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Why ‘Cult Leader’ Donald Trump Should Be Indicted for Insurrection

The writer, a ticklethewire.com columnist, was an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006. He has a degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law and is author of a recently released book, “FBI Case Files Michigan: Tales of a G-Man.” 

By Greg Stejskal

Last February after former President Trump was acquitted of impeachment charges for inciting an insurrection, I wrote a column making a case for criminally prosecuting him.

Since then time, a bipartisan House committee has conducted a detailed investigation regarding the U.S. Capitol insurrection a year ago last week. The Department of Justice and the FBI have charged over 700 individuals for various criminal acts while participating in efforts to block transfer of power to President Biden.

Many of those individuals went to the Capital to “stop the steal” — to stop Congress from certifying electoral votes submitted by the states. Over 100 officers were injured, the Capitol was breached and property was destroyed. Threats to hang the vice-president were voiced. That is what they believed Trump told them to do.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week on the eve of the one-year anniversary: “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland (file photo)

What follows is updated and revised version of my column from last February.

Many aspects of the impeachment process are foreign to me, but during my FBI career, I investigated and helped prosecute many diverse federal crimes — though not sedition or insurrection. I wondered if the incitement of insurrection charge against former President Trump could be prosecuted criminally, and if there had been analogous prosecutions. 

In August 1969, on successive nights, seven people were murdered in Los Angeles. Five died at the home of film director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate. Polanski was out of town but Tate, who was pregnant, and four friends were brutally murdered. The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBlanca were stabbed to death in their home.

Initially there was no connection made between the murders on successive nights. But the crime scenes were both horrific. The principal weapons used were knives. The scenes were very bloody and there was graffiti on the walls, written with blood, including the words “Helter Skelter.”

An apt ‘cult leader’ analogy

Ultimately the murders were linked and dubbed the Manson Family murders. Four members of the Manson Family, three women and one man, along with Manson, were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (The other male, Charles “Tex” Watson, was convicted separately.) 

Charles Manson

At trial, which lasted nine and a half months, no evidence was presented that Manson participated in the murders or ever instructed any of the defendants to murder any of the victims. (Manson stayed at the Spahn ranch, where his “family” had established a commune, during the first night of the murder spree.) Manson was a charismatic leader of the cult and preached an eclectic philosophy grounded in white supremacy and from various sources – principally from his reading of the Book of Revelations that he believed foretold the coming of the Beatles. Manson told his followers that the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” denoted acts of mayhem and violence that would bring on an apocalyptic race war. 

The murders were meant to be attributed to Blacks and precipitate the race war. The three women and Manson were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder despite there being no evidence of Manson directly ordering the violence. The prosecution contended his convincing the cult of his bizarre philosophy constituted an overt act that propelled the conspiracy.

This is obviously an imperfect analogy as to what Trump did up to and following the election, which ultimately culminated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But Trump does seem to be a cult leader, with a significantly larger cult than Manson’s.

A certain segment of his supporters has unquestioning loyalty. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., characterized it this way: “Politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

Trump, since the beginning of his re-election campaign, had preached that mail-in balloting is inherently fraudulent, and if he were to lose, it could only because the election was “rigged.”

Trump did lose the election, by about 7 million votes and 306-232 electoral votes. Despite the results, Trump claimed that he had won the election, that it had been stolen from him due to massive fraud – the “Big Lie.”

No proof of substantial election fraud has been produced by Trump or any supporters. In addition to lying, Trump has refused to denounce the white nationalist militia groups and QAnon conspiracy aficionados – conspiracies that are every bit as loony as anything Manson dreamed up. These groups were well-represented among the insurrectionists who visited so much violence on the Capitol and its defenders.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, one the House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial, summed up the cult psychology of both Trump and Manson with a quote from Voltaire: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

When Trump and his surrogates called for the “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6, it was becoming clear that it was a last-ditch effort to delay finalization of the election. Congress would certify the states’ electoral votes that day, and Vice President Mike Pence would preside.Trump had been trying to persuade Pence to disqualify the votes from some states where voting had been close but were carried by Joe Biden. Pence had told Trump that he had no constitutional authority to disqualify electoral votes. Trump reportedly told Pence, You can either go down in history as a patriot or you can go down in history as a pussy.

