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Whither the Douglass Mackey Investigation?

Yesterday, the FBI arrested Douglass Mackey, a far right activist who used the pseudonym Ricky Vaughn, for his efforts in 2016 to suppress Clinton voters. The complaint charges Mackey with a conspiracy against others’ Constitutional rights under 18 USC §241. I want to unpack what the complaint says about where this investigation came from and where it might head, if anywhere.

Mackey and others led almost 5,000 people to miscast their 2016 vote

There’s a lot of language in the complaint about Mackey’s social media efforts — which has a number of right wingers, including those who were tangentially involved in this effort, whining about their own First Amendment rights. Ultimately, though, the crime boils down to ads that Mackay made and popularized in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election encouraging Hillary voters to text their vote. If people did so, they would have thought their vote was cast, when in effect they would have texted it to a void.

The complaint notes that the text code Mackey used for the campaign got 4,900 responses.

According to iVisionMobile, the company that owned the Text Code listed in the two Deceptive Images distributed by MACKEY, at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted “[Candidate’s first name]” or some derivative to the Text Code on or about and before Election Day, including many belonging to individuals in the Eastern District of New York. Of the approximately 4,900 numbers that corresponded with the Text Code, approximately 4,850, or 99%, sent their texts after MACKEY first tweeted a Deceptive Image from MACKEY Account 2. [my emphasis]

Effectively, then, the complaint argues that Mackey tricked almost 5,000 people to miscast a Hillary vote, thereby depriving them of their right to cast a valid vote.

This investigation was started and finalized under a Trump US Attorney

Right wingers are also whining that the timing of this complaint shows that the Deep State is moving against Trump supporters immediately after his departure.

That makes no sense.

First, at least two key steps in this investigation, interviews of Paul Nehlen and filmmaker Loren Feldman, happened last fall.

On or about October 5, 2020, FBI agents conducted a voluntary interview with the Congressional Candidate. The Congressional Candidate confirmed that “Ricky Vaughn’s” true name was MACKEY, and that MACKEY had offered his services to his/her campaign. The Congressional Candidate added that, although s/he had never met MACKEY in person, s/he frequently communicated with MACKEY by telephone and via MACKEY’s personal email accounts.

On or about October 19, 2020, FBI agents conducted a voluntary interview of the Filmmaker who again confirmed that s/he had interviewed MACKEY in 2016 and that s/he knew MACKEY at that time by his Twitter name of “Rickey Vaughn.” The Filmmaker futher confirmed that s/he had subsequently been shown a photograph of MACKEY and confirmed that the individual in the photograph was the individual the Filmmaker had met as “Ricky Vaughn.”

In October 2020, as now, the Brooklyn US Attorney was Seth DuCharme. While DuCharme spent his career in EDNY, he was a key aide to Bill Barr, both as Counselor and then PADAG. In July, Barr effectively swapped DuCharme back into EDNY and moved the then US Attorney, Richard Donoghue, to PADAG.

In other words, the guy whose name will be on this indictment is among Barr’s most trusted aides.

DuCharme even issued a strong statement about this prosecution when it was announced.

“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” said Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes. They will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

I argued in this post that early indictments in the Biden Administration would (because he’s not immediately replacing all US Attorneys) be approved by Trump loyalists, and this is a perfect example of that.

Actions completed in 2016 are being charged in 2021

One of the most interesting questions about this complaint is why actions that were completed in 2016 and didn’t appear to take much investigation beyond some warrants to Twitter and two interviews were only charged in 2021.

It’s not entirely clear where this investigation came from, but the most likely is that when HuffPo originally exposed Mackey in 2018, someone at the FBI or DOJ took notice. That seems all the more likely given that the complaint relies on some of the research in that original story, including that Mackey had a reach on Twitter well outside his follower count.

