No Honor Among Troll Faces: The Latest Lawfare against Prigozhin’s Trolls

Yesterday, Treasury sanctioned four people for election interference. Rudy Giuliani associate Andreii Derkach has gotten most of the attention. But Treasury also sanctioned three people associated with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s troll operation.

Today, Treasury also designated three IRA actors pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended by E.O. 13757, and E.O. 13848 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRA, an entity designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, and E.O. 13848. Russian nationals Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev, and Darya Aslanova, as employees of the IRA, supported the IRA’s cryptocurrency accounts. The IRA uses cryptocurrency to fund activities in furtherance of their ongoing malign influence operations around the world.

The identifying information announcement provides not just passport and date of birth information (which is normal), but for two of the sanctioned individuals, it includes 17 and 6 crypto-currency addresses, respectively.

ANDREYEV, Anton Nikolaeyvich (Cyrillic: АНДРЕЕВ, Антон Николаевич), 9 3 Bloshevikov Prospect Apt 35, Saint Petersburg, Russia; DOB 03 Mar 1985; POB Saint Petersburg, Russia; nationality Russia; Email Address [email protected]; Gender Male;

Digital Currency Address – XBT 1Fz29BQp82pE3vXXcsZoMNQ3KSHfMzfMe3;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1AeSq93WDNdLoEJ92sex7T8xQZoYYm8BtS;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1AoxtfiBQ22DvbhqAN9Ctb8sULMRhrdwTr;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 18Qj1THHuETfYhuRDZycXJbWwDMGw73Poa;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1MnbhWe5wr7Ut45ReyQsm96PwnM9jD7KaH;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DYFJ6CuBvrxyoQSuBzVsNcetY9tvdsrag;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 15Pt4NwZaUmMUwS2bQbyyncc7mzgWShtv8;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1PhqQpaGCrqSxQ6QDXcv14QCd1U98Zp34E;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 13YBQr2Cp1YY3xqq2qngaPb7ca1o4ugeq6;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1KgudqxMfYaGzqAA7MS4DcsqejtMteqhix;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1FRyL9gmFGbzfYDAB4iY9836DJe3KSnjP9;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DbShx4r8i2XesthoDBf5EkYWz5dsKEusV;

Digital Currency Address – ETH 0x8576acc5c05d6ce88f4e49bf65bdf0c62f91353c;

Phone Number 79315403678;

Digital Currency Address – LTC LWnbjLYUfqeokfbWM4FcU7uk2FP2DSxuWS;

alt. Digital Currency Address – LTC LaYUy1DGfVSuSF5KbPhbLrm8kRotqiwUJn;

Digital Currency Address – ZEC t1WSKwCDL1QYRRUrCCknEs5tDLhtGVYu9KM;

Digital Currency Address – BSV 12sjrrhoFEsedNRhtgwvvRqjFTh8fZTDX9; Passport 4005504207 (Russia) (individual) [CYBER2] [ELECTION-EO13848].

[snip]

LIFSHITS, Artem Mikhaylovich (Cyrillic: ЛИФШИЦ, Артем Михайлович), Primorsky Prospect 159, Saint Petersburg 197374, Russia; DOB 26 Dec 1992; nationality Russia; Email Address [email protected]; alt. Email Address [email protected]; Gender Male;

Digital Currency Address – XBT 12udabs2TkX7NXCSj6KpqXfakjE52ZPLhz;

alt. Digital Currency Address – XBT 1DT3tenf14cxz9WFNxmYrXFbB6TFiVWA9U;

Digital Currency Address – ETH 0x901bb9583b24d97e995513c6778dc6888ab6870e;

alt. Digital Currency Address – ETH 0xa7e5d5a720f06526557c513402f2e6b5fa20b00;

Phone Number 79110354982;

Digital Currency Address – LTC Leo3j36nn1JcsUQruytQhFUdCdCH5YHMR3;

Digital Currency Address – DASH Xs3vzQmNvAxRa3Xo8XzQqUb3BMgb9EogF4; Passport 719032284 (individual) [CYBER2] [ELECTION-EO13848].

Yesterday, EDVA also announced a single criminal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against one of the sanctioned people, Artem Lifshits, who in 2017 was head of the “Translator Department [or Project],” which is what the troll project focusing on the US is called. As the excerpt above notes, Lifshits actually got fewer of his cryptocurrency accounts sanctioned than another of the targets, Anton Andreyev.

I’d like to look at how the criminal complaint complements the two other sets of charges against Prigozhin’s troll operation, the indictment against 13 of the actual trolls as well as some of the companies involved (here’s a very long post on that prosecution), and Prigozhin himself and a complaint against one of the accountants involved, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova (here’s my post on that). Along with renewing and fleshing out the case against Prigozhin, the complaint may be an effort to sow discord within Prigozhin’s operation, by alerting him that some of his employees may be helping themselves to company troll funds.

The affidavit by a Secret Service Agent supporting the complaint incorporates the other two legal actions and includes them as exhibits to this charge. It even includes a footnote explaining why DOJ dismissed the charges against Prigozhin’s shell companies.

