Posts tagged with "DOJ"

Special master expresses skepticism about declassification claims by Trump’s lawyers

September 22, 2022

A federal judge expressed skepticism on Tuesday, September 20, about the efforts by former President Donald Trump’s legal team to avoid offering any proof of his claims that he had declassified sensitive government documents that were seized from his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, last month, reports The New York Times.

The statements by the judge, Raymond J. Dearie, who is acting as a special masteran independent arbiter reviewing the seized materials, were an early indication that he may not be entirely sympathetic to the former president’s attempts to bog down the judge’s evaluation with time-consuming questions over the classification status of some of the documents.

“My view is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Judge Dearie said at a hearing called to determine the process he would use to do a sweeping review of materials seized from Trump under a search warrant executed by the FBI.

Judge Dearie, who had been suggested for the role by Trump’s legal team, was referring to a set of sometimes confusing arguments made by that team as it seeks to limit or delay the Justice Department’s criminal investigation.

Days after the extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago, the former president made public statements claiming that he had in fact declassified some of the seized records, suggesting that the Justice Department had no case against him for illegally retaining sensitive government material. But neither he nor his lawyers have ever made those same assertions in court—or in court papers—where they could face penalties for lying.

Instead, they have danced a fine line between suggesting that, as president, Trump had the authority to declassify the documents, while remaining silent on the issue of what he actually did—or did not do. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers have pursued another line of argument, telling Judge Dearie that he should not simply take the Justice Department’s word that some of the seized records are classified, as prosecutors claim.

At his first hearing as special master, Judge Dearie seemed to cut through this confusing web, telling Trump’s lawyers in direct terms that he was likely to deem the documents classified — unless they offered evidence to the contrary.

That prompted one of the lawyers, James Trusty, to say that Trump’s legal team might in the future offer that sort of evidence—in witness statements, for example—but that to do so now would telegraph its legal strategy to the government.

Trusty told Judge Dearie at the hearing that he wanted some of his legal partners to get expedited top secret security clearances so that they, too, could view the documents–all but admitting that the documents are, in fact, classified and top secret. Trusty said he already had a top-secret clearance from another case.

Complicating the matter even further, Julie Edelstein, a lawyer for the Justice Department, told Judge Dearie that a handful of the documents at issue were so secret that even Trusty’s clearance might not be enough.

Research contact: @nytimes

Massachusetts state lawmaker requests federal human trafficking probe of DeSantis migrant move

September 20, 2022

A state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard has called for a federal investigation into Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis’s relocation of migrants to the island last week, reports The Hill.

Massachusetts State Representative Dylan Fernandes (D)—who has repeatedly attacked DeSantis for chartering two planes to transport the migrants—made the request on Sunday, September 18.

“We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis & others accountable for these inhumane acts,” Fernandes wrote on Twitter. “Not only is it morally criminal; there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”

Fernandes said he has spoken with U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins, adding that she was pushing for a Justice Department response.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

Two flights with nearly 50 migrants landed on Wednesday, September 14 ,in Martha’s Vineyard, an island known for its popularity among the wealthy. The migrants have since been moved to Joint Base Cape Cod.

“They already bused them out, they’re gone,” DeSantis said on Friday. “They said we want everyone, no one’s illegal, and they’re gone within 48 hours.”

The flights raised questions as to how the migrants came to believe boarding the planes were there best option. Local officials have suggested the migrants were misled.

The relocations were the latest iterations of Republican governors busing and flying migrants to Democrat-run, northern areas of the country. The governors argue the relocations provide relief to border communities overwhelmed by President Joe Biden’s immigration policies—hoping to raise awareness for immigration policy changes in Washington, D.C.

Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based group that represents more than 30 of the migrants flown to Massachusetts, similarly called for a federal investigation into their relocations.

“While we are working to protect our clients’ rights in immigration proceedings and exploring remedies for civil rights violations, we also strongly believe that criminal laws were broken by the perpetrators of this stunt,” the group wrote in letters to Rollins and Massachusetts’s attorney general.

“We therefore ask that you open a criminal investigation into this matter,” the letters continued.

DeSantis is one of three Republican governors who have relocated migrants in recent months. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has bused thousands of migrants to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago in recent months, while Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) has sent nearly 2,000 migrants to D.C.

