Friday, July 31, 2020

Where We Are Now In The Michael Flynn Case

           The full United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday granted Judge Emmet Sullivan’s Motion for Rehearing En Banc, vacating a decision by one its three-judge panels, and will soon decide whether to grant General Michael Flynn’s Petition for a Writ of Mandamus against Judge Sullivan. Flynn seeks the Writ of Mandamus in order to force Judge Sullivan to immediately grant the Department of Justice’s May 7, 2020 Motion to Dismiss the criminal case against him, a motion consented to by Flynn. Regardless of the full Court’s ultimate ruling on the mandamus issue, DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss will have to be granted sooner or later under governing legal precedents. No federal appellate court has ever sustained a district court’s refusal to grant an unopposed government motion to dismiss an indictment.

        There are two separate but related legal issues at stake before the Court of Appeals. First, does the law require Judge Sullivan to grant DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss in the absence of a grave constitutional issue, reducing Sullivan’s function to a ministerial one? Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a) requires “leave of court” when the government moves to dismiss an indictment, but an abundance of federal case law holds that the district court’s role is in fact quite limited when the government moves to dismiss a criminal case and the defendant consents. Second, is mandamus the appropriate remedy for Flynn given that Judge Sullivan has yet to rule on DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss? Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, typically reserved for situations where the remedy provided at law is inadequate. Judge Sullivan had not yet ruled on DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss when Flynn filed his Petition for a Writ of Mandamus. Why didn’t Flynn just wait for Judge Sullivan to rule and for DOJ to appeal Sullivan’s order if he denied the motion?

        The DOJ has argued that Judge Sullivan’s: 1) appointment of retired federal judge John Gleeson as an amicus, or friend of the court, for the specific purpose of opposing DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss; and 2) Judge Sullivan’s indication that he intends to examine closely DOJ’s motives in filing the Motion to Dismiss, will themselves be an improper intrusion into Executive Branch functions, in violation of Separation of Powers. Flynn has argued that these same factors, along with Sullivan’s setting of a drawn out briefing schedule, harms him financially and reputationally by delaying the immediate relief he is entitled to.

        What is likely to happen next?

        Argument before the Court sitting En Banc has been set for August 11, but the Court wants no further briefing. The Court’s Order states that the parties “should be prepared to address whether there are ‘no other adequate means to attain the relief’ desired. Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for D.C., 542 U.S. 367, 380 (2004).” Cheney is a key Supreme Court case involving the intersection of Separation of Powers and Mandamus case law. In other words, the key issue before the full D.C. Circuit is whether mandamus is premature. Should Judge Sullivan have been allowed to hold a hearing and make a ruling before Flynn went to a higher court seeking mandamus relief or did the very mechanisms set in place by Sullivan create an improper intrusion into Executive Branch matters and a harmful delay in the relief to which Flynn was entitled?

        Even if the Court of Appeals ultimately holds that mandamus is premature, expect the full Court to set clear standards as to what Judge Sullivan can and cannot do (and how long he can take) in ruling on DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss. And make no mistake about it. The DOJ’s Motion will ultimately be granted.

(wisenberg)

July 31, 2020 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Government Reports, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Flynn Plea Agreement: A Pernicious Paragraph

One of the ironies of high-profile, criminal investigations of public officials, particularly Special and Independent Counsel investigations, is the outrage expressed by certain segments of the populace upon discovering the existence of very common law enforcement techniques. Hence the outrage among President Clinton's supporters when they learned that Linda Tripp secretly tape-recorded her "best friend" Monica Lewinsky at the behest of Ken Starr's prosecutors. Hence the outrage, among Trump's supporters,  when they discovered that FBI officials wanted to catch General Flynn in a lie and threatened his son with prosecution in order to coerce a guilty plea. "That happens all the time," say the know-it-all criminal law cognoscenti who fellow-travel with one side or another, as well as their minions who parrot the party line to the faithful. Except in the case of Judge Starr. Almost nobody was on our side, parroting our points. Except the courts. Most of the time. But I digress.

Our subject today is a nasty little paragraph inserted into General Flynn's plea agreement by Bob Mueller's staff. I first started noticing this provision 5 or 6 years ago in some of the plea offers that came my way, depending on which U.S. Attorney's Office I was dealing with at the time. It has shown up more often since then, but is far from universal. It can be found in most or all of the Mueller team's plea agreements. It is typically found in Paragraph 9(F) within the Waivers section. It states as follows: "Your client agrees to waive all rights, whether asserted directly or by a representative, to request or receive from any department or agency of the United States any records pertaining to the investigation or prosecution of this case, including and without any limitation any records that may be sought under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552, or the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552(a), for the duration of the Special Counsel's Investigation." The limiting of the waiver to the duration of the investigation is not a feature I have previously encountered.

