Did Charles McGonigal sabotage the 2016 election?

The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee is pressing the Department of Justice for details about a former FBI agent who was indicted for working for a sanctioned Russian oligarch and laundering the proceeds.

Charles F. McGonigal retired as special agent in charge of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York office in 2018. McGonigal allegedly began cooperating with an agent of aluminum baron Oleg Deripaska while he was still working for the FBI. Deripaska is under indictment for allegedly evading sanctions and obstructing justice.

Dick Durbin raised urgent questions in his open letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. As Durbin noted, McGonigal was promoted to special agent in charge just before the FBI’s October 2016 announcement that it saw no ties between Trump and Russia.

Durbin is asking the questions that are on everyone’s mind:

Did McGonigal do anything to tip the scales of justice in favor of anyone he’s now linked to in the indictments? What roles did McGonigal play in the 2016 FBI’s Trump-Russia probe and the Mueller investigation? Is there any chance that McGonigal compromised sources, methods or evidence? How did one of the most elite counterintelligence operations not notice that one of its main guys was allegedly doing favors for a sanctioned Russian oligarch while he was still on the FBI payroll.

Deripaska’s history with the FBI is long and bizarre. The FBI has investigated Deripaska for links to Russian organized crime.

Nevertheless, 2007, the FBI colluded with Deripaska to spring a kidnapped CIA contractor from captivity in Iran. His name is Robert Levinson and he was an FBI agent before he went to work for the CIA.

Deripaska reportedly spent $25 million of his own money on the mission. You might wonder why the FBI needs a Russian oligarch’s money. The idealistic answer is that Iran is under economic sanctions, so Americans couldn’t legally spend money there. Realistically, it’s probably because some of that money went to bribe people the FBI regards as terrorists. Deripaska went along with this scheme because the FBI was supposed to make his US visa problems go away.

They didn’t.

And Levinson didn’t get to come home.

The US State Department had barred Deripaska from the country because of his alleged ties to Russian organized crime. Evidently, they were on the cusp of a deal to release Levinson when the mean-old State Department scuttled the visa scheme once and for all – possibly because they didn’t want to be in the debt of a man like Deripaska.

Undeterred, the FBI tried to enlist Deripaska’s help again in 2014, first as an informant on Russian organized crime and in 2016 as a source for their probe into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Two months before Donald Trump was elected, FBI agents reportedly visited Deripaska in New York City and asked him whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia. Deripaska put on his best innocent face and insisted that the agents were making something out of nothing.

By this point, campaign manager Paul Manafort had been feeding sensitive campaign and polling data to Deripaska’s associate for months, information that made its way to Russian intelligence. It’s unclear how much impact Deripaska’s denial had on the FBI’s later announcement that it knew of no links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Did the FBI’s attempts to recruit Deripaska ultimately result in Deripaska recruiting a top FBI agent? A recent story in the Times strongly implies as much, albeit without providing much in the way of supporting evidence.

Let’s hope that answers are forthcoming.

George Santos is living the GOP's values

“Too bad George Santos is not a drag queen. Might be the only way Republicans would express outrage and demand his ouster,” quipped dissident Republican pundit Ana Navarro on Twitter last month.

Navarro’s theory was put to the test last week when RuPaul of Brazil revealed that Santos was once a mediocre drag queen known as Kitara Ravache. Santos flatly denied having performed in drag, but the gig is up.

A newly surfaced video shows Santos, clad in a black dress, claiming to perform in various Rio drag clubs. When Rubert Murdoch’s New York Post drops the pretense that the person in that footage is anyone other than George Santos, the gig is up.

READ MORE: Majority of NY voters want George Santos to resign: poll

Research the GOP can get behind

You might think these revelations would be inconvenient for Santos, given that the Republicans have spent months demonizing the noble art of drag and falsely claiming that drag performance is the grooming phase of child abuse. You’d be wrong.

With a five-vote majority in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy is willing to take support wherever he can find it, even from someone who reportedly admitted to stealing checks from an elderly man. Santos has racked up so many victims that they’ve created a group chat just to commiserate. But a vote’s a vote. McCarthy even gave Santos two committee assignments.

Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene welcomed the young legislator in her love language, a bizarre conspiracy-laced Twitter rant. Greene is an anti-drag queen demagogue who recently called a state senator a “groomer” for correctly labeling her rhetoric as homophobic. Last year, Greene targeted one of her own constituents, baselessly insinuating to her million-plus social media followers that the 22-year-old drag performer was a sexual predator.

Santos was spotted chatting amiably with Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who stands credibly accused of paying a 17-year-old for sex, but who slanders drag queens as sexualizers of children. Santos was also welcomed on the podcast of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who is facing fraud charges in New York for allegedly bilking a charity.

READ MORE: 'Maybe they couldn’t verify his identity': Santos mocked after Twitter appears to suspend his official gov account

Greene and her allies will either pretend to believe Santos’ ridiculous denial and attack Democrats. Or they’ll come up with some strained excuse for why the streets of Rio are different from a Drag Queen Story Hour, and attack Democrats.

The core brand of the Republican Party is trolling, and attention is its only currency. The far-right likes that Santos is under federal, local and congressional investigation. He’s on the Science committee, but mostly he’s testing the limits of what a congressman can get away with. That’s research the GOP can get behind.

Leaning into the absurdity

It thrills the right that Santos allegedly let a homeless veteran’s dog die in order to skim funds from his fake charity. They love that he pretended to be Jewish and falsely claimed his mom was killed on 9/11. Liberals hate that sort of thing, so by embracing Santos, the Republicans are owning libs.

It’s ridiculous that Santos attended the Stop the Steal rally wearing a $500 designer scarf that he’d allegedly stolen from his roommate, that he was mixed up in a Ponzi scheme, that his campaign finances stink, that he has so many victims they’ve formed an informal support group.

And the GOP is leaning into the absurdity.

It makes the government seem like a joke, and that suits Republicans just fine. These antics make ordinary people disengage from the work of politics, even as they watch the cheap spectacle unfold on their phones.

It’s tempting to assume that the Republicans are compromising their ethics in pursuit of power, but that’s a mistake.

They are living their values, and their top value is that the elite can do whatever they want.

Just ask Donald Trump, who once “motor-boated” Rudy Giuliani.

The fundamental question is whether we want a society where everyone can express themselves and have fun, or whether that freedom’s an exclusive perk.

READ MORE: 'Be a man': A 9/11 first responder explains how Kevin McCarthy 'can fix' the House GOP George Santos debacle

The Big Lie is not done with us yet

You can’t understand the J6 insurrection without understanding the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump’s victory was stolen by massive invisible voter fraud.

These conspiracy theories are so ubiquitous and so implausible that it’s tempting to tune them out. But understanding the deception is critical to understanding why ordinary citizens tried to end democracy in America.

Democrats per se

READ MORE: Watch: Tucker Carlson’s Orwellian gaslighting about the parallels between Brazil's insurrection and January 6th

The Big Lie convinced would-be insurgents that they were merely patriots addressing a legitimate grievance through extreme measures.

The report shows, however, that allegations of election-altering fraud were lies – and that Trump knew they were lies from the start.

The report hints at premeditation. Weeks before the election, it notes, Trump and advisors Steve Bannon, Roger Stone and Tom Fitton schemed to exploit the so-called “red mirage.” It was a pretext for declaring himself to be reelected before all the votes were counted.

