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Special Master Barbara Jones Turns Over Rudy’s Chats

After much delay, the Special Master reviewing Rudy Giuliani’s phones, Barbara Jones, has released an update. It reveals that she released a bunch of materials to DOJ on January 19.

Those include:

  • The balance of 25,629 chats and messages that post-date January 1, 2018 from one of Rudy’s cell phones
  • From that same phone, 56 chats and messages that Rudy had initially claimed privilege over but for which he either withdrew or chose not to challenge Jones’ designation that they were not privileged
  • 3,204 chats and messages from between December 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019 from Rudy’s other devices, none of which he said were privileged (there should be eight devices; FBI seized 16 devices total)

These releases are in addition to 2,223 items from seven phones reviewed last year.

I find the last bullet most interesting. The known scope of the Ukraine warrants targeting Rudy go from August 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019; the review described in this update doesn’t even cover the full time frame of those warrants. The timeframe of this review is more consistent with a review covering the tail end of the Mueller investigation than the Ukraine investigation.

But they might prioritize such reviews if they were worried about tolling statutes of limitation.

In any case, by my read, all of Rudy’s texts and messages from that period — December 1, 2018 through May 31, 2019 — would have been reviewed for privilege.

Update: TF has convinced me the narrowed date for the most recent review might better reflect a narrowed period of the known Ukraine warrants — that is, just the six most interesting months. I think his argument may be more persuasive than mine in the italicized language, above.

January 6 Deconfliction: “This Is Part of a Much Bigger Conspiracy”

In a Detroit Free Press article on the forged electoral certificate presented from Michigan, the state’s awesome Attorney General Dana Nessel explained why, after investigating for almost a year, she is now referring the matter to the Grand Rapids US Attorney’s Office.

Nessel told Maddow that her office has been evaluating charges for almost a year but decided Thursday to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan.

“We think this is a matter that is best investigated and potentially prosecuted by the feds,” Nessel said.

The signatories of the failed attempt to award Michigan’s Electoral College votes to Trump include Michigan GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock, national Republican committeewoman Kathy Berden and Michigan GOP grassroots vice chair Marian Sheridan, among other pro-Trump activists in the party.

The decision does not preclude possible charges against the Republicans who falsely claimed that they cast Michigan’s Electoral College votes for Trump, Nessel said. And her office might still bring charges, she added.

“Under state law, I think clearly you have forgery of a public record, which is a 14-year offense and election law forgery, which is a five-year offense,” Nessel said.

“But, obviously, this is part of a much bigger conspiracy and our hope is that the federal authorities and the Department of Justice and United States Attorney General Merrick Garland will take this in coordination with all the other information they’ve received and make an evaluation as to what charges these individuals might (face),” she said.

Consider what happened to lead to this federal criminal referral. After electors sent fake certifications to the National Archives, NARA then sent them to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Vice President Mike Pence the winners of both Michigan and Arizona and their electors after the 2020 election. Public records requests show the secretaries of state for those states sent those certificates to the Jan. 6 panel, along with correspondence between the National Archives and state officials about the documents.

Spokespeople for the Michigan and Arizona secretaries of state declined to comment on the documents. The offices confirmed that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, both Democrats, and their staff met with the panel in November.

“They mostly discussed election administration in Arizona, the 2020 elections, threats/harassment directed toward the office, and the Cyber Ninja’s partisan ballot review,” said Hobbs’ spokesperson C. Murphy Hebert.

Benson and her staff took questions from the committee on the 2020 election and events leading up to the Jan. 6 riot, according to Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Benson.

The National Archives sent emails to the Arizona secretary of state on Dec. 11, 2020, passing along the forged certificates “for your awareness” and informing the state officials the Archives would not accept them.

Arizona then took legal action against at least one of the groups who sent in the fake documents, sending a cease and desist letter to a pro-Trump “sovereign citizen” group telling them to stop using the state seal and referring the matter to the state attorney general.

“By affixing the state seal to documents containing false and misleading information about the results of Arizona’s November 3, 2020 General Election, you undermine the confidence in our democratic institutions,” Hobbs wrote to one of the pro-Trump groups.

Arizona took immediate action; given Nessel’s comments, Benson appears to have referred the matter to Nessel. Some of these details were made public last March after American Oversight obtained them. But after the January 6 Committee put them all in context and focused renewed attention to how the fake certificates fit into a larger effort, it led Nessel to hold off on pursuing potential 14-year charges against some of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and instead to formally refer the investigation to the Feds, based on the logic that the obviously coordinated effort to forge fake electoral certificates is part of a larger whole.

This is not dissimilar from how legal action from Florida’s charity regulator led to state action as well as a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting.

For months, a federal investigation running out of Washington, D.C., has been demanding documents and asking potential witnesses questions about Powell, according to three people familiar with the matter. Similarly, a separate investigation into Powell’s anti-democratic activities took place in the Sunshine State earlier this year—and has already produced results, and punished Powell and her far-right group.

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

Defending the Republic’s finances have already prompted an investigation and a settlement with Florida’s charity regulator. The group paid a $10,000 fine in September as part of a settlement agreement related to its solicitation of contributions and failure to register as a charitable organization in the state.

[snip]

Defending the Republic’s finances first attracted the scrutiny of regulators in Florida shortly after Powell founded the group in November 2020 when authorities received a complaint and subsequently issued a subpoena to internet hosting service GoDaddy for information about the group’s website.

In a June press conference, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Defending the Republic was “found to be soliciting contributions from the State of Florida or from persons within the State of Florida” on the internet “without having filed in the State of Florida” as a charitable organization.”

On Aug. 24, Defending the Republic paid a $10,000 fine as part of a settlement agreement with Florida authorities over its fundraising.

As part of that agreement, Powell’s group agreed to register as a charity in Florida and submitted a projected budget of over $7 million. The settlement agreement also required Defending the Republic to submit an audited financial statement for the group’s operations between December 2020 and July 2021 by Nov. 30, including a balance sheet and a list of expenses and revenue.

Meanwhile, Fulton County’s DA, Fani Willis, has been investigating Trump’s call to pressure Brad Raffensperger to cheat and will reportedly make a prosecutorial decision in the months ahead.

The prosecutor weighing whether Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory said a decision on whether to bring charges could come as early as the first half of this year.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that her team is making solid progress, and she’s leaning toward asking for a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid the investigation.

“I believe in 2022 a decision will be made in that case,” Willis said. “I certainly think that in the first half of the year that decisions will be made.”

[snip]

Willis declined to speak about the specifics, but she confirmed that the investigation’s scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.

Regardless of what Willis decides, she can also refer actions to the Feds because it, like the forged electoral certifications, “is part of a much bigger conspiracy.”

The point is (besides that we should be grateful that Democrats elected a lot of smart, fearless women in recent years) that there are lots of moving parts to this “much bigger conspiracy.” And all those moving parts have, as an option, referring their investigative findings to DOJ to drop it into the “much bigger conspiracy.”

So during the year when DOJ has been laying what Merrick Garland called “the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases,” states and local authorities have been conducting investigations that can be joined to that evidentiary foundation.

These are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy.

All these moving parts require coordination, however, or “deconfliction,” both in an effort to maximize cross-fertilization between the investigations and to ensure no investigation screws up the criminal investigations that might lead to real consequences. While there has been no reporting on how this is being done at DOJ, we can be sure it is, not least because DOJ and the Committee are muddling through the Executive Privilege questions in tandem.

Robert Mueller, for example, had his own congressional liaison, and referrals from the Senate Intelligence Committee led directly to plea deals with Sam Patten and Michael Cohen that, in turn, led to information both (and in the latter case, Trump’s lawyers) had shielded from the Committees.

Adam Schiff, now a member on the Select Committee, knows well that Mueller also used a House Intelligence Committee interview with Roger Stone as a basis for an obstruction prosecution against Trump’s rat-fucker. While the details are less clear, I also suspect that Steve Bannon’s interviews with HPSCI served to tee up the fruitful grand jury appearance for him in January 2019 about which Stone is still furious.

Liz Cheney brings a different knowledge base to the challenge of deconfliction. Her dad played a central role in screwing up the Special Prosecutor investigation into Iran-Contra by offering key witnesses immunity. He’s one reason why congressional committees hoping to preserve criminal investigations tread carefully. Hopefully, Congresswoman Cheney can apply lessons learned from her evil genius father to the forces of good on the Select Committee. She has the most to lose if this Committee doesn’t succeed.

As noted above, the most visible sign of this deconfliction has come on privilege reviews. In July, at the same time that DOJ established their contact policy fire-walling President Biden from learning about any ongoing investigations, DOJ got privilege waivers for former DOJ personnel to appear before Congress. After that, when the Select Committee, as an independent branch of government that is also fire-walled from the criminal investigation, asked for investigative materials from the Archives, Biden conducted privilege reviews of that material and waived privilege over much, but not all, of it. If and when that material is released, however, it would be available to anyone with a need, including DOJ.

In fact, the back and forth between the Committee and DOJ has likely already made investigative materials available to DOJ. That’s because, after the Select Committee made it clear Mark Meadows had violated the Presidential Records Act with regards to some of the materials he shared with the committee, Meadows undertook efforts to fix that. To the extent he is able to provide his personal emails and Signal texts to NARA (some of the latter are likely are unavailable), that material would become available to DOJ without subpoenaing Meadows. And to the extent this process reveals that materials of investigative interest to a grand jury were deleted when Meadows obtained a new phone, it will give DOJ reason to use legal process to either hold Meadows accountable for obstruction, or reason to get it from others, like Jim Jordan. To say nothing of the fact that Meadows can’t prevent DOJ from subpoenaing the call records that led him to renege on efforts to cooperate with the January 6 Committee. That’s why I doubt DOJ will hold Meadows in criminal contempt, because they would be better served to get that information — and coerce cooperation, if he chooses that route — via their own legal process. Effectively, then, Bennie Thompson wrote a rough draft of a warrant affidavit for the FBI.