Although the waiver does not mention Brady material on its face, it clearly applies to requests for exculpatory records. (As I noted here recently, it was after General Flynn’s case was transferred to Judge Sullivan’s court, and Sullivan entered his broad standing Brady Order, that Mueller’s team appears to have provided voluminous additional discovery to Flynn’s lawyers.) Prosecutors have a constitutional duty to turn over exculpatory information to the defense even if defense counsel does not request it. But case law holds that more detailed, specific defense requests create a greater prosecutorial obligation. In my view, this paragraph forces defense counsel to breach his or her ethical duties to the client to vigorously demand Brady material as well as mitigating information required under state ethical rules and the McDade Amendment. The Department of Justice should put a stop to this and prohibit all such provisions from being part of its plea agreements. This includes FOIA requests, which serve to ensure, post-judgment, that the government's Brady obligations have been met.  Here is the Flynn Plea Agreement.

(wisenberg)

 

 

June 14, 2020 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Michael T. Flynn Petition for Writ of Mandamus: Case Materials

Reply briefs were filed yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in In re: Michael T. Flynn. Oral arguments are set for tomorrow morning, June 12. Attached here are; Flynn's Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus; the D.C. Circuit's  highly unusual May 21, 2020 Order requiring Judge Emmet Sullivan to respond to the Petition's argument that Sullivan is obliged to grant DOJ's Motion to Dismiss the Flynn Indictment with prejudice; Judge Sullivan's June 1, 2020 Brief in Response to the Court of Appeals Order; Flynn's June 10 Reply Brief; DOJ's June 10 Reply Brief; and a further Response Brief on behalf of Judge Emmet G. Sullivan. Enjoy!

In re Micheal Flynn Petition for a Writ of Mandamus

U.S. Court of Appeals Order Directing Judge Sullivan to Respond to Michael Flynn's Emergency Petition for a Writ of Mandamus

Brief for Judge Emmet Sullivan in Response to DC Circuit Court Order

DOJ DC Circuit Reply to Sullivan Response on Flynn Petition for Mandamus

Flynn DC Circuit Reply to Sullivan Response on Flynn Petition for Mandamus

Judge Emmet Sullivan's 6-10-2020 Response to the other briefs

(wisenberg)

June 11, 2020 in Contempt, Current Affairs, Judicial Opinions, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Materiality and the Flynn Prosecution

Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, criminalizes certain false statements or omissions made to the federal government. The statute requires that the false statement be material to a matter within the jurisdiction of a federal agency or department. Materiality is an element of the offense that must be alleged and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It is usually a fairly easy element for prosecutors to establish.

General Michael Flynn was charged with violating Section 1001 in a one count Criminal Information that tracked a portion of the statutory language. The Information was filed in federal court on December 1, 2017, by prosecutors in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office. Those prosecutors charged Flynn with lying to the FBI during the course of a White House interview conducted on January 24, 2017. The January 24 interview concerned late December 2016 conversations between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Kislyak during the post-election Presidential transition period.

A federal court cannot accept a guilty plea without a Factual Basis, sometimes referred to as a Factual Statement or Statement of the Offense. It is typically filed along with the Plea Agreement or is incorporated into the Plea Agreement itself. According to the Statement of the Offense filed in General Flynn's case:  "Flynn's false statements and omissions impeded and otherwise had a material impact on the FBI's ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the Campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election." We now know this wasn't true. Flynn's statements, whether false or not, had no effect on the Russian Collusion investigation.

Crossfire Hurricane, launched on July 31, 2016, was the name given to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion, witting or unwitting, between members of Trump’s campaign team and Russians attempting to influence the 2016 election. Crossfire Hurricane was not begun based on any allegations related to General Michael Flynn.  Instead, the Bureau authorized Crossfire Hurricane after it learned, third-hand, that Russia may have “suggested” assisting the Trump campaign by anonymously releasing dirt on Hillary Clinton. An FBI subfile was created on Flynn, not because of any allegations against him, but because of Flynn’s known contacts with Russia. Such contacts would hardly be surprising for a former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who was a Trump advisor rumored to be Trump’s choice for National Security Director if he won the election. The subfile investigation of Flynn was known as Crossfire Razor.

FBI officials Jim Comey, Andy McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page each knew, well before Flynn's January 24 interview, that the General had no involvement whatsoever in any improper or illegal coordination with Russia regarding the 2016 election. Flynn had already been completely cleared in Crossfire Razor by January 4, 2017. A draft Closing Communication, documenting the complete lack of evidentiary support for Flynn's involvement in, or knowledge of, 2016 election collusion, was prepared on January 4 by the Crossfire Razor team. But the decision to close the file had been made even before January 4. Such a draft Closing Communication would never have been commenced unless the case agents had received prior approval from their FBI Supervisor, and Former FBI Director Comey testified that he authorized the closing of Crossfire Razor by December 2016. 

But none of this exculpatory information regarding materiality was shared at any time with the original defense attorneys representing Flynn, either before or after he entered his December 1, 2017 guilty plea. (Nor was it shared with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was by then the Acting Attorney General for purposes of the Mueller Investigation and had final authority over Mueller's charging decisions.) The knowledge that Flynn's January 24, 2017 interview responses did not influence and were arguably incapable of influencing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was relevant both to Flynn's guilt and punishment. While there is some uncertainty in the law as to whether Brady material must be turned over to the defense prior to a guilty plea, there is no uncertainty about Judge Emmet G. Sullivan's standing Discovery Order that he enters in every criminal case, and entered in Flynn's. It directs the government "to produce to defendant in a timely manner any evidence in its possession that is favorable to defendant and material either to defendant's guilt or punishment. This government responsibility includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government's possession."