(A “red mirage” refers to an illusory early lead that Republicans often enjoy on election night, because the Republican vote tends to come in earlier. This effect was exacerbated during the pandemic. Democrats eagerly mailed their ballots. They took longer to count. Meanwhile Trump poisoned his supporters against mail-in voting. Many states were barred from counting mail-in votes until polls closed. Trump primed his voters to expect fraud. He claimed falsely that mail-in voting was insecure. This was a natural move for Trump. He has trafficked in baseless voter-fraud allegations for his career.)

READ MORE: Republicans are making a concerted effort to 'normalize' Marjorie Taylor Greene: conservative

“What Trump’s gonna do is just declare victory, right?” Bannon told a live audience in the dying days of the campaign. “He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner.”

Stone baldly stated before a documentarian’s rolling camera that “I really do suspect [the election] will still be up in the air. When that happens, the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

On election night, when Trump’s early lead dwindled, he said that the continued counting of ballots was a “fraud on the American public.”

“We did win this election,” he said. He ordered the count to stop. That wasn’t his call. The counts continued, but the intent was clear: Trump was declaring presumed-Democratic votes illegitimate per se.

True believers

When Trump falsely claimed to have won the election, he primed his supporters to interpret his impending loss as theft. They’d won. Trump said so. He’d given them the status they so desperately coveted: Victimhood. He’d given them license to lash out.

Witness after witness testified that Trump heard the truth about his loss from every angle, from the senior number-crunchers on his campaign to the Attorney General and White House counsel.

Time and again, senior officials debunked outlandish election fraud claims for Trump, only to have him publicly repeat the same falsehood almost immediately.

Barr told Trump that there was nothing suspicious about bags of ballots being dropped off in Michigan, because the state counts all its votes in a central repository. The next day Donald Trump told his supporters of a mysterious “Big Vote Dump.” Acting AG Richard Donoghue told Trump there weren’t more voters than votes in Pennsylvania, but Trump ran with the claim anyway. Raffensperger told Trump that two dead people “voted” in his state, and the next day, Trump was claiming thousands of dead people voted in Georgia.

Try as they might, the Republicans never found the stuffed ballot boxes or tweaked voting machines they said they were looking for.

The Justice Department found nothing, the real audits found nothing, the politically motivated scam audit in Arizona found nothing that it could twist into a credible allegation of election theft. Rudy Giuliani, a key player in the plan to overturn the election, eventually admitted in his J6 deposition that the voting machines didn’t steal the election.

Yet the faith of true believers hasn’t faltered. They still believe because, at bottom, the claims of fraud were just window-dressing for a much deeper and uglier struggle. Republicans want to keep the vote in the hands of those they regard as legitimate. Rudy Giuliani singled out Black election workers. Republicans in Michigan tried to disenfranchise all of majority-Black Detroit.

Not done yet

At bottom, claims of “voter fraud” are really claims about legitimate citizenship. They define the “real electorate” as people like them.

It’s a typical authoritarian move to equate your political movement with the mystical will of The People. Once you believe that, every Democratic victory is inherently fraudulent.

The failure of the coup did little to discredit the Big Lie. Ambitious Republican politicians are using the non-existent threat of voter fraud to enhance their power over the administration of voting.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis created his own election police force. Defeated gubernatorial candidate and MAGA darling Kari Lake is referring to herself as the duly-elected governor of Arizona, despite having lost all her legal challenges.

We are not done with the Big Lie.

The Big Lie is not done with us.

READ MORE: 'Acting in bad faith': Trump lawyer in 'judge’s sights' over courtroom stunts and 'frivolous' claims

Andrew Huff’s new book explains why even lab leak conspiracy theorists didn't afford him a higher profile

Imagine if Dwight Schrute of The Office worked in global health instead of paper sales. That’s how Dr. Andrew G. Huff comes across in his new book The Truth About Wuhan: How I Uncovered the Greatest Lie in History.

Huff is a former vice president of the EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), a science charity that studies the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on emerging infectious diseases. The EHA looms large in the fevered imaginations of lab leak boosters, because it’s a nexus between the US government, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and by extension, the Chinese government.

Huff bills himself as a whistleblower with firsthand knowledge of the origins of SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes the covid), but he offers little more than speculation based on publicly available documents and stale anecdotes from his time at EHA.

READ MORE: 'A big fat target': Analysis explains how DeSantis could use the COVID-19 pandemic as a 2024 'secret weapon'

Huff quit the EHA three years before the pandemic. While he was there, Huff was never anywhere near the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Huff is so stridently anti-Chinese that he has refused to work with Chinese partners, believing any scientific collaboration to be a threat to US national security. His main recollection of the virologists he now blames for the pandemic, Drs. Shi Zhengli and Ralph Baric, was that they gave boring guest lectures.

Huff’s unabashed hostility extends beyond the Chinese state to the Chinese people. This animus casts further doubt on his credibility. He asserts not only that Chinese people “lie, cheat or steal every step of the way” in business negotiations but that such behavior is acceptable in Chinese culture. He also accuses the Chinese of killing his cat with melamine-tainted pet food.

The book also serves up a dose of paranoia worthy of Schrute himself. Huff states that has been hunted by a team of up to 30 agents of the US government who are waging an illegal “psy-op” against him because he knows too much. He claims these shadowy operatives tormented him with glowing green drones the size of mosquitos, hacked his car, burglarized his house, terrorized his dogs with lasers and even stole the key to his snowblower.

The book is supposedly an exposé of a secret bioweapons program that has killed over 6 million people and counting, but Huff seems more interested in settling scores with his former boss, Peter Daszak, the British-born zoologist who heads the EcoHealth Alliance.

READ MORE: 'Absurd but also dangerous': WaPo Editorial Board torches Ron DeSantis' war on COVID-19 vaccines

Among other epithets, Huff describes Daszak as a petty, unqualified, insecure, inconsiderate, demeaning, scientifically illiterate idiot. This over-the-top condemnation, coupled with Huff’s clumsy self-promotion, and his wild accusations about a state-sponsored attack on his snowblower, make him a highly suspect narrator.

A red herring

In true Schrute style, Huff is preoccupied with Daszak’s managerial quirks and complains bitterly and repeatedly about EHA’s lack of a corporate onboarding process and standardized pay grades.

Huff gestures at alleged financial irregularities within EHA but offers no proof. His main beef is that the charity wasn’t charging the government enough money. Allegedly Daszak’s habit of lowballing his contract bids put EHA on an uneasy financial footing and forced it to turn to wealthy donors to keep the lights on.

Huff humblebrags that EHA put him, a straight man, in charge of schmoozing wealthy gay donors because Huff is so attractive to gay men. To hear Huff tell it, he kept EHA afloat with his raw sex appeal.

Huff states that it was obvious to him from the outset that EHA and its partners in Wuhan and North Carolina were deliberately making coronaviruses deadlier to humans, in violation of a federal ban on such research. If so, it makes you wonder why a fervent rule-follower like Huff would put up with it. Huff says he resigned in 2016, not over any concerns about bioweapons, but because he didn’t like Daszak’s management style.

The closest thing Huff has to evidence for his far-fetched claims is a now-familiar grant proposal to study bat coronaviruses, which Huff admits says nothing about gain of function. He claims that the proposal is actually written in code that only he can translate.

Lab leak boosters love to conjure secret codes from banal documents. What Huff doesn’t tell the reader is that none of the viruses that were studied under the proposal were closely related to SCV-2, which makes the proposal a red herring.

Natural origin

All lab-origin theories have the same fundamental problem, which Huff never acknowledges: There is no evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology ever possessed SCV-2, or any virus that could have been engineered to make SCV-2. A lab can’t leak what it hasn’t got.

