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No Honor Among Troll Faces: The Latest Lawfare against Prigozhin’s Trolls

Yesterday, Treasury sanctioned four people for election interference. Rudy Giuliani associate Andreii Derkach has gotten most of the attention. But Treasury also sanctioned three people associated with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s troll operation.

Today, Treasury also designated three IRA actors pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended by E.O. 13757, and E.O. 13848 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRA, an entity designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, and E.O. 13848. Russian nationals Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev, and Darya Aslanova, as employees of the IRA, supported the IRA’s cryptocurrency accounts. The IRA uses cryptocurrency to fund activities in furtherance of their ongoing malign influence operations around the world.

The identifying information announcement provides not just passport and date of birth information (which is normal), but for two of the sanctioned individuals, it includes 17 and 6 crypto-currency addresses, respectively.

ANDREYEV, Anton Nikolaeyvich (Cyrillic: АНДРЕЕВ, Антон Николаевич), 9 3 Bloshevikov Prospect Apt 35, Saint Petersburg, Russia; DOB 03 Mar 1985; POB Saint Petersburg, Russia; nationality Russia; Email Address [email protected]; Gender Male;

Digital Currency Address – XBT 1Fz29BQp82pE3vXXcsZoMNQ3KSHfMzfMe3;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1AeSq93WDNdLoEJ92sex7T8xQZoYYm8BtS;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1AoxtfiBQ22DvbhqAN9Ctb8sULMRhrdwTr;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 18Qj1THHuETfYhuRDZycXJbWwDMGw73Poa;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1MnbhWe5wr7Ut45ReyQsm96PwnM9jD7KaH;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DYFJ6CuBvrxyoQSuBzVsNcetY9tvdsrag;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 15Pt4NwZaUmMUwS2bQbyyncc7mzgWShtv8;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1PhqQpaGCrqSxQ6QDXcv14QCd1U98Zp34E;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 13YBQr2Cp1YY3xqq2qngaPb7ca1o4ugeq6;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1KgudqxMfYaGzqAA7MS4DcsqejtMteqhix;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1FRyL9gmFGbzfYDAB4iY9836DJe3KSnjP9;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DbShx4r8i2XesthoDBf5EkYWz5dsKEusV;

Digital Currency Address – ETH 0x8576acc5c05d6ce88f4e49bf65bdf0c62f91353c;

Phone Number 79315403678;

Digital Currency Address – LTC LWnbjLYUfqeokfbWM4FcU7uk2FP2DSxuWS;

alt. Digital Currency Address – LTC LaYUy1DGfVSuSF5KbPhbLrm8kRotqiwUJn;

Digital Currency Address – ZEC t1WSKwCDL1QYRRUrCCknEs5tDLhtGVYu9KM;

Digital Currency Address – BSV 12sjrrhoFEsedNRhtgwvvRqjFTh8fZTDX9; Passport 4005504207 (Russia) (individual) [CYBER2] [ELECTION-EO13848].

[snip]

LIFSHITS, Artem Mikhaylovich (Cyrillic: ЛИФШИЦ, Артем Михайлович), Primorsky Prospect 159, Saint Petersburg 197374, Russia; DOB 26 Dec 1992; nationality Russia; Email Address [email protected]; alt. Email Address [email protected]; Gender Male;

Digital Currency Address – XBT 12udabs2TkX7NXCSj6KpqXfakjE52ZPLhz;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DT3tenf14cxz9WFNxmYrXFbB6TFiVWA9U;

Digital Currency Address – ETH 0x901bb9583b24d97e995513c6778dc6888ab6870e;

alt. Digital Currency Address – ETH 0xa7e5d5a720f06526557c513402f2e6b5fa20b00;

Phone Number 79110354982;

Digital Currency Address – LTC Leo3j36nn1JcsUQruytQhFUdCdCH5YHMR3;

Digital Currency Address – DASH Xs3vzQmNvAxRa3Xo8XzQqUb3BMgb9EogF4; Passport 719032284 (individual) [CYBER2] [ELECTION-EO13848].

Yesterday, EDVA also announced a single criminal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against one of the sanctioned people, Artem Lifshits, who in 2017 was head of the “Translator Department [or Project],” which is what the troll project focusing on the US is called. As the excerpt above notes, Lifshits actually got fewer of his cryptocurrency accounts sanctioned than another of the targets, Anton Andreyev.

I’d like to look at how the criminal complaint complements the two other sets of charges against Prigozhin’s troll operation, the indictment against 13 of the actual trolls as well as some of the companies involved (here’s a very long post on that prosecution), and Prigozhin himself and a complaint against one of the accountants involved, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova (here’s my post on that). Along with renewing and fleshing out the case against Prigozhin, the complaint may be an effort to sow discord within Prigozhin’s operation, by alerting him that some of his employees may be helping themselves to company troll funds.

The affidavit by a Secret Service Agent supporting the complaint incorporates the other two legal actions and includes them as exhibits to this charge. It even includes a footnote explaining why DOJ dismissed the charges against Prigozhin’s shell companies.

On March 16, 2020, the United States dismissed Concord Management and Consulting LLC from the Indictment. Concord “availed itself of the Court’s jurisdiction to obtain discovery from the United States . . . while positioning itself to evade any real obligations or responsibility,” even refusing to produce a corporate representative despite “appearing” through counsel. Mot. to Dismiss Concord Defs., 2, 6, United States v. Internet Research Agency, et. al, 1:18-cr-32 (DLF) (D.D.C. Mar. 16, 2020). In light of the defendant’s conduct, the United States dismissed these parties from the Indictment, stating substantial federal interests were no longer served by continuing the proceedings against them. See id. at 9. The Indictment remains pending and active as to thirteen named individual defendants and the IRA.

After some introductory matter, the affidavit:

  • Describes the Lakhta disinformation project generally, including a brief overview of its attempts to sow discord between December 2016 through May 2018, incorporating some but not all of the examples from the Khusyaynova complaint, and adding a few new ones, including three paragraphs on use, starting in July 2019 of a cover company located in Accra, Ghana.
  • Describes how in October 2018 the Secret Service started investigating the role of cryptocurrency in the operation.
  • Explains that Lifshits served as head of the Translator Department.
  • Describes how Lifshits transferred money from a BTC account opened using the stolen identity of “T.W.” to his own personal account, the central allegation of wire fraud laid out in the indictment.

The basic proof accusing Lifshits of using T.B.’s stolen identity to open a Bitcoin account that he then used to transfer money into his own account relies on very basic metadata analysis obtained using legal process:

  • Evidence backing the selectors of Lifshits tie to his biological person and one of the cryptocurrency accounts he transferred money into (including two other Internet troll employees’ address book entries with his phone number, one of which referred to him as “Troll Face”).
  • Evidence showing Lifshits applying to Project Lakhta in July 2015 and appearing on rosters of Project Lakhta employees dated January 28, 2017 to October 26, 2017.
  • A description of finding order confirmations in the known IRA email, allforusa, from a criminal marketplace that sold fraudulent identities (this might be Richard Pinedo’s site).
  • Two paragraphs describing interviews with T.W. and another identity theft victim, T.B.,  in which they said he had never owned any cryptocurrency themselves and had not authorized anyone to do so on their behalf.
  • IP analysis showing Lifshits accessing cryptocurrency addresses (including his own) from an IRA IP address, as well as from a US-based account set up using a stolen identity but controlled by IRA.
  • IP address analysis showing him accessing the T.W. cryptocurrency account at the same time he accessed one of his own accounts, into which he transferred funds.
  • User Agent String analysis showing those accounts being accessed by the same browser.
  • IP analysis establishing venue in EDVA via some AWS servers.

