Patterico's Pontifications


“Unmasking” Is Routine, and the Effort to Portray It As Sinister Is Very Stupid Propaganda

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:20 pm

The utterly desperate attempts to create some kind of narrative that Joe Biden is involved in shenanigans has reached a new level of absurdity with this “unmasking” nonsense. Anyone who buys into it is not a serious person.

Do you guys realize how routine this is?

Government rules intended to minimize invasions of Americans’ privacy in intelligence work generally require “masking,” or obscuring, Americans’ identities and information about them in reports based on foreign intelligence surveillance.

But the rules also permit recipients of such reports to request an unmasking if the identity is necessary to understand the information, and that step is routine: The National Security Agency handled about 10,000 unmasking requests in 2019 and nearly 17,000 in 2018.

Over 10,000 unmasking requests a year. And that’s during the Trump administration.

If you’re uninformed enough to be taken in by the propaganda suggesting that the mere act of asking for the “unmasking” of someone (whose identity you do not know by definition which is why you are asking) is somehow sinister, you must think the Trump administration is a hotbed of corruption. (Which it is, but this is not evidence of that. At all.)

If you’re arguing that it was improper to make a request to unmask someone who turned out to be Flynn with respect to the Kislyak call, you’re simply not arguing in good faith. Full stop.

If you’re arguing that it was improper to make a request to unmask someone who turned out to be Flynn with respect to something else, you do realize all it means is that there is other intelligence out there besides the Kislyak call which would raise the eyebrows of those in the IC. And it turns out that is the case for Flynn, who (for example) was taking money from Turkey to represent their interests without registering as a foreign agent, and lying about it … and don’t even get me started on that wacky kidnapping plot.

Honestly, the only truly troubling thing here is the compiling of the list of those who submitted an unmasking request:

“It’s not at all surprising that individuals in official positions related to U.S.-Russia relations would want to know what was behind intelligence reports,” said Mr. [Douglas E.] Lute [the former ambassador to NATO, who was on the list], who declined to discuss the classified intelligence he saw. “What is surprising is that our acting director of national intelligence would be moved to compile and release this list of officials — most with longstanding, distinguished public service careers — apparently to fuel a partisan conspiracy theory.”

Well, in truth, it’s less surprising given the identity of the partisan hack who compiled the list. But in a larger sense, putting that aside …

Yup. What garbage. This administration is incredibly corrupt and dishonest. The sweaty air of despair is palpable.

Sen. Richard Burr To Step Aside As Chairman of Intelligence Committee While Stock Sales Investigated

Filed under: General — Dana @ 2:19 pm

[guest post by Dana]

As part of an inquiry into the coincidental timing of North Carolina’s Sen. Burr unloading stocks a week ahead of the market’s downward slide because of the pandemic, the FBI served his lawyer a with a search warrant, resulting in Burr handing over his cell phone:

Federal law enforcement has seized Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr’s cellphone in a probe of his stock sales…Burr, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has already complied with an associated warrant for his cellphone records as the Justice Department investigates whether his actions constitute insider trading. The senator, along with his brother-in-law, dumped millions of dollars in stock after a closed-door Senate briefing on the coronavirus in February. Though he told the public the virus would not cause much harm, privately he warned audiences that the effects would be disastrous. The sales shielded him from millions of dollars in potential losses.


The seizure of Burr’s phone on Wednesday represents a new phase in a federal investigation into Burr’s sale on Feb. 13 of stock worth $630,000 to $1.7 million, a sizable portion of the senator’s portfolio.

The one-day sale involved 33 individual trades, and occurred just a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a historic all-time closing high of 29,551.42.

One week later, on Feb. 20 markets began a steep slide over fears that the coronavirus would paralyze the global economy. In the weeks following Burr’s sale, the Dow lost 30% of its value, but it has since recovered some of those losses.

As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr was given access to classified intelligence reports in January and early February that contained dire warnings about the coronavirus, according to The Washington Post, which reported on the intelligence assessments.

After years of work, Burr is still finalizing his committee’s bipartisan report on the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

This morning, it was announced that Burr will step down as Intelligence Committee Chairman, effective this Friday:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Thursday that Burr “contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to step aside as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the pendency of the investigation.”

After McConnell made his announcement, Burr spoke to reporters, saying that he was stepping away from his position as intelligence chair because:

“this is a distraction to the hard work of the committee and the members and I think the security of the country is too important to have any distractions.”

Burr said he has been cooperating with investigators “since the beginning” and will let the investigation play out. Burr has given no thought to resigning from the Senate, he said, and he does not believe he exercised poor judgment with his stock trades. He’ll remain a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Burr also told McClatchy today:

You have to go with what they’ve said publicly. I don’t talk about the investigation. I’m going to let it play out.

When it had been revealed that Burr had given a blunt warning about COVID-19 on Feb. 27 at a private event and did not issue a similar warning to the public, and when the revelation about his stock transaction was made known, polling showed that a majority of South Carolinians wanted him to step down at the time:

50% of voters in the state think Burr should resign to 24% who think he should remain in office. Democrats (63/15) and independents (53/18) both think he should resign by wide margins but what might be most surprising is that even Republicans (31/38) only narrowly say Burr doesn’t need to resign.

Only 22% of voters approve of the job Burr’s doing to 54% who disapprove. When PPP last polled on him in June he had a 32/36 approval spread- since then his disapproval is up 18 points and his approval has dropped by 10 points.

When voters are informed later in the poll about his 1.7 million dollars in stock sales, 69% say that gives them ‘very serious’ concerns about him and support for his resignation goes up to 60%, with 22% opposed.

