Posts

The Yahoo Story about All the Things CIA Wasn’t Allowed to Do Against WikiLeaks

When last we saw Zach Dorfman get a big scoop, he managed to present claims about Eric Swalwell appropriately cooperating with the FBI in a counterintelligence investigation so wildly out of context that the story fed false claims about Swalwell for most of a year.

His big story about Mike Pompeo’s vendetta against WikiLeaks — with Sean Naylor and Michael Isikoff — is bound to be a similar example.

Wherein paragraph 100-something debunks paragraphs 1 and 2

The first two paragraphs claim that there were discussions about assassinating Julian Assange.

In 2017, as Julian Assange began his fifth year holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, the CIA plotted to kidnap the WikiLeaks founder, spurring heated debate among Trump administration officials over the legality and practicality of such an operation.

Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration even discussed killing Assange, going so far as to request “sketches” or “options” for how to assassinate him. Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration, said a former senior counterintelligence official. “There seemed to be no boundaries.”

Paragraph 12 says that lots of those things described in paragraphs one and two weren’t approved.

There is no indication that the most extreme measures targeting Assange were ever approved, in part because of objections from White House lawyers, but the agency’s WikiLeaks proposals so worried some administration officials that they quietly reached out to staffers and members of Congress on the House and Senate intelligence committees to alert them to what Pompeo was suggesting. “There were serious intel oversight concerns that were being raised through this escapade,” said a Trump national security official.

Around about paragraph 67 the piece describes Mike Pompeo asking for “the art of the possible,” something CIA Directors have a history of doing as a way to think outside the box.

Soon after the speech, Pompeo asked a small group of senior CIA officers to figure out “the art of the possible” when it came to WikiLeaks, said another former senior CIA official. “He said, ‘Nothing’s off limits, don’t self-censor yourself. I need operational ideas from you. I’ll worry about the lawyers in Washington.’” CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., sent messages directing CIA stations and bases worldwide to prioritize collection on WikiLeaks, according to the former senior agency official.

Around the 90s, Yahoo claims someone learned second-hand that Trump asked about killing Assange, but then suggests that wasn’t real, then describes top CIA officials talking about killing Assange, then admits such plans may have never gotten to the White House.

Some discussions even went beyond kidnapping. U.S. officials had also considered killing Assange, according to three former officials. One of those officials said he was briefed on a spring 2017 meeting in which the president asked whether the CIA could assassinate Assange and provide him “options” for how to do so.

“It was viewed as unhinged and ridiculous,” recalled this former senior CIA official of the suggestion.

It’s unclear how serious the proposals to kill Assange really were. “I was told they were just spitballing,” said a former senior counterintelligence official briefed on the discussions about “kinetic options” regarding the WikiLeaks founder. “It was just Trump being Trump.”

Nonetheless, at roughly the same time, agency executives requested and received “sketches” of plans for killing Assange and other Europe-based WikiLeaks members who had access to Vault 7 materials, said a former intelligence official. There were discussions “on whether killing Assange was possible and whether it was legal,” the former official said.

Yahoo News could not confirm if these proposals made it to the White House. Some officials with knowledge of the rendition proposals said they had heard no discussions about assassinating Assange.

And then well past paragraph 100, Yahoo admits the plans to assassinate Assange went nowhere, in significant part because doing so would be illegal.

A primary question for U.S. officials was whether any CIA plan to kidnap or potentially kill Assange was legal. The discussions occurred under the aegis of the agency’s new “offensive counterintelligence” authorities, according to former officials. Some officials thought this was a highly aggressive, and likely legally transgressive, interpretation of these powers.

Without a presidential finding — the directive used to justify covert operations — assassinating Assange or other WikiLeaks members would be illegal, according to several former intelligence officials. In some situations, even a finding is not sufficient to make an action legal, said a former national security official. The CIA’s newfound offensive counterintelligence powers regarding WikiLeaks would not have stretched to assassination. “That kind of lethal action would be way outside of a legitimate intelligence or counterintelligence activity,” a former senior intelligence community lawyer said.

In the end, the assassination discussions went nowhere, said former officials.

The idea of killing Assange “didn’t get serious traction,” said a former senior CIA official. “It was, this is a crazy thing that wastes our time.”

As to the discussions of kidnapping Assange, both the UK and NSC nixed those ideas, though White House Counsel lawyer John Eisenberg (who is presented as the hero of the Yahoo story, and who was a national security lawyer at DOJ during the Bush Administration when such things did get approved) worried that CIA would do it without alerting him and others, and so pressed DOJ to indict Assange if they were going to.

“There was a discussion with the Brits about turning the other cheek or looking the other way when a team of guys went inside and did a rendition,” said a former senior counterintelligence official. “But the British said, ‘No way, you’re not doing that on our territory, that ain’t happening.’” The British Embassy in Washington did not return a request for comment.

In addition to diplomatic concerns about rendition, some NSC officials believed that abducting Assange would be clearly illegal. “You can’t throw people in a car and kidnap them,” said a former national security official.

In fact, said this former official, for some NSC personnel, “This was the key question: Was it possible to render Assange under [the CIA’s] offensive counterintelligence” authorities? In this former official’s thinking, those powers were meant to enable traditional spy-versus-spy activities, “not the same kind of crap we pulled in the war on terror.”

In short, this is a very long story that spends thousands of words admitting that its lead overstates how seriously this line of thought, particularly assassination, was pursued.

I will have lots more to say about several things that discredit this story. But for now that’s the important thing: The story admits that the story oversells its lead.

Yahoo describes the changing view regarding WikiLeaks

The story is useful because it lays out a chronology that few people understand, how over years the US view on Assange gradually changed (the view is entirely based on “former” officials and likely doesn’t reflect even what happened with Assange in the last years of the Trump Administration). The events it describes that led to a gradual change in the way the US treated Assange as depicted in this story are:

  • In response to the 2010 releases, the Obama Administration, “restricted investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks”
  • “In the wake of the Snowden revelations, the Obama administration allowed the intelligence community to prioritize collection on WikiLeaks,” no longer requiring a warrant for intel; but when “top intelligence officials” tried to get the White House to deem people like Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald “information brokers,” Obama refused
  • In spite of the changes described as occurring in 2013, in 2015 DOJ remained, “very protective,” of its authorities over whether to charge Assange and whether to treat WikiLeaks “like a media outlet”
  • “The events of 2016 ‘really crystallized’ U.S. intelligence officials’ belief that the WikiLeaks founder ‘was acting in collusion with people who were using him to hurt the interests of the United States,’ … But there was still ‘sensitivity on how we would collect on them.'” [Yahoo says NSA “surveilled” Guccifer 2.0’s Twitter accounts but we know that DOJ obtained warrants to read them, as well, which it doesn’t mention]
  • Yahoo presents a series of seemingly conflicting claims about how things changed in 2016, but does say that shortly before Trump took over Obama’s view on WikiLeaks underwent a “sea change”
  • On April 13, 2017, over a month after the first Vault 7 releases, Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency, thereby accessing “offensive counterintelligence” activities to use against WikiLeaks, including disruption efforts (though the article suggests none were ever used); this label did result in far more collection on WikiLeaks associates traveling around the world
  • In summer 2017, Pompeo embraced proposals to kidnap Assange, which was ultimately pitched to the British, but they refused and NSC officials argued it would be illegal
  • In December 2017, the Five Eyes worked together to thwart a believed Russian exfiltration attempt, and on the same day, DOJ charged Assange by complaint
  • In April 2019, Assange was booted from the Embassy and arrested under a single CFAA count, which DOJ has twice superseded (Yahoo makes no mention of the second superseding indictment and the story seems to drop well before the end of the Trump Administration; it makes no mention of whether Gina Haspel continued the policies pursued by Pompeo after he moved to State in 2018)

The timeline laid out here conflicts with virtually everything Assange claimed about the genesis of his charges during his extradition hearing: showing that Assange’s help getting Snowden out of Hong Kong is what started the process of revising views of WikiLeaks, showing that the US changed their understanding of Assange in 2016, not in 2017, as Assange repeatedly claimed in his extradition hearing, and showing that things really started ratcheting up after the Vault 7 release, at a time when Assange was also under investigation for several things unrelated to journalism (though Yahoo doesn’t mention those investigations, even though they are public), and was therefore separate from Trump’s election or Jeff Sessions’ later leak-driven commitment to crack down on journalists.

In short, amidst a jillion words making claims that the article itself discredits, the article proves that Assange lied, repeatedly, in his extradition hearing, and that the precipitating event in originally charging him was credible information about a Russian exfiltration plot.

Roger Stone reporter Michael Isikoff appears to be unfamiliar with the entire Roger Stone case

One thing that this story never explains is why, if the entire Trump Administration were so opposed to Assange as they claim, Pompeo would have to declare WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service rather than relying on a Presidential finding to spy on WikiLeaks’ associates.

The immediate question facing Pompeo and the CIA was how to hit back against WikiLeaks and Assange. Agency officials found the answer in a legal sleight of hand. Usually, for U.S. intelligence to secretly interfere with the activities of any foreign actor, the president must sign a document called a “finding” that authorizes such covert action, which must also be briefed to the House and Senate intelligence committees. In very sensitive cases, notification is limited to Congress’s so-called Gang of Eight — the four leaders of the House and Senate, plus the chairperson and ranking member of the two committees.

But there is an important carveout. Many of the same actions, if taken against another spy service, are considered “offensive counterintelligence” activities, which the CIA is allowed to conduct without getting a presidential finding or having to brief Congress, according to several former intelligence officials.

Often, the CIA makes these decisions internally, based on interpretations of so-called “common law” passed down in secret within the agency’s legal corps. “I don’t think people realize how much [the] CIA can do under offensive [counterintelligence] and how there is minimal oversight of it,” said a former official.

That’s what gave Pompeo broader authorities to operate on his own (and thereby creating the risk he might try to assassinate Assange without White House knowledge). But it’s also what limited his options legally. Had Pompeo gotten a finding, kidnapping and assassination would be less obviously prohibited, and just the Gang of Eight would have been briefed. But by making this announcement publicly, everyone learned about it. Ron Wyden predictably raised concerns (and there was a perennial battle over whether Congress would agree with Pompeo’s label as a sense of Congress).

Effectively, Pompeo got fewer authorities and more political pushback, literally the opposite of why Yahoo claims why he went this route.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that this story’s treatment of Trump is bizarre and ignores a lot of known facts, so it’s possible the answer is the most obvious one: Pompeo couldn’t get a Presidential finding because the President wouldn’t sign off.

As noted above, the article does describe that a source heard second-hand that Trump asked for options to kill Assange, though it doesn’t date it more specifically than spring 2017 and dismisses the statement as one of Trump’s routine attacks.

The story describes that Mike Pompeo was terrified of briefing Trump on the Vault 7 breach, the first releases of which were published on March 7, 2017.

Pompeo, apparently fearful of the president’s wrath, was initially reluctant to even brief the president on Vault 7, according to a former senior Trump administration official. “Don’t tell him, he doesn’t need to know,” Pompeo told one briefer, before being advised that the information was too critical and the president had to be informed, said the former official.

It doesn’t explain, then, whether Pompeo, or Jim Comey, was the source of the briefing that Trump promptly shared with Tucker Carlson literally the day when the FBI would first interview suspected Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte in an urgent attempt to prevent him from fleeing the country with his diplomatic passport. It sure as hell doesn’t explain how the President, in his first known big leak of classified information, almost blew the entire Vault 7 investigation, and how that’s consistent with a plan to assassinate Assange.

Even crazier, especially given Michael Isikoff’s participation in the story, is that there’s no mention of the disclosures that came out as part of the Roger Stone investigation and the Mueller investigation more generally.

No later than November 15 (and possibly even before the election), Trump’s rat-fucker was working with Assange’s lawyer brokering a pardon deal.

In April, Stone called on Pompeo to resign for his comments in the wake of Vault 7.

Stone took to InfoWars on April 18, calling on Pompeo to either provide proof of those Russian ties or resign, defending the release of the Vault 7 tools along the way.

The Intelligence agencies continue to insist that Julian Assange is an active Russian Agent and that Wikileaks is a Russian controlled asset. The agencies have no hard proof of this claim whatsoever. Assange has said repeatedly that he is affiliated with no nation state but the Intelligence Agencies continue to insist that he is under Russian control because it fits the narrative in which they must produce some evidence of Russian interference in our election because they used this charge to legally justify and rationalize the surveillance of Trump aides, myself included.

[snip]

President Donald Trump said on Oct, 10, 2016 “I love Wikileaks” and Pompeo who previously had praised the whistleblowing operation now called Wikileaks “a non-state hostile Intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. Mr. Pompeo must be pressed to immediately release any evidence he has that proves these statements. If he cannot do so ,the President should discharge him.

[snip]

Julian Assange does not work for the Russians. Given the import of the information that he ultimately disclosed about the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration and the deep secrets in the CIA’s Vault 7, he has educated the American people about the tactics and technology the CIA has used to spy on ordinary Americans.

Assange personally DMed Stone to thank him for the article, while claiming that Pompeo had stopped short of claiming that WikiLeaks had gotten the stolen DNC emails directly, thereby making WikiLeaks like any other media outlet.

On or about April 19, 2017, Assange, using Target Account 2, wrote to Stone, “Ace article in infowars. Appreciated. But note that U.S. intel is engages in slight of hand maoevers [sic]. Listen closely and you see they only claim that we received U.S. election leaks \”not directly\” or via a \”third party\” and do not know \”when\” etc. This line is Pompeo appears to be getting at with his \”abbeted\”. This correspnds to the same as all media and they do not make any allegation that WL or I am a Russia asset.”

The Mueller investigation even showed that in the very same time period where Pompeo was considering assassination attempts on Assange, Trump’s rat-fucker was leveraging the “highest level of Government” to address Assange’s issues.

On June 10, 2017, according to affidavits submitted as part of the Mueller investigation, Roger Stone DMed Julian Assange and told him he was doing everything he could to “address the issues at the highest level of Government.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

Nine days after the rat-fucker who had a notebook that recorded all the communications he had with Trump during the election described working at the highest level of government to help Assange, Trump attempted to shut down the entirety of the hack-and-leak investigation.

On June 19, 2017, according to the Mueller Report, the President dictated a message for Corey Lewandowski to take to Jeff Sessions, telling the (recused) Attorney General to meet with Robert Mueller and order him to limit his investigation only to future election meddling, not the election meddling that had gotten Trump elected.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. T am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

Days after Roger Stone told Julian Assange that he was trying to resolve matters at the highest level of government, the President of the United States tried to issue a back channel order that would shut down the investigation into Assange — and by association, Stone.

And it went on like that for some time, possibly up to the time when Mueller asked Trump about any pardon discussions for Assange. Only after that did Don Jr’s buddy tell former Sputnik employee Cassandra Fairbanks that the pardon discussion was off, whereupon she flew to London to tell Assange herself.

Particularly pertinent to the question of why CIA was working via offensive counterintelligence authorities rather than a Presidential finding, in October, after weeks of prodding from Trump, Pompeo took a meeting with Bill Binney to hear a theory that would have undermined the entire Intelligence Community’s attribution of the DNC hack via which emails shared with WikiLeaks were stolen. According to The Intercept’s report of the meeting, it led others in the Intelligence Community to worry that Pompeo had stopped heeding intelligence, particularly regarding Russia, that Trump didn’t like.

Some senior CIA officials have grown upset that Pompeo, a former Republican representative from Kansas, has become so close to Trump that the CIA director regularly expresses skepticism about intelligence that doesn’t line up with the president’s views. Pompeo has also alienated some CIA managers by growing belligerent toward them in meetings, according to an intelligence official familiar with the matter.

[snip]

[I]ndications of Pompeo’s willingness to support Trump at the risk of tainting the intelligence process have occasionally broken into the open in recent months. In August, the Washington Post reported that Pompeo had taken the unusual step of having the CIA’s Counterintelligence Mission Center, which would likely play a role in any inquiries by the agency into Russian election meddling, report directly to him. That move has raised concerns within the agency that Pompeo is seeking to personally control the CIA’s efforts to investigate accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

At the very least, by fall this put Pompeo in a more precarious position regarding his vendetta against Assange.

The thing is, the hero of this Yahoo story, John Eisenberg, must know parts of this story, because he was a key part of efforts to protect Trump. He played a role in protecting Mike Flynn after he lied to the FBI and an even bigger role in protecting Trump after he tried to coerce election help from Ukraine, so who knows what his motives really are here. But he certainly must know these details … but they don’t show up in the story.

Crazier still, Isikoff must know parts of these stories, because he reported on the Stone case.

Yet not only don’t those details appear in this story, but the depiction of an entire Administration, save for heroes like John Eisenberg, intent on assassinating Julian Assange is inconsistent with those public facts about Trump’s repeated efforts to undermine any attribution implicating Assange to say nothing of discussions of pardons for Assange.

The truth may be somewhere in the middle, with Trump vacillating between wanting to kill Assange and wanting to liberate him (in this story, however, he’s quoted complaining that Assange was treated badly). But what the President did to undermine the investigation targeting Assange seems to be as important a part of this story as the claim that he mouthed off once about the possibility of assassinating Assange, something he has done with a slew of other journalists and perceived enemies.

The UC Global timeline

Among all the 30 sources cited in the story and the reports that CIA ratcheted up spying on WikiLeaks associates under Pompeo, Yahoo didn’t succeed in getting more clarity on the — by the end of 2017 — very intrusive surveillance of Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy by a contractor called UC Global, citing just one source confirming the US did have access to video surveillance without even naming UC Global or revealing which agency UC Global was working with.

A former U.S. national security official confirmed that U.S. intelligence had access to video and audio feeds of Assange within the embassy but declined to specify how it acquired them.

So instead of new information from those 30 sources, Yahoo instead relies on the prior reports from some UC Global whistleblowers. As I noted here, based on their Assange extradition hearing testimony, one of them is quite credible while the other is far less so.

It’s important that Yahoo relies on the whistleblowers, because it provides another way, along with the public details they inexplicably leave out, to test their narrative. Yahoo describes, accurately, that UC Global was sharing information with the US by mid-2017 (the credible witness described key developments in June and July).

By late 2015, Ecuador had hired a Spanish security company called UC Global to protect the country’s London embassy, where Assange had already spent several years running WikiLeaks from his living quarters. Unbeknownst to Ecuador, however, by mid-2017 UC Global was also working for U.S. intelligence, according to two former employees who testified in a Spanish criminal investigation first reported by the newspaper El País.

Yahoo doesn’t note, however, that data collection first started to expand in 2016, and formal vetting for what was presumably this relationship started by January 24, 2017, just one day after Pompeo was confirmed.

I also recall that once Donald Trump won the elections, at the end of 2016, the collection of information intensified as Morales became more obsessed with obtaining as much information as possible.

[snip]

On 24 January 2017, once Donald Trump had acceded to the presidency of the United States, David Morales sent a message over Telegram in which he wrote, “Well, I want you to be alert because I am informed that we are being vetted, so everything that is confidential should be encrypted […] That’s what I’m being told. Everything relates to the UK issue. I am not worried about it, just be alert […] The people vetting are our friends in the USA”.

