Posts

Roger Stone Adopts the Russian Troll Evidence-Phishing Technique

Roger Stone submitted two motions in his defense today. The first, opposing a gag in the case, is rigorous and will make for an interesting legal battle (until such time as Stone violates the protective order in the case, in which case it’ll become a no-brainer; here’s the government’s motion supporting a limited gag). The second, objecting to the designation of Stone’s case as “related to” the GRU indictment, is a frivolous attempt to force evidence into the public realm, similar to the way Yevgeniy Prigozhin is using a defense of Concord Management in an attempt to obtain the intelligence that went into that investigation.

As I noted in this post, the local DC rules deem a case to be related in three cases, the third of which says that cases are related if they arise from a common wiretap, search warrant, or the same alleged criminal event.

A related case for the purpose of this Rule means as follows:

(1) Criminal cases are deemed related when

(i) a superseding indictment has been filed, or

(ii) more than one indictment is filed or pending against the same defendant or defendants, or

(iii) prosecution against different defendants arises from a common wiretap, search warrant, or activities which are a part of the same alleged criminal event or transaction. A case is considered pending until a defendant has been sentenced.

With his filing, Stone includes the form prosecutors used to lay out why his case related to that of the GRU officers who hacked the election.

The form makes it clear that the cases are related both because there’s a common search warrant and because both cases arise from “activities which are part of the same alleged criminal event or transaction.” Not only that, it explains why that’s the case:

In particular, certain evidence that is relevant to this case was derived from search warrants executed in Netyksho et al., and the alleged obstructive conduct in this cases arises from claimed and then disputed advance knowledge about the dissemination of stolen document during the 2016 presidential campaign that forms, in part, the basis for the criminal charges against Netkysho et al.

Stone’s lawyers don’t mention that explanation at all in their motion. Instead, they argue (fairly, as far as this cynical move goes) that because they need to object to the designation within 10 days but they haven’t obtained discovery yet to understand this, they need to register this objection now. Rather than asking for that an explanation or due consideration of the explanation included on the form, though, they instead demand all the evidence and reasoning used to support the designation.

At first blush and without the benefit of discovery, there is nothing about these cases that suggests they are suitably related, other than they are both brought by the Office of Special Counsel. The notice served on defense counsel requires an objection to the designation be filed within ten days of the arraignment. As a result of this constraint of a timely objection, the government should be required to disclose all evidence and reasoning used to support its requested designation since the goal of the local rule is to safeguard the honor of the district court and protect the rights of defendants like Roger Stone. [my emphasis]

The motion then goes on to make a series of contradictory claims. For example, he claims,

Defendant Stone has been charged with lying to Congress and witness tampering under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1505, 1001, 1512(b)(1), 2. There is no mention of hacking, stealing, or involvement with Russia or the Netyksho defendants

Just a few paragraphs before he cites his own indictment mentioning that very same hack.

The indictment in the Stone case alleges that the servers of the Democratic National Committee were hacked by unspecified “Russian government actors”

Ultimately, he gets around to admitting it is the same alleged hack.

There is not one single fact alleged in either indictment about the facts in the other indictment, other than that the Russians stole emails that Stone, a year later, allegedly lied to Congress about regarding his failed efforts to find out about them. Thus not a single one of the three criteria exists that is necessary for relatedness to be found.

Similarly, he notes how the GRU indictment describes him,

The Office of Special Counsel further alleged that “on or about August 15, 2016, the [Russian defendants] 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 the docs I posted? … The person responded, ‘[p]retty standard’.”

Just a few paragraphs before he cites similar language from his own indictment.

It also claims that Defendant Stone was a political consultant employed by the Trump campaign until August 2015 (Id. ¶ 4), and that “[d]uring the summer of 2016. . .[he] spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign.”

Most interesting is the way Stone acknowledges that the GRU indictment alleges that Guccifer 2.0 sent 20,000 emails to WikiLeaks,

Later, it was also alleged that some 20,000 stolen emails were transmitted by Guccifer 2.0 to “Organization 1.”

Just a few paragraphs before he admits his own indictment describes him bragging about communicating with WikiLeaks.

The indictment further alleges that Defendant Stone was “claiming both publicly and privately to have communicated with Organization 1″ (Id. ¶ 6),

That said, Stone doesn’t consider the commonality of WikiLeaks’ actions in this motion, which is probably the point.

Understand, Stone is trying to figure out several things with his demand to receive the evidence underlying it immediately. He’s trying to figure out what search warrants targeting him, going back almost a year, look like. He’s trying to figure out whether the communications between whoever his intermediary to WikiLeaks was got picked up discussing his outreach and if so in what granularity. He’s trying to figure out what kind of evidence Mueller has to indict WikiLeaks (which Stone would surely use, as he already has, to make a First Amendment defense of WikiLeaks’ role in the operation). And he’s trying to figure out whether Mueller has the good to name him as a co-conspirator, a move that might or might not go through WikiLeaks alone (though not exclusively — as I note, he discusses analytics with Guccifer 2.0 at a time when GRU was actively stealing the Democrats’ analytics).

In any case, Stone likely already has some of this information; it’s likely that the various conspiracies he’s at risk for being charged with were on his search warrant.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty interested in why these cases are deemed related and (just as an example) the GRU indictment was not deemed related to George Papadopoulos’ case, which was still pending at the time of the indictment (the answer is probably that none of the Papadopoulos investigation implicated WikiLeaks directly).

But once the government claimed there were common search warrants, plural, used in both these cases, it became really easy to make sense of why: WikiLeaks, the Guccifer Twitter account, and Stone’s own warrants would be common to both of the indictments.

Roger Stone was, thus far, just charged with false statements. But it’s clear the government is still entertaining other charges against him and others. So Stone is using this related designation as a way to fish for how close any further charges might be.

As I disclosed last 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. 

A Focus on Florida: What Happened to the Three Campaign Officials Chatting with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Trolls?

I want to go back to something I’ve been uniquely obsessed about for almost an entire year. As I’ve noted, the Internet Research Agency indictment describes the IRA trolls interacting with three Trump campaign officials that it describes in the manner used with possible co-conspirators.

74. On or about August 15, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators received an email at one of their false U.S. persona accounts from a real U.S. person, a Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county. The activist identified two additional sites in Florida for possible rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators subsequently used their false U.S. persona accounts to communicate with the activist about logistics and an additional rally in Florida.

75. On or about August 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used a false U.S. persona Instagram account connected to the ORGANIZATION-created group “Tea Party News” to purchase advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. 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.”

77. On or about August 18, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators sent money via interstate wire to another real U.S. person recruited by the ORGANIZATION, using one of their false U.S. personas, to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.

78. On or about August 19, 2016, a supporter of the Trump Campaign sent a message to the ORGANIZATION-controlled “March for Trump” Twitter account about a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 2”) who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 2’s email address at the domain donaldtrump.com. On or about the same day, 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.

79. On or about August 19, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account sent another message to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 3”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations. On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

Since this indictment was rolled out last February, no one has identified these three Trump campaign officials nor what they did in response to dangles from Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

That said, contrary to the assumption made when a DC-based team of US Attorneys joined the IRA prosecution team, DOJ’s investigation on this front has continued. Not only was IRA accountant Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova charged in EDVA last September (the complaint was unsealed in October, during a pre-election disinformation campaign involving IRA trolls), but in August, Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson was still pursuing investigative action in the IRA case (this means it’s possible that the involvement of a DC prosecutor in Roger Stone’s prosecution serves largely to keep the Mueller team targeting him focused on other aspects of their investigation of him).

In any case, since the mention of three different campaign officials interacting with Prigozhin’s trolls, we’ve gotten a number of other reasons to be interested in what happened in Florida in 2016.

Obviously, there’s Roger Stone. The actions laid out in his existing indictment largely take place in DC and NY, but we know Mueller has pursued (and continues to pursue, with Andrew Miller) testimony from aides working for Stone elsewhere, including in Florida. We know in May 2016, for example, Stone met in Florida with a Russian using the name Henry Greenberg offering dirt on Hillary. In principle, his denials on that should be taken no more seriously than his denials pertaining to WikiLeaks, but he was willing to correct his testimony on that point, unlike his testimony on WikiLeaks.

And there are other connections in Florida of interest. In a piece adding to stuff we already knew about Sergei Millian (which bizarrely remains silent about Ivan Timofeev and Oleg Deripaska’s ties to him, or his promise to build a Trump Tower), the WaPo describes how Millian worked with a Florida-based Russian named Mikhail Morgulis to build support in Florida.

As he was working to build a relationship with Papadopoulos in 2016, Millian also offered to serve as a conduit to the Trump campaign for a Belarusan author in Florida with connections to the Russian government, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

The author, Mikhail Morgulis, who said he never ended up hearing from anyone in the campaign, later claimed that he rallied Russian Americans to back Trump.

[snip]

Morgulis took credit in interviews with Russian media for helping to elect Trump by organizing Russian-speaking voters.

“I personally visited 11 cities in Florida, where I said that if you want our new president to be a homosexual . . . vote for Hillary,” he said a July 2017 interview with the Russian government-funded outlet Sputnik, touting a false claim popular among some conservative conspiracy theorists. In the interview, he also said he had briefly met both Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Then consider this detail from BuzzFeed’s report on what Suspicious Activity Reports say about Rinat Akhmetshin’s finances. Rather than getting paid by Lanny Wiles — as had previously been portrayed — Akhmetshin was in fact paying Wiles.

Akhmetshin continued receiving checks and wires from Wiles Consulting, a Florida-based company controlled by Lanny Wiles, a longtime Republican operator. Those payments, which began in January 2016, extended to April 2017, and totaled $72,500.

Investigators at Akhmetshin’s bank said the direction of the payments — from Wiles to Akhmetshin — contrasted with how their working relationship had been portrayed publicly. Investigators, citing unspecified public information, said Wiles claimed he was paid by Akhmetshin to work on the Magnitsky lobbying issue, not the other way around. The investigators did not cite their source, but a 2016 Politico article quoted Wiles saying he had been paid by Akhmetshin. Investigators at Bank of America did find that the foundation had issued checks to Wiles, but the amount is unclear. Wiles, whose wife was the chair of Trump’s Florida campaign, did not return messages seeking comment.

In the same Politico article, Wiles said he didn’t want to register as a foreign agent, but that Akhmetshin had told him it wouldn’t be necessary, as he would be working for BakerHostetler.

In the wake of the Natalia Veselnitskaya indictment in December, the government will have an easy time arguing that Akhmetshin and Wiles’ lobbying will easily be demonstrated to be work on behalf of Russia.

As noted, Wiles’ wife, Susie, was Trump’s Florida campaign chair, and the woman who got Veselnitskaya a seat in a hearing on Magnitsky sanctions.

Update: The Wiles’ daughter, Caroline Wiles, quit her White House job as director of scheduling after it became clear she’d fail a background check. (h/t LR)

Among those who won’t be working at the White House was President Donald Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, the daughter of Susan Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign director and former campaign manager for Governor Rick Scott. Wiles, who resigned Friday before the background check was completed, was appointed deputy assistant secretary before the inauguration in January. Two sources close to Wiles said she will get another job in Treasury.

