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Steve Bannon’s “Alleged” Non-Contemptuous Behavior

On Friday, the two sides in the Steve Bannon contempt prosecution filed a bunch of motions about the scope of the case. They are:

Office of Legal Counsel memos

The fight over OLC memos is likely to get the bulk of attention, possibly even from Judge Carl Nichols (who relied on one of the OLC memos at issue in the Harriet Miers case). While there’s no telling what a Clarence Thomas clerk might do, I view this fight as mostly tactical. One way for Bannon’s attempt to fail (Nichols improbably ruling that OLC memos cannot be relied on in court) would upend the entire way DOJ treats OLC memos. That might have salutary benefits in the long term, but in the short term it would expose anyone, like Vice President Dick Cheney, who had relied on OLC memos in the past to protect themselves from torture and illegal wiretapping exposure themselves.

In my opinion this challenge is, in part, a threat to Liz Cheney.

But as DOJ (I think correctly) argues, none of this should matter. That’s because — as they show with two exhibits — none of the OLC memos apply to Bannon, and not just because he was not a government employee when he was plotting a coup.

On October 6, 2021, Trump attorney Justin Clark wrote to Bannon attorney Robert Costello (citing no prior contact with Costello), instructing him not to comply to the extent permitted by law:

Therefore, to the fullest extent permitted by law, President Trump instructs Mr. Bannon to: (a) where appropriate, invoke any immunities and privileges he may have from compelled testimony in response to the Subpoena; (b) not produce any documents concerning privileged material in response to the Subpoena; and (c) not provide any testimony concerning privileged material in response to the Subpoena.

But on October 14, Clark wrote and corrected Costello about claims he had made in a letter to Benny Thompson.

Bob–I just read your letter dated October 13, 2021 to Congressman Benny Thompson. In that letter you stated that “[a]s recently as today, counsel for President Trump, Justin Clark Esq., informed us that President Trump is exercising his executive privilege; therefore he has directed Mr. Bannon not to produce documents or testify until the issue of executive privilege is resolved.”

To be clear, in our conversation yesterday I simply reiterated the instruction from my letter to you dated October 6, 2021, and attached below.

Then again on October 16, Clark wrote Costello stating clearly that Bannon did not have immunity from testimony.

Bob–In light of press reports regarding your client I wanted to reach out. Just to reiterate, our letter referenced below didn’t indicate that we believe there is immunity from testimony for your client. As I indicated to you the other day, we don’t believe there is. Now, you may have made a different determination. That is entirely your call. But as I also indicated the other day other avenues to invoke the privilege — if you believe it to be appropriate — exist and are your responsibility.

In other words, before Bannon completely blew off the Committee, Trump’s lawyer had told him not to do it on Trump’s account. (See this post which captures how Robert Costello had tried to bullshit his way through this.) That, by itself, should kill any claim that he was relying on an OLC memo.

Bannon’s prior (alleged) non-contemptuous past behavior

For different reasons, I’m a bit more interested in DOJ’s attempt to prevent Bannon from talking about what a good, subpoena-obeying citizen he has been in the past. Costello had made this argument to DOJ in an interview Bannon is trying to get excluded.

DOJ argues, uncontroversially, that because Bannon’s character is not an element of the offense, such evidence of prior compliance with a subpoena would be irrelevant.

Just as the fact that a person did not rob a bank on one day is irrelevant to determining whether he robbed a bank on another, whether the Defendant complied with other subpoenas or requests for testimony—even those involving communications with the former President—is irrelevant to determining whether he unlawfully refused to comply with the Committee’s subpoena here.

I expect Judge Nichols will agree.

What I’m interested in, though, is the way the filing refers to Bannon’s past compliance with subpoenas as “alleged.” It does so nine times:

The Defendant has suggested that, because he (allegedly) was not contemptuous in the past, he is not a contemptuous person and was not, therefore, contemptuous here.

[snip]

Mr. Costello advised that the Defendant had testified once before the Special Counsel’s Office of Robert S. Mueller, III (the “SCO”), although Mr. Costello did not specify whether the pertinent appearance was before the grand jury or in some other context; once before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; and twice before the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. See id. Although, in his letter to the Committee and his interview, Mr. Costello said nothing about whether the Defendant was subpoenaed for documents by those authorities and whether the Defendant did produce any, and he did not say whether those other subpoenas or requests were limited to communications with the former President or involved other topics as well, the Defendant and Mr. Costello have asserted, essentially, that the Defendant’s alleged prior compliance demonstrates that he understands the process of navigating executive privilege, illustrates his willingness to comply with subpoenas involving communications with the former President, and rebuts evidence that his total noncompliance with the Committee’s subpoena was willful.

[snip]

The Defendant cannot defend the charges in this case by offering evidence of his experience with and alleged prior compliance with requests or subpoenas for information issued by Congress and the SCO.

[snip]

The Defendant’s alleged prior compliance with subpoenas or requests for information is of no consequence in determining whether he was contemptuous here.

[snip]

Specifically, the Defendant’s alleged compliance with other demands for testimony is not probative of his state of mind in failing to respond to the Committee’s subpoena, and his alleged non-contemptuous character is not an element of the contempt offenses charged in this case.

[snip]

1 1 To the extent the Defendant seeks to introduce evidence of his general character for law-abidingness, see In re Sealed Case, 352 F.3d 409, 412 (D.C. Cir. 2003), he cannot use evidence of his alleged prior subpoena compliance to do so. Evidence of “pertinent traits,” such as law-abidingness, only can be introduced through reputation or opinion testimony, not by evidence of specific acts. See Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(2)(A); Fed. R. Evid. 405(a); Washington, 106 F.3d at 999.

[snip]

Second, whatever probative value the Defendant’s alleged prior compliance in other circumstances might serve, that value is substantially outweighed by the trial-within-a-trial it will prompt and the confusion it will inevitably cause the jury.

[snip]

The Defendant’s reliance on counsel and/or his alleged good faith in response to prior subpoenas is thus not pertinent to any available defense and is irrelevant to determining whether his failure to produce documents and appear for testimony in response to the Committee’s subpoena was willful. [my emphasis]

The reason DOJ always referred to Bannon’s past compliance with subpoenas as “alleged” is because calling the claim “bullshit” — which is what it is — would be unseemly in a DOJ filing.

As a reminder, here’s the history of Bannon’s “alleged” past compliance with subpoenas (it is unknown whether he was subpoenaed in the Build the Wall fraud investigation):

HPSCI: Bannon got subpoenaed after running his mouth off in the wake of the release of Fire and Fury (Republicans likely acceded to that so they could discipline Bannon for his brief and soon-aborted effort to distance himself from Trump). In his first appearance, Bannon refused to answer a bunch of questions. Then, in a second appearance and after the intervention of Devin Nunes, Bannon reeled off a bunch of “no” answers that had been scripted by Nunes and the White House, some of which amounted to misdirection and some of which probably were lies. Bannon also claimed that all relevant communications would have been turned over by the campaign, even though evidence submitted in the Roger Stone case showed that Bannon was hiding responsive — and very damning — communications on his personal email and devices.

SSCI: Bannon was referred in June 2019 by the Republican-led committee to DOJ for making false statements to the Committee.

According to the letter, the committee believed Bannon may have lied about his interactions with Erik Prince, a private security contractor; Rick Gerson, a hedge fund manager; and Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian sovereign fund.

All were involved in closely scrutinized meetings in the Seychelles before Trump’s inauguration.

[snip]

No charges were filed in connection with the meetings. But investigators suspected that the men may have been seeking to arrange a clandestine back-channel between the incoming Trump administration and Moscow. It’s unclear from the committee’s letter what Bannon and Prince might have lied about, but he and Prince have told conflicting stories about the Seychelles meeting.

Prince said he returned to the United States and updated Bannon about his conversations; Bannon said that never happened, according to the special counsel’s office.

Mueller: Over the course of a year — starting in two long interviews in February 2018 where Bannon lied with abandon (including about whether any of his personal comms would contain relevant information), followed by an October 2018 interview where Bannon’s testimony came to more closely match the personal communications he had tried to hide, followed by a January 2019 interview prior to a grand jury appearance — Bannon slowly told Mueller a story that more closely approximated the truth — so much so that Roger Stone has been squealing about things Bannon told the grand jury (possibly including about a December 2016 meeting at which Stone appears to have tried to blackmail Trump) ever since. Here’s a post linking Bannon’s known interview records and some backup.

But then the DC US Attorney’s Office (in efforts likely overseen by people JP Cooney, who is an attorney of record on this case) subpoenaed Bannon in advance of the Stone trial, and in a preparatory interview, Bannon reneged on some of his testimony that had implicated Stone. At Stone’s trial, prosecutors used his grand jury transcript to force Bannon to adhere to his most truthful testimony, though he did so begrudgingly.

In other words, the record shows that Bannon has always been contemptuous, unless and until you gather so much evidence against him as to force him to blurt out some truths.

Which is why I find it curious that DOJ moved to exclude Bannon’s past contemptuousness, rather than moving to admit it as 404(b) evidence showing that, as a general rule, Bannon always acts contemptuously. His character, DOJ could have claimed, is one of deceit and contempt. The reason may be the same (that contempt is a one-time act in which only current state of mind matters).

But I’m also mindful of how the Mueller Report explained not prosecuting three people, one of whom is undoubtedly Bannon.

We also considered three other individuals interviewed — [redacted] — but do not address them here because they are involved in aspects of ongoing investigations or active prosecutions to which their statements to this Office may be relevant.

That is, one reason Bannon wasn’t prosecuted for lying to Mueller was because of his import in, at least, the ongoing Roger Stone prosecution. That explains why DOJ didn’t charge him in 2019, to retain the viability of his testimony against Stone. I’m interested in why they continue the same approach. It seems DOJ’s decision to treat Bannon’s past lies — even to SSCI! — as “alleged” rather than “criminally-referred” by SSCI, may also reflect ongoing equities in whatever Bannon told the the grand jury two years ago. One thing Bannon lied about at first, for example, was the back channel to Dubai that may get him named as a co-conspirator in the Tom Barrack prosecution.

But there were other truths that Bannon ultimately told that may make it worthwhile to avoid confirming that those truths only came after a whole bunch of lies.

Update: Thanks to Jason Kint for reminding me that Bannon refused to be served an FTC subpoena pertaining to Cambridge Analytica in 2019.

Four Rudy Giuliani-Related Privilege Reviews: DOJ Likely Already Has a Version of Document 4708

As I noted here and here, on Monday, Judge David Carter ordered John Eastman to turn over most documents he had been trying to withhold from the January 6 Committee. That order found that it was likely that Trump and Eastman had conspired to defraud the US. But there was just one document turned over on the basis of crime-fraud exception: a document otherwise privileged under a work product claim that, Judge Carter ruled, could not be withheld because it was sent in the commission of the attempt to obstruct the vote count.

Here’s how Carter described the document:

In this email, a colleague forwards to Dr. Eastman a memo they wrote for one of President Trump’s attorneys.153 The memo sketches a series of events for the days leading up to and following January 6, if Vice President Pence were to delay counting or reject electoral votes. The memo clearly contemplates and plans for litigation: it maps out potential Supreme Court suits and the impact of different judicial outcomes. While this memo was created for both political and litigation purposes, it substantively engages with potential litigation and its consequences for President Trump. The memo likely would have been written substantially differently had the author not expected litigation. The Court therefore finds that this document was created in anticipation of litigation.

[snip]

The eleventh document is a chain forwarding to Dr. Eastman a draft memo written for President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.274 The memo recommended that Vice President Pence reject electors from contested states on January 6. This may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action. The draft memo pushed a strategy that knowingly violated the Electoral Count Act, and Dr. Eastman’s later memos closely track its analysis and proposal. The memo is both intimately related to and clearly advanced the plan to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021. Because the memo likely furthered the crimes of obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States, it is subject to the crime-fraud exception and the Court ORDERS it to be disclosed.

274 4708. [my emphasis]

Carter’s decision and the release of documents has set off the usual wails about how much more proactive the January 6 Committee is than DOJ, replete with statements of fact — almost always people who haven’t done any work to understand what DOJ is really doing — that DOJ hasn’t taken steps to obtain such documents itself.

I’d like to look at four privilege reviews that implicate Rudy Giuliani and show that it is likely DOJ already has this document or at least ones that are related. Those reviews are:

  • Judge David Carter’s review of 111 documents subpoenaed from John Eastman by the January 6 committee
  • The 11-month long privilege review of materials on 16 devices seized from Rudy Giuliani on April 28, 2021
  • Details released about Robert Costello’s advice to Steve Bannon provided in response to a subpoena from the January 6 Committee
  • The known details about subpoenas served on Sidney Powell’s non-profit, Defending the Republic

John Eastman

As explained here, the David Carter opinion describes the judge’s privilege review of just four days of materials (January 4 to January 7, 2021) responsive to the January 6 Committee subpoena to Eastman. Carter went meticulously through seven categories of materials in Eastman’s possession and determined that just ten documents could be withheld under a work product claim and one — document 4708 — had to be turned over under a crime-fraud exception.

Carter ruled the document — an email chain that forwarded a memo written for Rudy to Eastman — was excepted under a crime-fraud exception because, the judge described, it sought to transform Eastman’s Electoral Count Act scheme “into a day-by-day plan of action.” Eastman didn’t write it. Rather, because the document was created for Rudy, Carter treated it along with four others, “created by or for agents of President Trump or his campaign, including attorneys of record in state cases and President Trump’s personal attorney.” [my emphasis]

References to the document explain that Eastman claimed attorney-client privilege over the document (fn 81, 125) and someone wrote “PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL” in email text (fn 101).

Carter’s review of the document is particularly valuable for how he dismisses Eastman’s attorney-client privilege claim: In hundreds of pages of briefing, Eastman provided no evidence that its sender was affiliated with the Trump campaign or was covered by Eastman’s own claim to be representing Trump.

