It just got a lot hotter for Trump Organization with both NY AG AND District Attorney Vance looking into potential criminal activities (which we think are BIG) and that this makes more potential for indictments.
NEW YORK — New York Attorney General Letitia James’s investigation into the Trump Organization is now considered a criminal matter, James’s office said Tuesday night, noting that officials with the former president’s company were recently apprised of the development.
“We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the company is no longer purely civil in nature,” said Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office. “We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment at this time.”
The attorney general’s notification to the Trump Organization suggested a cooperative relationship has developed between investigators working for James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., whose office has been heading a criminal probe into the company and its officers since 2018. Both officials are Democrats. A person familiar with the matter, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the district attorney was not specifically mentioned in James’s letter to Trump’s company.
The attorney general’s decision appears to have increased the legal risk that former president Donald Trump faces in New York, where the parallel investigations run by James and Vance had already delved more deeply into Trump’s byzantine finances than any law enforcement authorities ever had.
Previously, the danger posed by James’s investigation seemed to be merely financial — the kind of lawsuit Trump had faced from New York attorneys general before over his Trump University and his charity. Those cost him money but didn’t threaten his liberty.
Now, however, James could also seek criminal penalties. And she appears to be cooperating with Vance’s office, a move that could allow the two wide-ranging investigations to share data.
Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization, declined to comment. Trump and his representatives have repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying the investigations are baseless and politically motivated.
Eric Trump, the former president’s son and a top official at the Trump Organization, declined to comment Tuesday. Instead, he texted The Washington Post a video montage of speeches made by James, largely from her 2018 campaign, in which James criticized Trump and promised to challenge his policies and investigate his business. In one clip, James described Trump as an “illegitimate president.” In another, from James’s campaign, she said, “We’re going to definitely sue him. . . . He’s going to know my name personally.”
A spokesman for Vance’s office declined to comment. His team obtained Trump’s personal and business tax returns earlier this year and is in the process of an extensive forensic evaluation of those documents and other records obtained over the course of years. The known focus of both state probes applies to business transactions and conduct in the years before Trump became president.
Previously, the investigative team under James was pursuing a strictly civil investigation, which remains active and could still result in a lawsuit against the company and its executives.
The notice from James’s office was sent in late April to attorneys for the Trump Organization. It suggested that criminality could apply to actions by current and former company executives and employees if the investigation finds wrongdoing, the person familiar with the matter said.
It was not immediately clear why the two law enforcement agencies are now collaborating years into their previously separate investigations. Partnerships between the two New York law enforcement offices are rare.
Vance began looking into Trump and his company in 2018 after former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in connection with paying off an adult-film actress who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump. James’s investigation began months later in early 2019.
Both probes have also focused on whether the Trump Organization — which was headed by the former president’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump during their father’s term in office — downplayed property values for tax benefits while inflating the value of its assets to obtain favorable bank loans.
James’s investigators have interviewed Eric Trump as well as Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg. The Washington Post has previously reported that Vance’s office is hoping to secure Weisselberg’s cooperation in its investigation of his longtime boss.
The attorney general and district attorney have also teamed up in a state court-level investigation of Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Trump who was indicted in federal court for allegedly defrauding contributors to a private fundraising campaign. Trump pardoned Bannon in the federal case in January, just before his departure from the White House.
Vance’s investigation into Trump and his company has heated up in recent months. His office obtained eight years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns along with related attachments — amounting to millions of pages of records. Forensic accountants and other analysts have been poring through the documents.
To obtain the tax returns, Vance prevailed after a number of legal challenges by Trump, who fought aggressively to shield the material. Trump, breaking with tradition among sitting presidents, had refused to release his tax records to the public as his predecessors did.
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump was not immune from state court prosecutions, paving the way for Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, to comply with a subpoena seeking the tax records. After another losing challenge to the subpoena by Trump’s attorneys, which made its way back to the Supreme Court, the records were turned over.
Vance and James have also issued subpoenas for other records that are relevant to their examinations and have interviewed a number of witnesses.
Trump’s former ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, is seeking $1.8 million in damages from Pompeo and the State Department after the Trump regime reneged on a deal to cover his legal fees when they realized that his testimony would be damning to Trump.
Trump impeachment witness suing Pompeo, State over legal fees
Rudy Giuliani Reportedly Called Arizona Official About Getting Election Challenge ‘Fixed Up’
“I really think it’s a shame that Republicans sort of are both in this, kind of, situation. And I think there may be a nice way to resolve this for everybody.”
