Monday, December 4, 2023
On Friday December 1, 2023, in Blassingame v. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that, at this stage of the proceedings, former President Donald Trump is not entitled to dismiss the consolidated civil case against him (brought by Capitol Police officers and others who were present at the Capitol on January 6, 2021) based on the doctrine of Presidential Immunity. Importantly, and overlooked in most of the press reporting on the ruling, the Court left open the possibility that Trump could prevail on a later motion for summary judgement. But at this stage of the proceedings, prior to the development of a factual record, the Court had to accept the plaintiffs' allegations as true. Since a President's purely private acts, even while serving as President, are not protected by the doctrine of Presidential Immunity, the record was not sufficiently developed to grant the former President's motion to dismiss.
Here is the opinion in Blassingame v. Trump.
Thursday, November 30, 2023
In a case of first impression in the Second Circuit regarding 18 U.S.C. Section 215, a panel has affirmed the conviction of Stephen Calk. Calk facilitated The Federal Savings Bank's ("TFSB") approval of significant loans to Paul Manafort in exchange for Manafort's assistance in securing positions for Calk in the Trump Campaign and, later, the Trump Administration. Calk was TFSB's CEO. The Trump Administration position did not pan out, despite Calk's submission of a a professional biography and document entitled “Stephen M. Calk Perspective Rolls in the Trump Administration." The Court held that Calk's assistance was a "thing of value" within the meaning of the statute and that Calk's conduct in facilitating the loans was "corrupt" under the statute.
Here is the opinion.
Monday, November 20, 2023
On Friday, D.C. United States District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, unsurprisingly, denied former President Donald Trump's Motion to Strike Inflammatory Allegations from the Indictment in U.S. v. Trump. At issue were the portions of the Indictment covering the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by some of Trump's supporters, which, according to the defense, constitute irrelevant and prejudicial surplusage. Motions to strike surplusage are disfavored under U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit case law and need not be granted by the trial court unless a defendant can establish that the challenged language is both irrelevant to the charges and prejudicial. Judge Chutkan did not reach the question of relevance, finding that Trump had failed to show that the alleged surplusage would prejudice the jury, particularly in light of her practice, which she intends to follow in this case, of not sending indictments back to the jury room during deliberations. Chutkan also promised to weed out prejudice in the jury panel, caused by the government or Trump, during the voir dire process. Here is the opinion. U.S. v. Donald Trump - Order Denying Defendant's Motion to Strike Inflammatory Allegations from the Indictment
Saturday, November 18, 2023
The parties' briefs are all in and the case is set for oral argument on Monday, November 20, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Gathered together here are: Former President Trump's Opening Brief re Appeal of Judge Chutkan's Gag Order; the Government's Answering Brief; Trump's Reply Brief; and the Gag Order itself.
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Today Hunter Biden's lawyers filed a Motion for Pretrial Issuance of Subpoenas Duces Tecum, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(c)(1), to Donald Trump, William Barr, Jeffrey Rosen, and Richard Donoghue. The proposed subpoenas demand documents relating to decisions involving the investigation or prosecution of Hunter Biden in both the Trump and Biden Administrations. The defense maintains that the documents are highly likely to be relevant to its contention that the Hunter Biden Indictment is an example of a constitutionally impermissible vindictive or selective prosecution. Defendants are entitled under the Sixth Amendment to present a defense and to compulsory production of witnesses and documents in aid of that right. Here is the motion. U.S. v. Hunter Biden - Defense Motion for Issuance of Subpoenas Duces Tecum Pursuant to Rule 17(c) and Memorandum in Support.
Thursday, November 9, 2023
Wednesday, November 8, 2023
On Friday afternoon, November 2, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted an administrative stay of Judge Chutkan's 10-17-23 Gag Order in U.S. v. Trump. The Court was careful to point out that, "[t]he purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for a stay pending appeal and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion." In other words, the Court issued an administrative stay while considering, on an expedited basis, Trump's Motion for a Stay of the Gag Order pending appeal of that Order. The granting of the administrative stay did not involve any analysis of the likelihood of Trump's ultimate success on the merits of the Gag Order. Trump's brief on the Motion for Stay Pending Appeal is due today, 11-8-23, as is the Joint Appendix. The Government's Response is due 11-14-23. Trump's Reply is due 11-17-23. Oral argument is set for 11-20-23.
