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Category: Law and Judiciary

The Russia Hoax Is Over: Now It’s Time to Prosecute the Real Colluders

The Russia Hoax Is Over: Now It’s Time to Prosecute the Real Colluders

Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s report is in, and it’s not going to change a lot of minds. Those afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) are saturated with too much prejudice and misinformation to accept its conclusions and concede they were wrong. And on the other side, for those of us who knew all along that the basis for the Mueller investigation – the Russia Hoax – was bogus, the report just confirms our belief (read my July 2017 posting Why I Don’t Care About the Russia Thing to see what I said about all this nearly two years ago, two months after Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel).

Regardless which side one comes down on, what Mueller’s report should do is to alert the entire country to how there was a secret attempt by those in power, aided and abetted by many in the mainstream media, to undermine the nation’s electoral process and to thwart the election of a single person – Donald J. Trump – to the presidency, and to stymie his ability to govern once elected. Now it is time, if there is any justice left in this country – admittedly a huge stretch of belief and the imagination – to root out, investigate, and prosecute the real colluders, those parties involved in what amounts to a silent coup attempt, the greatest and most far-reaching conspiracy in U.S. history.

I don’t use those words lightly. I pride myself on not being a conspiratorialist. I think stupidity and greed and zealotry and serendipity account for far more that happens in the world than conspiracy. But if ever the word applies, it is to what has gone on behind the scenes in the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, the State Department, the FISA Court, Congress, the DNC, the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Clinton Foundation, the Obama White House, and — not insignificantly — much of the national media, since at least 2016. And no matter how one feels about Trump, we all should be concerned about this amalgam of forces and the danger it represents.

Some elements of this conspiracy, particularly things that went on involving several top officials of the FBI, have already been revealed, but there is much, much more that has yet to reach the light of day. If it ever does. Now with the Mueller report out and, after pumping $30 million taxpayer dollars down the toilet, clearing Trump of any collusion with the Russians, it is time to deal with the real collusion that went on, and continues to go on and, against all odds, to prosecute the guilty parties.

Let’s start with what we now know, courtesy of the 22-month-long Mueller investigation.

First, and most critically important, is that there was no collusion between Donald Trump and anyone close to Donald Trump with the Russians to steal the 2016 elections. Second, there was insufficient evidence to document any attempt on the part of Donald Trump to obstruct justice. He was completely within his rights as President to fire former FBI Director James Comey, someone who had grossly abused the power of his position (more on Comey a bit later).

The third important take-away, as Mueller concluded, was that the Russians, unaided by anyone connected to Trump, meddled in the 2016 elections. Duh. Unless you’ve been living in a monastery on Mount Athos for the past century, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the Russians have been meddling in our elections for a very long time. I don’t think I was terribly prescient to have pointed out this very thing in my July 2017 posting, and it didn’t take $30 million for me to make the observation. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time. While this isn’t even close to being a surprise, it does paint a trail directly to the White House – not to Trump, but to former President Barack Obama. Again, more on this a bit later.

Thanks to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, we learned last year of the misdeeds of former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, former Special Counsel to the Deputy Director of the FBI Lisa Page, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, and former Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik. Also mentioned is former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, noted for urging Comey to refer to his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s gross mishandling of official emails as “a matter,” not an investigation (speaking of obstruction of justice), and her notorious meeting with former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac at Phoenix where, she and Clinton insist, they didn’t discuss the investigation into Mrs. Bill Clinton. Right.

Thankfully, all these miscreants are now “former” officials, resigned or fired or, in the case of Lynch, phased out with the change of administration. While Horowitz absolved these parties of acting as they did for political purposes, a reading of the events and the messages exchanged between them would give any fair observer serious doubt about that contention. Nevertheless, Horowitz cites numerous incidents where agency and departmental policies were not followed, examples where clear conflicts of interest arose and officials failed to properly recuse themselves, improper use of both official and private means of communication between officials, and – importantly – improper disclosure of non-public information.

Among the many troubling findings in the IG’s report, the ones concerning improper and even illegal contacts between top FBI officials and the news media are especially troubling since they uncover the nexus – can we call it collusion? I think so – between government actors and so-called news reporters. As Horowitz said in his summary to Congress, “We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters . . . We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review. In addition, we identified instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events. We will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy.”

Critically important in that verbiage are the words “federal statutes.” Many of these actions violated federal law, aside from the blatant ethical violations, and it is time that the guilty parties be charged and tried for their violations. This includes Comey who, as I pointed out in June 2017, openly admitted violating the law in his testimony before Congress, and has further inculcated and embarrassed himself as time has gone on. Comey accuses Trump of undermining the reputation and credibility of the FBI. But, no, Mr. Comey. It’s your actions and those of the others who abused their positions that have undermined trust in the FBI. If one can fault Trump for anything in dealing with Comey, it is in not firing Comey as soon as he took office.

That’s the FBI and the DOJ. And now we come to the CIA. This week, post-Mueller, I literally couldn’t stop laughing listening to John Brennan, Director of the CIA under Barack Obama – and someone who has accused Donald Trump of treason – lamely say perhaps he had based his allegations on faulty information. Faulty information? Okay, I used to work on the inside of the intel community, so I know what total balderdash that is. But for interviewers and alleged journalists not to challenge this contention is nothing short of journalistic malpractice. I mean, what kind of idiot does one need to be to believe a single word of this ridiculousness? He was the friggin’ head of the CIA, furchrissake, and he’s saying he accused the President of the United States of being a traitor based on “faulty information”? But it’s more than mere idiocy behind the malpractice. It’s the same kind of malice, and the motivation to cover one’s own sorry ass, that motivates someone like Brennan that motivates his interviewers to let him skate by on what on its face is utter nonsense.

While the intel community confirms the obvious, that the Russians meddled in the 2016 elections (and just about every other election), it’s another Obama appointee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, that provides the direct link to Obama himself and his role in this massive collusion. Clapper, who called President Trump a KGB operative (I suppose based on more “faulty information,” or maybe that was just “the least untruthful” thing he had to offer, like the one he gave in explaining his never prosecuted 2013 perjury before Congress), has confirmed that President Obama was informed of Russian electoral meddling. And he knew of it at least as early as the summer prior to the November 2016 elections.

So Obama knew. And we all know he knew. So what did he do, as President, to block this Russian intervention? In a private meeting in September 2016, he asked Vladimir Putin to cut it out. That’s it. Cut it out, Vladimir. One can imagine how seriously Putin took this admonition, coming from Barack “Red Line” Obama. So why didn’t Obama do more to block Russian interference? For the same reason that Comey said he released, without consequence, the news of Hillary Clinton’s emails turning up on Anthony Weiner’s private computer in October 2016: Obama figured Clinton would win the election and he didn’t want to muddy the waters, like Comey didn’t want Hillary to start her administration, which he fully expected to happen, under a cloud. And then when Trump won, it was only then that Obama went public with his knowledge and took any direct action against the Russians. Like Comey, he didn’t want Clinton to start her administration under a cloud, but he had no problem casting the darkest kind of cloud over Trump. Given his prior inaction in near-complete disregard for the integrity of the U.S. electoral system for political reasons, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the collusion goes right to the top, to Obama himself. And what influence that had on how others acted is a matter for reasoned speculation.

Now at this point, things get still more interwoven. Byzantine would be an apt descriptor.

A large part of Mueller’s investigation was based on information gathered under a secret warrant issued by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, commonly called the FISA Court, based on the acronym for the act authorizing the court). The court issued this warrant, which allowed monitoring of Carter Page, a one-time low-level Trump foreign policy aide, based on an unverified, and since largely discredited, “dossier” produced by a private consulting group known as Fusion GPS and commissioned and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

To be clear, it is a major violation for the FBI to provide unverified information to the FISA Court in pursuit of a warrant. The FBI has to confirm that the evidence offered has been verified, and in offering the dossier as verified, which it was not, and not revealing that it was actually a product of the Clinton campaign, the FBI – under Comey and McCabe’s direction – essentially committed a fraud on the FISA Court. Without delving into every single detail and level of subtlety, the end result was the ability on the part of the FBI and other intel agencies to spy not just on Page but on other U.S. citizens with whom Page communicated – up to 25,000 individuals, including just about everyone connected to Trump, and possibly Trump himself.

That would have been bad enough, but what we now know is that then National Security Advisor Susan Rice – by her own admission – requested the unmasking of U.S. citizens and thus had access to information gathered not on foreign enemies, but on U.S. citizens – U.S. citizens connected to the Trump presidential campaign. Rice — the same Rice who lied to the country for weeks about the true facts of the 2012 Benghazi attack – has insisted she did this for national security reasons and not to spy on the Trump campaign.

But wait – there’s more! Former Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, another key Obama confidante, made 260 requests to unmask U.S. citizens – more than one a day both prior to, and succeeding, the 2016 elections, right up to Trump’s inauguration. Thanks to FOIA litigation against the State Department and the NSA filed by Judicial Watch and the American Center for Law and Justice, we have evidence of the political bias behind these unmasking requests, and also more evidence of the nexus between the Obama White House and the news media. Email chains unearthed by the FOIA demands reveal how Power – who, as UN Ambassador, ostensibly would have no grounds for any unmasking requests – and her counselor, Nikolas Steinberg, sought “to seek maximum amplif.[ication]” of her pro-Obama/anti-Trump political pitch with 60 Minutes Executive Editor Bill Owens and others. Owens’ response, that he would help Power pitch her effort to undermine Trump’s incoming administration, should remove any doubt about the anti-Trump bias in the media.

The list of both Obama and media people involved in this – should we call it collusion? – goes on. Read about it here.

Before we’re done with the FISA Court issue, it should be noted that Mueller himself, when he was Director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was called by the FISC to answer for some 75 cases, some going back to the late 1990s but many under his tutelage post-9-11, in which the FBI improperly omitted material facts from warrant applications. So now the question arises, why haven’t we heard from the FISC about the improper submission of the dossier to obtain the warrant against Carter Page? Good question. Maybe, now that the Mueller report is out, we will hear from it. And if not, one has to wonder whether the FISC judges involved in issuing the warrant are part of the collusion. I’m not ready to say they are, but it’s a question that needs asking the longer the silence goes on.

Moving on to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, where much of this litany of misdeeds originates, I’ve already made clear on a number of occasions, including in my other linked postings above, why Hillary Clinton needs to be prosecuted. She should be, as should anyone in the State Department (my former employer), whether career person or political toady, who allowed her to get away with conducting official business, and putting highly classified emails, on an unsecured private server. Her complete and clearly illegal disregard for national security, as well as her other misdeeds, including her “pay-for-play” deals while Secretary of State, such as the Uranium One deal and involving the Clinton Foundation, all provide fertile ground for investigation and prosecution. As I’ve said more times than I can count, had I done what she did, I’d be in prison right now. And that is where she should be.

