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Patrick Fitzgerald Rebuts Judy Miller in Statement on Libby Pardon

Update: I’ve got an op-ed in the NYT on the pardon this morning. It starts and ends this way:

“There is a cloud over the White House as to what happened. Don’t you think the F.B.I., the grand jury, the American people are entitled to a straight answer?”

With those words, uttered over a decade ago, Patrick Fitzgerald, a prosecutor appointed as special counsel to investigate whether the president and his closest aides had broken the rules of espionage for their own political gain, sealed the conviction of I. Lewis Libby Jr., known as Scooter, for obstructing his investigation into the White House.

[snip]

Mr. Trump’s pardon of Mr. Libby makes it crystal clear that he thinks even the crime of making the country less safe can be excused if done in the service of protecting the president. But it doesn’t mean the pardon will protect him.

In his statement on Scooter Libby’s pardon, Trump pointed to a purported retraction from Judy Miller to justify the pardon.

In 2015, one of the key witnesses against Mr. Libby recanted her testimony, stating publicly that she believes the prosecutor withheld relevant information from her during interviews that would have altered significantly what she said.  The next year, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously reinstated Mr. Libby to the bar, reauthorizing him to practice law.  The Court agreed with the District of Columbia Disciplinary Counsel, who stated that Mr. Libby had presented “credible evidence” in support of his innocence, including evidence that a key prosecution witness had “changed her recollection of the events in question.”

Fitz released his own statement on the pardon, which I’ve reproduced in full below. In it, he debunks both the substance of Judy’s claims about her retraction (basically, that Armitage leaked the information and no damage was done) and that her testimony was that central to the guilty verdict.

While the President has the constitutional power to pardon, the decision to do so in this case purports to be premised on the notion that Libby was an innocent man convicted on the basis of inaccurate testimony caused by the prosecution. That is false. There was no impropriety in the preparation of any witness, and we did not tell witnesses what to say or withhold any information that should have been disclosed. Mr. Libby’s conviction was based upon the testimony of multiple witnesses, including the grand jury testimony of Mr. Libby himself, as well as numerous documents.

Years ago I pointed out that Libby could have been convicted based solely on his own notes and David Addington’s testimony. What Judy’s testimony added was confirmation that Libby repeatedly provided details about Plame’s CIA status, which her retraction doesn’t affect.

And I’d add that Judy protected some of her other sources, and Cheney protected any journalists he spoke with. That’s the trick with obstruction — it prevents people from learning what really happened.


Fitzgerald statement

While the President has the constitutional power to pardon, the decision to do so in this case purports to be premised on the notion that Libby was an innocent man convicted on the basis of inaccurate testimony caused by the prosecution. That is false. There was no impropriety in the preparation of any witness, and we did not tell witnesses what to say or withhold any information that should have been disclosed. Mr. Libby’s conviction was based upon the testimony of multiple witnesses, including the grand jury testimony of Mr. Libby himself, as well as numerous documents.

I considered it an honor to work with the agents and prosecutors who conducted the investigation and trial with integrity and professionalism. Mr. Libby, represented by able counsel, received a fair trial before an exacting trial judge and a jury who found the facts clearly established that Libby committed the crimes he was charged with. That was true yesterday. It remains true today.

The issues at stake in this case were important. As was stated in a government sentencing memo more than a decade ago:

Mr. Libby, a high-ranking public official and experienced lawyer, lied repeatedly and blatantly about matters at the heart of a criminal investigation concerning the disclosure of a covert intelligence officer’s identity. He has shown no regret for his actions, which significantly impeded the investigation. Mr. Libby’s prosecution was based not upon politics but upon his own conduct, as well as upon a principle fundamental to preserving our judicial system’s independence from politics: that any witness, whatever his political affiliation, whatever his views on any policy or national issue, whether he works in the White House or drives a truck to earn a living, must tell the truth when he raises his hand and takes an oath in a judicial proceeding, or gives a statement to federal law enforcement officers. The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby; Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system.

That statement rings true to this day. The President has the right to pardon Mr. Libby and Mr. Libby has been pardoned. But the facts have not changed.

I have made this statement in my personal capacity.

The Libby Pardon: Trump’s Object Lesson in Presidential Firewalls

There are two reports out tonight:

  • Rod Rosenstein will be fired in an attempt to quash any further investigation of Trump’s crimes.
  • Scooter Libby will be pardoned in an obvious attempt to present an object lesson in presidential firewalls.

This post will be an initial attempt to explain the Libby pardon.

Side note: For those who claim Richard Armitage outed Plame, let’s just agree that you have no familiarity with the actual record and leave it there for now. Trust me on this: Bush and Cheney were very concerned that the written record showed Cheney ordering Libby to out Plame (whom, some evidence not introduced at trial suggests, he knew was covert). We can fight about that later, but I’ve got a library of records on this and you don’t. 

First: Libby has already had his right to vote and his bar license restored. This pardon is purely symbolic. I’m sure Libby’s happy to have it, but the audience here is Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and a slew of other people who can incriminate Trump.

This appears to be a stunt inspired by Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing (whom I’ll call DiG & T henceforth), who are great table pounders but not great lawyers. Also, remember that VT is representing Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, and Sam Clovis, all in some legal jeopardy, so this ploy may help them too.

