The Info Ops Unit at GRU, Not the Technical Hacking Unit, Hacked the State Boards of Election Servers

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

Yesterday, there was a big to-do on Twitter about a story (which subsequently got pulled) claiming that vote totals got changed as part of the Russian attack on the 2016 election. I don’t care to engage the story — which I understand was very weak — directly. There are multiple ways for Russian efforts to have affected the outcome of the election, and the evidence increasingly supports a conclusion that that happened, without vote totals getting changed.

That said, given the focus on changing vote tallies, I want to note something about Mueller’s GRU hacker indictment that has gotten almost no attention. Twelve men were indicted, from two different units of GRU, Units 26165 and 74455. The indictment describes the activities of each department in a way that generally suggests a division of labor, with Unit 26165 carrying out core hacking activities and Unit 74455 carrying out information operations. Here’s what that breakdown looks like.

Unit 26165

Address: 20 Komsomolskiy Prospekt (this is the location spied on by the Dutch intelligence agency, AIVD).

Charged individuals:

  • Viktor Netyksho: Commands Unit 26165
    • Boris Antonov: “Head of Department” that oversees spear-phishing targeting
      • Dmitriy Badin: “Assistant Head of Department” conducting spear-phishing targeting
      • Ivan Yermakov: works for Antonov, uses identities Kate Milton, Kames McMorgans, Karen Millen. Hacked at least two email accounts the contents of which were released by DCLeaks. Helped hack DNC emails server released through WikiLeaks.
      • Aleksey Lukashev: Senior Lieutenant in Antonov’s department. Uses identities Den Katenberg, Yuliana Martynova. Sent spear-phishing emails to Clinton campaign, including the one to John Podesta.
    • Sergey Morgachev: Lieutenant Colonel who oversaw department that developed and managed X-Agent.
      • Nikolay Kozachek: Lieutenant Captain. Used monikers including “kazak” and “blablabla1234565.” Developed, customized, and monitored X-Agent used to hack DCCC.
      • Pavel Yershov: Helped customize and text X-Agent before deployment against DCCC.
      • Artem Malyshev: Second Lieutenant in Morgachev’s department. Used handles “djangomagicdev” and “realblatr.” Monitored X-Agent implanted in DCCC and DNC servers.

Charged actions attributed to named defendants:

  • ¶21-22: Spear-phishing targets
  • ¶23-25: Hacking into DCCC
  • ¶29-30: Stealing DCCC and DNC documents
  • ¶33: Persistence in DCCC and DNC servers

Crimes charged to named defendants:

  • Count One: CFAA
  • Counts Two through Nine: Aggravated Identity Theft
  • Count Ten: Conspiracy to Launder Money

Unit 74455

Address: 22 Korva Streett, Khimki (the Tower)

Charged individuals:

  • Aleksandr Osadchuk: Colonel and commanding officer of 74455, which assisted in release of stolen documents through DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and the publication of anti-Clinton propaganda on social media.
    • Aleksey Potemkin (!!): A supervisor in department responsible for administration of computer infrastructure used to assist in release in DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 documents.
    • Anatoliy Kovalev: officer assigned to 74455 involved in hacks of State Boards of Election.

Charged actions attributed to named defendants:

  • ¶38: Operating fictitious personas promoting DCLeaks
  • ¶71-78: Hacking into State Boards of Election (SBOEs) and VR Systems

Crimes charged to named defendants:

  • Count One: CFAA
  • Counts Two through Nine: Aggravated Identity Theft
  • Count Ten: Conspiracy to Launder Money
  • Count Eleven: Conspiracy to Commit an Offense against the US

Generally, the indictment describes Unit 26165 as being in charge of the technical hacking, including excruciating detail on what named officer played what role in phishing and malware deployment activities (probably thanks to the AIVD intelligence). The description of the information operations — running DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0 and working with WikiLeaks — is less specific as to which officer did what, but the indictment clearly assigns those activities to Unit 74455. In any case, the indictment appears to suggest a division of labor, where Unit 26165 carries out the technical hacking and Unit 74455 carries out the information operations.

All 12 GRU officers are charged in Counts One through Ten.

Count Eleven, the ConFraudUs charge, is an outlier, however, in two ways. First, just Unit 74455 officers — Osadchuk and Kovalev — are charged in this operation. And aside from the indictment’s description that Potemkin (!!) runs the infrastructure for Unit 74455, just the description of the phish of the State Boards of Election and VR Systems includes specific details about which Unit 74455 officer was involved in activities attributed to that unit.

All of which is to say that, for some reason, what is described as an information operations unit — Unit 74455 — conducted the hack of election infrastructure, not the technical hacking unit that carried out the other phishes of Democratic targets.

Perhaps the division of labor between these two units is not so clearcut as the indictment lays out. But if it is, then there may be an explanation why the information operations department would be hacking election infrastructure. Remember that in the days leading up to the election, Guccifer 2.0 — according to the indictment, a Unit 74455 operation — predicted the Democrats might “rig the elections.”

Hacks on SBOEs and election vendors would be an easy piece of evidence to point to to claim that Democrats had stolen the election. That is, it could be that these hacks (which, given that Illinois was targeted most aggressively, weren’t going to alter the presidential election) may have been propaganda designed to undermine the Hillary win that never materialized.

Mind you, I still await the results of the investigation into whether there was a tie between the VR Systems hack and oddities in Durham County, NC on election day, something that would amount to voter suppression rather than altering vote tallies.

But it is at least possible that the attacks on our voting infrastructure were designed as propaganda, this time at least, rather than as an attempt to use the information obtained.

The Worm Turns: Neither Devin Nunes Nor Ron DeSantis (Thus Far) Support Jim Jordan’s Impeachment Bid

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

I was in DC when Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan rolled out articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein. As a number of people have noted, the articles themselves are batshit crazy, calling over-redaction subsequently corrected a high crime and misdemeanor.

And some of the articles would require a time machine to prove, such as holding Rosenstein responsible for a FISA application submitted when he was merely the US Attorney for MD with no role in the investigation.

