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The Significance of Tom Barrack’s Obstruction and False Statements Charges

I want to expand on something I said in this post about Tom Barrack’s charges: the obstruction and false statements charges against Trump’s big fundraiser make this case much more solid than many in the press (usually the same people claiming it’s a FARA case) are suggesting.

 In a June 20, 2019 interview with the FBI, the indictment alleges that Barrack lied about whether:

  1. Al Malik asked Barrack to do things for UAE
  2. Barrack downloaded an encrypted app to use to communicate with MbZ and other Emirati officials
  3. Barrack set up a meeting between MbZ and Trump and, generally, whether he had a role in facilitating communications between them
  4. He had a role in prepping MbZ for a September 2017 meeting with Trump

Curiously, the detention memo mentions two more lies that aren’t included in the indictment:

(1) writing a draft of a speech to be delivered by the Candidate in May 2016; (2) reviewing a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to senior UAE officials on how to increase the UAE’s influence in the United States with his assistance;

In any case, this structure makes it easy to hold Barrack accountable at least via his lies to the FBI, and that he allegedly lied is powerful evidence that the full scope of the relationship was meant to be secret.

The headline charges are the foreign agent and conspiracy charges. But in addition to those charges, Barrack is also charged with obstruction and false statements. Most likely, if he were found guilty only on those charges, he’d face less time than from the foreign agent charge, but he’d still face prison.

Here’s what we know of the timeline: According to the Rashid Al Malik complaint, he was interviewed by the FBI on April 5, 2018. If the Intercept’s report that Mueller’s team conducted this interview is correct, this is likely his almost entirely redacted 302 (for an investigation that was ongoing in September 2020). Three days earlier, someone represented (as Barrack was) by Steptoe and Johnson had a pre-grand jury interview led by Zainab Ahmad that Andrew Weissmann joined while in progress. On April 8, three days after his own interview, Al Malik left the country and has been gone ever since.

In early 2019, Mueller’s team started handing off referrals, which may be why, in February 2019, the FBI sent subpoenas to Colony Capital.

In or about February 2019, Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) special agents served federal grand jury subpoenas on several individuals employed by or associated with Company A, including individuals that reported directly to the defendant THOMAS JOSEPH BARACK, in connection with the criminal investigation of the activities of the defendants RASHID SULTAN AL MALIK ALSHAHHI, BARRACK, and MATTHEW GRIMES.

Following the service of these federal grand jury subpoenas, the defendant THOMAS JOSEPH BARRACK volunteered to speak with FBI special agents. On or about June 20, 2019, FBI special agents interviewed BARRACK, in the presence of counsel, regarding the activities of the defendant RASHID SULTAN AL MALIK ALSHAHHI, BARRACK, and the defendant MATTHEW GRIMES. At the outset of the interview, United States government officials advised BARRACK, and confirmed that he understood, that lying to federal agents is a federal crime. Thereafter, during the course of the interview, BARRACK knowingly made numerous materially false statements relating to the activities of ALSHAHHI, BARRACK, and GRIMES.

At the time, of course, Barrack’s close ally was still President and Bill Barr was newly installed at the helm of DOJ, working hard to cover up the true results of the Mueller investigation and even beginning to take steps to protect Rudy Giuliani from his own foreign agent charges. Why wouldn’t Barrack lie?

Interestingly, the obstruction charge against Barrack suggests others were part of this.

On or about June 20, 2019, within the Eastern District of New York and elsewhere, the defendant THOMAS JOSEPH BARRACK, together with others, did knowingly, intentionally and corruptly obstruct, influence and impede, and attempt to obstruction, influence and impede, an official proceeding, to wit: a Federal Grand Jury.

In any case, Barrack is well-resourced and he’ll no doubt offer some solid defenses here, possibly including that he had earlier told the truth about some of this stuff, and so, any inaccuracies in his 2019 interview weren’t material.

But assuming the FBI didn’t charge a billionaire with false statements without having him dead to rights on the charges, by June 2019, the FBI foreclosed several of the defenses that Barrack might offer going forward: that he was doing all this as a legal commercial transaction (which is exempt from the foreign agent charges) or that he wasn’t really working for UAE, he just thought the alliance really served US interests and indulged the Emiratis by referring to MbZ asboss.” By denying very basic things that the FBI appears to have records for, then, Barrack made it a lot harder to argue — in 2021 — that’s there’s an innocent explanation for all this.

