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Bill Barr’s Screed Is About Mike Flynn, Nora Dannehy, and Robert Mueller

Bill Barr delivered a remarkable screed last night at the radical right Hillsdale College. Numerous people have and will unpack both the glaring contradictions and the dangerous assertions in it.

But I want to point out that it is quite obviously about Barr’s attempts to overturn the prosecutions of Trump’s flunkies for covering up their efforts to help Russia interfere in the election.

A big part of it is targeted towards independent counsels (though, tellingly, Barr assails the independent counsel statute that used to be, not the one that left Robert Mueller closely supervised by Rod Rosenstein).

As Justice Scalia observed in perhaps his most admired judicial opinion, his dissent in Morrison v. Olson: “Almost all investigative and prosecutorial decisions—including the ultimate decision whether, after a technical violation of the law has been found, prosecution is warranted—involve the balancing of innumerable legal and practical considerations.”

And those considerations do need to be balanced in each and every case.  As Justice Scalia also pointed out, it is nice to say “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum. Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.”  But it does not comport with reality.  It would do far more harm than good to abandon all perspective and proportion in an attempt to ensure that every technical violation of criminal law by every person is tracked down, investigated, and prosecuted to the Nth degree.

[snip]

This was of course the central problem with the independent-counsel statute that Justice Scalia criticized in Morrison v. Olson.  Indeed, creating an unaccountable headhunter was not some unfortunate byproduct of that statute; it was the stated purpose of that statute.  That was what Justice Scalia meant by his famous line, “this wolf comes as a wolf.”  As he went on to explain:  “How frightening it must be to have your own independent counsel and staff appointed, with nothing else to do but to investigate you until investigation is no longer worthwhile—with whether it is worthwhile not depending upon what such judgments usually hinge on, competing responsibilities.  And to have that counsel and staff decide, with no basis for comparison, whether what you have done is bad enough, willful enough, and provable enough, to warrant an indictment.  How admirable the constitutional system that provides the means to avoid such a distortion.  And how unfortunate the judicial decision that has permitted it.”

Justice Jackson understood this too.  As he explained in his speech:  “If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted.”  Any erosion in prosecutorial detachment is extraordinarily perilous.  For, “it is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.”

And part of it is a restatement of the arguments Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall made before the DC Circuit, arguing that even bribery was not reason for a judge to override DOJ’s decisions on prosecutions.

I want to focus today on the power that the Constitution allocates to the Executive, particularly in the area of criminal justice.  The Supreme Court has correctly held that, under Article II of the Constitution, the Executive has virtually unchecked discretion to decide whether to prosecute individuals for suspected federal crimes.  The only significant limitation on that discretion comes from other provisions of the Constitution.  Thus, for example, a United States Attorney could not decide to prosecute only people of a particular race or religion.  But aside from that limitation — which thankfully has remained a true hypothetical at the Department of Justice — the Executive has broad discretion to decide whether to bring criminal prosecutions in particular cases.

And the rest suggests that career prosecutors have been putting targets on the heads of politically prominent people and pursuing them relentlessly.

Once the criminal process starts rolling, it is very difficult to slow it down or knock it off course.  And that means federal prosecutors possess tremendous power — power that is necessary to enforce our laws and punish wrongdoing, but power that, like any power, carries inherent potential for abuse or misuse.

[snip]

Line prosecutors, by contrast, are generally part of the permanent bureaucracy.  They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions.  Nor can the public and its representatives hold civil servants accountable in the same way as appointed officials.  Indeed, the public’s only tool to hold the government accountable is an election — and the bureaucracy is neither elected nor easily replaced by those who are.

[snip]

We want our prosecutors to be aggressive and tenacious in their pursuit of justice, but we also want to ensure that justice is ultimately administered dispassionately.

We are all human.  Like any person, a prosecutor can become overly invested in a particular goal.  Prosecutors who devote months or years of their lives to investigating a particular target may become deeply invested in their case and assured of the rightness of their cause.

When a prosecution becomes “your prosecution”—particularly if the investigation is highly public, or has been acrimonious, or if you are confident early on that the target committed serious crimes—there is always a temptation to will a prosecution into existence even when the facts, the law, or the fair-handed administration of justice do not support bringing charges.

[snip]

That is yet another reason that having layers of supervision is so important.  Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target.  Subjecting their decisions to review by detached supervisors ensures the involvement of dispassionate decision-makers in the process.

And it excuses, in one sentence, calling for probation even after a just prosecution.

Other times it will mean aggressively prosecuting a person through trial and then recommending a lenient sentence, perhaps even one with no incarceration.

Of course, none of this makes sense, and Barr’s own behavior — from removing Senate confirmed US Attorneys to put in people accountable only to him, from seeking prosecution of Democratic officials, and from launching the Durham investigation because he was just certain there was criminal wrong-doing in the Russian investigation — belies his words.

Perhaps it does so in the most basic way. If we hold our Attorney General politically accountable through elections, then we need to make sure elections are fair. We definitely need to make sure that elections are not influenced by hostile foreign powers cooperating with one candidate. The 2016 election wasn’t fair, and Bill Barr is doing his damndest to make sure the voters won’t be able to use the 2020 election to hold him politically accountable for interfering with the punishment of those who worked to cheat.

Because of Barr’s corrupt view on cheating at elections, he ensures that Vladimir Putin has more say over who gets prosecuted than experienced American prosecutors.

The US Government Formed a New Understanding of WikiLeaks after 2016

Julian Assange’s substantive extradition hearing starts today. (I’m collating a list of journalists covering it from the live feed.)

I view the proceeding with great ambivalence.