That is, this process started after WikiLeaks’ cooperation with Russia in 2016 caused a “sea change” in US treatment of Assange, but before Pompeo’s vendetta in response to Vault 7.

And while the surveillance absolutely ratcheted up during that summer (so potentially consistent with Pompeo’s vendetta, but also at a time when WikiLeaks was also under several different criminal investigations), Yahoo neglects to mention that the really intrusive surveillance came in December, at the same time (it reports) that the IC had credible reports of an exfiltration attempt.

In early December 2017, I was instructed by David Morales to travel with a colleague to install the new security cameras. I carried out the new installation over the course of several days. I was instructed by Morales not to share information about the specifications of the recording system, and if asked to deny that the cameras were recording audio. I was told that it was imperative that these instructions be carried out as they came, supposedly, from the highest spheres. In fact, I was asked on several occasions by Mr. Assange and the Political Counsellor Maria Eugenia whether the new cameras recorded sound, to which I replied that they did not, as my boss had instructed me to do. Thus, from that moment on the cameras began to record sound regularly, so every meeting that the asylee held was captured. At our offices in UC Global it was mentioned that the cameras had been paid for twice, by Ecuador and the United States, although I have no documentary evidence to corroborate this assertion.

The story Yahoo tells significantly amounts to Mike Pompeo proposing some illegal options to take out Assange, only to be thwarted by (at a minimum) the lawyers in place to prevent such things — though there’s good reason to believe DOJ played a big role in it too. And then, at a time when Pompeo had lost or was losing his bid to pursue illegal activities, the Five Eyes (presumably including Australia) identified and countered a Russian exfiltration attempt.

That presumably changed a lot of things about how the IC dealt with Assange. But those details don’t appear in this story. Aside from the mentions of DOJ successfully retaining the gatekeeper role on these questions in 2015 and 2017 (something I have some, albeit limited, reason to believe continued through 2019), the story doesn’t consider — at all! — the various criminal investigations at the time, not even the one that Isikoff has covered in the past.

Crazier still, it presents this as a story about the Trump Administration, while ignoring public details about a key player in that Administration — some guy named Trump — was doing that at the least conflicted with Pompeo’s actions.

Pompeo is and was batshit crazy and I’m glad, for once, the lawyers managed to rein in the CIA Director. But this seems to be, largely, a story about crazy Mike Pompeo being reined in by lawyers.

John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs

Last Thursday, John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, the Perkins Coie lawyer who advised the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign about cybersecurity in 2016 as they struggled to deal with a hostile nation-state attack aiming — in part — to help elect their opponent. The indictment accuses Sussmann of lying to FBI General Counsel James Baker at a September 19, 2016 meeting at which Sussmann shared information about the curious DNS traffic between a server used by a Trump marketing contractor and Alfa Bank.

emptywheel’s long history of debunking the Alfa Bank story

Before I unpack the indictment, let me remind readers that when this story first publicly broke, I explained why the Spectrum Health (aka my boob hospital at the time) aspect of the allegations made no sense, criticized Hillary’s team (including Jake Sullivan) for jumping on the story, and echoed Rob Graham’s criticism of the researchers who accessed DNS data to conduct this research.

In addition to his technical debunking, Robert Graham made an equally important point: researchers shouldn’t be accessing this data for ad-lib investigations into presidential candidates, and it’s not even clear who would have access to it all except the NSA.

The big story isn’t the conspiracy theory about Trump, but that these malware researchers exploited their privileged access for some purpose other than malware research.

[snip]

In short, of all the sources of “DNS malware information” I’ve heard about, none of it would deliver the information these researchers claim to have (well, except the NSA with their transatlantic undersea taps, of course).

[snip]

[B]efore Tea Leaves started pushing this story to the press, the FBI had been investigating it for two months.

Which, to my mind, raises even more questions about the anonymous researchers’ identities, because (small world and all) the FBI likely knows them, in which case they may have known that the FBI wasn’t jumping on the story by the time they started pitching it.

Or the FBI doesn’t know them, which raises still more questions about the provenance of these files.

Ah well, if President Hillary starts a war with Russia based off Iraq-War style dodgy documents, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing my boob clinic is right there on the front lines.

In March 2017, I observed that the weird Alfa Bank entry in the Steele dossier suggested a feedback loop between the Alfa Bank server story and the dossier project. Then days after that, I noted all the ways that the packaging of this story made it more suspect.

In 2018, I complained about the way Dexter Filkins had strained to sustain the story, while noting that people ought to look more closely at why Alfa Bank might be the focus here; the Mueller Report since confirmed that within weeks after the story broke publicly, Vladimir Putin pushed Oligarchs from Alfa Bank to fight harder against western sanctions, something that the alleged source for the Alfa Bank entry in the dossier seemed to parrot.

In short, I not only have consistently criticized this story, but done so in ways that anticipate the most justifiable parts of the indictment. It’s only the last bit — how the Alfa narrative echoes Putin’s interests — that this indictment doesn’t incorporate.

I guess with five more years Durham might get there…

So in unpacking this indictment, I’m in no way defending the Alfa Bank – Trump Tower story. It was a sketchy allegation, the packaging of it was suspect, and those who conducted the research arguably violated ethical guidelines.

I got to where Durham got in this indictment years and years ago. But that doesn’t make it a crime.

John Durham’s “narrative”

Moreover, that doesn’t mean Durham should tell as strained a “narrative” as those who packaged up this story. Central to Durham’s indictment is an assumption that if a victim of a crime who believed at the time that the crime had a — since confirmed — political goal reports suspicious, potentially related details, the victim must be motivated exclusively out of self-interest, not good citizenship or a concern about national security. That is, this entire indictment assumes that when Russia attacks a Presidential candidate, that is not itself a national security concern, but instead nothing more than a political dispute.

Effectively, John Durham has made it a crime for someone victimized by a Russian influence operation to try to chase down Russian influence operations.

Tech Executive-1 and Clinton both had retained Perkins Coie long before this, with Sussmann getting involved specifically for cybersecurity help in the wake of the Russian hack

The indictment, perhaps deliberately, obscures the timeline and facts leading up to the charged lie. But here’s the story it tells. First, all of Durham’s subjects established contracts with each other, even though all of those contracts (including Fusion GPS’) had scopes far larger than oppo research on Trump’s relationship with Russia.

  • In February 2015, Tech Executive-1 (whom I’ll call TE-1 for brevity) retained Sussmann to deal with a US government agency [Durham does not say whether this matter was resolved or continued in this period in 2016, which is central to the question of what kind of client of Sussmann’s TE-1 was].
  • In April 2015, the Clinton Campaign retained Perkins Coie and made Marc Elias the Campaign’s General Counsel.
  • In April 2016, the victim of a Russian government election-related attack, the DNC, retained Sussmann to help it deal with aftermath, which included meeting with the FBI. As the indictment describes this was not just legal support but cybersecurity.
  • [After a Republican retained them first and on a date that Durham doesn’t reveal,] Perkins Coie retained Fusion GPS to conduct oppo research on Trump pertaining to Russia [and other topics, though Durham doesn’t mention those other topics].

Durham only mentions in passing, later, that the researchers involved here similarly knew each other through relationships that focused on cybersecurity and predated these events.

Via means and on specific dates that Durham doesn’t always provide, Tea Leaves, TE-1, Sussmann, and two Researchers got the DNS data showing an anomaly

There are two sets of research here: that done in a university setting and that done at companies associated with TE-1, though TE-1 is the pivot to both. As depicted, Durham suggests the former are more legally exposed than the latter.

  • By some time in late July 2016 [the exact date Durham doesn’t provide], a guy who always operated under the pseudonym Tea Leaves but whom Durham heavy-handedly calls “Originator-1” instead had assembled “purported DNS data” reflecting apparent DNS lookups between Alfa Bank and “mail1.trump-email.com” that spanned from May 4 through July 29.
  • Tea Leaves was a business associate of TE-1 and via means Durham doesn’t describe, the data Tea Leaves gathered was shared with TE-1.
  • “In or about July 2016” [at a time that, because of the laws of physics, must post-date the late July date when Tea Leaves collected this data and the date when he shared them with TE-1], TE-1 alerted Sussmann to the data.
  • On July 31, Sussmann billed the Clinton Campaign for 24 minutes with the billing description, “communications with Marc Elias regarding server issue.”
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t provide even a month, but by context it was at least as early as July 2016 and could have been far, far earlier], TE-1’s company provided a university with data for a government contract ultimately not contracted until November 2016, including the DNS data from an Executive Branch office of the US government that Tech Exec-1’s company had gotten as a sub-contractor to the US government. [This date of this is critical because it would be the trigger for a Conspiracy to Defraud charge, if Durham goes there.]
  • In or about August 2016 [Durham doesn’t provide a date], a federal government was finalizing but had not yet signed a cybersecurity research contract with [presumably] that same university to receive and analyze large quantities of public and non-public data “to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security.” Tea Leaves was the founder of a company that the university was considering [Durham doesn’t provide the date of consideration, but generally these things precede finalization] for a subcontract with the government contract.

TE-1 directs employees of companies under his control to research this issue

Though Durham’s indictment is somewhat vague, at least one piece of research from companies associated with TE-1 was shared with the FBI; it appears that other threads of research were not shared.

  • In or about early August 2016 [the dates of which Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 directed personnel at two companies in which he had an ownership interest to search for what the indictment calls, “any Internet data reflecting potential connections or communications between Trump or his associates and Russia,” which Durham describes to be “derogatory information on Trump.” In connection with this tasking, TE-1 later stated [on a date Durham doesn’t describe] he was working with someone who had close ties to the Democratic Party.
  • At some point, an individual tasked with this work described being “uncomfortable regarding this tasking,” [Durham doesn’t describe when he learned this or whether there is any contemporaneous proof].
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t describe the date], TE-1 provided one of his companies with personal (but publicly available) data from six Trump associates and one purported US-based lobbyist for Alfa Bank and directed these individuals should be the focus of that company’s data queries and analysis [Durham doesn’t say whether these six associates overlapped with the people Fusion had been tasked to research, nor does he allege they got included in the eventual reports to the FBI; both details are needed to assess his case].
  • On August 12, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 met in Elias’ office; Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton Campaign describing, “confidential meetings with Elias, others.”
  • On August 15, employees at one of the companies queried their holdings against a set of addresses that referred to Trump and/or Alfa Bank.
  • During the same time period [Durham doesn’t specify when], employees at Internet Company-3 drafted a written paper that included technical observations that Sussmann would later convey to the FBI.

Around the time this started, Sussmann met Fusion and a bunch of meetings happened that were billed to Hillary

  • On July 29, Sussmann and Marc Elias met with Fusion GPS [Durham doesn’t affirmatively claim this data pertained to the server issue], and Sussmann billed his time to the Hillary Campaign under “General Political Advice,” a different description than all the other Fusion meetings that Durham more credibly claims relate to the Alfa Bank allegation.
  • Around “the same [August] time period” [Durham doesn’t provide the date], Sussmann, Elias, and Fusion personnel began exchanging emails with the subject line, “Connecting you all by email;” [Durham doesn’t say who initiated the email, but it suggests that before this period, Sussmann and Fusion did not have direct contact].
  • On August 17, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 conducted an additional conference call, for which Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton campaign, noting “telephone conference with” TE-1 and Elias.
  • On August 19, 2016, Sussman and Elias had another in-person meeting that Sussmann described as a meeting with TE-1, which was billed as a “confidential meeting with Elias, others.”

Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves worked with TE-1 on a “storyline” and “narrative” with varying degrees of skepticism expressed

This is the stuff Durham–with some justification–will and has used to taint all this as a political project.

  • On July 29, Researcher-2 emailed Researcher-1 the data compiled by Tea Leaves [Durham provides no evidence that TE-1 was involved in this exchange].
  • On August 19, Researcher-1 queried Internet data maintained by TE-1’s company [it is not clear but this suggests it was not the data turned over to the University] for the aforementioned mail1.trump-email.com domain. Researcher-1 then emailed TE-1 with the list of domains that had communicated with it, saying the list, “does not make much sense with the storyline you have.”
  • On August 20, Tea Leaves emailed Tech Exec-1, Researcher-1, and Researcher 2, stating that, “even if we found what [TE-1] asks us to find in DNS, we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying, ‘send money here’.” Tea Leaves then explained that one could fill out sales forms and cause them, “to appear to communicate with each other in DNS.” Tea Leaves then noted that “it’s just not the case that you can rest assured that Hillary’s opposition research and whatever professional gov and investigative journalists are also digging come up with the same things.”
  • On August 20, TE-1 clarified that the task was “indeed broad,” and that,
    • Being able to provide evidence of *anything* that shows an attempt to behave badly in relation to this [Durham doesn’t describe what the antecedent of “this” is], the VIPs would be happy. They’re looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination.
  • Still on August 20, seemingly distinguishing between that task and the Alfa Bank allegations, TE-1 said, “the prior hypothesis was all that they needed: mailserver dedicated or related to trump … and with traffic almost exclusively with Alfa was sufficient to do the job. … Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.” [Ellipses original]
  • On August 21, TE-1 emailed the recipients [but not, apparently, Sussmann], urging them to do further research on Trump which would “given the base of a very useful narrative.” He added that he didn’t believe the trump-email.com domain was a secret communications channel but a “red herring,” because the host was “a legitimate valid company,” stating they could “ignore it, together with others that seem to be part of the marketing world.”
  • On August 22, Researcher-1 raised doubts about whether, using only the tools they were currently using, they could prove their hypothesis. Among the concerns raised is that they couldn’t prove that “this is not spoofed [] traffic.” [brackets original; bolded in the original]
  • Later in or about August 2016 [on dates Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 exchanged emails with personnel from Fusion.

Sussmann drafts a white paper and (via unstated means) TE-1 gets Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves to review it

  • Between September 5 and September 14, Sussmann drafted a white paper, generally billing his time to the Clinton Campaign, but on September 14, billing time to both Clinton and TE-1.
  • On September 14, TE-1 [not Sussmann] sent the white paper he had drafted to Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves to ask them if a review of less than an hour would show this to be plausible. Though some of them noted how limited the standard of “plausibility” was, they agreed it was plausible, and Researcher 2 said [Durham does not quote the specific language here] “the paper should be shared with government officials.”

Sussmann shares this and other information with James Baker and–Durham claims–affirmatively lies about whether he is representing someone

  • Both before the September 19 meeting and after it (notably in a September 12 meeting involving the NYTimes, in which Marc Elias also participated), Sussmann spoke to the press about what Durham credibly suggests was the Alfa Bank white paper. Sussmann billed this to Clinton.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with Baker and provided him with three white papers and a thumb drive with data. Durham doesn’t actually make clear where all three of these came from.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with James Baker. Durham claims that “he stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client” [which Durham cannot quote because there’s no contemporaneous record], that he had been approached by multiple cyber experts [Durham doesn’t say whether the three he named were Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves or other people, as seems to be the case], three white papers [which I may return to because this is another problematic spot in his story], and some of the data, which Durham calls “purported.”
  • Immediately after the September 19 meeting, Baker met with Bill Priestap whose notes read:
    • Michael Sussman[n] — Atty: Perkins Coie — said not doing this for any client
      • Represents DNC, Clinton Foundation, etc. []
      • Been approached by Prominent Cyber People (Academic or Corp. POCs), People like: [three names redacted]
  • Durham substantiates a claim that Sussmann billed the meeting itself to Hillary to a description, “work and communications regarding confidential project,” that does not, at least as he quotes it, mention a meeting with the FBI General Counsel at all.

Some of this — the reference to crafting a narrative and a storyline — is damning and validates my discomfort with the political nature of this project five years ago. Other parts of this emphasize the researchers’ insistence on truth from at least parts of this effort. Still others (such as the recognition that this could be spoofed data) will almost certainly end up being presented as exculpatory if this ever goes to trial, but Durham seems to think is inculpatory.

In one place, Durham describes “aforementioned views,” plural, that the Alfa Bank data was a “red herring,” something only attributed to TE-1 in the indictment, seemingly presenting TE-1’s stated view on August 21 to everyone involved, including Sussmann, who does not appear to have been on that email chain. He claims Sussmann, Researcher 1 and 2, TE-1, and Tea Leaves drafted the white paper(s) shared with the FBI, but all he substantiates is a less than one hour review by everyone but Sussmann. He leaves out a great deal of detail about what Jean Camp and someone using the moniker Tea Leaves did and said, publicly, after the FBI meeting, which may totally undercut Durham’s “narrative.”

But other parts, even of the story that Durham tells, are problematic for his narrative. First, there is not (yet) the least hint that Tea Leaves — whom he calls “The Originator” — fabricated this data (or even packaged it up misleadingly, though I think there is evidence he did). Nor is there the least hint that TE-1 asked Tea Leaves to come up with the data. That part of the story is fundamentally important and Durham simply ignores it with that legally unnecessary — particularly given that Durham clearly labels this person as Tea Leaves — moniker “Originator,” giving the anomalous forensic data a kind of virgin birth. And while two of the four tech experts described herein (there appear to be at least three others not described) expressed some doubt about the meaning of it, none of them seems to have doubted that there was an anomaly in the Trump marketing server and Alfa Bank.

Based on this story, though, Durham insinuates Sussmann fed information that he, Sussmann, knew to be bullshit to the FBI on behalf of both Hillary and TE-1, and in so doing affirmatively hid that the bullshit “storyline” was designed to help Hillary which (he claims) would have led the FBI to treat it differently.

In spite of a lot of thus far extraneous details, that’s the only crime he has alleged.

The existing case is remarkably weak

As a number of people have noted, as charged this is a remarkably weak case. Ben Wittes dedicates a section of his post on this indictment to those weaknesses. They are, succinctly:

  • The evidence regarding the core allegation in the indictment pits Sussmann’s word against James Baker’s; there are no other witnesses.
  • After the meeting with Baker, Sussmann repeatedly admitted under oath he was representing a client, a detail which could be exculpatory or inculpatory.
  • Baker testified to Congress he did believe Sussmann was representing a client (meaning Baker will be used to discredit Baker, the one witness to Sussmann’s alleged lie).
  • Even in Bill Priestap’s nearly-contemporaneous notes which are the only documentation of Sussmann’s comments, he describes Sussmann as Hillary’s lawyer (including for the Clinton Foundation, which may be incorrect), so FBI knew full well that Sussmann represented Hillary.
  • Priestap’s notes may be inadmissible hearsay at trial.

The NYT article predicting these charges also claim Durham is conflating Sussmann’s tracking of his hourly work with the actual money charged to the Hillary campaign.

Moreover, internal billing records Mr. Durham is said to have obtained from Perkins Coie are said to show that when Mr. Sussmann logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter — though not the meeting with Mr. Baker — he billed the time to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

[snip]

They are also said to have argued that the billing records are misleading because Mr. Sussmann was not charging his client for work on the Alfa Bank matter, but needed to show internally that he was working on something. He was discussing the matter with Mr. Elias and the campaign paid a flat monthly retainer to the firm, so Mr. Sussmann’s hours did not result in any additional charges, they said.