By the same token, those officials, whether in the FBI, or any of the other agency or department, at whatever level, who violated the law, should be prosecuted. A clear marker needs to be laid down to assure this sort of abuse of power does not recur. Now, if ever, post-Mueller, is the time for this process to be set in motion.

But do I see it happening? Do I believe that tomorrow the sun will come up in the West and set in the East? The depth of corruption, the extent of the collusion, and the two levels of justice we live with in this country all make prosecution of Hillary and most of the other guilty parties about as likely. Sure, there might be some low-level functionaries punished, beyond the resignations and firings that have already taken place. Maybe. But the worse offenders? The most egregious actors? Not likely. I truly wish I believed otherwise, and given the seriousness and profound impact this affair – this attempted silent coup – has had on the country, I think things will not be right with our democracy ever again without some semblance of justice. Just as Lincoln’s assassination, the assassination of JFK, and Watergate each changed the direction and nature of the country that came after them, we likely are witnessing a similar disruption that will have lasting effects. And we may never see things set right.

All of this has been hiding in plain sight for the past three years, and actually much longer. It’s all been there to see if anyone took the time and effort to look. To look, and not depend on the misrepresentations, obfuscations, and just plain untruths – that journalistic malpractice, that is but one manifestation of the death of journalism, I referred to earlier – committed by a large part of the mainstream media, fed and furthered by some in Congress, and the other official players in the bureaucracy. It is this part of the collusion, the part contributed and covered-up and spread by the mainstream media, that I think poses the greatest danger to our democracy, which so depends on a free – and fair – news media.

In his parting remarks to the country in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a military-industrial complex that posed a threat to our liberties and democratic processes. Now we need to speak of a political-media complex that poses a threat at least as great, and almost certainly greater, as the military-industrial complex Eisenhower saw. It is perhaps the defense and support of this new complex that, more than anything, motivates and drives the effort to defame and bring down Trump. This largely explains why opposition to Trump can be found on both sides of the political aisle. Whether in his accusations of fake news or his willingness to buck the established order, Trump represents a threat to the political-media complex and all it stands for. And whether we like him or not, we all need to fear this complex.

Justice and Other Oxymorons

Justice and Other Oxymorons

On Monday, the editors at Merriam-Webster, the acknowledged delineator of American English, named “justice” as its Word of the Year for 2018. The company cited a 74% increase in look-ups of the word over 2017, and said it was one of the most consulted words throughout 2018.

“The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice,” Merriam-Webster said in explaining its choice, going on to add, “In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.”

 Indeed, it is. As well as our interpretation, the connotation, not just the denotation, we put on the word. And how it relates to our belief systems, both in the instant and in the bigger scheme of things. And how it works, or doesn’t, in actual practice.

Ironically, I got the news of this selection on the car radio on my way back from St. Pete, where I had my latest encounter for what passes for “justice” in contemporary America. I had filed a motion to hold the miscreant who had destroyed one of my boats, in clear violation of an agreement he had entered into with me and over which the court retains jurisdiction, in contempt. What I told the judge – this was before learning it was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year – that I was seeking one thing, summed up in a single word, and that word was “justice.” I was boiling things down to their most basic objective, and that word expresses it.

Well, I got some reasoned explanations from the judge, and some references to precedence in prior court decisions on the kind if issue I was raising, and agreement that I had suffered significant losses at this guy’s hands. And what I came away with was . . . wait for it, wait for it    . . . not justice. Anything but. Even, in an oblique way, the judge agreed I wasn’t going to get justice, regardless what I did or the other party did. Sure, I could continue to pursue the matter, at whatever cost and effort it takes, but it wasn’t going to make any difference in the end, as far as the judge was concerned. I was, in the slang acronym that applies in this case, SOL.

So you can understand why the radio report on M-W’s Word of the Year got my attention. It wasn’t the only thing on my mind driving across Tampa Bay on the Howard Frankland Bridge on the way back when I heard it, given the ongoing and persistent reminders these days of the injustice inherent in our system and those entrusted with implementing it. But it certainly brought the reality of that injustice home once more. In truth, I didn’t have much expectation going into the hearing that I was going to get the justice I sought. This wasn’t my first encounter with the American system of “justice,” including several tours through so-called “family court,” which is an oxymoron if there ever was one, so I was conditioned by experience to know how these things usually go. And in that sense, I wasn’t disappointed.

This is not meant cynically – you can draw your own conclusion whether cynicism is justified or not –but what I’ve come to expect is that wrong-doers are more likely than not to be rewarded for their misdeeds, or at best not penalized for them. And the wronged party is, if not outrightly punished – which experience and observation has shown me happens in a significant percentage of cases – left as I was in this case, SOL.

If this was just a personal issue it would be bad enough. But today we were witnessing an American hero, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, facing sentencing (later deferred) for lying to the FBI. Normally one might assume that, as the judge in that case said this morning, this is a serious offense. But put in the context of how the FBI conducted itself in this and related matters, how the FBI, in dealing with Flynn, thoroughly abrogated the standards it imposes on other law-enforcement agencies and, most telling of all, the total inconsistency evident in how individuals who committed much more serious violations of law and national security, Hillary Clinton and many others associated with her, were allowed to skate by, one has to wonder, where is the justice? Looking at the big picture, if you conclude that the American people is SOL if it expects justice, you’d certainly be justified.

I’ve said before that we have a dual system of justice and nothing I’ve seen since then dissuades me from that view. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spent millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars chasing after process crimes, like that which Flynn has admitted committing, offenses unrelated to his primary mission, which is finding collusion between the Russians and the President – which, to date, not a single piece of evidence has been shown to exist – futile indictments of Russian oligarchs, and other chimeras. Meanwhile, the most obvious offenses committed by Clinton, which include destroying evidence of her crimes and lying to the FBI, go untouched and unprosecuted.

Then there are the 25 FBI agents in the past year who have been fired, demoted, or resigned for their expressions of bias against President Trump and their unprofessional behavior. Have there been any prosecutions of any of them? Not a one. This includes former agent Peter Strzok, who took part in the questioning of Flynn that later led to the charge of lying to the FBI, even after other agents involved in the interview said they thought Flynn had not lied. It was Strzok, you might remember, who changed the wording of former FBI Director James Comey’s statement to exonerate Hillary Clinton, and then later told Congress, under oath, he didn’t remember doing it. Now Strzok was no low-level flunky. He was head of the FBI’s Counterespionage Section and second in command of the agency’s Counterintelligence Division, and he was involved in every investigation that could help Clinton or hurt Trump. And he’s the same agent who wrote to his paramour at the agency, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, answering her alarmed question whether Trump could become president by saying, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Several other Strzok emails to Page, reported in the Department of Justice’s inspector general report on him, reinforce the same anti-Trump bias. Can there be any question that the dichotomous treatment of Clinton and of Flynn, not to mention the President himself, does not have political motivation behind it? Political motivation within the country’s top law-enforcement agency? And you wonder whether there is not a dual system of justice?

Not to let Comey off the hook, the former FBI head, who increasingly looks like an arrogant buffoon, and a dishonest one at that, admitted the FBI would never have gotten away with what it did with a more “competent” administration. Comey had some other profound things to say after meeting with Congressional investigators behind closed doors on Friday. He said he didn’t learn anything new about the investigation into Trump from the session. Well, Mr. Comey, the point of questioning a witness is not for the witness to learn something new, but for the questioners to do so. Apparently the Congressional investigators didn’t learn much from Comey, either, after he told them an astounding 245 times during the session that he didn’t remember, didn’t know, or didn’t recall, in response to questions put to him. Incompetent or a liar? Take your pick. Great choice. But no prosecution of Comey for the outrageous illegal acts he’s admitted to in earlier sworn testimony to Congress and has even written and bragged openly about since. Equal justice? Where?

I told you in an earlier posting I wasn’t going to forget about these things, so consider this an installment on keeping that promise.

Getting back to my own case, which pales in comparison to these much larger miscarriages – abortions is more like it – of justice, the extent to which justice eluded me in court also applies to law enforcement as well. Before filing the contempt motion that was the subject of Monday’s hearing, I tried repeatedly to get the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to take action against the “Defendant,” and noted how he had violated at least four criminal statutes, which I cited by number and text. Well, speak about wasted effort. One level of the chain of command after another, starting with the deputy who witnessed the damage done and spontaneously termed it “disgusting,” and escalating, insisted it was a civil, not criminal, matter. They even insisted that the State’s Attorney’s office said it was a civil, not criminal matter. This the same State’s Attorney who refused to prosecute a man who allowed his young son, 23-month-old Lawson Whitaker, to die in a hot car, despite clear signs, and even admission by the father, that he was on drugs at the time. And this is the same Sheriff’s Department that failed to test the father for drugs, despite those same clear signs and admission. Pinellas County Prosecutor Bernie McCabe shamelessly went on TV and said he decided not to prosecute the father since he had “suffered enough” by losing his son. He suffered enough? Really? What about little Lawson? How much did he suffer, locked in his car seat in a sweltering car, while he slowly died? At 5 p.m. on the early September Florida day he perished, his body temperature was reported to be 108F. This is the state of “justice” in this country.

I am reminded of something my friend Ed Sanders said back in the 1970s. I knew Sanders when I lived in Woodstock, N.Y., and we worked on some investigations together. If you don’t know who Ed Sanders is, he describes himself as a poet-investigator, and among other claims to fame he is a founding member of the rock band The Fugs. He also wrote the book The Family, which laid out the events that led up to the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family, and Sanders told me he once shared a sleeping bag with Charlie Manson out in the California desert while researching the book. This is what Sanders said to me then about the police, and I think seldom in my life have I heard truer words, which to this day I frequently quote:

“Big crime, big problem. Little crime, little problem. No crime, no problem.”

That’s how it was then, and that’s how it is now. Mostly you’ve got to try to get the police to do anything to you – much less, for you – unless somehow you just haplessly fall into their clutches, often for some insignificant offense that hurts no one. I’m not specifically anti-police, but they’re just one more element of this unjust justice system we have.

Yesterday I was reminded of something else out of the past. I presented the judge with the stack of photos of the damage the “Defendant” had done to my boat and what he stole, since the exhibits as filed online may not have been very clear. He kind of flipped through a few of them as he was telling me I was SOL. Later, I could only think of one thing, the lines from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 masterpiece, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, which go:

We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. Man came in said, “All rise.” We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog and then at twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, ‘ cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American Blind Justice, and there wasn’t nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn’t going to look at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. And we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow, but thats not what I came to tell you about.

Well, coincidentally – I swear it’s true – I had submitted exactly 27 photos of the damage and also the actual stolen air conditioner, and I absolutely wasn’t thinking of Alice’s Restaurant when I did. The judge didn’t have a seeing-eye dog, but he wasn’t going to look at the 27 photos, with or without circles and arrows or a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was. And in the end, I was SOL.