Rudy Giuliani previously on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

At the rally, several speakers warmed up the crowd with bellicose language. Rudy Giuliani told the crowd: There needed to be a trial by combat. When Trump took the stage, he thanked and praised the previous speakers, specifically naming Giuliani and in effect, endorsing their message.

Trump’s speech was also bellicose, with such phrases as: “We fight like hell.” He also said: “And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

He did temper his rhetoric somewhat, saying they would march to the Capital in a peaceful and patriotic manner. He also said he would march with them. He didn’t. He went back to the White House and watched the insurrection on television. As a former reality TV star, Trump might have thought watching it on TV was the same as being there.

So, did Trump and others intend to incite an insurrection?

‘Remember this day forever!’

Trump had shown he was willing to do anything to avoid relinquishing the presidency. He knew his last chance was to stop or disrupt Congress’ certification of the electoral votes. If that could be achieved by an insurrection at the Capitol, so be it.

President Donald Trump

Probably the best indication of Trump’s intent was that after learning the Capitol had been breached and Congress members and the vice president were under siege, he made no effort to stop it. Instead, he watched the insurrection on television at the White House.

During the uprising, Trump was asked to intercede by several aides, his children, Fox News hosts and members of Congress.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called Trump and asked the president to tell the insurrectionists to stop. Trump first replied he had no control over the mob; they were “antifa.” McCarthy said that wasn’t true; they were Trump supporters but in more graphic terms. Trump replied: “Well Kevin, I guess they must care more about the election than you do.”

Trump did nothing to quell the insurrection. Finally, after several hours Trump recorded a message to the insurrectionists which ended with Trump telling them: We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You are very special. That was followed by Trump’s tweet:

“These are the things & events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Thanks to the DOJ/FBI investigation and prosecutions many of the participants will not be able to forget that day.

The House committee inquiry continues, as does the DOJ/FBI investigation. The case will get stronger, I believe. And based on the evidence already made public, I think that incitement of an insurrection and/or conspiracy to incite an insurrection are viable, prosecutable offenses that should be pursued against Donald Trump and others.

Trump had sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

Book Excerpt: Just Before Thanksgiving in 1987, At the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta

This is an excerpt from the book “FBI Case Files Michigan

By Greg Stejskal

This is a Christmas story, but it really began just before Thanksgiving in 1987, at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The Cuban inmates had rioted and had taken control of a sizeable portion of the penitentiary. The catalyst for the riots happened years before that in 1980.

The Mariel boatlift, a massive exodus of Cuban refugees from Cuba to the US, had among its refugees, convicted criminals. Fidel Castro had apparently thought the boatlift was an opportune time to decrease his prison over-crowding. Upon arrival in the US those Cubans who were determined to be criminals were detained and placed in US penitentiaries with no clear plan as to what to do with them in the long term.

This uncertain future led predictably to unrest and ultimately to the prison riots. When the inmates rioted and took control of part of the Atlanta Penitentiary, they also took some of the staff hostage.

The FBI was tasked with negotiating with the inmates and providing SWAT teams should it become necessary to retake control of the penitentiary by force and rescue the hostages. SWAT teams from many of the large offices were called to respond to Atlanta. Our Detroit team was one of those teams.

So, on a cold, rainy November night, an Air Force C-141, flying a circuit, landed at Detroit Metro Airport to pick up our team. Already on board were teams from Pittsburgh and Cleveland. We arrived in Atlanta early the next morning.

The Atlanta Penitentiary is a foreboding place. It was built in phases beginning in the late 1800s, into the first few decades of the 1900s. It has 60-foot walls with watch towers on each corner. Upon our arrival we climbed to the top of one of the watch towers and looked down into the prison yard. It looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” movie. 