In other words, the complaint, after invoking the two other legal actions against IRA and Prigozhin, finds one manager amid Prigozhin’s employees and shows some very basic metadata evidence — relying on neither intelligence nor some of the more sophisticated blockchain analysis the US government would like to hide — to accuse the manager, Lifshits, of wire fraud because of a financial transfer involving the stolen identity of an American.

There are two interesting aspects of the complaint, besides the way it slowly builds the case against Prigozhin via interlocking accusations.

First, a key passage of all this describes that Lifshits made this transfer “for personal gain.”

60. On or about December 29, 2017, LIFSHITS accessed and used the T.W. Exchange 1 Account to conduct an electronic transfer of funds from the T.W. Exchange 1 Account to his personal Exchange 3 account. This transaction is publicly viewable on the Bitcoin blockchain and USSS confirmed its existence through other investigative means.

61. On or about December 29, 2017, LIFSHITS used United States IP Address 1 at 15:35 UTC to access his Exchange 3 account. Then, three minutes later, he used the same IP address to access the T.W. Exchange 1 Account. This is on the same day that the T.W. Exchange 1 Account sent an electronic funds transfer to LIFSHITS’ Exchange 3 account.

62. With this transaction, LIFSHITS (1) intentionally and voluntarily devised or participated in a scheme to defraud — as evidenced by controlling and using a fraudulent cryptocurrency account, and (2) used interstate wire communications to further the fraud — as evidenced by the online cryptocurrency transactions.

It doesn’t say, one way or another, whether this was a sanctioned transfer of funds out of an IRA-controlled account or not. The government may have used this 34-page affidavit not only to flesh out the case against Prigozhin, but also to reveal that one of his employees is bilking him, effectively stealing trolling funds.

But the complaint also mentions a Co-Conspirator 1, who along with Lifshits bought identities using cryptocurrency.

Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for the contents of the email account [email protected], which as stated above is associated with a cryptocurrency account linked to both LIFSHITS and Co-Conspirator 1. During a review of the emails, law enforcement located “Order Confirmation” emails received from an online criminal marketplace that sells fraudulent passports and similar identification documents (the “Criminal Marketplace”). These emails corresponded to purchases of United States driver licenses that reflected the real names, addresses, and dates of birth of United States identity theft victims. This type of personally identifiable information is a “means of identification” as defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028(d)(7).

It describes Co-Conspirator 1 as the sole other beneficiary of transfers out of a different IRA trolling account (though also suggests that one of the guys charged in the larger indictment might also be conducting such transfers as well).

The T.W. Exchange 1 Account reflected debits to several beneficiaries, including accounts registered to LIFSHITS and another known Project Lakhta member (“Co-Conspirator 1”). The IP activity associated with the T.W. Exchange 1 Account also matched the IP address activity of cryptocurrency accounts registered to LIFSHITS and Vladimir Venkov, who is charged in the USAO-DC Indictment.

It then introduces an account based off a different stolen identity, that of T.B., from which funds were transferred into an account controlled by the Co-Conspirator.

USSS identified a second account, which was hosted at another United States cryptocurrency exchange (“Exchange 2”). The Exchange 2 account was registered to a known Project Lakhta email account, [email protected] (hereinafter the “AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account”).7 Project Lakhta members opened the AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account using the identifiers of T.B. According to Exchange 2’s records, Project Lakhta members solely funded the AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account with an incoming credit from an account also in the name of T.B. at a United States-based financial institution. This credit was used exclusively to fund outgoing payments to a Blockchain wallet that USSS investigators determined was controlled by Co-Conspirator 1.

Now, it may be that the government only introduced Co-Conspirator 1 to establish venue in EDVA (which went through the T.B. account).

But it sure sounds like it is describing Co-Conspirator 1 as engaging in the same kind of transfers from IRA accounts into his own personal accounts that it describes Lifshits as doing.

Perhaps stealing from the troll till is considered part of their official compensation (elsewhere, the complaint cites the salary of Lifshits, so the US government may know the answer). Or perhaps these guys whose cryptocurrency addresses just got published in a US sanction announcement have been stealing from Prigozhin, in which case the US Treasury just provided Prigozhin a lot of hints about how to prove it.

Trump Told One Key Truth at His Convention

CNN had a funny story the other day. It described how five different RNC speakers — it focuses on Natalie Harp (who lied about receiving treatment under the Right to Try Act), Mark and Patricia McCloskey (who threatened protestors with their guns), Abby Johnson (whose story about abortion and spousal voting fell apart), and Mary Ann Mendoza (who got cut after spewing an anti-semitic conspiracy theory) — were so crazy, it suggests the Republicans didn’t vet their speakers.

The appearances of several speakers at this week’s Republican National Convention have been surrounded by controversy over social media comments and actions from their past, raising questions about whether and how the RNC vetted its speakers before they were placed on national television.

The story is funny, in part, because it left out the bigger name controversial speakers, like Rudy Giuliani, whose conspiracy theories are every bit as baseless as Mendoza’s, and who is reportedly under criminal investigation for the circumstances behind them) or Eric Trump, who is currently defying a New York State subpoena on the grounds that testifying truthfully about Trump Organization’s accounting irregularities would incriminate him. Which makes the premise even funnier: One controversial speaker is a vetting problem, seven (the number is actually much higher) is an intentional choice.

And yet the press has interpreted Trump’s failures to play by norms they believe remain in place as a goof, simply poor execution of a known formula.

A more alarming example comes in this NYT story. It sums up what it views as the themes the two parties are using, along the way repeating Trump’s claimed theme of “law-and-order” five times.

COVID vs. Law and Order

[snip]

the President is hammering a law-and-order message

[snip]

The moves come as the presidential campaign barrels into the critical last 10 weeks. They represent a bet by Mr. Biden that a focus on Covid-19 will prevail over Mr. Trump’s “law and order” emphasis and his attempt to portray Mr. Biden as a tool of the “radical left.”

[snip]

Aides to Mr. Trump said on Friday that their line of attack would not change. They plan to repeatedly highlight Mr. Trump’s familiar “law and order” message, and are blunt in their assessment that they will benefit politically from violence erupting at some protests.

[snip]

Mr. Trump’s aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics law violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.

Even assuming NYT describes these themes correctly (it doesn’t mention “competence,” for example), it totally misreads what happened at the Trump convention. It treats the RNC as a thematically organized event, rather than a raw display of power, power premised on dismantling any logic of themes.

While this extends to every logical claim Trump made at the RNC — from his claim that COVID is a thing of the past and his celebration of immigrants lured to participate in the RNC unwittingly — it was most visible in his claim to care in the least about law and order, the theme reporters claimed to be the central backbone of Trump’s campaign.