I think Oxford Dictionaries’ choice for Word of the Year is perhaps telling: “Toxic.” And’s selection says what we get: “Misinformation.” As for “justice,” reverting to Meriam-Webster, an oxymoron – which could be Word of the Year any year — is, “broadlysomething (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.”

Yup, “justice,” an oxymoron, for sure, as it exists in America today.

Why It’s Become Impossible to Vote for Democrats

Why It’s Become Impossible to Vote for Democrats

I consider myself an independent. To my recollection, I have never registered with any party in the half century in which I have been voting. For many years I felt my journalistic ethics prevented me from choosing one party over another. More recently, my frustrations with the various parties and the state of the American political system in general have continued to make it difficult to cast my lot with any one party.

Over the years I have voted for what I felt was the better candidate. In my younger years that usually, but by no means always, translated to the Democratic candidate. In more recent years, as my views evolved and the Democratic Party seemed to stray further and further from my values, my choices more commonly translated to voting for the Republican candidate. And in between and occasionally, despairing of both major parties, I have voted for the Libertarian candidate, who often has represented my views best even knowing there was virtually no chance that candidate would be elected.

Now, while I still won’t identify as a Republican, after Thursday’s travesty in the Senate Judiciary Committee and seeing the despicable, dishonest, and blatantly political behavior of the 10 Democratic senators on the committee, I believe it has become impossible for me to vote for any Democratic candidate, in any race, in any locale, ever. I don’t like using words like “evil” when it comes to political behavior, but what I witnessed on the tube during the grilling of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by the Democratic senators I feel qualifies as just that – evil. What’s more, I cannot see how any right-thinking, fair person of good will could ever support or vote for one of those people or support a party that would orchestrate – as was absolutely clear was the case – such a display of utter mindless political barbarity. Certainly not me. As of Thursday afternoon, I’m out.

A big part of my antipathy stems from my feelings on hypocrisy. I’ve never been able to stomach hypocrisy, regardless the party or source from which it stemmed. But it was hard to hold down my lunch observing the unbridled hypocrisy on display on the Democratic side of the committee dais.

Here is how Merriam-Webster defines hypocrisy:

a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not : behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel

especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion ”

Let’s run down the list of the most egregious cases of hypocrisy on display Thursday:

  • Dianne Feinstein, Senator from California, Ranking Member of the Minority. Feinstein received the letter from accuser Christine Blasey Ford in July and sat on in for two months. She did not mention it to the committee or committee chairman, she did not mention it to Judge Kavanaugh in her meeting with him, she did not request an FBI or any other kind of investigation of it, and she did not mention it at any point during the intensive confirmation hearings Judge Kavanaugh went through. Instead, she waited until after the process was completed and the appointment was set to go to a vote, and then suddenly she produced the letter, demanded an FBI investigation, and claimed she hadn’t gone public with it to protect Ms. Blasey Ford’s privacy (this is a whole other can of worms, but we’ll get to that a bit later in this posting). The Senate should censure Feinstein for the outrageous way she handled the whole matter.
  • Richard Blumenthal, Senator from Connecticut. Watching Blumenthal challenging Kavanaugh was, to put it politely, revolting. This fraud repeatedly lied about his military record during the Vietnam War, referring on several times during his electoral campaign to his service in Vietnam and what it was like coming back home from the war. The only problem with that was that Blumenthal never served in Vietnam. After receiving five draft deferments, and with conscription closing in on him, he enlisted in the Marine Reserve, meaning he was safe and sound in the U.S. and would never see combat, nor anything else, in Vietnam. Without faulting him for staying out of a war many people, including this author, sought to steer clear of, the issue is with how he deliberately lied and misconstrued his military service. His lies (which he explained by saying he had “misspoken”) were revealed by The New York Times, which noted that, while he had uttered them so many times they had become part of the news record in Connecticut, “It does not appear that Mr. Blumenthal ever sought to correct those mistakes.” Blumenthal at the time was the attorney general of the Nutmeg State, which would seem to carry a high bar for integrity. Blumenthal clearly lacked, and lacks, that integrity. Regardless, we can lay the blame for sending this fraud to the Senate on the voters of Connecticut, who elected him despite the falsehoods he plied on them. As is said, we get the government we deserve. Or, in this case, even less.
  • Mazie Hirono, Senator from Hawaii. This is another senator that makes one wonder how the voters of her state could ever send such a low figure to the Senate. Hirono showed her sexism last week with her own words, which I hope are henceforth always tied to her: “Guess who’s perpetuating all of these kind of actions? It’s the men in this country. And I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up.” That was bad enough, but it wasn’t the only thing Hirono said or did that underscores Hirono’s hypocrisy. She actually sent out a fundraising email 30 minutes into Blasey Ford’s testimony before the committee, seeking to garner donations for her political campaign off the back of someone she believed suffered sexual assault. When the faux pas was realized, Hirono’s crack team sent out a second email apologizing for the first one, saying any funds raised would be donated to “organizations helping survivors of sexual assault.”
  • Dick Durbin, Senator from Illinois. Now what can we say about “Dirty Dick,” a serial liar, or the voters who keep sending him back to the Senate? Dick Durbin is going to question someone’s veracity? Really? One can’t make these things up.
  • Kamala Harris, Senator from California. Harris distinguishes herself by browbeating and rudely speaking over white men giving testimony. She did this last year with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then Homeland Security Secretary and later the President’s Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and NSA Director Mike Rogers, and she did it again Thursday with Brett Kavanaugh. Harris, who has presidential aspirations, is known for protecting prosecutorial misconduct when she was California Attorney General, and while she is quick to criticize sexual harassment, she got her start and some cushy jobs as the 29-year-old mistress of Willie Brown, the married 60-year-old mayor of San Francisco who was then overseeing what is viewed as one of that city’s most corrupt administrations. There is so much corrupt and hypocritical about Harris one could write an entire piece, but we’ll let it go at this for now. As for the voters who sent Harris to Washington, she has said California is the future of the country. Let’s hope not.

While all the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, on the committee showed the highest respect for Ms. Blasey Ford – as well they should have – once it was Judge Kavanaugh’s turn to be heard, the Democrats turned into a pack of jackals, attacking him, challenging his veracity, asking him the most banal and minute questions about when he was a high school student, and demanding repeatedly that he call for an FBI investigation of himself and the allegations. Kavanaugh for his part called the Democrats’ actions for what they were, a “calculated and coordinated political hit.”

The irony of the Democrats’ clearly orchestrated campaign meant that any chance of a fair hearing for either Blasey Ford or Kavanaugh was lost. Even if one was persuaded to believe Blasey Ford, it was impossible to take her testimony out of the context of the Dems intent to derail Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And that same intent to derail his candidacy meant there was no fair chance given to Kavanaugh or his rebuttal of the accusations made against him, and he was forced into the impossible position of having to prove a negative. I’m inclined to think raising his voice and crying while making his statement, and later his growing belligerence at the Dems’ questions, didn’t enhance Kavanaugh’s position, but neither did it give us any real insights into the veracity or lack thereof in his statements.

Repeatedly we heard how Blasey Ford had made a compelling and credible presentation, but I’m sorry, I heard nothing of substance from her that we didn’t already know. She still was unable to state exactly where this alleged attack took place, how she got to or from the house in question (which the Arizona prosecutor, Andrea Mitchell, that the Republican senators relied on to question Blasey Ford and, at least at the outset, Kavanuagh, established was some 7 miles from Blasey Ford’s home), or the names of any other parties who could have corroborated her allegations. I don’t usually like to agree with political commentator Dick Morris, but I have to concur with his assessment of Blasey Ford as a “very damaged woman.” While something at some time somewhere might have happened to her, it was not at all clear that it was what she has accused Brett Kavanaugh of doing. I come back to my contention in my previous posting that we might never know what did, or did not, happen between Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, and for someone to pretend they do know is absurd.

Perhaps the most contentious and most questionable issue concerns Feinstein’s insistence that she had not shared Blasey Ford’s accusations when she first received them in July because Blasey Ford wanted to maintain her anonymity. Yet Blasey Ford was attempting to share her accusations with the Washington Post, and eventually she shared those and her therapist’s notes with the Post as well. Now let’s say you wanted to preserve your privacy. Wouldn’t the Washington Post be the place you’d go to do that? Blasey Ford also acknowledged that her attorneys, Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich – both, especially Katz, strongly supportive of Democrats and Democratic causes – had been recommended to her by Feinstein’s staffers. While Bromwich said they were working pro bono, during one break Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was caught on video handing a cash-sized envelope to Bromwich, who promptly put it into his jacket pocket. What was in that envelope, we wonder?

Until this week I have not been a huge fan of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. But it was Graham who finally broke the tedium of Mitchell’s questioning of Kavanaugh and spoke out, just as the Democrats had had an opportunity to do, and called out the Democrats’ thinly veiled attempt at destroying Kavanaugh’s nomination, as well as his reputation.

Addressing Kavanaugh, Graham asked, “Are you aware that at 9:23 on the night of July the 9th, the day you were nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump, Sen. [Chuck] Schumer [Senate Minority Leader] said – 23 minutes after your nomination – ‘I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less.’ Well, if you weren’t aware of it, you are now.”

Then addressing committee Democrats, Graham bellowed, “If you wanted an FBI investigation, you could have come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020. You said that – not me!”

Speaking again to Kavanaugh, Graham said, “You’ve got nothing to apologize for. When you see [justices] Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them Lindsey said ‘hello,’ ’cause I voted for them. I would never do to them what you’ve [the Democrats] done to this guy. This is the most unethical – sham – since I’ve been in politics. And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.”

Graham went on to say the Democrats had no interest in protecting Blasey Ford, adding “she is as much of a victim as you [Kavanaugh] are.”

And then addressing the bigger issue, Graham said, “This is going to destroy the ability of good people to come forward, because of this crap. Your high school year book [one of the things the Democrats had repeatedly questioned Kavanaugh about].”

Even Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, often a darling of the liberal media though he is a Republican, unloaded on the politicization of the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh by the Dems.

After all was said in done, on Friday, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, after initially saying he would support Kavanaugh’s nomination, putting to rest whether the Republicans would have enough votes to secure the nomination, went off to a secret meeting with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat. And by the time that meeting was over and Flake and Coons took their seats with the committee, Flake announced he would only vote for Kavanaugh if an FBI investigation was conducted. A time limit – maybe up to a week – he said should be set on this investigation so a vote could be held, but in one single stroke Flake handed to the Democrats exactly what they wanted, justifying his decision by saying he was doing it to keep the country from being torn apart.