Libby was Bush’s firewall because he was ordered–by either PapaDick Cheney and/or Bush–to out Valerie Plame as an object lesson to CIA people pushing back on their shitty Iraq case. By refusing to flip, he prevented Patrick Fitzgerald from determining whether Bush had really ordered that outing or whether Cheney and Libby freelanced on it.

Libby risked prison, but didn’t flip on Cheney or Bush. He avoided prison time with a commutation, not a pardon. While PapaDick pushed hard for pardon, it didn’t happen, in large part because Bush had far better lawyers than Trump has.

Here’s some of the differences between Libby and Trump’s many firewalls:

  1. Manafort, Kushner, and Cohen are exposed to state charges, in addition to federal (even ignoring how the Russian mob may treat them).
  2. Libby was the bottleneck witness. You needed him to move further, or you got nowhere. Not so with Trump, because so many people know what a crook he is.
  3. Bush commuted but did not pardon Libby, then refused, against PapaDick’s plaints, because (smarter lawyer) his lawyer counseled that’d be obstruction [update, or counseled that Libby could still incriminate Bush]. Trump can’t fully pardon his firewall, for the same reason: bc these witnesses will lose Fifth Amendment privileges against self-incrimination (which, as it happens, Cohen is invoking as we speak in a civil suit, which also can’t be dismissed by pardon).
  4. Di Genova and Toensing (who are not good lawyers but pound tables well) haven’t figured out that this won’t be a one-off: This won’t be one (Manafort) or two (Cohen) people Trump has to pardon. And THEY DON’T KNOW the full scope of who Trump would have to pardon here. There are too many moving parts to pull this off.
  5. And finally, because Trump is in a race. As I noted before, Mueller has already signaled he will label dangling pardons — as Trump has already done — as obstruction of justice. That presents far more risk for Trump, even assuming Mike Pence wants to go do the route of half-term infamy that Gerald Ford did by pardoning his boss.

All that’s before the fact that the crimes that Trump and his are facing are far, far uglier even than deliberately exposing the identity of a CIA officer to warn others off of exposing your war lies.

Maybe this will work? But I doubt it. There are just too many moving parts. And there is too little understanding among Trump’s closest advisors what they’re really facing.

So, congratulations to Scooter Libby at being a free man again. Condolences to Rod Rosenstein at being a free man again, if the firing does happen as predicted tomorrow.

But this is just a gambit, and there’s no reason to believe it will work.

The Mueller Filing

Robert Mueller’s team has submitted its response to Paul Manafort’s motion to dismiss his indictment based on a claim Mueller isn’t authorized to prosecute crimes like the money laundering he is accused of. As I predicted, this filing lays out some theory of his case — but much of it is redacted, in the form of a memo Rod Rosenstein wrote last August laying out the parameters of the investigation at that time. As the filing makes clear, that memo (and any unmentioned predecessors or successors) form the same function as the public memos Jim Comey gave Patrick Fitzgerald to memorialize any seeming expansions of his authority in the CIA leak case, which the DC Circuit relied on to determine that the Libby prosecution was clearly authorized by Fitzgerald’s mandate.

Nevertheless, midway through the legal description, the filing lays out what I have — Manafort’s Ukrainian entanglements are part of this investigation because 1) he was a key player in the campaign and 2) had long ties to Russian backed politicians and (this is a bit trickier) Russians like Oleg Deripaska.

The Appointment Order itself readily encompasses Manafort’s charged conduct. First, his conduct falls within the scope of paragraph (b)(i) of the Appointment Order, which authorizes investigation of “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” The basis for coverage of Manafort’s crimes under that authority is readily apparent. Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager in March 2016 and served as campaign chairman from May 2016 until his resignation in August 2016, after reports surfaced of his financial activities in Ukraine. He thus constituted an “individual associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Appointment Order ¶ (b) and (b)(i). He was, in addition, an individual with long ties to a Russia-backed Ukrainian politician. See Indictment, Doc. 202, ¶¶ 1-6, 9 (noting that between 2006 and 2015, Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of Ukraine, its former President, Victor Yanukovych—who fled to Russia after popular protests—and Yanukovych’s political party). Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

[snip]

The Appointment Order is not a statute, but an instrument for providing public notice of the general nature of a Special Counsel’s investigation and a framework for consultation between the Acting Attorney General and the Special Counsel. Given that Manafort’s receipt of payments from the Ukrainian government has factual links to Russian persons and Russian-associated political actors, and that exploration of those activities furthers a complete and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and any links and/or coordination with the President’s campaign, the conduct charged in the Indictment comes within the Special Counsel’s authority to investigate “any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

I’ll do a follow-up on why the Deripaska reference is a bit tricky. It’s tricky in execution, not in fact.

The “Attorneys for the United States of America”

I’ll refer to the author of this memo as Mueller for convenience sake, but because I obsess about how Mueller’s team deploys, it’s worth noting how the memo is signed.

