In What May Be a Second Bid to Go after Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Vladimir Putin, DOJ Charges Prigozhin’s Troll Accountant

The Eastern District of VA just charged the accountant for Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s influence operation Project Lakhta, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, with conspiring to defraud the US, the same charge that Prigozhin company laywers lawyers are aggressively fighting in DC right now. On top of everything else, this charge may be an effort to get a second bid at laying out the crimes behind Prigozhin’s influence operation, first laid out on Mueller’s Internet Research Agency indictment, in a sustainable way.

Khusyaynova may be named, but the real target is Prigozhin

The affadvit against Khusyaynova not only incorporates the IRA indictment by reference, it repeats the introductory paragraph on Concord Consulting (the entity that’s challenging the Mueller indictment), changing only the name (replacing ORGANIZATION, referring to Internet Research Agency, with Project Lakhta, and lumping both Concord entities into one).

Defendants Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering (collectively, “Concord”) are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. Concord was the primary source of funding for Project Lakhta operations. Concord controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw Project Lakhta activities through reporting and interaction with the management of the various Project Lakhta entities.

It also repeats a paragraph from the IRA indictment on how Lakhta laundered money through a bunch of bank accounts.

To conceal the nature of Project Lakhta activities, since at least January 2016 the Conspiracy labeled the funds paid by Concord to Project Lakhta as payments related to software support and development. Moreover, since at least January 2016, Concord distributed funds to Project Lakhta through approximately fourteen bank accounts held in the names of Concord affiliates, including Glavnaya Liniya LLC, Merkuriy LLC, Obshchepit LLC, Potentsial LLC, RSP LLC, ASP LLC, MTTs LLC, Kompleksservis LLC, SPb Kulinariya LLC, Almira LLC, Pishchevik LLC, Galant LLC, Rayteks LLC, and Standart LLC.

The complaint against Khusyaynova focuses closely on Prigozhin, even calling him “Putin’s Chef” (not something that appeared in the IRA indictment). It also presents the same theory of the case as laid out in the IRA indictment: that by obscuring their foreign identity, the trolls prevent DOJ from administration FARA and the FEC from administering FECA.

In other words, while Khusyaynova may be named, the focus in this complaint is on Prigozhin’s use of money laundering to move Concord’s money into a troll operation targeting the US.

Prigozhin continues to fund influence operations affecting US politics

The complaint then lays out the influence operations conducted under the larger Lakhta umbrella, including IRA but also GlavSet, Federal News Agency, and others, describing how Khusyaynova funded it all. Of significant note, it describes how she paid for advertising on social media sites.

In addition to administrative expenses, such as office rent, utility payments, and garbage disposal, the budget identified IT expenses, such as “registration of domain names” and the purchase of “proxy servers,” and social media marketing expenses, such as expenses for “purchasing posts for social networks,” “[a]dvertisement on Facebook,” [a]dvertisement on VKontakte,” “[a]dvertisement on Instagram,” “[p]romoting news postings on social networks,” and social media optimization software (such as Twidium and Novapress) (preliminary translation of Russian text). The budgets also contained a section on “USA, EU” activities, which included itemized expenditures for “Instragram,” “Facebook advertisement” and “Activists” (preliminary translation of Russian text).

Having laid out that Khusyaynova was funneling money from Concord to pay for these things, the affidavit lays out how this funding engaged in US politics.

Its description of the trolling makes it clear that the trolls are still being instructed to take a view that benefits Trump, down to attacking Mueller.

Special prosecutor Mueller is a puppet of the establishment. List scandals that took place when Mueller headed the FBI. Direct attention to the listed examples. State the following: It is a fact that the Special Prosecutor who leads the investigation against Trump represents the establishment: a politician with proven connections to the U.S. Democratic Party who says things that should either remove him from his position or disband the entire investigation commission. Summarize with a statement that Mueller is a very dependent and highly politicized figure; therefore, there will be no honest and open results from the investigation. Emphasize that the work of this commission is damaging to the country and is aimed to declare impeachment of Trump. Emphasize that it cannot be allowed, no matter what.

Another of the trolls posted this image:

Though other trolls called to take to the streets and protest if Trump fires Mueller. Several of the trolls even RTed…

Dear @realDonaldTrump: The DOJ indicted 13 Russian nationals at the Internet Research Agency for violating federal criminal law to help your campaign and hurt other campaigns. Still think this Russia thing is a hoax and a witch hunt? Because a lot of witches just got indicted.

Or tweeted on both sides of the Mueller indictment of the IRA.

Russians indicted today: 13 Illegal immigrants crossing Mexican border indicted today: 0 Anyway, I hope that all those Internet Research Agency f*ckers will be sent to gitmo.

We didn’t vote for Trump because of a couple of hastags shilled by the Russians. We voted for Trump because he convinced us to vote for Trump. And we are ready to vote for Trump again in 2020!

And one of the key allegations involves the effort to provide advertising in support of this flash mob against Trump, including collaborating with Move On and Code Pink. Another of the key allegations describes @CovfefeNationUS’ efforts to raise money targeting (among others) Tammy Baldwin, Claire McCaskill, Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, and Elizabeth Warren.

All of this, of course, is political influence peddling. By citing paid influence peddling, including some that extended beyond the time of the IRA indictment (meaning Concord was on notice that they needed to register) you make it clear this is paid foreign tampering.

This complaint re-situates the charges against Concord in sustainable way

I said, above, that this complaint may be designed to make the charges against Prigozhin sustainable. It comes — with its preliminary translation of Russian passages suggesting some haste — on the heels of a legal challenge by Concord’s US lawyer — of the ConFraudUs theory in this case. Concord has argued that because the indictment doesn’t allege it knew it had to register under FECA and FARA, the conspiracy itself is unsustainable.

Earlier this week, there was a hearing on that challenge in which Trump appointee Dabney Friedrich showed some sympathy for Concord’s argument.

Mueller alleges Concord Management, along with other defendants named in the indictment, conspired to impede the ability of the Justice Department to enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act — which requires people who are lobbying in the U.S. on behalf of foreign individuals or entities disclose that lobbying — and the ability of the FEC to administer its ban on foreign expenditures in elections, under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) .

Concord Management is arguing that Mueller has not shown in the indictment that the Russians knew about their legal obligations under those regulations, which according to Dubelier is required to bring criminal charges under the law, and is using the conspiracy charge as a workaround.

“They don’t have the evidence to charge a substantive violation of FARA or a substantive passport violation or a substantive FECA violation, because there is no evidence anywhere that any of these foreign people knew anything about any of these laws or regulations, none,” Dubelier said at the hearing.

Prosecutors argued that to bring the conspiracy count, all they need to show is that defendants had some knowledge that the government regulated those areas and that they took actions to impede that enforcement through acts of deception.

“It doesn’t matter if they knew it was the FEC or the DOJ or some other agency,” Mueller prosecutor Jonathan Kravis argued Monday. “They know that there is a lawful government function here, and they are acting with a purpose of interfering with it.”

Kravis pointed to the Russian trolls’ alleged move to disguise not just their identities, but the origin of the computer networks they used to influence the election on social media.

Then today, the judge in that case, Friedrich, asked for more briefing from Mueller’s team.

By issuing this complaint, the government does several things.

First, because this is just a complaint, Prigozhin isn’t going to be able to challenge it; his employee, Khusyaynova, would first have to be indicted, and then would have to show up in person to contest the charges, which isn’t going to happen.

But also, because this complaint focuses on the accountant’s role, it focuses much more closely (though not exclusively) on the laundering of the money, and not the laundering of the Russian origin of the voices engaging in politics.