Dr. Eastman claims attorney-client privilege over only nine documents: five emails125 and four attachments.126 None of these documents includes Dr. Eastman’s client, President Trump, as a sender or recipient of the email. Instead, all emails are sent from a third party to Dr. Eastman, and two of the emails blind copy (bcc) a close advisor to President Trump.127

Despite having filed nearly a hundred pages of briefing, Dr. Eastman does not mention this third-party email sender anywhere in his briefs; the person is named only in his privilege log entries. Dr. Eastman’s description in the privilege log is conclusory, describing the sender merely as his “co-counsel.”128 Dr. Eastman failed to provide retainer agreements or a sworn declaration that would prove this third party was an attorney or agent for President Trump. The Court also cannot infer the third party’s affiliation with President Trump from his email, which is a generic, [email protected] email address. Dr. Eastman has not met his burden to show that these communications were with an agent of President Trump or the Trump campaign, and as such, these documents do not warrant the protection of the attorney-client privilege.

In other words, there was someone involved in relaying a memo originally written for Rudy to Eastman that Eastman didn’t want to or couldn’t argue was a Trump lawyer. And that’s why this attorney-client privilege claim failed. That’s an important detail because — as we’ll see — Bannon tried something similar.

Rudy Giuliani

Now let’s turn to Rudy’s phones. As I keep explaining, while the known warrants used to seize Rudy’s phones cover his Ukrainian influence peddling and cover a time period from May 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019, SDNY got Judge Paul Oetken to approve a Special Master review that covered the period from January 1, 2018 through the date of seizure, April 28, 2021. Special Master Barbara Jones’ review is only for privilege claims (including Executive privilege and attorney-client at least), not for responsiveness to any subpoena, so the end result of her review will result in turning over all non-privileged content on Rudy’s devices from that 28-month period.

That means if the person who created the memo forwarded as part of document 4708 sent it to Rudy on one of the devices that were seized, then the underlying memo would be included in the Special Master review.

We don’t know how DOJ has prioritized this review. We know only what is in this and earlier reports, which I’ve captured in this table.

Jones did an initial review, covering the entire timeframe (that is, post-dating January 1, 2018) of 7 devices, from which she found 3 documents about which she had some question, but ultimately deemed them privileged and turned over 2,000 other items.

Then, seemingly in parallel, she did a review of Device 1B05 (a cell phone) and 8 other devices. For the 8 devices, her review covered only the period of Rudy’s Ukrainian influence peddling. But for Device 1B05, Jones’ review covered the full 28-month period, meaning it would include any texts or messages sent on or pertaining to January 6.

I next assigned for review the chats and messages that post-dated January 1, 2018 on Device 1B05, which is a cell phone. There were originally 25,481 such items, which later increased to 25,629 after a technical issue involving document attachments was identified. An initial release of non-designated items was made to the Government’s investigative team on November 11, 2021.1

Of the total documents assigned for review, Mr. Giuliani designated 96 items as privileged and/or highly personal. Of those 96 designated items, I agreed that 40 were privileged, Mr. Giuliani’s counsel withdrew the privilege designation over 19, and I found that 37 were not privileged. I shared these determinations with Mr. Giuliani’s counsel, and they indicated that they would not challenge my determination that the 37 items are not privileged. The 40 privileged documents have been withheld from the Government’s investigative team and the remaining 56 were released on January 19, 2022.

1 Additional non-designated items were released on January 19, 2022.

Device 1B05 was the only one for which Jones disputed the original privilege claims made by Rudy and his attorney Robert Costello. Of 40 items, Jones agreed with their privilege claim. Of 19, Costello withdrew the claim. And of 37, Jones told Costello she disagreed, after which Costello decided not to fight her ruling.

While these discussions were going on, Judge Oetken issued a ruling that, if Rudy wanted to challenge Jones’ rulings, they’d have to make their legal arguments (but not the content of the contested communications) public. During the Michael Cohen privilege review, such a decision led Cohen and Trump to drop privilege claims, probably over the crime-fraud excepted hush payment communications, and that may be what happened here.

Whatever happened, we know that, with the exception of 43 items, any January 6-related communications that were on half of the 16 phones seized from Rudy would have been turned over to the FBI for a scope review. To be clear, investigators wouldn’t be able to access those comms unless they got a separate warrant for them, but we would never know (short of an indictment relying on them) if they had.

None of that guarantees that the memo forwarded with Eastman’s document 4708 is in DOJ possession. If the person who wrote it emailed it, it would not necessarily be on the seized devices. (Though if DOJ had a January 6 warrant for Rudy’s phones, they presumably would have obtained one for his email and iCloud as well, as they did with his Ukraine investigation.) If the person delivered it by hand, it would not be on the devices. And it’s possible that Costello made a more compelling argument than Eastman did that the sender was covered by a privilege claim tied to Trump.

Steve Bannon

We don’t know what kind of wild privilege claims Robert Costello was making as part of the privilege review of Rudy’s devices (which started in earnest in September 2021). But we do know what kind of wild privilege claims Robert Costello was making for another of his clients, Steve Bannon, in discussions of how to respond to a subpoena from the January 6 between October 5 and 19, 2021. He provided those details (including two 302s from interviews at which FBI agents were present) in a bid to claim he — Costello — was unfairly targeted as part of DOJ’s investigation of Bannon’s contempt (see this post for details).

In Costello’s interviews, he was all over the map about whether Bannon could invoke Executive Privilege. He said that according to some OLC opinions, Bannon did not have to be a government employee to receive “protections” under EP, and that “TRUMP had the right to claim it for BANNON.” He said that 10 of the 17 items on the Jan 6 subpoena were covered by EP. He admitted EP did not cover a request for comms involving Scott Perry and “it would take a ‘creative argument’ to apply Executive Privilege to that particular item.” He admitted, too, that comms with the Proud Boys wouldn’t be covered by EP if such communications existed.  He said that EP claims should be worked out between Trump and the Committee. He said he had told Bannon that Bannon could not invoke EP because “that authority belongs to the President.”

Ultimately, though, Costello admitted that Trump’s attorney Justin Clark never reviewed anything Bannon might have claimed privilege over and refused several requests to contact the Committee himself about EP.

COSTELLO did not provide any documents to attorneys representing former President Trump for review to determine if Executive Privilege covered the documents. At the time, COSTELLO did not know what attorneys were representing others who had received Select Committee subpoenas.

COSTELLO asked CLARK to reach out to the Select Committee and to directly express to the Select Committee what COSTELLO and BANNON were confused about in regards to Executive Privilege. COSTELLO estimated he requested this of CLARK approximately two or three times; however, CLARK did not reach out to the Select Committee. COSTELLO did not have prior knowledge of the lawsuit of former President TRUMP.

[snip]

CLARK would not identify for COSTELLO what would be covered under Executive Privilege and that CLARK left that determination up to those who had received the Select Committee subpoena. CLARK also refused to reach out to the Select Committee on behalf of COSTELLO or BANNON.

[snip]

COSTELLO did not provide or offer any documents to attorneys representing former President TRUMP to review for Executive Privilege.

In a follow-up, Costello effectively admitted there was no concrete record that Trump had invoked EP.

Costello stated that Justin Clark (Clark) was trying to be intentionally vague; however, Costello was clear former President Donald Trump (President Trump) asserted executive privilege with regard to Bannon.

When DOJ asked Costello for a letter indicating that Clark had invoked EP for Bannon, he had nothing specific.

Then there was the matter of Bannon’s podcasts. Costello ceded they weren’t covered by privilege, but only because they were public (!!!!), and appears to have just assumed the Committee would go get them on their own.

With regards to responding to the Select Committee’s request for documents, COSTELLO planned to send a link to the website hosting all of BANNON’s publicly accessibly podcasts.

[snip]

The podcasts requested could be obtained by the Select Committee off the internet, and since they were in the public domain, the podcasts also were not covered by Executive Privilege.

[snip]

COSTELLO admitted he did not have a good answer as to why he didn’t disclose to the Select Committee that the podcasts were in the public domain and BANNON was not required to respond to that particular item. COSTELLO believed the particular requests regarding the podcasts was just a “bad request” by the Select Committee.

The most telling piece of advice given by the lawyer Bannon shares with Rudy — one that goes to the heart of what Costello might have done in discussions taking place at the same time about privilege with SDNY — was that Bannon, who is not a lawyer, could claim attorney-client privilege over items requested in item 17 of the subpoena, which asked for,

Any communications with Rudolph Giuliani, John Eastman, Michael Flynn, Jenna Ellis, or Sydney Powell about any of the foregoing topics.

Costello claimed these such communications, including those with Mike Flynn or Sidney Powell, would be covered by attorney-client or work product privilege.

COSTELLO believed that the request listed as number 17 involved information over which BANNON could assert attorney-client privilege given it included a request for communications between BANNON and RUDOLPH GIULIANI, JENNA ELLIS, and other attorneys who were working for former President Trump.

[snip]

COSTELLO believed item 17 was covered by attorney-client privilege or by attorney work product protections. Even though MICHAEL FLYNN was not an attorney, he was present during attorney-client-protected discussions. Those particular attorneys represented former President TRUMP and CLARK informed COSTELLO not to respond to item 17.

There’s so much crazy-train about this last bit. After stating over and over that Clark refused to invoke EP, Costello then admitted that Clark wanted Bannon to withhold communications involving Rudy, Eastman, Powell, and Mike Flynn. Costello admitted Flynn (like Bannon) was not a lawyer, but was still prepared to claim attorney work product over comms with him anyway. But the thing I can’t get enough of is that Rudy’s lawyer Robert Costello was claiming that Sidney Powell — who, in a written statement issued on November 22, 2020, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani made very clear did not represent Donald Trump — represented Donald Trump.

Still, all this crazy train amounts to non-lawyer Bannon, advised by the lawyer he shares with Rudy, making the same claim that lawyer John Eastman had made regarding “war” planning leading up to January 6; that such documents were covered by work product privilege. That’s the same claim that Judge Carter just applied a crime-fraud exception for.

I’m guessing Costello attempted to make similar claims with Barbara Jones in SDNY and I’m guessing that Jones pointed out that Bannon and Flynn aren’t lawyers and Rudy was quite clear that Powell was not Trump’s lawyer. In other words, I think it likely that some of the claims Costello withdrew are similar to those that Eastman failed with. If that’s right, it increases the chance Document 4708 would be turned over to DOJ.

Sidney Powell

And then there’s the Kraken lady.

We don’t know the full scope of the grand jury investigation into Powell, aside from the fact that Molly Gaston, who is supervising the Bannon prosecution, is also involved in it (which means she’d have visibility on the overlap between the two, and would know that Trump’s lawyer tried to withhold comms involving Powell without invoking privilege). The subpoena requests, at least, cover the finances of her Defending the Republic “non-profit.”

The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, is examining the finances of Defending the Republic, an organization founded by Powell to fund her “Kraken” lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, the sources said.According to two of the people familiar with the matter, a grand jury was empaneled, and subpoenas and documents requests have gone out to multiple individuals as recently as September.

The investigation, then, would cover activities that are tangential to the January 6 subpoenas to Bannon and Eastman.

But the fact that there’s a grand jury investigation into Powell makes it exceedingly likely DOJ got a warrant for her emails.

She has a valid privilege claim covering communications with Mike Flynn for some of this period. But thanks to Rudy’s public statement, she has no privilege covering her actions for Trump.

Chances are pretty good she received a copy of the memo for Rudy too (if the memo wasn’t written by someone with closer ties to Powell than Rudy).

I think it’s likely that DOJ has multiple copies of document 4708, probably via Rudy, Bannon, and Powell, if not Eastman himself (getting it from Chapman U would always have been easy to do with a gag, and would be still easier now).

What’s clear, though, is that the lawyer that Rudy and Bannon share is making privilege claims every bit as absurd as the ones Carter just rejected, and with Bannon, there’s no question about privilege claims.

Imagine if DOJ Used the Hunter Biden Inquiry to Get Testimony against Rudy Giuliani…

I’m going to return to my argument that The Laptop is functionally equivalent to the Steele dossier. But until I do, I want to return to the parallels between the Ukrainian influence peddling investigation of Hunter Biden and that of Rudy Giuliani.

First, take a look at this passage from the Ken Vogel-bylined NYT story that inflated new life in The Laptop story.

People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors had examined emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others about Burisma and other foreign business activity. Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.

Elsewhere, the NYT story reports that the investigation into Hunter Biden turned to his influence peddling in 2018, well before the laptops in question were purportedly dropped off at a blind computer repairman’s shop.

The investigation, which began as a tax inquiry under the Obama administration, widened in 2018 to include possible criminal violations of tax laws, as well as foreign lobbying and money laundering rules, according to the people familiar with the inquiry.

The contents on The Laptop were iCloud content, which the FBI could have and would have preferred to obtain with a warrant. We know the emails in question weren’t deleted by all parties because sources for stories describe still having them.

In other words, it’s unlikely that The Laptop played a critical role in the FBI investigation into the President’s son, because the FBI had other, better ways to obtain the same content and because the FBI had already turned to these matters well before the laptop got shared with the FBI on December 9, 2019.

So let’s go back to the way that Vogel-bylined NYT article reflated The Laptop story. The passage I quoted says three things:

  1. Prosecutors have looked at emails in question.
  2. NYT had obtained emails from what it credulously calls The Laptop.
  3. The “Laptop” emails were authenticated by “people familiar with them and with the investigation.”

The source for the first claim is likely someone who was a witness in the DE investigation (and we know that witnesses who have offered up their testimony have been part of the recent Murdoch-driven campaign to reflate it). The second claim is simply NYT’s ham-handed effort to make it clear the emails they received were part of the same campaign as the original NY Post story.

The third claim, however, is interesting. Written as it is, it suggests there are people who are familiar with both the investigation and the email cache. That would seem to suggest that some of the very limited universe of people involved with The Laptop — Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Robert Costello, and Mac Isaac — believe they know something about the Hunter Biden investigation.

Let’s focus on Robert Costello for the moment: He loves to be a cut-out. And when Billy Barr set up a special back channel to ingest Ukrainian-provided Russian dirt on Hunter Biden, Costello was that back channel. In other words, the lawyer that Rudy and Steve Bannon share is one possible source for that third claim, but if he were, it would suggest investigators in Delaware had spoken with him as a witness because he knew of the process by which he came to be in possession of a sketchy laptop.