There are a number of other ways that Sussmann’s presumably well-funded defense will combat these charges. But as to the allegation buried amid all these details, Durham’s evidence is weak.

Durham’s materiality broadcasts his bid for a ConFraudUS conspiracy

But that’s not what this is about.

Durham is not just alleging that Sussmann was hiding that he was working for Hillary. He is also claiming that Sussmann was at the same time representing TE-1 at that meeting. In the indictment, I think that’s based on a single data point — that Sussmann billed TE-1’s company for “communications regarding confidential project” on September 14. I’m not sure whether that makes the false statements case still weaker or stronger.

But it’s a key part of where Durham obviously wants to go.

Not only are many of the details Durham included in the indictment irrelevant to the false statements charge, but if they were crimes by themselves, they would have been tolled under any five year statute of limitations already. There are only two conceivable purposes for including them in this indictment. First, to give the Alfa Bank Oligarchs more cause to sue more people, effectively a US prosecutor assisting Russians in cynical lawfare. Durham’s investigation incorporates stuff the Oligarchs have already liberated, so is itself derivative of Russian lawfare. Effectively, that means that a prosecutor working for Bill Barr’s DOJ pursued a prosecution that was complementary to an intelligence-related effort by foreigners who pay Kirkland & Ellis a lot of money. Sussmann will have real cause to question whether Brian Benczkowski (who recused from matters involving this aspect of Alfa Bank) or any other Kirkland & Ellis lawyer had a role in this strand of the investigation.

Then there’s the most obvious way to extend the statute of limitations on the events that happened in July and August 2016: to include them in a conspiracy that continued after those dates (and indeed, Durham refers to Elias, Researcher 1 and 2, and Tea Leaves in the way DOJ often uses to refer to charged or uncharged co-conspirators).

Given the extended statement Durham includes to explain why Sussmann’s alleged lie is material under the charged statute, that’s undoubtedly where Durham wants to head with his investigation.

SUSSMANN’s lie was material because, among other reasons, SUSSMANN’s false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of SUSSMANN’s clients.

Had the FBI uncovered the origins of the relevant data and analysis and as alleged below, it might have learned, among other things that (i) in compiling and analyzing the Russian Bank-1 allegations, Tech Executive-1 had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump; (ii) in furtherance of these efforts, Tech Executive-1 had enlisted, and was continuing to enlist, the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract; and (iii) SUSSMAN, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.

Don’t get me wrong. This will clearly pass the incredibly low standard for materiality under existing precedent. Though Sussmann will surely make much of citing the invented standard Billy Barr used to try to dismiss the Mike Flynn prosecution, which first requires the investigation in question to be legitimate.

The Government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue. Moreover, we not believe that the Government can prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.

[snip]

In any event, there was no question at the FBI as to the content of the calls; the FBI had in its possession word-for-word transcripts of the actual communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13. at 3. With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said. Whatever gaps in his memory Mr. Flynn might or might not reveal upon an interview regurgitating the content of those calls would not have implicated legitimate counterintelligence interests or somehow exposed Mr. Flynn as beholden to Russia.

If DOJ had no interest in figuring out whether Trump was undermining sanctions to pay off a quid pro quo, they sure as hell have no interest in launching a 3-year investigation to figure out the tie between these allegations and Hillary that was obvious to Priestap in real time, particularly given how quickly the FBI dismissed the allegations in 2017 and given that the allegations are not publicly known to have had a tie to their larger Russian investigation.

Still, while Durham will have no trouble proving Sussmann’s claimed lie meets the standards of materiality, Durham’s claims for it are ridiculous.

It’s a load of horseshit that FBI would have treated this tip any differently — which amounted to investigating it, alerting the press there was nothing to it, then dismissing it pretty quickly, as far as is public — if they knew that Sussmann was formally being paid at that meeting by Hillary, if he in fact was. Priestap knew Sussmann was representing Hillary and said as much in the best evidence Durham has! In fact, FBI’s warning to the NYT about this story in October could be presented as evidence that FBI already incorporated an assumption this came from Hillary.

Likewise, it’s a load of horseshit that FBI couldn’t know that the Bureau needed to ID the researchers behind the project. If I was able to figure that was important out before the 2016 election, and I did, then the experts at the FBI surely figured that out.

But what Durham’s materiality statement emphasizes — what Durham claims Sussmann intended to hide with his claimed lie — is that, “researchers at a U.S.-based university … were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract.” That’s the significance of ¶¶23a through e of the indictment, which describe how TE-1 provided data that included some from an Executive Branch office of the U.S. government, which his company had obtained “as a sub-contractor in a sensitive relationship between the U.S. government and another company,” to the university at which Researcher 1 and 2 were working, and both with his university researcher allies and employees of his own company, he tasked people to research Donald Trump. Durham is suggesting that subset of data taints the whole pool that TE-1 shared, making it a Federal interest.

It’s not just that Durham is working on a theory that Sussmann deliberately dealt garbage to the FBI (which GOP sources also did on the Clinton Foundation) while trying to hide that fact. It’s that data originally sourced from the government was used in doing that research.

It’s actually the kind of argument that DOJ prosecutors typically succeed with. Except it’s all premised on proving that Sussman was trying to hide all this in his meeting with Baker. Even if the evidence surrounding the meeting weren’t so flimsy, this is another degree of motive that Durham is straining mightily to make.

Durham needs Sussmann to have lied, because a deliberate attempt to obscure the rest is necessary for his “storyline.” His evidence that Sussmann lied — much less, deliberately — is shoddy. But if he can’t get that, then his hopes for a larger “narrative” collapse.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

That becomes more clear when you consider some details that Durham doesn’t include in his indictment.

Two details that were public to everyone involved make it clear why Durham’s silence about the exact dates in July when this operation started is so corrupt.

On July 22, WikiLeaks published emails that were at the time believed and since have been confirmed by the FBI to have been hacked by Russia. Durham hides the dates in July when many of these events transpired, but everything he includes suggests this activity post-dated the time when WikiLeaks published stolen emails and the entire security community in the US, surely including every researcher mentioned in this story, coalesced on the belief that Russia was the culprit. Durham refers to Russia’s attack on Hillary (and therefore on the US) inaccurately as, “the hacking of its email servers by the Russian government” and “a hack” (the hack went well beyond just email and continued through the period of Sussmann’s meeting with Baker). But, amazingly, Durham’s “narrative” doesn’t account for the fact that Hillary was targeted not just with an attack but with an information operation. And the timeline he presents here affirmatively hides that these events took place after the entire security community understood that there was an information operation aspect to the attack.

Then, on July 27, Trump gave a press conference in Florida where he said numerous things that make all the actions of Sussmann and others justifiable on national security grounds. First, Trump raised doubts about the Russian attribution of the DNC hack that, by that point in July, was the consensus among national security experts, undoubtedly including every tech expert mentioned in this indictment.

I watched this guy Mook and he talked about we think it was Russia that hacked. Now, first of all was what was said on those that’s so bad but he said I watched it. I think he was live. But he said we think it was Russia that hacked.

And then he said — and this is in person sitting and watching television as I’ve been doing — and then he said could be Trump, yeah, yeah. Trump, Trump, oh yeah, Trump. He reminded me of John Lovitz for “Saturday Night Live” in the liar (ph) where he’d go yes, yes, I went to Harvard, Harvard, yes, yes. This is the guy, you have to see it. Yes, it could be Trump, yes, yes. So it is so farfetched. It’s so ridiculous. Honestly I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power but Russia has no respect for our country.

And that’s why — if it is Russia, nobody even knows this, it’s probably China, or it could be somebody sitting in his bed. But it shows how weak we are, it shows how disrespected we are. Total — assuming it’s Russia or China or one of the major countries and competitors, it’s a total sign of disrespect for our country. Putin and the leaders throughout the world have no respect for our country anymore and they certainly have no respect for our leader. So I know nothing about it.

Trump then offered his bullshit explanation for why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, framing it in terms of whether he had business ties to Russia.

TRUMP: Because it’s under order. And I’ll release them when the audits completed. Nobody would release when it’s under — I’ve had audits for 15 or 16 years. Every year I have a routine audit. I’m under audit, when the audits complete I’ll release them. But zero, I mean I will tell you right now, zero, I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?

Trump then said the nation-state hack of his opponent wasn’t the important thing, the content of the emails that were released was, thereby encouraging the press to participate in the information operation aspect of this attack.

He already did something today where he said don’t blame them, essentially, for your incompetence. Let me tell you, it’s not even about Russia or China or whoever it is that’s doing the hacking. It was about the things that were said in those e-mails. They were terrible things, talking about Jewish, talking about race, talking about atheist, trying to pin labels on people — what was said was a disgrace, and it was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and believe me, as sure as you’re sitting there, Hillary Clinton knew about it. She knew everything.

Trump then asked Russia to further hack his opponent.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

Trump then doubled down on the comment he made about his taxes, assuring the press that he had “zero” business ties with Russia.

TRUMP: No, I have nothing to do with Russia, John (ph). How many times do I have say that? Are you a smart man? I have nothing to with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia.

And even — for anything. What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I told it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago. I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, OK?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course I can. I told you, other than normal stuff — I buy a house if I sold it to a Russian. I have nothing to do with Russia. I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course not. I own the Trump organization. Zero, zero. Go ahead.

Trump then reiterated his claim that no one could attribute the DNC hack to Russia.

TRUMP: No, but they seem to be, if it’s Russians. I have no idea. It’s probably not Russia. Nobody knows if it’s Russia. You know the sad thing is? That with the technology and the genius we have in this country, not in government unfortunately, but with the genius we have in government, we don’t even know who took the Democratic National Committee e-mails. We don’t even know who it is.

I heard this morning, one report said they don’t think it’s Russia, they think it might be China. Another report said it might be just a hacker, some guy with a 200 I.Q. that can’t get up in the morning, OK? Nobody knows. Honestly they have no idea if it’s Russia. Might be Russia. But if it’s any foreign country, it shows how little respect they have for the United States. Yes, ma’am.

Finally, Trump also stated that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia.

QUESTION: I would like to know if you became president, would you recognize (inaudible) Crimea as Russian territory? And also if the U.S. would lift sanctions that are (inaudible)?

TRUMP: We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.

Each of these comments, individually, would have raised eyebrows. The same comments, made by an American citizen, would equally have raised alarms among those committed to cybersecurity.

But for a presidential candidate to encourage the hostile nation-state information operation targeting his opponent, then ask the hostile nation-state to further target her, in conjunction with the repeated denials of any business ties to Russia raised real, legitimate questions about whether Trump was putting his own interests above the national security of the country.

You might excuse Durham for excluding this from his indictment because after all he was busy indicting a ham sandwich based on hearsay evidence he might be able to exclude these facts at trial. Except that an August 20 comment from TE-1 that Durham quotes in his indictment may be a direct reference to (and at the least incorporates knowledge of) this press conference.

Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.

That is, Durham included what appears to be a reference to the July 27 press conference. It appears (though Durham obscures this point) that all the actions laid out in this indictment post-date the press conference. Virtually everyone in the US committed to ensuring America’s national security was alarmed by Trump’s comments in this press conference. Yet Durham doesn’t acknowledge that all these actions took place in the wake of public comments that made it reasonable for those committed to cybersecurity to treat Donald Trump as a national security threat, irrespective of partisan affiliation.

Durham will work hard to exclude detail of Trump’s press conference from trial. But I assume that if any of the named subjects of this investigation were to take the stand at trial, they would point out that it was objectively reasonable after July 27 to have national security concerns based on Trump’s encouragement of Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton and his defensive denials of any business ties. Any of the named subjects of the indictment would be able to make a strong case that there was reason to want to, as a matter of national security, test Trump’s claim to have no financial ties to Russia. Indeed, the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded that Trump posed multiple counterintelligence concerns, and therefore has concluded that Durham’s portrayal of politics as the only potential motive here to be false.

Central to Durham’s theory of prosecution is that there was no sound national security basis to respond to anomalous forensic data suggesting a possible financial tie between Trump and Russia. Except that, after that July 27 speech — and all of these events appear to post-date it — that theory is unsustainable.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

And not only was it objectively reasonable to test whether Trump’s claims to have “zero” business ties to Russia were false, but those suspecting that Trump was hiding such ties were, in fact, correct.

According to Michael Cohen, when Trump walked off the stage from that July 27 press conference, Cohen asked Trump why he had claimed that he had zero business ties with Russia when he had in fact been pursuing an impossibly lucrative deal to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow. And we now know that within hours of Trump’s request, GRU hackers made a renewed assault on Hillary’s own servers. By the time security researchers pursued anomalous data suggesting covert communications with a Russian bank, Cohen had already participated in discussions about working with two sanctioned Russian banks to fund the Trump Tower deal, had agreed to work with a former GRU officer to broker it, had spoken to an aide of Dmitry Peskov, and had been told that Putin was personally involved in making the deal happen. Just on the Trump Tower basis alone, Trump had publicly lied in such a way that posed a counterintelligence risk to America.

But that was not the only thing that Trump had done by the date when a bunch of security researchers responded to anomalous forensic data to test whether Trump was hiding further ties to Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton.

In March, Trump hired Paul Manafort, a financially desperate political operative with close ties to a Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, who (SSCI provided three redacted examples of) may have been involved in the hack-and-leak operation. In April, Manafort started leveraging his relationship with Trump to try to make money. In May, Manafort started regularly sending Kilimnik the campaign’s internal polling data. All that happened before researchers started testing Trump’s claims to have had no tie to Russia. On July 28, Kilimnik emailed Manafort to set up a meeting to talk about the future of Ukraine. Just days after the researchers started the inquiry, on August 2, Manafort met with Kilimnik to discuss carving up Ukraine in the same meeting where he described his strategy to win the election.

In April, an academic with close ties to Russia, Joseph Mifsud, told an unqualified braggart whom Trump had added to his team to pretend he had a foreign policy plan, George Papadopoulos, that Russia had thousands of Hillary’s emails that they intended to release to help Trump.

In May, according to Rick Gates’ testimony, Roger Stone started claiming he had advance knowledge of what would become the WikiLeaks releases. On or about June 15, per Gates, Stone told him that “he had contact with Guccifer 2.” According to a warrant affidavit targeting Stone, he searched Google on “Guccifer” before the Guccifer website went up that day. On June 23, Manafort called Stone and then the two old friends met for 30 minutes in the Trump cafeteria. On June 30, Stone spoke to Trump. According to multiple sources (including Michael Cohen), Stone knew of the DNC drop before it happened.

In June, Don Jr accepted a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya at which he believed he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the meeting, Veselnitskaya asked Don Jr to end sanctions on Russia, and the candidate’s son said his dad would reconsider it if he won.

In short, the researchers who, in the wake of Trump’s damning comments, were testing whether Trump had lied about having ties to Russia, not only had objectively reasonable reasons to do that research. But their suspicions were proven correct, over and over again.

Durham describes the outcome of the FBI investigation into the allegations this way:

The FBI’s investigation of these allegations nevertheless concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel with Russian Bank-1. In particular, and among other things, the FBI’s investigation revealed that the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather, had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients.

Nothing here suggests the FBI disproved that this was an anomaly.

And there’s one more detail that Durham didn’t include in the Sussmann indictment: on July 26, Australia first shared their report about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer in May. The next day, July 27, the FBI Legat in the UK got the tip. On July 31 — before the substantive research into the Alfa Bank allegation began — the FBI opened an UNSUB investigation into who got advance warning about the Russian operation and shared it with George Papadopoulos. In other words, by hiding the dates when Tea Leaves first discovered the anomalous data, Durham is hiding not just the damning things that publicly happened before the Alfa Bank operation got started, but probably details about the tip that turned into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

In the wake of the Sussmann indictment, the usual Russian denialists have claimed that this proves that what they call “Russiagate” was all a fraud.

Such claims defy the rules of physics, suggesting that events that happened after the FBI opened an investigation to learn how and why the Trump campaign (via three channels, as it turns out) learned of the Russian attack in advance were in fact the cause of it.

It is likely that Durham will be able to exclude all these details from a Michael Sussmann trial, at least if it remains just a false statements case. He will be able to convince Judge Christopher Cooper, who is presiding over the case, that this information — that the researchers not only had reason to believe Trump presented a cybersecurity risk to the country, but that the researchers turned out to be right, and that FBI had itself determined there was reason to carry out the same kinds of investigations that the researchers did, possibly before any one of them took a single step — is irrelevant to the case against Sussmann. But if Durham charges ConFraudUS based on a claim that it was illegitimate to look into why Donald Trump was inviting Russia to hack his opponent, it will become centrally important that, before these researchers started conducting their investigation, the FBI had likewise decided such an investigation had merit.

The Alfa Bank story was sleazy and unethical. But it was still, nevertheless, an instance where someone representing the victim of a nation-state attack attempted to chase down information that may have pertained to that nation-state attack.

John Durham will go down in history as the guy who decided that torturing detainees, even in excess of legal guidance, was not a crime, but a victim sharing concerns about nation-state hacking is.

Update: It’s likely that Richard Burt was one of the people investigated as part of this effort. Per the Mueller Report, he was the person Petr Aven asked to establish a tie with Trump’s transition in 2016.

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, A ven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. A ven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

While at a L1 board meeting held in Luxembourg in late December 2016, Aven pulled Burt aside and told him that he had spoken to someone high in the Russian government who expressed interest in establishing a communications channel between the Kremlin and the Trump Transition Team. 1171 Aven asked for Burt’s help in contacting members of the Transition Team. 1172 Although Burt had been responsible for helping Aven build connections in the past, Burt viewed Aven’s request as unusual and outside the normal realm of his dealings with Aven. 1173

Burt, who is a member of the board of CNI (discussed at Volume I, Section IV.A.4, supra), 1174 decided to approach CNI president Dimitri Simes for help facilitating A ven’ s request, recalling that Simes had some relationship with Kushner. 1175 At the time, Simes was lobbying the Trump Transition Team, on Burt’s behalf, to appoint Burt U.S. ambassador to Russia.1176

Burt contacted Simes by telephone and asked if he could arrange a meeting with Kushner to discuss setting up a high-level communications channel between Putin and the incoming Administration. 1177 Simes told the Office that he declined and stated to Burt that setting up such a channel was not a good idea in light of the media attention surrounding Russian influence in the U.S. presidential election. 1178 According to Simes, he understood that Burt was seeking a secret channel, and Simes did not want CNI to be seen as an intermediary between the Russian government and the incoming Administration. 1179 Based on what Simes had read in the media, he stated that he already had concerns that Trump’s business connections could be exploited by Russia, and Simes said that he did not want CNI to have any involvement or apparent involvement in facilitating any connection. 118

Update: Corrected scope of Benczkowski’s recusal. His should cover the server issue (and Alfa Bank issues for the first two years he was CRM).