Finally, because this complaint focuses on a different named defendant, is charged out of a different office with no visible overlap in team, and encompasses a more recent time period (showing that the government continues to collect solid information on Prigozhin’s operation), there’s no double jeopardy issue and Friedrich can’t touch this case.

I don’t know whether Mueller will just dismiss Concord from the other indictment, and be done with that nuisance once and for all, or whether this is just designed to ensure that the allegations, and the tie to Putin, remain intact regardless of what happens in DC. But it does seem like a hasty bid to solidify the charges in a way that hews closer to past legal precedent.

PSA: Don’t Misunderstand the Function of a Mueller Report

About a million people have asked me to weigh in on this story, which relies on unnamed defense attorneys (!! — remember that its author, Darren Samuelson, was among those citing Rudy Giuliani’s FUD in the wake of the Paul Manafort plea) and named former prosecutors, warning that people may be disappointed by the Mueller “report.”

President Donald Trump’s critics have spent the past 17 months anticipating what some expect will be among the most thrilling events of their lives: special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on Russian 2016 election interference.

They may be in for a disappointment.

That’s the word POLITICO got from defense lawyers working on the Russia probe and more than 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 election case. The public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged obstruction of justice by Trump — not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur Mueller sleuths.

Perhaps most unsatisfying: Mueller’s findings may never even see the light of day.

The article then goes on to cite a range of impressive experts, though it quotes zero of the defense attorneys, not even anonymously, except in linking back to Rudy warning that the White House would try to block the public release of any report by invoking executive privilege.

Without having first laid out what Samuelson imagines people expect from the report or even what he himself thinks, the piece’s quotes lay out the assumptions of his sources. “He won’t be a good witness,” says Paul Rosenzweig, suggesting he imagines Congress will invite Mueller to testify about his report to understand more about it. Mary McCord, who knows a bit about the investigation having overseen parts of it when she was still acting NSD head, said “It will probably be detailed because this material is detailed, but I don’t know that it will all be made public,” which seems to suggest it will collect dust at DOJ. Paul McNulty, who worked with Mueller in the Bush Administration, acknowledges that Mueller, “knows there are a lot of questions he needs to address for the sake of trying to satisfy a wide variety of interests and expectations.” All those quotes may be true and still irrelevant to what might happen with the Mueller report.

Later in his piece, Samuelson does lay out his assumptions (this time citing none of his impressive sources). Samuelson posits, for example, that, “it will be up to DOJ leaders to make the politically turbo-charged decision of whether to make Mueller’s report public.” He claims Democrats hope to win a majority and with it “subpoena power to pry as much information as possible from the special counsel’s office.” In those comments, Samuelson betrays his own assumptions, assumptions which may not be correct.

Start with this. Even though Samuelson has covered this investigation closely, he somehow missed the speaking indictments covering Russian actions, to say nothing of the 38 pages of exhibits on how Paul Mananfort runs a campaign accompanying the plea deal of Trump’s former campaign manager It appears he has missed the signs that Mueller — if he has an opportunity — will not be using his mandated report to do his talking.

He’ll use indictments.

Which is probably something you don’t learn listening to defense attorneys who won’t go on the record. But you might learn if you consider what Patrick Fitzgerald has to say. Like McNulty, Fitz also worked closely with Mueller, not just during the four years he served as special counsel investigating the CIA leak case, but during the almost 11 years when Fitz was US Attorney in Chicago and Mueller was FBI Director. Also, while he’s not a defense attorney in the Mueller case, he is representing a key witness, Jim Comey, in it and had a partner, Greg Craig, investigated by it. Fitz basically says that the Scooter Libby trial revealed “a fair amount about what we did.”

Patrick Fitzgerald, the independent counsel in the Plame investigation, was under no obligation to write a report because of the specific guidelines behind his appointment. Testifying before Congress as his probe was ending, Fitzgerald defended the approach by noting that grand jury witnesses expect secrecy when they testify. He also noted that a 2007 public trial involving I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney convicted for perjury, had revealed much of the investigation’s details.

“I think people learned a fair amount about what we did,” Fitzgerald said. “They didn’t learn everything. But if you’re talking about a public report, that was not provided for, and I actually believe and I’ve said it before, I think that’s appropriate.”

Fitz is right. He revealed a lot in that trial, having fought hard to be able to get much of it cleared by the spooks to be publicly released. He revealed enough that, had the Democratically-controlled Congress seen fit in 2007, they could have conducted investigations into the impropriety of things constitutional officer Dick Cheney did in pushing the release of Valerie Plame’s identity. In a key hearing, Joe Wilson actually pulled any punches directed at Cheney. It is my belief, having been present at some key events in this period, that had a witness instead laid out all the evidence implicating Cheney, Congress may well have taken the evidence Fitz released in the trial and used it to conduct further investigation.

No one will have to make that case about Trump to Democrats in the wake of a Mueller investigation, I imagine.

I’ve got a piece coming out next week that lays out what role I think the vaunted Mueller report really plays, because I think it does play a role, a role that Samuelson doesn’t even consider.

But for now, I’ll point to Fitz comments as a way to say that, even drawing as he does on a great number of experts about how such investigations have worked in the past, Samuelson is not drawing the correct lessons. The first of which is that Mueller would prefer to lay out his “report” in trial exhibits.

As I disclosed July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Who Told Carter Page that James Wolfe Was the Source of the FISA Leak?

There’s a detail in the Statement of the Offense filed in conjunction with the guilty plea former Senate Intelligence Committee Director of Security James Wolfe worth further attention.

As I had noted when Wolfe was indicted, while the indictment catches Wolfe red-handed in lies about unclassified leaks Wolfe gave to Ali Watkins and some NBC reporters, it seems more interested in, and therefore probably arose out of, Wolfe’s ties with the reporters on the WaPo story first reporting that Carter Page had been targeted with a FISA order. Rather than having to prove that Wolfe leaked classified FISA information to a journalist with better operational security than the others, the government chose instead to charge him for the more easily proved case that he lied to the FBI.

The statement of offense confirms that the investigation arose in response to the FISA story.

On April 11, 2017, classified national security information concerning the existence and predication of FBI surveillance of an individual (“MALE-1”) pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was published in an article authored by three reporters, including REPORTER #1.

In April 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of this classified information to the news media.

And whereas the indictment had mostly discussed Wolfe’s conversations with the WaPo reporter obliquely, the statement of the offense describes how Wolfe followed up by email after meeting the reporter on December 9, 2015, and how the reporter then checked in the day before the election.

What’s more interesting, however, are the details about the aftermath of the story, when Carter Page wrote to the journalist in question and BCCed Wolfe.

On May 8, 2017, MALE-1 emailed REPORTER #1 complaining about REPORTER #1’s reporting of him (MALE-1). According to the metadata recovered during the search of Wolfe’s email, Wolfe was blind-copied on that email by MALE-1.

The day before Page sent that email, he had written a letter to Richard Burr and Mark Warner, complaining about the WaPo story and Ali Watkins’ reporting that Page was the anonymous person named in the  case. It seems that Page either learned or discovered that Wolfe might be the person who leaked the FISA news.

And as the Statement lays out, it seems that Wolfe and the journalist in question exchanged an encrypted file.

On May 11, 2017, at 11:13 a.m., REPORTER #1 emailed Wolfe, “What’s your cell?” The signature block of REPORTER #1’s email contained the reporter’s name, affiliation with a national news outlet, and telephone numbers.

On May 11, 2017, at 5:16 p.m., REPORTER #1 sent a second email to Wolfe, writing “Hi! When can we get coffee?” This time, the signature block of the second email included a 44-character long code made up of letters and numbers that appears to be a “PGP” fingerprint. If used, this fingerprint would have permitted Wolfe to send REPORTER #1 an email using an application that would encrypt the contents of the message, but not the subject line or the name of the sender.