Well, Sen. Flake, the country is already torn apart, and caving to such a naked political ploy won’t make it any less so. If anything, it will make the divisions deeper and more set. And as for me, the Democrats won’t get another one of my votes. After Thursday’s events, my conscience couldn’t accept giving them any.

Image CNN, AP via

Democrats’ Dangerous Game and Republicans’ Tepid Response

Democrats’ Dangerous Game and Republicans’ Tepid Response

The game the Democrats are playing with the Christine Blasey Ford accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is at least as dangerous as it is disingenuous, and the ramifications of their actions and statements stand to further undermine Constitutional government in the country. Meanwhile, while attempting to bend over backwards to appease Blasey Ford and her supporters, the Republicans are displaying a wishy-washiness bordering on cowardice, aiding the Democrats in their blatantly nefarious scheme and further lowering the public’s assessment of Congress.

Unless you’ve been trapped in a collapsed coal mine somewhere in a remote part of China, you’ve heard almost ad nauseam of the Blasey Ford accusations against the High Court nominee. She was 15, she said, when a boy she identifies as an inebriated 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh forced himself on her, groped her through her clothing and tried to remove her one-piece swim suit, and covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming. She says she thought her attacker might inadvertently kill her. Kavanaugh denies the incident ever happened, says he never did anything of the sort Blasey Ford is alleging, many women who knew and know him assert such an act would be completely out of character for him, and the one potential witness to the incident, Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s, also insists the incident never happened.

Now let’s start with the one clear fact that arises from this whole matter: Other than possibly the accuser and the accused, no one knows what actually did or didn’t happen at that house party 36 years ago. I don’t know, you don’t know, and neither do any of those who have taken up Blasey Ford’s side, saying they know she’s telling the truth. This includes N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand who demonstrated some sort of miraculous powers of divination when, at a Capitol Hill press conference, Gillibrand confidently trumpeted, “I believe Dr. Blasey Ford because she’s telling the truth. You know it by her story. You know it by the fact that she told her therapist five years ago. She told her husband. This is a trauma she’s been dealing with her whole life. She doesn’t want to be in a bedroom that doesn’t have two doors. People knew that about her a long time ago.”

Apparently the vast majority of women don’t agree with Gillibrand. A poll conducted by the left-leaning Huffington Post found only 25% of a cross section of women believe Blasey Ford’s claims to be credible. That’s three points lower than the percentage of men who found them to be credible. But it’s clear who Gillibrand and others in her camp are appealing to. The same poll found 53% of Democrats found the allegations credible, compared with 4% of Republicans and 19% of independents who did.

In fact, there is plenty of reason to doubt Blasey Ford’s account, including that she can’t remember the year this alleged event took place, she can’t remember how she got to this party or how she got home, and she never told anyone about the incident, never filed a police report, and kept the whole thing a secret until she mentioned it in a couples counseling session, which reportedly took place six years ago, not five. There is no mention of Kavanaugh in the therapist’s notes, parts of which were provided by Blasey Ford to the Washington Post, and those notes of the conversation say there were four boys present while now the accuser says there were two.

I know I am not alone when I say I can recall in vivid detail – detail as if the incidents happened yesterday – various pivotal events in my life. I certainly can recall in such detail incidents that happened when I was 15 and in high school, as was Blasey Ford, and that was not 36 years ago but 53 years ago. I’ve heard and read several accounts this week from others, both men and women, how they also remember key incidents in their lives from many years ago. And this includes women who actually were raped and who question how Blasey Ford can’t recall every detail of this alleged incident. But, as I said, I wasn’t there, no one else other than the accuser and accused and maybe one or three others was there, so anyone who claims otherwise is, to put it politely, either an idiot or someone with an agenda to promote.

And that is where a deeper shadow casts itself across Blasey Ford’s account. There appears to be a very big agenda in play, evidenced by the way Blasey Ford’s allegations were made and how they were handled once they found their way to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Rather then making her allegations known both to Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, as well as committee Chairman Charles Grassley, as would have been reasonable, Blasey Ford sent them only to Feinstein. That was in July. And then Feinstein proceeded to sit on Blasey Ford’s letter for two months. Feinstein now alleges that Blasey Ford didn’t want to go public with her allegations, but of course that changed as soon as Blasey Ford’s allegations could set up a roadblock to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Feinstein didn’t even come out with the letter during the confirmation hearings and Kavanaugh’s meetings with lawmakers, but she waited until after the hearings were over and a vote on approving Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court was imminent. And then suddenly Feinstein came out with the allegations. Long-time watchers of Supreme Court confirmation hearings have called Feinstein’s actions unprecedented, and worthy of censure. The whole thing stinks of political maneuvering to discredit Kavanaugh and to block his appointment, and that raises questions about Blasey Ford’s motivations as well in this whole affair.

Then we look at the attorney representing Blasey Ford, Debra Katz, who is a big-time political activist and contributor and fundraiser for Democratic candidates – including Hillary Clinton – and with ties to Democratic financier George Soros. A fierce and outspoken critic of President Donald Trump who, of course, nominated Kavanaugh to the top court, Katz has a lot less to say when confronted with political icons on the Democratic side of the aisle who have been accused of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault. These include former President Bill Clinton and now-resigned Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. While expecting us to take Blasey Ford’s allegations at face value, Katz has demeaned Clinton accuser Paula Jones, who alleged that Clinton, at the time Governor of Arkansas, had her brought to a hotel room where he exposed himself to her and pressured her to commit a sex act. Clinton eventually settled with Jones for $850,000, most of which went to her attorneys. About this incident – by no means the first allegation of sexual misconduct, including rape, leveled against Clinton – and calling Jones’s suit “very, very, very weak,” Katz said to CNN, “She’s alleged one incident that took place in a hotel room that, by her own testimony, lasted 10 to 12 minutes. She suffered no repercussions in the workplace.”

Katz also downplayed Franken’s actions, which were even caught on film, saying they didn’t rise to the same level of misconduct alleged against film mogul Harvey Weinstein, further defending Franken to The New York Times, saying, “He did not do this as a member of the U.S. Senate. He did this in his capacity of someone who was still functioning as an entertainer.”

Now consider that, whether true or not, the allegation Blasey Ford has made against Brett Kavanaugh occurred when they were both still in high school. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised at the Democrats’ double standard. This is the same political party that stood by 37-year-old Massachusetts Sen. Teddy Kennedy, who in July 1969 left a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, to die in his submerged car in Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island rather than jeopardize his political career. There was a time when even some Democrats and the media questioned Kennedy’s actions, but that time seems to have disappeared in the rear-view mirror. Now Katz, Gillibrand, and Hillary Clinton say a woman who accuses a man of sexual misconduct should always be believed. Except, of course, when the accused is a Democrat or otherwise one of their tribe. Or one’s husband.

And then there is Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, who might exist in a class of her own. Hirono, who refused to meet with Kavanaugh when the nominee was going around and sitting down to answer senators’ questions, called Chairman Grassley’s assertion that he had made numerous attempts at contacting Blasey Ford “bullshit,” and then went on to insult all men in the country.

“Guess who’s perpetuating all of these kind of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono told reporters. “And I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up.”

Hirono might as well have said for men to shut up and go sit in the back of the bus and take whatever accusation, no matter how untrue or unfair, is thrown at them. While one can marvel at the kind of bigoted moron who would make a statement like that, it also makes one wonder about the quality and mentality of voters – both male and female – in Hawaii who would send a person of this nature to Washington.

But therein lies the danger of the Democrats’ strategy (if one is to grace their actions with a word as exalted as “strategy”). There seems to be a cynical and calculated effort to discredit not only individual political actors, whether Kavanaugh or Grassley or Trump, or the Republican Party, but to discredit and undermine the very underpinnings of American government. By playing to people’s prejudices and their growing basic lack of knowledge or critical analysis of events, bolstered by a compliant and uncritical mainstream media, they are working to undermine the legitimacy of not only the President and anyone, such as Kavanaugh, nominated by the President, but the framework and processes of all three branches of government. In the process, they risk undermining the legitimacy of Constitutional government itself – of which, of course, they are a part. Already we see revelations of government employees actively conducting a kind of silent coup against duly elected officials, most prominently the President (don’t believe me – listen to the perpetrators of this silent coup in their own words).

It would seem this phenomenon furthers the Dems cause, but ironically much of the effect of this unscrupulous strategy by Party leaders is backfiring on them as it spawns upstarts on the far left who are defeating more traditional Party stalwarts, such as the what we’ve seen happening in New York, Massachusetts, and Florida.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this whole phenomenon comes not from the Democratic side of the aisle, but from the Republican side. While it is understandable that the President and Sen. Grassley want to be seen as reasonable and willing to have Blasey Ford air her allegations, they are bending over so far that they are contributing to undermining the Constitutional order in the process of Senatorial confirmation and, in the case of Grassley, giving away far more than is called for or is useful. The public, when polled, already gives the U.S. Congress a 17% approval rating. The current charade can only further lower that already low view in which the Senate is held, and stringing things along and giving in to the kind of political blackmail Feinstein and Katz and, we have to assume, Blasey Ford intended to inflict does not improve the public’s view of the Legislative Branch.

Negotiation continues to go on between Grassley and Judiciary Committee staff and Blasey Ford, through her attorney Katz. Even if Blasey Ford’s accusations can neither be proven nor disproven, there need not be any doubt about the intents of Katz or Feinstein or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Their intents are all too obvious. So while Grassley wants to come across as fair – as he should – he should not give away the store in the process. Many of the demands coming from Blasey Ford and her supporters are patently absurd and should be rejected on their face. This includes any call for an FBI investigation, forcing Kavanaugh to make his presentation before Blasey Ford does (I can’t even imagine how that might work, and it completely flies in the face of normal adversarial procedure), or that no attorneys question Blasey Ford (in other words, let’s have the media put on the air how it’s only the “old white men” on the Judiciary Committee – combining ageism with racism with sexism for the Dems, who have no problem with any of these “isms” when they think it will favor their position – considering the veracity, or lack thereof, of Blasey Ford’s allegations).

Now here is how I think Grassley should proceed with moving things forward:

  • He should subpoena Blasey Ford to appear before the Judiciary Committee, preferably on Monday. Enough with this pussy-footing around and negotiating. If she has something to say, let her say it. She’s had 36 years to think this over and so there are no grounds for further delay. This is the U.S. Senate she’s screwing with and the power of the Senate should be brought to bear on her, just as it should be for anyone who has something material to say about a Supreme Court candidate. These are matters of national concern, not the fodder of political game playing.
  • Normal precedence will be followed – Blasey Ford goes first, Kavanaugh goes after her.
  • Every member of the Judiciary Committee should have a right to question both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, with the usual time and other limitations in play. And if the committee chairman feels it is necessary, committee attorneys also should have the right to question both parties.
  • The Senate should formally censure Feinstein for seriously interfering with the Senate’s performance of its Constitutional duty and bringing it into “dishonor and disrepute.”
  • And perhaps most crucial of all: There should be no further delay in the confirmation vote on Kavanaugh. It should be held by Thursday or at the latest Friday of this week. And if Blasey Ford refuses to appear or continues to equivocate, then as soon as on Monday.