There seems to be a lot more that happened with Trump’s campaign in Florida in 2016 than we currently know about. Including the three campaign officials mentioned in the still active investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

As I disclosed last 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 Disinformation Campaign Targeting Mueller and the Delayed Briefing to SSCI on Russian Election Interference

A lot of people are reporting and misreporting details from this Mueller filing revealing that it had been the target of disinformation efforts starting in October.

1000 non-sensitive files leaked along with the file structure Mueller provided it with

To substantiate an argument that Concord Management should not be able to share with Yevgeniy Prigozhin the sensitive discovery that the government has shared with their trollish lawyers, Mueller revealed that on October 22, someone posted 1000 files turned over in discovery along with a bunch of other crap, partially nested within the file structure of the files turned over in discovery.

On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: “We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!”1 The tweet also included a link to a webpage located on an online file-sharing portal. This webpage contained file folders with names and folder structures that are unique to the names and structures of materials (including tracking numbers assigned by the Special Counsel’s Office) produced by the government in discovery.2 The FBI’s initial review of the over 300,000 files from the website has found that the unique “hashtag” values of over 1,000 files on the website matched the hashtag values of files produced in discovery.3 Furthermore, the FBI’s ongoing review has found no evidence that U.S. government servers, including servers used by the Special Counsel’s Office, fell victim to any computer intrusion involving the discovery files.

1 On that same date, a reporter contacted the Special Counsel’s Office to advise that the reporter had received a direct message on Twitter from an individual who stated that they had received discovery material by hacking into a Russian legal company that had obtained discovery material from Reed Smith. The individual further stated that he or she was able to view and download the files from the Russian legal company’s database through a remote server.

2 For example, the file-sharing website contains a folder labeled “001-W773.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “Yahoo.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “return.” Within the “return” folder were several folders with the names of email addresses. In discovery in this case, the government produced a zip file named “Yahoo 773.” Within that zip file were search warrant returns for Yahoo email accounts. The names of the email accounts contained in that zip file were identical to the names of the email address folders within the “return” subfolder on the webpage. The webpage contained numerous other examples of similarities between the structure of the discovery and the names and structures of the file folders on the webpage. The file names and structure of the material produced by the government in discovery are not a matter of public record. At the same time, some folders contained within the Redstone Hacking release have naming conventions that do not appear in the government’s discovery production but appear to have been applied in the course of uploading the government’s production. For example, the “001- W773” folder appears within a folder labeled “REL001,” which is not a folder found within the government’s production. The naming convention of folder “REL001” suggests that the contents of the folder came from a production managed on Relativity, a software platform for managing document review. Neither the Special Counsel’s Office nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office used Relativity to produce discovery in this case. [my emphasis]

It sounds like Mueller’s office found out about it when being contacted by the journalist who had been alerted to the content on Twitter.

But before Mueller asked Concord’s trollish lawyers about it, the defense attorneys — citing media contacts they themselves had received — contacted prosecutors to offer a bullshit excuse about where the files came from.

On October 23, 2018, the day after the tweet quoted above, defense counsel contacted the government to advise that defense counsel had received media inquiries from journalists claiming they had been offered “hacked discovery materials from our case.” Defense counsel advised that the vendor hired by the defense reported no unauthorized access to the non-sensitive discovery. Defense counsel concluded, “I think it is a scam peddling the stuff that was hacked and dumped many years ago by Shaltai Boltai,” referencing a purported hack of Concord’s computer systems that occurred in approximately 2014. That hypothesis is not consistent with the fact that actual discovery materials from this case existed on the site, and that many of the file names and file structures on the webpage reflected file names and file structures from the discovery production in this case.

Without any hint of accusation against the defense attorneys (though this motion is accompanied by an ex parte one, so who knows if they offered further explanation there), Mueller notes any sharing of this information for disinformation purposes would violate the protective order in the case.

As stated previously, these facts establish a use of the non-sensitive discovery in this case in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the protective order. The order states that discovery may be used by defense counsel “solely in connection with the defense of this criminal case, and for no other purpose, and in connection with no other proceeding, without further order of this Court,” Dkt. No. 42-1, ¶ 1, and that “authorized persons shall not copy or reproduce the materials except in order to provide copies of the materials for use in connection with this case by defense counsel and authorized persons,” id. ¶ 3. The use of the file names and file structure of the discovery to create a webpage intended to discredit the investigation in this case described above shows that the discovery was reproduced for a purpose other than the defense of the case.

Update: Thursday evening, Mueller submitted another version of this clarifying that the @HackingRedstone tweets alerting journalists to the document dump were DMs, and so not public (or visible to the defense). The first public tweet publicizing the dump came on October 30, so even closer to the election.

Shortly after the government filed, defense counsel drew the government’s attention to the following sentence, which appears on page nine of the filing: “On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: ‘We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!’” Defense counsel pointed out that this sentence could be read to suggest that the Twitter account broadcast a publicly-available “tweet” on October 22. In fact, the Twitter account @HackingRedstone began sending multiple private direct messages to members of the media promoting a link to the online file-sharing webpage using Twitter on October 22. The content of those direct messages was consistent with, but more expansive than, the quoted tweet to the general public, which was issued on October 30. By separate filing, the government will move to file under seal the text of the direct messages. The online file sharing webpage was publicly accessible at least starting on October 22.

I’m not sure it makes the defense response any more or less suspect. But it does tie the disinformation even more closely with the election.

The Mueller disinformation was part of a month-long election season campaign

This thread, from one of the journalists who was offered the information, put it all in context back on November 7, the day after the election.

The thread shows how the release of the Mueller-related files was part of a month-long effort to seed a claim that the Internet Research Agency had succeeded in affecting the election.

Update: This story provides more background.

Other signs of the ongoing investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls

Given how the Mueller disinformation functioned as part of that month-long, election oriented campaign, I’m more interested in this passage from the Mueller investigation than that the investigation had been targeted. Mueller argues that they shouldn’t have to share the sensitive discovery with Yevgeniy Prigozhin because the sensitive discovery mentions uncharged individuals who are still trying to fuck with our elections.

First, the sensitive discovery identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in operations that interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment.

To be sure, we knew the investigation into Prigozhin’s trolls was ongoing. On October 19, just days before these files got dropped, DOJ unsealed an EDVA complaint, which had been filed under seal on September 28, against Prigozhin’s accountant, Alekseevna Khusyaynova. Along with showing Prigozhin’s trolls responding to the original Internet Research Agency indictment last February, it showed IRA’s ongoing troll efforts through at least June of last year.

Then, in December, Concord insinuated that Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson had obtained information via the firewall counsel and taken an investigative step on that information back on August 30.

On August 23, 2018, in connection with a request (“Concord’s Request”) made pursuant to the Protective Order entered by the Court, Dkt. No. 42-1, Concord provided confidential information to Firewall Counsel. The Court was made aware of the nature of this information in the sealed portion of Concord’s Motion for Leave to Respond to the Government’s Supplemental Briefing Relating to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Indictment, filed on October 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 70-4 (Concord’s “Motion for Leave”). Seven days after Concord’s Request, on August 30, 2018, Assistant Special Counsel L. Rush Atkinson took investigative action on the exact same information Concord provided to Firewall Counsel. Undersigned counsel learned about this on October 4, 2018, based on discovery provided by the Special Counsel’s Office. Immediately upon identifying this remarkable coincidence, on October 5, 2018, undersigned counsel requested an explanation from the Special Counsel’s Office, copying Firewall Counsel on the e-mail.

[snip]

Having received no further explanation or information from the government, undersigned counsel raised this issue with the Court in a filing made on October 22, 2018 in connection with the then-pending Motion to Dismiss. In response to questions from the Court, Firewall Counsel denied having any communication with the Special Counsel’s Office.

This was a bid to obtain live grand jury investigative information, one that failed earlier this month after Mueller explained under seal how his prosecutors had obtained this information and Dabney Friedrich denied the request.

What this filing, in conjunction with Josh Russell’s explanatory Twitter thread, reveals is that the Mueller disinformation effort was part of a disinformation campaign targeted at the election.

Dan Coats doesn’t want to share the report on Russian election tampering with SSCI

And I find that interesting because of a disturbing exchange in a very disturbing Global Threats hearing the other day. After getting both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray to offer excuses for White House decisions to given security risks like Jared Kushner security clearance, Martin Heinrich then asked Coats why ODNI had not shared the report on election tampering even with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Heinrich: Director Coats, I want to come back to you for a moment. Your office issued a statement recently announcing that you had submitted the intelligence community’s report assessing the threats to the 2018 mid-term elections to the President and to appropriate Executive Agencies. Our committee has not seen this report. And despite committee requests following the election that the ODNI brief the committee on any identified threats, it took ODNI two months to get a simple oral briefing and no written assessment has yet been provided. Can you explain to me why we haven’t been kept more fully and currently informed about those Russian activities in the 2018–

Chairman Richard Burr interrupts to say that, in fact, he and Vice Chair Mark Warner have seen the report.

Burr: Before you respond, let me just acknowledge to the members that the Vice Chairman and I have both been briefed on the report and it’s my understanding that the report at some point will be available.

Coats then gives a lame excuse about the deadlines, 45 days, then 45 days.

Coats: The process that we’re going through are two 45 day periods, one for the IC to assess whether there was anything that resulted in a change of the vote or anything with machines, uh, what the influence efforts were and so forth. So we collected all of that, and the second 45 days — which we then provided to the Chairman and Vice Chairman. And the second 45 days is with DHS looking, and DOJ, looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take. We’re waiting for that final information to come in.

After Coats dodges his question about sharing the report with the Committee, Heinrich then turns to Burr to figure out when they’re going to get the information. Burr at least hints that the Executive might try to withhold this report, but it hasn’t gotten to that yet.

Heinrich: So the rest of us can look forward — so the rest of us can then look forward to reading the report?

Coats: I think we will be informing the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of that, of their decisions.

Heinrich: That’s not what I asked. Will the rest of the Committee have access to that report, Mr. Chairman?

[pause]

Heinrich: Chairman Burr?

Burr; Well, let me say to members we’re sort of in unchartered ground. But I make the same commitment I always do, that anything that the Vice Chairman and myself are exposed to, we’ll make every request to open the aperture so that all members will be able to read I think it’s vitally important, especially on this one, we’re not to a point where we’ve been denied or we’re not to a point that negotiations need to start. So it’s my hope that, once the final 45-day window is up that is a report that will be made available, probably to members only.

Coming as it did in a hearing where it became clear that Trump’s spooks are helpless in keeping Trump from pursuing policies that damage the country, this exchange got very little attention. But it should!

The Executive Branch by law has to report certain things to the Intelligence Committees. This report was mandated by Executive Order under threat of legislation mandating it.