But something else is even more interesting to me.

The original press release included the names of 6 congressmen, in addition to Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, who co-sponsored the articles HR 1028:

  1. Mark Meadows
  2. Jim Jordan
  3. Andy Biggs
  4. Scott Perry
  5. Paul “Dentists Read Body Language” Gosar
  6. Jody Hice
  7. Matt Gaetz
  8. Scott DesJarlais

And while the other three congressmen who joined as co-sponsors seemed a lot more sheepish about signing on, the following me also joined:

  1. John Duncan
  2. Louie Gohmert
  3. Bill Posey

By mid-morning yesterday, in the face of opposition from Paul Ryan and citing some deal with Bob Goodlatte, Meadows and Jordan admitted defeat. Shortly thereafter, Jordan announced a bid to be Speaker, with support from Meadows.

Apparently this morning, the following men signed on:

  1. Tom Massie
  2. Ted Yoho
  3. Ralph Norman
  4. Duncan Hunter

We’re two days into this effort, and thus far, two names are conspicuously absent: Devin Nunes (who has admittedly refrained from officially participating in some of the batshittery to — apparently — limit his legal exposure) and Ron DeSantis, who has spent the last seven months leading efforts to discredit Mueller’s investigation.

While I was in DC, a Republican admitted to me that this was just about ginning up votes and predicted that the House is done meeting until November — meaning Rosenstein should be safe from Congressional tampering until then.

If so, DeSantis’ non-participation in this stunt is telling. He’s running for governor with the vocal support of President Trump.

Indeed, DeSantis currently has a healthy lead against Adam Putnam in the GOP primary, with the primary date a month away, August 28, largely due to Trump’s support.

DeSantis is also one of the people who most obviously benefitted from Russian interference in 2016.

That Ron DeSantis has not (yet) signed onto this stunt suggests he’s not sure that, in a month (or perhaps in three, in the general), having done so will benefit his electoral chances to be governor.

So apparently Jim Jordan (facing sexual assault cover-up charges) and Duncan Hunter (facing even more serious legal troubles) think it’s a smart idea to go all-in on supporting Trump. But Ron DeSantis does not.

BREAKING! NYT Discovers Tweets They Discovered 3 Months Ago

Today, July 26, NYT has a breaking news story that Robert Mueller is investigating Trump’s tweets in a “wide-ranging obstruction inquiry.”

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Several of the remarks came as Mr. Trump was also privately pressuring the men — both key witnesses in the inquiry — about the investigation, and Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry.

Mr. Mueller wants to question the president about the tweets. His interest in them is the latest addition to a range of presidential actions he is investigating as a possible obstruction case: private interactions with Mr. Comey, Mr. Sessions and other senior administration officials about the Russia inquiry; misleading White House statements; public attacks; and possible pardon offers to potential witnesses.

This breaking news tees up this quote from Rudy Giuliani.

Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer in the case, Rudolph W. Giuliani, dismissed Mr. Mueller’s interest in the tweets as part of a desperate quest to sink the president.

“If you’re going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public,” Mr. Giuliani said.

It’s a really interesting breaking news story, because the [squints closely] NYT reported, [squints again] on April 30, that Jay Sekulow had collected this list of questions Mueller wanted to ask the President in March.

  1. What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
  2. What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
  3. What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?
  4. How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
  5. After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
  6. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
  7. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
  8. What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?
  9. What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  10. What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  11. What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017
  12. What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.
  13. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
  14. What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
  15. What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  16. What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?
  17. Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
  18. What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  19. What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  20. What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  21. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?
  22. What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  23. What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  24. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
  25. What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
  26. Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
  27. What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
  28. Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
  29. What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
  30. What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
  31. What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  32. When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  33. What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  34. During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  35. What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  36. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  37. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  38. What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  39. During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  40. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
  41. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
  42. What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  43. What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  44. What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

Two of the questions posed in March and reported in April are specifically about tweets. Another alludes to harassment that included tweets. And all of the tweets in today’s breaking news save one are covered by the tweets described in this list dating to March and reported in April, the exception being one tweeted earlier this week.

All of which serves Rudy’s narrative that the Mueller investigation is a frivolous exercise in trying to find obstruction behind the smoking bonfire of “collusion” rather than the conspiring with Russia instead.

In fact, this breaking news story never once mentions the “collusion” side of the investigation.

If Mueller’s addition of Trump’s tweets to the list of questions he wants answered is the “latest addition” to his interest in obstruction, then maybe Maggie and Mike should move on to reporting the actual conspiracy investigation?

Twenty Comey Questions Do Not Eliminate Trump’s Obstruction Exposure

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

As Trump’s legal teams shift their efforts to stall Mueller’s investigation, the press is shifting their problematic reporting on what legal exposure Trump has. As part of its report that Trump’s legal team has made a “counteroffer” to have Trump sit for an interview covering just collusion, the WSJ repeats Rudy Giuliani’s bullshit that Trump’s obstruction only covers the Comey firing.

The president’s legal team is open to him answering questions about possible collusion with Moscow, Mr. Giuliani said, but is less willing to have Mr. Trump discuss questions about obstruction of justice. “We think the obstruction of it is handled by Article 2 of the Constitution,” Mr. Giuliani said, referring to the provision that gives the president executive authority to appoint and dismiss members of his administration.

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, and whether Mr. Trump sought to obstruct justice in the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey in May 2017, while the FBI’s Russia probe was under way. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election interference.

[snip]

Mr. Giuliani said in an interview Monday that the reasons Mr. Trump has given for firing the former FBI director are “more than sufficient” and that as president, he had the power to fire any member of his administration.

This is just more parroting of Rudy’s spin, just as the old line that Trump was primarily at risk for obstruction.

Here’s the list of questions Jay Sekulow understood Mueller wanting to ask sometime in March, as presented by the NYT. I’ve bolded what I consider collusion questions (including the June 9 statement, as abundant evidence suggests that reflects direct collusion with Putin on the framing of their quid pro quo). I’ve italicized the questions that exclusive address Comey.