This is a man, after all, who has had two campaign managers and five other aides indicted or prosecuted, most in the service of protecting Trump. Two separate legal proceedings in New York State are pursuing financial crimes implicating Trump and his business (as noted, RNC speaker Eric Trump is currently defying subpoenas, claiming that his truthful testimony will implicate himself in crimes). And during his last campaign, Trump was implicated in two more crimes, the hush payments to his former sex partners and the misuse of his Foundation. There are active lawsuits from women credibly accusing Trump of sex crimes. It’s likely the only thing protecting Trump from prosecution for these crimes and obstruction of the Mueller probe is his success at winning another term. Meanwhile, the woman who shattered all prior norms about the Hatch Act, Kellyanne Conway, completed her service to Trump by admitting more violence would help Trump’s campaign.

And yet the NYT treats Trump’s “law and order” theme as a credible political claim.

The only mention from this purported news story that Trump’s convention was a televised crime spree of its own accord came in describing the glee with which Trump’s aides enjoyed watching Trump commit crimes, which the NYT instead describes as “raising questions about ethics law violations,” with impunity.

Mr. Trump’s aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics law violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.

This is not (as it would be in a minimally competent story) a fact check, a discussion of how absurd it was that the most criminally implicated President in history was instead running as the “law and order” candidate. It is, instead, an unexamined nugget of the key truth.

Trump’s aides are gleeful that his defiance of the law during a convention where he claimed to be the “law and order” candidate caused so much consternation. They relish the way he could commit crimes in broad daylight without anyone stopping him.

That is, the theme is not “law and order,” as NYT gullibly parroted. Trump’s campaign promise is the complete dismantlement of rule of law, where a candidate whose potential and confirmed crimes are too numerous to track could condemn the crimes and criminalized peaceful speech of his opponents, while failing to condemn murder committed by a supporter, all while claiming this selective enforcement amounted to “law and order.”

The point is not the theme. It’s partly that a small pack of NYT journalists might collectively repeat it as if it’s true, without instead describing the grave danger posed to democracy when a man who has systematically attacked rule of law rebrands that assault as law and order. Trump has successfully recruited those whose business is supposed to be truth-telling, and gotten them to instead reinforce his central lie, that his abuse of the law is something called “law and order.” And it is, more significantly, that while less negligent journalists were trying to push back on Trump’s deluge of lies, he was instead telling the key truth. Trump’s campaign message is not whatever theme some horse race journalists discern from ad buys. Rather, it is a promise — with his defiance of rule of law, his abdication of any platform save his own whims, his assault on the sanctity of the election, his incitement of violence — that in a second term Trump will forgo any past pretense he made to be engaged in democracy.

Trump’s convention was all designed to perform his utter contempt for democracy itself. And it succeeded, wildly, at telling that one key truth.

Reggie Walton Seems Interested Revealing Some of Mueller’s Referrals

I made at least one error in this post. I surmised, based on the exemptions DOJ had claimed in a reprocessed version of the Mueller Report released last month, that there might be ongoing investigations into Rudy Giuliani’s grifters reflected in it.

But the sentencing of George Nader a week later reminded me that it cannot be the case that DOJ did a full reprocessing of the Mueller Report. Warrants made it clear that Nader’s prosecution for child porn — which developed into a prosecution for sexually abusing a boy — was a referral from the Mueller team.

Yet the reprocessed Mueller Report continues to redact all the referrals in Appendix D not previously unsealed (that is, all but the Michael Cohen and Greg Craig ones), including one that must be the Nader prosecution, under b7A redactions signaling an ongoing investigation, quite possibly this one.

The Nader referral, because it was prosecuted, should not be redacted under any exemption. Well before this reprocessing, Nader’s prosecution was public (meaning the privacy exemptions are improper), and by the time of this reprocessing, his conviction had been entered, so was no longer ongoing.

The reprocessing did change two Stone-related referrals to the same privacy exemption used for most other referrals — b(6)/b(7)(C-4) instead of b(6)/b(7)(C-3). (These are the newly reprocessed redactions; compare with pages 240-241 of the initial FOIA release.)

The change from C-3 to C-4 signifies that the person involved was only mentioned in the report, but that category is unrelated to whether or not the person remains under a separate investigation. But all referrals still use the b7(A) exemption, even though we know at least one — that of George Nader — is no longer ongoing.

That’s a very complicated way of saying that we can be certain DOJ is claiming some of these referrals are ongoing investigations even though no investigation is ongoing, whether because — like Nader — the investigation has been completed, because the investigation was properly closed, or because Billy Barr intervened and improperly closed them (as might be the case for investigations known to be targeting Erik Prince and Jared Kushner).

And that’s why some filings this week in this lawsuit are so interesting.

A month ago, Judge Reggie Walton, after having reviewed an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report, canceled a public status conference and instead scheduled an ex parte hearing on July 20 at which DOJ would have to answer his questions about the redactions.

Knowing that it would have to answer Walton’s questions, yet claiming to respond to an earlier BuzzFeed/EPIC filing, DOJ offered up that it was preparing to reissue the report in light of the completion of the Roger Stone prosecution. It released that copy — the one that claims at least one investigation that has been completed is ongoing — on June 19.

Which brings us to this week. On Monday, Judge Walton ordered the government to answer questions he raised in an Excel spreadsheet addressing the redactions.

To accord the Department knowledge of the questions that the Court has regarding some of the redactions prior to the ex parte hearing, the Court has prepared an Excel spreadsheet that catalogues these questions, which is attached as Exhibit A to this Order. 1 To the extent that the Department is able to respond to the Court’s questions in writing, it is hereby

ORDERED that, on or before July 14, 2020, at 5:00 p.m., the Department shall file2 under seal its responses to the Court’s questions by completing Column G of Exhibit A. 3

SO ORDERED this 6th day of July, 2020.

1 Exhibit A will be issued under seal and will remain under seal unless otherwise ordered by this Court.

2 The Department shall coordinate with chambers regarding the delivery of a hard copy of its submission.

3 The Court will advise the Department as to whether the Department’s written explanations obviate the need for the ex parte hearing currently scheduled for July 20, 2020.

Judge Walton gave DOJ just over a week to answer the questions.

Yesterday, DOJ asked for more time. DOJ described that they needed to consult with other entities to respond to Walton’s questions, and explained that they had not yet gotten answers from some of the “entities” they needed to hear from.

The Department has been diligently working to comply with the Court’s Order. That work has involved consultations with numerous Department components, including the Office of Information Privacy, the National Security Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices. However, the Department requires one additional week—until 5:00 PM on July 21, 2020—to coordinate and provide responses to all of the Court’s questions. This additional time is necessary because the majority of Court’s inquiries concerning the redactions require the Department to consult with various entities with equities in the information at issue, both within and outside the Department. The Department has received information from some, but not all, of the entities. Once the Department has completed its consultation with these entities, the Department needs time to compile information received from those entities into a detailed response that addresses all of the Court’s questions. Those entities then need time to review the compiled draft responses before the responses are filed under seal with the Court.2 The Department’s goal with this process is to ensure fulsome responses to the Court’s questions that would obviate the need for a hearing. [my emphasis]

This paragraph is fairly dense, but two things are worth noting. First, after describing “Department components” it would need to consult, the filing then notes that the entities with which DOJ must consult aren’t all inside the Department. This reference may be innocent. After all, any investigations into Russians or other foreigners might implicate foreign intelligence agencies, and Treasury has an ongoing sanctions process working against Oleg Deripaska, another possible referral. So those non-departmental entities could be CIA, NSA, and Treasury, among others.