The Democrats have shown they will resort to almost any sleazy tactic to get their way and block the normal, Constitutionally mandated processes of government and of the Senate. By taking a tepid, half-assed position, Republicans earn no points among their own supporters and risk giving the Dems an advantage they clearly do not deserve. With the legitimacy of public institutions hanging in the balance, this is a time for strength, not weakness, courage, not cowardice.

Image of Debra Katz via CBS and Facebook

Finally Some Sense, Direct From the Source

Finally Some Sense, Direct From the Source

I’ve already made clear in my postings that I don’t have a lot of faith in the U.S. judicial system, especially as it relates to the failure to prosecute some sacred cows in the political class, beginning with Hillary Clinton and others who blatantly violated the law. But every now and then someone shows up who appears to have some sense of following the law and not just going with the flow.

That’s why I was struck by Federal Judge T.S. Ellis, III, and his line of questioning and the things he said in response to federal prosecutors in their defense of the indictment of Paul Manafort — Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman for a couple of months in 2016 — by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The judge’s comments have been termed “a beat down” of the prosecutors, and it certainly does have elements of a beat down. At least Ellis didn’t just roll over in deference to the prosecutors.

Some of what Ellis had to say is worth repeating here:

“What we don’t want in this country is we don’t want anyone with unfettered power. We don’t want federal judges with unfettered power. We don’t want elected officials with unfettered power. We don’t want anybody, including the president of the United States, nobody to have unfettered power. So it’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me that the special prosecutor has unlimited powers to do anything he or she wants.”

I just about jumped up and cheered when I first heard those words.

The judge also called out the Special Counsel on what he sees is the real intent of Manafort’s indictment, and the danger of the strategy:

“It’s vernacular by the way. I’ve been here a long time. The vernacular is to sing. That’s what prosecutors use, but what you’ve got to be careful of is they may not just sing. They may also compose. I can see a few veteran defense counsel here, and they have spent a good deal of time in this courtroom trying to persuade a jury that there wasn’t singing, there was composing going on.”

I don’t make a habit of it, but I think it is worth providing the full transcript of the hearing held before Judge Ellis on May 4 in the Manafort matter. Yes, I know it’s very long, but I think it is worth reading in its entirety, even if it takes a few sittings to do so. Obviously, we don’t know how Judge Ellis will ultimately rule on Manafort’s challenge, but at least he didn’t give the Special Counsel’s minions a pass and raised some important questions. I hope to report on Ellis’s decision as the case proceeds over the coming weeks.

Here presented for your reading pleasure and edification is the full transcript of the May 4 hearing in the US District Court of Eastern Virgina (EDVA):

Transcript: Oral Argument EDVA in US vs. Manafort (motion challenging the Special Counsel)

US District Court EDVA | 4 May 2018


Case 1:18-cr-00083



PAUL J. MANAFORT, JR., Defendant.








THE COURT: All right. Call the next case, please.

THE CLERK: United States v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., Criminal Case 1:18-cr-83.

THE COURT: All right. Who is here on behalf of the special prosecutor?

MR. WEISSMANN: Good morning, Your Honor. Andrew Weissmann for the special counsel’s office. With me today are Michael Dreeben, who will be arguing the motion, Greg Andres, and Uzo Asonye.

THE COURT: Yes. Good morning to all of you. Who will argue today, Mr. Weissmann?

MR. DREEBEN: Good morning, Your Honor, Michael Dreeben.

THE COURT: All right. Spell that for us, please.

MR. DREEBEN: D as in David, R, E as in echo, E as in echo, B as in boy, E as in echo, N as in November.

THE COURT: Okay. And, Mr. Asonye, I’m glad to see you here. I indicated that the special counsel should have local counsel, and that’s you.

MR. ASONYE: Yes, Your Honor. Thank you.

THE COURT: Good morning.

MR. ASONYE: Good morning.

THE COURT: All right. For the defendant, who is here?

MR. ZEHNLE: Good morning, Your Honor. Thomas Zehnle on behalf of Mr. Manafort, and with me is Kevin Downing.

THE COURT: All right. And also with you is?

MR. ZEHNLE: The defendant, Mr. Manafort. I’m sorry.

THE COURT: All right. Good morning to all of you. Who will argue today?

MR. DOWNING: Mr. Downing will argue today, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. Spell that for me, please.

MR. DOWNING: Mr. Downing’s name? D-O-W-N-I-N-G.

THE COURT: All right. Thank you. The matter is before the Court today on your motion, Mr. Downing. So you may begin. I have some knowledge. Let me ask a few facts so that I can be clear. Let me ask the government — or not the government — the special counsel a few questions, Mr. Dreeben.

MR. DREEBEN: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. The indictment against Mr. Manafort was filed in February, but it actually was antedated by a filing in the District of Columbia. These allegations of bank fraud, of false income tax returns, of failure to register or report rather, failure to file reports of foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud, these go back to 2005, 2007, and so forth. Clearly, this investigation of Mr. Manafort’s bank loans and so forth antedated the appointment of any special prosecutor and, therefore, must’ve been underway in the Department of Justice for some considerable period before the letter of appointment, which is dated the 17th of May in 2017. Am I correct?

MR. DREEBEN: That is correct, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. So when the special prosecutor was appointed — and I have the letter of appointment in front of me — what did they do? Turn over their file on their investigation of Mr. Manafort to you all?

MR. DREEBEN: Essentially, Your Honor, special counsel was appointed to conduct an investigation —

THE COURT: I’m sorry. Answer my question. Did you remember what my question was?

MR. DREEBEN: Yes, Your Honor, and I was attempting to answer your question. We did acquire the various investigatory threads that related to Mr. Manafort upon the appointment of the special counsel.

THE COURT: Apparently, if I look at the indictment, none of that information has anything to do with links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump. That seems to me to be obvious because they all long predate any contact or any affiliation of this defendant with the campaign. So I don’t see what relation this indictment has with anything the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate. It looks to me instead that what is happening is that this investigation was underway. It had something. The special prosecutor took it, got indictments, and then in a time-honored practice which I’m fully familiar with — it exists largely in the drug area. If you get somebody in a conspiracy and get something against them, you can then tighten the screws, and they will begin to provide information in what you’re really interested in. That seems to me to be what is happening here. I’m not saying it’s illegitimate, but I think we ought to be very clear about these facts and what is happening. Now, I think you’ve already conceded appropriately that this investigation that has led to this indictment long antedated the appointment of a special prosecutor; that it doesn’t have anything to do with Russia or the campaign; and that he’s indicted; and it’s useful, as in many cases by prosecutors, to exert leverage on a defendant so that the defendant will turn and provide information on what is really the focus of the special prosecutor. Where am I wrong in that regard?

MR. DREEBEN: The issue, I think, before you is whether Mr. Manafort can dismiss the indictment based on his claim.

THE COURT: Yes. Now I asked you: Where am I wrong about that?

MR. DREEBEN: Your Honor, our investigatory scope does cover the activities that led to the indictment in this case.

THE COURT: It covers bank fraud in 2005 and 2007?

MR. DREEBEN: Yes, because —

THE COURT: Tell me how.

MR. DREEBEN: Your Honor, the authorization for the special counsel to investigate matters is described generally in the appointment order on May —

THE COURT: I have it right in front of me, and it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m fully familiar with it. My question to you was, how does bank fraud and these other things that go back to 2005, 2007, how does that have anything to do with links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Trump?

MR. DREEBEN: So the authorization order permits investigation of two different things that are described in separate clauses. The first are links and coordination between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government’s effort to influence the election. Mr. Manafort was a campaign official.

THE COURT: You’re running away from my question again. You know, I’m focused on the indictment that is here.

MR. DREEBEN: Correct.

THE COURT: It involves facts and circumstances that go back as far as 2005 and come forward, Mr. Manafort’s loans from several banks that you all claim he submitted fraudulent statements — I’m asking you, and I’ve already established this investigation long predated the special prosecutor. And so what is really going on, it seems to me, is that this indictment is used as a means of exerting pressure on the defendant to give you information that really is in your appointment, but it itself has nothing whatever to do with it.

MR. DREEBEN: Well, Your Honor, I understand the question. I’m trying to explain why I think that it does have to do with our investigatory scope, and I think there are a couple of premises that may help illuminate what that investigatory scope is. The first one is that in examining an individual who was associated with the Trump campaign and did have Russian-affiliated connections, which Mr. Manafort did —

THE COURT: Are they Russian or Ukrainian?

MR. DREEBEN: Both. Mr. Manafort worked extensively in Ukraine, and he also has business connections and other connections to individuals associated with Russia. In following the leads from those things, investigators want to understand the full scope of his relationship, how he was paid, with whom he associated, what happened to the money, and that leads to the activities that are at issue in this indictment.

THE COURT: Well, it didn’t lead to that. This was given to you by the Department of Justice. The investigation was already well underway going back to 2005. Am I correct?

MR. DREEBEN: Well, I think, Your Honor, the investigation has developed considerably with the special counsel.

THE COURT: Wasn’t it already in existence in the Department of Justice, and they gave it to you when you all were appointed?

MR. DREEBEN: There were investigations that were in existence, yes, but those investigations were folded together with our overall examination of Mr. Manafort’s conduct that fits within (b)(i).

THE COURT: All right. Do you have it in front of you?


THE COURT: All right. I think you would agree that the indictment that we have before the Court is not triggered by (i), which says, “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Bank fraud in 2005 and other things had nothing whatever to do with that. So then you go to number two. It says, “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Well, this indictment didn’t arise from your investigation; it arose from a preexisting investigation even assuming that that (ii) is a valid delegation because it’s open-ended. Go ahead, sir.

MR. DREEBEN: So I would take a different look at the way this order works than Your Honor’s description for a couple of reasons.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. DREEBEN: The first is that in provision (c) which is in the order, the special counsel is authorized to prosecute matters that arose from the investigation that is described earlier in the preamble and in (b)(i) and (b)(ii). So we are not limited in our prosecution authority to crimes that would fit within the precise description that was issued in this public order. If the investigation is valid, the crimes that arose from that investigation are within the special counsel’s authority to prosecute.

THE COURT: Even though it didn’t arise from your investigation. It arose from a preexisting investigation.

MR. DREEBEN: Well, the investigation was inherited by the special counsel.

