Tag Archives: Garland

Donald Trump — A Gangster in the White House

I write to give you the gist of Jeffrey Toobin’s excellent True Crimes and Misdemeanors.

If there is anything to be disappointed about, it is that the book was published in early August of 2020 and thus does not address Trump’s (and other Republicans’) incitement of the January 6 attack and his second impeachment. But there is likely little that Toobin could add at this stage to what is known about that, given the stonewalling by most of Trump’s enablers and the apparent indifference of the Department of Justice to the entire matter.

That limitation aside, this book, like the exceptional Where Law Ends by Andrew Weissman, displays throughout the gift of clear exposition. A complex tale told well. And, like Weissman, Toobin pulls none of his punches in judging the behavior of most of the participants in the criminal enterprise that defined the Trump presidency. If there is anything to complain about in that regard, it’s Toobin’s obvious fascination with and adoration of the role, style, and grit of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the only major player to come out of the Trump crime spree as a genuine hero in Toobin’s eyes.

The book reads like a true crime novel, and it is all about crimes. Sad to say, it’s also not a novel. It’s true. All of it.

So, where to begin? The book opens with a summary analysis of Trump’s survival despite the findings of the Mueller Report. There is plenty of blame to go around but much of it rests at the feet of Mueller himself:

Mueller’s caution and reticence led him to fail at his two most important tasks.  Thanks to the clever actions (and strategic inaction) of Trump’s legal team, Mueller failed to obtain a meaningful interview with Trump himself. Even worse, Mueller convinced himself – wrongly – that he had to write a final report that was nearly incomprehensible to ordinary citizens in its legal conclusions. [True Crimes at 8]

Toobin ends the opening with the observation that,

everyone – friends as well as enemies – knew what [Trump] had done. It was obvious to any sentient observer that he did what he was accused of in the Mueller Report and in the articles of impeachment. [[True Crimes at 11]

The book then narrates the story of how that happened, beginning with James Comey’s betrayal of the country by his decision to ignore FBI policy about disclosing details of investigations at all, let alone on the literal eve of an election, with the result that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was undermined at the last minute. The subsequent narrative will be familiar to everyone who was paying attention but the details, including many not previously revealed (to my knowledge) propel the story forward. Toobin concludes, “it appears likely, if not certain, that Comey cost Clinton the presidency.” [[True Crimes at 28] Indeed.

Toobin makes a compelling case that Robert Mueller was hyper-focused on bringing his investigation to a rapid close and thus failed to pursue “the single most important piece of evidence,” namely, the testimony of Donald Trump himself. But,

Mueller didn’t. He backed down. He couldn’t bring himself to launch a direct legal attack against the president of the United States. [True Crimes at 197]

Of all the mistakes made, and in truth every serious investigation of complex events will have some, the failure to force Trump’s testimonial hand stands out as the largest and the least understandable in light of Mueller’s assignment. Everyone – Mueller’s team, Trump’s lawyers – knew Trump would perjure himself if questioned under oath. He would have had extreme difficulty responding to skilled cross-examination of his conduct and motives. This is particularly important because Mueller believed that Trump’s “state of mind” was critical to bringing charges against him. For me, that will always remain a mystery. State of mind is simply never directly knowable, despite what we’ve seen in some phantasmagorical science fiction movies. It is inferable from conduct in context and circumstances, always.

Mueller made other mistakes. He should have squeezed Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer whom they had dead to rights on campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. Without ever asking whether his jurisdiction might include the Cohen issues, Mueller turned the case over to the Southern District of New York. Because those prosecutors, accomplished though they were, saw their role narrowly – Cohen was the target, not Trump – they never sought Trump’s tax returns or his financial records.

