Yesterday the US District Court in DC issued a scathing order in one of several recently revealed Trump-era leak investigations seeking the communications of journalists who published embarrassing details about the Russia investigation. Castigating the Justice Department for seeking to keep the details of the leak hunt locked down for all eternity, US Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui wrote:

A sealed matter is not generally, as the government persists in imagining, "nailed into a nondescript crate, stored deep in a sprawling, uncataloged warehouse." Leopold, 964 F. 3d at 1133 (citing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Lucasfilm Ltd. 1981)). Rather, it is merely frozen in carbonite, awaiting its eventual thawing. Cf. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Lucasfilm Ltd. 1980).

Oh, yes, she did. Because federal judges are all huge freakin' dorks.

Leave aside for the moment the Garland Justice Department's continuing reluctance to reveal the backstory on the investigation, even as it discloses the journalist searches and promises to go forth and sin no more — DOJ gonna DOJ.

The real reveal here is what the Bill Barr Justice Department was fixated on in December 2020 when it filed this search request. And it was ...

... drum roll, please ...

RUSSIA WITCH HUNT!!!!1!!!


As the unsealed application reveals, the Trump Justice Department had homed in on three important Washington Post stories about the origins of the Russia investigation. And not because these stories jeopardized national security, but because they made Trump and everyone around him look guilty as hell.

On May 26, 2017, Post reporters Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller, and Adam Entous (now of the New Yorker) broke the story of Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn's efforts during the transition to develop a secret back channel to the Russian government, perhaps through the Russian embassy.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal [for the Trump transition/Russia back channel] during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser.

On June 27, 2017, the same reporters published a truly shocking story on President Barack Obama's efforts to combat Russian interference in the 2020 election, detailing Mitch McConnell's threat to accuse the president of politicizing the intelligence if he tried to do anything about Putin's interference to help Trump.

And on July 21, 2017, the team revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and "discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow," according to cables intercepted by US intelligence agencies.

All of this information, save McConnell's appalling ratfuckery, was published years ago in the Mueller Report. So why was the Trump DOJ fixated on prosecuting the reporters' sources on December 22, 2020, when the original application was filed? Because it sure as hell looks like the Department was on a blatantly political mission to seek revenge on whoever leaked the information that forced Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and got Robert Mueller appointed as special counsel.

And indeed the December 22 application for the reporters' communications records reveals that the real target was congressional Democrats themselves, whom the White House suspected of being the source for the Post stories. The document refers to classified and/or secret information made available to members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and some of their staffers in April 2017 which later appeared in the Post's reports.

Then there's a redacted section that begins, "According to AT&T toll records," followed by a description of reporters' habit of making contact with sources via phone or email, before moving to encrypted methods of communication. So even with the redaction bars, it's pretty clear that this was an effort to connect the dots between Democrats on the Intel Committees and the Post reporters. All of which jibes with the Times' reporting that the DOJ investigation centered around Michael Bahar, who was then a staffer on the House Intel Committee. Not to mention those recent stories about Bill Barr's DOJ sweeping up the communications of Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.

That investigation came to nothing, of course. But even after the election the DOJ was still hunting that white whale, trying desperately to take down House Democrats and using our nation's law enforcement apparatus to seek revenge on Trump's enemies. So please remember that as Bill Barr trots around DC trying to redeem his name by touting all the times he refused to investigate insane claims that Italy or Hugo Chávez or space aliens rigged the 2020 election for Joe Biden. The fact that there were finally some things he was unwilling to do doesn't excuse all the crazy, fucked up ways he tried to burn down the Justice Department and use it as a partisan revenge machine.

[WaPo / NYT / Case Files]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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