Here is the Circuit Court's Friday Order Granting an Administrative Stay. U.S. v. Donald Trump - U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Order Granting Administrative Stay of Trump Gag Order.
Stay tuned for more.
Monday, October 30, 2023
Chutkan Order and Opinion Lifting Administrative Stay of Donald Trump Gag Order and Denying Former President Trump's Motion to Stay Gag Order Pending Appeal
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has finally fixed the glitch in its electronic filing system. Here is yesterday's U.S. v. Trump - Opinion and Order Denying Motion to Stay Gag Order Pending Appeal. Judge Chutkan also lifted her prior administrative stay of the Gag Order, so it is now in effect. She denied without prejudice the government's request to modify the Gag Order as unnecessary, even assuming it was procedurally proper. The defense maintained that the Gag Order could not be modified since the case was on appeal.
Former President Trump had filed his Reply in support of the Motion to Stay on Saturday, and Judge Chutkan discusses Trump's Reply in her Sunday Opinion and Order. Here is Trump's Reply: U.S. v. Trump - President Trump's Reply in Support of Motion for Stay of Gag Order Pending Appeal.
Here, for convenience purposes, is the 10-17-23 Trump Gag Order in DC Case.
Thursday, October 26, 2023
Former President Donald Trump appealed U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan’s October 17 Gag Order the day it was issued and asked Judge Chutkan on October 20 for a stay of the Gag Order pending appeal and an immediate administrative stay of the Gag Order while the Stay Motion was being briefed in her court. Judge Chutkan granted an administrative stay on October 20 and ordered the government to respond to Trump’s Stay Motion by October 25. Special Counsel Jack Smith filed his response in opposition to the stay last night. But Smith was able in his Response to complain about new Trump posts and comments that have occurred in the 5 days since the Gag Order was imposed and Smith now wants the stay lifted and the Order modified to make it even stronger. Here are former President Trump's Motion to Stay and the Government's Opposition.
Tuesday, October 17, 2023
Here is Judge Chutkan's gag order issued earlier today in United States v. Trump in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia: 10-17-23 Trump Gag Order in DC Case.
By way of comparison, in August 2023, SDNY District Judge Lewis Kaplan granted the government's motion to revoke Defendant Sam Bankman-Fried's bond and detain him. Although Judge Kaplan's Order itself was only a one-pager he accepted the government's argument which was laid out in detail in a letter brief. Here is U.S. v. Sam Bankman-Fried - Government's Letter Brief in Support of Revoking Defendant's Bond.
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Special Prosecutor Jack Smith's recent Indictment of former President Donald Trump carries serious charges, and this is the most important case for our country and our constitutional processes. My thoughts:
- The Indictment is 45 pages long and has four charges: Count 1: 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Conspiracy to Defraud the United States); Count 2: 18 U.S.C. § 1512(k) (Conspiracy to Obstruct an Official Proceeding); Count 3: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c)(2), 2 (Obstruction of and Attempt to Obstruct an Official Proceeding); Count 4: 18 U.S.C. § 241 (Conspiracy Against Rights).
- What is not in the Indictment is important - that is, a charge related to incitement. Special Prosecutor Jack Smith removes many of the First Amendment defense arguments by making this a case about obstruction and conspiracy. The Indictment (p.2) openly states that "[t]he Defendant had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome -determiniative fraud during the election and that he had won." Removing free speech claims and instead focusing on the unlawful activity itself will eliminate some of the challenges that might have been raised.
- Donald Trump is the sole defendant - this is significant, as the case can move faster without needing to accommodate the schedules of co-defendants. It is also significant because the jury will be focused only on one person and four charges. This streamlining makes it easier for the jury to understand.
- The Indictment reminds me of someone building a structure using Legos. It is methodical and all the pieces fit together. And when you put all the pieces together you have a clear picture.
- Arguably, this indictment is more of a speaking indictment than the prior charges brought by Jack Smith in Indictment #2 against Donald Trump. But one could say that even alleged comments like the former president saying to former VP Mike Pence - "You're too honest" - are likely to be admissible at trial. After all, it can be offered as evidence to show Trump's mens rea.