In a precursor to what was to come, William Barr, who had once been Mueller’s boss at DOJ, volunteered in June 2018 a 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had appointed Mueller as Special Counsel, attacking the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation. Barr argued that the president could, for any reason or no reason (the legal standard for “at will” employment firing), fire the head of the FBI (Comey) and such action could not be attacked as obstruction of justice. Barr also objected on constitutional grounds to any attempt to force Trump to testify. [True Crimes at 234-235]

Thereafter, negotiations over Trump’s possible testimony were postponed while Rudy Giuliani was brought in to lead Trump’s legal defense team. At a “get-acquainted” meeting with Mueller’s team,

Giuliani wanted to nail down Mueller’s commitment that he would follow the [DOJ Office of Legal Counsel] policy barring indictments of sitting presidents. Aaron Zebley volunteered that Mueller would. [True Crimes at 236, italics mine]

When I read that, I almost gagged. Zebley was Mueller’s former Chief of Staff at the FBI and his top aide in the Trump investigation. Zebley was the subject of much critical assessment in Andrew Weissmann’s Where Law Ends, discussed in detail here: https://bit.ly/3Jn8ye3

I can think of no plausible reason for Mueller or his team to offer such a concession at that point, or likely at any point, in the investigation without getting something of extraordinary importance in return. But, no, the point was “volunteered” away. Astonishing and inexplicable in my opinion.

Many key players in the prolonged saga of Trump’s presidency come in for harsh criticism in Toobin’s accounting, including Judge T.S. Ellis, the judge in the first trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair. Toobin notes the judge’s “partisanship and incompetence.” [True Crimes at 238] Strong words, indeed, but justified by the shocking events he narrates.

One beef I have with Toobin relates to the central issue in the Mueller investigation. Mueller concluded that there was no evidence proving that Trump or his campaign “colluded” with Russia. Toobin accepts this finding, with the qualification that Trump and his inner circle certainly wanted to collude. [True Crimes at 269] Given the failure to examine Trump personally under oath or to subpoena his taxes and financial records, Toobin’s total acceptance of Trump’s innocence on the collusion issue is, I think, unjustified. Even more so because Trump’s answers to the written questions ultimately submitted to him by Mueller included 36 instances of “don’t remember” by the man who repeatedly claimed to have a genius level mind and memory. [True Crimes at 273]

Toobin holds nothing back in stating that Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine extortion episode “must rank among the most disastrous pieces of advocacy in the history American lawyering.” [True Crimes at 292] No doubt, but Toobin also holds nothing back regarding the Mueller Report itself. He correctly concludes that the Report established that “Trump committed several acts of criminal obstruction of justice.” [True Crimes at 300] Using his gift of snark to full advantage, Toobin paraphrases the Mueller conclusions on obstruction:

We can investigate the President, but we can’t prosecute the President. If our investigation determined that he was in the clear, we’d say that – but we’re not saying that. Nor are we saying that he’s guilty of anything. So we’re not saying he’s guilty – but we’re not saying he’s innocent either. Basically. [True Crimes at 302]

Toobin characterizes the decision to avoid saying whether prosecution was warranted as a “gift to Trump.” [True Crimes at 302] Right again.

For several reasons, a special mention must be made of then- Attorney General William Barr’s issuance of a second letter, two days after he received the 448-page Mueller Report, interpreting the Report to say things it did not say and drawing conclusions the Report did not draw. Or, as Toobin put it, Barr put “a stake in Mueller.” [True Crimes at 307] And then, one of the highlights of the entire book for me,

Many on Mueller’s team, especially at the lower levels, were incandescent with fury at Barr.” [True Crimes at 308]

I don’t think will ever forget that phrase, “incandescent with fury” that so graphically describes how I and many others felt when Barr’s treachery sank in.

The book goes on to cover Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme, the outrageous efforts of the White House and outside counsel to defend the indefensible, the refusal of Republican senators to hear the evidence through witnesses and their determination to protect Trump at any and all costs. Toobin is unsparing in his condemnation of these efforts, and all are worth reading.

The main thing that really surprised me in the book was an omission. I may have missed it, though I doubt it. There was no discussion of the fate of the full written report (I will not dignify it with the term “transcript,” since it was in no sense an actual transcript) on the Trump-Zelensky call that was widely reported to have been sequestered in a White House server to which access was extremely limited. I have seen no reports about whether the Biden administration has opened the server to discover its contents or whether the server was removed with by the outgoing administration to, again, protect Trump from further exposure of his crimes.