Inmates were walking around the yard, all carrying homemade weapons: long-knives, swords, etc., made from scrap metal and sharpened on some of the prison machine tools. After seeing that scene, we all assumed we were going to be in Atlanta for a while. We knew we would prevail if it came to having to use force. After all they had made the critical tactical mistake of bringing knives to a gun fight. But they had hostages and a large supply of non-perishable food in their control.

The next morning, I was walking to the Penitentiary administration building for the shift change briefing when I saw a tent where free coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts were being served. It was the Salvation Army tent. The Salvation Army was there every day of the insurrection including Thanksgiving serving coffee, donuts, smiles and kind words. I’ve been on a lot of SWAT operations, but I had never been offered coffee, donuts or kind words from the neighborhood in which we were operating. Knowing the Salvation Army was there for us, had me thinking that I owed this selfless organization a debt – a pay it forward kind of thing.

The penitentiary insurrection was resolved peacefully after about two weeks. The key factor was that no social order was developed among the inmates just anarchy. They went through several months’ food supply in days. We all went back to our respective homes.

I did not forget the Salvation Army’s generosity. I decided every holiday season for a few hours, I would volunteer to ring the bell and tend the red kettle in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Some years later, I was ringing the bell at a local supermarket with my wife. We had both donned our Santa hats and were wearing the Salvation Army issue red vests. It was snowing lightly; the Christmas lights were shining, and Christmas carols were playing on the stores PA system. We were at one door of the store greeting shoppers and collecting donations in our red kettle, when all of a sudden there was a commotion at the other door.

 A man ran out of the store. He was closely followed by two other men in white butcher smocks. The men in the smocks tackled the man in the parking lot. They were trying to hold him down, but he was struggling & screaming as they pulled several cuts of meat from under his coat. The erstwhile meat thief continued to yell, flail and kick.

I turned to my wife and said, “I should probably go help them.” I kept flex-cuffs (large heavy-duty zip-ties) in my car. I grabbed some flex-cuffs, walked over and knelt next to the struggling man.

He was facing away from me. In my “soothing,” authoritative voice, that I used for arrests and reading someone their rights, I told him, we could let him up, but he needed to let me put these cuffs on him. The man turned his head to look at me, and his eyes got very big.

I’m about 6’4” and weighed about 235 lbs. I had forgotten I was wearing a Santa hat and a big red vest. After staring at me for a few moments, he asked, “who are you?” I smiled and replied, “I’m Santa’s helper.” He immediately stopped fighting and struggling. He submissively allowed me to place the cuffs on him. The butchers and I stood him up, and he placidly waited for the police to arrive.

I have often thought there might be some profound Dickensian message to be derived from this incident. I don’t know if the meat thief was stealing prime rib for his family, sort of a protein version of Jean Valjean, or maybe he was planning to host a barbecue at a homeless enclave.

There is certainly some irony in collecting donations for the Salvation Army at one door of a grocery store, and at the same time, to have an economically disadvantaged meat thief fleeing from the other door. Maybe the message is as simple as, if you’re poor and hungry at Christmas time, there are places other than your local grocery store you can go that care, like the Salvation Army.

Lengel: Michigan School Shootings a Reminder that America Loves its Guns More Than Its Children

By Allan Lengel

Some thought the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 would be the horrific event that would lead to true gun-law reform. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza used his mother’s Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle to kill 26 people, 20 of them children no older than 8. Earlier in the day, he murdered his mother at home. After his shooting spree, he killed himself.

But nothing happened. No gun reform. No legislative ban on assault rifles. Nothing. The National Rifle Association dug in its heels, as did the nation’s many, many gun lovers, saying America needed to find ways to improve school security and address mental health, not gun reform and violence.  

“Rather than face their own moral failings the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws, and fill the national media with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action, and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away,” NRA head Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference after that shooting.

On Tuesday, in suburban Detroit, a 15-year-old Oxford High School sophomore shot and killed four students and wounded six others and a teacher.

Again, nothing will happen — not in Lansing, not in Washington.

Why?