“Bill, it’s Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s lawyer,” Giuliani said in a message left on Gates’ phone that was obtained by the newspaper. “If you get a chance, would you please give me a call? I have a few things I’d like to talk over with you. Maybe we can get this thing fixed up. You know, I really think it’s a shame that Republicans sort of are both in this, kind of, situation. And I think there may be a nice way to resolve this for everybody.”
At the time the Republican-dominated state Senate was challenging Trump’s loss in Maricopa County.
Giuliani’s reference to resolving “this for everybody” could have involved a push for a Trump victory. Earlier this month, Trump indicated to Mar-a-Lago guests that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if “thousands and thousands and thousands of votes” were suddenly found for him during the current recount in Maricopa County.
Gates told the Republic that he never returned Giuliani’s call.
“We don’t do what is easy, we do what is right,” said Gates.
Trump phoned Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ® in early January to tell him to “find” enough votes to give his campaign a victory in that state even after the vote for Biden was confirmed. That call, which was also recorded, sparked an investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis into possible illegal election tampering.
Gates is one of four Republicans on the five-member Board of Supervisors of Maricopa County, which is the scene of a controversial recount that is being conducted by a Trump-supporting, right-wing conspiracy theorist. One of the auditors is a former state legislator who attended the U.S. Capitol riot and whose own name appears on the ballots he’s examining as a failed candidate and an elector for Trump.
Gates, a life-long Republican, wrote in an op-ed in the Republic earlier this month that he fears his party is being taken over by “conspiracy enablers whose primary purpose is to promote the ‘Big Lie’ about the 2020 election.”
“If we encourage this madness much longer – we will lose credibility with the majority of Americans on issues where I believe we have better ideas. We will do lasting damage to our republic,” Gates wrote.
Giuliani could not immediately be reached for comment.
More sneaky tactics for the Republicans to win back majority rule. Become the Secretary of State to oversee elections.
They tried to overturn the 2020 election. Now they want to run the next one. - POLITICO
Republicans who sought to undercut or overturn President Joe Biden’s election win are launching campaigns to become their states’ top election officials next year, alarming local officeholders and opponents who are warning about pro-Trump, “ends justify the means” candidates taking big roles in running the vote.
The candidates include Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, a leader of the congressional Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 Electoral College results; Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, one of the top proponents of the conspiracy-tinged vote audit in Arizona’s largest county; Nevada’s Jim Marchant, who sued to have his 5-point congressional loss last year overturned; and Michigan’s Kristina Karamo, who made dozens of appearances in conservative media to claim fraud in the election.
Now, they are running for secretary of state in key battlegrounds that could decide control of Congress in 2022 — and who wins the White House in 2024. Their candidacies come with former President Donald Trump still fixated on spreading falsehoods about the 2020 election, insisting he won and lying about widespread and systemic fraud. Each of their states has swung between the two parties over the last decade, though it is too early to tell how competitive their elections will be.
The campaigns set up the possibility that politicians who have taken steps to undermine faith in the American democratic system could soon be the ones running it.
Good…it is about time.
At least Facebook took a firmer stand…even if it is a short period of time, it still is a good thing.
Brings us past the midterms so that is excellent. Destroys Trumps efforts to fundraise too.
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook said on Friday that Donald J. Trump’s suspension from the service would last at least two years, clarifying a timeline on the ban that the company put in place in January.
The company said Mr. Trump would be eligible for reinstatement in January 2023, when it will then look to experts to decide “whether the risk to public safety has receded,” Facebook said. The company barred the former president from the service after comments he made about the Capitol riots.
“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension,” Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Facebook, wrote in a company blog post, “we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols.”
If reinstated, Mr. Trump will be subject to a set of “rapidly escalating sanctions” if he committed further violations, up to and including the permanent suspension of his account.
Facebook also said it was ending a policy that treated content by politicians differently from that of other users. The policy had previously been used to allow Mr. Trump, and other global leaders, to post content that violated Facebook’s rules.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”
The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.
Meadows Pressed Justice Dept. to Investigate Election Fraud Claims
From Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter 6.5.21
We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.
Hard to “ban for life” and even a bit dangerous!
Always better to show open-mindedness (even when talking about FB, lol!).
Good thing that politicians are now (supposed) to be treated like the others, we might reach “Justice for All” some day?
In the absolute, if he could behave like a respectable human being, he should be allowed back in.