I also strongly disagree, as I have previously written, with the decision of the House managers (mainly the Speaker) to limit the impeachments to narrowly drawn issues, given the breadth and depth of Trump’s crimes in office. The House was not bound by the self-imposed limitations of the Mueller Report and, knowing, as the House did, that conviction of Trump was completely unlikely, they should have thrown the book at him, exposing for the watching world the range and importance of his crimes in office.

I also must record my fundamental disagreement with Toobin’s judgment about the proper role of the Senate in the impeachments. He says,

The senators were nothing more, and nothing less, than politicians were supposed to decide the president’s fate based just in part on the evidence at trial but also on their overall sense of what was best for the country.

That view is far too narrow and validates the refusal of the Republican Party to come to grips with the realities of Trump’s presidency. There remains, and history will confirm, no doubt that Donald Trump committed multiple crimes in office and that he committed crimes in attempting to stop the peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration. To say that the Senate’s judgment was rightly based on a self-interested determination of “what was best for the country” makes a sham of the entire constitutional process. I do not believe the Founding Fathers, if they had been able to imagine a president like Trump, would have intended that the Senate could just say “it’s in our best interest to keep the leader of our party in power, so he’s ‘not guilty’ regardless of what he did.” I believe the Founding Fathers, whatever their other flaws, wanted and expected more when the extraordinary remedy of impeachment was brought against a president.

Toobin does not spend much time on Trump’s handling of the pandemic because that was not the primary topic of the book. But, as some of the Republican senators observed, the people would eventually render their judgment of Trump on election day in 2020. And they did. For reasons I still cannot grasp, Trump received more than 74 million votes, despite everything. But, fortunately for the republic and the world, Joe Biden won more than 81 million votes and a sufficient margin in the Electoral College to take the presidency. Then, Trump incited a coup to try to stop the transfer of power to the new president.

This was what Trump cared about the most. Toobin presciently notes,

Trump had no great passions on the issues, no policy agenda that he was determined to enact. For Trump, his presidency was more about him than what he could accomplish. For this reason, the only verdict that has ever mattered to Trump is the one rendered on Election Day.

Thus it was written and thus it was done.

You may recall Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress in which he likened Trump to a mafia boss. While Cohen’s handling of Trump and his legal affairs was problematic, to say the least, it appears that he correctly identified the central idea of Trump’s personal code of conduct.

The central question facing us now is, I think, whether the current Attorney General, Merrick Garland, is just another Robert Mueller. As an earlier post has discussed, the statute of limitations has already run on one of Trump’s obstruction crimes. Garland has publicly stated he will follow the evidence and the law even if it leads to Trump. More lawyers have apparently been hired to work on Trump matters.

Meanwhile, time marches only in one direction. The country waits for action. Trump’s crimes, and those of his enablers in the White House and Congress, stretch well back into his presidency, with the capstone being his incitement of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, more than 15 months ago. The nation waits ….

Is It Too Late?

On Sunday, January 2, 2022, the New York Times published an Editorial entitled “Every Day Is January 6 Now.” https://nyti.ms/3qKLbEH Rather than summarize it, I am going to quote liberally from it so that it’s clear who is speaking and what is being said. I may add some thoughts of my own here and there, clearly indicated, and, of course, at the end.

This is not to say that I think the Times is the final word on this or anything. I have, and will continue to, criticize the writing in the Times and other media whose careless and/or deliberate use of words takes news reporting into another realm. A recent example is this headline: “American officials scrambled to clarify Biden’s suggestion that Putin ‘cannot remain in power.’” https://nyti.ms/3NlwD8a Three co-authors are shown and, presumably, at least one editor reviewed the headline before publication. Drop the word “scrambled” and you have the same news: that officials offered clarifications of Biden’s statement. That is the fact, shorn of the authors’ nuances implying confusion and that Biden was making a proposal rather than some of the other possible interpretations of his remark. See https://bit.ly/3tKPiTa It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Times was tilting the table against the President here. Why would it do that?