Or, those non-departmental entities could be the White House.

There has already been abundant evidence that DOJ is consulting with the White House on its response to the BuzzFeed/EPIC FOIA (or at least deferring to their goals), particularly with regards to the 302 releases. Perhaps they’re doing so in the guise of honoring executive privilege claims that Trump never claimed during the investigation. But particularly if this involves hiding details about the investigation into Don Jr and/or Jared, it would be particularly abusive here.

Meanwhile, the reference to US Attorney’s Offices, plural, strongly suggests that these questions get into b7(A) redactions, because the primary reason to need to ask US Attorney’s Offices about these redactions is if they’re investigating or prosecuting cases.

We know of Mueller referrals to, at least, DC, SDNY, and EDVA. The GRU indictment was sent back to WDPA, where it started. And there were reports that investigations into Jared, Tom Barrack, and Elliot Broidy were in EDNY (though it’s unclear which of those, if any, were referrals from Mueller).

That doesn’t necessarily mean these consultations are about unknown referrals. But a footnote to the DOJ filing strongly suggests they are.

2 Although “the question in FOIA cases is typically whether an agency improperly withheld documents at the time that it processed a FOIA request,” in the interest of saving resources and promoting efficiency, if the Department determines during its review that there no longer exists a basis for a redaction, the Department plans to indicate as such in its response to the Court’s questions, withdraw the redaction, and reprocess the Report with the redaction lifted at the appropriate time. ACLU v. Dep’t of Justice, 640 F. App’x 9, 13 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (unpublished); see also Bonner v. Dep’t of State, 928 F.2d 1148, 1152 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (“To require an agency to adjust or modify its FOIA responses based on post-response occurrences could create an endless cycle of judicially mandated reprocessing.”). The Report was originally processed in spring 2019. A basis may no longer exist for a redaction if, for example, material was redacted concerning a prosecution that had been ongoing at the time of the redaction that has now been completed. See Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Dep’t of Justice, 746 F.3d 1082, 1097 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (stating that because a “proceeding must remain pending at the time of our decision,” an agency’s “reliance on Exemption 7(A) may become outdated when the proceeding at issue comes to a close”).[my emphasis]

DOJ directly addresses b7(A) redactions, claiming that if the investigation was ongoing when it originally did the FOIA review, it is not in violation of FOIA if it hasn’t since released the information (the filing is silent on the reprocessing done last month).

Mind you, DOJ will argue that all of these redactions are still proper under privacy protections. But on that point, DOJ (and Billy Barr personally) has outright lied publicly, claiming that these redactions only protect tangential third parties and not people like the President’s son or son-in-law.

Having looked at Walton’s questions, DOJ directly addressed redactions that originally protected ongoing investigations and contacted more than one US Attorney’s Office for consultations. That says he may consider ordering DOJ to release information about investigations that were started but did not end in prosecution.

Which makes the delay more interesting. It may be totally innocent, the slow pace of bureaucracy, particularly as offices still recover from COVID shut-downs. But one US Attorney’s Office of interest has undergone a sudden change of leadership between the time Judge Walton asked for this information and the time DOJ will respond. Last night, Billy Barr swapped EDNY US Attorney Richard Donoghue with PDAAG Seth DuCharme. While Barr has shown trust in both (he put Donoghue in charge of reviewing Ukraine related allegations), DuCharme has been one of the people who has orchestrated his efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. Whatever answers DOJ provides to Walton, then, will be answers that Barr’s newly appointed flunky will oversee. That’s by no means the most suspicious part of DuCharme’s appointment, but it is something DuCharme will review in his first week on the job.

DOJ may successfully argue that all of this should remain redacted for privacy reasons. And, with the possible exception of an Erik Prince referral, if they’re disclosed as closed investigations, it would not necessarily indicate whether they were closed through more Barr interference. But it certainly suggests Walton may be thinking that some of this should be public.

Rudy Giuliani’s Actions Remain Under Investigation

Update: This post explains why the premise of the post below is wrong. Because the George Nader referral was not revealed in the reprocessed report, we can be sure that DOJ is improperly claiming b7A redactions for investigations that have closed.

Last night, DOJ released a “reprocessed” Mueller Report in the BuzzFeed/CNN FOIA of it. (one, two, three)

I’m driving most of the day today, so probably won’t be able to comment on how little genuinely “new” it shows. But I stand by my prediction that the warrants in the Stone case are far more damning than anything released yesterday.

That said, given Billy Barr’s attempt to fire Geoff Berman as US Attorney for Southern District of New York, it’s worth noting the referrals portion of the report. That shows, among other things, that a referral from the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates influence-peddling — which could be Rudy’s grifters — is still redacted as an ongoing investigation.

In addition — as Katelyn Polantz noted on Twitter — the references to Rudy’s attempts to broker a pardon for Michael Cohen remain redacted.

SDNY is due to supersede the indictment for Rudy’s grifters, and we know from the Schulte case there is a working grand jury (albeit in White Plains, not Manhattan). So Rudy may well be in Berman’s crosshairs.

 

Friday Night Half-Assed Massacre: The Attempted Firing of SDNY’s Berman

I’m not Marcy — I won’t do justice to this developing story the way she would especially after midnight. But I need to put something up to capture Attorney General Bill Barr’s bizarre Friday evening attempt to fire Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York.

Some background leading up to this evening’s half-assed Friday Night Massacre:

1990-1994 – Berman served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York while Rudy Giuliani was U.S. Attorney.

TBD – Berman became a partner at Greenberg Traurig; he ran their New Jersey office.

January 2016 – Giuliani joined Greenberg Traurig as global chair of cybersecurity and crisis management practices.

November 2016 – Trump asks SDNY’s then-USA Preet Bharara to stay on.

March 2017 – Attorney General Jeff Sessions asks all 46 holdover USAs from Obama administration to resign. Bharara declined; he also refused a phone call from Trump. He was fired the next day.

May 2017 – Giuliani supported Berman for U.S. Attorney though he was originally considered for New Jersey.

Who will be New Jersey’s next U.S. attorney?

President Donald Trump is deciding between one of Gov. Chris Christie’s criminal defense attorneys and another high-powered Jersey-based lawyer at a New York firm connected to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, according to a source with direct knowledge of the process.

Vying for the coveted job are Craig Carpenito, who defended the governor during the Bridgegate scandal and its fallout, and Geoffrey Berman, who runs the New Jersey office of the New York law firm Greenberg Traurig, where Giuliani is global chair of its cybersecurity and crisis management practices.

The candidates’ dueling mentors reveal an across-the-Hudson struggle for Trump’s ear.

Trump interviewed Berman and others for the USA-SDNY role.