There was no mistaking Ricky Vaughn’s influence. He had tens of thousands of followers, and his talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the “alt-right” white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails. The MIT Media Lab named him to its list of top 150 influencers on the election, based on news appearances and social media impact. He finished ahead of NBC News, Drudge Report and Stephen Colbert. Mainstream conservatives didn’t know they were retweeting an avowed racist and anti-Semite, but they liked what Ricky Vaughn had to say.

So the simplest explanation for the genesis of this investigation is that article.

There are other possibilities, though.

For example, as that original HuffPo story noted, Mackey magnified one of the Internet Research Agency’s most effective Twitter accounts, TEN_GOP, which many right wingers mistakenly believed was the official account of Tennessee’s Republican Party.

In the data set of significant accounts we looked at, Ricky Vaughn retweeted @TEN_GOP the most, by far. Although Twitter shut down his @Ricky_Vaughn99 handle in October 2016, another handle he possibly used, @RapinBill, took over and retweeted @TEN_GOP at least 162 times between early March and late August 2017. (@RapinBill also retweeted @Pamela_Moore13, another Kremlin-controlled account, at least 37 times during this period.)

Some far-right sources suggest that @RapinBill might be an account run by another anonymous bad actor, an assertion for which there is no proof, but the account has nevertheless capitalized on the Ricky Vaughn brand of far-right intolerance and fake news. We will update this story as we learn more.

Curiously, @RapinBill, which is still active and followed by Donald Trump Jr., does not appear to have received a single reciprocal retweet from @TEN_GOP during the time period we looked at, perhaps indicating an attempt to conceal the connection. @RapinBill retweeted @TEN_GOP until the end. When Twitter finally shut down @TEN_GOP last August, after having ignored numerous complaints about the Russian account, Ricky Vaughn did not take it well. He groused that @TEN_GOP had been “banned for supporting our president.” Within hours, he was steering traffic to the Kremlin’s backup account:

Another possibility is that this investigation arose out of Mueller’s investigation of Mike Flynn and Roger Stone’s focus on social media during the 2016 election. As Luke O’Brien (the reporter who first unmasked Mackey) noted in his coverage of the complaint, Mackey had ties to efforts involving Flynn and Stone in 2016.

Mackey and the three co-conspirators that HuffPost was able to identify are closely associated with a group of high-level pro-Trump political saboteurs known as “MAGA3X” that had ties to the Trump campaign and Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Presided over by far-right Twitter influencer Mike Cernovich, white nationalist funder Jeff Giesea, who is a disciple of billionaire Peter Thiel, and neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec, who counts Roger Stone as a mentor, MAGA3X spearheaded the Pizzagate disinformation campaign on social media that targeted Hillary Clinton in the weeks before the 2016 election.

Mueller’s team focused closely on both Flynn and Stone’s involvement in social media in 2016. In August 2016, Stone pitched both Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon on how to win ugly using social media. The overt parts of Stone’s effort involved an Erik Prince-funded effort to suppress the black vote. One of the still-sealed warrants pertains to multiple Twitter accounts that don’t appear to be Stone’s. And Mueller interviewed several people who worked with Stone on social media campaigns (and asked Andrew Miller about Alex Jones’ campaigns, as well).

The biggest reason to doubt that this investigation comes out of Mueller’s is the venue. While Mackey has ties to Brooklyn, at the time of his actions, he was living in Manhattan, SDNY rather than EDNY. The complaint seems to claim venue based on victims who reside in EDNY, bolded in the blockquote above, not Mackey’s location at the time of his actions. If Mueller had referred this, he presumably would have referred it to where the actions took place, SDNY.

It’s also possible it comes out of the Intelligence Committees’ investigations into disinformation. As Quinta Jurecic noted last night, Mackey’s ads were among those Twitter shared with the committees in 2018, though not by name. But again, the logical place to pick that up would have been SDNY or even DC.

There’s one other possibility. Last fall, in an effort to feed Trump’s conspiracy theories, Barr affirmatively mobilized voter fraud investigations. If someone had been sitting on the evidence unveiled in 2018, Barr’s action would have provided the opportunity to wrap it up into an indictment, effectively using GOP claims of voter fraud as the excuse to prosecute GOP voter fraud.