And while Coats’ comment about DOJ, “looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take,” suggests part of the sensitivity about this report stems from a delay to provide DOJ time to decide whether they’ll take prosecutorial action against what they saw in the election, the suggestion that only members of the committee (not staffers and not other members of Congress) will ever get the final report, as well as the suggestion that Coats might even fight that, put this report on a level of sensitivity that matches covert actions, the most sensitive information that get shared with Congress.

Maybe the Russians did have an effect on the election?

In any case, going back to the Mueller disinformation effort, that feels like very familiar dick-wagging, an effort to make key entities in the US feel vulnerable to Russian compromise. Mueller sounds pretty sure it was not a successful compromise (that is, the data came from Concord’s lawyers, not Mueller).

But if the disinformation was part an effort to boast that Putin’s allies had successfully tampered with the vote — particularly if Russia really succeeded in doing so — it might explain why this report is being treated with the sensitivity of the torture or illegal spying program.

Update: I’ve corrected this to note that in the end the Intelligence Authorization did not mandate this report, as was originally intended; Trump staved that requirement off with an Executive Order. Still, that still makes this look like an attempt to avoid admitting to Congress that your buddy Putin continues to tamper in US elections.

As I disclosed last 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. 

Will the Press Recognize They Also Deserve a Scolding for Parroting Eric Dubelier’s Nude Selfie Stunt?

According to Google, there are almost 4 million results for a search on “nude selfie Mueller.” All the top results report on a recent filing from Concord Management objecting to Robert Mueller’s request to submit an ex parte filing explaining why Concord should not be able to share the unclassified but sensitive information obtained in discovery with their boss, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. None of the reports I read considered why and how Mueller’s team would have obtained a nude selfie along with the rest of the vast amounts of social media data it obtained as part of its effort to investigate how trolls paid by Prigozhin operated (one explanation might be that Prigozhin employees sent a nude selfie of themselves via a US-based provider which then got turned over as part of a content request, which contributed to the process of identifying the employees).

In other words, rather than reporting on the mention of the nude selfie as part of covering a legal case, the press instead treated it largely as Concord lawyer Eric Dubelier presumably intended, as a means of making and calling attention to a legally frivolous but politically damning insinuation about Mueller’s investigation. Tellingly, the coverage of the nude selfie claim came only after Dubelier included it in the short response filing rather than the legally more interesting initial request to amend the protective order, which complained that Mueller had turned over “irrelevant data ranging from promotional emails for airlines to personal correspondence, even including personal naked selfie photographs” (which also provides context that might explain why the selfie(s) was discoverable).

All that is useful background, in my opinion, to reports from the hearing that Judge Dabney Friedrich scheduled for today on Friday, before she permitted Mueller to submit a related filing under seal today.

By all appearances, Friedrich brought Concord’s lawyers in (when effectively all she did was schedule a follow-up hearing for March and — apparently — review Mueller’s claims about grand jury proceedings separately) to yell at them for their trollish filings.

A judge publicly slammed the defense lawyers for a Russian company criminally charged by special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing the firm’s attorneys of submitting unprofessional and inappropriate court filings attacking Mueller’s office and of unwisely peppering legal briefs with jarring quotes taken from movies like Animal House.

“I’ll say it plain and simple: knock it off,” U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich told lawyers for the Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting, at a brief court hearing in Washington Monday morning.

[snip]

A stern-faced Friedrich, the newest of President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the district court in Washington, made clear Monday that she was not amused by what she called the “clever quotes.” She also chastised Dubelier for ad hominem attacks on Mueller’s attorneys and other prosecutors in the case.

“I found your recent filings, in particular your reply brief filed Friday, unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective,” the judge said. She suggested the submissions were an effort to bully her into granting pending defense motions to give the owners and officers of Concord greater access to materials Mueller’s office has turned over to permit the defense to prepare for trial.

Here’s the filing from Friday that appears to have caused her to finally lose patience with Dubelier’s stunts.

The issues presented by the Concord case — particularly the question about whether Prigozhin, who made himself a Director after Concord got indicted (a parallel move to one he appears to have made to set up a Facebook lawsuit), can obtain discovery without showing up in the US to get it — are legally interesting and potentially important as precedents.

But even the legal press that knows better — and especially the political journalists covering the Mueller investigation as part of their White House coverage — are playing willing tools for Dubelier’s trolling.

As I disclosed last 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. 

Putin’s Chef, Evgeniy Prigozhin, Says He Needs Discovery So He Can Figure Out if He’s Putin’s Boss or His Chef

Among the more trollish arguments in Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s latest troll argument in defense of his troll attack on the 2016 election is that Prigozhin has to get all the discovery turned over to Concord’s lawyers because only he can tell whether he’s Putin’s boss, or his chef.

[T]he documents that the government appears to contend are statements of Concord under Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(C)(i) and (ii) are primarily in Russian. While defense counsel has engaged translators to begin its review of the discovery materials, the only way to get fully accurate translations and prepare for trial is to speak to the individuals who allegedly wrote the documents. See United States v. Archbold-Manner, 577 F. Supp. 2d 291, 292-93 (D.D.C. 2008) (noting the need for translations of voluminous foreign language discovery in ruling relating to Speedy Trial Act). This is particularly true with respect to Russian, which is highly dissimilar to English and literal translations of words often result in lost meaning or context. See, e.g., https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/sls/c78549.htm (Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute School of Language Studies identifying Russian as a Category III Language “with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English”). Again, by way of example, certain allegedly sensitive documents contain the Russian word “шеф.” This word can be translated into the English words “chief,” “boss” or “chef”—a distinction that is critically important since international media often refers to Mr. Prigozhin as “Putin’s Chef.”

Each logical step in this paragraph is nonsense, because it’s clear the documents in question are getting translated by people who do not suffer from the “significant linguistic and cultural differences” cited by the State Department in an off-point citation. Ultimately, this argument amounts to Prigozhin claiming that only he knows whether — all this time! — has has actually been Putin’s boss, not his chef, as usually claimed.

That said, the argument is telling, because it suggests that Prigozhin has to get discovery because documents turned over in discovery directly implicate his relationship with Putin.

“The Russian national who controls the Defendant but has not personally appeared”

The main gist of this filing, however, is an attempt to revisit an earlier order in this case and force the government (the troll lawyers pretend this case is being exclusively prosecuted by Mueller and not also by lawyers from two other DOJ components) to turn over 3 million pages in discovery to Prigozhin, even though he hasn’t appeared before the court personally.

Since the entry of the Protective Order, the Special Counsel has produced nearly 4 million documents, 3.2 million of which it has designated as “sensitive.” The Special Counsel has not explained to defense counsel the reason for the designation of any particular document or category of documents, nor has he explained why—with non-classified material—defense counsel should not have access to his secret communications with the Court.

Remember, Prigozhin made himself General Manager of Concord Management after it got indicted in the same indictment in which he got indicted so he could insist that he get this discovery in his corporate form, even while dodging prosecution in his natural form (it’s sort of the reverse effect of the Trump Organization consubstantiation that is going to get Trump in trouble). As a result, Concord argues (for the second time) that Prigozhin must get discovery because he is the defendant, and not a co-defendant currently avoiding any court appearance.

Undersigned counsel has been unable to identify a single reported case where a corporate defendant was prohibited from viewing discovery,

[snip]

Second, co-defendant Mr. Prigozhin is the only person directly affiliated with Concord identified in the Indictment. As such, Concord cannot be expected to make informed decisions regarding its defense or meaningfully confer with its counsel unless it—and specifically Mr. Prigozhin—understands the evidence the Special Counsel intends to use against it at trial. Maury, 695 F.3d at 248 (recognizing that “[a]n organization has no self-knowledge of its own Undersigned counsel has been unable to identify a single reported case where a corporate defendant was prohibited from viewing discovery,

Yet the troll lawyers don’t address the issue that proved key the last time: that this an attempt for Prigozhin, who because he has not made an appearance is not bound by the protective order, to obtain discovery as a defendant without risking his neck. Indeed, it turns that scenario on its head, searching for instances where corporations have been denied discovery as opposed to where indicted co-conspirators obtain discovery without showing up in court first.

In a related filing, the government calls Prigozhin “the Russian national who controls the Defendant but has not personally appeared” and cite national security concerns about “certain facts regarding Prigozhin and other Russian nationals associated with him.” Perhaps the government needs to present details to Friedrich about just what Putin’s chef has cooked up for him.

The troll lawyers also don’t address the terms of the discovery order. Prigozhin has a means of getting the discovery he wants: he only needs to come to the United States and enter into the protective order to do that. Indeed, two of the cases Concord cites seem to support the existing protective order, which requires those who access this information to be bound by the court before they do so and prohibits discovery from being removed from the US.

United States v. Carriles, 654 F. Supp. 2d 557, 562, 570 (W.D. Tex. 2009) (rejecting the government’s proposed protective order related to sensitive but unclassified discovery which would have prevented defendant from disseminating any sensitive discovery material to prospective witnesses without first obtaining court approval, and instead allowing defendant to disclose materials necessary for trial preparation after obtaining a memorandum of understanding related to the protective order); Darden, 2017 WL 3700340, at *3 (rejecting the government’s proposed protective order that prohibited the defendants from reviewing discovery materials unless in the presence of counsel and adopting a less restrictive protective order which specified precisely which discovery materials defense counsel could review with the defendants but could not provide or leave with the defendants).

Admittedly, Judge Dabney Friedrich invited Concord to return to these issues (albeit at a slightly later stage than where we’re at). But Concord doesn’t even address that there are means for Prigozhin to access materials under the existing protective order.

There are two more interesting sub-arguments here.

Concord argues that because the US government has charged accountant Elena Khusyaynova — but not in this case — the ongoing investigation is done

First, Concord uses the fact that Eastern District of VA charged Concord accountant in a parallel case, the “ongoing investigation” the government cited to justify its secrecy has ended.

Nevertheless, the Special Counsel has publicly invoked—in the Protective Order itself and its briefing—both an “ongoing investigation” and “sensitive investigatory techniques” as grounds for preventing disclosure, neither of which should apply here.

Undersigned counsel must assume for now that the “ongoing investigation” referred to in the Protective Order is related to the criminal complaint recently unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia. Ex. A. Because this complaint is now unsealed, and the ongoing investigation has been publicly revealed, there is no further need to protect this investigation from disclosure.

It later says that some of the documents cited in the affidavit submitted in Elena Khusyaynova’s case are “the very same documents” turned over in discovery here.

