CAFE Brief 06/04: Barr’s CBS News interview, Flynn’s calls, and the tech antitrust probes

CAFE Brief 06/04: Barr’s CBS News interview, Flynn’s calls, and the tech antitrust probes

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On the latest episode of CAFE Insider Podcast, Preet Bharara and Anne Milgram make sense of Bill Barr’s CBS News interview, Trump’s allegations of “treason,” the 2020 Census court case, and more. A sample from the episode is available in the Stay Tuned feed. To listen to their full conversation, join the CAFE Insider community. Thank you for supporting our work!

June 4th, 2019

Attorney General Bill Barr makes waves with his CBS News interview; the Justice Department refuses to make Flynn’s call with the Russian Ambassador public; and the House Judiciary Committee is launching an antitrust investigation into tech giants. Let’s dive in!

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 18: Former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) and his wife Lori Andrade arrive at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse before he is sentenced in U.S. District Court for lying to the FBI about his communication with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak December 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has recommended no prison time for Flynn due to his cooperation with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Barr’s interview makes waves

In his first network news interview as Attorney General last week, Barr told Jan Crawford of CBS News that after “analyz[ing] the law and the facts” of Mueller’s investigation, he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined that “many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.” Barr continued that they “didn’t agree with the legal analysis” in Mueller’s report because it “did not reflect the views of the Department…so [they] applied what [they] thought was the right law but then [they] didn’t rely on that.”

Barr’s latest comments appear to contradict what he said at his April 18 press conference on the release of the Mueller report: “[W]e accepted the Special Counsel’s legal framework for purposes of our analysis and evaluated the evidence as presented by the Special Counsel in reaching our conclusion.”

Barr has yet to fully explain why he concluded Mueller’s 11 documented instances of Trump interfering with the investigation did not amount to the crime of obstruction of justice. Attorney David Lurie writes in Just Security that Barr’s “vague accounts of [his analysis] to date are strikingly incomplete, and sometimes highly implausible.”

Instead, we are left to speculate what the Attorney General regards as the “right law”, and why more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors have said that the conduct described in the Mueller Report would “result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”

Flynn’s calls

In a court filing on Friday, the Justice Department declined to comply with U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release transcripts of intercepted calls between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Prosecutors argued that the transcripts did not have to be released because they were not used “to establish Flynn’s guilt or determine a recommendation for his sentencing.”

The government’s decision not to file a document under seal explaining why the transcript shouldn’t become public is “puzzling,” according to former SDNY prosecutor Mimi Rocah who told The Washington Post: “While it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have legitimate motives, the disrespectful and atypical nature of their action makes me suspicious.”

The Justice Department did release a complete transcript of the voicemail Trump’s attorney John Dowd left for Flynn’s attorney Rob Kelner on November 22, 2017. In the voicemail—left after Flynn withdrew from a joint defense agreement with Trump—Dowd asks Kelner for a “heads up” in the event Flynn “implicates the President” in the information he provides to Mueller’s team. Dowd also reminds Kelner of the President’s “feelings” toward Flynn, which Mueller interpreted in his report as an attempt “to affect Flynn’s decision to cooperate” with his investigation.

House antitrust investigation

The House Judiciary Committee announced on Monday that the Antitrust Subcommittee is launching a bipartisan “top-to-bottom” investigation into the market power held by major tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Committee Chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the probe is warranted given the “growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will lead the investigation, expects it to result in a report recommending new policies and possibly new laws.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice are also reportedly set to conduct antitrust probes of the tech giants. The investigations “could yield significant changes to how the companies do business,” according to Bloomberg News, and “the prospect of aggressive actions in the future, like a lawsuit to break up a company, or a law limiting the reach of the companies,” according to the New York Times.

This photograph taken on September 28, 2017, shows a smartphone being operated in front of GAFA logos (acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon web giants) as background in Hédé-Bazouges, western France. / AFP PHOTO / Damien MEYER (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)

Rider:

  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-C.A.) sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats requesting that Coats give Congress any documents the Intelligence Community provides to Barr and that he notify lawmakers before declassifying any information related to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign.
  • Andrew Miller, a former aide to Roger Stone, testified for two hours before a grand jury on Friday about his relationship with Stone, Stone’s contacts with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and the 2016 Republican National Convention.
  • On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson “poked holes in nearly every argument” Roger Stone’s lawyers made for dismissing his indictment for lying to Congress.
  • On June 10, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Mueller’s findings with expert witnesses, including John W. Dean, White House Counsel to Richard Nixon. The following day, the full House will vote on holding Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for defying congressional subpoenas.
  • George Nader, a Trump transition figure and witness in Mueller’s investigation, was arrested on child-pornography charges on Monday stemming from a secret criminal complaint made by EDVA prosecutors on January 17, 2018.
  • Federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and the political fundraising committee Trump Victory for records relating to Li “Cindy” Yang, Republican donor and owner of the Florida massage parlor where billionaire Robert Kraft was caught allegedly soliciting prostitution earlier this year.

Further reading:

  • “Court accelerates appeal in Trump bank records case,” CNN, 5/31/19
  • “Assange won’t face charges over role in devastating CIA leak,” Politico, 6/2/2019
  • “Emmet Flood, White House lawyer brought on to help navigate Russia investigation, to depart June 14, Trump says,” The Washington Post, 6/1/2019
  • “Elizabeth Warren wants Congress to ensure presidents can be indicted,” The New York Times, 5/31/2019
  • “What two crucial words in the Constitution actually mean,” The Atlantic, 6/2/2019
  • “A ‘Bridge’ to China, and Her Family’s Business, in the Trump cabinet,” The New York Times, 6/2/2019
  • “It’s time to reform the Special-Counsel rules—again,” Bob Bauer, The Atlantic, 6/1/19

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team

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