Because America loves its guns far more than its children.

Gun culture and politics runs deep in this country. The NRA throws its weight around in Washington like a sumo wrestler. Cross the NRA, particularly in certain states, and kiss your political career goodbye. In Washington, a nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the chief enforcer of our nation’s federal gun laws, can’t get Senate approval without the NRA’s blessing. That explains why the agency has lacked a permanent director for six years

NRA ad

Michigan Native

David Chipman, a former ATF official, is the latest, example. President Biden nominated him this year to head the agency.
NRA ad on Facebook

But Chipman, in the eyes of gun lovers, has a big hurdle: He became a gun control advocate after leaving the agency and was named a senior policy adviser for the Washington-based organization called Giffords: Court to Fight Gun Violence. The group was founded by  Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in a 2011 mass shooting in suburban Tucson.

A man with a 9mm pistol, like that used in the Oxford shootings, shot 19 people and killed six, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old child.

Imagine Chipman’s chutzpah, to be affiliated with an anti-gun violence organization and wanting to head an agency that enforces our gun laws to make us safer. After seeing he didn’t have enough Senate support, Biden in September withdrew the nomination.

Our gun laws are so inadequate, full of more loopholes than a giant corporation’s tax forms. Although the Oxford shooting involved a semiautomatic pistol, most U.S. mass shootings involve assault rifles, which no one outside of the military needs.

In the Oxford case, we know the father of accused shooter Ethan Crumbley bought a 9mm handgun four days before the shooting. We assume he easily purchased the gun, and from reports, likely knew his son was using it. The parents have gotten their son a lawyer and no one in the family is talking.

Talk or not talk, the kid is screwed because many students, teachers and cameras saw his spree. Being bullied or breaking up with a girlfriend – if either of those played a role – are irrelevant. Those hiding from legal responsibility at this point are his parents, who should be worried about criminal liability. 

What we’ve yet to hear from any member of the family is a public apology. That’s not asking too much.

Days Before Shootings

I’ve covered mass shootings like this for years. Often, the killer buys his weapon at a local gun shop with ease days before the shooting. The weapons of choice are almost always assault rifles and 9 mm pistols.

The NRA makes it easy for people to get them. (And by the way, for all the NRA’s blather after Sandy Hook about mental health, nothing has been done to make it easier for troubled young people to get mental-health services. As for school security, how many parents want their children entering school through a metal detector. How many want to see teachers carrying sidearms?)

When are we going to fund agencies like ATF to fully enforce laws, give politicians backbones to stand up to the NRA and let our lawmakers create effective legislation to ban assault weapons and make it tougher for just anyone to obtain a gun?

When?

When America starts loving its children more than its guns.

Commentator Frank Figliuzzi Fabricated Passage in FBI Book and MSNBC Could Care Less


By Allan Lengel

To NBC News and its sister station MSNBC, being truthful doesn’t always matter. And that’s the truth.

Starting with my high school journalism teacher Robert Jackson, I learned that the truth in journalism was sacred. Intentionally straying from it had grave consequences. That has held true through my many years in journalism, from the Detroit News to the Washington Post.    

Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI official-turned-commentator for NBC and MSNBC, is a reminder that things in the media have changed, and not for the better.

Figliuzzi, who retired from the FBI in 2012 as a former assistant director of counterintelligence, has become the go-to guy for both networks, particularly on matters of ethics in government. He regularly delivers his commentary with a solemn G-man look. 

Problem is, he published a book earlier this year, “The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence,” that contained a passage made out of whole cloth. It simply wasn’t true. Perhaps a bit ironic considering the book is about ethics.

Both NBC and the FBI have capitalized on Figliuzzi’s growing popularity to help their brand.  So, they’ve chosen to ignore the lie and look the other way. Figliuzzi also has a podcast, “The Bureau With Frank Figliuzzi,” in which the FBI provides agents for him to interview and promote the work and image of the agency. 