Lab leak boosters love to kick up dust about allegedly lax safety protocols or risky research projects at the Wuhan Institute, but nobody has been able to show that any of these shortcomings could possibly have resulted in a leak of SCV-2.

Like many lab-origin proponents, Huff plays fast and loose with the distinction between a lab accident and a bioweapon release. He switches between accusing the WIV of lax biosecurity and accusing malevolent actors of releasing the virus deliberately.

This is an important analytical flaw because lab leak boosters tend to soften up the reader for their more outlandish charges by pointing to alleged biosecurity failings at the WIV. But even if those concerns were valid, a heightened chance of an accidental release has no bearing on the likelihood of a deliberate release.

Huff baldly asserts that there is no evidence for a natural origin of SCV-2 whatsoever. In fact, there’s a large and growing body of evidence pointing to a natural origin. The fact that Huff refuses to acknowledge any of it further undermines his credibility.

Not a set-up

By the time SARS-Cov-2 emerged in late 2019, nature had already spun off two deadly coronaviruses in less than two decades, and both of them jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal host.

The first such virus, SARS-Cov-1, jumped to humans from trafficked wild palm civets. This time around, scientists established a strong epidemiological link between the earliest known cases of covid and the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which was one of only a handful of markets in the teeming metropolis of Wuhan that sold wild animals.

Samples taken from the market show that the SCV-2 virus was highly concentrated not only in stalls where wild animals were kept, but in the cages where they lived. Are we supposed to believe that some hapless peon at the WIV accidentally infected themselves and then went to hang out in the racoon dog cages?

Perhaps the most compelling evidence for a natural origin at the market comes from a reconstruction of SCV-2’s family tree, which shows that the virus jumped from animals to humans twice at the same market.

This is exactly what you’d expect to see if SCV-2 came to town in a cage of infected raccoon dogs or palm civets. It’s not what you’d expect to see if the virus escaped accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, on the opposite side of the Yangtze River.

Huff seems to be aware of this research because he spends a whole chapter speculating about how SCV-2 could have been released from labs twice. He speculates that the Wuhan Institute might have leaked the virus accidentally and then the Chinese government deliberately leaked it again to make it look like the virus naturally emerged from the market. Huff is tacitly admitting that it sure looks like the virus came from the market. His twist is that China set it up to look like that by releasing a bioweapon in their own country.

Question answered

After auditioning many potential villains, Huff eventually settles on a Big Bad for his cinematic universe. The puppet master is none other than Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, whom Huff accuses of deliberately releasing a bioweapon to advance his vision of “stakeholder capitalism,” which aims to expand corporate power at the expense of governments.

Huff offers no explanation for why the WEF, a group dominated by multinational corporations, would want to paralyze global capitalism with a bioweapon. Nor does he explain why the Chinese government, a totalitarian regime, would want to help Schwab devolve power from nation states to corporations.

Before I read The Truth About Wuhan, I wondered why the lab leak community didn’t afford Andrew Huff a higher-profile role. As a well-credentialed defector from the EcoHealth Alliance, he seemed like a perfect spokesman for the cause.

This book answers that question.

READ MORE: Watch: Dr. Anthony Fauci condemns the 'unconscionable' politicization of COVID-19 vaccines

Hunter Biden and Elon Musk’s crowd-pleasing vaporware

Last week, Chief Twit Elon Musk enlisted Substacker Matt Taibbi to recap Twitter’s handling of the “Hunter Biden laptop” story based on archived corporate emails that Musk now owns.

It already seems like a lifetime ago, but in October 2020, weeks before the presidential election, the New York Post published a story about a disk image allegedly taken from a laptop that Hunter Biden had abandoned at a repair shop in Delaware.

Twitter temporarily blocked the story because it included personally identifiable information that they suspected had been hacked. Republicans said it was horribly partisan to the Donald Trump campaign of colluding with the Russians, even though the disk image came from Rudy Giuliani who had been very publicly pumping Russian agents for dirt on Hunter Biden for months.

READ MORE: Is Twitter a lost cause?

Musk played the hype man and teased Taibbi’s tweetstorm as the scandal of the century. This was to be the second – hell, the third – coming of Watergate, Iran Contra, and Deflategate all rolled into one. Musk claimed these emails showed that Twitter had colluded with the government to help Joe Biden.

As usual, Musk’s pitch was crowd-pleasing vaporware. Taibbi actually described how Twitter executives blocked the New York Post story all by themselves, adding that he’d seen “no evidence of any government involvement.”

Taibbi shared emails that confirmed what we already knew: Twitter execs froze access to the story because they were worried it was part of a Russian attack on the election. Twitter had been repeatedly warned by Trump’s FBI to be on the alert for hack and leak operations associated with a political campaign and possibly starring Hunter Biden. The New York Post story checked all those boxes.

In 2016, Russian state hackers leaked emails they’d stolen from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The attack weakened Clinton and may even have cost her the election. In early 2020, Donald Trump was impeached for trying to force Ukraine to announce a fake investigation into none other than Hunter Biden. To make matters worse, the New York Post story was based on a disk image supplied by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s main point of contact with Russian agents in Ukraine.

READ MORE: Twitter employees respond to new owner Elon Musk’s annihilation of top execs — on Twitter

Far from showing a Borg determined to help Joe Biden at all costs, Taibbi’s cache of emails shows a lively debate in the Twitter C-suite as execs tried to balance freedom of the press against election integrity and national security. They blocked the story for violating Twitter’s ban on “hacked materials” bearing personally identifying information because the New York Post story included images with unredacted emails and phone numbers. The trouble was, there was no proof the data was hacked. There still isn’t. But the whole thing stank worse than an illegal Twitter flophouse.

Twitter was in a tough spot because Giuliani claimed that Hunter’s data was abandoned, not hacked. Then again, no reasonable person would take Giuliani’s word for that. If Hunter’s data had been hacked, Giuliani had a vested interest in concealing that fact. The emails show that Twitter execs used the ban to buy time while they conducted their own investigation.

History has vindicated Twitter’s caution. In 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally authorized a major interference campaign for the 2020 election based on conspiracy theories about the Biden family and Ukraine. The FBI investigated Giuliani for his role in Ukraine, but ultimately wasn’t charged, primarily because although his efforts helped both Russia and Trump, he got paid only by Trump.

This saga would prompt any reasonable person to think how Twitter’s rules could be crafted to better address the next foreign attack on our elections. Unfortunately, Elon Musk is not a reasonable person.

He’s a raging egomaniac who seized upon his former employees’ good-faith efforts to handle an unprecedented threat as a pretext to make twitter ground zero for foreign intelligence agencies to attack American democracy.

READ MORE: Steve Doocy sparks Fox News debate after noting that the FBI avoided the Hunter Biden laptop scandal

House GOP poised to launder Rudy's Russian disinformation again

We’ve been warned. When the Republicans take control of the House, it’s going to be all Hunter’s laptop, all the time.

Despite haughty GOP denials, the laptop story is probably a cover for another Russian hack and leak operation, and the Republicans are gleefully laundering it.

Republicans have browbeaten various social media execs – who are surely nervous about being called before GOP committees – into saying they were wrong to throttle access to what everyone correctly assumed was foreign election interference laundered through Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and election interference go-to-guy Rudy Giuliani.

READ MORE: On aid to Ukraine, the Republicans are jammed

Various major media outlets have authenticated a small percentage of the data dump as having belonged to Hunter Biden. But that’s exactly what you’d expect in a hack and leak operation. The question is whether the data were really abandoned by Hunter Biden or whether they were uploaded to that laptop as a pretext for trafficking in stolen secrets.