On March 16, 2020, the United States dismissed Concord Management and Consulting LLC from the Indictment. Concord “availed itself of the Court’s jurisdiction to obtain discovery from the United States . . . while positioning itself to evade any real obligations or responsibility,” even refusing to produce a corporate representative despite “appearing” through counsel. Mot. to Dismiss Concord Defs., 2, 6, United States v. Internet Research Agency, et. al, 1:18-cr-32 (DLF) (D.D.C. Mar. 16, 2020). In light of the defendant’s conduct, the United States dismissed these parties from the Indictment, stating substantial federal interests were no longer served by continuing the proceedings against them. See id. at 9. The Indictment remains pending and active as to thirteen named individual defendants and the IRA.

After some introductory matter, the affidavit:

  • Describes the Lakhta disinformation project generally, including a brief overview of its attempts to sow discord between December 2016 through May 2018, incorporating some but not all of the examples from the Khusyaynova complaint, and adding a few new ones, including three paragraphs on use, starting in July 2019 of a cover company located in Accra, Ghana.
  • Describes how in October 2018 the Secret Service started investigating the role of cryptocurrency in the operation.
  • Explains that Lifshits served as head of the Translator Department.
  • Describes how Lifshits transferred money from a BTC account opened using the stolen identity of “T.W.” to his own personal account, the central allegation of wire fraud laid out in the indictment.

The basic proof accusing Lifshits of using T.B.’s stolen identity to open a Bitcoin account that he then used to transfer money into his own account relies on very basic metadata analysis obtained using legal process:

  • Evidence backing the selectors of Lifshits tie to his biological person and one of the cryptocurrency accounts he transferred money into (including two other Internet troll employees’ address book entries with his phone number, one of which referred to him as “Troll Face”).
  • Evidence showing Lifshits applying to Project Lakhta in July 2015 and appearing on rosters of Project Lakhta employees dated January 28, 2017 to October 26, 2017.
  • A description of finding order confirmations in the known IRA email, allforusa, from a criminal marketplace that sold fraudulent identities (this might be Richard Pinedo’s site).
  • Two paragraphs describing interviews with T.W. and another identity theft victim, T.B.,  in which they said he had never owned any cryptocurrency themselves and had not authorized anyone to do so on their behalf.
  • IP analysis showing Lifshits accessing cryptocurrency addresses (including his own) from an IRA IP address, as well as from a US-based account set up using a stolen identity but controlled by IRA.
  • IP address analysis showing him accessing the T.W. cryptocurrency account at the same time he accessed one of his own accounts, into which he transferred funds.
  • User Agent String analysis showing those accounts being accessed by the same browser.
  • IP analysis establishing venue in EDVA via some AWS servers.

In other words, the complaint, after invoking the two other legal actions against IRA and Prigozhin, finds one manager amid Prigozhin’s employees and shows some very basic metadata evidence — relying on neither intelligence nor some of the more sophisticated blockchain analysis the US government would like to hide — to accuse the manager, Lifshits, of wire fraud because of a financial transfer involving the stolen identity of an American.

There are two interesting aspects of the complaint, besides the way it slowly builds the case against Prigozhin via interlocking accusations.

First, a key passage of all this describes that Lifshits made this transfer “for personal gain.”

60. On or about December 29, 2017, LIFSHITS accessed and used the T.W. Exchange 1 Account to conduct an electronic transfer of funds from the T.W. Exchange 1 Account to his personal Exchange 3 account. This transaction is publicly viewable on the Bitcoin blockchain and USSS confirmed its existence through other investigative means.

61. On or about December 29, 2017, LIFSHITS used United States IP Address 1 at 15:35 UTC to access his Exchange 3 account. Then, three minutes later, he used the same IP address to access the T.W. Exchange 1 Account. This is on the same day that the T.W. Exchange 1 Account sent an electronic funds transfer to LIFSHITS’ Exchange 3 account.

62. With this transaction, LIFSHITS (1) intentionally and voluntarily devised or participated in a scheme to defraud — as evidenced by controlling and using a fraudulent cryptocurrency account, and (2) used interstate wire communications to further the fraud — as evidenced by the online cryptocurrency transactions.

It doesn’t say, one way or another, whether this was a sanctioned transfer of funds out of an IRA-controlled account or not. The government may have used this 34-page affidavit not only to flesh out the case against Prigozhin, but also to reveal that one of his employees is bilking him, effectively stealing trolling funds.

But the complaint also mentions a Co-Conspirator 1, who along with Lifshits bought identities using cryptocurrency.

Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for the contents of the email account [email protected], which as stated above is associated with a cryptocurrency account linked to both LIFSHITS and Co-Conspirator 1. During a review of the emails, law enforcement located “Order Confirmation” emails received from an online criminal marketplace that sells fraudulent passports and similar identification documents (the “Criminal Marketplace”). These emails corresponded to purchases of United States driver licenses that reflected the real names, addresses, and dates of birth of United States identity theft victims. This type of personally identifiable information is a “means of identification” as defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028(d)(7).

It describes Co-Conspirator 1 as the sole other beneficiary of transfers out of a different IRA trolling account (though also suggests that one of the guys charged in the larger indictment might also be conducting such transfers as well).

The T.W. Exchange 1 Account reflected debits to several beneficiaries, including accounts registered to LIFSHITS and another known Project Lakhta member (“Co-Conspirator 1”). The IP activity associated with the T.W. Exchange 1 Account also matched the IP address activity of cryptocurrency accounts registered to LIFSHITS and Vladimir Venkov, who is charged in the USAO-DC Indictment.