Between the December 9, 2015, November 7, 2016, and two May 11, 2017 emails, the Statement lays out four email exchanges between Wolfe and this journalist. But the indictment says there was a fifth, possibly in June 2017.

For example, between in or around December 2015 and in or around June 2017, WOLFE and REPORTER #1 communicated at least five times using his SSCI email account.

In any case, that Page BCCed Wolfe suggests that he suspected Wolfe was the source, and perhaps said as much in his email to the reporter (thus explaining the follow-up between them).

As it is this Statement (and the indictment of Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards for sharing FinCen data with Jason Leopold yesterday, but I’ll return to that) may suggest that the government obtained the reporter’s emails, but then parallel constructed doing so by collecting Wolfe’s. But it also suggests that Page knew precisely who leaked the FISA information.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

On Corey Lewandowski’s Big Legal Bills and Mueller’s Deadline from Rosenstein

Quarterly political spending reports are out and they provide some hints about which current or former Trump aides have been spending a lot of time with Mueller’s investigators. The NYT reported the other day that the Trump campaign has paid $173,000 in the past quarter to the law firm representing Corey Lewandowski.

The campaign also paid $173,000 to Mintz Levin, a law firm that has helped Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, handle inquiries related to the Russia investigations.

The suggestion that Lewandowski has spent quality time with Mueller’s team of late is particularly interesting, for several reasons. First, Lewandowski had a number of key interactions with George Papadopoulos regarding the outreach from Russia, including drafting Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev was a sign that the campaign was interested in pursuing a Trump-Putin meeting.

April 27: Papadopoulos to Corey Lewandowski

“to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

April 27: Papadopoulos authored speech that he tells Timofeev is “the signal to meet”

[snip]

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

[snip]

June 19: Papadopoulos to Lewandowski

“New message from Russia”: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”

Lewandowski was also the person that the House Intelligence Committee treated most curiously. HPSCI originally interviewed him in January, during the phase when HPSCI seemed to be interviewing key witnesses to be able to pass on to Trump how they would testify. At that point, Mueller had not yet contacted Lewandowski.

Even though Lewandowski never worked in the Administration, in that first appearance with HPSCI, he invoked privilege over parts of his testimony. On March 8, HPSCI brought him back, the very last witness in their so-called investigation. After his three hour appearance, Adam Schiff discussed subpoenaing Lewnadowski to compel him to answer questions he had still refused to answer (Schiff had also demanded HPSCI compel full testimony from Hope Hicks). In the same discussion of compelling Lewandowski to answer questions,  Schiff suggested the committee should subpoena Stephen Miller.

After Lewandowski’s testimony had wrapped, Schiff raised a new name he wanted to speak to: White House aide Stephen Miller.

Which is curious because WSJ reports that the legal defense fund supporting specific former campaign staffers paid Akin Gump $115,000.

The fund directed most of its third-quarter spending to legal consulting, paying nearly $115,000 to the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and another $8,500 to Schertler & Onorato LLP. The latter firm has represented Keith Schiller, Mr. Trump’s longtime bodyguard who was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia investigation.

It’s not publicly known which former campaign staffer Akin Gump represents, but two of the few key Trump people whose lawyers have not been publicly identified are Brad Parscale (though the campaign would probably pay for his legal defense at this point) and Miller.

Miller is the person whom Papadopoulos has said he would have told about the Russian offer of emails had he actually connected by phone the day he learned of it.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports (possibly based on Congressional sources) that Mueller is preparing to offer “reports” on his investigation.

Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified speaking about the investigation.

[snip]

Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible, another U.S. official said.

This is actually not at all surprising. Trump is going to start firing people after the election, so Mueller’s ability to work unimpeded may be dramatically curtailed shortly after that. If he’s going to bring a big indictment, he has to do so in that time frame. Plus, after securing Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen’s cooperation, he has cooperating witnesses on all the elements of a conspiracy Mueller had identified by last March, not to mention slam dunk obstruction charges tied to floated pardons. Everyone is scheduled to start being sentenced after the election, too. With the hints he has gotten extensive Lewandowski testimony (and reports that he had obtained far more documentation pertaining to Don Jr’s actions), it would suggest that Mueller has at least tracked the game of telephone between Russians offering emails to the candidate anxious to accept that offer.

So this tells us what we might expect: the denouement of the Mueller investigation will happen, unless Trump works to undercut it, just after the election.

Update: In their plan for further investigation released in March, HPSCI Dems described that in his second committee appearance Lewandowski refused, “to answer questions regarding his communication with President Trump regarding former FBI Director Comey, Special Counsel Mueller, and Attorney General Sessions, as well as his communications with certain administration officials pertaining to the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.” So it sounds like he’s also got evidence pertaining to the June 9 meeting.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The First Amendment Wall-Splat that Anticipates Any Defense of a Trump Conspiracy or WikiLeaks Charge

Last week, lawyers from Jones Day representing the Trump campaign submitted a response to a lawsuit by two Democratic donors and a DNC employee (the case is referred to as Cockrum after donor Roy Cockrum) that presents an interesting, but imperfect, preview of any defense of a Trump conspiracy and/or a WikiLeaks charge in the election hack-and-leak.

Effectively, the Democrats attempt to hold the Trump campaign responsible for having their private information (social security numbers in the case of the donors and more personal conversations in the case of DNC employee Scott Comer) posted in the emails released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016. They do so by arguing that the Trump campaign conspired with agents of Russia, agreeing to provide policy considerations in exchange for the assistance presented by the email release, which therefore makes them parties to the injury associated with the hack-and-leak.

The campaign isn’t responsible for information released as part of their conspiracy because the First Amendment protects it

In response, the Trump campaign (represented by Jones Day, and therefore by more competent lawyers than some of the clowns representing the president in the Mueller investigation) only secondarily deny the campaign entered into a conspiracy with the Russians as governed by the laws invoked by plaintiffs (you should not take this emphasis as admission of guilt in a conspiracy, but rather the most efficacious way of defeating the lawsuit). As a primary defense, they point to First Amendment precedent to argue two things: First, the campaign can’t be held responsible for the theft of information because they only sought the dissemination of already stolen documents — they had nothing to do with the theft of the documents, the campaign argues.

In Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001), the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects a speaker’s right to disclose stolen information if (1) the speaker was “not involved” in the acquisition and (2) the disclosure deals with “a matter of public concern.” Id. at 529, 535. There, union leaders spoke on the phone about using violence against school-board members to influence salary negotiations. Id. at 518–19. An unknown person secretly intercepted the call and shared the illegal recording with a local radio host, who played it on his show. Id. at 519. The Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the radio broadcast, because the host “played no part in the illegal interception” and “the subject matter of the conversation was a matter of public concern.” Id. at 525. The Court reasoned that “state action to punish the publication of truthful information seldom can satisfy constitutional standards.” Id. at 527. The state has an interest in deterring theft of information, but it must pursue that goal by imposing “an appropriate punishment” on “the interceptor”—not by punishing a speaker who was “not involved in the initial illegality.” Id. at 529. The state also has an interest in protecting “privacy of communication,” but “privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance.” Id. at 533–34. In short, “a stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern.” Id. at 535.

“An opposite rule”—under which a speaker may be punished for truthful disclosures on account of a “defect in the chain of title”—“would be fraught with danger.” Boehner v. McDermott, 484 F.3d 573, 586 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (opinion of Sentelle, J., joined by a majority of the en banc court). “U.S. newspapers publish information stolen via digital means all the time.” Jack L. Goldsmith, Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 (July 16, 2018).1 Indeed, they “openly solicit such information.” Id. Punishing “conspiracy to publish stolen information” “would certainly narrow protections for ‘mainstream’ journalists.” Id.