Update: Brian Krebs wrote a post laying out all the people who still believe there’s something going on technically. I don’t think that’s inconsistent, at all, with this one. As noted, everyone who looked at this believes it’s an anomaly. What I keep pointing to is the aftermath of that anomaly got Alfa Bank to act in a certain way that is consistent with Putin’s interests. Krebs notes that it has also led to a lot of scrutiny of security researchers in the US, not unlike the way the aftermath of the Steele dossier discredited most top Russian experts in the US government.

Update: This transcript of Preet Bharara and Joyce Vance discussing the many weaknesses of the Durham indictment largely replicates what I’ve laid out here but is worth a review.

Felipe Marquez’ Plugged-In Misdemeanor Guilty Plea

Seven January 6 defendants are known to have pled guilty on Friday:

  • (Reportedly, though it hasn’t been docketed yet) Terry Brown, the last of a group of people arrested in the Capitol Visitor’s Center the day of the riot to plead out
  • Brandon Harrison and Douglas Wangler, who traveled to DC from Illinois together and, after Trump’s rally, walked to the Capitol and entered the East door after the Oath Keepers had already done so; they saw a pile of wood on the floor when they entered
  • Brandon and Stephanie Miller, an Ohio couple who bragged about witnessing history on Facebook
  • Cleveland Meredith Jr, who showed up — armed, but late — to insurrection but made credible threats against Nancy Pelosi (and did something else that remains sealed)
  • Felipe Marquez, who drove his Tesla Model 3 from Miami and claimed while inside the Capitol that, “we only broke some windows”

The Meredith plea — the only one that wasn’t a misdemeanor trespassing plea — was pretty interesting because his prosecutors still haven’t revealed the substance of some sealed filings that will be taken into consideration at sentencing. Plus, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was threatened by Roger Stone and some Proud Boys two years before they teamed up to set off an attack on the Capitol, seemed unimpressed with Meredith’s claims that his threats against Pelosi weren’t all that serious.

But the Marquez plea may be more interesting over time. At the very least, that’s because he may mark a decision by DOJ to let edge obstruction defendants plead down to 18 USC 1752, the more serious of the two misdemeanor trespassing charges.

As I’ve laid out repeatedly, DOJ has used 18 USC 1512(c)(2), part of the crime of obstruction, to charge those who allegedly expressed the clear intent to prevent the vote certification with a felony. Upwards of 200 people, total, have been charged with obstruction, including Marquez. But among those charged with obstruction, there’s a great range of actions taken on January 6. Those charged include those who participated in a conspiracy — like Graydon Young and Josiah Colt, Jacob Chansley, who left ominous comments for Mike Pence on his dais seat and blew off repeated orders to vacate the Senate Chamber, and Paul Hodgkins, who brought his Trump flag to the Senate floor but left when the cops instructed him to.

I laid out here how Hodgkins, after he was the first to plead guilty, was sentenced to 8 months in prison after getting a three level enhancement for significantly obstructing the vote certification. But since that happened, at least ten different defendants have challenged this application of obstruction, posing difficult decisions for a number of judges.

Indeed, in the last several days, a number of defendants charged with obstruction have explicitly waived Speedy Trial rights to await the outcome of these challenges. That’s going to create a backlog in the already enormous logjam of January 6 defendants.

So I wonder whether DOJ will begin let the edge 1512 cases plead down to 1752. Particularly given judges’ apparent willingness to jail the misdemeanor defendants, for defendants not given a “significant obstruction” enhancement like Hodgkins got, the sentencing guideline is not that different, with up to a year available under 1752 (and probation after that), versus a range of 8 to 14 months on obstruction (that in reality might be closer to 3 to 8 months). The primary (but nevertheless significant) difference would be the felony conviction.

To be clear, Marquez is not the first to plead down like this. Eliel Rosa pled to the less serious trespass charge, 40 USC 5104 after being charged with obstruction, but there may have been evidentiary reasons DOJ agreed to do that, and as an immigrant from Brazil, he risks deportation after his sentence in any case. Karl Dresch was charged with obstruction but pled to 5104 after serving six months in pre-trial confinement. Kevin Cordon, who was charged with obstruction but pled guilty at the same time as his brother — who was charged only with trespassing — pled to 1752 instead of obstruction, just like Marquez did.

In other words, in cases where there are other circumstances that make such a plea worthwhile to DOJ, they’re certainly willing to consider it.

Still, it’s possible that Marquez represents a shift on DOJ’s part to do that for more defendants, as part of an effort to avoid a big backlog pending the review of the 1512 charge.

Or, maybe not.

There were several other details of Marquez’ plea hearing of interest. The hearing started by talking about some kind of pretrial violation (possibly some kind of non-arrest run-in with law enforcement), which led to two new conditions being added to Marquez’s release, a mental health evaluation and a specific requirement to alert the government of any contact with law enforcement. That’s not how plea hearings usually start, but AUSA Jeffrey Nestler reaffirmed that DOJ wanted to go forward anyway. Judge Rudolph Contreras even asked whether the request for mental health evaluation raised questions about Marquez’ competency to plead guilty, though neither his attorney, Cara Halverson, nor Nestler, had any concerns about that.

Nestler, by the way, is one of the key prosecutors on the omnibus Oath Keeper case, and ably defended DOJ’s application of obstruction in that case in a hearing on Wednesday. Aside from that large group and cooperating Oath Keeper witness Caleb Berry, the only other January 6 case, besides Marquez’, that he is prosecuting is that of Guy Reffitt, who has ties to the 3%ers.

In addition to the oddities in Marquez’ plea hearing, there’s something not in his plea agreement that is standard boilerplate for all the plea agreements thus far: a cooperation paragraph. That paragraph is not a full cooperation agreement; rather, it simply requires the defendant to agree to be debriefed by the FBI. Here’s how it appears in Cordon’s plea agreement down from obstruction to 1752.

Your client agrees to allow law enforcement agents to review any social media accounts operated by your client for statements and postings in and around January 6, 2021, and conduct an interview of your client regarding the events in and around January 6, 2021 prior to sentencing.

Its absence suggests that Marquez has already been debriefed. Indeed, an April motion to continue the case described that the evidence against Marquez included, “social media data, cell phone extraction data, as well as custodial interview files,” suggesting he was interviewed on his arrest.

That Marquez may have already provided truthful information is of interest because he spent part of the riot in Jeff Merkley’s office. His statement of offense describes his actions there obliquely:

While inside the Capitol, Marquez entered the private “hideaway” office of Senator Merkley where he sat at a conference table with other rioters.

His arrest affidavit describes a video Marquez posted to Snapchat from his time there.

3:45 to 4:11 – This clip is from inside a conference room.2 Several people are seated and standing around a mahogany table. Some people say, “No stealing; don’t steal anything.” At 4:02, a hand is visible, holding a light-tan colored vape pen similar to the one MARQUEZ was holding in the car in the clip from 0:54 to 1:54. At 4:04, someone pushes over a table lamp and says, “Why would I want to steal this bullshit.”

4:11 to 4:20 (end) – In this clip MARQUEZ turns the camera lens to film himself. He is wearing a red “KEEP AMERICA GREAT” hat and has a yellow gaiter around his neck, similar to what he was wearing in the earlier clip from 0:54 to 1:54. MARQUEZ appears to still be indoors, with a distinctive blue piece of artwork – the same as seen in Senator Merkley’s hideaway office – on the wall behind him. This is a screenshot of MARQUEZ’s face from the video:

2 Based upon conversations with representatives of the United States Capitol Police, the conference room in which MARQUEZ is present appears to be Senate room S140, the private “hideaway” office of Senator Merkley within the U.S. Capitol. The artwork visible on the walls of the conference room in MARQUEZ’s Snapchat video is also visible on a video that Senator Merkley posted to Twitter on January 6, 2021, at 11:36 pm, documenting some of the damage to his office.

Still, none of these descriptions reveals what Marquez might have seen (and subsequently shared) while in Merkley’s office.

Presumably partly because there’s little to no security footage of what went down, the investigation into what happened in Merkley’s office is one of the most interesting subplots of the investigation. There have been a number of trespassers who seem to have been arrested just to get their footage of what happened.  There’s a defendant who has never been charged who was, nevertheless, given discovery on the laptop that got stolen from Merkley’s office. And in the last few weeks, Brandon Fellows (who like Marquez has been charged with just obstruction but spent time in Merkley’s office) got a CIPA notice, meaning the government wants to use classified evidence against him.

In short, we simply don’t know. There’s something interesting about this plea. But it’s unclear what that is.

How Rick Gates Used Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel

Last week, DOJ released a reprocessed set of most of Rick Gates’ 302s in Jason Leopold’s FOIA for Mueller materials. I used that as an opportunity to pull together all of his 302s to capture the content and pull out the materials withheld under b7A exemptions (b7A exemptions reflect ongoing investigations — though many of these are clearly just counterintelligence investigations into Ukraine’s attempts to influence US politics). I did the same thing for Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, and Sam Patten’s files.

Reading all the 302s like this shows this, at times, Gates went wobbly on Mueller’s team. And it provides yet more evidence that a NYT article — bylined by two reporters that came up in Gates’ interviews, Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel — was a (wildly successful) attempt to misrepresent how damning were Gates’ admissions about Paul Manafort’s efforts to provide ongoing campaign updates to Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik.

Nevertheless, the NYT has never issued a correction.

It’s not news that Gates went wobbly on his cooperation. Andrew Weissmann described the beginning process of this in his book, Where the Law Ends. But the 302s suggest it was not a one-time event.

As Weissmann told it in his book published before all the 302s came out, in one of his first proffers, Gates told prosecutors that he himself was skimming money from Manafort.

Gates said he understood and, from there, we began in earnest, alternating between Gates admitting his guilt for the crimes he and Manafort had committed and our teasing out information he had about others. This can be an awkward dance, but Gates seemed to be forthcoming. For example, after walking us through how, precisely, he’d helped Manafort launder money from his offshore accounts, Gates explained that he’d also personally stolen money from Ukraine by inflating the invoices he submitted for their political consulting work then pocketing that excess cash. Gates had never told Manafort about this skimming, he said, or reported that extra income on his taxes. We hadn’t known about this—it was new information, and encouraging, since it signaled that Gates understood that he could not hide or minimize his own criminality anymore.

That may have happened in his first interview, on January 29, 2018, when he described diverting income from his DMP work to an account in London.

Having gotten Gates to admit cheating Manafort, Weissmann then turned to what he called a “Jackpot” moment, when Gates described two things: that, at the August 2 meeting in the Havana Room, Manafort had told Kilimnik how he planned to win the campaign (a question Weissmann’s team was obsessed with understanding), and also that Manafort had ordered Gates to send Konstantin Kilimnik polling data throughout the campaign (of which Mueller’s team did not have prior knowledge).

“I learned of that meeting on the same day that it happened,” Gates explained. “Paul asked if I could join him and ‘KK,’ ” as Gates called Kilimnik. “The meeting was supposed to be over dinner, but I got there late.”

I did not look over at Omer, but I knew he was thinking what I was, that it was good that Gates was being forthright so far and confirming what we knew.

“Do you know how long they had already been there?” I asked.

“I don’t, but I think I was fairly late getting there. They were well into the meal.”

“What do you recall being discussed?” Omer asked. “A few things,” Gates explained. One subject was money—certain oligarchs in Ukraine still owed Manafort a considerable amount. Another was a legal dispute between Manafort and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. We asked Gates if there was any new or unusual information raised about these issues, but he said no—those problems had been percolating for a while. This was not, it seemed, enough of a reason for Kilimnik to come to New York from Moscow.

“What else do you recall being discussed?” Omer asked.

“There was discussion about the campaign,” Gates said. “Paul told KK about his strategy to go after white working-class Democrats in general, and he discussed four battleground states and polling.”

“Did he name any states?” I asked.

“Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota,” Gates said.

“Did he specifically mention those states, and did he describe them as battleground states, or is that your description?” I asked.

“No,” Gates said. “Paul described them that way. And, yes, I remember those four states coming up.”

“And he described polling?” Omer asked.

“Yes, but I had been sending our internal polling data to KK all along,” Gates explained. “So this was a follow-up on that, as opposed to something out of the blue.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but why were you sending polling data to Kilimnik?”

“Paul told me to send him the data, periodically. So I did. I’d send it using WhatsApp or some other encrypted platform. I assume it was to help Paul financially. I just did what Paul told me to do.”

“KK didn’t have any position on the campaign, right?” I asked.

The 302 from that same first interview shows Gates raised Manafort’s election year meetings with Kilimnik, though he got some details wrong, as I’ll return to. Gates addressed the Havana Bar meeting in his second interview, too, though he continued to tell an implausible story.

In his third interview, Gates attempted to lie about whether he had deleted documents; after a long discussion (still redacted because of an ongoing investigation), Gates admitted “maybe” he had deleted documents after learning of Mueller’s investigation.

In the fourth interview (at which Gates referenced false claims floated in the press to suggest the Mueller investigation had dodgy beginnings), Gates attempted to hide that he had lied to Mercury Public Affairs and Podesta Group about who their Ukrainian client really was, only to admit that “overtime” he realized what he had told them was not truthful; ultimately he admitted that “we got cute” by registering (and getting Podesta Group to register) under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and not FARA. At least as recorded in the 302, that’s the interview where Gates first lied about a meeting Manafort had with Dana Rohrabacher. At the same interview, Gates’ lawyer, Tom Green (who is a friend of Mueller’s), made a statement attributing Gates’ failures to keep certain lobbying documents to DMP archiving policy; in his statement of offense, Manafort admitted he still had those documents when he submitted his lobbying filings.

Weissmann’s book describes catching Gates in the lie about Rohrabacher.

Not long after I reentered the room, our interview with Gates turned to the FARA charges. Gates explained, in a convoluted fashion, that he and Manafort had believed there was no need to register under FARA since they were not personally doing any of the lobbying themselves. Manafort understood now that the law required him to file, Gates said, but he hadn’t understood that at the time.

Nothing about this argument was credible. Manafort was not only a longtime lobbyist but an attorney himself; he had extensive experience navigating the FARA rules and had gotten entangled with the FARA Unit before. (In the eighties, Manafort had a presidential appointment in the Reagan administration, which normally would have prohibited him from also working as a lobbyist, but he’d requested a waiver from that facet of the FARA rules. Interestingly, when his request was denied by a responsible White House attorney, Manafort resigned from his public office in order to continue the more profitable private lobbying work.) We had even uncovered an email from Gates to Manafort that clearly set out the FARA regulations. It was inconceivable that they’d misunderstood the law. Even the factual premise of their purported misunderstanding was untrue: Manafort had personally acted as a lobbyist. We had emails showing that Gates had arranged a meeting for Manafort with the pro-Russia California congressman Dana Rohrabacher in March 2013, shortly after Rohrabacher became chair of the subcommittee that oversaw Ukraine issues.

It was clear that Gates was not being straight with us—not uncommon, initially, with people who try to cooperate; they tell the truth with various degrees of success at first. When we confronted Gates with the emails about the Rohrabacher meeting, Gates simply doubled down, floating an even more absurd claim. He acknowledged that, yes, Manafort and Rohrabacher had met in Washington in 2013, but Gates claimed that he remembered Manafort telling him at the time that the subject of Ukraine had never come up—and therefore, there’d been no reason for Manafort to register under FARA for this activity: It wasn’t actually lobbying.

This wasn’t true, either, and we had evidence to prove it. Gates and Manafort had prepared a memo after the Rohrabacher meeting for President Yanukovych of Ukraine, summarizing the discussion. That memo was one of the many damning documents we’d discovered from Manafort’s condo search. We showed it to Gates: Was everything written here a lie? we asked. He had no response.

Gates’s story was crumbling before our eyes. It was infuriating because it was so counterproductive for everyone, and, on a personal level, displayed a certain contempt for us, and a low opinion of our ability to discern the truth. The good faith we needed, on both sides, was evaporating.

I asked Tom Green, Gates’s counsel, to speak in private, and then decided with him that we should break for the day. I asked Tom to get to the bottom of whatever was happening. All along, Gates had seemed to have trouble when it came to discussing Manafort and his crimes. He was clearly straining to shed his allegiance to his old boss. Still, Gates was discussing his own crimes, and it wasn’t clear why he’d chosen to start lying, so stubbornly, now, about this particular point; the FARA charges weren’t even among the most serious ones we brought.

If there was some explanation, Tom would need to figure it out quickly. The lies we’d just been told were deflating for us, given how hopeful we’d been about Gates’s usefulness as a witness.

Right now, we told Tom, there was no way we could sign Gates up.

Ultimately, Gates would plead guilty to this lie about Rohrabacher as a separate false statement.

The next day, according to Weissmann’s book, Green had seemingly gotten Gates back on track.

Tom came back to our office the next day. “Look,” he said, “my client messed up.”

Gates was scared, he explained. This entire process was wrenching for him. Gates felt pulled between his desire to cooperate and his allegiance to Manafort, and his client had just momentarily broken down. He’d fed us the various cover stories yesterday to avoid implicating Paul on the FARA charges.

In his book, Weissmann doesn’t reflect on the other lies that Gates must have told before his team caught Gates in a lie they could prove was one. But Gates’ earlier testimony does conflict with what he would say later.

And even having recommitted to cooperating, it seems Gates was still shading the truth in those February sessions, at least until he actually pled guilty.

The released 302s show that on February 2, Gates admitted that they should have registered under FARA for the meeting with Rohrabacher. In the same interview, there are five pages discussing a redacted subject that remain exempted under a b7A (ongoing investigation) exemption. Even in that interview, even after admitting he was still on the DMP payroll in the months while everyone was trying to place Manafort on the Trump campaign, Gates offered implausible answers about why Manafort would ask him to provide updates to Oleg Deripaska in the guise of confirming a lawsuit that had been dismissed had been dismissed. Additionally, Gates explained away a briefing for Trump about Manafort’s ties to Ukraine as Manafort’s effort to have Gates prepared to answer press questions about the topic.

Importantly, given later admissions about Gates’ efforts to work the press, when asked about the emails with Kilimnik discussing campaign briefings that had been reported in the press the previous year, Gates claimed he hadn’t spoken to Manafort about those reports. Then, having claimed he and Manafort hadn’t concocted a cover story about them, he claimed that they were references to Deripaska’s lawsuit.

Gates was shown an email thread between Kilimnik and Manafort dated July 7, 2016 through July 29, 2016.

Gates stated he saw some of these email[s] in the news. Gates did not talk to Manafort about the emails when they were leaked to the press. In July 2016, the topic of conversation with Manafort was the Deripaska lawsuit.

But then shortly after, in the very same interview, Gates described talking to Manafort about the emails.

When this email came out in the news, Manafort told Gates, Brad Parscale and [redacted] that the article was “B.S.”

That is, Gates claimed not to have spoken to Manafort about the news, but then described doing just that, and based on that inconsistent claim, asserted that the emails about providing campaign briefings to Deripaska pertained to the lawsuit with the Russian oligarch.

In this interview where Gates was clearly trying to shade the truth, he nevertheless still admitted sending “confidential polling data derived from internal polls” to Kilimnik.