It then introduces an account based off a different stolen identity, that of T.B., from which funds were transferred into an account controlled by the Co-Conspirator.

USSS identified a second account, which was hosted at another United States cryptocurrency exchange (“Exchange 2”). The Exchange 2 account was registered to a known Project Lakhta email account, [email protected] (hereinafter the “AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account”).7 Project Lakhta members opened the AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account using the identifiers of T.B. According to Exchange 2’s records, Project Lakhta members solely funded the AllforUSA Exchange 2 Account with an incoming credit from an account also in the name of T.B. at a United States-based financial institution. This credit was used exclusively to fund outgoing payments to a Blockchain wallet that USSS investigators determined was controlled by Co-Conspirator 1.

Now, it may be that the government only introduced Co-Conspirator 1 to establish venue in EDVA (which went through the T.B. account).

But it sure sounds like it is describing Co-Conspirator 1 as engaging in the same kind of transfers from IRA accounts into his own personal accounts that it describes Lifshits as doing.

Perhaps stealing from the troll till is considered part of their official compensation (elsewhere, the complaint cites the salary of Lifshits, so the US government may know the answer). Or perhaps these guys whose cryptocurrency addresses just got published in a US sanction announcement have been stealing from Prigozhin, in which case the US Treasury just provided Prigozhin a lot of hints about how to prove it.

Racism and Russia: The Topics Brian Murphy Claims He Was Ordered to Lie About

Yesterday, Adam Schiff released the whistleblower complaint of Brian Murphy, who was recently demoted from his job in Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis because — he claims — he refused to make lie about what the intelligence showed to match President Trump’s preferred policy objectives.

The whole complaint is worth reading, and Murphy has been subpoenaed for a classified deposition on September 21, after which we may learn more about his complaints.

But I think it’s useful to pull out the topics about which he claims he or others lied:

  • To support President Trump’s claims to need a border wall, Murphy alleges, Kirstjen Nielsen substituted the number of “special interest aliens” — migrants from countries where there is significant terrorism, but against whom the US government has no reason to believe is tied to terrorism — for the number of “known and suspected terrorists,” effectively turning every person from a terrorism-affected country (presumably, with the exception of Saudi Arabia) into a terrorist.
  • Murphy also alleges that Nielsen substituted the number of KSTs who had ever applied for a visa or crossed a US border at any point, 3,755, for the number, 3, who had come across the southern border.
  • Murphy alleges that Ken Cuccinelli demanded that intelligence reports misreport the conditions of corruption, violence, and poor economic conditions in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (it’s not clear from the complaint whether Cuccinelli wanted I&A to downplay or exaggerate those conditions, but logically he probably wanted them to downplay the conditions that might support asylum claims).
  • Trump allegedly threatened to fire Murphy’s boss, David Glawe, after he refused to bow to pressure from Republicans on the House Committee for Homeland Security to deny Russian interference in the 2016 election.
  • On more 11 occasions spanning from March 2018 to May 2020, Murphy says he provided analysis about Russian influence, which led to several orders from his superiors either to downplay Russian interference or focus instead on Iranian and Chinese attempts to influence our elections.
  • In March 2020, DHS limited distribution of the Homeland Threat Analysis because of what it said about White Supremacy and Russian influence in the US; in May and June, 2020, Cuccinelli allegedly told Murphy to downplay the threat of White Supremacist terrorism and include claims about left wing terrorism. Ultimately, the document was released with sections on Antifa and anarchist groups that had not originally been there.
  • Between the end of May and July 31, 2020 (the day before Murphy was demoted), Murphy claims Cuccinelli and Chad Wolf ordered him to include claims about Antifa and anarchist groups in reports on Antifa that matched what Trump had already said publicly.

In short, Murphy claims he was ordered to lie about:

  • Both the reasons people migrate to the US and the degree to which migrants across the Southern border include possible terrorists
  • Russian interference and disinformation, past and present
  • The actual and relative danger of right wing terrorists and Antifa

These topics are important not just because they crystalize Trump’s ideology — racism and Russia — but also because people throughout government (most notably and dangerously the Attorney General) are lying about the same topics. Trump spends a lot of time gaslighting about these topics and trying to reassure suburban moms that he’s not a racist sponsored by Russia. But the bureaucratic abuses committed to back Trump’s lies make it clear what his ideology is and where his loyalties lie.

Devout Catholic Bill Barr Stakes the Credibility of His Institution on Shielding an Accused Rapist

Yesterday, Billy Barr had his DOJ intervene in E Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump.

In a filing submitted under the name of Director of DOJ’s Torts Branch, James Touhey, Jr., DOJ claimed that when President Trump accused Carroll last year of making up the rape to sell books and help Democrats, accused other men of rape, and called Carroll unattractive, he was acting in his official capacity as President of the United States.

6. James G. Touhey, Jr., the Director of the Torts Branch within the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, certified that the defendant employee,President Trump, was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose. The claim asserts defamation based on a written statement issued to the press and two statements the President made in interviews in June 2019 in which the President vehemently denied accusations made in Plaintiff’s then-forthcoming book. The President explained that these accusations were false and that the incident she alleged never happened. Acting pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 15.4(a),the Attorney General’s delegate certified that President Trump was acting within the scope of his office as President of the United States when he publicly denied as false the allegations made by Plaintiff.