Relatedly, the government itself has described some of the “sensitive” discovery in great detail in public filings, yet has made no effort to subsequently re-categorize those very same documents as no longer sensitive. For example, in an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed under seal on September 28, 2018 in the Eastern District of Virginia and unsealed on October 19, 2018, an FBI Special Agent described “detailed financial documents that tracked itemized Project Lakhta expenses” allegedly transmitted between an employee of Concord and an employee of its co-defendant, Internet Research Agency. See Ex. A, Criminal Compl., United States v. Elena Khusyaynova, 1:18-mj-464 (E.D. Va.) (filed Sept. 28, 2018; unsealed Oct. 19, 2018) (“the Holt Affidavit”). The Holt Affidavit goes on to state that “[b]etween at least January 2016 and July 2018, these documents were updated and provided to Concord on approximately a monthly basis,” and provides “illustrative examples” of these documents, including identifying the individual who sent the document (the defendant identified in the complaint); describing the date on which the documents were allegedly sent and the approximate dollar value contained in the document; and even quoting from the documents. Id. ¶ 21. To the extent that these very same documents are among those designated by the Special Counsel as “sensitive,” it is impossible to understand why they cannot be shared with Concord in order to defend itself against criminal charges in this case. [my emphasis]

The argument that any investigation into Concord is complete is undermined by the other motion Concord submitted the same day they submitted this motion. It complains that Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson somehow took investigative action on information a week after Concord provided  the same information to the Firewall Counsel, on August 30.

On August 23, 2018, in connection with a request (“Concord’s Request”) made pursuant to the Protective Order entered by the Court, Dkt. No. 42-1, Concord provided confidential information to Firewall Counsel. The Court was made aware of the nature of this information in the sealed portion of Concord’s Motion for Leave to Respond to the Government’s Supplemental Briefing Relating to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Indictment, filed on October 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 70-4 (Concord’s “Motion for Leave”). Seven days after Concord’s Request, on August 30, 2018, Assistant Special Counsel L. Rush Atkinson took investigative action on the exact same information Concord provided to Firewall Counsel. Undersigned counsel learned about this on October 4, 2018, based on discovery provided by the Special Counsel’s Office. Immediately upon identifying this remarkable coincidence, on October 5, 2018, undersigned counsel requested an explanation from the Special Counsel’s Office, copying Firewall Counsel on the e-mail. The Special Counsel’s Office responded to the email on October 7, 2018, but did not explain how it obtained the confidential information, stating instead that the trial team was unaware that undersigned counsel was in communication with Firewall Counsel and that “[n]o criminal process that has been turned over in discovery is derived from [those] communications.”

Having received no further explanation or information from the government, undersigned counsel raised this issue with the Court in a filing made on October 22, 2018 in connection with the then-pending Motion to Dismiss. In response to questions from the Court, Firewall Counsel denied having any communication with the Special Counsel’s Office.

In a footnote, Concord makes the kind of vague claim I expect to be corrected by Mueller, suggesting that its one request to Firewall Counsel hasn’t gotten a response.

Concord initially requested authorization from the Court pursuant to the Protective Order to disclose a small number of specifically identified allegedly sensitive documents to particular Russian individuals, but to date the Court had not required the Firewall Counsel to respond to that request in writing.

While it’s certainly possible Atkinson’s investigative action fed into the September 28 charges against Khusyaynova, one way or another, it suggests the parts of the Concord investigation under Mueller also remain ongoing.

Interestingly, Atkinson wasn’t on October 23 and  November 27 filings in this case, though he was on yesterday’s brief; during October and November, however, Atkinson was dealing with red-blooded American trolls like Jerome Corsi.

In any case, the complaint about Atkinson feels like a parallel construction issue to me. After all, Concord surely remains under close surveillance by the US government, and so long as Progozhin does not have a lawyer who files an appearance for him personally in this matter, he likely remains a legitimate surveillance target. So Atkinson might have means to obtain such information independent of the Firewall Counsel.

Reverse engineering the parallel construction on 3 million documents

Indeed, that’s what this entire thing feels like: an attempt to obtain the non-classified discovery from US providers to reverse engineer it to understand what surveillance the underlying investigation is conducting. As Concord describes, its lawyers are seeing millions of documents obtained via subpoena.

The Special Counsel has explicitly acknowledged that none of the discovery is classified. Moreover, the allegedly “sensitive” discovery appears to have been collected exclusively through the use of criminal subpoenas, search warrants, and orders issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703, as opposed to any classified collection method.

It then goes on to suggest that what US tech companies turn over in response to legal process is all laid out in public. It also helpfully names a bunch of providers from which discovery has been provided: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Instagram, WhatsApp, Paypal, and Verizon.

With respect to “sensitive investigatory techniques,” the discovery produced to date comes from legal process issued to various companies, including email providers, internet service providers, financial institutions, and other sources. See Government’s Mot. For a Protective Order Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(d)(1) at 2, Dkt. 24. But any person anywhere in the world connected to the Internet already knows that law enforcement agencies can and do gather evidence from these types of companies through legal process in criminal matters, and specifically what can be gathered through those various processes is widely known and is not in need of protection. For example, Google explains in detail on its website precisely what information it will disclose in response to legal process in the form of a subpoena, court order, or search warrant. See https://support.google.com/transparencyreport/answer/ 7381738?hl=en. Google specifically publicizes that in response to a subpoena for Gmail data, it can be compelled to disclose subscriber registration information (e.g., name, account creation information, associated email addresses, phone number), and sign-in IP addresses and associated time stamps. Id. In response to a court order for Gmail data, Google may provide “non-content information (such as non-content email header information)” and in response to a search warrant Google can be compelled to produce email content, in addition to the data produced in response to a subpoena or court order. Id. Facebook publishes similar information, explaining that in response to a subpoena, it may disclose “basic subscriber records,” which may include name, length of service, credit card information, email addresses, and recent login/logout IP addresses. See https://www.facebook.com/safety/groups/law/guidelines/. In response to a court order, Facebook may disclose message headers and IP addresses, as well as basic subscriber records. Id. In response to a search warrant, Facebook may disclose stored contents of the account, including messages, photos, videos, timeline posts, and location information. Id.

Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Instagram, and WhatsApp, all publish similarly detailed information about the types of data available to law enforcement through subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants. See https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-lawenforcement-support (explanation from Twitter that obtaining non-public information requires valid legal process like a subpoena, court order, or other legal process and that requests for the contents of communications require a valid search warrant or equivalent); https:// www.apple.com/privacy/government-information-requests/ (explanation from Apple, Inc. of what government and law enforcement agencies can obtain through legal process); https:// www.microsoft.com/en-us/corporate-responsibility/lerr (explanation from Microsoft that a subpoena is required for non-content data, and a warrant or court order is required for content data); https://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0geK.OJvA5cPPUAkCJXNyoA;_ylu= X3oDMTEyaDM4Z2dkBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjQ4NTNfMQRzZWMDc3I-/RV=2/ RE=1544498442/RO=10/RU=https%3a%2f%2fwww.eff.org%2ffiles%2ffilenode%2fsocial_net work%2fyahoo_sn_leg-doj.pdf/RK=2/RS=sXU4pB1SMj3WwjZBx3ltlU4S6v w- (explanation from Yahoo of precisely what data may be disclosed in response to a subpoena, 2703(d) order, or Search Warrant); https://faq.whatsapp.com/en/android/26000050/?category=5245250 (explanation from WhatsApp detailing what information is available through various forms of legal process); https://help.instagram.com/494561080557017 (explanation from Instagram describing the information it will disclose in response to subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders). Financial institutions and internet service providers also openly describe what information is available to law enforcement through various legal process. See, e.g., https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/law-enforcement (explanation from PayPal describing the type of data it collects and when that data is made available to law enforcement as required by law); https://www.verizon.com/about/portal/transparency-report/faqs/ (explanation from Verizon of the types of information it is required to disclose when properly requested by law enforcement or court order).

Thus, if it is the so-called “manner of collection” of the discovery that the Special Counsel seeks to protect—that is, the fact that law enforcement agencies can collect a certain type of data—that fact is widely known and does not justify the burdens the Protective Order imposes on Concord’s right to present a defense.3

Concord goes on to dismiss the concerns of exposing “witnesses.”

3 To the extent that the government argues that limiting access to discovery will ensure the safety of witnesses, there is no valid basis for such argument. Specifically, even in cases where there is such a risk (and undersigned counsel knows of no such risk here), there must be more than “broad allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific examples or articulated reasoning.” Johnson, 314 F. Supp. 3d at 251. In those instances, courts are still willing to allow a defendant to review the evidence, subject to certain parameters. See, e.g., id., at 254 (requiring government redaction of discovery materials); Darden, 2017 WL 3700340, at *3 (adopting less-restrictive measure to ensure witness safety). If the government has a legitimate concern about witness safety, the burden is on it to specifically articulate the concern, identify precisely the documents that would lead to the identification of a witness, and redact that information or propose an alternative means of restricting disclosure.

The FBI hides a great deal of detail about precisely what it can obtain from providers by deeming service providers witnesses, and this feels like the same.

Still, even the public record in past dockets reveals that discovery from providers can be vastly more extensive than the public imagines.

Which is, I imagine, what Concord is trying to provide Putin’s chef.

The troll lawyers implicitly troll Judge Freidrich’s past rulings

Don’t get me wrong. What kind of protective order Friedrich sustains against Concord so long as it insists co-defendant Prigozhin is the only one at Concord who can handle that discovery is an interesting legal question.

That said, Concord’s signature style might start wearing on Friedrich’s patience given claims that seemingly defy her decision on the last major challenge to the Mueller prosecution.

In this first-of-its-kind prosecution of a make-believe crime, the Office of Special Counsel maintains that it can unilaterally—and for secret reasons disclosed only to the Court— categorize millions of pages of non-classified documents as “sensitive,” and prohibit defense counsel from sharing this information with Defendant Concord for purposes of preparing for trial. This, apparently only because the Defendant and its officers and employees are Russian as opposed to American. The Special Counsel’s unique argument appears rooted in the maxim, “Happy the short-sighted who see no further than what they can touch.”1

Maillart, Ella K., The Cruel Way (1947).

Friedrich has already ruled that this is not a made-up crime.

In Concord’s view, that omission is dispositive: the indictment cannot accuse Concord of conspiring to obstruct lawful government functions “without any identified or recognized statutory offense” because a conspiracy conviction cannot be “based strictly on lawful conduct” even if that conduct is “concealed from the government.” Id. (emphasis omitted).

Concord is correct that the indictment must identify the lawful government functions at issue with some specificity. And it does. See Indictment ¶¶ 9, 25–27. A defraud-clause conspiracy need not, however, allege an agreement to violate some statutory or regulatory provision independent of § 371. 3

[Citations of 5 cases demonstrating the point]

Put simply, conspiracies to defraud the government by interfering with its agencies’ lawful functions are illegal because § 371 makes them illegal, not because they happen to overlap with substantive prohibitions found in other statutes.

Similarly, as part of a complaint that the prosecutors haven’t had to bear any burden of this protective order, Concord says they should have to redact Personally Identifiable Information rather than deeming materials including it “sensitive.”

But rather than impose on the government the burden of identifying the materials that actually contain PII, so that the specific documents or information can be redacted or restricted, the Special Counsel has used the Protective Order to designate the entirety of various data productions to completely restrict Concord’s ability to view the vast majority of discovery regardless of whether specific documents contain PII.