Flynn had already pled guilty when his case was transferred to Sullivan's court, but he was still awaiting punishment. After the case was transferred, and Sullivan entered his Standing Order, Mueller's team produced voluminous additional documents to Flynn's team. Why did they do this when, under the terms of the Plea Agreement, Flynn was no longer allowed to request additional documents from the government? Because Mueller's prosecutors knew the significance of Sullivan's Standing Order and the additional burden it placed on them. Moreover, Sullivan had Flynn reaffirm his original plea colloquy, under oath, in December 2018. There is thus no question that the information discovered by Eastern District of Missouri U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen, and publicly released for the first time last month at the direction of Bill Barr, should have been produced by Mueller's team to Flynn. What we don't know yet is whether any prosecutor on Mueller's original team, or on the post-Mueller team handling the Flynn case, knew about the recently disclosed documents. 

And one more thing. You can ignore commentators like Chuck Rosenberg, who recently listed here, in the Washington Post, all the folks (Trump, Pence, Priebus, etc.) who presumably thought Flynn's allegedly false statements were material. Chuck is relying on the general public's ignorance of federal criminal law. The only materiality at issue in U.S. v. Flynn is the materiality of the January 24, 2017 statements Flynn made to high-ranking FBI Supervisory Agents, which statements formed the basis of Michael Flynn's guilty plea and Statement of the Offense. Those post-inauguration statements about post-election conversations with Ambassador Kislyak, were clearly immaterial to an investigation of election-related collusion that had already cleared Flynn.

(wisenberg)

June 6, 2020 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Government Reports, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 20, 2020

NACDL Coronavirus Resources

NACDL created a resource page to assist criminal defense attorneys here.

(esp)

March 20, 2020 in Defense Counsel, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Should Congress Be Allowed to Obtain President Trump's Financial Information?

The Supreme Court on March 31st will hear oral arguments in the cases of Trump v. Mazars USATrump v. Deutsche Bank, and Trump v. Vance, the first two of the cases consolidated for argument.  

The question in the Mazars case is whether the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives has the constitutional and statutory authority to issue a subpoena to "the accountant of President Trump and several of his business entities" that "demands financial records belonging to the President." The question in the Deutsche Bank case is "whether three committees of the House of Representatives had the constitutional and statutory authority to issue subpoenas to third-party custodians for the personal records of the sitting President of the United States."  The question in the Vance case is whether a subpoena issued by NY's DA against the President as part of "a criminal investigation that, by his own admission, targets the President of the United States for possible indictment and prosecution during his term in office," "violates Article II and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution." 

For background on the cases see Amy Howe's terrific introduction as part of a Scotus Blog Symposium on these three cases. (here).  Also check out the other symposium pieces as they come online on the Scotus Blog here.

There are many amici briefs on these cases that provide unique points that highlight issues not covered in the main briefs.  I want to focus on one amici brief - The Brief of Financial Investigation and Money Laundering Experts in Support of Respondent Committees of the U.S. House of Representations.  The brief is filed by Jonathan J. Rusch as well as Steven E. Fineman and Daniel Chiplock of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Berstein, LLP.  This brief provides important history that "there is nothing unusal about Congressional investigations of the financial affairs of presidents and their family members."  They note that what is unusual here is the fact that the President has "consistently demonstrated his resolute opposition to the disclosure of financial information relevant to Congress's concern." Obtaining this information from two banks is therefore needed. 

To prohibit these subpoenas would mean that a President could engage in conduct that could never be scrutinized. It is sad to see a President failing to allow scrutiny of this information - information that would be coming from banks and not take up Presidential time. After all - if there is nothing improper, the subpoenas would provide that proof for all to see the propriety of the President's conduct. It is more troubling to see a resistance to important money-laundering initiatives that have come from both the executive and legislative branches of government.

(esp)

March 10, 2020 in Investigations, Money Laundering, News, Privileges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein: The Unanswered Questions