As with other corrupt interventions by Barr’s DOJ, no SDNY attorney signed the filing.

If the move to replace Donald Trump with the US government as defendant succeeds, the entire suit will be dismissed, because the US government cannot be sued for defamation.

The move comes one month after the judge in the case, Verna Saunders, ruled Trump could not delay a deposition and DNA test in the lawsuit.

As I contemplated Barr’s decision to claim that accusing a credible alleged rape victim was all part of Trump’s job as President, I thought briefly about what it says of Bill Barr’s faith, that he would make it official DOJ policy to condone attacks on claimed rape victims like this.

But then I remembered that Bill Barr is of the generation of Catholics where that is the job of the official bureaucracy, to throw all the institutional weight of the Church into protecting alleged rapists and suppressing credible accusations, even to the point of attacking the victims.

And so Bill Barr will further degrade an institution that’s supposed to guard the interests of the less powerful in society, and instead use the power of the institution to corruptly hide how depraved those leading the institution really are.

Dead Flowers On Kentucky Derby Day

Hi there Trash Talk fans and fannettes, we are back. Personally, I think opening up B1G and SEC football is a declaration of pandemic war on society, especially in some seriously at high risk areas without the ICU resources to cover in a mass problem. Led by Trump, however, this seems to be the clarion call dopes cannot refuse.

Is it the move of voices like Trump, the flailing NCAA athletic departments, or the craven interests of Insta Sports betting interests like Fan Duel and Draft Kings who are desperate to make money now because their precarious and sick corporate lives depend on it? Don’t sleep on the latter, and pay attention as to the ever increasing Insta Sports Betting commercials soak up ad time on ESPN (and their chief shill, Mike Greenberg) and other sports channels. It is a full on push, and they cannot wait for the pandemic to end if they are to take over the gaming world. ESPN is all in on this garbage. Why? Because it is big advertising bucks, and money is their business. It is that simple.

Okay, on to the actual sports. First, today is, improbably, Kentucky Derby Day. As my family originally came from Kentucky before the cactus patch, the Derby is something special. Always has been and always will be. The Derby in September, without the people and hats in the stands, seems wrong. But the horses deserve to run in their time, so okay. F1, and even Indy, have proved that closed circuit courses with fast action are still compelling on TV. Frankly, so too has the NBA and NHL “bubbles”. So, it will still be interesting to see the Kentucky Derby.

One of our early partners and contributors here at Emptywheel, and even before the formal formation of the Emptywheel blog, was Mary. Mary lives on in our recollections and history, and her family, but will be forever known as the one that put horses in our bailiwick. Something Emptywheel Roving Reporter took to ground. So, when horses are up, the memory of Mary is as well. Today is an improbable, and weird day, for the Derby. But let it be run, for the horses. From CBS:

Though the NFL and Kentucky Derby are never mentioned in the same sentence, 2020 has been anything but usual. Even though the 2020 Kentucky Derby will go off Saturday, Sept. 5 on the brink of Week 1 in the NFL, all eyes will be on Churchill Downs, where 16 of the top three-year-old horses will load up for the 146th Run for the Roses. Tiz the Law won the Belmont Stakes earlier this summer and is aiming to become just the 14th horse in history to win the Triple Crown and the first since Justify two years ago.

There is also the NBA, and the “embubblement” is working far better than thought possible. The games are great down the stretch.

NFL football, surprisingly, seems not far off. There is no more fascinating and competitive division than the NFC South. Couple of years ago that would have been shocking, now it is a fact. Bruce Arians, Brady and the Bucs are the most interesting story in the NFL this year. Can they really live up to that interest? I dunno about that. What a division to have to deal with, it is imposing. We shall see.

F1 is back again this weekend. Monza. There are a lot of famous historical races. Monza is very much at the top. This is not a normal year, and the front of the field has been more boring than ever in history by my eye. There is actually pretty decent racing behind the front markers and midfield. I will watch, but do not have much hopes for Monza being the nail biting theater it once was.

As summer starts to wane, today’s music will be by the Loving Spoonful. It was almost Donavan with images of the great Sue Lyon, but I think I already did that years ago. So, let’s have a good weekend folks. Rock on and chat about anything. Also, of course, Dead Flowers for Kentucky Derby Day, because there will be few Derby Days here without that.

185,963

Here’s the topic Donald Trump and the Republican Party are doing everything they can to avoid:

It’s also the single biggest reason not to vote for Donald Trump.

I think Drew Gibson put it best in a tweet today:

The White House can put all the spin on their “Zapuder tape” they want. It won’t change the fact we can see they are killing us through police brutality and COVID-19.

It won’t change the fact Joe Biden was welcomed in Kenosha by community leaders, spoke with shooting victim Jacob Blake and met with Blake’s family — none of which insensitive racist Trump could bring himself to do.

It won’t change the fact Trump failed to boost U.S. manufacturing as he promised in 2016. Instead he set off an unnecessary trade war implementing tariffs which not only inflated consumer prices in the U.S., damaged demand for U.S. commodities, but encouraged the burning of Amazon rain forest for farmland in Brazil, which sold more soybeans to China.