I definitely agree that some of the charges against him — there are two theories of publishing charges: conspiring by asking for specific files, including entire databases, and publishing the identities of informants — pose a threat to the press. That said, the Trump Administration has used one of the same theories it is using against Assange to threaten journalists even in the last week (and was, before his superseding indictment) with virtually no cries of alarm from those defending Assange. In addition, charging him for exposing the identities of US and Coalition sources is a well-established crime in the UK, the Official Secrets Act, and (because Coalition sources were included among those WikiLeaks is accused of exposing) could be charged if the extradition against him fails.

The CFAA charge against Assange — particularly as expanded in the latest superseding indictment — does not pose any unique threat to journalism. Indeed, Assange’s alleged co-conspirators in the bolstered CFAA charge were already prosecuted, on both sides of the Atlantic, so there’s no question that the underlying hacking is a viable charge. WikiLeaks supporters have pointed to the unreliability of Siggi and Sabu to question those charges. They’ve focused less on the immunity granted David House for his testimony, though at trial Assange’s lawyers would focus on that, too. They might argue, too, that the US government has spun this particular conspiracy well outside the bounds where participants had made common agreement (if they kept spinning, after all, FireDogLake might get swept up for Jane Hamsher’s ties to House and defense of Manning back in the day).  But those are complaints about the strength of the government case, not the appropriateness of extradition. I suspect the government case is far stronger than shown in the indictment, which currently relies only on publicly available evidence.

Assange’s defense will call a number of experts (Kevin Gosztola discusses them here), many though not all of whom will present important, valid points. They’ll raise important issues about the free speech implications of this case, the dangers of the Espionage Act, America’s atrocious standards of incarceration, and the EDVA venue; the latter three of these, however, are in no way unique to Assange (and venue for him in EDVA is uncontroversial, unlike it has been for others charged in a district where a jury is virtually guaranteed to include people tied to the national security world). They’ll raise evidentiary complaints to which the lawyer representing the US government will present counterarguments. They’ll talk a lot about the Collateral Murder video, which was not charged.

WikiLeaks’ supporters will also exploit the US government’s Mike Pompeo problem, in this case by misrepresenting a comment he bombastically made about the First Amendment when declaring WikiLeaks a non-state hostile actor in the wake of the Vault 7 release.

No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.

[snip]

Third, we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.

[snip]

DIRECTOR POMPEO: Yeah, First Amendment freedoms. What I was speaking to there was, as – was a little less constitutional law and a lot more of a philosophical understanding. Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an embassy in London. He’s not a U.S. citizen. So I wasn’t speaking to our Constitution.

What I was speaking to is an understanding that these are not reporters don’t good work to try to keep you – the American government honest. These are people who are actively recruiting agents to steal American secrets with the sole intent of destroying the American way of life. That is fundamentally different than a First Amendment activity, as I understand them, and I think as most Americans understand them. So that’s what I was really getting to.

We’ve had administrations before that have been squeamish about going after these folks under some concept of this right-to-publish. No one has the right to actively engage in the threat of secrets from America with the intent to do harm to it.

This is not the first time the Trump Administration has had a Mike Pompeo problem when prosecuting WikiLeaks-related crimes, nor should it be the last. I believe Joshua Schulte’s attempts to call Pompeo forced the government to back off its claim that Schulte’s decision to leak to WikiLeaks — allegedly in April 2016 and so months before the future CIA Director was still celebrating WikiLeaks leaks of DNC files — was by itself proof of his intent to damage the US. That’s particularly true as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo torches the infrastructure of Human Rights in the world. While I, in no way, believe the Assange prosecution arises from any personal animus Pompeo has for Assange, Pompeo’s role in it and his clear retaliation against the ICC last week will be easy to use to delegitimize the Assange prosecution.

So WikiLeaks will have a lot of good points to present in the next several weeks.

But they’re also expected to tell a number of cynical lies, including with respect to pardon dangles in the US, lies that will detract from the otherwise very important principles they will raise.

I believe the prosecution of Julian Assange as charged poses a number of dangers to journalism.

But I also believe the government has evidence — some of which it may not want to share during extradition and some of which it may not ever share — that Assange is precisely what they say he is, someone with an entire intelligence infrastructure uniquely targeting the US. Of particular note (as I said regarding one of the new allegations in the CFAA charge), I know of multiple allegations, of mixed but in some cases impeccable credibility, that WikiLeaks has used its infrastructure to spy on protected entities — journalists, lawyers, former associates — going back years, long before UC Global allegedly ratcheted up the spying on Assange. The NYT doesn’t spy on its competitors to find out how they might undermine its unique role, and WikiLeaks itself says such spying on Assange is improper, so there’s no basis to claim that when WikiLeaks does it, it’s all good.

Still, even if Assange is the head of a non-state hostile intelligence agency, does that merit prosecution? While the US has sanctioned the heads of hostile state intelligence agencies, with a few notable exceptions, they don’t extend their jurisdiction overseas to prosecute them.

In addition, the allegations of involvement in Russia in all this are well-founded. The folks involved in the LulzSec chatrooms now incorporated into Assange’s CFAA charge acknowledge there were Russians there as well, though explain that the whole thing was so chaotic no one thought that much about it. Only those who aggressively ignore the public case afford WikiLeaks any deniability that it did Russia’s work in publishing the stolen Democratic files in 2016. The Joshua Schulte trial presented evidence he wanted to work with Russia too; while the evidence presented (almost incidentally, a point I hope to return to one day) at trial is quite ambiguous, I first learned about his willingness to work with Russia months before any such allegation made it into a court filing. In addition, I know of one much earlier instance where someone in WikiLeaks’ infrastructure had similar such interests. And that’s before all the allegations that WikiLeaks diverted files damaging to Russia over years.

All of those are my views about the ambivalence of this extradition proceeding, whatever those are worth as someone who has followed WikiLeaks closely from the beginning.

