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Merrick Garland Agreed He Would Go after January 6 Kingpins, if Evidence Merits

There continue to be questions about how we’ll ever get accountability for January 6 without a January 6 commission to do that work.

In an exchange yesterday, for example, Bart Gellman asked what questions we’d most want a January 6 commission to answer, and I responded, “Why there’s such a broad belief that a criminal investigation won’t answer those questions.” In response, NYT’s Alan Feuer speculated that,

DOJ’s 500ish criminal cases will not ultimately touch the potential liability in 1/6 of political figures including but not restricted to the former president.

This prosecution writ large is (speculation alert) likely to be restricted to verifiable perpetrators, not possible instigators. The range of crimes (s.a.) are likely to include the known ambit: obstruction, assault, civil disorder, trespass etc. Sedition may not be charged.

Things can change. Evidence can emerge. But after five months, it seems unlikely (speculation alert) that DOJ is assuming the responsibility for searching out root causes as opposed to building demonstrably provable cases.

I think Feuer’s is a fair observation, though I disagree that holding “instigators” accountable is at all the same as “searching out root causes.”

In my opinion, it is way too premature to judge where a complex investigation will lead after only five months, which is an infancy in terms of such things (it took almost exactly a year from the time that FBI got the tip about George Papadopoulos until he was arrested, the first arrest of the Mueller investigation, which itself was lightning fast). And while it is true that the current universe of charges includes those crimes Feuer lays out — obstruction, assault, civil disorder, trespass — even that list leaves out conspiracy. The boilerplate description DOJ uses to describe the complexity of the investigation notes that such a list (which includes conspiracy) is non-exclusive.

The spectrum of crimes charged and under investigation in connection with the Capitol Attack includes (but is not limited to) trespass, engaging in disruptive or violent conduct in the Capitol or on Capitol grounds, destruction of government property, theft of government property, assaults on federal and local police officers, firearms offenses, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, possession and use of destructive devices, and conspiracy.

Importantly, if we believe Merrick Garland’s response to a Sheldon Whitehouse question in his confirmation hearing, the Attorney General is committed to let the investigation proceed wherever the evidence leads, specifically to include “funders, organizers, ring leaders” and even any kingpins to this insurrection.

Whitehouse: With respect to January 6, I’d like to make sure that you are willing to look upstream from the actual occupants who assaulted the building, in the same way that in a drug case, you would look upstream from the street dealers to try to find the kingpins, and that you will not rule out investigation of funders, organizers, ring leaders, or aiders and abettors who were not present in the Capitol on January 6. Fair question?

Garland: Fair question. And again, your law enforcement experience is the same as mine, investigations — investigations, you know, I began as a line Assistant US Attorney and was a supervisor, we begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who were involved and further involved. And we will pursue these leads wherever they take us. That’s the job of a prosecution.

That’s why I wrote these three posts:

Together, those posts argue that if any kingpins will be held accountable, it will be through a conspiracy prosecution. I note that one of the conspiracies has already reached back to the Willard Hotel, where Roger Stone was staying and where the call patterns suggest possible consultation with people present at the hotel. And I suggest that not only will there will be further conspiracies (I’m pretty confident about that prediction) but there may be more complex prosecutions tied to people who were involved in the rallies rather than the riot or who were discussed explicitly with Rudy Giuliani (I’m far less confident about that possibility).

That doesn’t mean Donald Trump, or even Roger Stone or Rudy Giuliani, are going to prison. It’s not clear what kind of evidence is out there. It’s not clear how loyal these famously paranoid people will be without the constant dangle of pardons that Trump used to buy silence during the Mueller investigation.

But even in what we’ve seen, we’ve seen a focus on who paid for things (such as the payment to Joshua James’ wife tied to “protecting” Roger Stone), who organized buses (there are at least four defendants involved with such things) or otherwise funded transportation, as well as media promotion both before and media communications while at the insurrection worked. Thus far, Charles Donohoe is the primary person who was charged in an organizational role but who didn’t enter the Capitol, but the Proud Boys and Oath Keeper conspiracies seem pretty focused on Enrique Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes (I’m not sure how useful Rhodes would be to map out the larger conspiracy).

And that’s just what we’ve seen. We recently learned that the President’s own lawyer still doesn’t know that the investigation of Michael Cohen had started eight months before he got involved in an effort to dangle pardons, long after Mueller had already obtained Cohen’s Trump organization emails. We have no idea whose lives the FBI are unpacking with warrants that are not showing up in arrest affidavits. Certainly, the FBI and DOJ are getting far more thoughtful about what gets shared publicly when.

My point is assuredly not to promise that Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani will go to prison. But the question of the possible scope of the January 6 investigation, as distinct from the likely one, is dictated primarily by the structure of the conspiracy uniting people who legitimately entered into an agreement with each other to achieve the goal that every currently charged conspiracy shares: to obstruct the certification of the vote count on January 6. If Trump’s associates entered into an agreement with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, if there’s evidence of them doing so, and if marginally credible witnesses are willing to trade cooperation for less time in prison, then some kind of accountability is possible, albeit still highly unlikely.

That probably does rule out some accountability, even assuming a best case scenario. For example, with a few possible exceptions, I see no way that the conduct of members of Congress would get beyond Speech and Debate protections. Similarly, I don’t see how any conspiracy investigation would work its way up from the crimes at the Capitol to incorporate anyone at DOD stalling the National Guard response.

But as I noted to Gellman, I want to know the basis for certainty about what the investigation might discover. Because the investigation is already just two degrees of separation from Donald Trump via both Rudy and Stone, and that’s just what we can see looking at what prosecutors have been willing to share.

Crystalizing Conspiracies: Fourth Superseding, James Breheny, Puma’s GoPro, [Redacted], and the Willard Hotel

Since I’ve acquired new readers with my January 6 coverage and since the financial stress of COVID is abating for many, it seems like a good time to remind people this is not a hobby: it is my day job, and I’d be grateful if you support my work.

In this post, I used the imminent guilty plea of Paul Allard Hodgkins to illustrate that we really don’t know what evidence of conspiracy prosecutors are looking at, which means that we can’t really say whether the January 6 investigation will ultimately hold those who incited the violence accountable. I explained how a PhD in Comp Lit might be useful training to see the gaps in prosecution filings that show what secrets they’re holding in abeyance. And, as I further explained, if those most responsible for January 6 are going to be held accountable, it will likely be (at least in part) via conspiracies with the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, including the multiple ties Roger Stone has with both militias.

This post is meant to be read in tandem with that one.

This one will look at four developments in the case against the Oath Keepers in the last week or so.

The superseding indictment turns the screws

Most spectacularly, the government rolled out a fourth superseding Oath Keeper indictment yesterday. The ostensible purpose of it was to add four new defendants: Joseph Hackett, Jason Dolan, and William Isaacs, all from Florida, along with a fourth, accused of just three crimes, whose name is redacted.

The indictment broadens the kinds of communications used to communicate during the conspiracy, including Signal along with Zello, as well as orders to write key details in cursive, then send them via Proton Mail.

It adds a comment Stewart Rhodes made on November 9 laying out what I’ll call the “Antifa foil” — an affirmative plan, laid out months before the insurrection, to use the “threat” of Antifa as the excuse to come armed and a means to foment violence.

At a GoToMeeting5 held on November 9, 2020, PERSON ONE told those attending the meeting, “We’re going to defend the president, the duly elected president, and we call on him to do what needs to be done to save our country. Because if you don’t guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody – you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight.” PERSON ONE called upon his followers to go to Washington, D.C., to let the President know “that the people are behind him.” PERSON ONE told his followers they needed to be prepared to fight Antifa, which he characterized as a group of individuals with whom “if the fight comes, let the fight come. Let Antifa – if they go kinetic on us, then we’ll go kinetic back on them. I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let the fight start there. That will give President Trump what he needs, frankly. If things go kinetic, good. If they throw bombs at us and shoot us, great, because that brings the president his reason and rationale for dropping the Insurrection Act.” PERSON ONE continued, “I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside, and to stay fully armed and prepared to go in armed, if they have to . . . . So our posture’s gonna be that we’re posted outside of DC, um, awaiting the President’s orders. . . . We hope he will give us the orders. We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia.” WATKINS, KELLY MEGGS, HARRELSON, HACKETT, PERSON THREE, PERSON TEN, and others known and unknown attended this GoToMeeting. After PERSON ONE finished speaking, WATKINS and KELLY MEGGS asked questions and made comments about what types of weapons were legal in the District of Columbia.

