Monday, March 4, 2019

Paul Ryan Is No Longer The Speaker

And Rod Rosenstein is no longer running Team Mueller.

The result of this new lay of the land in the House, and at DoJ, paradoxically--or, not?--is that those GOP members who were formerly leading the investigations into the Russia Hoax, and who are now minority members of the same key committees, seem to feel a renewed energy. Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows--they all are demonstrating a sort of fire in the belly that appeared to be lacking under the Speakership of Paul Ryan. And that speaks well of the leadership of Kevin McCarthy.

A good example of what this means was the performance of the GOP representatives in questioning Michael Cohen and referring Cohen to the new AG, Bill Barr, for Cohen's renewed perjury. Many observers noted that the majority Dems appeared unprepared for the new, aggressive tactics of the GOP.

Another example is Devin Nunes' Sunday interview with Maria Bartiromo. CTH renders a signal service in making the entire interview available, in two parts, here. The interview is fairly lengthy and wide ranging. Bartiromo, as usual, seems to be pretty well prepared and asks the right questions. She hones in on the list of witnesses that Nunes wants to interview. Most of these witnesses appear to be FBI and DoJ national security lawyers who would have been involved in the full range of coverups and abuses that characterized the Obama years, and in particular the last years leading up to the 2016 elections--the various Clinton related coverups, as well as the FISA abuse and abusive counterintelligence investigations of the Trump campaign. Among the names on the list are some that may be familiar, names like that of former Assistant AG John Carlin. Other names will probably only be familiar to those who have followed the Russia Hoax closely also appear. A good example would be Tashina ("Tash") Gauhar.

Bartiromo pointed out that Nunes no longer possesses subpoena power and is unlikely to get any subpoenas approved by Adam Schiff--reciprocity is a one way street. Nunes appeared undaunted, responding that, in the event the GOP investigations are stiffed by Schiff, he would seek cooperation from the relevant Senate Committees as well as from AG Barr. He also made a point of stating that the FISA law must be entirely "rewritten" to prevent a recurrence of what happened in the events surrounding the 2016 elections--the Russia Hoax.

While that sentiment probably reflects the general opinion of sincere conventional wisdom, two cautionary points should be made. First, the likelihood of pushing such reform through Congress is slim to non-existent. Second, and more importantly, as I discussed in What The Carter Page Case Tells Us About The Flaws In FISA, this reform approach may actually be wrong headed. In the Addendum to that post I cited the view of Robert Bork, expressed while the new FISA law was still being debated, in a WSJ article in March, 1978: 'Reforming' Foreign Intelligence. I offered some selections from Bork's article, but the key point he made was that, far from controlling abuse of electronic surveillance for political purposes--the purported intent of the FISA regime--the new law would likely make such abuse inevitable. As we have now seen. I repeat those selections here:

Re the role of FISC judges: 
"The job is managerial, not judicial, and the two should not be mixed." 
"judges cannot become adequately informed about intelligence to make the sophisticated judgments required." 
"The element of judicial secrecy is particularly troubling. Because it reverses our entire tradition, it is difficult to think of secret decisions as 'law' ... it would set apart a group of judges who must operate largely in the dark and create rules known only to themselves. ... it debases an important idea to term it the rule of law ..." 
“the law would almost certainly increase unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information simply by greatly widening the circle of people with access to it.” 
“When an attorney general must decide for himself, without shield of a warrant, whether to authorize surveillance, and must accept the consequences if things go wrong, there is likely to be more care taken. The statute, however, has the effect of immunizing everyone, and sooner or later that fact will be taken advantage of.”

Moving on!

Bartiromo also asked Nunes about the letter that Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows directed to AG Bill Barr on Friday, March 1, 2019. The letter is seven pages long. It provides detailed grounds for the request for information that is made regarding two senior members of Team Mueller: Andrew Weissmann and Zainab Gauhar. The entire letter is well worth the read, but here is the "description":

Representatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows send a letter to AG William Barr questioning the independence of two members of the Mueller team, Zainab Ahmad and Andrew Weissmann.
Both Weissmann and Ahmad were involved in contacts with DOJ official Bruce Ohr as he transferred the Clinton/Steele dossier from his wife, Nellie Ohr, into the FBI to conduct a political investigation of the campaign of Donald Trump. Over time evidence has surfaced showing a small group of officials within the DOJ and FBI who worked in concert with media and political operatives to target Trump for the benefit of candidate Hillary Clinton.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, this same small group then manipulated the offices of the DOJ and FBI to get Special Counsel Robert Mueller appointed to protect themselves and advance their ongoing interests. Weissmann and Ahmad are part of the small group who transferred into the Mueller probe. In essence they protected exposure of their own corrupt and highly unlawful conduct. Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan are attempting to inform the new Attorney General, Bill Barr, of the issue.

