Posts

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. 

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

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

Khusyaynova may be named, but the real target is Prigozhin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prigozhin continues to fund influence operations affecting US politics

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

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

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

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

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

Another of the trolls posted this image:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By issuing this complaint, the government does several things.

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

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

In addition, because the conduct charged in the indictment continued after Concord was indicted in February 2018, they can no longer claim (as they are in the challenge to Mueller) that they didn’t have the knowledge and intent they were breaking the law. In the Concord challenge they argue,

In the absence of allegations specifically showing that Concord intended to interfere, or entered a conspiracy to interfere, with a lawful function relating to a U.S. election in a deceitful and dishonest manner, there is no basis for a § 371 defraud conspiracy charge whether elections were interfered with or not.

… And go on to cite the newest Justice on the Supreme Court insisting that you can’t charge foreigners unless you can be sure they know their conduct is against the law.

[W]e caution the government that seeking criminal penalties for violations of [law regulating foreign nationals’ political contributions or expenditures] will require proof of defendant’s knowledge of the law. There are many aliens in this country who no doubt are unaware of the statutory ban on foreign expenditures

Imagine how easy it will be to respond to this claim, regarding conduct that continued for four months after the initial indictment for the same conduct.

The result compelled by these overarching constitutional principles with respect to a § 371 defraud conspiracy is plain enough: where an indictment purports to charge in a complex and technical regulatory environment like U.S. elections and likewise threatens to sweep in core political speech as part of the offense, the indictment must spell out how and why the targeted individual or entity knew it was violating the law.

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

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

Update: This post has been updated since initial posting.

The Tea Leaves on Mueller’s Hand Off

As part of writing this post, I confirmed for the first time that the prosecutor I spoke with regarding the Russian attack is not and never has been part of the Mueller team (among other things, I think that means Peter Strzok never got within a mile of my testimony, which is why I asked). But a prosecutor who was involved in discussions setting up my interview is, and the Special Counsel’s Office certainly seemed to recognize my interview as part of the investigation when I alerted them I was going to publish that text. Given that the FBI agents I spoke with didn’t know what topics I cover for a living (and seemed to get wiser about the person we were discussing over two breaks), my guess is that DOJ assigned a team segmented off from the investigation to ensure that no one accidentally dropped hints about the investigation. That’s all just a wildarseguess, though. DOJ has gone to great lengths to ensure I don’t learn anything from the process, as is proper.

Having that tiny glimpse into how DOJ used a prosecutor uninvolved in the case in chief to talk to me about what may have become part of the case in chief is background to explain why I doubt some of the conclusions made in this piece, reporting that Mueller has divvied up tasks to career prosecutors from elsewhere in DOJ.

As Mueller pursues his probe, he’s making more use of career prosecutors from the offices of U.S. attorneys and from Justice Department headquarters, as well as FBI agents — a sign that he may be laying the groundwork to hand off parts of his investigation eventually, several current and former U.S. officials said.

Mueller and his team of 17 federal prosecutors are coping with a higher-then-expected volume of court challenges that has added complexity in recent months, but there’s no political appetite at this time to increase the size of his staff, the officials said.

[snip]

Investigators in New York; Alexandria, Virginia; Pittsburgh and elsewhere have been tapped to supplement the work of Mueller’s team, the officials said. Mueller has already handed off one major investigation — into Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen — to the Southern District of New York.

The only thing that is clearly new in this paragraph is that Mueller has involved prosecutors in Pittsburgh. As the paragraph itself notes, [part of] the investigation into Michael Cohen got handed off to SDNY. But that’s because it involves conduct — a hush money payment that Cohen arranged from Manhattan and taxi medallion fraud — that don’t clearly relate to Russian election interference. Other reports suggest that conduct more closely tied to the election, such as Cohen’s involvement in inauguration graft, remains in Mueller’s hands.

Similarly, we know of at least one EDVA prosecutor involved in Mueller’s investigation. Uzo Asonye got moved onto the team to placate TS Ellis. He will presumably present a good part of the trial that starts later this month, freeing up another member of that team to focus on the DC side of Manafort’s corruption. But that move was driven, in significant part, from Ellis’ direction.

With Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, there’s plenty of corruption to spread across multiple districts! Heck, Manafort’s former son-in-law is cooperating against him based off a case in LA, and Dmitri Firtash, who is under indictment in Chicago, is one of four oligarchs explicitly named in Manafort’s search warrant.

And, frankly, I’m offended by this passage.

Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three entities in February on charges of violating criminal laws with the intent to interfere with the U.S. election through the manipulation of social media.

None of the targets are in the U.S., but one of them, the Internet Research Agency, has forced Mueller into another legal fight in federal court. The two sides have been sparring most recently over how to protect sensitive investigative materials from disclosure. Mueller has enlisted prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington to handle the case.

