Although Election Day is approaching and voting has already began in some states, Lawyer Normal Invoice Barr’s Justice Division has been concerned in a whirlwind two days of surprising, politically charged exercise.
Most notably, a US lawyer made a vague, partially inaccurate statement Thursday about issues with a handful of navy ballots in a single Pennsylvania county — an announcement that went out of its approach to say the ballots had been solid for Donald Trump. This appeared designed to spice up the president’s claims that mail voting is riddled with fraud, and certainly, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany revealed that the White Home had a heads-up about it.
Additionally Thursday, Barr launched some info that he recommended solid additional doubt on a serious supply for the Steele file, sending it in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The Steele file was clearly deeply flawed, and Trump’s supporters have zeroed in on the FBI’s use of it as a part of their bigger venture to discredit the Russia investigation. However the political dimension of this revelation was apparent: Graham quickly went on Fox News to tout his findings and to ask Fox viewers for donations to assist him in his personal powerful reelection.
In the meantime, upfront of a listening to subsequent week at which a decide will take into account whether or not the Justice Division can withdraw the false statements case to which Michael Flynn pleaded responsible, the Division despatched new internal FBI documents concerning the case to Flynn’s legal professionals, and released notes from a recent interview of an FBI agent who labored on the case and says he was skeptical about it.
The Flynn strikes aren’t essentially geared toward affecting the election; the timeline for these proceedings has been set by the decide within the case, Emmet Sullivan. However they’re a part of the broader uncommon scenario during which Barr has ordered a assessment of the Flynn case in an obvious try to discredit the Trump-Russia investigation.
Usually, customized dictates that Justice Division officers needs to be deeply cautious about taking actions that would have an effect on an election within the weeks earlier than it takes place — although then-FBI Director James Comey famously violated that custom in 2016.
However Barr’s Justice Division has made its priorities clear: They need to advance the political narratives of President Trump. They usually’re clearly not going to cease doing so within the weeks earlier than election day.
The Pennsylvania ballots
Probably the most alarming transfer from the Justice Division currently got here from a shocking supply: the US lawyer for the Center District of Pennsylvania, David Freed.
Many particulars concerning the underlying scenario listed below are nonetheless murky. However on Monday, Freed’s workplace and the FBI started “an inquiry into experiences of potential points with a small variety of mail-in ballots on the Luzerne County Board of Elections,” Freed said in a statement.
If there are experiences of points with ballots, the Justice Division ought to naturally examine. However the best way this info was dribbled out appeared designed to bolster President Trump’s baseless claims that mail voting is deeply flawed — when Freed’s precise findings have to this point revealed no such factor.
The primary public indications that one thing was up got here when Trump himself told a Fox host in a radio interview that “Trump ballots” in “a trash can” had been present in “a sure state,” and when White Home press secretary Kayleigh McEnany talked about at a press briefing that “ballots for the president had been present in Pennsylvania.”
Then Freed launched his first statement on the matter. The temporary, obscure assertion stated he might affirm that “a small variety of navy ballots” — 9 — had been “discarded.” It didn’t clarify how or why, or whether or not there was intentional malfeasance. However the assertion made certain to level out that “all 9 ballots had been solid for presidential candidate Donald Trump.” (This assertion turned out to be mistaken. Freed corrected it to say that seven of the 9 had been solid for Trump, the opposite two had been resealed and their candidate desire is unknown.)
The assertion about an ongoing investigation was unusual in and of itself. However the revelation that the discarded ballots for Trump appeared significantly politicized, as former Justice Division official Justin Levitt tweeted:
An investigation right here could also be cheap. However there’s NO legit cause for:
1) a DOJ press launch on a pending investigation, that
2) publicizes a partial listing of unconfirmed information, together with
3) the id of one of many candidates on particular ballots.https://t.co/T92nz8tZpV
— Justin Levitt (@_justinlevitt_) September 24, 2020
And certainly, Trump marketing campaign spokesperson Matt Wolking shortly tweeted out Freed’s statement, writing: “BREAKING: FBI finds navy mail-in ballots discarded in Pennsylvania. 100% of them had been solid for President Trump. Democrats are attempting to steal the election.”
However Freed’s longer letter about his findings to this point, launched later Thursday, comprises nothing to again up the inflammatory “steal the election” declare. Certainly, it appeared fully attainable that the navy ballots had been opened by chance as a result of the election board employees thought they may have been poll requests as a substitute of the ballots themselves.
It’s additionally unclear whether or not the native election board’s follow was merely consistent with a recent ruling from the Pennsylvania supreme court — that any mailed ballots missing an interior “secrecy envelope” should be discarded. Republicans within the state have supported this ruling, and Freed’s assertion didn’t touch upon the problem.
So it’s unsure whether or not native officers did something mistaken in any respect, and there’s actually been no proof of a dastardly plot to steal the election. But Freed’s assertion appeared designed to bolster Trump’s baseless claims to this impact. And ABC News’ Alexander Mallin reported that Barr had personally briefed Trump concerning the investigation, explaining why the White Home was so ready to pounce.
The Steele supply
In the meantime, Barr himself made one other uncommon launch of data on one other matter — the notorious “Steele dossier” about Trump’s ties to Russia.
The Steele file has not aged nicely. Its most particular allegations weren’t corroborated by the Mueller investigation. Former FBI agent Peter Strzok recently called it “an issue for the investigation, as a result of it despatched individuals off on a collection of untamed goose chases.” And inspector common Michael Horowitz as criticized the FBI’s use of Steele’s claims to justify the surveillance of former Trump marketing campaign aide Carter Web page.