The indictment provides more evidence of a plan to have Oath Keepers from North Carolina stationed as a Quick Reaction Force to pick up weapons from one of two locations in DC and deliver them to others already there (a recent filing arguing Thomas Caldwell needs to keep informing pretrial services of his movements included surveillance video from the Ballston Comfort Inn of the conspirators carrying around presumed guns draped in sheets).

On the evening of January 2, 2021, at about 5:43 p.m., KELLY MEGGS posted a map of Washington, D.C., in the Leadership Signal Chat, along with the message, “1 if by land[,] North side of Lincoln Memorial[,] 2 if by sea[,] Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !!” KELLY MEGGS continued, “QRF rally points[.] Water of the bridges get closed.”

[snip]

On January 4, 2021, CALDWELL emailed PERSON THREE several maps along with the message, “These maps walk you from the hotel into D.C. and east toward the target area on multiple roads running west to east including M street and P street, two of my favorites . . . .”

[snip]

On January 4, 2021, WATKINS wrote in the Florida Signal Chat, “Where can we drop off weapons to the QRF team? I’d like to have the weapons secured prior to the Op tomorrow.”

On the morning of January 5, 2021, HARRELSON asked in the Florida Signal Chat for the location of the “QRF hotel,” and KELLY MEGGS responded by asking for a direct message.

It provides more details about what the Oath Keepers did in the Capitol (including descriptions of how the kitted out veterans folded — retreated — as soon as they were hit with some tear gas).

When officers responded by deploying a chemical spray, the mob—including CROWL, WATKINS, SANDRA PARKER, YOUNG, and ISAACS—retreated.

[snip]

JAMES briefly breached the Rotunda but was expelled by at least one officer who aimed chemical spray directly at JAMES, and multiple officers who pushed him out from behind.

Importantly, the superseding indictment adds civil disorder charges against six of the Oath Keepers for interactions they had with cops inside the Capitol. It adds an assault charge against Joshua James for his physical interaction with cops. It adds obstruction charges against Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and James for deleting comms. Some of these charges were expected; it’s just that adding four new defendants was a convenient time to add them.

As these defendants are sitting here, though, their legal jeopardy is getting worse. Which is likely part of the point. They might stave off any further charges if they decide to cooperate with prosecutors.

When the government first charged this conspiracy, they were way over their skis, with detention requests and claims of danger that they did not yet have (or were not yet willing to show) evidence to support. That’s no longer true, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the government tries to detain a few more of these defendants when they are arraigned on the new charges this week.

James Breheny’s inter-militia network

One of the interesting details of this indictment is the exclusion of Oath Keeper James Breheny from it. Unlike the Proud Boys, all the Oath Keepers have been charged on one conspiracy indictment. The sole exception is Jon Schaffer, who from very early on was cultivated to flip, which he did on April 16. Remarkably, it’s not clear that Schaffer’s cooperation shows up in the new superseding indictment.

Now Breheny joins Schaffer in being charged (at least for now) on his own, which means, as of now, he’s only on the hook for his own crimes, not those of 16 co-conspirators. Breheny is an Oath Keeper from New Jersey who self-surrendered (suggesting ongoing discussions involving a lawyer) on May 20.

Breheny’s charging documents are interesting on several points. First, the affidavit excerpts a post Stewart Rhodes published on December 14, calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, including this paragraph:

You must act NOW as a wartime President, pursuant to your oath to defend the Constitution, which is very similar to the oath all of us veterans swore. We are already in a fight. It’s better to wage it with you as Commander-in-Chief than to have you comply with a fraudulent election, leave office, and leave the White House in the hands of illegitimate usurpers and Chinese puppets. Please don’t do it. Do NOT concede, and do NOT wait until January 20, 2021. Strike now.

This Rhodes post doesn’t appear in the Oath Keeper conspiracies, though it is a continuation of the November 9 comment from Rhodes also calling for insurrection, and it provides context for a comment he made on January 6 about what he expected Trump to do.

Then, Breheny’s complaint describes him inviting Rhodes to “a leadership meeting of ‘multiple patriot groups'” in Quarryville, PA on January 3, 2021. His invite directed Rhodes not to bring a phone and explained,

This will be the day we get our comms on point with multiple other patriot groups, share rally points etc. This one is important and I believe this is our last chance to organize before the show. This meeting will be for leaders only.

Breheny’s complaint also explains that Rhodes only added Breheny to the leadership list for the Oath Keepers on January 6. In explaining that detail, a footnote explains,

numerous individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers who have been alleged to have participated in the riots participated in this chat and have been indicted in US v. Caldwell et al, 21-cr-28-APM.

It’s a neat way of saying that Breheny conspired with those charged in the main Oath Keepers conspiracy and they conspired with him, without charging him in that conspiracy.

The rest of the complaint explains how Breheny lied to the FBI about what he did on January 6, but after the government got a warrant for his phone, they obtained pictures and texts showing he had done far more on January 6 than he admitted to cops, including fighting his way in the East Doors that all the other Oath Keepers entered.

The government has been selective about whom they’re charging with obstruction for lying and deleting evidence, but their case that Breheny deliberately attempted to obstruct the investigation is quite strong.

Anthony Puma’s GoPro is arrested

On May 27, a guy from Michigan named Anthony Puma was arrested, more than four months after the FBI interviewed him on January 14 and after, on January 17, he shared the SD card from the GoPro he wore on January 6.

On April 23, the government obtained Puma’s Facebook account, which provided video and text evidence that, in his January 14 interview, Puma dramatically downplayed his knowledge of events on January 6. Most notably, they found texts he posted on January 5, knowing that, and precisely when, “we are storming” the Capitol the next day.

Tomorrow is the big day. Rig for Red. War is coming

We are here. What time do we storm the House of Representatives?

Hopefully, we are storming the House of Representatives tomorrow at 100 pm.

There’s no hint in his charging documents that Puma has association with the Oath Keepers. Assuming he does not, it seems likely he was arrested, as I believe a number of other recent defendants were, so he can be forced to authenticate the important video evidence he shot on the day of the insurrection.

As a Comp Lit PhD who had to read a fuck-ton of postmodern theory, my favorite picture from his GoPro shows him filming himself shooting a video on his phone as he approached the Capitol.

But there are two other clips that I suspect are more important — one, showing what I believe to be a second stack of likely Oath Keepers preparing to breach the Capitol.

And another, showing presumed Oath Keepers on their golf cart race from the Willard Hotel to reinforce the Capitol, calling out, “We are inside, they need help, we’ve breached the Capitol.”

So whether or not Puma has a tie to the Oath Keepers, he now has reason to cooperate with prosecutors on making this video available for any trial.

[Redacted]

As noted, there were four people added to the Oath Keepers conspiracy indictment, but the name of one remains redacted.

It can’t be Roger Stone, as a lot of people are wishing, because Stone’s not an Oath Keeper.

But whoever [redacted] is, he almost certainly traveled with Roberto Minuta and Joshua James from the Willard Hotel where they were “guarding” Roger Stone and others to the Capitol.

I say that because of four paragraphs from the third superseding indictment describing the golf cart race to the Capitol, three are redacted in the fourth.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that [redacted] has had a child with Roger Stone or anything as exciting as that. It does mean that someone who was a likely witness to what happened on the Willard Hotel side of phone calls between Person Ten (who was the ground commander for the Oath Keepers that day) and James has been added to the conspiracy.

[redacted] appears to have entered the Capitol with Minuta and James, as what had been ¶104 describing their entrance “together with others known and unknown” in the third superseding is redacted as ¶154 in the fourth.

But the potentially more interesting actions of [redacted] appear in ¶¶76 and 77, which explain pre-insurrection communications and planning, as well as ¶99, which must explain what [redacted] did the morning of the insurrection, probably with James and Minuta. And ¶102 likely describes what the three of them were doing at the Willard Hotel while everyone else started breaching the Capitol.

As I said in this post, it takes more than four months to charge a complex conspiracy. But these four developments together add a December call for insurrection (in tandem with events that day in DC), places the Oath Keepers — including Stewart Rhodes — in a January 3 meeting coordinating with other militias, and it seemingly adds a third witness to what went on in the Willard Hotel the morning of the insurrection.

