Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order today that dissects two claims raised in Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washinton v. U.S. Dept. of Justice related to the Mueller Report. It notes that "CREW brought this action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, against the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”), seeking the production of documents that Attorney General Barr reviewed in advance of his public announcement concerning the report transmitted to him by Special Counsel Mueller." Key to this analysis was looking at applicable exemptions under FOIA.
The Court found Document 6 properly withheld, but Document 15 did not have a like finding. The agency attempted to use the deliberative process provilege and the attorney-client privilege under exemption 5. The court stated:
As noted above, summary judgment may be granted on the basis of agency affidavits in FOIA cases, when “they are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the record or by evidence of agency bad faith.” Judicial Watch, Inc., 726 F.3d at 215, quoting Consumer Fed’n, 455 F.3d at 287. But here, we have both.
The court stated:
The review of the unredacted document in camera reveals that the suspicions voiced by the judge in EPIC and the plaintiff here were well-founded, and that not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege. The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time.
Perhaps a deeper investigation is needed here. Examining prosecutorial discretion on when obstruction of justice is proper and when it is not, is something that needs review. In my recent Article, "Obstruction of Justice: Redesigning the Shortcut," I argue that there needs to be a consistent framework for obstruction of justice and not one that can be rearranged dependent upon the Attorney General or others.
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.
Friday, July 31, 2020
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.
July 31, 2020 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Government Reports, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, News, Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 20, 2020
Michael T. Flynn's Opposition to Rehearing En Banc has been filed today in the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This is in opposition to Judge Emmet G. Sullivan's Petition for Rehearing En Banc, filed on July 9. The Department of Justice was invited by the Court to respond and did so today in the United States' Response to the Petition for Rehearing En Banc.
Both Flynn and DOJ argue that Sullivan lacked standing to file the Petition for Rehearing, as he is not a party and there is no longer a case or controversy. Apparently only one federal judge in history has filed such a petition and it was denied. DOJ's brief also argues in detail, quite effectively I think, that the panel's decision granting mandamus does not conflict with: D.C. Circuit precedent; precedent in other circuits; or Supreme Court precedent.
DOJ also responds directly and succinctly to Judge Sullivan's argument that mandamus was premature, because he had not yet held a hearing or made a ruling on DOJ's Motion to Dismiss. Flynn therefore had an effective remedy on appeal from any adverse ruling. This argument ignores the continuing harm to the Executive Branch's interests occasioned by the judge's dilatory behavior:
"That objection misses the point: at stake is not mere consideration of a pending motion, but a full-scale adversarial procedure spearheaded by a court-appointed amicus hostile to the government’s position raising factual questions, relying on extra-record materials, probing the government’s internal deliberations, and second-guessing core prosecutorial judgments.... Accordingly, while the panel specifically recognized that '[a] hearing may sometimes be appropriate before granting leave of court under Rule 48,' it determined that the hearing contemplated by the district court here would 'be used as an occasion to superintend the prosecution’s charging decisions' and would cause 'specific harms.' "
My prediction is that Judge Sullivan's Petition for Rehearing En Banc will be denied.
Friday, June 19, 2020
Attached are the separate Responses of Michael Flynn and the Department of Justice to former federal judge John Gleeson's Amicus Brief in U.S. v. Flynn. A copy of Gleeson's Brief is also attached for ease of reference. Keep in mind that all of these papers were filed in Judge Emmet Sullivan's court, rather in the DC Court of Appeals which is hearing General Flynn's Petition for Writ of Mandamus against Judge Sullivan. This is because it was Judge Sullivan who decided to appoint an amicus and set a lengthy briefing schedule instead of granting the Motion to Dismiss outright or simply holding a hearing in the first place.
The DOJ Response, in addition to demolishing Gleeson's legal arguments, puts more stress than before on the Interests of Justice rationale for moving to dismiss the case against General Flynn. I'll be commenting on that in the next few days. DOJ also goes out of its way to oppose the Flynn camp's position that there was prosecutorial misconduct connected to the prosecution. DOJ rejects this out of hand, both with respect to all of the older exculpatory materials and the information discovered, declassified, and turned over by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen within the last two months. DOJ in fact turned over a significant amount of exculpatory material prior to General Flynn's guilty plea. Of course, we still have the mystery of the missing original draft 302, which has not been explained to my satisfaction by the Fan Belt Inspectors.
As noted, the Jensen documents were not turned over until very recently, but there is no indication that any prosecutor knew, much less received, these items. That's important, because these items unmistakably lend further support to the view that Flynn's January 24 statements to FBI Special Agents were not material to the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane investigation. This makes the items Brady in my view. But DOJ still has its institutional interests to protect. And it has historically been in the forefront of seeking to limit the reach of Brady.