DOJ charged just one member of a conspiracy

Perhaps the most enticing part of this complaint is that it explicitly includes four other people as co-conspirators.

It describes the actions of Mackey’s co-conspirators to include:

  • Discussing how best to optimize social media campaigns
  • Retweeting Mackey’s campaigns
  • Running several DM-based strategy groups called the Madman Group, the War Room, Fed Free Hatechat
  • Fine-tuning some of the ads used
  • Posting some of the actual ads
  • Adding Mackey’s new accounts back into the DM collaborations after Twitter shut down his accounts

It’s not entirely clear how EDNY chose to treat these four as co-conspirators as distinct from other Twitter users and DM collaboration participants.

O’Brien IDs three of the four co-conspirators:

The complaintlists four co-conspirators referred to only by Twitter “user IDs,” a unique string of numbers assigned to each Twitter account. HuffPost can report that one co-conspirator is a prominent alt-right botmaster who goes by “Microchip” and was instrumental in making pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton hashtags and content go viral on Twitter during the 2016 election. A fascist accelerationist who has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazism, Microchip claims to have been involved in the early spread of the QAnon conspiracy cult and repeatedly told this reporter that his goal was to destroy the United States.

Another of Mackey’s co-conspirators is Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a pro-Trump white nationalist who was arrested on Jan. 16 for his involvement in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Gionet also participated in the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. (A New York Times story reported Wednesday afternoon that Gionet was a co-conspirator, citing a source close to the investigation, and HuffPost can confirm that reporting based on the Twitter ID cited in the complaint.)

HuffPost was able to link the Twitter IDs in the complaint to Gionet and Microchip through previously collected Twitter data, interviews and evidence left by both extremists on other websites. In direct messages with this reporter last year, Microchip also confirmed that he was using the Twitter account associated with the user ID listed in the complaint.

The user ID for a third co-conspirator belongs to a pro-Trump far-right activist who goes by “Nia” and has a long history of spreading disinformation on Twitter. HuffPost has not yet been able to identify the fourth co-conspirator.

It’s unclear whether EDNY plans to add them in an indictment or not. It’s possible they just named them as co-conspirators so as to be able to use their DMs and other Tweets to build the case against Mackey (which would make it a matter of prosecutorial efficacy). It’s also possible they’ll get added when this is indicted.

Particularly given the inclusion of Baked Alaska in here, though, it’s possible that this is an effort to crack down on key far right propagandists as part of a larger crackdown in the wake of the January 6 insurrection.

There’s just one detail that suggests this might go further: the inclusion of a PIN prosecutor in the prosecution team.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erik Paulsen and Nathan Reilly of the Eastern District of New York, and Trial Attorney James Mann of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

Among the other cases James Mann is or was prosecuting are the Andy Khawaja case funneling money from the UAE to both 2016 candidates (though only the Hillary side was charged; George Nader is one of the defendants) and the Elliot Broidy case, whose pardon will close out that case.

While his inclusion by no means makes this a certainty, it raises the chances that this social media activity will either be considered in the scope of campaign donations or might even involve foreign partners.

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda: Billy Barr Goes Soft on Crime

Bill Barr just let a key cog in Mexican drug trafficking go free.

Yesterday, prosecutors in Brooklyn requested that Judge Carol Amon dismiss the prosecution of Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s former Secretary of Defense indicted in August 2019 for narcotics trafficking and money laundering and arrested, while on a trip to Los Angeles, this October.

A detention memo from October described Cienfuegos’ role in protecting the H-2 cartel during the period he was Secretary of Defense.