As Horowitz wrote last year, “Steele himself was not the originating supply of any of the factual info in his reporting. Steele as a substitute relied on a Main sub-source for info, who used his/her community of sub-sources to collect info that was then handed to Steele.”
The issue was that, when the FBI lastly reached out to that major sub-source straight, he largely disavowed Steele’s claims, saying that the data he gave Steele was “simply discuss,” needs to be taken with “a grain of salt,” and included statements he heard made in “jest.” Steele’s write-up, he stated, was extra “conclusive” than it ought to’ve been.
Barr’s new launch — made in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham — reveals extra info casting doubt on the first sub-source. Particularly, he himself was underneath counterintelligence investigation by the FBI from 2009 to 2011, and the investigation discovered he’d had some contact with Russian intelligence officers. (The federal government has not named the first sub-source, however he’s reportedly Igor Danchenko, who previously worked for the Brookings Establishment assume tank.)
Nevertheless, the entire level of the file, in idea, was that Steele’s sources had been supposed to speak to related Russians, together with authorities officers, to attempt to be taught what was occurring. So it doesn’t make sense that mere contact with these officers would discredit the file. The larger drawback can be if these officers (or Danchenko himself) had been intentionally seeding disinformation that Steele then unskeptically parroted.
In any case, each Barr and Graham are framing this new launch as merely a part of the congressional oversight course of — Graham’s committee is investigating the file, and Barr is responding to that oversight.
However the apparent political dimension was made clear when Graham went on Fox Information twice Thursday to tout his findings — and, each instances, pleaded for marketing campaign donations from Fox viewers. (Graham’s Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison, has raised an extraordinary amount of cash just lately, and Graham claimed that he’s getting “killed financially.”)
Barr additionally writes that the brand new info was delivered to his consideration by US Lawyer John Durham, whose assessment of the Trump-Russia probe is ongoing. Barr has reportedly pressured Durham’s group in current weeks to submit some findings earlier than the election, and one prosecutor on the group, Nora Dannehy, resigned in protest. Trump and Barr have made clear they need Durham’s findings made public, and this can be one roundabout manner in revealing a part of them.
The Flynn wrangling
Lastly, the Justice Division made new disclosures associated to the case towards former Nationwide Safety Adviser Michael Flynn.
Again in December 2017, Flynn pleaded responsible to mendacity to the FBI about his telephone conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the course of the transition, in a case introduced by particular counsel Robert Mueller’s group.
Flynn pledged to cooperate with the federal government and his case was set for sentencing in December 2018. However when the decide in that case, Emmet Sullivan, harshly criticized Flynn’s conduct and sounded surprisingly likely to offer him some jail time, Flynn requested to delay his sentencing so he might proceed to cooperate with the federal government.
However Flynn’s cooperation fell aside, and he modified his authorized technique in 2019 by hiring an aggressive conservative lawyer, Sidney Powell, who sought to discredit the federal government’s case towards Flynn, making claims of investigative misconduct.
Powell had an vital ally on this effort: the lawyer common. Barr assigned Jeff Jensen, the US Lawyer for the Japanese District of Missouri, to assessment Justice Division and FBI decision-making within the Flynn case. Then, in Might, prosecutors announced that they might drop the case towards Flynn, claiming that it wouldn’t serve the pursuits of justice.
Choose Sullivan, nevertheless, was skeptical. Sounding suspicious of the federal government’s motives, he didn’t permit the case to be thrown out simply but. A listening to during which he’ll query attorneys will happen on Tuesday.
What’s vital to know right here is that the Justice Division and Flynn’s protection legal professionals at the moment are primarily working collectively, to try to get the case thrown out. That’s the context for this week’s new disclosures.
First, the federal government handed over a new set of inside FBI notes and messages to Flynn’s protection group. A few of these messages revealed some skepticism from brokers concerning the energy of the Flynn investigation again in late 2016. Nevertheless, that was earlier than Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador. Powell additionally distorted or misinterpreted another messages — claiming that an FBI analyst’s assertion that “i feel a few of these guys need a clinton presidency” was concerning the FBI, when the context makes clear “these guys” was referring to Russians.
Second, prosecutors filed notes from an interview US Lawyer Jeff Jensen’s group carried out in his assessment of the Flynn case. The interview, which passed off final week, was of former FBI case agent William Barnett, who dealt with the counterintelligence investigation towards Flynn and later labored in Mueller’s workplace.
In it, Barnett reveals that he was typically fairly skeptical of the Flynn investigation, whereas different prosecutors and brokers had been extra suspicious. He additionally was stunned to have been overlooked when Peter Strzok and one other agent interviewed Flynn (the interview that was the idea for the costs towards Flynn). And he expresses his opinion that Flynn’s prosecution was a approach to “get Trump.”
“The interview abstract itself is a collection of contradictions,” Politico’s Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein write. They proceed: “Although Barnett voices deep doubts concerning the motivations of a few of his colleagues, he in the end agreed that Flynn lied to the FBI. He additionally indicated that he believed the opposite investigations led by the Crossfire Hurricane group had been meritorious, although he says he typically supplied extra benign theories about actions taken by Trump and his group when different brokers had been inclined to view them in a extra incriminating mild.”
These releases, general, appear designed to bolster the federal government’s and Flynn’s arguments that the case towards him needs to be thrown out. However they don’t seem to disclose any precise misconduct. And although it’s fully attainable that Choose Sullivan will finally let the case towards Flynn be dropped, he’ll need to ask some powerful questions first at Tuesday’s listening to.
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