Latex Gloves Hiding Evidence of Conspiracies: On the Unknown Adequacy of the January 6 Investigation

Since I’ve acquired new readers with my January 6 coverage and since the financial stress of COVID is abating for many, it seems like a good time to remind people this is not a hobby: it is my day job, and I’d be grateful if you support my work.

Update, 6/2: As this post lays out, Hodgkins’ plea was indeed just a garden variety plea. During the hearing he explained the latex gloves. He carries a First Aid kit around all the time and saw Joshua Black’s plastic bullet wound (though he didn’t know Black and didn’t name him in the hearing) and put gloves on in preparation to provide medical assistance. After Black declined his help, he took the latex gloves off.

On Wednesday, June 2, insurrectionist Paul Allard Hodgkins will plead guilty, becoming just the second of around 450 defendants to publicly plead guilty (particularly given the number of people involved, there may be — and I suspect there are — secret cooperation pleas we don’t know about).

NOTICE OF HEARING as to PAUL ALLARD HODGKINS: A Plea Agreement Hearing is set for 6/2/2021, at 11:00 AM, by video, before Judge Randolph D. Moss. The parties shall use the same link for connecting to the hearing.(kt)

This could be the first of what will be a sea of plea deals, people accepting some lesser prison time while avoiding trial by pleading out. But there’s one detail that suggests it could be more, that suggests Hodgkins might have knowledge that would be sufficiently valuable that the government would give him a cooperation deal, rather than just a plea to limit his prison time.

Hodgkins is one of the people who made it to the Senate floor and started rifling through papers there, which by itself has been a locus of recent investigative interest. But he is an utterly generic rioter, wearing a Trump shirt and carrying a Trump flag. According to an uncontested claim in his arrest affidavit, he told the FBI he traveled to the insurrection from Florida alone, by bus. Because the only challenge he made to his release conditions — to his curfew — was oral, and because the prosecutor in his case hasn’t publicly filed any notice of discovery (which would disclose other kinds of evidence against him), there’s nothing more in his docket to explain who he is or what else he did that day, if anything.

But one thing sticks out about him: before he started rifling through papers in the Senate, he put on latex gloves.

It’s not surprising he had gloves. During the pandemic, after all, latex gloves have been readily available, and I’ve wandered around with gloves in my jacket pocket for weeks. But he did show the operational security to put them on, when all around him people were just digging in either bare-handed or wearing the winter or work gloves they had on because it was a pretty cold day.

There’s just one other instance I know of where someone at the insurrection showed that kind of operational security (though there is one person identified by online researchers by the blue latex gloves he wore while playing a clear organizational role outside the Capitol). When one of the guys that Riley June Williams was with started to steal Nancy Pelosi’s laptop, Williams admonished him, “dude, put on gloves” and threw black gloves (which may or may not be latex) onto the table for him to use.

There’s no reason to believe there’s a tie (as it happens, Williams had a status hearing last week where her conditions were loosened so she can look for work). There is a cybersecurity prosecutor, Mona Sedky, who is common to both cases, which sometimes indicates a tie, but she is also on cases against defendants who have no imaginable tie to Williams. But Hodgkins exhibited the kind of operational security that, otherwise, only other people who seemed to be operating from some kind of plan exhibited.

My point is not that there’s a tie, but that we don’t know whether there’s something more interesting about Hodgkins, and we might not even learn whether there is on Wednesday, in significant part because if there is one, prosecutors may not want to share that information publicly.

And I think, particularly in the wake of Republicans’ successful filibuster of a January 6 Commission and discussions of whether there will be any real accountability, that’s a useful illustration about the limits of our ability to measure the efficacy of the investigation right now. Paul Hodgkins could be (and probably is) just some Trump supporter who hopped on a bus, or his latex gloves could be the fingerprint of a connection to more organized forces.

With that said, I’d like to talk about what we can say about the investigation so far, and where it might go.

Last week, when I read this problematic and in several areas factually erroneous attempt to describe the attack in military terms, I realized that readers new to my work may not understand what I do.

I cover a range of things, but when I cover a legal case, I cover the legal case as a means to understand what prosecutors are seeing. That’s different than describing the alleged crime itself; particularly given the flood of defendants, I’m not, for example, reading through scraped social media accounts from before the attack to understand what was planned in the semi-open in advance. But reading the filings closely is one way to understand where the criminal investigation might go and the chances it will be successfully prosecuted and if so how broadly the prosecution will reach.

I’m not a lawyer, though I’ve got a pretty decent understanding of the law, especially the national security crimes I’ve covered for 17 years. But my background in corporate documentation consulting and comparative literature (plus the fact that I don’t have an editor demanding a certain genre of writing) means I approach legal cases differently than most other journalists. For the purposes of this post, for example, my academic expertise in narrative theory makes me attuned to how prosecutors are withholding information and focalizing their approach to preserve investigative equities (or, at times, hide real flaws in their cases). Prosecutors are just a special kind of story-teller, and like novelists and directors they package up their stories for specific effects, though criminal law, the genre dictated by court filings, and prohibitions on making accusations outside of criminal charges impose constraints on how they tell their stories.

One of the tools prosecutors use, both in a legal sense and a story-telling one, is conspiracy. The problematic military analysis, linked above, totally misunderstood that part of my work (as have certain Russian denialists looking for a way to attack that doesn’t involve grappling with evidence): when I map out the conspiracies we’re seeing in January 6, I’m not talking about the overarching conspiracy that made it successful, how the entire event was planned. Rather, I’m observing where prosecutors have chosen to use that tool — by charging four separate conspiracies against Proud Boys that prosecutors are sloppily treating as one, and charging (as of yesterday) sixteen members of the Oath Keepers in a single conspiracy — and where they haven’t, yet — for a set of guys who played key roles in breaching the East door and the Senate chamber who armed themselves and traveled together. As that set of guys shows, prosecutors aren’t limited to using conspiracy with organized militias, and I expect we’ll begin to see some other conspiracies charged against other networks of insurrectionists. It’s virtually certain, for example, that we’ll see some conspiracies charged against activists who first organized together in local Trump protests; I expect we’ll see conspiracies charged against other pre-existing networks (like America First or QAnon or even anti-vaxers who used those pre-existing networks to pre-plan their role in the insurrection).

Conspiracies are useful tools for prosecutors for several purposes. For example, a conspiracy charge can change what you need to prove: that the conspiracy was entered into and steps taken, some criminal, to achieve the conspiracy, rather than the underlying crime. It can used to coerce cooperation from co-conspirators and enter evidence at trial in easier fashion. And it’s the best way to hold organizers accountable for the crimes they recruit others to commit.

If Trump, or even his flunkies, are going to be held accountable for January 6, it will almost certainly be through conspiracy charges built up backwards from the activities at the Capitol. I am agnostic on whether they will be, but it’s not as far a reach as some might think. This handy guide to conspiracy law that Elizabeth de la Vega laid out during the Mueller investigation provides a sense of why that is.

Conspiracy Law – Eight Things You Need to Know.

One: Co-conspirators don’t have to explicitly agree to conspire & there doesn’t need to be a written agreement; in fact, they almost never explicitly agree to conspire & it would be nuts to have a written agreement!

Two: Conspiracies can have more than one object- i.e. conspiracy to defraud U.S. and to obstruct justice. The object is the goal. Members could have completely different reasons (motives) for wanting to achieve that goal.

Three: All co-conspirators have to agree on at least one object of the conspiracy.

Four: Co-conspirators can use multiple means to carry out the conspiracy, i.e., releasing stolen emails, collaborating on fraudulent social media ops, laundering campaign contributions.

Five: Co-conspirators don’t have to know precisely what the others are doing, and, in large conspiracies, they rarely do.

Six: Once someone is found to have knowingly joined a conspiracy, he/she is responsible for all acts of other co-conspirators.

Seven: Statements of any co-conspirator made to further the conspiracy may be introduced into evidence against any other co-conspirator.

Eight: Overt Acts taken in furtherance of a conspiracy need not be illegal. A POTUS’ public statement that “Russia is a hoax,” e.g., might not be illegal (or even make any sense), but it could be an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

We know that Trump and his flunkies shared the goal of the conspiracies that have already been charged: to prevent the certification of the vote. Trump (and some of his flunkies) played a key role in one of the manner and means charged in most of the conspiracies: To use social media to recruit as many people as possible to get to DC. Arguably, Mike Flynn played another role, in setting the expectation of insurrection.