Whatever testimony the source of that third claim offered could be shared with SDNY, which is investigating Rudy’s own influence-peddling scandal with Ukraine.

With all that mind, take a look at this passage of Philip Bump’s excellent summary of all the ways that laptop story is sketchy.

Giuliani was central to that effort. In late 2018, he began exploring the idea that Biden, as vice president several years before, had improperly tried to influence Ukraine to block an investigation of Burisma, a company for which Hunter Biden served as a board member. This story, promoted by an investigator targeted for termination by the U.S. government, was later debunked, but it seemed a promising line of attack. On April 1, 2019, a writer linked to Giuliani named John Solomon wrote the first of several stories about the allegations.

On April 12, the laptops were dropped off at Mac Isaac’s repair shop. Mac Isaac is legally blind and was not able to identify Hunter Biden by sight. One of the laptops, though, bore a sticker for the Beau Biden Foundation, an organization dedicated to Hunter’s late brother.

At some point in the middle of this month, Hunter Biden left Burisma’s board. Presumably he was by that point aware that questions were being asked about his role. If not, it became very clear on May 1, when the Times elevated the Burisma question in its coverage.

In the meantime, Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected president of Ukraine, and efforts to pressure him to announce an investigation into Biden began. In early May 2019, Giuliani planned a trip to Ukraine to dig up information that might damage Biden — a plan that was covered in the press. After broad outcry, he scrapped the trip. But the signal was sent: Giuliani was seeking information deleterious to Biden.

Later that month, someone in Kyiv was approached about buying Hunter Biden’s emails. This was not reported until Oct. 21, 2020, a week after the Post’s story about the laptop.

This time period — December 2018 until May 2019 — is precisely the time period that prosecutors asked Special Master Barbara Jones to prioritize for her privilege review of the last set of Rudy’s phones (as well as the one phone from Victoria Toensing).

In the initial incarnation of this investigation — the one charged in 2019, before Lev Parnas started running his mouth — the focus of this investigation was exclusively on how Rudy got Marie Yovanovitch fired.  But in September 2020, that part of the investigation was put on hold to await Rudy.

Yovanovitch’s name doesn’t appear in Bump’s summary at all. Yet it happened in the same month — May 2019, the culmination of this effort — when Rudy was going to go to Kyiv to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, and when someone was wandering around Kyiv offering to sell what looks like what ended up packaged as The Laptop.

Whether or not Rudy’s effort to solicit what ended up being dirt that looked just like The Laptop was originally the focus of the investigation, DOJ has now obtained a privilege review of Rudy’s comms from that time period when he was soliciting it.

Steve Bannon’s Phantom Executive Privilege

In a reply motion demanding to know why DOJ subpoenaed the toll records for him, the lawyer Steve Bannon shares with Rudy Giuliani, Robert Costello, claims DOJ obtained the email information, including hundreds of pages from Google, for different Robert Costellos, not him.

The hundreds of pages of email information they obtained from Google, including email addresses (and IP addresses) of the sender and recipient, date and time of the emails, metadata, social media and meeting (Google Hangouts) data, information as to whether each email was read, remained unread, was deleted, or what filing box the recipient put it in, and more [See e.g., 0011510001249; 001339-1732] were all for another completely uninvolved citizen apparently named Robert Costello or Robert M. Costello. In fact, not one of the email accounts the Government sought access to in this case, intending to get defense counsel’s emails, actually was defense counsel’s email account.

He even issued a declaration stating, among other things, that,

I have no association whatsoever with email accounts with the addresses “[email protected],” or “[email protected],” or “[email protected],” or “[email protected]

We shall see how the government explains this claimed mix-up, assuming Judge Carl Nichols permits them to file a surreply (Costello claims he only just discovered these weren’t his emails after reviewing them for months).

That said, Costello did not deny association with email accounts with the addresses of, [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected], which appear to be included in the friends and family accounts of the main Gmail account in question. And though Costello claims to provide the exhibits to back his claims, he doesn’t provide the Comcast return and doesn’t provide back-up for the bulk of the returns he is complaining about (US 001339-001732 below).

What Costello has also shown is that, in a memo to DOJ, he claimed to quote from a letter from Justin Clark, who would have been acting as Trump’s lawyer, invoking privilege on Trump’s behalf.

“President Trump vigorously objects to the overbreadth and scope of these requests and believes they are a threat to the institution of the Presidency and the independence of the Executive Branch.” Mr. Clark added that:

“Through the Subpoenas, the Select Committee seeks records and testimony purportedly related to the events of January 6th, 2021, including but not limited to information which is potentially protected from disclosure by the executive and other privileges, including among others, the presidential communications, deliberative process, and attorney-client privileges. President Trump is prepared to defend these fundamental privileges in court.

As I’ve previously noted, at a meeting on November 3 at which Costello was supposed to be presenting that memo, Costello alternately claimed:

  • He had had no communications with Trump lawyers prior to October 18
  • Clark refused to reach out to the January 6 Committee on behalf of Costello or Bannon
  • Costello could not recall who brought up Executive Privilege first, him or Clark
  • Costello did not ask Clark to attend the hearing because he wouldn’t contact the committee on his behalf (even though his later complaint was that the Committee refused to have a Trump lawyer present)

In that November 3 meeting, Costello said he’d provide all the backup to support his claims.

But when JP Cooney asked for all the documents Costello claimed to be relying on in the memo and an interview with DOJ and the FBI on November 3, 2021, Costello said, “as soon as I locate the letter I received from Justin Clark, acting as counsel for President Trump, I will forward that under separate cover.” Cooney responded, making sure, “please review and let us know if this constitutes your entire production.”

There’s no evidence in this filing that Costello ever provided it.

Which may be why, in a follow-up interview on November 8 — after searching and (at least as this record shows) not finding any letter from Clark — Costello told DOJ:

There are additional discrepancies disclosed by the materials Costello has included.

In his declaration, Costello (who, remember, was investigated as part of the Mueller investigation for helping to dangle pardons) complained that this meeting to stave off an indictment didn’t work like all the previous times he had had such meetings.

[I]t is clear to me that the representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia never had any intention of engaging in a lawyer like discussion of the legal merits of a prosecution of Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress. This position was and is shocking to me because of the many prior instances when this same Office declined to prosecute others, including sitting United States Attorney Generals based upon a referral from Congress.

There’s more: For example, Costello misrepresents when he joined Bannon’s defense team for this.

But the key detail is that Costello claimed to have a letter from Trump invoking Executive Privilege. And when DC USAO asked to see it, Costello changed his story.

Update, April 19: I’ve updated the timeline below with two documents DOJ submitted on April 15. They raise further inconsistencies in Costello’s statements to the FBI and DOJ in his interviews.


BATES STAMP RANGE: US 001093-001883

US 001093: Grand jury subpoena

US 001145-001768: 623-page return from Internet provider showing IP activity, status (read or unread, inbox, etc.) and other details concerning emails and other activity offered by the carrier obtained with a Section 2703(d) Order on November 11, 2021 [US 001733] that includes a case number [US 001732-001735] and returned on December 7, 2021.  Returns include:

US 001769-001789: Costello’s 302s

US 001808: Yahoo return

US 001833-001878: Subpoenas for home, direct office, and cell phone from September 1 to October 20, 2021

US 001834: Case number

US 001842: Case number

US 001863: Subscriber record showing payment method for Costello’s cell phone

US 001866: Costello’s data usage

US 001872; Grand jury subpoena

US 001874-001875:  SMS (text messaging) information, including the numbers to which texts were sent and from which they were received

TIMELINE

March 5: Beginning date for Costello records request (last event involving Bannon and Costello in Kolfage)

September 22: First contact between J6 and Bannon

September 23: Bannon subpoena

September 24: Costello accepts service

October 5: Media reports on subpoenas to Mark Meadows and others; call from Justin Clark

October 6: Clark instructs Costello to invoke whatever privileges he can, including executive, deliberative, and attorney-client

October 6: Costello claims Clark invoked privilege; Costello’s memo quotes Clark invoking privilege; undated call with Tonolli (actually on October 12)

October 7, 10AM: Original deadline for document production

October 7, 5:05PM: Costello letter claiming Trump invoked privilege

October 8: Thompson letter to Bannon rejecting non-compliance

October 12: Call with Tonolli re representation from Trump

October 13: Costello and Clark speak

October 13: Second Costello letter, demanding accommodation with Trump

October 14: Clark corrects Costello that he had simply reiterated his October 6 letter

October 14, 10AM: Original date for Bannon testimony

October 15: Thompson letter noticing failure to comply with subpoena, warning of contempt meeting, setting response deadline for October 18, 6PM

October 16: Clark emails Costello stating clearly that he had not told him he had immunity from testifying

October 18: Thompson letter to Bannon with deadline; Trump sues Thompson and the Archives on privilege issues; Costello claims he sent a note to Thompson;

October 18, 6:50 PM: White House says no privilege after 2017

October 19: Bannon claims they intended to respond; Amerling letter to Costello; J6 business meeting to hold Bannon in contempt; Thompson letter to “change course”?

October 20: Rules committee meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 21 Bannon held in contempt

October 25: Costello email exchange with Cooney (and Phillips); Costello asks for meeting after October 27

October 28: Matthew Graves confirmed as US Attorney

October 29: Cooney suggests November 3

November 1: Costello emails memo arguing against prosecution, dated October 29

November 2: Kristin Amerling interview

November 3: Costello informs he’ll be joined by Katz; First interview with Robert Costello; Cooney follows up asking for documents

November 4: Cooney asks Costello to confirm full production

November 5: Matthew Graves sworn in as US Attorney

November 8: Second interview with Robert Costello

November 11: Subpoena to Internet provider

November 12: End date for Costello records request

November 12: Indictment

November 15: Bannon arrest; David Schoen and Evan Corcoran file notices of appearance

November 18: At status conference, government says there are just 200 documents of discovery

December 2: Costello moves to appear PHV; Government asks if Bannon intends to rely on advice of counsel defense

December 7: Returns on Internet provider (623 pages)

December 7 to 16: Bannon refuses to submit joint status report

January 4: DOJ turns over 790 pages of records from Costello

January 6: Bannon request for more information on Costello

January 7: Government response to Bannon request

January 14: Bannon discovery request letter; Bannon motion to compel regarding Costello

January 28: Government response to discovery demand

February 4: In guise of Motion to Compel, Bannon complains about “spying” on Robert Costello

The Eight Trump Associates Whom DOJ Is Investigating

Exactly a month ago, I did a post noting that the TV lawyers claiming there was no proof that DOJ was investigating anyone close to Trump were either ignorant of or ignoring six Trump associates who were being investigated. I wanted to update that post with developments from the last month, because (in addition to the contempt prosecution for Steve Bannon), we’ve learned of investigations into at least two more Trump associates.

Note that four of these — Sidney Powell, Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and Mark Meadows — definitely relate to January 6 and a fifth — the investigation into Rudy Giuliani — is scoped such that that it might include January 6 without anyone knowing about it.

Tom Barrack

Last week, Trump’s top donor, Tom Barrack, filed a motion to dismiss his indictment for serving as an unregistered agent of the Emirates.

As he did in a prior status hearing, that motion complained that Billy Barr’s efforts to undermine this investigation failed.

[T]he government’s unjustified two-year delay in charging Mr. Barrack also warrants dismissal of the indictment. The government had all the evidence on which the indictment was based in 2019. The indictment pleads the conspiracy terminated in April 2018, and the alleged false statements occurred in June 2019. Why the government waited more than two years, and until after a change in administration, is a question only it can answer, but it should answer it especially given the paramount First Amendment interests at stake. Had the government brought this case when its investigation was complete in 2019, recollections regarding Mr. Barrack’s June 2019 interview would have been fresh and the harm from the government’s failure to make a contemporaneous record might have been mitigated. The lengthy delay has also prejudiced Mr. Barrack’s ability to identify, preserve, and secure documentary evidence and obtain evidence from witnesses whose memories have faded. The government has provided no explanation for its delay, and the specter that the government intentionally delayed bringing this case for political reasons or tactical advantage hangs heavily over this case. Because Mr. Barrack has been deprived of a fair opportunity to defend himself, the indictment should be dismissed. [my emphasis]

Barrack and DOJ are also fighting over whether Barrack can unseal discovery in an attempt to discredit this investigation.

Barrack filed the specified materials in connection with pretextual arguments in his motion to dismiss, and he all but acknowledges that he seeks their unsealing in a bid to improperly influence public opinion.

As noted before, according to reporting from 2019, this investigation was a Mueller referral, so it’s proof that Garland’s DOJ will pursue such referrals. According to CNN reporting, the indictment was all ready to go in July 2020, a year before it was actually charged. That provides a measure of how long it took an investigation that was deemed complete at a time when Barr seemingly prohibited filing it to be resuscitated under Garland: at least four months.

Barrack’s prosecution proves that DOJ can indict a top Trump associate without leaks in advance. But it will also be an early test about a Trumpster’s ability to discredit the notion that any of them can be held accountable.

Jury selection for Barrack’s trial is now scheduled to start on September 7.

Rudy Giuliani

Since my last post on this topic, Special Master Barbara Jones reported on the progress of the privilege review of 16 devices seized from Rudy Giuliani on April 28, 2021.

Here’s a summary of what that review and the earlier known seizures of Rudy’s communications in the Ukraine-related investigation into Rudy:

The known warrants for Rudy’s phones pertain to whether, in the lead-up to Trump’s impeachment for trying to coerce Ukraine’s assistance in the 2020 election, Rudy was acting as an unregistered agent of Ukraine.

There’s good reason to believe DOJ could show probable cause to access Rudy’s phones from April 2018 (before he formally became Trump’s lawyer), because during that period he was attempting to buy Michael Cohen’s silence with a pardon. There’s equally good reason to believe that act of obstruction is one of the referrals still redacted in the Mueller Report.

On or about April l 7, 20 l 8, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

The New York Times and a third rate reporter . . . are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip. ‘ They use nonexistent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media! 1025

In an email that day to Cohen, Costello wrote that he had spoken with Giuliani. 1026 Costello told Cohen the conversation was “Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner … . Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”1027

Similarly, there’s good reason to believe DOJ could show probable cause to access Rudy’s phone for his involvement in Trump’s attempted coup, not least because Rudy himself tweeted out some texts he exchanged with a Proud Boy associate discussing specific insurrectionists in the aftermath of the attack.

