Saturday, July 28, 2018
Can we talk about the law here? Title 52 U.S.C. §30121, subsection (a), makes it unlawful, among other things, for "(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make...(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election." Section 30121 also makes it unlawful for a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A)...of paragraph (1) from a foreign national." If something is unlawful, it is against the law.
Clearly, if Donald John Trump, Donald Trump Jr. or anyone else associated with the Trump campaign knowingly solicited, accepted, or received money or a thing of value from a Russian national, that person has violated this provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, as amended. And the same is true for Hillary Rodham Clinton and persons associated with her campaign.
But not every violation of law is a crime. To be guilty of criminally violating Section 30121 a person must do so knowingly and willfully. See 52 U.S.C. § 30109. In the context of the Federal Election Campaign Act, this means that an individual, to be guilty, must know that he is acting in violation of the law. In other words, here, as in certain other federal criminal statutes, ignorance of the law is an excuse.
In legally examining what we know about the infamous Trump Tower meeting of 2016, we should keep these realities in mind. I am speaking here of the meeting, and what led up to it, alone, and not what may or may not have later transpired. Based on what we currently know it seems extremely unlikely that any reasonable prosecutor could make a criminal case under the Federal Election Campaign Act against Donald Trump Jr. And that includes a case alleging any a conspiracy or attempt to willfully violate the statute. There just isn't enough.
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
For all of you Manafort junkies out there, here is Judge T.S. Ellis, III's July 24 2018 Order, resolving most of the outstanding prosecution and defense motions in limine in U.S. v. Manafort, due to be tried next week in Alexandria.
It is abundantly clear, based on these rulings and the charges in the EDVA Superseding Indictment, that this case will be presented to the jury by the government, as much as possible, as a relatively straightforward bank fraud, concocted by the defendant in order to hide the amount and source of improperly derived offshore income. Manafort and Rick Gates (now a cooperating witness) allegedly created phony loans from offshore nominee entities in order to conceal lobbying income derived from their work as unregistered agents on behalf of, among others, the Government of Ukraine and former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Later, when Yanukovych lost power and the money source dried up, Manafort and Gates allegedly inflated the value of Manafort's real estate holdings (and/or lied about the nature and use of said real estate) in order to obtain new loans and maintain a lavish lifestyle. The jury will hear and see evidence regarding Manafort's lavish lifestyle, his failure to register as a foreign agent, and his failure to disclose foreign bank accounts that he controlled. But the jury will not see or hear anything pertaining to the Trump campaign's purported collusion or interaction with Russia.
It is becoming fairly obvious to me that Mueller has no criminal collusion case to bring against the President or anyone in the President's entourage absent: 1) bombshell disclosures from Michael Cohen; 2) Manafort flipping after conviction; or 3) Manafort testifying through a post-conviction compelled immunity order issued by a federal court pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 6002 and 6003. The Manafort case was never about Manafort. It was always about Trump. The law unquestionably allows Mueller to operate in this manner. It is what it is.
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Today in Palmieri v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the dismissal of Matthew Palmieri's lawsuit challenging the revocation of his security clearance. It was a unanimous decision in a routine case. The lawsuit was ludicrous, claiming violations of practically every constitutional provision except the Third Amendment. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to challenge security clearance revocations under the Supreme Court's decisions in Department of the Navy v. Egan and Webster v. Doe. Nevertheless, the concurrence of Judge Gregory Katsas, a Trump appointee, is intriguing and timely, given President Trump's threats to revoke the security clearances of certain former intelligence chiefs. Judge Katsas seems to think it is an open question "whether Egan bars non-frivolous constitutional challenges to the denial or revocation of a security clearance." He did not believe that Palmieri's case was the proper vehicle to resolve the question, however, since there were abundant alternative grounds for upholding the district court's opinion. So, the resolution of this question will have to wait until another day, which could be quite soon if the President acts on his threats. Hat Tip to Paul Rosenzweig at Lawfare for noting the concurrence. See also Bradley Moss's outstanding Monday piece in the same publication, discussing the issue at length.
Monday, July 23, 2018
For all of you Manafort trial junkies, here is the Government Exhibit List, recently filed in U.S. v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., set to start soon in U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III's Alexandria courtroom.
Here also is Judge Ellis's Order Denying Paul Manafort's Motion for Change of Venue. Judge Ellis ruled last week that Manafort is not entitled to a presumption that any Alexandria federal trial jury would be partial to the government. If Manafort can establish actual prejudicial partiality through voir dire, a herculean task under current federal criminal law, Judge Ellis will revisit the issue.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
Not surprisingly, Politico's Josh Gerstein has authored a hit piece on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, with the catchy title "'Brett Was Involved': Inside Supreme Court nominee's work for Bill Clinton." In fact, the article tells very little about the breadth of Kavanaugh's work for the OIC, instead focusing on unsupported suggestions from partisan journalists (and Clinton sycophants) Jonathan Alter and Steve Brill that Kavanaugh (while working for Starr) may have violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which prohibits unauthorized disclosure of grand jury materials. That Gerstein would write such a piece of hack work is not surprising, given his history of shaping stories and quotes to fit a pre-conceived ideological spin.