The Campaign satisfies the first part of Bartnicki’s test: It “played no part in the illegal interception.” Bartnicki, 532 U.S. at 525. That is clear from Plaintiffs’ factual theory: “Defendants entered into an agreement with other parties, including agents of Russia and WikiLeaks, to have information stolen from the DNC publicly disseminated in a strategic way.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 16) (emphasis added). The complaint reinforces that theory on every page: “the publication of hacked information pursuant to the conspiracy” (id. ¶ 20); “conspiracy … to disseminate information” (id. ¶ 78); “extracting concessions … in exchange for the dissemination of the information” (id. ¶ 149); “an agreement to disseminate the hacked DNC emails”) (id. at 42); “motive to coordinate regarding such dissemination” (id. ¶ 153); “an agreement regarding the publication” (id. ¶ 154); “agreed … to publicly disclose” (id. ¶ 296) (all emphases added).

In a key move, the response points to the chronology (they incorrectly say) the plaintiffs lay out to show that the Campaign didn’t enter into a conspiracy with the Russians until after the theft had already taken place.

That is no surprise. Given Rule 11, Plaintiffs could not have alleged the Campaign’s involvement in the initial hack. According to Plaintiffs’ own account, Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s networks “in July 2015,” and gained access to email accounts “by March 2016.” (Id. ¶ 86.) But the Campaign supposedly became motivated to work with Russia only in “the spring and summer of 2016” (id. at 25), and supposedly entered into the agreement in “secret meetings” in “April,” “May,” “June,” and “July” 2016 (id. ¶¶ 89–104). In other words, Plaintiffs themselves say that the alleged conspiracy was formed after the hack and after the acquisition of the emails—so that the Campaign could not have participated in the initial theft.

From there, the Campaign shifts to the second part of the First Amendment argument: what they encouraged the Russians (and WikiLeaks) to publish was a matter of public concern.

The Campaign also satisfies the second part of Bartnicki’s test: the disclosure deals with “a matter of public concern.” Bartnicki, 532 U.S. at 525. Whether speech deals with issues of public concern is “a matter of law.” Snyder v. Phelps, 580 F.3d 206, 220 (4th Cir. 2009). “Speech deals with matters of public concern when it can be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, or when it is a subject of legitimate news interest.” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443, 453 (2011) (citations and quotation marks omitted). A court applying this test must examine the “content, form, and context” of the speech. Id.

Courts judge the public character of a disclosure in the aggregate, not line by line. Regardless of whether the particular sentence complained about is itself of public concern, the disclosure is constitutionally protected if the disclosure as a whole deals with a matter of public concern. For example, in Bartnicki, leaders of a teachers’ union spoke on the phone about “blow[ing] off [school-board members’] front porches” to influence salary negotiations. 532 U.S. at 519. Even though the threat to “blow off” porches was not itself speech about public issues, the First Amendment protected the disclosure because the host made it while “engaged in debate about” teacher pay—“a matter of public concern.” Id. at 535. The “public concern” test thus turns on the broader context of the disclosure, not the nature of the specific fact disclosed.

To substantiate their “public concern” defense, the response points to (and includes as exhibits) a handful emails out of the tens of thousands dumped in just the DNC release and some bad press coverage, and argues that because WikiLeaks has a policy of not redacting emails, the information that damaged the plaintiffs just came out along with this public concern information.

These emails revealed important information about the Clinton Campaign and Democratic Party. For example:

  • The emails revealed DNC officials’ hostility toward Senator Sanders. DNC figures discussed portraying Senator Sanders as an atheist, because “my Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” (Ex. 1.) They suggested pushing a media narrative that Senator Sanders “never ever had his act together, that his campaign was a mess.” (Ex. 2.) They opposed his push for additional debates. (Ex. 3.) They complained that he “has no understanding” of the Democratic Party. (Ex. 4.)
  • According to The New York Times, “thousands of emails” between donors and fundraisers revealed “in rarely seen detail the elaborate, ingratiating and often bluntly transactional exchanges necessary to harvest hundreds of millions of dollars from the party’s wealthy donor class.” These emails “capture[d] a world where seating charts are arranged with dollar totals in mind, where a White House celebration of gay pride is a thinly disguised occasion for rewarding wealthy donors and where physical proximity to the president is the most precious of currencies.” (Ex. 5.)
  • The emails revealed the coziness of the relationship between the DNC and the media. For example, they showed that reporters would ask DNC to pre-approve articles before publication. (Ex. 6.) They also showed DNC staffers talking about giving a CNN reporter “questions to ask us.” (Ex. 7.)
  • The emails revealed the DNC’s attitudes toward Hispanic voters. One memo discussed ways to “acquire the Hispanic consumer,” claiming that “Hispanics are the most brand loyal consumers in the World” and that “Hispanics are the most responsive to ‘story telling.’” (Ex. 8.) Another email pitched “a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement.” (Ex. 9.)

WikiLeaks, however, did not redact the emails, so the publication also included details that Plaintiffs describe as private.

In this scenario, even assuming the Trump campaign did enter a conspiracy with the Russians, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit were just collateral damage to disclosures protected by the First Amendment.

The conspiracy to hurt individual Democratic donors defense

As noted, the defense against the claim that the campaign entered into a conspiracy with the Russians is only a secondary part of the defense here. Perhaps that’s because this part of the defense is far weaker than the First Amendment part.

As part of it, the response notes that the plaintiffs would have had to enter into a conspiracy with the goal and the state of mind laid out by the two laws primarily cited by plaintiffs, to intimidate voters and to intentionally inflict harm on plaintiffs. Once again, this part of the argument treats the plaintiffs as collateral damage to the goals of embarrassing the DNC effectuated by the publication of materials by WikiLeaks, which has a policy of not redacting anything in its releases.

Plaintiffs do not plausibly allege these states of mind. For one thing, Plaintiffs allege that the object of the purported conspiracy was to promote the Trump Campaign and to embarrass the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. (Am. Compl. ¶ 190.) They do not allege facts showing that the Campaign even knew of Mr. Comer, Mr. Cockrum, or Mr. Schoenberg, much less that Campaign officials met with Russian agents for the purpose of disclosing these individuals’ social security numbers, gossip, and stomach-flu symptoms.

For another thing, Plaintiffs fail to address (let alone refute) the “obvious alternative explanation” for the disclosure of their emails (Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682): WikiLeaks’ “accuracy policy,” under which WikiLeaks does not redact or “tamper with” the documents it discloses. (Ex. 10.) The upshot is that Plaintiffs do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with the purpose of intimidating Plaintiffs; do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with the specific intent to disclose Plaintiffs’ allegedly private emails; and do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with knowledge that the WikiLeaks email collection included Plaintiffs’ allegedly private emails.

It’s the other part of the conspiracy defense where the response is dangerously weak, given the possibility that Mueller will roll out another indictment providing more detail on negotiations between the campaign and Russia (which plaintiffs could then add in an amended complaint). Here, the campaign argues only that the plaintiffs haven’t shown proof of a conspiracy because they have not yet pointed to evidence that the campaign sought the DNC emails specifically, including the details that allegedly damaged the plaintiffs.

[T]he Amended Complaint fails to plausibly allege that the Campaign conspired with or aided and abetted the publishers of the DNC emails. Plaintiffs allege a series of meetings between the Campaign and Russian agents in 2016. (Id. ¶ 15.) But Plaintiffs do not allege that any of the meetings in any way concerned the DNC emails, much less the information about Plaintiffs contained in those emails. The allegation that people met to discuss something does not raise a plausible inference that they met to discuss collaborative efforts to release specific emails hacked from the DNC to influence an election, much less to intimidate or embarrass Plaintiffs. Cf. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 567 n.12 (regular meetings do not suggest conspiracy).

