Checking Robert Mueller

The sentencing judge brings to light dodgy FBI conduct in the Mike Flynn case.

Robert Mueller has operated for 19 months as a law unto himself, reminding us of the awesome and destructive powers of special counsels. About the only possible check on Mr. Mueller is a judge who is wise to the tricks of prosecutors and investigators. Good news: That’s what we got this week.

.. The agents (including the infamous Peter Strzok) showed up within two hours. They had already decided not to inform Mr. Flynn that they had transcripts of his conversations or give him the standard warning against lying to the FBI. They wanted him “relaxed” and “unguarded.” Former Director James Comey this weekend bragged on MSNBC that he would never have “gotten away” with such a move in a more “organized” administration.

.. The whole thing stinks of entrapment, though the curious question was how the Flynn defense team got the details. The court filing refers to a McCabe memo written the day of the 2017 meeting, as well as an FBI summary—known as a 302—of the Flynn interview. These are among documents congressional Republicans have been fighting to obtain for more than a year, only to be stonewalled by the Justice Department. Now we know why the department didn’t want them public.

.. They have come to light thanks to a man who knows well how men like Messrs. Mueller and Comey operate: Judge Sullivan. He sits on the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, and as he wrote for the Journal last year, he got a “wake-up call” in 2008 while overseeing the trial of then-Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. Judge Sullivan ultimately assigned a lawyer to investigate Justice Department misconduct.
.. The investigator’s report found prosecutors had engaged in deliberate and repeated ethical violations, withholding key evidence from the defense. It also excoriated the FBI for failing to write up 302s and for omitting key facts from those it did write. The head of the FBI was Mr. Mueller.
.. Judge Sullivan has since made it his practice to begin every case with a Brady order, which reminds prosecutors of their constitutional obligation to provide the defense with any exculpatory evidence. On Dec. 12, 2017, days after being assigned the Flynn case, Judge Sullivan issued such an order, instructing Mr. Mueller’s team to turn over “any evidence in its possession that is favorable to defendant and material either to defendant’s guilt or punishment.” Had any other judge drawn the case, we likely would never have seen these details of the FBI’s behavior.

It’s clear that something has concerned the judge—who likely sees obvious parallels to the Stevens case. The media was predicting a quick ruling in the Flynn case. Instead, Judge Sullivan issued new orders Wednesday, demanding to see for himself the McCabe memo and the Flynn 302. He also ordered the special counsel to hand over by Friday any other documents relevant to the Flynn-FBI meeting.

.. Given his history with the FBI, the judge may also have some questions about the curious date on the Flynn 302—Aug. 22, 2017, seven months after the interview. Texts from Mr. Strzok and testimony from Mr. Comey both suggest the 302 was written long before then. Was the 302 edited in the interim? If so, by whom, and at whose direction? FBI officials initially testified to Congress that the agents did not think Mr. Flynn had lied.

Judges have the ability to reject plea deals and require a prosecutor to make a case at trial. The criminal-justice system isn’t only about holding defendants accountable; trials also provide oversight of investigators and their tactics. And judges are not obliged to follow prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations.

No one knows how Judge Sullivan will rule. His reputation is for being no-nonsense, a straight shooter, an advocate of government transparency. Whatever the outcome, he has done the nation a favor by using his Brady order to hold prosecutors to some account and allow the country a glimpse at how federal law enforcement operates. Which is the very least the country can expect.

 

Why Trump will look back fondly on the Mueller probe

It’s possible-to-likely that sometime next year, President Trump will look back on the Mueller probe with yearning and nostalgia — given what’s about to happen to his administration in the newly Democratic House of Representatives.

.. Of these 27 committees, by my count, 22 deal with substantive matters in which the Democrats have already expressed displeasure with, or horror at, or concern over, the behavior of the Trump administration.

Let’s go through a few of them, shall we? The House Armed Services Committee deals with the US military and the Pentagon. Questions have been raised about the politicized nature of the president’s deployment of troops to the US border to protect the nation from the migrant caravan.

I bet you haven’t heard of Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, who will chair the committee. But you will. Oh, yes, you will — when he hauls Defense Secretary Jim Mattis into a hearing to go over how much the mission cost and who ordered it and what the purpose was and whether Mattis himself agreed with the idea.

He will be on the front pages of every newspaper and his hearing will be carried live on the cable news channels.

How about the House Foreign Affairs Committee? New York’s own Eliot Engel will be chairing that one, and you can bet Engel will be interested in hearing from State Department officials about the goings-on behind the scenes between Saudi Arabia and the United States, including questions about the commingling of American foreign policy with Trump family business interests.

Oh, and let’s not forget the House Judiciary Committee, shall we? My congressman, Jerry Nadler, will be in charge of that one. And he’s already vowed to call Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as his first witness, over Whitaker’s “expressed hostility” to Mueller and the threat he represents to the “integrity of that investigation.”