But there’s another point that has gotten virtually no attention, particularly not from WikiLeaks supporters who often make false claims about the investigation into WikiLeaks that conflict with this point. The government’s understanding of WikiLeaks changed after 2016, and so changed after the Obama Administration decided that prosecuting WikiLeaks posed “a New York Times problem.” The multi-volume Senate Intelligence Report talks about this repeatedly, though virtually all instances (such as this passage from Volume III) remain heavily redacted.

A different passage from the same volume, however, explicitly calls WikiLeaks a “coopted third party.”

Despite Moscow’s hist01y of leaking politically damaging information, and the increasingly significant publication of illicitly obtained information by coopted third parties, such as WikiLeaks, which historically had published information harmful to the United States. previous use of weaponized information alone was not sufficient for the administration to take immediate action on the DNC breach. The administration was not fully engaged until some key intelligence insights were provided by the IC, which shifted how the administration viewed the issue.

And, to the very limited extent you can trust the view of a prosecutor trying to coerce testimony from Jeremy Hammond, the people who will prosecute Assange if he’s extradited claim he’s a Russian spy.

This has important implications for the case against Assange, implications that his supporters make aggressive efforts to obscure. First, the surveillance of Assange almost certainly ratcheted up because of actions Assange took in 2016 and 2017, actions that aren’t protected by journalism. As a foreigner who negotiated the receipt of documents with a presumed Russian mouthpiece, Guccifer 2.0 — in what was surely theater played out on Twitter DMs — Assange and WikiLeaks made themselves targetable as foreign intelligence targets in an attempt to learn about the Russian attack on the US. Assange’s multiple efforts to offer Trump’s campaign a unique benefit — picked up in investigative collections targeting others — made Assange a criminal target in a foreign donation investigation, one Mueller declined to prosecute for First Amendment reasons (50 USC 30121 is cited in the single Mueller warrant admitted to be targeting WikiLeaks that has been publicly released). And because of some overt ongoing communications with Joshua Schulte over the course of the former CIA programmer’s prosecution, WikiLeaks’ communications would be collected incidentally off of collection targeting him as the primary suspect in the leak.

Thus, even before Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a non-state hostile actor, Assange had done things that made him targetable in a way that he hadn’t previously been. And burning down the CIA’s hacking capability behind thin claims of public interest and then continuing to communicate with the presumed source surely didn’t help matters.

And, according to multiple public, official government documents, that changed the US government’s understanding of what WikiLeaks is. Public documents make it clear that witnesses (including but not limited to David House) provided new testimony as the government came to this new understanding, even beyond the government’s ill-fated attempt to coerce more testimony out of Chelsea Manning and Hammond. I know of at least two non-public investigative steps the government took as well. On August 20, 2018 — two days before a prosecutor wrote a gag request in EDVA that mistakenly mentioned the sophistication of Assange and the publicity surrounding his case and eight months after Assange was first charged — a Mueller warrant targeting a Guccifer 2.0 email account described an ongoing investigation into whether WikiLeaks and others were conspiring and/or a Foreign Agent, which suggests a similar amount of activity targeting Assange directly in EDVA. The government conducted a great deal of investigation into Assange — predicated off of either activities that have nothing to do with journalism and/or the fact that there was one obvious source for what might be WikiLeaks most damaging publication — that has happened in recent years.

WikiLeaks supporters will cite something that former DOJ Director of Public Affairs, Matthew Miller, said  about how hard it is to distinguish what WikiLeaks does from what the New York Times does.

The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists.

But Miller made that comment in 2013, before Assange did things that gave the US government reason, entirely independent of things journalists do, to investigate him and WikiLeaks more aggressively. And even in an Administration that might not be in power were it not for Assange’s actions, even after Trump and his associates considered rewarding Assange with a pardon for his help, that has led to a dramatically different understanding of what WikiLeaks is.

That belief — and the government’s still mostly secret evidence for it — does nothing to mitigate the risks of some of the charges against Assange, as currently charged. But it is a fact that should be considered in the debate.

Update: Fixed date of a Mueller warrant I discussed.

Update: Bridges will be posting all the arguments and statements. Thus far they include:

The Slow Firing of Robert Mueller[‘s Replacement]

On December 5, I suggested that Speaker Pelosi delay the full House vote on impeachment until early February. I intimated there were public reasons — the possibility of a ruling on the Don McGahn subpoena and superseding charges for Lev Parnas — I thought so and private ones. One of the ones I did not share was the Stone sentencing, which at that point was scheduled for February 6. Had Pelosi listened to me (!!!) and had events proceeded as scheduled, Stone would have been sentenced before the final vote on Trump’s impeachment.

But things didn’t work out that way. Not only didn’t Pelosi heed my suggestion (unsurprisingly), but two things happened in the interim.

First, Stone invented a bullshit reason for delay on December 19, the day after the full House voted on impeachment. The prosecutors who all resigned from the case yesterday objected to the delay, to no avail, which is how sentencing got scheduled for February 20 rather than the day after the Senate voted to acquit.

Then, on January 6, Trump nominated Jessie Liu, then the US Attorney for DC, to be Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, basically the person who oversees the process of tracking criminal flows of finance. She won’t get that position — her nomination was pulled yesterday in advance of a Thursday confirmation hearing. But her nomination gave Barr the excuse to install a trusted aide, Timothy Shea, at US Attorney for DC last Thursday, the day after the impeachment vote and in advance of the now-delayed Stone sentencing.

Liu, who is very conservative and a true Trump supporter, had been nominated for a more obvious promotion before. On March 5, Trump nominated her to be Associate Attorney General, the number 3 ranking person at DOJ. But then she pulled her nomination on March 28 because Senators objected to her views on choice.