January 2018 – Sessions announced Berman’s appointment to USA-SDNY.

April 2018 – Berman remained un-nominated by Trump, continuing to work as an interim acting USA; because the 120-day appointment period expired, the Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York ordered Berman appointed as USA-SDNY under 28 U.S.C Section 546(d), until Trump nominated a USA-SDNY and they were approved by the Senate.

Which bring us to Friday evening’s drama…

At 9:15 p.m. ET, the Justice Department issued an announcement of appointment via press release over Twitter.

Associated Press and other media outlets immediately began reporting that Berman had been fired.

At 11:14 p.m. ET, Berman issued a statement via Twitter:

Berman’s status rests on the interpretation of 28 USC 546(d), the law says Berman remains until fired AND replaced by a Senate-approved nominee for USA>

How convenient that the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee had already called a hearing for next Wednesday June 24 about political influence on law enforcement, with Department of Justice employees John Elias and Aaron Zelinsky scheduled to appear as whistleblowers before the committee.

HJC’s committee chair Rep. Jerry Nadler has already tweeted that Berman would be invited to appear before the same committee hearing.

It wouldn’t take much to move from this hearing to a vote for an impeachment inquiry inquiry into Bill Barr’s work as Attorney General — there was plenty of reason to pursue impeachment before Friday night’s half-assed massacre.

~ ~ ~

There’s a lot to unpack here. Have at it.

I’m publishing this now and will add some additional follow-up material here in the morning, including Berman’s recusal from the Cohen case, the investigation into Giuliani, and Berman’s effort to distance SDNY from the White House.

 

This is an open thread.

Research Misinfo/Disinfo: It’s a Scam

[Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

When certain folks all push the same angle — Trump, Giuliani, Solomon, et al — one may think immediately it’s a scam.

Like the Ukraine quid pro quo scam on which the very same players worked together, singing from the same hymnal.

The scam is more obvious because two of the people involved are promoting a pharmaceutical and they’re not medical doctors — they may be practicing medicine without a license by encouraging the use of a medication which isn’t approved for the use they advocate.

The drug is hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug which has also been approved for a small number of autoimmune disorders like lupus.

Something is clearly not right when so many of the same players are pushing a drug using the power of the presidency to do so.

~ ~ ~

Interregnum: I’ve had to put this post up now, out of order. I had originally intended to write two posts about misinfo/disinfo about research related to COVID-19 and the underlying virus, but push has come to shove with Trump pushing hydroxychloroquine again today, admitting the U.S. has not purchased ventilators or personal protection equipment on a timely basis but instead bought and stockpiled 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine.


Something is really wrong and it must be addressed immediately, before more people get hurt.

My post about the problematic background of research behind hydroxychloroquine will have to come next. Right now we need to talk about the scam in progress.

~ ~ ~

It took me a while to figure out what the angle might be on a drug which is old and cheap but I think this is the way this works.

Of course you all know Trump wants and NEEDS to stay in office or he’s up the creek without a paddle. This scam isn’t about making money but instead about serving his need not to be investigated and prosecuted for all manner of tax, bank, wire fraud and more beginning ten months from now.

So…Team Trump picks a drug which when administered in safe dose, doesn’t do much constructively for anybody except people they don’t give a shit about like patients with lupus and autoimmune disorders.

Weak sauce studies on hydroxychloroquine to date suggest it’s a 50/50 crap shoot that the critically-ill patients qualifying for compassionate use and receiving this drug will recover. Somebody external to the White House, possibly external to the U.S., maybe even the drug company/ies which makes this, may have made have chosen this drug because they did this math. They have just enough iffy research by iffy researchers to encourage its use.

They end up with just enough people who’ll recover and claim it’s a miracle drug that saved their lives, and the other half are dead or disabled so they won’t appear on camera to say otherwise. Handpicked survivors become testimonials to Trump’s ‘Wile E. Coyote super genius‘ and his prospective worth as our two-term conman-in-chief.

Even Dr. Fauci has said there’s no proof this drug cocktail works; he’s been clearly frustrated with Trump’s handling of COVID-19.

Trump cut off attempts to ask Dr. Fauci more questions about this drug today.

But Team Trump counters Fauci’s doubts by launching a character assassination attack in social media, calling Fauci part of the “deep state” out to get Trump.

At the same time there’s a continuous social media swarm pushing the drug.

Team Trump haven’t fired Fauci because they still need him to save Trump from making bigger mistakes and Fauci has much higher credibility ratings than any of the rest of Team Trump appearing before cameras.

But Trump’s current pandemic response failures are already projected to cost at least 100-240,000 American lives which Team Trump are now calling a goal, or success.

That’s part of the scam, too, the framing of what success will look like, long after Trump blew by the true benchmark of zero American deaths.

All this to boost his approval rating so he can use it for his re-election campaign. That’s the scam.

Just like the quid pro quo for which Trump was impeached — manipulate the situation so that false information boosts Trump’s approval with voters, abusing his power for his own personal gain.

~ ~ ~

What gave me pause wasn’t just the crappy research. Or the problematic French research with which this all began.

It was the fact that Rudy Giuliani, John Solomon, Charlie Kirk and a bunch of other right-wing support players were also doing their bit repeatedly to push this drug cocktail as well as a Russian doctor.

This is the Ukraine scam all over again, only this time the players are going to push a crappy drug and assassinate Dr. Fauci’s character, instead of pushing a false meme about Hunter Biden and assassinating Marie Yovanovitch’s character while she was ambassador to Ukraine.

Dr. Fauci has received death threats now because of this nonsense and his security detail has been increased because of it.

Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer has also been criticized by right-wingers about hydroxychloroquine. The state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs throttled off-label prescriptions of the antimalarial drug because doctors and pharmacists were abusing their licenses by writing scripts for themselves and their families, hoarding the drug while depleting inventories.

But Dr. Fauci and Gov. Whitmer aren’t the only ones affected by this. There are so many stories about lupus and other autoimmune disorder patients who haven’t been able to fill their prescriptions because of a run on hydroxychloroquine because of Team Trump’s unlicensed practice of medicine at the podium — or unregistered lobbying for pharmaceutical company or companies.

Not to mention the strong possibility that although the Food and Drug Administration caved under pressure from Team Trump and now allows “compassionate use” of the drug for COVID-19, the drug could easily kill patients who are already under stress from SARS-CoV-2’s attack on their systems.

Hydroxychloroquine requires additional caution when used on females, geriatric patients, patients with diabetes — this describes a considerable number of COVID-19 patients in critical care! — thyroid disease, malnutrition, liver impairment, or those who drink alcohol to excess — for starters. The drug must be used with caution in persons with cardiac arrhythmias, congenital long QT syndrome, heart failure, bradycardia, myocardial infarction, hypertension, coronary artery disease, hypomagnesemia, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia, or in patients receiving medications known to prolong the QT interval or cause electrolyte imbalances.

This is only part a portion of the contraindications and precautions for hydroxychloroquine.

It may also cause permanent eye damage.

Imagine monitoring the patients receiving hydroxychloroquine even more closely when hospitals are overwhelmed and understaffed.