On February 7, Gates had his first interview with another Mueller team, the Russian team led by Jeannie Rhee. The interview largely focused on the role of Dmitri Simes had in Trump’s first foreign policy speech, and touched briefly on the various views people had about sanctions on Russia.

Even though the Mueller team would eventually obtain evidence that Roger Stone tried to influence this process through Gates, Gates never mentioned how he personally released news of the speech through Maggie Haberman as a way to inform Stone about it, effectively using Maggie as a vehicle to communicate with someone, Stone, whom Manafort treated as part of his team while hiding those direct ties.

On April 22, 2016, Maggie Haberman broke the news that Donald Trump would give a foreign policy speech. As she reported, the speech was scheduled to be held at the National Press Club and would be hosted by the Center for National Interest, a group that once had ties to the Richard Nixon Library.

Donald J. Trump will deliver his first foreign policy address at the National Press Club in Washington next week, his campaign said, at an event hosted by an organization founded by President Richard M. Nixon.

The speech, planned for lunchtime on Wednesday, will be Mr. Trump’s first major policy address since a national security speech last fall.

The speech will be hosted by the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center, and the magazine it publishes, The National Interest, according to a news release provided by the Trump campaign.

The group, which left the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in 2011 to become a nonprofit, says on its website that it was founded by the former president to be a voice to promote “strategic realism in U.S. foreign policy.” Its associates include Henry A. Kissinger, the secretary of state under Nixon, as well as Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a senior adviser to Mr. Trump. Roger Stone, a sometime adviser of Mr. Trump, is a former Nixon aide.

That night, according to texts released during his trial, Roger Stone wrote Rick Gates, furious that he had not been consulted about the details of the speech first — though Gates explained that he leaked it to Haberman so Stone would find out. “I cannot learn about a foreign policy speech from the media,” Trump’s rat-fucker said. “This is personally embarrassing. I’m out,” said the advisor who had supposedly quit the campaign almost a year earlier.

Among the things Stone bitched about learning from a leak to Maggie Haberman made partly for his benefit was about the venue. “No detail on venue and no input on content.”

In that same interview where Gates did not disclose Stone’s demand that he get a say on Trump’s foreign policy speeches, he nevertheless reiterated his admission that, “Gates sent Kilimnik both publicly available information and internal information from Fabrizio’s polls.” Gates also provided a description of Cambridge Analytica in the poll mix, though his descriptions of the campaign’s reliance on CA would remain inconsistent through the entirety of his cooperation with Mueller’s team.

Over the next two meetings, things seemed to get closer to finalizing the plea. In an interview on February 9, Gates further elaborated on why he had lied about the meeting with Rohrabacher. Prosecutors also got him on the record on an instance where he gave family members advance information about the acquisition of ID Watchdog, a company he had a stake in, by Equifax. Then in the following interview, Mueller’s team went through one after another crime he may have committed — insider trading (with IDW), bank fraud, bribery, “lack of candor under oath,” including during his 2014 FBI interview and the Skadden Report, campaign fraud, obstruction of justice, all of which would need to be on the record before he pled guilty.

After doing that, prosecutors got Gates on the record about key Mueller-related topics about which they wanted his cooperation, including Stone and Thomas Barrack. In their review of Gates’ description of the August 2 meeting, he confirmed that Deripaska was discussed (though claimed he only knew polling data was shared with the Ukrainian paymasters), and provided a really sketchy explanation of what this was all about:

Gates was asked why Kilimnik referred to Manafort’s “clever plan to defeat” Hillary Clinton in an email. Gates believed this referred to Manafort’s strategy to attack Clinton’s credibility. Gates was asked what was “clever” about this. Gates agreed that it was not clever and he did not know why Kilimnik characterized it as clever.

Gates did not trust Kilimnik. Gates did not know why Manafort was sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik. Gates said Kilimnik could have given the information to anyone.

That’s when the plea deal should have been finalized. But as Weissmann described in his book, it wasn’t.

Gates’ prior attorney (who was also representing someone else against whom Gates would testify), in the guise of demanding past payment, caused a sealed conference to be held before Amy Berman Jackson which alerted the press that he might be cooperating, which in turn generated a great deal of pressure on Gates not to flip (including the involvement of Sean Hannity). From Weissmann again:

But before we received the final versions back, with signatures, the process was disrupted yet again. Gates’s second defense counsel, Walter Mack, called our office unexpectedly and asked what the heck was going on: Was it true that his client was cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation?

It’s hard to convey the strangeness of Walter’s phone call: not only that he didn’t seem to know that Gates was seeking to cooperate, but that he was calling us for answers, instead of asking his own client, or his co-counsel Tom Green. We told Walter that he should direct those questions to Gates or Tom. It was not our place to be an intermediary between defendants and their various attorneys, or to mediate whatever spat Walter had just brought to our doorstep.

I’m still not sure what was going on behind the scenes. Later, Walter would claim a lack of payment from Gates—maybe that had something to do with it. But it was also hard to ignore that Walter happened to be simultaneously representing a man named Steven Brown in a separate case in New York. Brown had enlisted Gates in a fraudulent scheme and therefore could be harmed by information Gates might share if he cooperated.

Regardless, whatever dispute was playing out might have remained irrelevant to our case—except that Walter’s subsequent discussions with Tom apparently unraveled to the point that Walter filed a motion asking to be relieved as Gates’s counsel; this required all of us to appear briefly in court. The short proceeding had very little to do with our office and was under seal at the time, but our mere appearance at the courthouse roused interest from the reporters staking out the building. At the proceeding, the court told Tom to brief Walter on the cooperation progress. Shortly thereafter, someone leaked a story about Gates and his intention to cooperate to the Los Angeles Times.

This media attention was unsettling for Gates—as whoever leaked the story presumably knew it would be. It is hard enough to betray your former mentor, and walk away from your former life, by talking to government investigators. It is more daunting once you’ve seen your decision to cooperate spelled out in a national headline and are forced to discuss it with every friend and family member who calls to ask you if it’s true. Such press also sends out an alarm to those who’d seek to pull Gates back in line and away from the government.

As we feared, once the story ran, Gates got cold feet. Tom and I spoke nearly every day for the next two weeks. He explained that he was still working to convince his client to cooperate, and I expressed bafflement. I’d never seen anything like this before. Gates had passed the point of no return; because he’d already signed the proffer agreement and admitted his criminal liability to all of the charged crimes (and then some), he would be going to trial with effectively no defense if he backed out now. Tom assured me that Gates understood this—but he also said that Gates had lots of people loyal to the White House whispering in his ear.

So prosecutors drew up a second indictment against Manafort and Gates in Virginia. That, plus some advice from Charlie Black, may have been enough to get him back on board.

This time it seemed real. “He’s coming to my office to sign the papers right now,” Tom said.

I was relieved, but still skeptical. I told Tom I’d need to see him and Gates in our office again, to hear Gates explain what the hell had just happened. I also alerted him that we were, at that moment, pushing forward with our indictment in Virginia and, because the courthouse there didn’t allow phones or electronic devices, there was no way for me to call the prosecutors and stop it. Still, I assured Tom, this wouldn’t affect our deal: If Gates proved trustworthy, we’d move to dismiss this second set of charges in Virginia without prejudice and proceed in Washington as planned.

Gates came back into our office the next day. I leveled with him: “I’ve never had this experience before, and I need to understand what happened,” I said. “Why did you balk at the last minute? What’s going on?”

He seemed more vulnerable this time. He explained the intense pressure that Manafort and others were putting on him not to cooperate, how Manafort had told him that money could be raised to defray their legal expenses, and that the White House had their backs—code, Gates knew, to keep quiet and hold out for a pardon.

But, Gates went on, he’d also spoken to Charlie Black. Black had been in business with Manafort years ago, at the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, then gone on to become a dean of Republican Party strategists and enjoyed a sterling reputation. (In a masterstroke, it turned out, at a moment when Tom was almost out of ideas, he had recruited Black to reach out to Gates and offer advice.) Black told Gates that, were he in a similar predicament, he would cooperate. Gates wasn’t an old man like Black and Manafort, Black explained; he needed to think about himself and his young family. And moreover, Black insisted, Gates would be foolish to count on a pardon. Trump was too self-absorbed to be dependable.

“I took this all in,” Gates said, “and I decided to follow Black’s advice.” Black’s encouragement seemed to have finally empowered Gates to turn on his old boss. “I know there’s a possibility that Paul will get a pardon in the end, and I’ll have to watch him walk free. But I decided I just have to deal with what I’ve done, and own what I have done.” He’d broken the law, he said. He needed to deal with the consequences now and do right by his family.

The first interviews after Gates pled guilty focused on this process, eliciting descriptions of all the people Gates had spoken to in prior days, including the Black conversation, three conversations where Manfort tried to find money to pay Gates’ legal bills, and others. A pardon came up but no one told him he would be pardoned. Someone also tried to help Gates find what would have been his fourth defense team. Gates explained that he had been told the Nunes Memo and the IG Report on the Hillary investigation would change the climate for his defense.

But after that, things started to move forward. Investigators got a list of all the encrypted comms Gates had used and those he knew Manafort had used. Then they began to turn back to all the Manafort graft Gates would help prosecutors untangle.

On March 1 — the first time prosecutors would return to two key Russia-related issues after Gates pled guilty, the August 2 meeting and Roger Stone — Gates revealed that he had lied to Ken Vogel in 2016 (who was then with Politico) about the Havana Club meeting. Gates started by (improbably) claiming he had never before read the June 19, 2017 WaPo story in which Konstantin Kilimnik provided a cover story for the August 2 meeting. That led him to admit lying to Vogel because he believed they’d get away without disclosing the meeting.

Gates stated that he hadn’t previously read the 6/19/2017 Washington Post article, which contained a statement from Konstantin Kilimnik regarding a meeting held in New York on 8/2/2016. Gates stated that following the 8/2/2016 meeting (which was held at New York’s Havana Club), Gates spoke to Paul Manafort regarding a subsequent Politico story about it. The author of the Politico article, Kenneth Vogel, had emailed a list of questions to Manafort. Manafort forwarded these questions to Gates, who answered “no” to all the questions. Gates admitted that he lied to Vogel with these responses. He had been assured no one would find out about this meeting. Gates stated that Jared Kushner became angry following the Politico article, unsure as to why Manafort would have such a meeting.

Then Gates admitted that Manafort did ask him whether anyone called him about the meeting — something still redacted for ongoing investigation. Effectively, Gates admitted that he understood that Manafort expected him to lie about the meeting.

Remember, during precisely this period in 2016, Oleg Deripaska was playing a double game, making Manafort more vulnerable even while getting him to share campaign campaign information. Perhaps not unrelatedly, much of the next month of Rick Gates interviews in 2018 focused on the Pericles lawsuit that Deripaska used as leverage against Manafort to put him in that more vulnerable position.

A March 21 interview covering things like Roger Stone and Cambridge Analytica remains significantly redacted (including one b7A redaction covering the latter topic added since this 302 was last released).

Something sort of interesting happened in April 2018. On two consecutive days, Gates told a slightly different story about Roger Stone. On April 10, Rhee and Aaron Zelinsky joined Manafort prosecutors Weissmann and Andres. At the beginning of the interview, Gates warned that someone was not happy he was cooperating. In the April 10 interview, Gates provided details about Stone’s ongoing relationship with Manafort that don’t appear, in unredacted form, elsewhere, as well as details of calls and meetings from June (these communications were a focus at Stone’s trial). Gates revealed that the day before Stone’s “Podesta time in the barrel” comment on August 21, 2016, Manafort told Gates Stone had told him the emails would come out (this is consistent with at least one of Manafort’s interviews). One subtext of this interview is that the means by which Lewandowski got fired in June was related to Stone’s bid to get Hillary’s emails.

In the April 10 interview, Gates described a June 15, 2016 phone call he had with Manafort and Stone where Stone said “he had been in contact with Guccifer 2.” The FBI spent much of 2018 trying to track down forensic proof that this had indeed happen.

In the same interview, Gates asserted that Manafort,

always intended to use Stone as an outside source of information. Manafort relied on Stone to do operative work and dig up opposition material. Manafort had conveyed to Gates that Stone was in the hunt for Clinton’s emails prior to the Crowdstrike report dated 06/14/2016 announcement. Stone told Gates and Manafort something major was going to happen and that a leak of information was coming.

All told this may be Gates’ most revelatory interview about Stone.

But an April 11 interview, which covers the same issues (and at which Rhee was not present), seems to back off the claim that Manafort was pushing Stone to go get the emails. “[N]o one told Stone to go get” the emails Assange had. In a separate interview that same day (without the Stone team), Weissmann and Andres asked Gates about contacts he had had, though that seems to refer to contacts during 2017. On April 17, an interview seemed to focus on something Manafort had done.

Prosecutors kept asking about his contacts during the investigation (as they did with Mike Flynn during the same period). On May 3, Gates described with whom he had contact since his last interview (on April 19). That included two conversations with Maggie Haberman. Later in May, Gates was interviewed about his and Manafort’s response to an July 2016 AP report on Manfort’s Ukraine graft. In July, Gates revealed that, prior to pleading guilty, Manafort had warned Gates against his attorney Tom Green. In different July interview, Gates also described being in contact with people about a NYT report on him.

Gates’ plea deal required he get prior approval before he revealed any information derived from his cooperation to a third party. But he appears to have remained in touch with the NYT anyway.

In August, investigators grilled Gates about a topic that they hadn’t known about but which he had admitted on the stand while testifying in Paul Manafort’s trial: That he may have submitted a false expense report to the Inauguration Committee, replicating a theft that he had earlier used against Manafort. That discussion remains redacted under b7A redactions. It was not addressed in the government sentencing memo for Gates. It’s one potential crime Gates admitted only after entering into the plea agreement.

During fall interviews, Gates addressed additional investigative interest (such as the spin-off prosecutions arising from Manafort’s graft). He provided an interview on Stone on October 25 (the day before Steve Bannon would be interviewed and one of his last interviews before the election) that generally accorded with past testimony. And he did a few interviews pertaining to Kilimnik (parallel to the time when Manafort was being questioned about the same topic), including one where he reiterated that,

GATES understood that the polling data he was sending to KILIMNIK would be given to LYOVOCHKIN and DERIPASKA. GATES believed MANAFORT would have sent the polling data to LYOVOCHKIN as part of his efforts to get money out of Ukraine. GATES believed MANAFORT would have sent the polling data to DERIPASKA [redacted]. GATES opined that MANAFORT believed that Trump’s strength in the polls would be advantageous to him.

GATES provided KILIMNIK a mix of public polls and the campaign’s Fabrizio polling data based on what MANAFORT thought looked good. The Fabrizio polls were more reliable because they used cell phone polling data.

GATES provided certainly weekly data automatically to KILIMNIK. MANAFORT and GATES would send additional polling data on an ad hoc basis. On multiple occasions, GATES and MANAFORT would receive a poll and MANAFORT would tell GATES to send it to KILIMNIK based on the poll’s content.

That is, while there were conflicting details, after the time Gates started cooperating, his story about sharing polls repeatedly (though not always) acknowledged that Deripaska was receiving the polls. He consistently said the polls included non-public data (though his excuses for doing so varied from interview to interview and never offered a plausible explanation). And while he shifted the timeline earlier during the first interviews where he was telling other lies, after that point Gates never disputed that Manafort provided a more detailed explanation of his campaign strategy to Kilimnik, and he admitted his data sharing continued at least through the time Manafort left the campaign on August 19.

Gates’ description of what happened after that had some variances, as did his description of what polls were included in the sharing — but they always included Fabrizio’s polls, which, based on past work, they were the ones with which Kilimnik would be most familiar.

On November 7, the day Jeff Sessions would be fired, making way for Billy Barr to be nominated and confirmed, Gates did two interviews without his attorney, Tom Green, present.

There was, among the released interviews (there are about 60 that have been released, plus some other identified 302s that haven’t been), just one more in 2018.

Then, in advance of a February 15, 2019 interview, Gates’ attorney reached out to correct a claim that prosecutors had made as part of Manafort’s breach hearing. The important correction was that “GATES did not recall bringing [a document he had printed out earlier that day for a planning meeting] to the [Havana Bar] meeting. Gates affirmed, however, that,

At the 08/02/2016 meeting with GATES, MANAFORT, and KILIMNIK there was a much more detailed discussion of internal polling data compared to the data GATES sent to KILIMNIK via WHATSAPP. At the dinner meeting, GATES, MANAFORT, and KILIMNIK discussed internal polling from FABRIZIO which included battleground states.

[snip]

GATES recalled MANAFORT discussed internal polling from other sources including CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA. The information provided in this meeting by MANAFORT to KILIMNIK was based on internal information and polls; it was a synthesis that included internal polling data.

In addition to the major correction regarding the document he printed out, however, Gates altered his testimony from many (though not all) of his previous interviews in one key way. At an interview the day after Billy Barr was confirmed as Attorney General and as Mueller’s team were already drafting their report, Gates reported that,

DERIPASKA was also in the mix. GATES recalled, however, that the letter to DERIPASKA was related to MANAFORT’s and DERIPASKA’s legal dispute. GATES does not specifically know if MANAFORT sent internal polling data to DERIPASKA.

That is, in his first interview after Barr became Attorney General, Gates backed off a claim that (at least per the 302s) he had made as recently as late October, that he knew he was sending Deripaska the polling data.

Then, on February 22, Gates had a last interview, by phone (there must have been one or several in advance of the Stone and Greg Craig trials). For a third time, his attorney — Robert Mueller’s friend Tom Green — was not present.

The topic of the interview, like so many before, was whom Gates had had contact with about the investigation. But of course, this time, key details of the investigation, especially about sharing polling data with Kilimnik, had been revealed by one of those redaction failures that sometimes happen at opportune times. Gates described someone “alert[ing] GATES to the allegation discussed above,” but claimed “their communication had no substance.” Before and after that, though, redacted answers that Gates offered seemed to deny speaking to anyone about the allegations, whether the inquiry pertained to comparing notes about answers with others involved — as Gates had denied then disproved happened in summer 2017 — or lying to the media to minimize damage — as Gates had admitted lying to Ken Vogel about the very same allegation.

And in spite of the fact that Weissmann warned Gates at least once not to say anything about his communications with Green, Gates ended the interview by addressing a claim his attorney seems to have made. “GATES stated that his counsel GREEN had been mistaken in indicating to the Special Counsel’s Office that GATES,” with a long paragraph describing what Green had told prosecutors but that Gates, with Green absent, was denying.

It turns out, though, that the demonstrably false story that NYT told resembled the ones Gates told in interviews where he was also lying about Rohrabacher, a year earlier. The NYT claimed that Gates had only transferred the data during the spring, not in August. It claimed “most of the data was public.” And it claimed Gates had only shared the data with two Ukrainian oligarchs, and not Oleg Deripaska.

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, the person said. The oligarchs had financed Russian-aligned Ukrainian political parties that had hired Mr. Manafort as a political consultant.