We wouldn’t know if DOJ had obtained warrants for those separate periods, because those periods will be covered by Jones’ review one way or another.

But because of the temporal scope Judge Paul Oetken approved last year, Jones has completed a privilege review of all communications that date between January 1, 2018 through April 28, 2021 on 8 of the devices seized from Rudy (April 28 was the day the devices were seized). We can’t know what dates during which Rudy was using those 8 devices. It could well be that they were older phones with nothing recent.

But we know that of the communications on the phone with the most texts and chats — the phone designated 1B05 — the government received 99.8% of any communications dated between January 1, 2018 and April 28, 2021 and they received those communications no later than January 21.

Of particular note, Rudy at first tried to claim privilege over 56 items from phone 1B05. He thought better of those claims in 19 cases. And then, after Jones deemed 37 of them not to be privileged, he backed off that claim as well. During a period when Jones and Rudy’s team would have been discussing those 37 items, Judge Oetken issued a ruling saying that the basis for any privilege claims (but not the substance of the communications) would have to be public. After precisely the same kind of ruling in the Michael Cohen Special Master review, Trump backed off his claim of privilege for Cohen’s recording about the hush payments. That may be what persuaded Rudy to withdraw his claim of privilege over those materials here, as well.

And whether or not DOJ has already accessed the communications Rudy conducted during 2020 and 2021 on any of the 16 devices seized from him, we know all the phones Rudy was using in April 2021 are in DOJ’s possession and that Judge Oetken has already approved a privilege review to cover those communications.

In any case, the details of the Rudy investigation show, at a minimum, that Barr went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to kill this investigation (and may have even ordered that FBI not review the materials seized in 2019). It took mere weeks after Garland took over, however, for the investigation to take very aggressive steps.

It also shows that SDNY managed to renew this investigation without major leaks.

Robert Costello

Last Friday, Steve Bannon revealed that DOJ had seized the toll records of his lawyer, Robert Costello, the same guy that would be at the center of any predication for any investigation into Rudy’s attempts to obstruct the Mueller investigation. Some outlets are claiming that this was just part of the investigation into Bannon, but that cannot be right, for several reasons. First, DOJ didn’t ask for the most intrusive set of those records — email metadata from between March 5 and November 12, 2021 — until the day they indicted Bannon. The returns on those requests could not have been presented to the grand jury, because DOJ didn’t receive them until December 7. Plus, scope of that request not only dates back to before the September 23 subpoena that is the basis for the Bannon contempt prosecution, it dates back before the January 6 Committee that issued the subpoena in the first place. DOJ obtained those Internet toll records for a reason that extends beyond the subpoena fight; they cannot pertain (just) to the known prosecution of Bannon.

It may well be they relate to obstruction related to Rudy though. Here’s DOJ’s letter responding to Bannon’s complaints about this seizure, which given some confusion bears further discussion.

We write in response to your January 6, 2022, letter requesting information about internal deliberations and investigative steps relating to Mr. Costello and any other attorneys who have represented Mr. Bannon. As you are aware, and as we discussed in a phone call with Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Schoen on December 2, 2021, Mr. Costello represented Mr. Bannon before the January 6th Select Committee (“the Committee”) in relation to the subpoena it issued to Mr. Bannon and is, therefore, a witness to the conduct charged in the Indictment. We understand that attorney Adam Katz also represented Mr. Bannon with respect to the Committee and, therefore, also is a potential witness. We are not aware of any other attorneys who represented Mr. Bannon with respect to the Committee.

Aside from the information that Mr. Costello voluntarily disclosed on behalf of Mr. Bannon during the investigation of this matter, the Government has not taken any steps to obtain any attorney work product relating to any attorney’s representation of Mr. Bannon or to obtain any confidential communications between Mr. Bannon, Mr. Costello, and Mr. Katz, or between Mr. Bannon and any other attorneys.

We have provided all discoverable material in the prosecution team’s possession, custody, or control relating to Mr. Costello’s and Mr. Katz’s involvement in the conduct charged in the Indictment.

The first paragraph explains a warning DOJ gave when Costello first raised noticing an appearance in the contempt prosecution for Bannon (it’s likely Costello had been tipped off by his firm that DOJ had obtained his toll records by that point). DOJ makes clear that, by voluntarily sitting for two meetings at which FBI agents were present, Costello made himself a witness about the basis for which Bannon gave for blowing off the Committee subpoena. As I have noted, Costello gave materially inconsistent answers at that meeting, likely giving the FBI probable cause to investigate whether he had made false statements; the easiest and least intrusive way to test whether his claims were true was to test whether his claims about the existence and timing of communications with Trump’s lawyers were true or not — thus the toll record seizure.

The remaining two paragraphs disclaim any impact on Bannon. Call records are not work product and, while sensitive, are not treated as privileged (and in any case, date to a period in which Costello was not representing Bannon criminally). The interviews were work-product, claims about the advice Costello gave Bannon (including the email Costello described in which he told Bannon to be BEWARE because he was likely to be referred to DOJ for prosecution). But Costello shared that work-product voluntarily. DOJ has not otherwise obtained the work-product or confidential content of Costello pertaining to Bannon.

That paragraph says nothing about Costello’s representation of Rudy, though.

And the following paragraph makes it more likely this statement intentionally stops short of covering all of Costello’s work product. It limits the statement about materials in its possession to the prosecution team (excluding, for example, SDNY prosecution teams). It doesn’t address confidential communications between Rudy and Costello. And for good measure, it limits its statements to Costello’s involvement in the January 6 subpoena, not other matters.

Costello may not count as a Trump associate directly. But this is all about Trump’s extended effort to obstruct investigations into his conduct. And because of the way Costello has, on at least two occasions, been the weak link that pierced privilege covering such cover-ups, may be a key investigative target.

Sidney Powell

Sidney Powell may be another key lawyer who pierced privilege.

Several different outlets have reported that there is a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting off lies about election fraud.

Since my last post on investigations into Trump’s associates, Sidney Powell’s lawyer revealed she is “cooperating” in that investigation, though in contemplating “cooperation” with the January 6 committee, she is reserving privilege claims about “advice” to Donald Trump.

A lawyer for Sidney Powell, a well-known, Trump-connected attorney, acknowledged that her organization’s fundraising connected to the 2020 election is subject to an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Powell’s lawyer, Howard Kleinhendler, told CNN that his client “is cooperating” with the investigation into her organization, Defending the Republic, by the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia. That cooperation includes “rolling productions” of documents.

[snip]

Still, when the committee asks Powell about communications she had with Trump, that is “going to get a little hairy,” Kleinhendler told CNN.

He said Powell believes that the times Trump called her to ask for legal advice may be covered by attorney-client privilege — even if he never paid her to be his or his campaign’s lawyer. Powell never worked as a lawyer for the former President personally or for the Trump campaign, Kleinhendler said.

“We’ll have to deal with that, and we’ll have to try to discuss with the committee to see how” to handle privilege issues, Kleinhendler said.

But Powell can’t claim privilege for the bulk of the period during which she was helping Trump steal the election. After Trump claimed Powell represented him on November 15, 2020, Rudy stated as clearly as he can manage on November 22 that, “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”

With that statement, Rudy effectively waived privilege for any communications implicating both of them from that date forward, long in advance of a December 18 meeting at which Powell purportedly told him about all the communications she sent him in the interim.

Similarly, most of these events post-date the time, November 25, when Powell can credibly claim to be representing Mike Flynn in an effort to nullify the consequences of his lies and foreign agent work, because that’s when Trump pardoned Flynn. Certainly, Powell’s claim to be criminally representing Flynn ended no later than December 8, when Emmet Sullivan dismissed the case. So she may want to claim privilege, but well before the critical meeting between Rudy, Powell, Flynn, and Patrick Byrne on December 18, all visible basis for that claim was affirmatively gone, and for anything seized from her email provider, she’s likely not going to be involved in making that claim anyway.

Mark Meadows

In a number of posts, I have argued that DOJ would be better off treating the January 6 contempt referral as, instead, a referral into obstruction of justice for the way Mark Meadows withheld or deleted evidence pertaining to the coup attempt.

I can’t prove that has happened.

What is certain, however, is that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco confirmed that DOJ is investigating the fake electors.

“We’ve received those referrals. Our prosecutors are looking at those and I can’t say anything more on ongoing investigations,” Monaco said in an exclusive interview.

And the January 6 contempt referral made clear that communications in Meadows possession show that he was at the center of that effort.

Mr. Meadows received text messages and emails regarding apparent efforts to encourage Republican legislators in certain States to send alternate slates of electors to Congress, a plan which one Member of Congress acknowledged was ‘‘highly controversial’’ and to which Mr. Meadows responded, ‘‘I love it.’’ Mr. Meadows responded to a similar message by saying ‘‘[w]e are’’ and another such message by saying ‘‘Yes. Have a team on it.’’34

34Documents on file with the Select Committee (Meadows production).

Meadows has been frantically trying to ensure whichever of these communications occurred on his personal accounts get shared with the Archives. Which means DOJ now knows they can learn details of the fake elector conspiracy by obtaining those records from the Archives.

Alex Jones

Over the last year, DOJ has collected a great deal of evidence that the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and an alarming number of former Marines worked together to open a second breach on the Capitol via the East doors. Instrumental to the success of this breach were a large number of MAGA tourists who joined in the breach. DOJ has proof that at least some of them were there because Alex Jones had lured them there by lying about a second Trump speech on the East side of the building.

DOJ has already arrested two of Jones’ employees: videographer Sam Montoya in April and on-air personality Owen Shroyer in August.

In a November DOJ response in the Shroyer case, Alex Jones was referred to as Person One, as numerous others believed to be under active investigation have been described. That filing debunked the cover story that Shroyer and Jones have used to excuse their actions on January 6. Judge Tim Kelly, who is also presiding over the most important Proud Boys cases, is currently reviewing Shroyer’s First Amendment challenge to his arrest.

This strand of the investigation has likely necessarily lagged the exploitation of former Alex Jones’ employee Joe Biggs’ iCloud and phone, which were made available to Biggs’ co-travelers in August. This post has more on the developments in the Montoya and Shroyer cases, including that a different prosecutor recently took over Monotya’s case.

Roger Stone

Roger Stone, who has close ties to both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who coordinated the attack on the Capitol, has shown up repeatedly in the Oath Keeper conspiracy. In March, DOJ debunked Connie Meggs’ claim not to know her co-conspirators by including a picture of an event she did with Roger Stone and Graydon Young (this was close to the time that Connie’s husband Kelly organized an alliance between Florida militias).

In a May 25 FBI interview, Mike Simmons, the field commander for the Oath Keepers on January 6, appears to have been specifically asked why Simmons had so many conversations with Joshua James, who was providing security for Roger Stone at the Willard the morning of the insurrection. Simmons appears to have explained that James called him every time Stone moved.

In June, Graydon Young, the Floridian who attended that Stone event with Connie, entered a cooperation agreement. Also in June, Mark Grods, one of the Oath Keepers who had been at the Willard that morning, entered a cooperation agreement. In September, Jason Dolan, a former Marine from Florida who also interacted with Stone in advance of the insurrection and who was waiting there on January 6 as the other Oath Keepers, a number of Proud Boys (including former Alex Jones employee Joe Biggs) and Alex Jones himself all converged at the top of the East steps just as the doors were opened from inside, entered a cooperation agreement.

Erik Prince

In my last post, I described a grand jury investigation into a powerful Trump associate that had subpoenaed witnesses in the investigation in the second half of last year. NYT just disclosed that investigation, which is into Erik Prince.

Mr. Prince is separately under investigation by the Justice Department on unrelated matters, according to people familiar with the case. The scope of that investigation is unclear.

The investigation reflects a reopening of an investigation Billy Barr shut down in 2019-2020. What’s interesting about it is the scope seems somewhat different and the investigating District is different than the earlier investigation. That may suggest that, for investigations that Barr shut down, DOJ would need to have a new evidence to reopen it. But the existence of this investigation shows, again, that Garland’s DOJ will go after powerful Trump associates.

In any case, I keep laying all this out, and TV lawyers keep angrily insisting that this public evidence does not exist.

I can’t guarantee that any of these investigations will lead to charges (or, in the case of Bannon and Barrack, convictions). Investigations alone will not save democracy.

But there is abundant evidence that DOJ is not shying away from aggressively investigating the suspect criminal conduct of Trump flunkies.

Why to Delay a Mark Meadows Indictment: Bannon Is Using His Contempt Prosecution to Monitor the Ongoing January 6 Investigation

In this post, I described that DOJ would be smarter to charge Mark Meadows with obstruction for his destruction of records relevant to an ongoing investigation than to charge him for misdemeanor criminal contempt of Congress. That’s because obstruction, a felony, would pose the risk of real jail time, which would be more likely to convince Meadows to cooperate with investigators and explain what he did as part of an attempt to steal the election.

On December 15, the House voted to send the Mark Meadows contempt referral to DOJ for prosecution. Much to the chagrin of the TV lawyers, DOJ has not taken overt action against Meadows on the criminal contempt of Congress referral.

But as I’ve repeatedly argued, that referral is better considered — and would be more useful to the pursuit of justice — as a referral of Mark Meadows for a violation of the Presidential Records Act and obstruction of the DOJ criminal investigation that he knew to be ongoing.