None of the research so far has been performed in vivo in a large, randomized trial. We really do not know what it will do except for what it has done for malaria patients and for autoimmune disorders — hardly the same things as patients in extremis from COVID-19.

Trump’s pushing drugs from the presidential podium must stop because Americans are being hurt for the sake of whatever scam Team Trump is pulling off this time.

We can see part of the potential reasoning Team Trump has used, but who else is benefiting from this? How do pharmaceutical companies fit into this, particularly Novartis which may be the sole source for the stockpile of hydroxychloroquine the federal government acquired. We don’t know the total amount the U.S. holds, how much might have been donated, and how much has been bought.

We don’t know whether this was part of conversations which may have happened at Davos around January 22, when pharmaceutical companies like Novartis were present and when business leaders were already concerned about COVID-19 outbreak in China.

We just don’t have all the facts yet to know every angle of this particular artless deal.

~ ~ ~

Part 3 will address the research behind hydroxychloroquine in relation to COVID-19.

DOJ’s Ukraine Fire Sale: The Jerry Nadler Questions Bill Barr Didn’t Answer

Yesterday, Natasha Bertrand posted a January 17, 2020 memo issued by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, which was cited in a response DOJ sent to a letter Jerry Nadler sent on February 10. In it, Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Stephen Boyd explained that — in addition to asking Scott Brady to manage intake of any disinformation Rudy Giuliani provides DOJ, Rosen “assigned Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to assist in coordinating … several open matters being handled by different U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department components that in some way potentially relate to Ukraine.”

Add Donoghue to the list of US Attorneys that Attorney General Barr has deployed in his effort to politicize the Department.

Because the Donoghue Ukraine news (and the suggestion that Donoghue may be overseeing an investigation into the Bidens) got so much attention, there has been little attention to the questions Nadler originally asked, most of which Boyd did not answer.

But those questions are perhaps more telling.

For starters, Bill Barr did not answer whether he intends to recuse himself from the Ukrainian grifter case.

In light of the allegations by Mr. Parnas against the Department and you personally, do you intend to recuse yourself from any and all communications relating to Ukraine? Have you done so already?

In addition, Barr did not answer several questions about communications between DOJ, Rudy, and the White House:

(8) Please state the dates of any communications between the Department and Mr. Giuliani regarding information relating to Ukraine or investigations of the Bidens. Please state who else, if anyone, participated in those communications.

(9) Has the Department shared any information it has received from Mr. Giuliani with President Trump or any other White House official? If so, please state the dates of any such communications, the participants in any such communications, and the nature of the information conveyed to the White House.

(10) Have you discussed the intake process with President Trump or any other White House official? If so, please state the dates of any such communications, the participants in any such communications, and the nature of the discussion.

The only answer Boyd gives to any of these questions effectively repeats DOJ’s September 25, 2019 press answer.

Finally, your letter poses questions regarding a September 25, 2019 press statement by the Department. That statement remains accurate. As Attorney General Barr has repeatedly affirmed, he has not discussed matters relating to Ukraine with Rudolph Giuliani.

In short, Bill Barr refused to answer a specific question about whether he should recuse from an investigation into which he has been personally implicated. And DOJ refused to explain precisely what kind of communications there have been between Rudy, DOJ, and the White House.

The Size of Bill Barr’s Cover-Up Hints at the Magnitude of What He’s Covering Up

After the Tuesday Afternoon Massacre — where four prosecutors withdrew from the Roger Stone case rather than be party to Bill Barr interfering in the prosecution of Trump’s rat-fucker — we learned on Friday that Bill Barr had deployed a third US Attorney — Saint Louis’ Jeffrey Jensen — to the DC US Attorney’s office as part of an elaborate cover-up for Trump’s crimes. I’m going to attempt to lay out the full scope of Barr’s attempted cover-up. This post will serve as an overview and I will update it with links to the known or suspected evidence and crimes that Barr is covering up. I’m not including efforts to launch or sustain investigations into those Trump perceives to be his enemies.

The cover-up has the following aspects:

Interim US Attorneys oversee investigations implicating Trump’s actions

Geoffrey Berman, Southern District of New York: For the most part, Berman seems to have operated independently after his appointment as US Attorney for SDNY, but there are recent concerns that investigations implicating Trump have been stymied:

  • Hush payments: After getting Michael Cohen to plead guilty to covering up Trump’s past sex partners during the election and obtaining testimony from National Enquirer, the investigation closed with no further charges on or before July 17, 2019.
  • Ukrainian grifters: There are conflicting stories about the scope of the investigation into Ukrainian grifters Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, particularly with regards to how seriously SDNY is considering charges against Rudy Giuliani. WaPo reported steps taken implicating Rudy’s activities on February 14, 2020. But Parnas has insinuated that his sudden arrest on October 9 was an attempt to keep him silent; Barr visited SDNY that day and subsequently visited Rupert Murdoch at his home. SDNY showed unusual concern for the privacy of third parties as Parnas tried to share more information with the House Intelligence Committee. And Bill Barr has not recused in spite of a clear conflict and a request from Parnas.
  • Halkbank: Barr tried to pre-empt an indictment of Turkey’s Halkbank with a settlement.

Timothy Shea, District of Columbia: While Berman worked for several years without any show of corruption, that’s not true of Timothy Shea, a trusted Barr aide. The very first day he started work — having been installed by Barr with just a day’s notice — he started questioning the guidelines sentence of Roger Stone, who has promised to remain silent about details of Trump’s involvement in his efforts to optimize the release of emails stolen by Russian. Then, Shea worked with Bill Barr to reverse the guidelines sentence recommended by career prosecutors. In addition, Shea’s appointment coincided with the start of a “review” of other prosecutions and investigations of Trump associates in DC including, but not limited to, Mike Flynn and Erik Prince.

Confirmed US Attorneys “review” investigations into Trump and his associates

John Durham, Connecticut: In May 2019, Barr ordered John Durham to conduct an investigation into the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation of Trump associates’ ties to Russia. He predicated the investigation, explicitly, on the absence of evidence. In clear contrast to the Mueller investigation, DOJ has produced no documentation regarding the scope of the investigation (including whether Durham could pursue crimes by Trump’s associates or even Barr himself if he found evidence of a crime), and Barr has remained personally involved, completely negating the entire point of appointing a US Attorney to conduct the investigation. Republicans have described the point of this investigation as an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation. It has included the following:

  • Bill Barr’s worldwide tour chasing the hoaxes rolled out through George Papadopoulos via the right wing echo chamber
  • Some disinformation likely fed via Rudy
  • The legitimate criminal investigation of FBI Attorney Kevin Clinesmith, the actual venue for which should be Washington DC
  • CIA’s 2016 determination — confirmed by more recent intelligence collection and reviewed approvingly by the Senate Intelligence Committee — that Russia not only wanted to hurt Hillary, but help Trump in the 2016 election
  • Communications between John Brennan and Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe

Jeffrey Jensen, Eastern District of Missouri: The “review” Jeffrey Jensen is conducting of DC US Attorney cases seems to couple with Durham’s investigation. It reportedly is second-guessing decisions made by prosecutors on the Mike Flynn and Erik Prince investigation, as well as other non-public investigations. The review is almost certainly assessing rumors started by known propagandists that have already been investigated three times, including by FBI’s Inspection Division, rumors already reviewed and dismissed in a meticulous 92-page opinion from Emmet Sullivan. This “review” seems to have been part of the installment of Shea at DC and may amount to an attempt to thwart investigations that Jessie Liu let proceed without political interference.