“That’s Rudy”

In October 2020, weeks before the general election, the New York Post ran a story about what Rudy Giuliani claimed was a hard drive abandoned by Hunter Biden at a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware.

Over 50 retired intelligence pros signed an open letter arguing that L’Affaire MacBook bore all the hallmarks of Russian disinfo. Twitter’s former head of safety said this week that the story set off “every single one of my finely tuned [Russian intelligence] hack and leak campaign alarm bells."

READ MORE: GOP strategist pardoned by Donald Trump convicted of illegally funneling him Russian cash

Conveniently, the former shop owner who gave the data to Giuliani is legally blind, so he can’t say whether the man who dropped off the machines was Hunter Biden. He’s also a frothing conspiracy theorist who was unable to tell a straight story about the provenance of the laptop.

We know Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign of interference in the 2020 elections that focused on feeding anti-Biden propaganda to influential Americans, including members of Trump’s inner circle, according to a 2021 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The report doesn’t name names, but contains enough clues to identify Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, as the useful idiot in chief.

This time, the collusion between Trump and the Russians was right out in the open. With Trump’s support, Giuliani spent much of 2019 ostentatiously shuttling to Ukraine and huddling with Kremlin-linked oligarchs, including an active Russian agent who was later sanctioned by Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury Department for interference in the 2020 election.

Data from Hunter Biden’s computer were on the market in Kyiv around the time Giuliani went disinfo-shopping. As you recall, Giuliani was searching for dirt in Ukraine because Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, which, according to that ODNI report, was hacked by the Russian spy service known as the GRU in late 2019.

Multiple US intelligence agencies repeatedly and explicitly warned Donald Trump in 2019 that Giuliani’s bottomless thirst for dirt on the Bidens made him the target of a Russian intelligence operation. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien warned Trump that any information Giuliani brought back from his Ukraine junket should be considered “contaminated” by the Russians. Trump reportedly shrugged and said, “That’s Rudy.”

Stolen and dumped

Let’s not forget Trump’s first impeachment was the result of a desperate bid to wring dirt out of the Ukrainians. Trump froze congressionally authorized defense aid to Ukraine in order to strong-arm the country’s new president into announcing a bogus investigation into Hunter Biden.

Republicans have falsely claimed that forensic analyses have proven that the data was found on a laptop that Hunter Biden abandoned at a repair shop in Delaware. These analyses have shown that some of the materials were produced by Hunter Biden. But that’s how hack and leak attacks work.

In a hack and leak, data is stolen and dumped.

A largely genuine trove of stolen data is also the perfect place to hide forged or stolen elements, which enjoy unearned credibility because they’re packaged with real stuff. That’s why the victims of hack and leaks are advised never to confirm the authenticity of anything.

The attackers are counting on the public to draw the erroneous conclusion that, because some things are genuine, the whole package is real, and – most importantly – that it came from where the cover story says it came from, be that an imaginary collective of good-hearted “hacktivists” or a computer repair shop in Delaware. Anywhere but the GRU.

The GRU is notorious for hacking and leaking.

A GRU unit known as FancyBear or APT128 famously deployed this tactic against the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. They also targeted George Soros, the World Anti-Doping Agency, scientists investigating the poisoning of a former Russian agent, and countless others. For particularly high-value targets, GRU combines hacking with good-old-fashioned stalking, following their targets around, hoping to catch them using insecure hotel wifi.

Isn’t it a crazy coincidence that a disk image of “Hunter Biden’s laptop” was revealed to the world by the same guy who we know was the main conduit for Russian disinformation about the Bidens? A guy who has also been investigated for other kinds of election interference on behalf of Trump.

If you believe that, I’ve got an extended warranty to sell you.

READ MORE: Fiona Hill warns Musk is 'transmitting a message' for Putin as DeSantis rushes to billionaire’s defense

'Five alarm fire for democracy': Meet the man incarnating the Big Lie into secretaries of state

Failed candidate Jim Marchant of Nevada teamed up with QAnon guru “Juan O. Savin” to elect Big Lie proponents as top election officials in swing states. The result is a five-alarm fire for democracy.

The unlikely duo has forged a coalition of like-minded secretary of state (SOS) candidates. The SOS races in Nevada and Arizona have taken on national significance in light of both Republican candidates working to overturn the 2020 election. Both are signaling that they would refuse to certify the results if a Democrat carried their respective states in 2024. If elected, Secretaries of State Jim Marchant of Nevada and Mark Finchem of Arizona could conceivably determine the outcome of the next presidential election.

Most of the coalition’s handpicked candidates have already lost their primaries or are trailing substantially in the polls. At least two of their candidates, however, are alarmingly competitive.

READ MORE: These 5 MAGA candidates could help Donald Trump steal the 2024 election if they win in 2022: journalist

A recent poll puts Marchant in a statistical dead heat with his Democratic opponent. In October, Finchem was effectively tied with his Democratic opponent, albeit with many voters still undecided.

It’s fair to say that if Marchant were secretary of state, he wouldn’t certify a Democratic victory, because he keeps telling us.

“When I’m secretary of state of Nevada, we are going to fix it, and when my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country gets elected, we’re going to fix the whole country, and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024,” he said.

Finchem is a former member of the Oath Keepers militia, which was outside the US Capitol during the J6 insurrection. Text messages show Finchem collaborated with Stop the Steal’s Ali Alexander.

READ MORE: This QAnon influencer is fighting to put election-denying Republicans 'in charge of states' elections: report

As an Arizona state legislator, Finchem co-sponsored a bill that would have empowered the lege to overturn election results. Finchem was subpoenaed by the J6 committee over his role in the Trump-sponsored plot to send fake electors to Washington. The US Department of Justice has also subpoenaed Finchem’s communications in its probe of the fake electors scheme.

The strange saga of the QAnon coalition began when Marchant lost his race for a US House seat in 2020. As is customary for GOP losers these days, Marchant cried fraud. His pleas fell on deaf ears in court, given that he lost by a whopping five percentage points and presented no compelling evidence of fraud whatsoever.

Reeling, Marchant checked himself into the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, as one does. During that dark night of the soul, QAnon guru Juan O. Savin (aka Wayne Willott) appeared unexpectedly at his suite and convinced him to run for secretary of state, or so Marchant later told the faithful at a QAnon-themed conference in 2021.

Marchant has made conflicting claims about whether he personally believes in QAnon, but his stated ideology fits right in.

Marchant claims that no candidate has been legitimately elected in Nevada since 2006 on account of a diabolical plot between Harry Reid and George Soros on behalf of a group he calls The Cabal operating out of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Marchant himself was elected to the Nevada legislature in 2016, so make of that what you will. He did raise doubts about his primary win for the secretary of state, but that didn’t stop him from declaring victory. “What am I supposed to do, not win?” he said, neatly encapsulating the attitude of Republican election deniers.

READ MORE: Donald Trump's Nevada rally was an orgy of hate, ignorance, and right-wing propaganda

'Five alarm fire for democracy': Meet the man pushing the Big Lie into secretaries of state

Failed candidate Jim Marchant of Nevada teamed up with QAnon guru “Juan O. Savin” to elect Big Lie proponents as top election officials in swing states. The result is a five-alarm fire for democracy.

The unlikely duo has forged a coalition of like-minded secretary of state (SOS) candidates. The SOS races in Nevada and Arizona have taken on national significance in light of both Republican candidates working to overturn the 2020 election. Both are signaling that they would refuse to certify the results if a Democrat carried their respective states in 2024. If elected, Secretaries of State Jim Marchant of Nevada and Mark Finchem of Arizona could conceivably determine the outcome of the next presidential election.