Is it necessary to point out that such a request to Rod Rosenstein would have been stonewalled? The same point about obvious conflicts of interest and suspected criminality has been repeated widely in the media over the past two years--by both conservatives as well as concerned liberals--to no effect. Rosenstein, himself clearly conflicted as a fact witness of the Comey firing, paid no attention. It remains to be seen what effect this request will have on Barr. On the one hand Barr could provide the requested documents, on the other hand he could--if he hasn't already--refer the matter to the offic of IG Michael Horowitz, who is already well aware of Weissmann's media contacts.

The letter is, in its key substance, based on the testimony of Bruce Ohr, which I examined in The FBI: Working Hand In Glove With Clinton Operatives. Related material, however, can be found in Why Andrew Weissmann? However, before getting into those matters a bit, I first need to correct a misstatement that Nunes made. Nunes stated to Bartiromo that Weissmann had had custody of the "dossier" which was central to the whole Russia Hoax in "early 2016." However, the correct time frame is Fall of 2016--here is my own summary of Weissmann and Zainab's involvement with Steele and the "dossier", based off Ohr's testimony:

When Ohr met Steele again in either late September or early October, 2016 he did so in company with quite a group: Peter Strzok and Lisa Page from the FBI, and three DOJ career officials from the criminal division, Bruce Swartz, Zainab Ahmad, and Andrew Weissman--currently Robert Mueller's deputy. Note that while Crossfire Hurricane was a CI case and Strzok was second in charge of Counterintelligence at the FBI, the DoJ officials were all from the Criminal Division. For prosecutors to meet with an asset at this early stage strongly suggests they were planning strategy. But this also probably means that they were planning for the FISA application, given that the application was submitted on October 21, 2016, immediately after Steele's October 20 report--the report in which Michael Cohen's famous trip to Prague for a "clandestine" meet superseded the clandestine Moscow meet of Carter Page, who was no longer with the Trump campaign. Which leads to the supposition that this meeting with Steele was to tell him, inter alia, that more detailed information was needed for the FISA application--which Steele duly provided, in the form of the now famous Cohen-Prague miscue.
All in all, it's an interesting picture: three officials from DoJ's Criminal Division meeting with the second in command of the FBI's CI division (accompanied by the Deputy Director's counsel) to plan for a FISA on--in effect--a candidate for the presidency. Coaching the asset on what was now needed for the FISA to go through, which would be typical Weissman tactics. And all this without informing the Acting AG, Sally Yates. Or so they say.

Another key fact situation, also from my summary, that was included in the letter was the failure to inform DoJ superiors, such as Sally Yates--although he states in his testimony that he counted on Weissmann to do "any necessary follow up":

Ohr himself clearly viewed himself as an asset (informant) of some sort for the FBI. For example, he refers to himself as having an FBI "handler" and he acknowledges that he knew he was going against DoJ policy in not informing his superiors of the role he was playing. At the same time, he also knew that the FBI had direct contact with Steele at times, and we know that Steele was an established FBI asset. Two assets, one handling or, at least, servicing the other? Why? To complicate matters, Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS, clearly knew that he was passing material to the FBI through Steele and even, at times, through his good friend Ohr. Yet Simpson didn't want to meet with the FBI and the FBI seemed to prefer using Ohr as a go between with Steele.

Now we're in a position to examine the closely reasoned presentation in the letter.

In his testimony Ohr states flatly and without equivocation, under insistent cross questioning, that he fully informed the FBI--who would then be obligated to so inform the DoJ--that Steele was totally biased against Trump and was "desperate" to prevent Trump's election:

Q: “So the record is clear, what the Department of Justice and the FBI was aware of prior to the first FISA application was your relationship with Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson, your wife’s relationship with Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson, Mr. Steele’s bias against Donald Trump, Mr. Simpson’s bias against Donald Trump, your wife’s compensation for work for Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS, correct?”  
Ohr: “Right. So just, again, to reiterate, when I spoke with the FBI, I told them my wife was working for Fusion GPS. I told them Fusion GPS was doing research on Donald Trump. You know, I don’t know if I used the term opposition research, but certainly that was my—what I tried to convey to them. I told them this is the information I had gotten from Chris Steele. At some point, and I don’t remember exactly when, I don’t think it was the first conversation, I told them that Chris Steele was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected.”  
Q: “So in August of 2016, you tell Andy McCabe that you’re concerned because your wife works for Fusion GPS and that’s where you’re getting the information?”
Ohr: “I wanted Mr. McCabe to know ... I wanted the FBI to be aware of any possible bias—”  
Q: “So you believe there was the possibility of bias?”  
Ohr: “Yes.”