The memo is signed by Andrew Weissman, the lead in the Manafort prosecution and (as the memo notes) a career AUSA in his own right. Greg Andres, who has also been on all the Manafort filings, includes his DC district license, making any continuity there clear. Adam Jed, an appellate specialist who has been deployed to this team in the past, is included. But before all them is Michael Dreeben, the Solicitor General’s killer attorney on appeals.

Aside from Mueller himself, Andres is the only lawyer listed who was not a DOJ employee when Jim Comey got fired, which is relevant given the memo’s argument that these attorneys could have prosecuted this with or without Mueller present.

Notably, Kyle Freeny, who has been on all the other Manafort filings, is not listed.

I’m unsure whether the filing uses the title, “Attorneys for the United States of America” because it underscores the argument of the memo — all their authority derives directly from Rosenstein — or if it signifies someone (probably Dreeben, who maintains his day job at the Solicitor General’s office) isn’t actually a formal member of Mueller’s team. But it is a departure from the norm, which since at least the roll-out of Brian Richardson as a “Assistant Special Counsel” with the Van der Zwaan plea, has used the titles “Senior” and “Assistant Special Counsel” to sign their filings.

Update: Christian Farias notes that this Attorneys for the US is not unique to this filing.

Manafort is especially screwed because Rosenstein is so closely involved

The memo starts by laying out what its presents as the history of the investigation. It includes the following events:

  • Jeff Sessions March 2, 2017 recusal
  • Jim Comey’s March 20, 2017 public confirmation of an investigation into “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was an coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
  • Rod Rosenstein’s May 17, 2017 order appointing Mueller Special Counsel “to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters”

It then lays out the regulatory framework governing Mueller’s appointment. While this generally maps what Rosenstein included in his appointment order — which cites 28 USC §§ 509, 510, 515, and 600.4 through 600.10 — Mueller also cites to the basis of the Attorney General’s authority, including 28 USC §§ 503, 516, and all of 600. The latter citation is of particular interest, as it notes that the AG (Rosenstein, in this case) ” is not required to invoke the Special Counsel regulations” (which the filing backs by citing some historical examples). The filing then asserts that the Special Counsel regulations serve as ” a helpful framework for the Attorney General to use in establishing the Special Counsel’s role.”

Mueller then describes what the filing implies has been the process by which Mueller has informed Rosenstein of major actions he’s about to take. This consists of “‘providing Urgent Reports’ to Department leadership on ‘major developments.'” By doing it this way, Mueller implies a process without providing a basis to FOIA these Urgent Reports.

Then, the filing lays out how the scope of his authority has evolved. Initially, he notes, that was based on his appointing order. On August 2 — two and a half months after his appointment, almost a week after George Papadopoulos’ arrest, and the day after Andres joined Mueller’s team — Rosenstein wrote a memo describing the scope of Mueller’s investigation and authority.  That memo (which is included in heavily redacted form) authorizes Mueller to investigate,

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;
  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.

In other words, by August 2 (if not before) Rosenstein had authorized Mueller to prosecute Manafort for the money laundering of his payments from Yanukovych.

Significantly, the filing notes that the August 2 memo told Mueller to come back if anything else arises.

For additional matters that otherwise may have arisen or may arise directly from the Investigation, you should consult my office for a determination of whether such matters should be within the scope of your authority. If you determine that additional jurisdiction is necessary in order to fully investigate and resolve the matters assigned, or to investigate new matters that come to light in the course of your investigation, you should follow the procedures set forth in 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(b).

The filing then lays out Manafort’s DC indictments and his challenge to Mueller’s authority. The summary of that argument looks like this:

Manafort’s motion to dismiss the Indictment should be rejected for four reasons. First, the Acting Attorney General and the Special Counsel have acted fully in accordance with the relevant statutes and regulations. The Acting Attorney General properly established the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction at the outset and clarified its scope as the investigation proceeded. The Acting Attorney General and Special Counsel have engaged in the consultation envisioned by the regulations, and the Special Counsel has ensured that the Acting Attorney General was aware of and approved the Special Counsel’s investigatory and prosecutorial steps. Second, Manafort’s contrary reading of the regulations—implying rigid limits and artificial boundaries on the Acting Attorney General’s actions—misunderstands the purpose, framework, and operation of the regulations. Properly understood, the regulations provide guidance for an intra-Executive Branch determination, within the Department of Justice, of how to allocate investigatory and prosecutorial authority. They provide the foundation for an effective and independent Special Counsel investigation, while ensuring that major actions and jurisdictional issues come to the Acting Attorney General’s attention, thus permitting him to fulfill his supervisory role. Accountability exists for all phases of the Special Counsel’s actions. Third, that understanding of the regulatory scheme demonstrates why the Special Counsel regulations create no judicially enforceable rights. Unlike the former statutory scheme that authorized court-appointed independent counsels, the definition of the Special Counsel’s authority remains within the Executive Branch and is subject to ongoing dialogue based on sensitive prosecutorial considerations. A defendant cannot challenge the internal allocation of prosecutorial authority under Department of Justice regulations. Finally, Manafort’s remedial claims fail for many of the same reasons: the Special Counsel has a valid statutory appointment; this Court’s jurisdiction is secure; no violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure occurred; and any rule-based violation was harmless. [my emphasis]

The bolded bit is the key part: Mueller is treating Manafort’s challenge as a challenge to Article II authority, making the appointment even more sound than previous Ken Starr-type Independent Counsel appointments were, because they don’t present a constitutional appointments clause problem. Mueller returns to that argument several times later in the filing.