Evidence obtained by law enforcement officials, including the interception of thousands of Blackberry Messenger communications, has revealed that, while he was the Secretary of National Defense in Mexico, the defendant, in exchange for bribe payments, assisted the H-2 Cartel in numerous ways, including by: (i) ensuring that military operations were not conducted against the H-2 Cartel; (ii) initiating military operations against its rival drug trafficking organizations; (iii) locating maritime transportation for drug shipments; (iv) acting to expand the territory controlled by the H-2 Cartel to Mazatlán and the rest of Sinaloa; (v) introducing senior leaders of the H-2 Cartel to other corrupt Mexican government officials willing to assist in exchange for bribes; and (vi) warning the H-2 Cartel about the ongoing U.S. law enforcement investigation into the H-2 Cartel and its use of cooperating witnesses and informants—which ultimately resulted in the murder of a member of the H-2 Cartel that the H-2 Cartel senior leadership incorrectly believed was assisting U.S. law enforcement authorities.

Among the many communications captured during the course of this investigation are numerous direct communications between the defendant and a senior leader of the H-2 Cartel, including communications in which the defendant discussed his historical assistance to another drug trafficking organization, as well as communications in which the defendant is identified by name, title and photograph as the Mexican government official assisting the H-2 Cartel. Due in part to the defendant’s corrupt assistance, the H-2 Cartel conducted its criminal activity in Mexico without significant interference from the Mexican military and imported thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana into the United States.

These thousands of intercepted communications amongst the members of the H-2 Cartel are corroborated by numerous drug seizures of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, as well as the seizure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds in the United States. In addition, witnesses have provided a wealth of information to the government about the operations of the H-2 Cartel, its regular employment of violence to further its drug trafficking, its use of bribery to ensure government protection, as well as the assistance of the defendant to the H-2 Cartel and other drug trafficking organizations.

The motion to dismiss explained that after Cienfuegos was arrested, Mexican government officials told the US that their own government had started an investigation. Purportedly, the US is dismissing this prosecution so Mexico can carry out its own investigation.

Following the arrest of the defendant, officials for the government of Mexico, which was not aware of the sealed indictment against the defendant at the time of the arrest, engaged in discussions with United States government officials concerning the pending charges against the defendant in the United States. During the course of those discussions, the United States was informed that the Fiscalia General de la Republica of Mexico had initiated its own investigation into the defendant’s alleged conduct. As a result of these discussions, the government of the United States concluded, with the concurrence of the government of Mexico, that the United States would seek to dismiss the indictment against the defendant without prejudice, so that Mexico could proceed first with investigating and potentially prosecuting the defendant under Mexican law for the alleged conduct at issue, which occurred in Mexico.

A joint statement from Barr and Mexico’s Fiscalía General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero yesterday spoke — among other things — of cooperation on all forms of criminality and “sovereignty.”

In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the U.S. Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the U.S. criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law.

At the request of the Fiscalía General de la República, the U.S. Department of Justice, under the Treaty that governs the sharing of evidence, has provided Mexico evidence in this case and commits to continued cooperation, within that framework, to support the investigation by Mexican authorities.

Our two countries remain committed to cooperation on this matter, as well as all our bilateral law enforcement cooperation. As the decision today reflects, we are stronger when we work together and respect the sovereignty of our nations and their institutions. This close partnership increases the security of the citizens of both our countries.

This morning, Judge Amon found no evidence of bad faith and so dismissed the indictment (without prejudice, so the US could refile it if Mexico does not prosecute him).

It’s a stunning turn of events, particularly given the slim likelihood that Mexico really will prosecute Cienfuegos (and they make no promises they will).

For the purposes of this post, I will assume this is all about Mexico’s displeasure at being surprised by this indictment, as NYT reported on the move, reflecting a justifiable sensitivity about the footprint that DEA has in the country.

Mexico’s anger at the charges stemmed from largely being kept out of the loop on the case, officials have said. Mr. López Obrador himself expressed some surprise at the detention of a military leader who had long commanded respect inside Mexico.

Mexican officials have said privately that they were angry at a lack of communication by Justice Department officials on a case that had clearly taken time to build, given how closely the two countries collaborate in fighting organized crime.