Frank Figliuzzi

Strip Search

I’ve written articles on Figliuzzi’s fabrication in his book for ticklethewire.com, citing eight current and former FBI agents who were eyewitnesses — all of whom told me emphatically that Figliuzzi’s account in his book about a 1999 incident involving agents was simply false – a big lie.

Figliuzzi wrote that he ordered a strip-search of two agents because the boxes they were transporting with millions of dollars in seized Miami drug money in a Brink’s truck weren’t sealed properly and the agents were “making it rain” — throwing money in the air in the back of the vehicle. Tampering with evidence in the FBI would be a big deal — if only it was true.

It was not. For one, there was only one FBI agent in the back. Two, no money was flying. Everything was intact. It appears he lied in the book to make the highly-questionable strip search look jusified even though the bureau itself found it disturbing enough that it launched an internal probe into his actions that were forever known in FBI offices around the country as “Stripgate.” 

The NBC News division has ignored repeated requests from me for comment via email and phone. The FBI, when asked about the fabrication and its ties to Figliuzzi’s podcast, declined comment.
Frank Figliuzzi’s podcast

Figliuzzi responded to my requests for comment back in July by repeatedly lying about the lie and feigning indignation when I confronted him. 

“I stand by my account. Call me a liar in print at your legal peril.” He also wrote: “I suggest you cease and desist with the false angles you are portraying.”

NBC has had to deal with questions of truthfulness in the past. In 2015, the network suspended star evening news anchor Brian Williams for six months after he went around telling a fabricated story about his coverage of the Iraq war. He was eventually released from purgatory, but relegated to the 11 p.m. slot on MSNBC, never to return to the coveted evening news job.

In this case, Figliuzzi outright made something up, and the NBC News division has done nothing. No apologies. No public reprimand. Nothing.

Retired FBI agent Gary Rizzo, who witnessed the 1999 incident referenced in Figiluizzi’s book,  simply told me: “Absolutely didn’t happen. It’s just a complete fabrication.”

The fabrication in Figliuzzi’s book involves the 1999 raid of a Miami home linked to a violent and legendary Cuban-American drug cartel that killed witnesses and bribed jurors. FBI agent Stephen Lawrence climbed into the attic and found $9 million in boxes. A Brink’s truck was summoned to transport the money in the boxes to the Miami Field Office.

Figliuzzi has a podcast

Brink’s Truck

To keep a chain of custody, Lawrence jumped into the back of the truck with a Brink’s guard. In front, a  Brink’s guard drove and another FBI agent sat in the passenger seat. Multiple FBI agents escorted the truck in bureau vehicles.

As they pulled up to the FBI office, the Brink’s guard in the back crawled out a side door. A couple minutes later, with multiple agents standing around, the back door opened and Lawrence, the only person in the back, stepped out. The boxes and money were intact.

But Figliuzzi wrote:

“Inside the back of the truck on this sweltering sauna of a Miami day, were two very proud and perspiring agents who had just found the most money they had ever seen in their relatively young lives. In fact, they were so happy and eager to show their bosses the fruits of their labor that they were ‘making it rain’ inside that truck. Loose bills were cascading from the agent’s hands in a shower onto the floor of the vehicle.“

Figliuzzi, who was an assistant special agent in charge of the office at the time, was upset the boxes weren’t taped shut and ordered the two agents to be strip-searched. No money was found.

At the time, there was never any mention of money flying around.

The FBI launched an internal investigation into Figliuzzi and his boss for conducting the humiliating strip search. After a year, he was supposedly cleared but the incident was a blemish on his career.  The strip-search only made the fairly unpopular supervisor even less popular in the bureau.  

Changed Version

After a back-and-forth with me, Figluizzi got the publisher to change the ebook version to:

“On this sweltering sauna of a Miami day, were two very proud and perspiring agents who had just found the most money they had ever seen in their relatively young lives. In fact, they were happy and eager to show their bosses the fruits of their labor. They reached into open boxes and displayed the cash in their hands, then let it drop back down.”

Again it was still a lie. I went back to all eight agents I interviewed and asked them if the modified version was any more accurate.