This is another issue that Friedrich has already ruled against the defense on, ruling against their request to make Mueller strip the PII.

Friedrich already seemed predisposed to honor the government’s security concerns, which they just teed up again. If she feels like she’s the one being trolled, as opposed to Democratic voters or Special Counsel lawyers, she may not look too kindly on this request.

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. 

Yevgeniy Prigozhin Continues to Troll Both Online and in the Courts

xkcd comic used under Creative Commons license — available online at https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/free_speech.png

The trolls are engaging in lawfare again.

For some time, I’ve been fascinated by the way, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election tampering, Russians have engaged in lawfare to score political points against the US. There were the multiple lawsuits pertaining to the Steele dossier. There was Concord Management’s unexpected defense in the Internet Research Agency indictment. Last week, Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls struck again, this time suing Facebook for deleting the account of Federal Agency of News on April 3, 2018.

I’m a bit mystified by this suit. It may be a moonshot bid to learn more about Mueller’s investigation and insinuate that Facebook is an agent of the US government. More likely, it may be as much about pressuring Facebook in Russia as it is about winning reinstatement on Facebook.

Another Prigozhin attempt to use lawfare to embarrass the US government (and their willing partner Facebook!)

As with Concord’s defense, Prigozhin has hired legit American lawyers for the lawfare. But unlike Concord’s defense, it’s not clear how seriously to take this effort. The suit complains, in significant part, that Facebook has deprived FAN of its First Amendment rights.

FAN’s publications and posts on Facebook were the exercise of its constitutionally protected freedom of speech to inform the general public of historical and current events in politics, entertainment and other areas of public interest.

Facebook violated FAN’s First Amendment rights by deleting the contents of FAN’s Facebook Page and blocking FAN’s access to its Facebook account.

Facebook took action against FAN in an effort to silence and deter FAN’s free speech.

Facebook violated FAN’s First Amendment rights solely on account of its and its members’ national origin.

As xkcd famously explained once, that’s not the way the First Amendment works. It only prevents the government from limiting speech. Facebook is a private company, and it can boot whatever users it sees fit. But FAN may be trying to do two things. First, by treating Facebook’s terms of service as a contract, it claims it fulfilled its side of the relationship, but Facebook nevertheless deleted its account.

FAN complied with the terms of the Contract by properly registering with Facebook, paying any fees that were due and complying with all applicable terms of service.

At no time did FAN violate the terms of the contract.

Despite its contractual obligation to provide FAN with access to Facebook. Facebook breached the contract by removing FAN’s Facebook account and blocking FAN’s content without a legitimate reason.

Then, by tying Facebook’s efforts to crack down on Russian trolls to US government efforts to respond to Russia’s 2016 operation, I suspect it is trying to argue that Facebook deleted FAN’s account as an agent of the US government, thereby amounting to a First Amendment violation. The very first section of the complaint’s Background description details, “Facebook and the United States Government Target Russian Websites.” Among other details to substantiate that effort, it cites:

  • The January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment that described “a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence” funding the Internet Research Agency
  • Former Facebook CISO Alex Stamos’ statements, which went overboard in trying to assure people they were hunting down all Russian influence operations, “even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort”
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s comments that Facebook was “actively working with the U.S. government on its ongoing investigations into Russian interference”

As the lawsuit lays out, when Facebook removed FAN’s account in April, both Stamos and Zuck said they were doing so solely because FAN was controlled by the Internet Research Association.

All that said, it’s still highly unlikely this will work. I’m not sure if any of the CA-specific complaints will either, but like I said, this is a moonshot.

Prigozhin’s corporate laundromat

To make the argument at all, of course, FAN has to dismiss the presumed and explicit reasons Facebook banned them, starting with the accusation that they’re tied to IRA. In part, that involves claiming that IRA was disbanded in 2016.

Upon information and belief, the IRA was liquidated on or about December 28, 2016.

It also describes the new digs FAN got in 2015, after cohabiting with IRA for a year.

At the time of FAN’s incorporation and until in or about the middle of 2015, FAN and the IRA were located in the same building at 55A Savushkina Street, Saint Petersburg, the Russian Federation, 197183.

In or about the beginning of 2015, FAN searched for new premises that would be more convenient for its business with regard to a larger space for the office premises. On July 1, 2015, FAN moved to a business center at 23J Krasnogvardeiskiy Lane, Saint Petersburg, 197342.

But it also involves denying claims made in the complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova that was filed in September but not unsealed until October, events that post-dated Facebook’s banning of FAN by over five months. In that complaint, FBI Agent David Holt had alleged that FAN was one of the entities that helped obscure Project Lakhta’s disinformation efforts.

Beginning in or around mid-2014 and continuing to the present, Project Lakhta obscured its conduct by operating through a number of Russian entities, including Internet Research Agency LLC (“IRA”), Internet Research LLC, MediaSintez LLC, GlavSet LLC, MixInfo LLC, Azimut LLC, NovInfo LLC, Nevskiy News LLC (a/k/a “NevNov”), Economy Today LLC, National News LLC, Federal News Agency LLC (a/k/a “FAN”), and International News Agency (a/k/a “MAN”).

The complaint claims FAN has nothing to do with these efforts, in part by denying (correctly, by all public accounts) that Lakhta is a legal entity.

FAN has no knowledge of “Project Lakhta”. There is no known business or other organization in the Russian Federation that operates under such name. To the extent it is some sort of informal organization, FAN is unaware of its membership, goals or methods of operation.

FAN is not an entity within “Project Lakhta” and has no relationship with “Project Lakhta”, the IRA or GlavSet. To the contrary, FAN is a news gathering and dissemination organization. In that capacity, FAN gathers news from conventional sources and adheres to journalistic standards in its operations.

Denying any tie to IRA and Lakhta, however, also involves making claims about Khusyaynova that directly conflict with the claims in the complaint. Khusyaynova, the lawsuit claims, is FAN’s accountant, but that’s the only place she works.

Ms. Khusyaynova has been FAN’s chief accountant since at least August 2, 2016. As such, Ms. Khusyaynova has been involved in FAN’s day-to-day accounting operations, including the purchase of office equipment and furniture and payments for advertising or other business contracts as assigned by Mr. Zubarev in his capacity as the General Director of FAN.

As the Chief Accountant, Ms. Khusyaynova’s duties are akin to those of a bookkeeper in the United States. She is not an officer of FAN, does not exercise discretionary authority over the editorial content of FAN’s publications and is not aware of what stories are going to be published or not published.

To the best of FAN’s knowledge, Ms. Khusyaynova’s sole employment is with FAN. In fact, she has explicitly stated that FAN is her sole employer and that she does not provide any services to any other entity and denies any involvement with “Project Lakhta”.

FAN has no reason to believe that Ms. Khusyaynova or any of its employees were providing services to another entity, much less to an entity under the umbrella of “Project Lakhta”.

And it’s not just Khusyaynova about whom FAN must make claims that dispute those made by the US government. The complaint does the same of Aleksandra Yurievna Krylova, who was accused in the IRA indictment of planning and carrying out an intelligence gathering trip to the US in 2014.

Defendant ALEKSANDRA YURYEVNA KRYLOVA (Крылова Александра Юрьевна) worked for the ORGANIZATION from at least in or around September 2013 to at least in or around November 2014. By approximately April 2014, KRYLOVA served as director and was the ORGANIZATION’s third-highest ranking employee. In 2014, KRYLOVA traveled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform the ORGANIZATION’s operations.

[snip]

Only KRYLOVA and BOGACHEVA received visas, and from approximately June 4, 2014 through June 26, 2014, KRYLOVA and BOGACHEVA traveled in and around the United States, including stops in Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York to gather intelligence. After the trip, KRYLOVA and BURCHIK exchanged an intelligence report regarding the trip.

Here, the lawsuit has a bit more difficulty just dismissing ties. It admits that Krylova was the founder and first director of FAN, but in that passage of the lawsuit declines to mention when that was.

The founder and first General Director of FAN was Aleksandra Yurievna Krylova. The Special Counsel has alleged that Krylova was an employee of the IRA from in or around September 2013 to in or around November 2014. FAN has no knowledge of this allegation and therefore does not know if it is accurate or not.

But as the lawsuit admits elsewhere, FAN was incorporated on May 22, 2014.

On May 22, 2014, FAN was incorporated in order to satisfy public needs of Russian and foreign legal entities and individuals by way of gathering, transmitting and supplying domestic and international news reports and other publications of public interest.

So at the time Krylova traveled to the US (while hiding her true purpose, thereby committing visa fraud), she had just recently formed FAN.

All this is no big deal, the lawsuit suggests, because FAN doesn’t know anything about it and besides it has been a long time.

Anna Vitalyevna Botneva succeeded Krylova as General Director of FAN, on November 17, 2014, and on December 24, 2014, Krylova sold 100% of the company’s shares to Botneva.

[snip]

At the time of Ms. Krylova’s indictment, she had no connection with FAN for more than three years.

At the time of Krylova’s indictment, of course, she also had had no connection with IRA for the same length of time.

FAN is silent about how long Botneva ran the show and how long she remained the sole shareholder. What it does make clear is that Evgeniy Lvovich Zubarev — the guy who’s being fronted as a plaintiff and the one who presumably would be asked to claim to have ignorance of IRA’s ties to FAN and Khusyaynova’s day job — became the sole shareholder last year.

Since August 2, 2016, Evgeniy Lvovich Zubarev has been the General Director of FAN, and since April 5, 2017, he has been the sole shareholder of the company.

In preparation of the Concord Management challenge of the IRA indictment, Prigozhin got himself named the director, which would give him the opportunity to claim to need to review discovery. This feels like the opposite: the creation of a figurehead who can claim to be dumb and dissociated from Prigozhin’s other efforts.

I highly doubt this well get very far (in part, because FAN would have to provide better proof than it has provided that these things are true).

A set-up to claim Facebook is conducting influence operations in Russia

Which finally brings us to where I think this is going. A First Amendment claim here in the US is unlikely to get anywhere, though it does give Russian propagandists an opportunity to claim Russia is being deplatformed by American social media along with the Nazis and terrorists.

But how Russia will use this argument within Russia is another matter. The lawsuit describes its injury, in part, in terms of a loss of access in Russia.

As of October 2018, FAN is ranked among the Top 35 most visited websites in Russia by LiveInternet, one of the largest Russian internet blogging platforms; among the Top 20 by Mail.ru, a Russian internet company which reaches approximately 86% of Russian internet users per month; and among the Top 25 by Rambler, a Russian search engine and one of the biggest Russian web portals.

Many of FAN’s subscribers are also Facebook users who for at least the past four years were able to access FAN through Facebook and who did, in fact, access FAN through Facebook.

That is, FAN is making an argument that it has lost Russian readers, not just American ones, because of Facebook’s actions.

And, in the last line of the introduction, the lawsuit uses language that (I could imagine) Russia might use in the future to accuse Facebook of conducting its own influence operations.