It’s in the subpoenas for witnesses, however, that I’m most curious about with regards to deconfliction between the DOJ and Select Committee investigation. Consider: There are two Trump associates who were key in sowing the Big Lie, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who are known to be under criminal investigation right now. That’s a topic the Select Committee is focusing closely on. But in spite of the fact that Bennie Thompson has expressed an interest in interviewing Rudy, thus far Thompson remains coy about how he’ll reach out to get Rudy’s testimony. There has been no public mention of getting Powell’s testimony or, for that matter, Lin Wood or Patrick Byrne, who — based on public reports — are part of that grifting investigation as well (and Byrne would be interesting of his own accord because he was honey-potted by a Russian spy). And for that matter, at least by the time he sued the committee, Mike Flynn’s call records hadn’t been subpoenaed either.

I’m equally interested in the timing of the Stewart Rhodes subpoena: November 23. That was after DOJ obtained an arrest warrant for James Beeks, the last member of The Stack, on November 18, but the day before they arrested him. By that point (probably long before), DOJ had to have known they were going to pursue sedition charges against him. But for some reason, they held off on the sedition charges when they superseded the Oath Keepers indictment on December 1 (before they otherwise would have needed to charge Beeks) to include him and tweak the Civil Disorder language in the indictment. There may be very good reasons they needed to wait: They needed to find Rhodes; they needed to finish exploiting his phone; they needed to resolve how they were going to treat the field commander, Mike Simmons, whose status in the investigation changed pretty dramatically between the December indictment and the Sedition one. But in that period while they held off, the Select Committee tested whether Rhodes wanted to go lie under oath to Congress. He declined.

It was worth a shot!

I find it equally curious that the Select Committee chose to target colleagues who played a more ambivalent role in the insurrection on January 6, rather than people like Paul Gosar or Mo Brooks, who have clear ties to organizers and other insurrectionists.

Similarly, I share Justin Hendrix’s curiosity why — especially in the wake of his article showing that The Donald isn’t being used in FBI affidavits — the Select Committee isn’t pursuing the role of the post-Reddit social media site in the insurrection, even while they expand their prior requests on more traditional social media.

In short, DOJ and the Select Committee are necessarily deconflicting their efforts, even if the Committee remains fire-walled from what DOJ has planned in the weeks ahead. But understanding that raises interesting questions about the Select Committee choices.

These pieces are all parts of a much bigger conspiracy. And until we see all those pieces we won’t see how they all work together.

But there are increasing signs that others are putting those pieces together.

Update: On January 18, the committee subpoenaed Rudy, Sidney Powell, and two others.

Select Committee Witness Requests

After a Six Hour Hearing on Lawsuits against Trump, the Only Clear Thing is Don Jr Is in the Clear

We just finished a 6-hour hearing before Judge Amit Mehta in the consolidated lawsuits (by Bennie Thompson and other members of Congress, by Eric Swalwell, and by some cops) against Trump and others for January 6.

As the judge presiding over the Oath Keepers case, Mehta knows January 6 as well as anyone — and probably has seen a bunch that is not public.

And the only two takeaways about which he seemed certain are that, first of all, Don Jr’s attempts to get his Pop to call off the riot, on top of the fact that his incendiary speech wasn’t nearly as pointed as his Dad’s, likely puts him in the clear for tortious liability. Whether Trump himself is, Mehta said over and over, is a very difficult question.

He seemed to think the question of whether Trump abetted the riot is easier than whether he conspired with the criminals.

The one other thing about which Mehta seemed certain, based on the record before him (and possibly on stuff he has seen that’s not public) is that a claim that the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys conspired is not at all a stretch. He even noted, at one point, that Jonathon Moseley’s claim that some people who listened to Trump might have listened to his speech and then gone to lunch was not applicable here given that, as he knows well, the Oath Keepers did not go to lunch.

Here’s my thread on the rest, which I’ll presumably return to.

Because this case was for a conspiracy before a judge who knows January 6 as well as anyone, in suits arguing incitement more aggressively than a conspiracy that I think is becoming more evident (but that was not briefed before Mehta), his caution should caution others. These lawsuits are basically a dry run of any criminal charges against the Former, particularly for incitement. And, at least per Judge Mehta, the case is not as clearcut as many seem to believe.

The Six Trump Associates Whom DOJ Is Investigating

Because I keep having to lay out the proof that DOJ, in fact, has investigated close Trump associates of the sort that might lead to Trump himself, I wanted to make a list of those known investigations. Note that three of these — Sidney Powell, Alex Jones, and Roger Stone — definitely relate to January 6 and a fourth — the investigation into Rudy Giuliani — is scoped such that that it might include January 6 without anyone knowing about it.

Rudy Giuliani

As I said a month ago, the treatment of Rudy Giuliani’s phones single-handedly disproves claims that Merrick Garland’s DOJ wouldn’t investigate Trump’s people, because a month after he was confirmed and literally the same day that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco was sworn in on April 21, DOJ obtained warrants targeting Rudy Giuliani.

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

But as this table shows, Judge Paul Oetken ordered Special Master Barbara Jones to conduct a privilege review for Rudy’s seized devices from January 1, 2018 through the date of seizure, April 28, 2021. That means anything on Rudy’s devices from the entire period when he was helping Trump obstruct Mueller’s investigation well past the time he played the central role on orchestrating a coup attempt would be available to DOJ if it could show probable cause to get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Barrack

Just this Tuesday, in a Zoom hearing for Brooklyn’s Federal Court, lawyers for the guy who installed Paul Manafort as Trump’s campaign manager suggested that Merrick Garland had politicized DOJ because, after the investigation into Tom Barrack had apparently stalled in 2019, he was indicted as an unregistered agent of the Emirates in July 2021.

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

Barrack’s prosecution proves that DOJ can indict a top Trump associate without leaks in advance.

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

Sidney Powell

Two different outlets have reported that there is a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting off lies about election fraud. WaPo’s story on the investigation describes that Molly Gaston is overseeing the investigation (she is also overseeing the Steve Bannon referral). As I noted, Gaston was pulled off three prosecutions for insurrectionists by last March.

Gaston originally pulled three January 6 cases in the investigation’s early days, those of Robert Packer, Robert Gieswein, and Derrick Evans, just the latter of which, involving a then-West Virginia state politician, had any possible public corruption component. But, at a time of immense staffing shortages at DC’s US Attorney’s Office, she dropped off those cases on February 18 (in the case of Packer) and March 29 (in the case of Gieswein and Evans). I’ve long wondered what, in the weeks after Merrick Garland came in, became a higher priority for the DC US Attorney’s leading public corruption prosecutor. We now know one thing she picked up in the interim was the prosecution of Michael Riley, the Capitol Police Officer who advised rioter Jacob Hiles to delete Facebook posts about his role in the riot. And by September, Gaston’s grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grift had started taking overt steps like subpoenaing Powell’s nonprofit.

For at least the Michael Riley prosecution and the Steve Bannon prosecution, Gaston is using two of at least three grand juries that are also investigating insurrectionists. For at least those investigations, there is no separate grand jury for the public corruption side of the investigation and the assault on the Capitol. They are the same investigation.

The investigation into Powell will necessarily intersect in interesting ways with Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn.

There have been a lot of complaints that DOJ is not following the money. Powell’s investigation is proof that DOJ is following the money.

Alex Jones

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

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

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

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

Roger Stone

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

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

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

Anonymous

There’s one more grand jury investigation into a powerful Trump associate that I know of via someone who was subpoenaed in the investigation in the second half of last year. The investigation reflects a reopening of an investigation Billy Barr shut down in 2019-2020. What’s interesting about it is the scope seems somewhat different and the investigating District is different than the earlier investigation. That may suggest that, for investigations that Barr shut down, DOJ would need to have a new evidence to reopen it. But the existence of this investigation shows, again, that Garland’s DOJ will go after powerful Trump associates.

It baffles me why TV lawyers continue to claim there’s no evidence that Merrick Garland is investigating anyone close to Trump — aside from they’re looking for leaks rather than evidence being laid out in plain sight in court filings. One of the first things that Garland’s DOJ did was to take really aggressive action against the guy who led Trump’s efforts to launch a coup. Alex Jones and Roger Stone are clearly part of the investigation into how the breach of the East doors of the Capitol came together, and the two of them (Jones especially) tie directly back to Trump.

There are other reasons to believe that DOJ’s investigation includes Trump’s role in the assault on the Capitol, laid out in the statements of offense from insurrectionists who’ve pled guilty, ranging from trespassers to militia conspirators. But one doesn’t even have to read how meticulously DOJ is collecting evidence that dozens of people have admitted under oath that they participated in the attack on the Capitol because of what Trump had led them to believe on Twitter.

Because DOJ clearly has several other routes to get to Trump’s role via his close associates. I’m not promising they’ll get there. And this will take time (as I’ll show in a follow-up). But that’s different than claiming that this evidence doesn’t exist.

Update: I did a podcast where I explained how the misdemeanor arrests are necessary to moving up the chain.

January 6 Is Unknowable

Dunbar’s number is a term that describes a presumed cognitive limit to the number of people with whom an individual can maintain social relationships. It’s a way of thinking about limits to our ability to understand a network. People argue about what the actual number is, though 150 is a good standard.