“He’s full of shit,” retired FBI agent Ed Knapp, another  eyewitness, responded. “He should have removed the whole section. He should have said, ‘I screwed up. I’m sorry.’”

Figliuzzi never mentions in the book the name of the agent, Lawrence, who was in the back of the Brink’s truck. But Lawrence, who is now an FBI agent in Los Angeles, tells me he’s certain hundreds of agents knew Figliuzzi was referring to him.

“I challenge Figliuzzi to find one credible witness who can corroborate his version,” Lawrence told me in July. “There’s only one version of the truth and it never changes.  Perhaps he should consider practicing what he’s preached – be truthful and accept responsibility.”

Sadly, no one – not NBC and not Figluizzi will own up to the lie and accept responsibility. So, Figliuizzi continues to represent the station as a voice of integrity.

And that’s a very sad commentary on the value of truth in some news organizations these days.

 

The Argument for Keeping J. Edgar Hoover’s Name on FBI HQ

By Greg Stejskal

The so called “cancel culture” movement has championed efforts to remove statues and the names of certain historical figures from public areas and buildings.

J. Edgar Hoover

I have never understood why military bases and schools are named for Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States to maintain the institution of slavery. I don’t think anyone ever proposed naming anything for Benedict Arnold.

But the movement has gone beyond Confederate generals. There is apparently strong support, including on Capitol Hill,  for removing J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Some of Hoover’s actions during his 48 years as director of the FBI are difficult to defend. It brings to mind, Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

The good that Hoover did was not interred with his bones. Upon his death in 1972, he lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, an unprecedented honor for a civil servant. When the FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue was finally built in 1975, it was named for him.

From the time Hoover became director of the FBI in 1924, he built it into arguably the best investigative agency in the world. Hoover embraced forensic/scientific crime-fighting tools and established the FBI laboratory. He championed a national fingerprint repository and matched with the fingerprints, a repository of criminal records. This would become the National Crime Information Center.

The FBI developed a reputation for professionalism and incorruptibility that has seldom been breached. That incorruptibility was demonstrated in 1925, soon after Hoover became director, when he committed the bureau to investigate the Osage Indian murders in Oklahoma. The murders involved a conspiracy of community leaders, local and state officials, and the collusion of law enforcement. (The story is well-told in David Gann’s 2017 book, Killers of the Flower Moon.) Using undercover agents, the FBI identified and prosecuted many of those involved the conspiracy.

During Hoover’s tenure he directed the bureau to do some extralegal activities. Many of these initiatives were done at the request of various presidents under whom he served. Prior to World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Hoover to have the FBI monitor the activities of various isolationists, some of whom were German sympathizers, including Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin.

Hoover complied with the monitoring request. But when President Roosevelt was contemplating the detention of Japanese Americans, Hoover voiced his opposition to the detention, saying he did not believe they posed a threat to national security.

The author, Greg Stejskal

But the good that Hoover did seems to be largely forgotten or overshadowed by the bad acts that were committed by the bureau at his direction. Those bad acts principally involve the Counter Intelligence Program. COINTELPRO began in the mid-1950s by surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting the American Communist Party that acted as a surrogate of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin referred to American communists as “useful idiots.”

This was in the midst of the Cold War. To say that Hoover had an obsession regarding the threat of communism and the Soviet Union would be an understatement.

Hoover was privy to the Venona project, a secret counterintelligence operation begun by crypto analysts in the Army Signal Corps (forerunner of the National Security Agency) during WWII and for several years, thereafter. The analysts were able to decipher some of encrypted telegraph traffic between the Soviet embassy in the US and Moscow.

These communications revealed that Soviet intelligence officers operating in the U.S, had recruited numerous communists and communist sympathizers as spies or coopetes, people willing to help the Soviet Union.

It was the Venona that revealed that the Soviet Union had infiltrated the Manhattan Project which helped produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

Investigation by the FBI and British intelligence led to the identification of British physicist, Klaus Fuchs and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as spies. (Information from the Venona intercepts was never revealed at the Rosenberg trial.) The decrypted messages also indicated that a significant number of Americans in the government, entertainment and scientific research had been recruited by the Soviets.

