Judge wants to review investigative tactics in Bannon case
Federal prosecutors prosecuting Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress revealed on Wednesday that they did not seek approval from senior Justice Department officials before taking the unusual step of spying on his attorney, in addition to wrongly targeting a certain number of other Americans with similar names. .
The action appeared to upset U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, who repeatedly asked prosecutors why they thought it was appropriate, or even relevant, to secretly compile a log of private phone calls, text messages and emails from the prisoner. defense attorney Robert Costello.
“What’s unique here is that the government didn’t just go and get regular records,” Nichols said. “Why is this an appropriate first step? »
Steve Bannon wants to turn his trial into a search of the Biden White House
The judge ruled on Wednesday that the government must turn over the requests for the phone records and the phone records themselves for its private review. This includes information the Department of Justice has received from Comcast, Google, and Yahoo.
“The behavior of the FBI and, quite frankly, the DOJ has been outrageous for my attorney and for attorney-client privilege,” Bannon said outside the courtroom Wednesday afternoon.
“Everything that was in the background, everything that went to the grand jury. It should all come out,” Bannon said. “The media should have – the American people should have – access to all information about this. It’s in your interest, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Amanda Vaughn, the lead prosecutor on the case speaking in court, stressed that “we have never researched the content of any communication”. Instead, the DOJ said it was looking for “toll records,” showing who Costello called or wrote to and when he did so.
While it’s still unclear why the Justice Department would make the move — potentially violating established protections for communications between attorneys and their clients — Vaughn hinted that law enforcement was checking to see if Bannon was really leaned on the advice of his lawyer when he refused to testify before January 1st. 6 Committee in October.
“Costello is the middleman here. It’s possible that Costello never fully communicated what was…here,” she told the judge, conceding that “it may not be the clearest evidence.” direct”.
“We don’t just suck up privileged materials,” she said. “That tells us nothing about confidential communications.”
Toward the end of the hearing, Costello aggressively criticized the DOJ.
“I’m the real Robert Costello they were looking for,” he began. “This, quite frankly, shows a terrible abuse of the grand jury process.”
The defense attorney, who worked years ago as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan alongside Rudy Giuliani, said he would never have approved of crossing that red line during his time at the Justice Department . Costello also told the judge how he twice met with prosecutors virtually in early November to try to talk them out of bringing criminal charges against Bannon.
He said the FBI quietly attended one of those meetings and turned a lawyer’s informal introduction to another lawyer into a formal interview with the FBI, which he described as a crude attempt to dig a “wedge” between him and his client.
“They saw it as an opportunity to make me a witness. I was doing a legal presentation on a declination,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t informed that this was an FBI interview.”
Costello said the government’s secret acquisition of his personal cellphone, work landline, and home phone records violated his rights — and potentially those of his other client in an unrelated matter: Giuliani.
In court, prosecutors made the startling claim that this kind of surveillance would require further scrutiny from the department if they were to obtain defense attorney records directly from them. But, they explained, additional authorizations could be avoided because the federal government has instead reached out to telecommunications and technology companies.
Bannon’s other attorneys, Evan Corcoran and David Schoen, took advantage.
“It’s… absurd at first glance. There is a special relationship between a lawyer and his client,” Schoen told the judge. “Let’s hope the Inspector General sees things differently.”
“What were they going to say based on the tapes?” They knew he was communicating [with Bannon,]added Schoen. “I think what happened is outrageous.”
The judge said he understands Bannon’s team might seek some sort of reprimand against investigators or a referral to a watchdog agency, but he has refrained from taking any action at this time.
It was clear from the start that this seemingly simple matter was going to turn into a long and unpleasant legal battle. On the day he pleaded “not guilty” on Nov. 17, Bannon told reporters outside the federal courthouse that he would turn it into “a crime from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.” And Bannon’s legal team seems to see this case as an opportunity to blow up the justice system. Indeed, his initial legal strategy was to attempt to dig into White House and Congressional documents, which could harm the January 6 Committee’s investigation.
But the case took a surprising turn in early February, when Bannon’s lawyers revealed in court documents that the FBI had secretly spied on Costello. Last week, The Daily Beast detailed how the FBI targeted the private communications of several obviously misguided Costellos, including a much younger one in another New York City and a FEMA employee in another state.
On Monday, the DOJ in court filings asked the judge how The Daily Beast broke the news and whether that reporter received any restricted material.
FBI Casts Incredibly Dodgy Net For Steve Bannon’s Lawyer
Some legal scholars believe this FBI net could affect the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute Bannon itself. When The Daily Beast raised these questions last week with South Carolina law professor Wadie Said, he explained that investigators had done more than “create a lot of work for themselves and irrelevant information”. They potentially damaged their own case.
“It seems incredibly weird and over the top,” he said. “When you operate so broadly, you open yourself up to a skilled advocate who distinguishes your techniques.”
At issue here is the Department of Justice’s use of US Code 2703, which allows the government to quietly force a company to turn over “the contents of a wire or electronic communication” for the past 180 days. This allows law enforcement to require traditional telecoms, like Verizon or AT&T, or even tech companies, like Apple and Google, to hand over customer data.
It wasn’t so bad for the Feds, though. On Wednesday, the judge refused to give Bannon’s team copies of secret documents from the grand jury that indicted him, such as instructions jurors received from prosecutors or subpoenas they sent to looking for Costello’s records. He also didn’t seem convinced by arguments that Bannon’s refusal to testify didn’t meet the legal definition of “voluntary” simply because he was relying on his attorney’s advice.
As a former Trump White House official, Bannon has publicly asserted that he could not be compelled to testify about communications with former President Donald Trump regarding the violent January 6, 2021 insurrection, due of residual executive privilege – a false theory that was struck down by a federal district court and appeals panel, and ultimately not adopted by the Supreme Court.
But Nichols gave Bannon’s team a potential first dive into never-before-seen Justice Department filings, ruling that the DOJ must now turn over internal memos — “public or not” — that would point to any political discussion about the prosecution. the current and former White House. officials.
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