Under the Independent Counsel Act, constitutional concerns mandated limitations on the judiciary’s ability to assign prosecutorial jurisdiction. In the wholly Executive-Branch regime created by the Special Counsel regulations, those constitutional concerns do not exist.

[snip]

[T]he court contrasted [limitations on Independent Counsels] with the Attorney General’s “broader” authority to make referrals to the independent counsel: the Attorney General “is not similarly subject to the ‘demonstrably related’ limitation” because the Attorney General’s power “is not constrained by separation of powers concerns.” Id.; see also United States v. Tucker, 78 F.3d 1313, 1321 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 820 (1996). That is because the Attorney General’s referral decision exercises solely executive power and does not threaten to impair Executive Branch functions or impose improper duties on another branch.

[snip]

It is especially notable that Manafort, while relying on principles of political accountability, does not invoke the Appointments Clause as a basis for his challenge, despite the Clause’s “design[] to preserve political accountability relative to important Government assignments.” E

From there, the memo goes into the legal analysis which is unsurprising. The courts, including the DC Circuit in the Libby case, have approved this authority. That’s a point the filing makes explicit by comparing the August 2 memo with the two memos Jim Comey wrote to document the scope of Patrick Fitzgerald’s authority in the CIA leak investigation.

The August 2 Scope Memorandum is precisely the type of material that has previously been considered in evaluating a Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. United States v. Libby, 429 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2006), involved a statutory and constitutional challenge to the authority of a Special Counsel who was appointed outside the framework of 28 C.F.R. Part 600. In rejecting that challenge, Judge Walton considered similar materials that defined the scope of the Special Counsel’s authority. See id. at 28-29, 31-32, 39 (considering the Acting Attorney General’s letter of appointment and clarification of jurisdiction as “concrete evidence * * * that delineates the Special Counsel’s authority,” and “conclud[ing] that the Special Counsel’s delegated authority is described within the four corners of the December 30, 2003 and February 6, 2004 letters”). The August 2 Scope Memorandum has the same legal significance as the original Appointment Order on the question of scope. Both documents record the Acting Attorney General’s determination on the scope of the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. Nothing in the regulations restricts the Acting Attorney General’s authority to issue such clarifications.

Having laid out (with the Rosenstein memo) that this investigation operates in equivalent fashion to the Libby prosecution, the case is fairly well made. Effectively Manafort is all the more screwed because the Acting AG has been personally involved and approved each step.

The other authorities cover other prosecutions Mueller has laid out

The filing is perhaps most interesting for the other authorities casually asserted, which are not necessarily directly relevant in this prosecution, but are for others. First, Mueller includes this footnote, making it clear his authority includes obstruction, including witness tampering.

The Special Counsel also has “the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses” and has the authority “to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a). Those authorities are not at issue here.

Those authorities are not at issue here, but they are for the Flynn, Papadopoulos, Gates, and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, and for any obstruction the White House has been engaging in. But because it is relevant for the Gates and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, that mention should preempt any Manafort attempt to discredit their pleas for the way they expose him.

The filing includes a quotation from DOJ’s discussion of special counsels making it clear that it’s normal to investigate crimes that might lead someone to flip.

[I]n deciding when additional jurisdiction is needed, the Special Counsel can draw guidance from the Department’s discussion accompanying the issuance of the Special Counsel regulations. That discussion illustrated the type of “adjustments to jurisdiction” that fall within Section 600.4(b). “For example,” the discussion stated, “a Special Counsel assigned responsibility for an alleged false statement about a government program may request additional jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct with respect to the administration of that program; [or] a Special Counsel may conclude that investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness in the matter is necessary to obtain cooperation.”

That one is technically relevant here — one thing Mueller is doing with the Manafort prosecution (and successfully did with the Gates one) is to flip witnesses against Trump. But it also makes it clear that Mueller could do so more generally.

I’ll comment more on the memo tomorrow. But for now, understand this is a solid memo that puts the Manafort prosecution squarely on the same footing that the Libby one was.

 

Two Addendums To Ben Wittes’ “How to Read an Investigation”

It’s September 4, 2017. I’m going to say something nice about Ben Wittes.

His post, How to Read a News Story About an Investigation: Eight Tips on Who Is Saying What, is a useful primer for how to read all these stories about the investigations into the Russian hacks. As someone who covered the last major Presidential investigation (the CIA Leak Investigation) far more closely than Ben, in large point because the sourcing on those stories was so badly abused, I’ve been thinking about a similar post on how to cover such cases (which would include the advice “don’t do tick tick tick boom tweets because they turn our legal system into a game”). I’d include much of what he wrote here. I have slightly to significantly less faith in the sourcing rigor of journalists than Ben does — a skepticism that served me well even before the time we learned Pulitzer prize winner Judy Miller agreed to refer to the Vice President’s Chief of Staff as a “former Congressional staffer” to hide that leaked classified information (possibly including Plame’s identity) came from the vicinity of PapaDick. But in general this is a useful start.