THE COURT: That’s right, but your argument says, Even though the investigation was really done by the Justice Department, handed to you, and then you’re now using it, as I indicated before, as a means of persuading Mr. Manafort to provide information. It’s vernacular by the way. I’ve been here a long time. The vernacular is to sing. That’s what prosecutors use, but what you’ve got to be careful of is they may not just sing. They may also compose. I can see a few veteran defense counsel here, and they have spent a good deal of time in this courtroom trying to persuade a jury that there wasn’t singing, there was composing going on. But in any event, finish up this point, and then I’ll come back to the defendant.

MR. DREEBEN: Well, Your Honor, we are the Justice Department. We are not separate from the Justice Department. The acting attorney general appointed us to complete investigations and to conduct the investigation that’s described in this order. In addition, the acting attorney general has made clear in testimony before Congress that this order does not reflect the details of the matters that were assigned to us for investigation. And the word “arose” from that’s contained in (b) is not a full and complete description that’s meant to be judicially enforceable of the matters that were entrusted —

THE COURT: So it’s written by lawyers but not intended to be judicially enforceable?

MR. DREEBEN: It’s certainly not intended to be judicially —

THE COURT: I think you are better off arguing that it’s very broad and that the matters that are here are well within it. But to say that you can write a letter delegating a job to somebody but don’t pay any attention to the scope of it is not very persuasive to say the least.


THE COURT: What we don’t want in this country is we don’t want anyone with unfettered power. We don’t want federal judges with unfettered power. We don’t want elected officials with unfettered power. We don’t want anybody, including the president of the United States, nobody to have unfettered power. So it’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me that the special prosecutor has unlimited powers to do anything he or she wants. By the way, your office was appointed, you say, in May 2017. Is there any requirement that you make reports periodically to the attorney general?


THE COURT: Does that include financial? I think you were given $10 million to begin with.

MR. DREEBEN: We have proposed a budget and had a budget approved.

THE COURT: Of $10 million?

MR. DREEBEN: I believe that’s correct.

THE COURT: Have you spent that yet?

MR. DREEBEN: I am not in a position to talk about what our budget is.

THE COURT: Are you in a position to tell me when the investigation will be over?

MR. DREEBEN: I am not, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. Well, I understand that, and it isn’t pertinent to what I have to decide today. And I understand your not being in a position to tell me, but I’m sure you’re sensitive to the fact that the American people feel pretty strongly about no one having unfettered power. We had an interesting judicial conference in the early ’90s, I think, on the special prosecutor, and they all appeared. I think it was at The Greenbrier. I was the chair of that judicial conference. It was a very interesting time. There were many special prosecutors who appeared, including my former constitutional law professor, Archie Cox, and others. So I had a wonderful opportunity to meet and speak to them and hear their variety of views. All right. I think you answered my questions, Mr. Dreeben. If you want to say anything else — now, of course, you’re going to have a full opportunity to respond to the defendant’s arguments, but I had some preliminary questions, which I think you’ve answered.

MR. DREEBEN: I think I should clarify one thing, Your Honor. We are not operating with unfettered power. We’re operating within a framework of regulations that contemplate regular reporting to the acting attorney general, who is supervising the work of our office within the framework of —

THE COURT: Is that Rosenstein?


THE COURT: Is he not recused?

MR. DREEBEN: No. He is the acting attorney general who appointed the special counsel and who is operating in the framework of internal Department of Justice regulations. This is not the Independent Counsel Act that Your Honor was referring to in the conference that you spoke of. This is not a separate court-appointed prosecutor who’s operating under statutory independence. We are within the Department of Justice. We’re being supervised by an acting attorney general who has conferred upon us specific jurisdiction and who regularly is in a position to describe to us the metes and bounds of that. There is in this record a memorandum that he has issued on August 2 that explains that crimes that arose from Mr. Manafort’s receipt of payments from Ukraine is within our jurisdiction and was at —

THE COURT: Yes. I have that right here, and I’m glad you raised it because 75 percent of it is blocked out, redacted. Why don’t I have a full copy of it?

MR. DREEBEN: The only paragraphs that are pertinent to Mr. Manafort are the ones that are contained in this record.

THE COURT: Well, let me use a phrase that I’m fond of that I used to use with my children. I can’t use it with my wife, but I’ll be the judge of whether it relates to the others. I think you should give me under seal to be sure — and you can do it ex parte if you wish — under seal, ex parte a complete copy of the August 2, and I’ll be the judge of whether it has anything to do with Mr. Manafort.

MR. DREEBEN: Your Honor, if I could ask leave to consult with the relevant components of the intelligence community because that is a classified document.

THE COURT: Yes, of course, you may do that. If any part of it is classified, it won’t surprise you to know that a district judge is fully cleared. In fact, I have several espionage trials underway. If CIPA is needed, we will invoke it and use it. But I don’t think it will be necessary. I just want to be sure I understand it fully. What you’re telling me is that the redacted portions don’t have anything to do with Manafort or the issue he’s raised. I don’t have any reason to doubt, especially because you’re making in effect a representation, but I’m not bound by that. I need to satisfy myself. That’s why I want to know. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for you to consult with other parts of the government, particularly intelligence agencies. If they feel some of it is classified, I’m prepared to look at it ex parte under seal. We’ve got a SCIF downstairs where we put those things. So I’m fully familiar with that. You may take some time to — you can have two weeks to explore that. Now thank you. Do you have anything else at this time?

MR. DREEBEN: I just wanted to connect the dots with my reference to the August 2 scope memorandum. Even if Your Honor is not satisfied that on the face of the May 17 order the charges in this indictment are within the scope of the special counsel, the August 2 memorandum confirms the acting attorney general’s understanding both at the time of our appointment and as of the time of that memo that these crimes are within the scope of our authority. And the explanation for the greater detail in the August 2 memo is that the public order was not the place or occasion to provide details about the matters that the special counsel was to investigate. So we are not operating off the range of what the acting attorney general has authorized us to do. I would respectfully submit that under Fourth Circuit law, the regulation that Mr. Manafort is relying is not a judicially enforceable matter. I understand Your Honor’s view on that. I think we have provided case law on why we don’t think it’s a matter for judicial enforcement. Even if the Court does, we do have written confirmation that the matters in the indictment are within our scope. Thank you, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Thank you. All right. I have actually heard probably most of their argument, and I haven’t heard all of yours. You may now tell me what you think.

MR. DOWNING: Well, first of all, Your Honor, good afternoon — or good late morning. I didn’t know if you had any questions you would like me to start off with answering as opposed to just reiterating what’s in the brief, but I will say —

THE COURT: Well, I don’t want you to reiterate what’s in the brief. I’ve read that.


THE COURT: It’s now your opportunity to bring out what really you think is dispositive in some arresting, interesting way.

MR. DOWNING: That’s setting the bar high.

THE COURT: I reminisce a lot. The world has changed. I was a student in England in the late ’60s, and I went to many oral arguments. They didn’t use briefs at all in the cases I went to. In the House of Lords, the judges appeared in suits, and the lawyers appeared and the barristers appeared in wigs and robes. They together bent down, pulled books off the shelf, and read cases together and argued about them. I thought that was a charming but ineffective way to do things. Writing briefs is much more effective, but then it kind of renders oral argument a little more uninteresting. Tell me why — you’ve heard him say — I mean their argument is fairly straightforward. They say you look at the May 17 letter. It says any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; secondly, any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation. Which I focused on their investigation rather than the Department of Justice’s, but that’s a fair point. And then the third one is any other matters within the scope of 600.4 of Title 28, Code of Federal Regulations. Then counsel appropriately called my attention to the August 2 memorandum from Rosenstein which amplifies that a bit. Of course, most of the letter is redacted, but I’m advised that that doesn’t have anything to do with Mr. Manafort. I’m going to look at that myself. But that goes on to say whether crimes were committed by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for president. That was pretty clear from the May letter. But then they go on to say committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before or during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych. Well, we could argue all day here and not get very much clarity on whether there’s a difference between the Ukraine and Russia. Of course, I wasn’t there any later than about 40 years ago, but if you ask the average Ukrainian, they will tell you there’s a huge difference. On the other hand, the government makes a very powerful point. Yankovych’s operation was supported by the Russian government. He did essentially what they wanted him to do, but he’s not there anymore. People are killing each other in the eastern Ukraine. My hunch is that it’s Ukrainians and Russians that are mostly fighting.

MR. DOWNING: Actually, Your Honor, we’ve spent a lot of time on this issue. For the work that Mr. Manafort was involved with with Mr. Yankovych, they were very —

THE COURT: They were very what?

MR. DOWNING: They were leaning towards getting into the European union. They were actually trying to get further away from Russia. Those were the efforts of Mr. Manafort. For today, I will say that the first comment that you had has to do with the record. You asking for an unredacted document so you can confirm what has been represented to you by the government is, in fact, true and correct, verify. So the biggest problem we’ve seen in the opposition to our motion is that this August 2 memo — I’m not sure what we would refer to it as — is the only document that’s been provided by the government to verify that, in fact, they did not violate the special counsel’s statute or the regulation. It seems very irregular for —

THE COURT: There isn’t any guidance in the statute; is it?

MR. DOWNING: No. The statute says specifically directed. Special counsel — as you know, the regs came about in a response to Congress, and a bipartisan commission decided that having a continuation of the independent counsel statute was a bad idea. They were really bad results. So the regs as adopted basically said to Congress, to the courts, and to the American public: This won’t happen again. We have a politically accountable officer of the government, the attorney general, and we have specific factual mandate if a special counsel —

THE COURT: By politically accountable, what do you mean?

MR. DOWNING: I mean someone who is senate confirmed and appointed by the president of the United States.

THE COURT: Serves at the pleasure of the president?

MR. DOWNING: Correct, Your Honor.

THE COURT: So could be fired?

MR. DOWNING: Correct.


MR. DOWNING: That politically accountable officer now is the acting attorney general because of a conflict or a recusal that occurred with the attorney general. That conflict was necessary for the acting attorney general to look to the special counsel statute and say, Okay, I need to appoint a special counsel. Now, what happens next, under the regs, it says a specific factual description, which you have in .1 we would agree. And then for any additional jurisdiction, for any additional matters to be investigated, the acting attorney general, the politically accountable government official, has to grant additional jurisdiction. It doesn’t say, Sure, go ahead and do something else. It says jurisdiction because unless the acting attorney general conveys jurisdiction on the special counsel, the special counsel has no authority to act. The special counsel is very limited. He has the authority of a U.S. Attorney to the extent he’s been given specific jurisdiction and additional jurisdiction. That second part of the appointment order completely eviscerates the special counsel regulations that require that the special counsel come back to the acting attorney general, confer if he wants to expand his investigation, and then there has to be a determination made by the acting attorney general to grant additional jurisdiction. On the record we have in front of us right here, that did not happen. What we’ve asked for is for the government to produce the record. The investigation that ends up here was an investigation that was being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia for quite some time. We have no record of how that investigation got transferred to the special counsel. We have no record how an investigation involving banking issues made its way to the special counsel. We only have —

THE COURT: Well, let me ask you: So what? In other words, is what you’re arguing that the use of that investigation in this case is contrary to the regulation that requires the acting attorney general here, Rosenstein, to be specific about what areas he wants investigated, and you’re saying he was too general. In this supplemental, doesn’t he remedy that in the August 2 letter?