Five days after Barrack’s interview, the FBI obtained an arrest warrant for Al Malik, one that made Al Malik look like the bad guy here, taking advantage of poor Tom Barrack and poor Paulie Manafort.

But then DOJ kept investigating Barrack’s role in all this. According to CNN, before this time last year, EDNY prosecutors believed they had enough to add Barrack to the charges, but the appointed US Attorney “expressed misgivings.”

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn investigating Tom Barrack, a prominent ally to former President Donald Trump, for allegedly violating foreign lobbying laws had enough evidence to bring charges last year, but held off doing so until the arrival of the new presidential administration, according to people briefed on the matter.

Prosecutors wanted to move forward on the case and believed they could obtain an indictment, one source familiar with the matter said. The source said the investigation was mostly done well before the time period when prosecutors are discouraged from advancing politically sensitive matters ahead of an election.

But two sources tell CNN the US attorney in Brooklyn at the time, Richard Donoghue, expressed misgivings about the case. It’s unclear if he delayed the case outright or if prosecutors chose not to move forward at the time knowing the US attorney would not support it.

Then-Attorney General William Barr was also known inside the department to have reservations, in general, about foreign lobbying cases, which the Justice Department has struggled to prosecute in the past.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn US attorney’s office declined to comment. [my emphasis]

This is a hugely important report, but it also lets the Barr DOJ off easy. That’s true, first of all, because this is not a foreign lobbying case (this is one of the many reasons I harp on the import of getting the charge right here). DOJ hasn’t struggled to prosecute 951 cases, though at the time prosecutors deferred these charges, Barr was busy letting Mike Flynn blow up the Bijan Kian case, which included both FARA and 951 in the conspiracy charge, along with 951 separately, but which charged only Ekim Alptekin with false statements. Had Mike Flynn held to the terms of his plea agreement, that case likely would have been a far easier guilty verdict.

What happened last year, though, is that after EDNY prosecutors had continued to investigate for a year after discovering that Barrack was in no way the innocent victim of accused foreign agent Rashid Al Malik and were prepared to try to hold Barrack, as well, accountable for a pretty dramatic undisclosed role in setting a pro-UAE foreign policy, Richard Donoghue, faced with evidence that one of Trump’s closest advisors wasn’t telling the truth about why he was doing the things he was doing (or even, that he was doing them), “had misgivings.”

Or maybe he had misgivings about how Trump and Barr would respond if he approved this.

In fact, all this must have happened more than a year ago, because on July 10, 2020, Barr announced he was swapping Donoghue for Seth DuCharme, his DOJ fixer. This CNN report doesn’t explain why this didn’t get charged under DuCharme, but maybe that’s the point.

So Donoghue — or maybe DuCharme — left all the repercussions to US foreign policy of Barrack’s undisclosed actions earlier in the Trump Administration remain in place.

Frankly, it’s not surprising that Donoghue and DuCharme — who were, at the time, also in charge of limiting any damage to Rudy for his undisclosed influence-peddling — didn’t approve this prosecution. That’s their job.

What may be the most interesting detail is that whereas Lisa Monaco approved the raid on Rudy on her first day in office, this prosecution has taken three more months to charge.

This case will sink or swim on the strength of the false statements charges, because if Barrack’s alleged lies in June 2019 were clearcut, when he presumably believed he would be protected by Barr and Trump, then it makes several likely defenses a lot harder to pull off now. It’s possible there’s some complicating factor (again, I think it possible that he told the truth about some of these questions when interviewed by Mueller in December 2017). But if not, then the alleged lies become the building blocks to proving the Foreign Agent charges.

In any case, the alleged false statements charges make the questions about why Barr’s DOJ thought it was okay to keep these secrets all the more important.