In his first interview, Gates claimed that the two Kilimnik meetings happened in spring, March and May. He further claimed the last time he spoke to Kilimnik was in May 2016, not that August meeting nor later attempts to craft a cover story for the Skadden Arps intervention. He offered another reason entirely for the meeting than sharing campaign data: Yanukovych wanted Manafort to run his next campaign.

In his second interview, Gates was told clearly the meeting at the Havana Bar happened in August, but then, when he began to admit to sharing campaign information, suggested Manafort had shared “Manafort’s plan for the primaries.” When reminded again that the meeting happened in August, long after Trump sealed up the nomination, Gates still persisted by claiming “they must have talked about the delegate issue and Manafort’s plan to get Trump enough delegates to win the nomination.” This interview appears to be the first time Gates offered the explanations he settled on for sharing campaign strategy — to get the Ukrainians to pay their bills and to get Deripaska to drop his law suit. But when investigators asked the obvious question — why Manafort wanted to share campaign information from someone he thought was Russian intelligence Gates claimed none of this was secret.

Gates was asked why Manafort would provide strategy information on the Trump Campaign to someone he thought was Russian Intelligence. Gates stated that the information on the battleground states and strategy was not secret.

This comment appears between passages redacted for ongoing investigation, so it’s not really clear whether the “he” here means Gates (who later would admit he suspected Kilimnik was a spy) And yet, he and Manafort spent a good deal of time obfuscating about doing just that.

Back in January 2018, before he started getting caught in deliberate lies, Gates was telling stories that shifted the time and the substance regarding why he and Manafort shared campaign data with Konstantin Kilimnik. And then, just as the Mueller team started preparing to write their conclusions, the NYT published a story that adopted the same time shift and subject obfuscations.

And in between, Rick Gates shared details repeatedly about how he used Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel.

DOJ Treated Jerome Corsi as News Media but Not Roger Stone or Randy Credico (or Julian Assange)

Yesterday, DOJ released both an updated list of times when its media guidelines came into play (here are the 2016, 2017, and 2018 reports), as well as a summary of DOJ’s attempts to get records related to CNN, NYT, and WaPo reporting.

The former has raised some questions about how Mueller’s investigation applied these rules (as a reminder, my interview with the FBI was not with Mueller, though based on a month-long approval process I know to have occurred, I believe there is an entry in the 2017 report that pertains to me).

They’re easier to understand if you work through the second one, for legal process in 2019, first.

In the prosecution of an individual charged with obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, a United States Attorney authorized the issuance of a subpoena to a member of the news media for testimony. The member of the news media expressly agreed to testify pursuant to the subpoena. Because the member of the news media expressly agreed to testify, Attorney General authorization was not required. See 28 C.F.R. § 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A). The prosecution team did not call the member of the news media at trial.

There was just one trial of anyone for obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in 2016. George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Richard Pinedo never went to trial (nor did Alex Van der Zwaan, though his obstruction covered earlier events). Paul Manafort did go to trial for his tax cheating, but not for interfering with the Russian investigation (his plea breach hearing, which did pertain to lies he told to cover up his role in the Russian interference, was not a trial).

That means this has to be a reference to Roger Stone’s trial.

Two witnesses are known to have been subpoenaed, but not called to testify: Andrew Miller and Jerome Corsi. Randy Credico, a radio personality, testified at great length, including about how he booked Julian Assange and Roger Stone to appear on his radio show.

That’s not enough to prove that the reference is to Corsi (in part because there could have been other witnesses who were subpoenaed but not called to testify that we don’t know about). But now consider the second reference to the Mueller investigation, for something that happened in 2018.

In connection with an investigation into an alleged conspiracy involving persons or entities associated with a foreign government hacking the computers of a United States political party’s central organization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, authorized the issuance of a grand jury subpoena duces tecum for the production of toll records from a cellular service provider for a telephone used by a member of the news media suspected of participating the conspiracy, as well as an application for a search warrant to search the member of the news media’s internet cloud and email accounts. Following the initial authorization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, later authorized a voluntary interview of, and the issuance of a testimonial grand jury subpoena to, the member of the news media. All of this information was necessary to further the investigation of whether the member of the news media was involved in the conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and utilize the information from the hacked political party or other victims.

This is a description of someone investigated as a suspect.

While Mueller reviewed whether Don Jr violated the CFAA for accessing a non-public website he got sent a password to, the investigation into whether someone was part of the hack-and-leak conspiracy focused on Roger Stone (and Julian Assange, who does not obviously show up anywhere in this report, even though Mueller obtained a warrant targeting him as well). Two people were known to have been investigated as fellow suspects of Stone: Corsi and Ted Malloch. Mueller’s team obtained warrants and subpoenas targeting both. In Malloch’s case, however, the government is only known to have obtained his phone and his Gmail.

In Corsi’s case, however, Mueller targeted his Apple accounts, as well as email accounts held at CSC Holdings, and Windstream.

Mueller is not, however, known to have obtained a warrant targeting Credico.

If the government treated Corsi as a member of the news media in 2018, when they obtained warrants targeting him as a suspected co-conspirator of Roger Stone, then they likely treated him as a member of the news media in 2019, when they subpoenaed him — but did not call him — as a witness in Stone’s trial. That is, the available evidence strongly suggests that Corsi is the person described in both Mueller entries.

Which, in turn, suggests that DOJ treated Corsi — but not Stone or Credico — as members of the news media.

For what it’s worth, I’m virtually certain that there’s still a Mueller entry missing, pertaining to a member of the news media who asked for a subpoena before he would share materials relating to his work. That person has never been publicly referenced in Mueller-related investigative materials since released, but I believe 302s from the investigation reflect FBI having obtained the materials they were asking for from that member of the news media. But that incident would have fit under 28 CFR 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A), when a member of the news media agrees to provide information so long as he gets a subpoena, which under the media guidelines does not require Attorney General approval.

Update: There’s an important point that has been forgotten by these debates but which is implied in Merrick Garland’s statements about the media policy. There are other means to obtain records on people playing a journalistic function: under FISA, by providing probable cause that they are an agent of a foreign power.

How the FBI Missed Alleged January 6 Leader Joe Biggs

Let’s talk about how central Joe Biggs is to what we know of the implementation of January 6.

It explains a lot that — at least according to a claim Biggs himself made — two FBI agents were relying on him for information against Antifa in the lead-up to the terrorist attack.

By late 2018, Biggs also started to get “cautionary” phone calls from FBI agents located in Jacksonville and Daytona Beach inquiring about what Biggs meant by something politically or culturally provocative he had said on the air or on social media concerning a national issue, political parties, the Proud Boys, Antifa or other groups. Biggs regularly satisfied FBI personnel with his answers. He also stayed in touch with a number of FBI agents in and out of Florida. In late July 2020, an FBI Special Agent out of the Daytona Beach area telephoned Biggs and asked Biggs to meet with him and another FBI agent at a local restaurant. Biggs agreed. Biggs learned after he travelled to the restaurant that the purpose of the meeting was to determine if Biggs could share information about Antifa networks operating in Florida and elsewhere. They wanted to know what Biggs was “seeing on the ground.” Biggs did have information about Antifa in Florida and Antifa networks in other parts of the United States. He agreed to share the information. The three met for approximately two hours. After the meeting, Biggs stayed in touch with the agent who had called him originally to set up the meeting. He answered follow-up questions in a series of several phone calls over the next few weeks. They spoke often.

I don’t mean they were complicit. Rather, that they weren’t even aware that he was in the middle of plans to conduct a terrorist attack on the nation’s Capitol is a testament to and perhaps an explanation for how the FBI missed all this.

Joe Biggs is a former Army Staff Sergeant who did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before he left with a medical discharge and PTSD. After some troubled years, he started contributing to InfoWars, serving as a key proponent of the PizzaGate scandal that turned John Podesta emails stolen by Russia into an attack on a pizza restaurant in DC; he was formally ousted from InfoWars shortly after the Comet Ping Pong attack, but remained in the InfoWars orbit. Alex Jones claims he gave Biggs a big severance when he left. After that, Biggs was a key proponent of the Seth Rich conspiracy, posting the manufactured FBI Report that served as a basis for the Fox News story that had to be retracted.

According to one of Biggs’ own court filings, after he moved to Florida to take care of his mother in 2018, he contributed the same propaganda skills that fostered an attack on Comet Ping Pong and falsely impugned a murdered DNC staffer to the Proud Boys, ginning up events to sow violence in the name of Antifa.

The same year, 2018, after the move to Florida, Biggs became active as an organizer, event planner and thought leader in the Proud Boys. He used his platform as a radio and social media personality to promote Proud Boy events and ideas. In particular, he personally planned two major events: rallies in Portland, Oregon in both 2019 and 2020 designed as counterdemonstrations against Antifa, which had been active in and around Portland for over two decades.

His presence in Florida put him in close proximity to Enrique Tarrio and (as if his ties to InfoWars didn’t already do so) through him Roger Stone.

When Trump called out the Proud Boys in his first debate against Joe Biden, Biggs responded, “President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA . . . well sir! we’re ready!!” (Note, this hasn’t shown up in DOJ filings.)

Immediately after and in the weeks after the election, Biggs kept declaring war. “It’s time for fucking War if they steal this shit.” “No bitch. This is war.” ““This is a war on Americanism. This is only the beginning.”

On December 11, the Proud Boys (at least Enrique Tarrio and Ethan Nordean) appeared prominently at a Stop the Steal event with InfoWars personality Owen Shroyer. There was coordination between the militias at a march the following day, after which Enrique Tarrio destroyed a Black Lives Matter banner from the Asbury United Methodist Church in DC.

In the days after both the DC even and an event involving Stone in Florida, Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs claimed he organized a Florida-based “alliance” between the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and 3%ers.

On Christmas Eve, Meggs specifically tied protection at the January rally, probably of Stone, and coordination with a Proud Boy, almost certainly Tarrio, in the same text.

In the days after, both Tarrio and Biggs posted plans to dress like Antifa rather than in their signature yellow and black.

9. For example, on December 29, 2020, Tarrio posted a message on the social media site Parler1 about the demonstration planned for January 6, 2021. Among other things, Tarrio announced that the Proud Boys would “turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist… We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will be spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows….we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion.” I believe the statement about dressing in “all BLACK” is a reference to dressing like the group known as “Antifa,” who the Proud Boys have identified as an enemy of their movement and are often depicted in the media wearing all black to demonstrations.

10. On or around the same day, BIGGS posted a similar message to his followers on Parler in which he stated, among other things, “we will not be attending DC in colors. We will be blending in as one of you. You won’t see us. You’ll even think we are you . . .We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you. The only thing we’ll do that’s us is think like us! Jan 6th is gonna be epic.” I understand that BIGGS was directing these statements at “Antifa.”

On December 30, Southern California 3%er Russell Taylor described a plan to meet at the Capitol and — in conjunction with Stop the Steal — surround the Capitol.

Spread the word to other CALIFORNIA Patriots to join us as we March into the Capitol Jan 6. The Plan right now is to meet up at two occasions and locations: 1. Jan 5th 2pm at the Supreme Court steps for a rally. (Myself, Alan, [and others] will be speaking) 2. Jan 6th early 7am meet in front of the Kimpton George Hotel…we will leave at 7:30am sharp and March (15 mins) to the Capital [sic] to meet up with the stop the steal organization and surround the capital. [sic] There will be speakers there and we will be part of the large effort for the “Wild Rally” that Trump has asked us all to be part of. [my emphasis]

This plan — surrounding the Capitol — was what Stop the Steal figures partially carried out on January 6.

On January 4, when Tarrio arrived in DC for the riot, he was arrested for his attack on the Black Church in December, whereupon he was found with weapons that are unlawful in DC. In the wake of Tarrio’s arrest, Ethan Nordean was supposed to be in charge of the operation. But around 9:08PM the day before the riot (these texts reflect Nordean’s Washington state time zone, so add three hours), someone said he had not heard from Nordean in hours.

Minutes later, Biggs explained that “we just had a meeting w[i]th a lot of guys” and “info should be coming out.” While redacted in these texts, the superseding indictment describes that he also notes he had just spoken with Tarrio.

 

He further explained that he was with Nordean and “we have a plan.”

Biggs then says he gave Tarrio a plan.

Ethan Nordean may have been in charge on January 6. But Biggs seems to have been the one working most closely with Tarrio, through whom at least some of the inter-militia coordination worked.

After all that, the Proud Boy leaders agree to meet at 10AM the next day.

As captured by the WSJ, the next day, after the Proud Boys met at the Washington Monument, they then marched the East side of the Capitol first, but then later approach it from the Northwest. Just before Trump started speaking and before a broader call to assembly tied to 1PM, at 12:52 Biggs said something to Ryan Samsel, who then kicked off the assault on a series of barricades, giving a police officer a brain injury in the process.

Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola and Billy Chrestman were among the leaders of the next confrontation. After a series of fights, at 2:13, Dominic Pezzola broke through a window in the Capitol. Biggs followed him, with some other Proud Boys (in this picture, Paul Rae) in tow, a minute later.

Meanwhile, even as Biggs was leading a mob of people in a violent attack on the Capitol, Alex Jones — Biggs’ former employer — was leading a larger mob of people from the Ellipse, where they had just been instructed by their President that “we’re going to the Capitol, and we’re going to try and give…we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help. We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” Jones stopped when he got to the Capitol and gave a speech.

According to Stacie Getsinger, a woman from South Carolina who was arrested for trespassing in June who was listening to Jones at that first speech, Jones told his audience to go to the other side of the building (which would be the East side), because that’s where Trump’s next speech would be.

She and her husband did. Trump gave no speech, but they were among the first wave of people to breach the East entrance.

Alex Jones went to the other side of the Capitol, too. Even before he did, though, Oath Keeper Jason Dolan was on the stairs, waiting.

As Dolan waited, Jones and his entourage (including Ali Alexander and the recently arrested Owen Shroyer) pushed up the stairs stack-style.

Meanwhile, at some point, former InfoWars employee and Florida militia member reportedly joined in an alliance with the Oath Keepers by fellow Floridian Meggs, Biggs left the Capitol from one of the West entrances, walked around it, and assembled on the East Steps with Arthur Jackman, Rae, and two others (probably Kevin and Nathan Tuck, and possibly Edward George; the Tucks are both — now former — cops, and Jackman’s and one of the Tucks’ spouses still are cops).

At 2:39, Rae and Jackman can be seen approaching the East Door with Biggs.

At around 2:40, they entered the East door.

At almost exactly the same time, Jason Dolan and Kenneth Harrelson entered the door along with the Oath Keeper stack led by Kelly Meggs (this is believed to be a picture Harrelson took of Dolan filming the entry; if you watch the video you can see both signs visible in the Biggs photo, making it clear that the people kitted out with helmets in that picture are the Stack).

People like the Getsingers — who were brought there by Alex Jones — pushed through around the same time.

Something brought Joe Biggs, Florida Oath Keepers Kenneth Harrelson and Jason Dolan, along with former Biggs employer Alex Jones to the top of the East steps, along with the mob that Jones brought on false pretenses. Shortly thereafter, Florida Oath Keeper head Kelly Meggs would bring a stack of Oath Keepers through the same door and — evidence suggests — in search of Nancy Pelosi, whom Meggs had talked about killing on election day.

Joe Biggs kicked off the riot on the West side of the building.

Then he went over to the East side to join his former employer Alex Jones and a bunch of Oath Keepers, led by fellow Floridians, to lead a mob back into the Capitol.

West side. Joe Biggs. East side. Joe Biggs.

This is the guy a couple of FBI Agents in Daytona believed was a credible informant against Antifa.

[Thanks to Benny Bryant for continuing to help me sort through the Oath Keeper side of this, and thanks to gal_suburban for sharing the video of Jones on the East side.]

Reuters Doesn’t Mention Terrorism When Claiming DOJ Won’t Charge Serious Offenses in the January 6 Investigation

Reuters has a story claiming to report that, “FBI finds scant evidence U.S. Capitol attack was coordinated,” that has elicited a lot of consternation. I’d like to look at what it does and does not say. Most of it is true — and not news — but somewhere along the way someone (either the reporters or the sources) misunderstood parts of what they’re looking at.

Reuters or its sources don’t understand how DOJ is charging this

One detail shows this to be true.

The Reuters piece makes much of the fact that DOJ is not charging what it calls “serious” charges.

Prosecutors have filed conspiracy charges against 40 of those defendants, alleging that they engaged in some degree of planning before the attack.

They alleged that one Proud Boy leader recruited members and urged them to stockpile bulletproof vests and other military-style equipment in the weeks before the attack and on Jan. 6 sent members forward with a plan to split into groups and make multiple entries to the Capitol.

But so far prosecutors have steered clear of more serious, politically-loaded charges that the sources said had been initially discussed by prosecutors, such as seditious conspiracy or racketeering.

[snip]

More than 170 people have been charged so far with assaulting or impeding a police officer, according to the Justice Department. That carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

But one source said there has been little, if any, recent discussion by senior Justice Department officials of filing charges such as “seditious conspiracy” to accuse defendants of trying to overthrow the government. They have also opted not to bring racketeering charges, often used against organized criminal gangs.

Not once does the story mention obstruction, which also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. If you don’t mention obstruction — and your sources don’t explain that obstruction will get you to precisely where you’d get with a sedition charge, but with a lot more flexibility to distinguish between defendants and a far lower bar of proof (unless and until judges decide it has been misapplied) — then your sources are not describing what is going on with the investigation.

Furthermore, Reuters purports to rule out “more serious, politically-loaded charges,” but it never mentions terrorism.

One reason it wouldn’t, though, is because for domestic terrorists, you don’t charge terrorism, you charge crimes of terrorism or you argue for an enhancement under U.S.S.G. §3A1.4 at sentencing. And that has and will continue to happen. For example, both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys  conspiracies include 18 USC 1361 charges (damage to a government building exceeding $1,000, a charge that is a bit of a stretch for the Oath Keepers) that constitutes a crime of terrorism, and the government has raised that and noted it is a crime of terrorism in a number of bail disputes. Effectively, DOJ has already called the leaders of the militia conspiracies terrorists. But Reuters doesn’t think that’s worth noting.

Similarly, for both the assault pleas DOJ has obtained thus far, the government has reserved the right to invoke a terrorism enhancement at sentencing. In the case of Scott Fairlamb, who also pled guilty to obstruction, which effectively amounts to pleading guilty to having a political purpose for his assault, I suspect such an enhancement is likely.

Somehow this entire story got written without mentioning what DOJ is using instead of seditious conspiracy: obstruction (which has been charged against over 200 defendants) and terrorism enhancements; civil disorder is likewise not mentioned, but has been charged against around 150 defendants. DOJ isn’t using seditious conspiracy because it doesn’t need it (again, unless and until the courts reject this use of obstruction).

Reuters mis-describes the Proud Boys’ role in the riot

Much of the rest of the story includes details that are true, and public, but arguably misleading.

A “former senior law enforcement official” (most former senior people who had visibility on the investigation have been gone for some time) claims that 90 to 95% of these cases are “one-off” cases, seemingly distinguishing between the 40 people Reuters describes to have been charged in conspiracy from the 540 or so who have not been charged with a conspiracy.

“Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” said a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. “Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”

On paper, that’s true, and in key places a really important detail. But in other places it doesn’t mean what Reuters suggests it says.

For example, consider the nine men charged in the assault of Daniel Hodges. None of them knew each other before they started beating the shit out of some cops in the Tunnel of the Capitol. But several of the men charged nevertheless managed to orchestrate the assault (indeed, that’s most of what David Mehaffie did do — make other assailants more effective) and so, even while these individuals did not conspire to beat the shit out of cops, they worked in concert when they did so. The same is true for the men jointly accused of assaulting Michael Fanone (though Daniel Rodriguez has not been charged with the other men involved, many people believe because he’ll be charged in a conspiracy with others from Southern California).

Plus, the number cited to Reuters is probably wrong. Ten percent of the 580 people charged would be around 60. There were that many people on the Proud Boys’ organizational Telegram channel that day (though not all those people were present). There are a bunch of Proud Boys already charged individually, including some (like Dan Scott) who could easily be added to existing conspiracy indictments, others charged as groups (like the five Floridians on the Arthur Jackman indictment), and a father-son pair Jeffrey and Jeremy Grace who just got a terrorism prosecutor added. There are five Oath Keepers not included in that conspiracy (four cooperating against the others). And DOJ is only beginning to unwind the 3%er networks involved. So even just considering militias, the number is likely closer to 80.

And there are other important affiliations represented at the riot — with QAnon and anti-maskers being two of the most important — that actually created networks that were in some ways more effective than the militias. The QAnoners didn’t conspire with each other but they sure as hell were directed from the same place. And anti-mask protests were actually one place where a goodly number of rioters were radicalized, and those localized networks manifested as cells of cooperation in some key incidents in the riot.

More importantly, this claim can only have come from people who misunderstand what the investigation has shown:

Prosecutors have also not brought any charges alleging that any individual or group played a central role in organizing or leading the riot. Law-enforcement sources told Reuters no such charges appeared to be pending.

Conspiracy charges that have been filed allege that defendants discussed their plans in the weeks before the attack and worked together on the day itself. But prosecutors have not alleged that this activity was part of a broader plot.

It’s true that the Proud Boys are not known to have had a detailed plan describing who would move where in the Capitol. But it’s also true that both before and after the riot, the Proud Boys discussed mobilizing the “normies,” because normies have no adrenalin control. And the Proud Boys’ success at doing this is what made the initial assault on the West side of the Capitol work (and therefore the attack generally). The Proud Boys weren’t ordering the 1,000 rioters what to do at each step (though probably 100 people at the riot had some interaction with the Proud Boys), but they did give the riot a kind of structure that was crucial to its success.

Maybe Roger Stone isn’t involved?

Because of the other problems with this article, I don’t know what to make of the single piece of news in it. As noted above, a former senior law enforcement official claims that, “there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.” That makes sense with respect to Alex Jones; his videographer was arrested long ago and remains charged only with trespass.

But Stone has continued to appear in Oath Keeper filings long after the time that someone very senior would have left. And the two cooperators who might confirm or deny Stone’s involvement — Graydon Young (who did an Oath Keeper event with Stone in Florida) and Mark Grods (who was present with the Oath Keepers who were with Stone the day of the attack) — only pled guilty at the end of June, meaning if they confirmed Stone wasn’t involved (even in the planning for the attack known to have taken place in December, in Florida), it wouldn’t have happened all that long ago.

Particularly given the mention of kidnapping — which was a real question at the beginning of the investigation because of the zip ties that Larry Brock and Eric Munchel picked up inside the Capitol — this seems like a denial of a very dated misunderstanding of what happened.

I don’t think this story is meant maliciously. For example, I’m unimpressed with concerns raised about Tass’ ownership; this is Mark Hosenball and he’ll do the same reporting regardless of who signs his paycheck. Nor am I all that concerned by the anonymity of the sources; I’m more interested in how dated some of this information might be and which corners of the sprawling investigation those who actually worked on it were personally involved with.

It reads like the end result of a game of telephone asking questions that were raised in January, not a report about the investigation as public filings reveal it to be in August.

Update: DOJ just charged InfoWars host Owen Shroyer. The initial charges are just trespassing (leveraging a prior charge and Deferred Prosecution Agreement he entered), but he’s likely to be charged with obstruction based on stuff in his arrest affidavit.

How a Trump Prosecution for January 6 Would Work

Jeffrey Toobin wrote a shitty piece arguing — seemingly based exclusively on Trump’s request to Jeffrey Rosen to delegitimize the election results in Georgia and Trump’s January 6 speech — that Merrick Garland should not prosecute Trump.

Toobin’s piece sucks for the same reason that all the mirror image articles written by TV lawyers, the ones explaining how DOJ might prosecute Trump, also suck: because none exhibit the least familiarity with how DOJ is approaching January 6, much less what allegations it has already made in charging documents. They are, effectively, nothing more than throwing a bunch of laws at the wall to see whether any stick (and in Toobin’s estimation, none do).

Almost none of these TV lawyers engage with how DOJ is applying obstruction as the cornerstone of its January 6 prosecutions. For example, Toobin considers whether Trump obstructed justice, but he only analyzes whether, when, “Trump encouraged the crowd to march to Capitol Hill but he did not explicitly encourage violence,” Trump obstructed the vote certification. Of around 200 January 6 defendants charged with obstruction, I can think of few if any against whom obstruction has been charged based solely on their actions on the day of the riot, and Trump is not going to be the exception to that rule. As with other January 6 defendants, DOJ would rely on Trump’s words and actions leading up to the event to prove his intent.

In this post, I want to lay out how a DOJ prosecution of Trump for January 6 would work. I’m not doing this because I’m sure DOJ will prosecute. I’m doing it to make the commentary on the question less insufferably stupid than it currently is.

Assumptions

The piece makes three assumptions.

First, it assumes that DOJ’s current application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to cover the vote certification survives judicial review. It’s not at all clear it will, either because the courts (this will go to SCOTUS) don’t believe Congress intended to include Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings like the vote certification in a law covering official proceedings, because the courts will decide that rioters had no way of knowing that interrupting Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings was illegal, or because courts will decide that rioters (all of them, as opposed to one or another making a compelling case to a jury) did not have the requisite corrupt purpose. There are currently at least nine challenges to the application of the law (at least two more have been raised since Judge Randolph Moss had prosecutors put together this list). If TV lawyers want to argue about something, this might be a more productive use of their time than arguing about whether Trump can be prosecuted more generally, because the question doesn’t require knowing many actual facts from the investigation.

This piece also assumes that DOJ would apply two things they asserted in a filing pertaining to Mo Brooks to Trump as well. That filing said that the scope of federal office holder’s job excludes campaign activity, so any campaign activity a federal office holder engages in does not count as part of that person’s duties.

Like other elected officials, Members run for reelection themselves and routinely campaign for other political candidates. But they do so in their private, rather than official, capacities.

This understanding that the scope of federal office excludes campaign activity is broadly reflected in numerous authorities. This Court, for example, emphasized “the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection” in holding that House or Senate mailings aimed at that purpose are “unofficial communication[s].” Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982) (upholding statute that provided franking privileges for official communications but not unofficial communications).

DOJ also said that conspiring to attack your employer would not be included in a federal office holder’s scope of employment.

Second, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in a conspiracy and incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6. That alleged conduct plainly would not qualify as within the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States, because attacking one’s employer is different in kind from any authorized conduct and not “actuated . . . by a purpose to serve” the employer. Id. § 228(1)(c).

These two principles, taken together, would get beyond some of the challenges involved in investigating someone covered by Executive Privilege and making orders as Commander-in-Chief. Importantly, it would make Trump’s activities in conjunction with the January 6 rally subject to investigation, whereas they broadly wouldn’t be if they were done in Trump’s official capacity.

Finally, if DOJ were to charge Trump, they would charge him in a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count that intersected with some of the other conspiracies to obstruct the vote count, possibly with obstruction charges against him personally. In general, I don’t think DOJ would charge most of Trump’s discrete acts, at least those conducted before January 20, as a crime. There are two possible exceptions, however. His call to Brad Raffensperger, particularly in the context of all his other efforts to tamper in the Georgia election, would have been conducted as part of campaigning (and therefore would not have been conducted as President). It seems a clearcut case of using threats to get a desired electoral outcome. It’s unclear whether Trump’s request that Mike Pence to commit the unconstitutional action — that is, refusing to certify the winning electoral votes — would be treated as Presidential or electoral. But that demand, followed closely with Trump’s public statements that had the effect of making Pence a target for assassination threats, seems like it could be charged on its own. Both of those actions, however, could and would, in the way DOJ is approaching this, also be overt acts in the conspiracy charged against Trump.

The other conspiracies

If DOJ would only charge Trump in the context of a conspiracy to obstruct the vote (with whatever other charges added in) that intersects with some or all of the other conspiracies charged, it helps to understand what DOJ has done with those other conspiracies. Here’s what the currently charged conspiracies look like:

DOJ has been treating the multiple Proud Boy conspiracies as one (about which Ethan Nordean is complaining); I think they’re doing that — and excluding other key players who could be in one of the conspiracies, including all the most serious assaults committed by Proud Boy members — as a way to show how the cell structure used on the day worked together to serve a unified purpose, while also managing visibility on different parts of their ongoing investigation. For my purposes here, I’ll focus on the Leadership conspiracy, with the understanding that (notwithstanding Nordean’s complaints) DOJ credibly treats the others as the implementation of the conspiracy the Proud Boy Leaders themselves have laid out.

All of these conspiracies, as well as a disorganized militia conspiracy DOJ has been saying they’ll charge, share the same object: to stop, delay, or hinder Congress’ certification of the Electoral College win. Basically, all these conspiracies, as well as a hypothetical one that DOJ might use against Trump, would involve ensuring that he still had a route to remain in power, that he lived to fight another day. By themselves they did not involve a plan to remain in power (though Trump could be charged in a broader conspiracy attempting to do that, too).

They also all allege common Manners and Means (to be clear, these defendants are all presumed innocent and I’m speaking here of what DOJ claims it will prove). Those include:

  • Agreeing to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging as many people as possible, including outside their own groups, to attend the operation
  • Funding the operation
  • Preparing to make participants in the operation as effective as possible, in all cases including communication methods and in most cases including some kind of defensive or offensive protections
  • Illegally entering the Capitol or its grounds and occupying that space during the period when Congress would otherwise have been certifying the vote

While all of those conspiracies follow the same model, there are some unique characteristics in four that deserve further mention:

Proud Boy Leaders Conspiracy: Operationally, those charged in the Proud Boy Leaders conspiracy managed to assemble a mob, including Proud Boy members (many organized in sub-cells like the Kansas City cell Billy Chrestman led), fellow travelers who met up and marched with the Proud Boys that morning, and those who knew to show up at 1PM (while Trump was still speaking). With apparent guidance from the charged co-conspirators, the Proud Boys managed to kick off the riot and — in the form of the Proud Boy Front Door co-conspirator Dominic Pezzola wielding a stolen shield — break into the building. Thus far (probably in part because Enrique Tarrio is not currently charged in this or any conspiracy), the government has been coy about what evidence it has of coordination with others, including at a December MAGA March in DC. Key planning steps, however, involve deciding not to show Proud Boy colors the day of the riot and fundraising to buy gear and support travel (Christopher Worrell got to DC on a bus paid for by the Proud Boys but that has not yet been charged in any conspiracy). On top of radios and blow horns, two Telegram channels — the larger of which had 60 members — appear to have played key roles in organizing events the day of the riot. To the extent that Proud Boys came armed, they appear to have done so individually, and thus far, DOJ has not included the worst assaults committed by Proud Boys in any of the conspiracies. Several of the charged co-conspirators started talking about war in the days and weeks after the election and those who gathered with the Proud Boys on the morning of the riot skipped Trump’s rally, making their focus on the vote certification much clearer than many others that day.

Oath Keeper Conspiracy: The indictment alleges this conspiracy started on November 9 with a plan both to use Antifa as a foil to excuse violence and in expectation that that violence would be Trump’s excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and/or respond to that call. The conspiracy used the promise of serving as security — both at the rally and for Roger Stone and other “dignitaries” — to recruit people to come to DC, and in fact a number of the charged co-conspirators were present with Stone the morning of the riot. In addition to kitting out in various Oath Keeper gear at different events on the day of the event, the militia had a serious stash of weapons at the Ballston Comfort Inn in case things did turn violent. The key thing, operationally, this conspiracy achieved was to provide organized brawn to an effort to open a second front to the attack via the East Door of the Capitol. The nominal head of this conspiracy, Florida State head Kelly Meggs, claimed to have set up an alliance with other militias in Florida (he first made the claim a day after the militia had provided “security” for Stone at an event in Florida). Over the course of the investigation, the government has also gotten closer to alleging that Meggs expressed the desire to and took steps to target Nancy Pelosi personally while inside the Capitol.

3%er Southern California Conspiracy: The men charged in this conspiracy — who occupy the overlap between 3%ers and the anti-mask community in Southern California — organized themselves and others to come armed to the Capitol. As alleged, they started organizing formally in explicit response to Trump’s December 19 advertisement for the event. Both online and in an appearance by Russell Taylor at the rally on January 5, they called for violence. They organized in advance via Telegram chat and on the day with radios. Operationally, these men personally participated in the fighting on the west side of the Capitol (most never went in the building but the government contends they were in restricted space outside). But from a larger standpoint, these men form one intersection between the more formal Trump organization behind the rallies and a group of radicalized Trump supporters from across the country.

Disorganized Conspiracy: You’ve likely never heard of Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave, nor should you have. Their conspiracy (DOJ has not yet charged it but has been planning to do so since April) started when Sandlin responded to Trump’s calls for people to attend the event on December 23 and started looking online to join up with others. “Who is going to Washington D.C. on the 6th of January? I’m going to be there to show support for our president and to do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump when he decides to cross the rubicon.” They’re an excellent example of a bunch of guys — along with Josiah Colt, who entered into a cooperation agreement against the other two — who got radicalized via a messy stew of ideologies online, armed themselves for insurrection, raised money and traveled to DC together planning for violence, and allegedly engaged in assaults at two key points inside the Capitol that allowed the occupation of the Senate chamber, and in Colt’s case, Mike Pence’s chair itself. Here’s a video of the two (in orange and all black) fighting to get into the Senate just released today:

Colt has admitted (and may have GoPro video showing) that the three went from learning that Pence had refused Trump’s demand — the government doesn’t say whether they learned this via Trump’s tweet — to forcibly occupying the Senate in response. So while you haven’t heard of them and they’re not members of an organized militia, they still played a tactically critical role in forcibly occupying the Capitol in direct response to Trump’s exhortations.

Questions

There are still a slew of questions about Trump’s actions that have — publicly at least — not been answered. Some that would be pertinent to whether he could be charged with conspiracy include:

  • When Trump said, “stand back and stand by” to the Proud Boys on September 29 — after they had already threatened a Federal judge to serve Trump’s interest, and whose threats had been dismissed by Bill Barr as a technicality — did he intend to signal some kind of relationship with the Proud Boys as the Proud Boys in fact took it to be? Was this part of an agreement to enter into a conspiracy?
  • When both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers started planning their January 6 operation in the days after the election, speaking already then of being called by the President to commit violence, was that based on any direct communications, or was it based on things like the earlier Proud Boys comment?
  • When Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who would later lead the operation on January 6 formed an alliance to keep Trump in office in December at an event with Roger Stone, was Stone involved?
  • What conversations did Trump and Stone have about his pardon even as these militia plans were being put in place?
  • What evidence does DOJ have about the Proud Boys’ decision — and their communication of that decision to at least 60 people — not to attend the Trump speech but instead to form a mob that would later march on the Capitol and lead the breach of it while Trump was still speaking?
  • Did Trump time the specific lines in his speech to the Proud Boys’ actions, which were already starting at the Capitol?
  • What orders were given to the Park Police about various crowd sizes and planned events that explains their failure to prepare?
  • Trump told Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to use the National Guard to protect his protestors on January 3. On January 6, some Proud Boys expressed surprise that the Guard was not protecting them. Did the Proud Boys have reason to believe the Guard would not protect the Capitol but instead would protect them? Why was the Guard delayed 4 hours in responding? Why was there a 32 minute delay during a period when the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were considering a second assault in relaying an order from Miller to the Guard Commander who had the Guard in buses waiting to deploy? Did the militias call off their second assault based on advance information that the Guard was finally being deployed?
  • Both Rudy and Trump made calls to Members of Congress on January 6 making specific asks for delays at a time when the rioters had already breached the building. Did that include a request to Paul Gosar, and did that result in the delay in evacuating the House side that led to Ashli Babbitt’s death, which Gosar (and Trump) have been key figures in celebrating? Would DOJ be able to get either Gosar or Tuberville’s testimony (they already have the voice mail Rudy left for Tuberville, and because Rudy’s phones have otherwise been seized, if they can show probable cause they have access to anything on his phone).
  • Rudy had texts from a Proud Boy affiliate within 9 days after the riot about implementing a plan to blame it all on Antifa. That guy  had, in turn, been in contact with at least six people at the riot. Were they in contact before and during the riot? Again, DOJ has the phones on which Rudy conducted those conversations, and they happen to have his cell location for other purposes, so the question is do they have probable cause to get the same data for the Jan 6 operation?

What a Trump conspiracy might look like

Even without answers to those questions, however, there are a number of things that Trump did that might form part of a conspiracy charge against him (this timeline from Just Security has a bunch more, including magnifying threats from people who would later take part in the insurrection). The Manners and Means would mirror those that appear in all the charged conspiracies:

  • Agreeing (and ordering subordinates) to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging the Proud Boys to believe they are his army
  • Personally sowing the Big Lie about voter fraud to lead supporters to believe Trump has been robbed of his rightful election win
  • Asking subordinates and Republican politicians to lie about the vote to encourage supporters to feel they were robbed
  • Encouraging surrogates and campaign staffers to fund buses to make travel to DC easier
  • Using the January 6 rally to encourage as many people as possible to come to DC
  • Applauding violence in advance of January 6 and tacitly encouraging it on the day
  • Recruiting members of Congress to raise challenges to the vote count
  • Asking members of Congress to delay evacuation even as the rioters entered the building, heightening the chance of direct physical threat (and likely contributing to Ashli Babbitt’s death)
  • Asking Mike Pence to do something unconstitutional, then targeting him after he refused, virtually ensuring he would be personally threatened
  • Possibly muddling the line of command on which civilian agency would coordinate response, ensuring there would be none
  • Possibly taking steps to delay any Guard response at the Capitol
  • Possibly ignoring immediate requests from help from leaders of Congress

DOJ knows exactly what happened with Trump’s requests that DOJ serve as the civilian agency to lead response on Janaury 6, and some of the witnesses have given transcribed interviews to Congress and probably DOJ IG. Some details about which there remain questions — who delayed the National Guard — would be available to subpoena. The big question, and it’s a big one, is what kind of communications Trump had with members of Congress to ensure there was maximal conflict and physical risk on that day.