Research contact: @thehill

DOJ issues 40 subpoenas in a week—expanding its January 6 inquiry

September 14, 2022

Justice Department officials have seized the phones of two top advisers to former President Donald Trump and blanketed his aides with about 40 subpoenas in a substantial escalation of the investigation into his efforts to subvert the 2020 election, according to people familiar with the inquiry, reports The New York Times.

The seizure of the phones—coupled with a widening effort to obtain information from those around Trump after the 2020 election—represent some of the most aggressive steps the department has taken thus far in its criminal investigation into the actions that led to the January 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The extent of the investigation has come into focus in recent days, even though it often has been overshadowed by the government’s legal clash with Trump and his lawyers over a separate inquiry into the handling of presidential records—including highly classified materials, the former president kept at his residence in Florida, the Mar-a-Lago Club.

Federal agents with court-authorized search warrants took phones last week from at least two people: Boris Epshteyn, an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Trump’s legal efforts; and Mike Roman, a campaign strategist who was the director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign in 2020, people familiar with the investigation said.

Epshteyn and Roman have been linked to a critical element of Trump’s bid to hold onto power—the effort to name slates of electors pledged Trump from swing states won by Joe Biden in 2020 as part of a plan to block or delay congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory.

Epshteyn and Roman did not respond to requests for comment. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

The names of those receiving the latest round of subpoenas in the investigation related to January 6 have dribbled out gradually, with investigators casting a wide net on a range of issues, including Trump’s postelection fund-raising and the so-called fake electors scheme.

One of the recipients, people familiar with the case said, was Dan Scavino, Trump’s former social media director who rose from working at a Trump-owned golf course to become one of his most loyal West Wing aides, and has remained an adviser since Trump left office. Stanley Woodward, one of Scavino’s lawyers, declined to comment.

Another was Bernard Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner. Kerik, who promoted claims of voter fraud alongside his friend Rudy Giuliani, was issued a subpoena by prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., his lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, said on Monday, September 12. Parlatore said his client had initially offered to grant an interview voluntarily.

The subpoenas seek information in connection with the fake electors plan.

For months, Trump associates have received subpoenas related to other aspects of the investigations into his efforts to cling to power. But in a new line of inquiry, some of the latest subpoenas focus on the activities of the Save America political action committee, the main political fund-raising conduit for Trump since he left office.

The fact that the Justice Department is now seeking information related to fund-raising comes as the House committee examining the January 6 attack has raised questions about money Trump solicited under the premise of fighting election fraud.

The new subpoenas encompass a wide variety of those in Mr. Trump’s orbit, from low-level aides to his most senior advisers.

The Justice Department has spent more than a year focused on investigating hundreds of rioters who were on the ground at the Capitol on Jan. 6. But this spring, it started issuing grand jury subpoenas to people like Ali Alexander, a prominent organizer with the pro-Trump Stop the Steal group, who helped plan the march to the Capitol after Mr. Trump gave a speech that day at the Ellipse near the White House.

While it remains unclear how many subpoenas had been issued in that early round, the information they sought was broad.

According to one subpoena obtained by The New York Times, they asked for any records or communications from people who organized, spoke at, or provided security for Trump’s rally at the Ellipse. They also requested information about any members of the executive and legislative branches who may have taken part in planning or executing the rally, or tried to “obstruct, influence, impede, or delay” the certification of the presidential election.

By early summer, the grand jury investigation had taken another turn, as several subpoenas were issued to state lawmakers and state Republican officials allied with Trump who took part in a plan to create fake slates of pro-Trump electors in several key swing states that Biden actually won.

At least 20 of these subpoenas were sent out and sought information about, and communications with, several lawyers who took part in the fake elector scheme, including Giuliani and John Eastman.

Around the same time, federal investigators seized Eastman’s cellphone and the phone of another lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, whom Trump had sought at one point to install as the acting attorney general. Clark had his own role in the fake elector scheme: In December 2020, he helped draft a letter to Governor Brian Kemp (R) of Georgia, saying that the state’s election results had been marred by fraud and recommending that Kemp convene a special session of the Georgia Legislature to create a slate of pro-Trump electors.