I’d two more general rules, though. First, while Ben implicitly suggests you need to consider the beat of the journalists in question in this passage, I’d make it an explicit rule. Consider the beat of the journalist writing the story.

The story is attributed “to interviews with a dozen administration officials and others briefed on the matter.” This is a show of strength upfront on the part of reporters Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman (who, as an antecedent matter, both have a great deal of credibility with me). They are signaling that their sourcing is broad and that at least some of it comes from within the executive branch (“administration officials”). Applying Rule No. 5, note that this wording is consistent both with sources attached to the investigation and with sources in the White House or in the Justice Department. Note also that Haberman is a White House reporter famously well-sourced with the group of people immediately around President Trump.

The sources for the triumvirate behind a long string of big WaPo Russian stories — Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous — are going be different than the sources for the more recent triumvirate leading the pack on Russia stories — Carol Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind Helderman, and it makes a difference on the impartiality of the sources.

In addition, while Ben describes how much lawyers who aren’t prosecutors like to leak (prosecution teams do leak, but very very very carefully), he doesn’t say something else. Leaking to the press is a very good way for co-conspirators to communicate with each other, without risking obstruction charges for doing so. So when you’re trying to understand why a likely legal source is leaking something, it’s worth considering what information that passes on to co-conspirators. For example, such leaks are a good way to compare notes on a false story. Or, in the case of dumb Don Jr who released the emails behind the June 9 meeting, it’s a way to ensure that your co-conspirators know what evidence that might previously have been hidden law enforcement may be looking at. So it’s not just a good idea to remember that lawyers leak a lot (and if those lawyers’ clients just appeared before the grand jury, their information about questions raised would only be second-hand). It’s a good idea to consider what information is not actually intended for you, the dear reader, but rather is intended for co-conspirators, up to and including the pardoner-in-chief.

The Arpaio Pardon — Don’t Obsess about the Russian Investigation

It seems there are two likely responses to the Arpaio pardon: to use it as a teaching opportunity about race, or to use it to panic about the Russian investigation.

I’m seeing far too many people choosing the latter option, focusing on what Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio might do for the Russian investigation. That, in spite of the fact that Trump has already spoken openly of pardoning Mike Flynn, just like he did of Arpaio, to say nothing of his spawn or the father of his grandchildren.

The targets of the Russian investigation already know Trump can and is considering pardoning them.

But a pardon of them — at least some of them — is a very different thing than an Arpaio pardon. That’s because, for some of the crimes in question, in case of a pardon, Robert Mueller could just share the evidence with a state (usually NY) or NYC prosecutor for prosecution. It’s possible that accepting a pardon for Trump or Kushner business related crimes could expose those businesses to lawsuit, and both family’s businesses are pretty heavily in debt now.

Most importantly, a Paul Manafort or Mike Flynn pardon would deprive them of their ability to invoke the Fifth Amendment, meaning they could more easily be forced to testify against Trump, including to Congress.

Presidents implicated in crimes have used a variety of means to silence witnesses who could implicate them, but Poppy Bush’s Cap Weinberger pardon — the most recent example of a President pardoning a witness who could incriminate him — was not the primary thing that protected Poppy and Reagan, Congress’ immunization of witnesses was. Thus far, most Republicans in Congress seem determined to avoid such assistance, and Trump’s attacks on Mitch McConnell and Thom Tillis for not sufficiently protecting him probably have only exacerbated the problem.

I wrote a piece explaining why (in my opinion) George W Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence, but never pardoned him: it kept Libby silent without adding any personal risk. If Trump were competent, he’d be making similar calculations about how to keep witnesses out of prison without making it easier to incriminate him. But he’s usually not competent, and so may fuck this up royally.

In any case, given that some Republicans (including both Arizona’s Senators) have made lukewarm objections to the Arpaio pardon, I’d imagine any pardons of Russian witnesses would meet more opposition, particularly if those pardons came before the 2018 elections. Add in the fact that sleazeball Manafort has no purported service to point to to justify a pardon, as Trump cited with Arpaio (and would to justify a Flynn pardon). The backlash against Trump pardoning witnesses against him will likely be far worse than the already existing backlash here.

Pardoning Arpaio was easy. Pardoning Manafort and Flynn and Don Jr and Kushner and everyone else who can implicate the President will not be easy, neither legally nor politically. So don’t confuse the two.

Meanwhile, Trump has just pardoned a man whose quarter century of abuse targeting people of color has made him the poster child of abuse, not just from a moral perspective, but (given the huge fines Maricopa has had to pay) from a governance perspective.

Like it or not, a lot of white people have a hard time seeing unjustified killings of people of color as the gross civil rights abuse it is, because when cops cite fear or danger in individual cases, fearful white people — who themselves might shoot a black kid in haste in the name of self-defense — side when them. Those white people might easily treat Black Lives Matter as an annoyance blocking their commute on the freeway.

The same white people might find Joe Arpaio’s tortuous camps for people of color objectionable, because those camps make the systemic aspect far more apparent. They’re far more likely to do so, though, if this pardon is primarily seen as Trump’s endorsement of systematic white supremacy rather than a test run to protect himself.

