Tuesday, July 28, 2020

David Laufman To The Fore

With the revelation that Igor Danchenko was the Washington, DC, based Primary Subsource for the fraudulent Steele Dossier, attention has once again turned to David Laufman--another disgraced former DoJ official. Until being forced out of DoJ, Laufman ran DoJ's Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. It was Laufman who negotiated a "use immunity" deal for Danchenko, with a rabidly anti-Trump DC attorney who represented Danchenko during his three day FBI interview.

The reason Laufman's name is getting so much buzz now is because his involvement with the Danchenko interview can now be seen to be only the tip of the iceberg of his involvement in the Russia Hoax. As it happens, Laufman's DoJ section also handled the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which was used to spearhead the FBI's offensive against Trump.

We've gone over FARA previously. It was enacted originally in 1938 to deal with US persons propagandizing on behalf of Nazi Germany. The idea was to require such persons to publicly declare themselves, so that Americans could judge how to evaluate the propaganda they were spreading. While there were 23 prosecutions of the Act during WW2, since then DoJ enforcement policy has normally been to send a letter to the subject advising them to register. I know this because I had experience with FARA. The fact is that FARA, over the years, was often honored in the breach, in the sense that nobody really saw a need to register as long the person made no attempt to conceal his agency relationship--concealment of such a relationship had been the whole point of enacting FARA.

That changed when Donald Trump ran for president, and Laufman was the reason for that change. Paul Sperry does a fine job explaining this in:

No Evidence Needed for Collusion Probe, Just a Pretext Devised by This Man
David Laufman, described as the "mastermind" of a strategy to pursue Team Trump not for conspiracy with Russia, but for the pretext of failing to register as foreign agents

Under established policy, if the FBI and DoJ believed that there was a genuine reason to require a given person to register, a letter to that effect would be sent. I can attest that DoJ very specifically declined to use FARA as a criminal predicate for obtaining a FISA against a US person (a criminal predicate is required by FISA when a US person is the subject). The reason was that normal enforcement notification procedures had to be followed--FARA was not to be used as a pretext but to fulfill its original purpose of ensuring transparency. A request letter had to be sent, offering a chance to register and--in rare cases--pay a fine.

Here's Sperry's explanation of Laufman's role:

Newly released documents reveal the FBI never had even preliminary evidence of a Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia, and instead used a rarely enforced statutory relic – the Foreign Agents Registration Act – as the legal rationale for opening investigations in 2016-2017 and surveilling Trump campaign aides.
On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russia – nicknamed Crossfire Hurricane – not under espionage conspiracy laws but under FARA.

The next month the FBI opened four separate FARA cases into people associated with the Trump campaign. Two other FARA cases were added the next year. Only one involved an individual with connections to Russia: Carter Page. 
The recently disclosed documents, which surfaced thanks to declassification efforts, court filings and FOIA lawsuits, reveal that the initial target of the probe – then-Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos -- was suspected of working for Israel, not Russia. Other FARA cases involved alleged ties to Turkey (Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn), Ukraine (campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates) and Egypt (Trump Mideast adviser Walid Phares). 
All six sensitive cases were approved through the Justice Department’s counterintelligence and export control section, run at the time by former Justice official David Laufman. 

DoJ gets notified when full counterintelligence investigations get opened. If the predication appears to be insufficient, DoJ can raise that issue with the FBI. You can be sure that those six cases didn't just float across the transom of Laufman's office door one day, without prior notification and discussion. Sperry points out that once those cases were opened Laufman began receiving regular briefings from Peter Strzok. So, Laufman's role in all this will no doubt be raised and discussed at length in any conversations Strzok may have with John Durham. Barr and Durham will also be trying to determine who else Laufman coordinated with in all this. Major changes of policy don't just happen for no reason.

Before the flurry of Trump-related cases, only three people had been found guilty of violating the seldom-enforced law since 1966. Passed in the run-up to World War II to curb Nazi propaganda, FARA mainly requires people to fill out a two-page form disclosing work on behalf of a foreign entity.

Again, the whole reason behind FARA was transparency, not counterintelligence prosecutions.

Nevertheless, the FBI used FARA as the basis for a wide-ranging probe of a presidential campaign and then a presidency that included the use of confidential sources to secretly record Trump’s advisers, according to a December report by the Justice Department’s watchdog. At the same time, the FBI dispatched agents to tail them, stake out their homes and dig through their trash — none of which is typically ordered in FARA probes, which rarely even result in fines. 
Investigators for the Republican-led Senate looking into the conduct of the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team told RealClearInvestigations they believe the FBI and, later, Mueller used FARA as pretext to authorize investigations into individuals against whom there was no other significant evidence, raising fresh concerns about the predication for the nearly three-year investigation of Trump. Mueller also used the threat of FARA prosecutions to squeeze individuals for Russia information. 
Only one of the six was indicted for FARA-related violations, and none was charged with any espionage or conspiracy crimes related to Russia.

This places Laufman near the heart of the big picture conspiracy. Just as the FBI--and ultimately disgaced former Director James Comey--was a choke point in the bureaucracy because only the FBI could open a counterintelligence investigation, so to Laufman was a chokepoint because ultimately he was the one who would have to approve the unprecedented use of FARA for these purposes. This is the case that Durham is trying to build, step by step, and which we're told is nearing the point at which developments can be made public. The Danchenko revelations are surely a preliminary to further revelations, and the role of David Laufman is probably an indicator of at least one major direction in which this sprawling investigation is headed. There are a lot of moving parts here, and that's part of the challenge for Barr and Durham--coordinating them all and avoiding conflicts.


  1. Mark - Congratulations on the quote. Now if they had only given your blog a link...

    Who has been doing the FOIA Filings re FARA?

  2. I'm sure Judicial Watch is prominent among those doing FOIA filings.

  3. Here's a link to our new buddy Dave speaking to NPR after the reduced Stone sentencing guidance.

  4. Thomas Friedman likes to write how great the Chicoms are, why isn't he investigated on a FARA violation?

    rob S