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Archive for May, 2020

Former DOJ Official Claims Barr Twisted Her Words to Drop Charges Against Michael Flynn

Former acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary McCord.

By Steve Neavling

ticklethewire.com

Mary McCord, former career Justice Department official, said Attorney General William Barr twisted her words to argue that former national security adviser Michael Flynn should not be prosecuted for lying to the FBI.

McCord, who oversaw the early stages of the Russia investigation, said in a New York Times op-ed Sunday that the DOJ’s motion to dismiss the charges largely hinged on her account about what led up to the bureau’s interview with Flynn, who was President Trump’s first national security adviser.

“The account of my interview in 2017 doesn’t help the department support this conclusion, and it is disingenuous for the department to twist my words to suggest that it does,” McCord wrote. “What the account of my interview describes is a difference of opinion about what to do with the information that Mr. Flynn apparently had lied to the incoming vice president, Mr. Pence, and others in the incoming administration about whether he had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia in his calls with (Russia’s then ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Those apparent lies prompted Mr. Pence and others to convey inaccurate statements about the nature of the conversations in public news conferences and interviews.”

McCord acknowledged the FBI should have coordinated Flynn’s interview with the Justice Department, but said she does not believe the agencies lacked a reason to suspect Flynn may have violated crimes.

“It has no bearing on whether Mr. Flynn’s lies to the F.B.I. were material to the clear counterintelligence threat posed by the susceptible position Mr. Flynn put himself in when he told Mr. Pence and others in the new administration that he had not discussed the sanctions with Mr. Kislyak. The materiality is obvious,” she concluded.

McCord concluded, “In short, the report of my interview does not anywhere suggest that the FBI’s interview of Mr. Flynn was unconstitutional, unlawful or not “tethered” to any legitimate counterintelligence purpose.”

President Obama Says ‘Rule of Law is at Risk’ in Dismissal of Michael Flynn Case

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Former President Barack Obama, who has tried to be low key and refrain from publicly criticizing President Donald Trump, said in a private conversation Friday with ex-members of his administration that the “rule of law is at risk” in the Michael Flynn case, Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! News reports.

Obama called the the Justice Department’s move to drop the charges against the former White House national security adviser unprecedented.

“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed — about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association.

“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”

Weekend Series on Crime: The Mafia

TSA to Require Employees to Wear Facial Coverings Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

By Steve Neavling

ticklethewire.com

The TSA said Thursday it will begin requiring employees to wear “facial protection” at screening checkpoints, more than two months after the pandemic reached the U.S.

The decision comes after 534 TSA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and six have died, as of Thursday.

“TSA is making this change to protect our employees and travelers as social distancing cannot always be maintained in the screening process,” the TSA said in a statement.

The decision to require masks is “an additional measure to help minimize spread of COVID-19 and help raise the overall health and safety level inside the airport environment,” the TSA said.

“TSA is making this change to protect our employees and travelers as social distancing cannot always be maintained in the screening process.” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.

Justice Department Moves to Drop Criminal Case Against Michael Flynn, Drawing Criticism

Former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn

By Steve Neavling

ticklethewire.com

The Justice Department dropped its criminal case against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, citing documents detailing how FBI officials planned to handle a January 2017 interview with Flynn.

The decision to recommend that a judge dismiss the case drew immediate criticism from legal experts and Democrats, who raised serious questions about the motivations of the DOJ and Attorney General William Barr.

Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian diplomat and even cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

In documents filed Thursday in federal court in Washington D.C., the Justice Department said, “The Government has concluded that the interview of Mr. Flynn was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn,” NBC News reports.

“The Government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue,” the filing said.

The decision follows the release of an internal review into the handling of the case. Flynn’s lawyers claimed the review shows Flynn had been entrapped into lying when FBI agents interviewed him.

Trump applauded the DOJ’s recommendation.

“I didn’t know that was happening at this moment. I felt it was going to happen just by watching and seeing like everybody else does,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

“He was an innocent man,” he said of Flynn. “He is a great gentleman.”

The move was “outrageous,” chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said.

“The evidence against General Flynn is overwhelming. He pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. And now a politicized and thoroughly corrupt Department of Justice is going to let the President’s crony simply walk away,” Nadler said in a statement.

Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who responded to the DOJ’s actions by saying “This is not justice,” urged Justice Department lawyers not to resign.

“DOJ lawyers of integrity will be tempted to resign over today’s motion to dismiss the Flynn case,” McQuade tweeted. “My advice is to please stay. We need you instead of those who might replace you.”

The recommendation still needs to be approved by Judge Emmet Sullivan.

Why the FBI was Right to Launch the Russia-Trump Probe and Investigate Michael Flynn

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com


Greg Stejskal: “When Flynn was interviewed, he did lie.”

I first met Bill Priestap (Edward William Priestap) in the mid-90s. I had been talking to University of Michigan football teams every Fall since 1982. I would bring along other agents and federal prosecutors, and we would talk about illegal sports gambling, drugs and other things that college players should avoid. Bill Priestap was head coach Lloyd Carr’s director of operations, responsible for arranging the FBI talks.

Bill and I became friends, and he expressed interest in becoming an FBI agent. He had a master’s degree in educational administration and business administration, and a law degree. He also had the experience of running a major college football program. I encouraged him to apply. 

He did and was accepted, entering duty in 1998. Bill opted to pursue administrative advancement and in 2015 became assistant director of counterintelligence at FBI HQ.

In July 2016, Bill Priestap faced probably the most consequential decision of his career. 

On July 22, Wikileaks released emails that had apparently been hacked from the Democratic National Committee, specifically from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. This resulted in the FBI initiating an investigation of the cyber intrusion of the DNC.

Five days later, the Australian government advised American intelligence services that in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a Trump presidential campaign advisor, had told the Australian High Commissioner to Britain that the Russian officials were in possession of politically damaging information relating to Hillary Clinton.


FBI Agent Bill Priestap

Presented with this information, Priestap authorized the opening of an investigation of possible Russian hacking and any connection to the Trump presidential campaign. The case was code-named Cross Fire Hurricane from the opening line in the Rolling Stones song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” (The so-called Steele dossier played no role in the opening of the investigation. CFH investigators didn’t learn of the Steele dossier until September of that year.)

The FBI was careful not to make this investigation public, to avoid election influence. (Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal server for some emails involving Department of State business was already public information and was being investigated separately.)

Priestap continued to supervise the case. Following the election, the efforts of the Russian government to interfere and influence the election became public, and President Obama imposed significant sanctions on Russia.  

Michael Flynn and the Ambassador

Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, who had been a close campaign advisor to President Trump, was named to be national security advisor in the new administration. Flynn had several telephone conversations with Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, prior to the inauguration.

The substance of these calls was known to the FBI through established electronic surveillance of Kislyak. Among other things, Flynn asked Kislyak to advise the Russian government to not retaliate for the new sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. Flynn indicated that the sanctions would be mitigated by the Trump administration.


President Trump and Michael Flynn

When it became publicly known that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak prior to the inauguration, Vice President Pence made a public statement saying that Flynn had not discussed the Obama sanctions with Kislyak.  Apparently, Flynn had lied to Pence about his conversation with Kislyak. This was a big concern for the FBI and attorneys at the Department of Justice.

It was decided by Priestap and others in the FBI and DOJ that Flynn should be interviewed regarding his conversations with Kislyak. Any time an interview of this nature is contemplated, a pre-interview strategy is prepared. Priestap and others were involved in that strategy. 

Memoranda, emails, and other documents discussing that strategy were released to Flynn’s attorney last month. (These documents are not exculpatory, referred to as Brady material, which would be required to be turned over to the defense in discovery.)

The discussion reflected in the documents addressed such topics as when to warn Flynn that lying is a crime. The effort was to learn the truth while balancing his rights. The documents also contain the question, “What’s our goal?” Is it, “Truth/admission or get him to lie so we can prosecute or get him fired?”

When Flynn was interviewed, he did lie. He was not encouraged to lie by the interviewing agents. In fact, Flynn was given several opportunities to change his answers. Once Flynn agreed to be interviewed, he always had the choice to tell the truth or lie. 

Chris Wallace of Fox News characterized it this way: “Did the FBI play hardball? Yeah, guess what?  The FBI plays hardball. And guess what? If you’re talking to the FBI – and a lot of lawyers would say don’t talk to them unless you have to – don’t lie.”