  1. What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
  2. What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
  3. What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?
  4. How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
  5. After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
  6. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
  7. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
  8. What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?
  9. What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  10. What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  11. What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?
  12. What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.
  13. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
  14. What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
  15. What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  16. What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?
  17. Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
  18. What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  19. What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  20. What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  21. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?
  22. What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  23. What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  24. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
  25. What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
  26. Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
  27. What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
  28. Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
  29. What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
  30. What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
  31. What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  32. When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  33. What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  34. During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  35. What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  36. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  37. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  38. What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  39. During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  40. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
  41. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
  42. What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  43. What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  44. What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

By my count there are:

Comey obstruction: 17

Other obstruction: 13

Collusion: 14

There aren’t quite 20 Comey questions, but it’s close.

By getting a journalist to uncritically parrot Rudy’s claim that all the obstruction questions pertain to Comey, the White House has buried some of the more egregious examples of obstruction, including (offering pre-emptive pardons to Flynn and Manafort, and whoever else) the gross abuse of the pardon power, and threatening the Attorney General. It also obscures the obstruction for which there are now cooperating witnesses (including, but not limited to, Flynn).

Probably, Trump is trying this ploy because a range of things — Manafort’s imminent trial, Cohen’s likely imminent cooperation, Mueller’s acute focus on Stone, and whatever else Putin told him — give him an incentive to have an up-to-date understanding of the current status of the collusion investigation. If he can do that in a way that makes it harder to charge some of the egregious obstruction Trump has been engaged in, all the better.

Whatever it is, it is malpractice to credulously repeat Rudy’s claim that Trump is only on the hook for obstruction for firing Comey.

Denial and Deception: Did Trump Really Hire and Fire the Suspected Russian Assets on His Campaign?

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

Recent developments in both the investigations into Carter Page and Paul Manafort have focused attention on a question I’ve been wondering about for some time: how any investigation will prove whether suspected Russian assets on the Trump campaign were ever with the campaign or really got fired.

Carter Page’s alleged denial and deception that he did what a potentially disinformation-filled dossier says he did

First, consider the Carter Page FISA applications. As I’ve said repeatedly, I actually think the FBI should be held accountable for their inclusion of the September 23, 2016 Michael Isikoff article based off of Steele’s work given their credulity that that reporting wasn’t downstream from Steele, particularly their continued inclusion of it after such time as Isikoff had made it clear the report relied on Steele. To be clear — given that they include this from the start, I’m not suggesting bad faith on the part of the FBI; I’m arguing it reflects an inability to properly read journalism that gets integrated into secret affidavits (this is something almost certainly repeated in the Keith Gartenlaub case). If you’re going to use public reporting in affidavits that will never see the light of day, learn how to read journalistic sourcing, goddamnit.

The Page application defenders argue that the inclusion of Isikoff in the Page application is not big deal because it didn’t serve to corroborate the Steele dossier on which it was based. That’s generally true. Instead, Isikoff is used in a section titled, “Page’s Denial of Cooperation with the Russian Government to Influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.” The section serves, I think, to show that Page was engaging in clandestine support of a Russian effort to undermine the election. The application claims FBI had probable cause that Page was an agent of a foreign power because he met clause E, someone who aids, abets, or conspires with someone engaging in clandestine activities, including sabotaging the election.

(A) knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power, which activities involve or may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;

(B) pursuant to the direction of an intelligence service or network of a foreign power, knowingly engages in any other clandestine intelligence activities for or on behalf of such foreign power, which activities involve or are about to involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;

(C) knowingly engages in sabotage or international terrorism, or activities that are in preparation therefor, for or on behalf of a foreign power;

[snip]

(E) knowingly aids or abets any person in the conduct of activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) or knowingly conspires with any person to engage in activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C).

To prove this is all clandestine, the FBI needs to show Page and his alleged co-conspirators were hiding it, in spite of the public reporting on it.

The FBI cites this Josh Rogin interview with Page as well as a letter he sent to Jim Comey, to show that Page was denying that he was conspiring with Russians.

“All of these accusations are just complete garbage,” Page said about attacks on him by top officials in the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and unnamed intelligence officials, who have suggested that on a July trip to Moscow, Page met with “highly-sanctioned individuals” and perhaps even discussed an unholy alliance between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

As far as Page’s denials, he was specifically denying meeting with Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin. He was definitely downplaying the likelihood that he got the invitation to Moscow because he was associated with Trump’s campaign, and he was not fulsome about having a quick exchange with other high ranking Russians.

But to this day, there is no evidence that Page did meet with Sechin and Diveykin (in the Schiff memo, he points to Page’s dodges about meeting other Russians as proof but it’s not). So citing Page’s denials to Rogin and Comey that he had had these meetings worked a lot like Saddam’s denials leading up to the Iraq War. Sometimes, when someone denies something, it’s true, and not proof of deception.

A similar structure appears to be repeated when what appears to be the section describing ongoing intelligence collection, starting with the third application (see PDF 340-1) excerpts a letter Page wrote in February 2017 attacking Hillary for “false evidence” that he met with Sechin and Diyevkin; as batshit as the letter sounds, as far as we know that specific claim is not true, and therefore this attack should only be treated as deception and denial if FBI has corroboration for other claims he denies here.

In other words, because the specific claims in the Steele dossier were the form of the accusations against Page, rather than the years-long effort the Russians made to recruit him, his willingness to play along, his interest in cuddling up to Russia, and his potential involvement in ensuring that Trump’s policy would be more pro-Russian than it otherwise might, Page’s specific denials of being an agent of Russia may well have been true even if in fact he was or at least reasonably looked like one based off other facts.

But was the Trump campaign deceiving about his departure from the campaign?