Most of the coalition’s handpicked candidates have already lost their primaries or are trailing substantially in the polls. At least two of their candidates, however, are alarmingly competitive.

READ MORE: These 5 MAGA candidates could help Donald Trump steal the 2024 election if they win in 2022: journalist

A recent poll puts Marchant in a statistical dead heat with his Democratic opponent. In October, Finchem was effectively tied with his Democratic opponent, albeit with many voters still undecided.

It’s fair to say that if Marchant were secretary of state, he wouldn’t certify a Democratic victory, because he keeps telling us.

“When I’m secretary of state of Nevada, we are going to fix it, and when my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country gets elected, we’re going to fix the whole country, and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024,” he said.

Finchem is a former member of the Oath Keepers militia, which was outside the US Capitol during the J6 insurrection. Text messages show Finchem collaborated with Stop the Steal’s Ali Alexander.

READ MORE: This QAnon influencer is fighting to put election-denying Republicans 'in charge of states' elections: report

As an Arizona state legislator, Finchem co-sponsored a bill that would have empowered the legislature to overturn election results. Finchem was subpoenaed by the J6 committee over his role in the Trump-sponsored plot to send fake electors to Washington. The US Department of Justice has also subpoenaed Finchem’s communications in its probe of the fake electors scheme.

The strange saga of the QAnon coalition began when Marchant lost his race for a US House seat in 2020. As is customary for GOP losers these days, Marchant cried fraud. His pleas fell on deaf ears in court, given that he lost by a whopping five percentage points and presented no compelling evidence of fraud whatsoever.

Reeling, Marchant checked himself into the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, as one does. During that dark night of the soul, QAnon guru Juan O. Savin (aka Wayne Willott) appeared unexpectedly at his suite and convinced him to run for secretary of state, or so Marchant later told the faithful at a QAnon-themed conference in 2021.

Marchant has made conflicting claims about whether he personally believes in QAnon, but his stated ideology fits right in.

Marchant claims that no candidate has been legitimately elected in Nevada since 2006 on account of a diabolical plot between Harry Reid and George Soros on behalf of a group he calls The Cabal operating out of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Marchant himself was elected to the Nevada legislature in 2016, so make of that what you will. He did raise doubts about his primary win for the secretary of state, but that didn’t stop him from declaring victory. “What am I supposed to do, not win?” he said, neatly encapsulating the attitude of Republican election deniers.

READ MORE: Donald Trump's Nevada rally was an orgy of hate, ignorance, and right-wing propaganda

The January 6th Committee dares Merrick Garland

The J6 Committee summed up Thursday its case that Donald Trump was the central motive force behind the J6 attack on the Capitol.

The focus of the hearing was the former president’s state of mind, and his actions before, during, and after the insurrection. The evidence on this front is so voluminous that the committee could only get through a fraction of it during the televised hearing.

The hearing culminated with a vote to subpoena Trump to testify. There was speculation about whether the committee would make a formal criminal referral. Instead of formally asking Attorney General Merrick Garland to charge Trump with a crime, the committee laid out an airtight case for why Trump should have to answer questions about his lawless behavior under oath. If Trump doesn’t comply with the subpoena, he will be in contempt of the Congress.

READ MORE: 'Central player': January 6th Select Committee unanimously votes to subpoena Donald Trump

Today’s hearing recapped how Trump and his closest advisors had decided long in advance that Trump would cry fraud and reject the results of the 2020 election if he didn’t win.

The committee also recapped the evidence that Trump knew perfectly well that there was no outcome-altering fraud. Trump’s attorney general, his campaign’s data gurus and the federal courts spoke with one voice: He lost.

Trump kept planning the coup anyway, whipping up his supporters with bogus allegations of fraud and summoning them to Washington, DC, on the day the election was to be certified.

As usual, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon couldn’t stop running his mouth.

READ MORE: January 6th Select Committee: Secret Service ignored 'substantial intel' about Proud Boys threats

Bannon was in regular contact with the White House in the days before the insurrection and one of his advisors later said that his assistance was a key factor in Trump’s decision to pardon Bannon for an unrelated fraud charge.

On Halloween of 2020, Bannon explained to a crowd of Chinese associates how Trump intended to preemptively declare himself the winner of the election before the votes were counted, even if he knew he lost.

“And what Trump is going to do is just declare victory, right? He's gonna declare victory, but that doesn't mean he's the winner, he’s just going to say he’s the winner,” Bannon said, adding that “[I]f Trump is losing by 10, 11 at night, it's going to be even crazier. Because he’s going to sit right there and say they stole it.”

Bannon used his popular podcast to keep the MAGA faithful updated on efforts to overturn the election. Each episode of the show, known as The War Room, reportedly gets millions of downloads.

During this time, Bannon was huddling at the Willard Hotel with Trump and his closest advisors, including John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, plotting to overturn the election, a clique also known as the War Room. Bannon flaunted his inside knowledge of the Trump camp’s plans for J6 on his podcast. “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen,” Bannon told his podcast listeners, “All I can say is strap in.” Bannon also used his podcast to try to help get Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio sprung from jail on January 5.

The Proud Boys served as the vanguard in the attack. The group even had a detailed written plan to seize and occupy the building. Tarrio was absent on J6 because a DC judge ordered him to get out of town as a condition of his bail on weapons and vandalism charges.

The committee also revealed that on November 11, Trump signed an order to immediately withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan and Somalia; he wanted it all done before he left office on January 20.

The committee introduced this as evidence that Trump knew perfectly well he was leaving office on January 20 because he knew he’d lost. I never want to hear about Biden's rushed withdrawal from Afghanistan again.

The committee took the opportunity to remind us that Congress also has the power to summon a former president to testify. A subpoena is not optional. By voting to compel Trump’s testimony, the committee has thrown down the gauntlet. If Trump doesn’t at least show up to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, he’ll be committing the same crime as Bannon.

Instead of earnestly petitioning Merrick Garland to act with a criminal referral, the committee is daring Garland to do something.

Steve Bannon is already awaiting sentencing for defying the J6 Committee’s subpoena. It could happen again.

READ MORE: House January 6th panel still has 'essential' work and not much time left to do it: law professor

Will a jury actually convict white insurrectionists of seditious conspiracy?

The former leader of the Oath Keepers militia and his four associates went on trial for seditious conspiracy this week. The defendants are accused of conspiring to prevent the transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, a plan which included, but was not limited to, the siege of the US Capitol on January 6.

Stewart Rhodes and his minions are the first J6 defendants to be tried under this rarely-used Civil War-era statute. The government’s track record of convicting far-right defendants of seditious conspiracy is weak, but the facts of the Oath Keeper affair make for an unusually strong case.

The last people to be convicted of seditious conspiracy were Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and nine of his followers, who were found guilty in 1995 of scheming to blow up the United Nations and various New York City landmarks in a bid to turn American public opinion against Israel. A large group of Puerto Rican separatists was convicted of seditious conspiracy for storming the US Capitol and shooting five members of Congress in 1954.

READ MORE: Stewart Rhodes had contact with supportive Secret Service agent: former Oath Keepers member

The federal government has struggled, however, to make seditious conspiracy charges stick against rightwing extremists.

In 1939, 17 followers of the fascist broadcaster priest Charles Edward Coughlin were acquitted of plotting to overthrow the United States in order to purge the country of Jews and Marxists.

