probably necessary to finally resolve the issues raised by packet sniffing).

Yet no one but me — not even privacy advocates testifying before Congress — want to call her out for that.

Congress already told the FISA court they “shall” ask for help if they need it. Collyer demonstrably needed that help but refused to consider using it. That’s the real problem here.

I agree with these senators that FISC badly needs its own technical experts. But a technical amicus will do no good if, as Collyer did, a FISC judge fails to consult her amici.

USA Freedom Act Booster Misses Opportunity to Note FISC Blew off USAF

The Brennan’s Center Liza Goitein is the privacy community’s go-to witness for Section 702 hearings. She’s a decent choice: she’s unflappable, she has worked in Congress (which nevertheless doesn’t prevent members from routinely butchering her name), and she’s superb at invoking case law to support her points. She has a fine understanding of how the program is implemented.

But she did, in my opinion, affirmative damage in today’s hearing on Section 702.

The most ardent supporter for a special advocate in the FISA Court, Richard Blumenthal, asked the panel if the provision could be improved. All witnesses supported a FISA amicus, with both Goitein and CNAS’ Adam Klein supporting some strengthening of the provision.

But Goitein misstated how the current provision for an amicus — passed as law as part of USA Freedom Act — has been implemented. After calling the provision “a really important contribution of the USA Freedom Act,” Goitein claimed “for the most part the Court has” appointed an amicus for a novel or significant legal issue. [my transcription]

Goitein: I think that was a really important contribution of the USA Freedom Act. I think it’s very clear from the act that Congress intended for the FISA Court to make use of amici in really any case in which there was a novel or significant legal issue unless there were some extraordinary circumstances. I think for the most part the Court has done that. There have been a couple of occasions in which the court has found participation inappropriate based on the rationale that the Court just didn’t need help. I don’t think that’s really consistent with what was intended. But that’s been rare. That’s something I think this committee should keep an eye on. I do think it makes sense to have participation in the annual certification process be mandatory, and the one other thing I would suggest is that there’s currently no provision for amici to appeal rulings of the FISA Court if the amici’s arguments were rejected. And sometimes that’s important. I think we saw in the FISA Court’s decision on back door searches — there were a number of, to say the least, very novel legal issues that would have benefitted from review.

Except the Court hasn’t always appointed, much less considered, appointing an amicus.

Just two months ago, Rosemary Collyer permitted the back door searches of collection that she explicitly admitted can include entirely domestic communications. The decision goes well beyond what John Bates authorized in 2011 when he permitted back door searches, because Bates specifically excluded the upstream collection he knew to include entirely domestic communications.

Collyer approved that practice on top of all the other issues she ruled on, such as the sharing of raw data with NCTC (which will permit it to do back door searches for designations without the due process FBI provides) and letting NSA keep reports it developed using legally prohibited queries. Moreover, it came in an opinion where Collyer appeared to be unclear on the technical aspects of the question in front of her, resulting in an opinion that leaves little clarity on whether ending “about” collection (which was never defined in technical terms) will actually end the collection of unrelated American targets.

And not only didn’t Collyer appoint an amicus to deal with this difficult technical and legal issue. She didn’t even consider it, as mandated by USA Freedom Act.

A court established under subsection (a) or (b), consistent with the requirement of subsection (c) and any other statutory requirement that the court act expeditiously or within a stated time–

(A) shall appoint an individual who has been designated under paragraph (1) to serve as amicus curiae to assist such court in the consideration of any application for an order or review that, in the opinion of the court, presents a novel or significant interpretation of the law, unless the court issues a finding that such appointment is not appropriate;

I have asked some people on the Hill whether they consider this decision an significant opinion or not, and had mixed responses (meaning at least some of the privacy focused congressional figures I spoke with would have been okay with Collyer finding that she didn’t need an amicus or even are okay that she didn’t consider it).

But this question was an opportunity for the privacy community to point out to the amicus’ chief booster — and three other witnesses who generally support the amicus provision — how the FISC can and did in a hugely significant ruling sidestep necessary input. At the very least, it was an opportunity to point out that permitting the judges to decide what constitutes a significant legal issue permits too much discretion, because it allows the FISC to avoid justifying not appointing an amicus.