The [Thus Far] Missing Seth DuCharme Emails Pertaining to Rudy Giuliani’s Russian Disinformation

As I’ve been harping of late, Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen went to great lengths to protect Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to obtain and disseminate what the Intelligence Community already knew was Russian-backed disinformation laundered through Andrii Derkach. That effort included the following:

  • For whatever reason, not warning Rudy that the Intelligence Community knew Russia was targeting him for an information operation before he traveled to his December 2019 meeting with Derkach
  • Prohibiting SDNY from expanding its existing investigation into Rudy’s foreign influence peddling to include his efforts with Derkach by making EDNY a gate-keeper for any such decisions
  • Asking Pittsburgh USA Attorney Scott Brady to accept the information that the IC already knew was Russian disinformation from Rudy
  • Doing nothing while Rudy continued to share information the IC already knew was Russian disinformation during an election
  • After belatedly opening an investigation into the Derkach effort that the IC had known was Russian disinformation for a year, opening it at EDNY and scoping it to ensure that Rudy’s own actions would not be a subject of the investigation

As a result of this remarkable effort, led by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, to protect Russian disinformation, DOJ willingly ingested a bunch of Russian disinformation and used it to conduct an investigation into the son of the President’s opponent.

Last year, when it was disclosed that Barr had directed Brady to willingly accept this Russian disinformation, American Oversight FOIAed and then sued for the paper trail of the effort, submitted as four separate FOIAs:

  1. [To OIP and USAPAW] “Brady Order and Written Approval” — which specifically asked for “two readily-identifiable, specific documents” — described as:
    • The written approval of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General authorizing U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania (USAPAW) to create and/or administer a process for receiving purported investigatory information from Rudy Giuliani concerning matters that relate to former Vice President Biden
    • A copy of the Attorney General’s order directing USAPAW to conduct an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation
  2. [To OIP and USAPAW] “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications,” described as:
    • All directives or guidance provided to USAPAW regarding an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani, including information that may concern former Vice President Biden
    • All records reflecting communications between (1) the Office of the Attorney General or the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and (2) USAPAW regarding an evaluation, review, probe, assessment, preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani
    • All records reflecting communications within the OAG or the ODAG regarding any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani, including information which may concern former Vice President Biden
  3. [To USAPAW] “Brady-Giuliani Communications,”described as all records reflecting communications between (1) USAPAW in the course of any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani and (2) Rudy Giuliani, or any of Mr. Giuliani’s personal assistants or others communicating on his behalf, including but not limited to Jo Ann Zafonte, Christianne Allen, or Beau Wagner
  4.  [To USAPAW] “Brady-White House Communications,” described as any communications between (1) USAPAW in the course of any evaluation, review, probe, assessment, “intake process,” preliminary investigation, or other investigation of any information received from Rudy Giuliani and (2) anyone at the White House Office

Before American Oversight filed the lawsuit, the Trump Admin did two things that will have an effect on what we’re seeing. First, DOJ combined requests one and two above; as we’ll see, that had the effect of hiding that Barr didn’t put anything in writing. In addition, USAPAW told American Oversight that they were going to refer the request for such an order to Main Justice for referral.

While the lawsuit was filed under the Trump Administration, the substantive response to it started in February. The FOIA is a way to understand more about this effort — both how willing Barr’s DOJ was to put this scheme in writing, as well as the volume of paper trail that it generated.

The first status report, submitted on February 22, revealed the following based on an initial search:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ: 8,851 items
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW: 1,400 pages
  3. “Brady-White House Communications:” none

The second status report, submitted on April 1, reported that of the initial search, the following was deemed potentially responsive:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ: 30 pages referred
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW, of 272 pages reviewed so far:
    • 3 pages released in full
    • 189 pages referred to other agencies for consultation
    • 83 duplicates or non-responsive

Here is the USAPAW production.

The third status report, submitted on May 3, reported the following:

  1. “Brady Order and Written Approval” and “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” (aggregated) at Main DOJ:
    • 18 pages released in partly redacted form
    • 4 pages withheld entirely under b5 deliberative exemption
    • 6 pages awaiting a response from some other component
  2. “Giuliani Directives, Guidance, & Communications” and “Brady-Giuliani Communications” at USAPAW, of 263 pages reviewed this month:
    • 5 pages released, 3 of which include b6, b7A and b7C redactions
    • 14 pages referred to another component
    • 244 pages non-responsive or duplicates

Here is the USAPAW production and here is the Main DOJ production.