Facebook seeks to dictate news content based upon its own political view point thereby attempting to influence the public media coverage of internal political events in the Russian Federation.

After laying out a claim that Facebook was acting as an agent of the US government in cutting off trolls, it ends with a suggestion that Facebook’s real goal here is to influence “internal political events” within Russia.

That, I suspect, is the real purpose of this effort, setting up a future attack against Facebook operating in Russia.

Trump Appointee Dabney Friedrich Continues to Trounce the Trolls’ Hopes of Discrediting Mueller

Dabney Friedrich, the Trump appointee presiding over the Concord Management challenge to its indictment, just released her opinion rejecting their attempt to argue they can’t be indicted for conspiring to illegally tamper in our elections. The indictment effectively argued that Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls deceptive tactics — including not just failing to register as foreigners trying to influence US politics, but also social media users hiding they were foreign — prevented the US government from ensuring foreigners don’t participate in our elections.

The key passage in the opinion is this one, which upholds the government’s contention that it doesn’t have to prove that Concord broke the underlying laws protecting elections. It only has to prove that Concord conspired to undermine lawful government functions.

Concord is correct that the indictment must identify the lawful government functions at issue with some specificity. And it does. See Indictment ¶¶ 9, 25–27. A defraud-clause conspiracy need not, however, allege an agreement to violate some statutory or regulatory provision independent of § 371.

With this passage, a Trump judge affirms the underlying theory behind all of Mueller’s interlocking conspiracies.

But I think what Friedrich did with Concord’s claim that, because trolling on social media involves First Amendment concerns, the bar for willingness is raised higher is as important. She dismissed this claim by treating Concord’s trolling as fraud, not just lying.

Concord’s remaining argument—that the indictment implicates protected speech—fares no better. There is no doubt that speech is of “primary importance . . . to the integrity of the election process,” Citizens United, 558 U.S. 310, 334 (2010), or that political speech “occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values,” Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty. and Mun. Emps., Counsel 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2476 (2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, the indictment does not focus on the defendants’ speech, or its content, but on a course of deceptive conduct. See, e.g., Indictment ¶¶ 4–7, 30, 32, 36, 39, 41, 43, 48, 51. Although the Supreme Court made clear in United States v. Alvarez that “false statements” are not automatically unprotected, 567 U.S. 709, 717–22 (2012) (plurality opinion), it distinguished such statements from “fraud,” which involves “legally cognizable harm,” id. at 719, and remains one of the few historical categories of unprotected speech, id. at 717. Indeed, the Court approved of statutes prohibiting false statements to government officials, perjury, impersonating an officer, and pretending to speak on behalf of the government because such statutes “implicate fraud or speech integral to criminal conduct.” Id. at 721. Consistent with these principles, the Fifth Circuit in United States v. Daly rejected a claim that a conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding and impairing the lawful functions of the IRS implicated the First Amendment. 756 F.2d 1076, 1082 (5th Cir. 1985).

The same is true here. The conspiracy to defraud does not implicate the First Amendment merely because it involved deceptive statements like claiming to represent U.S. entities, claiming to be U.S. persons, and providing false statements on visa applications. 9

9 Even if the indictment did implicate protected speech, the United States’ “compelling interest . . . in limiting the participation of foreign citizens in activities of American democratic self-government, and in thereby preventing foreign influence over the U.S. political process,” Bluman, 800 F. Supp. 2d at 288, might well sustain the charge against Concord.

Friedrich puts the government on notice that it will have to prove Concord knew it was interfering with government functions (which will be much easier with evidence laid out in the Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova complaint, at least going forward).

Although the § 371 conspiracy alleged does not require willfulness, the parties’ disagreement may be narrower than it first appears. The government concedes that § 371 requires the specific intent to carry out the unlawful object of the agreement—in this case, the obstruction of lawful government functions. Gov’t’s Opp’n at 16 (“Because Concord is charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, . . . the requisite mental state is the intent of impairing, obstructing, or defeating the lawful function of any department of government through deception.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Further, the government agrees that to form the intent to impair or obstruct a government function, one must first be aware of that function. See Hr’g Tr. at 40 (“[Y]ou can’t act with an intent to impair a lawful government function if you don’t know about the lawful government function.”). Thus, Concord is correct—and the government does not dispute—that the government “must, at a minimum, show that Concord knew what ‘lawful governmental functions’ it was allegedly impeding or obstructing.” Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 22; Def.’s Reply at 5. Here, as alleged in the indictment, the government must show that Concord knew that it was impairing the “lawful functions” of FEC, DOJ, or DOS “in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.” Indictment ¶ 9. But Concord goes too far in asserting that the Special Counsel must also show that Concord knew with specificity “how the relevant laws described those functions.” Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 22; Def.’s Reply at 5. A general knowledge that U.S. agencies are tasked with collecting the kinds of information the defendants agreed to withhold and conceal would suffice. Concord will have further opportunities—with jury instructions and in trial and post-trial motions, if any—to ensure that the government proves enough knowledge to support a specific intent to thwart at least one of the three government functions alleged in the indictment.

But it’s not clear Concord will sustain this legal challenge that long.

While regulation of elections for Americans is less onerous than it is for foreigners, the notion that trolling is fraud may be useful for other kinds of people tampering in elections.

In Thursday Hearing, Mueller’s Team Gets Specific about What They Can Do without Whitaker’s Pre-Approval

Yesterday, the DC Circuit held a hearing on Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller’s challenge of a grand jury subpoena. To make it crystal clear that the issues may have changed when Trump forced Jeff Sessions’ resignation the day before, the very first thing Judge Karen Henderson did was to instruct the sides to “Argue this case as if it were being argued yesterday morning.” She said then that they’d probably ask the lawyers to brief how Matt Whitaker’s appointment changed things, and today the panel ordered 10 page briefs, “addressing what, if any, effect the November 7, 2018 designation of an acting Attorney General different from the official who appointed Special Counsel Mueller has on this case.” Those briefs aren’t due until November 19, suggesting there won’t be an immediate resolution to Miller’s testimony.

But it was just as interesting how the Whitaker hiring may have influenced what the parties said yesterday.

Whitaker’s nomination undermines the Miller/Concord challenge to Mueller

Whitaker’s nomination really undermines the arguments that Miller and Concord Management (who argued as an amici) were making about Mueller’s appointment, particularly their argument that he is a principal officer and therefore must be Senate confirmed, an argument that relies on one that Steven Calabresi made this spring. Indeed, Neal Katyal and George Conway began their argument that Whitaker’s appointment is illegal by hoisting Calabresi on his petard.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president.

While it may be true (as Conway argued at the link) that Calabresi’s arguments are wrong for Mueller, if they’re right for Mueller, then they’re all the more true for Whitaker. So if Mueller should have been Senate confirmed, then Whitaker more obviously would need to be.

Dreeben lays out the scope of what Mueller can do with Whitaker in charge

I’m more fascinated by subtle ways that the nomination may be reflected in Michael Dreeben’s comments, though.

In their response to Miller’s challenge, Mueller’s team laid out that they had close supervision from Rod Rosenstein, but they didn’t get into specifics. It describes how the Attorney General receives information (in the form of urgent memos), and the AG can demand an explanation and intervene if he finds an action to be “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”

The Special Counsel readily meets this test. The Attorney General receives a regular flow of information about the Special Counsel’s actions; he can demand an explanation for any of them; and he has power to intervene when he deems it appropriate to prevent a deviation from established Departmental practices. The regulation envisions deference by requiring the Attorney General to stay his hand unless he determines that an action is “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(b) (emphasis added). But while the Attorney General must “give great weight to the views of the Special Counsel,” id., the provision affords the Attorney General discretion to assert control if he finds the applicable standard satisfied. This authority—coupled with the Attorney General’s latitude to terminate the Special Counsel for “good cause, including violation of Departmental policies,” 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(d)—provides substantial means to direct and supervise the Special Counsel’s decisions.

And the brief describes how Mueller has to ask for resources (though describes that as happening on a yearly basis) and uphold DOJ rules and ethical duties.

The Special Counsel is subject to equally “pervasive” administrative supervision and oversight. The Attorney General controls whether to appoint a Special Counsel and the scope of his jurisdiction. 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)-(b). Once appointed, the Special Counsel must comply with Justice Department rules, regulations, and policies. Id. § 600.7(a). He must “request” that the Attorney General provide Department of Justice employees to assist him or allow him to hire personnel from outside the Department. Id. § 600.5. The Special Counsel and his staff are “subject to disciplinary action for misconduct and breach of ethical duties under the same standards and to the same extent as are other employees of the Department of Justice.” Id. § 600.7(c). And, each year, the Attorney General “establish[es] the budget” for the Special Counsel and “determine[s] whether the investigation should continue.” Id. § 600.8(a)(1)-(2). The Attorney General’s initial control over the existence and scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation; his ongoing control over personnel and budgetary matters; his power to impose discipline for misconduct or a breach of ethical duties; and his authority to end the investigation afford the Attorney General substantial supervision and oversight, which supplements the Attorney General’s regulatory power to countermand the Special Counsel’s investigative and prosecutorial decisions. [my emphasis]

Significantly (given the Calebresi argument) the Mueller team briefed that US Attorneys are also inferior officers, though they get to act without pre-approval.

Miller asserts that the Special Counsel has the authority to make final decisions on behalf of the United States because the regulation “nowhere require[s] the Special Counsel to seek approval or get permission from the [Attorney General] before making final decisions about who to investigate, indict, and prosecute.” Br. 22. That was also true of United States commissioners—who could issue warrants for the arrest and detention of defendants—but who nonetheless “are inferior officers.” Go-Bart Importing Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344, 353 (1931). And it is true for United States Attorneys, 28 U.S.C. § 547, who are also inferior officers. See Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 159 (1926); Hilario, 218 F.3d at 25-26; United States v. Gantt, 194 F.3d 987, 999 (9th Cir. 1999); United States Attorneys—Suggested Appointment Power of the Attorney General— Constitutional Law (Article II, § 2, cl. 2), 2 Op. O.L.C. 58, 59 (1978) (“U.S. Attorneys can be considered to be inferior officers”).3 Few inferior-officer positions require a supervisor to review every single decision. See, e.g., Edmond, 520 U.S. at 665; C46 n.22. Thus, the Special Counsel’s authority to act without obtaining advance approval of every decision cannot transform the Special Counsel into a principal officer, requiring presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.

[snip]

More recently, Congress has enacted legislation allowing for the appointment of U.S. Attorneys by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, 28 U.S.C. § 541(a); by a court, id. § 546(d); or by the Attorney General, id. § 546(a)—the latter two appointment authorities manifesting Congress’s understanding that U.S. Attorneys are inferior officers. And every court that has considered the question has concluded that U.S. Attorneys are inferior officers. Thus, to the extent that the Special Counsel “can be accurately characterized as a U.S. Attorney-at-Large,” Br. 17; see 28 C.F.R. § 600.6 (Special Counsel has the “investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States Attorney”), the Special Counsel, like any U.S. Attorney, would fall on the “inferior officer” side of the line.