Using that figure, the number of people arrested in the January 6 attack is, thus far, 4 2/3 Dunbar numbers, with two more Dunbar numbers of assault suspects identified in FBI wanted photos. By my count, one Dunbar number of suspects are charged with assault. There were one Dunbar number of police victims from that day. There have been, Attorney General Garland revealed last night, one Dunbar number of prosecutors working on the investigation. One Dunbar number of Congresspeople backed challenges to the vote certification last year, and a significant subset of those people further enabled the insurrectionists in more substantive ways. The January 6 Select Committee has interviewed two Dunbar number of witnesses about the event, a group that barely overlaps with the suspects already charged.

I think about Dunbar’s number a lot, particularly as I review the DC court calendar each morning to review which court hearings I should call into on a given day. I can rattle off the names of the January 6 defendants in all the major conspiracy cases and some less obvious key defendants about whom I’ve got real questions. But for other hearings with a 2021 docket number (the January 6 defendants make up the majority of defendants in DC last year), I need to refer back to my master list to see whether those are January 6 defendants, and if so, whether the hearing might be of import. There are five January 6 defendants with the last name Brown, five with some version of the last name Kelly (all quite interesting), three Martins, and seven Williamses, so it’s not just recognizing the name, but trying to remember whether a particular Brown is one of the really interesting ones.

Court filings are the way I go about understanding January 6. Sedition Hunters, by contrast, have worked via faces in photos, from which they effectively create dossiers on suspects of interest.

From their home offices, couches, kitchen tables, bedrooms and garages, these independent investigators have played a remarkable role in archiving and preserving digital evidence. Often operating under the “Sedition Hunters” moniker, they’ve archived more than 2,000 Facebook accounts, over 1,125 YouTube channels, 500-plus Instagram accounts, nearly 1,000 Twitter feeds, more than 100 Rumble profiles and over 250 TikTok accounts. They’ve gathered more than 4.1 terabytes ― 4,100 gigabytes ― of data, enough to fill dozens of new iPhones with standard-issue storage.

Both approaches have come to a similar understanding of the attack: that the Proud Boys led a multi-pronged assault on the building, one that is most easily seen on the coordinated assault from the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, America Firsters, and Alex Jones on the East door. That assault on the East door appears after 22:30 on NYT’s Day of Rage on the riot, which remains the most accessible way for people to try to understand the riot. That assault on the East door, because of Pied Piper Alex Jones’ role in providing bodies, leads directly back to Trump’s request that Jones lead rally attendees from the Ellipse to the Capitol. And there are militia and localized networks that are also critical to understanding how all those bodies worked in concert on January 6. Here’s a summary of the Sedition Hunters’ understanding, which is well worth reviewing in depth.

But even though what we’re seeing is quite similar, there are gaps. Because I’m working from dockets, I’m aware of only the most important people who have yet to be arrested, whereas the Sedition Hunters have a long list, including assault suspects, prominent participants, and militia members, who remain at large. Meanwhile, I’ve identified a handful of defendants whose accomplices on January 6 are obviously of great interest to DOJ, but the Sedition Hunters aren’t always able to reverse engineer who those accomplices are based off their work.

And dockets are only useful for certain kinds of information. I track each arrest affidavit and statement of offense closely. I try to keep a close eye on changes in legal teams and developments (like continuances) that deviate from the norm, which are often the first sign that a case is getting interesting. You learn the most from detention hearings and sentencing memos. But for defendants charged by indictment and released pre-trial, the government can hide most of what it knows. And that’s assuming DOJ makes an arrest or unseals it, which it might not do if someone cooperates from the start.

The government has announced nine cooperation deals (one four months after it happened), and the subject of cooperation for two of them — Jon Schaffer and Klete Keller (whom I often get confused with the five Kellys) — is not known. It wasn’t clear that Jacob Hiles was the defendant who had gotten Capitol Police cop Michael Riley indicted until Hiles’ sentencing memo. And Hiles is not the only one being charged with a misdemeanor who cooperated to end up that way. It’s often not clear whether a delayed misdemeanor charge reflects really good lawyering or cooperation (and in the case of Brandon Straka, it seems to have been really good lawyer that nevertheless resulted in some key disclosures to DOJ).

There is a growing list of Person Ones described in court filings, Stewart Rhodes, Enrique Tarrio, Aaron Whallon-Wolkind, Alex Jones, and Morton Irvine Smith, all of whom were clearly involved in January 6 but haven’t been charged yet. Roger Stone never got referred to as Person One, but he is all over the Oath Keepers’ court filings. DOJ hasn’t named people like Mo Brooks and Rudy Giuliani when they include them in Statements of Offense, but they’re in there. So are other people who spoke on January 5.

It turns out that one means of accessing the January 6 is my forté, documents, and that of citizen researchers, collaborative research. But partly because Merrick Garland referred Michael Sherwin for an Office of Professional Responsibility investigation for publicly commenting on the investigation improperly, the normal way things get reported — by quoting sources — largely isn’t yet accessible for the criminal side of the investigation. That leads to misleading reporting like the famous Reuters article that didn’t understand the role of crimes of terrorism or a WaPo piece yesterday that unbelievably quoted Jonathan Turley claiming, “There’s no grand conspiracy that the FBI found, despite arresting hundreds of people, investigating thousands,” without labeling him as the former President’s impeachment lawyer, which is the only way Turley would be marginally competent to make such a claim. There are defense attorneys talking to the press — but the chattiest defense lawyers are the ones setting new standards for bullshit claims. The ones I’ve heard from are themselves drowning in their attempts to understand the larger investigation, both because of the sheer amount of discovery and because that discovery doesn’t tell them what is going on legally with one of the other Dunbar numbers of defendants. But in general, the ordinary sources for typical reporting aren’t talking, leading to a lot more mystery about the event.

One thing I find most striking from those who were present is their blindness. I’m haunted by something Daniel Hodges said in his testimony to the January 6 Committee: that the men and women who fought insurrectionists for hours in the Tunnel through which Joe Biden would walk to take the Oath of Office two weeks later had no idea, during that fight, that the Capitol had already been breached, and then cleared, as they continued to fight a battle of inches.

It was a battle of inches, with one side pushing the other a few and then the other side regaining their ground. At the time I (and I suspect many others in the hallway) did not know that the terrorists had gained entry to the building by breaking in doors and windows elsewhere, so we believed ours to be the last line of defense before the terrorists had true access to the building, and potentially our elected representatives.

There are similar accounts from other direct witnesses — like this chilling piece from Matt Fuller — who huddled feet away from where Ashli Babbitt was killed without knowing what was happening. Grace Segers, in her second telling of surviving that day, describes how there was no way to tell maintenance workers (there must be ten Dunbar numbers of support staff who were there that day) to take cover from the mobsters.

I have spent the better part of the year working full time, with few days off, trying to understand (and help others understand) January 6. I’ve got a clear (though undoubtedly partial) vision of how it all works — how the tactical developments in the assault on the Capitol connect directly back to actions Donald Trump took. Zoe Tillman, one of a handful of other journalists who is attempting to track all these cases (while parenting a toddler and covering other major judicial developments) has a piece attempting to do so with a summary of the numbers. But both those methods are inadequate to the task.

But thus far, that clear vision remains largely unknowable via the normal ways the general public learns. That’s why, I think, people like Lawrence Tribe are so panicked: because even beginning to understand this thing is, quite literally, a full time job, even for those of us with the luxury of living an ocean away. In Tribe’s case, he has manufactured neglect out of what he hasn’t done the work to know. To have something that poses such an obvious risk to American democracy remain so unknowable, so mysterious — to not be able to make sense of the mob that threatens democracy — makes it far more terrifying.

I know a whole lot about what is knowable about the January 6 investigation. But one thing I keep realizing is that it remains unknowable.

The Trump to Willard War Room to Militia Connection

The name Roger Stone does not appear in the Guardian story reporting that the January 6 Committee will soon seek more information on Trump’s calls to the Willard Hotel late on January 5 and on January 6, as he faced the prospect that Mike Pence would not violate his oath and fail to certify the legitimate winner of the election.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack, has said the panel will open an inquiry into Donald Trump’s phone call seeking to stop Joe Biden’s certification from taking place on 6 January hours before the insurrection.

The chairman said the select committee intended to scrutinize the phone call – revealed last month by the Guardian – should they prevail in their legal effort to obtain Trump White House records over the former president’s objections of executive privilege.

“That’s right,” Thompson said when asked by the Guardian whether the select committee would look into Trump’s phone call, and suggested House investigators had already started to consider ways to investigate Trump’s demand that Biden not be certified as president on 6 January.

Thompson said the select committee could not ask the National Archives for records about specific calls, but noted “if we say we want all White House calls made on January 5 and 6, if he made it on a White House phone, then obviously we would look at it there.”

Instead, the story lists a bunch of people who have been even less cooperative with the Jan 6 investigation than Stone.

The former president’s remarks came as part of wider discussions he had with the lieutenants at the Willard – a team led by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn and Trump strategist Steve Bannon – about delaying the certification, the sources said.

The story also mentions that the Jan 6 Committee is finally considering a subpoena to Rudy Giuliani — a subpoena that will hit just as debates over crime-fraud excepted conversations start to appear on the SDNY docket.

A spokesperson for the select committee declined to comment about what else such a line of inquiry might involve. But a subpoena to Giuliani, the lead Trump lawyer at the Willard, is understood to be in the offing, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The underlying Guardian story had noted that the calls to the Willard proved a direct tie between the White House and the war room.

Trump’s remarks reveal a direct line from the White House and the command center at the Willard.

The reason I raise Stone is that the repeated reports from Joshua James to Oath Keeper field commander Mike Simmons about a VIP disgruntled about his shoddy treatment — a VIP that is almost certainly Stone — show there was a direct tie from the Willard to one of several militias who were instrumental in breaching the Capitol from multiple points.