But let’s go back, to late August 2018. Michael Cohen and Sam Patten had just pled guilty, and Cohen was trying to find a way to sort of cooperate. Rudy Giuliani was talking about how Robert Mueller would need to shut down his investigation starting on September 1, because of the election. I wrote a post noting that, while Randy Credico’s imminent grand jury appearance suggested Mueller might be close to finishing an indictment of Stone, they still had to wait for Andrew Miller’s testimony.

Even as a I wrote it, Jay Sekulow was reaching out to Jerome Corsi to include him in the Joint Defense Agreement.

During the entire election season, both Paul Manafort and Jerome Corsi were stalling, lying to prosecutors while reporting back to Trump what they were doing.

Then, the day after the election, Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matt Whitaker. Whitaker, not Rosenstein, became the nominal supervisor of the Mueller investigation. Not long after, both Manafort and Corsi made their game clear. They hadn’t been cooperating, they had been stalling to get past the time when Trump could start the process of ending the Mueller investigation.

But Whitaker only reactively kept Mueller in check. After Michael Cohen’s December sentencing made it clear that Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to cheat to win, Whitaker started policing any statement that implicated Trump. By the time Roger Stone was indicted on January 24, 2019 — after Trump’s plan to replace Whitaker with the expert in cover ups, Bill Barr — Mueller no longer noted when Trump was personally involved, as he was in Stone’s efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases.

But then, when Barr came in, everything started to shut down. Mueller moved ongoing prosecutions to other offices, largely to DC, under Jessie Liu’s supervision. As Barr came to understand where the investigation might head, he tried to promote Liu out of that position, only to have GOP ideology prevent it.

Barr successfully dampened the impeach of the Mueller Report, pretending that it didn’t provide clear basis for impeaching the President. It was immediately clear, when he did that, that Barr was spinning the Stone charges to minimize the damage on Trump. But Barr did not remove Mueller right away, and the Special Counsel remained up until literally the moment when he secured Andrew Miller’s testimony on May 29.

The next day, I noted the import of raising the stakes for Trump on any Roger Stone pardon, because Stone implicated him personally. That was more important, I argued, than impeaching Trump for past actions to try to fire Mueller, which Democrats were focused on with their attempt to obtain Don McGahn’s testimony.

Still, those ongoing investigations continued under Jessie Liu, and Stone inched along towards trial, even as Trump leveraged taxpayer dollars to try to establish an excuse to pardon Manafort (and, possibly, to pay off the debts Manafort incurred during the 2016 election). As Stone’s trial laid out evidence that the President was personally involved in optimizing the release of emails Russia had stolen from Trump’s opponent, attention was instead focused on impeachment, his more recent effort to cheat.

In Stone’s trial, he invented a new lie: both Randy Credico and Jerome Corsi had falsely led him to believe they had a tie to WikiLeaks. That didn’t help Stone avoid conviction: Stone was found guilty on all counts. But it gave Stone yet another cover story to avoid revealing what his ties to WikiLeaks actually were and what he did — probably with Trump’s assent — to get it. For some reason, prosecutors decided not to reveal what they were otherwise prepared to: what Stone had really done.

Immediately after his conviction, Stone spent the weekend lobbying for a pardon. His wife appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show and someone got inside White House gates to make the case.

But, as impeachment proceeded, nothing happened, as the Probation Office started collecting information to argue that Stone should go to prison for a long while. The day Democrats finished their case against Donald Trump, though, Bill Barr made his move, replacing Liu before she was confirmed, removing a very conservative Senate confirmed US Attorney to install his flunkie, Timothy Shea. But even that wasn’t enough. Prosecutors successfully convinced Shea that they should stick to the probation office guidelines recommending a stiff sentence. When Timothy Shea didn’t do what Barr expected him to, Barr intervened and very publicly ordered up the cover up he had promised.

Effectively, Bill Barr is micro-managing the DC US Attorney’s office now, overseeing the sentencing of the man who could explain just how involved Trump was in the effort to maximize the advantage Trump got from Russia’s interference in 2016, as well as all the other prosecutions that we don’t know about.

Trump has, finally, succeeded in firing the person who oversaw the investigations into his role in the Russian operation in 2016. Just as Stone was about to have reason to explain what that role was.

Timeline

August 21, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty

August 31, 2018: Sam Patten pleads guilty

September 5, 2018: Jay Sekulow reaches out to Corsi lawyer to enter into Joint Defense Agreement

September 6, 2018: In first Mueller interview, Corsi lies

September 17, 2018: In second interview, Corsi invents story about how he learned of Podesta emails

September 21, 2018: In third interview, Corsi confesses to establishing a cover story about Podesta’s emails with Roger Stone starting on August 30, 2016; NYT publishes irresponsible story that almost leads to Rod Rosenstein’s firing

October 25, 2018: Rick Gates interviewed about the campaign knowledge of Podesta emails

October 26, 2018: Steve Bannon admits he spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks

October 31, 2018: Prosecutors probably show Corsi evidence proving he lied about source of knowledge on Podesta emails

November 1 and 2, 2018: Corsi continues to spew bullshit in interviews

November 6, 2018: Election day

November 7, 2018: Jeff Sessions is fired; Matt Whitaker named Acting Attorney General

November 9, 2018: Corsi appears before grand jury but gives a false story about how he learned of Podesta emails; Mueller threatens to charge him with perjury

November 15, 2018: Trump tweets bullshit about Corsi’s testimony being coerced

November 23, 2018: Corsi tells the world he is in plea negotiations

November 26, 2018: Corsi rejects plea

December 7, 2018: Trump nominates Bill Barr Attorney General

January 18, 2019: Steve Bannon testifies to the grand jury (and for the first time enters into a proffer)

January 24, 2019: Roger Stone indicted for covering up what really happened with WikiLeaks