Moreover, white supremacy is something that will remain and must be fought even if Robert Mueller indicts Trump tomorrow. It was a key, if not the key, factor in Trump’s win. We won’t beat the next demagogue following in Trump’s model if we don’t make progress against white supremacy.

You can’t do anything, personally, to help the Robert Mueller investigation. You can do something to fight white supremacy. And if that doesn’t happen, then we’ll face another Trump down the road, just as surely as Sarah Palin paved the way for Trump.

The Arpaio pardon is an abuse, horrifying, yet more evidence of how outrageous Trump is.

But it’s also a teaching opportunity about white supremacy. Better to use it as such rather than cause for panic about the Russia investigation.

Related posts

emptywheel, You’re not the audience for the Arpaio pardon, cops are

bmaz, Some thoughts on the Arpaio pardon

 

 

In Course Pitch, Scooter and Wolfie Admit Iraq War Failures, But Make No Mention of Iraqi Casualties

While I was gone, the NeoCon Hertog Foundation announced an “advanced institute” featuring Scooter Libby and Paul Wolfowitz describing the “unexpected events, rivalries, counter-moves, mistakes, and imperfect understandings” behind the Iraq War, which also appears to offer some second-guessing about how the Iraq War still made sense even in light of the catastrophe it wrought.

It seems Judy Miller is not the only Iraq Hawk trying to relitigate her Iraq failures (the timing may not be unrelated, as Roger Hertog, has funded all three Iraq Hawks, among others).

I’m particularly interested in this paragraph, seemingly admitting the failures of Iraq while weighing it against what is portrayed as the failure of the first Gulf War.

Twice in the last quarter century America has gone to war with Iraq, and the two were in a state of low-level conflict during the interim. Both times America went to war with Congressional authorization, at the head of an international coalition, and in support of U.N. Resolutions. The 1990–1 Persian Gulf War ended quickly with minimal U.S. casualties, but left a brutal dictator in place and American interests at risk. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 quickly removed the regime that had repeatedly defied America and gave Iraqis a chance to devise their own future. However, the war soon devolved into a messy combination of insurgency and sectarian fighting that brought thousands of U.S. casualties, sapped American will and credibility, and worked to the benefit of America’s other regional nemesis, Iran. These events occurred not in isolation, but against the backdrop of broader international developments, particularly the ending of the Cold War, the attacks of 9/11/2001, and the on-going U.S. confrontation with radical Islam.

Iraq War 2.0 removed the defiant Saddam, who purportedly threatened American interests — Scooter and Wolfie judge — but it helped out “America’s other regional nemesis,” Iran.

At least the Iraq War architects are willing to admit their blunders made Iran stronger.

But the assessment of the impact on Iraq is the signature here: America generously gifted Iraqis with “a chance to devise their own future” — Scooter and Wolfie judge, making no mention of America’s past role in Saddam’s rise and success against Iraq — but it brought a “messy combination of insurgency and sectarian fighting … and thousands of U.S. casualties [that] sapped American will and credibility,” as if American will and credibility should have any role in the matter of giving Iraqis a chance to devise their own future, which was only granted, according to this description, because America’s formerly favored dictator threatened its interests.

Not only does the passage make no sense, but it obscures the other horrible thing about Scooter and Wolfie’s legacy: half a million Iraqi dead, or more.

Twelve years after these policy makers brought us to war on a pack of lies, their conception of failures doesn’t even account for the hundreds of thousands of purportedly liberated Iraqis they killed.

In 2003, OLC Doubled Down on Unlimited (de)Classification Authority for the President

One of the tactics those in DOJ attempted to use in 2004 to put some controls on Stellar Wind, it appears from the DOJ IG Report, was to point to legal requirements to inform Congress (for example, to inform Congress that the Attorney General had decided not to enforce particular laws), which might have led to enough people in Congress learning of the program to impose some limits on it. For example, Robert Mueller apparently tried to get the Executive to brief the Judiciary Committees, in addition to the Gang of Four, about the program.

On March 16, 2004 Gonzales wrote a letter to Jim Comey in response to DOJ’s efforts to force the Administration to follow the law. Previous reporting revealed that Gonzales told Comey he misunderstood the White House’s interest in DOJ’s opinion.

Your memorandum appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of the President’s expectations regarding the conduct of the Department of Justice. While the President was, and remains, interested in any thoughts the Department of Justice may have on alternative ways to achieve effectively the goals of the activities authorized by the Presidential Authorization of March 11, 2004, the President has addressed definitively for the Executive Branch in the Presidential Authorization the interpretation of the law.

This appears to have led directly to Comey drafting his resignation letter.

But what previous reporting didn’t make clear was that Gonzales also claimed the Administration had unfettered authority to decide whether or not to share classified information (and that, implicitly, it could blow off statutory Congressional reporting requirements).