This argument may be sufficient for this civil suit, but for a number of reasons, such an argument would be totally insufficient in a criminal case. For starters, there likely is evidence, not least obtained from Paul Manafort’s cooperation, that the campaign had some idea of what they might get in exchange for entering into a quid pro quo with the Russians. As it is, Jones Day is utterly silent about Don Jr’s, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” email, which reflects some expectation, already by June 3, 2016, of what the campaign would get for entering into a conspiracy, even though plaintiffs quote it in their complaint.

But also, the conspiracy charged in a criminal indictment would allege a different goal — in part, the embarrassment of the DNC and support of the Trump campaign that the campaign response stops far short of denying. So while with respect to the suit brought by these plaintiffs, the argument that the defendants did not have the mindset of trying to intimidate voters or damage the plaintiffs, if and when Mueller charges a conspiracy, it will argue a different mind set, to defraud the US’ election integrity, in part to obtain a thing of value from the Russians. And that mindset is going to be much easier to prove.

This response does next to nothing to deny that mindset.

Instead, much later in the response (as part of an argument that plaintiffs can’t claim a conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws because the FEC preempts it), the campaign does address what might be one defense in a criminal indictment charging that the Trump team conspired with Russia with the goal of obtaining illegal campaign donations in the form of dirt on Hillary. The response argues that such released emails do not constitute a thing of value, but are instead protected political speech.

Plaintiffs in all events fail to establish a conspiracy to violate any federal campaign-finance law. Plaintiffs assert that federal law prohibits foreign nationals from making “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” in connection with an election, 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a), and that “Defendant’s co-conspirators … contributed a ‘thing of value’ … in the form of the dissemination of hacked private emails” (Am. Compl. ¶ 215). This assertion is incorrect. For one, there is a fundamental difference between contributing a thing of value and engaging in pure political speech. Pure political speech constitutes “direct political expression”; in contrast, “while contributions may result in political expression if spent by a candidate or association to present views to the voters, the transformation of contributions into political debate involves speech by someone other than the contributor.” Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 21–22 (1976). The disclosure of information about a political party is pure political speech, not a political contribution. The disclosure itself directly expresses political messages; unlike money, it does not need to be transformed into a political message by somebody else.

For another, treating a disclosure of information as a “contribution” would violate the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to receive political speech from foreigners. Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301, 306 (1965). Yet under Plaintiffs’ theory, it would be illegal to solicit political information from a foreign national, because the provision of such information would amount to a “contribution.” For example, “if the Clinton campaign heard that Mar-a-Lago was employing illegal immigrants in Florida and staffers went down to interview the workers, that would be a crime.” Eugene Volokh, Can it be a crime to do opposition research by asking foreigners for information? (July 27, 2017).2 “Or say that Bernie Sanders’s campaign heard rumors of some misconduct by Clinton on her trips abroad—it wouldn’t be allowed to ask any foreigners about that.” Id. The First Amendment does not tolerate such results.

This claim, if it were substantiated, would have repercussions across Mueller’s work, extending to the Internet Research Agency indictment (indeed, Concord Consulting is trying to make similar arguments, though not as brazenly suggesting that foreigners have a First Amendment right to weigh in on our elections).

Yet, as I’ve noted, Mueller has already collected evidence of how much a similar campaign to the one the Russians conducted would cost a campaign, in the form of the spooked up Psy-Group campaign offered by Israelis and Gulf supporters: $3.31 million. That is, Mueller has the evidence to show that the Russians did not just release the information, but engaged in an entire social media campaign to maximize the value of the information they released, and that information goes beyond simple publication to the stuff that political consultants charge real money for.

The other problems with this defense

There is far more to the campaign’s defense (notably, extensive arguments about whether state or federal law applies to particularly parts of the complaint, and if it’s state law, whether it’s Maryland, New Jersey, and Tennessee as plaintiffs argue, or Virginia and New York as defendants do) than what I’ve laid out, and this suit would be a challenge in any case. But there are other problems with the defense.

In a piece on this response, Floyd Abrams argues that there are key differences between the primary First Amendment precedent on which the defense relies and this case. For example, the Bartnicki case focused on material the entirety of which was in the public interest, whereas the bulk of what the Russians gave WikiLeaks is not.

[T]he entirety of the wiretapped recording in Bartnicki was of undoubted public interest while some portions of the purloined DNC documents had a special claim to being of no sustainable public interest while inflicting substantial potential privacy harm—including social security numbers sent to the DNC which WikiLeaks, as it has repeatedly chosen to do, decided to make public.

Jones Day may well realize this is a weak part of their argument, as they return to WikiLeaks’ failure to redact information that had no public interest in a number of ways. At one point, they argue that if WikiLeaks redacted information some information of public interest might get withheld as part of the process.

To establish public-disclosure liability, a plaintiff must show that the facts at issue are not “of legitimate concern to the public”—in other words, that the facts are not “of the kind customarily regarded as ‘news.’” Second Restatement § 652D & comment g. Like the First Amendment test, the tort-law test requires courts to analyze speech “on an aggregate basis.” Alvarado v. KOB-TV, LLC, 493 F.3d 1210, 1221 (10th Cir. 2007). A publisher does not have to “parse out concededly public interest information” “from allegedly private facts.” Id. That is because redactions would undermine the “credibility” of a disclosure, causing the public to doubt its accuracy. Ross v. Midwest Commc’ns, Inc., 870 F.2d 271, 275 (5th Cir. 1989). Further, requiring publishers to redact—“to sort through an inventory of facts, to deliberate, and to catalogue”—“could cause critical information of legitimate public interest to be withheld until it becomes untimely and worthless to an informed public.” Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Doe, 915 S.W.2d 471, 475 (Tex. 1995).

At another point, they argue (this is one of their most ridiculous arguments) that WikiLeaks is just an intermediary that the Russians used to post injurious messages.

Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230), a state may impose liability on “the original culpable party who posts [tortious] messages,” but not on “companies that serve as intermediaries for other parties’ potentially injurious messages.” Zeran v. America Online, 129 F.3d 327, 330–31 (4th Cir. 1997). As a result, a website that provides a forum where “third parties can post information” is not liable for the third party’s posted information. Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 753 F.3d 1354, 1358 (D.C. Cir. 2014). Since WikiLeaks provided a forum for a third party (the unnamed “Russian actors”) to publish content developed by that third party (the hacked emails), it cannot be held liable for the publication.

And the insistence that WikiLeaks is known not to redact information may hurt the Trump campaign if it gets that far.

Abrams also points to how entering into a conspiracy might change the legal liability of the Trump campaign.

[T]he Bartnicki defendants were at all times entirely independent of the person who surreptitiously made the wiretapped recording available to it while the Trump campaign is accused in Cockrum of conspiring with its alleged Russian source after the information had been hacked to make the information public.

Even for the purpose of this lawsuit, the claim that the Trump campaign entered into a conspiracy only after the information had been hacked may not be sustainable. After all, George Papadopoulos learned the Russians were going to release emails, of some sort (even if he believed they were Hillary server emails rather than DNC ones), well before the Russians were ejected from the DNC servers a month later. The Russians first contacted the Trump campaign about this conspiracy on April 26, 2016, after they had stolen the Podesta emails in March; but the DNC emails that are the subject of this lawsuit weren’t exfiltrated, at least according to the GRU indictment, until a month later.

Between on or about May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server and stole thousands of emails from the work accounts of DNC employees.