It’s likely part of the journalism philosophy that leads to “both sides-ing” stories. In any case, the practice is inconsistent with the editorial position of the Times on one of the most important issues of our time. Returning, then, to my main purpose here, I quote now extensively from the editorial of January 2, noting in passing that it is now March 28, another fact to which I will return at the end. Bear with me. This is really important. Really. [ As usual, the bolded text is my doing]

Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time….

The effort extended all the way into the Oval Office, where Mr. Trump and his allies plotted a constitutional self-coup.

We know now that top Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures privately understood how dangerous the riot was and pleaded with Mr. Trump to call a halt to it, even as they publicly pretended otherwise. We know now that those who may have critical information about the planning and execution of the attack are refusing to cooperate with Congress, even if it means being charged with criminal contempt….

Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them. Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters ….

Thus the Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court….

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election….

Polling finds that the overwhelming majority of Republicans believe that President Biden was not legitimately elected and that about one-third approve of using violence to achieve political goals. Put those two numbers together, and you have a recipe for extreme danger….

Democrats aren’t helpless…. They hold unified power in Washington, for the last time in what may be a long time. Yet they have so far failed to confront the urgency of this moment — unwilling or unable to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage. Blame Senator Joe Manchin or Senator Kyrsten Sinema, but the only thing that matters in the end is whether you get it done. For that reason, Mr. Biden and other leading Democrats should make use of what remaining power they have to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, even if nothing else.

Whatever happens in Washington, in the months and years to come, Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level — not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day — to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live in the reality-based world.

Above all, we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.

[End of Times editorial]

Three months have passed since that editorial was published. We are now a year and three months past the January 6 attack on the Capitol and on American democracy. Here’s where we are:

  1. No main planners behind the January 6 insurrection (referring here to members of the Trump administration, members of Congress and Trump himself) have been indicted,
  2. Members of Congress and others continue to spit in the face of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol by defying demands, including subpoenas, for records and testimony.
  3. The Select Committee is moving at a pace that makes the tortoise in the famous tale look like War Admiral, the fourth winner of the Triple Crown. At this rate nothing of substance will have been accomplished by the mid-term elections of 2022.
  4. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice has not produced a single indictment of any of the principal conspirators behind January 6, or any indictments of those refusing to comply with lawful orders of the Select Committee, meaning that any indictment now almost certainly would not be tried before the 2024 elections.

I practiced law for 48 years, including conducting investigations of lying and highly resistant conspirators, and closely observed Watergate, the Clinton impeachment, and other sordid political matters. Strategies such as “run out the clock” are well-known by prosecutors. The statute of limitations has already run on at least one of Trump’s crimes. See https://shiningseausa.com/2022/02/18/trump-may-skate-obstruction-justice/

I understand the natural reluctance of prosecutors to bring cases they fear might lose and that might lead to judicial decisions with lasting negative effects on our politics. No one wants to be associated with losing a big case. But failing to bring a case that is justified by evidence, but where the law may be unclear, for fear of defeat is to be defeated already. You have beaten yourself and the country too. That’s where we seem to be now. We are defeating ourselves by allowing the primary perpetrators of the January 6 insurrection to escape swift justice.

Lawyers lose cases all the time. Every trial has a winner and a loser. It’s rare that losing a case has long-term consequences for the attorneys involved.

We’ve seen this before, as I noted in reviewing Andrew Weissmann’s remarkable analysis of the Mueller investigation in Where Law Ends: “rigid thinking and timidity in the face of threats from the subjects of the investigation led to catastrophic errors.” https://bit.ly/3uTJ7M7 Among the leading ones were decisions not to interview Trump’s children who worked in the White House throughout his term.

Even more egregious was the decision not to force Trump’s hand regarding testimony under oath. I almost fell over yesterday when reading in Jeffrey Toobin’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors [started before the 2020 election but only now being finished – more on that in a future post] that Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI and a senior member of the investigation team, committed one of the worst negotiating sins imaginable.