But you can bet Nadler won’t stop with Whitaker. He’ll aim for Trump and those closest to him. He wants to look into Russian collusion as a possible preliminary to impeachment proceedings against the president.

Even a boring committee like Natural Resources has a fat target: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has had two different matters referred by the department’s inspector general for possible criminal prosecution.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned Ivanka’s e-mails. Or Jared Kushner’s family deals in China. Or about a hundred other controversial topics. And I can’t mention things that haven’t happened yet — weird new developments of the sort the Trump administration seems to generate every week and will certainly continue to generate in 2019.

Mueller’s probe has been mostly very quiet, except when indictments are issued and trials are conducted. It has also been largely confined to a single subject area. Most of the matters I’m talking about here will be discussed loudly and without restraint by those elected officials who will feel particularly emboldened by the midterm election results.

Those results not only showed a Democratic gain of as many as 40 seats in the House, but a national popular-vote margin of more than eight points over the Republicans in an off-year in which Democrats received nearly as many votes collectively as Donald Trump scored in 2016.

Mayor Accused of Trying to Intimidate Investigations Commissioner

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his senior staff repeatedly tried to pressure the commissioner of New York City’s top watchdog agency into not releasing critical reports about his administration, the commissioner said Monday.

Days after being fired from his job as the head of the Department of Investigation, Mark Peters said in a letter to the City Council that the mayor and at least two deputy mayors upbraided him on several occasions during his time in the post, accusing him of disloyalty and questioning whether he was “still a friend” to Mr. de Blasio.

Each rebuke, Mr. Peters said, came right before his agency released reports critical of the administration, including a November 2017 report on the city failing to conduct proper lead inspections at its public-housing developments and an April 2017 report about the misuse of city-owned cars by top brass at the Department of Correction.

“On several occasions the mayor and his most senior staff have expressed visible anger at me over certain DOI investigations,” Mr. Peters said in the letter. “They have requested that I not issue certain reports, and when I declined to do so they took actions to demonstrate their anger in ways that were clearly designed to be intimidating.”

Mr. Peters said the intimidation turned to punishment on Friday, when Mr. de Blasio fired him as commissioner and replaced him with Margaret Garnett, New York’s executive deputy attorney general for criminal justice and a former federal prosecutor. His dismissal from the position he had held since 2014 was a way to silence him and thwart coming investigations that pertain to the mayor and his senior staff, according to the letter.

.. Under city rules, he was allowed to provide a public response to his firing.

.. In firing Mr. Peters, the mayor cited an independent probe’s determination that Mr. Peters abused his power earlier this year when he tried to absorb an investigative agency for the city’s Education Department into the DOI. Two people whom Mr. Peters fired during that reconfiguration filed whistleblower claims.

Following the release of the independent probe’s findings last month, Mr. Peters issued a public apology and admitted his actions were wrong.

Prosecutor says Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered, but fate of body still a mystery

Since Mojeb arrived in Turkey on Monday, “Saudi officials seemed primarily interested in finding out what evidence the Turkish authorities had against the perpetrators,”

.. Fidan said Khashoggi was “strangled as soon as he entered the consulate” in line with “premeditated plans.” The body, “after being strangled, was subsequently destroyed by being dismembered, once again confirming the planning of the murder,” Fidan said.

The Turkish statement used the word “bogulmak,” which can also mean suffocation.

.. The Turkish government says it has an audio recording of what transpired inside the mission. Although Turkish officials have played the audio for CIA officials, including Director Gina Haspel, Turkish officials have not released the audio to the public.

.. Saudi Arabia has provided shifting explanations about what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, contributing columnist to The Washington Post and critic of the Saudi leadership, including the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. For more than two weeks, Saudi authorities repeatedly denied any knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts, then abruptly changed their account, blaming the killing on agents acting outside the Saudi government’s authority.

Turkish investigators initially focused their search for Khashoggi’s body in two wooded areas outside Istanbul, guided in part by surveillance footage that Turkish authorities said showed Saudi diplomatic vehicles apparently scouting Belgrad Forest the night before the journalist was killed.

.. Last week, investigators suspended the search, focusing instead on the consulate’s grounds and the consul general’s residence. The search focused in particular on a well on consular property, where the assailants could have disposed of Khashoggi’s dissolved remains, the first senior Turkish official said.

.. Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have repeatedly complained that Saudi Arabia is hampering the investigation by refusing to provide critical pieces of information, including the location of Khashoggi’s body.

.. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that his government would take “necessary measures” against those responsible for the journalist’s death.

“So long as those who are responsible and the circumstances around the killing are not made public, released and evaluated, we will go on demanding the truth,” he said.