More to come on all of this.
Saturday, June 6, 2020
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.
Thursday, March 5, 2020
U.S. District Court Reggie Walton issued an order today stating that he would review in camera the unredacted version of the Mueller Report to determine whether the withheld material comports with FOIA exemptions. But the Court's Order also sends a message on the importance of truthful transparency. The court in comparing the redacted Mueller Report with Attorney General Barr's comments states in part:
"The Court has grave concerns about the objectivity of the process that preceded the public release of the redacted version of the Mueller Report and its impact on the Department's subsequent justifications that is redactions of the Mueller Report are authorized by the FOIA."
"The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller's principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr's intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report - a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report."
"[t]he Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report. The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr's statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements, cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.
These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr's lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr's credibility and in turn, the Department's representation that 'all of the information redacted from the version of the [Mueller] Report released by [ ] Attorney General [Barr]' is protected from disclosure by its claimed FOIA exemptions."
The Order can be found from the link on the Electronic Privacy Information Center's webpage here.
Sunday, March 24, 2019
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.
- 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.")
- 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.
- 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."
- 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."
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
Monday, July 23, 2018
For all of you Manafort trial junkies, here is the Government Exhibit List, recently filed in U.S. v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., set to start soon in U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III's Alexandria courtroom.
Here also is Judge Ellis's Order Denying Paul Manafort's Motion for Change of Venue. Judge Ellis ruled last week that Manafort is not entitled to a presumption that any Alexandria federal trial jury would be partial to the government. If Manafort can establish actual prejudicial partiality through voir dire, a herculean task under current federal criminal law, Judge Ellis will revisit the issue.
Monday, June 11, 2018
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.
Saturday, May 5, 2018
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
The redacted version of the Comey Memos have now been released and do not on their face come close to establishing criminal obstruction of justice by Donald Trump. What they do show is a new President with no concept of how to appropriately interact with his condescending, schoolmarmish FBI Director.
There are conceivably four potential endeavors to obstruct justice referenced in the memos.
1. According to Comey's notes, the President asks Comey if he can see his way to "letting this go, to letting Flynn go," because, "Flynn is a good guy and has been through a lot." It was an inappropriate request, but it was not an order. Had it been an order, it would have been even more inappropriate, but still not a crime. The President has the constitutional authority to order an investigation closed.
2. The President also asks Comey to "lift the cloud" hanging over him by publicly confirming that the President is not under investigation. Comey had already volunteered to Trump at least twice that Trump was not under investigation. Comey declined the President's request to publicly "lift the cloud" and lectured him on the appropriate channels through which to make such a request. There was nothing wrong with the President's request and there would have been nothing wrong with Comey acceding to it.
3. After asking Comey to "lift the cloud" for the umpteenth time, Trump tells Comey, "I have been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing you know." Comey believes this was a reference by Trump to their January 27, 2017 conversation in which Comey expressed his preference to remain on the job as FBI Director and Trump asked for and received a pledge of "honest loyalty" from Comey. In other words, Comey believes that Trump wanted Comey to "lift the cloud" hanging over Trump in return for Comey keeping his job. Assuming that Trump actually said this, it was not a crime. Trump has the constitutional authority to order an investigation closed. He has the authority to fire any non-civil service appointee for refusing to carry out such an order. Trump could have told Comey, "lift the cloud or I will fire you." Ergo, he can certainly suggest that Comey owed it to him to "lift the cloud."
4. Trump repeatedly told Comey that the Russian hooker story was false, because Trump did not stay overnight in Russia during the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant. Apparently Trump did stay overnight. Is this a false statement to a law enforcement officer by someone endeavoring to obstruct justice? The Government would have to prove that Trump actually made this statement knowing it was false and knowing that he was under criminal investigation. But Trump had been already been told by Comey, multiple times, that he was not under investigation. Thus, even assuming that Trump made the statement in question and intentionally lied (as opposed to misremembering), a prosecutor would have to show that Trump was endeavoring to obstruct a criminal investigation, despite having been told that there was no investigation.
If Comey's notes are accurate, the President was a boorish novice with no comprehension of long-accepted norms regarding acceptable interaction between the President and his FBI Director. That doesn't make Trump a criminal.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Playing the press has become an important component in handling a white collar case. In the past, one might remain silent and let the case be resolved prior to making any statements, especially press-related statements. With the speed of the internet, it often becomes necessary for attorneys to respond to allegations to provide a level playing field. It, therefore, was no surprise to see Michael Cohen's attorney, Stephen M. Ryan, issuing a press release. (see here). He calls the US Attorneys Office "completely inappropriate and unnecessary." He argues that his client "has cooperated completely with all government entities, including providing thousands of non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath."