A meeting was held between Mueller’s people and Trump’s defense team, for the purpose of introducing Rudy Giuliani as the new lead defense lawyer. According to  Toobin, Giuliani wanted to,

nail down Mueller’s commitment that he would follow the DOJ’s Office Legal Counsel policy barring indictments of sitting presidents. Aaron Zebley volunteered that Mueller would. [True Crimes at 236]

It appears that Mueller got nothing in exchange for this astounding concession that removed one of the largest leverages that Mueller had. I would not have believed this happened were it not consistent with Weissmann’s descriptions of the influence Zebley exerted at critical moments in the investigation.

Successful investigations require maximum pressure. I don’t mean that the investigators should behave unreasonably or unfairly. That approach would likely backfire at some point. But there is no reason whatsoever to give away leverage without securing at least an equal value in some other form. As it happened, Trump himself was never placed under oath  for an interview, never answered many of the written questions posed to him and almost certainly lied in answering many others in which the self-declared “stable genius” claimed to not remember much of anything. See my series of posts about the Mueller investigation, beginning at https://bit.ly/3tLT2Us.

The Select Committee is run by politicians so there is perhaps even less reason to expect world-class investigative technique, but if something doesn’t change soon, the entire point will be lost. In what universe do leaders of a democracy, all sworn to follow the law and sustain the Constitution, walk free in the face of evidence that they conspired to overthrow the democratically constituted government?

I say ‘evidence’ recognizing we don’t have all of it. But if all the evidence would show they were innocent, is it plausible that so many members of Congress and of the Trump administration would refuse to cooperate, refuse to produce documents, and refuse to testify under oath? Enough is already known to warrant very aggressive and immediate action to bring the Republican dogs to justice. ALL of them.

As the New York Times astutely said back in January 2022,

Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

The White House and the Department of Justice had better wake up before it’s too late.

Trump May Skate on Obstruction of Justice

I am very sorry to report that the statute of limitations [SoL] has run against Donald Trump’s acts of obstruction of justice when he asked FBI Director James Comey to leave Michael Flynn alone. More on that in a moment.

First, I want to call to all readers’ attention the Lawfareblog at https://www.lawfareblog.com. For readers interested in, and able to tolerate reading lawyers’ opinions, this site has some of the most serious, law-focused discussion you will find anywhere regarding many of the key issues facing the country. As in the analysis of Trump’s obstruction conduct in the earliest known case, sometimes the lawyers’ analysis does not have a happy outcome. But it is always thought provoking, written by serious and accomplished people. Lawfareblog.com is a vast resource that I hope you will visit and support.

Now, back to the bad news. The article that addresses the Statute of Limitations issue regarding Comey and Flynn is at https://bit.ly/3LJqn9q. The SoL expired on February 14 with no action by the Department of Justice to hold Trump accountable for the first of at least 10 instances of obstruction of justice identified by Mueller. The Special Counsel took no action because he believed he was bound by the DOJ position that it could not indict a sitting president. Mueller also had a very narrow understanding of the job he has been given, as detailed in the compelling and important book, Where Law Ends, by Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s chief deputies. I reviewed the book at https://bit.ly/3LENvWF

It is a remarkable work, and everyone should read it.

Mueller’s failure to act left it to the Garland DOJ to pick up the case after Trump left the White House. He didn’t. The running out of the SoL means that, regarding the Comey-Flynn episode, we are SOL. As more time passes, the SoL will foreclose, one by one, any possible accountability for the other nine cases Mueller identified and several that, in my opinion, he inexplicably missed.  See, for example, my extensive discussion of the Mueller Report on the obstruction of justice issues:

https://bit.ly/33zmPFI

https://bit.ly/3LDkdYB

https://bit.ly/3JDzIhf

https://bit.ly/3oYM7o7

https://bit.ly/3I52g2I

The Lawfare blog includes a heat map that graphically illustrates the threat posed by the calendar for 14 possible charges of obstruction (4 more than Mueller identified and more in line with my analysis). In thinking about the obstruction issues, it is important to understand that there are three crucial elements to conviction on any charge:

Obstructive Act

Connection Between the Act and an Active Investigation

Corrupt Intent

By the end of July 2022, DOJ will lose the ability to charge Trump with the two instances in which even Mueller thought were the stronger cases for proving obstruction.

Meanwhile, as Lawfare notes with concern, DOJ remains mute.

