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Questioning Bill Barr’s “No Collusion” Propaganda, Reggie Walton Orders an In Camera Review of Mueller Report

Before the Trump Administration started really politicizing justice, Reggie Walton had already proven himself willing to stand up to the Executive Branch. During the George W Bush Administration, he presided over the Scooter Libby trial, never shirking from attacks from the defendant. And in the first year of the Obama Administration, as presiding FISA Judge, he shut down parts of the phone dragnet and the entire Internet dragnet because they were so far out of compliance with court orders.

And Walton had already showed his impatience with Trump’s stunts, most notably when presiding over a FOIA for materials related to the firing of Andrew McCabe. He finally forced DOJ to give the former Deputy FBI Director a prosecution declination so he could proceed with the FOIA lawsuit.

So it’s unsurprising he’s unpersuaded by DOJ’s request to dismiss the EPIC/BuzzFeed lawsuits over their FOIAs to liberate the Mueller Report, and has ordered DOJ to provide him a copy of the Report before the end of the month to do an in camera review of redactions in it.

The Court has grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report and its impacts on the Department’s subsequent justifications that its redactions of the Mueller Report are authorized by the FOIA. For the reasons set forth below, the Court shares the plaintiffs’ concern that the Department “dubious[ly] handl[ed] [ ] the public release of the Mueller Report.” EPIC’s Mem. at 40; see also id. (“Attorney General[] [Barr’s] attempts to spin the findings and conclusions of the [Mueller] Report have been challenged publicly by the author of the [Mueller] Report. [ ] Attorney[] General[] [Barr’s] characterization of the [Mueller] [R]eport has also been contradicted directly by the content of the [Mueller] Report.”); Leopold Pls.’ Mem. at 9 (“[T]here have been serious and specific accusations by other government officials about improprieties in the [Department’s] handling and characterization of the [Mueller] Report[.]”). Accordingly, the Court concludes that it must conduct an in camera review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report to assess de novo the applicability of the particular exemptions claimed by the Department for withholding information in the Mueller Report pursuant to the FOIA.

To justify this review, Walton cites Barr’s silence about the multiple links between Trump and Russians and about the reason why Mueller didn’t make a decision about charging Trump with obstruction.

Special Counsel Mueller himself took exception to Attorney General Barr’s March 24, 2019 letter, stating that Attorney General Barr “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of th[e] [Special Counsel’s] Office’s work and conclusions,” EPIC’s Mot., Ex. 4 (March 27, 2019 Letter) at 1, and a review of the redacted version of the Mueller Report by the Court results in the Court’s concurrence with Special Counsel Mueller’s assessment that Attorney General Barr distorted the findings in the Mueller Report. Specifically, Attorney General Barr’s summary failed to indicate that Special Counsel Mueller “identified multiple contacts—‘links,’ in the words of the Appointment Order—between Trump [c]ampaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government,” Def.’s Mot., Ex. D (Mueller Report – Volume I) at 66, and that Special Counsel Mueller only concluded that the investigation did not establish that “these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump [c]ampaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the [Trump] [c]ampaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future,” because coordination—the term that appears in the Appointment Order—“does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law,” id., Ex. D (Mueller Report – Volume I) at 2, 66. Attorney General Barr also failed to disclose to the American public that, with respect to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, Special Counsel Mueller “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment[,] . . . recogniz[ing] that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting [p]resident would place burdens on the [p]resident’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct,” but nevertheless declared that

if [he] had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that [ ] President [Trump] clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, [he] would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, [he] [is] unable to reach that judgment. The evidence [he] obtained about [ ] President[] [Trump’s] actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent [him] from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while th[e] [Mueller] [R]eport does not conclude that [ ] President [Trump] committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

Id., Ex. D (Mueller Report – Volume II) at 1–2.

Walton further cites claims that Barr made in his April 18 press conference and letter — where he specifically claimed Mueller had found no evidence of collusion — to judge that Barr lacked candor in his statements about the report.

Similar statements were made in his April 18, 2019 letter. See Def.’s Mot., Ex. 7 (April 18, 2019 Letter) at 1–3 (stating that Special Counsel Mueller’s “bottom-line conclusion on the question of so-called ‘collusion’ [was] [that] [t]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump [c]ampaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” and that “the evidence set forth in the [ ] [Mueller] [R]eport was [not] sufficient to establish that [ ] President [Trump] committed an obstruction-of-justice offense”).