  1. Who in DOJ made the ultimate decision to drop the proposed felony indictment of  Jeffrey Epstein and to cap the Non-Prosecution Agreement ("NPA") sentence at two years--later reduced to 18 months? The 6-2-17 affidavit of AUSA Ann Marie Villafaña, the lead prosecutor on the original federal criminal case, largely supports Alex Acosta's account of certain key events in this week's press conference. Keep in mind, however, that her affidavit was filed as part of the Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 litigation in SDFL, which resulted in Judge Marra's ruling that SDFL violated the Crime Victim's Rights Act ("CVRA") by failing to notify Epstein's victims about the NPA.  At the time it was filed, the affidavit was focused on the effort to convince Marra that SDFL had not violated the conferral/right to be heard provisions of CVRA. On pages 8 and 9 of her affidavit, Villafaña attests that: "Prior to the Office making its decision to direct me to engage in negotiations with Epstein's counsel, I discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the case with members of the Office's management and informed them that most of the victims had expressed significant concerns about having their identities disclosed. While I was not part of the final decision-making at the Office that arrived at the two year sentence requirement, I was part of the discussions regarding sex offender registration and the restitution provision. It is my understanding from these and other discussions that these factors, that is, the various strengths and weaknesses of the case...together with the Office's desire to obtain a guaranteed sentence of incarceration for Epstein, the equivalent of uncontested restitution for the victims, and guaranteed sexual offender registration...were among the factors that informed the Office's discretionary decision to negotiate a resolution of the matter and to ultimately enter into the NPA." Translation: Villafaña disagreed with dropping the indictment and was not part of the group that made the ultimate decision to go for an NPA with a two year state prison cap. If she was even present at the meeting where the decision was made, she disagreed with the decision and was thus not "part of the final decision-making process." It is unusual, but not unheard of, for the lead prosecutor to be overruled on a case. It is very unusual to go from a 50-plus page multi-count felony sex trafficking indictment to an NPA with no federal charges, particularly when your lead prosecutor wants to go to trial. Villafaña was and is a respected career AUSA. Apparently DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR") is looking into how the case was handled.  OPR will want to see Villafaña's  original pros memo in the case, will seek to interview all government participants in the negotiations, and will want to know every DOJ person involved in the ultimate decision to drop the indictment.
  2. Why was DOJ's standard language making it explicitly clear that the NPA bound only the SDFL not included in the NPA? Such language is employed every day by U.S. Attorneys' Offices throughout the United States and has been for years. It goes like this: "The defendant understands that this agreement is binding only on the U.S. Attorney's Office for the ________ District of _______." Why wasn't that done in Epstein's case? Epstein is now arguing that the SDFL NPA prevents his prosecution in SDNY. He will probably lose, given Second Circuit case law, but why even leave the possibility of challenge open? The NPA does not even include a standard integration clause. This is strange.
  3. Why was the entire NPA placed under seal? I understand the Government's desire to protect the identity of Epstein's victims, but this could have been done through a redacted version of the NPA, and indeed this has been done in the subsequent litigation.
  4. Why weren't all of Epstein's known victims notified of the NPA and its terms in a timely fashion? Acosta and Villafaña have explained that they did not want the victims to see the civil damages portion of the NPA before SDFL was certain that Epstein would be pleading to the Florida felony, because they did not want the victims to be cross-examined about having seen those provisions in the event the deal broke down and SDFL took Epstein to trial. Epstein signed the Florida plea papers only a few days before he actually pled guilty and there was not enough time to notify all the victims. I understand the explanation, and assume no bad faith on SDFL's part, but it doesn't cut the mustard. If Judge Marra is correct, CVRA required notification. And either the NPA or Florida plea deal could have been structured to prevent the fiasco of having to locate and confer with victims over a weekend. Marra ruled that SDFL affirmatively hid the NPA from the victims and essentially deceived them into thinking that the office was still investigating Epstein well after the NPA was signed. That scenario should have been avoided.
  5. Why were Epstein's lawyers allowed to lobby Main Justice after the NPA was signed? I understand going to Main Justice and arguing to overturn an individual office's charging decision. Not every lawyer obtains such access and these efforts to overturn are rarely successful. But they almost always occur BEFORE an indictment has been returned. Why was Epstein's team allowed to lobby for several months AFTER the NPA was signed. The original NPA was signed by attorneys on both sides in September 2007. An addendum was signed by the attorneys in October 2007. Epstein signed in December 2007. The Oosterbaan letter, explaining why federal involvement was legitimate, was not signed until May 15, 2008. This is weird.

I do not believe that the Epstein deal was "dirty" in any way. I have heard from multiple sources that Acosta is a person of high integrity, who was well regarded within the office. I was impressed with Acosta's handling of the press conference. I don't think he should have resigned. I don't know how easy or hard it would have been for SDFL to achieve a victory at trial or how many victims would have been further traumatized by a trial. I do know that SDFL has a long history of aggressively prosecuting these types of cases--child sex trafficking and kiddie porn. And I do believe SDFL should have conferred with the victims before NPA was inked. Acosta had no criminal trial experience when he became U.S. Attorney. Was he was out-negotiated here, or overawed by the team of big name defense lawyers representing Epstein? His First Assistant Jeffrey Sloman, a veteran prosecutor who was deeply involved in the negotiations and signed the NPA, has denied this and has publicly defended both Acosta and the deal.

Still, the questions I and others have posed are legitimate and deserve answers. Perhaps we will get them from the OPR investigation.

Here are some additional documents. The first three were made available by Acosta in connection with his press conference in order to help support his explanation of the NPA. Next is the Jeffrey Sloman op-ed defending Acosta and the deal. The final three documents are the most recent filings in the SDNY case and all deal with the government's effort to detain Epstein pending trial.