February 14, 2019: Bill Barr confirmed as Attorney General

March 5, 2019: Jessie Liu nominated to AAG; Bill Barr briefed on Mueller investigation

March 22, 2019: Mueller announces the end of his investigation

March 24, 2019: Bill Barr releases totally misleading version of Mueller results, downplaying Stone role

March 28, 2019: Liu pulls her nomination from AAG

April 19, 2019: Mueller Report released with Stone details redacted

May 29, 2019: As Mueller gives final press conference, Andrew Miller testifies before grand jury

November 12, 2019: Prosecutors apparently change Stone trial strategy, withhold details of Stone’s actual back channel

November 15, 2019: Roger Stone convicted on all counts

January 6, 2020: Jessie Liu nominated to Treasury

January 16, 2020: Probation Office issues Presentence Report calling for 7-9 years

January 30, 2020: Bill Barr replaces Liu with Timothy Barr, effective February 3; DOJ submits objection to Presentence Report

February 3, 2020: Timothy Shea becomes acting US Attorney

February 5, 2020 : Senate votes to acquit Trump

February 6, 2020: Initial sentencing date for Roger Stone

February 10, 2020: Stone sentencing memoranda submitted

February 11, 2020: DOJ overrules DC on Stone sentencing memorandum, all four prosecutors resign from case

February 20, 2020: Current sentencing date for Roger Stone

The Bigger Threat for Flynn than Six Months in Prison: the Counterintelligence Language

As I laid out in this post on the government sentencing memo for Mike Flynn, they basically gave Judge Emmet Sullivan all the justification he’d need to throw the book at Mike Flynn, certainly a few months in prison and maybe more.

But that may not be the most worrisome stuff in this memo, particularly given Robert Mueller’s statement, in July, that the FBI continued to investigate aspects of Flynn’s false statements about Russia.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

The Flynn sentencing memo, for lying about whether he had discussed sanctions with Russia, speaks over and over again about the questions I laid out here: why Flynn lied and whether he did it on Trump’s orders, questions rather conspicuously not answered in the Mueller Report.

On top of repeatedly referring to the “FBI counterintelligence” investigation, for example, for the first time I remember, the government discusses the scope of the inquiry to include whether any Trump associates took actions that would benefit Russia (the Mueller Report did say that it did not establish “coordination” trading Russian assistance during the election for favorable treatment in the future, though there were temporal limits on the scope of that part of the investigation, not including the transition).

The inquiry included examining relationships between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government, as well as identifying actions of such individuals that would have benefited the Russian government.

Much later, the memo describes undermining sanctions — what Flynn did, then lied about — as possible evidence of that kind of benefit to Russia.

The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

The sentencing memo even raises the import of who directed that Flynn ask Russian to hold off on retaliating on sanctions — again, something very pointedly not answered in the Mueller Report, but the answer to which might either be “because Trump ordered him to” or “because then counterintelligence suspect Mike Flynn was acting as an Agent of Russia.”

Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

After raising the import of benefits to Russia like undermining sanctions, the sentencing memo also focuses on why Flynn lied, something else that has not been fully explained.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

The sentencing memo describes how the Intelligence Community Assessment raised the stakes on Russia’s actions in the immediate wake of his sanctions call with Sergey Kislyak and how Flynn started lying shortly thereafter and just kept on lying. But that doesn’t explain why he lied in the first place — or why he and KT McFarland created a false paper trail immediately after Kislyak informed Flynn they would not respond.

In one of the memo’s most scathing passages, however, it ties Flynn’s lies — about both Turkey and Russia — to monetizing his influence and power.

The defendant’s conduct was more than just a series of lies; it was an abuse of trust. During the defendant’s pattern of criminal conduct, he was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General. He held a security clearance with access to the government’s most sensitive information. The only reason the Russian Ambassador contacted the defendant about the sanctions is because the defendant was the incoming National Security Advisor, and thus would soon wield influence and control over the United States’ foreign policy. That is the same reason the defendant’s fledgling company was paid over $500,000 to work on issues for Turkey. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it. [my emphasis]

This may just be shorthand or an attempt to spin both Flynn’s charged lies in most damning light (though this filing has been reviewed with such attention that the government had to get two extensions for the necessary review). But the passage suggests he was engaged in sleazy influence peddling both when he secretly acted as an agent of Turkey while serving as Trump’s top national security campaign advisor, and when he took a call during the Transition and worked to undermine President Obama’s sanctions on Russia. The first is obviously influence peddling, and its import for national security is also fairly clear.

It’s also obvious how the second — Flynn’s attempts to undermine sanctions — compromised national security. The effort basically attempted to eliminate any punishment for Russia’s attempt to pick our President.

What’s not clear, however, is whether (and if so, why) the government includes his calls to Sergey Kislyak in a passage describing him “monetizing his power and influence.”

And Flynn should have known better, the memo implies. Among the reasons why Flynn’s extensive government service is so important, the government explains, is that he should have known the counterintelligence danger from Russia.

The defendant’s extensive military record, as described in his prior sentencing submission, presents a clear factor in mitigation. See Def. Sent’g Mem. at 7-12. However, that extensive record and government service, at the highest levels of the national security apparatus, and his “many years” of working with the FBI, should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false statements to the government. See id. at 13. That work also exposed him to the threat posed by foreign governments, in particular Russia, seeking to covertly influence our government and democracy.

The sentencing memo gives Emmet Sullivan lots of reason to want to punish Flynn more aggressively than any of the other liars busted by Mueller. In does so, in part, by laying out the stakes of his sleazy influence peddling, describing how it made the country less safe.

And then, the memo notes the Russian government continues its attempts to interfere in “our democratic process,” something that is broader than elections.