Gonzales letter also addressed Comey’s comments about congressional notification. Citing Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988) and a 2003 OLC opinion, Gonzales’s letter stated that the President has the constitutional authority to define and control access to the nation’s secrets, “including authority to determine the extent to which disclosure may be made outside the Executive Branch.” (TS//STLW//SI/OC/NF) [PDF 504]

I’m as interested in this as much for the timing of the memo — 2003 — as the indication that the Executive asserted the authority to invoke unlimited authority over classification as a way to flout reporting mandates (both with regards to Stellar Wind, but the implication is, generally as well).

The most likely time frame for this decision would be around March 25, 2003, when President Bush was also rewriting the Executive Order on classification (this EO is most famous because it gave the Vice President new authorities over classifying information). If that’s right, it would confirm that Bush’s intent with the EO (and the underlying OLC memo) was to expand the ability to invoke classification for whatever reasons.

And if that OLC opinion was written around the time of the March 2003 EO, it would mean it was on the books (and, surely, known by David Addington) when he counseled Scooter Libby in July 2003 he could leak whatever it was Dick Cheney told him to leak to Judy Miller, up to and including Valerie Plame’s identity.

But I’m also interested that this footnote was classified under STLW, the Stellar Wind marking. That may not be definitive, especially given the innocuous reference to the OLC memo. But it’s possible that means the 2003 opinion — the decision to share or not share classified information according to the whim of the President — was tied to Stellar Wind. That would be interesting given that George Tenet and John Yoo were declaring Iraq and their claimed conspirators in the US were terrorists permissible for surveillance around the same time.

Finally, I assume this OLC memo, whatever it says, is still on the books. And given how it was interpreted in the past — that OLC could simply ignore reporting mandates — and that the government continued to flout reporting mandates until at least 2010, even those tied specifically to surveillance, I assume that the Executive still believes it can use a claimed unlimited authority over classification to trump legally mandated reporting requirements.

That’s worth keeping in mind as we debate a bill, USA F-ReDux, celebrated, in part, for its reporting requirements.

Dick Cheney Gets Judy Miller to Serve as His Cut-Out, Again

When Judy Miller wrote a piece for the WSJ pitching her new autobiographical novel, she was very specific about what she had said and not said with Dick Cheney and when.

I have never met George W. Bush. I never discussed the war with Dick Cheney until the winter of 2012, years after he had left office and I had left the Times.

Particularly given that the only question of those I posed for my book that Miller did not answer was whether she saw Cheney on the trip to Aspen that she used to explain Scooter Libby’s Aspen letter, I find her admission that she did and does speak to Cheney — though had not, about the war — telling. (Remember, too, that Cheney did not release journalists he had spoken to to reveal him as a source in the way everyone else in the Executive Branch did.)

Miller goes on to present a nonsense story about how Fitzgerald misled her and caused her to testify incorrectly, falsely testifying to the grand jury that Libby had told her Plame was at the CIA back in June. It doesn’t make sense — and doesn’t do anything to undermine the other evidence that would have been sufficient to convict Libby, notably Libby’s own notes and David Addington’s testimony as well as a second, far more important, meeting between Libby and Miller just days before Novak outed Plame.

Maybe Miller just has no fucking clue what got presented at the trial?

But having presented a flimsy excuse to question the verdict against Libby, Miller has presented others with an opportunity to point to another detail she includes in her book: that Fitzgerald offered to drop the charges against Libby if he would testify against Cheney. Again, that’s not surprising. Libby’s lies served to cover up Cheney’s orders to leak stuff to Judy Miller (not in the meeting she newly focuses on, but in the meeting during the week of Novak’s article).

Enter Dick Cheney.

Miller also writes in her book that she learned from Libby’s attorney that Fitzgerald “had twice offered to drop all charges against Libby if his client would ‘deliver’ Cheney to him.”

Cheney says that shows what Fitzgerald’s real intentions were in going after Libby.

“It was a runaway special prosecutor who, I think, manipulated the system because he was trying to make a name for himself,” Cheney said. “I apparently was the target based upon the fact that he went to Scooter’s lawyer and told him if Scooter would testify against me he’d drop the charges against Scooter. I hadn’t been accused of anything. I hadn’t done anything.”

This, of course, is bullshit. The key issue at the trial — the key reason why Libby’s claims about his lies were important — had to do with his own notes reflecting Dick Cheney ordering Libby to leak classified information to Judy Miller, information that Cheney hung Libby out to dry on in his first interview with Fitzgerald.  Nevertheless, Cheney uses it to proclaim Libby innocent, which he can’t be if Cheney’s own interview with Fitzgerald was honest.

Either Libby lied to the grand jury, or Cheney lied to Fitzgerald and possibly, in his unreleased second interview, to the grand jury. One of them lied. Probably, both did.

Whatever the evidence against Dick Armitage is (and the evidence shows that both journalists who learned of Plame’s CIA ties from him asked inexplicably leading questions to elicit that response, and both journalists had spoken with OVP before they spoke with Armitage), the evidence is also that Dick Cheney ordered Libby to leak stuff and the record shows (and nothing from Miller’s book discussed thus far, at least, contradicts) that Libby included Plame’s identity in that.

By the time Fitzgerald subpoenaed Miller, Cheney may not have been accused of anything, but he had been required to give a second, sworn interview with Fitzgerald that could be introduced to the grand jury because his first interview differed in dramatic ways from Libby’s grand jury appearances. It was that interview, by all appearances, that led to the Judy subpoena.