The FBI informed the Trump administration of Flynn’s dishonesty.  Flynn was asked to resign for having lied to Vice President Pence. 

Trump meddling


James Comey

Soon thereafter, at a meeting of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director James Comey, Trump pulled Comey aside and said he “hoped you can let (the investigation into Flynn) go.” Comey was noncommittal.

In March 2017, Comey testified at a congressional hearing that the bureau was investigating “whether there was any coordination between the (Trump) campaign and Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.” Comey did not say whether Trump was a target of the investigation.

On May 9, 2017, Comey was fired by Trump. The director of the FBI serves at the pleasure of the president and can be fired without cause. However, the following day, in the Oval Office, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kislyak, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” The following day, during an interview with Lester Holt of NBC, Trump said, “And in fact, when I decided to just do it (fire Comey), I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won.”

Following Comey’s firing, Rosenstein appointed a special counsel, Robert Mueller III, to pursue the Russian election interference case. 

Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI by Special Counsel Mueller, and in December 2017, he pleaded guilty. As part of that plea, Flynn admitted under oath that he had lied to the FBI. Flynn thereafter cooperated with Mueller’s investigation. 

At some point, Flynn apparently had a change of heart. In June 2019, he fired his attorneys and hired Sidney Powell, a Fox News contributor and proponent of the “Deep State” conspiracy theory. Since her hiring, Powell has been orchestrating an effort to withdraw Flynn’s guilty plea by alleging prosecutorial misconduct — so far unsuccessfully.

Final Mueller report

Featured_220px-director_robert_s._mueller-_iii_25717
Ex-FBI DIrector Robert S. Mueller III

In March 2019, Mueller submitted his report and concluded the investigation, while prosecutors continued to pursue criminal charges from the lengthy probe. The investigation resulted in 34 indictments (including 12 members of Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, who will probably never be prosecuted), seven guilty pleas or convictions so far and compelling evidence that the president obstructed justice on multiple occasions. (A statement signed by over 1,000 former prosecutors concluded that if any other American engaged in the same efforts to impede federal proceedings the way Trump did, they would likely be indicted.) The Mueller report explicitly states the report does not exonerate the president. The report also concluded that Russian interference was pervasive and ongoing.

Clearly what began as an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election was not a hoax nor a witch hunt.

In December 2019, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz submitted his report regarding the initiation and the beginning stages of the Russian investigation. The report found serious errors in applications for court orders to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page. (Some similar errors in other applications not related to the Russian probe were also found.)

The IG found no evidence of political bias or improper motivation by the FBI. “The FBI’s investigation had a factual basis and was initiated for an authorized purpose.” The IG “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political or improper motivation influenced “the agency decision to open the investigation.”

On March 3, 2020, a bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee found there was no reason to dispute the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of helping elect Trump president. The report from the Senate committee, chaired by a Republican, undercuts Trump’s effort to portray the Russian investigation as a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats and a “Deep State” embedded in the government bureaucracy.

Trump, at an April 19 Covid-19 briefing, called FBI leadership involved in initiating the Russian investigation “human scum.” He characterized the investigation as a “takedown of a duly elected president.” He went on to say, “what they did to Flynn was a disgrace.”

On April 30, Trump referred to people “at the top of the FBI” who prosecuted Flynn, Manafort and others as “dirty, filthy cops.” What apparently the president doesn’t understand is that to investigate and prosecute subjects in a case of this magnitude, requires “street” agents to do the interviews, execute search warrants and analyze enormous amounts of documentary evidence. Also involved are U.S.  attorneys — dedicated, career prosecutors. All have forgone more lucrative careers in order to serve their country.

Agents and prosecutors are not political eunuchs. They have political preferences, but in my experience that has not influenced how an investigation or prosecution is pursued. Agents and prosecutors go where the facts lead them. They are not perfect and sometimes make mistakes, but the overarching goal is justice. 

I do not know Comey, but I do know Bill Priestap, and I have seen nothing to indicate that he isn’t the man of integrity and high ideals that I encouraged to join the FBI over 20 years ago. He retired from the FBI in April 2019.

The people Trump is championing are convicted criminals. He may decide to pardon them, but he should not attack the dedicated men and women of the FBI and the Department of Justice and impugn their integrity for doing their job, and in my estimation, doing it well.