In 1988 an all-white jury in Arkansas acquitted a group of high-profile white supremacists accused of plotting to murder a federal judge and an FBI agent in what came to be known as the Fort Smith Sedition Trial.

In 2012, several members of the far-right Hutaree Militia were acquitted of plotting to murder a police officer in order to provoke a showdown with the federal government. The Hutaree case was very weak and deserved to fail, but you could also be forgiven for thinking that American juries are a lot more sympathetic to white extremists.

READ MORE: 'We are not joking around': January 6th Committee posts Oath Keepers’ walkie-talkie insurrection audio

Perhaps the state’s biggest asset in the seditious conspiracy case against Stewart Rhodes is the fact that three other Oath Keepers have already pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Brian Ulrich, Joshua James and William Todd Wilson have already signed plea deals admitting that they conspired with Rhodes to forcefully impede the transfer of power by disrupting the certification of the election on January 6 as part of a plot that extended all the way to the inauguration.

That means they can testify to the inner workings of the plot. For Rhodes to go down, the government only needs to prove that he entered into that agreement with one other person who wasn’t a government agent.

The defense will do their best to attack the credibility of the three turncoats, painting them as opportunists who lied to save their own skin. And let’s be real, they’re Oath Keepers. It would be surprising if they weren’t a little opportunistic.

IN OTHER NEWS: Here's why Trump probably hasn't returned all the classified documents he took from the White House

But all it takes is for a jury to believe one of them. And the jury doesn’t have to take their word alone. The Oath Keepers left behind mountains of evidence. For all their pretensions of tactical sophistication, the Oath Keepers were remarkably sloppy.

Rhodes also pledged to fight a bloody civil war if Trump didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act to keep himself in power. He didn’t talk about resisting the US government by force. He put it in writing, publishing “calls to arms” on the Oath Keepers’ website, and discussing his plans on right-wing radio.

The defense will say that this is just all-American, First Amendment protected expression. And by itself, it would be. It’s not a crime to argue for revolution in the abstract. It only crosses a legal line if it leads to imminent lawless action. Like, say, attracting dozens of armed followers to Washington, stashing an arsenal of automatic weapons in local hotel rooms and forcibly disrupting a joint session of Congress.

The Oath Keepers were secretive, relying on burner phones, face-to-face meetings, false identities and other subterfuge to keep their plan secret. So the state needs witnesses to fill in some of the details. However, much of the scheming was conducted over Signal chats that are now in the hands of the government.

The Oath Keepers were both secretive and sloppy. Rhodes was caught on tape warning his followers against loose talk that could get them popped for conspiracy. Nevertheless, his co-defendants were constantly posting incriminating updates to Facebook.

On January 6, one of the Oath Keepers’ lawyers scolded Rhodes on Signal: “STEWART: YOU ALL NEED TO DELETE ANY OF YOUR COMMENTS REGARDING WHO DID WHAT. [...] So GET BUSY. DELETE your self-incriminating comments or those that can incriminate others.”

The case against the Oath Keepers is also stronger than most seditious conspiracy cases because they actually tried to keep Trump in office by force. Oath Keepers in full battle rattle formed two infantry-style stacks and breached the building. We all saw it on television.

Historically, seditious conspiracy has been a kind of consolation prize for the government when they caught someone before they managed to do anything bad. In that case, a jury is always going to wonder if they were ever going to follow through, or whether the whole thing was so much loose talk, or even whether the whole case was manufactured by undercover agents egging on vulnerable people.

In the case in question, we know the Oath Keepers followed through.

One of the turncoats, Joshua James, swore in his plea deal that he accompanied Rhodes on the run after J6 and saw him buy and distribute thousands of dollars worth of weapons that he intended to use to stop the transfer of power. James also claims that on Jan 20, Rhodes gave him an AR15-style rifle and said he would “not be taken by law enforcement without a fight.”

This is a test of whether the 19th century statute still has teeth and, moreover, whether a jury is willing to apply it to white insurrectionists.

Man at the heart of Trump's 'Big Lie' conspiracy

Federal agents boxed him in as he waited in a Hardee’s drive-thru last week. They handed Mike Lindell a subpoena and confiscated his phone. What does the FBI want with the My Pillow Guy’s mobile?

Lindell is the sugar daddy of the Big Lie. The eccentric pillow peddler claims that the nation’s voting machines hold proof of a stolen 2020 election. Since Trump’s defeat, he’s spent tens of millions of dollars bankrolling grassroots activists who pressure local Republican election officials to leak highly sensitive data from voting machines.

This data, our data, finds its way to Lindell’s “cybersecurity experts” who write bogus reports crying fraud. These false claims are amplified by Trumpworld celebrities like Steve Bannon. Lindell is also spending millions to build his own right-wing media platform so that his credulous acolytes can absorb his lies without contradiction and nobody can deplatform him for spreading misinformation.

READ MORE: How a rural Colorado county became an epicenter of Donald Trump's Big Lie

Lindell’s phone was seized because of his links to Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado. Last year, members of a Lindell-backed Big Lie group approached Peters with bogus allegations of voter fraud. An itinerant “cybersecurity” analyst with ties to Lindell further stoked her paranoia that an upcoming software update for Colorado’s voting machines would destroy evidence from 2020. Peters’ phone was also seized by FBI agents last week.

Peters admits that she allowed an unauthorized person to copy Mesa County’s sensitive election data before the software update. The state of Colorado has charged her with multiple felonies in connection with this incident, including identity theft. Mike Lindell’s subpoena reveals that the feds are also investigating allegations of identity theft, intentional damage to a protected computer, and conspiracy stemming from the Mesa County data heist.

Colorado authorities didn’t realize anything was amiss in Mesa County until QAnon luminary Ron Watkins posted the BIOS password for a Dominion voting machine on Telegram. Since these credentials are unique, authorities were able to pinpoint the security breach to Mesa County. A few days later, Watkins purported to “analyze” the stolen data from the Mesa County voting machines in front of an audience at Mike Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium.” Lindell reportedly flew Tina Peters to the conference in his private jet. Afterwards, he helped Peters evade the FBI by putting her up in a safehouse.

The Mesa County breach was not an isolated incident.

READ MORE: FBI grabbing Mike Lindell’s phone may yield info on white supremacist and Christian nationalist allies

Another Colorado county clerk was caught on surveillance cameras copying his county’s voting machine data. Two Lindell associates, Shawn Smith and Mike Cook, talked the clerk of Elbert County through the process over text message.

There are eight documented cases of Trump-linked activists compromising election infrastructure in search of evidence of fraud.

There may be more.

Some of the people involved in those incidents also have ties to Lindell. Lindell denies involvement in any data breach, but the coincidences are beginning to add up.

It’s surprising the FBI waited this long to seize his phone.

READ MORE: Mike Lindell says that he has dumped $30 million into proving Donald Trump's Big Lie

The former guy has no claim to the current executive’s privilege

Judge Aileen Cannon stopped a criminal investigation by ordering a special master to review documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

This court-appointed official will probably be charged with reviewing the seized materials to see if they are protected by executive privilege.

It’s unclear who that official will be, what criteria they will use or how long this process will take. The judge’s ruling is a gift to Trump.

READ MORE: 'Something weird is going on': Donald Trump quietly flew to DC on Sunday night and nobody knows why

Faced with overwhelming evidence of their client’s guilt, his lawyers can only hope to drag the process out as long as possible.

On Thursday, the feds asked the judge to let them keep working with only the classified documents, because those couldn’t possibly be privileged.