Thing is, can he spew 2 sentences that are not false or insulting?
State GOPs Can’t Explain Millions In ‘Trump Victory’ Cash
“These joint fundraising practices amount to little more than legalized money laundering,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center.
Months after the Federal Election Commission notified several GOP state parties of major gaps in their 2020 fundraising and spending reports, the committees are correcting their numbers—but they still can’t explain why the discrepancies occurred.
The issue has raised new questions about possible abuse of a longstanding campaign finance loophole that allows wealthy megadonors to cut massive checks. Last year a number of Republican state parties failed to disclose transfers in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars, which violates reporting requirements.
“There are layers of problems here, but the basic question is whether the state parties complied with federal disclosure requirements,” Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at election reform advocacy group Common Cause, told The Daily Beast.
It appears systemic. The FEC has so far sent notices to 10 of those 46 state parties that failed to report high-dollar same-day transfers from joint fundraising committees and to the RNC. So far, all but one have responded.
But their explanations have been incomplete or nonexistent. For example, the Rhode Island Republican Party seemed only to acknowledge the error occurred but did not address how or why. “The $251,771.78 for the Post General report was missed on the original 30 Day Post General report that was filed so an amended report was filed to include that.” The party later filed another amendment disclosing more than $455,500 in transfers from Trump Victory, but did not offer an explanation in that letter either.
The problem stems from joint fundraising agreements—teams of political committees that join together to increase their party’s fundraising power and reach. The arrangements are legal, but it appears the GOP has used them to secretly pass millions of dollars from Trump Victory to the RNC through apparently oblivious state committees.
And the corrected filings also show that some committees hadn’t told the FEC they joined Trump Victory, even though Trump Victory had included them. Their explanations have been unclear.
Hawaii didn’t announce its role in Trump Victory until this February. Four days later, the committee revealed nearly $1.7 million in transfers, claiming it missed the transactions “due to a misunderstanding regarding the reporting requirements.”
Last month, the Arkansas GOP disclosed a whopping $3.5 million in transfers with Trump Victory, a group it has never officially joined, according to FEC records. “The transfers were inadvertently not disclosed on the original reports due to clerical errors,” the state party explained.
The Oklahoma GOP passed hundreds of thousands of dollars from Trump Victory on to the RNC last year, but has still never officially joined the agreement. Last month, the treasurer wrote—twice—that he has been suffering from “serious health problems.”
However, while the state parties may have been unaware of the arrangement, the RNC wasn’t. The RNC reports include the transfers.
The FEC wanted to know how that was possible. In response to a question about the Colorado GOP’s unreported transfers, the RNC shifted all blame to the state, writing, “We have confirmed that we received funds from [the] Colorado Republican Committee. No further action is required.”
This doesn’t mean the FEC was baffled. In fact, the same month it asked the RNC to explain itself, the Wyoming GOP paid the FEC a major fine for the same types of omissions in 2016.
But now there’s a new dimension: A small D.C.-area bank may also be in the crosshairs.
In January 2020, Trump Victory told the feds it would use Chain Bridge Bank, a popular institution among Republican committees. The RNC also held an account there, but some state committees didn’t. Others recently told the FEC they had one, but initially failed to report it.
Two parties—Arkansas and Oklahoma—still haven’t reported an account with Chain Bridge. The Hawaii GOP only added the bank in February.
If the committees had established the accounts on their own, it’s unclear how they could have forgotten doing so. None of them have explained this to the FEC, and none responded to The Daily Beast’s inquiries. Chain Bridge would not comment publicly on its clients.
Joint fundraising arrangements are complicated, but carry major financial benefits. Here’s how it works.
Joint fundraising committees open a back door, allowing national parties to raise more money from megadonors than the law otherwise permits. Because Trump Victory has 48 members, one person can cut a single check equal to the combined contribution limits of all four dozen committees. Trump Victory then distributes that money to the other committees.
For example, two donors gave Trump Victory $817,800 in 2020: Pharma exec Richard Roberts, and Nicole Luckey, wife of billionaire tech pioneer Palmer Luckey, in September and October, respectively.
The arrangement has a second benefit. While a donor can only give $10,000 to a state party, state committees can transfer unlimited sums to the national party—the RNC. This means the RNC can effectively claw back all Trump Victory contributions from the states, including from donors who already gave the RNC the maximum amount.
The strategy traces back to 2016, when then-candidate Hillary Clinton became the first to take advantage of the 2014 Supreme Court decision that opened the joint fundraising floodgates. That helped the Democratic National Committee build a machine that pulled in $80 million for the DNC—about three times more than Trump’s own machine that year.