It won’t change the fact that the Trump administration still has no effective response to COVID-19, allowing states to continue to fight on their own as more a thousand Americans die each day from the disease. At this rate 300,000 Americans will die of COVID-19 this year.

It won’t change the fact that no one in their right mind sees the Trump administration’s politicized hyper-speed development of a COVID-19 vaccine as anything more than a ploy for re-election purposes.

It won’t change the fact that +30% of college football players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 developed myocarditis which may inhibit their ability to play in college and professionally — and none of this had to happen had Trump done his job.

It won’t change the fact the Trump administration and the GOP senate are allowing children to go hungry, ignoring mounting food insecurity and growing numbers of  unemployed with 1.6 million new claims filed this week.

It won’t change the fact that evictions and foreclosures are creating another crisis surpassing that of 2007-2009.

But keep spinning, Kelly McEnany. Maybe you’ll survive the failed Trump years and earn yourself a gig spinning numbers for a TV game show as your next gig.

This is an open thread.
.
UPDATE-1 — 6:15 P.M. ET —

Wonder what the White House will do next to hide this?

This is bad. I wonder if they’ll care, though, since they’ve fucked up the U.S. Postal Service so badly overseas military votes may not get counted in a timely fashion.

We should be pounding on Esper to help active duty military to vote.

.
UPDATE-2 — 8:00 A.M. ET FRIDAY —

Oh, not good. Media have been arguing about sourcing behind Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in The Atlantic. AP verified some, and Washington Post followed up as well. But WaPo’s team published a piece which is just as blistering as Goldberg’s.

See Trump said U.S. soldiers injured and killed in war were ‘losers,’ magazine reports

We still aren’t told who the sources are but my money is on Jim Mattis being one of them. Goldberg wrote a piece on Mattis in June in which Mattis took a stick to Trump.

See James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution

Twitter was flooded with condemnation of Trump after yesterday’s piece in The Atlantic; Team Trump sent out a horde of proxies like Sarah Huckabee Sanders to swat it down.

Not certain who’ll believe her.

It’s Not the Four Year Old Counterintelligence Investigation intro Trump We Need to Be Most Worried About — It’s the Ones Bill Barr May Have Killed

The other day, Mike Schmidt advertised a book by claiming that FBI never did any kind of counterintelligence investigation of Trump in parallel with the Mueller investigation. On Twitter, Andrew Weissmann debunked a key part (though not all) of that claim.

The aftermath has led to ongoing debates about what really happened. My guess is that Schmidt’s sources did not have visibility on the full scope of the Mueller investigation, and he didn’t read the Mueller Report, which would have helped him realize that. And while credible reports say Mueller didn’t investigate Trump’s historical financial ties to Russia (while I’ve read neither book yet, the excerpts of Jeff Toobin’s book adhere more closely to the public record than Schmidt’s), the public record also suggests Mueller obtained Trump-related records that most people don’t realize he obtained.

I reiterate that it is far more troubling that a co-equal branch of government — the one with impeachment power — chose not to pursue the same questions about Trump’s financial vulnerabilities to Russia. If you want to express outrage that no one has investigated whether Trump is beholden to Russia, focus some of it on Richard Burr, who suggested Trump’s financial vulnerability to Russia was irrelevant to a report specifically focused on counterintelligence threats.

Still, there’s something still more urgent, one that is getting lost in the debate about what happened three or four years ago.

There were, as of at least April, at least one and probably several investigations implicating counterintelligence tied to Trump, through his top associates. But they tie to the same cases that Billy Barr has undermined in systematic and unprecedented fashion in recent months. It is a far more pressing question whether Barr has undermined counterintelligence investigations implicating Trump’s ties to Russia by ensuring those who lied to protect him during the Mueller investigation face no consequences than what Rod Rosenstein did forty months ago.

Consider Mike Flynn. The most newsworthy thing Robert Mueller said — under oath — over the course of two congressional hearings is that “many elements of the FBI” were looking into the counterintelligence risks created by Mike Flynn’s lies about his communications with Russia.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

As part of Mueller’s analysis about whether Trump fired Jim Comey to stop the investigation into Flynn, he weighed whether the Flynn investigation implicated Trump personally. But he found — largely because Flynn and KT McFarland, after first telling similar lies to investigators, later professed no memory that Trump was in the loop regarding Flynn’s efforts to undercut sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, and Steve Bannon repeated a White House script saying he wasn’t — that the evidence was inconclusive.

As part of our investigation, we examined whether the President had a personal stake in the outcome of an investigation into Flynn-for example, whether the President was aware of Flynn’s communications with Kislyak close in time to when they occurred, such that the President knew that Flynn had lied to senior White House officials and that those lies had been passed on to the public. Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

But McFarland did not recall providing the President-Elect with Flynn’s read-out of his calls with Kislyak, and Flynn does not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect directly about the calls. Bannon also said he did not recall hearing about the calls from Flynn. And in February 2017, the President asked Flynn what was discussed on the calls and whether he had lied to the Vice President, suggesting that he did not already know. Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

We’ve since seen transcripts that show Mike Flynn telling Sergey Kislyak in real time that Trump was aware of the communications between the two (and John Ratcliffe is withholding at least one transcript of a call between the men).