So Papadopoulos’ responsiveness might be enough to sustain a claim that the Trump campaign was engaged in this conspiracy before the emails in question were stolen. Indeed, this paragraph from the response (cited above) falsely claims that the plaintiffs suggested the theft ended in March.

Plaintiffs could not have alleged the Campaign’s involvement in the initial hack. According to Plaintiffs’ own account, Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s networks “in July 2015,” and gained access to email accounts “by March 2016.” (Id. ¶ 86.) But the Campaign supposedly became motivated to work with Russia only in “the spring and summer of 2016” (id. at 25), and supposedly entered into the agreement in “secret meetings” in “April,” “May,” “June,” and “July” 2016 (id. ¶¶ 89–104). In other words, Plaintiffs themselves say that the alleged conspiracy was formed after the hack and after the acquisition of the emails—so that the Campaign could not have participated in the initial theft.

Here’s what the complaint really says:

In order to defeat Secretary Clinton and help elect Mr. Trump, hackers working on behalf of the Russian government broke into computer networks of U.S. political actors involved in the 2016 election, including the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. Elements of Russian intelligence gained unauthorized access to DNC networks in July 2015 and maintained that access until at least June 2016. By March 2016, the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) gained unauthorized access to DNC networks, DCCC networks, and the personal email accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures.

By May 2016, the GRU had copied large volumes of data from DNC networks, including email accounts of DNC staffers. Much of the GRU’s activity within the DNC networks took place between March and June 2016, at the very same time its agents were intensifying their outreach to and securing meetings with agents of the Trump Campaign.

[snip]

According to the indictment, “in and around April 2016, the Conspirators began to plan the release of materials stolen from the Clinton Campaign, DCCC, and DNC.” And “in or around June 2016,” when the Trump Campaign was taking meetings with Russian agents to “get information on an opponent,” the indicted Russians and their coconspirators began to “stage[] and release[]” the stolen emails.

All that said, if the plaintiffs are relying on the June 9 meeting to establish the conspiracy, or even Don Jr’s June 3 email enthusiastically responding to Rob Goldstone’s offer, the campaign can argue in this suit that the actual theft of the emails in question — the DNC emails revealing the donors social security numbers and Comer’s embarrassing comments — were, according to the public record, already stolen by the time the campaign entered into the conspiracy.

But that’s not going to work if Mueller charges a criminal conspiracy. That’s true, in part, because the criminal conspiracy would include the social media part of the Russian assistance, which continued well after the June 9 meeting (the plaintiffs here couldn’t argue the social media exploitation hurt them because the emails including the information damaging to them wasn’t promoted by Russian social media actors). It would also include the DCCC releases, which led to the provision of opposition research to Republican operatives.

Indeed, even the hacking continued after the June 9 meeting. As the plaintiffs pointed out, on July 27, Russian hackers even seemed to respond directly to Trump’s request for assistance.

191. On July 27, 2016, during the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Trump held a press conference in Florida. During his remarks, Mr. Trump called on Russia to continue its cyberattacks, stating, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Secretary Clinton] emails that are missing.” Although the Trump Campaign—and later, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer—claimed that Mr. Trump was “joking,” when Mr. Trump was asked at the time to clarify his remark and whether he was serious, Mr. Trump stated: “If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

192. According to the July 13, 2018 indictment of twelve Russian nationals filed by the Special Counsel, agents of the Russian government attempted that same day—July 27, 2016— “to spearfish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” In other words, on the day that Mr. Trump publicly said that he hoped Russia would be able to find missing emails related to Secretary Clinton, Russian intelligence for the first time attempted to hack email accounts on Secretary Clinton’s own server.

That particular hack was not successful, but a hack of the Democrats’ AWS hosted analytics program in September was; see ¶34. As I understand it, the targeting of Hillary’s campaign went on in a series of waves, and those waves might be shown to correlate to Trump’s requests for assistance.

So, absent proof that someone in the campaign encouraged Papadopoulos after having learned about the emails in April, the plaintiffs in this suit will struggle to show that Russian hacking of the emails that injured them took place after Trump’s campaign entered into the conspiracy. But Mueller won’t have that problem. And all that’s before the Peter Smith operation, which asked for assistance from Guccifer 2.0 and reached out to presumed Russian hackers to obtain information from Hillary’s home server. Plus, that’s all separate from the social media campaign which continued to benefit the Trump campaign up to the election.

The ironies of a First Amendment defense

There’s a detail about this response, however, that (relying as it does on a strong First Amendment defense) deserves more attention. The response claims that the entire purpose of this suit suit is to obtain discovery on the President on a number of topics — notably his tax returns and business relationships — that Democrats have been unable to fully pursue elsewhere.

The object of this lawsuit is to launch a private investigation into the President of the United States. The Amended Complaint already foreshadows discovery into the President’s “tax returns” (Am. Compl. ¶ 238), his “business relationships” (id.), his conversations with “Director Comey” (id. ¶ 251), and on and on.

Much later, in the conspiracy section, in an argument that seems designed for Brett Kavanaugh’s review, the response argues that plaintiffs need a more plausible claim to be able to get discovery from the President.

Rule 8 requires a complaint to state a “plausible” claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint satisfies this standard if its “factual content” raises a “reasonable inference” that the defendant engaged in the misconduct alleged. Id. at 678. This requirement protects defendants against “costly and protracted discovery” on a “largely groundless claim.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). This protection is essential here, where Plaintiffs’ explicit goal is to burden the President with discovery. The President’s “unique position in the constitutional scheme” requires him to “devote his undivided time and attention to his public duties.” Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 697–98 (1997). Courts must thus ensure that plaintiffs do not use “civil discovery” on “meritless claims” to interfere with his responsibilities. Cheney v. U.S. District Court, 542 U.S. 367, 386 (2004).

It’s only after making the claim that this suit is all about obtaining public interest information such as the President’s tax returns that the campaign makes an argument justifying the release of all this information in the name of public interest.

According to the logic Jones Day lays out here, the Democrats’ mistake was in not finding foreign hackers to steal and then publish Trump’s tax returns.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Guccifer 2.0 Cleaned Up His “Collusion” Three Months after the Fact

I discovered something curious when I was working on a timeline recently.

Most posts on the Guccifer 2.0 site appear to have been modified only in the immediate timeframe after publishing (though, significantly, the first post was modified after the some of the first documents were recorded as being tweaked). But one post was modified, very slightly, months after it was posted.

That’s the Guccifer FAQ post. When it was first published on June 30, 2016 and as late as September 27 of that year, a paragraph on Hillary in the post read this way:

As for me, I see great differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Hillary seems so much false to me, she got all her money from political activities and lobbying, she is a slave of moguls, she is bought and sold. She never had to work hard and never risked everything she had. Her words don’t meet her actions. And her collision with the DNC turned the primaries into farce. [my emphasis]

On October 2, 2016, that paragraph was corrected to read like this:

As for me, I see great differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Hillary seems so much false to me, she got all her money from political activities and lobbying, she is a slave of moguls, she is bought and sold. She never had to work hard and never risked everything she had. Her words don’t meet her actions. And her collusion with the DNC turned the primaries into farce. [my emphasis]

That is, over three months after the post was originally posted, someone went back in and changed “collision” into the word that has taken on such loaded meaning since, “collusion.” Probably, “collusion” was the word intended from the start; perhaps either a keyboard fat-finger (on an English language keyboard, with the “u” and the “i” adjacent) or an autocorrect produced “collision” instead. While the paragraph and the post are rife with the linguistic inaccuracies — such as the use of “mogul” in the same paragraph — seen in other Guccifer 2.0 posts, in context “collusion” is the word that makes sense.