“These joint fundraising practices amount to little more than legalized money laundering, and allow wealthy donors to sidestep contribution limits and write six-figure checks for the benefit of presidential candidates and the national parties,” Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan watchdog group, told The Daily Beast.
“It’s bad policy, but it’s legally permissible,” said Ryan, who co-authored a 2013 Supreme Court amicus brief arguing that joint fundraising would unfairly empower wealthy donors.
Again, this is all usually legal. But last year many of those transfers appear to have gone unnoticed by a number of experienced state committee treasurers.
The FEC has previously issued fines for similar infringements. Given the amount of money involved, the penalties could be steep.
“A ‘knowing and willful’ violation of federal campaign finance law is punishable by a fine of up to 200 percent of any contribution or expenditure involved in such violation,” Ryan said.
There’s another twist: the bank accounts. In April, Axios reported that those omissions are raising new questions about whether the party treasurers—who must sign off on those accounts—knew their committees had opened an account at Chain Bridge. That could expose them legally, Ryan said.
“Campaign finance law would be undermined if a state committee was using an account and not disclosing it, which treasurers must do under penalty of perjury.” Ryan said. “It would be even more severe if the RNC was setting up an account and not telling the state party about it.”
The FEC thinks the problems may be related.
In 2019, the agency slapped the Wyoming GOP with a major fine for its unreported 2016 transfers. The report cited allegations of suspicious banking activity, pointing to concerns that funds were transferred directly from Trump Victory to the RNC, “rendering all FEC reports concerning those transfers fraudulent.”
The General Counsel recommended a sweeping investigation. The Republican-appointed commissioners, however, voted it down.
The reason for the apparent shortcuts is hard to discern.
“I can’t think of many reasons why they would set this up,” said Ryan. “They may find it easier, or could be trying to save bank fees. But it could also be a way to increase the RNC’s haul. Suppose you had a state party that wouldn’t participate, but the RNC wanted to involve another state so it could pull in more money. This would allow them to do so.”
The Wyoming case may offer a hint that supports his hunch.
On Monday, WyoFile reported that the Wyoming GOP’s treasurer has accused the state party chair and RNC of striking a deal behind his back in 2016, calling it an “obvious ‘end run’ to by-pass individual state laws.”
Hunting Leaks, Trump Officials Focused on Democrats in Congress
The Justice Department seized records from Apple for metadata of House Intelligence Committee members, their aides and family members.
As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.
All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had been subpoenaed.
Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.
But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.
The zeal in the Trump administration’s efforts to hunt leakers led to the extraordinary step of subpoenaing communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations. While Justice Department leak investigations are routine, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry said they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers had been seized as part of one.
Moreover, just as it did in investigating news organizations, the Justice Department secured a gag order on Apple that expired this year, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, so lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month.
Prosecutors also eventually secured subpoenas for reporters’ records to try to identify their confidential sources, a move that department policy allows only after all other avenues of inquiry are exhausted.
The subpoenas remained secret until the Justice Department disclosed them in recent weeks to the news organizations — The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN — revelations that set off criticism that the government was intruding on press freedoms.
The gag orders and records seizures show how aggressively the Trump administration pursued the inquiries while Mr. Trump declared war on the news media and perceived enemies whom he routinely accused of disclosing damaging information about him, including Mr. Schiff and James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director whom prosecutors focused on in the leak inquiry involving Times records.
“Notwithstanding whether there was sufficient predication for the leak investigation itself, including family members and minor children strikes me as extremely aggressive,” said David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who worked on leak investigations. “In combination with former President Trump’s unmistakable vendetta against Congressman Schiff, it raises serious questions about whether the manner in which this investigation was conducted was influenced by political considerations rather than purely legal ones.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did Mr. Barr and a representative for Apple.
As the years wore on, some officials argued in meetings that charges were becoming less realistic, former Justice Department officials said: They lacked strong evidence, and a jury might not care about information reported years earlier.
The Trump administration also declassified some of the information, making it harder for prosecutors to argue that publishing it had harmed the United States. And the president’s attacks on Mr. Schiff and Mr. Comey would allow defense lawyers to argue that any charges were attempts to wield the power of law enforcement against Mr. Trump’s enemies.
But Mr. Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases. Some cases had nothing to do with leaks about Mr. Trump and involved sensitive national security information, one of the people said. But Mr. Barr’s overall view of leaks led some people in the department to eventually see the inquiries as politically motivated.