This latter argument doesn’t address the Miller/Concord claim that Mueller should have been Senate approved, but that’s part of why the Whitaker appointment is so damaging to this argument.

Compare all that with what Dreeben did yesterday. He specifically listed things that prosecutors — whether they be AUSAs or US Attorneys (though a later argument could point out that AUSAs need the approval of a USA) — do all the time: seek immunity, make plea deals, and bring indictments.

Prosecutors do this all the time. They seek immunity. They make plea agreements,. They bring indictments.

Dreeben later specified specifically what they’d need to get pre-approval for: subpoenaing a member of the media or, in some cases, immunizing a witness.

We have to get approval requires just like US Attorneys do. If we want to subpoena a member of the media, or if we want to immunize a witness, we’re encouraged if we’re not sure what the policy or practice is, to consult with the relevant officials in the Department of Justice. If we wanted to appeal an adverse decision, we would have to get approval of the Solicitor General of the United States. So we’re operating within that sort of supervisory framework.

But otherwise, per Dreeben’s argument yesterday, they wouldn’t need Whitaker to pre-approve most actions, including indictments — only to respond to an urgent memo by saying such an action was outside normal DOJ behavior.

Given my suspicions that John Kelly may be the Mystery Appellant challenging a Mueller request, Dreeben’s very detailed description of US v. Nixon’s assumptions about special prosecutors is particularly notable. His comments were intended to use US v. Nixon to support the existence of prosecutors with some independence. He very specifically describes how US v. Nixon means that the President can’t decide what evidence a prosecutor obtains in an investigation.

The issue in that case was whether a dispute was justiciable when the President of the United States exerted executive privilege over particular tapes and a special prosecutor was preceding in court in the sovereign interests of the United States to obtain evidence for a pending criminal case. And the President’s position was, I’m President of the United States. I’m vested with all executive authority, I decide what evidence is to be used in a criminal case. This is just a dispute between me and someone who is carrying out on a delegated basis a portion of my authority, it is therefore not justiciable. And the Supreme Court’s reasoning was, well, it actually is, because under a legal framework, the President does not have day-to-day control over individual prosecutions. That authority is vested in the Attorney General who is the representative of the United States as sovereign, in court. And he, exercising the powers under 28 USC 515, 533, and a couple of other statutes that dealt with powers being vested in the Attorney General and powers being delegated down, but acting pursuant to those powers, appointed a special prosecutor and vested him with a unique set of powers and those powers enabled him to go into court and to meet head to head in an adversarial proceeding the President’s claim as President that particular tapes were covered by Executive Privilege as against the sovereign’s claim through the special prosecutor that these tapes were relevant and admissible in a pending criminal case. [my emphasis]

None of this is a revolutionary interpretation of US v. Nixon. But the mystery dispute pertains to Kelly’s testimony — or some other move on the part of the White House to dictate what Mueller can and cannot do — then the language is notable, particularly given that two of the judges in yesterday’s hearing, Judith Rogers and Sri Srinivasan, have been the judges working on the mystery appeal.

Notably, along with submitting their brief in that appeal yesterday, Mueller’s team submitted a sealed appendix.

This sealed supplemental appendix may pertain to something Mueller just got, which would suggest that appeal may have everything to do with why Sessions was fired right away.

We’ll learn more when Mueller submits his brief on November 19 (though by then this will likely be ancient history).

But it sure seems like Dreeben was making the first argument about limits to how much Whitaker can tamper in the Mueller investigation.

 

No, Mueller Probably Didn’t Subpoena Trump, Yet

Nelson Cunningham, who has far better legal qualifications than I do but who, as far as I’ve seen, has written very little on the Mueller investigation has taken Politico’s very good reporting on a second appeal involving the Mueller inquiry and started a parlor game among people convinced this means Trump got a subpoena. Jay Sekulow has already denied the report.

Cunningham bases his argument on the following observations, along with the observation that the initial court filings came the day after Rudy Giuliani announced he had completed writing a challenge to an as yet unserved subpoena:

  • The parties and the judges have moved with unusual alacrity. Parties normally have 30 days to appeal a lower court action. The witness here appealed just five days after losing in the district court – and three days later filed a motion before the appellate court to stay the district court’s order. That’s fast.
  • The appeals court itself responded with remarkable speed, too. One day after getting the witness’s motion, the court gave the special counsel just three days to respond – blindingly short as appellate proceedings go. The special counsel’s papers were filed October 1.
  • At this point an unspecified procedural flaw seems to have emerged, and on October 3, the appeals court dismissed the appeal. Just two days later, the lower court judge cured the flaw, the witness re-appealed, and by October 10 the witness was once again before appellate court. Thanks to very quick action of all the judges, less than one week was lost due to a flaw that, in other cases, could have taken weeks or months to resolve.
  • Back before the D.C. Circuit, this case’s very special handling continued. On October 10, the day the case returned to the court, the parties filed a motion for expedited handling, and within two days, the judges had granted their motion and set an accelerated briefing schedule. The witness was given just 11 days to file briefs; the special counsel (presumably) just two weeks to respond; and reply papers one week later, on November 14 (for those paying attention, that’s 8 days after the midterm elections). Oral arguments are set for December 14.

I suspect the subpoena — if that’s what this is — is either for a White House figure (John Kelly or Don McGahn might be possibilities), a lawyer (Trump Organization lawyers Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas both had non-privileged conversations about the pushback on the June 9 meeting, as did Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber), or a journalist (Chuck Johnson and Lee Stranahan have denied having been contacted by Mueller; Hannity would be another possibility).

I’ve laid out the underlying timeline, below. There are three dockets involved in the mystery challenge: 18-gj-41-BAH, which is sealed, and 18-3068 and 18-3071 before the DC Circuit. For point of comparison, I’ve included Andrew Miller’s appeal of a grand jury subpoena in the timeline (which Cunningham doesn’t mention at all), in italics, as well; those docket numbers are 18-gj-34-BAH and 18-3052. I’ve also included some key public reports that Cunningham doesn’t mention that provide key context.

Miller’s docket easily disproves one of Cunningham’s arguments: that the appeal itself was very quick. Miller, like the mystery challenger, both filed their appeal within days (suggesting that timing came from Beryl Howell, not the appellants). With Miller, there was a pause to litigate the issue of Concord Management’s status, but that pause was litigated on the same accelerated schedule as the jurisdictional issue for the mystery appellant. With the mystery appellant, there appeared to be some slam dunk procedural issue for why the Circuit did not yet have jurisdiction. It was suggested to me that the mystery person may not have taken the legal step of being held in contempt before appealing, as Miller did, which would explain the quick jurisdictional response for the mystery challenger.

Miller’s docket also shows that the results of motion to expedite aren’t that dramatic. With no expedited schedule, Miller’s initial schedule (including the Concord litigation) provided him 24 days for his opening brief, gave Mueller 16 days to respond, and Miller 5 days to reply, with 41 days for the Circuit to consider the appeal or a total of 85 days after the filing. As Cunningham notes, the mystery appellant got just 11 days to file the initial brief, Mueller got two weeks to respond, and the mystery appellant got 7 days to reply. The Circuit gave themselves a month to consider the appeal, or a total of 65 days from second appeal. But that works out to be 81 days from the initial September 24 appeal, about the same amount of time as Miller’s appeal. The expedited time here mostly came out of the appellant’s time for the initial brief and the Circuit consideration (which might be a fair outcome given the appeal without jurisdiction); Mueller’s schedule remains roughly similar. It has been suggested that the mystery appellant’s decision to appeal in spite of that procedural flaw may have provided more urgency for the appeal (for example, if Howell had not stayed contempt for the mystery appellant, then the risk of jailing would be greater than it would be for Miller, for whom she stayed the contempt).

Finally, Cunningham doesn’t consider something else in the public record. On October 11, right in the middle of this litigation, CNN revealed that Mueller had given Trump — and Trump was working on — a set of questions pertaining to conspiracy. The other day, Bloomberg reported that Trump had finished answers to that question, but was withholding them pending the outcome of the election. It’s possible that the White House would voluntarily answer questions on conspiracy while litigating a subpoena for testimony on obstruction. Perhaps they would adopt that approach if their subpoena challenge pertains exclusively to actions Trump took as President, and if that were the case, that might explain the real reason Rudy was stalling on returning the answers, to see if the subpoena challenge worked. If that were the case, though, he would have to invent new reasons to explain the delay from November 6 past December 14, when the case will be heard (and he has promised to appeal any subpoena to SCOTUS). Alternately, Rudy could be stalling on the answers to await the appeal and using the election as his excuse just to avoid making this appeal public before the election.

One other thing that might support Cunningham’s argument that he doesn’t raise is Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation on October 6. Having confirmed Kavanaugh might explain the decision to ask for en banc consideration of what is probably a slam dunk procedural issue, in hopes of short circuiting the route to SCOTUS. But everyone in this investigation, including Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s team, have tailored their actions to Kavanaugh’s presence on SCOTUS since even before he was confirmed.

Still, I think all that less likely than other explanations, not least because this White House has never kept things like this secret, nor would they if they could use it to argue that Trump needs a good electoral turnout to keep him safe, legally.

I’m at least as intrigued by the way the timeline overlaps with Don McGahn’s last big press push, around the same time as the initial filing before Beryl Howell. A lawyer like McGahn would also have reason to want to avoid the jurisdictional step of being held in contempt (indeed, if he had been held in contempt, it might explain one reason for the urgency of the appeal). It’s also one possible explanation for why someone would skip that step — another being that whoever is making this challenge is even less well-lawyered than Miller. Finally, if it were McGahn appealing a grand jury subpoena, Katsas’ recusal would be a no-brainer (though he has said he would recuse more generally).

There are, still, plenty of other possibilities, though. And Cunningham’s case is nowhere near as strong as suggested once you compare it with what happened with the relatively anonymous, powerless Andrew Miller challenge in the very same matter.