Here’s what has currently been provided to American Oversight (go here for live links).

Note, this may be clarified in upcoming dumps, but for now, there appears to be something very irregular with the OIP response. At first, DOJ said there were up to 8,851 items that were responsive to American Oversight’s request. But with the next status report, DOJ said there were just 30 pages. The most recent release claimed to account for 28 of those 30 pages.

In the second joint status report, OIP stated that it had completed its search and its initial responsiveness and deduplication review of potentially responsive documents and identified approximately 30 pages of material likely responsive to Plaintiff’s request. See ECF No.7, ¶ 2. OIP further stated that it had sent these records out for consultation pursuant to the Department’s regulations, 28 C.F.R. § 16.4(d), and expected to be able to provide its first response to Plaintiff on or around April 29, 2021. Id. On April 29, 2021, OIP made its first interim response. It released 18 pages in part with portions redacted pursuant to Exemptions 5 and/or 6 and withheld four pages in full pursuant to Exemption 5. OIP is awaiting responses from other components on the remaining six pages.

The math looks like this:

18 pages released

4 pages withheld under b5 exemption*

6 pages referred to another component

Total: 28 pages

Remaining: 2 pages

That’s a problem because there are at least two pages of emails that were part of the USAPAW response that must have had a counterpart at DOJ, as well as one missing from both (though USAPAW has 1000 pages to release):

  • A January 3, 2020 email from Seth DuCharme to Scott Brady asking, “Scott do you have time for a quick call today in re a possible discreet assignment from OAG and ODAG?” (Brady’s response, which includes DuCharme’s original, is included in both, but the copy released by OIP was printed out from Brady’s account, not DuCharme’s).
  • A February 11, 2020 email from Brady to DuCharme, asking “Seth, do you have a few minutes to catch up today?” The email should exist in both accounts, and should be included in both OIP and USAPAW’s response.
  • A March 5, 2020 email from Brady to DuCharme, asking “Seth: do you have 5 minutes to talk today?”

Brady resigned effective February 26 and DuCharme resigned effective March 19. At the time he resigned, DuCharme was supervising an investigation into this Derkach stuff, one that excluded Rudy as a subject.

I assume this will become more clear with further releases (indeed, American Oversight may have the next installment already). Perhaps there’s a sound explanation. But thus far, it looks like only the Brady side of exchanges between him and DuCharme have been provided in response.

* The response letter to Jerry Nadler was two pages long, and the draft was sent twice (or there were two drafts), so those probably account for the 4 pages withheld on b5 exemptions.

Rudy Giuliani’s Alleged “Cooperation” Is a Threat to Lay out How Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen Protected Russian Disinformation

Now that I’ve waded through Rudy Giulilani’s response to learning that SDNY had conducted a covert search on him in November 2019 before it conducted an overt search in April 2021, I’m certain Rudy engaged in just the kind of bad lawyering SDNY hoped he would — more on that in a week or so.

But a big part of his letter was not an attempt to engage in good lawyering, but instead to send messages to a variety of people. He provided co-conspirators a map they can use to understand which of their communications are in SDNY’s hands, and which are not. But he also laid out what he called his “cooperation,” which aside from minimal claims (which SDNY disputed) to have cooperated with SDNY against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, really amounts to the corrupt stuff he believed he was protected for because he did it on behalf of Donald Trump. Indeed, he claims that if Judge Paul Oetken only knew he had permission to do all this stuff, then he wouldn’t have approved the warrants against him.

It is unknown if the Government informed the Court of Giuliani’s cooperation with the State Department or his offers to cooperate with the SDNY or his actual cooperation with the Western District of Pennsylvania.

His first claim of “cooperation” revisits claims he made in the wake of the whistleblower complaint in 2019, claiming that he was working closely with State when he was lobbying to fire Marie Yovanovitch.

It was premature and unwarranted for the Government to seize Giuliani’s ESI because Giuliani had already cooperated with the US State Department (“State”) through Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, in March 2019 concerning Ukraine. He also cooperated again in July and August of 2019 at the request of the State Department in assisting them with regard to Ukraine.

