Judge Aileen Cannon was right.
In her controversial order authorizing the appointment of a neutral third-party to review the classification status of documents seized during the FBI’s pillage of Mar-A-Lago last summer, Cannon cited as a main concern the Justice Department’s chronic habit of leaking to the news media. Leaks hinting at what FBI investigators allegedly found, including perhaps nuclear secrets, were reported by reliable media apparatchiks just a few days after the FBI’s unprecedented raid of a former president’s home.
Clearly aware that federal prosecutors already were collaborating with the media to spin the raid as legitimate amid a public outcry, Cannon granted Trump’s request for a special master to “ensur[e] the integrity of an orderly process amidst swirling allegations of bias and media leaks,” she wrote in her September 5 ruling. A proper investigation, she continued, “does not demand unquestioning trust in the determinations of the Department of Justice.”
Cannon, a Trump-appointed district court judge in Florida, at one point confronted prosecutors about the illicit leaks. “Government’s counsel stated that he had no knowledge of any leaks stemming from his team but candidly acknowledged the unfortunate existence of leaks to the press.”
A pile-on ensued against Cannon; the Justice Department appealed her order and prevailed in the appellate court. But Cannon foresaw exactly what has unfolded in the press over the past seven months. And as Trump prepares to fight his very first indictment handed down by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, leaks are springing up all over the corporate media to bolster the appearance of Trump’s criminality.
A lengthy piece in the Washington Post over the weekend gave a detailed account of the obstruction side of the classified documents investigation now led by Jack Smith, the special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland last year to give the false impression of investigative impartiality. If the Post’s reporting is accurate, the obstruction inquiry seems as weak as the original case; recall of the 13,000 items of evidence stolen by FBI agents during the lengthy raid, the government later claimed only about 100 papers contained classified markings.
“The additional evidence comes as investigators have used emails and text messages from a former Trump aide to help understand key moments last year, said the people, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation,” Post reporters Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, and Perry Stein wrote.
The reporters specifically named Molly Michael, a former White House assistant who followed Trump to Florida after his term ended, as the aide whose communications are under scrutiny. Investigators also have “witness statements, security camera footage, and other documentary evidence” that purportedly proves Trump was involved in inspecting boxes of materials after receiving a subpoena last May to produce more classified records, the Post further disclosed.
It is highly unlikely those specifics were leaked to the Post by Team Trump—particularly since the carefully timed leak worked in the government’s favor.
The usual suspects quickly surmised that this really must be the end for Trump. Disgraced former FBI agent Peter Strzok concluded on Twitter that Trump’s actions based on the Post report “Feels obstruction-y.” Disgraced former Justice Department prosecutor Andrew Weissmann insisted the obstruction case “could be a rock crusher game over,” perhaps the thousandth time Weissmann made such an unrealized prediction. (Weissmann, by the way, was an outspoken critic of Cannon’s special master appointment.)
CNN’s Don Lemon asked one Trump attorney during his show Monday morning to comment on the Post article. “Do you know whether he reviewed certain classified documents after receiving the subpoena?” Lemon asked Alina Habba. “I do not,” she replied.
The Post bombshell is the latest in a barrage of leaks tied to Smith’s investigation into both the handling of classified documents and the events of January 6. Fox News reported on Monday that Smith subpoenaed “multiple” Secret Service agents to testify about the classified documents matter.
ABC News last month disclosed details of a sealed court order issued by D.C. District Court Judge Beryl Howell to compel the grand jury testimony of Evan Corcoran, another Trump attorney. “Howell found that prosecutors showed ‘sufficient’ evidence that Trump ‘intentionally concealed’ the existence of additional classified documents from Corcoran, sources said,” the network reported on March 21. Howell also ordered Corcoran to produce records to Smith’s investigators including “handwritten notes, invoices, and transcriptions of personal audio recordings.”
The article represented a stunning breach of investigative privacy. Not to be outdone, the network’s competitor published a piece the following week revealing the contents of another sealed court ruling—an order demanding the grand jury testimony of former Vice President Mike Pence to discuss Trump’s efforts to “overturn” the 2020 election. “The ruling, which was issued Monday, remains under seal because it involves grand jury matters,” NBC News reported on March 28.
That decision followed a separate sealed order by Howell that pierced privilege claims for top Trump advisors including former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and former National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien among others. All must testify before the grand jury now considering charges against Trump for January 6—again leaked to ABC News.
Sealed orders do not appear on the public court docket so there’s no way to fact-check the accuracy of media reporting, which is undoubtedly the purpose of leaking selective portions to regime scribes.
Recent leaks are not merely relegated to investigations into Trump. Last week, someone leaked to the New York Times a spreadsheet containing messages between FBI agents involved in the seditious conspiracy case against the Proud Boys, the so-called “militia” group involved in the Capitol protest on January 6. The spreadsheet, as I reported here, is considered a classified document by the Justice Department; prosecutors successfully convinced the easily persuadable Judge Timothy Kelly to “claw back” the spreadsheet from the defense team after incriminating exchanges about doctored and destroyed evidence as well as violations of attorney-client privilege were discovered.
Prosecutors subsequently deleted about 80 messages the government claimed were “classified or sensitive.” Reporter Alan Feuer acknowledged the spreadsheet “is missing several entries” but the file gave a “rare look” into the Proud Boys investigation. Feuer described some of the spreadsheet’s contents including references to FBI informants and pending FBI raids. “It shows how [FBI Special] Agent [Nicole] Miller and her colleagues scrambled after evidence and sought to recruit members of the far-right group all while trying to deal with the odds and ends of life—everything from squeezing in workouts to coping with the bureau’s obsolete technology.”
Oddly, the leak of the “classified” spreadsheet did not concern Judge Kelly or the Justice Department. Kelly, who blasted the defense for wanting to use incriminating chats to attack the FBI’s credibility, did not mention the report during Monday’s trial proceedings; prosecutors did not file a motion to demand an investigation into the source of the leak.
The wellspring of coordinated leaks——presumably almost all by sources tied to the Justice Department—fulfills another prophecy by Judge Cannon. “[Trump] faces an unquantifiable potential harm by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” Cannon warned in her special master ruling.
She knew the department’s recent history of bad behavior related to all things Donald Trump would repeat itself. How right she was.