Among the things included in the referral are:

  • A link to this Politico report quoting “a source close to former President Donald Trump’s ex-chief of staff,” insisting that, “all necessary and appropriate steps either were or are being taken” to ensure that Meadows is not deemed to have violated the Presidential Records Act by failing to share Presidential communications he conducted on his personal email and phone
  • Repeated references to Jonathan Swan’s coverage of the December 18 meeting at which Powell and others discussed seizing the voting machines
  • Indication that Meadows received notice on his personal phone (and so among the records withheld in violation of the PRA) the rally might get violent
  • A citation of a message that Meadows turned over to the committee (but presumably not, originally, to the Archives) in which Alyssa Farah urged, “You guys have to say something. Even if the president’s not willing to put out a statement, you should go to the [cameras] and say, ‘We condemn this. Please stand down.’ If you don’t, people are going to die”
  • Citation of several communications Meadows had with state politicians involved in the fake elector scheme (which Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has confirmed they are investigating), including one where Meadows said, “I love it” and another where he said, “Have a team working on it;” Monaco’s confirmation puts Meadows on notice that his actions are the subject of a federal criminal investigation
  • A claim of election fraud sent to Meadows on his private email (and so among the materials he violated the PRA by withholding)
  • Citation of a tweet Meadows sent on December 21 reporting “‘Several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with President @realDonaldTrump, preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned”
  • Citation of this story describing that Meadows’ late December trip to Georgia to pressure election officials to find more votes could get him in legal trouble; when Fulton County DA Fannie Willis asked for increased protection in the wake of Trump’s calls for riots, she stated explicitly that she was criminally investigating, “former President Donald J. Trump and his associates,” putting Mark Meadows on notice that he’s under criminal investigation there, too

This entire process led Meadows and his attorney to make efforts to comply with the PRA, meaning they’ve been working to provide the communications cited here, as well as those Meadows intended to claim privilege over, to the Archives.

If they can’t comply — and some of the texts in question were sent via Signal, which is really hard to archive, and so may not have been preserved when Meadows sent his own phone back to his provider to be wiped and replaced — then Meadows will not just be in violation of the PRA (which is basically toothless) but also of obstructing the criminal investigation he knew was ongoing when he replaced his phone. Obstruction carries a far stiffer penalty than contempt of Congress does, and it serves as good evidence of involvement in a larger conspiracy.

As Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee presiding over the Steve Bannon criminal contempt case (and therefore likely to preside over one against Meadows if it were ever charged), criminal contempt is for someone from whom you’ve given up getting cooperation, not someone who still might offer useful cooperation.

Meanwhile if Meadows and his lawyer do belatedly comply with Meadows’ obligations under the PRA, it’s quite possible (particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling denying Trump’s attempt to override Joe Biden’s privilege waiver) that DOJ has to do no more to obtain these records than to send a warrant to the Archives. If not, Meadows is now on notice that he is the subject of several criminal investigations (the fake elector one and the Fulton County one), and he may think twice before trying to withhold communications that are already in possession of the Archives.

So whether or not DOJ has these documents in their possession right now, they have the means to get them very easily.

When I’ve pointed this explanation out to those wondering why DOJ has yet to (visibly) act on the Meadows contempt referral the January 6 Select Committee the House sent over on December 14, they ask why DOJ can’t just charge Meadows with contempt now and then follow up with obstruction charges later.

The answer is clear. Doing so will make any ongoing investigation far more difficult.

We can see why that’s true from the Bannon case. Bannon has already used his contempt prosecution as a means to obtain evidence about an ongoing obstruction investigation implicating Trump.

In these two posts, I described what we know about DOJ seizing the call records for Robert Costello, the lawyer for both Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, who is someone who has been at the center of Trump’s pardon dangling for years. There’s a full timeline here, but for the purposes of this post, the key details are:

  • On September 23, the House subpoenaed Bannon.
  • Around October 5, the lawyer for Bannon and Rudy started speaking with a lawyer for Trump, Justin Clark, about how to avoid responding on Bannon’s behalf.
  • Between then and Bannon’s deadlines, Costello twice invoked Trump to avoid complying (in an interview with DOJ, Costello admitted that, “CLARK would not identify for COSTELLO what would be covered under Executive Privilege” and “refused to reach out to the Committee on behalf of COSTELLO or BANNON,” though, “CLARK informed COSTELLO not to respond to item 17” (involving communications Bannon had with Rudy, Sidney Powell, and Mike Flynn).
  • Costello claimed he did not know the lawsuit Trump filed on October 18 was coming and also claims he had a draft in process to blow off another October 19 contempt deadline, but on the evening of October 18, he told a J6 staffer that Bannon would not show up.
  • Over the next three days, the J6 Committee went through the process of holding Bannon in contempt, completing the process on October 21.
  • On November 3, Costello met with the investigative team, ostensibly to persuade them not to indict Bannon; in the process, Costello made claims about his communications with Trump’s lawyers (as well as those for Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel) that materially conflicted. In response, DOJ sought Costello’s call records, ultimately obtaining records dating back to the last act Costello did on Bannon’s behalf in the Build the Wall prosecution, March 5, 2021, thereby reflecting an interest in Costello’s actions that significantly precede the J6 Committee actions.
  • On November 12, DOJ indicted Bannon. At first, just Evan Corcoran and David Schoen (the latter of whom represented the former President in his January 6 related impeachment) filed notice as Bannon’s lawyers.
  • On December 2, Costello informed DOJ he would file a notice to join the Bannon defense team (he may have been tipped off by his firm that DOJ had asked for his call records for his business phone). DOJ noted that if Costello represented Bannon, it might impact Bannon’s ability to claim an Advice of Counsel defense. On December 8, Costello filed his notice of appearance on Bannon’s team.
  • On January 4, DOJ provided Bannon 790 pages of call records data pertaining to Costello (including from his law firm).

In the early appearances after Bannon’s indictment, DOJ said it wanted to go to trial immediately and believed the trial could take a matter of hours. Bannon, by contrast, wanted a fall trial, and believed the trial could take weeks. Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee who had a key role in the Harriet Miers contempt conflict who is presiding over the case, split the difference on time, and has otherwise seemed unconvinced by Bannon’s maximalist challenges to the indictment.

Nevertheless, because the trial did not happen immediately, until Bannon does go to trial (currently scheduled in July), then DOJ will be obliged to provide him a range of information that would be (as the Costello records clearly are) relevant to an ongoing obstruction investigation implicating Trump personally. And until DOJ has reason to claim a conflict has arisen between Costello’s representation of Rudy and Bannon (which would effectively tip Rudy off that he’s being investigated for January 6), anything shared with Bannon’s defense team will be shared with Rudy’s defense team (and probably, through Schoen, Trump’s).

Those wailing for immediate action got an indictment of Steve Bannon … which will, at most, lead to his jailing for a few months.

And in exchange, Bannon got records that suggest that DOJ treated his attorney as a suspect in a conspiracy to obstruct this (and the J6) investigation. Bannon got records that suggest that DOJ is investigating his lawyer’s activities going back at least to March 5. He was able to see some of the evidence DOJ has obtained in that ongoing investigation.

Until something resets the current status, the contempt prosecution of Bannon is far more useful to Bannon as a means to monitor the ongoing investigation into him and his co-conspirators than it is for DOJ. And DOJ is likely now limiting investigative steps into Bannon and Costello, accordingly, to avoid triggering a discovery obligation to share information with Bannon.

There are a whole lot of really good reasons why DOJ probably hasn’t acted on the Meadows referral yet — most notably that Judge Nichols, who would likely preside over a Meadows case as a related prosecution, has made it clear he believes criminal contempt is used only for those whom DOJ has no hope of coercing cooperation. If they charge Meadows with contempt, per Nichols, they have foresworn any hope of getting his cooperation.

Given what Meadows has already done, DOJ surely views the potential of Meadows’ cooperation as more useful than a time-consuming and restrictive contempt prosecution.

And that’s true, first and foremost, because charging Meadows with contempt now would further limit their ability to shield parts of their investigation from the suspected co-conspirators.

Update: Corrected the Build the Wall reference to mention Bannon, not Meadows.

When Lawyers’ Lawyers Need Lawyers: The Import of Robert Costello’s Toll Records — for Bannon, for Rudy, and for Donald Trump

As I explained in this piece, the lawyer who represents both Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon — and who has been at the center of Trump’s pardon-dangling for almost three years — had two meetings with the Bannon prosecution team, where he made a number of claims that could not all be true. The first meeting Robert Costello had with DOJ was on November 3, with a follow-up on November 8, 2021.

Just two of the sets of mutually contradictory claims Costello made in his first interview are:

COSTELLO had not had communication with attorneys for TRUMP prior to that date. [October 18, 2021, when Trump filed a lawsuit challenging Executive Privilege waivers for the January 6 Committee]

And,

COSTELLO first had contact with [Attorney for Donald Trump Justin] CLARK on approximately October 4 or October 5, 2021.

Or:

COSTELLO did not discuss disposing of any documents requested in the Select Committee subpoena with any attorneys who represented former President TRUMP.

And,

Even though MICHAEL FLYNN was not an attorney, he was present during attorney-client-protected discussions. Those particular attorneys represented former President TRUMP and CLARK informed COSTELLO not to respond to item 17.

I would imagine there’s no better way to get the FBI to start investigating you for false statements then by making a bunch of mutually contradictory claims in one interview.

There were certainly other claims Costello made which he should have known to be false. For example, given that his other client, Rudy Giuliani, put out a statement asserting that Sidney Powell did not work for Trump, Costello likely knows that Powell’s presence at a meeting, along with non-lawyer Mike Flynn, would not implicate Trump’s privilege, even if a meeting between Costello client Bannon and Costello client Rudy could itself be considered privileged, which is a fantastic stretch in any case. But that’s a claim, he told the FBI, that he advised Bannon to make in refusing to respond to the January 6 subpoena by invoking Executive Privilege.

Nevertheless, the FBI did not have to obtain the content of Costello’s communications to test whether he lied at that meeting on November 3, given that so many of his fact claims could be tested simply by obtaining his call and email records to see whether he was speaking with Trump lawyers (and those for Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel) and if so, when, about which Costello made affirmative denials in his meeting with DOJ. If he was discussing with other lawyers how to deal with the Select Committee investigation at a time he claimed he was not, the FBI would have deemed that a suspected lie worthy of more investigation.

And that’s what the FBI did, making eight requests for records (four for phone records, four for Internet records, apparently covering his work and personal emails and phones) resulting in 790 pages, total.

Given the abundant detail included in the Motion to Compel (undoubtedly included to provide hypothetical co-conspirators some idea of the extent of the record seizure, including that no content was obtained), Bannon’s claims seem to be predictably overblown. There appear to be three grand jury subpoenas and just one 2703(d) order (to an Internet provider, likely someone like Google). That is, some of the eight requests appear to be an effort to figure out which phones and email were of interest, in advance of obtaining toll record themselves. Indeed, Bannon makes much out of the fact that DOJ obtained payment method associated with Costello’s phone, available with a basic subscriber request. And unless Costello is a remarkably stingy user of SMS texting, the request for those toll records appears to be narrowly tailored either by time or interlocutor; there are just two pages of SMS text toll records.

Here’s a summary of what the government appears to have obtained:

Bates stamp range: US 001093-001883

US 001093: Grand jury subpoena

US 001145-001768: 623-page return from Internet provider showing IP activity, status (read or unread, inbox, etc.) and other details concerning emails and other activity offered by the carrier obtained with a Section 2703(d) Order on November 11, 2021 [US 001733] that includes a case number [US 001732-001735] and returned on December 7, 2021.  Returns include:

  • US 001151-001249: 98 pages showing IP activity for the email account sought from March 5, 2021 through November 12, 2021, as well as a report on what other services from the provider Costello uses
  • US 001733, 001735, 001740, and 001742: Several references to a 2703(d) order or equivalent
  • US 001765: Grand jury subpoena

US 001769-001789: Costello’s 302s

US 001834: Case number

US 001842: Case number

US 001863: Subscriber record showing payment method for Costello’s cell phone

US 001866: Costello’s data usage

US 001872; Grand jury subpoena

US 001874-001875:  SMS (text messaging) information, including the numbers to which texts were sent and from which they were received

The government doesn’t appear to be treating these records as evidence in their contempt case against Bannon. As the  Bannon filing notes, the government only turned them over on January 4, after stating (before they had obtained the bulk of these records) that the evidence in their case-in-chief against Bannon only consisted of 200 documents.

It is curious that Government counsel delayed producing these documents until January 4, 2022. On November 18, 2021, the parties appeared before this Court. At that proceeding, Government counsel insisted that the Government was ready for trial, that this is a simple and straightforward case, and that it was ready immediately to provide Mr. Bannon with the discovery in the case, which it described as “less than 200 documents,” with “most of” it purportedly comprised of “materials the defendant already has ….” [11/18/2021 Hearing Tr. at 3].

Costello first joined Bannon’s criminal defense team over two weeks after Bannon was indicted, and after DOJ pointed out that Costello’s representation would pose a problem for any Advice of Counsel defense. Given that DOJ obtained toll records from Costello’s firm, it’s possible they tipped him off and he joined the Bannon team to create this problem after that.

Bannon’s filing also notes that the government hasn’t provided the subpoenas obtaining this material, as they would have if the subpoenas targeted him, personally.

Nowhere in the Government’s production was a copy of a court order authorizing the Government’s actions, nor was there a copy of any subpoena for the records, nor was there even any application for a court order or for authorization from the Department of Justice for subpoenas intended to obtain defense counsel’s personal and professional telephone and email records.

That makes sense: Bannon can’t be held responsible for the things his (and Rudy’s) lawyer says while sitting with the FBI. Costello is the one who made mutually contradictory claims, not Bannon.

But, at least as Bannon tells it, the team that seized these records appears to have taken little care to protect Costello’s other clients.

Furthermore, there was nothing in the production that indicated any effort to limit the access of the prosecutors assigned to this case to defense counsel’s personal and professional records, nor was there any indication of any filter in place to distinguish between attorney-client privileged or work-product privileged information that could be garnered from the records the Government obtained and non-privileged materials, nor was there any indication of any filter intended to protect confidential and privileged related to other clients of Mr. Costello and his law firm or intended to keep the prosecutors handling this case from access to any such privileged material.

Indeed, after wailing a bit about DOJ’s oblique response when asked about this seizure, the Bannon filing returned to Costello’s other clients and “witnesses” consulted in those representations.

Beyond all of the above, the Government’s response ignores the damage its actions risked causing for other clients of Mr. Costello and his law firm, for telephone calls and emails to and from other clients and witnesses consulted in relation to their cases would now be exposed by the Government’s efforts to obtain records for all of the attorney’s emails and telephone records.