This is almost certainly the meat of the SDNY investigation, and whatever else Rudy has done by invoking it, he has put Mike Pompeo on the hotseat.

It may not be a coincidence that in the wake of this letter, Gordon Sondland sued Mike Pompeo for covering up what really happened in State in 2019 and provided several excuses — most importantly, that Pompeo refused to let him access his own backup materials before testifying — for why his two existing sessions of sworn testimony might conflict with what SDNY seized from Rudy.

In his other claim of cooperation, Rudy detailed how he shared disinformation from Russian agent Andrii Derkach with DOJ, which he described as “cooperation” with Main Justice in the guise of its delegate, Pittsburgh US Attorney Scott Brady.

Before I repeat Rudy’s description of how he shared disinformation from Andrii Derkach with a hand-picked and very pro-Trump US Attorney, consider several details: first, immediately in the wake of the raid on Rudy in April, there were leaked explanations for how Rudy managed to meet with a known Russian agent — right in the middle of impeachment!! — even though both National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and FBI’s Counterintelligence folks knew that Russia was feeding Derkach disinformation to feed to Rudy.

The WaPo originally reported that the FBI had warned Rudy, but had to retract that. Rudy never got warned.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, published Thursday, incorrectly reported that One America News was warned by the FBI that it was the target of a Russian influence operation. That version also said the FBI had provided a similar warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani, which he has since disputed. This version has been corrected to remove assertions that OAN and Giuliani received the warnings.

The FBI became aware in late 2019 that Rudolph W. Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operation aimed at circulating falsehoods intended to damage President Biden politically ahead of last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter.

Officials planned to warn Giuliani as part of an extensive effort by the bureau to alert members of Congress and at least one conservative media outlet, One America News, that they faced a risk of being used to further Russia’s attempt to influence the election’s outcome, said several current and former U.S. officials. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains highly sensitive.

The FBI became aware of the Russian information operation at a time when Giuliani was deeply involved with former president Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign and related activities in Ukraine to surface unflattering or incriminating information about the Biden family.

[snip]

In late 2019, before Giuliani’s trip to Kyiv, U.S. intelligence agencies warned the Trump White House that Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operation, as The Post reported last year. Officials became concerned after obtaining evidence, including communications intercepts, that showed Giuliani was interacting with people tied to Russian intelligence. The warnings led then-national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien to caution Trump that any information Giuliani brought back from Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia.

Then, after matching the WaPo’s original story and similarly having to retract it, NBC offered an explanation why Rudy wasn’t given that briefing: because it would “complicate” what NBC called “the criminal investigation” into Rudy.

The FBI prepared a so-called “defensive” briefing for Rudy Giuliani in 2019 in which agents were poised to warn him he was being targeted by a Russian intelligence influence operation as he sought to gather opposition research on the Biden family, according to a source familiar with the matter.

But that briefing was not given, according to a second source familiar with the matter, because of concerns that the briefing could complicate the criminal investigation into the former New York City mayor.

Yet, at the time Rudy would have gotten this warning, SDNY had already shown probable cause Rudy was an agent of one or another pro-corruption Ukrainians, almost certainly Yuri Lutsenko in his efforts to fire Marie Yovanovitch. Without a Derkach angle to the SDNY investigation — an angle Jeffrey Rosen went to great lengths to prevent them from pursuing — it’s not clear how it would have complicated that investigation.

Rudy didn’t get his warning and instead of warning him, Trump said that was Rudy being Rudy. So Rudy first met with Lutsenko, the subject of the first investigation, and headed from that meeting directly to meet with Derkach.

A month later, Rosen issued a memo prohibiting any prosecutors from expanding the scope of their already opened investigations, which would have had the effect of preventing SDNY from investigating Rudy’s ongoing influence peddling for known Russian agent Andrii Derkach, about whom FBI decided not to warn Rudy even though everyone briefed on it knew it was a Russian intelligence operation.