At least some of the new subpoenas also requested all records that the recipients had turned over to the House January 6 committee, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Research contact: @nytimes

Election deniers repeatedly visited Georgia county office at center of criminal probe, video shows

September 7, 2022

Technology consultants who sought evidence that Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat was fraudulent made multiple visits to a county elections office in rural Georgia in the weeks after an alleged post-election breach of voting equipment there that is the subject of a criminal investigation, reports The Washington Post.

Surveillance video reviewed by The Washington Post shows that the consultants, Doug Logan and Jeffrey Lenberg, made two visits in January 2021 to the elections office in Coffee County, about 200 miles south of Atlanta. Lenberg made an additional five visits on his own. The two men are under investigation for separate alleged breaches of voting machines in Michigan.

The footage also shows that, earlier in January, Cathy Latham, a teacher and then-chairwoman of the county Republican Party, greeted a group of outside data forensics experts when they arrived at the elections office shortly before noon on the day of the alleged breach.

Latham has said in sworn testimony that she taught a full day of school that day and visited the elections office briefly after classes ended. She was one of 16 Republicans who signed certificates declaring Trump the rightful winner of the 2020 election as part of the “fake elector” scheme now under investigation by federal and state prosecutors.

The new video adds to the picture of the alleged breach in Coffee County on January 7, 2021—and reveals for the first time the later visits by Logan and Lenberg. It also provides further indications of links between various efforts to overturn the election, including what once appeared to be disparate attempts to access and copy election system data in the wake of Trump’s loss.

Experts have expressed concern that such efforts could expose details of voting systems’ hardware and software that are intended to be tightly controlled—potentially aiding hackers who might seek to alter the results of a future election.

Data copied from elections systems in other states have been published online. Georgia state officials and voting-machine makers have downplayed the risk, pointing to safeguards that they say protect the systems from tampering.

The Post reported last month that a data forensics firm hired by the pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell copied software and data from the Dominion Voting Systems machines used by Coffee County. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said it is investigating the matter.

Details of the Coffee County incident have come to light, largely because of a flurry of subpoenas and depositions by plaintiffs in a long-running federal lawsuit against Georgia authorities over the security of the state’s elections. Emails and other records they obtained from the data forensics firm, Atlanta-based SullivanStrickler, showed that the Coffee episode was part of a coordinated multistate effort to access voting equipment in a hunt for evidence that the election was rigged.

The plaintiffs, including several Georgia voters and the nonprofit Coalition for Good Governance, obtained the new surveillance video in response to a subpoena to county authorities and provided it to the Post.

The security footage shows only the exterior of the office’s entrance area, and it is not clear what the consultants Logan and Lenberg did inside.

The new surveillance footage shows three SullivanStrickler employees arriving at the Coffee elections office at 11:42 a.m. on January 7. Latham had arrived five minutes earlier, the footage shows. She greeted the SullivanStrickler team and led them inside. Shortly before 1 p.m., a fourth employee from the firm arrived.

In her deposition last month, taken by plaintiffs in the long-running civil case, Latham said she recalled having gone to the Coffee County elections office for “just a few minutes” that day—arriving sometime after 3:48 p.m. when she received a text from Misty Hampton, then the county elections supervisor, that said: “Going great so far.”

Asked during the deposition whether it would have been possible for her to go to the election office during work hours, Latham answered: “I mean, I taught a full schedule, I didn’t have a planning period, so I can’t remember.”

Records filed in the civil case last week also show that an attorney for SullivanStrickler described Latham as the “primary point of contact in coordinating and facilitating” the firm’s work in Coffee County.

The footage shows Latham entering the building before noon, then leaving at 1:26 p.m. She returned several minutes after Hampton’s 3:48 p.m. text and then finally departed after 6 p.m., it shows. The building has a side door that is not shown in the footage.

“While Mrs. Latham does not pretend to remember the details of all that occurred on that specific date more than a year and a half ago, she does remember going to the Elections Office after teaching school on January 7, 2021, to check in on some voter review panels from the runoff election, and she truthfully testified to those facts,” Cheeley, her lawyer, told The Post.

The SullivanStrickler team left the building at 7:43 p.m., more than 2½ hours after the office’s regular closing time, the footage shows. Hampton immediately followed.

The data obtained from Coffee County by SullivanStrickler included copies of virtually every component of the county voting system, including the central tabulation server, according to an inventory obtained by the plaintiffs through discovery. The firm billed Powell $26,000 for the day’s work, an invoice shows.