Asking for a subset of the documents was a savvy tactical choice by the feds. But it’s obvious that Donald Trump has no claim to executive privilege over any of the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Richard Nixon had to turn over the White House tapes to the special prosecutor who had indicted seven of Nixon’s closest aides in the Watergate investigation.

READ MORE: 'No one is above the law': Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump 'is not the president' and should be prosecuted

Nixon’s lawyers argued that the president’s Oval Office conversations were off-limits. Advisors need privacy in order to give candid advice, they said.

But Chief Justice Warren Burger’s majority opinion held that Nixon’s demand for privacy “[could not] prevail over the fundamental demands of due process of law.” The tapes were handed over. Nixon resigned shortly thereafter, leaving behind millions of pages of presidential records and hundreds of hours of tape recordings.

This case established not only that a president’s assertion of privilege could be tested in court, but also that the government’s need for evidence in a criminal case outweighs the president’s need for privacy.

The parallels to Trump’s situation are obvious.

If anything, Trump is in a weaker position than Nixon was in, because he’s the former president, and he’s the one facing indictment.

After Watergate, Congress passed a law that made presidential records public property and tasked the General Services Administration (GSA) with archiving them for posterity.

Nixon sued for control, again citing privilege. Justices rejected the claim by a vote of 7-2, noting that, since the doctrine of executive privilege is based on the separation of powers, Nixon couldn’t invoke it to thwart the GSA, which is also part of the executive branch.

The Department of Justice cited this precedent in Trump’s case. Trump is trying to invoke executive privilege against the DOJ, which is, like the GSA, part of the executive branch. Evidently, Judge Aileen Cannon ignored this seemingly decisive objection in her ruling.

It’s unclear whether a former president can ever claim executive privilege, let alone whether he can overrule a sitting president in a privilege fight.

Executive privilege is supposed to further the public good through the smooth operation of government. Privilege exists to protect the executive branch’s ability to fulfill its core constitutional functions. It’s not a perk for the office-holder.

A sitting president has core constitutional functions to uphold, like safeguarding national security and upholding the rule of law. A former president has no constitutional function whatsoever.

In a privilege fight between a sitting president and a former guy merely defending himself, the former guy should lose every time.

One of the bedrock principles of our democracy is that powers and privileges are vested in the office of the president, not in the person.

That makes it difficult to see how a former president, who is (legally speaking) just some guy, could wield executive privilege, let alone privilege strong enough to overrule that of the sitting president.

Proponents of executive privilege for former presidents have to resort to pretzel logic to explain why some guy should be able to overrule the sitting president of the United States: The former president has executive privilege, they say, because every current president is a future former president. The current president won’t be able to get good advice if his advisors are afraid that their deliberations could be made public by a future president.

The Supreme Court recently dodged the question of former-guy privilege. A lower court ruled that Trump must hand over documents to the J6 committee. Trump tried to invoke executive privilege, even though actual President Biden waived his actual privilege.

The lower court ruled that Congress’s claim was so strong that Trump wouldn’t have been able to invoke executive privilege even if he had been president. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Eight of the nine justices denied Trump’s motion to block NARA from handing over the documents, which now reside with the J6 committee.

Judge Cannon’s decision to freeze a criminal investigation to check for executive privilege is frivolous. It’s doubtful that former president Trump has executive privilege at all, but even if he did, the Supreme Court held unanimously that executive privilege must yield to the demands of an active federal criminal investigation.

Moreover, executive privilege can’t be wielded by one part of the executive branch against another. So, executive privilege would not justify withholding information from the Department of Justice.

READ MORE: Donald Trump's lawyers are 'witnesses' that Justice Department will 'try to flip': New Yorker chief editor

Trump World keeps admitting to an ongoing crime

As the president, Donald Trump ran the country as an extension of his personal real-estate fiefdom. As the former president, he’s taking an equally lawless attitude toward the classified materials that he removed from the White House at the end of his term.

Trump reportedly rebuffed advisors who urged him to return boxes of presidential records stashed at Mar-a-Lago, saying, “They’re mine.” Trump has even ordered his lawyers to recover all the documents the FBI recovered from Mar-a-Lago. Astonishingly, his legal team appears to be laying the groundwork to challenge the seizure.

The ludicrous claim that Trump owns these documents undercuts his excuse for having any records in his home in the first place. By law, the outgoing president must turn over all records for posterity.

READ MORE: Donald Trump demands 'a new election' because of Hunter Biden

Not just the sensitive, classified or privileged.

All of them.

Trump’s lawyers claim that overzealous General Services Administration movers inadvertently removed the 15 boxes of documents from the White House and took them to Mar-a-Lago. It was all a misunderstanding, see?

If so, why was the National Archives locked in months of bitter negotiation just to get the first 15 boxes back? The accident excuse is also hard to square with reporting from the Post that Trump personally and furtively supervised the packing – out of sight of even his close aides. Incidentally, the GSA flatly denies packing those boxes.

READ MORE: Watch: Rachel Maddow breaks down what Trump World's FBI lawsuit really means

The National Archives won the protracted custody battle for the boxes in early 2022, a year after Trump left office. When they were returned, staff found a trove of highly sensitive national defense information, including hundreds of pages marked as “classified.”

Some were labeled “HCS,” for Human Intelligence Control System. These materials are closely guarded because they can reveal the identities of CIA informants, critical intelligence assets who could be killed if their cover is blown. Others were marked ORCON, which means that the agency that originally classified the document must approve further dissemination.

Archive staffers informed the Justice Department, which kicked off the criminal investigation into the mishandling of classified information and obstruction of justice.

Trump had another chance to come clean on June 3 when FBI investigators arrived at Mar-a-Lago to remove additional records, which had been subpoenaed by a grand jury. Team Trump handed over a few more scraps of sensitive material that day, and at least one of his lawyers signed a document attesting that there was no more.

During that visit, Trump’s lawyers showed the FBI a basement storage area where documents had been kept. After the visit, Justice Department lawyers told Team Trump to secure the room and not touch anything.

Evidently, there was still something worth safeguarding in there. Moreover, if Team Trump started shifting documents around after the Justice Department specifically told them not to, they could be committing obstruction of justice.

Keep in mind that it was illegal for Trump to be hanging on to any presidential records, let alone priceless government secrets. By showing the basement cache of presidential records to the FBI, Team Trump was admitting to an ongoing crime.

Later that month, Trump was hit with another subpoena, this time for the surveillance footage of the storage room. The footage reportedly showed boxes being moved in and out of the storage room shortly after one of Trump’s contacts with the Justice Department.

The Justice Department clearly believed that there were more sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago, hence the search on August 8. The search yielded 11 sets of classified documents, which were removed from Trump’s bedroom, office and basement.

The affidavit that supplied the probable cause for the search was unsealed Friday, in a highly unusual move. The unredacted portions of the document reveal little about why the FBI expected to find not only additional classified documents but also evidence of obstruction of justice. The Justice Department cited the need to safeguard witnesses from harassment as one reason for redactions. That seems to confirm speculation that one or more sources inside Mar-a-Lago cooperated with the FBI.

If the affidavit seems underwhelming, it’s because the probable cause is already in plain sight. No one disputes that Trump removed more than 15 boxes of records at the end of his term.

He fought to hang onto them for nearly a year.

When Trump got one last chance to hand over the documents, his lawyer lied and said they’d all been returned. The subpoenaed surveillance footage may even have captured Team Trump’s attempts to hide documents from investigators.

Trump’s boasts that he owns the documents are undercutting his lawyers’ attempts to portray a brazen theft as an accident.

All evidence points to Trump knowingly and willfully removing classified documents for his own purposes.