And in fact, in a letter responding to Bannon’s questions about these records, DOJ made no representations about work product related to Costello’s other clients, even while emphasizing what the prosecution team (which is different from DOJ as a whole) has in its possession.

Aside from the information that Mr. Costello voluntarily disclosed on behalf of Mr. Bannon during the investigation of this matter, the Government has not taken any steps to obtain any attorney work product relating to any attorney’s representation of Mr. Bannon or to obtain any confidential communications between Mr. Bannon, Mr. Costello, and Mr. Katz, or between Mr. Bannon and any other attorneys.

We have provided all discoverable material in the prosecution team’s possession, custody, or control relating to Mr. Costello’s and Mr. Katz’s involvement in the conduct charged in the Indictment. The Government understands its discovery obligations under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16; the Jencks Act; and Brady, Giglio, and their progeny, and will continue to comply with them should additional discoverable material come into the prosecution team’s possession, custody, or control.

That’s significant because of the temporal scope of the email metadata obtained: from March 5 through November 12, 2021, basically the last event for which Costello was representing Bannon in the Build the Wall criminal prosecution and his indictment on these new charges (though, again, Costello didn’t join his defense team for over two weeks). These records don’t include any period when Costello was criminally representing Bannon.

But they do cover a far broader period than would be necessary to understand what communications Costello had with lawyers for Donald Trump after Bannon was subpoenaed by the January 6 committee on September 23. Indeed, they cover a broader period than the entire January 6 Committee, which was created by House Resolution 503 on June 30, 2021.

Presumably, DOJ saw something in the initial records they were seeking — or in records obtained by others, or in another unseen ongoing investigation — to scope the Internet request for the entirety of the period between Costello’s past and current criminal representation of Bannon. Or they were already interested in Costello (for whom there was a possible referral in the Mueller investigation), and his interview with the FBI extended that interest.

That suggests this really isn’t about Bannon.

But the seized records do include the entirety of the period when Costello was helping Rudy review the contents of 16 devices seized by SDNY. Of note, Trump could have, but chose not to participate in that Special Master process. Because he moved to intervene, Dmitry Firtash is permitted to review the records seized from Victoria Toensing to protect his own interests, but Trump’s lawyers should not be getting notice of what was seized from Rudy.

Indeed, the conversations of interest regarding the Bannon representation happen to have taken place during a period during which Costello had gotten an extension to review the contents of the first seven devices seized from Rudy.

On September 28, 2021, I directed that Mr. Giuliani complete his review of the data contained on seven of these devices by October 6, 2021, which was later extended to October 12, 2021. These seven devices contain 2,226 items in total dated on or after January 1, 2018. Mr. Giuliani designated 3 items as privileged, and I am reserving decision on those 3 items. The remaining 2,223 items have been released to the Government.

Costello told the FBI he had no conversations with any Trump lawyers for this period. Even if he had conversations with other Trump lawyers during this review problem, it would conflict with what he told the FBI in his Bannon-related meeting.

It’s certainly possible that the only warrants at issue in the Special Master review are the Ukraine-related ones overtly used to seize Rudy’s devices, and that the SDNY team is completely excluded from accessing these records; if that’s the case, it would suggest there’s no investigation into Rudy out of DC, particularly not one in which JP Cooney or Molly Gaston are participating, both senior prosecutors at DC USAO.

Or there’s something far more interesting going on.

Update: I realized after I posted this that Costello’s 302s were included in the 790 pages Bannon complained about, meaning he claimed things were call records when instead they were the obvious justification for the call records. I’ve added and bolded those pages above.

Steve Bannon’s Lawyer Made Himself a Witness and Now Wants To Be Just a Lawyer

Last night, along with a previously scheduled Motion for Discovery, Steve Bannon filed a Motion to Compel disclosure regarding some records requests DOJ made targeting Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello. In it, he revealed that the government had obtained phone and Internet toll records (that is, metadata, not content) of his attorney spanning the period between the last event in Bannon’s prosecution in the Build the Wall fraud case, March 5, 2021, through the day he was indicted, November 11, 2021.

Predictably, the filing wails a lot about his lawyer being spied on and misrepresents what happened.

While Bannon included two exhibits with his Motion to Compel (a letter asking for information about the Costello material and the government response), Bannon included the most important information pertaining to the Costello records with his Motion for Discovery, not his Motion to Compel: reports of two interviews (302s) he did with DOJ and FBI, one on November 3 and the other on November 8, 2021.

At the time Costello gave the interviews, his representation of Bannon before the January 6 Select Committee was ended and Bannon had not yet been indicted. And as the first 302 notes, “there were no agreements or conditions governing the conversation between COSTELLO and representatives of USAO-DC or FBI.” Effectively, those interviews made Costello a voluntary fact-witness in the criminal case against Bannon, one exacerbated when Bannon belatedly added Costello to his criminal defense team and grew squishy about whether Bannon would invoke Costello’s advice in his own defense.

And Costello made so many contradictory claims in his 302s (to say nothing of providing evidence that Bannon knew well he had no privilege claim with which to refuse to testify entirely), that it is unsurprising that the FBI made records requests to test whether Costello lied in those interviews to the FBI. Among the claims Costello made about communications he had or did not have are:

  • J6 sent the subpoena to Costello (on September 23) before he had been able to consult with Bannon
  • Costello did not know who was representing the other people subpoenaed — Dan Scavino, Kash Patel, Mark Meadows, or Donald Trump — at the time of the subpoena
  • Through the entire subpoena response, Bannon and Costello have “operated independently of the others subpoenaed”
  • Costello was not told who was representing Trump, Meadows, or the others subpoenaed, but he found out on his own who represented Trump and Meadows
  • Costello sent the subpoena to Bannon to review
  • Costello’s advice to Bannon that he didn’t have to respond was verbal
  • Costello was sure he sent the J6 letters to Bannon; he wasn’t sure whether Bannon read the letters but Costello did quote lines from the letters to him
  • Costello sent Bannon an email that he ended with the word BEWARE because defying the subpoena could result in a referral to DOJ
  • Costello’s only contact with J6 Chief Counsel Kristin Amerling came the day before and the day of the subpoena service [the record shows she sent him at least one letter after that]
  • Costello tried to contact the attorney he believed was representing Trump (whom he didn’t name) but that attorney referred Costello to Justin Clark
  • Costello reached out to Clark a few days before October 6, though their first substantive conversation came when Clark responded
  • Costello did not provide any documents to attorneys for Trump for an Executive Privilege review
  • Justin Clark was vague but Costello was sure Trump asserted Executive Privilege with regards to Bannon
  • Clark would not ID for Costello what would be covered under Executive Privilege
  • In spite of Costello’s claims not to have consulted with any Trump lawyer, he also claimed that Clark told him not to respond to item 17 on the subpoena (covering Mike Flynn), because lawyers like Rudy Giuliani might have been present when Bannon communicated with Flynn
  • In spite of his admitted conversations with Justin Clark, Costello claimed he had not had communications with attorneys for Trump prior to October 18, 2021 (when Trump filed a lawsuit challenging the privilege waivers on materials from the Archives)
  • Costello had “an email or two” with Clark, who he believed filed the lawsuit, but he did not learn until later that Jesse Binnall filed the lawsuit
  • Costello sent copies of Bennie Thompson’s letters to the VA lawyer representing Trump (probably Binnall)
  • Costello had no advance knowledge of Trump’s lawsuit and would have handled things differently if he had
  • Attorneys representing Trump (Costello doesn’t name him or describe when this was) told him everyone who got a subpoena would get Executive Privilege
  • Costello did not talk about “disposing of any documents requested in the … subpoena with any attorneys who represented former President TRUMP”
  • Costello said he’d sent to USAO all memorializations of communications he had with the Committee, Clark, and Trump’s attorneys

Effectively, these claims only make any sense if he had extended discussions with an attorney who did not represent Donald Trump, on whose representation he advised Bannon that Trump wanted Bannon to invoke Executive Privilege. But even there, there are still all sorts of temporal problems with Costello’s claims (and probable inconsistencies regarding the timing of events on October 18, though I need to unpack what those are further).

Costello’s interviews were all over the map on other topics as well, topics that affect both Rudy Giuliani (whom Costello also represents) and Bannon: that he could and could not claim Executive or Attorney Client privilege over certain topics, that he advised or did not advise Bannon to do so, that he admits that Bannon provided no response about issues — most damningly, his public podcasts — that could in no way be covered by Executive Privilege.

But the key detail is that Costello’s claims about communications he had and did not have defy belief and (particularly with regards to Justin Clark) may be physically impossible.

So, in response to these interviews (and probably in possession of contradictory evidence from J6), DOJ obtained all the records they would need to test Costello’s claims.

As I’ve noted, Costello has played a key role in past obstruction efforts, going back to 2018. It’s certainly conceivable DOJ has an open investigation into Costello (and Rudy) for those activities.

Whether or not they already did, Costello gave them far more reason to question his role in obstructing investigations into Donald Trump in his two interviews.

Update: Here’s Bannon’s subpoena (h/t Kyle Cheney). It confirms that Item 17, which Clark told Costello to tell Bannon not to respond to, included Mike Flynn.

Timeline

March 5: Beginning date for Costello records request (last event involving Bannon and Costello in Kolfage)

September 22: First contact between J6 and Bannon

September 23: Bannon subpoena

September 24: Costello accepts service

October 6: Costello claims Clark invoked privilege

October 7, 10AM: Original deadline for document production

October 7, 5:05PM: Costello letter claiming Trump invoked privilege

October 8: Thompson letter to Bannon rejecting non-compliance

October 13: Second Costello letter, demanding accommodation with Trump

October 14, 10AM: Original date for Bannon testimony

October 15: Letter noticing failure to comply with subpoena, warning of contempt meeting, setting response deadline for October 18, 6PM

October 18: Thompson letter to Bannon with deadline; Trump sues Thompson and the Archives on privilege issues

October 19: Bannon claims they intended to respond; Amerling letter to Costello; J6 business meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 20: Rules committee meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 21 Bannon held in contempt

October 28: Matthew Graves confirmed as US Attorney

November 2: Kristin Amerling interview

November 3: First interview with Robert Costello

November 5: Matthew Graves sworn in as US Attorney

November 8: Second interview with Robert Costello

November 11: Subpoena to Internet provider

November 12: End date for Costello records request

November 12: Indictment

November 15: Bannon arrest; David Schoen and Evan Corcoran file notices of appearance

November 18: At status conference, government says there are just 200 documents of discovery

December 2: Costello moves to appear PHV; Government asks if Bannon intends to rely on advice of counsel defense

December 7: Returns on Internet provider (623 pages)

December 7 to 16: Bannon refuses to submit joint status report

January 4: DOJ turns over 790 pages of records from Costello

January 6: Bannon request for more information on Costello

January 7: Government response to Bannon request

January 14: Bannon discovery request letter; Bannon motion to compel regarding Costello

January 28: Government response to discovery demand

February 4: In guise of Motion to Compel, Bannon complains about “spying” on Robert Costello

Trump’s Coup Attempts: A Tale of Five Pardon Dangles

In an analysis piece earlier this week, the NYT reported as newsworthy that,

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump also dangled, for the first time, that he could issue pardons to anyone facing charges for participating in the Jan. 6 attack if he is elected president again — the latest example of a yearslong flirtation with political violence.

Politico followed that with a report that Trump at least considered blanket pardons for those who might be implicated in January 6.

“Is it everybody that had a Trump sign or everybody who walked into the Capitol” who could be pardoned? Trump asked, according to that adviser. “He said, ‘Some people think I should pardon them.’ He thought if he could do it, these people would never have to testify or be deposed.”

Offering preemptive pardons is not a new idea for Trump. According to Michael Cohen, Trump also entertained bulk pardons with the Russian investigation before Jay Sekulow figured out that it would make it easier for people to testify against him.

Q What is – you had a conversation with Jay Sekulow about something called a pre-pardon?

A Yes.

Q How many conversations did you have with him about pre-pardoning

A One or two.

Q And what did he say to you?

A The problem with a pre-pardon is that you have to answer every question because technically you have immunity, so you can’t assert any Fifth Amendment privilege.

Q Let’s back up for a second, because that presupposes that you’ve already discussed the idea of you getting a pardon. Did Jay Sekulow tell you that the President was considering giving you a pardon?

A That’s not the way that he stated it, but we had a conversation, one at least – I believe it may have been two – and I am not 100 percent certain of the exact date that that occurred, but the concept of a pre-pardon was discussed, yes.

Q Okay. So if you said that’s not exactly how he said it, what do you remember him saying about the idea of you getting a pardon?

A Well, it wasn’t just me. It was globally, in order to, I guess, shut down, you know, this investigation. And I had said to him, you know, what .. well, you know, there’s always the possibility of a pre-pardon. And –

Q Let’s take your time, because it’s important for us to understand not just the gist of the conversation but who said what exactly. All right? So you mentioned something called a global pardon. Did he use that term?

A No.

Q Okay. What do you mean by a global pardon?

A Okay. That in order to shut this whole thing down, that this is how they were potentially going to do it, and everybody would just get a pardon. And said, well, it wouldn’t be a pardon, it would be a pre-pardon, because nobody’s been charged yet. So it ultimately just became, that’s not really something that could be accomplished, because then they’d have the right, again, to ask you questions, everyone on the team.

Q So when you say everyone, who do you mean?

A I guess whoever it is that you started to request to come in, testify, subpoenaed.

And in Trump’s last days in office, he considered pre-emptive pardons, but — in part because of Pat Cipollone’s opposition — he did not do so.

It is the case that Trump has now dangled pardons at a time he doesn’t have the power to grant them. Even that is not new, though, given that Roger Stone was brokering a Julian Assange pardon no later than November 15, 2016 and probably starting even before the election, in October 2016.

This latest dangle is more newsworthy, though — and for reporters who don’t want to enable Trump’s authoritarian power, ought to be reported as — an attempt to reclaim power he already lost after reneging on promises of pardons made while he still had the power to grant them.