 Villafana Declaration

 Kuyrkendall Second Affidavit

 Acosta Letter to Starr

 Sloman Op-Ed

 Epstein-Original Government Letter Requesting Detention

Epstein-Letter Motion for Pretrial Release

Epstein-Government Response to Bail Motion

(wisenberg)

July 13, 2019 in Celebrities, Civil Litigation, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Deferred Prosecution Agreements, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Dual Sovereignty Remains - Gamble Decided

The Gamble case, decided by the Supreme Court, holds that the dual-sovereignty doctrine will remain in place. It is a 7-2 decision with Justices Ginsburg and Gorsuch on the dissent. See here.  Commentary to follow. 

(esp)

June 17, 2019 in Judicial Opinions, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

AG Barr's Summary of the Mueller Report

One needs to give credit to AG Barr for his quick release of a preliminary statement (see here - Download AG March 24 2019 Letter to House and Senate Judiciary Committees) concerning the Report of Special Counsel Mueller, which is titled, Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.  But one also needs to read this four-page statement carefully, because the public needs to grasp all of what is being said and what is not being said here. 

  1. AG Barr's Summary notes the extensiveness of this investigation ("employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other profession staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of  pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.")
  2. AG Barr's Summary does not provide the same specificity in telling the public the number of indictments and convictions of individual and entities in connection with his investigation, instead saying "all of which have been publicly disclosed." Well that number does seem pretty important, as this investigation had so far 7 guilty pleas, 27 people indicted, and 37 indictments with some of the cases still ongoing.
  3. AG Barr's Summary says that "The Report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public."
  4. AG Barr's Summary does not say how many matters were turned over to other federal or state offices, perhaps because there was criminality that did not pertain to Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. Although it does say that "During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action."
  5.  We now know for certain that the Investigation had two parts, or at least the Report does: Russian Interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election and Obstruction of Justice.
  6. AG Barr's Summary confirms that there were Russian efforts to influence our 2016 US election.   AG Barr's Summary states that - "The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with these efforts."   This is an important statement that needs both executive and legislative follow-up. How will we be assuring that future efforts by another country do not undermine our election?  And even if they "did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," do we know if the results of the election were accurate?
  7.  AG Barr's Summary confirms "that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks." Again, did we have a fair election? What is the appropriate remedy?  What will happen in future elections to preclude such activity?
  8. On Part II - Obstruction of Justice - AG Barr's Summary states that "the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment." Barr's Summary says that "[i]nstead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as 'difficult issues' of law and fact concerning whether the President's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction."  So it does sound like the President was a "subject" as opposed to "witness" of this investigation.
  9. AG Barr's Summary does not say that evaluating the evidence is typically the job of the jury, after a determination has been made that there is probable cause to indict.  Instead AG Barr restates Mueller's Report that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."  AG Barr goes on to say that he and Rod Rosenstein have made the decision "that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."
  10.  In many ways it is good to see that a "short-cut offense" of obstruction of justice will not be used (see my article here), but one has to wonder about the defendants who have been charged with obstruction of justice.  It will be important for everyone to know what has been declined here so that everyone can understand the DOJ's standard for evaluating obstruction.  Isn't it always stated that "intent can be inferred from the circumstances" in letting juries make those decisions? But it is also good to see DOJ taking a hard line in not prosecuting uncertain cases - it is hopeful that all US Attorneys will follow this lead with the obstruction cases they are currently handling. Having the full Report will provide this important transparency. 
  11. I leave for another day a discussion of AG Barr's decision to extract 6(e) grand jury material from the report prior to its release.

(esp)

March 24, 2019 in Investigations, News, Obstruction, Prosecutions, RICO | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

More Clues From Special Counsel Mueller

The latest filing by Special Prosecutor Mueller is very telling as to the status of the investigation.  Michael Flynn pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2017, to making false statements to FBI agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001.  In anticipation of sentencing on December 18th, the government filed its Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing, along with a heavily redacted Addendum. Some thoughts:

1.  The fact that Flynn plead to a Section 1001 violation hurts Mueller's future cases if they decide to use him to testify against others in those cases.  Pleading to a section 1001 charge is admitting that the individual gave a false, material statement, knowingly and willfully, within the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the government.  The opening cross-examination questions for such a witness might be - 1) You are a convicted felon? 2) And you were convicted for a crime of lying? 3) And you lied to the FBI? 

2. But three things are noteworthy here - 1) the charge is false statements and not perjury - if it had been perjury then the cross-examination would go on about lying under oath and be dragged out for many more questions than the three previous ones; 2) prosecutors do not get to choose their witnesses and if they can provide an explanation for the lie (e.g. pressure or duress) it stings less; and 3) if you can back up the individual's testimony with other evidence then the false statement charge is less problematic.  It seems likely here that there are documents, emails, or other evidence to support whatever Flynn may be saying.

3. Using a "shortcut offense" like section 1001 is typically not good since it takes away from the actual wrongdoing and society never sees the underlying conduct. Deterrence is best achieved when the actual criminality is disclosed and punished. (see White Collar Shortcuts here).  But that is not the case here. Here Flynn is likely a source providing information for other investigations that can have charges beyond shortcut offenses.  For one, Mueller did not use a shortcut in his charging of cybercrimes against Russians (see here). So using false statements here is again justified.