Cheney doesn’t  hide that he’s still trying to get the guy who covered up for him a pardon. Judy’s book is just the convenient, albeit factually laughable, claim on which he plans to hang that effort.

Whatever information Judy laundered for the Administration back in 2002 (and Libby, at least, claimed it was Condi Rice who did such laundering before the war, not him or Cheney, which is not entirely inconsistent with Miller’s currently operative claims) and far more obviously after it, she is back to serving as Cheney’s cut-out now.

In nothing yet made public does Judy deny serving as Cheney’s cut-out. Which is good, because the whole effort seems to be proof that she continues to do so.

The Tie between Jeffrey Sterling and CIA-on-the-Hudson

My latest post on the Jeffrey Sterling trial notes that the same guy who called Sterling’s performance “extremely sub-par” is also the guy who set up the NYPD’s program profiling Muslims.

On Friday, former high ranking CIA officer David Cohen — who headed up the New York office while Sterling was there — described how he removed Sterling from the Merlin case because he didn’t believe Sterling was performing well at his job (an opinion neither his deputy, Charles Seidel, nor Bob S shared, at least according to their testimony). “His performance was extremely sub-par,” Cohen testified. Cohen also seemed to disdain what might be called political correctness, which if true may have exacerbated Sterling’s increasing sense of being discriminated against for being African American.

That would be consistent with the action for which Cohen has received more press in recent years: setting up the New York Police Department’s intelligence program that profiles the area’s Muslim community. In the wake of 9/11, Cohen moved from the CIA to the NYPD. In 2002, he got a federal court to relax the Handschu guidelines, which had been set up in 1985 in response to NYPD’s targeting of people for their political speech. Handschu required specific evidence before using informants to investigate a group. But, as an article from the Pulitzer Prize winning AP series described it, “Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it ‘virtually impossible’ to detect terrorist plots.” After getting the rules relaxed, Cohen created teams of informants that infiltrated mosques and had officers catalog Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, and even schools. “Cohen said he wanted the squad to ‘rake the coals, looking for hot spots,’” the AP reported in 2011.

At almost precisely the same time as jury selection for Sterling’s case started, theThird Circuit Court of Appeals heard a challenge from those targeted under the program, who claim they had been discriminated against on the basis of their religion.

While the agencies involved are different, it seems notable that the primary person to find fault with Sterling’s performance at the CIA — which Sterling claimed arose from problems with his race — is the same guy who started a program targeting Muslims across the New York City area. But that detail won’t be presented to jurors at all during the trial.

Click through to see how the Russian involved in the operation invoked Valerie Plame to describe his concern about his name leaking, just weeks before it started to become clear that Vice President Cheney probably ordered that leak.

Time for an Executive Branch Internet Dragnet

As George Zornick and Josh Hicks laid out (saving me the trouble) the news that IRS lost Lois Lerner’s emails from the period during which she reviewed the tax status of political groups is not all that surprising. After all, there’s a long history of the Executive Branch “losing” emails from a period that ends up being scandalous, including:

  • John Yoo’s emails from the period when he was working with David Addington to pre-authorize torture
  • SEC’s emails on the earliest non-investigations of Bernie Madoff
  • OVP’s emails from the days after DOJ initiated an investigation into the CIA leak case (and 5 million other emails)

I’d add two things to their list. This whole tradition started when the Reagan and Bush White House tried to destroy emails concerning the Iran-Contra scandal. And there’s a parallel tradition of having White House political staff conduct official business on non-White House emails, as both Bush and Obama’s White House have done.

And unfortunately, Steven Stockman hasn’t been paying attention. He asked NSA Director Mike Rogers for the metadata from Lerner’s missing emails. But NSA has already claimed they destroyed all their Internet dragnet records when they shut down the program in 2011. Perhaps Stockman should ask FBI whether they’ve got an Internet dragnet that might have collected on Lois Lerner?

Stockman is a nut.

But he might be onto something here. The government argues it is reasonable to collect all the records of all Americans in order to protect against the worst kinds of crimes people in the US might commit. Yet every time emails go missing, they do so amidst allegations of the worst kind of bad faith from the Executive Branch. If the threat of terrorism justifies comprehensive dragnets, based in part on the possibility the culprits will destroy evidence, then doesn’t the Executive Branch’s serial inability to fulfill its archival responsibilities under the law in the face of allegations of abuse of office do so too?

Besides, making a central repository of all the Executive Branch’s emails would address an asymmetry that corrodes democracy. Such a dragnet would ensure that the governed — and those who represent their interests — will always be able to exercise the same kind of scrutiny on those who govern as the government does on them.

Of course this will never happen, in part for justifiable reasons (cost, the privacy of federal employees), in part for unjustifiable reasons (the Executive would never agree to this). But given that it won’t happen, doesn’t it suggest the NSA’s dragnets shouldn’t either?

Update: In somewhat related news, Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley are concerned that ODNI’s plan to continually monitor employees to prevent leaks will improperly chill whistleblowers.  If someone besides the Intelligence Community tracks that information, then access to the records could be provided more due process.