I’m offended not just because the passage is factually false: the entity mounting a defense is Concord Management, not Internet Research Agency. But because one should never label a defendant mounting a defense as “forc[ing the prosecutor] into another legal fight.” Yes, Concord’s defense is trollish lawfare aiming to discover intelligence. But that is the risk of using indictments to lay out nation-state information operations.

Also, as I suggested in this post and this post, commentators have made far too much of the technical requirements of the Concord case. The government will use no classified data in the trial, if the trial ever really happens. Which suggests the case will be a glorified call records case, showing that the people running certain accounts were operating from certain IP addresses. That’s not to minimize the import of call records in proving crimes. But it’s just not the most technically difficult case to prove.

Which brings us back to Pittsburgh. In fact, Pittsburgh has already been involved in this case — back when the investigation of the hack of the DNC lived there, as many nation-state hacking cases do. Now, it is definitely true that the hack investigation had, at some point, been moved under Mueller; I know of a witness to the hack who was interviewed at Mueller’s office. But if Mueller’s team of 17 were focused more closely on the “collusion” case, I could imagine them moving the hack case back to where it started.

If that’s actually what happened, it would amount to a hand off, of sorts. But it may not be all that momentous a development. Rather, it might reflect Mueller’s (and Rod Rosenstein’s) continued efforts to keep the matters he will prosecute (as distinct from investigate) closely related to the “collusion” case. That seems like a sound decision both form a resourcing perspective, but it’s a good way to rebut claims that he’s a runaway prosecutor.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin Doubles Down on Lawfare as Intelligence Collection

I realize that the Concord Management defense in the Mueller indictment is intended to be nuisance lawfare. As noted, Mueller even moved four DOJ attorneys onto the team to manage with an onslaught of such nuisance filings.

But I am rather fascinated by the fight over the protective order.

As I noted, back on June 13, Mueller’s team objected to Concord’s demands that they get to share information with Yevgeniy Prigozhin without first requiring him to come to the US to get the intelligence. In a typically snotty response, Concord not only demanded that they get to share the information, but specifically requested they not receive all the personal identifying information in discovery; they just want the more substantive stuff showing informants and networks of communication. I took it as a concession that Prigozhin didn’t need the PII, because he already stole it, so the only thing new he would need is the stuff with intelligence value.

The two sides have just submitted a draft protective order with a brief laying out their disagreements. As this passage makes clear, the key dispute is whether Reed Smith can share sensitive information with nationals of the US and individual officers of Concord, and whether Reed Smith can share sensitive information with a co-defendant who refuses to show up before the court.

As Reed Smith has already made clear, there are only two people at Concord they want to share information with. One is Prigozhin, a co-defendant.

Finally, during the June 15, 2018 hearing, the Court asked defense counsel for information regarding the number of officers and employees of Defendant Concord. Concord has two statutory officers as required under Russian law, a General Manager and a Chief Accountant. The General Manager is co-defendant Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who has decision making authority. The Chief Accountant is not responsible for the day-to-day activities of the company and does not have decision-making authority. Undersigned defense counsel has represented to the Special Counsel’s Office, at present defense counsel needs to disclose discovery materials to only two individuals at Concord, Mr. Prigozhin, and the Head of the Legal Department (who is not a co-defendant and does not have decision making authority).

It’s the two other details that give up the game though. First, the defense not only wants to share information with someone who won’t show up to face his charges, but they also want to explicitly avoid being bound by the jurisdiction of the court.

That is, Reed Smith is saying they want to share information with the Head of Concord’s Legal Department and Prigozhin without either having to be bound by the jurisdiction of the court, which would make the order virtually unenforceable.

And then Reed Smith wants to dodge jurisdiction of the court themselves, by refusing to babysit those who won’t be bound by jurisdiction of the court when they review sensitive material. They deem that “onerous.”

Reed Smith has made a show of agreeing that none of this stuff will leave the country. They’re just refusing to sign a document that will prevent, say, the unnamed Head of the Legal Department from sticking stuff in his socks and taking it back to Prigozhin (who’s not going to show up to the US to read any of this), and with him, Putin.

Honestly, I think the question of whether Prigozhin can be prohibited from helping to defend his corporation without showing up to the US to be arrested will be an interesting legal fight.

Here’s the thing: First, I don’t think Dabney Friedrich is dumb enough to fall for the two little moves at the end, and I assume she’ll guard her own authority enough not to invite some Russian lawyer to abuse her authority.

Moreover, given that her interim protective order limited all review of sensitive materials to the defense counsel, see seems inclined to side with Mueller’s team.