The mostly unredacted “scope memo” for the Mueller investigation, long sought for public release, was finally published on 6 May 2020. This is the memo signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on 2 August 2017, laying out in detail the scope of the Mueller “investigation,” for which Robert Mueller had been appointed as special counsel in May 2017.
Its public release has to mean that more concrete moves (e.g., indictments) by Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham are very near. That’s because it’s awful.
In the scope memo, the word “investigation” belongs in scare quotes at the very least. As a precise term used in law enforcement, it doesn’t even belong in the same Zip code as the Mueller special counsel, which clearly met no criteria for justice activities, whether criminal or counterintelligence.
The scope memo clarifies that longstanding worries about conflating the two disciplines in the Mueller operation are resolved. Conflation was not really at issue; i.e., the hazards of treating an essentially criminal inquiry as if it were the counterintelligence probe Mueller was ostensibly charged with. It was worse than that, albeit cleaner. In fact, no rigorous standard for either form of FBI activity was adhered to.
The memo may be reviewed here. In this initial treatment, I will only make a very few points. The first may be the most appalling, but each reader will decide that for him or herself. It is simply this: the scope memo shows in black and white that the Mueller operation was not appointed to investigate crimes for which there was evidence.
But that’s not a statement that it was about counterintelligence. It wasn’t. Counterintelligence would have been about looking for what Russians were doing.
Show me the man, I’ll find you the crime
The Mueller operation was appointed to look for crimes – things to harass and impoverish and weaponize the law against named American citizens over. Crimes for which there was no apparent evidence — no predicate — because most of them couldn’t even be named or identified in the scope memo.
Here are the elements of the scope memo in screen captures from the document:
Notice that for Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos, there are no specific crimes alluded to at all. No evidence is adduced that any crimes occurred. The reference is to “allegations” that they may have committed crimes in the situations described in the memo.
For Flynn, although some specific crimes are outlined, the statutes violated are not mentioned. Nor is there any reference to the fact that Flynn had already been investigated by the FBI for at least two of those crimes (the first two), and there was documentation of the investigating agents’ conclusions that Flynn had not committed crimes. Those elements of evidence existed in the FBI case files and had been there since January 2017.
As for the latter two, it certainly did not require a special counsel to investigate the matters. Indeed, although I don’t have time to check tonight, I suspect the FBI already knew by August 2017 the exact status of each issue. There was no need for “investigation” at all.
It’s hard to find the right adjectives to condemn this with.
But the FBI already knew, on a number of counts, that there were no crimes
This leads naturally to the second point about the scope memo, which is that it proposed to look for crimes the Department of Justice and FBI already knew there was no reason to look for. In the cases of Page and Manafort, it’s clear that the “allegations” are sourced from the Steele dossier. But as a number of pundits and analysts pointed out on Wednesday, the FBI had known since it interviewed Steele’s primary sub-source (thought to be Russian-American businessman Sergei Millian), in January 2017, that the allegations in the dossier were bunk.
The Horowitz IG report confirmed that when it was released in 2019. But the public had gotten the first whiff of it in late January 2017. That’s when the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that the FBI had interviewed the individual in question (known as Source D and Source E in the dossier) that month, and the source had disavowed the claims reported in Steele’s series of memos.
This is what Senator Lindsey Graham and Fox host Sean Hannity were talking about during Hannity’s broadcast Wednesday evening.
Of course, the continuation of any activities based on the Steele dossier after that interview can hardly be considered justified. We know three of the FISA renewals against Page were obtained after that interview, which occurred before the 24th. Other FBI activities in 2017 are presumably implicated as well.
In Manafort’s case, the Mueller team did eventually find some tax and bank fraud crimes to hang on him. It is interesting to note that the FBI had had Manafort under investigation for years, for activities that started in 2006, without indicting him for those crimes. The crimes were all from well before the 2016 election cycle, and had nothing to do with the 2016 election or any form of “collusion” – not a defined crime under U.S. law – between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It is not fanciful in any way to conclude that the special counsel’s interest in Manafort’s crimes arose not from any zeal for lawful banking and tax handling, but solely from a desire to find leverage to intimidate Manafort with.
The Flynn case
In Flynn’s case, the Steele dossier was not the source of information used to justify looking for crimes. Flynn, as I have concluded before, represented a particularly knowledgeable threat to the Spygate instigators. Whatever it took, they wanted to destroy his credibility and otherwise neutralize him.
Flynn was a separate issue from Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos. He wasn’t just a way to get at Trump. He was a threat in his own right. He didn’t figure in the dossier at all, and the avenues of attack against him were the thinnest of pretexts, coming from several vectors, and seeming to intertwine with the others only through Stefan Halper and the UK connections of the Spygate principals (not Flynn).
That said, it remains noteworthy that the FBI already knew in January 2017 that there was no “there there” with at least two of the “crime”-search elements regarding Flynn in the August 2017 memo.
It’s not just that a case agent, probably Joe Pientka, was ready to close out the file on Flynn on 4 January 2017. It’s also that the day before he was interviewed by Pientka and Peter Strzok after the inauguration, an FBI source told the Washington Post that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by Flynn. That report was made on 23 January. The next day, Strzok and Pientka waylaid Flynn for the interview.
And in spite of the judgment (apparently Pientka’s) that Flynn had shown no deception in the interview, the FBI continued to keep the “investigation” open and manipulated the interview record. Mueller then came along and took maximum advantage of the “crime”-search charter in the scope memo, coming up with one process crime – a perjury charge.
These analytical comments flesh out the second point. The third and final point is what we can see in hindsight about the case of George Papadopoulos.
The Papadopoulos Caper
I believe in retrospect this one may tell us the most. It’s not worse than the others. It’s just more informative, because of one word, and the timeline we can pick out in hindsight.