What’s currently missing is proof (in court filings, as opposed to the public record) that people conspiring directly with Trump were also conspiring directly with those who stormed the Capitol. But we know the White House had contact with some of the conspirators. We know that organizers like Ali Alexander and Alex Jones likewise had ties to both conspirators and Trump’s flunkies (an Alex Jones producer has already been arrested). We know that Flynn had other ties to QAnon (which is why I’ll be interested if the government ever claims QAnon had some more focused direction with respect to January 6). Most of all, Roger Stone has abundant ties with people already charged in the militia conspiracies, and was at the same location as some of the Oath Keepers before they raced to the Capitol in golf carts to join the mob. If Trump or his flunkies are held accountable, I suspect it will go through conspiracies hatched in Florida, and the overlap right now between the Oath Keeper and Proud Boys conspiracies are in Floridians Kelly Meggs and Joe Biggs. But if they are held accountable, it will take time. It’s hard to remember given the daily flow of new defendants, but complex conspiracies don’t get charged in four months, and it will take some interim arrests and a number of cooperating witnesses to get to the top levels of the January 6 conspirators, if it ever happens.

This post, which is meant to be read in tandem with this one, assesses developments in the last week or so in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case.

Rudy Giuliani’s Support Role in the Mueller Report

As I showed in the Rat-Fucker Rashomon series, it can be tremendously useful to compare how different inquiries into Russian interference in 2016 tell that story. That’s true not just of Roger Stone; it’s also true of Rudy Giuliani.

By the time SSCI finished its Russia Report, the shape of the 2020 Russian influence campaign was evident, and it shows up, in redacted form, in the final report. As part of that discussion, the SSCI Report deals with Rudy at least once in almost entirely redacted passages about the ongoing influence campaign involving Russian assets in Ukraine. That is, it clearly suggests the trajectory led to the influence campaigns that were still active in 2020.

Perhaps because SSCI had the advantage of seeing where Rudy would end up, it also included a few more details about Rudy from earlier on of interest. For example, before Paul Manafort discussed how to win Pennsylvania and how to carve up Ukraine on August 2, 2016, he met with Trump and Rudy Giuliani in Trump Tower.

Among the details SSCI shows of the Trump campaign exploiting documents leaked to WikiLeaks is a citation to an email, dated October 11, 2016, showing Rudy was in that loop.

When Rick Gates was asked what kind of contact Paul Manafort retained with Trump after he was ousted from the campaign, Gates revealed that Manafort told Gates that Rudy Giuliani was helping him place people in Administration positions.

And PsyGroup’s Joel Zamel claimed that Rudy introduced him to Jared Kushner some months after the inauguration; Kushner and Zamel had a meeting at the White House to discuss “human rights issues in the Middle East, Iran, and ‘counter-extremism’.”

Aside from the detail that Manafort was using Rudy as a side channel to influence the White House, those aren’t necessarily momentous details.

Still, those details show that Rudy was a participant in these events during 2016. And yet, Rudy doesn’t show up as such in discussions about 2016 in the Mueller Report. Rather, Rudy shows up exclusively as Trump’s lawyer, floating the pardons in an attempt to get witnesses to lie to cover up what really happened in 2016.

Rudy — who was not yet formally Trump’s personal counsel — and his current defense attorney, Robert Costello, didn’t succeed in getting Michael Cohen to shield Trump.

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

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

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

But Rudy, acting as part of Joint Defense Agreement in the role of Trump’s personal counsel, did succeed in getting Paul Manafort to lie about what happened on August 2 and efforts to carve up Ukraine in the aftermath.

Immediately following the revocation of Manafort’s bail, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, gave a series of interviews in which he raised the possibility of a pardon for Manafort. Giuliani told the New York Daily News that “[w]hen the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” 856 Giuliani also said in an interview that, although the President should not pardon anyone while the Special Counsel’s investigation was ongoing, “when the investigation is concluded, he’s kind of on his own, right?”857 In a CNN interview two days later, Giuliani said, ” I guess I should clarify this once and for all. . . . The president has issued no pardons in this investigation. The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation …. When it’s over, hey, he’s the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him.”858 Giuliani rejected the suggestion that his and the President’s comments could signal to defendants that they should not cooperate in a criminal prosecution because a pardon might follow, saying the comments were “certainly not intended that way.”859 Giuliani said the comments only acknowledged that an individual involved in the investigation would not be “excluded from [ a pardon], if in fact the president and his advisors .. . come to the conclusion that you have been treated unfairly.”860 Giuliani observed that pardons were not unusual in political investigations but said, “That doesn’t mean they’re going to happen here. Doesn’t mean that anybody should rely on it. … Big signal is, nobody has been pardoned yet.” 561

[snip]

The President said that flipping was “not fair” and “almost ought to be outlawed.”880 ln response to a question about whether he was considering a pardon for Manafort, the President said, “T have great respect for what he’s done, in terms of what he’s gone through …. He worked for many, many people many, many years, and T would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.”881 Giuliani told journalists that the President “really thinks Manafort has been horribly treated” and that he and the President had discussed the political fallout if the President pardoned Manafort.882 The next day, Giuliani told the Washington Post that the President had asked his lawyers for advice on the possibility of a pardon for Manafort and other aides, and had been counseled against considering a pardon until the investigation concluded.883

On September 14, 2018, Manafort pleaded guilty to charges in the District of Columbia and signed a plea agreement that required him to cooperate with investigators.884 Giuliani was reported to have publicly said that Manafort remained in a joint defense agreement with the President following Manafort’s guilty plea and agreement to cooperate, and that Manafort’s attorneys regularly briefed the President’s lawyers on the topics discussed and the information Manafort had provided in interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office.885 On November 26, 2018, the Special Counsel’s Office disclosed in a public court filing that Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying about multiple subjects.886 The next day, Giuliani said that the President had been “upset for weeks” about what he considered to be “the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort.”887

Also, for whatever reason — probably because he had word diarrhea — Rudy provided the best evidence that Trump knowingly lied on his written answers to Mueller when he claimed not to remember the Trump Tower Moscow dangles during the election.

Also in January 2019, Giuliani gave press interviews that appeared to confirm Cohen’s account that the Trump Organization pursued the Trump Tower Moscow project well past January 2016. Giuliani stated that ” it’s our understanding that [discussions about the Trump Moscow project] went on throughout 2016. Weren’t a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can’t be sure of the exact date. But the president can remember having conversations with him about it. The president also remembers-yeah, probably up-could be up to as far as October, November.” 1069

Rudy was treated so persistently as a lawyer in the Mueller Report, but not a participant, that he didn’t even make the Glossary of Referenced Persons.

That’s true even though Rudy did show up in interviews as a topic of interest.

For example, when Mike Flynn was asked on April 25, 2018, just days after Rudy officially became Trump’s defense attorney, who else besides he and Bannon were hunting for Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails, the former Director of Defense Intelligence named Rudy, because he was “a big cyber guy.”

When question[ed] who else might have information about on the email messages, FLYNN mentioned Rudy GIULIANI. GIULIANI was “a big cyber guy” who have a speech on the topic in Tel Aviv. GIULIANI had a ton of contacts and traveled quite a bit with TRUMP (FLYNN surmised approximately half of the time). GIULIANI had a certainty that the emails were out there and available. GIULIANI would have said this directly to TRUMP. The natural response from TRUMP was “why the hell could they not find them?”

After two more questions (about Barbara Ledeen’s efforts), Mueller’s team returned to Rudy. This time, former Director of Defense Intelligence explained that if Rudy said something, you could be sure it was factual.

GIULIANI had contacts at the FBI, though he was pretty “close hold” on who he spoke with there. If GIULIANI said something, you could take it to the bank as factual, FLYNN believed that GIULIANI acted in a manner which indicated had specific knowledge related to the emails. FLYNN reviewed GIULIANI’s speech for Tel Aviv, made some comments, and gave it back to GIULIANI. GIULIANI did not name drop. GIULIANI popped in throughout the campaign to help with certain events. FLYNN did not know if GIULIANI knew Russia hacked the DNC.

Two more questions later, in response to a question about whether Jeff Sessions attempted to find the emails, Flynn brought up Rudy again.