But that wasn’t the only thing that Billy Barr and Rosen’s efforts to divvy up Ukrainian investigations did. After Rosen wrote that memo (ensuring no one could start an investigation into Rudy’s dalliances with Derkach), but still a week before Trump was acquitted for coercing dirt from Ukraine to use against Joe Biden, per Rudy’s timeline, Barr assigned Pittsburgh US Attorney Scott Brady to oversee intake of all Ukrainian dirt and, within a day, Rudy was in the business of sharing Derkach’s dirt directly with Pittsburgh’s US Attorney’s office.

In his letter, Rudy clearly identifies four of the nine people who rushed to accept Rudy’s dirt, which the government had identified as Russia disinformation before he went to collect it in December.

[I]n January 2020, counsel for Giuliani contacted high officials in the Justice Department, to inform them that Giuliani wanted to provide evidence for their consideration about the Ukraine. Within a day, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott W. Brady, contacted Giuliani’s counsel and offered to hold a meeting in Pittsburgh with both the United States Attorney’s office personnel and the FBI. Mayor Giuliani immediately accepted, and a meeting was scheduled for January 29, 2020.

On January 29, 2020, Mayor Giuliani and his counsel, flew to Pittsburgh at their own cost, where they were met by agents of the FBI and transported to FBI headquarters in Pittsburgh. Present at that meeting were the United States Attorney, the First Assistant United States Attorney, the Chief of the Criminal Division, and two additional Assistant United States Attorneys (“AUSA’s”) from the Western District of Pennsylvania. The FBI was represented by the Special Agent in Charge (“SAIC”) of the Pittsburgh FBI, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (“ASAIC”), and three other special agents of the FBI.

Prior to the meeting, Giuliani’s counsel had provided the Pittsburgh United States Attorney’s office with documents and an extensive outline of the subject matter to be discussed, so that the Government could be fully informed and prepared to ask probing questions. Giuliani began the meeting by making a presentation with handouts. During his presentation, and at the end of it, the Mayor and his counsel answered every question they were asked, to the apparent satisfaction of all of the Government officials in the room. In addition to the presentation, Giuliani provided the Government with the names and addresses of individual witnesses, both in the United States and in Ukraine, that could corroborate and amplify the information that the Mayor was providing. Subsequent to that meeting, and covering a period of months, counsel for Giuliani received a number of inquiries, discussions and requests from the First Assistant United States Attorney. All requests were granted and all inquiries were answered. [my emphasis]

And, as Rudy tells it, that First AUSA kept coming back for more, a claim (like his other claims about the personnel involved) that matches a story published in the NYT after those involved knew that Trump had lost. That story also described that Brady kept pushing for inappropriate investigative steps until, ultimately, Seth DuCharme had to get involved.

Officials said that Mr. Brady almost immediately started pushing to take aggressive steps. He had a list of people he wanted F.B.I. agents to question. It was not clear whether they were the same witnesses that Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Costello had submitted, but a former law enforcement official said that Mr. Brady had wanted the F.B.I. to question people mentioned in Mr. Giuliani’s materials.

The steps were outside “normal investigative procedures,” one former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the events said, particularly in an election year; Justice Department policy typically forbids investigators from making aggressive moves before elections that could affect the outcome of the vote if they become public.
The Pittsburgh F.B.I. office refused to comply without the approval of David L. Bowdich, the F.B.I.’s deputy director, the former official said.

Mr. Brady’s demands soon prompted a tense confrontation with F.B.I. officials at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington. The meeting was mediated by Seth D. DuCharme, now the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and at the time a trusted aide and ally of Mr. Barr’s at the Justice Department in Washington.

Then, after Barr failed to replace Geoffrey Berman with a hand-picked flunky when he fired him on June 20 of last year, Barr instead installed DuCharme in Brooklyn on July 10, thereby making DuCharme (who had already been personally involved in Pittsburgh) the gatekeeper on any investigations pertaining to Ukraine. And sometime months after that — as Rudy continued to share known Russian disinformation during the election — DuCharme approved not an expansion of the investigation in SDNY that Barr tried to shut down by firing Berman, which would have been the logical thing to do if you were concerned about Russians interfering in our elections, but instead a parallel investigation in EDNY that, per the more recent NYT report, by design would not treat Rudy as a subject. Meanwhile, Rosen created repeated roadblocks — higher and higher levels of approvals for a search of Rudy — in an attempt to prevent SDNY from advancing their investigation into Rudy any further.