4. 19 interviews - WOW.  That is significant.  One doesn't meet 19 times and get nothing. 

5. This is an ongoing investigation.  Investigations in white collar cases take time.  This investigation is certainly not finished -- one need only look at the number of redactions in the Addendum to reach this conclusion.

6. That the substantial assistance provided extends beyond the special counsel.  Part A says "XXX Criminal Investigation" and Part B says "The Special Counsel's Office's Investigation" and then appears to have three separate subsections - with one subsection completely redacted.  So one could conclude that the special counsel has 3 investigations that Flynn has been useful for, and that someone else perhaps is using him.

7. Mueller has yet again maintained secrecy, and there have been no leaks.  This is impressive.  It is also impressive that Mueller is speaking only through court papers and not providing any additional information.

8.  It may be frustrating to many that more information has not been released, but in time it is likely we will know more. We need to be patient and trust someone who is clearly upholding the highest of ethical values.

(esp) 

December 6, 2018 in Investigations, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Magic Number Is Eight - And is the Clock Ticking?

Yesterday was a crucial day for Special Counsel Mueller's Investigation in that Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts. The fact that the remaining counts were "hung" is inconsequential as the sting of these eight convictions sends a strong message and a possible heavy sentence.  To make matters worse for Manafort, he still has an upcoming trial in DC on other charges.  One could argue that there is always the possibility of success on appeal or a presidential pardon.  But one has to wonder whether Manafort's time in negotiating a plea with the Special Counsel may be running out.  And is there now competition in who will get the best cooperation agreement or favorable statement at sentencing from the government.

Further north, it was an important day in that within the same hour as Manafort's conviction, Attorney Michael Cohen entered a guilty plea to eight counts.  Many in the media are noting that in the plea hearing Cohen said that his actions were "at the direction of a candidate for federal office."  Was Michael Cohen sending a message to Mueller's team that he is ready to talk?

These two cases are not currently connected --two different prosecutors, two different offices, two different courts, two different matters. 

But how many cooperators does Mueller need, and will Manafort (if he decides to cooperate) be up against Cohen's desire to offer evidence, assuming that he might have an interest in cooperation.

It may be a stretch to say that the clock is ticking for potential cooperators.  It may also be that Mueller is someone who says "the more the better."   Bottom line we just don't know. But yesterday's count of 8 will go down as a memorable day, not because of the matching 8s, but because of what is happening to individuals who had been associated with the President.

(esp)

August 22, 2018 in News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Verdict | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

NACDL Trial Penalty Report and White Collar Crime

The NACDL recently released an important report detailing the impact of the trial penalty, which is the difference between the sentence a defendant receives in return for pleading guilty and the often much larger sentence he or she receives in return for exercising his or her constitutional right to trial. 

From the NACDL press release:

The ‘trial penalty’ refers to the substantial difference between the sentence offered in a plea offer prior to trial versus the sentence a defendant receives after trial. This penalty is now so severe and pervasive that it has virtually eliminated the constitutional right to a trial. To avoid the penalty, accused persons must surrender many other fundamental rights which are essential to a fair justice system

This report is the product of more than two years of careful research and deliberation. In it, NACDL examines sentencing and other data underlying the fact that, after a 50 year decline, fewer than 3% of federal criminal cases result in a trial. With more than 97% of criminal cases being resolved by plea in a constitutional system predicated upon the Sixth Amendment right to a trial, the fact of imbalance and injustice in the system is self-evident. The report identifies and exposes the underlying causes of the decline of the federal criminal trial and puts forth meaningful, achievable principles and recommendations to address this crisis. With its release, NACDL intends to launch a sustained effort to rein in the abuse of the trial penalty throughout federal and state criminal justice systems. The Trial Penalty report, and the principles and recommendations it puts forward, seeks to save the right to a trial from extinction.

The entire report is well worth reading.  For those in the white collar field, I'll note that the report contains a specific section on economic crimes.  This portion of the report focuses on Section 2B1.1 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  The report discusses the role of 2B1.1 and loss calculations in creating incentives for defendants to plead guilty.  You can access the entire NACDL report here.

I found the NACDL report particularly interesting as I've engaged in much research on the issue of plea bargaining and sentencing differentials, including the impact of such incentives on innocent defendants.  In one study, we found that 56% of innocent participants were willing to falsely confess guilt and "plead guilty" in return for a bargain.  You can read more about those findings and the issue of plea bargaining's innocence issue here

(LED)

August 14, 2018 in Fraud, News, Scholarship, Sentencing | Permalink

Friday, July 13, 2018

The 400 lb hacker?

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.

