A convicted stock trader is asking the Supreme Court to hear his appeal, citing damaging illegal FBI leaks to the press that came from the New York bureau office that is heavily involved in Trump probes.
Taking the case would inject the nation’s highest court into the issue of government leaks that were used to target and tar investigation targets, some in the Russia election interference probe.
Investor and sports gambler William T. Walters’ May 3 petition to the Supreme Court narrates the kind of FBI leaks that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz condemned in his 2018 report on how agents handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans this week inquired about any probes into intelligence leaks and Attorney General William Barr has testified about a number of ongoing criminal leak investigations.
“The rampant culture of leaking at the FBI is law enforcement’s worst-kept secret,” New York attorney Alexandra A.E. Shapiro said in the Walters petition to the Supreme Court. “These violations of grand jury secrecy likely constitute multiple criminal offenses, including obstruction of justice.”
The writ of certiorari, as such petitions are called, also matches complaints from figures in the 22-month Trump-Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Kevin Downing, who represented former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, said the government was leaking inaccurate allegations against his client.
DOCUMENT: Read the Supreme Court filing
News stories said Manafort had contact with Kremlin officials during the election and was heard asking them for help. Mr. Downing said the articles were false. There was no such evidence and the leaking was done to prejudice the public against Manafort, he said.
Manafort was convicted of bank and tax fraud but wasn’t charged in an election conspiracy, which Mr. Mueller never found.
Mr. Downing’s court demands forced the government to reveal that a prosecutor and FBI agents had met with Associated Press reporters about Manafort.
Walters’ petition to the Supreme Court paints an unflattering picture of how the New York FBI field office leaked to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times to pressure the defendant.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, then led by Trump critic Preet Bharara, was aware of at least one agent-press get-together on May 27, 2014, the petition says.
“This case confirms why [the Supreme Court] must intervene to stop the problem,” Ms. Shapiro argued. “It is hard to imagine a more pervasive pattern of grand jury leaks than those perpetrated by the FBI’s New York office over the past decade, including in this case.”
In pretrial motions, Walters’ attorneys pressed the prosecution to come clean on leaking. The district court judge then ordered a hearing, prompting the U.S. attorney’s office to file a letter admitting to some leaks but not providing the expansive disclosure sought by the defense.
The prosecution named one leaker, FBI agent David Chaves, who has since left the bureau and opened a consulting business. A message to his firm wasn’t answered.
“In an effort to jumpstart the investigation, Chaves began strategically leaking secret grand jury information to the press,” the writ states.
The prosecution’s Dec. 16, 2016, letter to the trial judge said: “A significant development in our inquiry occurred on December 6, 2016, when FBI Coordinating Supervisory Special Agent (“CSSA”) David Chaves, during an in-person interview with the USAO and attended by counsel for the FBI, admitted that in 2013 and 2014, he was a significant source of confidential information regarding the Investigation for the Times and Journal.”
Walters was convicted in 2017, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit refused to dismiss the case. He was sentenced to five years in prison and is incarcerated in Florida.
The Supreme Court petition says the FBI violated the law on grand jury secrecy — the same law Mr. Barr is citing to withhold from Congress sections of the 448-page Mueller report.
“The government did not dispute … that the FBI embarked upon a deliberate and systematic campaign to violate grand jury secrecy in this case and a number of other high profile investigations,” Ms. Shapiro said.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.
Ms. Shapiro said the prosecutors withheld thousands of relevant emails and text messages and the Justice Department has swept the scandal under the rug.
“After the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the head of the FBI’s New York Office discovered the leaks, they deliberately turned a blind eye in order to take advantage of the leakers’ misconduct and use it to resuscitate a dormant investigation,” her filing says.
Mr. Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, expressed alarm when his probe into how the FBI investigated Mrs. Clinton turned up a “culture of unauthorized media contacts” throughout the bureau.
“We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review,” the Horowitz report said.
He provided two illustrations — with cellphones representing bureau employees and reporters — showing more than 50 senior agents and officials communicating with seven reporters. Names and locations weren’t provided.
“We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters,” Mr. Horowitz said. “We concluded that these leaks highlight the need to change what appears to be a cultural attitude among many in the organization.”
Mr. Horowitz is said to be in the final stages of a second report — this one focusing on the FBI’s use of Democratic Party opposition research, known as the dossier, to obtain a year’s worth of wiretaps on a Trump campaign volunteer. He is also expected to address FBI press leaks.
Monday on Capitol Hill, two Republican senators sent a letter to Michael K. Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, asking whether he is investigating leaks. Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa referred to text messages between two former FBI employees, agent Peter Strzok and counsel Lisa Page.
In one text, during President Trump’s transition in December 2016, Mr. Strzok told Ms. Page: “Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they’re kicking in to overdrive.”
The following April, Mr. Strzok emailed colleagues about an apparently inaccurate story in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper. The story said British spies were the first to note Trump team links to Russia.
“I’m beginning to think the agency got info a lot earlier than we thought and hasn’t shared it completely with us. Might explain all these weird/seemingly incorrect leads all these media folks have. Would also highlight agency as source of some of the leaks,” Mr. Strzok said.
The words “sisters” and “agency” in the messages appear to be references to the intelligence community.
“These texts and emails demonstrate the need to investigate leaks from agencies or entities other than FBI,” the two senators said. “Accordingly, has the Intelligence Community Office of the Inspector General initiated an investigation into these apparent leaks? If not, please explain why not.”
With the Mueller investigation concluded, the focus on Mr. Trump has shifted to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan — the headquarters the Walters defense says allowed some press leaks.
CNN reported in February that prosecutors have subpoenaed every conceivable financial document from the Trump inaugural committee. The hunt is for illegal donations from foreigners.
It is the Manhattan office that garnered a guilty plea from Mr. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, his chief accuser.
Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women who said they had sexual relations with the president. The money came from candidate Trump and wasn’t disclosed on Federal Election Commission disclosure forms.
There is media speculation that Mr. Trump could be charged once he leaves office.
A former FEC commissioner, a Republican, told The Washington Times that financing a nondisclosure agreement with the candidate’s personal funds isn’t a reportable campaign expenditure.
“The expense has to derive from a campaign function, and this did not,” the source said.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Click to Read More and View Comments
Click to Hide
Please read our comment policy before commenting.