As noted earlier, the Court has reviewed the redacted version of the Mueller Report, Attorney General Barr’s representations made during his April 18, 2019 press conference, and Attorney General Barr’s April 18, 2019 letter. And, the Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report. The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.

[snip]

Here, although it is with great consternation, true to the oath that the undersigned took upon becoming a federal judge, and the need for the American public to have faith in the judicial process, considering the record in this case, the Court must conclude that the actions of Attorney General Barr and his representations about the Mueller Report preclude the Court’s acceptance of the validity of the Department’s redactions without its independent verification.

Walton doesn’t say it explicitly, but he seems to believe what the unredacted portions of the report show amount to “collusion,” the kind of collusion Trump would want to and did (and still is) covering up.

Be warned, however, that this review is not going to lead to big revelations in the short term.

There are several reasons for that. Many of the most substantive redactions pertain to the Internet Research Agency and Roger Stone cases. Gags remain on both. While Walton is not an Article II pushover, he does take national security claims very seriously, and so should be expected to defer to DOJ’s judgments about those redactions.

Where this ruling may matter, though, is in four areas:

  • DOJ hid the circumstances of how both Trump and Don Jr managed to avoid testifying under a grand jury redaction. Walton may judge that these discussions were not truly grand jury materials.
  • DOJ is currently hiding details of people — like KT McFarland — who lied, but then cleaned up their story (Sam Clovis is another person this may be true of). There’s no reason someone as senior as McFarland should have her lies protected. All the more so, because DOJ is withholding some of the 302s that show her lies. So Walton may release some of this information.
  • Because Walton will have already read the Stone material — that part that most implicates Trump — by the time Judge Amy Berman Jackson releases the gag in that case, he will have a view on what would still need to be redacted. That may mean more of it will be released quickly than otherwise might happen.
  • In very short order, the two sides in this case will start arguing over DOJ’s withholding of 302s under very aggressive b5 claims. These claims, unlike most of the redactions in the Mueller Report, are substantively bogus and in many ways serve to cover up the details of Trump’s activities. While this won’t happen in the near term, I expect this ruling will serve as the basis for a similar in camera review on 302s down the road.

Update: Here’s the FOIA version of the Mueller Report; here is Volume II. The b1 and b3 redactions won’t be touched in this review. Where Walton might order releases are the b6, b7C redactions. I expect Walton may order these redactions removed, which show that Don Jr and someone else was investigated.

Update: I did a post last August about what Walton might do with these redactions. It holds up, IMO.

The Frothy Right Is Complaining that Amy Berman Jackson Sentenced Roger Stone to 57% of Lower Guidelines

In the aftermath of the news of Roger Stone’s sentence yesterday, some of DOJ’s beat journalists are doing irresponsible pieces giving Bill Barr’s close associates anonymity to lie, with no pushback, about what happened.

Another Justice Department official called Stone’s sentence a “vindication” of the attorney general’s decision last week to insert himself into the process, calling for a revised sentencing memorandum that undercut the line prosecutors’ prior recommendation of seven to nine years in prison. Four prosecutors quit the Stone case over the disagreement, and current and former Justice Department officials grew alarmed Trump was short-circuiting the law enforcement agency’s traditional independence. More than 2,600 former employees have signed onto a letter calling on Barr to resign over his handling of the matter.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson in no way vindicated Bill Barr’s intervention, and any experienced DOJ reporter passing on the claim unchallenged is doing their readers a gross disservice.

Worse still, confusion about what happened yesterday has permitted the frothy right to attack ABJ for what was a lenient sentence.

So I’d like to show how ABJ came up with her sentence. It shows that ABJ sentenced Stone to 57% of the sentence she judged the guidelines call for.

Probation Recommendation: 70-87 months

Between the original sentencing memo and Stone’s own memo, we can obtain what probation initially recommended. It started with a base offense level for Stone’s Obstruction, False Statements, and Witness Tampering of 14 (which would result in a 15 to 21 month guidelines sentence). Then it added four enhancements (Stone even cites the paragraphs of the presentencing report where Probation recommended these enhancements). First, it called for an 8-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. §2J1.2(b)(1)(B), which reads (PDF 243):

If the offense involved causing or threatening to cause physical injury to a person, or property damage, in order to obstruct the administration of justice, increase by 8 levels.