- The Indictment would make a terrific ethics class on what a lawyer should and should not do. You can call it - the lawyers who violated the law v. the lawyers who saved democracy. The unindicted co-conspirators who are portrayed in some instances as lawyers who failed to remember basic ethical principles against the lawyers who refused to perpetuate lies and adhered to a constitutional process.
- Many ask why so many unindicted coconspirators, why did Jack Smith not charge them. My thoughts are that it puts these individuals on notice that several avenues might be pursued: a) They could come forward now, reach an agreement and cooperate, receiving the benefits of cooperation; b) The prosecutor could grant them immunity and then they would no longer be able to claim a 5th amendment privilege --they would be required to testify and if they testified falsely the prosecutor has additional ammunition in charges such as perjury; c) The prosecutor could indict them in a separate or later indictment; or d) The prosecutor could keep them as witnesses, unidentified and uncharged co-conspirators, and not move against them. It is always possible that an unindicted coconspirator is already cooperating. So, beyond the indictment, Jack Smith has possible additional evidence if he needs more.
- It is likely that there is more evidence that is not outlined in this Indictment. At the J6 hearings, we all heard testimony of Trump's alleged obstruction. So cooperation agreements, or just witnesses testimony, may already be evidence held by the government.
- Some question - why this Indictment took so long in being charged. This is not a new argument - we hear it all the time in white collar cases. The bottom line is that white collar cases often involve documents and the process can be significantly slower than a street crime case. Additionally the government typically proceeds with cases working up the ladder. The initial J6 prosecutions were for individuals on the ground committing criminal acts. The government then moved to leaders of various groups. Moving next to those at the top, therefore, makes perfect sense.
- The initial charge, 18 USC 371, is the classic generic conspiracy charge used often by the government. In the federal system, unlike some states, a prosecutor can charge both the conspiracy and the underlying offense. What is somewhat unique here is that there are two ways to bring a 371 charge -- a) conspiracy to commit a specific offense; or b) conspiracy to defraud. Typically the first is used by the government - a conspiracy to commit a specific offense, with the offense being anything from obstruction, wire fraud, mail fraud, etc. The government here chose to charge conspiracy to defraud the government, a less used basis for conspiracy charges. But in looking at the alleged evidence, this charge is the essence of that conduct - namely, the defendant is alleged to have been part of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
- The last charge, 18 USC 241, is not something we often see charged. According to Syracuse's Trac Reporting there have only been 11 prosecutions in 2023 with this as the lead charge. And that is a 1600 % increase from last year, 113% from five years ago. If you go back 20 years, during the Bush presidency, it was a heavily used charge. To use a charge that has not been heavily used in the past few years may provide less caselaw with interpretation, but it also demonstrates how significant this alleged conduct may be.
- Of the cases pending against former President Trump, it is my opinion that this case is the most signifcant. Although national security is crucial to our country (case # 2), this case involves alleged conduct that tested whether we would continue to be a democracy.
Saturday, July 8, 2023
How To Think About The Hunter Biden Whistleblowers’ Disclosures And The Hunter Biden Plea Agreement. Part I.
There are three key elements to the recent disclosures by IRS Criminal Investigation Division whistleblowers concerning the DOJ’s criminal investigation of Hunter Biden: 1) the false and/or conflicting statements by Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss and Attorney General Merrick Garland about the degree of authority and independence conferred upon Weiss by DOJ; 2) the alleged efforts of Delaware AUSAs and DOJ Tax Division prosecutors to slow-walk the case and block or delay avenues of investigation; and 3) the alleged underlying criminal conduct of Hunter Biden.
Let’s start with the false and/or conflicting statements by Garland and Weiss. AG Garland has repeatedly made public statements, sometimes sworn, indicating that Trump-appointed Delaware U.S. Attorney Weiss had (and still has) complete independence and authority to bring charges against Hunter Biden in any federal district where venue might lie, free of political interference. Note that there is a difference between being able to run your investigation free of political interference and having the authority to bring charges in a federal district outside of Delaware. You can give Weiss all of the freedom to investigate he wants and still deny him the ability to bring charges in the District of Columbia or the Central District of California. But Garland recently reiterated that Weiss had (and has), “complete authority to make all decisions on his own,” had, “more authority than a special counsel,” and was “authorized to bring a case anywhere he wants in his discretion.” Garland has also stressed that Weiss never came to him asking for special counsel authority.