Particularly given the confirmation that the government believes he was lying, I’d like to point to some redacted references to a VIP that Joshua James was guarding who was bitching that he wasn’t getting VIP treatment.

This is likely Roger Stone. That’s true because — as Dan Friedman reported — James was “guarding” Stone that day (and Simmons guarded Stone the previous day), the name seems to fit, and Stone has publicly complained about his treatment that day.

While exchanging calls with Simmons, James traveled from the Willard Hotel, in downtown Washington—where he had been leading a security detail guarding Stone—to the Capitol.

What appears to be the first reference to this person also seems to fit the name, which would be the full name, Roger Stone, on first reference. Roberto Minuta, Jonathan Walden, and the now-cooperating Mark Grods were also guarding Stone.

Which brings us to the middle reference. Simmons claims that James called him every time his VIP moved.

Only, if that VIP was Roger Stone, he didn’t move. By his own account he stayed at the Willard before taking his bruised ego and leaving town.

If that’s right, it means Simmons was trying to explain multiple calls with James, and to do so, he offered the bullshit excuse that Stone, who by his own account never left the Willard, kept moving.

These reports in on said VIP’s non-movement would have taken place the morning before the assault on the Capitol, during the same period when, the Guardian reports, Trump alerted the Willard war room that Pence was likely going to put his duty to the Constitution over his fealty to Donald Trump.

The Guardian reports that Thompson may go this route to increase pressure on the people who were privy to the contents of those calls. That pressure could work in multiple directions. If it coughed up evidence from a less-damning non-privileged call, it might help SDNY in battles to access such materials from Rudy’s phones. It might increase pressure on John Eastman, a lawyer who has only inconsistently claimed privilege for his conversations with Trump. Or it might cause one or another of Trump’s bottom-feeders — Stone and Steve Bannon — to take the other out.

Even just identifying the times of such calls, though, would provide a way to understand how White House input into the Willard intersected with Willard communications with the Oath Keepers, Willard directions to Congress, and White House pressure on Congress intersected.

How SDNY Came to Treat James O’Keefe Better than Former SDNY US Attorney Rudy Giuliani

It has been a week since Judge Analisa Torres appointed Barbara Jones as Special Master to review materials seized from James O’Keefe and two other Project Veritas figures, and prosecutors from the Southern District of New York have not made any public complaint to the terms of her order. So I’d like to emphasize what SDNY found tolerable in the Project Veritas matter as compared to the search of Rudy Giuliani’s phone.

These are the instructions Judge Torres issued for the Special Master review of Project Veritas’ devices.

  1. The Government shall complete extraction of the materials from Petitioners’ devices. The Government shall provide the extracted materials to the Special Master.
  2. The Special Master shall expeditiously conduct an initial review of the extracted materials to determine what materials are responsive to the search warrants. To assist with the Special Master’s review, the Government shall provide the Special Master, on an ex parte basis, with a copy of the search warrants executed on Petitioners, the underlying application materials for those search warrants, and any other information that will assist the Special Master in conducting her review. If the Special Master determines that the efficient administration of her duties requires the assistance of additional professionals, support staff, or expert consultants, she may submit a work proposal to the parties, who will have five business days to submit comments, after which time the Special Master may then submit the proposal to the Court for consideration.
  3. Materials deemed to be responsive to the search warrants shall be provided by the Special Master to the filter team, which shall be walled off from the investigative team working on matters related to the investigation that is the subject of the search warrants or any investigation related to Petitioners.
  4. The filter team shall conduct a review of the responsive materials to determine if any should be withheld from the investigative team on any grounds—including grounds related to any First Amendment concerns, journalistic privileges, and attorney-client privileges.
  5. After the filter team conducts its review, Petitioners shall review the materials slated to be released to the investigative team and raise any objections. The Special Master shall rule on any objections and provide the proper materials to the investigative team. [my emphasis]

Effectively, SDNY will provide Jones all the contents of O’Keefe’s phones. She will then do a responsiveness review to identify the material responsive to the warrants targeting O’Keefe. That material will then go to an FBI filter team, which will review it for privilege. After that, PV will get to review the materials to raise objections (with no limit on the objections identified, though presumably these would be based on privilege). Jones will then rule on those objections and provide whatever she deems appropriate to the investigators.

That approach offers PV far more protection than the President’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani is getting. In the Special Master review of materials seized from the former SDNY US Attorney, Judge Paul Oetken ordered Jones to conduct an initial privilege review.

The Special Master shall render decisions regarding privilege issues relating to the materials seized in the execution of certain search warrants dated April 21, 2021, and April 28, 2021, and executed on April 28, 2021 (the “Seized Materials”). The specific duties of the Special Master are as follows and shall include all powers necessary to carry out these duties:

a. Conducting an initial privilege review of the Seized Materials and adjudicating privilege disputes between the parties;

The parties then had a debate about the sheer scope of the seized materials. As part of that, SDNY agreed to limit the temporal range of Jones’ review to documents that date between January 1, 2018 and the date of execution in April 2021. But SDNY argued that there’s no basis for a Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review.

The Letters conflate the scope of the Special Master’s review for privileged material with the scope of the Government’s eventual review for material responsive to the Warrants. The Letters present extensive argument concerning only the latter, yet seek relief concerning the former. That is, the Letters contend that the Government’s search for responsive materials must conform to certain limits, then leap from that conclusion to request limits on the Special Master’s initial screening for privileged items. (See Giuliani Let. 4-24 (arguing Government can review only materials dated August 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019); id. at 1, 25 (requesting order that Special Master review only materials from the same period)). The Letters thus ask the Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review: To identify and withhold from Government investigators documents that are in no way privileged, based on a determination that they fall outside the scope of the Warrants. Neither the Warrants, nor this Court’s order appointing the Special Master, contemplate that an arm of the Court, rather than Government investigators, would conduct such a review. (See, e.g., Dkt. 25 (order appointing Special Master)). The Letters’ attempt to limit the materials to which investigators will have access thus appears to be an attempt to relitigate Giuliani’s and Toensing’s meritless efforts to limit the search contemplated by the Warrants ex ante, which this Court already rejected. (See Dkt. 20 at 3-6 (Court rejecting motions for pre-charge (indeed, pre-search) suppression and return of property)). [my emphasis]

Ultimately, Judge Oetken agreed with SDNY, ruling — in an order that preceded Torres’ and therefore which SDNY could have pointed to as a precedent — that there is no legal authority mandating a Special Master review for responsiveness, rather than privilege.

Second, the warrants themselves do not contemplate that an arm of the Court, rather than Government investigators, would conduct a review of the warrant materials for responsiveness, nor is the Court aware of any legal authority mandating such review. To be sure, as the Government acknowledges, the warrants must be executed according to their terms. But the fact that the Court has appointed a Special Master for privilege review in this circumstance does not dictate that such review be expanded to review for responsiveness.

As Jones has made clear in one of her few public reports in the Rudy review thus far, for the files from this time period over which Rudy (or Victoria Toensing or Dmitry Firtash) don’t claim privilege, they’ll all go to the FBI.

These seven devices contain 2,226 items in total dated on or after January 1, 2018. Mr. Giuliani designated 3 items as privileged, and I am reserving decision on those 3 items. The remaining 2,223 items have been released to the Government.

From there, FBI (with no filter team) will do a responsiveness review for the Ukrainian foreign influence peddling investigation and for any other warrants DOJ has happened to obtain targeting Rudy’s phones.

A recent Oetken order makes clear that, eight months after the seizure of these files, we’ll soon see some privilege battles take place in semi-public form, with description of the content of the materials sealed, but not the basis for privilege claims. At this point in the Michael Cohen fight, Trump chose not to fight privilege claims on some crime-fraud excepted communications, most notably pertaining to his hush payments.

The effect of these two reviews will be dramatically different. In PV’s case, only those materials pertinent to the alleged theft of Ashley Biden’s diary will ever become available to the FBI, and even after the FBI filter team does a privilege review, PV will have an opportunity to argue for withholding that material from DOJ. While this process might result in slightly more materials being shared with investigators than might have happened in response to a subpoena (and would have had the effect of limiting any data destruction), it gives PV something close to an opportunity to suppress evidence pre-charge. The review will also ensure that DOJ does not obtain evidence that might otherwise implicate PV, such as the way it permits “donors” to influence the timing of particular “reporting” campaigns.

Whereas, as I’ve laid out before, DOJ will have the ability to obtain materials from Rudy responsive to the Lev Parnas-associated investigation, as well as anything that might be responsive to warrants investigating other crimes, including (but not limited to) his role in Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller investigation and his role in Trump’s attempted coup.

It’s not like SDNY — nicknamed “Sovereign District” for their aggressiveness — to cede a legal point without a fight. But here, having just prevailed on the principle that there’s no legal basis for a Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review, they let a decision stand ordering a Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review, and only after that, to review FBI’s own privilege determinations.

The two different approaches may reflect not so much legal principle, but the relative goals of the prosecutorial teams and/or DOJ’s priorities. PV got its surrogates in Congress — and even tried to solicit Democratic support — for its claims that its extortion-like behavior is a journalistic function. Effectively, accepting a Special Master responsiveness review resets this matter close to where it would have been if PV was genuinely accommodating the subpoena in good faith (as it wasn’t, before the seizure). It also may be the case, however, that SDNY has reason to know what they’re looking for are Signal or Telegram texts involving O’Keefe personally, with the expectation that they’ll get other responsive documents via the subpoena.

That SDNY was so willing to accept the PV result, though, highlights how aggressively they fought to defeat any responsiveness review with Rudy. Their argument against a Special Master review for responsiveness, with a subject whose files are among the most sensitive imaginable, is precisely what makes those materials available for other possible investigations. That was a fight that SDNY — and Merrick Garland’s DOJ — was willing to make, and a fight they won.