The sentence should also to deter others from lying to the government. The FBI protects our homeland from terrorism, espionage, cyber-based attacks, and all other manner of threats. Lying to the FBI, in any context, cannot be tolerated. That is particularly true in a counterintelligence investigation targeting efforts by a foreign government to interfere in our democratic process—a threat that continues to this day.

The sentencing memo argues that Flynn’s lies made it harder for the FBI to protect the country from Russia’s efforts to undermine our democracy and speaks obliquely in terms of benefit and monetization. These oblique references to the counterintelligence investigation ought to be of far more concern to Flynn than the prospect of six months in prison.

In Days before Robert Mueller Got Hired, DOJ Immediately Forwarded Bill Barr’s Op-Ed Approving of Comey’s Firing to Rod Rosenstein

Judicial Watch released another set of files, from the days leading up to his appointment of Robert Mueller, that they think are incriminating for stupid reasons that aren’t.

There’s two emails that might, actually, be damning. The very conservative former Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip emailed Rod Rosenstein asking him to call. Rosenstein answered, first, by saying that “Mukasey” was going to call, and imploring Filip to listen to him. That’s scandalous in any case, because the son of Michael Mukasey (who was Filip’s onetime boss) was representing affiliated players here. Then Rosenstein wrote back and seemed to tell Filip he was hiring Mueller. Was Filip the other candidate Rosenstein considered?

The more interesting detail is how DOJ treated Bill Barr’s May 12, 2017 op-ed applauding Trump’s decision to fire Jim Comey. In it Barr condemned how Comey handled the Hillary investigation, then said that his firing wouldn’t affect the Russian investigation (but not addressing Trump’s comments about that being the purpose of firing Comey).

Jeff Sessions’ spox, who received it from the “RNC War Room,” sent it to Rosenstein’s office the morning after the op-ed was posted, during the weekend he was contemplating hiring Mueller.

But even before that, DAG employee (and current EDVA US Attorney) George Terwilliger forwarded it (though not the RNC War Room version) as well, telling Rosenstein it was the most important thing for him to read that weekend.

At the very least, the close attention the op-ed (which largely parroted the ginned up reasons Rosenstein gave for firing Comey) received are intriguing, as is the choice from the RNC War Room to send it out.

But it’s also a hell of a way for Rosenstein to meet his future boss.

HEARING THREAD: Special Counsel Robert Mueller

[Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before two different House committees today. This post is dedicated to these hearings. Please take any other topics to the open thread.

Hearing schedule:

8:30 a.m. ET – House Judiciary Committee (HJC) Hearing

Link to C-SPAN streaming

12:00 p.m. ET – House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Hearing

Link to C-SPAN streaming

Who to follow:

https://twitter.com/emptywheel (of course)

https://twitter.com/bmaz (naturally)

https://twitter.com/BarbMcQuade – will be on MSNBC to cover at least one of these hearings

https://twitter.com/ZoeTillman – BuzzFeedNews

https://twitter.com/NatashaBertrand – Politico

https://twitter.com/BBuchman_CNS – CourthouseNews

https://twitter.com/jentaub – (late adder – she’s live tweeting a numbered thread)

Apart from our team, here’s a list containing these and other folks who cover Trump-Russia at https://twitter.com/raynetoday/lists/trump-russia.

According to late Tuesday evening reports, Aaron Zebley, former deputy to Mueller, will be sworn in and appear alongside Mueller during at least one of the House committee hearings. (I see differing reports that Zebley will appear before the Judiciary, Intelligence, or both committees.)

The right-wing/Trump supporters are completely freaking out about Zebley’s appearance, blabbering he “was an attorney for Justin Cooper, the IT staffer who set up #HillaryClinton’s private email server & the aide who destroyed Clinton’s old Blackberry phones with a hammer.” (source on Twitter)

The likely loudest GOP voices on the House Judiciary Committee: Doug Collins (ranking minority member, GA-9); Louis Gohmert (TX-1); Jim Jordan (OH-4); Matt Gaetz (FL-1). If past HJC hearings are predictive, expect lots of hot-headed pontificating and few rational questions. Hard to say who will be the worst of the lot but Gaetz has the foolhardiness of youth and past approval from Trump to goad him on. Jordan will focus on “insufficient evidence” to sow fear,  uncertainty and doubt about the Special Counsel’s report and the investigation.

As for the HPSCI, the GOP’s most problematic participant will be Devin Nunes (CA-22) who is the ranking minority member. He’s been meeting with Trump this week about a replacement for Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats (who Trump wants to jettison for being too determined to protect the country). At least the explanation offered is Coats’ replacement; it’s possible that Nunes has been meeting with Trump about Mueller’s appearance before the HPSCI.

Content here may be subject to updates.

Again, this post is dedicated to these hearings. Please take any other topics to the open thread.

Livestream Tonight: The Investigation — Mueller Report in 10 Acts [UPDATE]

[NB: As always, check the byline. Thanks! /~Rayne]

Tonight only at 9:00 p.m. EDT (sorry, Rachel Maddow) the (nonprofit-?) organization Law Works will stream a live play based on the Mueller Report.

Read about the program at Variety, which calls this a “star-studded” “live reading” of the report.

This is one way to educate a portion of the public who can’t or won’t read the Special Counsel’s report. One might wonder if members of Congress might give this a shot or if they will continue to avoid the truth about the Trump campaign and administration.

If you happen to stream this Law Works’ production, share your thoughts here.

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 9:15 p.m. EDT —

Running into 500-502 errors at Law Works’ site. Streams a little jerky through their Twitter account.

Mueller’s Presser

Robert Mueller just gave a press conference, at which he announced the conclusion of the investigation, the formal closure of the office, and his resignation.