READ MORE: What if Donald Trump's conspiracy was even bigger than we thought?

Team Trump keeps admitting to an ongoing crime

As the president, Donald Trump ran the country as an extension of his personal real-estate fiefdom. As the former president, he’s taking an equally lawless attitude toward the classified materials that he removed from the White House at the end of his term.

Trump reportedly rebuffed advisors who urged him to return boxes of presidential records stashed at Mar-a-Lago, saying, “They’re mine.” Trump has even ordered his lawyers to recover all the documents the FBI recovered from Mar-a-Lago. Astonishingly, his legal team appears to be laying the groundwork to challenge the seizure.

The ludicrous claim that Trump owns these documents undercuts his excuse for having any records in his home in the first place. By law, the outgoing president must turn over all records for posterity.

Not just the sensitive, classified or privileged.

All of them.

Trump’s lawyers claim that overzealous General Services Administration movers inadvertently removed the 15 boxes of documents from the White House and took them to Mar-a-Lago. It was all a misunderstanding, see?

If so, why was the National Archives locked in months of bitter negotiation just to get the first 15 boxes back? The accident excuse is also hard to square with reporting from the Post that Trump personally and furtively supervised the packing – out of sight of even his close aides. Incidentally, the GSA flatly denies packing those boxes.

The National Archives won the protracted custody battle for the boxes in early 2022, a year after Trump left office. When they were returned, staff found a trove of highly sensitive national defense information, including hundreds of pages marked as “classified.”

Some were labeled “HCS,” for Human Intelligence Control System. These materials are closely guarded because they can reveal the identities of CIA informants, critical intelligence assets who could be killed if their cover is blown. Others were marked ORCON, which means that the agency that originally classified the document must approve further dissemination.

Archive staffers informed the Justice Department, which kicked off the criminal investigation into the mishandling of classified information and obstruction of justice.

Trump had another chance to come clean on June 3 when FBI investigators arrived at Mar-a-Lago to remove additional records, which had been subpoenaed by a grand jury. Team Trump handed over a few more scraps of sensitive material that day, and at least one of his lawyers signed a document attesting that there was no more.

During that visit, Trump’s lawyers showed the FBI a basement storage area where documents had been kept. After the visit, Justice Department lawyers told Team Trump to secure the room and not touch anything.

Evidently, there was still something worth safeguarding in there. Moreover, if Team Trump started shifting documents around after the Justice Department specifically told them not to, they could be committing obstruction of justice.

Keep in mind that it was illegal for Trump to be hanging on to any presidential records, let alone priceless government secrets. By showing the basement cache of presidential records to the FBI, Team Trump was admitting to an ongoing crime.

Later that month, Trump was hit with another subpoena, this time for the surveillance footage of the storage room. The footage reportedly showed boxes being moved in and out of the storage room shortly after one of Trump’s contacts with the Justice Department.

The Justice Department clearly believed that there were more sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago, hence the search on August 8. The search yielded 11 sets of classified documents, which were removed from Trump’s bedroom, office and basement.

The affidavit that supplied the probable cause for the search was unsealed Friday, in a highly unusual move. The unredacted portions of the document reveal little about why the FBI expected to find not only additional classified documents but also evidence of obstruction of justice. The Justice Department cited the need to safeguard witnesses from harassment as one reason for redactions. That seems to confirm speculation that one or more sources inside Mar-a-Lago cooperated with the FBI.

If the affidavit seems underwhelming, it’s because the probable cause is already in plain sight. No one disputes that Trump removed more than 15 boxes of records at the end of his term.

He fought to hang onto them for nearly a year.

When Trump got one last chance to hand over the documents, his lawyer lied and said they’d all been returned. The subpoenaed surveillance footage may even have captured Team Trump’s attempts to hide documents from investigators.

Trump’s boasts that he owns the documents are undercutting his lawyers’ attempts to portray a brazen theft as an accident.

All evidence points to Trump knowingly and willfully removing classified documents for his own purposes.

Why Allen Weisselberg can no longer invoke the 5th Amendment to protect Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s top financial adviser Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty Thursday to 15 felonies, including tax fraud. The Trump Organization itself stands charged with similar crimes. Legally, Weisselberg’s guilt is tantamount to the Trump Organization’s.

The former president is not charged in this case, but the indictment alleges that he participated in at least one aspect of the scheme.

The Trump Organization is the nerve center of Trump’s empire. It’s accountable only to him. If the organization is found guilty, the company could face large fines or roadblocks to future deals.

READ MORE: Allen Weisselberg expected to 'criminally implicate' Trump Organization in plea deal

That would hit Trump’s pocketbook directly. But more importantly, Weisselberg could potentially testify that Trump personally, knowingly and willfully participated in the tax scam.

A primitive scheme

Weisselberg was facing 15 years maximum, but he agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a five-month sentence, of which he’ll probably only serve 100 days at Rikers Island. He agreed to testify against the Trump Organization, but he didn’t agree to cooperate with the larger criminal investigation into Donald Trump personally. This is face-saving for Weisselberg who can say that he stayed loyal to his boss of 50 years, but this may be a distinction without a difference.

Weisselberg pleaded guilty to administering and benefiting from a primitive tax-avoidance scheme. Some senior Trump Organization managers were paid in lavish fringe benefits such as rent-free apartments, leased luxury cars and private-school tuition payments.

READ MORE: Ex-Trump Organization CFO agrees to testify against Donald Trump's companies in potential criminal trial

As a result, their paychecks were smaller. They paid fewer taxes. The Trump Organization dodged taxes on their artificially small payroll.

Weisselberg failed to report nearly $1.8 million in income over 15 years that included the value of a rent-free apartment on Riverside Boulevard in Manhattan, leased Mercedes-Benzes for himself and his wife and private school tuition for his grandkids.

The indictment alleges that some of the tuition was paid by checks drawn on Trump’s personal account, signed by Trump personally.

If the Trump Organization insists on taking this case to trial, Weisselberg could theoretically testify that Trump knew he was writing those checks as part of the scheme.

Still a black box

The criminal investigation of Trump reportedly stalled out because New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg worried that he couldn’t prove that Trump knowingly falsified the value of his assets. The prosecutors who investigated Trump insisted they could prove multiple felonies, but Bragg’s the man in charge.

After so many years and so many investigations, the Trump Organization is still a black box. Trump’s top lieutenants have for years thwarted investigations by pleading the Fifth.

The perennial challenge in white-collar cases is proving that the big boss knowingly and willfully participated and that the crimes weren’t just the work of overzealous underlings. Trump’s lieutenants routinely refuse to answer basic questions under oath about how the company is run and who makes decisions, on the grounds that it might incriminate them.

For years, Weisselberg invoked his right against self-incrimination whenever investigators questioned him about Trump’s business dealings, even the most basic aspects of how the business operated.

But now Weisselberg can’t take the Fifth about any of the crimes he’s already pleaded guilty to. He already incriminated himself on those.

De facto life sentence

More to the point, since his sentencing isn’t until after the Trump Organization’s trial, he’s testifying with a 15-year prison term hanging over his head, a de facto life sentence for a frail 75-year-old man.

That’s a big incentive not to get cute with prosecutors who ask uncomfortable questions. That kind of testimony could be useful to investigators and possibly even to future prosecutors.

Weisselberg could reveal very damaging information about the inner workings of Trump’s business and his personal misconduct without technically cooperating with the criminal probe against his boss.

READ MORE: Ex-Trump Organization CFO negotiating 'unexpectedly favorable' plea deal with Manhattan DA