Next, it called for a 3-level enhancement for substantial interference with the administration of justice under U.S.S.G. §2J1.2(b)(1)(2) (meaning, the obstruction worked):

If the offense resulted in substantial interference with the administration of justice, increase by 3 levels.

Probation called for a 2-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. §2J1.2(b)(3)(C) for the extensive nature of Stone’s obstruction:

If the offense … (C) was otherwise extensive in scope, planning, or preparation, increase by 2 levels.

Given a footnote in Stone’s memo (and something ABJ said in the hearing yesterday), it appears that the government objected to the original January 16 recommendation from the Probation office and convinced them to apply this enhancement.

Obstruction of Justice 2 U.S.S.G. §2J1.2(b)(3)(C) 2 level increase ¶77

2 Government’s Objection to Presentence Investigation Report, dated January 30, 2020.

Finally, it called for a 2-level enhancement U.S.S.G. §3C1.1 2 for obstruction of this proceeding (meaning, his prosecution for the original obstruction charge; this is at PDF 367).

If (1) the defendant willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of the instant offense of conviction, and (2) the obstructive conduct related to (A) the defendant’s offense of conviction and any relevant conduct; or (B) a closely related offense, increase the offense level by 2 levels.

The sentencing table can be found at PDF 415. It provides a range of 87 to 108 months for a first time offender, as Stone is.

According to the transcript, however, the final recommendation did not apply the 2-level enhancement for the extensive obstruction. That provides a range for 70-87 months.

Prosecution Recommendation: 87-108 months

In May 2017, Jeff Sessions issued an order stating that “prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” which are, “by definition … those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence.” It also stated that, “In most cases, recommending a sentence within the advisory guideline range will be appropriate.”

ABJ noted this policy yesterday in the sentencing hearing.

And that’s what the prosecution team did — recommend the same 87 to 108 months the Probation Office came up with. They justified each of the enhancements in their sentencing memo.

They argued the witness tampering enhancement was justified — even in spite of Randy Credico’s letter asking for leniency — because Credico still expressed fear that Stone’s associates might respond to his threats by attacking him, and because the threat itself triggers the enhancement.

Pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(1)(B), eight levels are added because the offense “involved causing or threatening to cause physical injury to a person, or property damage, in order to obstruct the administration of justice.” As detailed above, as part of Stone’s campaign to keep Credico silent, Stone told Credico in writing, “Prepare to die, cocksucker.” Stone also threatened (again in writing) to “take that dog away from you.” Stone may point to the letter submitted by Credico and argue that he did not have a serious plan to harm Credico or that Credico did not seriously believe that Stone would follow through on his threats. But Credico testified that Stone’s threats concerned him because he was worried that Stone’s words, if repeated in public, might make “other people get ideas.” Tr. 11/8/19, at 795.

In any event, it is the threat itself, not the likelihood of carrying out the threat, that triggers the enhancement. Endeavoring to tamper with a witness can involve a wide range of conduct. This enhancement recognizes that when the conduct involves threats of injury or property damage, rather than simple persuasion for example, the base offense level does not accurately capture the seriousness of the crime. To apply the enhancement, there is no “additional ‘seriousness’ requirement beyond the fact of a violent threat.” See United States v. Plumley, 207 F.3d 1086, 1089-1091 (8th Cir. 2000) (applying § 2J1.2(b)(1)(B) to a defendant who told coconspirators to “‘keep our mouth shut,’ because if anyone cooperated with the police he would ‘kick our ass’”); United States v. Bakhtairi, 714 F.3d 1057, 1061 (8th Cir. 2013) (holding there was no seriousness requirement and applying § 2J1.2(b)(1) to a defendant who wrote a menacing email, displayed a loaded rifle to a law partner, and doctored photographs of witnesses children to “add . . . crosshairs”); United States v. Smith, 387 F.3d 826, (9th Cir. 2004) (applying § 2J1.2(b)(1)(B) to a defendant who threatened to kill a witness and “kick [her] ass,” and noting that § 2J1.2(b)(1) does not contain a “seriousness requirement”).

Prosecutors argued the 3-level enhancement for substantial interference was justified because Stone’s obstruction led HPSCI not to call Jerome Corsi and not to subpoena Corsi and Credico for documents, both of which led to errors in the HPSCI report.

Pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(2), three levels are added because the offense resulted in substantial interference with the administration of justice. Because of Stone’s conduct, the House Intelligence Committee never received important documents, never heard from Credico (who pled the Fifth), and never heard from Corsi (who was never identified to the Committee as the real “back-channel” that Stone had referenced in August 2016). The Committee’s report even wrongly stated that there was no evidence contradicting Stone’s claim that all his information about WikiLeaks was from publicly available sources.