It is interesting to see the use of a search here as opposed to a subpoena. The downside of the government using a search is that it is more expensive, not secret like the grand jury process, requires probable cause, and if the probable cause is later found lacking the entire search can be invalidated. The upsides of a search are surprise, getting the material immediately without having to wait for the grand jury, obtaining items that might be found in plain view, and also receiving possible incriminating statements from individuals while performing the search, this latter one mostly applicable in the corporate or business context. One can argue obstruction of justice either way. On one hand you get the items in question before there is any possibility of them being destroyed. On the other hand if documents were destroyed, prosecutors would have a "short-cut offense" to charge of obstruction of justice.
In my Article, White Collar Shortcuts, forthcoming in the Illinois Law Review, I note how prosecutors are using investigative and charging "short-cuts" more frequently in white collar cases. Whether the use of a search warrant was a "short-cut" here, remains to be seen.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
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:
• 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;
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.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Today in United States v. Marinello, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a circuit split and significantly narrowed the reach of Internal Revenue Code Section 7212(a)'s Omnibus Clause, which makes it a felony to "corruptly or by force...endeavor[r] to obstruct or imped[e] the due administration of this title [the Internal Revenue Code]."
The Court held that the phrase "'due administration of [the Tax Code]' does not cover routine administrative procedures that are near-universally applied to all taxpayers, such as the ordinary processing of tax returns. Rather the clause as a whole refers to specific interference with targeted governmental tax-related proceedings, such as a particular investigation or audit."
Justice Breyer wrote the 7-2 opinion for the Court. Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, dissented.
The majority relied in part on analogous cases from its general obstruction jurisprudence, including United States v. Aguilar and Arthur Andersen v. United States. Although the focus was on the nexus required between the obstruction and a particular act of administration, the Court also stressed the rule of lenity and the need to provide fair warning to the public. This approach could be potentially relevant to any obstruction of justice case that Special Counsel Mueller may one day bring against President Trump or administration officials. Some of the theories floating around cable television about what constitutes obstruction under the federal criminal code are unusually broad and unlikely to survive rigorous analysis based on Aguilar and Arthur Andersen.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Lost in the shuffle of last weekend's uproar over the McCabe firing was the astonishing disclosure of yet another unredacted series of text messages between the FBI's Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The Federalist has the story here. These messages and others had been provided to Congress previously in heavily redacted form, but Congressmen or Congressional investigators wishing to see them unredacted had to travel to DOJ.
Strzok had a pre-existing friendship with U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph "Rudy" Contreras, of the D.C. District Court. As luck would have it, Contreras was appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ("FISC" or "FISA Court") in May 2016. On July 25, 2016, Page texted Strzok, saying "Rudy is on the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]! Did you know that?" Strzok responded that he did, adding "I need to get together with him." The two then discussed ways in which Strzok could run into Contreras during a social setting, as a mask for some kind of substantive discussion. Strzok texted Page that “[REDACTED] suggested a social setting with others would probably be better than a one on one meeting. I'm sorry, I'm just going to have to invite you to that dinner party.” Strzok thought he needed to "come up with some other work people cover for action.” Page replied "Why more? Six is a perfectly fine dinner party." During the exchange, Strzok expressed skepticism that such a meeting could be accomplished without forcing a recusal by Conteras, while Page assured him that the bar for recusal was a high one.
Do we even need to say how utterly repulsive it is for Strzok (a high-level FBI Supervisory Special agent) and Page (an FBI lawyer) to be seriously thinking of arranging a fake social get together in order to convey information ex parte to a sitting federal judge?
Most of the press coverage of the text exchange has focused on Judge Contreras' later recusal from the Michael Flynn criminal case. This misses the point entirely. Flynn was not even being criminally investigated in July 2016 and wasn't charged until December 2017. There is no way either Strzok or Page would know that Flynn would be charged, much less who the judge would be. This is all about the FISA Court. The FBI opened its Russian collusion case in late July 2016, right around the time that Page and Strzok were texting each other about Rudy. Strzok himself opened the case. It seems likely to me that the pair hoped Contreras would be sitting on the panel that would one day review a FISA application related to the Trump campaign. That affidavit was submitted in October 2016. Sources close to Strzok have told at least one journalist that the meeting never took place.
