Below is my column in The Hill on the recent disclosure of a document showing that the FBI used an agent to gather information for Crossfire Hurricane during campaign briefings of Trump during 2016. The document directly contradicted the long-standing denial that the investigation to Russian collusion was ever used to gather intelligence on Trump or his campaign. At the same time, the credibility of the Steele Dossier was further undermined this weekend with the release of new information that Steele misrepresented the sources and information used as the basis for this report, which was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The source for the most alarming allegations was revealed as Igor Danchenko, 42, as confirmed to The New York Times, He was not the “Russian-based” source claimed by Steele and the FBI learned that Steele took third-hard rumors and presented them as hard intelligence in the report used to help justify the Russian collusion investigation. This source was used in the last two renewal applications to the FISA court as a “truthful and cooperative” and “Russian-based,” according to the Justice Department Inspector General report found. So it turns out that the primary “source” of Steele’s dossier was “not a well-connected current or former Russian official, but a non-Russian-based contract employee of Steele’s firm.”
None of this has made any difference to the coverage. On ABC Sunday, George Stephanopoulos had Chris Christie as a guest but his involvement in the very meeting discussed in the document did not merit a single question from the host. In the meantime, Democratic leaders, who once mocked the idea of any investigation of Trump or targeting of the campaign, now say that it really doesn’t matter. Rep. Eric Swalwell says that it was actually “the right thing to do.”
I recently received a letter contesting my statements concerning Attorney General Bill Barr in columns (here and here and here and here) and congressional testimony (here and here). The letter is from Ralph Nader, Lou Fisher, and Bruce Fein. I have known all three signatories for many years and I have the utmost respect for them. They offer detailed and thoughtful disagreements with my past statements and the record of Attorney General Bill Barr. I asked them if they would allow me to share their arguments with the blog and they have agreed to do so. As with the prior posting of Professor Morrison, I strongly encourage you to consider the analysis from three of the most influential minds in Washington.
These are figures who require little introduction. They are well known throughout the world for their contributions to the law and public policy. Ralph Nader is as legendary figure who has fought his entire life for consumer protection, environmental protection and good government. He has run for president repeatedly (indeed I voted for him) and is widely viewed as one of the most influential figures in the world on public policy. Lou Fisher spent four decades at the Congressional Research Service and is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the shaping of congressional legislation and policies. He is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on constitutional and congressional issues. Bruce Fein was a high ranking Justice Department figure in the Reagan Administration and has been one of the most influential conservative voices in print and television for decades. He is known for his independent and principled analysis of legal and constitutional issues.
As I stated in Attorney General Barr’s confirmation, he comes to this position with long-established and robust views of executive privilege and powers. While I have long disagreed with him on many of these issues, I view many of the current controversies to reflect policy and interpretative differences, not ethical or criminal or impeachable misconduct. I do not agree with presumptions made about his improper motivations or designs in carrying out his duties, for a second time, as Attorney General of the United States. Despite my many friends on the other side, my view has not changed. Nevertheless, people of good-faith can disagree and that is precisely what is offered by Messrs. Nader, Fisher, and Fein (sounds like a great law firm!)
Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley has called upon Attorney General Bill Barr to launch a federal civil rights investigation of the St. Louis couple who wielded guns outside of their house during a protest in their gated community. I have previously written about the possible charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey and expressed my skepticism over the apparent effort of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to find a criminal charge. However, Attorney General Barr should decline this request from Sen. Hawley. There is no civil rights violation in this investigation. Indeed, while I thought the charges could be defeated in trial or on appeal, I previously wrote that the vague criminal provisions could be used to bring a charge. The issue turns on how the guns were used. While I find the criminal provisions to be vague and the application in this case to be unwarranted, it is not a civil rights violation to advance such an interpretation of the law.
One of the most controversial figures selected by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for his investigative team was Andrew Weissmann. While some criticized Weissmann for perceived bias, many of us focused on his record of prosecutorial excess. Now a law professor at New York University, Weissmann appears eager to fulfill both criticisms. After the commutation of Roger Stone, Weissmann called for Stone to be pulled in front of a grand jury. It did not matter that there was no crime under investigation or likely criminal charge based on the use of a presidential power that is virtually absolute. Weissmann seemed to call for the use of the grand jury for a fishing expedition — precisely the type of alleged excessive use of prosecutorial power that he faced at the Justice Department. Weissmann is reportedly writing a book on the investigation with the reported titled “Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation.”
This afternoon, I am testifying on the hearing on the controversy surrounding the clearing of Lafayette Park on June 1, 2020. I was called to appear to address the underlying legal and constitutional standards governing such mass demonstrations. For roughly 14 years, I was one of the lead counsels in the World Bank litigation that helped establish guidelines and case law governing such operations. I have been critical of the force used to clear the park as well as the attack on a team of Australian journalists covered the protests.
The operation to clear the Park began two days before with the plan to install fencing. By Monday, a small barrier was in place around the park itself and the clearing operation was to push back the crowd to a perimeter to allow the higher fencing to be installed beyond the range of debris or objects. The crowd was pushed back to I St. from H St. by the line of officers. (The hearing title and the testimony refers to the “Lafayette Park” or “Lafayette Square Park” generally. In fact, the immediate park was closed off and we are discussing the operation to clear the area for the installation of the higher fence).