DOJ diverts disinformation from Rudy Giuliani to another confirmed US Attorneys

In recent weeks, Barr has appointed Scott Brady, US Attorney for Western District of Pennsylvania, to vet incoming information from Rudy’s foreign influence peddling in Ukraine. It’s unclear whether Barr did this to try to make something out of that disinformation, or to prevent evidence that might support foreign influence peddling charges against Rudy from getting to prosecutors in SDNY.

Richard Donoghue, Eastern District of New York: Donoghue is apparently “handling certain Ukraine-related matters.” In connection to that, Jeffrey Rosen put Donoghue in charge of coordinating all investigations that pertain to Ukraine,

to avoid duplication of efforts across Offices and components, to obviate the need for deconfliction at a later stage of potentially overlapping investigations, and to efficiently marshal the resources of the Department to address the appropriate handling of potentially relevant new information.

That in and of itself is not problematic. But by putting Jensen in charge of intake, presumably before it gets to Donoghue, Rosen has ensured that information that — because it is disinformation — would be incriminating to Rudy, not Joe Biden (or anyone else).

DOJ prevents full investigation of Ukraine complaint

Barr and his DOJ engaged in multiple acts of obstruction of the Ukraine complaint. First, Barr did not recuse from a complaint mentioning him by name. Then (knowing that Barr was personally implicated), DOJ did not conduct a full assessment of the whistleblower complaint, which would have identified a tie to the SDNY investigation of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Then OLC invented an excuse not to share whistleblower complaint with Congress, which resulted in a significant delay and almost led Ukraine to make concessions to obtain aid. Then, DOJ did not share whistleblower complaint with FEC as required by Memorandum of Notification. Finally, DOJ made a comment claiming Trump was exonerated, precisely the abuse — speaking about ongoing investigations — that Jim Comey got fired for.

Bill Barr Commits the Bruce Ohr “Crime”

Far be it for me to ever underestimate the possibility of Bill Barr nefariousness (and I’ll almost certainly have to eat these words), but I’m far less concerned about what Barr said the other day about a process to ingest Ukrainian bullshit from Rudy Giuliani than virtually everyone else. That’s because in his comments from the other day, he emphasized the import of vetting information from Ukraine, whether it comes from Rudy Giuliani or anyone else.

We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the [sic] Ukraine. There are a lot of agendas in the [sic] Ukraine, there are a lot of cross-currents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the [sic] Ukraine at face value. And for that reason we had established an intake process in the field so that any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners so that we could assess its provenance and its credibility. That is true for all information that comes to the Department relating to the [sic] Ukraine including anything Mr. Giuliani might provide.

This sounds like the kind of thing you’d do to placate your boss even while ensuring DOJ doesn’t accept a bunch of disinformation manufactured by mobbed up oligarchs to mess with America.

The WaPo’s report that Barr is sending all this to the US Attorney in Pittsburgh suggests Barr neither wants this stuff in Main DOJ but also is not sending it to either of the two places — John Durham’s inquiry or the SDNY prosecution of the Ukrainian grifters — where it might be used in an ongoing investigation.

A Justice Department official said Giuliani had “recently” shared information with federal law enforcement officials through the process described by Barr. Two people familiar with the matter said the information is being routed to the U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh.

[snip]

It is not clear whether Scott W. Brady, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, will play a similar role, or why his office was chosen. A spokeswoman for Brady’s office declined to comment.

So while I hope (again, probably over-optimistically) that this is just a convenient way to deal with a difficult boss and his criminal subject attorney, I also worry that it’s not being shared with the people investigating such information sharing as illegal foreign influence peddling.

Plus, it strikes me as a unbelievably hypocritical for Bill Barr to continue to ingest dodgy information probably sourced to corrupt oligarchs after the entire frothy right has demonized Bruce Ohr for continuing to accept information — some but not all of it sourced to Oleg Deripaska — from Christopher Steele.

Admittedly, no one can complain about the basis for which DOJ’s Inspector General relied on to make a completely irresponsible attack on Ohr — that he didn’t inform his superiors (even though they had, in fact, been informed). Barr is the boss! He has chosen who should deal with this information, in a way that Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein did not.

But Barr is, nevertheless, doing what the frothy right complains that Ohr did: continue to accept problematic information — deemed partisan (inaccurately in the case of Ohr, because his information sharing with Steele long preceded the DNC project and much of what he shared during and after that involved entirely unrelated topics) — after it had been discredited.

Perhaps, along with issuing orders that suggest Trump can commit any crime he wants between now and November 2020, Barr should issue an order explaining how DOJ should accept such information — including manufactured dirt from Steve Bannon — as a rule, so we can stop working under different rules for different parties.

SDNY Prosecutors Protect Trump’s Privacy to Enter into a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

Whooboy is there an interesting flurry of motions over in the Ukrainian grifter prosecution. Effectively, SDNY prosecutors and (two of) Lev Parnas’ co-defendants want to slow him from sharing information with HPSCI. The letters include:

  • January 17: Parnas asks to modify the protective order a third time
  • January 22: Igor Fruman lawyer Todd Blanche says he has an attorney-client interest in some of what Parnas wants to and has already shared
  • January 22: Andrey Kukushkin lawyer Gerald Lefcourt says he just wants a privilege review
  • January 23: SDNY says Parnas should not be able to share iCloud information he obtained via discovery without review
  • January 24: Parnas lawyer Joseph Bondy makes a quick argument asserting they should be able to share the information
  • January 24: Bondy responds to Fruman letter at more length
  • January 27: Blanche responds again, invoking Dmitry Firtash to speak on behalf of unnamed others

The dispute started when Parnas asked to share content that the FBI seized from Parnas’ iCloud account and then provided to him in discovery. He listed just 11 Bates stamp numbers in the initial request, but it’s unclear what kind of files these are. In response, the lawyer that Fruman shares with Paul Manafort, Todd Blanche, objected to that request, and also asked to “claw back” any privileged materials that Parnas already produced to HPSCI (remember that Victoria Toensing has already complained that Parnas has violated privilege). Blanche makes a dig at Parnas’ media tour:

My obvious concern is that Mr. Bondy’s hasty efforts to find a forum (beyond MSNBC and CNN) for someone —  anyone — to listen to his client’s version of events caused him to irresponsibly produce privileged materials to the HPSCI.

One of the two other co-defendants, Andrey Kukushkin, weighed in — having been alerted by SDNY that, “its filter team identified materials in Mr. Parnas’ iCloud account that may fall within a common-interest attorney-client privilege held jointly by Mssrs. Kukushkin, Parnas, and aothers” — and stated that he did not object to Parnas sharing information “if all privileged materials can be removed from Mr. Parnas’ iCloud account prior to production to HPSCI.”