But much of this, including the illegal request of Mike Pence and the specific targeting of him in the aftermath, which directly affected the actions of the disorganized conspiracy, are already public. Both the computer Enrique Tarrio brought to DC and Rudy’s phones have been accessible if DOJ wanted to obtain a warrant for them.

None of this addresses the complexities of whether DOJ would charge a former President. None of this guarantees that DOJ will get key charged defendants to flip, whose cooperation might be necessary to move higher in the conspiracy.

I’m not saying DOJ will charge Trump.

But if they were considering it, it’s most likely this is how they would do so.

Update: Per Quake’s suggestion I’ve added the funding of buses.

Update: Reuters reports that FBI has found “scant” evidence of central coordination in the attack, specifically naming Stone.

Like All His Co-Conspirators, Donald Trump Would Be Charged for Obstruction, Not Incitement

Today is the day that DOJ has to inform Judge Amit Mehta whether or not Mo Brooks’ incitement of January 6 rioters is part of his job, which would require DOJ to substitute itself for Brooks in Eric Swalwell’s lawsuit. Commentators who appear not to have followed the court cases very closely suggest that if DOJ does substitute for Brooks, it’ll make it impossible to hold Trump accountable for his role in the riot.

Brooks argued in court papers that his statements came as Congress prepared to certify the election results and that he was acting in his role as a federal lawmaker, representing his constituents, that day.

Now, the Justice Department and the top lawyer for the U.S. House of Representatives are involved. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta has directed them to say by Tuesday whether they consider Brooks’ statements to be part of his duties as a member of Congress, and whether the federal government should substitute itself as a defendant in the case.

“We hope DOJ will see Brooks’ appalling conduct on Jan. 6 for what it was and what he admitted it was, which was campaign activity performed at the request of Donald Trump, which inarguably is beyond the scope of his employment as a member of Congress,” said Philip Andonian, a lawyer who brought the case on behalf of Swalwell.

Andonian said there’s no way Brooks and Trump were acting in their capacity as federal officials, which would give them a legal shield under a law known as the Westfall Act. Instead, he said, they were engaged in campaign activity, which doesn’t deserve that kind of protection.

[snip]

[Protect Democracy’s Kristy Parker] said she’s worried that if the Justice Department endorses Brooks’ and Trump’s statements on Jan. 6 as within the scope of their federal employment, it could complicate the efforts of prosecutors to bring the rioters to justice.

“That is not going to have a good impact on the ongoing criminal cases when it comes to persuading judges that the people who stormed the Capitol should get hefty sentences when the people who inspired them to do it have been endorsed as acting within the scope of their official jobs,” Parker said.

This column lays out some of the legal complexities regarding Brooks, including that even if DOJ does substitute for Brooks, it likely still leaves him exposed to part of the lawsuit.

I say the people claiming that this decision will determine whether or not Trump can be held accountable seem not to be following the actual court cases. If they had, after all, they’d know that the crime for which key instigators are facing “hefty sentences” is obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct the vote count. They’d also know that every single conspiracy indictment thus far has the same objective — to stop, delay, or hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

They’d also know that the overt acts in these parallel conspiracy cases involve getting large numbers of people to DC — often by publicizing the event on social media — and then getting those people to occupy the Capitol.

That is, if people were following the court cases rather than uninformed commentators, they’d know that the 38 people charged with conspiracy and the at least four people cooperating against them (not to mention the almost 200 individuals charged individually with obstruction) all had the same goal as Trump — they wanted to prevent the vote certification. Those charged with a conspiracy also used some of the same overt acts that Trump did, making sure lots of bodies were there and making sure that those bodies were occupying the Capitol.

They also might know that, starting with the Three Percenter SoCal conspiracy, DOJ started charging people who threatened violence as part of their efforts to get more bodies to the Capitol.

The difference between the threats that Trump made against Mike Pence after Pence refused an unconstitutional request from him and the threats of execution that were included in Alan Hostetter’s posts in advance of the riot is that virtually all the people who occupied the Capitol on January 6 were aware of Trump’s threats and some took action to implement them.

The disorganized militia conspiracy (which will presumably be rolled out any day now) is significant because at least one of the men who will likely be charged in it, Nate DeGrave, said he was responding entirely to Trump’s exhortations. DOJ likely has video evidence of the effect that Trump’s attacks on Mike Pence had on those men as they walked from his speech to the Capitol. Those men fought with cops to open up a second front of the siege on the Capitol and then they fought with cops to get into the space where, Josiah Colt hoped and believed, Senators were still conducting the vote count. These men are charged with trying to intimidate government personnel like Mike Pence, something that Trump also did.

We already have evidence Trump shared the same goal as every person charged with conspiracy and evidence that Trump committed some of the very same overt acts as those charged. We even have evidence tying Trump’s own actions with physical violence committed with the goal of reaching Mike Pence to intimidate him.

We don’t, yet, have evidence that Trump agreed with any of the co-conspirators already charged. But we are within two degrees of having that, working through either Rudy Giuliani or Roger Stone, which would make Trump a co-conspirator with all the others.

I’m not saying DOJ will get that evidence. As I’ve said, a goodly number of people are going to have to agree to cooperate before DOJ will get there, though we have abundant reason to believe such agreements were made.

But unless this novel application of obstruction gets thrown out by the courts, then it remains ready-made to fit Trump right in among the other co-conspirators, just one violent mobster among all the others.

Even Billy Barr agreed that Presidents could be charged with obstruction. And if Trump is going to be held accountable for his actions on January 6, it will be via obstruction charges, not incitement.

The “Big Boss” Directing Tom Barrack’s Actions

There’s something almost entirely missing from the Tom Barrack indictment charging him with acting as an Emirate Agent. The money.

The indictment invokes forfeiture law, suggesting that someone profited from all of this or there’s some other loot the government wants to seize (but it lists none specifically; a memo requesting detention until a bail hearing requests that Barrack be made to identify all his financial assets to get bail).

But other than that, the sole mention of money describes that, on July 14, 2016 (months after this relationship started), Barrack pitched a “guidance board” that would tie UAE’s investments with strategic goals.

The presentation proposed the creation of a guidance board “through which all [UAE] investments are intertwined with the strategic vision of the country’s foreign and domestic policies as well as economic goals,” with the guidance board mandating “that all investments in operating companies use the resources at their disposal to influence [UAE’s interests] abroad … and partner with leading [UAE] friendly-influential figures to do so.” The presentation further proposed that the defendant THOMAS JOSEPH BARRACK work directly with Emirati Official 2 to execute the proposed strategy.

Then, months later on December 14, after Trump’s victory, this proposal assumed continued influence over Trump’s actions.

While the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also accomplish a secondary mandate to garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [Trump] … We will do so by sourcing investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [Trump] Presidency.”

This suggests that Barrack and Colony Capital would be expected to direct UAE’s Sovereign Funds in such a way as to implement their policy goals. A 2018 NYT story described how Barrack’s investment firm raised $7 billion in the time after Trump got the nomination, almost a quarter of it from Saudi and Emirate sources — but none of that appears in the indictment.

Mr. Barrack’s company, known as Colony NorthStar since a merger last year, has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia, according to an executive familiar with the figures.

These financial relationships will face a great deal of scrutiny as this case goes forward because a Foreign Agent cannot be someone “engaged in a legal commercial transaction.” One defense Barrack might try to make is that this was all about obtaining customers for his investment fund. But if no money changed hands, Barrack might suggest he sincerely believed in the import of fostering better ties between the Emirates and the US.

A Foreign Agent, not a lobbyist

Contrary to what you might have read, this is not a FARA case, which is generally treated as a regulation covering certain kinds of lobbying for foreign (including non-governmental, like the political party Paul Manafort hid his work for) entities. Barrack was charged under 18 USC 951, which is about working for a foreign government directly. The statute is sometimes referred to as Espionage Lite, and in this case, the government might believe at least some of the people involved — perhaps Al Malik, who fled the country days after the FBI interviewed him in April 2018 — are spies. By charging 951, though, the government only has to show that the team was ultimately working on orders from government officials without registering, not that someone was secretly reporting to another country’s spying agencies.

And this is pretty clearly about a relationship directly with UAE. In addition to Barrack and his employee Matthew Grimes, the indictment describes a chain of command in which several senior Emirati officials convey requests through Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi (referred to as Alshahhi in the indictment and as Al Malik here and elsewhere) to Barrack. On the Emirati side, Emirati Official 1 (EO1), is described as someone who, “held a high-ranking position in its armed forces,” but who, given events described in the indictment, must be Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed. Emirati Official 2 (EO2) is described as a “high-ranking official with responsibilities related to national security,” but appears to be National Security Advisor Tahnoun Bin Zayed. Emirati Official 3 (EO3) is described as a member of UAE’s National Security Council. Their orders often get delivered to Al Malik through Emirati Official 4 (EO4), who is described as a government official who reports to EO 2 and EO3. There’s also a diplomat, Emirati Official 5, who asked Barrack to provide insight into the top national security appointments Trump was planning. Basically, this amounts to MbZ tasking EO4 to instruct Al Malik to provide instructions in turn to Barrack. This structure is important, because it demonstrates that Barrack was being directed directly by the UAE government and, starting in October 2016, directly by MbZ himself.

A secret agent hiding the direct orders he was following

Aside from this reporting structure, two things will help the government make the case that Barrack was working as an Agent of UAE. Officials from the Emirates explicitly said that they wanted to use Barrack to represent their policy interests in the US rather than relying on their ambassador. For example, EO2 explains why he prefers to work through Barrack than UAE’s ambassador because he, “knows ambassadors can’t do much and they are limited even if they’re active.” After Barrack started doing TV appearances where he pitched the UAE, Al Malik told him that EO1 had said, “you are the new trusted friend!” And after Grimes submitted a Barrack op-ed for advance review by Emirate officials, Al Malik responded that, “Big boss loved it.” Then after the op-ed came out (having had a reference to dictatorships that the Emiratis found objectionable removed), Barrack asked through Al Malik “how Boss liked the article?” The indictment further describes how, in December, the Emirates directed Barrack and Grimes to put together a set of plans — “100 days/6 months/year/4 years” — of what they wanted to accomplish along with the Saudis; on that plan Barrack, Al Malik affirmed in Arabic, would “be with the Arabs.” Then, when Al Malik wrote Grimes and suggested the US should list the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Grimes responded, “At your direction.” This is the language of clear direction, channeled right from the top of the UAE government.

And while not required (remember that Maria Butina didn’t really hide what she was up to or even her ties to Aleksander Torshin), the indictment describes several ways that those involved tried to keep this relationship secret. As Barrack shared a Trump speech in advance, he described that it was “Totally Confidential.” In September, just as Barrack would start dealing directly with MbZ and two days before he’d call out MbZ in a Bloomberg interview, the go-betweens instructed Barrack to download the encrypted messaging app that MbZ uses. Barrack seems to have gotten a text directly from MbZ on September 29. And then in October, Grimes arranged to get both Barrack and himself dedicated phones to use to communicate with MbZ and others via the encrypted app.

While not included in the indictment, the detention memo also describes that Barrack downplayed his ties with Al Malik in a filing to the State Department.

Indeed, in June 2017, the defendant completed and submitted paperwork to the U.S. Department of State in connection with his efforts to secure an official position in the Administration. In his submissions, the defendant materially misrepresented his connection to Al Malik, falsely claiming to have had only infrequent contact with Al Malik and further claiming that he did not know Al Malik’s citizenship or whether Al Malik was affiliated with a foreign government, despite describing Al Malik in private communications as the UAE’s “secret weapon.” Further, in his submissions to the U.S. Department of State, the defendant was required to report any occasions when he had been asked to provide advice, serve as a consultant, even informally, or otherwise work on behalf of a foreign government. The defendant failed to disclose his extensive activities on behalf of the UAE.

It’s partly all this secrecy that will help the government prove their case.

But the way the government uses additional charges to show that Barrack tried to hide all this will help. In addition to 951 and Conspiracy to violate 951 charges (the latter of which was likely included because it’s easier to prove and to provide defendants, particularly Grimes, with a charge that has less onerous penalties to plead to), the government charged Barrack with obstruction of justice and four counts of false statements for attempting to lie about this. In a June 20, 2019 interview with the FBI, the indictment alleges that Barrack lied about whether:

  1. Al Malik asked Barrack to do things for UAE
  2. Barrack downloaded an encrypted app to use to communicate with MbZ and other Emirati officials
  3. Barrack set up a meeting between MbZ and Trump and, generally, whether he had a role in facilitating communications between them
  4. He had a role in prepping MbZ for a September 2017 meeting with Trump

Curiously, the detention memo mentions two more lies that aren’t included in the indictment:

(1) writing a draft of a speech to be delivered by the Candidate in May 2016; (2) reviewing a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to senior UAE officials on how to increase the UAE’s influence in the United States with his assistance;

In any case, this structure makes it easy to hold Barrack accountable at least via his lies to the FBI, and that he allegedly lied is powerful evidence that the full scope of the relationship was meant to be secret.

The key Trump world figures and the black box White House

Over coming days, we’ll learn who all the Trump officials named in the indictment are, but a key, unstated part of it all is Barrack’s success at placing Paul Manafort on Trump’s campaign. The indictment dates Barrack’s role as an “informal” advisor to Trump’s campaign to “approximately April 2016,” one month after Barrack had a key role in installing Manafort on Trump’s campaign.  It describes how Al Malik set up a meeting on April 24, in advance of which Barrack boasted that he had a 30-year relationship with Trump and had “staffed the Campaign.” After a meeting in the Emirates, EO 4 confirmed to Alshahhi that Barrack would be “the only channel” to Trump for UAE. Days later, Barrack sent Alshahhi a draft Trump energy speech and asked for feedback. Ultimately, Barrack succeeded in getting a promise to “work with our Gulf allies” into a May 26 Trump speech.

It’s not really clear with whom Barrack was working on the campaign. The indictment describes that “a senior member of the Campaign” emailed Barrack with a revision of the Energy speech, in response to which, Barrack instructed the “senior member” that they needed “one paragraph to balance foreign-policy concerns for energy dependent allies in the gulf.” ¶22 It’s likely that this is either Manafort himself (who had not yet fully pushed out Corey Lewandowski but was well on his way) or Rick Gates, the latter of whom played a similar role when Roger Stone wanted to script Trump’s foreign policy statements at that stage of the campaign.

Barrack’s role as Chair of Trump’s Inauguration Committee is minimal to the crimes in this indictment (meaning double jeopardy would not prevent him from being charged in that, too). But one paragraph does describe how Barrack agreed when Al Malik offered to “take care of ME side” of the the Inauguration. And the indictment describes that when Al Malik attended the Inauguration, he did so as Barrack’s personal guest.

Similarly, there’s no mention of December and January meetings involving Jared Kushner and others, even though the December 12, 2016 meeting happened right after Barrack was in UAE on December 2.

One thing the indictment may have tried to do is insulate the indictment from any Executive Privilege concerns. Its narrative stops at the White House door. The indictment describes Al Malik asking Grimes to get the Administration to list the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO and describes a public report shortly thereafter describing that it was under consideration, but it doesn’t describe who or even whether Barrack talked to to make that happen. It describes that Al Malik asked Grimes to set up a phone call between MbZ and Trump, describes Grimes observing that it got set up “right after I spoke to [Barrack] about it,” and quotes Grimes saying, “We can take credit for phone call.” But the overt acts of the indictment don’t actually say whether they deserved credit, or whether someone else had picked up the influence racket. The government must know he did, because they charge him for lying about setting up this meeting but it, by itself, is not an overt act. The day after MbZ met with Trump, Barrack wrote Al Malik describing that he had “lots of info on [the White House] meeting!” without describing Barrack’s source for that information. In an exception that proves the rule, the indictment describes how, as part of an effort to kill plans for a meeting at Camp David to mediate tensions in the Gulf, Barrack left a message with Trump’s Executive Assistant saying he had “something very important to share [using an ellipsis rather than naming Trump or anyone else] about the Middle East,” followed by Al Malik, two days later, offering “very special thanks and appreciations from the big guy.”

In other words, even though two of the charged lies pertain to Barrack’s role in shaping US policy in events that directly involved Trump, and even though comments suggest Barrack successfully interceded, the White House is treated as a black box; no discussions within the White House or between Barrack and Trump appear in the indictment, but they are implied in many places.

Where this came from where it will go

This investigation started well before 2018, because that’s when Al Malik fled the country just days after an FBI interview. That means it could have been a referral from the Mueller investigation (though given that Barrack lives in Los Angeles, it’s not clear why Mueller would have referred it to EDNY rather than CDCA). DOJ conducted other investigations into UAE’s foreign influence peddling there (as well as some investigations into Jared), so it’s possible this arose out of those investigations.

One thing that’s curiously missing from this indictment, though (along with references to the December 2016 or January 2017 meetings) is any reference to George Nader, who also was operating on instructions direct from MbZ and who provided extensive grand jury testimony as part of that investigation. When Nader tried to obtain a copy of his grand jury transcript as part of his defense in other influence peddling crimes in November 2019, it was revealed there were still multiple ongoing investigations referenced in it. There’s good reason to believe that Nader was not entirely forthcoming with Mueller though, in which case DOJ may not want to invoke him at all.

It’s equally interesting where this might go, which is part of the reason I find the different treatment of Candidate Trump from President Trump in the indictment really notable. This is an investigation that Billy Barr didn’t kill and that survived any pardon attempt, which suggests that Barr and Trump didn’t entirely kill all investigations implicating Trump (though the Rudy Giuliani investigation already showed that). But there are a number of things — most notably, the Inauguration — that might be implicated here but really isn’t part of the indictment.

Merrick Garland’s DOJ is not shying away from crimes that directly implicate Donald Trump. But the way they treated the White House as a black box in this indictment suggests significant deference to things Trump did while President.

Update: This Intercept story from June 2019 strongly suggests that this Barrack investigation arose out of the Mueller investigation.

Al-Malik’s name later surfaced in connection with a federal probe into potential illegal donations to Trump’s inaugural fund and a pro-Trump Super PAC by Middle Eastern donors. Al-Malik was interviewed by members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and was “cooperating” with prosecutors, his lawyer told The Intercept last year. The New York Times recently reported that investigators are looking into “whether Mr. al-Malik was part of an illegal influence scheme,” although no details of that potential scheme have been made public.

In fact, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that al-Malik served as a paid intelligence source for the UAE throughout 2017, The Intercept has learned.

[snip]

After he was interviewed as part of the Mueller investigation, al-Malik left Los Angeles, where he’d been based for several years, and went back to the UAE.

And the story describes Al Malik’s handler as the Director of UAE’s National Intelligence Service, Ali al-Shamsi.

Among the Emirati government officials overseeing al-Malik was Ali al-Shamsi, director of the Emirati National Intelligence Service, according to The Intercept’s sources. A source who knows al-Shamsi described him as “more than just a spy. He’s also a discreet messenger” for Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, and his brother Tahnoun bin Zayed, the UAE’s national security adviser.

This description is perfectly consistent with the description of EO 4 from the indictment.