The applications don’t just show Page denying (correctly, as far as we know) that he met with Sechin and Diveykin. They also show great interest in the terms of his departure from the Trump campaign. Here’s part of what the application says about the Isikoff article:

Based on statements in the September 23rd News Article, as well as in other articles published by identified news organizations, Candidate #1’s campaign repeatedly made public statements in an attempt to distance Candidate #1 from Page. For example, the September 23rd News Article noted that Page’s precise role in Candidate #1’s campaign is unclear. According to the article, a spokesperson for Candidate #1’s campaign called Page an “informal foreign advisor” who” does not speak for [Candidate #1] or the campaign.” In addition, another spokesperson for Candidate #1’s campaign said that Page “has no role” and added “[w]e are not aware of his activities, past or present.” However, the article stated that the campaign spokesperson did not respond when asked why Candidate #1 had previously described Page as an advisor. In addition, on or about September 25, 2016, an identified news organization published an article that was based primarily on an interview with Candidate #1’s then campaign manager. During the interview, the campaign manager stated, “[Page is] not part of the campaign I’m running.” The campaign manager added that Page has not been part of Candidate #1’s national security or foreign policy briefings since he/she became campaign manager. In response to a question to a question from the interviewer regarding reports that Page was meeting with Russian officials to essentially attempt to conduct diplomatic negotiations with the Russian Government, the campaign manager responded, “If [Page is] doing that, he’s certainly not doing it with the permission or knowledge of the campaign . . . “

That passage is followed by three lines redacted under FOIA’s “techniques and procedures” (7E) and “enforcement proceedings” (7A) exemptions.

Again, this section seems dedicated to proving that Page and his conspirators are attempting to operate clandestinely — that they’re denying this ongoing operation. And the FBI treats Page’s and the campaign’s denials of any association as proof of deception.

To this day, of course, President Trump considers the Page FISA to be an investigation into his campaign.

Sure, the continued conflation of the Page FISA with his campaign serves a sustained strategy to confuse his base and discredit the investigation. But by willingly conflating the two, Trump only adds to the basis for which FBI might treat the conflicting admissions and denials of Page’s past and ongoing role in the campaign in fall 2016 as part of an effort to deceive.

Which is to say that while Page’s denials of meeting with Igor Sechin might be bogus analysis, the competing claims from the campaign — while they were likely at least partly incompetent efforts to limit damage during a campaign — might (especially as they persist) more justifiably be taken as proof of deception.

Steve Bannon got picked up on Page’s wiretaps in January 2017

All the more so given that Steve Bannon reached out to Page — via communication channels that were almost surely wiretapped — in early 2017 to prevent him from publicly appearing and reminding of his role on the campaign. As Page explained in his testimony to HPSCI:

MR. SCHIFF: Have you had any interaction with Steve Bannon?

MR. PAGE: We — we had a brief conversation in January, and we shared some text messages. That’s about it.

MR. SCHIFF: January of this year?

MR. PAGE: Yes.

MR. SCHIFF: What was the nature of your text message exchange?

MR. PAGE: It was — he had heard I was going to be on I believe it was an MSNBC event. And he just said it’s probably not a good idea. So —

MR. SCHIFF: And he heard this from?

MR. PAGE: I am not sure, but —

MR. SCHIFF: So he was telling you not to go on MSNBC?

MR. PAGE: Yes.

MR. SCHIFF: And he texted this to you?

MR. PAGE: He called me. It was right when I was — it was in mid-January, so —

MR. SCHIFF: And how did he have your number?

MR. PAGE: Well, I mean, I think there is the campaign had my number. He probably got it from the campaign, if I had to guess. I don’t know.

MR. SCHIFF: And did Mr. Bannon tell you why he didn’t want you to go on MSNBC?

MR. PAGE: No. But it turns out, I mean, I saw eventually the same day and in the same hour slot in the “Meet the Press” daily, it was Vice President Pence. And this is kind of a week after the dodgy dossier was fully released. And so I can understand, you know, given reality, why it might not be a good idea when he heard, probably from the producer — somehow the word got back via the producers that I would be on there, so —

MR. SCHIFF: I am not sure that I follow that, but in any event, apart from your speculating about it, what did he communicate as to why he thought you should not go on MSNBC?

MR. PAGE: I can’t recall the specifics.

MR. SCHIFF: Did he tell you he thought it would be hurtful to the President?

MR. PAGE: Not specifically, although there was a — I had received — we had some — letter exchanges perviously, kind of sharing — between Jones Day and myself, just saying — I forget the exact terminology, but — you know, the overall message was: Don’t give the wrong impression. Or my interpretation of the message was: Don’t give the wrong impression that you’re part of the administration or the Trump campaign.

And my response to that was, of course, I’m not. The only reason I ever talked to the media is to try to clear up this massive mess which has been created about my name.

[snip]

MR. SCHIFF: So, when Mr. Bannon called you to ask you not to go on, did he make any reference to the correspondence from the campaign?

MR. PAGE: I can’t recall. Again, I had just gotten off a 14-hour flight from Abu Dhabi.

MR. SCHIFF: He just made it clear he didn’t want you to do the interview?

MR. PAGE: That’s all I recall, yeah.

MR. SCHIFF: And what did you tell him?

MR. PAGE: I told him: I won’t do it. That’s fine. No big deal.

In the wake of the release of the Steele dossier, Trump’s top political advisor Steve Bannon (who, we now know, was in the loop on some discussions of a back channel to Russia) called up Carter Page on a wiretapped phone and told him not to go on MSNBC to try to rebut the Steele dossier.

I can get why that’d be sound judgment, from a political standpoint. But the attempt to quash a Page appearance and/or present any link to Pence during a period when he was pushing back about Mike Flynn and when Bannon was setting up back channels with Russians sure seems like an attempt to dissociate from Page as the visible symbol of conspiring with Russia all while continuing that conspiracy.

Speaking of Paul Manafort’s many conspiracies

Which brings me, finally, to a filing the government submitted in Paul Manafort’s DC trial yesterday.

Every time people claim that neither of the Manafort indictments relate to conspiring with Russia, I point out (in part) that Manafort sought to hide his long-term tie with Viktor Yanukovych and the Russian oligarchs paying his bills in an attempt to limit damage such associations would have to the ongoing Trump campaign. Effectively, when those ties became clear, Manafort stepped down and allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to hide those ties, all while remaining among Trump’s advisors.