Note: The U.S. Supreme Court stated in Burdick v. U.S. (1915) that accepting a pardon is a confession of guilt.

Stejskal: Why the FBI Was Right to Launch the Russia-Trump Probe and Investigate Flynn

The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006.

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com


Greg Stejskal: “When Flynn was interviewed, he did lie.”

I first met Bill Priestap (Edward William Priestap) in the mid-90s. I had been talking to University of Michigan football teams every Fall since 1982. I would bring along other agents and federal prosecutors, and we would talk about illegal sports gambling, drugs and other things that college players should avoid. Bill Priestap was head coach Lloyd Carr’s director of operations, responsible for arranging the FBI talks.

Bill and I became friends, and he expressed interest in becoming an FBI agent. He had a master’s degree in educational administration and business administration, and a law degree. He also had the experience of running a major college football program. I encouraged him to apply. 

He did and was accepted, entering duty in 1998. Bill opted to pursue administrative advancement and in 2015 became assistant director of counterintelligence at FBI HQ.

In July 2016, Bill Priestap faced probably the most consequential decision of his career. 

On July 22, Wikileaks released emails that had apparently been hacked from the Democratic National Committee, specifically from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. This resulted in the FBI initiating an investigation of the cyber intrusion of the DNC.

Five days later, the Australian government advised American intelligence services that in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a Trump presidential campaign advisor, had told the Australian High Commissioner to Britain that the Russian officials were in possession of politically damaging information relating to Hillary Clinton.


FBI Agent Bill Priestap

Presented with this information, Priestap authorized the opening of an investigation of possible Russian hacking and any connection to the Trump presidential campaign. The case was code-named Cross Fire Hurricane from the opening line in the Rolling Stones song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” (The so-called Steele dossier played no role in the opening of the investigation. CFH investigators didn’t learn of the Steele dossier until September of that year.)

The FBI was careful not to make this investigation public, to avoid election influence. (Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal server for some emails involving Department of State business was already public information and was being investigated separately.)

Priestap continued to supervise the case. Following the election, the efforts of the Russian government to interfere and influence the election became public, and President Obama imposed significant sanctions on Russia.  

Michael Flynn and the Ambassador

Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, who had been a close campaign advisor to President Trump, was named to be national security advisor in the new administration. Flynn had several telephone conversations with Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, prior to the inauguration.

The substance of these calls was known to the FBI through established electronic surveillance of Kislyak. Among other things, Flynn asked Kislyak to advise the Russian government to not retaliate for the new sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. Flynn indicated that the sanctions would be mitigated by the Trump administration.


President Trump and Michael Flynn

When it became publicly known that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak prior to the inauguration, Vice President Pence made a public statement saying that Flynn had not discussed the Obama sanctions with Kislyak.  Apparently, Flynn had lied to Pence about his conversation with Kislyak. This was a big concern for the FBI and attorneys at the Department of Justice.

It was decided by Priestap and others in the FBI and DOJ that Flynn should be interviewed regarding his conversations with Kislyak. Any time an interview of this nature is contemplated, a pre-interview strategy is prepared. Priestap and others were involved in that strategy. 

Read more »

Coronavirus Claims Life of First ICE Detainee; 705 Others Have Tested Positive

By Steve Neavling

ticklethewire.com

The first ICE detainee to die from the coronavirus was a 57-year-old El Salvador man who had become ill at the Otay Messa Detention Center in San Diego.

“He contracted (Covid-19) at the facility,” the senior immigration official told CNN. “As soon as he tested positive he was sent to the hospital. He died there.”

Immigration rights groups have filed lawsuits against ICE, arguing the facilities are not adequately protecting detainees from the deadly coronavirus.

“The heartbreaking tragedy at Otay Mesa could have been prevented had US immigration officials heeded the recommendations of medical experts and acted in time,” Dr. Ranit Mishori, a senior medical adviser for Physicians for Human Rights, said in a statement Wednesday. “Thousands of doctors, advocates, and even the former acting head of ICE have been sounding the alarm for months about the grave risks of immigration detention amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The government cannot say it did not know this would happen.”

Six weeks ago, ICE announced its first detainee to test positive for COVID-19.

Nearly half of the ICE detainees tested so far – 705 – have a confirmed infection, according to ICE.