Hampton previously told The Post that she allowed a team of outsiders into her office after the 2020 vote so they could prove “that this election was not done true and correct.”

Hampton and attorneys for Coffee County did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The new surveillance footage shows that on January 18—eleven days after SullivanStrickler completed its work in Coffee County, Logan and Lenberg arrived at the elections office with Hampton at 4:20 p.m.

Logan, 42, was chief executive of the security firm Cyber Ninjas, which was hired by Republican state lawmakers in Arizona to hunt for fraud in the 2020 vote there. The firm’s review found Trump had lost to Joe Biden in Arizona by an even greater margin than the certified result. Logan, of Sarasota, Florida, announced earlier this year that he had shuttered the company.

Lenberg, 66, lives in Tijeras, New Mexico and previously worked in technical roles at a private laboratory operated for the National Nuclear Security Administration. A résumé for Lenberg filed in the Antrim court case stated that he has held high-level security clearances and that his past work included “developing ways to break in (if possible) to what were considered to be secure systems.”

When the pair arrived at the Coffee County elections office, both were carrying backpacks, and Lenberg brought snacks and energy drinks. Hampton and the two consultants were recorded leaving the building nearly four hours later. Logan and Lenberg returned to the elections office shortly before 9 a.m. the next morning, the footage shows, and exited after 6 p.m.

Six days later, on January 25, Lenberg was again recorded arriving at the elections office. He left nearly three hours later, then returned for shorter visits on each of the following four days, the video shows. On one occasion, he was carrying the box for a ring light system typically used to illuminate the subjects of video recordings.

Lenberg was part of an election review team in New Mexico that last month published a report featuring an image of what it called “a system log from a Dominion machine in Georgia.” At a public hearing of the Otero County Commission earlier this year, Lenberg said he had obtained “data from multiple counties” in Georgia and that he met with Hampton of Coffee County.

The Post has reported that, according to computer logs obtained by the plaintiffs, an account in Logan’s name had accessed Coffee County data on SullivanStrickler’s file-sharing system.

In spring 2021, after Hampton resigned, Logan’s business card was found on her desk by her successor, James Barnes. Barnes sent a copy of the card to the secretary of state’s office, expressing alarm in light of the fact that the Justice Department had raised concerns about the ballot review led by Cyber Ninjas in Arizona, according to an email obtained by The Post.

An investigator in the secretary of state’s office was directed to follow up with county officials and “verify what if any contact cyber ninjas had with any election equipment,” emails show. Barnes said in a sworn deposition that state officials never contacted him.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) did not directly address questions from the Post about the agency’s response to Barnes’s concern or say whether the agency sought the security-camera footage at the time.

Raffensperger has said publicly that, after the election, his staff devoted time to pursuing every tip of alleged voter fraud. Raffensperger’s office has told the court that it began investigating the Coffee County matter in February of this year—when allegations of the breach first became an issue in the long-running lawsuit.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said it has been working with Raffensperger’s office and opened the criminal case on August 15.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Justice Department’s scathing response: Trump brought this on himself; he had it coming

Sepember 1, 2022

The Department of Justice revealed on Tuesday night, August 30, that it only started criminally investigating former President Donald Trump after he lied about keeping “top secret” documents at his oceanside Florida mansion—including three highly classified records inside his personal desk—and had some presidential papers moved around and torn up, reports The Daily Beast.

Had Trump simply turned the documents over to the National Archives when the agency asked for them back last year, the FBI might never have gotten access to them, the DOJ explained.

The DOJ came out swinging against Trump in a scathing court filing to block him from getting his stuff back from the Mar-a-Lago search by stating flatly that “those records do not belong to him.”

In the 36-page document, the DOJ argued that Trump lacks any ability to even ask for a federal judge to step in and oversee the seizure of sensitive documents that were kept unsecured at Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Florida.

The DOJ also revealed why Trump is being investigated for violating a federal law that prohibits destroying government records, cited as 18 U.S. Code § 2071.

Federal prosecutors claim that recovered documents showed that “certain pages of presidential records had been torn up,” a crime that pivotally bars anyone from ever again holding a political office in the United States.