Prosecutors argued that the multi-year effort Stone engaged in merited the 2-level enhancement because of his obstruction’s extensive scope.

Pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B1.2(b)(3)(C), two levels are added because the offense was otherwise extensive in scope, planning, or preparation. Stone engaged in a multi-year scheme involving (1) false statements in sworn testimony; (2) the concealment of important documentary evidence; (3) further lies in a written submission to Congress; and (4) a relentless and elaborate campaign to silence Credico that involved cajoling, flattering, crafting forged documents, badgering, and threatening Credico’s reputation, friend, life, and dog. Stone’s efforts were as extensive, if not more extensive, than those of other defendants who received this two-level enhancement at sentencing. See, e.g., United States v. Petruk, 836 F.3d 974 (8th Cir. 2016) (enlisting a friend to create a false alibi and scripting a false confession); United States v. Jensen, 248 Fed. Appx. 849 (10th Cir. 2007) (giving advance notice of testing and falsifying results of tests).

Finally, prosecutors argued for a 2-level enhancement for all the violations of ABJ’s orders during the trial, notably his implicit threat against her.

Finally, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1, two levels are added because the defendant “willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the prosecution of the instant offense of conviction.” Shortly after the case was indicted, Stone posted an image of the presiding judge with a crosshair next to her head. In a hearing to address, among other things, Stone’s ongoing pretrial release, Stone gave sworn testimony about this matter that was not credible. Stone then repeatedly violated a more specific court order by posting messages on social media about matters related to the case.

This enhancement is warranted based on that conduct. See U.S.S.G. § 3C1.C Cmt. 4(F) (“providing materially false information to a magistrate or judge”); see, e.g., United States v. Lassequ, 806 F.3d 618, 625 (1st Cir. 2015) (“Providing false information to a judge in the course of a bail hearing can serve as a basis for the obstruction of justice enhancement.”); United States v. Jones, 911 F. Supp. 54 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (applying §3C1.1 enhancement to a defendant who submitted false information at hearing on modifying defendant’s conditions of release).

Prosecutors then showed how, under the guidelines, this adds up to an 87 to 108 month sentence.

Accordingly, Stone’s total offense level is 29 (14 + 8 + 3 + 2 + 2), and his Criminal History Category is I. His Guidelines Range is therefore 87-108 months.

Barr Recommendation: 30-46 months

In addition to violating DOJ policy of not deviating downwards from the Probation recommendation, the memo submitted under John Crabb Jr’s name (which his statements yesterday strongly indicate he did not write) offered little justification for why it was deviating from the Probation Office recommendation and never ultimately made a recommendation. But the memo suggested two of the enhancements — the 8-level enhancement for making a threat, and the 2-level enhancement for threatening ABJ — should not apply.

The memo suggested the 8-level enhancement shouldn’t apply, first, because doing so would double Stone’s exposure.

Notably, however, the Sentencing Guidelines enhancements in this case—while perhaps technically applicable— more than double the defendant’s total offense level and, as a result, disproportionately escalate the defendant’s sentencing exposure to an offense level of 29, which typically applies in cases involving violent offenses, such as armed robbery, not obstruction cases. Cf. U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(a)-(b). As explained below, removing these enhancements would have a significant effect on the defendant’s Guidelines range. For example, if the Court were not to apply the eight-level enhancement for threatening a witness with physical injury, it would result in the defendant receiving an advisory Guidelines range of 37 to 46 months, which as explained below is more in line with the typical sentences imposed in obstruction cases.

It pointed to Credico’s letter to justify ignoring it.

First, as noted above, the most serious sentencing enhancement in this case—the eightlevel enhancement under Section 2J1.2(b)(1)(B) for “threatening to cause physical injury”—has been disputed by the victim of that threat, Randy Credico, who asserts that he did not perceive a genuine threat from the defendant but rather stated that “I never in any way felt that Stone himself posed a direct physical threat to me or my dog.” (ECF No. 273). While Mr. Credico’s subjective beliefs are not dispositive as to this enhancement, the Court may consider them when assessing the impact of applying the enhancement – particularly given the significant impact that the enhancement has on the defendant’s total Guidelines range.