Instead of making those points, Goitein instead answered in a way that suggested she believes the first time approval of back door searches on content that includes entirely domestic collection is not a significant legal issue.

Blumenthal, Booker Point to Unsuccessful Attack for Call for TSA in Trains

Richard Blumenthal and Cory Booker are using a thwarted attack on a train in Paris as reason to call for more TSA presence in trains.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are urging the TSA to “to implement security and safety improvements … to our country’s public transportation and passenger rail systems” that the duo said were “mandated by Congress in 2007 but still not implemented.”

“This effort comes on the heels of an attempted terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train last week in which three Americans successfully subdued the attacker,” Blumenthal’s office said in a statement previewing an appearance by the Connecticut senator at Hartford’s Union Station.

That’ll fix Amtrak’s woes: to make taking the train as humiliating and time-consuming as flying.

As it happens, DHS’ Inspector General is looking at what TSA is doing for Amtrak security right now.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 3.11.18 PM

So the Senators might wait until that is done.

More interesting, however, the National Transportation Safety Board still hasn’t solved the May 12 derailment in Philadelphia that killed 8 and wounded 200. Last we heard, NTSB was asking, again, for trains (both freight and passenger) to be equipped with the kind of recording equipment that would help determine the cause of accidents.

Call me crazy, but passengers stand at least a decent chance of thwarting a gun attack on a train. Not so something wrong with the train itself.

Maybe we should work on fixing the trains themselves — and while we’re at it the infrastructure. Only then should prioritizing this kind of policing take precedence.

GM Supports Obtaining Cybersecurity Immunity Just after Hack Vulnerability Revealed

Dianne Feinstein just gave a long speech on the Senate floor supporting the Cyber Information Sharing Act.

She listed off a list of shocking hacks that happened in the last year or so — though made no effort (or even claim) that CISA would have prevented any of them.

She listed some of the 56 corporations and business organizations that support the bill.

Most interestingly, she boasted that yesterday she received a letter from GM supporting the bill. We should pass CISA, Feinstein suggests, because General Motors, on August 4, 2015, decided to support the bill.

I actually think that’s reason to oppose the bill.

As I have written elsewhere — most recently this column at the DailyDot — one of my concerns about the bill is the possibility that by sharing data under the immunity afforded by the bill, corporations might dodge liability where it otherwise might serve as necessary safety and security leverage.

Immunizing corporations may make it harder for the government to push companies to improve their security. As Wyden explained, while the bill would let the government use data shared to prosecute crimes, the government couldn’t use it to demand security improvements at those companies. “The bill creates what I consider to be a double standard—really a bizarre double standard in that private information that is shared about individuals can be used for a variety of non-cyber security purposes, including law enforcement action against these individuals,” Wyden said, “but information about the companies supplying that information generally may not be used to police those companies.”

Financial information-sharing laws may illustrate why Wyden is concerned. Under that model, banks and other financial institutions are obligated to report suspicious transactions to the Treasury Department, but, as in CISA, they receive in return immunity from civil suits as well as consideration in case of sanctions, for self-reporting. “Consideration,” meaning that enforcement authorities take into account a financial institution’s cooperation with the legally mandated disclosures when considering whether to sanction them for any revealed wrongdoing. Perhaps as a result, in spite of abundant evidence that banks have facilitated crimes—such as money laundering for drug cartels and terrorists—the Department of Justice has not managed to prosecute them. When asked during her confirmation hearing why she had not prosecuted HSBC for facilitating money laundering when she presided over an investigation of the company as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there was not sufficient “admissible” evidence to indict, suggesting they had information they could not use.

In the same column, I pointed out the different approach to cybersecurity — for cars at least — of the SPY Act — introduced by Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal — which affirmatively requires certain cybersecurity and privacy protections.

Increased attention on the susceptibility of networked cars—heightened by but not actually precipitated by the report of a successful remote hack of a Jeep Cherokee—led two other senators, Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, to adopt a different approach. They introduced the Security and Privacy in Your Car Act, which would require privacy disclosures, adequate cybersecurity defenses, and additional reporting from companies making networked cars and also require that customers be allowed to opt out of letting the companies collect data from their cars.