Federal prosecutors disclosed that Trump was under investigation for yet another crime, obstruction of justice, cited as 18 U.S.C. § 1519, because the feds “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the [Mar-a-Lago] storage room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”

For example, FBI special agents who conducted the search three weeks ago claim they found three classified documents in desks at the so-called “45 Office” in another section of the mansion—alongside two of his expired passports—despite the fact that Trump and his lawyers had sworn they wouldn’t be there.

Trump, represented by a team of defense attorneys who have been criticized for their ineptitude, according to The Daily Beast, waited a whopping two weeks after the FBI raid at his Palm Beach estate to sue and ask for a judge to appoint a “special master” to oversee federal agents’ handling of the records they seized.

On Tuesday night, the DOJ responded by arguing that the Presidential Records Act of 1978 “makes clear” that the government “has complete ownership, possession, and control” of those documents and the former president can’t just ask for them back—or dictate how they should be handled.

Trump currently is under investigation by the FBI for putting the nation’s security at risk by mishandling “top secret” government records. For more than a year, his office had been in negotiations with the National Archives over the way he took more than a dozen boxes of presidential records from the White House to his private estate—instead of turning them over to the nation’s archivists for proper preservation.

In recent days, the looming threat of an unprecedented prosecution of a former president has prompted his allies—even prominent Republicans, among them, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—to threaten nationwide violence and even civil war.

Trump sued the federal government in South Florida federal court, and U.S. District Judge Aileen Mercedes Cannon asked the DOJ to respond, hence Tuesday’s filing.

The scathing arguments laid out in the court filing—signed by top Miami federal prosecutor Juan Antonio Gonzalez and Jay I. Bratt, chief of the DOJ National Security Division’s counterintelligence and export control section—take the most aggressive tone by the DOJ yet against the former president. From the get-go, it counters the disinformation and politicizing that Trump has engaged in through public statements on social media that also bled into his lawsuit, with the DOJ saying that it would provide “a detailed recitation of the relevant facts, many of which are provided to correct the incomplete and inaccurate narrative.”

For example, Trump and his lieutenants—including  former White House aide Kash Patel—have argued that he had already declassified mountains of records, thus eliminating any accusation that such records were sensitive or improperly handled. On Tuesday, the DOJ revealed that Trump’s lawyers never even mentioned that any of the documents in the 15 boxes Trump turned over to the National Archives in January 2022 were declassified.

The DOJ also acknowledged that it has indeed had a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia investigate the former president, noting that there authorized federal prosecutors on Monday to disclose it following Trump’s statements about having received subpoenas for video footage at Mar-a-Lago.

Federal prosecutors also shed more light on what they say happened on June 3, when Bratt himself traveled south to Mar-a-Lago to figure out what exactly was going on. According to the DOJ’s court filing, Trump’s lawyers assured the feds that no classified documents remained at the mansion, which doubles as a luxurious club with international clientele that at times has included unscrupulous types suspected of spying for foreign governments.

But when the feds tried verifying whether that was true, they were rebuffed, according to the DOJ. At one point, an attorney for Trump “explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained.”

Adding to the federal agents’ suspicions, Trump’s team handed over a single, sealed Redweld envelope, according to the DOJ. Inside, FBI agents found 38 documents that included five marked “confidential,” 16 marked “secret,” and 17 marked “top secret.”

“Counsel for the former president offered no explanation as to why boxes of government records, including 38 documents with classification markings, remained at the premises nearly five months after the production of the fifteen boxes and nearly one-and-a-half years after the end of the [Trump] administration,” the DOJ wrote on Tuesday.

However, despite the supposed assurances Trump’s team made that all classified material had been turned over that day, the FBI earlier this month found more than 100 others were still at Mar-a-Lago.

Research contact: @The_DailyBeast

Twitter’s former security chief accuses it of ‘egregious deficiencies’

August 24, 2022

Twitter’s former head of security has accused the company of “extreme, egregious deficiencies” in its spam- and hacker-fighting practices, according to a whistle-blower complaint, reports The New York Times.

The complaints by Peiter Zatko, the former executive, said that the shortcomings in enforcing security, privacy, and content moderation policies dated to 2011.

Zatko, a well-known hacker who is known in the security community as Mudge, joined Twitter in late 2020 and was terminated by the company in January of this year.

His complaints were sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Justice Department, and Federal Trade Commission on July 6. The Washington Post and CNN first reported on the complaints.