But here is a key contradictory fact we now know, thanks to the transcribed interview of IRS-CID Supervisory Special Agent (“SSA”) Gary Shapley, a/k/a Whistleblower #1 and the documents Shapley provided. Delaware U.S. Attorney Weiss told a roomful of IRS and FBI special agents and DOJ attorneys, on October 7, 2022, "that he is not the deciding person on whether charges are filed." He then revealed that, months before, he had sought and been denied the authority to bring felony tax evasion charges against Hunter Biden in the District of Columbia by District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves. Weiss further told the agents at the same October 7, 2022, meeting that he had requested special counsel status from Main Justice in order to bring charges in the District of Columbia but had been rebuffed. (Weiss also told the agents and prosecutors in the October meeting that the case was then at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California awaiting its decision on whether to file. He stated that if CDCAL rejected his request he would go to Main Justice again to ask for special counsel status.)
Weiss’s October 7, 2022, statement to the roomful of agents and prosecutors is clearly at odds with Garland’s public comments that Weiss had all the authority he needed to bring charges in any federal district. Garland has not indicated how he conferred this authority on Weiss. Was it reflected in a written authorization giving Weiss special attorney status under 28 USC §515(a)? Was it orally conveyed? If orally conveyed, did Garland merely invite Weiss to ask in the future for any authority he needed? Is this all a shell game in which Weiss asked Deputy Attorney General (“DAG”) Lisa Monaco for special attorney or special counsel status which she rebuffed and never reported to Garland?
Weiss’s June 7, 2023, letter to Congressman Jim Jordan, purported, “to make clear that, as the Attorney General has stated, I have been granted ultimate authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when, and whether to file charges and for making decisions necessary to preserve the integrity of the prosecution, consistent with federal law, the Principles of Federal Prosecution, and Department regulations.” This statement had to be clarified once the Shapley transcript and supporting documentation were released to the public. So on June 30, 2023, Weiss wrote again to Jordan, setting out his geographically limited charging authority but noting his ability to request special attorney status under 28 U.S.C. § 515 in the event that a U.S. Attorney in another federal district does not want to partner with him on a case. Then the kicker: “Here, I have been assured that, if necessary after the above process, I would be granted § 515 Authority in the District of Columbia, the Central District of California, or any other district where charges could be brought in this matter.” Translation? I never asked Main Justice for special attorney status or authority. But if Weiss was being truthful in his June 30, 2023 letter to Jordan, he certainly lied to federal agents on October 7, 2022 when he told them that he had asked for special counsel authority to bring the Hunter Biden case in the District of Columbia and been denied.
Honest prosecutors running a legitimate criminal investigation do not need to lie to their case agents or prevaricate in their public pronouncements. And Garland surely realizes that his public statements to date, for whatever reason, have left a misleading impression. Yet he has done noting to get to the bottom of what happened. It’s time for him to lance the boil. More to come in Parts II and III.
July 8, 2023 in Corruption, Current Affairs, Fraud, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, Legal Ethics, Money Laundering, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 13, 2022
SDNY Judge Analisa Torres granted a mistrial last week in the federal fraud trial against "We Build A Wall" Defendant Timothy Shea. On June 2, 11 of the jurors sent a note to the judge, asking that a 12th juror be dismissed because he allegedly refused to deliberate, based on what appeared to be his Trumpian political comments and bias. The hold-out denied the charges, and accused his fellow jurors of liberal political bias. Judge Torres questioned the juror on the record, but in private away from the public and the other jurors. According to the New York Times account, "she asked whether the juror had 'biases or personal views' that would prevent him from being 'fair and impartial,' whether he could determine facts subject to her explanation of the law and whether he could consult with other jurors. The juror replied no to the first question and yes to the second two." Judge Torres declined to kick the hold-out off the jury, gave a modified Allen charge, and told the jury to continue deliberations. By Tuesday they were at a total impasse and a mistrial was declared. Shea's counsel, John Meringolo had already filed a motion for mistrial, based on Judge Torres' modification of the Allen charge and the 11 jurors' alleged breach of jury secrecy when the jury note revealed their numerical division. It doesn't look like Judge Torres ever ruled on that motion. She didn't need to, once the jury reached a total impasse.