Many of these recruits were never identified. Some were only identified after the fall of the Soviet Union. The existence of Venona and the deciphered messages was not declassified and revealed until the 1990s.

Monitoring Civil Rights Movement

Hoover and others involved in counterintelligence were understandably concerned about the possibility of Soviet influence in the media, entertainment and some political movements.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Under COINTELPRO, the FBI began to target some organizations within the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements that were believed to be influenced or controlled by the Soviet Union. There were people in leadership in these groups that were avowed communists. (Ironically, some of techniques that were used by the FBI were learned and honed successfully combating the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan’s ideology was more akin to the Nazis than the communists. In fact, the Klan was vehemently anti-communist.)

These targeted groups and leaders were monitored with electronic surveillance, wiretaps and hidden microphones. Robert Kennedy, attorney general from 1961-64, authorized electronic surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. and other principals in the civil rights movement ostensibly because of the possibility of Soviet influence. President John Kennedy was also aware of the bugging.

None of this justifies some of the egregious acts by the FBI at the direction of Hoover like threats of blackmail, false stories planted in the media, “black bag jobs” (burglaries). It does put COINTELPRO activity in context. There were national security concerns that at least in part explain why the groups were targeted, although the threat of Soviet influence in hindsight was exaggerated.

For all the good that Hoover did it’s hard to get past the bad things that were done to disrupt and discredit the civil rights movement, and specifically Martin Luther King Jr.  He’s been characterized by critics as racist, a trait that can’t be condoned by anyone.  

But COINTELPRO should not be Hoover’s legacy, nor should it be forgotten. His legacy should be the FBI – its successes, failures and transgressions.

Maybe we shouldn’t name anything for anyone. After all,  It’s said that not even the saints were saints.

The Case For Prosecutors Going After Trump

By Greg Stejskal

Last Saturday Former President Donald Trump was acquitted on one article of impeachment charging him with inciting an insurrection.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is capitol-Alex-Gakos-Shutterstock.com_.jpg
Alex Gakos/Shutterstock.com

Many aspects of the impeachment process are foreign to me, but during my career as an FBI agent, I was mostly involved with investigating and prosecuting federal crimes. I wondered if the incitement of an insurrection charge against former President Trump could be prosecuted criminally, and if there had been analogous prosecutions.

In August 1969, on successive nights, seven people were murdered in Los Angeles. Five people were killed at the home of film director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate. Polanski was out of town but Tate, who was pregnant, and four friends were brutally murdered. The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBlanca were stabbed to death.

There did not seem to be any connection between the victims. But the crime scenes were both horrific. The principal weapons used were knives. The scenes were very bloody and there was graffiti on the walls, made with blood, including the words “Helter Skelter.”

We know these events today as the Manson Family murders. Four members of the group, three women and one man, along with Manson, were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. 

At trial, which lasted nine and a half months, no evidence was presented that Manson participated in the murders or ever instructed any of the defendants to murder any of the victims. (Manson stayed at the Spahn ranch, where the family lived, during the first night of the murder spree.) Manson was a charismatic leader of the cult and preached an eclectic philosophy grounded in white supremacy and from various sources – principally from his reading of the Book of Revelations that he believed foretold the coming of the Beatles. Manson told his followers that the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” denoted acts of mayhem and violence that would bring on an apocalyptic race war. 

The murders were meant to be attributed to Blacks and precipitate the race war. The three women and Manson were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder despite Manson never directly ordering the violence. The prosecution contended his convincing the cult of his bizarre philosophy constituted an overt act that propelled the conspiracy.

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Flie photo

This is obviously an imperfect analogy as to what Trump did up to and following the election, which ultimately culminated in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But Trump does seem to be a cult leader, with a significantly larger cult than Manson’s.