Then, Barr’s memo argued (and this is the truly outrageous argument) that Stone’s attempts to obstruct his own prosecution overlapped with his efforts to obstruct the HPSCI investigation.

Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the

Effectively, this language treated threats against a judge as unworthy of enhancement.

Probably the only part of this memo that really affected ABJ’s sentence was a discussion of avoiding disparities in sentencing, where it mentions Scooter Libby’s 30 month sentence (and Manafort’s obstruction-related sentence, by ABJ, which was just one part of her 7.5 year sentence of him).

Third, the Court must “avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities.” See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6). In its prior filing, the Government directed the Court’s attention to a non-exhaustive list of witness tampering, false statement, and obstruction of justice cases that resulted in sentences of thirty months (Libby), thirteen months (Manafort), six months (Lavelle), twelve months (Hansen), and thirty-five months (Solofa). While these cases involved lesser offense conduct, the sentences imposed constituted a fraction of the penalty suggested by the advisory Guidelines in this case.

In comments to Lindsey Graham, Bill Barr said he thought the guidelines should say 3.5-4.5 years, slightly more than the guidelines if the witness tampering were removed, but if you eliminate both the witness tampering and obstruction of proceedings enhancement the range would be 30-47 months.

ABJ Guidelines Calculation: 70-87 months

In court yesterday, ABJ started by going through the recommended sentence. Ultimately, she did the following with the guidelines (h/t Andrew Prokop for his great live tweeting):

  • Accepted the 8-level enhancement for witness tampering, but said she’d take Credico’s comments into account
  • Accepted the 3-level enhancement for substantial interference, noting that HPSCI was totally diverted by focusing on Credico
  • Rejected the 2-level enhancement for the extensive nature of Stone’s obstruction (thereby agreeing with the original Probation office recommendation)
  • Accepted the 2-level enhancement for Stone’s obstruction in this prosecution

That works out to a base level of 14 + 8 for the witness tampering threat + 3 for substantial interference + 2 for his obstruction in this prosecution. As ABJ calculated in court yesterday, that amounts to a guidelines offense level of 27, or a guidelines range of 70 to 87 months.

Importantly, these decisions mean ABJ disagreed with both the recommendations made in the Barr memo that she throw out the witness tampering threat and Stone’s interference in this trial (which included the threat against her).

Contrary to what the WaPo lets DOJ claim under cover of anonymity, this in no way vindicates Barr. Rather, it rebukes him, stating that neither of his interventions are valid.

ABJ Sentence: 40 months

Nevertheless, ABJ came up with a sentence of 40 months, a sentence that’s solidly in the range of what Barr wanted (and therefore a sentence he’s on the record as saying is just for Stone’s crimes).

ABJ got there, in part, by taking Credico’s comments into consideration, while still treating Stone’s threat as real. She got there in part by arguing that the sentencing guidelines are “inflated” — something anathema to Bill Barr’s policies at DOJ, and a stance that would say all defendants should be sentenced more leniently, not just Trump’s rat-fucker.

In her sentence, she explicitly said she was ignoring Trump’s comments and comments from the left asking for harsh punishment.

Ultimately, ABJ calculated the guidelines — which she said were inflated (and would be for all defendants) — at 70-87 months. She then sentenced Stone to 57% of the lower end of those guidelines.

And that is what has the frothy right in a tizzy — that she extended Roger Stone the same leniency that she would extend to other defendants, in defiance of Bill Barr’s demands that every defendant not covering up for the President be sentenced harshly.

This is in no way a vindication of Bill Barr. It is also, in no way, abusive.

Update: This has been updated to reflect what the transcript says about the final probation recommendation.

As Democrats Entertain a Ukraine-Only Impeachment, Jack Goldsmith Lays Out Import of Impeaching for Clemency Abuse

As June Bug the Terrorist Foster Dog and I drove the last leg of our epic road trip over the last few days, I listened to Jack Goldsmith’s book on his stepfather, Chuckie O’Brien, In Hoffa’s Shadow: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth.

It’s a fascinating book I’m pondering how to write about: Imagine a book written by a top surveillance lawyer describing how he learned things his beloved stepfather was lying about by reading old FBI transcripts of wiretaps targeted at top mobsters.

The entire point of the book is to exonerate O’Brien of any role in Jimmy Hoffa’s murder, and it fairly convincingly does that. As Goldsmith describes, the FBI admitted privately to him that they belatedly realized his father couldn’t have had a role in Hoffa’s disappearance, but because the FBI is the FBI, they refused to state that in an official letter (though it was Barb McQuade, then as Detroit’s US Attorney, who made the final call).