At this stage, it is not clear whether a single Department of Justice attorney has reviewed the Mueller report since Trump left office. And it’s not clear either whether anyone will before the statutes of limitations run down. In the absence of a statement from Garland, the public knows virtually nothing about the status of the Justice Department’s investigation into these potential acts of obstruction by Trump. We can only speculate as to what may be happening.

The balance of the Lawfare article consists of an analysis of five scenarios regarding DOJ’s posture. Lawfare admits this is all speculation – it must be since AG Garland is not talking. Many of the five scenarios are decidedly offensive but that doesn’t mean they aren’t correct explanations of what is happening – and, not happening.

Lawfare then makes a compelling case for the Attorney General to explain to the country what is going on regarding Trump’s obstruction of justice. Silence is the least acceptable path forward. Lawfare is right about this, I believe. Read it, I urge you, and judge for yourself.

 

Court Eviscerates Barr Attempt to Whitewash Mueller Report

Federal District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson yesterday issued a 35-page opinion (exclusive of attachments) rejecting the claims of the Department of Justice that it can withhold  a memorandum behind then-Attorney General Barr’s attempt to whitewash the Mueller Report.  Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Department Of Justice,  Civil Action No. 19-1552 (DC DC May3, 2021). [Note: bolding of text is mine]

You may recall that, as brilliantly reported by Judge Jackson, and at the risk of giving away the conclusion,

 On Friday, March 22, 2019, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III delivered his Report of the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election to the then-Attorney General of the United States, William P. Barr.

But the Attorney General did not share it with anyone else.

Instead, before the weekend was over, he sent a letter to congressional leaders purporting to “summarize the principal conclusions” set out in the Report, compressing the approximately 200 highly detailed and painstakingly footnoted pages of Volume I – which discusses the Russian government’s interference in the election and any links or coordination with the Trump campaign – and the almost 200 equally detailed pages of Volume II – which concerns acts taken by then- President Trump in connection with the investigation – into less than four pages. The letter asserted that the Special Counsel “did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” and it went on to announce the Attorney General’s own opinion that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

The President then declared himself to have been fully exonerated.

The Attorney General’s characterization of what he’d hardly had time to skim, much less, study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball.

When, almost a month later, Barr presented the Mueller Report to Congress, “He asserted that he and the Deputy Attorney General reached the conclusion he had announced in the March 24 letter “in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers.” CREW immediately filed Freedom of Information Act requests for any documents related to those consultations. Predictably, DOJ resisted, citing exemptions from disclosure based on “deliberative process” and “attorney-client privilege.”

At issue then before the Court were two memoranda to the Attorney General. The DOJ justification for withholding the first one, the Judge noted, was poor, but the Judge conducted an in camera [private, in chambers] review of the document and gave DOJ a helping hand:

there was a particular, immediate decision under review to which the document pertained, that it also addressed another specific issue that was likely to arise as a consequence of the determination made with respect to the first, and that the entire memorandum was deliberative with respect to those decisions.

Judge Berman therefore held that document need not be disclosed to CREW.

The other document, however, was another cup of joe entirely. It was dated just two days after Mueller gave Barr the report and “specifically addresses the subject matter of the letter transmitted to Congress.” Most of the document is redacted in the Judge’s opinion but she also conducted, over DOJ’s strenuous objections, an in camerareview of that document.

Noting first CREW’s objections to the timeline represented by DOJ attorneys:

DOJ’s . . . arguments rest on the demonstrably false proposition that the memo was submitted to the Attorney General to assist him in making a legitimate decision on whether to initiate or decline prosecution of the President for obstructing justice . . . . [H]owever, the Special Counsel already had made final prosecutorial judgments and the time for the Attorney General to challenge those judgments had passed. Whatever the contents of the March 24, 2019 OLC memo, it was not part of a deliberation about whether or not to prosecute the President….

The absence of a pending decision for the Attorney General to make necessarily means the memo did not make a recommendation or express an opinion on a legitimate legal or policy matter. Instead, it was part of a larger campaign initiated by Attorney General Barr to undermine the Special Counsel’s report and rehabilitate the President . . . .”