A certain segment of his supporters has unquestioning loyalty to him. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, characterized it this way: “Politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

Trump, since the beginning of his campaign, has preached that mail-in balloting is inherently fraudulent, and if he were to lose, it could only because the election was “rigged.”

Trump did lose the election, by about 7 million votes and a 306-232 electoral votes. Despite the results, Trump claimed that he had won the election, that it had been stolen from him due to massive fraud – the “Big Lie.”

No proof of substantial fraud has been produced by Trump or any of his supporters. In addition to lying, Trump has refused to denounce the white nationalist militia groups and QAnon conspiracy aficionados – conspiracies that are every bit as loony as anything Manson dreamed up. These groups were well represented among the insurrectionists who visited so much violence on the Capitol and its defenders.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, one the House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial, summed up the cult psychology of both Trump and Manson with a quote from Voltaire: Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

‘Trial by combat’

When Trump and his surrogates called for the “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6, it was becoming clear that it was a last-ditch effort to delay finalization of the election. Congress would certify the states’ electoral votes that day, and Vice President Mike Pence would preside. Trump had been trying to persuade Pence to disqualify the votes from some states where voting had been close but were carried by Joe Biden. Pence had told Trump that he had no constitutional authority to disqualify electoral votes. Trump reportedly told Pence he was being a “pussy.”

At the rally, several speakers warmed up the crowd with bellicose language. Rudy Giuliani told the crowd: “There needed to be a trial by combat.” When Trump took the stage, he thanked and praised the previous speakers, specifically naming Giuliani and in effect, endorsing their message.

Trump’s speech was also bellicose, with phrases like “fight like hell” and not being “weak if you want to take back your country.” He did temper his rhetoric somewhat, saying they would march to Capital in a “peaceful” and “patriotic” manner. He also said he would march with them. He didn’t. He went back to the White House and watched the insurrection on television. As a former reality TV star, Trump might have thought watching it on TV was the same as being there.

So, did Trump and his surrogates intend to incite an insurrection at the Capitol?

No limit to presidential actions

Trump had shown he was willing to do anything to avoid relinquishing the presidency. He knew his last chance was to stop or disrupt Congress’ certification of the electoral votes. If that could be achieved by an insurrection at the Capitol, so be it. Probably the best indication of Trump’s intent was that, after learning the Capitol had been breached and senators, members of the House and the vice president were under siege, he made no effort to stop it.

During the insurrection, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called Trump and asked the president to tell the insurrectionists to stop. Trump first replied he had no control over the mob; they were “antifa.” McCarthy said that wasn’t true; they were Trump supporters. Trump replied: “Well Kevin, I guess they must care more about the election than you do.”

If a criminal prosecution of Trump and others were contemplated, much more investigation would be needed — unlike the impeachment trial, witnesses would be necessary. Some investigation is currently being done by the FBI, and the House managers have produced a comprehensive timeline documented with video and audio recordings. I think incitement of an insurrection, conspiracy, aiding and abetting are all viable prosecutable offenses that should be pursued.

Trump has sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

This November Keep in Mind Who Trump Has Chosen to Punish and Reward

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

Last week two peoples’ lives changed dramatically. One avoided jail. The other’s military career ended prematurely.

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One’s a hero, the other isn’t.

On Friday evening, the White House announced that President Trump had commuted Roger Stone’s 40-month prison term. Stone, a longtime friend of Trump and a self-described “dirty trickster,” had made no secret of his desire to receive a pardon or clemency from the president. He made it known that he had remained “loyal” to the president. Actually, he had gone beyond loyalty and committed perjury by lying to Congress and threatening a potential witness.

The subject of his lies was his knowledge of Wikileaks’ possession and ultimate distribution of emails that a Russian intelligence agency had hacked from the Democratic National Committee. He had acted as a go-between for the Trump campaign with Wikileaks. Stone refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, ostensibly to protect the president.

He was charged with seven counts, including perjury, obstruction of Congress and witness tampering. He was convicted by a jury on all seven counts and sentenced to 40 months in prison.

At his sentencing, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that Stone “was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the president, he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.”

Read more »

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

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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.