Additionally, other senators involved in coincidentally-timed stock transactions have also been approached by law enforcement. Sen. Diane Feinstein was recently questioned about her husband’s stock transactions at the end of January:

The senior California senator reported some stock sales of a biotech company on Jan. 31, when COVID-19 was waging in China and other countries but had not yet hit the United States or its economy in force. Her office said at the time that her husband made the sales and that her assets have been in a blind trust since she first came to the Senate in 1992.

Tom Mentzer, Feinstein’s communications director, said Feinstein last month “was asked some basic questions by law enforcement about her husband’s stock transactions,” and that he believes all the senators who were reported to have engaged in suspicious stock transactions related to coronavirus were approached to do the same…“She was happy to voluntarily answer those questions to set the record straight and provided additional documents to show she had no involvement in her husband’s transactions. There have been no follow up actions on this issue.”

Judge Sullivan Will Be Closely Examining the Dishonesty of the Government’s Dismissal Motion

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:29 am

There were a lot of developments yesterday in the Flynn case, making it difficult to write about the recent Supreme Court arguments (short answer: Trump loses in New York, gets at best a partial and meaningless win with respect to Congress) or the FBI search warrant served on Richard Burr (related to his alleged insider trading on classified COVID information). We knew that Judge Sullivan was calling for amicus briefs, but yesterday he appointed, as an advocate against the Government’s position, a retired judge who recently co-wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “The Flynn case isn’t over until the judge says it’s over.” And the order said something else, too:

Wow. I do not see sanctions for perjury for Flynn arising out of what has happened so far, by the way. (If he’s questioned again under oath, all bets are off.)

But with the publication of a story last night in the New York Times, Judge Sullivan is, I predict, about to go apoplectic.

A key former F.B.I. official cast doubt on the Justice Department’s case for dropping a criminal charge against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn during an interview with investigators last week, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Department officials reviewing the Flynn case interviewed Bill Priestap, the former head of F.B.I. counterintelligence, two days before making their extraordinary request to drop the case to Judge Emmet G. Sullivan. They did not tell Judge Sullivan about Mr. Priestap’s interview. A Justice Department official said that they were in the process of writing up a report on the interview and that it would soon be filed with the court.

Let’s remind everyone what these notes were about. I wrote about them in this post, so for a full explanation go there. In short, Priestap attended a pre-interview meeting with Andrew McCabe and Jim Comey, and wrote: “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired? If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ & have them decide. Or, if he initially lies, then we present him [redacted] & he admits it, document for DOJ, & let them decide how to address it.” This was trumpeted by the Flynndication crowd as proof that McCabe and Comey had a goal of getting Flynn fired. I said previously that this was nonsense:

[I]t’s obvious that Priestap is asking a rhetorical question here. He is contrasting two possible courses of action: a) telling Flynn what they have on him, or b) hiding it from him. He is arguing against the latter action, and invoking what he clearly thinks is an obviously improper goal (although as I will argue below I’m not sure it’s actually improper!) as a rhetorical move to show that the proposed course of action that he disagrees with is wrong. But the fact that Comey and McCabe choose the latter course of action is not an admission that getting Flynn fired is their goal.

Now I know the reaction of Trumpists is going to be: Priestap got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Of course he’s going to lie and say it was nothing. That’s fine, but it’s not what he says. If the Government cited his notes in support of one scenario, and knew that he was offering an alternate explanation, and didn’t tell the judge that, the judge is going to be very, very unhappy.

And they did cite his notes. From the Government’s motion:

Priestap 1

Priestap 2

The context here is the Government’s extremely pro-defense recitation of the lead-up to the interview. The notes are presented as evidence in support of a larger narrative that the FBI was engaged in a rogue effort to set Flynn up. And yet, per the New York Times:

Mr. Priestap told the prosecutors reviewing the case … that F.B.I. officials were trying to do the right thing in questioning Mr. Flynn and that he knew of no effort to set him up. Media reports about his notes misconstrued them, he said, according to the people familiar with the investigation.

The department’s decision to exclude mention of Mr. Priestap’s interview in the motion could trouble Judge Sullivan, who signaled late on Tuesday that he was skeptical of the department’s arguments.

Ya think?

This is not the only evidence of dishonesty in the motion. Mary McCord (as I noted here) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times the other day disputing the way that the Government cited her interview as evidence in support of its dismissal motion. Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, the Government’s motion repeatedly cites McCord’s statements (Exhibit 3) in numerous places at pages 14-17 of its brief, all in support of the argument that the statements were not material, in a brief in which (contrary to what you may have read elsewhere) the Government argues that the interview of Flynn was not justified: “Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said.” McCord explains that her words were used to argue that the interview was unjustified and Flynn’s lies immaterial, when she in fact believes the opposite:

The Barr-Shea motion to dismiss refers to my descriptions of the F.B.I.’s justification for not wanting to notify the new administration about the potential Flynn compromise as “vacillating from the potential compromise of a ‘counterintelligence’ investigation to the protection of a purported ‘criminal’ investigation.” But that “vacillation” has no bearing on whether the F.B.I. was justified in engaging in a voluntary interview with Mr. Flynn. It has no bearing on whether Mr. Flynn’s lies to the F.B.I. were material to its investigation into any links or coordination between Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. … The materiality is obvious.

This is a pattern. The Government is repeatedly taking the words of witnesses and twisting them to support a conclusion with which those witnesses strongly disagree.

And the Government is not telling the judge any of this.

I don’t think Judge Sullivan is going to be pleased by any of this.

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