The Judge concluded:

the redacted portions of Section I reveal that both the authors and the recipient of the memorandum had a shared understanding concerning whether prosecuting the President was a matter to be considered at all. In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given.

In a footnote, most of which is redacted, the Judge noted, “DOJ made a strategic decision to pretend as if the first portion of the memorandum was not there.” Ooof.

Similarly, Judge Jackson later observed,

the in camera review of the document, which DOJ strongly resisted …. raises serious questions about how the Department of Justice could make this series of representations to a court in support of its 2020 motion for summary judgment

and,

summary judgment may be granted on the basis of agency affidavits in FOIA cases, when “they are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the record or by evidence of agency bad faith.” But here, we have both.

Noting a previous court opinion (the EPIC case) that found,

The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report – a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report.

Judge Jackson found,

the [DOJ] affidavits are so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence.

and,

the suspicions voiced by the judge in EPIC and the plaintiff here were well-founded, and that not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege. The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time.

and,

A close review of the communications reveals that the March 24 letter to Congress describing the Special Counsel’s report, which assesses the strength of an obstruction-of-justice case, and the “predecisional” March 24 memorandum advising the Attorney General that [redacted text] the evidence does not support a prosecution, are being written by the very same people at the very same time.

As to the claim of attorney-client privilege, Judge Jackson was equally incisive and for similar reasons:

… since the memorandum was being written at the same time and by the same people who were drafting the Attorney General’s letter to Congress setting forth his views on the basis for a prosecution, and the record reflects that the priority was to get the letter completed first one simply cannot credit the declarant’s statement that the Attorney General made the “decision” he announced based on the advice the memo contains.

Finally,

The Court emphasizes that its decision turns upon the application of well-settled legal principles to a unique set of circumstances that include the misleading and incomplete explanations offered by the agency, the contemporaneous materials in the record, and the variance between the Special Counsel’s report and the Attorney General’s summary.

These devastating (for the DOJ attorneys) findings confirm the suspicions that I and many other expressed at the time that the fix was in at the Barr Justice Department and that Barr was acting more as personal counsel to Trump than doing his job as Attorney General of the United States.

Judge Jackson gave DOJ until May 17 to move for a stay pending appeal, but it is unlikely that AG Merrick Garland is going to do anything to resist the force of Judge Jackson’s definitive analysis. Stay tuned. The release of an unredacted version of the Judge’s opinion will be an explosive eye-opener about the extent of corruption in the Trump-Barr Justice Department.

 

Great Expectations Meet Legal Reality

Politico appears to have joined the ranks of journalists who, having lost their matinee idol (Donald Trump), have turned their attention to throwing dirt at the Biden administration. It’s apparently hard doing political journalism when the President is a normal human being who actually works at his job and doesn’t spend all day demeaning others while praising himself.

In any case, Politico reports that for some reason, not entirely clear to me, the Biden administration may be embarrassed by the prospect that many of the insurrectionists who invaded and debased the Capitol on January 6 may not do much, if any, hard jail time. https://politi.co/3wbBBMj

There is nothing new or surprising about that possibility and no reason for the Biden administration to be “embarrassed” about it.

This click-bait story suggests that it was reasonable to believe that every one of the crazed mob of Trump supporters would be charged with felonies and imprisoned under very long sentences for their crimes. At the same time it notes that the many “lower-level cases” are clogging the District of Columbia federal trial court where all these cases are being “heard.” Those lower-level cases involve misdemeanor charges that typically plead out.

The reason for this is not ‘justice.” If justice were to be had here, all of the people who invaded the Capitol to stop the final approval of Biden’s election victory would be charged with felonies and required to plead to deals involving meaningful jail time.

But practical reality governs in these situations. Mass arrest scenarios rarely lead to jail time for  many who are swept up in the arrest net. This has been true for as long as mass arrests have occurred. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_arrest  The court system simply cannot handle trials of hundreds of people on top of its already heavy case load.