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

Certainly, Russia would have reason to believe that Flynn’s efforts to undermine sanctions were directed by Trump.

In January, a sentencing memo that was delayed so it could be approved by the entire chain of command at DOJ, explained why all this was significant.

Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

[snip]

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

Flynn’s forgetfulness about whether Trump ordered him to undermine sanctions went to the core question of whether Trump worked with Russia in their efforts to throw him the election.

And that sentencing memo was the moment when Billy Barr threw two different lawyers — one a lifetime associate of his — into the project of creating a false excuse to undermine the prosecution of Flynn. More recently, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the DC Circuit that Barr had secret reasons for overturning the prosecution.

The Attorney General of course sees this in a context of non-public information from other investigations.

[snip]

I just want to make clear that it may be possible that the Attorney General had before him information that he was not able to share with the court and so what we put in front of the court were the reasons that we could, but it may not be the whole picture available to the Executive Branch.

[snip]

It’s just we gave three reasons; one of them was that the interests of justice were not longer served, in the Attorney General’s judgment, by the prosecution. The Attorney General made that decision, or that judgment, on the basis of lots of information, some of it is public and fleshed out in the motion, some of it is not.

This secret reason is why, Wall suggested, it would cause irreparable harm for DOJ to have to show up before Judge Emmet Sullivan and explain why DOJ blew up the prosecution.

Then there’s Roger Stone. Stone very loudly claimed (improbably) that he could have avoided prison had he not lied to protect Donald Trump. And Trump rewarded him for it, commuting his sentence to ensure he didn’t spend a day in prison.

But at least as of April, an investigation into whether Stone was part of a conspiracy with Russia and/or was a Russian agent — implicating 18 USC 951, not just FARA — was ongoing. Among the things Stone was involved in that Trump refused to answer Mueller questions about was a pardon for Julian Assange, one Stone started pursuing at least as early as November 15. While no sentencing memo has explained this (as it did with Mike Flynn), whether Trump and Stone used promises of a pardon to get Assange to optimize the WikiLeaks releases goes to the core question of whether there was a quid pro quo as part of 2016.

Finally, there’s Paul Manafort, whose close associates, the SSCI Report makes clear, were part of GRU and appear to have had a role in the hack-and-leak. After securing a cooperation deal, Manafort changed his story, and then shared details of what Mueller’s team knew with the President.

Yet, even with Manafort’s ties to the effort to steal our election, the Attorney General used COVID relief to ensure that Manafort would escape prison.

While it’s not clear whether John Ratcliffe, Barr, or the IC made the decision, the redaction process of the SSCI report denied voters the ability to know how closely tied Trump’s campaign manager is with the people who helped steal the election. What we do know is the effort Manafort started continues in Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine and spew Russian disinformation.

For all three of the Trump associates where we know Barr intervened (there’s good reason to suspect he intervened in an Erik Prince prosecution, too), those people implicate Trump directly in counterintelligence investigations that were, fairly recently, ongoing.

Whether or not there was a counterintelligence investigation implicating Trump on May 20, 2017, after Rod Rosenstein scoped the Mueller investigation, we know counterintelligence investigations have implicated him since. What we don’t know is whether, in an effort to help Trump get reelected, his fixer Billy Barr squelched those, too.

Update: In an appearance for his book, Schmidt said he considered writing it (in 2020) about just the first 26 days of his presidency. It’s a telling comment given that his description of what happened with counterintelligence doesn’t accord with what the Mueller Report itself said happened around 500 days into Trump’s presidency.

Trump Told One Key Truth at His Convention

CNN had a funny story the other day. It described how five different RNC speakers — it focuses on Natalie Harp (who lied about receiving treatment under the Right to Try Act), Mark and Patricia McCloskey (who threatened protestors with their guns), Abby Johnson (whose story about abortion and spousal voting fell apart), and Mary Ann Mendoza (who got cut after spewing an anti-semitic conspiracy theory) — were so crazy, it suggests the Republicans didn’t vet their speakers.

The appearances of several speakers at this week’s Republican National Convention have been surrounded by controversy over social media comments and actions from their past, raising questions about whether and how the RNC vetted its speakers before they were placed on national television.

The story is funny, in part, because it left out the bigger name controversial speakers, like Rudy Giuliani, whose conspiracy theories are every bit as baseless as Mendoza’s, and who is reportedly under criminal investigation for the circumstances behind them) or Eric Trump, who is currently defying a New York State subpoena on the grounds that testifying truthfully about Trump Organization’s accounting irregularities would incriminate him. Which makes the premise even funnier: One controversial speaker is a vetting problem, seven (the number is actually much higher) is an intentional choice.

And yet the press has interpreted Trump’s failures to play by norms they believe remain in place as a goof, simply poor execution of a known formula.

A more alarming example comes in this NYT story. It sums up what it views as the themes the two parties are using, along the way repeating Trump’s claimed theme of “law-and-order” five times.

COVID vs. Law and Order

[snip]

the President is hammering a law-and-order message

[snip]

The moves come as the presidential campaign barrels into the critical last 10 weeks. They represent a bet by Mr. Biden that a focus on Covid-19 will prevail over Mr. Trump’s “law and order” emphasis and his attempt to portray Mr. Biden as a tool of the “radical left.”