The press conference emphasized several things:

  • There were “multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election and that allegation deserves the attention of every American”
  • There was “insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy” between Trump and Russia
  • They didn’t charge Trump for obstruction because of the OLC memo
  • The OLC memo nevertheless permits an investigation of the President, in part to gather and preserve evidence
  • Mueller’s office also did not charge Trump out of fairness, because there would not be a venue for him to assert his innocence
  • Mueller will not testify to Congress beyond the report
  • Any further “access to our underlying work product” is not being handled by the office

Mueller just made it clear this was an impeachment referral. Now it’s time for HJC to act on it.

Here are his full comments:

Two years ago, the Acting Attorney General asked me to serve as Special Counsel, and he created the Special Counsel’s Office.

The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I am speaking today because our investigation is complete. The Attorney General has made the report on our investigation largely public. And we are formally closing the Special Counsel’s Office. As well, I am resigning from the Department of Justice and returning to private life.

I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work. But beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office’s written work speak for itself.

Let me begin where the appointment order begins: and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election.

As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.

The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.

And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.

These indictments contain allegations. And we are not commenting on the guilt or innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.

The indictments allege, and the other activities in our report describe, efforts to interfere in our political system. They needed to be investigated and understood. That is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.

That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Let me say a word about the report. The report has two parts addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate.

The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

And in the second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the President.

The order appointing me Special Counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. We conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the Acting Attorney General apprised of the progress of our work.

As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.

We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime. The introduction to volume two of our report explains that decision.

It explains that under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited.

The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.

The Department’s written opinion explaining the policy against charging a President makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report. And I will describe two of them:

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could now be charged.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.

And beyond Department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of an actual charge.

So that was the Justice Department policy and those were the principles under which we operated. From them we concluded that we would not reach a determination – one way or the other – about whether the President committed a crime. That is the office’s final position and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the President.

We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the Attorney General—as required by Department regulations.

The Attorney General then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and the American people.

At one point in time I requested that certain portions of the report be released. The Attorney General preferred to make the entire report public all at once. We appreciate that the Attorney General made the report largely public. I do not question the Attorney General’s good faith in that decision.

I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter. I am making that decision myself—no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.

There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself.

The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.

So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.

It is for that reason that I will not take questions here today.

Before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, and the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals, who spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel’s Office, were of the highest integrity.

I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments—that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.

That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

 

Note: The DC Circuit Court issued its mandate in the Andrew Miller subpoena yesterday, and there were two sealed filings in the District docket yesterday. That likely means Miller has complied and that’s what Mueller was waiting on.

 

Update: Katelyn Polantz reports that Miller will testify Friday at 9:30.

Whip It, Whip It Good: Who’s Read the Report? [Updated]

[NB: Yeah. Not Marcy. Post has now been updated to reflect Special Counsel’s statement today. /~Rayne]

By now you know Robert Mueller gave a statement today in which he both resigned as Special Counsel and offered a summation of the Special Counsel’s report on the Trump-Russia investigation.

Marcy has a post up summarizing Mueller’s statement.

Bottom line: the evidence needed to launch an impeachment inquiry is in the Special Counsel’s report.

He further made a remark about Attorney General Bill Barr’s release of the report which should be scrutinized carefully.

Mueller’s statement makes yesterday’s piece on Rep. Justin Amash in the Washington Post more important. Amash published a Twitter thread yesterday criticizing Attorney General Bill Barr’s handling of the Special Counsel’s report:

Amash now has primary opponents including Michigan state representative Jim Lower. This bit is telling:

Two Republicans have filed to run against him in the primary; one of them, state Rep. Jim Lower, told The Washington Post that he raised $60,000 since Amash’s impeachment tweets. The wealthy DeVos family, a force in western Michigan and supporters of Amash’s previous campaigns, said through a spokesman last week that they would support another Republican for the 3rd Congressional District seat; Lower said he’d been in touch with the family.

In an interview, Lower said he had not read Mueller’s report but agreed with the assessment of most Republicans that it ended questions about Trump’s conduct. On Monday, as he greeted voters at a Memorial Day event, several Republicans told Lower they were ready to help him get Amash out of office, citing his criticism of the president.

“Those voters do not want the president to be impeached, and they disagree with the congressman’s conclusion,” Lower said. “Throughout this primary campaign, I will be the voice for those voters.”

Lower is yet another Republican legislator who has made a pro-Trump assessment without having read the Special Counsel’s Report on the Trump-Russia investigation.

He’s absolutely certain Trump didn’t do anything wrong but he couldn’t tell you what in the report exonerates Trump because he couldn’t be bothered with reading it.

Now Lower is a state level elected at the moment, running for the House in 2020 with the aim of replacing Amash. What of the other elected Republicans who are already in the House and the Senate who are pro-Trump? Have they read the report? Have their staff members read the report?

The report’s been out now for more than a month; if they read 5-10 pages a day they should have finished reading it by now so they don’t have a legitimate complaint that the report is too long.

And yet many GOP electeds may stick their neck on the line for Trump, going to stake their credibility on something they haven’t read.

Note Mitt Romney’s feedback about the Special Counsel’s report, keeping in mind Romney was once in the anti-Trump camp:

We should take Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) at his word when he says, as he did on CNN’s “State of the Union,” that he has read the entire Mueller report. He told the show’s host, Jake Tapper: “I just don’t think that there is the full element [of intent] that you need to prove an obstruction of justice case. I don’t think a prosecutor would actually look at this and say, okay, we have here all the elements that would get this to a conviction.”

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee added, “I think, in part — one of the things that is difficult in order to make a case for obstruction of justice or impeachment is whether or not there was intent. And when there’s not an underlying crime, I think it’s difficult to put together an effective case to prosecute for those crimes.” So Romney is merely “troubled by it” and found it “very disappointing, for a number of reasons.”

Here’s Romney a month earlier:

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, said Friday that he was “sickened” by President Trump’s behavior as detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s newly released report.