So, the picture we emerge with of Weissmann and Ahmad is that they were part of a "small group" (the letter's term) of officials who received and acted upon "information" that was known to come from a biased source--and even from a an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS--and that was also known to be unverified. They acted upon this "information" by using it as the basis for a FISA application which hid material facts from the FISA court (FISC). Therefore, the involvement of Weissmann and Ahmad, especially with biased information connected to the Clinton campaign, before their appointments to Team Mueller, raises the issue of their own bias that should preclude them from the Mueller investigations. (The letter fails to mention Weissmann's known connections to the Clinton campaign.)

The long and the short of the matter is that Jordan and Meadows are seeking the following information, as well as wishing to draw the matter to AG Barr's personal attention:

Finally, given that the Dems--in the persons of Adam Schiff and Mark Warner--continue to seek to use the famous Trump Tower meeting as proof of "collusion", I draw attention once again to a post that I linked above: Why Andrew Weissmann? Not only does the UPDATE to that post detail Weissmann's involvement in leaks to the media, but the post generally provides essential information regarding Weissmann's past connections to the FBI, to Clinton associates, as well as his connections to Ohr and the Fusion GPS crowd:

Weissmann is best known as a hard charging prosecutor, but one with a reputation for being willing to take ethical shortcuts to make the big case. This led, in 2005, to the US Supreme Court unanimously overturning the conviction in his biggest case: the Enron Case. The criticism of Weissmann's "intimidating" "scorched earth" tactics that arose from the Enron Case made Weissmann a hot potato in the legal world, but fortunately for him he landed on his feet--as Special Counsel to a friend and former colleague, FBI Director Robert Mueller.

This was Weissmann's first gig at the FBI, and lasted probably less than a full year while he looked for a more lucrative position--by the end of 2005 Weissmann went into private practice at Jenner and Block in New York. But in 2011 Weissmann returned to the FBI and his mentor Mueller, serving as General Counsel under Mueller until the end of Mueller's term in September, 2013. He continued at the FBI under James Comey until January, 2015, when he returned to DoJ as head of the Criminal Fraud Section. His final career move, to date, was his reunion with Mueller, joining Mueller's Special Counsel team in June, 2017.

What was Weissmann doing as General Counsel at the FBI? According to DoJ,

"The General Counsel of the FBI is ultimately responsible for all of the legal affairs of the FBI. ... The General Counsel interacts regularly with all of the elements of the FBI, the Justice Department, the U.S. Intelligence Community, a range of other government agencies, foreign partners, ..."

You get the drift. During his four years as General Counsel at the FBI Weissmann would have been interacting on a daily basis with FBI management at the very highest levels, certainly including the Director (Mueller, then Comey) and Deputy Director--with additional contact with the highest levels in all important Divisions. Beyond that, however, he would have been developing contacts throughout the Intelligence Community and with "foreign partners"--prominently including the British intelligence agencies. The appeal of having Weissmann "in the loop" of the Russia hoax is obvious--he would be a trusted contact with the top levels of the FBI and would have a wide range of other useful contacts.

But Weissmann's connections to the FBI would not have been the end of his usefulness. Weissmann was well known to be a Hillary Clinton partisan, and even attended the Clinton election night celebration--which turned into a wake. Just how extensive were Weissmann's contacts with the Clinton campaign? Here the waters are murky. Nevertheless, Weissmann is known to have had contacts with Mary Jacoby, the wife of Glenn Simpson, as well as with Simpson himself. Further, others in the Clinton circle also had contacts. Aaron Klein has detailed remarkable new information involving contacts of Edward Lieberman with the Russians involved in the famous Trump Tower meeting on the days surrounding that meeting--including the very day of the meeting. Edward Lieberman is a lawyer and an associate of Madeline Albright whose expertise involves “multi-billion dollar privatizations of oil and gas assets in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Russia.” He was also the husband of the late Evelyn Lieberman, a Deputy Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House.

Was Bruce Ohr "in the loop" regarding the Trump Tower meeting--which I regard as a clear attempt to set up Donald Trump Jr. and/or Jared Kushner in a quid pro quo arrangement for supposed "dirt" on Hillary Clinton? If Ohr knew of this attempted setup of the Trump campaign, there would seem to be little to no doubt that Weissmann also knew. Further, since both would have known of the connection of Fusion GPS to the Clinton campaign, was there possibly a more direct connection to the Clinton campaign, through Weissman?

Finally, when it came time to select a Special Counsel, would not Weissmann have been a logical person to sound out Mueller on returning to government--or should we say Deep State--work? It's telling that Weissmann jumped on board the Mueller train as soon as the Special Counsel was established. Had there been preliminary discussions?

We now know that Weissman was a more integral part of the Russia Hoax/conspiracy than previously suspected--probably from the very beginning. The question is, just how extensive was his involvement? Did it extend to contact with the Clinton campaign itself? Did it extend beyond the election to strategizing with FBI efforts to ensnare and use George Papadopoulos? Did it extend to reaching out to his mentor Mueller during the early months of the Trump administration, planning for a Special Counsel?

The answers to these questions should be of pressing concern to Congressional investigators.

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