I will assume this is not why Billy Barr swapped in Seth DuCharme to oversee EDNY in July. I will assume there’s no deal for a Trump golf course in Cancun. I will assume this involved no call between Trump and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who, almost alone with Vladimir Putin, has not yet congratulated President-Elect Biden) on which Trump said, “I’d like to do us a favor, though.”

We can’t rule those things out, because twice before, with at least Turkey and Ukraine, Barr and other Trump AGs have intervened to facilitate Trump’s personal corruption with foreign leaders.

But for the moment, I will assume Barr made this move for precisely the reason his joint statement claimed he did, because Mexico views this as an issue of sovereignty and the US needed to make this concession in order for Mexico to continue partnering on law enforcement, including narcotics trafficking.

Even still, it is either a testament to an unbelievable fuck up by the Trump Administration, an abject failure at diplomacy to lay adequate groundwork to avoid shocking Mexico with this arrest. And/or it is a testament that Trump has squandered our privilege (for better and worse) of playing policeman of the world.

For decades, the United States has been able to find crimes that impact America and others — particularly drug trafficking — and reach overseas (or wait for a timely visit) to pluck citizens of other countries up and try them in our justice department. Other countries rarely complained, much less our weaker neighbors in the hemisphere.

Admittedly, Cienfuegos was very senior. But so, too, was Manuel Noriega, among others.

Yet, today, a DOJ that has almost never set limits on its reach, bowed down to Mexico and let a powerful alleged criminal go free.

Reggie Walton Seems Interested Revealing Some of Mueller’s Referrals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO ORDERED this 6th day of July, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barr’s Micro-Management of the Durham Investigation May Demolish the Premise of Flynn Motion to Dismiss

American Oversight FOIAed records of contacts between Bill Barr and John Durham, whom Barr has ordered to conduct an investigation to undermine the Russian investigation. While there’s no evidence that all of these meetings pertained to the investigation Barr ordered up, they span the period (but start earlier than) when Barr said he was communicating to Durham about the investigation.

People from Barr’s office met with Durham 18 times between March 25 and October 17, 2019. That doesn’t include the trip to Rome Durham and Barr took together last fall.

That is an astounding level of micro-management from an Attorney General.

That — plus records of a meeting on April 12, 2019 where Barr’s aide Seth DuCharme described for DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz what he and Durham were working on — may well demolish the premise of DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss the Flynn prosecution.

As I have noted, DOJ adopted a radically different view on both the legitimacy of the investigation into Flynn and the materiality of his lies in submissions filed under Bill Barr last fall and this January than what DOJ argued in the Motion to Dismiss. The only excuse provided — without any kind of declaration to substantiate the claim — was that DOJ had discovered “new” information that made it rethink its past position.

That claim was always sketchy, not least because Judge Emmet Sullivan had actually reviewed some of the most important documents released with the motion. Moreover, FBI already issued a public statement making it clear those documents were not new. In fact, the Bureau had already shared them with both Horowitz’s and Durham’s investigations.

With regard to certain documents in the Michael Flynn matter from the 2016-2017 time period that are now the subject of reporting by the press, the FBI previously produced those materials to the Inspector General and U.S. Attorney Durham,” the FBI said.

If Sullivan and his newly appointed amicus, John Gleeson, acquire information that proves, definitively, that this information was not new to the Flynn prosecution supervisors, up to and including Barr, it may mean DOJ is estopped from adopting its current position because, effectively, having had those documents already, DOJ already committed to the opposite position.

These records provide Gleeson a road map to discover precisely who in the Office of Attorney General was micro-managing Durham’s investigation, including his receipt of documents that Barr’s office now claims (almost certainly falsely) were new to them.

That is, this FOIA response provides the skeleton of the kind of proof that Gleeson can use to argue that DOJ is prohibited from adopting its current stance, because they have no excuse for flip-flopping on a position already adopted in this case.