Somehow and for some reason, the President’s former lawyer is being treated less favorably by his former office than your garden variety rat-fucker. The reasons why that might be bear some consideration.

Rudy’s Phones Defy Guarantees We’d Know of an Investigation into Trump

I’m certain, when people assert that if DOJ were investigating Donald Trump, there would be some visible sign, they’re wrong.

I say that because I’m among the people who have followed the proceedings surrounding the Special Master review of Rudy Giuliani’s phones most closely. And I can’t even tell you what the status of that review is, much less whether DOJ obtained warrants for phone-based content for investigations beyond the foreign influence-peddling investigation for which the phones were first seized.

I’m not saying that has happened. I’m saying that if it had happened, none of us would know.

We know Rudy was Trump’s key facilitator in several other crimes Trump committed besides the foreign influence peddling described on the warrants: both obstruction of the Mueller investigation and Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election. There is already public evidence that Rudy would be a subject in any investigation into both those crimes. After all, he (and his current lawyer) dangled a pardon in an attempt to buy Michael Cohen’s silence in April 2018, and in the days after the insurrection, Rudy appears to have been in contact, using his phone, with a Proud Boy associate, James Sullivan, who coordinated with some of the perpetrators.

If Rudy were a subject in these investigations, prosecutors could obtain the content of his phones with no public notice. The people keeping that secret would be the same people who kept the warrants targeting his cloud accounts in 2019 secret for 18 months, and the same people who kept warrants targeting Cohen secret for three months, including one of the very same prosecutors, Nicolas Roos.

Before I explain what we know about Rudy’s phones, let me explain what we learned from Michael Cohen’s investigation, Rudy’s predecessor as Trump’s fixer whose phones got seized by SDNY (Cohen’s criminal docket is here and the Special Master docket is here).

The very first warrant targeting Michael Cohen — a warrant for his Google email that Mueller’s team obtained on July 18, 2017 — described how he set up Essential Consultants not for real estate purposes, as he had claimed to his bank, but instead to pay off Stormy Daniels. But the campaign finance crime that Cohen eventually pled guilty to was not among the crimes listed on that original warrant. Instead, the warrant focused on his lies to his bank, which would be included in his eventual charges, and foreign agent charges, which were not. It wasn’t until April 7, 2018 that the hush payment was included in a warrant for the campaign finance crime to which Cohen eventually pled guilty. Importantly, that warrant, obtained by SDNY, asked to access content obtained with most (but not all) of the warrants targeting Cohen up to that date (the exception was a warrant for Cohen’s Trump Organization email). Those warrants included:

What that April 7 warrant asked to do, then, was to access three devices on which Cohen’s previously-seized content was stored, but to do so in search of evidence of  campaign finance crimes not covered by the earlier warrants. (SDNY had expanded the crimes included on the warrants once already in February 2018.) It was only two days later, when SDNY executed searches on Cohen’s residences and phones, that anyone would discover that the government had shown probable cause to obtain warrants targeting Trump’s personal lawyer for crimes including conspiracy, lying to a bank, and campaign finance violations. It was over a year later before the foreign agent warrant searches were publicly disclosed.

This process offers several lessons for this discussion about Rudy’s phones and therefore for discussions about whether DOJ is investigating Trump. First, the government can — and did in the case of two of Donald Trump’s personal lawyers — obtain probable cause warrants without news of the warrants leaking. It’s only when the government conducts an overt search that an investigation would become public. In the interim, and even after the overt search, the government can simply conduct a filter team review of the seized material and store it at FBI. If prosecutors find probable cause to access the already collected content for different crimes, they can do that. They just need to get another warrant. In Michael Cohen’s case, they did that twice.

These three posts — one, two, three — explain how what we’ve learned of the searches on Rudy thus far; this is the docket for the Special Master review of Rudy’s phones).

They show that the government is currently in possession of the contents of Rudy’s email and his iCloud account from roughly May 1, 2018 (three months before the August 1, 2018 start date of the warrants targeting his phone) through November 4, 2019. The FBI did a filter team review of this content that was almost completed in April when they seized Rudy’s phones. So not only has FBI been reviewing that content for evidence of illegal foreign influence peddling with Ukraine since April, if SDNY or some other unit of DOJ could show probable cause that those emails or that iCloud content probably included evidence of other crimes, they could have obtained and executed a search warrant for that, too. We wouldn’t know if they had.

That information would slightly post-date the period in April 2018 when Rudy Giuliani’s (and Steve Bannon’s) own current lawyer, Robert Costello, was writing Michael Cohen implying that Trump would pardon him to buy his silence; because those conversations were with a then-third party, Costello,  and preceded the time Rudy was formally representing Trump, they likely would not have been filtered. The discussions that Rudy Giuliani had with Paul Manafort’s attorney in fall 2018 that led Manafort to renege on his cooperation agreement would be covered in that time period, though probably would have been filtered as privileged. Discussions Rudy had with Manafort about Ukraine when he was in prison likely would not be privileged.

If Lev Parnas’ redaction fail is to be believed (and thus far his claims have been utterly consistent with what prosecutors and Judge Paul Oetken have said), on April 13, 2021, DOJ also obtained historic and prospective cell site data for Rudy, as well as Victoria Toensing. While this was probably done to pinpoint the location of the phones targeted in the overt search conducted on April 28, in Rudy’s case that cell site data might have useful information about where Rudy was during or in the aftermath of the January 6 attack. (This is likely to be a fairly circumscribed time period tied to specific events shown in the still-sealed affidavit, but when Mueller obtained historic cell location data on Roger Stone in 2018, it covered a five month period.) This warrant, covering whatever period, would also provide information about with whom Rudy was in contact, though the government would have had some of that without even requiring a warrant.

It’s Rudy’s phones where things begin to get interesting. The FBI seized 16 devices from Rudy. Once he got to review the material extracted from his phones, Rudy claimed that the content dates back to 1995, though the government relayed that Special Master Barbara Jones reported that the bulk of the data dates to 2010 and later. Both Rudy and Toensing pointed to the vast scope of initial data obtained and asked Jones to limit her review to the materials dated within the scope of the warrant, which for Rudy is August 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019. The government responded that this would put Jones in the role of conducting not a privilege review, but also a responsiveness review, something which is a clear government role.

The Letters conflate the scope of the Special Master’s review for privileged material with the scope of the Government’s eventual review for material responsive to the Warrants. The Letters present extensive argument concerning only the latter, yet seek relief concerning the former. That is, the Letters contend that the Government’s search for responsive materials must conform to certain limits, then leap from that conclusion to request limits on the Special Master’s initial screening for privileged items. (See Giuliani Let. 4-24 (arguing Government can review only materials dated August 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019); id. at 1, 25 (requesting order that Special Master review only materials from the same period)). The Letters thus ask the Special Master to conduct a responsiveness review: To identify and withhold from Government investigators documents that are in no way privileged, based on a determination that they fall outside the scope of the Warrants. Neither the Warrants, nor this Court’s order appointing the Special Master, contemplate that an arm of the Court, rather than Government investigators, would conduct such a review. (See, e.g., Dkt. 25 (order appointing Special Master)). The Letters’ attempt to limit the materials to which investigators will have access thus appears to be an attempt to relitigate Giuliani’s and Toensing’s meritless efforts to limit the search contemplated by the Warrants ex ante, which this Court already rejected. (See Dkt. 20 at 3-6 (Court rejecting motions for pre-charge (indeed, pre-search) suppression and return of property)).

The government noted that under the terms of the (known) warrants, they are entitled to anything created, accessed, or deleted in that time frame (the government knows from the Parnas investigation that he deleted information from his iCloud in 2019 and Parnas predicted that Rudy and Toensing did as well). And so the government generously offered to have Special Master Jones limit her privilege review to files created on or after January 1, 2018, arguing that such a limitation is akin to the initial scoping that FBI would do.

SDNY further argued that there is no basis, at this time, to delete any of the older material, because the government might later discover that the material is actually responsive to the investigation.

This Court should not, however, grant the Letters’ requests to destroy or return any data at this time. The Court has already rejected motions for exactly that relief. (See Dkt. 20 at 3-6). Moreover, the Government is entitled to retain a complete copy of the seized data, so that it can authenticate any portion of the data ultimately offered in evidence. See Ganias, 824 F.3d at 215. Data that clearly predates January 1, 2018 should thus simply be put aside, and not reviewed by the Special Master or the Government. It may be that the Government’s eventual review of the materials post-dating January 1, 2018 reveals reason to believe that some of the segregated material is in fact responsive. If that is so, then the Government would have reason to search it—just as an FBI agent might return to that 2013 filing cabinet if his search of other files revealed that documents in the searched office were often filed under the wrong dates. At that point, the Government could then request the privilege review which it is now willing to forego for efficiency’s sake.

Without asking for this explicitly, DOJ’s argument had the effect of asking that Jones conduct a privilege review of content that includes the foreign influence peddling for which SDNY showed probable cause occurred between August 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019, but also content that would cover the entirety of the time that Rudy Giuliani was helping Trump obstruct the Mueller investigation and the entirety of the time that Rudy played the leading role in helping Trump attempt to overthrow an election.

As I have shown, the government sought (and is paying for) a Special Master review in this case because they have reason to believe, presumably based on their earlier search and the investigation into Parnas, there are crime fraud-excepted communications in this content. This very same Special Master, Barbara Jones, provided SDNY with a way to access to Michael Cohen’s communications discussing a campaign finance crime with Trump, and SDNY seems to believe they will obtain communications of Rudy discussing crimes with Trump, as well.