In response to Manafort’s effort to preclude any mention of the Trump campaign in the DC case, the Mueller team argued they might discuss it if Manafort raises it in an attempt to impeach Rick Gates.

Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign, however, is relevant to the false-statement offenses charged in Counts 4 and 5 of the indictment. Indeed, Manafort’s position as chairman of the Trump campaign and his incentive to keep that position are relevant to his strong interest in distancing himself from former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, the subject of the false statements that he then reiterated to his FARA attorney to convey to the Department of Justice. In particular, the press reports described in paragraphs 26 and 27 of the indictment prompted Manafort and Gates to develop their scheme to conceal their lobbying. Dkt. 318 ¶¶ 26-27.

For example, on August 15, 2016, a member of the press e-mailed Manafort and copied a spokesperson for the Trump campaign to solicit a comment for a forthcoming story describing his lobbying. Gates corresponded with Manafort about this outreach and explained that he “provided” the journalist “information on background and then agreed that we would provide these answers to his questions on record.” He then proposed a series of answers to the journalist’s questions and asked Manafort to “review the below and let me know if anything else is needed,” to which Manafort replied, in part, “These answers look fine.” Gates sent a materially identical message to one of the principals of Company B approximately an hour later and “per our conversation.” The proposed answers Gates conveyed to Manafort, the press, and Company B are those excerpted in the indictment in paragraph 26.

An article by this member of the press associating Manafort with undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Ukraine was published shortly after Gates circulated the Manafort-approved false narrative to Company B and the member of the press. Manafort, Gates, and an associate of Manafort’s corresponded about how to respond to this article, including the publication of an article to “punch back” that contended that Manafort had in fact pushed President Yanukovych to join the European Union. Gates responded to the punch-back article that “[w]e need to get this out to as many places as possible. I will see if I can get it to some people,” and Manafort thanked the author by writing “I love you! Thank you.” Manafort resigned his position as chairman of the Trump campaign within days of the press article disclosing his lobbying for Ukraine.

Manafort’s role with the Trump campaign is thus relevant to his motive for undertaking the charged scheme to conceal his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine. Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why Manafort and Gates began crafting and disseminating a false story regarding their Ukrainian lobbying work nearly two years after that work ceased—but before any inquiry by the FARA Unit—without being made aware of the reason why public scrutiny of Manafort’s work intensified in mid-2016. Nor would Manafort’s motives for continuing to convey that false information to the FARA Unit make sense: having disseminated a false narrative to the press while his position on the Trump campaign was in peril, Manafort either had to admit these falsehoods publicly or continue telling the lie. [my emphasis]

Finally, Mueller is making this argument. The reason Manafort went to significant lengths in 2016 to avoid registering for all this Ukraine work, Mueller has finally argued, is because of his actions to deny the ties in an effort to remain on the Trump campaign and his effort to limit fallout afterwards.

This argument, of course, is unrelated to the competing stories that Trump told about why he fired Manafort (or whether, for example, Roger Stone was formally affiliated with the campaign during the period when he was reaching out to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0). But since at least fall 2016 the FBI has been documenting efforts to lie about Trump’s willing ties to a bunch of people with close ties to Russians helping to steal the election and/or set up Trump as a Russian patsy.

And while the evidence that Page was lying when denying the specifics about the accusations against him in the dossier remains weak (at least as far as the unredacted sections are concerned), the evidence that the campaign has been involved in denial and deception since they got rid of first Manafort and then Page is not.

Carter Page’s incoherent ramblings may not actually be denial and deception. But Donald Trump’s sure look to be.

Christopher Steele Probably Saved Carter Page from Prosecution

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

As you no doubt know, the government released the Carter Page FISA materials in response to a slew of FOIAs for it. I’m still at HOPE conference, so will do a quick impression, and follow-up later in the week with real analysis.

I believe that Christopher Steele and his shitty disinformation dossier likely saved Carter Page from being prosecuted. I say that because the four FISA applications strongly suggest that the FBI had reason independent of the dossier to believe Page was happily serving as an agent of Russia, including new information in renewals. Nevertheless, it’s clear that a significant portion of the initial application did rely on Steele.

To be clear, I think most of the treatment of Steele is perfectly appropriate. As I’ve said before, FISA applications rely on a range of human sources, including informants and contractors like Steele. For each, the FBI will assess the source’s credibility, weighing things like his bias or personal animosity and past reliability. The applications did this at length for Steele, noting that he had an established history of quality reporting, explaining that he used subsources for his reporting, describing that this information came as part of politically motivated research, admitting that in follow-up Steele expressed real desperation about Trump, and describing how Steele got cut off for sharing information with the press. Four Republican judges assessed all this and approved these orders, and that seems like a reasonable judgment.

I increasingly believe the Russians started feeding Steele disinformation from the very beginning of his project. So this would represent a case where a previously reliable consultant had, in this instance, proven totally unreliable.  That happens, I’m sure.

The problem, however, is that the FBI couldn’t figure out that the Michael Isikoff report was based on the Steele dossier, something Isikoff has admitted. While the way they use the Isikoff report isn’t about validating the intelligence, it nevertheless should have been scrutinized closely enough to understand it might be downstream of Steele. I’ve laid part of this out here (and I’ll probably flesh out this discussion later when there aren’t hackers to hang out with).

Because of how the government apparently uses FISA reauthorizations, this defect remained in the reauthorizations, even as FBI admitted the problems associated with Steele. That doesn’t mean FBI didn’t have a slew of other reasons to wiretap Page. They obviously were obtaining useful intelligence off the wiretap. I can think of several criminal defendants who had what are surely more problematic stuff in their FISA application, who nevertheless had information downstream of that FISA application used in a prosecution against them. So thus far, it simply reflects what happens when you discover intelligence you had every reason to believe was reliable turned out not to be.

Ideally, however, once it became clear the dossier was a problem, they should have done something like submit a fresh application laying out all the other evidence that led the FBI to believe Page is a happy Russian asset. Not all of the stuff is fruit of the Steele tree (and as I’ve noted repeatedly, virtually none of the most important parts of what I know of the Mueller investigation is fruit of the Page wiretapping).