To be clear: I’m not making a big deal about any likely explanations for the incorrect word in the first place, nor am I making a big deal that that word — “collusion” — is the one thing that someone cared enough about to correct months later. “Collusion” is not a word Guccifer 2.0 used elsewhere, not even in posts where it might have been easy to do so. I’m not ascribing any grand significance to this change. I just find it curious.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson Thinks It Scandalous that Lawyer of Hacking Victim Talks to FBI about Hack

In the never-ending scandal industry of Republican members of Congress trying to make a huge deal out of the fucking Steele dossier, Senate Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson is demanding that Christopher Wray provide more information (including on the John Doe investigations into Scott Walker’s corruption in WI). Johnson never went to such lengths to obtain information from the FBI during the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing, but I guess he has different priorities.

Among the things he’s demanding are details of a conversation that Perkins Coie attorney Michael Sussmann had with then FBI General Counsel James Baker.

According to public reports, former FBI General Counsel James Baker met with Michael Sussman, [sic] an attorney with the Perkins Coie law firm, which retained Fusion GPS in 2016 to research allegations about then-candidate Donald Trump. Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, author of the Steele dossier–and Mr. Sussman allegedly provided the FBI with information “related to Russian interference in the election, hacking and possible Trump connections.”

The John Solomon piece that has gotten Ron Johnson all hot and bothered about this contact says that Sussmann gave Baker some materials on Russian hacking and possible Trump connections with it.

Baker identified lawyer Michael Sussman, [sic] a former DOJ lawyer, as the Perkins Coie attorney who reached out to him and said the firm gave him documents and a thumb drive related to Russian interference in the election, hacking and possible Trump connections.

Michael Sussmann has been publicly identified as the person that helped the DNC respond to the Russian hack since June 14, 2016, the day the hack first became public.

Chief executive Amy Dacey got a call from her operations chief saying that their information technology team had noticed some unusual network activity.

“It’s never a call any executive wants to get, but the IT team knew something was awry,” ­Dacey said. And they knew it was serious enough that they wanted experts to investigate.

That evening, she spoke with Michael Sussmann, a DNC lawyer who is a partner with Perkins Coie in Washington. Soon after, Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor who handled computer crime cases, called Henry, whom he has known for many years.

His role in helping the DNC help respond to the hack was further described by the NYT’s magnum opus on it.

No one knew just how bad the breach was — but it was clear that a lot more than a single filing cabinet worth of materials might have been taken. A secret committee was immediately created, including Ms. Dacey, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, Mr. Brown and Michael Sussmann, a former cybercrimes prosecutor at the Department of Justice who now works at Perkins Coie, the Washington law firm that handles D.N.C. political matters.

“Three most important questions,” Mr. Sussmann wrote to his clients the night the break-in was confirmed. “1) What data was accessed? 2) How was it done? 3) How do we stop it?”

Mr. Sussmann instructed his clients not to use D.N.C. email because they had just one opportunity to lock the hackers out — an effort that could be foiled if the hackers knew that the D.N.C. was on to them.

“You only get one chance to raise the drawbridge,” Mr. Sussmann said. “If the adversaries know you are aware of their presence, they will take steps to burrow in, or erase the logs that show they were present.”

The D.N.C. immediately hired CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, to scan its computers, identify the intruders and build a new computer and telephone system from scratch. Within a day, CrowdStrike confirmed that the intrusion had originated in Russia, Mr. Sussmann said.

The NYT even describes Sussmann and DNC executives meeting with “senior F.B.I. officials” — a description that would fit the FBI’s General Counsel, Baker, whom Sussman would have known from when they worked on national security cases at DOJ together.

The D.N.C. executives and their lawyer had their first formal meeting with senior F.B.I. officials in mid-June, nine months after the bureau’s first call to the tech-support contractor. Among the early requests at that meeting, according to participants: that the federal government make a quick “attribution” formally blaming actors with ties to Russian government for the attack to make clear that it was not routine hacking but foreign espionage.

“You have a presidential election underway here and you know that the Russians have hacked into the D.N.C.,” Mr. Sussmann said, recalling the message to the F.B.I. “We need to tell the American public that. And soon.”

In other words, there has been public reporting for years that Sussmann spoke to the FBI, reporting that even explains why he was involved — because he was the guy with experience working on cybersecurity. But in spite of that, the Chair of one of the committees most centrally involved in cybersecurity is now suggesting that victims of nation-state hacking and their lawyers should not talk to the FBI about that hacking.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

That Ongoing Grand Jury Investigation that Michael Cohen’s Loot Is Feeding

On Thursday, the NYT asked for the judge in the Michael Cohen case to unseal the warrant materials for the things seized on April 9, as well as the email accounts that had been searched prior to that. In their request, NYT attorney David McCraw asserted,

First, any risk of impairing law enforcement interests is minimal because the Government’s investigation of Mr. Cohen has concluded. … More to the point, Mr. Cohen has pleaded guilty to all the charges against him. And to the extent there are any ongoing investigations related to Mr. Cohen’s, any sensitive law enforcement information in the documents can be redacted.

As noted by the NYT, both Cohen and the government opposed the request.

A day later, the prosecution team wrote the judge, asking for three weeks to respond and permission to file part of its objection in sealed form

The Government intends to file an opposition to this request, and seeks permission to do so no later than November 2, 2018. In addition, because responding to this request requires describing, inter alia, the effect that unsealing would have on an ongoing grand jury investigation, the Government requests permission to file a portion of its response ex parte and under seal.

The government got two weeks, and the permission to file some of this under seal.

In response to this, I’ve seen a lot of people who assume the ongoing investigation is into Cohen — and it may well be. But the prosecution letter doesn’t say that, and given the way Cohen pled guilty in a rush to beat the campaign season and promptly started begging all prosecutors to start asking him questions, there’s no reason to believe that’s the case.

The reporting on the scope of the warrants against Cohen was always very vague, focusing on the Stormy Daniels part to the exclusion of the taxi medallion and fraud part. Just the taxi stuff was included in his guilty plea. So there’s still fraud (which is probably why Cohen pled guilty so quickly).

Some of the other crimes that might have been covered in Cohen’s warrant — such as the pay to play associated with the Inauguration — would overlap with Mueller’s investigation (and Cohen has spent some days chatting with Mueller’s prosecutors). But it’s certainly possible that (as I’ve suspected), that pay to play has already gotten spun off from Mueller’s investigation and is being led out of NY.

And, of course, there are the Trump Organization people — Executive 1 and Executive 2 (one of whom may well be a spawn) mentioned in Cohen’s plea who might also be targeting. Or, of course, Individual 1, Trump himself.

Trump’s Open Book Test Still Poses a Big Perjury Risk

In spite of a great deal of encouragement to do so on Twitter, I can’t muster a victory lap from the news that the Mueller team has agreed that Trump’s first round of open book test will focus only on conspiracy with Russia.

President Donald Trump’s legal team is preparing answers to written questions provided by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The move represents a major development after months of negotiations and signals that the Mueller investigation could be entering a final phase with regard to the President.

The questions are focused on matters related to the investigation of possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians seeking to meddle in the 2016 election, the sources said. Trump’s lawyers are preparing written responses, in part relying on documents previously provided to the special counsel, the sources said.

[snip]

Negotiations for Trump’s testimony lasted for the better part of a year. The two sides nearly reached a deal in January for Trump to be questioned at the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, Camp David, only for talks to break down at the last minute. What followed was a series of letters and meetings — some hostile — in which Trump’s lawyers raised objections and sought to limit any potential testimony.

For months, Mueller told Trump’s lawyers that he needed to hear from the President to determine his intent on key events in the obstruction inquiry.