Zatko accuses Twitter, its CEO Parag Agrawal, and other executives and directors of “extensive legal violations,” including making misleading statements to users, misrepresentations to investors and acting with “negligence and even complicity” toward efforts by foreign governments to infiltrate the platform, according to the complaint filed with the SEC, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The allegations come at a perilous time for Twitter, which is locked in a legal battle with Elon Musk over his efforts to walk away from a $44 billion agreement to acquire the social media company. Twitter has sued Musk to force him to close the deal, and the two sides are set to go to trial at the Delaware Chancery Court in October.

The complaints put forward by Zatko and Musk are in some ways similar—focusing on the number of fake users on Twitter’s website. Musk claims that Twitter’s public disclosures about those figures are materially misleading.

Perhaps most damaging, if true, is Zatko’s allegation that Twitter is in violation of its 2011 settlement with the FTC over its safeguarding of user information. The agency had accused Twitter of “serious lapses” in data security that “allowed hackers to obtain unauthorized administrative control of Twitter” including the ability to send out phony tweets.

A spokesperson for Twitter said Zatko was fired for ineffective leadership and poor performance. “What we’ve seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data security practices that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lacks important context,” she said.

“Zatko’s allegations and opportunistic timing,” she said, “appear designed to capture attention and inflict harm on Twitter, its customers, and its shareholders. Security and privacy have long been companywide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Justice Department objects to releasing affidavit used to search Trump’s home

August 17, 2022

On Monday, August 15, the Justice Department contested making public the affidavit used to justify the search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Florida—saying its release would “compromise future investigative steps” and “likely chill” cooperation with witnesses, reports The New York Times.

In a 13-page pleading, filed in a federal court in southern Florida in response to requests by The New York Times and other news organizations to make public the evidence included in the document, prosecutors suggested that the department has undertaken a broad, intensive inquiry into Trump’s handling of some of the most secret documents of the government after he left office.

The prosecutors acknowledged interviewing witnesses in connection with the investigation of. Trump’s retention of the material. They also wrote that releasing the document could compromise the continuing investigation.

“Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses,” prosecutors wrote. They added that releasing the affidavit could harm “other high-profile investigations,” as well.

One of the reasons proposed by the government for not releasing the affidavit was to protect the identities of witnesses against death threats. On Monday, prosecutors in Pennsylvania unsealed charges against a man accused of repeatedly threatening to kill F.B.I. agents in the days after Trump’s property was searched.

The magistrate judge who signed the search warrant, Bruce E. Reinhart, ultimately will decide whether the affidavit should be released. It is unclear when he will rule on the news media’s request.

According to the Times, “The legal—and political—aftershocks from the search were still reverberating a week after F.B.I. agents appeared at the resort while the president was at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey.”

Trump—who has accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of conducting a politically motivated “witch hunt” and roughly rifling through his family’s possessions—claimed on Monday that the government “stole my three Passports,” in a post on Truth Social, the online platform he founded.

By late Monday, the Justice Department had contacted Trump’s legal team to retrieve the three passports—two of them expired and the third an active diplomatic passport, according to one of the former president’s lawyers, Evan Corcoran, and a spokesman for the department.

In a statement late Monday, the F.B.I. said that it “follows search and seizure procedures ordered by courts; then, returns items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purposes.”

Garland agreed last week to release the warrant used to search Trump’s private club, but has resisted attempts to make public the underlying affidavit—a far more sensitive document that should contain, among other things, the reasons prosecutors believe there was probable cause that evidence of a crime could be found at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

The investigation into the mishandling of government documents—while known for months—had not been considered to be as significant as the department’s sprawling investigation into the attack on the Capitol, which has been moving closer to Trump and his top advisers.

Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched Trump’s residence last week as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public on Friday.

At least one lawyer for Trump signed a written statement in June asserting that all material marked as classified and held in boxes in a storage area at Mar-a-Lago had been returned to the government, four people with knowledge of the document said.

Even as the former president counterattacked, new details emerged of how Trump and his inner circle flouted the norms, and possibly the laws, governing their handling of government records.

According to two people with knowledge of the situation, Trump and his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the man who oversaw presidential records in the chaotic closing days of the administration, failed to organize an effort to collect, box, and deliver materials to the National Archives — as prior presidents former Vice President Mike Pence, did.