Having thus cued Parnas’ co-defendants to submit complaints, SDNY then weighed in, objecting to Parnas’ request. They invoke two reasons for their objection. The first poses interesting Fourth Amendment considerations; effectively SDNY argues that Parnas’ warrant return from Apple includes material that Parnas never possessed (and some material he deleted that only still exists because prosecutors obtained a preservation request).

The materials at issue include records that, as far as the Government knows, were never in Parnas’s possession. For instance, the data produced by Apple includes deleted records (which may only exist because of the Government’s preservation requests), account usage records, and other information to which a subscriber would not necessarily have access. The form of the report, which was created by the FBI, was also never in Parnas’s possession.

[snip]

Additionally, to the extent Parnas seeks to produce his own texts, emails, photographs or other materials, he should have access to the content stored on his iCloud account through other means: he can simply download his own iCloud account and produce it to HPSCI (and in fact, it appears he has already done so).

[snip]

To the extent that Parnas has deleted materials from his iCloud account, the Government is willing to work with counsel to ensure that Parnas can produce his own materials that are responsive to the Congressional request to HPSCI. To that end, the Government respectfully submits that Parnas’s counsel should identify for the Government any specific chats, emails, photographs, or other content Parnas is unable to access from his iCloud currently, but whic exist within the discovery that has been produced to him and in his view are responsive to the Congressional subpoena.

I find that stance interesting enough — basically a reverse Third Party doctrine, saying that subscribers aren’t the owners of the information Apple has collected on them, at least not in the former that FBI reports it out.

It’s the other objection I find most interesting. SDNY prosecutors — including one of the ones who argued against broad claims of privilege in the Michael Cohen — objects because the data from Parnas’ iCloud,

[I]t public disclosure still has the potential to implicate the privacy and privilege interests of third parties and co-defendants.

It then argues that requiring Parnas to specifically request content that he already deleted,

would also permit his co-defendants to raise any concerns with respect to their privilege or privacy interest prior to the materials’ release.

SDNY’s prosecutors are arguing that Parnas can’t release his own iCloud material because of other people’s privacy interests!! As if it is the place for SDNY’s prosecutors to decide what HPSCI considers proper levels of disclosure!!

I’ve been giving SDNY the benefit of the doubt on this prosecution, assuming that as prosecutors they would push back against any Bill Barr attempt to protect Rudy (though not the President). But this alarms me. It seems like SDNY is using Fruman — who is in a Joint Defense Agreement with Rudy — to speak for Rudy’s interests.

After making a cursory response to SDNY, Bondy responded in more detail to Fruman. In it, Bondy makes the kind of argument about the limits of privilege you’ll almost never see a lawyer make.

[T]he burden is on the party asserting the attorney-client privilege to first establish that there was: 1) a communication; 2) made in confidence; 3) to an attorney; 4) by a client; 5) for the purpose of seeking or obtaining legal advice. The part asserting attorney-client privilege has the burden of conclusively proving each element, and courts strongly disfavor blanket assertions of the privilege as “unacceptable.” In addition, the merre fact that an individual communicates with an attorney does not make the communication privileged.

There are also instances in which the attorney-client privilege is waived, including when the substance of otherwise privileged communications are shared with third parties, when the communications reflect a criminal or fraudulent intent between the parties, when the communications are part of a joint–yet conflicted–representation, and in cases where the parties to a joint defense have become adverse in their interests. 

Bondy then goes on to add that HPSCI “does not recognize attorney-client privilege,” which may be why, at about the time these letters were breaking, Jay Sekulow was on the floor of the Senate haranguing Democrats for not respecting that privilege (which Sekulow suggested was in the Bill of Rights). He uses that stance to suggest SDNY is making a claim that violates separation of powers.

From there, Parnas goes on to disavow any privilege shared in his brief Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian mob, in part based on discussions about his initial response to the HPSCI subpoena having been shared more widely.

Mr. Parnas waives all privilege with respect to the communications he had with Mssrs. Dowd and Downing. Furthermore, the substance of his and Mr. Fruman’s legal representation appears to have been shared with third parties, including Jay Sekulow, Rudolf Giuliani, John Sale, Jane Raskin, and others. … As the Court may know, Mssrs. Sekulow, Raskin, and Giuliani are also attorney for President Trump. Mr. Giuliani and the President have interests divergent from Mr. Parnas’s wish to cooperate with Congress and the Government. Mr. Parnas believes that his and Mr. Fruman’s ostensibly joint representation by Attorneys Dowd and Downing was conflicted and intended from its inception to obstruct the production of documents and testimony responsive to lawful congressional subpoena.

[snip]

Here, Attorney Dowd undertaking a joint representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman — with the President’s explicit permission — constituted an actual conflict of interest at the time and appears designed to have obstructed Mr. Parnas’s compliance with HPSCI’s subpoenas and any ensuring efforts to cooperate with congressional investigators or federal prosecutors.

Bondy ends by saying it’s up to those claiming a conflict to invoke it.

Bondy makes it fairly clear: he believes the privilege SDNY has set Fruman up to object to involves Rudy and Trump, neither of whom are in a position to object, particularly given that if they do, Bondy will argue that Parnas believes their grift might be criminal and therefore the privilege doesn’t apply.

So instead of the President and his lawyer claiming that Parnas’ release of this material will violate privilege, Fruman does.

Mr. Fruman has reason to believe that the Production Material contains privileged information belonging to Mr. Fruman and others.

He invokes only the consultation of their shell company, Global Energy Producers, with [Rudy’s former firm] Greenberg Traurig in conjunction to substantiate a common attorney-client interest, then nods to more:

This is but one example, and there are many more, but certainly the privilege issues implicated by the repeated amendments to the Protective Order are far more expansive than the attorney-client relationships identified in Mr. Bondy’s letter.

Fruman then complains that he cannot — as Parnas has said he must do — invoke privilege because he’s not in possession of the materials (just the taint team and Parnas have them).

The best part is where, still faced with the problem that the people whose privilege is at issue (Rudy and Trump) cannot politically invoke it, Fruman finds someone else whose privilege, he says, has been violated: Dmitry Firtash.

Mr. Fruman is not the only person whose privilege information is at risk. For example, Mr. Parnas has represented that he was employed as a translator for Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova in connection with their representation of Dymitry Firtash. Clearly, any materials Mr. Parnas received as a translator assisting attorneys in the representation of Mr. Firtash would be protected by attorney-client privilege. And that privilege would be held by Mr. Firtash, the client, not Mr. Parnas.

It’s increasingly clear what Parnas and Bondy are up to: They’re trying to make it politically (and given the OLC memo prohibiting the indictment of the President) bureaucratically impossible to pursue further charges. If everything recent Parnas did was done for the President, he shouldn’t be the only one facing prosecution for it.

Fruman, meanwhile, seems to be the sole member of the Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob who is a party here, trying to prevent his position from deteriorating by speaking for all the affected parties, only without naming Rudy or Trump (presumably backed by the same old pardon promises Trump always uses to get witnesses against him to take the fall).

What’s not clear is what SDNY is up to. Because it sure seems like they’ve used Fruman to protect Trump’s and even Rudy’s interests.

Judge Oetken scheduled a hearing for Thursday to resolve all this. Which may be too late for Parnas’ play.