A witness threatened with indictment over allegations of lying to investigators in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe failed on Thursday in his attempt to select the judge to hear a recently filed lawsuit accusing Mueller of illegal tactics.
The witness, Jerome Corsi, an author and conspiracy theorist, appeared in federal court in Washington alongside conservative attorney Larry Klayman to argue that the suit should remain with U.S. District Court Richard Leon, who handed Klayman an attention-grabbing win five years ago in a suit over warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency.
Klayman used the brief court hearing to contend that Corsi’s complaints alleging illegal surveillance by Mueller rendered the case related to the earlier surveillance litigation in front of Leon. However, the conservative gadfly and Judicial Watch founder seemed equally intent on flattering Leon for his wisdom and fairness.
“I admire you and what you did in the past because you did stand up to the government and hold them accountable,” Klayman said. “You are the judge who understands the issues the best, having dealt with these issues previously.”
Klayman acknowledged that Leon eventually dismissed the earlier surveillance-related cases after Congress passed new legislation altering the landscape for the litigation. “I respect you greatly, nonetheless,” the conservative lawyer told the judge.
Flattery proved insufficient to carry the day, however, as Leon didn’t even take a break before ruling from the bench that the Corsi case did “not even come close” to meeting the standard to link it to the earlier litigation.
“A related case is not whatever a plaintiff wishes,” Leon said, noting that the court’s rules are intended to prevent “judge-shopping” — the practice of trying to ensure that a case is assigned to a judge thought to be favorable.
The George W. Bush appointee said he’d seen some cases in which the issue of deciding whether cases are related or not was difficult. “This has not been one of them,” Leon said.
Government lawyers seemed eager to minimize their role at the hearing, which drew a throng of reporters and a small band of Mueller opponents to Leon’s dimly lit courtroom. None of Mueller’s prosecutors appeared to be on hand.
While Leon offered each side 10 minutes at the lectern and Klayman used the bulk of his time, Justice Department attorney Elizabeth Tulis chose to take only about a minute to summarize the government’s position.
Tulis noted that the court’s rules on directing related cases to the same judge typically require that the earlier cases be pending. Technically, Klayman’s are not because they were dismissed, although two are still on appeal.
“The integrity of the judicial assignment process requires that this case be randomly assigned,” Tulis said, before taking her seat.
Before concluding the hearing, Leon made clear he’d picked up on Klayman’s effusive praise. However, the judge made note of it solely to observe that the attorney was sounding a lot more friendly than he did in a March court filing in the NSA litigation when he accused the judge of being “harvested” by federal intelligence agencies and “co-opted by the deep state.”
At a post-hearing news conference that proved longer than the court session, Klayman and Corsi styled the legal defeat as a triumph, in large part because of the slew of reporters and TV cameras the event drew.
“We’re not down and we’re not out,” Klayman told reporters. “We’ll just simply get another judge. That’s all. Apparently, he didn’t want the case, because this is a tough case. The government was scared of this judge.”
Corsi appears to have come under scrutiny by investigators because in the summer of 2016 he was in contact with Trump adviser Roger Stone about the possibility of a future release by WikiLeaks of emails that could be damaging to the campaign of Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Corsi has said he had no direct knowledge of what emails were about to be published or when, and that his messages to Stone on the subject were simply guesses about the timing.
“I’m being persecuted because I was smart enough to figure it out on my own,” Corsi said.
Klayman said Corsi is currently under threat of indictment because he rebuffed a plea deal under which prosecutors wanted Corsi to admit that he made false statements to investigators in the Russia probe. “He’s a religious man. He could not do that in front of his maker,” Klayman told Leon.
Corsi said that he didn’t know whether or not he would be indicted, and that he hadn’t heard from Mueller’s team since he turned down the plea offer. “I have no idea what’s going to happen at this point. Again, I know I did nothing wrong,” he said.
Asked by a reporter about evidence that Corsi was subjected to surveillance, Klayman and Corsi pointed to the FBI’s questioning Corsi’s stepson recently about a text message from Corsi. They declined to explain why that disclosure would be illegal or why they were confident that Mueller is relying on National Security Agency surveillance.
“This is a case that we cannot lose, regardless of outcome,” Corsi said. “Today, we won the first of many victories . … I will fight this until I die. I will go to prison until I die.”