There are some involved in this story, like the FBI Agents who got promoted into the jobs formerly held by Andrew McCabe and Bill Priestap and Peter Strzok, who probably let all this happen because they knew the best way to advance their careers was to not make the mistake that their predecessors had made by trying to keep the country safe from Russian interference during an election. Others may rationalize what they did as a means to placate the President, perhaps imagining that it wouldn’t do that much damage to the country — that was the excuse cited by the NYT article on the Pittsburgh investigation. But those people, in recognizing Trump would lash out if they tried to investigate Russian interference in the 2020 election, would have therefore understood that Trump wanted Russian spies to interfere in the election and would be furious if they prevented it. They would have had to have understood that the way to keep Trump happy was to let Russia have its way. They would have been operating on the recognition that all the claims about what Trump did in 2016 were true, at least as far as 2020.

Plus, no one who pushed as hard as Scott Brady did can claim to be trying to placate the President.

Finally, worst of all, there are those who took a vow to “protect and defend against enemies foreign and domestic” who made affirmative attempts to protect not just the disinformation that Rudy was feeding to DOJ and FBI, but also protect Rudy for serving as the willful handmaiden of someone they knew was a Russian spy.

The Russian scandal of 2020 is, in many ways, even more scandalous than the Russian scandal of 2016. At least Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were in a position to claim plausible deniability. Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen are not.

Update: This email obtained via American Oversight shows that the decision to use Scott Brady to protect the Russian disinformation intake started earlier, by January 3.

Jeffrey Rosen Separated the Investigation that Could Turn Rudy Into a Russian Agent from the Rudy Investigation

When Scott Stedman first reported that the FBI investigation into matters relating to Rudy Giuliani had expanded to include sanctioned Russian agent Andreii Derkach, he suggested it was tied to the SDNY seizure, just days earlier, of Rudy’s phones.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani has expanded to include Russia’s spy activities in the 2020 U.S. election, multiple sources tell Forensic News.

The criminal investigation, which led to a dramatic raid of Giuliani’s home and office this week, has for months included the activities of those who worked for or with Russian intelligence agent Andriy Derkach.

Derkach is a Ukrainian Member of Parliament who has been an “active Russian agent for over a decade,” according to the U.S. government.

Kenneth McCallion, an attorney who has represented multiple Ukrainian clients, said that prosecutors have been looking into the actions of Derkach in the 2020 election cycle as part of the Giuliani probe.

“I have been briefed that prosecutors are scrutinizing Derkach as part of the Giuliani probe,” McCallion told Forensic News. The inclusion of Derkach in the FBI’s probe suggests that the potential charges facing Giuliani might extend beyond just Foreign Agent Registration Act violations.

But the NYT last night reported (without crediting Stedman for the earlier report) that, instead, the Derkach part of the investigation is in EDNY, not SDNY, and in that investigation, Rudy is not a subject.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have been investigating whether several Ukrainian officials helped orchestrate a wide-ranging plan to meddle in the 2020 presidential campaign, including using Rudolph W. Giuliani to spread their misleading claims about President Biden and tilt the election in Donald J. Trump’s favor, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

[snip]

The investigation is unfolding separately from a long-running federal inquiry in Manhattan that is aimed at Mr. Giuliani. While the two investigations have a similar cast of characters and overlap in some ways, Mr. Giuliani is not a subject of the Brooklyn investigation, the people said.

Instead, the Brooklyn prosecutors, along with the F.B.I., are focused on current and former Ukrainian officials suspected of trying to influence the election by spreading unsubstantiated claims of corruption about Mr. Biden through a number of channels, including Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer at the time. It is unclear whether the Brooklyn prosecutors will ultimately charge any of the Ukrainians.

At one point in the investigation, the authorities examined a trip Mr. Giuliani took to Europe in December 2019, when he met with several Ukrainians, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing inquiry.