[snip]

Aides to Mr. Trump said on Friday that their line of attack would not change. They plan to repeatedly highlight Mr. Trump’s familiar “law and order” message, and are blunt in their assessment that they will benefit politically from violence erupting at some protests.

[snip]

Mr. Trump’s aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics law violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.

Even assuming NYT describes these themes correctly (it doesn’t mention “competence,” for example), it totally misreads what happened at the Trump convention. It treats the RNC as a thematically organized event, rather than a raw display of power, power premised on dismantling any logic of themes.

While this extends to every logical claim Trump made at the RNC — from his claim that COVID is a thing of the past and his celebration of immigrants lured to participate in the RNC unwittingly — it was most visible in his claim to care in the least about law and order, the theme reporters claimed to be the central backbone of Trump’s campaign.

This is a man, after all, who has had two campaign managers and five other aides indicted or prosecuted, most in the service of protecting Trump. Two separate legal proceedings in New York State are pursuing financial crimes implicating Trump and his business (as noted, RNC speaker Eric Trump is currently defying subpoenas, claiming that his truthful testimony will implicate himself in crimes). And during his last campaign, Trump was implicated in two more crimes, the hush payments to his former sex partners and the misuse of his Foundation. There are active lawsuits from women credibly accusing Trump of sex crimes. It’s likely the only thing protecting Trump from prosecution for these crimes and obstruction of the Mueller probe is his success at winning another term. Meanwhile, the woman who shattered all prior norms about the Hatch Act, Kellyanne Conway, completed her service to Trump by admitting more violence would help Trump’s campaign.

And yet the NYT treats Trump’s “law and order” theme as a credible political claim.

The only mention from this purported news story that Trump’s convention was a televised crime spree of its own accord came in describing the glee with which Trump’s aides enjoyed watching Trump commit crimes, which the NYT instead describes as “raising questions about ethics law violations,” with impunity.

Mr. Trump’s aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics law violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.

This is not (as it would be in a minimally competent story) a fact check, a discussion of how absurd it was that the most criminally implicated President in history was instead running as the “law and order” candidate. It is, instead, an unexamined nugget of the key truth.

Trump’s aides are gleeful that his defiance of the law during a convention where he claimed to be the “law and order” candidate caused so much consternation. They relish the way he could commit crimes in broad daylight without anyone stopping him.

That is, the theme is not “law and order,” as NYT gullibly parroted. Trump’s campaign promise is the complete dismantlement of rule of law, where a candidate whose potential and confirmed crimes are too numerous to track could condemn the crimes and criminalized peaceful speech of his opponents, while failing to condemn murder committed by a supporter, all while claiming this selective enforcement amounted to “law and order.”

The point is not the theme. It’s partly that a small pack of NYT journalists might collectively repeat it as if it’s true, without instead describing the grave danger posed to democracy when a man who has systematically attacked rule of law rebrands that assault as law and order. Trump has successfully recruited those whose business is supposed to be truth-telling, and gotten them to instead reinforce his central lie, that his abuse of the law is something called “law and order.” And it is, more significantly, that while less negligent journalists were trying to push back on Trump’s deluge of lies, he was instead telling the key truth. Trump’s campaign message is not whatever theme some horse race journalists discern from ad buys. Rather, it is a promise — with his defiance of rule of law, his abdication of any platform save his own whims, his assault on the sanctity of the election, his incitement of violence — that in a second term Trump will forgo any past pretense he made to be engaged in democracy.

Trump’s convention was all designed to perform his utter contempt for democracy itself. And it succeeded, wildly, at telling that one key truth.

RNCC 2020: ‘Profoundly’ WTAF

I could expend a lot of time and effort on the disgusting spectacle which was the final night of the Republican National Committee’s Convention.

I could write more about media outlets which enabled this unlawful fascist excess by failing to note how in-our-face the Trump campaign and Trump administration were in their taking of public resources for a partisan campaign.

I could write about the maskless attendees who played ‘Rona Roulette sitting cheek and jowl on the White House lawn.

But no. I’m going to say this:

That’s how many Americans died of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours. It’s likely an understatement since excess deaths have been running nearly 25% higher than those reported as COVID-19.

I’m going to say this:

recognizing all the Americans who have died because that tangerine hellbeast chose not to protect the American public because he thought it was better for his campaign to act as if the pandemic disappeared, because he listened to his incompetent Victorian doll-faced son-in-law that neglecting blue states would help his re-election.

It’ll just disappear, he’s said repeatedly about the pandemic. In his addled venal mind it already has because COVID-19 does nothing to fluff his ego. It’s just an annoyance to be brushed aside because it doesn’t help his TV ratings.

It’ll just disappear, like the tens of millions who’ve lost their jobs or are worried about losing them soon, the many who will lose their homes to eviction and foreclosure, the families struggling with food security, the children who don’t have access to internet to study from home or are in classrooms with teachers grappling with infection control with little help.

None of these Americans are visible to him because they are not his audience. They’re disrupters of his TV and approval ratings, inconveniences impeding his narcissistic supply — the fix he needs which he’ll never get from his father.