FLYNN was asked whether SESSIONS or CHRISTIE made any efforts to find an answer based on their law enforcement backgrounds. SESSIONS did not make any effort at all. GIULIANI had deeper discussion on the issue with the campaign. CHRISTIE was somewhere between the two in regards to effort. CHRISTIE always seemed to “puff” about what he could do. FLYNN observed that GIULIANI and CHRISTIE had extensive connections and contact in New York. They constantly brought information back to the campaign. They did not do a lot of name dropping but there was a certainty to their information. FLYNN did not remember either of them saying they had contact with WikiLeaks.

Several more questions later, Flynn raised Rudy again in a discussion of whether anyone reached out to other countries for the emails.

Flynn opined that if Russia had them, then China, Iran, and North Korea also had them. Those countries had the cyber capabilities to get them and CLINTON was the Secretary of State. FLYNN also thought hactivist groups operating in the [sic] Ukraine could have them. It was also likely Israel had them. FLYNN did not recall specific discussions on reaching out to these countries to find out what they had. GIULIANI could have reached out to Israel but FLYNN did not know.

In an interview six days later, Mueller’s team asked Flynn more about the role of the guy who had just become Trump’s defense attorney.

FLYNN did not recall Rudy GIULIANI saying specifically what he was doing to learn more about the missing email messages. GIULIANI seemed insightful to FLYNN on knowing when news would break. GIULIANI was working on cyber policy for TRUMP. FLYNN was not sure if GIULIANI got his information from the news or from actual contacts. FLYNN attended a couple of meetings at Trump Tower where GIULIANI was present. GIULIANIs conversations were always that Wikileaks would release the missing email messages, not Russia. FLYNN thought Russia would wait to see who won the election. If CLINTON won, Russia could then use them for leverage over her. Wikileaks claimed to have the desire to put information out in the public to damage CLINTON.

FLYNN did not participate in any conversations with GIULIANI that indicated GIULIANI “cast his net” with his contacts. GIULIANI was one of a number of people around TRUMP’s inner circle. GIULIANI agreed on who was behind the hack but was not really certain. GIULIANI was a close hold guy but might share what he was hearing. FLYNN recently saw a clip that during the campaign, GIULIANI said during an interview that there were more leaks to come. FLYNN recalled that was the kind of thing GIULIANI would say with certainty related to cyber. FLYNN listened to GIULIANI who came across as a judge and made remarks as though they were facts.

I have not done a systematic review of all this (and earlier releases are too redacted to be of much use on such issues). But it’s not just Flynn who had something interesting to say about Rudy. When discussing the Transition (and egregiously downplaying his own role in foreign policy), for example, Steve Bannon described the tension during the Transition because both Jeff Sessions and Rudy wanted to be Secretary of State. “Bannon thought Giuliani would have issues in his confirmation if he was nominated as Secretary of State, however, because of some of his companies and foreign contacts,” Bannon explained, acknowledging even then that Rudy was a foreign influence peddling risk.

Perhaps it’s because, when Rudy became Trump’s defense attorney, it made any inquiry into his role in 2016 awkward. But even though Rudy was a participant in all this, and even though Mike Flynn thought he might be the most likely person to “cast his net” for ways to pursue stolen emails, it’s not clear how aggressively the Mueller team considered what role Rudy had.

Bill Barr Issued Prosecution Declinations for Three Crimes in Progress

On March 24, 2019, by judging that there was not evidence in Volume II of the Mueller Report that Trump had obstructed justice, Billy Barr pre-authorized the obstruction of justice that would be completed with future pardons of Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. He did so before the sentencing of Flynn and before even the trial of Stone.

This is why Amy Berman Jackson should not stay her decision to release the Barr Memo. It’s why the question before her goes well beyond the question of whether the Barr memo presents privileged advice. What Barr did on March 24, 2019 was pre-authorize the commission of crimes that ended up being committed. No Attorney General has the authority to do that.

As the partially unsealed memo makes clear, Steve Engel (who, even per DOJ’s own filing asking for a stay, was not permitted to make prosecutorial decisions) and Ed O’Callaghan (who under the OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of the President, could not make prosecutorial decisions about the President) advised Bill Barr that he should, “examine the Report to determine whether prosecution would be appropriate given the evidence recounted in the Special Counsel’s Report, the underlying law, and traditional principles of federal prosecution.”

In her now-unsealed memo ordering the government to release the memo, ABJ argues, “the analysis set forth in the memo was expressly understood to be entirely hypothetical.”

It was worse than that.

It was, necessarily, an instance of “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses.” As the memo itself notes, the entire exercise was designed to avoid, “the unfairness of levying an accusation against the President without bringing criminal charges.” It did not envision the possibility that their analysis would determine that Trump might have committed obstruction of justice. So predictably, the result of the analysis was that Trump didn’t commit a crime. “[W]ere there no constitutional barrier, we would recommend, under Principles of Federal Prosecution, that you decline to commence such a prosecution.”

The government is now appealing ABJ’s decision to release the memo to hide the logic of how Engel and O’Callaghan got to that decision. And it’s possible they want to hide their analysis simply because they believe that, liberated from the entire “Heads Trump wins, Tails rule of law loses” premise of the memo, it becomes true deliberative advice (never mind that both Engel and O’Callaghan were playing roles that OLC prohibits them to play).

But somehow, in eight pages of secret analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan decide — invoking the entire Special Counsel’s Report by reference — that there’s not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump obstructed justice.

We can assume what some of these eight pages say. In the newly unsealed parts, Engel and O’Callaghan opine, “that certain of the conduct examined by the Special Counsel could not, as a matter of law, support an obstruction charge under the circumstances.”

As Quinta Jurecic’s epic chart lays out, the potential instances of obstruction of justice before Engel and O’Callaghan included a number of things involving Presidential hiring and firing decisions — the stuff which the memo Bill Barr wrote as an audition for the job of Attorney General said could not be obstruction.

To address those instances of suspected obstruction, then, Engel and O’Callaghan might just say, “What you said, Boss, in the memo you used to audition to get this job.” That would be scandalous for a whole bunch of reasons — partly because Barr admitted he didn’t know anything about the investigation when he wrote the memo (even after the release of the report, Barr’s public statements made it clear he was grossly unfamiliar with the content of it) and partly because it would raise questions about whether by hiring Barr Trump obstructed justice.

But that’s not actually the most scandalous bit about what must lie behind the remaining redactions. As Jurecic’s chart notes, beyond the hiring and firing obstruction, the Mueller Report laid out several instances of possible pardon dangles: to Mike Flynn, to Paul Manafort, to Roger Stone, and to Michael Cohen. These are all actions that, in his confirmation hearing, Barr admitted might be crimes.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Even Barr admits the question of pardon dangles requires specific analysis.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Yet somehow, in eight pages of analysis, Engel and O’Callaghan laid out “the specific facts” that undermined any case against Trump for those pardon dangles. I’d be surprised if they managed to do that convincingly in fewer than eight pages, particularly since they make clear that they simply assume you’ve read the Mueller Report (meaning, that analysis almost certainly doesn’t engage in the specific factual analysis that Bill Barr says you’d need to engage in).

The far, far more problematic aspect of this analysis, though, is that, of the four potential instances of pardon dangles included in the Mueller Report, three remained crimes-in-progress on March 24, 2019 when Barr issued a statement declining prosecution for them.

By then, Michael Cohen had already pled guilty and testified against Trump. But Paul Manafort had only just been sentenced after having reneged on a cooperation agreement by telling lies to hide what the government has now confirmed involved providing assistance (either knowing or unknowing) to the Russia election operation. Mike Flynn had not yet been sentenced — and in fact would go on to renege on his plea agreement and tell new lies about his conduct, including that when he testified to the FBI that he knew he discussed sanctions, he didn’t deliberately lie. And Roger Stone hadn’t even been tried yet when Barr said Stone’s lies to protect Trump weren’t a response to Trump’s pardon dangles. In fact, if you believe Roger Stone (and I don’t, in part because his dates don’t line up), after the date when Barr issued a declination statement covering Trump’s efforts to buy Stone’s silence, prosecutors told him,

that if I would really remember certain phone conversations I had with candidate trump, if I would come clean, if I would confess, that they might be willing to, you know, recommend leniency to the judge perhaps I wouldn’t even serve any jail time

If that’s remotely true, Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for the pardon dangles that led Stone to sustain an obviously false cover story through his trial itself contributed to the obstruction.