Recall that the case concerned the alleged fraudulent diversion of funds solicited under the premise of finishing then-President Trump's wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Shea allegedly conspired with others, including former Trump advisor Steve Bannon who was pardoned by Trump. Venue could have been had in a number of jurisdictions, but the prosecutors chose SDNY. Gee. I wonder why. So did the 12th juror. Was the 12th juror truly refusing to deliberate or was he simply unconvinced of Shea's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the Times, the other jurors spoke of the hold-out's refusal, "to deliberate based on evidence." Hmmm. Does that mean the evidence as they saw it, but not the hold-out? You can see the danger in dismissing hold-outs in this context, particularly in a politically charged case. Any 11 could complain about the hold-out's recalcitrance and "refusal to deliberate." Was there truly a "refusal to deliberate" or 11 bullies ganging up on a principled hold-out? We'll never know of course. The Second Circuit law is very clear on this issue. Once the hold-out answered Judge Torres's questions in the manner he did, he could not be removed. Under United States v. Thomas, 116 F.3d 606, 608 (2nd. Cir. 1997), a juror can be dismissed "for a refusal to apply the law as instructed only where the record is clear beyond doubt that the juror is not, in fact, simply unpersuaded by the prosecution's case." That standard was simply not met in Shea's case. This was the right result under the case law. Meringolo's objection to the modified Allen charge was based on Judge Torres's additional admonition that the jurors not be swayed "by sympathy, emotion, or political views or opinions." (emphasis added).
Friday, February 18, 2022
Here is the Sussman Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State an Offense, filed in Special Counsel John Durham's 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 false statement prosecution against former Perkins Coie attorney Michael Sussman. Sussman's argument is that even if the facts laid out in Durham's Indictment are true, they fail, as a matter of law, to allege/establish the essential Section 1001 element of materiality or to establish a sufficient nexus between Sussman's alleged falsehood and the agency (FBI) decision purportedly capable of being affected. Keep in mind that Sussman's alleged false statement to FBI General Counsel James Baker was that he was not acting on behalf of any client in reporting the Alfa Bank tip to Baker, when, in truth and in fact, Sussman was there representing and acting on behalf of Tech-Executive 1 and the Clinton Campaign. The materiality portion of the Sussman Indictment has always struck me as weak, but very little is required of the government in order for it to prove materiality in a Section 1001 prosecution. Sussman's real problem in winning on this motion is decades of case law holding that an indictment setting out the statutory elements of the offense, along with minimal factual allegations, is sufficient to allege an offense as a matter of law. In other words, the defendant is not allowed to go beyond the indictment's allegations in litigating whether it alleges an offense. There appears to be no recognition of this case law in the Sussman brief. Durham was not required to put much meat on the skeletal elements of the offense. But he chose to do so, presenting a 27-page speaking indictment to the grand jury. There is some scattered authority for the proposition that an indictment setting out in detail what appear to be the full and undisputed facts behind the offense, in addition to the statutory elements, can be defeated by accepting those facts as true and arguing that the do not constitute the purported offense being charged. See for example, U.S. v. Ali, 557 F.3d 715, 719-20 (6th Cir. 2009). That's what Sussman is up to here. Durham's response will surely be that he has set out the required statutory elements plus additional contextual detail and that the Government must be allowed to show its full factual case to the jury in order to prove why, under said factual particulars, Sussman's alleged lie was material.
Monday, February 7, 2022
What’s in a name? Several of the individuals indicted in connection with the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol have been charged under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512(c)(2). Subsection (c) of 18 U.S.C. §1512 seeks to punish: “Whoever corruptly--(1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or (2) otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” 18 U.S.C. §1515 supplies definitions for some of the terms used in §1512 and defines “official proceeding” to include, among other things, “a proceeding before the Congress.” Many of the motions to dismiss filed by January 6 defendants, and judicial opinions denying these motions, center around whether §1512(c)(2) was meant to be confined to proceedings that are quasi-judicial or evidentiary in nature, even if the proceedings take place in Congress. I previously posted three of these judicial opinions. That is not my focus here.