Let me interject and note that Judge Paul Oetken knew of the earlier search on Rudy’s cloud content — indeed, he authorized the gag keeping it secret. And in the 18 months between that search and the time Rudy got notice of it, Oetken likewise issued orders that helped the government cordon off parts of the investigation, such as the initial foreign influence peddling charge against Parnas and Igor Fruman tied to their efforts to fire Marie Yovanovitch, until such time as SDNY was able to access the information in question. That is, Oetken has been persuaded to allow SDNY to protect their investigation into Rudy, even during a period when Billy Barr was actively trying to thwart it, and part of that involved keeping warrants secret not just from the public, but from Rudy, as well.

If SDNY or some other component of DOJ obtained additional warrants for this same content, Oetken would undoubtedly know of it and probably would have had to approve it.

Whether or not there are other warrants and whether or not Oetken knows of them, though, he ruled to give the government access to the content that spans Rudy’s involvement in Trump’s obstruction, his own foreign influence peddling, as well as Rudy’s lead role in attempting to overthrow the election. In mid-September, Oetken ordered Jones to limit her review to materials post-dating January 1, 2018, which is tantamount to ordering her to include in her review everything covering all the potential Trump-related exposure that might be under investigation. And he explicitly denied, for a second time, Rudy and Toensing’s request to delete or return everything else.

That means that at the end of Special Master Jones’ review, the government will have all the unprivileged or crime fraud-excepted contents from Rudy’s 16 devices covering the period when he helped Trump obstruct justice, when he solicited campaign help from foreigners, and when he attempted to overthrow the election (as well as any pardon-related discussions from the post-election period). That doesn’t mean they’ve gotten warrants targeting that content. We would not know whether they had, one way or another. But the content would be available, having already undergone a privilege review, if they did get those warrants.

What we do know is this: Of 2,226 items found on seven of Rudy’s 16 seized devices reviewed by Jones thus far, he claimed privilege over just three items. But even with respect to his privilege claim over those three items, Jones has reserved judgment, meaning she may doubt his claim they can be withheld (perhaps because they are crime fraud-excepted).

The Government has provided Seized Materials from 16 electronic devices seized from Mr. Giuliani. On September 28, 2021, I directed that Mr. Giuliani complete his review of the data contained on seven of these devices by October 6, 2021, which was later extended to October 12, 2021. These seven devices contain 2,226 items in total dated on or after January 1, 2018. Mr. Giuliani designated 3 items as privileged, and I am reserving decision on those 3 items. The remaining 2,223 items have been released to the Government.

Additional documents for review have been assigned to counsel for Mr. Giuliani, with the next set of designations due to me on November 5, 2021.

So as of a month ago, the government had started getting materials — covering the period from January 1, 2018 through April 21, 2021 — from Rudy’s phones.

Jones and her staff were able to conduct privilege review on that content over two weeks time, and they were supposed to have had a second tranche of materials to review a month ago, meaning they likely have reviewed an even larger quantity of material since.

But that’s it! That’s all we know. Jones has reported less frequently than she did during her Cohen review, though assuming she will issue monthly reports now that she is reviewing in earnest, one should be due shortly.

We don’t know how much of the content on Rudy’s phones is evidence of a crime and how much is evidence of drunken blathering to reporters. We don’t know if any entity of DOJ has obtained warrants for those other Trump crimes in which Rudy was centrally involved. We don’t know why Jones has reserved judgement on the few privilege claims that Rudy has made thus far, six months into a Special Master review.

We know just two things. First, if there is evidence of crimes on Rudy’s 16 devices, DOJ will have a way of getting to it. And we would not have anyway of knowing that they had.

Update: In related news, a pre-taped interview I did for NPR was on Weekend Edition this morning.

Ten Things TV Lawyers Can Do Rather than Whinging about Merrick Garland

I continue to have little patience for the people–many of them paid to expound as lawyers on TV–who spend their time whinging that Merrick Garland is not moving quickly enough to hold Trump accountable rather than spending their time doing other more productive things to protect democracy.

I’m not aware that any of these people has tracked the January 6 investigation closely enough to name those one or two degrees away from the former President who have been charged or are clearly subjects of investigation. Similarly, I’ve seen none do reporting on the current status of Rudy Giuliani’s phones, which after a Special Master review will release a bunch of information to prosecutors to use under any warrant that DOJ might have. Indeed, many of the same people complain that Trump has not been accountable for his Ukraine extortion, without recognizing that any Ukraine charges for Trump would almost certainly have to go through that Rudy investigation. The approval for the search on Rudy’s phones may have been among the first decisions Lisa Monaco made as Deputy Attorney General.

It’s not so much that I’m certain DOJ would prosecute Trump for his serial attempts to overthrow democracy. There are tea leaves that DOJ could get there via a combination of working up from pawns who stormed the Capitol and down from rooks referred from the January 6 Commission. But I’m more exasperated with the claims that there were crimes wrapped with a bow (such as Trump’s extortion of Ukraine) that Garland’s DOJ could have charged on March 11, when he was sworn in. Even the Tom Barrack prosecution, a Mueller referral which reportedly was all set to indict in July 2020, took six months after Biden’s inauguration before it was indicted. The January 6 investigation started less than eleven months ago; eleven months into the Russian investigation, Coffee Boy George Papadopoulos had not yet been arrested and he was still months away from pleading guilty, on a simple false statements charge. We have no idea how much deliberate damage Billy Barr did to other ongoing investigations arising out of the Mueller investigation, but his public actions in the Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort cases suggests it is likely considerable. As for the January 6 investigation, as I’ve noted, it took nine months from the time FBI learned that a Capitol Police Officer had warned Jacob Hiles to delete his Facebook posts until the time DOJ indicted Michael Riley on two counts of obstruction. To imagine that DOJ would have already indicted Trump on anything he might be hypothetically under investigation at this point, particularly relating to January 6, is just denial about how long investigations take, even assuming the subject were not the former President with abundant access to free or RNC-provided legal representation.

It’s not that I don’t understand the gravity of the threat. I absolutely share the panic of those who believe that if something doesn’t happen by midterms, Republicans will take over the House and shut every last bit of accountability down. I agree the threat to democracy is grave.

But there is no rule that permits DOJ to skip investigative steps and due process simply because people have invested in DOJ as the last bulwark of democracy, or because the target is the greatest threat to democracy America has faced since the Civil War. DOJ investigations take time. And that is one reason why, if people are hoping some damning indictment will save our democracy, they’re investing their hopes in the wrong place, because an investigation into Trump simply will not be rolled out that quickly. Even if Trump were indicted by mid-terms, the Republicans have invested so much energy into delegitimizing rule of law it’s not clear it would sway Fox viewers or even independent voters.

I can’t tell you whether DOJ will indict Trump. I can tell you that if they do, it will not come in time to be the one thing that saves democracy.

And so, because I believe the panicked hand-wringing is about the least productive way to save democracy, I made a list. Here are ten way that TV lawyers could better spend their time than whinging that Merrick Garland hasn’t indicted Donald Trump yet:

  1. Counter the propaganda effort to treat the Jan 6 defendants as martyrs.
  2. Explain how brown and black defendants actually faced worse conditions in the DC jail — and have complained with no results for years.
  3. Explain how DOJ has lost cases against white terrorists (including on sedition charges) in the past.
  4. Describe what really goes into an indictment, what kind of evidence is required, how long it takes, and the approvals that are needed to help people understand what to really expect.
  5. Emphasize the prosecutions/charges/investigations that have or are occurring.
  6. Describe the damage done by Trump’s pardons.
  7. Describe the way that even loyal Trumpsters will be and have been harmed as he corrupts the rule of law.
  8. Focus on the efforts of Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson to undercut the investigation into Project Veritas’ suspected theft of Ashely Biden’s diary
  9. Explain how shoddy John Durham’s indictments are.
  10. Focus on the legal threats to democracy in the states.

Counter the propaganda effort to treat the Jan 6 defendants as martyrs

Whether or not Trump is ever charged with crimes related to January 6, the right wing noise machine has already kicked into gear trying to make it harder to prosecute other culprits for the January 6 riot. They’ve done so by falsely claiming:

  • The event was just a protest like the protests of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, a claim DOJ already debunked, in part by showing that the Kavanaugh protestors who briefly halted his confirmation hearing had been legally admitted.
  • They’re being treated more harshly than those who used violence at BLM or Portland protests. DOJ has submitted multiple filings showing that such claims are based on cherry-picked data that ignore the state charges many of these defendants face, the better quality of evidence against Jan 6ers (in part because they bragged about their actions on social media), and the more heinous goal of the protest involved.
  • Large numbers of non-violent January 6 are being held in pretrial detention. In reality, the overwhelming majority of those detained were charged either in a militia conspiracy or for assaulting cops. The exceptions to this rule are generally people (like Brandon Fellows or Thomas Robertson) who violated pretrial release conditions. Additionally, a good number of those accused of assaulting cops have been released.
  • January 6 defendants are subjected to especially onerous treatment in jail. Many of the conditions they’re complaining about are COVID restrictions imposed on all detainees (though often more restrictive for those who, like a lot of January 6 defendants, choose not to get vaccinated). And in an inspection triggered by January 6 defendant Christopher Worrell’s complaints, the Marshals determined that the other part of the DC jail violated Federal standards, though the part in which the Jan 6ers are held did not.
  • January 6 defendants are just patriots trying to save the country. In reality, of course, these people were attempting to invalidate the legal votes of 81 million Americans.

Again, all these claims are easily shown to be false. But far too many people with a platform are allowing them to go unanswered, instead complaining that DOJ is not doing enough to defend the rule of law. This sustained effort to turn the Jan 6ers into martyrs will achieve real hold unless it is systematically countered.