Barr’s decision to decline prosecution for obstruction crimes that were still in progress may explain his even more outrageous behavior after that. For each of these remaining crimes in progress, Barr took steps to make it less likely that Trump would issue a pardon. He used COVID as an excuse to spring Paul Manafort from prison to home confinement, even though there were no cases of COVID in Manafort’s prison at the time. He engaged in unprecedented interference in the sentencing process for Roger Stone, even going so far as claiming that threats of violence against (as it happens) Amy Berman Jackson were just a technicality not worthy of a sentencing enhancement. And Bill Barr’s DOJ literally altered documents in their effort to invent some reason to blow up the prosecution of Mike Flynn.

And Barr may have realized all this would be a problem.

On June 4, a status report explained that DOJ was in the process of releasing the initially heavily redacted version of this memo to CREW and expected that it would be able to do so by June 17, 2020, but that “unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control” might delay that.

However, OIP notes that processing of the referred record requires consultation with several offices within DOJ, and that unanticipated events outside of OIP’s control may occur in these offices that could delay OIP’s response. Accordingly, OIP respectfully submits that it cannot definitively guarantee that production will be completed by June 17, 2020. However, OIP will make its best efforts to provide CREW with a response regarding the referred record on or before June 17, 2020

This consultation would have occurred after Judge Emmet Sullivan balked at DOJ’s demand that he dismiss the Flynn prosecution, while the DC Circuit was reviewing the issue. And it occurred in the period when Stone was using increasingly explicit threats against Donald Trump to successfully win a commutation of his sentence from Trump (the commutation occurred weeks after DOJ gave CREW a version of the memo that hid the scheme Barr had engaged in). That is, DOJ was making decisions about this FOIA lawsuit even as Barr was taking more and more outrageous steps to try to minimize prison time — and therefore the likelihood of a Trump pardon — for these three. And Trump was completing the act of obstruction of justice that Barr long ago gave him immunity for by commuting Stone’s sentence.

Indeed, Trump would go on to complete the quid pro quo, a pardon in exchange for lies about Russia, for all three men. Trump would go on to commit a crime that Barr already declined prosecution for years earlier.

While Barr might believe that Trump’s pardon for Mike Flynn was righteous (even while it undermined any possibility of holding Flynn accountable for being a secret agent of Turkey), there is no rational argument you can make that Trump’s pardon of Manafort after he reneged on his plea deal and Trump’s pardon of Stone after explicit threats to cooperate with prosecutors weren’t obstruction of justice.

This may influence DOJ’s decision not to release this memo, and in ways that we can’t fathom. There are multiple possibilities. First, this may be an attempt to prevent DOJ’s Inspector General from seeing this memo. At least the Manafort prison assignment and the Stone prosecution were investigated and may still be under investigation by DOJ. If Michael Horowitz discovered that Barr took these actions after approving of a broad pre-declination for pardon-related obstruction, it could change the outcome of any ongoing investigation.

It may be an effort to stave off pressure to open a criminal investigation by DOJ into Barr’s own actions, a precedent no Attorney General wants to set.

Or, it may just be an effort to hide how many of DOJ’s own rules DOJ broke in this process.

But one thing is clear, and should be clearer to ABJ than it would be to any other judge: Bill Barr issued a prosecution declination for three crimes that were still in process. And that’s what DOJ is hiding.

Amy Berman Jackson Accuses Bill Barr of a Preemptive Strike on the Mueller Report

I was down so many rabbit holes today I forgot to link to Amy Berman Jackson’s unsealed opinion, which she released today (here’s the redacted version).

Much of what had previously been redacted pertained to the first section, which got released last night. Otherwise, there’s ABJ’s accusation that DOJ was hiding that Bill Barr launched a pre-emptive strike on the Mueller Report.

But given ABJ’s notice that she’s still considering whether to grant the government a stay, I think this footnote (the bold was formerly redacted) is of interest.

18 There is no need for the Court to determine what its ruling would have been had the agency candidly informed it that the purpose of the document was to provide legal analysis to help shape the assessment of the Special Counsel’s report that the Attorney General was planning to announce for the reasons set forth in Section I of the memorandum. It is the government’s burden to support its withholdings.

This is the question before her now, whether the advice in the redacted section is so tainted by its purpose that she’ll release the full memo.

My guess is she won’t — unless there’s something about the analysis itself, such as that it obviously replicates Barr’s opinion about the investigation that he used to get hired, or if it misrepresents the results of the investigation (remember, ABJ presided over Paul Manafort’s DC proceedings and Roger Stone’s trial, so she knows what Mueller found as well as anyone). And the pardons Trump has since offered the people whose lies he guaranteed by dangling those pardons may alter this calculus, particularly if the analysis contradicts Barr’s agreement, offered three times in his confirmation hearing, that dangling pardons for false testimony would be obstruction.

Until then, DOJ has already launched its appeal.

Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, and the Ongoing Investigation into Cambridge Analytica

Steve Bannon responded to what may have been Alexander Nix’s pitch to reach out to Julian Assange to help find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails in June 2016 by responding, “Love it.”

DOJ has hidden that email in a series of FOIA releases to BuzzFeed under a b7A redaction, claiming an ongoing investigation prevents its release.

DOJ also continues to hide Roger Stone’s possible involvement in all this.

We can unpack what that email means by piecing together the multiple releases of Steve Bannon’s interviews and backup material liberated by BuzzFeed, which I’ve laid out in this post.

Bannon was first asked about this email — which DOJ released with b7B redactions related to the pending Roger Stone trial — in his February 14, 2018 interview, at which Bannon made a lot of claims that violently conflict with the now public record. Bannon claimed not to remember the email and also claimed not to know whether the person who sent the email ever did reach out to this person. The redactions show that the person in question had a 3-character name, meaning Nix is almost certainly the person at Cambridge Analytica who sent it. And the date of the email, June 12, is the same day that Assange said he had Hillary’s emails, the Assange comments in response to which Nix has said he did reach out.

DOJ released another copy of the same email when it released more of the backup to Bannon’s interviews earlier this month. DOJ redacted the previously released passages under privacy exemptions, and redacted the previously unredacted date under an ongoing b7A exemption. So it’s useless to help determine the full content of the email.

But it makes it possible to connect the email to Bannon’s second explanation of it in his October 28, 2018 interview. Bannon’s attempts to claim that “Love it” means “I don’t love it” were no more convincing in his October 2018 interview than they were in his February 2018 interview. Though by the end of his answer, Bannon admitted that, as someone who ran a media company and not yet a campaign, “there wasn’t any reason why doing it would be wrong.”

In this second explanation of the email, Bannon makes it quite clear that this was part of his effort to find Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails — the same purpose which Alexander Nix has admitted his outreach to Assange served. It appears that this email is a different one than the one that has been reported in the past, where Nix told Rebekah Mercer and someone else who was not (as Bannon was not yet) on the campaign that he had reached out to Assange.

If that’s right, then it’s unclear why the Congressional committees didn’t get this email, or indeed, why SSCI had to rely on the Daily Beast report of the outreach that purportedly sourced to Congressional investigators.

In that second interview, Bannon also described the coverage in 2017, which again strongly suggests this is Nix reaching out to Assange.

But that may not be the most important part of this email.

The passages from Bannon’s February 2018 interview that got reprocessed after Stone’s trial show that the second question after the one about this June 12 email prompted Bannon to explain how he met Stone. There’s even a question about whether Bannon introduced someone — again, a three letter name — to Stone. Stone and this person didn’t have a relationship, Bannon said, but the person was “trying to get business from Stone.” Bannon said he may have introduced the two.

Then there are a series of questions about other emails, several of which were withheld, probably under b7A redactions. Those include:

Bannon’s explanation for the second May 4 email is that it relates to Stone’s May 7 email (described as “Document #17).

All this seems to suggest that, even before Nix reached out to Julian Assange, he or someone else at CA and Stone were in discussions about a very sizable data project.

The US Government Accuses Roger Stone of Rat-Fucking the IRS

The US government is suing Roger Stone and his spouse, Nydia, for failure to pay their taxes. The suit gets awfully close to accusing the couple of fraud, which raises questions about why the government didn’t charge them with fraud instead.

This may be an effort to seize their condo which — because they live in Florida — might otherwise be sheltered under Florida’s Constitution.

But since it comes close but stops short of accusing the couple of fraud, I want to unpack precisely what it alleges.