(esp)

July 13, 2018 in Computer Crime, Corruption, Current Affairs, Investigations, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Deep State Story: The James Wolfe Indictment

Here is the Indictment returned late last week in U.S. v. James Wolfe. Wolfe worked for 30 years for the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence ("SSCI") handling top secret and other classified information provided by the Executive Branch to Congress. According to the Indictment, Wolfe leaked the identity of "Male-1" to at least two reporters on two separate occasions and then lied about it to FBI Special Agents. Male-1 is none other than Carter Page and it is clear that the leaks were intended to damage Donald Trump. Reporter #2, referenced in the Indictment, is New York Times reporter Ali Watkins who was romantically involved with Wolfe for almost four years. Records of Watkins' email and phone contacts (but apparently not their contents) were subpoenaed from third party providers. Andrew McCarthy of NRO Online has commentary here, while Alex Pappas of Fox News examines some of Ms. Watkins' embarrassing historical tweets concerning the identity of leakers and the propriety of sleeping with sources. The press and certain members of Congress are concerned, as well they should be, about DOJ's capture of journalistic records. But keep in mind that the press is not the only institution with a watchdog role. The SSCI performs that function as well, and does so officially, with respect to intelligence-related oversight, and it is ironic (in a bad way) that its Chief of Security, if the charges are accurate, betrayed SSCI's trust. At this point Wolfe has only been charged, under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 (the Martha Stewart statute) with lying to the FBI.

(wisenberg)

June 11, 2018 in Celebrities, Congress, Current Affairs, Investigations, Martha Stewart, Media, News, Obstruction, Prosecutions, Statutes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Carry on Mueller

Judge  Amy Berman Jackson's Memorandum Opinion and Order gives a green light to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III proceeding with the case against Paul J. Manafort, Jr.  (see here and here).  Her straightforward Order dissects the authority provided to the Special Counsel and rejects Manfort's claims that this was beyond the Special Counsel's appointment and if not, that he overstepped his appointment. Taking the allegations in the Indictment, she demonstrates how the Supereding Indictment clearly falls within the realm allowed of the Special Counsel. One interesting side note in this Order is the discussion of the role of internal agency regulations.  She states, "internal agency regulations do not create rights that an individual under investigation may enforce in court." Judge Jackson, while allowing this case to proceed, does include an important point that should be noted when reviewing documents of anyone accused of crimes.  She states that, "[i]t bears emphasizing at this stage that Manafort is presumed to be innocent of these charges, and it will be the prosecution's burden to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." But the bottom line is that Special Counsel Mueller may continue, as he should.

(esp)

May 16, 2018 in Investigations, Judicial Opinions, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

That's Entertainment: Judge Ellis and the Hearing on Manafort's Motion to Dismiss

Attached is the transcript of  yesterday's hearing in the Eastern District of Virginia on Paul Manafort's Motion to Dismiss the Indictment against him: USA v PAUL J MANAFORT JR - 5-4-2018 Hearing on Motion to Dismiss. The hearing was before Judge T.S. Ellis III and was characterized by Judge Ellis's typically blunt and withering wit.

Here are some takeaways:

  1. Despite the headline worthy comments of Judge Ellis, the Court will reject Manafort's argument that the Indictment should be dismissed because the Order appointing Mueller is broader than the Special Counsel regulation allows. DAG Rod Rosenstein's  August 2 2017 Letter Re The Scope of Investigation and Definition of Authority makes clear that Mueller had the authority from the first day of his appointment, on May 17, 2017, to investigate Manafort for colluding with Russian officials during the 2016 election in violation of U.S. laws and for crimes arising out of payments Manafort received from former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Judge Ellis indicated that he considered this to be the government's strongest argument. Unless Judge Ellis believes that Rosenstein's August 2 letter was an after-the-fact sham, the letter puts an end to Manafort's central claim. Judge Ellis may also find, although this is not as certain, that the Special Counsel regulation creates no personal rights for Manafort that are enforceable in a judicial proceeding. In other words, this is a non-justiciable intra-branch matter within the Department of Justice.  
  2. It was striking to me that Michael Dreeben, who spoke for the government, did not lead with the argument that Rosenstein's August 2 letter resolves the question of whether Mueller is acting within his authority. Why not? Is it because, Mueller does not want a detailed factual inquiry on this point? During the motions hearing, both sides referenced Rosenstein's December 13, 2017 House Judiciary Committee testimony. Here are relevant Excerpts from that testimony, in which Rosenstein stated under oath that "the specific matters are not specified in the [May 17] order. So I discussed that with Director Mueller when he started, and we've had ongoing discussion about what is exactly within the scope of his investigation." (Rosenstein could not say with 100% certainty what parts of Mueller's investigation were an expansion and what parts were a clarification of Mueller's original mandate. He promised to get back to the House Judiciary Committee on this point.] Dreeben told Judge Ellis that the "specific factual  [August 2] statement, as [DAG] Rosenstein described in his Congressional testimony, was conveyed to the special counsel upon his appointment in ongoing discussions that defined the parameters of the investigation that he wanted the special counsel to conduct." So which is it? Was the scope of the investigation crystal clear on March 20, 2017 or on May 17, 2017, or did it have to be hammered out in ongoing discussions. Rod Rosenstein's May 17 2017 Order Appointing Robert S. Mueller III clearly states that Mueller has the authority to conduct the investigation confirmed by former FBI Director Comey in his March 20, 2017 Congressional testimony. Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, wanted to see any memos written by Rosenstein leading up to Mueller's appointment to help determine the scope of Mueller's authority. When Judge Ellis asked Downing how he knew such memos existed, Downing, who worked under Rosenstein for five years, replied: "Mr. Rosenstein is a stickler for memos being written, for there to be a written record for the actions of the Department of Justice." Downing argued that if Rosenstein exceeded his authority in appointing Mueller, Mueller "does not have the authority of a U.S. Attorney." In that event, according to Downing, any indictment procured from the grand jury by Mueller's operation would presumably be null and void.
  3. Fox News's assertions that Judge Ellis accused the Mueller team of "lying" and using "unfettered power" to target Trump are not supported by the record. Judge Ellis did express extreme skepticism regarding one of the government's arguments and made the undoubtedly true statement that the government was using Manafort to go after Trump.
  4. The non-justiciable, intra-branch dispute argument by Mueller's people could end up biting them in the butt in another context. Expect President Trump to use a similar argument if he is subpoenaed, asserts Executive Privilege, and is challenged on this point by Mueller. Trump will argue that Mueller, as an inferior officer within the President's DOJ, lacks regulatory authority to contest Executive Privilege, and that the entire matter is a non-justiciable, intra-branch dispute. Contrary to general assumptions, U.S. v. Nixon does not settle this issue. The Supreme Court in Nixon rejected President Nixon's justiciability argument, but did so on the basis that Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski had the explicit authority to contest assertions of Executive Privilege pursuant to the terms of the federal regulation that governed his appointment. As far as I can tell, Special Counsel Mueller has not been given explicit authority to contest issues of Executive Privilege.