Explain how brown and black defendants actually faced worse conditions in the DC jail — and have complained with no results for years

As noted above, after Proud Boy assault defendant Worrell complained about the treatment he received in DC jail, the Marshals conducted a snap inspection. They discovered that the older part of the DC jail, one housing other detainees but not Jan 6ers, did not meet Federal standards and have started transferring those detainees to a prison in Pennsylvania.

What has gotten far less attention is that problems with the DC jail have been known for decades. Even though the problems occasionally have gotten passing attention, in general it has been allowed to remain in the inadequate condition the Marshals purportedly discovered anew because a white person complained.

This is an example, then, when a white person has claimed himself to be the victim when, in fact, it’s yet another example of how brown and black people have less access to justice than similarly situated white people.

This development deserves focused attention, most of all because it is unjust. But such attention will flip the script that Jan 6ers are using in an attempt to get sympathy from those who don’t understand the truth.

Explain how DOJ has lost cases against white terrorists (including on sedition charges) in the past

There’s a lot of impatience that DOJ hasn’t simply charged January 6 defendants with sedition or insurrection.

Thus far, DOJ has chosen to use a less inflammatory and more flexible statute, obstruction, instead. Obstruction comes with enhancements — for threatening violence or especially obstructive behavior — that DOJ has used to tailor sentencing recommendations.

The wisdom of this approach will soon be tested, as several DC Judges weigh challenges to the application of the statute. If the application is overturned, it’s unclear whether DOJ will charge something else, like sedition, instead.

But DOJ probably chose their current approach for very good reason: because sedition is harder to prove than obstruction, and in the past, white terrorists have successfully beaten such charges. That’s true for a lot of reasons, partly because the absence of a material support statute makes association with a right wing terrorist group harder to prosecute.

A cable personality whom I have great respect for — NBC’s Barb McQuade — knows this as well as anyone, as she was US Attorney when a sedition conspiracy case against the Hutaree collapsed. In that case, DOJ had trouble proving that defendants wanted to overthrow the US government, the kind of evidentiary claim that DOJ will face in January 6 trials, even as currently charged.

There are real challenges to prosecuting white terrorism. Some education on this point would alleviate some of the impatience about the charging decisions DOJ has made.

Describe what really goes into an indictment, what kind of evidence is required, how long it takes, and the approvals that are needed to help people understand what to really expect

In the period between the time Steve Bannon was referred to DOJ for contempt and the time he was charged, a number of commentators used the delay to explain what it takes to get an indictment (against a high profile political figure) that stands a chance of work; one good example is this column by Joyce Vance.

There have been and are numerous examples of similar delays — the Tom Barrack indictment and the Rudy Giuliani Special Master review are two — that offer similar teaching opportunities about the process and protections involved in indicting someone.

Due process takes time. And yet in an era of instant gratification, few people understand why that’s the case. If we’re going to defend due process even while trying to defend our democracy, more education about what due process involves would temper some of the panic.

Emphasize the prosecutions/charges/investigations against Trump that have or are occurring

Given the din calling for prosecution of Donald Trump, you’d think none of his associates had been prosecuted. As Teri Kanefield noted the other day, it would be far better if, instead of saying Trump had suffered no consequences for his actions, there was some focus instead on where he had.

Trump’s business is currently under indictment with multiple investigations into it ongoing. His charity was shut down and fined for self-dealing. Trump’s Inauguration Committee will be civilly tried for paying above market rates to Trump Organization.

His Campaign Manager, his National Security Advisor, his Coffee Boy, his Rat-Fucker, and one of his personal lawyers were found guilty of lying to cover up what really happened with Russia in 2016. Several of these men (as well as a top RNC donor) also admitted they were secretly working for frenemy countries, including (in Mike Flynn’s case), while receiving classified briefings as Trump’s top national security aide. Trump’s biggest campaign donor, Tom Barrack, is being prosecuted for using the access he purchased to Trump to do the bidding of the Emirates. Another of Trump’s personal lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, is under investigation for the same crime, secretly working for another country while claiming to represent the interests of the President of the United States.

The sheer scale of this is especially breathtaking when you consider the projection the GOP has — successfully — focused on Hunter Biden for similar crimes. Even with years of effort and help from Russia, the GOP has not yet been able to prove that the President’s son’s influence peddling or potential tax accounting violated the law. Yet the GOP continues to focus on him relentlessly, even as the long list of Republicans who admit to the same crime continues to grow.

Trump has already proven to be the most corrupt president in some time, possibly ever. And instead of relentless messaging about that, Democrats are complaining about Merrick Garland.

Describe the damage done by Trump’s pardons

One reason why it’s hard to focus on all those criminal prosecutions is because Trump pardoned his way out of it. With the exception of Michael Cohen and Rick Gates, all the people who lied to cover up his Russian ties were pardoned, as was Steve Bannon and others who personally benefitted Trump.

Perhaps because these pardons happened in the wake of January 6, Trump avoided some of the shame he might otherwise have experienced for these pardons. But for several reasons, there should be renewed attention to them.

That’s true, for starters, because Trump’s pardons put the entire country at risk. By pardoning Eddie Gallagher for war crimes, for example, the US risks being treated as a human rights abuser by international bodies. The military faces additional disciplinary challenges. And those who cooperated against Gallagher effectively paid a real cost for cooperating against him only to see him escape consequences.

Paul Manafort’s pardon is another one that deserves renewed attention. That’s true not just because the pardon ended up halting the forfeiture that otherwise would have paid for the Mueller investigation, the cost of which right wingers claimed to care about. It’s true because Trump has basically dismissed the import of industrial scale tax cheating (even while right wingers insinuate that Hunter Biden might have made one error on his taxes). And finally, it’s true because Trump made an affirmative choice that a guy who facilitated Russia’s effort to undermine democracy in 2016, sharing information directly with someone deemed to be a Russian spy, should not be punished for his actions.

Finally, there should be renewed attention on what Trump got for his pardons. Did Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn pay central roles in January 6 in exchange for a pardon?

The US needs some means to prohibit such self-serving pardons like Trump pursued. But in the meantime, there needs to be some effort to shame Trump for relying on such bribes to stay out of prison himself.

Describe the way that even loyal Trumpsters will be and have been harmed as he corrupts the rule of law

Donald Trump pardoned Steve Bannon for defrauding a bunch of Trump loyalists. According to very recent reporting, Sidney Powell is under investigation (and being abandoned by her former allies) on suspicion she defrauded the thousands of Trump supporters who sent money to support her election conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party continues to dump money into protecting Trump for his own crimes, even as Republicans lose races that could have benefitted from the money.

However, some RNC members and donors accused the party of running afoul of its own neutrality rules and misplacing its priorities. Some of these same officials who spoke to CNN also questioned why the party would foot the legal bills of a self-professed billionaire who was sitting on a $102 million war chest as recently as July and has previously used his various political committees to cover legal costs. According to FEC filings from August, the former President’s Make America Great Again committee has paid Jones Day more than $37,000 since the beginning of the year, while his Make America Great

Again super PAC has paid a combined $7.8 million to attorneys handling his lawsuits related to the 2020 election.

“This is not normal. Nothing about this is normal, especially since he’s not only a former President but a billionaire,” said a former top RNC official.

“What does any of this have to do with assisting Republicans in 2022 or preparing for the 2024 primary?” the official added.

Bill Palatucci, a national committeeman from New Jersey, said the fact that the RNC made the payments to Trump’s attorneys in October was particularly frustrating given his own plea to party officials that same month for additional resources as the New Jersey GOP sought to push Republican Jack Ciattarelli over the finish line in his challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

“We sure as heck could have used $121,000,” Palatucci told CNN.

Loyal Trumpsters are the victim of one after another grift, and that should be emphasized to make it clear who is really taking advantage of them.

And one after another former Trump loyalist get themselves in their own legal trouble. One of the messages Michael Cohen tried to share in his testimony before going to prison was that “if [other Republicans] follow blindly, like I have,” they will end up like he did, going to prison. Hundreds of January 6 defendants — some of whom imagined they, too, might benefit from Trump’s clemency (they still might, but they’ll have to wait) — are learning Cohen’s lesson the hard way.

Kleptocracy only benefits those at the top. And yet Trump’s supporters continue to aggressively pursue policies that will make the US more of a kleptocracy.

It’s fairly easy to demonstrate the damage degrading rule of law in exchange for a kleptocracy is. Except average people aren’t going to understand that unless high profile experts make that case.

Focus on the efforts of Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson to undercut the investigation into Project Veritas’ suspected theft of Ashely Biden’s diary

The Project Veritas scandal remains obscure and may never amount to charges against PV itself. Yet even as it has become clear that DOJ is investigating theft, key Republicans Chuck Grassley, Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Ron Johnson are trying to shut down the investigation into that theft. Chuck Grassley’s efforts to do so are particularly noxious given that a long-term staffer of his, Barbara Ledeen, is a sometime co-conspirator of Project Veritas.

Republicans have undermined legitimate investigations into Trump, over and over, with little pushback from the press. This is an example where it would seem especially easy to inflict a political cost (especially since Grassley is up for re-election next year).

It would be far more useful, in defending rule of law, to impose political costs on undermining the investigations that commentators are demanding from DOJ than it is to complain (incorrectly) that such investigations aren’t happening. Merrick Garland (however imperfect) is not the enemy of rule of law here, Jim Jordan is.

Explain how shoddy John Durham’s indictments are

One of the complaints that David Rothkopf made in the column that kicked off my latest bout of impatience with the hand-wringing about Garland complained that Garland “is letting” Durham charge those who raise concerns about Trump’s ties to Russia, even while (Rothkopf assumes) ignoring Trump’s own efforts to obstruct the investigation.