The suit alleges that the Stones, filing jointly, underpaid their taxes from 2007 to 2011, currently owing almost $1.6 million. It also alleges that Stone, filing individually, underpaid his taxes by $400K in 2018. Then, the suit alleges, the Stones took efforts on 2018 and 2019 to shelter their income and, ultimately, their home from the IRS.

The Stones had been on a payment plan with the IRS for the jointly owed taxes (though it sounds like they had gone off and on payment plans in the past).

In 2018 and 2019, they used Drake Ventures, a limited liability corporation that the suit claims in just a legal alibi for the Stones, to pay personal expenses, including groceries, dentist bills, spas, salons, clothing, and restaurant expenses. Effectively, the suit claims, that allowed the Stones to dump funds into their lifestyle while shielding those funds from the IRS. Then, in the wake of Stone’s indictment, the Stones paid a $140K downpayment for a condo out of Drake Ventures, then created a trust, the Bertran Trust, in Nydia’s name to own the house. Literally the day after the Trust was recorded in Broward County, the Stones stopped paying their monthly tax payments to the IRS.

The government is effectively going after Drake Ventures and the house to cover the $2 million in taxes they owe.

The timing of all this is the really interesting bit.

The suit doesn’t say whether the Stones only started to pay their personal expenses out of Drake Ventures funds in 2018, or whether the government only discovered it in that year — when the investigation into Stone and those he paid to help with his rat-fucking really accelerated. The suit does mention that the Stones paid people out of Drake Ventures funds without filing 1099s for them, something that Mueller’s team likely discovered as they tried to sort through what Stone was paying these people for.

The Stones used Drake Ventures to pay Roger Stone’s associates, their relatives, and other entities without providing the required Forms 1099-MISC (Miscellaneous Income) or W-2s (Wage and Tax Statement).

But the suit makes the tie between the effort to shelter their home in the Bertran Trust and Stone’s indictment explicit.

Roger Stone was indicted on January 24, 2019, and the indictment was unsealed on January 25, 2019.

After Roger Stone’s indictment, the Stones created the Bertran Trust and used funds that they owned via their alter ego, Drake Ventures, to purchase the Stone Residence in the name of the Bertran Trust.

[snip]

On March 5, 2019, the Stones established the Bertran Trust.

On March 22, 2019, the Stones purchased the Stone Residence in the name of the Bertran Trust for $525,000. The Stones used the $140,000 they transferred from a Drake Ventures’ Wells Fargo account as a down payment for this purchase. No assets of the Bertran Trust were used to purchase the Stone Residence.

The suit includes the tie between his indictment and their effort to shelter the money as one sign of intentional fraud.

The Stones faced the threat of litigation. Roger Stone had just been indicted;

And the moves to shield their money in advance of defaulting on their repayment plan with the IRS took place even as — per a dodgy claim from Roger Stone — Stone refused to cooperate against Trump, the claim Stone deployed to get first a commutation and then a pardon from Trump to avoid any prison time.

Mind you, the IRS was still working on collecting that money from the Stones. It’s not like Trump made Stone’s tax troubles go away like he did his other legal troubles.

But what’s weird about the seeming tie between Stone’s indictment and the efforts to shelter their funds is that there was never any risk of forfeiture based on the charges Stone actually faced. He was definitely investigated for things that might have included forfeiture (and Drake Ventures paid for Stone’s phone service and some other telecommunications service he used in his 2016 rat-fuckery).

That said, it was a piss poor way to try to cheat the IRS, because the Stones did this at a time when the government was closely scrutinizing Drake Ventures.

Tables Flipped: With Cooperation Agreement, Oath Keeper Jon Schaffer Will Get Protection from US Marshals

As I’ve been suggesting might happen for some time, heavy metal musician Jon Schaffer just pled guilty, the first of any January 6 defendants to plead guilty. While many of the documents pertaining to his plea have not been released yet, his information has. He pled guilty to Obstruction of an Official Proceeding and Entering a Restricted Area with a Deadly Weapon (for the bear spray he sprayed at police). On the Obstruction charge, Schaffer is facing serious enhancements for the bear spray. But with the plea, Schaffer will avoid what was surely going to be an assault charge, as well as inclusion in the Oath Keeper conspiracy. And all that’s before the cooperation he has agreed to provide prosecutors, which should help him cut his criminal exposure significantly, especially as the very first January 6 defendant to plead guilty.

From the sounds of things — prosecutor Ahmed Baset described Schaffer as the “tip of the mob” breaching the building and said he entered at 2:40 — Schaffer will be implicated in the breach of the east entrance to the Capitol, meaning his testimony may implicate everyone who went in with him (likely including all the currently charged Oath Keepers, Joe Biggs, and several other Proud Boys). [Update: Schaffer went in the west door, not the east one, but the timing is still of acute interest, as it means the door Schaffer went in was breached at the same time as the east door.] DOJ might be thinking of naming Schaffer an unindicted co-conspirator on the Oath Keeper conspiracy, which would put all of them on the hook for Schaffer’s violent actions, dramatically increasing their criminal exposure.

In addition, Schaffer’s plea sets an important precedent on several legal issues that will be contested by other defendants, Oath Keeper or not. Those include:

  • Whether bear spray is a deadly weapon (which will affect the men accused of attacking Brian Sicknick and others — like Roberto Minuta — who brought bear spray into the Capitol)
  • Whether the vote count and Mike Pence’s presence in the Capitol made the building a “restricted building” for the purpose of 1752
  • Whether obstruction — normally used for criminal prosecutions — applies to the vote count (this is particularly critical, as it is how DOJ has made participation in the insurrection a felony for the more serious defendants)
  • Whether two enhancements — for violence and significant interference — apply to the obstruction charge

As Judge Amit Mehta noted, this doesn’t preclude litigation in other cases, but both sides agreed that this legal stance applies to the January 6 riot.

Schaffer will be released from jail, meaning he can return to touring as a musician (which was likely one of the big inducements for him to plead).

But the most remarkable thing about this plea agreement comes with the public nature of it. Mehta had thought that DOJ would want to do this in sealed fashion, but Baset was quite clear that DOJ wanted this to be public. That means everyone will know that Schaffer is a key witness against a highly trained militia.

And one of the things Mehta seems to have raised in a closed part of the hearing is that that puts Schaffer at great risk.

So DOJ agreed that Schaffer — who on January 5 was among the Oath Keepers purportedly providing “security” for Roger Stone — will be provided security by US Marshals under DOJ’s witness protection program.

A member of Roger Stone’s “security” detail will for the foreseeable future, then, be provided with “security” by the US government.

Update: Here’s his plea. He signed it Wednesday, which means it’s likely he had a grand jury appearance Friday morning before he allocuted before Judge Mehta. [Fixed my day of the week problems.]

Update: They’ve calculated Schaffer’s base offense level, before reductions for pleading, to be 25, which would represent a sentence of 57-71 months in the sentencing table. If they add Schaffer as an unindicted co-conspirator to the Oath Keeper conspiracy, it would put them on the hook for his violence, even before the conspiracy charge.

Update: I was being a bit loose with my reference to Stone. The Oath Keepers, in which Schaffer has pled to be a member, provides security for Stone. While Schaffer associates with some of the people who did provide security, there’s no evidence he personally did.

The Grand Theft Golf Cart Conspiracy: DOJ Backed Off Charges against Roberto Minuta

Yesterday, DOJ added Roberto Minuta and Joshua James — both of whom provided security to Roger Stone in advance of the insurrection — to the Oath Keepers conspiracy indictment, making a third superseding indictment (S3) against the militia. The showiest part of the indictment describes how Minuta and James rode in golf carts (from where, it doesn’t say, nor does it explain how it knows exactly what Minuta said while on the golf cart escapade) to the Capitol to join in the insurrection.

Between 2:30 and 2:33 p.m., MINUTA, JAMES, and others rode in a pair of golf carts towards the Capitol, at times swerving around law enforcement vehicles, with MINUTA stating: Patriots are storming the Capitol building; there’s violence against patriots by the D.C. Police; so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now … it’s going down, guys; its literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building … fucking war in the streets right now … word is they got in the building … let’s go.

At about 2:33 p.m., MINUTA, JAMES, and the others in their group parked the golf carts near the intersection of Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest. They then continued on foot towards the Capitol.

But the golf cart vignette is not the most interesting detail in the S3 indictment. The additions on the most recent superseding indictment (S2) are interesting for what the government did and did not add with the inclusion of the two Oath Keepers who were not part of The Stack that breached the Capitol, Minuta and James.