18 U.S.C §1512, a lengthy statute with several subsections, has a title as well. The official title is: “Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant.” That is the only title the statute has. None of the subsections of §1512 contains an additional or separate subtitle. Note, however, that none of the persons charged under 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2) has been literally charged in his or her Indictment, or in any press coverage that I have seen, with, “tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant,’ which, again, is the only title of §1512. To take one example, in U.S. v. Nordean et al., the defendants are charged in the First Superseding Indictment with “Obstruction of an Official Proceeding and Aiding and Abetting.” This makes sense. The facts alleged against the defendants appear to align with the literal language of §1512(c)(2) and do not involve witness tampering.
Fast forward to the recent indictment of Oath Keeper Elmer Steward Rhodes III and others for “Seditious conspiracy,” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2384. The defendants are also charged with violating several other statutes, including 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2). While 18 U.S.C. § 2384, unlike §1512(c)(2), does not have separately numbered subsections, it clearly sets out several different ways in which the crime can be committed. For example, one cannot “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them.” I believe something like this formulation is what most people think of when they think of sedition. But Rhodes and his Oath Keepers were not charged under that "overthrow the Government" portion of the statute. They were charged with conspiring “by force to prevent, hinder, and delay the execution of any law of the United States.” (The laws allegedly being hindered were the Electoral Count Act and the Twelfth and Twentieth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.) The caption in the Indictment could have set the charge out in this fashion, as a “conspiracy to by force prevent, hinder, and delay” particular laws of the United States, with a citation to 18 U.S.C. §2384. That is not what Department of Justice officials decided to do, however. They captioned the charge as “seditious conspiracy.” There was nothing improper about their decision, just as there was nothing improper about their decision to list §1512(c)(2) in the caption of Nordean as “obstruction of an official proceeding” rather than “witness-tampering.”
But the effect in the wider media culture was predictable. Several pro-Trump television commentators had been making the point that none of the January 6 defendants were seditionists, because none had been charged with seditious conspiracy. They could not say this anymore in light of the Rhodes Indictment and their prior comments were thrown back in their faces by progressive commentators. So be it. That’s politics. But, at least with respect to the indicted January 6 rioters, conspiring by force to prevent, hinder, and delay the execution of the Electoral Count Act (“seditious conspiracy”) is not substantially different than corruptly obstructing or conspiring to corruptly obstruct the very Congressional proceeding in which the Electoral Count Act is being executed. They are both serious charges that should be prosecuted vigorously if the facts so warrant. And if any Congressperson, Executive Branch official, or podcast host aided and abetted or joined a conspiracy to violate either statute, under traditional criminal law principles, he or she should be prosecuted as well.
Sloppy language, however, invites sloppy thinking and prosecuting someone for aiding and abetting a violent mob intent on forcefully stopping a critical Congressional proceeding or the execution of a statute, is quite different than prosecuting someone for seditious conspiracy because he told a crowd that the election was stolen, invited them to peacefully protest the vote count, or tried to convince Mike Pence that he had the power to refuse to certify certain slates of electors. (I wrote about John Eastman's potential criminal exposure, in the context of the Fifth Amendment's Privilege Against Self-Incrimination, here.) Likewise, prosecuting anyone for delaying the vote count by using the procedures set out in the Electoral Count Act, is without more, doomed to fail under rather basic constitutional and criminal law tests. The devil is always in the details of the purportedly criminal acts under examination.
The people intent on federally prosecuting Trump and his cohorts for the events on and surrounding January 6, 2021, need to think small and in terms of traditional criminal law principles. We witnessed a riot. We witnessed criminal assaults. We witnessed people invading Congressional offices and threatening to “Hang Mike Pence.” Some of the people who committed these acts were attempting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden. There are statutes in place that appear to criminalize this conduct. The quest to use the criminal law to “go after the higher-ups” should focus on who, if anybody, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced or procured the commission of these specific criminal offenses--not on people engaged in protected First Amendment political activity. In the words of the standard pattern aiding and abetting instruction, “whoever intentionally associated himself in some way with the crime and intentionally participated in it as he would in something he wished to bring about,” is punishable as a principal. My guess is that some pretty well-known people are sleeping uneasily these days. My further guess, and it is no more than a guess, is that the DOJ has been looking at these people for some time. But I seriously doubt, based on currently known information, it will go much beyond these folks.