(wisenberg)

May 5, 2018 in Corruption, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Fraud, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Privileges, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Of Course Michael Cohen is Taking the Fifth

Everyone is reporting that Michael Cohen is taking the Fifth Amendment (see here and here). This is no surprise.  For the government to get a search warrant, probable cause is needed.  Further when there are parallel proceedings - with both possible civil liability and criminal prosecution, lawyers are quick to request a stay of the civil proceeding pending a resolution of the criminal action. When an individual is a target or subject of an ongoing investigation, not talking is about the best a lawyer can advise to their client. Perhaps the only monumental aspect of this case is that the individual taking the 5th Amendment happened to be the President's lawyer.

(esp)

April 25, 2018 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, News, Privileges, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

In the News & Around the Blogosphere

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Mueller: What Could He Do And When Could He Do It?

Monday night, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed his Response [Government's Response in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss] to Paul Manafort's Motion to Dismiss the Superseding Indictment. Manafort's Motion to Dismiss is bottomed on the alleged invalidity of Acting AG Rod Rosenstein's May 7 2017 Order Appointing Robert S. Mueller III as Special Counsel and defining Mueller's jurisdiction. As part of his Response, Mueller referenced and filed Attachment C, a redacted version of Rosenstein's  August 2 2017 Letter Re The Scope of Investigation and Definition of Authority.

Before Monday night there was no public knowledge of this August 2 letter, which sets out in detail, among other things, the specific matters already under investigation before Mueller came on board.  According to the August 2 letter, the May 7 Order had been "worded categorically in order to permit its public release without confirming specific investigations involving specific individuals." The private August 2 letter, in contrast, "provides a more specific description of your authority." Recall that the May 7 Appointment Order authorized Mueller to "conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including...(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R § 600.4(a)." The August 2 letter unequivocally states that "[t]he following allegations were within the scope of the Investigation at the time of your appointment and are within the scope of the Order:

[Redacted]

• Allegations that Paul Manafort:

    º Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the     Russian government's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in     violation of United States law;

 º Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian     government  before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych;

[Redacted]"

In other words, FBI Director Comey was already investigating Manafort for possible criminal collusion with the Russians and for payments Manafort received from Yanukovych, before Mueller came into the picture. By including the Yanukovich payments in his probe of Trump, Comey displayed an aggressiveness sadly absent from the investigation of Ms. Clinton's email server.

What is odd is that Rosenstein's August 2 letter was sent almost three months after Mueller began his inquiry. You would think that such a specific private memo detailing the scope of Mueller's investigative authority would have been issued contemporaneously with the May 7 Order. That it wasn't suggests there were disagreements in defining the outer boundaries of Mueller's charter or that Mueller or Rosenstein began to perceive problems with the wording of the May 7 Order and foresaw the possibility of just the sort of Motion to Dismiss ultimately filed by Manafort.

Rachel Stockman at Law and Crime notes here that the more specific delineation of authority laid out in the August 2 letter came one week after the raid on Manafort's home. Mueller may have wanted written reassurance that the search and seizure were within his authority ab initio, or, as we say in Texas, from the get-go.

(wisenberg)

April 4, 2018 in Corruption, Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Government Reports, Grand Jury, Investigations, News, Obstruction, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Searches | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Van Der Zwaan Plea and Statement of the Offense

Hey, if the Office of Special Counsel can't decide the proper capitalization of his name, don't expect me to. Here are the  Van Der Zwaan Plea Agreement and the  Van Der Zwaan Statement of the Offense.

 (wisenberg)

February 20, 2018 in Current Affairs, International, Investigations, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)