But that didn’t happen. So everything will now be treated as fruit of a stupid dossier, meaning none of it will be admissible in court. And that, I suspect, means that Page will never be prosecuted in spite of what appears to be a whole bunch of redacted information showing ongoing efforts to help Russia.

Indeed, I suspect that’s why the Steele defenders have fought so hard to claim the dossier has been corroborated: because if it were, then it might still be cool to go after Page, but because so little of it has been corroborated, that likely will never happen.

Three Things: Still Active Measures

[Note the byline. This post contains some speculative content. / ~Rayne]

Whether counter-arguments or conspiracy theories, it’s interesting how certain narratives are pushed when tensions rise. But are they really theories or conditioning? And if conditioning, could other media infrastructure changes create more successful conditioning?

~ 3 ~

In an interview with Fox News post-Helsinki summit, Vladmir Putin made a point of blaming the Democratic Party for “manipulations of their party.”

…“The idea was about hacking an email account of a Democratic candidate. Was it some rigging of facts? Was it some forgery of facts? That’s the important thing that I am trying to — point that I’m trying to make. Was this — any false information planted? No. It wasn’t.”

The hackers, he said, entered “a certain email account and there was information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate.” …

Have to give Putin props for sticking with a game plan — increase friction within the American left and fragment Democratic Party support to the benefit of Trump and the Republican Party at the polls and ultimately Putin himself if sanctions are lifted. Christopher Steele indicated in the Trump-Russia dossier that the Kremlin was using active measures to this effect in 2016 to widen the divide between Sanders and Clinton supporters; apparently left-splitting active measures continue.

But this is only part of an attack on the Democratic Party; another narrative undermines both the DNC and the FBI by questioning the investigation into the DNC’s hacking. Why didn’t the FBI take possession of the server itself rather than settle for an image of the system? A key technical reason is that any RAM-resident malware used by hackers will disappear into the ether if the machine is turned off; other digital footprints found only in RAM memory would likewise disappear. “The server” isn’t one machine with a single hard drive, either, but 140 devices — some of which were cloud-based. Not exactly something the FBI can power down and take back to a forensic lab with ease, especially during the hottest part of a campaign season.

But these points are never effectively made as a counter narrative, though some have tried with explainers, and certainly not featured in broadcast or cable news programs. The doubt is left to hang in the public’s consciousness, conditioning them to question FBI’s competence and the validity of their investigative work.

If Putin is still using active measures to divide Democratic Party voters, is it possible this narrative about the hacked DNC server is also an ongoing active measure? What if the active measure isn’t meant to undermine the FBI by questioning its actions? What if instead the lingering doubt is intended to shape future investigations into hacked materials which may also rely on server images rather than physical possession of the hardware? What if this active measure is pre-crime, intended to tamper with future evidence collection?

~ 2 ~

I’d begun drafting this post more than a week ago, but came to a halt when FCC chair Ajit Pai did something surprisingly uncorrupt by putting the brakes on the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is a propaganda outlet masquerading as a broadcast media company. The mandatory airing of Boris Epsteyn’s program across all Sinclair stations offers evidence of Sinclair’s true raison d’etre; Epsteyn is a Russian-born former GOP political strategist who has been responsible for messaging in both the McCain-Palin campaign and the Trump administration, including the egregious 2017 Holocaust Remembrance Day statement which omitted any mention of Jews. The mandatory statement Sinclair management forced its TV stations to air earlier this year about “fake news” is yet another. The forced ubiquity and uniformity of messaging is a new element at Sinclair, which already had a history of right-wing messaging including the attempt to run a Kerry-bashing political movie to “swiftboat” the candidate just before the 2004 elections.

Sinclair and Tribune Media announced a proposed acquisition deal last May. If approved, the completed acquisition would give Sinclair access to 72% of U.S. homes — an insanely large percentage of the local broadcast TV market effectively creating a monopoly. There was bipartisan Congressional pushback about this deal because of this perceived potential monopoly.

FCC’s Ajit Pai wanted to relax regulations covering UHF stations — they would be counted as less than a full VHF station and therefore appear to reduce ownership of marketshare. Democrats protested this move as it offered Sinclair unfavorable advantage when evaluating stations it would acquire or be forced to sell during its Tribune acquisition.

Fortunately, Pai had “serious concerns” about the Sinclair-Tribune deal:

We have no idea to which administrative judge this deal may be handed, let alone their sentiments on media consolidation. We don’t know if this judge might be Trump-friendly and rule in favor of Sinclair, taking this horror off Ajit Pai’s back — which might be the real reason Pai punted after his egregious handling of net neutrality and the pummeling he’s received for it, including the hacking of the FCC’s comments leading up to his decision to end Obama-era net neutrality regulations and subsequent “misleading” statements to the media about the hack. New York State is currently investigating misuse of NY residents’ identities in the hack; one might wonder if Pai is worried about any personal exposure arising from this investigation.

BUT WAIT…the reason I started this post began not in New York but in the UK, after reading that Remain turnout may have been suppressed by news reports about “travel chaos,” bad weather, and long lines at the polls. Had the traditional media played a role in shaping turnout with its reporting?

I went looking for similar reports in the U.S. — and yes, news reports of long lines may have discouraged hundreds of thousands of voters in Florida in 2012. This wasn’t the only location with such reports in the U.S. during the last three general elections; minority voters are also far more likely to experience these waits than voters in majority white areas.

Probabilistic reports about a candidate’s win/loss may also suppress turnout, according to a Pew Research study.

Think about low-income voters who can’t afford cable TV or broadband internet, or live in a rural location where cable TV and broadband internet isn’t available. What news source are they likely to rely upon for news about candidates and voting, especially local polling places?

Hello, local broadcast network television station.

Imagine how voter turnout could be manipulated with reports of long lines and not-quite-accurate probabilistic reports about candidates and initiatives.

Imagine how a nationwide vote could be manipulated by a mandatory company-wide series of reports across a system of broadcast TV stations accessing 72% of U.S. homes.