Monday, January 3, 2022
Here is the CNN story. The jury acquitted Holmes, the former CEO of blood-testing startup Theranos, on all 4 counts related to the alleged defrauding of patients. She was convicted on 4 counts related to defrauding of investors, including a conspiracy count. The jury hung on 3 additional investor fraud counts. There will be no retrial of the counts that the jury could not reach agreement on, because Holmes' ultimate sentence would not be affected by a guilty verdict on those counts. Moreover, under current Supreme Court case law, the trial court can (unfortunately) consider the government's evidence against Holmes on both the acquitted and hung counts in determining her sentence. The SEC long ago settled its case against Holmes without demanding an admission of wrongdoing on her part. Had she made such an admission there would have been no need for a criminal trial.
Saturday, January 1, 2022
Three federal district court opinions on the meaning of "corruptly" obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, under 18 U.S.C. Section 1512 (c)(2), have been issued in the past month. Each case is from a different federal district judge in the District of Columbia. Although each case pertains to the actions of alleged participants in the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot, the cases also have significant implications for future white collar prosecutions--implications that should benefit white collar defendants. Here are the opinions in U.S. v. Nordean, U.S. v. Caldwell, and U.S. v. Sandlin. More to come on this issue in the next week.
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
Here is the Eastman Letter to January 6th Select Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson from Eastman's attorney Charles Burnham, invoking Eastman's Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Self-Incrimination and raising other issues as well. The letter is in response to a Committee subpoena for Eastman's testimony and documents. Burnham's letter leaves open the question of whether Eastman will appear at all, although that is clearly the proper course. As I noted here, in order to successfully invoke the Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Self-Incrimination the client must appear and invoke it on a question by question basis. This will be easy for Eastman to do, as Burnham's letter makes clear, because so many public figures and office-holders have expressed their belief that he has serious criminal exposure. Federal judges, most recently U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, have suggested that January 6 rally speakers have exposure as well. Chairman Thompson wants to "test" the assertions of witnesses invoking the privilege and Norm Eisen, E. Danya Perry, and Joshua Perry argue here in the Washington post that he should vigorously do so with witnesses such as Eastman and former DOJ Civil Division Chief Jeffrey Clark. But a Fifth Amendment assertion by either man is a no-brainer. All Burnham has to do is point to the public record, as he amply does in his letter. Almost any question after name, address, age, and current occupation could furnish a link in a potentially incriminatory chain. The Committee also demanded from Eastman a broad array of documents, and Burnham has invoked the Fifth Amendment "Act of Production" Privilege, a part of the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination, with respect to these documentary demands. Eastman arguably does not even have to provide a Privilege Log, because the very act of listing the documents might bring into play the "foregone conclusion" exception to the Act of Production Privilege. Of course, the Committee may be able demonstrate that the existence and possession of such documents by Eastman is a "foregone conclusion" based on testimony and documents it has received from other witnesses. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Speculation is rampant about indictments that may result from Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham's probe into the FBI's handling of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and the Bureau's four materially false FISA Applications submitted to the FISA Court. Fans of the President, expecting or demanding a rash of indictments, are likely to be as disappointed as Trump haters were when Robert Mueller's investigation of Trump-Russia criminal collusion turned out to be a dud. Rumors also abound that, indictments or not, Durham will issue a Report, naming names and detailing the FBI's multiple misdeeds. Opponents of such a Report point out that the Department of Justice ("DOJ"), except in the unusual circumstance of a Special Counsel's Report, does not typically smear people when the grand jury fails to return indictments. You know some folks are getting worried when Mueller Pit Bull Andrew Weissmann pens a New York Times Op-Ed all but urging career DOJ officials to refuse to cooperate with the highly respected Durham if he asks the grand jury to return indictments within 90 days of the the 2020 election.
Attorney General William Barr has already made it clear (sending a not very subtle hint to the faithful) that not all governmental abuses of power, even serious abuses, constitute crimes. To take an obvious example, I consider the set-up of Trump's first National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, by the FBI's Comey-McCabe Cabal, to be one of the most significant abuses of law enforcement power in recent American history. But I don't see any federal criminal statute that was violated in the process of the set-up.