Timeline

6/13/2018: Date filed (18-gj-34-BAH) [For more on Miller’s stalling, since May 10, on this subpoena, see this post]

7/6/2018: Report that Emmet Flood had been contesting Mueller request for John Kelly testimony for a month

8/10/2018: Date of judgment (18-gj-34-BAH)

8/14/2018: Notice of appeal (18-3052)

8/15/2018: Clerks order to file initial submissions on 8/30/2018 (18-3052)

8/16/2018: Per curium order setting briefing Appellant 9/7/2018, Appellee 9/23/2018, Reply 9/28/2018  (18-3052)

8/15/2018: Rudy Giuliani states, “we’re pretty much finished with our memorandum opposing a subpoena”

8/16/2018: Date filed (18-gj-41-BAH)

8/18/2018: NYT story describing third Don McGahn interview claiming unprecedented cooperation for a White House Counsel

8/30/2018 : Statement of issues (18-3052)

8/30/2018: Motion to extend time to file to 9/10/2018  (18-3052)

9/10/2018: Motion to extend time to file to 9/11/2018  (18-3052)

9/12/2018: Appellant brief submitted; Length of Brief: 10,869 Words (18-3052)

9/19/2018: Date of judgment (18-gj-41-BAH)

9/24/2018: Notice  of appeal  (18-3068)

9/27/2018: Motion to stay underlying appeal  (18-3068)

9/28/2018: Per curium order directing response from Mueller (18-3068)

9/28/2018: Appellee brief submitted  (18-3052)

10/01/2018: Mueller response in opposition (18-3068)

10/01/2018: Appellant response  (18-3068)

10/03/2018: Per curium order dismissing case for lack of jurisdiction  (18-3068)

10/05/2018: Date of order  (18-gj-41-BAH)

10/05/2018: Petition for re-hearing en banc  (18-3068)

10/6/2018: Brett Kavanaugh confirmed

10/09/2018: Appellant brief submitted (18-3052)

10/09/2018: Notice of appeal (18-3071)

10/10/2018: Appeal docketed (18-3071)

10/10/2018: Joint motion to expedite  (18-3071)

10/11/2018: Report that Trump preparing answers to Mueller’s questions about conspiracy with Russia

10/12/2018: Per curium order granting motion to expedite Appellant 10/23/2018, Appellee 11/07/2018, Reply 11/14/2018:  (18-3071)

10/22/2018: Hearing scheduled for 12/14/201 (18-3071)

10/22/2018: Appellant brief submitted; Length of Brief: 12904 words (18-3071)

10/24/2018: Per curium order denying re-hearing en banc (with Greg Katsas recused) (18-3068)

10/29/2018: Rudy Giuliani states legal team has prepared written responses to several dozen questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller but say they won’t submit them until after next week’s elections and only if they reach a broader agreement with Mueller on terms for the questioning

11/8/2018: Hearing scheduled (85 days after filing)

12/14/2018: Hearing scheduled (65 days after filing) (18-3071)

Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Paid Trolls Prove His Legal Challenge to His Indictment To Be False

I have long argued that the most visible error that Robert Mueller’s team has made thus far in their investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election was in charging Concord Management as part of the Internet Research Agency indictment. Doing so effectively charged Vladimir Putin’s crony, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, in both his natural and corporate form, giving him a way to defend against the charges without having to show up in person in the US to do so. On April 11, almost two months after first being indicted (and after Prigozhin assumed an official role in management of Concord so he could claim he needed to be personally involved in any defense of the company), some American lawyers from Reed Smith showed up to start defending Concord against the charges.

By paying money to have lawyers defend his corporate self against trolling accusations, Prigozhin got the opportunity to do several things:

  • Obtain discovery about what the government knew of his companies’ efforts and communications with (among others) Vladimir Putin
  • Challenge Robert Mueller’s authority as Special Counsel
  • Dispute Mueller’s theory that online trolls operated by foreigners should be subject to regulation under campaign finance law and DOJ’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (as well as laws prohibiting visa fraud)

Thus far, Prigozhin’s efforts have done no real damage. Mueller found a way to limit what Prigozhin could look at by requiring his lawyers keep most discovery here in the US. And he beat back Prigozhin’s first challenge to his authority in Judge Dabney Friedrich’s District Court; Concord has submitted an amicus brief in Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller’s challenge to Mueller’s authority under the same theory, but it won’t get a chance to appeal Friedrich’s decision itself unless the case actually goes to trial.

Prigozhin’s third challenge, to Mueller’s theory of the case, poses more of a problem. While Special Counsel has lots of case law to argue that when charging ConFraudUS you don’t need to prove the underlying crimes (here, that Prigozhin’s trolls committed campaign finance, FARA, and visa fraud violations), Prigozhin’s lawyers nevertheless have argued — starting formally in a brief filed on July 15 — that those poor Russian trolls sowing division in the US had no way of knowing they were supposed to register with the FEC and DOJ before doing so, and so could not be accused of fraudulently hiding their Russian nationality, location, and funding. Effectively, the brief argued over and over and over — some form of the word “willful” shows up 99 times in the filing, “mens rea” shows up 33 times, “knowingly” shows up 58 times — that these poor Russian trolls just can’t be shown to have willfully violated America’s laws against unregistered foreign influence peddling because they had no way to know about those laws.

No case has specifically addressed whether a willfulness mens rea is required in a § 371 defraud conspiracy case like this one. But that is only because of the novelty of this Indictment. In circumstances where, as here, complex regulations are implicated against a foreign national with no presence in the United States, and the threat of punishing innocent conduct is extant, courts frequently have expressed the need for a heightened mens rea requirement. And even in those cases favored by the Special Counsel in his prior briefing, which he erroneously believes serve to relax the standard for criminal intent—requiring only some vague proof that Concord knew “on some level” the existence of some unspecified “regulatory apparatus” governing foreign nationals who participate in some fashion in United States elections (Hr’g Tr. 9:17–22)— the concerns over the proof of mens rea are evident, just as they should be in any conspiracy case. It is simply impossible for any person, whether a foreign national or a U.S. citizen, to have any knowledge of, let alone understand, the Special Counsel’s imaginary “on some level” mens rea standard. Further, none of the cases relied upon by the Special Counsel provide any reason not to impose a willfulness requirement in this case.

As Mueller’s August 15 response emphasized, the trolls focused their challenge to this indictment on Brett Kavanaugh well before he was confirmed.

Concord repeatedly invokes (at 1, 7, 17, 19, 20, 23-24, 27, 31, 32) Judge Kavanaugh’s majority opinion in Bluman v. Federal Election Comm’n, 800 F. Supp. 2d 281 (D.D.C. 2011), sum aff’d, 565 U.S. 1104 (2012), and his concurring opinion in United States v. Moore, 612 F.3d 698 (D.C. Cir. 2010), but neither addresses Section 371. Bluman—a civil case—assessed the constitutionality of the ban on non-citizens’ political expenditures and cautioned that, when the government “seek[s] criminal penalties for violations of th[at] provision” (which requires a defendant “act ‘willfully’”), the government must prove the defendant’s “knowledge of the law.” 800 F. Supp. 2d at 292 (citation omitted; emphasis added). Similarly, Moore concerned a violation of Section 1001, which “proscribes only those false statements that are ‘knowingly and willfully’ made.’” 612 F.3d at 702 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring) (emphasis added). Accordingly, Judge Kavanaugh opined, the government must prove that “the defendant knew his conduct was a crime.” Id. at 704. Because Count One need not allege a violation of a substantive offense other than Section 371 and that statute does not contain an express “willful” element, Bluman and Moore contribute nothing to Concord’s mens rea argument.

Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, the troll lawyers have been chanting since 6 days after he was nominated. And while Mueller’s team argued that those past Kavanaugh opinions did not address ConFraudUS, the newest Supreme Court Justice clearly believes any legal limits on foreign influence peddling must be clearly conveyed to those foreigners doing their influence peddling. Kavanaugh’s elevation, then, presented the real possibility that by charging Concord, Mueller might make it easier for foreigners to tamper in our election than for Americans.

Moreover, it looked like Trump appointee Dabney Friedrich (who gave the challenge to Mueller’s authority far more consideration than she should have) was sympathetic to the troll challenge to the indictment.  Not only did Friedrich seem sympathetic to the Concord challenge in a hearing on Monday, on Thursday she ordered Mueller’s team to be more specific about whether the trolls had to — and knew they had to — register with the FEC and DOJ.

Specifically, should the Court assume for purposes of this motion that neither Concord nor its co-conspirators knowingly or unknowingly violated any provision, civil or criminal, of FECA or FARA by failing to report expenditures or by failing to register as a foreign agent?

That is the genius (and I suspect, the entire point) of the complaint against Prigozhin’s accountant, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, who oversees the funding of all these trolls, which was unsealed yesterday.

It provides proof that Prigozhin and Concord continued to engage in ConFraudUS long after receiving notice, in the form of that February 16 indictment, that the US considered engaging in such trolling without registration a crime.

Among the overt acts of the conspiracy, for example, the complaint describes Khusyaynova:

  • Requesting payment from Concord for trolling expenses on February 21, February 28, March 6, April 6, May 8, May 10, June 1, June 4, June 9, and July 10, 2018
  • Submitting a 107 million ruble budget in March to cover April’s expenditures, a 111 million ruble budget in April to cover May’s expenditures, and a 114 million budget for June in June (the complaint calculates these budgets to amount to over $5.25 million, though not all of that got spent in the US)
  • Following up with a Concord employee on April 11 and 12 to make sure one of Concord’s laundering vehicles, Almira LLC, paid its part of the budget for March expenditures
  • Spending $60,000 in Facebook ads and $6,000 in Instagram ads between January and June of this year
  • Spending $18,000 for “bloggers” and “developing accounts” on Twitter between January and June

In other words, the complaint shows that even after Concord got indicted for spending all this money to influence American politics, even after it hired lawyers to claim it didn’t know spending all that money was illegal, it continued to spend the money without registering with FEC or DOJ. The very same day Prigozhin’s lawyers filed their attorney appearances in court in DC, his accountant in St. Petersburg was laundering more money to pay for trolling.

But the true genius of the complaint comes in the evidence of trolling it cites. As noted, the complaint cites two trolls tweeting about the February 16 indictment of their own trolling.

@JemiSHaaaZzz (this was an RT): 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.

[snip]

@JohnCopper16: 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.

@JohnCopper16: We didn’t vote for Trump because of a couple of hashtags 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!

Prigozhin has paid 7 months of legal fees arguing that he had no idea that this was a crime, even while paying $5 million, part of which paid his own trolls to describe being indicted for “violating federal criminal law” and asking to be sent to Gitmo for that crime.

And his trolls continued to claim they had knowledge of American campaign law, as when on March 14, almost a month after the indictment, @TheTrainGuy13 reposted a pro-Trump tweet noting that voter fraud is a felony.

The complaint even cites @KaniJJackson tweeting about a Net Neutrality vote on May 17, well after Reed Smith had told the court they were representing Concord to make claims that Prigozhin had no idea unregistered political trolling was illegal.

Ted Cruz voted to repeal #NetNeutrality. Let’s save it and repeal him instead.

Here’s the list of GOP senators who broke party lines and voted to save #NetNeutrality: Susan Collins John N Kennedy Lisa Murkowski Thank you!

Since July, Prigozhin’s Reed Smith lawyers have spent 326 pages briefing their claim that their poor foreign client and his trolls had no way of knowing that the United States expected him and his trolls to register before tampering in US politics. Even while they were doing that, in a complaint filed in sealed form three weeks ago, on September 28, DOJ had compiled proof that even after receiving official notice of the fact that the US considered that a crime on February 16, even after Prigozhin showed on April 11 his knowledge that the US considered that a crime by hiring attorneys to argue he couldn’t have known, he and his accountant and his trolls continued trolling.

As persuasive as Reed Smith lawyers have been in arguing Prigozhin couldn’t have known this was illegal, his trolls have laid out far better proof that he knew he was breaking the law.

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.