At least one of the current and former officials Mr. Giuliani met, a Ukrainian member of parliament named Andriy Derkach, is now a focus of the Brooklyn investigation, the people said. [my emphasis]

In a remarkably stupid comment, the NYT suggests that two investigations started under Trump pose a political problem for Merrick Garland (misstating, at the same time, what Garland promised).

Together, the Manhattan and Brooklyn investigations present a challenge for the Biden Justice Department, which has pledged to remain above the political fray even as it inherited a number of sensitive investigations linked to Ukraine and Russia.

The comment is especially stupid given the public record that suggests the most likely explanation for the two separate investigations is that Jeffrey Rosen took steps after Rudy became the focus of investigative attention in SDNY, to ensure that EDNY could stave off the most dangerous parts of the investigation.

I have pointed out repeatedly that had the Zelenskyy call whistleblower tip been treated like all other national security related tips in the post-9/11 world, investigators would have discovered that it pertained to an already open investigation in SDNY into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, an investigation that both Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen knew about. It appears that didn’t happen at first because the complaint was viewed exclusively as the transcript of President Trump’s call, and not the backup that tied the call to the influence peddling involving Rudy, Parnas, and Fruman that had been going on for some time.

But, probably with the public release of the whistleblower complaint, SDNY began to investigate how Rudy picked up the effort that Parnas and Fruman had already started in 2018, to get Marie Yovanovitch fired.

On November 4, 2019, SDNY executed searches — searches that Main Justice would have had to be informed about — on Rudy and Victoria Toensing’s cloud accounts. In subsequent months, SDNY would execute searches on Yuri Lutsenko and several other Ukrainians, but not Andrii Derkach, not even after Rudy flew to Ukraine to meet with Derkach personally on December 5, 2019.

In the wake of those searches, on January 17, 2020, Jeffrey Rosen issued a memo putting his trusted deputy, Richard Donoghue, in charge of all Ukraine-related investigations.

As has been publicly reported, there currently are several distinct open investigations being handled by different U.S. Attorney’s Offices and/or Department components that in some way potentially relate to Ukraine. In addition, new information potentially relating to Ukraine may be brought to the attention of the Department going forward. The Department has assigned Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), who currently is handling certain Ukraine-related matters, to coordinate existing matters and to assess, investigate, and address any other matters relating to Ukraine, including the opening of any new investigations or the expansion of existing ones.

[snip]

Any and all new matters relating to Ukraine shall be directed exclusively to EDNY for investigation and appropriate handling.

[snip]

Any widening or expansion of existing matters shall require prior consultation with and approval by my office and EDNY.

Now that we know about the Rudy search in November 2019, the effect of this memo is clear: it limited the SDNY investigation to the scope of the investigation as it existed at that time, into the Lutsenko attempt to fire Yovanovitch (which was included in the original Parnas indictment), but not Rudy’s meeting with a Russian agent to help Trump win re-election.

Instead, EDNY presided over all the Ukraine goings-on during the election, during which time they could have done something about ongoing tampering. Indeed, after Geoffrey Berman succeeded in ensuring that Audrey Strauss would replace him after Barr fired him to try to shut down ongoing investigations (including, undoubtedly, the one into Rudy and Barr’s friend Victoria Toensing), Barr and Rosen replaced Donoghue with another trusted flunky, Seth DuCharme. Under DuCharme, then, EDNY sat and watched while Derkach interfered in the election and did nothing until — per yesterday’s NYT story — “the final months of the Trump administration.” According to the public timeline, it appears that they just let a known Russian agent play around in our democracy.

There is plenty of risk for Rudy in the existing SDNY investigation. But what Rudy did in response to Lutsenko’s entreaties amounts to lobbying, and so is probably most likely be charged as a FARA case (though Foreign Agent charges are on the table).

With Derkach, however, Rudy was affirmatively attempting to launder Russian-backed disinformation to affect the election. There’s no way that can be charged as lobbying. Plus, the government understood Derkach to be a Russian agent when Rudy attended that meeting (though Rudy claims he was not warned in advance). If Derkach were part of the SDNY investigation, in which Rudy is a subject, then treating Rudy as the Russian agent he has served as in recent years would be on the table.

But in EDNY, per the NYT report, Rudy’s conduct is not at issue.

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.