It is not news that Trump used pardon dangles as one tool to attempt a coup on January 6. At least five people directly involved in the coup attempt benefitted from pardons, some awarded at key times in the planning process, with Steve Bannon’s issued at the last possible moment.

It is not news that Trump is making pardon dangles publicly to try to bend the will and buy the silence of others. This latest pardon dangle comes in the wake of five events, all of which pose a direct threat to Trump:

  • December 15: The Select Committee contempt referral for Mark Meadows that puts him at risk of Presidential Records Act and obstruction prosecution
  • January 12: The indictment on sedition charges of the Oath Keepers whose testimony could most directly damage Trump
  • January 19: SCOTUS’ refusal to reverse the DC Circuit order allowing the Archives to share Trump records
  • January 19: The delivery to prosecutors, on January 19, of a large number of texts and messages from Rudy Giuliani’s phones
  • January 20: The Select Committee request for Ivanka’s testimony, which strongly suggested she has violated the Presidential Records Act
  • January 21: The report from Sidney Powell’s attorney that she is “cooperating” in her own prosecution and the Select Committee

What’s newsworthy is that Trump is trying this tack after reneging on promises to three of the people involved (during the last days of his Administration, there were reports that Meadows, Rudy, and Ivanka all might receive pardons) that Trump made in the course of planning for the coup.

So I’d like to tell the story of five pardons — three granted, and two withheld — in the context of Trump’s attempted coup on January 6.

Michael Cohen pardon dangle

This first pardon necessary to understand what Trump is up to is one that didn’t happen: The pardon dangle to try to silence Michael Cohen. As the Mueller Report described. in the wake of a raid on Cohen, Robert Costello started reaching out as an envoy for Rudy Giuliani, offering pardons.

On or about April 17, 2018, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

The New York Times and a third rate reporter . . . are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip. ‘ They use nonexistent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media! 1025

In an email that day to Cohen, Costello wrote that he had spoken with Giuliani. 1026 Costello told Cohen the conversation was “Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner … . Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”1027

According to Cohen, Rudy Giuliani and Robert Costello were at the heart of Trump’s efforts to buy silence.

But Cohen couldn’t be silent about his own plight, and so facing prosecution from that and after a privilege review of his files discovered the recording Cohen made of Trump’s hush payments, he started cooperating with Mueller, helping them to understand what Trump was trying to hide about his ties with the Kremlin during the election.

Cohen paid for that decision, too. He did more time, for example, than Roger Stone, who (like Cohen) had kept blackmail material on Trump. As such, Cohen served as a useful example to Trump: if you cooperated against Trump, Trump would ensure that you suffered a worse outcome than those who had sustained the lies to protect him.

Roger Stone commutation

Roger Stone kept a notebook recording every conversation he had with Donald Trump during the 2016 election. After the election, according to an unreliable October 2018 interview that Steve Bannon had with Mueller’s team, Stone got a meeting to which he brought what appears to be that notebook. Trump asked Bannon to attend, it seems, to ensure that Stone would be kicked out after a short time.

While BANNON was at Breitbart in 2013-2015, BANNON had a strong relationship with [redacted]. BANNON heard from [redacted] STONE was still talking to Trump and was an advisor. STONE subsequently made those statements to BANNON as well. BANNON was suspect and upset. BANNON believed you had to eep TRUMP “on program.” While BANNON was on the Trump Campaign he never heard any mention of STONE from TRUMP or anyone else on the campaign. After the win, STONE tried a full court press in order to get a meeting with TRUMP. [redacted] eventually set up a meeting with TRUMP and STONE in early December 2016 on the 26th floor of Trump Tower. TRUMP didn’t want to take the meeting with STONE. TRUMP told BANNON to be in the meeting and that after 5 minutes, if the meeting hadn’t concluded, to throw STONE out. STONE came in with a book he wrote and possibly had a folder and notes. [full sentence redacted] TRUMP didn’t say much to STONE beyond “Thanks, thanks a lot.”. To BANNON, this reinforced STONE [redacted] After five to six minutes, the meeting was over and STONE was out. STONE was [redacted] due to the fact that during the meeting TRUMP just stared.

That was Bannon’s second-to-last interview with Mueller’s team. A week after his last interview, at which Bannon also appeared before the grand jury, the FBI raided Stone’s homes. One of the things they explicitly looked for was that notebook.

53. On May 8, 2018, a law enforcement interview of [redacted] was conducted. [redacted] was an employee of Stone’s from approximately June 2016 through approximately December 2016 and resided in Stone’s previous New York apartment for a period of time. [redacted] provided information technology support for Stone, but was not f0rmally trained to do so. [redacted] was aware that Stone communicated with Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and afterward, both in person and by telephone. [redated] provided information about a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump and Stone during the time [redacted] worked for him, to which Sterne carried a “file booklet” with him. Stone told [redacted] the file booklet was important and that no one should touch it. [redacted] also said Stone maintained the file booklet in his closet.

54. On December 3, 2018, law enforcement conducted an interview of an individual (“Person 1 “) who previously had a professional relationship with a reporter who provided Person 1 with information about Stone. The reporter relayed to Person 1 that in or around January and February 2016, Stone and Trump were in constant communication and that Stone kept contemporaneous notes of the conversations. Stone’s purpose in keeping notes was to later provide a “post mortem of what went wrong.”

In November 2019, Stone was convicted for lying about the nature and Trump’s awareness of his back-channel to the Russian operation. Billy Barr went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to minimize the punishment Stone would suffer for covering that up. He went so far as claiming threats against a federal judge by Roger Stone and the Proud Boys, threats which foreshadowed January 6, were a mere technicality.

But in July 2020, the moment when Stone would have to report to prison approached. Stone made several public appearances telling a story that was impossible as told, the gist of which was that prosecutors had promised Stone they would fight for leniency if he would testify about the content of a subset of the conversations he had with Trump during the election. That had the desired effect: Trump commuted Stone’s sentence before he reported for prison, protecting Stone in a way he had not done for Paul Manafort.

Billy Barr minimized the damage this should have done to Trump’s electoral chances. The Attorney General sat on a footnote of the Mueller Report that revealed when all this occurred, Roger Stone was still under investigation for the hack-and-leak with Russia. Barr released that literally on the eve of the 2020 election, and to this day no major outlet has reported that Stone was still under investigation for conspiring with Russia after the Mueller Report was released.

Mike Flynn pardon

As I laid out in this post, Mike Flynn got next to nothing out of his his two year attempt to renege on his plea agreement with Robert Mueller.

  • Replaced competent lawyers with incompetent TV grifters
  • Released evidence he lied to his lawyers doing the FARA filing
  • Consented to waive privilege so DOJ could find more proof he lied
  • Debunked a slew of conspiracy theories
  • Got really damning transcripts released
  • Served 708 days of supervised release
  • Joined a gang
  • Got one of his gang members prosecuted for death threats against Judge Sullivan
  • Got a ruling — and, later, a clear statement from DOJ — that no abuse occurred
  • Exposed his son to further prosecution
  • Exposed DOJ to further scrutiny
  • Proved Judge Sullivan’s point about selling the country out

After 18 months of making repeatedly debunked claims that he had been victimized by DOJ, however, he did get the most expansive pardon Trump gave, one pardoning not just his underlying crimes, but also the crimes he committed during the process of performing that victimization.

Given everything that has happened since, it’s worth considering Flynn’s performance as a victim as part of Trump’s reelection campaign.

That became most evident on September 29, 2020. Earlier in the day, in a status hearing, Sidney Powell confessed that weeks earlier, she had spoken to Trump about the case, and asked him not to pardon Flynn.

More curious still, she admitted she had spoken with Trump’s campaign attorney, Jenna Ellis.

THE COURT: Let me ask you this before you get to your other objections since we’re talking about — since I raised the issue about communications and correspondence with the Department of Justice. Have you had discussions with the President about this case?

MS. POWELL: I have not, Your Honor, while the case was pending pre-motion to dismiss or otherwise other than an update as to what happened in it.

THE COURT: I’m sorry. I’m not sure I understand your answer. The question is whether you’ve had any discussions at all with the President of the United States about Mr. Flynn and about this case. Yes or no.

MS. POWELL: I’m sorry, Your Honor. I can’t discuss that.

THE COURT: What’s the reason why you can’t discuss that?

MS. POWELL: I would think any conversations that I had with the President would be protected by executive privilege.

THE COURT: Well, you don’t work for the government.

MS. POWELL: I don’t think the executive privilege is limited to people who work for the government.

THE COURT: So you’re purporting to invoke executive privilege not to answer the Court’s question about whether you discussed Mr. Flynn’s case with the President of the United States. Is that correct?

MS. POWELL: Yes. Other than the fact that after the government moved to dismiss or at some point in the last month or so, I provided the White House an update on the overall status of the litigation.

THE COURT: How did you provide that update? Was it in writing?

MS. POWELL: No, sir.

THE COURT: How did you provide that update? Who did you speak with?

MS. POWELL: I provided it in person to counsel for the President.

THE COURT: I mean the White House counsel or a deputy or who did you speak to?

MS. POWELL: Your Honor, I spoke with Jenna [Ellis] and I spoke with the President himself to provide a brief update of the status of the litigation within the last couple of weeks.

THE COURT: And did you make any request of the President?

MS. POWELL: No, sir. Other than he not issue a pardon.

THE COURT: All right. Prior to that discussion with the President — how many discussions with the President have you had about this case?

MS. POWELL: That’s the only one I recall.

THE COURT: So you’re not ruling out other — well, certainly, you would recall a discussion with the President of the United States, wouldn’t you?

MS. POWELL: Well, I’ve had a number of discussions with the President of the United States. I think the New York Times reported I’ve had five. So it seems like they probably have a number better than I know.

THE COURT: Are the New York Times’ representations erroneous?

MS. POWELL: I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve actually spoken with the President, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. About this case. But there’s been more than one though.

MS. POWELL: No, sir. I can tell you I spoke with one time to the President about this case to inform him of the general status of the litigation.

THE COURT: And was that within the last two weeks?

MS. POWELL: Time has a way of getting by for me, but it’s certainly well after the government moved to dismiss and probably if I recall correctly after the writ of mandamus was entered.

THE COURT: All right. Did you ever ask the President of the United States to request his Attorney General to appoint more attorneys in this case?

MS. POWELL: Oh, heavens, no.

THE COURT: All right. So very succinctly just so I have a clear understanding, what precisely — during the first time you spoke with the President of the United States, what precisely did you ask him to do in connection with this case? What did you ask him to do in connection with this case?

MS. POWELL: I never discussed this case with the President until recently when I asked him not to issue a pardon and gave him the general update of the status of the litigation. [my emphasis]

On the same day Powell admitted to speaking, some weeks earlier, to Trump’s campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, Trump delivered a pre-arranged attack against Joe Biden in the first debate.

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

This false claim was based off misrepresentations based on altered Peter Strzok notes released as part of Bill Barr’s efforts to reverse the prosecution of Flynn. There were other altered documents released for wider dissemination in this period, as well, including additional Strzok and Page texts that newly violated the Privacy Act, though after DOJ had to confess that they had altered those documents, any further focus on the altered documents were dropped.

And then, Trump pardoned his Agent of Turkey along with the Thanksgiving bird.

At the moment Trump would have informed Sidney Powell of that news, she was at Lin Wood’s plantation plotting ways to steal the election Trump had lost. If Flynn was not already with Powell plotting away at the moment he learned of his pardon, he would join her within 24 hours.

Within weeks, the recently-pardoned retired General and foreign agent that had been plotting away with Sidney Powell and Patrick Byrne, someone who had been seduced by an admitted Russian agent, was calling for military intervention. Flynn’s calls for insurrection were reported in real time, but the news was buried and the fact that Trump had just pardoned the man calling for a coup did not make the coverage.

Roger Stone pardon

During the first half of December, Roger Stone was palling around with the accused terrorists who would help physically obstruct the vote certification on January 6.

Days later, one of the Oath Keepers that Stone palled around with, Kelly Meggs, bragged of arranging an alliance with other accused terrorists that Stone also palled around with, the Proud Boys that Trump had told to “Stand Back and Stand By” in that same debate on September 29 where Trump had used a campaign attack packaged up by Sidney Powell.

On December 23, Trump pardoned Stone for the crimes of which he was convicted (but not those that were still under investigation).

On Christmas, Meggs specifically tied protection, almost certainly of Stone, and coordination with a Proud Boy, almost certainly Enrique Tarrio, in the same text.

On December 26, Stone associate Kelly Meggs called this an insurrection (albeit in response to Trump’s order) explicitly.

On December 27, Stone went to Mar-a-Lago to thank Trump for the pardon directly and to discuss how he would “ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president.”

Roger Stone, who received a Christmas week pardon from President Donald Trump, delivered a personal thank you to the president on Sunday at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.

Stone wrote that he counseled the president on how he could “ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president.”

[snip]

Stone said via text that he deleted the words and images after he was notified the golf club has “a policy of prohibiting photos of club members or guests out of respect for their privacy.” He said he didn’t have any additional comment.

A photo posted and then removed from Roger Stone's Parler social media page shows President Donald Trump, left, Kimberly Guilfoyle, an unidentified man and Roger Stone at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Sunday.
A photo posted and then removed from Roger Stone’s Parler social media page shows President Donald Trump, left, Kimberly Guilfoyle, an unidentified man and Roger Stone at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Sunday.

One picture showed four people talking: Trump; Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend; Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of the website and cable channel Newsmax, which is based in Boca Raton; and Stone.

“I thanked President Trump in person tonight for pardoning me,” he wrote. “I also told the president exactly how he can appoint a special counsel with full subpoena power to ensure that those who are attempting to steal the 2020 election through voter fraud are charged and convicted and to ensure that Donald Trump continues as our president #StopTheSteal #rogerstonedidnothingwrong.”

The next day, Stone deleted the pictures of his face-to-face meeting with Trump.

On January 5 and 6, Stone continued to interact closely with the Oath Keepers (and some Proud Boys). The morning of the insurrection, one of the Oath Keepers since charged with sedition, Joshua James, checked in with the operational leader for the Oath Keepers that day every time that someone — almost certainly Stone — moved.