“Profoundly” he accepted his political party’s nomination tonight, unable to read the word “proudly” in his speech and really not caring about that detail. Somehow it fits.

Trump is profoundly wrong in so many ways, as is the party which owns his gross failings.

We have 67 days to work out how to safely vote this miserable waste of carbon out of office. If things continue as they have, losing 1100-1200 Americans a day to COVID-19, the death toll will increase by another 80,000 by Election Day.

If the rate remains unchanged, the total number of Americans lost to COVID-19 will nearly double by Inauguration Day.

I can’t begin to stomach the cost of human life if we do not remove him from office. The potential number of deaths is as profoundly wrong as he is.

Consider tonight’s profound farce conducted on the people’s lawn using taxpayer resources our marching orders.

It’s time to save our fellow Americans’ lives.

It’s time to take our democracy back.

Trump’s Destruction of Government Is Personal

I wanted to put up a longer post this morning addressing last night’s stream of Hatch Act violations and nepotistic displays ignored by criminal hypocrites passing for the GOP political party’s convention.

Unfortunately I have to be away from the desk for much of this morning, sorry. Feel free to use this open thread to share your observations about RNCC 2020: WTAF Round 2.

While you have at it without me I’m meeting with my elderly parents. My father has had some recent health events which have been under observation, aren’t getting better, and may need surgery.

The problem is the speed with which an elderly person with two residences — one in Florida, one in Michigan — can get the care they need during a pandemic if their health records are spread across north and south.

The physician who saw him yesterday wants records but they’re at a different location.

“Don’t mail them, whatever you have your care provider do,” they told my parents.

Now they have to wait for records in Florida, a state which is still wrestling with COVID-19 cases, to be sent to Michigan. Will they be transferred promptly and securely to this new physician in Michigan, where sorting machines have been removed and service slowed? Who knows?

My folks have been able to rely on mail to ship records back and forth for decades between residences, knowing they would arrive securely in a reasonable period of time.

But it’s not like it’s a cancer drug or insulin or some other medical resource needed expeditiously, one might think.

Imagine, though, it’s records of a heart ailment. Or a brain lesion. Or some other threat to health which if not treated appropriately might result in disability or death.

I won’t get any more specific but that’s what’s in these records which need to be shared between two entirely different, unconnected hospital systems.

U.S. Postal Service handling these records would have been just fine until this summer when Louis DeJoy took over as Postmaster General.

~ ~ ~

There’s an upside to this mess. It’s not much in that it won’t assure my dad’s health will improve.

But Donald Trump’s criminality and general fucked-up-edness has cost him two conservative voters.

My mother is FURIOUS about Trump. RABID. She makes me look like a goddamn fluffy kitten about Trump.

And this bullshit about COVID-19 being out of control was the capper for her. She’s a retired health care professional who knows all of this could have been prevented by one man had he done the job he was supposed to do.

Now, with this distrust of the mail system, at a time when she needs it most? Mom is LIVID.

I don’t dare discuss it with my dad because of his health.

I don’t dare get into detail with Mom about Trump because my god, her blood pressure.

If something worse should happen to my dad because of Trump’s screwing with government services we need, I wouldn’t put it past her to sue the ever-living fuck out of Trump appointees.

And I will help her, gladly. It’ll be the first time we’ve agreed on politics most of my adult lifetime.

~ ~ ~

This is supposed to be a government of, by, and for the people. Not for banksters, not for cronies, not for foreign adversaries who’ve compromised elements of our leadership.

It’s time to take it back to save our own lives.

It’s time to do it for the memory of 178,410 COVID-19 victims our country has lost as of this morning because of Trump.

Again, this is an open thread.

RNCC 2020: Night of a Thousand WTAFs

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

I didn’t watch the first night of the Republican National Committee’s Convention. No way am I giving the RNC any traffic via broadcast or cable TV.

I did, however, like many of you, experience it vicariously and filtered via Twitter (do click through the date links in the tweets below for full effect).

All I can say is: Holy crap, WTAF?

And this, WTAF?

I think the Republican Party left the planet without leaving a forwarding address and the grifting squatters who remain are trying to con the public into believing the GOP is still here, large and in charge.

This is totally performative, mere playacting at politics. They don’t even have a platform.

Which is what really gets my goat: the Democratic Party is fielding candidates for POTUS and VP who went through the full primary process and a raftload of debates, only to run against people who are pretending to be a political party instead of a brand of grifters.

The left is flinging hurtful shit between factions over which policy is the most effective or most popular or most ethical, while these self-medicated fronts for a transnational crime syndicate go through the motions as if this were an English-language telenovela or a Turkish romance series centered on an election.

Nikki Haley and Tim Scott both spoke tonight. I can’t recall a thing they said after these two characters performed their brand of drama. It’s kind of sad.

I am trying to maintain my sense of humor about this mess. I could only laugh when I realized the photo I wanted of Donnie Jr.’s squeeze could be obtained by searching Twitter using the term, “evita.”

I am also amused at how Twitter’s algorithm has suppressed the word “cocaine” this evening to keep it from trending. “Coked,” however, slipped through.

.

One thing I had hoped would show up in my timeline tonight:

The gloves are off, it seems.

.

This is an open thread. Bring your varying degrees of disgust to air out in thread.

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