Instead, they often focused on settling political grievances and personal grudges, they said.

In the weeks leading up to Trump’s departure from the White House, officials discussed what to do about material that he had at various points taken up to the residence and that needed to be properly stored and returned.

By then, the staff secretary, Derek Lyons, known for trying to keep systems in place, had left the administration. Meadows said he would address such issues, according to a senior administration official.

As Mr. Trump sought to hold on to power, two of Pence’s senior aides—Marc Short, his chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, his counsel—indexed and boxed all of his government papers, according to three former officials with knowledge of the work.

Jacob spent the bulk of his final few days in government preparing the final boxes, with the goal of ensuring that Mr. Pence left office without a single paper that did not belong to him, one of the officials said.

Research contact: @nytimes

‘We’re not releasing a copy of the warrant’: Trump allies ‘circling the wagons’ after Mar-A-Lago search

August 11, 2022

Former President Donald Trump has no plans to release a copy of the search warrant that FBI agents obtained for his residence at Mar-A-Lago, reports Raw Story.

To do so, would expose the reasons for the search—and that is not something that the former president is willing to do.

Trump is free to share a copy of the warrant to clear up confusion about what investigators were looking for, but a source close to the president told NBC News that it’s the DOJ‘s responsibility to notify the public, but not Trump’s.

“No, we’re not releasing a copy of the warrant,” the source said, adding that there was a “complete circling of the wagons” by the Republican Party around the former president.

Trump’s legal team had been in discussions with the Justice Department as recently as early June about classified records stored at Mar-A-Lago, and his attorney Christina Bobb said the FBI removed about a dozen boxes from a basement storage area.

Bobb also said the search warrant indicated they were investigating possible violations of laws covering the handling of classified material and the Presidential Records Act.

She said DOJ officials said they did not believe the storage unit was properly secured, but she said Trump officials added a padlock to the door that FBI agents later broke when they executed the search warrant.

Trump had already returned 15 boxes of documents that the National Archives and Records Administration said had been improperly removed from the White House at the end of his presidency.

Research contact: @RawStory

January 6 Panel lays out Trump’s dangerous ‘call to arms’

July 14, 2022

As the January 6 committee’s explosive string of televised hearings resumed on Tuesday, July 12, the panel focused on “three rings” of the insurrection: Former President Donald Trump’s inside pressure campaign to persuade his vice president to overturn the electoral votes; the coordination between right-wing extremist groups to violently sack the Capitol; and the force of a MAGA crowd willing to march alongside them, reports The Daily Beast.

“All of these efforts would converge and explode on January 6th,” Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), a member of the congressional panel, said Tuesday.

Raskin added that “the problem of politicians whipping up crowds” was “the oldest domestic enemy of constitutional democracy in America.”

But Trump’s decision to order his angry followers to march on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 wasn’t spontaneous. The committee on Tuesday afternoon revealed a draft tweet that Trump wrote, but never sent, telling people, “Please arrive early, massive crowds expected, March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!”

The committee also disclosed White House call logs that showed Trump twice spoke to right-wing provocateur Steve Bannon on the morning of January 5 shortly before Bannon took to his podcast to announce, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It’s all converging, and we’re on the point of attack.”

But the biggest bombshell of the hearing came in its final seconds, when Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), the committee’s co-chair, revealed that Trump recently tried to reach an undisclosed witness who has yet to testify. The matter, Cheney said, was referred by the committee to the Department of Justice, after the witness—who did not pick up the phone and has not been identified—reported it to his or her attorney.

The revelation is an obvious warning to stop Trump and his associates from further intimidating insiders who are willing to speak to investigators—and is a shot across the bow with the threat of criminal charges for witness tampering. A Trump spokesperson and his attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

So far, the Republican Party has lambasted these congressional hearings as a proxy attack on the former president. But the committee’s seventh hearing is already showing something that goes well beyond politics: the direct connection between a president who refused to leave office and armed insurrectionists who played a pivotal role in his attempt to interrupt the transfer of power.

At least three groups with ties to fascists and white supremacists—the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and the Proud Boys—served as bodyguards to Trump associates in the run-up to the insurrection. They also played pivotal roles in pushing past police lines on January 6, 2021.