MR. DOWNING: He can’t retroactively remedy it. The question is as of that date, what he did, does it give jurisdiction to the special counsel, or is it still so unrelated to the specific mandate as to be in violation of the regulations and the underlying statute? That’s the question. You, I think, early on got right to the point, which is this doesn’t really make any sense. This doesn’t look like it’s related. Prior cases — and there are cases that involved the special counsel — always look to is it demonstrably related. The idea here is to keep a narrow jurisdiction on the special counsel to not end up with another independent counsel. When you see (b)(ii), it looks like another independent counsel. It didn’t even require for Mr. Mueller to go back to Mr. Rosenstein if he wanted to expand under (b)(ii). It just says anything that arises or may arise. That —

THE COURT: Let’s assume for a moment your argument that this delegation is in some way illegal. Why isn’t the right result simply to give to the Eastern District of Virginia’s U.S. Attorney’s Office — give it back to them and let them prosecute this indictment? Why isn’t that the right result?

MR. DOWNING: Well, the right result may be for the Department of Justice to finish the investigation they had started and make a determination as to whether or not to charge Mr. Manafort. But if, in fact, this order is defective, then Mr. Mueller did not have the authority of the U.S. Attorney to conduct a grand jury investigation, to get search warrants, or to return and sign an indictment.

THE COURT: All right. I think I understand. Is there anything else you want me to —

MR. DOWNING: We make, I think, one point for the Court, and I think it’s an important point. The government had argued initially that these matters arose during their investigation. I think the government is now admitting, no, they didn’t. That’s a big admission, and it wasn’t in their papers. All the way up to being in court here today, I have not heard the government admit to the Court that that’s exactly what happened. It looked like —

THE COURT: What’s exactly what happened?

MR. DOWNING: That they grabbed these investigations from other components of the Department of Justice in the U.S. —

THE COURT: You say these investigations. Are you saying this indictment against Mr. Manafort?

MR. DOWNING: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. Go on.

MR. DOWNING: So in their papers, they’ve been arguing, oh, they came upon this during their investigation. That’s not the facts. So I’d like to make that record clear, that their arguments in their brief are absolutely erroneous. It didn’t arise during it, and I think that matters because their other argument was, well, this whole thing falls into the first specific description, which I think you’ve pointed out: In no way does it make any sense that it falls into the first description. Then finally, when you go and look at Mr. Rosenstein’s memo, it’s very odd for when it occurs, but the most obvious omission from it is it does not say “as we agreed” or “as we discussed.” It just puts something in a point in time with no relation back to what happened on or before May 17. And just one other issue. The government continues to refer to these regulations as no different than something that would be in the U.S. Attorney’s manual or a written policy. Obviously, the Department of Justice for some time and the attorney general decided to make these special counsel regulations. They didn’t make it a policy. They didn’t make it a procedure. They didn’t put it in the U.S. Attorney’s manual. They made it a regulation, and they did it publicly to say to the country, to Congress, and to the courts and the land that this is how we’re going to conduct ourselves. The attorney general certainly at points in time could have taken that right back, but he never did. He left it on the books. They promulgate that these regs are controlling the office of this special counsel in a public notice, their appointment order. So they tell the world: Don’t worry about it. We’re not going to end up with this runaway special counsel like we’ve seen with the independent counsel. When they come to court, they say, By the way, these are not judicially enforceable. It’s as if they hoodwinked the entire United States into thinking that this was going to be different than the independent counsel. I think it’s very important for the government to be held accountable just like the government was and the Department of Justice was in U.S. v. Nixon. You put these regulations out there. You’re telling the world. You’re telling the government. You’re telling the United States citizens: You can rely upon us conducting ourselves in this manner. Then when they don’t and they don’t produce a record, they say to this Court, they say to Manafort, they say to the country: Guess what? It’s not enforceable. And I don’t think that can stand, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. Let me hear your response. You’ve already made most of it, but repeat what you feel is necessary.

MR. DREEBEN: Thank you, Your Honor. Let me try to make four quick points and answer any questions that the Court may have. First, Mr. Manafort’s counsel treats the May 17 order as if it is the specific factual statement that’s contemplated by the special counsel regulations. It is not. The regulations nowhere say that a specific factual statement needs to be provided publicly, and in the context of a confidential, sensitive counterintelligence investigation that involves classified information, it would not make any sense for that information to be conveyed publicly. Mr. Manafort actually acknowledged that in argument on this issue before the district court in the District of Columbia. The specific factual statement, as Attorney General 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 it is not really appropriate to assume that the (b)(i) description is the factual statement that the regulations contemplate.

THE COURT: Well, I understand your argument, but let me characterize it and see if you find it as satisfying as you appear to indicate that you think it is: We said this is what the investigation was about. But we’re not going to be bound by it, and we weren’t really telling the truth in that May 17 letter. I don’t watch pro football, but I used to enjoy the program that came beforehand where a bunch of players would get on and essentially make fun of everybody. But they would put on some ridiculous thing, and then they would all say in a chorus, Come on, man. I loved that. I thought that was great. So your argument that we said this was the scope of the investigation but we really didn’t mean it because we weren’t required by any law or regulation to say what the scope was, I understand that argument, but it kind of invites, Come on, man. You said that was it. But I think your argument goes on, and you say, Look, the May 17 letter isn’t the end of it. There is the August 2 letter, and in the August 2 letter, it’s expanded considerably because it then says — Russian government is number one, and then it goes on to the Ukrainian government which is never mentioned beforehand. Who knows what else, of course, went on? In any event, I wanted you to be clear how I understand that particular argument.

MR. DREEBEN: Can I take a shot at explaining why I don’t think that’s the accurate way to look at it?

THE COURT: Of course you may.

MR. DREEBEN: So we’re dealing here with a national security counterintelligence investigation that had been conducted by the FBI that had numerous different aspects to it that were —

THE COURT: Are you telling me that in this indictment that’s before the Court on Mr. Manafort, that I’m going to have to go through CIPA, that there’s going to be a Section 4 filing, that there will be classified documents, they’ll have an opportunity to say what they need to say, etc., etc.?

MR. DREEBEN: I hope not, Your Honor. I was trying to describe the overall –

THE COURT: Well, you’re making a big deal out of it being a classified kind of thing. If that’s in any way relevant to his defense, there we go with another CIPA. I have been through CIPA cases going way back to John Walker Lindh and other matters. If that’s what’s going to happen, I’d like to have notice of it. You all could drag this out. I’m an old man. You could actually outlive me.

MR. DREEBEN: I’m not trying to do that, Your Honor.

THE COURT: This proceeding could outlive me. In fact, if a lot of lawyers around here had their way about it, they would take steps to ensure that almost everything outlived me.

MR. DREEBEN: Let me try to be brief.

THE COURT: All right, sir. That’s welcome.

MR. DREEBEN: The May 17 order could not fully describe the matters that the acting attorney general wanted the special counsel to investigate because they implicated people who were under investigation but who may never be charged and sensitive national security matters. As a result, the specifics of the investigation were conveyed to us not on the face of the May 17 order but in interaction with the acting attorney general. He explained this in his testimony in just these terms, simply could not be made public. I think Your Honor would agree that it’s not appropriate for the government to disclose specific subjects of an investigation when those matters may never result in a charge and when they could jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations, as well as reveal national security matters. That was the only point that I was trying to make one. (b)(i) is not the factual statement.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. DREEBEN: The second point here is that we are within the Department of Justice. To the extent that Mr. Manafort is suggesting that we’re analogous to the independent counsels that operated under the old statute, that’s not right. Our indictment was reviewed and approved by the Tax Division, by the National Security Division. We operate within a framework of the Department of Justice. We’re not different from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in that respect. We’re all part of the same Department of Justice.

THE COURT: You resisted my suggestion to have someone here, and Mr. Asonye showed up. When did you ask Mr. Asonye to join you? By the way, don’t nod or shake your head out here because it interrupts the speaker. It’s rude, and it has often the opposite effect you may — I was never able to do that by the way. When I was sitting where you are, I nodded and shook my head all the time. Despite the fact that it aggravated judges, I did it, and I regret that. My perspective is a little different now. I expect you to do what I was unable to do. Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. Go ahead.

MR. DREEBEN: Thank you, Your Honor. We took your admonition to heart, and we are very happy to have Mr. Asonye join us.

THE COURT: Good. I think that’s important for communications as well. Plus, you never know. If you have to try this case, you will have to try it before me. Mr. Asonye has some experience here. Is that right, Mr. Asonye?

MR. ASONYE: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: And before me as well.

MR. ASONYE: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: So he can tell you some interesting things.

MR. DREEBEN: Two more quick points with leave, Your Honor.


MR. DREEBEN: First, Your Honor referred to the fact that there were ongoing investigatory matters that concerned Mr. Manafort before the appointment of the special counsel, but the investigation that the special counsel has conducted has considerably advanced and deepened our understanding of the matters that have been previously identified. So it is not entirely fair to say that the matters in the indictment did not arise from the investigation or could not have arisen from it because our investigation —

THE COURT: It factually did not arise from the investigation. Now, saying it could have arised under it is another matter, but factually, it’s very clear. This was an ongoing investigation. You all got it from the Department of Justice. You’re pursuing it. Now I had speculated about why you’re really interested in it in this case. You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. Well, the government does. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever. That’s what you’re really interested in. You know, when a prosecutor is appointed, he’s appointed to get an indictment. He’s appointed to go after somebody. Somebody mentioned to me not long ago that this is a different scheme, that it’s not the scheme that was in effect in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s true, but I suspect the change in this process is not significant. It’s still the same. It’s still the same. You appoint a prosecutor, and that prosecutor goes after with the intent — whether it was Clinton or whoever else it was, Reagan or whoever, they go after him with the idea they’ve got to get an indictment. If they don’t, they’re very unhappy. I remember speaking to one special prosecutor, the Iran-Contra thing, and he was terribly disappointed. That’s what prosecutors do. I understand that. The Brits use a different system. They don’t use special prosecutors. They use a commission to go out and investigate it and write a report, and then people sort of accept that. In this country, I don’t think a commission could do the job you all are doing. It doesn’t have the power to subpoena. It doesn’t have the power to impanel a grand jury, etc., etc. I understand that, but it sure is less disruptive. In any event, your point, if I can distill it to its essence, is that this indictment can be traced to the authority the special prosecutor was given in the May and August letters. That, as far as you’re concerned, is the beginning and end of the matter.