Mr. Schiff called the subpoenas for data on committee members and staff another example of Mr. Trump using the Justice Department as a “cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media.”
“It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears,” Mr. Schiff said in a statement. “The politicization of the department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former president.”
He said the department informed him in May that the investigation into his committee was closed. But he called on its independent inspector general to investigate the leak case and others that “suggest the weaponization of law enforcement,” an appeal joined by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Early Hunt for Leaks
Soon after Mr. Trump took office in 2017, press reports based on sensitive or classified intelligence threw the White House into chaos. They detailed conversations between the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time and Mr. Trump’s top aides, the president’s pressuring of the F.B.I. and other matters related to the Russia investigation.
The White House was adamant that the sources be found and prosecuted, and the Justice Department began a broad look at national security officials from the Obama administration, according to five people briefed on the inquiry.
While most officials were ruled out, investigators opened cases that focused on Mr. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, the people said. Prosecutors also began to scrutinize the House Intelligence Committee, including Mr. Schiff, as a potential source of the leaks. As the House’s chief intelligence oversight body, the committee has regular access to sensitive government secrets.
Justice Department National Security Division officials briefed the deputy attorney general’s office nearly every other week on the investigations, three former department officials said.
In 2017 and 2018, a grand jury subpoenaed Apple and another internet service provider for the records of the people associated with the Intelligence Committee. They learned about most of the subpoenas last month, when Apple informed them that their records had been shared but did not detail the extent of the request, committee officials said. A second service provider had notified one member of the committee’s staff about such a request last year.
It was not clear why family members or children were involved, but the investigators could have sought the accounts because they were linked or on the theory that parents were using their children’s phones or computers to hide contacts with journalists.
There do not appear to have been similar grand jury subpoenas for records of members or staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to another official familiar with the matter. A spokesman for Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee did not respond to a question about whether they were issued subpoenas. The Justice Department has declined to tell Democrats on the committee whether any Republicans were investigated.
Apple turned over only metadata and account information, not photos, emails or other content, according to the person familiar with the inquiry.
After the records provided no proof of leaks, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington discussed ending that piece of their investigation. But Mr. Barr’s decision to bring in an outside prosecutor helped keep the case alive.
A CNN report in August 2019 about another leak investigation said prosecutors did not recommend to their superiors that they charge Mr. Comey over memos that he wrote and shared about his interactions with Mr. Trump, which were not ultimately found to contain classified information.
Mr. Barr was wary of how Mr. Trump would react, according to a person familiar with the situation. Indeed, Mr. Trump berated the attorney general, who defended the department, telling the president that there was no case against Mr. Comey to be made, the person said. But an investigation remained open into whether Mr. Comey had leaked other classified information about Russia.
In February 2020, Mr. Barr placed the prosecutor from New Jersey, Osmar Benvenuto, into the National Security Division. His background was in gang and health care fraud prosecutions.
Through a Justice Department spokesman, Mr. Benvenuto declined to comment.
With Mr. Benvenuto involved in the leak inquiries, the F.B.I. questioned Michael Bahar, a former House Intelligence Committee staff member who had gone into private practice in May 2017. The interview, conducted in late spring of 2020, did not yield evidence that led to charges.
Prosecutors also redoubled efforts to find out who had leaked material related to Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Details about conversations he had in late 2016 with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, appeared in news reports in early 2017 and eventually helped prompt both his ouster and federal charges against him. The discussions had also been considered highly classified because the F.B.I. had used a court-authorized secret wiretap of Mr. Kislyak to monitor them.
But John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence and close ally of Mr. Trump’s, seemed to damage the leak inquiry in May 2020, when he declassified transcripts of the calls. The authorized disclosure would have made it more difficult for prosecutors to argue that the news stories had hurt national security.
Separately, one of the prosecutors whom Mr. Barr had directed to re-examine the F.B.I.’s criminal case against Mr. Flynn interviewed at least one law enforcement official in the leak investigation after the transcripts were declassified, a move that a person familiar with the matter labeled politically fraught.
The biweekly updates on the leak investigations between top officials continued. Julie Edelstein, the deputy chief of counterintelligence and export control, and Matt Blue, the head of the department’s counterterrorism section, briefed John C. Demers, the head of the National Security Division, and Seth DuCharme, an official in the deputy attorney general’s office, on their progress. Mr. Benvenuto was involved in briefings with Mr. Barr.