The chairman of the congressional panel, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), started the hearing by criticizing Trump’s refusal to concede in the weeks after the 2020 election and his role in the nation’s capital that day. “He seized on the anger he had already stoked among his … supporters. He didn’t wave them off. He urged them on.”

“Donald Trump summoned a mob to Washington, D.C., and ultimately spurred that mob to wage a violent attack on our democracy.”

On Tuesday, the committee also revealed that Trump went out of his way to insert menacing references to Mike Pence, the vice president whom he felt betrayed him.

An initial draft of his speech at the Ellipse park south of the White House on January 6 made no reference to Pence. White House records show that an angry reference to Pence was added after a chat that morning between Trump and his hardline rightwing political adviser, Stephen Miller.

That reference was quickly cut by speechwriters who knew better. But then Pence told Trump one final time that he was not willing to break with tradition—and violate the law—by abusing his role as president of the Senate and refusing to officially count electoral ballots. Shortly thereafter, special assistant to the president Robert Gabriel Jr. wrote an email to staff: “REINSERT THE MIKE PENCE LINES.”

By sorting through White House records, the committee also spotted how Trump ad-libbed and turned that single Pence reference into a total of eight. He took one reference to marching on the Capitol and repeated it three more times. His additions included, “Let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” and, “We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not gonna have a country anymore.”

Cheney, the top Republican on the committee, noted that Trump should have known better than to continue to espouse conspiracy theories about the election results: “Donald Trump is a 76-year-old man,” she said. “He is not an impressionable child.”

Providing further proof that the ex-commander in chief should have called it quits before the day of the insurrection, the panel played clips of interviews with Trump’s labor secretary, Eugene Scalia, and his former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, in which they both stated that Trump should have conceded when presented with the overwhelming evidence that he lost to Joe Biden in 2020.

Even Trump’s own digital guru, Brad Parscale, laid the blame for the violence at his boss’s feet. He and spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, who both worked on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign together, texted each other while the pepper spray was still being aired out of the Capitol building the evening of the assault.

“This is about Trump pushing for uncertainty in our country. A sitting president asking for civil war. This week I feel guilty for helping him win,” Parscale wrote to Pierson, according to texts acquired by the committee.

“You did what you felt right at the time and therefore it was right,” Pierson responded.

“Yeah. But a woman is dead,” Parscale said, referring to Ashli Babbitt, who was shot to death by a police officer as she and other protestors tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby on their way to the House of Representatives Chamber.

Parscale further clarified that he thought that the rioters entered the Capitol building—and that Babbit was dead—because of the former president’s “rhetoric.”

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Prosecutors say Steve Bannon still should face trial

July 12, 2022

The Justice Department has informed a federal judge that Steve Bannon’s last-minute offer to testify to the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021attack on the Capitol will not enable the former strategist for then-President Donald Trump to avoid trial for defying the committee’s subpoena seeking testimony and documents, reports The Wall Street Journal.

 Bannon told the committee over the weekend that he was willing to testify—preferably at a public hearing. His trial is set to begin July 18 on two counts of criminal contempt.

 He initially refused to comply with the subpoena from the January 6 committee last October. “The Defendant’s last-minute efforts to testify, almost nine months after his default—he has still made no effort to produce records—are irrelevant to whether he willfully refused to comply in October 2021 with the Select Committee’s subpoena,” prosecutors said in a filing on Monday, July 11.

 The government’s filing sought to block Bannon’s defense team from telling jurors about his last-minute willingness to testify.

 Bannon said he was now willing to testify after Trump said he would waive any privilege claim—citing what the former president called unfair treatment of his former senior aide.

 Prosecutors said that Trump “never invoked executive privilege over any particular information or materials,” and that Mr. Bannon’s privilege claim never justified total noncompliance with the subpoena.

 The prosecutors’ filing came ahead of a court hearing Monday, which had been  previously scheduled to discuss a request by Bannon to delay his trial until October and other issues in the case. U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, is overseeing the case in Washington, D.C.

 Bannon’s lawyers have argued that news coverage of the committee’s hearings could taint the jury pool and deprive him of a fair trial.

 “Select committee members have made inflammatory remarks about the culpability of President Trump and his closest advisers, including Mr. Bannon, and have broadcast to millions of people their purported ‘findings’ on issues that may prejudice the minds of jurors in this case,” Bannon’s lawyers wrote in a June 29 court filing.

 Research contact: @WSJ