We have seen that Garland is letting the highly politicized investigation of special prosecutor John Durham into the conduct of the Trump-Russia investigation continue (by continuing its funding). We therefore have the real prospect that those who sought to look into the Trump-Russia ties that both Mueller and Congressional investigations have demonstrated were real, unprecedented and dangerous might be prosecuted while those who actively sought the help of a foreign enemy to win an election will not be.

As I have noted, both of Durham’s indictments have been shoddy work, hanging charges on Twitter rants and other hearsay evidence.

And while there was some worthwhile criticism of the Michael Sussmann indictment (perhaps because he’s well-connected in DC), Democrats seem to take Durham’s word that Igor Danchenko — and not Christopher Steele or Russian disinformation — is responsible for the flaws in the dossier. Perhaps as a result, the legal experts who could point out how ridiculous it is to rely on a Twitter feed for a key factual claim have remained silent.

With such silence, it is not (just) Garland who “is letting [Duram’s] highly politicized investigation” continue unchecked, but also the experts whose criticism could do something to rein him in.

If the investigation is politicized — and it is — then Durham is a far more appropriate target than Garland.

Focus on the legal threats to democracy in the states

There has, admittedly, been deserved focus on the ways Republicans are chipping away at democratic representation in the states.

But that is where the battle for democracy is being fought. And in most of the states where Trump attempted to undermine the 2020 election, there are follow-on legal issues, whether it’s the investigation into the suspected voting machine theft in Colorado (including into a former campaign manager for Lauren Boebert), a seemingly related investigation in Ohio, or the effort to criminalize efforts to ease voting by seniors during the pandemic in Wisconsin.

Republicans are trying to criminalize democracy. That makes it all the more important to ensure that the call for rule of law remains laser focused on the criminal efforts to cheat to win, if for no other reason than to shame those involved.

The threat to democracy is undoubtedly grave. Republicans are deploying their considerable propaganda effort into legitimizing that attack on democracy (even while suggesting Biden has committed the kind of graft that Trump engaged in non-stop, classic projection).

In the face of that unrelenting effort, expert commentators who support democracy have a choice: They can defend the rule of law and shame those who have denigrated it, or they can spend their time complaining about the guy trying, however imperfectly, to defend it himself. The latter will make Garland less able to do his job, the former will help him do whatever he is willing and able to do.

Update: Added “suspected” to the PV bullet.

The Publisher of the Steele Dossier, Ben Smith, Reports that the Hunter Biden Laptop Was Just a Political Dirty Trick

The recent Igor Danchenko indictment and overly credulous reporting on it have created a big new push for former BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith to reflect on his role in the dissemination of the Steele dossier.

In a Sunday column on mis- and disinformation, however, he makes no mention of it.

Instead, his column questions the inclusion of the Hunter Biden laptop story in a media executive seminar on, “help[ing] newsroom leaders fight misinformation and media manipulation.” Smith claims that treatment of the laptop story is, in fact, proof that the term “media manipulation” means  “any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.”

A couple of them, though, told me they were puzzled by the reading package for the first session.

It consisted of a Harvard case study, which a participant shared with me, examining the coverage of Hunter Biden’s lost laptop in the final days of the 2020 campaign. The story had been pushed by aides and allies of then-President Donald J. Trump who tried to persuade journalists that the hard drive’s contents would reveal the corruption of the father.

The news media’s handling of that narrative provides “an instructive case study on the power of social media and news organizations to mitigate media manipulation campaigns,” according to the Shorenstein Center summary.

The Hunter Biden laptop saga sure is instructive about something. As you may recall, panicked Trump allies frantically dumped its contents onto the internet and into reporters’ inboxes, a trove that apparently included embarrassing images and emails purportedly from the candidate’s son showing that he had tried to trade on the family name. The big social media platforms, primed for a repeat of the WikiLeaks 2016 election shenanigans, reacted forcefully: Twitter blocked links to a New York Post story that tied Joe Biden to the emails without strong evidence (though Twitter quickly reversed that decision) and Facebook limited the spread of the Post story under its own “misinformation” policy.

But as it now appears, the story about the laptop was an old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign, and describing it with the word “misinformation” doesn’t add much to our understanding of what happened. While some of the emails purportedly on the laptop have since been called genuine by at least one recipient, the younger Mr. Biden has said he doesn’t know if the laptop in question was his.

And the “media manipulation campaign” was a threadbare, 11th-hour effort to produce a late-campaign scandal, an attempt at an October Surprise that has been part of nearly every presidential campaign I’ve covered.

The Wall Street Journal, as I reported at the time, looked hard at the story. Unable to prove that Joe Biden had tried, as vice president, to change U.S. policy to enrich a family member, The Journal refused to tell it the way the Trump aides wanted, leaving that spin to the right-wing tabloids. What remained was a murky situation that is hard to call “misinformation,” even if some journalists and academics like the clarity of that label. The Journal’s role was, in fact, a pretty standard journalistic exercise, a blend of fact-finding and the sort of news judgment that has fallen a bit out of favor as journalists have found themselves chasing social media.

While some academics use the term carefully, “misinformation” in the case of the lost laptop was more or less synonymous with “material passed along by Trump aides.” And in that context, the phrase “media manipulation” refers to any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.

Unless Smith considers the two details he cites — some researchers have confirmed that some of the emails are authentic, yet Hunter Biden doesn’t claim to know whether the laptop in question was his — to be proof one way or another that this was a “politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” he cites no evidence for his conclusion.

Smith doesn’t mention any of the reasons why there was and remains good reason to suspect the laptop — the provenance of which even Glenn Greenwald once proclaimed to be “bizarre at best” — was more than that. From the time President Trump first started extorting an investigation into the Bidens from Ukraine through at least January 2020, Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU was found hacking Burisma, the company with which Hunter had a sketchy consulting relationship that was the initial hook for the laptop stories. Rudy Giuliani not only played a central role in the brokering of the laptop story, but reportedly had been sitting on a copy of the files for some time. Rudy, of course, had played a key role in Trump’s attempt to extort news of a Biden investigation and even during the impeachment inquiry, in spite of warnings from the intelligence community, traveled to Ukraine to meet with Andrii Derkach, who was subsequently sanctioned as a Russian agent. According to Ben Smith’s employer, Derkach’s efforts to deal “misleading information” to Rudy as part of a 2020 election operation are under investigation by EDNY; a parallel investigation into Rudy for serving as an unregistered agent of Ukrainian interests in events that were part of the impeachment inquiry remains ongoing at SDNY. An intelligence report related to the second story hung on the laptop, regarding Hunter’s ties to China, was disclosed to have been attributed to an intelligence analyst whose identity was entirely fabricated, down to his artificially generated face. And the IC’s report on efforts to interfere in the 2020 election includes one conclusion that sounds suspiciously similar to the efforts that led to the laptop story.

A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of people linked to Russian intelligence to launder influence narratives–including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden–through US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, some of whom were close to former President Trump and his administration.

If the Hunter Biden laptop story was just a political dirty trick, then it was one that exactly paralleled well-substantiated efforts involving Russian intelligence agents.

We now know, thanks to the investigation into Project Veritas, that the “sister” media package right wing propaganda outlets were pitching, the dissemination of a diary from Hunter’s half-sister in the very same weeks leading up to the election, similarly features a sketchy origin story that — SDNY has shown probable cause to believe — actually serves to hide the theft of the underlying diary. While SDNY has not yet charged anyone much less proven the case, it claims that the story about how reporters came to obtain such a juicy campaign prop was, itself, misinformation hiding theft. That’s another detail that Smith doesn’t mention in his piece.

Even if the similarities between Smith’s “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” and the acknowledged interference attempt by Russian agents are mere coinkydink, it nevertheless is the case that the Hunter Biden laptop package was an attempt at media manipulation, part of the reason it was presented to the seminar.

That’s because — again, as even Glenn Greenwald acknowledged — the presumptively authentic emails offered as the dangle in the laptop package provided, “no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma.” By offering “authentic” emails and derogatory pictures just before the election, right wing operatives attempted to make a story that had long been reported (and key parts of it debunked by experts testifying under oath as part of the first impeachment) go viral just before the election not by offering any proof of the key allegations, but by waving something “authentic” around that could substitute for real proof.

It briefly worked, too, as high profile journalists disseminated the most inflammatory details in the story — effectively delivering the announcement of a criminal investigation pertaining to Ukraine that Trump demanded from Volodymyr Zelenskyy — and only after that started identifying really problematic parts of the story.

This entire episode was an effort to disseminate something “authentic” that nevertheless lacked proof of the underlying allegations as a way to lead people to believe those allegations. Classic media manipulation, and it nearly succeeded.

And Ben Smith, the man who published a dossier full of unproven allegations that — Republicans in Congress now believe — injected Russian disinformation into what otherwise might have been just an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” a dossier that (like Hunter Biden’s laptop) long stood as the proxy understanding for a criminal investigation into dramatically different facts, dismisses the possibility that it was disinformation blithely, presenting no real evidence for or against.

It is undoubtedly the case that there remain real questions about the Hunter Biden laptop package, questions that may get renewed attention given the new focus on the Ashley Biden diary package. Maybe one day, Ben Smith will be able to state, as fact, that it was just an, “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign;” or maybe EDNY will uncover the real provenance of those “authentic” files all packaged up and handed to a guy who made no secret of his willingness to accept and disseminate Russian disinformation.

But at a time when he is actively refusing to reflect on his own actions in disseminating an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” that seems to have been exploited as an easy vehicle for hostile disinformation, Ben Smith might want to be a little more cautious about assuming those lines are so easy to distinguish.