The result is that “deals” are made between prosecution and defense to an agreed sentence, often probation for first-offenders when only property damage is involved, in exchange for a guilty plea that avoids the time and cost of a jury trial. This is true almost regardless of the circumstances, although, as a society, we generally do not treat white people who commit “light crimes” with the harshness meted out to minority defendants.

There is, of course, an unusual amount of visual evidence in these cases — hundreds of hours of video of the crime scene. While the videos show a staggering amount of violence by the mob that led to dozens of injuries to police, it is apparently also true that many of those identified and arrested so far were not actually engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Capitol Police or in physical desecration of the building. These people allegedly just “went along for the ride.” If so, they almost certainly will end up “pleading” to some misdemeanor offense and may indeed be spared jail time. That is an outrage given the threat to our democratic system that they attempted to achieve, but the judicial system simply cannot cope otherwise.

Politico takes this simple reality to the extreme of making a “federal case” out of nothing in stating that,

The prospect of dozens of January 6 rioters cutting deals for minor sentences could be hard to explain for the Biden administration, which has characterized the Capitol Hill mob as a uniquely dangerous threat. Before assuming office, Biden said the rioters’ attempt to overturn the election results by force “borders on sedition”; Attorney General Merrick Garland has called the prosecutions his top early priority, describing the storming of Congress as “a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

Justice Department prosecutors sent expectations sky-high in early statements and court filings, describing elaborate plots to murder lawmakers — descriptions prosecutors have tempered as new details emerged.

Nonsense. There are plenty of serious cases of violence that will lead to meaningful jail time and other penalties for the perpetrators. Many felons remain to be identified and arrested. This is not going away. It was a “uniquely dangerous event.”

The report is accurate in noting the time pressure on the prosecution, but again this is not unusual in mass-arrest cases. Speedy trial is a constitutional right, sometimes ignored, but a right nonetheless. And we can be sure that these virtually all-white “protestor insurrectionists” will get every advantage to which they are accustomed.

Other than the target of this particular mob, and the inspiration for their attack (the former president), there is nothing especially unusual about these cases. Mayhem has degrees just like other violence and the law treats each case individually. It’s likely that violent “protestors” in Portland and other places are facing the same issues, and opportunities, as the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol.

I, at least, deeply hope that none of the Capitol attackers is going to receive what Politico refers to as a wrist-slapping. This attack was not a response to a prior event (as, for example, the protests after George Floyd’s murder) – it had a specific goal: to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty to certify the election. The article refers to people “who walked into the building that day without authorization.” That, I  believe, fails to recognize the gravity of what was happening that January 6. Few, if any, of the insurrectionists just “walked into the building” – the proof is in the videos.

Politico says, “the Justice Department will soon be in the awkward position of having to defend such deals, even as trials and lengthy sentences for those facing more serious charges could be a year or more away.” Again, there is nothing “awkward” about this, beyond the simple inability of the judicial system to cope, in a constitutional democracy, with mass-type arrests, whether all at once or individually later for crimes that occurred together. Politico adds to its hyping of a non-existent issue by noting that Trump continues to lie about what happened on January 6, claiming this adds to the “political awkwardness” of the situation.

Wrong. Trump will continue lying and blathering to his last breath. Except for his die-hard political base, no serious person thinks Trump has any substantive contribution to make to the American political situation. It is certainly and indisputably true that Trump can be expected to keep lying about January 6 in an effort to thwart what he rightly fears as criminal prosecution of himself personally. No one is more deserving.

Unfortunately for journalism, Politico uses a common Trump formula in referencing “what many in the court system are referring to as “MAGA tourists,” a phrasing of unknown provenance (who, actually, are the “many” who call the insurrectionists “MAGA tourists?”) and calculated to diminish the significance of what happened on January 6.

Finally, I note that some of the January 6 defendants continue to run off at the mouth on Twitter and other social media, claiming they did nothing wrong and remain proud of their actions that day. Those defendants should face the full weight of the law – no deals for them. Let them stand trial if they like and face sentencing for their January 6 conduct and their continuing indifferent or outright hostility to the rule of law. Unless the judges in these cases want a repeat of January 6 or worse, they had better take a direct approach to such cases that are deserving of no leniency or special treatment.