A case in point is this May 2017 Gerstein hatchet job on Rod Rosenstein's three page memo--the memo used by the Trump Administration to justify the Jim Comey firing. (The May 2017 Gerstein piece was written before Rosenstein became the darling of the Morning Joe crowd by appointing Robert Mueller as Special Counsel.) Literally every person quoted in the May 2017 Gerstein article criticized Rosenstein's memo. No one defended it. Yet Gerstein had called me while he was working on the story and we spoke at length. I vigorously defended the reasoning and propriety of Rosenstein's memo, as well as Comey's firing. But you won't find any of those quotes in Gerstein's story. I'm confident that I was not the only source who defended Rosenstein's memo, the reasoning of which was vindicated by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz's subsequent Report. As I pointed out here, four days after Gerstein's piece on Rosenstein, "legions of current and former DOJ prosecutors and FBI Special Agents" were appalled at Comey's public statements during the 2016 election. But Gerstein couldn't seem to locate or quote any of them.
With respect to the Alter-Brill suggestion/insinuation that Kavanaugh leaked grand jury information (and the typical call for a "thorough investigation"), it is pure, unadulterated hogwash. First, although Starr's OIC (where I served as Deputy Independent Counsel) was regularly accused of leaking grand jury information, a Special Master's investigation ordered by U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, no fan of our office, cleared the OIC (and by implication all of our employees) of those charges. More importantly, to my knowledge, Kavanaugh himself was never in any way pegged as one of the supposed grand jury leakers. Kavanaugh did occasionally meet with members of the media, as he has always acknowledged, but there is nothing wrong with that per se. Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox regularly gave briefings on background to members of the press and both Cox and Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski employed a press officer, Jim Doyle, who did the same. It was part of his job. Nobody has ever credibly suggested that Cox, Jaworski, or Doyle acted improperly in giving background briefings on non-privileged matters to the press. In addition, Kavanaugh, when running the Vince Foster investigation, apparently met with certain media figures who claimed to have evidence and information to impart about Foster's death. Kavanaugh would have been remiss in his duties, and accused of a cover-up, had he refused to meet with such sources.
So what is the evidence offered by Brill and Alter that Kavanaugh leaked grand jury information? According to Brill, “If what he did was not improper, why didn’t he do it on the record? The point is they all knew it violated rule 6(e). Brett was involved.” Really and truly, this is what Brill told Politico--this is his proof. Did Brill talk to Politico from a padded room? Keep in mind that Rule 6(e) violations are a crime. Where is your evidence, Mr. Brill? Put up or shut up.
What is Mr. Alter's proof? “Twenty years ago, I had indications that Kavanaugh was in contact with reporters and because it involves potential violation of federal law, those contacts need to be thoroughly explored in the confirmation process." Is an "indication" anything like a penumbra? Alter had "indications" 20 years ago that Kavanaugh had contact with reporters. Why does contact with reporters involve a potential violation of federal law? After all, it is a potential violation of federal law every time I file a tax return or fill out a government form. What is your proof, Mr. Alter? What precise "indication" did you have that anything Kavanaugh may have said or done constituted a violation of federal law or was improper in any way? Put up or shut up.
There are other problems with Gerstein's hit piece. For example, he writes that "Starr infamously took an expansive view of permissible contact with the media, allowing discussions about issues related to the ongoing investigation — disclosures that other prosecutors view as improper or ill-advised." How about some details Mr. Gerstein? What exactly are you talking about? Starr's position that prosecutors were allowed to publicly comment on the investigation in order to rebut false accusations by investigatory targets was part of the U.S. Attorney's manual at the time and had been endorsed in the past by then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder. Starr's view of what constitutes 6(e) material was later confirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a 1999 opinion (In Re Sealed Case).
Of course, it is perfectly proper to question Judge Kavanaugh on this topic, and his detailed response to the Senate Judiciary Committee's questionnaire already touches upon his contacts over the years with members of the press. The Senate is free to have at it. But these particular accusations are a joke, and Gerstein's attempt to turn them into a news story is absurd. Politico should be embarrassed.
Friday, July 13, 2018
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Office has clearly been working to get to the bottom of the alleged Russian interference with U.S. elections. Today a D.C. federal grand jury handed down an Indictment against "12 Russian nationals for their alleged roles in computer hacking conspiracies aimed at interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections." The special counsel's website notes that "the indictment charges 11 of the defendants with conspiracy to commit computer crimes, eight counts of aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to launder money. Two defendants are charged with a separate conspiracy to commit computer crimes." The Indictment is here.
There are some interesting lines in the Indictment including: "The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also shared stolen documents with certain individuals." It states,
"On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate's opponent."
The indictment speaks about how "[t]he conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also communicated with U.S. persons about the release of stolen documents." It notes how the conspirators "wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump ..."
The Indictment states that "[i]n order to expand their interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Conspirators transferred many of the documents they stole from the DNC and the chairman of the Clinton Campaign to Organization 1."
One thing is clear in reading this indictment - Mueller is running a legitimate and important investigation and it needs to continue.