Mr. Demers, Ms. Edelstein, Mr. Blue and Mr. Benvenuto are still at the Justice Department. Their continued presence and leadership roles would seem to ensure that Mr. Biden’s appointees, including Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, would have a full understanding of the investigations.
The Times, Post and CNN Want Answers as Secret Trump DOJ Tactics Come to Light
CNN revealed it was subjected to a gag order as part of a leak investigation as news leaders prepare to meet with Merrick Garland. Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger hopes “to learn more about how this seizure of records happened” and get a commitment it doesn’t happen again.
New details about the Trump Department of Justice’s secret pursuit of a CNN reporter’s email records emerged Wednesday as parts of the case were unsealed, lifting a gag order that had prohibited CNN general counsel David Vigilante from discussing the government’s prolonged legal efforts beyond a select group of people—network president Jeff Zucker , and other lawyers for CNN—for nearly a year. The Justice Department’s months-long court battle to obtain tens of thousands of CNN reporter Barbara Starr ’s records from 2017 ultimately “resulted in the network agreeing to turn over a limited set of email logs,” CNN revealed, a resolution that came in January, just days after President Joe Biden took office. A month earlier, CNN’s lawyers successfully fought to narrow the scope of what the government was seeking, as a federal judge ruled that the DOJ’s request for access to Starr’s internal emails was “unanchored in any facts” and “not sufficiently connected to any evidence relevant, material, or useful to the governments ascribed investigation.” Starr’s phone records and data from her personal email account had been separately seized, she learned in May, a disclosure CNN said it had not been made aware of prior.
Recounting the protracted court battle on Wednesday, Vigilante wrote that DOJ lawyers “showed no interest in exploring good faith ways to narrow the order” or help CNN’s lawyers better grasp the scenario, as they were barred from knowing what specifically the government was searching for, who they were targeting, or the subject matter of the reporting in question—“in short, all the tools lawyers use every day to navigate these situations were refused to us.” Vigilante said he was “told in no uncertain terms (multiple times) that I was forbidden from communicating about any aspect of the order or these proceedings to the journalist whose interests I am duty-bound to protect” and “subject to charges of contempt and even criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice” if he violated the secret order, one he noted he, in his two decades at CNN, had never faced before.
CNN is one of three news organizations that only just learned of efforts under the Trump administration to secretly obtain the records of journalists in an attempt to identify their sources, and one of two that was subjected to a gag order as part of a leak investigation. In recent weeks, the New York Times —the other news outlet placed under a gag order—and the Washington Post were also notified by Merrick Garland ’s Justice Department of the Trump-era practices. Post managing editor Cameron Barr said at the time the DOJ “should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs.” In all three cases, Trump’s DOJ, in 2020, sought records dating back to 2017.
The revelations have sparked First Amendment concerns and placed increasing pressure on President Joe Biden to commit to breaking with the practice aggressively deployed by his two most recent predecessors. Under President Barack Obama , the Justice Department prosecuted more leak cases than those brought under all previous administrations combined and took unprecedented steps to uncover reporters’ sources in such investigations, an approach embraced by President Donald Trump —whose DOJ’s sweeping assault on press freedom is only now, amid the recent record-seizure revelations, coming into focus.
Last Saturday, after the Times revealed that the newspaper’s executives had been put under a gag order during the Trump administration’s fight to obtain the emails of four Times reporters—a push that, like the gag order imposed on CNN’s lawyers, briefly continued under Biden—Garland’s Justice Department put out a statement announcing it would not “seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs,” breaking with a “longstanding practice” that, in a separate statement that day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “is not consistent with the President’s policy direction to the Department.” While the DOJ professed its commitment to “a free press, protecting First Amendment values,” and “taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists,” the Associated Press noted that it was unclear whether the department would continue pursuing aggressive leak investigations without seizing reporters’ records or specify who, in policy terms, is categorized as a member of the news media or the parameters of the protection.
According to the Times , Garland said he would issue a memo detailing the new policy that he on Wednesday called “the most protective of journalists’ ability to do their jobs in history.” The attorney general has reportedly scheduled a meeting with leaders of the three affected news organizations for Monday. “We’re pleased that Attorney General Garland has agreed to this meeting,” Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger said in a statement to Vanity Fair . “We hope to use the meeting to learn more about how this seizure of records happened and to seek a commitment that the Department of Justice will no longer seize journalists’ records during leak investigations."