The crimes not charged

In spite of Minuta’s self-description, the government did not charge Minuta with Grand Theft Golf Cart. It’s never actually explained where they got the carts, but the Oath Keepers had been using carts as part of their protection detail for people like Roger Stone. If they used golf carts owned or rented by Stop the Steal or some other organizer for the rally, however, it might implicate those owners in the conspiracy if they didn’t report the golf carts as being stolen as part of an effort to breach the Capitol.

But Grand Theft Golf Cart is only the beginning of crimes not charged against the newest additions to the conspiracy.

In the complaint against Minuta, the government had shown probable cause that Minuta obstructed the investigation by deleting his Facebook account on January 13.

Finally, on January 13, 2021, the week after he attacked the Capitol and after much media reporting on law enforcement’s investigation to bring the Capitol rioters to justice, Minuta deleted his Facebook account of over thirteen years.

[snip]

Evidence also demonstrates that one week after he participated in forcibly storming the Capitol, Minuta deleted a Facebook account he had maintained for 13 years to conceal his involvement in these offenses.

[snip]

On January 6, 2021, the FBI opened an investigation into the attack on the Capitol, and a grand jury of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia subsequently opened an investigation. Within the first week of the investigation, a number of subjects were arrested and many more subjects’ photographs were shared over the Internet by both the FBI and regular citizens who took it upon themselves to publicize and seek information about the Capitol attackers.

Records indicate that Roberto Minuta opened a Facebook account associated with phone number XXX-XXX-4147 (known to be associated with Minuta) on November 24, 2007. On January 13, 2021—one week after Minuta and others attacked the Capitol on January 6— Minuta deleted his account.

From the first iteration of this conspiracy indictment, the government had charged others for deleting their Facebook accounts — first Thomas Caldwell, and then Graydon Young. So it would have followed the pattern already set to include a Count 7 against Minuta for his deletion of Facebook.

It’s not in there.

But that’s not the only crime not charged.

The complaint against Minuta focused closely on his taunts against cops in the minutes before The Stack arrived (the government may suspect that Minuta did this to occupy the police while insurrectionists breached the Capitol from the west side, to ensure officers guarding the east side of the building could not go assist those being overrun on the west side).

The indictment adds this further interaction between the cops and Minuta.

At 3:15 p.m., inside the Capitol building, MINUTA and JAMES pushed past U.S. Capitol Police Officers who physically placed their hands on MINUTA and JAMES in an unsuccessful attempt to stop them from progressing toward the Capitol Rotunda.

Other January 6 defendants (not part of this Oath Keeper conspiracy) got charged with obstructing the police during a civil disorder for such physical interactions. Not Minuta and James.

Minuta and James got charged, along with the other members of the conspiracy, with one (but not both) of the trespassing charges used against virtually all the January 6 defendants. But Minuta entered the Capitol with a holster of bear spray (visible on his hip in the picture above). Others who entered the Capitol similarly armed had an enhancement added for carrying a deadly weapon, an enhancement that increases the potential sentence to 10 years. Minuta was not similarly charged (meaning, too, that the Oath Keepers who conspired with him were not charged with abetting his armed entry to the Capitol).

Finally, all the other conspirators, including Thomas Caldwell (who never entered the Capitol and was on the other side of it from where The Stack entered) were charged with abetting the destruction of the Capitol door through which The Stack entered. This is the charge that counts as a crime of violence for detention purposes, and also can merit (and is being treated as meriting, for the Proud Boy conspiracy cases) a terrorism enhancement. But neither Minuta nor James were charged with it, even though the indictment notes they entered the same door that The Stack went through.

At 3:15 p.m., inside the Capitol building, MINUTA and JAMES, together with others known and unknown, forcibly entered the Capitol building through the same east side Rotunda doors through which members of the stack had entered about 25 minutes earlier.

It’s unclear why DOJ wouldn’t treat Minuta and James the same way they treated Caldwell (and Kenneth Harrelson, who went in with The Stack but not part of it). I can think of several possible explanations. But they didn’t, which is notable (particularly in the wake of the DC Circuit decision that led to the release of Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother).

In short, if Minuta (and James) were treated the same way other January 6 defendants were, they would be facing significantly more serious charges and significantly more prison time. They’re not.

One other, potentially related detail: The complaint that Minuta was charged with — which was obtained on February 24 but not executed until weeks later, seemingly in conjunction with the Joshua James arrest — is titled, “Affidavit in Support of Complaint Minuta (non conspiracy) 2021 02 23,” almost as if at that point DOJ wasn’t sure whether they were going to treat him separately from the rest of the Oath Keepers or not. They appear to have decided to do so, and along the way, thereby limit his potential criminal exposure.

Who is Person Ten and what role did he play with Stewart Rhodes?

Minuta and James complaints included new details about the role of Oath Keepers heard, Stewart Rhodes, described as Person One in all the Oath Keeper filings. Their addition to the conspiracy effectively added more on Rhodes to the conspiracy indictment.

At least as interestingly, the S3 indictment added a Person Ten. Minuta had been Person Five in the James complaint, it’s not clear who Person Four is, and Persons Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine are not described at all, but — along with Person Ten — are likely some of the people in this picture.

Rhodes paid for Person Ten’s hotel room in the Hilton Garden Inn in DC, but Person Ten arrived the day before Minuta and Rhodes, who also stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Vienna.

Curiously, the S3 indictment leaves out some key communications, especially those from a leadership Signal chat that showed up in earlier filings. Between a Caldwell detention motion, a Watkins detention motion, James’ complaint, and the superseding indictment, this partial list of known Oath Keepers communications suggest that Person Ten might be the person coordinating deployments that day. Consider two details from the partial list of the known communications among Oath Keepers below (I’ll update this later, once I catch up on the week of filings).

Highlighted in yellow, Person Ten has a series of calls back and forth with Joshua James, pre-Golf Cart Grand Theft. Right in the middle of it all, someone — not described in this indictment — informs the Signal group as a whole that “the[y] have taken ground” and “we need to regroup any members who are not on mission.” Shortly thereafter, James and Minuta launch the Grand Theft Golf Cart to get to the Capitol, where Minuta taunts the police, preventing them from moving to reinforce the overrun Capitol on the other side, and the members of The Stack leave Trump’s speech prematurely and go to the Capitol. That is, Person Ten calls for reinforcements (Rhodes repeats his Signal text), and then Minuta and James in the golf carts and The Stack converge on the northeast side of the Capitol to breach a new entry point.

Now consider the pink highlight: Unless the government or I have made a mistake in the timing, Person Ten and Kelly Meggs are both on the phone with Stewart Rhodes together. Because of the length of Person Ten’s calls, it overlaps entirely with Rhodes’ call with Meggs (which — again, unless there’s an error of timing — means Rhodes either has two phones or either via conferencing or a hold, had both on the same phone at the same time).

In either case, Person Ten seems to have a key role as a communication pivot between different groups of Oath Keepers.

The communications not included

Finally, consider this: I have not included all known texts in the table above (most obviously missing are Watkins’ Zello texts). But after suggesting strong ties between James and Minuta, the government has included none of their multiple communications, neither on January 6 nor before that, in the superseding indictment. Similarly, the government has left out the Signal chats showing minute to minute deployments as the Oath Keepers launched a second front on the Capitol.

All these communications are tantalizing and hint at a good deal more coordination during the insurrection. And remember: Both Minuta and James were with Roger Stone for part of the day (earlier in the day, I think). But the government is still including just a fraction of the communications it knows about.

Update: Correct that the indictment said Minuta and James rode in the golf carts, didn’t drive and that the Meggses stayed at a different Hilton Garden than Rhodes and Minuta and Person Ten. Thanks to BB.

Update: I want to make clear that the reasons why DOJ backed off charges with Minuta may not all stem from the same reason, nor does this necessarily indicate he is cooperating. For example, in the wake of the DC Circuit decision in Munchel, the chances that DOJ could get pre-trial detention for either Minuta or James, are much lower. So charging them with abetting the damage doesn’t serve an investigative purpose at this time. And it’s possible after they seized Minuta’s phone, they discovered something to indicate he had deleted Facebook in response to Facebook’s decision to shut down Trump on the platform. To be honest, Minuta and James are an odd fit for this conspiracy as currently laid out, which suggests it’s likely to change in the near future.