As I state in the testimony, I believe the order to clear the area would be found lawful. It is the level of force (and a charging of the line of officers) that is likely to be the focus of any court. I still do not see the need for this level of force in the use of batons and pepper spray.
The Daily Beast is out with another breathless account of the sycophantic, corrupt influence of Attorney General William Barr. The article entitled “Barr Reportedly Told DOJ Officials to Try and Undermine Michael Cohen’s Conviction” adds the subheading “The attorney general insists, meanwhile, that it’s nothing but a ‘media narrative’ to suggest he’s acting in the president’s personal interests.” The article bounced off a piece in the New York Times. The thrust of both the headlines and the story capture the total decoupling of reporting from factual or legal foundations. It could be denounced as a hit job but it completely misses its mark.
The House Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing today on the allegations of political interference with the handling of Justice Department cases, including the controversy over the sentencing recommendations in the prosecution of Roger Stone, a longtime friend and confidant to President Donald Trump. As I said on NPR this morning, I think such hearings are important and legitimate efforts to answer such widespread concerns. (The hearing is stacked with only one witness allowed in defense of the Administration but that is unfortunately a long-standing problem in Congress). Even though I support the congressional inquiry, I continue to believe that the sentencing recommendation in Stone was excessive and unwarranted. I admittedly have a bias as a long-standing criminal defense attorney but I criticized the original sentencing memorandum before any action was taken by Main Justice. I have always maintained however that Stone was corrected convicted on some of these counts and warrants some jail time for his criminal conduct, including opposition to any presidential pardon.
In my travels I happened along a small act of community caretaking that brought a smile to the both of us. It was not so much what was done for a motorist with a disabled vehicle, but the degree of enthusiasm and resolve shown by a young police recruit in stepping up to the plate for a citizen in need that I found inspirational. So here’s a “hats off” to her and the WA Criminal Justice Training Commission for fostering such spirit.
Attorney General William Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman will be stepping down as the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. That clearly came as a surprise to Berman who dashed off a blistering response that he is neither resigning nor stepping down until a replacement is confirmed by the United States Senate. Berman could now be fired, but the move by Barr raises legitimate issues for congressional investigation since Berman has been at the forefront of the investigation into Trump associates, including an ongoing investigation into Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s business activities. The sudden late Friday replacement only added to those concerns and Barr needs to address these questions fully and quickly. This is a very serious matter if Berman is being canned due to his investigations, particularly given President Donald Trump’s continual criticism of those investigations. Update: As predicted, Trump has now fired Berman and Berman has agreed to leave immediately.
Lisa Page, the former FBI lawyer who resigned in the midst of the Russian investigation scandal, has been hired a NBC and MSNBC as a legal analyst. The move continues a trend started by CNN in hiring Trump critics, including officials terminated for misconduct, to offer legal analysis on the Trump Administration. We have previously discussed the use by CNN of figures like Andrew McCabe to give legal analysis despite his being referred for possible criminal charges by the Inspector General for repeatedly lying to federal investigators. The media appears intent on fulfilling the narrative of President Trump that it is overly biased and hostile in its analysis. Indeed, it now appears a marketing plan that has subsumed the journalistic mission.
We previously discussed the insider trading allegations against Senators Richard Burr (R., N.C.) Dianne Feinstein (D., Cal.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), and Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.) over the selling of stocks after briefings early in the pandemic. As I stated earlier, I am highly skeptical of such cases as a criminal defense attorney as viable due to the difficulty in both the elements and the proof needed for such a charge. Yesterday, the Justice Department dropped three of the four investigations. Only Burr remains under investigation.
Below is my column in USA Today on concerns over the recent orders of U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan. As leading lawyers, including a former Clinton U.S. Attorney openly advise Sullivan on how to “make trouble” for the Administration, these calls only magnify concerns over the purpose of these proceedings and whether they are increasingly detached from the merits of the pending motion. While many seem to relish the improvisational element, they risk undermining the judicial element of the proceedings. Flynn’s team has sought the removal of Sullivan (a very difficult proposition, particularly in the D.C. Circuit). The intense opposition in the bar and teaching academy to Trump seems again to have greatly distorted the legal analysis, which fails to address the most troubling aspects of these orders. As I have previously acknowledged, there are good-faith arguments to be made but much of the analysis has ignored the strong precedent against a denial of the motion and rarely even acknowledge the serious implications for the rights of defendants in such action. I address some of the countervailing (and in my view controlling) authority in a separate posting.
Notably, the D.C. Circuit gave Judge Sullivan ten days to respond to the motion seeking his removal. Thus, these issues will presumably be addressed by Judge Sullivan before any hearing is held.
Below is my column in The Hill on a largely overlooked part of the recent material to be released in the Flynn case as well as the testimony released by the House Intelligence Committee: the focus on the Logan Act as the way to charge former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Indeed, I recently disagreed with former President Barack Obama on clearly false legal statements made about the Flynn case. However, within those false statements was a crushing irony. Obama is mentioned in the documents as discussing the use of the Logan Act against Flynn. While Obama decried (falsely) the lack of precedent for the dismissal of the Flynn case, he previously discussed the use of a clearly unconstitutional statute against Flynn that has never been used successfully to convict a single person since the start of the Republic.