The SPY Car Act adopts a radically different approach to cybersecurity than CISA in that it requires basic defenses from corporations selling networked products. Whereas CISA supersedes privacy protections for consumers like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the SPY Car Act would enhance privacy for those using networked cars. Additionally, while CISA gives corporations immunity so long as they share information, SPY Car emphasizes corporate liability and regulatory compliance.

I’m actually not sure how you could have both CISA and SPY Act, because the former’s immunity would undercut the regulatory limits on the latter. (And I asked both Markey and Blumenthal’s offices, but they blew off repeated requests for an answer on this point.)

Which brings me back to GM’s decision — yesterday!!! — to support CISA.

The hackers that remotely hacked a car used a Jeep Cherokee. But analysis they did last year found the Cadillac Escalade to be the second most hackable car among those they reviewed (and I have reason to believe there are other GM products that are probably even more hackable).

So … hackers reveal they can remotely hack cars on July 21; Markey introduced his bill on the same day. And then on August 4, GM for the first time signs up for a bill that would give them immunity if they start sharing data with the government in the name of cybersecurity.

Now maybe I’m wrong in my suspicion that CISA’s immunity would provide corporations a way to limit their other liability for cybersecurity so long as they had handed over a bunch of data to the government, even if it incriminated them.

But we sure ought to answer that question before we go immunizing corporations whose negligence might leave us more open to attack.

Why Apple Should Pay Particular Attention to Wired’s New Car Hacking Story

This morning, Wired reports that the hackers who two years ago hacked an Escape and a Prius via physical access have hacked a Jeep Cherokee via remote (mobile phone) access. They accessed the vehicle’s Electronic Control Unit and from that were able to get to ECUs controlling the transmission and brakes, as well as a number of less critical items. The hackers are releasing a report [correction: this is Markey’s report], page 86 of which explains why cars have gotten so much more vulnerable (generally, a combination of being accessible via external communication networks, having more internal networks, and having far more ECUs that might have a vulnerability). It includes a list of the most and least hackable cars among the 14 they reviewed.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 8.37.22 AM

Today Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are releasing a bill meant to address some of these security vulnerabilities in cars.

Meanwhile — in a remarkably poorly timed announcement — Apple announced yesterday that it had hired Fiat Chrysler’s former quality guy, the guy who would have overseen development of both the hackable Jeep Cherokee and the safer Dodge Viper.

Doug Betts, who led global quality at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV until last year, is now working for the Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics giant but declined to comment on the position when reached Monday. Mr. Betts’ LinkedIn profile says he joined Apple in July and describes his title as “Operations-Apple Inc.” with a location in the San Francisco Bay Area but no further specifics.

[snip]

Along with Mr. Betts, whose expertise points to a desire to know how to build a car, Apple recently recruited one of the leading autonomous-vehicle researchers in Europe and is building a team to work on those systems.

[snip]

In 2009, when Fiat SpA took over Chrysler, CEO Sergio Marchionne tapped Mr. Betts to lead the company’s quality turnaround, giving him far-reaching authority over the company’s brands and even the final say on key production launches.

Mr. Betts abruptly left Fiat Chrysler last year to pursue other interests. The move came less than a day after the car maker’s brands ranked poorly in an influential reliability study.

Note, the poor quality ratings that preceded Betts’ departure from Fiat Chrysler pertained especially to infotainment systems, which points to electronics vulnerabilities generally.

As they get into the auto business, Apple and Google will have the luxury that struggling combustion engine companies don’t have — that they’re not limited by tight margins as they try to introduce bells and whistles to compete on the marketplace. But they’d do well to get this quality and security issue right from the start, because the kind of errors tech companies can tolerate — largely because they can remotely fix bugs and because an iPhone that prioritized design over engineering can’t kill you — will produce much bigger problems in cars (though remote patching will be easier in electric cars).

So let’s hope Apple’s new employee takes this hacking report seriously.