How else might a media company with monopolistic access to American households condition the public’s response to issues?

~ 1 ~

There was all kinds of hullabaloo about the intersection of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, his son Justin, and Justin’s employment at Deutsche Bank at the same time DB extended financing to Donald Trump. It looks bad on the face of it.

And of course one prominent defense-cum-fact-check portrays Justin’s relationship to DB’s loans to Trump as merely administrative:

The extent to which Kennedy worked with Trump on this loan, or possibly on other Deutsche Bank matters, is unclear. “In that role, as the trader, he would have no contact with Trump … unless Eric [Schwartz] was trying to get Justin in front of Trump for schmoozing reasons,” Offit said, adding that he had recently spoken with former colleagues at the bank about Kennedy’s work.

Seems odd there has been little note made of Jared Kushner’s relationship with LNR Partners LLC — a company which Manta says has only 17 employees — and its subsidiary LNR Property which financed the Kushner 666 Fifth Avenue property in 2012. There was a report in Medium and another on DailyKos but little note made in mainstream news media.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that along with his business partner, Justin Kennedy was named 26th on the 50 Most Important People in Commercial Real Estate Finance in 2013 by the Commercial Observer — a publication of Observer Media, then owned by Jared Kushner.

I wonder what Justin’s rank was on this list while he worked at Deutsche Bank (also with current business partner Toby Cobb).

How odd this deal and the relationship wasn’t defended. I guess it’s just coincidence all the amphibians and reptiles know each other well in the swamp.

~ 0 ~

Let’s not forget:

587 Puerto Rican homes still don’t have electricity.

All asylum seeking families haven’t been reunited. Children may still be in danger due to poor care and lack of adequate tracking. As of yesterday only 364 children of more than 2500 torn from their families were reunited.

Treat this as an open thread.

The Government May Keep Paul Manafort’s iPods (in Part) Because of the June 9 Emails

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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. 

Judge Amy Berman Jackson has finally weighed in whether Paul Manafort gets the eight iPods the government seized from him back. Unsurprisingly, she has ruled that the July 2017 search of Manafort’s Alexandria condo was properly authorized. Better still, she has ordered the parties carry out a discussion that may lead us to learn whether the seven or eight iPods I’ve been obsessing about contain any interesting evidence; she has ordered the government to return any devices that don’t include evidence covered by the warrant by August 17.

ABJ’s order is interesting for two reasons. First, because redacted sections of the order must refer to the June 9 meeting that is described in the warrant but for which the sections of the supporting affidavit are entirely redacted.

One of those sections describes email the government had already obtained that it used to justify its request to obtain electronic devices.

The redacted language almost certainly describes the emails about the June 9 meeting.

We know the government had already obtained emails pertaining to the June 9 meeting because Don Jr had already leaked them for all the world to see by the time of the search. But we also know that Don Jr, at least, was hiding Manafort’s side of the communication (the campaign would have provided Manafort’s side to Mueller’s team when they provided it to Congress).

So while it’s all redacted, one of the things ABJ uses to justify the search and seizure of Manafort’s iPods are almost certainly emails relating to the June 9 meeting, including whatever details noted OpSec wizard Paul Manafort included but which Don Jr recognized retrospectively would be damning.

ABJ goes to the trouble of ruling proper the seizure of the iPods, which might include records pertaining to the crimes in question, specifically.

Deliciously, because Manafort has bitched so much about his iPods, ABJ ordered a status report describing whether any seized devices (but not imaged) fall outside the scope of the warrant.

So we’re going to learn by August 17 (if things don’t come to a head before then) whether Manafort has specific disputes about whether these iPods were used to commit any of the crimes he is suspected of, including conspiring with Russians to steal the election.

How to Charge Americans in Conspiracies with Russian Spies?

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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. 

In general, Jack Goldsmith and I have long agreed about the problems with charging nation-state spies in the United States. So I read with great interest his post laying out “Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference With Putin.” Among other larger normative points, Goldsmith asks two questions. First, does indicting 12 GRU officers in the US expose our own nation-state hackers to be criminally prosecuted in other countries?

This is not a claim about the relative moral merits of the two countries’ cyber intrusions; it is simply a claim that each side unequivocally breaks the laws of the other in its cyber-espionage activities.

How will the United States respond when Russia and China and Iran start naming and indicting U.S. officials?  Maybe the United States thinks its concealment techniques are so good that the type of detailed attribution it made against the Russians is infeasible.  (The Shadow Brokers revealed the identities of specific NSA operators, so even if the National Security Agency is great at concealment as a matter of tradecraft that is no protection against an insider threat.)  Maybe Russia and China and Iran won’t bother indicting U.S. officials unless and until the indictments actually materialize into a trial, which they likely never will.  But what is the answer in principle?  And what is the U.S. policy (if any) that is being communicated to military and civilian operators who face this threat?  What is the U.S. government response to former NSA official Jake Williams, who worked in Tailored Access Operations and who presumably spoke for many others at NSA when he said that “charging military/gov hackers is dumb and WILL eventually hurt the US”?

And, how would any focus on WikiLeaks expose journalists in the United States to risks of prosecution themselves.

There is a lot of anger against WikiLeaks and a lot of support for indicting Julian Assange and others related to WikiLeaks for their part in publishing the information stolen by the Russians.  If Mueller goes in this direction, he will need to be very careful not to indict Assange for something U.S. journalists do every day.  U.S. newspapers publish information stolen via digital means all the time.  They also openly solicit such information through SecureDrop portals.  Some will say that Assange and others at WikiLeaks can be prosecuted without threatening “real journalists” by charging a conspiracy to steal and share stolen information. I am not at all sure such an indictment wouldn’t apply to many American journalists who actively aid leakers of classified information.

I hope to come back to the second point. As a journalist who had a working relationship with someone she came to believe had a role in the attack, I have thought about and discussed the topic with most, if not all, the lawyers I consulted on my way to sitting down with the FBI.

