Consider it another mark of the intense interest in the Justice Department’s probe of Russian election interference:
Some 40 spectators — including reporters and a sketch artist — showed up on Thursday for a hearing that hinged on whether a long-shot case seeking $350 million from special counsel Robert Mueller could be steered to a particular judge.
Jerome Corsi, a conservative commentator who helped popularize the false idea that President Barack Obama was born outside the U.S., claims he has been unlawfully surveilled and pressured by government investigators leading the Russia probe.
Corsi’s attorney, Larry Klayman, tried to land the dispute with Judge Richard Leon.
“Because they’re having a hard time proving so-called Russian collusion, my client’s between a rock and a hard place,” Klayman said.
The theory goes like this: Since the judge ruled in his favor in another case, years earlier, that the government engaged in dragnet surveillance, Leon should also preside over Corsi’s new claims.
Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Tulis cried foul. She cited a rule dictating that only cases with identical litigants could be assigned to the same judge.
Unlike her courtroom opponent, Tulis kept her statements to a bare minimum and used only a few moments of her allotted 10 minutes of argument time.
The judge swiftly agreed with her, not even taking a recess to deliberate.
“A related case is not whatever a plaintiff wishes it to be,” Leon said. To accept Klayman’s argument “would invite precisely the sort of judge shopping that this system is designed to avoid.”
And, the judge added, in his two decades on the federal bench, “I have seen my fair share of novel and difficult questions. This case has not been one of them.”
Leon ordered the clerk to reassign the dispute using the typical random assignment system. The case was assigned to Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle.
Corsi lawsuit to continue
Outside the courthouse, Klayman offered an optimistic tone.
“We came here to assert the rights of not just Dr. Corsi but every American,” Klayman said. “But we’re not down and we’re not out.”
The brief hearing did reveal a few new details: Corsi said the FBI had reached out to his stepson, apparently after investigators read an electronic message in which Corsi and the stepson discussed a “scrub” of a computer.
Corsi told reporters that machine had nothing to do with Russian election interference, WikiLeaks or other intermediaries who may have facilitated hacking or publishing of stolen emails from the Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
Corsi is among a group of associates of political consultant Roger Stone. One big question in the Russia case is whether Stone, Corsi or others served as a bridge between Trump’s campaign and WikiLeaks and through it, with the Russian intelligence service waging “active measures” against the U.S.
In late November 2018, Corsi announced that he would reject a plea offer from the special counsel that covered one felony count of perjury for lying during the investigation. He later entertained several media interviews and gave reporters copies of the draft documents the special counsel had prepared.
Having spurned the Justice Department’s offer of a deal, Corsi tried to go on offense with his lawsuit against Mueller, and he said Thursday he had already turned over many other devices and materials to the special counsel’s office.
Corsi complained about having to answer questions from prosecutors and what he calls a baseless inquiry. “I was questioned out of an 8-inch-thick binder with all the records of my life,” Corsi said of his questioning by the special counsel team. “This is a game Mueller is playing.”
Corsi said he was never a link between people in Trump’s camp and the boss of WikiLeaks, who has lived for years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
“I’ve never spoken with Julian Assange … no communications whatsoever, directly or indirectly,” Corsi said.
As for his messages to Trump adviser Stone in 2016 that said damaging emails would soon emerge to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Corsi said: “I completely figured it out on my own.”
Corsi’s remarks outside the courthouse were periodically interrupted by expressions of support from a small group of fans.
“God bless you, Dr. Corsi,” one man told him. The men snapped selfies with Corsi inside the federal courthouse before the hearing began.