The one word is “Israel.” Mueller was to “investigate” allegations that “George Papadopoulos committed a crime or crimes by acting as an unregistered agent of the government of Israel.”
Seeing it in print is not the first inkling we’ve had that there was an intent by the Spygate planners to bring an “Israel” angle into the Papadopoulos case. That came before, from Papadopoulos’s own account of being approached by the person he knew as the Israeli Charles Tawil, and being given $10,000 cash by Tawil while abroad in the summer of 2017, apparently in anticipation of Papadopoulos’s arrival back in the United States.
Papadopoulos suspected in 2017, at the end of this sequence, that he was supposed to be caught with the $10,000 on his arrival at Dulles Airport. He had forestalled such an event by depositing the cash for safe-keeping with an attorney in Greece. The FBI didn’t find the money on him, and as far as we know, it remains with the Greek attorney.
But the timeline on this is fascinating. It is bracketed by two major events that pretty much tell us all we need to know. The Papadopoulos timeline in the middle is simple, but damning.
Papadopoulos was introduced to Charles Tawil in March of 2017. According to Papadopoulos, he was contacted by Israeli activist David Ha’ivri, whom he had met during the Trump campaign, as the AIPAC conference was underway that month. Those dates in 2017 were 26-28 March (the conference is held in D.C. or the immediate environs). Ha’ivri, in the U.S. for the conference, said Tawil was anxious to meet Papadopulos, and the two of them – Ha’ivri and Tawil – traveled to Chicago to meet with him.
Later, in May of 2017, Papadopoulos was in Greece with his then-girlfriend (now wife) Simona Mangiante, and Tawil contacted him again, wanting to work with him (apparently in the oil and gas business, although Tawil later spoke of things that sounded like espionage). Papadopoulos doesn’t give specific dates for this sequence, but Tawil flew to Greece right away to meet with him – which Papadopoulos thought was odd – and it was during this time that Tawil got Papadopoulos to go meet him again in Tel Aviv, where Tawil handed Papadopoulos the $10,000 in cash in a hotel room. According to Papadopoulos, they flew to Greece the next day, which was 9 June 2017.
In the middle of June, Papadopoulos says he left the cash with a lawyer in Thessaloniki. He continued his vacation with Simona, and ultimately made his way home to the States on 27 July 2017. That was the day he was taken into custody at Dulles and put in detention in Alexandria, Virginia without any explanation of potential charges.
Papadopoulos recounts these events between pages 149 and 172 of his 2019 book Deep State Target (the hardbound edition).
The bracketing events are these. The scope memo was signed by Rosenstein on 2 August 2017, directing Mueller to “investigate allegations” that Papadopoulos was working as an unregistered agent for Israel.
Readers may interpret that, if they like, as meaning the FBI was Johnny-on-the-spot and knew that Papadopoulos, who had been in Israel a few weeks before, was up to some nefarious shenanigans. At this point, however, such an analysis can have zero credibility. But let’s weigh it against the other bracketing event.
That one took place in March 2017, between one and two weeks before Papadopoulos was contacted out of the blue about meeting Charles Tawil. I wrote about it in February. It was the fateful week of 13-17 March in which Congress pried the unredacted first FISA application on Page out of the DOJ – and it was passed by Senate staffer James Wolfe to his girlfriend, reporter Ali Watkins. In all, Wolfe was accused in the statement of offense in his criminal case of passing the material to four separate media outlets. (Recall that sundance at Conservative Treehouse picked up on the compromise of the FISA application to the media, documented with dates in a court filing from Wolfe’s federal case. There is a raft of links in my February 2020 article.)
Once Congress had seen the unredacted FISA application, even in limited distribution, the Spygate principals knew the whole operation was blown. Members of Congress might not fully understand what they were looking at in March 2017. But the Steele dossier had already been made public in January of 2017. And Devin Nunes, who forced the DOJ to give Congress a glimpse of the FISA application, was already on the scent of the vast “unmasking” operation that had been going on at the National Security Council.
It was only a matter of time until enough came out that two and two could be put together. As of today (i.e., with what we know at this point), the likelihood is extremely low that it was merely coincidence that Papadopoulos was contacted in a fresh attempt to dirty him up, so shortly after the DOJ had to surrender the FISA application. Instead, it walks and quacks like a reactive maneuver by the Spygate planners.
Note, later, that Tawil’s second approach to Papadopoulos appears to have occurred only days after Mueller received his special counsel appointment on 17 May 2017. The timing in both March and May is too convenient for coincidence. The scope memo’s telltale reference to investigating Papadopoulos as, improbably, an agent of Israel puts a bow on it.
The implication about Papadopoulos and Israel is ridiculous. But it fits perfectly if it was a plan to plant evidence around Papadopoulos in order to find him in the middle of it, and try to extort testimony from him. He was in the unfortunate position of being, at that point, a fish still wriggling on the FBI’s hook. It appears he was to be another insurance policy.
It is horrifying that the scope memo unleashed the Mueller team to look for crimes, instead of starting with the predicate of known, defined crimes and searching for the guilty.
It is appalling that the scope memo dispatched Mueller to look for crimes where the DOJ and FBI already knew there had been no crimes.
It is grotesque that the scope memo was written to vector the Mueller team onto a set-up of George Papadopoulos.
It is outrageous, let us remember, that at least four media outlets knew in March 2017 what was in the unredacted first FISA application, and several more probably knew within weeks – and yet they facilitated a vast hoax on the public by putting up story after story for the next three years serving the Spygate narrative, as if they did not know.
Media outlets, like the Spygate principals and members of the Mueller team, knew in August 2017 that the Mueller operation was an invitation to treat American citizens as Josef Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria treated the hapless victims of Soviet Communism. We’re going to run out of adjectives before this is all over.