MR. DREEBEN: Yes, Your Honor, it is the beginning and almost the end. And this is my last point, I promise.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. DREEBEN: The special counsel regulations that my friend is relying on are internal DOJ regulations. He referred to them as if they’re a statute. I want to be clear. They are not enacted by Congress. They are internal regulations of the Department of Justice.

THE COURT: Most regulations aren’t enacted by Congress. They’re promulgated by agencies pursuant to rule-making authority.

MR. DREEBEN: Correct.

THE COURT: Congress doesn’t do it.

MR. DREEBEN: Correct. But he referred to them as a statute. I just wanted to be clear we’re —

THE COURT: Yes, I’m clear about that. I’ve learned a few things.

MR. DREEBEN: The fourth, they conclude in a provision that’s applicable here, 600.10, by describing that these rules and regulations are not intended to create any rights that can be enforced by individuals in any proceedings, civil or criminal.

THE COURT: Yes, I have that in front of me.

MR. DREEBEN: The reason for that is that this is a way for the Department of Justice to organize its investigatory and prosecutorial actions. It’s no different than the acting attorney general assigned a matter to the Eastern District of Virginia or assigned it to a component of the Department of Justice. It’s not there for the benefit of individual —

THE COURT: Of course, the difference is that if you did assign it to the Eastern District of Virginia, it wouldn’t come, Mr. Asonye, with a $10 million budget; would it?

MR. DREEBEN: Your Honor —

THE COURT: Look, I take your point on 600.10, that it doesn’t create any rights, but that’s a little bit like arguing, look, we issued these internal things but don’t expect us to be bound by them. I think your stronger argument is you complied with them.

MR. DREEBEN: I agree that is a strong argument.

THE COURT: It’s not a very strong argument to say, Don’t hold us to it because we didn’t mean it. We said it, but we didn’t mean it.

MR. DREEBEN: Can I refer the Court to a Fourth Circuit case that interpreted very similar language and concluded that it was not enforceable in a court?

THE COURT: Yes, of course.

MR. DREEBEN: We cited this case in our brief. It is In re Shain. It’s 978 F.2d 850. It’s a 1992 decision of the Fourth Circuit, and it concerned the media subpoena regulation that the department has, which it has established in order to put a buffer zone around subpoenas that may go to the media. It’s not required by the First Amendment but reflects the Department of Justice’s internal sensitivity to seeking information from the media. The litigant in that case claimed that the department had violated that regulation, issued a subpoena that wasn’t authorized by it, and the Fourth Circuit concluded that this was an internal DOJ regulation. It contained language very similar to 600.10, and the Fourth Circuit held, This is not a matter for courts to enforce. It’s an internal DOJ matter. Respectfully, Your Honor, although we fully agree that we are authorized to conduct this investigation and there’s no basis for dismissing the indictment, I would also refer you to this case.

THE COURT: Wasn’t there a matter in New York recently that the special counsel returned to the Southern District of New York?

MR. DREEBEN: The special counsel’s office did refer certainly allegations concerning an individual to the Southern District.

THE COURT: Why did it do it?

MR. DREEBEN: With respect, Your Honor, I’m not at liberty to go into the internal prosecutorial matters within the Department of Justice.

THE COURT: Let me ask you this: Did it do it because it concluded that it had uncovered materials that really weren’t within the scope of what it was authorized to look into, or did it do it because, well, we’re not interested in it because we can’t use this to further our core effort, which is to get —

MR. DREEBEN: Let me try to answer Your Honor’s question this way —

THE COURT: — to Trump?

MR. DREEBEN: — because I want to be responsive and at the same time respect internal investigatory equities.

THE COURT: I’m not asking you to disclose anything that you can’t disclose.

MR. DREEBEN: We take very seriously the primary mission that was assigned to us by the acting attorney general in the May 17 order, which is to investigate, not prosecute necessarily unless there’s a prosecutable crime, but to investigate Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election and links or coordination that may have occurred with individuals associated with the campaign of President Trump. We are focused on that mission. We may uncover other criminal activity in the course of that that is necessary for us to investigate in order to complete that mission. We may uncover criminal activity that is not necessary for us to investigate but is still appropriately investigated by a different component of the department. We have sought to respect that line. We have consulted with the acting attorney general in order to make sure that we are operating within —

THE COURT: All right. That’s helpful. But it brings me back to a point that I don’t know that we adequately plumbed, and that is why in New York did you feel that it wasn’t necessary for you to keep that but it is necessary for you to keep this which involves bank fraud and registration and other things dating back to 2005, 2007, which I think manifestly don’t have anything to do with the campaign or with Russian collusion? You’re keeping one and giving up the other. I don’t see the difference. I think one answer you could tell me, and I want to say it because I think you would properly be a little reluctant to do it. It is this: It’s none of your business, Judge, why we did that. We’re going to proceed on that. Well, I think that’s a fair point to make. I’m not sure it’s none of my business because I don’t have yet a full understanding of everything, but why is New York different? And if you can’t tell me, I accept that.

MR. DREEBEN: Well, Your Honor, I think I can be helpful to you about this case. In this case, Mr. Manafort clearly is within the area of investigation because of his affiliation with the campaign of President Trump and because of his affiliations in Ukraine with Russia-associated individuals. Once a prosecutor —

THE COURT: Suppose you found a crime that he committed — let’s say the statute of limitations was 20 years ago. Would that permit you to go after him and use it to coerce him or put pressure on him to turn on others or Trump himself?

MR. DREEBEN: If it’s not factually linked to the subject of the investigation, then we would go back under the regulations if we thought it was appropriate for us to investigate and have the acting attorney general decide that, but here the crimes —

THE COURT: Can you tell me how these things in the indictment are factually linked to Russian influence over the 2016 election?

MR. DREEBEN: They’re factually linked to the areas of our investigation because in trying to understand the activities of Mr. Manafort in Ukraine and associations that he may have had with Russian individuals and the depth of those, we needed to understand and explore financial relationships and to follow the money where it led. So the logic of the investigation has factual connections to the indictment. I think in Your Honor’s hypothetical, that would not have been so, and that’s the fundamental difference.

THE COURT: All right. I might mention to you that I’ve gone through the indictment, as you would expect me to do. There’s no mention in the indictment that I know of that refers to any Russian individual or any Russian bank or any Russian money or any payments by Russians to Mr. Manafort. Correct?

MR. DREEBEN: I think that is correct, but the money that forms the basis for the criminal charges here, the tax charges, the bank fraud charges comes from his Ukraine activities. That’s what we were focused on. So we followed the money into the transactions that led to the criminal charges here, and it’s that factual link that connects the subject of the investigation in —

THE COURT: You can’t be talking about bank fraud because that’s not where money came from. That’s getting money from a bank without telling the truth, but it could be in the false income tax. Is that what you’re suggesting?

MR. DREEBEN: It’s both, Your Honor, because the Ukraine money was used to purchase and improve real estate. The transactions that are charged as bank fraud extracted that money and made it —

THE COURT: Purchases of his homes.

MR. DREEBEN: With money that he derived from the Ukraine activities we’ve alleged. That’s the factual connection, Your Honor. I’m just trying to explain why we regard this as connected to our investigation.

THE COURT: All right. Thank you.

MR. DREEBEN: Thank you.

THE COURT: Do you have anything else to add?

MR. DOWNING: Just briefly, Your Honor. The one thing we would ask this Court to do before deciding the motion before the Court is to ask the government for what anybody who has had any experience with the Department of Justice knows exists, which is the written record. Where is the written record before Mr. Mueller was appointed? Where is the written record about the decision —

THE COURT: What do you mean by the written record?

MR. DOWNING: Mr. Rosenstein had a process he had to go through in order to determine that there was a conflict that gave rise to the appointment of special counsel, the specific matter that the special counsel was going to investigate in any additional jurisdiction he granted. It would all be written down somewhere. That’s how the Department of Justice works. Mr. Rosenstein even conceded when he was testifying up on the Hill and he was confronted with the question of, When did you expand the jurisdiction to the special counsel? He couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the question, but he did say very tellingly, I will go back and check my records, and I will get back to you. So we would ask that this Court order the government to turn over those records so that the Court doesn’t have to guess what happened.

THE COURT: What records is what I’m asking you.

MR. DOWNING: Well, Mr. Rosenstein referred to records.

THE COURT: In his testimony?

MR. DOWNING: Correct.

THE COURT: What records are you referring to? That is, what kinds of records?

MR. DOWNING: Well, Your Honor, generally —

THE COURT: Are you suggesting that Rosenstein had to go through some process to conclude that there was some conflict before the Department of Justice could proceed?

MR. DOWNING: Which he also testified to.

THE COURT: All right. Is that what you’re — the record of identifying the conflict?

MR. DOWNING: I believe identification of the conflict, the matter that needed to be referred to a special counsel in order to — because of the conflict and the scope of the special counsel’s investigation, including any additional jurisdiction.

THE COURT: The May and August letters are the scope.

MR. DOWNING: That’s after the fact. You would expect that the Department of Justice, especially Mr. Rosenstein, would have had a memo before.

THE COURT: Why do you say that?

MR. DOWNING: Because in the Department of Justice generally, just in any situation —

THE COURT: Did you serve in the department?

MR. DOWNING: Fifteen years, five of which was under Mr. Rosenstein’s management. Mr. Rosenstein is a stickler for memos being written, for there to be a written record for the actions of the Department of Justice.

THE COURT: What good would that do me if I had all of that in front of me?

MR. DOWNING: It might show you exactly whether or not Mr. Rosenstein violated the regs or whether he complied with them.

THE COURT: I don’t know about regulations, but let’s suppose he violated. Of course, counsel has already pointed out that that’s, in his view, irrelevant. But let’s suppose it shows that, that Rosenstein didn’t do a good job. So what?

MR. DOWNING: So our position is that to the extent that Mr. Rosenstein exceeded his authority to appoint a special counsel, the special counsel does not have the authority of a U.S. Attorney.

THE COURT: Thank you.

MR. DOWNING: Thank you.

THE COURT: All right. I’ll take the matter under advisement. Did you wish to respond to this last point?

MR. DREEBEN: No thank you, Your Honor, unless you have any questions.

THE COURT: Good choice on your part. I must tell you that I’m exercising uncharacteristic restraint on my part not to require you to tell me about those things, but I think I have an adequate record now. You’re going to let me know in two weeks the rest of this letter. I’m going to be interested if CIPA really is invoked. That creates a whole new regime for the treatment of discovery and so forth, as you all well know. Thank you for your arguments. They were entertaining. I think I found the right adjective. Thank you.

Mr. Asonye, I’m glad to see you here.

MR. ASONYE: I’m glad to see you as well, Your Honor.