While I find it significant that this report came first from Evan Perez and (?!?!) Dana Bash, not Maggie and Mike (suggesting it may come from different sources than the people who fed the NYT the line that Mueller was primarily interested in obstruction), this report seems to suggest that after letting Trump stall for almost a year, Mueller has decided to finally get him on the record on the key crimes.

While CNN has not said anything about timing — that is, how long Trump’s lawyers will stall over an open book test that they claim they’ve already written many of the answers to — this agreement may have as much to do with preparation for the post-election period in which Mueller can roll out any indictments he has been working on and Trump can start firing people. That is, before he makes any big moves in the case in chief, he has to get Trump on the record in some form or other. Better to get him on the record in sworn written statements than launch a subpoena fight that will last past that post-election period.

So I don’t think this says much about the relative legal exposure Mueller thinks Trump has for obstruction versus conspiracy (though, again, if you’ve got the conspiracy charges, the obstruction charges will be minor by comparison). It says that Mueller has decided it’s time to get Trump committed to one story, under penalty of perjury.

That said, consider two details about obstruction.

First, Mueller has gotten both of the men Trump reportedly dangled pardons to, Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, to enter cooperation agreements. That means he’s got both men — possibly along with the non-felon lawyers who passed on the offer — describing that they were offered pardons if they protected the President. That, to my mind, is the most slam dunk instance of obstruction even considered. So by obtaining Manafort’s cooperation, Mueller may have already obtained the most compelling evidence of obstruction possible.

Also, it’s not at all clear that Trump can avoid perjury exposure even on an open book test. We’ve already seen that some of the written responses the Trump team has provided Mueller — such as the two versions of their explanation for the Flynn firing — obscure key details (including Trump’s own role in ordering Flynn to tell Russia not to worry about sanctions). Plus, Trump’s lawyers have recently come to realize they not only don’t know as much as they thought they did about what other “friendly” witnesses had to say (Bill Burck seems to have reconfirmed last week that his clients — which include, at a minimum, Don McGahn, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus — don’t have Joint Defense Agreements with Trump), but that they don’t actually know everything they need to know from Trump. Trump is unmanageable as a client, so it’s likely he continues to lie to his own lawyers.

Most importantly, on all of the key conspiracy questions Mueller posed to Trump last March (the first two were also in his first set of questions in January), Mueller has at least one and sometimes several cooperating witnesses.

  • What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016? [Flynn]
  • When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting? [Manafort]
  • During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials? [Cohen, Goldstone, Kaveladze]
  • What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign? [Cohen, Sater]
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others? [Manafort, Gates, Cohen]
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions? [Manafort, Flynn]
  • What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine? [Manafort, Gates]
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign? [Stone’s associates, Gates, Manafort]
  • What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? [Manafort]
  • What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks? [Stone’s associates, Manafort]
  • What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts? [Flynn]
  • What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince? [Flynn]
  • What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017? [Cohen]

The one area where that’s not true is with Roger Stone (though Rick Gates, at least, seems to have been in the loop on some of that), but then Mueller has spent the last 10 months collecting every imaginable piece of evidence pertaining to Stone.

Between Trump’s lawyers’ incomplete grasp of what their client did and the witnesses and other evidence regarding these activities, Mueller has a much better idea of what happened than Trump’s lawyers do. Which means they may not be able to help their client avoid lying.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Mueller Juggles Plea Agreement Housekeeping

In the last two days, both Rick Gates’ and Paul Manafort’s plea deals have made news.

In Gates’ case, his lawyers have filed an unopposed motion to liberate him from his GPS device and curfew, arguing that the leverage of the plea deal itself is enough to keep him on the straight and narrow.

The plea agreement contains very serious consequences for Mr. Gates should he violate any of its terms or conditions. The advantages that attach to strict compliance with that agreement, and the extraordinary disincentives to violating that agreement, alone guarantee Mr. Gates’s appearance at any scheduled Court proceeding. Over a substantial period of time, now approaching one year, Mr. Gates has demonstrated his resolve to comply with all conditions of his release. Removing the GPS monitor and allowing Mr. Gates to travel within the Eastern District of Virginia and District of Columbia without restriction will surely not increase the risk of flight or make it less likely that Mr. Gates will appear in Court when required to do so.

The more interesting bit comes when, in a bid to talk up Gates’ cooperation, his attorneys reveal he’s been meeting with other prosecutors.

Both before the entry of the plea, and for many weeks thereafter, Mr. Gates, whenever requested, traveled to Washington, D.C., to appear at the Office of Special Counsel to be interviewed as part of his cooperation agreement. Those sessions have been numerous and they continue to this day.

[snip]

These meetings with the Office of Special Counsel continued during the weeks preceding the trial of co-defendant Paul Manafort in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

[snip]

Following that trial, Mr. Gates has continued to cooperate with the Special Counsel and with other federal investigators by attending current meetings at which he provides additional information. [my emphasis]

Rick Gates met in March and he met in July and he met in September, Thomas Green says. It’s the “other federal investigators” that’s of interest, as it suggests his cooperation extends beyond Mueller’s case in chief.

But that may not mean all that much. After all, Gates’ cooperation would be useful for the three cases Mueller referred to SDNY (involving Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Greg Craig), as well as for Stephen Calk, the Chicago banker who gave Manafort a loan in hopes of getting an appointment with the Trump Administration. Gates would surely also have information that might corroborate Sam Patten’s cooperation.

Still, it’s possible those “other federal investigators” include some of the “garden variety” Trump corruption I keep suggesting might also get spun off, such as the non-Russian Inauguration pay-to-play.

Meanwhile, in EDVA, TS Ellis is being TS Ellis. Yesterday, he filed an order saying that the parties in Manafort’s EDVA prosecution can’t just defer resolution of the ten hung counts against him until after Mueller is done with his cooperation. He scheduled a hearing for a week from Friday, on October 19, so the process of sentencing can begin. At that hearing, Ellis expects the parties to “address dismissal of the outstanding counts on which the jury deadlocked.”

Dismissing the charges may be no big deal. Manafort is on the hook for 210 – 262 months if he breaches his plea agreement in DC, before any state charges, and some of the charges that Ellis would dismiss could be charged in VA, aided by Manafort’s admission of guilt in them in the plea. As Popehat notes, cleaning up these charges is consistent with good docket management.

The push for the government to move forward on cooperation is more interesting as it may require the government to weigh in on the value of Manafort’s cooperation while he’s still discussing things with Mueller’s team. Of particular interest, any discussion on cooperation may reveal how much Manafort has cooperated against the President.

I’m also interested in timing. Manafort’s lawyers submitted their notice that they won’t challenge anything that happened in that trial right on schedule, on September 20. The government filed their response just under the week later that they had under Ellis’ schedule, on September 26. But Ellis took two weeks before he issued this hurry up and wait order, setting a hearing for October 19, at which any sentencing schedule is likely to be after Manafort’s next status hearing in DC.

In any case, it’s not clear that Ellis’ haste will help Manafort much. Even if Ellis is perturbed that Mueller used his courtroom to flip a witness against Trump, the PSR will show that Manafort is an admitted criminal in the DC charges, meaning his sentence should be harsher than it would with any kind of cooperation assistance. And prosecutors can just defer any 5K statement, and instead account for cooperation with a Rule 35 motion submitted after the fact. In any case, the plea envisions concurrent sentencing, and if Manafort does’t cooperate willingly, he’ll face 10 years in the DC plea, which is longer than Ellis is likely to have sentenced him on anyway.

So it seems like Mueller can still retain the breathtaking upper hand they have with Manafort, and defer any public statement on cooperation until later.

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