But in Goldsmith’s effort to exonerate his step-father on the Hoffa murder, he implicates him in a shit-ton of other crimes … including being the bagman for a $1 million bribe to Richard Nixon so he would commute Hoffa’s sentence for jury tampering (which Chuckie was also a key player in). Here’s how Goldsmith describes O’Brien’s claims about the payoff.

Chuckie nonetheless insists there was a payoff. And he says he was the delivery boy.

Chuckie told me that in early December 1971, he received a telephone call in Detroit from Fitzsimmons’s secretary, Annie. “Mr. Fitzsimmons would like to see you,” she said. Chuckie got on the next plane, flew to Washington, and went straight to Hoffa’s former office at the foot of Capitol Hill. After small talk, Fitzsimmons got to the point. “He’s coming home, and it’s going to cost this much,” Fitzsimmons whispered to Chuckie, raising his right index finger to indicate $1 million. “There will be a package here tomorrow that I want you to pick up and deliver.”

The following afternoon, Annie called Chuckie, who was staying at a hotel adjacent to the Teamsters headquarters near the Capitol building. “Mr. Fitzsimmons asked me to tell you that you left your briefcase in his office,” she said. Chuckie had not left anything in Fitzsimmons’s office, but he quickly went there. Fitzsimmons was not around, but Annie pointed Chuckie to a leather litigation bag next to Fitzsimmons’s desk—a “big, heavy old-fashioned briefcase,” as Chuckie described it. Chuckie picked up the bag, and Annie handed him an envelope. Inside the envelope was a piece of paper with “Madison Hotel, 7 p.m.” and a room number written on it.

It was about 5:00 p.m., and Chuckie took the bag to his hotel room. He had delivered dozens of packages during the past two decades, no questions asked, mostly for Hoffa, sometimes for Giacalone, and very occasionally for Fitzsimmons. But this time was different. Chuckie knew of the strain between Fitzsimmons and Hoffa. He wasn’t sure what game Fitzsimmons was playing, especially since Hoffa had not at this point discussed a payoff with him. Chuckie was anxious about what he was getting into. And so he did something he had never done before: he opened the bag.

“I wanted to see what was in the briefcase,” Chuckie told me. “I didn’t trust these motherfuckers. I needed to look; it could have been ten pounds of cocaine in there and the next thing I know a guy is putting a handcuff on me.”

What Chuckie saw was neatly stacked and tightly wrapped piles of one-hundred-dollar bills. He closed the bag without counting the money.

The Madison Hotel, where Chuckie was supposed to deliver the bag, was two miles away, six blocks north of the White House. It “was a very famous hotel” in the early seventies, a place where “political big wheels” and “foreign dignitaries” stayed, Chuckie told me. At about 6:45 p.m., Chuckie took a taxi to the Madison, went to the designated floor, walked to the room (he doesn’t remember the number), and knocked on the door. A man opened the door from darkness. Chuckie stepped in one or two feet. He sensed that the room was a suite, but could not tell for sure.

“Here it is,” Chuckie said, and handed over the bag.

“Thank you,” said the man. Chuckie turned and left. That was it. The whole transaction, from the time he left his hotel to the delivery on the top floor of the Madison, took less than twenty minutes. The actual drop was over in seconds.

If O’Brien is telling the truth, it means that in addition to locking in Teamster support for 1972, Nixon got a chunk of money for the election (just as Trump just hit up Wayne LaPierre for fundraising support in exchange for killing gun control).

Goldsmith’s step-father claims that the money for the payoff came directly from Hoffa — but he either didn’t know or wouldn’t say whom he delivered it to.

“Where did the money come from?” I asked. “From the Old Man,” Chuckie answered. “Through Allen Dorfman. It was the Old Man’s money. Dorfman had a lot of his money. Fitz wouldn’t give you a dime if you were dying.”

[snip]

“Did Fitz tell you who you were delivering the bag to?” I asked. “No. I took the fucking briefcase to where it’s supposed to go, I never asked any questions. You never ask, Jack.”

This is something that John Mitchell lied about to prosecutors, just as the stories of Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow regarding the pardons they’ve negotiated with Russian investigation witnesses don’t hold up.