Monday's WSJ story (subscription required) by Del Quentin Wilber on the Strzok-Page exchanges, mentions that Contreras was appointed to the FISA Court but leads with a focus on the Flynn case and does nothing to connect any dots regarding the proximity in time between the texts and the onset of the formal (or any informal) FBI investigation. The story does not even mention the FISA Court's approval of the October 2016 FISA warrant application for Carter Page. That's not surprising given Weber's Wilber's previous softball reporting on the pair. Strzok and Page were sources for Weber's Wilber's WSJ predecessor on the DOJ beat, Devlin Barrett and it was FBI leaks to Barrett in October 2016 that led in part to the recent firing of Andrew McCabe.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
News is coming in fast and furious, since Friday night's firing of Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
First, there was McCabe's own defiant and somewhat poignant statement, seriously marred by his ludicrous suggestion that the career professionals at DOJ-OIG and FBI-OPR, appointed respectively by Obama and Mueller, were only doing Donald Trump's bidding.
Second, came President Trump's mean spirited tweet celebrating McCabe's firing.
Third out of the box? Trump Lawyer John Dowd's nutty call for Rod Rosenstein to shut down Mueller's probe. What else?
Brennan's tirade against Trump amid reports that McCabe has given notes of his conversations with Trump to Mueller. (Who hasn't done that?)
Jonathan Turley suggests here that McCabe's full statement poses potential problems for Comey, because McCabe claims that his conversation with the WSJ was authorized by Comey. This arguably contradicts Comey's sworn statement to Congress that he did not leak or authorize the leak of Clinton investigation details to the press. Turley also believes that McCabe's firing may embolden Trump to fire Mueller if McCabe, unlike Flynn, isn't prosecuted for lying to investigators. To top things off, there is the growing consensus that DOJ-FBI's original probe, taken over by Mueller after Comey's firing, was marred from its inception by the FISA affidavit's over-reliance on the Steele Dossier, made worse by the failure to disclose (to the FISA judges) that the dossier was bought and paid for by the DNC and Clinton's campaign.
Some things to keep in mind. The ends almost never justify the means. Whatever McCabe thought of Trump, he had no business leaking classified law enforcement information to a WSJ reporter in order to protect the Bureau's image surrounding its handling of the Clinton email and Clinton Foundation investigations. And of course McCabe had no right to lie about it to investigators, under oath or otherwise.
In the rush to hate Trump at all costs, care must be taken not to compromise the criminal law, investigative norms, or the Constitution. Trump may be unfit in many ways to serve as President of the United States. But he won the election. I see no substantive evidence on the public record now before us that he did so unlawfully. There is a difference between his repeated violations of decades-long institutional norms, regardless of how repulsive those violations may be, and impeachable or criminal offenses. Failure to recognize this difference, or bending the rules to get Trump, will have disastrous consequences in the long run.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Monday, November 13, 2017
Andrew McCarthy at National Review Online compares the aggressiveness of Special Counsel Bob Mueller's Russia collusion investigation to the disgraceful kid gloves DOJ-FBI treatment of Mrs. Clinton and her email server. He is right on all counts, but this is not Mueller's problem. Mueller is doing exactly what one would expect of a Special Counsel. History teaches us that a Special or Independent Counsel will get rolled if he does not establish, unequivocally and from the start, that he will not be trifled with, obstructed, or lied to. I'm not aware of anything that Mueller has done to date that is outside ethical boundaries. The real outrage, as I have said many times before, is that a Special Counsel was not appointed to investigate Mrs. Clinton. The governing federal regulation plainly called for it. Let's review.
The Attorney General, or in cases in which the Attorney General is recused, the Acting Attorney General, will appoint a Special Counsel when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted and -
(a) That investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney's Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances; and
(b) That under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.
In Mrs. Clinton's case, the President's former Secretary of State, and the leading Democratic Party candidate for President, was credibly accused of mishandling classified documents on a private unauthorized email server and the President himself had communicated with her through that server. Even worse, during the investigation, the President improperly interfered by publicly declaring, on two separate occasions, that Mrs. Clinton did not intentionally engage in wrongdoing and did not harm national security. It is easy to imagine the furor that would have ensued if a Republican President had engaged in such conduct. The pressure to appoint a Special Counsel would have been relentless. It is easy to imagine, because that is exactly what happened with respect to President Trump.
So conservatives are understandably (and rightfully) outraged at the double standard, but, as with so much else, President Trump has primarily himself to blame. When you fire the FBI Director who is investigating members of your administration for unlawful collusion with Russia, and immediately brag to the Russian Ambassador that you fired him in order to get the Russia collusion investigation behind you, you are going to get a Special Counsel. It is yet another example of how President Trump, a political genius with a profound ignorance of basic American civics and governing norms, has stumbled into problem after problem. Kudos to Ty Cobb for limiting the damage for now.
None of this is Mueller's fault. He is doing the job we expect a competent Special Counsel to do.