So, we are likely to see a small handful of indictments at most, based on the currently available public record. Were the Flynn-Kislyak phone calls feloniously leaked? Almost certainly so, absent Presidential declassification, but good luck proving who did it. The only known individual publicly referred for possible prosecution as a result of Michael Horowitz's OIG investigation into FISA abuse was former FBI Office of General Counsel Attorney Kevin Clinesmith. Clinesmith gave false information to FBI Supervisory Special Agent #2, who served as the FBI's affiant on all three FISA Renewal Applications. Clinesmith also altered a key email from a CIA liaison, materially changing its meaning, and forwarded it to the same affiant. Of course it is possible that Clinesmith is cooperating and naming other people, but that is pure speculation at this point. More information may also come out explaining whether the predicate for Crossfire Hurricane, the Alexander Downer conversation with George Papadopoulos, was itself some kind of an intelligence agency set-up, but, again, turning that into an actionable crime is another matter.
So how will the story be told by Durham? The easiest way will be through a lengthy speaking indictment against one person, or a handful of conspirators, that tells the prosecution's story of the case. Speaking indictments which have been common for decades in federal criminal cases, tell the tale of the prosecution's case in as many chapters as the prosecutors need or want to take. These speaking indictments can be broad enough to include manner and means and overt acts, criminal and non-criminal, as part of the mosaic. In other words, in telling the story, the government can include non-criminal conduct, or conduct that it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury, as long as long as the conduct is rationally related to the charged crime. Mueller himself did this, through some of his indictments or informations (Manafort, Gates, and the Russian hacking and troll farm cases) and through the Statement of the Offense in cases where defendants pled guilty. in fact, it was through careful examination of the Special Counsel's charging instruments that knowledgeable observers were able to determine fairly early on that that Mueller had no criminal collusion case.
So, that's what I think we will see from John Durham. A small handful of defendants and at least one significant, story-telling, speaking indictment.
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Michael Flynn Update: D.C. Circuit Sets Argument Times and Asks Parties to Address Judge Sullivan's Possible Disqualification
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today announced the allocation of oral argument time in the Michael Flynn Mandamus case, In re Flynn. This was expected. Twenty minutes each were allotted to General Flynn, the Department of Justice, and Judge Emmet Sullivan. The Court "FURTHER ORDERED that, in addition to the issue set forth in the court's order filed July 30, 2020, the parties be prepared to address at oral argument the effect, if any, of 28 U.S.C. §§ 455(a) and 455(b)(5)(i) on the District Court judge's Fed. R. App. P. 35(b) petition for en banc review." This was unexpected. The Court further Ordered "One counsel per side to argue."
Under the Federal Rules of Appellate procedure, only a party may petition a full appellate court for a rehearing en banc. Judge Sullivan is the person who filed the petition in In re Flynn. Both the Department of Justice and General Flynn argued in response to Judge Sullivan's Petition for En Banc Rehearing that he had no standing to even file such a Petition, because he was not a party to the Petition for Mandamus. But the full Court had not indicated, until yesterday, that it wanted to hear about that issue.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) "Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
Under 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(5)(i), a judge "shall also disqualify himself" if "He...is a party to the proceeding."
What is going on here? As noted above, originally, the full court only wanted to hear oral argument on whether Mandamus was the appropriate remedy under the facts of the case.
Judge Sullivan has not disqualified himself from the underlying case of U.S. v. Flynn.
Does the full Court simply want the parties to now be prepared to argue whether Judge Sullivan had standing to file the Petition for Mandamus? Are they saying, in effect, "We know Judge Sullivan would not make himself a party without disqualifying himself. Since he hasn't disqualified himself, is this further proof that he isn't a party and does not have standing in our Court?" Do they even want to hear from Sullivan on the 11th if he is not a party? If so, why did they grant his counsel 20 minutes to argue the case? Are they signaling Judge Sullivan to reassign the case below prior to the 11th?
Or does the Court merely want to hear argument on whether, in the event that Mandamus is denied, the case should be assigned to another judge because Judge Sullivan's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned" or, more likely, because he has made himself a "party to the proceeding" ? (General Flynn has already argued for reassignment to another judge. DOJ did not ask for this.) In other words, is the Court basically saying to Judge Sullivan" "Since we voted to grant your Petition for Rehearing, haven't we implicitly accepted your status as a party? And if we have accepted your status as a party, how can you remain as the trial judge in Flynn's case, even if we deny the Mandamus Petition?"
I would think that the Court really wants to hear the reassignment issue, but the wording of the order leaves this open to question. Here is In re Flynn 8-5-20 Order re Oral Argument and 28 U.S.C. 455(a) and (b)(5)(1)