Since that time, presidential abuses of pardons have only gotten worse. Say what you will about the Marc Rich pardon (and I agree it was ridiculous), both Poppy Bush (Cap Weinberger) and W (Scooter Libby) provided clemency to witnesses to silence them about actions of the Bush men. Bill Barr was a key player in the Poppy pardons, and he seems all too willing to repeat the favor for Trump.

Until Congress makes reining in the abuse of executive clemency a priority, the claim that no one is above the law will be a pathetic joke. Plus, there are at least allegations that Trump’s effort to dig up Ukrainian dirt stemmed from an effort to make pardoning Paul Manafort easier. And the Ukraine corruption involves someone — Rudy — who was intimately involving in bribing witnesses with pardons in the past.

More generally, any decision to narrowly craft impeachment would be catastrophically stupid, not least because other impeachable acts — such as Trump’s treatment of migrants — will be far more motivating to Democratic voters than Ukraine. But to leave off Trump’s abuse of the pardon power would be a historic failure.

The Irony of Glenn Greenwald Cuddling Up with Bill Barr, the Grandfather of Ed Snowden’s Phone Dragnet

Glenn Greenwald, who has written two books about the abuse of Presidential power, continues to dig in on his factually ignorant claims about the Mueller report. For days, he and the denialists said that if Mueller’s report was being misrepresented by Bill Barr, Mueller would speak up. Now that Mueller’s team has done so, Glenn complains that these are anonymous leaks and nevertheless only address obstruction, not a conspiracy with Russia on the election.

Glenn and his lackeys in the denialist crowd who continue to willfully misrepresent the public evidence have yet to deal with the fact that Mueller has already presented evidence that Paul Manafort conspired with Russian Konstantin Kilimnik on the election, but that they weren’t able to substantiate and charge it because Manafort lied. Mueller’s team say they believe Manafort did so in hopes and expectation that if he helped Trump and denialists like Glenn sustain a “no collusion” line, he might get a pardon. That is, we know that Trump’s offers of pardons — his obstruction — specifically prevented Mueller from pursuing a fairly smoking gun incident where Trump’s campaign manager coordinated with Russians on the hack-and-leak.

As Glenn once professed to know with respect to Scooter Libby’s obstruction, if someone successfully obstructs an investigation, that may mean the ultimate culprit in that investigation escapes criminal charge.

Glenn’s denialism is all the more remarkable, though, given that this same guy who wrote two books on abuse of presidential power is choosing to trust a memo from Bill Barr that was obviously playing legalistic games over what the public record says. As Glenn must know well, Barr has a history of engaging in precisely the kind of cover-up of presidential abuses Glenn once professed to oppose, fairly epically on Iran-Contra. The cover-up that Barr facilitated on that earlier scandal was the model that Dick Cheney used in getting away with leaking Valerie Plame’s identity and torture and illegal wiretapping, the kinds of presidential abuses that Glenn once professed to oppose.

I find Glenn’s trust of Bill Barr, one of the most authoritarian Attorneys General in the last half century, all the more ironic, coming as it does the same week that DOJ IG released this IG report on several DEA dragnets.

That’s because Glenn’s more recent opposition to abuse of power comes in the form of shepherding Edward Snowden’s leaks. Glenn’s recent fame stems in significant degree to the fact that on June 5, 2013, he published a document ordering Verizon to turn over all its phone records to the government.

The dragnet Snowden revealed with that document was actually just the second such dragnet. The first one targeted the phone calls from the US to a bunch of foreign countries claimed, with no court review, to have a drug nexus. Only, that term “drug nexus”  came to include countries with no significant drug ties but instead a claimed tie between drug money and financing terrorism, and which further came to be used in totally unrelated investigations. That earlier dragnet became the model for Stellar Wind, which became the model for the Section 215 dragnet that Glenn is now famous for having helped Edward Snowden expose.

Here’s what the IG Report released the same week that Glenn spent hours cuddling up to Bill Barr says about the original dragnet.

Bill Barr, the guy Glenn has spent 10 days nuzzling up to, is the grandfather of the dragnet system of surveillance.

The IG Report also shows that Bill Barr — the guy Glenn has spent 10 days trusting implicitly — didn’t brief Congress at all; the program wasn’t first briefed to Congress until years after Barr left office the first time.

This is the man that former critic of abusive presidential power Glenn Greenwald has chosen to trust over the public record.

This is, it seems, the strange plight of the denialist left, cozying up to the kind of authoritarians that their entire career, at least to this point, have vigorously opposed.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

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.