The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee shared his reaction on social media after reviewing the sprawling report summarizing the special counsel’s investigation into the 2016 race and related matters.

“It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice. The alternative would have taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for constitutional crisis. The business of government can move on,” wrote Mr. Romney.

“Reviewing”??

Yet nearly a thousand prosecutors feel there was ample evidence in the report to conclude Trump obstructed justice. Did Romney really read the report? Is he going to stake his credibility and rally behind Trump based on a bad interpretation of what he may have read, which may or may not be the entire redacted report?

The Washington Post this past week surveyed members of Congress to learn who had and hadn’t read the report. It won’t surprise you that the number of Republicans who haven’t read it outnumber Democrats who haven’t read it.

But now they’ve had a long holiday weekend to read it. Have they? Are they still going to claim that the report exonerates Trump even after Robert Mueller clearly said today Trump isn’t out of the woods?

Are they still going to ignore the hundreds of federal prosecutors across the country who say the report reveals Trump obstructed justice?

Let’s find out. If you’re up to it let’s make phone calls to find out if the lawmakers have still not read the report.

Share your findings in comments and I will update this chart.

Let’s whip it good.

One last observation: Rep. Amash’s townhall last night in a staunchly GOP city, home of the DeVos family, drew a capacity audience and earned him a standing ovation.

Amash stressed how appalled he was at the conduct spelled out in Volume II of the Special Counsel’s report and that he felt those who read the report would likewise be offended.

Why aren’t more GOP members of Congress offended? Because they can’t be bothered to read it?

Whip it — Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

WaPo used these questions which are still a pretty good script for callers:

1. Did members of [lawmaker]’s senior staff read the executive summaries for both Volume I and II of the redacted Mueller report, or not?

2. Did members of [lawmaker]’s senior staff read the redacted Mueller report in its entirety, or not?

3. Did members of senior staff brief [lawmaker] on the contents of the redacted Mueller report, or not?

4. Did [lawmaker] read the executive summaries for both Volume I and II of the redacted Mueller report, or not?

5. Did [lawmaker] read the redacted Mueller report in its entirety, or not?

Make the calls. Whip it good.

The SCO Statement and Why Cohen Should Not Testify Feb. 7

Marcy wrote a great post this morning titled “Peter Carr Speaks“. I agree with almost all of it, if not all of it, but feel compelled to add a couple of things.

As to what the motivation of Carr and Mueller was, it is, at this date, unclear, despite the high handed and dismissive sudden reactive reportage of Devlin Barrett, Zapotsky and Demerjian at WaPo and Ken Dilanian of NBC/MSNBC. They have shown even less sources and credibility than Buzzfeed that they now conveniently and eagerly dismiss. Maybe the Mueller statement is a tad more nuanced and unknown than that.

As to what the target of the Mueller/Carr statement was, when Marcy says:

But I suspect Carr took this step, even more, as a message to SDNY and any other Agents working tangents of this case. Because of the way Mueller is spinning off parts of this case, he has less control over some aspects of it, like Cohen’s plea. And in this specific case (again, presuming I’m right about the SDNY sourcing), Buzzfeed’s sources just jeopardized Mueller’s hard-earned reputation, built over 20 months, for not leaking. By emphasizing in his statement what happened in “the special counsel’s office,” “testimony obtained by this office,” Carr strongly suggests that the people who served as sources had nothing to do with the office.

Yes, this looks almost certain from where I stand. Wasn’t the only aim of Carr’s arrow on behalf of Mueller, but was a rather large one.

Secondly, and since many media outlets and commenters are clacking about how the proof of Trump directly telling Cohen to lie is the end all and be all as to necessity for discussion, that is just wrong.

The record before the Buzzfeed article already established, through signed and accepted court filings, that Cohen indeed lied to Congress with the express intent of supporting the lies Trump was fostering.

That is not in dispute at this point. As to whether Trump personally ordered Cohen to do so, face to face, (and there is still a decent shot of that being true, but we do not know), that is not the end of the discussion legally.

First off, if those around Trump, (think lawyers and family, if not Trump himself), discussed and encouraged Cohen to lie to Congress, that is a huge problem for Trump. Let me remind people of one of the most basic definitional provisions in the criminal code, 18 USC §2:

(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.

(b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.

So,  all of the nonsense by Rudy Guliliani is simply nonsense. That is without even considering conspiracy law and implications thereof.

So, sure, the SCO hit on Buzzfeed hurt the narrative in the press. Did it really hurt the narrative legally? No, not so much.

Lastly, I would like to address the upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing Cohen is scheduled for on February 7. He was voluntarily appearing after restrictions Cummings and the Committee agreed to, purportedly, with Mueller. The ground has changed. Frankly,  I think the hearing this quickly was ill considered and premature grandstanding to start with, but now strikes me as nuts given the changed circumstances after the Buzzfeed piece, SCO brushback and Trump’s direct threats to Cohen’s extended family.

Given the aggressive nature of Trump’s followers, there is a credible threat to Cohen and his family. But, more than that, there is a threat to his credibility and usability as a witness in the future. The ranking member on the House Oversight Committee is the odious Jim Jordan. His other GOP minority members will undoubtedly fall in line to attack Cohen, especially after the vague pushback comment of Carr/Mueller last night. It is set up now as a clown show.

The hearing should either be affirmatively postponed by Cummings or withdrawn from by Cohen personally. There is nowhere near enough good that can come from Cohen’s appearance, and a lot to lose for both him and Mueller given the shitshow that the GOP members will bring to the affair. Cancel that February 7 hearing and testimony. Just do not do it.

[For the record, I originally lodged this as a comment on Marcy’s post, but for unrelated reasons, thought the points about criminal liability and conspiracy needed to be included in a separate post, and did not wish to step on hers at the time.]