For the moment, though, I want to focus on Goldsmith’s first point, one I’ve made in the past repeatedly. If we start indicting uniformed military intelligence officers — or even contractors, like the trolls at Internet Research Agency might be deemed — do we put the freedom of movement of people like Jake Williams at risk? Normally, I’d absolutely agree with Goldsmith and Williams.

But as someone who has already written extensively about the ConFraudUs backbone that Robert Mueller has built into his cases, I want to argue this is an exception.

As I’ve noted previously, while Rod Rosenstein emphasized that the Internet Research Agency indictment included no allegations that Americans knowingly conspired with Russians, it nevertheless did describe three Americans whose activities in response to being contacted by Russian trolls remain inconclusive.

Rod Rosenstein was quite clear: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” That said, there are three (presumed) Americans who, both the indictment and subsequent reporting make clear, are treated differently in the indictment than all the other Americans cited as innocent people duped by Russians: Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2, and Campaign Official 3. We know, from CNN’s coverage of Harry Miller’s role in building a cage to be used in a fake “jailed Hillary” stunt, that at least some other people described in the indictment were interviewed — in his case, for six hours! — by the FBI. But no one else is named using the convention to indicate those not indicted but perhaps more involved in the operation. Furthermore, the indictment doesn’t actually describe what action (if any) these three Trump campaign officials took after being contacted by trolls emailing under false names.

On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

[snip]

Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

[snip]

On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

Again, the DOJ convention of naming makes it clear these people have not been charged with anything. But we know from other Mueller indictments that those specifically named (which include the slew of Trump campaign officials named in the George Papadopoulos plea, KT McFarland and Jared Kushner in the Flynn plea, Kilimnik in the Van der Zwaan plea, and the various companies and foreign leaders that did Manafort’s bidding, including the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs in his indictment) may be the next step in the investigation.

In the GRU indictment, non US person WikiLeaks is given the equivalent treatment.

On or about June 22, 2016, Organization I sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [DemocraticNationalConvention] is approaching and she Will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded,“0k . . . i see.” Organization I explained,“we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

But the activities of other American citizens — most notably Roger Stone and Donald Trump — are discussed obliquely, even if they’re not referred to using the standard of someone still under investigation. Here’s the Roger Stone passage.

On or aboutAugust 15,2016, the Conspirators,posing as Guccifer 2.0,wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank u for writing back. . . do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow . . . it would be a great pleasureto me.” On or about September 9, 2016,the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded,“[p]retty standard.”

The Trump one, of course, pertains to the response GRU hackers appear to have made when he asked for Russia to find Hillary’s emails on July 27.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third‑party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy‐six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

Finally, there is yesterday’s Mariia Butina complaint, which charges her as an unregistered Russian spy and describes Aleksandr Torshin as her boss, but which also describes the extensive and seemingly willful cooperation with Paul Erickson and another American, as well as with the RNC and NRA. Here’s one of the Americans, for example, telling Butina that her Russian bosses should take the advice he had given her about which Americans she needed to meet.

If you were to sit down with your special friends and make a list of ALL the most important contacts you could find in America for a time when the political situation between the U.S. and Russia will change, you could NOT do better than the list that I just emailed you. NO one — certainly not the “official” Russian Federation public relations representative in New York — could build a better list.

[snip]

All that you friends need to know is that meetings with the names on MY list would not be possible without the unknown names in your “business card” notebook. Keep them focused on who you are NOW able to meet, NOT the people you have ALREADY met.

Particularly as someone whose communications (including, but not limited to, that text) stand a decent chance of being quoted in an indictment in the foreseeable future, let me be very clear: none of these people have been accused of any wrong-doing.

But they do suggest a universe of people who have attracted investigative scrutiny, both by Mueller and by NSD, as willing co-conspirators with Russian spies.

Granted, there are three different kinds of Russian spies included in these three documents:

  • Uniformed military intelligence officers working from Moscow
  • Civilian employees who might be considered intelligence contractors working from St. Petersburg (though with three reconnaissance trips to the US included)
  • Butina and Torshin, both of whom probably committed visa fraud to engage as unregistered spies in the US

We have a specific crime for the latter (and, probably, the reconnaissance trips to the US by IRA employees), and if any of the US persons and entities in Butina’s indictment are deemed to have willingly joined her conspiracy, they might easily be charged as well. Eventually, I’m certain, Mueller will move to start naming Americans (besides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates) in conspiracy indictments, including ones involving Russian spies operating from Russia (like Konstantin Kilimnik). It seems necessary to include the Russians in some charging documents, because otherwise you’ll never be able to lay out the willful participation of everyone, Russian and American, in the charging documents naming the Americans.

So while I generally agree with Goldsmith and Williams, this case, where we’re clearly discussing a conspiracy between Russian spies — operating both from the US and from Russia (and other countries), wearing uniforms and civilian clothing –and Americans, it seems important to include them in charging documents somewhere.

How Russian Spies Cultivated the NRA and National Prayer Breakfast to Seek Republican Assets

DOJ just announced the arrest, over the weekend, of gun rights activist Maria Butina for conspiracy to spy for Russia. (complaint, affidavit)

The affidavit explains how, between March 2015 (when she expected the GOP would “likely obtain control over the U.S. government after the 2016 elections”) and 2017, Butina worked with Aleksandr Torshin and two US persons to cultivate Republicans and lay the groundwork for warmer relations between Republicans and Russia. She focused on the NRA, she explained, because “the NRA [is] the largest sponsor of the elections in the US congress.”

The person listed as USP 1 (who has been named but I’ll wait for confirmation) laid out precisely how she should pitch herself — not too critical of Obama, pretense that there was a post-Putin world on the horizon — and gave her all the introductions to friendly types she might need.

The end of the narrative laid out in the complaint describes meticulous details around the National Prayer Breakfast last year, on February 2, 2017. Trump very nearly met with Torshin at the meeting, only pulling out at the last minute.

I’ll have more to say about this indictment (there’s a bunch of screen caps on my Twitter feed). But understand that this indictment is not even part of the Mueller probe. Nevertheless, several parts of it get two degrees away from Trump and his spawn.

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