Two days after the insurrection, Kristin Davis tweeted out a picture of Stone signing his pardon paperwork. (h/t gal_suburban)

Stone never hid it: His pardon was directly tied to his efforts to keep Trump in power. Given that Stone’s pardon was not as expansive as Flynn’s, he remains at some legal exposure for prosecution for his later efforts (including his June 2017 efforts to shut down the investigation into Julian Assange), so he had a real incentive to do anything he could to keep Trump in power.

Steve Bannon

Three days after Trump lost the election, Steve Bannon — in planning for an illegal second Trump term — threatened to assassinate Chris Wray and Anthony Fauci. The same day, his very competent lawyer, Bill Burck (the guy who got him through a bunch of serial lies in the Mueller investigation), fired him as a client, even as he was facing fraud charges for cheating Trump’s rubes.

It wasn’t until December 11, well into the plotting for a coup, that Robert Costello — the very same lawyer who dangled a pardon to Michael Cohen over two years earlier — noticed his appearance. Costello’s representation of Bannon also meant that the same lawyer represented both Rudy and Bannon, two of the masterminds in the Willard War Room.

December 11, when Costello formally filed as Bannon’s lawyer, is around the same time, according to Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence, that Paul Gosar’s Chief of Staff tied a pardon for their own involvement in Bannon’s fraud to their efforts to overturn the election results.

In December 2020, as the tour rolled around the country, Stockton and Lawrence say they got a call from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and his chief of staff, Thomas Van Flein. According to Stockton, Van Flein claimed he and the congressman had just met with Trump, who was considering giving them a “blanket pardon” to address the “We Build the Wall” investigation.

“We were just in the Oval Office speaking about pardons and your names came up,” Van Flein allegedly said. Van Flein did not respond to a request for comment.

Gosar suggested the bus tour was helping Stockton and Lawrence build support for a pardon from the caucus and Trump. “Keep up the good work,” Gosar said, according to Stockton. “Everybody’s seen what you’re doing.”

So it was probably assumed that, so long as Bannon kept helping Trump try to steal the election, he would would get a pardon. That was true even though Roger Stone made it clear after his trial that Bannon had testified in the grand jury against him.

But on the last day, among the very last pardons Trump granted, Trump pardoned Bannon not just for the crimes he had already been charged with, but any others that might arise from the Build the Wall project federally.

Rudy Giuliani left dangling

Almost three years after Rudy started helping Trump out of his legal troubles, in part by shamelessly dangling pardons to (at least) Cohen and Paul Manafort, Rudy got nothing. He got no pardon even though he was represented by Robert Costello, who had started the pardon dangles with him. He got no pardon even after working relentlessly — and exposing himself to further criminal exposure — trying to help Trump steal an election. Rudy got nothing, even though it was known that Barr had failed in his efforts to kill the Ukraine influence peddling investigation into Rudy.

While there had been abundant discussion of pardoning people who weren’t yet charged in early 2021, after Trump’s coup attempt, that plan was scotched.

It might not have happened in any case, given the conclusion Jay Sekulow had come to years earlier, the preemptive pardons make witnesses more likely to testify against Trump.

But because of the insurrection, Pat Cipollone got a lot more involved in pardons. And the insurrection made it virtually impossible to pardon the mastermind of the insurrection, Rudy Giuliani, even while making it all the more important to find a way to keep Rudy silent.

Ten days after (we now know) SDNY first obtained a warrant targeting Rudy Giuliani in the investigation used to justify seizing all his phones, Rudy boasted that he had “very, very good insurance.” Rudy certainly believed Trump would protect him.

But he didn’t.

That’s the angle through which Trump’s latest attempt to dangle pardons should be viewed. Rudy may be the most important person Trump needs to silence. But Trump had a chance to pardon Rudy when he had the authority, and he failed to do so.

Update: Added the SCOTUS decision to the list of things that must have Trump worried. h/t Brian Pillion

Key pardons of January 6 participants

February 18. 2020: Bernie Kerik

November 25, 2020: Mike Flynn

December 22, 2020: George Papadopoulos

December 23, 2020: Roger Stone and Paul Manafort

January 19, 2021: Steve Bannon

“I do share information[,] Rudy. You never read your emails, you never read your texts,” Sidney Powell purportedly said, while plotting a coup

In Patrick Byrne’s February 1, 2021 telling of a series of December 18, 2020 meetings that was just retold by the NYT, Sidney Powell — who is currently under grand jury investigation — told Rudy Giuliani — who is currently under grand jury investigation– that she hadn’t been leaving him out of the loop. On the contrary, Powell explained as she tried to convince Rudy and with him the former President to adopt the plan she and Mike Flynn concocted to seize the voting machines, Powell had sent Rudy this information via email and text.

Finally, Trump stopped and scanned the three of us, and asked simply. “So what are you saying?” Thinking of the difference between the highly organized and disciplined approach I had experienced with Flynn and Sidney, versus the college sophomore bull-session approach of the Campaign and Rudy-World, I spoke up again: “Mr. President, I think you should appoint Sidney Powell your Special Counsel on these election matters and make General Flynn your Field Marshall over the whole effort. I know Rudy’s your lawyer and friend, and he can have a great role in this. Rudy should be personally advising you, and we don’t want to do anything to embarrass him. But it needs to be Sidney taking point legally on this. And if you really want to win, make General Flynn here the Field Marshall. If you do I put your chances at around 50-75%. You should see how he well he has this planned, it would run like clockwork…”

The President shook me off, saying, “No no, it’s got to be Rudy.”

[snip]

The three male [White House Counsel] lawyers edged closer to the front, and then as though as some hidden signal, they all started being bitches.

First was some comment about it not being right to use the National Guard. “The optics are terrible, Mr. President,” said one. “It would have to be the DHS.” I liked the National Guard idea because we needed to reestablish trust of the American people in the electoral process, and the US institution with the most trust is the one where people dress in military uniforms. Yet the National Guard is local, they are all around us, our colleagues at work, our “Citizen Soldiers”. But perhaps in a sign of flexibility, Flynn and Sidney allowed as how one could use the DHS instead of the National Guard.

[snip]

I took another shot at it with the President. “Again Sir, I know that Rudy is a friend of yours, he’s wonderful. He’s America’s Mayor. I love Rudy, I don’t want to embarrass him. But you should see how what Mike and Sidney have got going. It is so organized, so well-planned-” Again he cut me off, saying, “No no, it’s got to be Rudy…” On the inside I slumped.

[snip]

Eventually President Trump said that we would all meet in 30 minutes in the living quarters, in the “Yellow Oval” (I believe the room is called). In the meantime, Rudy was coming in and we had to find a way to make things work between Rudy and Sidney. As we parted he said, “You know, in 200 years there probably has not been a meeting in this room like what just happened…”. As he was leaving he brushed past me, stopped, and speaking low and quiet, said something quite kind and meaningful, showing me that he knew a lot more about me than I had guessed.

A few minutes later Sidney, Mike, Alyssa, and I were in the Cabinet Room. waiting for Rudy. It was dark, and we had to find a couple lamps to turn on. Mike and I were intent on making sure the meeting went well between Sidney and Rudy, so everyone could work happily together.

After 10 minutes Rudy came in, tying his tie, and said in not too gruff a manner, but with perhaps the gruffness of a man disturbed from his evening meal, “You know Sidney, if we are going to work together you have to share information.” I did not take his tone as being too aggressive, but one of trying to turn over a new leaf in a relationship, perhaps.

Sidney immediately told him, “I do share information Rudy. You never read your emails, you never read your texts.”

“That’s not true Sidney! I just need you to stop keeping me in the dark-“

“”Rudy I don’t keepo [sic] you in the dark! You-”

“Sidney you have to stop keeping everything to yourself! I cannot work with you if you don’t share with me!”

Within moments the conversation had spiraled out of control. After a minute of squabbling I tried to interject something helpful. “Mr. Mayor, it is true that since I arrived, everything we ever brought Sidney, she always said, ‘Get this to Rudy right away.’ It’s true. Absolutely everything we turned up, she told us to share with you. She never asked us to keep you in the dark about anything.” [my emphasis]

As NYT tells this story, a bunch of subpoenas pertaining to Powell and seizure and privilege review of 16 Rudy devices later, Rudy “vehemently opposed” the idea of having the military seize the voting machines, acceded to asking DHS to do so, but — after all the other witnesses had left the room, according to the story — warned Trump that the plan would get him impeached.

Six weeks after Election Day, with his hold on power slipping, President Donald J. Trump directed his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to make a remarkable call. Mr. Trump wanted him to ask the Department of Homeland Security if it could legally take control of voting machines in key swing states, three people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Giuliani did so, calling the department’s acting deputy secretary, who said he lacked the authority to audit or impound the machines.

Mr. Trump pressed Mr. Giuliani to make that inquiry after rejecting a separate effort by his outside advisers to have the Pentagon take control of the machines. And the outreach to the Department of Homeland Security came not long after Mr. Trump, in an Oval Office meeting with Attorney General William P. Barr, raised the possibility of whether the Justice Department could seize the machines, a previously undisclosed suggestion that Mr. Barr immediately shot down.

[snip]

Mr. Giuliani was vehemently opposed to the idea of the military taking part in the seizure of machines, according to two people familiar with the matter. The conflict between him and his legal team, and Mr. Flynn, Ms. Powell and Mr. Byrne came to a dramatic head on Dec. 18, 2020, during a meeting with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office.

At the meeting, Mr. Flynn and Ms. Powell presented Mr. Trump with a copy of the draft executive order authorizing the military to oversee the seizure of machines. After reading it, Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Giuliani to the Oval Office, according to one person familiar with the matter. When Mr. Giuliani read the draft order, he told Mr. Trump that the military could be used only if there was clear-cut evidence of foreign interference in the election.

Ms. Powell, who had spent the past month filing lawsuits claiming that China and other countries had hacked into voting machines, said she had such evidence, the person said. But Mr. Giuliani was adamant that the military should not be mobilized, the person said, and Mr. Trump ultimately heeded his advice.

Shortly after the Oval Office meeting, Mr. Waldron amended the draft executive order, suggesting that if the Defense Department could not oversee the seizure of machines then the Department of Homeland Security could, the person said.

Around that time, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Giuliani to call Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, to ask about the viability of the proposal, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. Cuccinelli said that homeland security officials could not take part in the plan.

[snip]

Even Mr. Giuliani, who had spent weeks peddling some of the most outrageous claims about election fraud, felt that the idea of bringing in the military was beyond the pale.

After Mr. Flynn and Ms. Powell left the Oval Office, according to a person familiar with the matter, Mr. Giuliani predicted that the plans they were proposing were going to get Mr. Trump impeached. [my emphasis]

The CNN version of this story (which, like Maggie Haberman, first started reporting this story out in December 2020, even before January 6, and long before the overt seizures of materials from two of the lawyers involved) chose not to grant Robert Costello anonymity for a quote about Rudy being “vehemently” opposed to the plan to use the military to seize the voting machines.

Reached earlier this month, Cuccinelli said his discussion with Giuliani “never developed to the point of talking about an executive order including such action that I recall.”

When asked about the executive order involving the military, Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, said his client also shut that idea down when he became aware of it.

“As soon as he heard about this idea, he was vehemently against it, as was White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and then-President Trump,” Costello said.

But Giuliani and his team did continue to pursue other avenues for overturning the election based on the same conspiracies about election fraud cited in the draft executive order to justify the seizure of voting machines.

Trump also continued to entertain some of the same core elements of those executive orders, including the idea of installing a special counsel to investigate election fraud.

Nearly two weeks after White House aides pushed back on the suggestion of naming Powell to such a role, Trump raised the idea again during another Oval Office meeting, but this time floated Cuccinelli as a possible candidate, according to testimony provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee by former senior Justice Department officials who were present.

Meanwhile, Flynn remained adamant that election equipment was going to be seized and personally reached out to at least one senior defense official in mid-December attempting to enlist their help with his cause, according to a source familiar with the outreach. [my emphasis]

There’s really not all that much new in the story as laid out here, except that a bunch of people who know their communications are in the FBI’s hands (and, in the case of Costello, who has spent the last nine months reviewing the content of those communications, including those Byrne describes Powell claiming to have sent Rudy) providing updated versions of the least-damning story they can tell here.

Just one more key part of the story that has changed.

As CNN described it in the 2020 version of the story (but NYT did not), Mark Meadows was also involved.

White House aides who participated in the meeting, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and counsel Pat Cipollone, also pushed back intensely on the suggestion of naming Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations Trump’s own administration has dismissed (or, as seems more feasible, hiring her in the administration for some kind of investigatory role).

Meadows shows up in yesterday’s NYT story only as not being the one who let Powell and Flynn and Byrne in the White House.

When Mr. Flynn, Ms. Powell and Mr. Byrne arrived at the White House to discuss their plan to use the military to seize voting machines, they were not let into the Oval Office by a typical gatekeeper, like Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff. Rather, they were escorted in by Garrett Ziegler, a young aide to another Trump adviser, Peter Navarro, according to Mr. Ziegler’s account.

“I waved in General Flynn and Sidney Powell on the Friday night of the 18th — for which Mark Meadows’s office revoked my guest privileges,” Mr. Ziegler said on a podcast, adding that he had done so because he was “frustrated with the current counsel” Mr. Trump was getting.

That guy — the former Chief of Staff who also was getting and sending a bunch of texts on his phone — that guy has also spent some time recently reviewing his communications. Not only did he review — and withhold — a bunch of communications before sharing some with the Select Committee, but once the Select Committee figured out that Meadows had violated the Presidential Records Act by failing to turn over those communications he conducted on his personal — but his emails! — devices, Meadows has been spending time trying to find such communications so he can share them with the National Archives to uncommit some crimes.

NARA, of course, has been ordered by a court to share such communications, even the ones that Trump might otherwise have invoked Executive Privilege over, with the Committee.

We’re going to get a lot of revised least-damning versions of these stories as more and more people review the communications that will be handed over to investigative bodies.

It’s worth comparing, then, the versions we’re getting now with those people were telling when they thought none of the emails and texts Sidney Powell sent would come out.

Update: Harpie is right. The Jonathan Swan version of this exchange, published exactly a year ago, is worth reading as well.